Tag Archives: behavior

A Humble Way Forward

I am, by training and vocation, a systems thinker. When I hear a problem, I first seek to understand the issue as best I can and then pose this question: What system might have caused or contributed to this issue and how can we utilize that same system to bring about movement towards a workable solution?

In the past few days, I have read about and heard a great deal of anger, confusion, frustration, angst, and, above all, grief in relationship to the Charlestown shooting. This morning, I listened to an NPR call in program where highly educated professors and journalists talked about the issue and what I came away with was this: there is a problem with racism in this country. Full stop.

Ok, so now what?

I mean, really – what can actually be DONE about this problem?

I humbly offer this as movement towards a workable solution:

  1. I have experienced over and over again that education and exposure leads to tolerance which, when leaned into, can produce (at its best) an eventual celebration of differences. I observed this phenomena at its height while overseeing the “7 Habits on the Inside” program. By the time I left after three years teaching and learning from my inmates, I watched as correctional professionals and inmates (some of whom had been going after each other for years) listen to one another. I watched them sit down, hear one another, seek to understand one another and seek mutually beneficial solutions. That kind of understanding only comes through intentional learning and growth – on both sides. The 7 Habits program fostered that growth.
  2. One of the reasons this worked was the hard work of CH (LTC) Mark Jones, myself, other committed correctional staff and chaplains who embraced their own growth and change while making the effort and sacrifice necessary to patiently teach others. In twelve weeks, inmates would look within themselves to discover what was holding them back, do deep personal work, and then seek to understand others. The change that families and correctional staff saw was convincing and permanent. Over them, trust happened when there was no trust before.
  3. Chaplains are professionals who are held to a professional ethic. They are responsible for ensuring the free exercise of religion. In that role, they often will work to expose others to different religions and thought while seeking to establish common denominators that are necessary for tolerance, dignity, and respect. In that way, they are able to help those who have different cultures, opposing viewpoints, religions etc to relate to one another and move forward in relationship.

Why couldn’t this happen in schools?

Why not have chaplains in schools?

In this country, we have an embedded system of thought which says that we just should not talk about “religion and politics.” The problem with that is, because we are not taught how to have respectful discourse, we only talk about those things in the worst way possible. I offer the anger, hate, and vitriol spewed on social media as evidence.

What if, as I did in my 7 Habits program, we taught religion in schools in a way that promoted healthy and respectful discourse based on seeking understanding? What if every school had a chaplain whose job it was to promote the free exercise of religion by educating (NOT proselytizing) all the students in all the systems of thought that make up our great nation? What if students took field trips to all the places of worship in their cities? What if religion included atheism and “free thought?” What if students learned to see other systems of thought as interesting and not as something to be afraid of and fight against?

There was this moment in teaching the 7 Habits that I came to really see how powerful this could be. The students were engaged in an exercise that had been written by myself, CH Jones, and other inmates. The exercise was to take an intentionally controversial question and discuss it. However, in discussing it, the students had to hear everyone’s past relationship to the problem. They had to make a real and concerted effort to understand the perspectives of everyone at the table (each person would have to agree they had been heard and understood) before they even began to work towards a solution.

It. Was. Powerful.

Over and over again, in class after class, students would break down decades old barriers simply by seeking to understand in a systematic way. It was there that I learned that we’re just not taught as Americans to hear and listen with understanding. It’s a skill that needs to be developed, honed, and constantly practiced.

What if that was a goal in education?

What if this troubled young man had to go through a class like this? Would it check the hate he was learning? Perhaps and perhaps not but I daresay it might have been enough of a check to hold back violence.

I’m a believer that if we taught our children how to listen with understanding, taught them that other races, cultures, belief systems were what make us great, exposed them to all those cultures in a systematic way then we would go a long way toward making better Americans.

I, for one, humbly advocate for chaplains in our school systems to do work like this.

Imagine that.

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Speaking out.

All this talk of torture has reminded me of a memory I have from my first deployment in Iraq, 2005.

The battalion had just experienced a tragic death. The third vehicle in a patrol of four had been hit by a bomb buried under a road. The vehicle, an armored HUMVEE was totally destroyed. It had been turned inside out like a cracked egg. All four Soldiers and NCOs inside the vehicle were killed.

I walked through the tactical operations center in a fog. I was 26, a 1LT, been in the Army for all of a few months, and overwhelmed. I walked from person to person praying, encouraging, crying – I didn’t know what I was supposed to do.

Then I saw a patrol getting ready to go out to the scene. I don’t remember what it was they were planning to do but I do remember that they were angry. The talk was of vengeance and death. I grabbed my gear to go with them. Before we left, I looked into the eyes of each Soldier and NCO and said something like, “Remember who we are. Don’t forget the flag you wear on your shoulder. Remember who you are.”

At a memorial a few weeks later for another four Soldiers killed from the same platoon, same squad, in the same way, I heard an officer who outranked me telling some Soldiers with tears streaming down his face and anger in his voice to “do what you have to do. Kill the bastards.” Later I would tell him that by telling some privates to “do what they have to do,” he was giving them permission to follow their emotions rather than their training.

As Soldiers, we do our duty. We do not “do what we have to do.” And we certainly do not do what we feel.

Soldiers follow standard operating procedure. We follow Field Manuals, Regulations, and the Uniform Code of Military Justice.

I remember a pit stop during a patrol I was on at the “safe house.” We had stopped to refit, drop off some supplies and continue. During the smoke break, sitting in the shade of a fig tree, several Soldiers asked me why we couldn’t just give our detainees to the Iraqi army since they didn’t have the rules that we did. In other words, they were frustrated that we took detainees into custody and gave them food and water. The Iraqi Army was brutal with them. (My commander once confiscated a stick that had a ball on one end of melted plastic. Into that plastic was embedded all sorts of sharp objects. The stick had been taken from the Iraqi Army.) I replied to the question that the rules governing our conduct was an extension of our constitution. That our code of justice was an extension of US Law. US Law forbade torture and torture was counterproductive anyway. Of course the Iraqis wanted to be detained by us rather than their Iraqi brethren. At that time, Iraq was in the midst of ethnic cleansing. At least Americans were governed by something other than brutality and cold pragmatism. We talked about ethics and morality in the heat of an Iraqi afternoon.

Then, this week, I heard the former Vice President talk about doing what we “had to do” after 9/11 to keep the country safe. Apparently that included feeding an untried, uncharged inmate (detainee) through his rectum. Apparently that included paying contractors to do it for us. Apparently, it included keeping people, uncharged and untried, locked in boxes shaped like coffins. I could go on but you get the point.

Bottom line: it would seem, what I told those Soldiers, what I encouraged leaders to think about, what I taught young Soldiers about the American ethic and law – was wrong.

From what I am hearing from our former vice president, religious leadership, political leadership in this country is that our ethic should be based on:

1. Effectiveness – if it works we should do it.
2. Legality – if a lawyer will write a memorandum detailing how its legal, we should do it.
3. Retribution – if 3,000 people were killed, then we should do it.
4. Punishment – if a person is thought to be guilty, there is no mercy, we should do it.
5. Semantics – if we can call it something other than torture (such a negative word), we should do it.

By it, I mean torture.

But is it torture?

Ask this question: if an American Soldier, held by the Taliban, Al Qaida, or ISIL had the following done to them, would it be torture?

Detainees were subjected to “rectal feeding,” a process by which food or nutrients are pumped in through the anus…
Detainees were told they would never leave these “black sites” and that their families would be sexually assaulted or murdered.
Detainee died from hypothermia after being chained to a floor and left there.
Detainees were waterboarded until they turned blue… and were on the verge of drowning.
Sleep deprivation, nudity, dietary manipulation, facial holds, abdominal slaps, facial slaps, and “walling” – being thrown against a wall.
Confined for 11 days in a coffin-sized box.
At one black site, groups of detainees were regularly stripped, beaten, hooded and bound with tape.
Detainees were also refused access to toilets, put in diapers and left hanging by their wrists in cells for extended periods of time.
Others were forced to maintain “stress positions” even on broken limbs and though medical personnel had advised against it.
Not everyone was guilty – Some mistakenly held detainees were subjected to prolonged periods of torture before being released.

If it was your son or your daughter – would it be torture then? Or would it be acceptable since we’re at war and they are just “doing what they have to do” to protect their homeland?

I’m certain that if it was me locked in a coffin shaped box, I would think it torture.

If I was getting fed through my rectum, I would think it torture.

If I was being forcibly drowned, I would think it torture.

As a US Army chaplain, I am obligated by AR 165-1 to speak to ethical and moral issues. The chaplain is to be the moral and ethical voice in the Army.

Torture, effective or not, legal or not, is wrong. It is immoral. It is unethical. It violates our constitution and collective conscience.

It is not for the operator, the corrections officer, the Soldier, the policemen to punish the offender. Retribution comes through the legal process by which a person is tried under US Law and an open, transparent penal system doles out said punishment. No single person can be judge, jury and executioner – not in America and not by Americans.

I worry that we too easily accept the notion of effectiveness. I mean, after all, if Jack Bauer gets it done through torture, why not us?

The other day, on Facebook, I wrote the following as satire in response to the “effective” argument:

“If this ‘torture’ that you speak of is so ‘effective,’ then why do we relegate it to accused terrorists? Why don’t we apply it to domestic kidnapping cases? War on drugs? Traffic violations? Seems like if it’s not ‘torture’ and it ‘works’ to gain actionable intelligence, and it demonstrates the morals and ethical stance of this country, I just don’t see why we need to do it to do it overseas in private, secret prisons. Maybe if we made videos of this safe, effective, and moral non-torture, it would act as a detergent to all sorts of bad behavior. Maybe we could start using it to find out who sprayed that ugly bad word all over the town monument! This is awesome! By making this sort of behavior not-torture and legitimizing it, there is no end to how we could use it for good! After all, if our intentions are ‘right’ then the end justifies the means….”

It was sarcasm but my point is this – if we govern our ethic by pragmatism and effectiveness – it opens the door to everything. That is a world of which I am afraid.

What about the argument that the enemy does it to us??

We are not Al Qaida. We are not ISIL. We are not the Taliban. Our standard of behavior is US law not a terrorist. Full Stop.

But it was legal!

I understand. That does not make it right. Being angry, scared, and needing retribution does not make it right.

So where does that leave us?

Let us collectively decide that torture, by any name, is wrong. We will not do it no matter what is done to us. Let us be above the actions of our enemies and do what is just, regardless of what is done to us.

As a Christian, I am governed by the imperative to “do unto other as you would have done unto you.”

But when it comes to vengeance, retribution, and torture, there is no tension. Vengeance isn’t mine to give, retribution comes through the justice system, and torture is just not done.

We are Americans. Let us be great. Let us be shining lights on a hill. Let us be examples to the world of what it means to have power and wield it for good.

Epilogue – I was going to embed all kinds of links to back up my points but realized that most would not follow them anyway. A quick Google search of these terms will bring you loads of articles agreeing and disagreeing with my opinion:

“Christianity and torture,” “Torture in American history,” “Is torture right,” etc.

I speak for me. The above is my opinion and recommendation I would give anyone in this situation. I’m sure the operators and agents involved with this did so out of love for their country and in a desire to protect it. They also did so with the backing of a legal system that said it was ok. That should protect them. I believe we should search our souls, ask ourselves if this is who we are and examine our systems to see if this is where we should go. It is certainly not where I think we should. Please, for the love of that freedom we hold dear and all that is holy, let us not condone torture – for any reason.

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…you know you’re a two pastor family when…

…your wife is serving as the liturgist and midway through the hymn you realize that your two year old is melting down in front of the church and suddenly, the pastor morphs into a mom and you take over the liturgy….

So, there we were. It’s the government shutdown and that means that our organist, who is a government contractor (I know right? go figure) is emphatically NOT working. I wasn’t sure if she wasn’t going to be there but sure enough, on Sunday morning, we get to Memorial Chapel and it’s going to be me and my guitar rocking the old Lutheran Liturgy.

Awesome. 

I had prepared for that. 

About an hour earlier. 

Using a hymnal whose idea of a modern song is Amazing Grace. 

Ever tried to play old German hymns on the guitar? Not cool. 

My dad is about the only person I know who has even tried. Respect. 

But, we dove in. The congregation was totally cool, rolling with the reality that it was going to be a very different service. By the way, not having a big deal since we sing the liturgy. Yup. Every “Lord, have mercy” is sung. Needless to say, suddenly, we were reading it. 

Since a change like this threw their Dad into chaos, my children were not their usual awesomely behaved selves. 

Sara usually functions as the liturgist for our congregation. Normally not a big deal but Lenora, our two year old, was having none. of. it. 

So, there were were, conducting the service and very graciously (and smoothly I might add) transitioned from pastors leading the service to parents concerned with behavior. Sara whisked Lenora to the back and I took over. 

No one even noticed. 

Ok, that’s not true. It was pretty obvious. 

So, one more thing we have to work out. 

Always the parent…

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Kids in Worship.

We’ve got three kids. 5 (going on 12), 4, and just turned 2. It can be tough sometimes finding a church where we fit in. I have a value of my children attending a regular service. There is nothing wrong with kids church, I’m a fan – I just also value our children experiencing the significance of the adult service.
It can be challenging bringing kids to church. I too have not been above appealing to the paint function on an ipad (or that really awkward moment when the theme to “superwhy” that plays whenever the app opens rings out loudly in the middle of the sermon). It’s especially bad in my little church where the historic building has one bathroom that can only be accessed via a door off the main stage. Yeah. That’s right, you have to take your child down the middle aisle, right in front of the pulpit, where I am “breaking sacred bread” in order to let potty-training kiddo use the bathroom. If you listen closely, you can even hear the ancient toilet flush.
Even with all that, I still believe it’s important to bring your kids into the service. I’m a preacher and it does not bother me or phase me, or interrupt my train of though to have kids talking and coloring though the service. I do a kids message before my adult sermon that ties into concepts with the message and (when I remember) I also include a coloring page. None of these will keep a kids still for 20 minutes so if someone cries, they cry. No. Big. Deal.
All that said, I read this article today and thought it had some great ideas for making that transition from kids church to adult church.
Let your child get comfortable in the worship space.

1. Attend a child-friendly church.

A church that invites children to attend worship, that has a children’s time during worship or a service in which children are included, will not mind the noise and commotion that comes with having young children in worship.

2. Bring your child to church on a day other than Sunday morning.

Call the church office and make an appointment with a pastor, Christian education director, or church school teacher. Go on a tour of the church facility, and locate the Sunday school rooms and bathrooms as well as the sanctuary. Let your child explore the sanctuary, see how it feels to sit in the pew, and leaf through the Bibles and hymnbooks. Look behind the pulpit, Communion table, and baptismal font, and explain the use of these.

3. Take home a worship bulletin and go through the service at home.

Show your child that there are times to sit, to stand (and in some places, to kneel), to sing, to pray, and to listen. If the Lord’s Prayer is used, write down the words and let your child practice at home. Prepare offering envelopes and let your child put money in the envelope, and explain why the offering is important.

4. Play “Let’s go to church” at home.

Practicing the worship service at home will help your child feel more comfortable with what happens in worship.

5. Read the Bible and pray at home.

Purchase an age-appropriate Bible for your child and read the stories. Let your child handle the Bible and encourage questions. You can explain that the Bible is where we learn God’s story, and how we are part of that story. If you let prayer be a part of your everyday life, not just something you do at church, your child will understand its importance.

6. Sit near an aisle, near an exit.

If your child needs to go to the bathroom, or is feeling overly stimulated or having a disruptive day, don’t be embarrassed. Walk your child out of the sanctuary until she can work off a little energy, and then come back in. This is much easier if you don’t have to crawl across a row of other people in the pew!

7.  Be prepared with a worship notebook or bag.

Many churches provide materials for children to use during worship, but if not, bring your own supplies. Colored pencils can be used to mark the parts of worship in the bulletin as you go through them one by one. Get to church a few minutes in advance and use a bookmark to mark the hymns that will be sung that day. Have some coloring pages from a Bible coloring book for your child to color, or some blank pages for doodling. This is not disrespectful, and can help your child listen more attentively. Have the words of the Lord’s Prayer printed on a page for the child to follow, if he or she is of reading age. Let your child draw a picture of the anthem or hymns being sung, or the sermon, and give this to the choir director or pastor afterwards.

8. Teach basic church etiquette.

Speak to people before and after worship, and teach your child how to shake hands and greet others. If your child is shy, don’t force it, but practice at home and let your child see you greeting others. Let the child put the hymnbook and Bible away after use, and be sure to take your bulletin with you, rather than leaving it in the pew. Meeting other people and taking care of the church facility helps a child feel that “This is my church!”

9. Get to know the pastor.

Pastors of child-friendly churches love to get to know the children of the church. Introduce your child to the pastor after worship, and participate in other church activities so that the pastor becomes a friend and not a scary adult.

10. Don’t give up!

It may take awhile for your child to become comfortable in worship, and to learn how to sit quietly. The best way for this to happen is to attend worship on a regular basis. There may be days when it doesn’t go well, but don’t let this stop you from coming the following week. Practice makes perfect!
Inspired by Rufus and Ryan Go to Church! by Kathleen Bostrom, illustrated by Rebecca Thornburgh (CandyCane Press, an imprint of Ideals Publications).

Thanks to Ministry Matters

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