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The NFL and the Problem of Patriotism versus Nationalism

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

I thought that the controversy over the peaceful demonstrations of athletes kneeling during the National Anthem to protest racial prejudice and violence committed against African Americans and other people was beginning to die down. That was before today when Vice President Mike Pence traveled to Indianapolis allegedly to watch a football came and see former Indianapolis Colt’s quarterback Peyton Manning be honored by the team. Instead, taking his orders from President Trump, the Vice President traveled to the game and walked out when members of the San Francisco 49ers knelt during the National Anthem. Thereafter the Vice President and the President went to Twitter to castigate the players and using taxpayer money, in this case over $200,000 to make their point, condemning the protesting players as being disrespectful to the flag and to the military. As labor leader Eugene Debs noted in 1918: ““In every age it has been the tyrant, the oppressor and the exploiter who has wrapped himself in the cloak of patriotism, or religion, or both to deceive and overawe the People.”

The act was an act of craven political nationalism disguised as patriotism, and there is a difference between the two. George Orwell noted this when he wrote “Nationalism is not to be confused with patriotism.” Sadly I fear that the vast majority of Americans do not know the difference.

For those who don’t know I’m a veteran. In fact I’m a combat veteran. Not only that I am basically a dinosaur in today’s military as I’ve been serving continuously in some component of the military since I enlisted in August 1981. My oath is to the Constitution and that document enshrines the right of free speech and political protest, even of people that I may disagree with, and to see the President and Vice President flagrantly demonizing people for peacefully expressing their beliefs, and exercising those Constitutionally protected rights by kneeling during the national anthem not only offends, but angers me. Likewise the fact that the President found every way he could to avoid military service and openly mocked combat wounded veterans as losers during the Presidential campaign demonstrates the President’s hackneyed understanding of what he calls patriotism. 

My dad also served a full career in the U.S. Navy including a combat tour in Vietnam where he was assigned to an emergency airstrip in the city of An Loc, surrounded by the North Vietnamese and Viet Cong for 80 days.

I also had relatives fight in both World Wars and one of my great uncles, a brother of my dad’s mother was killed in action serving as an infantryman during World War Two. Over the last sixteen years of war I have had a good number of friends and comrades die or suffer so much from the psychological and spiritual wounds of war that they later ended their lives.

As such, I have the highest regard for the armed forces of the United States and those who have served in them whether they be volunteers or if they were drafted. At the same time I don’t think that simply being a veteran makes one any more patriotic than someone who hasn’t served in uniform and I find it disgraceful that the military and those that serve are all too often reduced to stereotyped symbols that are used for partisan political causes which are not at all related to patriotism, but instead the most base and banal forms of nationalism, often paid for at sporting events by the Department of Defense.

Please understand that patriotism and nationalism are two different things. One can be a patriot and not a nationalist. That difference was first shown by the members of Congress and other elder statesmen of the country who between 1846 and 1848 opposed President James K. Polk’s unjust and shameful war against Mexico who included John Quincy Adams, Henry Clay, and a freshman Congressman named Abraham Lincoln. All were called traitors by Polk and his supporters. Military men serving in Mexico found the war criminal and the actions of state volunteers abominable. Ulysses S. Grant, then a young Lieutenant wrote that the Mexican war was “as one of the most unjust ever waged by a stronger against a weaker nation.”

Patriots want the country and our leaders to live up to our highest ideals. Patriots actually believe the words of the Declaration of Independence which state “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.” A patriot believes and works for what the founders wrote in the First Amendment to the Constitution regarding freedom of speech, religion, association, and the right to petition the government for the redress of grievances, and yes, that includes kneeling during the National Anthem.

Likewise a patriot is committed to building upon those foundations as Abraham Lincoln said in the Gettysburg Address “It is for us the living, rather, to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced. It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us — that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion — that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain — that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom — and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.”

While those who served in the military and those who have died to protect this county and honored the Constitution are worthy of respect, there have been far to many other patriots who have sacrificed themselves for the ideals of the country and have been treated as criminals for doing so. Those who fought against slavery and who defied the law to fight against it and to protect African Americans from slave owners who were backed by the government were patriots. Women who fought for the right to vote were patriots. Workers who fought for fair wages and safe working conditions. Men and women who protested and opposed unjust wars against Native Americans, the War with Mexico, the Spanish American War, the Vietnam War and the U.S invasion of Iraq were all patriots. Likewise the men and women who have stood up for the civil rights of all citizens often in the face of violent opposition from police were patriots too. 

This list could go in and on listing the patriotic endeavors of Americans of all races, all genders, and all religions to promote the liberty of all, whether they had ever served in the military. Frederick Douglass wrote: “Liberty is meaningless where the right to utter one’s thoughts and opinions has ceased to exist. That, of all rights, is the dread of tyrants. It is the right which they first of all strike down. They know its power. Thrones, dominions, principalities, and powers, founded in injustice and wrong, are sure to tremble, if men are allowed to reason… Equally clear is the right to hear. To suppress free speech is a double wrong. It violates the rights of the hearer as well as those of the speaker.”

However, nationalism is not the same as patriotism even though a fervent nationalists will without hesitation co-opt the symbols of the nation for purposes that were feared by our founders. Historian Timothy Snyder makes a good comparison of patriotism and nationalism:

“A nationalist encourages us to be our worst, and then tells us that we are the best. A nationalist, “although endlessly brooding on power, victory, defeat, revenge,” wrote Orwell, tends to be “uninterested in what happens in the real world.” Nationalism is relativist, since the only truth is the resentment we feel when we contemplate others. As the novelist Danilo Kiš put it, nationalism “has no universal values, aesthetic or ethical.” A patriot, by contrast, wants the nation to live up to its ideals, which means asking us to be our best selves. A patriot must be concerned with the real world, which is the only place where his country can be loved and sustained. A patriot has universal values, standards by which he judges his nation, always wishing it well—and wishing that it would do better.”

One can have honest disagreement as to what they think of the actions of the protesting players, but to deride them as being unpatriotic even as they use the flag as a campaign fundraising tools as the President did in an ad last week and the Vice President’s cynical move Sunday were shameful. Their nationalism reminds me of what Mark Twain called “Monarchical Patriotism” which he noted was different than republican patriotism. Twain wrote:

“There are two kinds of patriotism — monarchical patriotism and republican patriotism. In the one case the government and the king may rightfully furnish you their notions of patriotism; in the other, neither the government nor the entire nation is privileged to dictate to any individual what the form of his patriotism shall be. The gospel of the monarchical patriotism is: “The King can do no wrong.” We have adopted it with all its servility, with an unimportant change in the wording: “Our country, right or wrong!” We have thrown away the most valuable asset we had:– the individual’s right to oppose both flag and country when he (just he, by himself) believed them to be in the wrong. We have thrown it away; and with it all that was really respectable about that grotesque and laughable word, Patriotism.”

We as a people have become so hopelessly confused as to the meaning of patriotism that we as Twain noted, are throwing away the most valuable assets we have, the right of the individual to oppose both flag and country when they believe them to be wrong. We have allowed the President and those like him to turn the protests regarding injustices that bring shame to our republic to be attacks on the flag and the military, and that is grotesque. We are throwing away our birthright as Americans to protest wrong in our land and are embracing the creed of tyrants. If we continue down this path we will lose our republic. 

Until tomorrow,

Peace,

Padre Steve+

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“A New Way of Seeing Things” the Value of Travel

Judy with one of the barmaids that she has gotten to know the last four years at Oktoberfest

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

Mark Twain once wrote: “Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness, and many of our people need it sorely on these accounts. Broad, wholesome, charitable views of men and things cannot be acquired by vegetating in one little corner of the earth all one’s lifetime.”

We are in traveling in Germany for the Oktoberfest, to see friends, and for me to visit some historic sites. I have to admit that I do love traveling. If I had unlimited time and money or was paid to travel I could easily imagine spending at least six month of every year away from home, preferably with Judy and our Papillons, all who travel well.

For me travel is an adventure and it always has been. When I was a child and my father was in the Navy I was crushed when he retired because there would be no more moving to new places. Even as a child I was infected with a wanderlust that I have never tried to treat. Even when I go to a familiar place I try to find new places to go, especially to when history was made. This week was no exception, and yes there will be more before this trip is over.

Judy and I also like meeting people who come from different places than us. At Oktoberfest this is easy because in addition to the Germans, there are people from around the world. For us those are some of the most interesting and pleasant experiences because we didn’t even try to script them, and in some cases, both at the Fest and a local restaurant near our hotel, there are people who now know us and give us friendly greetings. Of course it does help that we speak German, but even without that simple acts of kindness, friendliness, respect, and thankfulness go a long way to make the experience great.

I think that traveling as much as we have has been very influential in how we see and relate to the world and why we just shake our heads when we see people who have never been out of the bubble of home declare themselves experts about people they have never met and places they have seen. The prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness of some people bolstered by their ignorance saddens me because I know that a simple change of perspective is often all that is needed to open people’s eyes and minds to a bigger and better world. Of course travel is not a magic wand, there are some people whose prejudices, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness is only reinforced by traveling.

But Judy and I are not tourists. We want to experience where we are. Tourism focuses on seeing sites or doing certain activities will traveling, and that is okay to an extent, but it is more important and richer to discover what makes a people and a place what it is, to experience hospitality, and to extend a hand of friendship. Henry Miller wrote, “One’s destination is never a place, but a new way of seeing things.”

When you travel, especially to a foreign county it is somewhat humbling, not that there is anything wrong with that. You discover that things that were simple at home are either more difficult or different, and it doesn’t hurt to learn both how and why the locals do things. Learning those things has helped us back at home, because we talk much of what we learn with us because we found that it works. We love the mass transportation system, we like the smaller stores, and I like being able to do a lot of walking because the cities and towns are designed for it, unlike much of the United States.

There is a saying here in Bavaria, or as it is called here, Bayern, that “Im Bayern geht die uhren anders,” or in Bavaria the time goes differently. This is because even their fellow Germans often find the ways of Bavarians perplexing.

But anyway, that is all for today, it’s almost one in the morning here and we need to get up a bit earlier than we did today when my lack of sleep cause of the six hour time difference between here and now finally caught up with me.

So until tomorrow,

Peace

Padre Steve+

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The Kaleidoscopic Combinations of the Pictured Present


Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

I am trying to place what is going on in the Trump White House, the country, and the world in some frame of reference for some time now. There are many historical parallels to draw from and make analogies, but like all analogies they tend to break down at some point, none are perfect, but some tend to resonate more than others. Mark Twain wrote“History never repeats itself, but the Kaleidoscopic combinations of the pictured present often seem to be constructed out of the broken fragments of antique legends.” 

In the Trump world I see fragments of the worlds of Richard Nixon, of Kaiser Wilhelm II, King Leopold of Belgium, Adolf Hitler, and Pierre Laval; of of the Robber Barons, the owners of the Titanic, and other leaders going back to antiquity. I have written about some of those parallels, even recently; however the past few days of turmoil have caused me to step back a bit as I try to find the right manner in which to write about them. 

Marcus Tillius Cicero wrote something that in the midst of the self-inflicted chaos of the Trump administration that we should try to heed right now. I wish that the President would stop for a brief moment to ponder before he does something incredibly rash that leads him and the nation to disaster. Cicero wrote: “To be ignorant of what occurred before you were born is to remain always a child. For what is the worth of human life, unless it is woven into the life of our ancestors by the records of history?”

So I am reading and researching and trying to make sense of the madness that we are all witnesses to, and if we do not speak out complicit in.  

Until tomorrow,

Peace 

Padre Steve+eee

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If Christ was Here Today… 


Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

On this Sunday I want to impart a short thought. The great American humorist Mark Twain once noted “If Christ were here there is one thing he would not be—a Christian.” 

Last week I preached about separation of church and state at my chapel and pretty much said the same thing. One think I noted was that if I wasn’t already a Christian that nothing I see in American Christianity could ever convince me to become a Christian. 

The reality is that  people are fleeing the church in record numbers and non-believers don’t even want to darken the door and I don’t blame them. The illusion of packed out mega-churches betrays the reality that if things continue apace that within a generation the American church of all denominations will be as bad off as the state churches of Europe which are empty, and no amount of the craven lust for political power of those who call themselves “evangelical” or “conservative” Christians will change that, instead it will make it worse. 

Big name preachers rush to the side of a President who has measured them and found that by doing very little for them except say what they want to hear, that they will prostitute themselves to gain political power. George Truett, who served as Pastor of First Baptist Church of Dallas, and President of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary wrote something that should serve as a warning to such people: 

“Constantine, the Emperor, saw something in the religion of Christ’s people which awakened his interest, and now we see him uniting religion to the state and marching up the marble steps of the Emperor’s palace, with the church robed in purple. Thus and there was begun the most baneful misalliance that ever fettered and cursed a suffering world…. When … Constantine crowned the union of church and state, the church was stamped with the spirit of the Caesars…. The long blighting record of the medieval ages is simply the working out of that idea.”

But it seems we don’t learn and the Millenials, as well as others, particularly combat vets like me, have looked behind the purple curtain of the Church’ Oz and found that Jesus isn’t there. What comes to mind when most people are asked to describe the Church? Let’s check the polls of evangelical pollster George Barna which have been corroborated time after time by Pew, Gallup, and other polls. 

These polls find people are leaving Christian churches of all denominations in droves and that non-believers want nothing to do with the church. For most of these people it is not about God or Jesus, or even the Bible. It is due to the lack of love, care, compassion exhibited by Christians and the institutional corruption, lack of transparency, double standards and political machinations of churches over people that are not of their faith or under their institutional control. The surveys conducted by Christian pollsters like George Barna bear this out. When asked what words or phrases “best describe Christianity” the top response of 16-29 years olds was “anti-homosexual” while 91% of all non-Christians surveyed said this was the first word as it was for 80% of Christians in the survey. Here are those words that describe Christians. Personally I don’t like them but it is what it is.

Hypocritical: Christians live lives that don’t match their stated beliefs;

Antihomosexual: Christians show contempt for gays and lesbians – “hating the sin and the sinner” as one respondent put it

Insincere: Christians are concerned only with collecting converts

Sheltered: Christians are anti-intellectual, boring, and out of touch with reality.

Too political: Christians are primarily motivated by a right-wing political agenda

That is the future and honestly I think that it is too late to turn this around and it is not the fault of academics, liberals, homosexuals, scientists, educators, or the media. It is the fault of Christians who love power, position, and prosperity more than they love people; the same people that Jesus supposedly died and rose again to save. In fact many Christians spend so much of their time hating and preaching against people they have never even met that and allying themselves with the government to ensure that they can discriminate against LGBTQ people, women, Muslims, and a host of others solely based on their interpretation of cherry-picked Bible verses that no one listens to them anymore. 

The great American patriot, free thinker, and atheist Robert Ingersoll wrote something that goes to the heart of the matter: “Christians tell me that they love their enemies, and yet all I ask is—not that they love their enemies, not that they love their friends even, but that they treat those who differ from them, with simple fairness.” 

I cannot agree more with him. Ingersoll saw beyond that purple veils over a hundred years ago, and he asks a question that the purloined preachers of the American church have completely forgotten. If we want to attract people to Jesus we have to treat them with simple fairness and love, if we can’t do that then we forfeit all that we preach about Jesus and we shall be rightfully dmaned. 

So anyway, until tomorrow,

Peace,

Padre Steve+

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Living an Adventure: The Importance of Travel


Friends of Padre Steve’s World

Mark Twain noted: “Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness, and many of our people need it sorely on these accounts. Broad, wholesome, charitable views of men and things cannot be acquired by vegetating in one little corner of the earth all one’s lifetime.”

I’ll be traveling this weekend, nothing really to write home about, just a quick trip to Houston for my denominational Chaplain training symposium. But that being said it gives me an opportunity to share a couple of thoughts about the importance of travel and getting out of one’s comfort zone. The fact is that two-thirds of Americans do not have a passport, and most have never ventured out of the country, many having seldom left the state or region that they are from.

I’m not one of them. I have visited much of Europe, Asia, and the Middle East, and lived as a child in the Philippines and as an adult in Europe. At an early age I was blessed to be a Navy brat and to live in a number of places and truthfully when my dad retired from the Navy I was upset because that adventure of moving and traveling was ending. Of course as an adult I have been in the military for nearly 36 years, and continued live that adventure and to satisfy my wanderlust. I really cannot imagine what it would be like not to travel and not to experience the world in its fullness.

Likewise, I can fully agree with Twain’s words, for as one travels, as one meets other people, and experiences different cultures it expands the mind and I think the heart as well. Like Hannah Arendt I find that living abroad is joyful and easy, she wrote: “Loving life is easy when you are abroad. Where no one knows you and you hold your life in your hands all alone, you are more master of yourself than at any other time.”

So until tomorrow,

Peace

Padre Steve+

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The Importance of Joy and Laughter in a Terrifying World


          

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

I often write about very serious subjects. Yesterday was no exception. I wrote about the importance of become tough and staying strong in a very unsafe world which promises to get more dangerous in the coming months, and I used the example of the young German student who led the non-violent opposition group to Hitler and the Nazis known as The White Rose.

The student was Sophie Scholl. She was an activist and a Christian and she refused to bury her head in the sand about Nazi atrocities inside and outside of Germany. She struggled with her faith, much as I do. In her diary she recorded these words, words which echo many things that I have written here on this site in regard to my struggle with faith after returning home from war:

“I’m still so remote from God that I don’t even sense his presence when I pray. Sometimes when I utter God’s name, in fact, I feel like sinking into a void. It isn’t a frightening or dizzying sensation, it’s nothing at all — and that’s far more terrible. But prayer is the only remedy for it, and however many devils scurry around inside me, I shall cling to the rope God has thrown me in Jesus Christ, even if my numb hands can no longer feel it.”

She was deadly serious and realized that what she was doing could get her killed, and it did. But even in the midst of the darkness that was the Third Reich, and despite her struggles she understood the importance of being able to find something to laugh at, something to bring joy to life, and she did not understand those who could not find joy, even in dark times. She noted:

“I pity people who can’t find laughter or at least some bit of amusement in the little doings of the day. I believe I could find something ridiculous even in the saddest moment, if necessary. It has nothing to do with being superficial. It’s a matter of joy in life.”

I agree with her words, and despite my continued struggles with faith, my continued struggle with PTSD, and my very real concern for what is going on in the country and what we will likely face over the next four years; I do find things that bring me joy. I find things to laugh at and laugh with, and friends who I can share that laughter. Sometimes I find the most ridiculous and funny things even when things are at their worst. I find that my little Papillon dogs keep me entertained, amused, and really make me laugh even when I am having a terrible day.

I think my friends that we must not allow circumstances to dictate whether or not that we can find joy in life. Yes there is a lot of tragedy and pain, not to mention things that we should be very concerned about, but even so we must never allow ourselves to become so beaten down that we become joyless souls who cannot laugh. The late Erma Bombeck noted “There is a thin line that separates laughter and pain, comedy and tragedy, humor and hurt.” It is up to us to find the humor as Mark Twain noted “The human race has only one really effective weapon and that is laughter.”

Have a great day and don’t forget to laugh.

Peace

Padre Steve+

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Happy Thanksgiving!

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Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

Good morning and Happy Thanksgiving to all of you. I see that some of you are already in the kitchen working hard and let me tell you everything smells delicious. If I wasn’t already spending time at a friends house today I’d ask if I could come over, please save me some pie, and if you have any sweet potatoes left, save some for me. God how I love sweet potatoes.

Today is the one day a year that we set aside to be thankful, not that we shouldn’t at least try to be thankful the other 364 days of the year, but one out of 365 isn’t bad, well actually it is. we’d have to be thankful at least 73 days in order to be at the Mendoza Line, but  I digress…

Many of us will pray and ask a a blessing on our gatherings, and like Milo Bloom I have taken literally the command to “pray for our food,” which is why despite being a Priest I am seldom asked to say grace at any gatherings. I never will forget the first time that I prayed for the Turkey and it’s surviving family members, it was a hoot. If looks could kill the daggers emanating from Judy’s eyes would have killed me dead. Since then I have continued my antics at the Thanksgiving table and I still love the look she gives me, and it makes my heart glad because in thirty-three years of marriage she hasn’t had me killed. That my friends is something to be thankful for.

Mark Twain I think correctly provided us with a short history of the holiday with these words:

“Thanksgiving Day, a function which originated in New England two or three centuries ago when those people recognized that they really had something to be thankful for — annually, not oftener — if they had succeeded in exterminating their neighbors, the Indians, during the previous twelve months instead of getting exterminated by their neighbors, the Indians. Thanksgiving Day became a habit, for the reason that in the course of time, as the years drifted on, it was perceived that the exterminating had ceased to be mutual and was all on the white man’s side, consequently on the Lord’s side; hence it was proper to thank the Lord for it and extend the usual annual compliments.”

So, with that in mind and the reality of what we may face in the coming years, I do want to thank you my loyal readers for staying with me over the past year. Likewise I wish you the all best today and in the coming year.

Peace,

Padre Steve+

 

 

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