Monday, May 28, 2012

World War II Letters from Dad

These are letters Dad wrote in May 1942, 1943, 1944, and July 1945.  He was proud to serve his country and work hard with other men.  He couldn't tell his family very much about what was going on around him, and after the war he never talked very much about it.  His letters reveal how much he loved them and looked forward to coming back home.  When the 850th Engineers Aviation Battalion started having reunions, you could tell how much he valued them and the time they shared together.  I know very little about his time with the "Negro" 1864th Engineer Aviation Battalion.

Postmark May 22, 1942
Batry. A, 26th F.A. 9th Div.
Fort Bragg, North Carolina

Dear Dad,
It looks now like I won’t get home in June for the deer season. There are about 15 or 20 men who haven’t had furloughs yet ahead of me. Most of these were to have left this week but their furloughs have been canceled. We are due to leave for Virginia sometime before long; don’t know just when yet. It’s been put off so many times, I don’t think anyone knows just when we will leave. We’ll be up there for about 15 days. So it will be some time in July before I’ll even have a chance to put in for another furlough. I saw two deer this morning almost in camp. Both of them were does. 
I don’t know if I’ve written any of you or not, but I have some German prisoners here now. They were taken off a sub. somewhere off the coast. I don’t know if it’s a military secret or not. Haven’t seen anything in the papers about it. 
We’ve been put on a gas ration too. Are only allowed one gallon a day per truck, so we haven’t been riding very much. We’ve traveled just as much but do it on foot now. We can leave camp at eight in the morning and do fifteen miles before twelve o’clock. The call this a mechanized army but if you don’t have good feet you won’t last long. 
If it looks as if Stuart is going to be called, try to talk him into getting something before he is drafted. I wrote him a few days ago not to wait until the last few days before he starts looking around. I certainly hope he doesn’t have to go; but if he does he can do better than be drafted into a regular army outfit. 

Lt. Ernest P Davis, Jr.
850th Engr. Avn. Bn. (Stanstead Airdrome)
APO #517 New York, NY
27 May 1943

Dear Kathleen,
It took about 15 days for your and Momma's letters to reach me.  I don't know if its any faster or not but it does take less shipping space coming over and gives me enough room for what I need.
We are all learning to drive on the wrong side of the road and count English money.  Tell Dad I took the Battalion's money in to the town this week to get it changed.  One of the many bags the finance officer gave me was an Atlantic National Bank bag.  It was like seeing someone from home.  One of the Sergeants who waited on me worked in a bank in Atlanta and knew Uncle Billy.
I tried to send some flowers on Mothers Day but we couldn't use the telegraph office that day.
It's getting late; and my paper has just about run out so good night.
Ernest Jr.

850th Engineer Avitation Battalion
23 May 1944
Dear Mamma,
I don’t think it would be giving away any military secrets to say that we are on the firing range today.  Came out this morning but don’t commence firing until tomorrow.  There’s very little to do for the balance of the afternoon except sleep;  which Lt. Smith, my tent mate is doing, while I’m using his paper and envelopes.
It’s bright and sunny this afternoon.  Some of the men have taken their shirts off.  I’m sitting with my back against a stone wall looking out across an open field.  The rifles on the firing line are making quite a noise and Smith is snoring so it’s not as quiet as it might be.  Most of the men would rather be out here, even when they have to sleep on the ground, than in the camp and I know I would.
You should see our mess truck.  It’s arranged so the cook can cook right in the truck even in convoy.  The cabinets and cupboards are built into the side.  The three gasoline ranges have fit right across the front end.  We’ve raised the top so that a man is able to stand up without bumping his head.  Everything is very compact but we have no trouble feeding two hundred men.  One of the cooks told me at noon that he would rather cook in the truck than in the kitchens back in camp.
Received a letter from you yesterday which had taken about fifteen days to come across.  There was one last week which had been written since the one which I received yesterday.
I can think of nothing else for now so goodbye and love to all of you.
Ernest Jr.

At Sea
1864th Engineer Aviation Battalion
July 3, 1945

Dear Mamma,
It’s almost too hot to sleep tonight. If it were allowed I’d take a blanket out on deck and sleep there but since the ship has to be kept blacked out we have to stay below deck after dark.
I’m writing this in the ward room where it’s not much cooler but with the fans going it’s better than the top bunk in our compartment. 
We have picked up and dropped off mail once since we left the States. This will have to wait until we reach our final destination; which is still over a week away. I’ve never realized how much water there is on this side of the world. 
There has been little to do on board ship but eat and sleep for the past two weeks. Even though that gets tiresome it’s going to be hard to get back to work again. 
The first day or two out we had a bunch of sick Negroes. They are over it now and will be as glad as I will to get their feet on land again. 
Barbara had a lovely wedding I know. Wish I could have been there. Send me her address when you write again. 
Has anyone heard from Howard and James Clark lately? They should be getting home before long. Had a letter form an officer in the 850th not long ago and they were stationed near Nuremberg and had been assigned to the Occupational Air Force. So he didn’t think they would get home before next year anyway. 
Love to all,
Ernest Jr.

Friday, December 16, 2011

The Light of the World: A Sacristy Conversation

The Light of the World: A Conversation with Clark Massey
           After noon Mass on Thursday Clark Massey of Simple House asked me, “Do you have any old candles?”  “Do we have candles!  Take a look at these” I replied and pulled open a drawer in the sacristy.  Clark started loading up with the stubs of altar candles and I asked him “What do you need them for?”  “For the homeless,” he replied.  “They use them for heat.”  “That’s right,” the man who was with him added.  “With a candle and a blanket I have woken up in the morning nice and warm with snow all around.  And I can heat up a can of soup, too!” I was amazed, realizing how little I know about how some of us live, and trying to imagine myself being thankful for the heat of a candle.  “Tell everybody they are blessed,” I said.

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Hiking on my Ordination Anniversary

A Hiking Story
            Wednesday November 23 – the ninth anniversary of my ordination - was the third day of my hike.  The first day was foggy, the second day was rainy.  For two days I had passed colorfully named scenic view after scenic view, but could only see through the fog and rain for 100 yards or so. The third day – well.  All days start about the same.  It takes about an hour to get some breakfast – even if it is just some granola bars and hot chocolate – and get everything packed back up and ready to go.  It was nice starting downhill – but downhill means you-know-what, and on Wednesday it meant going down low enough to meet the highway and a park entrance.  Going back uphill was a two-hour trek up the east side of the Shenandoahs to the top of Mary’s Rock.  It seemed like a worthy goal for an ordination anniversary.  The rain was dripping off the trees and it seemed like it was going to rain again – which mean putting on my rain gear, and then taking it off when it didn’t really rain.  Rain gear does a good job of keeping the rain out, but it can also make it steamy “inside” especially when burning all that energy to climb as well as walk.  Climbing means fighting gravity as well as inertia.  I do better against inertia than gravity.
            Getting to the top was elusive.  It seemed like it must be just around the next bend or just behind the next rock.  I was almost relieved to get there several times before the rock in front of me was the last one.  Stepping around the rock from the east side to the west side, the wind and the view hit me at the same time.  It seemed like the wind was blowing at 40 – 50 miles an hour as it hit the side of the mountain and then was forced up and over the top, and I was at the top.  I could hardly stand up, and the cold wind that was beating against me was chilling me so fast that it scared me a little.  But the sun and the view out over the Shenandoah Valley was amazing.  Little farms with barns and silos covered the valley floor, with little clusters of houses in villages and bigger clusters in towns.
            Wednesday was a long day, hiking right along the crest of the ridge.  Every time the path ducked down on the east side of the ridge there was some relief from the wind.  Every time it passed along the very top or down the west side, the views were great, but wind!  I had to cover a lot of miles that day to get to the next shelter.  By 2:30 in the afternoon I was passing by Skyland Lodge – the place where Valerie, Margaret and her mother and I would share a late Thanksgiving on Friday.  After hiking for ten miles, I still had four miles to go and sunset comes at five o’clock.  In good terrain I can make two miles an hour.  I was tired, but told myself, “You can do this” as I passed the stables where the horses were already out in the pasture.
            The light was getting dim when I started smelling the smoke from someone’s wood fire.  That meant the shelter was pretty close.  As I turned off the side trail down to the shelter the sun had already set.  The view out over the Shenandoah Valley revealed the sparkling lights from a small town.  The shelter was empty, and even though there was a pile of wood that some previous hiker had gathered, the wind was too strong to make a fire.  The temperature was down close to freezing and the wind made it feel even colder, but I had enough layers to stay warm and get set-up for boiling some water for dinner with my alcohol stove.  There must have been a clear line-of-sight to a cell-tower down below because I got a good signal on my cell phone and called Valerie.
            A hundred yards further down the path, there was a small cabin – one of several that the Potomac Appalachian Trail Club make available.  Soon, a father and son came up the trail to check me out and invite me down to warm up by their fire.  It was a nice ending to a long day.  A family with three sons had rented the cabin for the Thanksgiving holidays and were roasting a chicken over the fire.  They had spent the day gathering firewood and now were enjoying the results of their adventures.  The well-chinked logs kept the wind and cold out.  The gas lantern made it bright and cheerful, pushing bedtime back later than it would normally be for me who would usually eat, clean up, and crawl into a warm sleeping bag no matter how early it might be.  It was nice to be able to peel off my layers and get warmed up and spend a little time with some people who just chanced to meet out in the woods.  But soon, even though it was only 8:00, my tired body told me it would need the next ten or eleven hours to recover for the next day’s hike.

Friday, October 28, 2011

Married Catholic Priests?

For some reason reporters like to ask married Catholic priests whether the Catholic Church should change the rules and to allow the ordination of more married Catholic men.  When I ask reporters why they don’t ask celibate Catholic priests what they think about it, they look at me funny, like it never occurred to them.
Maria Antonia asked me what I think about opening the Catholic priesthood to married men several different ways in an interview for Channel 9 News November 27.  She is a very good news reporter and interviewer, and I think she really wanted to know.  She asked the question a number of different ways, and I answered it a number of different ways.  The snippet that was chosen for broadcast is something I really said and really believe.  I do believe that the idea opening the priesthood to married men deserves deep thought.  But they didn’t broadcast my answer to the next question: If I could make the decision for the Catholic Church today, would I open the priesthood to married men?  No. 
As a married Catholic man I am very grateful that the Catholic Church deemed that it was appropriate to ordain me as a Catholic priest, but I would still be Catholic even if I were not ordained.  There are about a hundred or more former Episcopal priests as well as former Methodist, Lutheran, Presbyterian and other protestant ministers who have been ordained as Catholic priests and many of them are married.  In addition we have some Catholic priests who are widowers and have children and grandchildren; we have many Eastern Rite Catholic priests with wives and children, and we have many, many ordained deacons with wives and children.  So we are getting a lot of experience with married Catholic clergy.  We have gifts to offer, and limitations, too. 
When married and celibate priests gather, the question of changing the rules of celibacy hardly ever comes up.  A celibate priesthood has been a great gift to the church for 1500 years, and every time the church has gone through a period of spiritual renewal, the gift of celibacy has been renewed and the church has been reinvigorated.  We certainly do not want to introduce a change to this great gift, which the pope, most bishops and most current priests support and find life giving, unless we have done some deep conversation, study and prayer.
Does being married and having children make me a better priest?  I don’t know how to measure that.  It makes me different, but I cannot say that it makes me better.  I have never been a priest without being married and having children.  It is part of who I am, and I have no way of telling how I would be different if I were celibate.  There are many times when coming home to Valerie and the kids gives me a sense of balance in my life, especially when going through difficult times at church.  But it also works the other way.  I am sure there are times when I was not as available to Valerie and the kids as I could have been if I church needs and pressures had not intruded.  I find that if I have more than two or three evening meetings a week, family life really suffers.  Fr. Steve Cook, Pastor at St. Peter’s, told me that he spends six or seven nights a week with parishioners in their homes or at meetings at church.  There is simply no way I could match that.  His parish is blessed to have a celibate priest.  Does that mean that my parish suffers because St. Therese has a married one?  I don’t know.  It is possible.  Right now I’m the only priest they’ve got, and there’s no way to test whether I would be a better pastor for them if I were celibate.
Episcopalian Bishop Robert Folwell gave me some advice that I have tried to live by, even as a Catholic priest.  He said, “Put God first, your wife second, your children third, and the church after that.”  What would it mean if most Catholic priests were unavailable to their flocks because they need to have family time?  Catholic priests are “married” to the church in a way.  Some Catholic priests call their breviary their “wife.”  Their lives are very different from the one I have lived. It may be essential that Catholic priests be able to put the needs of his flock next after God.  It deserves much thought.
Would married Catholics find it easier to relate to a married priest when discussing their own family issues?  People have occasionally told me that.  But no priest, single or married, can ever say, “I know how you feel” or “I know what you are going through” even if we have experienced something similar. None of us knows what it is like for the other person until they tell us.  We do our best to meet people in their need and to be as helpful as we can, perhaps a little from our own family experience, but mostly from what we learn from the person herself or himself and from what we have learned from helping others, always dependent upon God’s help.  It is easy to forget that all priests have families: parents and siblings, cousins, nieces and nephews.  We are probably just as likely to have experience with divorce, to have relatives who are single and married, straight and gay.  Whatever our family status we try to assist the person in the way that is appropriate for them.
Would having more married priests help the Catholic Church, especially through the troubles the church is facing now?  No.  There is no evidence that a person’s marital status makes a person more or less likely to abuse a child.  The Catholic Church is one of the safest places a child can be, and even safer with the new safeguards instituted by Bishop Finn recently.  All priests, employees and volunteers that work with children are background checked, trained and re-trained.  The safety of children is of first importance.  If child abuse is suspected, we call the police first and then our ombudsman will investigate.  Other institutions – public schools, sports leagues, scouts – all have problems and work hard to be safer.  But the Catholic Church is held to a higher standard because we hold ourselves and call others to a higher standard.  When we fail or appear to fail it is doubly troubling and very public.
People who say we should have more married priests are trying to be helpful.  When there is a tragedy, people often say things with the best of intentions.  Perhaps they say things they have heard other people say, without really thinking deeply about it.  Those who have experienced a tragic loss can easily remember the things that were said by people who were trying to be kind.  Saying that God doesn’t give us more than we can bear or that God needed another angel may contain some truth, but it is not helpful to the person experiencing the tragedy.  Saying that married priests would help the Catholic Church is similar.  It is meant to be helpful.  There may be some truth in it.  But it is unrelated to the current circumstances.
Should the Roman Catholic Church start ordaining more married men?  I think we should ask our celibate priests what they think about it.  How does this gift of celibacy make them better priests?  We should also ask the Catholic faithful if they have to share a priest with his wife and children, and that their priest is no longer “married” to his flock.  It is an idea that deserves much study and deep thought.  The Catholic Church does not make decisions like this quickly, without deep thought, study and conversation.  Perhaps the best we can say is that our current married Catholic clergy who are deacons, former Episcopalian and protestant clergy, and Eastern Rite priests could help with that study, deep thought and conversation. 

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Chamber of Commerce Urban Core Initiative

I am thrilled by the announcement that the Chamber of Commerce will engage in an urban core neighborhood initiative, with leadership by Terry Dunn of JE Dunn Construction and Brent Stewart of the United Way.  I'm not sure what they have in mind, but I'm eager to learn more.  I'm sure lots of neighborhoods will be lining up to work with them. Or maybe not.  Business people can get tired of endless meetings that only seem to lead to further meetings.  Jesus could speak admiringly about the ability of business people to get things done.  Read Luke, Chapter 16:1-8.  We've got lots of resources to work with.  Just think about the 63rd Street and Meyer Blvd. corridor.  It is almost wall-to-wall schools from Wornall to 71 Highway:  Southwest, Border Star, St. Peter's, University Academy, Banneker Charter, Hogan Prep High and Middle, the new Kauffman Charter, Nazarene Seminary, Brookside Charter.  And there are commercial anchors - or potential ones - from one end to another: Brookside Shopping Center, The Landing, The Citadel, Research Medical Center.  UMKC and Rockhurst are just a few blocks away.  I would think that Highwoods would be eager to redevelop the areas east of Brookside to protect their investment. Just think what we could make of this - all of those kids coming into this corridor every day, all of those teachers and administrators, doctors, nurses and patients.  With the right know-how, and economic and political ability, we could make a huge difference in the lives of the students.  Could we break through the school against school competition and work together for the kids, mornings and evenings, weekends and summers?  With all these kids already here, why would they need to flock to the Plaza if there were something constructive to keep them here?  Could the Chamber get done with others haven't been able to do?  To turn The Landing into a transportation hub and destination for residents from both sides of Troost?  Get the Citadel going with a decent supermarket?  It would be difficult, surely.  But not as difficult as raising the dead.

Monday, September 12, 2011

Another shooting today

Another shooting today.  This time people in two cars were shooting at each.  Kids from the school were outside for PE.  None of the kids was hurt, but one from the car was wounded.   But this is the fourth shooting close to St. Therese in four years, the second this summer.  Neighbors are abandoning the neighborhood, almost 30% between 1980 -1990, more than 20% between 1990 - 2000, less than 20% between 2000 - 2010.  Is it getting better or does it just mean those who have the ability have already gone?  Families with kids are leaving fast.  Older folks are the ones left.  They're committed because they own their homes.  Today I felt like telling everybody to get out.  Maybe we all ought to move to Leawood or Blue Springs.  Chester set me straight - we can't give up hope.  Sometimes the pastor needs pastoring.  I'm glad Mayor Sly James has reconstituted a commission to reduce violent crimes. God bless them but I'm not going to hold my breath.  If this was happening  on the Plaza it would get fixed fast.  Where people have economic power, City Council acts like greased lightning.  When people are poor or live in red-lined communities - official or not - their school kids have to brave the bullets from assault rifles firing from cars  driving by the playground.  I'm not saying there are fast and easy fixes.  Again, nobody will talk.  The rogue who got shot won't say who shot him.  What does any of this have to do with having a "well regulated militia"?  I say, let people have assault weapons, or even a tanks, but where's the well regulated part in what's happening on our streets?  If these guys want to play with guns, let them join the national guard.

Sunday, August 7, 2011

Another Murder Outside St. Therese

B. J. buzzed me on Wednesday afternoon and said, “There’s been a shooting up on the corner.” From my office I can hear shots from the north, south and west, but the church blocks the sound from the east, so I hadn’t heard the shots. She pointed out the front of the rectory toward the corner of 58th and Euclid, cattycorner from the church. “Get the holy water and meet me there,” I told her, and took off running. The sirens were coming from every direction. I don’t know how she did it, but it seemed like B.J. got here just moments after I did. The police were jumping out of their cars and running in our direction. Before they were able to stop me I was able to pray, “Depart, O Christian soul, out of this world, in the name of the Father who created you, in the name of the Son who redeemed you, and in the name of the Holy Spirit who sanctified you. And may your resting place today be with the saints in paradise.” At least that’s what I was trying to say, but with the sobs and the anger at another stupid killing, I know I didn’t get it all said before the police were yelling to get back from the car and rolling out their crime scene tape. At least I was able to do the minimum that priests do, before the tragic end of another sacred life became a crime scene, not a church and not a deathbed.

Then there were choices to be made. What do you do when there’s been a shooting at your church? This certainly wasn’t part of my seminary training. Certainly there was the work of being pastor, checking in with church staff. The neighbors started coming outside to look up the street and wonder what was going on, so I walked down Euclid to speak with them. Sr. Ann Landers was out with the neighbors, too. The crime scene was so large that I couldn’t walk up Euclid to see the neighbors outside on the north side of 58th Street, or those who were east on 58th Street.

What else should we do? Do we lay low and hope that no one notices? Having a murder practically on the church steps is not the kind of publicity a church needs. Too many people are needlessly afraid of taking a step east of Troost already. But the maddening thing is that this was the third killing since I’ve been here – just a little over four years. About three years ago a man was shot late one Saturday night as he walked east on 59th Street, and was able to stumble over beside the school in front of the convent before he died. We kept that one quiet, not wanting to upset people at Mass the next day. Then last fall, during the afternoon just after school had let out, two young men exchanged shots on Michigan Avenue, just a few houses south of the school. One of them died in a pool of blood. Happening just before the evening news, there was no way to keep that one quiet.

Our decision to speak up this time was not made by one person, and it was not pre-planned. It came partly out of the grief and anger at this murder, the 63rd killing in Kansas City so far this year. Do we speak out, and if we speak out, what do we say? B. J. was there, and Estelle Tunley. Eva Schulte and Jerry Jones were upstairs with their CCO team. They were ready to drop everything and help plan the response. Does this call for a political action or spiritual action? In our conversations, inside, outside, on the fly, we realized that 63 murders would not be tolerated in Leawood; there would be a community response from every corner of society that would determine the cause, respond to it, and put an end to it. Why do we tolerate such an outrage in Kansas City?

We decided that even though a political response is necessary, we needed to pray and to mourn for the tragic loss of this sacred life, of this man whose name we didn’t even know. We decided on a prayer vigil for the next evening at 6:30. Eva knew we needed to reach out immediately to a wider circle of our neighbors, so they quickly printed flyers and began to visit the homes on the blocks around the church. Notifying church members and neighborhood residents was not easy, and I apologize to everyone who would have responded if you had heard. I am also grateful to everyone who responded and came to pray and honor the victims.

Reducing the violence will also take political power. Pastor Emeritus Wallace Hartsfield, Sr. said that people groan, then they moan, then they speak, and then they shout. We need to remember our grief and anger to motivate us to work together with hope and faith. It seems to me that we need to ask our political leaders two questions: “What can be done to reduce the violence. Why aren’t we doing it.”

If you would like an opportunity to find out how to ask those questions and others in ways that can help bring about the change we need, please join us at St. Therese on Saturday, August 13, at 10:00 a.m. in the Church Hall.