Monthly Archives: July 2011

Be Careful…there is a point of no return and we may have crossed it

Be careful with your thoughts because they turn into words

Be careful with your words because they turn into actions

Be careful with your actions because they turn into habits

Be careful with your habits because they become your character

Be careful with your character because it defines you 

Ezra Taft Benson (former Secretary of Agriculture) quoted by Buck O’Neil

On Wednesday night I took a walk about our Nation’s Capitol.  It was a beautiful night and the buildings and monuments were illuminated in the most spectacular ways.  It was inspiring in a sense to see them, symbols of the greatness of the country and the people how sacrificed themselves to build it.  I can understand why so many millions of people have come to this country from all over the world to become Americans and be part of our dream.

In fact I became so engrossed I taking pictures that night that in the darkness I did not see an unilluminated ledge not far from theWashingtonMonument.  I fell from it onto the waiting sidewalk below and crunched my right leg pretty bad.  I had it checked out and x-rayed at the Naval Health Clinic at Joint Base Little Creek when I returned to Virginia. The doctor assumes that there is a good chance that I have a hairline fracture of either my tibia or fibula just below the knee and I am being referred for further tests when I return to Camp LeJeune Monday.  Until then I am on crutches and pain meds.

I fell over the ledge that I had no idea was where it was.  It was inadvertent and even when I got up and looked at it I had a hard time making it out.  However there are those in the country including many in the political leadership and media that seem to want us to go over a cliff because they perceive that it helps them and their agenda.  They see the ledge and they know the danger but they unfortunately enabled by “we” press on to the abyss.

For many years the political ideologues on the extremes of the Left and the Right in the United States have harbored the worst thoughts about those that do not match up with their ideologies. I have been writing for quite some time about how divided our body politic is and how dangerous the situation has become.

The contemptuous thoughts of the Left for the Right and Right for the Left first turned to words and those words became commonplace, so common that they became habitual.  In a sense they have become part of the political DNA of the most extreme among us.

The attitudes that we have formed and angry words which we now use so ubiquitously are reflective of a deep hatred that now is becoming what defines us as a people.  In fact the deep and abiding hatred which now permeates our society is now threatening the international standing and I would say the national security of the United States.  We have only ourselves to blame because through our actions and inactions of the past decade we have made our choice to be what we have become and there is no one group especially in our political, media and business elites that have served us well.  In fact we have as voters chosen this toxic mix of elected officials often more influenced by hate spewing pundits and our own self interests rather than that of the nation and future generations much as we would like to claim that we are looking out for the future.

We have chosen badly and we are paying for it.  We are being held hostage by those that we elected, men and women who supposedly know better than to destroy the country in order to save it as was about the village of Bien Tre in the Vietnam War… “we had to destroy the village in order to save it.” The Left and right have racked up massive debt over the past decade which has made previous debt pale in significance.  Each like to blame one another as “mostly to blame” but each has a major part of the responsibility for the mess that we are in.  However the amazing thing is that neither side nor we the electorate seems to be able to hold ourselves responsible.

Without going into the whole debt ceiling debacle which now has us on the edge of a default which we can only pray will not be as bad as real economists around the world say it will be; the fact is that we have made the mess and now our leaders are failing us. I have to say that all of them have used this made up crisis to some extent to further their goals and agendas at the expense of the country.  That is a shame and our elected leaders of all parties and factions are at fault and it comes back to character, theirs and ours.

You see it is about more than the budget or the debt ceiling. It is about hatred of fellow Americans which has been preached by hypocritical ideologues for decades on the radio, television and now the internet.  Much of it is as raw, hateful and disingenuous propaganda disguised as “news” as was Julius Streicher’s Nazi Der Sturmer and the Communist Party Die Rote Fahne were in Weimar Germany.  That poison has infected us and most of us line up on one side of the propaganda machine or the other.  We know what happened to the Weimar Republic, racked by bills it could not pay, massive unemployment brought on by the Great Depression and a desperate population led by politicians that intentionally used their misery to derail the efforts of government after government to try to manage the crisis.  They ended up with Hitler, the head of a large and vocal political movement which refused to compromise with anyone to bring down the Republic that they hated.

Whatever happens in regard to the debt ceiling and future budget negotiations the damage has been done.  The soul of our nation and our national character has been damaged perhaps irreparably.  Our leaders hate each other and the most influential media in the country, the talk radio and cable news pundits of all stripes throw gasoline on the fire every day. The social and political anarchy will reign until one side or the other has crushed their opposition.  Those in the middle lose either way as they will be crushed by whichever side wins unless they ally themselves with the winning side no matter who it is.

History teaches us that such times are at best tumultuous and at worst cataclysmic.  The consequences when great nations engage in such political fratricide it usually has grave consequences that effect it as well as nations and peoples far beyond its borders.

It is time for everyone to take a step back from the abyss before we plunge headlong into something that we will regret which will only benefit those that seek to benefit from it.  Or are we too stupid to see what is happening?

Thoughts, words, habits, character….be careful.

God help us all

Peace

Padre Steve+

About these ads

3 Comments

Filed under History, Political Commentary

A Physically Painful Thursday Night in DC: Dinner with a Classmate and watching Our Government Implode

I took this picture and then….

I have spent most of the day in some bad physical pain. Last night while walking around the National Mall taking pictures I hurt myself.  I was walking from the Washington Monument toward the World War Two Memorial looking at the Lincoln Memorial and trying to figure out a good camera angle.  I wanted good pictures so instead of walking down either of the sidewalks that line the Mall I wanted to stay in the center which meant walking “cross country” so to speak in the dark.

I was sizing up the shot of the Lincoln Memorial while walking forward and I turned briefly to look back to see if I had a good shot of the Washington Monument and the Capitol Dome.  As I made this slight turn I found that there was nothing under my right foot and I went crashing down onto a sidewalk about three feet below.  I landed on the side of my right leg with the main impact seeming to be at the place where the fibula and tibia come together just below the knee.  I felt a sharp pain but got up and limped back to GWU while getting shots of the WWII Memorial, the Korean andVietnamand Lincoln Memorials.  I got back to my room in a substantial amount of pain and it took forever to get comfortable enough to get to sleep.  When I got up all I could do was hold onto walls as I made my way across the room and put my leg up on the coffee table in the living area.  Eventually I made my way over to the conference site where thankfully I was able to keep my leg up most of the day.

When the conference was over I changed clothes to meet my friend Pat, a Marine Lieutenant Colonel who I attended the Marine Corps Command and Staff College with and met up with inIraqin 2007.  We met at Fado’s an Irish Pub where I had a very tasty Shepherd’s Pie and several pints of Kilkenny Ale which I have not had since traveling in the Mediterranean and the Gulf.  On the way there I rode the DC Metro and was very careful to not put any extra pressure on my leg than was absolutely necessary until I got caught in a crosswalk and had to try to run across to beat the light.  I am in good physical shape and I figured since I could walk I could probably still run.  I was wrong. The first time my right foot hit the ground a shock wave went through my leg with the area that I had injured erupting in pain bad enough to bring tears to my eyes.

After dinner I left the Metro station near GWU and stepped off what I thought was a short one step which were actually two steps again landing on my already throbbing leg.  I managed to get to my room where after a couple of Aleve tablets the edge is starting to come off of the pain.  Tomorrow I will check out of my room and the conference and about 900-930 AM will hit the road out of town.  I am in enough pain that as soon as I get into Virginia Beach I will stop at the Navy Clinic at Joint Base Little Creek or the Naval Medical Center to get my leg checked out.

I was very glad to get together with Pat and to enjoy the fellowship.  There is something about the shared military experience including war that binds people together.  It was as if we had seen each other yesterday, but then we chat often on Facebook and comment a lot on “The New Adventures of Doctrine Man!”

While we were talking another stake was placed in the talks to raise the nation’s debt ceiling. I believe that the nation is now being held hostage by a minority of people on the political right and left who have decided it is better for them to destroy the economy of the nation and livelihood of the vast majority of Americans to gain a short term political advantage in the 2012 elections.

This is not the first time this national suicide pact has happened.  It is now so late and the sides so far apart with such great enmity between them that even if in the now unlikely event a debt ceiling deal is reached the damage is done. Our national credit rating will be downgraded and although the nation will survive life will become exponentially more difficult for most Americans and the chaos will spread around the globe.

Back in the late 1920s the radical left and radical right in the German Weimar Republic represented by the German Communist Party on the Left and Hitler’s National Socialist Party of Germany on the Right sabotaged the more moderate politicians of the Center Party and the Socialist Party of Germany.  When Wall Street Crashed and the World entered the “Great Depression” the parties of the Left and Right became even more polarized leading President Paul Von Hindenburg to appoint Hitler to form a government.

Of course the rest as we historians are prone to say is history. The short sighted policies and actions of the German political parties after the collapse of the Empire eventually brought about the Nazi dictatorship.  If our political leaders continue down this path we can expect that the already fragile economy will take a terrible hit.  We can expect that many people in the United Statesand around the World will suffer the economic effects of the actions of these so called leaders.  As things get worse the extremists in both major political parties aided and abetted by those that think that they can gain by this tragedy will fight it out until one or the other beats the other party into submission.

This will not be good and I expect that the pain of what our political leaders inflict on us will be far greater than the physical pain that I feel now. God help us all.

Peace

Padre Steve+

2 Comments

Filed under History, philosophy, Political Commentary, shipmates and veterans

Meditations on a Wednesday Night in Washington DC

I was reflective tonight and thinking about all of those great men and women who sacrificed so much to the sake of this land and also the world as I walked the capitol late this evening.  As I saw the flags around theWashingtonMonumentat half staff in honor of former Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff General John Shalikashvili my thoughts turned to the words ofAmericathe Beautiful.

O beautiful for spacious skies,

For amber waves of grain,

For purple mountain majesties

Above the fruited plain!

America! America!

God shed His grace on thee,

And crown thy good with brotherhood

From sea to shining sea!

Today was another very good day in regard to the conference I have been attending at the George Washington University Medical School Institute for Spirituality and Healthcare.  Today was a day to practice what we have earned so far with men and women that are employed by the Medical School as “model patients.”  These are people that work with medical students before they even see a real patient and that simulate what the students might encounter when they actually start seeing patients as senior medical students and then as in their various internships and residencies following graduation.  I was very enlightening as we had the chance to be the physician in our encounters with the various actors.  Mine went very well and I thank God for the fact that I have worked with some very fine physicians that have modeled wonderful, compassionate and human care of patients on the various ICUs that I have worked in.

I have been very pensive this week due to the chaos that seems to reign in the halls of Congress in regard to the debt ceiling and intransigence of the members of that esteemed body to bother to work with each other or the President.

This evening I went out with my cousin Becky, actually she is my wife Judy’s cousin and works with one of the “Men in Black” law enforcement agencies headquartered in our nation’s capitol.  She was with a co-worker who has served at the end of the Cold War in Germany and in the Gulf War and we had a wonderful night talking, eating and drinking good beer at the Rock Bottom Brewery in Arlington.  After we were one I had Becky drop me off near the White House because I wanted to wander again about some of the monuments this time with my good camera as I wanted some good pictures from what I observed Tuesday night.

O beautiful for pilgrim feet

Whose stern impassion’d stress

A thoroughfare for freedom beat

Across the wilderness.

America! America!

God mend thine ev’ry flaw,

Confirm thy soul in self-control,

Thy liberty in law.

Since I have been at the conference or out most of the day I have only heard bits and pieces of the news, just enough to know that the Republicans and Democrats are still driving the train over the cliff even as some in each party attempt to throw the emergency brake to try to stop disaster from overtaking our fragile economy as well as that of the world.  The problem as I see it is that a vocal minority is hell bent on forcing their agenda at any cost and sabotaging the cooler heads in their own and the opposition party.

O beautiful for heroes prov’d

In liberating strife,

Who more than self their country lov’d,

And mercy more than life.

America! America!

May God thy gold refine

Till all success be nobleness,

And ev’ry gain divine.

Last night I was out and was a bit melancholy as I walked the monuments but came home encouraged by an immigrant cabbie fromMoroccowho still holds this nation in awe and wonder. It was something that I didn’t expect because it seems that so many of us that have lived here for all of our lives no longer have that sense of awe, wonder and appreciation for this now battered land.

I started at the White House and the proceeded past the Washington Monument to the World War Two Memorial, down the National Mall and pat the reflecting pool to the Korean War Memorial, the Lincoln Memorial and the Vietnam War Memorial before walking the 7 or 8 blocks back to the GWU campus where I am staying.

O beautiful for patriot dream

That sees beyond the years

Thine alabaster cities gleam

Undimmed by human tears.

America! America!

God shed His grace on thee,

And crown thy good with brotherhood

From sea to shining sea.

Tonight I took my time and did not get back to my room until 1230 AM.  I was more deliberate than last night and really pondered then things that made this country great and the sacrifices made by so many that we might enjoy freedom that most of the world cannot imagine.  I realized that it was not our economic or military might that made us great but the ideals that this country was founded upon and the sacrifices of men and women of many races and faiths who have each in their own way worked for the cause of liberty many at the cost of their lives in war or sadly in some cases at the hands of their own countrymen.

I do pray that the politicians, pundits and preachers, that “unholy Trinity” who have so terribly afflicted out nation and people with their loathing of all that are different than them will realize the damage that they have done to the peace and the very fabric of this country.  I pray that we are able to be one nation, or as it so well expressed on the Great Seal of the United States E Plurbus Unum, “out of many one.”

As I settled down and prepared for bed I came across a poem in a book of prayers that Judy put together for my birthday during one of those very lean seminary years.  It is by Alan Paton, a South African educator, writer and anti-apartheid activist who died in 1988 five years before the end of that evil system.  It is a poem but also a prayer and I think that it speaks as much to me now as the first time that I read it when Judy gave me this gift.

O Lord, open my eyes that I might see the needs of others;

Open my ears that I may hear their cries;

Open my heart that they need not be without succor;

Let me not be afraid to defend the weak because of the anger of the strong,

Nor defend the poor because of the anger of the rich.

Show me where love and faith are needed and bring me to those places;

And so open my eyes and my ears that I may this coming day

Be able to do some work of peace for thee. Amen.

Peace

Padre Steve+

2 Comments

Filed under faith, History, leadership, philosophy, Political Commentary

A Tuesday in DC: Lunch with a Dear Friend and a Night walk through the Monuments

Today was another good day, in fact really good day at the conference I am attending with the George Washington Institute for Spirituality and Health.  At lunch I was able to spend some time with my former commanding officer at Marine Security Forces.  It was good to see Mike again.  He and I went through some very trying times together and I treasure his friendship as well of that of his family.  I think that of all the commanding officers that have served under which have included some incredible men that he was the best.  We are a lot alike in many ways both rather cerebral and out of the box thinkers. We basically are the same generation as far as military service goes, when he was a young Marine Corps Officer I was a young Army Officer.

We reminisced about the way the country was back then how our leaders still worked together and even if we disagreed with the policies of those in the opposing party that we still knew that we were Americans and that at the end of the day we were friends.  I guess that Mike and I are dinosaurs now; we tend to look at the big picture and both being career officers of the same generation have seen the country change. We both entered the military during the Cold War and after the loss of Vietnam.  Our teachers were the men that served in that war, those who came home to a then hostile country.  Neither Mike nor I are service academy types nor the products of conservative military schools, Mike went to Harvard and attended Navy ROTC and I went to a California State University School, CSU Northridge and took Army ROTC at UCLA.  We both come from strong yet tolerant religious traditions and were influenced by chaplains early in our careers.  Mike’s academic background is Economics mine Theology and Military History and both of us hold advanced degrees in those subjects.  We both graduated from the Marine Corps Command and Staff College.  We have both served overseas and in combat.  We love our country and treasure our military service and that of the men and women that we have served with over so many decades.

I am honored that Mike will administer the Oath of Office when I am promoted on September 1st at Harbor Park in Norfolk Virginia.  By the way Mike loves baseball too and being from Boston he is a Red Sox fan.  His dad, a die hard fan died a few months before the Sox broke the “Curse of the Bambino” in 2004. My dad died a few months before his San Francisco Giants won the World Series in 2010.

Talking with Mike today made me think back to a time when things were not like what they are now, where political opponents were simply opponents and not “the enemy.”  I shared with Mike the terms the German Military used in the Second World War to describe those that they fought against.  The Western Allies were “die Gegener” or simply opponents and for the most part the German military observed the Geneva Convention and Laws of War when fighting the Americans, British and French.  However with the Soviet Unionit was different.  The Soviets were “Der Feind” or the enemy.

As divided as we were in the 1970s and 1980s there was still a modicum of respect for the other side and ability to work together when we needed and Mike brought up the relationship of Ronald Reagan and Thomas “Tip” O’ Neill, vigorous political opponents who remained friends.  However there is today and has been for the past 20 years or so for members of the extreme wings of both major parties to identify their opponents as “enemies.”  The language difference is significant. An opponent is a adversary that you hope to defeat but there is not a hatred involved and when the competition ceases the opponents remain friends and even colleagues even as they prepare for the next “game” so to speak.

Enemies are another matter.  To be an enemy is to assume that the other side poses an existential threat to your side or your agenda.  Thus there can be no compromise and the opponent is not simply to be defeated but destroyed and annihilated much like the Old Testament when the Israelites were commanded by God to kill everything even the babies and pregnant women.  So much for being pro-life but I digress….

Today we are more divided than any time since the Civil War, blood is boiling and if there is compromise it will be a mere truce until the next round of political bloodletting which if we are not careful may become actual bloodletting and the enemies allow their unbridled hatred of each other spill out into open conflict.  Such affairs never end well and if we remember our history our Civil War’s military conflict was over in a few years and yet with the relatively primitive weapons of the ay killed more Americans than any other conflict.  The after effects well, frankly Scarlett took over a hundred years to recover from and I would dare posit that some believe that the war is not yet over.

Tonight I went to dinner alone cancelling my plans to head out to watch the Nationals play the Marlins. I needed the time and solitude and somehow a trip on the DC Metro seemed the last place that I would find it. I walked to the Gordon Biersch where I had dinner, drank a few beers and watched the Orioles beat the Blue Jays.  After dinner I detoured from my normal route back to my campus housing which takes me in front of the White House.

Amid the lights and the amazing splendor of the buildings adorned with American and District of Columbia Flags I walked and simply observed people.  Tourists from across the nation and the world were taking pictures, business people and government workers hurried about, vendors hawked their patriotic wares, mostly made in China I might add or snack foods.  Here and there a protester sought to draw attention to their pet cause, there is the anti-nuclear weapons protestor that has been camped across from the White House since 1981, people demanding to see the Birth Certificate, those protesting for the removal of various Arab dictators and others peppered about. Capitol Police and Secret Service officers were out in force and amid the fortress like surroundings of many government buildings and the offices such as the World Bank and major business and financial institutions armed police and private security stood watch with cameras watching every move.

When I passed the White House I was rather down.  So I decided to walk the monuments that adorn the Capitol Mall.  I passed the Executive Office Building and Washington Monument and crossed the street to the World War Two Memorial.  At each place I paused before I continued to walk into the night.  I then stopped by the Korean War Memorial and the Vietnam War Memorial, the stark reminder of the men and women killed and missing in that war as well as the rip in the fabric of the nation that I am not sure we have ever gotten past.  I then went and paused before the Lincoln Memorial and I thought of the immortal words spoken by President Lincoln in his Second Inaugural Address shortly before he was cut down by a bullet fired by John Wilkes Booth.  They are words of reconciliation spoken even while Americans fought Americans in the last months of the war.

Fellow-Countrymen:  At this second appearing to take the oath of the Presidential office there is less occasion for an extended address than there was at the first. Then a statement somewhat in detail of a course to be pursued seemed fitting and proper. Now, at the expiration of four years, during which public declarations have been constantly called forth on every point and phase of the great contest which still absorbs the attention and engrosses the energies of the nation, little that is new could be presented. The progress of our arms, upon which all else chiefly depends, is as well known to the public as to myself, and it is, I trust, reasonably satisfactory and encouraging to all. With high hope for the future, no prediction in regard to it is ventured.

On the occasion corresponding to this four years ago all thoughts were anxiously directed to an impending civil war. All dreaded it, all sought to avert it. While the inaugural address was being delivered from this place, devoted altogether to saving the Union without war, insurgent agents were in the city seeking to destroy it without war—seeking to dissolve the Union and divide effects by negotiation. Both parties deprecated war, but one of them would make war rather than let the nation survive, and the other would accept war rather than let it perish, and the war came.

One-eighth of the whole population were colored slaves, not distributed generally over the Union, but localized in the southern part of it. These slaves constituted a peculiar and powerful interest. All knew that this interest was somehow the cause of the war. To strengthen, perpetuate, and extend this interest was the object for which the insurgents would rend the Union even by war, while the Government claimed no right to do more than to restrict the territorial enlargement of it. Neither party expected for the war the magnitude or the duration which it has already attained. Neither anticipated that the cause of the conflict might cease with or even before the conflict itself should cease. Each looked for an easier triumph, and a result less fundamental and astounding. Both read the same Bible and pray to the same God, and each invokes His aid against the other. It may seem strange that any men should dare to ask a just God’s assistance in wringing their bread from the sweat of other men’s faces, but let us judge not, that we be not judged. The prayers of both could not be answered. That of neither has been answered fully. The Almighty has His own purposes. “Woe unto the world because of offenses; for it must needs be that offenses come, but woe to that man by whom the offense cometh.” If we shall suppose that American slavery is one of those offenses which, in the providence of God, must needs come, but which, having continued through His appointed time, He now wills to remove, and that He gives to both North and South this terrible war as the woe due to those by whom the offense came, shall we discern therein any departure from those divine attributes which the believers in a living God always ascribe to Him? Fondly do we hope, fervently do we pray, that this mighty scourge of war may speedily pass away. Yet, if God wills that it continue until all the wealth piled by the bondsman’s two hundred and fifty years of unrequited toil shall be sunk, and until every drop of blood drawn with the lash shall be paid by another drawn with the sword, as was said three thousand years ago, so still it must be said “the judgments of the Lord are true and righteous altogether.”

With malice toward none, with charity for all, with firmness in the right as God gives us to see the right, let us strive on to finish the work we are in, to bind up the nation’s wounds, to care for him who shall have borne the battle and for his widow and his orphan, to do all which may achieve and cherish a just and lasting peace among ourselves and with all nations.

As I walked through the warm and humid night air I imagined what it must have been like for officers of the United States Army, Navy and Marine Corps as the nation split in 1861 with many Southerners leaving the service to enter the service of their own states.  Many tearful goodbyes were spoken by men that had served together in war and peace and on the lonely frontier of the nation, men who in a few moths time would be commanding American armies and killing their fellow Americans.  My family fought for the South being from Virginia.  I cannot say that I would have done different like them and so many Southerners or if like General George Thomas of Virginia I would have remained with the Union incurring the wrath of his family for the rest of his life.  Since I have never taken my Oath lightly I can only imagine that I would have done what Thomas did even if it meant the loss of family.

Today I fear that even if our leaders can avert a default on or debts that they have now set the stage for worse I the coming months and years. The open hatred and contempt of our leaders for one another and the ideas that each stand for has wounded the nation more deeply than any default or government shutdown could ever do. This is not simply partisan discourse it is a deep enmity and hatred that has not been seen in this country for 150 years.  If cooler heads do not prevail soon the damage may be irreparable and the consequences more terrible than we can imagine and why anyone would willingly continue down this road is beyond me, but hatred does terrible things to people and nations.

Since it was nearing10 PMI hailed a taxi by the Lincoln Memorial.  I entered into a conversation with the driver, an immigrant fromMoroccowho has been in the United States22 years.  I mentioned my concern and he was far more hopeful than me. He said he believed that a shutdown would be averted.  I love immigrants especially recent ones who have left home and family to become Americans.  My dad’s side family has been in this country since 1747 and my mother’s even longer.  It was inspiring for me to hear this man still be in awe of this nation despite all of our troubles. When I left the cab I thanked him, gave him a decent tip shook his hand and in my woeful Arabic said “Assalamu alaikum” or peace be unto you.

As a historian I tend to see the dangers in what is happening in our country and I do have legitimate concerns, but when I hear the words of hope and awe that this country engenders in those who come here to be free I hope again in spite of myself.

Peace

Padre Steve+

1 Comment

Filed under History, leadership, Military, philosophy, Political Commentary, remembering friends

Musings on a DC Monday Night: I’ll have a Beer and watch Baseball thank you

I had a wonderful first day of my conference at the George Washington University Institute for Spirituality and Health.  The conference was thought provoking and made me realize once again that afterIraqI really don’t know a whole lotta anything about anything.  But then as Earl Weaver said “it’s what learn after you know it all than counts.”

Back before Iraq I knew freaking everything. Beliefs, faith, politics you name it I knew it all and it fit in my nice little world.  Iraqwas for me what Karl Barth’s Epistle to the Romans was when it came out in 1915.  It was said that the book “exploded like a bomb on the theological playgrounds ofEurope.” Iraq was like that for me. It left me searching for answers to questions that I not only thought I had answered and that I thought I had refuted all others.

Sometimes humility sucks even if we need it.

I have enjoyed the conference so far. One of our lecturers Dr. John Griffith the interim Dean of the School of Psychiatry at the GWU Medical School threw about 9 existential questions at us and I realized that had I answered them in July of 2007 that I would have shat out the answers like a baboon who had too many beans, jalapeños and prune juice chasers.  Today I knew that despite knowing a lot that I am still a work in progress and even though I really do know this it is humbling to have it thrown in my face.  Thankfully the God that I know is much more understanding, gracious and forgiving than the theologian that I used to be.

After yesterday I needed a new room and if you have read my previous post you will understand why.  Thankfully the people were more than accommodating and the accommodations though Spartan was a lot more comfortable and healthful than the last. Even the AC works very well.  I can deal with Spartan more in a combat zone than I can in my own country.

Speaking of my own country…. I am residing less than a mile from the White House and the Capitol and pass the White House and the Treasury each night too and from the Washington DC Gordon Biersch Brewery.  It’s not Virginia Beachbut I get good service at the Bar, the bartender remembered me from last night and I basically have eaten and drank for very little money by cashing in some of my rewards points.

While walking about today as well as yesterday I noticed that almost no one responds when I wish them a cheery good morning, good afternoon or good evening.  Instead I find that I am nearly run over by people that seem to have no cognition of anything other than them, their smart phone or tablet or MP3 player.  No one looks up, no one talks and if they do happen to notice you they look like you must be some kind of reprobate, madman, criminal or terrorist.  Now I don’t know how anyone can think that I am any of the above but Washington DC is not on the top of my list of “friendly” cities.  I guess that is the fault of the terrible vain, cynical, corrupt and power mad politicians, pundits, preachers, lobbyists, political hacks, partisan journalists and others that prowl about the city seeking the ruin of souls.

In fact of the over 100 non-conference goers that I greeted today I had just 5 return the greeting. Two policemen, one security guard, one homeless man and one cleaning lady.  No one else said a word.  I wonder what the hell is going on, then I look at Congress and I realized that for all too many people no one else matters anymore.  We have lost our soul.

For me to reach out like this is hard. I am an extremely introverted person that pushes to engage people at work and then comes home in a state of exhaustion. My personality type if you use the Myers-Briggs temperament indicator is INTJ.  For those that don’t know the Myers-Briggs this means that I am introverted, intuitive, thinking and judging.  I am not a touchy feely person and am rather detached, analytical and it is hard for me to come out of that mode. My personality type is rare and is seldom found in decent society and is almost never found in ministry.  According to a shrink that I know my type seldom gets married and is generally considered to be a pain in the ass “know it all” to most people. Dr House is a classic INTJ.  In fact a now retired Navy Chaplain that I worked with at Portsmouth Naval Medical Center referred to me as “Dr. House.”  Yet somehow I am married and in ministry.  Don’t ask me how it is certainly a mystery that the Deity Herself keeps and probably laughs about.

The friendliest people that you meet in DC are the bar tenders and people that you might sit next to at a bar.  I had a wonderful time tonight drinking beer, eating steak tacos and talking baseball with a fellow out of towner also named Steve fromSeattleat Gordon Biersch.  I stayed longer and drank more than I normally would but I wasn’t driving and I got home before I turned into a pumpkin.  I like bartenders, they tend to listen better than most people and actually remember what you prefer.  I’m sorry but most people don’t do that anymore, especially pastors, pundits and politicians.  Unfortunately this “unholy trinity” and their business, banking and brokering financial wheeler dealer buddies are the people driving the country off the cliff because they only seek what is best for them and what will get them or those that they support elected next year.  It is no wonder that regular people in this beautiful city don’t talk to each other. What a shame.

So as I close the night and prepare to read and medicate (with legal medicine thank you) myself to sleep I have to add a final thought about the insanity of the Debt Ceiling and the poisonous political atmosphere that enshrouds the country like a cloud of Mustard Gas  burning our eyes and lungs and scaring us for life.   What I believe is that there are people on both sides of the political chasm that would rather be true to their ideology than to the people that they represent and to the country that each of them took an oath to support and defend.  Truthfully I am frightened.

When I was at Gordon Biersch CNN and Fox News were still playing.  At7 PMI asked the bartender if there was a baseball game or anything else less depressive and negative than was on the news channels.  Thank God that baseball was on as it seems to be one of the few institutions in the country that is running halfway right.

I do have a suggestion to end the impasse about the budget and debt ceiling.  I call it the Beer Party Platform.  I suggest that we get all of the members of the legislative, executive and judicial branches of the government flat out drunk and let them fight it out like it was an Old West barroom brawl.  Let them get all the poison out of their system and if it means a few broken bones then so be it.  Then when all the fighting was done and Mongo comes to try to kill the Sheriff of Rock Ridge that everyone puts themselves together and works to restore sanity and civility to our society. Admittedly this is a bit Mel Brooks like but what can I say? Did you see the end of Blazing Saddles? It all ends right.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6DAziSni2VA&feature=related

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EBSjg5bV4cM&feature=related

So God bless America, the God fearing citizens of Rock Ridge, ,baseball and the American people. We certainly deserve better than what we’ve got.

So tomorrow I will have lunch with a wonderful former commanding officer and in the evening head out to National’s Park to see if I can get a military discount in the cheap seats.

Peace

Padre Steve+

1 Comment

Filed under beer, faith, healthcare, leadership, Pastoral Care, philosophy, Political Commentary, Religion

Thoughts from a Sunday Night in DC: I had better Accommodations in Iraq

Today was one of those days that was well “just one of those days.”  I am in Washington DC this week for a conference at the George Washington University Institute for Spirituality and Health.  I am looking forward to the conference as we are beginning to incorporate the Institute’s FICA spiritual assessment at our hospital.

Today however was just “one of those days.”  I spent a lot longer of my day than I would have wanted to on the road traveling the I-64 and I-95 corridors from Virginia Beach to DC.  I left atnoonand arrived after6 PM.  By the time I had found where I needed to check in and get to my room it was after7 PM.  Since it is less than 200 miles from our place in Virginia Beach to the GWU campus it means that much of my time was spent driving less than 20 MPH which if I was a Panzer Commander of the Easter Front would be great time but is pretty sad for our wondrous county.

When I got to my room it was the worst accommodations that I have stayed in since Iraq. I won’t go into too many details but it is about 85 degrees in my room and I am sleeping on a very uncomfortable mattress.  The only way the heat is bearable is to sleep 18 inches from the pathetic window air conditioner without any covers and scantily clad enough to be a Playgirl Magazine centerfold like Burt Reynolds without the hair or the moustache. There is a kitchenette without as much as a utensil, no television, a refrigerator with a working freezer but alas no ice trays.  There are many tiles missing from the bathroom floors, the supplied towel is thinner than a junior high school gym towel and the sheets do not fit the uncomfortable mattress.

Now I admit to save the government money I took the “on campus housing.”  But truthfully I don’t remember staying at anything so substandard in college or when visiting any other campus after graduation.  In fact since GWU is a rather prestigious school I thought that the room would be something that the parent of a student paying mega bucks to attend this university would approve of their child living.  If I was a parent I would be appalled.  To put professionals, physicians, nurses and chaplains all with advanced degrees in such conditions where after hours study is well nigh impossible and rest even more so is embarrassing.

But then what do I expect for Washington DC?  Hell the Republicans and Democrats can’t get enough of their collective shit together to do anything and are driving the country toward a cliff that all of us know will end in disaster.  So why should anything else work in this town and why am I not surprised?  I should have brought a Super-Soaker full of Holy Water and equipped my car with a Holy Water Mist system and just hosed down the city.

I doubt if I will sleep tonight but at least I know that a least two things are working, Baseball and breweries.  I walked to the Gordon Biersch Brewery Restaurant and had a couple of good beers with dinner and was able to watch a bit of baseball at the bar.

I doubt if I sleep much as I am having some strongIraqmemories but I’m going to give it a try. All I can say is that this is doing nothing for my post-Iraq PTSD psychological and spiritual health . Tomorrow I find a way out of this dump without having the Navy pay another dime for me to stay this place.

Peace

Padre Steve+

1 Comment

Filed under Loose thoughts and musings

Remembering the Men of the Negro Leagues: Carl Long Appreciation Day

Carl Long Night: L-R  James “Spot”King, Hubert “Big Daddy”Wooten, Dennis “Bose”Biddle and Carl Long  at Historical Grainger Stadium

Friday I had the privilege of being invited to spend a portion of the day a number of former Negro League players, Minor League players and a couple of former Major Leaguers including one veteran of the 2004 Boston Red Sox World Series Championship team, Trot Nixon.  In addition to the ballplayers I met Carl’s lovely wife Ella as well city officials from the City of Kinston and regular folks, baseball fans and parents with their children.

Carl and Ella

It was a day to honor one of the few remaining veterans of the Negro Leagues.  Carl Long played with the Birmingham Black Barons alongside Willie Mays and Country and Western singer Charlie Pride. He played against Hank Aaron and spent time in the minors with Willie McCovey and Roberto Clemente.  He was the first black to play in the Carolina League and still holds the record for the most RBIs in a season inKinstonwhich has also seen such sluggers as Jim Thome, Alex White and Manny Ramirez play at Historic Grainger Stadium.  Carl did not have a long baseball career, he injured his shoulder and his wife of over 50 years Ella, a local Kinston girl stole his heart.  In Kinston he became the first black commercial bus driver in the state, the first black Deputy Sheriff in North Carolina, and first black Detective on the Kinston Police Department. Carl was presented with a certificate from the Mayor of Kinston during the

That evening the Kinston Indians hosted Carl Long Appreciation night.  Carl as well as Dennis, James “Spot” King and Hubert “Big Daddy” Wooten and a number of local Negro League era players took the field near along the third base line as their names were announced.  A local television station filmed the event and Carl made sure the members of the “Field of Dreams” Little League team each got a copy of his signed baseball card. It was a night of emotion, appreciation and history.

Carl broke barriers wherever he went and credits his father with ensuring that he got his education, a mantra that he repeats to every young person that he meets.  I met Carl earlier in the season and knew that I was in the presence of a pioneer and a great American.  When I am in Kinston there is nothing that I enjoy more that listening to Carl’s stories of life in the Negro Leagues and breaking the baseball’s color barrier in the Deep South.

Hubert “Big Daddy”Wooten” 

It is hard to imagine now just how deep the poisonous river of racism ran in 1940’s, 50’s and 60’s America.  Then it was a fact that segregation was not only acceptable but widely practiced in much of this country.  Institutionalized racism was normal and violence against blacks and whites that befriended them was commonplace.  We like to think that we have overcome racism in this country but unfortunately there is a segment of the population that still practices and promotes this evil.  Even this week there was a Ku Klux Klan attack on the home of a black pastor in the South.  His offense….supporting a white candidate for county sheriff.  While we have overcome much there is still much work to be done.  I think this is why I believe it is so important to remember the men and women of the Negro Leagues.

One of the men at today’s events was Dennis “Bose” Biddle who played for the Chicago American Giants in 1953 and 1954.  He was in the process of having his contract purchased by the Chicago Cubs when he suffered a devastating injury to his leg and ankle going hard into Second Base.  When he couldn’t play in the Majors he went to college and became a Social Worker.  Dennis said to me “you know that “take out” sign at restaurants? We started it” referring to how black players would have to get their food at the back of a restaurant or eat in the kitchen out of sight of white customers.

Dennis “Bose”Biddle autographing a baseball 

The truth of the matter is that the players of the Negro Leagues were torch bearers in our society.  The men and women of the Negro Leagues barnstormed and played against white teams when baseball was still segregated.  When Branch Rickey signed Jackie Robinson it was a seismic event with great social connotations.  A barrier had been broken and I dare say that without the men of the Negro Leagues that the work of other Civil Rights leaders including Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. would have had a less fertile audience in White America and probably a even less friendly reception than they had as they worked to fulfill the vision of a better America where men and women of every race, color and creed could aspire to great things.

Carl Long giving a baseball and good advice to a young fan

Men like Carl Long are responsible for this.  Some made their impact at a national level while others like Carl and Dennis on a local and regional level.  Like the men and women of the “Greatest Generation” this fellowship grows smaller with each passing year. Hubert “Daddy” Wooten was one of the last Negro League players; he played for and later managed the Indianapolis Clowns in the years where they barnstormed.  During that time he managed the legendary Satchel Paige. “Big Daddy” Wooten  is the youngest of the he surviving Negro League players a mere 65 years old.  Most are in their mid-70s or in their 80s.  It is important that their friends and neighbors write down their stories so they are not forgotten.

Baseball in particular the Negro League Hall of Fame and Museum has done a credible job of trying to preserve the contributions of these men to baseball and the American experience. Yet many more stories are still to be told.  I hope that as I continue to visit with Carl, Sam Allen in Norfolk and other players that I will be able to help them tell more of those stories.

Peace

Padre Steve+

2 Comments

Filed under Baseball, History, philosophy, Political Commentary

The Tapestry of Life: How PTSD and Combat Stress is a Part of Who and What We Are

I have been dealing with the effects of Post Traumatic Stress over 3 ½ years.  In that time I have had my struggles going ranging from falling into the abyss to a measure of recovery and occasional relapses.  It has been a difficult time which has stretched me in ways that I never dreamed and given me perspective on what it is to live, to have faith and to experience life in ways that I could not have imagined before I deployed toIraq.

Within a few weeks of beginning therapy I was asked by my therapist what I wanted to do with my experience.  I really didn’t know, I was in the midst of a complete emotional breakdown and crisis of faith.  When my therapist asked me “well Padre how are you with the Big Guy” I could only answer “I don’t know if God exists anymore or if he does if he cares about me.”  My therapist was the first person that asked me about my spiritual life after I returned.  No clergy of any kind asked that question.  I guess that they assumed quite wrongly that I hadn’t really changed.  There is a tendency among clergy to ignore the obvious when a colleague begins to fall apart.

In fact it is really a cultural problem.  Often the advice to someone dealing with trauma and the experience of grief which often compounds traumatic experience is to “forget about it” or “put it behind you and move forward.”  Some therapists and pastors seem to have burying the experience, reliving it time and time again until you are numb or simply try to expunge it from memory as their goal.

The problem with all of these “methods” is that they label the person who has been traumatized and the complex grief that they experience as a result of the trauma as ill, damaged or broken.  But it the opposite is true, people that have experienced trauma especially in a combat zone are simply having a normal reaction to experiences that are not normal.

We adapt to war and the experience becomes part of who we are.  It is a survival tool that humans have had ever since the first skirmishes between primitive tribes.  However primitives actually have an advantage over the modern human.  They went to war to defend their families and homes.  The warriors would be sent out with fanfare, religious ceremonies and ritual. When they returned they would be brought back into the tribe, new warriors who had distinguished themselves would be noted, sometimes marked in some physical manner.  Rituals marked the re-entry of the warriors and they would be reincorporated into the community. Some societies would incorporate rituals for individuals to do as they re-entered the community. Their stories would become part of the tribe’s oral tradition and passed down to successive generations.

Today’s modern American warrior doesn’t go to war with his neighbors.  These warriors go to war with men and women that come from many parts of the country, US territories or immigrants and when they leave service they often return to neighbors, friends and families that care about them but do not understand them or their experience. The reactions that they developed in combat and their response to perceived threats are considered dangerous or abnormal.  People tell them that they need to go back to what they were before the war experience but they can’t because they have been changed by their experiences.

We live in a culture of denial. All too often it seems that society simply wants the traumatized and grieving veteran just be quiet, see a shrink, go to a PTSD group and “get well.”  Many times churches and religious institutions treat the problem as some kind of spiritual shortcoming.  Many Christian veterans come home and find that they are shunned because they have doubts or because they don’t “get better” after people pray for them.  I was reading a faux news article which was more like an infomercial for a CD that promotes a method as “Be still and know….”  It was developed by a reserve Army Chaplain and Christian therapist. It is designed to make it all go away.  Do the method right and you get better, God heals you and you live happily ever after until something breaks the cycle of denial and you crash.  I do believe that God heals but I don’t believe that God makes everything magically go away like it never happened.  Such a belief is not supported in Scripture, the testimony of the early Church or for that matter most of the Christian tradition.

This week I was being filmed for a Department of Defense program called The Real Warriors Campaign   http://www.realwarriors.net/which is designed to de-stigmatize Combat Stress injuries including PTSD and Traumatic Brain Injury.  They picked up the article that was written about me in the Jacksonville Daily News in April of this year and asked if I would be willing to participate.   http://www.enctoday.com/articles/cmdr-89433-jdn-stephen-military.html

It was a hard week for me. I went to a functioned hosted by our hospital Wardroom at the base Officer’s Club Saturday night and while I enjoyed myself I hit sensory overload. When I got hope I was pretty edgy and to add to the situation we had some Marine helicopters flying in the area I live that night. As I tried to calm down I realized that I was going to be interviewed Tuesday and the thought scared the shit out of me.  Yes I had agreed to do it and yes I thought I needed to do it but my heavily introverted and relatively anti-social personality type now seasoned with reactivated PTSD symptoms couldn’t handle it.  I couldn’t sleep and had the firstIraqrelated dreams I have had in many months. I did not even open the front door of my place on Sunday.  I couldn’t sleep Sunday night and got permission of my boss to get some assistance.  Since I couldn’t get a no-notice appointment with my current psychiatrist I called my first therapist and he was helpful. I went to a ball game and that helped calm me down.  I was still anxious but functional.

The two days of filming went pretty well for me, although I know with the possible exception of “COPS” there is no such thing as reality television.  This was not “reality television” but the goal was to try to show how I live life, work and relate to people after deployment.  The crew was really good and handled things professionally but even so it was packaged and things had to be have lighting, have different camera angles and required me to repeat things sometimes because of the privacy issues of patients in the hospital.  But it is what it is.  By the end of the two days I was pretty wiped out and simply rested last night.

However on Monday night before the interview I had an epiphany.  That simple illumination came from an episode of Star Trek the Next Generation called Tapestry I won’t ruin it for you but the final segment of the episode is linked here:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hZeGzaJiP6g&feature=related

The epiphany was very simple.  All of our life, the good, the bad, the enjoyable and even the traumatic are part of a rich tapestry.  Those painful threads, the ones that we cause ourselves or the ones that are the result of trauma, grief and loss are part of who we are as human beings.  If we try to remove them we damage the tapestry and if we try or are persuaded by those that deny the reality of pain and suffering to remove the really painful and deep hurts, those which are the most tightly wound into the fabric of our lives, especially for the combat veteran we risk long lasting damage to our very soul.

The challenge is not to be “healed” or to compartmentalize the trauma and put it in some deep closet in our brain.  Nor is it to deny the trauma or for that matter keep trying to relive the trauma so that we are desensitized to the pain.  The real challenge is to allow our experiences of war, grief, loss and trauma to have their place in our lives knowing that without them we are not who we are.

I’m not saying that I have any real answer to what all of us that experience combat stress injuries deal with.  All I know is that I just want to be real and there are risks in opening up to people and reaching out to get help.  At the same time it is important to find a way to get help so we can adapt to our new reality.

As for me I went through some terrible times that still affect me.  Yes I went through a period of profound spiritual crisis and even a loss of faith and when I began to recover faith people that had been okay with me being broken ended up asking me to leave my church because the faith that I have now didn’t fit the narrow box that defined that church.

All that being said I am glad that my therapists or my supervisors allowed me and continue to allow me to work through the issues that still impact me and my ability to function in society, deal with others and even effect my marriage.  I wish every combat vet and survivor of trauma had that support.  I just hope that I can be worthy of the trust that they have place in me and that I will care for those entrusted to me with the same care and compassion that I was and am being shown.

Peace

Padre Steve+

3 Comments

Filed under faith, Military, Pastoral Care, philosophy, PTSD, Religion, star trek, Tour in Iraq

One Small Step for Man…One Giant Step for Mankind

I remember it like it was yesterday.  It was the stuff that dreams are made of the stuff that inspires a generation.  A tiny and fragile Lunar Module, the Eagle piloted by Astronauts Neil Armstrong and Bud Aldrin landed on the Moon’s Sea of Tranquility. Within hours the two men had made the first walk on the Moon.  Armstrong made the statement “One small step for man, one giant leap for mankind.”  In orbit above the Moon Astronaut Michael Collins piloted the Command Module Columbia. It was the stuff that legends are made of and help point humankind to higher and nobler goals.

http://www.dailymotion.com/video/x8rlwp_cbs-news-apollo-11-moon-landing-jul_shortfilms#from=embed

Shortly after he became President, John F. Kennedy promised to have a man on the Moon by the end of the decade.  His comments supporting the Apollo mission before a joint session of Congress are quite remarkable especially in light of the state of the technology available at the time.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ouRbkBAOGEw&feature=player_embedded

“I believe that this nation should commit itself to achieving the goal, before this decade is out, of landing a man on the Moon and returning him safely to the Earth. No single space project in this period will be more impressive to mankind, or more important in the long-range exploration of space; and none will be so difficult or expensive to accomplish.”

The United Stateswholeheartedly threw itself into the race for the Moon and though Kennedy, struck dead by an assassin’s bullet nearly six years prior did not live to celebrate the occasion it was something that in a time of war and deep political division united the Nation.  It did not matter if one was a conservative or liberal, Republican or Democrat the Space Program and in particular the Apollo missions made us glad to be Americans.  In the midst of trying times marked by racism and riots, political assassinations, anti-war protests and social unrest.

It was an amazing event which could have ended in disaster but instead helped us as a nation to aspire to higher and nobler goals. The landing on the Moon inspired many to study the sciences and Astronaut camps attended by children furthered that desire.  The invention, innovation and ingenuity sparked by the program helped birth more invention many times providing the basis for devices that are ubiquitous today but unthinkable except possibly to the writers of Star Trek then.

We dreamed and aspired to great things.  We were Americans then.  Now we have become a collection of deeply divided hatred filled special interests.  The last Space Shuttle mission that of the Atlantis will end tomorrow and no one knows what will follow.  But does it matter?

It probably doesn’t matter anymore because we have stopped dreaming or envisioning a hopeful future.  The Moon, Mars and beyond, forget that we need to sacrifice, well everyone but the people that put us in the mess we are in.

What does a space program matter when we are so divided against ourselves?

Our politician’s pundits and preachers of all political leanings and persuasions drive that poisonous wedge deeper every day and many willingly indulge in the “us against them” mentality promoted by those that beg us to listen to the “three hours a day every day.”

That Unholy Trinity of politicians, pundits and preachers seems so bent promoting their ideologies and theologies that they forget that they all have a responsibility to a nation that is greater than their respective faction, special interest and even religious views.  Now we have politicians signing statements written by special interests groups and there are an ever growing number of them, as if they were the Constitution, binding them and their fealty to unelected and unaccountable power brokers who have only their ideology to promote.  To see politicians shamelessly entering into such pacts to win a nomination or primary makes me wonder what they will do if they are elected to the offices that they aspire.

Back in 1969 the country was a mess, but when the Eagle touched down on the Sea of Tranquility we were Americans again.  We took a moment and believed again and we achieved again.  Unfortunately I don’t see anything at the present that will make us so again at least in the near future.  I fear for our country. Maybe it’s just my PTSD “Mad Cow” getting to me; maybe it is the fact that as a historian and theologian I know where the path we are traveling ends.

Peace

Padre Steve+

2 Comments

Filed under History, leadership, philosophy, Political Commentary

The Double Edged Sword of Denying Religious Rights

Puritans in Massachusetts Bay Colony Hanging Quakers

“Who does not see that the same authority which can establish Christianity, in exclusion of all other religions, may establish with the same ease any particular sect of Christians, in exclusion of all other sects?” James Madison

“We believe that institutionally Christianity should be the official religion of the country, that its laws should be specifically Christian” David Chilton (leader in Christian Reconstructionist and Dominionist Theology)

We love to talk about religious liberty in the United States, especially we who are of the Christian faith.  In fact religious liberty is deeply entwined in the story of the United States of America.  We love to call attention to those brave souls that came to North American search of religious liberty to the point that sometimes we fail to realize that we  have moved from history to myth.  The story of the Massachusetts Bay Colony is heralded by many conservative Christians as a triumph of religious liberty as English Separatist dissenters established that colony in the New World.  The story of the religious liberty of that colony is enshrined in the myth of American history presented by David Barton of Wall Builders and others that embrace the political, theological and historical ideas of R. J. Rushdooney who is the originator of Christian Reconstructionism or Dominionism.

I was introduced to this theology while attending college and attending a church of the Presbyterian Church in Americain denomination in theLos Angeles area.  We had a speaker come to the church who presented a series on “America’s Christian History.” It was a very Dominionist centered presentation and I remember buying a number of the books that the man was selling many of which are found in current Home School resources available on the internet.  It did not take long for me to see that what was being promoted bore little resemblance to historic fact. Now I find it hard to believe that what I was introduced to then is so influential today.

Unfortunately the myth of how the founders of the Massachusetts Bay Colony and others like them does not address the fact that for these people religious liberty that mattered was their religious liberty.  Dissenters in the Massachusetts Bay Colony were persecuted with some being tried as heretics and burned at the stake.  The colony was a theocracy which is by many on the Christian Right being held up as a model of government.  The late Dr. D. James Kennedy an early popular exponent of Dominionist theology stated:

“Our job is to reclaim America for Christ, whatever the cost, as the vice regents of God, we are to exercise godly dominion and influence over our neighborhoods, our schools, our government, our literature and arts, our sports arenas, our entertainment media, our news media, our scientific endeavors — in short, over every aspect and institution of human society.”

Gary North a leader in the Christian Reconstructionist movement and son-in-law of R. J. Rushdooney noted:

“The long-term goal of Christians in politics should be to gain exclusive control over the franchise. Those who refuse to submit publicly to the eternal sanctions of God by submitting to His Church’s public marks of the covenant–baptism and holy communion–must be denied citizenship, just as they were in ancient Israel.” Gary North, Political Polytheism: The Myth of Pluralism (Tyler, TX: Institute for Christian Economics, 1989), p. 87.

An increasing number of conservative Christians seem to like religious freedom so long as it is theirs and some like David Barton will willingly falsify the historical accounts to bolster their position. Barton once quoted William Penn as saying “Whatever is Christian is legal; whatever is not is illegal” claiming that it was in the 1681 Pennsylvania Constitution or “Frame.” However the phrase is not in the document which is one of the most progressive civil documents of its era and goes out of its way to promote religious freedom and tolerance. Penn who was a member of the heavily persecuted Quaker denomination understood how deeply persecution and intolerance was ingrained in the Christian church, Protestant and Catholic.  The 1701 Charter of Privileges noted:

“no Person or Persons, inhabiting in this Province or Territories, who shall confess and acknowledge One almighty God, the Creator, Upholder and Ruler of the World; and profess him or themselves obliged to live quietly under the Civil Government, shall be in any Case molested or prejudiced, in his or their Person or Estate, because of his or their conscientious Persuasion or Practice, nor be compelled to frequent or maintain any religious Worship, Place or Ministry, contrary to his or their Mind, or to do or suffer any other Act or Thing, contrary to their religious Persuasion.”

Penn’s Declaration of Rights stated:

“All men have a natural and indefeasible right to worship Almighty God according to the dictates of their own consciences; no man can of right be compelled to attend, erect, or support any place of worship, or to maintain any ministry against his consent; no human authority can, in any case whatever, control or interfere with the rights of conscience, and no preference shall ever be given by law to any religious establishment or modes of worship.”

Yet the modern leaders of the Christian Right seem ready to in their writings and public statements are willing to embrace theocracy over freedom a position much more like the Iranian Mullah’s than our nation’s founders. The clash was highlighted for me today when Herman Cain a Republican Presidential Candidate, Christian minister and former CEO of Godfather Pizza claimed that it was the right of communities to deny Moslems the opportunity to build mosques I their community.  While being interviewed on Fox News Sunday Cain said:

“Our Constitution guarantees the separation of church and state, Islam combines church and state. They’re using the church part of our First Amendment to infuse their morals in that community, and the people of that community do not like it. They disagree with it.” Herman Cain

I don’t deny that in heavily Moslem countries that Islam and government are linked, but the same is true with those that promote Dominionist theology.  Their models of government are much like Islam, rather than Sharia law imposed by radical Islamists the imposed law is “Biblical law” or Biblical justice.  Take Greg Bahnsen:

“The New Testament teaches us that–unless exceptions are revealed elsewhere–every Old Testament commandment is binding, even as the standard of justice for all magistrates (Rom. 13:1-4), including every recompense stipulated for civil offenses in the law of Moses (Heb 2:2). From the New Testament alone we learn that we must take as our operating presumption that any Old Testament penal requirement is binding today on all civil magistrates. The presumption can surely be modified by definite, revealed teaching in the Scripture, but in the absence of such qualifications or changes, any Old Testament penal sanction we have in mind would be morally obligatory for civil rulers.”  Greg Bahnsen, No Other Standard (Tyler, TX: Institute for Christian Economics, 1991), p. 68.

Gary North echo’s Bahnsen when he wrote:

“The principle of interpretation which is supposed to govern Christian orthodoxy is that Christ came to establish, confirm, and declare the Old Testament law (Matt. 5:17-18). Only if we find an explicit abandonment of an Old Testament law in the New Testament, because of the historic fulfillment of the Old Testament shadow, can we legitimately abandon a detail of the Mosaic law.

The proper exegetical principle is this: Mosaic law is still to be enforced, by the church or the State or both, unless there is a specific injunction to the contrary in the New Testament.”  Gary North, The Sinai Strategy: Economics and the Ten Commandments (Tyler, TX: Institute for Christian Economics, 1986), pp. 242, 255.

Personally I cannot find a difference in those that advocate Sharia and those that advocate for the imposition of their understanding and interpretation of “Biblical law.” The scriptures that they use may be different but the message is the same, religious law stands above civil law.  As far as teachings of Jesus that conflict with the militaristic dominion advocated by North, Rushdooney and others they are reinterpreted in ways never put forth by orthodox Christians of any kind. North wrote concerning Jesus telling his disciples to turn the other cheek:

“Nevertheless, this one fact should be apparent: turning the other cheek is a bribe. It is a valid form of action for only so long as the Christian is impotent politically or militarily. By turning the other cheek, the Christian provides the evil coercer with more peace and less temporal danger than he deserves. By any economic definition, such an act involves a gift: it is an extra bonus to the coercing individual that is given only in respect of his power. Remove his power, and he deserves punishment: an eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth. Remove his power, and the battered Christian should either bust him in the chops or haul him before the magistrate, and possibly both.” Gary North, “In Defense of Biblical Bribery,” in R.J. Rushdoony, The Institutes of Biblical Law (Nutley, NJ: Craig Press, 1973), p. 846.

As far as any tolerance for any other religions or those at variance with the intensely hyper-Calvinist theology of the Dominionists there is none, not even for the Jews.  Chilton makes this case in the most severe of terms.

“The god of Judaism is the devil. The Jew will not be recognized by God as one of His chosen people until he abandons his demonic religion and returns to the faith of his fathers–the faith which embraces Jesus Christ and His Gospel.” David Chilton, The Days of Vengeance: An Exposition of the Book of Revelation (Ft. Worth, TX: Dominion Press, 1984), p. 127.

Bryan Fischer of the American Family Association claims:

Islam has no fundamental First Amendment claims, for the simple reason that it was not written to protect the religion of Islam. Islam is entitled only to the religious liberty we extend to it out of courtesy. While there certainly ought to be a presumption of religious liberty for non-Christian religious traditions in America, the Founders were not writing a suicide pact when they wrote the First Amendment.”(Blog post of23 March 2011)

Pat Roberston extends such to fellow Christians:

“You say you’re supposed to be nice to the Episcopalians and the Presbyterians and the Methodists and this, that, and the other thing. Nonsense, I don’t have to be nice to the spirit of the Antichrist.” — Pat Robertson, The 700 Club, January 14, 1991

So the cry of Herman Cain that Islam is somehow unique in attempting to infuse religion into government is a fabrication because many Christians, especially he and his allies do the same thing.  This attempt to radically reinterpret American History and the Constitution as assuming that the founders of the country desired to found a theocracy is patently deceitful and being used to stir up otherwise wonderful Christians into embracing something that is neither American or Christian.

When I see Texas Governor Rick Perry organizing a “Prayer Rally” called “The Response” which is exclusively Christian and sponsored by a large number of ministers and ministries that embrace Dominionist theology, some in ways even more radical than I have mentioned here I get worried.  I don’t have any problem with Christians deciding to get together to pray for the country but when I see a likely Presidential candidate sponsoring such an event I have to ask myself if the event is simply a religious gathering or a partisan political rally cloaked with a veneer of Christianity.  Honestly I have to think that it is the latter.

Roger Williams the founder of the Rhode Island Colony was driven from the Massachusetts Bay Colony after being convicted of sedition and heresy. Williams had dared to criticize the treatment of the Indians, refused to sign a loyalty oath and was convicted of spreading “diverse, new, and dangerous opinions.” Williams later said:

“Enforced uniformity confounds civil and religious liberty and denies the principles of Christianity and civility. No man shall be required to worship or maintain a worship against his will.”

In the early days of this country a number of the former colonies retained their respective State religion.  In Virginia Anglicans fought to maintain their status as the state religion and persecuted other groups, especially Baptists.  The Constitution had said nothing about the Christian faith in fact Article VI specifically stated that “no religious Test shall ever be required as a Qualification to any Office or public Trust under the United States.”

The First Amendment in the Bill of Rights guaranteed that Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof….

The Dunking of Baptist Pastors David Barrow and Edward Mintz in the Nansemond River by Virginia Anglicans 

While some have advanced that this was to keep the State from meddling in the business of religion it was actually brought about by the complaints of Virginia Baptists who were being persecuted by Anglicans. Madison and Jefferson both understood this andMadisonexpressly noted the danger of establishing the Christian faith as a State religion.

“Who does not see that the same authority which can establish Christianity, in exclusion of all other religions, may establish with the same ease any particular sect of Christians, in exclusion of all other sects?”

John Leland a leader of the Virginia Baptists attacked the foundation of what the current advocates of Dominionism in the Christian Right teach.  Leland cannot be accused of not being a Christian; he was an evangelical Christian in his day. He was not a Deist as were many of the founders of the country who Barton claims were evangelical Christians, he certainly was a believer in Christ and he understood the danger of this based on the history of persecution of Baptists in England, the New World and their cousins on the European continent, the Mennonites and Anabaptists by state mandated Churches. Leland wrote:

“The notion of a Christian commonwealth should be exploded forever…Government should protect every man in thinking and speaking freely, and see that one does not abuse another.  The liberty I contend for is more than toleration.  The very idea of toleration is despicable; it supposes that some have a pre-eminence above the rest to grant indulgence, whereas all should be equally free, Jews, Turks, Pagans and Christians.”

To me it seems that the current push by the Dominionists that now lead the Christian Right is based on the fear that they cannot win the hearts of people by their witness as did the early church. Instead they must rely on the power of the government.  Those that oppose them are the enemy or aligned with the Devil himself.

If Cain wants to allow communities to ban Mosques then he should also allow those more secular communities to deny the same to Christian churches.  But wait…that’s Christian persecution.  Maybe Catholic neighborhoods can ban Protestants and Evangelical communities can ban Catholics or mainline Protestants. Rich Episcopalians then could ban those unsophisticated Pentecostals and Baptists from their neighborhoods.

Yes the sword cuts both ways. When any religious group turns to the government to advance its agenda and force its point of view on others it not only tramples their rights as Americans but also places their rights in danger.  I think that is why Madison  wrote toward the end of his life:

“The settled opinion here is, that religion is essentially distinct from civil Government, and exempt from its cognizance; that a connection between them is injurious to both; that there are causes in the human breast which ensure the perpetuity of religion without the aid of the law; that rival sects, with equal rights, exercise mutual censorships in favor of good morals; that if new sects arise with absurd opinions or over-heated imaginations, the proper remedies lie in time, forbearance, and example; that a legal establishment of religion without a toleration could not be thought of, and with a toleration, is no security for and animosity; and, finally, that these opinions are supported by experience, which has shewn that every relaxation of the alliance between law and religion, from the partial example of Holland to the consummation in Pennsylvania, Delaware, New Jersey, &c., has been found as safe in practice as it is sound in theory. Prior to the Revolution, the Episcopal Church was established by law in this State. On the Declaration of Independence it was left, with all other sects, to a self-support. And no doubt exists that there is much more of religion among us now than there ever was before the change, and particularly in the sect which enjoyed the legal patronage. This proves rather more than that the law is not necessary to the support of religion” (Letter to Edward Everett, Montpellier, March 18, 1823).

Madison’s words are well worth considering now.

Peace

Padre Steve+

6 Comments

Filed under History, laws and legislation, philosophy, Political Commentary, Religion