Tag Archives: hurricane katrina

The Absence of Empathy

hqdefault-2Colm Feore as Rudolf Höss

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=A0hJqNuRH1A

“Holocaust? Ninety million Indians? Only four million left? They all have casinos — what’s to complain about?” ~Rush Limbaugh 25 September 2009

One thing that I find amazing in our world, particularly among many pundits who profess themselves to abide by supposed “Christian Principles” who like Rush Limbaugh make comments that defy any sense of Christian morality. If Limbaugh was a lone person making such comments we could blow him off. However there are many like him, professional pundits and politicians but even more concerning are the preachers who make similar statements.

Some of these men and women are quite influential. Their ideas penetrate to many parts of our society, and not just religious people. They include pastors of some of the most politically influential churches and ministries in the country. Whether the comments are directed against Native Americans as was this particular quote from Limbaugh or African Americans, Mexican Americans, Moslems, Gays and Lesbians, Jews (especially liberals) or political liberals they demonstrate a profound and troubling lack of empathy.

In comments about the genocidal extermination of Native Americans by whites David Barton said: “You have to deal, a lot of it, with how the enemy responds. It’s got to be based on what the enemy responds [to,] you cannot reason with certain types of terrorists; and see that’s why we could not get the Indians to the table to negotiate with us on treaties until after we had thoroughly whipped so many tribes …”

If that was not enough he justified those comments and continued his diatribe in much the same manner as the Nazis did the Jews.

“People complain about the fact that the American military and buffalo hunters went out and wiped out all the buffalo in the western plains.  Doing that was what brought the Indians to their knees because the Indians lived on those wide western plains where there were very few towns; Indians didn’t go into town to buy supplies, they went to the buffalo herds, that’s where they got their meat, that’s where they got their coats, the hides provided coats, they provided covering for their teepees.

If you don’t have the buffalos, those Indians cannot live on the open western plains without those buffalo and so what happened was the military wiped out the supply line by wiping out the buffalo.  That’s what brought those wars to an end, that’s what brought the Indians to their knees and ended all the western conflict.”

Bryan Fischer of the American Family Association who is one of the primary preachers of hate against a wide range of groups said about the Native Americans: “Many of the tribal reservations today remain mired in poverty and alcoholism because many native [sic] Americans continue to cling to the darkness of indigenous superstition instead of coming into the light of Christianity and assimilating into Christian culture.”

It is the defense that the end justifies the means, a defense that was excoriated at the various Nuremberg trials. Barton’s defense of the extermination of the Native Americans is akin to what some of the Nuremberg defendants said in their own defense.

But it is not just the extermination of Native Americans that is a concern. Preachers of hate claiming to be speaking for God often show no compassion, empathy or feeling for victims of natural disasters, disease or mass murder. The examples are too numerous to quote from all of them and in the interest of brevity I will just mention a few.

Bryan Fischer who seems to have something to say about everything said after the school shootings in Newtown Connecticut last year:

“The question is going to come up, where was God? I though God cared about the little children. God protects the little children. Where was God when all this went down. Here’s the bottom line, God is not going to go where he is not wanted.” 

Likewise he said about the Moslem extremists who carried out the attacks of 9-11-2001: “The jihadist on 9/11 were the agents of God’s wrath in order to get our attention as a people.” I could go through speech after speech, column after column, diatribe after diatribe of men like Limbaugh, Fischer and so many others demonstrate any sense of empathy for those that they condemn. Some of the worst are from ministers like Fischer.  John Hagee who pastors Cornerstone Church, a mega-church in San Antonio with over 20,000 active members said last week on the Trinity Broadcasting Network that the 9-11 attacks were “God’s judgment on America.” In fact any time a natural disaster hits, especially areas with high percentages of poor people and minorities such as New Orleans during Hurricane Katrina these preachers almost line up gleefully to ascribe them to God’s judgment. Franklin Graham said at the time: “This is one wicked city, OK?  It’s known for Mardi Gras, for Satan worship.  It’s known for sex perversion.  It’s known for every type of drugs and alcohol and the orgies and all of these things that go on down there in New Orleans…There’s been a black spiritual cloud over New Orleans for years….” Later on CNN when confronted about the comments by Larry King Graham backtracked saying:  “I would never say that this is God’s judgment on New Orleans or any other place.”

There is no empathy among these people, no real care or concern, and that is of itself evil.

The comments have become all too pervasive and poisonous. The sad thing is that those make these kind of comments really do have no compassion or empathy for people that they have labeled “enemies of God” or “enemies of America.” They honestly believe that they are doing right. Philosopher Eric Hoffer noted:

“The impression somehow prevails that the true believer, particularly the religious individual, is a humble person. The truth is the surrendering and humbling of the self breed pride and arrogance. The true believer is apt to see himself as one of the chosen, the salt of the earth, the light of the world, a prince disguised in meekness, who is destined to inherit the earth and the kingdom of heaven too. He who is not of his faith is evil; he who will not listen will perish.”

Captain Gustave Gilbert an Army Psychologist at Nuremberg wondered about how people could commit the atrocities of the Holocaust.

“In my work with the defendants (at the Nuremberg Trails 1945-1949) I was searching for the nature of evil and I now think I have come close to defining it. A lack of empathy. It’s the one characteristic that connects all the defendants, a genuine incapacity to feel with their fellow men. Evil, I think, is the absence of empathy.” 

I think he is right the more that I read and listen to men like Limbaugh, Hagee, Fischer and their fellow travelers. That lack of empathy was demonstrated in the words of Rudolf Höss the Commandant of Auschwitz. In an interview with Army Psychiatrist Major Leon Goldensohn at Nuremberg Höss said in regard to his crimes and how he had no feeling or empathy for his victims:

“I thought I was doing the right thing,” said Höss. “I was obeying orders, and now, of course, I see that it was unnecessary and wrong. But I don’t know what you mean by being upset about these things because I didn’t personally murder anybody. I was just the director of the extermination program at Auschwitz. It was Hitler who ordered it through Himmler and it was Eichmann who gave me the orders regarding transports.”

The fact is that these pundits, preachers and politicians lay the groundwork by which people justify the persecution of others by demonizing and dehumanizing those that they detest. While the men doing the preaching today may never actually commit atrocities their words are laying the groundwork that others will use to justify their actions. The crimes committed by the Nazis had their genus in decades of fierce anti-Semitic campaigns conducted often by the same Unholy Trinity of Pundits, Preachers and Politicians.

In Nazi Germany one of the Chief media propagandists was Julius Streicher, publisher of the daily “Der Sturmer.” At Nuremberg the prosecution summed up its case against Streicher:

“The defendant Streicher is an accessory to the persecution of the Jews within Germany and in occupied territories which culminated in mass murder of an estimated six million men, women, and children. The propaganda in Der Stürmer and other Streicher publications, for which he had admitted responsibility, was of a character calculated to stir up fanatic fear and hatred of the Jewish people and to incite to murder…Through propaganda designed to incite hatred and fear, defendant Streicher devoted himself, over a period of twenty-five years, to creating the psychological basis essential to carrying through a program of mass murder. This alone would suffice to establish his guilt as an accessory to the criminal program of extermination.”

I have seen what the dehumanization of people does in Iraq. When I was there both Sunni and Shia military officers refused to have Imam’s in their units because they saw how Imams and Mullahs from both factions in the country fanned the flames of hatred against the other and led the country into civil war and threaten to again. The troubling thing is that I am seeing the same thing here from the religious propagandists of the American political right.

However this is not something that some of these “Christian Leaders” understand. Ideas do have consequences and the preachers of hate are responsible for the evil that they incite, they are accessories to any crimes committed by those who embrace their ideology.

One of the philosophical leaders of the Dominionist movement Gary North who is closely connected to the power structure of the Tea Party wrote: “The long-term goal of Christians in politics should be to gain exclusive control over the franchise. Those who refuse to submit publicly to the eternal sanctions of God by submitting to His Church’s public marks of the covenant–baptism and holy communion–must be denied citizenship, just as they were in ancient Israel.”

It is little different than the philosophy which drove the Nazi persecution of the Jews. It is interesting to compare North’s writings with the Nuremberg Laws: The Law on German Citizenship stated:  “A citizen of the Reich is that subject only who is of German or kindred blood and who, through his conduct, shows that he is both desirous and fit to serve the German people and Reich faithfully.” and that “A Jew cannot be a citizen of the Reich. He has no right to vote in political affairs and he cannot occupy public office.”

That poisonous message is something that allowed people like Höss do what they did and feel nothing for their victims. They were and are truly men without empathy.

Well, I am tired, so I will say goodnight.

Peace

Padre Steve+

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Filed under ethics, History, Political Commentary, Religion

Massive Tornado: Pray and Do Something to Help the People of Oklahoma

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This week has been a rough week for many locales in the Midwest with serve weather and an outbreak of tornados. Ground zero for many of these storms has been the State of Oklahoma, the center of we call “Tornado Ally” and today that state, particularly the suburban communities around Oklahoma City were devastated by what might be one of the most powerful tornados ever to hit an American city. Ground zero was the city of Moore Oklahoma, no stranger to such weather having been hit by major tornados in 1998, 1999 and 2004. Today’s tornado is estimated to be at least an EF-4 with winds of 160 miles an hour and some estimate that it could be an EF-5, the strongest category of tornado with winds of 200 miles an hour cutting a swath of destruction a mile wide at the base of the tornado and a path 20 miles long. It was on the ground about minutes hitting its crescendo as hit struck Moore. Whole neighborhoods are destroyed with only driveways and foundations remaining.

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See the time lapse video on NBC News: http://www.nbcnews.com/video/nbc-news/51945473/#51945473

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The casualties continue to mount. At least 51 are known dead and hundreds injured at the present time and the toll is certain to mount. The areas hit included residential areas as well as schools and hospitals. Two schools received direct hits and one of those schools has reported that students were killed. The major hospital in the city was destroyed and now unable to operate. First responders in many cases are often victims themselves and quite possibly will return to their homes and find that they no longer exist. Lives destroyed and disrupted and property destroyed or severely damaged.  The people in Oklahoma are incredibly resilient and tough but they will need help from other Americans, both through the Federal and State Governments but also from various relief agencies such as the Red Cross, Salvation Army Disaster Services and other agencies who are trained and equipped to give aid.

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This happened to our fellow citizens, Americans. These are American citizens just as other Americans were impacted by Hurricanes Sandy and Katrina, the city of Joplin Missouri destroyed by a tornado much like the one that hit Oklahoma today. In other places in this country whole areas have been devastated by flooding along the Mississippi, Red  and Missouri Rivers, and earthquakes like the one that hit the San Francisco Bay area in 1989.

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I have been through tornados, major hurricanes and severe earthquakes. I have provided emergency assistance directing an emergency shelter for a hurricane and post disaster counseling to staff members of a school destroyed by a tornado. All things being equal I would rather go through an earthquake or hurricane any day of the week before I ever want to go through another tornado. There is something unearthly in the way they wreak devastation, almost a terrible randomness as to where they hit and what survives and does not.

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Please pray for those affected and do what you can to help. To do so through the Red Cross either go to their website www.redcross.org or text REDCROSS 90999. To do so through the Salvation Army go to their website https://donate.salvationarmyusa.org/uss/eds/aok or text “STORM” to 80888 to make a $10 donation through your mobile phone; to confirm your gift, respond with the word “Yes.” A state religious group, the Baptist General Convention of Oklahoma is also providing relief services and those that want to donate to them can do so through their website at http://www.bgco.org/ministries/disaster-relief/donate-to-disaster-relief

Of course there are other ways to give but those are the first that came to my mind and ones that I believe will be able to respond quickly.

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Please, these are Americans. I know that last year when Sandy hit the East Coast that some pundits and politicians did what they could to obstruct aid to the affected areas citing their “principles.” However to me it doesn’t matter if an American is a Republican or Democrat, if a State is a “Red State” or a “Blue State” but rather that they are Americans and that as Americans we are either in this together or we are not. As a Christian I cannot simply say that person is not my neighbor because they do not vote like me, share my faith or live in a different part of the country. They are my neighbors and if you are an American they are yours. Please do what you can to help through private means and encourage your representatives to speed Federal assistance to the people of Oklahoma and other areas hit by these terrible storms.

Peace

Padre Steve+

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Ecumenical Jihadists and Hurricane Sandy: At Last Something that Christian, Moslem and Jewish Extremists can Agree On

While much of New York, New Jersey and West Virginia struggle under the effects of the damage of Hurricane Sandy and millions of people are either homeless, without power or transportation there are those that know why this happened. Close to 60 million Americans have been affected as well as people in Jamaica and Cuba.

While men like President Obama and Governor Chris Christie, elected officials from opposite sides of our partisan chasm work together to coordinate the assistance needed for the millions of people now homeless or without power there are some people that know why this happened.   I don’t know about you but I was impressed by how well Governor Christie and President Obama laid aside the partisanship and worked together to fulfill their respective Oath’s of Office and responsibility to the people that they were elected to serve. That is how real leaders deal with crisis, be it natural or manmade disasters, economic crisis or something like war.

However there are people out there that do not agree. To them the current crisis has nothing to do with global warming or climate change. No it has nothing to do with the fact that like most major metropolitan regions worldwide New York and New Jersey are maritime areas, what we in the Navy like to call the littorals. Over 70% of the worlds population lives on the littorals. The major trade, banking and industrial cities of the world, those on which the world economy depends sit alongside the oceans of the world.

No, geography, economics, or climatology have no answers. After all scientists are stupid political hacks dependent on the government who don’t believe in God anyway. According to those that really know the facts, you know, people that say that God talks to them and reveals things to them that non-believers don’t understand the issue is secular America, gays and abortion. In fact there is a broad ecumenical agreement among religious fundamentalists, Christians, Moslems and Jews that is almost taking a perverse Schadenfreude, or joy in the sufferings of others going on whenever a natural disaster occurs.

Yes my friends there are Christian ministers in the United States, Ultra-Orthodox Jewish Rabbis and Moslem Imams and Mullahs are all chiming in, all citing their Scriptures and their dark understanding of a God who hates his creation. Just google “Hurricane Sandy  God’s judgement” or “Katrina and God’s Judgement” or whatever disaster you want to name with “God’s judgement” and see what pops up. You’ll be surprised at the perverse joy that some religious people take in the sufferings of those that they believe to be God’s enemies.

The sad thing is that many of the people suffering are Christians, Jews and Moslems, which kind of makes me wonder about the people writing the screeds that say that God judging these people. I wonder if the shoe was on the other foot what they would be saying.

It is really amazing to me to see the amount of Ecumenical Jihad that a natural disaster inspires among the faithful. One would think that such zealots wouldn’t be able to agree about anything but but they are surprisingly in agreement when it comes to death and destruction of the people that they deem to be heretics, unbelievers or infidels. At least a leading Saudi Cleric has condemned the Moslem extremists comments but I don’t see many big name Christian leaders condemning the nutty and hateful views of Christians. Maybe it is just that they are too busy doing partisan campaigning for political candidates in states that are not affected by the storm to be bothered with caring about people in states that won’t vote for their candidate anyway. But then maybe I’m wrong and just have become cynical.

I wish that was so. However there is a reason that many if not most mainline Evangelical leaders won’t criticize the nut cases. That is because in their hearts many agree with them and actually say similar things year round and have said them for years but are smart enough not to say it during the storm because it might cut down on donations to their ministries, their market share in Christian broadcasting or their political influence before an election that they have gone all in for one party. Likewise almost all of the leaders of these ministries are have their headquarters in places far from any real danger of natural disaster other than blizzards, thunderstorms and tornados or drought. I hate to say but having lived through all of those disasters plus major hurricanes, floods and earthquakes I can say that those a child’s play compared to events such as Hurricane Sandy, Katrina, the Japanese Tsunami or a massive earthquake.

I don’t know about you but I have a hard time with those that decide that somehow they know all that is in God’s heart and are quite willing to throw other people that don’t believe like them under the wheels of their God’s bus. Well, c’est la vie.

Please pray and act to help the people in need. There is plenty of work to do and needs to be met. I posted information last night on how to give to the Red Cross and Salvation Army relief efforts. Those links are provided here again:

http://www.redcross.org/support

http://www.salvationarmyusa.org/usn/www_usn_2.nsf

Peace

Padre Steve+

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Filed under faith, leadership, natural disasters, Religion

A Massive and Deadly “Freak” Storm: Sandy Hits the USA

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I have been through quite a few hurricanes in my life and Sandy was just a glancing blow for us in North Carolina. My wife in Virginia Beach Virginia says that for once due to the storm sewers being cleaned out recently that our neighborhood is not flooded. However I have a lot of friends in the Northeast in New York, New Jersey and Pennsylvania, Maryland and DC who are being hit hard by Hurricane Sandy.

Lower Manhattan flooding (top) and Atlantic City NJ Boardwalk 

Sandy came ashore this evening making a direct hit on the coast of New Jersey. The storm is setting records. It is the most powerful Hurricane to go this far north since the Long Island Express of 1938. The barometric pressure is quite low, 947 millibars as it came ashore, and lower than that this morning. In size it is immense nearly 1000 miles in diameter affecting most of the East Coast from the Carolinas north. Storm surge is setting records and many cities along the coast are flooding.

 

 

 

Hoboken NJ PATH station (top) and Randolph County West Virginia 

The human and economic impacts will be enormous. Power has gone out for millions and it is expected that 10-20 million people could be without power for some time. Reports are that the subways of New York are beginning to flood. There is a danger that other infrastructure damage, including damage to banking and financial institutions could extend the suffering for a prolonged period of time and to people not in the path of the storm. The fact that Sandy has combined with a winter storm has made it much worse. The storm is causing blizzards in the mountains of Virginia and West Virginia. This is a major disaster in the making.

The Tomb of the Unkowns

First responders as always will take a good share of the initial hit from the storm, but it will be up to others at the State and Federal level as well as NGOs and individuals to respond. As of now National Guard Units and elements the Active Duty Forces under the the Command of USNORTHCOM and FEMA are preparing to move to assist. However, the effects of the storm damage will take the efforts of all of us to get through.

The Point Emerald Island North Carolina

For those who have never been a first responder or have been impacted by a massive natural disaster that overwhelms local and state agencies this may be a foreign concept. However having been a first responder who has also dealt with the theoretical aspects of disaster response in military and FEMA courses I know that within 24-36 hours most local first responders and agencies are spend rounds, they are as much victims as the people that they try to assist.

Katrina victims

As Americans our lives and livelihoods are so closely intertwined with each other and what happens in different parts of the country and world it is impossible for a single State or region to bear the brunt of such disasters as Katrina or Sandy by themselves. The response must go beyond attempts to capitalize on the disaster for political purposes to actually being a nation again. The people being affected by Sandy are not strangers. They are friends, family and fellow Americans.

For the moment the Presidential campaigns have ceased campaigning, although pundits and political flacks on both sides of our political chasm are still acting as if Sandy is simply another political event. Personally I think that people like that have lost something of their humanity. This is not about a political agenda, it is about our friends, family and fellow Americans being slammed with a natural disaster that we have not seen the likes of in years.

I have friends in all the sates affected. They span the political and religious spectrum and all are in harms way tonight and in the next few days and all stand the chance of losing life, home or health as a result of this storm.

 

Please pray for these people, our families, friends, neighbors and fellow Americans during this time.

Peace

Padre Steve+

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Praying for the Gulf: Hurricane Isaac Channels the Ghost of Katrina

Hurricane Katrina was a devastating event. The hurricane nearly came ashore as a category 5 hurricane, weakening at the last minute before coming ashore in Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama. Even so the storm had major and long lasting effects. Over 1800 people lost their lives and property damage exceeded $81 billion. Parts of New Orleans still remain an uninhabited ghost town. It is etched in the psyche of the inhabitants of the Gulf Coast and the nation. Whenever a storm forms in the Gulf of Mexico it brings back those terrible memories of August 2005 when death came to New Orleans in the form of Katrina. The ghosts of Katrina still remain and Hurricane Isaac has channeled those ghosts.

Katrina

In 2005 I was serving as the Chaplain for the Marine Security Forces in Norfolk. I preparing to fly to New Orleans for a conference on Sexual Assault and Prevention. I was watching the weather closely and as Hurricane Katrina tracked toward New Orleans and grew stronger I got word that the conference had been postponed. I was disappointed because I was looking forward to the conference, meeting some colleagues that I had not seen and had planned to see a Minor League ballgame when in town.

My disappointment rapidly shifted to concern about the areas of New Orleans and Gulfport Mississippi. Initially I wasn’t too concerned but watched in horror as the storm strengthened. I was thinking hard about the Navy in Gulfport where I had talked the detailer out of sending me in to be the junior chaplain in the base chapel 2003 because I wanted to remain operational. Had I meekly agreed to the detailer we would have been directly in the path of Katrina’s track.

To watch the disaster unfold was frightening. To see people suffering and the breakdown in civil order as the city was inundated was frightening. Emergency response was woefully insufficient, public order completely broke down as levees failed and local response providers became victims themselves. The Super Dome was a prime evacuation center but it was hit hard, supplies we short and the attempt to provide shelter to the poor who could not evacuate a disaster. State, Local and Federal responses were poorly coordinated and executed.  I some ways New Orleans will never completely recover from Katrina.

It appears Isaac is tracking to New Orleans and Gulfport.  If it continues its path and the models are correct the effects should be nothing like Katrina although massive rainfall and storm surge could create some chaos. Thankfully some dry air is keeping Isaac from gaining too much momentum however Katrina surprised many by gaining a huge amount of power in a very short time.

Local, State and Federal government agencies are on alert, the National Guard has been activated in some areas and evacuations of coastal areas have been going on for a couple of days.

Isaac will have economic impacts beyond any life or property damage due to the storm but, hopefully only short term. Oil drilling and production facilities will be shut down for several days even if they sustain no or little damage and gas prices are moving up. Oil platforms have been strengthened since Katrina but all it takes as one platform to fail to create an ecological disaster.

Isaac has delayed the Republican National Convention in Tampa which was very much in the target zone just a few days ago. Anyone who has ever been to Tampa knows the danger if a storm was to hit it. There have been studies one of which, Project Phoenix http://www.tbrpc.org/tampabaycatplan/pdf/Project_Phoenix_Scenario_Info.pdf  which analyzes the effects of a worst case scenario. In 1921 Tampa was hit by a category 4 storm that did great damage to Tampa and St Petersburg which were then much smaller metropolitan areas.

Damage from the 1921 Tampa Bay Hurricane

While Tampa should suffer little from Isaac, the city was right to take preparations and the GOP leadership was right to delay the start of the convention. Since hurricanes often make unexpected moves and sometimes strengthen in ways not expected they could not take that chance. That being said if Isaac hits New Orleans hard it could put a damper on media coverage of the convention. After all in our society natural disasters and human tragedies always get more coverage than political rallies.

I have been through about 6 or 7 hurricanes or tropical storms in North Carolina and Virginia and another in Okinawa. I have rode out hurricanes and Indian Ocean cyclones at sea. they are not to be taken lightly. Last year I experienced Hurricane Irene which was a very large slow moving category one storm which did enough damage in North Carolina, Virginia, Maryland and Pennsylvania to be classed as one of the top ten natural disasters in the history of the country.

So I pray for all of those in the path of Isaac tonight and in the coming days as the storm hits the Gulf Coast and then moves inland.

Peace

Padre Steve+

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After Irene: What happens the Next Time, do we feel Lucky?

Crews working to restore power aboard Camp LeJeune

Irene has left the scene and thankfully for whatever reason, divine intervention or just plain luck Irene lost her groove and didn’t get it back before coming ashore.  There was damage and loss of life but it could have been much worse.  She had weakened and hit New York at low tide had she not weakened and moved fast New Yorkand much of New Englandcould have faced a disaster of epic proportions.  Even still damages are estimated at 7 billion dollars and there were towns which most people in power don’t really give a damn about that were devastated by flooding, storm surge or wind.

In North Carolinawhen I am stationed we took the brunt of the storm.  There was a lot of damage in the communities where she came ashore, the Outer Banks and in low lying inland areas where the building codes are less stringent than on the coast but it could have been much worse.  A big part of the reason is that we have been abnormally dry and so streams and rivers were low and the ground was able to absorb the heavy rain. I have been through worse here and I’m glad that we did not have a repeat of Floyd were the storm was a high category 2 with massive rains inundating a state that had been saturated by two previous hurricanes.

My Island Hermitage is on Emerald Isle and it is better situated than many communities on the Outer Banks.  Despite this I prepared in earnest and thankfully all the damage I had was a bit of wet carpet which happens every time we get a lot of rain.  I’m told that my home inVirginia Beach came through fine although as in every tropical storm or Nor’easter the lakes in my neighborhood overflowed and flooded the streets.  In past tropical storms and Nor’easters we lot power for extended periods of time.   According to my neighbor who was looking after the house there was only a momentary outage.

For us the storm produced some anxiety. As a geographic bachelor and as a part of essential staff at the Naval Hospital I knew that I would be there for the duration. Since Irene was a massive storm I had Judy secure our home and evacuate on Thursday.  We I made the call Irene was expected to hit as a category 3 or strong category 2 storm with both the Island Hermitage and my Old Virginia Home in the crosshairs.  I veer to caution in such situations, it is far better to over prepare and get lucky than to presume upon God or nature depending on your world view.

I rode out Irene in our Naval hospital with our bare bones essential staff, some of their families, patients and families, women in their last weeks of pregnancy and pets of the staff members forced to be on duty.  We did well, my Commanding Officer told the story in this blog post http://navymedicine.navylive.dodlive.mil/archives/501 .  We lost commercial power early on and were on diesel backup generators the duration of the storm.  After the Friday dinner we were reduced to emergency rations which the main courses have an eerie resemblance to MREs and what staff had brought from home.

I ambled about on my gimpy leg the best that I could and had to resort to using my cane to make my rounds as I went about to staff, patients and family members.  Several babies were born on Friday night and Saturday.  It was a good event and thankfully nothing bad occurred.  A lot of people especially those that had never been through a hurricane or had a spouse deployed overseas found it unnerving. But we did our best. We converted the chapel to a TV room for the kids to watch movies since they had little else to do and almost every television were on non-emergency circuits.  We ran an extension cord to an “essential” plug in our section of the building which allowed this to happen and our hospital American Red Cross office supplied us with DVDs as well as coloring books and games for the kids.

As I have written in previous articles the military, particularly the Navy tends to be more of a family than any civilian employer. We are bound together by our shared experiences of deployments, danger and regular moves and family separations.  We pull together in ways that I have never seen in the civilian world.   It is an honor to serve.  I finally left the hospital late this morning since Emerald Isle did not reopen the bridge that links us to the mainland until today.

Since I have come back online I have seen some comments from various critics of Federal disaster assistance or the actions of governors or mayors of states and cities with large numbers of people in the danger zone, about 67 million Americans I think is the number.  The most critical politicians were from the House of Representatives and the biggest mockers when Irene came ashore in a weakened state and did less damage than expected were from the “new” conservative media.  Having been through more hurricanes and major earthquakes than I can count and seen the devastation of these events and the effects on the lives of people I find the comments calloused, mean spirited and simply used this as another way to push a political agenda.

Of course it is easy to be a critic when you have no direct responsibility for the lives of people.  You see those in the executive branch be it at Federal, State of City levels of government  and the agencies are each level are damned if they do and damned if they don’t.  If they know of something that that could devastate their communities and the citizens in them and do too much and disaster doesn’t strike, those that hate government say that they are overreacting and an “intrusion of big government.”  If they don’t react it is held up as a failure of government.  As far as Federal assistance after an event those that say that the Federal government should let people sink or swim and states and municipalities fend for themselves even if the disaster is overwhelming the same is true.  They are always critical simply because they want to dismantle the Federal government. Well most are against it until it is their community is affected, the rare exception being Virginia Representative and House Majority Whip Eric Cantor who told people in his own district to take a hike after they were hit by an earthquake that no one ever anticipated or were prepared.

Close to 70 million people were potentially at risk from a potentially historic hurricane that only weakened at the last minute.  The President, the governors of the affect states and the mayors of major cities did what they were supposed to do.  They did not wait until it was too late as was the case in Louisiana and Hurricane Katrina.  For that they are mocked I the press, especially those that are deemed liberal I haven’t heard any criticism of the actions of Republican Governors of Virginia or New Jersey for doing what the Mayor of New York did.

We got lucky this time but some day we won’t be and if the critics have their way the result will be historic in the bad kind of way, think about the Tsunami in Japan kind of bad.  We got lucky and if we think of ourselves as gamblers we need to remember that eventually the law of averages works against us, just ask the people of New Orleans or more recently Joplin Missouri.  God or nature take your pick only gives us so many chances and it takes only one of these things to make a direct hit and wipe untold numbers of people, their communities and even the assets of major corporations and Fortune 500 companies, but then the people that are against Federal assistance to regular people would jump through their asses to help Corporate America, can you imagine what would have happened in Wall Street went under like they did back in 2008 except this time under real water?

Being prepared and taking precautions is always preferable to loss of life on a major scale.  No government or community can be prepared for all contingencies but it is foolish for them not to do so but they are damned if they do and damned if the don’t in the eyes of their critics do not have the same responsibility.

I do hope that we band together to help those most affected by Irene and other recent disasters.  Prayer is nice but action is even nicer. Thank God there are good people that lay it all out for those in need and do it well working with the government and other charitable organizations and individuals. I think a lot about the efforts of the Southern Baptist disaster response teams as well as the Salvation Army disaster relief and those like them that make such a difference.

I’m glad that Irene lost her groove and didn’t get it back, unfortunately lives were lost and millions of people have suffered some kind of loss due to her.

After the Storm

For me it was a long and exhausting event. But it was a great chance for me to have a weekend with some wonderful people, my local Navy and Marine Corps family.  Men and women that give every day and exemplify the best of America.  That makes all the difference.

Peace,

Padre Steve+

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Jousting at Windmills: The Quixotesque Life of Padre Steve

I believe that I have reached a rather Quixotesque stage in my life.  I have in my passion for moderation decided to be fair and balanced and with a rather unexpected result. I now joust with windmills. Some of my fellow Christians have gotten upset at me for doing so as they rather seem to like those windmills. It seems that in the current political climate for a Christian to offer criticism of other Christians or for that matter the conservative political movement is something akin to denying the Deity of Christ or worse.

I have been taken to task for a number of things such as defending the rights of Moslems, women’s ordination, the rights of homosexuals, criticizing conservative talk show hosts (I criticize liberals too but seldom get attacked for that), criticizing the almost incestuous relationship between the “Christian right” with the Republican Party and even more conservative political groups and ideologies and the equation of nearly all things American with the Christian faith by some.

This attitude starts at the top of the Church; Pope Benedict gives a great example to follow when he censured Cardinal Chrisoph Schoenborn of Vienna for criticizing the retired Vatican Secretary of State Cardinal Soldano for his handling of and interference in the discipline of clergy in the sexual abuse scandals that have rocked the Catholic Church. The Pope censured Schoenborn, not Soldano and made the pronouncement that only he could criticize a Cardinal.  Not long afterward the Vatican released a document that supposedly makes it easier for the Church to go after the sexual predators in the Church while at the same time declaring women’s ordination to be a “major crime against the church” which I think is what pedophilia is.  Others have determined that since the world seems to be attacking Jesus, the Christian faith and the Church that criticism of Christian leaders by other Christians is off limits.

I commented recently on the case of Shirley Sherrod an official in the Agriculture Department that was smeared by conservative blogger Andrew Breitbart and made to look like the very face of racism in America.  A number of hosts on the Fox News Channel ran with the story before checking it out only having to recant a day later, a day after Sherrod had been forced to resign by Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilseck and the White House.  It turned out that she was the victim and a story from her life of redemption and reconciliation presented as her being a racist by crafty editing of the video of a 45 minute long speech.  My comment that no matter whether it was Dan Rather using faked documents to try to damage then President George W Bush or Brietbart and his action against Mrs. Sherrod that these actions were both dishonorable.  A now former Facebook friend (she dropped me) and lay member of my denomination took issue with me and in what turned into a rather personal and harsh exchange I was called a number of names and accused of comparing me to her mother and stepfather like them having a “distortion of reality.” This individual chose not to deal with what my comments were but to take my posting as an attack on her conservative views, which they were most certainly not.  I tried to keep on point but this woman would have none of it.  I found the exchange as fascinating as one would a car wreck.  Now to be fair this woman was the only person that acted this way but her passion was to defend the actions of Breitbart and Fox News because “the country was hell bent on socialism” and that she was going to “do whatever she could to make people aware of it.” It was clear to me that she was so tied to her ideology that she could not be objective and I finally left the conversation. Now I know some liberals that are the same way to be sure, but for Christians to somehow almost equate a political and economic philosophy with the faith is somehow rather un-Jesus like.

Obviously in the interest of the truth I was looking for this confrontation, if not with her with someone else because I know that with some people and it does not matter whether they are conservatives or liberals there is no reasoning, no room for differing opinions.  In the religion and politics of 2010 there are no longer opponents but enemies, yea verily mortal enemies who with their repugnant ideologies must be crushed and in fact those close to them that deviate are even worse for they have betrayed the respective orthodoxy of the zealots of the left or the right.  In my rather brief public life writing on this site I have found the nastiest to be the religious conservatives that take issue with what I write.  The attitude reminds me of the Moslem extremists, militant Ultra-Orthodox Jews, and Hindu Fundamentalists, all of whom have no tolerance for those different than them and often bent on enforcing their beliefs on those that do not follow their religion often violently.   Please know that I am only comparing attitudes not results as with the exception of a few people American Christians have not resorted to violence to achieve their ends though I would posit that the more radical and politically committed conservative or Fundamentalist Christians that have become with more extreme right wing groups have this potential.

Now as far as matter of criticizing big name Christian leaders which I did last week with the knowledge that some would be upset with me and I confess that I am guilty as charged.  I decided to joust with this windmill by posting a link to an article in that bastion of truth and moral turpitude the National Enquirer which showed the incredibly popular televangelist and faith healer Benny Hinn cavorting in Rome under an assumed name with the rather sultry female televangelist and pastor Paula White. Now White is divorced and Hinn’s wife has filed for divorce but it is not final. In old fashioned fundament talk this is called adultery.  Add to the mix that both are under investigation by a Senate Committee for financial dealings in their ministries.

Now I have a rather unique take on this as I worked for a television ministry the last couple of years of seminary and while waiting to enter into a Clinical Pastoral Education.  While the ministry that I worked with was definitely above board we occasionally had other televangelists including the previously mentioned Benny Hinn visit our studios and basically act like they were better than the people that worked there.  At conferences that our ministry hosted which included many of the top preachers of the day there were some speakers that acted the same way but thankfully some that exuded grace and kindness.  One of the things that I noticed was the vast amount of money involved in Christian Television and some of the rather cutthroat programming and financial practices of the largest network, the Terrible Blond Network.

Since the late 1980s and early 1990s scandals, financial, sexual and sometimes criminal have engulfed many of the largest names in the television ministry and mega-church world.  Jim Bakker, Jimmy Swaggart, Larry Lee, Bob Tilton, Peter Popoff, Ted Haggard, Earl Paulk, Todd Bentley and others now including Reverend Hinn and Reverend White.  Others have become involved in politics up to their ears or have made incredibly thoughtless and asinine statements on events like the 9-11 attack and Hurricane Katrina. Still others organize book burnings of various types or other thoughtless and even un-Christian displays of hatred and ignorance.  Now this is a pretty impressive list by anyone’s standards and it does not include the host of lesser known others that have had affairs, financial and even violent encounters.  No wonder the name of Jesus is reviled by so many and that the church is held in such low esteem. We bring it on ourselves because we have forgotten the “Big 2,” you know the commandments that if you do them fulfill all the rest, love God and love your neighbor. I think that it was Jesus that suggested that this was important.

I was criticized for posting a link about the Hinn and White story by three ministers and I do not entirely disagree with then nor think that they were out of line to criticize me.  The biggest concern of all three was that with the Church under attack from many quarters as well as attacks on Jesus and Christian beliefs and values that I should not do it especially because of the source of the story, the National Enquirer. Now mind you that that Enquirer is actually, despite its rater sleazy reputation actually breaking stories that the big media initially missed such as the John Edwards affair and the current investigation into possible sexual assaults by former Vice President Al Gore one of which as of yesterday was closed by the State of Oregon but there are other investigations.  However that was not the point of posting the story. You see I figure that if the Church and its leaders did a better job of conducting itself in a Christian manner then there would be a little more love for it and also Jesus. I believe that much of what we call persecution is in large part due to how badly we as Christians have behaved and treated those in our care before the watching world.  I believe that it is better for Christians to police themselves so that their conduct may be seen as something to emulate, in fact I think that is what the early church did. They had no power, no money and no social status but in spite of real persecution that usually ended in death by crucifixion, being crushed to death by heavy stones, being burned at the stake, shot through with arrows, having their heads whacked off, getting flogged to death, drowned until dead and even tickled to death.   While this was taking place they were commended by Roman leaders as model citizens because of their behavior.  They were known by their love, not just for one another but for their non-Christian neighbors, the very ones that persecuted them.

That is not an isolated example, when I was in Iraq I had Moslem Iraqi Army Officers tell me of their respect for Christians because Christians were seen to be more trustworthy and caring than their Moslem brethren, and by the way Iraqi Christians often face persecution and death.  I was told by one officer that the Iraqi Army needed Christian Priests to take care of their soldiers and families, like the Americans have because they did not get this from their Imams.  In spite of persecution which includes the real possibility of being killed by Moslem extremists most Moslems see Christians as good citizens that they can trust their lives, families and property to.  This is not the case in our country despite the fact that there are a lot of really good Christians who still follow the “Big 2.”

But now in this country we seem to be more concerned with our power and social status and despite all the scandals willing to give these folks a pass on their actions and pony up more money to feed their ministries, usually money that comes from some of the poorest people in the country while many live in luxury.  I think that this is something that the Reformers had against the Catholic Church during the Reformation. May be we need a new Reformation to make things right again, after all only 56% of Americans rank the ethics and trust of clergy as very high. Honestly, we should do better than that and if the world exposes our leaders for compromising themselves and the Gospel then more power to them, we should take care of it ourselves ending our support for such “ministers” and “ministries.”

My church was torn apart a few years back by the actions of bishops who had made unwanted sexual advances another that bilked the church nearly bankrupting it through his financial wheeling and dealing and by others that exploited the chaos in a most un-Christian manner.  The Church is slowly recovering and those that were the primary culprits are no longer in the church.  Many were haughty and arrogant and it came back to bite them and it nearly destroyed the church.

So I will continue to joust at windmills knowing that like the legendary Don Quixote that nothing will really change.  The windmills of religious and political machines will continue to turn and more than likely result in people sending me hate mail for saying what I say and unfortunately the vast majority will be my fellow Christians thinking that they are defending the faith.

There have been others like me that have done some good. I do think that Martin Luther, Dietrich Bonhoeffer and Hans Kung rank up there so what can I say? Wait I know…Here I stand, I can do no other. So help me God. Amen.

Peace

Padre Steve+

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