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Conservative Christians and Torture: Wedded at the Hip

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Friends, of Padre Steve’s World

It looks like it is time to piss off the Christian faithful again…, so here it goes…

Have a great night

Peace

Padre Steve+

“We think we’ve come so far. Torture of heretics, burning of witches it’s all ancient history. Then – before you can blink an eye – suddenly it threatens to start all over again.” Captain Lean Luc Picard (Patrick Stewart) Star Trek the Next Generation “The Drumhead”

Last week the Senate released its report on the American use of torture.

It was a glaring indictment of the policies of the Bush administration which had for all practical intents had legitimized the use of torture, which Americans and our allies had long considered to be war crimes .

I had pretty much avoided commentary until I was asked by a fellow priest in my old denomination to link a post about war crimes to a thread that he had started which had brought a lot of comments. One of the commentators, a bishop of my former church from Africa made a comment that the “end of repentance justified the means.” I objected and claimed that such was the justification of every Christian from the Inquisition to the Puritans and beyond for the commissions of crimes against fellow believers. He most graciously understood what I was saying, but sadly all too many Christians in the country are willing to throw the actual love of God in Jesus to the wind to support criminal activities and crimes against humanity that defy the imagination.

Associate Supreme Court Justice Robert Jackson who was the chief prosecutor at Nuremberg noted:

“If certain acts of violation of treaties are crimes, they are crimes whether the United States does them or whether Germany does them, and we are not prepared to lay down a rule of criminal conduct against others which we would not be willing to have invoked against us.”

Sadly, it seems that all too often that Conservative Christians, especially American Evangelicals and Catholics are decidedly in favor of torture and other actions that the United States has prosecuted others as war criminals for doing are now in vogue. The latest Pew Survey confirms these. Most Evangelicals and Conservative Catholics are okay with torture, in fact by overwhelming margins it seems that Christian conservatives are on board with criminal activity that our ancestors condemned and prosecuted the Germans and Japanese for doing and condemned the Chinese Communists and North Vietnamese captors of U.S. military personnel for using on U.S. military personnel.

Does it matter that previous generations of Americans considered such activate to be war crimes?

No.

Does it matter that previous generations of Americans tried as war criminals those who waged wars of aggression and committed war crimes on others?

No.

Sadly, besides the soulless former Vice President Dick Cheney and the American version of the infamous Nazi propaganda paper Der Sturmer aka Fox News, the strongest supporters of torture, war crimes and unjust, illegal and immoral wars are Conservative Christians. Sadly, if we applied the standards of the Nuremberg tribunals to former President Bush, Vice President Cheney and a host of their advisors and aides most of them would have ended up on the gallows of Nuremberg.

Earlier in the year, former Republican Vice Presidential Candidate, former half-term Governor of Alaska and failed reality TV star, and more damning, Evangelical Christian icon  and darling, Sarah Palin told the NRA national convention that “waterboarding is how we baptize terrorists.” In saying that, Palin equated one of the holiest and sacred of Christian sacraments with a war crime, and sadly few Christian pundits, preachers or politicians condemned her for it. Sadly they applauded her for it and in the process exposed themselves for the anti-Christs that they are in their heart of hearts.

But why should we be surprised? For over a millennia Christians and Christian leaders have advocated similar and horrible ideas.

Torture has been a preferred technique for Christians for over a millennia. In the days before the Great Schism of 1054 Christians persecuted and tortured as heretics those who did not agree with their theological definition of the Trinity or other theological questions. The fact is that if you did not agree with the “orthodox” position you were not just a heretic but a criminal against the state.

After the split of 1054 Christians in the East and the West used to power of the church and state to persecute, prosecute, torture and execute those who did not agree with their position.

After the Protestant Reformation things did not change. Lutherans and Catholics banded together in Germany to crush the Peasant’s revolt. John Calvin used the power of the sate to prosecute any deviation from his understanding. Ulrich Zwingli, drowned his former students in the Rhine River to make a point after they were “re-bapitized” in believers baptism. The Church of England persecuted Catholics, Separatists, Puritans and Baptists. In the new world the Puritans did the same to Baptists, Quakers and other dissenters. Later American Christians justified the extermination of native-Americans and the institution of slavery, of course using their interpretation of the Bible.

Torture? Wrong? Un-Christian? Of course not. Of course to all of these people it is justified. It is a part of all of them and almost always buttressed by a theology that said that anything was fair if it resulted in repentance. The most evil and un-Christian means ware justified for a theological and political end, the kind of end that would make it perfectly logical to kill Jesus to achieve.

Sadly most of today’s American Christians don’t even do that. They are just okay with torture because they have abandoned any semblance of empathy, care or love or for that matter any . It is no longer about Jesus. It is about unfettered political power buttressed by the blessing of the church. Gary Bauer, a long time political leads in the Christian right noted:

“We are engaged in a social, political, and cultural war. There’s a lot of talk in America about pluralism. But the bottom line is somebody’s values will prevail. And the winner gets the right to teach our children what to believe.”

Sadly it no longer matters for many Christians what is right or what is wrong when it comes to torture and war crimes.It does not matter that the justification which was used against their theological and ecclesiastical ancestors; especially torture is something that they now bless. It does not matter that wars that are condemned by historical Christian understanding of the Just War Theory, and which most recently were condemned by Pope John Paul II are vehemently defended by conservative American Christians. It does not matter that Christians support torture, murder and repression of people that they disagree with because by doing so they are “bringing people to repentance.” 

Sadly that was the excuse of the Inquisitors and every other supposed Christian who killed others, even those who were also Christians in the name of Christ.

The sad truth is that for Christians to bless, promote and make a mockery of their faith by supporting such actions is unconscionable. If to such “Christians” that say this means that I am not a Christian than I would rather not be; I would rather follow Jesus than them; be they Sarah Palin, Ted Cruz, Rick Perry, Michelle Bachmann, the hacks of the American Family Association, Christian Dominionists, or any other allegedly “Christian” group party or individual. If they are right about the character of God I would rather be damned to Hell than agree with them.

But I do not believe the they are and I will fight them until I die. I no longer care what they call me, or even if they physically threaten me, as some have.

I have a higher duty to God, the same kind of higher duty that William Lloyd Garrison and William Seward, Christian abolitionists, inflamed “Bible believing Christians” in the South and the North when they condemned the “Christian” defense of slavery in the ante-bellum United States.

War crimes are war crimes no matter who commits them. The fact that a sizable number of Conservative American Evangelical and Catholic Christians not only condone but approve of the practices demonstrate, at least to me, that the faith that they claim t defend is a sham. Their actions show that they approve of such activities because of their political beliefs with which they buttress and baptize with selective Bible quotes. Such cannot be equated with faith in Jesus, however it can be equated with the defense of Christendom.

The two are not the same, despite what the most ardent defenders claim, but for the most part conservative American Christians and their theological ancestors are wedded at the hip. Torture, the use of unjust wars to achieve political ends and the subjugation of peoples, races and those even within their faith who are demeaned to be heretics. The list of such deeds done in the name of Christ and Christendom is mind boggling and sickening, but still Christians not only defend them but claim biblical justification to do so.

What Sarah Palin and so many other “Christians” support and endorse is nothing more than the evil perpetuated by every totalitarian regime that has ever existed.

For those that support her, Dick Cheney and those like them, be warned; like the non-Nazi German conservatives who initially supported Hitler but later had second thoughts you too could considered a terrorist using the methods that Palin advocates against others today. You get what you vote for…

Dietrich Bonhoeffer, German pastor and theologian and a martyr under the Nazis wrote:

“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.”

A man that I know, a member of my former denomination and leader in the anti-abortion movement named Randall Terry said: “Let a wave of intolerance wash over you. I want you to let a wave of hatred wash over you. Yes, hate is good…” 

Yes, it is not the love of God which motivates many conservative Christians today, it is hate, hate in the name of righteousness.

As Martin Niemoller said after the fall of the Third Reich:

First they came for the communists, and I did not speak out—because I was not a communist;
Then they came for the socialists, and I did not speak out—because I was not a socialist;
Then they came for the trade unionists, and I did not speak out—because I was not a trade unionist;
Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out—because I was not a Jew;
Then they came for me—and there was no one left to speak out for me.

Of cours by saying this I will be condemned as something less than a Christian and American by those who are willing to bless all types of war crimes to defend. Sadly such Christians just don’t get it, and help forge a link in a chain of torture, injustice and inhumanity that will ultimately swallow them. Sadly most of them, convinced by the all consuming hatred of their political patrons will adjust their theology in order to enhance their position.

In the words of Captain Jean Luc Picard:

“With the first link, the chain is forged. The first speech censured, the first thought forbidden, the first freedom denied, chains us all irrevocably.” Those words were uttered by Judge Aaron Satie, as wisdom and warning. The first time any man’s freedom is trodden on, we’re all damaged. I fear that today…”

When I read and watch the comments of so called “Conservative Christians” and their allies today I am convinced that should they ever gain the control of the franchise as they claim to want, that they will ensure the death of our republic.

If the United States is destroyed it will not be the fault of external forces. Nor will it be the fault of non-Christians, or “unbelievers.” It will be the fault of those who claim God’s mantle using the name of Jesus for their own political power and control and in the process invite the worst forms of violence and depredation against their fellow citizens.

Until tomorrow,

Peace

Padre Steve+

 

 

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Persistence: My Motto

Persistence by Calvin Coolidge

“Nothing in the world can take the place of Persistence. 

Talent will not;  Nothing is more common than unsuccessful men with talent. 

Genius will not;  Unrewarded genius is almost a proverb. 

Education will not; The world is full of educated derelicts. 

Persistence and determination alone are omnipotent. 

The slogan ‘Press On’ has solved  and always will solve the problems of the human race.”

If there is anything that I find is true about me it is that I am a persistent person. The motto on the family crest is the French word Esseyez, or in English, “try.” Somehow I can see the chieftain of the clan lining everyone up behind William Wallace, who by the way was executed on this day in 1300 inspiring his troops saying, “just try for once.” My parents used to say “quitters never win and winners never quit.”  I have been inspired by great naval Captains like John Paul Jones who when asked if he had surrendered replied “I have not yet begun to fight” and James Lawrence who when mortally wounded gave his crew the order “Don’t give up the ship.” I am inspired by the words of the legendary manager of the Baltimore Orioles Earl Weaver who said “It’s what you learn after you know it all that counts.”

I love this poem by Calvin Coolidge. In fact I have a small framed copy of it presented by my residency director at Parkland Memorial Hospital in 1994 on my desk today.

I have never been the smartest, fastest, strongest, talented or educated dog in the pack.    I just work hard and don’t quit. I love the journeyman that one finds in baseball. I admire the utility player who can play a lot of different positions, plug holes and fit in well on the team. The same for the pitchers pitchers that pitch in middle relief or are the 5th starter in the rotation. I like the guys that gut it out and hang around long after others have written them off.

I have been having to go through and recount the really significant parts of my life as I get ready for the EMDR and Biofeedback therapy for my PTSD. It has been really amazing to see a couple of threads that are prominent in the tapestry of my life and without which I would not be me. The things that keep coming up again and again are a dogged persistence to succeed and unwillingness to quit and profound dislike of bullies.

My Clinical Pastoral Education residency which followed a brutal seminary process was one of the most pivotal parts of my life. My CPE Supervisor was a man named Steve Ivy. CPE is one of the best training in that anyone working with people in churches, hospitals or the military can have. For me it helped me see areas that I was blind to in my life. It helped me become a better listener and more accepting of others. But even more it helped me, and still helps me integrate me theology and philosophy into life.  Dr Ivy made a comment that was one of the most instrumental in my life since I heard it. That is that I can write my future that I do not have to be condemned to perpetually repeating the past or being stuck in place or being a victim of circumstances or others. It was a revelation of a positive humanity and the grace of God.

But even before that I was a fighter. In seminary when everything that one could imagine to go wrong did and pastors, and people at ministries told me that I should reconsider my call or quit. In the fall of 1989 when everything had gone to complete shit in our lives, Judy was sick, we had lost our home, cars and were living in a horrible house in a horrible neighborhood of Fort Worth, I was working two jobs and was in the National Guard, was a full time student and it looked like my time in seminary was over and that I had failed I called a TV ministry prayer line. I told my story to the prayer partner who told me that I couldn’t be called to ministry because if I was “God would be blessing me.” Somehow that hit me wrong. I just couldn’t imagine Jesus telling anyone that, nor could I reconcile it with Scripture or Church History.

I got mad and kept working despite everything going to hell managed to hang in long enough for things to work out. I didn’t do it all myself because a lot of people came alongside when they saw that I was in this for the long haul and would not quit. I graduated from seminary in 1992 with a 3.5 or 3.7 GPA, I can’t remember which and am not looking at a transcript while working more than full time and being in the National Guard. I worked my ass off and between good people and the grace of God made it through.

That continued after seminary when I was a late addition to the residency program at Parkland, when I got my first hospital chaplain job and when I was rebuffed by a senior chaplain in the Army Chief of Chaplains to return to active duty as a very young Army Reserve Major in 1997. He told me that I wasn’t good enough to bring back.

But despite that things continued to work out. I was helped along the way by great people. I had opportunities that opened up which gave me great experience and provided for my family. This culminated when I was selected for active duty in the Navy and resigned my Army commission to go in the Navy Chaplain Corps at a lower rank in February 1999.

There have been hard times in the Navy especially after my return from Iraq. I went through an emotional and spiritual crisis that I never imagined was possible, but I  I didn’t quit. I am an average guy who worked hard and got a lot of help along the way. But had I quit at any point I wouldn’t be where I am now and there were plenty of opportunities when I was ready to give up but held on just long enough to make it through.

Calvin Coolidge was so right. I am not the most talented person that I know in my field. I am not a genius and though I have a good education there are plenty of other people that know a lot more than me. However, I am persistent. I gain inspiration every day when I look on my desk and read that poem. I am thankful for grace of God and the people that God put in my life and who helped me during the tough times. I hope that I can always be the kind of person that helps people through their tough times and inspires them to keep trying, to keep working and never to quit and then pass that along to others.

The past few weeks have been a blessing because I have had to look back at my life and remember what got me to this point. Some of the memories have been difficult to think about because they were so difficult but at the end of the day I can count myself blessed.

Have a great night and don’t give up your dreams and always stay in the fight.

Peace and Blessings!

Padre Steve+

 

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Faith and Doubt: A Reflection on Christmas

“God weeps with us so that we may one day laugh with him.” Jürgen Moltmann

There was a time in my life that faith in God, for me the Christian God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit was something that I pretty much took for granted until I had my own crisis of faith when I returned from Iraq in 2008.  It was that crisis where for all practical purposes I was an agnostic trying to believe while feeling abandoned by God and many of his people.  That crisis has etched a permanent scar in my soul which has led to some fairly major changes in my life but even more so forced me to actually enter what Saint John of the Cross called the “Dark Night of the Soul.”  Not that that is in any way a bad thing as difficult as it is.

I will not tell of how my great spiritual disciplines helped me get through this as they did not. I found it hard to pray or believe in anything for nearly two years as I struggled with abandonment. I felt that God, the Church and the Navy had abandoned me.  I was losing my battle with PTSD during that time, depressed, anxious and despairing I threw myself into my work among the critically ill ICU patients and those that cared for them.  Christmas Eve of 2008 was spent in despair as I wandered through the darkness on a cold night after leaving Mass because I could not get through it.

Though I found a community and camaraderie among those that I worked with and tried to provide spiritual care for my own condition grew worse, so much so that my clinical duties had to be curtailed in September of 2009.  I still stood the overnight duty and filled in for others as needed but for a number of months I had no ward assignments.  On one of the on call nights not long before Christmas I received a call to the ER where I was called to give the last rites to a retired Navy Medical Doctor who was a true Saint, faithful to God, his Church and the community where for years he had dedicated much of his practice to the poorest members of the community to include prisoners in the Portsmouth City Jail. He breathed his last as I prayed this prayer following the anointing of the sick:

Depart, O Christian soul, out of this world;

In the Name of God the Father Almighty who created you;

In the Name of Jesus Christ who redeemed you;

In the Name of the Holy Spirit who sanctifies you.

May your rest be this day in peace,

and your dwelling place in the Paradise of God.

Something happened that night and by Christmas Eve I realized that something was happening to me. As I wrote in Padre Steve’s Christmas Miracle on Christmas Eve of 2009 following an incredibly busy day full of life and death situations and ministry which amazed me:

“Mid afternoon I was walking down the hall and I experienced a wave of emotion flood over me, and unlike the majority of emotions that I have felt in the past couple of years this was different.  It was a feeling of grace and I guess the presence of God.  I went up and talked with Elmer the shrink about what I was feeling and the experience was awesome, I was in tears as I shared, not the tears of sadness, but of grace.  I am beginning to re-experience the grace of God, something that has been so long absent that I did not expect it, at least right now.  I didn’t do anything differently; I certainly was not working extra hard to pray more, get more spiritual or pack my brain full of Bible verses.  I was too far gone to do those things.  It was all I could do many mornings just to get out of bed and come to work.”

Since that time I have continued to recover faith and belief. I cannot say that it is the same kind of faith that I had before Iraq. No this was different, it was faith born of the terrible emptiness and pain of abandonment and despair, a faith that is not content with easy answers and not afraid to ask questions.  It is a faith in Jesus Christ, the crucified one who’s image we see hanging from the crucifix and adorning icons of the Crucifixion. It is as Jürgen Moltmann wrote in The Crucified God:

“The Symbol of the Crucifix in church points to the God who was crucified not between two candles on an altar, but between two thieves in the place of the skull, where the outcasts belong, outside the gates of the city. It is a symbol which therefore leads out of the church and out of religious longing in to the fellowship of the oppressed and abandoned. On the other hand, it is a symbol which calls the oppressed and godless into the church and through the church into the fellowship of the crucified God”

My Philosophy of Religion Professor in seminary, Dr. Yandall Woodfin told us in class that until we had “dealt with the reality of suffering and death we were not doing Christian theology.” At the time the words were offensive to me, but by the time I had graduated and also done a year of Clinical Pastoral Education they became a part of my experience, but even then that did not prepare me for the darkness that I lived in from February of 2008 until that Christmas Eve of 2009.  I would say that in addition to grappling with suffering and death that one has to add the abandonment of the outcast to the equation.

It is from this perspective that I will look at an ancient document that for many Christians is their Baptismal statement of faith or Creed.  ‘Credo in unum Deum’ “I Believe in God” is no longer for me simply a theological proposition which I both ascent to and defend, but rather an experience of God born out of pain, despair, anxiety, doubt, unbelief and abandonment finding almost no Christians willing to walk through the darkness with me, including clergy. It was if I was radioactive, many people had “answers” but none understood the questions and until my therapist Dr. Elmer Maggard asked me “how I was with the big guy?” and Commodore Tom Sitsch asked me “Where does a Chaplain go for help?”

When I finally collapsed in the summer of 2008 and met with Dr. Maggard I made a conscious decision that I would not hide what I was going through because I felt that if someone didn’t speak out then others like me wouldn’t seek help. In the nearly three years since I returned from Iraq I have encountered many people, men and women, current and former military personnel and families of veterans who came to me either in person or through this website.  Included were military chaplains also experiencing life and faith crisis. Most said that I was the first Chaplain or minister that they had met or read who said that he struggled with faith, belief and didn’t know if God existed.  In each of those encounters there was a glimmer of hope for me and I think for them, for the first time we had people that we could be open with.  Co-workers and others said that I was “real” and I certainly do not boast of that because it was painful to try to be transparent with people while in the depths of doubt and despair while hoping that somehow God would touch them with some measure of grace when I found it hard to believe.  I guess it was the fact that I was willing to walk, sometimes in unusual circumstances and locations with them even if it meant facing my own pain and doubt. I was learning something about being what Henri Nouwen called a wounded healer.  Nouwen wrote:

“Nobody escapes being wounded. We all are wounded people, whether physically, emotionally, mentally, or spiritually. The main question is not “How can we hide our wounds?” so we don’t have to be embarrassed, but “How can we put our woundedness in the service of others?” When our wounds cease to be a source of shame, and become a source of healing, we have become wounded healers.”

In the past year I have still had my times of struggle but have also found others that have gone through similar times.  People like me that have experienced the terrible effects of a crisis of faith that leads a person into despair of even to the point of life itself and all that is good. I am fortunate. I was talking with my Bishop recently in regard to the struggle that I have had in recovering the disciplines of the spiritual life. Thankfully she does understand and was encouraging. I guess that is why now when I have more compassion for someone when they tell me that they “lost their faith” especially those that have been changed by their experience of war or other trauma. I don’t necessarily have all the answers for them because I am quite obviously still figuring it out myself. However as I found sometimes it is not the person with the answers but simply the person that takes time to listen and care that is more important to a person when they struggle, especially for those that before the traumatic event had been strong believers.

I’ll write a bit more about Christmas and faith but not tonight.

Peace

Padre Steve+

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Grace in Freedom: Lent 2011

“Grace is the beauty of form under the influence of freedom.” Johann Friedrich Von Schiller

“Joy is the most infallible sign of the presence of God.” Pierre Teilhard de Chardin

My readers who have been with me the past couple of years know that Lent is probably, no wait definitely my least favorite part of the liturgical year. I think it is because the way that I saw it in the past. The problem was that I saw a long list of things not to do, or too do and that Lent was more about getting things “right” in terms of obligations, fasting, prayer, penance and trying to survive 40 days until Easter liberated me from the torture.

The last couple of years I have tried to make light of Lent writing about how to survive the season in rather humorous ways, or rather cynical ways as I struggled with PTSD, depression, abandonment and a loss of faith that for all practical purposes left me an agnostic. It was the only way that I knew how to deal with it because before Iraq my Lenten observances prior to Iraq, while genuine were torturous because I had missed the reason for the season. This year is different because my life is starting to come back into focus and faith after a long absence has returned.

This year I begin Lent in a new church. My readers know that last year I was tossed out of my old church by a corrupt bishop who later got destroyed his ministry and lost his office because of his own duplicitous nature and hubris. The charge was that I was too “liberal” and that I would be better I found a home with the Apostolic Catholic Orthodox Church, North American Old Catholic. I also was transferred to be the head of the Pastoral Care Department of a very busy Naval Hospital on a Marine Corps Base. Both the changes in church as well as the change in duty assignment have helped me.  I am more at peace and find work rewarding. I find that I am at peace in the ACOC a church where my Catholic faith and more “liberal” views are in sync and where I am not looking over my shoulder wondering if I will be censured or silenced as I had been in my previous church on a number of occasions.

While I still struggle with PTSD the effects are not as pronounced as they were even six months ago.  I made my first trip by air since my father died last June. Since returning from Iraq air travel, crowds, noise and light have often sent me into a complete panic and what I would describe as a PTSD “meltdown.”  While I still experienced some anxiety during the travel I was able to deal with it and had no panic induced meltdowns.  That was a major milestone for me and a sign that I am getting better.

So this year Lent and Ash Wednesday was different than either before Iraq when I was trying to faithfully observe the rituals but missed the bigger point and the time after Iraq where Lent made little sense because I didn’t even know if I believed in God.  This year my celebration of Lent, and I use the word celebrate rather than observe is grounded in the love, grace and mercy of God. Something clicked this year and I think it was in really understanding the words found in Paul’s Second Epistle to the Corinthians, the 5th Chapter verses 17 through 21.

“So 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. So we are ambassadors for Christ, since God is making his appeal through us; we entreat 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.” (2 Cor 5:17-21 NRSV emphasis mine)

What I have discovered in this is something that has changed is that middle part “in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting the message of reconciliation to us.”

That has become liberating because I think I finally get what really means. It is about a God who of his own accord loves his creation; he loves real people in a real world including me.  Lent like all of the Gospel is about reconciliation between God, humanity and creation. Likewise it is also about reconciliation and forgiveness between people and even nations. It is about the Prince of Peace and less about external ritual.

I’m not saying that there is no value in observing spiritual disciplines such as fasting, abstinence or additional prayers or good works, but if they don’t lead us into a deeper relationship with God and help bring us into right relationship with others they really are worth nothing. I think that Jesus when talking about those that made sure that everyone saw the external aspects of their faith, or to better put it how holy they were, hit the nail on the head. In fact it was the Gospel lesson today in the Ash Wednesday Liturgy “Beware of practicing your piety before others in order to be seen by them…” It is faith and the grace of God in Christ Jesus that is the only antidote to the sin that keeps us from living fully reconciled to God and our neighbor and for that matter the only things that can bring us to joy not trying to impress people with our piety.

I will be observing some of the Lenten disciplines this year but with a far different attitude and expectation in the past. I will seek to live the reconciled life both with God and those that I in relationship with and those that I come across. I realize that it is okay to be me and that I can be real and don’t have to try to be someone or something that I am not. It is to live in grace and freedom in right relationship to God, people and his creation. This Lent I will endeavor to live in that grace and freedom seeking to live the reconciled life.

God bless you during this Lenten Season.

Peace

Padre Steve+

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Star Trek God and Me: Ecclesiastical Tyranny Today, the Drumhead Revisited

Picard being interrogated by Satie and her assistants (Paramount Pictures)

We think we’ve come so far. Torture of heretics, burning of witches it’s all ancient history. Then – before you can blink an eye – suddenly it threatens to start all over again. Captain Lean Luc Picard (Patrick Stewart) Star Trek the Next Generation “The Drumhead”

Back in May of 2009 when still struggling with faith, belief and God as I wrestled with PTSD and a number of other life issues I wrote an article entitled Star Trek, God and Me 1966 to 2009 . At the time I was pretty much a mess but as I wrote it I realized that all of life is connected and my Christian faith does not occur in a void that has no connection with the rest of life. It is this rediscovery of the reality of faith that helps guide me now. I make no claims to be correct on everything and I am much more apt to err on the side of grace, although I have a lot of difficulty with those that use the Christian faith as a weapon to subjugate others and to deny civil and religious rights and human dignity to those that believe differently than they do.  This is why I write today.

I remember as a teenager going to a pretty conservative church which in many ways was basically an evangelical Christian subculture that looked out at the world as if it were the enemy and “non-Christians” as if they were lesser people because they were not “saved.”  In fact if you mentioned that you knew someone that was not a member of the church people almost invariably would ask if the person was “saved.”  This subcultural attitude which is actually quite prejudicial even if it is well intentioned pervades much of contemporary Evangelicalism and when some Evangelical leaders suggest dialogue and relationships with the “unsaved” which are respectful to non-Christians they are often labeled as “liberals” or “heretics.”

This has happened to me in the past couple of years since returning from Iraq and having to leave the Church that I served for 14 years as a Priest and Canon.  I wrote an article called Faith Journey’s: Why I am Still a Christian in September of 2010 which detailed the journey that I have been on. When I left the church I wrote another article that was picked up on another blog which was entitled The Church Maintained in Love: Maintaining Integrity and Preserving Relationships When Asked to Leave a Church.  A number of people made comments on that article either positive or handled with grace and love but one anonymous person posted a comment which showed the extreme ugliness of some “Christian” conservatives who are quite willing to use character assassination, sound bites and absolute lies to smear another Christian brother who happens to disagree with them.  The moderator of that blog took down the comment because it was so off base and offered his apologies to me having been a target of people in our former church when he left years ago. Though the post was anonymous it had to be someone that knew me because it was very personal couched in “religious piety” but filled with lies and distortions. So much for Christian love….

But back to the Star Trek theme which believe it or not weaves its way through this saga. It seems to me that a lot of Christians talk big but act like they are afraid of the big bad world and if criticized fall into the litany of how bad things are, how the world hates Christians and hunker down into a fortress mentality.  Others keep the fortress but decide that it is high time that they as Christians “kick some liberal ass” and declare “war” on those not like them.  Some couch this in more moderate terms but others like the bomb-throwing activist Randall Terry show the dark side of this mentality:

“Let a wave of intolerance wash over you. I want you to let a wave of hatred wash over you. Yes, hate is good…. If a Christian voted for Clinton, he sinned against God. It’s that simple…. Our goal is a Christian Nation… we have a biblical duty, we are called by God to conquer this country. We don’t want equal time. We don’t want Pluralism. We want theocracy. Theocracy means God rules. I’ve got a hot flash. God rules.”  [Randall Terry, Head of Operation Rescue, from The News Sentinel, Fort Wayne, Indiana, Aug 15, 1993]

“Let a wave of intolerance wash over you. I want you to let a wave of hatred wash over you. Yes, hate is good…” The continued twisted “Christian”  message of Randall Terry (Life Magazine)


The quote is nearly 18 years old but the attitude is quite common today as “Christians” gird themselves for war.  If you ask me the attitude is not Christian at all, but something out of the Middle Eastern mindset of the Old Testament which found its way into some parts of the Christian faith especially the Calvinism espoused by the Puritans who initially settled New England which is used as a pattern by Christian “Reconstructionists” and others of similar thinking. It seems to me to represent all that Jesus condemned many of his religious contemporaries for doing.  Jesus preached the Kingdom of God was at hand and for people to repent, however his harshest warnings and condemnations came not on the people that the religious considered the “unsaved” the Gentiles, prostitutes, tax collectors and other sinners but at the smug religious people that ruled that ruled their countrymen with a religious law often more draconian than that of the oppressive Romans especially in the way that it treated others outside the fold.

The attitude is actually quite poisonous when you look at it in light of history and the effect that such an approach to life and others.  I can go to historic examples galore since we as Christians often have a sordid record when it comes to treating those that Christ gave his life for with any kind of love, charity or compassion often engaging in wars, pogroms, persecution, the Inquisition and state/church sanctioned mass murder even against fellow Christians that don’t agree with are particular line of thought.  But if I do that it strikes some as if I am trying to be unfair, so I will go to a Star Trek example which I used a while back in another post on a different subject but it fits.

The example comes from the Star Trek TNG episode called “The Drumhead” The episode involves a suspected case of sabotage and spying on the Enterprise and a retired Admiral is sent to investigate. Though evidence leads away from this conclusion the Admiral and her aid drive home the point and widen the investigation for any suspicious acts. Soon the loyalty of anyone that raises a voice to question the premise of the investigation is suspect to include the Captain, Jean Luc Picard.

The Admiral is a true believer in the Federation, actually a Zealot who describes a life that is quite similar to modern Zealots of religious and non-religious varieties in conservative and liberal thought in this and other countries. Zealots tend to surround themselves with others like them and often live lonely isolated existences in which they are on a mission to make sure that the edicts of their faith are obeyed and enforced by whatever religious or governmental structures will accommodate them.  Admiral Satie, the investigator details her life to Picard: “Captain, may I tell you how I spent the past four years? From planet to starbase to planet. I have no home. I live on starships and shuttlecraft. I haven’t seen a family member in years. I have no friends. But I have a purpose. My father taught me from the time I was a little girl still clutching a blanket, that the United Federation of Planets is the most remarkable institution ever conceived. And it is my cause to make sure that this… extraordinary union be preserved.” Simply substitute the “United States of America” or “Christianity” for the United Federation of Planets and the picture paints a picture of us today.

After a lengthy opening the Admiral throws this at Picard: “I question your actions, Captain; I question your choices, I question your loyalty!”

Picard dares to reply with a quote from the Admiral’s father, a noted jurist: “You know, there are some words I’ve known since I was a schoolboy: “With the first link, the chain is forged. The first speech censured, the first thought forbidden, the first freedom denied, chains us all irrevocably.” Those words were uttered by Judge Aaron Satie, as wisdom and warning. The first time any man’s freedom is trodden on, we’re all damaged. I fear that today…”

The Admiral becomes furious and turns her wrath against Picard: “How dare you! You who consort with Romulans, invoke my father’s name to support your traitorous arguments! It is an offense to everything I hold dear! And to hear those words used to subvert the United Federation of Planets. My father was a great man! His name stands for integrity and principle. You dirty his name when you speak it! He loved the Federation. But you, Captain, corrupt it. You undermine our very way of life. I will expose you for what you are. I’ve brought down bigger men than you, Picard!”

One only has to look at other Zealots of the Reconstructionist theology to see where this is going: Gary North one of the long time leaders of this movement said: “So let us be blunt about it: We must use the doctrine of religious liberty to gain independence for Christian schools until we train up a generation of people who know that there is no religious neutrality, no neutral law, no neutral education, and no neutral civil government. Then they will be get busy in constructing a Bible-based social, political and religious order which finally denies the religious liberty of the enemies of God.” –Gary North, “The Intellectual Schizophrenia of the New Christian Right” in Christianity and Civilization: The Failure of the American Baptist Culture, No. 1 (Spring, 1982), p. 25

Another important leader of the Christian right noted “We are engaged in a social, political, and cultural war. There’s a lot of talk in America about pluralism. But the bottom line is somebody’s values will prevail. And the winner gets the right to teach our children what to believe.” — Gary Bauer, Family Research Council.

Unfortunately the leaders of this particular view of Christianity are not much different than the fictitious Admiral Satie and I do expect that their crusade will not be done anytime soon.  I know the character of such people having been their target.  Based on the words of my critic who totally twisted what I said and believe in this pejorative and frankly distorted screed:

From his writings on his blog, it’s quite clear that he is the one who’s taking a new direction away from Scripture and the ancient faith, which is the basis for his departure. Fr. Steve has changed his beliefs to now accept women priests, gay “saints”, Muslim “saints”, etc. I might call the acceptance of women priests “liberal”, but the other two are really just heresy – though I’m certain many (particularly Catholic and Orthodox) readers would lump women priests into the heresy category as well. Didn’t Jesus really die on the Cross to reconcile us to God teaching us that He is the only way to the Father? Yet 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….I will pray for Fr. Steve, that the Holy Spirit will reveal the Truth to him and bring him back to the true faith whether that’s with the CEC or another communion.”

The person that wrote this was anonymous and posed as an administrator on the other site using the name “admin.” What bothers me is the disingenuousness of the statement and the manner in which my beliefs were twisted to include implying that I had denied the “true faith” were bandied about by this person who as I said had to know me especially since my former church is a very small communion which has been shrinking for years due to its own internal problems. I have my suspicions of who the writer might be but cannot prove it beyond a doubt and the fact that he hid his identity is telling, only cowards that have no honor make such attacks from the shadows rather than speaking to a brother in person as the words of Scripture command.

The sad thing is that everything that I wrote is backed by the teachings of the Catholic Church and the Second Vatican Council and I never denied the Creeds, Councils and my Scriptural hermeneutics (not the way they were twisted) were within the bounds of the Christian faith in belief that the love and grace of God triumph over sin and unbelief and that we cannot earn that grace.  But according to my critic I am an apostate who has left the faith and my words are twisted beyond belief to “prove” his point.  This is the kind of person that uses the Creeds and Scripture not as means to faith and expressions of a living faith based on the mercy grace and love of God but as means of ecclesiastical control, not much different from that of the Medieval Catholic Church which I am sure that he would condemn since he refuses to be reconciled to Rome. It is funny to be criticized as a heretic by someone who would qualify as such if judged he were by Rome or even Orthodoxy.

Randall Terry, Gary Bauer, my anonymous critic and others represent the nature of the Admiral Satie in our universe and time-space continuum as opposed to the hypothetical future of Star Trek.  Just watch their behavior in the coming months and years. The war is afoot and woe betides anyone that stands in their way.  At the end of the Drumhead episode when Satie’s and her investigation are discredited Captain Picard and his Security Chief Lieutenant Worf a Klingon, gives us final word of warning about the Satie’s of this world:

Lieutenant Worf: [referring to Admiral Satie] I think… after yesterday, people will not be so ready to trust her.

Captain Jean-Luc Picard: Maybe. But she, or someone like her, will always be with us, waiting for the right climate in which to flourish, spreading fear in the name of righteousness. Vigilance, Mister Worf – that is the price we have to continually pay.

I guess that is why God still speaks to me through Star Trek; sometimes the words are pretty prophetic and speak to us in ways that those who loudly proclaim themselves to be on God’s side in a social, political and cultural war ever will.

Peace

Padre Steve+

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Introduction to “I Believe please Help Me Believe: The Apostle’s Creed for those Who Struggle with Faith”

“God weeps with us so that we may one day laugh with him.” Jürgen Moltmann

This is the first of a series of essays on the topic of doubt and faith related to the Apostle’s Creed.  There was a time in my life that faith in God, for me the Christian God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit was something that I pretty much took for granted until I had my own crisis of faith when I returned from Iraq in 2008.  It was that crisis where for all practical purposes I was an agnostic trying to believe while feeling abandoned by God and many of his people.  That crisis has etched a permanent scar in my soul which has led to some fairly major changes in my life but even more so forced me to actually enter what Saint John of the Cross called the “Dark Night of the Soul.”

I will not tell of how my great spiritual disciplines helped me get through this as they did not. I found it hard to pray or believe in anything for nearly two years as I struggled with abandonment. I felt that God, the Church and the Navy had abandoned me.  I was losing my battle with PTSD during that time, depressed, anxious and despairing I threw myself into my work among the critically ill ICU patients and those that cared for them.  Christmas Eve of 2008 was spent in despair as I wandered through the darkness on a cold night after leaving Mass because I could not get through it.

Though I found a community and camaraderie among those that I worked with and tried to provide spiritual care for my own condition grew worse, so much so that my clinical duties had to be curtailed in September of 2009.  I still stood the overnight duty and filled in for others as needed but for a number of months I had no ward assignments.  On one of the on call nights not long before Christmas I received a call to the ER where I was called to give the last rites to a retired Navy Medical Doctor who was a true Saint, faithful to God, his Church and the community where for years he had dedicated much of his practice to the poorest members of the community to include prisoners in the Portsmouth City Jail. He breathed his last as I prayed this prayer following the anointing of the sick:

Depart, O Christian soul, out of this world;

In the Name of God the Father Almighty who created you;

In the Name of Jesus Christ who redeemed you;

In the Name of the Holy Spirit who sanctifies you.

May your rest be this day in peace,

and your dwelling place in the Paradise of God.

Something happened that night and by Christmas Eve I realized that something was happening to me. As I wrote in Padre Steve’s Christmas Miracle on Christmas Eve of 2009 following an incredibly busy day full of life and death situations and ministry which amazed me:

“Mid afternoon I was walking down the hall and I experienced a wave of emotion flood over me, and unlike the majority of emotions that I have felt in the past couple of years this was different.  It was a feeling of grace and I guess the presence of God.  I went up and talked with Elmer the shrink about what I was feeling and the experience was awesome, I was in tears as I shared, not the tears of sadness, but of grace.  I am beginning to re-experience the grace of God, something that has been so long absent that I did not expect it, at least right now.  I didn’t do anything differently; I certainly was not working extra hard to pray more, get more spiritual or pack my brain full of Bible verses.  I was too far gone to do those things.  It was all I could do many mornings just to get out of bed and come to work.”

Since that time I have continued to recover faith and belief. I cannot say that it is the same kind of faith that I had before Iraq. No this was different, it was faith born of the terrible emptiness and pain of abandonment and despair, a faith that is not content with easy answers and not afraid to ask questions.  It is a faith in Jesus Christ, the crucified one who’s image we see hanging from the crucifix and adorning icons of the Crucifixion. It is as Jürgen Moltmann wrote in The Crucified God:

“The Symbol of the Crucifix in church points to the God who was crucified not between two candles on an altar, but between two thieves in the place of the skull, where the outcasts belong, outside the gates of the city. It is a symbol which therefore leads out of the church and out of religious longing in to the fellowship of the oppressed and abandoned. On the other hand, it is a symbol which calls the oppressed and godless into the church and through the church into the fellowship of the crucified God”

My Philosophy of Religion Professor in seminary, Dr. Yandall Woodfin told us in class that until we had “dealt with the reality of suffering and death we were not doing Christian theology.” At the time the words were offensive to me, but by the time I had graduated and also done a year of Clinical Pastoral Education they became a part of my experience, but even then that did not prepare me for the darkness that I lived in from February of 2008 until that Christmas Eve of 2009.  I would say that in addition to grappling with suffering and death that one has to add the abandonment of the outcast to the equation.

It is from this perspective that I will look at an ancient document that for many Christians is their Baptismal statement of faith or Creed.  ‘Credo in unum Deum’ “I Believe in God” is no longer for me simply a theological proposition which I both ascent to and defend, but rather an experience of God born out of pain, despair, anxiety, doubt, unbelief and abandonment finding almost no Christians willing to walk through the darkness with me, including clergy. It was if I was radioactive, many people had “answers” but none understood the questions and until my therapist Dr. Elmer Maggard asked me “how I was with the big guy?” and Commodore Tom Sitsch asked me “Where does a Chaplain go for help?”

When I finally collapsed in the summer of 2008 and met with Dr. Maggard I made a conscious decision that I would not hide what I was going through because I felt that if someone didn’t speak out then others like me wouldn’t seek help. In the nearly three years since I returned from Iraq I have encountered many people, men and women, current and former military personnel and families of veterans who came to me either in person or through this website.  Included were military chaplains also experiencing life and faith crisis. Most said that I was the first Chaplain or minister that they had met or read who said that he struggled with faith, belief and didn’t know if God existed.  In each of those encounters there was a glimmer of hope for me and I think for them, for the first time we had people that we could be open with.  Co-workers and others said that I was “real” and I certainly do not boast of that because it was painful to try to be transparent with people while in the depths of doubt and despair while hoping that somehow God would touch them with some measure of grace when I found it hard to believe.  I guess it was the fact that I was willing to walk, sometimes in unusual circumstances and locations with them even if it meant facing my own pain and doubt. I was learning something about being what Henri Nouwen called a wounded healer.  Nouwen wrote:

“Nobody escapes being wounded. We all are wounded people, whether physically, emotionally, mentally, or spiritually. The main question is not “How can we hide our wounds?” so we don’t have to be embarrassed, but “How can we put our woundedness in the service of others?” When our wounds cease to be a source of shame, and become a source of healing, we have become wounded healers.”

My journey through the words of the Apostle’s Creed will be less of a doctrinal exposition than a pastoral narrative of rediscovering faith. It is my hope and prayer that this feeble and imperfect attempt to experience the Apostle’s Creed will be of help to people.  People like me that have experienced the terrible effects of a crisis of faith that leads a person into despair of even to the point of life itself and all that is good.

Peace

Padre Steve+

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A War Crime Denier, an American Terrorist in Karachi, a Christian Bully and thoughts on Grace and Reconciliation on a Lenten Sunday

Molly Checking My Facts

Well sports fans I sit up with my little Papillion-Dachshund mix Molly musing tonight after watch a replay of a pre-season baseball game.  Today of course I have been dealing with the pain caused by Adolf my large and well dug in kidney stone who evidently will resist until the end and have to be blasted by a laser on Tuesday.  I didn’t sleep well last night and woke up in pain this morning and look to be doing the same tonight, hopefully the pain and sleep meds will kick in and I will get some sleep.  As I wait I shall write as Bucky Katt once said “you can wordify anything if you just verb it.” So tonight I shall spend some time with a war crime denier, an American traitor, an allegedly “Christian” political pundit and muse on grace and reconciliation, which are key themes in my Lenten journey this year.

So anyway….today was a weird day.  I had an irate Japanese “Rape of Nanking” denier comment on my article about that subject.  Sorry, the truth hurts war crimes and atrocities committed against civilians by any nation are immoral and to defend the indefensible or try to deflect criticism by referring to other nations that have done similar acts is simply being an accomplice to evil.  That goes for any nation including the United States and unfortunately our history is not always as pristine as some would make it out to be.

Moving on… there are conflicting reports that one of the great traitors in modern United States history, Adam Gadahn the chief spokesman for Al Qaeda was apprehended by Pakistani security forces in Karachi yesterday. A day after Gadahn urged Moslems in the US to emulate the Fort Hood terrorist Major Malik Hasan and attack high value targets in the United States Pakistani officials announced that he had been captured. However later reports that the Al Qaeda member captured may not be him after all.  This guy is a slime bag of the biggest order and I hope that if we didn’t get him this time that he will catch a Hellfire missile between his eyes so he can be the martyr that he urges others to be.  Lead by example Adam, its called leadership but then it is always easier to urge people that you don’t know or care about to do the dying for you.  Don’t worry someday you will get your 70 Virginians and they will kick your sorry ass for eternity.  If the Hellfire doesn’t get you Adam I hope that you get captured and sent to prison here in the US with the Trinity Broadcasting Network (TBN or the Terrible Blond Network) piped into your jail cell 24/7, an unending supply of Chick tracts and Gordon Klingenschmitt as your Chaplain, a fate worse than a fate worse than death.

While the aforementioned idiots are simply idiotic at least they don’t attempt to rationalize illegal or dishonorable activity by citing scripture and invoking Jesus like Townhall.com columnist Doug Giles did on Sunday.  Giles likes to fancy himself a defender of American and Christian values but is simply a bully whose imbecilic theological rants are about as Christian as those of Adam Gadahn, the American born Al Qaeda spokesman.  Giles prostitutes the Christian faith and wraps it around the flag so that the Gospel is indistinguishable from right wing politics.  The fact that he uses Jesus and says that Jesus would approve of such behavior is blasphemous and the fact that he has a degree from a seminary puts him on the same level as religious leaders of Al Qaeda, the Taliban, Hezbollah and the Iranian Revolutionary Guard clerics in camouflage.  I do believe that Christians should not divorce their faith from politics and that faith can inform and guide a Christian in life and even in politics but Giles and his radicalized followers are dangerous and will be the death of the Evangelical church.  His justification of the use of methods including deception and violence that in times past would have been denounced by the church are simply heretical and not a part of the Christian faith, even if he can “proof text” by citing disjointed and unrelated scriptural texts and by drawing false analogies to justify or prove his point.  While he as a conservative pundit may well oppose and even rightly criticize his political opponents it is wrong to use God or Scripture to justify unseemly and dirty politics even if one is tackling equally unseemly opponents.  I think this is why so many theologians, pastors and church leaders throughout history going back the Apostles and early Church Fathers distained politics and felt that Christians and their faith could only be corrupted by involvement in political movements.  The actions and words of Giles and his fellow travelers may make them feel better but only undermine their witness as Christians as they prostitute the faith for short term political advantage.

Though I did not get to Church today because of not sleeping and being in pain I was able to celebrate Eucharist at home with the Abbess.  If you have read my Lenten meditations you might notice the theme of reconciliation.  Such was the case in the lectionary readings for today, the Gospel being the parable of the Prodigal Son out of Luke Chapter 15 and the New Testament lesson being 2 Corinthians 5: 17-21, the latter which has been a major part of my theological journey since my return from Iraq.  I post the passage below because it speaks volumes about the ontological change that should be part of the Christian life imparted in the waters of Baptism and how that change should be a major part of how we relate to others in the world.  I think it stands in stark contrast to those of any political party who use Scripture and the faith for political gain and power.

“17So if anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation: everything old has passed away; see, everything has become new! 18All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ, and has given us the ministry of reconciliation; 19that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself,* not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting the message of reconciliation to us. 20So we are ambassadors for Christ, since God is making his appeal through us; we entreat you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God. 21For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.” (NRSV)

As Karl Barth said “Grace must find expression in life, otherwise it is not grace.” I dare say that Giles and other “Christian” radicals have forgotten the grace of God or somehow do not think that applies to their opponents.  In their zeal they misuse Scripture and justify hatred forgetting the great commandments to love God and love our neighbor and the witness of Christians who lived in truly evil times like Dietrich Bonhoeffer who said 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.”

And so to you my friends I wish you a good night.

Peace,

Padre Steve+

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