Monthly Archives: August 2013

Navy ODS: Final Thoughts

Well, I’m back home now, here on a Monday post-Navy Officer Development School (ODS). And, my “normal” Monday of waking up at 7:30am, and heading to the local coffee shop for breakfast and writing feels anything but normal – for the 5 weeks prior, my Monday mornings consisted of getting up at 0415 (4:15 am for you civilian types) and by 7:30am, I did physical training, took a shower, cleaned my room to inspection standards, ate breakfast, and was beginning our morning meeting (morning Quarters).

Now, Navy life is nothing new to me; 4 years at the Naval Academy & 8 1/2 years active duty Navy service taught me the rigors and structure of military life well. But, ODS has reminded me of some things – lessons and thoughts that hold perhaps greater significance after 4 years of Seminary and a life of service to God and the Church as an ordained pastor and Navy Chaplain.

Some of these thoughts are about ministry, the church, and military service: military service as a form of social justice ministry; Navy Chaplaincy as young adult ministry; Navy Chaplaincy that embodies inter-faith and ecumenical ministry in a way the church doesn’t; and what the military can teach the church about community, inclusiveness, diversity, and forming a vision and carrying out of mission in the world. Those are “big” topics I’ll blog about later….but for now, I’ll leave you with a couple “final thoughts” from Navy ODS.

1. Freedom is NOT free. It comes with a cost. Our culture and society has become one that takes freedom for granted; it’s a given, an entitlement, or perhaps more simply, freedom just is – it exists. Yet, freedom always carries with it the dark truth we lose something in return for it. In a military context, people pay with their lives to protect, preserve, and establish the freedoms of others. The same is true in movements of justice. We just celebrated the 50th Anniversary of Dr. Martin Luther King’s “I Have a Dream” speech, a key moment in the African-American Civil Rights movement. And the African-American Civil Rights Movement highlights that freedoms of equality certainly came at a cost as well. This is also the core truth of Christian faith as well – God secured our freedom at a cost as well – through Christ’s death and resurrection.

Now for sure, such a notion is messy: military service highlights the messiness of war; the Civil Rights Movement carried messiness both politically and MLK himself was a less than perfect person morally; Christianity in this country is just as much divisive as it is uniting. But the point remains: If we are people committed to freedom, then we must acknowledge the cost.

2. Discipline is the living out of character. This sort of ties into #1 above. But, I’ve learned that it takes discipline to be a person of character – it means standing up for what is right, denying one’s own pursuits and comfort for the sake of others, or the accomplishment of a task. We studied such figures like James Stockdale, where his discipline reflected his character and integrity.

Society and culture tells us to be highly individualized and undisciplined – to seek instant and immediate gratification physically, emotionally, and intellectually. And perhaps that’s the problem….maybe we need to be a bit more disciplined in our lives, for the sake of others and ourselves.

3. Being a good leader is about being a good human being. We talked a lot in ODS about being a “good naval officer first.” However, the mark of good leadership – whether as a naval officer, pastor, or businessperson – is simply being a good human being that , honors all things and people, has the courage to do what is right, and is committed to both people and a life of integrity. (By the way, Honor, Courage, & Commitment are the Navy’s Core Values)

4. Paying attention is important. Really important. This was so true during training: standing at attention, making sure our uniforms were worn properly, shoes were shined, and orders and procedures were followed exactly. Little things were paid attention to. Now, it might seem stupid (and perhaps it was), but let’s just say I saw it permeate in our company in other ways: checking in on people who were having a tough day, helping people when they struggled, and noticing a classmate who showed signs of physical distress during training. Paying attention, especially to the little things and cues, is important. Really important.

5. Loving people doesn’t mean you always like them. Trust me, we all got on each other’s nerves during ODS. And I’m sure there was quite a bit of complaining and b**ching about others – myself included. But that’s reality – we don’t always like each other. But we still are a team. We still take care of each other. We help each other out when another is in need. We love despite the fact the other might annoy the crap out of each other. And when that is made known, it’s amazing how that keeps things in perspective.

6. The church has a long way to go with people – which is a good and bad thing. I can’t recount how many conversations I had where people were essentially indifferent to the church. Yet, people still acknowledged the benefit of the church and of faith. I got a lot of surprising reactions to my presence and identity as a future Navy Chaplain. Things like:

– You swear a lot of a chaplain.
– You have a temper.
– You’re a hypocrite sometimes.
– You’re so “normal” for a chaplain
– You’re easy to talk to
– You care seem to care a lot

I can’t emphasize this point enough: people see our fallacies, where we fall short. Yet, we spend so much time elevating ourselves to some self-appointed standard of self-righteousness, whether it’s liberal or conservative views. And frankly, people are just tired of it. They’re tried of being told what and how to believe and live.

Maybe if we were simply more honest and authentic, and quit worrying so much about our agendas and convincing people of our views and just shared the good news about Jesus with people, that might just open a bit more space for God and the Holy Spirit to work….space that for God, is more than enough.

Well, I’m sure I could keep on and on…..but I think I’ll wrap up. While I certainly don’t miss ODS, I do miss the community and friendships I gained, and I am forever grateful for the 5 weeks of spending time with people who are passionate, convicted, and committed to a life in service to others.


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Military Service: A Ministry of Social Justice?!

As a member and pastor in the Evangelical Lutheran Church of America (ELCA), I am committed to God’s mission of social justice – action that works toward promoting and preserving the dignity and right to life for all human beings, and that stands with and for those who cannot stand for themselves. This is the work the church as God’s people is called into, a response to the good news of what God does for us in Jesus Christ.

During my time at Navy Officer Development School, and one of the things we had to do is commit certain things to knowledge: Articles of the Code of Conduct in wartime, Leadership Traits, and Rank & Insignia that military personnel wear, to name a few. Another thing we have to learn is the Mission of the Navy & the Sailor’s Creed.

The mission of the Navy is to maintain, train, equip combat ready Naval forces capable of winning wars, deterring aggression, and maintaining freedom of the seas.

I am a United States Sailor. I will support and defend the constitution of the United States of America and I will obey the orders of those appointed over me. I represent the fighting spirit of the Navy and those who have gone before me to defend freedom and democracy around the world. I proudly serve my country’s Navy combat team with Honor, Courage, and Commitment. I am committed to excellence and the fair treatment of all.

Consider some of the phrases in these documents: Deterring aggression. Maintaining freedom of the seas. To defend freedom and democracy around the world. I am committed to excellence and the fair treatment of all.

It sounds a lot like a ministry of social justice to me.

Ok, before I go any further let me just deal with the pushback right now: Yes, military service and our nation’s military is certainly a “messy” thing. There is the issue of whether war is ever just, and our military and its action is tied to economic, social, and political forces, people, and agendas that are acting less in the interest of freedom and justice we care to admit. Yes, military service and action isn’t 100% pure in terms of seeking justice.

But, I’ll fire back: name me a social justice movement that is 100% pure. Think of a few throughout history: the 1960’s Civil Rights Movement, NAACP, Affirmative Action groups, and the church. My point is there is no such thing as a social justice movement or organization with 100% pure motives. Doesn’t exist – it’s a unicorn. However, I think most people would agree that such organizations do work to seek social justice, and the work they do is faithful to that task.

One of my greatest frustrations with Christians is while they express their emphatic support for work and ministry of social justice, they vehemently denounce our military, its actions, and those who serve as “evil and unjust.” And some, in trying to reconcile in a “love the sinner, hate the sin” sort of way, will say that men and women today are pressed into military service against their will somehow….”just like Vietnam.”

Such a sentiment to me is simply false misguided. Today, our military force is an all volunteer force. Men and women serve by their own choice. And while their reasons are varied, many of them will echo this sentiment: they’ve seen the realities and scars people bear because of the broken world we live in, and they feel compelled to act. They feel compelled to commit themselves to the notion that freedom of life is something all people have a right to, and that it has to be defended and protected. These are people who are committed to justice in the world, and considering the messiness involved and the cost to themselves, choose to do so anyway.

If only the church so universally were committed to social justice in this way.

Yes, as a person of faith I pray for the day we no longer need a military force…I pray for a day of total peace, a just world to live in. But then I look at things like the earthquake in Haiti in 2010, and today, the situation in Syria, and I also realize tragedy and violence are a very real part of our world, and as a result, people suffer. I am thankful for a military force, and those who serve in it, that puts its personal comfort aside and puts itself in harm’s way for the sake of others in need.

Perhaps you disagree….but at the very least I ask you to wrestle with this, the notion of military service as participation in God’s action towards social justice in the world. However, as a person who has served and continues to serve in our U.S. military forces, I am thankful that what I do in uniform lines up with my response to God’s call to participate in God’s work of justice in the world. It’s not always clear or pure perhaps, but then I ask myself the question, “If not me, than who?”

And the answer becomes clear: “Here I am Lord, send me.”

And maybe we as a church can learn something here…..perhaps we should be universally acting with as much courage and commitment as well. Or, maybe we acknowledge we can’t, considering the diverse beliefs and convictions we hold. So we honor those that do, and the work they do…and that includes our military service men and women.

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Thoughts from Navy ODS: Leadership Takeaways

It’s been an interesting week: as our training has moved past the halfway point, there’s more time for conversation. And those conversations have centered around one of my favorite topics: leadership. It makes sense…we’re at a training command – OCS, ODS, LDO/CWO, DCO, Naval War College, NAPS, SWO DH School, to name a few. (If you need to know what those mean, check this link and this one) And so we see all sorts of leadership formation happening, and hear all sorts of leadership philosophies. And here are a few observations and takeaways I’ve gotten from those conversations this past week:

1. The Difference between Confidence and Arrogance is Preparation. People seem to confuse the two a lot, and some say it’s a thin line between the two. Perhaps that’s true…but to me the line, while thin, is very distinct: those who are prepared, who have put in the time and effort, definitely exude confidence. Of course, our culture tells us that success is somehow magically bestowed, and that it comes with little effort – and so the line between confidence and arrogance gets blurred. But if you look at the measure of preparation in an individual, you’ll see the difference clear enough.

2. Experience does not lead to entitlement. In the Navy, as with most military service, experience carries a lot of weight: I deployed x amount of times; I have 10, 15, 20 years of active service; I was a former Chief Petty Officer or Prior Enlisted. I’m not exempt either: the fact I’m a previous commissioned officer, and a submarine warfare qualified one at that, carries weight and credibility. And, it rightly should carry with it some respect.

However, those of us with experience tend to get a bit self-righteous, holding ourselves above those without such experience. We think we’re entitled to respect, different treatment, and even that we are “above” such lessons and training. Honestly, that’s been my biggest struggle here through my 3 weeks at ODS. I get a lot of “You’re the Naval Academy guy who served as a Naval Officer, it’s a waste for you to be here.” It’s easy to fall into the trap….my experience leading to a belief I’m entitled to something.

But that attitude simply doesn’t get us anywhere, and really hurts our credibility as leaders. Humility is key – keeping at the center that you’re only as good as the last day of work most of the time. Experience is helpful, but if you think it entitles you to something you haven’t earned in the place you are now, then it’s simply self-righteous entitlement.

3. Know your limits and your boundaries. I have to admit I’m the worst at this – physically, emotionally, and mentally. I got a cold this week, and I made it worse by pushing too hard on our physical readiness test later in the week; I’ve lost my temper and patience with people because of fatigue and my introvert nature. While for the most part, it’s all been harmless and usually just requires an apology, some of it has had an impact on how I’m perceived by others, and my standing with them. And as much as I may deny it, it does hurt my credibility as a leader. So, the takeaway is: know your limits, know when you’re reaching them, and have the awareness to take a step back or throttle down so you don’t exceed them. To not heed that, you risk injury – to yourself and others.

I’m sure there’s more….but for now, this is what sticks out in my mind. The long and short is this: leaders, work hard, stay humble, take care of yourself and others, and above all, be confident in those efforts, the endeavors you take on!

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Thoughts from Navy ODS: Frustration & Identity

It’s the halfway point in my 5 weeks here at Officer Development School. Here’s a status of how I’m feeling: tired, with a cough/cold/sore throat, and generally frustrated and unengaged. We’re in the classroom phase now, and we’re getting lectures on things I’ve already done in my previous service time. And, we’re getting “serious” room and uniform inspections that frankly, pale in comparison to what I experienced at the Naval Academy. So yeah, I’m having a serious case of “been there, done that” frustration.

That’s led me to really think about why I’m here; and what I’ve learned is that one, I’m not someone who can easily hide my temperament and feelings. Add that to being sick, my energy and enthusiasm are lacking. Yet, I know I’m still supposed to lead and set an example, both as a former naval officer who’s “been there, done that” and as the company’s assistant division officer.

So what does a guy do? I think it becomes a question not so much of hiding frustration from people, but rather, being able to put it in its proper place. For me, I think it’s ok that people see my frustration to a degree….that simply makes me human. I think it would be worse to have a false sense of positivity and optimism, acting as if everything is great. But my frustration cannot affect my performance. I still have to put forth the same effort as they are. I have to push though, even when I’m not feeling my best mentally, emotionally, and physically. I think for me, that’s the example to set….to put frustration in it’s proper place so one can continue to function. That’s leadership to me.

And that leads to the question of identity. We had lunch with the command chaplain on base here, who is also an ELCA-rostered and ordained pastor. He challenged me and the other two chaplains that our time here is about forming an identity – not just a pastoral one, but one as a Navy Chaplain as well. How comfortable are you at claiming and representing that cross insignia we wear on our collar? How confident are you in serving in that role, and do you feel called to it?

The question of identity is an important one….not only as a leader, but as one who ministers to people, whether a pastor or chaplain. It’s led me to focus less on my frustration, and really focus on caring for others who I know are probably experiencing the same frustration. It’s listening to them, and giving them space for their voice. Perhaps, it’s in understanding myself, I find that it’s likely others are feeling the same way too….and it’s from there, I both lead and care for others.

In a nutshell…..that’s ministry.

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Reflections from Navy ODS: Young Adults, Ministry, & Leadership

So, I’ve completed 2 weeks of my 5-week training at Navy Officer Development School here in Newport, RI. On a personal note, things are going pretty well for me. I am our company’s assistant division officer – which is sort of ironic in a way, because I shunned such things during my Naval Academy days.

But the position has afforded me the opportunity to be “front and center” from a leadership standpoint – both in our training to be Naval Officers and as a Chaplain. With that has come the privilege to bearing and sharing life with some great young people who are passionate about life and the calling they’re pursuing. And I’ve either learned or been reminded of a few things along the way:

1. Shared experience opens up space for relationships of vulnerability and growth. One of the unique things about my presence here at ODS is that I’m both significantly older than most of the students (average age is like 25; I’m almost 35!) and that I am the only prior commissioned officer in the class. And despite that prior experience, the fact of the matter is that we’re all in the same boat – trainees and student going through the same experiences and feelings. We’re getting yelled at together; we’re marching, shining shoes, memorizing facts together; and we’re succeeding and failing – together.

And all this opens up the possibility of relationship, regardless of background or experience. And that makes me wonder, as both a pastor and a leader, if we have to experience life with people first before we ever enter into or speak into theirs.

2. Young adults: it’s all about stories. I’ve tried to do my best getting to know as many people’s stories as I can. It’s the most interesting, and honestly, engaging part of life and ministry. And what I find is that every time I hear someone’s story, I always walk away changed and impressed. Listening to their stories of who they are, why they’ve joined the Navy, and what drives them just downright fires me up. It’s in listening to those stories, I’ve witnessed God in new ways, and I hope that’s been true for them too.

They’re a different young adult than what the church (the flavor I belong to) and its’ people tend to focus on and engage with, but they are just like any other young adult – and I would encourage you to take the time to talk to a young man or women who’s made the commitment to serve in the armed forces; get to know their stories. Just a disclaimer though: be prepared to be changed.

3. Being in leadership reminds me….

……that being entrusted with people and their lives is always a privilege.
……that empathy and humility, combined with integrity and discipline make for a great leader in the 21st Century.
……that your people will always in some way be smarter and better than you, and you have to be ok with that.
……people are always watching and will judge. Accept it.
……you will always be surprised and humbled by those moments and conversations when people reveal deep need and questions – because they trust you.
……that even redemption for past mistakes as a leader can happen in the way we lead in opportunities beyond them.

In short, as much as I had apprehension about my time here at Navy ODS, it has been a good time of growth, grace, and challenge….and as always, the gift of sharing life with all of God’s people in tremendous ways.

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Filed under Children, Youth, Family & Young Adult Ministry, Navy Chaplaincy