Tag Archives: peace

This is not the end!

Proper 28 Mark 13 15 NOV 2015

Title: This is not the end!!

Context: Field Service at Ft. Sill. Last Sunday of Mission Readiness Exercise in preparation for a deployment in February.

Text: Mark 13:1-8

Proposition: There will always be war and rumors of war but have hope, the end is not yet.

What makes a phrase “iconic” perhaps the better question to ask is what makes a phrase, “timeless?”

In our passage this morning, we have an iconic, timeless phrase, “there will be wars and rumors of wars…” It’s a phrase that is repeated in literature and in culture throughout West. It’s one of those phrases that is almost always true.

There will always be wars and rumors of war.

Why? Because we are human. Because we consistently fail to resolve our issues with one another with dialogue and conversation. Because we are greedy. Because we seek for power. Because we love violence. Because we can’t abide evil that destroys life. Because we are human. There will always be wars and rumors of wars.

It is nearing the end. The followers are starting to notice that their leader has been getting darker of late. It’s evident to them as they travel that people are less likely to welcome them, house them, and give them food. Good, Yahweh fearing, hardworking, respectable people are closing their doors when they pass. The young come out in droves. The hurting needing healing are hounding them. The poor who have nothing to lose anyway come out to see them and hear the prophet. But the respectable? The established? The connected? The wealthy who could support them in their ministry? Nowhere to be found. What worried them were the zealots, the outcasts and subversives that brought with them spies and traitors, agents of the empire. Fear began to creep in and disturb their comfort.

Something, something was happening.

It wasn’t always like this. When they were recruited, it was exciting! They were part of a movement unlike anything they had ever experienced! Jesus was a rock star. They were awesome just because they were with him! Early on, everyone came out to see them. Everyone surrounded them pressed them in. It was exhilarating! They were part of something big!

They had given everything to this movement. They had abandoned their careers. Left their families. Walked away from security and home because they felt the call to something bigger. Lately though, it didn’t seem as fun. It didn’t seem as clear cut. The teaching was darker and Jesus kept going on and on about dying in Jerusalem. Then they went to that very place. The place where Jesus said he was going to die.

Day one was amazing. People who only had one coat in their lifetime threw that coat on the ground so that the donkey Jesus was riding didn’t even have to touch the dirt. Branches of trees were strewn everywhere. Jesus was riding in like a king! They cried out hosanna!! Then someone (clearly a zelot) started saying, “blessed is the coming kingdom of our ancestor David!” The people picked it up and it spread through the crowd. They weren’t screaming for a messiah, they were screaming for their king. So, Yeeeahhh, that happened. Their leader became the literal second coming of King David. Obviously Rome was NOT impressed. Things began to go south. Moderate people started to avoid them. The reception began to go cold.

It all went downhill from there. Everyone is watching them. People are looking darkly from behind corners. There is angst about what comes next. Is this what they signed up for?

Angst. Anxiety. Worry. Embarrassment. Maybe this wasn’t the best thing to do with their lives. (I might be projecting a little but that’s what telling stories is all about right?)

So, then they come to the Temple. It’s beautiful. The stones are so huge! They rise out of the ground. These fishermen, most of whom have probably never been to a city in their lives much less Jerusalem, the Holy City, are amazed. They walk around gazing upward like the country bumkin rednecks they are. They comment to Jesus how awesome the stones are, how magnificent the building is (maybe trying to cheer him up?) and how does he respond?

“Do you see these great buildings?” replies Jesus. “Not one stone here will be left on another; every one will be thrown down.”

Crash and burn. Jesus is talking about the very seat of Jewish identity. This is the core of the Jewish faith and their nationality. Of course, we know now that not long after this, Rome would burn it all and what would be left is rubble never to even look like what it was. But they didn’t know that. Jesus rained on their parade with fire and brimstone. This is after (in chapter 12) he has laid waste the religious establishment for building their wealth on the backs of the poor who could not afford it.

So the cozy up and ask – “so, when’s it going to go down?”

Jesus replies by describing what the end of the world would look like. It is important to remember that Mark is an apocalyptic writer. He believed that Rome would bring (as it, in fact, brought) about the end of civilization. This writing was to a people who believed that they would see Jesus again in their lifetimes. The message is to a specific people but it is also timeless.

There will be war. There will be rumors of war. This is a fact of life. But the end is not yet come.

And that, I hear with hope. The world will be bad, it will get worse, it’ll be tough. Things will be demanded of you that you can’t imagine but don’t be afraid, the end is not yet.

What does this all mean for us, sitting here, in this room looking down the barrel at (for some of us) another journey into the breach? We all saw the news yesterday, Paris and Beirut attacked, once again, the drums of war sound and those of us who have carried that burden hear them with the exhausted ears of the boxer hearing the ring to start round 14. Will the wars never end?

Perhaps and perhaps not. History, if it shows us anything, demonstrates that as long as we’re human, we’ll be either at war or talking about it. War is an exercise in rhetoric except for us, we who put on the armor, pick up the rifle, shoulder the ruck, and move to contact.

Here’s how I hear the text this morning:

Listen, these walls you see, they are built on the backs of the poor. They will fall. They cannot stand. This is the nature of life. There will always be people who come along and profess that their way is the only way, beware of them. They will say they represent me but they do not! When you hear of wars and rumors of war, do not be afraid, this is not the end.

Soldiers, there could not have been a better text for us this morning. There will always bGetting readye wars and rumors of wars. We are fighting one that is 14 years old and another that is moving into its third iteration. There is no doubt in my mind that war will define the rest of my career and possibly yours as well. If we continue as we are, in 2025 when my retirement becomes possible, we just might still be in Iraq and Afghanistan.

And yet, the message I hear is, “Don’t be afraid… the end is not yet.”

Saints, hear this from Christ, Do not be afraid, this is not the end.

So live! Love life! Anxiety is normal. It is part of recognizing that we are not working at McDonalds, we are Soldiers in the Army of the United States. And we, gathered here, are Christians. Followers of the Way. As we move to contact, as we live our lives, let us be the best of who we are. Let us be the best Soldiers for we represent our heritage. Let us be the best leaders for we represent our nation. Let us be the best people for we, believers, represent Christ. Let us live forward, into the light, unafraid, for this is not the end.

Amen.

Leave a comment

Filed under Army, Chaplaincy, Sermon

Mercy Vs Truth

Mercy and truth have met together, righteousness and peace have kissed each other. Psalm 85:10

Why would mercy not be with truth? Why don’t they just hang out?

Why would it be notable that righteousness and peace kiss? Shouldn’t they just be a thing?

Perhaps mercy and truth don’t always need to be around each other.12238505_10153725943941303_3888460118035802897_o

I’m thinking about my years in ministry. When first started teaching, the 6th grade teacher made a big deal about sitting down with me to explain the roster. He pointed out all the problems I’d be having with this student and how that student would be great. He
went on for some time. Then my classes started. As I quickly learned, the truth changed. The students who struggled with him blossomed under me and some that resonated with him struggled with me.

Mercy and truth didn’t see eye to eye.

I’m thinking about my years in the prison. A chaplain who preceded me made a big deal of reading and storing all the files on each inmate. He remembered each charge and saw each inmate through the lens of their crimes. I had a hard time doing that. I stopped paying attention. I learned that all of us are capable of horrendous things and wondrous things. Good and bad are in each of us. I found that if I saw the inmate through their crimes, I was less able to extend grace to them. It was not my job to be judge and jury, that work was done. It was my role to be merciful and full of grace.

Mercy and truth didn’t see eye to eye.

Perhaps this is a mark of sin. It’s so very hard to live in the tension of mercy and truth. I want to be merciful to someone who is destitute but I also see their choices, decisions, and behaviors that precipitate their demise. I want to be compassionate towards the struggling couple but it’s difficult to see past their infantile behavior towards each other. For me, mercy and truth really fight against each other.

I want to bring righteous justice to the world but sometimes it seems like it’s not possible without the force of arms. Which, of course, means death. I want ISIL to be purged from the earth, to be punished for the evil they do, but that means war. And war means death. And death means suffering for so many.

So much tension.

Perhaps, when the world is redeemed, when we are all at our best, living out the best of the Way, this verse will be true. And so we keep on keeping on…

Mercy and truth have met together, righteousness and peace have kissed each other. Psalm 85:10

Leave a comment

Filed under Peace, Theology

When “they fight for each other” just isn’t good enough

In the spring of the year, the time when kings go out to battle, David sent Joab with his officers and all Israel with him; they ravaged the Ammonites, and besieged Rabbah. But David remained at Jerusalem. 2 Samuel 11:1

In 2009, I left the “Marne Express” (so called because the 3rd Infantry Division was one of the most deployed divisions in the Army back then and to be stuck there was to be on the “Marne Express” going back and forth to Iraq) and “took a knee” as an Advanced Individual Training (AIT) chaplain at Redstone Arsenal in Huntsville, AL.

It was the first time I came face to face with the “military industrial complex” outside of a combat zone.

In Iraq, the contractor support was everywhere but seemed necessary – in Huntsville, it is the economic reality of that city. Driving into the city, one passes large building after large building all dedicated to researching war and producing the material for more of it.

Benjamin, my brother, once came to visit while I was station there. He remarked on a sign he had seen and the memory is still with me. The sign was some large contractor praising the American “Warfighter.”

“Warfighter. As though it’s a career path. As though war never ends.”

Growing up, I idolized “warfighters.” These myths and legends of the books and movies I consumed were brave, always right, always in charge, and never quailed in the face of the enemy. I relentlessly imagined myself in their shoes; the enemy out front, the brave few holding the line, and with all the righteous indignation born of absolute truth, we would defeat all comers.

Of course, in my 11th year of Army service, I know the fallacy of youthful idealism. History has a way of bursting bubbles, facts have that unfortunate effect of bringing shades of gray to an otherwise easy, black/white perceived reality and my idealism was traded for the hard, nuanced truths of life.

Only empires have “warfighters.”

One of my favorite characters in fiction is Cornewell’s Richard Sharpe. Here’s a warfighter if ever there was one. He spends his life pursuing the goals of the British Empire. He is at once a very fallible man but also brave and kind in his own way. He is what I what I experienced in my Army. Brave, kind, generous, mean, cruel, and vindictive. We all carry the ability to be at our best and at our worst. Sharpe was a warfighter. A man talented at really one thing, winning battles.

In American history, there was a deep and established caution regarding standing Armies and professional Soldiers. After every war, the Armies were disbanded and those who fought them left to find their way in the Republic. But somewhere along the line, we became a nation that expects war. Expects that every day, someone, somewhere, is going to have to do combat with an enemy for “defense.” Who does that? Only people with enemies. And empires have enemies.

So we have warfighters.

Why does this matter to me? After all, I am a professional Soldier, a chaplain providing religious support to our Soldiers and family members around the world. I’ve had two combat deployments and am about to go on a third. It matters to me because of the narrative, because of our willingness to be honest about who we are as a people and nation.

Warfighter chaplainSo, the traditional narrative, the one I grew up with, cast America as the “land of the free and home of the brave.” It casts all military actions as the last possible measure. “We didn’t want war, but by God, if you bring it to us…” sort of thing. Our military industrial complex is labeled “the defense industry.” The capitalist corporations whose only existence is to develop and produce the weapons of war are labeled “defense contractors.” Incidentally, as I write this, I just finished my favorite MRE (meals ready to eat): chili mac, crackers and cheese, with a dessert of lemon poppyseed pound cake. So good. Thank you defense contractor in Evansville, Indiana for my wonderful, shelf stable meal!

Do we want peace? Of course. Do we want justice? Yes. Do we want our GDP to continually grow necessitating open markets around the world and why communism (and the closed markets it creates) is a threat to us? Also, yes. Do economics drive our warfare? Of course. Does idealism impact our willingness to fight? Yes. Do we go to war for political reasons? Really, do you even need to ask?

Turns out, our wars are just convoluted at the British Empire’s. Especially the recent ones.

So, now, here we are going back to Iraq. Soldiers, once again, moving to contact in that place. It makes sense. At least in this case, we can say that we made the problem and thus we’re the ones that need to fix it. We, the United States, broke that place and now it’s a hell-hole. So many have died. Tens of thousands have died on that altar of our fear and what do we have to show for it?

Debt. Death. Destruction. Division.

War.

There is a time when nothing will fix the problem except war. Nothing will get through but violence. But it is always bad. There is no good war. There is only death. Even in 2 Samuel, there was a time when kings went out to war.

Regardless of what we see in movies and TV, violence only begets more violence. It does not bring peace, it just shoves the problem deeper. So we try to fight small wars, limited conflicts, air campaigns (which is a nice way of saying killing thousands to people, innocent and guilty, from the air, far away from our sensibilities), and strategic initiatives. Violence might bring temporary peace but desperate people will fight back. Eventually, all the chickens come home to roost and the problem is worse.

War is the great human tragedy. It is the failure of humans to be human. It is absolute failure of the human race to be civilized and talk through their problems. It is sin. It is the brokenness of our people. War is terrible.

But we love it so much. We love the parades, the strength, the honor, the bravery.

We love the violence.

We fight because we want to. We fight because it makes us feel good. We create narratives and call them the “great cause” to justify it. We paste ethical names to it. We create offenses, straw men, faceless enemies, and throw all our blood and treasure at it. We call it beautiful, artistic but its just a fancy way of killing. We would rather our our people go hungry and live without than defund our beautiful, artistic, and brutal engines of death.

We call it just.

We claim that God is on our side, right is on our side, justice is on our side. And maybe it is. Or maybe it’s not. Either way, we could at least be honest about it and own that war is death. It is nothing else. If we’re going to do it, then own the animal nature of it and get it over with. Maybe that’s the narrative I want, honesty about the violence we pay for. Call it what it is. Own your stuff.

In the years before I commissioned, two movies came out that profoundly impacted me. They told stories that cemented in me the need to join up and be a part of the grand tradition of the Army. Black Hawk Down and We Were Soldiers told, in all it’s gritty detail, the stories of bravery, sacrifice, and honor that accompany war. They both had this theme, a theme that has become more and more popular as the “Cause” gets more and more convoluted and opaque:

“Soldiers don’t fight for the cause; they fight for each other.”

11 years in, I attest to the truth of that statement.

However, when that is the narrative, it releases those who run this great institution (i.e. – all of you who vote and influence elected leaders) from the duty of asking the question, why are we sending our Soldiers out to fight?

It is the duty of Soldiers to “fight and win America’s wars.”

It is the duty of the citizen to decide what wars are worth fighting.

I have stood by the greatest people I will ever know in battle. I have eulogized heros who gave everything for what they believed in and the person next to them. I have worked countless hours and ingested more caffeine than I thought humanly possible to effectively conduct warfare on behalf of the people of the United States.

I wonder how much thought they have given to their duty to hold their elected leaders accountable for how they expend American lives. I wonder how much thought you have given to it.

I’m not a pacifist. I toyed with the idea for a bit but I have guns and would use them to deadly intent on anyone who threatened the life of my family. I wear my uniform with great pride. I have, through blood, sweat and tears, earned every shiny thing on it. I am grateful to be a part of a great and honorable institution that has done so much good in the world. Though I sometimes question the cause, I always saddle up, grab my chaplain kit, and move to contact when called upon to do so. I have been a volunteer far past my initial swearing it. I will continue to stand by the greatest generation of millennials on the planet as they sacrifice over and over again for you, the American people.

Here’s the thing, “fighting for each other” just doesn’t cut it any more. There has to be a better reason. Causes matter. As a Soldier speaking for himself, I don’t need anyone’s thanks or for you to pay for my meal – I need you to take seriously the duty of deciding when and where you want to spill American blood.

I need you to ask the question – is this war worth the life of my child?

Because, if I’m going to stand on the doorstep of more mothers and fathers to tell them that their sons and daughters were killed in lands far away, I need to know that it’s going to be worth it. I need to know that it matters. I need to be able to say, the world is a better place because they died.

You need to as well. For their blood is on your hands. Their blood is in your hands.

I will own my place on the battlefield to nurture the living, care for the wounded, and honor the dead. I need you to own your place on the battlefield to ensure that when we send American boys and girls out to fight, its because there is no other way.

If “warfighter” is going to be a career path in the United States, then let’s ensure that every war is worth fighting and maybe someday, we’ll live in a world where “peacemaker” is just as viable a career field.

*Given the nature of this post, please hear again that this is MY opinion. I do not represent the Army, the Chaplain Corps or the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ). I represent me. 

3 Comments

Filed under Army, Chaplaincy, Peace

Ministry by Inches

Years ago, a teacher joined the Army chaplaincy. He was idealistic, hungry, and ambitious. He dreamed of adventure and glory. He had visions of going to war, preaching – Billy Graham style – and flocks of war-torn Soldiers would come to Jesus. If he was really honest, he kinda hoped he’d get a chance to shoot a terrorist or two too. He was a wandering fundamentalist. He had been through 9/11 and had grieved those days. He had been denied entry to combat troops but waited his turn, bided his time, went into seminary and found a place in the front lines as a Chaplain.

He believed the rhetoric that Iraq was a just war. A war to defend the homeland.

So he went. And he learned. And he fought. And he returned a different man. He was changed. He saw the world differently. He came away disenfranchised and disillusioned, haunted by the thought that maybe, just maybe, it wasn’t as he had been told. Maybe, just maybe, this was a hollow sacrifice.

He had seen so much death. So much destruction. So much sacrifice and so much heroism. Men who laid it all on the line for the men under him. Women, leaving traditional gender roles and heroically owning their space on the battlefield. He saw an America he didn’t think existed. One funded by massive amounts of cash. An America that seemed happy to contract out essential services and creating a proxy second class. A class that bowed their heads  and got off the sidewalk when Americans walked by. A real, no-kidding two class system with haves and have nots. It shocked him. He didn’t know what to do with that. He experienced the American Soldier, at once a hero, the best of their country, and also terrible, awful people capable of all manner of evil. Over the years, nose to the grindstone, he witnessed a country unsure of what to do with their sons and daughters who became warriors. They seemed to care but abdicated their role in holding civilian leadership accountable for sending them to war. It seemed all to easy to focus on killing the marginalized in some other place and thus ignore the chaos brewing at home.

The tension exploded in him. The fundamentals of his youth did not answer the questions swirling in his head. His journey brought him to this conclusion – violence only begets more violence.

He toyed with pacifism. But it wasn’t for him.

However, he saw truth in the ancient Zoroastrian thought, “Violence can beget fear, stalemate, annihilation, dominance, or more violence, but it cannot beget love, justice, abundant life, community or peace.” (From Saving Paradise by Brock and Parker)

But his life was at the margin of violence. Sometimes, he was in the middle of it but mostly, he operated on the margin. Men and women for all sorts of reasons (few having to actually do with defending America) had volunteered to do violence and his role was to ensure they had the free exercise of religion while they did it. He was also expected to advise commanders of the morale and morals of their Soldiers while being the voice for ethical prosecution of said violence.

It tore at his soul.

Who am I kidding? It tears at my soul. It is at once terrifying and exhilarating to know the power at the disposal of the US Army. It is empowering to know what kind of violent force can be brought to the table by a battalion of Soldiers. But, oh the tension. The pain in my heart when I take seriously the teachings of Jesus and the reality of my work.

How does serving as a Chaplain in the most effective expeditionary land Army the world has ever seen mesh with “bringing Soldiers to God and God to Soldiers?”

For me, its only possible in the inches. When I step back and look at the meta, the over all strategy, it is overwhelming and sometimes depressing. When I focus on the steps in front of me, the inches and the margins, I see great ministry. I see God walking with Soldiers as they muddle through. Sometimes, its me doing the muddling and my Soldiers revealing God to me.

guitar on the roadThe crowds never happened for me. Most services I do are very small. Today I did four. At two of them, it was me and one other person. That is the nature of this work. Its one at a time. Person to person. It’s me walking from gun crew to gun crew, a troubled marriage here, a struggling spirit there. This one wonders if the God of his youth is still worth believing in. This one has the heartbreak of a poor choices impacting her life. This one wonders if they were just crazy joining the Army and are, frankly, frightened of what comes next.

They speak to me in the darkness, in smoke breaks, and walking along the trail. Drinking a hot cup of coffee, they sigh deeply and wonder aloud if any of their sacrifice and effort are worth it.

Its a question I ask.

I’m not sure I know the answer but I know the path to find it. I know grief and I know sorrow. I know the inches and the margins.

And I’ll walk with them. Every step of the way.

Perhaps that is the ministry I seek from the Holy Spirit. To walk with me in the inches and margins.

Every step of the way.

1 Comment

Filed under Army, Chaplaincy

Get outside, see the colors

02 October 1925 – John Baird tests the first working television system. Thus giving to the world a way to sit in the comfort of their living rooms and live vicariously through others. Upon seeing the system, he remarked, “if only we could now record the actions of the most obnoxious members of our society – that would look wonderful on this system.” Approximately 70.3 years later, reality TV was born and the national intelligence rate dropped 22.4 percent.

01 October 1908 – Henry Ford, great grandfather of Steve Jobs, introduced the Ford Model T to the world. It came with a 20-horsepower 4-cylinder engine and had a top speed of 45 miles an hour. It weighed 1200 pounds and got 13-21 mpg. The car had a price tag of $850 and later sold for as little as $260. It came in black.

Today’s “thought of the day” for my morning meeting comes from Dale Carnegie – “One of the most tragic things I know about human nature is that all of us tend to put off living. We are all dreaming of some magical rose garden over the horizon instead of enjoying the roses that are blooming outside of our windows today.”

The colors are coming out. Do yourself a favor and go see them. Drive a car slowly. Even better, take a walk.

(by the way, I might have made up some facts in the first date…)

Leave a comment

Filed under General, thought of the day