Hope

Chaplaincy, Sermon

This last week, during counseling, one of my inmates made a profound observation about his life,

 “I know I’m going to make it, but right now really sucks.”

What a resilient statement. It’s a life-giving, hopeful statement. It’s based in reality. It is a recognition that he is full of sorrow and discouraged but, based on his past journeys through similar terrain, he knows that he’ll make it.

On the same day, Good Friday, I served Communion in the SHU. The SHU is the “specialized housing unit” 23 hour lockdown, solitary. Inmates end up there because they are having a difficult time getting along with others or obeying the rules. It is, by it’s nature, a depressing place. Inmates struggle back there. It is not a pleasant place to be. I put on my stole, filled individual communion cups, and took the trays into the SHU. The inmates are usually very respectful of my presence in there. They’ll stop their conversations and, particularly if I’m bringing communion, they’ll quietly prepare themselves for their turn.

The SHU becomes a sacred place. A place where God is present.

I move from cell to cell. The small feed tray is opened and I kneel down outside of it. Because of the low height of the open slot both myself and the inmate inside are in the kneeling position. Though a massive steel door separates us from one another, our faces are inches apart which creates a very intimate experience. Behind us, radios squawk, correctional specialist discuss what needs to be discussed, other inmates talk through their doors to one another, but in that sacred space between me and the inmate, God is there. I invite the inmate to confess whatever they need to God and then say amen out loud so I know to pray. When they are done (this can take a few seconds or even minutes as we kneel on the hard cement floor), I pray for them, myself, and the correctional staff. I thank God for the forgiveness promised in 1 John 1:9 and praise God for mercy and unmerited favor. I speak the words of institution:

“I will tell you the story as it was told to me, that the same night Jesus was betrayed, he took bread…”

We partake of communion together and end with the Lord’s prayer. Some of us have known each other so long now that they could recite the entire liturgy with me. When I finish, it is not uncommon for the inmate to have tears in their eyes. Yesterday, I ended with, “My friend and brother, it is Good Friday. Easter is Sunday. I’m so sorry that this will be your Easter.”

Over and over, they would say something like, “your right Chaplain, but God is here.”

Hope is so powerful. It can carry us though such hard times. It can give us strength to make it. It can endow us with the courage we need to see life as it is – tough, but we’ll make it. Hope is the very stuff of life.

When I hear hopeful statements like that, I am encouraged that growth is taking place. I am convinced that though it may be hard for them to experience it, they can see it in the Gospel. For that moment, that sacred moment, it’s going to work out.

Life is bigger than their suffering. 

It’s just a little officer pt…

Army, thought of the day

So there I was, a while ago, playing soccer for some friendly officer pt when I realized that the normal rules of soccer didn’t apply. Grrr. Frustration.

Here’s the thing. Soccer is my sport. I like it. I played it in college. I know the game. In a world of jocks (the Army) it’s the one sport I’m halfway good at. Thus, rules matter to me.

But only in the case of soccer. The rest… not so much.

Totally inconstant. I can own that.

There is a film called “Revolutionary Road” where one of the characters says No one really forgets the truth, they just get better at lying.”

This quote was highlighted to me on the day I lost my temper at our morning officer PT. There were some perceived injustices happening (again, I re-iterate that it was my perception) and this tapped a part of my personality that I don’t like. I like to think of myself as relaxed, removed, unflappable and easy going. Which is mostly true however what is also true is that I am a type A, driven, intense person who wants to win. I try really hard to keep all that in balance but sometimes it comes out in inappropriate ways and then I experience shame and guilt and embarrassment and all the stuff that goes along with exposing what I want to hide.

In some ways I think most of us have that. There are parts of us that we are not down with. We don’t really like. It triggers some embarrassment in us when it comes out. Authentic living integrates all the parts of who we are into our lives in a healthy way so that we are more holistic, healthy people who, instead of living out of our projected identity (that we have to go to great lengths to protect), live out of our authentic self – what you see and experience is who we are.

Leadership that rises from our core is the best leadership possible. The question to ask yourself today is, who are you really?”

Paid Patriotism

Army, thought of the day

Well, at least according to Calvin Coolidge.

It was 1924. The veterans of WWI had very little to nothing in regards to actual benefits after serving their country on foreign soil. The “World War Adjusted Compensation Act” was brought before Congress.

From Wikipedia:

The act awarded veterans additional pay in various forms, with only limited payments available in the short term. The value of each veteran’s “credit” was based on each recipient’s service in the United States Armed Forces between April 5, 1917 and July 1, 1919, with $1.00 awarded for each day served in the United States and $1.25 for each day served abroad. It set maximum payments at $500 for a veteran who served stateside and $625 for a veteran who served overseas,[1] senior officers and anyone whose service began after November 11, 1918.[2]

It authorized immediate payments to anyone due less than $50.[3] The estate of a deceased veteran could be paid his award immediately if the amount was less than $500.[4] All others were awarded an “adjusted service certificate,” which functioned like an insurance policy. Based on standard actuarial calculations, the value of a veteran’s certificate was set as the value of a 20-year insurance policy equal to 125% of the value of his service credit. Certificates were to be awarded on the veteran’s birthday no earlier than January 1, 1925 and redeemable in full on his birthday in 1945, with payments to his estate if he died before then.[5] Certificate holders were allowed to use them as collateral for loans under certain restrictions.

The part of the Bill that deferred payment over $50 until 1945 was understandably called the “Tombstone Bonus.”

Coolidge vetoed the act saying, “Patriotism which is bought and paid for is not patriotism.” 

Thankfully, Congress passed it anyway. Paving the way for future benefits for veterans.

So, thanks 1924 Congress, for recognizing that the laborer is worthy of their hire and the reality that if we, as a country, are going to ask our young to die, we should also bear the burden of their repair.

All Saints and the struggle of understanding Christian History

Sermon, Theology

All Saints Sunday, 2013

Luke 6:20-31

It’s All Saint’s Sunday. A day when we, as a Church, remember the saints that have gone before us. Generally, it’s a day for warm memories and challenging stories. Traditionally, capital “S” saints who are revered in the Catholic Church are people who are set apart, their holiness and particular living worthy of memory. In the Protestant church, many hold that all Christians can and should be categorized as “saints” even the not so holy. Therefore, on a day like to today, we remember all our beloved who have “gone to glory” before us.

This brings us a challenging thought however – isn’t our collective past as Christians fraught with very non-holy actions? Even our saints, upon closer examination, are not exactly paragons of holiness. If we expand the definition to include everyone, we’re really in a bind!

The Chapel where I pastor is called, “Memorial Chapel.” This year will be the 136th year of active worship within it’s walls. Those walls are covered with what are essentially gravestones marking the heroic dead – many of whom are officers who died during the “Indian Wars.” Surrounded by the memory of one of America’s bloodiest periods, where sovereign peoples were put to the sword and whole people groups laid waste by good Christians who worshiped in that very church is complicated to say the least. From here, native children were placed in good Christian homes forbidden to even speak of their cultural heritage. Fort Leavenworth was the edge of civilization back then, beyond that was war.

On All Saints day, I remember that our Christian past is complicated and not always terribly Christ-like.

Then, as I am preparing for my message, my text is from Luke 6:20-31:

“Then he looked up at his disciples and said: “Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God. “Blessed are you who are hungry now, for you will be filled. “Blessed are you who weep now, for you will laugh. “Blessed are you when people hate you, and when they exclude you, revile you, and defame you on account of the Son of Man. Rejoice in that day and leap for joy, for surely your reward is great in heaven; for that is what their ancestors did to the prophets. “But woe to you who are rich, for you have received your consolation. “Woe to you who are full now, for you will be hungry. “Woe to you who are laughing now, for you will mourn and weep. “Woe to you when all speak well of you, for that is what their ancestors did to the false prophets.

“But I say to you that listen, Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you. If anyone strikes you on the cheek, offer the other also; and from anyone who takes away your coat do not withhold even your shirt. Give to everyone who begs from you; and if anyone takes away your goods, do not ask for them again. Do to others as you would have them do to you.”

Not helpful.

How do I, a Chaplain in the mightiest Army the world has ever known make sense of 1. Our bloody history and 2. Jesus words in this text?

As I thought about his text I remembered another pastor, a saint, who faced similar questions. Perhaps it might be helpful to remember his struggle.

Cheap Grace

“Cheap grace is the deadly enemy of our Church. We are fighting today for costly grace. Cheap grace means grace sold on the market like cheapjacks’ wares. The sacraments, the forgiveness of sin, and the consolations of religion are thrown away at cut prices. Grace is represented as the Church’s inexhaustible treasury, from which she showers blessings with generous hands, without asking questions or fixing limits. Grace without price; grace without cost! The essence of grace, we suppose, is that the account has been paid in advance; and, because it has been paid, everything can be had for nothing….

Cheap grace is the grace we bestow on ourselves. Cheap grace is the preaching of forgiveness without requiring repentance, baptism without church discipline, Communion without confession…. Cheap grace is grace without discipleship, grace without the cross, grace without Jesus Christ, living and incarnate.” – Dietrich Bonhoeffer, The Cost of Discipleship

These words were written by a young pastor. The words were first published in 1937. The pastor the wrote them had been overseeing an illegal seminary training pastors for ministry in Nazi Germany. At the time of this publishing, the Gestapo closed the Seminary in Finkenwalde and arrested 27 pastors and former students. This was a text written for a country in battle for its soul.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer and his twin sister Sabine was born on February 4th, 1906. His father, Dr. Karl Bonhoeffer is just beginning to teach neurology and psychiatry. He would go on to become one of the most well-known and most respected psychiatrists in Germany.  His mother was one of the few women in her generation who obtained a university degree. It was a happy family. A family of thoughtful, educated, and scientific people. D’s brothers would go on to become scientists and were dubious at best of D’s forays into the theological life.

Dietrich’s young life was marked by a continual interest and calling into a life in the ministry. His father is proud of his son but hopeful that this religious phase would pass and he would pursue something more fitting his vast academic abilities.

This didn’t happen however, and Dietrich did indeed pursue theology. He was published at a young age. Within four years after beginning theological studies at Tubingen University, he successfully defends his brilliant and ground-breaking doctoral thesis, Sanctorum Communio (Communion of Saints), a significantly new way of looking at the nature of the Christian church. He is just 21 years old.

Like any young seminarian, he wonders what comes next. He sails to New York and begins a teaching fellowship at Union Theological Seminary. He identifies with the African American church experience in Harlem where he spends a great deal of time teaching and interacting with the congregation.  He is exposed to the “Social Justice” movement as taught through what would become known as the “Social Gospel.”  It is a profound moment for him and would inform what came next.

He is a contemporary of the theologian Karl Barth and the two wrote often. Barth said to him that Germany needed his voice. Things were getting bad there. In 1931, Dietrich Bonhoeffer returns to Germany.

1933. A pivotal year for Germany. Adolf Hitler, the Austrian Corporal turned artist turned political theorist completes his rise to power and is appointed Chancellor. Two days later, Bonhoeffer now a professor of theology at the University of Berlin, delivers a radio address on leadership attacking Hitler. He is cut off the air. In April, 1933 he publishes “The Church and the Jewish Question,” which was the first known essay to address the new problems the church faced under the Nazi dictatorship; his defense of the Jews was marked by Christian supersessionism – the Christian belief that Christianity had superseded Judaism, in history and in the eyes of God; the real question, he argued, was how the church would judge and respond to the Nazi state’s actions against the Jews; his essay was completed in the days following the April 1, 1933, boycott of Jewish businesses. Some scholars believe Bonhoeffer was influenced on this issue by his close friendship at Union Seminary with his African American colleague, Frank Fisher, and his direct observation of Fisher’s experiences under racism.

In the summer of 1933, many protestants welcomed the rise of the Nazi state. A group called, the Deutsche Christen (“German Christians”) became the voice of Nazi ideology within the Evangelical Church, even advocating the removal of the Old Testament from the Bible. The Deutsche Christians cited the state Aryan laws that barred all “non-Aryans” from the civil service, they also proposed a church “Aryan paragraph” to prevent “non-Aryans” from becoming ministers or religious teachers; the Deutsche Christen claimed that Jews, as a “separate race,” could not become members of an “Aryan” German church even through baptism a clear repudiation of the validity of Gospel teachings. The mainstream church was also coming under the grip of Nazism, becoming silent on the world that Germany was becoming.

In November of that year, he is ordained pastor at St. Matthias Church, Berlin.

In 1934, he and a group of brave Christians, form the “Confessing Church” in direct opposition to the established church who was about the business of assisting the State along the path leading to genocide. The Confessing Church was free of Nazi influence but not Nazi persecution. On August 2, German President Paul von Hindenburg dies and Hitler is proclaimed Chancellor and President.

He moves to Finkenwalde in 1935 where he is part of the founding of the aforementioned Seminary training pastors for ministry. By December, Himmler declares all examinations for the Confessing Church invalid, all training there invalid and all participants liable to arrest. German Jews are being arrested under the Nurmburg laws.

This is the world in which he writes about “Cheap Grace.”

He sets it against “Costly Grace” – “Costly grace is the treasure hidden in the field; for the sake of it a man’ will gladly go and sell all that he has. It is the pearl of great price to buy which the merchant will sell all his goods. It is the kingly rule of Christ, for whose sake a man will pluck out the eye which causes him to stumble, it is the call of Jesus Christ at which the disciple leaves his nets and follows him.”

It is “All Saints Sunday.” A day where we remember those saints who have gone before us, stood with us, and in whose shoes we stand today. It is right that we remember them. It is right that we recall the stands that others have taken so that we can evaluate where we are, who we are, and what we represent. Our Faith is not a faith that exists in opposition to others. We have a faith that is typified in its best sense in Love.

However, if the shoe of opposition fits, are we willing to wear it?

“Costly grace is the gospel which must be sought again and again and again, the gift which must be asked for, the door at which a man must knock. Such grace is costly because it calls us to follow, and it is grace because it calls us to follow Jesus Christ. It is costly because it costs a man his life, and it is grace because it gives a man the only true life. It is costly because it condemns sin, and grace because it justifies the sinner. Above all, it is costly because it cost God the life of his Son: “ye were bought at a price,” and what has cost God much cannot be cheap for us. Above all, it is grace because God did not reckon his Son too dear a price to pay for our life, but delivered him up for us. Costly grace is the Incarnation of God.”

Dietrich lived in that tension between the being a peacemaker and embracing war – even internal war – against a State which was doing such wrong. By 1938, he had made contact with the German Resistance. His twin sister Sabine and her Jewish husband escape together to England by way of Switzerland.

1941, Bonhoeffer is forbidden to print or publish. He makes two trips to Switzerland for the Resistance. WW2 is in full force. Over the next two years, Dietrich would continue to write, teach and preach while making several visits to Norway and in Sweden he would meet with the British – all on the behalf of the Resistance.

1943. Dietrich Bonhoeffer is arrested. He writes during his incarceration. He continues to minister while in prison – both to the other inmates and the guards. One guard, a Corporal, approaches Dietrich with a plan for his escape and the Soldier’s with him. The plot is laid but in the end, D stops it as he does not want other members of his family, incarcerated and not to be endangered by his actions or escape. He is transferred to Buchenwald. He is very cold in the winter of 1944. The news is that America and Russia are pushing in on Germany from all fronts. They cannot hold out forever. He leans up to the crack in his door and for hours converses with those near his cell, prisoner and guard, about the grace of God.

1945. In February an Allied conference is held at Yalta to discuss post-war settlements. On March 7 American forces cross Rhine River. On April the 3rd of that year, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, a young German pastor, theologian, and author, is moved from Buchenwald to the Flossenburg concentration camp. On the 9th, he is executed with several other key leaders of the Resistance. On April 12 President Franklin Roosevelt dies; Harry Truman is sworn in as president. On April 30 Adolf Hitler commits suicide in his Berlin bunker. By May 2 Berlin falls. On May 7 the German forces make an unconditional surrender.

“Costly grace is the sanctuary of God; it has to be protected from the world, and not thrown to the dogs. It is therefore the living word, the Word of God, which he speaks as it pleases him. Costly grace confronts us as a gracious call to follow Jesus. It comes as a word of forgiveness to the broken spirit and the contrite heart. Grace is costly because it compels a man to submit to the yoke of Christ and follow him; it is grace because Jesus says: “My yoke is easy and my burden is light.”

So which was it? Was Bonhoeffer a combatant? A German patriot fighting for the soul of his country if not it’s government? Is there a time to take up arms? Is there a time to stop turning the other cheek?

These are questions I face regularly and struggle through. I recall Jesus words, “If you live by the sword, you will die by the sword.” I do not experience them as particularly judgmental but more of a statement of fact, if you live by the sword, it is very likely that you will die by it.

We live in complicated times but no more so than any other time. Those who are commemorated on the walls of memorial chapel lived in complicated times as well. They followed God in ways that made sense to the world that they understood. Let us not forget that their immediate peers and superiors had just finished fighting a war to end Slavery and the economics that the institution upheld.

When working through our Christian history and all the victories and failings of those who have gone before, we would be remiss forget the times in which they lived. They should be understood and given grace for the world that they understood rather than be judged by the one we understand.

Where does that leave us?

Living the Gospel in the best way we know how. Living out our faith in a way that makes sense to us in the world we understand hoping that a hundred years from now, we will be judged by the world we knew.

And in all this, seeking to live in the way that Jesus taught. Loving others. Blessing those that curse us. Doing good to those who hate us. Doing unto others as we would have them do unto us.

Is there a tension? Of course. But as a Chaplain who preceded me once said powerfully, “if you don’t feel the tension, then you’ve probably already given in to one side or the other already.” It is no wonder that the Apostle, in one of his last letters, written from prison, said that we were to take on the example of Jesus Christ in our lives. Living as a servant to our fellow man and, in the end, to “work out our own salvation with fear and trembling.”

Even so, I hope we can remain faithful. Perhaps when we, as saints “going into glory” meet Jesus he’ll say to us that we had this right and that wrong but in the end, we were faithful. I can only hope and work for that moment when he says to me, “Welcome home my good and faithful servant.”

Amen.

Kings, Generals, Humility, and Grace.

Sermon

2 Kings 5:1-18 – Read it this week. You’ll be glad you did.

This is a disaster. An unmitigated, unpredictable disaster. The powerful king of Aram (incidentally, this ancient kingdom in middle Syria includes the modern day city of Allepo) had sent his highly successful and valued general to the tiny, struggling, village kingdom of Israel for a healing.

I use the word disaster because this sounds to the king of Israel very much like a pretext for a war that the little kingdom could ill afford and would be very likely to lose. When he gets the message, he tears his garment (an ancient demonstration of grief), and despairs for his life.

And he should. The Aramites were a warring people, strong and proud. They looked for fights and usually won. Their children’s children would be a challenge for Alexander the Great’s Greeks and the later Roman legions. Naaman, the mighty warrior coming “to be healed” meant that he would be bringing his personal guard which might mean a few trusted warriors or it might mean a legion to skilled Soldiers for which the weak king of Israel had no match.

Israel is suffering from the ramifications of it’s own civil war. The split that came after King Solomon left the Northern tribes in a weak position and that kingdom quickly degenerated back to it’s tribal village roots. They had become prone to invasion and oppression with each king getting weaker and weaker.

But Israel had a prophet. Elisha was the man of God. The prophet held an interesting place in ancient Israel. He (or she) not only spoke for God, they also were something of a diplomat. They could be a powerful representative of the king or one that stirred the people against him. They were individuals in a world where only households mattered. Others would not know “you” in the ancient Mediterranean world, they would know your family, your house. But the Prophet – if they were a true prophet (false prophets are villains in Scripture and dealt with accordingly) – everyone knew their name! They operated above the political sphere as a balance of power to both kings and priests. Non more so than Elijah and his protege, Elisha.

Elisha hears about the predicament that the king is in and comes to his aid. “Send him to me” he says, “and he will learn that there is a prophet in Israel.” A bold statement from a man know is confident in his God.

So confident is he that when the mighty warrior comes, the Prophet does not even come out to meet him. He sends his servant.

We Americans love to think of ourselves as the supreme equalitists. Everyone rises or falls on their own merits. Everyone has the same chance to succeed or fail. Everyone has to put on their pants “one leg at a time.”

At least, this is the myth we tell ourselves.

The truth is that we very much tend to pander to power. Humans always do. Whether out of fear or love – even the chance at our very own “15 minutes” – we all love to be around powerful people.

The Army does this really well. Let it be known that the new Colonel so and so, Command Sergeant Major so and so, the new General whatever is coming and stress factor goes through the roof. Protocol gets called, impromptu inspections happen, latrines get cleaned and food that never gets eaten is brought out.

Elisha sends his servant… to the guy that commands thousands… to tell him to take a bath. Yeeahhh, that happened.

General Naaman is not impressed.

I’ve been around leadership when they get bad news before and I’m guessing that the writer here chose to leave out the more colorful language. The General is not used to candor and he is not used to being ridiculous orders given by lesser people.

“What is wrong with my rivers?” What is wrong my my lands?” The General rightly asks. Insult is added to injury. Elisha does not come out. Does not offer the respect due the man.

What is Naaman expecting here? What is he wanting?

Ritual. Holy. Sacred. Ritual.

He wants the Prophet to come and do what prophets do. Wave his arms, put him in a stressful position, make him drink some kind of nasty drink, sacrifice a bull or two. Make a show, make a spectacle. This is what prophets do!!

The General is used to a certain way of doing things. He is, as we are, resistant to change and takes pleasure out of things being done in a complicated and powerful way. He has a skin condition that has bothered him for years and this prophet tells him to go wash?? Common!! At least give me a show!

Ritual does that for us. It gives us a connection to the past and the “warm fuzzies” that it’s all going to be ok. By they way, it does not matter what ritual a person ascribes to, it accomplishes the same thing. I enjoy and connect with ancient rites of worship, confession and pardon, robes, stoles, call and response, etc. There was a time in my life when I connected with loud, epic worship music, lights, drums, production value. Ritual is ritual. We like what we like for whatever reason it connects with us.

The problem is when we attach significance to the ritual.

As though the ritual itself is what matters.

Naaman, the Aramite, worships the God Rimmon, the chief Aramite deity – the God of storm and war. You can imagine what kind of ceremonies would be necessary in the worship of the god of storm and war!

Elisha speaks for God. Yahweh is the God of gods. Elisha speaks the Word of God, a word of promise and command. A word that demands not ritualistic dancing about but obedience. A simple command costs the proud General more than he is willing to pay.

He must humble himself, take the word of the servant as the word of the prophet, as the word of Yahweh, and go take a bath in a sub-par river. Simple, direct, devoid of ritual and symbolism, easy and terribly difficult.

What a symbol of God’s grace! Forgiveness is not something to be worked for or attained through struggle – it is asked and received. The cost is pride.

We humans love to put a price on it though. It is never enough to just be forgiven, we need to pay a little first. Maybe it’s because I’m a prison chaplain right now but daily I witness the destructive nature of our refusal to forgive. Inmates can’t forgive themselves, Christians will not forgive other Christians, children will not forgive parents, parents will not forgive their children.

Forgiveness cannot be earned, else it it not forgiveness.

This is not to say that people are not to be held accountable, they must be. This is not to say that people should not experience the natural consequences of their behavior – they should. I am saying that the call to forgive frees us from carrying that burden.

Forgiveness is given freely, without restraint, or it is not forgiveness. It is a debt that has been re-payed not forgiven – its just that the terms are changed.

Forgiveness is an act that takes place with the offended not the offender. Rage is carried by the offended. Anger is nurtured by the offended. Thus forgiveness, the releasing of the offender from their debt, can only happen with the offended.

It is freely given by God.

If we confess. If we humble ourselves. If we seek it.

Saints, there is no twelve-step program, 40 day Bible study, degree or special book that can give us peace of mind. It is simple seeking out of forgiveness and accepting that it has happened. We’ll still have to live with the ramifications of our sins but us and God will be ok. Clear.

I love this story. I love the human element. The proud general getting convinced by his staff that maybe it’s worth a try. The despairing king getting bailed out by the prophet confident in his God. The young handmaiden who just wants her master’s most valued general to be healed. The greedy servant (oh it gets better…)

The best parts of our faith are the simplest. They are stripped from the dogma we surround them in. They transcend the cultural rituals that we wrap them in. They say the same thing no matter the story – God loves all of us. God is willing to extend grace to ALL of us. We need to swallow our pride and obey.

Epilogue: As an aside to this story, the General claims Israel’s God as his own. He does ask for one exception though from Elisha – when he goes home to serve his King, he’s going to have to worship at the alter of Rimmon (since that is still the chief deity in Aram) – would that be ok? He asks the prophet. “Go in peace.” Is the answer. Elisha seems to give him the clearance to worship this other god since it’s a necessary part of his role as a general to his king and country. Isn’t that interesting…

I remember.

Army

I’ve thought a great deal about this today.

Every year Memorial Day comes around and I remember.

I remember the heat and blood. JP8 and cigar smoke. Laughter and pain. Intensity and boredom. That’s war I suppose.

I remember those who died, who never came back.

Again I post this video of a young, overwhelmed chaplain with great intentions and limited skill.

This year, I want to remember someone else. Actually several someones. Every deployment I’ve been on, the tragedy does not end with the re-deployment. For some, home never really feels like home, life just does not readjust. The pain of losing those so close to them just becomes too much and life overwhelms them. There is so much help and love available to them but the blinders of depression, despair, and anguish blocks their vision.

They cannot see. They cannot know.

They are those who have died by suicide. And they are many.

For me, there are four.

I remember.

If a veteran, current service member, or family member is going through those dark waters. They are not alone. There is help for them.

Veterans (or family members can call): 800-273-8255  (Veterans Crisis Line – Active Duty/Guard can call as well)

And Military One Source is always available: 800-342-9647

Memorial Day is about all who have suffered and died.

I remember.

Hindu Army Chaplain

Army, Chaplaincy

In this world of changing times and culture, I love how this video highlights how there are no boxes. The Army Chaplaincy does have many evangelical protestants but it also has a Hindu Chaplain. The Army has always been a micorcasm of the greater society and the chaplaincy is a microcasm of the greater clerical world. Religion exists in the same marketplace that everything does in this country. Thats what the “free exercise of religion” is all about.

Veteran’s Day – then and now…

Army, Chaplaincy

I have some angst about Veterans Day. It’s the same midwestern angst I have about being too excited about anything. I don’t like the feeling that I am not differentiated from my religion, my faith, my job, and my country, politics etc… I have an aspirational image of myself that I am a little above trappings, pomp and circumstance of the life I lead.

Veteran’s Day is no exception.

I’m fine celabrating the service of others but being a veteran is sometimes a little sureal to me. I’m so used to this life and have more or less forgotten what life was like before putting on the uniform that considering myself in this slice of our population is something of an odd thought. I get up, I go to work, I get paid, I serve people and, oh right, my country.

Maybe it’s this job. Yesterday, I preached in both prison facilities in which I work. In one, I am their chaplain, their pastor – the inmates are all veterans themselves but have been put out of service because of their convictions in courts martial. Ministering to them in humility and being proud of my own service carries no small tension in my mind.

So today, I celebrate a deployment from what seems long ago. Operation Iraqi Freedom III. Camp Striker, Iraq. 2/121 Infantry Battalion (Mechanized). A year that changed me at my core. A young, idealistic, hurting young chaplain met with a nervous, driven Infantry battalion and grew together into a hardened combat team, taking the fight to the enemy.

I think of that year now with no small amount of emotion. Those that died. Those that lived. The wounded, those who continue to be wounded. We were, all of us, changed by that war.

Two views on the repeal of DADT

Army, Chaplaincy

In the wake of the study that highlighted that the repeal of DADT has had no real impact on the military, I thought I’d share a couple of articles from chaplain’s groups (both sides of the debate) that express how they feel about it.

My own thought is: does the loss of the preferential treatment of my faith (Christianity) equate to the loss of my own religious freedom?

My answer is of course: no. It is true that America is a traditionally Protestant Christian nation and thus most of it’s chaplains are, military chapels are based on Christian churches etc. etc. However, as we become more religiously diverse (as reflecting the diversity of the nation as a whole), it only highlights how great our system is when those from other faith groups and expressions can express as we do.

Is religious support fair? Is it just? Are the ideas, rituals, tenets of your faith still able to be expressed? These are the questions we need to ask.

First, a response from the conservative “Chaplain’s Alliance:”

“This list of problems and incidents that have arisen mere months after this administration imposed its will on the armed forces is disturbing to say the least, and we know it is only the beginning,” said Crews. “Compounding the outrage, service members are not free to speak out about these matters. This ensures that distrust in the ranks will increase and morale will decrease as the number of silenced victims grows.”

The Chaplain Alliance for Religious Liberty said it has worked with members of Congress to enact legislation to protect freedom of conscience for chaplains and those they serve. The proposal has passed the House of Representatives but is awaiting action in the Senate.

The second from a progressive chaplains’ group run by the UCC:

Will religious conservatives in the military no longer be able to practice their religion? Will their chaplains have to refrain from preaching against homosexuality (their term, not mine)? Not at all. Chaplains have always had the right to preach according to the tenets of the religious bodies that endorse them — and they still will. Will anti-gay chaplains be forced to conduct same-sex weddings in military chapels? Of course not. They will continue to conduct rites and sacraments as allowed by their religious bodies. And the same principle applies to conducting religious education and pastoral counseling. The one thing that every chaplain is required to do, regardless of their religious perspectives, is care for everyone. If these chaplains can’t minister to gay and lesbian service members themselves, they are obligated to refer them to another chaplain who can.
So where is the threat to religious freedom? And where could their right to free speech be limited? It will no longer be acceptable to speak about fellow gay and lesbian service members in demeaning ways in the workplace and other public settings. The fact that this has ever been acceptable by anyone anywhere, but especially by chaplains, is regrettable. And chaplains from the religious groups who are now demanding protection from discrimination have been some of the worst offenders. They, and others who agree with them, may continue to think and believe what they want, but outside of those areas where their religious speech is protected, they may now have to keep their bigotry to themselves.
I agree that religious freedom is a precious right that we must hold inviolate. It is a right that all service members serve to defend, and which all should be able to enjoy. By all, I mean those who are religiously liberal as well as those who are conservative, and by those who are gay as well as straight. Are ADF and the religious groups they represent as willing to defend the same rights and protections for others they claim for themselves? Are they as willing to acknowledge the right of chaplains from gay-friendly denominations to perform gay weddings in military chapels? And are they as willing to speak up for those who suffer discrimination because they are gay? If not, their pleas for special protection from discrimination for themselves are self-serving and unworthy of consideration.

This highlights the reality that Christian’s have always struggled through – how do we work out our understanding of Jesus’ teachings? How do we walk as salt and light? I am convinced that both these groups claim salvation through the grace of Jesus Christ and his salvific work on the cross. Yet they come down hard on both sides of the issue.

Such is the way of families. I just hope it doesn’t ruin the family reunion.

Chaplains and Gay Marriage

Army, Chaplaincy

I read an article this week about a bill being put forward that  would protect chaplains from having to perform marriage ceremonies they deem violate their conscience. A goal I’d be down with – if it needed to be done.

But it does not. Chaplains have always been able to perform or NOT perform marraiges on or off instalations. It has everything to do with their particular faith group, ordination, and endorser.

Army Regulation 165-1 lays it out clearly:  (5) Chaplains, at their discretion, may perform marriage ceremonies for authorized personnel upon request and in accordance with the laws of the State or country where the marriage is to take place. Chaplain participation in marriage preparations and ceremonies is in keeping with individual conscience and distinctive faith requirements. Chaplains may perform marriage ceremonies for DOD military personnel overseas in compliance with all applicable civil law requirements of the host nations, Army regulations, and any other military command directives.

That seems kind of clear to me.

The point I am making here is that this law is unnecessary. I won’t comment on DOMA, that seems to be a political issue and I’m not going to wade in those waters. I will however highlight that chaplains were not nor are not required to perform marriages (or services) outside of their tradition. Given some of the conversations I’ve had recently, I thought I’d point that out.

The role of the chaplain in layman’s terms is to “perform or provide.” By this we mean that we “perform” our particular faith’s rituals, ceremonys, and services while “providing” for the free exercise of religion for everyone else. This looks different for each chaplain but for me, I have generally kept a folder in my office of local major religious groups that I could point Soldiers and family members in their direction and even *gasp* make a coordinating phone call for them in the need arose. Downrange, I bent over backwards to ensure that my Soldiers had access to their particular faith group as they had need. Thats religious freedom. It’s why I get paid. I think sometimes this gets lost in all the posturing around these issues. There are many Soldiers in the Army who do not hold to Christian traditions. They have as much right to worship as any of us do. I’m all for laws that broaden our understanding of religious liberty, I just wonder about the intent of laws that seek to do what is most certainly already done.

As a rule, I believe the Pauline injunction that couples should not be “unequally yoked” – in other words, Christians should marry Christians. This means that I have, in fact, turned down opportunities to marry those who did not fit that criteria. I’ve never been corrected or guided differently in that. It is a part of my faith. However, this does not mean that I was unhelpful. I am fine helping anyone get their needs met in a way that makes sense to them. Incidentally, I also do not marry folks I don’t believe have a fighting chance to make it. (i.e. Soldier shows up in my office with soon to be spouse and wants me to marry them after a week of knowing each other…) Christian marriage is the only kind of marriage I perform and I take the responsibility seriously. That’s my ordination – my performance. My job as federal chaplain requires that I provide for everyone else. I have no issues with it. I do it happily.

As a side, there has been no negative impact of the repeal Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell. I guess after all that hullabaloo, it just wasn’t a big deal after all. But I’ll save that for another post.