Monthly Archives: March 2011

The Meaning of Opening Day

“No matter how good you are, you’re going to lose one-third of your games.  No matter how bad you are you’re going to win one-third of your games.  It’s the other third that makes the difference.”  Tommy Lasorda

At long last it is Opening Day, the first day of a long and arduous 162 game regular season and three tier playoff series system that can extend the season by up to 19 more games for teams that reach the World Series. Beyond the pageantry of opening day, which will be repeated tomorrow for the teams that did not play today and next week for the Minor Leagues and which is something akin to New Years Day the meaning of Opening Day is that baseball is back and Winter is over, even if it tries to hang on a few more weeks.

Over the past few days all the experts have weighed in on their picks of who will make the playoffs and even win the World Series. The good thing is that like Bible prophecy “experts” their predictions are often woefully wrong.  Baseball is about sustained performance of teams and individuals over the long season. In no sport do players and teams have such a punishing schedule as in baseball. Day in and day out the players take the field, travel across country and play the next day.  As the legendary Baltimore Orioles Manager Earl Weaver said “This ain’t a football game, we do this every day.”

The team rosters on opening day often are far different than those in September, injuries and slumps can get players traded, released or sent to the minors while unheralded players, journeymen, players called up from the minors and players that had been written off by former teams bask in the sunshine of success.  Teams which were expected to do great things sometimes collapse due to injuries, unexpectedly poor play by players that have to have a good season or a failure of on field leadership and trouble in the clubhouse or in senior management.

For these reasons I take all predictions made on opening day by experts with a grain of salt. I do not think that any of the experts picked San Francisco and Texas to meet in the World Series and right up to the end most of the experts picked the Giants to lose their division, then the divisional playoff series, then the NLCS and finally about half thought that the Giants would win the World Series.  I really think that experts show their bias, especially for East Coast teams over those in the West or Central and for teams with a lot of money and media clout such as the Yankees and Red Sox.  I have my thoughts on who might win their divisions and go on to the playoffs but anything I say now will be rendered moot by events on and off the field.  Do I think that the Giants can repeat? Of course, but no one has repeated since the 1998-2000 New York Yankees.  That is reality and what makes baseball so much fun, you never know how this long campaign will play out.

I love baseball because it really is an allegorical play about America and life. There are the highs and lows, the disappointment of unfulfilled expectations and the excitement of the underdog team that pulls it all together to win.  The meaning of Opening Day is that it is a beginning not an end, the end will only be seen when the last out of the World Series is recorded. Ernie Harwell said “Baseball is a lot like life. It’s a day-to-day existence, full of ups and downs. You make the most of your opportunities in baseball as you do in life.”

Peace

Padre Steve+

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Filed under Baseball, philosophy

A Return to God in the Empty Places

Three years and some change have passed since I returned from Iraq. I originally wrote this article for my former church immediately after returning home. At the time that I wrote it I was well on the way to my psychological and spiritual crash due to PTSD which at the time of writing this I clueless about despite lots of warning signs. Now well into recovery of my life and faith albeit in a different faith community as I was asked to leave my former church last September because I was now “too liberal” I have decided to repost it without any new edits or additions. I do this because for me it is a touch point in relation to being a chaplain serving with military professionals, volunteers fighting a series of unpopular wars. My problem and I think why I keep ending up here is that I was not always a Chaplain. I was not always a Chaplain but I am also a historian and more specifically a military historian and to some degree theorist. Additionally I have served as an enlisted man in the Army National Guard and as a line officer in the Army in command and staff positions before I became a Chaplain first in the Army and then in the Navy, taking a reduction in rank from a senior Army Major to a no time in grade Navy Lieutenant to enter the Navy in February 1999. As such a lot of what I study is military history and the social-political dimension of it.  I graduated from Marine Corps Command and Staff College and was about halfway through my Masters in Military History program of study when I was alerted that I was to be sent to Iraq in the Spring of 2007. As part of both the Command and Staff College and the degree program I spent a lot of time studying counterinsurgency campaigns, especially those of the French in Indo-China and Algeria and I saw many parallels between the professional French soldiers and officers who served in the Paratroops, Foreign Legion and Colonials (Marines) and our military in relation to society and politics in both countries As I point out in the article professional our all volunteer professional military is far different than the men of the Greatest Generation who were for the most part draftees as well as the military that fought in Vietnam the bulk of which were draftees.  This comment is in no way to cast dispersion on the brave men who fought so bravely in both wars, it is just a statement of fact as our military culture is different than it was then as is our political culture. In the middle of this are we happy few, we band of brothers who serve together in very unpopular wars. Tonight I post it again after my first public interview dealing with my struggles to acknowledge all of those that serve today as well as our brothers of the Vietnam era, French Indo-China and Algeria, and the British soldiers who served in so many crummy wars.

Today our Soldiers, Marines, Sailors and Airmen are engaged in three wars in the Middle East, are providing humanitarian relief to the people of Japan as well as other nations and are deployed in many other hot spots that could easily become war zones.  I don’t want anyone to forget them or their sacrifices. Anyway I digress; this is my return to God in the Empty Places.

I have been doing a lot of reflecting on ministry and history over the past few months. While both have been part of my life for many years, they have taken on a new dimension after serving in Iraq. I can’t really explain it; I guess I am trying to integrate my theological and academic disciplines with my military, life and faith experience since my return.

The Chaplain ministry is unlike civilian ministry in many ways. As Chaplains we never lose the calling of being priests, and as priests in uniform, we are also professional officers and go where our nations send us to serve our Soldiers, Sailors, Marines and Airmen. There is always a tension, especially when the wars that we are sent to are unpopular at home and seem to drag on without the benefit of a nice clear victory such as VE or VJ Day in World War II or the homecoming after Desert Shield and Desert Storm.

It is my belief that when things go well and we have easy victories that it is easy for us to give the credit to the Lord and equally easy for others to give the credit to superior strategy, weaponry or tactics to the point of denying the possibility that God might have been involved. Such is the case in almost every war and Americans since World War Two have loved the technology of war seeing it as a way to easy and “bloodless” victory. In such an environment ministry can take on an almost “cheer-leading” dimension. It is hard to get around it, because it is a heady experience to be on a winning Army in a popular cause. The challenge here is to keep our ministry of reconciliation in focus, by caring for the least, the lost and the lonely, and in our case, to never forget the victims of war, especially the innocent among the vanquished, as well as our own wounded, killed and their families.

French Paratroop Corpsmen treating wounded at Dien Bien Phu

But there are other wars, many like the current conflict less popular and not easily finished. The task of chaplains in the current war, and similar wars fought by other nations is different. In these wars, sometimes called counter-insurgency operations, guerilla wars or peace keeping operations, there is no easily discernable victory. These types of wars can drag on and on, sometimes with no end in sight. Since they are fought by volunteers and professionals, much of the population acts as if there is no war since it does often not affect them, while others oppose the war.

Likewise, there are supporters of war who seem more interested in political points of victory for their particular political party than for the welfare of those that are sent to fight the wars. This has been the case in about every war fought by the US since World War II. It is not a new phenomenon. Only the cast members have changed.

This is not only the case with the United States. I think that we can find parallels in other militaries. I think particularly of the French professional soldiers, the paratroops and Foreign Legion who bore the brunt of the fighting in Indo-China, placed in a difficult situation by their government and alienated from their own people. In particular I think of the Chaplains, all Catholic priests save one Protestant, at the Battle of Dien Bien Phu, the epic defeat of the French forces that sealed the end of their rule in Vietnam. The Chaplains there went in with the Legion and Paras. They endured all that their soldiers went through while ministering the Sacraments and helping to alleviate the suffering of the wounded and dying. Their service is mentioned in nearly every account of the battle. During the campaign which lasted 6 months from November 1953 to May 1954 these men observed most of the major feasts from Advent through the first few weeks of Easter with their soldiers in what one author called “Hell in a Very Small Place.”

Another author describes Easter 1954: “In all Christendom, in Hanoi Cathedral as in the churches of Europe the first hallelujahs were being sung. At Dienbeinphu, where the men went to confession and communion in little groups, Chaplain Trinquant, who was celebrating Mass in a shelter near the hospital, uttered that cry of liturgical joy with a heart steeped in sadness; it was not victory that was approaching but death.” A battalion commander went to another priest and told him “we are heading toward disaster.” (The Battle of Dienbeinphu, Jules Roy, Carroll and Graf Publishers, New York, 1984 p.239)

Of course one can find examples in American military history such as Bataan, Corregidor, and certain battles of the Korean War to understand that our ministry can bear fruit even in tragic defeat. At Khe Sahn in our Vietnam War we almost experienced a defeat on the order of Dien Bien Phu. It was the tenacity of the Marines and tremendous air-support that kept our forces from being overrun.

You probably wonder where I am going with this. I wonder a little bit too. But here is where I think I am going. It is the most difficult of times; especially when units we are with take casualties and our troops’ sacrifice is not fully appreciated by a nation absorbed with its own issues.

For the French the events and sacrifices of their soldiers during Easter 1954 was page five news in a nation that was more focused on the coming summer. This is very similar to our circumstances today because it often seems that own people are more concerned about economic considerations and the latest in entertainment news than what is going on in Iraq or Afghanistan. The French soldiers in Indo-china were professionals and volunteers, much like our own troops today. Their institutional culture and experience of war was not truly appreciated by their own people, or by their government which sent them into a war against an opponent that would sacrifice anything and take as many years as needed to secure their aim, while their own countrymen were unwilling to make the sacrifice and in fact had already given up their cause as lost. Their sacrifice would be lost on their own people and their experience ignored by the United States when we sent major combat formations to Vietnam in the 1960s. In a way the French professional soldiers of that era have as well as British colonial troops before them have more in common with our force than the citizen soldier heroes of the “Greatest Generation.” Most of them were citizen soldiers who did their service in an epic war and then went home to build a better country as civilians. We are now a professional military and that makes our service a bit different than those who went before us.

Yet it is in this very world that we minister, a world of volunteers who serve with the highest ideals. We go where we are sent, even when it is unpopular. It is here that we make our mark; it is here that we serve our Soldiers, Sailors, Marines and Airmen. Our duty is to bring God’s grace, mercy and reconciliation to men and women, and their families who may not see it anywhere else. Likewise we are always to be a prophetic voice within the ranks.

When my dad was serving in Vietnam in 1972 I had a Sunday school teacher tell me that he was a “Baby Killer.” It was a Catholic Priest and Navy Chaplain who showed me and my family the love of God when others didn’t. In the current election year anticipate that people from all parts of the political spectrum will offer criticism or support to our troops. Our duty is to be there as priests, not be discouraged in caring for our men and women and their families because most churches, even those supportive of our people really don’t understand the nature of our service or the culture that we represent. We live in a culture where the military professional is in a distinct minority group upholding values of honor, courage, sacrifice and duty which are foreign to most Americans. We are called to that ministry in victory and if it happens someday, defeat. In such circumstances we must always remain faithful.

For those interested in the French campaign in Indo-China it has much to teach us. Good books on the subject include The Last Valley by Martin Windrow, Hell in a Very Small Place by Bernard Fall; The Battle of Dienbeinphu by Jules Roy; and The Battle of Dien Bien Phu- The Battle America Forgot by Howard Simpson. For a history of the whole campaign, read Street Without Joy by Bernard Fall. I always find Fall’s work poignant, he served as a member of the French Resistance in the Second World War and soldier later and then became a journalist covering the Nurnberg Trials and both the French and American wars in Vietnam and was killed by what was then known as a “booby-trap” while covering a platoon of U.S. Marines.

There is a picture that has become quite meaningful to me called the Madonna of Stalingrad. It was drawn by a German chaplain-physician named Kurt Reuber at Stalingrad at Christmas 1942 during that siege. He drew it for the wounded in his field aid station, for most of whom it would be their last Christmas. The priest would die in Soviet captivity and the picture was given to one of the last officers to be evacuated from the doomed garrison. It was drawn on the back of a Soviet map and now hangs in the Kaiser Wilhelm Memorial Church in Berlin where it is displayed with the Cross of Nails from Coventry Cathedral as a symbol of reconciliation. I have had it with me since before I went to Iraq. The words around it say: “Christmas in the Cauldron 1942, Fortress Stalingrad, Light, Life, Love.” I am always touched by it, and it is symbolic of God’s care even in the midst of the worst of war’s suffering and tragedy.

Peace

Padre Steve+

 

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Filed under christian life, faith, History, iraq,afghanistan, Military, Tour in Iraq

The Front Page: Padre Steve talks about a Newspaper Interview on His Battle with PTSD

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

I was interviewed about a week and a half ago by Hope Hodge a reporter for the Jacksonville Daily News. The paper had discovered me through an article I wrote last September entitled Raw Edges: Are there other Chaplains out there Like Me? The editor assigned Hope to the project. After thinking about the request a number of days I knew that I needed to do the interview and had Hope contact our Public Affairs Officer, Raymond Applewhite. When he secured the permission of my Commanding Officer Captain Daniel Zinder he set up the interview with Hope and photographer Chuck Beckley.  

The interview was a very healing experience and the article was well done and I have nothing but thanks to Hope and those that arranged this. While I have talked extensively about my tour in Iraq and subsequent battles with PTSD, loss of faith and my slow recovery on this site as well as with individuals but I have carefully avoided media until now.  While I write a lot tend to be somewhat reclusive in real life especially since coming home from Iraq with my safe places being Harbor Park in Norfolk and Gordon Biersch Virginia Beach.

I knew that the interview would trigger some memories and I knew that once the article was out in public that there would be varied reactions including some that I knew would be negative.  At the same time the negative has been far outweighed by the positive reactions, especially among those that have gone through similar dark times. As I read the comments I knew despite that any negative reactions or attacks on me that the interview was the right thing to do. I read the stories of those who told about their battles with PTSD, experiences with military and VA healthcare as well as their crisis’s of faith posted in comments section and was touched.  They were telling things that are hard to talk about, especially in a public forum of a local newspaper where people can be quite vicious.  I know that even in that forum when most remain anonymous there is a risk and an emotional cost in posting experiences that in a sense are holy to the people sharing them and should be respected so I am glad to see that for some the article was helpful and encouraging. I was also blessed and even comforted by those that spoke well of me.  The kindness, support and comradeship that one has with such people is amazing, there is a brotherhood of war and we will support each other.

There was one man that was particularly nasty and I do need to deal with his comment here, not because I am upset but rather because I know how war, especially was like Vietnam and the current wars can do to a person.  The man who is an anonymous poster to this and other articles on the Daily News website claims to be a veteran of Vietnam in 1969-1970. I have no reason to doubt him as there are a lot of Vietnam Era combat vets in the local area and since I am a child of a Vietnam combat veteran and remember the shameful way that these men were treated when they returned I would never disrespect his service or even his feelings about how he was treated and the abuses that he saw when he came home.  I am very close to the Marine veterans of the Battle of Hue City and still maintain correspondence with these men who I count as friends.

At the same time I think that this man’s comments need to be addressed, not because of his service or experience following his return but because of the use of character assassination that is so common in our national discourse now days. The last time I experienced an attack on this site of similar invective was when a Neo-Nazi or White Supremacist from East Tennessee went so far as to physically threaten me. That man claimed to be a former paratroop officer. I really don’t know what brings people to launch such attacks on people that they never have even met but it is part of life and I knew that I might get something like this so it is what it is.  This is what this man said:

“This man should never have been in the military as he is too weak-minded. And/or, he, like a surprising number of his fellow officers have found it is best to get out under a disability as it’s a tax free cream puff ride to the bank each month. Imagine if he was one of the thousands of trigger pullers afield and try to pull this off? Pathetic!!” Comment by Your62 on Jacksonville Daily News (This and other posts by this man was removed by the newspaper sometime today 3/30/11)

Needless to say he was pretty nasty to others who commented on the article as well so I cannot take it personally and some of them gave it back to him in spades. As for me I hope that this man finds peace someday.

As for me I figure that since I have been in the military, not only as a Navy chaplain but also an Army Officer for nearly 29 years and that I have volunteered for every combat, humanitarian or contingency mission that I could over the course of my career, much to the chagrin of my wife, family and friends that I am by no means weak or lack courage. I know that I didn’t volunteer to go to Iraq to come out of it with PTSD and all that I have gone through since and what I have put my wife through.

Much to the surprise of this veteran I am not looking for a “tax free crème puff” as I figure that 5-10 years from now when I actually retire that I will have maxed out about every pay scale that there is and probably will have another deployment or two in me before I am done.  I figure that the way things are going in the world I will get a shot in Afghanistan or North Africa before all is said and done.

I certainly do not claim to be anywhere or done anything that I did not do or experience and never claim that I experienced what many other veterans of our current wars or past wars have in any of their wounds.  I see too many young men and women who have suffered grievous wounds to body and soul as a result of war to do such a thing. Likewise the many veterans of previous wars that I know who still suffer their wounds I would never dishonor. I consider it an honor to have served alongside such fine men and women or to met them long after their service in Vietnam, Korea or the Second World War or at the end of their careers when I was a young and idealistic know nothing officer in the early 1980s.

My war was different than others. It was in a lot of places where many never went serving alongside small units of 15-20 American advisers stationed with Iraqi units.  These men were remarkable because they were incredibly exposed to danger and often far from big units that could help them if they ran into trouble. They were the men that help organize and train the Iraqi Army to help turn the tide against Al Qaeda in 2007 and 2008 as much as anyone they were responsible for helping build friendships with Iraqi military officers that will be a cornerstone of our friendship with Iraq in the future.

As for me I did not shrink from danger. I went on foot patrols, night convoys in the badlands and was in a helicopter that was shot at and returned fire. I have had rockets fly over my head and being on a convoy that took some fire. Thankfully I was never in a convoy hit by an IED or big coordinated ambush. Since the convoys that I travelled with usually had three HUMMVs with nothing heavier than a single .50 cal or 240 series machine gun that any such action would have been a battle for life and death and I know what I would have done had such a situation occurred. Since Al Qaeda Iraq had Chaplains as a high value target and since our Iraqis new that I was the “American Imam” and that such word would filter out of the camps the men that I served with took good care of me even in very exposed locations. Likewise even Iraqi officers sought my counsel and asked me to bless or to pray for their soldiers.  I will never forget the Iraqi soldiers that asked me to bless their vehicles on one of our convoys with Holy Water as I did for our advisers as we set off on Route Uranium west of Ramadi.

Through it all I can now say that I am grateful for what I have been through. It still is not easy as even though I continue to see improvement I still on occasion have flashbacks, nightmares and have to make the effort to go into places where I don’t feel safe.  At the same time I would gladly go back to Iraq or to Afghanistan or anywhere else to serve the men and women of the Navy, Marine Corps, Army and Air Force that I love and respect so much.  There is not a day that goes by when I don’t think about serving in combat again, much to the chagrin of my wife and family.  I am not a proponent of war, in fact the more I see I am against it.  I fully agree with General Robert E. Lee who said “It is good that war is so terrible. We should grow too fond of it.” However, I know my place until the day that I retire from the Navy is when my Marines, Sailors, Soldiers and Airmen are in harm’s way.

For those who are silently suffering the ravages of PTSD and moral injury related to their service I know the pressure. I didn’t seek help until the EOD Diving Medical Officer saw me falling apart and got me into the medical system.  Unfortunately there can be and often is a stigma attached to PTSD and for some to suffer in silence is preferable to the stigma of seeking help and being called weak.  I made the choice to get help when I couldn’t do it on my own any longer but have seen others be traumatized by other servicemen and women for seeking help, that whole thing about being “weak.” I got lucky when I was sent for help, not everyone has my experience.

Despite that I encourage those suffering from such injuries to seek help because there are a lot of us out here that really care because we know what it is like. I admit that it is not easy to seek help and sometimes getting it can be problematic simply because of the stress on the medical system, but help is there.

Blessings and Peace

Padre Steve+

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Filed under faith, iraq,afghanistan, Military, Pastoral Care, philosophy, PTSD, Tour in Iraq

Another Sign of the Apocalypse: No Number One Seeds Left in the NCAA Tournament

Signs of the Apocalypse?

Well my friends there are wars, rumors of wars, natural and unnatural disasters Iranian Ayatollahs proclaiming that the Mahdi is coming so Iran can beat the snot out of all the infidels and all the number one seeds eliminated before the Final Four. What a deal, the only things lacking for the great apocalyptic battle are the Cubs winning the World Series and a conspiracy theory website that purports that President Obama is actually a Vulcan with clipped ears, thus no birth certificate.  Wow, I had just typed that when an advertisement for a nutty televangelist and his ditzy wife was aired while I was watching House hinting that Obama might be a Moslem, so be sure to watch them on Sunday.

Yes my friends it looks like the Four Horsemen, Dick Cheney, Nancy Pelosi, Oprah and Gilbert Gottfried, are mounting their steeds and preparing Trigger, Champion, Secretariat and Mr. Ed for the last rodeo. Things are getting serious all over the place. When showed Padre Steve that this was the case was not the wars or the natural disasters. No friends it was VCU killing off Kansas to ensure that no number one seeded team got in the Final Four this year.  Of course Butler had killed off Pitt, Kentucky had killed off Ohio State and Arizona had killed off Duke. Since my bracket had gone to hell by the round of 32 and my last finalist North Carolina went Tango Uniform in the Elite 8 I couldn’t care less who actually won I just wanted no number ones in the Final Four, no number twos if possible and chaos to reign.

I got my wish when VCU took down Kansas yesterday and even though I had put North Carolina through to the Final Four I wanted Kentucky to win simply because they were a lower seed than the Tar Heels. When you come to think about the fact that no number one or two seeded teams are in the Final Four really is amazing.  In fact it is the first time ever that no number one or number two seeds have made the Final Four. In 2006 and 1980 no number one teams made it but this is the first time ever that this has happened and this year the aggregate seeding of the Final Four Teams is lower than any Final Four ever.  Three number three seeds have won the National Championship Florida (2006), Indiana (1981), Michigan (1989) and Syracuse (2003). Only one number four seed has won the National Title Arizona in 1997.  Villanova is the only number eight seed to take the National Championship and that was in 1985. No number eleven seeds have ever reached the title game although George Mason (2006) and LSU (1986) did reach the Final Four.

Now just because this is the lowest seeding of Final Four teams does not mean that these are bad teams. Let’s face it UCONN is a major player as is Kentucky and Butler is no stranger to the Sweet 16 and Final Four getting into the title game last year. VCU is the real surprise because they were the last team chosen and had to win an extra game to get in the 64 team field.

This is also no real changing of the guard in College Basketball. With the exception of Richmond and VCU the teams in the Elite Eight were all big programs or in the case of Butler a team that was in the Final Four last year and is a quality program.  While more VCUs and Butler’s may go deep in the tournament expect that the big programs will still be in the Final Four more often than not. I may want the little guys to be there all the time but that probably won’t happen but that doesn’t mean that I can’t cheer them on every year, heck I picked ODU to be in the Final Four but Butler took them out in the first round.

So the Four Horsemen have lined up, the world is all goofy but at least this Final Four field is no threat to the end of the world as we know it.  So my picks for the National Championship, VCU against Kentucky and God only knows who wins that. As my Iraqi friends say, Inshallah.

Peace

Padre Steve+

 

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Filed under Just for fun, Religion, sports and life

No I will Not Grow Up: Some thoughts on my 51st Birthday

“It takes a long time to grow young.” Pablo Picasso

“I want to thank you for making this day necessary” Yogi Berra

Today is yet another anniversary of being forcibly evicted from my mother’s womb where I had taken a three week extension on my nine month lease. Ever since that time I have not acted my age….well maybe that’s not quite correct.  I think it is better said that I am aware of my age and pretend to act my age when the occasion requires that I do but deep inside I am still an incorrigible adolescent.  My brother who is six years my junior was 40 years old by the time that he turned eight.  He was always the serious one and when Judy and I took him on a toilet paper raid during my junior year in college he was scandalized.  Now that we adults he is still the serious one, I only get serious when I write about a serious subject or I’m in trouble.

Now when I was young in body as well as spirit I always was amazed and saddened to see people grow old. I don’t mean growing old in body because no one can get around that, but I mean growing old in spirit and losing their youth and joy in life.  It was sad for me to see people who really were not that old dressing and acting like they were older than their years. It made me want to never grow up, I didn’t want to be that way and as the people that know me can attest I am yet to grow up.  I still find the humor and irony in so many things and have to keep my humor in check sometimes in things like Board of Directors meetings and stuff like that; I do have a sense of decorum as misplaced as it often is.

I remember my paternal grandmother, “Granny” who when I was 5 years old and she was not much older than I am now was talking about how it wouldn’t be long until she was dead and gone. When she was 85 I pissed her off to ask if she was moving when she said it one too many times.  I think I got a call from my mom and dad about that one because Granny really got pissed.  I had an algebra teacher in junior high school named Mr. Nichley.  He looked really old then and dressed it and acted it. That was in 1974.  He just died a couple years back and was in his mid 80s, which meant that he was just in his 40s back then, he was a man too old before his time.  I saw so many people who lived their lives in that way that I rebelled against the thought of it.

Since I was born back in 1960 I can say that I was part of the 60s and that my views on life do not always square with my rather serious friends.  I really think that a lot of our political and ideological divisions in this country are because far too many people take everything too seriously. I know that we have a lot of serious issues that need serious answers but we have lost any sense of humor, levity and irony to face them well. Sometimes when I am around a lot of overly serious people I hear James Earl Jones telling Kevin Costner in Field of Dreams “Out! Back to the sixties! Back! There’s no place for you here in the future! Get back while you still can!”

We’ll I can’t go back to the 60’s but I can stay young.  I have resumed collecting baseball cards, still occasionally build model ships, tanks and aircraft, and try to stay active and I hope I can get on our hospital’s baseball team, if not this year maybe next. I do not own a suit. I have a few sports jackets (why they call them that I’ll never know because I have yet to see anyone playing baseball or football in one) and a few pairs of nice pants to go with my clerical shirts but only wear them when the occasion absolutely demands. For years Judy has tried and failed to get me to dress more upscale but I’d rather wear my wide array of baseball jerseys, fleeces and warm up jackets.  I try not to wear long pants after baseball season begins and until after the final game of the World Series unless absolutely necessary.  I always dreamed of being in the military as a kid and I am still in the military coming up on 29 years of total service despite being about as serious as Hawkeye Pierce and studious as Von Molkte the Elder. As Will Rogers said “Do the best you can, and don’t take life too serious.”

Tommy Lasorda said “I love doubleheaders. That way I get to keep my uniform on longer” well I have gotten to keep my uniform on a lot longer than most of the people that I have served with and still enjoy staying in the game. Life is good even when its not.

For me learning is part of staying young, I think that when we stop learning we start dying. This means that I will probably take up another advanced academic degree, not so much to increase my job opportunities after the Navy but because it keeps me young and engaged. The other part of remaining you is to know, love and believe in what you are doing in life.  In fact Will Rogers said that such was the secret of success. I think that so many people lose their joy because they have forgotten that little truth and that is another reason why we are in such a mess.

I try to stay fit and my doctors tell me that my blood pressure, cholesterol and other important measurements of health are those of people a lot younger than me.  My blood pressure is consistently about 105 over 70, not bad at all.

Finally I really believe that part of staying young is to live life to the fullest because we don’t know when we will breathe our last breath. Life is too short not to live it fully and at the tender age of 51 I want to get every bit out of life that I can in all aspects of life to include my faith as Francis of Assisi said “It is not fitting, when one is in God’s service, to have a gloomy face or a chilling look.”  After all who can stand to be around gloomy, judgmental and overly serious Christians or for that matter those kinds of people in any religion?  In my chosen vocation of being a Priest and Navy Chaplain I decided to be true to who I am long ago. I won’t be something that I am not. When I was on the USS Hue City one of my sailors, Tommy Byrne nicknamed me “the Anti-Chaps” simply because I did not fit the mold of what most people expected, I think it was when I bought him and some of our shipmates a couple of pitchers of beer at a bar when on liberty.

Life is to be lived and Abe Lincoln said it so well put it “the end, it’s not the years in your life that count. It’s the life in your years.”

I am grateful for my life and am blessed that neither Judy nor my little dog Molly look or act their ages either. I have many friends and today have been so blessed to hear from so many of them through the medium of Facebook.

I want to thank you all of my friends for being a part of my life. May you and your live long and prosper.

Peace and Blessings

Padre Steve+

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Filed under christian life, faith, Loose thoughts and musings, philosophy, purely humorous

Opening Day 2011: How Baseball Helps Padre Steve Make Sense of the World

The Church of Baseball Harbor Park Parish

“This is my most special place in all the world, Ray. Once a place touches you like this, the wind never blows so cold again. You feel for it, like it was your child.” Dr. Archibald “Moonlight” Graham in Field of Dreams

“I love baseball. You know it doesn’t have to mean anything, it’s just beautiful to watch.” - Woody Allen in Selig (1983)

We are approaching Opening Day for baseball and in a couple weeks more the Norfolk Tides will play their home opener at Harbor Park against their rival the Durham Bulls. Unfortunately this year I cannot keep my season tickets in The Church of Baseball at Harbor Park and in particular my little corner of the world in Section 102, Row “B” Seats 1 and 2.  My assignment at Camp LeJeune will keep me from this place of sanctuary in a world that seems to have gone mad.

Baseball has always meant a lot to me but even more so after returning from Iraq in 2008.  Until recently Harbor Park was one of the few places that I felt safe, I have added to the “safe” zones since 2008 but Harbor Park has a special place in my heart a place of solace and community that has been a constant for me. While I will not have my season tickets this year I will still make games whenever I am in town at the same time that the Tides are at home and I will catch some games in Kinston North Carolina where the K-Tribe, the Kinston Indians will play their last season before moving to Zebulon and it’s wonderful ballpark.

Baseball is reassuring.  It makes me feel as if the world is not going to blow up.  ~Sharon Olds

The ball park is important to me.  When I was really suffering from depression and a major crisis in faith related to my tour in Iraq and battle with PTSD and feelings of abandonment after the tour I would go to Harbor Park just to talk with staff and sit in the concourse.  There is something about baseball people and my seats down in section 102 that help me even when there is no game being played.  There is a peace that I have when I walk around the diamond and I feel close to God when I am around a ballpark, even without the game being played there is something almost mystical about it.  To me there is nowhere more peaceful than a ballpark and every time I watch a game on TV my mind goes back to how much baseball has been part of my life, and how in a very real way that God speaks to me through this special game.

“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

Me with California Angels Manager Lefty Phillips in 1970

Baseball became part of my life as a child when my dad introduced me to it in our back yard in Oak Harbor Washington.  Even before I played an organized game dad played catch with me, showed me how to grip a ball and told me about the great ballplayers.  He made me learn the fundamentals of the game and whether we were attending a game in person, watching one on television or playing catch, pepper or practicing infield or pitching dad was all about the game.  Of course he was the same way with football, hockey and basketball, but the sport that he seemed most passionate about was baseball.  As a kid he was a Cincinnati Reds fan.  His mother, my grandmother who hailed from the hollers of Putnam County West Virginia was a diehard Dodgers fan, though I am sure that God forgives her for that.  She was an independent woman of conviction and determination that has to in some way influenced her love for the game, even as a little boy if there was a game on television she would have it on and could talk intelligently about it.  I still wonder about to this day how she became a Dodger’s fan but it probably had something to do with her independent streak.  “Granny” as she chose to be called was a woman who as a widow in the late 1930s went to work, raised her two boys and bought her own house.  Unlike most of the people in West Virginia she was also a Republican, a rare breed especially in that era. Likewise she left the Baptist church of her family and became a Methodist. As independent in her choice of baseball teams as she was in her politics Granny was a Dodgers fan in a land of Reds, Indians and Pirates fans, so even with Granny we were immersed in baseball.

Dad always made sure that we got to see baseball wherever we lived. In 1967 he took us to see the Seattle Pilots which the next year went to Milwaukee and became the Brewers. The Pilots were an expansion team in a town with a long history of minor league ball. They played at an old park named Sick Stadium, which if you ask me is a really bad marketing plan.  The game that we went to was the “Bat Day” giveaway.  Then they gave out regulation size Louisville Slugger bats.  Mine had the name of the Pilots First Baseman Mike Hegan on the barrel.  That was my first trip to a Major League stadium and I still can remember it as if it was yesterday.  Somewhere in my junk I have a button with the Pilots logo on it.  I’ll have to fish it out again sometime.  The next year I played my first organized baseball with the Oak Harbor Little League “Cheyenne’s.” My coach was a kind of gruff old guy who stuck me out in right field when as any little kid would I was pretty much a spectator as almost nothing came my way.  I don’t know why but our team uniforms did not match, half of us had white and the other half gray. Unfortunately due to military moves I didn’t get to play organized ball again until 1972.

In the elementary schools of those days our teachers would put the playoff and World’s Series games on television in our classrooms as then many of the games were played during daylight hours.  I remember watching Bob Gibson pitch when the Cardinals played against the Red Sox in the 1967 series.  It was awesome to see that man pitch.   I remember the Amazin’ Mets upsetting the Orioles in 1969 and seeing the Orioles take down the Reds in 1970.  I never will forget the 1970 All Star Game where Pete Rose ran over Ray Fosse at home plate for the winning run.  I watched in awe as the great dynasty teams of the 1970s, the Reds and the Athletics who dominated much of that decade and the resurgence of the Yankees in the summer of 1978 when the Bronx burned.  Back then every Saturday there was the NBC Game of the Week hosted by Curt Gowdy, Tony Kubek and Joe Garragiola.  It was a sad day when that broadcast went off the air.

When we were stationed in Long Beach California from 1970-1971 my dad had us at Anaheim stadium watching the California Angels all the time.  I imagine that we attended at least 30 to 40 games there and a couple at Dodger stadium that first year and a good number more before we moved to Stockton California in the middle of the 1971 season.  The move north was disappointing, it took forever to get adjusted to Stockton and I think that part of it was not seeing the Angels every week at the Big “A.” At those games I met a lot of the players and coaches and even some opposing players.  The Von’s grocery store chain and the Angels radio network had a “My Favorite Angel” contest when I was in 5th Grade.  I submitted an entry about Angels First Baseman Jim Spencer and was named as a runner up.  This netted me two seats behind the plate and legendary sportscaster Dick Enberg announced my name on the radio.  Spencer was a Gold Glove First Baseman who later played for the Yankees on their 1978 World Series team.  My first hat from a Major League team was the old blue hat with a red bill, the letters CA on the front and a halo stitched on top. I still have a hat from the 1971 team with the lower case “a” with a halo hanging off of it.  It has numerous autographs on the inside of the bill including Sandy Alomar, Jim Spencer, and Jim Fregosi, Chico Ruiz, Andy Messersmith, and Billy Cowan and sits in a display case on my kitchen wall.

While we didn’t live as close to a major league team baseball did not cease to be a part of my life.  While we were not at the ballpark as much it got more interesting in some aspects as for the first time I attended playoff games and saw a no-hitter. We saw the A’s dynasty teams including games one and two of the 1972 American League Championship Series between the A’s and the Tigers.  Across the Bay a few years later I got to see Ed Halicki of the Giants no-hit the Mets a Candlestick on August 24th 1975.  In those days I got to see some of the greats of the era play, Catfish Hunter, Reggie Jackson, Willie Mays, Willie McCovey, Steve Garvey, Vida Blue, Harmon Killebrew, Rollie Fingers, and so many others at the Oakland-Alameda County Coliseum and Candlestick Park.

While in Stockton I became acquainted with Minor League Baseball through the Stockton Ports, who then were the Class “A” California League farm team for the Orioles.  I remember a few years back talking to the Orioles great Paul Blair who played for the Ports in the early 1960s about Billy Hebert Field and how the sun would go down in the outfield blinding hitters and spectators in its glare.  I would ride my bike over in the evening to try to get foul balls that came over the grand stand when I didn’t have the money to get a ticket.

When I was a kid I had a large baseball card collection which I kept in a square cardboard roller-skate box.  I must have had hundreds of cards including cards that if I had them now would be worth a small fortune. Unfortunately when I went away to college I left them in the garage and during a purge of my junk they were tossed out.  Last year I started collecting cards again, mostly signed cards that I obtained at the Church of Baseball at Harbor Park.  In a sense they kind of serve a purpose like Holy Cards due in the Catholic Church for me.  They are a touch point with the game and the players who signed them.

As I have grown older my appreciation for the game, despite strikes and steroids still grows.  I am in awe of the diamond.  I have played catch on the field of dreams, seen a game in the Yankee Stadium Right Field bleachers seen games in many other venues at the Major League and Minor League levels and thrown out the first pitch in a couple of Kinston Indians games.  I am enchanted with the game. The foul lines theoretically go on to infinity, only broken by the placement of the outfield wall.  Unlike almost all other sports there is no time limit, meaning that baseball can be an eschatological game going on into eternity. The Hall of Fame is like the Calendar of Saints in the Catholic, Orthodox and Anglican Churches.  There are rituals in baseball such as the exchange of batting orders and explanation of the ground rules and the ceremonial first pitch.  Likewise there are customs that border on superstition such as players not stepping on the foul line when entering and leaving the field of play, no talking about it when a pitcher is throwing a no-hitter and the home run trot. Even the care of the playing field is practiced with almost liturgical purity. The care of a field by an expert ground crew is a thing to behold, especially when they still use the wooden box frames to lay down the chalk on the baselines and the batter’s box.

We have travelled to many minor league parks often in tiny out of the way locations and even to the Field of Dreams in Dyersville Iowa where once again Judy indulged me and let me play catch. Likewise my long suffering wife has allowed our kitchen and much of my dining room is as close to a baseball shrine as Judy will let me make them; thankfully she is most tolerant and indulges this passion of mine.

Since I returned from Iraq the baseball diamond has been one of my few places of solace.  For the first time last season I bought a season ticket to the Tides and in section 102, row B seats 2 and 3 was able to watch the game from the same place every day.  It became a place of refuge during some of my bad PTSD times, and I got to know and love the people around me; Elliot the Usher, Chip the Usher, Ray and Bill the Vietnam Veteran Beer guys behind home plate, Kenny “Crabmeat” the Pretzel Guy and Barry the Scorekeeper.  Last year the Vietnam Vets and the Veterans beer stand were moved down the first base concourse where they were relegated to the boring beers.

Even still there is some sadness in baseball this year as there was last year and the year before.  My dad passed away last year after a long battle with Alzheimer’s disease.  I miss talking baseball with him and wish he was alive and in good enough health to play catch.  However that will have to wait for eternity on the lush baseball field that only heaven can offer.

The season is about to begin and God is not done speaking to me through baseball as I close my eyes and recollect the words of Terrance Mann (James Earl Jones) in Field of Dreams: “The one constant through all the years has been baseball. America has rolled by like an army of steamrollers. It’s been erased like a blackboard, rebuilt, and erased again. But baseball has marked the time. This field, this game, is a part of our past. It reminds us of all that once was good, and what could be again.”

In a sense this says it all to me in an age of war, economic crisis, natural disasters and bitter partisan political division.  In a sense it is a prayer, a prayer for a return to something that was good and what could be good again.

Peace and blessings,

Padre Steve+

 

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Filed under Baseball, faith, norfolk tides, philosophy, PTSD

Padre Steve’s Primer on the Muddle East

“When you are up to your arse in alligators it is hard to remember that your mission is to drain the swamp.” Old British Colonial Saying

During the dark days of World War Two when Field Marshal Erwin Rommel was making fools of a series of British commanders in North Africa people including senior British military and government leaders sometimes referred to the theater of operations as “the Muddle East.” Some things never seem to change. The Muddle East today is quite frankly speaking in a real muddled state if there ever was one with world leaders and regional leaders muddling about as if they were the New York Mets.

A large part of the muddle goes back to the fall of the Ottoman Empire at the close of the First World War when the victorious Allied Powers redrew the map of the Middle East and made alliances with various local tribal sheiks who many times were crowned king over other tribes who didn’t necessarily want them as king. This along with heavy handed European military actions such as the British using poison gas dropped from aircraft in Iraq and a real lack of effort to better the lives of the newly “liberated” peoples of the region was just the start. Add to the cesspool a bunch of oil presided over by major oil companies, the anti-colonial movements that flourished in the years after World War Two when the French, British and Italians had to divest themselves of their Middle Eastern holdings. The French had to fight a real war in Algeria but finally withdrew leaving Algeria’s new rulers to goof up the country and oppress their people for decades to come.  In the coming years many of these newly independent nations found that life still sucked so in a number of countries military officers overthrew the despised monarchs promising reforms but oppressing their people while blaming all their problems on the Israelis.  They got their asses kicked by the Israelis in a series of wars which did a number of things that made the Middle East Muddle even worse.

First it ensured that Palestinian Arabs ended up under Israeli rule and were used with great aplomb by the Middle Eastern despots to prop up support for their regimes while doing nothing to help the Palestinians other than to put them in camps in Lebanon.  Even when the Egyptians made a peace deal with Israel most of the Arab World ostracized them.  Then in 1979 the Shah of Iran was sent packing by a bunch of Mullahs and in 1981 Saddam Hussein’s Iraq attacked Iran in one of the bloodier wars of the late 20th Century which finally ended in 1988. Of course the United States was pissed at the Mullahs so Saddam became our favorite Arab despot for a while.  Add to the mix the Soviet Union and the United States arming their favorite Arab dictators who were given carte blanche to continue oppressing their people so long as it didn’t interfere with their support of either party or the oil supply. Finally the Soviets went Tango Uniform in 1989 not long after being forced out of Afghanistan by the U.S. supplied, Pakistani supported and Saudi Arabian fundamentalist financed Mujahedeen.

With the Soviets Tango Uniform and the Warsaw Pact nations trying to get into NATO the United States was now the uncontested Numero Uno country in the world Saddam presumed upon his late supporters and invaded Kuwait, albeit after thinking that the U.S. Ambassador to Iraq said that we wouldn’t mind. Well he was wrong we did mind and got a lot of countries from NATO and including a bunch of Arab countries like Egypt, Syria and Saudi Arabia to get on board on a mission to get Saddam’s troops out of Kuwait. It was a kick ass mission and since the United Nations didn’t authorize removing Saddam and because President George H.W. Bush was smart enough to not to drive on Baghdad to kick him out preferring the depot we knew to a quagmire despite Saddam’s crimes against his own people who thought we would help them.  So we stationed ground and air forces around the Gulf to keep Saddam and Iran in check and even put them in Saudi Arabia which a large number of radicals such as Osama Bin Laden equated to letting the Devil play in Allah’s Holy Sandbox.  So Osama went and set up a base with the Medieval bunch of Pashtun known as the Taliban in Afghanistan stirred up a bunch of shit killing Americans and blowing up stuff including the World Trade Center in 1993, the Khobar Towers barracks complex in 1996, the USS Cole in 2000 and then 2001 another attack on the World Trade Center which took down the towers with hijacked aircraft and also struck the Pentagon triggered an American response against Bin Laden and his Taliban hosts.  The United States then invaded in Iraq in 2003 and succeeded in taking out Saddam but also succeeded in alienating a good many Iraqis who greeted us with open arms because we goofed up the occupation and pissed a lot of them off by dissolving the Army, Police and Civil Service and letting thugs and opportunists take over. Unfortunately since we didn’t go in with enough troops to secure all the Iraqi bases, their weapons depots and actually take control of surrendering Iraqi units these newly unemployed and dishonored people launched an insurgency bolstered by Al Qaeda and other foreign fighters even as Sunni and Shi’a Moslems began to settle scores with each other. Insurgency and civil war, two great tastes that go great together, but what the heck right?

Of course it took years to get control of the situation on the ground and thankfully the United States forces in Iraq were helped when the Sunni Moslems in Al Anbar Province realized that these foreign fighters were a worse enemy than the United States and switched sides. This turned the tables in Iraq and the insurgency was brought under control and an elected government managed to start to get their stuff together and allow us to begin withdrawing from Iraq. Of course the focus on Iraq gave the Taliban a chance to regroup as the Afghani Government proved itself corrupt, incompetent and not to give a shit about the Afghani people. So the Taliban who had been hated made a comeback and made our lives much harder so that now almost 10 years into the fight we are having a really hard time.  Well enough about us there was plenty more going on in the Muddle East besides the Iraq and Afghanistan wars.

Let’s see….there was the law of unintended consequences in that by taking Saddam Down and weakening Iraq we took away Iran’s natural enemy and the key to the balance of power in the region. Iran was strengthened and began a nuclear program that everyone with half a brain knows in intended for military use and expanded its influence in Lebanon where the Iranian backed Hezbollah took power last year.  Now Hezbollah which actually has an experienced military force and probably owns 40,000 or so rockets and missiles a good number of which can hit deep in Israel seems to be ready for war especially because they fought the Israelis to a stalemate in 2008, the first time an Arab military ever did that.

Then was the effect that the wars in those countries made things harder for us in many other friendly Arab nations.  Of course there is the problem of a nuclear armed Pakistan which is about as stable as a Japanese nuclear reactor after getting hit by a tsunami and plays both sides of the street in the war on terror.  The Palestinians and Israelis continued their love affair and since Fatah which ran Palestinian Authority was so corrupt and gooned up a more militant group, Hamas took power in the Gaza strip. Hamas is a pretty bloodthirsty lot too but not the same level of threat as Hezbollah to the Israelis.  Of course the Israelis have done little to help the situation by their often heavy handed treatment of Palestinians and Israeli Arabs.

The witches’ cauldron of the Muddle East is getting even more muddled on a daily basis as young Arabs throughout the Muddle East are rising up against their despotic rulers and it doesn’t seem that any are safe, those allied with the United States and the West as well as those that have been a thorn in the side of the United States and the West. It just seems that despots and tyrants are no longer in vogue. The uprisings began in Iran after a disputed election where reformers were cheated of power and the revolt crushed by the Revolutionary Guard and other thugs of the Iranian regime. But then in December 2010 the people of Tunisia rose up and overthrew their President for Life Ben Ali in a peaceful uprising followed shortly after by the Egyptians who tossed out long term President and U.S. ally Hosni Mubarak.

This brought about spontaneous uprisings all over the Middle East with Libya and the long time pain in the ass Muammar Gaddafi being the current center of the action. However Yemen and Bahrain both are in trouble, Algeria, Jordan and Syria have or are experiencing demonstrations which look to be revolts in the making and even Saudi Arabia is trying to head off a potential popular uprising.

Yes my friends this is a mess and almost everybody that is anybody in the military and economic power houses of the world doesn’t have their handprints all over at least some part of this mess. All of these own some of the blame for what is going on, both the rulers of the nations in the region as well as world powers who all try to influence the nations and peoples for their own diplomatic, intelligence, military or economic gain. Almost no one is unsoiled by their involvement in the Muddle East over the past 90 years or so and so in a way all of world powers, as well as the despots who ran these countries are to blame.

The region is more volatile than at any time in recent history and events there could easily ignite a regional war with worldwide implications.  That is why the region has been called the Muddle East for decades.  We all hope and pray for the best and that somehow all of this will bring about a peaceful and democratic “Arab Spring” but there are better than even odds that things get way worse before they get better. There are just too many wild cards in this deck and the swamp is full of hungry alligators.

May God help us all and bring about peaceful change, or as my Iraqi friends simply say “Inshallah, God willing.”

Peace

Padre Steve+

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Filed under Foreign Policy, History, middle east, national security

Baseball and Life: The Importance of Perspective

It’s all about Perspective

“I think about the cosmic snowball theory. A few million years from now the sun will burn out and lose its gravitational pull. The earth will turn into a giant snowball and be hurled through space. When that happens it won’t matter if I get this guy out.” Bill “Spaceman” Lee

Bill “Spaceman” Lee is a funny guy. A Major League pitcher who has long since retired Lee somehow in an often convoluted way was able to keep things in perspective.  I love this quote because it is a reminder that a lot of the stuff that we take very seriously in the long run isn’t that important. In fact it reminds of just how little control we have and why it is such an exercise in futility to be anxious and worry about things that we cannot control. I’m pretty sure that Jesus had a word or two about this as well which his disciples thought was important enough to put in the Gospels.

Anyway, last night was another night where for the most part I took the night off from looking at the news about Japan and Libya. I watched for a while as I ate dinner and did laundry but when I began to put my platform bed together I decided I didn’t need to keep listening to newscasters, commentators, talking heads, politicians and pundits as they pondered, puzzled and piddled about the problems of the day. Let’s face it unless big news breaks in the middle of any news channels’ programming it is all the same information being repeated repeatedly by people who many times are paid huge amounts of money to sound ignorant. I guess that it beats real work.  Oh well I have continued to take a mental break from this things because they will be there in the morning and will probably be worse than they are now. But to paraphrase what I said last night what is going on now needs to be kept in perspective because this nation and the world have been throw worse during the 20th Century then we are going through now.

Since I wrote about some of those things in my last essay night I won’t re-hash them. But I will say that our media machine both the old established media and the new media are the greatest producers of anxiety that the world has ever seen. These people have created an industry where news is packaged to create anxiety and keep views hooked wondering what terrible calamity will befall them, because if it happened somewhere else it will probably happen here too even if all the facts on the ground are different. David Brinkley said it well when talking about television news: “The one function that TV news performs very well is that when there is no news we give it to you with the same emphasis as if it were.” Thus even hypothetical issues become objects which are used to drive up anxiety, anger and fear and I think that pundits of all types and stripes are the worst offenders in this. It is simply shameful but I digress.

If we look at American History we see that while the media since day one has promoted anxiety and fear in one form or another that we have for the most part been able to keep things in perspective. When Franklin Delano Roosevelt said “we have nothing to fear but fear itself” he was absolutely on the money. Our problem today is that we live in a world where our ability to communicate information especially about bad things both real and imagined exceeds both our ability to absorb it and to cognitively and emotionally respond to any real threat vice the imagined threats. Branch Rickey once said thinking about the Devil is worse than seeing the Devil.”

In such a tumultuous environment it is hard to keep to keep events in perspective.  As I said in my previous article I was tired from hearing the constant barrage of bad news. Now I am pretty good about keeping perspective but even if I can cognitively deal with the news it can be hard to maintain a non-anxious presence if I am being constantly bombarded with disasters and tragedies of the magnitude that we have witnessed the past several weeks. Thus I turned off the news and put on baseball movies and decided to do the same last night.

Since I am tying baseball into the whole issue of keeping one’s perspective I want to mention the great baseball comedies Major League and Bull Durham. While they are comedies told through the lens of baseball they are great movies about life and keeping one’s perspective. I love both of these movies, they are not the emotional and spiritual tales like Field of Dreams and For the Love of the Game they are great in using the medium of a baseball comedy to give life lessons.

Major League deals with a Cleveland Indians team that has not won a world series in over 40 years and whose owner is trying to lose so many games that she can move the team to Miami.  The team is made up of has been players, cast offs and rookies of uncertain ability and maturity. In the movie which was set before the Indians renaissance of the 1990s dealt with a losing team that the owner purposely built to lose, but finds its pride to spite their nefarious owner and win the American League East. The character that I can relate to is the old catcher called up from the Mexican League, Jake Taylor played by Tom Berenger who is the field leader of the team helping the young players to mature while holding the Indians together as they go through difficult times and then go on to win the East against the Yankees and in the process rediscover a love that was lost due to his own mistakes.

Bull Durham is another one of my favorites and once again my favorite character is the journeyman catcher, Crash Davis played by Kevin Costner who is sent back to “A” Ball to assist a young pitcher named Eby Calvin “Nuke” LaLoosh played by Tim Robbins. In the process Crash helps LaLoosh, assists his teammates as they go through hard times and discovers love even at the end of his playing career.

What I like about these films is how they show how to keep perspective in life.  In the movies both Jake Taylor and Crash Davis are guys on the down side of their careers. They play on losing teams which they help lead back into contention and help the young players mature into winners. They simply concentrate in the things that they can influence.

The way I figure is that in life we can worry about stuff that we can’t control and ignore the things and people around us that really matter that we can have some influence upon and that is not just a baseball thing. That is a life thing; it is a faith thing and a relational thing. Are these characters perfect examples? By no means, they are regular guys in situations that are not the greatest to be in and they make mistakes, sometimes on the field and a lot of time in relationships. That is why I think that they are good examples; they are real not some kind of untouchable perfect hero. I can relate to guys like that.

I know that I’m a Mendoza Line* kind of guy in a lot of ways. I’m a journeyman who has been able to be successful enough to hang around a long time in my chosen profession. I think that is how I keep my perspective, I’ve been around long enough to make lots of mistakes, experience a lot of bad times and having come through a really bad time after Iraq realize that no matter what happens things will work out. That was like being in a major slump but somehow despite everything I made it through those hard times.

So when I now talk about keeping perspective on life I talk about it from a vantage point of having failed in different ways but also having succeeded in others sometimes even in the same endeavor.  So my perspective is now I know that I can’t control what is happening in all the world’s crisis points or for that matter almost anything, I need to take care of the people and things that I have a little bit up influence upon.

I think that is a lesson that baseball teaches us. It teaches us that so much of life is beyond our control and that just because everything isn’t okay doesn’t mean that we need to live in fear and in a constant state of anxiety.  As Walt Whitman so eloquently put it “I see great things in baseball.  It’s our game – the American game.  It will take our people out-of-doors, fill them with oxygen, give them a larger physical stoicism.  Tend to relieve us from being a nervous, dyspeptic set.  Repair these losses, and be a blessing to us.”

Tonight is another baseball and life movie night with Game 6. The film stars Michael Keaton who plays an actor struggling with cancer, divorce and his relationship with his teenage daughter. He is a diehard Red Sox fan during the 1986 World Series. If time permits I’ll see what else I have on the shelf.

Peace

Padre Steve+
*The Mendoza Line is named after Mario Mendoza who played for the Pittsburg Pirates. He hit for a career batting average of .215 and the Mendoza Line is considered to be a .200 average which is the line below which players can pretty much be assured that they will not remain in the Major Leagues.

 

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Filed under Baseball, faith, philosophy, sports and life

Putting the World back in Order: Baseball Movies Tonight

“Baseball is reassuring. It makes me feel as if the world is not going to blow up.” Sharon Olds

“Don’t tell me about the world. Not today. It’s springtime and they’re knocking baseball around fields where the grass is damp and green in the morning and the kids are trying to hit the curve ball” Pete Hamill

“I see great things in baseball. It’s our game – the American game. It will take our people out-of-doors, fill them with oxygen, give them a larger physical stoicism. Tend to relieve us from being a nervous, dyspeptic set. Repair these losses, and be a blessing to us.” Walt Whitman

At long last I have my DVD player hooked up and the news is not on in my island hermitage. The past few weeks we have seen the world going crazy. Earthquakes, tsunami, nuclear crises, wars and revolutions, political and economic instability are driving me fricking crazy.  I’m sorry but I don’t know about you but this constant torrent of bad news is really getting old fast and it probably isn’t going to get any better any time soon. That my friends is reality and reality can suck like a Hoover, or what the hell a Dyson or Kirby for all I care, it sucks.

But guess what friends we have seen times and events like this before, hell the 1920s, 30s and 40s were as bad or worse. That my friends is reality and it sucked then too. And you know something somehow we as a people got through it. We dealt with the collapse of Empires, revolutions, Communism, Fascism, Nazism, the Great Depression, World fricking Wars, natural disasters, Hitler, Stalin, Mussolini and Tojo and then to top it all off the beginning of the nuclear era and the Cold War with the ever present threat of Mutually Assured Destruction between the United States and the Soviet Union. But somehow the world survived, don’t ask me how but it did, not without a hell of a lot of pain, suffering and distress mostly brought on by people but occasionally nature but it still survived despite our best attempts to blow it all up.

Somehow as insanely sucky as things are right now with all the hate, turmoil and catastrophe unless the Cubs win the World Series in 2012 the apocalyptic asses prophesying doom and the end of the world in 2012 be it secular, religious or some convoluted theory about why the world will end because the Mayans ran out of rock for their calendar I don’t buy it. Now if the Cubbies win the 2012 World Series all bets are off and you better look to the east because there is a good chance that Jesus is coming. Now was that a hell of a run on sentence or what. That was almost as good as a German theologian.

So we are bombarded with bad news at a cyclic rate and yes it needs to be reported and it is probably good that we stay informed. However all that we do is tune in to the news 24 hours a day or giving three hours a day every day to some radio talk show host or for that matter never turn our radio dials away from them we will not have peace. If all we do is listen, read and watch what all of them stir up every day anxiety then it is no wonder that we are so anxiety ridden and hate each other so much.

I know what constant exposure to this can do for a person, because before Iraq I was consumed by this insanity. However, I came back from Iraq and reprioritized when I found that I could no longer do three hours a day every day or for that matter three minutes with any of these monsters of the airwaves.

Let’s face it Americans have come to loathe each other because all we focus on is how bad everything is and how it is someone else’s fault be they a liberal, a conservative, a Socialist, a Tea Party Patriot, a Christian, Moslem, Jew, Atheist, Republican, Democrat, Libertarian or God forbid a Dodgers’ fan. We’ve divided ourselves in ways that haven’t been seen since the days before the Civil War, only now those visceral emotions are transmitted instantly through the television, radio and internet. Something has to draw us back to who we are as a people.

Unfortunately many can’t even find our peace in their faith because nutty extremists with all sorts of agendas from across the political spectrum have hijacked them so that preachers often have messages little different than pundits or politicians. As such we have become cynical, bitter and have lost faith in our political, social, economic and religious institutions and given them all into the hands of those whose chief desire is power.

So all that being said I am enjoying the hell out of two baseball movies tonight. The first was Mr. Baseball starring Tom Selleck as a New York Yankee slugger who is cut from the team and gets picked up by a Japanese team.  It’s a great flick and really shows some of the differences in the way Americans and Japanese approach this beloved game and how despite the different approaches how deeply it is ingrained in both cultures. Japan has suffered great calamity and we seem to teeter on the edge of our own calamities consumed in angst and for some anger.

The other movie that I am watching even as I write this little article is Field of Dreams a fantasy and allegory of baseball and life. It is a story that always gets me a story of redemption, second chances and hope, a hope that says “if you build it he will come.” We need to start building again; we have been tearing each other down for so long that we have left a tangled mess for our children.

I know for me that baseball is one constant that even when I experienced a loss of faith that left me a practical agnostic for two years after I returned from Iraq that brought peace to my troubled soul. The Church of Baseball, Harbor Park Parish was one of the only places that I could regain a sense of balance and life.

Yes there is a lot of tragedy and crisis in the world but in nine days it is opening day and the “Boys of Summer” will again step onto the lush green diamonds as the regular season begins. It is not a moment too soon. As Terrance Mann, played by James Earl Jones said so eloquently to Ray Kinsella played by Kevin Costner in Field of Dreams:

“Ray, people will come Ray. They’ll come to Iowa for reasons they can’t even fathom. They’ll turn up your driveway not knowing for sure why they’re doing it. They’ll arrive at your door as innocent as children, longing for the past. Of course, we won’t mind if you look around, you’ll say. It’s only $20 per person. They’ll pass over the money without even thinking about it: for it is money they have and peace they lack. And they’ll walk out to the bleachers; sit in shirtsleeves on a perfect afternoon. They’ll find they have reserved seats somewhere along one of the baselines, where they sat when they were children and cheered their heroes. And they’ll watch the game and it’ll be as if they dipped themselves in magic waters. The memories will be so thick they’ll have to brush them away from their faces. People will come Ray. The one constant through all the years has been baseball. America has rolled by like an army of steamrollers. It’s been erased like a blackboard, rebuilt, and erased again. But baseball has marked the time. This field, this game, is a part of our past. It reminds us of all that once was good, and what could be again.”

Things can be good again, we just need to pull together and persevere and believe again. I think that baseball, this wonderful game that has bridged the gap between East and West, this game that is timeless in an age of real and imagined deadlines, this game that still inspires millions around the world, this game that allows us to gain dip in the magic waters of hope and life can be as Walt Whitman said:

“I see great things in baseball. It’s our game – the American game. It will take our people out-of-doors, fill them with oxygen, give them a larger physical stoicism. Tend to relieve us from being a nervous, dyspeptic set. Repair these losses, and be a blessing to us.”

We need to “hear the voice” again see what can be, we need to find our Field of Dreams and make it real.

Well the movie is ending and I have tears in my eyes, tears of joy as I watch Ray Kinsella “have a catch” with his father John on that magical diamond and long for the day I can do so with my father who is somewhere in that cornfield waiting to come out and play ball.

Peace

Padre Steve+

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Filed under Baseball, faith, History, movies, philosophy, Political Commentary, Religion

Damned if you do and Damned if you Don’t: The Allied Intervention in Libya

Libyan Rebels gather around a destroyed T-72 outside Benghazi

War is the unfolding of miscalculations.
Barbara Tuchman

Back on the 9th of March I wrote this closing line to an article entitled The Guns of March where I discussed the developing situation in Libya and the really terrible options that world and regional leaders had in response to Muammar Gaddafi’s criminal actions against his own people. I concluded that article with this statement.

There are many possibilities for the situation in Libya to get worse and potentially engulf the region in a war that no one wants or really is prepared for.

We can only see what develops but there are no good options only options of bad or worse. Will the region like Europe in 1914 be engulfed in war where there are no winners or will somehow the situation be resolved before it can get that far?”

It is obvious to all that the region stands a very good chance of becoming engulfed in a regional war unless the rebels drive Gaddafi from power, Gaddafi steps down on his own or he is killed or captured. Gaddafi has promised a “long war” against the “colonial and crusader” enemy.

Gaddafi Defiant

In the days since I wrote the referenced article the Arab League spoke up in support of establishing a no-fly zone and the United Nations Security Council voted for member nations to enforce a no-fly zone and take “all necessary measures” in order to stop Gaddafi’s forces attacks on other Libyans. By the time the Security Council acted Gaddafi’s forces had retaken many rebel held cities inflicting great slaughter on civilians and were on the outskirts of the rebel capital Benghazi with Gaddafi threatening to send his forces “house to house” to kill the opposition and promising to show no mercy.  Within a day French and British aircraft were flying missions and striking the spearhead of Gaddafi’s forces outside of Benghazi and United States Navy ships were launching Tomahawk Cruise Missiles at the Libyan air defense system. They were joined by aircraft from the U.S. Navy, Marine Corps and Air Force as well as Canada, Spain, Italy, Belgium, Norway, Denmark and Qatar.  Gaddafi’s forces were decimated outside of Benghazi and forced to retreat and a renewed rebel force, this time acting more like a military organization began a pursuit which has reached Ajdabiya.  In the west Gaddafi’s forces continue to attack the towns of Misrata and Zintan and according to observers and medical personnel inflicting heavy casualties on civilians.

President Obama in a briefing

Around the world there is much criticism of the operation as well as support. In the United States representatives as diverse as Ron Paul and Dennis Kucinich are raising concerns on the Constitutional issues of the intervention in that President Obama did not secure the approval of Congress prior to sending American forces into battle. Kucinich even calls it an impeachable offense.  Likewise a diverse assembly of politicians, former military and executive branch officials including those with experience at the State Department, the United Nations, NATO and the Middle East are voicing their concerns about the fact that the end state of the operation is not defined and about the possibility of mission creep. The administration has not helped matters in sending a number of messages over the past few days of a desired end state. It is obvious that President Obama did not want this fight nor did he want it to appear that we were again leading an attack on an Arab nation.  His hesitancy has led to some conservatives attacking his lack of decisiveness even as other conservatives criticize his decision to join the military operations. Secretary of Defense Robert Gates has been outspoken in his opposition to becoming involved in another war and seems to want U.S. involvement to decrease sooner rather than later.

Rebels with damaged 152mm Self Propelled Howitzer

The situation is still evolving by the hour and one thing is clear. The outcome is very unclear and the repercussions across the region are also uncertain. One problem is the apparent discontinuity in U.S. and Western policy to various despotic Arab regimes, supporting the overthrow of Hosni Mubarak in Egypt, a military operation against Gaddafi in Libya and very muted and lukewarm support to popular political movements in Bahrain and Yemen. The Bahraini demonstrations have been put down with the help of Saudi forces but in Yemen numerous influential military officers have taken their units to support the Yemeni protestors. Of course the situation in all of these nations is different with the exception of the fact that all are ruled by long term undemocratic and repressive regimes of varying degree. Likewise actors in each country are different as are the geo-political interests of the United States.

A friend of mine pointed out to me that we are not viewed as “the good guys” in much of the Arab World as much as we see ourselves as such. I think that is true to a large extent because of foreign policy choices of the past century in regard to the Arab World as well as the past decade of war in Iraq and Afghanistan where even today photos taken by a rogue Army unit of soldiers posing with the mutilated and dead bodies enemies of the enemy further degrade opinion in the region against us.  But we are also the hope of many of those in Tunisia, Egypt, Libya and other nations and in those places and others popular uprisings have called out to us for political support and in the case of the Libyans military protection.

Parallels of 1989 in the fall of the Soviet Empire in Eastern Europe are drawn by the optimistic observers of what has been called the “Arab Spring.” However as much as I would like to believe that this is the case I think the miscalculations of 1914 are more readily apparent. There is nothing simple about what is going on and it seems to me that the region is sinking into a war with very unpredictable and grave consequences. Those consequences will probably with us for a generation was were the unanticipated outcomes of the First World War. Of course one of those outcomes was the breakup of the Ottoman Empire and the arbitrary redrawing of boundaries and selection of leaders in the newly created Arab nations and emirates by the victorious Allies. That is something that we are dealing with even as I finish this article.

As I wrote in another article I believe that acting to prevent the slaughter of Libyans by Gaddafi was the right thing to do.  Unfortunately as most observers know the people of Libya will not be safe unless Gaddafi leaves power. I think by backing Gaddafi into a corner early, even before he began his offensive against what were peaceful protestors and not giving him a face saving way out that we may have brought about a war that no one wanted and has few possible good endings. We are damned if we do and damned if we don’t.

Peace

Padre Steve+

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Filed under Foreign Policy, History, middle east, Military, national security