Tag Archives: suicide

A Prayer for Veteran’s Day 2014

This morning, I will be at First Christian, Columbia, SC. They have asked me to pray for veterans and their families.

Veteran’s day is a bit of a struggle for me. I want to acknowledge that not evey veteran is proud of their service, that often, families bear the brunt of the after effects of war, that suicide, homelessness, and joblessness are a reality of the veteran community.

I also want to acknowledge that many veterans struggle and many are doing fine, that the stereotype of the “crazy-eyed veteran” is exactly that.

Oh, and also the reality that the Kingdom of God has no borders. That service to Jesus Christ transcends all ideas of nationalistic sentiment.

And then there is the reality that war is the ultimate human tragedy, the failure of humans to work out their issues without killing one another.

Here is that humble attempt with thanks to Peter Marshall:

Prayer for Veteran’s Day 2014

First Christian Church, Columbia SC

Good morning. As an Active duty service member, I am honored to pray this morning for veterans and their families. Serving one’s country in the Armed Services is a challenge to anyone who also serves Jesus Christ. There is an inherent tension between Christ’s call to peace and the country’s call to arms. Those who have lived and served in that tension have done so at their own peril. They have offered their very lives to the service of others. They have done so not always agreeing with the action they were ordered to do, they have done so even when the result is death or serious harm, they have done so  even when they were not appreciated for that service, they have done so even when promises are not kept.

Some of our nation’s veterans this morning have served and have gone on to other work in the country having been able to work through the lasting vestiges of war in their lives. Other’s struggle with the memory of war and traumatic stress it brings. Veterans are turning to suicide as an answer to their pain. Some veterans this morning are feeling the benefit of living in this country, others are homeless, jobless, and wondering where to get care. This morning, I remember all veterans and their families. Those doing well and those doing poorly. Those who have been able to integrate their pain and those who struggle with their memories. Those enjoying the freedom of this land and those who are now behind bars. Those with homes and those homeless. Those who are still with the family of their youth and those who are now divorced and separated from those families because of the effects of war. Those who remember their service with fondness and those who daily grieve the pain of it. We remember them all and pray for them.

Oliver Wendell Homes, himself a veteran of the American Civil War once said, “We have shared the incommunicable experience of war, we have felt, we still feel, the passion of life to its top. In our youths, our hearts were touched with fire.” I know that fire. I know that it still burns.

From one veteran to another and their families – thank you for your service.

We approach the Throne of Grace:

Lord Jesus Christ, we are the children of God. Yet we would not be human if we were not sometimes fearful, if our hearts did not ache and harbor anxiety for those we love who wear and have worn our country’s uniform – here and in the far corners of the earth.

Yet, we also know that the Everlasting Arms reach out across the world. We know the shadow of your wing covers all your children.

We know that in this world there are troubles. Whether diseases in Africa, extremists in Iraq and other places, homelessness and poverty here in America, and a host of other ills, that nothing can separate us nor those we love from your love and watch care.

We know that the bonds of the fellowship of prayer are real. We know that at the throne of grace we are all united, that our souls can mingle with those we love on earth even though separated by tumbling sea and dreary miles. In that spirit we ask for our nation’s veterans that you:

              Support them in time of need,

              Give them strength beyond their own,

              Confidence that you are their shepherd and will never leave them nor forsake them,

              Strength in temptation that they may be kept clean,

              Give them the gift of inner peace, a serenity that no tragedy can destroy,

              Give peace to spouses wondering how much longer they can hang on to their marriage,

              Keep those veterans preparing for another winter without a home or job safe,

              Calm the dreams of those who struggle with sleeping at night,

              Encouragement to those who are thinking of suicide as a way out to know that they are loved, have value and are important,

              Give us the peace that passes all understanding that keeps our hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. May Peace come to the world so that War can be no more. We look to the day when Soldiers are no longer needed with great anticipation. Until then, we serve.

May we feel your presence and see by faith that day when the love of Christ shall live in the hearts of all people everywhere. Amen.

Iraq Band of Brothers

 

 

 

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It’s been a tough week…

Ok. Take a deep breath.

Breathe in. Breathe out. Think about good things.

Really, I meant it, breathe out. Let it go…

Some really bad things happened this week. Really bad.

A general was laid to rest after giving his life in service to his country.

A Missouri town is in terrible upheaval.

A family is without their son.

Robin Williams. THE Robin Williams. The “Carpe Diem” said in a horse whisper, is dead.

And, of course, SFC Hairston died in Afghanistan this week. As have thousands.

And we should not forget those suffering in the hands of ISIS extremists.

And there is always Gaza.

It’s been a tough week.

Maybe, this night, as we prepare for tomorrow’s worship, we could all just remember that everyone is suffering their own hurt. That each person’s tragedy is their own, their pain is their own, and our pain is not their pain.

This is important. Grief is important.

This week, I’ve seen some “tragedy shaming” making its inevitable rounds. The memes showing images of graphic suffering with a “my tragedy is worse than your tragedy” theme. Hey everyone – its tough out there, people are hurting, you are hurting, I am hurting – shaming each other for not making your tragedy as important as their tragedy isn’t terribly helpful.

I’m sorry you are hurting. I am too. Each of the above events impact us in different ways. I’m not going to lie, there was a moment when I was about done hearing about the General, as great as I’m sure he is, thousands have died in the last decade – THOUSANDS. What makes his different? Rank?

But you see, that is exactly it – I am, in that moment, comparing my suffering and other’s suffering. A pointless and hurtful enterprise. Unhelpful at best. Painfully shaming at worst.

As we prepare our hearts for entering the Sacred Space tomorrow, may we focus on where we are grieving and think about how our fellow saints are grieving so that we might minister to them the healing Gospel.

Life is hard. We, as Christians, at our best, can make life easier by hearing the pain and offering the Grace needed for healing to begin.

“Bear you one another’s burdens and so fulfill the Law of Christ.” 

Amen

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My Country. A romantic and cynical meditation.

I SUPPOSE that very few casual readers of the “New York Herald” of August 13, 1863, observed, in an obscure corner, among the “Deaths,” the announcement,—

         “NOLAN. Died, on board U. S. Corvette ‘Levant,’ Lat. 2°
  11′ S., Long. 131° W., on the 11th of May, PHILIP NOLAN.”

 

I had not read those words since high school. I did a monologue for state dramatic competition that year based on “The Man Without a Country” by Edward Evert Hale. It opens with those lines. I bought a book today of Classic American Short Stories not knowing this was part of the collection. It’s been over 15 years.

My dad wrote it. I remember listening to a reading of it by someone who would have been very comfortable reading the news on NPR. I wanted to perform it with more passion. I yelled alot. That’s how I tended to communicate passion, I talked faster and got louder.

In retrospect, it’s a wonder no one ever walked out laughing hysterically or trying to clear their heads of the headache inducing noise. Instead, they listened, politely. Some even confessed to being “moved.”

The story is of an American Officer who gets involved with Aaron Burr’s attempted overthrow of the US Government. Young Philip Nolan is enamored with Burr and bored by garrison life (much like many young officers I meet). He gets involved with the scheme and is caught. At the Court Martial, he curses the United States.

The courts dragged on. The big flies escaped,—rightly for all I know. Nolan was proved guilty enough, as I say; yet you and I would never have heard of him, reader, but that, when the president of the court asked him at the close whether he wished to say anything to show that he had always been faithful to the United States, he cried out, in a fit of frenzy,—    6
  “Damn the United States! I wish I may never hear of the United States again!”    7
  I suppose he did not know how the words shocked old Colonel Morgan, who was holding the court. Half the officers who sat in it had served through the Revolution, and their lives, not to say their necks, had been risked for the very idea which he so cavalierly cursed in his madness.

I love that passage. Must be because I now have sat in those proceedings. I’ve watched group think happen. I’ve watched old men bemused by young impulsivity. I’m even becoming a bit curmudgeonly judgmental myself.

A life at sea. Without news of home. Without even a word of home. Without identity. Without belonging. A man without a country.

As a teenager the story was moving if not understood. How could I? I was a teenager. I hadn’t really been out of the state of Michigan. How could I understand the gravity?

Nolan goes to sea. He’s haughty. Arrogant. Full of himself. Wrongly imprisoned by a government he refuses to recognize, he takes his punishment in stride. He moves from ship to ship, never going in sight of land, ever the guest of the Captain, never hearing of the United States, never reading of it in censored papers. It begins to wear at him. Then this happens:

So Nolan was permitted to join the circle one afternoon when a lot of them sat on deck smoking and reading aloud. People do not do such things so often now; but when I was young we got rid of a great deal of time so. Well, so it happened that in his turn Nolan took the book and read to the others; and he read very well, as I know. Nobody in the circle knew a line of the poem, only it was all magic and Border chivalry, and was ten thousand years ago. Poor Nolan read steadily through the fifth canto, stopped a minute and drank something, and then began, without a thought of what was coming,—

         “Breathes there the man, with soul so dead,
  Who never to himself hath said,”—
  23
  It seems impossible to us that anybody ever heard this for the first time; but all these fellows did then, and poor Nolan himself went on, still unconsciously or mechanically,—

         “This is my own, my native land!”
  24
  Then they all saw something was to pay; but he expected to get through, I suppose, turned a little pale, but plunged on,—

         “Whose heart hath ne’er within him burned,
  As home his footsteps he hath turned
    From wandering on a foreign strand?—
  If such there breathe, go, mark him well,”—
  25
  By this time the men were all beside themselves, wishing there was any way to make him turn over two pages; but he had not quite presence of mind for that; he gagged a little, colored crimson, and staggered on,—

         “For him no minstrel raptures swell;
  High though his titles, proud his name,
  Boundless his wealth as wish can claim,
  Despite these titles, power, and pelf,
  The wretch, concentred all in self,”—

and here the poor fellow choked, could not go on, but started up, swung the book into the sea, vanished into his state-room, “And by Jove,” said Phillips, “we did not see him for two months again. And I had to make up some beggarly story to that English surgeon why I did not return his Walter Scott to him.”

 

A man with soul so dead… mark him well…

Maybe its because I’ve been an Army Officer for 8 years now. Maybe its the fact that I am pastor to hundreds of men who themselves have been imprisoned by their government for their actions, maybe its that I’m a father. I was reading it tonight at the “soft play” area at the mall. Kids are tearing around each other running up and down the plastic frogs and leaves. I am choking up. I look up at the children and swallow some tears. What kind of torture would it be to never hear of home? To never know the love of family? To lose the absurd and glorious identity in one’s tribe? My country?

Nolan gives a speech after the ship he is on rescues some slaves. He is speaking to a midshipman.

  But he could not stand it long; and getting Vaughan to say he might go back, he beckoned me down into our boat. As we lay back in the stern-sheets and the men gave way, he said to me: “Youngster, let that show you what it is to be without a family, without a home, and without a country. And if you are ever tempted to say a word or to do a thing that shall put a bar between you and your family, your home, and your country, pray God in his mercy to take you that instant home to his own heaven. Stick by your family, boy; forget you have a self, while you do everything for them. Think of your home, boy; write and send, and talk about it. Let it be nearer and nearer to your thought, the farther you have to travel from it; and rush back to it when you are free, as that poor black slave is doing now. And for your country, boy,” and the words rattled in his throat, “and for that flag,” and he pointed to the ship, “never dream a dream but of serving her as she bids you, though the service carry you through a thousand hells. No matter what happens to you, no more matter who flatters you or who abuses you, never look at another flag, never let a night pass but you pray God to bless that flag. Remember, boy, that behind all these men you have to do with, behind officers, and government, and people even, there is the Country Herself, your Country, and that you belong to Her as you belong to your own mother. Stand by Her, boy, as you would stand by your mother, if those devils there had got hold of her to-day!”

 

The Country Herself. Your Country.

Perhaps it is because I wear the flag on my shoulder every day. Perhaps it is because I am so familiar with war and the Army. Perhaps it is because I grew up as the son of a preacher and thus have a precondition towards a bit of cynicism.

I’ve always felt a little ambivalent towards patriotism. I avoid overly romantic ideas of country, home, and hearth. If I have to listen to “American Soldier” one more time… It’s just that I’ve heard it SO MANY TIMES already!!! I see the holes in the arguments. I know too well my own flaws and the flaws of those I serve with. I know intimately the darkest side of those casually and without nuance are oft called heroes. It is difficult to not grow cynical.

But then there is this – beyond DC, beyond generals, beyond policy, memorandums, Operations Orders, rank structures, toxic leaders and egos – there is the Country Herself, my Country and I belong to her as I belong to my own mother. It’s true. I will not deny it.

Why do I serve?

Is it for the pension? Tricare? Ego trip? Maybe. Those are certainly part of it. But that’s not why I stay long hours in the prison. It’s not why I give up my weekends and evenings to provide programs and counseling. It’s not what keeps me working with Soldiers who want to give up on life. It’s not what drives me to organize yet another relationship building event. It’s not what gets me up in the morning for another pavement pounding 4 mile run. (Ok, maybe that). It certainly does not give me comfort when my kids miss me and I need to go into work to take care of a former Soldier, now prisoner or another Joe.

No. That does not cut it.

It is the joy of duty. The joy of belonging. It is the call of my Country.

I belong to her.
Epilogue:
Read the whole story. Read how he dies. Read about what Nolan wants on his deathbed. See if it does not move you. The last line of the story is what Nolan wanted on his tombstone:

“On this slip of paper he had written:
    “‘Bury me in the sea; it has been my home, and I love it. But will not some one set up a stone for my memory at Fort Adams or at Orleans, that my disgrace may not be more than I ought to bear? Say on it:—
 
‘In Memory of
 
PHILIP NOLAN,
 
Lieutenant in the Army of the United States.
 
  • HE LOVED HIS COUNTRY AS NO OTHER MAN HAS LOVED HER; BUT NO MAN DESERVED LESS AT HER HANDS.’”

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I remember.

I’ve thought a great deal about this today.

Every year Memorial Day comes around and I remember.

I remember the heat and blood. JP8 and cigar smoke. Laughter and pain. Intensity and boredom. That’s war I suppose.

I remember those who died, who never came back.

Again I post this video of a young, overwhelmed chaplain with great intentions and limited skill.

This year, I want to remember someone else. Actually several someones. Every deployment I’ve been on, the tragedy does not end with the re-deployment. For some, home never really feels like home, life just does not readjust. The pain of losing those so close to them just becomes too much and life overwhelms them. There is so much help and love available to them but the blinders of depression, despair, and anguish blocks their vision.

They cannot see. They cannot know.

They are those who have died by suicide. And they are many.

For me, there are four.

I remember.

If a veteran, current service member, or family member is going through those dark waters. They are not alone. There is help for them.

Veterans (or family members can call): 800-273-8255  (Veterans Crisis Line – Active Duty/Guard can call as well)

And Military One Source is always available: 800-342-9647

Memorial Day is about all who have suffered and died.

I remember.

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Suicide Stand Down

“Essentially, we know what leads people to suicide — it’s stress,” Varney said. “What we don’t know is who has the ability to relieve that stress.”

This quote from an article about how Ft. Campbell, KY is actually gaining in the Army’s fight against suicide highlights the essential quandary facing our force today – how do you help a population who is living out the most stress and danger in society? It’s stress leading to the action and stress is a part of the job.

It’s tough being a chaplain in this Army sometimes. Its hard to spend great amounts of your day working with at risk individuals and then still feel like your losing the battle.

It takes prayer. Lots of it. I ask for it for our Army.

Today was suicide stand down day. Across the Army Chaplains, Commanders and other care givers stopped what operations they could (mission still needs to be done) and talked about suicide. I’m certain there are many reasons for what we are going through as an Army today not the least of which is the cost of being at war for so long. I believe that we are moving in the right direction though and have great hope that as we continue to face the dark side of problems, we’ll save even more lives.

Peace be with you.

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