Tag Archives: spiritual crisis

Muddling Through PTSD Recovery: A Chaplain’s Story of Return from War

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“Captain, you do need time. You cannot achieve complete recovery so quickly. And it’s perfectly normal after what you’ve been through, to spend a great deal of time trying to find yourself again” Counselor Troi to Captain Picard in Star Trek the Next Generation after his encounter with the Borg.

Coming home from war can be harder than going. At least it was for me. I have always been a hard charger. When I was at war in Iraq I was at the top of my game but when I came back I was broken. I experienced things there that changed me forever and it has taken a long time to find myself again.

I came home with chronic, severe PTSD, anxiety and depression. I suffer severe Tinnitus and pathetic speech comprehension. The ringing in my ears is non-stop and in any kind of group setting or conference I struggle to understand what is going on even though my hearing loss measured in decibels is minimal. The loss is neurological and when tested I measured in the third percentile of people, meaning that 97% of people understand speech better than me.

I still suffer from chronic insomnia, vivid nightmares and night terrors. I still struggle with agoraphobia, hyper-vigilance and occasional road rage. Thankfully none of them are as bad as they used to be but they are ever present. I have had my ups and downs with prescription medications that were used by my doctors to manage my PTSD symptoms and sleep disorders.  For a while drank too much just to help me make it through the nights. I am told that this is common for many who return from war.

When I came home I felt abandoned, especially by church leaders and many chaplains, many who I had thought were my friends. That is understandable as I was radioactive.  My faith had collapsed and for two years I was an agnostic desperately hoping to find God. As such I have a certain bond with those that struggle with God or even those that do not believe. This makes a lot of religious people uncomfortable, especially ministers. I think the reason for this is that is scares the hell out of people to think that they too might have a crisis of faith because they too have doubts. 

The first person who asked me about how I was doing spiritually was not anyone from my church or a chaplain, but rather my first shrink, Elmer Maggard. When faith returned around Christmas 2009 it was different and so was I. I tried to express it and began to write about it. For my openness I got in trouble with my old denomination and asked to leave because I was “too liberal.” Thankfully a bishop from the Episcopal Church who knew me recommend that I seek out Bishop Diana Dale of the Apostolic Catholic Orthodox Church. Thanks to that I have a loving new denomination and since we do not have a local parish of the ACOC I have found  St James Episcopal Church in Portsmouth Virginia as a place of refuge. It is the historically African American parish in the area and I love the people there. They helped me when I was in my deepest times of struggle. 

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My struggle was really hard on my wife Judy. Before I deployed I was the strong one. Afterward my contribution to our marriage was minimal and I was often a complete ass. I was in survival mode and and barely making it. I couldn’t reach out to her, I was collapsing on myself and she felt it as rejection. Our marriage suffered terribly and both of us thought that it might not survive. But over the past 18 months or so it has been getting better. I can share with her again and she has become a source of added strength. We enjoy being together again and we recently celebrated our 30th anniversary with many of the friends who helped us make it through the hard times. 

In time I gathered a support network. There are some Chaplains that I can be absolutely honest with, as well as my Command Master Chief, Ed Moreno. Likewise I have friends outside the military, including people I have known for years who still, despite all my flaws care for me. I have found other places of refuge where I have relationships with people, one is Harbor Park, home of the Norfolk Tides Baseball team, another was Grainger Stadium, former home of the Kinston Indians. I have a couple of places as well that are like my real life version of the TV show Cheers

Baseball brings me a great deal of peace, especially when I can go to the ballpark. When I was in dire straits the management of the Tides allowed me to go wander Harbor Park during the off season, just to take it in.  Running on the beach is something that I have come to cherish here in North Carolina, I will miss the easy access that I have here when I return home to Virginia in two weeks. 

Writing on my blog has been good therapy. As an introvert I process information by taking things in. Being constantly around people wears me out. I am good at what I do but it takes a great deal of effort to do it. 

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My unflappable little dog Molly has been a life saver, she insisted on coming to stay with me about halfway through my tour. She helped me recover my humanity and her presence gave me something outside of me to care for and because of that I ended up seeking out people again instead of holing up in my apartment.

My spiritual life still has its ups and downs and I discovered that I am far from perfect, and I hate that sometimes. However, that being said I do feel more connected with God, people and at peace despite my ongoing struggles.

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Picard breaking down

It has not been an easy road, but it has been worth it. I find it interesting that the Star Trek the Next Generation, Deep Space Nine and Voyager series help me process many of my feelings, thoughts and emotions. I quoted part of a Next Generation episode at the beginning of this article, one where Captain Picard is recovering from the trauma of being abducted by the Borg. I find the episode compelling on many levels. Part of that episode deals with Picard trying to figure out his life again. After a tumultuous visit with his family he and his older brother engage in a fight, during which he breaks down. Picard’s brother realizing the importance of what was happening said to him “So – my brother is a human being after all. This is going to be with you a long time, Jean-Luc. A long time. You have to learn to live with it…”

Peace

Padre Steve+

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Filed under faith, iraq,afghanistan, Military, PTSD, Tour in Iraq

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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Filed under christian life, faith, Pastoral Care, philosophy, PTSD, Religion

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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Memorial Day 2012: The Perpetual Cost in Human Lives, PTSD, Suicide and Other Issues

Al Waleed Border Crossing 2007

On Memorial Day there will be many official observances at various Military and Veterans cemeteries to honor the members of the United States Military that have died in the service of our country throughout our history. Many died directly in battle while many more died to combat related injuries, illness, suicide as well as substance abuse and addiction.

In addition to the more than 6000 US Soldiers, Sailors, Marines and Airmen killed in battle there have been tens of thousands more who have died of causes related to their service in combat.  That is nothing new, the same was true in Vietnam, Korea, the World Wars and before.  War changes people and the wounds incurred, physical, psychological, spiritual and moral impact those that served as well as their loved ones for years, sometimes for the rest of their life. The problem is exacerbated when the society in which the soldiers return is itself not invested in the war being fought.

The fact is that no matter how well individual soldiers train and prepare for combat and combat conditions there is nothing that truly prepares that one can never fully expect what will happen to them in theater or after they return.  I can speak personally to this as well as testify about the things that I learn from others that have served. Likewise I know what others have written or shared.

Audie Murphy 

One of the most prominent soldiers ever to share his experiences of what was then called “battle-fatigue” was America’s most decorated soldier, Audie Murphy. Murphy served in North Africa and Europe in the Second World War and was awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor, Two Silver Stars and Two Bronze Stars in addition to 28 other US and foreign awards for service and for valor. When he returned from the war he suffered from depression, chronic insomnia slept with a loaded pistol under his pillow and became addicted to prescription sleeping pills. In the immediate aftermath of the war following his discharge from active duty he struggled to find employment and slept in a gym before finally finding work as an actor. He starred in 44 films including the biographical film about his life To Hell and Back. He spoke up for Vietnam vets returning from war with similar problems before he was killed in a plane crash on May 28th 1971.

I have also found that Chaplains and others that provide care to those in combat become particularly isolated when they return with PTSD or other combat stress related issues. One of the biggest reasons for this is that in many churches and religious bodies a chaplain that suffers from these issues has nowhere to turn and is isolated in his or her denomination. In the past few years a number of chaplains, Army and Navy have committed suicide following tours in Iraq. I knew a couple of them, one who had also served as an Marine infantryman in Vietnam. I have know others including medical personnel that have suffered from PTSD, depression, substance abuse and known a couple that have attempted suicide following their return from combat. I know others that have lost their faith or suffered a spiritual crisis brought about by their time in combat. I read today about Army Chaplain Darren Turner who left the Army following his time in Iraq suffering from combat stress issues, faith and readjustment to life back at home and for a time was separated from his wife. He has since returned to the Army but his path was not easy and I am sure based on my knowledge of others that more are out there afraid to tell their story.  (See the article on CNN http://religion.blogs.cnn.com/2012/05/26/battlefield-chaplains-war-unfolded-on-many-fronts/?hpt=hp_c2

Former Army Vice Chief Of Staff General Peter Chiarelli has fought the American Psychological Association to have the diagnostic term PTSD changed to PTSI, Post Traumatic Stress Injury to reduce the stigma that often prevents servicemen and women from seeking help. His request was recently rejected but it has merit. Other countries such as Canada treat it as such for their veterans.

I wrote about my experience of this on a number of occasions one of which I wrote in 2010 I asked if there were other chaplains like me. That article Raw Edges: Are there other Chaplains out there Like Me? attracted the interested of the local newspaper in Jacksonville North Carolina which did an article on me. (See http://www.jdnews.com/articles/cmdr-89433-stephen-military.html ) That article in turn led to my involvement with the DOD Real Warriors Campaign http://www.realwarriors.net/  They did a video on my story and interviewed me last week as part of a DOD Military Bloggers live forum.

I don’t feel alone anymore. I still have my struggles and I have talked about them a lot in other articles and plan to continue to do my best to help others who are struggling with the effects of war and return from it, especially chaplains, medical personnel and those that now struggle with faith and belief after their time at war. My encouragement is to just say that in spite of everything you are not alone.

Peace

Padre Steve+

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The Long and Winding Road: My Journey to Life

“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

 In February 2009, about eight months after psychological physical and spiritual collapse due to the effects of PTSD and in the midst of my struggle I began to write about my experiences on this site. My psychologist at the time had suggested that I go public with my struggles using my writing as a means to do so. It was something that I had contemplated for some time. I was a mess and struggling many days to even get to work. I was depressed much of the time, continually on edge, still suffered from nightmares, night terrors, flashbacks and sometimes an angry rage which swept over me when I felt threatened.  I avoided big crowds, was afraid to even go to church and I had a hard time trusting anyone.  In that time I would listen to the Beatle’s song “The Long and Winding Road” which in some ways became a prayer for me.

The long and winding road
That leads to your door
Will never disappear
I’ve seen that road before
It always leads me here
Lead me to your door

The wild and windy night
That the rain washed away
Has left a pool of tears
Crying for the day
Why leave me standing here?
Let me know the way

Many times I’ve been alone
And many times I’ve cried
Anyway you’ll never know

The many ways I’ve tried

And still they lead me back
To the long winding road
You left me standing here
A long long time ago
Don’t leave me waiting here
Lead me to your door


But still they lead me back
To the long winding road
You left me standing here
A long long time ago
Don’t keep me waiting here
Lead me to your door

The Long And Winding Road lyrics: Songwriters: Mccartney, Paul; Lennon, John. © SONY BEATLES LTD; SONY/ATV TUNES LLC

So I began to write and find some solace even as I struggled with even the existence of God.  One thing that I found was that there were really very few people, especially ministers secure enough to enter into a healing relationship with me. I felt isolated among my peers especially those from my own church.  Since I have detailed that journey to include a restoration of faith in God in December 2009 about two years after my struggle began I won’t go into great detail in this article.  All I knew is that it seemed that most Priests and other ministers either didn’t know how to walk with me, were afraid to walk with me and were most certainly uncomfortable with a colleague, especially one with my experience dealing with the pain psychological and spiritual effects of PTSD including being from all practical purposes an agnostic.  As one psychotherapist labeled it I was “radioactive.”

Eventually some in the leadership of my former denomination which I had served faithfully as a priest for 14 years asked me to leave the church because I had become “I had changed since coming back from Iraq” and “had become too liberal.”I had known this was coming for some time and had been making preparations for it but the timing of the notice from my former Bishop came as a surprise.

I had begun to voice opinions, especially on social and political issues that rankled some, maybe many in my former church. Since only a few friends from that church remain in contact with me I presume that I rankled more than I did not.  There were times during the early part of 2010 that my wife would ask me after reading something that I had published if I was trying to get thrown out. I wasn’t trying to but I was at the point where I knew that I had to be honest and transparent about my struggle as well as how my beliefs had changed a result of war and of PTSD.  I was diplomatic and tried to say what I had to say without getting too controversial. That began to change in the summer of 2010 and reached its head on September 23rd when I published Faith Journeys: Why I am Still a Christian. https://padresteve.wordpress.com/2010/09/22/faith-journey%E2%80%99s-why-i-am-still-a-christian/

I actually did not intend for the article to be too controversial, but looking back I can see how it was interpreted that way. It was for all practical purposes a declaration of independence and a severe criticism of the lack of care that I had felt from the church that I had served for most of my ministerial career. I think that the central part of that article that attracted the attention and wrath of my Bishop was this section”

“This is the Jesus that I follow and the Jesus that I believe is present in body, soul and spirit in the Eucharist.  I believe like Hans Kung and others that this table belongs to the baptized community of faith and not to an exclusive Priestly class who dictate who can come to the table.  It is not the exclusive property of any denomination or Church organization especially those that most loudly state this to be the case.

Now if saying this makes me a heretic then a heretic I will be. It is better to be a heretic in the eyes of Pharisees than to be one that denies justice to the persecuted people of God.  I guess that makes this moderate a liberal and to some an unbeliever.  Yet I believe in the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. I believe in the Jesus that defied religious systems to offer the grace of God to the people that those systems rejected and the Jesus that was far more critical of “believers’ than those rejected as unbelievers.  I guess that is why I can accept women as ministers or even Priests, accept homosexuals as Christian brothers and sisters, and see Christ and the grace and love of God in people that are not “Christians” even the Muslims in Iraq that treated me with respect and even if they had an “Aryan” view of Jesus still showed a greater reverence for Jesus and the Blessed Virgin Mary than many that claim Jesus for themselves.”

I ended the article with this gem: “Why am I still a Christian when I have so many problems with how many Christians practice the faith? Because I believe and not because will not I tow anyone’s party line be they liberals or conservatives….So in the words of my favorite heretic Martin Luther I say “Here I stand, I can do no other. So help me God. Amen.”

My goal since faith began to return was to be available to those that feel cut off from God and the Church, to walk with people in the midst of struggle, pain and despair, especially fellow ministers and chaplains.  I don’t have all the answers, in fact I know very few, except that I know that God can use the pain, alienation, struggle and despair that I went through then, as well as the struggles that I still have in the lives of others like me that are willing to walk that lonely path to reconciliation with God and humanity.

As far as my former church and bishop are concerned I still care about them and hope for the best. There are many there that I still call friends and a very few that I can be completely honest and transparent with for they while remaining in the church think much as I do even if they do not agree with me entirely.  Since my departure a number of others have left that church for other reasons, mostly because they wanted to be in communion with a larger number of Anglican Christians.  Others have stayed in the hopes of working toward renewal.  The Bishop who asked me to leave was himself asked to leave when he attempted to secretly take the priests of the military diocese to another communion barely four months later.

It is a long, winding and often lonely road but I have found solace, community and faith upon it. Those that I have met traveling on it have become my brothers and sisters on the journey. And that my friend makes it all worth it.

Peace

Padre Steve+

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A New Start…Life off the Fat Boy Program

Back in Standards 

“Every day is a new opportunity. You can build on yesterday’s success or put its failures behind and start over again. That’s the way life is, with a new game every day, and that’s the way baseball is.” Bob Feller

One of the biggest effects of my post-Iraq PTSD crash was how I tried to cope with this multi-faceted beast. Of course psychologically and spiritually I was in the toilet so much so that I was in the midst of a spiritual crisis so great that I was for all practical purposes an agnostic.  I struggled to hold myself together during 2008 and early 2009 trying to believe again and keep in shape. To compensate for my lack of belief, depression and the other nasty effects of PTSD such as night terrors, insomnia, hyper-vigilance, flashbacks I threw myself totally into work on the critical care units of the hospital I was serving. I finished my Masters Degree program and worked hard to better our hospital’s Clinical Pastoral Education Program and served on various committees including the Ethics Committee.  It was too much and the collapse deepened so I sought other coping mechanisms. I turned to comfort food and drink as a way to cope, especially food that was bad for me and way too much very good beer.

After my physical fitness test and weigh in during April of 2009 I lost all control of the latter two. While I had been drinking more since my return from Iraq than before the deployment in the spring of 2009 it became a problem.  I would leave work and on days when the Norfolk Tides were in town I would take to my season ticket seat in Section 102 Row B Seat 2 and seek refuge from my problems.  The ballpark and baseball helped bring some peace to my soul, but it would only last for 3 hours.  At the ballpark I would drink two to three beers with a chili dog and fries and maybe a pretzel, peanuts or ice cream.  After the game I would swing by the Krispy Crème Donut shop on the way home and pick up a dozen hot and fresh glazed donuts. I would then get on my computer and write on this site. While writing I would down three to six of the donuts with another two to four beers and repeat the cycle the next day for the rest of the home stand. On other nights I would go over to get donuts and drink more beer with them often after eating a heavy meal with very good beer at the Gordon Biersch Brewery Restaurant in Town Center.  By November I weighed 194 pounds and though I passed the PT test with a very good score for someone my age I was way over my weight and body fat limits. Thereafter it was a struggle to get below 180 pounds. I failed my next body composition assessment by a percentage point and though scoring well enough to qualify for the DOD waiver which would have taken me off of the program it was not approved.  I weighed in weekly and continued to improve my physical condition to the point that I was within the body fat standard by the time I left that duty assignment I transferred before the next official physical fitness assessment and got to my new assignment after the period was over.  Thus I remained on the program.

To those that have never experienced life in any military branch Fat Boy or Girl program it is humiliating, at least if you are a military professional.  There is a stigma to being fat because the military is run by tall skinny people.  Those of us of the under tall variety understand this stigma very well even when we are within standards.  I know a good number of good Soldiers, Sailors and Marines put out of the military because they did not meet their service body fat and weight standards.  Many like me are those suffering the effects of war and just trying to cope with life.  Others are men and women who are suffering the effects of time with shrinking bodies due to spinal disc compression and other injuries, illnesses and the slowing of metabolism which conspire against them. The military is a young person’s game and 51 year old 30 year veteran relics like me are in the minority.  For me the physical requirements are little different than when I first went on active duty in 1983. Back then I thought that when you got older you would catch a few breaks. Well in the age of budget cutting and a shrinking military force those standards continue to tighten and few breaks are to be found.

Bursting at the seams in my Summer Whites in 2009, this was not a comfortable uniform at the time, now it is very loose

While I had lost weight and body fat I was still over my weight limit.  The body fat measurement in the Navy is the measuring tape around the neck and the fattest part of the belly.  It is a terribly subjective and according to many scientific studies inaccurate test.  Nonetheless if you are over the weight limit you must be taped.  I didn’t want to go through that again so I decided that I was going to start really eating healthy and diversifying my exercise regimen.  When I arrived at my new assignment I weighed 184 pounds and during the winter added a few more pounds. At the beginning of January I bought a digital scale and began to weigh myself several times a week. I stopped the comfort foods except for an occasional hamburger or piece of pizza.  Even if I ate a hamburger I omitted the fries and held the cheese and mayo. I began to look at the nutritional information on everything that I ate even looking up restaurant data to ensure that I had the healthiest food that I also liked, it does no good to eat healthy if you hate what you are eating because you don’t stick with it.  I cut back on my drinking a lot, even going to Yuengling Light Beer at home.  I counted every calorie and measured calories burned. If I went over on one thing I compensated rather than continuing as if I had not.

As winter became spring I noticed a difference, I was weighing less and all of my clothes continued to get loose to the point that things that I could not get into during the fall were baggy and some nearly falling off.  As the date approached my scales had me near the limit for a half inch below my real height just in case I got a bad measurement on my height, five pounds is five pounds.  I felt a lot of stress over the week and could feel every muscle in my back completely tense to the point that I was in pain. I weighed in Friday at 169 pounds and was six pounds below my weight limit and one pound below the lower height limit.  I have lost all 25 pounds that I gained during that horrible period of my life. On Monday I will take the physical fitness test something that I never have a problem doing well on.  When I do that I will be officially off the program.

Last night I was invited to do the invocation at the Navy Nurse Corps Birthday Ball at Camp LeJeune. I eased into my Mess Dress Blue uniform which last May I could barely squeeze my body into and in which I looked terrible.  The uniform was loose and fit very well. I went to the ball and had a wonderful time with my colleagues from the Naval Hospital and their guests.  I made sure that I had a friend take the picture which accompanies this post.

For me this is a comeback. I still have my struggles with PTSD but on the whole on the physical, psychological and spiritual aspects of life I am doing much better. Yes I still struggle at times and experience some of the manifestations of PTSD and of my spiritual crisis but I am not collapsing when something shakes me like I was between 2008 and even into 2010.

Had I failed the body composition assessment I could have been separated from the Navy and while I probably would have been able to retire it would have been a most humiliating way to leave the service.  Instead as long as I am alive and haven’t done anything incredibly stupid I will be promoted to Commander on September 1st and continue to be able to serve God’s people in the Navy for years to come. Of course I cannot fail a physical fitness assessment for the next two years but now that I have my diet stabilized and composed of things that I like and live in a place at the Island Hermitage where I love to run, walk and bike I do not expect to ever fail that again. My goal is to get back to the weight that I was when I was commissioned as an Army Officer in 1983, 158 pounds and keep it there. Thus my task is still incomplete.  I have succeeded in my first goal and now it is time to complete the deal and live healthy from here on out.

Today is a new opportunity and I am putting past failures behind.

Peace

Padre Steve+

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Filed under faith, healthcare, Military, PTSD, US Navy

The Unexplained and Tragic Death of David Wilkerson

The Reverend David Wilkerson 1931-2011

Renowned Pentecostal  preacher David Wilkerson was killed in an automobile accident in East Texas about 1PM yesterday.  Wilkerson was one of the more influential preachers of his era preaching a message of God’s love, God’s judgment and rigorous personal holiness. Unlike many of his contemporaries who embraced the “word of faith” and “prosperity gospel” message Wilkerson condemned that message without denying the fact that God still does miracles and answers prayers.  Likewise there was never any scandal associated with him or his ministry financial, sexual or otherwise.  He proclaimed many “prophetic” words concerning judgment upon the church and the world as the time of Jesus’ second coming approached. Whether one agreed with his prophecies or interpretation of the Biblical texts concerning the second coming or not one did not question the reality of his faith or his belief in the message that he preached.  In fact one can see even in his more extravagant prophecies a tone similar to that of the Old Testament prophets especially Jeremiah.

The heart of Wilkerson’s outreach was to people that much of the church had ignored or condemned, gang members, criminals, drug abusers and other young people who lived on the margins of society. One cannot deny his impact on those that he ministered to as well as those that he influenced.  Many young people who became Christians in the 1960s and 1970s, especially those that were considered “hippies” found his message attractive and many have talked of his influence in their lives and ministries.  In fact back in 1975 I remember reading his famous book The Cross and the Switchblade and actually being inspired by it.

When I heard that Reverend Wilkerson had died in a car crash I looked up the articles on the news and was surprised to see that he evidently swerved into an oncoming logging truck and was not wearing a seat belt.  I really found this strange.  Of course there are a number of reasons that this could have transpired he could have become distracted while driving, tried to avoid a small animal in the road, been startled by something or even experienced a sudden medical problem that caused him to lose control of the car.  Looking at the pictures on a local Texas television station of the car which is unrecognizable as to its make and model it is no wonder that he did not survive the crash. His wife was probably saved by her seat belt, she is recovering in hospital and I join with their family, friends, co-workers and those that he ministered to for her complete recovery.

As I searched for information on the crash I came across an article that included his last daily blog post which was posted in the hours before his death. As I read it I sensed a man struggling with faith and God a man who seems to have been enduring his own “Dark Night of the Soul.”  The article was entitled When All Means Fail http://davidwilkersontoday.blogspot.com/2011/04/when-all-means-fail.html and it is thought provoking especially when read in the light of the circumstances of his death. I repost it here because it appears to me to show a man struggling with burdens that are overwhelming. Please know as someone who has struggled greatly with faith that I seek in no way to cast any dispersion upon the life, ministry, character or godliness of David Wilkerson.  I do not know what he was facing but it was something incredibly painful that caused him in this post and many of his recent posts on his blog site and ministry web site to wrestle with God.  As a minster I know that many things that we write or preach about deal with the things that we are dealing with ourselves. Sometimes it seems that we are preaching as much to ourselves as to the people that God has entrusted to us.  Of course we are not alone even Paul the Apostle demonstrated such a struggle in the Letter to the Romans.

Wilkerson posted:

“To believe when all means fail is exceedingly pleasing to God and is most acceptable. Jesus said to Thomas, “You have believed because you have seen, but blessed are those that do believe and have not seen” (John 20:29).

Blessed are those who believe when there is no evidence of an answer to prayer—who trust beyond hope when all means have failed.

Someone has come to the place of hopelessness—the end of hope—the end of all means. A loved one is facing death and doctors give no hope. Death seems inevitable. Hope is gone. The miracle prayed for is not happening.

That is when Satan’s hordes come to attack your mind with fear, anger, overwhelming questions: “Where is your God now? You prayed until you had no tears left. You fasted. You stood on promises. You trusted.”

Blasphemous thoughts will be injected into your mind: “Prayer failed. Faith failed. Don’t quit on God—just do not trust him anymore. It doesn’t pay!”

Even questioning God’s existence will be injected into your mind. These have been the devices of Satan for centuries. Some of the godliest men and women who ever lived were under such demonic attacks.

To those going through the valley and shadow of death, hear this word: Weeping will last through some dark, awful nights—and in that darkness you will soon hear the Father whisper, “I am with you. I cannot tell you why right now, but one day it will all make sense. You will see it was all part of my plan. It was no accident. It was no failure on your part. Hold fast. Let me embrace you in your hour of pain.”

Beloved, God has never failed to act but in goodness and love. When all means fail—his love prevails. Hold fast to your faith. Stand fast in his Word. There is no other hope in this world.”

If this were the only time that he wrote such deep and troubling words and if the circumstances of his death were different I would not have given the article a second thought.  But because of the circumstances I decided to keep reading. I read every blog post dating back to February and the topics of hopelessness, failure and struggle are present in almost every article.  They can be found here: http://davidwilkersontoday.blogspot.com/ and here http://www.worldchallenge.org/view/devotions

As I read these articles I felt the pain of a man who has been a weeping prophet and the mould of Jeremiah.  Jeremiah comes to my mind as his writings show a man that struggled with faith and was probably suffering from profound and deep depression and I get the same sense from Wilkerson’s writings.  Wilkerson’s prophetic words, be they true or not are not the words of a man who is angry and lashing out at the society around him.  They are, even dating back to the 1980s the words of a man who preaches out of a heart of sadness and concern for those people, nations and leaders that he believes are coming under the judgment of God.  I have seen some lash out and condemn Wilkerson as a false prophet because of the nature of his words but I cannot and will not do so even though I disagree with underlying premises of his eschatology.  Wilkerson cannot be compared to those that have made their living simply “studying Bible prophecy” and making money off of it or many of the other supposed modern day “prophets” who seem to believe that all they say is as inspired as the Scriptures themselves.  Wilkerson’s struggles which are so apparent in his writings show a personal humility and introspection lacking in the vast bulk of the self proclaimed prophets and Bible prophecy experts.

His writings of the past few months show a man concerned with not failing God and struggling with physical, spiritual or emotional pain of some kind. While the writings are almost always directed to the encouragement of God’s people there is also the sense that he was preaching to himself as much as anyone else.  I think that and preacher who is honest will admit that this is the case and it is not a mark of failure or lack of faith or character for this to be the case.  Likewise it is not hypocritical.

I don’t know what happened on that East Texas Highway yesterday. I don’t know if something happened to cause David Wilkerson to lose control of his vehicle or if in a moment of despair that he steered his vehicle into the oncoming truck. It doesn’t matter really because he is now with the Lord and he leaves the legacy of many changed lives and of faithfulness even while he struggled with things that we cannot fathom.  Perhaps we will know what happened someday but not today and it really doesn’t matter except if it was the latter and Wilkerson committed “suicide by car” it shows us that no-one, even famous preachers that we place on pedestals is immune from struggle, pain or doubt even while they struggle to believe.

We remember his life and ministry and we pray for his family. We trust his soul to God.

Peace

Padre Steve+

Note: I have closed comments to this article things seem to be getting repetitive.  I may reopen them if the situation warrants me doing so. Thank you to all that contributed even those that disagree with my speculation or even those that said bad things about me!

Peace

Padre Steve+

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Filed under christian life, faith, Religion