Tag Archives: god’s grace

The Journey: Padre Steve and Gay Rights

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Friends of Padre Steve’s World

I hope that you are having a good New Year. I am having power fights with my blind nearly 14 year old Papillon-Dachshund mix Molly. It seems that she has decided that she no longer likes here special kidney diet dog food and resists eating it until she can’t stand it any longer. I even heat it in the microwave to get it to room temperature and sometimes she eats it like there is no tomorrow other times she looks at it, looks up where I am and seems to be asking “this shit again?” Tonight after refusing to eat I was getting some iced tea for my wife Judy and she was trying to get in the refrigerator. Power fights with Dachshunds are one thing. Power fights with Papillons another, but power fights with a mix… well what can I say? But I digress…

What I am writing about tonight is a subject that has become increasingly important to me, and a subject that probably makes some of my more conservative Christian friends really wonder about me.

The past couple of nights I have written about historic  discrimination against Gays and Lesbians, as well as what Gays suffered in the military under the Don’t Ask Don’t Tell (DADT) policy. I do hope that you take time to read them and share them both if you haven’t already done so.

But anyway. I have been in the military coming up on 34 years between the Army and the Navy. When I enlisted and through the first two thirds of my career I can safely say that I fell rather strongly on the conservative-Christian side of the social issues debates. Over the years, especially the last seven since I returned a changed many from my time in Iraq, I have evolved significantly on most of these issues where although I while consider myself to be rather moderate I now fall decidedly on the liberal side of most social issues.

A lot of this has to do with the attitudes that I saw in churches that I was associated. Many people in my former denominations endorsed policies of the Christian Dominionist or Reconstruction movements, that basically upended First and Fourteenth Amendment protections and if enacted would basically turn the country into a theocracy. I have written about those things time and time again so I won’t elaborate on them now.

It was not only the policies, it was the attitude towards the LGBT community that really bothered me. For some reason it seemed that to many of my friends and colleagues that homosexuality was the only unforgivable sin, and not only that that homosexuals were somehow less than human and not entitled to the same rights as any other American citizen. Not only that they were blamed for every economic, social, foreign policy or natural disaster. Hurricane, blame the gays. Stock market crash, blame the gays, the 9-11 attacks, God’s judgement on the United States because of the gays. You name it, blame the gays, and that my friends still happens every day.

But my journey to accepting and fighting for Gays and Lesbians began a lot earlier.

When I first enlisted in the Army in 1981 it was not uncommon for gay slurs to be hurled at soldiers as a matter of course, especially at young men who did not appear manly enough or women who wouldn’t put out sexually when it was demanded of the. They were queers, fags, dykes and worse. There is a scene in the movie Full Metal Jacket where R. Lee Ermey, a man who actually was a Marine Corps Drill Instructor berates one of his recruits:

Gunnery Sergeant Hartman: Where the hell are you from anyway, private?
Private Cowboy: Sir, Texas, sir.
Gunnery Sergeant Hartman: Holy dog shit! Texas? Only steers and queers come from Texas, Private Cowboy, and you don’t look much like a steer to me, so that kinda narrows it down. Do you suck dicks?
Private Cowboy: Sir, no, sir!
Gunnery Sergeant Hartman: Are you a peter puffer?
Private Cowboy: Sir, no, sir!
Gunnery Sergeant Hartman: I bet you’re the kind of guy who would fuck a person in the ass and not even have the goddamn common courtesy to give him a reach-around. I’ll be watching you!

The sad thing is that such behavior was still common even in the 1990s and though not nearly so pervasive still happened on occasion in after the 9-11 attacks. But those taunts really bothered me and when I was commissioned as a Medical Service Corps Officer in 1983 I met gays in my officer training, they were closeted but they were targets. When I served as a company commander in 1985-1986 I had a number of gays and lesbians in my unit. As I mentioned before they were among my best and most trustworthy soldiers, always going the extra mile.

Meanwhile the unit had the highest drug positive rate in Europe when I took command and had so many real disciplinary and criminal cases on the docket I was told by the Group Commander to “clean that company up.” But when I got down to It I realized that I was so overwhelmed with the real criminals that I didn’t want to harass or prosecute my best soldiers, including those gays and lesbians. That was a watershed. While other commanders sought out gays in order to prosecute them and throw them out of the military I was protecting and promoting them, not because they were gay, but because they were excellent soldiers.

When I went to my next assignment as a personnel officer at the Academy of Health Sciences discharges of trainees for being gay was common. I know because I had to sign off on every discharge packet before it was sent for approval. Since we had five to seven thousand students at any time, both officers and enlisted I did not know the details of most of the stories nor meet the individuals concerned.

However, in 1987 I was given the responsibility of helping soldiers diagnosed as HIV positive with their career options. I also helped officers from the Army Medical Department draft the Army’s policies for those infected with the AIDS virus. At the time many of the Christians that I went to church with believed the myths and lies being promoted by leading Evangelicals about AIDS and displayed a tremendous amount of distain and even hatred towards gays and others infected or dying of that disease. I was dumbfounded that people who preached the love of God had neither compassion nor empathy for those suffering.

I left active duty to attend seminary at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary. There I knew a few closeted homosexuals and lesbians who had deep faith in Jesus, were outstanding students and potentially outstanding pastors or chaplains but who had to remain closeted. After I graduated when I was going through my Clinical Pastoral Education Residency one of the men I graduate with did a one unit internship. During that time he made the agonizing decision to come out as Gay. For him there was much to lose, but his example was inspiring and I still stay in touch with him. I also met a chaplain from the Metropolitan Community Church who had been raised in a Black Pentecostal church. He was an amazing and compassionate minister.

In the hospital setting I worked with a lot of homosexuals, of which many were Christians who suffered in their churches as their pastors and friends railed against homosexuals. When I served as the installation chaplain of an Army base I hired an organist who was gay. He worked for the National Guard as a civilian and was a Log Cabin Republican. He grew up in a very conservative church and though he had deep faith was not welcome in most civilian churches. At the time I was a fairly new  in a very conservative denomination and my bishops held that giving communion to Gays was forbidden, in fact they called it a sin. However, when he presented himself for communion, knowing his faith I took the advice of a conservative Missouri Synod Lutheran chaplain, don’t ask, just trust the grace of God in the Sacrament. That became my model of ministry from then on. I never mentioned it to my bishop. Thankfully he never asked or I would have had to be honest. This encounter brought more homosexuals to the chapel, and the chapel community which was composed mainly of military retirees and National Guard personnel welcomed them.

In civilian churches of my old denominations I knew Gays and Lesbians who struggled and tried to do everything they could to change, but no-matter how hard they tried, how hard they prayed, how many times well meaning friends attempted to cast out their demons in rituals similar to exorcisms they struggled and suffered. Most eventually drifted away because they knew that they would not be accepted.  I have had friends in church whose children came out as gay or lesbian. Some loved and accepted them, others turned them away. Judy and I have always done what we can to support them as we would the children of any friend.

That understanding of God’s grace as well as what I believed were the fundamental Constitutional and human rights of Gays and Lesbians brought me to where I am today.

I know that a lot of conservative Christians have and will condemn me for these beliefs and actions, but for me honesty, integrity, empathy and love have to take precedence over hate, blame and prejudice, even when that prejudice is clothed in the words or faith and righteousness. I just figure that once we begin to use religion to condemn others and bolster our own political power that we are no better than people like Al Qaeda, ISIL or the Taliban. We are no better than the Inquisitors or others who destroyed cities and massacred people, even other Christians because they didn’t believe the right way.

I believe that it is just a small step from hateful thoughts and words to actions that end up in genocide. The “German Christians” of the Nazi era demonstrated that to a fine degree. The authors of the Bethel Confession, including Dietrich Bonhoeffer who protested the German Christian alliance with the Nazis noting:

“every attempt to establish a visible theocracy on earth by the church as a infraction in the order of secular authority. This makes the gospel into a law. The church cannot protect or sustain life on earth. This remains the office of secular authority.

That I believe with all my heart and that is why I will support and fight for the rights of the LGBT community in order to ensure that they have the same rights and privileges of any citizen. Otherwise what does the rule of law mean? What does the Constitution mean? What does that sentence in the Declaration of Independence that:

“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.–That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men…” 

Abraham Lincoln wrote in 1854 concerning the rights of Blacks, something that is certainly applicable as well to homosexuals: “the standard maxim of free society …constantly spreading and deepening its influence,” ultimately applicable “to peoples of all colors everywhere.” 

That my friends, especially my conservative Christian friends who do not understand why I would speak up for the LGBT community, is why I do it. So in the words of my favorite heretic Martin Luther I state today: “Here I stand, I can do no other. So help me God. Amen.”

Peace

Padre Steve+

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Filed under christian life, faith, LGBT issues, Political Commentary

Raw Edges: Are there other Chaplains out there Like Me?

Before a Convoy

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.

One of many helicopter flights, this a daylight flight in a Marine CH-46

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.

Convoy stopped near Al Qaim

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.

Christmas Eve not far from Syria

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.

A different war with the Bedouin in the western desert of Iraq about 5 km from Syria.

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.

Peace

Padre Steve+

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Filed under faith, iraq,afghanistan, Military, Pastoral Care, philosophy, PTSD, Religion, Tour in Iraq, US Navy

Musings on Lent and Holy Week…The Recovery of Joy in Doing Theology and Living

This has been an interesting time.  I began Lent with an actual desire to see some more spiritual progress in my life. By that I meant actually being able to slow down and take stock in order that I might continue what had begun with my Christmas miracle.  Last year I was still in a mess but Lent was a time that I found a local church home in the Hampton Roads area, St James Episcopal Church in Portsmouth. While I was not doing well it was a beginning.

This year Lent took an unexpected turn of events when on the 20th of February I was felled by a 7mm Kidney stone that pretty much put me down for almost a month, I returned to work on Saint Patrick’s Day.  That little stone stopped me cold and by chance, or some might say “God’s will” and allowed me to really think through a lot of what I believe as well as deepen my relationship with the Deity.  I found it strange to be down so hard but despite being in pretty much constant pain and unable to sleep well with pain medications just taking the edge off of the pain while making me loopy at times to be able to read and meditate on aspects of my faith as a Christian.  It was interesting as I came to integrate faith, theology and life and for the first time in many years actually began to write serious theology again.

The time was interesting from reminiscing about my Clinical Pastoral Education Residency at Parkland Memorial Hospital, thoughts on baseball and my dad, a number of articles dealing Glenn Beck and his attacks on churches and Christians that were opposed to his political and economic ideology which ended up getting a bit heated at times when a few miscreants decided to take me on.  I was surprised by the amount of negative energy and even hatred displayed by some of those who attacked me to include physical threats by another blogger.  However I did not back down once and even still tried to remain gracious to those who were critics, for the most part with the exception of the aforementioned blogger I was able to do so.

The latter part of Lent and most of Holy Week included articles about how life under the Cross impacts life in both an individual and corporate manner.  For the first time in years I was doing serious theology again.  This was very good because for the past 6 years I have been focused on doing a lot of academic work in history and military theory where I completed a Masters of Arts in Military History as well as the Marine Corps Command and Staff College which actually helped me become a better writer and researcher than I was in years past. The extra work as well as my tour in Iraq with our advisers and time at the Jordanian Army and UN Peace Operations Training Center gave me an academic depth as well as breadth that I lacked in seminary and in my early years as a priest. The fact that I had also gone through a terrible two years of psychological, physical and spiritual crisis returning from Iraq where much changed in my life.  That time was somewhat like what Saint John of the Cross called “The Dark Night of the Soul” where it seemed that God himself had turned his back on me.  This tied me back in to my seminary training and theological background of Luther’s theology of the Cross and reengaged me with the writings of Luther, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Jürgen Moltmann, Hans Kung and Alistair McGrath.  Having gone through a period where I felt abandoned by God, the Church and many of my peers in ministry I gained a new appreciation for the theology of the Cross as something that made sense of life.  It was not as Luther called scholastic theology a “theology of glory” but a theology of reality in a broken world which I had now experienced hopelessness as something more than a theological or psychological concept. All of this combined during Lent to force me back to my theological roots.

The last week of Lent and Holy Week saw me return to some topics that have been important to me including returning to my journey in Iraq which I had not added to since last fall and a return to baseball.  I also found time to go back to write about some darkly humorous events of my Clinical Pastoral Education residency at Parkland Memorial Hospital and a couple of somewhat silly articles.

Life which had begun to return at Christmas came back through Lent to include the spiritual, psychological and physical.  I was able to come off of the “fat boy program” last week, recover from the Kidney stone and experience renewal and community.  To top things off my sense of humor and self-confidence has returned.  All in it was a rather eventful Lent and Holy Week in ways that I did not anticipate and ways that have helped me as of last week declare myself “back in commission.”

All in all I have gained a new found appreciation of God’s grace and mercy as well as an appreciation of friends of all kinds.  The understanding that “if anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation: everything old has passed away; see, everything has become new! All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ, and has given us the ministry of reconciliation; that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting the message of reconciliation to us” (2 Cor. 5:17-19) has found new meaning as I rediscovered the practical applications of what Bonhoeffer wrote “God loves human beings. God loves the world. Not an ideal human, but human beings as they are; not an ideal world, but the real world. What we find repulsive in their opposition to God, what we shrink back from with pain and hostility, namely, real human beings, the real world, this is for God the ground of unfathomable love.”

Since I am one of these kinds of rough cut human beings that Bonhoeffer talked about I have a propensity to enjoy fellowship with similar people.  I am certainly not perfect and sometimes my actions disappoint some of my more religious friends.  In a certain ironic twist I had a verbal altercation at Gordon Biersch late on Good Friday evening when Judy and I went in for a light meal and a beer. While attempting to take a seat I was threatened by a drunk and I refused to back down or shrink away getting back in his face using certain coarse language to get him to back down. It is funny how having been held up at gunpoint and shot at in combat will influence the fight or flight reaction in the direction fight even for a miscreant priest.  If the guy had actually tried anything big Randy and about five other Stein Club members were about to come over the bar to protect “their padre.” So I know that I miss the ideal of the “theologians of glory” and those who find such human faults as unworthy of God’s grace.

Even so joy has returned to my life admittedly part of this has to be the fact that Baseball season’s opening night coincided with Easter.  Luther said “It is pleasing to God whenever thou rejoice or laugh from the bottom of your heart” and I heartily agree.  It is good to have joy back in my life as Karl Barth said “Joy is the simplest form of gratitude” and “laughter is the closest thing to the grace of God.” The joy and laughter has even made to writing of theology an experience of God’s grace as Barth also said “The theologian who has no joy in his work is not a theologian at all.” To such theologians and preachers who have a joyless life heaven must be a tedious place and like Luther I would have to say “If you are not allowed to laugh in heaven, I don’t want to go there.” Thank God for his grace that enables flawed people like me to even have a chance and at the same time to experience that grace in joy and laughter.

So to all of my readers and friends who have walked through Lent and Holy Week with me I wish you all the best. I pray that if you at experiencing hard times that you will experience the grace, love and mercy of God and that joy and laughter will again be part of your life.

Peace and love,

Padre Steve+

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The Last Week of Lent: Mediation on Life, Love and Public Witness

Lent is drawing to a close and Sunday begins Holy week where the Church remembers the last week in the early life of Jesus the Christ.  While I will write about the various aspects of Holy week to include Passion or Palm Sunday, Holy or Maundy Thursday, Good Friday and Easter but tonight a short meditation on the final week of this Lenten season.

I have discussed how this Lent has been different than previous observances of Lent.  In the past I was constantly trying to observe certain spiritual disciplines to include fasting, abstinence and prayer in a formal and legalistic manner.  Last year as I was “melting down” in my spiritual, psychological and physical life facing an existential crisis where after my tour in Iraq, experience of forsakenness, disillusionment concerning the Church, political institutions and the media and doubt about the existence of God I attempted to change the way that I observed Lent.  For the most part that attempt was an abysmal failure, however out of it came an association with the Pastor and people of Saint James Episcopal Church in Portsmouth which has been a place where at least part of me began to experience community and healing again.

This Lenten season has been one filled with an experience of God’s grace and love as well as a connection to others that I have missed for a long time.  It has been a time of continued healing, self discovery in the light of God’s grace and change in the way that I do life.  Admittedly this has been a gradual process that began back during Advent but has become more a part of my life.  The rediscovery of God’s grace in Jesus and a life in community with others has been a key factor in this experience.  I certainly have not figured everything out, far be it, I am re-learning my faith and it has been a time of refreshment.  Part of this is the experience of Christ in Scripture and sacred Tradition, but also in reason.  As such it has been a time where I have been able to enunciate how my Christian faith addresses the trying times that we are living in often through the witness of men like Dietrich Bonhoeffer and Karl Barth.

One thing that Bonhoeffer said has a particular resonance in my life because it aptly describes how I feel.  In prison Bonhoeffer wrote: “I often ask myself why a ‘Christian instinct’ often draws me more to the religionless people than to the religious, by which I don’t in the least mean with any evangelizing intention, but, I might almost say, ‘in brotherhood’. While I’m often reluctant to mention God by name to religious people – because that name somehow seems to me here not to ring true, and I feel myself to be slightly dishonest (it’s particularly bad when others start to talk in religious jargon; I then dry up almost completely and feel awkward and uncomfortable) – to people with no religion I can on occasion mention him by name quite calmly and as a matter of course.” Dietrich Bonhoeffer – Letters and Papers from Prison

In fact I find it easier on many occasions to have free flowing, intellectual, spiritual discussions with people who have a faith far different than mine than I do with many people in my own denomination. I am making no judgment on them as I have been the one going through a fundamental change in the way that I do life, theology and relationships.

As this has occurred I have rediscovered just how much God loves and cares for real people, as Bonhoeffer wrote:

“God loves human beings. God loves the world. Not an ideal human, but human beings as they are; not an ideal world, but the real world. What we find repulsive in their opposition to God, what we shrink back from with pain and hostility, namely, real human beings, the real world, this is for God the ground of unfathomable love.”

As I interact more with those “outside” the church I often find deep faith and integrity which sometimes I find to be more “real” than some of the Christians that I know. I am not saying that somehow the non-Christian is superior to the Christian but that God has also made them in his image and as such they are not the enemies of God. As Paul the Apostle wrote “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has passed away, behold, the new has come. All this is from God, who through Christ reconciled us to himself and gave us the ministry of reconciliation; that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting to us the message of reconciliation.  So we are ambassadors for Christ, God making his appeal through us. We beseech you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God.  For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.” 2nd Cor. 5:17-21 NRSV and “For to this end we toil and struggle, because we have our hope set on the living God, who is the Savior of all people, especially of those who believe.” 1 Tim. 4:10 NRSV

Likewise I also have found it harder to deal with people who spout religious jargon and throw out Bible verses without any sense of context, history and or concern for their hearers.  It seems to me that many parts of American Christianity have substituted cultural and political issues for the preaching of the Gospel of life.  I recently saw some posts by religious leaders on social networking sites, websites and media outlets that accused pro-life Democrats of “betraying their faith” by voting for the Health Care Bill.  Now I am not thrilled with the bill and have major concerns about it.  However, if I decide to accuse someone of “betraying their faith” I had better be sure that I am on solid ground and stick to what is in the Creed over a particular interpretation of any moral or social issue on which even Christians disagree. Saying this will win me no friends in certain parts of the Church but I wonder the utility of alienating people and in our condemnation of them ensure that they will turn off anything that we say about Jesus who despite what they (and we) do still loves humanity with an undying and passionate love that is demonstrated by his death on the Cross as Paul wrote “But God proves his love for us in that while we still were sinners Christ died for us.”   Romans 5:8 NRSV

In all of the turmoil that has embroiled the country I still find myself at peace because of what has happened to me over the past couple of years. Going to war and seeing the tragedy of a people engulfed in civil war has given me an appreciation of seeking peaceful dialogue with those that I have disagreement rather than attacking them at the center of their being.  I believe the Gospel lived authentically and not wrapped in the incestuous embrace of venomous and often hate filled political ideologies which seems to be increasingly the case in United States is far more powerful than that of a political movement of any kind.  The church surrenders its authority and legitimacy by allowing itself to be a party organ of any political party or ideology.  Unfortunately simply because political parties and movements pay lip service to certain “Christian” values many Christians and churches lose themselves and endorse power for power sake hoping that the party will implement their beliefs.  Unfortunately history proves that more often than not when their party returns to power it will again sell them short with no return for their support.  The unintended consequence is that people who need the Gospel identify it with the political ideology of the party that the church supported.  This was not the witness of the early church, the Apostles and those that followed them.

The mimicking of ideologues by Christians gives credence and support to violent people who under the cover of God have no problem with praying for the death of their opponents and in some cases taking the responsibility of that in their own hands.  Should bloodshed arise out of this latest partisan political struggle the religious leaders who urged violence and prayed for death will have blood on their hands.  Having been threatened with violence on this website by a supposedly “Christian” person I take a deeply personal interest in just how violent some Christians have become and with actions and violent threats against members of the House of Representatives I wonder what will happen when someone assassinates one of these men or women or a religious leader who dares to oppose them.

The alternative to this is to cry “NO!” to the calls for violence and judgment no matter from what side of the political or ideological spectrum that they emerge.  The alternative is to in thought word and deed demonstrate the truth of the Gospel in love even to those that we have strong disagreement on very important issues.

Anyway I must close for the night.

Peace

Padre Steve+

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Padre Steve muses about Lenten Traditions and Spirituality…as Usual a Bit Differently than Others

Looks Like a Lot of Salad ahead for Padre Steve

As we know Lent is a time of penitence and fasting.  My little goof ball brain has wrestled with this ever since coming into a Catholic tradition back in the mid-1990s.  As someone who grew up pretty ecumenical and culturally Protestant it was a hard transition.  Getting to an Anglican and then more Anglo-Catholic theological viewpoint in seminary and the years following was easy.  “Head stuff” theology, Church History and other academic disciplines come very easy to me.  I live in that world and I love that world, even as a Chaplain in a major teaching medical center I find that I am deeply involved in academics, in this case health care ethics and the role of religion and spirituality in health care.

Developing spiritual disciplines have always been harder for me; however I have developed some over the years especially since I entered the Anglo-Catholic tradition.  I value the Daily Office and my spirituality centers around the Eucharist.  That being said I have struggled with the more aesthetic aspects of the spiritual life. I think that a major part of this is due to my early life in the Evangelical Protestant tradition.  These disciplines are not deeply imbedded in the evangelical tradition.  It is not that fasting is not found among Evangelicals, but it plays a different role and for most it is not a routine part of spiritual life for most.  In the churches I grew up in fasting or abstinence were both voluntary and for most not a part of church life.  There are exceptions to this. Some churches take on 40 days of fasting programs, but these are usually just another part of the churches program for a particular time and usually not continued on a regular basis.  So for me this did not come naturally and as a result I struggled with Lent and never looked forward to it.  I discussed this some in my previous essay.

Yet, fasting and abstinence can be very beneficial in developing spiritual disciplines, even for people like me.  I always try to ensure that I observe meatless Fridays and sometimes Wednesdays.  When I was deployed on USS Hue City during Operation Enduring Freedom I had to deal with Lent. Every Friday evening the ship typically served “Surf and Turf.”  Since the “turf” was off the menu for me I had to deal with the “surf.”  To be sure I am not a big fan of fish or seafood in general.  However in the evening the “surf” was either Alaskan king crab or lobster.  So for that Lenten observance I had to suffer for Jesus as I made due with these awful delicacies.

Now I have struggled and still struggle at Lent, especially when I focus or become obsessed about what I am giving up, versus trying to use this time as a means to develop and my own spiritual disciplines.  When I get focused on the “what’s” of Lent and not the purpose for it I fail miserably.  Lent is often for me like spiritual New Year’s resolutions. To be honest I’m still working on these disciplines, I figure I will be doing so the rest of my life as old habits die hard.

My own journey in learning to “survive” Lent is to let go.  If things impede and frustrate me then I need to let go of them and focus on what will actually build me up spiritually.  Last year I decided to reduce the amount of time I spent watching all the talking heads on TV news and listening to the incessant drumbeat of talk radio.  When I did this I noticed a radical shift, I was not long spun up about all the apocalyptic invective on both the right and the left.  I began to be able to relax and actually let God’s grace begin to work in me, especially because of what I went through coming back from Iraq.  It worked so well that I never went back. Now I watch religious programming like Sports Center, Around the Horn and Pardon the Interruption and listen to Mike and Mike in the Morning and The Tony Mercurio Show on my local ESPN station FM 94.1.  Another thing that helped me was reading Andrew Greeley’s “Bishop Blackie Ryan” mystery novels which I started doing in Iraq.  They are so full of the grace of God and numerous times have touched my very soul. It is now easier, for the most part for me to see people of all religious and political viewpoints as people who God loves and not enemies of me or the unnamed political party to which I may or may not belong.

This year Lent should be better than last when I was still battling the demons of PTSD and was trying to climb out of that hole.  That did not happen during Lent last year but began to happen during Advent and Christmas.  This year I expect to celebrate Lent beginning on Ash Wednesday when I will conduct the “Protestant” Ash Wednesday service at the Medical Center where I work and also celebrate the season with the good people of Saint James Episcopal Church who during Lent of last year embraced me and helped me reconnect with Christian community.

Of course on Fat Tuesday I will celebrate with my friends in the Stein Club at Gordon Biersch.  I will have to bring donuts for everyone that night to have with our beer.

Peace

Padre Steve+

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