The Long Road: Nine Years of Padre Steve’s World

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

Tonight a short pause to reflect on the 9th anniversary of Padre Steve’s World, especially for my new readers who might not know how this blog came about.

The blog came out of a question my first shrink asked me as I was beginning to melt down with PTSD and TBI after my tour in Iraq which ended in February 2008. His question, “Well chaplain, what are you going to do with your your experience?” forced me to think, and get outside of myself.

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I certainly wasn’t in great shape, in fact I was falling apart. Chronic insomnia, nightmares, night terrors, depression, anxiety, hyper-vigilance, fear of everyday activities, all took their and my doctors trying different combinations of medicines, each with their own side effects, even while I was undergoing different psychiatric and neurological test. I was a total wreck and often impossible to be around. I was always on edge and prone to anger. I threw myself into work in the ICU sixty to one hundred hours a week depending on my call schedule. That didn’t help, and I got worse. It would take years to see measurable improvement, and even then, with periodic crashes, often connected to the deaths of friends, including those who suffered from what I suffered.

In contemplating my therapist’s question I knew that I wanted to share what I was going through, even while I was in the middle of it.

But there was a risk, and he pointed it out, and I had seen it before; anyone who opens up and talks of their brokenness when they themselves are supposed to be one of the “healers” often ends up ostracized by their community. Their fellow professionals frequently withdraw from them, old friends distance themselves, and sometimes their family lives fall apart. This happens to physicians, nurses, hospital corpsmen, mental health providers, law enforcement officers, as well as highly trained Special Forces, EOD, and other military professionals. It also happens to Chaplains.

Henri Nouwen wrote: “But human withdrawal is a very painful and lonely process, because it forces us to face directly our own condition in all its beauty as well as misery.” That happened to me, and I am better for it.  In the depths of my struggle I found a strange solace in the words of T.E. Lawrence who toward the end of his life wrote a friend: “You wonder what I am doing? Well, so do I, in truth. Days seem to dawn, suns to shine, evenings to follow, and then I sleep. What I have done, what I am doing, what I am going to do, puzzle and bewilder me. Have you ever been a leaf and fallen from your tree in autumn and been really puzzled about it? That’s the feeling.”

So that’s how things began. I wrote about what was going on with me. That included my spiritual struggles, as well as writing about baseball which is as much a part of my spirituality as anything. As I continued to write I began to address social and political issues, and then on to my real love about writing history.  I completed my second Master’s degree in military history a year after I started this blog.

My historical writings have been both educational because of the vast amount of research required, as well as therapeutic. In my reading, research, and writing, I discovered fellow travelers from history whose stories helped me find myself again, men with feet of clay, doubts, depression, often masked by triumph. My examples included T.E. Lawrence, Gouveneur Warren, Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain, Ulysses Grant, and William Tecumseh Sherman. I found a measure of comfort as well as solace in their lives, experience, and writings.

My immersion in history was further motivated by being able to teach and lead the Gettysburg Staff Ride at the Staff College for three and a half years. That is unusual for a chaplain, but I am an unusual chaplain, as one of my fellow professors said, “You’re a historian masquerading as a chaplain, not that there is anything wrong with that.” 

So that’s how, some 3,225 posts, and three draft books later I got to this point. Hopefully my first book, Mine Eyes Have Seen the Glory! Race, Religion, Politics, and Ideology in the Civil War Era get published sometime in the next year.

While I still suffer symptoms of PTSD I have stabilized for the most part, much of it I attribute to a decent combination of meds, a renewed love and friendship with my wife, and my Papillons Izzy and Pierre who are both therapy dogs in every sense of the word. Likewise there have been a few people who stood by me through thick and thin. I have expressed to them how much I appreciate them and because of them I really began to appreciate the words of William Tecumseh Sherman who noted: “Grant stood by me when I was crazy. I stood by him when he was drunk, now we stand together.” Since I have been both at times, I find that such camaraderie is more important than about anything else.

I still suffer from a lot of crazy dreams, nightmares, and occasional night terrors which are so physically violent that I trash around or even throw myself out of bed. Thankfully I haven’t physically hurt myself lately, or had to go to the emergency room as a result as I have on two occasions. I also remain somewhat hyper-vigilant, get anxious in crowded or confined spaces, and there are just some places that I avoid if at all possible. But that is life with PTSD.

I appreciate all the people who subscribe to this blog, those who follow it through social media sites like Facebook and Twitter, and who take the time to comment, as well as to provide words of encouragement. For that I thank all of you.

Have a great night,

Peace

Padre Steve+

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Filed under mental health, Military, PTSD, Tour in Iraq

With Malice Towards All and Charity Towards None: President’s Day and the Absence of Empathy in the Age of Trump

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Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

After four devastating years of Civil War Abraham Lincoln ended his Second Inaugural Address with these words:

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

Today is the second President’s Day that the United States has observed during the Trump Era. A year ago I really did hope that things would be different than they are today. and I do not think that President Trump could ever say or mean the words that Lincoln spoke on that day in March 1865, in fact he seems in his life, words, and actions to filled with malice towards all and charity towards none.

I had spent the year and a half before Mr. Trump’s election, even before most people considered him a serious candidate for the Republican nomination warning about the danger that he posed to the Constitution and to the Republic whose course it guides. But less than a month after his inauguration I expressed hopes that the man who I believed was a self-absorbed bully, a narcissist, and sociopath could somehow rise above all of that to be a man who could grow into the office.

I wrote:

“I would wish that Mr. Trump would have a sense of empathy for others. I don’t doubt his business acumen, or his ability to read weakness in others, nor his ability to demean, threaten, and humiliate people. He has wealth, celebrity, and now he is in reality the President of the most powerful country in the world. He seems to have everything, and at the same time he seems to have nothing, his life seems empty of almost everything that makes us human. Jesus said, “What does it profit a man to gain the whole world, but lose his soul?… I really do hope that he finds friendship, comes to know fraternity, gains prudence and wisdom, and develops a sense of empathy, if not for the country, for him, his wife, and young son….”

I really wanted to be proven wrong in my assessment of him, but the past year has shown that he is incapable of transcending his pathological narcissism and basic hatred of humanity. Every speech, every interview, every tweet of the past year has driven that home. Even this week as the nation mourned the deaths of seventeen people in a mass murder at Douglas High School in Parkland Florida, Mr. Trump made the event all about himself as he attacked the FBI blaming their failure to stop the attack on the investigation into the now proven Russian interference in the 2016 election; an investigation that is getting ever closer to him.

The list of scandals involving Mr. Trump, including affairs with porn stars and Playboy models: coupled with attacks on individual Americans, political opponents regardless of their party affiliation, the press, and long standing allies while embracing dictators and authoritarians around the world, all the while threatening war, even nuclear war in Korea and against Iran. Then there are his attacks on Congress, the judiciary, the Justice Department, Federal Law enforcement personnel and agencies, and American intelligence services.

If that was all it would be damning enough, but Mr. Trump demonstrates in his words and actions that he has no empathy for the victims of abuse, racism, or even the wife of an American soldier killed in action in Niger. However he can defend Nazis and White Supremacists after Charlottesville as “very fine people” and former White House aide and serial spouse abuser Rob Porter as “having done a very good job” and defended him against the allegations. Even last week he appeared to blame the victims of the Florida shooting for not doing enough to stop the shooter before they were killed.

I do not know why Mr Trump is incapable of empathy. As I speculated last year I think it may be how he was brought up. Whatever the reason for his actions and behavior he exhibits enough of the traits of Narcissistic Personality Disorder as well as Sociopathic Personality Disorder to be truly scary and disturbing.

When I watch the President in action I am reminded of the words of Dr. Gustave Gilbert, a psychologist who was detailed to the major war criminals at the Nuremberg Trials wrote in his book Nuremberg Diary: 

“In my work with the defendants (at the Nuremberg Trails 1945-1949) I was searching for the nature of evil and I now think I have come close to defining it. A lack of empathy. It’s the one characteristic that connects all the defendants, a genuine incapacity to feel with their fellow men. Evil, I think, is the absence of empathy.” 

I think that is what bothers me the most about President Trump; he has the genuine incapacity to feel with with his fellow men. Because of his position that portends bad things for all of us.

Until tomorrow,

Peace

Padre Steve+

 

 

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Filed under civil war, History, mental health, nazi germany, News and current events, Political Commentary

Thoughts and Prayers but No Action…

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

I am at loss for words when I hear members of Congress, the media, and others react to yet another massacre by men using military grade killing machines with the words “praying for the victims” or expressing their thoughts and sympathy for them while refusing to take any action I grow weary. Mind you, I do pray but I am reminded of how many times that the prophets of the Old Testament condemned people who prayed but did nothing about injustice, or the injustices that they themselves condoned, abetted, and took part in. Likewise, I am reminded of the words of James in his epistle that “faith without works is dead.”

Speaking of dead there are another seventeen people, including 14 children dead in Parkland, Florida, just the latest casualties in a speaking epidemic of gun violence where the perpetrators used various models of the AR-15 semi-automatic assault rifle, including weapons modified to fire on full automatic, and the vast majority of these crimes have been committed by Americans with no connection to Muslim terrorists. Targets have included schools, churches and other places of worship, movie theaters, concert venues, and businesses.

The number of attacks, their frequency, and their deadliness are all increasing, and all that happens in response from the politicians whose pockets are lined by the National Rifle Association, is to offer thoughts and prayers while loosening existing restrictions on gun ownership and weapon types, ammunition, and magazines. Likewise, the same politicians who turn the issue from guns to the mental health of the shooters are the same men and women who seek to reduce access to mental health care. The same politicians, pundits, and preachers that blame the crisis on the breakdown of American families are the ones who support economic policies that force both parents to have to work. The ones who,lay the blame on the educational system are those that reduce funding and eliminate the programs like music, art, literature, as well as vocational classes, and after school programs that broadened the minds and hopes of students.

All we get is thoughts and prayers coupled with an idolatrous worship of the Second Amendment which has been so twisted by its current supporters in ways that the men who wrote it would be appalled. Conservative columnist Brett Stephens recommended repealing the Second Amendment because of how the advances in weapons, and the difference between the situation of our country in 1787 versus today make it obsolete in its current form and interpretation.

Now I am not against guns nor gun ownership. I actually plan on getting my wife and I bolt-action carbines at some point for target shooting. That being said having served in the military for over 36 years and have qualified or familiarized on almost all of the personal or crew served weapons up to the .50 caliber machine gun the LAW, or Light Anti-Tank Weapon; of course that includes the M-16 and M-4 variants of the AR-15. I’m actually pretty good with them. Likewise, as a trauma department chaplain in two U.S. trauma centers, including Parkland Memorial Hospital in Dallas, and having seen the wounded in Iraq, I know the killing power of these weapons; I have seen the dead and mutilated bodies of adults and children. These weapons turn bones into dust and internal organs into jelly. The wounds created by the .223 caliber bullets of the AR 15 and its clones are ghastly. I have seen them up close and personal.

I fully agree with novelist Stephen King who remarked:

“Semi-automatics have only two purposes. One is so owners can take them to the shooting range once in awhile, yell yeehaw, and get all horny at the rapid fire and the burning vapor spurting from the end of the barrel. Their other use – their only other use – is to kill people”

I fully agree, I love shooting them on a rifle range and I love the smell of freshly expended 5.57 or .223 rounds. I like disassembling them, cleaning out the carbon, and putting them back together. When I was going through pre-deployment training on the way to Iraq I had no weapon because I was a chaplain, but I spent my time teaching other Navy and Air Force officers how to use and maintain their weapons. My assistant, who was dual armed on my suggestion with a pistol and an M-16 and I had an agreement when we were in country: if we got into a close combat situation he would pass me the pistol and get credit for anything I hit. Thankfully it never came to that but there were a number of situations in country where we both thought it might happen. Admittedly in our situation it would have been in self-defense but I don’t know if I could live with killing another human being, and yes we were shot at from a distance, on the ground and in the air, and when I was a teenager I was held up at gunpoint.

A lot of people are focusing on the AR-15 or the Russian AK47 or AK-74 assault rifles, but there are a lot of other weapons with similar capabilities that don’t look nearly as threatening which should be banned from civilian use or restricted to 5-10 round magazines rather than the 30-50 round magazines that are frequently used in mass killings, after all anyone using such weapons for anything than killing mass numbers of people shouldn’t need a bigger magazine. That includes personal defense, hunting, and target shooting.

Please do not forget that President Ronald Reagan supported the ban on assault weapons in 1992, after which the NRA led a decade long campaign against the “Jack booted government thugs who were coming to get our weapons.” That campaign succeeded in making sure that Congress decided to not renew the ban. Since then the NRA has done whatever it could to oppose or repeal common sense gun laws that would make it harder to own a weapon; make them less capable of mass killing by restricting magazine sizes and outlawing “bump stocks”; or keeping convicted criminals, the mentally ill, and even people linked to terrorist groups from acquiring such weapons.

Since 2016 such weapons have killed 169 people and wounded more than 500 others in mass shootings alone. That does not count the many times they are used in individual killings or ambushes targeting police officers.

The problem is not just the number of rounds that can be fired quickly from such weapons but the intended effects of their ammunition on human beings. This type of weapon was designed as a military weapon intended to inflict massive damage on enemy soldiers. People armed with them outgun the average patrol officer in any given situation making them perfect weapons for cop killers.

But even so despite the carnage, despite everything, the NRA, gun advocates, gun manufacturers, their lobbyists, and their bought and paid for political representatives fight any strengthening of gun laws.

For me this is a pro-life issue mostly driven by my faith and the practical experience of seeing exactly what happens to people when shot with this type of weapon. I saw an article today posted by a friend on Facebook about a Sheriff in Washington State who claimed that guns haven’t changed but society has in its glorification of violence. In a way he is correct, society has glorified violence, and that includes people who are vicariously living their lives as military heroes in very violent video games. But the fact is that the guns available to civilians have changed, they are far more lethal and available than they were in the overly mythologized days of the 1950s. When the AR-15 became available to civilians in the 1960s it was a game changer, it’s a inexpensive, lightweight, killing machine which enterprising individuals can convert to a fully automatic weapon using commercially available off the shelf kits.

In my opinion prayers are fine, provided that those who pray are willing to do the hard things required to stop the killing; and the first of those is either outlawing or severely restricting the ownership of weapons that have such capabilities.

Honestly I really don’t think that things will change until people of my generation and older who are the most ardent supporters of the NRA are gone from the scene and the young people who have been so often victimized by these weapons attain significant political power and put a stop the bullshit.

I know that I have friends and other readers that will disagree with me, but I can find no place in civilian society for these weapons other than on a shooting range.

Until tomorrow,

Peace

Padre Steve+

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Courage and Character: The Buffalo Soldier & the Red Tail: Generals Benjamin O. Davis and Benjamin O. Davis Jr.

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Brigadier General Benjamin O Davis in France 1944

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

In his I Have a Dream speech Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. gave all of us a vision of what can and in spite of what I see going on today will be the future of the people of this country:

“I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character.”

American History would not be the same without the life, work and prophetic ministry of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Dr. King was born in a time when most of the country was segregated when “separate by equal” was simply façade to cover the lie that in no way did African Americans have equal rights or privileges in the United States.

Dr King was born less than 60 years after the secession of the Southern states from the Union and the beginning of the American Civil War. Though that blood conflict had freed the slaves it had not freed African Americans from prejudice, violence and discrimination.  When Dr. King began his ministry and was thrust upon the national stage as the strongest voice for equal rights and protections for blacks the discrimination and violence directed towards blacks was a very real and present reality in much of the United States.

However there were cracks beginning to appear in the great wall of segregation in the years preceding Dr. King’s ascent to leadership as the moral voice of the country in the matter of racial equality. In baseball Jackie Robinson became the first African American player in Major League Baseball opening a door for others who would become legends of the game as well as help white America begin its slow acceptance of blacks in sports and the workplace.

Likewise the contributions of a father and son Brigadier General Benjamin O. Davis Sr. and General Benjamin O. Davis Jr. were advancing the cause of blacks in the military which eventually led to the desegregation of the military in 1948.  The impact of these two men cannot be underestimated for they were trailblazers who by their lives, professionalism and character blazed a trail for African Americans in the military as well as society.

Benjamin O. Davis Sr. was a student at Howard University when the USS Maine exploded and sank in Havana Harbor.  He volunteered for service and was commissioned as a temporary 1st Lieutenant in the 8th United States Volunteer Infantry. He was mustered out of service in 1899 but enlisted as a private in the 9th United States Cavalry one of the original Buffalo Soldiers regiments.  He enlisted as the unit clerk of I troop of 3rd Squadron and was promoted to be the squadron Sergeant Major.

Davis was commissioned while the unit was deployed to the Philippines and assigned to the 10th Cavalry.  He was assigned in various positions throughout his career including command, staff and instruction duties including as Professor of Military Science and Tactics in various ROTC programs.  He reached the rank of rank of temporary Lieutenant Colonel and Squadron Commander of 3rd and later 1st Squadron 9th Cavalry from 1917-1920 in the Philippines before reverting to the rank of Captain on his return as part of the post World War I reduction in force.

Davis continued to serve during the inter-war years and assumed command of the 369th Infantry Regiment New York National Guard in 1938. He was promoted to Brigadier General on 25 October 1940 becoming the first African American elevated to that rank in the United States Army and was assigned as Commander 4th Brigade 2nd Cavalry Division. He later served in various staff positions at the War Department and in France and was instrumental in the integration of the U.S. Military. He retired after 50 years service in 1948 in a public ceremony with President Harry S. Truman presiding. He was a member of the American Battle Monuments Commission from 1953-1961 and died in 1970.

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Colonel Davis with his son Cadet Benjamin O Davis Jr.

His son Benjamin O. Davis Jr. was appointed to West Point in 1932.  He graduated and was commissioned in 1936 graduating 35 out of 278, the fourth African American graduate of West Point. During his time at the Academy most of his classmates shunned him and he never had a roommate.  Despite this he maintained a dogged determination to succeed.  The Academy yearbook made this comment about him:

“The courage, tenacity, and intelligence with which he conquered a problem incomparably more difficult than plebe year won for him the sincere admiration of his classmates, and his single-minded determination to continue in his chosen career cannot fail to inspire respect wherever fortune may lead him.”

He was denied entrance to the Army Air Corps because of his race and assigned to the Infantry first to the all lack 24th Infantry Regiment at Ft Benning where he was not allowed in the Officers Club due to his race. Upon his commissioning the Regular Army had just 2 African American Line Officers, 2nd Lieutenant Davis and his father Colonel Davis.

After completion of Infantry School he was assigned as an instructor of Military Science and Tactics and the Tuskegee Institute.  In 1941 the Roosevelt Administration moved to create a black flying unit and Captain Davis was assigned to the first black class at the Tuskegee Army Air Field and in March 1942 one his wings as one of the first 5 African Americans to complete flight training.

In July 1942 he was assigned as Commanding Officer of the 99th Pursuit Squadron which served in North Africa and Sicily flying Curtiss P-40 Warhawks. He was recalled to the United States in September 1943 to command the 332ndFighter Group. However some senior officers attempted to prevent other black squadrons from serving in combat alleging that the 99th had performed poorly in combat. Davis defended his squadron and General George Marshall ordered an inquiry which showed that the 99th was comparable to white squadrons in combat and during a 2 day period over the Anzio beachhead the pilots of the 99thshot down 12 German aircraft.

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Colonel Benjamin O Davis Jr (left) with one of his Tuskegee Airmen

Davis took the 332nd to Italy where they transitioned to P-47 Thunderbolts and in July 1944 to the P-51 Mustang which were marked with a signature red tail. During the war, the units commanded by Davis flew more than 15,000 sorties, shot down 111 enemy planes, and destroyed or damaged 273 on the ground at a cost of 66 of their own planes.

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Their record against the Luftwaffe was outstanding and their protection of the bombers that they escorted was superb with very few bombers lost while escorted by them men that the Luftwaffe nicknamed the Schwarze Vogelmenschen and the Allies the Red-Tailed Angels or simply the Redtails. Davis led his Tuskegee Airmen to glory in the war and their performance in combat helped break the color barrier in the U.S. Military which was ended in 1948 when President Truman signed an executive order to end the segregation of the military. Colonel Davis helped draft the Air Force plan and the Air Force was the first of the services to fully desegregate.

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Lieutenant General Benjamin O Davis Jr

Colonel Davis transitioned to jets and let the 51st Fighter Interceptor Wing against Chinese Communist MIGs in the Korean War.  He was promoted to Brigadier General in 1954 and served in numerous command and staff positions. He retired in 1970 with the rank of Lieutenant General and was advanced to General while retired by President Clinton in 1998.  He died in 2002 at the age of 89.

The legacy of Benjamin O. Davis Senior and Benjamin O. Davis Junior is a testament to their character, courage and devotion to the United States of America. They helped pioneer the way for officers such as General Colin Powell and helped change this country for the better.  During times when discrimination was legal they overcame obstacles that would have challenged lesser men.  Benjamin O. Davis Junior remarked:

“My own opinion was that blacks could best overcome racist attitudes through achievements, even though those achievements had to take place within the hateful environment of segregation.”

Such men epitomize the selfless service of so many other African Americans who served the country faithfully and “by the content of their character” triumphed over the evil of racism and helped make the United States a more perfect union. That may seem threatened today with the open display of White Supremacy movements which are now openly being supported by certain Republican politicians, but it was worse before and in the words of the old spiritual, “we shall overcome.” 

Peace

Padre Steve+

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Filed under civil rights, History, leadership, Military, Political Commentary, world war one, world war two in europe

“The Most Bold and Daring Act of the Age” Stephen Decatur and the Defeat of the Barbary Pirates

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

Anyone who has followed my writings on this site knows that I love Naval history, especially that of the United States Navy. It was one of those subjects that I began reading about in grade school. Since I grew up as a Navy brat it is unsurprising that even after a detour of seventeen and a half years in the Army that I ended up in the Navy.

In 1803 the still very young United States Navy was two years into its campaign against the Barbary Pirates who sailed from Algiers, Tunis, Tripoli and Morocco.  The Navy, which had been disestablished after the Revolution was reestablished by Congress to protect American merchant sailors who were constantly being accosted by British, French, and Barbary ships, on March 27th 1793.

For years the United States like other nations had paid tribute to the rulers of the Rulers of the Barbary states for free passage of its ships in the Mediterranean, as well as hefty ransoms to free the sailors that were enslaved following the capture of their ships.  By 1800 tens of millions of dollars had been paid and in that year the amount of tribute paid was 20% of the government’s total revenue.

In 1801 the Pasha of Tripoli, Yusuf Karamanli demanded the payment of $225,000 tribute from the new President of the United States President Thomas Jefferson. In years past Jefferson had advised against payment of tribute believing that such payment only encouraged the Barbary States to continue their actions as he had when the French demanded similar tribute in 1797.  The anti-naval partisans and even his Republican allies had blocked his recommendations even though Secretary of State John Jay and President John Adams agreed with him.

These partisans insisted that tribute be paid irregardless of the effect on European trade or the fate of American seamen because they believed that the Atlantic trade and involvement in the “Old World” detracted from the westward expansion by diverting money and energy away from the west.  When Jefferson refused to pay tribute, Karmanli declared war on the United States by cutting down the flag at the US Consulate in Tripoli.

Jefferson sent a Naval small force to defend protect American ships and sailors and asked Congress to authorize him to do more as he did not believe that he had the Constitutional power to do more without Congressional approval. Despite the fact that Tripoli had declared war on the United States, Congress did not issue a declaration of war, but instead authorized Jefferson to “employ such of the armed vessels of the United States as may be judged requisite… for protecting effectually the commerce and seamen thereof on the Atlantic Ocean, the Mediterranean and adjoining seas.”

Jefferson sent the best of the United States Navy to deal with the situation and US Navy ships soon began to take a toll on the pirate vessels.  The squadron was composed of ships and commanded by officers that would become legend in the history of the Navy. Commanded by Commodore Edward Preble and included the Brig USS Argus, the Frigates USS Chesapeake, Constellation, Constitution, EnterprisePhiladelphia, Schooner Enterprise and Brig Syren.  Numerous young officers who would distinguish themselves in the following years served aboard the ships of the squadron.

One of the young officers was the 24 year old Captain of the 12 Gun Schooner USS Enterprise Stephen Decatur the son of a Navy Captain who had entered the Naval service as a Midshipman in 1798 and who had risen rapidly through the ranks due to his abilities and leadership. He was among the few officers selected to remain in service following the end of the Quasi-War with France.  By the time that he took command of Enterprise Decatur had already served as the First Lieutenant of the Frigates USS Essex and USS New York.  After an altercation with British officer while wintering in Malta he was sent home to command the new Brig of War USS Argus. He was ordered to bring her to Europe where he handed over command to Lieutenant Isaac Hull who would achieve fame in the War of 1812 as Commanding Officer of the USS Constitution.  Decatur was given command of Enterprise on when he detached from the Argus.

On December 23rd 1803 while operating with the Constitution Decatur and the Enterprise captured the small Tripolitan ketch Mastico which was sailing under Turkish colors.  The small ship was taken to Syracuse where Commodore Edward Preble condemned her as a prize of war, renamed her Intrepid and placed Decatur in command.

Normally such a transfer would be considered a demotion for an officer of Decatur’s caliber; but events at Tripoli had forced Preble to make a bold strike at the heart of the enemy.  On October 31st 1803 the Frigate USS Philadelphia one of the most powerful ships in the squadron, under the command of Captain William Bainbridge was lured into shoal water and ran aground on an uncharted shoal and was captured.  Her crew was taken prisoner an imprisoned while the ship was floated off the reef by the Tripolitans. The ship was partially repaired and moored as a battery in the harbor. For the moment the powerful frigate was out of action until her foremast which had been cut down by Bainbridge in his unsuccessful  attempt to float the ship off the shoal could be replaced.

Burning the Philadelphia

The threat posed by such a powerful ship in the hands of the enemy was too great to ignore. Preble ordered Decatur to man the Intrepid with volunteers and make a plan to destroy the Philadelphia while the ship was at anchor and unable to put to sea.  Decatur took 80 men from the Enterprise and was joined by eight more volunteers  from USS Syren including Lieutenant Thomas McDonough who had recently served aboard Philadelphia and knew the ship well. The Intrepid was re-rigged with the

Under the cover of night of February 16th 1804 Decatur took the former Tripolitan ship into the harbor beneath the dim light of the new moon.  The ship was able to slip past the guns of the forts overlooking the harbor using an Arabic speaking Sicilian sailor to request permission to enter the harbor under the ruse that she was a merchant ship that had lost her anchors in a storm.

The request was granted the and Decatur sailed the Intrepid to bring her alongside the Philadelphia without Securing permission from the Tripitolan watch standers aboard Philadelphia to tie up alongside the frigate. When he drew alongside the massive ship Decatur ordered his crew to board the Frigate. After a brief skirmish with the small contingent of sailors aboard he took control, and after ensuring that the ship was unseaworthy, he and his sailors set the frigate ablaze. When he was sure that the fire could not be extinguished he ordered his men back aboard Intrepid and sailed out of the harbor under the fire of Tripolitan shore batteries and gunboats.

The mission complete Decatur sailed Intrepid back to Syracuse where he was greeted as a hero and became one of the Navy’s legends.  Pope Pius VII publicly proclaimed that “the United States, though in their infancy, had done more to humble the anti-Christian barbarians on the African coast, than all the European states had done for a long period of time.” Admiral Horatio Nelson, one of the most heroic sailors that ever lived and no stranger to daring, said that Decatur’s accomplishment was “the most bold and daring act of the Age.

Decatur leading American Sailors in hand to hand combat against Barbary Pirates at Tripoli 1804 his younger brother Lieutenant James Decatur was killed aboard another gunboat in the action

Decatur would return to command the Enterprise in 1804 and would prove himself again against the forces of Tripoli. He distinguished himself  in the years to come against the Royal Navy in the War of 1812 and later in the Second Barbary War.

In that final Barbary war, Decatur’s squadron decisively defeated the Algerian fleet capturing the Frigate Mashouda and killing the highly successful and chivalrous commander of the Algerian raiding squadron, Rais Hamidu.

Following the defeat of the Algerian fleet, the  Pashas of Algiers, Tunis and Tripoli all made peace and reimbursed the Americans for the financial damage that they had done.  His victory ended the terror that the Barbary States had inflicted on Europeans for centuries and helped bring peace to the Mediterranean.  More than any one man Stephen Decatur was responsible for the end their reign of piracy and terror in the Mediterranean.

Peace,

Padre Steve+

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“When You Are Lost, You are Not Alone” Doubt and Faith in Lent

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

Yesterday was a convoluted day. It was Ash Wednesday, Valentine’s Day and the beginning of Baseball’s Spring Training. It was also a tremendously busy day at work that included multiple meetings, conducting the Ecumenical Ash Wednesday liturgy, the usual program, administrative, personnel, and facility management issues. Likewise because it was Valentine’s Day I didn’t want to screw it up. Since I usually find a way to screw up birthdays, anniversaries, Valentine’s Day and other assorted holidays involving marriage it was a bit stressful. Thankfully I did pretty well regarding Valentine’s Day, I started by trying to suck up in the days before Valentine’s Day doing little things to build up some extra points in case I screwed up on the actual day, and for once I didn’t totally screw the pooch, in fact I did rather well, but I digress…

Of course if I had wanted to be an ass I could have celebrated Ashentine’s Day, that is the rare day when Ash Wednesday falls on Valentine’s Day enabling asshat spouses, fiancee’s, or partners to tell their beloved that they can’t take them out for a fancy dinner because of the fasting rules prescribed by the Church on Ash Wednesday. This confluence doesn’t happen often, the last time it did was seventy-tree or seventy-four years ago, so cheapskates and other turds don’t get the opportunity to do this often, and the fact that I even thought of it means that while I may be a complete turd at times that I would never tell Judy: “Sorry, I can’t take you out or give you anything for Valentine’s Day because it’s Ash Wednesday and I don’t want to lead you to hell.” I value my life too much. That being said I can imagine that there are some people who will do exactly that, not because they really are trying to observe the true meaning of Lent, but because they are cheap asshats who look for ways out of doing something nice for their partner using the cover of religion to do it. But again I digress as I so often do…

The truth is that a decade after returning from Iraq I still struggle with faith and belief, and doubt is always a part of my life and Lent has never really been a good time for me. In the early years of this blog I masked my struggle with humor about trying to make getting through Lent focusing more on the outward displays of faith and the actions of prayer, abstinence, and fasting than really wrestling with why the penitential aspects of Lent are important; far from being onerous they help us remember our shared humanity; especially with the least, the lost, and the lonely.

That being said I do still have faith, more than I have had for quite a few years and when it came time to schedule an Ecumenical Ash Wednesday service at my Chapel to compliment our Roman Catholic Mass which was scheduled for the evening I decided to lead it. I am glad that I did.

Since I was not serving at this chapel last year I had no idea how many people might show up or what the composition would be. Since I’m in an odd situation being an Old Catholic Priest, in a sense occupying a line between Roman Catholicism and Lutheran Protestantism I never know exactly what to expect in such a situation. Thankfully I have been able to build bridges with our Catholic and Protestant communities in the ten months that I have served here and I had members of both congregations at the service. Again not knowing what to expect I used the liturgy from the Episcopal Book of Common Prayer, with a couple of more Anglo-Catholic modifications in the Liturgy of the Eucharist, which I used in my previous denomination because it kind of splits the difference between Protestants and Catholics.

I do love celebrating the Eucharist and conducting the liturgy and it’s funny that after almost 22 years since I was ordained as a Priest I am beginning to acquire a taste for Ash Wednesday and Lent. This is especially true when I read the Biblical passages from the Lectionary associated with them, especially those of Ash Wednesday which include Isaiah 58: 1-12; Second Corinthians 5:20b-6:10; and Matthew 6:1-6, and 16-21. When I read them, especially the passage from Isaiah I am continually amazed at how they speak to the state of American Christianity in the age of Trump. I’m going to try to avoid politics for tonight but I could see Isaiah preaching them today almost any church in America, especially the great Evangelical and Charismatic megachurches, and television ministries whose leaders have abandoned all pretense of being “Biblical” as they prostrate themselves before the President in pursuit of raw political power masked in an extremely thin veneer of religion.

In my sermon I did not hammer home on that but I did spend a lot of time with the Isaiah passage without being overtly political; which in my position that would have been less than wise. Sometimes it’s better to let the scriptures speak for themselves.

I also talked about doubt, something that many people, including Christians of all persuasions struggle with but few ministers really honor as a measure of faith. I used my own struggle with faith and doubt after Iraq. I struggled and I still struggle with faith, I believe but sometimes I don’t, and I am certainly not someone who thinks that he has the Christian life down, in fact sometimes my witness; my temper, my language, and so much more about me do not reflect Jesus. I am not okay with that, but it is the truth. Since Spring Training began today I let the congregation know that I am a Mendoza Line Christian, meaning that I have a Christian life batting average of about .200, just enough to say in the game.

Doubt is usually ignored, and most of the Christians who I know who struggle with doubt are afraid to talk about it in church, you tend to lose friends by expressing doubts or struggles in most churches. To me it is no wonder that the fastest growing religious demographic in the United States are those people with no religious preference and those who have either fled the church or those outside who look at the Church and find nothing redeeming in it. Sadly, most of these people actually like or admire Jesus, some even believing that he is the Son of God, but who are so disgusted by the actions of Christians that they have walked away. As Pedro Cerrano in Major League said: “Ah, Jesus, I like him very much, but he no help with curveball.” 

As I finished my sermon I decided to read the words of the homily given by Father Flynn played by Philip Seymour Hoffman in the movie Doubt. The film is powerful, set in 1964 and I won’t do spoilers to tell you what happens in it and how it ends, you’ll need to watch it yourself. But I will share the words of Father Flynn’s sermon because they are so symbolic of our time when so many people struggle with faith. His words which compare the collective experience of people whose world has been shattered versus those whose struggles are invisible to most people. I know what that is like and because of my own struggles I have come to be able to read the unspoken angst, fear, doubt, and weariness of the lonely.

“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.”

So as Lent begins I encourage those who struggle and doubt to realize that there are a lot more people like then they realize; and for those who are not struggling not to look down on the lonely, not to be afraid that doubt is contagious, but instead to do the little things that remind people that they are not alone.

Likewise it is important to realize that some of the people who outwardly appear the most sanctimonious, the most sure of their beliefs, and the most rigid in their opposition to others also struggle, and that their display of certitude masks their own doubts and their own aloneness.

So until tomorrow,

Peace,

Padre Steve+

 

 

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I’ll Have to Say I Love You In a Song: Love Songs for Valentine’s Day

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Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

Since today is an odd confluence of Valentine’s Day, Ash Wednesday, and the opening of Spring Training I am going to hopefully avoid any controversy by sharing some of my favorite love songs for Valentine’s Day.

I have spent many Valentine’s Days away from my wife Judy over the course of my military career. Tonight we’ll be together she has a class that I don’t want to take her away from and on her way there she’ll drop me off at Gordon Biersch and then when she is done comes back and meet me for dinner there.

We have spent a lot of time away from each other during the course of my military career. I added up the time between when I was mobilized from the Army Reserve in 1996 to support the Bosnia Operation until when I returned from Camp LeJeune in August of 2013 and I figured at we had been apart 10 of 17 years between 1996 and 2013 due to military assignments. I am glad I am hopefully won’t have to spend months or years away from her again as I enter the twilight years of my career.

In all of these times I have loved music. I remember dating Judy and every week bring in new LP albums or pop 45 singles on vinyl back in the late 1970s and early 1980s. Most of the songs were popular on the radio and I would hear them on American Top 40.

I find that music expresses love in ways that I find difficult to do on my own. Perhaps this is because of the fact that I am a historian and not a poet or artist. Here are 25 of my favorites of all time. They are songs that express the emotions of love, love embraced and love requited the joy of love and the agony of losing it.

These are songs that men and women express the feelings of those who have loved, lost and longed for love. They are songs of men and women who sometimes are geographically far away but still close and others that can be sitting next to each other but be as far from each other emotionally and even spiritually as Earth is from the furthest star system in the galaxy.

I think that in my life that many speak to the relationship that I have with the woman that I have loved since the day that I met her back in the late summer of 1978 at San Joaquin Delta College in Stockton California.

It is interested because a number of years later Barry Manilow wrote a song called The Summer of 78 which expresses much of what I felt and still feel about her.

It was one of those summer’s
lasting forever
making the winter wait
a summer of music and passion
the summer of ’78
you appeared like the summer
sudden and perfect
and not a day too late
I swear there was music when I found you
that summer of ’78
it seem we floated through the days

and nights were always filled with stars
and it seemed every song they played on the radio
was ours
it was one of those summer’s
only for lovers
touched by the hand of faith
and now when the winter’s are long
I remember the summer of ’78

I think any compilation of love songs has to begin with Barry Manilow’s “Weekend in New England”  I think for me, as a career military man who has spent many years away from my wife, sometimes in harm’s way the questions asked in the song resonate. “When will our eyes meet?” “When can I touch you?” “When will this long journey end and when will I hold you again?” have particular meaning and they are part of the longing that I have.

 

The Carpenter’s breakthrough hit “Close to You” written by Burt Bacharach is a song that is fitting for the love that many young lovers feel when they first meet. I remember when we first started dating I could hardly stand to be away from Judy. The song is more one of infatuation than actual love, but I think unless we first have that infatuation that love often remains dormant.

 

Bread’s classic mellow ballad “If” is a song that expresses an almost eternal nature to love. Jim Croce’s hit “I’ll Just Have to Say I Love You in a Song” is one that expresses how badly the words often come out when we try to communicate with the one that we love. There are so many times the words that I have said have not come across how I meant them. So much of a relationship that is based on how we communicate that care and love for each other, the lament that “every time I’d try to tell you, the words just came out wrong” can be true for many of us.

England Dan (Dan Seals and John Ford Coley) “I’d Really Love to See You Tonight” Sometimes when we love someone we somehow lose contact, or maybe have grown apart emotionally. The song begins with small talk on a phone call and is the words of someone who wants very badly to be together again with the one that he misses.

In a similar vein to “I’d really love to See You Tonight” but perhaps even more heart wrenching is Paul Davis’ “I Go Crazy” because the woman that he loves is now with someone else and he sings “when I look in your eyes I still go crazy. That old flame comes alive, it starts burning inside…”

 

 

All couples sometimes have arguments and sometimes those arguments lead to complete silence and even the break up of a relationship. Sir Cliff Richard’s “We Don’t Talk Anymore” is one of those songs where one partner blames the other for the breakup and boldly states that he isn’t losing sleep over the end of the relationship. Not a very good way to go, but a very real feeling for many people in the Lonely Heart’s Club.

Olivia Newton John and Cliff Richard’s duet “Suddenly”  is a song that is a 180 out from We Don’t Talk Anymore. This song is one that speaks of a deep love and admiration for each of the two people in the relationship that they are willing to do anything and go anywhere to be with one another.

But we really do, at least most of us hope that we will find that person who will take a chance on us like in the Abba song, or in some cases if we have been hurt someone who will take a chance again as Barry Manilow sang about.

 

But “It’s so Easy to Fall in Love” as Linda Ronstadt lets us know, but holding on to that love can be a different matter.

 

When we do fall in love we hope that they will be our First, my Last, My Everything.

But holding on to love can be difficult and can end up on the rocks when our love stops bringing flowers or singing love songs.

 

The Dr. Hook hit “Years from Now” is one that always manages to bring a tear to my eye. It came out about a year after Judy and I started dating and even though it is now well over 30 years since I first heard it I imagined the future, now we are deep into it and I feel the same way. One verse says “I know this world that we live in can be hard, Now and then and it will be again, Many times we’ve been down, Still love has kept us together the flame never dies, When I look in your eyes the future I see.” Since we have gone through many difficult times it is a song that is intensely personal and one that I almost feel that I could have written the lyrics.

David Soul riding high on his success in Starsky and Hutch released “Don’t Give up on Us Baby”  in 1977. It hit number one in both the US and UK and was his one big hit. It is a song of a man trying to convince a woman that they have a relationship that is more than just one night. “Don’t give up on us, baby, We’re still worth one more try, I know we put a last one by, Just for a rainy evening, When maybe stars are few, Don’t give up on us, I know, We can still come through.” I find the Chicago ballad If You Leave Me Now evokes similar feelings.

Dan Hill’s “Sometimes When We Touch” is a song that means a great deal to both Judy and I. The words are somehow haunting and healing. One verse and the chorus really get to me. “Romance and all its strategy leaves me battlin’ with my pride, But through the insecurity some tenderness survives, I’m just another writer, still trapped within my truth, A hesitant prize fighter, still trapped within my youth. And sometimes when we touch, the honesty’s too much, And I have to close my eyes and hide, I wanna hold you till I die, till we both break down and cry, I wanna hold you till the fear in me subsides.”

 

Van Morrison wrote “Have I Told You Lately That I Love You”  in 1989. Recorded and released by Rod Stewart in 1993 it is a song that originally was written as a prayer by Morrison. It is sung at many weddings and it a song that I will stop and listen to whenever I hear it.

The Australian duo Air Supply is known for their mellow love songs and one of them“Two Less Lonely People in the World”  is one that I like. Sometimes I think that had I not met Judy that I never would have married. I am quite the introvert and often a loner that prefers the adventure of being independent and adventurous and does not like to be tied down. When my father retired from the Navy in 1974 I thought that my life was over, because we were going to remain in one place. Judy had spent most of her life in one city but I took her away from that because throughout my life I have been afflicted with this wanderlust and spirit of adventure. That being said the fact that we are together means that even though we are often apart that there are still “two less lonely people in the world tonight.”

Meat Loaf’s “I Would do Anything for Love” from his 1993 Bat Out of Hell Album is one of the big world wide rock power ballads of the past two decades. The focus is probably more on the physical relationship that some of the other songs in this list but it has a resonance because the physical is also a big part of why we fall in love with each other. “As long as the planets are turning, As long as the stars are burning, As long dreams are coming true, You’d better believe it, that I would do, Anything for love, And I’l be there until the final act, I would do anything for love, and I’ll take a vow and seal a pact…”

Elton John’s “Your Song” is a tender ballad of a musician who has little to give his love except a song.

 

One of the tenderest duets for Valentine’s Day comes from Lionel Richie and Diana Ross, the hit Endless Love  was written for the movie of the same name. The Bee Gee’s Disco era smash How Deep is Your Love  is another tender song of devotion to a love as is Al Green’s classic Let’s Stay Together.

Chicago’s “Hard to Say I’m Sorry” is a song that hits hard at a situation that many couples that love each other find themselves. That is when for whatever reason they find that they need to be away from each other, but the key is that they find their way back.

REO Speedwagon’s “I Can’t Fight this Feeling” is actually quite good because it is a song that sees a relationship go from a friendship to something more, something that sometimes scares the people involved because somehow we often think that we don’t want to “ruin the friendship.” I really think that any relationship that is meant to be has to begin with friendship and the words in the song “What started out as friendship, Has grown stronger. I only wish I had the strength to let it show” is a reality for so many people.

 

Anne Murray released a song called Daydream Believer   that had been recorded years before by the Monkees, but in 1980 it became one of my favorites as my relationship with Judy began to really develop

Bonnie Tyler’s “It’s a Heartache” has been recorded and been a hit for Juice Newton and Rod Stewart as well as Tyler. It is a song that speaks of the pain of a broken relationship when one of the people involved is more dependent on the other person than that person is committed to them, and sometimes when we fall for someone we are in over our heads, as Fleetwood Mac’s Over My Head so bluntly states.

Juice Newton’s “Angel of the Morning” is a song that describes the breakup of what may be an illicit love affair. Since a lot of people become involved in such relationships it is a powerful reminder of the pain associated with the end of those relationships. A similar theme is part of Laura Branigan’s “How am I Supposed to Live Without You”  though it seems that this song is not about an illicit relationship but the betrayal felt by a person who finds that the one that they love is leaving them. Her song Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow?  tells the story of a woman wondering if her love will still love her, but there is always the Power of Love.  However when all else fails it is helpful to know that Storms Never Last. 

 

I find a lot of commonality with Journey’s power ballad “Faithfully.”  Written about the love of a couple, one of whom spends his life on the road as a musician and rediscovers his love for his bride. I think that it is a song that any man or woman in the military, or for that matter any other profession that spends much time away from home can relate as is Elton John’s I Guess that’s Why they Call it the Blues.

The tender ballad by Kiss “Beth” is a song that I think expresses how many people deal with the tension between what they love and who they love. The song is about a man who promises to come home as soon as he is done playing music with his band and keeps calling back until finally he admits that he will not be coming home that night.

Blondie’s Heart of Glass  is another song that talks about misplaced love and how many relationships appear to be real but then end with at least one partner hurting and wondering what happened. The Tide is High  is Judy’s ringtone on my iPhone, it is about a girl who won’t give up on her love and Dreaming  is another song of dreams of love as is Fleetwood Mac’s Say You Love Me.

 

The Swedish super group Abba had numerous songs dealing love, hope, love lost and love found.  “One of Us”  is song about a relationship where one partner thinks that they can do better only to find out that they were wrong. The chorus “One of us is crying, One of us is lying, In her lonely bed, Staring at the ceiling, Wishing she was somewhere else instead, One of us is lonely, One of us is only, Waiting for a call, Sorry for herself, feeling stupid feeling small, Wishing she had never left at all….” finds an echo in many of the people that I meet. Their lesser known song, Our Last Summer  tells the story of a woman remembering her last summer in Paris with a former lover. Knowing Me Knowing You  tells the story of a breakup as does The Winner Takes it All. 

In the late 1970s and early 1980s Kenny Rogers released a number of songs suitable for the Valentine’s Day. She Believes in Me  is wonderful because it talks of an experience that many young lovers know that of having someone who believes in them and their dreams, even when they wonder. You Decorated My Life  talks about the difference a love makes in life, while Don’t Fall in Love with a Dreamer a duet he sang with singer songwriter Kim Carnes talks about the hazards of falling in love with a dreamer, or a person like me, and love can be difficult even when we give the best that we have, as the Eagles noted in The Best of My Love.

 

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Finally there is a song that from the first time I heard it has been a song that speaks to me about my love for Judy. It is a song that like Dr Hook’s Years from Now, is a reminder of how far we have come and how much we have been through; that song is Kenny Rogers’ “Through the Years”  which was released in 1982, a year before we were married.

Of course there is one that is Judy’s ringtone for me, The Partridge Family and I Think I Love You.  I do think I love you too Judy, “So what am I so afraid of? I’m afraid that I’m not sure of, A love there is no cure for…” 

But then I am in love with a beautiful woman…

And I Will Always Love You.

So to all of my readers, enjoy the music and have a happy Valentine’s Day.

Peace

Padre Steve+

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