Monthly Archives: February 2009

Last Sunday before Lent…. Not again

Today is the 6th Sunday in Epiphany and the last before the Season of Lent.  I’ve never been a big fan of Lent or done it well. I don’t know what it is about the season, I do understand Lent’s place in the Church calendar, I understand that historically Lent is a time of penitential introspection, alms giving, abstinence, fasting, self-denial,  going into extra innings for prayer, sackcloth and ashes and the like.   I also understand the symbolic meaning, the references in scripture to all the different 40 day experiences, Noah’s Mount Ararat cruise line, Moses’ mountaintop stay with God, the 40 fun years in the dessert, and Jesus’ temptations when he went into the desert for 40 days.  I also understand how it came about in the life of the early church, it was a time of preparation prior to baptism at Easter for the catechumens.  I got it, but until Christianity became the State Religion it was only for the catechumens. When it became the State Religion it became mandatory for all to make the less zealous converts feel more comfortable.  I guess they didn’t want to be brought up on charges for hazing so they decided to make everyone do it.  Personally if I were the Pope I would make it mandatory for the new folks, like a Chief’s initiation in the Navy and optional for everyone else.

Now I understand the need to examine ourselves individually and as a community to prepare ourselves for Holy week and what hopefully is a closer relationship with God and our fellow believers.  This does not mean however that I do Lent well or like it.  I have never done it well.  Advent which is also a penitential season does not have this affect on me, maybe because it is shorter and I get presents at Christmas.   I really don’t know the reason for my dislike of Lent. Hey, look at it, giving up certain cuisine that I like to eat or drink, generally that’s not a problem. Giving to people in need, easy game.  Doing some extra prayers, not a problem.  Examining my life, that’s not an issue because I know that I’m a screw up and often a jerk. I know beyond a shadow of a doubt that I among all people am desperately in need of God’s grace.  As far as liturgy, taking out a few parts of the liturgy which shortens it and makes it easier, I’m all about that.

Now I have had some funny Lenten experiences.  When I was with the Marines in Japan back in February 2001 we could not get any palm leaves.  The ones that I had ordered did not show up. It was a pain in the ass. I ended up walking all over the town of Gotemba near Mount Fuji hoping I could find a small palm in a store or nursery. Of course since I needed them, no one had any, and I couldn’t see trying to use a Bonsai tree.  So I continued to look.  It was dark, cold and I was dragging my battalion Medical Officer all over the town.  As snow began to fall I saw something that looked somewhat like a palm.  To this day I’m not sure if it was or not, but it was a target of opportunity. I wandered into the front yard of some unsuspecting citizen,  took my Swiss Army knife and pruned the ersatz palm of what I needed to celebrate Ash Wednesday.  I hope God gave everyone who attended the next day credit for the ashes that I used.

Another funny experience has to do with the prohibition on eating meat on Friday. I hate most fish, I am not a fish eater and tend not to eat anything that swims in its own toilet. I was deployed in 2002 on USS Hue City, a great ship with a great crew.  Every Friday was “Surf and Turf.”  We had a fine mess section but as noted above I am not a seafood kind of person.  However, our guys were good.  Often the “surf” part of the menu was either large and meaty Alaskan King Crab or Lobster.  So I sacrificed and ate the King Crab and Lobster for the duration of Lent. I did have to suffer in giving up steak, but I did it for Jesus.

Funny experiences aside maybe I dislike Lent because my birthday usually falls during it or Holy Week.  Maybe I think it is too long.  Maybe it is my rebellious general inclination not to be forced into doing something that I don’t want to do.  Think of the irony here: In  ministry and the military I have a “chain of command” which tells me what to do, sometimes when I don’t want to do it.  Yet because I am a priest and an officer under vows and oaths I do what they say, I am obediant, albeit often grudgingly.  When I was going through my worst times with PTSD, chronic pain and insomnia coming back from Iraq, which coincided with the beginning of Lent, I had a hard time even believing in God, prayer was done out of duty and obligation not because I got any warm fuzzies from it.

Basically Lent is my least favorite time of the year.  This year will be interesting, I will be celebrating the Eucharist at the hospital for Ash Wednesday.  I love celebrating the Eucharist, at the same time I’m going to have to do the 40 days again, what will I give up?  I’m not sure.  What will I add? God only knows, but this year I am going to do something different.  Instead of trying to be glum to suit the mood, I’m going to be live my life like I normally do and be happy, while observing what I am supposed to do for Lent.  I’m going to do what Jesus said: “Do not look dismal, like the hypocrites, for they disfigure their faces that their fasting may be seen by men” (Matthew 6:16)  I’m going to have a joyful Lent, besides, when it’s over baseball is back. Amen and Amen Hallelujah!

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Living and dying

I had an epiphany last year in the midst of the onset of my post Iraq PTSD crash….”Everybody dies, but not everybody lives.”

The value of living life to the fullest really came to  me then.  I’ve seen a lot of death and destruction in my life: I’ve experienced trauma, had people shoot at me, been robbed at gunpoint, been on aircraft with mechanical problems, narrowly missed terrorist bombs and a lot of other rather “sporty” events.  Likewise I have seen death and trauma up close and personal.  Babies born too early to live, elderly people passing away after long lives, young men killed and maimed by war, children and the elderly maimed, cities and villages devastated.  I’ve seen people of all ages whose lives have ended suddenly either to disease or trauma and seen people suffer excruciating deaths.  In all of this though I have also found life in people who no matter what their circumstance choose to live and often seen the grace of God in the midst of great suffering.   It is as Alister McGrath says: “Life under the Cross.” I had one of those experiences with a Navy widow last week, who in her dying moments continued to look after those around her, thanking people, blessing people, laughing, joking, crying and praying.  I had the privilege of conducting her funeral yesterday, she was a saint.

I know that death is a reality, those who seek to deny it only deceive themselves. Even Jesus died, there is no resurrection without death first.  There is almost a death denying cult in the western world.  Many doctors cannot look someone in the eye who has a terminal illness and tell them that the illness or something related to it will kill them.  We often rely on machines to extend life well after they serve any purpose in bringing healing to the patient forgetting that the patient is a person with hopes, dreams and wishes.  Everybody dies…but how do we live?

I also know that there is injustice and poverty in the world, even in our country. I know that innocents suffer because of the choices of powerful nations and individuals, politicians, businessmen, dictators and even religious leaders.  There are times when we have to stand up to injustice, but when we do we must be in the business of reconciliation and not revenge while we advocate for the least, the lost and the lonely, those who have no one to speak for them.

I know people who for whatever reason cannot seem to enjoy life or find happiness. I know people who cannot enjoy friendship with people who are not like them and I am sad for them.  There are people of faith, who dehumanize others who don’t believe like them or live by the tenants of their particular faith. Some of these will actually kill in the name of their God and I am not simply talking about radical Islamic terrorists.  There are plenty of others from every faith tradition who do the same thing.  The Westboro Baptist “God hates Fags” crowd who disrupt funerals of fallen US Servicemen and women saying that their death is God’s judgment on them for serving the United States. They despise the nation and the sacrifices of those that they mock while enjoying the freedom that both give them.  There are people in every religion who do this sort of thing, they dehumanize the people that God has created in his image.  I have seen others who have no faith who mock those with faith and seek to deny them their rights as well.  Both radical secularists and religious radicals are willing to use the power of government to silence  or even persecute those that they disagree with.  Somehow I don’t think that this kind of life is what God intended.

My CPE supervisor during my CPE residency said something to me that resonated then, and still does today. He told me that I had to stop living my life expecting failure and heartache. He said that I could actually write much of my own future by how I look at life and chose to live in faith, hope and dreams, to believe in a good future while remaining grounded in reality.  He opened the future to me, a future full of possibility,exploration and adventure.  A future of hope, friendship and faith.

I’ve learned, and it has been an often painful learning curve, to live and appreciate life and the great gifts that God has given me.  I’ve learned to laugh and live with people and to have friendships beyond what would have been my comfort zone even a few years back.  I’ve also learned that even if I believe something with all my heart it doesn’t necessarily mean that God agrees with me. I had to learn to turn off the incessant voices in the media that seek to divide and destroy their opponents, who in the name of “debate” belittle, silence, attack, dehumanize and sometimes demonize those who disagree with them.  This doesn’t mean that legitimate differences should be pushed aside, but it is a call to civility especially for people that are entrusted with reconciling the world to God.

At dinner with General Sabah in Ramadi

At dinner with General Sabah in Ramadi

For me life has come to mean community and friendship, finding commonality while recognizing differences.   I don’t expect everyone to agree with me, but that’s okay, it is a free country.  I’ll agree to disagree but remain respectful and not become enemies just because of a difference of views. I have chosen to live in this reality.

Peace,

Steve+

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Jamie Moyer on Steroids in Baseball

The steroid scandal has brought shame on the game of baseball.  Jamie Moyer, now the oldest player in the Majors has some strong opinions on the subject which are worthy of note.  I’ve included the link at the end of this post.

From my point of view as someone who loves the game (God speaks to me through it) I find the compromises that the players who took the steroids and other banned substances to be disheartening.  Players should have known better, even if they took them before the official MLB ban, the drugs were still illegal without a prescription.  That is a fact. Even worse from my point of view is the responsibility of the MLB owners and front office staff who remained silent and refused to take action even when the scope of the scandal became evident.  Likewise the actions of the players union to “protect” players set the players up to not only continue using, but ensured that when the scandal became public that all players, even those innocent would come under suspicion.

Where do we go from here? Obviously strict adherence to and enforcement of standards by all involved is a start. Unfortunately an era has been tainted. There will be a few players prosecuted for either what they did or for lying about what they did.  But what do we do with the other 50% who may have done steroids but for whatever reason have remained undetected?  What about records and overal statistics of players, not just MLB records?  Can every record be scrutinized? How do you tell what was the result of a players use of steroids, positive and negative?  Unfortunately the answer is one can never know.  I don’t think that erasing records is the answer.  At the same time the players who set records who either have admitted, been identified or even strongly suspected of using steroids will have their reward. Their records will not be respected and most if not all will never see the Hall of Fame.  They will forever have that against them.  Even players who would have been legitimate Hall of Fame contenders before their association with the steroid scandal will not be spared.  Likewise will singling out a few players for prosecution be truly just?  Is singling out a few players when many more go unpunished truly just?  Or is it simply our corporate way of sacrificing a few to salve our consciences as fans when we cheered these same players on as they set records? If we punish players what about owners and the union?

I can’t offer a lot more than to ask questions. For every action that baseball, courts, the media and fans take, there will always be answered questions as well as the question of is justice truly being served.  The article about Moyer is good because it shows how even the innocent have been tainted by the actions of players and inaction of management, union and media during the steroid era.  Here is the link to the article:

http://sports.yahoo.com/mlb/news?slug=ge-moyer021509&prov=yhoo&type=lgns

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Navy “Brats”

I grew up in a Navy family. I was born in a Navy hospital, and my brother was baptized in a Navy Chapel. I went to 6 elementary schools in three states in 6 years. As a result I learned to adapt to change, make friends and at an early age, move on when we moved to our next duty station.

We grew up in the anti-military maelstrom of the 1960s and 1970s. A Sunday School teacher told me that my dad was a baby killer when he was in Vietnam,. It was a Roman Catholic Navy Chaplain that helped me keep some faith in God, and it is to him I owe my vocation as a priest and chaplain.

When Dad retired from the Navy I was not happy because I wasn’t ready for the adventure to end. I liked the new places, people and travel. Dad was really good about making sure that we got to experience something unique everywhere we went, from Corregidor in the Philippines, the outdoor life of the Puget Sound, Major League Baseball in California, and Hockey. Disneyland and Knott’s Berry Farm were regular attractions in Southern California. From Dad, presents from the Far East including a 10 speed bike and a pachinko machine for me.

They were good times. We took trips across country by train to visit family in the days before Amtrak, riding every major route from the West Coast to Chicago, the Great Northern-Burlington Northern “Empire Builder,” the Western Pacific “Zephyr” Southern Pacific “Daylight”, Santa Fe “Super Chief” and “El Capitan.” As we were coming home from the Philippines on a Military Transport ship, the USS John C Breckenridge, we were allowed to explore the ship and for the first time I got a sense of the sea.  Something about that voyage caused me to love the sea and ships. Growing up we were allowed to take risks, we had the chance to succeed, but also to learn about life by occasionally failing.  When dad was deployed mom took on the burden of caring for us.  That was difficult for her, but she did well.  The Navy wife and mother actually has a harder job than the deployed sailor.

There is something about being a Navy “brat.” I have been blessed to see our best friends’ boys, Jack and Alex grow up. We’ve known them since they were 4 and 8, respectively and now they are 17 and 13, or something like that. They have great senses of humor and are great to be around. Like me, the life of being a Navy brat is all they know. My first memories of being a Navy brat begin with living in the Philippines. Their dad’s first Navy assignment was in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. Jack may remember life before the Navy, but Alex is too young to remember anything but the Navy.

My life has remained closely tied to the military. After dad retired I did three years of Navy Junior ROTC in High School getting to travel up and down the West Coast and to Hawaii aboard 6 different ships for about 70 days at sea. My parents hoped beyond hope that I would settle down, but I was not deterred. I joined the Army National Guard just prior to entering the UCLA Army ROTC program. I didn’t do the Navy because my fiancé, now my wife Judy, said that she would not marry me if I joined the Navy. Her oldest sister’s husband was on a ship during Viet Nam and was never home. Judy witnessed the pain and hardship her sister went through, and then a couple of decades later, her other sister married navy men while she herself was in the Navy.

So I spent 17 and a half years in the active Army, National Guard and Reserves before finally getting the chance to come in the Navy in February 1999, as I turned in my gold Army Major’s oak leaf for the twin bars of a Navy Lieutenant. Judy wasn’t happy at first, because she had been looking forward to me retiring from the Army Reserve so we would no longer have so many separations. Judy was also less than thrilled because remembering her words about the Navy when we were dating, I didn’t consult her. I just signed on the dotted line. It took her a while to come to terms with this decision. I’ve also learned not to make major decisions without consulting her Oh well…It has all been good.

I now serve at Portsmouth Naval Medical Center. Often in the ICU I have patients who are about my parents’ age facing major health crisis’s and sometimes end of life issues. Their kids are often my contemporaries. We have shared a similar life and cultural experience as Navy “Brats” of our era. There is a kinship that I have with these families that transcends the here and now, something that binds Navy families together. I have no idea when this grand adventure will end, but one thing is for sure, and for this I will always be grateful, to be a Navy Brat.

my-tom-clancy-look5

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Friends

It is interesting when you have traveled a fair amount and lived in quite a few places you get to know a lot of people from across the social, political, racial and religious spectrum.  I was looking on my facebook page a couple of weeks back and noticing the diversity of my friends and realizing that in some cases it would not be a good thing to have some of them in the same room as each other. Despite this somehow I stand in the intersection of all of them.   I guess one thing I’ve learned, often the hard way, is that you can have friendships and care about people even when you have disagreements with them, even serious disagreements.  My friends include conservatives and liberals, Republicans, Democrats, Libertarians and Independents; Christians from across the spectrum, Catholic and Protestant, Orthodox and Evangelical, Social Gospel and Fundamental, Charismatic and anti-Charismatic, Latter Day Saints, Seventh Day Adventists, Oneness Pentecostals, Particular Baptists, Calvinists, Wesleyans, Premillenial Dispensationalists, Amillenialists, Jews, Moslems, Buddhists, Hindus, Pagans and Wiccans.  Heterosexuals, Homosexuals, anti-Homosexual activist and Pro-Homosexual activists, pro-Lifers and pro-Choicers, militarists and pacifists, capitalists, socialists, environmentalists, industrialists; progressives, traditionalists, white, black, Asian and Hispanic, people from Europe, Africa, the Middle East, Korea, Japan and China, India, and Central America, Mississippi and Manhattan, California and Carolina, Dallas and Detroit.   Doctors, lawyers, priests, rabbis and imams; Protestant ministers, labor leaders, teachers, preachers, pundits, poets, politicians, professors and prosecutors; bureaucrats, technocrats, kleptocrats; geeks, freaks, sailors, jailers, whalers, runners, gunners, fighters, riders, sky divers, scuba divers, truck drivers; guitar players, ball players, naysayers; free thinkers, beer drinkers,  thrill seekers and Methodists.

In all of this, each in their own way are my friend, some closer than others, but friends none the less. We shared good times and bad, encouraged each other prayed for each other, laughed together, cried together and even shared some good beer with each other.   We’ve agreed and disagreed, and agreed to disagree.  Yet we are all friends and each has added something to my life.  I think Jesus said it well, when he said, “I no longer call you strangers but friends.”

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