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Read, Observe, or Pee on the Electric Fence

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Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

The great American humorist Will Rogers once said, “There are three kinds of men. The one that learns by reading. The few who learn by observation. The rest of them have to pee on the electric fence for themselves.”

I am slowing down my writing for the next few days to spend more time thinking, reflecting, reading and observing. I have been writing a lot on the Civil War, Civil Rights and Reconstruction, and I have been doing some writing on the outbreak of the First World War, I will continue to do that but I am going to slow down a bit, and just post a few short thoughts each day as I do some reading and reflecting on history and the things that we face today.

I do this because as a historian I known that for all of our great advances, especially in the form of technology that the character of people, the nature of humanity remains fairly constant. Technology may change the way we look the world, how we gather information, how and what we produce, how we fight wars, and even how we relate to each other, but humanity remains the same. Our forms of government and even religious faith may evolve, but the character of humanity is the one constant.

There has been a lot going on in this country and around the world and the one thing that I notice is that few seem to be taking the time to observe and seem to be more interested in immediately framing the events of the day into their particular ideology. This tendency is not limited to any one segment the population and goes across ideological divides.  We live in a time of great political and social upheaval and drastic change and if we are to ride out the storm we must continue to learn and not be satisfied with the banal and insipid sound bites that the Unholy Trinity of pundits, politicians and preachers spew out as wisdom.  The pundits, politicians and preachers who cite history usually do so completely out of context and do so in the form of bad analogies rather than by using any semblance of deductive or inductive reasoning.

Our culture has for the most part abandoned any serious attempt at learning. Schools teach to standardized tests, state school boards ensure that textbooks include nothing too controversial; universities sacrifice faculty and academic programs to prop up bloated administration and non-academic programs. We are consumers of corporate owned news networks that consider their programing entertainment and value market share more than truth. American philosopher Eric Hoffer quite rightly said, “In a time of drastic change it is the learners who inherit the future. The learned usually find themselves equipped to live in a world that no longer exists.” But sadly many people, including learned people who should know better and who have great responsibility in political, economic and even education, are content to live in a world that no longer exists.  

Learning comes from reading, observation and experience. Otto Von Bismarck, one of the most remarkable statesmen that ever lived said, “only a fool learns from his own mistakes, a wise man from the mistakes of others,” while Arthur Wellesley, the First Duke of Wellington and victor of Waterloo wrote, “Wise people learn when they can; fools learn when they must.”

I for one would rather not be one of those that learn by the last named method.  Learning from my mistakes has never been enjoyable and has usually been quite painful, but then as the late Baltimore Orioles Manager Earl Weaver said, “It’s what you learn after you know it all that counts.”

While I know I will make mistakes and hope to learn from them when I do I would much rather learn from the mistakes of others. Let’s hope that our leaders decide to actually pay attention and learn instead of making us pay for their mistakes. Sadly, I think that most people, especially those who claim to be leaders would rather pee on the electric fence themselves.

Anyway, it is time to do some reading and reflecting.

Peace

Padre Steve+

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I Want to Believe this Easter

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“Religion carries two sorts of people in two entirely opposite directions: the mild and gentle people it carries towards mercy and justice; the persecuting people it carries into fiendish sadistic cruelty…” Alfred North Whitehead 

Sometimes Holy Week can be a downer and I can understand why people who doubt, or who have been abused by Christians, either in the church or as outsiders find this to be so. I am a Christian, a priest, a Navy Chaplain. By all estimates I should be on the “inside” so to speak, but in the current religious and political climate I am an outsider. My crime to the “true believers” is that I question their certitude, and I reject the hateful ideas of an American Christian theocracy preached by the politicians, pundits and preachers of the Christian Right.

As for me, this year, Holy Week has been a bit of a downer. I believe, but I don’t. For a while I wondered if it was my post-Iraq agnosticism returning, but after spending some time meditating and thinking on it I realized that was not the case. I do still believe, or at least I want to, but my doubt and unbelief now mainly comes from of my experience with Christians, not so much God.

Truthfully I wonder. I wonder if God is the God whose Son reconciled the world to himself, how those that claim to be his most devout followers seem more intent preaching a message of alienation and rejection rather than reconciliation. I wonder how people who claim to be the disciples of the Prince of Peace seem far more intent on conducting a jihad like culture war than the message of peace and reconciliation. I wonder how such people who claim to be God’s elect and anointed can so maltreat the very people who Jesus would have gone out of his way to care for, and in fact died and rose again in order to save. But I am not alone in this.

Rachel Held Evans wrote in a CNN religion blog yesterday:

“This is the tragic irony of the culture wars: The casualties tend to be the very people Jesus went out of his way to serve: the poor, the sick, the marginalized, the outcasts, the people ostracized and deemed “sinners” by the religious elite. And when the world sees Christians hurting rather than helping such people in the name of political gain, our testimony is profoundly diminished.” 

I fully understand what she is saying. Personally I am tired of the abuse of people who in the name of their culture warrior political Christian elite must resort to the most loathsome methods to demonize people who do not agree with them, including me. Sadly, in addition to people who don’t know me from Adam who do this I have experienced it from so called “Christian” friends. If it wan’t for people, including conservative Christians who have stood by me through thick and thin, even when they disagree with me, I probably would just chuck Christianity and the church.

But I cannot do that if I believe in the message of Jesus. I cannot do that if I actually even somewhat believe message of Jesus. A message that reaches out even to the same people who seem to loath me and others like me with a hate stronger than life itself.

When when a person like me struggles to believe in the first place, and at the same time is rejected by those who loudly proclaim to be the disciples of Jesus it does get old. Way too old.

Since it is Holy Week and I am struggling I have decided to not get involved with any discussions this week with the supposed followers of Jesus on any social media that denigrate those who Jesus died to save. If I am to preserve any sort of faith I have to do this.

Sadly, that can and does include things not even connected with the actual Christian faith, mostly the politics of the supposedly “Christian Right.”  A couple of days ago I dared to state the truth that a certain Republican Presidential candidate espoused the same theocratic views as his Christian Dominionist preacher father. That got me attacked by a number of so called Christians including one whose Facebook avatar picture was a soldier wearing a death’s head mask with a pistol pointed directly at me. That man called me a “wolf in sheep’s clothing.” I told that man that I had a feeling that I knew what he would do if he actually met me. I picture is worth a thousand words, especially when it comes to revealing attitudes of the heart.

Personally, between the rejection and abuse I have experienced from Christians that I thought were friends, as well as those who are no better than hateful trolls on social media I am pretty much done with all things remotely considered Christian by most Americans today. I find it no wonder that people are fleeing the church, and have no doubts as to why why every poll and trend shows that people increasingly want nothing to do with the those that call themselves Christian or the church.

But I stay, and the the only reason I remain now I think is that I believe in the Jesus of Good Friday, the Jesus who is rejected by all the theologians of glory and Christian Dominionists, the crucified God. I believe in the Jesus whose death was considered a scandal to the Jews and foolishness to the Greeks. If I am to believe this is the Jesus that I have to believe in, not the God of the “theologians of glory” or the Dominionists who seek to establish their kingdom on earth with a thin veneer of faith. It as as Jurgen Moltmann wrote:

“The God of freedom, the true God, is… not recognized by his power and glory in the history of the world, but through his helplessness and his death on the scandal of the cross of Jesus”

Theologian Paul Tillich, who served as a U.S. Army Chaplain wrote “Sometimes I think it is my mission to bring faith to the faithless, and doubt to the faithful.”  

In light of my belief in the scandal of the Cross, something that certainly is offensive to those that seek the power and glory of God even if it means trampling those that Jesus most identified, is a mission that I can subscribe.  Most of the people I deal with are those marginalized and rejected by the Christian pharisees, or what I call the “Christian Taliban.”  Personally I am tired of being associated with people who treat the poor, the alien, the different, the sinful and the afflicted as less than human, or less than worthy of God’s love and grace.  I am tired of being associated with people who claim to be pro-life so long as it only applies to life in the womb, who have no problem blessing war without end and the merciless killing of innocents abroad. I am tired of people who scream “let them die” at Presidential debates referring of course to the the poor and uninsured being the voice of Christianity in this county. People who have so discredited themselves and the faith as to make no one want to have anything to do with Jesus.

In the movie Joyeux Noel a priest and chaplain serving with a Scottish regiment during the Christmas truce of 1914 tells the Bishop who is sending him home: “I belong with those who are in pain, and who have lost their faith, I belong here.” Of course the bishop is a man who heartily subscribes to a war without mercy, just as so  many who call themselves Christians do today. When the priest questioned the bishop about being relieved of his duties, the bishop, in a manner similar to what I have experienced tells the priest: “You’re not asking the right question. Think on this: are you really suitable to remain with us in the house of Our Lord?”

I have experienced such comments too much. So regardless of the cost, even the cost to myself I will chose to believe and serve the Crucified God, the God who is not the God of the theocrats of the “Christian” right, but the Crucified God who stands against them. The God who in humility and weakness  proclaimed that his kingdom was not of this world and who stands against those who fraudulent attempt to establish their kingdoms in his name. People that often do so upon the bodies of those that they kill, and the lives of those that they despise. If this means that I am not suitable to “remain in the house of the Lord” than I would rather be an outcast on my own Golgotha this Holy Week than in that house.

Frankly, I don’t know what this Holy Week will bring for me. I am struggling. I want to believe, but sometimes I get so discouraged as one of those wounded by such people that I need to create some safe space if I am to find some solace.

I am opposed to the conservative Christian “Culture Wars” that so many of my friends and others have, and sadly still embrace. I see the “”Culture Wars” as antithetical to the Gospel. I see them as vain attempts to establish a state religion, an American Theocracy that would crush and destroy any that dare oppose it.

That being said I want to remain open to any who seek God. Henri Nouwen wrote:

“Ministry means the ongoing attempt to put one’s own search for God, with all the moments of pain and joy, despair and hope, at the disposal of those who want to join this search but do not know how.”

My journey this Holy Week is one of hope. I do want to believe. Jurgen Moltmann wrote:

“Totally without hope one cannot live. To live without hope is to cease to live. Hell is hopelessness. It is no accident that above the entrance to Dante’s hell is the inscription: “Leave behind all hope, you who enter here.”

That is my journey this week, a journey from my own Golgotha to the Easter Alleluia. To do so I cannot give up hope. I probably won’t do very well at it,this week or any other, but that is my journey.

I don’t know if that makes any sense, but somehow, it does make sense to me.

Peace

Padre Steve+

 

 

 

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Half Full or Half Empty? The Sergeant Oddball Way

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Peace

 

Padre Steve+

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The Second Day of Christmas: My Wish for Peace on Earth and Good Will Toward All

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“My idea of Christmas, whether old-fashioned or modern, is very simple: loving others. Come to think of it, why do we have to wait for Christmas to do that?” Bob Hope…

Today is December 26th and for most people Christmas is now in the rearview mirror until about November, but it is the Second Day of Christmas, also known as the Feast of St Stephen. You see the 12 days of Christmas actually began yesterday, contrary to what the retailers and marketing folks tell us.

Today people will be out seeking bargains battling throngs of other for the best deals while others return gifts that do not not fit or were not to their liking.  Politicians will resume their endless campaigns using the rest of us as pawns for their respective agendas.  Leaders of nations, tribes, religions and political movements; be they terrorists, freedom fighters or liberators, (the terminology varies based on ones perspective) will continue to wage war on each other and the innocent will still be in the way and suffer accordingly. Bankers, financiers and those that profit off of the wars and politicians will continue to use their economic power to amass more wealth and power, exploit workers in Third World nations to maximize their profits and avoid meaningful health, safety and environmental protections. Good on them and if it happens to trickle down to a few of us all the better, right? We might get more bargains next Christmas.

Sometimes it seems easy to despair. It seems that the chilling verse from Henry Wordsworth Longfellow in his Civil War era song I heard the Bells on Christmas Day is as true as the day he penned in in 1863:

And in despair I bowed my head

“There is no peace on earth,” I said,

“For hate is strong and mocks the song

Of peace on earth, good will to men.”

Yes, with Christmas behind us are already getting back to doing and thinking all the things that the Unholy Trinity of Preachers, Pundits and Politicians tell us.

But for one day we paused from the madness.  We heard those bells of Christmas day and for a moment there was relative peace on earth, then it was gone until next year, unless by some chance we heard, believed and decide to act upon the message of “Peace on Earth, Goodwill to All.”

The good thing is that even if we forget, even if we get consumed in the troubles of the day that the message of this peace, the message heard in those bells, and in a following verse of Longfellow’s song are even more true:

Then pealed the bells more loud and deep:

“God is not dead, nor doth He sleep;

The wrong shall fail, the right prevail

With peace on earth, good will to men.”

It could be if we simply decided to love one another like Bob Hope said. That sentiment seems so trite now days with all the bleating of those that make a living off of bad news and tragedy… love one another, peace on earth, goodwill toward all. But I believe like Wordsworth that things will indeed end with peace on earth good will to men. Like Ebenezer Scrooge after his wild ride with the Ghosts of Christmas Past, Present and Future “I will honor Christmas in my heart, and try to keep it all the year. I will live in the Past, the Present, and the Future. The Spirits of all Three shall strive within me I will not shut out the lessons that they teach.”

Peace on earth, good will to man. It’s not just for Christmas.

Peace

Padre Steve+

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The Night Before the Election to Nowhere…Or Maybe Not

 

“It is something great and greatening to cherish an ideal; to act in the light of truth that is far-away and far above; to set aside the near advantage, the momentary pleasure; the snatching of seeming good to self; and to act for remoter ends, for higher good, and for interests other than our own.” Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain

After nearly 20 months of unrelenting campaigning, electioneering, political spin and abject hatred and lies the 2012 General Election is upon us. It is hard to believe that regardless of who wins the election that in under 48 hours the 2016 race for the White House will begin as will the 2014 Congressional mid-term races. If you liked all the division and hatred of the past tow years, actually four years if you want to get technical then you will love what happens next.

Actually you probably won’t love it, that is just a euphemism to say that you will hate it. You see what probably happens tomorrow is that regardless of who wins the Presidency that we will still have a deeply divided government. The Democrats will most likely keep the Senate, maybe thanks to some of the idiots that the GOP is running may even pick up seats. Likewise though the GOP will probably retain control of the House they may lose seats. So if Romney wins he will have less power in the Congress and if Obama wins he may actually have more leverage.

The truth is that in such a situation we can either continue the gridlock and eventually implode as a nation or we can make the painful decision that we have to work together in order to save the country. That is a hard decision for people who have invested themselves in doing everything they can to win at all costs. The sad thing is that there are a lot of people in this country that really don’t care anymore, it is either their way or the highway, so they will do anything that they can to ensure that people can’t vote or to delegitimatize the opposition.

It is really a dreadful state of affairs that we have found ourselves in. The economy is still not doing that well, we have much of our military committed to a war that cannot be won in Afghanistan even as some American leaders seek out new wars for American troops to die in, wars that they or their children will never have to serve. Wars that Marine Corps General Smedley Butler called a “racket” in which only the war profiteers profit from. Religious zealots led by men like David Barton, Ralph Reed and Glenn Beck seek to establish a theocracy that the Taliban would be proud to call their own.

I would hope that whoever wins the election that somehow Americans can overcome the poisonous atmosphere of the past four years which unfortunately has been germinating for more than 20 years. The sad thing is that both parties have had a lot to do with the situation as they have prostituted themselves to business and other special interests, economic, social and even religious. Few have worked for reconciliation and those of moderate leanings have been marginalized by the extremists.

To think that tomorrow’s election will change that calculous is a fantasy. I really don’t know what it will take to change the political climate. I know what needs to happen. I also know that on November 7th the Politicians, Pundits and Preachers, the Unholy Trinity that support the destruction of the country for the sake of their agendas and their profits will continue to attempt to divide the rest of us to the best of their ability. But it doesn’t have to be that way…

The key to ending this fratricide is to stop the idiocy. On November 7th regardless of who wins start respecting each other and working together. One thing that our system was revered around the world for was that in spite of differences for the most part we could find ways to get through events and crisis that have destroyed other countries. However, if we don’t start working together we will destroy this country and it will be all of our fault.

Abraham Lincoln understood this when in in his Second Inaugural Address in the closing days of our bloody and terrible Civil War he spoke these words:

“With malice toward none, with charity for all, with firmness in the right as God gives us to see the right, let us strive on to finish the work we are in, to bind up the nation’s wounds, to care for him who shall have borne the battle and for his widow and his orphan, to do all which may achieve and cherish a just and lasting peace among ourselves and with all nations.”

So until tomorrow…

Peace

Padre Steve+

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A Break from Hate

It is all too easy in a divided country and a world in crisis to succumb to hate. Hate is easily stirred up by what I call the Unholy Trinity of Pundits, Politicians and Preachers. This Unholy Trinity uses the tools of the 24 hour cable news cycle and internet “news” services that are little more than the mouthpieces for foul ideologues to promote lies and propaganda across the political and religious spectrum. This is not limited to the United States but is now a world wide industry. The cycle of hate seems to be unending.

I wrote last night about those that pour gasoline on an already blazing fire. It was actually my second attempt to write the piece. I had started on Tuesday night was the news of the attacks on the American Embassy and Consulate began to unfold. I became very angry at both the attackers as well as the producers of the film that at least sparked the violence in Egypt. I actually began to feel hate toward the extremists of all kinds that thrive on this, the media that uses it for market share and certain politicians that try to gain a cheap political advantage of an unfolding crisis where American lives are at stake.

I find that those that trigger my anger the most are religious zealots or all types, but mostly those of my own faith that promote hate and fear in the name of Jesus. Religious hatred is perhaps the most evil hatred because those that spew it actually believe that God agrees with them. God is the ultimate trump card for such ideologues.

I am not going to go back into the embassy and consulate story now, but I began to write about it on Tuesday night. As I wrote I became more and more angry. I felt what Darth Vader so well described as “the power of the Dark Side.” My words were becoming venomous and I was becoming livid. Then I stopped writing realizing that something wasn’t right in me, I was being consumed by hatred of those that promote hate and so I just stopped and pondered what was going on with me.

I did a complete re-write of that article last night after I had spent some time getting more information about the attacks and then talking about the issue with someone that I trust. He told me something that I already knew, that unbridled hatred is poisonous and not only toward those that it is directed, but to those consumed by it. Since coming back from Iraq and dealing with PTSD I have had to deal with a lot of anger and many times I have felt hate rise up in me. It is a frightening thing to feel “the power of the Dark Side.”

Hatred is the fruit of fear. Buck O’Neal the legendary Negro League Baseball player and manager said “It makes no sense, Hate. It’s just fear. All it is. Fear something different. Something’s gonna get taken from you, Stolen from you. Find yourself lost.”

So today I have tried to unplug from the news cycle. I got a good workout in. I listened to music rather than talk radio in the car. I went to a local restaurant’s bar for a salad and a couple of beers with the old timer locals that hang out there. I spent time reading, watching baseball and walking the dog to the beach and back rather than surfing news sites or watching cable news pundits.

I needed it and since I will be traveling tomorrow I will get another chance to stay mostly unplugged for another day, and probably most of the weekend as Molly my dog and I go home to see Judy and Minnie our puppy. Maybe if we all took a day off once in a while from the propaganda mills of all forms that masquerade as news outlets we could step away from the abyss that our individual and collective is driving us over.

Peace

Padre Steve+

 

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Remember and Pray: Lessons from 9-11-2001 Today

9-11 Memorial Ceremony (US Navy Photo)

Today many of us took the time to remember the events of September 11th 2001. Some were large ceremonies and others small, while many just took the time to remember the lives of those lost, to reflect and pray. Many talked about what they remembered and where they were that fateful day and others remembered the event silently, the pain still too great to express.

The events of 9-11-2001 are now 11 years past yet danger still looms. American military and diplomatic personnel, Federal agents of various police and security agencies, contractors and American Non-Governmental Organizations (NGOs) serve in harms way exposed to violence and terror. The Middle East is ablaze in violence between competing Islamic groups, the Sunni-Shia Moslem divide becomes greater with every day as Syria, Iraq and Lebanon become more violent. The conflict threatens adjoining nations including Israel, Jordan and Turkey. Israel and Iran edge closer to war and extremists do all that they can to incite others to violence by their acts. Today Egyptian Islamic extremists stormed the US Embassy in Cairo and ripped down our flag allegedly in response to a film being produced by an American extremist the Koran burning “pastor” Terry Jones which they believe is blasphemous.

Pundits, politicians and preachers, that Unholy Trinity that seems to find life in the death and misery of others stoke the fires of hate, among the “faithful” of their religions and nationalities. The truth be known I get angry every time these extremists act or do things the are done with the sole intent of bringing harm to others while advancing their dark agendas.  I get tired of those that from places of safety and security provoke violence and urge wars that they know others will have to fight and without any cost to themselves. They make their pronouncements all claiming that God, however they define him is on their side. That is blasphemy, no matter which God you believe in.

The world is a very dangerous place. It is not only a time for vigilance and military preparedness, it is a time for reflection, prayer and peace making.

God of the ages, before your eyes all empires rise and fall yet you are changeless. Be near us in this age of terror and in these moments of remembrance. Uphold those who work and watch and wait and weep and love. By your Spirit give rise in us to broad sympathy for all the peoples of your earth. Strengthen us to comfort those who mourn and work in large ways and small for those things that make for peace. Bless the people and leaders of this nation and all nations so that warfare, like slavery before it, may become only a historic memory. We pray in the strong name of the Prince of Peace. Amen. (From the September 11th Litany published by the National Council of Churches)

Peace

Padre Steve+

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