ROTC returns to the Ivy League – a move that should be good for everyone


Read this: ROTC Returns to Harvard.

It’s a great article. Highlights the tension that exists between the upper echelons of our society (as represented by Harvard) and the profoundly middle class Army officer corps. I’m not sure how accurate that is but it seems to be my experience. The Army has been good to me. I’ve benefited from becoming a commissioned officer financially, professionally, and, dare I say, spiritually.

I hope that those coming from the halls of our most revered institutions will be able to say the same.

We are rich and we are poor – living with it.


poor” – it’s a word with baggage in our culture. Every four years about this time, it’s a political word – most other times it’s either equated with guilt or anger. Seems like we either feel guilty for not doing more or angry for perceived abused of the system.

Today’s Text was all about the poor. It is a sermon that I approached with some trepidation. My goal was to preach the Scripture without it being a. political, b. some guilt inducing rant, or c. a progressive diatribe. My wife tells me I got there. I went with the Proverbs and James passage.

The central question I dealt with is the one that I think we struggle with – who is poor?

Often, the comparison is made with the poor in third world countries and the poor in America but this is comparing apples and oranges. The two are not the same. The question in my mind is: does this person have resources? See I want to get away from “rich/poor” and focus on resource. Those who are fat in resources (be that money, time, spiritual, emotional etc) verses those who are lacking. A person may not have much money but be rich in time. A person may have a pile o’ money but be destitute in spirit.

Proverbs 22 equates a good name (solid reputation) as transcending riches. The ideas of wealth and poverty are human designations. We put that on each other. Verse 2 does not pass judgement on the rich/poor but does emphasize that God made them both – not that God designated one to be wealthy or one to be poor but that both humans come from God and thus are the same. In the eyes of God – there is no poor/rich category. Verses 7-9 speak of the reality of the rich and poor – once one loans money to another, the relationship is going to be master/servant. Sallie Mae taught me that! Losing that master was a great day in my life! Those verses highlight that there are blessings that are on those who are generous and curses upon those that deal unjustly with the poor. Justice is a value in God’s economy as is a good reputation. Verse 16 highlights how God views oppressing the poor to enrich others – its bad and leads only to poverty in the community! I love this idea that the author points to – when the poor are stolen from to put more in the pockets of those who are rich – everyone loses! The whole community suffers. This thought is continued in 22-23 – the meaning here is understood in terms of power and voice, the poor do not have power to resist, they have no voice, they are “crushed at the gate” (in the ancient city-state the gate is where legal issues were settled, if you had money or resources, then you had voice and could win your issue, the poor have no money, they have no power or voice) – be careful, because God is the legal representation of the poor. That was remarkable to me in this text – using the legal system to take from those who have not to give to those who have is particularly bad for everyone and will bring calamity!!

Clearly, in this text the writer makes the argument that the poor and the rich share the same community. He does not make a moral judgment as to who is better/less than the other but it seems that one has a responsibility to care for the other. To provide some sense of security. Certainly, there is blessing for those who share and calamity for those who oppress.

I covered even more in the James passage but what it comes down to is this – lets not use our politics and emotions around poverty as an excuse to do nothing. We ALL have something to give. Yes, we do need to discover for ourselves what we belive is a lack of resources and what we are willing to give to – but we NEED to give. We all share the same space. We all share the same community. Breathe the same air and all that. We are responsible for one another. Who is poor? Who is destitute? I imagine that needs to be answered by each of us individually but let it not be an excuse for inaction. Let it not be an excuse for superiority. Don’t let a person’s station be just another way to judge and separate them from you. We are called to actually serve. Actually DO something. The poor and rich will always be with us. But those separations don’t have to BE us. We can be different. Let love and service to others be the defining characteristic of a Christian.

Wicca has a long way to go

Army, Chaplaincy

This last week, Public Safety Minister Vic Toews blocked the hiring of a Wiccan priestess from getting “tender.” I guess this means that, as of right now, they don’t plan on hiring a Wiccan chaplain to perform services and counseling on a part time, contract basis for Canadian Prisoners currently incarcerated.

I found the subject interesting on the basis that this is Canada – known for being a bit more progressive than us southerners – is blocking this based on what seems to be a public outcry. (That link has an interesting video about casting spells – I’m not sure it reflects an ancient understanding of spells but a more post-modern, almost new age/therapeutic understanding).

Religious freedom is the subject of much debate this year in our election of a leader. Some claim religious freedom seems to mean that their insurance company should be free to deny services based on conscience while others claim their religious freedom seems to mean that they should be free from criticism.

Actually, (while passing no judgement on either of the above situations) this a real, legitimate issue of religious freedom. Part of (at least an American understanding of the Establishment Clause is that everyone has the freedom to believe what they want and the freedom to practice within the law. Specifically, this clause not only forbids the government from establishing an official religion, but also prohibits government actions that unduly favor one religion over another. It also prohibits the government from unduly preferring religion over non-religion, or non-religion over religion.

In other words, the government just keeps it fair. If the government can, in the charter for the prison system, provide for the spiritual care of inmates by hiring Christian chaplains, then it is only fair that they provide for ALL religious needs. In the case of my facility, we are predominately protestant Christian but we do provide time, space, and resources for other faiths represented. This is true across the Service. Its the basic understanding of “provide and perform.” (Provide for the free exercise of religion and perform those services unique to my ordination and endorsement.)

Wicca is a modern religion based on ancient paganism. It’s not devil worship or satanism, its more “earth worship.” I’ve had Wiccan Soldiers in every unit I’ve served. I’ve sponsored groups that meet downrange – yes, there are Wiccan Soldiers protecting your freedom. They have as much freedom to worship as any other American. Their decentralization and lack of a traditional track toward clergy has been a roadblock for them becoming commissioned chaplains but I’m sure there will be Wiccan chaplains by the time I’m ready to retire from Service. And so be it. Freedom for one is freedom for all.

That’s religious freedom.

Check this out – the first woman assigned to a combat arms unit in the 101st!

Army, Chaplaincy


As part of a Department of Defense initiative, women are being assigned to combat arms roles that they have been traditionally barred from – including chaplains. This article published in the Clarksville Online (that’s where Ft. Campbell is) tells about it. Very cool.

I have been privileged to work with several female Army chaplains and I’m excited that their roles are expanding. I believe that the boy’s only culture of our Service is starting to slowly change and this is good for everyone. I’m so interested to see where our forces will be by the time I retire. What a great time to serve!

Conflicted Change


All changes, even the most longed for, have their melancholy; for what we leave behind us is a part of ourselves; we must die to one life before we can enter another.  ~Anatole France

So, Tuesday morning, I took my children to school for the first time. Sophie, my four year old, went right to her class. She sat in her chair nervously looking around the room clearly filled with the excitement of this new thing in her life. Ransom, my three year old, was much more apprehensive about the whole thing. While he was very down with the dinosaurs and the puzzles, he clearly was not ready for mom and dad to leave the room. Mom and dad however, were filled with the conflicting emotions of being excited for the kids to have reached that first big pinnacle of childhood and the grief that they were growing up and out of the home. On the one hand I found myself immensely proud of my children for doing well in school and some latent fear of what impact setting my children out in the world would have on them. As I walked out of the school in the morning, hand in hand with Sara, my thoughts moved toward the reality that it has happened – life will never be what it was yesterday – our children were now under the influence of others. Only time will tell how we do and have done as parents. 

Change often brings conflicting emotions. How do you deal with them? How does one deal with the reality of change and the desire to keep things the same, the comfortable way one has always known? 
I think one of the secret is a constant evaluation of the current situation. Self awareness, family awareness. Is it the best way? Am I hanging on to this way of doing things because I’m comfortable with it or because it really is the best way of doing whatever it is I’m doing? 
I can only trust that where we’ve been has strengthened us for where we are going. 

A general’s ethics.

Army, Chaplaincy

One of the roles of an Army chaplain is to be a moral, ethical voice to power. A general in the Army is the epitome of power. In the film, “Gettysburg,” the Joshua Chamberlain character says, “Generals can do anything. There is nothing so much like a god on earth than a general on the battlefield.” That’s a bit of an overstatement but the truth of it is that in the Army, the higher in rank you go, the more is entrusted to your care. Your power. As you move upward in rank, you become the face of the Army. Privates are not remembered, history writes about generals. When you are a general, you are given moral, spiritual, physical, and other power over those that are entrusted to your care.

This has always been true of leadership in the Army. In our all-volunteer force, it becomes even more so.

This is why an offence like the General who, after an instigation found:

The inspector general found that Ward had engaged in several “inappropriate” activities, including: 1) submitting expense reports with extravagant and 2) unacceptable charges, 3) inappropriate use of military staff, and 4) misuse of government funds, according to one administration official.

The official described the amount involved as “not an insignificant sum of money.” Meaning “hundreds of thousands of dollars” according to FOX news (see video: Four-star general accused of wasteful spending ).

“Hundreds of thousands of dollars.” This is taxpayer money. As an Army officer, I am entrusted with both the leadership of Soldiers and the stewardship of our national treasure. Money matters. Rules about how that money is spent matters. When leadership does not follow the rules surrounding these things, how can they be a moral authority in regards to enforcing those rules down the chain?

I’m sure this officer is a great man who has done great things for his country and does not deserve to have all that taken away.

My question is: if he is ok with this, what else was he ok with and allowed to take place in his command?

This is a question that every Army leader needs to ask of themselves, what am I allowing in moderation that my Soldiers will take to excess?

When I was a 2LT, Staff Specialist, coming into the Army, a crusty old Command Sergeant Major told me that I needed to always be aware of how I followed the rules because when I didn’t, I was setting a new standard that Soldiers would follow. Whenever I as a leader choose to overlook something, let it go, or otherwise just ignore it, I am saying to my Chaplain’s Assistant and others that are with me that the Army Regulation does not matter – that it does not apply to me (and them).

When we are entrusted with rank, we are given the responsibility be the moral and ethical standard bearer. We are never above the rules. Never.

Celebrating a Chaplain’s sacrifice today.

Army, Chaplaincy

By: NY1 News

A memorial Mass was held at Fort Wadsworth, Staten Island on Sunday to mark the 45th anniversary of Father Vincent Capodanno’s death in the Vietnam War.

Borough President James Molinaro was among those who honored the military chaplain for his heroic service.

Starting in 1966, Capodanno served in Vietnam, where he administered last rites to the dying and prayed over the dead.

The Elm Park native was killed by enemy gunfire the following year at the age of 38.

“It was in the battlefield where Father Capodanno excelled and inspired. He would find out from his friends and military intelligence what units were most likely to encounter the heaviest contact and he would volunteer for these missions,” said Vincent Maligno, a retired member of the U.S. Air Force.

Capodanno was awarded a Purple Heart, a Medal of Honor and a Bronze Star for his service.

In 2006, the Catholic Church officially proclaimed the chaplain a “Servant of God,” putting him on the path to sainthood.

See original article here.

Army Hazing


Its stories like this that really frustrate me when I hear people talk about “the old Army.”

DETROIT (AP) — A soldier from Michigan who was struck with a large, wooden mallet at his Army base in North Carolina was seriously injured, his father said, expressing anger and shock that the incident was allowed to occur.

Ken Roach of Battle Creek said his son, Sgt. Phillip Roach, was hurt at Fort Bragg during what the Army later called an unauthorized “hazing” event to mark his promotion to sergeant. The 22-year-old knocked his head on the cement after getting hit, causing a seizure and head wound that required six staples, his father said.

Right. Cause that’s the “good ole days.” I hear it sometimes, somebody will say to me that “back in the day, they would just take it outside and settle it like men.” This new pansy Army with all it’s political correctness and sensitivity, they just need to get a case of intestinal fortitude. Right. Cause the old Army just was better.

Come on. This “pansy” Army has sustained combat for well over ten years. All volunteer. I think they’ve proved themselves over and over again to be able to “get it done.” You really want an Army where this kind of hazing is appropriate? Where a senior non-commissioned officer or commissioned officer can just do whatever they want to your child?

I don’t. I want some rules in place. If my children ever want to join the Service of their own free will and volition, I trust that the system in place will not deliberately hurt them without betterment. In other words, I get that Soldering is tough. I get that training has to be realistic, difficult and therefore dangerous. I get that sometimes people are going to get hurt – it’s training for war! I also do not want people to abuse the power and trust invested in them to train our nation’s finest.

I’m sure in this instance, there was no ill intent. I’m sure that there were traditions that are in place that this young Soldier was following. That does not make it right.

War is dangerous enough, our Soldiers are getting hurt in the field enough to allow for senseless traditions for the sake of traditions. Sometimes, this “new Army” is actually an improvement.

Further thoughts:

Last week, I watched my new Chaplain Assistant, MOS 56M, a PFC straight out of AIT take pepper spray to the eyes. It’s part of the training regimen for a Soldier who works in a prison. Here is a young man who wanted to serve his country, signed up for the Army, succeeded at Basic Training, comes to Leavenworth as a CHAPLAIN ASSISTANT and then has to take OC pepper spray in order to do his job.

Here’s how it goes, Soldier stand at the ready, OC pepper spray – spray designed to be so painful that being in contact with it will incapacitate an enraged, fighting individual so that they can be subdued – this 20 year old PFC from Virginia takes  the spray directly to the eyes! Not a wipe across the forehead, not “in the room,” and certainly not on some other part of his body where it would hurt (I speak from experience) – no, he takes it right in his eyes. He then has to complete five actions all related to being in a riot and subduing unruly people. The entire training take him about five minutes. Five minutes of shear agony. It is a hundred times worse than CS gas training or anything like it. It takes him two days to recover, both of which he comes to work and while his eyes are red and he is constantly wiping them, he does not complain.

That is training. That is tough, realistic, hardcore, hooah training. I have no issue with it. In fact, as the individual whom the 56M is supposed to protect, I am glad that I have a Chaplain Assistant who can take that kind of pain and come out swinging. And maintain his professionalism. He didn’t curse, didn’t scream, didn’t lose his cool – just grimaced through the pain with open eyes and completed his mission.

This business of hazing has nothing whatsoever to do with “making hard Soldiers.” Hazing is about the abuse of power over those who are so committed to being “one of the guys” that they take it. It has no place in a professional, all-volunteer force. I meet hardened Soldiers every day, Soldiers who don’t bat an eye at doing the hard parts of their job – but they don’t abuse others.

Hard training makes hard Soldiers.

Humility and Humanity


My point is that, even as religion has moved to the center of American political life, humility has moved to the periphery.

This thought, written by Stephen Prothero in response to Eastwood’s speech at the RNC highlights something that I am addressing in my sermon tomorrow. The text this week is from Mark 7 where Jesus hammers the Pharisees for missing the boat in relationship to God. They were so focused on their identity as expressed through obedience to the Law (their interpretation and extrapolation of it) that they missed the dynamism of actual relationship. Rigidity in the doing stymied relationship in the being.

Its not all bad for them. I note in the sermon that history teaches us that these rigid followers of the Law were faithful and committed people; their writings not legalistic (for their time) but rather demonstrate vitality, a gracious vision of God, a yearning for justice, and a desire for people to live faithfully. They really believed that they were the closest to what God wanted from humans. Of course, they got a little lost in that.

Its not like we’re all that different – in our drive to rid ourselves of abortion, we miss the fact that we’re to be loving, kind and willing to sacrifice to take care of unwanted humans. In our drive to “uphold freedom” and rid ourselves from any vestige of that dirty word “socialism” (early Christians very much were socialists) we  abandon the chronically poor and those that are most vulnerable in our society. Sure, we get our “pure”  religion right but miss the point of the whole thing.

I think the Pharisees were sincere. I think they were faithful to the revelation they had – they just missed the further revelation of Jesus Christ – are we missing the same thing?