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Lent is Here Again…Oh Joy…

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Lent is my least favorite season of the Church year. Try as I might, despite the catholic ethos that I acquired as a student in  a Southern Baptist Seminary, Clinical Pastoral Education and the military chaplaincy I have a hard time with it.

I think that part of the reason is I don’t think that I need to set aside a season of the year to acknowledge what a colossal screw up I am. Like George Constanza in Seinfeld I don’t need God, my mother or anyone else to remind me of my shortcomings. They are ever before me.

Despite that for years I tried to be the most observant observer of the outward traditions of the season. If we were to fast from meat on Fridays I would do it on Wednesdays too. As someone who came to the catholic side of life later in life I felt that I needed to out do those who had grown up that way. As a priest in a conservative Episcopal denomination with aspirations of eventually making the transition to Rome I did all that I could to take up the internal spiritual disciplines as well as the external forms of Catholicism. I did so good at it that I was banned from publishing by the Archbishop who headed our denomination’s communications department. The irony is that he is now a Priest in the Anglican Ordinate that is in communion with Rome. Go figure.

But that all came apart during and after my time in Iraq. Beset with chronic PTSD and moral injury faith itself became problematic. For all intents and purposes I existed as an agnostic who prayed that God still existed for nearly two years after I returned from Iraq. For me that fact that I returned to faith in any form was a miracle and when it did return I was told to find a new church home because now instead of being either too “Catholic” or “a Wounded Warrior Priest” I was now “too liberal.”

I would like to say that I am over it but obviously I am not, but I digress…

So this year Lent is again upon us. Tonight was Fat Tuesday, so I had a big burger, fries and a couple of beers for dinner at Gordon Biersch. Afterward I  picked up some fresh Krispy Kreme hot glazed donuts on the way home and washed them down with another beer. For those of you that don’t know there is little better than beer and hot fresh donuts. I discovered that in my darkest hours after Iraq. I think I even have a post that I wrote back in 2009 called Beer and Donuts. I’m not going to look for it now and give you the link but you can put “Beer and Donuts” in the search box on the home page and I am sure you will find it.

In my journey I am coming to realize that holiness is not simply a matter of out Phariseeing the Pharisees, or matters of external observance. I am coming to believe that Jesus really nailed it when he said that to fulfill the law was to love God and love your neighbor.

So my Lenten observance will be of two aspects. For the first time since 2010 I am going to give up something physical, the hamburger.I am going to go without a hamburger of any kind until Easter. When I break my Lenten fast it will be with a hamburger, or should I say a very non-Kosher cheeseburger.

That may not seem like much, but please hear me out. For those that  not know me when I eat a hamburger it is not simply to ingest something fast and filling, it is a ritual that is almost spiritual in its own right. You see I don’t eat crappy burgers. I eat fresh burgers of the best quality, cooked medium or medium rare. I prefer a toasted bun, fresh crisp lettuce, tomatoes and red onions and either Swiss or Gruyère cheese. I then need at least two to four ounces of dill pickles, a side of mayo, catchup and at least a half bottle of yellow mustard. It is a nearly religious ritual for me to enjoy a burger in this manner.  After all a eating a hamburger should be a spiritual experience.

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As far as the spiritual dimension I am going to try to be a bit more conscious of my prayer life, more importantly my prayer for others who are in distress. I figure that God will take care of my needs and that when I pray it would be better that I concern myself with people who are in real danger, real need, real distress. Those who are the least, the lost and the lonely. Likewise I will endeavor to be more positive in all of my interactions. I am going to try to take the words of the immortal Sergeant Oddball (Donald Sutherland) of Kelly’s Heroes seriously.

“Why don’t you knock it off with them negative waves? Why don’t you dig how beautiful it is out here? Why don’t you say something righteous and hopeful for a change?”

Tomorrow I will celebrate a simple Ash Wednesday liturgy at our small chapel and the scripture readings will come out of Matthew Chapter Six where Jesus begins “beware of practicing your piety before others in order to be seen by them…”

With that I will take my “Mario Mendoza Line ” self off line and begin working on yet another Gettysburg article.

Peace and blessings

Padre Steve+

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My Life is Movie Quotes

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“My mind is aglow with whirling, transient nodes of thought careening through a cosmic vapor of invention.” Hedley Lamarr (Harvey Korman) 

I have been rather serious the past few days on the blog but in real life I am usually less than serious. It is scary because whether I am at work, at home or out it seems like no matter what the topic, no matter what the situation be it serious, light hearted or mundane a movie or television quote somehow comes to mind. Truthfully sometimes I wonder about me.

However last night Judy found herself doing the same thing and of course giving me the credit, or the blame for her doing the same thing. I love it when a plan comes together.

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In one of my classes on National Security Policy we were talking about the limits of what you could do as a military or a nation and the quote from Magnum Force where Harry Callahan (Dirty Harry played by Clint Eastwood) told Lieutenant Briggs (Hal Holbrook) “A man’s got to know his limitations.” In another discussion I was thinking of the Ferengi Rules of Acquisition. But I digress…

Like I said I always seem to come up with movie or sometimes television quotes for the occasion. I think it is because I have one of those phonographic memories that keeps going around and around.

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When someone is too negative I think of Donald Sutherland in Kelly’s Heroes who said to his driver “Why don’t you knock it off with them negative waves? Why don’t you dig how beautiful it is out here? Why don’t you say something righteous and hopeful for a change?”

Of course my life is a sea of Blazing Saddles, Young Frankenstein, Pulp Fiction and other quotes. When I have no idea about something I think of Mongo (Alex Karras) who said “Mongo not know, Mongo only pawn in game of life” or when I’m a bit nervous I think of the Waco Kid (Gene Wilder) “But I shoot with this hand.” 

I think that you might be getting the idea. I’m a bit warped, but I’m okay with it. For better or worse I cannot go through a day without a minimum of three or four movie or television quotes. They come from everywhere and nowhere and span the ages and genres.  Sometimes I wonder if I picked “the wrong day to stop sniffing glue.” 

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So there it is. You want the truth? Then you need to ask this question posed by George Costanza (Jason Alexander) on Seinfeld“Do you ever get down on your knees and thank God you know me and have access to my dementia?” 

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Have a good night and great weekend “Set ludicrous speed” and “go do that Voodoo that you do so well!”

Peace

Padre Steve+

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Half Full or Half Empty? The Sergeant Oddball Way

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“Why don’t you knock it off with them negative waves? Why don’t you dig how beautiful it is out here? Why don’t you say something righteous and hopeful for a change?” Sargent Oddball (Donald Sutherland) Kelly’s Heroes 

Some people look at a glass and see it half empty. Some look at the same glass and see it as half full. I like to look at the glass and its contents, and like Sergeant Oddball in Kelly’s Heroes I get tired when people are full of nothing but negativity.

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This is the classic paradigm posed by those who observe how people approach life. On the whole they are not a bad analogy regarding how some have a negative view of life and others a positive view of life.

However I believe that such an explanation is simplistic. Those that see the glass as half empty, though we view them as negative negative may still see something of value in the glass and even appreciate the glass itself. Those that see the glass as half full are presumed to be positive, however they too may be limited in how they see the glass and its contents. They may see the glass as half full but not fully appreciate the contents of the glass or for that matter the glass itself.

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That being the case I believe that there are some people that I have met that fall outside the prescriptive boundaries. I know some people who not only are negative, but obsessed with an almost nihilistic gloom about life in general, in particular with how life treats them. To me it seems that they do not see the glass as half full but find something wrong with the glass. In fact it seems to me that some people not only find something wrong with the glass, a flaw of some kind that makes the glass less valuable, unsightly or unusable, but actually believe that the glass poses a danger to them. The glass might shatter and send a shard of glass into their eye. Of course such things are possible but highly unlikely, but some people live their lives in such a manner and unfortunately their gloom and negativity impacts the lives of those around them, frequently the people closest to them who love them the most.

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Then there are people who defy the odds, people who appreciate the glass and place appropriate value to its contents. They are the people who can envision a positive future, people not content with the simple answer of seeing a glass as half empty or half full, nor any situation as inherently positive or negative. They are the people who can look at reality, appreciate the complexity and difficulty of life as well as sorrow and joy yet still see beauty and hope. It does not mean that they view life through the naive lens of Pollyanna, but appreciate life to its fullest, its joys and sorrows, triumphs and tragedies and still can find meaning in each event. They can find beauty and hope for the future.

They are considered many to be oddballs. However, I find oddballs to be fascinating and I know that some people consider me to be somewhat of an oddball so I am perfectly happy in trying to find meaning and beauty in all of life, even circumstances that which are less than ideal.

There are plenty of negative thinkers out there today. The Unholy Trinity of politicians, preachers and pundits often lead the way in poisoning the attitudes and perspective of people who are just trying to get through life, raise their families and work for a better future. I feel like echoing the words of Sergeant Oddball when told by Kelly (Clint Eastwood) about his seemingly impossible plan: “Crazy… I mean like, so many positive waves… maybe we can’t lose, you’re on!”

I like people like that and to all the anti-social types and purveyors of doom and gloom I say: “Woof, woof, woof! That’s my other dog imitation.”

Peace

 

Padre Steve+

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Christmas Traditions, Funny Dogs and it’s Good to Have Friends that Can Set Up Technical Stuff

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“In the old days, it was not called the Holiday Season; the Christians called it ‘Christmas’ and went to church; the Jews called it ‘Hanukkah’ and went to synagogue; the atheists went to parties and drank. People passing each other on the street would say ‘Merry Christmas!’ or ‘Happy Hanukkah!’ or (to the atheists) ‘Look out for the wall!’ ~Dave Barry, “Christmas Shopping: A Survivor’s Guide”

Judy and I typically celebrate a very low key Christmas. We attend a worship service of some type and display a tree often decorated with hand-made ornaments that Judy produces in the weeks before Christmas. We now fix dinner at home and our favorite part of the day: letting the dogs unwrap their presents.

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The last part of the tradition has taken strong hold with our Papillon-Dachshund mix Molly. Molly savors everything and while our previous Dachshunds went along with the presents game, Molly tears into her presents unwrapping them with great zeal. Our nearly one year old Papillon puppy Minnie figured out what to do with her presents quickly as well and ripped them open with great aplomb. So I expect that this little tradition will continue for quite some time.

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Molly is now 11 and going on 12 years old. This year she went from having great eyesight to being mostly blind. It happened very quickly, within the past few months. She is adjusting much faster than I thought that she would or for that matter faster than I would. At first I was really worried wondering if she would adjust and what it would mean to her and us, but she not only adjusted but is doing quite well.

She is still happy, playful and energetic.  She makes adjustments in the house feeling her way up and down the 2 steps leading to our living room and making note of where the walls and doors are. She is re-learning our back yard and compensating for the blindness by being more careful, listening carefully and sensing where things are, especially Minnie.  Molly has taken to chasing Minnie in a game of cat and mouse, with Minnie dancing around while Molly tracks her. Sometimes it is funny because Molly will simply wait until Minnie gives her location, usually behind me on the beanbag away.

When she is prowling Molly now kind of reminds me of a Shark. Of course we all know that sharks have terrible eyesight and rely on other senses such as sound and smell to find, track and kill their prey. Molly is now our Red Land Shark.

Last night after coming home from dinner with our friends we were preparing to watch the 3D version of Men in Black 3 on the television-entertainment system that I won last week. Since I have few  technical ability our friend Randy came over to set it up the other day. Randy is like “The Tree that Knows Stuff” in the comic strip Over the Hedge while I am more like RJ the Raccoon.

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To use a different movie character illustration, when it comes to technical things I am like Donald Sutherland’s character “Oddball” in the movie Kelly’s Heroes.  There is a scene in the movie when asked by Telly Savalas’ character “Big Joe” about why he is not up fixing his tank with his crew Oddball replied: “I only ride ’em, I don’t know what makes ’em work.”  That was pretty much me when I started opening boxes and reading directions. Thankfully Randy, our Tree that Knows Stuff was able to come over and help.

I think the whole aversion to putting things like this together, comes from watching my dad’s valiant efforts to help us build the gifts that advertised “some assembly required” and “batteries not included” at Christmas. But I digress….

Like I was saying…while we were getting ready to watch the movie Judy noticed Minnie with a flour tortilla on our couch. Now we wondered if it was something that she had hidden there and just pulled out. However she was back in the kitchen and came back with another tortilla. We then realized what was going on. For the first time the two had worked together for a common goal.  As we looked into the dinning room we saw that Molly was going in and out the the kitchen. The two dogs had found that I had forgotten to unpack a bag of groceries.  In the bag they discovered a family size pack of flour tortillas, which Molly, yes Molly the blind, but not helpless had gotten into. It was the first time that the two dogs had worked together on a theft, and I hate to say I was proud of them. We were laughing so hard. Of course we had to put a stop to their revelry but it was fun while it lasted. Molly had a tortilla rolled up in her mouth and appeared to be trying to act like it wasn’t there.

Molly is not the first dog that we have had to assume that we were too incompetent to notice her thievery, our Wire Hair Dachshund Frieda was much worse.

Anyway, we are preparing our Christmas dinner and will enjoy a quiet night with our girls.

Peace and Merry Christmas to All,

Padre Steve+

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Zen and the Science of Mountain Bike Maintenance

“I only ride ’em, I don’t know what makes ’em work.” 

I know little of Zen other than it is a Buddhist meditation practice that does not involve shouting “serenity now.” I also know little of Mountain Bike Maintenance but using the “serenity now” technique I am I am learning the science of Mountain Bike Maintenance.

Now I’m sure that those that know more than me about mountain bikes will say that this is an art. But for me art is either something related to baseball or Navy ships that I hand on my wall, something beautiful that Judy produces or something that I hate and wonder just how the hell the artist got paid for it.  Of course none of these categories fit in the paradigm that I call the science of mountain bike maintenance.

I have ridden and destroyed bicycles for decades though until I moved to Emerald Isle I have had few places that I felt safe to ride the Mongoose E303 that I bought just before I deployed to Iraq.  My attitude with bicycles through most of my life was like Donald Sutherland’s character in the movie Kelly’s Heroes named “Oddball” who said in regard to work being done by his men on his tank “I only ride ’em, I don’t know what makes ’em work.”

I always had a habit of riding my bikes hard and though I learned to do a few rudimentary tasks I really had no clue what made them work. I remember doing an “Evil Knievil” jump over a wide construction ditch with my Schwinn Stingray which came up just short wiping out my bike and leaving me with a broken arm.  Then there was the 10 speed touring bike with dual headlights that my dad brought me back from Japan in 1972. That bike was a heavy duty warhorse that I used in games of bike to bike chicken against other neighborhood kids in Stockton California.  That bike was like the “Deathmobile” in Animal House, it was not aluminum but steel and its tires were heavier duty than most American bikes.  Those were good times, maintenance other than to patch flat tires was not a priority.  That bike got me through Junior High School but I gave it up like a broken down stead when I got my first car, a 1966 Buick LeSabre 400 with a 287 V-8 and 4 barrel carburetor.  I had a bike when I was a student at Cal State Northridge and nearly ran over Joni Erickson Tada as she motored about in her motorized wheelchair and nearly drove into a filming set of Dynasty to get almost up close and personal with Heather Locklear. Both were unintentional but a product of my rather reckless riding.  Once again maintenance was a secondary concern and I drive that 10 speed into the dirt as well.

The next time that I used a bicycle was when I was deployed to Würzburg Germany to support the Bosnia operation.  I had the use of a used 18 speed road bike which I would ride down the big hill from my apartment to the city center on almost every decent day for weather. I also took it on longer rides around the countryside.  But that was pretty much the last time that I rode a bike until this year. I bought the Mongoose in 2006 as I was recovering from an IT Band injury while overtraining for the Marine Corps Marathon having just completed the Virginia Beach Rock and Roll Half-Marathon.  Back then I was even more stupid than I am now and would run 12-20 miles 4-5 times a week.  It was great for the endorphin rush but hell on my legs.  Unfortunately there were no interesting places to ride in Virginia Beach unless I wanted to pack my bike on my car to get to the Oceanfront or a rural area.  I hate being bored and feeling like a target for any typical Hampton Roads driver.

So finally I get stationed at Camp LeJeune and bring down my nearly new bike, 5 years old but no wear and tear.  I got it tuned up and then started to ride around the roads and trails near the Island Hermitage which is rapidly becoming the Island Heritage of the Church of Baseball.  I have permission of my land lady to paint outfield walls in the living room to match the baseball décor.  Since I plan to keep it as a place of refuge for Judy and I whenever I am stationed back in Virginia Beach I should not have to paint over it for a while.  But I digress….

I finally have a place where I enjoy riding again even a couple of places to go off road and actually use the bike as it was intended to be used.  I also discovered that hard riding also requires maintenance and that maintenance on a mountain bike is a lot more intensive than the bikes that I rode in times past. It is also a lot more expensive to have done by a bike store so I am learning the science of mountain bike maintenance.  The first thing I had happen was a flat rear tire which occurred about a mile into a ride. I had to walk the bike back because I did not have a hand pump and when I tried to fill it at a gas station the tire blew.  The next chance I got I went and purchased a heavy duty inner tube as well as a Trinitarian Allen Wrench, a hand pump to keep with the bike and lights since I tend to ride near dusk in order to get pictures of sunsets and wildlife.

I discovered something. I had to remove the brake pads to change the rear tire. It wasn’t enough to have to take the damned chain off but I had to take the brakes off to get the tire off. That brought me some measure of discontent but I persevered I got the tire off.  I also got some tire levers to help me with getting the very heavy tire off the rim. Back in my previous life when I rode bikes changing a tire was a snap, the tires were thin and came off without difficulty.  Well if you haven’t ridden one a the walls of a mountain bike’s tires are fricking thick and harder than hell to get off the bike, I even broke one of the damned levers trying to get the tire off. But I was successful despite a number of “serenity now” moments. I replaced the inner tube and put the tire back on the bike. I adjusted the chain and put the brake pads on. I thought that I had cracked the code. Sure I was covered in grease and sweaty but I had done it, or so I thought.  I had no idea that the damned tension on the brakes had to be reset.

So I went to the internet for a “Google how too” session. The sites that I found were no help and I had to travel to Virginia the next day so I said the hell with it. When I returned this week I stopped by the bike shop and asked for a demo of how to fix the damned thing so I could get back on the road.  The man at the shop demonstrated on a bike and I locked the information into my brain housing unit.  I ended up having to leave work early today because I have not slept more than three hours in the past three days. After crashing at home I got up, had dinner and decided to do the brake adjustment which went surprisingly well. I then took the bike out for a ride in the evening, got a couple of nice pictures and came home to watch baseball and relax. Hopefully I will sleep well tonight. I noticed that on nights where I got a ride in that I slept better so hopefully that continues.  I will need to do some more adjustments on the bike to get it where I want but I think I am beginning to crack the code on the science of mountain bike maintenance.  So long as it does not rain tomorrow evening I will do the adjustments and take another ride.

So until tomorrow, have a nice night.

Peace

Padre Steve+

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Living in the Bizzaro Post Osama Bin Laden World: Another Denny Crane Moment for Padre Steve

Note to readers: Another of my Denny Crane moments which seem to be coming more likely, must be the Mad Cow

“Why don’t you knock it off with them negative waves? Why don’t you dig how beautiful it is out here? Why don’t you say something righteous and hopeful for a change?” Oddball -Kelly’s Heroes

I love that quote and everyone in this country needs to see the truth of it.

I think that I have stepped into the Bizzaro World.  For the first time in a nearly ten year old war we get a real victory. Will killed the SOB who started it by killing thousands of our people. We do it the old fashioned mano on mano, look him in the eyes way and had Navy SEALS double tap him. We minimize the collateral damage by not plastering the place with bombs killing lots of other people. The President and the National Security team kept the plan a secret for months with no leaks that could have jeopardized Bin Laden’s elimination.  Likewise the uncompromised raid secured major intelligence bonanza including laptops, hard drives, cell phones and documents that probably have more raw and up to date intelligence from the source than we ever have had which likely lead to major victories against Bin Laden’s fellow Al Qaeda leaders and their organization, finances and maybe even their contacts with other nations intelligence services.  Such information will make it a far easier task to take the Al Qaeda organization apart at the seams. This is a victory that combined with pro-democracy revolutions across the Arab World could very well make the Middle East and the world a far safer place. There are dangers out there but this is something to celebrate so why can’t we be happy? I know that some people are but as a nation we are not a happy bunch.

We have been through two terribly long was that have cost of thousands of dead and tens of thousands wounded.  The military aspects of the wars alone have cost the nation well over a trillion dollars not counting the other economic costs. The 9-11 attacks created a massive wound on the American psyche which has been aggravated by our losses in the wars and the failure to kill or capture Bin Laden. We have given up a significant number of civil liberties in the name of security.  The collective impact of these events compounded by the embarrassment of Abu Ghraib and the “Afghanistan “Kill Team” episodes the escapades of contractors like Blackwater and Kellogg Brown and Root- Halliburton have stained our conscience. Coupled with our massive economic problems and poisoned political climate these wars and losses have beaten us down.

Rather than be happy that we finally got one in the “win column” we have become so used to losing that we have forgotten that it is okay to win once in a while.  Instead of thanking God that Osama Bin Laden is bottom feeder food in the Arabian Sea and is now rehearsing for the 2011 South Park “Christmas Time in Hell” musical joining Saddam Hussein and Hitler as they use their asbestos water skis on the Lake of Fire we are all glum or pissed off. Some are wringing their hands because Bin Laden was unarmed and didn’t have a lot of security around him and that in the heat of the moment the SEALS double tapped his sorry ass.  What the hell? Did they want a firefight that would have gotten a bunch of SEALS killed? Was it fair that he was unarmed but reaching for a gun when we capped his ass? But then was it fair to the 3000 people killed in the Twin Towers when Bin Laden directed the attack on those unarmed people?

Then there are people questioning the legality of the action. Sorry Bin Laden was a man that never stopped plotting the deaths of innocent people to the end of his days. While it might have been interesting to put him on trial you can be assured that some would have provided millions if not billions of dollars for his defense and that the proceedings would have dragged on at least a decade and that his allies would have gained inspiration from his incarceration just as they will his death.  Those who question the fact that a SEAL shot him when he was unarmed does not understand the inherent danger in the action and split second decision making that went into that courageous man’s decision to kill Bin Laden.  Legally Bin Laden as a terrorist was accorded no protections under the Geneva Conventions.

Then there are the Christian objectors, those on the left that say he should have been captured and put on trial.  Some Evangelicals that really don’t care that he was killed but don’t think that Christians should be happy about it or rejoice in his death.  But I remember some of these same people smugly saying that the 9-11 attacks were “God’s judgment on the United States.”  I’m sorry but many supposedly conservative Christians are schizophrenic on being pro life. Kill the unborn it’s murder. Kill a man convicted in a state court in the United States on the basis of circumstantial evidence is okay, especially if you are from Texas where I think it’s popularity is slightly below football and NASCAR.  Have a terrorist kill 3000 of your countrymen, well God must be pissed at us but kill the man responsible for those deaths and be happy he’s dead?  Nope can’t do that we should be sad that he died without knowing the Lord. Yes it is a sad that anyone would die without knowing the Lord but this man had no desire to convert to Christianity or anything else. He was convinced of his rightness and he made no move to surrender to U.S. or Saudi authorities for nearly 20 years and still didn’t in his final moments.  He made his bed beneath the sea.  I personally think this is simply people that need to be morally superior to others spouting their opinions rather than people that are inconsistent in their application of their faith and ethics to a wide variety of issues.

Now the politicians are making political hay over this.  Some Liberals are pissed that Obama actually had the balls to order the strike.  Some Conservatives are pissed that Obama succeeded in doing something that Bush couldn’t do and that he didn’t give Bush any credit. But it serves me well that Bush never gave Clinton any credit for keeping the pressure on Saddam Hussein and keeping him from really building up his forces after the Gulf War using no-fly zones, the UN oil embargo/blockade of Iraq and selective military strikes to keep Saddam in check.  So this is all politics as usual and once again it is detrimental to the county and makes light of the sacrifices of all that have fallen in these wars and the bravery of the SEALS that killed Bin Laden.

This really is a Bizzaro world.  When Hitler died this country got happy and that happiness spanned the political, philosophical and religious divides in the country. We celebrated Hitler’s death and the destruction of his murderous regime.  Back then we actually understood the importance of such events and didn’t wring our hands and shed faux tears when evil men perished.  But now after nearly 10 years of war and thousands of causalities we get the perfidious bastard that started this and our collective jock straps and panties are in a wad. I don’t get it. The reason that we went to war is dead and we have information that probably will decimate what is left of his network and we can’t be happy.  This is bizarre and I wish that people would stop with all the negative waves.

Peace

Padre Steve+

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Filed under faith, Foreign Policy, History, iraq,afghanistan, middle east, Military, national security, philosophy, Political Commentary

Once an Eagle: A Classic Novel of Military Life

“This classic novel of soldiers and soldiering ranks with Red Badge of Courage and All Quite on the Western Front as time-tested epics of war and warriors.”— John W. Vessey, Jr., Gen., US Army (Ret.)

Sam Damon (Sam Elliot) cries over a fallen friend

Tonight I started watching the NBC television mini-series adaptation of Anton Myrer’s classic novel of war military life and love Once an Eagle on DVD. I had been hoping to find the series on video or DVD for years and it was released again last year. I was introduced to the book through the series which I saw in High School when it came out in 1976. Back then I never missed an episode. I found the story which weaves the life of a soldier who rises from the ranks named Sam Damon who is played by Sam Elliott and a self-serving careerist named Courtney Massengale to be compelling then and caused me to get the book and read it back in High School and I found it even more compelling than the series.

Coutney Massengale (Cliff Potts)

Years later while deployed to Okinawa I saw a few episodes on AFN and purchased another copy which I took to Iraq with me in 2007. Reading the book there made even more of an impact on me.  I guess it was something about getting shot at and being out in locations with small groups of Americans and our Iraqis with the big battalions far away that made it more poignant. I was pleased to find it this week on DVD at the Camp LeJeune Marine Corps Exchange.

I guess for me the hook is that ever since I was a small child I dreamed of all things military and knew that I would probably spend a major part of my life in the military I was attracted to the story. Since I grew up in a Navy family and lived up and down the West Coast and the Philippines it was in my blood. Part of this was being surrounded by the Navy as well as the Marines. I remember seeing the movie The Green Berets when I was in second grade and listening to the Ballad of the Green Berets on the radio. A couple of my friends and I got sent to the principal’s office because we decided to play war a bit long at recess and didn’t go back to class. If there was something military on television I was going to watch it and I remember films like Patton, The Battle of the Bulge, Kelly’s Heroes, The Dirty Dozen, The Desert Fox, M*A*S*H, The Sands of Iwo Jima and tons of others. I built hundreds of model tanks and armored vehicles, ships and aircraft and lived for the day that I could join.

The idealistic and altruistic character of Sam Damon struck a chord in me. The Character of Sam Damon is man who worked his way up from the ranks and not afraid to speak his mind who is able to lead men in the worst situations and accomplish the mission. He cares for his troops but knows his job and knows that men, even friends die in war. At the same time he does not recklessly throw his men’s lives away and they believe that he will get them through. The book takes Damon along with his wife “Tommy” who is not a big fan of the Army despite being an Army Brat and the daughter of a General through their sometimes tumultuous marriage as they are stationed in many places both the glamorous and the not so glamorous in the United States and overseas. It follows Damon’s career from the days before World War One thorough the Great War, the doldrums of the 1920s and 1930s, World War Two, Korea and as a special envoy retired from the Army in a fictionalized Vietnam.  It also traces his relationship with the ambition driven Courtney Massengale.  To avoid spoilers I won’t go into detail but the two characters are in a sense stereotypical of the best and the worst types of men that populate the Officer Corps of the Army, but in a broader sense any military institution.

Tommy Damon (Darlene Carr)

The book is very real in its descriptions of combat as Myrer was an enlisted Marine who was wounded during the invasion of Guam and his descriptions of military life including the hardships endured by military families and while the novel is set in an earlier time where military personnel and their families did not have the communication abilities as we do now, but even with such niceties deployments and family separations, especially those where the military member deploys to a combat zone take a terrible toll on military families.

The novel is very pertinent for those of us in the military because it makes us ask the hard questions of what we will do to further our career and the cost of such a life on our families. I am coming up on 30 years service including about 10 years in the reserves and have made many deployments and my wife has had to endure many separations including my current geographic bachelor tour. Thankfully I am close enough to see her most weekends but we are apart more than we are together.  It is funny that knowing what I knew from my life as a Navy Brat and from books like Once an Eagle that I chose such a life. It is in a sense a calling for me. I know that I’ll never be an Admiral nor do I want to be it is enough to have the privilege to continue to serve when most or all of my contemporaries from my early days in the military have long since left the service or retired. I thank God for that privilege as well as a wife who when she was looking forward to me retiring from the Army Reserve saw me decide to join the Navy to go back on active duty following a mobilization tour where I lost my civilian job, without asking her first. She has endured years of me being gone.  Someday I’ll lay it down but not yet as I still feel that sacred call and thankfully despite the hardship she still loves me but is not unaware of my shortcomings.

In spite of this I am a realist when it comes to the institution of the military. It is not perfect. We have our Sam Damon’s and Courtney Massengale’s but most including me fall somewhere in between these polar opposites to one degree or another. I think that is why men or women who are too idealistic sometimes struggle when their leaders don’t measure up to those ideals.  I remember who my idealism was shattered.  After that I have endeavored to do the best as a Line Officer, Priest and Chaplain knowing that that I won’t always get it right but also knowing that I will try to always uphold the best ideals of the Navy and the military.

The book is required reading in many advanced military schools and is on the Army and the Marine Corps required reading lists.  There is much to learn from it and a lot of wisdom on its pages.  When I finish the mini-series I will read the book again. I recommend it highly.

Peace

Padre Steve+

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