Category Archives: Loose thoughts and musings

Changes in Latitudes, Changes in Attitudes: Thoughts on Friendships Enduring Friendships

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Friends of Padre Steve’s World

With these changes in latitudes, changes in attitudes Nothing remains quite the same; With all of my running and all of my cunning If I couldn’t laugh I just would go insane; If we couldn’t laugh we just would go insane, If we weren’t all crazy we would go insane

Jimmy Buffet: Changes in Latitudes, Changes in Attitudes

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I had the good fortune to be able to see the Jimmy Buffet concert here on Thursday night and that was followed up Friday by the visit of an old friend who had a great influence on my early Navy career as my detailer, and who as a retired contract Priest at Naval Medical Center Portsmouth was there for me during some of my darkest times after my return from Iraq. It was good to see Father Fred Elkin, a wonderful Priest, friend, and confidant. I also met a new friend, an Army Reserve Chaplain doing some of his training over at Fort Story. Last week I had a long telephone conversation with one of my old enlisted shipmates who served on the boarding time that I served on in the Persian Gulf back in 2002. It is really nice to have those experiences, to have a life, and to interact with people face to face.

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I took off for a weekend last month Just to try and recall the whole year; All of the faces and all of the places; Wonderin’ where they all disappeared I didn’t ponder the question too long; I was hungry and went out for a bite Ran into a chum with a bottle of rum; And we wound up drinkin all night

I find that it is all too easy to miss simple things like that, all too easy to become too busy to keep those friendships and find new ones as well. I hate losing friends too. Over the years I’ve lost my share and some of them were due to by own negligence or stupidity and others for reasons that I don’t understand, but I’ve lost more over politics in the past year and a half than I could have ever imagine, again at least a of these were of my doing, mostly for self-protect in the toxic political climate, but then others I just don’t know, but that’s life too.

Of course there are the friends that die too early and often unexpectedly. I have had too many of those lately, and as I look through my various picture albums I remember the good things about them even as I still feel the pangs of grief at their loss. I cherish their memory and pray that one day we will meet again.

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Even so I find particular value in long term friendships and relationships that have endured the years, one of which goes back to 5th grade. Others, schoolmates, military friends, veterans, teachers, others who I have worked, attended church, marched for civil rights, or imbibed heavily of adult beverages with over the years mean so much to me. I guess that’s one reason that Buffet’s Changes in Latitudes, Changes in Attitudes speaks to me. Over the years all of us have grown up and changed, we aren’t the same as we were when we first met each other because of life and our experiences, but we’re still friends.

Reading departure signs in some big airport; Reminds me of the places I’ve been Visions of good times that brought so much pleasure, Makes me want to go back again; If it suddenly ended tomorrow I could somehow adjust to the fall; Good times and riches and son of a bitches I’ve seen more than I can recall

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Some of these folks and I have gone through tremendously difficult times together; we’ve faced career crises, health issues, deployments, family separations, lived in the field, and in combat conditions facing danger, coming home to changed family situations, facing physical injury, and the craziness that is part of dealing with PTSD, TBI, and chronic sleep disorders. I have a friend going through chemotherapy for stage-four lymphoma, and others who have recently gone through life threatening health crises. The cool thing is that we are friends and that we have stood by each other. We can disagree about politics, religion, and so many things that destroy other friendships. I am reminded of what William Tecumseh Sherman said of his friendship with Ulysses S. Grant, “Grant stood by me when I was crazy, I stood by him when he was drunk, now we stand together.”

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I think about Paris when I’m high on red wine I wish I could jump on a plane; So many nights I just dream of the ocean God; I wish I was sailin’ again; Oh, yesterday’s over my shoulder So I can’t look back for too long; There’s just too much to see waiting in front of me And I know that I just can’t go wrong

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The good thing is that life continues and friendships do as well and if I can speak for myself, if I couldn’t laugh and I weren’t crazy I would go insane.

So until tomorrow,

Peace and friendship,

Padre Steve+

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Remembering Those Who Helped Make Us Who We Are

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

Historian David McCullough wrote something that I think is all too easy to forget in a world where many people, including our current President seem to think that everything is about them. McCullough wrote:

“We are all what we are, in large degree, because of others who have helped, coached, taught, counseled, who set a standard by example, who’ve taken an interest in our interests, opened doors, opened our minds, helped us see, who gave encouragement when we needed it, who reprimanded or prodded when we needed it, and at critical moments, inspired.”

When I look back at my own life I see the tremendous impact of how others, family, teachers, coaches, pastors, people who I have served alongside or under the command of in the military, as well as just simple people who knew me and cared enough to put an arm around my shoulder, offer an encouraging word, piece of wisdom, of maybe even a observation that wasn’t comfortable to hear, have helped make me what I am today. In fact there are so many of them that it would be almost impossible to list them all, and as we come up on Memorial Day next week I tend to become a bit melancholy thinking about those military personnel who impacted my life and mourning those who have passed on. I have written about many of them and probably will do so again over the coming months, not only the military people but the others, if for no other reason to ensure that they are not forgotten and to remember that everything in life doesn’t have to be about what is going on in the news cycle.

Even so it is humbling to know that if all of these people had not been part of my life that I would not be who I am today.

So anyway, if I can say anything to anyone today, try to remember the people who have helped you become what you are.

Peace

Padre Steve+

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Margaritaville a Time Out from Trump All the Time


Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

Despite the continued bombardment of news about the Trump administration and the appointment of former FBI Director Robert Mueller as Special Counsel to oversee the investigation I am going to take a breather from what is beginning to feel like “all Trump all the time,” not that there is not more to write about but unless something even bigger blows up in regard to the investigation of what appears to be the most incompetent, most inept, and possibly the most criminal and treasonous Presidential administration in American history, I’m going to take at least a few days to write about other things.

It is possible to become so enmeshed in breaking news without end that one loses perspective and forgets about other things, important things such as family, friends, pets, travel, hobbies, and life in general. I like reading, writing, building model airplanes and ships, hanging out with my wife, traveling, playing with and snuggling my dogs, going for walks, going to baseball games, and hanging out with friends over a couple of beers at my local watering hole.

But last night I scored tickets at the last minute to see Jimmy Buffet in concert. Great time. I like Margaritaville a lot better than Trumpland and I made use of my license to chill. 

So until tomorrow, have a good day and if you can remember who you are and what you enjoy, we’ll have plenty to deal with regarding Trump in the coming weeks and months and after effects that like the half-life of Plutonium may linger for years. But that being said, it’s five o’clock somewhere. 

Peace,

Padre Steve+

 

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Reflections on PTSD and Moral Injury after a Gettysburg Staff Ride


Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

The past few weeks have been a whirlwind of activity which has involved a transfer, travel, and teaching, coupled with finding that I was not selected for promotion. The failure to select for promotion was less of a disappointment with not being selected, or jealousy towards those that were, but rather the feelings of betrayal I feel towards the senior leaders of the Chaplain Corps that have been part of my life since I returned from Iraq back in 2008, and my ever present battle with the effects of PTSD. Since I have written about these things many times I shall not go into depth about them today.

While I was at Gettysburg I stood beside the monument to General Gouverneur Warren on Little Round Top as I discussed Warren’s actions which were decisive in ensuring that Union forces held that edifice against the Confederate assault of July 2nd 1863. However, Warren would suffer unjustly at the hands of General Philip Sheridan at the Battle of Five Forks just days before the end of the war. The effects of combat trauma, what we would now diagnose as PTSD and moral injury at having been betrayed by the leaders of an institution that he had faithfully served in war and peace were devastating to him. After the war he wrote his wife:

“I wish I did not dream that much. They make me sometimes dread to go to sleep. Scenes from the war, are so constantly recalled, with bitter feelings I wish to never experience again. Lies, vanity, treachery, and carnage.” 

I fully understand what Warren felt in terms of dreams and what they call to mind time and time again nearly every night. Whenever I go to bed I pray that I will not again injure myself during a nighttime as I have numerous times, two of which sent me to the emergency room with head and facial injuries including a concussion and a broken nose. Yet even the dreams and nightmares that do not result in physical injury are often disturbing, and thankfully one of our Papillon dogs, Izzy, will do all that she can to comfort me and calm me down, and if I am awake and she senses that I am depressed or anxious she does what she can to be near me and to calm me. She is incredibly sensitive and does this with anyone not feeling well. I need to get her certified as a therapy dog as she is a special soul. 

Even so there are really very few people with whom I can talk about these things as they are foreign to the experience of most people. Guy Sager wrote in his classic book The Forgotten Soldier of his experience on returning home after the Second World War: “In the train, rolling through the sunny French countryside, my head knocked against the wooden back of the seat. Other people, who seemed to belong to a different world, were laughing. I couldn’t laugh and couldn’t forget.” 

But anyway, that is where I live. I am happy, relatively content, and look forward to life. I love to teach as I did at Gettysburg over the weekend and to write, at the same time I struggle every night with sleep, and with belonging in the institution that I have served for nearly thirty-six years. After I found out about the non-selection for promotion I became quite angry, as I said, not because I wasn’t selected, but because of the feelings of betrayal that go back now some nine years. It helped for me to walk in the woods along the Potomac River on Thursday night and to walk the lines that the Union Union First Corps occupied on the first day of the Battle of Gettysburg last Friday. For me there is something about walking hallowed ground which no matter what I am feeling helps to center me. It is as Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain wrote:

“In great deeds, something abides. On great fields, something stays. Forms change and pass; bodies disappear; but spirits linger, to consecrate ground for the vision-place of souls… generations that know us not and that we know not of, heart-drawn to see where and by whom great things were suffered and done for them, shall come to this deathless field, to ponder and dream; and lo! the shadow of a mighty presence shall wrap them in its bosom, and the power of the vision pass into their souls.”

Every time I walk that hallowed ground at Gettysburg I feel that presence and experience the power of that vision.

So I do wish you the best and appreciate the kind thoughts and words that many of you post on this page, in emails, and on my Facebook and Twitter accounts. Until tomorrow, have a great day. 

Peace

Padre Steve+

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Filed under civil war, Gettysburg, History, Loose thoughts and musings, mental health, PTSD

Staff Rides, Table Talk, and Lost Phones




Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

Yesterday I completed my 16th Gettysburg Staff Ride with the Joint Forces Staff College. The students as always were great and a number of students and I had Some great discussions over food and beer on Friday and Saturday night. I really do enjoy those discussions, table talk is a great way of learning, even for me, because the questions and comments, as well as differing opinions make me think and also make me work harder on my research and preparation for the next trip. 

It was a very good trip but the foul weather took a lot out of me and somehow I lost my iPhone this morning and not even my my “find my iPhone” app helped me. That was frightening as I have never done more than misplaced my phone, and I realized how important it is for so much of my communication and how I schedule my life, including how I measure my exercise. 

Since I couldn’t find after retracing my steps from the time I left my hotel room to the point I noticed it missing at the Virginia Memorial before guiding my students through Pickett’s Charge and the Soldiers Cemetery I had to depart the pattern without going back to the Gettysburg Nation Military Park Visitor Center. Thankfully I had scored big on Saturday when I was able to get a limited edition signed artist proof of Dale Gallon’s painting of the 19th Massachusetts Infantry stopping the Confederate attack at the Copse of Trees during Pickett’s Charge entitled Clubs are Trumps. The title of the piece denotes the shamrock of the Union Second Corps which of course is a “club” in a card deck, in this case the trump card. I had been planning on getting the mini-print from Gallon on one of my next trips, but the price of this 1996 print was less than the small one. I couldn’t pass it up. Now to wait for a good deal on custom framing, but I digress. 


On the way back to pick up Judy and the Papillons I stopped at an Apple Store in the D.C. Area to replace it and to make sure that if someone had it that it was disabled and erased. The only issue was that I lost a lot of photos that I had taken Friday as I walked the Union First Corps lines as well as my exercise data from Thursday through Sunday morning, during those three days I had hiked about 20 miles.

I was able to get some rest as we visited our friends and the ten Papillons who own all of us played and played. So we are on our way back home today and will get ready for the rest of the work week. So until tomorrow.

Peace

Padre Steve+

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Thoughts on Being Passed Over for Promotion 


Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

Yesterday was a tough day. I failed to select for promotion to Captain for the second time. It wasn’t so much not being selected for promotion as I neither expected it or wanted it, but it was a reminder to me of the many painful experiences that I have had with senior leaders in both the Army and Navy Chaplain Corps in my 25 years of service as a chaplain. But that being said I was warned. When I was a young Medical Service Corps Captain in the Army I felt the call to go to seminary to become a chaplain. As I got close to leaving active duty, my brigade executive officer pulled me aside. He told me: “Steve, if you think that the Army Medical Department is political and cutthroat, we can’t hold a candle the the Chaplain Corps.” 

Sadly, Lieutenant Colonel Wigger was all too correct. Much of the senior leadership in all of the military chaplain corps, as well as Federal, State, and hospital chaplaincies are as toxic as Zyclon-B. Of course they are not alone, many leaders in church hierarchies are just as bad if not worse. Maybe there is something in humanity that makes some people when given authority in both the temporal as well as spiritual realms exhibit the worst aspects of human nature. 

I have always said that I would never be that way and I have always tried to best to value and care for the chaplains, as well as enlisted personnel who have worked for me. Honestly I think that I’ve done pretty good in that, and I hope that when they remember me that they don’t have the visceral reaction I have at the thought of some of the chaplains and other clergy who have used, abused, and then thrown me under the bus, especially in the depths of my post-Iraq experience with PTSD, mild TBI and moral injury. 

I am not bitter about not getting promoted, but I still bear much animus to those who have used, abused, and then did not care for my spiritual or emotional needs when I needed them. Betrayal is a big part of moral injury and I really do not think that we ever fully recover from that. People, especially Christians say that we should forgive those who have committed acts that have harmed us. I am a priest and I do understand that necessity to forgive, but when one has been harmed over the course of many years it is difficult to do. Actually, until today yesterday I thought that I was pretty much over those feelings and that the wounds had pretty much healed. I was wrong, I have a long way to go. 

After I found out that I hadn’t been selected I took a long walk. I was on my way to Gettysburg and I was dropping my wife and our dogs off with good friends before departing this morning. My walk took me through about five miles of woods along the banks of the Potomac River, including the place that JEB Stuart and his Confederate cavalry forded it during the Gettysburg campaign. That walk in the quiet as well as a conversation with a senior chaplain who has been there for me got me to a better place. When I got back both Minnie and Izzy did what they could to comfort me. Good dogs, they act like nurses. 

I am grateful for the career that I have had. I have been very lucky and very blessed. While there have been some that have gone out of their way to hurt me, or just didn’t give a damn about the way their words and actions impacted me or others, I have been lucky to have some who have done whatever they can to help me and in some cases protected me from myself. Their care, mentoring, and practical, observable love means more to me than anything. I was able to let a number of them know that last night. 

I also know a lot of other fine chaplains and ministers who have been screwed worse by varies chaplain systems or churches than I ever was. Good men and women who deserved far better. I will land on my feet. Some of them are dead, a couple by their own hand because of how they were treated and abandoned when they needed help. I have friends, a wife who loves me and three great Papillons. I am not alone. 

Likewise, had I gotten the operational assignments that I wanted when I was selected for Commander, I never would have gotten my orders to the Staff College. That assignment has opened doors for life after the Navy that I would never have had. I now get to be an academic and hopefully I’ll have my first Civil War era book published in a year or so, and that is when the fun will really begin, so I have nothing to bitch about, but I still hurt. Some say that God has a plan, but honestly I don’t know who true that is, but even so I’m hurting but okay and I’d rather have Judy, my dogs, and my friends than some pie in the sky theology. 

So today I will be going up to Gettysburg early. I’ll arrive well in advance of my students and today my plan is to walk the battlefield from McPherson’s Ridge, to Herbst Woods, and on to Seminary Ridge where I also hope to visit the museum now located in the old seminary building. This is important to do because one never fully appreciates what happened in a certain spot until they have walked the ground. Likewise, there are many markers at Gettysburg that have a lot of meaning that most people never see because they are too busy driving around to see the high points like Little Round Top, the Angle and High Water Mark, and the Virginia And Pennsylvania memorials. 

As I do so I will remember the heroes of the Union side who held their ground, and the men who were not recognized for their actions, and in some cases, like Abner Doubleday, after having done well and fighting heroically were relieved of duty simply because some above them didn’t like them, and acted on false reports. I think that will be a healthy experience for me. Later, I will meet my students for dinner and discuss the strategic and operational aspects of the campaign that connect with what they are learning in regard to planning at the Staff College. 

So anyway, I know that there is a lot of other stuff going on in the world. I’ve seen bit and pieces about the GOP Health Care repeal but have not had time to read anything. Maybe I’ll get to it later in the weekend or early next week as it’s not going to go away. 

I’ll post something small from Gettysburg the next two days. So until tomorrow,

Peace

Padre Steve+

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Filed under christian life, faith, Gettysburg, Loose thoughts and musings, Military, PTSD

The Politics of National Destruction 


Friends of Padre Steve’s World,
I’m on my way back home from Houston today, a very early flight so I wrote this last night in my hotel room. Yesterday I wrote about how many people since the beginnings of totalitarian mass movements in the 20th Century are easily led by demagogues and manipulated by propaganda, so much so that they will deny objective truth and facts to believe the lie, and defend the lies. 

We are at a dangerous point in history. Much of the western world is in the midst of a political crisis the likes have not been seen with the collapse of the old order after the First World War. It is a time made for demagogues, right and left wing ideologues, and others intent on overthrowing the existing order. President Trump’s advisor Steven Bannon is typical in his view. Far from being a traditional conservative, or populist, Brannon told Ronald Radosh in 2013 that he was a Leninist. Radish was shocked and asked him what he meant, to which Bannon replied: “Lenin,” he answered, “wanted to destroy the state, and that’s my goal too. I want to bring everything crashing down, and destroy all of today’s establishment.”  When Radosh questioned Bannon about the criticism of Tea Party tactics of government shutdown by conservative commentator Thomas Sowell in National Review Online, Bannon told Radosh, “National Review and The Weekly Standard are both left-wing magazines, and I want to destroy them also.” 

President Trump has announced his intentions to destroy what he calls “the administrative state” while at the same time increasing police powers at all levels of government by reducing judicial and administrative oversight of police agencies. If one looks at history this is very similar to policies used in Hitler’s Germany and Stalin’s Soviet Union, where in both cases police organizations became the most powerful agencies in their respective states. The result was that the state was able to use police power as an instrument of terror against their own citizens as well as in nations that they occupied. As Hannah Arendt wrote in her book The Origins of Totalitarianism: 

“To Stalin constant growth and development of police cadres were incomparably more important than the oil in Baku, the coal and ore in the Urals, the granaries in the Ukraine, or the potential treasures of Siberia—in short the development of Russia’s full power arsenal. The same mentality led Hitler to sacrifice all Germany to the cadres of the SS; he did not consider the war lost when German cities lay in rubble and industrial capacity was destroyed, but only when he learned that the SS troops were no longer reliable.” 

While Trump does not, at least yet, to enjoy the power of a State controlled by a single party with unlimited power to control the police and to fully limit the judiciary; his words and the actions of Attorney General Jeff Sessions to this point indicate that that is the end state that they desire. This is only possible by destroying the power of the institutions of the constitutional state, and then by co-opting the structure of the state to fulfill the will of their ideological ends. 

At present this is not yet fully possible, but the potential of a Reichstag Fire incident to use to take over the full powers of the state through emergency decrees cannot be discounted when the stated goal is to destroy the state. One cannot give short shrift to President Trump’s statements on the campaign trail, nor his unending stream of tweet storms when estimating what he is capable of doing if given the chance. For my friends who doubt Trump’s competence to govern, it is not about competence, but rather the ruthlessness that he would be willing to employ to achieve his ends. Those who simply excuse his more extreme statements, his deliberate untruths, as hyperbole and his lack of loyalty to trusted advisers, and his willingness to shred the leaders of the party when he leads them to legislative defeat as normal political actions are sadly mistaken. If there is a crisis, one actually committed by an external enemy, or a false flag incident, this President will use his power to take control. Our President has routinely praised the actions anti-democratic dictators As Timothy Snyder wrote: “For tyrants, the lesson of the Reichstag fire is that one moment of shock enables an eternity of submission. For us, the lesson is that our natural fear and grief must not enable the destruction of our institutions.”

For those people who I talked about yesterday who are willing to excuse the outright falsehoods of the President, this is not an issue. The fact is that for many of them they have been waiting for the chance to take vengeance on those who they perceive as their enemies, both real and imagined. That is why the Christian Right overwhelmingly supported Trump more than they have any previous Republican candidate for President. 

These are dangerous times. Our constitutional system is not nearly as resilient as we assume that it is in such a crisis. We cannot forget that shortly after Franklin Roosevelt became President that some on the political Right attempted to get retired Marine Corps General Smedley Butler to lead a coup against the President. Butler would have nothing of it and revealed their plot. But how many others would be willing to defend the institutions of a State that they wish to destroy? The Generals of the German Reichswehr rolled over to support Hitler to overthrow the hated Weimar Republic, just as conservative French politicians, industrialists, and military leaders were willing to allow Hitler to defeat France in 1940 in order to destroy the Third Republic. 

The words and actions of the President and his advisers concerning the American political system be discounted when estimating what they are capable of doing. Their apparent collusion with Putin’s a Russia before and after the campaign is being revealed more and more each day. If they did in fact collude with the Russians that is called treason. There is no other word for it, and no matter how wide and deep this is it seams to be of no importance to Trump’s followers, especially those of the supposedly Christian Right. They are willing to excuse it so long as it serves their political need for revenge against those they believe to be their political, ideological, and religious enemies. As Snyder wrote: 

“The European history of the twentieth century shows us that societies can break, democracies can fall, ethics can collapse, and ordinary men can find themselves standing over death pits with guns in their hands. It would serve us well today to understand why.” 

So until tomorrow,

Peace,

Padre Steve+ 

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