Category Archives: life

A First Communion Mass, Two Parties, a Royal Wedding, and a Death amid the Noise of Fans and Dehumidifiers

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

The late Father Andrew Greeley wrote these words in his mystery novel The Archbishop Goes to Andalusia:

“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.”

Those are words that I hope that I reflect in my life and yesterday was one that I thought of those words a lot.

Saturday was one of the busiest Saturdays that I have ever experienced. It was a good day but after the week that I have had dealing with the damage inside our hows and the noise of fans and dehumidifiers, it was almost too much for me. Yesterday morning I celebrated Mass for the first communion of two of the children of our German NATO contingent with a German priest at one of my chapels at Fort Story.

The service was in German and while the German priest preached I was the celebrant for the Mass. It was the first Mass that I have done in German in over a decade but it was like riding a bicycle, I was able to go right back into it, so much is committed to memory that with a couple moments when I experienced some angst it went very well. It was very special for me because I was asked to do the preparation for the boys by the parents over the past two months. During that time I have really come to love and appreciate them. It was a very special time and a blessing with over a hundred people, Germans and Americans in attendance.

When I was done with that Judy and I had to run home to change and prepare for the afternoon, two parties for good friends that conflicted. I took Judy to one while I went to the other. The party Judy attended was for a close friend of her who is retiring from the Department of Veterans Affairs in Virginia Beach, while I went to the college graduation party for a friend and Navy Veteran in Portsmouth.

Eventually I went back to pick up Judy and spend a bit of time at that party, after which we went home and pretty much collapsed. That being said while there I found out that my cousin Jeanette’s husband Ron had died. She lives in the Pacific Northwest so I called and left a message on her voice mail. She called me back and we had a good talk but still it was a sad time as she tries to sort through her memories.

After that I went through various emails and messages and the took the time to watch Bishop Michael Curry’s sermon at the Royal Wedding of Prince Harry and Meghan Markel. It was an amazing sermon and very inspirational. I recommend it.

Anyway. It was a long but good day. Being an introvert I was on people overload but that does not detract from all the blessings of the day. The fact is that ministry and life take many forms and I would be amiss not to recognize the grace and love of God in all the people I was with today, but also the joy in being called to love.

Those who have followed this blog as well as my close friends know the struggle I have had with faith over the past decade, including the years I spent as a practical agnostic who hope almost beyond hope that God was still around. His words of the real meaning of the Gospel, that of God’s love were remarkable when compared to the words of men like Franklin Graham and Robert Jeffress. As I thought about today and watched Bishop Curry’s sermon I was filled with hope and I thought of Greeley’s words of a fictional candidate for the papacy in his novel White Smoke

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

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

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

In a way that sums up my Saturday. I may struggle, I may doubt, but I am learning to once again live by faith and love, girded by hope. I believe, help me in my unbelief.

I wish you all a good night or day and hope and pray that the Fire of love for others and God may ignite our hearts and minds to become more like Jesus, especially in the way we treat others. As Saint Francis of Assisi once noted: “Preach the Gospel at all times, use words if necessary.

This morning both Judy and I are exhausted. Servpro came out and took readings and it appears that by tomorrow the fans and dehumidifiers will be removed which will allow the next steps In restoring the house to begin.

So until the next time,

Peace

Padre Steve+

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Minor Disasters and Moderate Headaches

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

It has been an exhausting week. Last week my air conditioning system’s condensation pan overflowed due to insulation that clogged the drain pipes. Water poured through my ceiling saturated a good part of my library and my wife’s art supply storage room, and our upstairs hallway and landing. Water soaked the carpet and laminated floors, walls and a door frame. It also soaked the subfloor and my living room ceiling. We now have carpeting and flooring that has been ripped out as well as dry way that has been torn out to help dry things out.

Since then we have been trying to dig out with the assistance of our USAA and Servpro which they contracted to do the drying out process. The company which put in the insulation sent out a manager to assist and see if they could cover my deductible and some extra for the massive inconvenience of it all. Hopefully their national office will be as good as the local and regional managers. I am grateful for their help, but the amount of work that we have sorting through all we had in that room is exhausting.

That being said since Tuesday my house sounds like we live in the engine room of a warship, very loud, but thankfully without the heat. We have dehumidifiers and fans upstairs and downstairs and while the noise doesn’t bother our unflappable Papillon dogs, it is exhausting. But on the plus side when I am near the fans I don’t notice the chronic tinnitus that I have endured since my tour in Iraq.

Saturday will be busy, I will be participating in a Mass for the first communion of some children of our German NATO contingent at one of my chapels and of course the Mass will be in German. That is not hard because I have celebrated Mass in German before, but it has been a while, even so it will be fun and my German is good enough to get by pretty well. In the afternoon Judy and I have separate parties to attend because both need to be attended and so she will do one while I do the other. It is nice to be wanted.

Next week will busy as we continue to deal with drying the house out, sorting through stuff, and then with the contractor who will be putting things back together, as well as balancing out stuff at work that cannot be ignored. I figure we have at least three weeks of pain ahead, but again I won’t complain because stuff will get fixed, it will be better than when it started, and I have a supportive command and great staff.

That being said this is exhausting and there is so much going on in the world. Of course when I get a chance I will try to get some time to write. So until tomorrow or whenever, pray for me a sinner…

Peace

Padre Steve+

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The Poetry of Fear: Nightmares and Moral Wounds

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Tombstone at the British Cemetery, Habbaniyah Iraq

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

Stephen King wrote: “Nightmares exist outside of logic, and there’s little fun to be had in explanations; they’re antithetical to the poetry of fear.”

I prefer physical pain and physical injury to moral, emotional, and spiritual injury. I agree with Alexander Dumas who wrote in the Count of Monte Cristo“Moral wounds have this peculiarity – they may be hidden, but they never close; always painful, always ready to bleed when touched, they remain fresh and open in the heart.”

That is how I feel over ten years after returning from Iraq in 2008. No matter how well I am doing there are times when things going on in the present fill me with terror and evoke the ghosts of my past. As much as I want to put my war and other wars in the past I see American political leaders, propagandists, and religious leaders doing all they can to bring about new wars abroad and divide us at home.

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I find this deeply unsettling and it causes great anxiety, especially when I try to sleep. On Saturday night I had terrible nightmares of war with superiors trying to force me to commit war crimes. Four times Judy tried to wake me as I screamed and fought and I couldn’t pull myself out of the dreams. Thankfully I did not end up throwing myself out of bed and causing injury as I have done before. Likewise the Papillons, including our youngest boy, Pierre, now know to move to a different part of the bed when I am so unsettled.

Guy Sajer wrote in his book The Forgotten Soldier, “Only happy people have nightmares, from overeating. For those who live a nightmare reality, sleep is a black hole, lost in time, like death.” United States Army General Gouverneur Warren, a hero of many Civil War battles including Gettysburg wrote to his wife after the war “I wish I did not dream so much. They make me sometimes to dread to go to sleep. Scenes from the war, are so constantly recalled, with bitter feelings I wish never to experience again. Lies, vanity, treachery, and carnage.”

In my dreams I remember everything about the war like it was yesterday. The images are vivid: wounded Marines, a wounded Iraqi boy with his father, a rocket flying just a few feet above my head, taking small arms fire in Ramadi on the ground and aboard an Army helicopter which returned fire as we took off from Ramadi, destroyed cities and villages, destitute and terrified people, and refugees.

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But those dreams and nightmares blend reality with unreality, real places with imaginary places, places that I’ve been to but are not the same as they are in the real world and they frequently show up. You think that I would be used to them; but no matter how often I have them I never get used to them, and I can’t really explain them, I only try to survive them.

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Ramadi, January 2008

One of my favorite actors, James Spader, plays a character named Raymond Reddington on the television show The Blacklist. During one episode he told another character something quite profound, something that if we actually embrace it can be somewhat comforting. “There is nothing that can take the pain away. But eventually, you will find a way to live with it. There will be nightmares. And every day when you wake up, it will be the first thing you think about. Until one day, it’s the second.”

Anyway, I have spent my evening watching the musicals Chicago and Mama Mia in order to take my mind off of all that is going on in the world. Now it is time for bed and the world of dreams and nightmares. Thankfully I will get up in the morning and carry on with life, even joyfully.

So until tomorrow,

Peace

Padre Steve+

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

If You Don’t Have Time to Read You don’t Have the Time or Tools to Lead

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Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

During the first week of March I took about a week off of regular writing and commended a new campaign of reading. This was not because I don’t read, I am always reading, but sometimes I don’t read enough, so that week I began to catch up on some reading. Since then I have read, and read, even as I began to write again, not that I ever really stopped. I fully subscribe to the words of American satirist Will Rogers who noted: “There are three kinds of men. The one that learns by reading. The few who learn by observation. The rest of them have to pee on the electric fence for themselves.”

Honestly I prefer to learn by reading or observing, and reading has been part of my life since I was a child and I cannot imagine trying to write a single sentence without reading, as Stephen King noted: “If you don’t have time to read, you don’t have the time (or the tools) to write. Simple as that.” I would extend King’s observation to say that if you don’t have time to read you don’t have time or the tools to lead. Sadly the American President and many of his most devoted followers never challenge themselves by reading.

So tonight I wanted to take a few minutes and catch you up on the newest additions to my reading rainbow. I finished reading German historian Paul Carrel’s Unternehmen Barbarossa im Bild (Operation Barbarossa in Pictures) in which the text is in German and Max Boot’s The Road Not Taken: Edward Lansdale an the American Tragedy in Vietnam. 

I took on Carrel’s book because I had read many of his histories of the German Army in the Second World War in English and I wanted to use this large German volume to improve my German vocabulary. It’s an excellent volume first published in 1976 but unless you have a moderate familiarity of German it I don’t recommend it despite the vast number of photos that I have not seen elsewhere and his honest commentary and reflections on the moral, social, and political disaster that was Operation Barbarossa.

I also finished Max Boot’s outstanding volume of the life of General Edward Lansdale. This is really a good account of U.S. involvement in the Philippines and Vietnam from 1945 until 1975. Lansdale was deeply involved in one of the few successful counter-insurgencies of the 20th Century, that against the Communist supported Huks in the Philippines  by Lansdale who worked closely with political reformers and sought to understand and win over insurgents without engaging in massive military sweeps. However successful he was he was distrusted by much of the CIA and military establishment and his efforts in Vietnam were undercut by them. Boot treats Lansdale’s story well without attempting to hide his many flaws. Lansdale has been referred to as an American T. E. Lawrence and Boot gives an excellent account of his life in the context of the CIA, American actions in Indochina, and American politics in the from the mid 1950s until the early 1970s. The book is well worth the read.

On the Vietnam front I read the late Michael Herr’s Dispatches, his classic account of his time serving as a war correspondent in Vietnam at Hue, Khe San, and other battles over the course of 18 months. Having been to war I highly recommend it.

On the more contemporary American political situation I read conservative and former Bush Administration advisor, David Frum’s book on the Trump Era, Trumpocracy: The Corruption of the American Republic. It is well worth the read for anyone but I highly recommend that conservatives read it. I don’t always agree with some of Frum’s political positions, but his take on the corrosive effects of Donald Trump on the United States and how Republicans have aided and abetted him.

Continuing down that road I read Michael Isikoff and David Corn’s masterpiece of investigative journalism Russian Roulette: The Inside Story of Putin’s War on America and the Election of Donald Trump. Trump loyalists will hate this book because their work continues to be verified by every new discovery about the Russians and their role in the 2016 elections. It gives the reader a superb understanding of the key players  in this drama and help the reader to put in context the daily revelations of the investigation being conducted by Special Prosecutor Robert Muller and the actions of the President’s words, actions, and policies toward Russia and Putin as well as when he melts down on Twitter. In time it might be ranked with All the President’s Men. 

As a matter of contextualizing the present I read the late historian Tony Judt’s Ill Fares the Land which was written following the collapse of 2008. Judt discusses how we have not learned the lessons of the Twentieth Century and the problems related to the failures of both the right and left to learn those lessons. It is well worth the read but it is not a book designed or written to comfort partisans on any side of the political spectrum.

Going back to look at history I took the time to read Walter Lord’s sequel to his classic book on the sinking of the Titanic, A Night to Remember by reading his book The Night Lives On: The Untold Stories and Secrets of the “Unsinkable” Ship – Titanic. The second volume was published some three decades after Lord’s first volume which I think is the best account of the event ever written.  To follow it up I ordered and watched the film A Night To Remember which was also well worth watching. While not as technically accurate nor filled with “A list” stars the film captures the the tragedy of the ship in a way I don’t think that James Cameron’s masterpiece Titanic really gets.

I re-read Lord’s book on the integration of Ol’e Miss The Past that Would Not Die which though it recounts events of 1962 seems amazingly relevant in the present day.  The account of the admission of Air Force veteran James Howard Meredith in the face of the political opposition of Mississippi’s Governor and Legislature, armed White Supremacists against Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy Jr. and civil rights activists. The event was a crisis that brought to the present the memories and ideology of secession and revolt against the Federal Government and Constitution in the name of preserving a history of white supremacism. Likewise I also re-read British historian and military theorist B. H. Liddell Hart’s little book Why Don’t We Learn from History? 

I took up Jason Stanley’s excellent How Propaganda Works. This is an excellent book for academics but I do not recommend it for the casual reader because it presupposes a knowledge of political philosophy and history that most people don’t have. It was a long and tiring read for me and I liked it. It provides a lot of insights into the mechanics of propaganda. For me it gave me a different level of understanding of the propaganda being used by the Russians agains the United States and the machinations of the American President to discredit opponents through both official government pronouncements and the official unofficial White House propaganda network, Fox News.

I am currently reading a number of books. I am about a quarter of the way through John Dower’s The Bloody American Century, about a third of the way through Timothy Snyder’s The Road to Unfreedom: Russia, Europe, America, and have just started Tony Judt’s Thinking the Twentieth Century and Ron Chernow’s biography of Ulysses S. Grant.

So anyway. Have a great night and see you tomorrow,

Peace

Padre Steve+

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“If Only…” Thinking about the Tapestry of Life

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Friends of Padre Steve’s World

It is interesting to think about life, what has transpired, and what might have been if only…

Like anyone I wonder about all of the “what ifs” and “might have been” parts of my life. Of course there are many, going back to things that I could not control, such as the choices that my parents made regarding their lives, career, family, and home. Then there are my own choices, choices that I made, some for better, and some maybe for worse. Then there were the choices of men and women in my life and career that impacted my life and the decisions that I made, again for better or worse.

Some of my dreams, and nightmares too, involve those decisions, particularly the ones that I could not control; but then there were those decisions, particularly regarding my military career choices, that come back to haunt my dreams. Those can be troubling; the things that I volunteered to do and the costs of those to Judy as a result of those decisions. Many of those decisions, particularly my decisions to volunteer for certain deployments and operations have come at a great cost to both of us, the struggle with the effects of PTSD even ten years after my return from Iraq is still very real.

But then I am reminded that none of us have a crystal ball that allows us to see what the result of our decisions will be; none of us are God, or some other omniscient being. We make our decisions based on what we know, and what we think might be the outcome of our decisions.

I love the television series Star Trek the Next Generation. One of my favorite episodes is called Tapestry. In the episode Captain Picard is killed. He is then met by the being known as Q, played by John De Lancie for a do-over, a second chance to reverse a choice that he made as a young officer.

On Q’s promise that his choice will not alter history Picard takes the chance and he ends up regretting it. In his second chance to avoid the incident that allowed him to be killed he alienates himself from his friends, and turns him in to a different person, unwilling to take chances and doomed to insignificance. When he returns to his new present he finds himself alive but a different person. Instead of a starship captain is a nondescript lieutenant junior grade doing a job that he hates as an assistant astrophysics officer.

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Distraught Picard complains to Q:

Picard: You having a good laugh now, Q? Does it amuse you to think of me living out the rest of my life as a dreary man in a tedious job?

Q: I gave you something most mortals never experience: a second chance at life. And now all you can do is complain?

Picard: I can’t live out my days as that person. That man is bereft of passion… and imagination! That is not who I am!

Q: Au contraire. He’s the person you wanted to be: one who was less arrogant and undisciplined in his youth, one who was less like me… The Jean-Luc Picard you wanted to be, the one who did not fight the Nausicaan, had quite a different career from the one you remember. That Picard never had a brush with death, never came face to face with his own mortality, never realized how fragile life is or how important each moment must be. So his life never came into focus. He drifted through much of his career, with no plan or agenda, going from one assignment to the next, never seizing the opportunities that presented themselves. He never led the away team on Milika III to save the Ambassador; or take charge of the Stargazer’s bridge when its captain was killed. And no one ever offered him a command. He learned to play it safe – and he never, ever, got noticed by anyone.

It is a fascinating exchange and one that when I wonder about the choices that I have made that I think about; because when all is said and done, my life, like all of ours is a tapestry. On reflection Picard tells Counselor Troi, “There are many parts of my youth that I’m not proud of. There were… loose threads – untidy parts of me that I would like to remove. But when I… pulled on one of those threads – it’d unravel the tapestry of my life.”

I think that I can agree with that. All the things in my life, the good things and the bad, as well as the paths not taken have all been a part of the tapestry of my life. I would not be who I am without them; and that I cannot comprehend. I would rather be the flawed me that is me, than the perfect me that never existed. Thus, all of those threads of my tapestry are in a sense, precious and even holy.

I’ll keep all of them.

Peace

Padre Steve+

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