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The Poetry of Fear: Nightmares and Moral Wounds

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Tombstone at the British Cemetery, Habbaniyah Iraq

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

Stephen King wrote: “Nightmares exist outside of logic, and there’s little fun to be had in explanations; they’re antithetical to the poetry of fear.”

I prefer physical pain and physical injury to moral, emotional, and spiritual injury. I agree with Alexander Dumas who wrote in the Count of Monte Cristo“Moral wounds have this peculiarity – they may be hidden, but they never close; always painful, always ready to bleed when touched, they remain fresh and open in the heart.”

That is how I feel over ten years after returning from Iraq in 2008. No matter how well I am doing there are times when things going on in the present fill me with terror and evoke the ghosts of my past. As much as I want to put my war and other wars in the past I see American political leaders, propagandists, and religious leaders doing all they can to bring about new wars abroad and divide us at home.

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I find this deeply unsettling and it causes great anxiety, especially when I try to sleep. On Saturday night I had terrible nightmares of war with superiors trying to force me to commit war crimes. Four times Judy tried to wake me as I screamed and fought and I couldn’t pull myself out of the dreams. Thankfully I did not end up throwing myself out of bed and causing injury as I have done before. Likewise the Papillons, including our youngest boy, Pierre, now know to move to a different part of the bed when I am so unsettled.

Guy Sajer wrote in his book The Forgotten Soldier, “Only happy people have nightmares, from overeating. For those who live a nightmare reality, sleep is a black hole, lost in time, like death.” United States Army General Gouverneur Warren, a hero of many Civil War battles including Gettysburg wrote to his wife after the war “I wish I did not dream so much. They make me sometimes to dread to go to sleep. Scenes from the war, are so constantly recalled, with bitter feelings I wish never to experience again. Lies, vanity, treachery, and carnage.”

In my dreams I remember everything about the war like it was yesterday. The images are vivid: wounded Marines, a wounded Iraqi boy with his father, a rocket flying just a few feet above my head, taking small arms fire in Ramadi on the ground and aboard an Army helicopter which returned fire as we took off from Ramadi, destroyed cities and villages, destitute and terrified people, and refugees.

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But those dreams and nightmares blend reality with unreality, real places with imaginary places, places that I’ve been to but are not the same as they are in the real world and they frequently show up. You think that I would be used to them; but no matter how often I have them I never get used to them, and I can’t really explain them, I only try to survive them.

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Ramadi, January 2008

One of my favorite actors, James Spader, plays a character named Raymond Reddington on the television show The Blacklist. During one episode he told another character something quite profound, something that if we actually embrace it can be somewhat comforting. “There is nothing that can take the pain away. But eventually, you will find a way to live with it. There will be nightmares. And every day when you wake up, it will be the first thing you think about. Until one day, it’s the second.”

Anyway, I have spent my evening watching the musicals Chicago and Mama Mia in order to take my mind off of all that is going on in the world. Now it is time for bed and the world of dreams and nightmares. Thankfully I will get up in the morning and carry on with life, even joyfully.

So until tomorrow,

Peace

Padre Steve+

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Filed under iraq, life, mental health, Military, PTSD, Tour in Iraq

I’ve had Enough of the Freedom of Religion Crap from Trump’s Evangelical Supporters

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Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

Every time I see men like Jerry Falwell Jr., Tony Perkins, Franklin Graham, James Dobson, James Robison, Pat Robertson, or any of the host of their lesser known minions, including men who are Priests, ministers, or chaplains  defend the indefensible actions and moral depravity of President Donald Trump I want to puke. Sorry, but the first time that I heard the word puke when I was a kid I loved it. I even loved it as an adult because it is an amazingly fun word, especially when you are on a Guided Missile Cruiser steaming down the Arabian Peninsula with a category five cyclone on your beam battering the ship with 18-20 foot swells for three days, and half of your shipmates are seasick and you are not, but I digress…

When I see and hear all of these modern day Pharisees or Inquisitors all that I can think is yuck.  Likewise I totally understand why so many people, especially young people are fleeing the Church in record numbers every single year and why so many others want nothing to do with the Church even if they are okay with Jesus.

In the wake of the latest “Stormy” allegations against the President in which his ecclesiastical defenders have again gone to the mat to defend him I think that it is wise to attack the motivations of the men and women who made morality, particularly their version of it a political wedge issue beginning with Bill Clinton’s sexual immorality, which I do  not defend. But to condemn him, and to demonize Barak Obama who was not a womanizer while giving Trump a free hand and pass on things that are worse than Clinton did or than they ever imagined Obama did is simply sick. They need to be called out and condemned because they are worse than hypocrites because their already tiny moral centers have shriveled up and their hearts have calcified into the hardest stone.

The fact that Tony Perkins who is one of the most extreme proponents of this hypocrisy said that Trump “gets a Mulligan”  for his dalliance with the relatively well know porn star Stormy Daniels. The fact that Trump’s lawyers paid her off with $130,000 as he began his campaign for President seems also to be a Mulligan. Honestly I can’t imagine what he would say if there was an allegation that Barak Obama or Hillary Clinton had been accused of the same thing.

As for the President I never expected anything better from him, and maybe he is deserving of the grace and mercy of God because he is a paranoid, narcissistic, Sociopath who no capacity for self-reflection or anything else related to the care of his own soul. But as to these supposed “men of God” who support the establishment of laws that benefit them and punish people that they believe to be infidels or unbelievers while excusing the  I have nothing but contempt. To see them crowing about how their supposed “religious liberty” trumps anyone else’s civil rights under the Constitution makes me want to vomit.

These are the same people who condoned or supported the heinous “imprecatory prayers” unleashed against President Obama in which they prayed for his death while subjecting him to a Jihad that the Taliban or the Iranian Imams would have been hard pressed to match.

I am a huge proponent of Religious Freedom as the Founders intended it to be, but these modern and supposedly “Conservative” Christians don’t believe in what the Founders believed, because they are Theocrats of the same kind that our Founders fled when they came to the American colonies. These men would have found the Spanish Inquisition leaders as true brothers in Christ. They would have cheered the killings of anyone deemed to be a heretic and the total destruction of the towns or cities that they lived in. The Virginia Baptist John Leland and their other American religious freedom proponents.

Leland noted:

“The notion of a Christian commonwealth should be exploded forever. … Government should protect every man in thinking and speaking freely, and see that one does not abuse another. The liberty I contend for is more than toleration. The very idea of toleration is despicable; it supposes that some have a pre-eminence above the rest to grant indulgence, whereas all should be equally free, Jews, Turks, Pagans and Christians.”

Imagine that. The man who is probably the most responsible for making sure that James Madison crafted the Bill of Rights and in particular the First Amendment would have died before agreeing to what the men and women who claim to be his theological descendent propose today.

I am actually sick of the religious liberty hyperbole of these damned Theocrats, all of them. I find that I agree with the argument of Alan Shore (James Spader) in Boston Legal when he said:

“I don’t know about you but I’m getting a little tired of the religious freedom thing. When did religion get such a good name anyway. Be it the Crusades, the reformation genocides, the troubles in Northern Ireland, the Middle East, mass slaughters in the name of Allah, the obligatory reciprocal retributions. Hundreds of millions have died in religious conflicts. Hitler did his business in the name of his creator. Religious extremism, it’s our greatest threat today, a holy jihad. If we’re not ready to strip religion of its sacred cow status, how about we at least scale back on the Constitutional dogma exalting it as all get out….

Everyone should get to believe in his God, pray to his God, worship his God of course. But to impose him on others, to victimize others in his name?  The founding fathers set out to prevent persecution, not license it…

At a certain point we have to say “enough with this freedom of religion crap. Yuck, yuck, yuck. I know, I’ll get letters….” 

I totally agree with the words of Alan Shore, enough of this politically driven “freedom of religion crap.”

Likewise I agree with Leland, this theocratic crap that Perkins and the rest of these assholes spew should be “exploded forever.”

So until tomorrow,

Peace

Padre Steve+

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Filed under christian life, ethics, faith, History, laws and legislation, News and current events, Political Commentary

Basketball Court Update: An Activist is Born 


Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

What an exciting day to be alive and to do something that matters for kids. I have written a couple of times about what is going on in my neighborhood regarding getting the kids of our neighborhood a safe place to play. Since I have shared some of the background in those articles I’ll just tell you about the special meeting of our neighborhood association board of directors which was called to discuss the issue. 

Bottom line up front the board is now looking at ways to keep the courts open and plan for an eventful multi-use facility to replace the current tennis courts. The tennis courts are seldom used and the placement of temporary basketball hoops has resulted in a number of good things, although there are some problems which can be worked out. The really good thing is that the kids now have a safe place to play and don’t have to play in the streets since our parks are mostly covered with very nice lakes. In a number of surveys residents have voted by over a two to one margin to keep the courts. 

That being said, a couple of white ladies, including the lady that got me energized about this by coming to my do to complain and enlist me to help get the courts shut down got the first words in. They were negative and one told such a bold faced lie how two blocks away she could hear the kids cursing over her television that most people were shocked. The lady who complained to me went on her usual way to complain about the kids, but other than them most people were supportive and offered suggestions to the board that were generally well received. 

I got to speak to and I have to say that I was persuasive, witty, and even entertaining; and I’m sure that I offended those ladies and maybe a couple of other self-righteous would be dictators. But as Thomas Paine said: “He who dares not offend cannot be honest.” 

So I opened my comments somewhat irreverently, with  with the phrase “May it please the court.” I then introduced myself and noted how long we had lived in the neighborhood and noted that despite the fact that I was a Navy Chaplain with 36 years of military service that I was quite the liberal social justice activist. I then recounted how when I was in Iraq Judy had approached the board about basketball courts and was told by a board member “we have to keep undesirable elements out.”  That brought a gasp from some people and some a number of people nodded their approval. What the people back then said was that they didn’t want Black  kids playing there in so many words even though those are our neighborhood kids. I was able to point out the racism without even saying that word. 

So I continued and pointed pointed out that I wouldn’t have known about the controversy if the older lady hadn’t come to my door to complain about the kids, and pointed her out. That shook her up, she didn’t expect to get called out in public. Later the old bat tried to shut me down by saying “did you say I harassed you?” So I turned and addressed her for a quick moment, and said “yes you did and I won’t have any of it.”  At that the board President told me that I was not to address her but the board members per the rules of order. SoI replied “I do apologize, may it please the court, I was addressing you until she interrupted me so it’s only fair that I be allowed to tell her to shut up.” The board President allowed me to continue and I my words were surprisingly well received by at least half of the board and probably three quarters of the people in the room. 

My only regret is that I didn’t have Judy video my speech, which was longer, more eloquent, and funnier than the others, especially with my satire and ability to respond in the moment with my rapier wit, to the board, the audience, and the old bat. Likewise I didn’t have to threaten to go to the media, the city, or anything, I just spoke the truth and it wa quite the show. The kids and their parents loved it, some people even clapped when I sat down. I am so happy that we often binge watch our collection of all five seasons of Boston Legal. I have to say that I learned a lot from James Spader’s portrayal of attorney Alan Shore. 

The board voted down two motions to shut down the courts and has decided to come back to the issue and study how best to move forward. I volunteered to help out with the kids at closing time and will get a key from the manager tomorrow, heck, I may even get my own basketball to shoot some hoops and get to know them better. 

Over all it was a very nice first outing as a budding community social activist. As one of my friends told me a couple of weeks ago, this might be part of my post-Navy calling. I could see that and I am sure that social activism will be a big part of my life. 

So anyway, I have a couple of draft articles that I am working on and you’ll see those soon. One is about Robert E. Lee, of whose statues there has been so much controversy lately, and another dealing with how I think to best handle the statues. I’m going to hold that last one for a few days to let some of what happened in Charlottesville and other places calm down a bit so it can be read without all the current raw emotions of almost everyone including me overwhelming the message. I have some other articles that I will be producing as well on other hopefully less controversial topics. 

So anyway, until tomorrow,

Peace,

Padre Steve+

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Filed under civil rights, ethics, faith, Political Commentary

The One Truly Essential Wall: Separation of Church and State

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

I don’t know about you but I am sick and tired of people, no matter what their religious belief in this country who use the Constitutionally protections extended to religious freedom in manners that the founders of our country never would have imagined. The fact that those basic religious freedoms are not in danger in any way is irrelevant to true believers.  In their insecurity such people need to create new laws specifically crafted to allow them to discriminate against others based on their religious beliefs.

Sadly, and I say this as a Christian, the vast majority of people doing this are people that claim to be Christians and in a few weeks they will have the chance to use not only state and local governments to do their bidding but the Federal Government and quite possibly the Supreme Court. It is a situation that those who founded our country fought against, and even addressed the matter in the Constitution and in their correspondence.

Thomas Jefferson was first among these men. In his wonderful letter to the Virginia Baptist Association in 1808, in a letter the echoed his letter to the Danbury Baptist Association of of 1802 in which he referred that the legislature in enacting the dual provisions of religious liberty in the Constitution had built up “a wall of separation between Church and State” noted:

“Because religious belief, or non belief, is such an important part of every person’s life, freedom of religion affects every individual. Religious institutions that use government power to support themselves and force their views of other faiths, or no faith, undermine all our civil rights. Morever, state support of an established religion tends to make the clergy unresponsive to their own people, and leads to corruption in religion itself. Erecting the “wall of separation between church and state,” therefore, is absolutely essential in a free society.” 

You see my friends, Jefferson and the other courageous men who so carefully crafted this wall of separation had real experience with the abuses by church-state and the incestuous clergy who used state power to prop up themselves and their churches and to persecution those that refused to submit to their control. Likewise there were religious groups in the recently independent former colonies like the Baptists who in Virginia and other states, as well as the Quakers in Massachusetts who were victims of such persecution, and they were determined not to let it happen here through the marriage of church and state.

In fact Jefferson was absolutely convinced that no specific God or religion be established: not only in the Constitution of the United States, but in his own home state, the Commonwealth of Virginia. There Jefferson authored the Virginia a religious liberty bill which was passed, but which met with considerable opposition from faithful Christians. Reflecting on that legislation Jefferson wrote this in 1821:

“[When] the [Virginia] bill for the establishment of religious freedom…was finally passed,…a singular proposition proved that it’s protection of opinion was meant to be universal. Where the preamble declares that coercion is a departure from the holy author of our religion, an amendment was proposed, by inserting “Jesus Christ,” so that it should read “a departure from the plan of Jesus Christ, the holy author of our religion.” The insertion was rejected by a great majority, in proof that they meant to comprehend within the mantle of its protection the Jew and the Gentile, the Christian and the Mahamoten, the Hindoo and the infidel of every denomination.”

Sadly, Jefferson’s words are twisted, rejected and even despised by the authors of the Religious Liberty Restoration Acts being enacted in state houses around the country.  President-Elect Trump, whose actual understanding of Constitutional liberties is minimal, has promised to sign into law a bill called First Amendment Defense Act. Not only are the state legislatures enacting laws meant only to provide Christians the  protection and the police power of the state to discriminate against any person, or group based on religious belief, something that so so-called First Amendment Defense Act will do at the Federal level. I believe that he will sign it based on the preachers he has speaking or praying at his inaugural, all of who are proponents of enhancing the rights of Christians to discriminate based solely on their religious beliefs, and to limit the civil rights of those they oppose. Call it theocracy, something better suited to Tehran or Riyahd than the United States.

Our founders, especially Jefferson and Madison who have found that incomprehensible, but then they would certainly not be surprised because they had seen it and lived under it during the English Administration of the colonies. They also understood human nature very well.

Thus I think that we should applaud Thomas Jefferson and like Christopher Hitchens exclaim “Mr. Jefferson. BUILD UP THAT WALL!” 

However that wall is being torn down by the descendants of Christians who longed to be free from the coercion and evil wrought by the marriage of church and state, a marriage which Jefferson so wisely noted harmed the church as much as the state.

I have spent the better part of my adult life as a military chaplain defending and protecting the rights of others to their free exercise of religion on whether or not I agreed with them. I held and still hold that to be a sacred duty of my commission and office. I can also state that even most people who did not agree with regarding my beliefs respected me and still consult me because first they knew that I cared about them and secondly that they knew that I would do all within my power to protect their freedom the exercise their religion, or to have no religion and not to be penalized for it.

But that being said I have found that I am increasingly isolated by the fervent religionists who have highjacked the understanding of religious freedom to mean theirs and only theirs and who use the battering ram of the legislature to destroy Mr. Jefferson’s “Wall.” Sadly they are to blind to see that their actions are a two-edged sword which once precedence has been established can be turned on them with a vengeance. I and other chaplains who come from more moderate or liberal traditions that have long embraced both the Social Gospel, the Civil Rights, Women’s Rights, and LGBTQ Rights movements have been long shunned by many of our conservative or fundamentalist colleagues. I have no doubt that in the coming administration that this will become more common and that we may find ourselves punished for speaking our beliefs. Old guys like me will probably be okay and just retire, but but the young progressive chaplains will have a difficult time.

One of my favorite television series of all times is Boston Legal. My favorite character in the show is the lawyer played by James Spader, one Alan Shore. In the episode Whose God is it Anyway  Spader’s character is defending a friend form charges or religious discrimination in the workplace, and his character, Alan Shore delivers this remarkable closing, which because of the unrelenting actions of many of my Christian Brothers and Sisters in putting their rights and privileges as Christians over those of other citizens. That my friends is profoundly dangerous.

By doing so they through their intense hubris not only harm others as they attempt to control them by the police power of the state but damage their own credibility and the religious liberty of Americans yet to be born. It is no wonder that this generation of American Christianity is shedding members at a rate never seen in this country before, and driving those who they might want to bring to faith away. But I digress…

There is a bit of dialogue in that episode of Boston Legal that I wish I had thought of and said years ago. I am certain that if  Jefferson, Madison and so many of our founders would agree with if they had lived to see the depths of dishonesty of Christian individuals, businesses and legislatures have sunk in their abuse of others through their unremitting pursuit of their religious freedom. That is not just at home where they enact laws allowing them to discriminate, but through their apocalyptic machinations to bring the world to war killing billions of people just so Jesus will come back. Though they would deny it, their ultimate goals, albeit in the name of a different  God, are little different than that the Islamic State, Al Qaida, the Iranian Mullahs or Hezbollah. That my friends should scare the living shit out of any rational person.

So here is that closing:

“I don’t know about you but I’m getting a little tired of the religious freedom thing. When did religion get such a good name anyway. Be it the Crusades, the reformation genocides, the troubles in Northern Ireland, the Middle East, mass slaughters in the name of Allah, the obligatory reciprocal retributions. Hundreds of millions have died in religious conflicts. Hitler did his business in the name of his creator. Religious extremism, it’s our greatest threat today, a holy jihad. If we’re not ready to strip religion of its sacred cow status, how about we at least scale back on the Constitutional dogma exalting it as all get out….

Everyone should get to believe in his God, pray to his God, worship his God of course. But to impose him on others, to victimize others in his name?  The founding fathers set out to prevent persecution, not license it…

At a certain point we have to say “enough with this freedom of religion crap. Yuck, yuck, yuck. I know, I’ll get letters….” 

To that I can only say “Amen!”

So with that I bid you a good day.

Peace

Padre Steve+

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Filed under civil rights, ethics, faith, History, laws and legislation, Political Commentary, Religion

It’s Not You It’s Me: Firing Your Military Therapist

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Friends of Padre Steve’s World

Another week, another therapist… At least that is what it seems like to me. Those who have been following my writings for any length of time know of my struggles with PTSD and its associated maladies, as well as my struggles dealing with the military mental health system. This week is no different.

Last week I got a new “bungee-therapist” who I would have had less than three months before his rotation at the clinic is done. He is a nice young man, only 32 years old, I have been in the military longer than he he has been alive. He still in his residency; well trained, but not very experienced and it shows. Truthfully, though I don’t have as much specific education in psychology as the provider, I do have more clinical experience working with trauma and PTSD than the young man.

So on the second appointment I fired him. I think the biggest issue was what I saw as a lack of continuity in care and the mismatch in age and experience.

I was really anxious about the visit. This was based on an experience with another young provider last year. That experience caused me to crash and have some troubling thoughts about offing myself. Since I love life and am not a fan of taking the eternal celestial dirt nap; which some readers assure me will have me taking the eternal vacation on the Lake of Fire, but I digress….

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Like I said I was anxious due to the previous experience. But, the two of us handled it very well and it was an amicable parting, a clean breakup if you will. I even used the George Costanza tested “it’s not you it’s me” breakup line. But hey, Ces’t l’apres-guerre… (such is life after war)

My plan now is to get with a senior shrink that I know and have worked with to help get me someone more compatible for what I need at this point in life. I just hope that by “breaking-up” with my therapist that I won’t get shafted by the institution.

But I have learned to live with this; I realize that the military mental health system is not in the business of trying to get you better, it is in the business of trying to return young men and women to be able to go back to war. If you actually get better in the process that is kind of a twofer. Honestly I could have gone back to war with  a year of coming home. Going to war is easy, coming home intact is not.

Do not get me wrong, it is not that there are not providers willing to help; there are plenty of them. But the system , crowded with people who need more help than it can provide and without with ever shrinking budgets; almost makes it impossible to get help. If you can be patched up and sent back out, they have done their job, if you crash after you leave the service not their problem. Sadly, I have lost too many friends, some to suicide after they left the military, including men whose credentials as real American heroes were unmatched. This is not a new issue, ask any vet who has dealt with getting post-service care at the VA or anywhere.

Likewise, if you remain in service and have a chronic-long-term condition, of any kind, physical or mental the attitude seems to be “fuck you.” If you get the label as a “broke” Marine, Sailor, Soldier, or Airman your career is pretty much over, unless you are one of the lucky few like me who had some superiors who looked beyond that and protected you. I know that because it is not just my experience but the experience of hundreds of combat vets that I have dealt with.

I can live with this as long as I am on my meds, and have friends and beer, but then I am an old guy looking at retirement at the end of this tour. If I were a young guy, with my whole career ahead of me I would be fucked. So when I retire I will be a pain in the ass to the system to ensure that the young guys who will be fighting our wars in the future as well as those who are out of the military gets the care that they need.

But as far as my condition goes, I am oddly comforted by the words of Raymond “Red Reddington (James Spader) in The Blacklist:

“There is nothing that can take the pain away. But eventually, you will find a way to live with it. There will be nightmares. And everyday when you wake up, it will be the first thing you think about. Until one day, it’s the second.”

Many things haunt me; but unlike many people who have little self-awareness I might have just a bit too much. I have talked about the nightmares, night terrors and insomnia that I have many times following my return from Iraq. I used to believe, at least back in the first year or so after I returned that I thought that eventually I would get over it. I don’t believe that anymore, now I just believe that I will find a way to live with them.

I guess that is the secret to life. Instead of wishing that something would miraculously take way the pain, I guess that it is better to find a way to live with it because one day something else will replace it.

Is that an ideal way to deal with life? Probably not, but I know that I am an idealist anymore. I used to be, but that was a while back. It took time, but war and the lies of men that I voted for, men who I trusted because they professed my faith, my love of country, and some who even shared my vocation as a priest and chaplain took that from me.

Some experts call this “moral injury.” For me it is connected with my tour in Iraq, PTSD and what I experience when I came home from colleagues, and people in my former church. Betrayal and abandonment is a terrible thing, but I am learning to live with it. It is not pretty but I am learning with every passing night and morning. Alexander Dumas wrote in The Count of Monte Cristo:

“Moral wounds have this peculiarity – they may be hidden, but they never close; always painful, always ready to bleed when touched, they remain fresh and open in the heart.”

My life is full again, there is meaning and purpose, but it is tempered by realism and the expectation that every day I will wake up and still think about those painful memories until finally something else takes their place.

I guess that the secret to living with darkness and pain is simply to live with it because the saying that “time heals all wounds” is a lie, it is the fabrication of people that don’t want to deal with the real world. God might heal, but then God may not. I have learned to be okay with that. I know that there are some Christians who might disagree and even say that I do not have enough “faith,” whatever that means, but I can live with this.

So I will live with it and in doing so I will continue on and in the process hopefully be there for others that also struggle with pain that does not want to go away and nightmares that never seem to end. As the late Henri Nouwen wrote: “Ministry means the ongoing attempt to put one’s own search for God, with all the moments of pain and joy, despair and hope, at the disposal of those who want to join this search but do not know how.” Not exactly perfection, but it will work.

This now is my goal and my prayer: God grant me the courage to change the things I cannot accept; Serenity to accept the things I have changed; And the wisdom to know I’m different. Amen.

Peace

Padre Steve+

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There Will be Nightmares: PTSD & Memories of War

Friends of Padre Steve’s World

I’m really very tired today so another short post. I haven’t slept well in several weeks, part of this of course was the worry I had regarding my wife Judy and her cancer diagnosis, surgery and recovery. As she has gotten better I have been dealing with stuff from my own closet of anxieties. Those who have been reading my articles here know that I deal with PTSD, Traumatic Brain Injury and moral injury from my time in Iraq, and my return home.

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Last year I went through a very difficult time dealing with the military mental health system that I never want to repeat again. I hope I don’t have to, but I may. My therapist who I have had since last summer took a new job thousands of miles away and now I am going to have to find another therapist. I am hoping the man I see for my medication management can get me referred to someone good, because I do not want to be thrust back into the system and take the luck of the draw. That scares me to death, and since I found out my therapist was leaving and that I will not see her again I have been trying to keep my anxiety under control and not to panic. Awake I do pretty well with this, but when I try to sleep, all my Iraq stuff, plus all the very real and bad experiences that I had with the military mental health system last year flood my psyche. The night terrors are back, the terrible dreams and fears. It is not fun waking up in the middle of the night in a state of terror. Last year, after dealing with a number of providers and administrators I was nearly suicidal. It took the intervention of a former commanding officer who had been recently selected for promotion to Admiral in the Medical Corps to get me listened to and to get me the help that I sought.

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But I know that I am not alone, I will get the professional help that I still need and I do have some friends I can talk to about these issues. Likewise I know many combat who veterans deal with similar issues related to their service, as well what happened to them when they returned home from Iraq or Afghanistan. The return from war is often worse than actually being over there, few people really understand, unless they too have been there.

Guy Sajer wrote in his book The Forgotten Soldier, “Only happy people have nightmares, from overeating. For those who live a nightmare reality, sleep is a black hole, lost in time, like death.” General Gouverneur Warren, a hero of many Civil War battles including Gettysburg wrote to his wife after the war “I wish I did not dream so much. They make me sometimes to dread to go to sleep. Scenes from the war, are so constantly recalled, with bitter feelings I wish never to experience again. Lies, vanity, treachery, and carnage.”

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I am a realist about this. I know that there is no magic wand which will make it all go away and I don’t expect any therapist, or even God to cure me. I can understand why Alexander Dumas in the Count of Monte Cristo wrote, “Moral wounds have this peculiarity – they may be hidden, but they never close; always painful, always ready to bleed when touched, they remain fresh and open in the heart.”

That is true and I know to some people that may sound like I have given up, especially because it runs counter to the snake oil salesmen who write self-help books which promise to heal you in whatever number of steps or exercises; especially the ones written by preachers. But that is not the case, despite everything I still have a love of life and lust for learning. Except that now I just have moved to a new level of understanding concerning my own dark places, and that pain that manifests at night as I try to sleep. Since nothing will take it away I need to live with it and realize that it won’t always be the first thing that I think about when I wake up in the morning. That my friends is the essence of hope. 

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One of my favorite actors, James Spader, plays a character named Raymond Reddington on the television show The Blacklist. During one episode he told another character something quite profound, something that if we actually embrace it can be somewhat comforting. “There is nothing that can take the pain away. But eventually, you will find a way to live with it. There will be nightmares. And every day when you wake up, it will be the first thing you think about. Until one day, it’s the second.”

I think that is why I can continue and at the same time seek to be available to those who suffer similar afflictions, and thankfully, I do still have those opportunities and as the late Henri Nouwen wrote, “Ministry means the ongoing attempt to put one’s own search for God, with all the moments of pain and joy, despair and hope, at the disposal of those who want to join this search but do not know how.”

Anyway, have a nice night.

Peace

Padre Steve+

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Mr. Jefferson BUILD UP THAT WALL! 

  
I don’t know about you but I am sick and tired of people, no matter what their religious belief in this country who use the Constitutionally protections extended to religious freedom in manners that the founders of our country never would have imagined. The fact that those basic religious freedoms are not in danger in any way is irrelevant to true believers  who in their insecurity need to create new laws specifically crafted to allow them to discriminate against others based on their supposedly sincere religious beliefs. Sadly, and I say this as a Christian, the vast majority of people doing this are people that claim to be Christians. 

Thomas Jefferson in his wonderful letter to the Virginia Baptist Association in 1808, in a letter the echoed his letter to the Danbury Baptist Association of of 1802 in which he referred that the legislature in enacting the dual provisions of religious liberty in the Constitution had built up “a wall of separation between Church and State” noted: 

“Because religious belief, or non belief, is such an important part of every person’s life, freedom of religion affects every individual. Religious institutions that use government power to support themselves and force their views of other faiths, or no faith, undermine all our civil rights. Morever, state support of an established religion tends to make the clergy unresponsive to their own people, and leads to corruption in religion itself. Erecting the “wall of separation between church and state,” therefore, is absolutely essential in a free society.” 

You see my friends, Jeferson and the other courageous men who so carefully crafted this wall of separation had real experience with the abuses by church-state and the incestuous clergy who used state power to prop up themselves and their churches and to persecution those that refused to submit to their control. Likewise there were religious groups in the recently independent former colonies like the Baptists who in Virginia and other states, as well as the Quakers in Massachusetts who were victims of such persecution, and they were determined not to let it happen here through the marriage of church and state. 

In fact Jefferson was was convinced that no specific God or religion be established, and not only in the Constitution of the United States, but in his own home state, the Commonwealth of Virginia. There Jefferson authored the Virginia a religious liberty bill which was passed, but which met with considerable opposition from faithful Christians. Reflecting on that legislation Jefferson wrote this in 1821:

“[When] the [Virginia] bill for the establishment of religious freedom…was finally passed,…a singular proposition proved that it’s protection of opinion was meant to be universal. Where the preamble declares that coercion is a departure from the holy author of our religion, an ammendment was proposed, by inserting “Jesus Christ,” so that it should read “a departure from the plan of Jesus Christ, the holy author of our religion.” The insertion was rejected by a great majority, in proof tha they meant to comprehend within the mantle of its protection the Jew and the Gentile, the Christian and the Mahamoten, the Hindoo and the infidel of every denomination.”

Sadly, jefferson’s words are twisted, rejected and even despised by the authors of the Religious Liberty Resoration Acts being enacted in state houses around the country. Not only are the state legislatures enacting laws meant only to provide Christians the  protection and the police power of the state to discriminate against any person, or group based on religious belief. Our founders, especially Jefferson and Madison who have found that incomprehensible, but then they would certainly not be surprised because they had seen it and lived under it during the English Adminstration of the colonies. They also understood human nature very well. 

Thus I think that we should applaud Thomas Jefferson and like Christopher Hitchens exclaim “Mr. Jefferson. BUILD UP THAT WALL!” 

However that wall is being torn down by the descendants of Christians who longed to be free from the coercion and evil wrought by the marriage of church and state, a marriage which Jefferson so wisely noted harmed the church as much as the state. 

I have spent the better part of my adult life as a military chaplain defending and protecting the rights of others to their free exercise of reglion whether or not I agreed with them. I held and still hold that to be a sacred duty of my commission and office. I can also state that even most people who did not agree with regarding my beliefs respected me and still consult me because first they knew that I cared about them and secondly that they knew that I would do all within my power to protect their freedom the excercise their religion, or to have no religion and not to be penalized for it. 

But that being said I have found that I am increasingly isolated by the fervent relionists who have highjacked the understanding of religious freedom to mean theirs and only theirs and who use the battering ram of the legislature to destroy Mr. Jefferson’s “Wall.” Sadly they are to blind to see that their actions are a two-edged sword which once precedence has been established can be turned on them with a vengeance. 

Last night I was watching one of my favorite television series, Boston Legal. My favorite character in the show is the lawyer played by James Spader, one Alan Shore. In the episode Whose God is it Anyway  Spader’s character is defending a friend form charges or religious discrimination in the workplace, and his character, Alan Shore delivers this remarkable closing, which because of the unrelenting actions of many of my Christian Brothers and Sisters in putting their rights and privileges as Christians over those of other citizens. That my friends is profoundly dangerous. 

By doing so they through their intense hubris not only harm others as they attempt to control them by the police power of the state but damage their own credibility and the religious liberty of Americans yet to be born. It is no wonder that this generation of American Christianity is shedding members at a rate never seen in this country before, and driving those who they might want to bring to faith away. But I digress…

In that episode of Boston Legal something that I wish I had thought of and said years ago and which I am certain that if  Jefferson, Madison and so many of our founders would agree with if they had lived to see the depths of dishonesty of Christian individuals, businesses and legislatures have sunk in their abuse of others through their unremitting pursuit of their religious freedom. That is not just at home where they enact laws allowing them to discriminate, but through their apocalyptic machinations to bring the world to war killing billions of people just so Jesus will come back. Though they would deny it, their ultimate goals, albeit in the name of a different  God, are little different than that the Islamic State, Al Qaida, the Iranian Mullahs or Hezbollah. That my friends should scare the living shit out of any rational person. 

So here is that closing:

“I don’t know about you but I’m getting a little tired of the religious freedom thing. When did religion get such a good name anyway. Be it the Crusades, the reformation genocides, the troubles in Northern Ireland, the Middle East, mass slaughters in the name of Allah, the obligatory reciprocal retributions. Hundreds of millions have died in religious conflicts. Hitler did his business in the name of his creator. Religious extremism, it’s our greatest threat today, a holy jihad. If we’re not ready to strip religion of its sacred cow status, how about we at least scale back on the Constitutoional dogma exalting it as all get out….

Everyone should get to believe in his God, pray to his God, worship his God of course. But to impose him on others, to victimize others in his name?  The founding fathers set out to prevent persecution, not license it…

At a certain point we have to say “enough with this freedom of religion crap. Yuck, yuck, yuck. I know, I’ll get letters….” 

To that I can only say “Amen!” 

So with that I bid you a good day.

Peace

Padre Steve+ 

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