Monthly Archives: June 2014

Thoughts from Navy Chaplaincy: Tidbits for “Being Church”

As many of you who’ve come across my blog know, I identify as a “multi-vocational” person – I’m pastor, Navy Chaplain, wrestling coach, husband and family member, among many things.  I like to make connections between the things I experience and learn and bring them into the other “vocations” or “spheres” of my life – for example, how does coaching wrestling inform what kind of pastor I am, or how does being a pastor inform what kind of husband I am.  In short, I’m always thinking about how God shows up in my life (or doesn’t)….in all aspects of it.

My time training at the Navy’s Chaplaincy School, as part of my basic leadership training as a Chaplain, is such an example.  For the past three weeks, I’ve been learning some of the basics of what it means to be a Navy Chaplain, and what it means to do ministry in a secular institution that invites people like me to minister publicly to its people because it believes it is beneficial for their lives….especially in a profession that raises so many moral, ethical, personal, and spiritual challenges.

I’ve enjoyed it a lot….and I’ve enjoyed it because what I’ve learned has got me thinking about the church, and doing ministry in a congregational setting – in the church.  I think the Navy Chaplaincy approach to ministry offers a lot of good things to think about for parish ministry (and I hope to talk with my two congregations about them when I get back!).  So, as I enter my last week of training, I want to offer you some of those tidbits from this past week – thoughts on some of those topics that frankly, congregations and pastors are always thinking and talking about.


is about growth – personal and spiritual growth – of the individual.

Growth is defined as people growing within their own tradition and beliefs – and the Navy Chaplain’s role is to help…..provide for those who are within our own faith tradition, and facilitate for the growth of those outside it.

Outreach then, is not about the preservation of a space/building/membership.

Social media….

fosters a lack of ownership and accountability for one’s thoughts and comments that face-to-face communication demands of people.

Does social media restrict the development of critical thinking, deeper thought? (We only think beyond 400-800 word blogs, 140 character tweets, etc)

Philosophy and Approach to Institutional Ministry…..

The institution (Navy, Marine Corps, Coast Guard) has invited us (ministers, pastors) to publicize religion in a world where its privatized.  That is a privilege.

Our mission, then, is to help people see they have value…because our faith says that about humanity.

It means in a pluralistic environment, we have to put aside our “entitlements” and our theological commitments, and unit by a commitment to care for all people (institutional-mandated commitment).  Pluralism is complimentary in this approach.

Our challenge is to find language to speak to issues of dignity and humanity of people – to define these things as well as the medical profession does.  We speak to issues of shame/guilt – how do those we minister to see themselves?  How does those we minister to define shame and guilt?

Relevancy is an important issue….while the leaders and people we serve may think religion is irrelevant, and they will believe what they want….our role is to fulfill the institution’s commitment – to care for all people.

That means we make ourselves irrelevant when we close ourselves off from caring for all.

Well, that’s it.  What do you think?  How do you see any of this helping how we think about ministry in a parish/congregational setting?  Or do you think that institutional ministry – in our Armed Services – is simply disconnected from the ministry we do in the church?  

I’d love to hear what you think….as for me, our class is headed to Mayport, FL to visit a few surface ships and the Coast Guard station to experience that world a bit, and then we spend some time at Parris Island, SC at the Marine Corps Recruiting Depot – watching young men and women become completely transformed from civilians to U.S. Marines!  It’s definitely feels like I’m going back to my U.S. Naval Academy Midshipman days – summer cruise/training!  But it should be fun…..

PS: All the best to the young men and women who will be sworn in July 1st for “I-Day” at the U.S. Naval Academy – the beginning of Plebe Summer and a 4-year journey unlike any other!


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The Difference between a “chapel” and a “church”

I’m in the midst of Navy Chaplain’s Basic Leadership Course right now, and this past week we discussed “occasional services” that chaplains perform – things like weddings, funerals, graduation ceremonies, etc.  One of the things we discussed was the use of the Navy’s chapels.

By definition, Navy chapels are not churches.  They are government-owned buildings designated as places where religious practices can happen.  They are not “sacred” spaces as churches are…so what we say is that the chapel is a tool that helps chaplains do their job to provide the means for religious practice according to the faith tradition they represent, facilitate the free practice of religious expression for according to their tradition, care for all people, and advise on moral, ethical, morale, and spiritual matters to their superiors.

One example our teacher gave: while overseas in the Middle East, some of the marines in the command he was assigned to asked if they could use the chapel to hold a Halo tournament.  “You got those big screens in there Chaps….is ok if we do that in there?”  Of course, they were allowed to use the chapel, and use it in that manner….because it was caring for those marines who spent their days around going out patrols and going into harm’s way.

I have to ask… we think and use our churches that way?  It seems so often, our churches are “sacred spaces” which means we keep them neat and orderly, arranged just so, and we make sure the things that get done in them are appropriate, and by the appropriate people.  And in order to keep them sacred, we devise a whole bunch of rules to make sure they stay that way.  This notion of sacredness isn’t just the sanctuary either….it’s the whole building, and even the surrounding grounds.

But what if “sacred space” was a place where people were invited in and experienced the love, grace, and care of God?  What if we provided our spaces for that, for that moment to happen?  What if we worried a bit less about the desecration of our spaces…..and made a lot less rules?

What if we thought of our churches more like military “chapels?”  

And if we did, is it just possible that things like a Halo tournament in the Middle East might be a “sacred” moment that blesses our spaces….that blesses “our” church?

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Making a Case for Military Chaplaincy

Disclaimer: These thoughts are my own based on my experiences in Navy Chaplaincy School, and do not represent official stances of the DoD, U.S. Navy, U.S. Marine Corps, or Coast Guard.

It’s important I say that before I go forward – because I care deeply about chaplaincy to the sea services, and while I feel compelled to share what we do, I want to make it clear nothing I write here is official word or policy, and any contrary stance is expressed without intent or malice.

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about “why Navy Chaplaincy?”  I think back to my time of 8+ years of active duty, and Navy life is hard – deployments, following orders, restrictions on what you can and can’t do, fitting into a system of hierarchy in which obedience and discipline are requirements, not suggestions….and then there’s that whole profession of war thing.  Yet here I am – beck in the Navy as a chaplain.

As I’ve thought about “why Chaplaincy” I’m drawn to two things.  One has to do with ministry within an institution, and the other is personal.  That said, I want to make a case for chaplaincy in our Armed Forces, and perhaps you’ll walk away with a better understanding and appreciation for what these men and women do, and maybe even consider a call to care and minister to these awesome people!

Ministry within the Institution.  While sharing essential elements of ministry like worship leading, teaching, pastoral care, institutional ministry is different from parish ministry in a number of ways.  This is especially true within the Navy, Marine Corps, and Coast Guard (what I’ll refer to as the “sea services” from now on).  There are advantages to doing ministry within the institution: “insider” status/credibility, awareness of people’s needs, ready-made contact with non-faith affiliated, intentional culture of “unity with diversity.”

“Insider” status/credibility: As a Navy Chaplain, I am also a member of the institution as a naval officer.  That means I wear the uniform, follow the same rules of conduct, take an oath to defend the constitution and espouse the same values of Honor, Courage, and Commitment.  The institution teaches me its customs and traditions and to an extent, its norms.  The institution virtually guarantees my place of status and gives me a certain degree of credibility within the institution and with its members.  Of course, this enhances with the building of good relationships founded on trust and love, but the point is that in a parish, you often come as the outsider – having to spend time figuring all this stuff out.  Even then you may never reach a degree of status and credibility as being “one of them” – a part of the community or parish at all.

Awareness of people’s needs: Let’s be honest, “who lives in their parish?”  Or, maybe a better question is, “Who lives with their parishioners?”  As a parish pastor, the answer is “no” to both of those questions.  One, I don’t want to live in an old church building, and I don’t think my wife would like it if I told her we were going to start living with folks in my congregations (and I bet they wouldn’t be too thrilled either)!  My point is: as much as we probably don’t want to admit it, our interactions are limited with our folks in the parish.  So it’s natural we aren’t truly aware of their needs fully.  And that’s ok…..I think the problem is that more often than not, everyone in the parish (pastor and parishioners) think they know and think they are aware of each other’s needs.  And that’s where the problems start (at least for me).

As a Navy Chaplain, you go to work with those you minister to every day.  You actually go spend time out in the middle of the ocean on a ship, spend time in the middle of a country on the other side of the world with them.  And because of that, you see everything – the good, the bad; their laughs, their tears; you see them save lives, you see them take them – and have to deal with the emotions that come with that.  You see them take wounds – physical, emotional, and spiritual – and you see them die from them.  And you see them wrestle with the idea of hope or joy coming out of any of that as well.

I’ll be honest: I haven’t done that as a Navy Chaplain yet.  But I’ve done it as a junior officer aboard a submarine; I’ve done it with NROTC Midshipmen and prior-enlisted sailors and marines in my office and in a university parking lot; I’ve done with on the pier while their ship sits in a dry dock all torn apart.  Trust me, when you live that close to people – unless you just go blind and deaf to it – you become fully aware of what’s going on in their lives.  You have awareness and access that takes years in the parish, if at all.

Ready-made contact with non-faith affiliated: This is the Navy’s terminology for “unbeliever” or “unchurched.”  Frankly, I like it better (much more unassuming and less biased about their notions of faith and spirituality).

Lots is being made these days about getting more people to come to church.  Some call it “bringing people to Jesus,” others call it “evangelism,” others “mission and witness.”  Hard thing is, in the parish, you often scratch your head, trying to figure out who those people are, and how to interact with them.  “Getting them in the door is half the battle”, you’ll probably hear folks in the parish say.

But in the Navy, you are contact with those people every day.  Trust me, there are lots of people in the Navy and Marine Corps that are in the category of the “non-faith affiliated.”  And while the rules are very clear we’re not there to convert, coerce, or proselytize to them, it doesn’t mean that we can’t be faithful examples that witness to the God we place our faith in.  Maybe that’s half the battle for us in the parish – doing that last part.  But in the sea services, that part is already done for ya!

Intentional Culture of unity with diversity: Churches, in general, are not diverse cultures.  They are often singular in race, socio-economic status, values, beliefs, and virtues.  The sea services are anything but that – it’s diversity of all kinds.  And as I mentioned before, the Navy actually has written regulations that promote and protect this culture of unity with diversity.

I’m not going to criticize the church for what they are now.  The Navy as a nonreligious organization enjoys dynamics that the church doesn’t.  But what this highlights for me is that as a Navy Chaplain, there are increased opportunities to engage diversity.  It’s an opportunity to engage in that diversity, share things, and as a person grow from those experiences as we minister to these people.

Personal story.  This past week, we were watching a video on suicide awareness and prevention during training.  The video interviewed service members and family of those who committed suicide.  A number of the interviewees had “dolphins” on – the warfare insignia/pin that submariners wear.

I felt that pretty deeply when I saw that….and I thought, “Those are MY people.”  Those are people signified those I’ve served with – brothers in the silent service.  I think of all the good people I served with as a submariner and I realize, they’re the reason I’m back in the Navy as a chaplain.

And really, it’s because of all the people I’ve served with, and still have a lot of respect and love for, that I decided to be a Navy Chaplain.  And I’m excited to care for and serve with those I’ll meet in the future.  We’re a country that’s been at war for the last 13 years….and it looks like it might be lasting a bit longer.  And for all the things that come with war – a reality I truly hope one day comes to an end – I know there are sailors, marines, Coast Guard men and women, and soldiers and airmen and women who will need the care of a chaplain who can proclaim the love and grace of God to them, an incarnational presence of Christ who speaks life and hope into suffering and death.

“Why chaplaincy?”

Because it matters.



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Lessons from Navy Chaplaincy: “Fighting with Honor” & the Church

It’s the weekend at “Phase 1,” and we’ve got some down time as a class.  I’ve really enjoyed the time to stop and have one-to-one conversations with folks – getting to know them, pick their brains, and listen to their stories of calling.  It’s what I enjoy about ministry, and honestly, it’s been super-inspiring and life-giving for me.  I can’t help but think….“this is what it truly means to be church.”

I headed out on a run along river in Columbia, SC this morning with some of my classmates, and one of them talked about her experiences within the United Methodist Church.  The big topic in the UMC these days is the issue of homosexuality, and she simply commented, “It’s just really sad and frustrating how mean and hateful people are in the whole conversation…..all we do is fight, and honestly, I think that’s what’s killing our church.”

As an ELCA-Lutheran who was around for our similar discussion in 2009, I get that.  And today, the way we talk to each other over disagreements is simply no better.  Whether within the denomination, with other Christians, or with people of other faiths (or no faith at all)….all we seem to do is fight.  You could make the case all we do is talk about other people rather than with them.

We talk about them – people who are different from us, people who differ in opinion, and we make all sorts of statements.  And while I could go on and on about what they are, the simple fact is this: we fight, and when we fight, we tend to dehumanize other and ourselves in the fight.

This first week of Phase 1 we’ve been talking a lot about what our role as Navy Chaplains to people who fight and are affected by wars.  As war gets more and more technological, and we distance ourselves from witnessing killing (don’t shoot until you see the whites of their eyes no longer applies), moral numbing is happening in our service members, and it’s leading to trauma (PTSD) that has damaging effects long after they return home.  And in my thoughts this week, I wonder what does it mean for us to wage war….to fight, but to do so with honor.  What does it mean to fight with honor?

War and fighting is a reality in our world.  We can’t avoid it, no matter how much we hate that it exists (and I do hate that war exists in our world).  And fighting exists in the church and our communities of faith too in the same way.  And I wonder if we shouldn’t be thinking so much about how not to fight….but rather, how do we fight with honor?

Honor for me is preserving humanity – both your own and your “enemy’s.”  In war, we aren’t just killing an image on a screen, a target in our sights, but rather we are taking human life.  And while I hate that our people have to do that – it’s an unavoidable reality that war brings.  What’s important is that we keep in mind we are taking a human life – and we acknowledge that causes conflict in us.  It isn’t good.  It’s horrific in fact.  We keep this in mind so that every time the button gets pushed, the order given, the trigger pulled, that decision isn’t made lightly, and it’s not celebrated.  In doing this, we preserve our own humanity as well.  We fight with honor.

What if we did the same thing in how we fight in the church.  We fight over issues of all kinds – doctrine, social justice, ministry, etc.  We can’t avoid it, no matter how much we hate that it exists.  In fact, maybe fighting is good for the church, because it’s in that struggle God can speak a word of redemption to us…a word of grace that speaks new life and salvation for the world.

But we fight preserving humanity.  We don’t dehumanize people with our weapons of words.  Every time we think, speak, or write, we do so with great care, and when we know our words might hurt others, we don’t express them lightly, and we don’t celebrate them.  And in doing so, we preserve our own humanity as well.  We fight with honor.  

Blessings to everyone on the rest of their weekend…..look for more thoughts from the #nuclearchaplain mid-week.  There’s just so many good thoughts coming out of my training here….and this is the gift of being a multi-vocational pastor brings.  God is good!




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Thoughts from the “NuclearChaplain” – 6/12/14

Well, I’m wrapping up the first week of Navy Chaplain Basic Leadership Course, Phase 1.  (I’ll call it Phase 1 for brevity from here on out!)  I’m getting used to 4:30-5:00 am wake ups, and going to bed early; sweating it out during runs and workouts in the hot, humid South Carolina summer; and observing the Army folks doing what they do since Fort Jackson is an Army base.

There’s still an indoctrination aspect of the training – most of the students are newly accessed officers, or are seminary students discerning if Navy Chaplaincy is for them.  For someone who’s been around for a while, it’s a great lesson in patience and humility – which are always good things.

I’ll keep this post brief, as I’ll reflect a bit deeper my weekend post.  But I wanted to share some interesting ideas, thoughts, reflections from the week:

– The Navy has actually written into its governing instructions about Religious Ministry and the Chaplain Corps rules and mandates towards tolerance, mutual respect for all people, diversity of all kinds, accommodation in a pluralistic setting.  These instructions also protect chaplains so that they may minister and represent their religious tradition/denomination in full confidence, while maintaining respect for other traditions.

It’s freeing….the denomination I serve talks and strives for it, but often struggles in making it a reality.  At the risk of romanticizing the Navy, it is refreshing that the organization actually has found a way to make it a reality.

– “Our role as chaplains is to re-present the love of God according to the tradition of our faith for those we serve in their time of need.”

– “Our role is to help foster a more ‘positive’ or ‘healthy’ climate – what does that look like?”

– How does the Chaplain help with the development of individuals’ character, and why is that important?

– The chaplain’s role is to provide clarity and perspective in situations……is this also the role of the parish pastor?

I’d love to hear what you all think…..until this weekend!

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From the Multi-Vocational Pastor: A New Adventure

Well, it’s been a whirlwind of a weekend for me. Lots happening in the congregations I’m serving, I performed a wedding in which the groom was a wrestler I worked out with and mentored during my time at Old Dominion University, and I prepped and made my way down to Fort Jackson, South Carolina for “Professional Naval Chaplaincy – Basic Leadership Course Phase I.”

That’s the official title. We’ll just call it “Chaplain’s School” or “Phase I.” I’ll spend the next 4 weeks with other Navy Reserve Chaplains and Navy Chaplain Candidates being indoctrinated into doing ministry in an institutional setting – Chaplaincy in the Navy.

On the drive down, I realized that my “first” Navy career also began in South Carolina – in Charleston. I spent a year training as a Nuclear Power Officer in the Navy, eventually serving on a submarine. That was back in 2001-2002 and honestly, it was my “indoctrination” into the Nuclear Navy and the Submarine Force. Now here I am today, driving down to Fort Jackson to begin a new part of my Navy career – a call to be a Chaplain.

I have mixed feelings of course. On one hand, I’m looking forward to the learning. On the other hand, the whole “indoctrination thing” – restricted freedoms – will be a challenge. I’ve been around Navy life for close to 17 years now, so it’s not like the Navy is a new thing to me.

What I’m really looking forward to though, is what I think I can treat as a sabbatical of sorts – a chance to reflect on this first year of ministry with my two congregations, to reflect on some changes I need to make in my coaching approach with my wrestlers for the upcoming year, to reflect on the gift my wife is in my life and to take stock of how we’re doing life together, and of course, to reflect on my vocation as a Navy chaplain.

That said, I thought it would be fun to utilize social media and blogging for the next 4 weeks for folks that wish to follow along with what I’m wrestling with. I’ll try to blog at least 1-2 times a week while I’m here, and there’s Instagram, Twitter, and Facebook as well. If you search #NuclearChaplain you’ll find my pics and tweets. Did ya get the hashtag? A little combination of my Naval career!

Blessings in all you wrestle with in this life, and may you find a sense of faith and God’s presence in it all!

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Sermon Pentecost Sunday: 8 June 2014

As some of you know, I’ve been in Minnesota for the past couple weeks on vacation…..going home to visit for the most part was great – seeing lots of family and friends, and of course eating way too much. And I got to spend some time up at my family farm. And while that generally was also a great time, over the years it’s always a bittersweet moment for me every time I go back. The farm used to be a fully operational dairy farm of about 200 cows….but since my dad passed away, that hasn’t been the case for about 8 years. I own the land now; I rent the pasture land and the fields to another farmer. My cousins live on the property.
Every time I go back, I think about everything the farm used to be – what the farm was in the past. My dad had worked the farm for 23 years, and it’s been actively worked by our family for over 100 years. And it bothers me to think that the farm will never really be an active farm anymore. No one in my family – myself included – really has the drive and passion to be full-time farmers. It saddens me to think about the fact that that way of life – life on the farm – is lost somehow.
Today is Pentecost Sunday – the Sunday we celebrate the church – we celebrate the life of the church. We remember and celebrate this first account of the church in Acts 2 we read today: the Holy Spirit rushing upon the people from many diverse nations like a mighty wind; tongues of fire above their heads; a diverse group of people speaking in many languages and understanding each other. And this Pentecost story also gives us a vision of the future for the church as well – a church that’s just as numerous and full of life and diverse as the church on the day of Pentecost. People from all sorts of backgrounds, race, lifestyles, status, and orientation.
And perhaps we sit here today, and as we listen to the story, we’re able to identify how the Spirit was active and present in the church of the past, and we certainly hear and wonder and dream of how the Spirit is moving us to be the church in the future.
And we’ve already done that in my time with you: In previous Sundays, I’ve asked you about why this church was so important to each of you over the years, why you keep coming back. And you gave answers: it feels like family. I grew up in this church. Lots of good memories here. And I’ve asked you about what your big dream is for this church in the future. And you gave answers to that as well: more young families and young people. More youth. Active and vibrant ministries.
All this raises a very important question for us on this Pentecost Sunday: What is the Spirit of this church? What is the Spirit of St. Andrew/Holy Communion?
I think, if we believe the spirit of the church is caught up in those things of the past, or in our longing for those dreams of the future to become a reality, then I wonder what the spirit of the church is now – in this time and place. Like how I think about my farm, if it’s caught up in memories of the past or dreams of the future, it just seems like we’ve lost the spirit…and maybe we fear, we’ve lost it for good.
But the story of Pentecost is that the spirit of the church always resides in THE HOLY SPIRIT – the Spirit of the living God, the Advocate, the Spirit that live and moves and acts among us as Christ did among the disciples. The Spirit of the Church is not in any one thing so much – but rather in a relationship of eternal and abundant life and grace with God through Jesus Christ. That is what sustains the church. That is what breathes life into the church.
Back to my time on the farm……out of those couple days up at the farm, the best was the four hours I spent with my uncle. We went into town together to buy new parts for his broken farm equipment, and then we spent the rest of the time repairing and putting it back together – and the whole time, joking, arguing, laughing, and wrestling deeply together about questions of life and faith that have been on our minds lately.
I realize, that the spirit of the farm isn’t caught up in the past memories or even it’s future, uncertain as it is. That’s not why it’s such a special place that holds so much meaning for me.The spirit of the farm is in the relationships and community that I experience in the present – relationships and community experienced in a moment in a particular time and place.
And for us here today, perhaps the spirit of the church doesn’t reside in things and people of the past and future who in all reality don’t exist today. Rather, it exists among the Holy Spirit who is present among the people of God assembled here today, in this time and place. It exists in each and every one of you. Just as Christ breathed the Holy Spirit on the disciples, just as the Spirit blew among the church at Pentecost, so too the Spirit is with you all today. And the Holy Spirit lives and breathes in the church today in the ways that we are brought together as one – the building of community and relationship – in this time and place. It’s the ways we’re joined together, bringing and offering our whole selves, to live and be for others. To be present with and for each other.
Here’s the thing: the challenge is to see ourselves this way. I’m willing to bet, whether it’s because most of the time we’re told not to brag, or we simply don’t think we have it in us, it’s hard to trust the fact God dwells in us through the Holy Spirit. We don’t see the ways the Spirit has gifted each of us to participate in building up the community of grace and love and abundant life that Christ gives to us, for us. And so we don’t offer ourselves that way because we don’t recognize the worth in ourselves and in each other.
But the Holy Spirit reveals the worth of your whole self and your gifts, and reveals the ways you each uniquely contribute to building the community of faith – the community of grace and love where all belong, all gifts are welcome, all people are welcome. A little thing we call church. I’ve seen the Spirit – present and in each and every one of you, building the community of faith, the church, in this time and place.
For me, that’s a huge source of hope. Because it witnesses to me that the Spirit of the Lord IS in this church, and that the spirit of this church IS God’s Holy Spirit – the Advocate, the giver of life…..and it exists now, in this time and place. And to those who feel that a sense of belonging and community is a lost thing these days, this community, built by the Holy Spirit, working in and through each of you, announces that such a thing does exist – in this time and place. Amen.

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