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Taking Increased Devotion on the Anniversary of the Day of Infamy: A Personal Reflection

uss-arizona-memorial-pearl-harbor

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

I never will forget the day that I took a Navy launch from Naval Station Pearl Harbor to the USS Arizona Memorial. It was Easter Sunday, March 26th 1978, the day before my 18th birthday and I was in Pearl Harbor as part of a Naval Junior ROTC Cadet Cruise. Cadets from my school sailed aboard the USS Frederick LST-1184 from San Diego to Pearl, and remained there for a week until returning to San Diego aboard the USS Gray FF-1054.

I honestly don’t know how many young people ever have had that kind of adventure, but for me I know that those three weeks were profoundly important in who I am today, but the one that constantly reverberates in me is the visit to the Arizona Memorial. Back then there was no visitor center on Ford Island, nor was the USS Missouri moored where the USS Oklahoma was that fateful Sunday. The day was sunny with partly cloudy skies, the sunlight reflected on the placid waters of Pearl Harbor. As the launch, manned by Sailor’s in Dress Whites neared Ford Island the bridge like white memorial loomed ahead, the rusty barbette of the battleship’s “C” turret rose slightly out of the water aft of the memorial, and the mooring quay with the USS Arizona inscribed upon it glinted in the bright morning sunlight. To our rear cruisers and destroyers lined the piers of the Naval Station.

uss-airzona-shrine-wall

Alighting from the launch I went aboard the memorial at the entry room and walked across the bridge and the assembly room before entering the shrine. As I walked slowly across the bridge I peered into the water below thinking about all the men still entombed in the wreck. Pausing in the shrine I read the names of the 1,177 men killed aboard Arizona that Sunday morning, one of those was the ship’s chaplain, Captain Thomas Kirkpatrick. It was a pivotal moment for me. I had begun to feel a call to the ministry but in that moment I was sure that I wanted to serve as a Navy Chaplain. I remember finding a post card that I had sent my grandparents from the USS Gray when we returned to San Diego, my words were “Dear Ma Maw and Pa Paw, I think I am supposed to be a Navy Chaplain.” I laughed when I saw it because I was then serving as a Chaplain in the Army Reserve. Sadly, when my grandmother died in November 1996 I was deployed, and that simple postcard, my link with that part of my past was discarded by family members who did not think enough to read it, or if they did didn’t give enough of a damn about me to save it. I should have taken it when I had the chance, but sometimes I am too sentimental.

chaplain-thomas-kirkpatrick

It took me a while to get there, my long strange trip included a 17 ½ year detour in the U.S. Army before I became a Navy Chaplain in February 1999.

Abraham Lincoln spoke of the ground that was hallowed at Gettysburg in his Gettysburg Address. The wreck of the Arizona is also hallowed. Despite our best efforts we cannot consecrate it more than the men who served aboard her that day seventy-five years ago, but we can as Lincoln said so well be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced. It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us — that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion — that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain — that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom — and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.”

For me that means to continue to serve as a Chaplain in the Navy, never forgetting that the duty of a Chaplain is with his or her Sailors, Marines, Soldiers, and Airmen, especially when they go in harm’s way.

Of course my service will come to an end on the 1st of August 2020. I will retire on my statutory retirement date. However, I will continue to write and serve people in whatever way I can. I will retire with no personal regrets, but regret the condition of the country today under President Trump, that is why I will continue “take increased devotion… that this nation, under God shall have a new birth of freedom – and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.”  Though I will be retired my service will not end.

Peace

Padre Steve+

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To Take Increased Devotion… Pearl Harbor at 75, a Personal Reflection

uss-arizona-memorial-pearl-harbor

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

I never will forget the day that I took a Navy launch from Naval Station Pearl Harbor to the USS Arizona Memorial. It was Easter Sunday, March 26th 1978, the day before my 18th birthday and I was in Pearl Harbor as part of a Naval Junior ROTC Cadet Cruise. Cadets from my school sailed aboard the USS Frederick LST-1184 from San Diego to Pearl, and remained there for a week until returning to San Diego aboard the USS Gray FF-1054.

I honestly don’t know how many young people ever have had that kind of adventure, but for me I know that those three weeks were profoundly important in who I am today, but the one that constantly reverberates in me is the visit to the Arizona Memorial. Back then there was no visitor center on Ford Island, nor was the USS Missouri moored where the USS Oklahoma was that fateful Sunday. The day was sunny with partly cloudy skies, the sunlight reflected on the placid waters of Pearl Harbor. As the launch, manned by Sailor’s in Dress Whites neared Ford Island the bridge like white memorial loomed ahead, the rusty barbette of the battleship’s “C” turret rose slightly out of the water aft of the memorial, and the mooring quay with the USS Arizona inscribed upon it glinted in the bright morning sunlight. To our rear cruisers and destroyers lined the piers of the Naval Station.

uss-airzona-shrine-wall

Alighting from the launch I went aboard the memorial at the entry room and walked across the bridge and the assembly room before entering the shrine. As I walked slowly across the bridge I peered into the water below thinking about all the men still entombed in the wreck. Pausing in the shrine I read the names of the 1,177 men killed aboard Arizona that Sunday morning, one of those was the ship’s chaplain, Captain Thomas Kirkpatrick. It was a pivotal moment for me. I had begun to feel a call to the ministry but in that moment I was sure that I wanted to serve as a Navy Chaplain. I remember finding a post card that I had sent my grandparents from the USS Gray when we returned to San Diego, my words were “Dear Ma Maw and Pa Paw, I think I am supposed to be a Navy Chaplain.” I laughed when I saw it because I was then serving as a Chaplain in the Army Reserve. Sadly, when my grandmother died in November 1996 I was deployed, and that simple postcard, my link with that part of my past was discarded by family members who did not think enough to read it, or if they did didn’t give enough of a damn about me to save it. I should have taken it when I had the chance, but sometimes I am too sentimental. 

chaplain-thomas-kirkpatrick

It took me a while to get there, my long strange trip included a 17 ½ year detour in the U.S. Army before I became a Navy Chaplain in February 1999.

Abraham Lincoln spoke of the ground that was hallowed at Gettysburg in his Gettysburg Address. The wreck of the Arizona is also hallowed. Despite our best efforts we cannot consecrate it more than the men who served aboard her that day seventy-five years ago, but we can as Lincoln said so well be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced. It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us — that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion — that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain — that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom — and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.”

For me that means to continue to serve as a Chaplain in the Navy, never forgetting that the duty of a Chaplain is with his or her Sailors, Marines, Soldiers, and Airmen, especially when they go in harm’s way.

Peace

Padre Steve+

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Reflections on Ministry as Navy Chaplain: The Guiding Principles of the Chaplain Corps

I have served as a chaplain in the Army and then the Navy since 1992. In fact I was appointed as a Chaplain in the Texas Army National Guard around late September of 1992 following my seminary graduation and after 11 years of service in the Army.

I grew up in a Navy family and I am grateful for that. We lived in many places and my parents ensured that church was a part of our life growing up. They had grown up as Methodists but because of our military lifestyle which involved frequent moves our church experience was much broader that people who grew up in the same town or the same faith tradition. I attended Sunday School, Vacation Bible School and church in a variety of churches. Methodist, Lutheran, Baptist, as well as Navy Chapels. I felt called to the Navy Chaplain ministry as early as my senior year in high school while on a Navy Junior ROTC cruise on the USS Frederick, LST-1184. That was deferred for about 20 years and twenty-three years after feeling that call I celebrated my first Eucharist underway on Easter Sunday 2001 aboard the Frederick, the very ship that I felt that call in 1978.

In my own pre-ministry life in college and the Army I was part of Conservative Baptist, United Presbyterian, PCA Presbyterian, charismatic churches and Army Chapels. I attended seminary in schools that were not of my denomination.

I was ordained in a non-denominational Evangelical Christian Church and my theological journey in a Southern Baptist Seminary led me in a Anglican and Catholic direction. That led in 1996 to my ordination first as a Deacon then Priest in the Charismatic Episcopal Church. Eventually after a faith crisis following my time in Iraq which I came home from with a severe case of PTSD I was for all practical purposes an Agnostic struggling to believe in God. It was a most difficult time but eventually faith returned. However that faith was more progressive on social and political issues and more inclusive of others and within months I told by my bishop that I was “too liberal” and needed to leave the church.  That was just over two years ago. It came just a couple of months after I had lost my father to Alzheimer’s Disease and was just about to transfer to a new duty station. I was fortunate to find a home with a church of the Old Catholic tradition, the Apostolic Catholic Orthodox Church. (http://apostoliccatholicorthodox.org ) That was a blessing because though a small denomination it held to the beliefs that helped make me a Priest and Chaplain.

Navy and Army Chaplains had significant influence in my life and most came from Christian denominations other than whatever I was in at various points in my life. As first an Army Chaplain in 1992 and now since 1999 a Navy Chaplain I have tried to embody that care and love that was shown to me, both to military personnel, their families, retirees and veterans as well as my fellow Chaplains.  Many of these men and women regardless of their denomination or theological views are often isolated from their own denominations and have to deal with all of the stresses of military life while taking on the burdens of those that they serve.

I find the Guiding Principles of the Chaplain Corps to be something that I think set the Navy Chaplaincy from other types of ministry. They expound upon the motto of Cooperation without Compromise that lies at the core of the Navy Chaplain ministry. They are something that even before I was a Navy Chaplain that I could say that I believed and wanted to embody in my military career as well as in ministry.

Navy Chaplains – Called To Serve

We are religious leaders and naval officers.

We are faithful to our calling as chaplains and strive to grow in our faith.

We have taken an oath to support and defend the Constitution of the United States, and will faithfully discharge our duties.

We respect the dignity of those we serve.

We seek to understand cultural and religious values that differ from our own.

We believe the right to exercise our faith is best protected when we protect the rights of all to worship or not worship as they choose.

We work together to meet religious needs.

We are called to serve our people, the Naval Service and each other.

We hold sacred the trust placed in us.

We Are Navy Chaplains

With that said I will sign off for the night.

Peace

Padre Steve+

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Padre Steve’s Pre-Navy Navy Experiences

I officially entered the Navy in 1999 however I had spent a significant amount of my young life hanging around the Navy as a “Navy Brat” as well as a Navy Junior ROTC Cadet.

USS J. C. Breckenridge AP 176

My first “underway” was returning from the Philippines on the USS J. C. Breckenridge AP 176 in 1964.  The ship was a troopship and at the time was engaged in the transport of military personnel and their dependents from the Far East to San Fransisco.  In this capacity the ship made regular stops at Guam, Yokosuka, Okinawa, and Inchon, as well as Adak, Alaska, and Midway Island as she sailed between the Philippines, Japan and the west coast.  We rode her back following my father’s assignment at Cubi Point Naval Air Station.

Children’s Playroom on Breckenridge

The trip across the Pacific was something that I remember to this day.  A Marine stood guard outside of the family quarters in a starched “sateen” fatigue uniform.   I remember Marines going over the side of the ship into waiting landing craft at one stop, probably Inchon. I had a tee-shirt from the ship that I wore proudly until it was a tattered rag.

Edison High School NJROTC Cadets on USS Gray April 1978 L-R Alvin Friend, Mark DeGuzman, Jeff Vanover, Joe Mariani (top) Randy Richardson, Delwin Brown and Padre Steve

When I entered High School I joined the Navy Junior ROTC unit.  I was very fortunate because our instructors, LCDR Jim Breedlove and Senior Chief Petty Officer John Ness ensured that we had many opportunities to go underway on various ships.

USS Agerholm DD-826

The first of these was the USS Agerholm DD-826 a Gearing Class destroyer commissioned in 1946 which had received a  FRAM-1 modernization and fired the only live nuclear ASROC.  I embarked Agerholm in San Diego with 5 other cadets in October 1975.  During the trip we were able to observe gunnery exercises in the #2 5″ 38 gun mount and help man a towing hawser in exercises with the USS O’Callahan and USS Carpenter DD-825.  The trip was exhilarating as we rode heavy seas, and got to stand watches alongside real sailors.

USS Coral Sea CVA-43

The second trip for me was on the USS Coral Sea in July 1976 where I spent 2 weeks working in the ship’s medical department. The trip about Coral Sea was interesting as we were able to observe flight operations and see how carrier operated.

USS Pyro AE-24

I then went on the USS Pyro in the fall of 1976 for a 5 day underway where I witnessed a burial at sea and met the chaplain who covered the service force.  On Pyro I was able to work with the Signalmen.

USS Mount Vernon LSD-39

In February 1977 a number of us traveled to Portland Oregon to embark on USS Mount Vernon LSD-39 for its trip from an overhaul back to her home port of San Diego during which we disembarked at Alameda.  That was an interesting trip as well as upon entering the Pacific from the Colombia River we ran into a major storm and we got to see how a flat-bottomed amphibious ship rode in heavy seas, the answer, not well. On the Mount Vernon we stood various watches the most memorable was in the Main Engineering plant.  Mount Vernon like most of the ships of the day was powered by steam turbines and the Engine Room was about 100 degrees.

USS Frederick LST-1184

My final underway was a round trip from San Diego to Pearl Harbor and back.  On the outbound trip we rode the USS Frederick LST-1184 as it transited with its Amphibious Group of 7 ships for a WESTPAC deployment.  On Frederick I was paired with the Operations department and Navigation division.  This was interesting as I got to practice skills that I had learned in the classroom as well as learn about the early satellite navigation systems Loran and Omega.  It was on Frederick that I first felt the call to be a Navy Chaplain and aboard which I would celebrate my first Eucharist underway 23 years later.

We spent a week in Peal Harbor when I was able to visit the USS Arizona and USS Utah Memorials, meet Navy Divers, Army Maritime Transportation Corps personnel and tour their landing craft.  We had some liberty in Pearl and the son of one of my parents friends from the Navy picked me up from a day of snorkeling during which I was badly sunburned with 2nd degree burns on my back. This lent me the nickname “Lobsterman” by my fellow cadets.

USS Gray FF-1054

The return trip was on the USS Gray FF-1054 a Knox Class Frigate which my dad had helped prepare for commissioning in 1970. Gray and a cruiser destroyer force headed by the USS Chicago CG-10 was returning from deployment.  On Gray I got to see my first underway replenishment

These journeys were important in my life, they put a love of the sea and love of the Navy deep in me that could not be quenched even by my 17 and a half years of service in the Army.  As a Chaplain I had the privilege of serving on the USS Hue City CG-66.

One of my photos of USS Hue City CG-66 during boarding Operations in the Northern Arabian Gulf

I still love the sea and who knows if I will get another sea tour, but I have been blessed in all of these experiences.  Of the ships themselves only Hue City is active in the US Navy while Frederick was sold to Mexico where she still serves.

Harpoon Hitting Agerholm

Agerholm was expended as a target for the Harpoon missile system, Breckenridge, Coral Sea, Gray, Portland were scrapped and Pyro was decommissioned and remains in the National Defense Reserve Fleet at Suisun Bay California.   They were all great ships manned by great crews.

Peace, Padre Steve+

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Implants? On my 13th Anniversary of Being a Priest…What’s up with that?

cantaloupes

I found out today that I’m going to get an implant….and I can’t believe it. And I find out about this on the 13th anniversary of being ordained as a Priest and I was not a happy camper.  The dentist looked at me and told me that the root canal which I had come in to complete would not be possible.  This kind of pissed me off, not at him but for the fact that I knew that this was going to happen.  Going in to today I knew from the first dentist who examined me two weeks ago that there was only a fifty-fifty chance of saving the tooth, but only a ten percent chance of that.  So when the dentist showed me the live camera images of the abyss that used to be the inside of my tooth and the fractures on both sides of the abyss I was not surprised.  Not happy, but not surprised.  Of course I was hoping and praying that the root canal would be done with and that I would not see dental again until my next exam.

As his team dug around in my mouth the dentist told me that they were going to have to set me up with Oral Surgery to extract the tooth and put an implant in its place.  Since my mouth was still full of crap I had difficult time trying to reply.  The crap included a rubber dam and its suspension system.  I was informed that this was to keep crap out of the abyss and keep it from getting infected. The dentist didn’t say crap, but that is what I inferred. I also had a butt-load of anesthetic aboard.  When he asked me the question: “Are you familiar with what an implant is?”  I mumbled an unintelligible answer that went something like “yam eh ike marl hmmmn wah”  And I kind of motioned over my chest with my hands to try to give as visual but my attempt at communication failed.  He said, I’ll wait until we’re done for you to answer and I said “thang u er.”  Since my woeful attempt at communication was not understood so I relaxed as best I could for the remainder of the procedure.

steve at dentist

When they were finished the resident had sealed the abyss, removed the dam and washed out my mouth.  My mouth, which still hurt some from the work two weeks ago, and the tooth which still had some throbbing as a bit of nerve had survived the first go round caused me some persistent pain even through this morning.   This particular tooth had been repaired twice as a child, the first by Doctor Mengele and once as an adult before it erupted two weeks ago.  Now after being excavated for the second time in two weeks my mouth felt like a battle zone even with the full effect of the anesthetic.

The dentist then asked about if I understood what an implant was and in my smart assed way said, “Yes, it’s like those things that they put in Mariel Hemingway back in the 1980s right?”  The dentist looked at me funny and then, maybe being just a bit older than me then shook his head and started laughing and said “No not that kind of implant.”   The resident and the technician being a bit younger than us took a bit longer to get it, and the dentist said, “I saw you motioning with your hands but just didn’t understand the connection.

So I will be getting an artificial root for the old tooth which will be surgically removed possibly under a general anesthetic.  I wonder which is worse, enduring a great deal of pain or going under as I am a fan of neither.  They say it will take 6-9 months to have the artificial root to be fused into the jaw bone, after which a new crown will be constructed over it.  I’m told that the entire process will take about a year to complete.  I get my consultation with the Oral Surgeons the middle of August so this story will probably go on in future blog posts in the coming months.

Today is also the 13th anniversary of me being ordained as a Priest at what used to be the Cathedral of the Resurrection, Life in Jesus Community when it was part of my Church.  I am ever grateful to the bishop who ordained me back then, in those days he was a teacher and father.  We parted ways when he led his community out of the Church after having his Archdeacon tell me that he was not leaving as the Church experienced a major crisis.  While his leaving bothered me it was the deception that I found most difficult and combined with actions of two other former bishops in the church which impacted me in a very personal and hurtful manner which ended our relationship.  Since he left I understand that he was removed from the leadership of his community and that the community was not doing well.  That saddened me as back in the mid and late 1990s it was a wonderful place where the ancient and modern converged, where hospitality and kindness was shown and people were blessed.  I do not know what happened over the years, but it is sad as I cannot go back to the place where I was ordained and have it be the same.  When the bishop’s council on ordination recommended that I be ordained I was told by one of the priests said “Steve, you’re home.”  Unfortunately only one of that council remains in the church, and that community is no longer home.

891Christmas Eve in Iraq

Since then I have been blessed.  I was ordained on the evening of July 7th the eve of the Feast of Saint Killian and his companions, an Irish missionary to what is now the German area of Franconia where at Würzburg he was martyred in 689 AD.  It was just a few weeks later as a mobilized Army Reserve Chaplain I reported to Würzburg to support the Bosnia operation in my first assignment as a Priest.  I lived in town as there was “no room at the inn” on base and since I spoke German I would head downtown in the evenings for Mass at the Killian Dom (Killian Cathedral) as well as visits to many of the other churches.  I found it interesting that the occasion of my ordination was the eve of feast of the man responsible for planting the Christian faith in the first place I would serve as a Priest.  I feel quite a connection to St Killian as a result of this and whenever I go to Germany I attempt to attend a Mass at the Killian Dom as well as a few steins of Würzburger Hofbrau Pilsner.

killian domKillian Dom Wurzburg Germany

Since then I have celebrated the Eucharist and served God’s people around the world in places that I would have never dreamed.  My first Eucharist at sea was on the USS Frederick LST-1184 on Easter 2001, the same ship that in high school Navy Junior ROTC I first felt the call to be a chaplain in March of 1978.  I’ve celebrated near the fence line at Guantanamo Bay, all over Al Anbar Province, been a base chaplain and served in units and at sea all over the world.  I celebrated my 7th anniversary celebrating at the ruins of the Martyr Church of Saint Phillip the Apostle in Pamukale Turkey, the site of Ancient Hierapolis.

Today for the first time I spent it in a dentist’s chair.  So my mouth feels like a bombed out combat zone, I have the shattered shell of a tooth being held together by a temporary patch and praying that it won’t come apart before it is extricated and I have to wait over a month to just begin talking about the details of how process will unfold with the Oral Surgeon who will perform it.  Tonight I will try to eat something soft so as not to tempt fate, drink a good beer or two or three and get ready for work tomorrow.

Pray for me a sinner.

Peace, Steve+

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D-1 Bobbing About, We Made Too Many Wrong Mistakes and Thank God for Good Managers

June 5th 1944 should have been D-Day.  Instead because of a ferocious storm that descended across the English Channel it was a day from hell on the seas for the assault troops embarked aboard troop transports, landing ships and landing craft.  Now those who have never ridden out a storm at sea on anything smaller than an Aircraft Carrier or modern Cruise Ship cannot understand what the thousands and thousands of land-lubber soldiers on those ships and craft went through.  In fact they cannot understand what the sailors on the very largest of the Operation Overlord armada the battleships USS Nevada, Texas, and Arkansas while the British battleships Rodney, Warspite and Ramillies also were on hand.  Most of the ships in the invasion were far smaller, cruisers averaged 9000-10,000 tons, destroyers about 1,500 tons.  I have served on a 9,600 ton Ticonderoga Class Aegis Guided Missile Cruiser, the USS HUE City.  I have also been embarked on the USS Agerholm DD-826, a WWII era Gearing Class destroyer, and a number of other ships including landing ships such as the USS Frederick, LST-1184 and USS Mount Vernon, LSD-39.  I have ridden all of these in somewhat sporty conditions.  I have never been seasick.  However, even seasoned sailors can be sick as a dog and hurl chunks in heavy seas.  I have also been a member of a boarding party and had seas come up on us while we were away from our ship.   In heavy seas things can get sporty.  When I was on Hue City we hit such heavy seas that we experienced a hull fracture that required emergency repairs and a short port call.  My Skipper had me go down and bless the repairs with Holy Water.  We also made a transit down the Arabian Peninsula with a Cyclone on our beam.  We took 15-18 foot seas on the beam for three days.  Believe me Aegis cruisers are top-heavy and do not ride well in high seas.  We had an epidemic of chunks during that period.  Likewise even a few injuries from crew members that were thrown around.  Likewise, the soldiers had to make transfers down nets and Jacob’s ladders in heavy seas.  This also can be a bit sporty.  It is just a tad bit exciting to jump from the deck of a ship onto a boat which is going up and down about 6-10 feet at a time.  Since I have jumped from a ship that was moving to a wildly bouncing boat; my hat goes off to the land lubber soldiers who jumped from ships to landing craft in heavy seas at D-Day.

vicksburgHue City’s Sister Ship the USS Vicksburg plowing through heavy seas. We were doing the same thing

Since the ships at D-Day were far less advanced, and the largest battleship, the Rodney was only 35,000 tons, or about half the displacement of the average modern cruise ship and one third that of a US CVN. Now imagine soldiers who have never been to sea except for the trip across the Atlantic to get to England, who were riding ships and landing craft of minuscule displacement.  These guys suffered, in fact many prayed to land because fighting the Germans on the beaches would be easier than what they experienced at sea.

777px-Unidentified_Allen_M_Sumner_class_destroyer_in_heavy_seas_during_Typhoon_CobraUnidentified WWII Sumner Class Destroyer Taking Heavy Seas

So when you remember the epic events of D-Day remember that the American, British, Canadian and French Soldiers who landed on those hallowed beaches named Utah, Omaha, Juno, Gold and Sword had eaten little, hurled more and endured a hellish ride just to get shot at when they landed on the beaches.  Having been shot at in Iraq I can say that it is not something that I want to do after being sick and puking my guts out. However, that might be better than puking.  I have never enjoyed that…what a bulimic sees in this I do not know.

Yogi Berra once said: “We made too many wrong mistakes.”  I absolutely hate making mistakes, I like to be right and I want my work to reflect excellence.  The past couple of days the Deity Herself has reminded me that even I am human.  The past two weeks I have worked about 132 hours, like who is counting, hours at our medical center.  Part of this was due to being on duty and the other because I had to remain because of mission requirements.  I had done pretty well until yesterday when at the end of the day I locked my keys in the office.  I never do this, how the hell I did it I will never know, except that I had a brain fart because I was tired and pushing myself to handle a multiplicity of administrative and clinical duties over the week.  Well, that was not all, my wrong mistakes continued.  This morning I woke up, however since I didn’t sleep well this was not a great thing, except for the fact that I did not read my name in the obituaries of either the Virginia Pilot or the Stockton Record.  I use my cell phone as my alarm clock.  I have a ritual to go to work.  I set what I am going to wear in one spot, pockets loaded, beat in the loops.  I set my cell as my alarm and as soon as I wake up I put the stupid phone in my pocket so I will not forget it.  Somehow today I didn’t do this last little bit.  My phone was at home.  I was so busy and tired that I didn’t notice this little omission.  As I drove out of the parking garage I searched for my phone.  What the hell it wasn’t there where I was sure that I had placed it.  I turned my silver 2001 Honda CR-V around and drove back into the parking garage.  I retraced my steps.  Going to my office I called my phone.  No answer. Crap. My next stop was Dr Maggard’s office.  Interrupting him while he was on the phone I found the phone was not there.  Damned again, double crap.  Next stop was the head where I had deposited my recently rented coffee. One can never buy coffee only take a short term rental. Of course it was not there and I was damned yet again, in my exhaustion I was thinking crazy thoughts.  So I went to the little Navy exchange where I had picked up a Diet Dr. Pepper for the trip home.  Maude the cashier said I didn’t leave it there either.  Damned, Damned, double damned and even triple damned I was pissed.  I went up to the Critical Care Department Head’s office, damned even more, no phone.  Crap, I was really getting upset, someone probably had it and was using.  So I went to Pediatric ICU to see if by some chance I had left it there. I asked my buddy Cinda and others if they had seen it.  The answer was no and I was yet again damned. So I called the phone one more time and Judy picked it up.  I said “have you seen my phone?” She then said “I’m talking to you on it.”  Damn, damn, damn, damn, damn and crap.  I could have had a freaking V-8.  I knew at this point that I was toast.

not a happy camperNot a Happy Camper: Too Many Wrong Mistakes

Between this comedy of errors I was working on Chief Branum’s memorial service bulletin with Commander Judy, one of our senior Nurse Corps Officers.  We had it set; all I had to do was finish the bio.  This I did as Commander Judy went up to work with Chief’s best friend.  One problem. I was tired and had multi-tasked my ass off.  Trying to answer two different phone calls, and two separate e-mails I started trying to close out the 95 different windows that I had open on my computer.  I was damned yet again, crap, crap, crap, crap, crap and crap.  In the process of closing all the windows I had not saved my document.  All the work was gone.  My brain was fried and I was pissed at myself for making so many far too many wrong mistakes.  Thankfully, Commander Judy had remembered what was on the program and with the template that I provided was able to put it back together.  She helped save my ass. I finally got home and was absolutely bushed.

The Deity Herself has made sure that I am taken care of even in times like this.  I was scheduled for duty this weakened. For me, since I live at the cusp of the 30 minute response time I remain on campus.  However, I got a call from our deputy command chaplain who told me that our Department Head, who had just returned from leave had told me to stay home that he would take my duty.  Thank God for managers who who know when a pitcher has reached his limit. My boss is like this.  He knows when to pull me out of the game before things get out of hand.  I was making far too many wrong mistakes of exceptionally simple nature.  I am really grateful for him. Once again the Deity herself looked out for this miscreant but very tired Priest.

Peace and blessings, Steve+

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Filed under Baseball, History, Loose thoughts and musings, Military, Navy Ships, PTSD

Alleluia! Memories of Easter…Past and Present

easter-2002-on-hue-cityEaster aboard USS Hue City CG-66 off the Horn of Africa 2002

I find Easter to be an interesting time.  I tend to get reflective and while I do joyfully say “Alleluia! Christ is Risen!” I also tend to be somewhat subdued.  By nature I am reflective person, I like to watch, observe and think.  I am not into big Easter productions and extravaganzas. I prefer much more simple expressions of the Risen Lord.  I think that Jesus would go along with me on this as he spent that first Easter walking with friends, who failed to recognize him, and then breaking bread, he celebrated the first Eucharist after the Resurrection at Emmaus.

For me my most memorable Easters have been connected with my life in the military.  They have almost always been simple affairs, and most involving the liturgy somehow.  I think the first Easter that I remember was at Cubi Point Naval Air Station in the Philippines, it was seeing the Chaplains in their Summer White uniforms that still stands out to me today.  I remember a Easter Sunrise service at Naval Station Long Beach and looking in wonder at two “mothballed” carriers of World War II vintage, the USS Boxer and USS Princeton moored near the site of the service on the waterfront.  When my dad was in Vietnam and we had been made unwelcome in a civilian church, we attended Mass at the Quonset hut that served as the Chapel on the little Naval Communications station.  In my senior year of high school I made a cruise on Navy ships to and from Pearl Harbor Hawaii.  During the week at Pearl I made the trip to the Arizona Memorial on Easter Sunday.  For some reason that experience reverberated as loud as any church service I have ever attended.  When I was a young Army Officer running from God and hiding in the Chapel, the Deity Herself patently used the events of Holy Week to “rend my heart” so to speak.  I left the Good Friday Tenebrea service praying that Easter would come.  Our good Lutheran Chaplain, Lee Rittenbach had driven home the reality of Jesus’ death so well that I really started to understand what the disciples went through.  When Easter came I learned to say “Alleluia! Christ is Risen!”

After that I went through kind of a spiritual desert as far as Easter was concerned.  In seminary I was attending mega-churches which did nothing with Holy week, and made a big evangelical production of Easter, complete with overly loud and insipidly shallow “worship” music and laborious preaching.  I have to say that these big productions were more of an ordeal than a celebration for me.  During seminary we were going through sickness, financial disaster, loss of our home, cars and struggling to survive working multiple jobs while being a full time student.  How we got through seminary I will never understand, other than that the Deity herself provided for us through a lot of wonderful people.  The “happy talk” at church, the prosperity Gospel, focus on signs and wonders seemed to reflect almost a gnostic other worldly view of life that I did not see in the Scriptures.

Academically and from a theological point of view Easter began to rally take shape for me.  Reading the Church Fathers as well reading Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s The Cost of Discipleship, Emil Brunner’s The Scandal of Christianity, Alister McGrath’s The Mystery of the Cross, Hans Kung’s On Being a Christian and Jurgen Moltman’s The Crucified God brought me to greater understanding of the connectedness of Easter to the Incarnation and the Passion.  One of my professors, a kindly gentleman named Yandall Woodfin, made a comment in his Philosophy of Religion class:  “We do not do Christian Theology without coming to grips with the reality of suffering and death.”  That comment was at first offensive to me because my mega-church pastors all focused on the Resurrection.  Death to them seemed to be a bother. One pastor said in a sermon how he did not do visits to the sick.  When asked by someone how sick they had to be for him to see them, he stated “You don’t want to be that sick.”

However, what Dr. Woodfin said planted a seed in me.  This went from an academic question, to daily reality during my Clinical Pastoral Education Residency at Parkland hospital.  Doing various Holy Week services there, in the midst of the amazing amount of pain, suffering and death in that gargantuan Medical Center brought into focus and made real what Dr. Woodfin said.  At Parkland there was no avoiding death or suffering, and what Dr. Woodfin said was right.  We don’t begin to do Christian theology until we we deal with suffering and death.  Easter and the Resurrection don’t happen without the Incarnation and Passion of Jesus.  Easter disconnected from the reality of suffering and death is nothing more than a “happy thought” or escape that avoids the the great Mystery of Faith: Christ has died. Christ is Risen. Christ will come again.

After Parkland my understanding of Easter grew as I was immersed in the liturgy, began to observe the liturgical year, and occasionally “clandestinely” attend Anglican churches during Christmas and Easter. During this time Judy became Roman Catholic, something that accelerated what was already going on in me.  During my formation process and following my ordination to first the Deaconate and then the Priesthood, the understanding deepened as I saw how the Gospel in Word and Sacrament. As an Army Reserve chaplain serving on active duty I experienced the life of a parish pastor at a small base in central Pennsylvania.  There I saw how the how the liturgical year and life are so intimately connect.  In life and death, in sorrow and joy, in good times and bad, the Holy Spirit touched people.

Easter became even more part of my life when I became a Navy Chaplain and left the Army in the “rear view mirror.”  Here I began to see how wonderful Easter is when you do not have all the “smells and bells” “praise teams” or great music or facilities.  It goes back to simplicity.  On Easter Sunday 2001, I was on the USS Frederick, LST 1184 with my Marines going from Korea back to Okinawa.  It was on Frederick 23 years before that I had first felt the call to be a Navy Chaplain during the trip to Pearl Harbor.  In 2002 I was deployed on USS Hue City CG-66 at the beginning of Operation Enduring Freedom. Off the Horn of Africa we had both sunrise services as well as a morning Eucharist on our flight deck. While with the Marine Security Forces I spent an Easter celebrating Eucharist on the fence-line adjoining Communist Cuba.  I now have come back to critical care hospital ministry in my ICUs.  Here we live Good Friday every day.  For me Easter is not just a nice thing to observe, but a necessity in life.

This morning I attended the early Mass with Judy at Ascension Catholic Church.  I love the church, though it is a bit big and busy for me now after Iraq.  So I found me a corner near the choir where I could sit with my back against the wall, an emergency exit to my left, and where I could observe what was going on.  Yes I was having a PTSD moment, but I got through it with the help of the Deity herself and a little ant-anxiety medication.  But the really cool thing was seeing a man who was one of our patients on the ICU a couple of months back.  A man who almost died on us several times, and his wife.  We had grown close during that 2 1/2 weeks and he made it through.  He looked great this morning.  We all hugged and talked of how good God is before Mass, exchanged the Peace and then spent some time together after Mass. That was really cool.  What a way to celebrate Easter.

Life and death, pain and suffering, healing and resurrection.  Alleluia, Christ is Risen. The Lord is Risen indeed. Alleluia!

Peace, Steve+

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