Tag Archives: CPE

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

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