Monthly Archives: December 2011

Faith and Doubt: A Reflection on Christmas

“God weeps with us so that we may one day laugh with him.” Jürgen Moltmann

There was a time in my life that faith in God, for me the Christian God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit was something that I pretty much took for granted until I had my own crisis of faith when I returned from Iraq in 2008.  It was that crisis where for all practical purposes I was an agnostic trying to believe while feeling abandoned by God and many of his people.  That crisis has etched a permanent scar in my soul which has led to some fairly major changes in my life but even more so forced me to actually enter what Saint John of the Cross called the “Dark Night of the Soul.”  Not that that is in any way a bad thing as difficult as it is.

I will not tell of how my great spiritual disciplines helped me get through this as they did not. I found it hard to pray or believe in anything for nearly two years as I struggled with abandonment. I felt that God, the Church and the Navy had abandoned me.  I was losing my battle with PTSD during that time, depressed, anxious and despairing I threw myself into my work among the critically ill ICU patients and those that cared for them.  Christmas Eve of 2008 was spent in despair as I wandered through the darkness on a cold night after leaving Mass because I could not get through it.

Though I found a community and camaraderie among those that I worked with and tried to provide spiritual care for my own condition grew worse, so much so that my clinical duties had to be curtailed in September of 2009.  I still stood the overnight duty and filled in for others as needed but for a number of months I had no ward assignments.  On one of the on call nights not long before Christmas I received a call to the ER where I was called to give the last rites to a retired Navy Medical Doctor who was a true Saint, faithful to God, his Church and the community where for years he had dedicated much of his practice to the poorest members of the community to include prisoners in the Portsmouth City Jail. He breathed his last as I prayed this prayer following the anointing of the sick:

Depart, O Christian soul, out of this world;

In the Name of God the Father Almighty who created you;

In the Name of Jesus Christ who redeemed you;

In the Name of the Holy Spirit who sanctifies you.

May your rest be this day in peace,

and your dwelling place in the Paradise of God.

Something happened that night and by Christmas Eve I realized that something was happening to me. As I wrote in Padre Steve’s Christmas Miracle on Christmas Eve of 2009 following an incredibly busy day full of life and death situations and ministry which amazed me:

“Mid afternoon I was walking down the hall and I experienced a wave of emotion flood over me, and unlike the majority of emotions that I have felt in the past couple of years this was different.  It was a feeling of grace and I guess the presence of God.  I went up and talked with Elmer the shrink about what I was feeling and the experience was awesome, I was in tears as I shared, not the tears of sadness, but of grace.  I am beginning to re-experience the grace of God, something that has been so long absent that I did not expect it, at least right now.  I didn’t do anything differently; I certainly was not working extra hard to pray more, get more spiritual or pack my brain full of Bible verses.  I was too far gone to do those things.  It was all I could do many mornings just to get out of bed and come to work.”

Since that time I have continued to recover faith and belief. I cannot say that it is the same kind of faith that I had before Iraq. No this was different, it was faith born of the terrible emptiness and pain of abandonment and despair, a faith that is not content with easy answers and not afraid to ask questions.  It is a faith in Jesus Christ, the crucified one who’s image we see hanging from the crucifix and adorning icons of the Crucifixion. It is as Jürgen Moltmann wrote in The Crucified God:

“The Symbol of the Crucifix in church points to the God who was crucified not between two candles on an altar, but between two thieves in the place of the skull, where the outcasts belong, outside the gates of the city. It is a symbol which therefore leads out of the church and out of religious longing in to the fellowship of the oppressed and abandoned. On the other hand, it is a symbol which calls the oppressed and godless into the church and through the church into the fellowship of the crucified God”

My Philosophy of Religion Professor in seminary, Dr. Yandall Woodfin told us in class that until we had “dealt with the reality of suffering and death we were not doing Christian theology.” At the time the words were offensive to me, but by the time I had graduated and also done a year of Clinical Pastoral Education they became a part of my experience, but even then that did not prepare me for the darkness that I lived in from February of 2008 until that Christmas Eve of 2009.  I would say that in addition to grappling with suffering and death that one has to add the abandonment of the outcast to the equation.

It is from this perspective that I will look at an ancient document that for many Christians is their Baptismal statement of faith or Creed.  ‘Credo in unum Deum’ “I Believe in God” is no longer for me simply a theological proposition which I both ascent to and defend, but rather an experience of God born out of pain, despair, anxiety, doubt, unbelief and abandonment finding almost no Christians willing to walk through the darkness with me, including clergy. It was if I was radioactive, many people had “answers” but none understood the questions and until my therapist Dr. Elmer Maggard asked me “how I was with the big guy?” and Commodore Tom Sitsch asked me “Where does a Chaplain go for help?”

When I finally collapsed in the summer of 2008 and met with Dr. Maggard I made a conscious decision that I would not hide what I was going through because I felt that if someone didn’t speak out then others like me wouldn’t seek help. In the nearly three years since I returned from Iraq I have encountered many people, men and women, current and former military personnel and families of veterans who came to me either in person or through this website.  Included were military chaplains also experiencing life and faith crisis. Most said that I was the first Chaplain or minister that they had met or read who said that he struggled with faith, belief and didn’t know if God existed.  In each of those encounters there was a glimmer of hope for me and I think for them, for the first time we had people that we could be open with.  Co-workers and others said that I was “real” and I certainly do not boast of that because it was painful to try to be transparent with people while in the depths of doubt and despair while hoping that somehow God would touch them with some measure of grace when I found it hard to believe.  I guess it was the fact that I was willing to walk, sometimes in unusual circumstances and locations with them even if it meant facing my own pain and doubt. I was learning something about being what Henri Nouwen called a wounded healer.  Nouwen wrote:

“Nobody escapes being wounded. We all are wounded people, whether physically, emotionally, mentally, or spiritually. The main question is not “How can we hide our wounds?” so we don’t have to be embarrassed, but “How can we put our woundedness in the service of others?” When our wounds cease to be a source of shame, and become a source of healing, we have become wounded healers.”

In the past year I have still had my times of struggle but have also found others that have gone through similar times.  People like me that have experienced the terrible effects of a crisis of faith that leads a person into despair of even to the point of life itself and all that is good. I am fortunate. I was talking with my Bishop recently in regard to the struggle that I have had in recovering the disciplines of the spiritual life. Thankfully she does understand and was encouraging. I guess that is why now when I have more compassion for someone when they tell me that they “lost their faith” especially those that have been changed by their experience of war or other trauma. I don’t necessarily have all the answers for them because I am quite obviously still figuring it out myself. However as I found sometimes it is not the person with the answers but simply the person that takes time to listen and care that is more important to a person when they struggle, especially for those that before the traumatic event had been strong believers.

I’ll write a bit more about Christmas and faith but not tonight.

Peace

Padre Steve+

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Filed under christian life, faith, Pastoral Care, Religion

Blowing out the Candle(stick)…Power Goes out During Big 49ers – Steelers Game

I hesitate to call Candlestick Park old. It opened the year that I was born just across the bay.  I have never been to a 49er’s game but saw the Giants a number of times at the venerable yard. However even in the 1970s it was cold and dank, especially during the summer.  Monday night however the old stadium lost power twice the first time just before kickoff and the second during the second quarter of the game between the 49ers and Steelers.

The stadium has been the scene of some of the most memorable moments in sports history. One was “The Catch” when the 49ers defeated the highly favored Dallas Cowboys on January 10th 1982. Tight End Dwight Clark leaped to grab a pass from Joe Montana in the NFC Championship game, a game which ended the decade long Cowboys dominance of the conference.

It was also the site of the 1989 World Series.  The cross bay Oakland Athletics had taken the first too games in Oakland and the pre-game activities were in full swing when  a massive earthquake, the Loma Prieta Earthquake struck Northern California. Measuring 6.9 (7.1 surface wave) the quake hit at 5:04 PM on October 17th 1989 and was the first earthquake ever recorded on national television.  I was a seminary student and I remember sitting in front of my television in our run down East Fort Worth home, a neighborhood known for its frequent appearances on the TV show COPS.  Judy was in the kitchen getting something to drink if I recall and I watched the event occur. It was surreal and being from California I knew that it had to be a bad quake.

The Giants never won a World Series will playing at the “Stick” despite having some of the greatest players to ever play the game grace the field.  Willie Mays, Willie McCovey, Bobbie and Barry Bonds, the Alou brother’s outfield, Felipe, Manny and Jesus who became the first “all brothers” outfield in 1963. Of course there were pitchers like Juan Marichal and Gaylord Perry.  49ers greats Joe Montana, Jerry Rice, Steve Young and Ronnie Lott all made their names in the cavernous confines of Candlestick.

 

The 49ers moved to the Stick in 1971 from Kezar Stadium while the Giants moved to the new Pac-Bell or AT&T Park in 2000.  The Beatles player their last full concert there on August 29th 1966.   The biggest event I ever saw at Candlestick was Giant’s pitcher Ed Halicki no-hitting the Mets back on August 24th 1975.

The power outage was called embarrassing by San Francisco Mayor Ed Lee and the Pacific Gas and Electric had no immediate explanation for the outage. The fact that it happened on a nationwide broadcast of Monday Night Football gave it fare more attention than in might have received. Fortunately for the 49ers approval of a new stadium in Santa Clara are almost done and by 2015 the team should be in its new home so long as the ghosts and demons of the Stick don’t find their way south.

Blessings,

Padre Steve+

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A Weekend of Surprises and Not : Packers Lose, Colts Win and Kim Jong-Il Dies; Tebow finally Loses and Padre Steve keeps on Trucking…

Packed away

Wow what a Sunday….

The Green Bay Packers who had not lost a game for a year lost to the lowly Kansas City Chiefs who had just fired their Head Coach on Monday.  It is actually fascinating because Kansas City started a Quarterback that had never started in the NLF prior to today and we facing a team that is the odds on favorite to repeat as Super Bowl Champions.  It looked like that the Pack had a clear path to a perfect season and the playoffs.  They will be in the playoffs but it possible that they could lose their home field advantage.  I don’t think that is likely but stranger things have happened.

Not to be outdone the winless Indianapolis Colts who were coming close to being the second NFL team to go 0-16 in a season defeated the Tennessee Titans today. I was expecting that they had a great chance to tie the 2008 Detroit Lions for that seemed the impossible nightmare for any team.

The late Kim Jong Il above and son and new Dictator for Life Kim Jon Un below

To make things even weirder today North Korean Dictator for Life Kim Jong-Il died today, or actually tomorrow if you are in Korea. State media staid that he died on a train from a heart attack induced by “physical and mental fatigue.” I would guess that this was due to overwork at one of his notorious orgies with Scandinavian actresses but that is just speculation, maybe he was just trying to figure out his new Facebook profile page but I digress.  Of course I could be wrong and “Team America” got him. Kim will join his pals Moammar Ghadafi, Saddam Hussein and Ossama Bin Laden on their eternal vacation on the Lake of Fire. I hope that he brought his asbestos water skis. He will be replaced as Dictator for Life by his son and self appointed heir Kim Jong-Un who is know by some as the Un-Kim.  The younger Kim is in his mid to late 20s and must be a pretty sharp guy and military genius because his dad promoted him to the North Korean Equivalent of a Four Star General. Knowing this the South Korean government has placed its military on “Extra Special Chaos in North Korea alert.”  All kidding aside this is not a good situation. We have a young man insulated from any real reality now in charge of a rogue nation with a starving population, a big army and lots of nukes.  If it wasn’t reality it would make a great episode on South Park.

Finally the magic of Tim Tebow ran out today against Tom Brady and the New England Patriots.  It was a good battle but the Tebow and the Broncos turned the ball over in critical situations and the Patriots not only took advantage of every break but made their own. Yet it was a classy game. Two decent men quarterbacking NFL teams behaved with class during and after the game.  The Patriots with the Ravens losing are now in control of home field advantage in the AFC playoffs.  Raiders blew a 13 point lead in the 4th Quarter and lost to the Lions and thus the Broncos remained even with the Raiders for the AFC West lead as San Diego made up a game on both by knocking off the Ravens.

As far as Padre Steve, it was a day of travel followed by fellowship with friends at Gordon Biersch followed by doctors appointments for her tomorrow before making the trip back. Of course our little dog Molly is enjoying the long rides and trips through drive thru restaurants.  Tomorrow evening Molly will be sweetly telling me every time that she thinks that she needs to pee or take a walk down to the beach and back.  Life is good when you are a cute little dog.

Anyway, have a great final week of preparation for Christmas or whatever holiday that you celebrate or even those that you don’t.

Peace

Padre Steve+

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The Last Troops Leave as Sunnis Quit Iraqi Parliament

The final contingent of American Soldiers except those assigned to the US Embassy.  The last US military installation in Iraq, Camp Adder near Nasiriya during the cover of night to avoid traffic jams and for their security. As the 500 soldier 110 vehicle convoy of Special Troops Battalion 3rd Brigade 1st Cavalry Division from Fort Hood made its way to the Kuwait border the Sunni Block Iraqiya quit the Iraqi Parliament.  The Americans crossed the fortified border of Kuwait joining their comrades at Camp Virginia marking the end of our  war in Iraq today.

Iraqiya is one of the largest political parties in the country and had entered the government on a power sharing basis with the majority Shia coalition.  Iraqiya is protesting Prime Minister Nouri Al Maliki’s consolation of power in himself and Ma his failure to fill the key Defense Minister and Interior Minister vacancies.  One of the party’s leaders warned of a Maliki dictatorship and the possibility of civil war and the division of the country.

It will be a dangerous time for Iraq and the region. Should their be a civil war the possibility of the intervention of Iran, Saudi Arabia or even Turkey to secure their interests in the country. Such would be a disaster for Iraq and its people.  Somehow the Shia and Sunni will have to find a way to share power or face even more war and destruction.

I pray for my Iraqi friends and that they will find a way to rebuild and unify their country.  Too many American Soldiers, Marines, Sailors and Airmen as well as Iraqi security forces and civilians have died over the course of this war to do anything else.

Our war in Iraq is over and I hope that Iraq and its people will truly unite prosper and become a friend to the United States. Likewise I pray for all of us that served in Iraq and our families that time will also heal the wounds of war.  But only time will tell.  God willing, Inshallah.

Peace

Padre Steve+

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Musings at the end of Busy Week, the Penn State Scandal and Barry Bonds Sentence…Padre Steve has a “Gracie Jane” Moment

It has been a very busy and tiring week.  However I am in good spirits and though tired am feeling more in the Christmas spirit.  Ho.  I’m not up to more than that yet but it is a start. When we get back to North Carolina from our next excursion to home in Virginia on Monday it is time for some housecleaning and decorating for Christmas. We have been so busy with Judy’s surgery, recovery, travel and work around the Virginia house the month has gone by fast than I could imagine. I mentioned to a coworker that it hadn’t even felt like theChristmas season  because we were so busy.  Thankfully I have gotten a bit better sleep and have a couple of evening where I could actually stop and rest my brain by doing some reading and writing.  I still have to do the mid-month bills but that will be my arithmetic for the week. However all week I have felt like doing a Gracie Jane type article, finally

Anyway a few “Gracie Jane” thoughts…

What is up with Jerry Sandusky, his lawyers and the knuckleheads that ran the Penn State Football program and Athletic department?  I could never have imagined what is continuing the be revealed and the banality with which such evil was tolerated and covered up for years.  Nor can I imagine a more loathsome defense team and their arrogant yet inept handing of the case. I can understand trying to defend your guy but these guys are second rate yokels.  This is no O.J. Dream Team and they are rapidly securing their place in legal and moral infamy with their defense strategy.  Johnny Cochran would never had let Sandusky continue to hang himself and speaking of hanging himself I was aghast at the comments of former Penn State Senior Vice President Gary Schultz to the Grand Jury that after allegedly being told about the sexual contact between Jerry Sandusky and a young boy in a shower in 2002 that “I had the impression that Sandusky wrestled the boy in the shower and grabbed his genitals.”

He went on to say that “Not all inappropriate conduct is criminal” and that “I don’t know if it’s criminal.” I don’t know about you but if anyone even hinted to me that they were reporting such an act my next call would be to the appropriate police authorities and child protective services offices.  The only thing Schultz and the University did was to tell Sandusky to not bring the kids on campus.  The fact that he knew about a 1998 incident where the police were involved and had a copy of their 95 page report Schultz refused to report the incident to police saying that “The allegations came across as not that serious. We had no indication that a crime occurred.”  However he was were told by both Paterno and the witness former Penn State assistant coach Mike McQueary and Paterno even contacted Schultz on a Sunday. Not exactly SOP for something “not serious.”

Schultz and former Athletic Director Tim Curley are being charged by prosecutors with lying to the Grand Jury. Their lawyers maintain their innocence but the more that we learn the worse the situation looks. Yes they are innocent until proven guilty and a jury will decide that when they and Sandusky go to trial.

I know that I’m starting to sound like Boston Legal’s parody of Nancy Grace “Gracie Jane” but all of these guys look guiltier every day and their sleazy lawyers look like lowbrow hacks.  You can be sure that Jerry Seinfeld and Kosmo Kramer’s lawyer Jackie Chiles would run these guys out of his office.

Enough said about those guys but what about Barry Bonds. The prosecution threw everything that they could imagine at the former Giants slugger and only got a “guilty” count on a single charge of “obstruction of justice” for misleading Grand Jurors in 2003.  Today Bonds was sentenced to 30 days home confinement, a $4000 fine, 250 hours community service and 2 years probation. Now many believe that Bonds used steroids and he may have. That being said I cannot imagine spending millions of dollars to investigate and prosecute Bonds and only come out with this verdict and sentence.

The prosecutors could have given up this case at several points when their charges were thrown out and evidence deemed inadmissible.  But they continued and got their verdict but at what cost? The lead prosecutor called the sentence “a slap on the wrist” and the fine “laughable.” But really why would any of us want to spend even more taxpayer money keeping Bonds in prison when our country is in so much debt? I think that Judge Susan Illston got the sentence right and if it prosecutors believe that it was a “slap on the wrist” they have nobody but themselves to blame.

When I took a Military Law course back in college our instructor made a comment told us that he felt that if we didn’t feel that evidence would support a guilty verdict at a General Courts Martial that we should probably resist preferring charges in an Article 15 Non-Judicial Punishment proceeding. This is basically a misdemeanor proceeding handled by the unit commander that is  is not considered a criminal conviction at which a defendant can request trial by Court Martial instead of accepting the commander’s judgement.  As a company commander and Brigade Personnel Officer I worked with some excellent prosecutors.  The prosecutors in the Bonds case got embarrassed and deserved this.  They wasted millions of dollars of our tax money to try to convict a man of cheating in baseball by using steroids.

Bonds supporters will support him and his detractors will continue to criticize him for “cheating.”  People will make up their minds and Baseball will have to come to terms with how it will handle the records and legacies all of those that played during the Steroid Era.

Anyway my Gracie Jane moment is over for the night.

Peace

Padre Steve+

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Filed under Baseball, laws and legislation, Loose thoughts and musings

Casing the Colors in Iraq

Today the colors were cased in a ceremony at the US Airbase co-located at the Baghdad International Airport.  It really is hard to believe that this excursion in Mesopotamia is over.  The ceremony marked the formal end to the US military operation in Iraq although a few thousand troops are finishing the retrograde of equipment from the country.

The fact that we might not end up in Iraq again if the Iranians push their Iraq Arab Shia friends too hard. They may share a common strain of Islam but there really is no love lost between the Arabs and the Persians as many Iraqis will derisively call them.  The Iraqis are a proud people and remember Persian rule like it was yesterday. The Persians treated Arabs like dirt and though it was centuries ago the Arabs have not forgotten.  My Iraqi friends both Sunni and Shia recognized that Iran was a threat and hope that if Iran ever attempted to take Iraq over that we would help defend Iraq.

The current US involvement is over after 4484 American service members were killed in action and 32000 wounded.  318 coalition Allied troops died.  The Iraqi Security Forces have lost 8825 soldiers killed with a further 1300 killed during the initial invasion of the country.  Over 100,000 Iraqi civilians are believed to have been killed and some agencies have estimated far higher totals.  Of course the Iraqis are still taking casualties as extremist groups both Shia and Sunni continue their blood feud and the Shia majority tries to solidify its power over the minority former ruling party Sunni.  Over a trillion dollars was spent on the war by the United States and long term costs are expected to reach 2-3 Trillion dollars.  Of course Iraq is still reeling from all of the damage and its involvement in wars with Iran from 1980-1988, the invasion of Kuwait by Saddam Hussein in 1990 and the United States response Operation Desert Storm, the post war sanctions and the enforcement of an oil embargo and a no-fly zone to keep Saddam contained even as he butchered thousands of Iraqis who rose up against him after he was driven from Kuwait and the the current war which began in 2003.

But the numbers are not just numbers, behind every one is a family, wives, husbands, parents, siblings and children as well as friends.  Every one has a name and a face and all meant something to somebody and left a void when they died or were irreversibly changed by the war.  That pain and cost will go on for a long time and there are no words that adequately compensate for these losses. Faith and trust in God’s grace help some but others struggle, even believers.  That I know for a fact because I still do.

I remember flying into Baghdad in 2007 it was the height of the “surge” and I was going to provide Chaplain support to US Advisors to Iraqi Army, Border, Police and other Security Forces in Al Anbar Province.  At the time the base was shelled and when we exited the aircraft it was no peacetime drill we left in our full gear and were brief on what to do should we encountered incoming fire.  It was in Baghdad that I first experienced a rocket attack when one flew over my head.  But now the bases are empty, it must be surreal to be one of the last Americans leaving the country.

For me the end of our involvement is a strange experience.  It was hard to believe in 2007 that we would ever leave. The great edifices that we erected around country some of which were going up even when I was there are mostly empty except for some taken over by the Iraqi military.  Former military bases even in this country are a surreal site.  I have been to a number that were closed following the end of the Cold War.  Fort Wolters Texas near Fort Worth is an example. When I would go to a small section of the base used by the National Guard I would go past many mostly unused buildings including what had been a brand new hospital which opened just before the base was closed following Vietnam. The last time I flew through the former George Air Force Base  when going to and returning from Twenty-Nine Palms it was a ghost town except a few businesses and hundreds of former commercial jets parked on the tarmac. I remember going through recently closed American bases in Germany in the 1990s and saw installations empty. I was also the final Federal Chaplain at Fort Indiantown Gap Pennsylvania when it was transferred to the National Guard.  Built during World War II it was a throwback to a different era. The base has been revitalized as a sizable ground and aviation training center by the Guard with much new construction but the sight of all the World War II “temporary” wooden buildings was amazing. Vast areas of the base we unused and some complete areas were demolished. I helped in getting the main Post Chapel Renovated in order that the existing congregation would be able to continue with a contract Chaplain paid by the Guard and activated or drilling Guard Chaplains.  We had to decommission or convert some to other uses and saved one which was donated to a church 40 miles away who paid to have it deconstructed and rebuilt on their own land. But I digress…

When I was in Iraq in many places there were the remains of Saddam Hussein’s military.  The base that I operated from had a number of abandoned or damaged Iraqi bombers and fighter aircraft parked at it.  Of course most of the existing buildings were converted to American use.  The biggest of these were the Al Faw Palace complex at Camp Victory but Camp Fallujah was the site of one of the Baath Party resorts used by Uday and Qusay Hussein.  I stayed there couple of days while traveling from Baghdad to Taqaddum which was my base of operations because of the capability to get around by air to where I needed to go and proximity to many advisor teams supporting the Iraqi First and Seventh Divisions.

Back then all were major bases with a large American presence which was inflated by many of the contractors, American and from other countries that supported base operations from the chow hall, to the laundry, the fire department and even the cleaning of the shower trailers and countless porta-johns.

People will debate for many years whether the war was worth it and I can only say that I hope that history will show that it was despite the huge loss of life, the destruction of a country and the vast expenditure of the national treasury.  It is probably too early to make that judgement, we tend to be pretty bad in making those decisions in the moment.  That is one of the problems in this age of information overload.  We have lots of data but no historical context and we make decisions that we think are correct but find out years later were tragically erroneous.

At the same time we cannot go back in time and change the past. For good or for bad we have to go forward from now and hopefully in time Iraq and its people will recover from the effects of over 30 years of war and economic sanctions.  We will find out over the next 10 to 50 years what the real effect is.  But for now we are left with a weak Iraq, a strong and threatening Iran and our own diminished military capacity and weak economy as well as a war that is not going well in Afghanistan.

I doubt that that can give comfort to the families of those that died in Iraq or came back wounded in mind body or spirit.  I know that I came back different, PTSD has a way of doing that.

But I am proud of the Marines, Soldiers, Sailors, Airmen and Iraqi officers that I served alongside in the badlands of Al Anbar Province mostly far away from the immediate help of any big units if they got in trouble.  I know how valiant and skilled they were fighting Al Qaida Iraq and other insurgents and even foreign fighters from places like Chechnya aided by Iran and others.  It was a brutal fight at times but the men of the Iraqi 1st and 7th Divisions and our advisors helped turn the tide during 2007 and 2008.  Without their diligence and toughness combined with the help of Iraqi civilians the war would have ended differently.

Tonight as I walked the dog to the beach I looked up at the sky. In our neighborhood there are not many street lights and most are clustered in one small area. Since many residents are not here in the winter many of the homes are dark as well and there are areas that have no houses but are lots covered in pine trees.  In the dark I was thinking about Iraq and I could hear the sound of the sea crashing on the beach.  I looked up at the sky and saw the most stars I have seen since being out on the Syrian border in December 2007.  I was reminded that I left part of me in Iraq and I pray for the Iraqis that I served with and those that provided us hospitality during our missions.

As I walked I thought of the words of Otto Von Bismarck one of the greatest statesmen that every lived.  Our war in Iraq was a preventive war.  Bismarck said that “Preventive war is like committing suicide out of fear of death.”  I pray that in our case that he was not right and that we think long and hard before entering another preventive war with anyone.  Bismarck, who knew war commented that “Anyone who has ever looked into the glazed eyes of a soldier dying on the battlefield will think hard before starting a war.” Unfortunately the vast majority of our elected leaders have ever done that.  Bismarck was certainly no pacifist but warned us that “I consider even a victorious war as an evil, from which statesmanship must endeavor to spare nations.”

The world is not a safe place and our near about 140,000 US and NATO troops are still engaged against a stubborn enemy in Afghanistan that has been aided by wavering allies such as Pakistan and sworn enemies like Iran.  War seems to threaten on many fronts.  I pray that we will be prudent before entering another.

I have rambled a bit tonight because I have so many thoughts and images of the war.  I trust your indulgence.  But for now the colors have been cased and our military involvement in Iraq is over.  We can only pray that Iraq will recover and become a free and prosperous country that treats its citizens well and that we too will recover from this war.  But then Bismarck is sometimes quoted saying that “There is a Providence that protects idiots, drunkards, children, and the United States of America.” I do hope that if he did say this that he was right.

Peace and and as my Iraqi friends would say Inshallah (إن شاء الله)

Padre Steve+

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It’s a Dog’s Life

“The dog is the most faithful of animals and would be much esteemed were it not so common. Our Lord God has made His greatest gifts the commonest.” ― Martin Luther

“Petting, scratching, and cuddling a dog could be as soothing to the mind and heart as deep meditation and almost as good for the soul as prayer.”  Dean Koontz, False Memory

When people talk about their dogs like they are nearly human there are some that think them crazy. Of course they are entitled to their opinion but then they haven’t had our dogs.   Judy and I both grew up with dogs and neither of us can imagine not having one to spoil.

Our little dog Molly has a rough life. She is our third dog and has all the benefits negotiated by our first two dogs. She gets a dog biscuit because our first dog, an incredibly stubborn Wire Hair Dachshund that we got on Christmas Eve 1984 in Wiesbaden Germany named Frieda. Now Frieda was the “dog from hell” and tested us every day of her life. She never got it that she was not the top dog and every day it was a different power fight. Eventually she succeed in getting us to pay her to do her business outside and not on the rug. Our second dog, Greta a fat little Red Dachshund that we got in San Antonio when Frieda was four years old also got the same deal even though she was easy to housebreak.

Molly simply takes the “cookie” as we call it as her due.  We talk about “renewing her contract” when we buy dog food and well she has a more toys than some kids. It is funny to see dig through her toy basket for specific toys especially when she drags out toys from her puppyhood.  She is a fearless little creature and absolutely calming. When we went to the beach to watch fireworks on July 4th she was steady as a rock as people set of their own show grade fireworks above our heads and I was trying to control PTSD related flashbacks and a major anxiety attack she seemed to sense it and kept close to me, her calmness helped me calm down that night.

One of the things that she loves to do is come with us down to the Island Hermitage in Emerald Isle North Carolina. Since I am stationed at Camp LeJeune and I am a geographic bachelor this means that I make the trip home to Virginia every couple of weeks. Judy had surgery on her Achilles tendon two weeks ago and this week came down here with me since my apartment is all at the ground level and there are no steps to negotiate.  Of course our little dog Molly made the trip as well.

Molly like the island life.  I live about a quarter mile from the beach in a quiet neighborhood with a lot of woods and wildlife.  Molly has discovered that the local deer like to hang around where I live, she loves the beach, the walks where she can track various animals and of course the 6 foot long bean bag in my living room which she has decided is hers.  Molly is half Dachshund and half Papillon and weighs all of 15 pounds.  However she has decided that the bean bag is hers thank you.

She came down the first time with Judy during the summer and then had a short vacation with me here in October.  When we came down here this week she seemed to anticipate where we were were going, obviously a trip this long means that she is going on vacation.

Yes she is spoiled. She was a rescue that we got when she was about 6 months old.  We don’t know if she was a run away or dump but we came out with a gem. Incredibly smart, sweet and always playful she seems to know that she is cute and funny.  She can be obnoxious and is entirely too entitled but she is a monster of our own making.

She has a sense of fairness about her that is funny. She will divide here time between us almost as if she doesn’t want either of us to feel left out.  She has figured out that Judy hasn’t been well and has poured out extra attention on her while ensuring that I take her out for her walk and make sure that she has her food and water.

Anyway she is entertaining and sweet and always fun.  We are blessed to have the her and hope that if you have a dog that yours brings as much joy to your life as molly does ours.

Peace

Padre Steve+

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