Category Archives: ministry

“Who is Responsible?” The Bombing of 16th Street Baptist Church and Racist Violence Today

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Friends of Padre Steve’s World

Tonight, something else from the archives as I do some work on my book. Even so it is very pertinent as we see White Supremacists rove in heavily armed groups, threatening and even attacking and killing Blacks and other minorities, disrupting civil rights marches, threatening Public Health officials, elected leaders, and even police who stand in their way.  In 2014 Emmanuel AME Church in Charleston was the target of a young White Supremacist who committed a mass murder there after sitting with members in a prayer meeting. A primarily Black Baptist Church where I live was threatened  with being bombed last week,  This time by by a White man from North Carolina who used racial slurs and threats on the message he left on their answering machine. Then there is the police violence directed at individual Blacks, as well as militarized police attacks people of all races protesting those murders, in one instance at the wish of the President.

So I am returning to a different time, over a half century ago that bears too much resemblance to today not to revisit. This is about the KKK bombing of the Sixteenth Avenue Baptist Church in Birmingham, Alabama on September 15th 1964. However, unlike today the event triggered no outraged, and the FBI under J. Edgar Hoover, refused to help prosecutors with evidence that they had against the defendants.

So, until tomorrow,

Peace,

Padre Steve+

On September 16th 1963 a young Southern White lawyer in Birmingham Alabama spoke these words after a black church was bombed and the police attacked peaceful protesters:

“from anger and despair, from frustration and empathy. And from years of hopes, hopes that were shattered and crumbled with the steps of that Negro Baptist Church.”

Most Americans will not recognize the names and I would dare say that many do not even know about what happened in Birmingham Alabama 57 years ago today. At 10:22 in the morning on September 15th 1963 a bomb exploded during the worship service at the 16th Street Baptist Church. It was one of the most brazen attacks against a church in the modern era, and men who claimed to be “Christians” committed it.

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Four young girls, three 14 year olds and one 13 year old were killed. Addie Mae Collins, Denise McNair, Carole Robertson and Cynthia Wesley lost their lives that day. Twenty-two other church members were wounded in an attack, which was carried out by members of the KKK and tacitly approved of by many political leaders including Alabama Governor George Wallace. Why were they killed and why were the others wounded?

The answer to that question is easy. They were murdered for the crime of being black, and the crime of their church serving as a focal point of the Civil Rights movement. Just five months before Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. had been arrested while leading a campaign of protest and civil disobedience in the city and in its jail where he secretly penned his famous Letter from a Birmingham after he saw a joint article published by eight prominent White clergymen, who issued what they referred to as a Call to Unity. In it they denounced the peaceful demonstrations, led by “outsiders” a swipe at King and called for Birmingham’s Blacks to withdraw their support from King and wait for legislators and the courts rather than demonstrate. They also praised Bull Connor’s violent attack with police dogs on the protestors as “calm restraint.”  In January 1963 the same clergymen published “An Appeal for Law and Order and Common Sense.”  In that letter, published shortly after George Wallace’s “Segregation today, segregation tomorrow, segregation forever” speech, these men and others tried to stake out a middle ground. They were uncomfortable with protest, peaceful or not but had done nothing to stop the violence other than ask their White congregations not to resist any court rulings granting it.

King could not let that go. In one section of the letter, a true classic of American patriotic dissent King wrote:

“I must make two honest confessions to you, my Christian and Jewish brothers. First, I must confess that over the past few years I have been gravely disappointed with the white moderate. I have almost reached the regrettable conclusion that the Negro’s great stumbling block in his stride toward freedom is not the White Citizen’s Counciler or the Ku Klux Klanner, but the white moderate, who is more devoted to “order” than to justice; who prefers a negative peace which is the absence of tension to a positive peace which is the presence of justice; who constantly says: “I agree with you in the goal you seek, but I cannot agree with your methods of direct action”; who paternalistically believes he can set the timetable for another man’s freedom; who lives by a mythical concept of time and who constantly advises the Negro to wait for a “more convenient season.” Shallow understanding from people of good will is more frustrating than absolute misunderstanding from people of ill will. Lukewarm acceptance is much more bewildering than outright rejection.”

Likewise, most people today, including many blacks do not know that before the bombing of this church, that since 1955 there had been 19 other bombings of black churches as well as the homes of Black leaders in Birmingham that preceded it. But even before that outbreak of violence, Birmingham had become known as “Bombingham” because over 50 bombing attacks against blacks, black churches and black institutions in the years after the First World War.

The church had served as a focal point of the Freedom Summer where Civil Rights activists and students from around the country had met, trained and organized to register blacks to vote. This made it a prominent target for violence at the hands of the KKK and its political and police allies.

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Early in the morning of September 15th four members of the United Klans of America went to the church as it was still dark. Frank Bobby Cherry, Thomas Blanton, Herman Cash and Robert Chambliss placed a box of 10 sticks of dynamite under the church steps near the basement. A time delay detonator was set to ensure that the church was filled when the bomb went off. The blast occurred as children were leaving Sunday School and going up the stairs to the sanctuary to listen to a sermon, ironically entitled “The Love that Forgives.”

The attack was a heinous crime and an act of cold-blooded premeditated murder that maybe a number of years before might not have made the news in much of the country. But this was 1963 and over the preceding months of the Freedom Summer opened the eyes of people across the nation to what was happening in the South. The brutal attacks on many blacks, civil rights workers and student volunteers during that time raised the profile of the Civil Rights Movement and shown the ugly hatred towards blacks held by many Southerners hidden underneath the veneer of polite Southern hospitality.

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Blacks protested and were met with a massive police response coordinated by Governor George Wallace that brought about more violence, and more dead blacks. The violence perpetrated by the police was similar to police responses to peaceful protestors so many times over the past few years following the deaths of Black men, women, and children.

The next day, a young white lawyer, Charles Morgan Jr.; a true Southerner by right and heritage spoke to the White Businessman’s Club of Birmingham. He was thirty-three years old and had an up and coming law practice.  His words were forceful and to the point and he did not mince words. Instead of simply asking why as so many in Birmingham were doing, the young attorney  began his speech with this poignant remark and kept on going.

Four little girls were killed in Birmingham yesterday.

A mad, remorseful worried community asks, “Who did it? Who threw that bomb? Was it a Negro or a white?” The answer should be, “We all did it.” Every last one of us is condemned for that crime and the bombing before it and a decade ago. We all did it.

A short time later, white policemen kill a Negro and wound another. A few hours later, two young men on a motorbike shoot and kill a Negro child. Fires break out, and, in Montgomery, white youths assault Negroes.

And all across Alabama, an angry, guilty people cry out their mocking shouts of indignity and say they wonder “Why?” “Who?” Everyone then “deplores” the “dastardly” act.

But you know the “who” of “Who did it” is really rather simple. The “who” is every little individual who talks about the “niggers” and spreads the seeds of his hate to his neighbor and his son. The jokester, the crude oaf whose racial jokes rock the party with laughter.

The “who” is every governor who ever shouted for lawlessness and became a law violator.

It is every senator and every representative who in the halls of Congress stands and with mock humility tells the world that things back home aren’t really like they are.

It is courts that move ever so slowly, and newspapers that timorously defend the law.

It is all the Christians and all their ministers who spoke too late in anguished cries against violence. It is the coward in each of us who clucks admonitions.

We have 10 years of lawless preachments, 10 years of criticism of law, of courts, of our fellow man, a decade of telling school children the opposite of what the civics books say.

We are a mass of intolerance and bigotry and stand indicted before our young. We are cursed by the failure of each of us to accept responsibility, by our defense of an already dead institution.

Yesterday while Birmingham, which prides itself on the number of its churches, was attending worship services, a bomb went off and an all-white police force moved into action, a police force which has been praised by city officials and others at least once a day for a month or so. A police force which has solved no bombings. A police force which many Negroes feel is perpetrating the very evils we decry. . . .

Birmingham is the only city in America where the police chief and the sheriff in the school crisis had to call our local ministers together to tell them to do their duty. The ministers of Birmingham who have done so little for Christianity call for prayer at high noon in a city of lawlessness, and in the same breath, speak of our city’s “image.” . . .

Those four little Negro girls were human beings. They have their 14 years in a leaderless city; a city where no one accepts responsibility; where everybody wants to blame somebody else. A city with a reward fund which grew like Topsy as a sort of sacrificial offering, a balm for the conscience of the “good people”. . . .

Birmingham is a city … where four little Negro girls can be born into a second-class school system, live a segregated life, ghettoed into their own little neighborhoods, restricted to Negro churches, destined to ride in Negro ambulances, to Negro wards of hospitals or to a Negro cemetery. Local papers, on their front and editorial pages, call for order and then exclude their names from obituary columns.

And, who is really guilty? Each of us. Each citizen who has not consciously attempted to bring about peaceful compliance with the decisions of the Supreme Court of the United States, every citizen and every school board member and schoolteacher and principal and businessman and judge and lawyer who has corrupted the minds of our youth; every person in this community who has in any way contributed during the past several years to the popularity of hatred, is at least as guilty, or more so, than the demented fool who threw that bomb.

What’s it like living in Birmingham? No one ever really has known and no one will until this city becomes part of the United States.

Birmingham is not a dying city; it is dead.

After the speech he knew that he had little support, he began receiving death threats directed at him and his family. His law practice collapsed, and rather than remain as a target, he and his family left Birmingham.

Not only was the attack on Sixteenth Street Baptist Church heinous, but, the response of many in law enforcement at the local level and even at the office of FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover was criminal. Hoover refused to investigate, and although a witness identified Chambliss, he was not charged with the bombing; instead he was charged for having a case of dynamite without a permit. He was fined $100 and given a six-month jail sentence.

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Thought FBI agents had investigated the crime and discovered evidence against all four men, Hoover ordered the evidence not be provided to local or Federal prosecutors. So for eight years the crime was covered up.

However in 1971 Bill Baxley was elected Attorney General of Alabama. Baxley re-opened the case and requested the FBI files, which had been suppressed by Hoover, who had died in 1972. In 1977 Chambliss was indicted and convicted of first degree murder, he died in prison. Blanton was tried in 2001, convicted of four counts of murder and sentenced to life in prison. Cash died in 1994 without ever having been charged with a crime and Cherry was convicted in 2002, sentenced to life in prison and died in 2004.

The attack and the deaths of the four girls served as a catalyst in the Civil Rights Movement. In 1964 President Lyndon Johnson signed the Voting Rights Act, the following year the Civil Rights Act.  However, those did not end the fight for equality, and others would die in its aftermath, including Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. who died at the hands an assassin named James Earl Ray, less than 4 years later.

Since the passage of the Voting Rights Act of 1964 and the Civil Rights Act of 1965 many blacks have been elected to local, state and federal offices or served in some of the highest ranks of the military, judiciary, and at the Cabinet level. Two, Colin Powell and Condoleezza Rice have served as Secretary of State, two, Eric Holder and Loretta Lynch, as Attorney General of the United States; one, Clarence Thomas, as an Associate Justice of the Supreme Court; one, Susan Rice, as National Security Advisor, as well as the current Secretary of Housing and Urban Development, Dr. Ben Carson. Finally one, Barak Obama was elected as President of the United States. There is a high probability the the presumptive Democratic Party nominee to oppose President Trump in November, former  Vice President Joe Biden will chose a Black woman as his Vice President running mate. Since it is widely believed that Biden sees himself a transitional President, that if he is elected that one of the women will at some point either inherit his duties should he become incapacitated or die in office, or that in 2024 he will pass the baton of leadership to his Vice President.

But despite these advances, racism is still quite prevalent in this country, not just the systemic racism, and pretend that it doesn’t exist racism, but the open and unabashed race hatred, that during the term of President Donald Trump seems to be getting both more open and violent as its proponents, unleashed and unhindered who, with good reason believe that have a supportive President in the White House go about terrorizing wherever they go.

One of my former co-workers from Georgia, a White, yet progressive  Southern Baptist minister and retired military chaplain noted that many whites may not be explicitly racists in their interpersonal relationships with blacks, but have an attitude that when it comes to places of power, that blacks still need “to stay in their place.” He noted that he thinks that for many whites who think this way,  that this is a large part of the reason that President Obama was opposed and even hated by so many Whites. It was not just politics, policy or ideology, it was blatant in your face racism. Obama was a Black man in the White House, he had overstepped his social standing.  While politics may play a role the root of the hatred of him, it is racism, admitted or not, that drove it. Honestly, I cannot for the life of me any White man occupying the office of the President receiving similar treatment.

But the sad truth is there still is an undercurrent of unrepentant and deeply embedded racism in the country, and not just in the South. In fact many there places in the South have seen greater advances in racial relations than other parts of the country, despite the actions of White Republicans in the region to gerrymander elections and to disenfranchise Black voters since the Roberts Court gutted key provisions of the Voting Rights Act of 1964. That is not to say that there are those who would attempt to disenfranchise blacks, some of the voting laws recently passed are designed to ensure that significant parts of the black population, specifically the elderly and students living away from home have greater difficulty voting. It is actually a more insidious method than the past Jim Crow laws because the drafters of these laws hope to keep just enough black and other poor or minority voters from voting to ensure that they maintain power. Some of the men that drafted or supported these state laws designed to disenfranchise voters have openly admitted that fact.

Not only is racial prejudice experienced by Blacks, it is experienced by many Americans of Hispanic origins, some of Asian descent but also by those of Middle Eastern, Iranian, Pakistani or Indian descent. And yes, people of all races, including racial, ethnic and religious minorities can be as racist and violent as the men who bombed the 16th Street Baptist Church 57 years ago. Racism is an ugly part of our human condition and no matter whom it is targeted against, and who does the targeting, it is wrong and needs to be fought.

In its 2019 report the Southern Poverty Law Center http://www.splcenter.org listed 940 active hate groups of all types operating across the country, including neo-Nazis, Klansmen, white nationalists, neo-Confederates, racist skinheads, black separatists, border vigilantes and others. (See the Hate Map herehttps://www.splcenter.org/hate-map) The number is down from recent because a number of more the virulent White Supremacist and militia groups have gone underground, shut down websites and social media pages.

Too many people have died in this struggle to stop now, even as their deaths continue to mount. If you read this before or after going to church, remember those four little girls who died at the hands of four murdering, racist Klansmen. Likewise remember that there are others out there full of hate who would not hesitate to do the same again and others who would actively support those efforts. Sometimes in the name of “Law and Order” and  sometimes even in the name of God.

As for me I will fight it racism and violence of all types, especially against those who have been the victims of racism and violence for over 400 years. There are times that I wish I had gone to law school rather than seminary. Maybe after I retire I will do that or take up an advanced degree in Criminal Justice.

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                                                                  Charles Morgan Jr.

Charles Morgan died in 2009, but after he left Birmingham he went on to lead a remarkable life, especially in his commitment to Civil Rights and Justice. The New York Times obituary noted:

“Among his many cases as a civil rights lawyer, Mr. Morgan sued to desegregate his alma mater, the University of Alabama; forced a new election in Greene County, Ala., that led to the election of six black candidates for local offices in 1969; and successfully challenged racially segregated juries and prisons. After the civil rights movement began to subside, Mr. Morgan, as a leader of the American Civil Liberties Union, fought three celebrated court cases involving protests against the Vietnam War.

He represented Muhammad Ali in his successful court fight to avoid being drafted. He represented the civil rights activist Julian Bond in the early stages of an ultimately successful lawsuit after Mr. Bond had been denied a seat in the Georgia legislature because of his antiwar views. And he defended an officer when he was court-martialed for refusing to help instruct Green Berets headed for Vietnam.”

We cannot ever let ourselves forget that it was supposedly Christian men who bombed a church and killed those four little girls, and that as long as all of us fail to live up to our responsibilities such things will happen again. If we do not, we are as guilty as those who throw the bombs, shoot the bullets, and those preachers, pundits and politicians who deny the fact that these things are still commonplace. This is especially true in the Trump era.

Yes, my friends, we too will be at least as guilty as the brazen killers who continue to try to kill the dreams of those who are not like them. I will fight for the oppressed and always seek to tell the truth and present facts as facts, and I hope that I will be as committed to stand for the rights of the oppressed and for justice as did Charles Morgan.

Peace,

Padre Steve+

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“Final decisions about the nation’s existence are at stake here…” America at the Tipping Point of Dictatorship and Democracy

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

I started this article last night but could not finish it because of how upset I was after seeing President Trump’s speech last night where he threatened the use of active duty military forces against protestors, declared an unorganized amorphous group known as Antifa, as a terrorist organization on the order of Al Qaida, and launched into a tirade worthy of Hitler in a teleconference with the nation’s governors.

But what got me was what happened during his speech. He promised the use of dominating protestors, as he ended his speech tear gas was launched and a line of unarmed peaceful protestors near St John’s Episcopal Church were suddenly assaulted by heavily armed police in riot gear and officers mounted on horseback. An aid station was overrun and two priests handing out water assaulted. I do not know if National Guard personnel were involved in the attack, which was ordered personally by Attorney General Bob Barr, so the President could walk from the White House, through Lafayette Square, and have a photo op holding a Bible in front of the church. It was  an act of absolute violence just to take a propaganda photo.

The Episcopal Bishop for Washington DC, Bishop Mariann Budde almost immediately after the incident:

“ I am outraged. The President did not pray when he came to St. John’s, nor as you just articulated, did he acknowledge the agony of our country right now,” Budde told CNN’s Anderson Cooper on “AC360.”

“And in particular, that of the people of color in our nation, who wonder if anyone ever — anyone in public power will ever acknowledge their sacred words. And who are rightfully demanding an end to 400 years of systemic racism and white supremacy in our country. And I just want the world to know, that we in the diocese of Washington, following Jesus and his way of love … we distance ourselves from the incendiary language of this President. We follow someone who lived a life of nonviolence and sacrificial love.”

While we were in Berlin a bit under two years ago I visited the German Resistance Memorial Center. The museum is located in what was the headquarters of the German Army in World War One, the Weimar Republic, and during the Nazi Era. On July 20th 1944, German Army officers attempted to kill Adolf Hitler, overthrow the Nazi regime, and end the war. Sadly, they failed in their attempt and most of those involved were tried and executed for what their criminal government considered treason.

Of course by the law of their times their act was treasonous, but morally it was all that men and women committed to the rule of law and human rights could do. Our founders even understood and enunciated that concept of liberty in their time.

One of the conspirators in the anti-Hitler plot was Colonel Claus von Stauffenberg was well aware of how their actions would be categorized under current German law. The man who planted a bomb and attempted to assassinate and overthrow Hitler noted:

“I know that he who will act will go down in German history as a traitor; but he who can and does not, will be a traitor to his own conscience.” 

He was correct by the law of the times. All of the officers involved had all sworn a personal oath of obedience to Adolf Hitler as the Führer and Reichskanzler of Germany in 1934. At the time most of the men who swore that oath did not anticipate what would come, as many of us who took our oaths the the Constitution could imagine ever having to possibly disobey criminal orders, lawfully issued by the President? Today, actually yesterday evening, President Trump threatened states and cities which could not control protests with military intervention.

Many of the older officers had served in the Imperial Army and sworn an oath to the Kaiser and their dynasties of the lands where they entered service. That changed in 1918 when the Weimar Republic came into existence and military officers as well as civil servants swore an oath to the constitution rather than a person. We don’t have that excuse, our military officers have always sworn our oath to the Constitution and not any President or political party.

However, one year after Hitler came to power as Reichskanzler, President Hindenburg died. Hitler, seized the opportunity used the occasion to swear the military, as well as the civil service to a new oath. This oath was not to the Constitution, or to Office of thePresidency or Chancellor, but to him personally as the Führer and Reichskanzler. Though there have been no changes to our oaths of office, the President acts as he is the law, and the law is his word, and overrides the Constitution, it’s prescribed checks and balances between the Congress, the Executive Branch, and the Judicial Branch, and the powers given under the Constitution to the States. Like Hitler, Trump has surrounded himself with yes men committed to serving him and ignoring the Constitution and law of the land.

Most German officers and civil servants, even those uncomfortable with Hitler’s policies, obeyed their oaths and simply stayed in their lanes and did their jobs, even when they had incontrovertible evidence of Nazi atrocities. They stood by as bystanders. Yehuda Bauer, Israeli historian and chronicler of the Holocaust, who with his family escaped Czechoslovakia on the day Hitler invaded it, and made their way to Palestine wrote these immortal lines: Thou shall not be a perpetrator, thou shall not be a victim, and thou shall never, but never, be a bystander.”, thou shall not be a victim, and thou shall never, but never, be a bystander.”

Yet there were others who for a number of reasons, in some cases noble, and in others pragmatic, or even base, decided to break the oath they had sworn to Hitler in 1934. Among these men was General Ludwig Beck. Beck noted:

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

Beck also wrote something that is all to important to any military officer, intelligence and law enforcement officials, as well as diplomats in such times as we live today:

“Final decisions about the nation’s existence are at stake here; history will incriminate these leaders with bloodguilt if they do not act in accordance with their specialist political knowledge and conscience. Their soldierly obedience reaches its limit when their knowledge, their conscience, and their responsibility forbid carrying out an order.” 

With the rise of legally elected authoritarian rulers in Europe and the Americas should concern men and women who have sworn to uphold the constitutions of their countries. These leaders campaigning against democratic institutions, and upon gaining power purge those institutions of opponents and use them to solidify their own power. The veneer of democracy is maintained while the soul of it is crushed, as it seems to be this very day as President Trump threatens and verbally insults governors, and uses the most heavy handed methods to crush mostly peace protests.  Almost all the Constitutional and institutional guardrails designed to prevent a President from assuming dictatorial powers have be rolled over and crushed. Too often those charged with guarding it are willing participants in its death, soldiers, civil servants, judges, and legislators. Such was the case in the Third Reich, and could well be the case here.

The problem is that President Trump as a malignant narcissistic sociopath who has no empathy for anyone, no respect for the Constitution or law, despite calling himself a “law and order president.” He has no scruples and there is no line he will not cause. His policies have been racist, homophobic, misogynistic, one sided to enrich the richest and impoverish everyone else. Though he bills himself as a defender of the Christian faith, he blasphemies its most sacred doctrines, scorns its command to love, carries a Bible for show, all to gain the allegiance of his most politically naive, theologically insipid, morally bankrupt, ethically challenged, and power hungry voting block in the nation, Conservative Christians. Russian dissident Gary Kasparov stated something that is burned into the DNA of President Trump:

“dictators & would be autocrats do not ask “Why?” when it comes to using power for their advantage. They ask “why not?”

With the COVID 19 pandemic still raging that he cannot control, and has simply abdicated his position to do anything constructive to solve; much less actually help the states with over 106,000 Americans now dead, over 40 million Americans are newly unemployed, businesses large and small are failing, and he does nothing. Even so the stock market is booming, even as he and the Republican Senate refuse to pass anymore aid to help those without jobs, small business owners who have lost everything, and those who will be soon evicted from their rental properties or have their homes foreclosed on in the next month or two. There is an obvious disconnect between Wall Street and Main Street. And finally, we have massive civil unrest which could have been prevent had President Trump simply been civil and decent, rather that rude, crass, and unfeeling. Rather than addressing the truth of what was going on he retreated into his cloud-cuckoo-nest of acting tough while hiding in a bunker. Kasparov was completely right about him.

That is what Beck understood as well. Beck was certainly not perfect. He longed for the return of the monarchy and had the same cultural anti-semitism of most German conservatives, but he did not act on it. Instead, resigned his office as Chief of Staff of the German Army in 1938 over Hitler’s plan to invade Czechoslovakia, became a member of the anti-Hitler resistance and died in the failed attempt on Hitler’s life on July 20th 1944. He was a career Army officer and a conservative, but he realized that there are limits to obedience in the face of evil.

Another officer, Colonel, later Major General Henning Von Tresckow noted: “I cannot understand how people can still call themselves Christians and not be furious adversaries of Hitler’s regime.”  We can now just substitute Trump’s name in that quote, for in the case of many supposed conservative Evangelical Christians, Trump has become a Messiah figure.

Tresckow also noted: “We have to show the world that not all of us are like him. Otherwise, this will always be Hitler’s Germany.” Again you can substitute Trump’s name in that quote. Tresckow also said: “It is almost certain that we will fail. But how will future history judge the German people, if not even a handful of men had the courage to put an end to that criminal?” The same is true in our day.

How harshly will history judge the American people if we allow this by our action, or inaction to keep going even as thousands of people a day continue to die of COVID19, more and more people losing their jobs, businesses and houses, and heavy handed police tactics claim the lives of more and more people, mostly Blacks and other people of color? Answer that question.

The more Trump says and does the more the world, and especially our oldest and most reliable allies wonder about us, and will seek ways to separate themselves from us if Trump remains in power. At the same time all of our real enemies like Russia, China, North Korea, and Iran salivate as we self destruct. In fact they willingly participate in our destruction by doing things that help Trump stay in power by playing Americans off against one another through malicious use of the internet and social media.

Historian Timothy 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.”

Over the past couple of decades we have seem American police officers, state troopers, and sheriffs kill unarmed people in cold blood, many times their actions being recorded on video, only to be acquitted or sentenced to little in the way of incarceration or punishment. Last week a Minneapolis police officer with a long history of misconduct charges killed George Floyd after arresting him for a non-violent misdemeanor. Three other officers assisted. They were filmed by multiple witnesses, and Mr. Floyd died six minutes into his killer’s knee cutting off his ability to breath, as he reportedly  told the officers “I can’t breath” as witnesses said the same. None of the officers paid any heed and it wasn’t until nearly the eight and a half minute mark, the officer finally removed his knee from Mr. Floyd’s neck, and Mr. Floyd was already dead. If that had been the only occasion of police brutality and over reaction, which now seems to be the standard operating procedure for many police departments, the application of the maximum use of force for any infraction, unless you are a heavily armed white man, in which case you get the benefit of the doubt.

This is not to say that probably the vast majority of law enforcement officers take their jobs seriously and are impartial dispensers of the law who go out of their way not to harm suspects. Sadly, there are a lot that do go out of their way to harm suspects, and with the support of political action committees and police unions laws are written to protect the bad actors from any repercussions from their misconduct.

Retired Admiral Mike Mullen, for Chief of the Joint Chiefs of Staff wrote in The Atlantic today:

While no one should ever condone the violence, vandalism, and looting that has exploded across our city streets, neither should anyone lose sight of the larger and deeper concerns about institutional racism that have ignited this rage.

As a white man, I cannot claim perfect understanding of the fear and anger that African Americans feel today. But as someone who has been around for a while, I know enough—and I’ve seen enough—to understand that those feelings are real and that they are all too painfully founded.

We must, as citizens, address head-on the issue of police brutality and sustained injustices against the African American community. We must, as citizens, support and defend the right—indeed, the solemn obligation—to peacefully assemble and to be heard. These are not mutually exclusive pursuits.

And neither of these pursuits will be made easier or safer by an overly aggressive use of our military, active duty or National Guard. The United States has a long and, to be fair, sometimes troubled history of using the armed forces to enforce domestic laws. The issue for us today is not whether this authority exists, but whether it will be wisely administered…

I remain confident in the professionalism of our men and women in uniform. They will serve with skill and with compassion. They will obey lawful orders. But I am less confident in the soundness of the orders they will be given by this commander in chief, and I am not convinced that the conditions on our streets, as bad as they are, have risen to the level that justifies a heavy reliance on military troops. Certainly, we have not crossed the threshold that would make it appropriate to invoke the provisions of the Insurrection Act.

Furthermore, I am deeply worried that as they execute their orders, the members of our military will be co-opted for political purposes.

Even in the midst of the carnage we are witnessing, we must endeavor to see American cities and towns as our homes and our neighborhoods. They are not “battle spaces” to be dominated, and must never become so.

We must ensure that African Americans—indeed, all Americans—are given the same rights under the Constitution, the same justice under the law, and the same consideration we give to members of our own family. Our fellow citizens are not the enemy, and must never become so.

Too many foreign and domestic policy choices have become militarized; too many military missions have become politicized.

This is not the time for stunts. This is the time for leadership.

Admiral Mullen, though retired is a voice of conscience who understands the dangers of what the President, Attorney General Bob Barr, and their Congressional and media surrogates are doing. He is standing for all Americans, and though a White man who as he admits cannot fully understand the experience of Black Americans, he speaks truth. He is speaking prophetically to a President and Administration who though they attempt to appear to support the law of the land and represent themselves as the modern defenders of the Christian faith, even though all they do is antithetical to the Gospel.

Now, let’s say the active duty military, which is not trained in crowd control or riot control is unleashed on civilian protestors. I am sure that many soldiers, marines, sailors, and airmen would refuse to follow unlawful orders, but then there are others who would shoot to kill with no reservations, especially since a President who has pardoned convicted war criminals gave the orders. This could fracture the military, and endanger national security. But it does not seem that this matters to the President, or most of his advisers and supporters. The SECDEF’s reference to the cities of the United States being battle space can easily lead to disaster. It doesn’t take a senior officer to order killings, just a nervous young squad leader, who after being told that he is in a combat situation and that anyone could be a terrorist, panics and orders his squad to fire on protestors. In that moment that squad could kill more Americans in minutes than the military killed terrorists in the last few years.

If the active duty military is committed to dominate the battle space, and kills people, the blood shed would forever stain the honor and reputation of the American military. We would be no different than the Wehrmacht soldiers who aided the SS Einsatzgruppen in the extermination of Jews in Poland and the Soviet Union during World War II, and we would be worthy of every condemnation, for even Hitler Refused to use the military for domestic police missions in Germany, he left that to the SS and the Ordungspolizei, which after Heinrich Himmler took over all internal police functions, fell under the command and control of the SS. 

I hate to put in those terms, but I have to ask this question. Will our military become an oppressor of our people when even Hitler forbade his to be?

The German Pastor and theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer who ended up dying for his connection to the Herman conspirators against Hitler wrote:

“The fearful danger of the present time is that above the cry for authority, be it of a Leader or of an office, we forget that man stands alone before the ultimate authority and that anyone who lays violent hands on man here is infringing eternal laws and taking upon himself superhuman authority which will eventually crush him. The eternal law that the individual stands alone before God takes fearful vengeance where it is attacked and distorted. Thus the Leader points to the office, but Leader and office together point to the final authority itself, before which Reich or state are penultimate authorities. Leaders or offices which set themselves up as gods mock God and the individual who stands alone before him, and must perish.”

Bonhoeffer’s words are timeless and should send a chill through anyone who claims the Name of Christ, and supports what Trump is doing.

I leave you with that very disturbing thought for the evening.

Until tomorrow,

Peace,

Padre Steve+

P.S. For the next few days I will be republishing articles on the Battle of Midway and D-Day in order to catch up on work for my book Mine Eyes Have Seen the Glory: Race, Religion, Ideology, and Politics in the Civil War Era and Beyond. 

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For Everything there is a Time and Season… COVID 19 and a Time to Mourn

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

When I was growing up the Rock group The Byrds released a song written by Pete Seeger entitled Turn! Turn! Turn! (For Everything There is a Season.)  The Song hit number one on the U.S. Pop Chart in 1965 and I still can remember it being played on the AM music radio stations that my mother would listen to when my dad, a Navy Chief was away. It is still one of my favorite songs.

I don’t know about you, but music can get a message into my head much more than simply reading the words, or especially hearing it from an uninspiring speaker, especially boring pastors who couldn’t could preach their way out of a wet paper bag or melt an ice cube with a blow torch.

I was five years old at the time the song was released and living in Oak Harbor, Washington, where my dad was serving with a squadron at the Naval Air Station. Back then I didn’t know that the song’s lyrics were adapted from the Old Testament Book of Ecclesiastes, Chapter 3, verses 1-8, just in case you want to look them up. Seeger rearranged the words to better work with the rhyme and meter of his music, he composed it in 15 minutes and sent it to his agent who loved it, far more than Seeger’s protest songs, which he couldn’t sell.

But Seeger was  ahead of this time when he wrote and recorded the song as a folk tune in 1962. But it  really didn’t break through until the Byrds recorded it as a follow up to their number one hit Mr. Tambourine Man.

The lyrics to the song are catchy, especially in the version recorded by the Byrds. Over the years other artists and groups have recorded it, but it is the Byrds adaptation that even now still gets airplay, and still resonates in my head, even when that section of Ecclesiastes Chapter Three are part of the lectionary readings.

To everything (turn, turn, turn)
There is a season (turn, turn, turn)
And a time to every purpose, under heaven

A time to be born, a time to die
A time to plant, a time to reap
A time to kill, a time to heal
A time to laugh, a time to weep

To everything (turn, turn, turn)
There is a season (turn, turn, turn)
And a time to every purpose, under heaven

A time to build up, a time to break down
A time to dance, a time to mourn
A time to cast away stones, a time to gather stones together

To everything (turn, turn, turn)
There is a season (turn, turn, turn)
And a time to every purpose, under heaven

A time of love, a time of hate
A time of war, a time of peace
A time you may embrace, a time to refrain from embracing

To everything (turn, turn, turn)
There is a season (turn, turn, turn)
And a time to every purpose, under heaven

A time to gain, a time to lose
A time to rend, a time to sew
A time for love, a time for hate
A time for peace, I swear it’s not too late

The words of the song, and the scripture it is drawn from remind me of our human need to live in the moment and cherish all the times and activities of life. One of those that stood out to me a couple days ago after the death toll from the novel Coronavirus 19 topped 100,000 people in this country. Many of us know people, including family members and friends, who have either come down with the virus or died from it and its complications. Sadly, because COVID 19 is so infectious we are unable to mourn in the ways we normally would when we lose someone we know or love.

That occurred to me Wednesday night when I read yet another article on how COVID 19 is interrupting the normal grieving process, and a second article that discussed who easy it can be to become numb to the deaths, simply because of the numbers. Joseph Stalin said something that to human beings is all too true when confronted with massive numbers of deaths: “The death of one man is tragic, but the death of thousands is statistic.” What the psychopathic dictator was true then and true now. There is something in the human psyche that can accept vast numbers of dead human beings more than they can a single human being. After all, of a hundred thousand people die and you don’t know them they are only a statistic, a mass of numbers who are only that. They are just numbers, and even when we are confronted by their faces or bodies, especially if they happen out of our sight, even across town. However, if one of the dead is a friend, a lover, or even a devoted pet, the loss can be catastrophic.

In a way I kind of know how that goes. When I did my hospital chaplain residency in 1993-1994 at Parkland Memorial Hospital in Dallas, Texas there were times that I was nearly overwhelmed by the numbers of deaths where I stood by grieving families and friends, and occasionally over the body of people who went un-mourned, at least at their time of death. I counted myself lucky when I only had to deal with two deaths on any given shift, most of the time it was more. The highest was on a summer night where on an 11 PM to 7 AM shift I dealt with eight deaths in eight hours. Two from gunshot wounds, one from a motor vehicle crash, three AIDS victims, one heart attack, and one newborn baby who was born too early to save, but who was precious to his mother and father in his all too brief life. I walked out into the sunshine of that morning and felt numb. I saw people laughing, and couldn’t laugh. In the eight years as a civilian and military hospital chaplain I have probably dealt with about 700-800 deaths, I lost count along the way. Many simply blended together, but there are quite a few others where I remember them like they were yesterday, even with the dead or their loved ones I remember details that are forever burned in my memory. I can understand what the EMTs, paramedics, doctors, nurses and technicians in overwhelmed hospitals are going through, although with HIV or H1N1 infected people, or maybe a violent family member, friend, or enemy of the victim, most of the time I didn’t have much concern about being infected by a patient in the ER or ICU compared with today’s ER and ICU staffs are dealing.  Likewise, to some extent what the families of the victims are going through, not being able to be with loved ones when they died, because of time, distance, and military considerations.

Too many people are grieving without being able to really mourn, while others are becoming numb to the number of deaths, be they on the front lines, or just bombarded by the news. The way the numbers are shown often reminds me of the “body counts” put out by DOD during the Vietnam War, which were featured on every nightly newscast of the era, like baseball box scores.

In Star Trek Deep Space Nine there is an episode where crew members of DS9 are reading the daily casualty count: Captain Benjamin Sisko noted: “Every Friday morning, for the past three months, I’ve posted the official list of Starfleet personnel killed, wounded or missing in the war. It’s become something of a grim ritual around here. Not a week goes by that someone doesn’t find the name of a loved one, a friend or an acquaintance on that damned list. I’ve grown to hate Fridays.”

I have begun to hate the numbers of infections, hospitalizations, and deaths brought about by the Coronavirus 19. But, at the same I cannot forget that behind every number there is a life cut short, loved ones and friends left behind, struggling to mourn, with no end in sight. But we must find a way to mourn those who we have loved and lost. I hope that we can do that. I am trying to figure out a way at the Naval Shipyard where I serve that we can make that happen, while taking every precaution to ensure that no one else is infected. I hope that others are trying to do what I am trying to do for people who have had their chance to mourn their losses as they should.

All that being said, with the President and his cult of followers, mostly conservative “pro-life” Christians, or those that say they are pretend to be for political purposes, continue to act in a a uniquely disturbing and murderous behaviors. They shun Protective masks and call it government tyranny. The same is true for social distancing rules designed to protect the lives of all, in order to conduct public worship services, crowd around bars, and send poor people back to work where they have little protection from the virus due to the intentional negligence and concern that those workers might become infected or die.

I cannot understand such convoluted reasoning. I actually wrote much more pointedly about them in this post bust decided that those words, which present unpleasant facts and truth would have completely destroyed what I want to say in the article.

We cannot allow such longstanding selfishness, race hatred, suspicion of Americans who come from different cultural or religious backgrounds. Nor can we allow the lives of the Americans infirm, elderly, or disabled to be sacrificed just to get the economy moving faster and hotter. That is not pro-life, but it is pro death.

While such beliefs remain intrenched among Trump’s shills and supporters, I believe that they are not beyond redemption. It will be hard for them, but when the next wave of the virus hits and kills their loved ones and friends, they might finally see the light. Of course I could be wrong and find them to be like the most fanatical ideologues, religious or unreligious to have their leader be the President of the United States.

Somehow we will get through this together, unless Trump and his cultists destroy us first, and to die so we will have to mourn the dead, as we fight to save the living and prevent the spread of this deadly virus. Sadly it will have to be an us thing because the President has determined it to be yesterday’s news, declared victory and deserted the battlefield with the enemy’s counter offensive just beginning.

Peace and blessings, Until tomorrow,

Padre Steve+

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Theirs is the Highest and Purest Democracy: Rabbi Roland Gittlesohn’s Eulogy at Iwo Jima

 

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,,

This is an article I wrote for our workforce at the Naval Shipyard where I am honored to serve at as the Chaplain. I officially retire on August 1st but have been selected to remain in a retired and retained status until the end of the year, due to the COVID19 Pandemic. The shipyard which employs over 13,000 sailors, Navy civilians, and contractors is a key strategic asset for the country. It did not have an assigned chaplain for over a decade until due to medical issues which delayed my voluntary retirement last year, evolved into mistakes in how the retirements branch calculated my date for statutory retirement left me “homeless” so to speak as my relief was already in place.

So, the Naval region decided to put me at the shipyard where unlike my last assignment I was given a mission totally suited to me and how I do ministry, in which I have tremendous support, and made me far busier and gain fully employed. I am really happy to serve in such a diverse place in which about we have members of many religious , as well Atheists, agnostics, and freethinkers, from about every race and ethic group found in America. My job is to care for them, not convert them. It is also to inspire and encourage by my example. Since it is hard to get to know people who work multiple shifts 24/7 in person I mix inspirational messages which I work hard to craft to hopefully be able to reach all members of the workforce, not simply Christians. My basic thought is if they either wear the uniform of the country, or have sworn an oath to the Constitution, they have every right for me to care about all of them, without cramming My faith, religion in general, or the Bible down their throats. In fact that is the mission of a Chaplain, Chaplains are only employed by the government to protect people’s Constitutional right of “free exercise of religion, without violating the establishment clause.” I care for their spiritual, emotional, and a host of other concerns, and when I unable to perform the service or sacrament they need to help them find someone who can, while letting them know that I will do all I can to support them. I do my best to follow up later to ensure that they are getting the assistance they need, be it religious or secular, and if need be there to advocate for them.

The assignment at the shipyard has revived my faith and calling, which had taken a severe beating at my last assignment. Had I retired from there I would have probably retired bitter and angry. Instead, I have in a sense been reborn. Despite the danger of COVID19, the daily inane babbling of the malignantly narcissistic and sociopathic President, and all we are terrible things we are doing dealing with, I know I am where I am supposed to be, and I am doing what I am bound by both duty and love to do. I am happy and truly blessed. As Lou Gehrig said “I am the luckiest man alive”

But I digress…

This is my Memorial Day message To them, and also to you  for our COVID19 era. It involves a Navy Chaplain, and Rabbi, who served with the 5th Marine Division at Iwo Jima. Though I never met him, I would have loved to work with him, because he demonstrated what I think are the highest virtues of a Chaplain. His sermon has burned an imprint on my heart. I hope that it finds a home in your heart too. 

Peace,

Padre Steve+ 

Theirs is the Highest and Purest Democracy: Rabbi Roland Gittlesohn’s Eulogy at the Dedication of the 5th Marine Division Cemetery on Iwo Jima. 

Memorial Day is one of the most solemn days in our national calendar. It is a true holiday, for by observing it we take the time to remember, reflect, and hold the lives of those who gave the last full measure of devotion of duty to our country as holy. It is as sacred as an secular holiday can be.

As such I want to share the words of Navy Chaplain and Rabbi Roland Gittelsohn, who served with the 5th Marine Division at Iwo Jima. Rabbi Gittelsohn was the son of a Rabbi from Cleveland, Ohio. He was a pacifist before the war, but believing it to be a just war he volunteered to serve as a Navy Chaplain with the Marine Corps and was assigned to the 5thMarine Division.

With the Division he landed at Iwo Jima, taking part in every day of the operation, ministering to the wounded and dying regardless of their faith, and helping the Navy Corpsmen and Doctors in the gruesome task of saving lives. During the battle over 26,000 Marines and Sailors serving alongside them were killed or wounded. Even before the battle was over, Admiral Chester Nimitz uttered the immortal words “Among the Americans who served… uncommon valor was a common virtue.” When the battle was over, the Marines recovered their dead from temporary graves and made a proper cemetery.

The Division’s Senior Protestant Chaplain, Warren Cuthriel, ordered Gittelsohn to lead an ecumenical memorial service and dedication of the cemetery. Sadly, reflecting the prejudices of the day, many Protestant and Catholic Chaplains objected to a Rabbi leading a service at a cemetery where mostly Christian Marines and Sailors were interred. Others objected to any ecumenical service no-matter who led it. Gittelsohn decided not to add fuel to the fire, so with Chaplain Cuthriel’s permission, he attended the main service and then conducted a separate service for the fallen Jewish personnel. After the service Chaplain Cuthriel obtained a copy of it and forwarded it to more receptive members of the chain of command. It spread like wildfire when it got to the United States. Pastors read it in their churches, newspapers printed it in its entirety, and radio commentators repeated it. Eventually it was read into the Congressional record.

The words invoke the ideals of an America and a Constitution that we all swear to support and defend. The sermon has a feeling like that of Abraham Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address, and looked forward to a time when Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. would preach that one day people would be judged by the “content of their character.” Rabbi Gittelsohn’s words were revolutionary for their day, and ours alike. But they call us to aspire to all be better Americans. So this weekend we remember all of our fallen, from the Revolution until today, who died to preserve freedom and defend our nation. Their sacred task has been passed to us, as Lincoln noted at Gettysburg: “It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us — that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion — that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain — that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom — and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.”

Gittelsohn remained active in ministry and an advocate for civil rights until his death in 1995. His service and dedication as a Navy and Marine Corps Chaplain challenge me to be a better servant of God, our shipyard family, and country as we face our current crisis.

Here is his sermon.

This is perhaps the grimmest, and surely the holiest task we have faced since D-Day. Here before us lie the bodies of comrades and friends. Men who until yesterday or last week laughed with us, joked with us, trained with us. Men who were on the same ships with us, and went over the sides with us, as we prepared to hit the beaches of this island. Men who fought with us and feared with us. Somewhere in this plot of ground there may lie the individual who could have discovered the cure for cancer. Under one of these Christian crosses, or beneath a Jewish Star of David, there may rest now an individual who was destined to be a great prophet to find the way, perhaps, for all to live in plenty, with poverty and hardship for none. Now they lie here silently in this sacred soil, and we gather to consecrate this earth in their memory.

It is not easy to do so. Some of us have buried our closest friends here. We saw these men killed before our very eyes. Any one of us might have died in their places. Indeed, some of us are alive and breathing at this very moment only because men who lie here beneath us, had the courage and strength to give their lives for ours. To speak in memory of such men as these is not easy. Of them, too, can it be said with utter truth: “The world will little note nor long remember what we say here. It can never forget what they did here.”

No, our poor power of speech can add nothing to what these men and the other dead of our division who are not here have already done. All that we can even hope to do is follow their example. To show the same selfless courage in peace that they did in war. To swear that, by the grace of God and the stubborn strength and power of human will, their sons and ours shall never suffer these pains again. These men have done their job well. They have paid the ghastly price of freedom. If that freedom be once again lost, as it was after the last war, the unforgivable blame will be ours, not theirs. So it be the living who are here to be dedicated and consecrated.

We dedicate ourselves, first, to live together in peace the way they fought and are buried in war. Here lie men who loved America because their ancestors, generations ago helped in her founding, and other men who loved her with equal passion because they themselves or their own fathers escaped from oppression to her blessed shores. Here lie officers and [privates], [Blacks] and whites, rich and poor…together. Here are Protestants, Catholics, and Jews…together. Here no man prefers another because of his faith or despises him because of his color. Here there are no quotas of how many from each group are admitted or allowed. Among these men there is no discrimination. No prejudice. No hatred. Theirs is the highest and purest democracy.

 Anyone among us the living who fails to understand that, will thereby betray those who lie here. Whoever of us lifts his hand in hate against another or thinks himself superior to those who happen to be in the minority, makes of this ceremony and of the bloody sacrifice it commemorates, an empty, hollow mockery. To this, then, as our solemn, sacred duty, do we the living now dedicate ourselves: to the right of Protestants, Catholics, and Jews, of all races alike, to enjoy the democracy for which all of them have here paid the price.

 To one thing more do we consecrate ourselves in memory of those who sleep beneath these crosses and stars. We shall not foolishly suppose, as did the last generation of America’s fighting, that victory on the battlefield will automatically guarantee the triumph of democracy at home. This war, with all its frightful heartache and suffering, is but the beginning of our generation’s struggle for democracy. When the last battle has been won, there will be those at home, as there were last time, who will want us to turn our backs in selfish isolation on the rest of organized humanity, and thus to sabotage the very peace for which we fight. We promise you who lie here; we will not do that. We will join hands with Britain, China, Russia—in peace, even as we have in war, to build the kind of world for which you died.

When the last shot has been fired, there will still be those eyes that are turned backward not forward, who will be satisfied with those wide extremes of poverty and wealth in which the seeds of another war can breed. We promise you, our departed comrades: this, too, we will not permit. This war has been fought by the common man; its fruits of peace must be enjoyed by the common man. We promise, by all that is sacred and holy, that your sons, the sons of miners and millers, the sons of farmers and workers—will inherit from your death the right to a living that is decent and secure.

When the final cross has been placed in the last cemetery, once again there will be those to whom profit is more important than peace, who will insist with the voice of sweet reasonableness and appeasement that it is better to trade with the enemies of mankind than, by crushing them, to lose their profit. To you who sleep here silently, we give our promise: we will not listen: We will not forget that some of you were burnt with oil that came from American wells, that many of you were killed by shells fashioned from American steel. We promise that when once again people seek profit at your expense, we shall remember how you looked when we placed you reverently, lovingly, in the ground.

Thus do we memorialize those who, having ceased living with us, now live within us. Thus do we consecrate ourselves, the living, to carry on the struggle they began. Too much blood has gone into this soil for us to let it lie barren. Too much pain and heartache have fertilized the earth on which we stand. We here solemnly swear: this shall not be in vain. Out of this, and from the suffering and sorrow of those who mourn this, will come—we promise—the birth of a new freedom for all humanity everywhere. And let us say…Amen 

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A New Thread in the Tapestry of My Life: Serving People in the Age of COVID-19


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.

If only my knees hadn’t been too badly injured and slow to recover I would have been out of the Navy, probably teaching history (now online) at the college level while relegating my calling as a priest to the background. But after that I  couldn’t retire, but due to a administrative error in calculating my statutory retirement date as I expected in April. I am now scheduled to retire in August, but with Coronavirus there is even uncertainty about that, and frankly I couldn’t care less, because I would rather serve and be in the thick of the fight than sitting on my ass or doing something that provides for me and Judy, but does not help in the time of crisis.

Between last spring when I first put in my voluntary retirement  paperwork working in the most miserable tour of all my time in the military, and doubting my call as a Priest, something miraculous happened. The screwed up knees and administrative mistakes ended up renewing my call and ministry among people I would never have expected to be serving. But even with that I never expected that I would still be serving on active duty at the age of 60, providing needed and valued ministry to people of all faiths, including atheists, in the midst of the novel Coronavirus 19 pandemic that is infecting some of them, or infecting and killing their family members, friends, or others that they know. Of course I take all of the guidance seriously to protect those I serve as well as Judy and me, but a new thread has been woven into the tapestry of my life. I felt the renewed call not long after I arrived, but this has solidified it.

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.

tapestry2

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, but of all I will remember this thread, as well as my combat tours, and life and death in ICUs and ERs the most. Suddenly at the age of 60 life has begun again. As the late great Sid Caesar once said:

“A great NOW will be a great WAS! A bad NOW will always be a bad WAS, and all you can hope for is a Great GONNA BE!”

As old as I am and as long as I have served, my future is yet to be written, and the tapestry of my life continues, even as new threads are woven into it. Every experience in my life has helped make me the person that I am. A friend of mine from my high school years sent me an email after I explained the experiences behind my writings, and noted “maybe all of that prepared you for such a time as this.” It was an affirmation by someone who doesn’t always share my political, social, or interpretation of the Christian faith that I am doing what I need to be, in such a time as this.

Value the tapestry of your life, and always find something good to life for and work towards.

Peace,

Padre Steve+

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Going Forward into the Past: Coronavirus-19 Easter 2020 and Going Back to Our Roots

 

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

This kind of returns to the theme of the article I wrote on Good Friday. On the first Good Friday the followers of Jesus fled the scene and hid. The same was true on the first Holy Saturday, and yes, even the first Easter Sunday. If it had not been for the appearance of Mary Magdalene, Mary the Mother of Jesus, and a woman named Salome coming to anoint his body according to Luke, Mary Magdalene alone according to John,  or Mary Magdalene and Mary the Mother of Jesus according to Matthew and Mark just to visit the tomb we can remain assured that the male followers would have remained in their spider holes until they were sure that it was safe to come out. Regardless of the account it was one or all of these women who found Peter and John, who ran to the tomb to find it empty. Then they returned to discuss the matter with whoever of the disciples they could find, except Judas Iscariot who was simply hanging around and rotting, but I digress.

What is important is that they pretty much remained in hiding until Jesus made his first port-Resurrection visits to them. Even then, they didn’t do much in public and were not engaged in preaching or knocking on doors to share their faith. One of the disciples, a man named Thomas expressed his doubts until he met Jesus face to face when Jesus made one of his appearances. During the encounter challenged by Jesus to put his hands in the wounds on his hands and side. Personally, I think it would be good for all Christians to experience doubt, or even what Saint John of the Cross called the Dark Night of the Soul, or the total absence of any feeling of the presence of God. However, in our Americanized profit before prophet materialistic and success absorbed church, that message is a hard sell. Perhaps the Coronavirus 19 pandemic will change that, but only time will tell.

I think that what is happening now with the Coronavirus-19 pandemic has shaken our faith in the illusionary comforts and successes of this life. I think that this illusion of control needs to be shaken to the core, especially for the Christian, regardless of tradition, Catholic, Orthodox, Protestant, Evangelical, or Pentecostal/ Charismatic. German theologian Jürgen Moltmann wrote:

“In a civilization that glorifies success and happiness and is blind to the sufferings of others, people’s eyes can be opened to the truth if they remember that at the centre of the Christian faith stands an unsuccessful, tormented Christ, dying in forsakenness.”

This is not a denial of the resurrection, but a realization that while Christ is risen, that we still live in a world that is afflicted by the actions of human beings to exploit it, destroy it, and exploit and dehumanize other human beings in quest of power and profit. It is the obligation of the Christian and other people of faith to stand up against respond to the plight of suffering people, as Dietrich Bonhoeffer noted:

“We are not to simply bandage the wounds of victims beneath the wheels of injustice, we are to drive a spoke into the wheel itself.”

Tonight I read the story of a Pentecostal Church in Beckley West Virginia devoting its Easter weekend to using 3D printers to manufacture face masks and shields to CDC and FDA specifications for local hospital workers who are desperately short of PPE. I was blown away. They understood that the mission of Christian, the Church as well as other believers in such as situation is not just simply praying or gathering, but rather doing what they could to act, to do something more than gathering, praising, praying, or celebrating while others suffer and die.

I have learned and still am learning what Bonhoeffer so eloquently wrote not before he was killed by SS at Flossenburg on the personal order of Hitler:

“During the last year or so I’ve come to know and understand more and more the profound this-worldliness of Christianity.  The Christian is not ahomo religiosus, but simply a man, as Jesus was a man…I’m still discovering right up to this moment, that it is only by living completely in this world that one learns to have faith. One must completely abandon any attempt to make something of oneself, whether it be a saint, or a converted sinner, or a churchman (a so-called priestly type!) a righteous man or an unrighteous one, a sick man or a healthy one.  By this-worldliness I mean living unreservedly in life’s duties, problems, successes and failures, experiences and perplexities.  In so doing we throw ourselves completely into the arms of God, taking seriously, not our own sufferings, but those of God in the world—watching with Christ in Gethsemane. That, I think, is faith; that is metanoia; and that is how one becomes a man and a Christian.”

I truly believe that this pandemic is an opportunity to re-learn what our ancestors in faith knew from experience: That faith is most real when there is little worldly to hope for, when our illusions of worldly power, and with it the power, and exclusivity of the Church are broken down by something smaller yet more disruptive and deadly than the leaders of our greatest cathedrals, or most massive megachurch stadiums could ever imagine, because what we worship is not spiritual, but material treasures. We, and I mean me as well, have often found our worth in our possessions, those things that we think we own or or think we possess.

This horrible pandemic is by no means over. It will most likely continue to wash over our planet like tsunami waves disrupting our lives and killing many. Between each wave there intervals of comparative quiet, until the next wave hits. This will continue until a vaccine is developed and provided around the world. That could take a year to eighteen months. During that time our lives will be changed in ways that none of us can imagine.

But in the midst of this, when ways out seem so fraught with danger, on Easter we have to remember hope. As Moltmann wrote:

“Believing in the resurrection does not just mean assenting to a dogma and noting a historical fact. It means participating in this creative act of God’s … Resurrection is not a consoling opium, soothing us with the promise of a better world in the hereafter. It is the energy for a rebirth of this life. The hope doesn’t point to another world. It is focused on the redemption of this one.”

That is the task now, not just of Christian, but of all people of faith as well as those who do not believe in God or any higher power. We have to focus on the redemption of the real world, and doing everything we can to alleviate the suffering of others and not abandoning them, as we hope that others will not abandon us in the hour of our need. As Bonhoeffer noted we have to see the world through the eyes of Jesus in Gethsemane.

If people of faith, Christian or not, respond by loving and caring for those who before we didn’t think were worthy of the love of God, or probably more accurately believed were unworthy of associating with us, then maybe people will believe our message again.

When I was a teenager growing up in the middle of the Jesus movement in the 1970s there was a Christian Rock Group out of Calvary Chapel, Costa Mesa named Daniel Amos. Written by Terry Scott Taylor, the Song, Losers and Winners  https://genius.com/Daniel-amos-losers-and-winners-lyrics  reminds us that being a Christian, or for that matter any member of any faith, that God cares for everyone, regardless of who we are or our status in life, and we should too.

I ain’t namin’ names
But I sense that some pride remains
And I do not want to exclude myself
But I had to take a look
In the light of God’s own Book
So see if this sin ain’t yours as well
Do you hail the gifted ones
And the others do you shun?
Do you speak to only those you chose?
Well, God’s love, it has no bounds
Has no ups, and it has no downs
Goes out to those who win and to those who lose
Now, clubs and cliques, they choose and pick
And they make their interviews
Screen the undesirables
And turn down clowns and fools
But Jesus died for sinners
Losers and winners
Yes, it’s proven by His love for me and you
Do you give the highest place
To someone ’cause you like his face
And turn aside those you deem less than yourself?
Well, love that is natural
Can be less than satisfactual
For we all are one, no less than anyone else,
Now, clubs and cliques, they choose and pick
And they make their interviews
Screen the undesirables
And turn down clowns and fools
But Jesus died for sinners
Losers and winners
Yes, it’s proven by His love for me and you
So until tomorrow, let that sink in. The Jesus I believe in loves and cares for everyone, and his command is that his followers do the same.
So in this unusual for our age Easter and Easter season let us remember that it is not about us and our superiority, prosperity, privilege, pride, or worldly possessions or honor that we live. Nor is about our theology or who we believe God, is, or what our doctrine teaches about the Deity Himself or Herself, but it is for others, regardless of our faith, their faith, or lack of it, for we all are human beings on the Big Blue Marble that we call Earth. We live or die together.
Until tomorrow or whenever,
Peace,
Padre Steve+

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“The Power to Lead is the Power to Mislead, and the Power to Mislead is the Power to Destroy” The Responsibility of President Trump for the Coronavirus Pandemic in the United States

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

Well here I go again. Thomas Mommsen wrote that “ The power to lead is the power to mislead, and the power to mislead is the power to destroy.” That one sentence sums up the essence of the Trump Presidency. I have watched several of the Coronavirus Task Force Briefings over the past week. They are painful to watch, at least while he is on stage. Unfortunately, President Trump must continue his attempt to act like a leader at each conference, and every time shows is lack up understanding of pandemics like COVID-19, and their broader effects, medically, sociologically, economically, and militarily; believe me I could name more areas where is lack of real leadership and poor acting ability, to convince us that he actually knows what he is doing is unending. As long as he stays on script during these briefings, uttering platitudes about his interactions with foreign leaders, Congress, and state governors he almost sounds like a real president. Then he goes off script and one knows that it is all an act, and a bad one at that.

The President is not a leader, he is a bad actor who is exposed every time he has to go off a prepared script. He would be better off to just stand in the background after making a short introductory statement, and let experts answer questions, but that is not him. He has to be what he is, a narcissistic sociopath who needs the adulation of others and has a very thin skin. He has to be center stage  and doesn’t have the self-awareness to know that most people see through his shtick. He’s a bad actor, not a leader. General Douglas MacArthur said:

“A true leader has the confidence to stand alone, the courage to make tough decisions, and the compassion to listen to the needs of others. He does not set out to be a leader, but becomes one by the equality of his actions and the integrity of his intent.” 

Bottom Line Up Front: Donald Trump and his administration were warned about the Coronavirus pandemic when it was still en epidemic, mostly contained to China. The warnings of scientists and U.S. intelligence agencies were ignored, depreciated, and called fake news as President Trump and his willing accomplices assured the country that there was nothing to fear. That isn’t leadership, that is bad acting. As Bo Bennett noted: “Faked enthusiasm is worse than bad acting – it is bad acting with the intent to deceive.” 

Likewise, the man has no sense of politics or leadership. He doesn’t understand or care that setting people up to die when you can mitigate the losses is not only irresponsible, but criminal, because Americans are dying, and he cannot even go to a hospital where that is happening and show any empathy, because he has none, and what he doesn’t have he cannot five. Gustave Gilbert, the US ist  Army Psychologist assigned to the major war criminals at Nuremberg that the one thing that they all had in common was an absence of empathy. Gilbert noted that “Evil,is the absence of empathy.”

The words of Gustave Gilbert describe the President, many members of the Administration, the GOP national committee, his fawning allies in Congress, and his state propaganda network, Fox News, as well as many radio talk show hosts headed by the dying Rush Limbaugh show the same lack of empathy, to a tee. That my friends is the bad news, but what follows is worse because at least all of the American deaths from COVID-19 are on them, every one of those sociopaths masquerading as conservatives. To think that until 2008 I was one of them, grieves me, but then I have a conscience and they don’t. They have ideology, and ideology can never can never replace morality or humanity.

As of this moment there are  532,362 cases of the COVID-19 Virus worldwide, and 24,090 deaths. This is up from 471,035 cases of COVID-19 and 21,283 deaths yesterday. Today 383,824 of the cases are still active. Of the closed cases 124,349 have recovered and 24,090 have died for a 16% death rate, up from 14% less than 72 hours ago. That is a increase in infections of 60,841 and nearly 2,792 increase in deaths in just 24 hours. Arnold Glaslow noted: “One of the tests of leadership is the ability to recognize a problem before it becomes an emergency.”  This was not a strong point of Trump or his administration when the problem was first reported to them. Not only did they ignore the scientific and intelligence reports, they denied them and called them lies, while spouting lies to blame others and insulate themselves from any blame.

I know that I am beginning to sound like a broken record, but the leadership and 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 are now 85,594 cases, up over 17,000 in the last 24 hours. At midnight on 26 March there were 85,984 total reported infections with 1,300 deaths and 1868 recoveries. Currently 84,426 of these cases are active. The mortality rate among the closed cases is 39%.

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 (personal protective equipment) 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. The Army is deploying several field hospitals while the Navy is deploying the 1000 bed  USNS Mercy and USNS Comfort to Los Angeles and New York.

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.

Likewise one has to take into account Russia, North Korea, Venezuela, and Cuba which all under-report or fail to report infections and deaths. North Korea has reported no cases or no deaths as incredulous as that may sound, but reports from that county say that anyone showing symptoms is taken out and shot. Russia, for a large country between China and Europe reports under 1,000 infections and very few deaths, while reporting almost 7,000 more deaths from pneumonia than last year. Pneumonia is almost always the cause of death for those infected with COVID-19. Coincidence, I think not, especially when Vladimir Putin was photographed coming out of a hospital in complete biological hazard protective equipment. Non permeable suite, helmet with respirator, facial protection, and gloves. that is not normal for a regular hospital visit, even to people with active pneumonia.

Nineteen 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 deaths are spiking.

But expect we can eventually expect this to fall to somewhat  closer to the world average. But we are not there yet, and this will only get worse with more infections and deaths until the Federal government led by President Trump takes ownership and provides leadership we will have a patchwork of state and local response that only can provide porous protection against the virus. Leading is different than acting, being President is not the same as being the host of a tyrannical reality TV show.

Likewise, unlike China, we are not a police state with a population used to millennia of authoritarian rule that can use truly draconian measures, including welding people’s doors shut, and using massive numbers of police and military personnel to enforce a policy of social isolation, sadly that kind of policy, is the only one proven to be successful at flattening the curve of infection. Likewise, the testing of every swinging Richard and Mulva for the virus is the only way to trace its spread, and focus resources where they need to be sent, as South Korea demonstrated. But our administration refuses to test everyone, saying that it is not necessary, thus we will not have an accurate understanding of the spread of the virus, nor know how many people have been infected.

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, almost every day after occasionally acting the part of a real President, Trump continually goes back to his baseline. he blames everyone but himself, and 12 days into a 15 day campaign to try to stop the virus by social distancing and shutting down businesses, he is threatened to reverse a key public health decision he made because the “economic costs might be higher than the virus itself.” He walked that back a bit yesterday, but, yesterday he doubled down on that topic. None of us knows what today or tomorrow will bring, but now many of his propaganda team are urging that he end his social distancing policy, reopen business and let vulnerable people die, all to save the stock markets. Adam Smith, the originator of capitalism would deplore.

In his news conference comments last night, as the two previous nights before, he tried to make his threat sound a little more humane by suggesting that isolated people were more prone to suicide, and would would outnumber the people infected and killed by the virus. That is not true. While I know that social isolation can be a killer, its effects can be mitigated by people that care. That cannot be said of the virus.

However, if people go back to work, and stores and restaurants are opened just as the virus is hitting full stride the infection and death rate will make those of the past few days look like peanuts. Millions more will be infected, and many of them will die. As the true believers and investors realize that Trump deceived them, 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 some of his cult followers will abandon him because they will finally realize that they mean nothing to him. However, there are plenty who will choose to die in his bunker with him.

So, as I did last night, I highly recommend that anyone reading this read the books, The Great Influenza: the Story of the Deadliest Pandemic in History by John Barry, as well as And the Band Played On, by the late Randy Shilts, and Barbara Tuchman’s A Distant Mirror: the Calamitous Fourteenth Century. They are all worth the read. History has much to teach anyone who dares to read it without political or ideological blinders.

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

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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“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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“If Not Us, then Who? If Not Now, When?” Dr. Martin Luther King Day Weekend 2020

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Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. has always been one of my heroes. This time of year I always ponder the importance of his life and work for civil rights, and I wonder what might have been had this man of peace not been cut down in cold blood at the young age of 39 by James Earl Ray on April 4th 1968. He was an amazing and courageous man whose memory should not be let to one day a year. We have to ensure, though our words and actions that it is not allowed to die.

This week was very busy for me at work. Lots of visits to workshops at the shipyard, counseling sessions, and the unexpected death of one of our shipyard worker, which brought a lot more personal interactions as well as group meetings to let his co-workers know of his death in person, followed by a small group session with the team that worked closest with him. In between was our service commemorating the life of Dr. King, in which I performed the invocation and benediction. It was one of the most memorable of these events I have been at in a long time. I was honored to be able to participate, especially, as our speaker Dr. Josephine Hardy Harris, noted, so many of the civil rights and liberties gained through the efforts of Dr. King and so many others are under attack today, and Monday should not be a “day off”, but a day “on” to care for others and to speak the truth.

Dr. King was a man of courage, a man of honor, a man of conviction. But he came of age in a time when many people were willing to maintain the status quo and play things safe, like many clergy of his time, including many African-American clergy.

Many pastors of the era, remained quiet about the conditions of segregation, and the racism of the day. Their lack of action did not mean they were bad people, they just understood that if they spoke up, their lives, and the lives of their families and congregations could be in danger. As such many pastors just hoped to see things slowly improve, without rocking the boat, and without endangering themselves or their families. They had seen what happened to blacks who spoke up or confronted the evil, lynching’s, cross burnings, threats and murder. They and their families had been dealing with it since the beginning of Reconstruction, and the establishment of Black Codes, and Jim Crow Laws. Finally, many had contented themselves with just trying to get along. At the beginning of the movement, many pastors did not support or gave only lukewarm support to Dr. King, and his companions, Andrew Young, Fred Shuttlesworth, and Ralph Abernathy going into that critical year of 1963.

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Rosa Parks 

King did not start out to become a Civil Rights leader. However, he was inspired to actively join the movement through the example of Rosa Parks, who defiance of the law for blacks to sit “in the back of the bus” in 1955. He led the Montgomery Bus Boycott which lasted for 385 days. The reaction among segregationists to King and his protest was against violent. King’s house was bombed, and his life threatened. There were 39 attempts on his life before he was finally killed, but he refused to stand down.

King’s leadership of the boycott brought the young pastor to national prominence. However, by 1963 much of the Civil Rights movement and the African American community was despairing of the lack of progress. Many people had become disenchanted with King, not considering him bold enough despite his rhetorical abilities.

But in April 1963, working with other Civil Rights leaders in Birmingham Alabama King relit the fires of the movement. Montgomery Police Chief “Bull” Conner used his police force to violently attack the demonstrators. Conner ordered his men to unleash their police dogs on the protestors, and used high pressure water cannon against them, including women, children and the elderly. The violent reaction to the protests shocked much of America and the world.

King was arrested by Conner’s officers, and while he was in the Birmingham jail he composed one of his most famous works, the Letter from the Birmingham Jail.  The letter was a social, political and theological masterpiece. It was some of his harshest criticism was of white liberals, as well as black moderates:

“I have almost reached the regrettable conclusion that the Negro’s great stumbling block in his stride toward freedom is not the White Citizen’s Councilor or the Ku Klux Klanner, but the white moderate, who is more devoted to “order” than to justice; who prefers a negative peace which is the absence of tension to a positive peace which is the presence of justice; who constantly says: “I agree with you in the goal you seek, but I cannot agree with your methods of direct action”; who paternalistically believes he can set the timetable for another man’s freedom; who lives by a mythical concept of time and who constantly advises the Negro to wait for a “more convenient season”

Dr. King continued his activism until his assassination. In August 1963 he led the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom, where before a crowd of an estimated 200,000-300,000 he gave his I Have a Dream Speech.

http://www.americanrhetoric.com/speeches/mlkihaveadream.htm

The crescendo of the speech was remarkable and is perhaps one of the most remembered speeches in American history.

Let us not wallow in the valley of despair, I say to you today, my friends.

And so even though we face the difficulties of today and tomorrow, I still have a dream. It is a dream deeply rooted in the American dream.

I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal.”

I have a dream that one day on the red hills of Georgia, the sons of former slaves and the sons of former slave owners will be able to sit down together at the table of brotherhood.

I have a dream that one day even the state of Mississippi, a state sweltering with the heat of injustice, sweltering with the heat of oppression, will be transformed into an oasis of freedom and justice.

I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.

I have a dream today!

I have a dream that one day, down in Alabama, with its vicious racists, with its governor having his lips dripping with the words of “interposition” and “nullification” — one day right there in Alabama little black boys and black girls will be able to join hands with little white boys and white girls as sisters and brothers.

I have a dream today!

I have a dream that one day every valley shall be exalted, and every hill and mountain shall be made low, the rough places will be made plain, and the crooked places will be made straight; “and the glory of the Lord shall be revealed and all flesh shall see it together.”2

This is our hope, and this is the faith that I go back to the South with.

With this faith, we will be able to hew out of the mountain of despair a stone of hope. With this faith, we will be able to transform the jangling discords of our nation into a beautiful symphony of brotherhood. With this faith, we will be able to work together, to pray together, to struggle together, to go to jail together, to stand up for freedom together, knowing that we will be free one day.

And this will be the day — this will be the day when all of God’s children will be able to sing with new meaning:

My country ’tis of thee, sweet land of liberty, of thee I sing.

Land where my fathers died, land of the Pilgrim’s pride,

From every mountainside, let freedom ring!

And if America is to be a great nation, this must become true.

And so let freedom ring from the prodigious hilltops of New Hampshire.

Let freedom ring from the mighty mountains of New York.

Let freedom ring from the heightening Alleghenies of Pennsylvania.

Let freedom ring from the snow-capped Rockies of Colorado.

Let freedom ring from the curvaceous slopes of California.

But not only that:

Let freedom ring from Stone Mountain of Georgia.

Let freedom ring from Lookout Mountain of Tennessee.

Let freedom ring from every hill and molehill of Mississippi.

From every mountainside, let freedom ring.

And when this happens, and when we allow freedom ring, when we let it ring from every village and every hamlet, from every state and every city, we will be able to speed up that day when all of God’s children, black men and white men, Jews and Gentiles, Protestants and Catholics, will be able to join hands and sing in the words of the old Negro spiritual:

                Free at last! Free at last!

                Thank God Almighty, we are free at last!

King knew the dangers and the risks of appealing to a strategy of non-violence based on love of his enemies. King spoke to the world when he accepted the Nobel Peace Prize in 1964:

“Here and there an individual or group dares to love, and rises to the majestic heights of moral maturity. So in a real sense this is a great time to be alive. Therefore, I am not yet discouraged about the future. Granted that the easygoing optimism of yesterday is impossible. Granted that those who pioneer in the struggle for peace and freedom will still face uncomfortable jail terms, painful threats of death; they will still be battered by the storms of persecution, leading them to the nagging feeling that they can no longer bear such a heavy burden, and the temptation of wanting to retreat to a more quiet and serene life. Granted that we face a world crisis which leaves us standing so often amid the surging murmur of life’s restless sea. But every crisis has both its dangers and its opportunities. It can spell either salvation or doom. In a dark confused world the kingdom of God may yet reign in the hearts of men.”  http://www.nobelprize.org/nobel_prizes/peace/laureates/1964/king-lecture.html 

Dr. King understood how easily hatred could consume people and movements and urged people not to follow the course of hate. It is a message especially timely in our day. Dr King wrote:

“Returning hate for hate multiplies hate, adding deeper darkness to a night already devoid of stars. Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that. Hate multiplies hate, violence multiplies violence, and toughness multiplies toughness in a descending spiral of destruction.”

The day before his assassination in Memphis, Dr. King still recognized what he might face. His “I have been to the Mountaintop” speech http://www.americanrhetoric.com/speeches/mlkivebeentothemountaintop.htm recounted many of the things that he had encountered, including an assassination attempt in 1958 which had come close to killing him. It was an amazing speech and one wonders if having lived under threat so long that he almost had a premonition of his death the next day.

And then I got into Memphis. And some began to say the threats, or talk about the threats that were out. What would happen to me from some of our sick white brothers?

Well, I don’t know what will happen now. We’ve got some difficult days ahead. But it really doesn’t matter with me now, because I’ve been to the mountaintop.

And I don’t mind.

Like anybody, I would like to live a long life. Longevity has its place. But I’m not concerned about that now. I just want to do God’s will. And He’s allowed me to go up to the mountain. And I’ve looked over. And I’ve seen the Promised Land. I may not get there with you. But I want you to know tonight, that we, as a people, will get to the promised land!

Dr. King’s dream is not dead and we who live today cannot allow it to die. There is still much work to see justice done for all Americans as well as those suffering from violence, persecution, discrimination and poverty around the world.

It is 2020. It has been 57 years since Dr. King sat in the Birmingham jail. Sadly, there are some who long for a return to the day of Jim Crow. In some states there have been and there are ongoing attempts to return it by stealth, especially through restrictions on voting that predominantly impact African Americans and the poor. Racism is not dead, nor are so many other “isms.” As Dr. King told us, “Now is the time to make real the promises of democracy,” and “It would be fatal for the nation to overlook the urgency of the moment.”

Dr. King and many of the leaders of the Civil Rights Movement have passed on. Likewise, many people today are complacent about the injustices present in our society, injustices experienced by many people. We need a generation of new men and women with hearts like Dr. King’s, who will be the conscience of the nation and confront these injustices.

Birmingham_campaign_dogs

Representative John Lewis, one of the original Freedom Riders was beaten numerous times during those protests. When leading the march across the Pettus Bridge in Selma, Lewis had his skull fractured by a State Trooper when he stopped to pray.  Lewis’s words call us to action today:

“If not us, then who? If not now, then when?” 

We cannot let Dr. King’s dream die, especially when White Supremacists, encouraged by the words of the President attack those rights in city halls, state houses, the Congress, the Cabinet, and the Courts.

If the Dream is to survive, if we are to go to the mountaintop, if we are to see the day when people will be judged by the content of their character, and not their race, color, religion, or gender, we have to be the ones to not sit back and be bystanders, but to take action. To answer Congressman Lewis’s question, it has to be us, and it has to be now.

Until tomorrow,

Peace

Padre Steve+

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