On Spring Training

As a counselor, I believe one of my most important tasks is to help people find hope. Hope in themselves and their inner resources or hope that something positive outside them such as a Higher Power. These days it seems to be a precious commodity.

For some time, baseball has been a metaphor for me for all kinds of life events. Its artistry inspires my creativity. Its moments of poetry leave me wondrous. Moments of deep failure lead to reflection on how I deal with my own failures. I can even reflect on the Biblical theme of scapegoats (Remember Bill Buckner? Steve Bartman?) And of course, as George Carlin reminds us, we all have a desire to be safe at home.

Baseball gives me a metaphor for hope for hope springs eternal for all baseball fans when spring training arrives. We all start the new season with hope for our team, even if our team came out on top the previous year. We especially welcome the new season with hope when our team came oh so close. And yes those of us who have rooted for teams that finished in last place yet still believe. Spring training is a time of hope.

Spring training represents a new start. It represents a time to assess what wounds have healed. It may be a time to assess whether it’s time to move into a new phase of my life. As a poet once said, there may be nothing more poignant than an aging ball player playing past his time, unable to let go of one more chance at glory.

There is success in spring training but also much failure. Recall that more players go back to the minor leagues than make the team. Some never make it back. Spring training, after all, is a place of dreams. Players dream of making the team, of having a good year, of winning the World Series. Hope sustains our dreams.

Yes, baseball success is a trivial issue in comparison with hoping for the cure to an illness or relief from poverty or even finding a job. I approached baseball originally because it was an unimportant way to help me rediscover enthusiasm. The same may be true of hope.

So as spring training gets under way, whether you are a baseball fan or not, take the time to reflect on where you are as far as hope is concerned, recalling that perhaps more than anything else hope is life-affirming. Come on! Play ball!

In that spirit, enjoy John Fogarty’s “Center Field”

REFLECTION: 1. How is your level of hope? For what are you hoping?

 

 

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Of Walls and Politics and WWJD

El Paso is a most interesting place to live in these days. This past Monday we had the President here defending his Wall. In the nearby town of Tornillo we have migrant children separated from their families. Just down the street from my office we have migrants being force-fed as they undertake a hunger strike. We have a young articulate Democrat being touted as a Presidential candidate. So it goes.

We appear to be living in a spiritual vacuum. Participation in organized religion is decreasing, especially among young people. Hate crimes continue. The Bible is used to justify all kinds of political stances. And many, many of us simply shake our heads, not sure of what to do or who to believe.

You may remember a fad several years ago where people would wear bracelets with the letters WWJD, standing for What Would Jesus Do. These days I find myself thinking a lot about that question — What Would Jesus Do or Say?

I suspect first of all that Jesus would be appalled when people use his message to justify all kinds of actions, especially war. He would be appalled by the prevalence of hate crimes and the justification of such crimes by so-called Christian principles. He would be saddened by evidence of extreme self-involvement and attitudes of entitlement among the young.

But what would he do? Your own answer to that question is important these days because it will point you toward whatever political stance you feel compelled to take. I am not so presumptuous as to claim that I can read Jesus’ mind so I have to try to answer that question for myself based on the evidence of his words and actions.

Here in El Paso Jesus would be out at the Tornillo camp giving plates of tortillas and beans to the children. He would also listen with compassion to the guards frustrated with the enormity of the task.

Jesus very well might picket an abortion clinic but he would also approach with compassion the young teenager as she left that clinic post-abortion.

Jesus would protest any form of war while at the same time reaching out to warriors wounded in body, mind, and spirit.

Jesus would confront politicians acting in ways against his message while at the same time reminding us to love our enemies and to pray for them. Jesus confronted and even became aggressive in the face of people using their positions to enrich themselves but he also had compassion for the merchants, the tax collectors, even the Roman soldiers who wanted to believe there is a better way.

Jesus would stroke the brow of a person dying of AIDS. He would reach out to the young man or woman considering suicide rather than tell a parent he or she is gay. He would be at the El Paso bus station passing out bottles of water to migrants left there by the Border Patrol. He would sit with the Border Patrol agent in turmoil because his own parents were immigrants.

Jesus would reassure the victim of clergy abuse that they did no wrong and would want them to heal. And yes he would confront the church officials who covered up for the abusers. And yes he would forgive the abuser.

What do YOU say Jesus would do?

 

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On Christian Protest

Today I spoke with another Viet Nam veteran who was devastated by the reception he received upon returning home. Yes, I marched in the anti-war marches but I never spit at anyone and never called anyone a baby-killer.

The issue of protest in ugly seemingly non-Christian ways is with us today, fostered in part by a political dialogue that is often filled with name-calling and mocking. Yet the need for protest is as great as ever. Wars continue. Our environment gets more polluted. Our religions avoid accountability. Our leaders flaunt their ability to function by a different moral standard.

Yet we also see images of name-calling and mockery. We see abortion clinics get bombed. We see peaceful protesters mowed down by vehicles. We see people judged, condemned, even assaulted because their sexual orientation goes against so-called Biblical principles. We see migrants being accused of all manner of social ills.

Jesus was a radical who engaged in public protest in an effort to reform the Judaism of his time. He spoke out on behalf of the poor, the migrant, the outsider, encouraging us all to embrace the marginalized. His protests, especially against the establishment, got him killed.

So is there such a thing as Christian protest, i.e., a way of protesting that is consistent with principles of Christian living? A key Christian principle is to hate the sin while loving the sinner. This would be a cornerstone of Christian protest — to stay focused on the issue while not being side-tracked by personalities or by a less-than-Christian response from the other side. Christian protest would also need to be guided by a mutual effort to maintain respect and to listen. Only by listening can we establish meaningful dialogue.

And, yes, there is such a thing as righteous anger, modeled for us not only as Jesus tore up the Temple and threw out the merchants. He also modeled for us righteous anger when he confronted the powers that be. Yes, Jesus did call them names such as whitened sepulchers. He most especially challenged the powers as hypocrites who focused more on rules than on compassion. Some protest needs to be angry. The citizens of Flint MI for example are justifiably angry over the poisoning of their children by governments playing with their water supply. Government officials do indeed need to be confronted about their indifference and/or selfishness not only in Flint but in many other areas where the needs of the marginalized are ignored.

We must always balance our righteous anger by the command to love our enemy, probably Jesus’ greatest challenge. Yet if I allow my anger toward the enemy to consume me, then I am no better than protesters who name-call and assault in the name of so-called Christian principles.

 

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Life According to Vin Scully

My early days of baseball depended upon a transistor radio. During the memorable 1960 World Series, for example, I tucked the radio inside my shirt, ran the earpiece up my sleeve and sat listening, convinced I was fooling the nun but, more importantly, tracking the Pirates as they went back and forth against the hated Yankees in Game 7.

Those early days with my radio introduced me to many great announcers. Television introduced me to more great announcers such as Curt Gowdy of my beloved Redsox. But. like 98% of baseball fans, the one I especially enjoyed was Vin Scully, voice of the Dodgers until 2016. He was a wealth of stories and, in the presence of a dramatic moment, had the good sense to stay quiet. Over the years, Vin said some pretty profound things. Here are a few:

“That is the way the game is. You win, you lose, you celebrate and you suffer.” If we can accept the realities of all four and that all four are transitory, it at least makes it possible to get through life without being bitter.

“It’s a mere moment in a man’s life between an All-star game and an old-timers game.” To pause and wonder at the rapid passing of time is a necessary step toward appreciating the time we are given.

“Don’t let the winds blow your dreams away…or steal your faith in God.” Vin is actually a man of deep faith but recognizes here how our faith is challenged by suffering and hardship. Having dreams and having faith are great resources for negotiating life’s gales.

And finally “Andre Dawson has a bruised knee and is listed as day-to-day. Aren’t we all?” In the business of psychology, mindfulness and the challenge to “live in the moment” are very popular concepts these days. It is important that we recognize that that can all change in an instant, be it a stroke, an IED, or a simple fall. I have seen people’s lives turn in a completely different direction without warning. We must learn not to live in fear of that reality while at the same time live in gratitude.

Here then are some of Vin Scully’s best calls:

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The Myth of Closure

Here is the link for my most recent article in St Anthony Messenger, titled “The Death Penalty and the Myth of Closure”.

https://blog.franciscanmedia.org/sam/the-death-penalty-and-the-myth-of-closure

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On Christmas Memories

Blessings to one and all and hopefully some good Christmas memories

Psyche and Spirit/Richard B. Patterson PhD

This is a difficult time of year for many folks. For some, it is a time of traumatic memories being stirred up. For others, it is a time when already intense grief deepens.

In my work, I bear witness to such pain. Thus, just this past week I sat with a young man who was injured in an IED blast during the week between Christmas and New Year’s. I sat with a woman who witnessed her son’s suicide. I sat with the adult child of an alcoholic who regularly was drunk by noontime on Christmas Day.

I find myself resonating to the words of the Jackson Brown song The Rebel Jesus when he cautions that those who question why there are poor will “get the same as the Rebel Jesus.” As I ponder His birth, I fear we all have missed His message.

In the midst of such heaviness, though…

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War and Peace and Christmas

Plato once said “Only the dead have seen the end of war”. A dismal observation yet a cursory study of human history reveals that somewhere in our world someone is at war. The Christmas wish of “peace on earth” seems to be only wishful thinking.

In my years working with veterans, I have seen that those veterans have particular difficulty if in some way they came to see “the enemy” as simply another human being. Yet making those connections is where we find hope. Hope that the human spirit is big enough to be able to rise above differences, big enough to resist the pettiness of leaders, big enough to consider that the man or woman bearing a weapon on “the other side” is also a child of God.

There are a few historical events that give me hope. After the fall of Richmond, President Lincoln was touring a hospital when he came to the cot of a wounded Confederate officer. Lincoln offered his hand and the officer asked “Do you realize whose hand you want to shake?” Lincoln smiled and said “I do and I hope he will accept my hand.” The officer indeed shook Lincoln’s hand in a moment that left an impression on those around him.

There is the Christmas truce of 1914. Soldiers on opposite trenches agreed to suspend hostilities. Slowly, they emerged from the trenches, meeting halfway. As portrayed in the great film “Joyeaux Noel”, they conversed, sang, and the next day played soccer.

Sadly the holiday passed and soldiers returned to their trenches to once again be enemies.

Then there is the story of  Desmond Doss. Doss was a conscientious objector who nonetheless wanted to serve in the military as a medic. His story is told in the film “Hacksaw Ridge”. A man of deep faith, he rescued 75 wounded soldiers, including several wounded Japanese soldiers. A man of non-violence, he received the Medal of Honor.

These images of people of war reaching across enemy lines to console or rescue or simply to play together gives me hope.

I’ll close with a beautiful hymn from “Joyeux Noel”. I dedicate it to all those men and women in strange countries at this time of year in the hopes that eventually we will find a way to put an end to the war that separates us from one another https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ExrRiw1vGNM

Here also are the lyrics to the song. Quite poetic.

https://www.letssingit.com/libera-lyrics-i-m-dreaming-of-home-8mbmhj6

 

 

 

 

 

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“Walk With The Pain”

Recently I was asked to write an article on whether the death penalty provided “closure” for families of victims. Closure, I believe, is a concept that in part evolved from Elizabeth Kubler-Ross’ famous five steps, the fifth step being acceptance.

Over the years I have sat with people who suffered unimaginable losses and judged themselves because they had not “accepted” the loss. I have also sat with parents who suffered the most unimaginable loss of all — the death of a child.

I grew up in a family in which children died. Did my parents ever “accept” those losses? I don’t think so. I don’t think the pain of those losses ever left my parents. Similarly, in trying to counsel with people who have lost children, I don’t think the goal has ever been “acceptance” or “closure”.

Recently I was told that a referral was made to me of a woman who had lost a child. I asked another friend who had lost a son “What can I tell her?” He paraphrased something he’d heard in a movie titled Wind River. He said “Tell her the pain never goes away. But tell her also that, if she can learn to walk with the pain, she gets to keep the good memories.”

To walk with the pain. This to me is a far better idea than either “closure” or “acceptance”. How can the pain of losing a child ever go away? It can’t. Granted I have known some parents who tried to avoid that pain but those same parents would also complain that they were having trouble remembering the good times. I have also known parents who learned to walk with the pain. In the midst of their tears, they are also able to smile over a good memory.

My own parents didn’t have memories to cherish since my sisters died as infants. But, as they learned to walk with the pain, they were able to envision a joyous reunion. Given that they are both gone, I like to think that the reunion happened for them.

What can I say to someone who has lost a child? Nothing that eases their pain. But perhaps there is some value in having a companion to walk with them as they learn to walk with the pain.

Further Viewing: Wind River is a very good but very violent film. This excerpt is the one referred to above by my friend.

 

 

 

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Further Thoughts on Being a Veteran

At Mass this morning, the priest (an Army chaplain himself) asked all veterans to stand and be blessed. I looked around and saw young and old, male and female. I wondered what their stories are. Who served in combat? What stories do they have to tell?

I have spoken with veterans of every war from World War II to the present conflicts. Here are a few things they have taught me:

  1. A World War II veteran gave me the best definition I know of for PTSD. When I asked him about the daily nightmares he suffered, he said simply “I assumed it was the price men pay for going to war.”
  2. Another World War II taught me how important it is to talk about trauma. He had carried within him for 60 years the belief he was a coward for being afraid. When I managed to help him see the inaccuracy of that belief, he said simply “It never occurred to me that other men might be afraid.”
  3. A female Command Sergeant Major taught me the realities of sexual discrimination in the military as she shared without self-pity a long story of harassment she faced as she rose to the highest enlisted rank.
  4. I think of a Viet Nam veteran who told me horrific stories of being in combat but only started weeping when he spoke of being spit on by protestors upon his return home.
  5. I think of a man of faith who spoke sadly of finding the body of an Iraqi boy he’d befriended, murdered because the friendship made others suspect the boy was supplying information. I think of a Catholic man who believed his sins were beyond forgiving and that, because he had killed, he could not attend Mass.                                                                                                                                                                                        These and many other brother and sister veterans have taught me that, while some may need professional care, many simply want to tell their story without judgment. They have also helped me see that war is truly wrong, that war destroys in body, mind, and spirit.                                                                                                                                  So if you want to thank a veteran for his or her service, take the time to listen if they choose to honor you with their stories. Those stories will enrich you.                           As you watch the attached, please pray with me: “For God’s sake, bring them all home!”      https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tV7NYRimZec
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On Baseball

Last year is here!!

Psyche and Spirit/Richard B. Patterson PhD

For me, baseball is a spiritual matter. It encompasses most of the themes I’ve discussed so far.

I first came to baseball as a spiritual matter back in 1984. I had been sober for a little over a year. While that was a great blessing, I felt my life was tepid ( a not uncommon challenge for people newly sober). I decided I needed to be enthused.

I do not have the gift of enthusiasm. I have known a few who do — some family members, an actor-friend. I have also been privileged to see some people discover that gift once they got out from under oppressive circumstances. But in my case I had to practice. But what could I be enthused about?

After some discernment, I settled on baseball. I would be one of those men who opened the newspaper and cheered or cursed depending upon the latest scores…

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