Category Archives: books and literature

Books and Burbs

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

“He can’t come out until he resembles the man that I married.” Carol Peterson, Carrie Fisher in The Burbs.

As always I am reading even though at work I have been extraordinarily busy. Last night I finished Christopher Clark’s tome The Sleepwalkers: How Europe Went to War in 1914 and began reading David Halberstam’s The Best and the Brightest and Nicholas Stargardt’s The German War: A Nation Under Arms, 1939-1945. Today I also received in the mail a copy of a book that I used to cut my 7th period Geometry class in order to read in my high school library, Theodore Roscoe’s United States Destroyer Operations in World War II.

Clark’s book is exceptional and needs to be read alongside other titles dealing with the same era including Barbara Tuchman’s The Guns of August. I have read many of Halberstam’s other books and as always his work is deeply engrossing. I’ll make a full report when I am done with it but it is a myth buster. Stargardt’s book is also hard to put down and between the two books I have about a thousand pages of reading ahead of me. At lunchtime I am reading Tony Judt’s I’ll Fares the Land. I think that should get me through the first week of December. Roscoe’s Destroyer Operations is a gem for anyone who appreciates the sacrifices made by the Tin Can sailors of the U.S. Navy in the Second Ward War. It too is some 500 pages long but it is to be savored like a really nice Irish Single Malt Whiskey just before bed. Of course I have some other books in my book stack to read, but these are the current ones on top.

Tonight I am watching one of my favorite movies, The Burbs starring Tom Hanks and the late Carrie Fisher. If there is a cinematic couple that is me and Judy it is the characters portrayed by Hanks and Fisher in that film. Honestly I cannot ever not laugh watching the movie. Judy agrees that Carrie Fisher’s character is her, the true voice of reason.

So until tomorrow,

Peace,

Padre Steve+

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So Many Books, So Little Time

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

Frank Zappa one noted; “So many books, so little time”, and truthfully I have to share in his thoughts.

The past month has been very busy with travel as well as work but at the same time I have continued to read at a rather brisk pace and I want to let you know what I have been reading so you can see what has been provoking so many of my thoughts. In fact since we went to Germany I have spent less time on social media, less time diving deep into the current news of the day, and more time reading as well as walking and contemplating what I have read.

Over the past month I have read Walter Lord’s Miracle at Dunkirk, Amy S. Greenberg’s A Wicked War: Polk, Clay, Lincoln, and the 1846 U.S. Invasion of Mexico, Geoffrey Megargee’s War of Annihilation: Combat and Genocide on the Eastern Front, 1941, Deborah Lipstadt’s The Eichmann Trial, while I am in some way involved with working my way through Richard Evans’ Lying About Hitler: History, Holocaust, and the David Irving Trial, William Craig’s The Fall of Japan: The Final Weeks of WWII in the Pacific, Christopher Clark’s The Sleepwalkers:How Europe Went to War in 1914.

All of these books are important. Dunkirk which Lord wrote decades ago is very useful in interpreting the film of the same name that came out last summer. I actually think it is one of the best because of his focus on the individuals involved. Greenberg’s A Wicked War deals with the major personalities involved in the U.S. invasion of Mexico and the precedent that the actions of President James K. Polk in launching an unprovoked, immoral, and criminal war of aggression on a weaker neighbor. It is very pertinent reading in our present day and the portrayals of both Henry Clay and Abraham Lincoln remind us that it is not unpatriotic to oppose a President when he acts against the ideals of the country and lies to get his agenda passed. Megargee’s War of Annihilation is important because it helps to crush the myth embraced by many military history buffs that the German Wehrmacht had clean hands in the conduct of the war and that it was only the SS which executed the crimes of the Nazis. The evidence that Megargee presents of the complicity of the senior leaders of the Wehrmacht in the crimes against the Poles and during Operation Barbarossa against the Russians, as well as their assistance to the killing squads of the Einsatzgruppen is a needed tonic against the myth. Finally, Lipstadt’s The Eichmann Trial is an excellent presentation of the case which is able to correct some of the myths about Eichmann and the trial, including a fair critique of Hannah Arendt’s treatment of the trial.

In addition to the books I am currently reading I have more waiting in the wings including Michael Burleigh’s Moral Combat: Good and Evil in World War II, Alistair Horne’s The Age of Napoleon, George Annas and Michael Grodin’s The Nazi Doctors and the Nuremberg Code: Human Rights in Human Experimentation, Vivien Spitz’s Doctors from Hell: The Horrific Account of Nazi Experiments on Humans, Laurence Rees’s The Nazis, a Waring from History, and Megargee’s Inside Hitler’s High Command.

Books are important and if we don’t read we fail to understand life itself. Reading helps put life in context, even things that seem unjust or unfair, or the disappointments of life, as James Baldwin wrote: “You think your pain and your heartbreak are unprecedented in the history of the world, but then you read. It was books that taught me that the things that tormented me most were the very things that connected me with all the people who were alive, who had ever been alive.

So until tomorrow,

Peace,

Padre Steve+

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The Day After Veteran’s Day

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Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

It is the day after Veteran’s Day and I still am in a reflective mood about it. Of course if there were no war, if war had become a thing of the past, a sad chapter in the course of human history, the day would be less personal. It would simply be a day where people looked back in time possibly honoring ancestors, but not to their left or right, remembering their family members, friends, and neighbors who fight the wars that most people avoid. Herman Wouk, in his classic novel War and Remembrance wrote:

“In the glare, the great and terrible light of this happening, God seems to signal that the story of the rest of us need not end, and that the new light can prove a troubled dawn. 

For the rest of us, perhaps. Not for the dead, not for the more than fifty million real dead in the world’s worst catastrophe: victors and vanquished, combatants and civilians, people of so many nations, men, women, and children, all cut down. For them there can be no new earthly dawn. Yet thought their bones like in the darkness of the grave, they will not have died in vain, if their remembrance can lead us from the long, long time of war to the time for peace.”

The First World War was supposed to be the war to end all war, instead became war to end all peace. That war ended at the eleventh day, of the eleventh month, and the eleventh day of 1918. However, the subsequent turmoil after that first “Armistice Day” which ended the fighting of the First World War, has birthed war without end. The Treaty of Versailles and the Sykes-Picot agreement ensured that war would be part of the last century and will be a part of life for the foreseeable future. Agatha Christie, the great English author who served as a volunteer nurse in the First World War, wrote, “One is left with the horrible feeling now that war settles nothing; that to win a war is as disastrous as to lose one.”

General Robert E. Lee wrote his wife Mary Custis Lee in 1864 as the bloodshed of the Civil War came to a climax, “What a cruel thing is war: to separate and destroy families and friends, and mar the purest joys and happiness God has granted us in this world; to fill our hearts with hatred instead of love for our neighbors, and to devastate the fair face of this beautiful world.”

As I noted, Veteran’s Day 2015 is over but I have not stopped reflecting on war and its cost. Having served in combat myself, and having stood over the wounded in field hospitals in Iraq and having seen the devastation of war up close and personal I have a hard time reducing war to the technology, the tactics and trivia that seem to satisfy the consumers of war porn. Call me whatever you want but I cannot get around the human cost of war. William Tecumseh Sherman reflected, “It is only those who have neither fired a shot nor heard the shrieks and groans of the wounded who cry aloud for blood, more vengeance, more desolation. War is hell.” 

One of my favorite historians of the Second World War, Cornelius Ryan who wrote the magnificent accounts of D-Day, The Longest Day, Operation Market Garden, A Bridge Too Far, and the Battle of Berlin, The Last Battle said about his accounts: “What I write about is not war but the courage of man.” I think that writing about courage is appropriate and I do a lot of that. But I think in addition to courage that we also must write about the frailty and fallibility of human beings, especially the leaders who plan and conduct war, as well as the ordinary men and women who serve during war.

When I teach or write about military history I find it important to make sure that the people who made that history are not forgotten.  After all, as the British military theorist Colin Gray says, “people matter most” when we deal with history, policy, or politics, especially in the matter of war. He is right of course; people are the one constant in war. Weapons and tactics may change, but people do not.

Likewise we cannot forget that war, even wars for the most excruciatingly correct and even righteous reasons are always tragic. The cost of war, even so called “good wars” is devastating. Ernest Hemingway wrote, “Never think that war, no matter how necessary, nor how justified, is not a crime.” To the war porn addicts the words of Sherman or Hemingway surely are offensive, but they provide a necessary warning to the politicians, pundits and preachers who cannot get enough war to satiate their bloodlust and need for power. Sadly, most of the men and women who revel in war without end have neither served in combat or have any skin in the game regarding the wars that they support and those which they work so hard to bring about. Maybe if they did then they would not be so quick to send young men and women to war.

Those who follow me on this site know that I write about war a lot, some might say too much, but I cannot help that. My life has been forever changed by war.  If you look back through my archives you can see how my writing has evolved when it comes to dealing with war and part of that is because I do not want the sacrifices of the men and women who fought those wars to be forgotten or cheapened by a society which from the very beginning of our history has done so. Lieutenant General Hal Moore who co-authored the book “We Were Soldiers Once, and Young” wrote: “in our time battles were forgotten, our sacrifices were discounted, and both our sanity and suitability for life in polite American society were publicly questioned.” By continuing to write and teach I hope to ensure that this does not happen. Maybe I am “pissing into the wind,” but I cannot stand by silently and pretend that war can be glamorized and glorified for the benefit people who never serve.

I am a combat veteran, I have seen the devastation of war, I have lost friends in war, men and women who did not come home. I have seen other friends struggle in the aftermath of war, and I have seen some lose that struggle. Because I am a military historian as well as a priest, I feel a sacred duty to ensure that people know the real cost of war.

I do this in my official capacity teaching ethics and leading the Gettysburg Staff Ride for the Staff College where I have the honor to serve as faculty. This itself is interesting as I am spending the final few years of a three and a half decade military career teaching the men and women who in not too long of time will be our nation’s senior military leaders. That is a responsibility that I take most seriously. Thus I always, whether it is in teaching the ethics of war, or about the Battle of Gettysburg I attempt to impress this on my students. I preach from day one to every class that their decisions in the planning process, their recommendations to senior political and military leaders, and their decisions on the battlefield impact real people, their soldiers, the people in the lands that they fight and on the home front.

I have been writing a text for the Gettysburg Staff Ride, which I believe, will eventually become at least two and maybe more books. I tie a lot of biographic material in with the text, again in order to make what could be a dry and mechanical affair more real to my students and readers. That is one of the reasons that I find going to Gettysburg and walking that hallowed ground so important.

I find that the lives, beliefs, motivations, relationships, and experiences of people to be paramount to understanding events. People are complex, multi-layered and often contradictory. All of my heroes all have feet of clay, which in a sense makes their stories even richer, and the events that they helped bring about far more fascinating. By not denying their humanity, by understanding and appreciating their flaws, even the flaws in their character, I gain a more holistic perspective and develop a greater appreciation and empathy for them and a deeper understanding of my own flaws. As T.E. Lawrence wrote, “Immorality, I know. Immortality, I cannot judge.” 

The complex and contradictory nature of humanity leads to a lot of confusion for people who see the world through the black and white lens of cosmic dualism where there is only good and evil and “if you’re not for us, you’re against us.”  Human nature shows us that things are much more complex, nuanced and blurry, there are far more than fifty shades of gray when it comes to humanity and the participation of men and women in war.

Because of this otherwise good and honorable people can find themselves for any number of reasons, fighting for an evil cause, while people who are more evil than good can end up fighting for a good cause. Now if you are one of those people who are trapped by an absolute ideological or religious certitude that cannot allow for such contradictions, that statement may confuse or even offend you. For that I do not apologize and I hope that you are offended enough to face the truth, for that is the human condition, and that my friends is what history, and especially that dealing with the most destructive and consequential issues involving humanity must deal with.

So I will continue to write about war and try in the process to humanize it for my readers and to tell the stories of the tragedy that is war in such a way that even those who have not been to war, can imagine it and in doing so make wise decisions if they are to send other people’s children to fight their wars. The subject is far too important to be left to the purveyors of war porn who seek to satiate the bloodlust of others. Thus I write to ensure people remember, so that those who do not know war will never have to experience it.

As for the form of my writing, I am becoming much more deliberate in trying to craft the story. Barbara Tuchman wrote something that I am now beginning to appreciate as I write my own book on Gettysburg and the Civil War, and other works that I plan on writing, “I have always felt like an artist when I work on a book. I see no reason why the word should always be confined to writers of fiction and poetry.” 

Anyway, that is all for today.

Peace

Padre Steve+

 

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Monday Musings: Books the Carriers of Civilization 

  

Friends of Padre Steve’s World

It is Monday and I am traveling back home from the conference that I attended in Houston and I am tired after traveling and spending most of the weekend sick. But to be fair the conference was well worth it. 

 As I muse about the the coming week I am stuck on something that I saw about the decline in the number of Americans who read books, and it occurred to me that this is probably a major factor in the ignorance displayed by so many Americans on so many subjects. A Pew survey reported that 23% of Americans read no books whatsoever in 2013 and over a hefty half  of Americans read fewer than five books. The survey did not ask what people were reading but by my perusal of best-seller lists, Amazon.com notifications and bookstore racks it appears that much of what is read is junk. No judgement intended but the best sellers in the non-fiction world are almost universally written by popular but biased and often ignorant political pundits, preachers and politicians. 

As a society we just don’t read, and much of what we do read is not directed toward learning but political-religious indoctrination, or to make us feel good about our own lifestyle or prejudices. 

I am a historian, theologian and stand-up philosopher. I have always read. Since the day I was introduced to the library and the card catalogue in grade school I have never ceased to read, and if I do not become distracted I can read hundreds of pages a day by authors who challenge my presuppositions or shed new light on subjects I already thought myself competent. My wife Judy is the same way, her tastes in subjects is different than mine, but she almost always is reading, be it a real book in print for or and-book. However, that being said I know many people, including people who are educated who have either stopped reading or console themselves in the works of the pundits, politicians and preachers, that Trinity of Evil whose one overriding goal is to convince people to follow what they say without thinking critically. 

if we don’t read, as a civilization we die.

Barbara Tuchman wrote:

 “Books are the carriers of civilization. Without books, history is silent, literature dumb, science crippled, thought and speculation at a standstill. Without books, the development of civilization would have been impossible. They are engines of change (as the poet said), windows on the world and lighthouses erected in the sea of time. They are companions, teachers, magicians, bankers of the treasures of the mind. Books are humanity in print.”

Abraham Lincoln, though lacking a formal education was always reading, it helped make him into one of the most formidable thinkers of his day, and helped him keep perspective even when he met setback after setback that would have crushed anyone else. There are hundreds, if not thousands of other examples that I could cite of men and women whose personal strength and character was shaped by what they read. Sadly, we lack that today, but thankfully it does appear that there might be some hope. According to the Pew survey Minnenials read more than those older than them. 

But just looking around we can see the result of the literary deprivation that afflicts our society. Half-baked conspiracy theories promoted by politicians, pundits and preachers are given the air of respectability by supposed news organizations. When someone has the integrity to ask hard questions or challenge the purveyors of such intellectual smut they are condemned. That my friends is a demonstration of the level of ignorance that we have allowed ourselves to sink to, something that in an age where we have the literary, scientific, philosophical, religious and historical classics of civilization at our figertips, is inexcusable. 

I shall come back to this another time because writing in the aisle seat of a Boeing 737 has some limitations. 

So this week I should be putting out at least one Gettysburg article and possibly one Abraham Lincoln. I will be doing one about the Dootlitle Raid on Toyko which occurred 73 years ago this week during the darkest days of the Second World War as well as some other subjects that I am musing about. 

As for now I am going to use the last hour of my flight to continue reading Doris Kearns Goodwin’s Pulitizer Prize winning book Team of Rivals: The Political Genious of Abraham Lincoln. I highly recommend it. 

So from 39000 feet over Southeestern Ohio I wish you a good day.

Peace

Padre Steve+

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Who Are the Real Savages? A Review of “The Lost Tribe of Coney Island by Claire Prentice

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Mark Twain once wrote that “There are many humorous things in the world; among them the white man’s notion that he is less savage than other savages.”

Throughout the history many races, peoples and civilizations have labored under the belief that they are superior to races that they have conquered or “liberated” and then placed on display for their own amusement. The Persians, Greeks, Egyptians, Romans, Chinese, Japanese and a host of European powers have done such things, as have we Americans. Sadly, in many cases the motives are evil, but sometimes there are shades of gray where one civilization, or certain representatives of it act in a manner of benevolent paternalism, while at the same time seeking to profit off of their superior place in life, whether they believe it is a mandate from God or the right of being biologically superior through the evolutionary process, and sometime a bit of both.

Award winning journalist Claire Prentice writes in her new book The Lost Tribe of Coney Island: Headhunters, Luna Park, and the Man Who Pulled Off the Spectacle of the Century (New Harvest, Houghton Mifflin Company, Boston and New York October 2014) of the story of American physician, soldier, treasure seeker, colonial administrator and showman Dr. Truman Knight Hunt and his exploitation of a group of forty-nine members of the Igorrote tribe who it brought to the United States in 1905.

Prentice’s telling of this story is a highly readable yet sobering account of the morality, economics, racism, colonialism and belief in the superiority of the white man above the “non-Christian savage” of that time. Her ability to weave the complex humanity of Hunt, a man who went to the Philippines out of a sense of patriotism, stayed in search of fortune, put his life on the line for the healthcare of the Igorrote, gained their trust, became a colonial administrator and then, seeking profit attempted to use the people who trusted him for his own gain after seeing another American reap the spoils of creating a human zoo of Igorrote and other Filipino tribesmen at the 1904 World’s Fair in St. Louis.

The story of how Hunt initially pulled this off amid the controversy evoked by the American war and occupation of the Philippines following the expulsion of the Spanish in 1898 is well told by Prentice. She is able to weave a story of complex motives, competing business interests to exploit people for the profit and entertainment of others into a highly readable tale.

The little known fact is that after evicting the Spanish from the Philippines the United States turned on the Filipino people and leaders who had helped us during the military campaign against the Spanish. The result was the 1899-1902 Philippine War, a brutal counter-insurgency campaign that was successfully concluded in a military sense, unlike most of the other counter-insurgency campaigns of he twentieth century, including Iraq and Afghanistan. The aftermath was a colonial administration of the new American Philippine Territory which only ended when the Japanese invaded the Philippines in 1941, after the liberation of the Philippines and following the Second World War, that country was finally granted its independence.

Hunt brought these forty-nine people to Luna Park on Coney Island, Hunt’s Igorrotes were basically, as other supposedly “savage” peoples had been before housed in what was little more than human zoo, for the amusement of Americans and the profit of Hunt and his partners. Prentice traces the roots of Hunt’s quest, the culture and history of the Igorrotes, and the greed, duplicity and the government quest that eventually brought Hunt to Justice and ended this spectacle.

 

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If Hunt had abided by his deal with the Igorrote to allow them to be paid and to keep money they made from the sale of various items, the situation might have gone on without incident, but Hunt lied to his charges, he kept them in padlocked cages or “villages,” sometimes going days without food, Hunt attempted to keep their money from them claiming that he was “ordered by the government to do so.” Eventually, the man hired by Hunt as his interpreter turned evidence against him, and the charade fell apart. Confronted by a government agent, Hunt’s Igorrote contradicted Hunt’s claim that the were happy and wanted to remain a part of his show, which he moved from Coney Island, to Chicago and on to Milwaukee.

Hunt was finally arrested for embezzlement in 1906, his faithful Igorrote interpreter Julio had filed the complaint with federal authorities. Hunt had without over ten-thousand dollars from his Igorrote tribesmen. A judge allowed most of the Igorrote to return to be released from their “contract” with Hunt while some remained to testify against him. Despite the overwhelming evidence against him a judge in Memphis declared a mistrial and despite attempts by the investigator to bring Hunt to justice, Hunt eluded it and with the great cost of the investigation, trial, the care of the Igorrote, and the massive and controversial costs of administering the Philippines, the government eventually dropped the case. Hunt lived what seemed to be an accursed life, continuing his less than honest living selling sham cures to diseases and leading a bigamous life after his release from jail.  Misfortune followed misfortune and Hunt died, ten years later and was buried in an unmarked grave in Cedar Rapids Iowa.

Despite the end of the relationship with Truman Hunt, other Igorrote remained on display and toured the United States and world for a number of years, though they appear to have fared better than those who Hunt defrauded and mistreated.

The story told by Prentice is remarkable because it shows us that despite the mythology of supposedly beneficent American masters, that American colonialism and profiting by what we would now call human trafficking was not as benevolent. It makes one wonder just who the real savages are, but then it appears that Mark Twain was right.

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This is an outstanding and well written account by Prentice that humanizes a forgotten and shameful part of our American colonial past.

Peace

Padre Steve+

 

 

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In Memory of Father Andrew Greeley: A Man Who Helped Me Believe Again

Andrew Greeley

“I wouldn’t say the world is my parish, but my readers are my parish. And especially the readers that write to me. They’re my parish. And it’s a responsibility that I enjoy.”Andrew Greeley 

By the halfway point in my tour in Iraq I was in the midst of a spiritual crisis that I could not comprehend. Nor would I understand the depths that the crisis would reach. However by November 2007 prayer was difficult if not impossible.  As I tried to comprehend the distress that I was in I continued in a downward cycle, only being out with my advisors and our Iraqis helped, but when I returned to base between missions and eventually when I returned home in 2008 I felt alone and began to wonder about the existence of God.

Since I have always been a voracious reader, primarily of history, theology, military history and theory and more difficult subjects subjects such as ethics and philosophy I tried to use that to get through my crisis. My favorite authors included such men as Carl Von Clausewitz and Von Molkte the Elder, Sun Tzu, T.E. Lawrence, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Hans Kung, Jurgen Moltmann, David Galula, Roger Trinquier, Bernard Fall, Alistair Horne and a host of other authors that most normal Americans would never consider reading or do not know even exist. Fiction of any type was low on my list. About the only works of fiction that I had read were those of Tom Clancy and his Jack Ryan novels, W.E.B. Griffin and his Brotherhood of War series and the baseball fiction of W. P. Kinsella such as Shoeless Joe and The Iowa Baseball Confederacy.

I had a good number of books with me on the deployment. Some which I had packed for the trip and others which I had sent to me. However by November 2007 it was hard to read anything, much less pray. In between missions to Ramadi and the Syrian border I walked in the paperback lending library. I really didn’t know what I was looking for but I looked through every shelf in the small building. The non-fiction and biography sections were not worth the trouble, anything in them that I was interested in I had already read. So I began to look at fiction. I decided to look for authors that I knew, Jack Higgins and Frederick Forsyth who had written a lot of World War II mystery and spy novels including Higgins’ The Eagle Has Landed, Forsyth’s The Odessa File as well as Anton Myrer’s classic Once and Eagle.

The books were arranged alphabetically by author. Between Forsyth and Higgins there was the letter “G” and a number of books by one Andrew Greeley. I knew Greeley, at least I thought that I did. He was to be distrusted because he was a rather “liberal” Catholic Priest, sociologist and columnist for the Chicago Times. So I had been taught. However, I picked up a couple of the books, Bishop Blackie Ryan mysteries, The Bishop Goes to the University and The Beggar Girl of St Germain. 

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In spite of my inherent prejudice from so many years in conservative churches I decided to take both of them. That night as I prepared for my next mission I started reading The Bishop and the Beggar Girl of St Germain. There was a section where Bishop Blackie was talking about a French Priest, very similar to many American televangelists. Quoting the priest, the charismatic Father Jean Claude, Blackie noted:

“Do you exist? I think not. I have never seen you or touched you or felt you. Well, sometimes I think you’re present but that may be wish fulfillment. Intellectually, I have no reason to believe. Yet much of the time I act like I do believe …. Only when I have time to reflect do I feel doubts, and then after the doubts certainty that the universe is cold and lonely. I know that I am a hypocrite and a fool. Then I preside over the Eucharist in my unsteady bumbling way and I know that you are. I don’t believe but I know.”

The words reflected what I was going through. I believed, but I didn’t. Of course that would not only continue as my tour in Iraq progressed but got worse after I returned from Iraq. However, I discovered, much to my surprise that I was not alone. That there were a number of other very good, caring Chaplains, Priests and ministers going through similar doubts, fears and pain.

The irrepressible Bishop Blackie continued:

“Most priests, if they have any sense or any imagination, wonder if they truly believe all the things they preach. Like Jean-Claude they both believe and not believe at the same time.”

The words were an epiphany to me. Belief and unbelief co-existing and strangely congruent with the testimony of scripture, the anguished words of a man whose son was possessed by an evil spirit confessing to Jesus: “I believe, help my unbelief.”

I was hooked. I began to read every book by Father Greeley that I could find. Any of the lending libraries that I visited I scoured to shelves to find Bishop Blackie Ryan mysteries. When I returned to the Unite States I continued to read them. They were the only spiritual reading that I could manage. My Bible. Prayer Book, and other theological books were too difficult. In Andrew Greeley’s Bishop Blackie I found a kindred spirit and in his books, full of flawed characters, an often corrupt ecclesiastical structure I began to re-discover God. Now I admit that the books were an interim step. It did take an encounter in our Emergency Room at Naval Medical Center Portsmouth Virginia when I was the duty Chaplain in December 2009 administering the “last rites” to a dying man that faith much to my surprise returned.

It wasn’t the same faith, or shall I say the same form of faith that returned. It wasn’t a faith of absolute orthodoxy, but rather a faith that still questioned, God and the Church, especially the very culturally American Church that I could find little solace in or honesty, a church consumed with the need to be in political power which derided those not like it. Eventually as I continued to write on this site I began to voice how faith had returned but how it was different. One of those posts in September 2010 got me asked to leave my old denomination. It seemed that I had become in the words of my former Bishop for the Armed Forces “too liberal.”

At first that hurt. It was traumatic, not only was I dealing with PTSD, a crisis in faith and the loss of my father just a couple of months before, but then being cast aside. I knew that it would eventually happen but it was a shock. Thankfully tow things happened. First I was helped to find a denomination in the Old Catholic tradition that was really where I needed to be. Second, those people that were friends in my old denomination remained my friends, including many current leaders in that denomination as well as chaplains. The funny thing was that the man who threw me out was himself removed from his episcopal office for an act of duplicity against his church and his brother bishops that involved every member of the military diocese. That happened barely three months after I was asked to leave. Some friends have speculated that the real reason for my dismissal was that he did not trust me to keep his secret. That I do not know, just that it was speculated by others that knew him and me for many years.

As it was it was a good thing in the long run and through all of it the writings of Father Andrew Greeley, fiction and non-fiction, theological and sociological helped me through the crisis.

Father Greeley died today at the age of 85. For the past five and a half years he had been struggling to recover from a traumatic brain injury incurred when entering a taxi-cab in Chicago in November 2008. The injury curtailed his writing and speaking but he lives on through those writings and in spirit through the many people that he inspired. However, before that happened he was a spokesman for the truth who did not hesitate to critique the church and care for God’s people.

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I am one of those people, like Blackie Ryan a “miscreant Priest” who has learned to believe yet question but most of all realize that the people that I meet in person or those that meet me on this forum are God’s people. That being said I realize that as imperfect and flawed as I am that I might be the only Priest, minister or Chaplain that they ever meet. A quote from Greeley’s last novel, The Archbishop in Andalusia sums up my understanding of ministry, both in the sacraments of the church and the sacrament that we call life.

“Every sacramental encounter is an evangelical occasion. A smile warm and happy is sufficient. If people return to the pews with a smile, it’s been a good day for them. If the priest smiles after the exchanges of grace, it may be the only good experience of the week.”  (The Archbishop in Andalusia p.77)

I have had ministers like the fictional Bishop Blackie in my life as well as those that did not embody that ethic that he represented. I had someone tell me recently that I was able to relate to anyone of any rank or position. In the military that is a big thing. Too often the higher we go in rank the more detached from lower ranking people we become. Thankfully, I think in large part to my dad, who was a Navy Chief Petty Officer, and my wife Judy, whose dad was a truck driver and who never lets me get too big for my britches have a lot to do with that. I think another part is how we have gone through many difficult times in our life and know what it is like to be on the bottom rung or society and the at times quite unfortunately, the church.

Father Greeley inspired me in many ways since I returned from Iraq and I am forever grateful. In another book “White Smoke” Greeley has a fictional papal contender named Luis Emilio Cardinal Menendez y Garcia make a speech which I find particularly inspiring. While it speaks of the Roman Catholic Church I think that it speaks to most churches and reflects how people see us, the Christian Church, no matter what denominational tradition we claim. Likewise it speaks of what we can become:

“So many of our lay people believe that ours is a Church of rules, that being Catholic consists of keeping rules. They do not find an institution which is like that very appealing. Nor should they.

In fact, we are a Church of love. Our message from the Lord himself even today is the message that God is Love and that we are those who are trying, however badly, to reflect that love in the world. I find that in my own city that notion astonishes many people. How we came to misrepresent that which we should be preaching above all else is perhaps the subject for many doctoral dissertations.

More important for us today, however, is the reaffirmation that we exist to preach a God of love, we try to be people of love, and we want our church to be, insofar as we poor humans can make it, a Church of radiant love.

Does such a Church have a future? How could it not?”

I have missed Andrew Greeley’s new writings ever since he was injured. However, when I read how many lives that he touched, especially those who struggle with faith or have been hurt by the church I know that the Spirit of God will still use him and that as of today that freed from the bonds of his earthly infirmities that he will keep us in his prayers. That being said, I will always be grateful to Andrew Greeley. When I was despairing of life itself, his writings, particularly the fictional ministry and work of Bishop Blackie Ryan helped me rediscover an authentic faith.

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Greeley and the wonderful characters that he created will continue to help me and I’m sure from the comments I have seen many others. I also know that through them that he and his witness of Jesus will live on.

Peace

Padre Steve+

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Modern Baseball Magic: Chin Music by Lee Edelstein Padre Steve’s Review for TLC Book Tours

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Chin Music, Lee Edelstein Sela House Publishers Boca Raton Florida 2012

“I’ll promise to go easier on drinking and to get to bed earlier, but not for you, fifty thousand dollars, or two-hundred and fifty thousand dollars will I give up women. They’re too much fun.” Babe Ruth

I don’t read much in the way of fiction but when I do there is a good chance it has something to do with baseball. In fact someday I hope to publish my own baseball fiction fantasy novel someday but I digress….

I guess that it is fitting that I am watching the Semi-Final game of the World Baseball Classic between the Netherlands and the Dominican Republic on television and that my brother Jeff and nephew Nate are in attendance at AT&T Park as I write this tonight. Baseball is a big part of my life as anyone that is a regular reader of this site knows.

Chin Music by Lee Edelstein is actually the first work of fiction of any genre that I have reviewed. Thus I found that reviewing it was a different task than biographic, historic or policy books that I have done in the past.  I write about baseball a lot and do a lot of reading regarding baseball history. To me baseball is something of a religion. To quote the irrepressible Annie Savoy (Susan Saradon) in Bull Durham “the only church that truly feeds the soul, day in, day out, is the Church of Baseball.”

It is hard to compare this book to other great works of baseball fiction such as W P Kinsella’s Shoeless Joe Comes to Iowa, which became the Kevin Costner film Field of Dreams or his less known but perhaps more metaphysically interesting The Iowa Baseball Confederacy; Bernard Malamud’s The Natural or Michael Shaara’s Pulitzer Prize winning novel The Perfect Game which became the Kevin Costner film For the Love of the Game.

Those books are all classics in their own right; Edelstein’s work has the potential to become a classic in its own right. Now days a book becoming a baseball classic may be harder than in previous times. It is sad to sad but Baseball is no longer America’s game. Baseball is timeless but somehow it seems that for many Americans the sport is neither violent or “fast” enough to warrant their attention. The long season and intricacies of the game seem beyond a society addicted to speed, violence and instant gratification. To me that is sad, but this book though a modern look at baseball fiction and fantasy reaches back to a time when it was the dream of almost every American boy to be a professional Baseball player.

Edelstein weaves together the stories of the legendary Babe Ruth, a notorious drunk and womanizer and the Buck family over a period of 85 years.

It is a story that begins in St Petersburg Florida in 1926 when a young woman becomes a barber and ends up with one of the most famous men in America as a customer. The relationship, without concludes in a hotel room, the only records of which are the young woman’s diary, a couple of pictures of her with the Babe in the barber shop and a fair amount of unique and highly valuable baseball memorabilia.

The woman, turns out to be the great grandmother of a gifted but underperforming young high school baseball player named Ryan Buck. The book begins with a motor vehicle accident in which Ryan’s father dies, his brother loses a leg and he suffers what we understand as a Traumatic Brain Injury. Ryan suffers from survivor’s guilt and does not live up to his full potential. His mother, now a working mom and widow embarks to sell her grandmother’s Babe Ruth memorabilia at a baseball card show to help pay the bills and to pay for the costs of Ryan’s brother Michael’s prosthetic leg replacements.

Now I am well acquainted with baseball card shows and memorabilia. My house, much to the chagrin of my wife Judy is filled with objects, none as valuable as original Babe Ruth merchandise portrayed in the book, but for me just as valuable if for nothing else because of my love for the game.

The story that Edelstein paints is fascinating and I do not want to give away too many spoilers because unlike the biographical and historical works I have previously reviewed my audience does not know the ending. As such I will limit the discussion of the plot. I will simply note that it deals with a young man’s miraculous climb from high school to the Major Leagues and reconnection with his late father, the healing of the soul of a woman who has lost her husband who has seen the struggles of her children and held on to the hopes of her late grandmother; a woman considered by her mother a tramp and whore. It includes their interaction with an elderly widower who saves the mother from a bad deal at the card show which leads to the discovery of her grandmother’s diary and other items that lead to an interesting search, not just for memorabilia but also for a family heritage. If you don’t get my drift look back at the Babe Ruth quote that begins this review.

Edelstein did what I did not think possible. He got me interested in a fictional work about baseball that was not already a classic. It grew on me as I read it and even though I began to anticipate the ending about three quarters of the way through I had to keep reading and in doing so was captivated by the story.  No it is not Shoeless Joe, The Perfect Game, or The Natural. Those books stand on their own as classics, but Chin Music has the potential to become a baseball classic for a new generation. It is a story of redemption, healing and hope, something that among all sports that baseball seems to embody. As Walt Whitman said:

“I see great things in baseball.  It’s our game – the American game.  It will take our people out-of-doors, fill them with oxygen, give them a larger physical stoicism.  Tend to relieve us from being a nervous, dyspeptic set.  Repair these losses, and be a blessing to us.”

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I hope that it does and hope that in reading it people will regain their love for what is rightly called “America’s game.” I highly recommend Chin Music by Lee Edelstein to my readers.

Peace

Padre Steve+

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