Tag Archives: faith

An Easter Thought for those Who Struggle

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

Today I am just wishing you a happy Easter, whatever that may mean to you. Now I know that many of my readers are not Christians, or struggle with faith and belief. I do too. I am all too much like the disciples of Jesus who could not believe the message of the resurrection on that first Easter morning. Even so this morning I will add my alleluia to the cry “He is risen!” 

Easter can be a difficult time for those that struggle with faith and for those that do so struggle, life can be more like Good Friday and the joy that many celebrate on Easter can be hard to find, W.H. Auden said it well:

“Christmas and Easter can be subjects for poetry, but Good Friday, like Auschwitz, cannot. The reality is so horrible it is not surprising that people should have found it a stumbling block to faith.” 

For all too many people, including me after Iraq faith is a struggle. I’m doing better right now, but I still struggle. I know the theology, I believe, yet I struggle. The actions of many who call themselves Christians, the hatred shown by many Christian leaders for others, and the way my Christian fore bearers throughout history have acted out of hate and the need to dominate others in the name of Jesus troubles me and gives me pause.  At times I wonder if anything that the Church proclaims can be true because its witness and its hostility to others is so contrary to that of Jesus. Mahatma Gandhi well summed up my feelings when he remarked: “I like your Christ, I do not like your Christians. Your Christians are so unlike your Christ.” 

I think I understand what Easter means, according to my often painfully inadequate faith, it is the triumph of life over death that only comes only through the experience of Good Friday, the emptiness of what we now call Holy Saturday, and the shock of the resurrection.  One of my favorite theologians, Jurgen Moltmann, wrote:

“In the cross of Christ God is taking man dead-seriously so that he may open up for him the happy freedom of Easter. God takes upon himself the pain of negation and the God forsakenness of judgement to reconcile himself with his enemies and to give the godless fellowship with himself.”

God shares our pain. But for those that struggle and those walking through their own personal versions of Good Friday, Easter often seems like it will never come. I can understand that.

So for all my readers where ever you are and whatever you are going through, be it joy or sorrow, love or loss, even suffering or death; I wish you the best this Easter and I do pray that one day we will all understand what all this means. Until then, for me it will mean opening my life, my inadequate faith, my friendship, and my door to all who I encounter.  That will be my “Alleluia.”

Until tomorrow,

Peace

Padre Steve+

Advertisements

2 Comments

Filed under christian life, faith

Two Types of Faith: Fiendish Sadistic Cruelty or Mercy and Justice

Witch-scene4

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

The great Philosopher Alfred North Whitehead once 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…” 

As I watch the reaction of many people who call themselves Christians in the wake of Donald Trump’s election I find much truth in Whitehead’s words. I feel that what has posed as Christianity in the United States has been revealed as a sham; a way for religious leaders to enrich themselves and gain power even if it means forsaking the Gospel to do so.

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, I have faith in a God I cannot see. I have faith in a God who clothes himself in human weakness and allows himself to be killed based on the trumped up charges of corrupt and fearful religious leaders. Thus 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, something that is about to become reality in our country.

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. Whitehead wrote: “There are no whole truths; all truths are half-truths. It is trying to treat them as whole truths that plays the devil.” Unfortunately many true believers fail to understand that fact and whenever they gain political power use it to enforce their half-truths as if they were absolute truth. This behavior is demonstrated throughout history by people who profess every religious creed in the world.

Proving Whitehead’s words, many true believers frequently wrap themselves in the certitude of their faith assuming that they are the custodians of all truth, not recognizing that they are ignorant of their very ignorance.  The true believers 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; and may whatever God you believe in protect you should you cross them.

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 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, and that those who claim to be are either hopelessly deluded, or worse, are evil men masquerading as good. Those 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?” 

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. Whitehead noted something that people of faith should remember and practice: “Religion will not regain its old power until it can face change in the same spirit as does science. Its principles may be eternal, but the expression of those principles requires continual development.”

The temporal power of the Christians who have thrown away the Gospel to use the election of Donald Trump to to further their temporal agenda of gaining earthly power completely miss the essence of faith, and the concept of justice. They have shown themselves to be little different from the theocrats that they condemn in the Islamic world, but then the mirror can be a difficult thing to look at.

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. When such people gain power 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.”

That day is already here and it will become much worse before it gets better, especially since there will be little to restrain them unless the man that they sold their souls to support in order to increase their power turns on them; and that is always a possibility with Donald Trump.

Peace

Padre Steve+

3 Comments

Filed under faith, History, philosophy, Political Commentary, Religion

How Despots Gain Power


Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

Today I am traveling back home after a wonderful visit with friends and family in Huntington, West Virginia. The visit was nice, I got a chance to do some serious reflection, especially as I walked about the city and along the Ohio River waterfront, visited the Museum of Art, and walked the entirety of its wonderful Ritter Park. 

I did some writing but spent more time in reading and reflection than anything. I kept up on some of the headlines but didn’t let myself get beaten down by the negativity and cynicism of our time.

Last night I read the short but poignant little but by the British military historian B.H. Liddell-Hart entitled Why Don’t We Learn from History. The book was written in not long before his death in 1970 and it is good quite good. It deals with a number of issues, including the conflict between history and propaganda, or when faith, especially religious faith as treated as historic or scientific fact; especially when propaganda or faith is preached as if it were history, if it were truth. But he also contrasted democracy and totalitarianism. 

Liddell-Hart was a realist, especially about democracy and totalitarianism. While he admitted the inefficiencies of democracy, he realized that it was far less dangerous than the “stupidity” of totalitarianism. In fact it was important for him to note just how this inefficient system was for freedom. He wrote:

What is of value in “England” and “America” and worth defending is its tradition of freedom, the guarantee of its vitality. Our civilization, like the Greek, has, for all its blundering way, taught the value of freedom, of criticism of authority, and of harmonising this with order. Anyone who urges a different system, for efficiency’s sake, is betraying the vital tradition.

There was was much to ponder in his book and I will probably write some more of my thoughts on it, but since I am going to be traveling I will quote what he said about self-made despotic rulers and how they come to power. When I read it I was struck by just how much Liddell-Hart in his description of a despot describes Republican Presidential nominee Donald Trump through the his campaign and especially his remarks on immigration hours after returning from a brief meeting with Mexican President Pena Nieto. 

We learn from history that self-made despotic rulers follow a standard pattern. In gaining power: They exploit, consciously or unconsciously, a state of popular dissatisfaction with the existing regime or of hostility between different sections of the people. They attack the existing regime violently and combine their appeal to discontent with unlimited promises (which, if successful, they fulfil only to a limited extent). They claim that they want absolute power for only a short time (but “find” subsequently that the time to relinquish it never comes). They excite popular sympathy by presenting the picture of a conspiracy against them and use this as a lever to gain a firmer hold at some crucial stage.

He wrote about how they behave in power as well, but for now I will close and let you my readers ponder his statement before I follow up with Liddell-Hart’s observations from history on how despots act once they achieve power. 

Peace,

Padre Steve+

Leave a comment

Filed under History, philosophy, Political Commentary

Finding my Way Home: Nine Years After Iraq


Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

I was thinking last night  as I watched an episode of the television show The Blacklist, where the lead character, Raymond Reddington, played by James Spader made a comment about Homer’s classic Greek myth The Oddesy where he said, “Odysseus spent a decade at war. But his biggest battle was finding his way home.” I can understand that. Nine years ago I was on my first long distance mission out to the Syrian border in Iraq’s Al Anbar Province. It was the first of many missions in the badlands of that war ravaged province, and seven months later I returned home, but I didn’t. Too much of me was still in Iraq, and in some ways still is, but that being said I think I can finally say that I am home. 

Now let me say, there is still a lot of Iraq in me and if I got the chance to go back I would probably jump at it. I still have issues from my tour in Iraq, the dreams, nightmares, and night terrors have caused more physical injuries than my actual time in country. Frankly, I expect that will never change, so I simply adapt to minimize risk, and to enjoy life to the utmost. That is my reality. I can dwell on the bad and hate life, or I can make the adjustments and enjoy life. 

After a major emotional crash in the spring I decided that the latter was the better choice and I have not looked back since. 

My experiences in Iraq have helped make me the man I am today, and for that I am grateful. I can admit that I am damaged and at the same time realize that I am in the process of becoming whole, maybe for the first time in my life. I have really come to appreciate life and the blessings that I have, especially my wife Judy, my two little dogs, and my friends. Things are not perfect, nor will they ever be, but I am happy and for the first time since I deployed to Iraq in July 2007 can say that I am home. Like the journey of Odysseus, mine has been a long, and for that matter, a strange trip.

Once I get at least one of my three texts dealing with the Civil War era and Gettysburg published, I’ll write my story. 

So until tomorrow I wish you peace, and the joy of making it home.

Peace,

Padre Steve+ 

1 Comment

Filed under faith, iraq, Tour in Iraq

I’d Like to Believe: Reflections on Death and the Life to Come


Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

In the final scene of the final episode of the season nine of the X-Files, Fox Mulder tells Dana Scully “I’d like to believe that the dead are not really lost to us. That they speak to us as part of something greater than us…” 

Over the past couple of weeks I have experienced the loss of three wonderful people. Two of the were expected. My cousin, Betty Dundas who was in her 80s and had been in declining health for the past year passed away on Wednesday. My friend from  high school, Tony Martin passed away two weeks ago after battling cancer for more than a year; and I found out last night that my friend Cara Burke Hartwell, one of the people who helped keep me sane during my tour in Camp LeJeune suffered a massive stroke and was taken off of life support Saturday night. I guess that Cara’s death hit me the hardest because she was my age and it was so totally unexpected.

All three were beautiful people, and all three left the world better off for simply being here. Betty lived a long and full life, until a year effort she died she took an active role in her church choir. Tony and Cara both died far too young, they leave behind many family members and friends.

After chapel today I walked around the grounds of the Staff College and the Naval Support Activity for about an hour. I needed to. I reflected on life, and I prayed for the souls of my friends, and of those that they left behind. The walk was quite peaceful, and I glad that I did it. I am blessed to have had my life touched by all three of these wonderful people, so I do not grieve for myself. I was blessed by all of them, and that is nothing to be sad about, and like Fox Mulder I’d like to believe that Betty, Tony, and Cara are not really lost to us.

I guess that believing that is really important to me, and my faith as a Christian about that is summed up in the final sentence of the Nicene Creed, “We look for the resurrection of the dead, and the life of the world to come. Amen.” 

Until tomorrow,

Peace

Padre Steve+

2 Comments

Filed under faith, remembering friends

Gettysburg and Ghosts


Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

I am back up at Gettysburg with another class. After a night of eating, teaching, and drinking some fine craft beer, I am back in my room at the 1863 Inn of Gettysburg. 

The hotel sits at the base of East Cemetery Hill where the right wing of Harry Hay’s brigade, the Louisiana Tigers, made their attack on the night of July 2nd 1863. The attack ended in failure and the Federal Troops held their ground and drove the Louisiana troops back. 

Since the hotel opened in the 1960s there have been many reports of paranormal activity. Usually the people are awakened by what appear to be Confederate soldiers near their beds.

So when I booked the rooms for the class I asked the manager to put me in one of the rooms where such activity has been reported. Now, after my night out with our students I am ensconced in my room and hoping that tonight or tomorrow that I might encounter one of these reported spirits. If I only had the gear of the various ghost hunters it would be really cool, but I don’t, so oh well. I guess if I do see one I will be okay, so long as I don’t go throwing myself out of bed and break another bone in my face.

Until tomorrow,

Peace

Padre Steve+

Leave a comment

Filed under Gettysburg, Loose thoughts and musings

Celebrating 20 Years as a Miscreant Priest 


Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

Yesterday was the 20th anniversary of my ordination to the Priesthood. July 7th 1996, it really is hard to believe that it has been that long, and this year it kind of snuck up on me. I had pretty much forgotten until I noticed an old friend from Camp LeJeune was wishing me well on it. If you are reading this Ray, thank you. 

Since Being ordained I have served in a lot of places as an Army and now Navy Chaplain, and I have served some of the most wonderful people ever, and in turn they have done more for me than I can ever imagine or repay. One of the things that a lot of people don’t understand is that the true joy in the priestly ministry is people, all kinds of people, regardless of who they are or what they believe. 

Over the years I have come to value that more than anything else. For me this is not about any kind of ecclesiastical power or desire for advancement. I do not desire to be a bishop, nor for that matter be in charge of anything. I prefer just to serve and care as I can, be with real people, and try as I might to show people God’s love by being real and caring for them. Now that doesn’t mean that I always do it well, I can be so stupid and insensitive sometimes, even when I am not trying to be. Judy tells me that it is because the male hormone causes brain damage. I won’t argue. 


Over the past twenty years I’ve have times of extreme faith, actually bordering on pious certitude bordering on arrogance. But I have also had doubts, very real doubts. In fact for almost two years after my tour in Iraq I can honestly say that at best I was an agnostic just praying that God existed. Eventually faith returned, and it has to be called faith, because it is not based on how much I think I know, but how little I do know. St. Anselm of Canterbury, the great Scholastic theologian described his task as “faith seeking understanding.” I used to think that way, but I don’t think that understanding the great mystery that is God is really possible, and that’s not a bad thing. I have faith in Jesus the Christ, I believe, and as one of the men Jesus encounters exclaimed, “I believe, help my unbelief.” 


I guess that is all part of the journey. When I look back at all of my time as a priest was my high point, it was my time in Iraq. In the midst of all chaos that I felt closest to God, even when I was struggling. As T.E. Lawrence wrote, “We were fond together because of the sweep of open places, the taste of the wide winds, the sunlight, and the hopes in which we worked. The morning freshness of the world-to-be intoxicated us. We were wrought up with ideas inexpressible and vaporous, but to be fought for…”  It was the richest time of my life, but also the most disappointing, personally and professionally. I found like Lawrence, that most people really don’t care about the Iraqis, and that most of my fellow clergy really didn’t care about me. No wonder Lawrence said, “the fringes of their deserts were strewn with broken faiths.” 

But all of that aside, despite everything, I have rediscovered faith, life, and joy in ministry. So at twenty years I am good, and hopefully I’ve got at last twenty more good years to serve God and the people of God, wherever they are and no matter what their faith or lack of faith is, and interestingly enough my idea of ministry has broadened. So I don’t think that the form of my future ministry will be in the traditional parish setting. That too is okay as I am still fond of the sweep of open places, and the ideas, often inexpressible and vaporous are still there to be fought for. 

So until tomorrow, have a great day, and as the wonderful and grace filled conclusion off the rite of penance says, “pray for me a sinner.” 

Peace

Padre Steve+

4 Comments

Filed under faith, iraq, middle east, Military, ministry