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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