Category Archives: Religion

Perpetrators, Victims, and Bystanders in the Age of COVID-19

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

We are now living in an age where established norms of civilized peoples have been turned upside down and inside out. This is due to combination of events, some that I mentioned in my last post. however, the most troubling that I see is for people in positions of power where they could actually do good to mitigate our losses in the novel Coronavirus 19 Pandemic, either directly contribute to its spread, or turn their backs knowing what is happening. Holocaust Historian Yehuda Bauer wrote: “Thou shall not be a perpetrator, thou shall not be a victim, and thou shall never, but never, be a bystander.”

But here we are again with that choice. Like the Holocaust it comes down to the question of who lives and who dies. But unlike the Holocaust where those decisions were made by people who killed their carefully selected  victims by bullets, gas, medical experiments, euthanasia, or who worked and starved them to death, we are brought to this point by the lack of preparation and callous indifference to the disease when it had a chance to be stopped, slowed, or brought under control until a vaccination or an effective treatment can be found. Now, doctors and nurses, themselves potential victims because they do not have adequate personal protective equipment, will have to make choices about who lives and who dies because they do not have enough ICU beds and ventilators to treat everyone. Last week I wrote  about the coming combat mass casualty triage that many hospitals will have to implement in the coming days and weeks. To those who have not seen combat, been in mass casualty situations, or really their history, the decisions will seem cruel, and maybe even unjust, but that is the reality that we are soon to face here.

Honestly I don’t see the doctors and nurses who have to make such decisions as perpetrators, as they too are being infected and dying. They are also victims, as are the infected and dying. The real perpetrators are those that allowed this virus to spread, who denied it being a threat, minimized the threat, those who delayed acting, and those who have profited by it are the perpetrators.

The rest of us have a choice. We can take the side of and do everything we can to help the victims, or we can join the list of perpetrators by perpetuating their lies and crimes, or be bystanders who turn a blind eye to what is happening, neither taking a stand for or against what is happening. Sophie Scholl who lost her life at the age of 22 by writing the truth about the evils of the Nazi regime wrote:

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

I haven’t mentioned the numbers lately. They started to remind me of the nightly casualty counts that were shown like baseball box scores on the nightly national news broadcasts on ABC, CBS, and NBC. Sadly, every one of these numbers is a real person. The infected and dead are of all races, religions, genders, rich and poor, good and bad alike.

So I ask that when you read them to remember that, each one a real person with hopes and dreams, either ended or put on indefinitely by the virus. Then there is the ripple effects, all the family members, friends, acquaintances, and colleagues left behind. There are now holes in lives of people who have lost loved ones or friends, that cannot  be filled by pious talk, blaming others, or by saying that this is God’s will or judgement.

Each of these people, the infected, the dead, and even those who recover bear the physical, emotional, and spiritual know the feeling of the God forsaken, as do those who knew them, loved them, and suffered with them. Forgive the intrusion of faith here, but for me it is the image of Jesus the Christ, hanging on a cross, forgiving a thief, comforting his mother, can crying out to his God and Father in defense of those killing him, “forgive them they know not what they do.” But then there were the bystanders who just sat back and watched, whose inaction be it from their agreement to what was occurring or fear of speaking out allowed them to do nothing. Elie Wiesel wrote “What hurts the victim most is not the cruelty of the oppressor, but the silence of the bystander.” 

So here are today’s latest numbers. Worldwide the toll stands at 1,261,095 infections, 68,468 deaths, and 260,032 recoveries. A death rate that is now up to 21% based on the resolved cases, be they recovered or dead. Of the 932,595 active cases we have no idea as to how their cases will resolve. Hopefully the numbers of recoveries against deaths in these cases will begin to lower the death rate number. However, we cannot know that number until the cases are resolved, but the death rate among resolved cases has climbed from the 14%-15% rate to 20-21% in about ten days worldwide.

But in the United States, for once we are now leading the world in terms of the number of infections, despite the fact that our intelligence agencies wanted the President as early as mid January of what was coming. The President, denied, delayed, dithered, and dispersed the blame to everyone but himself until he saw the stock markets tank.

So with that being said let us talk about the United States and how many people are infected, died or recovered here. In the Good Ol’ USA, which if we remember the words of our President had become  great again under his personal leadership, there are now 331,285 total cases, 9,479 deaths, and 17,091 recoveries from the virus. That is a 36% death rate. That rate among the resolved cases has remained constant between 35-40% over the last week and a half. additionally we have only tested 1,751,296 people, and thousands of they tests have not been processed because the laboratory system is overwhelmed.  But the number of Americans tested is just slightly over one half of one percent of the Census Bureau’s 2019 population estimate of 329,450,000. So we cannot be sure of how many people have been exposed to, infected by, recovered, or died of the disease.

Likewise we now lead the world in total infections, our deaths only trail those of Spain and France. We’re number three, can I get a cheer for that? I doubt it because within a week at the most we will also lead the world in deaths. So let’s hear that chant of USA! USA! USA! And We’re number One!”  Can I get an Amen brothers and sisters? I hate to sound flippant and sarcastic at such a time, but with so many people ignoring social distancing and doing nothing to stop the spread of the virus, including pastors who flaunt their state laws and Federal recommendations and continue to gather, or Florida’s Governor Rick DeSantis who reopened his states beaches barely two days after he closed them, how can I not be somewhat sarcastic and flippant? It’s gallows humor. These people are going to spread the virus or contract it themselves. The data shows that each infected person spreads the virus to an average of 2 to 3 other people. Do these people want others to become infected, or spread the virus to their friends and families, or do they have some kind of death wish?

I’m sorry, but those are rhetorical questions No sane person would want that to be the case, unless they are brainwashed cult members, apocalyptic Christians, or sociopaths who only want the worst for others in order to achieve their own salvation or annihilation. You cannot be too sure about religious ideologues, some of them get a kick of thinking that they will be martyrs for their cause, even if that cause were a lie. Just ask the 9-11 hijackers, but they are all dead. Ideologues, religious or otherwise who seek to kill people and then want the honor of martyrdom are simply narcissistic sociopaths who could care less about the death they inflict and the subsequent consequences, because it is really all about them.

But the President was not alone in first dismissing the virus or the impact that it would have. It appears that China’s President Xi did the same thing, as did Russia’s President Putin, and many other world leaders. No matter who they are or what country they lead, if they denied, delayed, or otherwise left their people unprotected in the face of this virus they are the perpetrators. Especially leaders that ignored the warnings of their medical and scientific advisors and urged people to go back to work as if things were still normal and the virus couldn’t kill them. Admittedly, their is a scale of culpability in this, early on many nations said that they were not like China, or then like Italy. Denial is not just a river in Egypt, but the sooner a nation and it’s leaders got over denial, the sooner they began to actually take action to protect the lives of their people.

Likewise so so called religious leaders who encourage the ignorant sheep in close proximity of each other fully realizing that some or many could be contagious, supposedly in the name of religious freedom, but more to gather their cults and collect their money as for profit prophets, promoting imaginary cures based on supposed secret “words from God” or miracle cures that can be purchased, and providing you have faith will work. They and others like them are the perpetrators.

But that leaves the rest of us. Will we speak? Or will we for whatever reasons, as logical as they may seem to be we have a choice of what we will do.

But then there are the heroes who save lives and are punished for doing so. One of them is Captain Brett Crozier, the Commanding Officer of the aircraft carrier USS Theodore Roosevelt, tried to inform his chain of command of an large outbreak of COVID-19 on his ship that was threatening to overwhelm the capacities of his medical department. He did not get a satisfactory answer so he blasted out an email to many Navy officials, which was leaked by someone and published by the San Francisco Chronicle. But his email got attention, and he was allowed to take the ship to Guam, where he was able to begin transferring infected sailors off the ship and arranged to have the rest of the crew tested, and placed in safe quarters.

He was also bound by the DOD’s decision to follow CDC guidelines and not to have his crew wear Personal Protective Equipment if they were not medical personnel, or already infected and showing symptoms. That CDC guidance was finally changed Friday, and I just received a text saying we were now allowed and encouraged to wear cloth masks. Thankfully, during this period many of our workers were teleworking or on paid administrative leave due to they or their family members are in high risk groups for contracting the virus. Commanders of ships at sea didn’t get that opportunity.

The strange thing to me is that multiple Naval Commanding  Officers whose negligence, lack of adherence to Naval Regulations, or concern for the welfare of their crews and safety of their ships enjoyed the benefit of a full hearing by experienced Naval Officers before they were relieved of their commands. This did not occur with Captain Crozier, who was relieved by Acting Secretary of the Navy Thomas Modly against the advice of the Chief of Naval Operations. Modly has noted that he understood and admitted that President Trump, a man who fired Modly’s predecessor Richard Spencer who publicly stated that the President’s defense and pardoning of convicted war criminals harmed good order and discipline in the Armed Forces, wanted to fire Captain Crozier, despite the fact that he protected his ship and crew. However, against the advice of the Chief of Naval Operation and other senior Naval officers, Mr. Modly relieved Captain Crozier before such a board of inquiry could be convened, which meant that there is no chance of one occurring now, except as a means to decide if he should be prosecuted for his actions.

Of course any such board would have probably affirmed Captain Crozier’s actions, unlike the Commanding officers of other ships who covered up their ship’s training, manning, and technical or mechanical deficiencies and who by doing so sacrificed the lives of their sailors, and grave and costly damage to their ship which rendered those ships non mission capable for more than a year each. Despite the lies being presented by the President aided by his media and political apologists, Captain Crozier exhibited the finest of Naval tradition in protecting his ship and crew, and boldly risked his career for the defense of his crew and the nation. And it appears that he too has contracted COVID-19 and may be prosecuted for his actions. In this case it appears to me that the Navy’s justice system has been turned inside out and upside down.

So I must make a judgment. Captain Crozier acted in the best interests of his ship, sailors, the Naval tradition, sore values, and truth. In doing so he was afforded less justice then men whose lack of concern for their ships, crews, and the nation were given. Likewise, though his actions saved lives, and will result in the ship and crew being fully mission capable with a few weeks. Yet he was given less respect or protection for his actions, by the President has in pardoning convicted war criminals.

But as a veteran of over 38 years of military service, in peace and war,  I have to admit that I am ashamed of our political, military, and moral leadership which would pardon war criminals, give full hearings to men whose actions led to deaths of their crew members and long term costly repairs to their ships, before relieving them, who then condone and defend their actions against Captain Crozier whose real offense was trying to save his crew. He is a victim of both the disease, and the Navy leadership, who have become perpetrators of injustice.

Captain Crozier was denied a fair hearing, and and condemned because the President wanted it to happen. That my friends, as an officer whose oath is to “defend the Constitution against all enemies, foreign and domestic” and not the actions of any a political party or President, demands that my honor is based on defending the Constitution, and at the same time knowing that it is not my career that is sacred, but the honor and reputation of the nation in upholding our laws, Constitution, and institutions of the nation, against usurpers who  only seek to expand their power and gratification at the expense of the United States, and its citizens, even using the police and military power of the state against them to do so, I have to make a stand for truth, and like General Ludwig Beck who resigned his position as Chief of Staff of the Wehrmacht in defiance of Hitler’s invasion of Czechoslovakia, and who lost his life in Operation Valkyrie in 1944, I have to state like Beck:

“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.”

For me, my friends, that is the heart of the matter. This is about the public health and the welfare of my neighbor, not about me. If any order is issued in contradiction  to the  the Declaration of Independence, the Bill of  Rights, the U.S.Constitution, or the Uniform Code of Military Justice,  I must raise my voice against it, and as a matter of honor defend those accused  of breaking them. How can a man with any sense of honor not due so?

We all have a choice. Will we be a perpetrator, victim, or bystander during this crisis? I cannot be a bystander, I cannot be silent. I have to echo and proclaim the words of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. “Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter.” 

So until after that tomorrow  and I wish you all the best, and please be careful out there.

Peace,

Padre Steve+

 

 

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Filed under Coronavirus, Diseases Epidemics and Pandemics, ethics, healthcare, History, laws and legislation, leadership, national security, natural disasters, Political Commentary, Religion, US Navy

COVID-19: Living with its Reality While Being Brave and Caring While Acknowledging our Fears

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

T.S. Elliot penned these words: “Humankind cannot bear very much reality.” 

The sad fact is that Drs. Birx and Fauci have been quietly trying to brace the President and many of us for reality. Despite all the falsehoods and false hopes that emanated from the mouth of the President  between January and the beginning of March they, like them or not, soldiered on when many would have quit. All the President’s  denials, delays, disinformation, claims of fake news, bragging about his success, attacking  political opponents, and demonizing real news agencies, and reporters by name did not keep them from pushing back. I am not sure, but I suspect that Vice President Pence began to trust them helped push the President into accepting reality that the numbers that will die in the United States are far beyond anything that he ever would admit. Today they admitted that 100,000 to 240,000 could die, and that with successful mitigation. The same models predict a million and a half to two and a half million deaths without “successful” mitigation efforts. Who knows what April will bring, but I don’t think most American leaders or their followers are willing to deal with the hard truth that lay before us.

What our states are now beginning to do may be too little and to late to prevent an even higher death toll. Truthfully, based on the deadliness COVID-19 has demonstrated in our country where a lot more people in the 20-50 year old bracket are falling victim than was expect, I think, though I desperately  want to be wrong, and a quarter of a million is a low estimate based on the historical tendency for Americans to not obey the rules, trust science, or the government.

The terrible thing is that now the President would consider a death toll of 100,000 a “victory.” Had the President and  administration prepared for the virus when they were warned, we would have had a chance at minimizing the death toll, like South Korea.

But here we are facing one of the most catastrophic moments in the history of our country. We have to pull together, work together, and fight this together. Political, ideological, and religious animosity has to be chucked over the rails of this ship called America if we are not to sink. As one of the signers of the Declaration of Independence said, “we either hang together or we hang separately.”

Sadly, I have the feeling that many Americans will not believe until they, their family members, and friends start dying. As C.S. Lewis wrote in A Grief Observed:

“We were promised sufferings. They were part of the program. We were even told, ‘Blessed are they that mourn,’ and I accept it. I’ve got nothing that I hadn’t bargained for. Of course it is different when the thing happens to oneself, not to others, and in reality, not imagination.”

That my friends is the reality that we face. No matter our religion, lack thereof, or ideology may be, we are all human. Unless we are true narcissistic sociopaths, the deaths of friends and loved ones strike the very core of our innate human finiteness. They remind us that we too are mortal, and part of a community. I have friends across the religious and political spectrum, even people who disagree with me vehemently on various matters. But the death of any of them would involve grief that I cannot explain.

So now the latest COVID-19 casualty report. Worldwide there are 858,669 cases, 42,151 deaths, and 178,099 recovered. The get the death rate we do not uses the total infections. John’s Hopkins uses the total number infected, but since that number is always changing it is unreliable. Instead you have to use the total cases completed by either death or recovery, as the denominator. You divide the number of deaths by the number of completed cases. That rate is now 19% worldwide. In the United States there are now 188,530 total cases, 3,889 deaths and  7,251 people who have recovered, a 35% death rate. Of course as the minor infections recover the rate will most likely go down, to between 5 and 10%, not the 1-3% that some estimated just weeks ago. This is a killer virus, much worse than any flu. I’m not a scientist, but a historian. The great Spanish Influenza of 1918-19 killed over 600,000 Americans, and based on the latest estimates nearly 50 million deaths worldwide, and the populations, especially those living in major metropolitan cities, were far less than they are today.

John Barry, author of The Great Influenza: the Story of the Greatest Pandemic in History  wrote:

“overstate to make a point—warned, civilization could have disappeared within a few more weeks. So the final lesson of 1918, a simple one yet one most difficult to execute, is that those who occupy positions of authority must lessen the panic that can alienate all within a society. Society cannot function if it is every man for himself. By definition, civilization cannot survive that. Those in authority must retain  the public’s trust. The way to do that is to distort nothing, to put the best face on nothing, to try to manipulate no one. Lincoln said that first, and best. A leader must make whatever horror exists concrete. Only then will people be able to break it apart.”

The lesson is that truth even in the face of unimaginable disaster and loss of life, must be told. The same is true with how to mitigate the threat. Fear is a natural response, and anyone involved in a war, which this is, is not unreasonable, especially when there is no vaccine, should demonstrate a measure of reasonable fear. General George Patton wrote words that should be absorbed by everyone facing this virus today:

“If we take the generally accepted definition of bravery as a quality which knows no fear, I have never seen a brave man. All men are frightened. The more intelligent they are, the more they are frightened.”

That means that we can be frightened, yet brave. We must continue to life life and care for others even as we use social distancing and other prevention measures.

As Captain Jean Luc Picard in Star Trek the Next Generation said: “the first duty of every Starfleet officer is to the truth, whether it’s scientific truth, historical truth or personnel truth…”

Our leaders regardless if the are political, scientific, media, military, religious, or medical leaders must tell the truth, and then do the hard things in order to survive without becoming the dystopia of a world like the Mad Max films, novels like 1984, or so many examples from history and fiction.

We need leaders who tell the truth, and we need to act, despite our fears to defeat this threat. As Winston Churchill said in Britain’s darkest hour, “I have nothing to offer but blood, toil, tears and sweat,” our leaders regardless of party or ideology have to stop offering meaningless but comforting words, and tell the truth. If they don’t we will experience worse than we could imagine. As the English comedian Rowan Atkinson uttered in the BBC comedy series, Black Adder: “a fate worse than a fate worse than death.”

100,000 to 2400,000 preventable deaths is not a victory, it is a needless sacrifice of human life. Each of the dead is more than a number or name, they are human beings who leave behind parents, brothers and sisters, sons and daughters, grandchildren, friends, and coworkers. Each death leaves a hole in the heart of someone who loved and cared for them, that cannot be filled by empty words.

Until tomorrow, and with hope for the future. Please be careful out there,

Peace,

Padre Steve+

 

 

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Filed under Coronavirus, Diseases Epidemics and Pandemics, ethics, faith, film, healthcare, History, laws and legislation, leadership, News and current events, Political Commentary, Religion

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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A Son of Erin: Thoughts on St. Patrick’s Day

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

Like any American whose family on both the paternal and maternal sides has been in this country since well before the American Revolution, I am kind of a genetic mutt. However, it seems that most of my DNA is Irish, the rest being from Scotland, England, Wales, Western Europe, Germany and the Baltic states, so basically, I’m Celtic, who happens to rape and pillage their way across Europe while spreading the Gospel. I dust love that juxtaposition, don’t you? But I digress.

Most of my Irish seems to come from my mom’s side of the family with Travis’s who came from the Old Country and eventually settled in Illinois. My favorite uncle when I was a kid was my uncle Ted. He was as Irish as they come, and according to my mom uncle Ted help begin my great love of beer when I was just a babe, and continued taking me to is dive bar in Stockton, California whenever we visited. The bar had a Myna Bird, named Turd Bird who was quite profane.

I have come rather belatedly to the conclusion that I am a true son of Erin, despite my Scottish heritage. I am proud of that, and my family in Scotland, but in the way I do life I am a lot more Irish than Scottish.  In addition to my love of a good beer, when I look at my temperament I see the Irish come through in my readiness to fight, my love of laughter, and my occasional melancholy. I love Irish songs like The Minstrel Boy and Garryowen as well as songs that were made famous by Irish soldiers like It’s a Long Way to Tipperary.” 

On my dad’s side I descend from Scottish nobility, not that it matters in this country. But when I was younger I found it a source of pride, especially the military tradition that came with it, and for that matter I still am, but I have become more cognizant of my Irish heritage. This is a heritage that I plan on doing research on in the near future.

As much as the Irish are a part of the rich tapestry that make up America, and the celebration of Saint Patrick’s Day has become a fest that most Americans revel in, the Irish were not welcomed with open arms. They were poor, Roman Catholic immigrants, fleeing persecution and famine in the Old Country. The traditional Irish song, The Wearing of the Green includes this verse:

I’ve heard a whisper of a country
That lies beyond the sea,
Where rich and poor stand equal
In the light of freedom’s day.

When they arrived in the United States the found themselves at the bottom of the white man’s world, despised and often violently persecuted by Americans of the anti-immigrant, anti-Catholic “Know Nothing” movement, who happened to be English and Scottish Protestants.

The Irish were accused of being agents of the Pope, and wanting to overthrow Protestant America. As such they had to work hard, and they also stayed together in predominant Irish neighborhoods, and in time they became a political constituency that even non-Irish politicians could not ignore. The same was true of German Catholics around the same time.

In a time when other groups of immigrants are discriminated against and demonized, often for their religious beliefs I think that we cannot forget the Irish immigrants, and those who are of Irish descent, those whose ancestors were persecuted in the Old Country as well in this country need to think twice before doing the same to people who are fleeing political and religious persecution as well as war and famine. My Irish heritage has made me feel a closer bond with immigrants than almost anything.

As a historian, I want to do that because I wonder if any of my Irish-American ancestors fought with any of the Civil War Irish regiments. I have always been particularly fond of the Irish Brigade of the Army of the Potomac and many times I fly the flag of the 69th New York Volunteer Infantry, also known as the 1stRegiment of the Irish Brigade alongside my 34 Star Circle Union Flag outside my house, especially this time of year. The motto of the regiment,  Faugh A Ballagh  (pronounced “Fah-g Ahn BAY-Lick”) means “Clear the way!”

Approximately 150,000 Irish immigrants fought in the Union Army during the Civil War, many hoping that their display of loyalty would put a stop to anti-Irish discrimination. However, despite their gallantry and sacrifice on the battlefield it did not. With casualties mounting and the institution of the draft which hit poor people and immigrants the hardest, many Irish staged draft riots in 1863. Eventually the Irish would be accepted, but what happened to them has happened to almost every other group ethnic and religious immigrants who have come to America to be free.

Whenever I go to Gettysburg I stop at the Irish Brigade memorial near the edge of the bloody Wheat Field and speak of its service during the war and the absolution granted to it by its chaplain, Father Corby before it went into battle that hot summer afternoon of July 2nd 1863. Likewise I tell the story of the young Colonel Paddy O’Rorke, the first Irish Catholic to graduate from West Point who died leading his regiment at Little Round Top, not far from where his kinsmen were fighting at the Wheat Field.

As the son of persecuted immigrants I feel a certain compassion and solidarity for the immigrants of today who are demonized by the descendants of the Know Nothings and others who persecuted immigrants in years past. Thus, if you have taken note I regularly either here, or on my social media do what I can to expose the evil of those who seek to crush other minority groups and immigrants. Truthfully, if you are an American whose ancestors were persecuted immigrants, before or after our independence, and you cannot see this, you despise them every time you attack and support actions against today’s immigrants.

So I wish you a Happy Saint Patrick’s Day even as I reflect more on my Irish heritage and raise a pint or two; after all a bird never flew on one wing. Sláinte.

Peace,

Padre Steve+

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They are silent with regard to the pernicious effects of their own gains. They complain only of those of other people.” The War Against Workers and a Capitalism that Adam Smith wouldn’t Recognize

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

It’s not Labor Day, but it might as well be. It is time to speak up for workers. For decades organized labor has been demonized by the descendants of people who died to secure decent working conditions, wages, and benefits for regular hard working people. However, most of us, living in our own work or social media cocoons don’t realize this is going on until it hits people we know personally. I wrote about that in my last post.

The attacks on labor and workers have become much more pronounced under the Trump Administration than any prior administration since that of Herbert Hoover. But must of us who don’t work in big corporations, in the service industry, or in other fields where they have no employment protections and are victimized by CEOs, COOs, and the hedge funds that scoop up businesses and then sacrifice them for profit.

One can look at every economic depression or recession since Capitalism can be traced to the overreach of those who can make a profit out of scamming investors and victimizing workers, using the police power of government if needed. Sadly, the Trump Administration is the worst at doing this since the administration of President Herbert Hoover, who did nothing to help failing business, or unemployed, yet highly skilled workers during the Great Depression, and then ordered the Army, under Douglas MacArthur to attack veterans protesting to get their promised pensions from the First World War. Likewise, Hoover’s praise for the Italian dictator Mussolini was condemned by Marine Major General Smedley Butler, with the result that Hoover attempted to have the great Marine prosecuted and tried by Court Martial, the charges were dismissed, but Butler was denied the chance to become Commandant of the Marine Corps, and forced to retire.

Butler would later write the classic War is a Racket which serves as a reminder of how little many supposedly patriotic business leaders and politicians, would so easily defraud their country and at the same time abandon their employees and the soldiers who they claimed to support. Though not a union member, I marched in support of SEIU employees at Cabell-Huntington Hospital in the fall of 1998, and I have consistently spoken about the way workers have been denied collective bargaining, and been defined as “Human Resources” as if they were no better than any other “resource”.

They are considered fungible assets, easily disposed of when their corporation overreaches and places itself in immense debt. I saw that this week when Craftworks Holdings closed our version of Cheers with no notice, and scant severance for non-managerial employees.

So tonight I finish up with an old article about the struggle for workers and their rights.

Until tomorrow,

Peace,

Padre Steve+

Abraham Lincoln, who was perhaps our only President who was a real working man once said, “If any man tells you he loves America, yet hates labor, he is a liar. If any man tells you he trusts America, yet fears labor, he is a fool.” 

It seems that nothing about humanity ever changes, even so it is hard to believe that at one time American workers had no rights and I am not talking about African American slaves who as slaves didn’t even count as human beings. No I’m talking about the people Mel Brooks called in Blazing Saddles: “the white God fearing citizens of Rock Ridge” and for that matter every place and every race in America.

It was not until the mid-1800s in the United States and Europe that workers began to organize and protest for the right to decent wages and working conditions. But this came at a cost; the loss of jobs, homes, property, prison, deportation, deportation, and death.

There were many instances when this cost workers and labor organizers their lives. Employers, often backed by heavily armed private security contractors like the Pinkerton Agency, used deadly force to break up peaceful strikes. In the days of the Robber Barons, when business ran the government at almost every level, employers frequently called in local and state law enforcement, as well as the National Guard, and occasionally Federal troops to break strikes. They played various ethnic and racial groups off of each in order to divide the labor movement. There are hundreds of instances of such violence being used against workers, in some strikes the dead numbered in the hundreds.

                           Troops Putting Down the Pullman Strike 

Some of these attacks on workers occurred in major cities, others at isolated work sites and factories. Some are famous, the Haymarket Massacre of May 4th 1886 in Chicago, the Pullman Strike Massacre of 1894, the Homestead Strike and Massacre of 1892, the Latimer Massacre of 1897, the Ludlow Massacre of 1914, and the Columbine Mine Massacre of 1927.

Others less so, but there was more. In the Bisbee Deportation of 1917 1300 striking miners and their families were deported from their homes in Bisbee Arizona by 2000 armed deputies, put in box cars and transported 200 miles to the New Mexico desert, where without food, water or money they were left. There was the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory Fire where managers locked the doors in order to ensure that the fleeing women workers did not put anything unauthorized in their purses. One hundred forty-four workers, mostly young women died, many jumping from the burning building to their death.

Police and other Onlookers Looking up at the burning Triangle Shirt Factory with the bodies of Women Workers who jumped from it at Their Feet

Early labor organizations such as the Knights of Labor led the effort to bring about better conditions. For doing so they were labeled subversive and even called communists. Their meetings were often attacked and the leaders jailed and some lynched.

                                                      Eugene Debs

The sacrifices of those early workers, and organizers are why we have Labor Day. One of the early American labor leaders was a man named Eugene Debs. Debs eventually became a Socialist, but he said something remarkable which still is as timely as when he uttered the words:

“I am opposing a social order in which it is possible for one man who does absolutely nothing that is useful to amass a fortune of hundreds of millions of dollars, while millions of men and women who work all the days of their lives secure barely enough for a wretched existence.”

I wish that wasn’t true but it is. The Social Darwinists who follow Ayn Rand as if she were the Prophet and who populate Wall Street boardrooms and every major school of business ensure that it is. The disparity between wage laborers and CEOs is higher than it has ever been. But I digress…

On September 5th 1882 the first Labor Day was observed when members of several Unions in New York City organized the first Labor Day parade. The police came armed and ready to intervene if the workers got out of hand, but the parade was peaceful. It ended and the marchers moved over to Wendell’s Elm Park where they had a party. Twenty-five thousand Union men and their families celebrated, with hundreds of kegs of lager beer.

Within a few years many states began to institute Labor days of their own. In 1894, just days after the violent end of the Pullman strike in which Federal troops and Marshalls killed 30 workers and wounded 57 more, Congress and President Grover Cleveland rushed through legislation to establish a Federal Labor Day.

My Great Aunt Goldie Dundas was a labor organizer for the International Ladies Garment Worker’s Union in West Virginia in the 1920s – 1950s. I wish I had gotten to really know her, but she died when I was about 8 or 9 years old. Sadly the workers represented by that Union have had almost all of their jobs in the textile industry outsourced to China, India, Pakistan, the Caribbean, and Bangladesh where cheaply made garments are produced, and workers abused. The examples of mass deaths due to safety issues and fires in Bangladeshi factories are too numerous to list. But then who cares? The fact is you can drive through many parts of the South and see the poverty created by the exodus of these Union employers, the textile industry, which was part of the fabric of the South is gone. Empty factories and poverty stricken towns dot the countryside. I saw a lot of them living in Eastern North Carolina, towns that once thrived are ghost towns, riddled with crime, unemployment and no hope, unless Wal-Mart opens a store in town. Ironically it sells the clothing made overseas that used to be manufactured by the parents, grandparents and great-grandparents of the people who live there today.

Adam Smith, the father of Capitalism understood it in a very different manner than those who claim to be Capitalists today, especially those who inhabit the Trump Administration. He wrote in his magnum opus, The Wealth of All Nations:

“In regards to the price of commodities, the rise of wages operates as simple interest does, the rise of profit operates like compound interest. Our merchants and masters complain much of the bad effects of high wages in raising the price and lessening the sale of goods. They say nothing concerning the bad effects of high profits. They are silent with regard to the pernicious effects of their own gains. They complain only of those of other people.”

The fact is that today, labor is under threat. Unions have been demonized by politicians and pundits and their power and influence much reduced. Some of this was due to their own success in improving conditions from workers, and not just Union workers. When my dad retired from the Navy in 1974, he went to work at one of the few non-Union warehouses of the John Deere Company in Stockton, California. While they were not union, the workers received every benefit won by the majority of the workers in the company who were members of the United Auto Workers Union. Due to that my dad had high wages, excellent working conditions and benefits. The company had a program for the children of workers, which allowed them to work in the summer in the warehouse and receive incredibly high pay and benefits while in college. I did that for two years, and it helped pay for much of my college. I was not a union member but I benefited because Union men and leaders did the hard work to make that job happen.

However, in many places, Unions and labor are under attack, sometimes not just by corporations, but also by state governments, and now the Federal Government. Job security and stability for most American workers is a thing of the past. Federal and State agencies charged with protecting those rights, including safety in the workplace are being cut in the mad rush to reduce government power. Corporations are offshoring and outsourcing jobs without regard to American workers or the country itself. Part of that is due to globalization and I understand that, but these companies frequently relocate jobs to places where they can exploit workers, deny them benefits, pay them less, and suffer no penalty for ignoring safety procedures or harming the environment. It seems to me that we are returning to the days of the Robber Barons. I wonder when violence against workers and those who support them will be condoned or simply ignored.

Pope Leo XIII wrote in his encyclical Renum Novarum:

“The following duties . . . concern rich men and employers: Workers are not to be treated as slaves; justice demands that the dignity of human personality be respected in them, … gainful occupations are not a mark of shame to man, but rather of respect, as they provide him with an honorable means of supporting life. It is shameful and inhuman, however, to use men as things for gain and to put no more value on them than what they are worth in muscle and energy.”

He also wrote:

“Equity therefore commands that public authority show proper concern for the worker so that from what he contributes to the common good he may receive what will enable him, housed, clothed, and secure, to live his life without hardship. Whence, it follows that all those measures ought to be favored which seem in any way capable of benefiting the condition of workers. Such solicitude is so far from injuring anyone, that it is destined rather to benefit all, because it is of absolute interest to the State that those citizens should not be miserable in every respect from whom such necessary goods proceed.”

But sadly there are far too few church leaders of any denomination who will take the side of workers or the poor, and when they do they are either condemned by the disciples of Ayn Rand or politely thanked and ignored by politicians and corporate leaders.

So please, when you celebrate Labor Day, do not forget that it is important, and that we should not forget why we celebrate it. If we forget that, it will become a meaningless holiday and our children may have to make the same sacrifices of our ancestors.

Labor Day is a day to remember the men and women, some of them former soldiers, workers, labor organizers, and leaders; some of whom were killed by National Guard and Federal troops for their effort, who paved the way for workers today. We cannot forget that. So when you see a politician attacking Labor and seeking to diminish workers rights or benefits ask them what Abraham Lincoln or Adam Smith would think. If they can’t answer, turn your backs on them and start fighting for what is right.


AFP PHOTO/FILES (Photo credit should read AFP/AFP/Getty Images)

Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., who always stood for the rights of workers no-matter what their race, creed, or color, said:

“We must rapidly begin the shift from a “thing-oriented” society to a “person-oriented” society. When machines and computers, profit motives and property rights are considered more important than people, the giant triplets of racism, materialism, and militarism are incapable of being conquered.” 

Likewise, one cannot forget that Dr. King was assassinated when he went to Memphis to support the Memphis Sanitation Worker strike.

This my friends is why Labor and the protection of working people from those who abase them, mistreat them, and exploit them for profit is so important. What passes for Capitalism today is a cruel form Social Darwinism that Adam Smith wouldn’t recognize. It is slavery without chains, called Right to Work which destroys families by making both parents work just to keep afloat, and in ways that separate them from their children. Racial and ethnic minorities pay a higher price than white suburbia, as do poor whites in the South, Midwest, and Appalachia, the latter who due to conservative regions beliefs, and racism, support by electing people bent on killing their jobs, economic, and educational prospects.

The fact is my friends is the truth. It’s an incredibly uncomfortable subject to discuss, but if we have a choice. We can join the perpetrators and use people to advance our own interests; we can be victims, or worse, we can be bystanders, who turn our backs and allow such evils to continue.

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


Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

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

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

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

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

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

“Do you exist? I think not. I have never seen you or touched you or felt you. Well, sometimes I think you’re present but that may be wish fulfillment. Intellectually, I have no reason to believe. Yet much of the time I act like I do believe …. Only when I have time to reflect do I feel doubts, and then after the doubts certainty that the universe is cold and lonely. I know that I am a hypocrite and a fool. Then I preside over the Eucharist in my unsteady bumbling way and I know that you are. I don’t believe but I know.”

The words reflected what I was going through. I believed, but I didn’t. Of course that would not only continue as my tour in Iraq progressed but got worse after I returned from Iraq. However, I discovered, much to my surprise that I was not alone. That there were a number of other very good, caring Chaplains, Priests and ministers going through similar doubts, fears and pain.

The irrepressible Bishop Blackie continued:

“Most priests, if they have any sense or any imagination, wonder if they truly believe all the things they preach. Like Jean-Claude they both believe and not believe at the same time.”

The words were and still remain an epiphany to me. Belief and unbelief co-existing simultaneously, yet in a way strangely congruent with the testimony of scripture, the anguished words of a man whose son was possessed by an evil spirit confessing to Jesus: “I believe, help my unbelief.” Maybe that is why in the Liturgy of the Eucharist we proclaim the mystery of faith, or as it is translated from Latin into German Geheimnis des Glaubens. That mystery, is that Christ has died, Christ has risen, Christ will come again. That really is the mystery of what Christians call faith

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

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

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

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

Peace,

Padre Steve+

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


Father Brown

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

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

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

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

In the novel Bishop Blackie makes a comment after celebrating Mass in the cathedral at Seville. He said “Every sacramental encounter is an evangelical occasion. A smile warm and happy is sufficient. If people return to the pews with a smile, it’s been a good day for them. If the priest smiles after the exchanges of grace, it may be the only good experience of the week.”  (The Archbishop in Andalusia p.77) Honestly, I think that should be the place of the Priest  in every encounter, even those that are not sacramental. It should be an everyday part of our lives. That being said there are times that a Priest, Minister, Rabbi, Imam, or other clergy person can be beaten down by life, and even by the leaders of the institutions that they serve. I such cases it is often hard to smile or be compassionate to others because we, at that point are empty vessels, at best hoping and praying that we will again find meaning and joy in our vocations, or succumbing to the pain of rejection and evil committed by clerical leaders in the name of God.

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

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

When I was going through my most difficult times of doubt after Iraq it was Father Andrew Greeley’s Bishop Blackie Ryan mysteries that kept a spark of hope and faith alive in my life. In his novel The Bishop and the Beggar Girl of St. Germain, Bishop Blackie noted “Most priests, if they have any sense or any imagination, wonder if they truly believe all the things they preach. Like Jean-Claude they both believe and not believe at the same time.” I can say truthfully that I know what that is like.

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

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

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

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

But, where was I?

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

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

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

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

Until tomorrow, Peace

Peace,

Padre Steve+

 

 

 

 

 

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