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Relearning Ministry Again For the First Time

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“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.” Henri Nouwen 

It was over 20 years ago that I graduated from seminary. I was a very good student and took every opportunity to learn, even when what I learned challenged my assumptions. Thus in a Southern Baptist seminary I basically came out as an Anglo-Catholic or progressive Vatican II type Catholic. But even so I was was still quite limited in my understanding of ministry.

My time in a Clinical Pastoral Education Residency a year after I graduated from seminary was filled with more discovery, much of it very painful as I confronted many of my own demons, But even what I learned there was just a chip off the top of the iceberg. While it was valuable it was something that took many more years to begin to fully grasp.

In each of these places and times of learning I discovered much, but like any novice my actual understanding of what I learned with limited by my own strengths as an analytical thinker and intuitive personality type. I was quite convinced of my competencies, skills and abilities, particularly in history and theology. I could wear people out picking apart arguments that I thought were flawed. Likewise on the occasions people came to me for advice I often would fall back on my strengths in analyzing their situation and giving them an answer. I was so obnoxious about it Judy would sometimes call me “the Great White One Who Knows it All.”

At various points in my life, seminary, preparation for the ordination to the Priesthood, during Clinical Pastoral Education and in the various military Chaplain school course that I have attended had to write and sometimes present a philosophy or theology of ministry. As I think about them most did talk about being present, but much more focus was on  programs and methods of teaching or even counseling from a cognitive behavioral theory method, but little to do with just being present and listening, presence was more about showing my face and being known that it was actually being with people. The changes in my “philosophy or theology of ministry” were honed in the crucibles of critical care ministry in hospital Trauma Departments and ICUs, and at war, deployed on ship or in Iraq. In those places I learned that between life and death that sometimes what matters most is just being there and not avoiding the pain by giving advice, offering a prayer, no matter how sincere and getting out of Dodge before the hard questions got asked.

I have found that young ministers or those new to ministry regardless of their age are often quite zealous and even when quite sincere often run roughshod over others. I think that is not so much a human failing but rather a result of our theological and ministerial training process. We focus on everything but being with real people, and among the professions we often are those among the least likely to truly listen to people before we diagnose a situation and give an answer. If we come from or are influenced by a tradition where what we believe that we are accurately discerning what the Holy Spirit is saying, or that we have the authoritative interpretation of Holy Scripture or that our theological premise is more correct than the others out there.

Please know this is not an attack on any particular denomination or theological school of thought. It just happens to be very common across the board in the way we do ministry as American Christians regardless of our denominational affiliation or whether we are liberal or conservative. It was bad enough when we all pretty much attended seminary in residence with other people and had to physically interact with other students or professors, some of whom challenged our views.

I believe that in the present reality of theological education in America, where online seminary programs are flourishing that an overall lack of contact and isolation is making the overall quality of ministry worse.  Simply put this is because we spend our time in a theological cocoon of our own making, deviod of relationships with people who really know us.  The result is that we become less attentive to others and more convinced of our own correctness and often suffer from a dangerous amount of narciscistic behaviors which are quite often displayed for the world to see.

 I wonder at times if the Jesuit formation process than anything that we do here.  While the 12 years long process done by the Jesuits is difficult and maybe even unworkable for some, I wonder if it is actually a better model for ministry.  I also wonder wonder if possibly we can learn from Buddhism. From what I see there appear many practices in it that are not antithetical to the Christian faith and may actually help us to be better spiritual directors, guides and care givers. I read a book by Wolfhart Pannenberg years ago about commonalities and where Christians and Buddhists could learn from each other. I still have it and when I return home I will have to take the time to re-read it. Part of my curiousity lies in the fact that I am also a military historian and theoritician and much as I see much complementary thought in the military theories of Sun Tzu and Carl Von Clausewitz, one who was Eastern in thought and the other a product of Classic Western Liberal thought and philosphy. Both understood the human dimension of life, war and statesmanship and as such their military theories are timeless. Could it be that Christians could learn from Buddhists. I know that some do and I wonder if because our God is bigger than our conception that his grace allows people outside the Christian tradition to understand his will better than us sometimes. I think of the encounters of Jesus with Roman officials who he complimented saying “I have not seen such faith in all of Israel.”

I know this because I lived my ministerial life in this manner for many years. In a sense I remained a novice so long as I thought that I knew everything. The late and great Hall of Fame Manager of the Baltimore Orioles, Earl Weaver said “It’s what you learn after you know it all that counts.” 

For me it took falling apart and feeling abandoned by peers, colleagues, the church institution and even God that took me to a new place ministry. Of course that came through the pain of loss, madness and abandonment that basically left me questioning everything, even the existence of God, I was for all practical purposes an agnostic. Coming back from war changed and suffering from PTSD and its effects makes more of an impact on faith than you can imagine. Since I have written about this part of my experience many times before so I won’t go into detail here.

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Needless to say five years ago I began a journey that challenged my beliefs and changed me quite a bit as a Priest and Navy Chaplain. I won’t bore you with those changes either because I have written about them at length.

What I have learned and over the past five years is that Henri Nouwen who I quoted at the beginning of this article was correct. We as ministers frequently fail in this, instead we feel the need to say something, when often saying little or nothing but simply being with people and fully engaged in hearing them and whether through their words, expressions, tears or silence stay with them. Our words, suggestions and advice, even when theologically correct and in accordance with good counseling theory often are not heard by the suffering person because we are not listening and instead offering a diagnosis. Dietrich Bonhoeffer stated this Christian conundrum well:

“Christians, especially ministers, so often think they must always contribute something when they are in the company of others, that this is the one service they have to render. They forget that listening can be a greater service than speaking.”

I cannot tell you how many times that I have met people who have been hurt by well meaning ministers who simply cannot shut up and need to give advice. Let’s face it, the temptation is by virtue of our calling, our ordination or commissioning that we believe that words are essential. St. Francis of Assisi said “preach the Gospel at all times, use words when necessary.” Actions do speak louder than words and one of those actions is listening and maintaining a holy silence as we allow the Spirit of God to work in a life even as we remain present. Henri Nouwen wrote:

“Somewhere we know that without silence words lose their meaning, that without listening speaking no longer heals, that without distance closeness cannot cure.” 

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For me though I have continued to evolve in ministry I do often feel like a novice. I have to fight the temptation to simply diagnose and give advice every day. That being said I am much more comfortable with listening and being present even more than I was a year ago. A lot of this credit goes to my Command Master Chief Ed Moreno, who I spend many hours a week with. He is a very spiritual person, a good listener and patient man who in a sense is a companion and fellow traveller on this spiritual journey.

For me it is almost as if I am relearning everything about ministry for the first time.

Well, that is enough for tonight. It is time that I shut up.

Blessings and Peace,

Padre Steve+

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Persistence: My Motto

Persistence by Calvin Coolidge

“Nothing in the world can take the place of Persistence. 

Talent will not;  Nothing is more common than unsuccessful men with talent. 

Genius will not;  Unrewarded genius is almost a proverb. 

Education will not; The world is full of educated derelicts. 

Persistence and determination alone are omnipotent. 

The slogan ‘Press On’ has solved  and always will solve the problems of the human race.”

If there is anything that I find is true about me it is that I am a persistent person. The motto on the family crest is the French word Esseyez, or in English, “try.” Somehow I can see the chieftain of the clan lining everyone up behind William Wallace, who by the way was executed on this day in 1300 inspiring his troops saying, “just try for once.” My parents used to say “quitters never win and winners never quit.”  I have been inspired by great naval Captains like John Paul Jones who when asked if he had surrendered replied “I have not yet begun to fight” and James Lawrence who when mortally wounded gave his crew the order “Don’t give up the ship.” I am inspired by the words of the legendary manager of the Baltimore Orioles Earl Weaver who said “It’s what you learn after you know it all that counts.”

I love this poem by Calvin Coolidge. In fact I have a small framed copy of it presented by my residency director at Parkland Memorial Hospital in 1994 on my desk today.

I have never been the smartest, fastest, strongest, talented or educated dog in the pack.    I just work hard and don’t quit. I love the journeyman that one finds in baseball. I admire the utility player who can play a lot of different positions, plug holes and fit in well on the team. The same for the pitchers pitchers that pitch in middle relief or are the 5th starter in the rotation. I like the guys that gut it out and hang around long after others have written them off.

I have been having to go through and recount the really significant parts of my life as I get ready for the EMDR and Biofeedback therapy for my PTSD. It has been really amazing to see a couple of threads that are prominent in the tapestry of my life and without which I would not be me. The things that keep coming up again and again are a dogged persistence to succeed and unwillingness to quit and profound dislike of bullies.

My Clinical Pastoral Education residency which followed a brutal seminary process was one of the most pivotal parts of my life. My CPE Supervisor was a man named Steve Ivy. CPE is one of the best training in that anyone working with people in churches, hospitals or the military can have. For me it helped me see areas that I was blind to in my life. It helped me become a better listener and more accepting of others. But even more it helped me, and still helps me integrate me theology and philosophy into life.  Dr Ivy made a comment that was one of the most instrumental in my life since I heard it. That is that I can write my future that I do not have to be condemned to perpetually repeating the past or being stuck in place or being a victim of circumstances or others. It was a revelation of a positive humanity and the grace of God.

But even before that I was a fighter. In seminary when everything that one could imagine to go wrong did and pastors, and people at ministries told me that I should reconsider my call or quit. In the fall of 1989 when everything had gone to complete shit in our lives, Judy was sick, we had lost our home, cars and were living in a horrible house in a horrible neighborhood of Fort Worth, I was working two jobs and was in the National Guard, was a full time student and it looked like my time in seminary was over and that I had failed I called a TV ministry prayer line. I told my story to the prayer partner who told me that I couldn’t be called to ministry because if I was “God would be blessing me.” Somehow that hit me wrong. I just couldn’t imagine Jesus telling anyone that, nor could I reconcile it with Scripture or Church History.

I got mad and kept working despite everything going to hell managed to hang in long enough for things to work out. I didn’t do it all myself because a lot of people came alongside when they saw that I was in this for the long haul and would not quit. I graduated from seminary in 1992 with a 3.5 or 3.7 GPA, I can’t remember which and am not looking at a transcript while working more than full time and being in the National Guard. I worked my ass off and between good people and the grace of God made it through.

That continued after seminary when I was a late addition to the residency program at Parkland, when I got my first hospital chaplain job and when I was rebuffed by a senior chaplain in the Army Chief of Chaplains to return to active duty as a very young Army Reserve Major in 1997. He told me that I wasn’t good enough to bring back.

But despite that things continued to work out. I was helped along the way by great people. I had opportunities that opened up which gave me great experience and provided for my family. This culminated when I was selected for active duty in the Navy and resigned my Army commission to go in the Navy Chaplain Corps at a lower rank in February 1999.

There have been hard times in the Navy especially after my return from Iraq. I went through an emotional and spiritual crisis that I never imagined was possible, but I  I didn’t quit. I am an average guy who worked hard and got a lot of help along the way. But had I quit at any point I wouldn’t be where I am now and there were plenty of opportunities when I was ready to give up but held on just long enough to make it through.

Calvin Coolidge was so right. I am not the most talented person that I know in my field. I am not a genius and though I have a good education there are plenty of other people that know a lot more than me. However, I am persistent. I gain inspiration every day when I look on my desk and read that poem. I am thankful for grace of God and the people that God put in my life and who helped me during the tough times. I hope that I can always be the kind of person that helps people through their tough times and inspires them to keep trying, to keep working and never to quit and then pass that along to others.

The past few weeks have been a blessing because I have had to look back at my life and remember what got me to this point. Some of the memories have been difficult to think about because they were so difficult but at the end of the day I can count myself blessed.

Have a great night and don’t give up your dreams and always stay in the fight.

Peace and Blessings!

Padre Steve+

 

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The Heresy of Thinking and Reason in an Age of Fanaticism

Note: I felt the need to republish this article in light of so many of the controversies that have been in the news lately, especially because some of the visceral reactions that I see from so many people about them. I just hope that people take the time to try to get as much of each story and controversy possible, examine them in the light of history and reason before jumping to unsubstantiated conclusions. The fact is that many of us do precisely this and that is in large part due to how terribly divided we are. However, that being said there is seldom any issue that is totally clear, most actually are quite opaque and clouded in the fog of many shades of gray, and what history teaches us is that we need to be careful before jumping to conclusions.

Peace

Padre Steve+

“Unreason and anti-intellectualism abominate thought. Thinking implies disagreement; and disagreement implies nonconformity; and nonconformity implies heresy; and heresy implies disloyalty. So, obviously, thinking must be stopped. But shouting is not a substitute for thinking and reason is not the subversion but the salvation of freedom.” Adlai Stevenson – A Call to Greatness (1954)

I had a Church History professor in seminary who was known for his attention to detail and his expectation that his students would master the subject.  His method was quite simple. A fellow student asked him during review for a mid-term exam “what do we need to study for the test?”  His answer was simple “everything.” The student restated his question “what do we really need to know?”  My professor paused and made a comment that did not make the student very happy.  He said something that I paraphrase here “it is the details that enable you to see the big picture, without the details you know nothing.”

A good number of my fellow students did not appreciate the fact that he was deadly serious.  It was not simply the ability to remember names and dates and events but to be able to connect them and see what was really important.  Many did not take him seriously and when the test came many failed it.  In fact some continued to fail every exam because they could not reconcile that details were important. The attitude of a good number of my classmates was that history, philosophy or even systematic theology were not important especially if they involved study of people or ideas that they did not agree with.

Unfortunately we now live in an age of anti-intellectualism and anti-historicism. Instead of trying to figure out what is really important and studying the details of the great questions of our day we have become lazy. We simply fall back on the dogmas presented by the Unholy Trinity of Pundits, Politicians and Preachers that cater to our ideology for reassurance.  And they are quite good at co. If you listen to talk radio or are a devoted fan of any particular cable news pundit you can see this on display daily and even more so by our political leaders and those seeking political power. What is presented by the Unholy Trinity is at best half-truth sprinkled with deadly venom of hatred to make the half-truth an absolute truth.  In such a world facts are only important if the “true believer” can use them buttress his ideological bias even if he has to take the completely out of context to in order to do so.  It is so much easier to call an opponent a Communist or Nazi, Fascist or Imperialist, Unbeliever or Heretic and connect them to the evil we want to demonize them as than it is to actually,  engage in a truthful debate and to see things in their historical context. Likewise when we use such labels against those that disagree with us we dehumanize our opponents thereby justifying any evil that we use to silence them.

It seems that we presume that if we repeat what we believe enough, even if it is unsound or erroneous that it will become truth.  As individuals, governments, institutions and businesses we settle for the easy answers that agree with our presuppositions and dismiss opposing views as heresy.  We allow people of little learning but great charm and salesmanship ability sell us myth in place of fact and this happens across the political, social, economic and theological spectrum.

The past few days I have been talking about the study of history as well as ways of learning.  The little things do matter, and the study of history, philosophy, theology, the sciences, economics in fact anything of any importance is based on understanding details, and things like precedent and context.  It is not enough to string together a series of quotations or citations if they are taken out of context, altered or intentionally misused to fit our ideology or doctrine.

This may comfort the true believer in whatever cause and even make them feel superior to those that disagree but such thinking. But it blind them to reality and not conscious of their own envy, malice, pettiness and dishonesty. The “wall of words” that flow so easily from the mouths and pens of the members of the Unholy Trinity that the faithful are unable to separate them from reality, truth from fiction, opinion from fact.  This “wall of words” serves as their protection against any thought, fact, presumption or doctrine that contradicts them.  John F Kennedy said “Too often we enjoy the comfort of opinion without the discomfort of thought.” 

In such times it is important to take the time to learn from history, not just generalities that mix fact and myth but the little details that make up history and for that matter the sciences, philosophy, sociology, political thought and theology.  As a society we have ceased to do this and until we take the time to return to such study, dialogue and put aside our blinders we will be doomed to remain as we are no matter what political party is in power or ideology dominates the airwaves and cyber space.

There is a prayer that neatly sums up what I desire for me and for our society:

From the cowardice that dares not face new truth
From the laziness that is contented with half truth
From the arrogance that thinks it knows all truth,
Good Lord, deliver me.

Peace

Padre Steve+

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It’s what You learn after You know it All that Count’s: Padre Steve’s Advice for those contemplating the Ordained Ministry

Yesterday evening I had a dear friend of our call me to ask me about serving as a spiritual director as she began to seriously explore the call to the Episcopal Priesthood. As a Navy chaplain and Army Chaplain before that I have had many young men and some young women approach me about spiritual direction or advice as they contemplated preparing for the ordained ministry. These men and women have come from many Christian traditions as well as some from non-Christian religions. I consider this to be a privilege especially because almost all come from traditions different formerly Anglo-Catholic and now Old Catholic tradition.  Thus I feel honored to be able to participant in each of these individuals journey.

I do not take this responsibility lightly; the journey that these men and women are embarking is often fraught with risk and often painful.  Thus I really try to listen to their story listening carefully to their individual experience of God as well as how that experience relates to life, other people and their faith community.  The reason I do this is because I have had so many friends be chewed up and their ministries ruined by unscrupulous people and uncaring religious organizations while attempting to follow what they feel is God’s will for their life.

Since I believe in truth in advertising I make no bones about what I believe but also respect and hold holy what people bring to me. Thus I am careful to listen to them and be as helpful as possible without pushing them in any direction.  I have seen too many people manipulate others when they are in such a state and the results are seldom good. Since I know I don’t have all the answers that such decisions should not be entered into quickly and without the input of the person’s own faith community.  So I encourage them to work with their local church or faith community as well as denomination and work to help them make those contacts.

This is important because people that feel called to ministry can be vulnerable to many unscrupulous people regardless of their faith group.  There are some groups that will gladly ordain people for a substantial financial remittance and continued financial servitude. Of course such organizations will provide an “ordination” certificate or a “license” to preach many times without ever having met the individual.  Some groups have “seminaries” which issue “Divinity” degrees. Unfortunately many of these “church” schools are unaccredited degree mills.  Most provide no real theological training or preparation for the demands of ministry. The ordination certificate may provide some covering to the aspiring minister so they can perform weddings and have an IRS 501.3.c tax exemption.  Some might get to pastor a church under the umbrella of the “ordaining” organization.  However many times the degree is not worth the paper that it is printed on and the ordination is no more than a means to extract money from them.  Unfortunately I have lost count of the ministers that I have met who have had this kind of experience.

Even worse are the times that well meaning and sincere people end up being spiritual and sometimes physically or sexually abused by those in spiritual authority. This happens across the theological spectrum and is not simply isolated in the “fly by night” ministries that operate on a “for prophet” basis. Many men that trained for the Roman Catholic priesthood over the past half century have recounted many horrible experiences of abuse at the hands of their superiors in major and minor seminaries and sometimes even after ordination.  Many of these cases are recounted in excruciating detail in the media and in court cases.

Thus when a man or woman approaches me for advice or even spiritual direction I am careful to know the responsibility that they place in my hands and am careful to hold their trust as if it were a baseball bat personally autographed by Babe Ruth or Willie Mays.  Some people might say as if were a Faberge Egg or the Pink Panther Diamond, but I know what is really valuable.

My advice to those that come to me is always given with great caution. Since I have a great amount of experience serving with people of many faiths in addition to my own unique spiritual pilgrimage I value those that I have worked with and their faith, some have even helped save me from myself.  One in man in particular helped save my career when I was a young Army Chaplain.  Lieutenant Colonel Rich Whaley, a chaplain from the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints saved my military career when I really lost control of my temper at the Army Chaplain School. I could list many more that helped me through good times and bad, seminary professors and chaplains almost all of which were of different denominations than me. They were men and sometimes women who cared about me who held my faith holy and who interceded for me sometimes with people and often to God.

As such I am careful to do the same for those that seek my counsel regardless of their beliefs.  I am fortunate. I have seen a number of these people go on to successful careers as military chaplains or in civilian ministry within their denominations.  I have also advised those that like me had grown beyond their denominational background or ha a progressive shift in their beliefs that cause them to feel that they must move to a new denomination. In those cases I am extra careful because I never want to even give the appearance of prostylizing, or for those unfamiliar with the term stealing sheep from someone else’s flock.

My advice to people seeking to enter the ministry, especially the chaplain ministry can be boiled down to these points.

* Take your time to discern the call. Many people rush into ministry only to find that it is not for them and in the process often end up hurt and disillusioned.

* Rely on trusted advisors that are willing to spend the time and walk with you during the discernment process. Don’t rely on pastors or others that promise to support you but in reality are too busy to take the time.

* Don’t rely on “cheerleaders” who simply tell you what you want to hear, and there are a lot of these people out there.

* Find people in your denomination that have experience in the type of ministry that you feel called that are not from you local church who can be objective.

* Seek out people from other traditions who have experience in the type of ministry that you want to enter. Often the latter provide more objective advice than those close to you and by getting to know them you can also get to know the kind of people that you will work with in your desired field of ministry, especially if you want to serve as a chaplain.

* Try to attend a resident seminary. I admit that it is possible to get a good academic theological or Biblical education in non-resident or online programs provided that they are rigorous and accredited by a real accrediting agency with actual standards. There are numerous “accrediting” organizations that are simply fraudulent and many “Bible Schools and Seminaries” claim such accreditation.

* Find a program that actually works with you and your faith group to provide spiritual formation.  In fact the formation aspect is often lacking in many well accredited resident seminaries but is most often absent in non-resident or online programs.

* Find a spiritual director that will walk with you through your education and formation. Some denominations will help you in this but many smaller churches are either unable or unwilling to do so, particularly those from the Evangelical tradition which focuses more on preaching.

* Make sure that your academic program is balanced between Bible, Theology, Church History Pastoral Care, and Homiletics.  Practical courses like evangelism and program management change with the wind and are often more about the marketing and packaging of a product. I had a friend in seminary who claimed that his Master of Divinity had a shelf life of 5 years. Of course if you focus on transitory method driven courses you will have a dated education because someone else will come up with something new a few years from now. If you focus on the balance that I talk about your education will never become dated. In fact it is those can be built upon where the others, well you’ll find those books in what you give to Salvation Army or Goodwill in a few years.

* Take the time to reflect on what you learn and what you experience.

* Finally do the basics. Study your faith, its scriptures, theology and traditions. Pray and maintain relationships with fellow students as others preparing for ministry.

And when all is said and done remember that “it’s what you learn after you know it all that counts.”

One more thing. you need to really love ministry and the people that you serve. If you are in it for money, fame or to make a name for yourself you will suffer shipwreck. If you don’t have love and joy nothing else I have said here will help you.

Peace

Padre Steve+

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Outlasting everyone else…The value of Longevity in One’s Chosen Vocation

Soldier Once and YoungForward Observer 1982

“I want to stay around longer than the pitchers who were at the top when I came into the big leagues. I don’t want to be gone and have all the old guys — Seaver, Carlton, Ryan and Sutton — still pitching. I got rid of Palmer, now I want to outlast the rest of them.”   Bert Blyleven

Hall of Fame BaseballBert Blyleven

I have come to value longevity in my career.  In fact I did not plan on this when I enlisted in 1981, but I am am coming up on 28 years on the military.  I enlisted in August of 1981 and was commissioned in July of 1983.  In 1988 I left active duty and went to the National Guard for seminary and my Clinical Pastoral Education Residency at Parkland Memorial Hospital, the Knife and Gun club in the friendly city of Dallas Texas.   I became a chaplain in 1992.  I ended up resigning my commission as a Major in the Army Reserve back in 1999 to enter the Navy.  I’ve been in the Navy now a bit over 10 years.

My plan back in the day was to spend 20 years or more on active duty in the Army and retire as a Lieutenant Colonel or Colonel and then go teach history or military science somewhere.  Things took a very different course.  The Deity Herself somehow had other plans for this at times miscreant Priest.

Berlin WallAt the Berlin Wall, the East Side, November 1986

I can relate to Bert Blyleven’s comments. When I entered the Army in 1981 a lot of folks that I knew had been around for Vietnam and Korea.  My early mentors were all Vietnam vets.  I’m pretty sure that almost all of the people that I came in with are now retired or out of the service.  In fact I cannot think of any of the men and women that I was commissioned with in 1983 who still are in the service.  Likewise, most of the guys that were senior when I entered the Navy are either out or maybe coming up on their last tour.  It is my desire like Blyleven to outlast all those guys who were Commanders and Captains when I came in ten years ago.  I like this longevity thing.  I play hard so to speak and love what I do.  It is kind of like, well heck; it is getting a chance to do what I know I am called to do. For me a second chance because I thought that I would finish my Army career in the obscurity of the Reserves and never get to do what I really wanted to do.  In a sense I am a journeyman who through a lot of ups and downs has finally come into his own.   There is a player named Oscar Salazar who was just called up this weekend from the Norfolk Tides to the Orioles.  Oscar is one of my favorite players.  He is a journeyman who has spent most of his career in the minors.  This year he came into his own.  He was hitting about .380 and was having a great year in Norfolk.  He deserves to be in the majors.  If he can’t stay up with Baltimore then I hope that another team will deal for him.  When you see him on the on deck circle talking to younger players you can tell that he enjoys playing the game.  He hustles and plays hard. I hope that he does well for the Birds while he is up for Caesar Izturis.

WeddingWedding Day 25 June 1983

There is something to longevity in one’s chosen calling.  You get to see a lot, do a lot and experience a lot that other people only get to dream of doing.  When you do what you love and then are blessed to get to do it as long as I have in two military services, the Army and the Navy, you can count yourself fortunate.   There is a certain satisfaction that I have when you look at my career in the long term and see that I have lasted 28 years and that I am still going strong.

In a sense I am a relic, though unlike most of my relic contemporaries I am still relatively junior in rank.  I enlisted at the height of the Cold War a couple of years after the Soviets had invaded Afghanistan and the followers of the Ayatollah Khomeini had overthrown the Shah of Iran, over 8 years prior to the fall of the Berlin Wall.  I have been to what I call the “Commie Trifecta,” East Berlin, Panmunjom Korea and Guantanamo Bay Cuba.  I have served in Europe, Asia and the Middle East, at sea and ashore as well as an exchange officer. I have not always been a chaplain.  I have commanded a company in Europe during the cold war.  I have served multiple tours with the Marines, served on a great ship, the USS HUE CITY and done more in my career than I had ever imagined possible.  I am grateful for the experiences that I have been blessed with and even the adversity has made me stronger and wiser, even the times that I have had my ass kicked by it.

Boarding partyBoarding Party Operation Enduring Freedom April-May 2002

Most of the people who have been in the military as long as me are very senior officers or non-commissioned officers.   Thankfully, I still have a relatively young appearance for someone my age, which was enhanced when I shaved the pitiful remnant of graying hair from my now pristine head.  Likewise I stay in pretty good shape.  I actually want to start playing baseball or softball in some old guy league when I have the time.  People say that I appear and act younger than I am.  The acting part is no lie, I have not really grown up, and I’m still a kid at heart.  I like to have fun and see humor in life even sometimes in the midst of tragedy, which I have seen a fair amount of in my life.

Today was another 13 hour day at work.  Thankfully my department director had taken my duty over the weekend and in a sense sat me down for a game.  We have a couple of kids doing really bad in one of my units.  The last couple of hours were spent working with the families of both of these kids and spending time with our staff.  I also ended up doing country clearances for my boss and I to make a trip out of the US to work with chaplains from another country concerning the people that they are sending into our Pastoral Care Residency Program.  This later thing I have never done before, though I have supplied information plenty of times for others to do my requests.  I was talking to my buddy Elliott the usher of section 102, of which I have seat 102, row B, seat 2. We were talking about baseball and life, which is pretty much par for the course with us.  We were talking about situations that I deal with at work and he said to me, “no wonder you come here to relax.”  It is true.  I have learned that I need to take some time for me, it is imperative for my health if I want to keep myself in the game and like Bert Blyleven outlast the guys who were at the top of their game when I came in.  I have pretty much outlasted most of my Army contemporaries, now I’m working on outlasting Navy guys.

Me and BTT with Bedouin KidsOut on the Syrian Border with the Bedouin

I have come to like Blyleven.  He is one of the more under appreciated pitchers who played the game. He had 287 wins and pitched 242 complete games with a career 3.31 ERA and over 3700 strike outs, 5th on the all-time strike-out list.  He played on 3 All-Star Teams and in 2 World Series.  He played on a lot of really bad teams which probably kept him from winning even more games, yet he is not in the Hall of Fame.  At the same time he did outlast the majority of his contemporaries pitching 22 years in the major leagues.  In a sense I want to be kind of like that.  I want to outlast folks and both do well and have fun when I do it.  I want my last season, or tour in the Navy to be my best.

Pirates Orioles BaseballOscar Salazar

I hope that Bert Blyleven makes the Hall of Fame and that Oscar Salazar makes it in the Majors.  As for me, I just want to do well and have fun doing it while helping as many of the young guys as possible.

Peace, Steve+

Note: Tomorrow I will be taking part in a memorial service and celebration of life for Senior Chief Pam Branum.  She was a great shipmate and tomorrow our Medical Center as well as her many friends will remember he life and say goodbye.

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Filed under Baseball, Loose thoughts and musings, Military, philosophy