Tag Archives: st james episcpal church

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


“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. 


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. 


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.


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…”


Padre Steve+


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

Thinking About Community: A Place Where Everybody Knows Your Name



Some years ago the theme song of the television show “Cheers!” struck a chord with people, because it expressed the desire of many people. I have talked about it before and the song is a favorite of mine.

Making your way in the world today takes everything you’ve got.
Taking a break from all your worries sure would help a lot. 
Wouldn’t you like to get away?

We live in an increasingly disconnected world despite the proliferation of devices designed to make communication easier. Our dependence on these devices often serves to disconnect us from community because we use them to accomplish things without any human contact.  I mean really, what percentage of our Facebook “friends” really know us and how many can we go to when the chips are down.

We shop in massive stores, attend mega-churches, exist on fast food bought at a drive through and we don’t know our neighbors. To most organizations we are not real life human beings but statistics whose only value is in profit and market share.  And we wonder why so many people are depressed, lonely and even despair of life.

Sometimes you want to go, Where everybody knows your name,

and they’re always glad you came.
You wanna be where you can see, our troubles are all the same
You wanna be where everybody knows Your name.

Having a place where people know you and care about you matters.

In a time where many people feel alone and disconnected community really matters because as Americans we are all in this together. Today, as they have for the past few years large numbers of American cities and towns are enduring great hardship, and this disconnect between people, evidenced by the fact that we often don’t even know our neighbors has created a social isolation that only breeds hatred and discontent.  With this true lack of community we should be surprised with increasing crime, violence, discrimination and prejudice.

The sad thing to me as a religious leader, a Navy Chaplain is that for many people that I encounter the Church is not a place of love, safety, community or acceptance. Many have suffered greatly at the hands of religious people and institutions and some though raised in devoutly Christian homes across the denominational spectrum have not only left the church, for some other church but no longer believe.


Community doesn’t happen overnight and sometimes illusion of perpetual prosperity only serves to drive us apart.  However, sometimes communities are reborn when facing crisis, people begin to look out for one another again and the welcome sign means that you really are welcome.


I have found that in a number of places, in Virginia I have my friends that the Gordon Biersch Brewery Restaurant,  Harbor Park in Norfolk and St James Episcopal Church inPortsmouth. In North Carolina I have found that community at Rucker John’s in Emerald Isle and with my friends from Kinston, from when that town still had a Minor League team. Those friends have remained and I am grateful, especially because of how broken I was when I returned from Iraq. I don’t think that until one experiences that kind of brokenness that one really appreciates a place where people care for you, accept you and make you feel like you belong.


But, what has been neat for me and what is true for others is when we do find that special place for ourselves it is a beautiful thing. Likewise, when we can provide that kind of home to others we can really understand the last stanza of the song from Cheers which never aired on television.

Be glad there’s one place in the world
Where everybody knows your name,
And they’re always glad you came;
You want to go where people know,

People are all the same;
You want to go where everybody knows your name.


Padre Steve+

Leave a comment

Filed under film, philosophy

Sweet 16: Celebrating 16 Years Since My Ordination as a Priest

“Practically speaking, your religion is the story you tell about your life.” Andrew Greeley

It was a quiet celebration of Eucharist with Judy this afternoon at my dinner table. I was wearing a stole that Judy made which has been with me around the world and which I wore throughout my time in Iraq. The chalice was a very simple one that I got in Germany when I was stationed there in 1996-1997. The other elements that I used, the paten and crucifix were those that I used in Iraq, as was the lectionary that the readings came from, which has a cover that Judy made for my travels.

Our dog Molly was at my feet and our Papillon puppy Minnie decided that she needed to stay in Judy’s arms for the duration of the liturgy. This is nothing new, our dogs have pretty much been there any time that we have had a home Eucharist. Frieda, our Wire Hair Dachshund I’m sure was a lapsed Bavarian Catholic who if she attended was passed out. Greta our red smooth hair Dachshund would always be with us, but usually would be asleep next to Judy. Molly just likes to be with daddy and this was Minnie’s first Mass. Minnie made us laugh when she tried to get into the chalice as I gave it to Judy, but thankfully she did not succeed.

My service as a priest has been exclusively as a military Chaplain, first in the Army and since 1999 in the Navy. I have not yet had to opportunity to serve in a civilian parish though I have on occasion assisted fellow priests at their parishes. My current assignment is a hospital and most of my duties are related to patient care or staff support. Thus when I am home in Virginia I attend St. James Episcopal Church in Portsmouth where I first started attending while serving at the Naval Medical Center in the midst of my crisis of faith. I love that little parish which has its roots in the former slaves and freedmen of the city.  Down here at the Island Hermitage I have not found that place where I feel at home so on weekends that I am here I typically will do the daily office and Eucharist at home.

So my parish is wherever I serve as a chaplain but in a sense my readers are an extended part of my parish. Father Andrew Greeley wrote:

“I wouldn’t say the world is my parish, but my readers are my parish. And especially the readers that write to me. They’re my parish. And it’s a responsibility that I enjoy.”

I get notes from people on this site quite often who have experienced the pain of spiritual abuse, trauma from various sources and who have experienced a crisis in faith or lost their faith. I hear from others that have been ostracized by their churches for various reasons. They write in response to articles that I have written about my own crisis of faith following my time in Iraq and struggle with the demons of PTSD. It was a time where I felt abandoned by God and the church. I found that churches can be painful places as often as they become places of healing. Having been asked to leave the denomination that ordained me in September 2010 as I began to recover faith after spending nearly two years struggling I understand that pain. But I agree with Jurgen Moltmann who said of his experiences in World War II and its aftermath “Christ’s own ‘God-forsaken-ness’ on the cross showed me where God is present where God had been present in those nights of deaths in the fire storms in Hamburg and where God would be present in my future whatever may come.”

Today was nice. We spent time together and after the scripture readings and before the Eucharist we simply talked about the journey and how different things are now than when I was ordained. The world has changed and so have we. War does that.

I have been thinking a lot this week about this and how blessed I am to be a priest and chaplain. I am blessed by people who taught me, mentored me and cared for me throughout my journey. I am blessed to still be able to serve God’s people and my church even as I serve those that serve this country in the military.  I try to remember as Andrew Greeley wrote in one of his Bishop Blackie Ryan mysteries that:

“Every sacramental encounter is an evangelical occasion. A smile warm and happy is sufficient. If people return to the pews with a smile, it’s been a good day for them. If the priest smiles after the exchanges of grace, it may be the only good experience of the week.”  (The Archbishop in Andalusia p.77)

This week I was humbled when one of my old shipmates from my time on the USS Hue City posted a comment on my Facebook page about the impact that I had made in his life about 10 years ago.  The week was supposed to be a bit relaxing but I spent a good amount of it dealing with the tragic suicide of one of our Corpsmen who worked at one of our hospital clinics.  I will continue to be working with that situation this week and would appreciate your prayers.

We also had our tankless water heating system go out and have been shuttling in to the base to take showers at the hospital locker room. Hopefully the maintenance man has the new component tomorrow. As it is I will be going in to work very early to PT and shower before my first meeting and what promises to be a very busy day as we prepare a memorial service and care for our shipmates.

Judy came to North Carolina this week and leaves tomorrow. Molly as usual will remain with me and Minnie after a wonderful week of growing up is going back to Virginia with Judy.  It has been, excepting the oppressive heat, humidity and lack of hot water for showers been an enjoyable time together. We were able to have dinner last night with our friends from Kinston, Jerry, Toni and Cara in New Bern.

Since tomorrow will be a very early start I will close.

Anyway, grace and peace,

Padre Steve+

1 Comment

Filed under christian life, faith, Pastoral Care, Religion

The Message of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. for 2011

“Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.”  Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

Today we worshipped at St. James Episcopal Church, Portsmouth Virginia where I attend when I am at home.  It had been a while since we attended with my assignment at Camp LeJeune and battles with weather and illness during the past month.  However today we made it and it was good as we remembered the life and message of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

St. James is the historic African American Episcopal Parish in Portsmouth. Many of the families in the parish trace their Episcopal Church roots back to the days before the Civil War and the years following. As such they were pioneers in the advancement of African Americans serving as educators, doctors and in the military when discrimination in the form of Jim Crow Laws, “separate but equal” schools, churches, hospitals, public restrooms, places in restaurants, public transportation and so many other things that we consider absolutely part of daily life today. Blacks were subject to legalized harassment, literacy tests in order to vote as well as lynching by those well intentioned upstanding members of such groups as the Ku Klux Klan.

The most of the members of St. James are more elderly and veterans of the Civil Rights movement and remember the times when they suffered while fighting for the rights that we so freely take for granted. The newer generation is mixed between their descendants as well as immigrants from Nigeria.  I fell in love with this parish when the pastor Fr John invited me back in 2009 when I was still struggling in the midst of PTSD and a crisis in faith and belief. I owe a lot to Fr. John and the dear people of St. James for the way that they welcomed us and helped in my journey to the rediscovery of faith.

Father Green who was called on short notice due to illness of our pastor’s wife had known Dr King and gave a remembrance of Dr. King’s early ministry going back to meeting him while they were seminary students. Father Green had us join together and link arms as a congregation around the sanctuary as we sang “We Shall Overcome.”

The marking of Dr. King’s birthday this year in the shadow of the deep division and hatred that the country is engulfed in caused me to think about the importance of Dr. King’s message, not only for the cause of Civil Rights for minorities and others who are discriminated against, but the larger message of peace and reconciliation.

Dr. King died by an assassin’s bullet, James Earl Ray, a man who had a history of crime as well as a long established prejudice against African Americans who was a volunteer for the campaign of segregationist Governor George Wallace’s presidential campaign.  The climate of the country in large part was one of prejudice and often hatred of what was represented by Dr. King. However the response of Dr. King to multiple death threats as well as incarceration for breaking laws which were rooted in the evil of segregation and discrimination was that of peace and reconciliation, love over hate which is of the essence of the Christian faith.

Dr King said something that is so applicable to our own deeply divided society where hatred is legitimatized by purveyors of hate.  In the wake of the shooting of Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords last Saturday there was an epidemic of heated and often hateful rhetoric with conservatives and liberals alike seeking to label a madman as belonging to the other side it became readily apparent to me that unless we lay down the hate that we will destroy each other and the country. Dr. King said this in words that I cannot hope to match.

“Have we not come to such an impasse in the modern world that we must love our enemies – or else? The chain reaction of evil – hate begetting hate, wars producing more wars – must be broken, or else we shall be plunged into the dark abyss of annihilation.”


Padre Steve+



Filed under christian life, faith, History, laws and legislation, philosophy, Political Commentary

How Baseball Helps Padre Steve Make Sense of the World

Opening Night 2010 at Harbor Park

“This is my most special place in all the world, Ray. Once a place touches you like this, the wind never blows so cold again. You feel for it, like it was your child.” Dr. Archibald “Moonlight” Graham in Field of Dreams

“I love baseball. You know it doesn’t have to mean anything, it’s just beautiful to watch.” Woody Allen in Selig (1983)

Last night was Opening Night at Harbor Park and I the visit took me back to memories of how important baseball is to me.  The Church of Baseball at Harbor Park and in particular my little corner of the world in Section 102, Row “B” Seats 1 and 2 are one of my places of sanctuary in a world that seems to have gone mad.  Baseball has always meant a lot to me but even more so after returning from Iraq in 2008.  Until recently Harbor Park was one of the few places that I felt safe, I have added to the “safe” zones since last season with Saint James Episcopal Church in Portsmouth Virginia and the Gordon Biersch Brewery Restaurant in Virginia Beach where Judy and I are members of the “Stein Club.” Slowly normalcy is returning to other parts of my life but during baseball season Harbor Park is about the center of my world.

Lefty Phillips and Me

In the fall after last season ended I would go to Harbor Park just to talk with staff and sit in the concourse.  There is something about baseball people and my seats down in section 102 that help me even when there is no game being played.  There is a peace that I have when I walk around the diamond and I feel close to God when I am around a ballpark, even without the game being played there is something almost mystical about it.  To me there is nowhere more peaceful than a ballpark and every time I watch a game on TV my mind goes back to how much baseball has been part of my life, and how in a very real way that God speaks to me through this special game.

“Baseball, it is said, is only a game. True. And the Grand Canyon is only a hole in Arizona. Not all holes, or games, are created equal.” George Will

Me Rich Reese and my brother Jeff

Baseball became part of my life as a child when my dad introduced me to it in our back yard in Oak Harbor Washington.  Even before I played an organized game dad played catch with me, showed me how to grip a ball and told me about the great ballplayers.  He made me learn the fundamentals of the game and whether we were attending a game in person, watching one on television or playing catch, pepper or practicing infield or pitching dad was all about the game.  Of course he was the same way with football, hockey and basketball, but the sport that he seemed most passionate about was baseball.  As a kid he was a Cincinnati Reds fan.  His mother, my grandmother who hailed from the hollers of Putnam County West Virginia was a diehard Dodgers fan, though I am sure that God forgives her for that.  She was an independent woman of conviction and determination that has to in some way influenced her love for the game, even as a little boy if there was a game on television she would have it on and could talk intelligently about it.  I still wonder about to this day how she became a Dodger’s fan but it probably had something to do with her independent streak.  “Granny” as she chose to be called was a woman who as a widow in the late 1930s went to work, raised her two boys and bought her own house.  Unlike most of the people in West Virginia she was also a Republican, a rare breed especially in that era. Likewise she left the Baptist church of her family and became a Methodist. As independent in her choice of baseball teams as she was in her politics Granny was a Dodgers fan in a land of Reds, Indians and Pirates fans, so even with Granny we were immersed in baseball.

Jeff, Me and Rocky Bridges

Dad always made sure that we got to see baseball wherever we lived. In 1967 he took us to see the Seattle Pilots which the next year went to Milwaukee and became the Brewers. The Pilots were an expansion team in a town with a long history of minor league ball. They played at an old park named Sick Stadium, which if you ask me is a really bad marketing plan.  The game that we went to was the “Bat Day” giveaway.  Then they gave out regulation size Louisville Slugger bats.  Mine had the name of the Pilots First Baseman Mike Hegan on the barrel.  That was my first trip to a Major League stadium and I still can remember it as if it was yesterday.  Somewhere in my junk I have a button with the Pilots logo on it.  I’ll have to fish it out again sometime.  The next year I played my first organized baseball with the Oak Harbor Little League “Cheyenne’s.” My coach was a kind of gruff old guy who stuck me out in right field when as any little kid would I was pretty much a spectator as almost nothing came my way.  I don’t know why but our team uniforms did not match, half of us had white and the other half gray. Unfortunately due to military moves I didn’t get to play organized ball again until 1972.

Oak Park Little Little League A.L Rams 1972 and yes A G Spanos of the Chargers was our sponsor

In the elementary schools of those days our teachers would put the playoff and World’s Series games on television in our classrooms as then many of the games were played during daylight hours.  I remember watching Bob Gibson pitch when the Cardinals played against the Red Sox in the 1967 series.  It was awesome to see that man pitch.   I remember the Amazin’ Mets upsetting the Orioles in 1969 and seeing the Orioles take down the Reds in 1970.  I never will forget the 1970 All Star Game where Pete Rose ran over Ray Fosse at home plate for the winning run.  I watched in awe as the great dynasty teams of the 1970s, the Reds and the Athletics who dominated much of that decade and the resurgence of the Yankees in the summer of 1978 when the Bronx burned.  Back then every Saturday there was the NBC Game of the Week hosted by Curt Gowdy, Tony Kubek and Joe Garragiola.  It was a sad day when that broadcast went off the air.

When we were stationed in Long Beach California from 1970-1971 my dad had us at Anaheim stadium watching the California Angels all the time.  I imagine that we attended at least 30 to 40 games there and a couple at Dodger stadium that first year and a good number more before we moved to Stockton California in the middle of the 1971 season.  The move north was disappointing, it took forever to get adjusted to Stockton and I think that part of it was not seeing the Angels every week at the Big “A.” At those games I met a lot of the players and coaches and even some opposing players.  The Von’s grocery store chain and the Angels radio network had a “My Favorite Angel” contest when I was in 5th Grade.  I submitted an entry about Angels First Baseman Jim Spencer and was named as a runner up.  This netted me two seats behind the plate and legendary sportscaster Dick Enberg announced my name on the radio.  Spencer was a Gold Glove First Baseman who later played for the Yankees on their 1978 World Series team.  My first hat from a Major League team was the old blue hat with a red bill, the letters CA on the front and a halo stitched on top. I still have a hat from the 1971 team with the lower case “a” with a halo hanging off of it.  It has numerous autographs on the inside of the bill including Sandy Alomar, Jim Spencer, and Jim Fregosi, Chico Ruiz and Billy Cowan and sits in a display case on my kitchen wall.

Harbor Park in the Fall

While we didn’t live as close to a major league team baseball did not cease to be a part of my life.  While we were not at the ballpark as much it got more interesting in some aspects as for the first time I attended playoff games and saw a no-hitter. We saw the A’s dynasty teams including games one and two of the 1972 American League Championship Series between the A’s and the Tigers.  Across the Bay a few years later I got to see Ed Halicki of the Giants no-hit the Mets a Candlestick on August 24th 1975.  In those days I got to see some of the greats of the era play, Catfish Hunter, Reggie Jackson, Willie Mays, Willie McCovey, Steve Garvey, Vida Blue, Harmon Killebrew, Rollie Fingers, and so many others at the Oakland-Alameda County Coliseum and Candlestick Park.

While in Stockton I became acquainted with Minor League Baseball through the Stockton Ports, who then were the Class “A” California League farm team for the Orioles.  I remember a few years back talking to the Orioles great Paul Blair who played for the Ports in the early 1960s about Billy Hebert Field and how the sun would go down in the outfield blinding hitters and spectators in its glare.  I would ride my bike over in the evening to try to get foul balls that came over the grand stand when I didn’t have the money to get a ticket.

When I was a kid I had a large baseball card collection which I kept in a square cardboard roller-skate box.  I must have had hundreds of cards including cards that if I had them now would be worth a small fortune. Unfortunately when I went away to college I left them in the garage and during a purge of my junk they were tossed out.  Last year I started collecting cards again, mostly signed cards that I obtained at the Church of Baseball at Harbor Park.  In a sense they kind of serve a purpose like Holy Cards due in the Catholic Church for me.  They are a touch point with the game and the players who signed them.

Billy Hebert Field

As I have grown older my appreciation for the game, despite strikes and steroids still grows.  I am in awe of the diamond.  I have played catch on the field of dreams, seen a game in the Yankee Stadium Right Field bleachers seen games in many other venues at the Major League and Minor League levels and thrown out the first pitch in a couple of Kinston Indians games.  I am enchanted with the game. The foul lines theoretically go on to infinity, only broken by the placement of the outfield wall.  Unlike almost all other sports there is no time limit, meaning that baseball can be an eschatological game going on into eternity. The Hall of Fame is like the Calendar of Saints in the Catholic, Orthodox and Anglican Churches.  There are rituals in baseball such as the exchange of batting orders and explanation of the ground rules and the ceremonial first pitch.  Likewise there are customs that border on superstition such as players not stepping on the foul line when entering and leaving the field of play, no talking about it when a pitcher is throwing a no-hitter and the home run trot. Even the care of the playing field is practiced with almost liturgical purity. The care of a field by an expert ground crew is a thing to behold, especially when they still use the wooden box frames to lay down the chalk on the baselines and the batter’s box.

Grand Slam Home Run by Robby Hammock 2009

We have travelled to many minor league parks often in tiny out of the way locations and even to the Field of Dreams in Dyersville Iowa where once again Judy indulged me and let me play catch. Likewise my long suffering wife has allowed our kitchen and much of my dining room is as close to a baseball shrine as Judy will let me make them; thankfully she is most tolerant and indulges this passion of mine.

Since I returned from Iraq the baseball diamond has been one of my few places of solace.  For the first time last season I bought a season ticket to the Tides and in section 102, row B seats 2 and 3 was able to watch the game from the same place every day.  It became a place of refuge during some of my bad PTSD times, and I got to know and love the people around me; Elliot the Usher, Chip the Usher, Ray and Bill the Vietnam Veteran Beer guys behind home plate, Kenny “Crabmeat” the Pretzel Guy and Barry the Scorekeeper.  This year Ray is not at the park nor is Charlie one of the other Vietnam Vets and the Veterans beer stand is now down the first base concourse where they have been relegated to the boring beers. I now have seats 1 and 2 in the same section and row as last year and it was good to see so many of the old crowd last night.

Chris Tillman

Even still there is some sadness in baseball this year as there was last year.  My dad is slowly dying of Alzheimer’s disease and a shell of his former self but the last time I saw him he did not know me and could not talk about baseball even for a minute.  Maybe if I go back we’ll get a few minutes of lucidity and a bit of time together again but I know that that will not happen because there is little left of him, I wish he was able to get up and play catch, but that will have to wait for eternity on the lush baseball field that only heaven can offer.

Dad Jeff and I around 1973

The season is just beginning and God is not done speaking to me through baseball as I close my eyes and recollect the words of Terrance Mann (James Earl Jones) in Field of Dreams: “The one constant through all the years has been baseball. America has rolled by like an army of steamrollers. It’s been erased like a blackboard, rebuilt, and erased again. But baseball has marked the time. This field, this game, is a part of our past. It reminds us of all that once was good, and what could be again.”

In a sense this says it all to me in an age of war, economic crisis and bitter partisan political division.  In a sense it is a prayer, a prayer for a return to something that was good and what could be good again.

Peace and blessings,

Padre Steve+


Filed under Baseball, faith

Sometimes You Wanna go Where Everybody Knows Your Name

The hit long running comedy Cheers set in Boston Bar is something that I have grown to appreciate more and more throughout the years.  It comes from the community of disparate people who find refuge in that bar each with their own lives and stories which all intersect at Cheers.  The lyrics to the theme song from the show sum up where I sometimes find myself in life, especially coming back from Iraq.

Making your way in the world today takes everything you’ve got.
Taking a break from all your worries sure would help a lot.

Wouldn’t you like to get away?

Sometimes you want to go

Where everybody knows your name,
and they’re always glad you came.
You wanna be where you can see,
our troubles are all the same
You wanna be where everybody knows
Your name.

You wanna go where people know,
people are all the same,
You wanna go where everybody knows
your name.

The last verse to the song “Where Everybody knows Your Name” never aired on the show and continue….

Be glad there’s one place in the world
Where everybody knows your name,
And they’re always glad you came;
You want to go where people know,
People are all the same;
You want to go where everybody knows your name.

The need for community is something that I didn’t think that I really needed for most of my life.  It took a huge amount of time isolated in the military as well as coming back from Iraq with a nice case of PTSD to realize that I could not exist without some kind of local connection.  This is something that when I returned from Iraq I knew that I did not have.  For a good amount of time this didn’t matter because I was always on the road or deployed.  It is easy to cover up the need for local relationships and community when you aren’t around.

For me this isolation really began when we moved to the Hampton Roads area back in 2003.  I was assigned to a command where I was on the road a lot.  However I sought to make build relationships with the local mission of my church in our area as well as other local clergy.  After a clash with the local idiot masquerading as a priest I was forbidden by the bishop to have any contact with any of his priests or parishes.  I guess since that bishop didn’t get my tithe that I didn’t matter. A couple of years later both the bishop and the idiot priest had left our church for happier hunting grounds.  So when I came back from Iraq in 2008 I was isolated.  I had transferred in October 2006 from a Marine Command where I felt absolutely comfortable to a different command where I was new and about everyone else was going about 95 different directions.   The command chaplain who I had come on board under in the larger command had transferred during my deployment, while the one officer that I had developed a relationship with at my new command was deployed a couple of months after me.  When I returned from Iraq even my office had been packed up and I had no-where to work from for over a month.  My belongings, including many military mementos and awards were crammed into a trailer and it took almost a year to find the majority of them.  A couple of items were not recovered.  So on the military side I was pretty isolated and feeling pretty down.   As I said I had no church ties from my denomination anywhere near me and had not, due to my own pathology and hectic travel and deployment schedule did not establish a relationship with another church until this year.   Other friends had transferred over the years and I had one other chaplain in the area that I can call a friend.  We have known each other since 1999 and our wives are best friends.  Apart from that I was about as isolated and alone as I could get.  It was then with my PTSD kicking my ass that I knew after all these years that I needed to be in community and in relationships with people locally.  It was no longer good enough to simply check in with guys that I had known for years but who lived far away.

It took a while to get from knowing that I needed something until I was able to get established in a number of places and begin to build my local ties.  The first two places were Harbor Park where I see the Norfolk Tides play and the local Gordon Biersch Brewery Restaurant.  Harbor Park was something that I went to before Iraq as I love baseball.  I was no stranger there, I’ve been around long enough to get to know staff, vendors and ushers and have met the General Manager Dave Rosenfield on a good number of occasions as he walks the concourse among the Harbor Park faithful.  However something happened when I came back from Iraq.  In most places I could not handle crowds, even going to church at the fairly large Catholic Church where I occasionally attend with Judy who is a member there.  It is large and rather busy and since I only know a few people there I get a bit anxious, even though I love the Pastor, Deacons and the few people that I know.  However every time I would step onto the concourse at Harbor Park and the lush green field came into view I could feel stress and anxiety leaving my body.  Somehow almost magically I am at peace when at a ball game.  I felt the same thing even in crowded Major League Parks at San Diego and San Francisco when I made trips to the west coast.  When the season ended last year it was terribly difficult as the PTSD and Anxiety, nightmares and chronic pain were still raging.  When this season came around and with Harbor Park now on my way home from work I knew that I needed to get a season ticket.  I cleared with Judy and for the first time in my life I had a season ticket.  Since the season began in April the Park has become more of a place of refuge and place of fellowship with some great people.  Seeing Elliott the Usher, Ray and John the Vietnam Vets at the Beer Stand behind the plate, Kenny the Pretzel Guy, Skip the Usher in the section above me, Mandy up in the Tides Store my next seat over neighbor Barry, Barry’s daughter Julie, Tina and her husband, the Judge and others has given me a sense of community that is like a comfortable pub.

The same has been true at the Gordon Biersch Brewery Restaurant has become another place where I feel at home.  I think this began with Kira, the choir child from Judy’s Church as well as guys like Mike, John and girls like Kai Ly who been incedible.  We began by being frequenters of the dining room but have over the past several months moved to the bar as it is a bit more laid back and we get to know more people.  Now the noise can occasionally be a bit much, but the kids who work there are really great to be around.  I was just recently inducted into the Stein Club.  Both Harbor Park and Biersch were important because even though the people that I met were those in the intersection they were places and people that began to get me back in touch with community.

Another really key part of building community for me is my work at Portsmouth Naval Medical Center. Somehow I am at home in the surreal environment of the ICU and PICU and the great folks who work on those floors. On call I am beginning to feel the same way about our NICU.    The relationships formed in these areas as well as with my fellow chaplains have become especially important.  My boss and some of our other chaplains have really helped me through some really rough times since I got here as I have dealt with the PTSD and other issues from Iraq. As I have made the adjustment to being back in the hospital setting I realized just how much I enjoyed the challenge of Critical Care chaplaincy, the care for patients, families and especially the staff and residents.  I am at home here.

The final piece fell into place a few months ago, that was beginning to worship at St James Episcopal Church in Portsmouth.  I had met the Rector (Pastor) of the Parish, Fr John at the hospital as he visited two of his parishioners who were patients in my ICU.  We not only met but we became friends and he invited me to St James.  Now Fr John is from Nigeria and the parish is predominantly African American, West Indies or Nigerian.  The church reminds me a lot of East Side Presbyterian Church in Stockton CA which I attended with Judy.  The liturgy while Episcopal is punctuated with familiar hymns and Old Negro Spirituals.  The Church itself was founded in the 1890s as a place for African American Episcopalians to worship, Jim Crow being quite strong in those days.  When I first went there I wondered about the wisdom of it but I knew that I needed a place to worship outside my little guestroom altar.  I didn’t know what to expect, but the folks at St James love worship, music and have enfolded me, a Priest from a different communion into their community and for the first time since I came in the Navy, and certainly since I came back from Iraq I feel a sense of connection with a local parish.  One thing that I believe is quite significant is that prior to the Civil War my familyowned slaves in what was then the western part of Virginia.  I even met a man from Liberia who has my last name. His family went from the United States, to Canada, back to the UK and then on to Liberia before his family came back to the United States.   His brother even serves in the US Navy.  I’m sure at one point Cecil Dundas’s ancestors once were owned by some part of my family in Virginia.  But we are both of the Dundas family and I think that is pretty cool.  Small world.

I don’t necessarily think that I am alone in the search for community.  I think for a lot of people they would want to find such a community in church, but from what I am seeing across the denominational spectrum and the move to large churches or mega-churches I am seeing more lonely people who attend church regularly but never feel a sense of family or community.  Some of the things I hear from these lonely and disconnected Christians remind me of the lyrics to Abba’s hit Super Trouper:

Facing twenty thousand of your friends
How can anyone be so lonely
Part of a success that never ends
Still I’m thinking about you only

Part of this I think is that many churches have places more value on “Church growth” and programs than they have on people.  There has been a shift, especially in larger churches to proliferate programs which take up a lot of time, but don’t foster relationships.  Often the senior pastor is unreachable and untouchable in large churches.  Someone may get contact with a staff pastor, but often this is even driven down to minimally trained small group or home group leaders.  The churches themselves are so large it takes a long time for a new person to get to know anyone.  Now large church can do a lot of good, but I do think what they lack is intimacy.  Some home groups have this but others are train wrecks full of pretty bad juju.  So I wonder if this is a part of the isolation and disconnection of people.  Just a thought….

It has take me about five years to get connected in this area.  The cool thing now is that there are a number of places where I can go where just about everybody knows my name.  Slowly but surely I’m getting better as I get more connected.  I now have the beginnings of a community which is rich and diverse, military and civilian and have the blessing of friendship with so many people that that make up the communities of which I have become part. The Deity has a wry sense of humor to take this introverted rugged individualist to put me into community with such a great bunch of people.  She had to about throw me under the bus to do it, but I am glad that she did.

Peace, Steve+

Leave a comment

Filed under philosophy, PTSD, Religion