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Remembering the Four Chaplains Of the Dorchester

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The Four Chaplains

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

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

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

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

Sadly, men like Franklin Graham, Pat Robertson, Jerry Falwell Jr., Robert Jeffress, and a host of others use their theocratic political judgments to condemn people of good faith in this life and the next. Aided by men like President Trump they stand in opposition to Leland and the others like him who understood that the American experiment in religious liberty could not be tied to fixed dogma or a particular religion or denomination.

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

The four men that I never met were Army Chaplains. These are their stories.

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

U.S. Army Transport Dorchester

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Until tomorrow,

Peace

Padre Steve+

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A Lesson to be Learned: I Will Tell the Truth

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

Yesterday I wrote about a Code that I live by and how a military officer, and contemporary of me violated that code. Of course I was writing about Michael Flynn in regard to the code of the Military Academy that “a Cadet will Not lie, cheat, or steal, or tolerate those who do.” This is important because it is foundational to how one views the law, ethics, morality, and human rights.

Thus, during my military service I have always tried to tell the truth, even when it was disadvantageous to me, even when remaining silent would have been to my advantage. But I have always tried to tell the truth even when to deny it would have helped my career. That has been my experience, even through this year when I flat out asked a senior officer “do you want me to lie?”, when it came to putting my name on the evaluation of an important contractor at my base.

“Do you want me to lie?”

I don’t know many people who would ask that question to a superior, but I did, and it wasn’t the first time that I did it or I acted in ways that superiors would not do.

That superior officer told me that he did not, so I wrote the evaluation of the contractor and his services, in such a way that the truth was told, but in a manner in which the recipients of the service provided by the contractor were not harmed. I told the truth, fully and completely, even though the contend his supporters, including very high ranking officers have continued to attack me and try to cause me personal harm. Thankfully, my Commander and the commanders over him have seen through the lies and bullshit and have defended me and my staff against the lies and attacks of high ranking Admirals and supporters of my rogue contractor who has yet to admit his complicity in personal and legal attacks on me on my staff.

Frankly, I will go to my grave telling the truth rather than to lie. Call me whatever you want but it all goes back to the simple Cadet Code that I embraced as an ROTC Cadet : “I will Not lie, cheat, or steal, or tolerate those who do.”

The truth matters. Personal integrity matters. Speaking the truth to power even if it is harmful to career ambitions matters.

Tonight I rewatched the films Denial about the libel trial raised by Holocaust denier David Irving against American historian Deborah Lipstadt, and Judgement at Nuremberg, a fictional account of the Judges Trials at Nuremberg.

Lipstadt wrote:

“And therein is a lesson that can be learned by all who fight the purveyors of hatred and lies. Though the battle against our opponents is exceptionally important, the opponents themselves are not. Their arguments make as much sense as flat-earth theory. However, in dramatic contrast to flat-earthers, they can cause tremendous pain and damage. Some of them use violence. Others, as Hajo Funke said in Berlin as we sat in the shadow of the Reichstag, use words that, in turn, encourage others to do harm. It was words that motivated those who blew up the Murrah Building in Oklahoma City, dragged an African-American down a logging road to his death, tortured a young homosexual in Wyoming, stabbed a Jewish student to death on the streets of Crown Heights, blew up Israeli families about to celebrate the Passover Seder, and flew planes into the World Trade Center. We must conduct an unrelenting fight against those who encourage—directly or indirectly—others to do these things. But, even as we fight, we must not imbue our opponents with a primordial significance. We certainly must never attribute our existence to their attacks on us or let our battle against them become our raison d’etre. And as we fight them, we must dress them—or force them to dress themselves—in the jester’s costume. Ultimately, our victory comes when, even as we defeat them, we demonstrate not only how irrational, but how absolutely pathetic, they are.”

Speaking the truth to those in power and when it costs us something actually matters. Personal responsibility during war doesn’t begin or end at pulling the trigger at places like Babi Yar, Fort Number Nine, Lidice, or Oradour Sur Glane. It doesn’t begin or end at Nanking, My Lai, or Abu Ghraib. It is something that must be done regardless of whoever is in power or it is not about truth at all.

Truth and integrity matter, and if one is willing to subvert them in order to gain or maintain power, then they are merely a ruse.

So until tomorrow,

Peace,

Padre Steve+

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Justice and Life as an Exercise in Exceptions: Faith in the Age of Trump

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Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

The English Mathematician and founder of Process Philosophy, Alfred North Whitehead wrote:

Religion carries two sorts of people in two entirely opposite directions: the mild and gentle people it carries towards mercy and justice; the persecuting people it carries into fiendish sadistic cruelty…” 

I find much truth in Whitehead’s words. Those who follow my writings know how much I struggle with faith and doubt on a daily basis. I believe, but as the man told Jesus when he asked Jesus to heal his child “I believe, help my unbelief.” I no longer believe in the “absolute truths” that I once believed.

Of course to some this makes me a heretic or worse. That being said, as a Christian, I have faith in a God I cannot see or prove. I have faith in a God who Scripture and Tradition clothes himself in human weakness and allows himself to be killed based on the trumped up charges of corrupt and fearful religious leaders aided by fearful politicians. For me this is part of being a theologian of the Cross in a post-Auschwitz world.

Jürgen Moltmann, a German theologian who wrote the book The Crucified God answered a question about believing in God after Auschwitz:

“A shattering expression of the theologia crucis which is suggested in the rabbinic theology of God’s humiliation of himself is to be found in Night, a book written by E. Wiesel, a survivor of Auschwitz:

The SS hanged two Jewish men and a youth in front of the whole camp. The men died quickly, but the death throes of the youth lasted for half an hour. ‘Where is God? Where is he?’ someone asked behind me. As the youth still hung in torment for a long time, I heard the man call again, ‘Where is God now?’ And I heard a voice in myself answer: ‘Where is he? He is here. He is hanging there on the gallows…’

Any other answer would be blasphemy. There cannot be any other Christian answer to the question of this torment. To speak here of a God who could not suffer would make God a demon. To speak here of an absolute God would make God an annihilating nothingness. To speak here of an indifferent God would condemn men to indifference.

(Jurgen Moltmann, The Crucified God, p 273-274)

In answer to the question “How can we believe in God after Auschwitz he responded:

“In whom can we believe after Auschwitz if not God?

Likewise, Rabbi Emil Fackenheim noted:

If we abandoned our faith in God after Auschwitz, we would give Hitler a posthumous victory.

And as long as we know that the ‘Sh’ma Yisrael’ and the ‘Our Father’ prayers were prayed in Auschwitz, we must not give up our faith in God.”

Thus, while I believe, I have a problem with Christians or members of other religions try to use the police power of state to enforce their beliefs on others. In this belief I am much like the great Virginia Baptist leader, John Leland who was a driving force behind the First Amendment and the Bill of Rights who wrote:

“Is conformity of sentiments in matters of religion essential to the happiness of civil government? Not at all. Government has no more to do with the religious opinions of men than it has with the principles of mathematics. Let every man speak freely without fear–maintain the principles that he believes–worship according to his own faith, either one God, three Gods, no God, or twenty Gods; and let government protect him in so doing, i.e., see that he meets with no personal abuse or loss of property for his religious opinions. Instead of discouraging him with proscriptions, fines, confiscation or death, let him be encouraged, as a free man, to bring forth his arguments and maintain his points with all boldness; then if his doctrine is false it will be confuted, and if it is true (though ever so novel) let others credit it. When every man has this liberty what can he wish for more? A liberal man asks for nothing more of government.”

When it comes to God, I believe, but my doubts are all too real. Frankly I cringe when I hear religious people speaking with absolute certitude about things that they ultimately cannot prove, and that includes the concept of justice, which cannot always be measured in absolutes.

Captain Jean Luc Picard (Patrick Stewart) noted in the Star Trek the Next Generation episode Justice: 

“I don’t know how to communicate this, or even if it is possible. But the question of justice has concerned me greatly of late. And I say to any creature who may be listening, there can be no justice so long as laws are absolute. Even life itself is an exercise in exceptions.”

I have found and learned to accept that life as we know it “is an exercise in exceptions.”  We all make them, and the Bible and the history of the church is full of them. So I have a hard time with people who claim an absolute certitude in beliefs that wish to impose on others.

True believers frequently wrap themselves in the certitude of their faith. They espouse doctrines that are unprovable and then build complex doctrinal systems to prove them, systems that then which must be defended, sometimes to the death. Eric Hoffer wrote:

A doctrine insulates the devout not only against the realities around them but also against their own selves. The fanatical believer is not conscious of his envy, malice, pettiness and dishonesty. There is a wall of words between his consciousness and his real self.”

Henri Nouwen, the Priest who wrote the classic book on pastoral care, The Wounded Healer, and many other works wrote:

Theological formation is the gradual and often painful discovery of God’s incomprehensibility. You can be competent in many things, but you cannot be competent in God.” 

No one can be competent in God, I certainly am not. I am sure that even well meaning people who claim to be are hopelessly deluded, and those that those that use their alleged competence in God to prop up evil are far worse, they are evil men masquerading as good.

Those men and women that speak of absolutes and want to use the Bible or any other religious text as some sort of rule book that they alone can interpret need to ask themselves this question, “When has justice ever been as simple as a rulebook?” The Bible is not a rule book, but a story of imperfect people trying to understand and live an experience with a being that they, like us, can only imagine and often misunderstand.

Sadly too many people, Christians, Moslems, Jews, Hindus, and others apply their own misconceptions and prejudices to their scriptures and use them as a weapon of temporal and divine judgement on all who they oppose. However, as history, life and even our scriptures testify, that none of us can absolutely claim to know the absolutes of God. As Captain Picard noted “life itself is an exercise in exceptions.” 

It takes true wisdom to know when and how to make these exceptions, wisdom based on reason, grace and mercy. Justice, is to apply the law in fairness and equity, knowing that even our best attempts can be misguided. If instead of reason we appeal to emotion, hatred, prejudice or vengeance and clothe them in the language of righteousness, what we call justice can be more evil than any evil it is supposed to correct, no matter what our motivation.

But we see it all too often, religious people and others misusing faith or ideology to condemn those they do not understand or with whom they disagree. It is happening again.

When such people gain power, especially when the do so supporting a leader who is they tend to expand that power into the realm of theocratic absolutism and despotism. As Captain Jean Luc Picard noted in the Start Trek Next Generation episode The Drumhead: 

“We think we’ve come so far. Torture of heretics, burning of witches it’s all ancient history. Then – before you can blink an eye – suddenly it threatens to start all over again.”

It is happening, all around the world, and it could easily happen here. Our founders realized how easily it could happen, they warned about it; but they are dead, and neither Trump or his followers give a damn about them or the Constitution that they crafted. In fact, his followers are for more dangerous thanTrump, because they will outlast him by a generation, or more, always waiting for the chance to grab power by any means possible.

Peace,

Padre Steve+

Padre Steve+

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You Have to Make Choices and be Happy with Them

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Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

Today was an exhausting day. Last night I found out that one of the military personnel that I had served with in a previous assignment many years ago was in a bad way. It was already well after midnight but since I didn’t have his phone number I sent him a personal message on a social media site. I asked him to call me and gave him my number. I cannot divulge any details but he was struggling and our conversation lasted a long time. I didn’t get to sleep until almost 3 AM. But the good thing is that he is getting help at the VA and I am sure that he will be okay. But his trust in me was a validation of the work that I do, and will continue to do for the people that I have served with for the rest of my life, long after I retire from the Navy next year.

Unfortunately before I went to bed I found my wife’s car keys in my pants. I decided to go hang them on the key rack downstairs. I was tired and wasn’t paying attention, didn’t keep a grip on the railing and slipped on the second or third stair from bottom and jammed my left leg and less badly my right leg. I hurt like a son of a bitch. I ended up getting less than three hours of very uncomfortable sleep and when I swung  my leg out of be was jolted by excruciating pain.

It would be that this morning I had to get up early to cover a number of meetings that lasted until noon. I had to limp to those meetings and in the midst of fighting off the sleep monster and trying to keep myself in a position that my legs didn’t hurt. After my meetings I limped back to my car and the office and handled before driving to the Naval Medical Center ER.

The ER and the radiology techs were great, despite bending me into positions that made me scream. The good thing was that they found no broken bones. I have some bruising on my femur, and have some pulled muscles and sprains and they discovered that I have some arthritis in my knees, hips, and ankles. No doubt from all of my running, athletic injuries, and from lugging around too much gear in criss crossing Al Anbar Province back in 2007-2008, and far too many field exercises in the Army and while serving with the Marines.

That made for a very long day, I left the ER about 5 PM and drove to my favorite local German restaurant, the Bier Garden, in Portsmouth to avoid rush hour and the pain in the ass known getting through the Downtown Tunnel, but I digress…

I usually have the Sauerbraten with a Semmel Knodel and red cabbage or sauerkraut, or sometimes their Bockwurst. Both are great and their rotating beer selections of German, European, and American craft beers is wonderful, But today I had their Ruben on German sourdough bread. I haven’t had that in a long time and and it is still to die for. The wonderful owner and operator of the Bier Garden is a German lady named Hannelore. She is an absolute doll, Judy and I love her to death.

But while I was out I was able to read the comics and check the news only to find that the President had stripped former CIA director’s security clearance and is looking at doing so to others. The interesting thing as that of those he is looking at doing this to none have committed any crimes, they are simply critics. Of course the reason that these men and women retain their clearances is not to give them access to information when they leave the organization, but rather if their expertise is needed that they can be used to help the agencies that they once ran.

The same is true for military personnel who leave the service. It is a pain in the ass to start a new clearance and takes time, that’s why the government allows such men and women to maintain clearances. It was interesting to note that the one person not being looked at to have their clearance revoked was an actual convicted criminal, Trump’s first National Security Advisor, former General Michael Flynn. I find that fascinating, only non-criminal critics are being looked at while an actual criminal is not. This leads me to believe that this unprecedented action was done to silence not just Brennan, but all critics. But then I have recently experienced the kind of fanatical vengeance from a Trump Cultist parishioner that tried to get me tried by court martial for a sermon. So I understand the what John Brennan is going through, but I digress…

Anyway, when I was done with dinner and a couple of marvelous beers, I limped to the car and went home to Judy and the the Papillon puppies and have been binge watching The Blacklist. It may not be much but I am happy. It was a fascinating day,, I got to reflect on the good things that I have been able to do in my career, muse on my current situation, think about what I will say to the congregation that the man who tried to get me tried by court martial this weekend, and be thankful for the people that I now work with, as well as Judy and the our Minnie, Izzy, and Pierre. So I didn’t make Captain or get any of the assignments, except the Staff College that I wanted after I made Commander, but Raymond Reddington once said:

“You can’t do every silly thing you want to in life. You have to make choices and be happy with them.”

I have to say that I am really learning to be happy with those choices, even the ones that were forced upon me and even with the recent experience with my parishioner. So have a great night,

Peace,

Padre Steve+

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Raymond Reddington, Me, and the Forgiveness of Sins

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Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

In spite of being very busy working in the house and going  back to work to deal with the crisis d’jour I have been very reflective about all I have been through over the past few months. Unlike past times of reflection this has been a rather uplifting experience of grace and not a de-evolution into a morbid state of moroseness.

As I wrote on Saturday I drafted and sent up my retirement letter today for my Commanding Officer’s endorsement. I also let my detailer, the officer who manages officer assignments know that I was putting in my papers so he can plan to replace me. I also let the men and . It was a strange but very freeing. I will have much to do to get ready for that day about a year from now but knowing that I can begin working on everything that I need to accomplish. There is much to do but I am at peace and really looking forward to what comes next, whatever it may be.

Due to a situation dealing with my Catholic congregation  I am having to do a town hall meeting to explain howe things work to all of my faith group leaders and contractors on Sunday afternoon. Thus I will be going in to the chapel on Sunday and I will make an appearance before my Protestant congregation to discuss my feelings about the member that tried to get me sent to court martial. I have finally been able to deal with the anger from that experience but the pain is still there. At least I am in a better place to talk about it and know now that I won’t do anything to blow the situation up.

This experience has taught me something about grace, forgiveness, and trust, but I digress…

The fact is that I have a tremendous ability to dwell upon injustices and I have a terrible time with forgiveness. I do really love the concept and as a Christian I have no idea of how Jesus managed to forgive nor the great saints of every faith who managed to live lives full of grace and forgiveness have managed to do so. It probably goes back to my Irish-Scottish DNA, the DNA that can make one a hilarious hoot one minute and a brooding bore the next regardless of whether or not alcohol is involved.

But there is something that I have learned recently: forgiveness doesn’t require me to be dishonest about how I feel about something. I learned that from Raymond Reddington, and yes I have been binge-watching The Blacklist of late and I find Reddington’s grip on philosophy, religion, and the human condition to be quite fascinating. Reddington observed:

“Sins should be buried like the dead. Not that they may be forgotten but we may them and find our way forward nonetheless.”

Truthfully I don’t believe in the forgive and forget bullshit, it’s a nice thought, but our brains don’t work that way. We can forgive someone every day, but the memories will still be there. That’s what makes it so hard. That is why the Christian understanding of the forgiveness of since is so important and so difficult. It wasn’t meant to be easy or painless, but it might make a difference, as Reddington noted:

“A friend told me recently that forgiveness won’t change the past but could very well change their future. Apparently, everything is forgivable.” 

So that’s all for tonight. Yes I know there are many things going on that I can write about but right now I need to stay in this place for a moment.

Peace,

Padre Steve+

 

 

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All Good Things: My Decision to Retiree from the Military

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Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

In the Star Trek Film Generations Captain Jean Luc Picard told Commander William Riker:

“Someone once told me that time was a predator that stalked us all our lives. But I rather believe than time is a companion who goes with us on the journey, and reminds us to cherish every moment because they’ll never come again. What we leave behind is not as important how we lived. After all, Number One, we’re only mortal.” 

Today was like any other Saturday for me except that I made the decision to put in my retirement papers from the Navy. Lord willing about this time next year I will be “piped ashore” in a retirement ceremony.

When that day comes it will be the end of a thirty-eight year military career in which I have served as an enlisted man, then an officer. I have served in the active duty Army, the Army Reserve, and California, Texas, and Virginia Army National Guard. Then in February of 1999 after 17 1/2 years in the Army I declared free agency so to speak and joined the Navy.  On February 8th I was a Major in the Army Reserve and on the 9th I was taking the oath of office as a Navy Lieutenant. My wife and my paternal grandmother were there when I took the oath in a humble, and now abandoned Naval Reserve Center in Huntington West Virginia.

So now, some 19 years and 8 months later I have made the decision to put in my retirement papers. For me it is a time for reflecting and realizing that it is the right time to do this. The last number of months in my assignment have been difficult and brought me little joy. I have sought to serve my congregations and to mentor, help, and protect the personnel assigned to me.

I have grown weary of the frustrations of dealing with a moribund bureaucracy, decaying facilities with no money to fix them, the prospect of losing most of my experienced enlisted personnel with no experienced personnel coming in, and dealing with Protestant and Catholic congregations that try my very soul. When one of my Protestant parishioners attempted to have me tried by court martial because he disagreed with my sermon content and then wrote a lying letter to my commander forcing an investigation in which I had to spend money on a lawyer to defend myself I crossed the Rubicon. I knew that I was going to retire at the end of my current tour.

Then this week I hit the culminating point when the faith group leader of my Catholic congregation and my new contract Priest raised such a ruckus and problems for my enlisted personnel and one of my Chaplains that I had to intervene despite being on leave and in the middle of massive work on my house. I spent Friday evening texting that lay leader and it only made me more upset. I realized that no matter what I did that had done to keep them going in the absence of a priest and how I fought for them that they had no loyalty of concern for me or my personnel. Gratefulness to others is not a virtue for most American Christians today, I knew that but learned it again.

This morning I read a Navy Message announcing a Selective Early Retirement Board for Captains and Commanders. I am in the zone and if chosen to be retired I would have little lead time to plan my retirement and do all the things that I would need to do medically, administratively, and personally to retire and have a decent chance of landing on me feet. Honestly, I would have rather spent the last year in a combat zone in Iraq like I did in 2007 and 2008 than deal with the bullshit that I have been dealing with lately.

I know that did the best that I could and I can say that the team of chaplains and Religious Program Specialists whose work I help direct and support are some of the finest people I have ever served with. Their honesty and likewise their care for me has been about the only thing that got me through. Honestly, I am so grateful for them and I treasure them all, just as I have so many of my other soldiers, sailors, marines, airmen, and civilians employed by the military for the last thirty-seven years.

I am at peace, and I am going to spent the time leading up to my retirement to cherish every moment. Now I know that my situation at work is not going to change but I am going to cherish the moments with the people that I care for and do my best to serve without getting to stressed out because I know now that I my future is only beginning. “Second star to the right and straight on till morning.”

Peace

Padre Steve+

 

 

 

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Accused and Threatened by a Christian Trump Cultist

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

Saul Steinberg wrote:

“Baseball is an allegorical play about America, a poetic, complex, and subtle play of courage, fear, good luck, mistakes, patience about fate, and sober self-esteem.” 

Last night I watched what turned out to be an magnificent MLB All Star Game. I had a very good day going into it and anticipated it with the same glorious expectations that I have done since the 1970 All Star Game. For me the MLB All Star Game is an event with nearly religious significance. Baseball is a game that helps me connect spiritually with God as well as exhibits some of the best traits of what until now has defined the United States, as reflected in the words of Steinberg.

For me that was comforting and until last night Saul Steinberg’s words comforted me and allowed me to believe a myth about the inherent goodness of America. Despite our flaws, our mistakes, and yes, even many malevolent policies I still believed that we are basically good people. I don’t think that I believe that anymore, even as I still believe that most Americans want to be good people. We like to think that we are the good guys.

As the game went on I developed a terrible headache and I began to become incredibly depressed. I could feel myself slipping down like I haven’t for a few years. I got up this morning doing better but after a good Staff meeting at our base headquarters began to walk to my car and during that time I began to sink into the pit again. I pulled into my parking spot at the chapel and I was terrified until one of my Catholic parishioners came in to talk to me for a few minutes. She’s a sweet English lady and her kindness is always a blessing and today it made a big difference. My Chief came in to me with a laundry list of things that I needed to help with and then I found out that three young Chaplain Candidate Officers were coming to see me. That put me back in my element because over the past couple of years I have come to realize that the most important thing that I do is to mentor young men and women, especially Chaplains or those aspiring to be Chaplains. I didn’t tell them anything of what I am writing tonight, but I was able to give the, good advice and invite them to contact me any time even if I was no longer on active duty.

The game was a fantastic game but I didn’t enjoy it because I was too caught up in something that happened to me two weeks ago when I received the news that I was being investigated for the allegations of violating the Uniform Code of Military Justice made by a member of my Chapel, a retired Navy Officer.

The man accused me of the violation of Article 88 Contempt for an Official in this case the President of the United States, and of Article 133, Conduct Unbecoming an Officer for the content of my sermon. He accused me of “comparing the President to Adolf Hitler” and “the actions of those enforcing the laws of the nation as Nazis or Nazi Sympathizers.” He accused me of “engaging in political activism on the job.”

Because of his allegations to the command my Commanding Officer had to launch a preliminary investigation. If the allegations were found to be true I could have been charged and tried by Court Martial. My career of 37 years of Army and Navy service including two combat tours and multiple deployments and family separations could have been ended had I been charged or convicted of such an offense.

I wrote about that sermon last month and the allegations were scurrilous, unsubstantiated and purely of his own making. If there was any political motivation it was this retired officer’s allegations which were an attempt to silence legitimate Christian preaching on social justice issues. I found the complaint ironic because one of my predecessors preached against the end of the Defense of Marriage Act and the end of the Don’t Ask Don’t Tell policy. That Chaplain attacked the character of President Obama and pledged to disobey any orders to support marriage equality. But not one person in the congregation complained.

Yet when I criticized President Trump’s words in which he described immigrants and refugees as “animals”, called them an “infestation” and linked all of them to being violent murderers, rapists, and associated with the MS-13 criminal gang as being dehumanizing, against the teachings of the church and similar to the words that Hitler used to demonize and dehumanize the Jews, that was wrong. When I criticized the Attorney General for his misuse of Scripture to defend those polices in front of the Catholic Bishops and the complicity of the White House Press Secretary and Pastor Robert Jeffress of First Baptist Church Dallas in defending those remarks I was a criminal in the mind of my accuser.

The fact that I was preaching within a prophetic Christian social justice tradition as Dietrich Bonhoeffer or Martin Luther King Jr. was irrelevant to my accuser. The fact that I could make legitimate historical comparisons, not only with Nazi Germany but American slavery, the Black Codes, Jim Crow, the extermination of Native American tribes, and the internment of Japanese Americans was irrelevant. It was the fact that I deviated from the Christian Trump Religious cult claims that brought about these scurrilous charges.

When I was called in for an interview by the investigating officer, who I know is a very fair, honest, and decent man I sensed that he was uncomfortable in having to question me as we have worked together over the past year. I told him that I could not submit to an interview and without an attorney present.

I left and immediately called Mikey Weinstein of the Military Religious Freedom Foundation, or MRFF. Mikey took my call immediately and connected me with one of his exceptional attorneys. That was on July 3rd and I spent Independence Day wondering if my military career was about to end. On July 5th I was asked by the Investigating Officer for names of other parishioners who had heard the sermon. I was able to give him a few names, all retired African American Chief Petty Officers or Army and Marine Corps Senior NCOs. He interviewed them and my attorney contacted him. The next morning I was called by the Investigating Officer and the Base Executive Officer to let me know that I had been exonerated and the investigation was over. Both seemed happy for me.

I was supported during the ordeal by the regional Chaplain who is much more conservative than me, and this was not a witch hunt by my command. They as well as my commanding officer are all men of integrity who respect and appreciate my work. If they had not been such men my life could have much more difficult. I was fortunate, but I know other officers who have not been so fortunate or had as solid and feared legal counsel as I received from MRFF. Some of them were convicted of crimes that they did not commit or as in the case of one officer was the victim of a witch hunt by his service chief after his command and civilian police officials had determined that there was no evidence that he had committed any crime. His service overruled them and had him tried by a jury and judge of their choice. I know this because I was called as a character witness. I was flown overseas and within two hours of landing I was thrust onto the witness stand without rest or so much time as to shower or shave. He was convicted anyway. However, during my testimony during the sentencing phase the next day which was not impeached or overruled I told the truth, that the only reason that the officer was on trial and been convicted was because he was gay and not because of the evidence. It was a travesty of justice and I am glad that it didn’t happen to me.

That being said I was fortunate that I have a command that has integrity and seeks the truth. The investigation proved that the charges of the retired officer we’re false and more related to his political allegiance than to any Christian teaching or tradition.

However the most disturbing part of this experience was how that it continues to effect me. The fact is that this retired officer couldn’t even follow the clear commands of Jesus or the Apostle Paul to deal with disagreements between brothers privately or within the Church. Never did any New Testament writer or any of the Ante-Nicene Fathers instruct Christians to turn in other Christians that disagrees with them to the State. What happened to me reminded me of the accounts of German Protestant and Catholic Priests who were turned in to the Gestapo by informants in the Church.

I think that is why I went into such a deep depression last night. The situation in our country has even taken away my ability to enjoy a baseball game and made me incredibly suspicious of the members of my chapel congregation.

Sadly, based on other comments on my Facebook page by some other officers I realize that one cannot reason with members of the Christian Trump Cult even using Scripture and the Christian tradition. Like the German Christians who followed Hitler to his Götterdämmerung they will follow Trump even as he shoots someone on 5th Avenue.

Maybe I will write about the All Star Game tomorrow, but if I don’t it will be first time in nine years on this blog that I haven’t. I think that is one of the worst things about my experience, living on such an edge and under such a real threat that I can no longer enjoy things that used give me such joy and peace.

If this is what it means to Make America Great Again I want nothing to do with it or those who pledge their allegiance to Trump over the Constitution or Christ.

I have more to say but will live it at this for the night.

So until tomorrow,

Peace,

Padre Steve+

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