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Baseball, Perspective and Life

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Well my friends Opening Day is upon us after a long and at times brutal winter, and for that I am glad. So tonight after a very long day moving furniture and books getting ready for the contractors to come and install the tile on my living room floor I am basically doing a re-run but not calling it that. I was working on another article but it is too late and I am too tied to finish it, so I am reprising this article from 2011. Have a great night and catch you tomorrow.

“I think about the cosmic snowball theory. A few million years from now the sun will burn out and lose its gravitational pull. The earth will turn into a giant snowball and be hurled through space. When that happens it won’t matter if I get this guy out.” Bill “Spaceman” Lee

Bill “Spaceman” Lee is a funny guy. A Major League pitcher who has long since retired Lee somehow in an often convoluted way was able to keep things in perspective. I love this quote because it is a reminder that a lot of the stuff that we take very seriously in the long run isn’t that important. In fact it reminds of just how little control we have and why it is such an exercise in futility to be anxious and worry about things that we cannot control. I’m pretty sure that Jesus had a word or two about this as well which his disciples thought was important enough to put in the Gospels.

Anyway, last night was another night where for the most part I took the night off from looking at the news about Japan and Libya. I watched for a while as I ate dinner and did laundry but when I began to put my platform bed together I decided I didn’t need to keep listening to newscasters, commentators, talking heads, politicians and pundits as they pondered, puzzled and piddled about the problems of the day. Let’s face it unless big news breaks in the middle of any news channels’ programming it is all the same information being repeated repeatedly by people who many times are paid huge amounts of money to sound ignorant. I guess that it beats real work. Oh well I have continued to take a mental break from this things because they will be there in the morning and will probably be worse than they are now. But to paraphrase what I said last night what is going on now needs to be kept in perspective because this nation and the world have been throw worse during the 20th Century then we are going through now.

Since I wrote about some of those things in my last essay night I won’t re-hash them. But I will say that our media machine both the old established media and the new media are the greatest producers of anxiety that the world has ever seen. These people have created an industry where news is packaged to create anxiety and keep views hooked wondering what terrible calamity will befall them, because if it happened somewhere else it will probably happen here too even if all the facts on the ground are different. David Brinkley said it well when talking about television news: “The one function that TV news performs very well is that when there is no news we give it to you with the same emphasis as if it were.” Thus even hypothetical issues become objects which are used to drive up anxiety, anger and fear and I think that pundits of all types and stripes are the worst offenders in this. It is simply shameful but I digress.

If we look at American History we see that while the media since day one has promoted anxiety and fear in one form or another that we have for the most part been able to keep things in perspective. When Franklin Delano Roosevelt said “we have nothing to fear but fear itself” he was absolutely on the money. Our problem today is that we live in a world where our ability to communicate information especially about bad things both real and imagined exceeds both our ability to absorb it and to cognitively and emotionally respond to any real threat vice the imagined threats. Branch Rickey once said “thinking about the Devil is worse than seeing the Devil.”

In such a tumultuous environment it is hard to keep to keep events in perspective. As I said in my previous article I was tired from hearing the constant barrage of bad news. Now I am pretty good about keeping perspective but even if I can cognitively deal with the news it can be hard to maintain a non-anxious presence if I am being constantly bombarded with disasters and tragedies of the magnitude that we have witnessed the past several weeks. Thus I turned off the news and put on baseball movies and decided to do the same last night.

Since I am tying baseball into the whole issue of keeping one’s perspective I want to mention the great baseball comedies Major League and Bull Durham. While they are comedies told through the lens of baseball they are great movies about life and keeping one’s perspective. I love both of these movies, they are not the emotional and spiritual tales like Field of Dreams and For the Love of the Game they are great in using the medium of a baseball comedy to give life lessons.

Major League deals with a Cleveland Indians team that has not won a world series in over 40 years and whose owner is trying to lose so many games that she can move the team to Miami. The team is made up of has been players, cast offs and rookies of uncertain ability and maturity. In the movie which was set before the Indians renaissance of the 1990s dealt with a losing team that the owner purposely built to lose, but finds its pride to spite their nefarious owner and win the American League East. The character that I can relate to is the old catcher called up from the Mexican League, Jake Taylor played by Tom Berenger who is the field leader of the team helping the young players to mature while holding the Indians together as they go through difficult times and then go on to win the East against the Yankees and in the process rediscover a love that was lost due to his own mistakes.

Bull Durham is another one of my favorites and once again my favorite character is the journeyman catcher, Crash Davis played by Kevin Costner who is sent back to “A” Ball to assist a young pitcher named Eby Calvin “Nuke” LaLoosh played by Tim Robbins. In the process Crash helps LaLoosh, assists his teammates as they go through hard times and discovers love even at the end of his playing career.

What I like about these films is how they show how to keep perspective in life. In the movies both Jake Taylor and Crash Davis are guys on the down side of their careers. They play on losing teams which they help lead back into contention and help the young players mature into winners. They simply concentrate in the things that they can influence.

Of course baseball is taken deep into the future in Star Trek Deep Space Nine.

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The way I figure is that in life we can worry about stuff that we can’t control and ignore the things and people around us that really matter that we can have some influence upon and that is not just a baseball thing. That is a life thing; it is a faith thing and a relational thing. Are these characters perfect examples? By no means, they are regular guys in situations that are not the greatest to be in and they make mistakes, sometimes on the field and a lot of time in relationships. That is why I think that they are good examples; they are real not some kind of untouchable perfect hero. I can relate to guys like that.

I know that I’m a Mendoza Line* kind of guy in a lot of ways. I’m a journeyman who has been able to be successful enough to hang around a long time in my chosen profession. I think that is how I keep my perspective, I’ve been around long enough to make lots of mistakes, experience a lot of bad times and having come through a really bad time after Iraq realize that no matter what happens things will work out. That was like being in a major slump but somehow despite everything I made it through those hard times.

So when I now talk about keeping perspective on life I talk about it from a vantage point of having failed in different ways but also having succeeded in others sometimes even in the same endeavor. So my perspective is now I know that I can’t control what is happening in all the world’s crisis points or for that matter almost anything, I need to take care of the people and things that I have a little bit up influence upon.

I think that is a lesson that baseball teaches us. It teaches us that so much of life is beyond our control and that just because everything isn’t okay doesn’t mean that we need to live in fear and in a constant state of anxiety. As Walt Whitman so eloquently put it “I see great things in baseball. It’s our game – the American game. It will take our people out-of-doors, fill them with oxygen, give them a larger physical stoicism. Tend to relieve us from being a nervous, dyspeptic set. Repair these losses, and be a blessing to us.”

Peace

Padre Steve+
*The Mendoza Line is named after Mario Mendoza who played for the Pittsburgh Pirates. He hit for a career batting average of .215 and the Mendoza Line is considered to be a .200 average which is the line below which players can pretty much be assured that they will not remain in the Major Leagues.

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Baseball and Life: The Importance of Perspective

It’s all about Perspective

“I think about the cosmic snowball theory. A few million years from now the sun will burn out and lose its gravitational pull. The earth will turn into a giant snowball and be hurled through space. When that happens it won’t matter if I get this guy out.” Bill “Spaceman” Lee

Bill “Spaceman” Lee is a funny guy. A Major League pitcher who has long since retired Lee somehow in an often convoluted way was able to keep things in perspective.  I love this quote because it is a reminder that a lot of the stuff that we take very seriously in the long run isn’t that important. In fact it reminds of just how little control we have and why it is such an exercise in futility to be anxious and worry about things that we cannot control. I’m pretty sure that Jesus had a word or two about this as well which his disciples thought was important enough to put in the Gospels.

Anyway, last night was another night where for the most part I took the night off from looking at the news about Japan and Libya. I watched for a while as I ate dinner and did laundry but when I began to put my platform bed together I decided I didn’t need to keep listening to newscasters, commentators, talking heads, politicians and pundits as they pondered, puzzled and piddled about the problems of the day. Let’s face it unless big news breaks in the middle of any news channels’ programming it is all the same information being repeated repeatedly by people who many times are paid huge amounts of money to sound ignorant. I guess that it beats real work.  Oh well I have continued to take a mental break from this things because they will be there in the morning and will probably be worse than they are now. But to paraphrase what I said last night what is going on now needs to be kept in perspective because this nation and the world have been throw worse during the 20th Century then we are going through now.

Since I wrote about some of those things in my last essay night I won’t re-hash them. But I will say that our media machine both the old established media and the new media are the greatest producers of anxiety that the world has ever seen. These people have created an industry where news is packaged to create anxiety and keep views hooked wondering what terrible calamity will befall them, because if it happened somewhere else it will probably happen here too even if all the facts on the ground are different. David Brinkley said it well when talking about television news: “The one function that TV news performs very well is that when there is no news we give it to you with the same emphasis as if it were.” Thus even hypothetical issues become objects which are used to drive up anxiety, anger and fear and I think that pundits of all types and stripes are the worst offenders in this. It is simply shameful but I digress.

If we look at American History we see that while the media since day one has promoted anxiety and fear in one form or another that we have for the most part been able to keep things in perspective. When Franklin Delano Roosevelt said “we have nothing to fear but fear itself” he was absolutely on the money. Our problem today is that we live in a world where our ability to communicate information especially about bad things both real and imagined exceeds both our ability to absorb it and to cognitively and emotionally respond to any real threat vice the imagined threats. Branch Rickey once said thinking about the Devil is worse than seeing the Devil.”

In such a tumultuous environment it is hard to keep to keep events in perspective.  As I said in my previous article I was tired from hearing the constant barrage of bad news. Now I am pretty good about keeping perspective but even if I can cognitively deal with the news it can be hard to maintain a non-anxious presence if I am being constantly bombarded with disasters and tragedies of the magnitude that we have witnessed the past several weeks. Thus I turned off the news and put on baseball movies and decided to do the same last night.

Since I am tying baseball into the whole issue of keeping one’s perspective I want to mention the great baseball comedies Major League and Bull Durham. While they are comedies told through the lens of baseball they are great movies about life and keeping one’s perspective. I love both of these movies, they are not the emotional and spiritual tales like Field of Dreams and For the Love of the Game they are great in using the medium of a baseball comedy to give life lessons.

Major League deals with a Cleveland Indians team that has not won a world series in over 40 years and whose owner is trying to lose so many games that she can move the team to Miami.  The team is made up of has been players, cast offs and rookies of uncertain ability and maturity. In the movie which was set before the Indians renaissance of the 1990s dealt with a losing team that the owner purposely built to lose, but finds its pride to spite their nefarious owner and win the American League East. The character that I can relate to is the old catcher called up from the Mexican League, Jake Taylor played by Tom Berenger who is the field leader of the team helping the young players to mature while holding the Indians together as they go through difficult times and then go on to win the East against the Yankees and in the process rediscover a love that was lost due to his own mistakes.

Bull Durham is another one of my favorites and once again my favorite character is the journeyman catcher, Crash Davis played by Kevin Costner who is sent back to “A” Ball to assist a young pitcher named Eby Calvin “Nuke” LaLoosh played by Tim Robbins. In the process Crash helps LaLoosh, assists his teammates as they go through hard times and discovers love even at the end of his playing career.

What I like about these films is how they show how to keep perspective in life.  In the movies both Jake Taylor and Crash Davis are guys on the down side of their careers. They play on losing teams which they help lead back into contention and help the young players mature into winners. They simply concentrate in the things that they can influence.

The way I figure is that in life we can worry about stuff that we can’t control and ignore the things and people around us that really matter that we can have some influence upon and that is not just a baseball thing. That is a life thing; it is a faith thing and a relational thing. Are these characters perfect examples? By no means, they are regular guys in situations that are not the greatest to be in and they make mistakes, sometimes on the field and a lot of time in relationships. That is why I think that they are good examples; they are real not some kind of untouchable perfect hero. I can relate to guys like that.

I know that I’m a Mendoza Line* kind of guy in a lot of ways. I’m a journeyman who has been able to be successful enough to hang around a long time in my chosen profession. I think that is how I keep my perspective, I’ve been around long enough to make lots of mistakes, experience a lot of bad times and having come through a really bad time after Iraq realize that no matter what happens things will work out. That was like being in a major slump but somehow despite everything I made it through those hard times.

So when I now talk about keeping perspective on life I talk about it from a vantage point of having failed in different ways but also having succeeded in others sometimes even in the same endeavor.  So my perspective is now I know that I can’t control what is happening in all the world’s crisis points or for that matter almost anything, I need to take care of the people and things that I have a little bit up influence upon.

I think that is a lesson that baseball teaches us. It teaches us that so much of life is beyond our control and that just because everything isn’t okay doesn’t mean that we need to live in fear and in a constant state of anxiety.  As Walt Whitman so eloquently put it “I see great things in baseball.  It’s our game – the American game.  It will take our people out-of-doors, fill them with oxygen, give them a larger physical stoicism.  Tend to relieve us from being a nervous, dyspeptic set.  Repair these losses, and be a blessing to us.”

Tonight is another baseball and life movie night with Game 6. The film stars Michael Keaton who plays an actor struggling with cancer, divorce and his relationship with his teenage daughter. He is a diehard Red Sox fan during the 1986 World Series. If time permits I’ll see what else I have on the shelf.

Peace

Padre Steve+
*The Mendoza Line is named after Mario Mendoza who played for the Pittsburg Pirates. He hit for a career batting average of .215 and the Mendoza Line is considered to be a .200 average which is the line below which players can pretty much be assured that they will not remain in the Major Leagues.

 

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Putting the World back in Order: Baseball Movies Tonight

“Baseball is reassuring. It makes me feel as if the world is not going to blow up.” Sharon Olds

“Don’t tell me about the world. Not today. It’s springtime and they’re knocking baseball around fields where the grass is damp and green in the morning and the kids are trying to hit the curve ball” Pete Hamill

“I see great things in baseball. It’s our game – the American game. It will take our people out-of-doors, fill them with oxygen, give them a larger physical stoicism. Tend to relieve us from being a nervous, dyspeptic set. Repair these losses, and be a blessing to us.” Walt Whitman

At long last I have my DVD player hooked up and the news is not on in my island hermitage. The past few weeks we have seen the world going crazy. Earthquakes, tsunami, nuclear crises, wars and revolutions, political and economic instability are driving me fricking crazy.  I’m sorry but I don’t know about you but this constant torrent of bad news is really getting old fast and it probably isn’t going to get any better any time soon. That my friends is reality and reality can suck like a Hoover, or what the hell a Dyson or Kirby for all I care, it sucks.

But guess what friends we have seen times and events like this before, hell the 1920s, 30s and 40s were as bad or worse. That my friends is reality and it sucked then too. And you know something somehow we as a people got through it. We dealt with the collapse of Empires, revolutions, Communism, Fascism, Nazism, the Great Depression, World fricking Wars, natural disasters, Hitler, Stalin, Mussolini and Tojo and then to top it all off the beginning of the nuclear era and the Cold War with the ever present threat of Mutually Assured Destruction between the United States and the Soviet Union. But somehow the world survived, don’t ask me how but it did, not without a hell of a lot of pain, suffering and distress mostly brought on by people but occasionally nature but it still survived despite our best attempts to blow it all up.

Somehow as insanely sucky as things are right now with all the hate, turmoil and catastrophe unless the Cubs win the World Series in 2012 the apocalyptic asses prophesying doom and the end of the world in 2012 be it secular, religious or some convoluted theory about why the world will end because the Mayans ran out of rock for their calendar I don’t buy it. Now if the Cubbies win the 2012 World Series all bets are off and you better look to the east because there is a good chance that Jesus is coming. Now was that a hell of a run on sentence or what. That was almost as good as a German theologian.

So we are bombarded with bad news at a cyclic rate and yes it needs to be reported and it is probably good that we stay informed. However all that we do is tune in to the news 24 hours a day or giving three hours a day every day to some radio talk show host or for that matter never turn our radio dials away from them we will not have peace. If all we do is listen, read and watch what all of them stir up every day anxiety then it is no wonder that we are so anxiety ridden and hate each other so much.

I know what constant exposure to this can do for a person, because before Iraq I was consumed by this insanity. However, I came back from Iraq and reprioritized when I found that I could no longer do three hours a day every day or for that matter three minutes with any of these monsters of the airwaves.

Let’s face it Americans have come to loathe each other because all we focus on is how bad everything is and how it is someone else’s fault be they a liberal, a conservative, a Socialist, a Tea Party Patriot, a Christian, Moslem, Jew, Atheist, Republican, Democrat, Libertarian or God forbid a Dodgers’ fan. We’ve divided ourselves in ways that haven’t been seen since the days before the Civil War, only now those visceral emotions are transmitted instantly through the television, radio and internet. Something has to draw us back to who we are as a people.

Unfortunately many can’t even find our peace in their faith because nutty extremists with all sorts of agendas from across the political spectrum have hijacked them so that preachers often have messages little different than pundits or politicians. As such we have become cynical, bitter and have lost faith in our political, social, economic and religious institutions and given them all into the hands of those whose chief desire is power.

So all that being said I am enjoying the hell out of two baseball movies tonight. The first was Mr. Baseball starring Tom Selleck as a New York Yankee slugger who is cut from the team and gets picked up by a Japanese team.  It’s a great flick and really shows some of the differences in the way Americans and Japanese approach this beloved game and how despite the different approaches how deeply it is ingrained in both cultures. Japan has suffered great calamity and we seem to teeter on the edge of our own calamities consumed in angst and for some anger.

The other movie that I am watching even as I write this little article is Field of Dreams a fantasy and allegory of baseball and life. It is a story that always gets me a story of redemption, second chances and hope, a hope that says “if you build it he will come.” We need to start building again; we have been tearing each other down for so long that we have left a tangled mess for our children.

I know for me that baseball is one constant that even when I experienced a loss of faith that left me a practical agnostic for two years after I returned from Iraq that brought peace to my troubled soul. The Church of Baseball, Harbor Park Parish was one of the only places that I could regain a sense of balance and life.

Yes there is a lot of tragedy and crisis in the world but in nine days it is opening day and the “Boys of Summer” will again step onto the lush green diamonds as the regular season begins. It is not a moment too soon. As Terrance Mann, played by James Earl Jones said so eloquently to Ray Kinsella played by Kevin Costner in Field of Dreams:

“Ray, people will come Ray. They’ll come to Iowa for reasons they can’t even fathom. They’ll turn up your driveway not knowing for sure why they’re doing it. They’ll arrive at your door as innocent as children, longing for the past. Of course, we won’t mind if you look around, you’ll say. It’s only $20 per person. They’ll pass over the money without even thinking about it: for it is money they have and peace they lack. And they’ll walk out to the bleachers; sit in shirtsleeves on a perfect afternoon. They’ll find they have reserved seats somewhere along one of the baselines, where they sat when they were children and cheered their heroes. And they’ll watch the game and it’ll be as if they dipped themselves in magic waters. The memories will be so thick they’ll have to brush them away from their faces. People will come Ray. The one constant through all the years has been baseball. America has rolled by like an army of steamrollers. It’s been erased like a blackboard, rebuilt, and erased again. But baseball has marked the time. This field, this game, is a part of our past. It reminds us of all that once was good, and what could be again.”

Things can be good again, we just need to pull together and persevere and believe again. I think that baseball, this wonderful game that has bridged the gap between East and West, this game that is timeless in an age of real and imagined deadlines, this game that still inspires millions around the world, this game that allows us to gain dip in the magic waters of hope and life can be as Walt Whitman said:

“I see great things in baseball. It’s our game – the American game. It will take our people out-of-doors, fill them with oxygen, give them a larger physical stoicism. Tend to relieve us from being a nervous, dyspeptic set. Repair these losses, and be a blessing to us.”

We need to “hear the voice” again see what can be, we need to find our Field of Dreams and make it real.

Well the movie is ending and I have tears in my eyes, tears of joy as I watch Ray Kinsella “have a catch” with his father John on that magical diamond and long for the day I can do so with my father who is somewhere in that cornfield waiting to come out and play ball.

Peace

Padre Steve+

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A Visit from My Dad

Is there a heaven? Oh yeah. It’s the place where dreams come true.

John Kinsella: Is this heaven?

Ray Kinsella: It’s Iowa.

John Kinsella: Iowa? I could have sworn this was heaven.

[John starts to walk away]

Ray Kinsella: Is there a heaven?

John Kinsella: Oh yeah. It’s the place where dreams come true.

[Ray looks around, seeing his wife playing with their daughter on the porch]

Ray Kinsella: Maybe this is heaven

Dialogue from Field of Dreams

I went to bed as usual on Sunday night with my usual trepidation of the night but unlike many nights I actually fell asleep after two consecutive nights where I had almost none. Since returning from Iraq I don’t sleep well and most of the time when I dream, or remember dreams they are seldom good and often quite disturbing. When I see massive trauma and destruction as has been covered on the news of late be it the triple disasters in Japan as well as the situation in Libya where Muammar Gaddafi’s forces are grinding the rebels that we encouraged to dust. For me after seeing the destruction of Iraqi cities and the effects of war the images of destruction and human tragedy in Japan and Libya are upsetting and I have slept even less well than normal.

My dad died last June after a seven year battle with Alzheimer’s disease which by the sixth year had taken away almost everything that he was.  The last time that I saw him alive he did not know me and for me that was hard. He died the day after I found out that I had been selected for promotion to the Rank of Commander and I know that he was proud of my career in the military and would have been elated to share that joy.

I love the movie Field of Dreams where Ray Kinsella played by Kevin Costner ends up helping the ghosts of the 1919 Chicago White Sox including Shoeless Joe Jackson who were banned from baseball during the “Black Sox” scandal find peace on a baseball field in Iowa. In the process he also makes peace with himself and his father. I feel a lot of connection to the movie because of the father son relationship portrayed in it. Baseball was always a big part of our lives and my dad planted the love of the game deep in me. In my early adulthood my dad and I suffered some rocky times in our relationship many of which were due to my headstrong independence.  However later in life we had become close again, he was still high strung and opinionated and I was still opinionated and independent but it was a good relationship.  The only thing that we were unable to do was get together and “have a catch” during the latter years because of his deteriorating physical condition.

So after his death I had a lack of closure a feeling that we had never been able to say goodbye to each other. On Sunday night or rather early Monday morning I had a dream where he visited me. It was the dad that I remembered.  He came to me and we talked about baseball, the weather, and my mom as well as funny stories about his mother, world affairs, the Navy and even the earthquake in Japan since we had both served there at different times.  It was a natural conversation like one might have with their father after not seeing him in person for a year or more. He was really happy that the Giants had won the World Series and we talked about the possibilities of them repeating. The conversation went on for what felt like hours. He told me how proud he was of me and how he loved me and I was able to express the same to him. When he said that he had to leave I went to my desk, somehow he was visiting me in my office at the Naval Hospital to get him my business card so he would have my phone numbers. At that point the alarm clock went off and he disappeared.

I woke from sleep feeling like I had just been with him and that the visit was real. I was still tired but my spirit was refreshed. I told Judy about it Monday night and she thought that it was pretty cool and said that he may have visited me.  Whether it was a visit or a dream I don’t know. All I know is that I had my dad back for a while and finally was able to say that last I love you and hear the same from him. I’m okay with that and hope that maybe he will come back to “have a catch” with me or take in a ball game or just talk some more.

Is there a heaven? Yes, it’s the place where dreams come true.

Peace

Padre Steve+

 

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Disaster in Japan: A Time to Act and Pray

A Woman sits amid the rubble in the town of Natori, Myagi Prefecture

It appears that we have crossed the line from cataclysm to absolute disaster as three nuclear reactors at the Fukushima Daiichi plant appear to be melting down top one extent or another. Japanese government officials have increased the evacuation zone following the latest explosion at the number 2 reactor which may have had its containment vessel compromised. Additionally a fire has broken out in unit 4 which was not active but contains spent fuel rods and according to the government is probably releasing radiation into the atmosphere. Even without such a calamitous turn of events the tremendous devastation caused by the massive earthquake and tsunami were beyond compare in any first world nation. Japan has one of the largest economies in the world and despite a long term economic downturn has remained one of the key industrial nations in the world’s economic system. It also has probably the best civil defense and disaster relief systems in the world but even still this highly advanced country has been overwhelmed by the dual natural disasters and now a probable nuclear disaster.

Thousands have been confirmed dead and many thousands more are missing as the tsunami swept everything before it and probably has washed many thousands of victims out to sea. Whole cities lay in ruin and hundreds of thousands are in shelters or homeless many without power or water. Thousands more are critically injured are being cared for in an advanced but now highly stressed medical system. Transportation networks to include airports and military airfields, rail lines, seaports and highways are damaged to such an extent that relief agencies cannot use them.

There is little good news other than the tremendous grace that the Japanese people have shown under such terrible conditions. In conditions which would have sparked rioting and looting in most other nations including the United States and Western Europe the Japanese people are banding together to survive and respecting their neighbors even when such necessities as fresh water and food run out.

The Japanese power company TEPCO has evacuated all but 50 personnel from the compound and has admitted that the containment vessel for reactor number two may have been breached. Radiation levels are rising and no one knows what will happen to the reactors as they remain in such an uncontrolled state. For days Japanese engineers have worked feverishly to restore cooling systems and when that failed have attempted to cool the reactors by pumping in seawater and boric acid. Nothing appears to be working and with each news conference Japanese government and TEPCO officials seem to be preparing the Japanese public and the world for the worst.  Today people have been told to evacuate further or shelter in place as radiation levels have reached levels that could harm human beings.  Should all three reactors melt down and lose containment there will be a nuclear catastrophe that will make all previous nuclear incidents pale in significance.

While many Americans and others across the world are reaching out to provide aid and assistance to the victims of this tragedy others make pronouncements which are simply idiotic or even full of hatred and evil. On a YouTube posting of the tsunami I read posts that simply were hateful in response to the Japanese as well as those that would offer to help them. Unfortunately most of these comments were bundled into domestic American politics in which the people posting them were attacking President Obama and “the liberal media.” I wonder where the humanity of such people is when I see such lack of compassion for those affected by a catastrophe of this scale. I saw one post where the writer said that the “Japanese deserved it because he saw some Japanese cheer the 9-11 attacks.” Such Schadenfreude is simply are reflection of the darkness that inhabits the hearts of such people.

Conservative talk radio and Fox Television host Glenn Beck alluded that the earthquake might be “might be a message from God.” Now Beck has been known for putting his mouth around his foot without thinking for years and frequently apologizes and then tries to make amends so it is par for the course. However when CNBC financial host Lawrence Kudlow says “the human toll here looks to be much worse than the economic toll, and we can be grateful for that” it shows the depravity of our own financial elites who only look at the economic bottom line.  I guess the true morality of the economic Social Darwinism called Capitalism shows up in its starkest and most banal form in Kudlow’s words.  Not to be outdone Rapper 50 Cent tweeted crude jokes to his followers about the earthquake.

There are also a host of supposed Christians both Protestant and Catholic who supposedly are in the know about “God’s prophetic plan” that the earthquake and tsunami are God’s judgment against Japan for criticizing Israel or even “Demon worship” in Japan. When I read such nonsense I wonder how such people can call this the hand of God or blame it on the victims. I guess if such people get hit by a massive earthquake and tsunami that wipes them out it is also God’s judgment on them? What about all of those Bible believing churches in the tornado belt of the United States that get wiped out every year? Is that God’s judgment too?  I’m just asking.

While the situation in Japan is caused by unprecedented environmental factors which have overwhelmed nuclear plants, electronic grids and transportation systems and added to the misery the words of Larry Kudlow 50 Cent and the contributors to the YouTube video show a deeper problem in the United States. At its heart it is a moral and theological sickness that I think is beginning to overwhelm this country. Dietrich Bonhoeffer wrote from his prison cell before his execution by the Nazis something that speaks volumes in reference to the crisis in the American spirit and among some that call themselves Christian:

We have been silent witnesses of evil deeds: we have been drenched by many storms; we have learnt the arts of equivocation and pretence; experience has made us suspicious of others and kept us from being truthful and open; intolerable conflicts have worn us down and even made us cynical. Are we still of any use?

Well I think that the question “are we still of any use?” is something that we as a people need to ponder before we go making such comments be they religious, economic or just plain evil or stupid.

Thankfully there are a great many American and other people around the world that do not think like this. Among them are the civilian rescue teams and military personnel who are now in harm’s way and those that contribute of their time, talent or treasure to contribute something to agencies providing relief efforts.  Some celebrities most notably Lady Gaga have encouraged prayer for Japan and provided ways to donate to relief efforts. For those that desire to donate many organizations are providing relief supplies and assistance. People can contribute to the Red Cross and Salvation Army by donating $10 via text message with the money being applied to your cellular bill. To donate to the Red Cross text “redcross” to 90999 and for the Salvation Army text either “japan” or “quake” to 80888.  The Christian relief agency Samaritan’s Purse which is part of the Billy Graham organization is taking donations online at https://www.samaritanspurse.org/index.php/Giving/Project_Donations/

Many other churches across the denomination spectrum and secular relief societies are helping. If you are connected to one particular charity that is helping to provide aid to Japan that is another way to help.

CNN published a list of organizations on its website as well as other pertinent information at http://news.blogs.cnn.com/2011/03/11/tsunami-aid-and-relief-how-you-can-help/

We can all pray for the people of Japan as well. This is a crisis which transcends national boundaries and political or religious divisions. I have modified a prayer issued by the Church of England here:

O loving Creator, bring healing and hope to those who, at this time, grieve, suffer pain, or who have been affected by the earthquake, tsunami and nuclear disasters in Japan.

We remember those who have died and we pray for those who mourn for them and those whose fates are not yet known.

May we all be aware of Your compassion, O God, which calms our troubled hearts and shelters our anxious souls that trusting in your grace that we will not lose heart and stretch forth our hands to help the victims of this disaster.

May we pray with humility with our troubled and struggling brothers and sisters on earth.

May we dare to hope that through the generosity of your people around the world that the destitute might glimpse hope, warmth and life again and that you will preserve the people of Japan from further harm and deliver them from all evil.

Grant this through our Savior Jesus Christ who lives with us, comforts us and soothes us. Amen.

Peace

Padre Steve+

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Filed under christian life, faith, natural disasters, Pastoral Care, philosophy

Cataclysm in the Land of the Rising Sun

The Tsunami Hits

At 2:46 PM Tokyo time on Friday March 11th 2011 one of the largest earthquakes ever recorded struck off the Northeast coast of Japan. The quake which is now measured at 9.1 on the Richter scale caused damage to many structures from Tokyo north to the city of Sendai which bore the brunt of the damage. Had the damage been limited to that caused by the quake itself few would have given it a second thought as Japan has learned to build in such ways that damage from large quakes is minimal; a 7.3 temblor struck the same area on Wednesday with causing no damage. The damage from the quake would have been significant for Japan would have been exponentially greater in almost any other country including the United States. One only has to look at damage from much smaller quakes in the United States, Europe and around the world to verify this fact. The quake was so massive that it moved the coastline of Japan 8 feet.

Fire and Flood after the Quake and Tsunami

Large quakes are not uncommon in Japan but this one was different. It was much stronger than any felt in Japan’s recorded history including the massive 8.1 quake that struck Tokyo on September 1st 1923 the Great Kanto earthquake (Kantō daishinsai) which devastated Tokyo and the surrounding prefects killing between 100,000 and 142,000 people and spawned tsunami some of which were recorded as being 30 meters high.  The bulk of the casualties in that quake were caused in the great firestorms which engulfed the region.

The devastated town of Minamisanriku

The quake which was centered 80 miles offshore at a depth of 6 miles where the North American plate and the Pacific plate meet with the Pacific plate pushing westward and driving under the North American Plate. The North American plate broke under the pressure generated by the Pacific plate and was violently lifted upward creating a massive displacement of water from the Japan Trench creating tsunami. The tsunami struck the coast of Japan quickly but the Japanese tsunami warning system gave residents about a 15 minute notice. The tsunami struck with apocalyptic force sweeping away everything in its path, devastating the city of Sendai burying its airport runway and tarmac while sweeping some towns off the face of the earth with the chaos reaching as far as six miles inland. The official death toll continues to climb to over 1500 but 9,500 people are unaccounted for in the town of Minamisanriku in Miyagi Prefecture alone.

Ships washed ashore at Myagi

Yet further threats remain. Large aftershocks some nearing 7.0 on the Richter scale, strong enough to create more tsunami continue to rock the region. The new morning has revealed the extent of the devastation and revealed a potential new catastrophe as the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant is in danger of losing its remaining battery power to cool down the reactors.  The resultant temperature increase in the containment dome is worrying provoking fears very real fears of a meltdown similar to the one at Three Mile Island caused engineers to vent radioactive steam to lower the pressure in the containment dome. There was a massive explosion in the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant’s building which contains the number one unit. Japanese engineers are attempting to flood the containment chamber with sea water but this appears to be a measure of desperation. With the past several hours the highly radioactive element cesium has been detected which indicates that at least some of the fuel rods have melted at the Daiichi number one unit.

The Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant explodes

The nearby Daini plant has also reported a loss in its ability to control its reactor pressure and Japanese engineers are considering releasing radioactive steam to relieve pressure in these facilities. A state of emergency has been declared at the Daiichi unit, the first in the history of Japan’s nuclear program and residents within twelve miles of the unit have been ordered to evacuate. Three more reactor units at the affected plants are under states of emergency and Japanese engineers are franticly attempting to get power to generators which power the pumps which cool the reactor cores.

Japan has the best civil defense and disaster preparedness system in the world is under tremendous strain. It has mobilized its military in order bolster the rescue and relief operations and asked for international assistance. At the present time 5.1 million homes are without power and over a quarter million people are in emergency shelters, a number which could go up depending on the extent of evacuations near the damaged nuclear plants. The United States has sent warships to provide humanitarian relief efforts including the USS Ronald Reagan, the Command Ship USNS Blue Ridge and several cruisers and destroyers. The USS Essex which had just arrived in Malaysia is getting ready to return to Japan to rendezvous with the USS Harpers Ferry and USS Germantown off Tokyo to prepare for any humanitarian assistance/disaster relief duties.  The 7th Fleet is working to get relief supplies and equipment into position to assist the Japanese. Likewise elements of the III Marine Expeditionary Force to provide helicopters, heavy equipment, medical support and other humanitarian support to affected areas.

Aftermath of the 1923 Great Kanto Quake

The situation is still developing and the danger from aftershocks, additional tsunami and disease related to the flooding as well the nuclear situation will complicate an already cataclysmic event. One cannot discount the possibility that the quake could cause other major seismic events. This is not unprecedented in Japan as the 8.6 Hōei quake of 1707 triggered a major eruption of Mount Fuji (Hōei dai funka) a month later.

Of course I always recommend that people pray for the victims of such disasters but everyone can do a little bit to contribute to relief efforts. CNN has published a list of organizations on its website as well as other pertinent information at http://news.blogs.cnn.com/2011/03/11/tsunami-aid-and-relief-how-you-can-help/ .  Both the Red Cross and Salvation Army have ways to donate $10 via text message with the money being applied to your cellular bill. To donate to the Red Cross text “redcross” to 90999 and for the Salvation Army text either “japan” or “quake” to 80888.

Peace

Padre Steve+

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Filed under History, natural disasters