Tag Archives: field of dreams

Living the Dream and Dreaming to Live: Dreams and 34 Years of Commissioned Service


Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

As I mentioned yesterday in my short article about my dad that I would watch the movie Field of Dreams. I did that last night. As always I found the message of the film compelling and relevant for me today. 

Thirty-four years ago today I was commissioned as a Second Lieutenant in the United States Army. In the decades since that time I have to say that I am the beneficiary of following dreams that have come true. I always wanted to serve in the military no now after almost thirty-six years of service, including the time before I was commissioned I am still living my dream, and dreaming to live. 

When I was commissioned back during the Cold War  I figured that I would do 20 years or possibly a few years more and retire as a Lieutenant Colonel, or maybe even a Colonel. Back then I even harbored thoughts of becoming a General. That didn’t happen and through a fairly unusual set of circumstances I ended up leaving the Army Reserve before being considered for promotion to Lieutenant Colonel, reducing in rank and entering the Navy in February 1999. I wanted t get back on active duty and my window had passed in the Army, if I remained there I would have remained a reservist, not that there is anything wrong with that but it wasn’t my dream.  

So now after a total of nearly 36 years in the military, and almost 18 1/2 in the Navy I still dream. Now my dreams don’t include promotion to Navy Captain or far less Admiral. My dreams are simple; living life, speaking truth, and not sacrificing my integrity just to try to get ahead in a system whose ideals are so much like mine but reality, at least in the Chaplain Corps falls far short of, so I have simply decided to follow my dreams which include teaching, writing, and maybe speaking out regarding causes that I think are important. 

Unlike Dr. Archibald “Moonlight” Graham in the film, I got to bat in my version of the major leagues and my military dreams did come true. I don’t need any more than that. There are men and women who would have loved to had my career in the military and as I celebrate the anniversary of being commissioned as a Second Lieutenant in the U.S. Army some 34 years ago and being a Commander in the U.S. navy today. The dreams I have now are different and I will like Ray Kinsella and Terrance Mann in the movie will listen to that mysterious voice and follow it, because to paraphrase Doc Graham, it would be a tragedy if I didn’t.

Until tomorrow,

Peace

Padre Steve+

Advertisements

1 Comment

Filed under Baseball, Loose thoughts and musings, Military

Remembering My Dad on Father’s Day

                                                          My Dad, Aviation Storekeeper Chief Carl Dundas in 1967 

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

Just a very short post today. I have felt a bit melancholy this Father’s Day weekend. I lost my dad to Alzheimer’s disease seven years ago this week, though the infernal disease had taken him from us pretty much a couple of years before. I miss him and I owe more than I can imagine to him. I owe my love of the Navy and baseball to him, as well as my sense of right and wrong and my willingness to fight for what is right, even if it pisses some people off. 

My dad spent 20 years in the Navy. He retired in 1974 from the aircraft carrier USS Hancock, CVA-19. He served ashore in Vietnam at a city called An Loc in 1972, enduring the siege of the city which lasted 80 days. 

I miss him. I know that he would be proud of me and I’m sure that he would not always agree with me. I wish he was still around so I could watch ball games with him and have a beer together once in a while. My fondest moments with dad were playing catch in my back yard, and him trying to teach me how to pitch, catch, and hit a baseball, as well as the countless baseball games that he took me to. Before his Alzheimer’s disease got so bad that we couldn’t take him anywhere I made a visit home and took him to a Stockton Ports game with my brother and his boys. I guess that had to be just before I went to Iraq because after I came home his deterioration was rather shocking and I realized then that we would never play catch again. 

There’s an Irish proverb that says “We never get over our fathers, and we’re not required to.”  I won’t get over mine. He wasn’t perfect and I know that I often frustrated him, but he loved me and he let me know it. I may end up watching the movie Field of Dreams tonight because of how it speaks to me about my dad. There is a scene at the end of the film where Ray Kinsella played by Kevin Costner talks with a younger version of his dad on that magical field. 

Ray asks his dad “Is there a heaven?” His dad, who had passed away years before replied, “Oh yeh, it’s the place where dreams come true.” Seeing his daughter playing on the porch Ray replied “Maybe this is heaven.” 

I don’t have kids, we were never able to have any. But as I write this I see my wife Judy sleeping and have my Papillons Izzy and Pierre passed out on the bed, Pierre in a little ball and Izzy stretched out with her legs and feet in the air, with Minnie under the bed, I realize that this too might be heaven. 

So in honor of my dad, Carl Dundas, and all the dads who helped make their sons dreams come true. 

Until Monday,

Peace

Padre Steve+ 

Leave a comment

Filed under Baseball, Loose thoughts and musings

Cubs Win Epic World Series and Remind us of All that Can Be

cubs-world-series

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

The late W.P. Kinsella wrote: “Baseball is the most perfect of games, solid, true, pure and precious as diamonds. If only life were so simple. Within the baselines anything can happen. Tides can reverse; oceans can open. That’s why they say, “the game is never over until the last man is out.” Colors can change, lives can alter, anything is possible in this gentle, flawless, loving game.”

For five hours last night all the cares of the world didn’t matter. Not the raging anger of Donald Trump, not the election, not the wars and bloodshed in the Middle East, not terrorism, not the economy, not anything…  except what transpired on the baseball field in Cleveland. In Game Seven of an epic World Series two teams with a combined 174 years of not winning a World Series battled into the 10th inning as the weather got worse and the rain began to fall. The tension throughout the game was electric, the mood swings as the Cubs took a 5-1 lead and then the Indians scored three runs with two outs in the bottom of the 8th inning to tie the game took one’s breath away.  Watching these two teams battle it was if time itself no longer existed, just the game, a game which transfixed the nation as no sporting event has in recent memory.

Kinsella wrote something profound  in his classic baseball fantasy The Iowa Baseball Confederacy: 

“Name me a more perfect game!” Matthew Clarke had been fond of saying to his son. “Name me a game with more possibilities for magic, wizardry, voodoo, hoodoo, enchantment, obsession, possession.” 

I have to agree, this World Series showed all of us something that no other sport can match in terms of tension, magic, and enchantment. People like to say that NFL football is exciting, but compared to this wonderful game, but the NFL has has degenerated into brutal test of strength, of declining talent, terrible injuries that the owners don’t seem to mind, with the joy taken out of it.

Instead last night we saw talented players play their hearts out, pitchers exhausted from overuse, hitters coming up big, and fielders making spectacular plays. The drama was played out as if it were a story out of ancient Greek mythology as immortals battled in front of watching mortals. I  wished that it could have gone on forever and that both teams could have won, but that is not baseball. A game may go into extra innings, but when it is over, it is over. Unlike politics when the game is over there is no recount: when the final strike is called, there is no court of appeals. As Bill Veeck said:  “Baseball is almost the only orderly thing in a very unorderly world. If you get three strikes, even the best lawyer in the world can’t get you off.”  But that being said there is always next year; which brings with it a hope that springs as eternal as the luxuriant green grass on the enchanted diamonds in every corner of the nation; diamonds whose foul lines theoretically extend to infinity, and whose perfection calls us to something better.  Those fields await us all if we believe.

This World Series, in particular this Game Seven also called us back for just a few hours to a better time, a time of hopes and dreams that have always captivated American, a goodness that dwells within us just waiting to be released again. And it can be again, if we decide to release the cynicism and hatred that has built up over the decades which has been on such display during this election.

What happened last night reminded us of Kinsella’s classic line in his book Shoeless Joe which became the film Field of Dreams: 

“The one constant through all the years has been baseball. America has rolled by like an army of steamrollers. It’s been erased like a blackboard, rebuilt, and erased again. But baseball has marked the time. This field, this game, is a part of our past. It reminds us of all that once was good, and what could be again.”

Congratulations to the Cubs and to their faithful fans. 108 years is an eternity to wait for this, and thank you to the Indians, and there fans as well, and maybe for you it will be next year. But whatever, this wonderful game reminded us of the fact that American is great, because America is good, and baseball reminds us of that good, and what could be again.  As Walt Whitman wrote: “I see great things in baseball. It’s our game — the American game. It will take our people out-of-doors, fill them with oxygen, give them a larger physical stoicism. Tend to relieve us from being a nervous, dyspeptic set. Repair these losses, and be a blessing to us.”

Until tomorrow,

Peace

Padre Steve+

Leave a comment

Filed under Baseball, News and current events, philosophy, sports and life

Midsummer Night Dreaming 


Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

Last night was nice, I took a break and watched the MLB All Star Game. Baseball has always been a big part of my life but recently I have been so busy that I have been scarcely doing more than checking the box scores. But then there is nothing wrong with that, as Fox Mulder told Dana Scully in the X-Files episode The Unnatural  when Scully told him that she couldn’t believe that he had been reading about baseball: “Reading the box scores, Scully. You’d like it. It’s like the Pythogorean Theorem for jocks. It distills all the chaos and action of any game in the history of all of baseball games into one tiny, perfect, rectangular sequence of numbers. I can look at this box and I can recreate exactly what happened on some sunny summer day back in 1947. It’s like the numbers talk to be, the comfort me. They tell me that even though lots of things change some things remain the same….” 

Baseball has always been a part of my life, I have recounted that many times on this site. It is something that has grounded me throughout life ever since I could remember, and like it does the fictional Fox Mulder, baseball reminds me that in an era of massive change that some things, some really good things, remain the same, and it is reassuring as Sharon Olds wrote, “Baseball is reassuring. It makes me feel as if the world is not going to blow up.” 

I know that some people find baseball boring, it isn’t fast enough, or violent enough for their taste. It’s not played on a standard sized gridiron or court, it’s not bound by the same rules of space and time as other sports. Theoretically a baseball game could last for eternity, just as the foul lines that angle out from home plate theoretically exetend to infinity, while any statistic in the game can be plotted to the most accurate decimal. It is a curious blend of sport, life, mathematics, philosophy, metaphysics, and faith, and it is a part of who we are as Americans. It is woven in to the fabric of the country, soldiers in Blue and Gray broke up the monotony of camp life during the Civil War, it helped people get through world wars and the Great Depression, and when Jackie Robinson broke the color barrier it signaled the beginning of the end for Jim Crow. Kids played it in farm fields, on sandlots, and in big city neighborhoods with makeshift balls, sticks and whatever they could use as gloves. There were times when it captivated the nation even when cities were burning and wars were raging. There is something magical about a pennant race, a perfect game, the crack of a bat and a ball that travels into the center field seats. 


On a visit to Capital Hill during a contentious legislative session, the legendary Negro League player and manager stopped to talk about what it would be like if instead of preaching virulent hatred and division, the television was showing the great catch made by Willie Mays in the 1954 World Series. O’Neil grew up in the Jim Crow era, in segreation, and played his best ball when he was not allowed to play in the Major Leagues, or even enter certain restaurants, movie theaters, hotels, or public rest rooms simply because he was black. But he never became bitter, and he never stopped working for full equality nor continued to work for peace, he told the people watching a television which had the news on: “If Willie Mays was up there, people would stop making laws. They would stop running. They would stop arguing about big things, little things. No Democrat or Republican, no black or white, no North or South. Everybody just stop, watch the TV, watch Willie Mays make that catch. That’s baseball man.” 


Me with California Angels Manager Lefty Phillips in 1970

When I watch the All Star Game I am reminded for playing catch with my dad, playing in little league and going to ball games to see my heroes play in those, lush, green, and beautiful diamonds, well except for the Astro Turf ones. We can thank whatever deity convinced baseball executive to go back to grass that most of those are gone. In the movie Field of Dreams, James Earl Jones, playing the reclusive writer Terrence Mann, modeled on J.D. Salinger said to Ray Kinsella, a character played by Kevin Costner, “The one constant through all the years has been baseball. America has been rolled by like an army of steamrollers. It’s been erased like a blackboard, rebuilt, and erased again. But baseball has marked the time. This field, this game, is a part of our past. It reminds us of all that was once good, and what could be again.” 

Well last night the American League beat the National League 4-2. Zach Britton, the closer for the Baltimore Orioles who I got to know a bit when he pitched in Norfolk got the save. My favorite teams, the San Francisco Giants and the Orioles lead their divisions going into the second half of the season. It was, despite all the chaos, violence, political division, and uncertainty in the world, a perfect misdsummer night. 

Until tomorrow,

Peace,

Padre Steve +

1 Comment

Filed under Baseball, faith, History, Political Commentary

My Favorite Baseball Films

 

 

 

his cheery holiness

I love all things baseball as my regular readers can tell you. In fact God speaks to me through baseball, even baseball movies when I cannot get to a ball park.  Of course as most readers know I am also a big fan of comedy and when baseball and comedy get together it is like beer and pizza, two great tastes that go great together.  Yeah, you were thinking I would say peanut butter cups, what a waste of calories, but I digress.

I love baseball movies, comedies for sure but also serious films.  Here are my favorite baseball movies in no particular order, although I’m sure that the order I place them has some subconscious meaning or maybe it doesn’t.  But whatever, these are some of my favorite baseball movies with a few reasons why I like them.

Bull-Durham-mv04

Bull Durham

Ebby Calvin LaLoosh: How come you don’t like me?

Crash Davis: Because you don’t respect yourself, which is your problem. But you don’t respect the game, and that’s my problem. You got a gift.

I guess my favorite baseball movie of all time has to be Bull Durham starring Kevin Costner, Susan Sarandon and Tim Robbins. Set in the Single-A Carolina League the film is about a journeyman minor league Catcher named Crash Davis played by Kevin Costner. Davis is a journeyman but was playing in Triple A at the beginning of the season and is sent down to Durham to help a top prospect pitcher named Ebby Calvin LaLoosh get ready for the major leagues.

In the process Davis meets Annie Savoy (Susan Sarandon) a part time junior college English instructor and baseball guru that hooks up with a player on the team for 142 games.  The movie is a great sports and life movie as it deals with transitions. For Davis it is the transition from active ball player to life and love after baseball, for LaLoosh who goes from minor league prospect to the majors and Annie Savoy who falls for a man for more than a season.  For the past ten years or so I have identified with Crash Davis, the journeyman who ends up mentoring young players.  In fact I recommend this movie to young chaplains that seek out my counsel simply because many are wild like “Nuke” LaLoosh and simply need a blunt and honest veteran at the end of his career to bring them along.

One of my favorite scenes in this movie is when Crash gets throw out of a game. It reminds me of when I got thrown out of the Army Chaplain Officer Advanced Course in October 1992.

But also I have spent a lot of evenings watching games in the quaint ballparks of the Carolina League. The movie shows the closeness of these teams, players, fans and communities that is had to match elsewhere. So when I watch this movie it takes me back to good times that I had in places like Kinston, North Carolina with friends and people I will never forget.

major_league1

Major League

“Jesus, I like him very much, but he no help with curveball.” Pedro Cerrano

The film Major League is another of my favorites. Set in Cleveland in the late 1980s the film as about a perpetually losing team with a new owner who wants to move the historic franchise from Cleveland to Miami.  Her instruction to the team’s General Manager is to lose enough games to ensure that so few fans will come that she can legally move the team.

This is a team of misfits is put together from veterans who have seen their best times, overpaid free agents that don’t perform and unknown rookies.  Like Bull Durham there is the veteran but somewhat washed up catcher, this time Jake Taylor played by Tom Berenger who is the glue that holds the team together. The team includes a Cuban defector who can’t hit a curve ball named Pedro Cerrano played by Dennis Haysbert, an underperforming veteran Third Baseman named Roger Dorn, played by Corbin Bernsen and two rookies; outfielder Willie Mays Hays played by Wesley Snipes and pitcher Ricky Vaughn played by Charlie Sheen.

During the season the team has everything taken from them by owner Rachel Phelps played by Margaret Whitton as they embark on a journey from cellar dwellers to American League East Champions.  Once again I relate to the veteran catcher but I also have an affinity for the rebellious rookie Ricky “Wild Thing” Vaughn.

for-love-of-the-game-costne

For Love of the Game

“And you know Steve you get the feeling that Billy Chapel isn’t pitching against left handers, he isn’t pitching against pinch hitters, he isn’t pitching against the Yankees. He’s pitching against time. He’s pitching against the future, against age, and even when you think about his career, against ending. And tonight I think he might be able to use that aching old arm one more time to push the sun back up in the sky and give us one more day of summer.” Vin Scully playing himself in For the Love of the Game

For Love of the Game is a movie about life.  The film is based on the Michael Shaara novel The Perfect Game. This is a film about a pitcher  named Billy Chapel played by Kevin Costner who is facing the end of his career.

Chapel has been with the team 19 years and has seen good times and bad, pitched in the World Series and suffered a grievous injury to his pitching hand in the off season. He is a man who has struggled with love yet forged lasting friendships with teammates, even those now on other teams.  The movie is set at Yankee Stadium with Chapel pitching in a meaningless game for the cellar dweller Tigers against the playoff bound New York Yankees.

The game revolves around Chapel and his relationships with his catcher, Gus Sinski (John C. Reilly), his lover Jane Aubrey (Kelly Preston), her daughter Heather (Gina Malone), former teammate and current Yankee Davis Birch and the team owner Gary Wheeler (Brian Cox) who is in the process of selling the team. The new owners are looking to deal Chapel to another team, likely the San Francisco Giants when the season is over and Chapel has to decide if he is going to be traded or retire.

With all of this swirling in his mind Billy Chapel pitches a perfect game and with every pitch the audience is introduced to the people and events that shaped his life.  One of the most poignant moments is toward the end of the game when the pain of his injured hand is killing him and his is tired that his catcher Gus pays a visit to the mount and says:

the boys are all here for ya, we’ll back you up, we’ll be there, cause, Billy, we don’t stink right now. We’re the best team in baseball, right now, right this minute, because of you. You’re the reason. We’re not gonna screw that up, we’re gonna be awesome for you right now. Just throw.” http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WLrqdqBfqcw&feature=related

The team which had nothing to play for finds its heart and soul backing up their pitcher making great plays and getting the all critical hits.  I relate to Billy Chapel a lot because of my long career with all of its ups and downs.  The game is a microcosm of life and tells a story through baseball that runs deeper than the game itself. It is about life, family, friendship, love, commitment, good times and bad.  I cannot watch this movie without being moved to tears. Of course having Vin Scully call the game as if it were a real game makes it all the better.

natural-by-robertedwardauctionsdotcom

The Natural

Iris Gaines: You know, I believe we have two lives.

Roy Hobbs: How… what do you mean?

Iris Gaines: The life we learn with and the life we live with after that.

The Natural was adapted from the 1952 novel by the same name by Bernard Malamud.  In the film Robert Redford plays Roy Hobbs a hot prospect that is badly wounded by a female admirer who shoots him.  After years away from the game he returns to the game as an old rookie.

The novel is a tragedy while the movie was changed to make Hobbs triumph over adversity.  Hobbs has to battle his past, the press and his age and the ever present affects of his injury as he plays a game that he loves all the while kindling a relationship with Iris Gaines played by Glenn Close.  After a remarkable season Hobbs is sidelined by after effects of the shooting and the press publicizing his chequered past.

Hobbs leaves his sick-bed to play in the game that will decide the pennant. He comes to bat with 2 on and 2 out in the bottom of the 9th inning bleeding from his side due to the injury. Hobbs crushes a pitch that goes just foul and breaks his bat which had been carved from the wood of a tree struck by lightning. He asks his batboy for a bat saying “Pick me out a winner Bobby” and goes back to the batter’s box.  As the catcher attempts to exploit Hobbs injury call for an inside fastball which Hobbs takes yard into the lights causing them to explode as he rounds the bases as the Knights win the pennant.

The book ends differently and is kind of depressing. I like the film better.

James-Earl-Jones-Field-of-Dreams

Field of Dreams

“The one constant through all the years, Ray, has been baseball. America has rolled by like an army of steamrollers. It has been erased like a blackboard, rebuilt and erased again. But baseball has marked the time. This field, this game: it’s a part of our past, Ray. It reminds of us of all that once was good and it could be again. Oh… people will come Ray. People will most definitely come.” Terrance Mann (James Earl Jones)

“You know we just don’t recognize the most significant moments of our lives while they’re happening. Back then I thought, well, there’ll be other days. I didn’t realize that that was the only day.” Dr. Archibald “Moonlight” Graham (Burt Lancaster)

The last film that I will discuss in this post is Field of Dreams. This is one of the three films that I call the Kevin Costner Baseball trilogy and like For the Love of the Game was adapted from a novel, in this case Shoeless Joe by W. P. Kinsella.

The film is a baseball fantasy about a novice farmer named Ray Kinsella (Costner) the son of a baseball player who during the 1960s walks away from his father and baseball. While in his fields he hears a voice saying “If you build it, he will come.” He has a vision of a baseball field and plows under some of his crops to construct a field.

Nothing happens at first but the next summer “Shoeless Joe Jackson” (Ray Liotta) shows up and after meeting Ray brings with him the seven other players from the 1919 Chicago White Sox implicated in the “Black Sox” scandal and banned from baseball.

The film is shows a search for redemption as Kinsella who tries to make sense of the voice and the ball players.  Eventually goes to Boston to find 1960s author and activist Terrance Mann (based on J. D. Salinger) played by James Earl Jones after he hears the voice say “ease his pain.” He meets with the reclusive and somewhat unfriendly Mann and it does not go well.

Ray Kinsella: [being rushed out of Mann’s loft] You’ve changed – you know that?

Terence Mann: Yes – I suppose I have! How about this: “Peace, love, dope”? Now get the hell out of here!

He finally gets Mann to go with him to a Red Sox game but even that does not go well. Ray thinks that he has wasted his time when Mann stops him and the pair drives to Chisholm Minnesota to find a former ballplayer named Archibald “Moonlight Graham.” They discover Graham, the beloved town doctor died 16 years before.  As Kinsella walks the street he finds himself transported back in time and meets the old Doctor Graham.  He cannot get Graham to come with them but on the road back home he and Mann pick up a young hitch hiker looking to play baseball, named Archie Graham. They arrive back home and while the players who have grown in number they find that his farm is being foreclosed on be foreclosed on by a group of businessmen and bankers headed up by his brother in law.

FOD ray and john

During the argument between Ray and his brother in law the daughter fall off the small set of bleachers and appears to be severely injured.  Young Archie Graham walks off the field, becomes old doctor Graham and saves the girl’s life. The brother in law is transformed by what happened and sees the ballplayers for the first time.

He stops the action against his Ray who after thinking Ray was crazy finally sees the magic of this diamond as Archie Graham becomes the elderly Doctor Moonlight Graham and saves the Kinsella’s daughter’s life after she fell from the bleachers.   Mann gets to go with Shoeless Joe and the others into the mystical cornfield and a young ballplayer, Ray’s father John Kinsella is introduced. Ray recognizes him introduces him to his family without identifying him as his father or admitting that he is his son. The classic exchange between the two explains the essence of the film.

John Kinsella: Is this heaven?

Ray Kinsella: It’s Iowa.

John Kinsella: Iowa? I could have sworn this was heaven. [John starts to walk away]

Ray Kinsella: Is there a heaven?

John Kinsella: Oh yeah. It’s the place where dreams come true. [Ray looks around, seeing his wife playing with their daughter on the porch]

Ray Kinsella: Maybe this is heaven

The two end up “having a catch” as the lights of cars wind across the Iowa farmlands heading to this little ball field.  The movie has a special place in my heart because of the father-son relationship. When my dad returned from Vietnam I had emotionally moved away from him and baseball. I kept an interest in the game but for a number of years it was not a passion.  The exchange between Ray Kinsella and Terrance Mann still gets me, now later in life my dad and I reconnected as father and son and I came back to baseball.

Ray Kinsella: By the time I was ten, playing baseball got to be like eating vegetables or taking out the garbage. So when I was 14, I started to refuse. Could you believe that? An American boy refusing to play catch with his father.

Terence Mann: Why 14?

Ray Kinsella: That’s when I read “The Boat Rocker” by Terence Mann.

Terence Mann: [rolling his eyes] Oh, God.

Ray Kinsella: Never played catch with him again.

Terence Mann: You see? That’s the sort of crap people are always trying to lay on me. It’s not my fault you wouldn’t play catch with your father.

In 2004 while going to a reunion of my Continental Singers tour in Kansas City Judy and I made a few stops watching minor league games in Louisville and Cedar Rapids before making a trip  to Dyersville Iowa. Dyersville is the place where the Field of Dreams was filmed and where the you can still play ball on that magical diamond. Judy indulged me by playing catch with me on that diamond. It is true that if you build it he will come…I did.

I could go on about other baseball movies as there are many more but these above the others are the ones that I find a special connection with. I think I may write about some of the philosophy and faith that I draw from these films over the coming season.

Peace

Padre Steve+

4 Comments

Filed under Baseball, film, movies

No Losers Allowed: The Hallmark of the American Church

Now, clubs and cliques, they choose and pick
And they make their interviews
Screen the undesirables
And turn down clowns and fools
But Jesus died for sinners
Losers and winners
Yes, it’s proven by His love for me and you

I have been writing a lot this week about the greed, self-centeredness and dehumanizing aspects of much of the American church. I seems that with each article that I wrote that another thought would flow and another article would be born. Now  I promise that this will be the last of these for a while, unless something else triggers me.

I know to some people that these articles are very uncomfortable because they challenge something that many hold dear. Certainly that is not the Gospel.  But, rather it is the very comfortable and insulated lives that we lead in churches which have entirely bought the crass materialism of our culture, and which seek brazen political power rather than caring for the least, the lost and the lonely.

This has been epidemic since the 1980s and has infected churches and denominations across the theological, social and political spectrum of our country. However, my real Christian formation comes from the 1960s and 1970s. I am a relic by today’s standards and I don’t mind it. There is s scene in the movie Field of Dreams where Kevin Costner’s character tracks down a writer played by James Earl Jones. I kind of reminds me of some of the looks I get when I spout ideas that are to say the least counter-cultural, but more often are an attack on the current system.

Terence Mann: Oh, my God.

Ray Kinsella: What?

Terence Mann: You’re from the sixties.

Ray Kinsella: [bashfully] Well, yeah, actually…

Terence Mann: [spraying at Ray with a insecticide sprayer] Out! Back to the sixties! Back! There’s no place for you here in the future! Get back while you still can!

But I digress…

Back in 1976 a Christian rock group called Daniel Amos from Calvary Chapel released a little song called Losers and Winners http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=J520qyIUHME which when you come to think of it is one of the most amazingly theologically correct songs ever written. Back then I had the album that it came on both on LP and 8 Track. Thankfully I was able to get a CD of it a few years ago.

The song has come back to me in a big way during the past week as I have watched watched Christian leaders and their followers delve ever deeper into the pit of Hell known as the Prosperity Gospel. Yesterday I wrote about churches and pastors that ignore, but this is only the tip of the iceberg. The fact is that many, maybe even most churches are more social clubs with a religious veneer than they are places for those beaten down by the world to come for solace, help, or even salvation.

That has been in stark contrast to the men who have been regulars at my little chapel service at the staff college. I have had the blessing of having three Lebanese Christian officers attend over the past two months. They return to Lebanon at the end of the week, but all of them have stated their disappointment with the American church, a church that they do not believe cares about Arab Christians and is more concerned with money and politics than the Gospel. I all miss them because they have helped bring a joy back to celebrating the Eucharist that I have not felt since my time in Iraq. They will go home to a country oppressed on all sides where they are the targets of not just the various types of Islamic extremists, but the American supported Israeli military. A military which many American Christians believe can do no wrong.

When it was released the song went pretty much unnoticed outside of the few that really liked the less than conventional message of Daniel Amos.

The song really is amazing because the song is more true to the Gospel so much of what is called “Christian” now, especially some of the “praise” songs that preach the militant and often hateful theology of Dominionism.

I spent many years in churches and unfortunately, or maybe fortunately for me, I have never really been in the “in crowd.” Now that I am older I really don’t want to be in the “in crowd” if it means being less than Christian in the way that I get there.

For me church is not a place to enhance my social status, nor is it a place simply to network or a place that I can use to enhance my political or social agendas. It is simple a place where believers gather to worship as well as share the Body and Blood of Christ. It is a place of refuge for all people, but especially for the wounded, the outcast and the broken.  Likewise it is a place that even unbelievers can come and be welcomed without prejudice. Didn’t Jesus say “come to me you who are weary and bear heavy burdens and I will give you rest?”

To me the church is not about being the political platform of any party or political leader, but being the redemptive voice of Jesus the Christ to a broken world.

Unfortunately now the church is viewed more for what it is against and who it rejects rather than the one who calls the broken, who will not break a bruised reed or extinguish a flickering flame.

Do you give the highest place
To someone ’cause you like his face
And turn aside those you deem less than yourself?
Well, love that is natural
Can be less than satisfactual
For we all are one, no less than anyone else

As a result people are fleeing the church or if they were not a part of the church simply turning their back on it. The “Nones” or those with no religious preference are the fastest growing segment of American faith and religion.

The message that the church is actually teaching today is a diametric opposite of the early church and it would be unrecognizable to Christians of many eras. The church is obsessed with its own power, privileges and pre-eminence and this is particularly true of its most influential preachers. Today I read about televangelist Crefo Dollar begging his congregation and television viewers for over 60 million dollars buy a state of the art Gulfstream G650 private jet so he can “spread God’s grace around the world.” But he is not alone in such behavior.

If the church today has an unspoken message it goes something like this:

We welcome you to church…If you look like us, if you hold similar political views, if you have money, if you are attractive, if your presence will benefit us… Our doors are open to you if you fit the criteria that we decide and unless you are like us, agree with us or are not of a group of people that we have determined cannot enter heaven you are welcome.

Another verse of Losers and Winners says:

Do you hail the gifted ones
And the others do you shun?
Do you speak to only those you chose?
Well, God’s love, it has no bounds
Has no ups, and it has no downs
Goes out to those who win and to those who lose

That is not just me talking but it is what polls published by the Evangelical Christian Barna Group attest. The terms used to describe Christianity are: Hypocritical, anti-homosexual, insincere, sheltered and too political. Another Barna study dealing with why young people are leaving the church included that nearly 25% of young people said “Christians demonize everything outside of the church” while 20% said that “God seems missing from my experience of church” while 22% said that “church is like a country club, only for insiders” and 36% said that they were unable “to ask my most pressing life questions in church.”  That survey was of young people of Christian backgrounds, not the unchurched.

The fact is that our obnoxious, arrogant, materialistic political and theologically insipid version of Christianity is causing great harm both inside and outside the church. It is not redemptive it is selfish and power hungry. It is not open, it is closed. We are losing our young people and those outside the church don’t want any part of us. Can you blame them? I don’t.

The funny thing is the long haired, Jesus people musicians of Daniel Amos figured this out close to 40 years ago. But then maybe they read and took seriously the message of Jesus. Maybe we should as well.

Peace

Padre Steve+

P.S. Expect some more Gettysburg and Civil War articles soon, some about baseball and some other interesting and hopefully less controversial subjects.

3 Comments

Filed under christian life, faith, history, middle east, Religion

Musings after a Rain Out: No Time to Hate…Too Much to Lose

1545172_10152386504177059_4839237168100844105_n

“Those disputing, contradicting, and confuting people are generally unfortunate in their affairs. They get victory, sometimes, but they never get good will, which would be of more use to them.” Benjamin Franklin

I was planning to go to a baseball game tonight, but as Nuke Laloosh said in Bull Durham “A good friend of mine used to say, ‘This is a very simple game. You throw the ball, you catch the ball, you hit the ball. Sometimes you win, sometimes you lose, sometimes it rains.’ Think about that for a while.” Tonight it rained and gave me a chance to muse a bit since I am immersed in writing another chapter of my Gettysburg tome.

I was really looking forward to the game, the Norfolk Tides, my home team, the AAA affiliate of the Baltimore Orioles was to play the Durham Bulls at Harbor Park. I hope I can get a game in over the next couple of days, but it looks like the rainy and stormy weather might continue the next couple of nights.

I have been thinking…

Over the past decade or so we have become a very contentious and contemptuous society. Transfixed by the cable news cycle and addicted to the hate being spewed by the Unholy Trinity of Politicians, Pundits and dare I say Preachers we have drank the chalice of the bile of bitterness dry and plead for more.

nq140704

Amazingly enough our pleas for more mirth are answered by the politicians, pundits and preachers who offer it to us asking us to give them “just three hours a day” an amount of time I dare say that most cannot give to their loved ones or to their God.

So we charge our glasses with yet another round of mirth, and plunge into the abyss of hatred necessitated by those that we give those hours to. If they’re not for us they’re against us they say even though “they” are our neighbors and often our friends or families. Somehow that doesn’t work for me.

I cannot imagine those that risked their lives to found this country ever dreamed that this day would come but I think that they understood human nature all too well.  Benjamin Franklin wryly noted “Who is wise? He that learns from everyone. Who is powerful? He that governs his passions. Who is rich? He that is content. Who is that? Nobody.” 

I think that old Ben Franklin accurately sums up our current problem. We refuse to learn from each other believing the lie that only those that we agree with have anything of value to say.  We refuse to govern our passions and allow them to run roughshod over our better instincts, and we are incredibly discontent as a people. Is it any wonder that we find ourselves in this predicament?

Although I cannot say that my data is scientific I can say from what I hear wherever I go is that the constant flow of acrimony is wearing them down, but maybe that is what the Unholy Trinity wants.  I guess that they have figured out that if you beat people down enough they will simply give in to despair and they will have their way, after all the only use must of us are to them are as pawns which they sacrifice when the need suits them.

left-wingers-2

I think that is why I am so leery of the politicians, pundits and preachers that use fear, hatred and covetousness to promote their agenda.  The dirty secret that the Unholy Trinity wants people to drink from their cup of bitterness.  But they don’t tell those that drink from that cup and join them, is that as soon as they become inconvenient they become disposable.  My “social conservative” Christian friends will learn the hard lesson of this just as conservative Christians who initially supported the Nazi Party in Hitler’s Germany discovered.  Once they no longer need your vote you become disposable, that is simply a fact. The realization of this will will be a hard lesson for Evangelicals, conservative Roman Catholics and others who thought that were indispensable to the conservative movement. The sad thing is that the only indispensable things are money, those who donate it and a reliable media mouthpiece.

Speaking of votes….who really needs them? Our votes are now so much chaff because those that seek them are actually more interested in serving the needs of the special interests, lobbyists and corporations that provide the big bucks to their campaigns, and their friends on the Supreme Court.  I cannot believe for one moment that this is what our founders envisioned but we can’t see it.  But others do as one German journalist wrote:

“The US is a country where the system of government has fallen firmly into the hands of the elite…. One can no longer depend on politics in America. The reliance of Congress members on donations from the rich has become too great. Nor will there be any revolutionary storming of the Bastille in America. Popular anger may boil over, but the elites have succeeded in both controlling the masses and channeling their passions.”

Some conservatatives would like to think that the Tea Party would be a force of change. It certainly has energy but while many Tea Party members believe that they are revolutionary, they are simply being used, and will be discarded when they become inconvenient. The Koch brothers and other big money operatives and their reliable mouthpiece of News Corp, its subsidiaries and the host of “talkers” will ensure it.

Those groups are promoting hatred and fear, but I don’t think that we solve our problems by giving into the hatred in which our culture is now drowning thanks to our business-media-religion complex.

buck-oneil-smi21

 

 

A couple of years ago I read Buck O’Neil’s America and the wonderful human being and baseball great always counseled against allowing hate to consume your life.  I was struck by this today:

“It makes no sense, Hate.

It’s just fear. All it is.

Fear something different.

Something’s gonna get taken from you,

Stolen from you.

Find yourself lost.”

Buck was called to testify in Congress about the Negro League Baseball Museum and Hall of Fame not long after the Congressional inquisition concerning the use of steroids. After his testimony was done the 94 year old great realized that there was something else that he wanted to say but could not remember. While waiting for his car in the Senate office building he saw a television which I can imagine was filled with the news of the day.  He stopped began to talk what it would be like if instead of the virulent hatred, the television was showing the great catch by Willie Mays in the 1954 World Series.

O’Neil mused:

“If Willie Mays was up there

People would stop making laws.

They would stop running.

They would stop arguing about

Big things

Little things.

No Democrat or Republican,

No black or white

No North or South.

Everybody just stop,

Watch the TV,

Watch Willie Mays make that catch.

That’s baseball man.”

willie mays famous catch

 

 

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gUK9lG-7HTc

For the most part I have stopped watching the news. I do read a good amount but I will not allow myself to be turned into an unthinking drone of the Unholy Trinity and their endless attack on all that made this country good. Instead I watch baseball, read, write and even pray on occasion. I think that is one of the reasons that I so love baseball.

Sometimes when I despair about the country and the acrimony that is beginning to define who we are I remember this quote from Field of Dreams: 

“The one constant through all the years has been baseball. America has rolled by like an army of steamrollers. It’s been erased like a blackboard, rebuilt, and erased again. But baseball has marked the time. This field, this game, is a part of our past. It reminds us of all that once was good, and what could be again.”

Maybe that is the answer, and hopefully tomorrow or Friday the weather will clear enough to see a ball game.

Peace

Padre Steve+

 

1 Comment

Filed under Baseball, faith, Political Commentary