Category Archives: christian life

“Don’t Try to be Like Me, I didn’t Always Get it Right” Rest In Peace Billy Graham

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

No matter how one viewed him Billy Graham was both a legend, a remarkable man, and a truly historic figure in terms of the Evangelical Christianity that he popularized more than any other preacher before or after him. His legacy will be debated for years and I think that it is very possible that in death he will become larger than he was in life; mostly because those who attempted to follow him were poor imitations or politically motivated hucksters that Graham himself would later have nothing to do with.

Though many knew him as “America’s Pastor” he only briefly served as the pastor of a small church before he became an evangelist, a role for which he was particularly suited, he was the entire package. Graham was young, good looking, and could communicate a simple evangelical message with conviction, passion, and grace in a way that few evangelists before or since have been able to do. He was also incredibly adept in understanding the potential of television and the broadcasting of his message world wide.

When I was a kid his crusades were a staple of television. I had an aunt in Stockon California who when she wasn’t watching Lawrence Welk she was watching Billy Graham crusades. Whenever we visited her viewing habits didn’t change, no wonder my uncle Ted spent so much time in at his favorite local bar, but I digress…

That being said, even when I was eleven or twelve years old Reverend Graham’s crusades were amazing to watch. First was the fact that despite the simplicity of his message he was exceptionally talented in delivering it. To see thousands of people responding to his call for conversion or rededication to Christ as George Beverly Shea led choirs singing the invitational hymn Just as I Am was a thing of rare beauty when it comes to evangelical crusades and altar calls. Billy Graham was a master of manipulating emotions to bring people down the aisle, and I do not mean anything malicious by that.

Graham’s message was simple in its traditional evangelical message. All have sinned, and that means all of us; Christ died to save sinners; repent, believe, and confess Jesus as your savior. The message was not new, it had been preached by Christians in a variety of forms and in many cultural variations for about 1900 years before Graham ever began his first crusade, but Graham’s were much more of the simplistic fundamentalist evangelicalism that has been part of the American landscape since the Second Great Awakening. It had been a staple of Fundamentalist revival preachers for decades before Graham but unlike the hellfire and brimstone message of previous preachers like Billy Sunday Graham focused on the love of God, and unlike so many his sincerity in preaching that message came through whether in person or on television.

His message was grounded in the theology of Pre-millennial Dispensationalism of Irish Anglican Priest John Darby which found its way to North America where it was popularized by American C.I. Schofield. The message was simple and based on the belief the the return of Christ to judge the world was imminent: accept Christ and avoid the wrath to come.

His message was no different than thousands of other preachers like him, but he was better at it and understood the role of media, particularly television in spreading the message. Likewise while he encouraged Christians to become more politically active in the 1950s and 1960s though when Jerry Falwell and other fundamentalist preachers formed a political movement that became the current Christian Right he warned against it. In 1981 he said:

“I don’t want to see religious bigotry in any form. It would disturb me if there was a wedding between the religious fundamentalists and the political right. The hard right has no interest in religion except to manipulate it.”

He had learned the hard way, while he was a gifted evangelist, he was not a prophet and in the first two decades of his career, Graham, the North Carolina Democrat allowed himself to become captive to Republican Presidents. He compared Dwight D. Eisenhower’s first foreign policy speech to the Sermon on the Mount and said that Richard Nixon was “the most able and best trained man for the job in American history.”

To his credit Graham did not seek the friendship or companionship of Presidents, except for Nixon, but every President after John F. Kennedy regardless of Party sought Graham’s counsel, advice and spiritual support. That being said the low mark of his career and ministry was when tapes of him and Richard Nixon emerged in 2002 in which while they agreed with their support of Israel, disparaged American Jews and their supposed control of the media, to which Graham added the Jews support for pornography. When that came to light Graham apologized and tried to put his remarks in context of those of President Nixon but his retractions for that was well as his remarked in a letter to Nixon to “bomb the dikes” in order to flood North Vietnam irregardless of civilian casualties demonstrated a ruthlessness in support of American military power being used against civilians damaged his credibility for many people.

In terms of civil rights and race relations Graham desegregated his crusades, even personally taking down the ropes that separated whites and blacks at one location. He told one audience in Mississippi that “there was no room for segregation at the foot of the Cross.” He supported Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. to a degree but when Dr. King was jailed in Birmingham Alabama and wrote his classic Letter from a Birmingham Jail, Graham told reporters that King should “put the brakes on a little bit.” His unwillingness to take risks in supporting civil rights later in life was something that would also damage his reputation among Christians and non-Christians alike.

In the 1980s he said that AIDS was the judgement of God, a comment that he quickly walked back. Later he realized his mistakes in being too close to Presidents and avoided Washington and the White House. That did not keep him from befriending or caring for Presidents including Bill Clinton, George W. Bush, and Barak Obama.

To his credit Graham could admit his mistakes with a display of humility that is lacking in most big time preachers and evangelists. When Jonathan Merritt asked Graham how people could be more like him Graham responded: “First, I’d say, don’t try to be like me, because I didn’t always get it right.”

Likewise, in 2007 when he was asked why he never supported or was affiliated with the Moral Majority or other Right Wing Christian Evangelical political groups he said:

“I’m all for morality, but morality goes beyond sex to human justice. We as clergy know so very little to speak with authority on the Panama Canal or the superiority of armaments. Evangelists cannot be closely identified with any particular party or person. We have to stand in the middle in order to preach to people, right and left. I haven’t been faithful to my own advice in the past. I will be in the future.”

I only wish that those who pretend to be the leaders of the Christian Right today, including Graham’s son Franklin and daughter Annie would be wise enough to heed his advice.

I could go on and try to evaluate the other parts of his life and ministry both positive and negative, and those debates could could go in for decades.

As for me, I always found Reverend Graham to be a genuine, yet flawed man. Whether one agreed with his theology, style of ministry, or positions on different issues he wasn’t a fake. He was exactly who he was, he believed the message that he preached. He was neither a prophet or theologian, and he approached the political world with a certain naivety that unscrupulous politicians like Richard Nixon exploited.

Charles Templeton who traveled with Graham and frequently roomed with him in various crusades eventually parted ways with Graham and became an agnostic. Templeton, who died in 2001 was asked about Graham and said something that resonates with how I feel about him and his influence:

“I disagree with him profoundly on his view of Christianity and think that much of what he says in the pulpit is puerile nonsense. But there is no feigning in him: he believes what he believes with an invincible innocence. He is the only mass evangelist I would trust. And I miss him.”

Honestly, I don’t think there will be another like him, certainly among those who have tried to emulate him or take up his mantle in the now hyper-political world of American Evangelicalism. Graham learned lessons in dealing in the political world that those who have followed him, including his son Franklin have ignored, and when American Evangelicalism crumbles under the weight of political, social, and financial malfeasance and painfully shallow theology it will be their fault.

Later in life Graham moderated some of his views on salvation. When asked by John Meacham in 2006 whether he believes heaven will be closed to good Jews, Muslims, Buddhists, Hindus or secular people, Graham said:

“Those are decisions only the Lord will make. It would be foolish for me to speculate on who will be there and who won’t … I don’t want to speculate about all that. I believe the love of God is absolute. He said he gave his son for the whole world, and I think he loves everybody regardless of what label they have.”

As I reflect on his passing I think that he will understand the implications of eternity more than any of us will and whether I agreed with him or not I will miss him and wish that his son and other Evangelicals would take heed and learn from his experiences rather than to keep digging the Church into the abyss.

Until tomorrow,

Peace,

Padre Steve+

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Filed under christian life, culture, faith, ministry, News and current events, Religion

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

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Last year, when President Kennedy was assassinated, who among us did not experience the most profound disorientation? Despair? Which way? What now? What do I say to my kids? What do I tell myself? It was a time of people sitting together, bound together by a common feeling of hopelessness. But think of that! Your bond with your fellow being was your Despair. It was a public experience. It was awful, but we were in it together. How much worse is it then for the lone man, the lone woman, stricken by a private calamity?

‘No one knows I’m sick.’

‘No one knows I’ve lost my last real friend.’

‘No one knows I’ve done something wrong.’

Imagine the isolation. Now you see the world as through a window. On one side of the glass: happy, untroubled people, and on the other side: you.

I want to tell you a story. A cargo ship sank one night. It caught fire and went down. And only this one sailor survived. He found a lifeboat, rigged a sail…and being of a nautical discipline…turned his eyes to the Heavens and read the stars. He set a course for his home, and exhausted, fell asleep. Clouds rolled in. And for the next twenty nights, he could no longer see the stars. He thought he was on course, but there was no way to be certain. And as the days rolled on, and the sailor wasted away, he began to have doubts. Had he set his course right? Was he still going on towards his home? Or was he horribly lost… and doomed to a terrible death? No way to know. The message of the constellations – had he imagined it because of his desperate circumstance? Or had he seen truth once… and now had to hold on to it without further reassurance? There are those of you in church today who know exactly the crisis of faith I describe. And I want to say to you: doubt can be a bond as powerful and sustaining as certainty. When you are lost, you are not alone.

In the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost.”

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

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

So until tomorrow,

Peace,

Padre Steve+

 

 

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F-Bombs and Feet of Clay: My Less than Saintly Life on Display

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

I am frustrated and angry tonight at people who I served with and considered to be friends because I dared to criticize the draft dodging, combat veteran mocking President when it was reported that he is forcing the Pentagon to give him a big military parade like Bastille Day in France. I made my comments on Facebook which I use to keep up with friends. I do post articles and occasionally comments on those articles but I make it a point never to go to my friends pages and attack them for their political, social, or religious beliefs, even when what they post attacks on things that I deeply believe in. For me it is not worth it, I would rather remember the good times with people than to attack them and their beliefs.

But tonight I lost it after repeated attacks and posted something that was not very Jesus like, something about fornicating the President and his minions. When I did that, one former shipmate who had been one of the instigators of my anger threw up my clergy status and noted that Jesus never said such things. I readily agreed with him and admitted that I am a bad seed. As far as what is written in the Bible goes I am sure that he is absolutely correct that Jesus never said such things. But that being said Jesus did kind of mess up the money changers in the Temple day when he when all sorts of crazy on them. Likewise, St Nicholas, tired of hearing heresy proclaimed at the Council of Nicaea punched the heretic Arius, an act that the Emperor Constantine had him stripped of his office as a Bishop and imprisoned. One has to admire punching saints. Likewise, the great German Reformer Martin Luther was probably at least as foul mouthed as me, especially after a good amount of beer.

Since I still struggle with belief and since I know that I am a very poor representative of Jesus in many ways it was offensive. On a good day I believe about 60% of the time which is a lot better than just a few years ago and that is not because how well I have been treated by supposedly Christian friends, rather it is because of the grace, love, and mercy I have been shown by others who don’t claim to be Christian, as well as Christians not afraid to rock the boat or embrace those who do, even if they disagree with them.

I guess that makes me a traitor to the President and his minions. If so I’ll live with it and I’m sure that when the President gets his Reichstag Fire moment that I will be terminated in one way or another. Since I have have had my life threatened by Neo-Nazis and White Supremacists going back to 2010 I wouldn’t be surprised at anything. I know too much about History and human nature to believe the best about anyone in times like this.

Tonight I am angry, I am disgusted, and I am discouraged; but I won’t stop speaking out. If I stop speaking out I will be no better than the Wehrmacht Officers who turned away from the Weimar Constitution, who turned the other way when Hitler gave them what they wanted and eliminated the opposition, and who planned and executed his wars of aggressive conquest and genocide, and when the war was over blamed it all of the SS.

General Ludwig Beck who first supported Hitler’s military build up but resigned his post rather than to execute orders to invade Czechoslovakia noted:

“It is a lack of character and insight, when a soldier in high command sees his duty and mission only in the context of his military orders without realizing that the highest responsibility is to the people of his country.”

Thankfully one of my former now retired subordinates sent me a personal message asking me to take my most incendiary comment down promising to copy and paste it on his timeline without attribution. The comment was admittedly over the top and posted out of anger, not that I didn’t mean it; but he was right to tell me to take it down in order to protect me. It was a scathingly brilliant idea. I removed the post and the comments and he posted my comment without attribution. You have to appreciate people who “look out for your six.” Thank you my friend for doing so.

The last two glasses of wine and the support of other friends have taken the edge off my anger. The Apostle Paul wrote “be angry and do not sin” while the Martin Luther, a man as foul and melancholy as I will ever be wrote his faithful friend and lieutenant Philip Melanchthon:

“If you are a preacher of mercy, do not preach an imaginary but the true mercy. If the mercy is true, you must therefore bear the true, not an imaginary sin. God does not save those who are only imaginary sinners. Be a sinner, and let your sins be strong (sin boldly), but let your trust in Christ be stronger, and rejoice in Christ who is the victor over sin, death, and the world. We will commit sins while we are here, for this life is not a place where justice resides.”

I don’t hide behind my clerical collar, or the cross on my uniform. I know that I am deeply flawed and certainly not an imaginary sinner. I sin and when I do it tends to get noticed, and I’m sure that God is watching and that She knows it too. I don’t know if I can be angry and not sin because my mostly Irish and Scottish DNA combined with my life experience and PTSD mitigates against it. My ugly and beat up feet are definitely made of clay.

That being said I’m not going to be some namsy-pamsy that lets people walk over him. Feet of clay or not I do fight back and when I turn the other cheek I frequently emit foul odors.

So until tomorrow when I write about the substance of what set me off, not the attacks or the people,

Peace,

Padre Steve

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“As Men Can Die Heroically as Brothers so Should They Live Together in Mutual Faith and Goodwill” The Four Chaplains in the Age of Trump

four chaplains

The Four Chaplains

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

Today I am writing a brief remembrance of four men who I never met but whose lives helped guide me into my vocation as a Priest and Chaplain. I think I first read about them in junior high school and at that time I had never thought about becoming a minister, priest, or chaplain. To be sure, ever since I was in early grade school I wanted to be in the military but it would not be until my senior year of high school that I felt a call to become a Navy Chaplain. I’ll come back to that in a moment, but first a brief op-ed on religion in the United states.

In this day and age where fanatical religious extremists of many faiths seek to divide society, launch wars of religion, discriminate against non-believers or even people who believe differently than them, or hold different philosophical or political beliefs, it is important as Americans to find something that holds us together. The fact that our founders were profoundly against establishing or favoring any particular faith or denomination, there are those today who militantly fight to establish an Evangelical Christian theocracy that has no basis for existence based on the testimony of the Founders, and the earliest proponents of religious liberty in the United States including Virginia Baptist John Leland who helped influence James Madison in crafting the First Amendment of the Constitution wrote:

“The notion of a Christian commonwealth should be exploded forever. … Government should protect every man in thinking and speaking freely, and see that one does not abuse another. The liberty I contend for is more than toleration. The very idea of toleration is despicable; it supposes that some have a pre-eminence above the rest to grant indulgence, whereas all should be equally free, Jews, Turks, Pagans and Christians.”

Sadly, men like Franklin Graham, Pat Robertson, Jerry Falwell Jr., Robert Jeffress, and a host of others use their theocratic political judgments to condemn people of good faith in this life and the next. Aided by men like the President they stand in opposition to Leland and the others like him who understood that the American experiment in religious liberty could not be tied to fixed dogma, nor the Apostle Paul who wrote to the Church in Corinth: “in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself,[a] not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting the message of reconciliation to us.” (2 Cor. 5:19)

But I digress, you can read previous articles on this site in which I quoted Leland and other defenders of real religious freedom. For me it’s a matter of my Christian faith. So back to the story…

The four men that I never met were Army Chaplains.

George Lansing Fox was a 42 year old Methodist minister from Lewiston, Pennsylvania who had served as a medic in the First World War in which he was awarded the Silver Star, the Purple Heart, and the French Croix De Guerre. Thirty-one year old Reformed Rabbi Alexander Goode of Brooklyn, New York was the son of a Rabbi who before the war had applied but not been accepted as a Navy Chaplain. After Pearl Harbor he volunteered and was commissioned as an Army Chaplain. Clark V. Poling was a Baptist minister serving as pastor of a Reformed Church when the war broke out. His father had served as a Chaplain in the First World War and Poling, the married father of one child became an Army Chaplain in 1941. Father John Patrick Washington of Newark New Jersey was a Roman Catholic Priest who entered active duty in May 1942. The four men attended the Army Chaplain’s School, then at Harvard and were united for the journey across the Atlantic aboard the transport ship SS Dorchester.

On the night of February 3rd 1943 the Dorchester was torpedoed by the German submarine U-223. She went down in 20 minutes, of the 904 men aboard the ship only 230 survived. Despite the fact that the ship’s captain had ordered a high state of readiness and that all hands wear life jackets at all time, “Many soldiers sleeping deep in the ship’s hold disregarded the order because of the engine’s heat. Others ignored it because the life jackets were uncomfortable.”

When the ship was hit by a torpedo power went out and the four chaplains worked amid the chaos to calm the situation and assisted the soldiers, sailors, and merchant mariners aboard the ship as they tried to abandon ship. The four chaplains handed out life jackets until the supply ran out and then gave their own life jackets to soldiers that had none.

In doing so they signed their own death sentence, the water temperature was just 34 degrees, the air temperature was 36 degrees, many who survived the sinking died of exposure within minutes of the sinking, rescue ships found hundreds of bodies floating in the water. As the ship went down they died together, praying with arms linked after giving away their life jackets as the troop transport that they were on sank beneath the waves into the icy depths of the North Atlantic. A survivor wrote:

“As I swam away from the ship, I looked back. The flares had lighted everything. The bow came up high and she slid under. The last thing I saw, the Four Chaplains were up there praying for the safety of the men. They had done everything they could. I did not see them again. They themselves did not have a chance without their life jackets.”

Other survivors reported hearing the prayers of the chaplains in English, Latin, and Hebrew as the ship went down. Their bodies were never recovered. They have been remembered as heroes. In 1960 Congress named February 3rd as Four Chaplains Day. The U.S. Post Office commissioned a stamp in their honor in 1948. The Chapel of the Four Chaplains was dedicated in the basement of Grace Baptist Church in Philadelphia in 1951. President Harry Truman spoke at its dedication noting:

“This interfaith shrine… will stand through long generations to teach Americans that as men can die heroically as brothers so should they live together in mutual faith and goodwill.”

The chapel was moved to Temple University in 1953 and to the former Philadelphia Naval Shipyard in 2001.

 

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Father John Patrick Washington (Top Left), Reverend Clark V. Poling (Top Right), Rabbi Alexander Goode (Bottom Left), and Reverend George Lansing Fox

Of course my journey in finding that call and answering it had a number of detours in which I first rejecting following the call. Instead, when I was in college I simply enlisted in the Army National Guard, entered ROTC and then was commissioned as an Army officer. After a number of incidents on active duty which renewed that sense of call I left active duty to go to seminary, went back into the National Guard and in September of 1992 became an Army National Guard and civilian hospital chaplain.  On February 9th 1999 I resigned my commission as a Major in the Army Chaplain Corps to become a Navy Chaplain, and in the process accepting a reduction in rank.

In the nearly 37 years that I have served in the military of which almost 26 have been spent as a chaplain I have had the privilege of serving with many fine ministers of many denominations, priests, rabbis, and even an imam.  Of course I have served alongside some chaplains who regardless of their faith or denomination were simply assholes, but that being said I truly do appreciate those men and women from so many faiths and denominations who have cared for me. I do think that any of them could have linked arms with me and prayed after doing the last best things that we could do for the soldiers, sailors, marines, and airmen who entrust themselves to our care.

Despite what some senior chaplains in both the Army and Navy had done to me at different points; when I think of those men and women who regardless of their beliefs or the beliefs of the religious organizations that endorse them for the chaplaincy, I realize just how blessed that I am.

In the day that we live I can still stand with Harry Truman when he praised these chaplains. Now I am sure that there are quite few people who would say that either Goode, Fox, Poling, or Washington are already in Hell; but I don’t believe that. I understand from Scripture and the teachings of Jesus that God looks on the heart, and that the most important commandments are to love God and love our neighbors. I think that Jesus said that in doing those things that people fulfill the entire law.

Thus I thank God for the Chaplains of various denominations, Mainline Protestants, Evangelicals, Catholics, Orthodox Christians, Anglicans, Mormons, Jews, and Muslims who I would be blessed to link arms with to care for those in our care.

So today, I ask my readers to share this message with others.

Until tomorrow,

Peace

Padre Steve+

 

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An Insult to Combat Veterans: Army Chaplains Invite PTSD Denier Kenneth Copeland to National Prayer Breakfast

copeland

Kenneth Copeland in front of His Private Jet which he Flies Because “Demons fly Commercial” 

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

I have been mulling over writing about this since I first learned that the heretical Prosperity Gospel preacher Kenneth Copeland had been invited to speak at the National Prayer Breakfast at Fort Jackson South Carolina. In 2013 Copeland along with the faux Christian “historian” David Barton claimed on Copeland’s television show that PTSD is not real because PTSD is not Biblical

Copeland, who is a member of President Trump’s Evangelical Advisory Council has had his ministry issue a clarification of his remarks, but that being said the “clarification” smacked of more of a defense of his theology than a compassionate attempt to understand the ravages of PTSD.

I wish I was kidding, but neither Copeland or Barton have ever served in the military or been in combat and now Copeland is speaking this morning at the Fort Jackson NCO Club. Copeland is a self-described Christian Extremist  claimed on his show with Barton nodding in agreement that PTSD doesn’t effect true believers.

The Garrison Chaplain’s Office was a key part of that decision. I know a number of Chaplains stationed at the Post who protested in vain about the decision to invite Copeland. The breakfast is voluntary, but I can testify from years of military service in both the Army and the Navy that attendance is highly encouraged and chaplains are routinely pressured by senior conservative Evangelical Christian chaplains and commanding officers regardless of their own beliefs. The pressure is most effective on younger junior chaplains or other junior officers, typically company commanders or battalion or brigade staff officers.

Really, I first experienced this when I was a company commander in Wiesbaden Germany in 1986, as a brigade staff officer at Fort Sam Houston Texas in 1987, a mobilized Army Reserve Chaplain in Germany in 1996, and a number of other times. The last one of these was when I was at Camp Lejeune North Carolina in 2000. I guess that I was lucky that deployments and operational commitments kept me from attending such events until I came back from Iraq in February of 2008. After that deployment suffering from severe PTSD and a crisis in faith I only attended one more at Naval Medical Center Portsmouth in 2009, and once I became a senior and supervisory Chaplain I refused to serve as the host to such events because they are all too often platforms for politicians to ingratiate themselves with the military and as photo ops for high flying preachers who then use the video or pictures to show to their followers how they support the military and in the process use those for fundraising purposes. If chaplains want to bow the knee to that kind of idolatry and to use that rather old-fashioned and judgmental word “sin” than they can, but I won’t.

But Copeland has no shame. His comments about PTSD and the trauma experienced in combat are not limited to his 2013 show but are found throughout his remarks which are reckless and full of incredibly poor biblical exegesis and hackneyed heretical theology. My God, I’m actually sounding like I am orthodox in my Christian beliefs despite being liberal, but that’s because I am.

But I do struggle with faith every day. From 2008 to just before Christmas of 2009 I was struggling so badly that I was for all purposes an agnostic praying that God still existed even as I dealt with people in life and death situations on a daily basis as a critical care ICU chaplain at the Naval Medical Center. I figure that I believe now about 60% of the time, and when I do I really believe, when I don’t it is to be gently described as difficult.

I have lived with PTSD for a decade. I know what it is to be clinically depressed, suicidal, and to be labeled and ostracized by Christians, other clergy, chaplains, and long time friends all because what I was going through did not match their theology. I have been honest in  documenting my struggle with PTSD and moral injury on this blog which I began in February 2009 in past as a way to process what was happening to me, as well as my struggle with faith and belief. Because of that was contacted by reporters and with the help of caring Pubic Affairs Officers and commanders I was able to share my story in the Jacksonville NC Daily News, the Washington TimesHuffington Post the Department of DOD Real Warriors Campaign project. All were terrifying experiences because even though I wrote about my story here, the fact that they went out in local, national, and DOD sites exposed me to more publicity than I could sometimes deal with but I did them to encourage other veterans, especially those in helping and caring professions,; physicians, nurses, chaplains, corpsmen, and medics to see help and not suffer alone and in silence.

I am sure that has affected my career and I while some people were quite compassionate a lot, especially Christians were not. As far as my career went I was effectively sidelined after Iraq and placed in billets that very few were ever promoted out of, and ultimately that is okay because it made me realize what is really important in caring for and leading men and women in the military. I probably will retire as a Navy Commander in two years, maybe three, and move on with life after what will then be 39 to 40 years of military service. Since I spent 17 1/2 years in the Army and resigned my commission as a Major in the Army Reserve to go on active duty as a Navy Lieutenant in 1999 I have nothing to be ashamed of; I don’t know too many people who have risen to be a Field Grade Officer in the Army and a Senior Officer in the Navy. I am profoundly grateful that I still am able to serve and to care for young sailors, marines, soldiers, and chaplains.

In the mean time I still suffer the effects. I am doing a lot better now in large part because of my wife Judy and my three Papillon dogs, Minnie, Izzy, and Pierre. Izzy especially is very sensitive to my moods and we often describe her as “Nurse Izzy.” That being said in 2015 I crashed so badly that my colleagues at the Joint forces Staff College feared for me and ensured that I got help. I have suffered concussions, sprained my neck, bruised my jaw, and broken my nose during various combat related night terrors.

I have had friends, including chaplains, commanders, and others who I have served with lose their careers, families, and even take their lives while struggling with PTSD. Some were much better Christians than I could ever hope to be, and the presence of Kenneth Copeland speaking on one of the Army’s largest training bases where there are many young, vulnerable, and impressionable recruits who have never been to war, but who probably end up at war is offensive to me.

I am not against faith, spiritual fitness, or finding inspiration and help for life’s struggles in the Bible; but I am against charlatans of any kind that spout all kinds of base doctrines while profiting off of their victims, or should I say followers?

So anyway, to Mr. Copeland and those who invited him,  have a nice breakfast. I hope that the bacon gives you indigestion and the undercooked scrambled eggs give you the shits.

I’ll get hate mail for this as there is nothing more unforgiving and vengeful than fundamentalists scorned.

Until tomorrow,

Peace

Padre Steve+

 

 

 

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Filed under christian life, faith, iraq, mental health, Military, PTSD, Tour in Iraq

“Are We Still of Any Use?” The Horrible Witness of Conservative Christians in the Trump Era

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

Over his first year in office President Trump has managed to tell over 2,000 lies. That being said we all expect politicians to lie, it’s part of American life and political discourse. Will Rogers once said “If you ever injected truth into politics you have no politics.” I think that the expectation that elected officials will lie is one reason that Mark Twain quipped: “An honest man in politics shines more there than he would elsewhere.”

However the shear numbers of lies and falsehood proclaimed by the President is having a toxic effect on our society, in particular on those in the church, men and women who call themselves by the name of Christ who not only believe them, but repeat them, and defend them.  The fact is that for decades these same Christian leaders and people have proclaimed their allegiance to what they call “moral absolutes” and  “Biblical values”while excoriating Democrats, particularly Bill and Hillary Clinton for their lies. The fact is that by doing this Christians simply become another political interest group hustling politicians for favors that benefit them, even at the expense of the credibility of their witness to Christ.

The constant repetition the President’s well documented lies, and their defense by his preacher’s daughter Press Secretary, his other administration flacks, Congressional supporters, the Fox News media empire, and the big name Evangelical Preachers who have sold their souls in his defense have damaged the soul of the country and yes the Church.

Of course one would expect the President’s opponents to point out his lies but in normal times you wouldn’t expect his conservative religious supporters to go to the mat defending him and his lies, and even calling him a “role model” for young people.  In a recent survey some 70% of his predominantly Christian, Republican supporters say that he is and that my friends is, if you value the long term witness of the Christian Church absolutely devastating, especially since for over a decade young people have been fleeing the church in never before seen numbers while unbelievers, even those that admire Christ and what some would call Christian values want nothing to do with the Church.

The fact is that the repetition of lies and falsehoods, whether you are a Trump supporter or opponent there is a not a good thing either for the Church or for the country. It has a terrible effect, and one only has to look to the countries of Europe to see how Christian support for malevolent leaders has reduced it to irrelevance. Whether it be the support of ethnic and religious persecution, or the participation in and protection of sexual predators masquerading and Bishops, Priests, and Nuns has eviscerated the witness of the Church.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer understood this and asked a question that should be asked by people that call themselves by the name of Christ who at the same time defend the indefensible and not only defend, but take great pleasure in defending the lies of the President. Bonhoeffer observed the same dynamic in his day. He wrote:

“We have been silent witnesses of evil deeds; we have been drenched by many storms; we have learnt the arts of equivocation and pretense; experience has made us suspicious of others and kept us from being truthful and open; intolerable conflicts have worn us down and even made us cynical. Are we still of any use? What we shall need is not geniuses, or cynics, or misanthropes, or clever tacticians, but plain, honest, and straightforward men. Will our inward power of resistance be strong enough, and our honesty with ourselves remorseless enough, for us to find our way back to simplicity and straightforwardness?”

Please believe me when I say that I am not being an alarmist about this situation. I know too much about history, human nature, and yes the Church not to see the danger.

But that’s part of the problem. The lies and actions of the President and his administration have been cumulative; what was shocking on day one became normalized over the course of the past year. The effect is both numbing and corrosive: first on the President’s defenders who surrender all pretext of moral or religious authority, and on his opponents who gradually are worn down by the barrage of lies and the fact that they are also the minority party, or if the are Republicans, the minority in the President’s party.

Since President Trump first announced his candidacy for President in 2015 I have been sounding a warning about the President. I have lost friends and been ostracized or attacked by others for doing so, despite the fact that until my return from Iraq in 2008 I had been both a politically active Conservative Christian and Republican for over thirty years. That being said regardless of the cost I would rather follow my conscience than surrender it to the cacophony of lies and acceptance of evil by people who were once friends.

I do not consider myself to be a victim of my former friends. In fact I understand how they got to this point. In fact what has happened with them did not begin with the lies of President Trump. For decades, they, like I did until 2008, bought the repeated lies of the politicians, pundits, and preachers of the American conservative movement. The leaders of this movement coopted them by constantly repeating that they were under attack and needed to take control of the government in order to both defend the faith and implement a Christian government.  Whole theologies were built around this and gradually many, if not most conservative and Evangelical Christians accepted the idea that Christians had to “take dominion”over the country regardless of the cost. The leaders of the so-called “Christian Right” including Franklin Graham, Tony Perkins, James Dobson, Pat Robertson, Albert Mohler, Robert Jeffress, and far too many others have sacrificed every bit of their integrity in defending the President and excusing his lies to further their own power.

Truthfully, I understand how they got there. If I hadn’t gone to Iraq, seen what I saw there, realized the lies that went into the propagation of the war and the lies of Christians who demonized all Muslims because of some after the attacks of September 11th 2001, I would probably still be one of them. For me it took war to understand the moral and theological bankruptcy the politics and theology of the Christian Right, of which over 80% voted for the President and over 75% still support him.

Bonhoeffer asked the right question in terms of Christians and their support of morally bankrupt regimes. Are we still of any use?

Until tomorrow,

Peace,

Padre Steve+

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I’ve had Enough of the Freedom of Religion Crap from Trump’s Evangelical Supporters

tony perkins

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

Every time I see men like Jerry Falwell Jr., Tony Perkins, Franklin Graham, James Dobson, James Robison, Pat Robertson, or any of the host of their lesser known minions, including men who are Priests, ministers, or chaplains  defend the indefensible actions and moral depravity of President Donald Trump I want to puke. Sorry, but the first time that I heard the word puke when I was a kid I loved it. I even loved it as an adult because it is an amazingly fun word, especially when you are on a Guided Missile Cruiser steaming down the Arabian Peninsula with a category five cyclone on your beam battering the ship with 18-20 foot swells for three days, and half of your shipmates are seasick and you are not, but I digress…

When I see and hear all of these modern day Pharisees or Inquisitors all that I can think is yuck.  Likewise I totally understand why so many people, especially young people are fleeing the Church in record numbers every single year and why so many others want nothing to do with the Church even if they are okay with Jesus.

In the wake of the latest “Stormy” allegations against the President in which his ecclesiastical defenders have again gone to the mat to defend him I think that it is wise to attack the motivations of the men and women who made morality, particularly their version of it a political wedge issue beginning with Bill Clinton’s sexual immorality, which I do  not defend. But to condemn him, and to demonize Barak Obama who was not a womanizer while giving Trump a free hand and pass on things that are worse than Clinton did or than they ever imagined Obama did is simply sick. They need to be called out and condemned because they are worse than hypocrites because their already tiny moral centers have shriveled up and their hearts have calcified into the hardest stone.

The fact that Tony Perkins who is one of the most extreme proponents of this hypocrisy said that Trump “gets a Mulligan”  for his dalliance with the relatively well know porn star Stormy Daniels. The fact that Trump’s lawyers paid her off with $130,000 as he began his campaign for President seems also to be a Mulligan. Honestly I can’t imagine what he would say if there was an allegation that Barak Obama or Hillary Clinton had been accused of the same thing.

As for the President I never expected anything better from him, and maybe he is deserving of the grace and mercy of God because he is a paranoid, narcissistic, Sociopath who no capacity for self-reflection or anything else related to the care of his own soul. But as to these supposed “men of God” who support the establishment of laws that benefit them and punish people that they believe to be infidels or unbelievers while excusing the  I have nothing but contempt. To see them crowing about how their supposed “religious liberty” trumps anyone else’s civil rights under the Constitution makes me want to vomit.

These are the same people who condoned or supported the heinous “imprecatory prayers” unleashed against President Obama in which they prayed for his death while subjecting him to a Jihad that the Taliban or the Iranian Imams would have been hard pressed to match.

I am a huge proponent of Religious Freedom as the Founders intended it to be, but these modern and supposedly “Conservative” Christians don’t believe in what the Founders believed, because they are Theocrats of the same kind that our Founders fled when they came to the American colonies. These men would have found the Spanish Inquisition leaders as true brothers in Christ. They would have cheered the killings of anyone deemed to be a heretic and the total destruction of the towns or cities that they lived in. The Virginia Baptist John Leland and their other American religious freedom proponents.

Leland noted:

“The notion of a Christian commonwealth should be exploded forever. … Government should protect every man in thinking and speaking freely, and see that one does not abuse another. The liberty I contend for is more than toleration. The very idea of toleration is despicable; it supposes that some have a pre-eminence above the rest to grant indulgence, whereas all should be equally free, Jews, Turks, Pagans and Christians.”

Imagine that. The man who is probably the most responsible for making sure that James Madison crafted the Bill of Rights and in particular the First Amendment would have died before agreeing to what the men and women who claim to be his theological descendent propose today.

I am actually sick of the religious liberty hyperbole of these damned Theocrats, all of them. I find that I agree with the argument of Alan Shore (James Spader) in Boston Legal when he said:

“I don’t know about you but I’m getting a little tired of the religious freedom thing. When did religion get such a good name anyway. Be it the Crusades, the reformation genocides, the troubles in Northern Ireland, the Middle East, mass slaughters in the name of Allah, the obligatory reciprocal retributions. Hundreds of millions have died in religious conflicts. Hitler did his business in the name of his creator. Religious extremism, it’s our greatest threat today, a holy jihad. If we’re not ready to strip religion of its sacred cow status, how about we at least scale back on the Constitutional dogma exalting it as all get out….

Everyone should get to believe in his God, pray to his God, worship his God of course. But to impose him on others, to victimize others in his name?  The founding fathers set out to prevent persecution, not license it…

At a certain point we have to say “enough with this freedom of religion crap. Yuck, yuck, yuck. I know, I’ll get letters….” 

I totally agree with the words of Alan Shore, enough of this politically driven “freedom of religion crap.”

Likewise I agree with Leland, this theocratic crap that Perkins and the rest of these assholes spew should be “exploded forever.”

So until tomorrow,

Peace

Padre Steve+

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