Tag Archives: life

A Happy Yet Sad Birthday

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

I wrote late Monday night and early Tuesday morning about some of my thoughts on turning 58 years old. When I went to bed the article was about halfway completed. I was tired but I was troubled. I had a hard time getting to sleep, so I got up and finished the article a bit after 2:30 AM amid a sense of foreboding. about the coming day. I posted it about 3:00 AM and tried to get to sleep but I couldn’t. So I read. Finally about 4:30 was startled when my iPad fell to the floor by out bed. It woke me up and I put on my C-Pap and really tried to get to sleep.

Even so my sleep was troubled with strange and disturbing dreams and I was awakened by our oldest dog Minnie before my alarm rang complaining about something; she is quite vocal and talks much like Scooby-Doo. So I just laid awake in bed until my phone rang. It was then that I found out that our Army Deputy Base Commander, a friend who I had just worked with on Saturday had died of a massive heart-attack. He was just six months away from retirement.

I spent most of the day at his quarters with his daughters, neighbors, and my Commanding Officer trying to help care for his family and coordinate care for them between the Army, Navy, and our support agencies as NCIS and Army CID did their investigations. One thing they asked was for an Orthodox Priest to come and do the prayers that are an important part of their faith when someone had died and before their body is removed from their home.

My friend and colleague was a Greek Orthodox Christian but there were no military chaplains of that faith closer than Washington D.C. or Fort Bragg North Carolina; too far to be of assistance. So I reached out to a local Greek Orthodox Church and although their priest was out of town they scoured the area to see if they could find one who could support us. They did find one and had him call me but his schedule was such that he could not come to the quarters until long after my colleague’s body was transported to a local military medical center for autopsy. Knowing that it was important to the family to ensure that the prayers were done before his body was removed I asked the priest if it was permissible for me to conduct the prayers. Knowing that I was I priest he told me that it was permissible and so when it the mortuary personnel arrived I went with his oldest daughter to pray the Trisagion liturgy at his body.

It was hard to see my friend laying in his bed as if asleep. The cardiac event had obviously been so sudden and severe that he never awoke. I wished him goodbye and told him that I would miss him and then did the prayers. I am fortunate to have a number of Greek Orthodox, Russian Orthodox, and Byzantine Catholic priest friends. As such I have been with them as they have celebrated various liturgies. For those of Evangelical, other Protestant, or Roman Catholic traditions the Orthodox prayers and liturgies are long and repetitive, but there is a difference in the way Eastern and Western Christians understand faith.

We in the West regardless of whether we are Catholic or Protestant tend to be more concerned about time than our Eastern brothers and sisters. Likewise we tend towards a certain amount of expediency and concreteness in what we believe. we just want “the facts” and by doing this deprive ourselves of the sacred mystery that is at the heart of the Christian faith. In the eastern liturgies the repetition in threes of phrases like “Holy God, Holy Mighty, Holy Immortal, have mercy on us,” coupled with the “Our Father,” and “Glory to the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, now and forever and to the ages of ages. Amen” are actually much closer to the way the ancient Hebrews worshipped in the Temple than most Western liturgies, and certainly more so than the reductionistic faith of most Protestants, especially Evangelicals, but I digress. What is more important was that my friend and colleague lived his faith in an authentic manner and tonight I am sure that he is part of that timeless heavenly liturgy depicted in the book of Revelation that is reflected so well in the Eastern Rites of Christianity.

When I finally returned to my office I spent time with my staff who had taken the time to get and sign a birthday card for me as well as get me a nice box of Lindt chocolates. Then I busied myself to take care of the other pressing matters of the day before finally leaving the office to meet Judy and quite a few of my friends at Gordon Biersch. Our executive chef, Mamadou Diallo prepared a wonderful cake which I meant more as a gift to friends and the staff more than for us. I had a light dinner and a small piece of cake and did not have to pay for any of my beers. When we got home I had some day and puppy time with Izzy and Pierre which was also helpful.

Today was spent preparing for Good Friday and making final preparations for the funeral of a retired Navy Chief which I conducted this afternoon. Hopefully tomorrow will be uneventful and I will be able to finish preparing for Good Friday and for the Easter Sunrise service, and begin to plan the memorial service for our Deputy Commander, maybe get in a seven to eight mile run and catch up on some administrative tasks.

So until tomorrow, pray for me a sinner.

Peace,

Padre Steve+

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Filed under christian life, faith, Loose thoughts and musings, Military

Shutdowns, Lotteries, Nightmares, and Soccer: “Life is Far too Important to Talk about Seriously”

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

My goodness it has been a weekend hasn’t it? We have a government shutdown going and God only knows what it going to happen next but if I was a betting man I would dare say that I do not think that is not going to end well. By the way I did buy a $1 scratch off lottery ticket at 7-11 when I bought my coffee on the way to work Thursday morning and won $8, you might think that I would be more optimistic after the shutdown, but I’m not, and sadly I digress…

That being said the fact is that the situation is going to get worse before it gets better because even if the senators find a compromise to keep the government open, the President based on  the advice of Stephen Miller and probably John Kelly will reject it unless the Democrats completely cave to their profoundly White Supremacist demands. I doubt that will happen because it seems that after decades of being bullied that the Democrats have finally grown a spine, I really do think that they now realize that the promises of Donald Trump, Paul Ryan and Mitch McConnell mean nothing and that their political survival cannot be assured by rolling over to Republican demands.

This is like nothing we have seen in this country since before the Civil Rights movement and is very much like racism, and religious-political persecution in Czarist Russian that Miller’s Yiddish speaking Jewish grandparents fled. Since Eastern European Jews were treated with contempt, discriminated against, and hated by many Americans because they were different the irony, considering the fact that Miller is a fan of neo-Nazis and White Supremacists like Richard Spencer and Peter Brimelow is all too rich.

I thin that the uncertainty and instability brought about by the shutdown about makes the country very vulnerable any number of national security crises, and of which could lead to disaster for our political system. When that disaster comes it will be a crisis that the administration and maybe even a majority in Congress will deem so great that civil liberties, and maybe even the Constitution itself will need to be suspended. The fact is that we are only a Reichstag Fire event away from dictatorship.

Historian Timothy Snyder very wisely noted:

“Modern tyranny is terror management. When the terrorist attack comes, remember that authoritarians exploit such events in order to consolidate power. The sudden disaster that requires the end of checks and balances, the dissolution of opposition parties, the suspension of freedom of expression, the right to a fair trial, and so on, is the oldest trick in the Hitlerian book. Do not fall for it.” 

Please my friends as you watch this drama play out be aware of the threat that it is to our political system.

But really that is such a downer, so on the positive side traffic going into base tomorrow should be much lighter.  Likewise after another wild PTSD dream night in which I threw myself off the bed in response to a situation in my dream where I threw myself over a sand berm, landing on my back beside the bed, my Sunday was far better. I spent Sunday morning drinking coffee, eating what the Germans call Brotchen (small fresh hard rolls) with European butter and German jam while watching Bayern Munchen, my favorite football team in the Bundesliga defeat Werder Bremen by a score of 4-2 and then watching Schalke play Hanover 96 to a 1-1 draw with my Papillon Izzy on my lap. It was a glorious morning.

I so wish that there were more like it and despite the seriousness of the times I have to agree with Raymond Reddington who said:  “Life is far too important to talk about seriously.”

So I will go to bed after drinking a small glass of Kilbeggan Irish Whisky and until the next time I wish you a good night.

Peace

Padre Steve+

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Shitty Days and Mondays…

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

For tonight nothing about politics or history, or for that matter even baseball. The late Karen Carpenter sang that Rainy Days and Mondays always get me down. Well Monday was a thoroughly shitty day for me at work and it just happened to be raining.

iIn fact, Monday was emotionally one of the worst days I have gone through in a long time. I won’t go into any detail here as I was able to deal with the immediate issues at hand, but some of what I was dealing with but part of this goes back to my return from Iraq in 2008. I came back from Iraq afflicted with severe and chronic PTSD which still effects me, but also something called Moral Injury which was caused by what happened to me when I returned from Iraq, injury that whether intention in some cases, or unintentional in most cases, left me in a place where I I have a hard time trusting, or believing that senior Navy Chaplains or other leaders have my best interests at heart. Truthfully, I have been hung out to dry by too many of them since then to trust or believe anything that they say.

There have been great exceptions, men and women who did look after me. I was fortunate with the leaders I had at Naval Hospital Camp LeJeune, including now Rear Admiral David Lane, and my leadership and academic colleagues at the Joint Forces Staff College. But despite their wonderful support, I find that too many of my senior Navy Chaplain Corps leaders as well as a few line officers (but none of the line officers that I am currently serving with) embody everything that is wrong in the U.S. Military. I cannot go into any detail in public or name any names as much as I would like to, but if I did I would be crushed and vilified. So I won’t, at least until I retire, whenever that may be. Then I will “go Smedley” like Marine Corps General and two time Medal of Honor winner, Major General Smedley Butler who wrote the book War is a Racket and fought against a growing Fascist movement in the United States in the 1930s. But until I retire I can’t do that.

Anyway, I am doing much better today than I was doing Monday, and I am great full for my staff who because of what happened to my predecessor under a different commander and executive officer are very protective of me. Their loyalty and care for me, a very broken and imperfect leader encourages me to do all that I can to support them, but also not to give up. If there is one reason that I remain on active duty after 36 plus years in the Army and Navy, it is my determination to work hard for them and for so many others who serve our country with such good hearts. In a world where men and women like them get screwed by the system every day I cannot retire, as much as it would make my life easier in some ways.

So, this post went totally off the track that I had when I began it so I will write about my original topic tomorrow.

Until then,

Peace,

Padre Steve+

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I Miss…

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

We’ve been back from Germany for two days now and I have to say that while I am glad to be home that I miss being in a relatively sane country.

* I miss being in a country than can own up to its past and the criminal behavior of past leaders and which does not build memorials to them.

* I miss being in a country where people wrestle with their history and have through bitter experience realized that mythologizing history is dangerous and leads to great evil.

* I miss being in a country where religious fundamentalists don’t control the education system.

* I miss being in a country where civility is the norm and not the exception.

* I miss being in a country that is proactive about the environment.

* I miss being in a country that values the health of its citizens through its healthcare system.

* I miss being in a country where mass transportation is the norm not the the exception.

* I miss being in a country where cities and towns are designed so people can walk or bike safely.

* I miss being in a country where the vast majority of the population is horrified that a right wing political party that espouses racism, Naziism, and isolationism received 13% of the vote.

* I miss being in a country where time with family and friends is valued so much that most stores and businesses close early on Saturday and are closed on Sunday.

* I miss being in a country that is in the forefront of speaking out for human rights.

* I miss being in a country where scholars and intellectuals are not derided.

* I miss being in a country that values science and not just the gadgets and convenience that science produces.

* I miss being in a country where I can sit at a cafe or restaurant in a town square without having to breathe the fumes and deal with the noise of passing cars.

* I miss being in a country where I can watch in depth political debate and analysis on the news that is not nonstop propaganda.

* I miss being in a country where one can live life at a slower pace.

* I miss being in a country where my dogs are welcome in almost as many places as I am, including restaurants.

* I miss being in a country where I can feel safe almost anywhere and where violent crime, especially that committed with guns is not a normal part of everyday life.

I could go on, and for those who might say that I am being rather idealic in my view of Germany I will agree. Germany is not perfect, and it has problems but I do believe that the people and their leaders are much more committed to solving them than we are in the United States. As much as I want to be hopeful and positive in regard to our future of this country, I find it harder to be optimistic with every new day under the leadership of President Trump. There was I time that I thought that the United States could survive anything, but I now realize just how fragile our system is, and how right our founders were to warn about the dangers demagogues and an ignorant populace.

Anyway, until tomorrow, hopefully a better tomorrow,

Peace,

Padre Steve+

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A Retirement and a Mini-Reunion

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

Today just a few loose thoughts and musings and a number of subjects that while unconnected coalesced to be part of my day yesterday. I will probably write about some of in more detail later but I expect to be pretty busy as Judy and I get ready to fly out to Munich for our religious pilgrimage to the Oktoberfest Friday.

Found from my mom that a friend from 4th grade who lived next to my grandparents died of brain cancer, my age, that really sucks. Very concerned for my friends who are going to be impacted by Irma in Florida. Many have evacuated and know that in some cases when they return there will be nothing to return to. Some cannot evacuate, and one, my friend Mark Ebenhoch, a retired Marine Gunnery Sergeant, as well as LGBTQ and human rights activist has decided to stay in Key West in order to help those who cannot evacuate, even though he could have left Wednesday. But he is a Marine who cares for for others and puts others first. Then there was a blog troll who refused to go away even after I told him to, and a friend and colleague who voiced his support for keeping the Confederate statues by dismissing arguments against them as “historian’s fallacies.” That was a new one to me. But of course in order of importance I am most concerned for my friends in South Florida.

That being said, yesterday I had the honor of being a participant in my friend Vince Miller’s retirement ceremony at Norfolk. It was really nice to see how he organized it and how it focused not so much on him, but on service to others. This was the first retirement ceremony where I have seen an officer have special guest speakers who were of lesser rank than him, including the first time I have seen an enlisted man be one of the speakers at a ceremony for an officer. I appreciated that because it got me to thinking who I might want to speak when I eventually retire from the military with somewhere around forty years combined service between the Army and the Navy. I had the honor of passing the flag of the United States to Vince at the close of the ceremony. Today we’ll got to his post-retirement party.

While I was there I had the chance to see mutual friends, some who I haven’t seen in a few years. It really is amazing the tangled web of friends whose lives seem intersect our lives at different points of time, and for me that is a blessing. Friends matter, and it is wonderful to run across old friends that you have served with at other times who nonetheless are also important to other friends that you had no idea that they knew. I saw quite a few of those mutual friends yesterday, some who I have known for nearly a quarter of a century.

It was a very good day and I wish all of you the same today.

Peace

Padre Steve+

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Your Actions Speak so Loud… A Meditation on Faith and Life


Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

Back when I was in high school sophomore I made a dumb decision to try to play football. I should have stayed with baseball, but football was cool, and despite the fact that I was too small the be competitive as a lineman and too slow and unskilled to be a good running back, receiver, or defensive back, and not strong enough to be a solid linebacker I went out for our sophomore team. I showed up for ever practice but I really didn’t have the instincts needed to play the game, and no-matter how much I showed up for practice I didn’t get to play until our line coach, Duke Pasquini, nailed me. 

When I complained that he wasn’t playing me after we lost a big game by an embarrassing score he told me “Steve, your actions speak so loud I can’t hear a word you are saying.” That infuriated me so I yelled and him and he said “I can’t hear you.” Eventually after a minute or so of this back and forth his words sunk in. I went out to practice that day mad as hell, and in a pass rush drill I got around a player who I had never beat before and tackled the coach. As we got up he said “now I can hear you.” Now I still wasn’t very good, but I did get a few plays in during each of our last three games and even got in on a couple of tackles. After the season we had our team banquet where to my surprise our coaches and players named me the most inspirational player. That is usually an honor reserved to people who are dying or injured who inspire others by overcoming or enduring their hardships. Honestly, in my case I think it was because I was so bad and untalented that nobody thought I would even make the team, and that they were surprised I didn’t give up and that I learned to do more than show up expecting that showing up would be enough to get me into the game. That year I learned that my heart, soul, mind, and body had to be into the game. That was something that Coach Pasquini taught me, and it is something that I have done my best to apply to the rest of my life, including my spiritual life.

When I was attending Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in the late 1980s and early 1990s I began a journey to the catholic faith. One of my favorite theologians and authors was Hans Kung, one of the great theologians to come out of the Vatican II era. Kung once wrote something that really was at the heart of what Coach Pasquini t me. Kung wrote: “In the last resort, a love of God without love of humanity is no love at all.” 

I have found that there are many people who profess a love of God but who hate humanity. They despise their neighbors, crush the poor, and strive to ensure that they are as powerful politically, socially, and economically as they can be. They show up at church, they say all the right prayers, and hold the doctrines of their denominations as tight as a boa constrictor would hold its prey and as perfectly as an elite Soviet era figure skate could do a triple axel double toe loop combination, but they hate their neighbors. 

Of course they would never admit to that, but their actions speak louder than their words. Sadly, the Jesus they profess to believe in would not be welcome in their circles. He hung out with the wrong crowds, including women, gentiles, sinners, and tax collectors, he preached about them in the synagogue, and he even got angry once in a while to the point of flipping the tables of the money changers at the entrance of the Temple. When a rich young man asked him what he needed to do to get to heaven, Jesus asked him what about the commandments. The man said that he had followed them his whole life. Jesus then told him that he needed to give all his stuff away to the poor and follow him. The man was sad, because he, like the majority of American Christians liked his stuff better than the risk of following Jesus. 

Every day I learn more of what it is to be an incarnational Christian, I that I try to let God’s love for others influence how I treat them. Honestly, I don’t do it as well as I should. I’m basically a Mendoza Line Christian trying to stay in the game, but that makes me work harder. 

So until tomorrow, may we all try to let our actions speak louder than our preaching. 

Peace

Padre Steve+

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Changes in Latitudes, Changes in Attitudes: Thoughts on Friendships Enduring Friendships

boarding team

Friends of Padre Steve’s World

With these changes in latitudes, changes in attitudes Nothing remains quite the same; With all of my running and all of my cunning If I couldn’t laugh I just would go insane; If we couldn’t laugh we just would go insane, If we weren’t all crazy we would go insane

Jimmy Buffet: Changes in Latitudes, Changes in Attitudes

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I had the good fortune to be able to see the Jimmy Buffet concert here on Thursday night and that was followed up Friday by the visit of an old friend who had a great influence on my early Navy career as my detailer, and who as a retired contract Priest at Naval Medical Center Portsmouth was there for me during some of my darkest times after my return from Iraq. It was good to see Father Fred Elkin, a wonderful Priest, friend, and confidant. I also met a new friend, an Army Reserve Chaplain doing some of his training over at Fort Story. Last week I had a long telephone conversation with one of my old enlisted shipmates who served on the boarding time that I served on in the Persian Gulf back in 2002. It is really nice to have those experiences, to have a life, and to interact with people face to face.

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I took off for a weekend last month Just to try and recall the whole year; All of the faces and all of the places; Wonderin’ where they all disappeared I didn’t ponder the question too long; I was hungry and went out for a bite Ran into a chum with a bottle of rum; And we wound up drinkin all night

I find that it is all too easy to miss simple things like that, all too easy to become too busy to keep those friendships and find new ones as well. I hate losing friends too. Over the years I’ve lost my share and some of them were due to by own negligence or stupidity and others for reasons that I don’t understand, but I’ve lost more over politics in the past year and a half than I could have ever imagine, again at least a of these were of my doing, mostly for self-protect in the toxic political climate, but then others I just don’t know, but that’s life too.

Of course there are the friends that die too early and often unexpectedly. I have had too many of those lately, and as I look through my various picture albums I remember the good things about them even as I still feel the pangs of grief at their loss. I cherish their memory and pray that one day we will meet again.

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Even so I find particular value in long term friendships and relationships that have endured the years, one of which goes back to 5th grade. Others, schoolmates, military friends, veterans, teachers, others who I have worked, attended church, marched for civil rights, or imbibed heavily of adult beverages with over the years mean so much to me. I guess that’s one reason that Buffet’s Changes in Latitudes, Changes in Attitudes speaks to me. Over the years all of us have grown up and changed, we aren’t the same as we were when we first met each other because of life and our experiences, but we’re still friends.

Reading departure signs in some big airport; Reminds me of the places I’ve been Visions of good times that brought so much pleasure, Makes me want to go back again; If it suddenly ended tomorrow I could somehow adjust to the fall; Good times and riches and son of a bitches I’ve seen more than I can recall

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Some of these folks and I have gone through tremendously difficult times together; we’ve faced career crises, health issues, deployments, family separations, lived in the field, and in combat conditions facing danger, coming home to changed family situations, facing physical injury, and the craziness that is part of dealing with PTSD, TBI, and chronic sleep disorders. I have a friend going through chemotherapy for stage-four lymphoma, and others who have recently gone through life threatening health crises. The cool thing is that we are friends and that we have stood by each other. We can disagree about politics, religion, and so many things that destroy other friendships. I am reminded of what William Tecumseh Sherman said of his friendship with Ulysses S. Grant, “Grant stood by me when I was crazy, I stood by him when he was drunk, now we stand together.”

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I think about Paris when I’m high on red wine I wish I could jump on a plane; So many nights I just dream of the ocean God; I wish I was sailin’ again; Oh, yesterday’s over my shoulder So I can’t look back for too long; There’s just too much to see waiting in front of me And I know that I just can’t go wrong

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The good thing is that life continues and friendships do as well and if I can speak for myself, if I couldn’t laugh and I weren’t crazy I would go insane.

So until tomorrow,

Peace and friendship,

Padre Steve+

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