Category Archives: spirituality

Christmas in the Cauldron: Dr. Kurt Reuber and the Madonna of Stalingrad

Bundeswehr zeigt "Stalingrad"-Ausstellung

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

It is Christmas Eve and I am reflecting about the true meaning of Christmas in a world where hope seems to be dying before our eyes. In such an environment I reflect on men who lived in a human made hell, a hell made by hate filled ideologues who launched the world into its bloodiest war and Genocide and I wonder, could it happen again? A decade ago I would have said it never could again happen, but now I am not so sure. After the ravages that Donald Trump leveled on the world, promoting instability, lawlessness, enabling and emboldening enemies of the United States and our allies, coupled with the Coronavirus 19 Pandemic I must try to find hope wherever I can find it.

I think most of my readers know that I am a very soon to be retired career military officer and have served in peace and war as a chaplain. That service includes a tour in Iraq, a war, which by almost any standard would have been considered unjust and illegal, yet I served there, and came back a changed man. As such the stories of those who served in war, especially those who serve in hopeless battles, and even in evil causes during Christmas have a special place in my heart. One of those men was a German Lutheran Pastor and Medical Doctor named Kurt Reuber.

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A Self-Portrait of Reuber

As I said, Reuber was a theologian, pastor and medical doctor, likewise he was an accomplished artist and used that medium to convey his own faith, and doubts. He was a friend of Albert Schweitzer and in 1939 he was conscripted to serve as a physician in the Germany Army. He was opposed to the Nazis and had a love of the Russian people, who when he was not treating German wounded attempted to care for, especially the children. He was also an artist who used what he could to draw portraits of soldiers to send home to their families. Many of these still exist.

By November 1942 he was a seasoned military physician serving with the 16th Panzer Division, part of the German 6th Army, which had been fighting in the hell of Stalingrad. When his division along with most of 6th Army was surrounded by the Soviets, cut off from most supply and without real hope of relief, he like other physicians continued to serve the soldiers committed to his care.

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However, unlike most physicians, the care Reuber offered care included spiritual matters, as he sought to help his soldiers deal with the hopelessness of their situation. As Reuber reflected on the desperation of the German soldiers in the Stalingrad pocket. He wrote to his family.

“I wondered for a long while what I should paint, and in the end I decided on a Madonna, or mother and child. I have turned my hole in the frozen mud into a studio. The space is too small for me to be able to see the picture properly, so I climb on to a stool and look down at it from above, to get the perspective right. Everything is repeatedly knocked over, and my pencils vanish into the mud. There is nothing to lean my big picture of the Madonna against, except a sloping, home-made table past which I can just manage to squeeze. There are no proper materials and I have used a Russian map for paper. But I wish I could tell you how absorbed I have been painting my Madonna, and how much it means to me.”

“The picture looks like this: the mother’s head and the child’s lean toward each other, and a large cloak enfolds them both. It is intended to symbolize ‘security’ and ‘mother love.’ I remembered the words of St. John: light, life, and love. What more can I add? I wanted to suggest these three things in the homely and common vision of a mother with her child and the security that they represent.”

The picture was drawn with charcoal on the back of a captured Soviet map and depicted a Russian Madonna and child. When he finished it he displayed it in his bunker, which became something of a shrine to German soldiers. Reuber wrote:

“When according to ancient custom I opened the Christmas door, the slatted door of our bunker, and the comrades went in, they stood as if entranced, devout and too moved to speak in front of the picture on the clay wall…The entire celebration took place under the influence of the picture, and they thoughtfully read the words: light, life, love…Whether commander or simple soldier, the Madonna was always an object of outward and inward contemplation.”

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As the siege continued men came to the bunker for both medical care and spiritual solace.  On Christmas Eve Reuber found himself treating a number of men wounded by bombs outside the bunker. Another soldier lay dying, just minutes before the soldier had been in the bunker singing the Christmas hymn O Du Froehliche.  Reuber wrote:

“I spent Christmas evening with the other doctors and the sick. The Commanding Officer had presented the letter with his last bottle of Champagne. We raised our mugs and drank to those we love, but before we had had a chance to taste the wine we had to throw ourselves flat on the ground as a stick of bombs fell outside. I seized my doctor’s bag and ran to the scene of the explosions, where there were dead and wounded. My shelter with its lovely Christmas decorations became a dressing station. One of the dying men had been hit in the head and there was nothing more I could do for him. He had been with us at our celebration, and had only that moment left to go on duty, but before he went he had said: ‘I’ll finish the carol with first. O du Frohliche!” A few moments later he was dead. There was plenty of hard and sad work to do in our Christmas shelter. It is late now, but it is Christmas night still. And so much sadness everywhere.”

On January 9th 1943 with all hope of escape or reinforcement gone Reuber gave the picture to the battalion commander as the officer was too ill to carry on and that man was one of the last soldiers to be evacuated from the pocket. Reuber’s commander carried the Madonna out of the pocket and returned it delivered it to Reuber’s family, preserving it for all.

Reuber was taken prisoner and survived the harrowing winter march to the Yelabuga prison camp. In late 1943 Reuber wrote his Christmas Letter to a German Wife and Mother – Advent 1943. It was a spiritual reflection but also a reflection on the hope for life after the war, when the Nazi regime would be defeated, and Germany given a new birth.

In a farewell letter to his wife that accompanied his portrait out of Stalingrad he wrote:

“Look in the child the firstborn of a new humanity, born in pain, outshining all darkness and sadness. Let it be for us a symbol of a victorious and joyful life in the future, which we want to love more genuinely and warmly after all of death’s experiences, a life, which is worth living only if it is radiating light and pure warm love.” 

I wonder if the American Christians that continue to swear fealty to President Trump despite the elector defeat he continues to deny will ever have the capacity to reflect and repent for the evil they helped support. Sadly, twenty or so years ago I would have likely been part of Trump’s cult of “Christian” followers, or if not a part of the cult, a bystander who helped him by choosing to ignore the evil out of Party loyalty. Thankfully my tour in Iraq cured me of that and because I left the GOP was not deceived by Trump.

Reuber wrote at Yelabuga:

“The concatenation of guilt and fate has opened our eyes wide to the guilt. You know, perhaps we will be grateful at the end of our present difficult path yet once again that we will be granted true salvation and liberation of the individual and the nation by apparent disappointment of our “anticipation of Advent”, by all of the suffering of last year’s as well as this year’s Christmas. According to ancient tradition, the Advent season is simultaneously the season of self-reflection. So at the very end, facing ruin, in death’s grip – what a revaluation of values has taken place in us! We thus want to use this period of waiting as inner preparation for a meaningful new existence and enterprise in our family, in our vocation, in the nation. The Christmas light of joy is already shining in the midst of our Advent path of death as a celebration of the birth of a new age in which – as hard as it may also be – we want to prove ourselves worthy of the newly given life.”  (Erich Wiegand in Kurt Reuber, Pastor, Physician, Painter, Evangelischer Medienverb. Kassel 2004. )

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Reuber did not live to see that day. He died of Typhus on January 20th 1944, at Yelabuga not long after writing this and about a month after painting another portrait of the Madonna, this one entitled The Prisoner’s Madonna. He was not alone, of the approximately 95,000 German POWs taken at Stalingrad only about 6,000 returned home.

His paintings survived the war and his family gave The Madonna of Stalingrad to the Kaiser Wilhelm Memorial Church in Berlin after it was restored as a symbol of hope and reconciliation. Copies are also displayed in Coventry Cathedral and the Russian Orthodox Cathedral in Volgograd, the former Stalingrad. A copy of The Prisoner’s Madonna is now displayed at the Church of the Resurrection in Kassel.

I have a print of the Madonna of Stalingrad in my office since until a few weeks ago. I have it at home but I think I have to wait in until we sell our townhome and move to a new place before I can display it in my home office. It has become one of the most meaningful pictures I have since I returned from Iraq in 2008. I miss looking on it every day. To me the print is a symbol of God’s presence when God seems entirely absent.

Praying for an end to war, the Coronavirus Pandemic and the hell of the past several years.

Peace and Merry Christmas,

Padre Steve+

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“The Wrong Shall Fail, the Right Prevail” I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day in the Final Days of Trump

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

After another long day, most of it spent in the Dental Clinic getting examined, x-rayed and when that cut into the time to do the concluding work on the root canal. So I had to go back in the afternoon. In between I went to deal with making sure the lady correcting my DD-214. So from 8:00 to 9:00 AM, that’s 0800-0900 military time, I was getting x-rayed and prodded. From nine to 1215 on the road and working on my personnel records to correct the DD-214 before being in the chair another couple of hours getting prepped and completing what had been started a couple of weeks ago. The problem was that in dental-speak the inside of that molar had “unusual architecture” only found in about 6% of people. That being said the did well, I suffered no undo pain, was informed that the other teeth they checked were not in need of any immediate treatment and for that I am glad. But I digress…

I could be writing about the travails being inflicted on the country and the world by our soon to be former President Donald Trump, but I do enough of that. Christmas is coming and even when I don’t explicitly write about Trump the message of the season stands against him and against all that he stands. Frankly I couldn’t give a horses patoot what his Court Following of Evangelical Christian Leaders or his Cult of badly compromised Conservative, Evangelical, Charismatic, Pentecostal, and Catholic followers, who choose him over Christ on a daily basis.

I cannot be part of that despite what such people call me on social media and in comments I will not approve on this blog. Christmas of 2020 comes amid social and religious turmoil not seen since the 1850s that led up to the American Civil War. The rhetoric across the politic spectrum is becoming more uncompromising, and especially in the case of Trump supporters tinged by threats of violence, and even killing political opponents, and this is condoned by supposedly Christian people. Trump demands their fealty and most regardless of the reality of his election loss many if not most continue to worship at his electroplated golden calf.

It is in such times that I reach back to history and often music that came out of the tumult. The American Civil War was such an occasion.

The great American poet Henry Wadsworth Longfellow penned these words of hope on Christmas Day, 1863:

“God is not dead, nor doth He sleep; The wrong shall fail, the right prevail With peace on earth, good will to men.”

Christmas is coming and I feel that Longfellow’s words are as pertinent today as when he first penned them. The thought of what is to come in the next few years, in the United States and in many other liberal democracies bodes ill for our future as authoritarian and often xenophobic leaders like Trump rise to power. The world that we grew up is is passing away, and what comes in its place, a dystopian world where hope will be a rare commodity beckons.

Longfellow’s words became the heart of the song I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day.  I have heard it a number of times in the past few days and each time it really touches me, because it is real. In it reality and faith come face to face, and both win. No-matter what Trump and his cult do, they will fail and the right will prevail.

The song has been recorded in a number of versions by different artists over the years. However, the words of the song go back to the American Civil War. Longfellow on Christmas Day 1863 following the serious wounding of his son Charles, a Lieutenant in the Union Army at the Battle of New Hope Church during the Mine Run Campaign (not to be confused with a battle of the same name outside Atlanta in 1864) and the death of his wife in a fire two years before. Longfellow had much to despair about, but he maintained a faith in God, as well as the founding principles of the United States.

Longfellow’s words are haunting. Probably because they demonstrate the profound tension that lies at the heart of the Incarnation, which is the heart of Christmas and the Christian faith. the tension, played out so well in the song is the existence of a message of peace and reconciliation in a world where war and hatred of many kinds rip human beings apart coupled with the tragic inability of Christendom, especially American Conservative Evangelicalism to even come close to the message of Christmas.

I heard the bells on Christmas day

Their old familiar carols play,

And wild and sweet the words repeat

Of peace on earth, good will to men.

I thought how, as the day had come,

The belfries of all Christendom

Had rolled along th’ unbroken song

Of peace on earth, good will to men.

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The reality of this is seen in the third verse. It is a verse that echoes throughout history and seems to be true even today, in fact it seems to be the most real as we deal with war, hatred, terrorism, killing in the name of God, and political fratricide.

And in despair I bowed my head

“There is no peace on earth,” I said,

“For hate is strong and mocks the song

Of peace on earth, good will to men.”

The interesting part about the songs as opposed to the poem is that they omit three of Longfellow’s verses that admittedly in a reunited country would not help record sales. Those verses speak to the heart of the Civil War.

Till ringing, singing on its way,
The world revolved from night to day,

A voice, a chime,

A chant sublime

Of peace on earth, good-will to men!

Then from each black, accursed mouth
The cannon thundered in the South,

And with the sound

The carols drowned

Of peace on earth, good-will to men!

It was as if an earthquake rent
The hearth-stones of a continent,

And made forlorn

The households born

Of peace on earth, good-will to men!

But Longfellow hears in the bells something more powerful. It is the message of Christmas and the incarnation. The message that justice and peace will finally embrace.

Then pealed the bells more loud and deep:

“God is not dead, nor doth He sleep;

The wrong shall fail, the right prevail

With peace on earth, good will to men.”

Till ringing, singing on its way

The world revolved from night to day,

A voice, a chime, a chant sublime

Of peace on earth, good will to men.

The song has been recorded many times by many artists. I like the version sung by Frank Sinatra, which the music was composed by Johnny Marks, composer of Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer. Another earlier version composed by John Baptiste Calkin has been recorded by Elvis Presley and Johnny Cash among others.

As wars rage in the Middle East, tensions rise in Asia, Africa and even Eastern Europe while the Unholy Trinity of Politicians, Pundits and Preachers, led by the American President rage as we go into another, and even more perilous year with the possibility of nuclear war more probably than not, people still look for hope.

Longfellow, who lost so much in a short time in the midst of a terrible Civil War, reminds us that in such times, “God is not dead, nor doth He sleep; The wrong shall fail, the right prevail With peace on earth, good will to men.”

In a time like this when the world led by the American President seems to be hurtling into the abyss, it is important to remember Longfellow’s words and the message of Christ and the Incarnation. The child born as an outcast in a manger would die as a criminal, crucified by an occupying power with the full support of the leaders of the occupied country. As the German theologian Jurgen Moltmann wrote:

“He humbles himself and takes upon himself the eternal death of the godless and the godforsaken, so that all the godless and the godforsaken can experience communion with him.” 

Yes, the wrong shall fail, and the right prevail, but it in the age of Trump it will certainly involve much travail. As for the travail, it is just beginning.

Until tomorrow,

Peace

Padre Steve+

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Please Christmas Don’t Be Late, But But Wear a Mask: Some Mostly Silly Christmas Songs

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

After a long day of medical appointments including an MRI to ensure my brain isn’t leaking into my nose. No kidding, it’s something they have to rule out before doing a biopsy of a growth there that regardless of what it is, so long as it is not brain needs to come out. Of course it might be the sane part trying to escape, but as usual I digress, but in the midst of all I think I need to spread a bit of cheer on a dark COVID-19 Winter night, unless you are reading this with the sun up.

I get sentimental when I hear Christmas songs of almost any genre. That sentimentality ranges from the hymns of the season such as Silent Night, The First Noel, or Joy to the World. Likewise I find the hymns of Advent like O Come, O Come Immanuel and Es ist Ein Ros Ensprungen (Lo, how a Rose e’re Blooming) to be songs of hope in dark times.

I have shared many of my Christmas favorites each year. This year I haven’t done much of that. But tonight I am going to share some of my favorite non-religious and sometimes funny Christmas songs. I suppose this goes back to my earliest days when as a three to four year old living in the Philippines and my parents bought me David Seville and the Chipmunks Christmas Album, which included the song Christmas Don’t Be Late. 

That came to mind when I had to make sure that our Papillons, especially our puppy Maddy Lyn who is sweet, scary smart and always looking for trouble. She was doing that tonight when I asked what she was doing. She turned around and gave me the “Moi?” look. She is mischievous but so damned funny and sweet. But she is not alone, we have our little boy, Pierre who is sure that he is French royalty. He and Maddy Lyn are about the same size and over the past couple of months they have become buddies once Pierre’s high horse died. Then there is our big girl, Izzy Bella, the sweetest enforcer around. She is bigger than both of the little ones combined, she’s a big Papillon and is drop-dead gorgeous.


Maddie in Time-Out in Judy’s Art Room 

Maddy Lyn and Pierre 


Maddy Lyn and Daddy on the Road

Izzy and his Big Girl Izzy Bella

So anyway, here are my favorite non-religious Christmas songs. Some are sentimental, some irreverent, but I love them all.

Until tomorrow,

Peace,

Padre Steve+

 

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A Christmas Coda: Joyeux Noel and My Call after the Military

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Friends of Padre Steve’s World

As a veteran who served in the badlands of Al Anbar Province during Christmas of 2007 I can relate to Father Palmer, the British priest and chaplain in the film Joyeux Noel (Merry Christmas) when he makes the comment “I belong with those who are in pain, and who have lost their faith, I belong here.”

I again watched that film tonight. The film is the story of the amazing and exceptional Christmas Truce of 1914. It is a film that each time I see it that I discover something new, more powerful than the last time I viewed it. It reminds me of serving in Iraq, at Christmas from my perspective as a Chaplain, and thereby giving voice to those who serve now, as well as those who served God’s people in hellish places before me. It reminds me of how much I hate war, and how much I often hate the clergy who are all too often, bloodthirsty

 

As a Chaplain I am drawn to the actions of the British Padre in the film, who during the truce conducts a Mass for all the soldiers, British, French and German in no-man’s land, who goes about caring for the soldiers both the living and the dead. His actions are contrasted with his Bishop who comes to relieve him of his duties and to urge on the replacement soldiers to better kill the Germans.

As the Chaplain begins to provide the last Rites to a dying soldier the Bishop walks in, in full purple cassock frock coat and hat and the chaplain looks up and kisses his ring.

As the chaplain looks at his clerical superior there is a silence and the Bishop looks sternly at the priest and addresses him:

“You’re being sent back to your parish in Scotland. I’ve brought you your marching orders.”

Stunned the Priest replies: “I belong with those who are in pain, and who have lost their faith, I belong here.”

The Bishop then sternly lectures the Priest: “I am very disappointed you know. When you requested permission to accompany the recruits from your parish I personally vouched for you. But then when I heard what happened I prayed for you.”

The Priest humbly and respectfully yet with conviction responds to his superior: “I sincerely believe that our Lord Jesus Christ guided me in what was the most important Mass of my life. I tried to be true to his trust and carry his message to all, whoever they may be.”

The Bishop seems a bit taken aback but then blames the Chaplain for what will next happen to the Soldiers that he has served with in the trenches: “Those men who listened to you on Christmas Eve will very soon bitterly regret it; because in a few days time their regiment is to be disbanded by the order of His Majesty the King. Where will those poor boys end up on the front line now? And what will their families think?”

They are interrupted when a soldier walks in to let the Bishop know that the new soldiers are ready for his sermon. After acknowledging the messenger the Bishop continues: “They’re waiting for me to preach a sermon to those who are replacing those who went astray with you.” He gets ready to depart and continues: “May our Lord Jesus Christ guide your steps back to the straight and narrow path.”

The Priest looks at him and asks: “Is that truly the path of our Lord?”

The Bishop looks at the Priest and asks what I think is the most troubling question: “You’re not asking the right question. Think on this: are you really suitable to remain with us in the house of Our Lord?”

With that the Bishop leaves and goes on to preach. The words of the sermon are from a 1915 sermon preached by an Anglican Bishop in Westminster Abbey. They reflect the poisonous aspects of many religious leaders on all sides of the Great War, but also many religious leaders of various faiths even today, sadly I have to say Christian leaders are among the worst when it comes to inciting violence against those that they perceive as enemies of the Church, their nation or in some cases their political faction within this country.

I was reminded of that last night and today as the now Impeached President called upon and received the fealty and obedience of his Imperial Court Clergy, and the ever faithful cult of conservative and Evangelical Christians while pledging to destroy his enemies. In such a time I cannot

The Bishop who relieved Father Palmer went on to preach a sermon to newly arrived troops.

“Christ our Lord said, “Think not that I come to bring peace on earth. I come not to bring peace, but a sword.” The Gospel according to St. Matthew. Well, my brethren, the sword of the Lord is in your hands. You are the very defenders of civilization itself. The forces of good against the forces of evil. For this war is indeed a crusade! A holy war to save the freedom of the world. In truth I tell you: the Germans do not act like us, neither do they think like us, for they are not, like us, children of God. Are those who shell cities populated only by civilians the children of God? Are those who advanced armed hiding behind women and children the children of God? With God’s help, you must kill the Germans, good or bad, young or old. Kill every one of them so that it won’t have to be done again.”

The sermon is chilling and had it not been edited by the director would have contained the remark actually said by the real Bishop that the Germans “crucified babies on Christmas.” Of course that was typical of the propaganda of the time and similar to things that religious leaders of all faiths use to demonize their opponents and stir up violence in the name of their God.

When the Bishop leaves the Priest finishes his ministration to the wounded while listening to the words of the Bishop who is preaching not far away in the trenches. He meditates upon his simple cross, takes it off, kisses it hand hangs it upon a tripod where a container of water hangs.

The scene is chilling for a number of reasons. First is the obvious, the actions of a religious leader to denigrate the efforts of some to bring the Gospel of Peace into the abyss of Hell of earth and then to incite others to violence dehumanizing the enemy forces. The second and possibly even more troubling is to suggest that those who do not support dehumanizing and exterminating the enemy are not suitable to remain in the house of the Lord. Since I have had people, some in person and others on social media say similar things to what the Bishop asks Palmer the scene hits close to home.

When I left Iraq in February 2008 I felt that I was abandoning those committed to my spiritual care, but my time was up. Because of it I missed going with some of my advisors to Basra with the 1st Iraqi Division to retake that city from insurgents. It was only a bit over a month after I had celebrated what I consider to be my most important Masses of my life at COP South and COP North on December 23rd as well as Christmas Eve and Christmas Day. In fact until very recently they were really the last masses that I felt the mystery and awe of the love of God that I used to so much feel.

When I left Iraq the new incoming senior Chaplain refused to take my replacement leaving our advisers without dedicated support. He then slandered me behind my back because what I was doing was not how he would do things and because I and my relief were under someone else’s operational control. It is funny how word gets back to you when people talk behind your back. Thankfully he is now retired from the Navy and I feel for any ministers of his denomination under his “spiritual” care. So I cannot forget those days and every time I think about them, especially around Christmas I am somewhat melancholy and why I can relate so much to Father Palmer in the movie. While I cannot prove it I do believe, and have heard from others who used to work at the Chief of Chaplains office that I have been shunned and punished by past and present leaders of the Chaplain Corps because of my witness in being open about my struggles with faith and PTSD. A can recount a number of incidents that would be of circumstantial evidence, but I digress. That being said I am much better off for that experience than I would be had it not occurred.

It has been thirteen years since those Christmas Masses and they still feel like yesterday. In the intervening years my life has been different. Just a year later I was walking home from church where my wife was to sing in the choir during the Christmas vigil mass. I couldn’t handle the crowds, the noise, and I felt so far away from God. That night I walked home in the dark looking up into the sky asking God if he still was there. If there had been a bar on the way home I would have stopped by and poured myself in.

Since Iraq I have dealt with severe and chronic PTSD, depression, anxiety and insomnia were coupled with a two year period where due to my struggles I lost faith, was for all practical purposes an agnostic. I felt abandoned by God, but even more so and maybe more importantly by my former church and most other Chaplains. It was like being radioactive, there was and is a stigma for Chaplains that admits to PTSD and go through a faith crisis, especially from other Chaplains and Clergy. It was just before Christmas in late 2009 that faith began to return in what I call my Christmas Miracle. But be sure, let no one tell you differently, no Soldier, Sailor, Marine or Airman who has suffered the trauma of war and admitted to PTSD does not feel the stigma that goes with it, and sadly, despite the best efforts of many there is a stigma.

Now that faith is different and I have become much more skeptical of the motivations of religious leaders, especially those that demonize and dehumanize those that do not believe like them or fully support their cause or agenda. Unfortunately there are far too many men and women who will use religion to do that, far too many. Unlike a few years ago they now occupy the seat of political power as sycophants of our soon to be ex-President, offering no prophetic voice but speaking the words of death covered in the veneer of the Christian faith.

As for me I had the floor kicked from out from under me in the summer of 2014 and it has been a hard fight and while I am beginning to get back to some sense of normal it is a day to day thing. I still suffer the effects of the PTSD, especially the insomnia, nightmares and the nightmares which came back with a vengeance that summer. I have a REM sleep disorder in which my body doesn’t shut down when I get into REM sleep. This reacts well with the Nightmare and Night Terror disorders because I act out my responses to those terrors. In 2014 I ended up with a visit to the medical clinic with a concussion and sprained jaw and neck. In 2016 I broke my nose, and dark and early this morning I busted my head open  requiring 9 stitches, 2 deep ones and 7 on top. Thankfully Judy got my stubborn ass to the ER. Coupled with my other ongoing maladies of the past couple of months I am really getting too old for this shit.

As for faith, I do believe again, more often than not, though at the same time I doubt. Though I believe I think I still consider myself to be a Christian Agnostic who echoes the cry of the man who cried out to Jesus, “Lord I believe, help my unbelief!” I believe and yet, I don’t and I don’t think that is a bad thing, I think it helps me understand those who no longer believe, those that struggle, and those who raised as Christians have left the faith.

Like the Priest in Joyeux Noel I know that my place is with those who are “in pain, and who have lost their faith.” For me this may no longer be on the battlefield as I will be retired, unless some massive war breaks out and they start calling back recent retirees to service. That has happened before and the Soviets, Chicoms and Iranians aren’t taking time off for Christmas.

However, that being said I will strive to be there for those that struggle with faith and believe, especially those who struggle because of what they saw and experienced during war and when they returned home. Three years ago I hosted the NATO contingent at my former chapel, and had the honor of preaching an Advent message in German.

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Over the last year of my service I continued speak truth to those in power and those whose faithfulness is more a product of their comfort with the God that they create in their own mind rather than the Crucified God wise death on the Cross s a scandal. For many Christians the scandal of the cross is too easy to avoid by surrounding ourselves with pet theologies that appeal to our pride, prejudice and power. The kind of malevolent power represented by the bishop in Joyeux Noel as well as the leaders of the so called “Conservative Evangelicals” who supported a President who says “Merry Christmas” even as he continues to defecate on all who believe in the God who became incarnate as a helpless babe in a manger and who died on a cross.  Last year I saw a mocking meme of Trump saying “Merry Christmas” as he holds a bigger than life Bible to his chest from a very conservative evangelical friend on Facebook, it was blasphemous. Those people remind me of the hate filled nationalist British Bishop.

The French mystic Simone Weil said “He who has not God in himself cannot feel His absence.” I think that sums up the President and his ardent Evangelical supporters. I don’t think they would recognize Christ if he walked among them and would have been among those shouting “Crucify him!” but of course I could be wrong in some individual cases.

So, this Christmas, like the theologian Paul Tillich I have come to believe  that “Sometimes I think it is my mission to bring faith to the faithless, and doubt to the faithful.”  In other words I am going to be faithful to the Crucified Christ and remain a complete pain in the ass to them until the day that I die, a real Padre Smedley if you get my drift.

Once again I watched Joyeux Noel, and as usual I cried. Though I had my retirement ceremony Monday, and am officially retired on 31 December and I am praying for peace in hopes that someday it becomes real. St. Francis prayed:

Lord, make me an instrument of Your peace;
Where there is hated, let me sow love;
Where there is injury, pardon;
Where there is discord, harmony;
Where there is error, truth;
Where there is doubt, faith;
Where there is despair, hope;
Where there is darkness, light;
And where there is sadness, joy.
O Divine Master, Grant that I may no so much seek
To be consoled as to console;
To be understood as to understand;

To be loved as to love.
For it is in giving that we receive;
It is in pardoning that we are pardoned;
And it is in dying hat we are born into eternal life. 

After all, I still belong with those who are in pain, and who have lost their faith, whether I am in the Navy or not.

So until tomorrow,

Praying for Peace this Christmas,

Padre Steve+

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Lying and Dying Every Single Day: Trump Continues at the Final Debate

Friends of Padre Steve’s

I reluctantly watched the train wreck of a debate between President Trump and former Vice President Joe Biden. To his credit the President pretty much to the debate format, a first in this election season, although he did try to steamroll the moderator more and more as the debate went on. He looked angry, for some reason, I thought his orange tint was a shade darker, it made his angry eyes stand out. But anyway, I digress.

As far as the debate went some issues were discussed and both men stuck to their script, Biden did nothing to harm his campaign and despite a few times where he to a lesser extent than the President uttered a few phrases of  word salad, but generally stayed on topic and hit Trump pretty hard a number of times. The President’s best line of attack was was near the end of the debate he attacked Biden on the transition to a non-fossil fuel driven economy and the push for zero emissions. Of course the Vice President’s ideas make sense and the United has to lead the world in this direction. But Trump used it to try to make his case as a friend of the oil industry, especially in Pennsylvania and Texas. I don’t know how many votes he swayed with the argument but it was really the only time that he might have got some people to not abandon him, but in doing so he also dehumanized poor and mostly black or Mexican people who live in the communities Just outside the fence lines of refineries and plants. He insinuated that they benefitted through jobs at them, but that is not the case. Most currently employed oil workers, are suburbanites who make enough money to live well away from the toxin spewing plants and refineries they work. As always the President lied about the effect on the economy, and the people who would be effected by the change, heck even the oil companies are beginning to diversify into wind, solar and other renewable energy sources.

Unfortunately lying is his baseline and he seldom deviated from it. Biden made some factual errors but they did not come across as outright lies. Likewise,

I had to start drinking early because the President lied continuously and with such warp speed that I could not keep track of all of them. His heartlessness was revealed so many times that as Priest and Christian I was overwhelmed at his repetition of so many disproved conspiracy theories, absolute lies, and the realization that Donald Trump does not care about the lives of any person than him, even his supporters based on his answers to the disaster that his administration had been regarding the Coronavirus 19 pandemic. The President claimed that cases were going down, that excess deaths were down, deaths were down, and that vaccines would soon be here and distributed by the military.

He told of his make believe world with a happy ending, when with COVID-19 there is no happy ending, no magical silver bullet that is going to make it go away. On the day of the debate the United States record its highest number of infections ever, and Friday the infections soared by almost 6,000 more than Thursday, 81,210 new infections and over 900 new deaths. The worst rates of infection were per million people were as follow: North Dakota, South Dakota, Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, Florida, Iowa, Tennessee, Arkansas, Georgia, South Carolina, Wisconsin, Arizona, Nebraska, Idaho, Utah, Texas, Nevada, Illinois, and Oklahoma. Those are the top twenty. Sadly, most of the infections and deaths in these states were not in the initial surge, but after months of negligence and political malfeasance of the Trump Administration, and the mostly Republican governments of these states, many of which opened quickly, reopened schools, and for the most part have poor public health systems and few intensive care beds. The spike in deaths hasn’t begun yet, but they will and the President will again be shown to be a liar, whose refusal to deal with facts, attacks the scientist and doctors that tell the truth, and attempts to mislead every American.

During the debate he spoke like Hitler in the last months of World War II that said that Germany would be delivered from defeat by new miraculous weapons, and a split between the Allies, when every German military leader and industrial expert knew that Hitler’s Germany was doomed to defeat. Like Hitler, he blames those who were responsible for his early successes at fault for his defeat, and blames the professional military and intelligence officers, diplomats, scientists, and even long term followers for being disloyal not to the nation, but to him.

He promised an effective way vaccine that neither the drug companies or any experts will be available in sufficient numbers until next summer or fall. Then he promised that this miracle vaccine would be distributed by the military. That my friends is complete hogwash. Our military is not designed to distribute millions of vaccines across the country. Our medical departments have been cut to the bone by the Trump administration in order to provide more “trigger pullers” and our reserve and National Guard medical personnel have civilian jobs, most of which involve staffing medical centers, research institutions, hospitals, clinics, and private practices all of which are already engaged in the battle against COVID-19. and by the way the readiness and maintenance readiness of the transportation assets needed to get the vaccines to the places they can be used absolutely suck. Contrary to what President Trump says all the time, our military has not been rebuilt. It is broken by nearly two decades of incessant and unnecessary wars, and those wars broke our ability to sustain our military at the levels it needs to confront the Soviet, Chinese, North Korean, and Iranian threats, additionally he has undermined our alliances with long term allies and diminished the trust in the world of American leadership.

So a few more words about his claims of the military being able to distribute a yet to be proven and produced vaccine is a lie. Heck, we in the military are being told that we won’t have Flu vaccines available for military personnel until late December and being told to go to civilian providers to get our Flu shots. Neither do we have a full fledged COVID-19 testing program in the military. If you want to know why units are sequestered and cannot deploy, or ships have to disrupt deployments because of COVID-19 outbreaks We don’t have them, and even if a safe COVID 19 vaccine is developed the chance that it will be distributed quickly by a military logistics system that is under immense strain to supply our troops around the world is mindless jibber-jabber.

I have to ask how many million vaccines will be produced, how they will be distributed by a already stressed military supply system. The fact is that the virus is blowing up all over the country especially in Red States that resisted almost every aspect of the science and ensured that their citizens would be more exposed and more vulnerable to the virus, and this includes states who Governors might be Democrats but whose legislatures and courts are controlled by Republicans is a ridiculous defense of those states policies that put people at risk.

As of today there are over 8.575 million people who have been infected, almost 230,000 who have died, and if you count the number of over average deaths probably drives the death total to almost 300,000. Trump said that the numbers were down. It is not. Trump claimed that Virus infections were going down, as were deaths. But that is not the case, we are going into the third spike of the first wave of the pandemic because the Trump administration and its congressional, state, White Nationalist  and Christian Nationalist supporters ensured that any meaningful action to stop the virus would be undermined, because their political and Racist and religious political power demanded that it be so. Look at the statistics. Ethnic minorities, the elderly, and the poor are the majority of the deaths and infections. Those numbers are now beginning to include a lot of White people in states that have done the least to protect their citizens and have the least medical capabilities to handle the onslaught. Yes, the major metropolitan cities in the Northeast were hit hardest in the early days of the pandemic, but in comparison to the new areas, are doing well. That is not good enough but their preventative measures have been undermined by the President’s propaganda and an emotional and spiritual fatigue created by months of life disrupted by the virus.

Of course there was the propaganda put out by Trump on how children’s being separated and locked up by his administration were “being very well cared for” while locked in cages at the border.  I’m sorry, the Nazis said the same things of the Jews incarcerated at the “humanitarian” camp of Theresienstadt concentration camp, from which nearly 90% were sent to the death camp of  Auschwitz.  

When Biden brought up that over 545 children, forcibly separated from their parents at the border will likely never see their parents again because of Trump’s policies, Trump said “Good.” The fact is that the President has never, every condemned any violent acts, or previous illegal activities that international courts led by Americans would call Crimes Against Humanity, are not only tolerated, but encouraged, because the American President said so.

I am going to end for the night. I cannot be silent as a Christian, politics does not enter into my equation, but morality and human decency do matter, as do the best humanitarian aspect of my faith. The German martyr Dietrich Bonhoeffer wrote:

“If I sit next to a madman as he drives a car into a group of innocent bystanders, I can’t, as a Christian, simply wait for the catastrophe, then comfort the wounded and bury the dead. I must try to wrestle the steering wheel out of the hands of the driver.” 

Likewise, if somehow I think that because I am a White Military Officer and remained silent that I will be spared because of that, I would be misguided and an imbecile. There is no safety for anyone today, even for those who most fervently believe what President Trump says. If you are one of them, and your really thing your liebes matter to him, they don’t and you are believing a lie.

The anti-Hitler martyr of the White Rose resistance Sophie Scholl 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 aswide avenues, and a little candle burns itself out just like a flaming torch does. I choose my own way to burn.”

Thats a fact. We have a President who is lying while people are dying every day In increasing numbers because of his lies, especially his supporters. That my friends is not a lie. Ask yourself, do you really trust him, or have you subordinated you’re morality, ethics, and respect for yourself to him, for what?

i do not stand in judgement over anyone. I believe in justice tempered by mercy. But as for me I have to echo the words of German Major General Henning Von Tresckow, a key planner in the anti-Hitler plot who on learning of his failures killed himself if the face of Soviet forces:

“We have to show the world that not all of us are like him. Otherwise, this will always be Hitler’s Germany.” 

Trump by no means is Hitler, but he acts a lot like him in terms of behaviors, words, and attitudes, especially in regards to minorities, the poor, his opponents, and even his supporters.

So until next time When I go back to my Battle of Leyte Gulf series, have a good night and please be safe. Even if you agree with the President and plan on voting form him, matters less to me than your lives and safety. I am tired of death, especially deaths that are completely preventable by the simplest actions such as the proper wear of face masks, social distancing, and hand washing. Those are not tyrannical measures, they are simple common sense and proven by science.

So until next time,

Peace,

Padre Steve+

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Pastors That Embody The Gospel and Don’t Use it as a Weapon: Thoughts from My Friend Fr. Kenneth Tanner


Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

This is the latest Facebook post of my friend Father Kenneth Tanner,  Pastor and Priest at Holy Redeemer Church in Rochester Hills, Michigan. Before this he was on Staff and wrote for “Touchstone: A Journal of Mere Christianity.” His blog is located at https://medium.com/@kennethtanner 

As for me after doing some work around the house, I went out to watch Maddy playing in her little wading pool and slipped, causing me to do the splits, land hard on my right knee, and further aggravate my right hip. I have my bilateral knee injections on Monday and will have to bring up this, and the number of times I have had my knee or ankle go out, and my increasing number of falls. Since I had my VA evaluation Tuesday I have to send them an update. I think I will go back to using a cane, because it is really getting old. So I am going to go back to editing “Mine Eyes Have Seen the Glory!”

Please have a good and safe day and read Fr. Kenneth’s Essay on being a pastor in a time like this. He is refreshingly honest and pretty much sums up why I will not be a Church pastor or fight the politics of institutional Chaplain ministry when I retire from the Navy in less than 100 days. But we do need pastors like him.

Peace,

Padre Steve+ 

Father Kenneth’s essay follows…

 

Those who follow my social media know that the vast majority of my stories and images are about Jesus—his authentic humanity and his vulnerable divinity, how his unique person is our salvation and the salvation of the world. I’m astonished by and obsessed with Christ.

This same Jesus, who embodies the law and the prophets, who became one of us—a frail human who’s not immune to hunger, thirst, pain, and death—in order to liberate captives and set the oppressed free.

Those who bear the name and work of Jesus as they lead the church are not allowed to remain silent about the illnesses effecting their societies. We are held accountable for silence and inaction.

Our nation’s war on drugs and on terror has slowly eroded civil liberties and presents us with a crisis about personal freedoms, police powers, incarceration, and so on, and black Americans have shouldered the cross of what’s wrong.

Jesus came to set prisoners free—actual prisoners.

Justice systems are corrupt, are punitive rather than restorative, and America is not immune.

The gospel seeks to upend all of that with a profound trust in the ability of humans to heal—to be forgiven and to forgive—a trust that’s not shared by our nation’s “survival of the fittest” mentality.

Jesus stands with the poor, the refugee, the prisoner—not the ideal poor, or employable refugees, or model prisoners but the kinds we find in the real world, just as they are in all their inconvenience—and he expects us to lift up their cause.

What’s happened lately is that the political Left and the political Right define a lot of what the gospel urgently calls us to embody and to do as “political,” as supporting the ends of political movements, figures, or parties.

For the Left, if you believe that pre-born children have the right to life, for but one instance, then you must be a Republican or a supporter of the President.

No, you are simply applying to our public life together ideas of humanity, creation, and personhood taught in the Scriptures.

For the Right, if you want immigrants and refugees welcomed and treated with dignity, for but one instance, then you must be a Democrat or a supporter of their leaders.

No, you are simply listening to the law and prophets of Israel and applying to our public life together their relentless and ubiquitous warnings about God’s wrath toward any people who do not welcome and care for strangers and sojourners.

Salvation is not only about life after death but about this world, about our time and place in this world, and God is often waiting for Spirit-empowered humans to bring the kind of salvation he intends for the world by living the gospel.

So while I do not speak out about most things that concern me—I would never stop speaking right now if I did that—I do speak out loudly when I feel compelled before God to do so (as in this week’s meme about Breonna Taylor and our society’s collective responsibility for her).

It is a high wire act and something like a personal siege to be the leader of a spiritual community in this moment.

I don’t know any pastor who’s not disheartened, burned out, and ready to quit. They won’t tell you about it, but I will.

I preached Jesus Christ to the folks at Holy Redeemer for 15 years but like every other church in this town (and around the country), our congregations are divided between those who want everyone to wear masks at church all the time or they won’t attend and those you don’t want to wear a mask at all so they won’t attend, some who think the pandemic is a hoax and others who think it’s real, along with so many other silly binaries that divide us, driven by a media and a political class that thrives on our separation.

It rips me up. Day and night. I/we won’t be one of them by the grace of God but a tidal wave of pastoral resignations and church closings is coming.

I *thought* we were all centered in Jesus Christ. I thought we were different at HR. It’s a MAJOR gut punch. I don’t even hear from families we served for more than a decade. Not a phone call, not a text, not a peep, even though we reach out consistently.

Then I read something from Eugene Peterson, in his “Eat This Book,” about 1982 and economic and racial tensions that were present and how disappointed he was, after 20 years of preaching, to see his congregation as divided as the world.

He started reading Galatians and the Corinthian letters and realized that Paul had the same troubles with his congregations in the first century, divided over truly dumb stuff.

It’s a human problem.

Eugene realized he was not a failure.

And he decided to double down on Jesus Christ.

And that’s how The Message was born.

I decided months ago to double down on Jesus, too. And my joy in preaching and leading has returned, even though far fewer people hear my sermons. They feel like some of the best of my life and some folks are hearing them. And that’s OK with me. It really is.

When I do address matters of public concern I address them not as a person with political interests but as one called to witness to the gospel of Jesus Christ. That means that sometimes I sound like a “liberal” and sometimes I sound like a “conservative.”

And therefore a lot of times I am misunderstood by most everyone for all of the reasons I just laid out. And that’s OK with me, too. It really is.

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Racists, Neo-Nazis, Holocaust Deniers, Christian Theocrats, and Trump Cultists Beware: Come Here at Your Own Risk, Don’t Dare Try Me


Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

Tonight I draw my line in the sand and I will not stand down against people who threaten to use violence or intimidation against me, and what I believe to be true. I don’t flee, I fight, especially when it comes to the ideals enshrined in the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution and its Amendments, which I have for nearly four decades pledged my life, honor, and integrity to defend, and follow to promise of Abraham Lincoln in the Gettysburg Address to create a more perfect Union.

Over the past month I have been experiencing a significant number of ad hominem attacks by White Nationalists, Neo-Nazis, Holocaust deniers, Right Wing Race baiters, and Christian theocrats. Sadly, I am so well acquainted with their intentions and lines of attack that dealing with them is now like shooting fish in a barrel because they are so ignorant of history, science, philosophy, reason, and even their own self proclaimed Christian Faith. Willful ignorance is painful to see in action, especially when it is used as a weapon, because it always ends up in the death and defeat of its proponents. The attacks are like suicide charges which always end up in the deaths of the attackers, so long as the defenders don’t stand down or panic.

I had my first attack back in 2010 not long after I started the blog. I learned early on to be suspicious of such comments and subscribed to a site that helps me identify and track down these people. The first guy used a couple of Nazi related screen names and he made very specific threats against me even describing my home. He had a number of websites and had many racist and Neo-Nazi posts, as well as instructions on how to build IEDs. I tracked him down to Eastern Tennessee and made an identification which since his treat was coming from across state lines I reported him to the FBI. Now at the time I was still in the beginnings of the worst part of my PTSD/TBI ordeal, and my reaction to threats like this is not flight, it is fight. A couple of weeks later the man’s web presence disappeared.

After that I would get the occasional troll, but depending on what they said I either immediately blocked them or tore their arguments apart and then blocked them after I figured out who they were. This has been my normal practice.

In 2014 I even had a Troll attacking my faith with a fake yahoo email address from the 754th Electronic Systems Group located at Gunter Annex, Maxwell Base, Alabama. I tracked the IP address to a specific building and the unit. I reported it to the Maxwell AFB Criminal Investigative Department who checked into it and told me that the IP address was that of the 754th, but that the command said that it would be impossible to determine who did it. I knew that was a lie because the “754th Electronic Systems Group provides and supports secure combat information systems and networks for the United States Air Force (USAF), the Department of Defense and other Federal Government Agencies.”  This is according to what they say of their organization. According to their mission statement the mission is:

“The 754 Electronic Systems Group provides technical and customer service support as well as acquisition and program management oversight of more than 160 Combat Support Information Technology systems. The 754 ELSG also manages the Air Force standard desktop environment, and serves as the Air Force lead for software program management under the auspices of the DoD Enterprise Software Initiative. Additional activities include managing the Air Force single enterprise-wide license contract with Microsoft Corporation, executing the Chief Information Officer’s Information Technology Commodity Council Strategic Sourcing program and administering the Network Centric Solutions contract valued at more than $9 billion. The 754 ELSG also manages more than 50 Air Force contracts and Basic Purchasing Agreements with a total value of $15 billion.“

The fact is that this organization has been reported hacking US and Allied agencies and private citizens. It was obvious to me that one of their civilian employees or contractors did this because it happened at 0837 hours on November 18th 2014. I should have reported to Congress, what the man did was nothing related to national security it was simply harassment by a supposed Fundamentalist Christian working for the Air Force, and protected by an organization that runs the IT oversight and service of the entire Air Force, but he was an outlier. I could never find out who he was, and he never commented again unless he was using another alias. One can understand why I don’t trust and even fear many Fundamentalist Christians who use their access to government power without accountability. That is why I oppose every one of them trying to make the religious freedom clause of the First Amendment to Trump the Establishment Clause in order to turn the United States into a Fundamentalist Christian Theocracy. Sadly, I believe that there are many more going up to the Vice President with the same goal. Mine is a cautionary tale. If you don’t believe me just google the organizations that IP addresses owned by the 754th and it’s command Headquarters, the former 554th Electronics Systems Wing, which was de active duty and renamed the Program Executive Office Enterprise Information Systems of American and Allied organizations have hacked. The  Air Force Program Executive Office Enterprise has its hands in almost everything to do with IT and other Air Force electronic systems, intelligence, and warfare systems.

Of course that was a one time occurrence. When I wrote an article about the death of David Wilkerson, a beloved Evangelical and Pentecostal missionary and pastor who wrote the book The Cross and the Switchblade, as a suicide I was flailed by some of his cult like followers for weeks. I had the accident report, the photos, and the autopsy reports as well as his last blog which read like a suicide note, and inside information from church members of  Wilkeron’s Times Square Church, and the fact I was trained by the Army to investigate motor vehicle accidents , and had practical experience doing so, in horrible crashes. I tried to reason with them, sympathize with their loss only to be called to most horrible things imaginable. I finally blocked comments on the post. I received the compliments of Wilkerson’s son who not only agreed Ed with me but gave me more inside information at how Wilkerson had been betrayed and deposed by his closest ministry associates at Times Square Church and the terminal illnesses he and his wife had been diagnosed. Wilkerson had been betrayed, he and his wife were both dying, and his real friends had already died of old age. But his cultists didn’t have the compassion or sense to believe a man who had done so much good, and who had even written s small book against suicide could take his life. I had one of his admirers contact me yesterday. She shared her story and she was graceful and displayed real Christian virtues. We had a wonderful chat, and she responded gracefully to my respectful and genuinely heartfelt response. We don’t have to agree on everything to pray for, care for, and respect each other. She showed the heart of Jesus, and I respect her and care about her though we have never met. You see, Christian relationships really come  down to simple humility, respect and care.

but going back to what I began with, over the past few months I have been assaulted verbally by White Supremacists, racists, Neo-Nazis, Christian theocrats, and Trump Cultists. Almost all of them have attacked me on my articles about the BLM and  Holocaust, Nazi War Crimes, and the actions of the Nazi Einsatzgruppen. It is interesting because when you break down their comments they expose themselves as such, and worse. Their comments are devoid of facts and full of innuendo, falsehoods, and ad hominem conspiracy theory based attracts.

One, at least until today was a subscriber to my blog, and his comment was so laden with untruths and libelous claims against so called liberals that I schooled him and invited him to leave, letting him know that auch comments would not be allowed and that he would be blocked if he ever did so again. Then there were several Holocaust deniers and anti-Semites who made allegations found in the leading Holocaust Denier Organization, the Institute for Historical Review. I have followed their lying bullshit for four decades, and I know when it is being repeated. For them it is all about conspiracy theories, moral equivalence, and blaming Jews for all that is wrong in the world to minimizing the Holocaust. At one time I used to simply trash their comments and block them. Now I take their arguments, which are really not arguments but propaganda points with no factual basis, backed up by salacious and libelous comments about me, when they don’t even know me. So instead of ignoring them I rip their guts out with facts and real data. Historic, scientific, and medical. Then I tell them to either support their arguments with facts or never come back. It seems that the lack of facts prevents them from further harassing me.

but I have to mention this. Many of these racist and Jew baiting trolls uses their business email addresses in their comments. Some are the owners of their business, mostly agents, but then some work for respected corporations. Every time that happens I expose them to their employers, or those corporations whose banner they operate under. I do have to admit that I take a perverse pleasure in exposing what they are to their employers or sponsors. I actually enjoy their stupidity not even to create a fake user name and email address to expose them to ruin, especially since every single one of them has beat their chest about their so called Christian Values when attacking me. Since I am humble enough not to claim that I teach the Almighty theology lessons, it will be interesting to see, if there is a literal heaven or hell, which even the early Fathers of the Christian Church disagreed about, as do many Jewish theologians, as to where we fall when all is said one done. As for me heaven will be much more expansive and full of the grace of God to all his children and creation than those that attack me suggest. If they have a problem with me, then they can go to a different bar than I go to in heaven. If not then we can fight it out in purgatory until God let’s us in.

But the key lesson I have learned is to be truthful. To treat people as I want to be treated, and whenever possible treat them with respect and decency so long as they are not condemning people to hell because of their race, religion, ethnicity, gender, political stance. or supposed sins, when according to the Christian Scriptures, the blood of Jesus covers all sin, or imperfection, and that God and the entire Creation look forward to its redemption at the hands of the people of God.

So I will call it a late night or early morning and wish you all the best, except the Neo-Nazi Scumbag racists and Holocaust deniers. I hope YAWEH Himself gets his hands on your pathetic necks.

As for what happens to me in the afterlife it is irrelevant so long as I am faithful to love God and my neighbors, and remain honest, speak the truth and have a modicum of personal integrity, trusting that Jesus the Christ will have my back.

So until tomorrow or Monday,

Peace,

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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“We are All Americans” Reflection on Appomattox during The COVID-19 Pandemic

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Joshua Chamberlain Receives the Surrender of John Gordon at Appomattox

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

It has been a difficult, tiring, and yet extraordinary week. I have had little sleep, and did all that I could do to be with and among the people I serve. Of course I always wear a high quality face mask when outside the confines of my very isolated cubicle so I can be out and among them. Unfortunately, technology, the unpreparedness of our nation and military for the novel Coronavirus pandemic, and my own medical needs made yesterday very exhausting and frustrating. I haven’t published anything here since 7 April, which is unusual for me, as I seldom miss a day without writing something. Over the past couple of days I have been working on a different article which will be later today or early tomorrow. I just thought that this was more timely.

So now I am publishing a highly edited and revised post about the surrender of General Robert E. Lee and his Army of Northern Virginia to the Armies commanded by Lieutenant General Ulysses S. Grant at Appomattox.

That event is something that all Americans should still celebrate today, because it was a moral and patriotic act of surrendering individual agendas for the sake of the Union, reconciliation, and equality. I hope that we can learn from it today.

Until tomorrow or whenever,

Peace,

Padre Steve+

One hundred and fifty-five years ago on the 9th and 10th of April 1865, four men, Ulysses S Grant, Robert E. Lee, Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain and Ely Parker, taught succeeding generations of Americans the value of mutual respect and reconciliation.

The four men were all very different. The very thought that they would do so after a bitter and bloody war that had cost the lives of close to three quarters of a million Americans which had left hundreds of thousands others maimed, shattered or without a place to live, and who had seen vast swaths of the country ravaged by war and its attendant plagues is quite remarkable.

The differences in the men, their upbringing, and their views about life seemed to be insurmountable. The Confederate commander, General Robert E. Lee was the epitome of a Southern aristocrat and career army officer.

Lieutenant General Ulysses S. Grant, like Lee was a West Point graduate and veteran of the War with Mexico, but there the similarities ended. Grant was an officer of humble means who had struggled with alcoholism and failed in his civilian life after he left the army, before returning to it as a volunteer when war began.

Major General Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain had been a professor of rhetoric and natural and revealed religion from Bowdoin College until 1862 when he volunteered to serve in the Army against the wishes of his wife. He was one of the heroes of Little Round Top at the Battle of Gettysburg, who helped exemplify the importance of citizen soldiers, and military professionals in peace and war.

Finally there was Colonel Ely Parker, a full-blooded Seneca Indian.  Parker was professional engineer by trade, but was barred from being an attorney because as a Native American he was never considered an American citizen. At the beginning of the war Parker was rejected from serving in the army for the same reason, but his friend Grant obtained him an officer’s commission and kept him on his staff for the entirety of the war.

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General Ulysses S. Grant

On 5 April 1865 the Confederate line around the fortress of Petersburg was shattered at the battle of Five Forks. To save the last vestiges of his army Lee attempted to withdraw to the west. Within a few days the once magnificent Army of Northern Virginia was trapped near the town of Appomattox. On the morning of April 9th 1865 Lee replied to an entreaty of Lieutenant General Ulysses S. Grant requesting that he and his Army of Northern Virginia be allowed to surrender. Lee wrote to Grant:

HEADQUARTERS ARMY OF NORTHERN VIRGINIA, APRIL 9, 1865

Lieut. Gen. U.S. GRANT:

I received your note of this morning on the picket-line, whither I had come to meet you and ascertain definitely what terms were embraced in your proposal of yesterday with reference to the surrender of this army. I now ask an interview in accordance with the offer contained in your letter of yesterday for that purpose.

R.E. LEE, General.

The once mighty Army of Northern Virginia, which had won many victories, but more defeats, and in almost every battle except Fredericksburg and Cold Harbor, lost as a higher percentage of casualties that they could not replace, as compared to their foes in the Army of the Potomac. At its peak strength during the Gettysburg campaign, Lee’s Army numbered nearly 80,000 men, but less than two years later it was now a haggard and emaciated, but still proud force of about 15,000 soldiers. For Lee to continue the war now would mean that they would have to face even more hopeless odds against a vastly superior enemy. Grant recognized this and wrote Lee:

I am equally anxious for peace with yourself, and the whole North entertains the same feeling. The terms upon which peace can be had are well understood. By the South laying down their arms they will hasten that most desirable event, save thousands of human lives, and hundreds of millions of property not yet destroyed. Seriously hoping that all our difficulties may be set-tied without the loss of another life, I subscribe myself, &c.,

Since the high water mark at Gettysburg, Lee’s army had been on the defensive. Lee’s ill-fated offensive into Pennsylvania was one of the two climactic events that sealed the doom of the Confederacy. The other was Grant’s victory at Vicksburg, Mississippi, which surrendered to him a day after Pickett’s Charge. That day became known as The Most Glorious Fourth, because the dual defeats coincided with the 87th anniversary of the Declaration of Independence. But it was Grant’s victory which cut the Confederacy in half, and was the true beginning of the end of the Confederacy.

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General Robert E. Lee

However, those disastrous defeats did not end the war. Lee conducted a bloody and ultimately doomed defensive struggle that lasted through 1864 as Grant bled the Confederates dry during the Overland Campaign, leading to the long siege of Petersburg. Likewise the armies of William Tecumseh Sherman cut a swath through the Deep South, captured Atlanta, the true industrial and economic hub of the Confederacy. Grant forced Lee into a protracted siege at Petersburg, while Sherman cut a swath across Georgia and the Carolinas, capturing Charleston, South Carolina, the ideological heart of the Confederate cause, South Carolina’s Capital of Columbia, and Wilmington, North Carolina, the last of the major Confederate seaports.

With each battle that followed Gettysburg, the Army of Northern Virginia became weaker, and finally after the nine month long siege of Petersburg ended with a Union victory there was little else to do. Lee wanted to continue the war but his beloved shatter shell of an Army was trapped. On the morning of April 9th a final attempt to break through the Union lines by Major General John Gordon’s division was turned back by vastly superior Union forces.

But, two days before, on April 7th Grant wrote a letter to Lee, which began the process of ending the war in Virginia. He wrote:

General R. E. LEE:

The result of the last week must convince you of the hopelessness of further resistance on the part of the Army of Northern Virginia in this struggle. I feel that it is so, and regard it as my duty to shift from myself the responsibility of any further effusion of blood, by asking of you the surrender of that portion of the C. S. Army known as the Army of Northern Virginia.

U.S. GRANT, Lieutenant-General

Lee was hesitant to surrender knowing Grant’s reputation for insisting on unconditional surrender, terms that Lee could not yet bring himself to accept. Lee replied to Grant’s offer with this message:

HEADQUARTERS ARMY OF NORTHERN VIRGINIA, APRIL 7, 1865 Lieut. Gen. U.S. GRANT:

I have received your note of this date. Though not entertaining the opinion you express on the hopelessness of further resistance on the part of the Army of Northern Virginia, I reciprocate your desire to avoid useless effusion of blood, and therefore, before considering your proposition, ask the terms you will offer on condition of its surrender.

R.E. LEE, General.

The correspondence continued over the next day even as the Confederates hoped to fight their way out of the trap that they were in. But now Robert E. Lee, who had through his efforts extended the war for at least six months, knew that he could no longer continue. Even so, some of Lee’s younger subordinates wanted to continue the fight. When his artillery chief Porter Alexander recommended that the Army be released he recommended that the soldiers of the Army, “take to the woods and report to their state governors.”

Lee knew that such action would bring about even more death and destruction.

“We have simply now to face the fact that the Confederacy has failed. And as Christian men, Gen. Alexander, you & I have no right to think for one moment of our personal feelings or affairs. We must consider only the effect which our action will have upon the country at large.”

Lee continued:

“Already [the country] is demoralized by the four years of war. If I took your advice, the men would be without rations and under no control of their officers. They would be compelled to rob and steal in order to live…. We would bring on a state of affairs it would take the country years to recover from… You young fellows might go bushwhacking, but the only dignified course for me would be to go to General Grant and surrender myself and take the consequences of my acts.”

Alexander was so humbled at Lee’s reply he later wrote “I was so ashamed of having proposed such a foolish and wild cat scheme that I felt like begging him to forget he had ever heard it.” When Alexander saw the gracious terms of the surrender he was particularly impressed with how non-vindictive the terms were, especially in terms of parole and amnesty for the surrendered soldiers.

Abraham Lincoln had already set the tone for the surrender in his Second Inaugural Address given just over a month before the surrender of Lee’s army. Lincoln closed that speech with these words of reconciliation.

“With malice toward none, with charity for all, with firmness in the right as God gives us to see the right, let us strive on to finish the work we are in, to bind up the nation’s wounds, to care for him who shall have borne the battle and for his widow and his orphan, to do all which may achieve and cherish a just and lasting peace among ourselves and with all nations.”

appomattox surrender

Lee met Grant at the house of Wilmer McLean, who had moved to Appomattox in 1861 after his home near Manassas had been used as a Confederate headquarters and was damaged by artillery fire. Lee was dressed in his finest uniform complete with sash, while Grant was dressed in a mud splattered uniform and overcoat only distinguished from his soldiers by the three stars on his shoulder boards. Grant’s dress uniforms were far to the rear in the baggage trains, and Grant was afraid that his slovenly appearance would insult Lee, but it did not. It was a friendly meeting. Before getting down to business the two reminisced about the Mexican War in which they had both served and first met. At that time Lee was one of the rising stars of the Army, and Grant a mere Lieutenant.

Grant provided his vanquished foe very generous surrender terms:

“In accordance with the substance of my letter to you of the 8th inst., I propose to receive the surrender of the Army of N. Va. on the following terms, to wit: Rolls of all the officers and men to be made in duplicate. One copy to be given to an officer designated by me, the other to be retained by such officer or officers as you may designate. The officers to give their individual paroles not to take up arms against the Government of the United States until properly exchanged, and each company or regimental commander sign a like parole for the men of their commands. The arms, artillery and public property to be parked and stacked, and turned over to the officer appointed by me to receive them. This will not embrace the side-arms of the officers, nor their private horses or baggage. This done, each officer and man will be allowed to return to their homes, not to be disturbed by United States authority so long as they observe their paroles and the laws in force where they may reside.”

When Lee left the building Federal troops began cheering in jubilation, but Grant ordered them to stop. He did not want to personally humiliate Lee anymore than the reality of defeat and surrender already done.  Afterward, Grant felt a sense of melancholy and wrote “I felt…sad and depressed, at the downfall of a foe who had fought so long and valiantly, and had suffered so much for a cause, though that cause was, I believe, one of the worst for which a people has fought.” He later noted: “The Confederates were now our countrymen, and we did not want to exult over their downfall.”

In the hours before and after the signing of the surrender documents old friends and West Point classmates, separated by four long years of war gathered on the porch or around the house. Grant and others were gracious to their now defeated friends and the bitterness of war began to melt away. Some Union officers offered money to help their Confederate friends get through the coming months. It was an emotional reunion, especially for the former West Point classmates gathered there.

“It had never been in their hearts to hate the classmates they were fighting. Their lives and affections for one another had been indelibly framed and inextricably intertwined in their academy days. No adversity, war, killing, or political estrangement could undo that. Now, meeting together when the guns were quiet, they yearned to know that they would never hear their thunder or be ordered to take up arms against one another again.”

Grant also ordered that 25,000 rations be transported to the starving Confederate army waiting to surrender. The gesture meant much to the defeated Confederate soldiers who had had little to eat ever since the retreat from Petersburg began.

The surrender itself was accomplished with a recognition that only soldiers who have given the full measure of devotion can know when confronting a defeated and humiliated enemy who before had been their countrymen. Major General Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain, the heroic victor of Little Round Top was directed by Grant to receive the final surrender of the defeated Confederate infantry divisions on the morning of April 12th 1865.

The morning dawned rainy and the beaten Confederates marched to the surrender grounds. As first division in the column, that of John Gordon passed, Chamberlain was so moved by emotion he ordered his soldiers to salute the defeated enemy for whose cause he had no sympathy. Chamberlain honored the defeated Rebel army by bringing his division to present arms.

Gordon, was “riding with heavy spirit and downcast face,” looked up, surveyed the scene, wheeled about on his horse, and “with profound salutation returned the gesture by lowering his saber to the toe of his boot. The Georgian then ordered each following brigade to carry arms as they passed third brigade, “honor answering honor.”

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Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain

Chamberlain was not just a soldier, but before the war had been Professor of Natural and Revealed Religions at Bowdoin College, and a student of theology before the war. Chamberlain, a citizen soldier could not help to see the significance of the occasion. He understood that some people would criticize him for saluting the surrendered enemy.

However, Chamberlain, unlike others, understood the value of reconciliation, and at his heart was a Christian, and theologian, as well a staunch abolitionist and Unionist, who had nearly died on more than one occasion fighting the defeated Confederate Army. However, unlike many hardline politicians and ideologues, Chamberlain understood that the achievement of equality for all, the freedom, enfranchisement, and integration of African Americans into society, and true Union could be achieved unless the enemies became reconciled to one another. At that point the men of the Army of Northern Virginia knew that they were defeated and at the mercy of those who vanquished them.

Chamberlain noted that his reasons for doing what he did afterward.

“The momentous meaning of this occasion impressed me deeply. I resolved to mark it by some token of recognition, which could be no other than a salute of arms. Well aware of the responsibility assumed, and of the criticisms that would follow, as the sequel proved, nothing of that kind could move me in the least. The act could be defended, if needful, by the suggestion that such a salute was not to the cause for which the flag of the Confederacy stood, but to its going down before the flag of the Union. My main reason, however, was one for which I sought no authority nor asked forgiveness. Before us in proud humiliation stood the embodiment of manhood: men whom neither toils and sufferings, nor the fact of death, nor disaster, nor hopelessness could bend from their resolve; standing before us now, thin, worn, and famished, but erect, and with eyes looking level into ours, waking memories that bound us together as no other bond;—was not such manhood to be welcomed back into a Union so tested and assured? Instructions had been given; and when the head of each division column comes opposite our group, our bugle sounds the signal and instantly our whole line from right to left, regiment by regiment in succession, gives the soldier’s salutation, from the “order arms” to the old “carry”—the marching salute. Gordon at the head of the column, riding with heavy spirit and downcast face, catches the sound of shifting arms, looks up, and, taking the meaning, wheels superbly, making with himself and his horse one uplifted figure, with profound salutation as he drops the point of his sword to the boot toe; then facing to his own command, gives word for his successive brigades to pass us with the same position of the manual,—honor answering honor. On our part not a sound of trumpet more, nor roll of drum; not a cheer, nor word nor whisper of vain-glorying, nor motion of man standing again at the order, but an awed stillness rather, and breath-holding, as if it were the passing of the dead!”

The next day Robert E Lee addressed his soldiers for the last time. Lee’s final order to his loyal troops was published the day after the surrender. It was a gracious letter of thanks to men that had served their beloved commander well in the course of the three years since he assumed command of them outside Richmond in 1862.

General Order
No. 9

After four years of arduous service marked by unsurpassed courage and fortitude, the Army of Northern Virginia has been compelled to yield to overwhelming numbers and resources.

I need not tell the survivors of so many hard fought battles, who have remained steadfast to the last, that I have consented to the result from no distrust of them.

But feeling that valour and devotion could accomplish nothing that could compensate for the loss that must have attended the continuance of the contest, I have determined to avoid the useless sacrifice of those whose past services have endeared them to their countrymen.

By the terms of the agreement, officers and men can return to their homes and remain until exchanged. You will take with you the satisfaction that proceeds from the consciousness of duty faithfully performed, and I earnestly pray that a merciful God will extend to you his blessing and protection.

With an unceasing admiration of your constancy and devotion to your Country, and a grateful remembrance of your kind and generous consideration for myself, I bid you an affectionate farewell. — R. E. Lee, General

Sadly, Lee failed to acknowledge his role in bringing the Confederacy to complete destruction by not telling his Commander in Chief, President Jefferson Davis that the war was lost when Atlanta fell. For all his virtues, he could not overcome his innate racism, and lack of moral courage to confront an arrogant superior that the war could not be won and the Confederacy surrender. Only Lee could have done so, Davis would not listen to anyone else, as no one had Lee’s stature and respect among Southerners. But he did not do that until his army was for all intents and purposes destroyed. If effect he continued to fight when there was no human, or Christian purpose to do so. With the fall of Atlanta he knew that there was no political, economic, diplomatic, or military reason to continue the war, but he did so anyway.

But Appomattox was the beginning of the end of the end. The war had really been lost at Gettysburg and Vicksburg in July 1863, and was certainly lost when Sherman captured Atlanta and began his march across Georgia, which ensured that the Confederates would have to deal with Abraham Lincoln and not the Northern Peace Democrats or Copperheads, who were willing to let the Confederacy live than to continue a war that was being won on all fronts. Other Confederate forces continued to resist for several weeks, but with the surrender of the Army of Northern Virginia, led by the man that nearly all Southerners saw as the embodiment of their nation the war was effectively over.

Lee had fought hard and after the war was still under the charge of treason, but he understood the significance of defeat and the necessity of moving forward as one nation. In August 1865 Lee wrote to the trustees of Washington College of which he was now President:

“I think it is the duty of every citizen, in the present condition of the Country, to do all in his power to aid the restoration of peace and harmony… It is particularly incumbent upon those charged with the instruction of the young to set them an example of submission to authority.

Unfortunately, by that time, despite his remaining prejudice and failure to acknowledge the evil of the cause for which he had fought, offered words which should have been heeded by every man and woman in the former Confederacy.

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Brigadier General Ely Parker

Lee’s words, do offer a lesson for all of us in our terribly divided land need to learn regardless of or political affiliation or ideology in the midst of a global pandemic that pays no respect to the lives of anyone, that knows no border, race, creed, nation, or religion.

After he had signed the surrender document, Lee learned that Grant’s Aide-de-Camp Colonel Ely Parker, was a full-blooded Seneca Indian. He stared at Parker’s dark features and said: “It is good to have one real American here.”

Parker, a man whose people had known the brutality of the White man, as well as a man who was not considered a citizen and would never gain the right to vote in his lifetime, replied, “Sir, we are all Americans.”

That afternoon Parker would receive a commission as a Brevet Brigadier General of Volunteers, making him the first Native American to hold that rank in the United States Army. He would later be made a Brigadier General in the Regular Army.

I don’t know what Lee thought of that. His reaction is not recorded and he never wrote about it after the war, but it might have been in some way led to Lee’s letter to the trustees of Washington College. I think with our land so divided, ands that is time again that we learn the lessons so evidenced in the actions and words of Ely Parker, Ulysses Grant, Robert E. Lee and Joshua Chamberlain, for we are all Americans.

Sadly, I think that there is a portion of the American population who will not heed these words and will continue to agitate for policies and laws similar to those that led to the Civil War, and which those that could not reconcile defeat, and almost immediately put into place laws that made newly freed slaves, into slaves by another name again during the Post-Reconstruction and Jim Crow eras. For me such behavior and attitudes are incompressible, but they are all too real, and all too present in our divided nation.

But I still maintain hope that in spite of everything that divides us, in spite of the intolerance and hatred of some, that we can overcome. I think that the magnanimity of Grant in victory, the humility of Lee in defeat, the graciousness of Chamberlain in honoring the defeated foe, and the stark bluntness of Parker, the Native American, in reminding Lee, that “we are all Americans,” is something that is worth remembering, and yes, even emulating today.

But even more so we need to remember the words of the only man whose DNA and genealogy did not make him a European transplant, the man who Lee refereed to as the only true American at Appomattox, General Ely Parker, the Native American who fought for a nation that not acknowledge him as a citizen until long after he was dead.

In the perverted, unrequited racist age of President Donald Trump we have to stop the bullshit, and take to heart the words of Ely Parker. “We are all Americans.” If we don’t get that there is no hope for our country. No amount of military or economic might can save us if we cannot understand Parker’s words, or the words of the Declaration: “We hold these truths to be self evident, that all men are created equal…” Really, it does not matter if our relatives were second sons of European Gentry, religious dissidents, refugees of repressive regimes, African Slaves, Asians seeking a new life in a new country, or Mexican citizens who turned on their own country to become citizens of a new Republic, men like Mariano Vallejo, the Mexican governor of El Norte and one of the First U.S. Senators from California.

Let us never forget Ely Parker’ words at Appomattox, “We are all Americans.”

Sadly, there are not just more than a few Americans, and many with no familial or other connection to the Confederacy and the South than deeply held racism who would rather see another bloody civil war because they hate the equality of Blacks, Women, immigrants, and LGBTQ Americans more than they love the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution of the United States.

That is why Parker’s words to Lee still matter so much and why we must never give up the fight for equality for all Americans. Likewise, whether one likes it or not, Robert E. Lee broke his sacred oath to the Constitution as a commissioned officer, and refused to free the slaves entrusted to his care by his Father in Law in 1859, who also refused to support his Confederate President’s plan to emancipate and free African American slaves who were willing to fight for the Confederacy until February 1865.

Lee the Myth is still greater than Lee the man in much of this country. Lee the man is responsible for the deaths for more Americans than the leaders of Imperial Germany, Imperial Japan, Nazi Germany, or any other foreign power. He even cast aside such loyalists as George Pickett, whose division he destroyed in a suicidal attack at Gettysburg on July 3rd 1863, and then continued to damn Pickett for mistakes which were his own until the end of the war.

Both sides of my family fought for the Confederacy as officers and members of the 8th Virginia Cavalry. Most reconciled, but others didn’t, including the patriarch of my paternal side of the family. His decision ended up costing the family millions of dollars in the following years. The maternal side was smart enough to reconcile after the war and to later engage in the profoundly libertarian practice of bootlegging until the end of prohibition. I don’t know if any members of either side of my family were KKK supporters, but if they were I wouldn’t be surprised.  They lost almost all they had during the war by fighting on the wrong side and when their rebellion ended in defeat many refused to reconcile with the United States, or head the words of Robert E. Lee, and they deserved it.

But, despite his words Robert E. Lee refused to completely admit his crime of treason. He used the language of reconciliation without fully embracing it.

So for me April 9th is very personal. I have served my country for nearly 38 and a half years, and in the midst of a pandemic I continue to serve while wondering if the grim necessity of the times keep me from retiring.

That being said, I cannot abide men and women who treat the men and women that I have served with in the defense of this county as less than human or fully entitled to the rights that are mine, more to my birth and race than today than any of my inherent talents or abilities. That includes my ancestors who fought for the Confederacy on both sides of my family. Ancestors or not, they were traitors to everything that I believe in and hold dear.

As for me, principles and equality trump all forms of racism, racist ideology, and injustice, even when the President himself advocates for them. I am a Union man, despite my Southern ancestry, and I will support the rights of people my ancestors would never support, Blacks, Hispanics, Women, LTBTQ, and other racial, religious, or gender minorities.

So I am a Unionist and a continuing abolitionist when it comes to protecting and advancing the rights of those whose rights continue to be trumped by prejudice. So I am a supporter of Equal rights for African Americans, immigrants of all races, nationalities, and religions. Likewise, I am a women’s rights advocate, including their reproductive rights, and a supporter of LGBTQ people and their rights, most of which are opposed by the Evangelical Christians who I grew up with. I also will not hesitate to criticize the elected President of the United States when he pisses on the preface of the Declaration of Independence, the United States Constitution, and attacks the bedrock principles of the Bill of Rights.

How can I be silent? I know that I cannot be a bystander, Even when in the midst of a pandemic these same people are not only being victimized by the Coronavirus pandemic, but by the government that should be doing it can to protect and defend the lives and livelihoods of all of us, citizens, those on the way to citizenship, or those who simply hope and long to be free by leaving their homelands to become truly free.

So I will stand fast on this anniversary of Appomattox and echo the words of Eli Parker to all, no-matter their status or unforgiving ideology that stand against them:  “Sir, we are all Americans.” Such people, who represent the most extreme and ideological pillars of the political Right and Left, may not understand this, but I certainly do.

The failure to work towards reconciliation and equality on both sides of the ideological spectrum will doom us all, and destroy the Republic and the ideals that were planted in the Declaration, the Bill of Rights, and the Constitution, the XIII, XIV, XV, and XIX Amendments, the Civil Rights Act of 1965, the Voting Rights Act of 1964, the end of DOMA, and the yesterday to be ratified Women’s Rights Act. The reversal of any of these achievements places us on a trail that only leads to an imperfect and imagined past which is often overplayed with myth and ideology to create a nation where diversity is the enemy, where race and religion matter more than the simple understanding that “all men are created equal and endowed by their creator with certain unalienable rights…” 

 

 

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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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