Category Archives: film

Creepy Television Shows: Padre Steve Loves Bates Motel and Those Who Kill

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Well my friends after a coupled of weeks of seriousness something a little less serious, unless you take creepy things more seriously than you should. Yes I could be writing more about Gettysburg or other military History tonight. Likewise I could be writing about pressing social issues or world events, faith and religion, politics or baseball. I do promise that I will do some of that soon.

However, I don’t do a lot of television. I am not a fan of a lot of the new shows on today. I can watch Seinfeld, Boston Legal, MASH, any of the Star Trek series, The X-Files, Cheers, House MD or any number of older television series for hours on end. I also love The Simpson’s, Family Guy, Southpark and American Dad and the same is true with many other series.

However, I do not enjoy what is referred to as “reality TV.” The fake nature of this artificial reality bugs the shit out of me. Truthfully I deal with enough real reality every day not to want to deal with the contrived reality of Duck Dynasty or anything else of the genre.

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Neither am I a fan of soap operas, even those of the horror genre. Unfortunately between reality TV and various soap operas it seems that much of television has become a wasteland of prepackaged formulas designed to keep non-thinking people coming back.

Likewise I refuse to watch any supposedly “Christian” television. I cannot think of much more that is less Christian than I see on most Christian networks. The fact that most extol the voices or pride, avarice, greed, and even violence all baptized with carefully selected verses of scripture and done in the name of God makes me think that they are the tools of the Devil himself.

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It is hard to believe that in an era where there are hundreds of television shows to watch on any given night that I have nothing to watch unless I put in a DVD or BlueRay disc of something that is now off the air.

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However, that being said I have always loved creepy and suspenseful shows. I loved The X-Files, which I already mentioned. Likewise always I loved The Twilight Zone, Tales From the Crypt, Tales from the Dark Side and the long running Criminal Minds. I love the creepy, suspenseful and the sometimes somewhat twisted humor and irony of these shows.

However, it is been a while since I have seen any really creepy and suspenseful new shows. I am sure that there are some out there but it has taken me time to find a couple new shows that I really like. That search my friends ended last week when my wife Judy insisted that I watch Bates Motel. I loved it.

Following it there was another show, Those Who Kill. I loved it as well. Very suspenseful, creepy and well done. You cannot ask for much more in two shows that run back to back.

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Bates Motel is basically the prequel to the legendary Hitchcock film Psycho. Last year Judy realized that her decoration of our master bathroom in a Rubber Ducky pattern was not interesting to me. So for my birthday when I was still stationed in Camp LeJeune she redecorated that bathroom in a Psycho theme. I loved it. When I cam home and saw it I laughed myself sick. That being said there are some nights that when I have to get up to do my business that I am taken aback.

Bates Motel is really well done, as is Those Who Kill. I think that the former is really creepy because of the whole story and the fact that we meet Norma Bates, an overprotective mother who happens to be kind of hot.  The latter is about a detective and a professor of forensic psychology who track down serial killers. Both shows are creepy, very well done and very suspenseful. In other words they appeal to me.

I think a big part of the reason I like these shows is because they demonstrate the human condition in a manner not seen in other places. We live in a beautiful but at times scary world.

With that I have to take my attention back to the new Bates Motel followed by Those Who Kill.

Peace and Suspense,

Padre Steve+

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What Do You Say When You’re Not Sure? An Essay on Doubt

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“Doubt can be a bond as powerful and sustaining as certainty. When you are lost, you are not alone.”

I am watching the movie Doubt tonight. It was a movie that came out when I was deployed to Iraq. I never had seen it before tonight. I purchased it after the death of the lead actor, Phillip Seymour Hoffman, when a friend of mine from my former denomination posted a remembrance about one of the scenes from this film. It was the sermon about gossip. That moved me, so after reading more about the film I purchased it. However, I was not prepared for the opening scene where Hoffman’s character in his homily speaks about doubt.

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

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1OwpGUI-TAI 

“Last year, when President Kennedy was assassinated, who among us did not experience the most profound disorientation? Despair? Which way? What now? What do I say to my kids? What do I tell myself? It was a time of people sitting together, bound together by a common feeling of hopelessness. But think of that! Your bond with your fellow being was your Despair. It was a public experience. It was awful, but we were in it together. How much worse is it then for the lone man, the lone woman, stricken by a private calamity?

‘No one knows I’m sick.’

‘No one knows I’ve lost my last real friend.’

‘No one knows I’ve done something wrong.’

Imagine the isolation. Now you see the world as through a window. On one side of the glass: happy, untroubled people, and on the other side: you.

I want to tell you a story. A cargo ship sank one night. It caught fire and went down. And only this one sailor survived. He found a lifeboat, rigged a sail…and being of a nautical discipline…turned his eyes to the Heavens and read the stars. He set a course for his home, and exhausted, fell asleep. Clouds rolled in. And for the next twenty nights, he could no longer see the stars. He thought he was on course, but there was no way to be certain. And as the days rolled on, and the sailor wasted away, he began to have doubts. Had he set his course right? Was he still going on towards his home? Or was he horribly lost… and doomed to a terrible death? No way to know. The message of the constellations – had he imagined it because of his desperate circumstance? Or had he seen truth once… and now had to hold on to it without further reassurance? There are those of you in church today who know exactly the crisis of faith I describe. And I want to say to you: doubt can be a bond as powerful and sustaining as certainty. When you are lost, you are not alone.

In the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost.”

Since Iraq I have experienced much doubt related to my experiences there, PTSD and Moral Injury. For nearly two years I experienced such a crisis of faith that for all practical intent I was an agnostic, praying to a God that I wasn’t sure existed hoping that there was a God.

When I watched that opening scene, as well as many others I found that I was reduced to tears, uncontrollable, they flooded me. The actors in the film, Hoffman, Meryl Streep, Amy Adams and Viola Davis, brought a power to their performances that made it so real, and powerful. It has been a long time since a film affected me like this, perhaps the last two were We Were Soldiers and Taking Chance, both of which related directly to my military experiences.

The writing of the screenplay, adapted to from a play by John Patrick Shanley,in part based on growing up in a small Catholic School run by the Sisters of Charity. I found it fascinating because of the mystery involved in the story, there is so much uncertainty in the story, a Priest who may be doing something wrong, a Nun who has no proof but is determined to drive him out, young Sister who in her innocence wants to believe the best about both the Priest and her superior, and a mother who just wants her son to survive, despite the abuse of his father and the racial prejudice of the community.

For me the film stuck on two levels, one my logical, suspicious and oft judgmental spirit, and my desire to want to believe the best about people, even me. It is a tension that I live with on a daily basis. In a way I could understand all three of the major characters.

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There is a scene where Father Flynn (Hoffman) talks with Sister James (Adams) and he tells her:

“There are people who go after your humanity, Sister, that tell you that the light in your heart is a weakness. Don’t believe it. It’s an old tactic of cruel people to kill kindness in the name of virtue.”

I understand it, because I am both, I am the one who believes the best but is also able to see the same “light” in others as weakness. The juxtaposition was quite stunning, and took me by surprise and perhaps was part of my emotional response to the film.

Another thing that made the film especially pertinent to me were the people, and the parts of the Catholic Church they represented. The Priest played by Hoffman was a man who really believed in the reforms of the Second Vatican Council, like so many Priests who helped me along my way. The Sisters, played by Streep and Adams were from the Sisters of Charity, founded by Saint Elizabeth Ann Seton and headquartered in Emmittsburg Maryland. There was a sister that I met at that location, when I was stationed at Fort Indiantown Gap when I was still an Army Chaplain. Sister Cornelia Colgan, touched my life in a special way and I am sure is still offering prayers for me from heaven. She passed a way an number of years ago, but for about 5 years between 1997 and 2002 we maintained a close correspondence until deployments and war intervened and we lost contact. I still have a couple of mementos that she gave me and I remember her fondly.

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http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1OwpGUI-TAI 

At an emotional level the sermons and words of Father Flynn and the final words of the film spoken by Sister Aloysius (Streep) speak to where I am still at in my faith. I believe, but I have such doubt.

Likewise there is a sense of aloneness, that still sometimes haunts me, despite close friendships and relationships. There are many times that I felt that I was alone when I returned from Iraq in 2008, but I have discovered that there are many like me.  Some of them like Sister Aloysius who despite her certitude also doubts, having not really gotten over her own grief and loss.

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At the end of the film there is a touching scene, Sister Aloysius has succeeded in forcing  Father Flynn out of the Parish and Sister James approaches her in the garden and a conversation ensues. Aloysius is alone, and appears quite vulnerable. Crying she admits to Sister James: “I have doubts. I have such doubts.”

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

I think that is reality for anyone who honestly wrestles with faith. I know that it is for me, for doubt reminds me that I am not alone. 

Peace

Padre Steve+

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Inherit the Wind: A Film for Today

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“As long as the prerequisite for that shining paradise is ignorance, bigotry and hate, I say the hell with it.” Henry Drummond (Spencer Tracy) Inherit the Wind

It is fascinating that a play and film set about an incident that actually occurred in the 1920s remains so timeless. It is hard to believe that 90 years after the trial and over 50 years after the movie that our society would still be debating the issue in the movie and that legislatures and school boards are still attempting to pass religious doctrine off as science.

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It is a film about what is commonly called the “Scopes Monkey Trial” which was litigated in July of 1925 and featured an epic battle between populist three time Presidential Candidate and former Secretary of State William Jennings Bryan and famed defense attorney Clarence Darrow.

The trial was brought about after the passage of the Butler Act in Tennessee. It was an act that made it a criminal offense to teach evolution in any publicly funded school. The act stipulated:

“That it shall be unlawful for any teacher in any of the Universities, Normals and all other public schools of the State which are supported in whole or in part by the public school funds of the State, to teach any theory that denies the story of the Divine Creation of man as taught in the Bible, and to teach instead that man has descended from a lower order of animals.”

The author of the act was Tennessee State Representative John W. Butler, a farmer and   the head of the World Christian Fundamentals Association an interdenominational organization dedicated to a “New Protestantism” based on the Pre-Millennial interpretation of Bible prophecy.

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Butler was heavily influenced by William Jennings Bryant who with his followers had gotten legislation banning evolution in 15 states. H.L. Mencken commented that over the years of his public life that Bryan had “transformed himself” into some “sort of Fundamentalist Pope.”

Butler was opposed to the teaching of evolution and the  act passed the house by a vote of 75-1. No public hearings had been held on it and no debate proffered.

Butler’s legislation did face some opposition in the State Senate. However it passed there on a vote of 24-6 after the famous Fundamentalist evangelist Billy Sunday preached as series of revival meetings to incite public opinion in favor of the bill. Sunday’s message was clear, he preached that “Education today is chained to the Devil’s throne” and praised Butler and the House for their “action against that God forsaken gang of evolutionary cutthroats.” The bill was signed into law by Governor Austin Peay, but Peay expected little to come of it.

The American Civil Liberties Union put the law to the test using high school biology teacher John Scopes who was charged with breaking the law. The trial ended up becoming less about the guilt or innocence of Scopes or even the constitutionality of the law, but rather as the field where the conflict between religious and social issues and faith versus intellectualism was fought. Butler, the man who legislated the law on religious grounds covered it as a correspondent.

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Mencken wrote of the trial:

“The Scopes trial, from the start, has been carried on in a manner exactly fitted to the anti- evolution law and the simian imbecility under it. There hasn’t been the slightest pretense to decorum. The rustic judge, a candidate for re-election, has postured the yokels like a clown in a ten-cent side show, and almost every word he has uttered has been an undisguised appeal to their prejudices and superstitions. The chief prosecuting attorney, beginning like a competent lawyer and a man of self-respect, ended like a convert at a Billy Sunday revival. It fell to him, finally, to make a clear and astounding statement of theory of justice prevailing under fundamentalism. What he said, in brief, was that a man accused of infidelity had no rights whatever under Tennessee law…”

http://www.tcm.com/mediaroom/video/580245/Inherit-The-Wind-Movie-Clip-We-Are-Simple-Folk.html 

It was an epic event covered by news outlets across the nation and the atmosphere in the town outside the courthouse was circus like, something that the movie depicts very well. The defense was not allowed to produce Scientists as witnesses, even to the chagrin of Butler who despite his opposition to evolutionary theory felt that it was not fair. When all was said and done Scopes had been convicted and a fine of $100 assessed, which was overturned on appeal. Bryan died a week after the trial and of the 15 states with similar legislation to Butler passed them into law.

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The film is based on the play of the same name written in 1950 by Jerome Lawrence and Robert E. Lee. It was written during the height of the McCarthy Era and opened in 1955. The first film version starring Spencer Tracy as Henry Drummond (Clarence Darrow), Frederic March as Matthew Harrison Brady (William Jennings Bryan), Gene Kelly as E.K. Hornbeck (H.L. Mencken) while Dick York played Bertram Cates (John Scopes). Lawrence and Lee invented some fictional characters including Reverend Brown played by Claude Akins.

The film directed by Stanley Kramer captures the raw emotions of the trial, the participants and the spectators who came from near and far. The depiction of the angry mob of Christians is terrifying to watch. In the film they sing:

“We’ll hang Bertram Cates to a sour apple tree, we’ll hang Bertram Cates to a sour apple tree, we’ll hang Bertram Cates to a sour apple tree. Our God is marching on! Glory Glory Hallelujah! Glory Glory Hallelujah! Glory Gory Hallelujah! His truth is marching on. We’ll hang Henry Drummond to a sour apple tree, we’ll hang Henry Drummond to a sour apple tree, we’ll hang Henry Drummond to a sour apple tree, our God is marching on.”

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March’s depiction of Matthew Harrison Brady is riveting. The Brady of the film does not do justice to other parts of Bryan’s life. Bryan, outside his fight against evolution was ahead of his time in many ways. Earlier in his career he had pressed for Universal Suffrage, fought against war and labored against the social Darwinism of the banks, business and the Robber Barons. However the loss of three Presidential elections left him bitter and it is believed that he saw the trial as an opportunity to regain the limelight and perhaps build a base to again run for President. This speech by Brady is a fair characterization of Bryan’s beliefs:

“I have been to their cities and I have seen the altars upon which they sacrifice the futures of their children to the gods of science. And what are their rewards? Confusion and self-destruction. New ways to kill each other in wars. I tell you gentlemen the way of science is the way of darkness.”

The problem with the Bryan of the Scopes Trial was that he was a caricature of his former self, he played to the crowds. The trial played to the worst parts of his character and that shows in the movie depiction. Some Christians find this an unfair portrayal and even call it a lie, however even though March’s portrayal is fictional it does fit the spirit of the trial which is captured in the writings of many of the contemporary commentators of the trial. Mencken wrote of the real Bryan: It is a tragedy, indeed, to begin life as a hero and to end it as a buffoon.

http://www.tcm.com/mediaroom/video/179726/Inherit-the-Wind-Movie-Clip-Time.html 

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Another of those commentators, Marcet Haldeman-Julius wrote of the real Bryan:

“As he sat there in the court room, day after day, silent, fanning, fanning, his face set I was appalled by the hardness, the malice in it.  No one who has watched the fanatical light in those hard, glittering black eyes of Bryan’s can doubt but that he believes both in a heaven and in a hell.  At the same time the cruel lines of his thin, tight-pressed mouth proclaim, it seems to me, that he would stop at nothing to attain his own ends.  It is anything but a weak face–Bryan’s.  But it is a face from which one could expect neither understanding nor pity.  My own opinion is that he is sincere enough in his religion.  Also that in it is included the doctrine Paul so frankly taught–that a lie told for the glory of God is justified…”

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But I think that the real drama and tension in the film comes from Spencer Tracy in his portrayal of Drummond. This speech is taken almost verbatim from the trial:

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

“Can’t you understand? That if you take a law like evolution and you make it a crime to teach it in the public schools, tomorrow you can make it a crime to teach it in the private schools? And tomorrow you may make it a crime to read about it. And soon you may ban books and newspapers. And then you may turn Catholic against Protestant, and Protestant against Protestant, and try to foist your own religion upon the mind of man. If you can do one, you can do the other. Because fanaticism and ignorance is forever busy, and needs feeding. And soon, your Honor, with banners flying and with drums beating we’ll be marching backward, BACKWARD, through the glorious ages of that Sixteenth Century when bigots burned the man who dared bring enlightenment and intelligence to the human mind!”

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I think that this speech is the real crux of the tension that we face even now. Legislators in a number of States have enacted laws of much the same kind of spirit as Butler and defended them with the same kind of fire as Bryan. Civil libertarians, especially secular ones bring up the same issues as Darrow did. I am a Christian and a Priest and my thinking about this is much like that espoused by Drummond in the movie.

So the film may be a fictional depiction of the Scopes Trial, but it is a film that I think that people would do well to watch. I don’t expect everyone to agree with me or the issues that I agree with brought up by the character of Henry Drummond. However, I think that everyone should watch the film and come to their own conclusions as well as to ask themselves how their particular ethic, whether secular or religious informs them in how they deal with this issue and so many others that divide us today.

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I just know when I watched it again this week that it could have been in the news this week, only with a different cast of characters. My concern is that there is a very loud minority that wants to inflict its particular religious view on everyone and use the public treasure to do it. The attitude of many of these people is much like the characters from the actual Scopes Trial including their view that pushes both demonizes those they oppose and their desire to regulate the secular opposition to the sidelines.

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I know that the same accusation is made by religious people of secularists, however I have seen the results of religious wars in Iraq and the Balkans, and from history. Those conflicts and the brutality of religious people in them give me great pause when I see religious and political leaders here suggest curtailing the civil liberties and even using the law against those that they oppose. As Drummond asked in the movie: “Must men go to jail because they find themselves at odds with a self-appointed prophet?”

That is why this film is so important.

Peace

Padre Steve+

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Where I Belong: Padre Steve and the Christmas Truce

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Christmas 2007 COP South, Al Anbar Province Iraq

“I belong with those who are in pain, and who have lost their faith, I belong here.” Father Palmer, the Chaplain in Joyeux Noel (Merry Christmas)

Last night I again watched the film classic Joyeux Noel (Merry Christmas) which is the story of the amazing and exceptional Christmas Truce of 1914. It is a film that each time I see it that I discover something new, more powerful than the last time I viewed it.

As a Chaplain I am drawn to the actions of the British Padre who during the truce conducts a Mass for all the soldiers, British, French and German in no-man’s land, who goes about caring for the soldiers both the living and the dead.  His actions are contrasted with his Bishop who comes to relieve him of his duties and to urge on the replacement soldiers to better kill the Germans.

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Father Palmer Tending the Wounded

As the Chaplain begins to provide the last Rites to a dying soldier the Bishop walks in, in full purple cassock frock coat and hat and the chaplain looks up and kisses his ring.

As the chaplain looks at his clerical superior there is a silence and the Bishop looks sternly at the priest and addresses him:

“You’re being sent back to your parish in Scotland. I’ve brought you your marching orders.”

Stunned the Priest replies: “I belong with those who are in pain, and who have lost their faith, I belong here.”

The Bishop then sternly lectures the Priest: “I am very disappointed you know. When you requested permission to accompany the recruits from your parish I personally vouched for you. But then when I heard what happened I prayed for you.”

The Priest humbly and respectfully yet with conviction responds to his superior: “I sincerely believe that our Lord Jesus Christ guided me in what was the most important Mass of my life. I tried to be true to his trust and carry his message to all, whoever they may be.”

The Bishop seems a bit taken aback but then blames the Chaplain for what will next happen to the Soldiers that he has served with in the trenches: “Those men who listened to you on Christmas Eve will very soon bitterly regret it; because in a few days time their regiment is to be disbanded by the order of His Majesty the King. Where will those poor boys end up on the front line now? And what will their families think?”

They are interrupted when a soldier walks in to let the Bishop know that the new soldiers are ready for his sermon. After acknowledging the messenger the Bishop continues: “They’re waiting for me to preach a sermon to those who are replacing those who went astray with you.” He gets ready to depart and continues: “May our Lord Jesus Christ guide your steps back to the straight and narrow path.”

The Priest looks at him and asks: “Is that truly the path of our Lord?”

The Bishop looks at the Priest and asks what I think is the most troubling question: “You’re not asking the right question. Think on this: are you really suitable to remain with us in the house of Our Lord?”

With that the Bishop leaves and goes on to preach. The words of the sermon are from a 1915 sermon preached by an Anglican Bishop in Westminster Abbey. They reflect the poisonous aspects of many religious leaders on all sides of the Great War, but also many religious leaders of various faiths even today, sadly I have to say Christian leaders are among the worst when it comes to inciting violence against those that they perceive as enemies of the Church, their nation or in some cases their political faction within a country.

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The Bishop Leads His “Service” 

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fMPxjUE40iw

“Christ our Lord said, “Think not that I come to bring peace on earth. I come not to bring peace, but a sword.” The Gospel according to St. Matthew. Well, my brethren, the sword of the Lord is in your hands. You are the very defenders of civilization itself. The forces of good against the forces of evil. For this war is indeed a crusade! A holy war to save the freedom of the world. In truth I tell you: the Germans do not act like us, neither do they think like us, for they are not, like us, children of God. Are those who shell cities populated only by civilians the children of God? Are those who advanced armed hiding behind women and children the children of God? With God’s help, you must kill the Germans, good or bad, young or old. Kill every one of them so that it won’t have to be done again.”

The sermon is chilling and had it not been edited by the director would have contained the remark actually said by the real Bishop that the Germans “crucified babies on Christmas.”  Of course that was typical of the propaganda of the time and similar to things that religious leaders of all faiths use to demonize their opponents and stir up violence in the name of their God.

When the Bishop leaves the Priest finishes his ministration to the wounded while listening to the words of the Bishop who is preaching not far away in the trenches. He meditates upon his simple cross, takes it off, kisses it hand hangs it upon a tripod where a container of water hangs.

The scene is chilling for a number of reasons. First is the obvious, the actions of a religious leader to denigrate the efforts of some to bring the Gospel of Peace into the abyss of Hell of earth and then to incite others to violence dehumanizing the enemy forces. The second and possibly even more troubling is to suggest that those who do not support dehumanizing and exterminating the enemy are not suitable to remain in the house of the Lord. Since I have had people, some in person and others on social media say similar things to what the Bishop asks Palmer the scene hits close to home.

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Christmas Eve 2007 with the Bedouin 

When I left Iraq in February 2008 I felt that I was abandoning those committed to my spiritual care, but my time was up. Because of it I missed going with some of my advisors to Basra with the 1st Iraqi Division to retake that city from insurgents. It was only a bit over a month after I had celebrated what I consider to be my most important Masses of my life at COP South and COP North on December 23rd as well as Christmas Eve and Christmas Day. When I left the new incoming senior Chaplain refused to take my replacement leaving our advisors without dedicated support. He then slandered me behind my back because what I was doing was not how he would do things and because I and my relief were under someone else’s operational control. It is funny how word gets back to you when people talk behind your back. Thankfully he is now retired from the Navy and I feel for any ministers of his denomination under his “spiritual” care.  So I cannot forget those days and every time I think about them, especially around Christmas I am somewhat melancholy and why I can relate so much to Father Palmer in the movie.

It has been six years since those Christmas Masses and they still feel like yesterday. In the intervening years my life has been different. Severe and Chronic PTSD, depression, anxiety and insomnia were coupled with a two year period where due to my struggles I lost faith, was for all practical purposes an agnostic. I felt abandoned by God, my former church and most other Chaplains. It was like being radioactive, there was and is a stigma for Chaplains that admits to PTSD and go through a faith crisis, especially from other Chaplains and Clergy.  It was just before Christmas in late 2009 that faith began to return in what I call my Christmas Miracle. But be sure, let no one tell you differently, no Soldier, Sailor, Marine or Airman who has suffered the trauma of war and admitted to PTSD does not feel the stigma that goes with it, and sadly, despite the best efforts of many there is a stigma.

Now that faith is different and I have become much more skeptical of the motivations of religious leaders, especially those that demonize and dehumanize those that do not believe like them or fully support their cause or agenda. Unfortunately there are far too many men and women who will use religion to do that, far too many.  

As for me I am in a better place now. I still suffer some of the effects of the PTSD, especially the insomnia, nightmares and anxiety in crowded places and bad traffic, but I do believe again. Like the Priest in the movie I know that my place is with those who are “in pain, and who have lost their faith.” Like Paul Tillich I have come to believe that “Sometimes I think it is my mission to bring faith to the faithless, and doubt to the faithful.” 

Praying for Peace this Christmas,

Padre Steve+

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Filed under faith, film, History, Military, ministry, Pastoral Care, PTSD, Religion, Tour in Iraq

Silent Night: The Hymn that Transcends Language Culture and Ideology

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Stille Nacht Autograph in the Hand of Joseph Mohr

In 1816 a young Austrian Catholic Priest in a small parish near Salzburg penned the lyrics to a hymn that even in the midst of war can bind people together. Father Joseph Mohr after moving to another parish in Oberndorf took those lyrics to Franz Gruber a nearby schoolmaster and organist. Mohr asked Gruber to put the words to music, specifically with a guitar accompaniment. Together the performed the song at Oberndorf’s parish church’s Vigil Mass on December 24th 1818.

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There are a number of fanciful apocryphal stories about why the song was written and performed on the guitar, including one about the bellows of the church organ having been eaten by mice, but these are akin to sensationalist tabloid journalism. The simple truth is that Mohr sought out Gruber to arrange the song for guitar to be sung by two people accompanied by a choir for that Christmas Vigil Mass.

Stille Nacht, Heilige Nacht 

Stille Nacht, heilige Nacht,
Alles schläft; einsam wacht
Nur das traute hochheilige Paar.
Holder Knabe im lockigen Haar,
Schlaf in himmlischer Ruh!
Schlaf in himmlischer Ruh!

Stille Nacht, heilige Nacht,
Hirten erst kundgemacht
Durch der Engel Halleluja,
Tönt es laut von fern und nah:
Christ, der Retter ist da!
Christ, der Retter ist da!

Stille Nacht, heilige Nacht,
Gottes Sohn, o wie lacht
Lieb’ aus deinem göttlichen Mund
, Da uns schlägt die rettende Stund’.
Christ, in deiner Geburt!
Christ, in deiner Geburt!

 The song rapidly grew in popularity and spread quickly in Europe. A traveling Austrian singing group, the Rainer family performed it in front of Austrian Emperor Franz I and Tsar Alexander I.

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They also gave its first American performance in New York outside the famed Trinity Church in 1839. I continued to grow in popularity and was translated into many languages, now numbering about 140.

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The American Episcopalian Bishop John Freeman Young translated it into English in 1863. It is his version that is most used today in English speaking lands today. A website called the Silent Night Web http://silentnight.web.za has 227 versions of the song in 142 languages on its site.

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Silent Night 

Silent night, Holy night

 All is calm, all is bright

‘Round yon virgin , mother and child

Holy infant so, tender and mild
Sleep in heavenly peace,
Sleep in heavenly peace.

Silent night, Holy night
Shepherds quake, at the sight
Glories stream from heaven afar
Heavenly, hosts sing Hallelujah.
Christ the Savior is born,
Christ the Savior is born.

Silent night, Holy night
Son of God, love’s pure light
Radiant beams from thy holy face
With the dawn of redeeming grace,
Jesus, Lord at thy birth,
Jesus, Lord at thy birth.

Father Mohr refused to profit from his song and donated his proceeds to care for the elderly and educate children in the parishes and towns he served. He died in 1848.

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I find that the song will bring me to tears fast than almost any song. It is one that I have sung in English, German and French. In my travels as a military Chaplain have used on every Christmas Eucharist celebration that I have done, including at two lonely COPS in Iraq, COP South and COP North on the Syrian Border in Al Anbar Province. Likewise I have celebrated joint ecumenical Christmas services with German military chaplains and civilian clergy.

It is a simple and humble song. It is performed the world over by the great and small, the famous and the unknown. It is a song that in two world wars has stopped the violence as opposing soldiers paused to sing it together each in their own language. This happened during the Christmas Truce truce of 1914 as well as in 1944 along the Western Front during the Battle of the Bulge.

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http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EbGZ7T5EHpQ

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On Tuesday as people gather for Christmas Eve and Wednesday when they gather for Christmas Day services the song will be sung around the world. In lands where war rages the song will be sung. It is my hope that someday that war will be no more and the tiny child spoken of in this humble hymn will understand the incredible grace of the message spoken by the Angels as recorded in Luke’s Gospel:  “Glory to God in the highest, And on earth peace among men in whom he is well pleased.” (American Standard Version)

Peace

Padre Steve+

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Padre Steve’s Easy Listening Classic Christmas

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“In the old days, it was not called the Holiday Season; the Christians called it ‘Christmas’ and went to church; the Jews called it ‘Hanukkah’ and went to synagogue; the atheists went to parties and drank. People passing each other on the street would say ‘Merry Christmas!’ or ‘Happy Hanukkah!’ or (to the atheists) ‘Look out for the wall!” Dave Barry 

I love Christmas music of all types and I have a somewhat sick sense of humor that appreciates Dave Barry’s humor. Over the past few days I have been going through some classic Christmas season songs from the Rock, R & B and Country Western genres. Tonight is a popular but not talked about feature of songs that might be best called “easy listening.” They encompass a period from the 1950s through early 1980s and include recordings from some of the most popular artists of the last half century.

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What I find interesting about Christmas in the United States is that it is not just for Christians. In fact some of the most popular Christmas tunes have been written or performed by men and women who are Jewish, Agnostic or sometimes even avowed Atheists.  Actually that is part of the magic of the Christmas holidays in this country. I have many friends who span the spectrum of religious diversity in the United States. Various forms of Christians from the most Orthodox, Conservative and Fundamental to the most ecumenical, progressive or liberal. I also have friendships with Jews, Moslems, Buddhists, Hindus, Wiccans, followers of Native American religions, as well as Atheists, Agnostics and Free Thinkers.

However despite their religious or philosophical differences most of my friends have a respect for others. Generally, be they Christians or not they want to be kind to others and enjoy the Christmas holiday season regardless of if they believe in the distinctive Christian understanding of the Incarnation.  I think that is commendable because that doesn’t happen in most of the world. In some places some Christians are happy with killing other Christians at Christmas for reasons of dogma, race or tribe.

These songs the implicitly Christian ones as well as the more festive and less than religious  traditional are sung by a wide variety of artists. Many are legendary for their accomplishments.

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Here Barbara Streisand sings Ave Maria http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0wFtXvt8TOQ

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But not all Christmas songs are religious in nature. Many speak of human relationships. Barry Manilow wrote and performed Because it’s Christmas http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QHRi6nAZZWE ,Mel Torme, nicknamed “the Velvet Fog” sang Christmas Time is Here  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=phHwxK064RM, the Carpenters recorded and performed Merry Christmas Darling http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nR34VJ7HWqU while Steve Lawrence and Eydie Gourmet did Hurry Home for Christmas http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nR34VJ7HWqU, and Bing Crosby did the playful Mele Kalikimaka (Hawaiian Christmas Song) http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hEvGKUXW0iI.

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But then some are and because of the theological message of Christmas cannot be otherwise. Julie Andrews version of O Come All Ye Faithful  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GdJ6ZdHaFvg, Jim Neighbors http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bQKPIplA8Gc and Andy Williams both performed Do You Hear What I Hear? http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Em0P9zb3a3k all epitomize that part of the music of the season.

Some singers, in fact many were able to perform religious and non-religious Christmas songs. Vicki Carr sang It Came Upon a Midnight Clear http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Yd4qLxVv_9I and I Still Believe in Christmas  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kFsel3waJkM.

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Judy Garland sang a memorable version of Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5g4lY8Y3eoo in the movie Meet Me In St Louis. The song has been recorded by many others including Helen Reddy  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hXKQYXiXBqA and Billy Joel, an avowed Atheist who has recorded a number of Christmas or Christmas themed songs including his version of this same song http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=B4LQmQompMs 

Engelbert Humperdinck sang Star of Bethlehem http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rBLOJce1EvY and the Ray Conniff Singers performed a version of the Carol of the Bells http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mQBpmaIRaiU . Sammy Davis Jr recorded Christmas All Over the World http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CW8WyWkV-Gk and Carly Simon did Christmas is Almost Here http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=O0fG9d3y99c

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Of the more implicitly Christian hymns recored Judy Collins performed Joy to the World http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=q_JyZUnMzDQ while Johnny Mathis performed What Child is This? http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YwNb3RQYIAQ and Anne Murray who I have always loved to hear, sang O Come All Ye Faithful http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_oUAnGcT–A while James Taylor performed the spiritual Go Tell it on the Mountain http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ifEUn1AxDYo.

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Other songs that speak of the more human and universal aspects of missing loved ones at Christmas include Roberta Flack’s The 25th of Last December http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RwuscC7VowY Michael Buble did Christmas, Baby Please Come Home http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iIOFMmkrfmo and Joni Mitchell who performed the haunting River http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fCwlEnuXYsE. Robert Goulet sang The Christmas I Spend With You http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Fko2GVOPbXI Carole King did Love for Christmas http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8jgsQKJwcdQ

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Perhaps the most famous and popular easy listening Christmas song is Bing Crosby’s White Christmas, which he performed in the movie of the same name http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9Yg5g_Xl-uU Many others have sung this classic including Tony Bennett who teamed up to sing it in concert with Placido Domingo http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jd0QQmXKAqY . The song is the most popular Christmas song ever written and has been recorded by thousands of artists.

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I think the irony behind White Christmas which makes it such a unique part of the American Christmas story is that it was written by Irving Berlin a Jewish immigrant from Russia. The song is not religious at all, but an almost sorrowful longing for bygone days. The fact that it was released just over two weeks after the attack on Pearl Harbor made it even more poignant.  Honestly I can’t think of any country where the most popular Christmas song of all time would be written by someone who was not a Christian. I don’t about you but that is something that makes me thankful to be an American. Now if we American Christians could only accord others the same respect and appreciation.

I could go on, in fact as I listen to different artists and songs I can think of many more that could be mentioned. The fact that all cannot be mentioned, including some that may be actually better than some on this list points to the amazing diversity of Christmas and the holiday season in the United States.

So with that I will say good night and until tomorrow my friends,

Peace

Padre Steve+

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Padre Steve’s Favorite Halloween Horror

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“Without me, Transylvania will be as exciting as Bucharest… on a Monday night.” Count Dracula (George Hamilton) on being banished from his castle by Romanian Communists in Love at First Bite

Yes it is Halloween, or All Hallow’s Eve and time for me to share my favorite Halloween horror films with you. Horror movies can be scary, but they can also be funny and even kind of klitschy. I think that is why they have such an enduring fascination to so many people, including me. I love horror, suspense, science fiction and the paranormal. They tend to be less scary than driving to work on the local interstate highways in the Hampton Roads area or going to a Mall or Wal-Mart.

Horror films have always fascinated me, especially the ones that are not simply built around a bunch of slashing and mindless killing and brutality.

Some of the films I like are more dramatic and suspenseful while others are more on the funny side of the horror genre. Not that there is anything wrong with that. There are hundreds of not thousands of horror films out there and many are variations on a theme and many are so bad I will not watch them. That being said there are some that I cannot miss.

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I love the whole vampire and Dracula genre. The Bela Lugosi Dracula was interesting but the klitchshy Hammer Dracula films with Christopher Lee were always my favorites. It was always fun for me to watch how some idiot managed to find a way to spill some blood on Dracula’s ashes and re-animate the Prince of Darkness. Of course the fact that Lee’s Dracula was always going after some really good looking girl made the series predicable and enjoyable.

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The female versions of the Dracula films produced by Hammer Productions were even more enjoyable for a teen age boy. Ingrid Pitt played a great Carmilla Karnstein, a seductive female vampire who preyed on great looking women in The Vampire Lovers.  In the vampire genre Quentin Tarintino’s Dusk ‘Til Dawn was pretty good and Wesley Snipes Blade series was enjoyable too.

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I think that the horror film that still gives me the creeps is another vampire film, Stephen King’s Salem’s Lot. I saw it the first time while visiting my wife’s cousin who lived in the Netherlands back in 1985. It was on Dutch television in English and subtitled in Dutch.

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Now I admit these are not the best Dracula movies, but they are entertaining. I liked Interview with a Vampire, Dracula (1979) starring Frank Langella, Sir Lawrence Olivier and Donald Pleasance, and Bram Stoker’s Dracula (1992) starring Gary Oldham and Winona Ryder were all actually better films.  Other films in the vampire genre that I like included Fright Night and The Lost Boys.

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There were parodies as well, my favorites being Love at First Bite starring George Hamilton, Susan Saint James, Richard Benjamin, Dick Shawn and Arte Johnson, Mel Brooks’ Dracula Dead and Loving it starring Leslie Nielsen and Blackula, a blacksploitation parody starring William Marshall.

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Frankenstein was okay but I love Mel Brooks’ parody Young Frankenstein starring Gene Wilder, Marty Feldman, Madeline Kahn, Terri Garr and Peter Boyle.

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Then there are the Satanic or Demonic possession and oppression films based on actual events. There is the classic The Exorcist and more recently The Conjuring. Both kept me on the edge of my seat and were scarier at home than they were in the theater. Another film which I like but which might better fit into the Science Fiction or loosely based on real events category is The Mothman Prophecies. 

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Zombie films have never been that interesting to me but the original Night of the Living Dead is a classic that I will watch and I did enjoy the parody Shaun of the Dead starring Simon Pegg.

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In a different class is the cult classic Army of Darkness a sequel to the Evil Dead films.  In this Bruce Campbell plays a hardware store employee who gets transported through time to a medieval castle being attacked by a ghoulish army. It really is a classic full of great one liners and action. I think one of my favorite lines is where Campbell’s character “Ash” answers the leader of the dead army when he is asked who he is: “Well hello Mister Fancypants. Well, I’ve got news for you pal, you ain’t leadin’ but two things, right now: Jack and shit… and Jack left town.”

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When I was in junior high school, high school and college a lot of different horror films came out which became cult classics which spawned sequel after sequel. There was the original Halloween starring Jamie Lee Curtis, Friday the 13th, Nightmare on Elm Street and the Texas Chainsaw Massacre. I never got into the sequels because none of them were as good as the originals.

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Another film that I found positively frightening was Invasion of the Body Snatchers starring Donald Sutherland. It was a remake of an earlier film but the whole concept of falling asleep and being replaced with a pod person freaked me out.

Like I said at the beginning of the article, there are thousands of horror films out there. I could go on and mention more but to do so would be to repeat variations on similar themes or to stretch the genre to include various murder mysteries with horror or demonic elements such as Silence of the Lambs or films which are more appropriately classed as Science Fiction such as Alien.

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In a totally different category are the Ghostbusters comedies and Scrooged. Both comedies with classic horror twists. I love those movies.

So as Halloween winds down and the trick or treaters go home, while you are snuggled in your bed with your love, turn on the television and find something scary to watch. After all, tomorrow is Friday.

Peace

Padre Steve+

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