Monthly Archives: July 2012

Shoeless Joe and the Healing of the Soul

“Success is getting what you want, but happiness is wanting what you get.” Eddie Scissions in Shoeless Jo

I don’t read much non-fiction. However I do appreciate writers that can tell a story and make it feel real and bring the wood pulp that becomes the pages of a book to life.  I appreciate the writers who are able to blend fantasy and reality, history, religion, faith and mystery and in doing so bring me into the world that they create. It is quite amazing when I think about it.

Before Iraq the fiction I read was historical fiction or the genre of “alternative history.” I gravitated toward military fiction like Anton Meyrer’s Once an Eagle or W.E.B. Griffin’s The Brotherhood of War series and Michael Shaara’s The Killer Angels. All dealt with a military culture that was part of me and that I could relate to because of that shared culture.

But took going to Iraq for me to start reading the occasional work of fiction that was not related to the military. When I was in Iraq I started reading Father Andrew Greeley’s Bishop Blackie Ryan mysteries. I was beginning a crisis in faith and couldn’t sleep at night I found that somehow the stories touched me with the grace of God.  But I also read a little book called The Perfect Game by Michael Shaara which was a novel about a baseball player, a pitcher named Billy Chapel in the final game of his career. The book  later became the basis of the movie For the Love of the Game. It also resonated in me because it dealt with a man looking back at his life, his successes and failures and how they all flowed through his mind in that final game.

I finished reading W. P. Kinsella’s masterpiece Shoeless Joe last night. It is not the first time that I have read it The book is the novel that the film Field of Dreams is adapted from. Kinsella is a wonderful writer who manages to write in such a way that if you pause for a moment and close your eyes that you can enter into the vividness of the story. Sights, sounds, scents and even touch are imaginable in what he writes.

I saw the movie before I ever read the book. I drove Judy a couple of hundred miles out of our way back in 2004 to visit the actual Field of Dreams in Dyersville Iowa. But the book touches me in a very deep way. I read it the first time during the summer of 2008 when I returned from Iraq. I remember hunting through the shelves of the local bookstore until I found a copy. Every page that I read came to life and there were times that I had to stop reading because tears filled my eyes.

This time I read it on my I-Phone courtesy of the Amazon Kindle App. I have been doing a lot of my reading on my Kindle or I-Phone lately and despite the lack of pages to turn and spill coke or beer on as I read, the ability to have a lot of books at my fingertips instead of weighing down my trusty Blackhawk “Three Day Pack” that has been with me since I went to Iraq with more books that I should reasonably carry. People have always been amazed with the number of books that I have lugged around ever since I was a kid going to the public library or the school library.  Believe me the trade off is worth it, but I digress….

Once again Kinsella transported me to the world of Ray Kinsella, J.D. Salinger, Moonlight Graham and Shoeless Joe Jackson and the “Unlucky Eight” of the Black Sox scandal that rocked baseball in 1919.  I feel like I know them. But then in a way I do. I know so many ballplayers and baseball has been such a big part of my life that there is something that transcends the pages.  Like the characters in the book whose lives are tied to certain teams, in particular the 1919 White Sox and 1908 Cubs I have that sense of connection with the 1970 California  Angels and players like the late Jim Spencer and Third Base Coach Rocky Bridges. Spencer was a Gold Glove First Baseman and I met him at an autograph signing session at a local Von’s supermarket in Long Beach. that year. I wrote an essay for a contest on why he was my favorite Angel. I was one of the runners up and ended up as a runner up and got tickets to a game, my name in the newspaper and announced by Dick Enberg. I met Coach Bridges that same year and have a picture of him with my brother Jeff and me. That year at Anaheim Stadium and those fleeting encounters with the ball players and coaching staff of the 1970-71 Angels made me a believer in the game of baseball.

So whenever I read the book Shoeless Joe or see the movie Field of Dreams I end up crying. I do that a lot more of that than I used to and as always by the last few pages of the book I was wiping away my tears in order to read.

I think this is because it is a story that really is about the healing power of that lush green field, that perfect diamond that the game of baseball is played. It is a story of reconciliation of fathers and sons, brothers and even strangers. It really is a story of life touched by grace, of infinite possibilities. As Ray Kinsella, the teller of the story in the novel said:

“Baseball is the most perfect of games, solid, true, pure and precious as diamonds. If only life were so simple. Within the baselines anything can happen. Tides can reverse; oceans can open. That’s why they say, “the game is never over until the last man is out.” Colors can change, lives can alter, anything is possible in this gentle, flawless, loving game.”

It is a healing balm to my soul.

Peace

Padre Steve+

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Filed under Baseball, faith, movies, philosophy

Matt Drudge and the New Media Cynicism: We Could Use a Little Good News

“Why don’t you knock it off with them negative waves? Why don’t you dig how beautiful it is out here? Why don’t you say something righteous and hopeful for a change?” Sgt Oddball (Donald Sutherland) Kelly’s Heroes

One of my favorite characters in a war movie is that of Sergeant Oddball played with such great aplomb by Donald Sutherland in the 1970 film Kelly’s Heroes.

Oddball is an unlikely hero. In the midst of war’s desolation he finds purpose, in a decidedly hippy sort of way. He is determined that no matter what happens in the war that he will try to be positive. His attitude is something that I wish most of Unholy Trinity of Politicians, Pundits and Preachers would somehow whether it be through diligent study or divine revelation discover.

I look at the Drudge Report every day. He is probably the most influential individual in media today. Millions of visitors flock to his website every day. His traffic is off the charts.  Now I don’t know Matt Drudge, I just know that he has a large amounts of links to various stories and websites and I use him to jump off to see what he is reporting. He basically is show prep for most of the conservative media and blogosphere, not that there is anything wrong with that.

Drudge makes no bones about his conservatism. I remember reading him when he helped blow open the Bill Clinton- Monica Lewinski “it depends of what your definition of is is” sex scandal back in 1997. So I have been reading him for 15 years and have seen how his influence has grown.

However as I noted in a previous article called The Drudge Distort he often will twist the meaning of an article that he links to with a headline that does not resemble the actual article. His website is laid out brilliantly to define a number of breaking news subjects and form them in such a way that a reader who does not actually read the articles that he links to, simply sees a salacious, cynical, conspiratorial and just plain negative picture. It is positively depressing to look at his site.  Simply look at the site layout daily. If there is a big story Drudge will have several headlines to links which mold the way a story looks and when you dig deeper you find that the actual articles don’t say what he is saying.

While the site is heavily tilted towards politics which is perhaps one of the most cynical enterprises that one can report about, the cynicism of Drudge appears to me to color everything that he reports about: sports, culture, entertainment and even religion. There almost nothing hopeful on it, unless one is into some dark schadenfruede that rejoices in the misfortunes of others. Thus it is no wonder to me that so much of the country which is influenced by the Drudge Report is so negative about everything.

Personally I don’t care how he breaks news before media behemoths. I think that a free and independent media is important and that Matt Drudge does a hell of a job at breaking news. Admittedly a lot of news is bad now days. Headlines are all that many people read when they go to Drudge and so the way he presents the news is as important or possibly even more important than the actual news

The dark and cynical message of Drudge is echoed by much of the media, both the New Media and the Mainstream media. Coupled with the 24 hour, or should I say the 1440 minute daily news cycle Drudge feeds the angst of the nation which now feeds on negativity and is amplified by cable news and the multitude of “news” services, political pundits and even preachers. Media outlets echo off of each other be they from the left or the right of the spectrum and Drudge helps drive them.

I really think that this dark culture that pervades almost all of the media is quite destructive to any productive political or cultural discussion. This is the kind of media that helped destroy the democracy of the Weimar Republic and pave the way for Hitler whose media gurus Josef Goebbels and Julius Streicher understood this better than almost all of their contemporaries.

I wonder about the mind of someone who can constantly not only dwell on the negative found in any situation but must then ensure that everyone else is infected with this. I worry about people who do that. This is not just a criticism of Drudge, but the whole media complex. One can look at history and see similar whatever media the Yellow journalism of the 1890s and

Yes there is a lot of bad news in the world. But there is also a lot of good news, except those that make the big money in media find that bad news brings in more money than good news. Admittedly some reporters will throw in the obligatory tear jerker or good news story the rends our hearts, but even then for every good news story there are scores of bad news stories.

Anne Murray had a hit song in the early 1980s called Little Good News”  the last part of which said:

http://vimeo.com/5943612

I’ll come home this evenin’

I’ll bet that the news will be the same

Somebody takes a hostage, somebody steals a plane

How I wanna hear the anchor man talk about a county fair

And how we cleaned up the air, how everybody learned to care

Whoa, tell me

 

Nobody was assassinated in the whole Third World today

And in the streets of Ireland, all the children had to do was play

And everybody loves everybody in the good old USA

We sure could use a little good news today

 

Nobody robbed a liquor store on the lower part of town

Nobody OD’ed, nobody burned a single buildin’ down

 

Nobody fired a shot in anger, nobody had to die in vain

We sure could use a little good news today… 

I just wish like Sergeant Oddball that Drudge would drop his sky is falling message and actually report something hopeful for a change. The Apostle Paul once said “whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is pleasing, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence and if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.” 

I just wonder what would happen if someone in media, maybe even Matt Drudge actually took that advice. But then maybe I am just a dreamer.

Peace

Padre Steve+

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Filed under movies, music, News and current events

Days of Disastrous Decision Making: July 28th – August 4th 1914

The Austrian Declaration of War against Serbia

“No one starts a war–or rather, no one in his senses ought to do so–without first being clear in his mind what he intends to achieve by that war and how he intends to conduct it.” Carl Von Clausewitz 

It was a war that should never have happened. It was a war for which the belligerent powers could boast many causes but for which few had any real objectives.

It was a war in large part brought on by a declining empire’s fears. Fear of neighbors, ethnic minorities and its place among regional and world powers led the leaders of the Austro-Hungarian Empire to decide for war when the very unpopular heir to the throne Archduke Franz Ferdinand was assassinated in Sarajevo, the capital of the recently annexed province of Bosnia-Herzegovina on June 28th 1914.

Conrad von Hötzendorf: War was the only means of politics

It was a series of decisions by those in the government of the Empire that brought Europe and the world to war, a war which we still feel the effects of today. In particular the Chief of the General Staff Conrad von Hötzendorf, the Foreign Minister Leopold Berchtold and the aging Emperor, Franz Joseph.

Emperor Franz Joseph: “If we must go under, we better go under decently”

Hötzendorf had been a continual advocate of war in every situation. He lobbied for war in 1907 against Italy and Serbia, in 1908 against Serbia, Russia and Italy, in 1909 against Serbia and Montenegro, in 1910 against Italy and the list increased in the years leading up to the war. He fervently believed that “the use of armed force alone could retard the centrifugal forces of nationalism in the ‘multinational empire’; war was the only means of politics.” The Emperor, Franz Joseph was of the same mindset by 1914 and in the days following the assassination of Franz Ferdinand he gave his approval to the actions of Hotzendorf and the diplomacy of Berchtold which doomed the Austro-Hungarian Empire and would destroy and remake Europe within a span of four years.

Theobald von Bethmann-Hollweg: The Blank Checque

The leadership of the Empire had decided on war within days of the assassination. Berchtold dispatched an emissary to Kaiser Wilhelm who decided in counsel with his Imperial Chancellor Theobald von Bethmann-Hollweg gave the Austrians a “blank cheque” of unconditional support for war against Serbia. Berlin was confident that “the Balkan crisis could be localized” and “advised Vienna to “proceed with all means at its disposal” and that Germany would support Austria-Hungary “come what may.” In doing so they willingly ignored the wise counsel of Otto Von Bismarck who considered the Balkans “not worth the life of a single Pomeranian Grenadier.

After they received German support the Austrians did everything that they could to ensure that war would occur. Their demands of Serbia were intentionally designed to be unacceptable to that country and they held key information from their German allies in the three weeks after they received the unconditional German support.

Helmuth Von Molkte: “no alternative but to fight a preventive war…” 

German militarists, particularly the Chief of the General Staff Helmuth Von Molkte the younger saw the coming conflict in racial and cultural terms. Von Molkte said that the coming war   would come “sooner or later” and be a war “primarily a struggle between Germans and Slavs” and compared Serbia to an “abscess.”  As the war cloud built Von Molkte told the Foreign Secretary von Jagrow that there was “no alternative but to fight a preventive war so as to beat the enemy while we could still emerge fairly well from the struggle” ignoring the advice of the Iron Chancellor Otto Von Bismarck who counseled “Preventive war is like committing suicide out of fear of death.” 

Austrian Reservists going to war

The Austrians felt that the threat from Serbia combined with internal political factors related to the Hungarian and other Slavic regions of the Empire, and the increasing influence of Russia and Germany in the Balkans was an existential threat. At the same time they were poorly prepared for war. Their military was large but poorly trained and equipped.  Their national infrastructure, industry and railroads were ill-prepared for the demands of war. Their German allies had not planned for war either and were critically short of the required stocks of ammunition needed for a general war in Europe.

Cheering crowds in Petersburg

The Russians were heavily invested in the Balkans linked to other Slavic people by culture, language and religion. The French were bent on revenge against the Germans for the debacle of 1870 and had no stake in what happened in the Balkans. The British a few years prior to the war had told the Belgians not to expect support if they were invaded by Germany, but declared war to “protect Belgian neutrality.”

German wives and girlfriends walking alongside the Landser…

The Austrians thought that with German support that even if Russia intervened that the war could be limited to Serbia. They were wrong. Just as the Germans had given the Austrians a “blank cheque” the French, both officially and unofficially were giving the Russians their own blank cheque. French Ambassador Maurice Paleologue assured Russian Foreign Minister S.D. Sazonov of the “complete readiness of France to fulfill her obligations as an ally in case of necessity.

French Soldiers being cheered

Austria declared war on July 28th, Russia followed by a partial mobilization to support Serbia on the 29th. Kaiser Wilhelm attempted to avert war at the last minute but Czar Nicholas II wrote “An ignoble war has been declared on a weak country. The indignation of Russia, fully shared by me, is enormous. I foresee that very soon I shall be overwhelmed by pressure to which I am exposed and compelled to take measures which will lead to war.”  This was met with German mobilization on the 30th and the French on August 1st. Declarations of war were exchanged and on August 4th in response to Germany’s refusal to respect the neutrality of Belgium Great Britain declared war against Germany.

A final kiss from a British Soldier at Victoria Station

They were fateful days. Only the Austrians entered the war with any positive objectives, military or political goals. Every other power lurched into the war without clear objectives or end states. One writer noted that the war had “causes but no objectives.”

The world again finds itself perched at the edge of the abyss of war. There are people, smart and otherwise reasonable people who believe that they can wage “preventive wars” and rely on brute military force to solve nearly any problem. There are others that suggest that we should not criticize “allies” even when their decisions could be disastrous to them and the world, much as the Germans gave their Austrian brothers a “blank cheque.”  I wish that they would just look at the consequences before they commit nations and the world to more war that can only result in calamity and great suffering without benefit for anyone or any nation involved.

Peace

Padre Steve+

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Filed under History, Military, national security, Political Commentary

British Humor: Bond, Bean, Poppins and The Queen Kick Off XXX Games

It was quintessentially and quirkily British, and quite a show that director Danny Boyle produced to begin the XXXth Olympiad in London. It was a show that many wondered about considering the lavish display of nationalistic pride put on by China in the 2008 Games.

The British production was a display of how a nation can respect its heritage while at the same time have enough wit to laugh at itself. Maybe that is a result of having been the world’s largest empire a century ago to being a rather modest power today. Britain may no longer have empire, but it does have a rich tradition and great history that was displayed in the show.

http://vimeo.com/46518877

Music was a big part of the show and the influence of music of British music has been very large in the spread of western culture and influence. The opening song “Jerusalem” the lyrics of which come from William Blake is the unofficial hymn of England has a connection with the legendary Glastonbury Tor which was recreated in the stadium. Other songs from ancient to modern including folk songs like Danny Boy, hymnody, rock and pop were featured with Sir Paul McCartney closing the ceremony with his Beatles hit Hey Jude.

http://vimeo.com/46518877

As for me I appreciated the humor, or as the British call it humour. It was refreshing to be able to see a great people be able to celebrate greatness but also have the ability to laugh at themselves. I think that the biggest highlights for me was the entrance of Queen Elizabeth II with Daniel Craig, the current James Bond. It showed that even the Queen has a sense of humour as she took part in a skit with Craig that featured her Corgi dogs, a slick helicopter and a stuntman dressed as the Queen parachuting into the stadium. It was a scene that probably she will be remembered by long after she passes from this life.

http://www.ebaumsworld.com/video/watch/82693026/?lt=em

But even more fun was the appearance of Rowan Atkinson who reprised his Mr Bean type character. As a member of the orchestra who bored with his part the continuous tapping of the same note, daydreams about being in a scene from the film Chariots of Fire.  Of course as so many of his characters do and wins the race by cheating.  I can appreciate the honesty.

I was kind of bored by the tribute to the National Heath Service, not because I am a critic of the NHS, but it seemed to drag in comparison to other parts of the program despite the appearance of a flock of Mary Poppins ladies sailing in to chase off the villains of British Children’s literature.  However that being said it is important to note that the British are very proud of their health system despite the critics on this side of the pond, and the system is linked forever to J.M. Barrie, the author of Peter Pan who designated the Great Ormond Street Hospital as the beneficiary of the royalties from Peter Pan.

One thing that I find interesting about the British is that when times are bad they still can find humour in the situation. The British economy is suffering at the present time and there are many problems in the country. But there is something in the British character that helps them get through hard times and will again.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DahhUaoxX3I

I will occasionally post something about these Olympics. As always there will be controversy, but hopefully whatever controversy emerges in these games will not detract from the excellence of the athletes that compete.

Peace

Padre Steve+

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Filed under music, News and current events, sports and life

A Peaceful Night at the Ballpark: Casting my Cares on the Field of Dreams

“That’s baseball, and it’s my game.  Y’ know, you take your worries to the game, and you leave ‘em there.” Humphrey Bogart 

It is amazing what a couple of hours at a ballpark can do for me. I don’t know about you but going to the ballpark is something that I need in order to maintain any peace in my soul.

This year I have been to fewer ballgames than any time in the 10 years and I can feel the difference. I find that no matter how crazy things are in my life or how much anxiety I feel I can go to a ball game and I find peace. There is something about that lush green diamond that brings peace to me soul and when I do not get to the ballpark for an extended period something is lost.

I wrote yesterday about those anxieties and frustrations, especially all of the hate that I see on display in our politics, in religion and between peoples at home and and around the world. It seems to me that the Unholy Trinity of Pundits, Politicians and Preachers make a living of spreading hate and fear and turning people against each other, neighbor against neighbor, brother against brother, nation against nation.

Fear and hate are contagions and as they spread even those who try to inoculate themselves against their pervasive evil can become caught up in them. I was feeling that way this week and yesterday I knew that I had to do a number of things to get help and one of them was to get to the ballpark. The other was to seek some help for the physical, emotional and spiritual manifestations of my struggle with PTSD. I will share more about that in the coming weeks and months. I am scheduled to begin some very advanced treatment for it that has shown tremendous results in those being treated for PTSD. After talking to the specialist today I feel very hopeful and blessed to be able to get a referral so fast. More on that to come.

However, last night I was able to take in a ball game. Since the Kinston Indians were sold my attendance at ball games has been limited to a few games in Norfolk. Thankfully the Morehead City Marlins of the Independent Coastal Plains League were playing at home against the Florence Red Wolves so I got in my car and drove up there.   It was relaxing. The ballpark was new and small but the field well kept. The ballplayers were college kids from colleges and universities around the country. The skill level was about the level of Low “A” ball in the Minor Leagues and I did’t know any of the players. That being said I found the game both calming and relaxing. I was able to get a hot dog and a beer and wander around taking pictures from various locations in the stadium.

Just being there was healing in its own way. I was able to do as Humphrey Bogart said “take my worries there and leave them there.” I know as a Christian that the Bible says to “cast all of your cares on him (Jesus)” and I do try to do that, but sometimes the ballpark brings me closer to him than a church and a good play by play announcer like Vin Scully more spiritual than the most eloquent preacher, and certainly less divisive than the political partisans who spew hate in the name of the Lord.

Last night reminded me of how important this beautiful game is in my life and why I need it. Like Sharon Olds, who wrote in This Sporting Life that “Baseball is reassuring. It makes me feel as of the world is not going to blow up.”  Believe me I need that reassurance at times and after the past few weeks of angst I really needed that last night.

The great American poet, essayist and journalist Walt Whitman wrote: “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.”

Last night was good for the soul. I slept better than I have in weeks. Today I started re-reading the classic baseball novel by W.P. Kinsella, Shoeless Joe from which the film Field of Dreams was adapted. Kinsella’s writing is magical and deeply spiritual at its heart. It is about life, love, dad’s and sons and dreams that you don’t let die.

I still have dreams and I won’t let them die. I’ve been given many precious gifts by family, friends, those that have cared for me even when they were suffering and by God. One of those gifts is that wonderful, mysterious and always healing game played on the most perfect of fields, that field of dreams.

Peace

Padre Steve+

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Filed under Baseball, christian life, faith, PTSD

Fear and Hate in the Name of Jesus…Man I Need a Baseball Game

“It makes no sense, Hate .

It’s just fear. All it is.

Fear something different.

Something’s gonna get taken from you,

Stolen from you.

Find yourself lost.”

Buck O’Neil

I have been feeling rather morose the past few weeks. I haven’t slept well. Flashbacks, nightmares and anxiety from PTSD, mostly leftover from Iraq invade at the most unwelcome times. New anxieties unfold as I see friends heading to Afghanistan and see the wounded back at home. Even more appear as I see the situation in the Middle East developing to the point where someone or some nation miscalculates and takes us into an even more catastrophic war. Then there is the incessant political, religious and dare I say racial hatred that has become so manifest in my own country.

The past few weeks have been difficult. The suicide of one of my sailors affected me more than I thought it would. Likewise I looked into the eyes of a sailor accused of cold blooded execution style murder and realized that he felt no remorse.

My sense of foreboding is increased when I see those that should know better, leaders of churches and ministries not only echoing the worst of the peddlers of hate but outdo them by adding Jesus as their trump card.  It doesn’t seem to matter what the subject is these “Christian” leaders seem to have little else to do but incite hatred that benefits their political power and influence.

One of the most incendiary of these leaders is Randall Terry who said “Let a wave of intolerance wash over you. I want you to let a wave of hatred wash over you. Yes, hate is good…” I know the man. He believes what he says and he serves as a model to many leaders that have followed in his footsteps. These leaders are some of the most influential religious-political leaders in the nations and dehumanize those that they hate and portray them to be an existential threat to the United States and the “Christian” faith. Gays, Moslems, immigrants, women, “liberals” are not only labeled as their political “enemies” but the enemies of God. It makes it easier to hate and dehumanize people when you can proclaim that they are God’s enemies.

It seems to make a mockery of the Gospel and the words of Saint Paul That “in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting the message of reconciliation to us” or the words of Saint Peter: “Do not repay evil for evil or abuse for abuse; but, on the contrary, repay with a blessing.” It seems to make a mockery of the great love of God to allow Jesus to be sacrificed for the sins of the world.

I despair for the state of the Church when I see prominent leaders spew the most vile hate and “baptize” it in the name of Jesus. Unfortunately that seems to be the new normal in today’s world. Who needs the Afghan Taliban when we have religious leaders acting the same way here?

I have a hard time hating people, even those with whom that I vehemently disagree. Maybe it is because I have seen too much suffering to want to inflict hate and suffering on anyone.  Hate as Buck O’Neil said is simply fear. Fear of something different. Those that indulge in it and even revel in it demonstrate that they are not at all confident in their message.  Love conquers fear and does not need to demonize or dehumanize those that oppose it. The German Pastor and Martyr Dietrich Bonhoeffer said:

“God loves human beings. God loves the world. Not an ideal human, but human beings as they are; not an ideal world, but the real world. What we find repulsive in their opposition to God, what we shrink back from with pain and hostility, namely, real human beings, the real world, this is for God the ground of unfathomable love.”

When I feel as I have over the past few weeks there is one thing that helps me and that is baseball. Tonight I am going to a Morehead City Marlin’s baseball game. The Marlin’s are a team of the independent Coastal Plains League, which is for college players and gives them a chance to play ball in the summer.  I can’t watch politics tonight. I need something peaceful. Buck O’Neil, the great Negor League player, manager and major league coach and scout while visiting Washington DC to testify in the congressional steroids hearings looked up at a television where partisan debates were occurring, stopped and said:

“If Willie Mays was up there

People would stop making laws.

They would stop running.

They would stop arguing about

Big things

Little things.

No Democrat or Republican,

No black or white

No North or South.

Everybody just stop,

Watch the TV,

Watch Willie Mays make that catch.

That’s baseball man.”

Tonight is a time for me to reconnect with baseball in person and in the process regain some perspective, remember that love is stronger than hate and that nothing bad accrues from baseball.

Peace

Padre Steve+

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Filed under Baseball, christian life, faith, Political Commentary, PTSD

Unhappy Valley: Penn State After Jerry Joe Grant and Gary

“Success without honor is an unseasoned dish; it will satisfy your hunger, but it won’t taste good.” Joe Paterno

It started over the weekend when roads were blocked leading to Beaver Stadium. Then workers put up a fence. Workers shrouded the statue of Joe Paterno and a forklift raised it from the ground and hauled it away. Workers then removed the likenesses of football players and the plaques on the wall behind where the statue stood. The symbolism was as heavy as the 7 foot tall bronze statue of Joe Pa was carried away in a sling.

It was somewhat reminiscent of the statues of dictators being removed after their death or overthrow.  It was like the smashing of idols.  The empty wall a symbol of the emptiness of success without honor. Honor that was lost when Paterno and other leaders of the University and the Athletic Department covered up the crimes of a serial pedophile and now convicted child abuser named Jerry Sandusky.

We knew that the penalties were coming. It was inevitable the day after the crimes came out and the NCAA talked about them. It was doubly so after the release damning evidence of the Freeh Report and the criminal conviction of Jerry Sandusky.

The penalties fell short of the so called NCAA “Death Penalty” but the results may be about the same. The School was fined 61 million dollars. All of its wins going back to the 1998 season were vacated. It had the number of scholarships that it could offer by 20 per year for 4 years and current scholarship holders are being offered the chance to transfer to another school without penalty. It has been banned from bowl appearances for four years and is on a five year NCAA probation in which more penalties can be imposed.

Penn State fans and supporters of Joe Pa are upset. In some ways I don’t blame them. Joe Pa was an icon in Happy Valley. His coaching abilities were legendary. He was hailed as one of the good guys who made sure that his football players completed their education. The success of the athletic program in particular the football program brought in big money to Happy Valley, it helped the University raise fund programs outside the athletic department. It was a great deal for everyone concerned…well maybe not.

The sad thing is that the student athletes most affected by the penalties had nothing to do with either the crimes of Jerry Sandusky or the cover-up that was engineered by the top officials of the University and Joe Paterno beginning in 1998 for sure, but maybe even before that. It was a 14 year cover up of criminal actions that enabled a serial pedophile to commit more crimes against children. The engineers of this cover-up with the exception of Joe Paterno will likely face criminal charges of their own and the University will most likely be hammered by multiple lawsuits by victims and their families.  The pain for university will go on and on because of the collective malfeasance of Penn State officials including Joe Paterno.

I am not an admirer of the NCAA. One can criticize the cash whores of the NCAA leadership that make obscene profits from the marketing and sales of NCAA College Football and I frequently do. One can criticize the NCAA for its hypocrisy for many things, however for once it probably did the right thing.

Had those that covered up the crimes simply been low level administrators this would have still been a terrible scandal. However, the fact that the most powerful men at the university knew about Sandusky’s crimes and did nothing makes makes the cover up of Sandusky’s crimes more heinous and despicable.  President Grant Spanier, Vice President Gary Schultz , Athletic Director Tom Curley and Joe Paterno all knew. They knew details. They all had the power to put an end to the crimes. Had they acted in 1998 or 2001 there would be no penalties. Joe Pa’s statue would still be up. The legend would not only remain untarnished but might have even been enhanced because they would have been on the side of law, morality and simple human decency. Instead they covered up the crimes and in doing so devastated the institution that they supposedly were attempting to protect. Edmund Burke said “When good men do nothingevil triumphs.”

Every day institutions are held liable for crimes committed by their employees, especially when they knew about them and did nothing to stop the perpetrators. For once a premier college football program has been has been held accountable. It is about time. I hope that the NCAA has the moral fortitude to be as severe to other programs should another administration decide to cover up felonies.

This is not pleasant. The action is a watershed event because it is the first time that the NCAA has ever assessed penalties in a scandal not related to recruiting or paying players. The NCAA has finally laid down the law on something that really matters. It will be interesting to see if any other institution elects to cover up the crimes committed by leaders in their athletic programs.

This will not make those that loved Joe Pa and his program feel good. It is a bitter pill to swallow and Happy Valley will never be the same. If I was a Penn State graduate or had a personal connection to that university I might feel just as they do.

What has transpired since November is something that this time last year no one could have ever contemplated at Penn State. Maybe we could think of it happening somewhere else but not there. Joe Pa would never allow it. So we thought and we were wrong. According to the Freeh Report he not only allowed it but played an active role in the cover up. Paterno’s family and some supporters continue to fight for his legacy. That is their right.  However when those involved in the cover-up go to trial and when the lawsuits are brought, the case for Joe Pa will not be any better. In fact it may be even worse than we know now.

Hopefully as bad as this is that it will make leaders of other large athletic programs around the country take notice. Hopefully it will prevent something like this from ever happening again.

Peace

Padre Steve+

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Olympic Forecast: Clouds Rain and a Chance of Scattered Terrorism

I don’t know about you but it seems rather odd that the 2012 Summer Olympics is being held in a wonderful Kingdom that knows not summer.

I love England and the United Kingdom. I traveled extensively in the country for a three week period during the summer of 1979 and have been there a number of times since. Wonderful people, wonderful Indian food and a grand tradition of pomp ceremony and celebration of long lost empire. Back in 1979 I had the pleasure of being hosted by families across the UK. I even learned how to pronounce my last name correctly in Scotland.

I love visiting London, I can wander about the city taking in the great historical sites for weeks on end. If I had the time and money I would spend a year walking about the city and traveling around the country taking pictures and writing about every site that I visit. I would hang out in pubs and go to places that normal tourists don’t go. I would visit British friends and as I said before hang out in pubs. Since I am already banned from giving blood because of living in Europe in the 1980s due to fear of the Mad Cow I would eat lots of Bully Beef and maybe even try Haggis in Scotland.

Olympic Village

I love the British military and have worked with the members all branches of the British Armed forces during my 31 years in the military. That being said, the mission of the military is not police work.

In spite of all my Anglophile tendencies I still wonder about the wisdom of London hosting the Summer Games. Not that I doubt the city’s warm hospitality, charm and history but rather due to its usually un-summer like summer weather. In fact I would day say that unless an athlete comes from Northern Europe or the northern coastal regions of North America, or perhaps from down under where it is currently winter that many athletes will wonder what happened to Global Warming. The weather in the U.K. is like a big version of San Francisco weather of which someone  (but not Mark Twain as legend says) wrote “the coldest winter I ever spent was a summer in San Francisco.”  Even the Queen upheld by the prayers of the Archbishop of Canterbury had her parade rained on, but I digress…

Land of the Soggy Summer

One of the other reasons, besides the predicted crappy English summer weather that I wonder about the selection of London is the threat of terrorism. London has been the target of more than one terrorist strike over the past number of years and a number of terrorist groups ranging from the Irish Republican Army to Al Qaida have targeted London and its citizenry.

Anti-aircraft missiles in London

Security experts around the world are concerned. There have been problems with the security firm that was to provide 10,000 guards leading to the hasty drafting of thousands of troops from the Royal Army to provide protection for event venues and the Olympic Village. Even before that the unprecedented military preparations to defend against multiple types of terrorist threats was astounding. For the first time since the Luftwaffe Blitz of the Second World War there are air defense batteries in London. Some countries such as Israel, are so concerned that they have their own security detachments watching their athletes.  The fact that this is the 40th anniversary of the Munich Massacre of 1972 causes the Israelis additional concern.

1972 Munich Massacre 

London also calls itself home to some of the most militant Islamic hate preachers in the world and was the target of a devastating terrorist strike on July 7th 2005. Those attacks were carried out by four home grown militants and killed 52 people.  They would not be hard to repeat or eclipse in a city swollen with millions of visitors and more VIPs than one can shake a stick at including much of the British Royal Family.

Bombed out Train in the Tube, 2005

While the Olympic venues will receive a lot of security, soft targets including buses, trains, the famous “Tube” and large shopping and tourist areas are hard to defend. It is not unreasonable to assume that attacks will take place, and that some could be quite lethal.

Blown up Double Decker Bus from July 7th 2005 attack

Personally I want the Olympics to go off without a hitch. I want them to be a celebration of sportsmanship, competition and friendship. I want to see athletic and personal greatness displayed. I want to see records broken and underdogs to win sometimes. I want it to be like Jim McKay would say on ABC’s Wild World of Sports “the thrill of victory… and the agony of defeat… the human drama of athletic competition.” I want them to be an island of peace in a world filled by war. That being said I will be holding my breath for the next couple of weeks as the competition begins even while I cheer on the members and teams of Team USA in their quest for Olympic Gold. After all I have to channel my latent nationalism into something peaceful.

That being said. May the Olympics be blessed with good weather and no terrorist violence.

Peace

Padre Steve+

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A Pause to Reflect on Iraq, Afghanistan and Unpopular Wars on a Sunday Night

This story shall the good man teach his son;
And Crispin Crispian shall ne’er go by,
From this day to the ending of the world,
But we in it shall be remembered-
We few, we happy few, we band of brothers;
For he to-day that sheds his blood with me
Shall be my brother; be he ne’er so vile,
This day shall gentle his condition;
And gentlemen in England now-a-bed
Shall think themselves accurs’d they were not here,
And hold their manhoods cheap whiles any speaks
That fought with us upon Saint Crispin’s day.

From the Speech of King Henry V at Agincourt in Shakespeare’s “Henry V” 1599

Five years ago I was in the process of deploying to Iraq.  It is hard to believe that it has been that long.

For me the past few weeks have been filled with sleepless nights, flashbacks and nightmares, mostly related to my time in Iraq.  I have been far more hyper-vigilant and anxious than I have been for a while.  Crowds and crowded places cause me great anxiety. I guess it is sort of like the Hotel California, you can check out anytime you want but you can never leave.  The experiences and places are forever in my mind. I can close my eyes and the images are fresh.

I jokingly refer to my continuing struggle with PTSD as the “Mad Cow,” somehow that takes some of the edge off for me.  But even my attempt at humor belies the fact that it does get old.

At the same time because of my service in Iraq I am part of a very special brotherhood, that brotherhood that Shakespeare’s Henry V voiced so well.

I have the wonderful opportunity to serve alongside men and women who have given much for this country, men and women who also bear the wounds of war, physical, psychological, spiritual and moral. I have the honor of serving with men and women who continue to deploy in harm’s way to Afghanistan and being stationed at one of the installations that have borne then heavy burden of this war I am reminded daily of the cost of it. I look at the casualty reports daily and last week yet another Marine Military policeman from Camp LeJeune was killed in Afghanistan. Two sailors from a Squadron based in Norfolk were killed in the crash of an MH-53 Helicopter in Oman, an aircraft sent to beef up capabilities against Iran in the Strait of Hormuz. This weekend at least 8 NATO troops or contractors were killed in Afghanistan, three being American contractors  killed by an Afghan policeman while training Afghan police in Herat. The war is never far away.

I am also grateful to people in the community who care to say a kind word when I am in public in uniform. Many people in the area have served in uniform, many during Vietnam as well as an ever dwindling number of World War II and Korea War vets.  I have had to make trips up to a local jail in a town up the road from us to see two of my sailors accused in a terrible crime.  I make those visits in uniform and on the way back one day I stopped to get a Coke at a store. As I walked in a man thanked me for my service.  While I was paying another man began to talk to me. He also thanked me and then went to describe his service in Vietnam.

Such encounters are humbling for me and a reminder of the very special brotherhood that I am just a part. That brotherhood for me is especially close for the that liked me served in Iraq but also Afghanistan, Vietnam and by extension the French veterans of Indochina and Algeria. We are veterans of unpopular wars that are fought by a minute segment of the population.

I saw a video of an advisor to Mitt Romney note that “real Americans don’t care about Afghanistan.” I did not take his remark personally but it did hit home. The man is a seasoned political advisor, his business is to look at numbers and polls. It was a remark that showed me what I already know, that for many Americans the war is not real.  Unfortunately as real as the war is to me and to many people that I know we are in the minority. The most recent opinion polls show that Afghanistan ranks 10th of 10 major issues that Americans are concerned about.  At the same time polls show that the military is the most trusted institution in the nation.

Tonight I will try to sleep and in the morning, Inshallah, I will wake up and go back to serve the men and women who serve this country caring for the Marines, Sailors, Soldiers, Airmen, Coastguardsmen, veterans and their families at Camp LeJeune.

The war is not over and despite what opinion polls and politicians say it is important to some of us.

Peace

Padre Steve+

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Man of Murderous Mystery: James Egan Holmes and the Aurora Dark Knight Massacre

Why?

It is a question that millions of people are asking and quite a few people are trying to answer even though everything they say is speculation at best based off of the smallest amount of facts.

I was listening to the news yesterday in the hours after the massacre committed by James “Jimmy” Holmes at the Century 16 Theater in Aurora Colorado. He killed 12 people and wounded 58 more in the attack. It was well planned and coldly executed. He had 4 weapons, an AR-15, two Glock .40 caliber semi-automatic pistols and a pump action shotgun. He had some kind of smoke or gas grenades. He had bought over 6,000 rounds of ammunition. He had purchased large amounts of materials that were delivered in bulk to his apartment. His apartment was rigged with explosives, possible chemical agents and bobby trapped with trip wires to set the materials off.  He was wearing full tactical gear. A Kevlar Helmet, Body Armor that included a tactical vest, neck and groin protection, bullet resistant leggings and tactical gloves.

We know a bit about him. He came from a well off family. He did not come from a broken home and his family was described as normal and “churchgoing.” Holmes is described as a loner, quiet and brilliant student. A “normal” guy. Others who knew him in high school and college described him as “very smart” and “always at the top of the class.”

We know that he graduated from High School in 2006 and graduated from University Of California Riverside in 2010. We know that until June that he was a Ph.D. Candidate in Neurosciences at the University of Colorado until June 2012.

People in the media, bloggers and even some politicians have rushed to give the reasons why this happened or provide connections to groups that they think might be linked to this terrible pre-meditated and coldly executed mass murder.

One reporter on ABC initially labeled him as being part of the Tea Party, but got the wrong guy and the report was rapidly withdrawn and the correction made. However less reported have been the remarks of those on the political right who have blamed this on the lack of prayer in public schools and political liberalism as well as a host of other reasons mostly connected with their political-religious ideology. Some left-wing bloggers have speculated that he might have been a follower of right wing talk radio.

The problem with all of this is that we do not yet know anything about James Egan Holmes. What we know are the vaguest details and speculation. To make wild suppositions based on what we know know is the worst form of ignorance. The highly religiously and politically charged prejudicial statements by idiots of all extremes trying to place blame do not help matters. Eventually they will look like fools, especially if the truth reveals that which is the exact opposite of what they proclaim and I am sure that will happen.

The probability is that there are a host of complicated factors that make up the truth about James Egan Holmes and his reasons for committing this heinous act of mass murder. Regardless of what the reasons are they all still add up to an act of evil and violence. I am sure that as the case unfolds we will find out the truth. I also believe that this may take us to some very dark places that we don’t really want to face. However I also believe that when it is told it should give all of us some reason for pause and reflection.

My prayers are with all of those victimized by this brutal crime.

Peace

Padre Steve+

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