Tag Archives: Marcus Aurelius

Unexpected Death, Friends, and Conditions Requiring me to Probably Postpone Retirement

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

There are so many things I could Write about today, but late this afternoon I found that one of our friends from Gordon Biersch passed away yesterday. The cause is still undetermined bit we were with him here Monday. Mitch and his wife Barb have been friends for years.

I am reminded of the words of Marcus Aurelius: “Do not act as if you had ten thousand years to throw away. Death stands at your elbow. Be good for something while you live and it is in your power.”

I am shocked. Just a couple of weeks ago I lost another friend, younger than me. Confronting mortality is difficult. From the first time I had a gun held to my head during a robbery to the last time I was under fire in combat I have imagined what it would be like to die. I’m not obsessive about it, but when a friend suddenly passes away, it makes me think. T.E. Lawrence wrote words with which I can heartily agree:

“Immorality, I know. Immortality, I cannot judge.”

Most of the times Mitch came here he came here to read and socialize. You couldn’t say anything negative against him. He was quiet, polite, friendly, and interested in other people. He was also intelligent, and while he primarily read fiction, was quite well versed in other subjects. I really feel bad for Barb, she lost a great husband. Word of his passing reverberated throughout the bar and restaurant. One of our bartenders was on the verge of tears when he found out. Most of us were just in shock.

As for me, he was about my age, which is another reminder of my mortality, and another reason to be thankful about my life and the blessings I have.

I also found out today that if I need surgery on my right knee that since I am within six months of my approved voluntary retirement date that I may have to cancel my planned retirement and go with a retirement date based on my statuary retirement when I am 60. That would mean a retirement date of April 1st of 2020. It won’t make people happy but according to the head of the retirement branch since I was approved for voluntary retirement I could cancel that request in order to serve out the rest of my statuary retirement time. Since I have a chaplain coming in to replace me in October it shouldn’t even a problem. The details will probably be a pain in the ass, but if I can get my knee fixed while still on active duty it will be worth it. I don’t want to be pushed into the VA system when my injury might preclude employment. I don’t mind the VA system if I am able to work, but I don’t want to be unemployable immediately after I retire because I need surgery and a recovery period, so maybe I need to cancel my current retirement plans and settle for April 1st, 2020. Not that I wasn’t looking forward to getting the heck out of Dodge when I could. There are a lot of things I see coming in the Military, the Navy, and the Chaplain Corps that I have great concerns about, and if I had the choice I would retire tomorrow. However, when I submitted my retirement papers last July I never expected the injuries I incurred the following month, the delays in treatment, and the non-response of my right knee to all treatments so far.

Honestly, by now I expected to be able to walk and jog again with a minimum of discomfort. Instead, both knees try to go out on me and hurt like the devil. My surgeon tells me that my left knee is as good as it will get and will likely require a replacement in a few years. I am okay with that, so long as my right knee gets fixed or replaced before I retire. It hurts a lot worse than the left knee, which was the case before I got hurt. This requires actions that I would not have considered until now.

So anyway, until tomorrow,

Peace,

Padre Steve+

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Just Gods and a Good Life: Marcus Aurelius and St. Paul for today

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

Tonight, just a short thought from the great Roman Statesman, Emperor, and Philosopher, Marcus Aurelius:

“Live a good life. If there are gods and they are just, then they will not care how devout you have been, but will welcome you based on the virtues you have lived by. If there are gods, but unjust, then you should not want to worship them. If there are no gods, then you will be gone, but will have lived a noble life that will live on in the memories of your loved ones.”

I try to live my life in that manner as. Christian. St. Paul himself said “And if Christ has not been raised, our preaching is useless and so is your faith.” So by some chance if we as Christians are wrong, we should always look back to the words of Marcus Aurelius.

I’m not going anywhere else with this tonight,

So Peace,

Padre Steve+

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A Few Thoughts about Life on My 59th Birthday

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

Yesterday was my 59th Birthday and I plan on sharing a few bits of wisdom among the events of the day. The great Roman Emperor and philosopher Marcus Aurelius wrote:

“Perfection of character is this: to live each day as if it were your last, without frenzy, without apathy, without pretence.”

I think that is a good birthday thought. I came across it last nigh before bed and I think that it describes the way that I want to live my life.

My day began with a visit to my doctor to see what is going on with my left hip. On Sunday night when in a deep sleep and not having any of my violent dreams my left hip exploded in pain. I had been previously diagnosed with osteoarthritis in both knees, but I had never been bothered by pain in the left hip. Yesterday I had an appointment scheduled with a doctor different than my primary care manager who called in sick, so I saw my own PCM today, got new x-rays to compare to the last ones, and some medications. They said it would take a couple of days for radiology to read the reports so I won’t know what is going on for a few days. I wonder if the osteoarthritis has gotten worse. It hurts like hell trying to get up and down and walking, stairs are a bitch, even laying down hurts. At least the pharmacy wasn’t crowded and not too stressful. For that I am thankful because usually that pharmacy is so crowed, cramped and slow that I leave with a severe anxiety attack, and yes this particular reaction goes back to a particular incident in Iraq.

Even with that today has been a good day. After the medical appointment I went out with Judy to breakfast, and then did a little shopping with her. Then we went home and hung out with out Papillon babies. I got a call from my mom and brother, those were both nice, and today, in spite of all the turmoil in the country and around the world my soul is at peace. Since being told by my Commanding Officer and Regional Chaplain to take care of all my medical issues and prepare for retirement my blood pressure has gone back down to my normal, 114/68, instead of spiking to 160/100 as was the case just a few weeks ago.

I have received hundreds of well wishes and greetings for my birthday on Facebook, and so far I have made a personal response to each one, though I know that I have more to answer. I’ve had them from the United States and Canada, the U.K., The Netherlands and Germany, Australia and South Korea. I have known some of the people for 50 years or more. Honestly, I think that is the only reason that I stay on Facebook. Every one of them means something to me that is special, and some of us cannot agree on anything anymore in the current political environment but I cannot help but to remember each one with love and appreciation. You see, I don’t have to agree with someone’s politics, ideology, or religious beliefs to still love and appreciate them. At times I haven’t done well in this, but honestly it is my baseline. Some of the most meaningful exchanges today were with friends who we have had it out and disagreed in a most uncourteous manner to each other. That is when you know you have a friend.

I guess that the late Bob Marley was right“The truth is, everyone is going to hurt you. You just got to find the ones worth suffering for.” Likewise when it comes to friendship I cannot help but to remember the quote of General William Tecumseh Sherman about Ulysses Grant. “Grant stood by me when I was crazy, and I stood by him when he was drunk, and now we stand by each other.” That’s my kind of friend.

Later in the evening we went out and did our usual things. Since Judy will be getting her left knee replaced on April 12th she went to her group of friends to work on her ceramic projects and she dropped me off at Gordon Biersch, where I continued to answer all the well wishes from friends, had some dinner, talked Baseball with the early crowed, soccer with a couple of young guys later, and then spent some time with an active duty service member from a local base who I have started getting to know over the past couple of weeks. He was in Iraq before me and was there during some of the worst of the action. He saw a lot worse than I did and both of us struggle with PTSD and sleep issues. Judy came and got me and we hung out until closing, talking with friends and each other.

It was a good day. We’ll find a time to actually celebrate my birthday in the next week or too, no rush.

But when you start pushing 60 years old memories of the past, worries about the future and visions of mortality begin to intrude on life, that is why I think that what I quoted from Marcus Aurelius is so spot on. The same is true of the German Lutheran theologian Jürgen Moltmann who observed:

“As time goes on we become old, the future contracts, the past expands…But by future we don’t just mean the years ahead; we always mean as well the plenitude of possibilities which challenge our creativity…In confrontation with the future we can become young if we accept the future’s challenges.”

We went to bed late, spent some good time with our three Papillons and then passed out. We spent most of the morning getting our cars serviced and the afternoon with her doing some artwork as I perused the news. We continue to work hard to prepare for her surgery and dealing with what the sports medicine doctor will recommend next week for my right knee. I am doing my best to keep up the physical therapy to at the minimum strengthen myself.

I found out this afternoon that one of my high school friends passed away last week. I just noticed the obituary. He was a good man, a father, pastor, and football coach. I had the opportunity to serve with one of his nephews on the USS HUE CITY. He made a difference in a lot of lives.

It kind of put a damper on the day but then I remembered a quote from the film Star Trek Generations, in which Captain Picard tells Commander Riker:

“Someone once told me that time was a predator that stalked us all our lives. But I rather believe than time is a companion who goes with us on the journey, and reminds us to cherish every moment because they’ll never come again. What we leave behind is not as important how we lived. After all, Number One, we’re only mortal.” 

Today is a new day and the future still awaits, By this time next year, Lord willing and the Creek don’t rise, I will be retired from the Navy and hopefully teaching college history, and humanities in the civilian world, hopefully I’ll be sporting the beard I practiced growing on our last Germany trip.

So until tomorrow,

Peace,

Padre Steve+

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“Remember Thou Art Mortal”the Death Of a Friend and a Cold Look at My Own Mortality

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

I had retired Navy friend die over the weekend. He was a Chief Warrant Officer with about 30 years of service when he retired not long before their marriage. None of us knew it then but he probably had the stage four Brain Cancer that was diagnosed not long after their marriage. He stayed active and when he retired he was still in peak physical shape. He did a lot of sea time, mainly on cruisers and destroyers, and deployed with Naval Special Warfare Teams to various combat zones.

He was younger than me and in May of 2017 I had the honor of performing the marriage of Dan and his wife in the presence of their children at their home. He passed away Saturday and I found out last night. I didn’t sleep well, it is hard to believe that Dan Trevino is dead.

His death reminded me of my mortality, that and an extensive pre-retirement physical form on which I have to list everything that is wrong with me now or I have ever been treated for over the course of my career. I have to explain any yes answers and since there is not enough room on the form I am having to type it out on Microsoft Word and attach it. I think that I am about seventy to seventy-five percent complete, but I found today will waiting in the hospital pharmacy that I do need my foot high 2000 or so page medical record. I also have to dig up my old Army Medical records, and am waiting for more from the Navy and a civilian doctor that the Navy sent me out to in Camp LeJeune. There is nothing like having a friend that you admired who was younger and in better shape die and going through all of these forms, and I haven’t yet started with the Veterans Administration, but once I am done with this, that is my next priority.

I spent most of today at the Naval Medical Center. I had a follow up appointment from my left knee, which I had arthroscopic surgery on about six weeks ago. It is progressing, it still hurts some and though much stronger than it was, it still occasionally catches, but it is doing better than the right knee which I will have my follow up for after failed Platelet Rich Plasma treatments and injections of a gel into the knee, which I have completed but don’t seem to be working. I also had to see the dermatologist who treated me for a pre-cancerous condition on my face. That is gone, but in it’s place I now have some kind of bacterial infection that has caused a rash on my face and will require three months of creams and antibiotics to treat, as well as a telephone consult with my sleep doctor. This is a pain but it beats the heck out of being dead.

So back to work tomorrow, more physical therapy, and more medical appointments on the docket, and more digging through the records to complete this part of my medical requirements. All this even as I start the job search for after the Navy.

But also in thinking about this I am deciding to make this time an opportunity for growth. Marcus Aurelius wrote:

“Your days are numbered. Use them to throw open the windows of your soul to the sun. If you do not, the sun will soon set, and you with it.”

I am going to use my days open up the windows of my soul to the sun, and in the process hopefully grow wiser and more loving. As the great Roman soldier-philosopher said:

“Life is short. Do not forget about the most important things in our life, living for other people and doing good for them.”

We should do well to remember our fallen friends like Dan and while remembering our mortality, also remember that no matter what our infirmities, and how long our past, we still have a future. As a Christian, in spite of my many doubts I believe this. The German theologian Jurgen Moltmann wrote:

“As time goes on we become old, the future contracts, the past expands…But by future we don’t just mean the years ahead; we always mean as well the plenitude of possibilities which challenge our creativity…In confrontation with the future we can become young if we accept the future’s challenges.”

Until tomorrow,

Peace,

Padre Steve+

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Watershed Moments: Trump, Hope Hicks and the Problem of Truth

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

A watershed moment in the Trump administration occurred a few days ago. Longtime advisor and White House Communications Director Hope Hicks admitted telling “white lies” to protect the President to a Congressional committee. Shortly after she either voluntarily resigned or was forced to resign by an infuriated President. I have read accounts that indicate both. I lean to the latter, but I cannot say that without absolute certainty.

Over 1800 years ago the Roman Emperor and philosopher Marcus Aurelius wrote:

“If someone is able to show me that what I think or do is not right, I will happily change, for I seek the truth, by which no one was ever truly harmed. It is the person who continues in his self-deception and ignorance who is harmed.”

When it came out last year I wrote a review of Timothy Snyder’s book  On Tyranny: Twenty Lessons from the Twentieth Century and today I wanted to follow up on one of the key points made by Dr. Snyder in that work.

Snyder wrote: “To abandon facts is to abandon freedom. If nothing is true, then no one can criticize power, because there is no basis to do so. If nothing is truth, then all is spectacle. The biggest wallet pays for the most blinding lights.”  I have been worried about that since the 2016 election campaign where Snyder noted that seventy-eight percent of the claims and statements made by President Trump on the election trail were demonstrably false. Sadly, that has not changed, in his first year in office, as of the anniversary of Mr. Trump’s inauguration he had told over 2000 verifiable lies and distortions, that’s a rate of about six a day.

As Snyder noted the falsehoods during the election campaign came so fast that they were overwhelming, and they still are today. The assertions were presented as if they were the truth, as if they were fact, creating as Kellyanne Conway said, a world of “alternate facts” and “alternative truths.” Of course there are no such thing as “alternative facts” or “alternative truths” when it comes to the reality that we know. There may be arguments about things that we cannot fully observe or understand, such as the ultimate issues of whether there is a God or not, and if so what is true about him, her, or it; likewise there are things that change the way that we see the world such as when scientists make new discoveries.

But in neither case do these examples posit that there are alternative truth, there are things like God that cannot be proven, and there is a universe that we do not fully understand, but those have nothing to do with people who flagrantly lie about things that are commonly known and claim that the lies are the truth. Such claims are cynical and designed to ensure that those in power cannot be challenged, and when deployed by demagogues in a society in which fear has become an overriding factor, can be frighteningly effective. Thus when the President says “I alone can fix it” or “I am your voice” those who have lost the ability to think critically and who have surrendered to the unending mantras of the demagogue do not question them, they are not matters of reason, they are matters of faith.

Throughout the campaign Trump and his campaign surrogates not only twisted truth, but lied so many times that fact checkers could hardly keep up with their untruths. After the election, Trump surrogate Scottie Nell Hughes told Diane Rehm of NRP: “There’s no such thing, unfortunately, anymore, of facts,” she continued, “Mr. Trump’s tweet, amongst a certain crowd, a large — a large part of the population, are truth. When he says that millions of people illegally voted, he has some — in his — amongst him and his supporters, and people believe they have facts to back that up. Those that do not like Mr. Trump, they say that those are lies, and there’s no facts to back it up.” The biggest problem in this interview was that Ms. Hughes lied and twisted what happened to fit the Trump campaign narrative that truth did not matter. The fact was that then candidate Trump’s tweets were devoid of fact and the criticism of them was based on fact.

I have written about how some people and parties present myths as truth, twisting history to meet their craven desire for power and control. This appeal to myth was the genus of the President’s campaign slogan “Make America great again.” Such slogans are the instruments by which demagogues in every place and time have used to not only gain power, but to convince people to do things that in normal times they would never consider doing.

Such propaganda campaigns are distortions of history that blind their followers to real truth, even worse, they compel people to never learn history and thus accept the lies as truth with all too often fatal consequences. Snyder calls this “the politics of eternity” which “performs a masquerade of history… It is concerned with the past, but in a self-absorbed way, free of any real concern with facts. Its mood is a longing for past moments that never really happened during epochs that were, in fact, disastrous.”

To the politicians who like the President rely on them, the past is “a vast misty courtyard of illegible monuments to national victimhood, all of them equally distant from the present, all of them equally accessible for manipulation. Every reference to the past seems to involve an attack by some mortal enemy upon the purity of the nation.” These are the basis for things like the Myth of the Lost Cause, and the Noble South, and the Stab in the Back.

This is dangerous distortion of history. George Santayana wrote, “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” But I think that Howard Zinn said it the best:

“History can come in handy. If you were born yesterday, with no knowledge of the past, you might easily accept whatever the government tells you. But knowing a bit of history–while it would not absolutely prove the government was lying in a given instance–might make you skeptical, lead you to ask questions, make it more likely that you would find out the truth.”

I cannot help but think that the rapidity of the lies, the incessant attacks on the institutions of our country’s democracy, and the rights established in the Constitution by the President, people in his administration, and his supporters, especially those in the Breitbart universe of alternative media, are nothing but an attempt to delegitimize those institutions in order to gain total control and establish some kind of authoritarian and totalitarian state.

The deluge of lies and distortions practiced by this administration and so many others who have taken power after being legally elected or appointed is designed to ensure that people no longer believe in truth. Hannah Arendt wrote: “The ideal subject of totalitarian rule is not the convinced Nazi or the convinced Communist, but people for whom the distinction between fact and fiction ( i.e., the reality of experience) and the distinction between true and false ( i.e ., the standards of thought) no longer exist.”

That is the very danger that we face today because many people, especially the President’s most stalwart and sometime violent defenders, as well as his enablers in Congress do not care, and others are so confused and distracted by the tactics of denial and deflection coming from the administration that they are growing weary. Polls show that many people are quite alright with limiting freedom of the press, freedom of speech, the role of the courts and other institutions designed to check executive power, and have no problem with limiting the rights of groups that they have identified as their enemy, and even limitations placed on their own freedom if it serves to absolve them of responsibility for things that they are too uncomfortable to deal with. The British military historian and theorist B.H. Liddell-Hart observed:

“We learn from history that in every age and every clime the majority of people have resented what seems in retrospect to have been purely matter-of-fact comment on their institutions. We learn too that nothing has aided the persistence of falsehood, and the evils resulting from it, more than the unwillingness of good people to admit the truth when it was disturbing to their comfortable assurance. Always the tendency continues to be shocked by natural comment and to hold certain things too “sacred” to think about.”

Believe me I desperately want to be wrong about this, but my study of history tells me that I am not. Thus I believe that every claim of the President and the administration must be questioned and its veracity determined, before it is accepted as truth. The time has come when we cannot simply wait to see what happens and give this administration the benefit of the doubt. Immediately after the election I was prepared to do that, but the actions of the President and his advisors have demonstrated to me that this is no longer an option. I will of course remain true to my oath under the Constitution, I will still respect the office of the Presidency, but I will always stand for the Constitution and defend those rights, and the institutions that are established by it.

Truth: historical, scientific, and verifiable is not our enemy. However, lies, and distortions, and the trampling of truth under the guise of “alternative truth,” “alternative fact,” and “alternative history” is the moral enemy of our republic and its democratic institutions. Thus truth must be upheld and fought for at all costs, because once you have sacrificed truth on the altar of political expediency you pave the way for freedom to be sacrificed.

Marcus Aurelius was right. The truth is not harmful but those who persist in self deception and ignorance can not escape harm. Hope Hicks placed her faith in Donald Trump, even being willing and able to lie for him, now she is firmly in the eye of the Muller investigation and will forever have her reputation tarnished by her work and support for President Trump. Sadly, there will be more.

So until tomorrow.

Peace

Padre Steve+

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The Option of Having no Opinion

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

I like reading the words of ancient philosophers when I am perplexed or troubled. One of my favorites is Marcus Aurelius. Occasionally I will look at my paperback copy of his Meditations and look through it. This evening something from it stuck me as quite profound. So I will share it to close out this day, as it is a thought that I think all of us, including me, can learn from.

“You always own the option of having no opinion. There is never any need to get worked up or to trouble your soul about things you can’t control. These things are not asking to be judged by you. Leave them alone.”

Have a nice night,

Peace

Padre Steve+’

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The Glory of Solitude


Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

Today I am writing late after a long but good day at a meet up for owners of Papillon dogs. Saturdays are usually my time to be alone and spend time with Judy and our dogs doing as little as possible. I use them to recharge. I’m getting a lot more social interaction this weekend and that is not a bad thing, but every so often I take the time to break away to spend a bit of time alone, usually with my dogs Izzy and Pierre sitting on my lap. Both happen to be quite sensitive and know when having them there is therapeutic for me.

Since Thursday when I walked the Antietam battlefield I have been musing on the value of solitude and the importance that it has in my life. Paul Tillich wrote: “Our language has wisely sensed these two sides of man’s being alone. It has created the word “loneliness” to express the pain of being alone. And it has created the word “solitude” to express the glory of being alone.”

I am a natural introvert, a thinker, and soldier, who has found his vocation as a priest, and scholar. I think had I been born 800 years ago that I could have easily been a scholastic warrior monk. Thus I live in a world that is foreign to many people. I value community, friendship, and the camaraderie found in some parts of the military. I have learned over the years to mix rather well in social settings, I stay very busy, and I am bombarded with many issues on a daily basis at work as well as by having to know what is going on in the nation and world because of what I do.

I also know what I need, in the words of Elwood Blues, to “live, thrive, and survive,” and one of those things is solitude, which at means for me, venturing from the busyness and chaos of life, and of being inundated by an often toxic stew of nonstop information which dulls the senses. I have to have times of solitude in order to survive, but for much of my life I tried to fill those times alone by doing other doing things, even good things like praying the Daily Office or reading scripture, rather than actually being alone with myself.

Being alone does not necessarily mean being lonely. Loneliness, usually denotes a sense of, pain, abandonment, and often friendlessness, or even being unloved or unlovable. People can be terribly lonely even in a room full of people. There have been times in life, especially in my journey since returning from Iraq in 2008 that I felt the pain and despair of loneliness even when surrounded by people. I also know what it is like to have people who I believed were friends abandon me. But that has nothing to do with being alone or knowing the richness of solitude.

Everyday try to disconnect from people, social media, and other distractions in order to be alone with my thoughts. This can be dangerous as because in solitude we are quite often faced not by the chaos of what is outside of us, but the chaos, and the unresolved conflicts within us. Being alone and seeking solitude is so disquieting at times that many people want to flee from it, because the outer chaos can be used as a shield to mask us from the disquiet within. Thus it takes a certain amount of discipline to remain in solitude, especially in those times when our own demons of fear, anxiety, disappointment, failure, bad memories, unresolved conflicts, angry feelings, and impulses seek to overwhelm us.

Yesterday I wrote about my 17 mile walk through the Antietam battlefield and I think that was one of the most rich times of solitude that I have had in a long time because it was much longer than what I usually get. It was punctuated with a chat with an 88 year old resident of the area who was coming up the trail from the Burnside Bridge with his fishing pole in hand. It was an interesting encounter because during the first 11 miles or so of the walk I had come across very few people and most of them seemed to be in a hurry. But that seems to be the case almost everywhere.

But this gentleman was fascinating, and though I was intent on getting to the bridge, I knew that I had to remain. I listened as he told me about some the the changes in the area since he was a child, homes and barns that no longer existed except as ruins, the people who lived in them, and how as a child he would fish or hunt along the creek. When he found out that I was a in the military and also a historian he lit up. He told me about his and his son’s military experiences, and then he told me about his visit as a child to Gettysburg in 1938 on the occasion of the dedication of the Peace Monument. He described the elderly veterans of North and South, as well as seeing President Franklin Roosevelt deliver his speech on that day. Of course I have read about that event, and seen pictures and newsreel footage of it, but I had never talked to an eyewitness, and he may be the only eyewitness that I will ever meet. My solitude was was enriched. I was reminded of the words of C. S. Lewis who observed, “We live, in fact, in a world starved for solitude, silence, and private: and therefore starved for meditation and true friendship.” As we parted, he walking back toward the new Burnside Bridge and me heading to the site where Burnside’s regiments threw themselves across the old bridge in the face of murderous Confederate fire, he said, “I hope to see you next year,” and I told him I hope so too, and yes I meant it. I then continued my walk all the while contemplating what happened on the battlefield, imagining what it had to be like for those soldiers, and also contemplating my own life. It was liberating.

Solitude is important for many reasons, but it is especially important for leaders at any level, or those who care for others. Secretary of Defense James Mattis is a historian as well as devotee of the writings of Marcus Aurelius. Aurelius was a wise man and he wrote “It is in your power to withdraw yourself whenever you desire. Perfect tranquility within consists in the good ordering of the mind, the realm of your own.” Yes it is possible to withdraw and to seek solitude, but it is also hard, yet necessary. General Mattis noted:

 “Solitude allows you to reflect while others are reacting.  We need solitude to refocus on prospective decision-making, rather than just reacting to problems as they arise.  You have some external stimulus, then you go back to your experience, your education, and you see what needs to be done.”

Solitude is a good thing. It is often, at least for me, an uncomfortable time as I wrestle with my inner demons, but in those times of inner struggle I often discover truths about myself as well as the world around me, sometimes coming in the form of old men who enter my solitude and enrich my life. The two, solitude and companionship on the journey are import, as Dietrich Bonhoeffer wrote:

“Let him who cannot be alone beware of community… Let him who is not in community beware of being alone… Each by itself has profound perils and pitfalls. One who wants fellowship without solitude plunges into the void of words and feelings, and the one who seeks solitude without fellowship perishes in the abyss of vanity, self-infatuation and despair.”

I hope that this makes some sense as I don’t often write articles like this, but as I thought about it today I realized that I ought to write about it, if for nothing else than not writing about the Devil’s Triangle of any of the various crises facing all of us. Sometimes it is important to step away for a time in order to know what to do.

Have a great day and until tomorrow,

Peace

Padre Steve+

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Abandon Facts and Abandon Freedom: Contending Against Alternative Truth, Facts, and History

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

Marcus Aurelius wrote:

“If someone is able to show me that what I think or do is not right, I will happily change, for I seek the truth, by which no one was ever truly harmed. It is the person who continues in his self-deception and ignorance who is harmed.”

I wrote a review of Timothy Snyder’s book On Tyranny: Twenty Lessons from the Twentieth Century on Tuesday and today I wanted to follow up on one of the key points made by Dr. Snyder in that work. Snyder wrote: “To abandon facts is to abandon freedom. If nothing is true, then no one can criticize power, because there is no basis to do so. If nothing is truth, then all is spectacle. The biggest wallet pays for the most blinding lights.”  I have been worried about that since the election campaign where Snyder noted that seventy-eight percent of the claims and statements made by President Trump on the election trail were demonstrably false.

As Snyder noted the falsehoods came so fast that they were overwhelming. The assertions were presented as if they were the truth, as if they were fact, creating as Kellyanne Conway said, a world of “alternate facts” and “alternative truths.” Of course there are no such thing as “alternative facts” or “alternative truths” when it comes to the reality that we know. There may be arguments about things that we cannot fully observe or understand, such as the ultimate issues of whether there is a God or not, and if so what is true about him, her, or it; likewise there are things that change the way that we see the world such as when scientists make new discoveries.

But in neither case do these examples posit that there are alternative truth, there are things like God that cannot be proven, and there is a universe that we do not fully understand, but those have nothing to do with people who flagrantly lie about things that are commonly known and claim that the lies are the truth. Such claims are cynical and designed to ensure that those in power cannot be challenged, and when deployed by demagogues in a society in which fear has become an overriding factor, can be frighteningly effective. Thus when the President says “I alone can fix it” or “I am your voice” those who have lost the ability to think critically and who have surrendered to the unending mantras of the demagogue do not question them, they are not matters of reason, they are matters of faith.

Throughout the campaign Trump and his campaign surrogates not only twisted truth, but lied so many times that fact checkers could hardly keep up with their untruths. After the election, Trump surrogate Scottie Nell Hughes told Diane Rehm of NRP: “There’s no such thing, unfortunately, anymore, of facts,” she continued, “Mr. Trump’s tweet, amongst a certain crowd, a large — a large part of the population, are truth. When he says that millions of people illegally voted, he has some — in his — amongst him and his supporters, and people believe they have facts to back that up. Those that do not like Mr. Trump, they say that those are lies, and there’s no facts to back it up.” The biggest problem in this interview was that Ms. Hughes lied and twisted what happened to fit the Trump campaign narrative that truth did not matter. The fact was that then candidate Trump’s tweets were devoid of fact and the criticism of them was based on fact.

I have written about how some people and parties present myths as truth, twisting history to meet their craven desire for power and control. This appeal to myth was the genus of the President’s campaign slogan “Make America great again.” Such slogans are the instruments by which demagogues in every place and time have used to not only gain power, but to convince people to do things that in normal times they would never consider doing. They are distortions of history that blind their followers to real truth, even worse, they compel people to never learn history and thus accept the lies as truth with all too often fatal consequences. Snyder calls this “the politics of eternity” which “performs a masquerade of history… It is concerned with the past, but in a self-absorbed way, free of any real concern with facts. Its mood is a longing for past moments that never really happened during epochs that were, in fact, disastrous.” To the politicians who like the President rely on them, the past is “a vast misty courtyard of illegible monuments to national victimhood, all of them equally distant from the present, all of them equally accessible for manipulation. Every reference to the past seems to involve an attack by some mortal enemy upon the purity of the nation.” These are the basis for things like the Myth of the Lost Cause, and the Noble South, and the Stab in the Back.

This is dangerous distortion of history. George Santayana wrote, “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” But I think that Howard Zinn said it the best:

“History can come in handy. If you were born yesterday, with no knowledge of the past, you might easily accept whatever the government tells you. But knowing a bit of history–while it would not absolutely prove the government was lying in a given instance–might make you skeptical, lead you to ask questions, make it more likely that you would find out the truth.”

I cannot help but think that the rapidity of the lies, the incessant attacks on the institutions of our country’s democracy, and the rights established in the Constitution by the President, people in his administration, and his supporters, especially those in the Breitbart universe of alternative media, are nothing but an attempt to delegitimize those institutions in order to gain total control and establish some kind of authoritarian and totalitarian state. The deluge of lies and distortions practiced by this administration and so many others who have taken power after being legally elected or appointed is designed to ensure that people no longer believe in truth. Hannah Arendt wrote: “The ideal subject of totalitarian rule is not the convinced Nazi or the convinced Communist, but people for whom the distinction between fact and fiction ( i.e., the reality of experience) and the distinction between true and false ( i.e ., the standards of thought) no longer exist.”

That is the very danger that we face today because many people, especially the President’s most stalwart and sometime violent defenders, as well as his enablers in Congress do not care, and others are so confused and distracted by the tactics of denial and deflection coming from the administration that they are growing weary. Polls show that many people are quite alright with limiting freedom of the press, freedom of speech, the role of the courts and other institutions designed to check executive power, and have no problem with limiting the rights of groups that they have identified as their enemy, and even limitations placed on their own freedom if it serves to absolve them of responsibility for things that they are too uncomfortable to deal with. The British military historian and theorist B.H. Liddell-Hart observed:

“We learn from history that in every age and every clime the majority of people have resented what seems in retrospect to have been purely matter-of-fact comment on their institutions. We learn too that nothing has aided the persistence of falsehood, and the evils resulting from it, more than the unwillingness of good people to admit the truth when it was disturbing to their comfortable assurance. Always the tendency continues to be shocked by natural comment and to hold certain things too “sacred” to think about.”

Believe me I desperately want to be wrong about this, but my study of history tells me that I am not. Thus I believe that every claim of the President and the administration must be questioned and its veracity determined, before it is accepted as truth. The time has come when we cannot simply wait to see what happens and give this administration the benefit of the doubt. Immediately after the election I was prepared to do that, but the actions of the President and his advisors have demonstrated to me that this is no longer an option. I will of course remain true to my oath under the Constitution, I will still respect the office of the Presidency, but I will always stand for the Constitution and defend those rights, and the institutions that are established by it.

Truth: historical, scientific, and verifiable is not our enemy. However, lies, and distortions, and the trampling of truth under the guise of “alternative truth,” “alternative fact,” and “alternative history” is the moral enemy of our republic and its democratic institutions. Thus truth must be upheld and fought for at all costs, because once you have sacrificed truth on the altar of political expediency you pave the way for freedom to be sacrificed.

So until tomorrow.

Peace

Padre Steve+

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The Truth is Rarely Pure & Never Simple

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Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

The past few days I have posted short articles about some very personal things dealing with life and relationships. In a sense that continues today as I prepare for another “Staff Ride” with my students to Gettysburg. This trip will be interesting because over half of the students attending the staff ride will be officers from South Korea. Over the past couple of weeks I have been working on major revisions and additions to another chapter of my Gettysburg text and I hope to share that before the coming week is out.

I have a passion for truth, especially in the realm of historical thought, in fact over the past few years this passion has deepened to a level of profoundness that I never dreamed. In fact for me this passion has become a duty, a duty to truth; an un-sanitized, warts and all examination of subjects attempting to strip away the veneer of myth in order to find truth. This is not easy, but it is what my life has become, knowing that in the long run I will not discover all truth, but hopefully point others to examine history, the sciences, philosophy and even theology to find truth. The process can be uncomfortable, especially when confronted by facts, documents, scientific and archeological data which shows what we used to think was truth, as either incomplete, romantic myth, or even complete lies, untruths and fabrication. Oscar Wilde once wrote,“The truth is rarely pure and never simple.”

Barbara Tuchman once wrote: “The reality of a question is inevitably more complicated than we would like to suppose.” That is the nature of truth. It does not matter if it is truth about history, biography, philosophy and religion, science, politics, economics or any part of life. To actively seek truth means that one must open up themselves to the possibility of doubting, as Rene Descartes wrote: “If you would be a real seeker after truth, it is necessary that at least once in your life you doubt, as far as possible, all things.” I admit that this is not comfortable, but it is necessary.

As a historian I have a tremendous passion for truth, and for unsanitized history and for me this means looking at what we know with a critical eye, to compare and examine sources to question what we or others knew before. Far too often what we believe about our own history is often more preserving myth more than by asking hard questions and applying reasoned critical study. To do this is dangerous, because to do so we have to admit that what we know today could be proven wrong at some time in the future when new facts, documents, archeological finds or other historical or scientific are discovered. To those content with half-truth, partial truth or even myth this is disconcerting, and those of us who attempt to unravel myth from fact and present things in a new way are called “revisionists” as if that is somehow a bad thing. The sad thing is we are having to revise in many cases, supposed history that was revised by people who needed to propagate myth, such as with those who promoted the myth of the Lost Cause, the romantic, noble Confederacy which for well over a half century was propagated as historical truth. This myth was sold to the American public in such in film, television and books, fiction and non-fiction alike, to the point that much of white America, even outside the South accepted the myth of the Lost Cause as truth. Films like Birth of a Nation, Gone with the Wind and even Disney’s Song of the South, helped ingrain the myth as truth, and even today when so much more is known, many people hold on to the myth and attack those who differ.

A lot of my readers may wonder why I write so much about the American Civil War as well as the ante-bellum and Reconstruction eras of American history. For me they are very important for a couple of reasons; first they are eras, that for good and bad define us as a nation and people. Second, they still have relevance to what happens today, especially in the understanding of liberty, civil rights and race relations.

I have a passion for this. The American Civil War and the Battle of Gettysburg are intrinsic parts of who we are as Americans today. The events of that war and this battle continue to reverberate in many aspects of our political, social and national life. Thus for me teaching about this event and what happened on the “hallowed ground” of Gettysburg, as Abraham Lincoln called it, and even 150 years later it matters far more than most of us realize.

Civil War hero Joshua Chamberlain is an icon of the Civil War and American history. A professor of Rhetoric and Natural and Revealed Religions at Bowdoin College he volunteered to serve with the 20th Maine Infantry, his military career in the Civil War has been depicted in movies such as Gettysburg and Gods and Generals and written about in biographies and even historical fiction. Chamberlain was one of the heroes of Gettysburg, and his story has a myth like quality, but he too was a complex, contradictory and sometimes flawed character. However, Chamberlain attached a great importance to passing down the stories of people who did noble deeds and who lived exemplary lives. He wrote, “The power of noble deeds is to be preserved and passed on to the future.”

I sincerely believe what Chamberlain said and I am getting ready to lead another Staff Ride for students from our Staff College to Gettysburg this week. I do beleive that the power of noble deeds needs to be preserved and passed on to the future. Even the deeds of less than perfect, often contradictory and sometimes even scandalous individuals. That is part of the task of the historian. I do this in what I teach and what I write, both in the academic setting as well as on this website.

We live in a time of great cynicism, some of which I can understand. We also live in a time where many people and our institutions operate in a “zero defect” culture, those who fail in any way are shunted aside, punished or even chastised or ostracized. However, when I look at the men who fought at Gettysburg, or for that matter almost any individual who has accomplished great things, none are perfect people and many have great flaws in character, or supported causes or ideologies that were evil. That being said, even less than perfect people can rise to do great deeds, deeds that need to be remembered, passed down and told to succeeding generations.

Many great leaders, or other men and women that we consider today to be great, influential or important were or are quite fallible. Even those who did great things often made gross mistakes, had great flaws in their character, and some lived scandalous lives. Such deeds may tarnish their legacy or take some of the luster away from their accomplishments. But I think that these flaws are often as important as their successes for they demonstrate the amazing capacity of imperfect people to accomplish great things, as well as the incredible complexity of who we are as people. No one is perfect. There are degrees of goodness and even evil in all of us. It is part of the human condition. That is the beauty of un-sanitized history, that is the beauty of stripping away myth to discover the humanity of people, and to recognize who they are, who we are, the good, the bad and even the ugly.

When I look at the perfection that imperfect people expect of others I am reminded of something that William Tecumseh Sherman said about his relationship with Ulysses Grant. These were flawed men, but they were in large part responsible for the Union victory in the Civil War. However, to be honest, neither man would never reach the level of command that they rose to in our current military culture, nor would they rise to the top in corporate America. They are too flawed. Sherman said it well, “Grant stood by me when I was crazy, and I stood by him when he was drunk, and now we stand by each other.”

That is a part of my passion about Gettysburg and my appreciation and admiration of the brave men who fought in that battle. As I continue to write about that battle and about those men I hope that my readers will gain a new appreciation of their complex and contradictory natures, as well as think about what that means to us today, as individuals and as a society, for it is only when we strip away the myth and seek the truth. Marcus Aurelius wrote:

“If someone is able to show me that what I think or do is not right, I will happily change, for I seek the truth, by which no one was ever truly harmed. It is the person who continues in his self-deception and ignorance who is harmed.”

Those truths can be scientific, they can be historical or literary, and quite often the truth can also be quite personal.

As John F Kennedy said at Yale in 1962: “The great enemy of truth is very often not the lie–deliberate, contrived and dishonest–but the myth–persistent, persuasive and unrealistic. Too often we hold fast to the cliches of our forebears. We subject all facts to a prefabricated set of interpretations. We enjoy the comfort of opinion without the discomfort of thought.”

So until tomorrow, have a thoughtful night.

Peace

Padre Steve+

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Pursuing the Truth: New Year 2016

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Friends of Padre Steve’s World

Marcus Aurelius wrote, “If someone is able to show me that what I think or do is not right, I will happily change, for I seek the truth, by which no one was ever truly harmed. It is the person who continues in his self-deception and ignorance who is harmed.”

Before I say anything else I just want to thank you for taking the time out of your schedule to read, comment and even share what I write. That matters to me and a good number of you have followed my writings for years. So I truly thank you from the bottom of my heart, and if you like what you see please comment and share with others.

As I get older I realize how valuable time is. There are few commodities that truly cannot be replaced or conserved, time is one that is always fleeting. As Dr. Suess said:

“How did it get so late so soon? It’s night before it’s afternoon. December is here before it’s June. My goodness how the time has flewn. How did it get so late so soon?”

That being said I am not a fan of New Year’s resolutions, in fact I generally don’t make any because frankly I think that most are a waste of time. However, I do not think that the pursuit of truth is a waste, and as Benjamin Disraeli noted so wisely; “Time is precious, but truth is more precious than time.”

To that end, as I did last year I am going to endeavor this year to commit myself to continue to seek truth and to speak truth, wherever that takes me. Truth matters to me. In my life I have seen so many lies, especially by political and religious leaders that I trusted that I now devote myself to the pursuit of truth. As Captain Jean Luc Picard told the young Cadet Wesley Crusher in Star Trek the Next Generation episode The First Duty: “the first duty of every Starfleet officer is to the truth, whether it’s scientific truth, historical truth or personnel truth…” 

So, I will continue to write, especially about historical subjects that have an impact today: civil rights and social justice, faith, military issues, PTSD and military health issues, the Middle East conflicts and a number of other topics. Of course I will write about baseball, which is often my refuge when things are too much for me and music. I may do more regarding music as I was asked to do an article for a journal about liturgical music, stress and resiliency.

I will continue to be as transparent as I can about my own struggles with PTSD and faith in the hopes that my journey will help others who struggle like me. In fact this was a major reason that I started this site back in February of 2009.

Expect more writing about the Battle of Gettysburg and the Civil War. I have a feeling that that is going to become a life work, even after I retire from the Navy. The American Civil War is so pertinent to who and what we are as a nation and the more I study it, the people, the issues and the ideologies involved I see many parallels with today; some of which are positively frightening. So expect a lot more about these subjects. In fact the Civil War is one in which debunked myths still hold sway over many, especially among the defenders of the Lost Cause who predominate the Christian Right.

In addition to that I expect to be going back to some of my older research and writing about the social, religious, political, and ideological dynamics of Weimar and Nazi Germany and how similar that are to some things going on now in our own country.

While lies are dangerous the myths can be more so, and the proliferation of lies, half-truths and myth have shriveled the brain cells of those who enjoy the comfort of opinion without the benefit of thought. President John F. Kennedy spoke of this in 1962, and his words are timely, especially when hordes of preachers, pundits and politicians, the Trinity of Evil, do this with abandon:

“The great enemy of truth is very often not the lie–deliberate, contrived and dishonest–but the myth–persistent, persuasive and unrealistic. Too often we hold fast to the clichés of our forebears. We subject all facts to a prefabricated set of interpretations. We enjoy the comfort of opinion without the discomfort of thought.” 

To do this I have to constantly challenge my own thoughts, beliefs, and opinions. So with that resolution I wish you a good day and a Happy New Year. Thank you for reading, sharing, commenting, and encouraging me. Until tomorrow.

Peace

Padre Steve+

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