Tag Archives: chaplain corps

What Have We Done? Moral Injury and Our Unending Wars

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

It is not every day that one reads about himself in a book by a Pulitzer Prize winning war correspondent and author. I did that this week. Back in 2014 I was interviewed by David Wood for his book What Have We Done: The Moral Injury of Our Longest Wars. After the interview I kept going with life struggling with the daily effects of PTSD, TBI, and Moral Injury in my life. The book came out in late 2016 or early 2017 but I didn’t know that it had until Sunday when I read some comments by Army Chaplains in a Facebook Group that I am fortunate to be a member.

When I found out the book had been published I immediately purchased it on Amazon Kindle and will get a hard cover copy as well. Of course I search for my name and went to the chapter in which David told my story. It was very good, so I began reading the book from the beginning. David is an exceptional writer and having spent many years in combat zones and embedded in American combat units at war he has earned his stripes, and what he writes is so vivid and real that to me it brought back too many memories, painful memories of the war and what I experienced when I came home flooded me. I again recalled the words of the great Union General and hero of Little Round Top, Gouverneur Warren that he wrote his wife in 1867:

“I wish I did not dream so much. They make me sometimes to dread to go to sleep. Scenes from the war, are so constantly recalled, with bitter feelings I wish never to experience again. Lies, vanity, treachery, and carnage.”

It was not reading my story that got me, it was reading the stories of Marines, soldiers, and other Chaplains that got me. I knew that I wasn’t alone. I have seen carnage. I have been shot at, and I have been in danger many times, always unarmed; that I would do again. In fact in my FITREP debrief from my commanding officer and executive officer both noted that where I stood out the most was in crisis situations dealing with death and trauma. Truthfully, that is how I am wired and it has always been that way. Sadly my current billet, which will certainly unless everything goes to shit will be the one that I will retire from is more suited to men or women who do well in the bureaucracy and management. Outside of crises and trauma situations I do best teaching and writing, but I digress…

David’s book triggered memories. I had to make a note not to read it before bedtime because on Sunday night when I finished the second chapter I took my sleep meds, put on my CPAP, and had my therapy puppy Izzy snuggled around my head. I closed my eyes and the flashbacks began. When I finally went to sleep the nightmares began. They have not ended. The Alsatian German Soldier, Guy Sajer wrote in his book The Forgotten Soldier:

“Only happy people have nightmares, from overeating. For those who live a nightmare reality, sleep is a black hole, lost in time, like death.”

While I write about my private war with PTSD and Moral Injury I say little or nothing about it now to superiors, in fact after serving with me for over a year my Commander didn’t know how I struggle. I admitted it to him during the debrief and he was surprised. I guess that is a good thing because since “coming out” with PTSD in 2009 having already dealt with it for a year discovered that I had become one of the untouchables. Though I was selected for promotion to Commander in 2010 I was shunted off into billets that made me noncompetitive for promotion to Captain. I realized that in 2011 when the newly promoted deputy Chief of Chaplains treated me as if I was a nonentity when she made her tour of the commands at the base I was then serving. In 2014 when the Washington Times published an article on their front page about my story it went completely unacknowledged by the Chief of Chaplains office in Washington DC. I didn’t even get a call from a staff member asking if I was okay.

I can understand how Gouverneur Warren felt when he was cast off at the end of the Civil War, but then I also remember how a Comcast seasoned EOD Master Chief Petty Officer told me that “you can admit and get help for PTSD but you will never again get assigned to the billets that get you promoted.” He was right and truthfully I am okay with that, I can say that I am happy where I am now, not to say that if given the chance I wouldn’t hesitate to go in harms way again. My nightmares this week seem to lead me to believe that that may happen before I retire from the military, but again I digress…

I highly recommend David’s book to you. It is probably the best account of the war and its unintended consequences that I have ever read. Please read it if you really care about those of us who have been to war in Iraq, Afghanistan, or to go back further Vietnam have experienced. When you are done with it you too may ask What have we done?

Until tomorrow,

Peace

Padre Steve+

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Filed under History, iraq,afghanistan, mental health, middle east, Military, ministry, PTSD, Tour in Iraq, vietnam

“As Men Can Die Heroically as Brothers so Should They Live Together in Mutual Faith and Goodwill” The Four Chaplains in the Age of Trump

four chaplains

The Four Chaplains

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

Today I am writing a brief remembrance of four men who I never met but whose lives helped guide me into my vocation as a Priest and Chaplain. I think I first read about them in junior high school and at that time I had never thought about becoming a minister, priest, or chaplain. To be sure, ever since I was in early grade school I wanted to be in the military but it would not be until my senior year of high school that I felt a call to become a Navy Chaplain. I’ll come back to that in a moment, but first a brief op-ed on religion in the United states.

In this day and age where fanatical religious extremists of many faiths seek to divide society, launch wars of religion, discriminate against non-believers or even people who believe differently than them, or hold different philosophical or political beliefs, it is important as Americans to find something that holds us together. The fact that our founders were profoundly against establishing or favoring any particular faith or denomination, there are those today who militantly fight to establish an Evangelical Christian theocracy that has no basis for existence based on the testimony of the Founders, and the earliest proponents of religious liberty in the United States including Virginia Baptist John Leland who helped influence James Madison in crafting the First Amendment of the Constitution wrote:

“The notion of a Christian commonwealth should be exploded forever. … Government should protect every man in thinking and speaking freely, and see that one does not abuse another. The liberty I contend for is more than toleration. The very idea of toleration is despicable; it supposes that some have a pre-eminence above the rest to grant indulgence, whereas all should be equally free, Jews, Turks, Pagans and Christians.”

Sadly, men like Franklin Graham, Pat Robertson, Jerry Falwell Jr., Robert Jeffress, and a host of others use their theocratic political judgments to condemn people of good faith in this life and the next. Aided by men like the President they stand in opposition to Leland and the others like him who understood that the American experiment in religious liberty could not be tied to fixed dogma, nor the Apostle Paul who wrote to the Church in Corinth: “in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself,[a] not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting the message of reconciliation to us.” (2 Cor. 5:19)

But I digress, you can read previous articles on this site in which I quoted Leland and other defenders of real religious freedom. For me it’s a matter of my Christian faith. So back to the story…

The four men that I never met were Army Chaplains.

George Lansing Fox was a 42 year old Methodist minister from Lewiston, Pennsylvania who had served as a medic in the First World War in which he was awarded the Silver Star, the Purple Heart, and the French Croix De Guerre. Thirty-one year old Reformed Rabbi Alexander Goode of Brooklyn, New York was the son of a Rabbi who before the war had applied but not been accepted as a Navy Chaplain. After Pearl Harbor he volunteered and was commissioned as an Army Chaplain. Clark V. Poling was a Baptist minister serving as pastor of a Reformed Church when the war broke out. His father had served as a Chaplain in the First World War and Poling, the married father of one child became an Army Chaplain in 1941. Father John Patrick Washington of Newark New Jersey was a Roman Catholic Priest who entered active duty in May 1942. The four men attended the Army Chaplain’s School, then at Harvard and were united for the journey across the Atlantic aboard the transport ship SS Dorchester.

On the night of February 3rd 1943 the Dorchester was torpedoed by the German submarine U-223. She went down in 20 minutes, of the 904 men aboard the ship only 230 survived. Despite the fact that the ship’s captain had ordered a high state of readiness and that all hands wear life jackets at all time, “Many soldiers sleeping deep in the ship’s hold disregarded the order because of the engine’s heat. Others ignored it because the life jackets were uncomfortable.”

When the ship was hit by a torpedo power went out and the four chaplains worked amid the chaos to calm the situation and assisted the soldiers, sailors, and merchant mariners aboard the ship as they tried to abandon ship. The four chaplains handed out life jackets until the supply ran out and then gave their own life jackets to soldiers that had none.

In doing so they signed their own death sentence, the water temperature was just 34 degrees, the air temperature was 36 degrees, many who survived the sinking died of exposure within minutes of the sinking, rescue ships found hundreds of bodies floating in the water. As the ship went down they died together, praying with arms linked after giving away their life jackets as the troop transport that they were on sank beneath the waves into the icy depths of the North Atlantic. A survivor wrote:

“As I swam away from the ship, I looked back. The flares had lighted everything. The bow came up high and she slid under. The last thing I saw, the Four Chaplains were up there praying for the safety of the men. They had done everything they could. I did not see them again. They themselves did not have a chance without their life jackets.”

Other survivors reported hearing the prayers of the chaplains in English, Latin, and Hebrew as the ship went down. Their bodies were never recovered. They have been remembered as heroes. In 1960 Congress named February 3rd as Four Chaplains Day. The U.S. Post Office commissioned a stamp in their honor in 1948. The Chapel of the Four Chaplains was dedicated in the basement of Grace Baptist Church in Philadelphia in 1951. President Harry Truman spoke at its dedication noting:

“This interfaith shrine… will stand through long generations to teach Americans that as men can die heroically as brothers so should they live together in mutual faith and goodwill.”

The chapel was moved to Temple University in 1953 and to the former Philadelphia Naval Shipyard in 2001.

 

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Father John Patrick Washington (Top Left), Reverend Clark V. Poling (Top Right), Rabbi Alexander Goode (Bottom Left), and Reverend George Lansing Fox

Of course my journey in finding that call and answering it had a number of detours in which I first rejecting following the call. Instead, when I was in college I simply enlisted in the Army National Guard, entered ROTC and then was commissioned as an Army officer. After a number of incidents on active duty which renewed that sense of call I left active duty to go to seminary, went back into the National Guard and in September of 1992 became an Army National Guard and civilian hospital chaplain.  On February 9th 1999 I resigned my commission as a Major in the Army Chaplain Corps to become a Navy Chaplain, and in the process accepting a reduction in rank.

In the nearly 37 years that I have served in the military of which almost 26 have been spent as a chaplain I have had the privilege of serving with many fine ministers of many denominations, priests, rabbis, and even an imam.  Of course I have served alongside some chaplains who regardless of their faith or denomination were simply assholes, but that being said I truly do appreciate those men and women from so many faiths and denominations who have cared for me. I do think that any of them could have linked arms with me and prayed after doing the last best things that we could do for the soldiers, sailors, marines, and airmen who entrust themselves to our care.

Despite what some senior chaplains in both the Army and Navy had done to me at different points; when I think of those men and women who regardless of their beliefs or the beliefs of the religious organizations that endorse them for the chaplaincy, I realize just how blessed that I am.

In the day that we live I can still stand with Harry Truman when he praised these chaplains. Now I am sure that there are quite few people who would say that either Goode, Fox, Poling, or Washington are already in Hell; but I don’t believe that. I understand from Scripture and the teachings of Jesus that God looks on the heart, and that the most important commandments are to love God and love our neighbors. I think that Jesus said that in doing those things that people fulfill the entire law.

Thus I thank God for the Chaplains of various denominations, Mainline Protestants, Evangelicals, Catholics, Orthodox Christians, Anglicans, Mormons, Jews, and Muslims who I would be blessed to link arms with to care for those in our care.

So today, I ask my readers to share this message with others.

Until tomorrow,

Peace

Padre Steve+

 

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Filed under christian life, faith, History, Political Commentary, World War II at Sea, world war two in europe

Shitty Days and Mondays…

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

For tonight nothing about politics or history, or for that matter even baseball. The late Karen Carpenter sang that Rainy Days and Mondays always get me down. Well Monday was a thoroughly shitty day for me at work and it just happened to be raining.

iIn fact, Monday was emotionally one of the worst days I have gone through in a long time. I won’t go into any detail here as I was able to deal with the immediate issues at hand, but some of what I was dealing with but part of this goes back to my return from Iraq in 2008. I came back from Iraq afflicted with severe and chronic PTSD which still effects me, but also something called Moral Injury which was caused by what happened to me when I returned from Iraq, injury that whether intention in some cases, or unintentional in most cases, left me in a place where I I have a hard time trusting, or believing that senior Navy Chaplains or other leaders have my best interests at heart. Truthfully, I have been hung out to dry by too many of them since then to trust or believe anything that they say.

There have been great exceptions, men and women who did look after me. I was fortunate with the leaders I had at Naval Hospital Camp LeJeune, including now Rear Admiral David Lane, and my leadership and academic colleagues at the Joint Forces Staff College. But despite their wonderful support, I find that too many of my senior Navy Chaplain Corps leaders as well as a few line officers (but none of the line officers that I am currently serving with) embody everything that is wrong in the U.S. Military. I cannot go into any detail in public or name any names as much as I would like to, but if I did I would be crushed and vilified. So I won’t, at least until I retire, whenever that may be. Then I will “go Smedley” like Marine Corps General and two time Medal of Honor winner, Major General Smedley Butler who wrote the book War is a Racket and fought against a growing Fascist movement in the United States in the 1930s. But until I retire I can’t do that.

Anyway, I am doing much better today than I was doing Monday, and I am great full for my staff who because of what happened to my predecessor under a different commander and executive officer are very protective of me. Their loyalty and care for me, a very broken and imperfect leader encourages me to do all that I can to support them, but also not to give up. If there is one reason that I remain on active duty after 36 plus years in the Army and Navy, it is my determination to work hard for them and for so many others who serve our country with such good hearts. In a world where men and women like them get screwed by the system every day I cannot retire, as much as it would make my life easier in some ways.

So, this post went totally off the track that I had when I began it so I will write about my original topic tomorrow.

Until then,

Peace,

Padre Steve+

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Reflections on PTSD and Moral Injury after a Gettysburg Staff Ride


Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

The past few weeks have been a whirlwind of activity which has involved a transfer, travel, and teaching, coupled with finding that I was not selected for promotion. The failure to select for promotion was less of a disappointment with not being selected, or jealousy towards those that were, but rather the feelings of betrayal I feel towards the senior leaders of the Chaplain Corps that have been part of my life since I returned from Iraq back in 2008, and my ever present battle with the effects of PTSD. Since I have written about these things many times I shall not go into depth about them today.

While I was at Gettysburg I stood beside the monument to General Gouverneur Warren on Little Round Top as I discussed Warren’s actions which were decisive in ensuring that Union forces held that edifice against the Confederate assault of July 2nd 1863. However, Warren would suffer unjustly at the hands of General Philip Sheridan at the Battle of Five Forks just days before the end of the war. The effects of combat trauma, what we would now diagnose as PTSD and moral injury at having been betrayed by the leaders of an institution that he had faithfully served in war and peace were devastating to him. After the war he wrote his wife:

“I wish I did not dream that much. They make me sometimes dread to go to sleep. Scenes from the war, are so constantly recalled, with bitter feelings I wish to never experience again. Lies, vanity, treachery, and carnage.” 

I fully understand what Warren felt in terms of dreams and what they call to mind time and time again nearly every night. Whenever I go to bed I pray that I will not again injure myself during a nighttime as I have numerous times, two of which sent me to the emergency room with head and facial injuries including a concussion and a broken nose. Yet even the dreams and nightmares that do not result in physical injury are often disturbing, and thankfully one of our Papillon dogs, Izzy, will do all that she can to comfort me and calm me down, and if I am awake and she senses that I am depressed or anxious she does what she can to be near me and to calm me. She is incredibly sensitive and does this with anyone not feeling well. I need to get her certified as a therapy dog as she is a special soul. 

Even so there are really very few people with whom I can talk about these things as they are foreign to the experience of most people. Guy Sager wrote in his classic book The Forgotten Soldier of his experience on returning home after the Second World War: “In the train, rolling through the sunny French countryside, my head knocked against the wooden back of the seat. Other people, who seemed to belong to a different world, were laughing. I couldn’t laugh and couldn’t forget.” 

But anyway, that is where I live. I am happy, relatively content, and look forward to life. I love to teach as I did at Gettysburg over the weekend and to write, at the same time I struggle every night with sleep, and with belonging in the institution that I have served for nearly thirty-six years. After I found out about the non-selection for promotion I became quite angry, as I said, not because I wasn’t selected, but because of the feelings of betrayal that go back now some nine years. It helped for me to walk in the woods along the Potomac River on Thursday night and to walk the lines that the Union Union First Corps occupied on the first day of the Battle of Gettysburg last Friday. For me there is something about walking hallowed ground which no matter what I am feeling helps to center me. It is as Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain wrote:

“In great deeds, something abides. On great fields, something stays. Forms change and pass; bodies disappear; but spirits linger, to consecrate ground for the vision-place of souls… generations that know us not and that we know not of, heart-drawn to see where and by whom great things were suffered and done for them, shall come to this deathless field, to ponder and dream; and lo! the shadow of a mighty presence shall wrap them in its bosom, and the power of the vision pass into their souls.”

Every time I walk that hallowed ground at Gettysburg I feel that presence and experience the power of that vision.

So I do wish you the best and appreciate the kind thoughts and words that many of you post on this page, in emails, and on my Facebook and Twitter accounts. Until tomorrow, have a great day. 

Peace

Padre Steve+

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Filed under civil war, Gettysburg, History, Loose thoughts and musings, mental health, PTSD

Thoughts on Being Passed Over for Promotion 


Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

Yesterday was a tough day. I failed to select for promotion to Captain for the second time. It wasn’t so much not being selected for promotion as I neither expected it or wanted it, but it was a reminder to me of the many painful experiences that I have had with senior leaders in both the Army and Navy Chaplain Corps in my 25 years of service as a chaplain. But that being said I was warned. When I was a young Medical Service Corps Captain in the Army I felt the call to go to seminary to become a chaplain. As I got close to leaving active duty, my brigade executive officer pulled me aside. He told me: “Steve, if you think that the Army Medical Department is political and cutthroat, we can’t hold a candle the the Chaplain Corps.” 

Sadly, Lieutenant Colonel Wigger was all too correct. Much of the senior leadership in all of the military chaplain corps, as well as Federal, State, and hospital chaplaincies are as toxic as Zyclon-B. Of course they are not alone, many leaders in church hierarchies are just as bad if not worse. Maybe there is something in humanity that makes some people when given authority in both the temporal as well as spiritual realms exhibit the worst aspects of human nature. 

I have always said that I would never be that way and I have always tried to best to value and care for the chaplains, as well as enlisted personnel who have worked for me. Honestly I think that I’ve done pretty good in that, and I hope that when they remember me that they don’t have the visceral reaction I have at the thought of some of the chaplains and other clergy who have used, abused, and then thrown me under the bus, especially in the depths of my post-Iraq experience with PTSD, mild TBI and moral injury. 

I am not bitter about not getting promoted, but I still bear much animus to those who have used, abused, and then did not care for my spiritual or emotional needs when I needed them. Betrayal is a big part of moral injury and I really do not think that we ever fully recover from that. People, especially Christians say that we should forgive those who have committed acts that have harmed us. I am a priest and I do understand that necessity to forgive, but when one has been harmed over the course of many years it is difficult to do. Actually, until today yesterday I thought that I was pretty much over those feelings and that the wounds had pretty much healed. I was wrong, I have a long way to go. 

After I found out that I hadn’t been selected I took a long walk. I was on my way to Gettysburg and I was dropping my wife and our dogs off with good friends before departing this morning. My walk took me through about five miles of woods along the banks of the Potomac River, including the place that JEB Stuart and his Confederate cavalry forded it during the Gettysburg campaign. That walk in the quiet as well as a conversation with a senior chaplain who has been there for me got me to a better place. When I got back both Minnie and Izzy did what they could to comfort me. Good dogs, they act like nurses. 

I am grateful for the career that I have had. I have been very lucky and very blessed. While there have been some that have gone out of their way to hurt me, or just didn’t give a damn about the way their words and actions impacted me or others, I have been lucky to have some who have done whatever they can to help me and in some cases protected me from myself. Their care, mentoring, and practical, observable love means more to me than anything. I was able to let a number of them know that last night. 

I also know a lot of other fine chaplains and ministers who have been screwed worse by varies chaplain systems or churches than I ever was. Good men and women who deserved far better. I will land on my feet. Some of them are dead, a couple by their own hand because of how they were treated and abandoned when they needed help. I have friends, a wife who loves me and three great Papillons. I am not alone. 

Likewise, had I gotten the operational assignments that I wanted when I was selected for Commander, I never would have gotten my orders to the Staff College. That assignment has opened doors for life after the Navy that I would never have had. I now get to be an academic and hopefully I’ll have my first Civil War era book published in a year or so, and that is when the fun will really begin, so I have nothing to bitch about, but I still hurt. Some say that God has a plan, but honestly I don’t know who true that is, but even so I’m hurting but okay and I’d rather have Judy, my dogs, and my friends than some pie in the sky theology. 

So today I will be going up to Gettysburg early. I’ll arrive well in advance of my students and today my plan is to walk the battlefield from McPherson’s Ridge, to Herbst Woods, and on to Seminary Ridge where I also hope to visit the museum now located in the old seminary building. This is important to do because one never fully appreciates what happened in a certain spot until they have walked the ground. Likewise, there are many markers at Gettysburg that have a lot of meaning that most people never see because they are too busy driving around to see the high points like Little Round Top, the Angle and High Water Mark, and the Virginia And Pennsylvania memorials. 

As I do so I will remember the heroes of the Union side who held their ground, and the men who were not recognized for their actions, and in some cases, like Abner Doubleday, after having done well and fighting heroically were relieved of duty simply because some above them didn’t like them, and acted on false reports. I think that will be a healthy experience for me. Later, I will meet my students for dinner and discuss the strategic and operational aspects of the campaign that connect with what they are learning in regard to planning at the Staff College. 

So anyway, I know that there is a lot of other stuff going on in the world. I’ve seen bit and pieces about the GOP Health Care repeal but have not had time to read anything. Maybe I’ll get to it later in the weekend or early next week as it’s not going to go away. 

I’ll post something small from Gettysburg the next two days. So until tomorrow,

Peace

Padre Steve+

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Filed under christian life, faith, Gettysburg, Loose thoughts and musings, Military, PTSD

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

Crash-Davis

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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Filed under christian life, faith, leadership, LGBT issues, Military, ministry

Waiting for First Light: A Reflection on PTSD

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Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

I just finished reading General Romeo Dallaire’s latest book, Waiting for First Light: My Ongoing Struggle with PTSD. Dallaire had been the commander of the UN Peacekeepers in Rwanda, men and women who were prevented from stopping genocide, and people who have been forever haunted by what they witnessed.

General Dallaire recounts a story of horror that never ended for him, and he details how difficult and traumatic coming home that neither appreciate nor understood what he had been through, including people in the military. I found so much in his story that was analogous to my own and in light of that I am going to begin writing my PTSD memoir.

It will be hard because I will have to write about things that are deeply traumatic and upsetting, especially how I was received and continue to be received by most of my fellow chaplains. Because I came and publicly discussed my issues with PTSD, the shattering of my faith in so many things, my wilderness experience of being an agnostic for two years, and the change in my faith since then, I experienced the rejection of my former church and many of my peers.

To many of my peers and Chaplain Corps superiors I am simply a broken Chaplain; and broken chaplains or for that matter broken ministers have no place and very few people who they can talk with. I remember my old Commodore at EOD Group Two, Captain Tom Sitsch ask me bluntly “Where does a chaplain go for help?” My answer to him was “not to other chaplains.” Sadly, he too was going through his own personal PTSD hell and with his life falling apart he committed suicide in January 2014.

General Dallaire recounts a similar experience, as like Chaplains, Generals and other senior leaders have no place to go, they like us are not supposed to break. General Dallaire wrote: “I received little support from my colleagues and peers; I received only a few messages from my sixty or so fellow generals – a couple of phone calls, and an e-mail from one old friend. The others appeared to be in two camps: those who were too busy to get in touch, and those who didn’t know what to say.” But I would also add, that there are those that do not want to know and others who actually turn their backs on men and women whose injury lies inside their brain, as well as some chaplains and ministers who seem to take a certain perverse joy in inflicting pain.

So pray for me if you do that, if not send some positive thoughts my direction.

Until tomorrow,

Peace

Padre Steve+

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Filed under faith, leadership, Military, ministry, PTSD