Tag Archives: God’s will

God’s Will?

battleofgettysburg-devils-den

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

The late Father Andrew Greeley wrote, “We are born with two incurable diseases, life, from which we die, and hope, which says maybe death isn’t the end.”

With Judy recovering from her surgery and things looking much more positive than a few weeks ago I have been doing some reflecting. One thing that really impressed me was how Judy handled this from beginning to end. She was concerned and worried much of the time, of course, when you get diagnosed with Cancer you should be worried, because you never know what course the disease will take, and what might even happen during surgery or subsequent treatments. I know people who thought that they were on the way to recovery who died unexpectedly due to an adverse reaction to chemotherapy.

That being said Judy never asked “why me?” nor did she attribute this to “God’s will” or try to rationalize it by saying that “God was testing her faith” or any of this other quasi-providential but really fatalistic bullshit. Her reaction to this mirrored much of what I believed when I returned from Iraq when there were times that I easily could have been injured, wounded or even killed in incidents that were all too similar to others who were injured, killed or wounded. Of course here I am referring to visible physical wounds, not the Post Traumatic Stress and Traumatic Brain Injury that has so messed with my mind. Like Judy I never asked “why me?’ of attributed what happened to me to being “God’s will” or the “providence of God.”

I tend to agree with Confederate Colonel William Oates whose 15th Alabama fought so bravely and unsuccessfully against Joshua Chamberlain and the 20th Maine at Little Round Top on July 2nd 1863 at Gettysburg. After the war, Oates, who was a Christian, reflected about God’s role in the battle and noted that he believed that God, “endowed men with the power of acting for themselves and with responsibility for their acts. When we went to war it was a matter of business, of difference of opinion among men about their temporal affairs. God had nothing to do with it. He never diverted a bullet from one man, or caused it to hit another, nor directed who should fall or who should escape, nor how the battle should terminate. If I believed in such intervention of Providence I would be a fatalist….”

I apply that to all of life, I do not believe that God intentionally afflicts people with disease, or directs events so they are killed. I don’t believe that it is God’s will for people to suffer from terrible diseases or directs bullets, speeding cars or other things which kill young men and women, children or other innocents.

I know that from the beginning of time that people have attributed things that they cannot endure to God, the Devil, or in some cultures gods and devils, or even to attribute such things as God’s punishment for the “sins” of individuals and even their descendants. I know that helps some people, sometimes I think even some of the writers of scripture to frame suffering; as a whole people need to credit or blame someone for terrible things that happen.

I cringe when I hear people say that they are suffering because it is God’s will, or that God is testing them, or I see something that a terrible natural disaster that kills thousands of people is an “act of God.” To be truthful I cannot believe that God is so cruel and capricious to be in that kind of business, and if indeed God is really that way I would rather be an atheist than go to seek a heaven ruled by such a being. And yes, I know that as a Christian that this puts me in a minority. I simply believe that as Jesus so wisely noted that “the rain falls on the just and the unjust alike,” in other words that it is called life, or the human condition, and all of us have to deal with it. To be somewhat crude I believe that shit happens and we have to deal with it.

I cannot imagine a God who wills, plans, and condones genocide, slavery,Infanticide, wars of aggression waged in his name, and every imaginable form of suffering known to humanity. I cannot image a God who so so earnestly believe inflicts such grievous suffering on his children. If we were to apply the standards of justice that we apply to human fathers who abuse or kill their children to God we would do ourselves good and we would probably lock him away for consecutive life terms, but our human need for explaining this prevents us from asking hard questions to the God that we claim to believe. Mark Twain wrote: “The best minds will tell you that when a man has begotten a child he is morally bound to tenderly care for it, protect it from hurt, shield it from disease, clothe it, feed it, bear with its waywardness, lay no hand upon it save in kindness and for its own good, and never in any case inflict upon it a wanton cruelty. God’s treatment of his earthly children, every day and every night, is the exact opposite of all that, yet those best minds warmly justify these crimes, condone them, excuse them, and indignantly refuse to regard them as crimes at all, when he commits them. Your country and mine is an interesting one, but there is nothing there that is half so interesting as the human mind.”

That being said I do live in hope, which is a part of my faith, a faith which is in things that I cannot understand nor can I prove. In this I do believe that God somehow gives people, even people that religious people call “non-believers” a grace to deal with tragedy, illness, suffering and death. I have to believe that because I have often seen non-Christians endure suffering and tragedy with a grace that many Christians, intent on finding a biblical or theological reason for such events do not display. When I think of this I am reminded of Jesus’s remarks about the Centurion who asked him to heal his servant and when Jesus offers to come tells Jesus that he is not worthy for Jesus to come under his roof, but to only speak the word and his servant should be healed (Matthew 8:5-13). The interesting thing about the passage is that the word used for servant is a Greek word for servant which only occurs once in the New Testament, the word Pais. In ancient Greek literature the term denotes a homosexual relationship, that of a man with his houseboy. In other words, Jesus healed a Roman, gentile, pagan Centurion’s homosexual lover, and had the nerve to say that he had “not seen such faith in Israel.” Since the writer of Matthew used the word Pais instead of the word doulos for servant it had to be deliberate and he had to know what he was doing, but I digress…

While I do not believe that God directs or permits death and suffering, I do believe that God is not absent in suffering that people endure, that God “Emmanuel” is with us, all of us; that God suffers with us, for that is the message of Jesus, the crucified one. I also believe that God who is with us, weeps with us as well as rejoices with us. That may not be a good answer for some who want to prove that God is behind everything, nor for those who do not believe in God at all.

I’m sure that some will consider what I wrote today as blasphemy, but then I have to agree with Mark Twain who wrote, “Blasphemy? No, it is not blasphemy. If God is as vast as that, he is above blasphemy; if He is as little as that, He is beneath it.”

Have a great night,

Peace

Padre Steve+

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They didn’t Pray Enough: Pat Robertson’s latest “Patwah”

“If enough people were praying, [God] would intervene. You could pray, Jesus stilled the storm, you could still storms.” Pat Robertson on the 700 Club

“But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, 45 that you may be children of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous.” Jesus (Matthew 5:44-45)

Well Pat Robertson the Grand Mullah of Virginia Beach has again come up with new a Patwah declaring today that the people across the Ohio and Tennessee Valleys who were devastated by unseasonable tornadoes and storms this week could have avoid them “if they had prayed more.”

Of course such statements are nothing new from the Tidewater’s favorite Taliban and certainly to be expected.  Some it seems that no matter what the question that Mullah Pat needs to have an answer direct from God on high. He was responding to a question from one of his viewers about why “God would cause” such disasters and instead of doing the thing that Jesus did when asked a similar question about why Jewish insurgents had died fighting the Romans that Jesus mentioned the 18 people killed at the tower of Siloam.  Jesus basically asked his questioners if the 18 people killed at the tower of Siloam were worse sinners than anyone else in Jerusalem, the answer of course was “well duh, stuff happens.” Even in the New testament it was understood that the “rain falls on the just and the unjust.” But today it seems that the people like Pat have to find an answer that they can attribute to God to bust the chops of people that they think really need to be whacked.

I’m sorry but such theological insanity coming from a “Christian” is a shame and comparable to the Fatwahs issued by extremist Muslim preachers in Afghanistan, Iran and other locations. The only difference is that Pat is claiming that he is getting his word from Jesus and the Holy Spirit.

Sorry Pat but the 39 people killed and thousands injured or displaced by these storms deserve better from a “Christian” preacher who has indulged himself upon their generous financial contributions for the last 40 years.  Heck, these were not even people that live in Blue States, these storms hit the Red State Republican heartland and some swing states.  If those states are not safe from God’s wrath then who is? But then if prayer could have kept these things from happening does that mean that the people killed, injured or rendered homeless were somehow at odds with God?

Well if you ask Jesus probably not.  However if you hold Jesus in less esteem than Pat then maybe so.  Now I do believe that God answers prayer and sometimes in most unusual and seemingly miraculous ways. However it seems that sometimes stuff happens, even to good people.  I guess that is why we need folks like Mullah Pat to guide our way…but then maybe we don’t need him to do this.

Peace

Padre Steve+

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A Sea of Contradictions: My Life and Faith since returning from Iraq

Dinner with my Friend, Major General Sabah in Ramadi

“Many people are looking for an ear that will listen. They do not find it among Christians, because these Christians are talking where they should be listening.But he who can no longer listen to his brother will soon be no longer listening to God, either; he will be doing nothing but prattle in the presence of God, too. This is the beginning of the death of the spiritual life, and in the end there will be nothing left but spiritual chatter and clerical condescension arrayed in pious words… never really speaking to others.” Dietrich Bonhoeffer

Since I returned from Iraq I have grown weary of Christians that have all the answers and are more interested in promoting their agenda than actually listening or caring for those wounded in spirit from various forms of trauma including war. Since I returned from Iraq and going through what amounted to a crisis in faith, belief and experience of what I felt to be abandonment by God and many Christians.  I have elected to travel down a path that has been of great benefit but has been filled with difficulty and pain as I both walked through the psychological, spiritual and physical effects of my time in Iraq and, the moral injuries that I incurred and the practical ways that these crisis’ have had on my life and relationships.

On Monday at work we had some of our pastoral care residents presented their research projects which they had worked on during their residency year.  All were well done but one struck me because of its subject and home much I could relate to it.  The subject was “Writing our Way Home” and dealt with how the use of poetry and narrative could help some combat veterans make sense of their world and deal with the trauma that they have experienced.  After Iraq I began to write, initially because it was therapeutic and helped me to begin to start sorting out what was going on with me. It also helped me, especially when I went public on this site about my experience to get outside of my normally severely introverted self. As I began to write regularly it became a part of my life as I struggled to deal with PTSD as well as  spiritual and emotional crises following my tour in Iraq, alienation on my return as well as various family crisis’s.

The understanding that resonated with me was that our stories, the good and the bad, what we believe to be true and what really is true about ourselves and our experiences is all part of who we are. This is something that I experienced in my own pastoral care residency at Parkland Memorial Hospital in the 1990s when my supervisor challenged be to stop living in the past and begin to imagine a future that was not a prisoner of my past disappointments and failures.  That was a watershed experience for me and as I began to sort through all of the crap that I was dealing with in CPE and family of origins issues I began to realize that I did not need to live my life in a constant repetition of the past.  Now that realization did not always find a place in my life but in a gradual process I began to escape that past and begin to live in the moment with an eye to the future.

Of course Iraq changed that to some degree, in fact to a large degree. What I experienced there and upon my return to the States shook many of my beliefs about the world, faith and life. The images of American Marines wounded by IED attacks, wounded children and destruction of vast areas of cities, towns and villages coupled with having HUMMVs and Helicopters that I traveled on shot at and having rockets fly over my head changed me, especially when I saw how the war was being covered by both the liberal and conservative media which bore little resemblance to my first hand observations. Even worse was the feeling of being isolated and abandoned when I returned home.  I experienced a crisis in faith that left me a practical agnostic even as I desperately prayed for God to show up.  In fact it was psychotherapist that was the first person to even address my spiritual life after I returned.

When Elmer Maggard asked me: “How are you and the big guy?” I could only say “I don’t know I don’t even know if he exists.”  For a priest and chaplain that was a harrowing admission.  I had entered a world of darkness that I did not believe was possible. I would struggle for another year and a half until during Advent of 2009 things began to change and I began to sense the presence of a loving God again.  My faith began to return but I have to say it is not the same as before I went to Iraq.  I still struggle though most of the time I cannot say that I am a practical agnostic as I do have faith and faith which can be considered orthodox but perhaps more negotiable.

You may ask what I mean by this so I will briefly explain.  First I admit that I do not have the answers that I used to think that I had. Likewise I am a lot more apt to say “I don’t know” or “I struggle with that too” when people tell me of their experiences when struggling with faith or even the existence of God.  I refuse to pass judgment on someone’s faith journey or even if they question God’s existence because I have been there and it is not a comfortable place to live.  I am far more willing to walk with someone thorough that valley of doubt or unbelief because I lived in that valley for over a year. As far as who I frame my world, I am far less likely to pin something as “God’s will” or “an attack of the Devil” than I am to recognize that as human beings that we live in a fallen state and that sometimes things just happen. To quote a popular say “Shit Happens.”  In the middle of this I think the real miracle is that God can give us the grace to go through the most difficult times even when we have no faith at all.  I don’t think that is at all heretical because the experience of Jesus on Good Friday and the scriptural accounts as well as the testimony of 2000 years of Christians tells me that this is true. The miracle in my mind is not being “delivered” from crisis or unbelief but through the grace of God making it though the crisis and return to faith, even if that faith takes a different form.

For me the act of writing both about my experience as well as through fiction or history has been therapeutic and forced me out of my comfort zone.  When I began this site and began to tell my story my friend Elmer the Shrink he asked me if I was really sure that I wanted to open up and become vulnerable as I shared the truth as I believed it to be.  I said that I needed to as I thought people needed to know the reality of what many Iraq and Afghanistan veterans were going through.  He told me that what I was doing was risky but let me make the call. 600 posts later, not all of course dealing with what I and other veterans have gone through I can say that it was the right decision.

Our presenter on Monday gave us a few minutes to write something and for me this came quite easily as I was struck by a section of her presentation about how contradictory our life experiences can be. I began to write about those contradictions and will share a bit of that here.

I am a man of faith, a Christian and Priest. I believe but I also doubt and question, in fact there are some times that I feel somewhat agnostic even after the events of last December when faith began to return.  I am much more prone to give the benefit of the doubt to people especially those who struggle with life, faith and even the existence of God. I figure that God is big enough to handle doubt and unbelief while still loving and caring for the person experiencing doubt or unbelief or whose beliefs that may not fit the definition of Christian orthodoxy.

I am a passionate person who is an introvert in an extroverted world both in ministry and the military. I am an intuitive “out of the box” thinker and sometimes rebel.  Yet in spite of this I willingly volunteer to serve the church and the military.  It is interesting because both institutions prize loyalty to the institution, obedience and staying within the lines of prescribed beliefs and traditions.  I believe yet question, I find cause to not agree with what all of my political party or the other political party espouse to the chagrin of the faithful in both parties.

I have learned that there is a healthy tension in this type of life. I do not for the most part follow those that insist that to be a Christian that I must do this and that even though I fully subscribe to the Creeds, the first 7 Ecumenical Councils an Anglican understanding of the Christian faith. Nor do I think that to be to be a “American patriot” that I should vote a certain way, belong to a particular party or follow the agenda of any political party as if it others believe the agenda to be brought down from the mountain by Moses himself.  I have had people on occasion to criticize me for this.  However I cannot allow any political ideology to hold my faith captive, nor can I cast aside the essence of the Christian faith even when I doubt.

One of the things that I find concerning is how it seems to me that many supposedly “conservative” Christians have almost made what I think is a deal with the devil in terms of their political involvement. I think that they are sacrificing a long term witness to short term expedient political alliances with people, particularly “conservative” political talk show host and pundit Glenn Beck that have an antithetical and antagonistic views of historic Christianity.   My concern is more about the faith and witness of the Church than an alliance with someone that appeals to our more base nationalistic ideas than the faith itself.

I have discovered that for the most part I can comfortably live in this tension, in fact I do not think that I was to fall completely to one side or the other be it in faith, social responsibility or politics that my life would be as full as it is, or as some might be thinking now as “full of it as I am.” Whatever… The fact is that I think that as a Christian and as an American that it is okay to live life in balance and with a health appreciation of creative tension.

I have begun to emerge from the darkness of my post Iraq experience and I know that I am still wounded. I know that I still struggle but I now am beginning to see this as a gift.  My faith is not the same as it was, I am not satisfied with simplistic answers or the party lines of people that only care about their agenda especially when they decide that their agenda is God’s will, even if it has nothing to do with the Gospel. I know that sounds kind of snarky to some but I really want to be an authentic Christian not some caricature that is more a picture of the American perversion of the faith than anything found in Scripture or the 2000 year history of the Church.

I believe but I struggle. I will listen to other points of view, including those of people that are not Christian. In fact I found that my Iraqi Muslim friends were much easier to dialogue with and have deep and respectful theological discussions with than many American Evangelicals.  For me that was a watershed moment.

But anyway, this post was not meant to be a treatise on anything but is for me more of a reflection of a dialogue that has been going on in me since my return.  The thing is I know other Chaplains that have returned from Iraq or Afghanistan who have experienced the same feelings that I have been working through but do not have a safe place in their churches to heal, and are afforded little time to do self care.  I am concerned for our caregivers that care of veterans like me.  I wonder how many can be real in their faith community without having people run away from them as if they were radioactive, a feeling that many veterans and other trauma victims experience when they attempt to tell their story.

I just hope that I will be able to be there for others who are wounded and suffering as a result of what they experienced in war.

That is all for tonight.  Blessings and peace my friends,

Padre Steve+

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Visiting the Super Holy International Temple: The Ten Pretty Good Suggestions

I was visiting the Super Holy International Temple a few weeks back when I had a revelation…well maybe not exactly a revelation but a somewhat differently inspired inspirational moment of unquestionable inspiration.  Or maybe it was just my mind was a raging torrent, flooded with rivulets of thought cascading into a waterfall of creative alternatives through my insomniac  PTSD’d brain after one too many beers at Gordon Biersch.  Whatever it was, I can assure you that it was something that was important enough to write about.   As the beneficiary of a relatively limited amount of wisdom and wanting to ensure that I am not becoming a Harry Tick I decided to check this out with the Deity Herself.

So I did so and indeed the Deity has allowed me to pass this wisdom on to my readers.  Most of it deals with me but the application might be applicable to anyone who feels that is applicable to them, otherwise if not applicable readers should not make any application whatsoever to the way that they live their lives.

With that in mind this was what I received in that moment of differently inspired inspirational moment of unquestionable inspiration, what I will call the Ten Pretty Good Suggestions:

1. Dude, you don’t know nothing about a lot of things so don’t go making it up as you go along hoping that I will agree with it just because you found a Bible verse to back it up.

2. Likewise since you don’t know nothing don’t you go piddling about telling people that something was my will.   While it may have been, it just may as well not have been. That is for me to know and you keep your mouth shut about, especially if it was one of those really sucky times where something bad happened to someone who obviously did nothing to deserve it…like little kids dying of cancer, women losing babies when they really want them, young people getting killed in war, people who are good people who love God and demonstrate love to others getting terrible diseases or watch family members and friends suffer while really sucky bad people seem to prosper and stuff like that.

3. Bad things happen to good people and bad people alike, just as good things happen to good people and bad people alike. The rain falls on the just and the unjust and this is why the Dodgers have won a number of World Series since coming west and the Giants haven’t.

4. Shit happens to both good and bad people not because the Deity wills it or the Devil is causing it but simply because pain, death and suffering are common to all due to the fall.  Hey, that one rhymed so quit calling bad things “acts of God” or God’s will” since you don’t know nothing anyway.

5. The Deity does not take religious instruction from you Padre otherwise the creation would be far more fouled up than it has become, it doesn’t need your help.  So please remember to thank me for Global Warming otherwise you’d be freezing you ass off down there.

6. Just because you’re paranoid doesn’t mean that the Devil is out trying to get you.  Just because he is a “roaring Lion seeking out someone to devour doesn’t mean that you are worth a whole lot of his time.  Since he has made enemies with the Deity and had his head whacked at the Cross, he is probably not screwing with you at this moment.  If you believe this Padre you are way too full of yourself and need to do some serious confession.   Make no doubt there Padre, the Devil is out there and the proof is in artificial turf on baseball fields and aluminum or composite bats, those are unnatural and definitely the work of the devil.

7. Padre, just because you believe something really hard does not mean that I believe it or will just try to make you happy by allowing it to happen.  Just ask Cubs fans last year when they thought they were going to the World Series…it didn’t happen.

8. You may not like it but you game is going to get rained out once in a while so move under the awning sit back and watch the grounds crew do their thing.

9.Don’t you go thinking that just because you did something that you think is special there Padre that I have to do something in return for you, like I love you and all that but dude I don’t owe you squat.  My love, giving up my Son to die on the cross for you and the salvation of the world, including your sorry ass isn’t enough?

10. Since you don’t know nothing instead of telling people going through hard times that it is “God’s will” or “from the Devil,” simply admit that you don’t know and walk with them through the valley loving them and caring for them on the way, knowing that “even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil for you are with me” and “I will be with you to the end of the age.”  Like duh? I think that those are even in the Bible there Padre.  Just like “in this world things will often be really sucky and stuff will go against you but be happy dude because I have overcome the world.”

So anyway after receiving that I had to stop and think, you know like dude, those are pretty profound.  So since they are applicable to me don’t assume that they are applicable to you unless however they are applicable in which case you should make application and apply them.  Somehow I think that there are a lot of folks who like me are tired of having people try to tell them how to live their lives or how God somehow figures into something bad happening to them when in fact it may not be God, or for that matter even the Devil either.  Maybe shit just happens.  I know that I got tired of people feeding me full of how they knew what God was doing in my life when bad stuff happened.  all the way back in seminary when things went to Super Holy International Temple on me.  Why should I inflict the Super Holy International Temple on others?

Peace, Steve+

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How can a Opening Day Rain Out be God’s Will?

Tonight was where I need to take exception with Saint Augustine and John “no I’m not having fun” Calvin.  Now I have to admit that I am not a very good Augustinian or Calvinist unless perchance it suits me at the time.  Where I really have a problem with them in in the subject of Predestination.  Now before all the hyper-Calvinists or neo-Augustinians get their panties in a wad or knickers in a twist, I am not referring to the subject of salvation, election, double predestination, or even double secret predestination.  These subjects were argued between my fellow students back in seminary until I wanted to throw up.

I figure that the Deity Herself is not stupid and since She created everything, of course in cooperation with Jesus and the Holy Spirit…I am after all certainly an orthodox Trinitarian in such maters, I figure that She knows who are Hers.  Where I do however differ with the former party animal (Augie)  and frustrated lawyer (John Boy) is in the matter of how this applies to baseball.

Tonight was an interesting night.  I got to the parking lot and the heavens opened.  For 30 minutes rain came down in buckets.  There was lightening and thunder, but the storm passed.  The tarp was rolled away from the field but the infield was in great shape.  However the umpires ruled that the outfield was unplayable.  Now I have been to plenty of games at Harbor Park and seen much worse conditions which were ruled playable.  Obviously this was a case of the Devil’s mischief and not a case of God’s will.  For had Calvin and Augie known about Baseball and the fact that it is the preferred sport of the Almighty, they could not have made such statements about Predestination.  Certainly a rain out of a home opener cannot be God’s will.  I am actually predisposed to believe that the postponement or cancellation of any Baseball game is not the will of God but the work of the Devil.  Now I am not one to give the Devil a lot of credence, because I believe that Christ has defeated him.  Likewise I am not one to find a Demon behind every bush.  However, to be sure, for God to to taunt us with beautiful weather on opening night after a deluge of the type that we experienced was not the work of God.  Indeed this opening day rain out  had to be the Devil’s work.  I remember opening day of 2005 when the weather was 38 degrees at game time, the field wet and winds blowing 20-30 Mph with gusts to 50 mph from Center Field.  That game was played, and numerous others in awful conditions.

I guess there can be a caveat in this, perhaps if the Giants or the Tides are behind in a game and it is before it becomes official that might be the work of the Deity herself, spot of Divine intervention as when Jesus turned the water into Ale (the Saxon translation) at the wedding at Cana.  Of course such speculation leads to certain irregularities and inconsistency on belief, however, one has to take such matters in stride and simply trust God.  Humm…trusting God, what a concept.  I think I’ve read something about that before.  Maybe my time in seminary actually has paid off.

Anyway, there is always tomorrow.  My ticket can be used in another game, which means that I will be able to take someone  with me sometime.  The beauty of the season ticket is that if you miss a game for any reason you can exchange it for another game.  I think that I will have a number of opportunities to take friends to games this year, as I am sure that the Devil will work to keep me from this wonderful gift of God. Tomorrow I go out again, same time, same seat, but hopefully better weather.

Peace,  Steve+

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