Tag Archives: belief

Faith’s Journey: A Progressive Christian Navy Chaplain Looks at the Journey to Wholeness

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June 27th 2013: After the events of this week including the Supreme Court decision declaring the Defense of Marriage Act unconstitutional I decided to re-publish an article that was one of the most important that I ever published. Not so much because of the what I think was so earth shattering regarding the content but because of what happened after its publication. At the point in time that I wrote it I was pushing the envelope with my former denomination, but figured that in light of all the controversies and schisms in that church at the time that whatever I wrote would not result in any problems. But I was wrong. I received a call the next day from my bishop telling me that I needed to find a new home because I was “too liberal.”

It was actually quite fascinating, I was able to gain a new church home which was much more progressive, welcoming and catholic, being of the Old Catholic tradition. For me that phone call was just a few months later deposed for attempting to create yet another schism in the church. I think it is even more interesting because some of my friends still in that church think that he used this article as a reason to get rid of me in order to keep me from exposing his scheme. I don’t know if that it the case or not, but my friends believe it to be a distinct possibility. That being said one of my long time priest friends revealed his plot to the other bishops and the bishop who forced me  was deposed. Irony is fascinating. Since that time my former church is regaining its footing and doing better and for my friends in it I am glad for even if I have differences in theology, faith or beliefs with people who I consider to be friends, they are still friends and I wish them well.  

So anyway, for those that are fairly new followers on this site here is the article that in a sense served as a declaration of independence and station on the road to wholeness and integrity. 

Peace, Padre Steve+

Faith Journeys: Why I am Still a Christian (Originally published 22 September 2010)

There are many times that I totally empathize with author Anne Rice in saying that she has left Christianity yet still has faith in Christ.  For Rice it was the lack of love shown by the institutional church for people that are marginalized and treated as if they were unredeemable by often well meaning Christians.

I know what it feels like to be marginalized after I came back from Iraq because many of my Christian friends seemed, at least in my view to be tied to the absolute hogwash that spews from talk radio hosts and allegedly “Christian” politicians.  I remember having some Christians question my patriotism and even my faith because I disagreed with them regarding certain aspects of the war, despite the fact that I had been on the ground in harm’s way serving with our advisors and Iraqis in Al Anbar province.  The fact that not a clergyman, civilian or military, took time to care for me when I was in a major PTSD meltdown and crisis of faith before I went to Naval Medical Center Portsmouth didn’t seem to matter because a political agenda was given primacy over the simple truths and hard demands of the Gospel.

Yesterday I wrote about Chaplains that experience a crisis of faith after coming home from a combat deployment.  For me there is nothing more symbolic of the lack of soul left in many Christians and Christian Churches in how they treat those that have served faithfully. Those Chaplains that have served  God, Church and Country and come back spiritually wondering what happened, not knowing what to believe and feeling abandoned by God and cast off by the Church and the military simply because we have a hard time with the so called “orthodoxy” of some Christians.

I went through a period after Iraq where feeling abandoned and isolated from those of a like faith that I was for all practical purposes an agnostic.  That was a really difficult time in my life and if you think that anything sucks try to be a Chaplain when you no longer know if God exists and the only person asking how you are doing with “the Big Guy” is your therapist. I can say without a doubt that it sucks like a Hoover and I know that I am not alone in my feelings.  I have met others whose experience is similar to mine but those that are struggling right now, caught between our faith and the feeling of being abandoned by God and his people because our experience of seeing the human suffering caused by war has shaken us.

Let’s talk about spiritual despair. Did you know that in the past couple of years that two Army Chaplains and one Navy Chaplain have committed suicide? These were men of faith who had served in peace and war at least one that had served at the Battle of Hue City as a Marine before becoming a Priest and Chaplain.  Another Army Chaplain that had served in Iraq as a minister of a conservative Charismatic and Evangelical Christian denomination became a Wiccan and was excoriated by Christians.  I don’t know his faith journey but I have to believe that part was his experience in Iraq and experience on his return. I don’t know about you but those are all signs of spiritual despair and feeling cut off from their faith community and even God, his or her self.

I am still a Christian. I believe in the God of Scripture, the Creeds and the Councils. At the same time that belief is not as rigid as it once was. I used to consider those that didn’t believe like I did in relation to Scripture, the Creeds and Councils not to be Christians.  I cannot say that now. I am much more to have the Grace and Mercy of God be my default position and let other things fall out where they may.  My practice of my faith has changed. When I came back from Iraq I attempted, as it were without success to keep my faith structure and practice the same as it was before I deployed to Iraq.  Within six months of Iraq I could no longer pray the Daily Office with any kind of faithfulness and by Lent 2009 give up the practice for Lent hoping to recover some authenticity to my faith. The authenticity has returned and after about a hear and a half I am seeking a way to reincorporate what had been a very important part of my daily practice of faith into my life without feeling like I am a phony in doing so.

I went through a period of absolute spiritual despair even leaving a Christmas Eve Mass in 2008 to walk home in the dark, alone, looking at the sky and asking God if he even existed.  A year later after my life had completely fallen apart I experienced what I call my “Christmas miracle” where I was called to our Emergency Room to provide the “last rites” to a retired Navy doctor and active Episcopalian when I was the duty Chaplain.  As I prayed the last prayer of commendation and removed my oil covered fingers from the man’s forehead he breathed his last. His wife told me that he was waiting to be anointed before he died.  The young doctor, a Psychology Resident doing his ER rotation who called me to the ER would die a couple of months later of natural causes in his living room not long after we had taken the “fat boy” program PT test together.

From that moment the paradigm shifted.  Faith began to return and I began to experience the presence of God again, not is the same was as before Iraq but one that was more relational, grace filled and informal.  I will likely begin praying the Daily Office again in the near future but I will approach it from a different point of view.  I will no longer use it simply to fulfill my priestly vows and obligations but rather as a way to re-experience and if need be re-imagine God.  Now before the heresy hunters think that I am re-imagining God is some unbiblical manner they are wrong. I want to re-imagine God as he has been revealed to his people both in Scripture, Tradition and in the life of his, or her people today.

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How have I changed? I believe again. I am no longer an agnostic hoping and praying that God just might be there. My faith has become much more deeply rooted and grounded in the “Crucified God” and my faith in the “theology of the Cross.”  It is no longer connected to my politics and I refute any political ideology that attempts to use the Christian faith and the faith of well meaning Christians for purposes that Jesus himself would have condemned.  I don’t think Jesus was a big fan of his followers attempting to be the favorites of any political party or ideological system. In fact if I recall he really had pretty harsh words for his fellow Jews who were all wrapped around the axels with that kind of stuff. Jesus seems to befriend and hang around with those that are not connected to the religious, political or economic elites. In fact he seemed to reserve his harshest words for such people.  Jesus seemed to have a pretty good relationship with those marginalized and rejected by the religious folks of his day. He welcome sinners and tax collectors to his table and praised the faith of gentile Roman officers and stopped the super-religious folks from stoning an adulterous woman.

This is the Jesus that I follow and the Jesus that I believe is present in body, soul and spirit in the Eucharist.  I believe like Hans Kung and others that this table belongs to the baptized community of faith and not to an exclusive Priestly class who dictate who can come to the table.  It is not the exclusive property of any denomination or Church organization especially those that most loudly state this to be the case.

Now if saying this makes me a heretic then a heretic I will be. It is better to be a heretic in the eyes of Pharisees than to be one that denies justice to the persecuted people of God.  I guess that makes this moderate a liberal and to some an unbeliever.  Yet I believe in the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. I believe in the Jesus that defied religious systems to offer the grace of God to the people that those systems rejected and the Jesus that was far more critical of “believers’ than those rejected as unbelievers.  I guess that is why I can accept women as ministers or even Priests, accept homosexuals as Christian brothers and sisters, and see Christ and the grace and love of God in people that are not “Christians” even the Muslims in Iraq that treated me with respect and even if they had an “Aryan” view of Jesus still showed a greater reverence for Jesus and the Blessed Virgin Mary than many that claim Jesus for themselves.

Why? You ask. Very simply I once was lost but now am found.  I thought that I knew it all before, now I know that I don’t know it all and that God is the God of surprises, just look in Scripture.  I doubt at times. I know that there are many answers that elude me and I cannot answer just by citing or using Scripture out of its historic, cultural and linguistic context.  I believe in the God that did not reject me when I didn’t know if he even existed.

Why am I still a Christian when I have so many problems with how many Christians practice the faith? Because I believe and not because will not I tow anyone’s party line be they liberals or conservatives. I believe in spite of my unbelief in a fellowship of those who as a result of war and trauma have trouble believing those that won’t race the cold realities of this life. I believe because many times it was those marginalized by others, especially those marginalized by the “faithful” showed me the love of God when the “faithful” for pure or impure motives, or even because they didn’t know what to do allowed me to sink into despair and isolation. So in the words of my favorite heretic Martin Luther I say “Here I stand, I can do no other. So help me God. Amen.”

Peace,

Padre Steve+

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It’s the Footballcalypse! The NFL Referee Strike Strikes Back

If I was swimming in gasoline with a lit blowtorch I couldn’t have immolated myself better than the NFL has managed to do over the past few weeks. Yes it is the Footballcalypse, that time when the religious faith of millions is put to a test greater that the Apocalypse or the Obama Presidency.

But how could this happen?  The NFL is the bomb; it is the pinnacle of American religious life. For crying out loud more people tune in to the NFL on any given Sunday than show up in church. The NFL Shield was the most trusted icon in America and then poof, Roger Goodell began to blow it up.  Like the Anti-Christ in the Left Behind movies he had it all, and now he is bringing down the wrath of Khan on the institution that was as solid as the shield that is its symbol.

To think that it all began because the league couldn’t cut a chump change deal with the Referee union. Sure those guys are part time employees and no one buys their jerseys but still they are like the big toe of football. Sure you can walk without a big toe, but it isn’t a pretty sight, kind of like the officiating of the NFL right now. Sure the refs are part time employees that make more money than most Americans including me do in a year, but this is the NFL. It is a religious faith, more important to most Americans than their own jobs, healthcare or national security.

Obviously Goodell and the owners didn’t think that they needed a big toe. Sure the religious fans would still come out and pack the stadiums, watch the games on TV and buy the merchandise, they wouldn’t care about officiating. After all what could go wrong? Anyone can call a holding penalty, I have done it myself when I watch those replays on TV with angles and views that no on field official could ever hope to match. Illegal motion, easy, clipping, no problem, hooking and boarding? Easy, a balk, you bet, a double fault or goaltending, any of those tricky calls that an NFL referee would have to make anyone with half a brain tied behind their ass could call.

After all, a few bad calls aren’t going to affect the game or the season. Certainly there won’t be any calls that let’s say are wrong and hand victory to a team that didn’t deserve it. It could never happen, even the washed up former college, high school and Pop-Warner referees couldn’t mess up calls that could cost potentially a team a playoff berth or home field advantage. Certainly they couldn’t make calls that would be so bad that even die-hard Green Bay Packer fans want to walk out in fury.

But they did and now unless something happens soon to change things we will witness the Footballcalypse of 2012. Could it be that the Mayan Calendar was actually referring to the NFL? It is possible. Maybe we just misinterpreted it.

NFL Replacement Referee making the Secret I Love Satan sign

Well things are bad my dear readers, things are bad. They are so bad that I actually switched my TV to the watch the last few minutes of the Packers-Seahawks game last night just to see if it was as bad as my football fans were saying ti was. Sure enough I was rewarded for my effort. Within minutes of changing the channel the Seahawks quarterback threw one of those Catholic prayer passes into the end zone against the Packers who were ahead. When the ball came down it was as if God had answered the prayers of the Packers fans, but then it was like Satan himself came down and took victory out of their hands. The Seahawks were ruled to have possession of the ball even though it looked like the Packers defender had the ball and that the Seattle receiver was interfering. By all means it looked like the Packers had won the game, but then, the lack of a real big toe was obvious to all.  The artificial referees decided that the Seahawks had the ball and scored a touchdown. The place went crazy, it was like the end of a WWE cage match.

It has gotten so bad that big union fans like Governor Scott Walker of Wisconsin and Wisconsin Congressman and GOP Vice President Nominee Paul Ryan are demanding that the real union referees return. I never thought that I would see either on the side of the oppressed workers and turn their backs on the the NFL owners, the very top 1% of the top 1%. But then true faith my friends is important to these men. They are men of values whose faith in their Packers and the NFL for they stand, one Packer nation, under God and Lombardi, indivisible with liberty and victory in the NFC Central for all. Belief matters and above all politics both are Packers fans who saw their team get screwed on the final play of the game and they didn’t have a morning after pill available to change the result.

I think that if the NFL wants to deceive their faithful by putting on this kind of show they should at least have the good sense to hire someone who knows how to play that game. Yes, they need to hire Vince McMahon of the WWE, throw out the rules and put a cage around the field.

I for one have to stand up and like an Old Testament prophet on the wall shout the alarm. Lo’ the Footballcalypse is coming! Repent and turn back to baseball before it is too late and all of the money that you spent on your fantasy team is lost.

Peace

Padre Steve+

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Faith Journeys: Why I am Still a Christian

There are many times that I totally empathize with author Anne Rice in saying that she has left Christianity yet still has faith in Christ.  For Rice it was the lack of love shown by the institutional church for people that are marginalized and treated as if they were unredeemable by often well meaning Christians.

I know what it feels like to be marginalized. After I came back from Iraq many of my Christian friends seemed, at least in my view to be tied to the absolute hogwash that spews from talk radio hosts and allegedly “Christian” politicians.  I remember having some Christians question my patriotism and even my faith because I disagreed with them regarding certain aspects of the Iraq war. This despite the fact that I had been on the ground in harm’s way serving with our advisors and Iraqis in Al Anbar Province. After I returned no clergyman, civilian or military, took time to care for me when I was in a major PTSD meltdown and crisis of faith.  Actually, I have to amend that, as my friends Greg and David, both priests of my former denomination afflicted with PTSD, TBI and Moral Injury from their Iraq service were fellow travelers in this journey. What was happening to me as a result of serving didn’t seem to matter to most other clergy, because their political agenda in the midst of a contentious Presidential election was given primacy over the simple truths and hard demands of the Gospel.

Yesterday I wrote about Chaplains that experience a crisis of faith after coming home from a combat deployment.  For me there is nothing more symbolic of the lack of soul left in many Christians and Christian Churches in how they treat those that have served faithfully. Those Chaplains that have served  God, Church and Country and come back spiritually wondering what happened, not knowing what to believe and feeling abandoned by God and cast off by the Church and the military simply because we have a hard time with the so called “orthodoxy” of some Christians.

I went through a period after Iraq where feeling abandoned and isolated from those of a like faith that I was for all practical purposes an agnostic.  That was a really difficult time in my life and if you think that anything sucks try to be a Chaplain when you no longer know if God exists and the only person asking how you are doing with “the Big Guy” is your therapist. I can say without a doubt that this kind of life “sucks like a Hoover” and I know that I am not alone in my feelings.  I have met others whose experience is similar to mine but those that are struggling right now, caught between our faith and the feeling of being abandoned by God and his people because our experience of seeing the human suffering caused by war has shaken us.

Let me talk about spiritual despair.

Did you know that in the past couple of years that two Army Chaplains and one Navy Chaplain have committed suicide? These were men of faith who had served in peace and war at least one that had served at the Battle of Hue City as a Marine before becoming a Priest and Chaplain.  Another Army Chaplain that had served in Iraq as a minister of a conservative Charismatic and Evangelical Christian denomination became a Wiccan and was excoriated by Christians.  I don’t know his faith journey but I have to believe that part was his experience in Iraq and experience on his return. I don’t know about you but those are all signs of spiritual despair and feeling cut off from their faith community and even God, his or her self.

I am still a Christian. I believe in the God of Scripture, the Creeds and the Councils. At the same time that belief is not as rigid as it once was. I used to consider those that didn’t believe like I did in relation to Scripture, the Creeds and Councils not to be Christians.  I cannot say that now. I am much more to have the Grace and Mercy of God be my default position and let other things fall out where they may. I have to say now that my faith is much more Anglican because I try to find balance in the Anglican Triad of Scripture, Reason and Tradition instead of Scripture and Tradition alone.

My practice of my faith has changed. When I came back from Iraq I attempted, as it were without success to keep my faith structure and practice the same as it was before I deployed to Iraq.  Within six months of Iraq I could no longer pray the Daily Office with any kind of faithfulness and by Lent 2009 give up the practice for Lent hoping to recover some authenticity to my faith. The authenticity has returned and after about a year and a half I am seeking a way to reincorporate what had been a very important part of my daily practice of faith into my life without feeling like I am a phony in doing so.

I went through a period of absolute spiritual despair even leaving a Christmas Eve Mass in 2008 to walk home in the dark, alone, looking at the sky and asking God if he even existed.  A year later after my life had completely fallen apart I experienced what I call my “Christmas miracle” where I was called to our Emergency Room to provide the “last rites” to a retired Navy doctor and active Episcopalian when I was the duty Chaplain.  As I prayed the last prayer of commendation and removed my oil covered fingers from the man’s forehead he breathed his last. His wife told me that he was waiting to be anointed before he died.  The young doctor, a Psychology Resident doing his ER rotation who called me to the ER would die a couple of months later of natural causes in his living room not long after we had taken the “fat boy” program PT test together.

From that moment the paradigm shifted.  Faith began to return and I began to experience the presence of God again, not is the same was as before Iraq but one that was more relational, grace filled and informal.  I will likely begin praying the Daily Office again in the near future but I will approach it from a different point of view.  I will no longer use it simply to fulfill my priestly vows and obligations but rather as a way to re-experience and if need be re-imagine God.  Now before the heresy hunters think that I am re-imagining God is some unbiblical manner they are wrong. I want to re-imagine God as he has been revealed to his people both in Scripture, Tradition and in the life of his, or her people today.

How have I changed? I believe again. I am no longer an agnostic hoping and praying that God just might be there. My faith has become much more deeply rooted and grounded in the “Crucified God” and my faith in the “theology of the Cross.”  My faith is no longer a slave to my politics and I refute any political ideology that attempts to use the Christian faith and the faith of well meaning Christians for purposes that Jesus himself would have condemned.

I don’t think Jesus was a big fan of his followers attempting to be the favorites of any political party or ideological system. In fact if I recall he really had pretty harsh words for his fellow Jews who were all wrapped around the axels with that kind of stuff. Jesus seemed to befriend and hang around with those that were not connected to the religious, political or economic elites of his time. In fact he seemed to reserve his harshest words for such people and he reached out to the outcasts.  Jesus seemed to have a pretty good relationship with those marginalized and rejected by the religious folks of his day. He welcome sinners and tax collectors to his table and praised the faith of gentile Roman officers and stopped the super-religious folks from stoning an adulterous woman.

This is the Jesus that I follow and the Jesus that I believe is present in body, soul and spirit in the Eucharist.  I believe like Hans Kung and others that this table belongs to the baptized community of faith and not to an exclusive Priestly class who dictate who can come to the table.  It is not the exclusive property of any denomination or Church organization especially those that most loudly state this to be the case.

Now if saying this makes me a heretic then a heretic I will be. It is better to be a heretic in the eyes of Pharisees than to be one that denies justice to the persecuted people of God.  I guess that makes this moderate a true liberal and to some an unbeliever.  Yet I believe in the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, the God of Rahab, Diana, Esther, Mary, Martha and Mary, Pricilla and the Woman at the Well. I believe in the Jesus that defied religious systems to offer the grace of God to the people that those systems rejected and the Jesus that was far more critical of “believers’ than those rejected as unbelievers.

I guess that is why I can accept women as ministers, Priests or Bishops. It is why I can accept homosexuals as Christian brothers and sisters, and see Christ and the grace and love of God in people that are not “Christians.” That includes the Muslims in Iraq that treated me with respect and even if they had an “Aryan” view of Jesus, but still showed a greater reverence for Jesus and the Blessed Virgin Mary than many that claim Jesus for themselves in this country.

Why have I come to these beliefs, you might ask. The answer is simple.  I once was lost but now am found.  I thought that I knew it all. Now I know that I don’t know it all and that God is a God of surprises.

I have faith, but I doubt. I know that there are many answers that elude me and I cannot answer just by citing or using Scripture out of its historic, cultural and linguistic context.  I believe in the God who did not reject me when I didn’t know if he even existed.

Why am I still a Christian when I have so many problems with how many Christians practice the faith?

That is more complex. I believe again, and because  of that will not I tow anyone’s party line. I believe in spite of my unbelief. I believe in a fellowship of those whose lives have been changed by war and trauma.  I believe now because many times it was those marginalized by the “faithful” showed me the love of God when the “faithful” for pure or impure motives did not and in doing so abandoned me as they abandon so many others.

So, if I am to be a heretic, if I am to be considered less than a believer, I will quote the words of my favorite heretic Martin Luther. To my critics and those that refuse to understand, I say “Here I stand, I can do no other. So help me God. Amen.”

Peace,

Padre Steve+

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Doubt and Faith: My Crisis in Faith and Why I am Still a Christian an Advent Meditation

Note to my readers. This is an older article that I wrote back in December 2009, when after nearly two years of struggle with the effects of PTSD, depression, anxiety, loss and a crisis of faith that made me for all practical purposes an agnostic. I think it is timely now, not because of what is currently going on in my life but rather because of the stories I hear from those that struggle with faith at Christmas. Peace, Padre Steve+

Lord I believe, help me in my unbelief.

A new liturgical year is upon us and with the season of Advent Christians look forward to the “Advent” of Christ both in looking forward to the consummation of all things in him as well as inviting him back into our lives as we remember his Incarnation, as the Creed says “For us and for our salvation he came down from heaven: by the power of the Holy Spirit he became incarnate from the Virgin Mary, and was made man.”

At the same time for a lot of people the season of Advent and Christmas are incredibly difficult and times where faith, already difficult becomes nearly impossible.  For many the season is not a time of joy but depression, sadness and despair.

For me Advent and Christmas were times of wonder and mystery and I really found it difficult to understand how anyone could be depressed during the season.  Until I came home from Iraq…

While I believe the Scriptures and the Creed this I have to admit that for the last 22 months since returning from Iraq I have doubted, been depressed and at times felt like God had abandoned me.  Things were so difficult last year that I went to the Christmas Eve Mass with the Abbess and was crashing so hard that I had to leave. I walked through the night for over an hour until I got home, a walk that is a maximum of 10 to 15 minutes from the church.  It was probably the lowest point of my life as a Priest, chaplain and Christian.

Since I returned from Iraq my life has been a series of ups and major downs. In dealing with PTSD, anxiety, depression and chronic insomnia as well as my dad’s painfully slow degeneration with Alzheimer’s disease to the point that he no longer recognized me on my last visit, I have struggled with faith.  Prayer became difficult at best and as I dealt with different things in life I knew that I didn’t have any easy answers.  Going to church was painful. Chaplain conferences even more so, except being with others who struggled like me.  About the only place that I could find solace was at a baseball park.  For some reason the lush green diamond comforts me.

I find that the issue of doubt is not uncommon for a lot of people, including ministers of all faiths. For those of us who are ordained and view our ministry or our Priesthood as a sacred vocation this is difficult to deal with.  Ministers and others who suffer a crisis in faith, depression or despair endure a hell because it is not supposed to happen to us. I do believe that for many people a religious leader who has doubts and struggles with his or her faith is disconcerting.  I can remember a myriad of situations where pastors due to a myriad of reasons experienced a crisis in faith many of which involved great personal loss such as the loss of a child, a failed marriage, being let go or fired by a church, or experiencing a major traumatic event.  These were good people and quite often instead of being enfolded by a caring community of faith they were treated as faithless, failed and worthless, often abandoned or excluded from their faith community as if they were criminals.

When I was younger I used to look askance at pastors who had given up, lost their faith, or abandoned the ministry for whatever reason.  As a young seminary student and later young chaplain I had a hard time with this, it made no sense to me and I was somewhat judgmental until I started to get to know a decent number of “broken” ministers from various faith traditions that a lot more went into their decision than simply not being tough enough to hang in there until things got better.  At the same time I never thought it would happen to me. I thought I was “bulletproof,” that it could never happen to me. And it did and I was stunned.

When I came back from Iraq I came home to find that my office had been packed up and many mementos lost, it took months to find most and there are still important documents that have never been recovered. My accomplishments went unrecognized on my return home.  As I crashed no one asked about my faith until Elmer the shrink did when he met me.  Later my Commodores, first Frank Morneau when he found out about my condition and Bob Sitsch when he took command of EOD Group 2 both asked me about my faith.  I told them that I was struggling. Commodore Sitsch asked me “Where does a Chaplain go for help?”  On the professional side I felt isolated from much of my church and many chaplains.  I was angry because I felt that I deserved better, because I had done all that was asked of me and more.  The Chaplains that I knew cared all worked in different commands and were not immediately available and I was ashamed to go ask them for help.

I appreciated simple questions like “How are you doing with the Big Guy?” or “Where does a Chaplain go to for help?” It showed me that people cared.  When I went to the medical center I dealt with many difficult situations and was haunted by my dad’s deterioration, the latter which I still deal with today.  To have a close family member mock my vocation, service and person and provoke me into rages was equally taxing.  Likewise the absolute hatred and divsion in the American political debate tore my heart out.  I felt like, and in some ways still feel like we are heading down a path to being “Weimar America.”

There were many times that I knew that I had no faith.  People would ask me to pray and it was all that I could do to do to pray and hoped that God would hear me.  Even the things that I found comforting, the Mass, the Liturgy and the Daily Office were painful.

This Christmas and Advent is better than last.  I am finding meaning again.  The little Episcopal Church that I attend helps me in this.  It is much like the churches that I grew up in.  The hymns and the liturgy are comforting.  I am beginning to rediscover faith.  A week and a half ago I was paged stat or our ER where an elderly man was dying.  He was 91 years old and had suffered a heart attack at his family home not far from the hospital.  He has served as a Navy Officer and later Navy doctor and had done his internship at our medical center in the 1940s.

I sprinted to the ER and when I got to his room was introduced to his wife.  She asked if I would pray and then asked if I was Episcopal.  I said I was a Priest in an Episcopal denomination and she asked if I could give her husband, a life-long Episcopalian the last rites.  The man was obviously in his last moments of life.  I performed the Rite and when I finished he passed away.  My hand was on his brow when he breathed his last and his body began to lose its warmth.  One of the Doctors said it was like he had waited until I got there.  The man died with his family, was at home in the house his father built and had eaten what he said was the best “stew of his life” before he passed out.  He died at the hospital he trained at and loved with his family at his side and received the last rites of the Church.  I left the ER after a wonderful chat with his wife, who reflected on his life and how blessed that he was to go out like this.  I left the ER knowing that I had been part of something miraculous.  My eyes were opened and for one of the few times in the past 22 months I felt the presence of God again.

I am still a Christian.  Why is sometimes hard to figure.  I am not a Christian because of the my Church, though I love the Church, it often has been for me a sourse of pain and rejection.  I am not a Christian because of what is called “Christian” nor can I ignore the injustice, violence and oppression wrought by those who called themsleves Christian throughout history.  Slavery, the subjectation and conquest of who peoples to take their land and resources and wars of agression blessed by “Christian” leaders are all part of history.  At the same time much progress has come through the work, faith and actions of Christians and the Church. Despite all of the warts I can like Hans Kung “I can feel fundamentally positive about a tradition that is significant for me; a tradition in which I live side by side with so many others, past and present.” (Kung, Hans Why I am Still a Christian Abingdon Press, Nashville 1987 p. 36)

Neither am I a Christian because I think that the Christian faith has “all” of the answers.  In fact coming through Iraq I understand what my Church History Professor, Dr Doyle Young said “all of people’s deepest needs are not religious.”  Nor am I a Christian because I think that Christians are somehow better or more spiritual than others.  In fact I find the crass materialism and self centered “What can God to for me?” theology and way of life to be deeply offensive.  People get sick, young children die, innocents are subjected to trauma even from their parents or siblings.  Good people endure unspeakable trials while sometimes it seems that evil people get away with murder.  I can’t chealk it all up to a naive “it’s God’s will” kind of theology.  I don’t presume to know God’s will and I can’t be satisfied with pat answers like I see given in so many allegedly Christian publications, sermons and media outlets.  Praying doesn’t always make things better. I remain a Christian in spite of these things.  I still believe that God cares in spite of everything else, in spite of my own doubts, fears and failure.  I still believe, Lord help me in my unbelief.

I look forward to Christmas this year. I look forward to the coming of Emmanuel, God with us.  We sang the hymn “O Come O Come Emmanuel” at Church Sunday.  It was what I needed to hear.

O come, O come, Emmanuel
And ransom captive Israel
That mourns in lonely exile here
Until the Son of God appear
Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel
Shall come to thee, O Israel.

O come, Thou Rod of Jesse, free
Thine own from Satan’s tyranny
From depths of Hell Thy people save
And give them victory o’er the grave
Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel
Shall come to thee, O Israel.

O come, Thou Day-Spring, come and cheer
Our spirits by Thine advent here
Disperse the gloomy clouds of night
And death’s dark shadows put to flight.
Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel
Shall come to thee, O Israel.

O come, Thou Key of David, come,
And open wide our heavenly home;
Make safe the way that leads on high,
And close the path to misery.
Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel
Shall come to thee, O Israel.

O come, O come, Thou Lord of might,
Who to Thy tribes, on Sinai’s height,
In ancient times did’st give the Law,
In cloud, and majesty and awe.
Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel
Shall come to thee, O Israel.

For those that like me struggle with faith, feel abandoned by God, family and friends.  For those who have experienced the crisis of faith or even a loss of faith I pray that all of us will experience joy this season.  I’m sure that I will have some ups and downs, I certainly don’t think that I am over all that I am still going through.  However I know that I am not alone to face my demons and pray that by opening up that others who are going through similar experiences will find hope.  O come, Thou Day-Spring, come and cheer, our spirits by Thine advent here. Disperse the gloomy clouds of night, and death’s dark shadows put to flight.

Peace,

Padre Steve+

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