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Relearning Ministry Again For the First Time

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“Ministry means the ongoing attempt to put one’s own search for God, with all the moments of pain and joy, despair and hope, at the disposal of those who want to join this search but do not know how.” Henri Nouwen 

It was over 20 years ago that I graduated from seminary. I was a very good student and took every opportunity to learn, even when what I learned challenged my assumptions. Thus in a Southern Baptist seminary I basically came out as an Anglo-Catholic or progressive Vatican II type Catholic. But even so I was was still quite limited in my understanding of ministry.

My time in a Clinical Pastoral Education Residency a year after I graduated from seminary was filled with more discovery, much of it very painful as I confronted many of my own demons, But even what I learned there was just a chip off the top of the iceberg. While it was valuable it was something that took many more years to begin to fully grasp.

In each of these places and times of learning I discovered much, but like any novice my actual understanding of what I learned with limited by my own strengths as an analytical thinker and intuitive personality type. I was quite convinced of my competencies, skills and abilities, particularly in history and theology. I could wear people out picking apart arguments that I thought were flawed. Likewise on the occasions people came to me for advice I often would fall back on my strengths in analyzing their situation and giving them an answer. I was so obnoxious about it Judy would sometimes call me “the Great White One Who Knows it All.”

At various points in my life, seminary, preparation for the ordination to the Priesthood, during Clinical Pastoral Education and in the various military Chaplain school course that I have attended had to write and sometimes present a philosophy or theology of ministry. As I think about them most did talk about being present, but much more focus was on  programs and methods of teaching or even counseling from a cognitive behavioral theory method, but little to do with just being present and listening, presence was more about showing my face and being known that it was actually being with people. The changes in my “philosophy or theology of ministry” were honed in the crucibles of critical care ministry in hospital Trauma Departments and ICUs, and at war, deployed on ship or in Iraq. In those places I learned that between life and death that sometimes what matters most is just being there and not avoiding the pain by giving advice, offering a prayer, no matter how sincere and getting out of Dodge before the hard questions got asked.

I have found that young ministers or those new to ministry regardless of their age are often quite zealous and even when quite sincere often run roughshod over others. I think that is not so much a human failing but rather a result of our theological and ministerial training process. We focus on everything but being with real people, and among the professions we often are those among the least likely to truly listen to people before we diagnose a situation and give an answer. If we come from or are influenced by a tradition where what we believe that we are accurately discerning what the Holy Spirit is saying, or that we have the authoritative interpretation of Holy Scripture or that our theological premise is more correct than the others out there.

Please know this is not an attack on any particular denomination or theological school of thought. It just happens to be very common across the board in the way we do ministry as American Christians regardless of our denominational affiliation or whether we are liberal or conservative. It was bad enough when we all pretty much attended seminary in residence with other people and had to physically interact with other students or professors, some of whom challenged our views.

I believe that in the present reality of theological education in America, where online seminary programs are flourishing that an overall lack of contact and isolation is making the overall quality of ministry worse.  Simply put this is because we spend our time in a theological cocoon of our own making, deviod of relationships with people who really know us.  The result is that we become less attentive to others and more convinced of our own correctness and often suffer from a dangerous amount of narciscistic behaviors which are quite often displayed for the world to see.

 I wonder at times if the Jesuit formation process than anything that we do here.  While the 12 years long process done by the Jesuits is difficult and maybe even unworkable for some, I wonder if it is actually a better model for ministry.  I also wonder wonder if possibly we can learn from Buddhism. From what I see there appear many practices in it that are not antithetical to the Christian faith and may actually help us to be better spiritual directors, guides and care givers. I read a book by Wolfhart Pannenberg years ago about commonalities and where Christians and Buddhists could learn from each other. I still have it and when I return home I will have to take the time to re-read it. Part of my curiousity lies in the fact that I am also a military historian and theoritician and much as I see much complementary thought in the military theories of Sun Tzu and Carl Von Clausewitz, one who was Eastern in thought and the other a product of Classic Western Liberal thought and philosphy. Both understood the human dimension of life, war and statesmanship and as such their military theories are timeless. Could it be that Christians could learn from Buddhists. I know that some do and I wonder if because our God is bigger than our conception that his grace allows people outside the Christian tradition to understand his will better than us sometimes. I think of the encounters of Jesus with Roman officials who he complimented saying “I have not seen such faith in all of Israel.”

I know this because I lived my ministerial life in this manner for many years. In a sense I remained a novice so long as I thought that I knew everything. The late and great Hall of Fame Manager of the Baltimore Orioles, Earl Weaver said “It’s what you learn after you know it all that counts.” 

For me it took falling apart and feeling abandoned by peers, colleagues, the church institution and even God that took me to a new place ministry. Of course that came through the pain of loss, madness and abandonment that basically left me questioning everything, even the existence of God, I was for all practical purposes an agnostic. Coming back from war changed and suffering from PTSD and its effects makes more of an impact on faith than you can imagine. Since I have written about this part of my experience many times before so I won’t go into detail here.

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Needless to say five years ago I began a journey that challenged my beliefs and changed me quite a bit as a Priest and Navy Chaplain. I won’t bore you with those changes either because I have written about them at length.

What I have learned and over the past five years is that Henri Nouwen who I quoted at the beginning of this article was correct. We as ministers frequently fail in this, instead we feel the need to say something, when often saying little or nothing but simply being with people and fully engaged in hearing them and whether through their words, expressions, tears or silence stay with them. Our words, suggestions and advice, even when theologically correct and in accordance with good counseling theory often are not heard by the suffering person because we are not listening and instead offering a diagnosis. Dietrich Bonhoeffer stated this Christian conundrum well:

“Christians, especially ministers, so often think they must always contribute something when they are in the company of others, that this is the one service they have to render. They forget that listening can be a greater service than speaking.”

I cannot tell you how many times that I have met people who have been hurt by well meaning ministers who simply cannot shut up and need to give advice. Let’s face it, the temptation is by virtue of our calling, our ordination or commissioning that we believe that words are essential. St. Francis of Assisi said “preach the Gospel at all times, use words when necessary.” Actions do speak louder than words and one of those actions is listening and maintaining a holy silence as we allow the Spirit of God to work in a life even as we remain present. Henri Nouwen wrote:

“Somewhere we know that without silence words lose their meaning, that without listening speaking no longer heals, that without distance closeness cannot cure.” 

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For me though I have continued to evolve in ministry I do often feel like a novice. I have to fight the temptation to simply diagnose and give advice every day. That being said I am much more comfortable with listening and being present even more than I was a year ago. A lot of this credit goes to my Command Master Chief Ed Moreno, who I spend many hours a week with. He is a very spiritual person, a good listener and patient man who in a sense is a companion and fellow traveller on this spiritual journey.

For me it is almost as if I am relearning everything about ministry for the first time.

Well, that is enough for tonight. It is time that I shut up.

Blessings and Peace,

Padre Steve+

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Filed under christian life, faith, Pastoral Care, philosophy, PTSD, Religion

Looking Back at 30 Years of Commissioned Service

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I was going to write about the situation in Syria tonight but that will wait until tomorrow because June 19th is the 30th anniversary of my commissioning as a 2nd Lieutenant in the US Army. That was a long time ago. I had enlisted in the California Army National Guard in August of 1981 at the same time that I entered the Army ROTC program at UCLA.

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California Army National Guard 1982

Like most of my life I can admit that my military career, 17 1/2 years in the Army and another 14 1/2 in the Navy has been to quote Jerry Garcia “a long strange trip.” It has been eventful and it is not over. One interesting thing is because I spent about 10 years of my career in the Army National Guard and Army Reserve in a drill status I still am able to serve, probably until I reach age 58 or maybe even 60. If so my career will span early 40 years. Judy tells me that she doesn’t think I will retire until I am 60 which would be just under another 7 years.  That being said I can still crush the Navy Physical Fitness Test. I am still in the game.

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Berlin Wall (East Berlin) 1986

It is interesting what I have seen and where I have served. My career began back during the early days of the Reagan build up during the Cold War, not long after the Iranian Hostage Crisis, which was the catalyst for me volunteering even though the truth of the matter was that I wanted to serve in the military since I was a child. I was a Navy brat, my dad was a Chief Petty Officer and I loved that life.

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Germany 1984

I wanted to join the Navy out of high school but my parents convinced me to try college first, which I did, meeting my wife Judy my freshman year at San Joaquin Delta College in Stockton California. After that it was California State University at Northridge where I began the serious exploration of commissioning programs. I was actually accepted into the Air Force Program but turned it down, Judy told me that she wouldn’t marry me if I joined the Navy and the Navy ROTC program informed me that I would have to change my major to hard science, math or engineering to enter the ROTC program. So I asked who I could work with and they pointed me down the hall to the Army.

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Marriage to Judy 25 June 1983

That was the beginning. A long time ago in a galaxy far far away. When I was commissioned in 1983 this college history major was commissioned into the Medical Service Corps, the administrative and operational side of the Army Medical Department. That made a lot of sense, or maybe it didn’t but it did save me from a career as an Ordinance Corps Maintenance Officer or Adjutant General’s Officer Corps paper pusher, both tasks that the Army trained and assigned me to do as a Medical Service Corps officer.

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Company Commander 557th Medical Company (Ambulance) 1985

As a Medical Service Corps officer I attended my Medical Officer Basic Course, the Junior Officer Maintenance Corps, the NBC Defense Officer Corps, the Air Force Air Load Planner Course and the Military Personnel Officer course.

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Academy of Health Sciences 1987 with LTC Ike Adams who was largely responsible for redirecting my career and calling to be a Chaplain

I served as a platoon leader, company XO, company commander and Group level staff officer in Cold Wr Germany. I then served as the Brigade Adjutant for the Academy Brigade of the Academy of Health Sciences, where I also helped draft the personnel instruction regarding personnel infected with the HIV virus.

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Army Chaplain School August 1990 with LTC Rich Whaley and CPT Bill Blacky

I left active duty to attend seminary in 1988 and joined the texas Army National Guard, initially as an Armor Corps officer serving as the Adjutant for an Armored battalion, until the State Chaplain found out and demanded that I be transferred to the Chaplain Candidate Program which I entered in 1990. I was at the Chaplain Officer Basic Course in August 1999 when Saddam Hussein invaded Kuwait and the war ended just before our unit was to be mobilized for service. Technically Chaplain candidates can’t be mobilized, but one of the full time Guard personnel technician Warrant Officers in Austin kept me on the rolls for mobilization purposes as a Medical Service officer. But like I said the war ended, I graduated from seminary and was ordained and became a chaplain in 1992. I completed the Chaplain Officer Advanced Course and after completing my Pastoral Care Residency at Parkland Memorial Hospital in 1994 took a chaplain job in Huntington West Virginia where I transferred to the Virginia Army National Guard and once promoted to Major transferred to a local Army Reserve unit.

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Exchange Officer with German Army at Panzer School 

That was a turn of events that got me mobilized to support the Bosnia mission in 1996 and allowed me to serve supporting a number of units and military communities in Germany. Upon my return to the states and no civilian employment I served as the final Federal Chaplain at fort Indiantown Gap Pennsylvania. When that assignment ended I went back to West Virginia.

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Mt Fuji Japan and Panmunjom Korea 2001

Just before Christmas 1998 I got a call from my bishop telling me that the Navy was willing to consider me for active duty. Remembering Judy’s admonition that she would not marry me if I joined the Navy I did it without asking her. Not a smart thing, she was quite pissed because had I bothered to consult her she probably would have said yes, but the way I did it devalued her. Likewise she was sort of looking forward to the time I hit 20 years in the reserves so she wouldn’t have to lose me all the time to the military.

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Korea DMZ PT Session

Long story short. The Navy took me and I took a reduction in rank to come on active duty. One day I was a Major in the Army Reserve and the next a Navy Lieutenant. I was given a choice of assignments. I wanted to serve on a ship. I was given the choice of Marines or Marines. So I chose Marines and after completing the Navy Chaplain Office Basic course I reported to the Second Marine Division where I served as the “relief pitcher” for the division Chaplain, whenever someone got in trouble or was transferred without a relief in place I went in like a baseball relief pitcher. I deployed with 3rd Battalion 8th Marines to Okinawa, Japan and Korea. I was at Camp LeJeune on 9-11-2001 and in December 2001 reported to the USS Hue City CG-66 in Mayport Florida deploying shortly thereafter to support Operation Enduring Freedom.

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USS Hue City Operation Enduring Freedom

In October 2003 I reported to the Marine Security Force Battalion (now Regiment) and travelled the world in support of those Marines, spending between 1-3 weeks a month on the road. That was an amazing assignment because it gave me a global perspective of the Navy Marine Corps mission traveling frequently to the Middle East, Europe, Asia, Guantanamo Bay Cuba and various locations in the United States. While in that billet I completed the Marine Corps Command and Staff College and my Fleet Marine Force Officer qualification and was promoted to Lieutenant Commander. After that I went to EOD Group 2 and from there was sent to Iraq as an Individual Augment to support advisors to the Iraqi 1st and 7th Divisions, 2nd Border Brigade, Highway Patrol and Police in Al Anbar Province working under the authority of the Iraq Assistance Group and II Marine Expeditionary Force Forward.

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Iraq 2007-2008

I came back from Iraq in pretty bad shape but consider it the pinnacle of my operational ministry as a Chaplain that I would not trade for anything. Since I have written much about it I will not say more about it in this article. From EOD I was transferred to Naval Medical Center Portsmouth and after being selected for Commander in 2010 was transferred to Naval Hospital Camp LeJeune as the command chaplain. This tour was as a geographic bachelor and every couple of weeks I drove back to Virginia.

Now in a couple of months I will be reporting to be the Ethics Faculty and Chaplain at the Joint Forces Staff College in Norfolk.

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Various scenes top to bottom with General Peter Pace, teaching Marines at Normandy, with Secretary of State Madeline Albright 2005 Spain, with German office in Jordan 2007, Scottish Highlands with US Marines and Royal Marine Commandos 2005, Jordan River 2007, Belleau Wood France 2004, Guantanamo Bay Cuba 2003 or 2004

There have been highs and lows in my career and a few times that I thought that I wasn’t going to survive. But of all the things that I value in serving this country are the people that I have served with, Army, Navy, Marines and others including allied officers. I have met a lot of wonderful people, quite a few of whom I still stay in contact with despite the distance and years.

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With FAST Marines in Bahrain 2004 or 2005, Easter Sunday 2002 aboard USS Hue City and aboard USS Hue City with USS John F Kennedy CV-67 in background.

While I value my service in the Army, because it is a big part of my life I echo President John F Kennedy who said “I can imagine no more rewarding a career. And any man who may be asked in this century what he did to make his life worthwhile, I think can respond with a good deal of pride and satisfaction: ‘I served in the United States Navy.'”

Until tomorrow,

Peace

Padre Steve+

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It’s what you learn after you know it all that counts-Thoughts on 26 Years of Commissioned Service

2LT Dundas 1983

When I Knew Everything: Me in August 1983 following completion of the Medical Service Corps Officer Basic Course

“It’s what you learn after you know it all that counts.” Earl Weaver

When I was commissioned as a Second Lieutenant in the US Army back in 1983 I knew that I was quite possibly the smartest new Lieutenant in the Army.  In fact in just a few days I will celebrate the anniversary of that auspicious occasion as I do most occasions by going to Harbor Park where I will see the Tides play the Lehigh Valley Iron Pigs, AAA affiliate of the Phillies. But anyway, back to how smart that I thought I was back then.  I graduated from my Medical Service Corps Officer Basic Course fairly high in my class without really trying too hard, had a pretty easy time at the Junior Officer Maintenance Course.  However, those were schools and anybody with half a brain can tell you that going to school is kind of like artificial real life.  Yeah, you may be doing the living and breathing stuff, sucking up food and band width, but it is not real life.  If you show up on time, read a little bit and take good notes you pass and move along.

However, real life has a tendency to take the smartest of the book smart people and kick their ass.  Sometimes it takes a while but young guys in the military who think they know more than old dudes who have served on all kinds of places and been to combat.  When I was the young guy there were still a fair amount of men who had served in Vietnam and even a few from Korea still in service.  Now these guys were a mixed bag.  Some had seen better days and were on what we referred to as the ROAD (Retired On Active Duty) program.  Others though were totally professional and absolutely committed to the Army and their soldiers, guys like SFC Harry Zilkan, 1SG Jim Koenig and Colonel Donald Johnson. These men were amazing, and even some of the ROAD program soldiers and officers still knew a lot more than I knew at that point.

When I got to Germany I can say that there were a number of occasions where as a young officer I had my ass handed to me, even when I was right.  I’m not going to go into ugly details but it suffices to say that a good number of those times I got what I deserved because I was arrogant and not nearly as smart as I thought I was.  I was like a rookie pitcher thinking that my stuff was unhittable and finding out that guys who had played in the show for a long time had seen it all before.  It was in Germany that I found that while I had good stuff that I wasn’t savvy enough to know when to change my stuff up or when to take the hint not to keep pushing my luck.  I was kind of like Ebby Clavin LaLoosh in Bull Durham in wanting to do what I wanted to do.

tim_robbins_kevin_costner_bull_durham_001I want to give him the heat and announce my presence with authority!

Crash calls for a curve ball, Ebby shakes off the pitch twice]
Crash Davis: [stands up] Hey! HEY!
[walks to meet Ebby at the mound]
Crash Davis: Why are you shaking me off?
Ebby Calvin LaLoosh: [Gets in Crash’s face] I want to give him the heat and announce my presence with authority!
Crash Davis: Announce your f***ing presence with authority? This guy is a first ball, fast ball hitter!
Ebby Calvin LaLoosh: Well he hasn’t seen my heat!
Crash Davis: [pauses] Allright meat, show him your heat.
[Walks back towards the box]
Crash Davis: [to the batter] Fast ball.

[after Ebby didn’t listen to Crash, and the ball became a home run]
Ebby Calvin LaLoosh: You told him didn’t you?
Crash Davis: Yup.

bull-durham after home run

You having fun yet?

That was me as a young officer.  You would think that I would have learned, but after I became a Army Chaplain I did the same damned thing.  Now admittedly it was not in the units that I served in, but my hotheadedness still got me in trouble especially when I decided to challenge guys who had been around a long longer than me and who were a lot more savvy than me.  I had no idea how cunning and brutal some chaplains could be despite having good warning from my XO and Brigade commander at the Academy of Health Sciences, LTC Jim Wigger.  LTC Wigger pulled me aside one day shortly before I left active duty to go to seminary.  He told me “Steve, I know that you think that the Medical Service Corps can be political and vicious, we can’t hold a candle to the Chaplain Corps.”  I should have listened to him. He was right, a lot of those guys were political animals and had no problem taking down or destroying a young chaplain if they thought that they needed to do so.  I got whacked pretty hard a number of times as a young Army Chaplain, but was fortunate that people who knew me and saw potential in me gave me some top cover and protection.  Not everyone gets this.  The Deity Herself must have taken an interest in my career to ensure that there were some guys around to save me from me. Chaplain Rich Whaley did this for me at the Chaplain school on a number of occasions even the time that I got thrown out of the Chaplain Officer Advanced Course (See one of my previous posts to read about this one.)

[Mechanized bull noises in background]
Crash Davis: Well, he really hit the shit outta that one, didn’t he?
[laughs]
Ebby Calvin LaLoosh: [softly, infuriated] I held it like an egg.
Crash Davis: Yeah, and he scrambled the son of a bitch. Look at that, he hit the f***ing bull! Guy gets a free steak!
[laughs]
Crash Davis: You having fun yet?
Ebby Calvin LaLoosh: Oh, yeah. Havin’ a blast.
Crash Davis: Good.
[pause]
Ebby Calvin LaLoosh: God, that sucker teed off on that like he knew I was gonna throw a fastball!
Crash Davis: He did know.
Ebby Calvin LaLoosh: How?
Crash Davis: I told him.

Thankfully by the time I had spent 17 ½ years in the Army I had learned my lessons.  By the time I got to the Navy I had pretty much discovered when and under what circumstances that I could push things.  I had learned the hard way in the Army.  I finally learned that I didn’t know nearly as much as I thought I did.  In fact when I went to the Navy I came in at a lower rank that my Army rank and took no constructive credit to try to get promoted sooner.  I went in with no time in grade to make sure that I got the experience that I needed on the Navy and Marine side.  When doing this I took the time to learn the nuances that made the work of a chaplain different in the Sea Services than in the Army.  While there are similarities even the similarities are often different.  These different similarities can kill you if you think that you’re smarter than everyone else.

I’m now coming up to 26 years of commissioned service and soon to 28 total years of service.  I’m now a lot more like Crash Davis than Ebby Calvin “Nuke” LaLoosh.  In fact now I try to make sure the young guys chaplains and non-chaplains alike don’t get themselves in unnecessary trouble by assuming that they know more than they do.  I have a dear friend who is an Army Chaplain. In his first three years in the Army he has won two Bronze Stars in Iraq.  He will probably be medically retired soon because of a rare pulmonary and respiratory problem that he developed in Iraq.  He was initially supposed to come in the Navy, until just before his care board met a washed up ROAD program chaplain supervising him on an OJT tour decided to torpedo him.   It was crushing to my friend.  He would have been a great Navy and Marine Corps Chaplain.  I helped him recover and assisted him going to the Army.  In his formation I used to require him to watch baseball movies and read books about baseball, and like Crash Davis I would call him “Meat.”  The guy is a gem; the Army is going to lose a superstar when he is medically retired.

Anyway, my mission now is to help the young guys along and continue to keep myself both in the game and always learn something new to keep me sharp and to help others. It’s like Master Yogi once said “In baseball you don’t know nothing.”  I’m sure that the Deity Herself would agree.

Peace, Steve+

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Let’s Not Do Dumb Things

Back in the day when I was a young Army Medical Service Corps Brigade Personnel Officer, I had a Brigade Commander whose moniker was “Let’s not do dumb things.” The man was a really good commanding officer.  He was down to earth and cared about the troops being trained at our command.  He was a common sense kind of commander and was not terribly difficult to work for.  One day however my C.O. came in with stitches on his head.  It turned out that my C.O. and broken his own rule.  He was out with the Undersecretary of Defense for Health Affairs, the Army Surgeon General, a couple of other American Generals as well as a host of Colonels, hosting a bunch of Chinese Generals for a diplomatic-military dinner.  My C.O. who was a beer drinker decided to do the hard stuff that night.  He got flat assed drunk, made vulgar and derogatory comments to the Chinese guests and then went to the head (latrine, bathroom, WC, or powder room  for non-Navy types) fell, hit his head on a urinal and knocked himself out.  That mornig he was fired.  Not by our Commanding General, not by the Major Command, or even by the Army Chief of Staff.  No he was fired by then SECDEF Casper Weinberger.  When fired he was 2 months short of completing his command tour.  His reputation was destroyed and he retired quietly and without fanfare a few months later.

Now I know that we all are inclined to do dumb things at one time or another.  This is due to my doctrine of “the Total Stupidity of Man.” Sometimes the dumb things that we do are simply minor infractions which Phil the Prince of Insufficient Light will darn us to Heck as punishment.   Other times they really get us into big time serious trouble. Sometimes we do dumb things and somehow get away with them either because no-one noticed or because someone was gracious enough not to blast us out of the water for them.  Sometimes being lucky is better than being good. The key here is not to keep doing them until they are noticed and when we get blasted out of the water.

This was the case for me when I was a young Army Chaplain.  Back when I got thrown out of the Army Chaplain Officer Advanced Course, I can honestly say that I did a number of dumb things.  The consequences were relatively minor although embarrassing and I am forever grateful to Chaplain Rich Whaley for bailing my sorry ass out of the bind which I found myself.  Damn, you say.  Padre Steve got thrown out of the Chaplain advanced course.  Yes he did and it was dumb.  You see I was selected to go to the advanced course when I was still an SS Officer.  No, no, no, not Waffen-SS, but the Army Staff Specialist branch.  It is a branch set up for officers training to be Chaplains or JAG Corps.  In seminary I had already done the Chaplain Officer Basic Course where I was the assistant course leader for 159 chaplains and seminarians.  I had not come off active duty too long before this and was still very undeveloped as a clergyman.  I was however not far from being a Company Commander and Brigade Staff Officer.  My emotions often overflowed as I saw chaplains do things that in the rest of the Army that you would be crucified for doing, much like Jesus without any salvific purpose.  Once in the Basic Course I had a young seminarian tell me that he didn’t have to obey orders from the student chain of command because his class adviser, a Major in the Chaplain Corps told him so.  He snottily told me that Chaplain so and so was a Major and that I was only a Captain.  Resiting the temptation to rip the young man’s throat from his neck, I said “We’ll see about that Lieutenant.  I then went up threw my cover across the milquetoast Chaplain’s office, blasted him on the chain of command and how it worked.  I told him in pretty rough language that he was going to get people killed. As I ranted he  tried to hide behind his desk and others in the outer office dove for cover I stopped and said: “Thanks so much sir, now I have to go to confession. ”  I then went and told Rich that “I cussed out so and so.”  Rich stammered, “You did what?”  I then explained the situation that Chaplain so and so had told a Lieutenant that he didn’t have to obey orders from the student chain of command.  Rich then said “He did what?” and told me that he would handle it.  He made the incident go away. That too was a dumb thing, I should have gone to Rich in the first place, but I was young and dumb.  Anyway, moving on there was also the time in a class that another seminarian had me so pissed that I stormed out of the classroom and was in the hallway ripping my pin on rank off my collar.  My dear friend Father Jim Bowman who commiserated with me the entire length of the course, and who I still stay in contact with grabbed me.  Father Bowman asked: “What the hell do you think that you are doing?”  I “Yelled back, I’m done, this isn’t the Army that I joined!”  Jim jammed my collar devices back into my collar and said, “You can’t leave.” I said “Why?”  Jim said “Because I can’t leave and you won’t either.”  It was like Stripes where Bill Murray tried to escape boot camp and Harold Ramis tacked him and kept him from leaving.  I think that they exchanged similar words.

Boy I chased a rabbit there…going back to the Advanced course.  I was still an SS Officer, not that kind of SS Officer but the Staff Specialist like I told you before.  So anyway, I showed up orders in hand as well as a letter from the previous Director of Training signed on behalf of the previous Commandant of the School authorizing me to be there.  Unfortunately for me there was a new sheriff in town.  The new Commandant denied me entrance into the course.  His reasoning was that though my Chaplain paperwork was sitting on a desk in DC awaiting the final stamp of approval that since there was a chance that my application could be denied that he didn’t want me there.  Who knows, maybe he got wind of my previous antics.  I was pissed.  Actually I think that most of of us who attended the  Chaplain School spent the better part of our time pissed about something.  However, instead of being smart,  I threw a Billy Martin type of home plate argument and was tossed.  Thankfully they didn’t stop me from becoming a Chaplain and they allowed me to come back for the course a couple of months later.  This was likely again due to the intervention of Rich Whaley.  Rich saw in me potential to do good.  I was like “Wild Thing” in Major League. Rich helped get me straightened out.  A couple of years later I was promoted to Major.  Then I took it off to come in the Navy in 1999.  The point is that I did a number of seriously dumb things that could have gotten me punished under the UCMJ and or thrown out of the Army.  I’m grateful as hell that Rich was there to save my ass.  A lot of people don’t get that kind of support and protection and do get hammered.  I was lucky beyond belief.  I lived to tell about it.  Many don’t.  My job now is to help young guys and gals not step on the same land mines that I did.

I’m not going to go through the list of idiotic things that I have seen other Chaplains do in the Army and Navy.  I could but that would that would be unseemly.  What I will mention, based on my experience is that I had to learn a lot the hard way that I hope to keep young Chaplains and other Officers from trying them out themselves.  I don’t like to see fellow chaplains and  officers do things that embarrass them, their service  or hurt their life and careers. In the case of chaplains, God and the Church, or God and whatever religious organization that they belong.  Heck I won’t even put a Jesus Fish on the back of my car for fear that God might get the blame for something that I do on the road.

However, doing dumb things is not limited to chaplains or the clergy, though we do such things quite well thank you.  Others do them too.  Politicians, sports stars, business leaders and others do them as well.  I’ve noted a number of ways that I have done dumb things.  At the same time I hope to have learned from them.  I will and I’m sure that you my readers know that we will all do dumb things.  I’m not a fan of Calvin’s “Total Depravity of man” theology but I am pretty sure that there is a “Total Stupidity of man”  which you can make a great case for from the triad of Scripture, Tradition and Reason.  In fact I am positive that the Deity Herself even tonight has kept me from writing some really dumb things.

So let’s not do dumb things.  Pray for me a sinner,

Peace,

Steve+

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