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2019: The Coming Disorder and a Spark that Cannot be Extinguished

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

Abraham Lincoln noted:

“The best thing about the future is that it comes one day at a time.”

It is good to remember Lincoln’s words in times of turmoils. I do, and they bring me great motivation to work, believe, and fight for justice, truth, and the belief in a spark of goodness in humanity which enables me to believe the words of the Declaration of Independence:

“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that 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.”

The fact that those words come from a time of tumult, yet in a time where men were beginning to wrestle with and proclaim principles of the Enlightenment matters much to me, especially in times like we live today, where that principle is being attacked and undermined by the American President.

That being said, I believe that 2019 will be remembered in history as a time great turmoil, upheaval, and probably usher in a new epoch of war, economic, and ecological disaster. We may again be witnesses to genocide that leaders of governments fail to take the necessary actions to stop.

I don’t want to sound like a pessimist, but as a historian I to look at the world through how human beings, governments, and businesses behave in times of crisis. In fact, human beings are the singular constant in history and in crisis human beings don’t always live up to our ideals.

When major powers and international systems of order break down, or collapse for whatever reason, instability, disorder, and primordial hatreds based on nationalism, religion, and racism rise. A vacuum is created, filled by other powers, but not without some element of travail. Edmond Taylor wrote in his classic “The Fall of the Dynasties: The Collapse of the Order, 1905-1922:

“The collapse of the great supranational — or at least supraparochial — authorities and the dissolution of long-accepted Imperial bonds released upon Europe a fearsome flood of conflicting national ambitions, of inflamed minority particularisms, of historic (sometimes almost prehistoric) irredentisms, of irreconcilable social aspirations and of rival political fanaticisms.

The impending collapse of the old order today can be seen in a return to a more isolationist policy by the United States, rising populist, nationalist, and ethnocentric movements in Europe which are threatening the existence of the European Union. Those include Brexit, ethnic nationalism mixed with a bit of Fascism in Hungary, Italy, Poland, and great strains in France and Germany between right and left wing populist movements.

The common thread is the center which was the key to so much social progress, democracy, economic growth and stability, scientific advancement, and international security is giving way. There are many reasons for this, on the American side going back to the imperialist overreach of the George W. Bush administration, the inconsistent and detached method of the Obama administration towards the Middle East, especially Syria and Iraq, following that, and now the decidedly inconsistent, often irresponsible, and irreconcilable policies of isolationism and militarism.

A rejuvenated Russia is rushing to fill the void in the Middle East as well as working to destabilize its neighbors, Europe, and even the United States. The Chinese are attempting to make gains in other areas and to drive the United States out of Asia by using every element of national power: diplomacy, information, military might, and economics, while the United States following the Trump Administration’s withdraw from the Trans Pacific Partnership, and subsequent punishing tariffs that are hurting allies and Americans more than China the United States is now at a decided disadvantage in Asia.

I could go on, and could go into details on the causes of the current situation but they are many. What we are seeing now is the beginning of the collapse of an order that we have known most of our lives. While many people might be uneasy, most don’t view things in terms of history, in many cases because the events that led to the establishment of the current order are too distant and the witnesses to those times are few, and dying off. People today seldom study history, and even worse no longer know people, including family members who remember what happened to remind them of it.

That was quite similar to the situation in 1914. Europe had been at relative peace for a century. With the exception of the French Republic, most of Europe was still ruled by monarchies with rather limited democratic participation, if any. Barbara Tuchman wrote in her book The Proud Tower: A Portrait Of the World Before the War, 1890-1914:

“The proud tower built up through the great age of European civilization was an edifice of grandeur and passion, of riches and beauty and dark cellars. Its inhabitants lived, as compared to a later time, with more self-reliance, more confidence, more hope; greater magnificence, extravagance and elegance; more careless ease, more gaiety, more pleasure in each other’s company and conversation, more injustice and hypocrisy, more misery and want, more sentiment including false sentiment, less sufferance of mediocrity, more dignity in work, more delight in nature, more zest. The Old World had much that has since been lost, whatever may have been gained. Looking back on it from 1915, Emile Verhaeren, the Belgian Socialist poet, dedicated his pages, “With emotion, to the man I used to be.”

I believe that 2019 will the a year of multiple crises and the further erosion, if not collapse of the old order. What will come I do not know, but I expect that at the minimum it will be unsettling and disruptive, if not catastrophic. That doesn’t mean that I am a pessimist, it means that I study history. Provided that humanity does not find a way to destroy itself, we will recover. It may not be pretty and it certainly will not be the same as it was, but we will recover.

Walter Lord wrote about this his book on American in the early Twentieth Century The Good Years: 1900-1914. In the book he wrote about how things changed for Americans as Europe plunged into war. The effects of the war were soon felt in the United States though it would not enter the war until 1917. Lord wrote:

Economics were only part of the story. Almost overnight, Americans lost a happy, easygoing, confident way of looking at things. Gone was the bright lilt of “When You Wore a Tulip”; already it was the sadly nostalgic, “There’s a Long, Long Trail a-Winding,” or the grimly suggestive, “I Didn’t Raise My Boy to Be a Soldier.” A mounting crescendo of screaming headlines… atrocity stories… U-boat sinkings… charges and counter-charges shocked the nation, jarred its faith, left a residue of doubt and dismay.

Nothing seemed simple any more. Nothing was black and white. Nothing was “right” or “wrong,” the way Theodore Roosevelt used to describe things. And as the simple problems vanished, so did the simple solutions. Trust-busting, direct primaries, arbitration treaties and all the rest. They somehow lost their glamour as exciting panaceas, and nothing took their place. But the problems grew and grew —preparedness… taxes… war… Bolshevism… disillusionment… depression… Fascism… Moscow… fallout… space… more taxes.

So the old life slipped away, never to return again, and wise men sensed it almost at once. Men like Henry White, the immensely urbane diplomat who had served the country so well. “He instinctively felt,” according to his biographer Allan Nevins, “that his world —the world of constant travel, cosmopolitan intercourse, secure comfort and culture —would never be the same again.” The Philadelphia North American felt the same way, but in blunter words: “What does this mean but that our boasted civilization has broken down?”

Perhaps it was just as well. There was much that was wrong with this old way of living —its injustices, its naivete, its waste, its smug self-assurance. Men would come along to fix all that. New laws, controls, regulations, forms filled out in triplicate would keep anybody from getting too much or too little. And swarms of consultants, researchers, special assistants, and executive committees would make sure that great men always said and did the right thing.

There would be great gains. But after all the gains had been counted, it would turn out that something was also lost —a touch of optimism, confidence, exuberance, and hope. The spirit of an era can’t be blocked out and measured, but it is there nonetheless. And in these brief, buoyant years it was a spark that somehow gave extra promise to life. By the light of this spark, men and women saw themselves as heroes shaping the world, rather than victims struggling through it.

Actually, this was nothing unique. People had seen the spark before, would surely do so again. For it can never die as long as men breathe. But sometimes it burns low, leaving men uncertain in the shadows; other times it glows bright, catching the eye with breath-taking visions of the future.

The truth is, even in the midst of crises that the spark that enables people to believe, to hope, and to labor for a better future where the possibilities of peace, justice, freedom, and progress can be realized.

2019 will likely be a very difficult year, a year of change and turbulence, and truthfully it will probably be just the beginning; but unless finds a way to destroy itself, it will not be the end.

So, unless I get a hair up my ass to write something else before midnight, I wish you a Happy New Year, and all the best.

Peace,

Padre Steve+

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“The Future Ain’t What It Used to Be” Thoughts on the Eve Of New Year’s Eve

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

T. S. Elliott wrote:

“For last year’s words belong to last year’s language and next year’s words await another voice.”

It is the eve of New Year’s Eve and I have been reflecting on the year past and thinking about the future, and trying to put the past year into words. The good thing is that I write a decent amount about my experiences as they occur on this site, so in addition to it being a wealth of historical, biographical, religious, and political thinking, it also serves as kind of a public diary.

I have to admit, 2018 was an difficult year for me personally as well as for Judy, even little Pierre had a brush with death. The difficulties have been many but we have survived and are preparing for a new chapter in our lives as I finally after over 37 years in the military am preparing to retire.

The year began fairly well but in April we had a water leak from our air conditioning drain pan while we were out of town. It was the first heat wave of the year and our AC unit is really good, it sucked out the humidity from the air like a beast. Unfortunately, the drain pipes had been clogged with blown in insulation which had solidified during the winter when the AC was not in use. The result was a flood on our second floor which damaged walls, floors, ceilings, and furnishings. It was a bitch to get fixed, in fact we still have some work to do, mostly painting, but a few other things, but those were delayed by other events.

I am grateful that we had insurance and some other resources otherwise it would have been much worse, even so it did cost us money and time, and I had to spend a couple weeks of leave that I could have used for other things. But it was stressful, and physically exhausting. The work, including having a professional water damage company drying out the place, getting a contractor, having contractors doing repairs and renovations, getting materials, and doing much work ourselves took us into September when we took a break for our pilgrimage to Germany.

That would be enough, but in the midst of it I had a threat to my career and freedom when military retiree member of my Protestant Chapel Congregation complained to my command about a sermon and attempted to have me tried by Court Martial. His complaint was political, my sermon which was solidly based on scripture and history conflicted with his Fox News and Donald Trump version of Christianity.

That took place at the end of June and I first part of July preparing for and being investigated by the command. The investigation exonerated me, but I did have to hire a lawyer who represents many high profile military and government personnel in religious liberty cases. That cost a decent amount of money but it was far better than trusting my freedom and career to a brand new Navy defense attorney. Even some emotional and spiritual toll that it took convinced me to retire. I came to realize that there is no place for who tries to stand for truth in front of politicized right wing chapel congregations.

That coupled with an insufferable amount of other chapel bullshit and bullying by military retirees in my chapel congregations at me and my staff made up my mind. My junior Chaplains have asked if I would be willing to preach again in the chapel, but I had to be honest, I don’t feel safe with and don’t trust and good number of people in the Protestant congregation.

The fact that I am neither Protestant or Roman Catholic has kind of made me a man without a country in the Navy Chaplain Corps. Members of Religious minorities who don’t tow the line to the powerful are not tolerated. After 26 years of championing religious liberties for people of all faiths regardless of their beliefs or social-political stances as an Army and now Navy Chaplain, I found out that some people don’t give a damn and would use their religious rights to attempt to destroy me.

I say, fuck that, I don’t need it. So I am retiring before I am required to do and before the end of this tour of duty. That being said, I appreciate my staff who stood by me, and I am proud to have been able to serve this country in peace and war in so many different ways, in so many places, and with so many great people; the people who did this can’t take that away from me. But I cannot be silent and I will still speak the truth. As Dietrich Bonhoeffer wrote:

 “Silence in the face of evil is itself evil: God will not hold us guiltless. Not to speak is to speak. Not to act is to act.”

Then there were the medical challenges. During August after work, and more work at home I was called by a former shipmate going through a very difficult time. I was on the phone with him until about 2:30 AM. When I went upstairs I realized that I had Judy’s car keys in my pocket, so I trudged back down the stairs but took my eyes off the stairs and didn’t keep my hand on the railing. I slipped and fell, spraining my left ankle, the ACLs of both knees, and my right hip. After a long period of getting examined, x-rays, physical therapy, and MRIs I will be getting arthroscopic surgery to repair a torn meniscus in my left knee and PRP (Platelet Rich Plasma) treatment on my right knee. In the next month or so. I can only echo the words of Mickey Mantle who said “I always loved the game, but when my legs weren’t hurting it was a lot easier to love.” I haven’t been able to run and even walking is not without pain, and considering that even earlier this year I was running thee to five miles or walking and running six to ten miles a day, this really sucks.

Then Judy had her right knee, which she thought was her good knee go out. She thought, and the ER docs thought it was a sprain, but it turned out that the knee, like her left knee needed replacement. She went through that on November 9th and has been recovering and rehabbing ever since. She will have to have the left knee replaced next year.

The scariest thing was when our little Papillon, Pierre ingested something toxic, probably from a mushroom, that caused him to have severe bleeding ulcers in his stomach which turned into a life threatening situation. He had to have emergency surgery, but came through it well. He had completely recovered but it was scary because he is my little shadow, daddy’s boy, and still so young.

But there were good things. We celebrated our 35th marriage anniversary, we have good friends, we made it through, or are making it through the difficult times. We also made a trip to Germany where we saw German friends, visited Munich, Berlin, Karlsruhe, Wittenberg, and other locations, and I was able to visit a good number of historical locations dealing with the Holocaust and the resistance to the Hitler regime.

Despite everything that we went through I am grateful for family, friends, and my staff at work who helped us get through everything. We are alive, we are making it through our medical and physical issues, the house is getting fixed and I am getting ready to retire from the Navy and transition to hopefully teaching history, writing, and working with veterans.

In the movie Star Trek: Generations, Captain Jean Luc Picard tells Commander William 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.” 

So as I close out the old year I wish you my readers all the best. May the coming year be good for all of us.

Until tomorrow,

Peace,

Padre Steve+

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

Study the Past, Don’t Live in It

Matt-Frewer-as-Berlingoff-Rasmussen-TNG-A-Matter-of-Time-7

Friends at Padre Steve’s World

I tend to become somewhat reflective as the New Year approaches. I am reminded of Peter Benchley, who wrote, “The past always seems better when you look back on it than it did at the time. And the present never looks as good as it will in the future.” Likewise, St Augustine of Hippo once asked “How can the past and future be, when the past no longer is, and the future is not yet?”

Augustine’s question is interesting, but I think that his question is flawed. I think that the past lives in the present much more than we would like to think and that our future, though unwritten can unfold in a multitude of ways and possibilities.

Many of us live in the past as if it were today. We, individually and collectively, as individuals and nations live in the past and look to it much more fondly than when it was our present. I think that historian Will Durant possibly said it the best: “The past is not dead. Indeed, it is often not even past.”

As a historian myself I value the past and seek answers and wisdom from it to use in the present because what we do in the present does, for better or worse defines our future. Confucius said “study the past if you would define the future.” He was quite wise, he said to study the past, did he did not say to live in it.

That is something that I have been learning for over 20 years now when my Clinical Pastoral Education Supervisor, used a Star Trek Next Generation metaphor from the episode A Matter Of Time in order to teach me how my past was influencing the way I was living my life.In the episode a shadowy visitor who claimed to be from the future refuses to help the crew of the Enterprise save an endangered world, claiming that if he were to help them, that his “history – would unfold in a way other than it already has.”

Finally, after other all other possibilities were exhausted, Captain Picard was forced to make a decision and confronted the visitor, who as it turned out to be a thief from the past, using time travel to collect technology to enrich himself by bringing it back in time. Picard makes a comment which I think is pertinent in a time like ours.

“A person’s life, their future, hinges on each of a thousand choices. Living is making choices! Now, you ask me to believe that if I make a choice other than the one that appears in your history books, then your past will be irrevocably altered. Well… you know, Professor, perhaps I don’t give a damn about your past, because your past is my future, and as far as I’m concerned, it hasn’t been written yet!”

When my supervisor told me that my past did not have to be my future, it opened a door of life and faith that I had never experienced before and which showed me that life was to be boldly lived in the present. While it meant a lot then, it means more now for the past according to William Shakespeare “is prologue.”

We cannot help being influenced by the past. We should indeed learn from it, but we cannot remain in it or try to return to it. Kierkegaard said that “Life can only be understood backwards; but it must be lived forwards.”

Since I am a Christian, at least by profession, my faith in that future is in the God who is eternal, the God of love. Victor Hugo in Les Miserables said “Love is the only future God offers.” That is the future that I want to envision.

Unfortunently there are many people who claim the same Christian faith that I claim who attempt to return to an imaginary past and to try to legislate that past onto others who do not share their beliefs, if necessarily using the police powers of the state to do so. Such is neither honest because it attempts to enforce a mythologized past on others, nor Christian, because ultimately the Christian hope is focused on the yet to be realized future and not the past, it has nothing to do with establishing some kind of theocratic Christian state that denies rights and a future to all but like minded Christians.

Living is making choices and the future hinges on thousands of them. Many of these choices we make automatically without thought simply because we have always done them that way, or because that is how it was done in the past. However, if we want to break the cycle, if we want to live in and envision that future of the God of love then we have to live in the present though the past lives in us.

T.S. Elliot penned this verse:

“For last year’s words belong to last year’s language
And next year’s words await another voice.
And to make an end is to make a beginning.”

The coming year promises to be challenging, and the tensions between those who want to return to the past, especially the predominantly Christian cult  devoted to President Trump and making America great again and those who believe in an inclusive hope and future for all will be on full display.

As for me, I choose the path of Picard; because my future, and our future, hasn’t been written yet, and cannot be surrendered to those who want to return us to a mythologized past that never existed in history, but which they want to legislate today.

My choice in our time is to resist, and to fight for a future that includes everyone.

Until tomorrow,

Peace

Padre Steve+

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Enter 2018, If We Don’t Try We May as Well Lay Down and Die…

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

It is now 2018.

After the year that was 2017 with its seeming unending cycle of violence, hate, war, destruction, and political turmoil including political turmoil in Europe and the chaotic political  Overall 2017 was a difficult year around the world despite the boom stock markets.

One hundred years ago the world was engaged in a war that was killing thousands of men a day. Some hoped that 1918 would be better, but it wasn’t. Despite the victory that the French, British, and Americans achieved over Imperial Germany and its allies brought some measure of peace to the world, the embers of war, economic crisis, and political instability would plant the seeds for the totalitarian movements of communism, and Fascism in its various forms. Because of this the conflagration that had erupted in 1914 would get far worse in just over 20 years time.

I hope that 2018 is different and turns out better than 2018, we certainly could use a break, but the forces of history and nature are sometimes greater than our hopes, but we can always hope. Even so more than hope we who believe in liberty, freedom, humanity, brotherhood, and justice must work against the forces of war, terrorism, dehumanization, and political ideologies that are designed to enslave, devalue, and marginal people based on race, religion, gender, color, or belief.

I believe that the forces that made 2017 so terrible in so many ways will not take a break and that we need to stand up and do the right and sometimes the hard things in order to protect liberty. The time for safe zones is past, as progressives we have to toughen up; think rationally, and act strategically if we are to protect the liberties of all people, including people who will find out far to late that they placed their trust in the wrong place. But I digress…

Many people will see in the New Year singing Auld Lang Syne. It is a nice song, I have written about it before. A little bit ago after watching the movies It’s a Mad Mad Mad Mad World and The Great Race Judy, I and our friend Patty popped the Champagne and toasted tonight as we watched the Ball descend in Times Square on our television, safe from all the drunk drivers that we will as well.

But I digress. My favorite song for the New Year is Abba’s Happy New Year.  Like Auld Lang Syne it is a melancholy song of the end of one year’s hopes, dreams and expectations and hopes and dreams for the New Year. The song is embedded above and the lyrics are here:

Happy New Year

No more champagne

And the fireworks are through

Here we are, me and you

Feeling lost and feeling blue

It’s the end of the party

And the morning seems so grey

So unlike yesterday

Now’s the time for us to say…

 

Happy new year

Happy new year

May we all have a vision now and then

Of a world where every neighbour is a friend

Happy new year

Happy new year

May we all have our hopes, our will to try

If we don’t we might as well lay down and die

You and I

 

Sometimes I see

How the brave new world arrives

And I see how it thrives

In the ashes of our lives

Oh yes, man is a fool

And he thinks he’ll be okay

Dragging on, feet of clay

Never knowing he’s astray

Keeps on going anyway…

 

Happy new year

Happy new year

May we all have a vision now and then

Of a world where every neighbour is a friend

Happy new year

Happy new year

May we all have our hopes, our will to try

If we don’t we might as well lay down and die

You and I

 

Seems to me now

That the dreams we had before

Are all dead, nothing more

Than confetti on the floor

It’s the end of a decade

In another ten years time

Who can say what we’ll find

What lies waiting down the line

In the end of eighty-nine…

 

Happy new year

Happy new year

May we all have a vision now and then

Of a world where every neighbour is a friend

Happy new year

Happy new year

May we all have our hopes, our will to try

If we don’t we might as well lay down and die

You and I

I think one of the lines that I like, one which I think calls on us to actually do more than hope, but to act on hope, is “May we all have a vision…” A vision requires that we begin to imagine a better future, in a sense it is to dream, as Martin Luther King Jr. dreamed, I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal.”

To fulfill that dream and vision we must live, work, dream and imagine that things can be better, and as Dr. King said, Let us not wallow in the valley of despair, I say to you today, my friends.

And so even though we face the difficulties of today and tomorrow, I still have a dream…

The song, Happy New Year ends with this verse, May we all have our hopes, our will to tryIf we don’t we might as well lay down and dieYou and I…

Here is wishing you the best New Year possible, and I for one will not lay down and die.

Peace

Padre Steve+

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