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“When You Are Lost, You are Not Alone” Doubt and Faith in Lent

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

Yesterday was a convoluted day. It was Ash Wednesday, Valentine’s Day and the beginning of Baseball’s Spring Training. It was also a tremendously busy day at work that included multiple meetings, conducting the Ecumenical Ash Wednesday liturgy, the usual program, administrative, personnel, and facility management issues. Likewise because it was Valentine’s Day I didn’t want to screw it up. Since I usually find a way to screw up birthdays, anniversaries, Valentine’s Day and other assorted holidays involving marriage it was a bit stressful. Thankfully I did pretty well regarding Valentine’s Day, I started by trying to suck up in the days before Valentine’s Day doing little things to build up some extra points in case I screwed up on the actual day, and for once I didn’t totally screw the pooch, in fact I did rather well, but I digress…

Of course if I had wanted to be an ass I could have celebrated Ashentine’s Day, that is the rare day when Ash Wednesday falls on Valentine’s Day enabling asshat spouses, fiancee’s, or partners to tell their beloved that they can’t take them out for a fancy dinner because of the fasting rules prescribed by the Church on Ash Wednesday. This confluence doesn’t happen often, the last time it did was seventy-tree or seventy-four years ago, so cheapskates and other turds don’t get the opportunity to do this often, and the fact that I even thought of it means that while I may be a complete turd at times that I would never tell Judy: “Sorry, I can’t take you out or give you anything for Valentine’s Day because it’s Ash Wednesday and I don’t want to lead you to hell.” I value my life too much. That being said I can imagine that there are some people who will do exactly that, not because they really are trying to observe the true meaning of Lent, but because they are cheap asshats who look for ways out of doing something nice for their partner using the cover of religion to do it. But again I digress as I so often do…

The truth is that a decade after returning from Iraq I still struggle with faith and belief, and doubt is always a part of my life and Lent has never really been a good time for me. In the early years of this blog I masked my struggle with humor about trying to make getting through Lent focusing more on the outward displays of faith and the actions of prayer, abstinence, and fasting than really wrestling with why the penitential aspects of Lent are important; far from being onerous they help us remember our shared humanity; especially with the least, the lost, and the lonely.

That being said I do still have faith, more than I have had for quite a few years and when it came time to schedule an Ecumenical Ash Wednesday service at my Chapel to compliment our Roman Catholic Mass which was scheduled for the evening I decided to lead it. I am glad that I did.

Since I was not serving at this chapel last year I had no idea how many people might show up or what the composition would be. Since I’m in an odd situation being an Old Catholic Priest, in a sense occupying a line between Roman Catholicism and Lutheran Protestantism I never know exactly what to expect in such a situation. Thankfully I have been able to build bridges with our Catholic and Protestant communities in the ten months that I have served here and I had members of both congregations at the service. Again not knowing what to expect I used the liturgy from the Episcopal Book of Common Prayer, with a couple of more Anglo-Catholic modifications in the Liturgy of the Eucharist, which I used in my previous denomination because it kind of splits the difference between Protestants and Catholics.

I do love celebrating the Eucharist and conducting the liturgy and it’s funny that after almost 22 years since I was ordained as a Priest I am beginning to acquire a taste for Ash Wednesday and Lent. This is especially true when I read the Biblical passages from the Lectionary associated with them, especially those of Ash Wednesday which include Isaiah 58: 1-12; Second Corinthians 5:20b-6:10; and Matthew 6:1-6, and 16-21. When I read them, especially the passage from Isaiah I am continually amazed at how they speak to the state of American Christianity in the age of Trump. I’m going to try to avoid politics for tonight but I could see Isaiah preaching them today almost any church in America, especially the great Evangelical and Charismatic megachurches, and television ministries whose leaders have abandoned all pretense of being “Biblical” as they prostrate themselves before the President in pursuit of raw political power masked in an extremely thin veneer of religion.

In my sermon I did not hammer home on that but I did spend a lot of time with the Isaiah passage without being overtly political; which in my position that would have been less than wise. Sometimes it’s better to let the scriptures speak for themselves.

I also talked about doubt, something that many people, including Christians of all persuasions struggle with but few ministers really honor as a measure of faith. I used my own struggle with faith and doubt after Iraq. I struggled and I still struggle with faith, I believe but sometimes I don’t, and I am certainly not someone who thinks that he has the Christian life down, in fact sometimes my witness; my temper, my language, and so much more about me do not reflect Jesus. I am not okay with that, but it is the truth. Since Spring Training began today I let the congregation know that I am a Mendoza Line Christian, meaning that I have a Christian life batting average of about .200, just enough to say in the game.

Doubt is usually ignored, and most of the Christians who I know who struggle with doubt are afraid to talk about it in church, you tend to lose friends by expressing doubts or struggles in most churches. To me it is no wonder that the fastest growing religious demographic in the United States are those people with no religious preference and those who have either fled the church or those outside who look at the Church and find nothing redeeming in it. Sadly, most of these people actually like or admire Jesus, some even believing that he is the Son of God, but who are so disgusted by the actions of Christians that they have walked away. As Pedro Cerrano in Major League said: “Ah, Jesus, I like him very much, but he no help with curveball.” 

As I finished my sermon I decided to read the words of the homily given by Father Flynn played by Philip Seymour Hoffman in the movie Doubt. The film is powerful, set in 1964 and I won’t do spoilers to tell you what happens in it and how it ends, you’ll need to watch it yourself. But I will share the words of Father Flynn’s sermon because they are so symbolic of our time when so many people struggle with faith. His words which compare the collective experience of people whose world has been shattered versus those whose struggles are invisible to most people. I know what that is like and because of my own struggles I have come to be able to read the unspoken angst, fear, doubt, and weariness of the lonely.

“Last year, when President Kennedy was assassinated, who among us did not experience the most profound disorientation? Despair? Which way? What now? What do I say to my kids? What do I tell myself? It was a time of people sitting together, bound together by a common feeling of hopelessness. But think of that! Your bond with your fellow being was your Despair. It was a public experience. It was awful, but we were in it together. How much worse is it then for the lone man, the lone woman, stricken by a private calamity?

‘No one knows I’m sick.’

‘No one knows I’ve lost my last real friend.’

‘No one knows I’ve done something wrong.’

Imagine the isolation. Now you see the world as through a window. On one side of the glass: happy, untroubled people, and on the other side: you.

I want to tell you a story. A cargo ship sank one night. It caught fire and went down. And only this one sailor survived. He found a lifeboat, rigged a sail…and being of a nautical discipline…turned his eyes to the Heavens and read the stars. He set a course for his home, and exhausted, fell asleep. Clouds rolled in. And for the next twenty nights, he could no longer see the stars. He thought he was on course, but there was no way to be certain. And as the days rolled on, and the sailor wasted away, he began to have doubts. Had he set his course right? Was he still going on towards his home? Or was he horribly lost… and doomed to a terrible death? No way to know. The message of the constellations – had he imagined it because of his desperate circumstance? Or had he seen truth once… and now had to hold on to it without further reassurance? There are those of you in church today who know exactly the crisis of faith I describe. And I want to say to you: doubt can be a bond as powerful and sustaining as certainty. When you are lost, you are not alone.

In the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost.”

So as Lent begins I encourage those who struggle and doubt to realize that there are a lot more people like then they realize; and for those who are not struggling not to look down on the lonely, not to be afraid that doubt is contagious, but instead to do the little things that remind people that they are not alone.

Likewise it is important to realize that some of the people who outwardly appear the most sanctimonious, the most sure of their beliefs, and the most rigid in their opposition to others also struggle, and that their display of certitude masks their own doubts and their own aloneness.

So until tomorrow,

Peace,

Padre Steve+

 

 

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Gratitude, Relationships and Hope; Even in Death

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“Gratitude changes the pangs of memory into a tranquil joy.” Dietrich Bonhoeffer

Today I was able to attend the Celebration of Life for Captain Tom Sitsch. It was good to be able to attend. I was able to meet his brother Mike and Sister Karen as well as many others who knew and loved Tom. These included men that I know from my time with EOD Group Two, some of whom have since retired from the military.

I was touched by the words that Mike and Karen spoke about Tom, as well as the remembrances of others. There were times during the service that I felt tears coming down my cheeks, and when I needed to wipe them from my eyes.

The pastor who spoke mentioned something that resonated with me. He noted that when he talked with Tom about God and faith, that Tom commented to him that “after all he had seen and experienced he didn’t know if he could believe in God.” That I can understand, there is something about the moral injury of war, not just the the physical injuries sustained or the clinical diagnosis of PTSD, or Traumatic Brain Injury that does terrible damage to the soul. A good number of people noted that they thought that he saw something, or experienced a loss in his last tour in Iraq that shook him beyond anything he had ever anticipated. That too I can understand.

It was good to be able to be invited to attend and for me it was a good chance to remember the life of a man who was there for me when I needed it. There was a slide show that depicted Tom’s life, his love for is family, his military career and the life that he attempted to life after his retirement. Between the stories, the shared memories and the pictures I gained an even greater appreciation for Tom Sitsch.

On a personal side it was just good to be there with people who knew and loved Tom. It was really good for me because for once I didn’t have any official role. I cannot remember the last time when I went to a memorial service where I was not involved in the planning, execution or participation in it, quite often as the primary speaker. For once I was able to grieve, remember and celebrate the man that I knew with others whose lives he touched.

It was just good to be with such good people, all of who loved and cared for Tom. There is something healing when people are able to grieve the loss of someone they love together. It is healing, even when tears are shed. Unfortunately, there is nothing any of us can do to bring Tom back. We all, his family, friends, and those that he served alongside all grieve, each in our own way, but we share a common grief, that of the loss of a man who touched our lives.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer noted about loss:

“There is nothing that can replace the absence of someone dear to us, and one should not even attempt to do so. One must simply hold out and endure it. At first that sounds very hard, but at the same time it is also a great comfort. For to the extent the emptiness truly remains unfilled one remains connected to the other person through it. It is wrong to say that God fills the emptiness. God in no way fills it but much more leaves it precisely unfilled and thus helps us preserve — even in pain — the authentic relationship. Further more, the more beautiful and full the remembrances, the more difficult the separation. But gratitude transforms the torment of memory into silent joy. One bears what was lovely in the past not as a thorn but as a precious gift deep within, a hidden treasure of which one can always be certain.” 

The loss of Tom Sitsch left all of us with many beautiful remembrances, which as Bonhoeffer so correctly noted that his separation from us s “more difficult.”

But in the midst of the deep feelings of loss that all of us felt, there were questions. Many wondered what they could have done to change the tragic outcome. The question of “what if?” bothers all of us. Likewise, there was the realization that there are others, who like Tom who need help and are probably not getting it.

My prayers go put to all those who feel the loss of Tom Sitsch, especially his family, friends and those that served with him.

Tonight I heard from a Navy Chaplain that I had not talked to in a long time. It was really good to spend time on the phone with him. I had the honor of baptizing his children back in 2000 when he was my Religious Program specialist. He went on to become a chaplain and do well, serving in the thick of the fighting in Al Anbar Province with a Marine Corps infantry battalion, just missing getting blown up in a large IED blast after completing a service for Marines at a Combat Outpost. He will be retiring later this year, and I hope that he can get on with the Veterans Administration to continue to care for our veterans.

I do hope that in some little way that I can be of help to those who grieve, and those whose lives have been torn apart by the trauma of war. Hopefully, in my own small way, even though I am often filled with doubt, unbelief, and usually have more questions than I have answers, I can at least be there for people who struggle.

I go to bed tonight grateful for what Tom Sitsch did for me; for being invited to attend the service today, to be with others who grieve, and to reunite with an old friend. Those are some of the remarkable things about military life that I am thankful.

Well, that is all for tonight, except for a prayer:

Keep watch, dear Lord, with those who work, or watch, or
weep this night, and give your angels charge over those who
sleep. Tend the sick, Lord Christ; give rest to the weary, bless
the dying, soothe the suffering, pity the afflicted, shield the
joyous; and all for your love’s sake. Amen. (From the Book of Common Prayer) 

Peace

Padre Steve+

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Full Military Honors: Getting a Chance to Repay a Service done for My Family by the Navy

Last summer my dad Aviation Storekeeper Chief Carl Dundas died after a long battle with Alzheimer’s disease.  Since I wasn’t much good for anything then my boss at my last duty station Chaplain Jesse Tate contacted the Chief of Chaplains Office and our mutual friend Chaplain Jerry Seeley in California.  These men and the Navy came through to provide my family with a funeral with full military honors for my dad.  It was something that we all treasured and something that really helped my mom get through that dark time. It allowed her to reconnect with the Navy something that was a big part of our lives for years. I won’t forget Chaplain Seeley and his comforting words and the Senior Chief Petty Officer who presented our Nation’s Flag to my mother.  One thing that I did do was construct two collages of pictures from his life which were available for friends and family to view. When I put them together it was really for my mom but the task of sorting through a couple of thousand photos to find the ones that best epitomized my dad, his life and personality was healing to me.

Since I am a Chief’s kid I have a soft heart for Navy Chiefs and in the past two and a half years working in Navy Medicine I have been able to be with quite a few of these men and women in their final days as well as their families. Last week I had the duty pager and received a call to come to our multi-service ward as a family had requested a baptism for one of our former Master Chief Petty Officers named Carl.  He and his family had arranged with one of my staff to be baptized last Friday as he knew his life was coming to an end.  Well late Wednesday night it became apparent that he would not last that long and I was asked to come in.  I got to the hospital and put on my Khakis and went to the nurse’s station where I listened to them tell me the situation and read his chart. I noted the request for baptism and the plan for it to be done Friday.  When I had done that I went to the room where Carl lay in bed dozing. I met his wife Judy and son’s Randy and Jeff and we visited for nearly an hour as he lay there and I listened to them tell me about him as a husband and father, his Navy service, his faith and his love for baseball.

Carl had entered the Navy a couple of years after my dad and remained in it a good deal longer retiring in 1988.  He served in combat as a Corpsman with the Marines in Vietnam and saw service around the world. He retired as the Command Master Chief of Naval Hospital Camp LeJeune.  He was active and played for and managed various Navy Baseball and Softball teams including the hospital’s team which I now play on.  There were a lot of emotional connections for me with this man. He served during the era that my dad did and both served on the ground in Vietnam.  His name was Carl like my dad, his wife Judy like my wife and one son Jeff like my brother.  He loved baseball.  I felt like I was family and in a sense I was because we are part of the Navy family and that is something that is special. I still receive e-mails from one of my dad’s former Chief Petty Officers almost like he is trying to watch out for his friend and fellow Chief’s son.

I prepared to conduct the baptism and Carl woke up. His wife introduced me to him and he greeted me. I explained that I was there to baptize him and asked if he still desired to be baptized and he replied yes and gave me a “thumbs up.” As I baptized him he was praying with a smile on his face as the water flowed over his forehead. I then asked for Carl and his family to join me in the Lord’s Prayer and as we prayed he prayed along with us.  It was a special moment and I elected to stay with the family for a while longer and simply be with them as they shared and ministered to Carl.  I gave Judy my card and went home getting to bed about three AM Thursday.

Yesterday afternoon I received word that I had been asked to conduct his funeral and I was honored. It was like having a chance to repay the generosity given to my family by the Navy.  This morning it seemed that nothing went right in trying to get my stuff together. We are in temporary office spaces as our offices and Chapel are being renovated. As a result I have no earthly idea where half of my things are. I prepared my Service Dress Blue uniform last night and placed it where I wouldn’t forget it. I discovered that I didn’t have it about 5 miles into my trip and had to go back and get it. Then on my second trip in about the same place I had the feeling that I had forgotten something else.  I looked around the car and couldn’t find my Bible and Book of Common Prayer.  I thought I had packed it and taken it home with me last night so I turned around again. I got home to the Island Hermitage and try as I might I couldn’t find them.  So I grabbed the Kindle that my Judy had got me for my birthday knowing that I had the Book of Common Prayer and the liturgy for burial on it.  I got back on the road for the third time and arrived at the office where I found my Bible and Book of Common Prayer.  I then started to get ready to go after a bit of business and discovered that I had everything but a tie, which I only have about five of but none were to be found. Our small Marine Corps Exchange in the hospital had none so I had to go to main side where I got one of the two on the rack; this is a Marine Corps Uniform store so the Navy items are not well stocked.  Getting back to the office I donned my uniform looking perfectly resplendent I might add and went to the funeral home where I met up with other perfectly resplendent Chiefs and Sailors.  One thing about the Navy Service Dress Blues they are a classic uniform and are always a classy look.

We had a significant number of sailors there with members of our Chief’s Mess acting as pallbearers, other Petty Officers and Sailors serving as the Flag detail and one of our Master Chiefs presenting the American Flag to Judy.   We also had about 30 other Sailors present joining Carl’s family, his extended family and friends which included a number of men who had served with Carl during his career.  A Marine Honor Guard commanded by a Gunnery Sergeant fired the 21 gun salute and then Taps was played.  It was an honor and privilege to participate.

The brief homily that I gave came out of the Gospel according to John where Jesus tells Martha at the tomb of Lazarus “I am the resurrection and the life.”  In it I focused on that message even as I mentioned his service, life and care of his family and his sailors and his service during and after Vietnam.  After the committal I lingered with various friends of Carl’s and as the crowd dissipated I got into my car and left.  I was blessed by God to be able to return a favor done to my family.  For me this is a large part of why I continue to serve, to care for God’s people in the Sea Services those currently serving and those that blazed the trail for us.  Sometimes one gets lucky.

Peace

Padre Steve+

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A Time to Heal

Almighty God, who hast given us this good land for our

heritage: We humbly beseech thee that we may always prove

ourselves a people mindful of thy favor and glad to do thy will.

Bless our land with honorable industry, sound learning, and

pure manners.  Save us from violence, discord, and confusion;

from pride and arrogance, and from every evil way. Defend

our liberties, and fashion into one united people the multitudes

brought hither out of many kindreds and tongues. Endue

with the spirit of wisdom those to whom in thy Name we entrust

the authority of government, that there may be justice and

peace at home, and that, through obedience to thy law, we

may show forth thy praise among the nations of the earth.

In the time of prosperity, fill our hearts with thankfulness,

and in the day of trouble, suffer not our trust in thee to fail;

all which we ask through Jesus Christ our Lord.  Amen.

 

From the Book of Common Prayer

 

The tragic events of Saturday January 8th 2011 have revealed the best and the worst aspects of our society. From the heroism of individuals and the kindness and prayers offered by many in this time of darkness to blame being spread about by those seeking to demonize their opponents once again.  The tragedy was scarcely hours old when partisans on the left and the right without any real evidence sought to blame the actions of Jared Lee Loughner on those Americans that have become their enemies.

In the midst of a real war against enemies that attacked us we have engaged in a political civil war that is only equaled in hatred, bitterness and rancor by that which consumed the nation in the years preceding the Civil War or in Germany’s Weimar Republic. Led by a new class of take no prisoners’ political pundits and talk show hosts politicians of both major parties have allowed the tenor of political debate in the land to descend to the crassest, hateful and even violent rhetoric imaginable.  Ordinary citizens now see those that disagree with their party or ideology as enemies and not fellow American citizens worthy of their respect and forbearance.  Both sides have had elements resort to physical violence and intimidation at polling places, local party headquarters and political rallies.

Preachers of many faiths and opposing ideologies have allowed their pulpits to become bastions of bombast and do all that they can to ensure that others know that God is on their side and not the other.  By doing this they make a mockery of faith before a watching world and all for the sake of a share in the spoils of hard wrought political victory.  The words of Jesus to “love your enemies and pray for those that persecute you” are lost on such preachers who are no better and perhaps worse than the pundits, talk show hosts and politicians that have done the same. Men and women of faith should know better. It seems they forget the passage of Isaiah quoted by Jesus “Here is my servant, whom I have chosen, my beloved, with whom my soul is well pleased. I will put my Spirit upon him, and he will proclaim justice to the Gentiles. He will not wrangle or cry aloud, nor will anyone hear his voice in the streets. He will not break a bruised reed or quench a smoldering wick until he brings justice to victory. And in his name the Gentiles will hope.”

Quite simply while our military wages a war abroad and police agencies seek to prevent more attacks we have allowed ourselves to declare war on each other.  Without a shred of evidence from the accused as to why he committed this crime we have labeled the other side responsible for the attack of a madman based on hearsay while ignoring the few things that the accused had communicated. This isn’t public debate or political discourse it is civil war.

In fact the verbiage used by the political combatants is that of war. There is a culture war, a war against the family, a war against the elderly, a war against the poor, a war against immigrants, a war against workers, you name it the terminology is there, it is if we are waging a Jihad against each other. People talk of armed revolution, the shedding of blood or military coups and some actually pray prayers for the death of political leaders of whom they disapprove. The difference in 2011 than in 2007 is that the ideologues making these statements are from different parties; now the target of the anger is President Obama rather than President Bush.

What it all comes down to is that it really doesn’t matter if Jared Lee Loughner is a liberal or conservative. We have strong reason to believe that he is mentally ill. But even still his ideas that he espoused on his web posts didn’t occur in a vacuum.  Loughner’s may be mixed up and at times nonsensical but they still come from somewhere because as screwed up as some of his ideas are they occur in saner form on a daily basis.  In our hate filled political and social climate where adversaries don’t measure the impact of their words on the maladjusted or the mentally ill Loughner probably picked up a mixed bag of hatred and make it his own.

On Wednesday night President Obama gave what I thought was the best and most thoughtful speech of his Presidency. He made the speech about the people not him and he brought words of comfort to a hurting community. He mentioned the political climate in passing in these words referring to the hopes and dreams of the youngest victim Christina Green:

“If this tragedy prompts reflection and debate, as it should, let’s make sure it’s worthy of those we have lost. Let’s make sure it’s not on the usual plane of politics and point-scoring and pettiness that drifts away with the next news cycle…. I want us to live up to her expectations.  I want our democracy to be as good as she imagined it.  All of us – we should do everything we can to make sure this country lives up to our children’s expectations.”

The speech was in my view having always admired President Ronald Reagan was “Reaganesque.”  I have not shed a tear during a Presidential speech for a very long time, perhaps dating back to the Challenger speech.  I was touched by the President’s words and have included the link here.
http://www.nowpublic.com/world/barack-obama-tucson-speech-transcript-video-arizona-memorial-2747009.html#ixzz1AxvgVzXg

I think it is fitting that we also remember the closing words of Abraham Lincoln’s Second Inaugural Address given not long before he was assassinated by John Wilkes Booth. Lincoln knew that the great divisions in the country that resulted in the Civil War would not go away with the defeat and dissolution of the Confederacy as they were too deep and in fact in some ways still with us today.  But with words seldom equaled by an American President he said.

“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.”

It is time that we choose to work to heal our divisions as Americans, as people of faith and people that believe we have been and still can be that shining city which has been a beacon to freedom loving people of all races, nationalities, creeds and colors. We are better than what has been represented by members of the media, pundits, politicians and yeas preachers.  I hope we can again learn to love and respect one another again even though we may not agree and may we lay down the language of hate and replace it with love.

In the words of this prayer from the Book of Common Prayer:

O God, you made us in your own image and redeemed us

through Jesus your Son: Look with compassion on the whole

human family; take away the arrogance and hatred which

infect our hearts; break down the walls that separate us;

unite us in bonds of love; and work through our struggle and

confusion to accomplish your purposes on earth; that, in

your good time, all nations and races may serve you in

harmony around your heavenly throne; through Jesus Christ

our Lord.  Amen.

 

Peace

Padre Steve+

 

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A Tangled Mass of Emotions: Dad, the Boss, an ICU Death and the All-Star Game

The Big “A” that I knew

I am a mess the past day or so. Not that anything is bad or going wrong it is just that emotionally I am a mess.  As I try to get back into normal life I find emotions brought up by my dad’s death three weeks ago going all over the place.  Today was so strange; it actually began a couple of days ago when I finished the third chapter of my series on “Meeting Jesus and the Team at 7-11” entitled “A Death, a Rain Delay and a Visit from Saint Pete.” Since my dad’s death due to complications from Alzheimer’s disease I have experienced number of things that sent my emotions into overload because they somehow connected with dad and his death.  Over the past couple of days these intense emotional surges, I cannot call them swings because they are not swings, I am not going between depression and elation but rather experiencing strong emotional impulses as things remind me of my dad or of childhood.  I know that I am okay because grief and the emotions that follow the loss of a parent particularly your father if you are the oldest son are guaranteed to mess with you. They are normal, I am a highly trained pastoral caregiver but since I am not a Vulcan but a Romulan with probably a bit of Klingon mixed in the emotional surges that well up from under my normally cold and logical exterior are a real bitch, no wonder the Romulans wage war with such ferocity and the Klingons appear to be in a perpetually foul mood.  But I digress…

The past couple of weeks have been weird because I never know when something is going to trigger emotions that remind me of my dad.  Much of this of course revolves around baseball as it was my dad that taught me to love the game and through the connection between baseball and dad there has been, even when he was no longer himself due to the ravages of Alzheimer’s something that brought a sense of stability and peace to life, even when I was a post-Iraq PTSD mess.

Now I am a mess again as things that I see, hear and experience things that bring me back to dad.  At this moment my excrement is together but I have no idea what or when the next emotional surge will hit and I will be blubbering like I girl, not that there is anything wrong with that.

The past few days are a case in point. I went to Harbor Park on both Saturday and Sunday and had a great time, at the same time I felt like my dad was there. He never came to Norfolk during my time here because of his physical and deteriorating mental state but now since his death it almost feels like he is there with me.  I went to work Monday and had the on-call overnight duty at the Medical Center and was doing pretty well but in the late afternoon I was called for a cardiac arrest of an 81 year old man and off and on throughout the evening was called back as he continued to get worse to take care of his family, a wife of 63 years and a son a couple of years old than me.  I really wanted this man to live but it became apparent as the night wore on that he would not survive the night and his wife asked me to perform the Sacrament of Healing or what some used to refer to as “Last Rights” which I did with she and her son present using the rite form the Book of Common Prayer.  With his condition somewhat stable I went to our call room where I attempted to get a little rest on the bed from hell.   Of course getting to sleep on said bed is difficult at best and since when I am on duty the hyper vigilance factor is real and present it takes a while to get to sleep.  About 0215 my fitful sleep was interrupted by the pager going off and with it the message to come back to the ICU as the patient was dying.  I went back and was with the family when he died and until they left the building about 0315.

The next morning or rather later in the morning, but not much later I was back up and preparing for a meeting across the bay at the VA Medical Center. While I prepared I found out that George Steinbrenner had died.  When I felt the emotions well up in me, especially while I was watching ESPN’s Sports Center and various players, managers and other sports figures were interviewed about the Boss the emotions started coming in waves, funny how that happens.  As I reflect on this I guess it is because in many ways my dad and Steinbrenner were similar, passionate, outspoken, driven but also caring and good fathers who often showed compassion to others but in a private manner. Now my dad was not a fan of Steinbrenner or the Yankees, but the Boss engendered such emotions in people, positive and negative I am not surprised my dad had little regard for the American League after all he was a National League man.  When I heard Derek Jeter, Joe Morgan, Paul O’Neil and so many others talk of their relationship with Steinbrenner I laughed, cried and reflected on dad.  Strange connection but a connection anyway.

Photo Day 1970 with Angels Manager “Lefty” Phillips

Later in the evening I went to Gordon Biersch for a salad, beer and to watch some of the Major League Baseball All-Star game which was being played at the home of the Los Angeles Angels, at one time th California Angels, Anaheim Stadium, the place where more than any my dad taught me a love and respect of the game of Baseball.  As I looked at this cathedral of baseball, now expanded and Disneyfied since I was a child shagging foul balls and collecting autographs I was taken back in time.  I remember the very first game that dad took us to at Anaheim Stadium as it was then known as the “Big A” like it was yesterday, July 4th 1970 the day after Clyde Wright pitched a no-hitter. On this day the Angels did not win, the A’s won 7-4.  I saw the first major league home runs that I can remember seeing in person that night as we sat in the lower level of the right field corner near the foul pole. At that time the bullpen was adjacent to the grandstand and there were no mountains, valleys, palm trees or whatever else is out there, a log ride perhaps, but I digress. Back then there was a warning track and a fence as well as an amazing scoreboard in the shape of a big block “A” with a halo near the top.

That night I saw home runs by Reggie Jackson, Bert Campaneris and Sal Bando for the A’s and Jim Spencer for the Angels.  Jim “Catfish” Hunter got the win and Jim “Mudcat” Grant got the save. Rudy May took the loss for the Angels.  The fact that I saw two future Hall of Fame players in this game was amazing, the winning pitcher, Hunter and Reggie Jackson.  Later in the year I entered a contest and wrote why Jim Spencer was my favorite Angel.  I had met Spencer at an autograph signing event at the local Von’s grocery store and when the contest winners were announced I was a runner up. I got tickets behind home plate and my name announced by legendary sportscaster Dick Enberg on the radio and my name in the Long Beach newspaper that sponsored the contest.  Dad took us probably to 30 or more games that year and I fell in love with the game.

Back in those days teams still had photo days where players would be available on the field for pictures and autographs and on autograph day in 1970 my dad took my brother and I onto a major league ball field for the first time and I was in awe.  The warning track was a red clay and the field was lush green as I looked back in toward home plate I wondered what it would be like to play in such a place.  From that season on the game had a hold on me. Dad and I did not have much in common, my brother I think is actually more like him than me but Dad taught me about the game at the stadium and in our back yard and gave me a gift that connected him to me more than anything else, something that I didn;t realize until much later in life.  I looked at that stadium on television and I saw the field, the main part of the stadium is still so much like it was when dad took us there and as I looked at it and remembered him I was in tears, I had a hard time keeping my emotions in, kind of embarrassing to be in tears at a bar during a baseball game but I was doing my best to hold it in.  Judy told me that I probably needed to talk to Elmer the Shrink about this but he is out of town until next week.  So I’ll wait, everyone deserves time off.

While we were still there and I was working on my second Kölsch style sömmerbrau a friend came up to me. He was a bit lit up having consumed his fair share and maybe more for the night but God used him and in his own way to bring comfort to me in what appeared rather earthy and even ludicrous manner but when he was said and done I felt better.  I think that he will need to serve as a model for some character in the Meeting Jesus and the Team series, I have no idea which figure from the Bible or Church history just yet but I will look around because what he said even though a tad under the influence of decidedly good beer was profound.  God does use people in strange and mysterious ways.

So I will continue I am sure to have emotional surges whenever something reminds me of my dad and I guess in the long run that is a good thing as my friend said it would make me better at what I do, I have now experienced the loss of my dad and am that much closer to the time that I will pass away, a generation has been removed between me and the end of my earthly life. This is something that so many people that I know already deal with.  It allows me to be connected to them in a way that just a few weeks back that I could not be.  It makes me a bit more human and more connected.

Dad, the Boss and the All-Star game at Anaheim Stadium, it is amazing what this concoction of images, memories and feelings can turn me into, a blubbering girl, not that there is anything wrong with that.

Peace,

Padre Steve+

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Marriage Killers: The Pitter Patter of Little Annoyances

I performed a marriage ceremony yesterday for a wonderful couple out on the beach near “First Landing” memorial and historic Cape Henry lighthouse on Fort Story, or what is now part of Joint Expeditionary Base Little Creek-Fort Story.  It was a wonderful time despite having my pristine bald head sunburned and looking like a tomato by the end of the ceremony and pictures. I should have worn my Giants cap up to the beginning of the actual ceremony or slapped on some sunscreen before I went out but no I couldn’t do any such thing.  But anyway I digress.

In my years as a Priest and a Chaplain in both the Army and the Navy I have done a lot of pre-marriage, marriage and post marriage counseling.  In that time I have come to realize that of the 50% or so of marriages that end up in divorce that most are not due to the “big things” like adultery or abuse. Instead it is the pitter patter of little annoyances and an inability to communicate or be emotionally intimate with one another that are the leading causes of why so many marriages fail.  Now admittedly in the context of things the “big things” like adultery and abuse are nearly impossible for a marriage to recover from because they are betrayals of trust and safety with the people that we have chosen to be vulnerable with and commit ourselves to, hopefully for life.

Now I really don’t think that most people enter into marriage be it a religious or civil marriage go into it with the expectation or hope that it will fail.  Instead I am want to believe that the vast majority of people that enter into marriage want it to work but really have no clue of what they are getting into.  The marriage rite in the Book of Common Prayer is quite rightly marriage is “not to be entered into unadvisedly or lightly, but reverently, deliberately…” in other words with due prudence, preparation and discernment.

One thing that I always tell the young male sailors and Marines that I have counseled when they are hot to trot and madly in lust is to remind them of the seal on the flag of the Commonwealth of Virginia.  The flag shows a woman, “Virtus” or Virtue dressed as an Amazon standing over a man with her foot on him and a spear thrust down beside him.  I tell them that it is symbolic of the divorce laws here in the Old Dominion.  But anyway I digress.

Virginia Divorce Laws as portrayed of the State Flag

The big things are most difficult to survive in the short term; however it is the constant beating of the little things, those annoyances that married couples experience from each other that kill marriages just as dead as the big things even though it usually takes longer for this to happen.  A friend of my mother’s dropped her divorce papers on her unwitting and clueless husband on their 50th wedding anniversary which I must confess earns her a high score for both technical merit and artistic achievement.  Of course most people don’t wait that long to do this and the papers are filled with stories about couples that file for divorce citing “irreconcilable differences.”  What are these differences?  Well I’m glad that you asked that question but if you are married or were married I am surprised that you have to ask. It is the little things, annoying habits, nervous ticks, crumbs left on the counter, underwear draped on the banister, clothing strewn around the house, spending habits on hobbies deemed unnecessary by one spouse or another, personality differences maybe one is an introvert and one an extrovert or similarities that are so close that one or the other realize that what they find annoying in their spouse is just like what they do leading to a rather unique form of self loathing.   Likewise there are the spouse’s friends and friendships that date back well before the couple met that one or the other spouse finds bothersome or feels threatened by and then there of course are the things that couples don’t communicate about, the things that are allowed to build up until they explode like a volcano or even a massive pimple.  For some reason and I don’t know why it seems that a nearly universal occurrence in marriage is that couples cannot communicate their needs and desires and are woefully unable to bear any criticism from their spouse.  For some reason, I don’t know maybe fear of rejection by their spouse if they own up to their needs or put voice to their criticism will instead let things build up until the discontent reaches such a level that it can no longer be held in and they erupt.  Of course the damage done by the eruption of pure and unabated negative energy the explosion causes such damage that it is about as repairable as the battle cruiser HMS Hood or perhaps the battleship USS Arizona.   The only difference is that the damaged and explosive build up takes a lot more time in these types of situations.

You see since the Abbess of the Abbey Normal and I have been married for almost 27 years we now understand this.  Not that is it always fun as certainly the two of us have done enough annoying things to each other over the course of the years to throw each other under the bus on innumerable occasions and sometimes our love has been tested but somehow we choose to remain committed to one another sometimes in spite of our better sensibilities.  However we do love each other and somehow in spite of the many often idiot things that I have done to include my sometimes brazen insensitivity we stay together.  It is like the Bible says; love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things and endures all things.  I think that the endurance thing doesn’t get enough play but still as for the Abbess anyone who can endure me for almost 27 years has a lot to brag about as I am not always the most sensitive person in the world, after all I am a Meyers-Briggs INTJ which basically means that my baseline is pretty much on the anti-social side of life. I guess that love does endure all things.  Our marriage is one where love somehow finds a way to triumph especially in spite of me. As I said to the Abbess once when watching an early episode of the TV show House …”House is like me without Jesus” and she said “Honey, House is you with Jesus.”

So the sometimes good and sometimes not so good padre is for couples that might be looking for love in all the wrong places and looking for love in too many faces to take some time before they tie the know and as the Book of Common Prayer Marriage Rite says to not to enter it marriage is not to be enter into it unadvisedly or lightly, but reverently and even might a say deliberately with all due discernment, preparation, counsel and even dare I say….say it say it, okay I must I must with trepidation fear and trembling and not give way to a surge of testosterone or hormones.  After all, this isn’t a movie it is real life and the failure to take simple stuff like this into account will certainly make things a lot more complicated and possibly painful later on and by the way for my more spiritual or religious readers, just because you guys think that the lust that you have for each other is God’s will because it makes you feel good, you can take those feelings and your checkbook to the divorce attorney who will certainly try his best to make all the bad feelings go away as fast as your bank account will let him.

Peace

Padre Steve+

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Ash Wednesday…Padre Steve’s Lenten Survival Tips to Make this a Happy Lent

“God, deliver me from gloomy saints.” – – Saint Teresa of Avila

 We’ll it is here, my least favorite season of the liturgical year.  As I have mentioned before I do not do well, at the same time it is something that I need to commit myself to observing for the sake of actually wanting a better spiritual life that is not simply a way to make me feel better about life but help me more fully to love and serve God my neighbor with an attitude of thanksgiving and joy.

 Those who know me know that such is not an easy task and that for me no matter how hard I have tried Lent has always been painful.  By the end of Lent I am thankful for Easter not simply because of the resurrection and the promise of redemption, but frankly because I was glad that Lent was over.  In my early days as a Priest I tried to out do others on Lent doing not just Friday but Wednesday as meatless. I have even tried doing opposite of what I was doing and hope that it would work. Last year in the midst of my spiritual crisis I tried to go extra-lean on Lent and that didn’t help either.  Perhaps that was due to my overall poor emotional, physical and spiritual condition as I was trying to climb out of the abyss of PTSD but still, Lent was not very productive for me no matter what I did.

 So this year I’m going to be a good Anglican and find the via media where I actually gain some spiritual benefit, give up something that I can actually succeed at giving up for Lent and add or increase some spiritual discipline that I can succeed at doing not just for Lent but in real life too.  I realize that I can’t overdo it or I will simply give up when something keeps me from doing it and the same time I need to do something not too difficult but not so easy as to be meaningless.  The goal is to have a meaningful Lent that actually does me some spiritual good while not becoming any more of a pain in the ass to the people around me that have to endure me. 

 Today was Ash Wednesday and I had the responsibility for conducting the Protestant service which for me comes straight out of the Book of Common Prayer.  The Gospel lesson from Matthew chapter 6 was Jesus telling folks how to fast not be idiots about it, in other words to “Steveicize” the language Jesus wants his followers to be able to and pray without drawing attention to ourselves and actually look happy about it.  I figure and I assume that Jesus figured out that there were too many gloomy religious people around and that the disciples needed to get a life before he sent them out into the world; of course just like me and maybe you too made plenty of mistakes and at times made a mess of things in their time with Jesus and even after.  The disciples who with the exception of Judas who got hung up on the details all became Apostles still all finished well and most got schwacked by the Romans or others displeased with their message. 

So with this in mind here are a few hints on how to get through Lent, not that I have been successful at doing this but figure that through my failures I might have a few insights in how to navigate the often treacherous season of Lent. 

First there are the spiritual disciplines, like starting simple, go to church, pray every day, even if it is something short and sweet.  If you are a superstar Christian you can go onward and upward using spiritual steroids to improve your performance but I’m not there yet, I just use spiritual steroids to help my soul heal faster.   As Saint Bernard of Clairvaux said:

 “Wherever…thou shalt be, pray secretly within thyself. If thou shalt be far from a house of prayer, give not thyself trouble to seek for one, for thou thyself art a sanctuary designed for prayer. If thou shalt be in bed, or in any other place, pray there; thy temple is there.”

 Now to what to give up:  Most of the time for Americans this involved food, particularly meat on Friday’s and sometimes other things.  I’ve heard of people giving up chocolate or certain delicacies but most of the time it is meatless Fridays and sometimes Wednesdays and there have been some that I have met who have gone on 40 days fasts during Lent.  I can get the meatless Fridays and I am going to give up something that I love that I don’t eat much of normally, like maybe once a week after successful weigh-ins, but really enjoy…I mean really enjoy, the Gordon Biersch Cheeseburger cooked medium rare with everything on it and Garlic Fries on the side. Since there is not a lot else for me to give up being on the Fat Boy program, that once a week treat will be a sacrifice. 

 Now since I tend not too eat most things that swim in their own toilet such as fish the whole deal of fish on Friday is something that I don’t observe…now I still go meatless but find alternative ways to do it. In the past I have done bean burritos, meatless salads, meatless pasta usually with a Marinara sauce, pizza with tomatoes, garlic, olives and mushrooms, or something simple like red or black beans and rice, vegetable soup, pea soup, black bean soup and other things like that.  This makes meatless doable.  One year though I had to suffer for Jesus on the USS Hue City as Friday was “surf and turf.” Since the turf was definitely out for Lent I had to make due with Alaskan King Crab or lobster tails.  That was difficult but I did survive.

 I think one of the things that I missed during previous Lenten seasons was the grace of God, somehow in trying to jump through all the Lenten hoops I became so fixated on the actions that I forgot to experience the love of God and the joy that comes with that.  This year will be all about that process and discovering the joy in life that has been coming back to me after my “Christmas miracle.”

 Martin Luther the German reformer wrote something very appropriate about how to approach Lent,a s well as the rest of the Christian life which I think is pretty profound as Lutehr sees the process of the Christian life:

 “‘Be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind (Rom. 12:2).’ In this way the Apostle describes (Christian) progress; for he addresses those who already are Christians. The Christian life does not mean to stand still, but to move from that which is good to that which is better. St. Bernard (of Clairvaux) rightly says: ‘As soon as you do not desire to become better, then you have ceased to be good.’ It does not help a tree to have green leaves and flowers if it does not bear fruit beside its flowers. For this reason – (for not bearing fruit) – many (nominal Christians) perish in their flowering. Man (the Christian) is always in the condition of nakedness, always in the state of becoming, always in the state of potentiality, always in the condition of activity. He is always a sinner, but also always repentant and so always righteous. We are in part sinners, and in part righteous, and so nothing else than penitents. No one is so good as that he could not become better; no one is so evil, as that he could not become worse.'” (Commentary on Romans, by Martin Luther, Translated by J. T. Mueller, Kregel Publications, Grand Rapid MI 49501, reprinted 1976, page 167-168.)

 On a side note one cool thing about this Lent is that it is happening about as early in the year as it can, thus it will not affect the baseball season as opening day at Harbor Park is the week following Easter.  So anyway with all of this in mind I bid you a blessed Lent and hope and pray that you will come to experience the love of God in a special way this year that impacts you and those around you. Pray for me a sinner.

Peace, Padre Steve+

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