Tag Archives: career path

If we wrote the rules, we can change them!

A follow up to yesterdays post about Career Management.

Thanks to all who read and responded to my thoughts yesterday. I learned something about the Chaplain Corps and about myself.

I had some thoughts after working through this yesterday and responding to those to took the time to write me. What follows are some of those thoughts.

1. Perhaps what I am getting after is a paradigm. While working in the prison, my mentor there, the deputy commandant had a very direct way of challenging issues. He would often ask if the rules were ours. If so, could evaluate the rules and change them if need be – we didn’t need to permission of the Army to do that!

Just because “it has been written” does not mean that we can’t change it! I witnessed years of institutional thought move in new directions because he empowered subordinates to look at core documents and rewrite something if it didn’t make sense anymore.

By doing this, he changed the culture.

I am saying that our current system isn’t good enough. It does not work as well as it could. I understand and appreciate that what has been built cannot be changed in a day (or in the case of HRC apparently ever) but I wonder what we could change?

Perhaps we are asking the wrong questions.

What if the question personnel managers asked every day was: “What can I do today to make this process more transparent?” I wonder how that would start to change culture?

For example: there is a document that floats around every year around the time of the personnel conference. Its a simple excel spreadsheet that lists the various commands and locations and lists the number of openings they have. Some actually have a title like “family life chaplain” but most are just numbers. “2 0-3s at Ft. Carson” etc. Sometimes, this document is accessible. I’ve been able to see it and always find it fascinating. Who knew they had a slot in England??

There have also been years that I have asked for this document and it has been both refused (just fill out your “Chaps” form and don’t worry about it) and not available. It seems with the advent of the MilBook site that it has been more readily available but even then, there is still so much mystery about it. Basically, when we fill out the form, we have no idea what jobs are actually available, just that there are 10 captain slots on Ft. Campbell.

Question: what can I do to make the process more transparent and collaborative?

  • Here’s a way to answer that question that does not require a single change to the existing system.
    1. Have every chaplain fill out a job title and description for their unit. Create a form and have everyone fill it out. Find out what the unique challenges and opportunities that are available with each job.
    2. Collect those forms at DACH and create a searchable database of all the chaplain jobs in the Army.
    3. Link the available slots on that excel spreadsheet to the searchable database.
    4. Every chaplain could search that database and choose jobs they think they most desire and would be a good fit for.
    5. On the Chaps form, add a block that can hold more than 200 characters in which a chaplain can advocate for themselves why they want that job.

Of course, there are no guarantees but the process would be more transparent and collaborative.

It’s an idea.

But then, ideas have power. As do paradigms. I wonder what it would be like if we pushed ourselves to make the process more collaborative and transparent within the rules that already exist?

And if the rules are our rules, then maybe they need to be in a state of constant evaluation asking the question, “is this good enough? Clear enough? Does it put the right chaplain into the right job?”

2. I get it. I understand that in the Army, sometime it just is what it is. I’ve worked with it these ten years and, generally, I’ve gotten what I wanted. I generally take the approach that a job is what you make of it and as a result, I get great assignments!

That said, I still think that sometimes we accept systems that could be improved because it’s written in a regulation or SOP and therefore cannot be changed.

(side note: I learned early on that if I volunteered to write the memorandum or the SOP, I got my way because no one else wanted to do the staff work. Thus, organizations I worked with generally went with my recommendations because I was the one to write it down. Its my little secret way to control my world…)

In the end, what I am advocating for is more transparency, flatter communications, and a more collaborative effort towards getting the right chaplain into the right ministry. I believe that is a doable goal.

(Also, I still wish that the transition between reserve and active was easier and think that we’d get more and better chaplains if it were.) Just had to throw that in there…

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Career Management and the Army Chaplain Corps

Chaplain Corps, you can do better.

My entire career, any branch officer could pick up the phone and call branch, have a conversation with the branch manager, see what is open and advocate for what they want. It has seemed fairly straight forward for them and they always look a little confused when I try to explain our system for assignments.

So, as I understand it, after 10 years of active service, here’s how it goes.

We fill out a “dream sheet.” This is an online form that allows us to input our salient data, offers three choices for both continental US assignments and overseas (including Alaska and Hawaii) assignments as well. Then, in a single box, we are allowed (using only 200 characters including spaces and punctuation) to write out any other considerations for our assignments. It is here, in 200 characters, we need to be able to articulate where we want to go, what we want to do, and why we would be good for that path in a career.

This information is taken to a “personnel conference,” prayed over and assignments made. I have been told that our personnel managers are there to advocate for us (there is a list of about 30 items – needs of the Army at the forefront) that are taken in consideration in order to make the best choice.

If it seems convoluted and over-complicated, I think that it is. Where I am stationed, there are three lines of authority between myself and the personnel manager. I have to trust that my messages are getting through. In 2015. Really?

In the flat-earth information age we live in, it seems archaic that we (chaplains) need highly paid personnel managers to “advocate” for us at a central conference.

I do not disparage their work, I’m sure they are actively engaged with making moves that make sense for the Corps.

The problem is, as I see it, is that the process is shrouded in unnecessary mystery and does not allow for personal control of one’s career. I would like more control in the process. I would like more of a say in where I go and what my career looks like.

I offer the following as an alternative to bring the system into a more modern way:

Apply_Hand1. Make it a transparent process. Publish the slots that are coming up. Describe them. Highlight needs of the Army and what would be a good career move.

2. Own that there are tiered slots. There are slots that are “good career moves” only its not clear what those are only that the Corps seems to value combat arms and special forces above all. I don’t care if a slot is “good or bad” for my career, I just want to Corps to own it. Let me decide if I want to have quality of life vs. a good career move.

3. On that note, make those top tier slots application based. Give the senior chaplain the power to “hire” their own team. Let chaplains apply for the jobs they want to have. Obviously there will be jobs that people won’t want. Needs of the Army always reigns supreme. But give chaplains more of a voice in their careers.

4. Let chaplains choose their career paths. If a chaplain wants to stay somewhere, let them. Even if it hurts their chance a promotion, let them knowledgeably choose want they want to do. Let chaplains work in the fields they are most gifted in.

5. Every move is three years. If a chaplain wants to stay beyond that, they have to apply to do so. If the senior chaplain wants them to, let them stay. After 1 year time on station, let them apply for a different job. There is no guarantee that they would get it but they could apply. Too much movement is bad for a career and too less would also be so but let the chaplain choose.

6. Finally, allow a seamless transition between reserve and active component. There really is no reason a chaplain could not take three years, go back to civilian ministry, and then apply for a job back in the active component. It is institutional arrogance that says that this would not work. In fact, I believe that if the Army mandated that say, every 8 years, a chaplain needed to return to civilian ministry, we would have better, more pastoral, chaplains. Chaplains hanging on for that magical 20 year retirement is not good for the Corps.

In short, let chaplains manage their own careers. I believe we’d be a better Corps for it and hold on to talent.

The “good ole’ boy” system needs to go.

The Chaplain Corps is a remarkably white, male, conservative, protestant Corps which does not resemble the rest of the Army. Perhaps opening up career management to the individual chaplain would go a long way toward correcting the problem I wrote about here. 

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Institutionalized.

When I was a prison chaplain, one of the offensive things one inmate would say to another was “you’ve been institutionalized.” It was also an anxiety, inmates would seek counseling afraid they had become “institutionalized.”

I never looked up the definition. I gathered that, as an insult, it generally meant that an inmate had stopped fighting the system, given in and started just “doing their time.” Usually, those who followed this course did really well both in getting ahead on their sentence and in personal growth.

When referred to in an anxious way, it seemed that many were concerned that they would lose their identity, who they thought they were, and give in to a new identity, “inmate.”

I didn’t know what it meant, but I thought it didn’t mean what they thought it meant, though as their pastor, I just walked their journey with them.

Is “institutionalism” so bad? 

For what it’s worth, “institutionalized” is actually defined as: adj. An established practice or custom and established as a part of an official organization.

I’m a part of an institution. An ancient and modern one. A secular and a religious one. I represent that institution both externally with my alb, collar, and cross as well as my uniform, camouflage, and rank. A conflagration of institutions that carry baggage and tensions.

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In the context of my posts about the “ten year itch” I read this passage from David Brook’s latest book, “The Road to Character.” In it, he profiles several people of great character, tells their stories, warts and all while making some profound observations on society and our culture. What follows comes from a passage about General George Marshall. It was so moving, I will post it here in its entirety.

I’m interested in your thoughts. I hope my fellow chaplains will read it as well as pastors for I think it speaks to both professions:

Today, it is unusual to meet someone with an institutional mindset. We live in an age of institutional anxiety, when people are prone to distrust large organizations. This is partly because we’ve seen the failure of these institutions and partly because in the era of the Big Me, we push the individual first. We tend to prize the freedom to navigate as we choose, and never to submerge our own individual identities in conformity to some bureaucracy or organization. We tend to assume that the purpose is to lead the richest and fullest individual life, jumping from one organization to the next as it suits our needs. Meaning is found in those acts of self-creation, in the things we make and contribute to, in our endless choices.

Nobody wants to be an Organization Man. We like start-ups, disruptors, and rebels. There’s less prestige accorded to those who tend to the perpetual reform and repair of institutions. Young people are raised to think that big problems can be solved by a swarm of small, networked NGO’s and social entrepreneurs. Big hierarchical organizations are dinosaurs.

People who possess the institutional mindset, as [General] Marshall did, have a very different mentality, which begins with a different historical seriousness. In this mindset, the primary reality is society, which is a collections of institutions that have existed over time and transcend generations. A person is not born into an open field and a blank social slate. A person is born into a collection of permanent institutions, including the Army, the priesthood, the fields of science, or any of the professions like being a farmer, a builder, a cop, or a professor.

Life is not like navigating through an open field. It is committing oneself to a few of the institutions that were embedded on the ground before you were born and will be here after you die. It is accepting the gifts of the dead, taking the responsibility of preserving and improving an institution and then transmitting that institution, better, on to the next generation.

Each institution comes with certain rules, obligations, and standards of excellence. Journalism imposes habits that help reporters keep a mental distance from those they cover. Scientists have certain methods they use to advance and verify knowledge one step at a time. Teachers treat all their students equally and invest extra hours to their growth. In the process of subordinating ourselves to the institutions we inhabit, we become who we are. The customs of the institution structure the soul, making it easier to be good. They guide behavior gently along certain time-tested lines. By practicing the customs of an institution, we are not alone; we are admitted into a community that transcends time.

With this sense of scope, the institutionalist has deep reverence for those who came before and the rules he has temporarily taken delivery of. These rules of a profession or an institution are not like practical tips on how to best do something. They are deeply woven into the identities of the people who practice them. A teacher’s relationship to the craft of teaching, an athlete’s relationship to his or her sport, a doctor’s commitment to the craft of medicine, is not an individual choice that can be easily renounced when the psychic loss exceed the psychic benefits. These are life-shaping and life-defining commitments. Like finding a vocation, they are commitments to something that transcends a single lifetime.

A person’s social function defines who he or she is. The commitment between a person and an institution is more like a covenant. It is an inheritance to be passed on and a debt to be repaid.

The technical tasks of, say, being a carpenter are infused with a deep meaning that transcends the task at hand. There are long periods when you put more into your institutions than you get out of them, but service to the institution provides you with a series of fulfilling commitments and a secure place in the world. It provides you with a means to submerge your ego, to quiet its anxieties and its relentless demands.*

I wonder: what do I owe my professions? Both that of an Officer and a Pastor? 

*all emphasis mine.

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Ten Year Itch: Part Four – A conversation about two careers and conclusions

The last installment of the “Ten Year Itch” series is a conversation between Sara and I. We decided that it would be fitting, as we extrovert these thoughts about Active Duty, to also extrovert some of the thoughts, ideas, and motivations we have as a couple.

It’s the whole “one flesh” idea. Any choice that one person in a relationship makes impacts the other – it’s felt – by the other. Thoughts about the future are as much about Sara as they are about me. We are a “two-pastor family.”

It’s been pretty easy up to this point. As soon as I got pregnant with Sophia, I stopped working and spent the next several years home with our kids. “My career” was never an idea that crossed our minds; while I knew I wanted to work when the kids were older, I had no clarity on what that would be. We lived the maxim “Home is where the Army Sends You” – Jon went to work every day, I was a stay-at-home mom. Whenever we needed to move, nothing would change about my life except the location. And then, one day… I DID have clarity. I knew exactly what I wanted to do. And it became clear very quickly that my path would not always be “Where the Army Sent Us.” So then what?

Your call was clear. Certainly more clear than I ever experienced mine. I remember the first time you stood behind the pulpit at Memorial – it was an almost electric feeling that went through me. You belonged there. I remember thinking how obvious it was that this was where you were supposed to be. Clearly, it wasn’t just me that saw that. It’s been true throughout the last few years.

This calling presents a significant problem – how do we, as a couple – pursue two distinct careers? I’ve known dual military officers, dual enlisted Soldiers, and dual chaplains. But I’ve yet to experience a successful active duty chaplain and full time pastor. I’m wondering what some of those barriers might be to have a two career family?

There are the obvious:

  • Moves to areas we can’t control. I happened into a great position here in Kentucky, but it’s very likely that the next duty station either won’t have a Disciples church, or that church won’t be hiring. While I’m still pursuing my MDiv and ordination, part time/ intern positions are great – but in a few years when I’m done with that, it will be difficult to go through the denominational Search & Call process with Army moves.
  • I will have to leave good situations prematurely.
  • Pastoring requires networking and building relationships in a community and region. This is hard to do with frequent moves.

When I think of the challenges, the one that sticks out the most to me is networking. The way I experience the Disciples working, a pastor needs to “build a brand” within the region and that takes time. Consistent time working within a region building a reputation that will follow you throughout your career. As you follow my career, I’m afraid you’ll just have to be a volunteer or intern for the next 10 years until you’ll be able to actually embrace your call.

But the alternative isn’t appealing either. The only way for me to fully “embrace my call” (as in, enter the Search & Call process and we move to the church who calls me) would be for you to either not work or have a portable career. We rely on your income, so that is not a realistic alternative – whether you were Active Duty, or worked in the Bureau of Prisons or VA or anything else. Sometimes it just seems as though there’s no win-win.

There must be. I think its somewhere in trusting the call. At the time of every Army move, we take into account your career and what is available to you and choose accordingly. Coming to Ft. Campbell turned out to be a great move for us as you were able to work at First Christian and proximity to school/family. I have to believe that this will continue. While I am not really committed to the idea that it will always work out like this, I do believe that there will be two good opportunities for us to be a part of God’s work wherever we go.

In many ways, we make the opportunities good ones.

I agree. I think the conversation isn’t “your career” vs “my career” – or even how much weight each of our careers carries in the decision-making process. We take it move by move, job by job. Sometimes it will be really great for me and not quite as fulfilling for you – other times it might be the opposite. There IS no perfect. I think the key is acknowledging this – and acknowledging the grief that each of us has in our personal sacrifice for the other.

And as we make these move-by-move decisions, there might be a point where we do something nearly solely for one or the other of us. I think the move to Hopkinsville was that: after I spent so many years unfulfilled and mostly unhappy, we moved here because it was good for me. The next move will be different. We each make sacrifices for the family, because what’s best for the family will not always be what is best for you or best for me.

I really like that “move by move, job by job” – I think this is the challenge that everyone has in this age. We live in a two-career/income society. Really, in many ways, the Army is part of that last vestige of single-income jobs that make the traditional “breadwinner” life possible. One of the people that come to mind is one of my old principles, Brian Foreman who now blogs at Luke1428 He and his wife made the choice to switch who became the breadwinner but it does not seem like an either/or choice but one where they chose what was best for their family. I see our responsibility to each other’s careers in a similar way – what is best for us right now? The future is always changing but what is best for us: me, you, the kids; in the now and immediate future?

I’m fascinated when I meet dual pastor families who have been doing this for years. I’m amazed how they have been able to manage two careers that are based so firmly in relationships. How they know members in each other’s congregations and are engaged in the social fabric of two churches. It binds the two congregations together in a intangible way.

While we’re far from having this figured out, I am encouraged that we have these conversations. I am constantly reminded that whatever we do – we’ll do it together. We think about the two-clergy couples we know, and it looks different for every single one of them. There’s no “right” answer; there’s only what’s best for our family in each time, in each place, given the information we have at the time.

Indeed. Thanks for having this conversation in public.

Conclusions

For what it’s worth, we’re nowhere closer to any decision than when we started the conversation. At the end of the day, choices like this are just choices. I like what Andrew commented a couple days ago – things that are life-changing and massively significant to us are not to God. Wherever we serve, whatever we set our hands to, God provides and blesses. I believe that. In the mean time, we serve with our whole hearts engaged in the task at hand.

Finishing in the Army would mean total flexibility after I finish my career and that’s significant. One thing I have determined in this thought exercise, my value of family is more important that just about anything and that we’re going to bloom wherever we’re planted. Things like retirement and salary are important but not at the expense of our family.

I have loved being a Soldier – not all of it – but it’s a part of me that will never really go away. I suspect that no matter where we end up a decade from now, Soldiering on will be the order of the day…

Thanks for taking this journey with us. I hope it’s given some clarity for you.

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Ten Year Itch: Part Three – The Retirement

With calling addressed. I’ll approach the sticky subject – money.

When the question, “should I leave Active Duty” comes up, invariably, the answers come back quickly. There is a short calculation, basically how many years do you have left until the magical 20, and then it’s, “well you only have XX left.” It’s all about the retirement.

US-Army-retired-logo

The military pension, as it exists today, was set up for another time. When it was instituted, life expectancy was much shorter and military pay did not equal civilian pay. This, of course had dramatically changed over the years with the advent of the all-volunteer force’s pay coming up to par and sometimes exceeding civilian pay. To be fair, the demands of military life certainly justify the pay and benefits and if you survive to 20 years, the defined benefits package includes half of your paycheck and free healthcare (among other things) for the rest of your life. It’s a sweet deal if you can pull it off.

There have been some proposals to change the system. Proposals that seem beneficial in the long run. As great a deal as it is, I’m wondering if its really a sustainable system when people like me can “retire” at 47, pull a paycheck (while pursuing another career) for the rest of my working days. Truth be told, all I need to do is make it another 10 years on AD (this means not getting into trouble and passing my bi-annual physical fitness test) and I’m set. For life.

Too good to be true? In some ways, it kind of is. It’s a little like winning lottery – the check of the month club – if by that you mean exchanging your blood, sweat and tears for 20 years… it’s all or nothing. Either you make it there or you don’t.

Of course, there is always the reserves – in which I have 11 years good time – which also pays a retirement albeit I cannot draw until I’m 58.

With all the upside, what is the personal and family cost of serving in the military?
I’ve spent years away from my family.
My family and I are currently living in the 9th house in 10 years of Active Duty. My kids, ages 3,5,7, are in their third school district in as many states and 4th school. I think that as a field grade my moves might slow down a little but they haven’t yet and if I extrapolate that reality over another decade, my daughter might be in as many as ten different schools before she graduates high school.
These continual moves have been an adventure and we’ve adapted well but every one wears on me a little more. The last two were just work. No fun. No adventure. Just the “cost of doing business.”
When deployments happen, it’s 24/7 – the work never stops. Basically, the deployed Soldier just lives for the day that he or she can come home and rest. Only, there really isn’t rest for the weary. There is just more work. The optemp of the active duty force is all day/every day. After all, there are other Soldiers deployed and we can rest… when we retire…
We’ve not lived close to family – ever – all our vacations revolve around seeing them. I know this is a reality for many people in and out of the military but it’s a cost nonetheless.
The physical/emotional/spiritual cost on my personal wellbeing is intangible but there are days I feel it deeply.
My children make friends quickly and then suffer when we leave and we are always leaving. Sara and I find that it’s getting harder to maintain deep relationships since we’re always the one’s leaving.
My wife’s career is on hold until I get out. She can always get more education but to actual get a church, she needs stability and to network in a region. I’m not willing to be a geographical bachelor.
And then, there is the very real risk – to my life – being a Soldier. It was one thing to take that risk ten years ago with no children but I’ve changed, I have three who are very dear to me and it weighs on my shoulders.

But it is also true, we are well-compensated. I’ve gained a great deal from my time in the Army, not the least of which has been a DMin (still working on that one), 4 units of CPE and a residency, and all the experience that comes with a decade of ministry.

If I left, it would cost of a great deal. Besides drawing a pension at 47, there would be the exemptions I have from state income tax, homestead exemption, free healthcare (no copays, no deductibles) and other benefits I can’t really think of right now.

The benefits are tangible, the cost, less so.

Which is why Army service is never usually talked about in purely monetary terms – it’s not like other occupations – it’s a calling for most and chaplains especially.

Over the years the most impressive people I’ve met, those whose life has stood out to me are people that have such a clear sense of call that their service in the Army is just a part of that call rather than the sum total. Chaplains who served their deployments and got out (or went to the reserves) because their call to preach/family was stronger than the retirement. Soldiers whose calling to be a firefighter/doctor/police officer/business executive were stronger than a simple 20 year retirement.

Soldiers for whom the Army was a part of their identity but not their entire identity.

In many ways, I’ve envied them, looked up to them, wished I had such clarity of vision myself.

But then, I enjoy being a chaplain. I always have. There are parts I don’t enjoy but there are parts of any vocation that are not fun. What is remarkable to me is that the parts I no longer enjoy are the parts of this work that brought me in in the first place. That’s significant to me.

I have other options. Because of my 4 units of CPE, hospital and prison experience, I’m a good candidate for either the Department of Veteran Affairs or the Federal Bureau of Prisons, both of which would count my ten years of federal service toward a federal retirement.

If, in fact, a retirement was what drove me.

What drives me is fulfillment of the calling, the burning in my soul to be there for the outcast, the forgotten, and the underserved; to preach and teach.

The most fulfilled I’ve ever been was the last two years serving the inmates at the JRCF/USDB and the little congregation at Memorial Chapel. My weeks were full and I was often tired but it was a good tired – like a great workout at the gym – I knew what I was doing mattered. Every. Single. Day.

When it comes to retirement and compensation I’m reminded of a story in our family. There was a time in my mom and dad’s life when they were poor and just starting out. They needed some dishes and a church mother gave them some from her attic. They were beautiful plates with gold rims and ornate designs on them. My father, being a son of the Midwest, was astounded at the gift. He responded to the generosity with, “we can’t take these they are much too nice.” The Minnesota grandmother’s response has always stuck with me, “The’ re just things pastor, just things.”

It’s just money. Just money.

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Ten Year Itch Part 2: Calling

When I was in college, it was always a mystery to me how other “preacher boys” (always boys of course) just knew God’s exact will for their lives. I mean they KNEW it. There was this whole ritual that included finding a verse in the Bible (the more obscure the better) that spoke to them in “just that way” and somehow pinpointed on a map the exact location, job title, and sometimes the woman who would accompany them and bear their children…. sometimes the woman knew too…

Then there was passive-aggressive breakup move (might have used it myself a time or two *rolls head in shame*) where the guy would ask out a girl because he was following God’s leading, rejoice in God’s bounty as the relationship progressed, experience a “check in their spirit” as the relationship started to be, oh I don’t know, normal and finally, once again following the leading of God, break-up with the girl. God’s will all the way.

23 years old. Visiting my Dad in Pensacola. Pre-Army.

23 years old. Visiting my Dad in Pensacola. Pre-Army.

So what then is a call?

Maybe it would be better to ask, what is NOT a call? I knew that whatever clear guidance the other guys I went to school with were feeling, I was not getting it. I knew it wasn’t some kind of warm feeling. Turns out, that Scripture means whatever you want it to mean so that wasn’t helpful. I never had a “burning in the bosom.” All my campfire decisions were exactly that. As an adult looking back, I can see my family of origin issues in every life altering declaration of God’s leading.

For many years, I put hope in that tired axiom, “if you can do anything else in life, you probably should. If you are called to preach, you won’t be able to do anything else.” But then, I love to preach. I mean, I really enjoy preparing and delivering sermons. I get meaning the purpose from preaching. I am more myself there than about anywhere but… there are many ways I can earn a living and not preach. Typing this blog post, as an Active Duty Army Chaplain, I have not preached a sermon in 9 months.

9 months.

In 15 years of full time Christian ministry, I’ve never made my living as a preacher. Ever. I’ve been a teacher, worship leader, chaplain etc. But paid as a preacher – not so much. And I’m ok with that. I came to terms years ago with working a meaningful, fulfilling job to finance my preaching habit. Often, it seems the best ministry I’ve done has been on my time, voluntarily given.

As a young man, I declared that I was “called to preach” and I believe that I was even if I’m not sure as an adult, what that means.

What is a call?

Direction. Meaning. Purpose. Fulfillment. Opportunity.

It’s that moment in a believers life when she or he experiences the intersection of what they love and a real human need. It’s getting on board with the plan the Divine has for the world. It’s knowing that what you are about is what God is about.

I experienced it in the classroom at New Life Christian School in Dunellen, NJ. I loved being a teacher. Not every day, but most days.
I experienced it downrange, in Iraq, serving the Soldiers of 2-121 Infantry Battalion and the 603d Aviation Support Battalion.
I experienced it teaching ethics to the medical hold Soldiers of the 832d Ordinance Battalion.
I experienced it, deeply, in my Clinical Pastoral Education group.
I experienced it teaching Applied Suicide Intervention Skills Training (ASIST) to civilians who volunteered at a homeless shelter in Huntsville, AL
The day I walked into a prison, I knew I was where I needed to be. It’s existential, it’s mystical, it’s spiritual – and it was clear. I experienced it throughout my time both at the Joint Regional Correctional Facility and the United States Disciplinary Barracks.

I experience it every single time and get behind a pulpit and preach. It’s what I’m here for.

A calling is sacred. A calling is personal. It is fundamental to my journey as a Christian.

But does it change?

I’m not sure. I know I have changed. I have grown. I’ve become a different person than I was ten years ago when I started this journey.

Was I called in the Army?
I have a journal that I kept while teaching that first year at New Life. In it, close to the front, bookended by one of those “God’s leading” relationships – 9/11 happened. Jesse Gardner and I sat in a room that included kids who parents worked down at/by the Towers and watched them collapse. We gathered on that Wednesday night service the next day as traumatized Christians gathered, prayed and told their stories. At the end of the week, I wrote, “This week the Towers went down. We’re going to war. I don’t know how or when but I’m going to be a part of this.”

I tried to join the Army that fall but medical issues kept me out.

I came in several years later after completing seminary. Deployments defined the first 5 years, then a year interlude at an Advanced Individual Training unit, and then CPE, then the prison. My time in the Army has been one of constant engagement in the lives of Christians and non-Christians alike. It’s been amazing.

Me, meeting my new Daughter after my second deployment in 2008. Sophie was a year old.

Me, meeting my new Daughter after my second deployment in 2008. Sophie was a year old.

But was I called?
Not sure. I know I wanted an adventure. I knew I wanted an opportunity to prove my manhood. I knew I wanted to go to war. I knew I wanted to fulfill a childhood dream.

I did all that. Checked those blocks. I finally arrived at Ft. Campbell and now, I just don’t like any of it. The possibility of going to Air Assault school just pains me and the talk of war saddens me. The man who came into the Army a decade ago joined to go to war. He had no children and no real future plans. He just had a passion and needed to accomplish something.

Does calling change?
I still love preaching. I still love teaching. I still love work in which there is a clear line connecting the work I do with changed lives and the visible working of God in other’s lives. That has not changed.

You know, it occurs to me that I’ve never believed that the specific location really mattered in terms of exercising a call to ministry. Just do the work and the location/job title/congregation will take care of itself.

During my time at CPE, I developed this pattern of call, it’s not for everyone but it’s how I work with God’s call in my life:

There are human needs, there is the Divine plan to meet those needs, there are my hopes/desires/skills/gifts and they intersect. This vocation is then confirmed by others who, themselves, follow close to God’s voice. Calling/confirmation. It’s what works in my life.

I’m interested in what others have experienced in relationship to ” the call.

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Filed under Army, Chaplaincy, Theology, Two Pastor Family

The Ten Year Itch. Part One.

In which I ask the question, “should I stay or should I go now?” And for introducing that ear-worm of a song into your head, you’re welcome.

When I started blogging… ten years ago… I did so with the intent of extroverting the new, exciting adventure I was undertaking – becoming an Army Chaplain.

The journey took many forms and at one point, I stopped blogging for 4 years while I figured out who I was theologically. I’ve been committed to saying out loud things that are often just questions asked internally. I’ve discovered, by extroverting those thoughts, that others are feeling them, experiencing them, asking them. I’ve enjoyed the community of questioning.

Side note: I don’t have all my blog posts any more so I am not sure if I ever told this story – the time I quit blogging was because after that second deployment, I knew that I wasn’t an evangelical anymore. I had stopped calling myself a fundamentalist years before but was holding out on the notion of being an “evangelical.” I explored some of my questioning internally and was reading a great deal at the time. I posted how I was more “ecumenical and open” than I had ever been before and how central the Lord’s Table had become to my expression of Christianity. My endorser at the time was a fundamentalist group who had endorsed me since coming into the Army (they charged me $160 a month for the privilege – but that’s another story). This group had not interacted with me at all. They didn’t call, they didn’t write – as long as I submitted my monthly report of numbers saved, baptized, coming to church, Bible study etc. I was good.

Until I posted that on my blog.

Two weeks. That’s all it took. Two weeks later, I sat in a Golden Coral in Savannah, GA convincing them that I had not strayed from the fold and was a good chaplain still. I knew then that I needed to get out and into something that was a better expression of who I was. After moving to Huntsville, AL and meeting the wonderful folks at First Christian Church, Huntsville and Pastor Guy McCombs, I knew I was home.

That’s why I needed to stop blogging for awhile. I knew that if they pulled my endorsement, I’d have to leave the Army and I was not ready to do that at the time.

I was thinking about that story this morning while reading this post on becoming a disciple. Or at least why you should think about becoming one… we’d never just ask you to be one or certainly tell you that it’s better than anyone else. We’re a bit too polite for all that…

I love being in the Disciples because there is room for me and there is room for everyone else at the Table. There are room for the questions. Isn’t community like that what Christianity is at it’s best?

This post is part one of a series I’m going to do on midlife career changes.

Yup, you heard that correctly, I’m thinking of a career change.

Not too drastic but certainly not Active Duty Army any more.

Or, maybe I’ll stay. That’s the thing, over the years, I’ve wanted to shine a light on the journey of a chaplain and these questions are a part of that journey.

Questions:

  1. What is a calling and does that calling change as we change?
  2. What role should finances play in pursuing a call?
  3. Is personal happiness and fulfillment more important that taking care of your family as best you can?
  4. What about suffering in the now to reap the greater reward in the future?
  5. How does a couple, who both are pursuing careers, balance all of the above and still develop those careers? What responsibility do I have to my wife’s career?
  6. Where does serving God and making good money intersect?
  7. What would God have me do?

The answers might end up being that I need to stay in the Active rolls, continue my journey and end in 10-20 more years.

The answer might be that it’s time to take my talents/abilities/calling to another field and work there.

Either way, I want to be certain that I am leaving to pursue a calling deeper and fuller than the one that brought me into the Corps in the first place.

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Filed under Army, Chaplaincy

SES = CPE Supervisor Training

I’m finishing up my packet for SES training.

If that sentence sounded too Army to be understood, then hooah. (to be interpreted, I get it) What that means is this – any time a person is making a move in the Army, wanting to advance their career by getting some further education or “going to school” etc – they “put in a packet.” Every packet is different, mostly it’s a compilation of your military record, sometimes it’ll include your civilian school records and whatever else the board might be looking for.

SES is the school for CPE Supervisors. If you want to become a CPE Supervisor in the Army, you need to put together a packet, go before a board made up of Army CPE Supervisors, get invited into the program and then later go through a board of civilian CPE supervisors who *might* declare you ready to become a candidate. Then, over the course of several years, you continue going before committees of civilian supervisors who will evaluate your learning and decide if you are ready for the Associate Supervisor Board. If they deem you ready, then you are in. You are Made. You become an ACPE Associate Supervisor and are able to run a CPE center. After this, you have one more board and you become a Full Supervisor. (Click here if you are wondering just what Clinical Pastoral Education is all about)

This packet I am doing is literally the gateway to a gateway.

At this point, I have the three papers done and just need to finish my Verbatim and it’ll be presentable. At least, I hope so…

Why do this? Why go through all this pain just to be told (I am certain) that I am an interesting candidate and to keep trying, there might be a place for me in the future? I have asked myself that question many times in the last couple months as I’ve worked through my personal biography, my understanding of the CPE process, my theology, and educational viewpoint as well as my strengths/weaknesses and motivation to enter SES training.

I believe I’m called. I believe that a calling is where my talents/gifting/desire meet a need that exists in the world. I love teaching. I miss the classroom. I really enjoy the groups I’ve been able to facilitate in the Prison. I am using the metaphor of the “Wilderness Guide” as my educational model. The guide knows the terrain. They are familiar with how to survive in the wilderness. They know the safeties to use and the way back should the group get lost. They can read the compass. They are also a teacher, delighted in experiencing new things. They love it when the group discovers what they have seen for the first time.

In the context of leading a group, I came to this while working through grief and loss with some inmates: I am familiar with the terrain of suffering. I know pain. I know loss and am “acquainted with grief.” I also know safety and can identify when someone needs a break or might be about to share something inappropriate for the setting. I am learning when to “come up for air” and when to “dig deeper.” Moreover, I delight in learning. I love to experience when someone discovers something new about themselves for the first time. When the room goes from being a classroom filled with suffering, struggling humans to a sacred space where God is present, active, and alive; working in the moment in the lives of my fellow travelers. This is how I know I need to do this work.

This, I believe, is the calling that will get me through the next few years – and that’s what it’ll take to just get into the program!!

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Filed under Army, Chaplaincy, Theology