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To Iraq and Back: A Bus Ride to Carolina

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This is another installment of my To Iraq and Back series.

My CRV with Judy in it pulled away and Nelson and I went about our business. We staged our gear as we waited for the buses to arrive to take us to Fort Jackson South Carolina where we were to receive our training for the deployment.  As we talked other sailors arrived and soon the gear of over 100 sailors was stacked in rows of sea bags just off of the sidewalk.

Nelson’s parents, brother and sister had come to see him off.  His brother is a Navy First Class Petty Officer. His dad a former Vietnam era Marine Recon NCO who made several deployments “in the shit” as many Vietnam vets call tours in that combat zone.  They were really nice folks. Over the years I had heard much about them. They are close to each other and all are supportive of Nelson.

Nelson is a career amateur boxer; kick boxer, martial artist and more recently MMA fighter. He is active in children’s martial arts instruction and has been on Team USA and fought internationally.  During his previous deployment to Afghanistan he helped coach the fledgling Afghan National Boxing Team. A couple of months before this deployment he won the Arnold Schwarzenegger Classic.

So we waited while the other sailors gathered, some individually and some with family.  Some stood alone as couples while others mingled with each other.  For most this was a new way to see their sailor deploy.  No pier side goodbyes, no banners, no manning the rails by the crew as the ship was nudged away from the pier by tugs.

When you have a “normal” deployment of a ship or something like a Marine battalion it is a big deal. Many times media is there, sometimes there are speeches, but most of all there is the understanding that we are all in this together. We are going in as a unit.

In such times families say goodbye to their Sailors, Marines or Soldiers who are going to war together.  When you deploy as a unit there is familiar support system for the families we leave behind. This is not so when you deploy individually.  Those leaving on this day were very much strangers. We would train together, but few would stay together on the deployment.

If you are a ship or unit chaplain and deploy with your people there is a relationship. Generally you know each other, in this case we were strangers.  I was going to war with Nelson but we would not remain with any sailors we were with today when we got to Iraq. This was also the case for others who would serve in isolated posts, mostly working with the Army in support roles. Some would serve in specialized roles such as the Electronic Warfare Officers detailed to work on defeating IEDs and roadside bombs.

As others said their goodbyes and hugged each other I thought of Judy and knew that she was going to be down for some time but I felt that for once that she had an adequate support network. I was right about her being down for a while but this deployment would be harder on her than others and the support network proved woefully inadequate. So much for assumptions.

I looked at our gear as opposed to the others. Our gear was in large and rectangular bags of coyote or sand color. Most everyone else had traditional green sea bags, or what are known in the Army as “duffle bags.”  We already had our personal protective equipment of the EOD/Special Warfare type while others would receive Army issue at Fort Jackson. There are pros and cons to such a arrangement.  The pro is that we had great gear certainly some of the best in theater. The con was that we had to lug the great gear everywhere we went going to and coming back from war.  This would get old, but the benefits do outweigh the advantages when you are actually in a combat zone.

Finally an officer came out and began calling role and giving us our signed “official” orders.  After this we loaded our gear on the buses that would take us to Fort Jackson. These were the first of many buses we would ride and the first of many roll calls and gear load outs in the coming months.

Nelson and I got on the same bus which was not full and took seats near the front.  I got a seat alone because I was the senior officer on the bus and a chaplain to boot. This was not because I asked for it or hogged the seat.  It is actually fairly typical in such a setting where young enlisted guys don’t want to sit next to an officer they don’t know and some are afraid of chaplains because of experiences that they have had in civilian churches.

Many of the sailors had ever darkened the door of a church and many of those that have been in church have been burned in relationships with pastors or religious people.  I have found that many times, even those with a vibrant faith are hesitant to approach a chaplain that they do not know. Some are afraid that the chaplain might try to convert them be judgmental about of the manner in which they live their lives. So as a chaplain I try to be cognizant of this and be friendly and caring without scaring them away.  Of course I did build relationships with a quite a number of these sailors during the next few weeks but on this bus ride I was still an unknown quantity to them.

Sitting alone however was good for me since I general despise bus travel regardless of the company I keep.  For some reason my height works against me, I can never get my feet comfortably on the ground on these new tour buses and I have a terrible time getting comfortable.  Since bus travel takes forever to get anywhere the discomfort is palpable. Now I did a three month tour on buses in 1979 while touring as a spotlight tech for the Continental Singers and Orchestra across the US and in Europe.  Somehow the old Greyhound buses were more comfortable than the new tour buses.  Maybe I’m just nostalgic but they somehow fit people like me better than the fancy new buses.

When you travel by bus with a bunch of sailors, the majority of whom are at least 20 years younger than you, the experience can be entertaining. Part of course is a generational thing. I grew up and came of age the 60’s 70’s and 80’s. The majority of these sailors from the 90’s and 2000’s.

The trip was a chance for me to observe a lot about these sailors just by watching.  Some had their portable i-pods and MP-3 players going, others spent time talking on cell phones, a few read or talked among themselves, but the sailors near me gravitated to the DVD movie which was 300 the comic book style account of the Spartan’s defense of Thermopylae against the Persians.  As the Spartans made their stand I could see the young sailors who were going to war take inspiration from King Leonditis of Sparta.   Since we were going into a place where 50-100 Americans a month were being killed and hundreds more wounded I could understand the need for inspiration along with entertainment.

The bus ride itself was a lot like what I imagine that Minor League teams take in the Carolina League. Our journey reminded me of the bus rides in the movie Bull Durham.  The older guys staying pretty quiet and to themselves and the young guys having fun, playing games and joking around with each other,  We made a couple of stops, one at some little Interstate town with a fair amount of gas stations and a few fast food places.  About half the sailors went to the McDonalds while the rest ran down the street to the Burger King and Taco Bell. Once everyone had their fill the buses pulled back out onto the interstate.

When we finally got near Columbia the buses got of the Interstate highway and onto some small two lane state highway.  We drove down this road about twenty to thirty minutes and pulled into what appeared to be a tiny out of the way base. I wondered where the hell we were. Fort Jackson is a fairly large training base where thousands of recruits are trained every year.  Where we were certainly was not the Fort Jackson that I had imagined.

Instead of the main post we were at the South Carolina National Guard training facility called Camp McCready.  It is here that the Naval Expeditionary Combat Command has a training center set up with the Army to train sailors in basic combat tasks.

Our welcome that first night was simple.  We formed up, checked in, got our linens for our standard issue military beds and were marched to dinner at the chow hall or in the Army vernacular the DFAC by our newest and bestest buddies, our Army Drill Sergeants.  We were met at the DFAC by a civilian.  I can’t remember his name but this guy was most congenial and he put the RED in “Redneck.” He joked with everyone that came through the line, asked where people were from and what they did.  When he found out that I was a chaplain he began to ask me for a joke every meal thereafter. As such nearly every meal would be entertaining.

As Nelson and I sat down for chow with a couple of other sailors we looked at each other.  He said: “Boss I don’t think some of these guys know what is coming.”  I said “I think that your right partner, hopefully they adjust and do well.”  The other sailors, both more senior petty officers nodded in agreement.

Going back to the barracks I met some of the other officers enjoying their first night at Camp McCready.  More sailors from NMPS San Diego were due in later. I introduced myself to a number of the officers near me and engaged in some rather surface pleasantries. When lights out was called lay down on the same type of Army bunk bed that I had first encountered some twenty five years before at Camp Roberts California and Fort Lewis Washington.  I swear the sheets, blankets and pillowcases were of the same vintage.

Much was still on my mind when I laid down and my mind was still thinking about the trip to base with Judy and the final kiss goodbye. I was troubled by it and how I had handed things. Despite that I fell asleep fairly quickly. It had been a long day and coupled with the lack of sleep and stress of the previous couple of days I was tired.

Peace

Padre Steve+

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Filed under iraq,afghanistan, Military, ministry, Pastoral Care, to iraq and back, Tour in Iraq, US Navy

Padre Steve’s Flashback to Early Contemporary Christian Music

Me, top row 3rd from right with Continental Singers Tour G 1979 at Mount Rushmore

I became an active Christian a few years after what is now called ContemporaryChristian Music came on the scene.  Back then it was simple called “Jesus Music.”  Over the last 35 years or so I have seen this genre of Christian music morph from a small segment of the music scene to a rather large and profitable industry. I really don’t listen to too much of the new stuff in fact unless the artist was around in the late 1970s or early 1980s I probably wouldn’t know anything about them or their music.

In those days it was still possible to hang out with groups when they came into town. In 1979 the group The Sweet Comfort Band came to my hometown, Stockton California for a series of concerts in local high schools (God forbid this happen today) culminating with a Friday night concert at one of the larger churches in town.  The guys were down to earth and real and talked about real life, even movies not just church.  That was eye opening because it kind of blew away my idea that “Christian” artist were somehow a step above the rest of us.  These guys showed me that Christians could be down to earth and able to relate to people.  I was able to meet others at the 1979 Continental Singers rehearsal camp as I prepared to go as a Spotlight Technician with the Continental Singers Tour G.

When this genre of music first came out the record labels that carried the new contemporary artists were either labels that had previously carried gospel singers such as Word and Light and start ups such as Maranatha! Music, Sparrow/Birdwing Music and Larry Norman’ Solid Rock Records.  When larger secular labels discovered that there was money to be made they acquired most of these labels giving them more visibility but I think less independence than they had previously.

The music was as diverse and the artists performing the songs, everything from rock and country rock, to jazz and middle of the road music.  Some artists had been successful secular recording artists before becoming Christians or rediscovering the faith that they had grown up with.  The music varied in quality, some groups were very good and even pushed the edges of artistic license allowed in Evangelical Christianity while others were not that good and were pushed into the limelight because they had long hair and played guitars.  Some of the bands such as Love Song would achieve a certain status in Contemporary Christian music that long outlived the length of time that they were in existence.  Some bands were one album wonders while some like Daniel Amos remained together for many years.

As the genre grew a sub-genre of contemporary praise and worship music grew out of Calvary Chapel beginning with an album called The Praise Album. These were simple worship songs that small groups especially youth groups and college age groups could easily sing with just a guitar. They fit what John Wesley said about hymns was that they must be easily sung and not complicated.  As such they grew in popularity and many other churches and recording labels got in on the game in opinion saturating the market with music that is only remarkable in its poor quality and insipid theology.  The theology in most of the early songs was simple, based around Jesus and God’s love and not written to advance quasi politic agendas. There was not the warlike quality of many of today’s so called “worship music.”  I know that some will rake me over the coals for this but I have a hard time calling something worship when it is nothing more than a rally or fight song.  Some of these early songs are here: Freely, Freely http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bCLconoyX9I As the Deer http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mvQwvDfY5dk&p=90917541439498D0&playnext=1&index=82 In His Time http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Pjab00qQG3k&feature=related, Karen Lafferty’s Seek Ye First http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9LMQfOp9w8k&feature=related The Servant King http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DwIukabdw3E and the Spirit Song http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KqkvIhs7Ijg

But in this essay I’m going to go back in time and look at some of the early artists and their music beginning in the early 1970s and ending in the mid-1980s.  This is kind of an arbitrary line because in 1984 I left the United States for a three year tour with the Army in Germany where I lost track of most of what was going on in Christian music and when I returned did not find the newer artists as much to my liking.  For me it was simply a matter of musical preference.  It is hard to find much of this music now. Many songs were only on LPs and produced in limited quantities. Since many were obscure and this was before the digital age very few video recordings exist for many groups.  As such some people have taken audios and mixed them with slide shows or videos or the videos are from “reunion” type concerts 20-30 years after the songs were first introduced.

The revolution in Christian music began in Costa Mesa California at a little country church called Calvary Chapel. The church made the effort to reach the “hippies” that hung around the beach towns including many musicians. The group Love Song was perhaps the first group to reach any form of national prominence and their songs such as Little Country Church http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yZkWrn9SXwo&feature=related, and Two Hands http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fW12P7upc6o&feature=related became early examples of how the music could be popular and contemporary.  The lead singer of the group Chuck Girard went solo and made a number of albums but Rock and Roll Preacher was one of his signature songs. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=A_I3R3tC6Rk&feature=related

Other Calvary Chapel Groups that recorded on the new Maranatha! Music lable included the Children of the Day who released For those Tears I Died http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Np8GJGZ3Vv8 Mustard Seed Faith who released Sail on Sailor http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BPDAC4-ZkEc&feature=related the country rock band Bethlehem and Desert Song http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OMkpLzomcxM&feature=related as well as Bill Sprouse and The Road Home who had one song that made the group before Sprouse died, the song  Psalm 5 http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4gJ2XPDf_jE and The Way who produced two albums under Marantha one of their songs being Song of Joy http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=77Le6G63eZY .

Two other groups Daniel Amos and the Sweet Comfort Band also hailed from the early days of Maranatha Music.  Both groups endured and although they had different music styles they could both have fun with their music as well as make provocative statements about the church and how Christians related to society.  Daniel Amos initially was a country rock band with a sound somewhat similar to the Eagles.  They would retain some of this but moved on to some of the more cutting edge New Wave Rock styles of the 1980s.  Their signature album was Shotgun Angel a country rock album with a side two that was a mini concert about the Second Coming of Christ from a Pre-Tribulation Dispensational theology understanding, an understanding that was quite common in the groups of that day. That album included Black Gold Fever,  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yZkWrn9SXwo&feature=related, Shotgun Angel http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zFD8_-v4bhw&feature=related, Posse in the Sky http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hwa5gep9CBc&feature=related and Fall in Your Father’s Arms http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kOTar60srFg&feature=related.  Their First Album include one of my favorite songs of the ear I Ain’t Gonna Fight it http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=intea3oCcDk Later releases include the albums Horrendous Disc and Alarma! The song I Believe in You http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OMkpLzomcxM&feature=related from Horrendous Disc and Walls of Doubt http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sbFTcGAAQkk&feature=related from Alarma! Interestingly enough Daniel Amos is considered by some to be one of the best bands from a creativity standpoint in the 1980s Christian or secular.  The group stayed together and after they broke up Terry Taylor the leader of the group formed other bands including The Swirling Eddies and the Lost Dogs. One of the more interesting songs of the Swirling Eddies is Hide the Beer the Pastor’s Herehttp://www.youtube.com/watch?v=b74VWclpH6c which deals with some of the hypocrisy of some Christians who will condemn someone for drinking yet excuse all sorts of other unseemly behaviors.

A second group from the Maranatha label was the Sweet Comfort Band. This band led by Bryan Duncan and Randy Thomas had a light jazz and rock style that featured Randy Thomas Jazz Guitar and brothers Kevin Thompson’s Alembic 5 string bass guitar and Rick Thompson’s drums.  The group produced a number of albums before they broke up in the late 1980s with Bryan Duncan going solo. They have on occasion gotten together in reunion concerts though Kevin Thomas died in May of this year.  Their first album Sweet Comfort which came out on the Maranatha label included Childish Things http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6R8wY0DCI3A&feature=related When I was Alone http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sbFTcGAAQkk&feature=related It’s so Fine http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=igp9WJ7QLUE&feature=related and Get Ready http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-EhcPuwBvZg where Kevin had a great bass solo.  They left Maranatha and signed with Light Music where they made a number of albums including Breakin’ the Ice which featured Breakin’ the Ice http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RJ4cddT0Eh0&p=20C05334BBE82D2F&playnext=1&index=1, Good Felling http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lJWwcRYT1p4 and Got to Believe http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=M3x7Myegr24 Other later albums featured songs like Ride the Tide http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=c8oSc7jY288&feature=related

The interesting thing was that many Christians had a hard time with both Daniel Amos and the Sweet Comfort Band.  The members of SBC were frequently berated for their jazz, rock, funk style by Christians who felt that the style was “of the Devil” and both groups frequently played for free on places like the Sunset Strip because they felt it was more important to play for non-believers than believers. Wow, imagine that? When one looks at much of what is called “Contemporary Christian Music” now these groups stand in stark contrast. They were not playing for the approval and entertainment of Christians.

Other artists emerged outside of Calvary Chapel, some who had been successful in their own right prior to becoming Christians such as Barry McGuire who had been with Credence Clearwater Revival, had been in the musical Hair and had his own hit Eve of Destruction for which he is best known.  McGuire’s music is harder to find online and much of what is now available comes from a series of concerts with Peter York, Phil Keaggy, Terry Talbot and others on the music of the 1960s.  However Eve of Destruction http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ntLsElbW9Xo and his post conversion song Calling me Home http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hxoRzqZnP98&feature=related make for interesting listening. Barry still tours and is still entertaining. I remember seeing him a number of times in Sacramento in the late 1970s at a church called The Warehouse.


McGuire recorded on the Sparrow label founded by Buck Herring.  The label also featured the long lived Second Chapter of Acts who performed such memorable songs as Mansion Builder http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EmxcotW-O0w and the Easter Song. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5gggPpVtEKQ&feature=related,

and Keith Green the Jewish convert to Christianity who wrote Make my Life a Prayer to You http://vodpod.com/watch/2188390-keith-green-make-my-life-a-prayer-to-you-subtitles He’ll take Care of the Rest http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gAe0q21YgTQ&feature=related, The Victor http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Wil0PBylyW0&feature=related and When I Hear the Praises Start http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fIgVU_5FsqA&feature=related. Green would produce many songs that have endured among his fans and those that wound never see him in person.  Green had a hard edge to his message and died in a private plane crash with two of his children in the summer of 1982.  His wife Melody carries on his musical legacy.

Another artist on the label was John Michale Talbot who along with his brother Terry had been founding members of the group Mason Proffit before becoming Christians.  John Michael produced two albums on the label before his conversion to Roman Catholicism where he became a lay Franciscan.  He remained on the label for years producing albums which helped introduce a generation of contemporary Christian listeners to the liturgy and Catholic spirituality.  His album The Lord’s Supper was a breakthrough as he adapted music from the Mass into a beautiful album.  His adaptation of the Apostle’s Creed http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NxACNt-QRAo was amazing in its musical style and difficulty and his Holy is His Name http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9aYecuDlDYM is an enduring classic.  Talbot’s brother Terry also recorded on Sparrow one song which is entitled No Longer Alone. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xR0KBRO-e7g

Other artists included Larry Norman who might be considered the first Christian rocker and Randy Stonehill who recorded on Norman’s Solid Rock label. Norman is best known for his songs The Rock that Doesn’t Roll http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OzB638GRfJ0&feature=PlayList&p=44A2023098B233CF&index=0&playnext=1 I’d Wish we’d All Been Ready http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=X1FcTKNXlO0 and Why Should the Devil Have all the Good Music? http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kWh8-FPelHU&feature=related

His friend Randy Stonehill wrote songs like King of Hearts http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=n1Q0RO3yi8Y&feature=related, First Prayer http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QmhsY7NeFhM&feature=related Keep me Running http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zP2dB208ISI&feature=related and Song for Sarah. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=crDIHKaMwyA&feature=related Norman died in 2008 after a long illness and Stonehill has continued to produce often touching on topics that other Christian artists fear to tackle.

Guitarist Phil Keaggy has had a long and illustrious career in both Christian and secular music with his song Your Love Broke Through being among my favorites. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Wil0PBylyW0&feature=related

Paul Clark and Liberation Suite brought an English twist to the genre, this song Make a Joyful Noise was taped during their 1976 European tour http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vYfa4iQg8e4 while the Pat Terry Group produced You’d be There http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YWMBV0WoTeI&feature=related and Don Francisco recorded the classic He’s Alive! http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=o2slLdaK5Wg&feature=related Amy Grant produced many albums beginning in the late 1970s and still remains popular. Song’s like My Father’s Eyes http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YmOEJXNtF0E and El Shaddai http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KYcEHguYwtc&feature=related remain hits to this day.  Likewise Evie Tourquist (Karlsson) was incredibly popular, especially with young Christian guys in the mid to late 1970s and the song Pass it On http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jHQLRm_O9mU was a staple of many high school groups.

Other groups have passed into obscurity with their albums nearly impossible to find.  The early “Jesus Music” often produced in primitive studios was certainly sincere it varied in quality as well as theological content. At the same time the early artists pioneered new ways of expressing their faith in music which has influenced the music of churches that in the 1970s considered such music to still be “the Devil’s music.”  I could go on to write about other artists but most of those came later and really don’t fall into the early years that I am trying to limit this musical essay to, but the fact is that these artists as well as others changed Christian music.  The impact has been mixed while there is much positive in the music many Christians and churches threw out their musical and theological heritage in the rush to become more relevant. Likewise the absorption of Christian music labels into secular labels which were later acquired by multinational entertainment groups is not necessarily a good thing because those corporations are totally profit driven and undoubtedly influenced the content, theology and style of the music produced by current artists causing some of the older artists to become independents.

Padre Steve and Judy back in the Day

I guess in the long run we will see the fruit of this movement, the good and the bad and hopefully the good will outweigh the bad and maybe, just maybe the music will again be the music of the church and not merely of publishing houses that sell a product to churches.

Peace

Padre Steve+

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Filed under christian life, faith, music

Minor League Road Trips

grainger stadiumGrainger Stadium Kinston NC

“The one constant through all the years has been baseball. America has rolled by like an army of steamrollers. It’s been erased like a blackboard, rebuilt, and erased again. But baseball has marked the time. This field, this game, is a part of our past. It reminds us of all that once was good, and what could be again.” – James Earl Jones in Field of Dreams (1989)

There is something about baseball that is healing.  It is part of the fabric of our American culture something that somehow overcomes the political and religious divisions that so divide our country right now.  We were at Gordon Biersch watching the last couple of innings of a qualification game for the Little League World series between a team from Peabody Massachusetts and one from Rhode Island.  It was one of those magical games that ended with a walk-off Grand-Slam home run in the bottom of the 6th.  It triggered a flood of memories for me and ait got Judy, the Abby Normal Abbess and I talking about some of our own expereinces travelling the country and watching baseball.

I love the game of baseball especially going to a ballpark and seeing a game.  The experience of this for me has been life-long though difficult to continue from about 1983-1999 due to a tour in Germany with the Army a very difficult four years of seminary followed by residency, my first hospital job where I worked the second shift, a mobilized tour in Germany prior to coming in the Navy in early 1999.  During those years getting to games was a rare event, either due to time or money.  Despite this we as a couple got to a few games and I got in a couple on my own when traveling.  Thankfully, Judy, the Abby Normal Abbess tolerates and even joins me in my own baseball journey.

When I went into the Navy and moved to North Carolina that began to change.  North Carolina of course is the setting of the classic baseball movie Bull Durham and once can visit some of the same ballparks as are shown in the movie. The adventure of going to the ballpark again became a regular part of our lives.  It began in a little town in Eastern North Carolina called Kinston, the home of the Kinston Indians.  Kinston is a town that has seen better times, but the Indians, or the K-Tribe as they are known is part of the lifeblood of the community.  They play in Grainger Stadium, which though an older ballpark is still a great place to watch a game.  The Indians Carolina League which is advanced “A” ball and for a number of years dominated that League. When were stationed in Camp LeJeune we would make the trip to Kinston on a regular basis when I was in town. At the time the Indians farm system was producing a lot of great prospects, many who now are major leaguers, including Grady Sizemore, Jhonny Peralta Shane Victorino and Victor Martinez.  When we left LeJeune we were stationed a brief time in Jacksonville Florida, where we lived very close to the Baseball Grounds of Jacksonville, home of the Jacksonville Suns then the Los Angeles Dodgers AA affiliate in the Southern League.  The ballpark is a great venue to see a game and the Suns management led by Peter Bragan and Peter Bragan Jr. who are part of a great baseball family run a great show, and the Dodgers staff was a class organization.  I got to meet Tommy Lasorda in Jacksonville as well as Steve Yeager.  I have 2 game worn special issue jerseys from the Suns.  When we moved to Norfolk in 2003 the season was already over but beginning on opening day of 2004 I began to worship at the Church of Baseball, Harbor Park Parish.  This if you follow this site is the home of the Norfolk Tides.  Ever since then I have had the opportunity to see the game close up on a very regular basis.

In addition to attending the games near us we would travel and see other games. We would make trips down to Kinston from Virginia.  Once we went to a reunion of a singing group, the Continental Singers and Orchestra that I ran spotlight for back in 1979 which was being held in Kansas City.  On the way we saw a game in Louisville with the Louisville Bats, followed by a game in Cedar Rapids Iowa where we saw the Cedar Rapids Kernels play the Battle Creek Yankees and followed it with a trip to the “Field of Dreams” outside Dyersville, where that film was made.  Judy indulged me by playing catch with me on the field and taking my picture coming out of the cornfield.  It was almost; well it was a spiritual experience.  Occasionally when we visit Huntington West Virginia we try to see the West Virginia Power in Charleston.

Until I went to Iraq Judy and I used to take trips to Minor League ballparks around our Wedding anniversary.  We would take about four or five days and travel city to city to see some of the most fascinating baseball venues around.  We haven’t made a trip like that, even outside the wedding anniversary in a while mainly due to time as my much leave time has been spent going home to assist with my parents, especially the past 18 months where my dad’s Alzheimer’s Disease has progressed to the point of him being in a nursing home on palliative care.  Despite that I would always try to find time to see a game when in Stockton.  Before Iraq we would see the Stockton Ports in Billy Herbert Field.  The Ports now play in Banner Island Ballpark which is a great place to see a game.  If the Ports have not been in town we have occasionally been able to see the Giants, the A’s or the Sacramento River Cats, the AAA affiliate of the A’s.

The anniversary trips took us to some of the most interesting places to see games.  I have already mentioned Kinston where on one of our anniversaries we got to throw out the first pitch.  We have also travelled to Winston-Salem, when they were the Warthogs and Charlotte home of the Knights, the AAA affiliate of the White Sox.  Actually, Charlotte’s stadium is just down the road a way in Round Rock South Carolina.  We got rained out in Winston-Salem as a major storm hit at game time.  To our north we have been up to Frederick Maryland, home of the Frederick Keys, the Carolina League affiliate of the Orioles and Harrisburg Pennsylvania to see the Harrisburg Senators, the Montreal Expos-Washington Senators AA Eastern League affiliate at Metro-Bank Park on City Island.  This park was used in the movie Major League II as the Spring Training facility. There were two really cool things that happened at Harrisburg which was on our anniversary.  First we saw Phillies Slugger Ryan Howard about tear the cover off a ball hitting a double down the right field line and the General Manager had a ball autographed for us by the team.  That was really cool.  Likewise when Atlanta still had its Richmond affiliate, the Richmond Braves, we made a number of trips to “The Diamond” in Richmond.  This was the worst stadium I had ever watched a game in, though the team was always good.  We saw a playoff game there in 2004 between the Braves and the Columbus Clippers, who were then the Yankees AAA affiliate.  Sitting behind home plate I saw Jason Giambi play for the Clippers on a rehab assignment.

I have done some parks on my own when travelling.  Any time I have been on the road in baseball season and have the chance I try to see the local team if circumstances permit.  I have seen a number of games in the Pacific Northwest seeing two Seattle Mariners short season single A Northwest League affiliate the Everett Aquasox and AAA Pacific Coast League affiliate the Tacoma Rainiers.  Everett is an especially interesting place to see a game.  The games are well attended and the team management has some great promotions including “Frogfest” where the team wears tie-dyed jerseys and there is a kind of 1960s hippy theme.  The Rainiers play in Cheney Stadium in Tacoma.  In Tacoma I saw Mariners pitcher Felix Hernandez pitch his first AAA game. Both Everett and Tacoma are nice places to see a game.  While on the USS Hue City at the Maine Lobster Festival I worked a deal with festival organizers to get tickets for our sailors for two games watching the Portland Seadogs the AA affiliate of the Boston Red Sox.  When the Seadogs hit a home run a lighthouse rises up from behind the fence and a foghorn sounds.

However the two most interesting place that we have seen games together are Ashville North Carolina, the home of the Ashville Tourists and Zebulon North Carolina home of the Carolina Mudcats.  Ashville has quite a history with McCormack Field dating back until 1919.  The grandstand was rebuilt a number of years back, but the playing field is the same.  The outfield wall backs up into a tree covered hillside into which home runs hit at night almost seem to dissolve.   Zebulon is another matter.  The stadium is about a mile out of town surrounded by farm fields.  When you drive to it down US 64 from Raleigh the stadium almost seems to emerge from nowhere as if it were beamed down from a orbiting starship.  It is a fairly new stadium and very modern a great place to see a game.  We went there to see the Mudcats, who were then the Marlins AA Southern League affiliate play the Mississippi Braves.  We got to the stadium and found that somehow I had left our tickets at home.  Since the game was in an hour and home was bout a 6-8 hour round trip I knew that going home to get them was not an option.  So I went to the ticket manager and explained the situation.  He had remembered taking my ticket order by phone as we had talked about shared military experiences.  He was able to print us duplicates for the seats that we had previously purchased and we saw the game, as always from down behind home plate.  In this game we saw Braves All Star catcher Brian McCann play the week before he was called up to Atlanta.

I hope that we have some time next year to make at least one trip out to see some other Minor League venues.  They are a lot of fun and part of the fabric of our country and somehow I believe if we reconnect in these locations, watching this timeless game that maybe just maybe we can overcome the emnity of all that divides our country and learn to be Americans again.  We will never all agree on politics, religion, domestic, foreign or economic policy.  No Americans ever have, but we can discover what it means again, through this wonderful game called baseball.  I do think that the Deity Herself approves of all of these local parishes of the Church of Baseball scattered about our land.  At the same time I always have my place in Section 102, Row B Seat 2 at Harbor Park.

Peace, Steve+

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Going to War: A Bus Ride to the Carolina Countryside

This is part four in my “Going to War” series. Previous parts are noted here:

Part One:Going to War: Reflections on My Journey to Iraq and Back- Part One

Past Two: Going to War: Interlude July 4th 2007

Part Three: Going to War: Wills, Living Wills, Immunizations Gone Bad and Christmas in July

Part Four: Going to War: Last Night together and a Kiss Goodbye

Nelson and I staged our gear as we waited for the buses to arrive to take us to Fort Jackson South Carolina where we were to receive our training for the deployment.  As we talked other sailors arrived and gear was stacked in rows of sea bags just off of the sidewalk.  Nelson’s parents, brother and sister were on hand to see him off.  His brother is a First Class Petty Officer and his dad a former Vietnam era Marine Recon NCO who made several deployments “in the shit” as many Vietnam vets call tours in that combat zone.  They were really nice folks.  Over the years I had heard much about them.  They are close to each other and all are supportive of Nelson.

Nelson is a career amateur boxer; kick boxer, martial artist and more recently MMA fighter.  He is active in children’s martial arts instruction and has been on Team USA and fought internationally.  During his Afghanistan deployment before he and I hooked up again he helped coach the fledgling Afghan National Boxing Team.  His last major title was just this year when he won the Arnold Schwarzenegger Classic.  The guy has more titles than you can imagine, his title belt collect could fill a room.  However, he was raised by a boxer, his dad.  His dad taught him and coached him growing up and helped Nelson win multiple New York State Golden Gloves titles.  His dad is a congenial man and who was very friendly, speaking English with a heavy Puerto Rican accent.  Nelson’s mom speaks some English.  Nelson tells a great story of the only time he was knocked out in a fight.  This happened at the Fort Apache Gym in the Bronx after Nelson had gone picking on his little sister when Nellie was about seventeen.  Nelson’s dad found out, told him to put on his gloves and get in the ring.  Nelson proceeded to talk trash to his dad as he got ready to fight and the first round got quite a few hits in on his dad.  In between rounds according to Nelson’s account he told his dad to quit, that he was too old to be in the same ring with him.  Nelson said that his dad simply commented “I was just letting you taste the water.”  The second round began and Nelson was hit by a combination from his dad, which he says “rung his bell” and made him “see stars.”  He remembers trying to get up and not being able to while his dad was talking trash to him.  I cannot do the story justice but meeting Nelson’s family was a joy.

So we waited while the other sailors gathered, some individually and some with family.  Some stood alone as couples while others mingled with each other.  For most this was a new way to see their sailor deploy.  No pier side goodbyes, no banners, no manning the rails by the crew as the ship was nudged away from the pier by tugs.  When you have a “normal” deployment of a ship or something like a Marine battalion it is a big deal.  Media is there, sometimes there are speeches, but most of all there is the understanding that we are all in this together.  The families say goodbye to their Sailors, Marines or Soldiers who are going to war together and leaving some kind of familiar support system for the families.  This is not so when you deploy individually.  We may have been going off to train together, but few would stay together on the deployment.  Normally as a chaplain you are a known quantity to the people that you go to war with.  I was going to war with Nelson but we would not remain with any sailors who were going through this process with us.  I know that was the case for others who would serve in isolated posts, often without any other Navy personnel, mostly working with the Army in support roles, and specialized roles such as the Electronic Warfare Officers detailed to work on defeating IEDs and roadside bombs.  As others said their goodbyes and hugged each other I thought of Judy and knew that she was going to be down for some time but I felt that for once that she had an adequate support network.

I looked at our gear as opposed to the others.  Our gear was in different deployment bags, ours were large and rectangular and more of a coyote or sand color while most everyone else had traditional green sea bags, or what are known in the Army as “duffle bags.”  We had all of our personal protective equipment or the EOD/Special Warfare type while others would receive some variation of Army issue at Fort Jackson.  There are pros and cons to such a arrangement.  The pro is that we had great gear certainly some of the best in theater.  The con was that we had to lug the great gear everywhere we went going to and coming back from war.  This would get old, but the benefits do outweigh the advantages when you are actually in a combat zone.

Finally an officer came out and began calling role and giving us our signed “official” orders.  After we were accounted for we were told to load our gear on the buses that would take us to Fort Jackson. I think there were four or five of these chartered tour buses  which as it turned out would be the first of many tour buses, roll calls and gear loads in the coming months, especially as we entered and exited theater.  Nelson and I got on the same bus which was not full and took seats near the front.  I got a seat alone because I was the senior officer on the bus and a chaplain to boot. This was not because I asked for it or hogged the seat.  It is actually fairly typical in such a setting where young enlisted guys don’t want to sit next to an officer and some are afraid of chaplains because of experiences that they have had in civilian churches.  Some of the young folks have never darkened the door of a church and many of those that have been in church have been burned in relationships with pastors or really over the top religious people.  I have found in my career that until they get to know a Chaplain a lot of them will be very careful in how they approach a chaplain, even those with a vibrant faith.  Some are afraid that the chaplain might try to convert them or disapprove of the manner in which they live their lives. So as a chaplain I need to be cognizant of this fact and be friendly and caring without scaring them away.  Of course I did build relationships with a quite a number of these sailors during the next few weeks but on this bus I was still an unknown quantity to them.  Sitting alone however was good for me since I general despise bus travel regardless of the company I keep.  For some reason my height works against me, I can never get my feet comfortably on the ground on these new tour buses and I have a terrible time getting comfortable.  Since bus travel takes forever to get anywhere the discomfort is palpable.  Now I did a three month tour on buses in 1979 while touring as a spotlight tech for the Continental Singers and Orchestra across the US and in Europe.  Somehow the old Greyhound buses were more comfortable than the new tour buses.  Maybe I’m just nostalgic but they somehow fit people like me better than the fancy new buses.

When you travel by bus with a bunch of sailors, the majority of whom are at least 20 years younger than you, the experience can be entertaining to say the least.   Part of course is a generational thing.  I am from the 60’s 70’s and 80’s.  These guys and gals are from the 90’s and 2000’s.  Music is different, culture is different, and the internet, cell phones, i-phones and Blackberries have revolutionized communications and life.  The trip was a chance for me to observe a lot about these sailors just by watching.  Some had their portable i-pods and MP-3 players going, others spent time talking on cell phones, a few read or talked among themselves, but the sailors near me gravitated to the DVD movie which was 300 the comic book style account of the Spartan’s defense of Thermopylae against the Persians.  As the Spartans made their stand I could see the young sailors who were going to war taking inspiration from King Leonditis of Sparta.   Since we were going into a place where 50-100 Americans a month were being killed and many others wounded and maimed I could understand the need for inspiration along with entertainment.

The bus ride itself was a lot like what I imagine that Minor League teams take in the Carolinas like in the movie Bull Durham, the coaches and older players mixed in with a lot of young guys.  The older guys staying pretty quiet and to themselves and the young guys having fun, playing games and joking around with each other,  We made a couple of stops, one at some little Interstate town with a fair amount of gas stations and a few fast food places.  About half the folks went to the McDonalds where we pulled in while the rest ran down the street to the Burger King and Taco Bell.  Once everyone had their fill the buses pulled back out onto the interstate.  When we finally got near Columbia the buses got of the Interstate highway and onto some small two lane state highway.  We drove down this road about twenty to thirty minutes and pulled into what appeared to be a tiny out of the way base.  I wondered where the hell we were.  Fort Jackson is a fairly large training base where thousands of recruits are trained every year.  Where we were certainly was not the Fort Jackson that I had imagined.

Instead of the main post we were at the South Carolina National Guard training facility called Camp McCready.  It is here that the Naval Expeditionary Combat Command has a training center set up with the Army to train sailors in basic combat tasks.

Our welcome that first night was simple.  We formed up, checked in, got our linens for our standard issue military beds and were marched to dinner at the chow hall or in the Army vernacular the DFAC by our newest and bestest buddies, our Army Drill Sergeants.  In the chow hall or DFAC we were met by a civilian running the line.  I can’t remember his name but this guy was really nice and put the RED in “Redneck.”  He made jokes with everyone that came through the line, asked where people were from and what they did.  When he found out that I was a chaplain he began to ask me for a joke every meal thereafter.  As Nelson and I sat down for chow with a couple of other sailors we looked at each other.  He said: “Boss I don’t think some of these guys know what is coming.”  I said “I think that your right partner, hopefully they adjust and do well.”  The other sailors, both more senior petty officers nodded in agreement.

Going back to the barracks I met some of the other officers enjoying their first night at Camp McCready.  More sailors to fill out the class were due later coming in from San Diego.  I introduced myself to a number of the officers near me and when lights out was called lay down on the same type of bed that I had first encountered some twenty five years before at Camp Roberts California and Fort Lewis Washington.  I swear the sheets, blankets and pillowcases were of the same vintage.  Despite that I fell asleep fairly quickly.

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Always on the Road…Memories of a Marriage Spent Apart Together

anniverary 200926 Years Together: At Murphy’s of DC

The 1980s super-group Journey had a song called Faithfully. It is to this day one of my favorite songs for though it is about the life a travelling musician the lyrics are quite fitting for a military family.

Highway run
Into the midnight sun
Wheels go round and round
You’re on my mind
Restless hearts
Sleep alone tonight
Sendin’ all my love
Along the wire

They say that the road
Ain’t no place to start a family
Right down the line
Its been you and me
And lovin’ a music man
Ain’t always what it’s supposed to be
Oh girl you stand by me
I’m forever yours…faithfully

Circus life
Under the big top world
We all need the clowns
To make us smile
Through space and time
Always another show
Wondering where I am
Lost without you

And being apart ain’t easy
On this love affair
Two strangers learn to fall in love again
I get the joy
Of rediscovering you
Oh girl, you stand by me
Im forever yours…faithfully

Oh, oh, oh, oh
Faithfully, Im still yours
Im forever yours
Ever yours…faithfully

If your read yesterday’s post you know that we have only spent 10 of 26 anniversaries together.  In those years we have often been apart.  In fact a mere 3 ½ weeks after we started dating I left on a 3 month tour with a Christian singing group called the Continental Singers and Orchestra.  Fort those that have heard me sing there is nothing to fear as I was the spotlight tech.  In this position I got to sing along without anyone having to hear me as I trained my Strong Trouperette III spotlight on the various soloists and while in Europe on the whole group.  This continued on multiple occasions after we were married during my military career, periods of 6-9 months were common, once a 15 month separation with a three week period together.  From May of 1996 until August 2003 we spent 43 out of 63 months apart.  This did not include the period of my hospital residency and civilian hospital chaplain jobs working many second shifts and overnights in addition to National Guard and Army Reserve exercises, training, official travel or schools.  Of course this put strain on both of us yet somehow we survived.

It is in the times like these that you find out what you as a couple are made of.  Both of us are somewhat independent spirits and though both natural introverts have strong personalities.  At the same time we both see the world through a somewhat warped prism and both have strong senses of irony which is strange because I take my clothes that need pressing to the cleaners.  I think a lot of what besides the grace of God, which the Deity Herself has seemed to has given both of us a lot of, many times in spite of me.

In the course of our marriage we have lived quite a few places and of course I have been to even more.  We were married in Stockton California, aka “Mudville” of Casey at the Bat fame or more recently the birthplace of the drive by shooting and 2500 square foot two story suburban marijuana farms and the highest home foreclosure rate in the country.  Stockton is a great place to be from and a nice place to visit family.  If the economy wasn’t so sucky and the crime rate so high it would be a really awesome place to live only a couple of hours from the San Francisco and the Northern California coast, the Sierra Nevada Mountains and Lake Tahoe, the California Wine country, Redwood Groves, Yosemite and many historic or natural venues.

That rabbit chase we first set up house in a little town called Eckelhausen Germany in the Saarland when my first unit the 557th Medical Company (Ambulance) was based at a little Kaserne called Neubrücke.  Eckelhausen and Neubrücke  were ideal small bases in West Germany during the Cold War.  We lived off base in a small town overlooking a resort lake called the Böstalsee.  The town was so small that it only had a small Postamt (Post office) and one Gästhaus. The people spoke a strong dialect of German that approximated Appalachian English.  Not long after settling there the unit was moved to Wiesbaden, the state capital of Hessen.  We got our first dog in Wiesbaden, the little Wire Haired Dachshund named Frieda, or sometimes “Dammitt Frieda” or simply “little shit.”  In Wiesbaden The Deity presumed to started meddling in my life and renewing a call to ministry that I knew that I had back before I went on tour with Continentals.  I successfully parried the Deity’s call until we moved to San Antonio Texas when I was the Adjutant of the Academy Brigade of the Academy of Health Sciences.  This was where the Deity really began to rain on my parade and Judy of course was affected as well.  She was supportive of the call to ministry and what we hoped would be the Army Chaplaincy, but really had not signed up for this.  She had in fact signed up to be the wife of a regular active duty officer who would spend 20 or so years in and retire at a comfortable pay grade.  Nope, the Deity had other plans.

Seminary as I hinted in other posts was hell for us.  We lost pretty much everything and it was only the grace of God and the people of God who saw some glimmer of hope in me that we made it through.  Now true, I worked my ass off in school and always at least one job plus the National Guard, often more than one job.  We saw what only can be described as miracles as we fought our way through seminary.  Those are enough themselves for another post.  We did seminary in Fort Worth Texas and lived there and in the Mid-Cities of Hurst-Euless-Bedford.  The entirety of seminary and my hospital residency was spent at the poverty line and we often didn’t know where the next meal, tank of gas or tuition payment would come from.  We then moved to Huntington West Virginia where I was a full time contract hospital Emergency Department Chaplain following my residency.  We thought that Huntington would be the final stop as it was the city and area that my family came from, I being the first born on the West Coast.  That changed in June 1996 when I was mobilized the support the Bosnia Operation.  When that happened my contract was terminated and another minister of the Pastoral Care Department’s Chief was hired.  After the 9 month deployment I went on very little notice for 6 months at Fort Indiantown Gap PA.  This morphed into a civilian position during the transition of the base from the Active Army to the Pennsylvania Army National Guard.  This position was a yearlong and I was able to move Judy up with me.  Following this it was back to unemployment and poverty in Huntington.

That changed in December 1998 when I was offered the chance to become a Navy Chaplain.  Now mind you back in our courtship Judy said that she would not marry me if I joined the Navy, so I did it without consulting her.  Now men this is not a smart move, if I had asked her nicely and explained things she probably would have signed off on it.  However, like an idiot I nearly blew the marriage apart by doing it my way.  I wanted to go back on active duty and the Army told me that I was too senior to go back on active duty.  It was like I declared free agency and was picked up by another team, like going from the American League to the National League.  It was nearly 8 months later that Judy finally relented and moved to Swansboro North Carolina with me.  I really don’t blame her, she had a life and friends in Huntington, in fact far more than me and to move was painful and what I did by not being gentlemanly and asking her was both unfair and stupid.  It is my biggest regret in our marriage. At the same time Judy rapidly adapted to the life of a Navy Chaplain on a Marine Corps base and even at a Chaplain wives meeting helped break into the chapel so that it could be set up for the meeting when a Religious Program Specialist did not show to open it up.  Never underestimate a Navy wife and her best friend and evil twin, though they might contest which one is actually the “evil” twin.

From Swansboro and Camp LeJeune we went to Mayport/Jacksonville Florida where I was chaplain of a guided missile cruiser.  I arrived just prior to deployment and Judy remained in North Carolina until I returned.  This was kind of funny because I was calling the US looking for an apartment from a port call in Croatia.  Making a call I found out that the place I wanted had already been rented.  I can’t remember my exact words when I got this news but be assured that they were a colorful metaphor.  I called Judy totally disappointed on to find it was she who had scored the apartment.  Our stay in Jacksonville was only about 13 months after the deployment ended when we moved to the Hampton Roads area.  It finally looks like we are in the place we will stay after the Navy.

Judy has been with me across country, and a lot of places in Europe to include Germany, the Netherlands, Belgium and Luxembourg, France, Spain and the UK. She made it to East Berlin as well as Guantanamo Bay Cuba.  We have met many people and seen many interesting things.  Likewise we have experienced the reality of God’s grace in our lives.

Ours has been strange journey to say the least, but every day I know that it is worth it.  Today we had or 26th wedding anniversary.  We drove to DC.  One of the cool things was that Judy is trying out a pair of new hearing aids, which she hopes that Tricare will purchase when the time comes due.  The hearing aids are remarkable.  For the first time in her life she can hear words in songs played on a radio or stereo.  She can hear conversations going on behind her without having to look and she has heard for the first tie sounds like the letter “S” a pen scratching on paper, rain dripping down a drain spout and the richness of her guitar.  It has been quite an emotional day for her.  She is continuing to notice the nuances of sound and every so often she is overcome with all that she has missed over the years.  One of the things that she is discovering as she hears the lyrics to songs for the first time without having to read them is that I am a hopeless romantic.  A lot of my CDs are compilations of my favorite songs, many of which were picked with Judy in mind.   It was quite an emotional ride for both of us as she really experienced what is that hearing people hear on a daily basis.

She is beginning to write about in on her blog, the Abbey Normal Abbess which is on my links menu.  We would both appreciate your prayers as Tricare eventually makes the decision as to whether she will get them.  Tonight we had dinner with Judy’s cousin Becky who works for the US Department of Fish and Game Law Enforcement at Murphy’s of DC.  While on the way there we heard that Michael Jackson had died quite unexpectedly not long after Farrah Fawcett had passed away from Cancer earlier in the day.  I guess that we will remember this anniversary.

Anyway, it has been a long day.  Judy has passed out a while ago and it is time for me to get some sleep.

Peace and blessings,

Steve+

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Filed under Loose thoughts and musings, marriage and relationships, Military

The Call

Note:  To clear up some confusion my references to “The Deity Herself.”  God is neither male nor female and Scripture records that God made Man and Woman in his image, not just Man.  Likewise there are both male and female images used in the Hebrew which refer to God.  I am not turning to “goddess worship” if anyone is concerned. I patently, as anyone who knows me well, understand God within the accepted bounds of the Trinity.  My use of the female imagery is for the most part to get people to think and maybe actually notice that I am referring to God. Maybe too it will encourage women who have been hurt or victimized by men, especially abusive fathers to see that the Christian message is not something that excludes them.  While some may not approve, or even think that I have succumbed to “political correctness,”  I see this as legitimate use of the language, which because of its limited nature can never fully show us the glory of God. Peace and Blessings, Steve+

I’ve been asked by some how I was “called” into the ministry or my vocation as a Priest and Chaplain.  I have done a lot, I mean really a lot of reflecting on this over the years.  Honestly, I don’t really know how it happened.  I mean I like sort of know, but the “how it happened” is pretty much a God thing I guess.  Looking back I think I get it, but am still amazed that I get to do what I get to do.  To use the words of Elton John “I’m still standing after all these years.” The reason I say this is because I’m NOT the greatest theologian, preacher, pastor, or even chaplain around.  Likewise, I know that I am certainly not among the most “spiritual.”  For me the Christian life takes work, really hard work.  There are guys and gals around who who can do circles around me in most of these facets of the Christian life and ministry.   Now on the other hand I don’t think that I drag up the rear, but I’m not going to over play my hand.  There are things that I think that I do pretty well, but I consider myself kind of a journeyman.

General George Patton recounted in his memoirs that “he prayed that he would never get ‘the Call’ because he knew that he would have to leave the Army.”  In some ways I think I can understand that.  Now I know that I was called.  In fact that call probably goes back to a pretty early age.  I found among things grandmother had saved a short paper I had written in the 4th Grade about Easter.  It was not about the Easter Bunny but it was about the Resurrection of Jesus.  So I guess that I had some kind of faith stuff going on back that far.  I think that the first inkling of a call came when I was 11 or 12. At the time the Roman Catholic Chaplain at our base took care of my Protestant family when a local church Sunday School teacher told me that my dad was a baby killer.  Toward the end of high I felt  that call during a NJROTC cadet cruise from San Diego to Pearl Harbor and back.  I wrote my grand parents that I felt that I was being called to be a Navy Chaplain.  I did a short term mission with a Christian Singing group called the Continental Singers and Orchestra in the summer of 1979.  By the way I was the spotlight tech, I did not sing, the Deity Herself was wise enough not to inflict my “joyful noise” on our audiences.  That trip was remarkable, but when I was getting ready for it my local church had a nasty split.  As a result I got caught in the middle of it.  I was in military parlance “collateral damage.” To tell the truth, that experience was kind of sucky.

That was rough, in fact my reaction was to withdraw.  I left that church when I returned and started attending the church of my girlfriend. Patently she is now my ever patient and long suffering wife.  The poor girl should have realized what she was getting into with me when about a month into our dating relationship I left for three months.   Yet she has persevered.

What I figured during this time was that the Deity and I would make a deal.  I would stay in church.  I would even teach Sunday School, and that I would go in the military as a “good Christian officer.” She being the Deity of course would agree to that deal, everything would be copasetic and we would cooperate on my terms.  Pretty arrogant for a 20 year old, but hey, like most young people I had my really dumb moments.  She of course had other plans….

So I went in the Army because Judy forbade me to join the Navy.  She had good reason. Her two sisters married knuckle-headed sailors who were always deployed.  Neither of course were good husbands.  She however let me go into the Army.  I said “cool beans” and I thought I was on my way to fulfilling the deal I had made with the Deity.  As I made my way through my young Army career it seemed that She used very unfair and devious means to rub the call in my face.  Chapel friends would tell me that I needed to stop running from God.  A good friend left the Army for seminary.  In fact the good Deity ensured that I was miserable even though I loved being an Army officer.  Finally in 1987 She used my Brigade XO, LTC Ike Adams to kick me in the teeth. We would run together at lunch. One day while running he asked: “Hey Captain, what do you think your doing with the rest of your life?”  I responded in typical junior Army officer fashion: “Well, I’m going to the Advanced Course, take another Company and after that get promoted to Major.”  I mean I had this planned out, and then he cut me off…”Well I don’t think that’s what God has in mind, you were called to the ministry and are running from it.”

If there was ever an “oh crap” moment, this was it.  People had been pinging on me for five or six years about this, but nobody, ever ever  dropped the bomb like that.  I could have died.  I had never mentioned anything about this to the man. Yet here he was, or God was, reading my mail.  This was not fun.  So I asked him: “How do you know?”  I was stunned by the reply.  “Well the Holy Spirit revealed it to me.”  Now Ike was not and is not a flake.  He was a Social Worker and career Army officer.  He retired from the Army and went to Asbury Seminary where he got his M.Div and University of Kentucky where he picked up his Ph.D.  He’s now the Chair of the Social Work Department at Asbury College.  Shaken by the incident I took myself home.  I told the long suffering Judy what had happened.  She told me “Well I could have told you that.”

So a year and some change later I left the Army to go to seminary.  I was accepted at Asbury, Austin Presbyterian and Southwestern Baptist.  I chose Southwestern for the simple reason that it was cheaper.  Back in those days before the Fundamentalist takeover of the seminaries, the Southern Baptist “Cooperative Fund” underwrote the majority of even non-Southern Baptist students tuition.  What would have been a $5,000 per semester or so bill was reduced to $1,000 a semester give or take a bit depending on the semester.  It was a good thing, because seminary was hell on earth.  How we made it through that ordeal is beyond me. It was like going through the gauntlet of Klingon Pain Sticks in the Rite of Ascension.

First Judy got sick and had to leave her job, a crummy one working for the government in an office rife with sexual harassment.  I left active duty during the Texas Oil bust of 1988.  I couldn’t get a job.  Seminary students without a technical skill were a dime a dozen, and the attitude of many employers was that they didn’t need you and if they did, they would not pay you much.  We lost everything, I mean almost everything but our books and our dogs.  We lost our house, our cars, and were pretty much poverty stricken despite working  full time in social service agencies, night shelters, pizza parlors and part time as a janitor.  Finally I had to take a semester off just to try to get back on our feet.

About that time I was accepted into the Chaplain Candidate program in the National Guard.  I got back in school, but once again came to a point were my job was drying up and with it the money I needed to go to seminary.  I had been given my two week notice.  I was the highest paid hourly worker, expenses had to be cut and I was gone.  At that point I thought stick a fork in me, I’m done.  I took my last finals that semester in absolute despair thinking that all had gone for naught.  Walking down the hallway in tears I met a couple of my Professors, my Church history and Missiology professors. They saw me.  Both simply let me cry and then prayed for me.  I got home that afternoon, ready to quit. I figured that it was over and that I had failed. I was going to find a regular job and start over, maybe go back in the Army.  As I walked in the door the phone rang and I got a call from a Christian ministry that Judy forced me to apply to. They offered me a job doing counseling.  It paid better than anything I had since the Army and even had, get this, tuition assistance and medical benefits.   Now we still had some more rough times but somehow God got us through this incredibly difficult but formative time in our lives.  I think that She was ensuring that I would be able to care for those going through similar circumstances and never let me forget Her care and assistance as I slogged my way through seminary.  The weird thing about seminary was that this independent evangelical guy came out on the Anglican and Catholic side of life.  I had my Baptist and Assembly of God friends ask me if I was a “closet Catholic or Anglican.” Believe me, that was not a cool thing to be asked in a Southern Baptist Seminary that was getting hit hard by a Fundamentalist assault.

I finished seminary and was ordained in 1992, at which time I also became a National Guard Chaplain.  I did a Clinical Pastoral Education Residency at Parkland Hospital in Dallas from 1993-94.  That was an experience that helped me continue my education, formation and discernment at I continued to track in this Anglican-Catholic manner.  On top of this Judy became Catholic in 1994 and we moved to West Virginia where I took my first post CPE Chaplain job. This was a contract position at a hospital in the town where my parents were from and where my both of my grand mothers lived.  Unfortunately I worked bad hours and spent weekends on call at the hospital or with the National Guard or Reserves.  I had no fellowship, pretty much no life outside the hospital.  I was isolated and I knew that I did not fit in many of the churches in the town.  At a chaplain conference I met a Priest from a Anglican “Continuing Church” who told me about the Charismatic Episcopal Church in 1995.  My friend told me that he thought that it would be a good place for me.  I met with the local bishop and in July 1996 I was ordained as a Priest.  It should have been September, but the time-line was moved forward when I was mobilized for the Bosnia operation.  The day before my ordination my bishop made a comment to me.  He said that this was no longer about simply “doing ministry.”  He said it was about a Sacramental Grace that was ontological in nature.   In other words, it was something that God would do to change me in that Sacrament.

When I was mobilized I lost my contract job.  Thankfully, the Army managed to find ways to keep me employed as a base chaplain when I returned from Europe. This let to a string of events which eventually led me to the Navy Chaplain Corps.  I know that my call is that of a Priest.  That now is my identity, though I function as a Chaplain within that vocation.  I have been blessed in every assignment with wonderful people and almost in every place a supportive atmosphere.  My long military and Chaplain experience has helped me not screw up a lot since coming to the Navy.  I had made plenty of mistakes in the Army. The cool thing is that like changing services is like going from the National League to the American League in mid-season. All of your stats start over.  Kind of like the Bible says, “old things passed away, behold all things become new.”

I am a proud journeyman. I love what I do and the people that I work with and serve.  At the same time one day I will retire from the Navy.  I am sure that the Deity Herself will patently guide me into whatever She has for me as a Priest in her Church. I cannot imagine anything else.  I love being a mentor to young people, especially young ministers and seminarians.  If I have my way I hope to be serving as a Priest until the day that I’m really finished.  This is not about preaching, it is about serving God’s people, in Word and in Sacrament in whatever capacity the church decides to use me until I am done. I figure that since Jesus and the Holy Spirit and a whole lot of persistence  have gotten me this far that it must be right.

I hope that this somewhat explains my call and vocation as a Priest.  It has been to use the words of Jerry Garcia: “A long strange trip.”

Peace, Steve+

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