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

  1. Pingback: This Week’s Links « Timothy Siburg

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