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Please Don’t Thank Me for Serving for It is All I Have Ever Thought of Doing

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

Over the Memorial Day Weekend I had a fascinating experience. It came about because I got fed up with what I hear a lot in so-called conservative circles that liberals, progressives, and Democrats are not patriotic or supportive of the military. The vast majority of these people have never served in the military but love to use their supposed support of endless wars as patriotism while giving lip service to those who serve as they display their ignorance of the Constitution and the military.

The fact of the matter is that the military is not monolithic, it is at the same time one of the most conservative yet progressive institutions in the United States. It and the people who serve in it are not perfect and we do have our share of scoundrels and scalawags in our ranks.

The institution itself has many faults and defects and there is much to be criticized in the way the services are managed and employed. We stand for ideals that we often fall far short of attaining. While we are integrated and making great strides that shame much of the civilian world there is still racial prejudice and discrimination. There is also a deeply ingrained culture of misogyny that shows itself all too often, and despite many changes and advances a sizable amount of homophobia. Despite all,of that I can say that much has changed for the positive since I joined in 1981.

We all join for a variety of reasons, an ideal, a challenge, a chance to prove ourselves; or a profession that has a measure of respect and offers us educational and health care benefits for us and our families that are hard to match in the civilian world. But those benefits often come with a lot of sacrifices that cannot be matched in the civilian world.

I’m old in terms of the military. I grew up in a Navy family and my dad, a career Navy Chief Petty Officer served in Vietnam. I had friends in grade school who lost their dads in that war.

I’ve served continuously first in the Army and then in the Navy since 1981. I do not recall a day since I was a child that I did not want to be in the military and serve this country. My parents tried to discourage me from joining and encouraged me to at least try college for a year. I’m glad that the did because my first semester I met my wife Judy who over all of these years has stayed with me through almost two full military careers; one of 17 1/2 years in the Army and another of almost 20 years in the Navy, and by the way I didn’t tell her I was joining the Navy until I started the process. Marriage wise this was not a smart thing to do but I wasn’t the first or last soldier or sailor to do such a thing, the great Civil War hero Joshua Chamberlain, who I find a lot in common with did the same to his wife when he volunteered to serve as the Lieutenant Colonel of the 20th Maine in 1862.

But I digress and boy did I chase that rabbit, so anyway, this started in response to some words by a real nut case who probably the most vocal supporter of President Trump in terms of marketing and propaganda. The man, Bill Mitchell ( @mitchellvii ) is a businessman from North Carolina who has made a mini-empire for himself on Twitter and now has a radio program. He has a long history of making incendiary comments about liberals, progressives, Democrats, immigrants, and pretty much anyone who criticizes the President. His father was an Army Officer but he has never spent a day in uniform.

That is his right under the First Amendment but it doesn’t mean that he should be allowed to get away it his slander of other Americans without being called on it. something that so offended me as an American and as a career military officer and combat vet that I responded to him.

He tweeted:

Is anyone else amused when we see the Left attempting to stand up for the honor of our fallen troops?

The Left HATES our troops and stand FOR everything they died to PREVENT.

I was offended because in my service in the military that began when I was a Republican in 1981 and since I returned home from Iraq in 2008 and switched my political affiliation, I have never viewed those who I have served alongside by their political or religious affiliations. They all wear, or wore the same uniform that I do and are my brothers and sisters.

Unlike Mr. Mitchell, I do not see military service in terms of the partisan political divide. While we may have political, religious, or other differences we are all still Americans who have volunteered to serve this nation, for the past 17 years in time of war. For the most part we bury those distinctions to serve alongside each other. That has become harder over the past decade or so but even so when you go into harm’s way and get shot at by the enemy those things do not matter so much.

My reply was simple and to the point. I said:

I am a liberal, a combat vet and have served for 37 years and am still on active duty. You have no honor or decency.

I was surprised at the response of people. This man has hundreds of thousands of followers on Twitter, but I got no attacks on my self, my views, or my character as so often happens on social media. Instead I stared getting thanked for my service by a wide variety of people. I was somewhat embarrassed by the first thank you so I responded by saying:

Appreciate it but no thanks needed, it is my honor and duty…

The responses to that Tweet were also humbling and very gracious, truthfully I really don’t know how to respond. This is who and what I am. I have volunteered to go into conflict more times thanI have been allowed and the times I did get to go I got to do things that are unusual for a Chaplain, I have put myself in harms way and on at least one occasion had to be pulled out of danger by my shipmates on an embargoed freighter coming out of Iraq under the U.N. sanctions that followed the First Gulf War. On those operations I not only was unarmed but since there were not enough body armor plates for all the members of the boarding teams I went without. In Iraq I was always the one unarmed member of any advisor team that I was with.

I came home from Iraq incredibly goofed up with chronic, severe PTSD and mild TBI. I have spent a decade trying to fight those demons and I am now doing pretty well. But I came home and there are men and women who are far braver than I ever dared to be, men and women who gave all and didn’t come home. There are others who not only bear the unseen wounds of PTSD, TBI, and Moral Injury, but who have also suffered terrible physical wounds. There are also others who could not defeat the emotional and physical costs of war who either died or took their own lives after returning from war, or after leaving the service. I know too many who suffer or have lost their lives to consider someone as flawed as I am to admire, I just do what I am called to do, they have given all. They are the real heroes to me and I try to use my voice to speak for them.

Likewise, all the men and women that I served with, especially in combat operations are my brothers and sisters. We are to use William Shakespeare’s words, my band of brothers. As Shakespeare wrote in his play Henry V:

This story shall the good man teach his son;

And Crispin Crispian shall ne’er go by,

From this day to the ending of the world,

But we in it shall be remembered-

We few, we happy few, we band of brothers;

For he to-day that sheds his blood with me

Shall be my brother; be he ne’er so vile,

This day shall gentle his condition;

And gentlemen in England now-a-bed

Shall think themselves accurs’d they were not here,

And hold their manhoods cheap whiles any speaks

That fought with us upon Saint Crispin’s day.

I am an idealist when it comes to military service and serving my county. I have tried to do my best to follow the words of Joshua Chamberlain, a flawed but great man. He said:

“It is something great and greatening to cherish an ideal; to act in the light of truth that is far-away and far above; to set aside the near advantage, the momentary pleasure; the snatching of seeming good to self; and to act for remoter ends, for higher good, and for interests other than our own.”

So I while I do appreciate the kind words of everyone I am just following what I believe has been a calling for all of these years. I cannot imagine doing anything different except to teach and write when I finally retire from the Navy in the next two to three years. I could retire today, and it would be easier on me, but I still feel the call to serve. I just pray that the man that Mr. Mitchell has turned into his god does not take us in to any disastrous wars or destroy our Constitution and system of government during that time.

I do not believe in the old adage “my country right or wrong,” I know that as much good as has been done by the United States that our leaders, and people have done many wrongs, on our own continent and abroad. Today I am terrified by things that I see the President and administration doing, actions that threaten the Constitution, civil rights, and peace. So in my closing years of military service I keep the words of the German General Ludwig Beck, who did in the attempt to kill Hitler and end Nazi rule close to my heart:

“It is a lack of character and insight, when a soldier in high command sees his duty and mission only in the context of his military orders without realizing that the highest responsibility is to the people of his country.”

I hope that this all makes sense, so until tomorrow.

Peace

Padre Steve+

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Filed under ethics, faith, iraq,afghanistan, mental health, Military, Political Commentary, Tour in Iraq

Living in the Chronically Offended World

bloom_offensensitivity

I was skimming through my Twitter and Facebook feeds this evening after spending the day on the road. After listening to Mel Brooks being interviewed on Sirius Radio while driving home I was relaxing watching Star Trek Deep Space Nine once again confronted with the absolute fact that there are a lot of people in this country have gone totally stupid crazy in their paranoid hatred of fellow citizens who may not happen to look like or believe like them.

Now people who read this site regularly as well as people that really know me know I am a pretty moderate kind of guy. Now I am moderate but will admit that I fall to the left of the political, social and religious spectrum on many issues and to the right a bit on others. That being said I have so many friends that span the spectrum who represent about every point on the compass of belief in this country I try to be both respectful of them. That doesn’t mean that I agree with them or they with me, but the people that really know me and I them agree to disagree and be friends. We find common things that bind us together and can even laugh at each other even when we don’t agree.

Personally that is what I think our country is about, or at least what it used to be about.

Too be fair I have to say that this situation has been building for years and spans the political and religious spectrum of the country. I hate to say it but I wonder where this is going to end, especially when I see violent attitudes and words in so many of the posts that I read today.

It just seems to me that we now live in a country that has transformed itself into one of the thinnest skinned, easily offended societies in the world.  It doesn’t seem to matter what political affiliation, religion, race, gender, socio-economic group a person belongs, they are bound to be offended at something and rather than reason things out as friends do take things personally and want somehow to exact revenge on their adversaries. It almost seems to me that we are getting as bad as the countries that have regularly scheduled Holy Days of Rage.

I could be wrong but it seems to me that almost everyone is offended at something or someone.  Hell I even offend myself sometimes usually muttering to myself “asshole” when I do this.  There are some people who almost seem to live with a chip on their shoulder. I call them the chronically offended who are quite often the most easily offensively offended.

Most of the time I try not to give offense. However, I have been known to offend the chronically offended and even the merely offendable with twisted or sarcastic comments and oddball humor which Judy tells me is not always as funny as I think it is.  Nonetheless there are many people who are both patently chronically offended and very, yea verily very angry. So as Mel Brooks says, “when you go to the bell, ring it.” 

I am assured by the Deity Herself that raging anger combined with a sense of being easily offended is not a good or virtuous combination. Even history tells of this, countries have been ripped apart and millions of people murdered in cold blood when this putrid and venomous kettle boils over.

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Now I know from experience that this is true.  I am one of the guilty parties questioning the parentage and Oedipal tendencies of the idiots who move across four lanes of traffic without signaling on I-264 or who insist on driving 10 miles an hour under the speed limit on rural Eastern North Carolina highways.  Sometimes I find that I wish that this was Iraq so my turret gunner could shoot them.  Thankfully my newly honed skills using the force that I developed in Iraq, which I am told is actually hyper vigilance, does allow me to sense Kamikazes and tortoises well before I even see them.

I remember once about 17 years ago or so when I was a civilian hospital chaplain and stopped by a grocery store to pick up some food to take to work.  An older gentleman was going toward the sliding automated door and out of simple politeness I said “Sir, please, after you.”  Hell, the way I walk, which is as those who see me rapidly racing down the long halls of our medical center without breaking into a jog can testify is pretty fast, it was a safety thing too.  I could have run the gentleman down had I not stopped to let him through first.  In retrospect I think that I should have run him over but would not have been cool.  I could have seen the newspaper headline in that town:

LOCAL HOSPITAL AND ARMY RESERVE CHAPLAIN SLAMS ELDERLY MAN TO GROUND TRYING TO BEAT HIM THROUGH KROGER DOOR.

That would not have been good.  The man, instead of smiling and thanking me or even ignoring me stopped in front of the door, turned around and said “Why are you calling me sir? Why are you disrespecting me?” He said it very loud, very sharply and I was wondering what the hell was going on.  There was hatred in his eyes and I realized that I had to defuse the situation in some way.

Not wanting him to pull out a concealed handgun I defused the situation by using humor.  I said, “Sir, I call everybody sir, even ma’ams.”  The man cocked his head; the fiery glint in his eyes gave way to a stunned look of confusion. He then shook his head, muttered something under his breath and went through the door. I didn’t know that being polite and respectful could be taken as offensive and disrespectful.  Maybe when some young guy does that to me someday and I whack him with my tazer from my motorized scooter because I think he is being disrespectful I might understand. Of course I will probably one of those old guys that takes a perverse pleasure in tazing the offender and enjoying his writhing in pain and twitching all over the place.  But then maybe not as I do have some sense of decorum, I would simply taze the twerp and keep going.

I knew a young Chaplain who was spouting off in a public forum once in a manner that did not offend me, but which I thought if certain other people read it could affect him and his career in a negative manner. This is no one that I have ever worked with, just someone that I know in passing. I was concerned for the young man, so I contacted him just to let him know to be careful and I got an earful, the little twerp blasted me with both barrels.  I was really surprised at the venom with which he reacted to my comment which was only meant to help keep him out of potential trouble but no good deed goes unpunished.  Maybe he will go to a self-help course, but then again, selves are very difficult to help.

Now I think everyone at some time has been offended by something or someone.  Crap we are human; we can’t help but be, though I do find the Romulan that resides in me very appealing. However, to live my life is a perpetual state of offendedness is something that I refuse to do, even though I both give and take offense probably every day, especially during the morning or afternoon commute.  Hell, judging by the number of people I have lost as friends on Facebook after I have written articles on this site I know I give offense, even when I don’t mean to do it.

I really don’t want to offend anyone but when I look at the political extremes of our country and observe the words and actions of these people I am truly frightened for the country. People are talking about war against their political opponents and even revolution.

The situation is not helped by the litigious nature of our society. Lawsuits are as common as business suits. Someone gets offended and someone sues it’s almost a cause and effect principle. Someone else gets offended and pretty soon offensensitivity reigns and it is like half the country are Frank and Estelle Costanza on steroids.  Serenity now!

Now our electorate is so spun up by the loudest and most shrill accusatory voices in the media and politics that it is frightening. Politics especially has become venom filled and hatred driven. A lot of our electorate is now so polarized and offended by anything anyone else says that there is almost a civil war going on. Albeit a war without weapons marching armies and crashing cannon, but instead being waged with great energy on the airwaves and on the internet with occasional talk of secession or armed revolt by one side or the other depending on who’s in power.

Politicians and political parties are no longer opponents, they are mortal enemies. Sometimes interest groups within the various parties opt for a no-quarter approach to how they do business pushing their parties further to the extreme. The Pelosi type Democrats did everything that they could to push conservative’s buttons and now conservatives led by the Tea Party are taking no quarter even in the Republican Party.  The attitude of both sides is “if you aren’t totally with us on everything you are against us.”

Caricatures and sound bites suffice for truth for many people regardless of them being on the left or right wing of the body politic. This is especially true on Facebook where people blast the rudest, most cynical and often simply ignorant posts imaginable. For a while I was kind of into that but I have really tried to pull back from that type of discourse. I made a decision a while back after getting pulled into a number of very nasty debates not even to comment and simply move along. In light of some of the things I have seen I believe that the extremists in in our society, regardless of their actual ideology have more in common with each other than they do the middle where traditionally most Americans live.

I think that as highly divided, hypersensitive and easily offended we have become that we are heading for big trouble.  That is unless people stop taking themselves so seriously and get about with finding a way to cooperate and make things work.  I know that is important to remain principled, but there is also a duty to be civil and respectful even when there are real differences in ideology, politics, faith or whatever.

bloom-county-liberal-label-1

Sometimes I have to tell myself that restraint, respect and civility is a virtue, even when I convinced I am right.  That being the case there are times that I will just go up and as Brooks says “ring the bell.” If when I do that it offends someone I’m sorry. So until tomorrow.

Peace,

Padre Steve+

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I am the “L” Word…No, Not the One You Are Thinking

bloom-county-the-label-stuck

Somewhere along the path from conservatism to moderation I got labeled.

I got labeled with the “L” Word. No, not the “Lesbian” “L” Word which is actually kind of cool, but the other less socially acceptable one, the “Liberal” label.

I remember back in 1981 when I saw my first Lesbian couple walking together at California State University Northridge. I was sitting on the lawn outside of the office that I worked and they walked by. As a typical male I was enthralled by what I saw, but that enthrallment was short lived as when I walked back into the office I heard that my hero, President Ronald Reagan had been shot and that retired Army General, former Nixon aide and now Secretary of State Al Haig was now in charge of the country.

To tell the truth I don’t know how the transformation from Conservative to Moderate (read Liberal) happened. When I was in college I cheered the demise of Jimmy Carter. After college the same was true about Walter Mondale, Mike Dukakis. Al Gore and even John Kerry. I listened to Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity and Neil Boortz as much as I could. Not even 7 years ago I was defending “W” against what I thought were unfair assaults from the left. I enjoyed liberal bashing. It was fun and as the people that knew me back then could tell you I was quite good at it.

But a funny thing happened between 2004 and now. I think it was a place called Iraq, where I began to question the unquestionable questions of conservative orthodoxy in a number of forums including both politics and religion. I became a moderate and a passionate one at that. Since “moderate” is a very misunderstood term let me explain. If you are a conservative it means that I am a Liberal. Some Liberals assume that I am a conservative but on the whole the word moderate is now associated as being Liberal.

I think being a moderate is really a tricky thing. Back when I was in seminary during the pre-Fundamentalist takeover of Southwestern Baptist Seminary I remember hearing a big name Fundamentalist preacher say that “middle of the road moderates were only good to be run over.”  One of my professors who would be a casualty of the takeover of the seminary said that for many in the Southern Baptist Convention of the time that “Liberal means anyone to the left of me.”

Now I do have to confess, unlike a lot of people when they get older and become more conservative I have become more “liberal” in that I am more accepting of people different than me. I was talking with a dear friend the other night who is proud of his Tea Party affiliation and he mentioned that when he was young that he was a Liberal but now older that he was a Conservative.

For me it is a bit of a conundrum. I have friends who are way to the Left or to the Right of me who I respect and who I care for, we agree to disagree. The fact is that in reality I am a very pragmatic person and I would rather see people work towards compromise and cooperation so that the vast majority of people can prosper in freedom. So I choose to be friends with people far different from one another and who disagree with me. But we are still friends.

However there are times that I feel that I am pissing into the wind when I watch those that we all have elected to office in Washington DC and our various State Houses behave. I am probably not alone in this feeling and do hope that the hard liners on both sides of the political spectrum can get their collective crap together before the plunge us into the abyss like the politicians of Weimar Germany did in the late 1920s and early 1930s. We all know how well that turned out.

So until tomorrow.

Peace

Padre Steve+

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I’d Like to Return…Padre Steve’s Musing on What He Would like to See

Well the elections are over and the 18.1 second era of bipartisanship is over until January of 2013. It was refreshing while it lasted but alas its time is over and we must continue down the path to Weimar until we get there. So despite how messed up things are we should enjoy the trip because Lord knows when or if things will get better.  Now don’t call me cynical as I am an optimist at heart a moderate optimist, I believe in the United States of America and love my country but somehow as much as I wish I don’t think that is “morning in America.”  I don’t really know what it is but it seems that it is a lot darker than it was back in 2000, but then it’s always darkest before it is pitch black.

I’d like things to return to a better day when political and religious differences were things that didn’t necessarily keep Americans from being friends, unless perhaps they were Yankees-Red Sox fans or Dodgers-Giants fans.  I guess that there are some areas that are hard to overcome, but even still I don’t know about you but I long for a better day, a day where Americans are not at war with each other, a day when you don’t get threatened with physical harm by wacko radicals on either end of the political spectrum or religious divide.  I long for a day when the President doesn’t call his political opponents enemies and where his opposition doesn’t treat him as the devil.  I long for the day when the majority of the population would say “O Crap, there’s a war going on maybe we should do something to help” rather than leave it to “we happy few,” the less than 1% of the population that is serving in the military and the fewer that have actually served in combat zones.  I’d like to return to a point when government and business put the good of the country and of Americans before their own political agenda or corporate bottom line.

Yes my friends I am an idealist and unfortunately a moderate idealist seems to be a dying breed among people who choose up sides and smell armpits before they do battle with their enemies. Like Milo Bloom I would like to see the country return to principles of compassion, tolerance and peace.  However I have lost my youthful idealism in the past decade, I have misplaced my sense of eternal optimism and yes I have lost my marbles.  I actually bought some new ones on the way home from West Virginia last month but one of those is gone too.

Yes I am one of those thoughtful people who ponder the imponderable, imagine the impossible and believe the best.  I am to coin a phrase definitely “out of sane.” You see my existential musings are not always appreciated by those who are ready to go to war with anyone who does not believe like them and “thoughtful intangibles” are not welcome in many places in this new millennium. Yet that is my world where a moderate is branded by the left a “warmongering fascist fundamentalist” and the right as a “commie-pinko atheistic swine.” This state my friends, reminds me of a song:

Where have all the moderates gone? Long time passing

Where have all the moderates gone? Long time ago

Where have all the moderates gone? Silenced by Radicals every one

When will they ever learn? When will they ever learn?

So to Barack and Sarah, John and Joe, Harry, Nancy and Eric as well as all the other politicians and pundits have fun for the next few years because as bad as things are there is still baseball and finally for the first time in my life the Giants have won the World Series.  Politicians and ideologues like all of you may last through the night, but baseball comes in the morning…well in this case Spring but still, baseball will outlast the current madness as it has done so many times before.

Peace my friends,

Padre Steve+

 

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Laughing at Myself: This Moderate is a Liberal….Hide the Silver!

Bloom County Copyright Berkeley Breathed 1988 found at www.gocomics.com

Over the past year or so I have had a number of encounters with various people, most of whom that I don’t know but then some that I have known for years and a troubling word keeps arising.  The “L word” no not “Lesbian” like in the Showtime drama but “Liberal” like in Bill Clinton or even better John Kerry or Jimmy Carter since they were in the Navy for a time.

It bothered me at first as I could not fathom that I might even be considered a liberal. I was a Reagan Republican and even worked for Gerald Ford as a campaign volunteer against Jimmy Carter when I was in high school. Now I did moderate over the years even though until I went to Iraq I listened to conservative talk radio almost every day.  However the charge has been made enough for me to actually have fun with it and not take those who call me a liberal too seriously or for that matter to take myself too seriously.

Bloom County Copyright Berkeley Breathed 1988 found at www.gocomics.com

It has actually become funny to me how often that this pops up. I suppose it is because I am not easy to pin down and as my Church history professor at Southwestern Baptist Seminary said “Liberal to most people is ‘anyone to the left of me.’” He was right. Back in those days the Southern Baptists had something called “moderates” which in most other denominations would have been considered conservatives or even fundamentalists. However in the SBC since they were to the left of men like Paige Patterson, Paul Pressler and W.A. Criswell they were not “moderates” but “liberals.” At Southwestern though I wasn’t a Southern Baptist I certainly fit in with the dying breed called moderates.  I used a NRSV Bible, the kind with inclusive language and by my senior year was a closet Catholic or Anglo-Catholic, which meant that to the Fundamentalists I was a liberal. Of course doing my taped sermons in preaching lab in a tweed sports jacket and black or white long sleeve turtleneck shirt and khaki pants didn’t help matters in how I was perceived. This was of course before I wore a clerical collar which I’m sure would have gone over even worse than my tweed, turtleneck and khaki look.  Since most of my fellow students were wearing black or navy blue suits and power ties as they were using the tape as an audition tape for call committees at churches that they were applying pastor at I was the odd bird out.  In fact kind of like a certain flightless fowl in the Bloom County comic strip named Opus the Penguin.

I am pretty much a moderate.  This means that basically I find little in common with any kind of extremist be they from the right or left in politics, religion or even those that crusade for or against the designated hitter rule in the American League.  I find myself in the middle on most issues which often means to attempt not to offend my friends on the far right or far left I have to be somewhat nuanced in how I say things. Of course to the right now days, especially after the 2004 election when John Kerry was “nuanced” that the word is associated with being a liberal. I find this somewhat amusing.  Basically I will lean slightly to the right on some things and slightly to the left on others occasionally siding with conservatives and sometimes with liberals. In today’s charged political climate of cultural, political and religious wars in American churches and the body politic I am considered by conservatives that don’t really know me as a liberal. Those that really know me for the most part consider me a moderate that maybe is leaning more to the left than I used to.

So in all unserious seriousness I have found comfort and consolation and a certain kinship with Opus the Penguin.  What popped into my phonographic mind which spins around at 45 RPM when I was last called a liberal was the comic at the top of this article.  So anyway since I have recently discovered an online archive of the Bloom County strips at www.gocomics.com I can finally occasionally post one on this site.

Here’s to moderation! Cheers!

So anyway until tomorrow when I post my MLB League Championship Series predictions I will say “goodnight.”

Peace

Padre Steve+

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