Tag Archives: forgiveness
Forgiveness Will Not Change the Past, but It Could Change the Future: Dealing with the Aftermath of a Painful Experience
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.
Southern Justice by Norman Rockwell
Friend of Padre Steve’s World,
Over the past week and a half since the election I have seen many reports of attacks, violence, and harassment of people by persons that claim that the election of Donald Trump allows them to do so. Gays, Mexicans, Muslims, Women, Blacks, and people identified as being “liberal” have all been targeted, sometimes in person, sometimes by the posting of racist flyers on houses and cars, vandalism of churches, and online harassment and trolling. Sadly, these actions do not seem to be abating.
But then I think I know why. For decades those perpetrating these acts have desired to get even and take revenge on people and organizations that they fell are trampling their way of life, or in some destroying the racial and religious purity of the country, and over the years, goaded by preachers, pundits, and politicians their anger has become hatred of all who stand on the other side. Eric Hoffer wrote that “Passionate hatred can give meaning and purpose to an empty life.”
As such, civil rights advocates, institutions that support equality, and the minorities in question become the target of long pent up frustration, and seething hatred that has built up for years just waiting for someone to release the valves and let it flow. To the people committing these acts that person is Donald Trump. It began in the primaries where supporters demonized and destroyed any principled GOP opposition to him, and now it has been let loose, and I see no end of it despite President Elect Trump’s call to “knock it off.”
We would like to such behavior is abnormal, but it is a deeply ingrained part of our humanity. I recall the words of Colonel Joshua Chamberlain, one of my heroes, in the movie Gettysburg when he quotes Hamlet to the curmudgeonly Irish soldier Buster Kilrain, “What a piece of work is man, in form and movement how express and admirable. In action how like an angel.” Kilrain, who had to flee Ireland responded “Well, if he’s an angel, all right then. But he damn well must be a killer angel. Colonel, darling, you’re a lovely man. I see a vast great difference between us, yet I admire you, lad. You’re an idealist, praise be. The truth is, Colonel… There is no “divine spark”. There’s many a man alive no more of value than a dead dog. Believe me. When you’ve seen them hang each other the way I have back in the Old Country…. There’s many a man worse than me, and some better… But I don’t think race or country matters a damn. What matters, Colonel, is justice…”
I constantly wrestle with the tension of my idealism and my inner realist, the inner realist being much more like Kilrain. So when I see the way people are venting their anger at their enemies, seemingly bent on revenge for grievances real and imagined I tremble. I know history and human nature too well, and the one constant in history is humanity which seems to be forever at war between its amazing and almost angelic qualities of goodness and compassion and its blind hatreds of things it fears.
In the past election campaign we saw people on every side of the spectrum demonizing and dehumanizing their opponents, and despite my best efforts not to give in to that, I too was guilty of at times doing just that and I am not proud, it is one thing to passionately advocate and defend, but it is not okay to dehumanize your opponents. As I wrote last night I have had to come to grips with that, and begin to try to help heal the wounds in our country by reaching out to specific people who I came into conflict with and with whom I must attempt to ask forgiveness for my actions, will at the same time attempting to forgive those who also wounded me. As I wrote yesterday, the latter will be much more difficult.
However, those feelings are still high on both sides of the political chasm and will not go away for some time, but one side now is taking control of all the levers of government, for good, or for bad, what happens next we do not know, we can only speculate and we have to ponder the question; in such an environment where long seated hatred and revenge seems to be such a big factor, can justice survive?
Donald Trump has done something that no single American politician has ever accomplished; he has single-handedly created a mass movement of people whose loyalty is to him and not the political party that he used to gain the Presidency. Some are comparing him to President Andrew Jackson but I don’t know if that is a good comparison, but I digress as I am thinking not so much about President Elect Trump as I am thinking about the mass movement that he has created, and what I have seen, read, and experienced at the hands of some of those people.
American philosopher Eric Hoffer wrote of people who become subsumed in mass movements:
“There is also this: when we renounce the self and become part of a compact whole, we not only renounce personal advantage but are also rid of personal responsibility. There is no telling to what extremes of cruelty and ruthlessness a man will go when he is freed from the fears, hesitations, doubts and the vague stirrings of decency that go with individual judgment. When we lose our individual independence in the corporateness of a mass movement, we find a new freedom—freedom to hate, bully, lie, torture, murder and betray without shame and remorse.”
I believe that we are beginning to see how that will play out. I could be wrong, President Elect Trump may take a hard line against those who commit violence, but his pick of Senator Jeff Sessions as Attorney General bodes ill for civil rights and based on his record and statements regarding them. He has called civil rights proponents “un-American” and in the 1980s he was rejected for the Federal Judiciary based on numerous racist statements and positions. Now he will be in charge of the Department of Justice and the Federal judiciary. So I think one can legitimately be concerned about justice and civil rights. Will Sessions enforce the law, or will he turn his back by not prosecuting those who use intimidation and violence to crush the civil and human rights of people who they despise? Will Steve Bannon, a man who just this summer claimed that his media corporation was a platform for the “Alt-Right,” exercise his influence as chief counselor and strategist to the President to push for even more radical steps against political opponents?
One hopes that our better angels prevail, or will we as a people demonstrate that there is no divine spark?
So with those questions asked I will leave you for the day,
Friend’s of Padre Steve’s World,
This is kind of an awkward post for me to write. Those who know me well know that I don’t back down from fights, I don’t suffer insults well, and have a vast capacity to harbor a grudge. So this is my attempt to scribble down my reflections on forgiveness which is something that I don’t do well.
In Homer’s Iliad Achilleus lamented the conflict with the Achaians, especially the hatred that it had spawned, he addressed those who had been his enemies and said: “Still, we will let all this be a thing of the past, though it hurts us, and beat down by constraint the anger that rises inside us. Now I am making an end of my anger. It does not become me, unrelentingly to rage on…”
I think that the ancient lament is particularly appropriate to our time. For decades the acrimony between Americans has been getting worse and worse and and most of us probably have some measure of personal guilt in what the last several election cycles have done to us. They have been corrosive to our society and to us as individuals, me included. I have been able to do some reflecting today because I was having work done to repair some to the flood damage from Hurricane Matthew and had some time alone as well as some quality time walking my Papillon dogs around the lake in our neighborhood.
I have lost too many friends during this election cycle, and seen some distance in other relationships with people who I love and respect. Some of this is my own fault, I became too consumed with the news cycle and too emotionally invested in what was going on. Most of the time I think I behaved well, but other times I did not. My temper grew short and my ability to brush off minor personal affronts, not to mention real attacks on my person, honor, and character grew shorter.
I have had to pull back some. I am spending less time on social media, less time looking at more partisan news sites, checking the veracity of anything I read and before forwarding it out to others, and being more circumspect in posting links to articles with which I might agree, but the tenor of which could drive further wedges between me and friends. To paraphrase Achilleus’s words about his anger, “It does not become me, unrelentingly to rage on…”
There are a number of people that I will have to ask forgiveness of, and that will be hard because I am so bad at it. But harder will be forgiving others who have wounded me badly. I will work on that, initially it may be silently, until I reach the point that I can actually address them in person. Mark Twain wrote,“There isn’t time, so brief is life, for bickerings, apologies, heartburnings, callings to account. There is only time for loving, and but an instant, so to speak, for that.”
That being said I have a difficult time forgiving those who have hurt me, but conversely I can admit when I have been a complete ass and pray that those I have offended are better at forgiveness than me.
In ancient Greece and Rome the olive branch was a symbol of peace, and the term to offer an olive branch now is to offer peace, and I will be doing that over the coming weeks and months. I see it as my personal attempt to help bind up the wounds of the nation. As the American Civil War was drawing to a close, Abraham Lincoln uttered these words in his Second Inaugural Address: “With malice toward none, with charity for all, with firmness in the right as God gives us to see the right, let us strive on to finish the work we are in, to bind up the nation’s wounds…”
That being said even in forgiveness there will still be pain, on occasion anger will still rise. Likewise I am sure that even in restored relationships some scars will remain, as will some of our more deep disagreements. But in spite of that it is better for to at least try forgive and love than remain in the acidic stew of hatred generated by this election. The olive branch is symbolic of peace and forgiveness as the olive tree takes years to mature and bear fruit, while war, societal conflict takes so little effort and leaves scars that last for generations.
So until tomorrow,
Where does bitterness take you?
To a broken heart?
To an early grave?
When I die
I want to die from natural causes
Not from hate
Eating me up from the inside
I was browsing the internet the other day searching for information on the life of a person that I am interested in and came across a number of internet sites which indirectly referenced the man but were filled with more bitterness, anger and hatred than I could ever imagine being harbored in the heart of a single person. They came from the far right and far left but the far right crowd seemed more angry bitter and then I had remembered them being, admittedly this website was extreme even by the standards of Der Stürmer especially in the overtly racist overtones of the site and that the woman that runs it claims to be Jewish and “mad.” I presume that the site owner was referring to mental illness because only a deranged person could be so bitter, hateful and vengeful and all in the name of righteousness. I was amazed just how far this woman went but instead of being put off I was morbidly drawn into her site reading article after article as if I had come upon a horrible accident involving Lady Gaga and Sarah Palin. I finally got away, put down my laptop computer and resumed reading Buck O’Neil’s America on my Kindle.
The sites that I had visited when looking for a totally unrelated subject were filled with such hatred and bitterness that I was stunned. Anyone who reads this site knows that I am certainly not naïve and fully aware of the evil that lurks in the hearts of men, and I include women in that somewhat exclusivist comment. I began to realize that although I get angry at injustice I don’t have time to be bitter even at things that have been said about me or done to me.
I have seen the cost of bitterness in lives of people around me and in lives of people dying horrible deaths eaten up by the bitterness in their hearts. I realized a long time ago that even if I was angry and even right in what I knew I could not remain bitter. When I came home from Iraq and was emotionally torn by things that were happening to me as well as the terribly bitter invective of the 2008 elections I knew that I could not live that way. I had allowed such anger and bitterness to be part of me for a number of years after 9-11 that it consumed me at times, some directed toward those that directed those attacks but an even more vengeful attitude toward political liberals in the United States and Europe. For a time I lost my sense of moderation and ability to see people as people that God loved and cared about.
Iraq changed that and since I have written about that time and time again I will simply say that when I came back from Iraq I could no longer bear the anger and bitterness of those that hated their fellow Americans as much or worse than those that attacked us. It made no sense and I knew that I had changed. I no longer had the time or energy to be so angry that I was bitter. I was done. I stopped reading and listening to those that promoted such attitudes from the left or the right. Even then I had my moments especially as I battled all the components of PTSD, depression and a loss of faith that left me for all practical reasons an agnostic. As faith, hope and stability began to return to my life those moments have become far less frequent and for that I am most grateful.
I am now inspired by those that overcame great obstacles of hatred, racial, gender, economic or religious prejudice and many of those stories come from baseball. One of those is the story of Buck O’Neil the great player and manager of the Negro leagues who never played in the Majors and was denied the chance to manage at the Major League level, instead serving as a coach and scout for various Major League teams. In spite of having endured prejudice, discrimination and all that went with being an African American man, even a talented and successful one.
Yet O’Neil was one of those people that found good in everything and everyone. He was one of those unique individuals that rises above hatred and does not become infected by it. Such people seem to be a rarity but thankfully there are others like him and they reside in all corners of our land, they are of every race, religion, ethnic group, gender, sexual orientation and even political affiliation. They would give the shirt off their back to help others and somehow in spite of things that they have experienced and the painfully nasty tone set by so many politicians, pundits, media types and terribly nasty and bitter people like the lady I referenced above, they still see the good in others and refuse to live lives infected by hatred, prejudice and discrimination regardless of the source.
However I ran into a number of people in the past couple of days that I could not believe. A few years back I started a Facebook page for those in my graduating class at Edison High School in Stockton California. The title was Edison High School 1975-1978 and its description plainly said that it was for Edison High School in Stockton California. I thought that was pretty straight forward I set up the page and forgot about it, which I often do because of my Mad Cow symptoms which is what I call my continuing PTSD symptoms, mild cognitive and speech cognition deficits that have affected me since Iraq.
So I forgot about the page, I don’t know how many people are even on it and I start getting nasty and condescending messages on Facebook from a bunch of people from New Jersey for God sakes. These people were all over me like stink on shit and for what reason? That I didn’t specify in the title that it was California and not New Jersey. It was in the description for goodness sake; all these people had to do was read. Instead they were all telling me that I needed to change things, tell all of the New Jersey people that this was a California page and remove them from the page. I’m sorry I don’t have time for that and if people can’t bother to read details or even see that the mascot logo was a Viking and not their school’s mascot. According to the most vocal of these people there were like 29 people that can’t bother to read. So I changed the title to say it was Edison High School Stockton California and put a blurb to the New Jersey people that it was California and not New Jersey. Even that wasn’t good enough and so I passed it by, made a comment that people should read something before signing up for it and left the conversation. If I had stayed I would have started losing any sense of peace.
The I realized that people that do this are probably mad at the world in general, they feel cheated or lied to, they are bitter and need to take it out on someone. So I took a deep breath, re-read some of Buck O’Neil’s story and thanked God for him. I knew at that moment that I was on the right track. As much as an irritant these people were I could not be angry at them or let it fester. They must have things going on in their lives that I cannot understand which contribute to them needing to come after me when the obvious solution was simply to remove themselves from the site and tell their friends that they made a mistake.
Whatever, it doesn’t matter because I haven’t got time to be bitter and I don’t want anger and bitterness to eat me from the inside out and take me to an early grave. Maybe someday those that thrive on hatred, division and the promotion of enmity will figure out life and let go. But as Master Yoda said to Luke “Strong is the power of the dark side” and “Fear is the path to the dark side. Fear leads to anger. Anger leads to hate. Hate leads to suffering.” I have seen enough of suffering and don’t want to contribute to the climate of hate and discontent that pervades our country. I think Jesus even talked about not living in anger and bitterness and preached forgiveness even from the Cross. Funny how we have such a hard time living that way.
I have too many friends who have experienced the hatred of others and been wounded deeply by the words and actions perpetrated against them. Some have endured these patiently and others have turned to the same tactics and attitudes that they have been the victims of, perpetuating the cycle. Some things never change; the victims often in time become the persecutors.
Does this make this moderate a liberal and will the label stick?
It most probably does, but what the hell?
“New Year’s Day… now is the accepted time to make your regular annual good resolutions. Next week you can begin paving hell with them as usual.” Mark Twain
I don’t do New Year’s resolutions well. Usually mine are not worth the time to make them. However this year I am resolving the make a couple of resolutions that actually are resolvable it real time which I actually stand a chance at keeping. Well….at least I hope that I can keep most of them, one will be tougher than the others.
The first of these resolutions is to make sure that I am within my weight and body fat standards for the Navy. This is doable and if I don’t do it I could get put out of the Navy and never see the rank of Commander that I worked so hard to be selected. The big test of this is the middle of April and I will make sure this happens and once I meet the standards in April the goal is to keep them and get in even better shape the rest of the year. Thus I resolve to lose the weight and body fat while keeping it off and getting in great shape. P-90X here I come.
The second resolution is to do everything that I can as a supervisory chaplain to set my co-laborers up for success and to care for the spiritual and human needs our hospital staff as well the Marines, Sailors and their families that come to our hospital for their medical care. I am blessed to have a great staff and a supportive administration so this should be a pretty resolvable resolution.
My third resolution is to continue to rebuild my spiritual life both in daily spiritual disciples and in relationships with God and all the people that God puts in my path. The past few years have taken a lot out of me and the past year has been a year in which faith returned after living life as for all practical matters an agnostic after I returned from Iraq.
At the same time I still have issues that I struggle with. One of those is on forgiveness. However when people make nasty attacks on me I struggle to forgive. I am rather earthy and certainly cannot be mistaken for a real saint as I have far too many rough edges to think too much of myself in regard to “how good of Christian I am.” I have to leave that to judgment God and others. I remember my first confession when I asked the Priest hearing the confession “if they deserved it is it still a sin?” I was told that my actions were still sins even if they deserved it although there might be some mitigation. I think that my response was “damn.”
A rather nasty attack on me occurred on a website run by people that have left the CEC that had posted my essay about leaving the CEC on their site. The comment has since been removed as the site administrator. When I contacted this person he was shocked that was on the site and removed it and apologized to me a number of times and provided me the text of the offending comment. The weird thing is was that I would have never read the comment if a CEC Bishop had not asked me to go to the site to defend him when the attack was on me.
The comments made about me were typical of much of my experience in the denomination. The person who was quite obviously a CEC clergyman twisted my words and accused me being an apostate. He accused me of “posturing” and denying need for the work of Christ to forgive the sins of humankind especially in regard to homosexuals and Moslems.
In fact these are some of his words: “Fr. Steve now believes that it was unnecessary for Jesus to atone for our sins as even Muslims can obtain Heaven without the Cross. And hasn’t God repeatedly taught us throughout Scripture that homosexual sex is condemned as an abomination. Yet Fr Steve now believes God didn’t really say that at all and that gay sex is okay with God.” My crime is to believe that the grace of God can extend to anyone and the Blood of Christ is sufficient to save anyone.
To put my beliefs and words about this I quote from one of the keynote documents of the Second Vatican Council. It is a long quote but obviously my critic is clueless and readers unfamiliar with my writings could take what he wrote at face value and agree with him thus I quote from The Dogmatic Constitution of the Church Lumen Gentium paragraph 16:
16. Finally, those who have not yet received the Gospel are related in various ways to the people of God.(18*) In the first place we must recall the people to whom the testament and the promises were given and from whom Christ was born according to the flesh.(125) On account of their fathers this people remains most dear to God, for God does not repent of the gifts He makes nor of the calls He issues.(126) But the plan of salvation also includes those who acknowledge the Creator. In the first place amongst these there are the Mohammedans, who, professing to hold the faith of Abraham, along with us adore the one and merciful God, who on the last day will judge mankind. Nor is God far distant from those who in shadows and images seek the unknown God, for it is He who gives to all men life and breath and all things,(127) and as Saviour wills that all men be saved.(128) Those also can attain to salvation who through no fault of their own do not know the Gospel of Christ or His Church, yet sincerely seek God and moved by grace strive by their deeds to do His will as it is known to them through the dictates of conscience.(19*) Nor does Divine Providence deny the helps necessary for salvation to those who, without blame on their part, have not yet arrived at an explicit knowledge of God and with His grace strive to live a good life. Whatever good or truth is found amongst them is looked upon by the Church as a preparation for the Gospel.(20*) She knows that it is given by Him who enlightens all men so that they may finally have life. But often men, deceived by the Evil One, have become vain in their reasonings and have exchanged the truth of God for a lie, serving the creature rather than the Creator.(129) Or some there are who, living and dying in this world without God, are exposed to final despair. Wherefore to promote the glory of God and procure the salvation of all of these, and mindful of the command of the Lord, “Preach the Gospel to every creature”, (130) the Church fosters the missions with care and attention.
I may be a moderate to liberal on some social issues and be more inclined to err of the side of the grace of God when it comes to people that many conservative Christians demean and damn to hell but I don’t deny the Creeds and my beliefs are those espoused in the documents of Vatican II and the Encyclicals of Pope John Paul II. Personally I think that puts me in some pretty good company as far as my orthodoxy and Catholicity are concerned but there are some in the CEC that like to twist words and beliefs to demonize those that have left that church. In fact when I was in the church I was attacked and even silenced for being “too Catholic.” At the same time I was one of the most stalwart defenders of the CEC Church leadership despite how I had been treated by some Church leaders and not defended by others that should have defended me. I understand the pathological needs of those that make such spurious and cowardly attacks under the cloak of anonymity I have a terrible time forgiving them. I don’t hide who I am or what I believe I expect that anyone that claims to be a Christian minister would have the decency to contact me personally rather than take the low road and do a drive by hit on me on another site. This process will be terribly hard and I will endeavor to forgive and get beyond it but I know my nature. I am one of those old fashioned people that believe in honest and open dialogue and have a concept of personal honor. This will require a lot of work and prayer and I will need your prayers to do this.
So there they are. As you can see some resolutions will take some work but I should be able to accomplish them. The last resolution regarding forgiveness will probably take a lot of struggle. Since I presume that the aforementioned coward and those like him will take other pot shots at me my wound will probably remain fresh as much as I want to leave it this part of my life behind.
I appreciate your prayers for me in the coming year. So many people have been so encouraging to me on this website in so many ways since I began the site in February of 2009. I am so grateful for all of you and give thanks to God for all the love and care that so many readers have shown to me over the past two years. I pray that you will know the love, peace and blessing of the Incarnate God in the coming year and covet your prayers that I will be able to do the same.
The past week or so I have had to go back and revisit my Iraq experience. Part of this is due to work, we have had seminars on the spiritual and moral affects of trauma, the challenge of forgiveness and most recently discussing best spiritual care practices for those who suffer from PTSD or Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI). The training has been excellent but has kicked up a lot of stuff in me. Added to this have been reports out of Afghanistan about more casualties in particular of a helicopter that crashed that killed 9 Americans, the Taliban claim credit for downing the aircraft but the circumstances are not fully known.
The course last week on the spiritual and moral affect of trauma and the challenge of forgiveness brought up issues from Iraq but not upsetting. In fact the seminar taught by Dr. Robert Grant author of The Way of the Wound was helpful to me in sorting out what I have been going through for the past couple of years. The training this week is also good, good information but for me it is more unsettling because it deals with images, videos of convoys, burning vehicles and other things like that. The convoy images coupled with the news of the helicopter crash actually had me pretty shaken as I spent a large amount of time in small convoys with small groups of Americans and Iraqis in pretty dangerous areas of Al Anbar Province stretching from Fallujah to the Syrian border as well as a couple of hundred hours in the air, usually at night in various Marine and Army helicopters as well as the MV-22 Osprey. During those experiences we took fire a couple of times and had a few experiences on some of our flights that were a bit sporty. So for a while I was lost in my own stuff but was able to pull out in not too long of time.
Some of our discussions revolved around how trauma and war can impact a person’s image and relationship with God, whatever that may be. The focus was on us as pastoral care givers caring for those in our charge. Once again this really good information for me as I will be dealing with a lot of PTSD and TBI cases are Camp LeJeune. But there was one thing that got me. I came back from Iraq as most of my readers know in pretty bad shape dealing with PTSD and issues of abandonment feeling disconnected with the Navy and my church. Part of that was what amounted to be a loss of faith so severe that I was for all practical purposes an agnostic for almost two years because I couldn’t make sense of anything to do with God, I felt God forsaken it was to use the image of St. John of the Cross, my Dark Night of the Soul. I am doing better now and feel like my faith has returned to some degree, certainly not like it was before but while I have doubts I am okay with that part of the journey now.
I know a number of military Chaplains from the Navy and Army that have returned from Iraq or Afghanistan in some sort of faith crisis many suffering from PTSD or TBI. I am actually wondering how many are out there. I know that I am not alone, but I need to know if others are going through this experience too. It was for me a desperate feeling to be the Chaplain, Priest, Pastor and spiritual care giver when I was struggling having no answers and only questions, when people asked me about God and I didn’t even know if God existed. This is the unspoken cry of at least some and possibly quite a few Chaplains and other ministers who have experienced trauma and moral injury. One thing my incoming CO at my old unit asked me was “where does the Chaplain go for help?” At that point I said that I didn’t know. The sad thing is that I know many chaplains and ministers that have a basic lack of trust in their fellow clergy and do not feel safe confiding in them because they feel that they will be judged, not listened to or blown off.
When I was diagnosed with PTSD in the summer of 2008 I made it my goal to grow through this and hopefully as I go through this to be there for others. Part of my recovery came through sharing experiences, the good and the bad on this site. Elmer the Shrink asked me back when I started this if I thought that it would be helpful to me in my recovery, but he also asked if I was okay in opening up about this topic. Since I didn’t see many people writing about this from the perspective of being a “wounded healer” I told him that I thought that I had to do it. The experience has been terribly painful but at the same time I think that it has been worth it because as a Priest and Chaplain I think now more than ever in my weakness I can be with people in their difficult times without trying to “fix” them.
Colonel David Abramowitz with me and RP2 Nelson Lebron after presenting me with the Defense Meritorious Service Medal and Nelson the Joint Service Commendation Medal for our service with our advisors and Iraqis in Al Anbar with the Iraq Assistance Group. After this we both dealt with abandonment and other issues on our return home.
So who is there for “damaged” Chaplains? Who takes care of us? I was lucky or maybe blessed. I had Dr Chris Rogan ask me if I was okay. I had Elmer the Shrink do a lot of the hard work with me. At Naval Medical Center Portsmouth I had a Command Chaplain that was wise enough to protect me while I went through the deepest and darkest valley of my life. As I recovered he challenged much like a Baseball Manager would challenge a pitcher who had been very successful on other clubs coming off the disabled list to regain his self confidence and ability to get back on the mound with a winning attitude. Not every Chaplain gets what I got and I am blessed. I still have work to do and I need to recognize my limits, much as a pitcher who has recovered from Tommy John surgery makes adjustments.
So this is my question: Are there others other there like me? Are there other Chaplains experiencing such feelings after Iraq or Afghanistan? I’d really like to know because I believe that in what might be termed “a fellowship of the forsaken” that we can rediscover faith, belief and hope again and in doing so be there for others.
If you want please let me know if this encourages you or feel free to comment. Prayer is still hard for me but I promise that if someone asks that I will pray and to the best of my ability be available for them as others were for me because I don’t want any Chaplain to experience the abandonment that I felt went I returned from Iraq having felt that it was the pinnacle of my military career. To those Chaplains I just want to say that you are not alone.
“As lousy as things are now, tomorrow they will be somebody’s good old days.” Gerald Barzan
The past few weeks being laid up dealing with Adolf the Kidney stone and his remove this week have been unusual for me. I have been in pain and even now am dealing with the aftereffects of the procedure to remove Adolf I find that it has given me a pause during Lent that I seldom get. The pause to look at life, mortality and what is and is not important. Now a Kidney stone is not normally a life threatening condition and was not in my case, but the condition has slowed me down from my normal hyperactive manner of doing things, even slowed down the pace of my writing. It has not been fun but I have gained some spiritual grace that I think that I needed. Tonight I am not feeling as well as I was this morning and hopefully this too will pass so I can get back to getting well.
It is difficult at times to be hopeful when all around there is bad news. We seem to be living the ancient Chinese curse that says “May you live in interesting times.” The times are certainly interesting with lots going on of historic significance that may years from now be remembered as one of those tumultuous times where the world changed before our eyes. History of course is replete with such times, the rise and fall of ancient empires, the age of exploration, the Reformation, the French and American Revolutions, the Napoleonic era, the American Civil War, the Industrial Revolution, the First and Second World War with the Great Depression sandwich, the 1960’s, the post Cold War era and the post-911 era just for a start. I could go back further in history for other epochal periods, but I think that the reason that today’s crisis seem so much more dire is that we are both the beneficiaries and the victims of the instantaneous communication revolution in which common people have real time access to events that are impacting their lives. This causes many a great deal of anxiety both real and imagined, anxiety which usually finds expression in a desire for the good old days as well as seeks solace and security from those who feverishly exploit that anxiety. It does not matter if the security comes from religion, political ideology and matters neither if it comes from the left or the right so long as the call resonates with them they will follow it. They will faithfully follow even as the purveyors of the message drive up their worry and anxiety that they no longer can actually enjoy life or be thankful because they are so consumed with how “lousy” things are or “evil” their opponents are.
It is in times like these that one has to take a deep breath, look around at all that they have to be thankful for and just really examine of the nostalgia that they feel for “better times” is that or an escape from an unpleasant present and fear of the future if the other side wins. The fact is that we have seen such times before and somehow made it through. I hear from friends and relatives who lived through the Great Depression and World War II that those were good times in spite of everything happening, much of which is present today but somehow things are worse now. Even I fall into the trap about somehow thinking that the times that I grew up in were somehow better than the present, this may be true for music but overall things were not that good for a lot of people but somehow we made it through them. Lent is a time to step back from the brink, take stock and renew our life with God and our neighbor.
When I returned from Iraq back in February 2008 I soon discovered that the bombardment of bad news and über-partisan political battles took its toll on me. I was neither as resilient as I thought that I was nor as consumed by the need to continue to ratchet up rhetoric on one side or the other as the more extreme elements on the right or left were doing. PTSD or not I realized that the purveyors of the 24/7 bad news cycle were driving people with legitimate ideological differences to extremes that I had never seen, but which I recognized from history have a lot of precedent and can lead to making things even worse. One only has to look at Weimar Germany to realize how things can go so very wrong when extremes on both sides of the ideological spectrums squeeze out those in the middle or chance at mutually beneficial solutions and that was in the days before type of information overload that is the bedrock of the political and ideological landscape of today.
I am not attacking those who get caught up in this but I do question the politicians, pundits, “news-networks” and talk show hosts who continue to ratchet up rhetoric to the point that many feel that the only alternative is some kind of “revolution.” Again those that call for “radical change” or revolt against those who are in favor of that kind of change are both calling for revolution when revolutionary talk reaches a point where one side or the other does not see a way to resolve things in a civil manner then the those alternatives slip away and the only recourse is violence. It is not the fault of one side or the other as those that stoke this talk are found on both sides of the American as well as other nations political and ideological spectrum testify to daily. In the United States we also have a long history of apocalyptic thought which presents the lousy state of current events in any generation as something that will certainly bring the end of life as we know it or the return of the Lord, the Great Tribulation or whatever you chalk it up to. There are those on both the religious and secular side of the spectrum who have apocalyptic visions related to their world view. For some reason we Americans do the apocalyptic quite well whether we believe in God or not.
I am not a radical, my temperament is such that I may have strong beliefs but realize that there are many other opinions out there than mine and that even if I do not agree with one side or the other on every issue it does not mean that I cannot find common ground. I think this is part of the reason for the diversity of friends that I have from across the religious, political and ideological spectrum, we can agree to disagree and in the process still value one another and our opinions and remain friends who care about one another.
The thing that has been most on my mind this Lent has been the idea of being reconciled both to God and to one another. Lent is a season of self examination, repentance and forgiveness. The call to “be reconciled to one another” is a never ending command and applies across the variety and spectrum of life. Lent reminds us that that “we are dust and to dust we shall return” but that we are also all made in the image of the God who created us, redeems us and sanctifies us who calls us to himself and reminds us that mercy triumphs over judgment and “not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your minds, so that you may discern what is the will of God—what is good and acceptable and perfect.” I am afraid that in times like these even the best intentioned of people can find themselves pulled into the orbit of those that in less stressful or trying times that they would never be involved with. The German martyr Dietrich Bonhoeffer once wrote: “Our enemies are those who harbor hostility against us, not those against whom we cherish hostility… As a Christian I am called to treat my enemy as a brother and to meet hostility with love. My behavior is thus determined not by the way others treat me, but by the treatment I receive from Jesus.”
I know for some this message is lost and not because they are rejecting the message of the Gospel but because that have become so deeply involved in whatever cause they or their champions espouse that they have lost the ability at least temporarily to see the good that may rest in their opponents and their ideas. As Bonhoeffer also wrote “Judging others makes us blind, whereas love is illuminating. By judging others, we blind ourselves to our own evil and to the grace which others are just as entitled to as ourselves.” Now of course Bonhoeffer knew the evil that was the Nazis and eventually gave his life by supporting the German resistance to Hitler. Loving our enemies does not absolve us from public responsibility but in ensuring that we do not ensnare ourselves in ideology that restricts our ability to love them as Christ has commanded.
I think in the past few years that I have gained a new perspective on life that has changed the way that I look at the world. I know that things are not good right now and that there are a lot of things to be legitimately concerned about, but I know too that somehow our country as well as much of humanity have weathered worse and like Barzan said that for some these will be the good old days someday and that helps me to live in the present knowing that the future is not yet written and known only to God who in his grace condescends to love us and desires that we better love him and one another and not be conformed to any ideology that would prevent that. I do pray that we will both see better days as well as be reconciled to God and to one another that is my Lenten prayer.