Forgiveness Will Not Change the Past, but It Could Change the Future: Dealing with the Aftermath of a Painful Experience

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,
As my regular readers know I went through a decidedly difficult time over the past coupled of months. If you are a new reader or have not read the post in which I wrote about this experience let me explain.
In mid-June I substituted for one of my chaplains so that he could have a weekend off. The preached from Second Corinthians chapter five regarding Christian responsibility towards other people and the creation. I discussed how the Trump Administration’s border policies were in opposition to that. I explained that the words used by the President and administration about darker skinned immigrants and refugees was dehumanizing. That the use of terms such as “animals” and ‘infestations” while labeling them all as “rapists” and “criminals” of the worst kind was little different than what others had done in the past. I used a number of historical examples; including the American experiences dealing with the extermination and forced relocation of native American tribes, slavery, Jim Crow, the incarceration of Japanese Americans in World War II, and the Nazi treatment of Jews and others deemed “subhuman.” I quoted Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Martin Niemöller, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., and others to emphasize that such treatment and demonization was in complete opposition to the teaching of the Gospel and the Christian tradition.
It was probably one of the most powerful and heartfelt sermons that I have ever preached. One of the chapel members present told one of my staff chaplains that it was like “hearing the voice of God thunder from the pulpit.” 
For that I had a member of the congregation try to have me tried by court martial for conduct unbecoming an officer and contempt towards the President of the United States. The man accused me of many things including comparing the President to Adolf Hitler and law enforcement officers to the Nazis. I did no such thing but that is what I was accused of. I was investigated and had to retain an attorney. The investigation confirmed that I had not done what the man said and exonerated me.
Since then I have tried to work through my feelings and emotions and decide what to do. I talked with a number of people and decided that I would need to address the subject before the congregation at a future point.
So I did that today and am pleased to report that my talk with the congregation regarding went well. I was very nervous and fearful going in to the service and during the half hour or so before the service while sequestered in my office I thought that I was going to throw up. 
 
I talked for a little over 8 minutes and humbly explained what happened without any judgment on the man or the congregation. In fact I confessed my fear about even coming before them. I explained that of all the things in my 37 year career that this was the most difficult, including going to combat, getting shot at and dealing with PTSD. I explained that I never expected anything like that. I explained that I had thought that even if someone disagreed with the sermon that they would come to me as is taught in the words of Christ and the writings of the Apostle Paul and not try to have me punished by attempting to have me punished. 
 
I explained that I had worked through my anger but that I was still hurt and that I did not feel safe with the congregation. I invited anyone that wanted to see me either after the service or make a time with me to talk over coffee, lunch, or a beer at a later time. I discussed forgiveness and remarked that even though I had gotten through the anger and forgave my accuser and those who turned their backs on me after that service that the pain remained and that I did not feel safe or that I was fully able to trust them. I also asked forgiveness for anything that I might have said to offend anyone present. I noted that forgiveness will not change the past but could very well change the future. 
Likewise I explained that during my anger I had considered taking revenge on my accuser by suing him in civilian court for libel and defamation of character. But I realized that if I did so that it would not be helpful to anyone. When I was binge watching The Blacklist over the past few weeks I remembered a comment made by Raymond Reddington. He said: “Revenge isn’t a passion. It’s a disease. It eats at your mind and poisons your soul.” 
When I completed my remarks, I exited the pulpit and handed the service back to my Protestant pastor and waited in my office.
 
The response was good, I don’t think that I could have asked for more. A number of people came to me after the service and were very kind. Two of them were men who in their interviews with the investigating officer refuted all of the accusations against me. The response of the people who came to me was quite touching and very encouraging. 
Since I do not know what the man who made the charges looks like I do not know if he was in attendance today. At the end of my talk I announced my plans to retire and that I may not preach again at this chapel, but that the decision was not final. Those who visited with me all told me that they wanted me to continue to preach the truth, all of them said that it was badly needed in our chapel if it were to survive. One elderly couple said that the congregation was dying. I haven’t decided if I will preach again because I am not there yet, but I haven’t ruled it it. 
As far as forgiveness, I do forgive, but it is a process, but it is impossible to forget. Maybe that is one thing that makes us human. The memories of such experiences will always be a part of us, and just maybe that is a good thing. That may sound strange because so many people say to “forgive and forget” as if that is part of scripture or a Biblical command. In fact that the phrase is not found anywhere in the Bible. I believe that we should forgive but that because we cannot forget we should remember what was done so that we learn from it and are able to move on and do better ourselves.
So for tonight I thank all of my readers for your kind words, thoughts, and prayers over the past two months.
Until tomorrow.
Peace
Padre Steve+
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What a Long Strange Trip it’s Been: This Navy Chaplain’s Work Becomes Part of an Army Operational Manual

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

I received word yesterday of something that I think is really cool. I was asked by the Army Combined Arms Directorate at Fort Leavenworth for permission to include an adaptation of a portion of my Gettysburg text as a one page vignette for the new edition of Army Doctrine Publication 5-0, The Operations Process. This will be published in January 2019 and gives the Army permission to use it in this as well as other Army and Joint publications for twenty years.

This is kind of a big thing for me. Now it will not generate any royalties, but it will get my work out to a much larger audience than I have ever reached before. The publication of this vignette in the publication may end up in getting my Gettysburg trilogy in print of other publishers and actually published. The trilogy is very different than most accounts of the battle due to its focus on biography as well as overall operational and tactical decision making within the scope of the battle narrative.

You might wonder what difference of a vignette like this in such a publication makes on the readers who in this case are the current and future leaders of the Army. Let me tell you. When I was a new Army Lieutenant in 1983 the Army published FM 22-100, Military Leadership. For a field manual it was one of the best ever written. In it there was a vignette about Colonel Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain at Little Round Top during the Battle of Gettysburg.

The vignette captured my imagination and it was hard to believe that some thirty years later as a Navy Chaplain and historian that I would be leading the Gettysburg Staff Ride at the Joint Forces Staff College. It inspired me to take seriously the human dynamic in war and in history. Anyone who has read this blog for any length of time can attest to how serious I take the human factor whether it be in military history, politics, religion, civil rights, and even baseball.

The new edition of ADP 100-5 will be standard reading for NCOs, as well as junior and senior officers, and operational planners. Because of the Army’s oversize role in producing doctrine for the Joint force it will likely be a part of Marine Corps and Joint planning manuals and courses. For a Navy Chaplain and historian at the end of a 38 year military career which included 17 1/2 years in the Army, National Guard, and Army Reserve this is a big honor. In the words of Jerry Garcia and the Grateful Dead in their classic song Truckin’ “What a long strange trip it’s been.”

The vignette as written will include segments of my text that I published on this blog. According to the Army the vignette will read like this:

Collaboration: Meade’s Council of War

In June 1863, General Robert E. Lee prepared the Army of Northern Virginia for a second invasion of the North. Moving through the Shenandoah Valley and north toward Harrisburg, Lee’s Army made contact with the Army of the Potomac near the town of Gettysburg on July 1, 1863. Day one of the battle saw initial Confederate success. By the afternoon of day two, Major General George Meade (who had just recently assumed command of the Army of the Potomac) had moved the bulk of his force into defensive positions on the high ground south of the city. The battlefield was set.   

Late in the afternoon of July 2, Lee launched heavy assaults on both the Union’s left and right flanks. Fierce fighting raged at Little Round Top, the Wheatfield, Devil’s Den, Culp’s Hill, and Cemetery Hill. Despite heavy losses, the Army of the Potomac held their lines. That evening, Meade reported back to General-in-Chief Henry Halleck, “The enemy attacked me about 4 P.M. this day…and after one of the severest contests of the war was repulsed at all points.” Meade ended his message: “I shall remain in my present position to-morrow, but am not prepared to say until better advised of the condition of the army, whether operations will be of an offensive or a defensive character.” Having essentially made his decision, Meade summoned his corps commanders and chief of intelligence to assess the condition of the army and to hear from his commanders on courses of action for the next day.

The meeting began around 9 P.M. in which Brigadier General John Gibbon noted, “was at first very informal and in the shape of a conversation.” The meeting lasted about two hours as General Meade listened intently to his subordinates’ discussion.  The tradition in such meetings or council of war is a discussion and then a vote by the officers on the course of action. Meade’s Chief of Staff Major General Butterfield posed three questions:

 “Under existing circumstances, is it advisable for this army to remain in its present position, or retire to another nearer its base of supplies?

 It being determined to remain in present position, shall the army attack or wait the attack of the enemy?

 If we wait attack, how long?”

Meade’s commanders responded from junior to senior in rank. All wanted to remain on the field another day, but none favored to attack. When the discussion concluded Meade decided that the question was settled and the troops would remain in position.  The two-hour discussion and vote formed consensus of the commanders and improved their confidence, resulting in the outcome Meade was seeking-to stay and fight.

What I have stressed in my text and teaching about Gettysburg is just how George Gordon Meade actively sought the input and collaboration of his Generals while Confederate General Robert E. Lee did nothing of the sort at Gettysburg. I think that at every level of leadership that Union leaders were much more involved and able to adapt to a rapidly changing situation which any leadership failure could had led to an epic battlefield disaster. George Meade, who had just taken command of the Army of the Potomac on June 28th set the tone for his commanders.

Sadly, among many students of the battle and Civil War history buffs, Meade gets little recognition. But without his leadership and active direction of the battle and trust in his subordinates the battle of Gettysburg might likely become a great defeat for the Union. I do not think that it would have led to a Confederate victory in the war, but it would have complicated the Union War effort.

If you are interested in reading more from the articles used in this vignette please go to the following link on this blog.

“A Council of War: Meade and His Generals Decide to Stay and Fight at Gettysburg July 2nd 1863.” Padre Steve’s World. https://padresteve.com/2014/04/25/a-council-of-war-meade-and-his-generals-decide-to-stay-and-fight-at-gettysburg-july-2nd-1863/

Have a great night,

Peace,

Padre Steve+

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Filed under civil war, Gettysburg, History, leadership, life, Loose thoughts and musings, Military, us army

History, Trump, and the Unthinkable


Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

There are times that is terrifying to be a historian who has specialized in the study of tyrannical regimes. This is the case with me. Even since my undergraduate study working under Dr. Helmut Heussler at California State University Northridge I have studied the transition of society from democracy to dictatorship. While my studies then and ever since focused on the rise of National Socialism in Germany, the fact is that what happened in Germany was not unique, it is a part of the human condition and the people of any country can find themselves under the foot of a dictatorship if the conditions are right. I believe that conditions in the United States have never been more ripe for dictatorship than they are today.

Historian Timothy Snyder wrote:

“The European history of the twentieth century shows us that societies can break, democracies can fall, ethics can collapse, and ordinary men can find themselves standing over death pits with guns in their hands. It would serve us well today to understand why.”

This is especially frightening since the Republican majority Congress turns a blind eye to his malfeasance and ignores their duty under the Constitution, and his cult like supporters, especially supposedly conservative Christians have become fanatical in their support. The President’s constant encouragement violence and vengeance against any critic by his supports is being being answered by them. The incidents are far too numerous to mention here, and I have been one of them in my own chapel congregation try to get me tried by court martial by lying about what I said in a sermon.

In all truth I believe that the President’s base inclination is that of an authoritarian even if he lacks any underlying ideology, except perhaps the racism that is emblematic of his words and his administrations policies and actions. The demonization of darker skinned people, be they Mexicans and Central Americans, Africans, Arabs and South Asians, and American Blacks. Calling Mexicans “rapists,” equating all Mexicans or Central Americans with a violent gang called MS-13, and referring to refugees as an “infestation.” These are just some of the racist tropes that he like so many tyrants before him and today use to dehumanize their victims and make it that much easier for his supporters, law enforcement officials, and maybe someday military personnel to commit crimes against humanity or war crimes.

As chaos continues to engulf the House of Trump, as investigations regarding Trump’s relations with Russia gain steam, and as his poll numbers crash, I become more concerned that the unthinkable will happen.

partridge if you can't be a dictator

I believe that during the past few days we have been witnessing the beginning of the unthinkable. The escalation of the President’s attacks on the First Amendment in his attacks on the Press, and the attacks on career intelligence and law enforcement officials beginning with former CIA Director John Brennan with a host of others in his sight. His actions are unprecedented, they make those of Richard Nixon pale in comparison. The man is already off the reservation and there is no telling what he will do next. Thankfully, many former senior intelligence and military officials are speaking out. I expect many more to add their voices but given the President’s use of lies and propaganda to muddy the waters while both inciting his followers and demoralizing his opponents to inaction I am not sure that their voice will be enough.

I think that first there will be an event that triggers a national emergency whether contrived or coincidental that will result in a Reichstag Fire moment. This will allow the President to use already existing provisions in the Patriot Act or any number of Cold War era Executive Orders to suspend Constitutional rights, and maybe even suspend Congress or cancel elections to claim dictatorial powers. It may be major terrorist attack or a war but it will be enough to either sway some of his opponents into supporting him during the emergency or paralyze the opposition against him based on the fear of what happened.

I believe that if or when one or the other happen that the Trump regime will use it to suspend civil rights and liberties and maybe even suspend Congress and the courts in the name of security. Sadly, I think that in such a case that very few people would resist. Of course the 35-40% of people that would support him as he said, even if he shot someone on 5th Avenue would be at the forefront, but many other people would follow all because they are afraid and desire security more than freedom.

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Once that happens there will be a Night of the Long Knives event where troublesome opponents, or even supporters with a different agenda are arrested and killed in an extrajudicial manner.

Now this is not all Trump’s doing. For the last three decades many of those that now support him, especially the leaders of the Religious Right, Fox News, and radio and internet demagogues have prepared the ground for his rise. He merely stepped into a movement that was ready made for his demagoguery.

This is why all Americans, no matter if they are conservative or liberal need to be alert and awake to the times. Even the President’s supporters are not safe should they differ with him or grow a conscience when friends or family are targeted by the President and his administration.

Snyder, warned us in his book On Tyranny. He wrote:

“Be calm when the unthinkable arrives. Modern tyranny is terror management. When the terrorist attack comes, remember that authoritarians exploit such events in order to consolidate power. The sudden disaster that requires the end of checks and balances, the dissolution of political parties, the suspension of freedom of expression, the right to a fair trial, and so on, is the oldest trick in the Hitlerian book. DO NOT FALL FOR IT.”

Human beings are the one constant in history, and human nature is very consistent when it comes to how we respond when under attack. One only has to think of the fear that followed the 9-11 attacks and the willingness of people to give the government vast new powers, including an authorization for the use of military for against Al Qaida which has not been updated or supplemented since 2001, despite the fact that many of the places our military are operating in today have nothing to do with Al Qaida.

I believe that the chances of such a think happening have gone up exponentially since the President and the Executive branch have not filled many critical ambassadorships, as well as thousands of key billets in the State Department, the Department of Defense, the Department of Justice, and the Department of Homeland Security.  Likewise, with its callous treatment of our allies and lack of concern about Russian interference in American elections, and in Europe the administration has weakened us at home and abroad making the country vulnerable to cyber attacks on our cities, infrastructure, and election systems, foreign or domestic terrorists, or even direct military action against American military installations or ships overseas, or against our allies.

This is a very dangerous time and every day I wake up wondering if this will be the day that our Republic as we knew it dies. I do not know if this will be the result of a war with North Korea or Iran, or possibly a major terror attack, but as things spiral out of control I cannot shake the feeling that we are going to have our Reichstag Fire moment, and that we will not rise to the challenge. Instead I think that most Americans will give up freedom in the name of security simply because that is human nature and has been demonstrated throughout history on every continent. James Madison noted:

“The means of defence against foreign danger have been always the instruments of tyranny at home. Among the Romans it was a standing maxim to excite a war, whenever a revolt was apprehended. Throughout all Europe, the armies kept up under the pretext of defending, have enslaved the people.”

Now is a time that we must all be awake and aware of what is going on in our country and the world. The storm clouds are building and we most be cognizant of the times or be engulfed and overwhelmed when the unthinkable arrives. That may not be pleasant to contemplate, but it is necessary.

I would like to believe that I will be proven wrong, and honestly I want to be proven wrong because I do not want our nation to have to endure war, terrorism, and  tyrannical despotism.

So, until tomorrow I wish you a good day,

Peace,

Padre Steve+

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You Have to Make Choices and be Happy with Them

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Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

Today was an exhausting day. Last night I found out that one of the military personnel that I had served with in a previous assignment many years ago was in a bad way. It was already well after midnight but since I didn’t have his phone number I sent him a personal message on a social media site. I asked him to call me and gave him my number. I cannot divulge any details but he was struggling and our conversation lasted a long time. I didn’t get to sleep until almost 3 AM. But the good thing is that he is getting help at the VA and I am sure that he will be okay. But his trust in me was a validation of the work that I do, and will continue to do for the people that I have served with for the rest of my life, long after I retire from the Navy next year.

Unfortunately before I went to bed I found my wife’s car keys in my pants. I decided to go hang them on the key rack downstairs. I was tired and wasn’t paying attention, didn’t keep a grip on the railing and slipped on the second or third stair from bottom and jammed my left leg and less badly my right leg. I hurt like a son of a bitch. I ended up getting less than three hours of very uncomfortable sleep and when I swung  my leg out of be was jolted by excruciating pain.

It would be that this morning I had to get up early to cover a number of meetings that lasted until noon. I had to limp to those meetings and in the midst of fighting off the sleep monster and trying to keep myself in a position that my legs didn’t hurt. After my meetings I limped back to my car and the office and handled before driving to the Naval Medical Center ER.

The ER and the radiology techs were great, despite bending me into positions that made me scream. The good thing was that they found no broken bones. I have some bruising on my femur, and have some pulled muscles and sprains and they discovered that I have some arthritis in my knees, hips, and ankles. No doubt from all of my running, athletic injuries, and from lugging around too much gear in criss crossing Al Anbar Province back in 2007-2008, and far too many field exercises in the Army and while serving with the Marines.

That made for a very long day, I left the ER about 5 PM and drove to my favorite local German restaurant, the Bier Garden, in Portsmouth to avoid rush hour and the pain in the ass known getting through the Downtown Tunnel, but I digress…

I usually have the Sauerbraten with a Semmel Knodel and red cabbage or sauerkraut, or sometimes their Bockwurst. Both are great and their rotating beer selections of German, European, and American craft beers is wonderful, But today I had their Ruben on German sourdough bread. I haven’t had that in a long time and and it is still to die for. The wonderful owner and operator of the Bier Garden is a German lady named Hannelore. She is an absolute doll, Judy and I love her to death.

But while I was out I was able to read the comics and check the news only to find that the President had stripped former CIA director’s security clearance and is looking at doing so to others. The interesting thing as that of those he is looking at doing this to none have committed any crimes, they are simply critics. Of course the reason that these men and women retain their clearances is not to give them access to information when they leave the organization, but rather if their expertise is needed that they can be used to help the agencies that they once ran.

The same is true for military personnel who leave the service. It is a pain in the ass to start a new clearance and takes time, that’s why the government allows such men and women to maintain clearances. It was interesting to note that the one person not being looked at to have their clearance revoked was an actual convicted criminal, Trump’s first National Security Advisor, former General Michael Flynn. I find that fascinating, only non-criminal critics are being looked at while an actual criminal is not. This leads me to believe that this unprecedented action was done to silence not just Brennan, but all critics. But then I have recently experienced the kind of fanatical vengeance from a Trump Cultist parishioner that tried to get me tried by court martial for a sermon. So I understand the what John Brennan is going through, but I digress…

Anyway, when I was done with dinner and a couple of marvelous beers, I limped to the car and went home to Judy and the the Papillon puppies and have been binge watching The Blacklist. It may not be much but I am happy. It was a fascinating day,, I got to reflect on the good things that I have been able to do in my career, muse on my current situation, think about what I will say to the congregation that the man who tried to get me tried by court martial this weekend, and be thankful for the people that I now work with, as well as Judy and the our Minnie, Izzy, and Pierre. So I didn’t make Captain or get any of the assignments, except the Staff College that I wanted after I made Commander, but Raymond Reddington once said:

“You can’t do every silly thing you want to in life. You have to make choices and be happy with them.”

I have to say that I am really learning to be happy with those choices, even the ones that were forced upon me and even with the recent experience with my parishioner. So have a great night,

Peace,

Padre Steve+

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The Broken Fragments of Antique Legends and the Kaleidoscopic Present

Twain
Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

Since I am still enjoying a time of reflection following the submission of my retirement request from the Navy I am re-posting an article from about a year ago which I still think is relevant to today. 

Peace

Padre Steve+

I am trying to place what is going on in the Trump White House, the country, and the world in some frame of reference for some time now. There are many historical parallels to draw from and make analogies, but like all analogies they tend to break down at some point, none are perfect, but some tend to resonate more than others. Mark Twain wrote “History never repeats itself, but the Kaleidoscopic combinations of the pictured present often seem to be constructed out of the broken fragments of antique legends.” 

In the Trump world I see fragments of the worlds of Richard Nixon, of Kaiser Wilhelm II, King Leopold of Belgium, Adolf Hitler, and Pierre Laval; of of the Robber Barons, the owners of the Titanic, and other leaders going back to antiquity. I have written about some of those parallels, even recently; however the past few days of turmoil have caused me to step back a bit as I try to find the right manner in which to write about them.

Marcus Tillius Cicero wrote something that in the midst of the self-inflicted chaos of the Trump administration that we should try to heed right now. I wish that the President would stop for a brief moment to ponder before he does something incredibly rash that leads him and the nation to disaster. Cicero wrote: “To be ignorant of what occurred before you were born is to remain always a child. For what is the worth of human life, unless it is woven into the life of our ancestors by the records of history?”

So I am reading and researching and trying to make sense of the madness that we are all witnesses to, and if we do not speak out complicit in.

 

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Raymond Reddington, Me, and the Forgiveness of Sins

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Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

In spite of being very busy working in the house and going  back to work to deal with the crisis d’jour I have been very reflective about all I have been through over the past few months. Unlike past times of reflection this has been a rather uplifting experience of grace and not a de-evolution into a morbid state of moroseness.

As I wrote on Saturday I drafted and sent up my retirement letter today for my Commanding Officer’s endorsement. I also let my detailer, the officer who manages officer assignments know that I was putting in my papers so he can plan to replace me. I also let the men and . It was a strange but very freeing. I will have much to do to get ready for that day about a year from now but knowing that I can begin working on everything that I need to accomplish. There is much to do but I am at peace and really looking forward to what comes next, whatever it may be.

Due to a situation dealing with my Catholic congregation  I am having to do a town hall meeting to explain howe things work to all of my faith group leaders and contractors on Sunday afternoon. Thus I will be going in to the chapel on Sunday and I will make an appearance before my Protestant congregation to discuss my feelings about the member that tried to get me sent to court martial. I have finally been able to deal with the anger from that experience but the pain is still there. At least I am in a better place to talk about it and know now that I won’t do anything to blow the situation up.

This experience has taught me something about grace, forgiveness, and trust, but I digress…

The fact is that I have a tremendous ability to dwell upon injustices and I have a terrible time with forgiveness. I do really love the concept and as a Christian I have no idea of how Jesus managed to forgive nor the great saints of every faith who managed to live lives full of grace and forgiveness have managed to do so. It probably goes back to my Irish-Scottish DNA, the DNA that can make one a hilarious hoot one minute and a brooding bore the next regardless of whether or not alcohol is involved.

But there is something that I have learned recently: forgiveness doesn’t require me to be dishonest about how I feel about something. I learned that from Raymond Reddington, and yes I have been binge-watching The Blacklist of late and I find Reddington’s grip on philosophy, religion, and the human condition to be quite fascinating. Reddington observed:

“Sins should be buried like the dead. Not that they may be forgotten but we may them and find our way forward nonetheless.”

Truthfully I don’t believe in the forgive and forget bullshit, it’s a nice thought, but our brains don’t work that way. We can forgive someone every day, but the memories will still be there. That’s what makes it so hard. That is why the Christian understanding of the forgiveness of since is so important and so difficult. It wasn’t meant to be easy or painless, but it might make a difference, as Reddington noted:

“A friend told me recently that forgiveness won’t change the past but could very well change their future. Apparently, everything is forgivable.” 

So that’s all for tonight. Yes I know there are many things going on that I can write about but right now I need to stay in this place for a moment.

Peace,

Padre Steve+

 

 

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