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Transfer into the Twilight

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

The past couple of days have been pretty hectic as I transfer from the Staff College to be the base chaplain at another base in the local area. I’ll still remain as an adjunct at the Staff College to do the Gettysburg Staff Ride which is a good thing. Now truthfully, I did everything I could think of to get a different assignment. I wanted to do something in the Joint world or at least semi-operationally. My qualifications are many, so being assigned to a base chapel makes me feel like I’m being bumped back to the minor leagues, not because caring for people is not important, but because for promotion it’s not highly valued. Of course since I was passed over for promotion last year it is what I get. In today’s military once you are passed over you’re pretty much done, so I’m still lucky to get to do what I have loved doing for decades. Not many people get that chance, so I am lucky, Like Kevin Costner’s character in Bull Durham, I still get to keep going to the ballpark and getting paid for it.

I spent the last couple of days signing out of all the places that I need to, getting my medical records transferred, taking and passing my latest body composition assessment and physical readiness test, and taking care of last minute things needed to transfer. Then yesterday morning I donned my Service Dress Blues to officially sign in at the new command.

It is interesting because unless something unusual and unexpected happens this will be my last ride and the three or four years I spend in the job will take me to retirement with somewhere between 39 and 40 years of cumulative service in the Army and the Navy. I’ll have a good staff and my goal at this point in my career is to take care of them, and help them to succeed while caring for those committed to our care. I’m an old guy now, there aren’t that many people in the military who have served as long as I have, and most of them are admirals or generals.

I’m kind of reminded of the scene in Bull Durham where Kevin Costner’s character, Crash Davis gets sent from AAA down to single A Durham to help mentor a young pitcher. In frustration he tells the manager:  I’m too old for this shit. Why the hell am I back in A ball?

Joe Reardon: ‘Cause of Ebby Calvin LaLoosh. Big club’s got a hundred grand in him.

Larry: He’s got a million dollar arm, and a five cent head.

Joe Reardon: Had a gun on him tonight. The last five pitched he threw were faster that the first five, He has the best young arm I’ve seen in 30 years. You’ve been around. You’re smart, professional. We want you to mature the kid. We want you to room with him on the road, stay on his case all year. He could go all the way.

Crash Davis: Where can I go?

Joe Reardon: You can keep going to the ballpark, and keep getting paid to do it. Beats the hell out of working at Sears.

Larry: Sears sucks, Crash. Boy, I worked there once. Sold Lady Kenmores. Nasty, whoa, nasty.

So anyway, there are a lot worse alternatives. Until tomorrow,

Peace

Padre Steve+

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Filed under Baseball, faith, leadership, Loose thoughts and musings, Military

Howling at the Moon and Ministry at the End of a Long Military Career

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Friends of Padre Steve’s World

The past few days I have been quietly reflecting on ministry as I get ready to transition out of my current assignment at the Staff College to be the senior base chaplain at one of the bases nearby. Fortunately I will be able to continue conducting the Gettysburg Staff Ride for the college but the transition to being a base chaplain for the second time in my career, the first some twenty years ago when I was in the Army, has caused me to ponder the form ministry again and why I am here. It also has made me think of my long career and my transition from being a rising star, to a old and bit sore veteran who still has something to give, I’ve been in the military now for almost 36 years, not much left to prove but some left to give.  A younger friend and chaplain once said I reminded him of Kevin Costner’s character in the movie Bull Durham, Crash Davis. I like the analogy, as Crash said: “I have been known on occasion to howl at the moon.”

I like hard questions and hard cases. My life has been quite interesting and that includes my faith journey as a Christian and human being. It is funny that in my life I have as I have grown older begun to appreciate those that do not believe and to rather distrust those who proclaim their religious faith with absolute certitude, especially when hard questions are asked.

Paul Tillich once said “Sometimes I think it is my mission to bring faith to the faithless, and doubt to the faithful.” 

I get “trolled” a lot and I find it amusing when trolls come by to condemn my “heresy.” When they do I realize that most of them must have some kind of psychological need to be right. I say this because for all of their certitude I sense a deep fear that they might be wrong. I think that is why they must do this.

I think that the quote by the late theologian is quite appropriate to me and the ministry that I find myself. I think it is a ministry pattern quite similar to Jesus in his dealings with the people during his earthly incarnate ministry.

Jesus was always hanging out with the outcasts, whether they be Jewish tax collectors collaborating with the Romans, lepers and other “unclean” types, Gentiles including the hated Roman occupiers, Samaritans and most dangerously, scandalous women. He seemed to reach out to these outcasts while often going out of his way to upset the religious establishment and the “true believers” of his day.

There is even one instance where a Centurion whose servant he healed was most likely involved in a homosexual relationship, based on the writer of the Gospel of Matthew’s use of the Greek word “Pais” which connotes a homosexual servant, instead of the more common “Doulos.” That account is the only time in the New Testament where that distinction is made, and Pais is used throughout Greek literature of the time to denote a homosexual slave or “house boy” relationship. Jesus was so successful at offending the profoundly orthodox of his day that his enemies made sure that they had him killed.

I think that what has brought me to this point is a combination of things but most importantly what happened to me in and after my tour in Iraq. Before I went to Iraq I was certain of about everything that I believed and was quite good at what we theologians and pastors call “apologetics.” My old Chaplain Assistant in the Army, who now recently serves as a Lieutenant Colonel in the Army Chaplain Corps called me a “Catholic Rush Limbaugh” back in 1997, and he meant it quite affectionately.

I was so good at it that I was silenced by a former Archbishop in my former church and banned from publishing for about 7 years after writing two articles for a very conservative Roman Catholic journal, the New Oxford Review.

The funny thing is that he, and a number of my closest friends from that denomination are either Roman Catholic priests or priests in the Anglican Ordinariate which came into communion with Rome a couple of years back. Ironically while being “too Catholic” was the reason I was forbidden to write it was because I questioned certain traditions and beliefs of the Church including that I believed that there was a role for women in the ordained ministry, that gays and lesbians could be “saved” and that not all Moslems were bad that got me thrown out in 2010.

However when I returned from Iraq in the midst of a full blown emotional, spiritual and physical collapse from PTSD that certitude disappeared. It took a while before I was able to rediscover faith and life and when I did it wasn’t the same. There was much more mystery to faith as well as reason. I came out of that period with much more empathy for those that either struggle with or reject faith. Thus I tend to hang out at bars and ball games more than church activities or socials, which I find absolutely tedious. I also have little use for clergy than in dysfunctional and broken systems that are rapidly being left behind. I am not speaking about belief here, but rather structure and methodology.

I think that if there is anything that God will judge the American versions of the Christian church is our absolute need for temporal power in the political, economic and social realms and the propagation of religious empires that only enrich the clergy which doing nothing for the least, the lost and the lonely. The fact that the fastest growing religious identification in the United States is “none” or “no preference” is proof of that and that the vast amounts of money needed to sustain these narcissistic religious empires, the mega-churches and “Christian” television industry will be their undoing.  That along with their lack of care for anyone but themselves. Jesus said that his disciples would be known by their love for one another, not the size of their religious empire or temporal power.

The interesting thing is that today I have friends and colleagues that span the theological spectrum. Many of these men even if they do not agree with what I believe trust me to love and care for them, even when those most like them in terms of belief or doctrine, both religious and political treat them like crap. Likewise I attract a lot of people who at one time were either in ministry or preparing for it who were wounded in the process and gave up, even to the point of doubting God’s love and even existence. It is kind of a nice feeling to be there for people because they do not have to agree with me for me to be there for them.

In my darkest times my only spiritual readings were Father Andrew Greeley’s Bishop Blackie Ryan mysteries which I began reading in Iraq to help me get through the nights in between missions in Iraq and through the nights when I returned from them.  In one of those books, the last of the series entitled “The Archbishop goes to Andalusia” the miscreant Auxiliary Bishop to the Cardinal Archbishop of Chicago goes to Seville Spain.  In the novel Bishop Blackie makes a comment after celebrating Mass in the cathedral at Seville. He said “Every sacramental encounter is an evangelical occasion. A smile warm and happy is sufficient. If people return to the pews with a smile, it’s been a good day for them. If the priest smiles after the exchanges of grace, it may be the only good experience of the week.”  (The Archbishop in Andalusia p.77)

In my ministry as a military chaplain working in combat units, critical care hospital settings, and teaching, I have found that there are many hurting people, people who like me question their faith and even long held beliefs.

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So, I guess that is why I stay in the game, I still love it, and why when I go to my new assignment I will do my best to care for all who come to me for any kind of guidance, respecting who they are and what they believe, while mentoring the junior chaplains who I will supervise so that they blossom as minsters of their faith groups, and chaplains to our diverse community. More than likely this will be my last assignment before I retire, and for me the job is not about me or any promotion, it is helping the next generation, because they are the future.  They must increase, and in the military sense I must decrease, I mean for God’s sake, 39 or 40 years of military service should be enough for me.

Peace

Padre Steve+

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The Friend in My Adversity…

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Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

Today just a short thought. I spent most of this holiday weekend down with a nasty cold which allowed me to do some reading and working on my book A Great War in a Revolutionary Age of Change: The Foundations of the American Civil War and Why it Still Matters Today. What I was working on was more on the technical “wonk” side of the development and use of artillery that preceded the war and how artillery was used in it. Lots of analysis, and delving through obscure books which I found absolutely fascinating, but anyway I digress and someday soon you’ll get to read that as well.

Last night a got a wonderful phone call from an old friend, a priest from my former denomination who remarkably hasn’t cast me off. We had a wonderful time, he’s a brilliant man, a combat veteran of Iraq and suffers from some of the same issues that plague me, but with added medical issues from inhaling so many toxins during his two combat tours. He’s gone through a lot, but he and his family are doing well. He is now in medical school and doing very well, but like I said he’s brilliant.

After we returned from Iraq we suffered and commiserated a lot, sometimes over a lot of alcoholic beverages. Last night our talk went on for quite a while and it was great just to do that, so relaxing, good memories, thoughtful discussion of what is going on in the country and in our lives. One thing he said that meant the world to me was the difference I had made as a mentor, encourager, and friend and how important I was to him. He said I was like the character that Kevin Costner played in Bull Durham, Crash Davis, the old catcher sent down to help out the rising star. In a way he is right, and I love the comparison.

As we talked he noted it was so seldom that people take the time to listen, care, encourage, and mentor others. In fact its something that is mentioned quite often in the New Testament. I mentioned to him that one of the people who recently expressed a similar thought to me was a former Navy doctor who I knew when he was an intern; he’s an atheist, but we truly appreciate and value each other.

Sadly, as a culture we have lost that connection and ability to care and learn from each other, even when we disagree on certain points, even important ones. Additionally, we often tend to discard those who are broken in some way, or who color too far outside the lines. There is a creeping Ayn Rand, survival of the fittest style of Social Darwinism that has infiltrated our culture, and especially the church. It has become part of our politics as well and I am sure under the new administration we will see it bloom as we have never seen it before, but I digress again…

Being friends means to let each other know how much we appreciate each other and encourage one another.

Ulysses S. Grant, who is one of my heroes with feet of clay remarked, The friend in my adversity I shall always cherish most. I can better trust those who helped to relieve the gloom of my dark hours than those who are so ready to enjoy with me the sunshine of my prosperity.” Grant’s ever mindful friend and subordinate William Tecumseh Sherman noted, “Grant stood by me when I was crazy, I stood by him when he was drunk. Now we stand together.” 

With that I wish you a good day,

Peace

Padre Steve+

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Filed under christian life, Loose thoughts and musings, Pastoral Care, PTSD, remembering friends

My Favorite Baseball Films

 

 

 

his cheery holiness

I love all things baseball as my regular readers can tell you. In fact God speaks to me through baseball, even baseball movies when I cannot get to a ball park.  Of course as most readers know I am also a big fan of comedy and when baseball and comedy get together it is like beer and pizza, two great tastes that go great together.  Yeah, you were thinking I would say peanut butter cups, what a waste of calories, but I digress.

I love baseball movies, comedies for sure but also serious films.  Here are my favorite baseball movies in no particular order, although I’m sure that the order I place them has some subconscious meaning or maybe it doesn’t.  But whatever, these are some of my favorite baseball movies with a few reasons why I like them.

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Bull Durham

Ebby Calvin LaLoosh: How come you don’t like me?

Crash Davis: Because you don’t respect yourself, which is your problem. But you don’t respect the game, and that’s my problem. You got a gift.

I guess my favorite baseball movie of all time has to be Bull Durham starring Kevin Costner, Susan Sarandon and Tim Robbins. Set in the Single-A Carolina League the film is about a journeyman minor league Catcher named Crash Davis played by Kevin Costner. Davis is a journeyman but was playing in Triple A at the beginning of the season and is sent down to Durham to help a top prospect pitcher named Ebby Calvin LaLoosh get ready for the major leagues.

In the process Davis meets Annie Savoy (Susan Sarandon) a part time junior college English instructor and baseball guru that hooks up with a player on the team for 142 games.  The movie is a great sports and life movie as it deals with transitions. For Davis it is the transition from active ball player to life and love after baseball, for LaLoosh who goes from minor league prospect to the majors and Annie Savoy who falls for a man for more than a season.  For the past ten years or so I have identified with Crash Davis, the journeyman who ends up mentoring young players.  In fact I recommend this movie to young chaplains that seek out my counsel simply because many are wild like “Nuke” LaLoosh and simply need a blunt and honest veteran at the end of his career to bring them along.

One of my favorite scenes in this movie is when Crash gets throw out of a game. It reminds me of when I got thrown out of the Army Chaplain Officer Advanced Course in October 1992.

But also I have spent a lot of evenings watching games in the quaint ballparks of the Carolina League. The movie shows the closeness of these teams, players, fans and communities that is had to match elsewhere. So when I watch this movie it takes me back to good times that I had in places like Kinston, North Carolina with friends and people I will never forget.

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Major League

“Jesus, I like him very much, but he no help with curveball.” Pedro Cerrano

The film Major League is another of my favorites. Set in Cleveland in the late 1980s the film as about a perpetually losing team with a new owner who wants to move the historic franchise from Cleveland to Miami.  Her instruction to the team’s General Manager is to lose enough games to ensure that so few fans will come that she can legally move the team.

This is a team of misfits is put together from veterans who have seen their best times, overpaid free agents that don’t perform and unknown rookies.  Like Bull Durham there is the veteran but somewhat washed up catcher, this time Jake Taylor played by Tom Berenger who is the glue that holds the team together. The team includes a Cuban defector who can’t hit a curve ball named Pedro Cerrano played by Dennis Haysbert, an underperforming veteran Third Baseman named Roger Dorn, played by Corbin Bernsen and two rookies; outfielder Willie Mays Hays played by Wesley Snipes and pitcher Ricky Vaughn played by Charlie Sheen.

During the season the team has everything taken from them by owner Rachel Phelps played by Margaret Whitton as they embark on a journey from cellar dwellers to American League East Champions.  Once again I relate to the veteran catcher but I also have an affinity for the rebellious rookie Ricky “Wild Thing” Vaughn.

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For Love of the Game

“And you know Steve you get the feeling that Billy Chapel isn’t pitching against left handers, he isn’t pitching against pinch hitters, he isn’t pitching against the Yankees. He’s pitching against time. He’s pitching against the future, against age, and even when you think about his career, against ending. And tonight I think he might be able to use that aching old arm one more time to push the sun back up in the sky and give us one more day of summer.” Vin Scully playing himself in For the Love of the Game

For Love of the Game is a movie about life.  The film is based on the Michael Shaara novel The Perfect Game. This is a film about a pitcher  named Billy Chapel played by Kevin Costner who is facing the end of his career.

Chapel has been with the team 19 years and has seen good times and bad, pitched in the World Series and suffered a grievous injury to his pitching hand in the off season. He is a man who has struggled with love yet forged lasting friendships with teammates, even those now on other teams.  The movie is set at Yankee Stadium with Chapel pitching in a meaningless game for the cellar dweller Tigers against the playoff bound New York Yankees.

The game revolves around Chapel and his relationships with his catcher, Gus Sinski (John C. Reilly), his lover Jane Aubrey (Kelly Preston), her daughter Heather (Gina Malone), former teammate and current Yankee Davis Birch and the team owner Gary Wheeler (Brian Cox) who is in the process of selling the team. The new owners are looking to deal Chapel to another team, likely the San Francisco Giants when the season is over and Chapel has to decide if he is going to be traded or retire.

With all of this swirling in his mind Billy Chapel pitches a perfect game and with every pitch the audience is introduced to the people and events that shaped his life.  One of the most poignant moments is toward the end of the game when the pain of his injured hand is killing him and his is tired that his catcher Gus pays a visit to the mount and says:

the boys are all here for ya, we’ll back you up, we’ll be there, cause, Billy, we don’t stink right now. We’re the best team in baseball, right now, right this minute, because of you. You’re the reason. We’re not gonna screw that up, we’re gonna be awesome for you right now. Just throw.” http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WLrqdqBfqcw&feature=related

The team which had nothing to play for finds its heart and soul backing up their pitcher making great plays and getting the all critical hits.  I relate to Billy Chapel a lot because of my long career with all of its ups and downs.  The game is a microcosm of life and tells a story through baseball that runs deeper than the game itself. It is about life, family, friendship, love, commitment, good times and bad.  I cannot watch this movie without being moved to tears. Of course having Vin Scully call the game as if it were a real game makes it all the better.

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The Natural

Iris Gaines: You know, I believe we have two lives.

Roy Hobbs: How… what do you mean?

Iris Gaines: The life we learn with and the life we live with after that.

The Natural was adapted from the 1952 novel by the same name by Bernard Malamud.  In the film Robert Redford plays Roy Hobbs a hot prospect that is badly wounded by a female admirer who shoots him.  After years away from the game he returns to the game as an old rookie.

The novel is a tragedy while the movie was changed to make Hobbs triumph over adversity.  Hobbs has to battle his past, the press and his age and the ever present affects of his injury as he plays a game that he loves all the while kindling a relationship with Iris Gaines played by Glenn Close.  After a remarkable season Hobbs is sidelined by after effects of the shooting and the press publicizing his chequered past.

Hobbs leaves his sick-bed to play in the game that will decide the pennant. He comes to bat with 2 on and 2 out in the bottom of the 9th inning bleeding from his side due to the injury. Hobbs crushes a pitch that goes just foul and breaks his bat which had been carved from the wood of a tree struck by lightning. He asks his batboy for a bat saying “Pick me out a winner Bobby” and goes back to the batter’s box.  As the catcher attempts to exploit Hobbs injury call for an inside fastball which Hobbs takes yard into the lights causing them to explode as he rounds the bases as the Knights win the pennant.

The book ends differently and is kind of depressing. I like the film better.

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Field of Dreams

“The one constant through all the years, Ray, has been baseball. America has rolled by like an army of steamrollers. It has been erased like a blackboard, rebuilt and erased again. But baseball has marked the time. This field, this game: it’s a part of our past, Ray. It reminds of us of all that once was good and it could be again. Oh… people will come Ray. People will most definitely come.” Terrance Mann (James Earl Jones)

“You know we just don’t recognize the most significant moments of our lives while they’re happening. Back then I thought, well, there’ll be other days. I didn’t realize that that was the only day.” Dr. Archibald “Moonlight” Graham (Burt Lancaster)

The last film that I will discuss in this post is Field of Dreams. This is one of the three films that I call the Kevin Costner Baseball trilogy and like For the Love of the Game was adapted from a novel, in this case Shoeless Joe by W. P. Kinsella.

The film is a baseball fantasy about a novice farmer named Ray Kinsella (Costner) the son of a baseball player who during the 1960s walks away from his father and baseball. While in his fields he hears a voice saying “If you build it, he will come.” He has a vision of a baseball field and plows under some of his crops to construct a field.

Nothing happens at first but the next summer “Shoeless Joe Jackson” (Ray Liotta) shows up and after meeting Ray brings with him the seven other players from the 1919 Chicago White Sox implicated in the “Black Sox” scandal and banned from baseball.

The film is shows a search for redemption as Kinsella who tries to make sense of the voice and the ball players.  Eventually goes to Boston to find 1960s author and activist Terrance Mann (based on J. D. Salinger) played by James Earl Jones after he hears the voice say “ease his pain.” He meets with the reclusive and somewhat unfriendly Mann and it does not go well.

Ray Kinsella: [being rushed out of Mann’s loft] You’ve changed – you know that?

Terence Mann: Yes – I suppose I have! How about this: “Peace, love, dope”? Now get the hell out of here!

He finally gets Mann to go with him to a Red Sox game but even that does not go well. Ray thinks that he has wasted his time when Mann stops him and the pair drives to Chisholm Minnesota to find a former ballplayer named Archibald “Moonlight Graham.” They discover Graham, the beloved town doctor died 16 years before.  As Kinsella walks the street he finds himself transported back in time and meets the old Doctor Graham.  He cannot get Graham to come with them but on the road back home he and Mann pick up a young hitch hiker looking to play baseball, named Archie Graham. They arrive back home and while the players who have grown in number they find that his farm is being foreclosed on be foreclosed on by a group of businessmen and bankers headed up by his brother in law.

FOD ray and john

During the argument between Ray and his brother in law the daughter fall off the small set of bleachers and appears to be severely injured.  Young Archie Graham walks off the field, becomes old doctor Graham and saves the girl’s life. The brother in law is transformed by what happened and sees the ballplayers for the first time.

He stops the action against his Ray who after thinking Ray was crazy finally sees the magic of this diamond as Archie Graham becomes the elderly Doctor Moonlight Graham and saves the Kinsella’s daughter’s life after she fell from the bleachers.   Mann gets to go with Shoeless Joe and the others into the mystical cornfield and a young ballplayer, Ray’s father John Kinsella is introduced. Ray recognizes him introduces him to his family without identifying him as his father or admitting that he is his son. The classic exchange between the two explains the essence of the film.

John Kinsella: Is this heaven?

Ray Kinsella: It’s Iowa.

John Kinsella: Iowa? I could have sworn this was heaven. [John starts to walk away]

Ray Kinsella: Is there a heaven?

John Kinsella: Oh yeah. It’s the place where dreams come true. [Ray looks around, seeing his wife playing with their daughter on the porch]

Ray Kinsella: Maybe this is heaven

The two end up “having a catch” as the lights of cars wind across the Iowa farmlands heading to this little ball field.  The movie has a special place in my heart because of the father-son relationship. When my dad returned from Vietnam I had emotionally moved away from him and baseball. I kept an interest in the game but for a number of years it was not a passion.  The exchange between Ray Kinsella and Terrance Mann still gets me, now later in life my dad and I reconnected as father and son and I came back to baseball.

Ray Kinsella: By the time I was ten, playing baseball got to be like eating vegetables or taking out the garbage. So when I was 14, I started to refuse. Could you believe that? An American boy refusing to play catch with his father.

Terence Mann: Why 14?

Ray Kinsella: That’s when I read “The Boat Rocker” by Terence Mann.

Terence Mann: [rolling his eyes] Oh, God.

Ray Kinsella: Never played catch with him again.

Terence Mann: You see? That’s the sort of crap people are always trying to lay on me. It’s not my fault you wouldn’t play catch with your father.

In 2004 while going to a reunion of my Continental Singers tour in Kansas City Judy and I made a few stops watching minor league games in Louisville and Cedar Rapids before making a trip  to Dyersville Iowa. Dyersville is the place where the Field of Dreams was filmed and where the you can still play ball on that magical diamond. Judy indulged me by playing catch with me on that diamond. It is true that if you build it he will come…I did.

I could go on about other baseball movies as there are many more but these above the others are the ones that I find a special connection with. I think I may write about some of the philosophy and faith that I draw from these films over the coming season.

Peace

Padre Steve+

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Carl Long, A Pioneer of Civil Rights and Basaeball Passes Away

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Me with Carl Long at Grainger Stadium, Kinston NC, 2011

I lost a friend yesterday. Carl Long, a former Negro League player and member of the Negro League Hall of Fame passed away yesterday. He had suffered a series of strokes in November and sadly never recovered. I got to know Carl in Kinston North Carolina, when I was stationed at Camp Lejeune. I met him in June, the day after I found out that one of my former Marines had been killed in Afghanistan. I had cried myself to sleep that night and badly needed the solace of baseball, which as Annie Savoy said in the movie Bull Durham for me is “the only church that truly feeds the soul, day in, day out, is the Church of Baseball.”  

Over the course of the 2011 season, which was the Kinston Indian’s final season in that town I spent good amount of time with Carl.  Gregarious, friendly and always will to share I treasure those times. Through Carl I got to know some of the other dwindling number of former Negro League players including James “Spot” King, Hubert “Big Daddy” Wooten who both played for the Indianapolis Clowns, and Dennis “Bose” Biddle who played for the Chicago American Giants in 1953 and 1954.  He was in the process of having his contract purchased by the Chicago Cubs when he suffered a devastating injury to his leg and ankle going hard into Second Base.

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Carl Long Night: L-R  James “Spot”King, Hubert “Big Daddy” Wooten, Dennis “Bose” Biddle and Carl Long  at Historic Grainger Stadium, Kinston NC June 2011

Carl Long played with the Birmingham Black Barons alongside Willie Mays and Country and Western singer Charlie Pride. He played against Hank Aaron and spent time in the minors with Willie McCovey and Roberto Clemente.  He was the first black to play in the Carolina League and still holds the record for the most RBIs in a season in Kinston which has also seen such sluggers as Jim Thome, Alex White and Manny Ramirez.

Carl was a pioneer, but he did not have a long baseball career. He injured his shoulder and then met his wife of over 50 years Ella, a local Kinston girl. She stole his hear and he never left his adopted home town. In Kinston he became the first black commercial bus driver in the state, the first black Deputy Sheriff in North Carolina, and first black Detective on the Kinston Police Department. After he retired he toured with other Negro League players and often spoke to school children about the need for education and overcoming life’s difficulties.

The truth of the matter is that Carl and the other players of the Negro Leagues were torch bearers in our society.  The men and women of the Negro Leagues barnstormed and played against white teams when baseball was still segregated.  When Branch Rickey signed Jackie Robinson it was a seismic event with great social connotations.  A barrier had been broken and I dare say that without the men of the Negro Leagues that the work of other Civil Rights leaders including Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. would have had a less fertile audience in White America and probably a even less friendly reception than they had as they worked to fulfill the vision of a better America where men and women of every race, color and creed could aspire to great things.

I count myself blessed that in an hour of crisis that Carl, as well as my other friends from Grainger Stadium was there for me. I will miss him.

May Carl and all the departed rest in peace, and may God grant comfort to his widow Ella.

Peace

Padre Steve+

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Orange and Black is Back

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One might say that I have an obsession with baseball, in fact I would dare say that to me it is closer to a religious faith than any of major revealed religions known to humankind. Since coming back from Iraq it is one of the few things in life that center me, more than scripture, prayer or in fact most traditional spiritual disciplines baseball speaks to my heart more than anything. I can truly understand the words of Annie Savoy (Susan Sarandon) in the classic baseball film Bull Durham: 

“I believe in the Church of Baseball. I tried all the major religions and most of the minor ones. I’ve worshipped Buddha, Allah, Brahma, Vishnu, Siva, trees, mushrooms and Isadora Duncan. I know things. For instance, there are 108 beads in a Catholic rosary and there are 108 stitches in a baseball. When I learned that, I gave Jesus a chance.” 

Please do not get me wrong, I am not depreciating religion or my own Christian faith in the slightest by saying this, but it is true that Jesus, I like him very much, but he no help with curveball…

This year my two favorite baseball teams are in the playoffs and look like that have a strong chance of moving on the the National League and American League Championship series. Of course I am talking about the only teams whose uniforms fully are appreciative of the month of October, the Baltimore Orioles and the San Francisco Giants whose orange and black uniforms are distinctive. Entering the playoffs many experts consider them underdogs, and while neither has won their divisional series yet, the odds are that both will.

Last night I was watching the Giants play their usual brand of torture ball against the Washington Nationals in a record setting epic 18 inning playoff game that went longer than any post season game in the history of baseball. As is usual with this kind of game I could not leave it for anything. I remember the 2005 National League Championship Series between the Atlanta Braves and Houston Astros, and the 2005 World Series game between those same Astros and the Chicago White Sox which both went 18 innings. I couldn’t stop watching those games either, but with the Giants and the Orioles it is different. The Orioles like the Giants are really tough in close games and during the regular season were amazing in extra innings games, but I digress…

John Leonard wrote in the New York Times in 1975 that Baseball happens to be a game of cumulative tension but football, basketball and hockey are played with hand grenades and machine guns.” Last night was amazing, that cumulative tension that built throughout the game was high was palpable. Jordan Zimmerman put down 18 Giants in a row before walking Joe Panik with two outs in the top of the ninth, and the rest is history. Buster Posey singled and Pablo “the Panda” Sandoval doubled in to tie the game  It went another nine innings before the appropriately named Brandon Belt “belted” a home run into the second deck in right field at nationals Stadium to give the Giants the winning run.

So tonight, the Orioles who came back against the Detroit Tigers in the bottom of the eighth inning to shock the Tigers and Detroit fans play what might be the deciding game of their divisional series against the Tigers. I think that the Orioles have a strong chance at closing the series out tonight. So be assured I will be watching.

So until tomorrow,

Peace

Padre Steve+

 

 

 

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The Only Church that Truly Feeds the Soul

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“The Only church that truly feeds the soul, day-in day-out, is the Church of Baseball” Annie Savoy (Susan Sarandon) in Bull Durham (MGM 1989)

Tonight I am going to the last home game of the Norfolk Tides. The Tides are our local Triple-A Minor League farm team of the Baltimore Orioles who are now 7 games up on the Yankees in the American League East. I love baseball. For me it is a source of peace, comfort and meaning in the sea of so much hatred, violence, inequity and injustice, angst and despair that fills our world.

Now honestly, while things seem are not good we tend to see life at any given time through they could be worse and certainly could be better they are not nearly as apocalyptic as the bearers of bad news make them out to be. Barbara Tuchman wrote “Disaster is rarely as pervasive as it seems from recorded accounts….The fact of being reported multiplies the apparent extent of any deplorable development by five-to tenfold.”

This is especially true for those who follow that loathsome Trinity of Evil, the Politicians, Pundits and Preachers who make their living causing people to be angry, covetous, anxious and on edge.

When I read or hear some of the vile things being said by allegedly conservative Bible believing Christian leaders be they politicians, pundits or preachers, or in the case of Mike Huckabee a despicable combination of all three, I become more convinced that Annie Savoy was right… the only church that truly feeds the soul is baseball.

In fact when I hear the likes of the Partisan Political Parsons, any of the big Mega-Church Pastors or television ministry hosts, or even some Catholic bishops start spouting off I feel like I have left this country and ended up in Medieval Europe or maybe Saudi Arabia. I wonder where the love has gone. When I read the words of men like Pat Robertson, James Robison, James Dobson, Bryan Fischer, Scott Lively, Franklin Graham, Tony Perkins, Gary Bauer and so many others I understand why people are fleeing the church in droves and so many hold the Christian faith, as well as other religions in such disdain.

Jonathan Swift once mused about the religion of his time, “We have just enough religion to make us hate, but not enough for us to love one another.”   Swift’s words are a perfect description of the American Religious Right as much as they are of non-Christian groups who hate, the Moslem extremists of ISIS, Al Qaeda, Hamas, Boko Haram and the Taliban; the Ultra-Orthodox Jews who think that they are the only acceptable form of Judaism and physically attack other Jews for not being Jewish enough even while persecuting Israeli citizens who are Christian or Moslem; and the Hindu fundamentalists that burn down Christian and Moslem villages in India.

Thankfully, though I am still a Christian and at that a rather miscreant Priest and Chaplain that struggles with faith and belief, I also belong to the Church of Baseball. I am so because I agree with the late Commissioner of Baseball A. Bartlett Giamatti, who said, “there is nothing bad that accrues from baseball.” 

While I am very frustrated at what I see going on in the Christian church as well as in other religions that dominate other countries or cultures, when I think about baseball I know that God still cares. Every time that I look at that beautiful green diamond that sits in the middle of the great cathedrals and parish churches of the Church of Baseball, my sense of hope and faith is renewed.

To true believers, that may seem like heresy. But God even loves heretics and unbelievers. For me baseball speaks to the soul, maybe it is because baseball is more than a game.  Conservative political commentator and long suffering Chicago Cubs fan George Will said “Baseball is only a game. True. And the Grand Canyon is only a hole in Arizona. Not all holes or games are created equal.” 

If that is heresy I don’t care. But then what is heresy? I don’t actually think that Jesus would recognize a lot of what we Christians do today as even being Christian.  I could be wrong but I recall Jesus was really big into the whole “two commandment” “love God with your whole heart and love your neighbor as yourself” way of life; and he wasn’t really cool with pompous religious leaders that give preference to the rich and powerful, and seek their own political power so they can use the state to enforce their religious views on non-believers like we do.

That is why I find something so right about baseball. Unlike the message of the political preachers that specialize in making themselves rich by keeping their followers anxious and angry while preaching the message that “God loved the world so much that he can’t wait to come back, judge and destroy it because of fouled up humanity” especially women and homosexuals; baseball caters to our hopes and dreams while recognizing that none of us, even those who play at the Hall of Fame level are perfect.

Unlike the false religious message preached by so many members of the Trinity of Evil, baseball deals with reality and life so well because of its ebb and flow. It deals with the grind of the long season, the constant demand for excellence and quest for perfection; but there is a realization that most of the time you won’t get there, and if you do, tomorrow you won’t and that is part of life.

Personally I don’t understand why if the Gospel of Jesus and God’s grace and love is actually true that we can’t apply this to our faith. Jesus, at least in the Gospel accounts seemed to accept the imperfections and foul ups of his followers, and not only that seemed to accept the people who the really righteous, religious leaders rejected and treated as less than human.

In fact, my paradigm of understanding the Christian faith comes from baseball. In baseball perfection is illusory and that life is full of times when things don’t go our way. It is much like real life and what is presented in Scripture. Ted Williams, the last player to hit for .400 said “Baseball is the only field of endeavor where a man can succeed three times out of ten and be considered a good performer.”

For some of us it seems like reaching the Mendoza Line* is the best we will ever do, and if we believe in God’s grace, that is probably okay.

Tommy Lasorda the Hall of Fame Los Angeles Dodgers’ manager put things in excellent perspective “No matter how good you are, you’re going to lose one-third of your games.  No matter how bad you are you’re going to win one-third of your games.  It’s the other third that makes the difference.”  That is true in life and faith.

While I am definitely a Christian I struggle and I admit it. I have enough of my own problems to empathize with others that struggle, but who in embracing the wacky formulas offered by greedy self-serving preachers treat Jesus and his message like some sort of magical talisman or good luck charm. But sorry, I agree with what Pedro Cerrano (Dennis Haysbert) said in the movie Major League: “Jesus, I like him very much, but he no help with curveball.”

Thus I have many problems with the perfidious political and prosperity preachers that seem to have forgotten the Gospel, who are basically Elmer Gantry like snake-oil salesmen more attuned to keeping their market share than tending their flock. In fact, I think are actually driving people away from Jesus, and the polls of Barna, the Pew Religious survey, Gallup and others as well as the statistics kept by various denominations say that I am right.

When I watch baseball I feel renewed. As Sharon Olds wrote back in the early 1970s “Baseball is reassuring.  It makes me feel as if the world is not going to blow up.” That my friends is why I agree with Annie Savoy that the only church that truly feeds the soul day in and day out is baseball.

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The late great and legendary Detroit Tigers announcer Ernie Harwell said: “Baseball?  It’s just a game – as simple as a ball and a bat.  Yet, as complex as the American spirit it symbolizes.  It’s a sport, business – and sometimes even religion.”   Yes, for me, the heretic that I am it is the latter, and tonight I am happy to be going to the Church of Baseball, Harbor Park Parish.

Peace,

Padre Steve+

*Mario Mendoza was a Major League Shortstop who played for the Pittsburgh Pirates and other organizations. He was an outstanding defensive player but was not much of a hitter. His career batting average was only .215 but a batting average of .200 is considered the minimum that a player can have to remain at the level that he plays.  I think that my career batting average in both baseball and softball barely clears the Mendoza Line. 

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