Monthly Archives: July 2014

Sermon 27 July 2014: “A word about Prayer”

It’s just one of those phrases that makes me cringe:

“I’ll be praying for you!”

Ok, let me explain: I believe in the power of prayer, and how it deepens our relationship with God, I really do.  But there’s a part of me –  cynical, it may be – that just doesn’t believe that when people say they’re praying for me, that it happens.  I’m sure it does…but then I think about my own prayer life, I have to admit: it simply doesn’t always happen.  Sure, I might remember someone briefly, and even say their name quietly to myself at any given moment – but I don’t really sit down intentionally, and really pray.

To be honest, I think my prayer life is lacking because so often – and maybe it’s this way for you too – life just gets in the way.  My life, your life….they’re busy, and our time is spent on important things: our jobs, our families, our friendships, things we do for others.

And I think my prayer life is lacking – and again, maybe it’s this way for you too – because it’s just hard to know always what to pray FOR.  We pray for peace in the world; we pray for our loved ones to heal from illness and injury; we pray for God to help us with our own struggles and the struggles of others.  But the thing is, those prayers….I don’t know if they always get answered.  I know God is good, and things happen according to God’s Will…..I don’t know about you, but I feel like my prayers are nothing more than dead words.  I’ll pray for peace in the world, but it seems like our world is just as violent as ever.  I’ll pray for God to heal someone’s heart, change it, and they just carry on the same path as they always do.

And because of this, there’s that part of me that doesn’t want to be prayed FOR….What I want is to be in prayer WITH – to pray with another.

Let me share a few verses before the Romans text we read today: “We know that the whole creation has been groaning in labor pains until now; and not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the first fruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly while we wait for adoption, the redemption of our bodies.”

So often I think that’s how it is – our lives are filled with “groanings” just as the apostle Paul writes:  hardship, distress, persecution, famine, exploitation, peril, war & violence.  Things that happen far away – the other side of the world, our nation; and things that hit closer to home – local communities, loved ones, ourselves.

And we know we ought to pray for those things, those groanings.  But I think so often, we don’t know how, and we don’t always make time to pray….and sometimes, even when we do try to pray, we feel so isolated, so empty.

What we long for, perhaps, is to be in prayer WITH – and know we are not alone.

I had a breakthrough of sorts a week ago….and I blame it on the Southern Baptist chaplains I spent time with during my Navy Chaplaincy training.

The other day, I called up a good friend of mine in Minnesota.  We call each other back and forth regularly, just to check in on each other and talk about our families, and our jobs.  So we talked about all these things….and when we got to talk about his job, his struggles with that came out.  He’s just feeling a lack of passion for a job he once had a lot of passion for….and honestly, he’s not sure how to fix that.

And out of the blue, surprising myself in the process – again, I blame the Southern Baptists for this, because they do it all time – I said to my friend, “Can I pray with you over the phone?”  And to my surprise he said “absolutely.” And so, that’s exactly what we did…we prayed with each other.

“Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we ought, but that very Spirit intercedes with sighs – with groans too deep for words.” (Note: NRSV translates the Greek to “sighs,” but the root word translated “groaning” is the same here as in the rest of the chapter.)

Recall Jesus’ words to the disciples, “Where two or more are gathered in my name, I am there among them.”  We pray WITH each other….because in praying for things, we don’t always know what we ought to be asking for, and there’s so many people to be praying for.  We pray WITH each other, two or more gathered, so that in our collective groans for our world, our community, for ourselves, and for others – we might know that God is WITH US, and that we do not face these things alone, in isolation.  Praying WITH each other invokes the very presence of the Holy Spirit who intercedes as the very presence of God among us.

And because of that, part of me’s thinking….rather than challenge you to find time to pray with someone this week, what’s stopping us from doing that right now?  I mean, perhaps we all came here today, because its been one of those weeks – a week of groaning as we watch and read the news or perhaps in one of those things a bit closer to the heart.

So I’m gonna wrap this sermon up, we’ll sing that sermon song, say the Apostle’s Creed….but rather than just read the regular prayers – prayers FOR PEOPLE, let’s pray WITH each other.  Get in a group of two or three, and each person respond to this question, “What’s 1 or 2 things from this past week, or the week to come, where God’s presence is needed?”  I’ll trust that depending on your comfort level with your groups, you’ll take care in what you share and how you react to others’ responses.  Once you’ve shared, go ahead and pray WITH EACH OTHER….lift those things up to God, together.

Let’s pray together, and the Holy Spirit of God intercedes with words of promise that “re-member” us to the Body of Christ: “It is Christ Jesus, who died, yes, who was raised, who is at the right hand of God, who indeed intercedes for us….For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.” 

Amen.

We did exactly just that during our normal time where the “Prayers of the People” happens.  As usual, I’m not sure how people reacted to it….stay tuned!

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20 July 2014: The Second Sermon, “Casualties of War.”

Text: Romans 8:18-25 (in italics in sermon text)

Good morning.

My heart is heavy this morning.  It’s heavy because if you’ve been paying attention on the news, you may have noticed what’s going on halfway across the world – in Israel.  The long conflict between Hamas, the Palestinian extremist group, and the government of Israel, has escalated, and they are now lobbing rockets and bullets at each other.

Let me just say this: Whatever side you want to take, and for whatever reason….I’ll leave that to you to decide, and I’ll respect that.  I’m not here to sway your opinion, not that I could anyway.  What I want to do is basically tell you why my heart is heavy.

I spent 2 weeks in Israel in 2010, doing a study trip for seminary.  It was one of those life-changing experiences for me, on multiple levels.  But I fell in love with the country, its diverse landscapes, its rich history, and its diverse people……and it’s the people who are on my mind.

Not Hamas, not the government of Israel.  People, ordinary people like you and I, who one moment are going about their day just like you and I would, and now don’t enjoy the luxury – yes the luxury – of approaching life like that.  Instead, they listen for sirens warning of attack.  They watch the skies for rockets.  They watch the streets for weapons and troops on either side.  They stay awake at night, wondering if someone is going to come into their home and threaten their security and safety.  These are the people on my mind.

You probably wonder – like I have at points in my life – why we should care about what’s happening on the other side of the world.  It doesn’t affect us, it doesn’t affect our country, our lives.  And you know what?  I’ll give you that.  I’ll give you that because I on some levels think the same exact way.  It is on the other side of the world.  Those people…all they do is war and fight anyway.  Been doing so for ages.

“For creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the children of God; for the creation was subjected to futility, not of its own will by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be set free from this bondage to decay and will obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God.”

Those people on my mind….they weren’t subjected to the violence and suffering of war by their own accord. Rather, it was by those who imposed this on them.  (I realize I might be prooftexting here….but that’s what came to my mind as a read the text) And I think, today, we share much the same sentiment, even though the context is different.

These….these who suffer are the children of God, just like us.  These, these who are casualties of war, caught in the middle….our brothers and sisters on this little globe we call the earth – an earth God created, redeemed and loved in Christ, and sustains that life through the Holy Spirit.

Casualties of War….I want to go back to that for a second.  These people, caught in the middle, people like you and I….we call them “casualties of War.”  The death of the 300 people in Gaza today – and that number is rising – we simply call a “casualty.”  An unfortunate by-product.  An unfortunate cost in whatever moral or ethical mindset you take on war – “the greater good” or “the ends justify the means.”

But again, these are human beings – flesh and blood just like ourselves, created and loved by God, our brothers and sisters half way across the world.  And I hope that revelation means something to you, it makes you feel something….I hope those words did something to you, and in you.

“We know that the whole creation has been groaning in labor pains until now; and not only the creation but we ourselves, who have the first fruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly while we wait for adoption, the redemption of our bodies.  For in hope we were saved.”

Maybe that’s what the world needs to be doing right now.  Groaning.  Groaning because in one small part of the world, fellow human beings are casualties of war.  We groan to remind those powers that be that they’re not numbers, by-products, an acceptable cost to their violent agenda.  We groan collectively not only for them, but for ourselves as well….because we know these freedoms we have in this country are a privilege not all enjoy as we’ve heard today.

But we also groan in prayer to the One we know that hears our cries, and will bring about a hope, and end to such madness as war.  In prayer we cry to God to continually remember God’s promise to redeem humanity from those forces of evil….and from broken humanity itself.  We pray.  We hope.  And may God work in those who begin such wars and violence…..the recollection that they themselves are human, just like those they kill – enemy and bystander – and find hope that brings peace in such places, brings peace to our brothers and sisters….and brings peace to us as well.  Amen.

 

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Sermon 20 July 2014: “Chapels, Churches, & the Kingdom of Heaven”

Here we go…another parable from Jesus about the Kingdom of Heaven.  And there’s two things that come to mind initially….one, the picture of the Kingdom of Heaven isn’t the “sun always shining, people lounging on clouds, angels playing harps, and St. Peter letting the good people in and weeding out the bad ones” utopia we usually fantasize about.

Rather, the Kingdom of Heaven is a field….with grain-producing wheat and weeds, good and bad seed – all mixed up together.  The Kingdom of Heaven….looks and sounds a lot like….well, life here on earth.  Like our life.  And maybe that’s the point – the Kingdom of Heaven does exist in the here and now, in our present life.  But it doesn’t work the way the world works – and that’s where it gets confusing for us.

And that brings me to the second thing that comes to mind – all the farming imagery.  And while maybe it’s just an excuse to tell you another one of my childhood stories of growing up on the farm, it does remind me of, in fact, a story:

I remember my sister and I – 5, 6 years old – were asked to head out to our garden one summer day to pick the weeds out of the rows of onions.  My dad had tilled the majority of the weeds in between the rows with the tiller, but there still were weeds IN the rows of onions that had to be picked by hand.

So that’s what we were asked to do….but to a 5, 6-year-old, tall weeds look a lot like the green stalks of onion plants that stick out of the ground.  Now my dad told us if we pulled an onion or two by mistake – not a big deal – just be careful what you’re picking.  We pulled and pulled…..out came a weed, and then another.  And out came an onion, and then another.…and another.

After a couple of hours my sister and I finished weeding, and we looked back and admired our work – the weeds were all gone….but we noticed there weren’t a whole lot of onions left in the rows either!  Our dad came in later from the fields that day, checked on our work, and I remember him saying, “Well, it looks like we’re not gonna be eating a lot of onions this year.”

The parable today is really a different spin of last week’s parable.  The seeds of the Kingdom, God’s seeds of grace and love that God sows….they’re still sown freely, without ceasing….regardless of the quality of the soil – or the person.

But in today’s parable the issue isn’t the quality of the soil, it’s that some bad seed gets thrown in when no one’s looking.  And that bad seed, it grows to be weeds…and that’s a problem, because it threatens the good seed.  It threatens its growth and maturity into wheat that produces plentiful and valuable grain.

And when asked if they should pick those weeds, the master replies, “Nope, you might end up pulling out the good with the bad…and then you have nothing.”  Sure, you won’t have any weeds….but there won’t be much of a harvest either.

Yet today, I wonder if we don’t get caught up with pulling all those weeds anyway.

Good and evil all seem to exist together, and we think it’s our job to go out there pick out those weeds, the bad seeds.  Think about it: we try to weed out those bad habits or things we hate about ourselves.  We try to help others weed out what’s bad about their lives.  We try to eliminate those weeds that we know are a threat to our communities, neighborhoods…and even our churches.  The goal of all this is the same: so we can make those things “good seed” that matures and grows into useful and righteous people.

But, like I said last week, God doesn’t need farmers who will weed out the bad.

As the master says in this parable, the seeds of the Kingdom are just fine on their own, even in the presence of the bad seed.  Even mixed in with the weeds, the good seed will grow and mature into something life-giving on its own.  The harvest will be plentiful, the master assures.

The point is this: perhaps in the Kingdom of Heaven here on earth, both good and bad exist, and it’s so often confusing which one’s which, or you simply cannot separate it without destroying the good along with it.  But the Kingdom of Heaven works differently, its seeds of love and grace will change people, working in them, creating and nurturing faith in a God who promises something the world simply cannot offer; that all the farming in the world cannot bring about the sense of relationship, belonging, and life that we – and all people – so desperately long for.

Perhaps the point of the parable is this: God doesn’t need farmers.  God just needs a field – a space for those seeds of the Kingdom to work.

As some of you know, I have a blog….and one of the articles I wrote was about what I learned at Navy Chaplain Training.  I wrote about the difference between a chapel and a church – some of you have read it already.

By definition, Navy chapels are not churches.  They are government-owned buildings that can be used for religious observance….but ultimately it is up to the Base Commanding Officer how the building gets used.  A chapel is simply a tool – a space where that helps chaplains carry out the ministry the Navy calls them to do – lead the practice of the religious tradition they represent, accommodate the free practice of religion regardless of the faith tradition, and care for all people.

Our instructor during Training told us a story…while he was in Iraq, he had a “chapel” – it was really a tent where they held services.  That chapel had a large screen and projector in it – for worship.  Well, one day the Marines in his unit came up to him….they asked him, “Chaps, you think it would be ok if we used the chapel for….a video game tournament?  You got that big screen in there and well, it’d just be cool.”  The video game, by the way, was one of those first-person shooter games – HALO, Call of Duty….a bit “unholy” perhaps.

Our instructor told them yes…..a seemingly unholy activity happening in a “sacred space.”  But something interesting happened out of that small gesture.

About a week later, that Marine who asked about the video game tournament showed up for chapel services.  And then a week later, he showed up again, with about 4 of his buddies.  The number grew steadily….it wasn’t the whole unit, but a pretty sizable group.

Rather than worrying about keeping the chapel sacred; rather than worry about the desecration of that “sacred” space – about weeding out what was bad to preserve the good, he simply provided a space – a field – for those seeds of the Kingdom to grow.

I can’t help but think, all that was there was really just a tent in the middle of the desert, where a bunch of Marines had a space to play their “unholy” video game…but something to take their minds off the stress and realities of the war they were fighting….maybe in that moment –  their presence made that space “sacred.”  And in that space…the seeds of the Kingdom took root and began to grow.

How do we think of our church?  The sanctuary, the rooms, the grounds…even what we do in them and when we do it – take worship for example.  Do we think of our church as these “sacred” spaces and things that need farmers to keep them that way – weeding out anyone and anything that might “desecrate” it?

Or is the church simply a field, a space where both good and bad seed gather together alike, but that’s nothing to fear….because we know and trust that those seeds of the Kingdom will take root in people’s hearts and minds, and God alone will nurture faith and call them home….just like God has done for us who call ourselves people of faith.

That once again leaves us with two things…two last things:  One, lets give thanks for what God does for us and all people through those seeds of the Kingdom – God’s love and grace made known in Jesus Christ, given and shed for you.

And two, let us think of this church – the building, our spaces, our ministry – in a way where those seeds of the Kingdom might grow and flourish as we gather with all people – good and bad seeds alike.  And as the church – the community of faith where people experience safety and belonging in God’s grace…..let us enter into that sacred space with others in the way we care for others.  Amen.

 

 

 

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Sermon 13 July 2014: “Care for All”

It is good to be back – yup, I missed you all!  Let’s not get too mushy here though, right?

For the past 4 weeks I spent 31 days with 29 other Chaplains in the Navy Reserve and Chaplain Candidates in Fort Jackson, SC.  31 days of getting up at 4:30 AM to workout, and then be in a classroom from 7:30 AM to about 4 PM.

Now, when you spend that much time with that many people, not everyone ends up being your best friend.  And I think that’s pretty normal.  But there was one person in particular who really got on my nerves.

This individual was a seminary professor from California (assume all you want about that) what I can say is that she had very little exposure to the military before coming to training!  And it showed – just about every day, she wore her uniform improperly; her hair did not fit Navy regulation standards; she would talk to senior officers like they were her buddies, and would always have her hands in her pockets, especially in public.  And the thing that drove me the most nuts: she would often forget to put her “cover” – Navyspeak for the thing that goes on your head – on when she went outdoors.

In short, I thought she was a train wreck.  So, in all my infinite wisdom and vast Navy experience, I decided to make it my duty to “help” her out.  At first, I tried taking her aside privately and informing her of her mistakes – and that seemed to work at first, but then she reverted right back to her bad habits.  So I tried again, a bit more forceful….and she got defensive about it – and didn’t change at all.  So, I tried by providing her with the written instructions and regulations for all this stuff…..and made zero progress, and in fact, seemed to give little regard for any of it.

I wasn’t getting through to her…and I finally told myself, “That’s it; it’s not worth my time anymore.  I’ll just offer my help and knowledge elsewhere where it’ll actually do some good.”

Thank goodness God doesn’t work like me.

Because if God did, then today’s parable tells us God’s making a huge mistake with this whole sowing the Word of God around.  If it’s about producing results, then God’s got about a 25% success rate.  And even when God’s Word produces, the results are mixed; some hundredfold, others sixty, some less still at thirtyfold.

If we look at it from our point of view, God needs to change his strategy.  Time to stop sowing that seed in those soils that don’t produce, and start sowing it in fertile soil – in the places where the result is guaranteed.  Heck, God should even be pickier about the fertile soil – I mean, maximize that production…we’re trying to bring people to faith here!

Jesus’ parables are always these cryptic things – hard to figure out.  That’s just how parables work, because we so often think of them in our terms, in our worldview as humans – humans born into and with sin. And so, that’s why if we think of it from our view, the parable doesn’t make sense.  God’s seems like a lousy farmer who sows with a reckless abandon.

But again, thank goodness God isn’t a thing like us, and that God doesn’t work like that.

The fact is that the sower sows everywhere, regardless the quality of the soil.  God spreads the word of the kingdom – his love and grace – to all people, regardless the quality of the person.

And to people like you and I – who I think have found ourselves to have been all of these four types of soil at some point in our lives – that is gospel.  God never gives up on us.  God never stops sowing.  God never stops casting his grace and love on us with reckless abandon…and does so without ceasing.  Who knows? The day might come where we finally produce in God’s eyes.  Or, maybe that day never does come.  But God has enough faith in us to sow the seeds of love and grace, perhaps never truly knowing what the result might be.  God never gives up on the possibility that his grace and love are sufficient for us….and we might actually turn away from our sinfulness, our brokenness, and turn towards a life-giving relationship with him.

I think that’s what Jesus is getting at in the parable today – we might get it right, or we might not.  But thank goodness we have a God who sows his love and grace on us either way….unconditional, unearned.

Growing up on the farm, I remember my dad lamenting from time to time how he wished we had better land to farm – the soil in central Minnesota where our farm was rocky, sandy topsoil, with lots of weeds.  When asked what we grew on our farm, dad would reply without hesitation: “Rocks and weeds.”  It was so different from the land to the south of us – black, rich, heavy…and with few rocks and weeds – land that produced a much better harvest.

That didn’t stop my dad from trying to coax everything he could out of the soil – picking rock, spraying herbicides to kill and control weeds, spreading fertilizer on it  – all in an attempt to make the land as fertile as possible, to yield the crops he needed to get out of it.  But even in all that, my dad always lamented, his life would be a whole lot easier if he just had some of that good farmland to the south of us.

I think when it comes to being the church and the ministry we are called to, we think that we’re supposed to be farmers.  We think our job is to focus on soil – trying to change people so that they’ll come to faith, trying to improve the “quality” of the person so that the Word of God can work.  We do that, and more often than not, we find we can’t change a thing – and we get frustrated, maybe even resentful.  And we give up on certain people and move on to those who are more receptive to the Word of God, more fertile soil where we’ll know we’ll be more successful in producing results.

But this parable tells us that we’re not called to be farmers – we’re called to be sowers, just like the One who sows the Word of love and grace on us.

The Navy Chaplain Corps has 4 “core competencies” or 4 core commitments to its ministry to men and women in the Navy, Marine Corps, and Coast Guard.  One of those 4 core competencies is “care for all.”  CARE FOR ALL.

As Navy chaplains, we’re called to care for all people – regardless of their beliefs or values, regardless of their background or orientation, and when they screw up – especially when they screw up.  The institution of the military places pretty strong consequences when people screw up – but the job of the Navy chaplain is to care for all, to care for them especially in those moments.  We care for them with no agenda or expectation of a particular outcome.  We CARE FOR ALL.

When I think of what it means to be sowers, CARE FOR ALL hits the mark.  We are to care for all, without expectation or agenda.  We are to care for all, with reckless abandon, never ceasing in that care. We are to care for all because that’s exactly what God – the sower who casts his love and grace on us – does for us.

We’re called to simply sow those seeds of care – trusting that the creation and nurturing of faith in those we care for is done by the work of God’s Word and the Holy Spirit – just as it has been done in us.

Thank goodness for a God who sows his care on all of us and all people.  May we be or continue to be sowers of God’s grace, caring for all…..being church in the world.  Amen.

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Final Thoughts from Navy Chaplain School: Defining the “American Dream”

“I am writing on my own behalf, and the thoughts and opinions expressed are my own and not necessarily those of the U.S. Government, Department of Defense, the U.S. Navy or the Navy Chaplain Corps.” 

This past weekend, I came across this article in USA Today.  The writers did a little “informal” research to quantify just how much it costs to fund the “American Dream” – a lifestyle that apparently, every American is aspiring to.

I’ll let you check the article out to figure out what that final figure is, and what categories and descriptors they used to define the American Dream.  Their method is subjective at best, and if you take it for what it is, it’s a well-intentioned attempt to raise discussion about the points they’re trying to make.  But here’s what really interests me: They define the American Dream in terms of a financial number, a measure of wealth, and in material terms.  Based on what they’ve got down, the bottom line is that well, my wife and I aren’t living the American Dream.  Not even close.

But I guess the thing is, I don’t feel like I’m missing out.  Sure, I’d love to make more money (who doesn’t?) but the fact of the matter is, when my wife and I look at things, I think we’re doing pretty well.  And, if we were to decide to have a kid tomorrow, we’d still be ok.  Not only our present, but our future as well.  Yeah, we’re doing pretty good for the most part.

As I think about it more, I have to challenge the terms and categories they use to define what the “American Dream” is as a whole.  If it’s caught up in a quantity of money, defined by the material things we deem as unequivocally necessary for life but really aren’t, then we’re likely missing the mark completely.

If I were to define it, I’d say the American Dream is the opportunity to pursue the things that are life-giving to me, and being free to do so.  That definition of what is “life-giving” certainly differs for everyone; I know for me it’s informed by my religious faith, among other things.  I do think there are two overarching takeaways from this definition of “life-giving” though: one, a lot of us are able – and are – living it.  Two, it challenges us to be self-critical of the definitions and standards that are imposed on us and invites us to define our own standards for our lives.

On July 1st, Vice Admiral (VADM) Michelle Howard was promoted to Admiral (ADM) Howard – putting on a 4th star – and to the position of Vice Chief of Naval Operations (VCNO), the 2nd highest-ranking person in the Navy.  Here’s the thing: ADM Howard is the first female to become a 4-star admiral in the Navy, and is the first female and African-American to be appointed VCNO.

You think this isn’t significant?  Consider this: when ADM Howard called the uniform shop to get female shoulder boards with 4 stars on them for her promotion ceremony, the uniform shop workers replied, “We don’t have them….because we don’t make them.”  (They special ordered and made a set for her in time for her promotion ceremony!)

Secretary of the Navy Ray Mabus said this about her promotion: “She is also a great example of how much we as a nation and a Navy lose if we put artificial barriers in, if we don’t judge people based on their ability, based on their capability. I hope I have always been passionate about that, but I know the intensity has increased since I am the father of three daughters, and I refuse to believe that there are any ceilings for them, glass or otherwise. That they can get to wherever their abilities can take them. And with that, they and countless others in the Navy now have a wonderful role model in Michelle Howard.”

Just in case you’re wondering if she’s undeserving, I’ll mention that ADM Howard was the Commander of Task Force 151 that conducted anti-piracy operations off of Africa…and was the person responsible for the rescue of the Maersk Alabama and Captain Richard Phillips.

I think ADM Howard’s story is one of opportunity – what will you do when presented with it?  

This past weekend, I got to travel with my wife to Charleston, SC for weekend liberty.  Charleston is a special place for me – it’s where my Navy career officially started at the Navy Nuclear Power Training Command. I think about that opportunity and all it led to…..as difficult as it was, as much as I sometimes sacrificed, it afforded me to do something that shaped me as a person in so many good ways, and continues affect my life in the future.  (You’d be amazed at all the strange looks I get when people hear this pastor operated submarines and nuclear reactors in a previous line of work!)  It was life-giving, and continues to be so.

This brings me to my 2nd point: what exactly does it mean to life a life that’s “life-giving?”  While I was in Charleston, I was also able to visit and reconnect with some people I got to know during my time at Nuclear Power School almost 13 years ago.  I haven’t seen them in about 10 years….but the relationships continued this weekend as if we hadn’t missed a beat.  I think a lot about why that is and the simple fact is, despite the relatively short time I spent there, I invested in these folks, and they invested in me.  The relationships were lasting.  These are people who consider me their “son;” who I consider like “siblings” and “parents.”

And for me, the ability to have those types of relationships, and to have the freedom to reconnect with them, that is the American Dream.  No amount of money or material wealth could ever replace these people and the impact they’ve had on my life, and the impact they’ll continue to have.  It’s the quality of relationships such as these and so many others that define what the American Dream is to me.  I’m living it.  Of course, that means I have to make choices…..choosing things that afford me the opportunity to pursue those things that are life-giving in a lasting, enduring way.  It forces me to distinguish between needs and wants.

Before you write me off as sounding cliché, let me say this: I think if we pursue things that are really wants in life, it leads to an attitude of self-entitlement and scarcity.  I never have enough money.  I never have a big enough house or nice enough car.  I never have enough saved to retire early or to send my kids to that top private college.  I “need” (but really want) those things…..and honestly, I’m entitled to them.

If we ask ourselves what we actually need, it pushes us to live modestly, and to consider the needs of others in that decision-making process.  If I choose this or that, how does that affect those around me now and in the future? If I take out a mortgage on that extravagant house on the beach (which my wife and I are always “dreaming” about) how will that affect what we save for the future?  If we want to invest in those life-giving relationships, what do we have to “give up” to do that?  How do we live in a way that doesn’t waste, and leaves the world a better place for our kids?

So there ya go….my final thoughts from Navy Chaplaincy School as a finish the final two days of training.  The “American Dream” – what is life-giving today, tomorrow, and years from now, and choosing to invest in that now, and live into that for days to come.

Thanks for taking the time to read, and all the best in living the “American Dream” in your own ways….

 

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Lessons Learned: 4 Days in a Van, Navy-Style Field Trip, & the 4th of July

“I am writing on my own behalf, and the thoughts and opinions expressed are my own and not necessarily those of the U.S. Government, Department of Defense, the U.S. Navy or the Navy Chaplain Corps.” 

Well, we just completed the last full week of training….4 days driving in vans with 30 other Navy Chaplains and Chaplain Candidates in training; visiting Navy/Marine Corps bases, sleeping on a ship tied pierside, watching Marine Corps recruits, and talking to a seemingly endless number of chaplains and unit commanders about the role of a chaplain and what’s important in ministry to sailors and marines.

Ok, let me first start off by saying this: it felt a lot like my Midshipman Summer Cruises during my Naval Academy days, and because of that, it was hard to stay motivated and focused because of what I like to call the “been there, done that” syndrome that Navy training can do to a person.  To be honest, it – and those 30 other people – started driving me crazy.

I think that’s a pretty human thing though; you stick that many people in close quarters, with a frantic and tiring schedule, people get stressed, and they start to get irritated. (Even 30 Chaplain/Pastor types!)  So I think in the midst of all the lessons and knowledge I gained over the weekend, the best lessons learned where those that came from dealing with people – living with them, and understanding that personalities can clash.   But as I’ve told countless athletes and sailors in my previous years on active duty, “Mistakes and conflicts and failings are always gonna happen….it’s how you respond, what you do after that fact, that says the most about you.”

And so I think I’ll take my own advice on that, and share a few of those “lessons learned” after that fact, now that I’ve had a shower, and I’m comfortably in my room and hanging out…..and a couple things heading into the 4th of July weekend:

– Sometimes you get roped into deep discussions….about nothing.  It’s intellectual “junk food” – tastes good and it’s enjoyable at the time but it honestly does nothing good for ya.  I often think of deep theological discussion, while beneficial, can take this turn so often.  Thankfully, I had one of those what we’d call “simpler” voices sort of snap me back to reality.  I think we need to talk more with those voices….and it’s a good reminder to do so, because it keeps us focused on what life and ministry is all about – grounded in the reality of living, breathing people.

– I am stubborn….when conflict arises with another, I have this really bad tendency to let it stew, and not go deal with it directly.  Of course, it happened this week – and while I eventually came to my senses and reconciled, it took me having to be prompted by another.   I’m thankful for those voices….but I also recognize I have to get better at being the bigger person and get past my stubbornness.

Here’s the deal: we so easily dehumanize and marginalize others in our minds when they aren’t responsive to us, or when conflict arises.  Our stubbornness makes us defensive and we want to be right.  We might call our behavior and attitudes a sense of justice, but it’s really just stubbornness that leads us to disconnect with others.  When that reconciling moment happens….you look at people in a different light.  You are more gracious in dealing with them.  And you start to actually see them as human beings worthy of love and care – your love and care.

– You’re never too good for anything – and the minute you think so, that’s when feelings of entitlement and cynicism set in.  In my “been there, done that” moments, there were times I felt like “I don’t need to be doing this.”  And you get cynical about why you’re even there – sleeping on a ship inport when you’ve done it so many times before, “motivational” shouting and “yes sirs”…..being a unqualified “student/trainee.”  All I could think about was “didn’t I do this during Plebe Summer like 17 years ago?”

But then you realize that the bulk of those around you haven’t had those experiences.  They’re important for them, just as they were for me so many years ago.  Those feelings of cynicism and entitlement do me no good, because they rob others of an experience that is valuable to them….and honestly, valuable – although in different ways – to me.

Case in point: we watched a graduation parade for new Marine Corps enlisted recruits.  I’ve seen and been a part of countless parades…..but to see the pride and precision of these young marines and their instructors, to see the pride and joy of the families that love them, I’m probably not so impressed by what I saw – because it isn’t new – but I am reminded in a very good way about why I chose to come back as a Navy chaplain, and to appreciate the joy and awe that others are experiencing…for the first time.

– During our van rides, for the most part we were pretty comfortable – two to a seat.  But we have to shift around, and at the beginning of the trip we had three in the seat ahead of us.  Now I realize one, I’m a relatively small guy, and two, a couple of the guys in the seat ahead of me were not.  Yet, I sat there and watched one guy be miserable all weekend – and didn’t once offer a swap.  Maybe it seems trivial, but the right thing to do is often the hard thing to do…..and I hate that I turned away from the need of another and instead to my own comfort.  Doing the right thing….it’s a constant internal battle, but one worth fighting.

It’s the 4th of July tomorrow, and I’m appreciative that I’m wearing the uniform again during this time, and I’m thankful for what a good thing it is to live in this country.  As I think about conflicts around the world, people who deal with much more difficult and serious issues…..it reminds me to put my “first world problems” in perspective.

Enjoy and celebrate the freedoms of living in this country this weekend.  I know the country’s not perfect, and there’s problems to solve, but for now, I think it’s totally fine to simply enjoy a 3-day weekend with family and friends.

And, for a little extra motivation: a great man passed away today.  I encourage you to check out his story….it’s men like this who really embody what our country is about, and I give great thanks for his life and witness!

 

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