PTSD in Everyday Life: Brian

January 13th, 2018

A while back I wrote about PTSD in everyday life. There I
talked about my own wounds. Next I want to tell about a
wound to my friend Brian. I was also wounded in the process
but Brian’s wound was deeper.

Brian and I were both fervent Anglo-Catholic Episcopalians.
While I was away at college Brian had discovered a nearby
parish that was extremely Catholic for an Episcopal parish,
St Paul’s in East St Louis Illinois. The priest there was Fr
Lahey. He was an ex-Marine, perhaps a drill instructor or a
DI wannabee. He conducted his life and ministry that way.
Brian and I became acolytes. The liturgy was very
“Catholic.” This was in the old days, before the Prayer book
Revisions and before the influence of Vatican II on our
Roman Catholic siblings. It was glorious if stretched thin;
it was quite a small parish. We used the same ceremonial as
the Romans, Celebrant, Deacon, and Subdeacon. Brian and I
became Subdeacons. The choir, such as it was, sang
plainsong. I was in liturgical heaven. Or so I thought.

I was only there in the summers when I was in college. The
parish and priest in the parish there was Anglo-Catholic but not extreme. He was sane and level-headed and a good pastor. There I
developed a vocation to priesthood. But I would have to go
through the discernment process where I actually lived. So
St Paul’s and Lahey. After college I was there a lot of
the time. The summer before I graduated, I had taught in a
Vacation Bible School. I also worked doing a neighborhood
survey for the Diocese to see what kind of urban work could
be done there.

In the meantime Lahey had recruited a disciple. Lahey was a
member of the Third Order Episcopal Franciscans. Dorothy
also became a Tertiary. She told me later that it was all
fine as long as she was a Postulant but when she became a
Novice, he treated her like a medieval Novice Master. Lahey ordered her around. Once, he told her to take out the trash and was the garbage cans. She complained that she was tired. He replied that she was Novice and he was her Novice Master and that for her to disobey was a mortal sin and she would go to Hell. So she
did it. He also gave her the Altar Guild and flower work.
She was alone in this. To teach her poverty, she had to go round the local funerals homes and beg flowers for Sunday’s altar. She didn’t like this. The Third Order had a full religious habit to be worn at Third Order meetings. Lahey encouraged her to wear it at home to do housework and whatever. Her husband didn’t like this. Lahey also encouraged scruples. She had to confess every time she drove
over the speed limit; she had to confess every time she
drove barefoot. I heard him berate her in the confessional,
shouting “You did what?”

I learned later that one Saturday Dorothy, after setting up the altar and flowers, was found lying on the Sanctuary floor, kicking and screaming and was taken to the psych ward. Soon after that her husband retired from the Air Force and they moved to Florida. After that Lahey found another position and resigned. Then he found he hadn’t got the position, but the Vestry wouldn’t let him take back his position. The Bishop advised them that he was married with a family, and asked them to take him back for six months and six months only, so he could find another position. Eventually he found a position in a church in Florida near where Dorothy had moved to.

Later we heard she had committed suicide. Stalker much? To my mind, he had as good as killed her with Spiritual Direction. And when I eventually heard that his Florida church had burnt, I said to God, “Well, you finally got him back.”

Lahey had a family, a wife and two boys. They looked like their clothes came from the cheapest most worn bin at a thrift store. Holy Poverty, and he dressed in the same way. His wife, whose name sadly I don’t remember, looked mousy and was timid to the degree that she was barely noticed. The boys looked the same and seemed similarly cowed. Today, knowing what I know now, I would suspect real psychological abuse, maybe even physical.

Lahey could be abusive in his ministry. He said in sermons that you were going to Hell if you had pre-marital sex, and likewise Hell-bound if you didn’t vote for Barry Goldwater. One Sunday he preached about sin. His examples came from people’s confessions. Everyone recognized their own sins from specific details he gave.

He also said to Brian and I in the sacristy unvesting after Mass that he thought all these boys with long hair were homosexuals. I replied, “Father, I wouldn’t say that if I were standing there wearing a dress.” Some while later, Brian, a fan of the Beatles and other new rock, began to grow out his hair. Lahey told him if he had long hair he could not serve at the altar. At the next acolyte meeting, Brian was absent. I then resigned as an acolyte and told the boys, if he could do this to Brian, he could do this to anyone and we should all quit. Brian later told me that he had gone to Lahey to ask for help because he thought he was a homosexual, and Lahey and Lahey had said, “Hogwash, you just need to go out with girls more.”

Lahey had killed Brian’s love of church and sacraments.

There was another Episcopal priest there, Larry, who had served as Deacon at St Paul’s, but once ordained as a priest, he went off on his own. He had been sent there to do urban ministry and community organization, so he had no connection to the parish. I went to his apartment, where he would celebrate the Eucharist. Sometimes Brian came along. Then Larry moved away and we were lost. I decided to leave the church myself. I didn’t go to church for months.

Eventually I realized I missed worship and the Eucharist. My faith, cut back to the roots, had not died. I visited a parish in St Louis, Trinity, that I had heard good things about. I decided Trinity was my last stand in the institutional church. In years to come I became deeply involved there, but that’s another story.

In the meantime, Brian developed a lightshow for a local rock place which failed, leaving us with the equipment, and Brian marketed us to producers of rock groups that came to St Louis.
We did well with that. We even did four Eucharists at Trinity and to a degree that brought Brian back to the fold. Later he and others of the lightshow and rock circle would come to church on special occasions.

I later heard that Brian would go to the local Episcopal church, but by then I had gone off to join the monastery and lost contact with Brian. He died several years ago. I wish that I had been in contact because there were lots of things I wish I could have told him.

I think looking back that Brian’s experience with Lahey had given him PTSD vis a vis the Church. Me too, to a lesser degree, but miraculously I survived. I grieved through it with the help of a psychiatrist and the tolerance of my brothers in the monastery. My vocation to priesthood which I denied, Lahey made me never want to be a priest, ever, ever, emerged from deep within, painfully breaking through the hard ground of my heart.

So here I am. Give the glory to God.

An addendum from Brian’s brother about Brian after I lost touch:
Hey. Interesting read, for sure. There’s certainly nothing in there that I’d object to in any way. I’m not really sure about whether dealing with Fr. Lahey resulted in Brian having PTSD, but then I don’t have any real experience or expertise. It seems to me that Bill Lahey did some damage to almost everybody who relied on him for pastoral care in one form or another, so it wouldn’t surprise me. Once Brian came back to St. George’s as an active parishioner I think he really found a church home in a lot of ways, although the relationship was complex and, I think, his relationship to the Church overall was complicated in a lot of ways. The Episcopal Church of that time, and the Diocese of Springfield longer and more than many, wasn’t welcoming when it came to sexuality and gender roles. I don’t need to tell you that. As extreme a case as Bill Lahey was, the Church’s institutional homophobia was a lot deeper than just a few crazed priests. You’d probably know better than I, but I’ve always believed that Brian’s real heartbreak in that respect was the fact he didn’t see any chance of himself entering the priesthood in the climate in which he’d grown up. Change in the Church came too late in that respect. He was never clear with me that he’d really felt called to the priesthood, so I can’t say for sure. For all of that, by the time he died Brian was a stalwart at St. George’s. He was blessed with clergy he knew and liked and who knew and liked him, and I don’t think it’s an overstatement to say he was widely seen as a significant (albeit informal) leader in the parish. To this day some of my favorite memories of him were his last couple of Good Friday mornings, when the parish counted on the two of us to come in early, take over the kitchen, and produce huge vats of vegetarian soup together for the community meal they offered the neighborhood after their annual Way of the Cross that went through the streets around the church. All that said, I think your piece is fine. It offers the perspective of one of his most beloved friends who knew him better at that time than I did. It’s kind of an enduring regret to me that you two didn’t have a chance to know each other over the years. Thanks for sharing it with me.

The Saddest Man

January 11th, 2018

I was working at a filling station in an arrangement with a security officer to provide security there, a former police officer. He was there one night when a police cruiser drove in and the officer got out. I noticed his name plate just as my boss said, “This is Harry Fagg. That’s with two g’s and he’s not.” Conversation ensued and Officer Fagg told his sad story. He was on patrol one night when the burglar alarm went off at a real estate office in the bottom of the Washington Hotel.This was my landlord’s office, so I knew it well. The incident that he narrated was notorious, so I had heard a bit about it. Harry responded and the burglars got the drop on him and took him hostage. Negotiations ensued and the police allowed them to take their hostage and go, with safe conduct to somewhere and release their hostage. So they took off with Harry, surrounded by police cars. After some distance the police decided to take them and free their hostage. Gunfire ensued. The only person injured was Harry Fagg. “Damn,” he said, “shot in the ass by my own men.”

An Environmental Tax Plan (for Atlanta at least)

December 14th, 2017

(for Atlanta at least)

A high excise tax on vehicles purchased
the proceeds to be for new and improved public transit

A tax on employers based on their distance from public transportation
this would also contribute to public transit
and would encourages businesses to open closer to transit

An income tax rated by distance from home to transit
encourages transit funding and transit use

A tax for school support rated by
distance from home to transit

A plan for building and extending public transit
funded by the above taxes

See how many entities, corporations, goverments would each hire a separate asassin to go for me

They would shoot it out for the privilege, (ha!) payment
the last one would be so grievously woounded that I would survive.

Iona 1991

May 13th, 2017

Fallen, fallen
is Babylon the Great
Babylon is behind me here
Still I carry Babylon within me
When I see Babylon
I see the fallen city
the cities of the plain
smoke rises
a stench

the cry of the poor
lost, homeless, hungry
to the Hearer of Pain
cries to me
come out of
self-worth is shuckin’ and jivin’
only the Hearer gives worth

city of endless accumulation
your need is for me
city of greedy power
weakness is my power

at the margin again
wrong margin?
Timmy at the piers
his margin addresses mine
scruff to scruff
“Do you want a muffin?
I bought two and only ate one”
“oh sorry I just ate.”
“Well . . .
Can I have a hug?”

lost in the face of the city
I hug sorrow
I hug loss
I hug addiction
at water margin
hearts opened wide
blessing descends
loss in common
in the glow
of the Risen
in both
lepers alike
right on the right margin

city of imprisonment
sedates the Sedate
settlement of sedation
outside the door
the City wall
the Sedate
the Settled
come out of her
be with the Risen

my monastery
of repentance
of resurrection
Timmy at the piers

I Went-Setting-Poor Marie

April 25th, 2017

That’s what they would say behind her back, “Poor Marie.” I thought I was the reason she was poor. That much was true.

But the truth was worse. My father died when I was 15 days old, after a long illness, large bowel cancer. It was particularly awful I guess; I overheard them saying he had his Hell on earth. My mother was left with a baby, she had to move back in with her family, he didn’t leave enough to bury him, and she had no income. So “Poor Marie.” It happened in the middle of World War Two, so there were rationing and food shortages, I guess. Oh and I was born Caesarian, to add injury to insult.

Luckily there was some relative or other connected to Pet Milk, so she had the means to feed me. Just as luckily , a job was found for her doing war factory work and after the end an office job as a file clerk. She never learned to type. She had dropped out of school at age sixteen to go to work to help support her family. It was 1929. She collected Social Security as a widow. She refused to apply for welfare. She wouldn’t take charity. So all my childhood years we lived with her family. There were her parents, a brother, his wife and their child.

And I was not the most ‘normal’ kid, I wasn’t who was expected, I wasn’t who was wanted. For one thing I was a boy, She wanted a girl. She told me once she wanted to name me Judy.

She also had as little contact with my father’s family. In later years, when she was angry with me, she would tell me I was like my father. She told me he punched her in the stomach when she was pregnant with me. And she avoided his family. I was taken a few time to see my grandparents but very seldom. I last saw them when I was twelve, just before we moved a thousand miles away.

Much later she got in touch with his sister Pauline and her husband Bill and put me in touch with them. I visited and Aunt Pauline had pictures of me when she was keeping me. That was news to me. She also called a neighbor lady who knew me when I was a baby to come see me all grown up.

I Went: The Call, The Message Lost

April 18th, 2017

I was asleep when I woke to a voice calling my name. I looked around. No one there. I left the bedroom and the call seemed to be coming from downstairs. I went downstairs and no one was there. The voice seemed to be coming from outside. I opened the door and went out on the porch. The call was coming from up the street. I went up to the corner of Madison Street. The voice was coming from down that street. So I walked down that way. I saw a bundle of newspapers waiting for the carrier to take them. On top of the pile, Jesus appeared, a mini-Jesus who looked just like the pictures of him in my Sunday School books. He said, “I
have something to tell you.” Then a car came down the street and he disappeared. I went home, and back to bed.

Was this a dream? If it was, it is the most vivid dream I ever had. I can still see all the details. I have never
forgotten. I have never forgotten not getting the message. It seems to me I have been seeking it ever since.

I was then a young child, I don’t know what age. I think I am still that age.

I Went: It Begins, First Contact

April 18th, 2017

I was a small child then. I have no idea how old I was. I had a room of my own. Every night I would cry and cry and cry. I don’t remember why. I do remember my mother coming  to ask me why I was crying. I would answer, “No one loves  me.” She would reply, “I love you.” I hope I did not say, “You’re only saying that because I’m crying.” I think that  was true.

I was abandoned, all on my own, lost.

“I can’t do this” But I found a place to turn to. On my desk was a picture of the Good Shepherd and sheep. The sheep were flocked. The colors were pastel pinks and blues. It had a thermometer on it. Desperate, I saw the picture. And I tuned to the Shepherd. I pictured him come and sit on my bed, the very Jesus in the picture. I said, “I can’t do this. But I can if you lead me. Lead me and I will follow.” So I put out my hand. Jesus sat on my bed and took my hand. I ceased to cry and slept.


I Went

April 18th, 2017

Maundy Thursday, first hymn
“Here I am Lord.
Is it I Lord?
I have heard you calling in the night
I will go, Lord, if you lead me.”

It hit me then.
I went.
Look where I wound up.
I may not be in the place I wish,
But here I am, Lord.

So I need to trace my steps
and missteps.
What a long strange trip it’s been.

The thread that runs through the land of unlikeness is:
I want to follow Jesus,
I want to follow the Gospel,
to live the Gospel life.

Confessions of a Reprobate

March 2nd, 2017

Oh God of my people I confess before you
that I have not lived in accord with you laws and ordinances
Specifically I confess to you:
I have not been an achiever
I have not been a winner
but often a loser
I have not been aggressive
I have not stepped up
nor have I leaned in
I have not resisted the aggressive
When people have wanted to win, I let them win
I did not speak back when a man told me I was too f–ing meek
I have not gotten rich
and when I have had money I have helped others
I have constantly sought to serve others and not myself
I have striven to be informative, not argumentative
I have striven To comfort the afflicted
and tried not to unduly afflict the comfortable
I have done my best to be kind and helpful
to angry and difficult customers
I have tried to exploit the earth and other species
as little as possible.
For these and all my other offences against the law and ordinances of my people
I wish to be sorry
to repent
to mend my ways
if only I would
Bless me, sinner that I am
and keep me from the pit of total reprobation.

Good New, Bad News

February 28th, 2017

The good news is that I am doing what is good for me or at least feels good. It feels as if I am doing what God created me to do, what feels proper and appropriate in my deepest self, the deepest desire of my heart.

I’m trying to get closer to God, I’m doing this by reading the Daily Office Scriptures in the most original languages we have. I have good Greek and not so good Hebrew, but this is improving both of them. I am reading the Hebrew in pages with both the Hebrew and the English. I plan to do some detail work parsing the Hebrew grammar to improve my understanding.

I am not doing this during the Offices but later, so as to keep prayer and study separate. I will also continue to pray in all my other usual ways. I am awed the the rightness of this. I feel more like myself, and that’s good thing. I haven’t often felt that,

I hope to reap benefits not only for myself but for others. I want to find ways of writing about what I discover. In seeking God I am seeking Wisdom, and in seeking Wisdom I am seeking God. It is not for me alone, but for sharing, for gifts for others.

The bad news is that I don’t have enough income to meet my expenses. I am living on meager Social Security and Food Stamps. I only once had a well-paying job and that was in stock that died and I sold. My best earning years were spent in a monastery, and coming out from there in late middle age did not make for any successful career or income.

I have been looking for some part time work. I did physical labor for a while in a grocery store, but my arthritis grew on me until I could not bear it. I tried hard. I am in poor condition. I tend to sleep a long time. I think I have Chronic Fatigue Syndrome. At age 44 I had mononucleosis. I bounced back far too soon. A few days and I was back into full monastic discipline. The Guestmaster, whose assistant I was, scolded me angrily for leaving him with all the work. I was sick for Holy week.

I am looking for office work; I have lots of experience there. I have sent out resumes but have received no replies. I am discouraged but I do keep trying. Ramping that up will be part of my Lenten work. At age soon 74 it is hard to find work.

And in the back my mind and I cannot quell it, is that, selfishly, part time work would hinder my search for God/Wisdom.

I guess prayers for me are in order.