Tag Archives: community

Der Münchner Wiesn 2018: a Parade, Bier, and Gemütlichkeit

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

Today was the beginning of Munich’s Oktoberfest, commonly known here as der Wiesn. This is actually a term from the Bavarian dialect which means the green which is a term used for the Theresienwiese, the lawn of the Nymphenburg palace grounds in Munich which hosted the first Oktoberfest on which King Ludwig I of Bavaria celebrated his wedding to Princess Theresa and a horse race.

The King invited the people of the city and thereafter it became a regular event and soon a national and worldwide event celebrating Munich’s heritage of community and beer, which helped bridge the otherwise insurmountable of German and other European cultural divide. Munich, with its beer hall culture is one of those rare places in Europe that a mayor, governor, senior civil service official, or military officer might sit next to a lowly peasant, worker, farmer, or even a beggar might sit together drinking beer, class differences cast aside. A number of historians have noted this fact.

Today, Munich is still home to a tradition that has grown far from the Theresianwiese to other locations throughout Germany and around the world.

We have visited Munich and gone to der Wiesn for the last five years, but today was the first time that we were here for the opening parade and the ceremonial tapping of the Festbier by the Mayor of Munich in the Hofbrauhaus tent.

After the parade we took seats in the beer garden area of the Hofbrauhaus tent where we had a delightful time with three German retirees, Dora, Ludwig, and Christa, and a mixed group of younger Germans and internationals. We stayed a lot longer than we expected. After we got back to our hotel I went down to the hotel bar watch the Schalke vs. Bayern Munich match. While there I spent the match chatting with two pilots from Qatar Airlines. Bayern won 2-0 and I look forward to Tuesday night when I see them play Augsburg at Allianz Arena.

These are some of the sights of this event.

Tomorrow we will take our rental car and visit historical sites around town which are normally out of the way.

I hope that you enjoy, I know that we are.

Peace,

Padre Steve+

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The Glory of Solitude


Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

Today I am writing late after a long but good day at a meet up for owners of Papillon dogs. Saturdays are usually my time to be alone and spend time with Judy and our dogs doing as little as possible. I use them to recharge. I’m getting a lot more social interaction this weekend and that is not a bad thing, but every so often I take the time to break away to spend a bit of time alone, usually with my dogs Izzy and Pierre sitting on my lap. Both happen to be quite sensitive and know when having them there is therapeutic for me.

Since Thursday when I walked the Antietam battlefield I have been musing on the value of solitude and the importance that it has in my life. Paul Tillich wrote: “Our language has wisely sensed these two sides of man’s being alone. It has created the word “loneliness” to express the pain of being alone. And it has created the word “solitude” to express the glory of being alone.”

I am a natural introvert, a thinker, and soldier, who has found his vocation as a priest, and scholar. I think had I been born 800 years ago that I could have easily been a scholastic warrior monk. Thus I live in a world that is foreign to many people. I value community, friendship, and the camaraderie found in some parts of the military. I have learned over the years to mix rather well in social settings, I stay very busy, and I am bombarded with many issues on a daily basis at work as well as by having to know what is going on in the nation and world because of what I do.

I also know what I need, in the words of Elwood Blues, to “live, thrive, and survive,” and one of those things is solitude, which at means for me, venturing from the busyness and chaos of life, and of being inundated by an often toxic stew of nonstop information which dulls the senses. I have to have times of solitude in order to survive, but for much of my life I tried to fill those times alone by doing other doing things, even good things like praying the Daily Office or reading scripture, rather than actually being alone with myself.

Being alone does not necessarily mean being lonely. Loneliness, usually denotes a sense of, pain, abandonment, and often friendlessness, or even being unloved or unlovable. People can be terribly lonely even in a room full of people. There have been times in life, especially in my journey since returning from Iraq in 2008 that I felt the pain and despair of loneliness even when surrounded by people. I also know what it is like to have people who I believed were friends abandon me. But that has nothing to do with being alone or knowing the richness of solitude.

Everyday try to disconnect from people, social media, and other distractions in order to be alone with my thoughts. This can be dangerous as because in solitude we are quite often faced not by the chaos of what is outside of us, but the chaos, and the unresolved conflicts within us. Being alone and seeking solitude is so disquieting at times that many people want to flee from it, because the outer chaos can be used as a shield to mask us from the disquiet within. Thus it takes a certain amount of discipline to remain in solitude, especially in those times when our own demons of fear, anxiety, disappointment, failure, bad memories, unresolved conflicts, angry feelings, and impulses seek to overwhelm us.

Yesterday I wrote about my 17 mile walk through the Antietam battlefield and I think that was one of the most rich times of solitude that I have had in a long time because it was much longer than what I usually get. It was punctuated with a chat with an 88 year old resident of the area who was coming up the trail from the Burnside Bridge with his fishing pole in hand. It was an interesting encounter because during the first 11 miles or so of the walk I had come across very few people and most of them seemed to be in a hurry. But that seems to be the case almost everywhere.

But this gentleman was fascinating, and though I was intent on getting to the bridge, I knew that I had to remain. I listened as he told me about some the the changes in the area since he was a child, homes and barns that no longer existed except as ruins, the people who lived in them, and how as a child he would fish or hunt along the creek. When he found out that I was a in the military and also a historian he lit up. He told me about his and his son’s military experiences, and then he told me about his visit as a child to Gettysburg in 1938 on the occasion of the dedication of the Peace Monument. He described the elderly veterans of North and South, as well as seeing President Franklin Roosevelt deliver his speech on that day. Of course I have read about that event, and seen pictures and newsreel footage of it, but I had never talked to an eyewitness, and he may be the only eyewitness that I will ever meet. My solitude was was enriched. I was reminded of the words of C. S. Lewis who observed, “We live, in fact, in a world starved for solitude, silence, and private: and therefore starved for meditation and true friendship.” As we parted, he walking back toward the new Burnside Bridge and me heading to the site where Burnside’s regiments threw themselves across the old bridge in the face of murderous Confederate fire, he said, “I hope to see you next year,” and I told him I hope so too, and yes I meant it. I then continued my walk all the while contemplating what happened on the battlefield, imagining what it had to be like for those soldiers, and also contemplating my own life. It was liberating.

Solitude is important for many reasons, but it is especially important for leaders at any level, or those who care for others. Secretary of Defense James Mattis is a historian as well as devotee of the writings of Marcus Aurelius. Aurelius was a wise man and he wrote “It is in your power to withdraw yourself whenever you desire. Perfect tranquility within consists in the good ordering of the mind, the realm of your own.” Yes it is possible to withdraw and to seek solitude, but it is also hard, yet necessary. General Mattis noted:

 “Solitude allows you to reflect while others are reacting.  We need solitude to refocus on prospective decision-making, rather than just reacting to problems as they arise.  You have some external stimulus, then you go back to your experience, your education, and you see what needs to be done.”

Solitude is a good thing. It is often, at least for me, an uncomfortable time as I wrestle with my inner demons, but in those times of inner struggle I often discover truths about myself as well as the world around me, sometimes coming in the form of old men who enter my solitude and enrich my life. The two, solitude and companionship on the journey are import, as Dietrich Bonhoeffer wrote:

“Let him who cannot be alone beware of community… Let him who is not in community beware of being alone… Each by itself has profound perils and pitfalls. One who wants fellowship without solitude plunges into the void of words and feelings, and the one who seeks solitude without fellowship perishes in the abyss of vanity, self-infatuation and despair.”

I hope that this makes some sense as I don’t often write articles like this, but as I thought about it today I realized that I ought to write about it, if for nothing else than not writing about the Devil’s Triangle of any of the various crises facing all of us. Sometimes it is important to step away for a time in order to know what to do.

Have a great day and until tomorrow,

Peace

Padre Steve+

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Gemütlichkeit: The Importance of Community

oktoberfest-2015

Oktoberfest 2015

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

This is another of my pre-posted articles for while we are away. We are halfway through our trip Munich Germany this week for the Oktoberfest and while here we are making number of other trips to historic places and exhibits. But I wanted to post something that I think is important that the Germans do but we often miss in the United States, the concept of community.

What we have always liked about our times in Germany is that it is pretty easy to talk and spend time with people, even perfect strangers. In Munich during the Fest you can do this sitting in one of the Bier Gardens of the Hofbrauhaus tent at the Theriesienwiese grounds, the Hofbrauhaus itself, other restaurants, sidewalk cafes or the hotel bar. I have to say that the ease with which you can mix with and get to know people; the ability to talk about life, culture, and even current events without someone looking for an angle to exploit is in stark contrast to so much of what we see in the States. Since I have lived in Germany for about four years as well as having been back numerous times I can say that whether you are in a big city or small town it is pretty easy to mix.

One of the interesting things is how the Germans, even those who live in big cities understand the concept of community. The Germans take life and work seriously, but unlike many, if not most of us, they know when business stops and fun, family and community begin. When people leave work they leave work, and even the business culture, in which stores are not open 24 hours or on Sundays provide Germans the opportunity to spend good amounts of time with family, their neighbors and friends as they meet for dinner or drinks at the local Gasthaus or inn on a regular basis. Likewise communities sponsor sports teams, and a wide array of other clubs that draw them together, everything from Rotary, to veterans associations, bands and choirs, hunting and shooting clubs and many more. Many of these groups sponsor events in which the entire community can partake.

The concept in all of this is that of Gemütlichkeit, a German word that basically describes a situation of where a cheerful mood, peace of mind and social acceptance are joined with the connotation of being unhurried in a cozy atmosphere. It also is understood in relationship to holidays where public festivities in the form of music, food, and drink help promote a sense of community. In this there is a sense that someone is part of something bigger than himself or herself where they are connected with being accepted by others while enriching the community.

Unfortunately for many Americans this is not the case. Unless one belongs to an organization such a various types of lodges, local sports fan clubs, or a local pub or bar where “everyone knows you name” there are precious few places one can experience this type of community. Churches like to claim that they are places of fellowship, but in my adult experience I have to say that most churches neither foster community nor are they places where one can go to be accepted. They are often the most cliquish, unfriendly, uninviting, and judgmental places around, and this is across the board. This cliquish and uninviting spirit covered in a veneer of spirituality and forced friendliness knows no denominational or theological boundaries, but I digress….

Judy and are lucky, we have a sense of community with friends who span the breadth of society; most of those who we know from the place where everyone knows our name, the Gordon Biersch Brewery Restaurant bar in Virginia Beach.

The Germans for all of their serious nature and sometimes-brusque manner of getting around do know how to draw the line between work, and play and in the process build community. Their cities and towns are designed to keep a community connection, including many parks; excellent public transportation systems, sidewalk cafes, local corner grocery stores and bakeries, as well as family run businesses that have not been destroyed by the huge box-stores like Wal-Mart. They are places that you get to know people, where life is lived, and community experienced.

Part of this is the difference in culture and how over the years our American culture has become detached from this sort of community. In many ways we have become increasing individualistic through the proliferation of suburbia, massive box-stores, and all that goes with it, including the abandonment of cities, and small poor rural communities. Even our churches, across the denominational spectrum have embraced the community destroying box-store religion of the mega-churches. The fact is we don’t know our neighbors and that leads to a culture that devalues people, destroys community, and actually brings on social problems including crime.

Without community we fall back into our basest survival instincts; we see people in regard to what they can do for us. People simply become nothing more than commodities that we discard when they are no longer useful. We adopt the modern American business model as our model for relationships; and when we do this, we devalue friendship; we become paranoid, distrustful, isolated and ultimately come to despise our neighbors.

To make matters worse our lack of real community has so poisoned our political system that I doubt we will ever come back together as Americans. I would like to see our divisions healed but I just don’t see it happening, and that to me is heartbreaking.

Anyway, speaking of this Judy and I will be seeing some of our friends and doing some sightseeing today and just enjoying that gift of friendship.

Wishing you all today that sense of Gemütlichkeit,

Peace

Padre Steve+

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Oktoberfest, Community & Gemütlichkeit

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Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

This is the first of a series of short posts reflecting about our trip to Munich, Salzburg and the Oktoberfest.

We are back from Oktoberfest and starting to catch up on life back at home. The trip was wonderful Judy and I had a great visiting meeting and talking with a wide variety of people, from Munich locals, to Swiss, French, English, and other visitors to the Oktoberfest including American expats, and many others.

What we liked was that it was hard not to get a chance to talk and spend time with people, sitting in one of the Bier Gardens of the Hofbrauhaus tent at the Theriesienwiese grounds, the Hofbrauhaus itself, other restaurants, sidewalk cafes or the hotel bar. I have to say that the ease with which you can mix with and get to know people; the ability to talk about life, culture, and even current events without someone looking for an angle to exploit is in start contrast to so much of what we see in the States.

One of the interesting things is how the Germans, even those who live in big cities understand the concept of community. The Germans take life and work seriously, but unlike many, if not most of us, they know when business stops and fun, family and community begin. When people leave work they leave work, and even the business culture, in which stores are not open 24 hours or on Sundays provide Germans the opportunity to spend good amounts of time with family, their neighbors and friends as they meet for dinner or drinks at the local Gasthaus or inn on a regular basis. Likewise communities sponsor sports teams, and a wide array of other clubs that draw them together, everything from Rotary, to veterans associations, bands and choirs, hunting and shooting clubs and many more. Many of these groups sponsor events in which the entire community can partake.

The concept in all of this is that of Gemütlichkeit, a German word that basically describes a situation of where a cheerful mood, peace of mind and social acceptance are joined with the connotation of being unhurried in a cozy atmosphere. It also is understood in relationship to holidays where public festivities in the form of music, food, and drink help promote a sense of community. In this there is a sense that someone is part of something bigger than himself or herself where they are connected with being accepted by others while enriching the community.

Unfortunately for many Americans this is not the case. Unless one belongs to an organization such a various types of lodges, local sports fan clubs, or a local pub or bar where “everyone knows you name” there are precious few places one can experience this type of community. Churches like to claim that they are places of fellowship, but in my adult experience I have to say that most churches neither foster community nor are they places where one can go to be accepted. They are often the most cliquish, unfriendly, uninviting, and judgmental places around, and this is across the board. This cliquish and uninviting spirit covered in a veneer of spirituality and forced friendliness knows no denominational or theological boundaries, but I digress….

Judy and are lucky, we have a sense of community with friends who span the breadth of society; most of those who we know from the place where everyone knows our name, the Gordon Biersch Brewery Restaurant bar in Virginia Beach.

The Germans for all of their serious nature and sometimes-brusque manner of getting around do know how to draw the line between work, and play and in the process build community. Their cities and towns are designed to keep a community connection, including many parks; excellent public transportation systems, sidewalk cafes, local corner grocery stores and bakeries, as well as family run businesses that have not been destroyed by the huge box-stores like Wal-Mart. They are places that you get to know people, where life is lived, and community experienced.

Part of this is the difference in culture and how over the years our American culture has become detached from this sort of community. In many ways we have become increasing individualistic through the proliferation of suburbia, massive box-stores, and all that goes with it, including the abandonment of cities, and small poor rural communities. Even our churches, across the denominational spectrum have embraced the community destroying box-store religion of the mega-churches. The fact is we don’t know our neighbors and that leads to a culture that devalues people, destroys community and actually being on more social problems including crime.

Without community we fall back into our basest survival instincts; we see people in regard to what they can do for us. People simply become nothing more than commodities that we discard when they are no longer useful. We adopt the modern American business model as our model for relationships; and when we do this, we devalue friendship; we become paranoid, distrustful, isolated and ultimately come to despise our neighbors.

Anyway, speaking of this Judy and I will need to see some of our friends this afternoon and just enjoy that gift of friendship.

Wishing you all today that sense of Gemütlichkeit,

Peace

Padre Steve+

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Oktoberfest Retrospective: Gemütlichkeit, The Importance of Community

IMG_0491.JPG

Well my friends we have returned from Oktoberfest in Munich and despite a couple of bumps, the trip went well. That couple of days have been too full and I have been unable to post these thoughts until now, that being said I have given them a great deal of reflection.

Of course for most most foreign visitors to Oktoberfest is a chance to drink and enjoy the festive atmosphere, and that is not a bad thing. However, most miss the understanding of Fests such as Oktoberfest in the life of the communities hosting them. Oktoberfest is just one of many that Munich and other German towns observe, which draw their communities together in ways that most Americans do not really comprehend. German festivals draw the local community together in many ways, community groups, clubs, associations, churches and businesses contributed to making the Fest, be it a major event like Oktoberfest or Fests conducted in small communities. Admittedly some American towns and cities have similar events, but with the exception of some major metropolitan centers with diverse and proud ethnic communities, they usually are a singular annual observance.

German cities and towns usually have a good number of these events, which draw their people together throughout the year. In fact they are somewhat linked to seasons, the church calendar, and important crops or products that their town is known for producing. While all are festive each have a different emphasis and different feel. Oktoberfest in Munich is the largess of its type, not just in Germany but the world, but it is not alone, many towns also celebrate their own Oktoberfest which are not clones of the Munich event, instead they reflect the differences in culture and tradition throughout Germany.

The Germans take life and work seriously, but unlike many, if not most of us, they know when business stops and fun, family and community begin. When people leave work they leave work, and even the business culture, in which stores are not open 24 hours or on Sundays provide Germans the opportunity to spend good amounts of time with family, their neighbors and friends as they meet for dinner or drinks at the local Gasthaus or inn on a regular basis. Likewise communities sponsor sports teams, and a wide array of other clubs which draw them together, everything from Rotary, to veterans associations, bands and choirs, hunting and shooting clubs and many more. Many of these groups sponsor events in which the entire community partake.

oktoberfesttent

The concept in all of this is that of Gemütlichkeit, a German word that basically describes a situation of where a cheerful mood, peace of mind and social acceptance are joined with the connotation of being unhurried in a cozy atmosphere. It also is understood in relationship to holidays where public festivities in the form of music, food, and drink help promote a sense of community. In this there is a sense that someone is part of something bigger than themselves where they are connected with being accepted by others while enriching the community.

Unfortunately for many Americans this is not the case. Unless one belongs to an organization such a various types of lodges, local sports fan clubs, or a local pub or bar where “everyone knows you name” there are precious few places one can experience this type of community. Churches like to claim that they are places of fellowship, but in my adult experience I have to say that most churches neither foster community nor are they places where one can go to be accepted. They are often the most cliquish, unfriendly, uninviting, and judgmental places around, and this is across the board. This cliquish and uninviting spirit covered in a veneer of spirituality and forced friendliness knows no denominational or theological boundaries, but I digress….

As I mentioned the Germans have festivals for almost everything. There are Spring, Fall, Summer and Winter festivals, harvest festivals, wine festivals throughout the Rhine, Main and Mosel and Nahe River valleys where wine is produced. I already mentioned Oktoberfest but there are Advent and Christmas markets in almost every city, town or village, Passion plays, celebrations of music, art and culture some of which are tied to the church calendar.

weihnachtsfest

In Bamburg, which is in the north of the state of Bayern (Bavaria) there is a celebration of its large number of very elaborate nativity scenes. In fact it is known as the city of nativity scenes. Some of the displays, of which there are over 30 major ones are changed every week to correspond with the nativity story, from the annunciation until the birth of Jesus, but are extended out to the scene of the first miracle of Jesus where he changed water into wine at the Wedding at Cana, just before Lent.

Speaking of Lent, there are a large number of places where Carnivals, similar to Mardi Gras in New Orleans, known as Fasching are celebrated, which all end on Fat Tuesday. In some cities there are Easter festivals, festivals involving the Patron Saint of the city, or state, and all of these are part of a holiday atmosphere.

The Germans for all of their serious nature and sometimes brusque manner of getting around do know how to draw the line between work and play and in the process build community. Their cities and towns are designed to keep a community connection including the use of excellent public transportation which means that most people don’t have to use up their cars sitting in traffic jams on the way too and from work or to a major event. I like to drive, but if our city had good public transportation I would definitely use it.

Part of this is the difference in culture and how over the years our American culture has become detached from this sort of community. In many ways we have become increasing individualistic through the proliferation of suburbia and all that goes with it, including the abandonment of cities, and small poor rural communities. The fact is we don’t know our neighbors and that leads to a culture that devalues people, destroys community and actually being on more social problems including crime. But again I digress…

This was my first trip to Oktoberfest, and though it was crowded the crowds were relatively well behaved, those who are obviously drunk or out of control are taken out, often to the first aid tent. Likewise, crime is not much a problem, despite the crowds. What is amazing is how many people lose valuables but get them back, either from someone who sees them leave them behind or drop them, but those who turn them in to security.

We experienced that on Wednesday night when the small pouch Judy had containing all of her identification and a debit card was lost. Of course we did everything we were supposed to do, retrace steps, talk with security and go to the lost and found. When I was at the lost and found I was amazed and how much was there, including very expensive looking purses, handbags and backpacks. The people there did not have it. They told me to come back the next day at 1PM Thursday when they opened and assured me that this happens all the time and that most items lost are returned.

On the way back to the hotel Judy was quite upset and my best efforts, as well as those of our friends at comforting her were of little solace. But on the U-Bahn train going back to the hotel, an older German man across from us was most kind, offered to help and did what he could to comfort Judy. That was really neat, and we both appreciated his concern and his offer of help.

With our departure less that 36 hours away, we could take no chances. Immediately on returning to the hotel I cancelled the debit card, which had not been used and contacted the U.S. Consulate in Munich. They too were reassuring, but since we could take no chances we reported her passport as lost and received a new temporary passport to ensure she could return home.

We went back to Oktoberfest after concluding that mission, when to the lost and found and they did have the pouch and nothing was missing. It had been a long 16 hours for both of us, but on finding it the mood lifted considerably. Our friends, who were doing last minute shopping met us at the Munchen Hofbrauhaus tent where we had saved seats. After dinner and a few beers we did a little bit of shopping, a quick bite at a local Gasthaus near the hotel we met our friends at the hotel to drink some of the beer that we had bought out in town.

Oktoberfestmunich

One of the cool things about this was how we have grown closer to our friends. It will be hard not seeing them everyday, but we are planning other get togethers outside of meeting at Gordon Biersch where we all congregate anyway, but cook outs, dinners and other things where we all contribute. I think what we experience with our friends is much closer to the way that Germans do life in community, and for us that is a good thing.

einprosit

There is a song that is sung at Oktoberfest as well as at other Fests throughout Germany called Ein Prosit

The band leader will get everyone’s attention and begins to sing as the band plays and everyone joins in standing, swaying to the music holding their beer steins high:

Ein prosit, Ein prosit, gemütlichkeit;
Ein prosit, Ein prosit, gemütlichkeit!
Eins, Zwei, Drei, G’Suffe!

A to at, a toast
To cheer and good times;
A toast, a toast, to cheer and good times!
One, two three! Drink up!

With that in mind I wish you the best weekend, and my wish that we all discover what it is to be in community and experience gemütlichkeit.

Peace,

Padre Steve+

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Thinking About Community: A Place Where Everybody Knows Your Name

Cheers

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MMNVNRybluQ

Some years ago the theme song of the television show “Cheers!” struck a chord with people, because it expressed the desire of many people. I have talked about it before and the song is a favorite of mine.

Making your way in the world today takes everything you’ve got.
Taking a break from all your worries sure would help a lot. 
Wouldn’t you like to get away?

We live in an increasingly disconnected world despite the proliferation of devices designed to make communication easier. Our dependence on these devices often serves to disconnect us from community because we use them to accomplish things without any human contact.  I mean really, what percentage of our Facebook “friends” really know us and how many can we go to when the chips are down.

We shop in massive stores, attend mega-churches, exist on fast food bought at a drive through and we don’t know our neighbors. To most organizations we are not real life human beings but statistics whose only value is in profit and market share.  And we wonder why so many people are depressed, lonely and even despair of life.

Sometimes you want to go, Where everybody knows your name,

and they’re always glad you came.
You wanna be where you can see, our troubles are all the same
You wanna be where everybody knows Your name.

Having a place where people know you and care about you matters.

In a time where many people feel alone and disconnected community really matters because as Americans we are all in this together. Today, as they have for the past few years large numbers of American cities and towns are enduring great hardship, and this disconnect between people, evidenced by the fact that we often don’t even know our neighbors has created a social isolation that only breeds hatred and discontent.  With this true lack of community we should be surprised with increasing crime, violence, discrimination and prejudice.

The sad thing to me as a religious leader, a Navy Chaplain is that for many people that I encounter the Church is not a place of love, safety, community or acceptance. Many have suffered greatly at the hands of religious people and institutions and some though raised in devoutly Christian homes across the denominational spectrum have not only left the church, for some other church but no longer believe.

gb-crowd

Community doesn’t happen overnight and sometimes illusion of perpetual prosperity only serves to drive us apart.  However, sometimes communities are reborn when facing crisis, people begin to look out for one another again and the welcome sign means that you really are welcome.

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I have found that in a number of places, in Virginia I have my friends that the Gordon Biersch Brewery Restaurant,  Harbor Park in Norfolk and St James Episcopal Church inPortsmouth. In North Carolina I have found that community at Rucker John’s in Emerald Isle and with my friends from Kinston, from when that town still had a Minor League team. Those friends have remained and I am grateful, especially because of how broken I was when I returned from Iraq. I don’t think that until one experiences that kind of brokenness that one really appreciates a place where people care for you, accept you and make you feel like you belong.

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But, what has been neat for me and what is true for others is when we do find that special place for ourselves it is a beautiful thing. Likewise, when we can provide that kind of home to others we can really understand the last stanza of the song from Cheers which never aired on television.

Be glad there’s one place in the world
Where everybody knows your name,
And they’re always glad you came;
You want to go where people know,

People are all the same;
You want to go where everybody knows your name.

Peace

Padre Steve+

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Sweet 16: Celebrating 16 Years Since My Ordination as a Priest

“Practically speaking, your religion is the story you tell about your life.” Andrew Greeley

It was a quiet celebration of Eucharist with Judy this afternoon at my dinner table. I was wearing a stole that Judy made which has been with me around the world and which I wore throughout my time in Iraq. The chalice was a very simple one that I got in Germany when I was stationed there in 1996-1997. The other elements that I used, the paten and crucifix were those that I used in Iraq, as was the lectionary that the readings came from, which has a cover that Judy made for my travels.

Our dog Molly was at my feet and our Papillon puppy Minnie decided that she needed to stay in Judy’s arms for the duration of the liturgy. This is nothing new, our dogs have pretty much been there any time that we have had a home Eucharist. Frieda, our Wire Hair Dachshund I’m sure was a lapsed Bavarian Catholic who if she attended was passed out. Greta our red smooth hair Dachshund would always be with us, but usually would be asleep next to Judy. Molly just likes to be with daddy and this was Minnie’s first Mass. Minnie made us laugh when she tried to get into the chalice as I gave it to Judy, but thankfully she did not succeed.

My service as a priest has been exclusively as a military Chaplain, first in the Army and since 1999 in the Navy. I have not yet had to opportunity to serve in a civilian parish though I have on occasion assisted fellow priests at their parishes. My current assignment is a hospital and most of my duties are related to patient care or staff support. Thus when I am home in Virginia I attend St. James Episcopal Church in Portsmouth where I first started attending while serving at the Naval Medical Center in the midst of my crisis of faith. I love that little parish which has its roots in the former slaves and freedmen of the city.  Down here at the Island Hermitage I have not found that place where I feel at home so on weekends that I am here I typically will do the daily office and Eucharist at home.

So my parish is wherever I serve as a chaplain but in a sense my readers are an extended part of my parish. Father Andrew Greeley wrote:

“I wouldn’t say the world is my parish, but my readers are my parish. And especially the readers that write to me. They’re my parish. And it’s a responsibility that I enjoy.”

I get notes from people on this site quite often who have experienced the pain of spiritual abuse, trauma from various sources and who have experienced a crisis in faith or lost their faith. I hear from others that have been ostracized by their churches for various reasons. They write in response to articles that I have written about my own crisis of faith following my time in Iraq and struggle with the demons of PTSD. It was a time where I felt abandoned by God and the church. I found that churches can be painful places as often as they become places of healing. Having been asked to leave the denomination that ordained me in September 2010 as I began to recover faith after spending nearly two years struggling I understand that pain. But I agree with Jurgen Moltmann who said of his experiences in World War II and its aftermath “Christ’s own ‘God-forsaken-ness’ on the cross showed me where God is present where God had been present in those nights of deaths in the fire storms in Hamburg and where God would be present in my future whatever may come.”

Today was nice. We spent time together and after the scripture readings and before the Eucharist we simply talked about the journey and how different things are now than when I was ordained. The world has changed and so have we. War does that.

I have been thinking a lot this week about this and how blessed I am to be a priest and chaplain. I am blessed by people who taught me, mentored me and cared for me throughout my journey. I am blessed to still be able to serve God’s people and my church even as I serve those that serve this country in the military.  I try to remember as Andrew Greeley wrote in one of his Bishop Blackie Ryan mysteries that:

“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)

This week I was humbled when one of my old shipmates from my time on the USS Hue City posted a comment on my Facebook page about the impact that I had made in his life about 10 years ago.  The week was supposed to be a bit relaxing but I spent a good amount of it dealing with the tragic suicide of one of our Corpsmen who worked at one of our hospital clinics.  I will continue to be working with that situation this week and would appreciate your prayers.

We also had our tankless water heating system go out and have been shuttling in to the base to take showers at the hospital locker room. Hopefully the maintenance man has the new component tomorrow. As it is I will be going in to work very early to PT and shower before my first meeting and what promises to be a very busy day as we prepare a memorial service and care for our shipmates.

Judy came to North Carolina this week and leaves tomorrow. Molly as usual will remain with me and Minnie after a wonderful week of growing up is going back to Virginia with Judy.  It has been, excepting the oppressive heat, humidity and lack of hot water for showers been an enjoyable time together. We were able to have dinner last night with our friends from Kinston, Jerry, Toni and Cara in New Bern.

Since tomorrow will be a very early start I will close.

Anyway, grace and peace,

Padre Steve+

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The Long and Winding Road: My Journey to Life

“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

 In February 2009, about eight months after psychological physical and spiritual collapse due to the effects of PTSD and in the midst of my struggle I began to write about my experiences on this site. My psychologist at the time had suggested that I go public with my struggles using my writing as a means to do so. It was something that I had contemplated for some time. I was a mess and struggling many days to even get to work. I was depressed much of the time, continually on edge, still suffered from nightmares, night terrors, flashbacks and sometimes an angry rage which swept over me when I felt threatened.  I avoided big crowds, was afraid to even go to church and I had a hard time trusting anyone.  In that time I would listen to the Beatle’s song “The Long and Winding Road” which in some ways became a prayer for me.

The long and winding road
That leads to your door
Will never disappear
I’ve seen that road before
It always leads me here
Lead me to your door

The wild and windy night
That the rain washed away
Has left a pool of tears
Crying for the day
Why leave me standing here?
Let me know the way

Many times I’ve been alone
And many times I’ve cried
Anyway you’ll never know

The many ways I’ve tried

And still they lead me back
To the long winding road
You left me standing here
A long long time ago
Don’t leave me waiting here
Lead me to your door


But still they lead me back
To the long winding road
You left me standing here
A long long time ago
Don’t keep me waiting here
Lead me to your door

The Long And Winding Road lyrics: Songwriters: Mccartney, Paul; Lennon, John. © SONY BEATLES LTD; SONY/ATV TUNES LLC

So I began to write and find some solace even as I struggled with even the existence of God.  One thing that I found was that there were really very few people, especially ministers secure enough to enter into a healing relationship with me. I felt isolated among my peers especially those from my own church.  Since I have detailed that journey to include a restoration of faith in God in December 2009 about two years after my struggle began I won’t go into great detail in this article.  All I knew is that it seemed that most Priests and other ministers either didn’t know how to walk with me, were afraid to walk with me and were most certainly uncomfortable with a colleague, especially one with my experience dealing with the pain psychological and spiritual effects of PTSD including being from all practical purposes an agnostic.  As one psychotherapist labeled it I was “radioactive.”

Eventually some in the leadership of my former denomination which I had served faithfully as a priest for 14 years asked me to leave the church because I had become “I had changed since coming back from Iraq” and “had become too liberal.”I had known this was coming for some time and had been making preparations for it but the timing of the notice from my former Bishop came as a surprise.

I had begun to voice opinions, especially on social and political issues that rankled some, maybe many in my former church. Since only a few friends from that church remain in contact with me I presume that I rankled more than I did not.  There were times during the early part of 2010 that my wife would ask me after reading something that I had published if I was trying to get thrown out. I wasn’t trying to but I was at the point where I knew that I had to be honest and transparent about my struggle as well as how my beliefs had changed a result of war and of PTSD.  I was diplomatic and tried to say what I had to say without getting too controversial. That began to change in the summer of 2010 and reached its head on September 23rd when I published Faith Journeys: Why I am Still a Christian. https://padresteve.wordpress.com/2010/09/22/faith-journey%E2%80%99s-why-i-am-still-a-christian/

I actually did not intend for the article to be too controversial, but looking back I can see how it was interpreted that way. It was for all practical purposes a declaration of independence and a severe criticism of the lack of care that I had felt from the church that I had served for most of my ministerial career. I think that the central part of that article that attracted the attention and wrath of my Bishop was this section”

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

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

I ended the article with this gem: “Why am I still a Christian when I have so many problems with how many Christians practice the faith? Because I believe and not because will not I tow anyone’s party line be they liberals or conservatives….So in the words of my favorite heretic Martin Luther I say “Here I stand, I can do no other. So help me God. Amen.”

My goal since faith began to return was to be available to those that feel cut off from God and the Church, to walk with people in the midst of struggle, pain and despair, especially fellow ministers and chaplains.  I don’t have all the answers, in fact I know very few, except that I know that God can use the pain, alienation, struggle and despair that I went through then, as well as the struggles that I still have in the lives of others like me that are willing to walk that lonely path to reconciliation with God and humanity.

As far as my former church and bishop are concerned I still care about them and hope for the best. There are many there that I still call friends and a very few that I can be completely honest and transparent with for they while remaining in the church think much as I do even if they do not agree with me entirely.  Since my departure a number of others have left that church for other reasons, mostly because they wanted to be in communion with a larger number of Anglican Christians.  Others have stayed in the hopes of working toward renewal.  The Bishop who asked me to leave was himself asked to leave when he attempted to secretly take the priests of the military diocese to another communion barely four months later.

It is a long, winding and often lonely road but I have found solace, community and faith upon it. Those that I have met traveling on it have become my brothers and sisters on the journey. And that my friend makes it all worth it.

Peace

Padre Steve+

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Where Everybody Knows Your Name: The Importance of Community for Military Families

Some years ago the theme song of the television show “Cheers!” struck a chord with people, because it expressed the desire of many people.

Making your way in the world today takes everything you’ve got.
Taking a break from all your worries sure would help a lot.
Wouldn’t you like to get away?

We live in an increasingly disconnected world despite the proliferation of devices designed to make communication easier. Our dependence on these devices often serves to disconnect us from community because we use them to accomplish things without any human contact.  I mean really, what percentage of our Facebook “friends” really know us and how many can we go to when the chips are down.

We shop in massive stores, attend mega-churches, exist on fast food bought at a drive through and we don’t know our neighbors. To most organizations we are not real life human beings but statistics whose only value is in profit and market share.  And we wonder why so many people are depressed, lonely and even despair of life.

Sometimes you want to go, Where everybody knows your name,
and they’re always glad you came.
You wanna be where you can see, our troubles are all the same
You wanna be where everybody knows Your name.

Having a place where people know you and care about you matters. It is important to us as individuals and it is important to the people that come to us for their medical care. Cheers was a neighborhood bar where people from all walks of life knew and cared for each other. We miss that a lot and we often suffer because of it, especially those that go to war and their families.

You wanna go where people know, people are all the same,
You wanna go where everybody knows your name.

In our military communities be they Army, Navy, Marine Corps or Air Force we have shared hardships and culture but even with that it is a difficult life. The military does its best to provide a multitude of support services including unit based Family Support Groups, family service centers as well as centers and associations for single servicemen and women.

But even still those support structures often are insufficient due to the transitory nature of military life, changing and sometimes uneven leadership of these organizations. Add to this the unrelenting demands of the wars and deployments and the wounds of war brought home which affect even the most resilient families.  PTSD, Traumatic Brain Injury, traumatic amputations, substance abuse, domestic violence, high divorce rates and suicide are everyday parts of the military family and community life.

One of the other aspects not directly attributable to the wars is how the communities around the bases treat the military.  In some major metropolitan areas the military simply blends in to the civilian community, even where there are large bases such as in the Hampton Roads area of Virginia.  In such places there may be a large military footprint but it is easy to blend in.  In other areas where the military installations are the sole reason that the areas have large populations such as Killeen Texas, the home of Fort Hood, Jacksonville North Carolina the home of Camp LeJeune and Fayetteville the home of Fort Bragg the military presence is loved and loathed. There are many retired military in these areas as well as many veterans and often they are supportive. However in each of these cities there exists a large contingent of individuals and businesses who take advantage of military personnel and their families and some of these are former military personnel. Sometimes people in these communities despite their outward show of support for the troops do all they can to make the military personnel unwelcome.  Now this is not helped by the bad behavior of some military personnel and their family members which is then used to discriminate against good and law abiding military personnel.

But there are good people, organizations and businesses which do their best to help make these “strangers in a strange land” welcome.  For me that welcome has been often linked to people that I know at minor league ballparks such as Harbor Park in Norfolk and Grainger Stadium in Kinston. There is a special church, Saint James Episcopal in Portsmouth Virginia that I enjoy on the rare times that I have to visit it is a place I can call home and my friends at the Gordon Biersch Brewery Restaurant in Virginia Beach.

Community really matters because as Americans we are all in this together.  While I have focused on military communities large numbers of American cities and towns are enduring great hardship, and this disconnect between people, evidenced by the fact that we often don’t even know our neighbors has created a social isolation that only breeds hatred and discontent.  With this true lack of community we should be surprised with increasing crime, violence, discrimination and prejudice.

Community doesn’t happen overnight and sometimes illusion of perpetual prosperity only serves to drive us apart.  However, sometimes communities are reborn when facing crisis, people begin to look out for one another again and the welcome sign means that you really are.

But, what is neat is when we do find that special place for ourselves and when we can provide that kind of home to others we can really understand the last stanza of the song from Cheers which never aired on television.

Be glad there’s one place in the world
Where everybody knows your name,
And they’re always glad you came;
You want to go where people know,
People are all the same;
You want to go where everybody knows your name.

Peace

Padre Steve+

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Why Baseball Matters….There’s nothing bad that accrues from baseball

“Baseball is a habit. The slowly rising crescendo of each game, the rhythm of the long season–these are the essentials and they are remarkably unchanged over nearly a century and a half. Of how many American institutions can that be said?” George Will

“I would change policy, bring back natural grass and nickel beer. Baseball is the belly-button of our society. Straighten out baseball, and you straighten out the rest of the world.” Bill “Spaceman” Lee

Bill Lee had it right.  In a world filled with the prognostications of politicians, preachers and pundits all with their agendas to “fix” what ails society baseball is the one constant in American life that somehow calls us back to a better time and allows us to realize that bad times don’t last, unless perhaps you are a Cubs fan.  Baseball when you come down to it has no agenda it is not just a game but it is life, American life the way it is supposed to be. Baseball has endured despite strikes and scandals because of what it is and what it embodies and baseball matters to America more than political social or religious ideology.  Baseball is more than a game, it is America.

You see baseball at all levels matters from the Little Leagues to the Major Leagues is a game where talent and hard work teach life lessons.  It is a game but unlike other games it is a game where the past, present and future all matter and as such baseball helps connect us to the reality of life.  It stands apart from the overwhelming cultural impulses of most other sports, the media and the entertainment industries. Winning matters but the integrity of the game matters more which is why when there is a scandal in baseball that the politicians, pundits and preachers all suddenly become experts even if they have never played an organized game of baseball in their life and couldn’t tell a infield single from a fielder’s choice.

So why does baseball matter? Well let’s start with all those politicians, pundits and preachers that promise to “fix” the country on a daily basis.

In the United States of this new millennium we live in a pressure cooker that is being turned up to higher and more uncomfortable levels every day and I think this is in large part due to politicians, pundits and preachers who intentionally play on people’s worst fears and suspicions. For many people there is no relief and no place to go for succor.  The political climate is toxic and destructive, politicians and pundits of all stripes beat the airwaves senseless with their non-stop propaganda and twisting of the truth and it seems that many of the politicians simply desire power for power’s sake rather than being interested in the good of the country.

Pundits make their money by stirring up controversy just as the pundits of the “yellow journalism” era did over a century ago.  Of course some preachers who desire earthy power, popularity and political influence doing the same stirring up the emotions and playing on the fears of their flocks as this keeps the money flowing.  I think that these relationships are incestuous and do more harm to the people of this country than good.  Thus I figure that very few of these people have any interest in bringing peace to the country. Whether it is the Left calling the Right Nazis and Fascists or the Right calling the Left Communists and Socialists, all of which have meaning loaded with fear and emotion the effect is the same on those who cannot escape the ceaseless bombardment of bad news.

Even the most popular sport in the country, Football is a game of the modern industrial age. It is a game of power and open violence fought like a war on a gridiron and bounded by the clock which constrains the game force the players, coaches and fans into a mentality of artificial urgency which often carries over into the way that people do life in general.

Baseball on the other hand is different.  It calls us back to our roots and reminds us that the poisonous ideologies of the politicians, pundits and preachers will not last and as James Earl Jones playing the character of Terrance Mann in Field of Dreams so stirringly put it “The one constant through all the years has been baseball. America has rolled by like an army of steamrollers. It’s been erased like a blackboard, rebuilt, and erased again. But baseball has marked the time. This field, this game, is a part of our past. It reminds us of all that once was good, and what could be again.” Baseball even in its controversies and scandals still hearkens back to times just as trying and poisonous as the present and reminds us that those things which serve to divide us and may for a time hold sway over individuals and society will pass away and that our country still has a future and hope.

Baseball does not rush us along. It teaches us to savor detail and get caught up in the nuances of the game and of life. It is not governed by artificial deadline and if needed takes us into extra innings. No game is ever out of reach and baseball shows us that no matter how far we may be behind that we can come back and there is a fairness in that people can’t just run out the clock on you but have to give you a chance at the plate.

Baseball teaches us perspective and humility for even Hall of Fame members are not perfect. It is the one sport that teaches us a key fact about life; that we will fail often more times than we will succeed…. unless of course you are Mariano Rivera.  It teaches us another fact of life that we need to plan for the long term as the baseball season like life is a long event with many peaks and valleys.  As Andy Van Slyke once said “Every season has its peaks and valleys. What you have to try to do is eliminate the Grand Canyon.” It teaches us that we don’t know everything about life or even what we do well in our chosen vocation as Mickey Mantle said “It’s unbelievable how much you don’t know about the game you’ve been playing all your life.” Likewise it teaches us to put things in perspective by reminding us that we don’t know everything. Earl Weaver once said “It’s what you learn after you know it all that counts.” Such an attitude keeps us humble and reminds us that there is always more to learn.  Baseball also teaches us that you can’t live your life in the hopes of making everybody happy by worrying about what people think of how you do what you are called to do.  Tommy Lasorda noted “if you start worrying about the people in the stands, before too long you’re up in the stands with them.”

Baseball calls us to be better by teaching us that teamwork and individualism can work together for the good.  It helps teach us that individually we can be better no matter where we begin our life journey from. Satchel Paige said. “Ain’t no man can avoid being born average, but there ain’t no man got to be common.” Likewise it calls us to community as Harmon Killebrew noted that “Life is precious and time is a key element. Let’s make every moment count and help those who have a greater need than our own.” It also call us to be better human beings in matters of civil rights and the public good, as the late Commissioner of Baseball A. Bartlett Giamatti said “On matters of race, on matters of decency, baseball should lead the way” something that it began in 1948 with Jackie Robinson well before the rest of America figured this out.

Baseball is about striving to do better and be involved in life as Jackie Robinson said “Life is not a spectator sport. If you’re going to spend your whole life in the grandstand just watching what goes on, in my opinion you’re wasting your life.”

Baseball is about community with the fans, players, owners, management and media all having an interest in the game. It is funny when there is a scandal in baseball it is often viewed more seriously by the public than almost anything else. There are no congressional hearings about pro-football, basketball or hockey because they exist in a different world than baseball. Baseball despite football’s immense popularity as a sport still represents what is traditionally American.  It is a sport where someone can work their way up from nothing and be an All-Star and a sport that takes better care of its players unlike football which has left former players and stars crippled with terrible injuries for life with little assistance from the league and game that they sacrificed their bodies for. Football may titillate our baser gladiatorial instincts but baseball helps define us as people and as a nation more than any institution or sport in the land.

Yes baseball has problems, it is not a game of perfection except for brief moments where a pitcher will throw a perfect game and there have only been 18 of those in the history of Major League Baseball.  That is why it still speaks to many people who can relate to a game that deals with the ups and downs of life better than any other sport. Nothing is guaranteed in life and life can change for the better or the worse in an instant. Lou Gehrig’s farewell speech after he had been diagnosed with ALS is a case in point:

“Fans, for the past two weeks you have been reading about a bad break I got. Yet today, I consider myself the luckiest man on the face of the earth. I have been in ballparks for seventeen years and I have never received anything but kindness and encouragement from you fans. Look at these grand men. Which of you wouldn’t consider it the highlight of his career just to associate with them for even one day? Sure I’m lucky. Who wouldn’t have considered it an honor to have known Jacob Ruppert? Also, the builder of baseball’s greatest empire, Ed Barrows? To have spent six years with that wonderful little fellow, Miller Huggins? Then to have spent the next nine years with that outstanding leader, that smart student of psychology, the best manager in baseball today, Joe McCarthy? Sure, I’m lucky. When the New York Giants, a team you would give your right arm to beat and vice versa, sends you a gift, that’s something. When everybody down to the groundskeeper and those boys in white coats remember you with trophies, that’s something. When you have a father and mother work all their lives so that you can have an education and build your body, it’s a blessing. When you have a wife who has been a tower of strength and shown more courage than you dreamed existed, that’s the finest I know. I consider myself the luckiest man on the face of the Earth. And I might have been given a bad break, but I’ve got an awful lot to live for.”

Those are just some of the reasons that baseball matters.  This is why George Will can say that “Baseball, it is said, is only a game. True. And the Grand Canyon is only a hole in Arizona. Not all holes, or games, are created equal.” Walt Whitman once said “I see great things in baseball. It’s our game, the American game. It will repair our losses and be a blessing to us.”

I know of no other sport that can help bring healing to our land which like in times past needs something to cheer about and remind us what is really important in life. You can disagree with me all you want but if tell me if any of this is bad for us after all anyone can argue a call.

Peace

Padre Steve+

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