Monthly Archives: June 2013

Gettysburg at 150 Day One: Lee Blunders into Battle

800px-First_day_at_gettysburg

Pender’s Brigade on Day One

The Army of Northern Virginia commanded by Robert E Lee was now deep in Union territory and nearly blind to the location of the Federal Army of the Potomac. On the 30th advanced units of Dick Ewell’s Second Corps had gone nearly as far as Harrisburg while most of the Army was on the road around Chambersburg and Cashtown. Lee’s Cavalry Division under the command of J.E.B. Stuart was far away engaging Union Cavalry around Hanover and not in position to report on Union troop movements. General A.P. Hill sent Johnston Pettigrew’s Brigade of Harry Heth’s Division to Gettysburg on the 30th but Pettigrew observing the Federal cavalry of Buford’s 1st Cavalry Division take up positions on Seminary Ridge declined to engage and reported the Federal concentration to Hill.

As reports from the spy Harrison came to Lee and Longstreet Lee began to concentrate the Army around Cashtown. However the morning of July Hill ordered Harry Heth’s division to move on Gettysburg without the benefit of cavalry support or reconnaissance believing that the troops reported by Pettigrew could be nothing more than local militia. His leading brigades under Brigadier General James Archer and Joseph Davis took heavy casualties and soon Heth became embroiled in a fight with Buford’s cavalry and lead elements of the Federal 1st Corps under the command of Major General John Reynolds.

Gettysburg_Battle_Map_Day1

Gettysburg Day One (Map by Hal Jespersen, http://www.posix.com/Com)

Lee was surprised by the engagement and though he chastised Heth for getting involved committed his army to the attack. Reynolds was killed early in the engagement but the fight was bitter, the Iron Brigade exacted a fearful toll on Archer and Davis’s brigades. The attack by Hill’s 3rd Corps was helped immensely when elements of Ewell’s 2nd Corps arrived on the right flank of the Federal XI Corps, forcing the Federal troops to withdraw through Gettysburg and up to Cemetery Ridge. Ewell’s arrival was fortuitous because it tilted the balance to Lee, but the advantage was short lived.

z_schmehl_leedeliberates

Lee Deliberates Heth’s Advance – Gettysburg by Bradley Schmehl

 Ewell failed to press the attack on Cemetery Ridge or Culp’s Hill while Federal forces were still disorganized, despite the repeated entreaties of Major General Isaac Trimble who was with him. The delay would be fatal to Lee’s intentions as Lee decided to give battle at Gettysburg, ignoring General Longstreet’s plea to disengage take up a favorable position between Gettysburg and Washington DC and force the Army of the Potomac to attack.

doncemeteryhilljuly1_zps512a40fa

Don Troiani’s Painting of Hancock taking Command on Cemetery Hill on Day One

The Army of Northern Virginia came very close to sweeping Federal forces from the field on July 1st in spite of Lee’s lack of planning and clear commanders intent. That much is clear. His orders to Ewell, to take the high ground “if practicable” we interpreted by Ewell in a manner that he determined not to be practicable, so the advanced Federal corps under the command of Major General Winfield Scott Hancock were able to regroup, dig in and be reinforced by the rest of the Army.

Whether Lee intended to engage the Army of the Potomac at Gettysburg so early in a campaign where his multiple and contradictory strategic aims and lack of clear commander’s intent to his subordinate commanders created confusion is debated. Much of the controversy comes from Lee’s own correspondence which indicates that he might have not fully understood his own intentions. Some correspondence indicates that Lee desired to avoid a general engagement as long as possible while other accounts indicate that he wanted an early and decisive engagement. The controversy was stoked after the war by Lee’s supporters, particular his aides Taylor and Marshal, and Longstreet’s supporters.

Isaac Trimble, traveling with Lee at the beginning of the invasion of Pennsylvania recored that Lee told him:

“We have again outmaneuvered the enemy, who even now does not know where we are or what our designs are. Our whole army will be in Pennsylvania day after tomorrow, leaving the enemy far behind and obliged to follow by forced marches. I hope with these advantages to accomplish some single result and to end the war, if Providence favors us.” (Glenn Tucker, High Tide at Gettysburg (Indianapolis: The Bobbs-Merrill Co.: 1958), p. 24.)

The vagueness of Lee’s instructions to his commanders, many of whom were occupying command positions under him for the first time and were unfamiliar with his command style led to confusion. Where Stonewall Jackson might have understood Lee’s intent, even where Lee issued vague or contradictory orders, many others including Hill and Ewell did not. Lee did not change his command style to accommodate his new commanders and that lack of flexibility on Lee’s part proved fatal to his aims in the campaign.

xi-corps-holds-cemetery-hill

The vagueness of Lee’s intent was demonstrated throughout the campaign and was made worse by the fog of war. Day one ended with a significant tactical victory for Lee’s army but without a decisive result which would be compounded into a strategic defeat by Lee’s subsequent decisions on the 2nd and 3rd of July.

Until tomorrow,

Peace

Padre Steve+

About these ads

Leave a comment

Filed under civil war, History, Military

Gettysburg at 150 and the Lingering Curse of the “Lost Cause” on the United States

gal9vfvf1

This week I will be writing a lot about the Battle of Gettysburg which happens to fall in the days before the celebration of our Declaration of Independence. Some of these will be articles that I published before and some will be new work. I think that the American Civil War and its consequences today is something that we need to look at as a society, and not from the romanticized “Lost Cause” revisionism that is so popular among many even today.

Last year washed up rocker and now political activist Ted Nugent wrote in the Washington Times “I’m beginning to wonder if it would have been best had the South won the Civil War.”  I find his remark appalling and disgraceful but I have come to expect such comments from him and and others who voice similar sentiments. But Nugent is not alone, an organization called The League of the South states its goals in very clear language: “The League of the South is a Southern Nationalist organization whose ultimate goal is a free and independent Southern republic.”

When I hear such sentiments and they are many now days I think of men like Joshua Chamberlain. Chamberlain was a college professor who served in the Union Army and won fame and the Medal of Honor for the defense of Little Round Top at Gettysburg. There is a quote from the film Gods and Generals which I think about when I hear anyone suggesting that it would have been better for the Confederacy to have won the war:

“Now, somewhere out there is the Confederate army. They claim they are fighting for their independence, for their freedom. Now, I can not question their integrity. I believe they are wrong but I can not question it. But I do question a system that defends its own freedom while it denies it to an entire race of men. I will admit it, Tom. War is a scourge, but so is slavery. It is the systematic coercion of one group of men over another. It has been around since the book of Genesis. It exists in every corner of the world, but that is no excuse for us to tolerate it here when we find it right in front of our very eyes in our own country. As God as my witness, there is no one I hold in my heart dearer than you. But if your life, or mine,is part of the price to end this curse and free the Negro, then let God’s work be done.”

There is a spot near the Copse of Trees along Cemetery Ridge which is referred to as the “High Water Mark of the Confederacy.” It is the spot close to where Confederate Brigadier General Lewis Armistead fell mortally wounded as the decimated remains of his command were overwhelmed by Union forces shortly after they breached the Union line. It is a place immortalized in history, literature and film. It is the place that marked the beginning of the end for the great evil of slavery in America.

My ancestors lived in Cabell County which in 1861 was part of Virginia. They were slave holders along the Mud River, a tributary of the Ohio River just to the north of what is now Huntington West Virginia. When war came to the country the family patriarch James Dundas and my great, great grandfather joined the 8th Virginia Cavalry Regiment in which he served the bulk of the war as a Lieutenant.  When it ended he refused to sign the loyalty oath to the Union and had his lands, which are now some of the most valuable in that part of West Virginia confiscated and sold by the Federal Government.  He was a believer in the “Lost Cause” that romantic and confused idea about the rightness of the South in its war against what they called “Northern aggression.”

Because he and others on both sides of my family served in Confederate ranks I am eligible for membership in the Sons of the Confederacy. However it is something that I cannot do.  There are some that do this as a means to honor their relatives that served in the war and I do not make light of their devotion to their family, but there are some that take that devotion to places that I cannot go.  As much as I admire the valor and personal integrity of many military men who served the Confederacy I cannot for a moment think that their “cause” was just.

It has been said that the North won the war but that the South won the history.  I think this is true. Many people now days like to reduce the reasons for the war to the South protecting its rights.  Sometimes the argument is “states rights” or “economic freedom” and those that make these arguments romanticize the valor shown by Confederate soldiers on the battlefield but conveniently ignore or obscure the evil of the Southern economic system.

The “rights” and the “economic freedom” espoused by those that led the secession and that are lamented by those like Nugent were based upon the enslavement and exploitation of the Black man to maintain an archaic economy based on agriculture, particularly the export of King Cotton.  Arguments which try to place the blame on the North, especially arguments that attempt to turn the Northern States into economic predators’ intent on suppressing the economic rights of Southerners only serve to show the bankruptcy of the idea itself. The fact that the “economic and political freedom” of Southerners was founded on the enslavement of a whole race of people matters not because the “cause” is greater.

One interesting point that many turn a blind eye to is that in each of its campaigns above the Mason Dixon Line Lee’s Army rounded up blacks, mostly freemen and sent them back to the South in chains to be used as slaves. I have to wonder what Southern success at Gettysburg would have meant to African Americans today. Lee believed that his campaign in Pennsylvania would bring about a result that would change the political situation in the North and bring about a situation where the North would recognize Southern independence. He wrote in April of 1863 “next fall there will be a great change in public opinion at the North. The Republicans will be destroyed & I think the friends of peace will become so strong that the next administration will go in on that basis…”

Of course Lee was wrong and his campaign was flawed in large part because he did not adequately define his intent to his commanders. That much is obvious in the writings of the surviving participants after the war.

The overall situation for the Confederacy in June of 1863 was grim. There had been food riots in Richmond, Vicksburg was on the bring of falling and with it the Confederacy would be split in two along the Mississippi River, the Union blockade of Southern ports was working, the South had not been recognized by any foreign powers and the textile industries of Europe had found other suppliers for “King Cotton.” Despite this Lee held on to the hope that a military victory in the East could change the political calculus.

The fact is that the longer the South relied solely on its agriculture which was supported by the institution of slavery it deprived itself of the means of economic progress, the same progress that propelled the North to prosperity. The south lagged in all industrial areas as well as transportation infrastructure. The majority of non-slave owning whites lived at the poverty line and only enjoyed some elevated social status because the slaves ranked beneath them on the sociological and economic hierarchy.  The South depended on cheap imports from England, which then was still considered an enemy of the country. When tariffs to protect newly establish American industries were enacted in 1828 South Carolina attempted to nullify the Federal law even raising troops and threatened a revolt in 1832.

The Southern economic system was immoral and antiquated. It enslaved blacks and it impoverished most rural Southerners, with the exception of those that owned the land and the slaves. It was a hateful, backward and loathsome system which even the southern churches attempted to justify from Scripture. Southern Baptists, Methodists and Presbyterians would all break away from their parent denominations regarding their support for the institution of slavery.

This does not mean that I think that the average Confederate soldier or officers were dishonorable men. Many officers who had served in the United States Army hated the breakup of the Union but served the South because it was the land that they were from. It was the home of their families and part of who they were.  To judge them as wanting 150 years later when we have almost no connection to family or home in a post industrial world is to impose the standards of a world that they did not know upon them. For those that gave up everything to serve one can feel a measure of sympathy.  So many died and so much of the South was destroyed in the defense of that “cause” one has to wonder just why the political and religious leaders of the South were willing to maintain such an inadequate and evil economic system one that hurt poor Southern whites nearly as much as it did blacks.

The war devastated the South and the radicals that ran “Reconstruction” ensured that Southerners suffered terrible degradation and that Southern blacks would have even more obstacles raised against them by the now very angry and revengeful whites.  It would take another 80-100 years to end segregation and secure voting rights for blacks. Thus I have no desire to become part of an organization that even gives the appearance of supporting the “cause” even if doing so would allow me to “honor” an ancestor who raised his hand against the country that I serve.

I was raised on the West Coast but have lived in the South much of my adult life due to military assignments. I have served in National Guard units that trace their lineage to Confederate regiments in Texas and Virginia. Despite my Confederate connections both familial and by service I can find little of the romance and idealism that some find in the Confederacy and the “Lost Cause.” I see the Civil War for what it was, a tragedy of the highest order brought about by the need of some to enslave others to maintain their economic system.

Today there are many that use the flags of the Confederacy outside of their historic context. They are often used as a symbol of either racial hatred or of defiance to the Federal Government by white Supremacist or anti-government organizations.  Many that use them openly advocate for the overthrow of the Federal Government.  The calls for such “revolt” can be found all over the country even in the halls of Congress much as they were in the 1830s, 40s and 50s. Some of this is based in libertarian economic philosophy which labels the government as the enemy of business, some based social policies which are against their religious beliefs and some sadly to say based in an almost xenophobic racial hatred.  The scary thing as that the divisions in the country are probably as great as or greater than they were in the 1850s as the country lurched inexorably to Civil War with neither side willing to do anything that might lessen their political or economic power even if it means the ruin of the country.

As seems to be the case around this time of year I have seen the symbols of the Confederacy, particularly the Battle Flag displayed in manners that can only be seen as symbols of defiance. July 4th will be celebrated this week and it seems to me that the flag that should be most prominently displayed is the Stars and Stripes not the Confederate Battle flag or even the Gadsen Flag which has become the symbol of the modern Tea Party movement.  Somehow I find the flag flown in rebellion to the country that I serve displayed in such an arrogant manner.

For people like the Federal Government which is the enemy. Now I know that our system of government has its flaws. Likewise I cannot agree more about the corruption of many in political office, regardless of their political allegiance.  While it is true that the Federal Government has taken upon itself many powers some never envisioned by those that crafted the Constitution, it has done so because leaders of both political parties have consented to it and even worked to strengthen the Federal Government with the consent of the American people that elect them again and again.

Despite this much of this has been accomplished by the Federal Government has been for the good for the country and people no matter what the critics say. Many of the things that we enjoy today are the result of the work of the Federal Government and not business as much as those that deify big corporations want to believe. There are the National Parks, laws against child labor and for safe workplaces brought about by Teddy Roosevelt, the infrastructure built in the 1930s and 1940s by the Franklin Roosevelt administration. The Roosevelt administration also brought about Social Security and banking regulations to protect Americans from corporations and banks that violated the public trust. The Eisenhower administration began the Interstate Highway system which is the backbone of our transportation system.  Likewise the Space Program and yes even the military have led the way in technological, scientific and medical innovation including that thing that we all take for granted today the Internet.

Today quite a few people are calling for revolt or secession if they do not get what they want be it socially, politically or economically. For years politicians on both sides have fought to minimize such talk and enact compromises with the usual discontent that comes with compromise.  Unfortunately many of those compromises have had the effect of widening the political divide much as the various compromises on the road to the Civil War.  Jefferson said of the Missouri Compromise of 1824: “but this momentous question, like a fire bell in the night, awakened and filled me with terror. I considered it at once as the knell of the Union. It is hushed indeed for the moment, but this is a reprieve only, not a final sentence. A geographical line, coinciding with a marked principle, moral and political, once conceived and held up to the angry passions of men, will never be obliterated; and every new irritation will mark it deeper and deeper.”

We have allowed the issues of our time to become a fire of unbridled angry passion where those with almost no historical understanding and whose history is often based on myth stake claims and promote ideas that will destroy this Union if they continue. Unfortunately we have not yet reached the high water mark of this movement yet and I fear like Jefferson that the hatred and division will only grow worse as both radical on the right and left prepare for conflict.

This week we celebrated the 236th anniversary of our Declaration of Independence.  It is a remarkable occasion. It is the anniversary that free people as well as those oppressed around the world look to as a beacon of liberty. It has been paid for time and time again, especially during that cruel Civil War which killed more American soldiers than any other war that we have fought.

A few months after Gettysburg Abraham Lincoln a man much reviled by those that have romanticized the Cause and who is demonized by many “conservative” politicians and pundits today as a “tyrant” made these brief remarks at the site of the battle:

Four score and seven years ago our fathers brought forth on this continent, a new nation, conceived in Liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.

“Now we are engaged in a great civil war, testing whether that nation, or any nation so conceived and so dedicated, can long endure. We are met on a great battlefield of that war. We have come to dedicate a portion of that field, as a final resting place for those who here gave their lives that that nation might live. It is altogether fitting and proper that we should do this. But, in a larger sense, we cannot dedicate—we cannot consecrate—we cannot hallow—this ground. The brave men, living and dead, who struggled here, have consecrated it, far above our poor power to add or detract. The world will little note, nor long remember what we say here, but it can never forget what they did here. It is for us the living, rather, to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced. It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us—that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion—that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain—that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom— and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.”

Today with so many radicals, especially those on the political right, but some on the left such as the “Anonymous” group doing all that they can to plunge us into yet another civil war we should remember Lincoln’s words and rededicate ourselves to this Union, this remarkable Union.  Tony Blair the former Prime Minster of Great Britain remarked in 2011:

“It may be strange for a former British Prime Minister to offer thoughts on America when the country will be celebrating its independence from Britain. But the circumstances of independence are part of what makes America the great and proud nation it is today. And what gives nobility to the American character.

That nobility isn’t about being nicer, better or more successful than anyone else. It is a feeling about the country. It is a devotion to the American ideal that at a certain point transcends class, race, religion or upbringing. That ideal is about values, freedom, the rule of law, democracy. It is also about the way you achieve: on merit, by your own efforts and hard work.

But it is most of all that in striving for and protecting that ideal, you as an individual take second place to the interests of the nation as a whole. This is what makes the country determined to overcome its challenges. It is what makes its soldiers give their lives in sacrifice. It is what brings every variety of American, from the lowest to the highest, to their feet when “The Star-Spangled Banner” is played.

Of course the ideal is not always met – that is obvious. But it is always striven for.

The next years will test the American character. The world is changing. New powers are emerging. But America should have confidence. This changing world does not diminish the need for that American ideal. It only reaffirms it.”

I think that the Prime Minister got it right and Ted Nugent is an ignorant fool but he has the right to be one.

Peace

Padre Steve+

6 Comments

Filed under civil rights, civil war, History, News and current events, Political Commentary

The Price to Be Paid: Politically Motivated Christian Leaders Destroy the Faith

martin_niemoller_magazine_article

“I hated the growing atheistic movement, which was fostered and promoted by the Social Democrats and the Communists. Their hostility toward the Church made me pin my hopes on Hitler for a while. I am paying for that mistake now; and not me alone, but thousands of other persons like me.” Martin Niemöller

The statistics don’t lie. The United States cannot and should not be considered a Christian nation and any sense of the definition. To be blunt that is not the fault of secularists. It is the fault of Christians especially those political partisan pastors and pundits of the christian Right that for the past 40 years have sold their souls for political power at the expense of the Gospel.

While many people, even a majority describe themselves as Christians the fact is that what is now believed is not a Christianity that is in any sense Biblical, Catholic or Orthodox but rather a packaging of certain “Biblical values” that happen to be great political wedge issues for Christian leaders seeking political and economic power.

Nowhere was this shown more than the brazen flip-flopping of Christian leaders during the last election who adamantly opposed the nomination of Mitt Romney on the basis of their understanding of Christianity and Mormonism so long as there was a chance that a non-Mormon had a chance at the Republican nomination. Of course those leaders, even those that opposed Romney on theological grounds rapidly gave him their blessing once he won the nomination. The theological gyrations made by those leaders of the Religious Right in that process were fascinating to watch, much like a train wreck, but fascinating nonetheless.

A recent Barna survey noted that less than one half of one percent of people aged 18-23 hold what would be considered a “Biblical world view.” This is compared to about one of every nine other adults.  Other surveys bear this out.

This should not be surprising to anyone that has watched the growth of what passes as Evangelical Christianity in the Mega-Church age and the retreat of conservative Catholics into the Church culture and theology of the 1400s. It is the same ideology that brought about the Reformation. But then maybe that is not a bad thing.

What has to be said is that the American Church cannot really be considered Evangelical or Catholic. Rather American Christians have subscribed to an Imperial Church model that must throw itself at those that hold power in order to maintain their own political, economic and social power.

While these leaders talk about and rail against things that they believe to be “sinful” such as homosexuality, abortion and birth control they willingly turn a blind eye to the treatment of the poor, advocate wars of aggression and bless cultural and economic norms that go entirely against the Christian tradition as they go about with a Bible in one hand and Ayn Rand’s Atlas Shrugged in the other.

One can have legitimate debates in the Church about what the Bible and Christian tradition define as sin and we should have those debates taking into consideration Scripture, Tradition as well as what we have learned from the Sciences and the Social Sciences. But the fact is that those in the Religious Right are terribly inconsistent in this, much like the religious leaders of Jesus’ day who he condemned for the same type of hypocrisy.

Think about it: The Barna Group in another survey of people 18-29 years old asked what phrases best described Christians: The top five answers “Anti-homosexual, judgmental, hypocritical and too involved in politics.” This view was held by 91% of non-Christians and a staggering 80% of young churchgoers.

This hypocrisy was again demonstrated this week. Many of these politically corrupted religious leaders turned a blind eye to the gutting of the Voting Rights Act of 1964 by the Supreme Court, or cheered that decision despite the fact that many of not most of those adversely affected by that decision are African American Christians. The next day after cheering this result they lambasted the same justices for overturning the Defense of Marriage Act and refusing to hear a challenge to California’s Proposition 8, dealing with the Federal recognition of Gay marriage. The histrionics exhibited would be comical if the men and women ranting away were not so vehemently hateful towards their opponents. The tragedy of their behavior is that even more people will turn away from even reasonable Christians.

The fact is that young people are leaving the church in unheard of numbers and it is very evident to me why they are doing so. The Church has embraced the culture wars over preaching the Gospel, which if I recall correctly is based on loving people, even ones enemies.  Jesus said it so well: “By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” John 13:35 NRSV.

The leaders of the Christian Right may hope able to bring out enough culture warriors to win or at least hold their majority in the House of Representatives in the next mid-term election for the Republican Party, but at what cost? One can debate the merits of the Obama administration and its decisions and policies. But to be authentic Christian witnesses we cannot simply become the religious appendage of a political movement whose leaders hold the Church and religious people in general in distain even as they mobilize them to support policies that are in the long term detrimental to those who claim the name of Jesus.

In the 1920s and 1930s the Churches of Germany and many parts of Europe did the same thing. They felt that their values were under attack by Communists, Socialists, Jews and yes, even Homosexuals. In order to maintain their influence and power they willingly allied themselves with the Nazis. When they spoke up against the Nazis it was seldom because they were defending anyone but their own ecclesiastical power and place in society.  When the war was over and young people began to question the actions of those that led the Church in Germany it began a process that has led to the de-Christianization of that country.

The constant hate filled attacks of Christian leaders on those that are not Christians will come back to bite them. This is not fantasy, it is reality. One only has to look at the history of the Church to see it played out time after time. But then, unless we decide to re-write history like David Barton does so well why bother reading it?

I will be writing more about this in the coming months in what will be a number of very well researched and documented articles.  But figured that I would kick open the door today. The actions of many Christian leaders are dangerous to the faith as a whole. The political opportunism is short sighted and ultimately will hasten the decline and fall of what we know as Christianity in America.

Perhaps Christian leaders who have sold their souls for such paltry political gains should be asking these questions: What does it profit a man to gain the whole world but lose his soul and what does it profit the Church to wield political power but lose its soul?

Bonhoeffer-194x300

Dietrich Bonhoeffer once noted “If you board the wrong train, it is no use running along the corridor in the other direction.” 

It is something to consider.

Peace

Padre Steve+

2 Comments

Filed under christian life, civil rights, News and current events, Political Commentary, Religion

Faith’s Journey: A Progressive Christian Navy Chaplain Looks at the Journey to Wholeness

400236_10151328400862059_541742014_n

June 27th 2013: After the events of this week including the Supreme Court decision declaring the Defense of Marriage Act unconstitutional I decided to re-publish an article that was one of the most important that I ever published. Not so much because of the what I think was so earth shattering regarding the content but because of what happened after its publication. At the point in time that I wrote it I was pushing the envelope with my former denomination, but figured that in light of all the controversies and schisms in that church at the time that whatever I wrote would not result in any problems. But I was wrong. I received a call the next day from my bishop telling me that I needed to find a new home because I was “too liberal.”

It was actually quite fascinating, I was able to gain a new church home which was much more progressive, welcoming and catholic, being of the Old Catholic tradition. For me that phone call was just a few months later deposed for attempting to create yet another schism in the church. I think it is even more interesting because some of my friends still in that church think that he used this article as a reason to get rid of me in order to keep me from exposing his scheme. I don’t know if that it the case or not, but my friends believe it to be a distinct possibility. That being said one of my long time priest friends revealed his plot to the other bishops and the bishop who forced me  was deposed. Irony is fascinating. Since that time my former church is regaining its footing and doing better and for my friends in it I am glad for even if I have differences in theology, faith or beliefs with people who I consider to be friends, they are still friends and I wish them well.  

So anyway, for those that are fairly new followers on this site here is the article that in a sense served as a declaration of independence and station on the road to wholeness and integrity. 

Peace, Padre Steve+

Faith Journeys: Why I am Still a Christian (Originally published 22 September 2010)

There are many times that I totally empathize with author Anne Rice in saying that she has left Christianity yet still has faith in Christ.  For Rice it was the lack of love shown by the institutional church for people that are marginalized and treated as if they were unredeemable by often well meaning Christians.

I know what it feels like to be marginalized after I came back from Iraq because many of my Christian friends seemed, at least in my view to be tied to the absolute hogwash that spews from talk radio hosts and allegedly “Christian” politicians.  I remember having some Christians question my patriotism and even my faith because I disagreed with them regarding certain aspects of the war, despite the fact that I had been on the ground in harm’s way serving with our advisors and Iraqis in Al Anbar province.  The fact that not a clergyman, civilian or military, took time to care for me when I was in a major PTSD meltdown and crisis of faith before I went to Naval Medical Center Portsmouth didn’t seem to matter because a political agenda was given primacy over the simple truths and hard demands of the Gospel.

Yesterday I wrote about Chaplains that experience a crisis of faith after coming home from a combat deployment.  For me there is nothing more symbolic of the lack of soul left in many Christians and Christian Churches in how they treat those that have served faithfully. Those Chaplains that have served  God, Church and Country and come back spiritually wondering what happened, not knowing what to believe and feeling abandoned by God and cast off by the Church and the military simply because we have a hard time with the so called “orthodoxy” of some Christians.

I went through a period after Iraq where feeling abandoned and isolated from those of a like faith that I was for all practical purposes an agnostic.  That was a really difficult time in my life and if you think that anything sucks try to be a Chaplain when you no longer know if God exists and the only person asking how you are doing with “the Big Guy” is your therapist. I can say without a doubt that it sucks like a Hoover and I know that I am not alone in my feelings.  I have met others whose experience is similar to mine but those that are struggling right now, caught between our faith and the feeling of being abandoned by God and his people because our experience of seeing the human suffering caused by war has shaken us.

Let’s talk about spiritual despair. Did you know that in the past couple of years that two Army Chaplains and one Navy Chaplain have committed suicide? These were men of faith who had served in peace and war at least one that had served at the Battle of Hue City as a Marine before becoming a Priest and Chaplain.  Another Army Chaplain that had served in Iraq as a minister of a conservative Charismatic and Evangelical Christian denomination became a Wiccan and was excoriated by Christians.  I don’t know his faith journey but I have to believe that part was his experience in Iraq and experience on his return. I don’t know about you but those are all signs of spiritual despair and feeling cut off from their faith community and even God, his or her self.

I am still a Christian. I believe in the God of Scripture, the Creeds and the Councils. At the same time that belief is not as rigid as it once was. I used to consider those that didn’t believe like I did in relation to Scripture, the Creeds and Councils not to be Christians.  I cannot say that now. I am much more to have the Grace and Mercy of God be my default position and let other things fall out where they may.  My practice of my faith has changed. When I came back from Iraq I attempted, as it were without success to keep my faith structure and practice the same as it was before I deployed to Iraq.  Within six months of Iraq I could no longer pray the Daily Office with any kind of faithfulness and by Lent 2009 give up the practice for Lent hoping to recover some authenticity to my faith. The authenticity has returned and after about a hear and a half I am seeking a way to reincorporate what had been a very important part of my daily practice of faith into my life without feeling like I am a phony in doing so.

I went through a period of absolute spiritual despair even leaving a Christmas Eve Mass in 2008 to walk home in the dark, alone, looking at the sky and asking God if he even existed.  A year later after my life had completely fallen apart I experienced what I call my “Christmas miracle” where I was called to our Emergency Room to provide the “last rites” to a retired Navy doctor and active Episcopalian when I was the duty Chaplain.  As I prayed the last prayer of commendation and removed my oil covered fingers from the man’s forehead he breathed his last. His wife told me that he was waiting to be anointed before he died.  The young doctor, a Psychology Resident doing his ER rotation who called me to the ER would die a couple of months later of natural causes in his living room not long after we had taken the “fat boy” program PT test together.

From that moment the paradigm shifted.  Faith began to return and I began to experience the presence of God again, not is the same was as before Iraq but one that was more relational, grace filled and informal.  I will likely begin praying the Daily Office again in the near future but I will approach it from a different point of view.  I will no longer use it simply to fulfill my priestly vows and obligations but rather as a way to re-experience and if need be re-imagine God.  Now before the heresy hunters think that I am re-imagining God is some unbiblical manner they are wrong. I want to re-imagine God as he has been revealed to his people both in Scripture, Tradition and in the life of his, or her people today.

moralssquad

How have I changed? I believe again. I am no longer an agnostic hoping and praying that God just might be there. My faith has become much more deeply rooted and grounded in the “Crucified God” and my faith in the “theology of the Cross.”  It is no longer connected to my politics and I refute any political ideology that attempts to use the Christian faith and the faith of well meaning Christians for purposes that Jesus himself would have condemned.  I don’t think Jesus was a big fan of his followers attempting to be the favorites of any political party or ideological system. In fact if I recall he really had pretty harsh words for his fellow Jews who were all wrapped around the axels with that kind of stuff. Jesus seems to befriend and hang around with those that are not connected to the religious, political or economic elites. In fact he seemed to reserve his harshest words for such people.  Jesus seemed to have a pretty good relationship with those marginalized and rejected by the religious folks of his day. He welcome sinners and tax collectors to his table and praised the faith of gentile Roman officers and stopped the super-religious folks from stoning an adulterous woman.

This is the Jesus that I follow and the Jesus that I believe is present in body, soul and spirit in the Eucharist.  I believe like Hans Kung and others that this table belongs to the baptized community of faith and not to an exclusive Priestly class who dictate who can come to the table.  It is not the exclusive property of any denomination or Church organization especially those that most loudly state this to be the case.

Now if saying this makes me a heretic then a heretic I will be. It is better to be a heretic in the eyes of Pharisees than to be one that denies justice to the persecuted people of God.  I guess that makes this moderate a liberal and to some an unbeliever.  Yet I believe in the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. I believe in the Jesus that defied religious systems to offer the grace of God to the people that those systems rejected and the Jesus that was far more critical of “believers’ than those rejected as unbelievers.  I guess that is why I can accept women as ministers or even Priests, accept homosexuals as Christian brothers and sisters, and see Christ and the grace and love of God in people that are not “Christians” even the Muslims in Iraq that treated me with respect and even if they had an “Aryan” view of Jesus still showed a greater reverence for Jesus and the Blessed Virgin Mary than many that claim Jesus for themselves.

Why? You ask. Very simply I once was lost but now am found.  I thought that I knew it all before, now I know that I don’t know it all and that God is the God of surprises, just look in Scripture.  I doubt at times. I know that there are many answers that elude me and I cannot answer just by citing or using Scripture out of its historic, cultural and linguistic context.  I believe in the God that did not reject me when I didn’t know if he even existed.

Why am I still a Christian when I have so many problems with how many Christians practice the faith? Because I believe and not because will not I tow anyone’s party line be they liberals or conservatives. I believe in spite of my unbelief in a fellowship of those who as a result of war and trauma have trouble believing those that won’t race the cold realities of this life. I believe because many times it was those marginalized by others, especially those marginalized by the “faithful” showed me the love of God when the “faithful” for pure or impure motives, or even because they didn’t know what to do allowed me to sink into despair and isolation. So in the words of my favorite heretic Martin Luther I say “Here I stand, I can do no other. So help me God. Amen.”

Peace,

Padre Steve+

1 Comment

Filed under christian life, faith, Pastoral Care, philosophy, Religion

DOMA Struck Down: The Day After our 30th Wedding Anniversary

1013538_671668626182004_634812401_n

Our 30th Wedding Anniversary Celebration 

Last night Judy and I celebrated our 30th wedding anniversary with close to 40 friends at Gordon Biersch. What we love about our friends is that they span the spectrum of what is the United States. They include people from all races, religions and political views and even sexual preference, and when together they get along. It really is a wonderful thing to see. And we enjoyed our time with them last night and thank the management of of Virginia Beach Gordon Biersch Brewery Restaurant for helping make it such a wonderful time.

24419_10151620210532059_1908706513_n

Our First Wedding Anniversary Neubrucke Germany 1984

This brings me to today’s Supreme Court decision overturning the Defense of Marriage Act. It was a historic day, celebrated by many and vilified by some conservative Christians who have opposed equal rights for gays for as long as as possible. I am happy for my Gay and Lesbian friends and cheer this decision.

Of course most of the opponents reasons for opposing this are religious and the way that they interpret both scripture and history. I have no argument with them believing that. I am a Christian as well but do not hold the beliefs of the more conservative part of Christianity regarding gays, especially in regard to their rights under the civil laws of the country. I figure that the members of any religion have the right to define what they believe and even the behaviors of people who are willing members of their faith and that the government has no right to judge or legislate what they believe in regard to how they run their churches or places of worship. Thus if the Roman Catholics refuse to ordain women or with few exception married men, or if Evangelical pastors refuse to marry gays or a certain denomination refuses to acknowledge the validity of another religious group within the confines of their faith they have every right to do so. Such is the protection built into the Constitution. I may not agree with those views but I will oppose any government efforts to silence them.

Barry Goldwater said: “Mark my word, if and when these preachers get control of the [Republican] party, and they’re sure trying to do so, it’s going to be a terrible damn problem. Frankly, these people frighten me. Politics and governing demand compromise. But these Christians believe they are acting in the name of God, so they can’t and won’t compromise. I know, I’ve tried to deal with them.” November, 1994, in John Dean, Conservatives Without Conscience.

That being said in our country they do not have the right to impose their beliefs on others that do not share them. That is the side of the constitutional coin. The United States is not the Holy Roman Empire or the nations that descended from it, nor is it Calvin’s Geneva or Elizabethan England where the religion of the sovereign, or in the case of Geneva the council members who shared the faith of John Calvin. In those cases the religion of the sovereign was used to legislate against and punish dissenters, often using prison or the death penalty. Thus I will resist all attempts by religious groups to impose their beliefs through civil law on the society as a whole.

Chris Kluwe, the outspoken and very thoughtful punter of the Oakland Raiders put it well yesterday: “We preach tolerance and legislate hate. We love our neighbor, unless our neighbor happens to be “different.” We elect politicians, year in and year out, on a platform of oppression and prejudice that merely changes its name to fit in with the times.” 

That was a big consideration to the men that drafted our Constitution but one that the descendants of the religions denominations most likely to be discriminated against by State Churches and punished for their beliefs seem to have forgotten. I have written about this a number of times and who can read them at the links below:

The Toxic Faith of “Americananity” and its Antidote  

Bishop Jenky’s Obama and Hitler, Stalin, Bismarck and Clemenceau Comparison: Bad History, Bad Theology and Bad Politics  

The Double Edged Sword of Denying Religious Rights  

Religious Freedom and Religious Hypocrisy the New Improved 2012 Model  

The Gift of Religious Liberty and the Real Dangers to It  

Surrendering Religious Liberty to the State for Money: The Example of Florida I n 2011  

Religious Freedom…Do We Really Want or Believe in It?  

Glenn Beck Attacks the Churches and Threatens Religious Liberty  

A Christian Defense of the Rights of Moslems and Others in a Democracy (or Constitutional Republic)  

Star Trek God and Me: Ecclesiastical Tyranny Today, the Drumhead Revisited  

Gordon Klingenschmitt and his Followers- The Klingenfraud and the Klingenban  

Bringing Faith to the Faithless and Doubt to the Faithful  

Things Haven’t Changed That Much: Jackie Robinson Goes to the 1964 GOP Convention and the Freedom Summer  

The Great Evangelical Disaster: Selling the Birthright….and not Even a Bowl of Soup to Show for It  

Start by Prosecuting Me: A Challenge to the Drumhead Justice of World Net Daily’s Erik Rush and Joseph Farrah  

Be Careful of What you Vote Against: A Warning from History  

The Pejorative use of the term Cult by people that should know Better: Reverend Robert Jeffress and Mitt Romney  

Will we Stand? The Moral Responsibility of Christians in our Time

The Radical Influence of the Christian Dominionism on American Politics: It’s All Jimmy carter’s Fault….Not Really but it is a Catchy Headline  

The Clear and Present Danger of Unrepentant Ideologues  

Taking the Wrong Train  

Darkness into Light: Turning Systematized Hatred in the Name of God into Reconciliation  

The Unchristian Christianity of Modern America  

The Road to Totalitarianism is paved with Good Intentions  

How to Make an Incredibly Difficult War Unwinnable: The Crass Hatred of “Pastor” Terry Jones for Moslems Endangers Americans  

The Fruit of Glenn Beck’s Spirit   

Revisiting the Political Captivity of the Church 

Since I have written about the subject of religious rights and civil rights so many times I will not go into details here, if you want you can peruse any or all of the above articles to get where I am coming from. But I do want to quote two famous Baptists from our history. George Truett who was a professor at Southwestern Baptist Seminary long before I attended there wrote about the danger of the Church alliance with the sate advocated by so many leaders of the religious right, who even now are threatening to urge their people to disobey any Supreme Court ruling regarding marriage equity that they do not approve:

“Constantine, the Emperor, saw something in the religion of Christ’s people which awakened his interest, and now we see him uniting religion to the state and marching up the marble steps of the Emperor’s palace, with the church robed in purple. Thus and there was begun the most baneful misalliance that ever fettered and cursed a suffering world…. When … Constantine crowned the union of church and state, the church was stamped with the spirit of the Caesars…. The long blighting record of the medieval ages is simply the working out of that idea.” 

The second is John Leland, leader of the Virginia Baptists in the fight for the separation of church and state. Persecuted by Anglicans the Baptists persuaded James Madison and Thomas Jefferson to ensure that the guarantee of religious liberty was enshrined in the Bill of Rights 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.”

Marriage-Equality-104371316011_xlarge

As far as today’s ruling I am very glad for my friends in the Gay community to have their marriages recognized by the Federal government. It is a long time coming. I think the watershed moment for me in this debate came in late 1993 when I was in my Clinical Pastoral Education residency program and I had to deal with those dying from complications from AIDS.

I remember two incidents. One was a young successful architect who was in our ICU having taken a dramatic turn for the worse. His partner and friends were barred from the room by his family who prior to this had condemned him and ostracized him. They had their pastor with them who though the man was unconscious, heavily sedated and dying was preaching to him to repent. The man’s own pastor from another denomination was excluded by the family and eventually left. This left me with the man’s partner and close friends in a waiting area away from the man that they loved. It was heartbreaking and I wondered what it would be like if Judy was forbidden from being at my side as I died because someone disapproved of her or our marriage. But what happened to the young man and his friends was legal because the family had the final say and the partner had no rights.

The second was a young man from West Texas who was dying on our general medical ward. His partner and parents were both there. The parents, dad in a plaid shirt and cowboy hat and boots, a rancher and his wife stood with the partner. All were crying, the family shared their faith with me, Southern Baptists who believed in the grace and love of God. As their son passed away and the partner asked, “what will I do now?” they embraced him and said “you are part of our family now and you can live with us.” It was a moment of grace and God’s love that was so absent in the other situation.

Over the years I have know, been friends with and worked with many gays and lesbians. I have felt terrible that for the most part they had to hide their love for one another either in the military or in their churches. I have had friends ostracized by their faith community or turned out of the military for admitting their sexual orientation.

Today is a good day for them and our country. Yes I know that some will not agree with me for mainly religious reasons and that is okay because they have that right. That being said I rejoice for all the men and women that I know who are gay or lesbian who will finally have the chance to openly enjoy what Judy and I have known and celebrated the past 30 years of marriage.

Peace

Padre Steve+

Leave a comment

Filed under christian life, civil rights, faith, History, laws and legislation, marriage and relationships, Religion

The Heresy of Thinking and Reason in an Age of Fanaticism

Originally posted on Padre Steve's World...Musings of a Passionately Progressive Moderate:

Note: I felt the need to republish this article in light of so many of the controversies that have been in the news lately, especially because some of the visceral reactions that I see from so many people about them. I just hope that people take the time to try to get as much of each story and controversy possible, examine them in the light of history and reason before jumping to unsubstantiated conclusions. The fact is that many of us do precisely this and that is in large part due to how terribly divided we are. However, that being said there is seldom any issue that is totally clear, most actually are quite opaque and clouded in the fog of many shades of gray, and what history teaches us is that we need to be careful before jumping to conclusions.

Peace

Padre Steve+

“Unreason and anti-intellectualism abominate thought. Thinking…

View original 917 more words

Leave a comment

Filed under Loose thoughts and musings

The Heresy of Thinking and Reason in an Age of Fanaticism

The Heresy of Thinking and Reason in an Age of Fanaticism.

Leave a comment

Filed under History, philosophy, Political Commentary

30 Years of Marriage: Marriage the Definitive Icebreaker in an Ever Changing World

30 Years of Marriage: Marriage the Definitive Icebreaker in an Ever Changing World.

Leave a comment

Filed under Loose thoughts and musings

30 Years of Marriage: Marriage the Definitive Icebreaker in an Ever Changing World

1012128_10151749215177059_1902693993_n

A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away…

Luke Skywalker has returned to his home planet of Tatooine in an attempt to rescue his friend Han Solo from the clutches of the vile gangster Jabba the Hutt. Little does Luke know that the GALACTIC EMPIRE has begun construction on a new armored space station even more powerful than the first dreaded Death Star. When completed, this ultimate weapon will spell certain doom for the small band of rebels struggling to restore freedom to the galaxy…

Cut! Wrong galaxy…

295_26912077058_3276_n

The year was 1983 and a newly commissioned Army Second Lieutenant was marrying the love of his life in an old Presbyterian Church in Stockton California. The wedding was done on a shoestring but was quite nice, you would never have known that on that warm but not too hot day in Stockton California, only 89 degrees at game time with almost no humidity. Since the groom’s 1975 Chevy Monza didn’t have air conditioning that was a good thing.

Other things were going on in the world that day and that year.

Yasir Arafat was expelled from Syria after his accusations that President Hafez al-Assad was behind the anti-Arafat rebellion among Palestine Liberation Organization troops in Lebanon.

Prince Charles and Princess Diana had just had their first son, William.

Evita closed on Broadway after 1568 performances.

215px-Flashdanceposter

Flashdance…What A Feeling by Irene Cara was the Billboard top single.

thriller-video

Michael Jackson’s Thriller music video became the biggest video hit of all time and he would die on our 26th wedding anniversary in 2009.

In sports an Indian team led by the legendary Kapil Dev overcame the mighty, two-time champion West Indies at Lord’s to win the Prudential World Cup.

The Orioles lost to the Tigers 9-3, the Giants lost to the Padres 3-2 and the A’s lost to the Rangers 8-3. The O’s would go on to win the World Series.

251651

Superman III was the top box office draw but would be de-throned by Star Wars VI, Return of the Jedi on the 26th. The top ten box office hits for 1983 were: Star Wars Episode VI: Return of the Jedi, Terms of Endearment, Flashdance, Trading Places, WarGames, Octopussy, Sudden Impact, Staying Alive, Mr. Mom and Risky Business.

images-48

M*A*S*H had ended its epic run as one of the favorite television shows in the United States.

1983-stang-camaro-blog-dogear

The Car and Driver Magazine Top Ten Best list included the 1983 Pontiac 6000STE, 1983 Porsche 944, 1983 Toyota Celica Supra, 1983 Volkswagen Rabbit GTI, 1983 AMC/Renault Alliance, 1983 Chevrolet Caprice Classic, 1983 Ford Mustang GT 5.0, 1983 Honda Accord, 1983 Mazda RX-7 and the 1983 Mercedes-Benz 380SEL. Pontiac and AMC are no more and we now own a 2013 Mustang.

Ronald Reagan was President and Yuri Andropov the Soviet Premier as the Cold War began to reach its crescendo even as both countries were enmeshed in wars or attempts to subvert each other’s allies, the US in Nicaragua and the Soviets in Afghanistan even as Reagan proposed the Strategic Defense Initiative or Star Wars program.

The Polish Pope, John Paul II was making waves in Poland as the Solidarity movement continued to confound local Communist authorities and the Soviet Union, helping to set the stage for the eventual collapse of the Soviet Union and the Warsaw Pact.

Nelson Mandela was imprisoned in then a repressive and racist apartheid South Africa.

Iran and Iraq were locked in a bloody struggle, Israel had invaded Lebanon and become  involved in a quagmire and Saddam Hussein was considered to be our friend. Osama Bin Laden was supported by the United States in Afghanistan.

The Space Shuttle Challenger returned to earth after a historic mission with Sally Ride the first woman to go into space.

24419_10151620210532059_1908706513_n

It is hard to believe that all of that was going on. In fact since there was no internet yet and even cable news was still in its infancy most of us lived in a world that was not so complicated. In light of the current concerns regarding privacy which make Orwell’s 1984 seem all too real, that novel was merely interesting.

6095_128720537058_6625464_n

Who would have thought then that the world would be where we are today. Likewise who would believe that Judy and I are still married after all these years? Sure I think that most people enter into marriage with the intent of it lasting the rest of their lives but tragically so many don’t. In light of all the failed marriages out there I almost wonder if 30 is the new 50 as far as anniversaries are concerned. I guess that we are rather fortunate. We have done the whole sickness and in health, for richer or poorer deal a number of times already, seen our shares of joys and heartaches and since I have been in some type of military service our whole marriage endured many separations.  So far we still love each other.

6095_128718107058_2713239_n

One of my favorite movies about marriage is the classic Four Weddings and a Funeral. There is a great sequence in the film which sometimes I wonder might just be true:

Gareth: I’ve got a new theory about marriage. Two people are in love, they live together, and then suddenly one day, they run out of conversation.

Charles: Uh-huh.

Gareth: Totally. I mean they can’t think of a single thing to say to each other. That’s it: panic! Then suddenly it-it occurs to the chap that there is a way out of the deadlock.

Charles: Which is?

Gareth: He’ll ask her to marry him.

Charles: Brilliant! Brilliant!

Gareth: Suddenly they’ve got something to talk about for the rest of their lives.

Charles: Basically you’re saying marriage is just a way of getting out of an embarrassing pause in conversation.

Gareth: The definitive icebreaker.

Peace

Padre Steve+

1 Comment

Filed under Just for fun, Loose thoughts and musings, marriage and relationships