Monthly Archives: March 2010

Back in Commission: Padre Steve’s Long Journey Back

Padre Steve is Back in Commission

Today I know that I am back fully in commission.  I have been feeling this for a while and have seen some extraordinary progress since my “Christmas Miracle” and even since Lent began.  Like an old battleship worn out by service and damaged in battle was for the better part of two years doing my best to stay afloat and survive after my return from Iraq.  During that time if something could go wrong with me it seemed like it did, physical, psychological and spiritual…such is PTSD and all the other stuff that one can return home from war with.  For those that are new to this website or just happened to stumble by I have a lot of stuff on that ordeal posted here.

I have felt good since Christmas and with the exception of being knocked down by a kidney stone for almost a month have been doing pretty good for the most part.  I have been very careful to make sure that I am not just entering a manic period but have been really to be careful so I don’t build myself up to crash later.  Since I have crashed hard a number of times at points during the aforementioned ordeal when I thought that I was doing better I am really conservative about such comments.

USS West Virginia in the 1930s

Personally I am lucky and blessed that I have good people at work who have kind of protected me from myself over the past year as it when apparent to them that I was going down.  In a sense I was like a damaged ship pulled out of action in order not only to be patched up but fully overhauled.  I was damaged and not a lot of my systems were working right.

Now of course even a ship that has been fully overhauled and even modernized to make it equal to new ships is immune from problems, after all there is only so much you can do with an older platform.  I am living proof of that fact; there are things that while better than they were are not up to the original design specs.  At the same time despite everything I am in remarkable health and my physical, emotional and spiritual life is coming back together faster than I thought it would even after the Kidney stone ordeal.

Damage to the West Virginia

I had a yearly physical health assessment last week and all of my numbers were those of a 30 year old so I guess fifty is the new thirty. Yesterday I weighed in and was found to be within the DOD body fat maximum which combined with a high score on my Physical Readiness Test (PRT) or what common is called a PT test.  It is funny, the numbers that I have to make on this at age 50 in the Navy are not much less than then what I was required to do as 21 year old in Army ROTC or 23 year old Army Second Lieutenant then was 68 push-ups, now 65, then 69 sit ups, now 85.  Then I needed a run time of about 12 minutes and 30 seconds for a two mile run to get the maximum points.  Now at age 50 I need slightly less than 10 minutes to get the maximum score on a mile and a half run.  Today I did 90 sit-ups, 61 push-ups and my run time was about 12:15 (converted from a Life Fitness bike.)  I did the bike because of the low number of people running the “early bird” session and because I still have occasional ankle and knee problems.  I need completion to do really well on the run as it motivates me better than running alone or with a small number of people. I came one push-up short of an overall outstanding on the test so I have something to shoot for next time.

USS California 1945 after her rebuild

This will be enough to take me off of the “fat boy program” which I so ignobly entered last fall after my summer crash. Back then I was put on the “Fitness Enhancement Program” where I had weekly weigh ins and taping for body fat and a program called “Shipshape” which is about healthy living.  That was humbling and for me even humiliating because that has not happened to me in 28 years in the military and I pride myself in being in great shape, in fact the EOD techs that I was assigned with asked my assistant “what kind of steroids I was using” because of how I ran and how well that I did on the PRT.   Now I am not where I want to be on any of this yet, I think I have farther to go.  So I am working to keep my life in balance and take a lot better care of myself; especially in diet and exercise although I still have problems sleeping.  Part of what I learned over the past 5 months is that I have to be consistently consistent if I am to get the weigh off, lose body fat and both get back in shape and then keep it off.  I am not where I want to be yet but know that I am not going back to the way that I exercised self care prior to this as I never want to be in that situation ever again. My plan is to continue to lose about 2 to 3 pounds a month and take off about 4 inches from around my waist by late September or early October. I think this is totally doable doing what I am doing now and I plan on continuing to do it.

USS West Virginia 1944 after the rebuild

So anyway going back to the old battleship metaphor I have been thinking about that a lot. I wrote an article a while back titled “The Battleships of Pearl Harbor.”  Of course as almost anyone who has seen the movie “Tora! Tora! Tora!” knows that the attack on Pearl Harbor was pretty bad.  If you had the misfortune of watching “Pearl Harbor” sorry it does not do the story justice.  Anyway, I digress. The point is that there were two battleships in particular that were heavily damaged and sunk, The USS California and USS West Virginia. Both were salvaged, refloated and sailed to the West coast where they were not only repaired but modernized with the latest in air and surface search radar, fire control systems, formidable anti-aircraft batteries and large anti-torpedo bulges that increased their survivability.  When rebuilt they resembled the fast modern battleships of the South Dakota class. The two ships spent a long time in the yards but the price was worth it. At the Battle of Surigo Strait the West Virginia and California led the battleships of the US 7th Fleet in annihilating the Japanese Southern Force led by Admiral Nishimura and a follow up force of heavy cruisers. In the battle the two ships sank the Japanese Battleships Fuso and Yamashiro and most of their escorts with the exception of one destroyer the Shigure.  Later they participated in every major operation leading to the defeat of Imperial Japan.

Today I feel like the West Virginia or California. I am older than most of the people that I work with by a large margin, I came back damaged from Iraq and was not able to do half the things that I was capable of doing before Iraq.  Now I am out of the yards and have passed my builders trials and in action again and this my friends really makes me happy.

Peace,

Padre Steve+

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Filed under faith, Military, philosophy, PTSD, US Navy

Dad’s Gift of Baseball to Me…a New Season Begins

Baseball, it is said, is only a game. True. And the Grand Canyon is only a hole in Arizona. Not all holes, or games, are created equal.” George Will

Harbor Park

Baseball has always been a source of enjoyment for me.  I’ve noted in numerous other posts that God speaks to me through baseball.  For me there is something mystical about the game.  It extends beyond the finite world in some respects and there is symmetry to the sport unlike any other.  George Will’s quote at the beginning of this post is dead on.  Not all holes or games are created equal and as Annie Savoy (Susan Sarandon) said in Bull Durham “the only church that truly feeds the soul, day in, day out, is the Church of Baseball.”

Though I had played Little League Ball in the 1960s and well as a lot of backyard or sandlot games, it was in 1970-1971 when my dad began taking us to California Angels games while stationed in Long Beach California that the game really captured me.  The seed of course had been planted long before watching games on a black and white TV and having my dad play catch, teach me to throw, field and run the bases.  In 1967 we even saw the Seattle Pilots in person while stationed in Washington State. While my dad thrived on all sports but baseball was the one that he gave me as a gift.  He gave my brother golf, another spiritual game, which Zen masters love, but which is not to be compared with baseball.  Golf it is an interior and individual game whereas baseball is a game where individuals depend upon one another in community much as in an ideal world Christians depend upon one another in the Church.

Me with Angels Manager Left Phillips 1970

Growing up with baseball was something that I cannot imagine not having done.  It was part of life from as far back as I can remember and this was because dad made it so.  I cannot remember a time that I did not have a ball, glove and bat as well as at least one baseball hat. It kind of reminds me of the beginning of the movie For the Love of the Game where home movies of a child playing ball with dad are shown during the opening credits and score.  I can close my eyes and remember vivid details of ball fields and backyards where dad would play catch with me play pepper and fungo and teaching me to pitch.  He never did much with hitting.  When I had him in a brief lucid moment when I visited in May of 2009 I thanked him for teaching me to love the game. I told him that I still heard his voice telling me to keep my butt down on ground balls but complained that he did not teach me to hit.  He simply said “you can’t teach someone to hit, it’s a gift, lots of people can’t hit.”  Obviously he understood that I would never hit much above the Mendoza Line and stuck to teaching me defense and pitching.

Oak Park Little League Rams Stockton CA, the Team Sponsor was San Diego Chargers Owner Alex Spanos

Back in the days at Anaheim Stadium when it was still called “the Big A” I really did fall in love with the game.  I met players, got signed balls and hats, and was even selected as a runner up in the “My Favorite Angel” contest.  For that I met my favorite Angel, First Baseman Jim Spencer a Golden Glove Winner who later played for the White Sox and Yankees, and two tickets behind home plate.  I met so many of the players on that team and those of opposing teams and it was that personal connection of ballplayers giving a 5th grade kid the time of day that endeared me to the game. Players like Jim Fregosi, Chico Ruiz, Andy Messersmith, Sandy Alomar and Ken McMullen as well as coaches and managers gave me some of the best memories of childhood.

Billy Hebert Field

When we moved to northern California we reconnected with the San Francisco Giants and the Oakland A’s.  This was during the A’s dynasty years and we saw a number of games including an ALCS game against the Tigers.  Seeing the greats like Catfish Hunter, Reggie Jackson, Rollie Fingers, Campy Campaneris and Vida Blue was awesome.  However our first love was the Giants.  We only occasionally got to Candlestick Park where they played in those days because of the inhospitable location and added distance from home.   If you have ever seen a baseball game at Candlestick you will know that it is a perfectly miserable place to see a game as in that if nothing else that it is colder than hell, if hell were cold.  One game we did see was Ed Halicki’s no-hitter against the Mets in 1975.

While dad was deployed to Vietnam my mom would drop me off at Billy Herbert Field in Stockton California where we lived. In the summer she would let me see the Stockton Ports several times a week. Back then the Ports were the California League Single “A” affiliate of the Baltimore Orioles.  Those games were always fun, chasing balls down and chomping down peanuts that cost a quarter a bag.  I remember talking to Orioles great Paul Blair when he visited a military base that I was serving and he told me how he remembered playing in Stockton as a minor league player in the 1960s.

Pete Rose running over Ray Fosse to win the 1970 All-Star Game

http://mlb.mlb.com/media/video.jsp?content_id=5766041

In high school and college due to other diversions I stopped playing baseball and did not have as much contact with it.  However the call of baseball never completely left me and I always longed to be either playing in or watching a game. I think that the biggest mistakes that I ever made were taking on hockey for a couple of seasons and an ill-fated one year career in high school football. It was like I sold out baseball for games that seemed more exciting but were not me.  I have dreams of what it would be like to get the chance to play at my advanced age for one inning in a minor league game.

Moonlight Graham

I feel in a sense like Dr. Archibald “Moonlight” Graham in Field of Dreams when he tells Ray Kinsella:

“Well, you know I… I never got to bat in the major leagues. I would have liked to have had that chance. Just once. To stare down a big league pitcher. To stare him down, and just as he goes into his windup, wink. Make him think you know something he doesn’t. That’s what I wish for. Chance to squint at a sky so blue that it hurts your eyes just to look at it. To feel the tingling in your arm as you connect with the ball. To run the bases – stretch a double into a triple, and flop face-first into third, wrap your arms around the bag. That’s my wish, Ray Kinsella. That’s my wish. And is there enough magic out there in the moonlight to make this dream come true?” I can totally relate.

Other major sports do not hold me captive the way baseball does.  I think there is a spiritual dimension that the game has which makes it timeless.  Other sports such as football, basketball, hockey and soccer are limited to rectangular playing surfaces of set dimensions determined by their leagues. With the exception of a few old hockey rinks there are no individuality to these venues, save perhaps for team or sponsor logos.  Likewise all of the other sports play a set time clock.  If a team gets way ahead early, it is likely that the game will be over.  While it is possible that a game could go into “overtime” the overtime in these games has different rules than regulation time making them seem somewhat hypocritical to me.  “Sudden death” “Shootouts” and truncated times show that these games are not meant to go past regulation time.  It is an aberration from what is considered “normal.” In these games a team with a big lead can simply sit on the ball and run out the clock. Earl Weaver put it well: “You can’t sit on a lead and run a few plays into the line and just kill the clock. You’ve got to throw the ball over the damn plate and give the other man his chance. That’s why baseball is the greatest game of them all.”

Jeff Fiorentino Going Yard at Harbor Park

Baseball is not like that.  In order to win you have to throw the ball over the plate and give the other team a chance to come back. The nine innings could in theory go on for eternity, as they nearly do in W.P. Kinsella’s The Iowa Baseball Confederacy, A story which is patently eschatological, though not in a pre-millennial dispensationalist manner.  Foul lines in theory go on for eternity, only the arbitrary placement of the outfield wall and the physical limitation of hitters keep the game within earthly limits.  I’m sure that outfields are a lot more spacious and have a wonderful playing surface in heaven.

I love baseball parks. I like their individuality and savor their differences and save for the late 1960s and early 1970s when fascists took over the design of stadiums in order to make them suitable to play football on, baseball parks have kept their individuality.  Outfield dimensions, type of grass, the kind of infield and warning track soil which is used, are all determined by the team.  Some fields cater to hitters, others pitchers.  And with the overthrow of the stadium fascists at Baltimore’s Camden Yards, the baseball park regained its dignity. Although the ivy of Wrigley Field, the Green Monster of Fenway are about all that are left of the great old ballparks however the new ballparks have returned to what makes every ballpark special in its own way.  Gone are the ugly drab oval stadiums with their fields covered in often shoddy artificial turf with only a small cut out for the bases.  The unsightly and even hideous venues such as Riverfront, Three Rivers, Veteran’s Stadium and others, even dare I say the Astrodome and Kingdome were demolished and made nice piles of rubble or retired to serve in other capacities and replaced by beautiful ballparks each with its own unique character that reflect the beauty of the game.

Oak Harbor Little League where I played my first organized baseball

Last year for the first time in my life I bought season tickets for my local AAA team, the Norfolk Tides who are the AAA Affiliate of the Baltimore Orioles. I also went Norfolk’s Harbor Park to see the Commonwealth Classic an exhibition game between the Baltimore Orioles and Washington Nationals.  The ballpark is a place of solace for me that was after I returned from Iraq one of the few places that I could have peace, even church was a dangerous place but walking onto the concourse and taking in the lush green diamond and immaculately trimmed infield there was a place of peace.  I found that watching the young players striving to reach or get back to the majors to stay helped motivate me as I recovered from PTSD, chronic pain, depression, anxiety and a crisis of faith that scared the hell out of me.  I appreciate the young pitchers that I have met behind home plate as the chart the game following their starts, and my hope and prayer for them is that they will see their dreams fulfilled and eventually make it to the show and stay there.  So Jim, Andy, Chris, Ross, David This year I look forward to again taking me seats in Section 102 Row B seats 1 and 2.  Opening day is the 8th of April and the Weather Channel’s 10 day forecast says that the weather should be good.  However this is Hampton Roads, opening day was rained out last year and in 2005 the temperature at game time was 38 degrees with winds of 25-40 knots coming out of center field.

Harbor Park was one of the first of the new generation of minor league parks and a wonderful place to see a game, or as I like to say “Worship at the Church of Baseball.”   When Harbor Park was built the Tides were affiliated with the New York Mets. As such the outfield dimensions are nearly identical to the former Shea Stadium, making it a very large yard and pitchers playground.  The outfield backs up to the East Fork of the Elizabeth River, shipyards and bridges dominate the view.  There is not a bad seat in the house.  My seats in Section 102 row 2 are right behind home plate and offer a field level view of all the action. I love the people in the section, Elliott and Skip the Ushers, Kenny the Pretzel Guy, Marty the Card Dealer, Ray, John and the Vietnam Veterans of America at the beer stand and of course legendary General Manager Dave Rosenfield and President Ken Johnson as well as Linda, Heather and the rest of the staff.

With every home game the gift that my father gave me begins to unfolds again as I gaze in wonderment at the diamond.  This year is different than last year but similar my dad is still in a nursing home in the end stage of Alzheimer’s disease, the disease is taking its time and now has robbed him of everything that he once was. In November I saw him and he did not know me.  It is so sad to see.  A year and a half to two years ago he still knew enough of what was going on to talk about baseball, especially the San Francisco Giants and bad mouth the American League. Dad was always National League fan and he loathes the designated hitter. He used to call the American League the “minor league.”  I never shared that opinion or the fact that I have been a closet Baltimore Orioles fan for years as he could barely handle my liking the Oakland Athletics.  He did not like Earl Weaver one bit but was a lot like him in his approach to the game and life…however he did admire Brooks Robinson and Frank Robinson.

Dad told me stories about the greats of his childhood and he made sure that there were books of baseball stories around the house.  I learned to read with books about Lou Gehrig, Babe Ruth and Bob Feller, Stan Musial, Rogers HornsbyJackie Robinson and Satchel Paige. Dad was an avid fan of Pete Rose; he loved “Charlie Hustle’s” high intensity play and hustle, something that he passed on to me. I can still recall dad yelling at me to “get your butt down,” “stay in front of the ball,” “hustle down the line any time you hit the ball” and “don’t be afraid to run over a catcher or go in hard at second base to break up a double play.”   Rose’s banishment from baseball for gambling hit him hard.  I guess it was for him like the banishment of “Shoeless Joe” Jackson and for me the agony of the Steroid Era where players who were Hall of Fame caliber sacrificed their reputations by doing steroids.

My Dad and I May 2009

I don’t know how long my dad will live. He has outlived his doctor’s expectations by well over a year maybe even a year and a half. He doesn’t know what is going on for the most part but somewhere in his Alzheimer’s ravaged brain he must still be there.  Dad gave me a gift, a gift called the game, the game of baseball.  Sure, it’s only just a game.  Right… Baseball is only a game in the sense of the Grand Canyon just being a hole in the ground and the Pacific Ocean a pond.  I’m sure that the Deity Herself must agree.

Play Ball!

Peace, Steve+

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Going to War: Flying in Al Anbar on C-130s

C-130’s in Iraq

This is another installment of my “Going to War” Series that I began last year.  In the Fall I had to take a break from posting anything more on the story of my deployment to Iraq in 2007 and 2008 due to issues that I was having dealing with the effects of PTSD. I have reached the point that I can again write about this so on occasion I will post these articles which now deal with our actual operations and experiences supporting our Marine Corps, Army and Joint Service advisor teams in the province. The previous posts as well as others dealing with Iraq are filed in the “Tour in Iraq” link on the home page. The direct link to these articles is here: http://padresteve.wordpress.com/category/tour-in-iraq/

Nelson and I continued to prepare in the days leading up to our first mission to the Border Port of Entry at Waleed on the Syrian border with a planned follow on to the teams of the 3rd Brigade, 7th Iraqi Division at Al Qaim about a hundred miles to the north .  Waleed is about 350 miles west of TQ and 70 miles from the nearest FOB with any substantial American presence. We were in constant communication with the team that we to visit via VOIP and SVOIP telephone and secure and non-secure e-mail. The commander of the Border teams, which included Border and Port of Entry adviser teams was Lieutenant Colonel Bien.  Our mission in getting out to the furthest point west was to meet up with an incoming and an outgoing Port of Entry team and see what we could do to get out to other posts along the border.

C-130 unloading its passengers

Nothing in Iraq is easy.  The get out to Waleed we had to make a two day trip from TQ, through Al Asad out to Waleed.  Our flight out was a day flight on an Air Force C-130 to Al Asad.  Our contacts in the G3-Air at 2nd MLG were good in helping me figure out the Air Force flight request which was different than the normal Marine Air Support Request.  For this mission I had to submit 2 Air Force and 3 Marine Air Support requests.    Simply submitting a request does not guarantee a flight. Flights are based on precedence dictated by the overall mission.  Religious support was pretty high on the list but there was no telling that your flight would go until you had your approval message and even then things could change.  The actual missions were not known until about midnight the night prior to the flight. So if you were a frequent flyer it meant no sleep the night before a mission as you waited to see if you were approved.  This was my first time actually having to do this for real so I sat at my secure laptop in my office in the back of the TQ plywood Cathedral waiting for the flight list to be posted on the MLG G3 Air Secure Website.  Finally about 0100 the list popped and our first flight was on in.  It was a mid day flight which meant that we needed to be at the passenger terminal about 0930.  This entailed getting our ride from the Chapel to the terminal by 0900.

I told Nelson who was checking his e-mail on a computer in the RP office that it was a go and then headed off to my can to prepare.  Since most of my gear for the 10 day trip was already packed I tried to actually get ready to sleep.  I quickly found that simply being tired because I was up late was not enough to help me go to sleep.  I was really tired but the adrenaline was coursing through my body making it impossible to sleep.  I prayed the office of Compline and then played computer Ma-Jong until at least 0300 before I could finally pass out.  I was up early to shower and get breakfast before lugging my gear over to the chapel.  The weather as usual was about 100 degrees by the time I got back from the chow hall; I gathered my gear and went to the chapel.  I took my back pack, my laptop and a flight bag. I would learn on this mission that I would need to pack lighter the next time around, but live and learn.

The first leg of our trip was on an Air Force C-130 from TQ to Al Asad which we shared with a large number of previously unknown friends from every branch of service in the US military as well as various civilians and contractors.  All of us had our personal protective equipment as well as our bags. The bags that we did not want to lug were placed on pallets and transported with a large fork lift to the aircraft.  When you make one of these trips you are accounted for a good number of times before ever getting on the aircraft.  This first mission was still in the heat of the Iraqi summer and thus the temperature inside and outside of the aircraft was stifling.  We staged off the tarmac in the sun for a final role call and then in two lines who guided out to our aircraft which had just landed.  As we were trudging out to the aircraft two lines of assorted passengers primarily Soldiers and Marines passed us mid way to the aircraft.  As we neared the aircraft the propeller blast blew the hot air into our faces and I thanked God for the high speed ballistic sunglasses that I had been issued by EOD.  Entering into the aircraft we had to step up onto the cargo ramp and then took our seat in the narrow canvas mesh jump seats that lined both the side of the aircraft and the center.  The rear of the aircraft including the cargo ramp was used for several pallets of cargo including the bags that we elected not to carry.  Sitting in the aircraft and waiting for the pallets to be loaded I thought back to my early career as an Army Officer where I became an air-load planner and embarked my soldiers on six C-130s during Winter REFORGER 1985.  Back then instead of the 130 degree heat of Iraq we faced the coldest winter in 40 years in Europe in which the Rhine froze over.  Although the use of computers has become routine in load plans the principles are the same as they were 25 years ago and everything on the aircraft needs to be properly balanced to ensure the stability and safety of the aircraft and that weight limits are not exceeded.  As the sweat poured off of me I took off my helmet and downed part of the one liter bottle of water that I carried onto the aircraft and threw some on my face, though warm it was refreshing and I reattached my helmet as the aircrew came through the cabin giving a final safety brief.

Interior shot of a C-130

As the last of the cargo pallets were loaded about the aircraft the cargo ramp was raised, the entire time that the aircraft was on the ground was under 15 minutes, it is amazing what the Marine and Air Force ground crews and cargo handlers can accomplish.  With the ramp raised the aircraft’s air conditioning began to take effect and though not the coolest air conditioning it was better than what we had up to that point. The aircraft began to roll and move down the taxiway and when it reached the end of the taxiway it made a fast turn and began its take off.  Since there was a real and present danger of possible missile or gun attacks on low flying aircraft the C-130 made a steep lift off and banked right over Lake Habbinyah and continued its ascent until it reached its cruise altitude.  The C-130, like any cargo aircraft is extremely loud and because of this hearing protection is worn by passengers and crew and conversation is nearly impossible.

The flight from TQ to Al Asad is only about 30 to 45 minutes depending on the route taken so most of the passengers took the opportunity to grab a bit of sleep or read.  Nelson and I sat together on the starboard side of the aircraft not far from the palletized cargo.  Nelson who can sleep almost anywhere on a moment’s notice was out quickly; and although I was tired I could do little more than close my eyes and try to clear my mind.  When we neared Al Asad the aircraft banking nearly perpendicular to the ground made a steep and fast approach.  As we landed I could see other aircraft on the ground including F-18’s, various transports and rotor wing aircraft.  The C-130 taxied to a spot on the tarmac where the ramp was dropped and we were instructed to exit the aircraft and led to the rear of the aircraft about 50 yards and then led between it and another aircraft to a group of tiny Japanese made Nissan and Mitsubishi buses in which we were loaded until every seat was full including the in aisle jump seats.  Packed into the bus like sardines and smelling almost as bad we sucked in the stench, which was somewhat like a European elevator in the 1980s.

Padre Steve Chillin’ at Al Asad Terminal

After a short ride to the terminal we picked up our gear which had been delivered on the pallets by forklifts.  Another muster was taken and after all personnel were accounted for those of us waiting on follow on flights checked in at the terminal and got our temporary billeting in large tents about a hundred yards from the terminal where we each found a bunk grounded our gear and settled in for a bit to clean up before trying to go get some chow.

Next: Air Travel In Al Anbar the California Line.

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Palm or Passion Sunday…the Paradox of the Triumphant Entry and the Cross

The Triumphant Entry

“Although we praise our common Lord for all kinds of reasons, we praise and glorify him above all for the cross. Paul passes over everything else that Christ did for our advantage and consolation and dwells incessantly on the cross. The proof of God’s love for us, he says, is that Christ died for us while we were yet sinners. Then in the following sentence he gives us the highest ground for hope: If, when we were alienated from God, we were reconciled to him by the death of his Son, how much more, now that we are reconciled, shall we be saved by his life!” John Chrysostom (AD 347-407)

God speaking to Luther: “Discipleship is not limited to what you can comprehend—it must transcend all comprehension. … Not to know where you are going is the true knowledge. My comprehension transcends yours. Thus Abraham went forth from His father… not knowing whither he went. … Behold, that is the way of the cross. You cannot find it yourself, so you must let me lead you as though you were a blind man. Wherefore it is not you, no man… but I myself, who instruct you by my Word and Spirit in the way you should go. Not the work which you choose, not the suffering you devise, but the road which is clean contrary to all you choose or contrive or desire—that is the road you must take. To that I call you and in that you must be my disciple.” Dietrich Bonhoeffer the Cost of Discipleship

Palm or Passion Sunday always is a day that invokes mixed emotions in me. It is the last Sunday of the Lenten Season and in modern times has become a juxtaposition of two events, the Triumphant Entry of Jesus into Jerusalem where he according to all four Gospels was greeted by crowds of people who lined the street with palms as Jesus riding on a donkey processed from Bethany and Bethphage where he had been staying with Lazarus into Jerusalem and the narrative of the Passion.  As such it is a roller coaster ride in our experience of walking with Jesus in the most difficult times.

This particular occasion is the Sunday where the disciples of Jesus are confronted with the reality that our earthy expectations of him do not meet the reality of his condensation to walk among us fully Divine yet fully Human but one too well acquainted with suffering, rejection and shame.  He shatters our expectations that he will bless any particular political or social ideology that we allow to take pre-eminence over him, even those that invoke his name. Thus our liturgy brings us to this strange day where in a sense we are confronted with celebrating the entrance of the King and in the next breath cursing him and betraying him to those who torture and crucify him.

In the Roman Catholic and Anglican liturgy the observance is divided between the Liturgy of the Palms which takes place outside the Church Nave either outside the church building or in the Narthex in cold or inclement weather.  After an opening collect and reading of the Gospel passage from one of the synoptic Gospels, which one depends on which of the three year liturgical readings that the church is in. Following the reading of the Gospel the congregation led by choir, acolytes and clergy process into the church reciting the words of Psalm 118: 18-29 or singing a hymn such as “All Glory Laud and Honor.”  Once the congregation is in the church the Liturgy of the Word continues and when the Passion Gospel is read and specific roles may be assigned to members of the congregation, while the congregation remains seated through the first part of the Passion the congregation stands at the verse where “Golgotha” is mentioned and remains standing.

The liturgy takes the congregation on an emotional and spiritual roller coaster.  As the congregation begins outside the following is read:

When Jesus had come near Bethphage and Bethany, at the place called the Mount of Olives, he sent two of the disciples, saying, “Go into the village ahead of you, and as you enter it you will find tied there a colt that has never been ridden. Untie it and bring it here. If anyone asks you, ‘Why are you untying it?’ just say this, ‘The Lord needs it.'” So those who were sent departed and found it as he had told them. As they were untying the colt, its owners asked them, “Why are you untying the colt?” They said, “The Lord needs it.” Then they brought it to Jesus; and after throwing their cloaks on the colt, they set Jesus on it. As he rode along, people kept spreading their cloaks on the road. As he was now approaching the path down from the Mount of Olives, the whole multitude of the disciples began to praise God joyfully with a loud voice for all the deeds of power that they had seen, saying,

“Blessed is the king who comes in the name of the Lord!

Peace in heaven, and glory in the highest heaven!”

Some of the Pharisees in the crowd said to him, “Teacher, order your disciples to stop.” He answered, “I tell you, if these were silent, the stones would shout out.” Luke 19:29-40

It is hard when you read this passage and be caught in the reenactment of this procession not to feel the excitement that must have accompanied that procession.  It has the feeling of a victory parade but this road ends in a manner that those present, those seeking an earthly king and Messiah who would drive our the Roman oppressor and restore the kingdom to Israel would not expect with some of them perhaps playing a role in the drama that would take place later in the week.  I particularly like the hymn “All Glory Laud and Honor.”

All glory, laud and honor,
To Thee, Redeemer, King,
To Whom the lips of children
Made sweet hosannas ring.

Thou art the King of Israel,
Thou David’s royal Son,
Who in the Lord’s Name comest,
The King and Blessèd One.
Refrain

The company of angels
Are praising Thee on High,
And mortal men and all things
Created make reply.
Refrain

The people of the Hebrews
With palms before Thee went;
Our prayer and praise and anthems
Before Thee we present.
Refrain

To Thee, before Thy passion,
They sang their hymns of praise;
To Thee, now high exalted,
Our melody we raise.
Refrain

Thou didst accept their praises;
Accept the prayers we bring,
Who in all good delightest,
Thou good and gracious King.

During the Liturgy of the Word one of the following is read, either Isaiah 45:21-25 or Isaiah 52:13-53:12, the second being the Song of the Suffering Servant.  The Psalm is Psalm 22 where the Psalmist foretells Jesus’ anguished cry from the Cross; “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me? and are so far from my cry and from the words of my distress?”And then we have the New Testament reading Philippians 2: 5-11, the hymn to Christ is read:

“Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited, but emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, being born in human likeness. And being found in human form, he humbled himself and became obedient to the point of death– even death on a cross. Therefore God also highly exalted him and gave him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bend, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.”

Peter Denies Christ

This year the Passion Narrative is that of Luke (22:39-71) 23:1-49 (50-56).  The three parts that stand out in this narrative for me are Peter’s denial of Jesus:

“Then they seized him and led him away, bringing him into the high priest’s house. But Peter was following at a distance. When they had kindled a fire in the middle of the courtyard and sat down together, Peter sat among them. Then a servant-girl, seeing him in the firelight, stared at him and said, “This man also was with him.” But he denied it, saying, “Woman, I do not know him.” A little later someone else, on seeing him, said, “You also are one of them.” But Peter said, “Man, I am not!” Then about an hour later still another kept insisting, “Surely this man also was with him; for he is a Galilean.” But Peter said, “Man, I do not know what you are talking about!” At that moment, while he was still speaking, the cock crowed. The Lord turned and looked at Peter. Then Peter remembered the word of the Lord, how he had said to him, “Before the cock crows today, you will deny me three times.” And he went out and wept bitterly.”

Peter’s denial is in large part because he has had his illusions about Jesus shattered and the fact that he had not understood the message up to that point.  As Bonhoeffer says “Jesus is a rejected Messiah. His rejection robs the passion of its halo of glory. It must be a passion without honor. Suffering and rejection sum up the whole cross of Jesus. To die on the cross means to die despised and rejected of men. Suffering and rejection are laid upon Jesus as a divine necessity, and every attempt to prevent it is the work of the devil, especially when it comes from his own disciples; for it is in fact an attempt to prevent Christ from being Christ.”

Likewise Jesus interaction with the condemned thieves that were crucified with him:

“One of the criminals who were hanged there kept deriding him and saying, “Are you not the Messiah? Save yourself and us!” But the other rebuked him, saying, “Do you not fear God, since you are under the same sentence of condemnation? And we indeed have been condemned justly, for we are getting what we deserve for our deeds, but this man has done nothing wrong.” Then he said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.” He replied, “Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in Paradise.”

The Crucifixion

The final passage from this narrative that strikes me is the moment of Jesus’ death on the Cross:

“It was now about noon, and darkness came over the whole land until three in the afternoon, while the sun’s light failed; and the curtain of the temple was torn in two. Then Jesus, crying with a loud voice, said, “Father, into your hands I commend my spirit.” Having said this, he breathed his last. When the centurion saw what had taken place, he praised God and said, “Certainly this man was innocent.” And when all the crowds who had gathered there for this spectacle saw what had taken place, they returned home, beating their breasts. But all his acquaintances, including the women who had followed him from Galilee, stood at a distance, watching these things.”

The darkness of this is event is perplexing to those who want to find God in some place where he is untouched by human suffering to them the Cross is folly for what kind of God would submit himself to such ignominy but as Martin Luther wrote “He who does not know Christ does not know God hidden in suffering. Therefore, he prefers works to suffering, glory to the cross, strength to weakness, wisdom to folly. For they hate the cross and suffering and love works and the glory of works. Thus they call the good of the cross, evil and the evil of a deed, good. God can only be found in suffering and the cross.” It is in the contradiction of this week that we come to know God, not a God who seeks not the righteous or the powerful, those who seek the power of an earthy kingdom backed by an ideology of power which tramples the weak, but rather those who will simply walk in the footsteps of Jesus the Christ who rules by serving the least, the lost and the lonely.

The liturgy of this day takes us to the heart of the Gospel as we led by the writers through the triumph of the entrance into Jerusalem, to the betrayal of Jesus by Judas, the abandonment of him by the disciples and the denial of Peter.  As the writers lead us through his trial, conviction, scourging and trek to Golgotha we see the gamut of human emotions and reactions to Jesus and we know that we can be there as well in any of the characters simply because we are human and capable of compassion or betrayal.  As Jesus is on the Cross it is not the religious or upstanding that remain with him.  He is left with his mother, the other Mary and John the beloved.  He is shown compassion by a thief and recognized as the Son of God by the Roman Centurion, a gentile serving an empire oppressing the people of Israel and whose governor had pronounced the sentence of death upon him.  In this liturgy we have been taken from the heights of exhilaration in the triumphant entry to the depths of despair felt by his disciples that Friday afternoon. It is in this time that we realize how right Dietrich Bonhoeffer is when he writes “God loves human beings. God loves the world. Not an ideal human, but human beings as they are; not an ideal world, but the real world. What we find repulsive in their opposition to God, what we shrink back from with pain and hostility, namely, real human beings, the real world, this is for God the ground of unfathomable love.”

St Longinus, Centurion at the Cross and Martyr

It is the Centurion for which I have the greatest affinity in this story. He is a soldier and in the words of so many soldiers who have obey orders carried out the sentence upon Christ by crucifying him and then as the life ebbs out of Christ’s crucified body exclaims “surely this was a good man” or in other accounts “surely this was the Son of God.” That is the cry of a man who knows that he has executed an unjust sentence, the reaction of a true penitent, the reaction of a man who comes to realize even before many of Jesus’ closest followers understood.  According to tradition the Centurion was named Longinus who left the service of the Imperial Legion, was baptized by the Apostles and was martyred under the orders of Pontius Pilate by soldiers of the unit that he had once commanded.

It is important for the Church not to lose this identification.  The Church is not to become enmeshed and co-opted by those who attempt to use the Gospel to promote ideologies foreign to it as is the temptation in times of crisis.  As Jürgen Moltmann notes:

“In Christianity the cross is the test of everything which deserves to be called Christian… The Christian life of theologians, churches and human beings is faced more than ever today with a double crisis: the crisis of relevance and the crisis of identity. These two crises are complementary. The more theology and the church attempt to become relevant to the problems of the present day, the more deeply they are drawn into the crisis of their own Christian identity….

Christian identity can be understood only as an act of identification with the crucified Christ, to the extent to which one has accepted that in him God has identified himself with the godless and those abandoned by God, to whom one belongs oneself.” The Crucified God [pgs. 7, 19]

Nor is our task is not to attempt to invent “crosses” for ourselves in acts of pseudo-martyrdom but simply to be faithful in loving Jesus and our neighbor as Bonhoeffer noted “Must the Christian go around looking for a cross to bear, seeking to suffer? Opportunities for bearing crosses will occur along life’s way and all that is required is the willingness to act when the time comes. The needs of the neighbor, especially those of the weak and downtrodden, the victimized and the persecuted, the ill and the lonely, will become abundantly evident.” The mark of the Christian is not to blindly give his life for a cause or be consumed by the false “messiah’s” promoted by politicians, pundits and even preachers captivated by the lust for power and glory.

As we walk through the mystery of Holy Week together let us renew our faith in the Crucified One and not be conformed to those things that seek to turn us from the way of discipleship and the way of the Cross.

Peace

Padre Steve+

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Padre Steve Muses on Turning the Big Five O

“When you are younger you get blamed for crimes you never committed and when you’re older you begin to get credit for virtues you never possessed. It evens itself out.”  Casey Stengel


Fifty years ago today after putting my mother through an entirely brutal day long labor event little Padre Steve entered the world a mould was broken and a journey started.  I have to admit that fifty years is a long time, crap it’s half a century and I am now older than the average life span of men in Cameroon and 18 other countries which means that it probably sucks to be them….if I lived in one of those countries I could say what Casey Stengel said “most of the people my age are dead. You could look it up….” At the same time I’ve still got 25 1/2 years to reach the average life span in the United States.  If this was a baseball game I’d be finishing the bottom of the 6th inning.  The United States ranks 38th in the world on the average life expectancy of a man behind such countries as Cuba of which almost all have universal health care or socialized medicine.  I mean what’s up with that? If I was French, Canadian, German, English or one of these other countries I would have a longer life expectancy?  Hmmm…I do read speak and write German and my friend Gottfried keeps asking us to move there when I retire from the Navy.

One good thing is that I neither look nor act my age. When I was in Iraq my assistant RP2 Nelson Lebron and I were having lunch at the chow hall in Fallujah as we travelled out west at the beginning of our deployment with five other RPs as well as a number of Marines and Corpsmen. He decided to ask them how old they thought that I was.  At the time I was a mere 47.  The young folks at the table guessed anywhere from 32 to 42.  I thought that was rather cool.  I used to enjoy getting “carded” at the grocery store when buying beer but now since many places say that they card anyone who appears to be under 40 the thrill of that is gone.

Jeff and Me

Even so it is cool to have people think that I am younger than I am, I remember once when one of my nephews asked my younger brother if he was older than me.  Jeff did not see the humor in this but I admit he does act more mature than me….he grew up and I didn’t, but when he was a kid dad said that he was 8 going on 40. He was appalled when the Abbess and I went out on toilet paper raids.  I guess someone has to be the adult….better him than me, he has kids, and I don’t. It’s like Satchel Paige said “Age is a case of mind over matter. If you don’t mind, it don’t matter.” And since I don’t mind, it don’t matter.

True Love…Me with Judy at Cal State Northridge in 1980 or 1981

Besides looking good for my age my health has returned and I am feeling much better, physically, emotionally and spiritually than I did at 48 or 49 when I was dealing with PTSD, chronic pain and a spiritual crisis.  I had a check up and the doctor was blown away by my lab numbers and vitals.  He said I was in better health than most people that he sees the vast majority of who are a lot younger than me.  The same was true when I was serving at Navy EOD.  I guess that “50” is the new “30” after all, at least for me.  I took one of those “Real Age” tests a while back and it put me in my early 30s.  While I cannot and will not predict the future if all goes well I should be around many years and be pretty healthy doing it.  Heck my paternal grandmother was riding Greyhound buses across country and traveling well into her 80s.  I guess that I have pretty good genetic stock.  Of course since there is a whole lot that I have no control I am very careful not to prognosticate about how long I might live,  as Casey Stengel said “I don’t make predictions, especially about the future” after all the future ain’t what it used to be.”

47th Birthday in Jordan

Now in 50 years I have seen and done a lot and spent my birthday in some unusual places and sometimes in places where it went unrecognized.  Not that this is an issue for me as I normally shy away from such attention because I didn’t do anything to earn it.   Now I do appreciate people thinking of me and wishing me well. Yesterday our enlisted staff in the Pastoral Care office brought me in a cake and a card signed by all the staff.  It was really touching, the black icing on the cake was appropriate. I love working with this young men and women, they are great.  I have celebrated this auspicious occasion here in the states but also in places like Jordan, Germany and South Korea. South Korea was cool because some of the South Korean Chaplains took me out for dinner at a pizza parlor. I have also celebrated it at sea off the coast of the Horn of Africa.

With NJROTC friends aboard USS Gray shortly after 18th Birthday at Pearl Harbor

I think that life should be enjoyed to the fullest. I personally do not know how some people who have a choice chose not to enjoy life and I’m like talking about people with more talent, ability, money and looks than I will ever have, but they are miserable and they quite literally hate life, not only theirs but despise almost everything about the world that they live in.  Others allow themselves to be consumed by causes and events that they have no control of whatsoever.  Quite often these folks are the same folks who hate life in general but not always.

Me with Jeff and Minnesota Twins player Rich Reese

Now as anyone who knows me well can attest I am not one who has any illusions about how difficult life can be, how things can get all messed up and that life can be painful and sometimes tragic.  I understand this because I have gone through some pretty sucky times.  Thus I know for a fact that “there comes a time in every man’s life, and I’ve had plenty of them.”

41st Birthday in Korea with South Korean Marine Chaplains and their Families

I think that in order to live life to the fullest that people need to take what is serious seriously and ease up on most other stuff.  I know that I have only a certain amount of emotional energy and I finally figured out that I don’t need to expend it on things that I can’t control.  I am finally learning that in order to be at peace you cannot constantly be at war or looking for one. Are some things worth fighting for? Certainly, but not every battle is mine to fight.

I think a lot of what has helped me is that I am pretty happy with the person that I am and instead of looking to change things about me I just want to do what I do better within my limitations and neither be deluded into believing my own press or that of others about me or to be discouraged by failure or blame.  Satchel Paige said it well “Not to be cheered by praise, not to be grieved by blame, but to know thoroughly one’s own virtues or powers are the characteristics of an excellent man.”

So 50 years, it has been a long time but I feel good about my past and the future.  I am fortunate to have many friends including some that actually like me.  I have been blessed in a lot of ways, sometimes I understand what Lou Gehrig meant when he said I consider myself the luckiest man on the face of the Earth.” I am both lucky and blessed. I have a wonderful wife, family, friends, education and experiences that I could not have imagined having when I turned 18.  I have been able to travel about the world see and appreciate people from a multitude of countries, cultures and religions.  I have had the privilege of serving my country in peace and war, and to be a Priest. Despite all the problems we are having I live in a wonderful country and I have what I need. I am blessed beyond belief.

The past couple of days I have received the well wishes of more friends than I can count. Last night I was able to see a Norfolk Admirals hockey game and will be going out with Judy tonight and then to top off the day FEDEX dropped off my season tickets for the Norfolk Tides.  Thus I just want to thank everyone who made this day necessary.

Peace my friends especially to my classmates from Edison High School 1978 who like me are all turning 50 soon or already have.

Blessings,

Padre Steve+

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Lenten Joy

“Joy is the simplest form of gratitude.”  Karl Barth

“Gratitude changes the pangs of memory into a tranquil joy.” Dietrich Bonhoeffer

“Lord deliver us from gloomy saints” Teresa of Avila


Today is the last Friday in Lent and one to reflect on something often forgotten as we get lost in the “necessity” to give up things or do more in our spiritual life.  As one who never enjoyed the Lenten season because I got lost in the legalism of it.  I would become more focused on setting up things to do or to abstain from that were unreasonable and bound to fail no matter how hard I worked to make them work.  Often these were practices that I gleaned from medieval spirituality which focused on the penitential and ascetic aspects of the Christian life which in retrospect only made me more miserable during Lent.  Since I already know that I am a screw up and not very good at many spiritual practices the added “disciplines” were a continual reminder of how screwed up I really am.  This got worse after Iraq dealing with PTSD and all kinds of other issues to the point that last year I did an “un-Lent Lent” avoiding those things but not being very successful in doing better spiritually.

This Lent has been about recovering Joy.  Yes Lent is a penitential season and yes I do examine my conscious and seek to ensure that I go to confession or penitential service.  In fact the acuity of my awareness has gotten better making this less painful than it used to be.  Knowing that I have been able, even when knocked on my ass by a nasty Kidney stone for almost a month have been able to gain something from my Lenten journey, something very spiritual which drew me closer to God and others without a lot of additional religious activity.  For the first time in my life I can say that I have enjoyed Lent.

Part of recovering joy in life is regaining the ability to laugh again and not just with cynical and sarcastic wit.  Instead I have been able to laugh about life, the good and the bad.  As Karl Barth said “laughter is the closest thing to the grace of God.”

Laughter and joy have again become central in my life and I wonder how I lived during the darkest parts of the last two years when I despaired of life itself and wondered if God even existed.  Even with all the turmoil in the country and world, which I do take seriously if you are a regular reader, I have been able to live life, do theology, provide pastoral care and write and study history while living in the moment appreciating the grace and forgiveness of God and looking to the future with hope.  I know for some this may sound a bit daft, but I know that things are not great but I also know that somehow God and humanity continue to move forward in relationship to each other.

When I survey some to the pastors, teachers, and “theologians” in print and on the internet I wonder if they have forgotten the essence of life with God.  As the first question in the Westminster Catechism asks “what is the chief end of man?” The proper answer to this question is “to glorify God and enjoy him forever.” Even the disciples of John “I don’t know how to have fun” Calvin got this one right.

Karl Barth hits the nail on the head in dealing with joyless theologians and pastors.  When I was in seminary and since I have ordained I am amazed at the number of joyless people in ministry.  I know that some people get treated like crap by their churches but to remain in ministry while hating it and loathing people strikes me as just sort of self destructive.   Likewise the “theologian” who loathes the work that he has been called to do and the people that he is called to serve.  Barth notes:

“The theologian who has no joy in his work is not a theologian at all. Sulky faces, morose thoughts and boring ways of speaking are intolerable in this science. May God deliver us from what the Catholic Church reckons one of the seven sins of the monk—taedium [loathing]—in respect of the great spiritual truths with which theology has to do. But we must know, of course, that it is only God who can keep us from it.” Karl Barth, Church Dogmatics, II/1, p. 656.

To have joy in life and rediscover it in a season where even some of the most devout Christians what become immersed in tasks that are meant to bring them closer to God in fact serve to drive them away or become legalistic and unhappy seemingly incapable of knowing joy.  In “giving things up” they also give away the joy and peace of the Lord and the fellowship of his people. Joy should actually serve to remind us of, call us to and awaken us to desire.  C.S. Lewis talked a lot about joy and even wrote a book about it.  He noted in a letter that “All joy…emphasizes our pilgrim status; always reminds, beckons, awakens desire. Our best havings are wantings.”

Lent should not be a season where we take the fact that there are no “alleluias” and that many of the symbols of faith in our churches are covered as being a season of sorrow.  If we allow it to become that we miss the point entirely.  The joy that should we experience in life with God and the people that he loves, even in the most mundane and supposedly “unspiritual” undertakings of life is something to be savored.  Joy is part and parcel part of the Christian hope, and merely the hope of the Christian but the hope of humanity in the midst of a world dominated by politicians, pundits, preachers and a media machine that do nothing to inspire but rather play on people’s fears and seek to drive wedges between people who depend upon one another. The Christian faith is about a future grounded in hope and lived in fullness bathed in joy because of what God has done in Christ, instead of dwelling on death it is fixated on life.   As Jürgen Moltmann said “the origin of hope is birth, not death. The birth of a new life is an occasion for hope. The rebirth of lived life is an occasion for even greater hope. And when the dead are raised, they enter into the fulfilled hope of life. The setting for learning hope in life, therefore, is the possibility of starting anew and a new beginning, the true freedom.”


I have entered into a period where I am again experiencing joy in the simplicity and complexity of life lived with people that I have come to love and with whom I hope to share a great future.  With real joy a part of my life I can look to a great future as I turn 50.

Peace,

Padre Steve+

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And it’s One, Two Three Wives You’re out….Memories Residency at Parkland Memorial Hospital ER

Parkland ER (Life Magazine Photo)

This is another one of those unusual incidents that I faced during my Pastoral Care Education Residency at Parkland Memorial Hospital.  I was in a mood over the weekend and wrote one that was really creepy called The “Eyes” have it; they’ve got Sammy Davis Eyes….an Experience from My Clinical Pastoral Education Residency about a day where I dealt with two unusual eye cases. That one read almost like something from “Tales from the Crypt” or “Tales from the Dark Side.”  This is less creepy and sort of ironic in a weird sort of way.

The day was one of those typical Parkland days during my residency where the abnormal was the norm and norm was not doing so well….or at least Norm (my name for this particular patient- the name has been changed because his real name was probably even more boring) wasn’t doing well.  But first let me lay a little background.

Some people live life with secrets.  Yes my friends SECRETS.  These are dirty nasty secrets that they don’t even share with people inside their “circle of trust.”  In fact I had a brother in law who was much into something called bigamy which if you ask me wasn’t very biga-him or bright of him.  We figure that he had a number of “families” and since he can’t be found in the Social Security Death index assume that he was operating under a number of names and socials….but I digress God rest his soul.

It seems that sudden and uncontrolled events sometimes bring secrets to light, in fact I think that somewhere Jesus said something about this… something like whatever is done in the dark will be seen in the light…you something like that. Sometimes these traumatic events reveal secrets that are for the individual a fate worse than a fate worse than death…which in the case of Norm was true in both ways.  Its almost like when “Death” shows up in an episode of Family Guy and I can in sense see this happening with Norm, Death deciding to visit him at work.

Norm as I call him had an accident at work….he worked in an oil refinery and since we all know from Al Gore that oil companies are all bad it was probably their fault.  However….Norm had a very bad day, in fact it could be labeled the suckiest last day of his life where indeed Death paid him a visit.  We don’t know really what happened but toward the end of the work day Norm the unfortunate either fell into a vat of hot tar at the refinery and subsequently went into cardiac arrest, or he went into cardiac arrest and fell into the vat of hot tar.  So the Dallas Fire Department EMS showed up quickly and with the assistance of the refinery rescue team extracted him from the muck, got an airway began CPR and rushed the tar covered Norm to Parkland where as usual when odd things occurred I was on call.  As they brought him in the paramedics had the pneumatic CPR machine known as “Thumper” going and were “bagging” him.  Needless to say Norm did not look too well.  He was brought into the Cardiac Resuscitation room one, a fully equipped state of the art room designed to give the treatment team on the Medicine side of the ER the best chance to save someone’s life, they were a medicine version of our Trauma rooms on the surgery side of the ER.  However the team realized very quickly that Norm had bought the farm and the code was called.

I began to work with the nursing staff to try to find out if Norm had any family but stopped when a woman identified as his wife showed up.  She was escorted into one of our three ER consult rooms by one of our Police officers.  There a young resident did his best impression of Star Trek’s Doctor McCoy “Mrs. Norm…he’s dead.” I think he expressed his condolences as well, he answered her questions the best that he could while the nursing staff and I supported and calmed her.  When he was done and death and funeral home paperwork was done we escorted Mrs. Norm to see her now departed husband and after a tearful visit to him we took her back to the consult room, gave her a chance to compose herself and ask more questions.  When she was done she departed saying that a friend was waiting for her.  With that done the nursing staff began to prepare his body for the morgue where he would briefly remain until the Dallas Country Medical Examiner staff picked him up.  I busied myself with taking care of the staff and checking the charts and paperwork since Chaplains were also the guardians of the Morgue since the Pastoral Care Department also handled Decedent care.

About 45 minutes after the wife had left the officer who had escorted her to the consult room came to me.  He said “Chaplain his wife is here.”  I looked quizzically at him and said “No she left.” With a bit of a smile the officer, a really good guy looked at me and said “No Chaplain not her, another one.”  I was floored. Another wife? This certainly couldn’t be happening.  I thought this happened only in remote parts of Utah where renegade fundamentalist splinter groups from the Mormon Church flaunted the main Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints by practicing Polygamy and we were in the heart of Dallas with big hair, big cars, big churches and the Cowboys, but not this. After gathering myself I went to the physicians and nurses to tell them the good news.  As they stared at me blankly I got the doctor who had talked with “Number One” to come and spend some time with “Number Two.” We repeated the procedure with wife number two, notification was given, pastoral care and prayer provided, a visit was paid to Norm but with the twist that the doctor asked if she knew about any other family.  Which she did not and since “Number One” had presented the appropriate identification first we let “Number Two” know that she would probably have to deal with the hitherto unknown “Number One.”  Surprisingly though the news had taken her by surprise she was sort of okay with this and left for wherever.

I went back to the doctor’s station where I was working on paperwork and talking with the incredulous staff about what had just transpired when one of the unit clerk’s came over to us.  She said that Norm’s wife was on the phone.  The doctor and I looked at each other and I asked “which one?” The clerk then said “the one in Mexico.”  Yet a third wife….the doctor and I let her know that Norm had passed away and that she needed to contact the Medical Examiner’s office for more information.  The doctor asked if Norm has any other “family” and “Number Three” said just her and her children.  Norm really got around.  The doctor and I decided not to break the fact that she was “third” to her and let the Medical Examiner’s office sort out the sordid details of this twisted evening.

So it was one, two, three wives and Norm was out at the old ball game.  I have no idea what happened later but can only imagine what it would have been to be a cockroach in the cupboard listening to the meeting of these three women who all shared the love, or maybe the lust of Norm.

Peace and stay safe and keep those relationships in order for any of us could be the next contestant on “Death pays a Visit.”

Peace my friends,

Padre Steve+

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