Category Archives: Teaching and education

I Rejoice, I have a Publisher for “Mine Eyes Have Seen the Glory!” Racism, Religion, Ideology and Politics in the Civil War Era and After and Their Importance Now

 

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

There I was attempting to enter my analytical data at the end of a long day when suddenly my iPhone rang with my default ring tone the great Kenny Rodgers and the First Edition “I Just Dropped in to see what Condition my Condition was In” which was also featured in one of my favorite cult classic films, The Big Lebowski. But I digress…

 

I answered and found it was my literary agent, Roger Williams. He let me know that he resubmitted the book to a publisher who turned it down two years ago. They liked the changes I made to it and want to publish it. I am grateful to Roger who believed in this book and kept pushing it for the past three years. I finally realized that despite all the good history it had in it that I had quite a bit of material I had worked on in those three years that would make it a much better book that would grab the reader’s interest I went back to work, nearly doubling it in size within two and a half months. Of course I had already done much of the research and writing so it was a matter of making the book flow from the introduction to the epilogue, keeping it in the realm of history but reminding the reader that the the sad consequences of America’s Original Sin are still afflicting us to this day. I sent the completed manuscript to Roger a bit over two weeks ago and I told Judy that I was not going to hassle him about the status of the book.

The publisher will be Potomac Books, a subsidiary of University of Nebraska Press. They publish a lot of good books dealing with history, political, military issues, and current events. Judy looked them up as I was thanking friends for their congratulations, and told me that she thought this was an excellent publisher for the book.

I have to thank Professor Doctor Rick Herrera of the U.S. Army Senior Leadership School who was my classmate in the UCLA Army ROTC program from 1981-1983. He is a fine historian, and not just military. He has published a number of books on Early American Military history and recommended Roger as an agent.

Then there is Judy, who has reviewed, edited, and punctuated many of my papers, articles and manuscripts since I was in seminary some 30 years ago. None of this is possible without her. Then there were my college, seminary, and other history professors, among them Delmar McComb and Charles Bloch at San Joaquin Delta College, Dr. Helmut Haeussler at California State University Northridge, and Dr. Doyle Young at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary. I also have my many colleagues at the Joint Forces Staff College where I taught ethics and led the Gettysburg Staff Ride. It was there, when writing my syllabus for the class which became a nearly 1,000 page tome, that this book began. I realized that one cannot separate the battles from the men who fought them, especially when it comes to a war like our American Civil War.

What began as a 20 page second chapter of the staff ride text took on a life of its own, when the “chapter” grew to over 100 pages I realized that it needed to be its own text. This is the result.

To my faithful readers here, you have read much of it in earlier and less polished forms. But with every revision, every addition as Roger worked to market the book, it became more focused, more documented, and more powerful so that instead of struggling through two very heavily academic and theoretical chapters, the were led in by an strong preface, and opening chapter, several beefed up chapters, and several new chapters with an epilogue that pulled it all together.

I wish John Lewis or Elijah Cummings were still alive to right a forward to this. I am going to look up some of the still living members of the civil rights movement or other Black Americans who lived through the discrimination and segregation of Jim Crow, to become great American Leaders. Wish me luck, I have some in mind, including one whose story is featured in the book to humbly ask if they will do so.

My goal is to write history and tell the truth the best that I can knowing that future historians may find out more than me, and do better, even if they show my wrong at some points, I don’t think that will happen because this is not a history of current events of which documents remained sealed, or eyewitness accounts turn out to be wrong, or assumptions are made which turn out to be false, though repeated for decades as if they were absolute truth. Such is not always the case, quite often new evidence comes to light and has to be dealt with, not be disregarding it because it doesn’t fit the accepted narrative, but because it is strong enough to challenge the narrative on its own merits. This is why the twin myths of the Nobel South and the Lost Cause have been debunked, because new generations of historians were willing to challenge them.

However, in the case of racist myths like these, which have much in common with Holocaust denial, don’t go away simply because they are factually discredited and destroyed. The remain because at their root they have a nearly religious like flavor, adhering to myths and rejecting facts like any religious cult would do.

That is the reason these debunked myths have not died and people, even otherwise intelligent, decent, and thoughtful people believe them, because they soothe their consciences and allow them to preserve their prejudices, by pretending to be history. Sadly, that school of thought dominated American history from the 1880s to the 1970s. Those who scour the archives, read the letters, study the documents, and examine the lives of the people involved and find the truth are attacked as Revisionists when in fact what they fight is the original historical revisionism promoted by defeated racists and lapped up by the citizens who defeated the Confederacy on the battlefields, in order to strengthen the economy, reduce newly freed Blacks to a condition that was akin to slavery in all but name.

Historian Jill Lapore wrote:

“History is the art of making an argument about the past by telling a story accountable to evidence. In the writing of history, a story without an argument fades into antiquarianism; an argument without a story risks pedantry. Writing history requires empathy, inquiry, and debate. It requires forswearing condescension, cant, and nostalgia. The past isn’t quaint. Much of it, in fact, is bleak.” 

That is why I wrote Mine Eyes Have Seen the Glory! For in every generation there are those who seek to return to a mythological history that never existed. When those people are backed up by the President of the United States over 150 years after their cause was defeated on the battlefield, then the fight for truth must be renewed.

So until tomorrow,

Peace,

Padre Steve+

 

 

 

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A Higher Standard: I condemn those that Deny Reason, Science, and Facts to push a Theocratic Agenda during a Pandemic


Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

i didn’t get a chance to write last night because I left my iPad in my office and it took forever to do my updates to and get my MacBook Air updated, and my maxed out email storage brought under control. But I’m back and Friday is a good night for Fighting.

Over the past few weeks I have become more and more incensed and angry at the theocratic Christian Conservatives who deny reason, science, and even their own faith to enforce their political culture war agenda of reopening churches. Where allowed, many of the churches that restarted services and claimed to be obeying rules on social distancing and masked, didn’t really do it, just like a lot of bars, restaurants, and businesses. Now the pandemic has exploded across the country and many pastors and Christian leaders are playing the Christian persecution card to the hilt, though they are the ones applying for millions of dollars of government hand outs that they take while fighting against The rights of citizens that they hate politically, religiously, racially, of for their sexual identity or gender, and willingly serve a President who is willing to carry their water for them. President Trump and his theocratic supports is willing to use the police power of the state against their opponents to ensure his political survival. His Attorney General Bob Barr is the key to ensuring that happens.

Likewise, this supposedly “pro-military” President and his followers who proclaim that they “support the troops” have no problem demonizing and attacking military officers like Army LTC Alexander Vindman who in obedience to the oath he took to the Constitution and duty to the American people to testified to the truth of Trump and his administration’s collaboration with Russia and against both the United States and the Ukraine during his testimony during the House impeachment hearings.

Tonight on my Facebook Page I posted these words in response to an article about a pastor of a church in Sacramento California complaining that restrictions on signing during worship were discriminatory and infringements on his congregation’s right of worship and the against the Free Exercise of Religion of the First Amendment. Of course the arguments are spurious, because as our Founders and the Supreme Court have stated that all have limitations, especially when the cost is innocent human lives.  I wrote:

I don’t give a damn what anybody thinks of me but I am going to be blunt as hell about this. All the preachers of whatever church denomination who protest about their religious liberties being more important than the lives of a deadly pandemic that is blazing out of control, because governments are putting restrictions on their rights to gather are malevolent and need to be called what they are, “evil people” masquerading as saints. The Christian ones especially who claim to be “pro-life” are ministers of death who despite their pious words the the contrary. They don’t give a damn about the lives of their parishioners, those people’s families, friends, or coworkers, They have no problem using government to deny the rights of other citizens using their massed ranks of highly paid and funded lawyers and legal organizations, but want the government to support them with financial hand outs, while fighting against the civil rights of people whose lifestyles, genders, politics, religion, or even race and ethnicity that they hate. They do this for the sake of their political power, to turn the government into a wretched theocracy so they can persecute who they will, when they want to using the police power of the government. I will fight these ministers of death to the death. They eschew reason, science, and facts to claim that they are being persecuted. Well friends, there is religious persecution going on in this country, but it is the radical, politically motivated, and well off Christian Conservatives that are doing it. I will fight them because I believe in true freedom of religion, not their right to subjugate others like previous Christian leaders did from Constantine on. I also believe in the Gospel that they so blatantly deny with their actions. I close with this: “As long as the prerequisite for that shining paradise is ignorance, bigotry and hate, I say the hell with it.” Henry Drummond (Spencer Tracy) Inherit the Wind.

By the way if you do not like it, don’t even try to engage me on it here. Too many people are dying because they went to church and spread the virus. Those churches are referred to as “super spreaders” because even the ones who supposedly were practicing social distancing and wearing masks were letting their choirs sing, and not enforcing masks, even if they limited numbers. I say these hard words because I give a damn about human lives, and place them above the right to gather inside a church and spread a killer disease, and I say the hell with anyone who values their right to gather unsafely, not just in church but anywhere, and bring sickness and death to others. However, I hold religious leaders, especially Christians that claim to be “pro-life” to a much higher standard.

I hate to say it but I will say that these Christian Theocrats who like a religious cult support a man whose words say that he is their “chosen one” but in his life and action shows him to be nothing more than a tinhorn wannabe dictator with no respect for the Christian Faith or religious liberty. The fact is that he realizes that gullible Christians whose only concern is taking over the government to establish a theocracy where they make the laws and heretics, dissenters, and skeptics who refuse to two their line are targets for retaliation, the Constitution, Declaration, and Message of Jesus be damned. If there is any threat to liberty or religious liberties in particular, they are at the center of it.

As Spencer Tracy playing Henry Drummond in Inherit the Wind, the fictional version of Clarence Darrow during the Scopes Monkey Trial said: “As long as the prerequisite for that shining paradise is ignorance, bigotry and hate, I say the hell with it.”

As far as these supposed defenders of religious liberty are concerned I also say the hell with them. That may seem harsh but if the God they supposedly represent takes his or her theology lessons from them, I need a set of asbestos water skis for my eternal vacation on the Lake of Fire. But as Henry Drummond said, said: “As long as the prerequisite for that shining paradise is ignorance, bigotry and hate, I say the hell with it.”

So until tomorrow,

Padre Steve+

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Continuing my Reading and Writing Rainbow

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

British historian Sir Max Hastings once made the comment: “I would be miserable if I went to bed without having written 1,000 words about something.” I am much the same way and hopefully one day I might be one tenth as good, and as successful writer as him or writers like Barbara Tuchman, William Shirer, and Laurence Rees.

I do most of my writing before I go to bed at night and usually set my articles to post at 6:30 in the morning, although of late I have been posting them as soon as I write them.

I have a hard time going to sleep without writing be it for this website or for one of the books that I am working on. I read voraciously whenever I get the chance sometimes going to a bar just to read a book while enjoying a good craft beer or German or Irish import. Likewise once I am done with whatever I am writing I go right back to reading, sometimes keeping whatever Papillon is sleeping with me from getting the sleep that they want. That’s what I will be doing tonight when I finish this article which you will be reading tomorrow when it posts. In a sense my writings are kind of like Schroedinger’s cat, they are written yet unwritten at the same time, but I digress…

But going back to writing and reading I have to say that I don’t know what I would do if I couldn’t do either, I think I would be in some sort of hell if I couldn’t write every night or read. Doing these things helps me keep my perspective and to more fully appreciate the events of the day. Honestly, if I had not consciously immersed myself in history from the time that I was a child, including the many days that I cut 10th grade Geometry class to read the history reference books that I couldn’t check out of the school library I wouldn’t be who I am today.

I like writing history because I become immersed in the people, the places, and the intricacies and complexity of the events. I like to incorporate the little known back stories of people help understand their actions at a given point. Likewise think that the lives of the individuals involved in the events I write about, both before, and after the event should they have lived through it, give my readers a more human connection to the events, as well as understanding of the people involved. I find that the stories of people allow readers to make those connections, maybe even inspiring in them a bit of sympathy for scoundrels or suspicion of supposed saints.

I think that the character of people, good, bad, or wherever it falls on the spectrum, and their basic humanity; their strengths, weaknesses, contradictions, and their feet of clay, matter immensely and need to be part a of the story. I hate it when I read a history where a given character’s actions during a given event are examined in detail, but who they are as a person never comes through because the authors didn’t give their readers the courtesy of introducing them as people because they included little or no biographical details to make them interesting. Instead they become one dimensional caricatures of who they were in life, which in my view does them, the story, and the reader a grave injustice. So when I write I try to find interesting parts of a person’s life that is not directly related to the event to paint the picture. Walter Lord, who wrote prolific books on some of the key events of the Twentieth Century including books about the Titanic, Pearl Harbor, Midway, Dunkirk, the desegregation of the University of Mississippi, and many more noted something that I have taken to heart, “I look for something that is highly unusual, involving ordinary people caught in extraordinary situations.”

That’s one reason I like the writings of both Tuchman and Hastings, they bring life to to the events they write about, they allow your imagination to run and to want discover more about the people and the events. The late Walter Lord, was also excellent at doing that, as was William Shirer, and I think that is how I would like my writings be remembered. But in order to do that I have to read and write, as Stephen King said “If you want to be a writer, you must do two things above all others: read a lot and write a lot.” 

In the past couple of months I have read Ian Kershaw’s To Hell and Back, Europe 1914-1949; Steven Levitsky and Daniel Ziblat’s How Democracies Die; Benjamin Cart Hett’s The Death Of Democracy: Hitler’s Rise to Power and the Downfall Of the Weimar Republic; Geoffrey Megargee’s Inside Hitler’s High Command; Christopher Browning’s Remembering Survival: Inside a Nazi Slave-Labor Camp; Bonnie Weinstein’s When Christians Break Bad: Letters from the Insane, Inane, and Profane; and I am just about done with Laurence Rees’s Hitler’s Charisma: Leading Millions into the Abyss. I plan on finishing it tonight.

I also need to get back to a submission to my agent on the book I started during the Spring, entitled Walk, Remember, Bear Witness: Remembering the Holocaust as the Last Survivors Pass Away. 

Until tomorrow,

Peace

Padre Steve+

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Mia San Mia: Finding Myself Again after the Thrill is Gone

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

Glenn Frey of the Eagles penned these immortal words which kind of sum up here I am with life as a Navy Chaplain:

Same dances in the same old shoes
Some habits that you just can’t lose
There’s no telling what a man might use
After the thrill is gone…

Now please be sure, I cannot stop being a Priest, nor can I refuse the chance to care for people in need of pastoral care, or the sacraments, and I will remain faithful to the Church. That being said, apart from caring for servicemen and women and their families, the thrill is gone as far as serving in the Chaplain Corps.

I think that I realized it back in 2014 while teaching at the Joint Forces Staff College. I realized that my real calling as a Priest was being a historian, teacher, and writer. It is not surprising, the most influential people in my life have included Priests and Pastors who do more as teachers and writers in fields outside of traditional theology or pastoral care. In fact I credit the late Andrew Greeley for helping to restore and reorient my faith after a terrible faith crisis following my tour in Iraq. His Bishop Blackie Ryan mysteries were they only things I read that in any sense communicated the mystery and magic of faith to me in a terribly dark time.

That being said I have always been a historian for as long as I can remember. I used to cut Geometry class in 10th grade to go to the library and read the books in the history reserved section that could not be checked out. I cut Geometry so often that the librarians thought I had a permanent pass to be there. Good thing my mother didn’t know. By the way, hi mom.

I probably should have retired when my assignment to the Staff College ended, but I thought that I could do another tour. If I had been used to my strengths it might have worked out, but I was put in charge of a large base chapel though my last base chapel experience was in the Army some twenty years before, in a far different religious, cultural, and political climate, where I had funding and command support to close down a regular army base, turn it over to the National Guard and find a way to creatively ensure that the base chapel remained open and the congregations continued after the transfer.

In the current Navy climate there is no money, funding, or support for anything on the base side of operations, far less chapel programs to make things work for servicemen and women and their families; active duty, Reserve, and retired. It’s a sad commentary, my facilities are falling apart, funding continues to be cut, and my staff is being decimated. If my base was being closed and turned over to the reserves I am sure that the chapel would go away and the 700 plus people who worship there would be cut loose.

Then there is the problem that I my opinion is that the Chaplain Corps is more invested in surviving than ministering. The institutional rot runs deep, and I think that unless there is a radical change that the Chaplain Corps has maybe 10 years left in it before the Navy decides to shitcan it. The Marines and Coast Guard will probably be the only thing that keeps the Navy Chaplain Corps going if it survives, but I digress. I know for me it is time to leave the institutional ministry of the Navy, the thrill quite frankly is gone.

But it’s not like that I didn’t know what I was getting into. I was warned about the Chaplain Corps even before I left active duty in the fall of 1988 to attend seminary. My Brigade Executive Officer told me: “Steve, you think the Army Medical Department is brutally political, and backstabbing, we can’t hold a candle to the Chaplain Corps.” Sadly, that witness has not only been born out in my career, but repeated by Chaplains and Line officers in both the Army and Navy since then. Despite the many selfless men and women who have served as military Chaplains, the institution itself has what Kierkegaard called, the sickness unto death, and most don’t realize it. I served in the Army and Navy Chaplain Corps fore 26 of my 37 plus years in the military, serving all because I believed in the First Amendment, sometimes more than God. But it is time for me to go.

Today, I interviewed for a part time history instructor position at a local college. I found out about the position by a stroke of luck. I was going through a required pre-retirement class and one of our exercises was to find a job listing and write a targeted resume for it. In a moment of inspiration I decided to follow the advice of our Department of Labor instructor to not only do an exercise, but to see if I could actually find a job doing it. A simple Google search provided an advertisement for a history instructor at a for profit local college. So I followed the instructions in the job description and made the phone call.

That was a month ago. Today, I did my interview and gave a demonstration lecture. It went well. There is still one more applicant, but he or she will have to be shit hot to take it from me. The comments about the interview and sample lecture about the causes and road to the First World War were as I had hoped: he’s an engaging and captivating speaker and great story teller.

I do hope and pray that I will get this job simply because I love history, as well as teaching it and writing about it. The fact is that I cannot do anything else. My former. Dean at the Joint Forces Staff College said that I was a “Historian masquerading as a Chaplain, not that there was anything wrong with that.” One of my subordinate Chaplains at my current base said to me: Sir, I need to start taking notes so I can try to get graduate credit for our talks.

But that is who and what I am. In the Latin words of a Bavarian motto taken up by the Bayern München soccer team. Mia San Mia, We are Who We Are, or for me, I am Who I Am.

After twenty-six plus years as an Army and Navy Chaplain, I realized that while I would always remain a Priest and a part of the church, that I couldn’t be a parish pastor or continue working in institutional ministry just because I had the education, the experience, and the need for steady employment post Navy, enough to make up the difference between my retirement, disability, and what I make on active duty. But even without that, I know that I need to stay engaged and to read, teach, and write; Mia San Mia.

I am who I am.

Peace,

Padre Steve+

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I Will Live a Thousand Times Before I Die: Reading as a Way of Life

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

George R.R. Martin wrote in his book A Dance With Dragons:  “A reader lives a thousand lives before he dies, said Jojen. The man who never reads lives only one.”

I constantly read and because I try to imagine what I am reading so that in a way I live it. I have been to places that have never traveled to before and on entering them I know exactly where everything is and what happened there. I remember leading a group from my Army chapel in Wurzburg Germany to Wittenberg, where Martin Luther began the Protestant Reformation. As I led the group through the town a couple of people asked me how many times I had been there. I told them, “physically, never until today, but I have been here a thousand times before because of books. I saw Wittenberg in my minds eye before I ever saw the city.” They were surprised and both said that it seemed like I had been there many times.

I have had the same thing happen other places that I have visited, and again, it is because I read, and as I read, I imagine and occasionally dream.

I have a huge number of my books in my office most dealing with the history, especially the American Civil War and Reconstruction, the World Wars, and the insurgencies and counter-insurgency wars of the past seventy or so years. I have a lot of biographies, books on American history, military theory, sociology, philosophy, psychology related to war and PTSD, and a few theological works, though most of my theology books are at home because I don’t have room for them in the office.

Coupled with mementos of my military career, other militaria, artwork, and baseball memorabilia the sight and smell can be both overwhelming and comforting at the same time. I hear that a lot from my visitors, including those who come in for counseling, consolation, or just to know someone cares. They tell my visitors volumes about me without them ever asking a question or me telling them, and occasionally someone will ask to borrow a book, and most of the time I will lend them the book, or if I have multiple copies even give it to them.

In a sense my books are kind of a window to my soul, the topics, and even how I have them organized, and they are not for decoration. Many times while I am reflecting on a topic, a conversation, or something that I read in the news I peruse my books and pull one or more out to help me better understand it, or relate it to history. sometimes when in conversation something will come up and I can pull out a book. One of my Chaplains said that he should “apply for graduate credit” for what he learns in our often off the cuff talks. But, for me that is because I read so much and absorb it.

Likewise my memorabilia is there to remind me of all the people in my past who I have served with. I don’t have all my medals, honors, and diplomas up for everyone to see, instead I have pictures and collages, many signed by people who made a difference in my life. When I see the signatures and often all too kind words on them I am humbled, and in some cases a tear will come to my eye, but I digress…

I always try to read a decent amount everyday. I in the past couple of weeks I have finished reading a number of very good books dealing with different historical dramas. Since my trip to Germany at the end of September I have read, or re-read a number of books. One that I read for the first time was Where Ghosts Walked: Munich’s Road to the Third Reich by David Clay Large. I read it while during the week that we spent in Munich and it was very a very enlightening look at a complex and often contradictory city that has seen a number of cultural and political shifts since the Eighteenth Century, including its place as the spiritual home of the Nazi movement.

I re-read British military historian, Max Hastings book Das Reich: The March of the 2nd SS Panzer Division Through France, June 1944. It focuses on the leadership, and culture of the Waffen SS Division, and on the war crimes committed by its units and personnel it moved from Southern France to Normandy during the week following the Allied invasion of France. The book deals with especially the extermination of the population of the town of Oradour Sur Glane. For those who mythologize the Waffen-SS as an elite military formation, it should be required reading.

Also on my reading list in Germany and after were Anthony Beevor’s The Fall,of Berlin 1945. I read it in order to refresh my memorial on the Battle of Berlin, and the locations that we would visit while in the city. I finally decided to read Robert Massie’s Castle’s of Steel: Britain, Germany, and the Winning of the Great War at Sea, which I have had on my bookshelf for years, and re-read Cornelius Ryan’s The Last Battle, also about the Battle for Berlin. I first read that book as a teenager.

One of the most troubling books that I read while in Germany was Believe and Destroy: Intellectuals in the SS War Machine, by Christian Ingrao. Believe and Destroy is particularly troubling because it shows that racism, anti-Semitism, and the planning and execution of genocide is not just the work of poorly educated thugs.

I read Barbara Tuchman’s The First Salute: A View of the American Revolution; and The Butcher of Poland: Hitler’s Lawyer Hans Frank, by Garry O’Connor. To change things up I read Bob Woodward’s Fear: Trump in the White House, Rick Wilson’s Everything Trump Touches Dies, and the late Tony Judt’s I’ll Fares the Land.

I love complex characters, people who may be heroes and at the same time scoundrels. I like the contradictions and the feet of clay of people, because I am filled with my own, and truthfully saints are pretty boring. Unfortunately I haven’t read any biographies of late, although most of my reading deals a lot with biography as the characters weave their way through history.

Since we just observed the Centenary of the end of World Aar One, I have started re-reading Edmond Taylor’s The Fall of the Dynasties: The Collapse of the Old Order, 1905-1922 and Richard Watt’s The Kings Depart: The Tragedy of Germany: Versailles and the German Revolution. Both of these are very important reads which should help us to reflect reflect on what is happening in our world today. There are many similarities and reading them causes me to wonder if world leaders will allow hubris, arrogance, greed, and pride to drag the world into another catastrophic war. Sadly President Trump, doesn’t read, and doesn’t learn from history. Unfortunately, his ignorance is very much a reflection of our twenty-first century media culture.

But to me, books are important, far more important than anything that is shouted at me on television. Historian Timothy Snyder wrote in his little but profound book, On Tyranny:

“Staring at screens is perhaps unavoidable, but the two-dimensional world makes little sense unless we can draw upon a mental armory that we have developed somewhere else. When we repeat the same words and phrases that appear in the daily media, we accept the absence of a larger framework. To have such a framework requires more concepts, and having more concepts requires reading. So get the screens out of your room and surround yourself with books. The characters in Orwell’s and Bradbury’s books could not do this—but we still can.”

Barbara Tuchman wrote:

“Books are the carriers of civilization. Without books, history is silent, literature dumb, science crippled, thought and speculation at a standstill. Without books, the development of civilization would have been impossible. They are engines of change (as the poet said), windows on the world and lighthouses erected in the sea of time. They are companions, teachers, magicians, bankers of the treasures of the mind. Books are humanity in print.”

But anyway, I am late getting this out. So have a great day and a better tomorrow.

Peace

Padre Steve+

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Filed under books, books and literature, History, Loose thoughts and musings, philosophy, Political Commentary, Teaching and education

Read, Observe, or Pee on the Electric Fence

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Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

The great American humorist Will Rogers once said, “There are three kinds of men. The one that learns by reading. The few who learn by observation. The rest of them have to pee on the electric fence for themselves.”

I am slowing down my writing for the next few days to spend more time thinking, reflecting, reading and observing. I have been writing a lot on the Civil War, Civil Rights and Reconstruction, and I have been doing some writing on the outbreak of the First World War, I will continue to do that but I am going to slow down a bit, and just post a few short thoughts each day as I do some reading and reflecting on history and the things that we face today.

I do this because as a historian I known that for all of our great advances, especially in the form of technology that the character of people, the nature of humanity remains fairly constant. Technology may change the way we look the world, how we gather information, how and what we produce, how we fight wars, and even how we relate to each other, but humanity remains the same. Our forms of government and even religious faith may evolve, but the character of humanity is the one constant.

There has been a lot going on in this country and around the world and the one thing that I notice is that few seem to be taking the time to observe and seem to be more interested in immediately framing the events of the day into their particular ideology. This tendency is not limited to any one segment the population and goes across ideological divides.  We live in a time of great political and social upheaval and drastic change and if we are to ride out the storm we must continue to learn and not be satisfied with the banal and insipid sound bites that the Unholy Trinity of pundits, politicians and preachers spew out as wisdom.  The pundits, politicians and preachers who cite history usually do so completely out of context and do so in the form of bad analogies rather than by using any semblance of deductive or inductive reasoning.

Our culture has for the most part abandoned any serious attempt at learning. Schools teach to standardized tests, state school boards ensure that textbooks include nothing too controversial; universities sacrifice faculty and academic programs to prop up bloated administration and non-academic programs. We are consumers of corporate owned news networks that consider their programing entertainment and value market share more than truth. American philosopher Eric Hoffer quite rightly said, “In a time of drastic change it is the learners who inherit the future. The learned usually find themselves equipped to live in a world that no longer exists.” But sadly many people, including learned people who should know better and who have great responsibility in political, economic and even education, are content to live in a world that no longer exists.  

Learning comes from reading, observation and experience. Otto Von Bismarck, one of the most remarkable statesmen that ever lived said, “only a fool learns from his own mistakes, a wise man from the mistakes of others,” while Arthur Wellesley, the First Duke of Wellington and victor of Waterloo wrote, “Wise people learn when they can; fools learn when they must.”

I for one would rather not be one of those that learn by the last named method.  Learning from my mistakes has never been enjoyable and has usually been quite painful, but then as the late Baltimore Orioles Manager Earl Weaver said, “It’s what you learn after you know it all that counts.”

While I know I will make mistakes and hope to learn from them when I do I would much rather learn from the mistakes of others. Let’s hope that our leaders decide to actually pay attention and learn instead of making us pay for their mistakes. Sadly, I think that most people, especially those who claim to be leaders would rather pee on the electric fence themselves.

Anyway, it is time to do some reading and reflecting.

Peace

Padre Steve+

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Chasing Rabbits in Pursuit of Truth

bugs-bunny-whats-up-doc

Friends of Padre Steve’s World

I have been thinking about new articles write and you will see some in the next few days. I have been very busy this weekend working on my Gettysburg text and the usual weekend activities. Even so, I have found that in the Gettysburg text and other things that I have been working on I have been often engaged in the very productive activity of chasing rabbits in pursuit of truth.

Some would say that this is a bad thing but I would choose to disagree. I think that we miss a lot by not chasing rabbits, especially those that lead us to truth, knowledge and wisdom that we would otherwise never come to know.

I think that I learned the value of chasing rabbits from my Professor of New Testament at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary back in 1991-1992, Dr. Tom Urrey. Dr. Urrey was a fascinating character, a brilliant mind, gifted teacher and someone who never lost his sense of being able to connect theology with life. I had him for a year of New Testament survey courses. The first semester was devoted to the Gospels and the Book of Acts, and the second semester to the remainder of the New Testament.

One thing about Dr. Urrey was that he tended to go off script and chase rabbits, and we students were very good at encouraging this behavior by the questions that we raised. As such we did not even finish the Gospel of Matthew the first semester, and only made it through Romans, First Corinthians and a bit of Second Corinthians the second semester. However, I do not feel that I missed much because what Dr Urrey did do was to lead us to truth by chasing rabbits, truth that we would never had seen had he insisted on driving us through the text at ludicrous speed. (please note the gratuitous Mel Brooks Spaceballs reference)

Now you have to understand something about me. Back then such behavior was frustrating to me because I had the misconception from my time in the that in order to learn something you had to ram your way through it no matter what the cost. Now a quarter century later, I really appreciate what Dr. Urrey allowed us to do in class by enabling him to chase rabbits, and for that I am forever grateful.

For me now it is important, be it in teaching, writing, or research to follow the rabbit wherever he may lead. In doing so I find that I am discovering knowledge that I would have never before attained had I stayed between the lines. I know that by following the rabbit regarding the subject matter in my Gettysburg texts that I have been led to so much new knowledge about contemporary subjects only tangentially related to the Battle of Gettysburg or the Civil War.

Some of this you will see when I put out a major revision to something that I have written and posted here before, especially in my work on Gettysburg and the Civil War. Of course I do this with other subjects as well, but since so much of my time over the past two years has been devoted to Gettysburg and the Civil War era it is those subjects have captivated me and brought me so much more understanding, not just of them in isolation, but for what is going on today.

Now over the coming week I plan on publishing some new material here, some of it relating to the ongoing implosion of the politically minded Christian Right and their political allies related to the Duggar family and their cover up of the admitted criminal activity of their son Josh. I have been spending some time on thinking how to approach that subject, especially because for me truth matters too much to jump the gun and get things wrong in the process.

Apart from that subject we will see where chasing the rabbit leads me. So until tomorrow, I wish you a good evening and pleasant dreams.

Peace

Padre Steve+

 

 

 

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The Reward of Teaching



I love getting to do what I do as an Assistant Professor teaching Ethics and the Gettysburg Staff Ride. Through most of my career, be it as a Medical Service Corps officer and Chaplain in the Army, as well as a Navy Chaplain has been dealt with teaching ethics or history. However, until this assignment those duties have been things I took on in addition to my normal duties. 

I try to challenge my students, no matter what I teach to see issues in relationship to people; their character, intellect, strengths, weaknesses, beliefs, faith, ideology, and their relationships. In other words, their humanity. For it is our humanity that is the common thread in all of history. Technology changes, political models change, and humanity is constantly evolving, or sometimes devolving, but the one constant is people. 

Sadly all to often humanity is left out, we find a way to dehumanize almost everything, even how businesses, governments and even religious bodies refer to people as “human capital,” “resources” or in the case of some money grubbing churches “tithing units.” 

However, when I teach, I may teach about history, philosophy, or ethics, I still concentrate on people; who they and why they matter. That is at least for me is what matters. Events, inventions, theories, methods are all important, but if we leave out the actual part about the people they don’t connect. 

So in addition to the classroom, or touring historic sites, I focus on people, and then, especially on trips where I am out with my students for two or three days. On these trips we travel tighter, we eat and drink together and spend time discussing the events and people we are studying, but also share our life experiences and time together. So for me, teaching is also about my students, and to see their interst piqued, who then come back and later tell me that they went and explored the life of the people that we discussed. It is like them dis coving buried treasure. 

I think that is the joy and the reward of teaching, especially higher education, but I am sure any teacher, even those who teach primary and secondary education could do the same thing if they are creative, for it is the people who connect us, people matter.



Today we had to break off the last day of our Gettybsurg trip due to a winter storm that shifted south and made road conditions really bad. From DC to Richmond I lost count of the number of accidents. Thankfully it looks like things get a bit better south of Richmond. 

But anyway for now, and if you live in the path of this storm, stay safe.

Peace

Padre Steve+

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