Tag Archives: clinical pastoral education

Not to Be Alone: Why Gay Marriage Matters

Friends of Padre Steve’s World

I have been thinking about the profound legal and moral implications of the Supreme Court ruling on marriage equity, the Obergfell v. Hodges case. One of those impacts in in a very simple and human concern, the ability of people to be with their loved ones during medical crisis or when they are dying. I saw the profound implications of not having this right when I was a young chaplain doing my hospital residency at Parkland Hospital in Dallas, Texas 1993 and 1994. This is the story of those two encounters and how they changed me.

Peace

Padre Steve+

marriage equality

For me it is still hard to comprehend, a young chaplain; two relatively young men dying of AIDS, two partners, two families and two radically different experiences of humanity, faith, religion and authentic loving relationships.

I was still a relatively inexperienced minister and chaplain back when I was doing my Pastoral Care residency at Parkland Memorial Hospital in Dallas Texas back in 1993 and 1994. Yes I had graduated from seminary. Yes I had a bit of chaplain experience as an Army National Guard chaplain and as a counselor at a major evangelical Christian ministry, and yes I had experience in dealing with AIDS as a Medical Service Corps officer in the Army.

Despite that, I was so ill prepared to deal with the massively different treatment of people dying from AIDS from their families. Families that in some cases shared the same Christian faith as me. I think that is one of the things that young ministers struggle with when they enter the nether world between life and death, mortality and immortality, faith and unbelief in the real world. When I was in seminary the senior pastor of the mega-church that I attended told a story about being approached by a family member of someone who was very sick and in hospital. The person wanted him to visit them while they were a patient. He had been their pastor for years. When they ask him if he would come, he refused. He recounted that the “parishioner asked just how sick he would have to be to get a hospital visit?” The pastor told us his response. He laughed and said “you don’t want to be that sick.” The congregation laughed and I was devastated.

The pastor was a leader in the New Apostolic Reformation, a friend of John Wimber, Rick Joyner and others who helped to pave the way to the heartless, unfeeling, political “Christianity” and “Dominion theology” that is in vogue with the Tea Party and Religious Right today. When I questioned him about his comments later he told me that thought that pastoral care of those in his congregation, especially in regard to hospital visits was “below his office as an apostle, that others had that responsibility.” The thing that disturbed me the most was that he had ordained me as an Evangelical minister in that church to be a chaplain barely two years before this. I had respected him and now I felt a tremendous sense of emptiness when I left his office.

So when I began my pastoral care residency at Parkland I found that I had a lot to learn about the real world of religious faith, religious hypocrisy and religious hatred and intolerance.

Early in my residency I dealt with a number of AIDS cases. I wrote about one of those cases last night, although that was not really early in my residency, it was closer to the end of it. There were two cases besides that one that made such deep impressions on me that I can never forget them. Both involved young, white, homosexual men dying of the complications from full blown AIDS. Both came from very “Evangelical Christian” families (both were Southern Baptist) and both were being grieved by what we called then, their “significant others” as well as their biological families. But that was where the similarities ended.

The first case was in the second month of my residency, when I was the chaplain for the Medical ICU, before the Pastoral Care Director wisely moved me to the Trauma and Surgery department. A patient came to us, a man, about my age, a successful architect with many friends who was experiencing pneumonia brought about by his immunodeficiency brought about by HIV.

When he arrived he was still able to communicate and he had many of his friends as well as his significant other visiting him. They loved him and he loved them. There was a sense of community and if I dare say real family as they visited. In those first few days I got to know him and these people, most of who were homosexual but not all. There were a number of women there, who I am sure had the patient, who was a remarkably handsome man, been a heterosexual, would have loved to have been his wife.

My encounter with him, before his condition worsened to the point that he had to go on a ventilator and was sedated was transforming. He grew up in the church, knew that he was homosexual, attempted to live with it and finally came out as gay, and was disowned by his family. Despite this he became a highly successful architect, had many friends, was active in charitable works, and still maintained his faith in Jesus. I came to appreciate him, the man who for was for all purposes his spouse and his friends.

However, when his condition deteriorated his estranged family, the people who had disowned him, rushed to his “rescue.” In good Christian form they brought their pastor who though their son was unconscious proceeded to preach at him regarding his need to “repent” and “to come back to Jesus.” The family also took advantage of the law. They were his biological family and next of kin. They banned the man’s partner and friends from his room as he lay dying.

The family’s pastor preached at the dying man and glared at the people closest to him while he was present.  I was appalled by his, and their behavior. While they isolated their son from those closest to him and allowed their pastor to condemn him as he died, I remained with his partner and friends. I prayed with them, I cried with them, I embraced them. When the family left I went with them to be with this young man’s mortal body. We prayed and after the nurses prepared his body and the doctors completed their final notes, I walked with them as we took his body on that long trip from the ninth floor to basement, where the morgue awaited. I still cry when I think of this encounter, of how supposedly Christian people would not only keep their son, who they had rejected and condemned from those who loved him the most as he lay dying.

A couple of months later I was in my element as the Trauma and Surgery Department Chaplain, but I still had on call duty where I was responsible for crisis situations anywhere in the house. One of those wild nights I got a call from the nursing staff of Nine South, the Medical Step Down unit where the lady that I wrote about last night had passed away, but that was still in the future.

This time there was another young white man, another partner, another family. This young man was not in the ICU fighting for his life, he was passing away in the quiet solitude of his room with his mother and father, his partner and his friends at his side. Like the other young man he was a man of faith. He loved Jesus, he loved his family and he loved his partner.

He was from the area west of Dallas, the area between Fort Worth and Abilene. His mom and dad were ranchers, dad was wearing his cowboy hat, a plaid shirt, classic western Levi’s jeans and cowboy boots. His mom was wearing a simple dress. Both were thing, tanned and their faces lined by the sun and weather and from being out on the range with their cattle. The young man who was with them, the dying man’s partner was casually dressed but though he was from the same area was not a rancher.

I spent time with all of them. The contrast between the “Christian” parents and pastor of the first young man could have not been more profound. Like the architect’s parents, they were Christians. In fact they were Southern Baptists who attended a small country church in the town that they lived. By any sense of the word they could be described as “Fundamentalist” Christians, but unlike so many fundamentalists they focused on loving God and loving people, even people that so many Christians reject out of hand.

I arrived as the patient was breathing his last. I remained with him, his parents, partner and friends as he passed away, and when his parents asked I offered a prayer commending his soul to God. As I did this his partner was in a state of near collapse, exclaiming “I have no one now, I am alone!” His grief was overwhelming, he had no legal status, in the eyes of the law he meant nothing, though the man that he loved had just died. My heart was rent, and I held on to him.

As I did, the patient’s father came alongside of us. The father said to the young man “You are not alone, you are our son now, we love you.” When this dear man said this we all were in tears, as I am right now. I stayed with all of these dear people as the nursing staff prepared the young man’s body to go to the morgue. At some point the parents escorted their son’s now widowed partner out of the hospital. Mom and dad walked on either side of him as they left the ward. If there was anyone couple on this either who were true Christians, it was this dear couple. As we parted I could not hold back the tears, and the father of the deceased gave me a hug and thanked me for being with them and honoring his son.

I remained with the nursing staff and the internal medicine resident as they complete their duties and took the young man’s body to the morgue. After that I went back to the emergency room where some of the nursing staff, including a RN who at one time had been an Assemblies of God pastor, but was now an avowed atheist who loved to torment chaplains, except me, comforted me in my grief. It is funny that an atheist would be comforting the chaplain after such an event, but then if I do believe in God, why can’t I believe that anyone cannot share in the grief of others and of comfort and care.

It was a story that I could only share with my pastoral care residency supervisor, in our residency group and with my wife Judy, as I knew if I shared my experience at church that at best I would only be humored, and most probably be ostracized. In fact I had to keep that story pretty much under wraps until 2010 when was told to leave the church which had ordained me a priest, for among other things speaking out for the rights of Gays, Lesbians and the LGBTQ community. By then I had met and served with far too many Gays who were far better Christians than most of the Christians who condemned them not to do so.

But, in a way it was a step to freedom because I realized that what I had been taught for so long was so horribly at odds with the message of Jesus.

Two deaths, two men, two partners, two families, two experiences of God’s grace, two experiences of a common humanity and the experience of one very flawed, but no longer confused chaplain…

Advertisements

Leave a comment

Filed under christian life, civil rights, ethics, faith, healthcare, laws and legislation, LGBT issues, ministry, Pastoral Care

Relearning Ministry Again For the First Time

198177_10151361204842059_1890411795_n

“Ministry means the ongoing attempt to put one’s own search for God, with all the moments of pain and joy, despair and hope, at the disposal of those who want to join this search but do not know how.” Henri Nouwen 

It was over 20 years ago that I graduated from seminary. I was a very good student and took every opportunity to learn, even when what I learned challenged my assumptions. Thus in a Southern Baptist seminary I basically came out as an Anglo-Catholic or progressive Vatican II type Catholic. But even so I was was still quite limited in my understanding of ministry.

My time in a Clinical Pastoral Education Residency a year after I graduated from seminary was filled with more discovery, much of it very painful as I confronted many of my own demons, But even what I learned there was just a chip off the top of the iceberg. While it was valuable it was something that took many more years to begin to fully grasp.

In each of these places and times of learning I discovered much, but like any novice my actual understanding of what I learned with limited by my own strengths as an analytical thinker and intuitive personality type. I was quite convinced of my competencies, skills and abilities, particularly in history and theology. I could wear people out picking apart arguments that I thought were flawed. Likewise on the occasions people came to me for advice I often would fall back on my strengths in analyzing their situation and giving them an answer. I was so obnoxious about it Judy would sometimes call me “the Great White One Who Knows it All.”

At various points in my life, seminary, preparation for the ordination to the Priesthood, during Clinical Pastoral Education and in the various military Chaplain school course that I have attended had to write and sometimes present a philosophy or theology of ministry. As I think about them most did talk about being present, but much more focus was on  programs and methods of teaching or even counseling from a cognitive behavioral theory method, but little to do with just being present and listening, presence was more about showing my face and being known that it was actually being with people. The changes in my “philosophy or theology of ministry” were honed in the crucibles of critical care ministry in hospital Trauma Departments and ICUs, and at war, deployed on ship or in Iraq. In those places I learned that between life and death that sometimes what matters most is just being there and not avoiding the pain by giving advice, offering a prayer, no matter how sincere and getting out of Dodge before the hard questions got asked.

I have found that young ministers or those new to ministry regardless of their age are often quite zealous and even when quite sincere often run roughshod over others. I think that is not so much a human failing but rather a result of our theological and ministerial training process. We focus on everything but being with real people, and among the professions we often are those among the least likely to truly listen to people before we diagnose a situation and give an answer. If we come from or are influenced by a tradition where what we believe that we are accurately discerning what the Holy Spirit is saying, or that we have the authoritative interpretation of Holy Scripture or that our theological premise is more correct than the others out there.

Please know this is not an attack on any particular denomination or theological school of thought. It just happens to be very common across the board in the way we do ministry as American Christians regardless of our denominational affiliation or whether we are liberal or conservative. It was bad enough when we all pretty much attended seminary in residence with other people and had to physically interact with other students or professors, some of whom challenged our views.

I believe that in the present reality of theological education in America, where online seminary programs are flourishing that an overall lack of contact and isolation is making the overall quality of ministry worse.  Simply put this is because we spend our time in a theological cocoon of our own making, deviod of relationships with people who really know us.  The result is that we become less attentive to others and more convinced of our own correctness and often suffer from a dangerous amount of narciscistic behaviors which are quite often displayed for the world to see.

 I wonder at times if the Jesuit formation process than anything that we do here.  While the 12 years long process done by the Jesuits is difficult and maybe even unworkable for some, I wonder if it is actually a better model for ministry.  I also wonder wonder if possibly we can learn from Buddhism. From what I see there appear many practices in it that are not antithetical to the Christian faith and may actually help us to be better spiritual directors, guides and care givers. I read a book by Wolfhart Pannenberg years ago about commonalities and where Christians and Buddhists could learn from each other. I still have it and when I return home I will have to take the time to re-read it. Part of my curiousity lies in the fact that I am also a military historian and theoritician and much as I see much complementary thought in the military theories of Sun Tzu and Carl Von Clausewitz, one who was Eastern in thought and the other a product of Classic Western Liberal thought and philosphy. Both understood the human dimension of life, war and statesmanship and as such their military theories are timeless. Could it be that Christians could learn from Buddhists. I know that some do and I wonder if because our God is bigger than our conception that his grace allows people outside the Christian tradition to understand his will better than us sometimes. I think of the encounters of Jesus with Roman officials who he complimented saying “I have not seen such faith in all of Israel.”

I know this because I lived my ministerial life in this manner for many years. In a sense I remained a novice so long as I thought that I knew everything. The late and great Hall of Fame Manager of the Baltimore Orioles, Earl Weaver said “It’s what you learn after you know it all that counts.” 

For me it took falling apart and feeling abandoned by peers, colleagues, the church institution and even God that took me to a new place ministry. Of course that came through the pain of loss, madness and abandonment that basically left me questioning everything, even the existence of God, I was for all practical purposes an agnostic. Coming back from war changed and suffering from PTSD and its effects makes more of an impact on faith than you can imagine. Since I have written about this part of my experience many times before so I won’t go into detail here.

295_27076762058_7573_n

Needless to say five years ago I began a journey that challenged my beliefs and changed me quite a bit as a Priest and Navy Chaplain. I won’t bore you with those changes either because I have written about them at length.

What I have learned and over the past five years is that Henri Nouwen who I quoted at the beginning of this article was correct. We as ministers frequently fail in this, instead we feel the need to say something, when often saying little or nothing but simply being with people and fully engaged in hearing them and whether through their words, expressions, tears or silence stay with them. Our words, suggestions and advice, even when theologically correct and in accordance with good counseling theory often are not heard by the suffering person because we are not listening and instead offering a diagnosis. Dietrich Bonhoeffer stated this Christian conundrum well:

“Christians, especially ministers, so often think they must always contribute something when they are in the company of others, that this is the one service they have to render. They forget that listening can be a greater service than speaking.”

I cannot tell you how many times that I have met people who have been hurt by well meaning ministers who simply cannot shut up and need to give advice. Let’s face it, the temptation is by virtue of our calling, our ordination or commissioning that we believe that words are essential. St. Francis of Assisi said “preach the Gospel at all times, use words when necessary.” Actions do speak louder than words and one of those actions is listening and maintaining a holy silence as we allow the Spirit of God to work in a life even as we remain present. Henri Nouwen wrote:

“Somewhere we know that without silence words lose their meaning, that without listening speaking no longer heals, that without distance closeness cannot cure.” 

n671902058_1153804_6925

For me though I have continued to evolve in ministry I do often feel like a novice. I have to fight the temptation to simply diagnose and give advice every day. That being said I am much more comfortable with listening and being present even more than I was a year ago. A lot of this credit goes to my Command Master Chief Ed Moreno, who I spend many hours a week with. He is a very spiritual person, a good listener and patient man who in a sense is a companion and fellow traveller on this spiritual journey.

For me it is almost as if I am relearning everything about ministry for the first time.

Well, that is enough for tonight. It is time that I shut up.

Blessings and Peace,

Padre Steve+

Leave a comment

Filed under christian life, faith, Pastoral Care, philosophy, PTSD, Religion

Persistence: My Motto

Persistence by Calvin Coolidge

“Nothing in the world can take the place of Persistence. 

Talent will not;  Nothing is more common than unsuccessful men with talent. 

Genius will not;  Unrewarded genius is almost a proverb. 

Education will not; The world is full of educated derelicts. 

Persistence and determination alone are omnipotent. 

The slogan ‘Press On’ has solved  and always will solve the problems of the human race.”

If there is anything that I find is true about me it is that I am a persistent person. The motto on the family crest is the French word Esseyez, or in English, “try.” Somehow I can see the chieftain of the clan lining everyone up behind William Wallace, who by the way was executed on this day in 1300 inspiring his troops saying, “just try for once.” My parents used to say “quitters never win and winners never quit.”  I have been inspired by great naval Captains like John Paul Jones who when asked if he had surrendered replied “I have not yet begun to fight” and James Lawrence who when mortally wounded gave his crew the order “Don’t give up the ship.” I am inspired by the words of the legendary manager of the Baltimore Orioles Earl Weaver who said “It’s what you learn after you know it all that counts.”

I love this poem by Calvin Coolidge. In fact I have a small framed copy of it presented by my residency director at Parkland Memorial Hospital in 1994 on my desk today.

I have never been the smartest, fastest, strongest, talented or educated dog in the pack.    I just work hard and don’t quit. I love the journeyman that one finds in baseball. I admire the utility player who can play a lot of different positions, plug holes and fit in well on the team. The same for the pitchers pitchers that pitch in middle relief or are the 5th starter in the rotation. I like the guys that gut it out and hang around long after others have written them off.

I have been having to go through and recount the really significant parts of my life as I get ready for the EMDR and Biofeedback therapy for my PTSD. It has been really amazing to see a couple of threads that are prominent in the tapestry of my life and without which I would not be me. The things that keep coming up again and again are a dogged persistence to succeed and unwillingness to quit and profound dislike of bullies.

My Clinical Pastoral Education residency which followed a brutal seminary process was one of the most pivotal parts of my life. My CPE Supervisor was a man named Steve Ivy. CPE is one of the best training in that anyone working with people in churches, hospitals or the military can have. For me it helped me see areas that I was blind to in my life. It helped me become a better listener and more accepting of others. But even more it helped me, and still helps me integrate me theology and philosophy into life.  Dr Ivy made a comment that was one of the most instrumental in my life since I heard it. That is that I can write my future that I do not have to be condemned to perpetually repeating the past or being stuck in place or being a victim of circumstances or others. It was a revelation of a positive humanity and the grace of God.

But even before that I was a fighter. In seminary when everything that one could imagine to go wrong did and pastors, and people at ministries told me that I should reconsider my call or quit. In the fall of 1989 when everything had gone to complete shit in our lives, Judy was sick, we had lost our home, cars and were living in a horrible house in a horrible neighborhood of Fort Worth, I was working two jobs and was in the National Guard, was a full time student and it looked like my time in seminary was over and that I had failed I called a TV ministry prayer line. I told my story to the prayer partner who told me that I couldn’t be called to ministry because if I was “God would be blessing me.” Somehow that hit me wrong. I just couldn’t imagine Jesus telling anyone that, nor could I reconcile it with Scripture or Church History.

I got mad and kept working despite everything going to hell managed to hang in long enough for things to work out. I didn’t do it all myself because a lot of people came alongside when they saw that I was in this for the long haul and would not quit. I graduated from seminary in 1992 with a 3.5 or 3.7 GPA, I can’t remember which and am not looking at a transcript while working more than full time and being in the National Guard. I worked my ass off and between good people and the grace of God made it through.

That continued after seminary when I was a late addition to the residency program at Parkland, when I got my first hospital chaplain job and when I was rebuffed by a senior chaplain in the Army Chief of Chaplains to return to active duty as a very young Army Reserve Major in 1997. He told me that I wasn’t good enough to bring back.

But despite that things continued to work out. I was helped along the way by great people. I had opportunities that opened up which gave me great experience and provided for my family. This culminated when I was selected for active duty in the Navy and resigned my Army commission to go in the Navy Chaplain Corps at a lower rank in February 1999.

There have been hard times in the Navy especially after my return from Iraq. I went through an emotional and spiritual crisis that I never imagined was possible, but I  I didn’t quit. I am an average guy who worked hard and got a lot of help along the way. But had I quit at any point I wouldn’t be where I am now and there were plenty of opportunities when I was ready to give up but held on just long enough to make it through.

Calvin Coolidge was so right. I am not the most talented person that I know in my field. I am not a genius and though I have a good education there are plenty of other people that know a lot more than me. However, I am persistent. I gain inspiration every day when I look on my desk and read that poem. I am thankful for grace of God and the people that God put in my life and who helped me during the tough times. I hope that I can always be the kind of person that helps people through their tough times and inspires them to keep trying, to keep working and never to quit and then pass that along to others.

The past few weeks have been a blessing because I have had to look back at my life and remember what got me to this point. Some of the memories have been difficult to think about because they were so difficult but at the end of the day I can count myself blessed.

Have a great night and don’t give up your dreams and always stay in the fight.

Peace and Blessings!

Padre Steve+

 

2 Comments

Filed under christian life, faith, leadership, Pastoral Care, philosophy

A death, a Rain Delay and a Visit from Saint Pete

This is a continuation of the story that I started in “Meeting Jesus and the Team at 7-11: A Baseball Fantasy” and “A Ballgame with Saint Pete: The Confluence of Faith and Baseball.” I have edited this from when I originally posted in last year and reposted it. I wrote the original article on my way to California for my dad’s funeral. When I started the series I did not expect my dad’s death, despite his long battle with Alzheimer’s disease. I wrote this article and started another which I will now finish and then continue the story from there. Somehow baseball helps me make sense of the world and adds to my spirituality in ways that I cannot explain to the non-member of the Church of Baseball. I just hope that the series touches people with the grace of God in some way, and that maybe they too will experience the love of God and the wonder of this wonderful game.

 

The news the next morning came like a thunderclap, as I was turning off my alarm clock which is located on my cell phone the phone rang to the tune of the Panzerlied which is my default ringer, a good German Army tune for a patently military Padre with an affinity for German military history.  I was not expecting the phone to ring as you might well image and squinted at the display to see just who might be calling me at this hour.  Without my glasses it was hard to see the display but nothing can come from a call this early in the morning. I looked at my watch to make sure that the cell phone time had been correct and that the call was not coming from someone at work seeing if I was running late which this morning despite having been up late the previous night I was not.  I hit the little green button with a phone on the key and put the device to my ever ringing ear, a product of too much noise exposure in Iraq according to my ENT, oh well, that and the loss of speech discrimination that I am experiencing tell me that the diagnosis is likely true.

“Hello” I asked warily wondering just whose voice would announce itself on the other end of the call.

“Hey Steve” announced the voice on the other end, it was my brother Jeff and I could tell that something bad had happened. “It’s Jeff I just got a call from the nursing home and they say that dad is hasn’t got much longer to live.” The voice was measured but full of emotion.

“Crap, okay, go on Jeff” my voice hesitated as Jeff continued to talk.

“Yeah, they called a few minutes ago and said that dad had taken a turn for the worse and that they didn’t expect him to live.” He paused for a second and continued. “I figured that they meant a few days so I asked them and the nurse told me that she didn’t think that he would live another half hour.”

I interrupted “a half hour?”

“Yeah, tell you what I need to get up there quick, I’ll call you from there to let you know what is going on.”

“Thanks Jeff be safe driving up there.” My voice trailed off as Jeff replied.

“I will Stevie.”

“One question, does mom know?”

“No they called me, I’ll let her know when I know something and I’ll call you as soon as I get up there.”

“Love you brother, be safe”

“Love you too” and with that Jeff hung up the phone.

I find it funny that my “little brother” refers to me on occasion as “Stevie” but he is my brother but he has been the more serious and grown up of the two of us since he was about eight years old. Dad used to say that he was eight going on forty back then and he still is the more serious and reserved of the two of us. When I was in high school and college he looked in askance when I went on toilet paper raids with friends and later with Judy around town.

In shock I walked back to the bed where Judy was awake and putting her glasses on. As I climbed back into the bed she asked “what’s wrong?” and reached out to me as I lay down next to her. “It was Jeff; he said that he got a call from the nursing home and that they said that dad was dying.” I looked up at her as she simply said “I didn’t expect that.”

“I didn’t either; Jeff is on the way up now, I don’t know what to think.” She cradled my head in her arms as I lay there stunned from the news.

“We’ve known for a long time that this was going to happen but…” I cut her off.

“But I just didn’t expect it now. I know that he hasn’t been the man that I knew for a long time with the Alzheimer’s but I just didn’t expect it. Kay had said that he was doing about the same, had gained some weight again and the last time I talked to mom and Jeff they said that he looked about the same as he has for a long time, I just figured that he would go on longer.” I paused as I took a deep breath and she said “I know” and held me close.  Seeing that we were up, Molly our vivacious Papillion-Dachshund mix pulled her 15 pounds of red fur and personality over us and wrapped her body around the top of our heads after squeezing herself between us and ensuring that she kissed each one of us.

We lay there for together not saying much as I wondered what was going to happen in the next few minutes. I prayed silently for my dad to have a peaceful death and to be with the Lord even as I searched for answers myself. It had not been that long, just about six month in fact since I had started believing again after my Christmas miracle. That had been a time, after Iraq I was falling apart and only got worse for most of the first two years after my return. I struggled with PTSD, anxiety, flashbacks, nightmares, severe depression, chronic pain gained a lot of weight and got out of shape but the worst part was feeling cut off from community and even worse cut off from God, the experience of feeling God forsaken shook me and it was not until shortly before Christmas that faith had began to return to my weary soul.  I hugged Judy and pressed up closer to her before realizing that I needed to get a shower realizing that I had just enough time to do this and get dressed before Jeff called back from the nursing home.

“Strange, yesterday I get the greatest news of my career and today this. It’s that damned Yin and Yang, those two have to always show up together why couldn’t I get time just to enjoy the news of the promotion?” It was a rhetorical question of course, I am not one that subscribes everything to God’s will which in my understanding would make God out to be a capricious and even somewhat cruel God, despite what the Calvinists and Augustinians say is part of his will for us. I have a problem with a God that would intentionally screw with his people like that and choose rather to believe that some things in life just happen, the good with the bad and that somehow that God will give us grace to get through the difficult times, even when we see no good reason for the timing of events. “Damned Yin and Yang, especially that Yang always shows up when you don’t want him to.

“I’ve got to get cleaned up and dressed I’ll have to go in to work after I hear from Jeff and rearrange my leave.”

“I guess this means another anniversary apart huh?” Judy looked at me and I simply replied “yeah what’s new?” I had planned to take a good amount of leave around our anniversary this Friday just to be with her, help her around the house and relax through the July 4th weekend but that was now out the window with dad’s death.  Over the 27 years of your marriage we have been apart more than together on this auspicious date that we share with the 1950 invasion of South Korea by the North and the 2009 death of Michael Jackson.  I spent our first anniversary in Landstuhl Army Medical Center back in 1984 and over the years had only been at home for 11 of our anniversaries. I guess being in the military you get used to this in fact with us it is almost a running joke, but this year I didn’t think we would be apart.

“I think that this means that we’re 11 for 27” I dryly said.

“I’ve stopped counting dear I just figure that it’s going to happen.”

“Yeah, me too” I pulled my body which now felt like it weighed a ton off the bed and headed to the shower and Molly looking somewhat offended snuggled closer to Judy.

About the time that I was finished dressing the phone rang again and it was Jeff telling me what I knew he was going to tell me.  I answered the phone resigned to the message that I knew was coming. “Hey Jeff, what’s going on?”

“Stevie, I’m here at the nursing home, I made it just after he died.  It looks like he just passed away in his sleep, he looks at peace.”

“That’s how we hoped it would be no suffering.”

“I know, I just didn’t think that it would happen this fast. I thought they would call us and that he would slip into a coma and take a few days to pass away.”

“Yeah, same here, I just didn’t expect it today, but then who does?”

“Hey Stevie, I call you back I need to go let mom know that he’s gone.” It was 3:25 AM in California.

“Okay, hang in there and good luck with mom, it will hit her hard I’m sure. Talk to you later, love you Jeff.”

“Sure thing…. later.” The phone went silent as Jeff hung up.  I got my gear together gave Judy a kiss goodbye, filled me a water bottle and headed to my car.  After loading my gear in my trusty war wagon festooned with bumper stickers of baseball teams and military units and newly issued Operation Iraqi Freedom license plates personalized with “FLAK88” my favorite artillery piece of World War Two turned the key and nothing. The battery was dead.

I went back in the house and let Judy know that I needed to borrow her car and then proceeded to load her car for the trip into work.  On the way I called Derek, our assistant Department Head to let him know what had happened and by 7:15 I was walking in the office door wearing my Tides road jersey and hat. I sat down with Derek for a while as he and I have very similar family situations and both of us were wondering who would be the first to lose their father.  The talk was helpful and Derek prayed for me as our Monsignor, Father Fred.  Fred when he was on active duty had been my first detailer, which in non-Navy parlance would be a personnel manager or assignments manager.  Fred and I have had a wonderful ministry together as Priests and he came into my office, closed the door and spent time with me, finishing with prayer and letting me know that he would offer Mass on my dad’s behalf.  He was followed by Father Roy a Canadian Army Priest in our Clinical Pastor Education Residency who offered his condolences and then let me know that he too would offer Mass for my dad.  I gathered the things that I would need to include my Summer White uniform, or as I love to call them my Faggoty White Uniform as Colonel Nathan R Jessup, Jack Nicholson’s character in the movie A Few Good Men called them.  Once I was packed I was on my way home where Judy awaited me as did my laptop with which I would make my travel arrangements.

I could not believe the prices to fly on short notice and the aggravation that I had in trying to use my frequent flyer miles or get a real person on the line on all airlines except Southwest. Although I was able to talk with the kind folks at Southwest, who by the way are always the most courteous of all the airline customer service agents, at least to me, I went online where I got my ticket on Southwest to Sacramento and made my rental car reservations.  Following all of the time spent making arrangements my neighbor Larry jumped my car which enabled me to go to the auto part store for a battery.

Finally about exhausted and with the temperatures in the high 90s with unbearable humidity Judy and I went and got a beer and light lunch at Biersch before the ball game which I knew that I needed.  It is funny how baseball of all things works to calm me when nothing else will and how even when I experience great loss baseball is there for me. It is much as Walt Whitman once said: “I see great things in baseball. It’s our game — the American game. It will take our people out of doors, fill them with oxygen, give them a larger physical stoicism. Tend to relieve us from being a nervous, dyspeptic set. Repair those losses, and be a blessing to us.” Baseball is a blessing to me, something that the Deity Herself must have figured when I was conceived to a couple of baseball fans who in addition to raising me right taught me to love this game.

I looked up at the sky and realized that there was a strong possibility that rain would affect the game as I got out of my car at Harbor Park.  When you live in these parts you can tell by the look, feel and smell when a storm is coming and this was one of those days.  I entered the park, as Bill “Spaceman” Lee once said “as one enters a church” paying my respects to the folks that I now know well at the front gate walking up the stairs to the concourse where I was greeted by Will, one of the ushers who helps people as they come up the stairs offering greetings to those that he knows while directing first time visitors in the proper direction.  I let Will know what had happened and he offered his condolences and said that he would pray for my family too.

I made my way across the concourse and looked out at the lush diamond below, the grounds crew was preparing the infield for the game as Rip Tide mugged for fans and the Tides band played on the concourse.  Vendors selling all types of food and drink were busily engaged in their work while Marty the Card dealer talked with a customer.  I stopped trying to figure out what I wanted to do next and decided to get a Tides dog and a beer before going down to my seat. This is a comfort food for me and like Humphrey Bogart said “A hot dog at the ballgame beats roast beef at the Ritz.” Going down to “Rosie’s Grill” on the third base side of the concourse I ordered the dog and the beer, a draft Yuengling Lager and after dousing the dog in mustard and relish I went over to a table and ate the dog there as I stared out at the diamond occasionally looking across the Elizabeth River to the shipyards and dry docks and the Staten Island Ferry that was high and dry in the dry dock directly across from right center field.

My mind wandered thinking about the many times that dad had taken me to ball games and how much that meant to me.  The last game that we saw together was a Stockton Ports game at Banner Island Ballpark back in 2005 or 2006 when the Alzheimer’s was just starting to show up in his daily life and instead of being able to really enjoy the game he nervously paced the concourse behind home plate for much of the game.  That was so unlike him and I knew that he was slipping even though he did not yet recognize it. When I finished the dog I took my beer and my bag with my camera and windbreaker in it down the concourse where I met Chip the usher who greeted me in his usual friendly manner.

“Hey Steve how are you doing? Celebrating the promotion?”

I looked at Chip and sighed. “Chip it’s the damndest thing I thought that I would be celebrating and my brother called this morning to let me know that my dad died.”  Chip looked at me and shook his head.

“Sorry to hear that, he’d been sick for a while?”

“Yeah, the Alzheimer’s didn’t even know who the hell I was the last time that I saw him; at least he went peacefully in his sleep.”

“But still…”

“Yeah, really threw me for a loop, I just didn’t expect it to happen now even though I have expected it for the last two years.”  I paused.

“I’m really sorry Steve; I’ll keep you and your family in my prayers. When are you going out?”

“Tomorrow afternoon.”

“Okay, I’ll keep you in my prayers my friend.”

“Thanks, I better go down and see Elliott.”

“Catch you later.”

“You bet.”

I walked down the stairs to see Elliott waving at me having already wiped down my seats.  I got down to where he was and he greeted me cheerfully. “Hello Padre, just you tonight?”

“Yeah just me.”

“I hope we don’t get rain tonight”

“Sure looks like we might it feels like rain.”

“Yeah, so how are you doing?”

“Not so good, I won’t be here for a while I got a call from my brother this morning to tell me that dad is dead. I fly out tomorrow.”

“Oh, sorry to hear that Steve.” I knew Elliott like Chip meant what he said.

“Yeah, hard to believe, I thought that God might actually let me enjoy a full day with my promotion.” I paused as Elliot let me continue, a good usher like a good bartender is a good listener.  “But stuff happens, like those Chinese kids Yin and Yang, the good and the bad huh?”

“Yeah, seems that way.” Elliott paused. “How are you doing there?”

“I guess okay, he died in his sleep, we’ve expected this for the last two years, I just didn’t expect it now.” I paused and as before Elliott let me do so without prattling on. “You know I prayed that he would go in his sleep at peace without anymore suffering but now that he has I am just…I don’t know, I didn’t expect it now.”

“Hang in there Padre; I’ve got to get busy before Dave thinks that I’m ignoring others, I’ll talk to you later.” A couple came walking down the steps looking for their seats and Elliott turned to great them. As he did I looked up at the sky, the clouds were building from the west and well, if you have ever lived where thunderstorms are a part of daily life you know what I mean when I say that you can smell the rain in the air or feel the storms building.

I went to my seat and as the grounds crew finished its work and the teams began to take the field I wondered if we would get the game in.  The young woman who would sing the National Anthem came out on the field and the PA announcer announced the Tides as they ran onto the field each accompanied by a young girl softball player about 6-9 years old.  Obviously the “Field of Dreams Team” was a girl’s softball team otherwise they would have been boys.  The young woman sang the Anthem and Chris George the Tides starter went into his final warm ups, just then the rain started and the home plate umpire signaled for the players to come off the field as thundered rumbled and lightening flashed nearby. I looked at my cell phone and looked up the weather channel whose radar show a very big blob of red coming our way. I left my seat and walked up to the concourse and not long after I did the heavens opened and the rains came down.  As I and most of the other fans took cover from the storm a finger tapped me on the shoulder.

“Padre, I knew that I would find you here.”

I looked up and it was Pete.

“I thought that the boss sent you out of town?”

“He did but he let me come back when your dad died.”

“Really, why?”

Pete put his hand on my shoulder “Padre the Boss had me come back because he knew that you’d listen to me.” He paused and looked me in the eye. “The boss was going to send Thomas because he wanted to send me on a road trip but when he actually called Carl home he realized that you really didn’t know Thomas, I mean Thomas is a good guy but…” I cut him off.

“But Skip knew that you were right for this.”

“Yeah, Tom’s good but you know me.”

“True.”

“And he likes wine better than beer” Pete chuckled “and even though he’s on the team he’d rather sit down in a nice restaurant and share a nice bottle of Merlot and eat cheese, Skip realized that I was the better choice.”

“Makes sense, Skip knows me pretty well huh?”

“All of us my friend, all of us, heck I remember meeting him for the first time when he called me, changed my name on the spot from Simon to Peter, the Rock.” He chuckled “sometimes I think that he thought the rocks were in my brain housing unit, the time I corrected him and he told me “get behind me Satan” my Lord that was not fun, I felt so foolish, but he didn’t chase me away.”

“Sometimes I feel pretty foolish Pete, I mean look at me, my dad is dead, I fly out to California tomorrow and I am standing in the concourse of a baseball park with rain coming down in buckets.” My sense of frustration and confusion was showing. “I mean Pete, what should I be doing? I really don’t know.” I shook my head and my eyes first moved to the ground and then looked back up at Pete. “I don’t know what to do Pete.”

“I know, and Skip knows, that’s why I’m here and not Tom. The fact is Steve you can’t do this alone, that’s why you’re here tonight; you need to be around this place, your friends and in a sense your dad. Your dad is here at least in spirit.”  Pete paused “Let’s get a beer and sit down out of the rain.” Pete walked me over to a stand on the first base side of the concourse where a vendor was selling Killian’s Irish Red. Pete looked at me and said “I’ll get it so put your wallet back.” Walking up to the stand he said “Sir, two Killian’s, make them large” and laid a twenty dollar bill on the stand. As the man reached to make change Pete said “keep the change my friend, tips might not be too good if this rain keeps coming down.”

The man behind the stand smiled as he finished pouring the second beer, “Thanks there buddy, you have a good night, thanks again” as he put the five dollars of change into his vest pocket.

“Let’s go over here Padre.” Pete led me to one of the tall round metal tables near the stand and put the beer to his lips. “Not bad, of course it isn’t named after Saint Killian, but we can pretend can’t we?”

“Always Pete”

“Cheers my friend, to Carl.”

“To dad” I replied as we lifted our cups.  The rain continued to beat down on the tarp spread across the field; I looked down at the display on my cell phone and noted the large amount of red, yellow and green on the Weather Channel, and I looked at Pete “looks like the rain isn’t going to let up for a while.”

“Well then let’s hang out for a while then.”  We’ve got a little bit of time, besides; you don’t want to get soaked on the way out to your car.”

“True, I am not a big fan of torrential rain.”

“You know that some of the good times early on came with the boss in the rain, well actually in the rain in little boats in raging storms.  I will never forget the time that he came walking across the water, shocked the heck out of me, enough to tell him that I wanted to do it too” Pete took a drink of his beer and laughed “I laugh about it now but when I saw those waves around me and realized that there was no boat under my feet I freaked out.  As I started to flail about and sink Skip walked over to me like he was on pavement reached down, grabbed my arm lifted me up and hauled my ass back in the boat. He then stilled the storm and the rest of the team; even guys like Judas had a laugh.” The rain was now coming down in sheets and with the exception of a couple of ushers and diehards everyone in attendance was on the concourse under cover or under the overhangs on the upper decks and the party deck.

“I’ve been through some storms at sea too”

“But you weren’t foolish enough to jump out of the boat.”

“Patently Pete, patently” I raised my cup “cheers Pete?”

“Cheers Padre” and Pete raised his cup to mine and each of us took another drink.

“So anyway, you wanted to talk to me.”

“Yeah, that.”

“So?”

“Well, last night I mentioned that you were in few a few changes or something like that before I left the park.”

“Okay, go on.”

“Well, that call from Skip, he kind of let me know that he was going to take Carl, your dad home.” Pete paused “And he kind of told me that he was going to send Tom as he had other work for me to do.”

“But that changed, you already told me that.”

“Yeah, yeah anyway, as I was saying, um where was I?”

“Changes and Skip telling you that he was taking my dad home” I paused and looked at Pete.

“Yeah, that let me continue.  You know that Skip liked your dad a lot, and I got to know your dad before you were even born, played some ball together on Guam.  I was on his team, I remember when he slid head first into second and broke his collar bone.”

“You’re kidding?”

“You dad was a young Petty Officer and a heck of a ballplayer, he was a solid hitter, knew where to hit the ball, aggressive on the base paths and good defensively at second base, sometimes all of us on the team would go out for a San Miguel after the game” and then paused for a drink and I took the opportunity to interrupt.

“What were you doing in Guam?”

“Come on Padre, what I’m doing here, Skip keeps us busy, that thing about “the great cloud of witnesses,” well some of us are more like low cloud cover or fog, a bit closer to the action than some of the others.” Pete laughed, “Skip likes us to be involved and I just happened to be in Guam when Carl was, it was totally coincidental.”

“Like the past two days?”

“No not at all, this was one of those God ordained things, you know Skip, when he wants something, well what can I say?”

“So you’re telling me that playing ball with my dad was coincidental and this was God ordained?”

“Yeah, so why can’t it be that way?”

“It just seems too coincidental to me Pete, I mean why this why me why now?” I was still in shock about dad’s death and though I knew that Pete was telling me the truth I didn’t really know how to react or what to say. I looked down at my beer and back up at Pete. “Pete I’m sorry I just don’t know what to say, I’m still in shock and kind of numb.”

There was an awkward silence and Pete reached out to me. “Padre, you needed to be out here tonight, you needed to hear this, it’s been so long with Carl not being himself with Alzheimer’s that you needed to remember that he was once young and enjoyed life, he loved you and your brother and your mom. He wasn’t perfect but there is a lot of him in you. He was proud of you and your brother and your families and I was glad to have known him back then.”

Though there were people all around us chatting and rain coming down mixed with thunder and flashes of lightening.  It had been nearly an hour since the rain began and it didn’t look like it would be letting up anytime soon as water began to puddle in the right field corner and other places in the outfield and warning track.  There was also water building up in my eyes, and I tried to be inconspicuous as I wiped away a tear.

“Padre, its okay, your dad died this morning.  It only happens once to most people and Carl was a good man, he’s getting a chance to hang out with Skip and well a lot of others, he’ll be fine.”

“So Skip really knew dad?”

“Still does, and I know that after Iraq you wondered if God existed and struggled with faith but when Skip said that he was with us and would never leave us or forsake us he meant it. He didn’t say that we wouldn’t have problems but he said that he would be there. Sometimes that’s hard to believe, I know I had a number of times where I doubted more than Tom ever did, thankfully Luke didn’t take the time to report all of those events.”

“Good thing I guess, better than these ballplayers, every error they make get’s published and recorded for posterity.”

“Good thing Padre, good thing, those statisticians would have been great sin counters in the Middle Ages, they would have known exactly the amount that you would need to pay to get your sins forgiven and an indulgence or two…I’m surprised that brother John Tetzel isn’t their patron saint.”

“So the reason that Skip sent me back is that he knew that you needed a bit of a pep talk and know that he really does care about you. He wants you to know that things will work out and to find a way to make sure that people remember your dad before Alzheimer’s took everything from him. Skip thinks that it will be good for them and you too.”

“But what?” I asked.

“I don’t know, Skip didn’t tell me. I guess that he will give you inspiration, he’s good at that you know.”

“Yeah, but until this inspiration comes I don’t know what the hell to do.”

The rain began to let up; I refreshed the Weather Channel and noticed more storms in the area.

“Pete, I have a long day tomorrow, I need to get home and pack, if this game does get going it will be close to midnight before it’s over and I’m still tired from yesterday. I’d better get out before the rain starts coming down again.” I finished the last bit of beer in my cup. “You will talk to me again?”

“Of course, I’ve been assigned your case.”

“Thanks for being here and thanks for the beer too, it tasted good.”

“Sure thing Padre, I’ll see you here again, maybe we’ll even find some way to get a game going, I think I can talk Dave into renting out the park for a day.”

 

1 Comment

Filed under Baseball, christian life, faith, Religion

Musings on Lent and Holy Week…The Recovery of Joy in Doing Theology and Living

This has been an interesting time.  I began Lent with an actual desire to see some more spiritual progress in my life. By that I meant actually being able to slow down and take stock in order that I might continue what had begun with my Christmas miracle.  Last year I was still in a mess but Lent was a time that I found a local church home in the Hampton Roads area, St James Episcopal Church in Portsmouth. While I was not doing well it was a beginning.

This year Lent took an unexpected turn of events when on the 20th of February I was felled by a 7mm Kidney stone that pretty much put me down for almost a month, I returned to work on Saint Patrick’s Day.  That little stone stopped me cold and by chance, or some might say “God’s will” and allowed me to really think through a lot of what I believe as well as deepen my relationship with the Deity.  I found it strange to be down so hard but despite being in pretty much constant pain and unable to sleep well with pain medications just taking the edge off of the pain while making me loopy at times to be able to read and meditate on aspects of my faith as a Christian.  It was interesting as I came to integrate faith, theology and life and for the first time in many years actually began to write serious theology again.

The time was interesting from reminiscing about my Clinical Pastoral Education Residency at Parkland Memorial Hospital, thoughts on baseball and my dad, a number of articles dealing Glenn Beck and his attacks on churches and Christians that were opposed to his political and economic ideology which ended up getting a bit heated at times when a few miscreants decided to take me on.  I was surprised by the amount of negative energy and even hatred displayed by some of those who attacked me to include physical threats by another blogger.  However I did not back down once and even still tried to remain gracious to those who were critics, for the most part with the exception of the aforementioned blogger I was able to do so.

The latter part of Lent and most of Holy Week included articles about how life under the Cross impacts life in both an individual and corporate manner.  For the first time in years I was doing serious theology again.  This was very good because for the past 6 years I have been focused on doing a lot of academic work in history and military theory where I completed a Masters of Arts in Military History as well as the Marine Corps Command and Staff College which actually helped me become a better writer and researcher than I was in years past. The extra work as well as my tour in Iraq with our advisers and time at the Jordanian Army and UN Peace Operations Training Center gave me an academic depth as well as breadth that I lacked in seminary and in my early years as a priest. The fact that I had also gone through a terrible two years of psychological, physical and spiritual crisis returning from Iraq where much changed in my life.  That time was somewhat like what Saint John of the Cross called “The Dark Night of the Soul” where it seemed that God himself had turned his back on me.  This tied me back in to my seminary training and theological background of Luther’s theology of the Cross and reengaged me with the writings of Luther, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Jürgen Moltmann, Hans Kung and Alistair McGrath.  Having gone through a period where I felt abandoned by God, the Church and many of my peers in ministry I gained a new appreciation for the theology of the Cross as something that made sense of life.  It was not as Luther called scholastic theology a “theology of glory” but a theology of reality in a broken world which I had now experienced hopelessness as something more than a theological or psychological concept. All of this combined during Lent to force me back to my theological roots.

The last week of Lent and Holy Week saw me return to some topics that have been important to me including returning to my journey in Iraq which I had not added to since last fall and a return to baseball.  I also found time to go back to write about some darkly humorous events of my Clinical Pastoral Education residency at Parkland Memorial Hospital and a couple of somewhat silly articles.

Life which had begun to return at Christmas came back through Lent to include the spiritual, psychological and physical.  I was able to come off of the “fat boy program” last week, recover from the Kidney stone and experience renewal and community.  To top things off my sense of humor and self-confidence has returned.  All in it was a rather eventful Lent and Holy Week in ways that I did not anticipate and ways that have helped me as of last week declare myself “back in commission.”

All in all I have gained a new found appreciation of God’s grace and mercy as well as an appreciation of friends of all kinds.  The understanding that “if anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation: everything old has passed away; see, everything has become new! All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ, and has given us the ministry of reconciliation; that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting the message of reconciliation to us” (2 Cor. 5:17-19) has found new meaning as I rediscovered the practical applications of what Bonhoeffer wrote “God loves human beings. God loves the world. Not an ideal human, but human beings as they are; not an ideal world, but the real world. What we find repulsive in their opposition to God, what we shrink back from with pain and hostility, namely, real human beings, the real world, this is for God the ground of unfathomable love.”

Since I am one of these kinds of rough cut human beings that Bonhoeffer talked about I have a propensity to enjoy fellowship with similar people.  I am certainly not perfect and sometimes my actions disappoint some of my more religious friends.  In a certain ironic twist I had a verbal altercation at Gordon Biersch late on Good Friday evening when Judy and I went in for a light meal and a beer. While attempting to take a seat I was threatened by a drunk and I refused to back down or shrink away getting back in his face using certain coarse language to get him to back down. It is funny how having been held up at gunpoint and shot at in combat will influence the fight or flight reaction in the direction fight even for a miscreant priest.  If the guy had actually tried anything big Randy and about five other Stein Club members were about to come over the bar to protect “their padre.” So I know that I miss the ideal of the “theologians of glory” and those who find such human faults as unworthy of God’s grace.

Even so joy has returned to my life admittedly part of this has to be the fact that Baseball season’s opening night coincided with Easter.  Luther said “It is pleasing to God whenever thou rejoice or laugh from the bottom of your heart” and I heartily agree.  It is good to have joy back in my life as Karl Barth said “Joy is the simplest form of gratitude” and “laughter is the closest thing to the grace of God.” The joy and laughter has even made to writing of theology an experience of God’s grace as Barth also said “The theologian who has no joy in his work is not a theologian at all.” To such theologians and preachers who have a joyless life heaven must be a tedious place and like Luther I would have to say “If you are not allowed to laugh in heaven, I don’t want to go there.” Thank God for his grace that enables flawed people like me to even have a chance and at the same time to experience that grace in joy and laughter.

So to all of my readers and friends who have walked through Lent and Holy Week with me I wish you all the best. I pray that if you at experiencing hard times that you will experience the grace, love and mercy of God and that joy and laughter will again be part of your life.

Peace and love,

Padre Steve+

Leave a comment

Filed under christian life, faith, philosophy, Religion

A Trip to the Home World, Tithing on the Speed Limit, a Tooth Joins the Ranks of the Undead and a Giant No Hitter

Yesterday we made a trip back to my family’s home world, also known as Huntington West Virginia. As far as home worlds go it is probably on no one’s top ten lists, probably ranking about as high as Qo’noS, the Klingon home world in terms of places that you would go to on holiday.  However it is my family’s ancestral home for the past 200 plus years since coming from Scotland, Ireland and France.  Now I was not born in West Virginia, though my parents were born there as were three of my four grandparents.  I was actually the first of my generation born outside of the state as my dad was still in the beginning stages of his Navy career and was stationed at Naval Air Station Alameda California and I was born at Oak Knoll Naval Hospital in California.  Even so Huntington was a place that served as a touchstone for our lives as my dad was transferred from one place to another on the west coast.  We would return almost every summer, usually travelling by train in the days before Amtrack.  Back then three of four grandparents as well as one set of great grandparents we still alive along with a butt-load of aunts, uncles and cousins.  In 4th grade we lived there while my dad found us suitable housing in Long Beach California after being transferred from Washington State. That was the year of three schools and four teachers for me, but I digress.

It was during that year that my great grandfather died and my grandfather was diagnosed with a golf ball sized yet benign brain tumor.  It was also the adjustment form the kinder and gentler west coast schools to a much stricter standard in Huntington.  I was also as we had come in from Long Beach I was nicknamed “City Slicker” and had to fight for my life.  A couple of school yard brawls later which I cannot say that I won but in which I gave good account of myself I was accepted so far as a “City Slicker” could be.  The thing was though that I had lived in a town of only about 8,000 inhabitants for 4 years prior to moving to Long beach for just over a month.  The kids in Huntington were far more “City Slicker” than little old me.  I had poor penmanship because in Kindergarten my teacher took the pencil out of my left hand and stuck it in my right hand.  This was of no comfort when my teacher whacked my hand with a steel ruler since my penmanship was so bad.  What good this did I have no idea except to maybe set me back two more years.  I don’t think I ever left the dining room table due to the amount of homework that she assigned.  During my time in Huntington we lived across from the old Fairfield Stadium where the Marshall University football team played.  I saw the team work out in the spring practices of 1970, the same team killed in the plane crash on 14 November of that year.  We returned to Long Beach that summer where when I started 5th grade I was known as “Kentucky Fried.”  Despite that I was happy to get back out west.  After my Clinical Pastoral Care Education Residency in Dallas I got my first full time hospital chaplain job at Cabell-Huntington Hospital which I held as a full time contractor until I was mobilized for the Bosnia mission in 1996.  During this time and while I was deployed Judy got to know my relatives better than me.  I went into the Navy in West Virginia and due to this we remain West Virginia residents for Tax and Voting purposes.  We came back to get our driver’s licenses renewed and see our dear friend Patty.

The visit this time has been pretty miserable for me as last night the tooth which was recently excavated for the second time as discovered to be cracked beyond repair decided to come back from the dead.  I didn’t get to sleep until about 0230 and woke up again at 0415 before getting back to sleep at 0600. The alarm rank at 0700 and after getting Judy up, we talked and I went back to bed where I slept until 1230.  It took 2 Ultram, 1 800 mg Motrin and a couple of beers with lunch to get the pain under control.  Tonight I will probably do the same and go to bed early.  In the morning I will have to call the Dental Department at the hospital to see what they want me to do.  We don’t travel back until Wednesday and I don’t know if I can take much more of this.  It seems to me that my tooth has taken a page from Dracula and joined the ranks of the undead.  This really sucks like a Hoover.

The trip here was long, we had the usual snarl on I-64  from Newport News until past Williamsburg, and thankfully the HRBT was not congested.  We picked up more slow traffic between Staunton and Lexington.  Now I am bothered by people who drive slower than the posted speed limit in the fast lane.  I trained on the Los Angeles Freeways and the German Autobahn.  My view is that the speed limit is a suggestion for the less skilled drivers and those who have trained on high speed roads should be exempt from it.  Now I am not a total scofflaw. I do not drive unsafely, weave in and out of traffic or fail to signal.  Likewise I know about how fast I can go without drawing the attention of the State Police.  Since radar detectors are illegal in Virginia one has to become very adept at this cat and mouse game and I am amazed at the number of people who get pulled over because they don’t understand the simple art of nuance.  In most states you can safely drive about 10 percent over the speed limit on the Interstate without getting ticketed.  This is a little different on the major travel holidays in Virginia where there is about a 5 mph tolerance.  I do this routinely and refer to it as “tithing” on the speed limit.  Of course there are times that I need to give more than my tithe and go a bit faster.  Our GPS “Lilith” has a conscious about such things and would alarm when I did this forcing me to silence her.

There was also cause for rejoicing as the first half of the baseball season came to an end.  The Norfolk Tides are tied for fist in the International League South, the San Francisco Giants have surprised everyone by playing great ball with solid pitching and now are in second place in the National League West and currently have the 3rd best record in the league behind the Evil Dodgers and one percentage point behind the East leading Phillies.  To really make things great Giants pitcher Jonathan Sanchez pitched a no-hitter against the San Diego Padres.  It was almost a perfect game save for a booted ground ball and error by Giants Third Baseman Juan Uribe with 1 out in the bottom of the 8th and Center Fielder Aaron Rowland saved the no-hitter with a leaping catch at the wall for the second out in the top of the ninth.  Both of these show that even when a pitcher pitches a no-hitter it is a team effort.  I had seen the next to last Giant no-hitter in person with my dad and brother back on August 24th 1975 when Ed Halicki shut down the New York Mets at Candlestick.  Not a bad way for the Giants to go into the All-Star break.

Anyway it is time to self medicate for the night and try to get some sleep.  Pray for me a sinner.

Peace, Steve

Leave a comment

Filed under Baseball, healthcare, Loose thoughts and musings, star trek, travel

Outlasting everyone else…The value of Longevity in One’s Chosen Vocation

Soldier Once and YoungForward Observer 1982

“I want to stay around longer than the pitchers who were at the top when I came into the big leagues. I don’t want to be gone and have all the old guys — Seaver, Carlton, Ryan and Sutton — still pitching. I got rid of Palmer, now I want to outlast the rest of them.”   Bert Blyleven

Hall of Fame BaseballBert Blyleven

I have come to value longevity in my career.  In fact I did not plan on this when I enlisted in 1981, but I am am coming up on 28 years on the military.  I enlisted in August of 1981 and was commissioned in July of 1983.  In 1988 I left active duty and went to the National Guard for seminary and my Clinical Pastoral Education Residency at Parkland Memorial Hospital, the Knife and Gun club in the friendly city of Dallas Texas.   I became a chaplain in 1992.  I ended up resigning my commission as a Major in the Army Reserve back in 1999 to enter the Navy.  I’ve been in the Navy now a bit over 10 years.

My plan back in the day was to spend 20 years or more on active duty in the Army and retire as a Lieutenant Colonel or Colonel and then go teach history or military science somewhere.  Things took a very different course.  The Deity Herself somehow had other plans for this at times miscreant Priest.

Berlin WallAt the Berlin Wall, the East Side, November 1986

I can relate to Bert Blyleven’s comments. When I entered the Army in 1981 a lot of folks that I knew had been around for Vietnam and Korea.  My early mentors were all Vietnam vets.  I’m pretty sure that almost all of the people that I came in with are now retired or out of the service.  In fact I cannot think of any of the men and women that I was commissioned with in 1983 who still are in the service.  Likewise, most of the guys that were senior when I entered the Navy are either out or maybe coming up on their last tour.  It is my desire like Blyleven to outlast all those guys who were Commanders and Captains when I came in ten years ago.  I like this longevity thing.  I play hard so to speak and love what I do.  It is kind of like, well heck; it is getting a chance to do what I know I am called to do. For me a second chance because I thought that I would finish my Army career in the obscurity of the Reserves and never get to do what I really wanted to do.  In a sense I am a journeyman who through a lot of ups and downs has finally come into his own.   There is a player named Oscar Salazar who was just called up this weekend from the Norfolk Tides to the Orioles.  Oscar is one of my favorite players.  He is a journeyman who has spent most of his career in the minors.  This year he came into his own.  He was hitting about .380 and was having a great year in Norfolk.  He deserves to be in the majors.  If he can’t stay up with Baltimore then I hope that another team will deal for him.  When you see him on the on deck circle talking to younger players you can tell that he enjoys playing the game.  He hustles and plays hard. I hope that he does well for the Birds while he is up for Caesar Izturis.

WeddingWedding Day 25 June 1983

There is something to longevity in one’s chosen calling.  You get to see a lot, do a lot and experience a lot that other people only get to dream of doing.  When you do what you love and then are blessed to get to do it as long as I have in two military services, the Army and the Navy, you can count yourself fortunate.   There is a certain satisfaction that I have when you look at my career in the long term and see that I have lasted 28 years and that I am still going strong.

In a sense I am a relic, though unlike most of my relic contemporaries I am still relatively junior in rank.  I enlisted at the height of the Cold War a couple of years after the Soviets had invaded Afghanistan and the followers of the Ayatollah Khomeini had overthrown the Shah of Iran, over 8 years prior to the fall of the Berlin Wall.  I have been to what I call the “Commie Trifecta,” East Berlin, Panmunjom Korea and Guantanamo Bay Cuba.  I have served in Europe, Asia and the Middle East, at sea and ashore as well as an exchange officer. I have not always been a chaplain.  I have commanded a company in Europe during the cold war.  I have served multiple tours with the Marines, served on a great ship, the USS HUE CITY and done more in my career than I had ever imagined possible.  I am grateful for the experiences that I have been blessed with and even the adversity has made me stronger and wiser, even the times that I have had my ass kicked by it.

Boarding partyBoarding Party Operation Enduring Freedom April-May 2002

Most of the people who have been in the military as long as me are very senior officers or non-commissioned officers.   Thankfully, I still have a relatively young appearance for someone my age, which was enhanced when I shaved the pitiful remnant of graying hair from my now pristine head.  Likewise I stay in pretty good shape.  I actually want to start playing baseball or softball in some old guy league when I have the time.  People say that I appear and act younger than I am.  The acting part is no lie, I have not really grown up, and I’m still a kid at heart.  I like to have fun and see humor in life even sometimes in the midst of tragedy, which I have seen a fair amount of in my life.

Today was another 13 hour day at work.  Thankfully my department director had taken my duty over the weekend and in a sense sat me down for a game.  We have a couple of kids doing really bad in one of my units.  The last couple of hours were spent working with the families of both of these kids and spending time with our staff.  I also ended up doing country clearances for my boss and I to make a trip out of the US to work with chaplains from another country concerning the people that they are sending into our Pastoral Care Residency Program.  This later thing I have never done before, though I have supplied information plenty of times for others to do my requests.  I was talking to my buddy Elliott the usher of section 102, of which I have seat 102, row B, seat 2. We were talking about baseball and life, which is pretty much par for the course with us.  We were talking about situations that I deal with at work and he said to me, “no wonder you come here to relax.”  It is true.  I have learned that I need to take some time for me, it is imperative for my health if I want to keep myself in the game and like Bert Blyleven outlast the guys who were at the top of their game when I came in.  I have pretty much outlasted most of my Army contemporaries, now I’m working on outlasting Navy guys.

Me and BTT with Bedouin KidsOut on the Syrian Border with the Bedouin

I have come to like Blyleven.  He is one of the more under appreciated pitchers who played the game. He had 287 wins and pitched 242 complete games with a career 3.31 ERA and over 3700 strike outs, 5th on the all-time strike-out list.  He played on 3 All-Star Teams and in 2 World Series.  He played on a lot of really bad teams which probably kept him from winning even more games, yet he is not in the Hall of Fame.  At the same time he did outlast the majority of his contemporaries pitching 22 years in the major leagues.  In a sense I want to be kind of like that.  I want to outlast folks and both do well and have fun when I do it.  I want my last season, or tour in the Navy to be my best.

Pirates Orioles BaseballOscar Salazar

I hope that Bert Blyleven makes the Hall of Fame and that Oscar Salazar makes it in the Majors.  As for me, I just want to do well and have fun doing it while helping as many of the young guys as possible.

Peace, Steve+

Note: Tomorrow I will be taking part in a memorial service and celebration of life for Senior Chief Pam Branum.  She was a great shipmate and tomorrow our Medical Center as well as her many friends will remember he life and say goodbye.

Leave a comment

Filed under Baseball, Loose thoughts and musings, Military, philosophy