Daily Archives: February 10, 2013

Half Full or Half Empty? The Sergeant Oddball Way

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“Why don’t you knock it off with them negative waves? Why don’t you dig how beautiful it is out here? Why don’t you say something righteous and hopeful for a change?” Sargent Oddball (Donald Sutherland) Kelly’s Heroes 

Some people look at a glass and see it half empty. Some look at the same glass and see it as half full. I like to look at the glass and its contents, and like Sergeant Oddball in Kelly’s Heroes I get tired when people are full of nothing but negativity.

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This is the classic paradigm posed by those who observe how people approach life. On the whole they are not a bad analogy regarding how some have a negative view of life and others a positive view of life.

However I believe that such an explanation is simplistic. Those that see the glass as half empty, though we view them as negative negative may still see something of value in the glass and even appreciate the glass itself. Those that see the glass as half full are presumed to be positive, however they too may be limited in how they see the glass and its contents. They may see the glass as half full but not fully appreciate the contents of the glass or for that matter the glass itself.

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That being the case I believe that there are some people that I have met that fall outside the prescriptive boundaries. I know some people who not only are negative, but obsessed with an almost nihilistic gloom about life in general, in particular with how life treats them. To me it seems that they do not see the glass as half full but find something wrong with the glass. In fact it seems to me that some people not only find something wrong with the glass, a flaw of some kind that makes the glass less valuable, unsightly or unusable, but actually believe that the glass poses a danger to them. The glass might shatter and send a shard of glass into their eye. Of course such things are possible but highly unlikely, but some people live their lives in such a manner and unfortunately their gloom and negativity impacts the lives of those around them, frequently the people closest to them who love them the most.

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Then there are people who defy the odds, people who appreciate the glass and place appropriate value to its contents. They are the people who can envision a positive future, people not content with the simple answer of seeing a glass as half empty or half full, nor any situation as inherently positive or negative. They are the people who can look at reality, appreciate the complexity and difficulty of life as well as sorrow and joy yet still see beauty and hope. It does not mean that they view life through the naive lens of Pollyanna, but appreciate life to its fullest, its joys and sorrows, triumphs and tragedies and still can find meaning in each event. They can find beauty and hope for the future.

They are considered many to be oddballs. However, I find oddballs to be fascinating and I know that some people consider me to be somewhat of an oddball so I am perfectly happy in trying to find meaning and beauty in all of life, even circumstances that which are less than ideal.

There are plenty of negative thinkers out there today. The Unholy Trinity of politicians, preachers and pundits often lead the way in poisoning the attitudes and perspective of people who are just trying to get through life, raise their families and work for a better future. I feel like echoing the words of Sergeant Oddball when told by Kelly (Clint Eastwood) about his seemingly impossible plan: “Crazy… I mean like, so many positive waves… maybe we can’t lose, you’re on!”

I like people like that and to all the anti-social types and purveyors of doom and gloom I say: “Woof, woof, woof! That’s my other dog imitation.”

Peace

 

Padre Steve+

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Everyone Dies…But Not Everyone Lives: Thoughts on Life, Death, Faith and Community

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“Whether it’s the best of times or the worst of times, it’s the only time we’ve got. ~Art Buchwald”

I had an epiphany during my post Iraq PTSD crash….“Everybody dies, but not everybody lives.” I actually think that I remembered a similar quote from the movie Braveheart but whether it was a real epiphany or simply an errant movie quote that resonated in my badly shaken brain it really doesn’t matter.

The value of living life to the fullest really came to me then. Now I admit, though I discovered that truth, it was often difficult to make real in my life. That being said, living every day matters to me and doing so in community with others, people who have an important part in my life.

To get to this point has not been easy. I have 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 long and painful deaths which can only be described as excruciating.

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 Anglican theologian Alister McGrath says: “Life under the Cross.” I had one of those experiences with a Navy widow when I was serving as the ICU chaplain at Naval Medical Center Portsmouth back in 2009. The woman 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, 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. In fact that should be a normal part of life and faith. But when we do stand up against injustice 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. It almost seems that for them the glass is neither half full or half empty; but rather that there is a flaw in the glass that will cause it to explode and send a shard of glass into their eye. Mark Twain said that “the fear of death follows from the fear of life. A man who lives fully is prepared to die at any time.”

There are also people of faith, or at least people that believe that they 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 people actually kill in the name of their God and I am not simply talking about radical Islamic terrorists. There are plenty of examples of this among the Christian, Jewish and Hindu faiths throughout history.

There are plenty of others from every faith tradition who dehumanize other people. The members of 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. That being said I have seen others who have no faith who mock those who have strong religious faith and seek to deny them their rights. Both religious and secular radicals are often 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, and certainly not by the men that wrote our Bill of Rights.

My Clinical Pastoral Education supervisor during my hospital chaplain 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 have 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 belittle, silence, attack, dehumanize and quite often 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.

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 do my best to remain respectful and not become enemies just because of a difference of views. I have chosen to live in this reality but unfortunately I don’t always live up to my own expectations.

As I look forward to another year of writing on Padre Steve’s World I hope that what I do in thought, word and deed is to live and to help others to live. There is far too much death, trauma and hatred in this country and the world not to attempt to do so.

Thank you for following this site and blessings,

Peace,

Padre Steve+

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