Monthly Archives: February 2009

What to give up?

As we know Lent is a time of penitence and fasting.  My little goof ball brain has wrestled with this ever since coming into a Catholic tradition back in the mid-1990s.  As someone who grew up pretty ecumenical and culturally Protestant it was a hard transition.  Getting to a Anglican and then more Catholic theological viewpoint in seminary and the years following was easy.  “Head stuff” and academics come easy to me.  I live in that world and I love that world.  Developing spiritual disciplines are harder, be they prayer, fasting, meditating on Scripture, or anything.  Like I said, studying is easy for me. Likewise I think for a lot of folks who grew up or came to faith in the Evangelical Protestant tradition (regardless of the denominational brand) that things like Bible study, theology and other intellectual or program oriented activities come easier then things like fasting.  They are deeply imbedded in the Evangelical tradition.  It is not that fasting is not part of the Evangelical tradition, but it play a different role and for most it is not a routine part of spiritual life.  In the churches I grew up in fasting or abstinance were both voluntary and for most not a part of church life.  There are exceptions to this. Some churches take on 40 days of fasting programs, but these are usually just another part of the churches program for a particular time and not continued on a regular basis.  So for me this did not come naturally and as a result I struggled with Lent and never looked forward to it.  I’ve mentioned some of my struggles in previous posts so I won’t rehash them.

Yet, fasting and abstinence can be very beneficial in developing spiritual disciplines.  I struggled and still do sometimes, when I focus what I am giving up, versus trying to use this is a means to develop and my own spiritual disciplines I fail miserably.  It’s like New Year’s resolutions.  I suck at them and this year decided not even to make one of those.  To be honest I’m still working on these disciplines, I figure I will be doing so the rest of my life as old habits die hard.

My own journey in learning to “survive” Lent is to let go.  If these things impede and frustrate me then I need to let go of them and focus on what will actually build me up spiritually.  This year I decided to reduce the amount of time I spent watching all the talking heads on TV news and listening to the incessant drumbeat of talk radio.  When I did this I noticed a radical shift, I was not long spun up about all the apocalyptic invective on both the right and the left.  I began to be able to relax and actually let God’s grace begin to work in me, especially because of what I went through coming back from Iraq.  It worked so well that I have expanded it in Lent, I’m not watching or listening to any of them. I have more time for spiritual disciplines, I am able to write again after not being able to for a year and I’m able to laugh.   One thing that helped me was reading Andrew Greeley’s “Bishop Blackie Ryan” mystery novels.  They are so full of the grace of God and numerous times have touched my very soul.  Likewise it is easier for me to see people of all viewpoints as people who God loves and not enemies of me or the unnamed political party to which I may or may not belong.  I think I am now a confirmed Indepublicratarian.

I think for me these two things are helping me this Lent. I’ve let go to to a lot of stuff, but I’ve gained more. For the first time since before Iraq the Daily Office and Mass are becoming spiritual experiences for me and not just being done out of duty and obedience.   If I miss something or foul it up I figure that God probably still loves me anyway and if that is the case for me maybe I can reflect it in all my relationships, maybe even in my view of the Evil Dodgers.

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Today’s Spring Training results for my teams

A bad day for my teams, hope at least one does better than last year.

Florida 3 O’s 2

Milwaukee 8 A’s 5

Royals 6 Giants 1

And the Evil Dodgers are embroiled in contract negotiations with Manny “Yes I like my hair” Ramirez.  Manny is a great player but I would like to see him sign and as a condition of the contract have Joe Torre give him a high and tight and make him wear a uniform that fits.

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My favorite Foods for Fridays in Lent: Being faithful without it being sucky

In my running commentary about Lent and my struggles with it over the years I have noted that I really don’t do fish, a staple of Lenten cuisine. Fish is so prevalent on Lenten menus that some calendars have a little fish superimposed on Fridays and sometimes Wednesdays. This is not a Jesus fish, it is a fish….this symbolizes no cow, no buffalo, no chicken, no lamb or mutton, no pig, not even Spam, which I don’t know if can be truly categorized as a meat.  When I first saw fish on a liturgical calendar I wanted to throw up.  I’ve had people suggest variations on fish, as I noted I did suffer one year deployed on ship eating meaty Alaskan King Crab and Lobster and patently avoiding the “turf” side of our surf and turf Friday menu.

Since I have both experienced the pain of traditional Lenten menus as well as noticed friends who are being faithful but obviously not liking it I have a few suggestions that Judy have come up with.

Vegetarian Pizza: We like things like mushrooms, tomatoes, roasted garlic, banana peppers and onions and I like olives, which go on my side of the pizza because Judy is somewhat allergic to them.

Pasta with some type of spicy sauce and good pasta noodles.  I like Baked Ziti, Baked Spaghetti, Penne and Marinara usually with oodles of garlic and peppers.

Italian specialities such as Stromboli or Calzone with vegetable fillings rather than meat.

Mexican provides some nice options usually based around beans and rice. bean burritos, beans and rice,  flour tortillas and bean chalupas (tostadas in California).

Cajun can work good in some instances, I always like red beans and rice.

Judy has come up with a great recipe for black bean soup which is both filling and zesty which is usually accompanied by some home baked bread.

Since we are only actually having to do these meals on Fridays and Wednesdays during some years, we really don’t need a lot of variation to do this.

I do hope this provides ideas for folks who either struggle with Lent, have food allergies that prevent them from eating fish, or who are new to this.

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Spring Training Giants vs. the Evil Dodgers

Today marks the beginning of this year’s forces of good versus the forces of evil.
Giants vs. Dodgers

For the just normal games we have the O’s vs the Cards and A’s vs the Angels…

Today’s Dundas Scoreboard

Angels 3 A’s 1

O’s 11 Cards 3

Evil Dodgers 16 Giants 7

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Lenten Math: Lent is not as long as you think

Ash Wednesday went very well for me this year. I had a nice Mass working with another Chaplain at the hospital and distributing ashes to folks who could not get to either the Episcopal or Catholic Mass.  So one day down on the countdown.   I noted before how badly I do Lent and that I am going to be happy rather than glum this year, even though I have always thought that Lent is unbearably long.  In light of deciding to be happy I decided to do some Math.

There are 50 calender days until Easter. However the actual Lenten countdown is less as Sundays are always “Feast Days” and though within Lent don’t count the same.  So one day down and since Sundays are feast days we can take them off, which takes us to 43 days. Holy Thursday, Holy Saturday and Easter are not part of Lent so that takes us down to 40.  On the surface 40 days does seem long, in fact 40 days for me feels like an eternity.  Now if we are honest we have to admit that although Mondays are kind of sucky because most of us go back to work, they do tend to go fast.  Since Mondays  are not days of fasting or abstinence and they go fast it’s kind of like they are not part of Lent.  Admittedly for some they may not go fast and actually may be kind of hellish, but in my math they don’t count.  That’s 6 more down, which means we’re down to 34.  St Patrick’s Day falls within Lent and though it belongs in Lent in the USA it is the feast of the Patron Saint of Ireland. Since we are all Irish on St Patrick’s day it takes us down another day which takes us to 33.  Since Fridays are days of abstinence, Thursdays and Saturdays  become default substitutes for Fridays.  This takes us now another 12 days since we tend to be slack on them we are down to 21. Baseball Opening Day certainly counts as a feast day, so were down to 20.  My birthday which almost always falls during Lent is usually given a dispensation which I’ll gladly extend to anyone who is willing to wish me well. Especially if they buy me either presents or a beer.  We’re down to 19.  Tuesdays also tend to go pretty fast and since many people watch American Idol on Tuesday it really doesn’t count. Subtract another 6 days.  This means there are only 13 days of real Lent. I mean like mandatory painful Lent, fasting and abstinence and that sort of thing.  Now if we are actually observing Lent and giving something up there is some sacrifice on the other days, but that is kind of our choice.

So by my count I figure that Lent is really only 13 days.  That’s under two weeks.  Even I can do that. Have a great Lent.

And it gets better, I just remembered that Wednesdays in most traditions are now optional days for fasting or abstinance. So subtract another 6 days.  This means that Lent is only 7 days.  Who can’t do that?

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Hope: Spring Training Games Begin

First day of actual MLB Spring Training Games. My Giants play Cleveland while the A’s play Milwaukee and the O’s play the Mets.

Giants 10 Indians 7

A’s 5 Brewers 5

Mets 9 O’s 3

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Lenten Countdown

It’s Ash Wednesday. My Lenten Coundown Begins. 50 Days until Easter. Today’s thoughts…Mass, Fast, Soup & Bread…let the thrills begin.

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Last Sunday before Lent…. Not again

Today is the 6th Sunday in Epiphany and the last before the Season of Lent.  I’ve never been a big fan of Lent or done it well. I don’t know what it is about the season, I do understand Lent’s place in the Church calendar, I understand that historically Lent is a time of penitential introspection, alms giving, abstinence, fasting, self-denial,  going into extra innings for prayer, sackcloth and ashes and the like.   I also understand the symbolic meaning, the references in scripture to all the different 40 day experiences, Noah’s Mount Ararat cruise line, Moses’ mountaintop stay with God, the 40 fun years in the dessert, and Jesus’ temptations when he went into the desert for 40 days.  I also understand how it came about in the life of the early church, it was a time of preparation prior to baptism at Easter for the catechumens.  I got it, but until Christianity became the State Religion it was only for the catechumens. When it became the State Religion it became mandatory for all to make the less zealous converts feel more comfortable.  I guess they didn’t want to be brought up on charges for hazing so they decided to make everyone do it.  Personally if I were the Pope I would make it mandatory for the new folks, like a Chief’s initiation in the Navy and optional for everyone else.

Now I understand the need to examine ourselves individually and as a community to prepare ourselves for Holy week and what hopefully is a closer relationship with God and our fellow believers.  This does not mean however that I do Lent well or like it.  I have never done it well.  Advent which is also a penitential season does not have this affect on me, maybe because it is shorter and I get presents at Christmas.   I really don’t know the reason for my dislike of Lent. Hey, look at it, giving up certain cuisine that I like to eat or drink, generally that’s not a problem. Giving to people in need, easy game.  Doing some extra prayers, not a problem.  Examining my life, that’s not an issue because I know that I’m a screw up and often a jerk. I know beyond a shadow of a doubt that I among all people am desperately in need of God’s grace.  As far as liturgy, taking out a few parts of the liturgy which shortens it and makes it easier, I’m all about that.

Now I have had some funny Lenten experiences.  When I was with the Marines in Japan back in February 2001 we could not get any palm leaves.  The ones that I had ordered did not show up. It was a pain in the ass. I ended up walking all over the town of Gotemba near Mount Fuji hoping I could find a small palm in a store or nursery. Of course since I needed them, no one had any, and I couldn’t see trying to use a Bonsai tree.  So I continued to look.  It was dark, cold and I was dragging my battalion Medical Officer all over the town.  As snow began to fall I saw something that looked somewhat like a palm.  To this day I’m not sure if it was or not, but it was a target of opportunity. I wandered into the front yard of some unsuspecting citizen,  took my Swiss Army knife and pruned the ersatz palm of what I needed to celebrate Ash Wednesday.  I hope God gave everyone who attended the next day credit for the ashes that I used.

Another funny experience has to do with the prohibition on eating meat on Friday. I hate most fish, I am not a fish eater and tend not to eat anything that swims in its own toilet. I was deployed in 2002 on USS Hue City, a great ship with a great crew.  Every Friday was “Surf and Turf.”  We had a fine mess section but as noted above I am not a seafood kind of person.  However, our guys were good.  Often the “surf” part of the menu was either large and meaty Alaskan King Crab or Lobster.  So I sacrificed and ate the King Crab and Lobster for the duration of Lent. I did have to suffer in giving up steak, but I did it for Jesus.

Funny experiences aside maybe I dislike Lent because my birthday usually falls during it or Holy Week.  Maybe I think it is too long.  Maybe it is my rebellious general inclination not to be forced into doing something that I don’t want to do.  Think of the irony here: In  ministry and the military I have a “chain of command” which tells me what to do, sometimes when I don’t want to do it.  Yet because I am a priest and an officer under vows and oaths I do what they say, I am obediant, albeit often grudgingly.  When I was going through my worst times with PTSD, chronic pain and insomnia coming back from Iraq, which coincided with the beginning of Lent, I had a hard time even believing in God, prayer was done out of duty and obligation not because I got any warm fuzzies from it.

Basically Lent is my least favorite time of the year.  This year will be interesting, I will be celebrating the Eucharist at the hospital for Ash Wednesday.  I love celebrating the Eucharist, at the same time I’m going to have to do the 40 days again, what will I give up?  I’m not sure.  What will I add? God only knows, but this year I am going to do something different.  Instead of trying to be glum to suit the mood, I’m going to be live my life like I normally do and be happy, while observing what I am supposed to do for Lent.  I’m going to do what Jesus said: “Do not look dismal, like the hypocrites, for they disfigure their faces that their fasting may be seen by men” (Matthew 6:16)  I’m going to have a joyful Lent, besides, when it’s over baseball is back. Amen and Amen Hallelujah!

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Living and dying

I had an epiphany last year in the midst of the onset of my post Iraq PTSD crash….”Everybody dies, but not everybody lives.”

The value of living life to the fullest really came to  me then.  I’ve seen a lot of death and destruction in my life: I’ve experienced trauma, had people shoot at me, been robbed at gunpoint, been on aircraft with mechanical problems, narrowly missed terrorist bombs and a lot of other rather “sporty” events.  Likewise I have seen death and trauma up close and personal.  Babies born too early to live, elderly people passing away after long lives, young men killed and maimed by war, children and the elderly maimed, cities and villages devastated.  I’ve seen people of all ages whose lives have ended suddenly either to disease or trauma and seen people suffer excruciating deaths.  In all of this though I have also found life in people who no matter what their circumstance choose to live and often seen the grace of God in the midst of great suffering.   It is as Alister McGrath says: “Life under the Cross.” I had one of those experiences with a Navy widow last week, who in her dying moments continued to look after those around her, thanking people, blessing people, laughing, joking, crying and praying.  I had the privilege of conducting her funeral yesterday, she was a saint.

I know that death is a reality, those who seek to deny it only deceive themselves. Even Jesus died, there is no resurrection without death first.  There is almost a death denying cult in the western world.  Many doctors cannot look someone in the eye who has a terminal illness and tell them that the illness or something related to it will kill them.  We often rely on machines to extend life well after they serve any purpose in bringing healing to the patient forgetting that the patient is a person with hopes, dreams and wishes.  Everybody dies…but how do we live?

I also know that there is injustice and poverty in the world, even in our country. I know that innocents suffer because of the choices of powerful nations and individuals, politicians, businessmen, dictators and even religious leaders.  There are times when we have to stand up to injustice, but when we do we must be in the business of reconciliation and not revenge while we advocate for the least, the lost and the lonely, those who have no one to speak for them.

I know people who for whatever reason cannot seem to enjoy life or find happiness. I know people who cannot enjoy friendship with people who are not like them and I am sad for them.  There are people of faith, who dehumanize others who don’t believe like them or live by the tenants of their particular faith. Some of these will actually kill in the name of their God and I am not simply talking about radical Islamic terrorists.  There are plenty of others from every faith tradition who do the same thing.  The Westboro Baptist “God hates Fags” crowd who disrupt funerals of fallen US Servicemen and women saying that their death is God’s judgment on them for serving the United States. They despise the nation and the sacrifices of those that they mock while enjoying the freedom that both give them.  There are people in every religion who do this sort of thing, they dehumanize the people that God has created in his image.  I have seen others who have no faith who mock those with faith and seek to deny them their rights as well.  Both radical secularists and religious radicals are willing to use the power of government to silence  or even persecute those that they disagree with.  Somehow I don’t think that this kind of life is what God intended.

My CPE supervisor during my CPE residency said something to me that resonated then, and still does today. He told me that I had to stop living my life expecting failure and heartache. He said that I could actually write much of my own future by how I look at life and chose to live in faith, hope and dreams, to believe in a good future while remaining grounded in reality.  He opened the future to me, a future full of possibility,exploration and adventure.  A future of hope, friendship and faith.

I’ve learned, and it has been an often painful learning curve, to live and appreciate life and the great gifts that God has given me.  I’ve learned to laugh and live with people and to have friendships beyond what would have been my comfort zone even a few years back.  I’ve also learned that even if I believe something with all my heart it doesn’t necessarily mean that God agrees with me. I had to learn to turn off the incessant voices in the media that seek to divide and destroy their opponents, who in the name of “debate” belittle, silence, attack, dehumanize and sometimes demonize those who disagree with them.  This doesn’t mean that legitimate differences should be pushed aside, but it is a call to civility especially for people that are entrusted with reconciling the world to God.

At dinner with General Sabah in Ramadi

At dinner with General Sabah in Ramadi

For me life has come to mean community and friendship, finding commonality while recognizing differences.   I don’t expect everyone to agree with me, but that’s okay, it is a free country.  I’ll agree to disagree but remain respectful and not become enemies just because of a difference of views. I have chosen to live in this reality.

Peace,

Steve+

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Jamie Moyer on Steroids in Baseball

The steroid scandal has brought shame on the game of baseball.  Jamie Moyer, now the oldest player in the Majors has some strong opinions on the subject which are worthy of note.  I’ve included the link at the end of this post.

From my point of view as someone who loves the game (God speaks to me through it) I find the compromises that the players who took the steroids and other banned substances to be disheartening.  Players should have known better, even if they took them before the official MLB ban, the drugs were still illegal without a prescription.  That is a fact. Even worse from my point of view is the responsibility of the MLB owners and front office staff who remained silent and refused to take action even when the scope of the scandal became evident.  Likewise the actions of the players union to “protect” players set the players up to not only continue using, but ensured that when the scandal became public that all players, even those innocent would come under suspicion.

Where do we go from here? Obviously strict adherence to and enforcement of standards by all involved is a start. Unfortunately an era has been tainted. There will be a few players prosecuted for either what they did or for lying about what they did.  But what do we do with the other 50% who may have done steroids but for whatever reason have remained undetected?  What about records and overal statistics of players, not just MLB records?  Can every record be scrutinized? How do you tell what was the result of a players use of steroids, positive and negative?  Unfortunately the answer is one can never know.  I don’t think that erasing records is the answer.  At the same time the players who set records who either have admitted, been identified or even strongly suspected of using steroids will have their reward. Their records will not be respected and most if not all will never see the Hall of Fame.  They will forever have that against them.  Even players who would have been legitimate Hall of Fame contenders before their association with the steroid scandal will not be spared.  Likewise will singling out a few players for prosecution be truly just?  Is singling out a few players when many more go unpunished truly just?  Or is it simply our corporate way of sacrificing a few to salve our consciences as fans when we cheered these same players on as they set records? If we punish players what about owners and the union?

I can’t offer a lot more than to ask questions. For every action that baseball, courts, the media and fans take, there will always be answered questions as well as the question of is justice truly being served.  The article about Moyer is good because it shows how even the innocent have been tainted by the actions of players and inaction of management, union and media during the steroid era.  Here is the link to the article:

http://sports.yahoo.com/mlb/news?slug=ge-moyer021509&prov=yhoo&type=lgns

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