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.

Psycho Clergy

Chaplaincy, Theology

I just read this great article on which careers have the most psychopaths – turns out, number eight on the list is clergy.

yup. Clergy =  Pastors. Deacons. Bishops. Regional Ministers. Chaplains.

We (clergy) tend toward a personality disorder described as “having shallow emotions, reduced fear, stress tolerance, lacking empathy, cold heartedness, egocentricity, superficial charm, manipulativeness, irresponsibility, impulsivity, anti-social behavior and lacking guilt.”

So… there’s that.

Now, before we jump to the defensive and say that this is categorically false, clergy do not belong on that list… etc. etc. Remember that I’m probably not talking about you or your pastor per se but the greater comment on who might experience a call to ministry. One thing I had to come to grips with when doing my CPE work was just why I felt called in the first place. We, as ministers, understandably feel that our calling was directly from God but I would humbly submit that there might be some baggage connected to that calling which is very much with us. It is that baggage, working in the background that makes our calling so difficult to work with. Nietzsche wrote of the “will to power” – the idea that we all have in us the desire to have power over another. Are ministers any different? Our desire to help and serve might be present but so also might desires to know, have power, make decisions in people’s lives. The possibility for a positive trait exists with the possibility for a negative one.

What about Jesus’ words in Mark 12:38 As he taught, Jesus said, “Watch out for the teachers of the law. They like to walk around in flowing robes and be greeted with respect in the marketplaces, 39 and have the most important seats in the synagogues and the places of honor at banquets. 40 They devour widows’ houses and for a show make lengthy prayers. These men will be punished most severely.” – These are ministers. Charged with the care of the community and they clearly do not do it. Were ALL teachers of the law this way? Is Jesus being fair to the ENTIRE cadre of religious leaders in Israel? I don’t think so. Perhaps Mark is remembering his own bias a bit here but the point is made. There is power, position, strength, and wealth in the ministry in ancient Israel. I think that has pretty much been a standard throughout the ages. Where there is some power, there will be those that, for whatever altruistic reason started the journey, will abuse it.

We all know the stories and have experienced people who should have been ministering to us but instead used our grief to flex their own power however great or small. This is the dark side of ministry. When power gets mixed up with service, people get hurt.

The question we clergy should be asking is: how do we exercise spiritual authority and not let it become an abuse of power feeding our own ego?

Driven out but going back in

Chaplaincy, Theology

Keep the earth below my feet

For all my sweat, my blood runs weak

Let me learn from where I have been

Keep my eyes to serve and hands to learn

Keep my eyes to serve and hands to learn

– “Below My Feet” Mumford and Sons

An inmate got under my skin yesterday. I walked away frustrated, angry, and hurt. I didn’t deserve the triad he laid on me. This sort of thing used to happen quite a bit. When I first started at the Facility, I was constantly walking away hurt and angry but then, over time, I began to recognize that their anger was not about me but about the bigger world. I have been able to differentiate between what is theirs, mine, and the governments. 

So what happened yesterday?

I let my guard down. I forgot that no matter how friendly and kind I am with the inmates, no matter how many needs I meet or services that I oversee, I am the enemy. 

It was a reminder that I didn’t want but, in fact, needed. 

There is no education like adversity.” Benjamin Disraeli 

The real test will be whether or not I can go back in there today, maintain my professionalism, give great pastoral care, listen and lay aside my anger to be a pastor again. This is the calling of the chaplain, being able to lay aside “your stuff” in order to minister. It’s not the explosion avoidance in the moment that is the test of character, it’s the going back in the next day that defines.

Suicide Stand Down

Army, Chaplaincy, Peace

“Essentially, we know what leads people to suicide — it’s stress,” Varney said. “What we don’t know is who has the ability to relieve that stress.”

This quote from an article about how Ft. Campbell, KY is actually gaining in the Army’s fight against suicide highlights the essential quandary facing our force today – how do you help a population who is living out the most stress and danger in society? It’s stress leading to the action and stress is a part of the job.

It’s tough being a chaplain in this Army sometimes. Its hard to spend great amounts of your day working with at risk individuals and then still feel like your losing the battle.

It takes prayer. Lots of it. I ask for it for our Army.

Today was suicide stand down day. Across the Army Chaplains, Commanders and other care givers stopped what operations they could (mission still needs to be done) and talked about suicide. I’m certain there are many reasons for what we are going through as an Army today not the least of which is the cost of being at war for so long. I believe that we are moving in the right direction though and have great hope that as we continue to face the dark side of problems, we’ll save even more lives.

Peace be with you.

SES = CPE Supervisor Training

Army, Chaplaincy, Theology

I’m finishing up my packet for SES training.

If that sentence sounded too Army to be understood, then hooah. (to be interpreted, I get it) What that means is this – any time a person is making a move in the Army, wanting to advance their career by getting some further education or “going to school” etc – they “put in a packet.” Every packet is different, mostly it’s a compilation of your military record, sometimes it’ll include your civilian school records and whatever else the board might be looking for.

SES is the school for CPE Supervisors. If you want to become a CPE Supervisor in the Army, you need to put together a packet, go before a board made up of Army CPE Supervisors, get invited into the program and then later go through a board of civilian CPE supervisors who *might* declare you ready to become a candidate. Then, over the course of several years, you continue going before committees of civilian supervisors who will evaluate your learning and decide if you are ready for the Associate Supervisor Board. If they deem you ready, then you are in. You are Made. You become an ACPE Associate Supervisor and are able to run a CPE center. After this, you have one more board and you become a Full Supervisor. (Click here if you are wondering just what Clinical Pastoral Education is all about)

This packet I am doing is literally the gateway to a gateway.

At this point, I have the three papers done and just need to finish my Verbatim and it’ll be presentable. At least, I hope so…

Why do this? Why go through all this pain just to be told (I am certain) that I am an interesting candidate and to keep trying, there might be a place for me in the future? I have asked myself that question many times in the last couple months as I’ve worked through my personal biography, my understanding of the CPE process, my theology, and educational viewpoint as well as my strengths/weaknesses and motivation to enter SES training.

I believe I’m called. I believe that a calling is where my talents/gifting/desire meet a need that exists in the world. I love teaching. I miss the classroom. I really enjoy the groups I’ve been able to facilitate in the Prison. I am using the metaphor of the “Wilderness Guide” as my educational model. The guide knows the terrain. They are familiar with how to survive in the wilderness. They know the safeties to use and the way back should the group get lost. They can read the compass. They are also a teacher, delighted in experiencing new things. They love it when the group discovers what they have seen for the first time.

In the context of leading a group, I came to this while working through grief and loss with some inmates: I am familiar with the terrain of suffering. I know pain. I know loss and am “acquainted with grief.” I also know safety and can identify when someone needs a break or might be about to share something inappropriate for the setting. I am learning when to “come up for air” and when to “dig deeper.” Moreover, I delight in learning. I love to experience when someone discovers something new about themselves for the first time. When the room goes from being a classroom filled with suffering, struggling humans to a sacred space where God is present, active, and alive; working in the moment in the lives of my fellow travelers. This is how I know I need to do this work.

This, I believe, is the calling that will get me through the next few years – and that’s what it’ll take to just get into the program!!

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.

Thoughts on DADT

Army, Chaplaincy

A continuation of yesterday’s post:

I stayed out of the great “gay debate” that swirled around the repeal of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell. There was a great deal of misinformation being pushed about that, on a local level, I sought to correct but given the political nature about the whole thing (and me being a federal chaplain) I felt it necessary to stay out of the debate until it was concluded how we would move forward.

As a citizen, I have strong opinions and feelings about this (and many other issues), but as a Soldier, I also follow the orders given, salute the flag, and drive on. There is also the imperative of a chaplain to be a moral voice to power. It is within my mission as chaplain to advocate for the powerless and speak truth to power in a respectful way. Navigating the nuances of these conversations can be and have been a struggle.

Today, I read an article about how gay military families have found a warm welcome within the ranks and at unit events etc. The article highlighted the fact that there has been no negative impact of recognizing same-sex couples in the military. There have always been gay Soldiers. Now at least they don’t have to lie about it.

During my first deployment, I had a Soldier I could tell was struggling with something but seemed to never want to talk about it. I watched the Soldier move deeper into depression. Finally, after a couple of months of relationship building (I suspect it was when the Soldier felt safety with me), the individual confided that their seven year same sex relationship was starting to fail (as many relationships fail during deployments) and how their depression was impacting them. It was a moment when I realized how terribly crippling it can be to have a struggle (that most everyone around shares) but be unable to find solidarity with others because of judgement.

Regardless of how an individual believes about this subject, surely, grief and pain are grief and pain. I reached out to the Soldier and learned something about myself, my ministry, and Christ.

I’m glad DADT was repealed. Not because of my beliefs about this issue but because of the freedom that individuals now have to be who they are in the public spere. Much is asked of Soldiers. There are standards of behavior and conduct that we abide by that the rest of the Country does not. This has not nor should it change. Thankfully, honesty is one of them.

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.

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.

Mormon Pastor

General

So, yesterday, after I got back from work, I was cleaning up listening to the RNC speeches off and on the radio as I did some busy work around the house. What caught my attention was the speech given by Mitt Romney’s pastor about his pastoral work. It struck me because of how I have experienced the LDS church. 

I grew up with the understanding that Mormons were not Christians, they worshiped a different Jesus and all that. However, that is not how I have experienced the LDS Soldiers and families that I have met since coming into the Army. Clearly, they love Christ.

It should be noted that I don’t agree with Romney’s politics or the GOP worldview, but I really enjoyed hearing about his work as a Ward Pastor. 

The LDS church has a lay ministry. There is no “clergy class” or even paid clergy. When Romney was the ward pastor, as all ward pastors are (including multiple Army officers and NCOs that I’ve met) called to do that work, they do it in addition to their own jobs. Its a sacrifice. Coming from a tradition that was founded on lay ministers on the frontier, I appreciate the emphasis that ministry is for everyone in the church. All Christians are called to work the work of the Faith. 

I appreciate that Mr. Romney highlighted his faith in his quest for the office.