Category Archives: life

The COVID-19 Tsunami is Here and The Pro-Life is Exposed as Profit over People

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

The disaster that few prepared for, including our President despite having verified and validated evidence of it in January is here. Back then we were given a moment in time to prepare, something that people that experience tsunamis ever get. An administration in denial dismissed evidence that could have mitigated the novel Coronavirus and minimized the number killed by it. I will not go through the litany of deception and false claims that he made made, and the actions of his administration in giving away tons of vitality needed Personal Protective Equipment  from our national stockpile, to China. PPE that our doctors, nurses, and other medical personnel are crying out for because they are having to reuse or use makeshift gear to treat the victims of the novel Coronavirus. 

Back in January there were only a few cases, which the President said would soon disappear along with the virus, and the President’s “band played on,” to borrow words the late Randy Shilts in his monumental volume about the initial response of the Reagan Administration to the AIDS pandemic. However, despite the warning the President played politics by minimizing the threat, and later bragging about how he has responded to it, constantly upstaging, and contradicting the experts of the CDC including Drs. Fauci and Brix, while ignoring the rising infection rate and death toll until it became a political liability. When that happened he and is enablers, supporters, and propaganda network, you know them well Fox News began to deflect the blame to the Democrats, the impeachment hearings and Senate trial, the Chinese, the media, and anyone else for his multiple failures when simply listening to experts and being honest with the American people would have been far better. In fact he took his impeachment trial and COVID-19 so cavalierly that he kept having campaign rallies beating his chest, demonizing his opponents, bragging on himself, and exposing his followers to to a deadly virus in massed rallies who God knows how many were exposed to satiate his vanity. That is the mark of a true sociopath, he doesn’t even care about his supporters. Think about that.

Just 24 days ago, on 8 March, the United States reported 541 infections and 22 deaths. By March 18th there were 9,259 cases and 150 deaths. Four days later we were at 46,182 cases and 582 deaths, a death rate of 66%, well over the worldwide percentage. Two days later we were over 66,000 infections and over 1,000 deaths. Now we lead the world in number of infections, as infections and deaths are spiking, and the healthcare system is being overwhelmed without enough resources to care for the victims or protect their caregivers. In two and a half months we went from a barely noticeable situation, unless you pay attention to potential pandemics. But in 24 days we went from a noticeable wave to a tsunami of infection and death, not to mention economic carnage, and worldwide instability. But, instead of doing what almost all of his 44 predecessors did, President Trump declared “I don’t take responsibility for anything.” Forget President Harry Truman who declared “the Buck stops here,” or any other President, this President denies any blame for anything regardless of how serious it is. But that is his history: draft dodging, divorces, affairs, corporate bankruptcies and failures, leaving employees, contractors, and now the American people in the lurch to protect himself.

As of now the United States has 215,300 of the world’s 936,204 infections, or 23% of the world total. That is a 338% increase since 8 March. Our death rate since 8 March has gone up by 223%. By the way we have the unfortunate distinction of having the most infections or any country in the world. But wait, there’s more. Of the 47,249 deaths we went from 3,ooo to over 5,000  deaths in 48 hours. Our death toll is now 5,110, or 11% or the worldwide death total, and supposedly we have the best medical system in the world.

But that is not the case. Public health ranks at the bottom of our priorities. Expensive specialty procedures and interventions are at the top, not to include medical procedures performed simply for our vanity and good looks. Preparation for pandemics and disasters  is also low, because our medical system is profit based predicated on what insurance companies will pay for, if an American is fortunate enough to have medical insurance. The fact is that our private and even public hospitals operate with very little surge capacity, because it takes profits down. ICU beds, ventilators, and the highly trained staff need to man them are expensive. Insurance companies don’t like to pay those costs, nor do hospitals and medical systems. For the corporations, profit takes priority over people, even when the doctors, nurses, and other staff are committed to life and the Hippocratic Oath.

As of today that number is far lower than it was a week ago, as failing businesses end their COBRA policies, and then fire their workers. It looks great on a corporate balance sheet but it fucks all of their employees, especially those who devoted their lives and careers to those corporations, while the Trump Administration refuses to let the millions of people impacted by this to purchase health insurance through the Obamacare exchanges. The President rejected that today, it is quite obvious that he would rather destroy the lives of people than to save them and then claim victory despite the loss of 100,00-240,000 people or more. Those are not the actions of a man who stands for the sanctity of life, but rather a sociopath willing to sacrifice lives to keep power.

The cruelty of profit over life exposes that our real civil religion and morality is not life, but profit. As a historian and scholar of Nazi Germany and the Holocaust, I have to ask when palliative care transitions to euthanasia, and those deemed life unworthy of life, are euthanized by the people who supposedly there to care for them and protect the sanctity of their lives. As this cris continues, and the Trump Administration remains in change that such a decision will be made, not to protect the sanctity of life, but to enhance corporate profits, and political power, regardless of the human cost.

It is late and I am tired, but as of now of those whose cases were resolved by death and recoveries, 36% resulted in death. The worldwide death rate has gone up to 20%, up from 16% at the end of last week.

I believe in God, faith and prayer, but without the actions of responsible human beings in leadership positions, elected, appointed, or commissioned, we are headed to a human, economic, sociological, and eventually war based solution, regardless of whatever nation starts it,

So until tomorrow I wish you all the best. Please be careful out there.

Peace,

Padre Steve+

 

 

 

 

 

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Filed under civil rights, Coronavirus, Diseases Epidemics and Pandemics, economics and financial policy, ethics, euthanasia, faith, healthcare, History, holocaust, laws and legislation, leadership, life, national security, natural disasters, News and current events, Political Commentary, pro-life anti-abortion

Playing With Fire in a House Filled With Gas: Trump Places Stock Markets and Profits above People

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

Bottom Line Up Front: As of this moment there have been 381,699 cases of COVID-19 worldwide, with a total of 16,558 deaths. 262,657 of the cases are still active, of the closed cases 102,489 have recovered and as mentioned 16,558 have died for a 14% death rate.

I know that I am beginning to sound like a broken record, but the response of the Trump Administration to it has been abysmal, despite the warnings of U.S. Intelligence Agencies that the pandemic was coming, the administration did nothing. The President made light of it, said that it would have little impact, and played the part of Denier in Chief for two months, but then the stock markets crashed, and all of a sudden the President decided it was no longer fake news and ordered Vice President Pence to head up the effort to contain the virus and its effects. To his credit Pence did. try, and some policy changes began to occur, but to tell the truth, it was too little too late. The Virus had been spreading in the United States for weeks before Pence even received the mission. As a result the virus spread to tens of thousands of people, many who didn’t or don’t know that they are even infected, who in turn spread the virus without realizing they are doing so.

Because I have worked in ICUs and ERs in major civilian and military hospitals in two past pandemics; AIDS during its most deadly period the early to mid-1990s before effective drugs were developed to help infected people live somewhat normal lives. The in 2009 I was in a different Medical Center dealing with H1N1. As such I have been following the COVID-19 infection numbers and death rates with interest since it first came on the scene, but much more so when the first case appeared in Washington in mid-January. Now for the last month I have been watching the progress of the virus by following the data supplied by the CDC, Johns Hopkins, WHO, and this website https://www.worldometers.info/coronavirus/ .  It tends to be updated more frequently than the other sites, mostly because it is relying on updates as they are released by countries, and in the case of the United States, the states, the District of Columbia, and U.S. Territories.  It is one of the sites mentioned in DOD and Navy message traffic to use in getting solid data and updates about COVID 19.

In the United States  https://www.worldometers.info/coronavirus/country/us/ there have 46,145 total reported infections with deaths. Currently 40,185 of these cases are active. 670 cases are closed and of that number 295 have recovered and been discharged, but 582 have died, giving us a 72% mortality rate. The biggest issue has been the delay in testing and unavailability of test kits. Likewise we are now facing an acute shortage of ICU beds and ventilators, as well as severe shortages of PPE for health workers and first responders, which would include police, fire, and EMS. Likewise there is a critical shortage regular hospital beds and places to put them because our system of managed care does not deem surge capacity important.

These numbers change multiple times a day depending on when countries, or in the case of the U.S. our states and territories report their daily data. The disturbing item to me is that with the exception of China, South Korea, and Japan and a few other Asian countries that instituted draconian measures to flatten the infection curve, the virus is showing exponential growth in the United States and western Europe. The reason it hasn’t exploded in many underdeveloped Second and Third World countries is that it was most likely late getting there because they are out of the way and do not get the kind of visitor, tourist, and business traffic that Western Europe and the United States have. Likewise they do not have the test kits or adequate medical care to document the spread. However, once it takes hold it will become a killing machine, wiping out millions in those unfortunate countries, and probably leading to more refugees, infections, and deaths.

Two weeks (March 8th)  ago the United States reported 541 infections and 22 deaths. By March 18th there were 9,259 cases and 150 deaths. Four days later we are at 46,182 cases and 582 deaths, a death rate of 66%, well over the worldwide percentage. But expect this to fall to somewhat  closer to the world average. However, that being said, statistics at the beginning of a season do not necessarily reflect those at the end of the season.

Since the virus is often spread through people who are asymptomatic, and many people refuse to self-isolate or in public violate the six foot buffer zone, I recommend that any person who reads this article practices an abundance of caution for two reason; first two protect themselves, and then, just in case they are infected but are asymptotic, protect themselves and others from getting the virus. This should be the case anytime they leave their homes to do necessary shopping, or go to a medical appointment. Anyone who goes out should not only observe the measures issued by the CDC, but go further. Personnel and their families should wear some kind of surgical, or other mask to reduce the possibility of transmission protecting them, and in case they are asymptomatic anyone they come in contact. These can be hard to find but there are a number of groups or individuals making relatively effective face masks, which though not to the N-95 standard would give them a modicum of protection. Some of the designs and patterns are online. Likewise I recommend that when leaving home that personnel wear vinyl disposable gloves, carry some kind of hand sanitizer (if you can get it) , wash your hands after every physical contact with a probably contaminated surface, and care antiseptic wipes in your car to wipe down the steering wheel, door handles, and gas pumps.

Call this an abundance of caution on my part, but the virus knows no borders, races, religions, rank or status.

However, yesterday and today, after occasionally acting the part of a real President, Trump went back to his baseline. He blamed everyone but himself, and 8 days into a 15 day campaign to try to stop the virus by social distancing and shutting down businesses, he threatened to revere a key public health decision because the “economic costs might be higher than the virus itself.”  In his news conference comments he tried to make his threat sound a little more humane by suggesting that isolated people were more prone to suicide, would outnumber the people infected and killed by the virus. While I know that social isolation can be a killer, its effects can be mitigated by people that care. However, if people go back to work, stores and restaurants are opened just as the virus is hitting stride the infection and death rate will make those of the past few days look like peanuts. Millions will be infected, and many of them will die, and the the economy will collapse like a house of cards. Not just because of the effects of the virus, but because the business leaders, stock holders, and even his cult followers will abandon him because they will finally realize that they mean nothing to him.

So, because I am tired I wish you a good night.

Peace,

Padre Steve+

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Be Careful and Take Care of Each Other: Surviving COVID-19

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

Not much good news to report today, except for the fact of at least some people and businesses doing things to try to mitigate the spread of the COVID-19 Pandemic. Imagine craft distilleries making hand sanitizer, people like my wife Judy doing research and the making face masks that give the wearer a chance to avoid getting the virus or spreading it. She was up very late last night making them, and we slept late. We have a local friend who is going to have some blood infusion therapy and since in her weakened state she will have to have to go to a hospital to get them, exposing her to people who could well be spreading the virus. Knowing this Judy went into action, made masks for her and her husband, and due to the urgency we drove the twenty something miles to their home to deliver them. She’s making them for elderly and at other risk friends as well, not asking for any payment, but because she cares, and she will be sharing her pattern and step by step instructions on her blog, and I will do the same here.

Trust me, there are a lot of people who care, and even if under quarantine, lockdown, or similar restrictions that keep them from normal social activities that keep them connected. The primary way they are doing this is by social media and phone. That is important. Tonight I was introduced to some great musicians who I have loved for decades sharing songs and videos from their homes on social media. For me that was inspiring. The included Michael McDonald, Paul Simon, Mary Chaplin Carpenter and others. We all need to do more and more of it because we cannot do what we normally do to socialize with each other. If you are creative, entertaining or funny, don’t hesitate to share goodwill with anyone you can, it might be the only good thing that happens to them that day.

Isolation is a killer. Isolation and loneliness only increase the effects of those who suffer from depression, other psychological conditions, substance abuse, victims of childhood sexual, physical, or emotional abuse, those under stress who have no place to let off steam, or make themselves vulnerable by seeking help. It is deadly. I know too many people who have killed themselves, and isolation from their community was always a major factor. There are so many times that I could have done it had it not been for people who cared for me, and especially my late dog Molly who decided to make her home with me when I was stationed as a geographic bachelor in Camp LeJeune. My God I cannot tell you how many times I considered driving my care into a ditch, a tree, or off a bridge if it wasn’t for the people who cared for me, and Molly, who would never had understood why daddy didn’t come home.

Unfortunately, when there is no perceived escape from isolation, such is occurring now in so many places in the United States and around the world, the resulting loneliness is going to lead to a major increase in suicide attempts and completions. Already the military is continuing its suicide epidemic, but couple that with social isolation, quarantine, and maybe having a virus that both further isolates them, and might kill them, imagine how those already horrible numbers will spike.

So hear the advice of a highly educated, experienced, but incredibly fallible man. Don’t take chances. Do everything you can to avoid transmitting or contracting the novel Coronavirus 19. That will involve personal sacrifice. At the same time reach out by any means necessary, even in person if you have you have appropriate personal protective equipment, in this case an N-95 equivalent face mask, and vinyl  disposable gloves. No hugging, kissing, or other bodily contact, except elbow bumps. It will not be your prayers, preaching, religious or non-religious jibber jabber that will help them, just your willingness to reach out, care, listen, and stay with them without judgement, and whether in person or by other means show them you give a damn. By the ways, don’t just put up trite words and catch phrases or religious jumbo jumbo like “thoughts and prayers,” “trust God’s healing power,” or anything else that ignores the factual advice not to gather in big groups, or self-quarantine. Likewise, and do leave your home if your have any of the symptoms of COVID-19, and only leave to get tested (if you can).

Please, do not endanger yourself or others. I have seen too many people die from these pandemics not to call the Bullshit flag on anyone who says otherwise. I remember their faces, and how they were abandoned by friends and family when they needed them the most. If you cannot reach out in the flesh to those that you supposedly love and care for, even if the best that you can do is a phone call, social media, or email, then a pox on you.

As far as me, even though because of my age I could take paid administrative leave, neither Judy or I have any of the underlying conditions that put me a high risk for contracting COVID-19. Thus though many of our civilian and active dirty personnel are doing telework or are on paid administrative leave, my place is with those still doing their jobs at the shipyard, military and civilian, especial our, Emergency Management personnel, our  police and security forces, fire department and EMS, port operations, and anyone else , including our senior leadership who remain behind. It is what you are supposed to do as a military chaplain. I am also making myself available by email, social medial, phone and text to every civilian employee (about 95% of our workforce) and Sailor in our Command. I cannot leave the ones at risk, suffering, or dying without spiritual, emotional, or practical help, regardless of their faith or even if the are unbelievers. They either wear the same uniform I do, serve the same nation I do, and taken a similar oath that I took. Therefore, everyone of them matters to me.

I have and know how to use all of my personal protective equipment from pandemics past. I am pretty sure that I will be safe, but I fear not. That is not because I am burying my head in the sand or claiming Bible verses out of context, but because I am being safe and taking the necessary precautions.

This pandemic is going to get much worse before it gets better. In light of that, don’t do dumb things. Don’t believe conspiracy theorists, or pandemic deniers, it will only get you and probably the ones you love the most killed. Don’t believe the religious hucksters who tell you to keep coming to church and mass meetings, because they supposedly have a miracle cure, or that giving money to them will save you, or put your soul at risk, but rather to fatten their bank accounts. Religious liberty does not give anyone the right to put people’s lives at risk in a pandemic. If you belong to a religious body or other group that doesn’t believe in getting medical care, then as the Klingons say: Today is a Good Day to Die. Just don’t take others with you.

Please, by all means, heed this warning, or get yourselves and others killed when it shouldn’t happen, even if you believe that it is God’s will, judgement, or a portent of the Apocalypse. Remain calm when everyone else is panicking, give from your excess to help those in need, and don’t let your religious beliefs, or secular ideology make you a part of the problem, rather than a part of the solution.

I apologize for my tardiness in posting this. The article should have been posted before midnight EST, but I got waylaid by music videos from my junior high school, high school, and college years. They were all quite healing to my soul, but after after all the work in the house, and missions of mercy, I passed out on the couch with Izzy at my side while trying to get my tags and photos posted. I woke up at 5:30 AM with Izzy on top of my iPad and lap, I went to real bed then. I will do my next COVID-19 factual update later tonight.

Peace and blessings,

Padre Steve+

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Faith, Doubt, and the Little Things: Thoughts at the End of a Long but Good Week


Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

It has been a long, tiring, yet very good week. For those who have followed me on this blog for so long, I want to say thank you. I left my last assignment broken, dispirited, struggling with my faith and calling, but as a result of a series of events regarding my retirement, my faith has been renewed and my sense of calling and joy to serve as a Priest restored. That doesn’t mean that I don’t experience doubts, or question doctrine, or even wonder about the existence of God. I wish that I can say that that wasn’t the case, but the fact is that all of us, believers or unbelievers alike live in what the German Pastor, theologian, resistier and martyr to Adolf Hitler said:

“Man no longer lives in the beginning–he has lost the beginning. Now he finds he is in the middle, knowing neither the end nor the beginning, and yet knowing that he is in the middle, coming from the beginning and going towards the end. He sees that his life is determined by these two facets, of which he knows only that he does not know them”  

Whether we believe or don’t believe; are fixed in our religious doctrine or non-religious ideology, or doubt as I so frequently do, the fact is that we live in the uncomfortable middle. Truthfully, we come from a beginning that we can only only make ultimately unprovable theological or scientific theories of origins; and move to an end, that while it certainly will happen, either in apocalyptic fury, or where either we ourselves will destroy most of the life of the planet, save the Cockroaches, or the Sun goes supernova and consumes the Earth and the rest of our pitiful solar system, unless the dreams of Gene Roddenberry come true. Truthfully, I have learned in my almost sixty years of earthly existence to be okay with that. Others religious and non-believers alike aren’t okay with that, simply because they require certitude.

The seeds of this idea were planted over 25 years ago during my Clinical Pastoral Education Residency, at Parkland Memorial Hospital confronted me about my “illusion of control” after a case conference. He was frustrated with me, and for him it was a throw away comment, but is penetrated the armored belt that I had surrounded my heart, soul, and intellect with for years, even before I became an Army officer in 1983.

I mentioned a lot of the week last night. I have felt a renewal of faith and call; a joy in ministry and caring for people that I haven’t experienced since my time in Iraq, which was quite literally, “the best of times and the worst of times. At the same time, while I believe, I doubt. As Father Andrew Greeley wrote in his novel The Bishop and the Beggar Girl of St. Germain: 

“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 and still remain an epiphany to me. Belief and unbelief co-existing simultaneously, yet in a way 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.” Maybe that is why in the Liturgy of the Eucharist we proclaim the mystery of faith, or as it is translated from Latin into German Geheimnis des Glaubens. That mystery, is that Christ has died, Christ has risen, Christ will come again. That really is the mystery of what Christians call faith

We can be reasonably certain from non-Christian sources like the Jewish historian Josephus, and the Roman Letter to Trajan, written by Pliny the Younger, that there was a man name Jesus who was crucified by the Romans, and whose followers believed that he had died, been buried, had risen from the dead. Likewise, It was the testimony of those early believers in Scripture and non-canonical writings, that he would come again. Pliny described them as model citizens whose only fault, was that they would not burn incense and proclaim that Caesar was Lord, and sought the advice of Emperor Trajan on what to do with them. Before and after that many gave their lives peacefully as martyrs for this crucified man named Jesus.

That is why as strongly, or as doubtfully we believe as Christians, what we believe is based upon faith, mixed with fact, which until those words become reality, cannot be proven. Which is why some priests, like the fictional Jean Paul in Greeley’s novel and me “ both believe and not believe at the same time.”

I don’t know if that makes any sense, but in this season of Lent where Christians are called to draw near to God in order to be transformed by God’s love, and share it with others through their lives and actions, not just words, platitudes, and certitudes, but being humble servants of others we come to experience a renewal of life which can only be described as mysterious.

So that is it for the night and I hope that no matter what you believe that you experience joy, love, and even come to revel in the mystery that we call life and faith, and share that love, human, and or divine with others. After all, a smile, a friendly greeting, an expression of care from a friend or stranger, looking into someone’s eyes with care and concern, may be the only good thing that a person living a lonely, sad, and anxiety filled life, might experience that day. As my one of my football coaches in high school, Duke Pasquini told me “it’s the little things that count.” 

Peace,

Padre Steve+

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“But what is the good of a man being honest in his worship of dishonesty?” Spirituality and Faith in the Trump Era


Father Brown

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

Just a short thought tonight at the close of Ash Wednesday, or actually deep into the night after Ash Wednesday. Yesterday was a wonderful day, in which I began to really experience a certain joy in faith, of course as always tempered by reason, and the ministry of caring for a diverse workforce. It was probably the busiest and most meaningful Ash Wednesday I have ever experienced in close to 28 years of Chaplain ministry, which include two years where I was for all intents and purposes an agnostic hoping that God still existed after my return from Iraq, followed by another decade of of doubt, depression, and despondency regarding life, and ministry.

However, since November of last year when I was assigned to my final active duty post, that faith has began to return, as well as a renewal of my calling as a Priest and Chaplain. Likewise, Ash Wednesday became a joyous rather than an onerous observance. I was busy all day with walking about caring for people, conducting the first Ash Wednesday service in over a decade at the shipyard and being out and about responding to people who for whatever reason could not attend the service by still wanted to receive the sign of the cross marked in ash upon their foreheads. It was a day of wonderful surprises as instead of saddling people with strict dietary regulations and fretting over what they were going to have to give up I asked them to really experience God’s love by simply accepting the proposition that God loved them, accepted them, and wanted them to do the same to others.

Of course I followed the liturgy for the day, and read the designated scriptures. I did not hammer the points from the Biblical readings home as hard as I once might have been tempted to do. Nor did I try to use my position to convince people to see things my way, as I admitted, I don’t pretend to give God religious instruction, and instead decided to let the Scriptures do the preaching themselves, instead of me since they were so contrary to our materialistic American culture, and the last time I did so a parishioner attempted to have me charged and tried by Court Martial, I didn’t need to hammer home points but let the Holy Spirit of God do his or her job; with the exception of Jesus I do not ascribe gender to the Trinity. My purpose was to invite people to renewing their faith in Jesus through the confession of their sins without condemning them, and in addition make sure than whenever they come to me in whatever capacity, that I greet them and care for them with love and personal care.  I am reminded of the words of Bishop Blackie in The Archbishop Goes to Andalusia, the miscreant Auxiliary Bishop to the Cardinal Archbishop of Chicago goes to Seville Spain.

In the novel Bishop Blackie makes a comment after celebrating Mass in the cathedral at Seville. He said “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) Honestly, I think that should be the place of the Priest  in every encounter, even those that are not sacramental. It should be an everyday part of our lives. That being said there are times that a Priest, Minister, Rabbi, Imam, or other clergy person can be beaten down by life, and even by the leaders of the institutions that they serve. I such cases it is often hard to smile or be compassionate to others because we, at that point are empty vessels, at best hoping and praying that we will again find meaning and joy in our vocations, or succumbing to the pain of rejection and evil committed by clerical leaders in the name of God.

Instead of preaching for people to obey rules, I asked them to consider showing love and care to the poor, the lost, the weak, and the lonely, and not be an ass about it by acting arrogant and brag publicly about their allegedly superior spiritual position. I noted, with quite a bit of honesty that when it came to being a Priest, Chaplain, and Husband I have barely stayed at the Mendoza Line, which is basically hitting for a batting average of about .200. This might keep me in the game due to certain skills, but it will not get me to the hall of fame.

In light of that I hardly have the right to preach to people about how they should live their lives, and follow rules that I struggle with; but instead encourage them to seek God’s love, to be honest about their lives, their strengths, and weaknesses; their successes, and failures, and then allow God to work in and through them as instruments of God’s grace and love.

When I was going through my most difficult times of doubt after Iraq it was Father Andrew Greeley’s Bishop Blackie Ryan mysteries that kept a spark of hope and faith alive in my life. In his novel The Bishop and the Beggar Girl of St. Germain, Bishop Blackie noted “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.” I can say truthfully that I know what that is like.

More recently we have discovered the latest BBC series based on G.K. Chesterton’s “Father Brown” mysteries. Now that I have seen the series and am watching it a second time, with the addition of previously unaired episodes on Netflix, I am becoming interested in reading Chesterton’s novels, but I digress.

Today was another exceptionally busy day of ministry beginning with an employee who decided to decided to trust me with his marital and spiritual issues based on my Klingon Valentine’s Day article, which I sent out through our Public Affairs Officer to all hands note in a truncated form. He appreciated my openness, and willingness to share my failings as a husband, Priest, and human being in a way that most ministers won’t. It was a long session and I believe that we have built a relationship that will either help save his marriage, or set the stage for a divorce with a soft landing. Sometimes, and sadly, because of how embittered relationship can become, that is the most Christian thing that will happen. I hope we can work to bring reconciliation to this couple. However, I cannot predict what will happen, but promised that I would walk with them through this terrible time.

But just before the appointment I was called because one of our civilian administrative assistants died unexpectedly before work this morning. She was beloved, and what some people don’t realize, that in places like the Naval Shipyard, our civilian employees are like family to each other. They work with each other for decades, it’s not like the active duty military where we transfer every few years. In the case of the shipyard, which is the oldest in the Western Hemisphere, many employees have family connections going back generations to it. So I spent about half of my day with those employees doing grief counseling, and since I hung around to get to know people I ended up answering other people’s questions about faith, religion, and church history. It was wonderful. I didn’t push anything on them, and explained the differences in what different Christian denominations believe without condemning any of them. Of course that is a significant part of my spiritual “Long Strange Trip.” Because of that I am willing to appreciate the differences of different denominations, even as I am able to explain how they differ with other Christian denominations, without condemning them.

So it was a wonderful day, but it was exhausting, as at my heart I am an introvert who chooses to push my boundaries and at work function as an extrovert. Of course that means that when I come home I often withdraw into my emotional bucket in order to regenerated so I can do the next day. By the way that is a Star Trek Deep Space Nice reference. Google it if you must, but for practical purposes I am an emotional changeling, like DS 9’s Chief of Security, Odo, after so long I have to revert to my emotional introvert gelatinous state in order to regenerate at function in the military and the church. That is an odd comparison, but it is the best I can do.

But, where was I?

Oh that’s right, Ash Wednesday ministry; ministry the day following, Father Brown, and Bishop Blackie Ryan, are my inspiration. It is true that they are fictional characters, but the men who wrote their stories were not, they were very real, and their fictional characters have helped me continue to believe, Even when the Bible didn’t,  and likewise brought  a reality and joy to ministry that I didn’t know; even when I knew it all. But, as the late MLB Hall of Fame Baltimore Orioles manager, Earl Weaver noted “it’s what you learn after you know it all that counts.” That is quite true of my spiritual life.

Likewise, there are people who use the Bible as a weapon, in order to justify their misdeeds and hatred for others. It can be a terrible thing. In one of the Father Brown mysteries, Chesterton, writing as his character Father Brown, wrote:

“Sir Arthur St. Clare, as I have already said, was a man who read his Bible. That was what was the matter with him…. Of course, he read the Old Testament rather than the New. Of course, he found in the Old Testament anything that he wanted—lust, tyranny, treason. Oh, I dare say he was honest, as you call it. But what is the good of a man being honest in his worship of dishonesty?”

The problem is, that people of every faith tend to use select parts of their Holy Scriptures as weapons against people who they deem unworthy of the love of God. They are honest people, but as Father Brown noted: But what is the good of a man being honest in his worship of dishonesty?” Sadly, that is all too true of too much of the Christian Church, as well as the clergy of other religions.

Until tomorrow, Peace

Peace,

Padre Steve+

 

 

 

 

 

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“How Hollow is the Sound of Victory without Someone to Share it with? Honor Gives Little Comfort to a Man Alone in his Home… and in his heart.” Thoughts on Valentine’s Day from a Klingon Perspective

 


Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

Well it is Valentine’s Day and I think that it completely appropriate to talk about love. Now I know that this particular day brings up a lot of good as well as bad memories. If someone is in the middle of a divorce, break up, or just simply is alone it can be a painful experience. On the other hand if you have discovered love, are in love, or even hopelessly infatuated by someone despite the reality that you might be rejected by them it can be a special, and maybe even an expensive day.

However, some of us get lucky and Cupid, the flying naked kid armed with a bow and arrow, shoots us in the ass one day and we discover that one true love. That happened to me in September of 1978 when I met Judy. I fell in love with her that night, but it took a while to develop. We are coming up on our 37th marriage anniversary this June, 6 days after my projected retirement ceremony, which is exactly 37 years after I was commissioned as an Army Second Lieutenant on June 19th 1983. My career in the military, in the Army and Navy has been difficult on her, especially after I came home from various deployments and combat deployments. Though I am now, and have been a chaplain since 1992, I have always been a warrior and soldier at heart, even when unarmed on combat deployments and getting shot at. Thus I find that I am very much attracted to the Klingons in Star Trek the Next Generation and Deep Space Nine, because it is in those series we discover just how complex Klingon culture, traditions, and religious beliefs are. Thankfully for me Judy shares my love of Star Trek, especially DS9. 

So I was thinking about what to do for her this Valentine’s Day as for much of my life I have been pretty lousy at giving her the attention and honor she is due, especially things like Valentine’s Day, birthdays and anniversaries. No doubt, though a faithful husband, I pretty much have been at the Mendoza Line when it comes to romance. Part of this is because of the fact that for close to half of our marriage I have been away from home, and came back pretty messed up from war.

When I was going through my Clinical Pastoral Education Residency at Parkland Memorial Hospital in Dallas following Seminary, that my CPE Supervisor, Steve Ivy was able to connect my compartmentalization of my emotions with Lieutenant Worf, the Klingon Security Officer of the Enterprise in Star Trek the Next Generation played by Michael Dorn, who reprised the role in Star Trek Deep Space Nine. For me that was an eye opening experience. Though I was by that time an ordained minister, and two years later a Priest, I was always a warrior at heart, wanting, desiring, and volunteering time and time again for dangerous assignments. My first 17 1/2 years in the military were in the Army National Guard, active Duty Army, and Army Reserve, and even though I was mobilized to support Operation Joint Endeavor, the Bosnia Peace Enforcement mission, but in a purely support role. I was not until I entered the Navy, taking off my rank as a Major in the Army Reserve to return to active duty as a Navy Lieutenant in February 1999, and the attacks of 9/11/2001 that I got my chance for action at sea in 2002 in Operation Enduring Freedom and the UN Oil Embargo on Iraq in 2002, where I served as an “advisor” to a boarding team, numerous trips to Marine Security Forces in the Middle East from 2003 to 2006, and service in Iraq from 2007 to 2008 with the Advisors of the Iraq Assistance Group in Al Anbar Province, from the Syrian Border to Fallujah and about everywhere in between. It was an amazing combat tour, mostly outside the big bases, working with small teams of American advisors and Iraqi Army, Police, and Border forces. It was the best and most rewarding of tours of my career, but I came back changed. Since I have written about those experiences many times, I won’t go into details, but if I could have remained in Iraq supporting the advisors I would have stayed on indefinitely, and would have gone back given the chance. I left a lot of my soul in Iraq and I pray for the Iraqis, soldiers and civilians alike, who befriended me as the man they called the American Imam. But I digress…

But back to the Klingons, love, marriage, and Valentine’s Day. In one of the early Next Generation episodes Lieutenant Worf is asked by young Wesley Crusher what Klingon courtship is like. Worf replied:

I will sing Klingon love poems while she throws furniture. I duck a lot.

So today I posted a quote from DS9 on my Facebook timeline this morning while waiting at the Medical Center pharmacy. It was from an episode titled Looking for par’Mach in All the Wrong Places where the Ferengi Bartender, Quark ends up helping his Klingon ex-wife Grilka to deal with the financial situation of her House, which he helped her to gain following the death of her husband. Quark is forced to do battle with Grilka’s bodyguard who cannot abide a Ferengi being part of her house. The bodyguard issues a challenge which Quark could never match without help, which Worf and Jadzia Dax give him, but there is a technical glitch and to stall for time Quark issues a supposed Ferengi tradition, which he invented on the spot, The Right of Proclamation, a speech about his love for Grilka:

To this end my blade soars through the
aquarium of my soul seeking the
kelp of discontent which must be cut so that the
rocky bottom of love lies in waiting, with fertile
sand of the coming seed of Grilka’s
affection.
And yet, does this explain my need for her? No. It is like
oh, a giant cave of emptiness waiting for
the bats of love to hang by –

Judy responded by telling people that she would look at my medication list and look for side effects, and that people could direct message her. It was a perfect riposte.

But Quark’s words are those are the words of a Ferengi, not a Klingon, though Quark gave it his best. As Worf gets ready to marry Jadzia, she has to be approved by the matriarch of the House of Martok, and she makes Jadzia’s life hell.

But Martok encourages Worf, saying:

We are not accorded the luxury of choosing the women we fall in love with. Do you think Sirella is anything like the woman I thought that I’d marry? She is a prideful, arrogant, mercurial woman who shares my bed far too infrequently for my taste. And yet… I love her deeply. We Klingons often tout our prowess in battle, our desire for glory and honor above all else… but how hollow is the sound of victory without someone to share it with? Honor gives little comfort to a man alone in his home… and in his heart.” 

When Jadzia successfully passes the tests of Martok’s wife Sirella, the traditional Klingon wedding takes place in Quark’s bar on DS9. The traditional Klingon marriage includes the Klingon creation story, which is enacted by the bride and groom. It certainly is not a Christian understanding of creation, but it does encapsulate the depth of love between two people:

With fire and steel did the gods forge the Klingon heart. So fiercely did it beat, so loud was the sound, that the gods cried out, ‘On this day we have brought forth the strongest heart in all the heavens. None can stand before it without trembling at its strength.’ But then the Klingon heart weakened, its steady rhythm faltered and the gods said, ‘Why have you weakened so? We have made you the strongest in all of creation. And the heart said ‘I am alone.’ And the gods knew that they had erred. So they went back to their forge and brought forth another heart. But the second heart beat stronger than the first, and the first was jealous of its power. Fortunately, the second heart was tempered by wisdom. ‘ If we join together, no force can stop us.’ And when the two hearts began to beat together, they filled the heavens with a terrible sound. For the first time, the gods knew fear. They tried to flee, but it was too late. The Klingon hearts destroyed the gods who created them and turned the heavens to ashes. To this very day, no one can oppose the beating of two Klingon hearts… 
After either courting each other or being married for over forty years I think that Judy and I are a lot like Klingons. I am the proud, yet damaged warrior, she is the proud and faithful wife, and after all these years our hearts beat together.

This may not make a lot of sense to some readers, unless you are true Star Trek nerds, not that there is anything wrong with that.

The thing is that for all its commercialization, and despite the pain that often accompanies love, that Valentine’s Day is a celebration of love between two people, when their hearts beat together. One of my office mates lost his wife of 38 years two and a half years ago. If someone had not told me that he was a widower, it would be hard to guess it. When we talk about life, music, television, life, and family, he speaks of her in such a way that I know that his love for her did not die when she did. Their hearts still beat as one, and I love that, I wish I had actually met her. But, he has his son and other relatives in the local area and still lives a rich life, he is happy, and is still in love with her.

I hope and pray that everyone gets to experience that kind of undying love.

Until tomorrow,

Peace,

Padre Steve+

 

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The Horror of Evil is that it Does Not Deviate from Human Norms: the Eternal Precedent of the Holocaust

rolfe

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

I read and write a lot about Weimar and Nazi Germany as well as the Holocaust. They were the focus of my undergraduate major working under Dr. Helmut Heussler who served as a translator and interrogator at Nuremberg while I was a student at California State University at Northridge and later in my Masters of Arts in Military History. I read the documents, the histories, the narratives, and the reports both in English and German. I study the perpetrators, the victims, and yes the bystanders as well and there is not enough time in one man’s life to read all of them, but I will try.

Likewise I visit the sites where things happened in Germany, and every time that I make a trip to those places I learn more and believe me it is not comfortable.  When I visited the Palace of Justice in Nuremberg a few years ago I saw a picture of Dr. Heussler doing his work. Back then he was very young and it would be a number of years before he finished college and went on to his doctorate. When I saw his picture I remembered just how important he was in opening my eyes to the dark side of humanity; even those people that are not truly evil; those like most of us who exist between the shades of gray between sainthood and the devil.

The histories, the documents, the narratives paint a dark picture of humanity and the fallibility of people. The portrait that they paint a disturbing picture of the true nature of what is in all of us. When I look at the pictures and see the films I can see that the lessons of that time have not been learned. Dr. Timothy Snyder wrote:

“The world is now changing, reviving fears that were familiar in Hitler’s time, and to which Hitler responded. The history of the Holocaust is not over. Its precedent is eternal, and its lessons have not yet been learned.”

In the age where men who admire tyrants and authoritarians like Trump, Putin, Farage, Erdrogan, Assad, and so many others it is important that we try to learn the lessons lest we fall into the same trap as our ancestors and become perpetrators, victims, or bystanders. I often find myself wondering what will be said we Americans of our time in say fifty years or so. I have a feeling that it will not be favorable or sympathetic.

Such a fascination with the thoughts of others years after I am likely to be dead may seem unusually circumspect. But my call as a priest and a historian doesn’t allow me not to care about the future, or ignore present realities. The fact is that totalitarian regimes and events like the Holocaust are all too common in human history, one of those is the connection of humanity with its past and future, and that humanity being the constant in our history. Yehuda Bauer wrote:

“The horror of the Holocaust is not that it deviated from human norms; the horror is that it didn’t. What happened may happen again, to others not necessarily Jews, perpetrated by others, not necessarily Germans. We are all possible victims, possible perpetrators, possible bystanders.”

The fact is that there are very few true saints and likewise very few truly evil people. Quite obviously Adolf Hitler and many of his associates fell in the latter category. The rest of us, and for that matter most of the people on all sides during from the Nazi seizure of power until the Gotterdammerung of the Third Reich in in the flames of Berlin in 1945 fell somewhere in the gray area between the truly evil and the saints and truthfully all of us given the right conditions are capable of becoming perpetrators, victims, or the worst, bystanders who turn their backs on evil because it doesn’t seem to affect us; but it does.

Admittedly this is a dark subject and as I always reminded my students “the one constant in history are fallible human beings.” 

During our recent blizzard and snow event my wife Judy was away, so one of the nights that I was alone I re-watched the film Judgment at Nuremberg. The film is profoundly disturbing not only because of the subjects that it deals with but also when we look at the great uncertainty time that we live and how similar it is to the world of the late 1920s and early 1930s. In one of the more disturbing scenes of the film, Maximillian Schell, who played Hans Rolfe, the defense counsel for Ernst Janning, played by Burt Lancaster gives a summation in the final defense of his client who has already admitted his guilt which is remarkable because he tells the truth about the guilt of everyone.

Rolfe’s summation of his defense following his client’s admission of guilt is damning. It is something that almost all of us do. It is how we look at the atrocities of genocide, war crimes, ethnic cleansing, the willful starvation of millions by criminal regimes; and then stand by saying little or nothing and doing nothing, sometimes even supporting the leaders or the regimes that commit these actions.

So please, no matter what your political point of view, take the time to watch clip or the whole film, and read the transcript of Schell’s speech below. It’s far easier than trying to do all the reading, study, and research that I have done.

“Your Honor, it is my duty to defend Ernst Janning, and yet Ernst Janning has said he is guilty. There’s no doubt, he feels his guilt. He made a great error in going along with the Nazi movement, hoping it would be good for his country. But, if he is to be found guilty, there are others who also went along, who also must be found guilty. Ernst Janning said, “We succeeded beyond our wildest dreams.” Why did we succeed, Your Honor? What about the rest of the world? Did it not know the intentions of the Third Reich? Did it not hear the words of Hitler’s broadcast all over the world? Did it not read his intentions in Mein Kampf, published in every corner of the world? Where’s the responsibility of the Soviet Union, who signed in 1939 the pact with Hitler, enabled him to make war? Are we not to find Russia guilty? Where’s the responsibility of the Vatican, who signed in 1933 the Concordat with Hitler, giving him his first tremendous prestige? Are we not to find the Vatican guilty? Where’s the responsibility of the world leader, Winston Churchill, who said in an open letter to the London Times in 1938 – 1938! Your Honor – “were England to suffer national disaster should pray to God to send a man of the strength of mind and will of an Adolf Hitler!” Are we not to find Winston Churchill guilty? Where is the responsibility of those American industrialists, who helped Hitler to rebuild his armaments and profited by that rebuilding? Are we not to find the American industrialists guilty? No, Your Honor. No! Germany alone is not guilty: The whole world is as responsible for Hitler’s Germany. It is an easy thing to condemn one man in the dock. It is easy to condemn the German people to speak of the basic flaw in the German character that allowed Hitler to rise to power and at the same time positively ignore the basic flaw of character that made the Russians sign pacts with him, Winston Churchill praise him, American industrialists profit by him! Ernst Janning said he is guilty. If he is, Ernst Janning’s guilt is the world’s guilt – no more and no less.”

Sadly, little has changed in the character of humanity. If we do or say nothing, if we support those who do such things, if we close our eyes and pretend that it is not our problem, then we too are the guilty party.  As Hannah Arendt wrote: “The sad truth is that most evil is done by people who never make up their minds to be good or evil.”

Sophie Scholl, a young university student who died at the hands of the Nazis for daring to distribute leaflets telling the truth about Hitler’s regime wrote:

“The real damage is done by those millions who want to ‘survive.’ The honest men who just want to be left in peace. Those who don’t want their little lives disturbed by anything bigger than themselves. Those with no sides and no causes. Those who won’t take measure of their own strength, for fear of antagonizing their own weakness. Those who don’t like to make waves—or enemies. Those for whom freedom, honour, truth, and principles are only literature. Those who live small, mate small, die small. It’s the reductionist approach to life: if you keep it small, you’ll keep it under control. If you don’t make any noise, the bogeyman won’t find you. But it’s all an illusion, because they die too, those people who roll up their spirits into tiny little balls so as to be safe. Safe?! From what? Life is always on the edge of death; narrow streets lead to the same place as wide avenues, and a little candle burns itself out just like a flaming torch does. I choose my own way to burn.”

Whether I live one day, or another fifty years, I do not want to be a person who wants to be remembered as one who “just wants to survive,” or “left in peace,” or as Arendt said one “who never makes up their mind to be good or evil.” Nor can I be one who just goes along with things as Janning did, carrying in Judgment at Nuremberg, or be one for whom freedom, honour, truth, and principles are only literature.” 

That is the only way I know how to live. Life has taught me that.

Peace

Padre Steve+

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