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“Don’t be Silly, Space Shuttles Don’t Explode” Remembering Challenger

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

It is still so hard to believe that thirty-three years ago we were stunned to see the Space Shuttle Challenger blow up shortly after launch from Cape Canaveral, Florida.

I don’t know about you, but it shocked the hell out of me. I am a child of the 1960s and 1970s when the United States was setting the pace on the exploration of space. Manned missions to the moon had become commonplace, the Space Shuttle Program appeared to be a jumping off point for further exploration. Space stations that would be able to conduct scientific research and maybe even serve as launching and logistics centers for the exploration of Mars and beyond.

Back when I was a kid and young adult the space program captivated us, and coupled with the hope presented in Star Trek, where human beings of all races and nationalities would work with alien races who had similar values explored the far reaches of the galaxy, anything seemed possible. Then, in one moment, the dream imploded as the Challenger exploded. Truthfully, it hasn’t been the same since.

That afternoon I was still at work as the Commanding Officer of the 557th Medical Company, (Ambulance). It was about 20 minutes till six and I was completing paperwork from an Article 15 proceeding, and looking over our end of the month Unit Status Report drafts.

It was about that time that my Charge Of Quarters, Specialist Lisa Dailey camel charging into my office. She cried out “Lieutenant Dundas, the Space Shuttle just blew up!” I looked up from my paperwork and said, “Don’t be silly, space shuttles don’t blow up.” Such was my faith in technology and the dreams of the space program and Star Trek in my mind.

She couldn’t believe my response, because she had just seen it in real time. That was not long after the Armed Forces Network or AFN started broadcasting CNN and other U.S. based news programs in real time. CNN just happened to be televising the launch of Challenger. Specialist Dailey, who I still remain in contact with said “no sir, I just saw it, it’s on TV right now.”

With that I got up and went with her to the television where I stood transfixed as I watched the endless replays of the event. It was so unbelievable. Never before had a U.S. space mission failed to at last get into space, and it was a body blow to the space program. The shuttle program continued, but it wasn’t the same. There were many more successful missions, many in support of the International Space Station, but they became routine and many people didn’t follow them. Truthfully, I was like many people, I didn’t pay much attention to them after the Space Shuttle program regained steam and achieved success after success.

But then, some seventeen years later on February 1st 2003 I was sitting drinking coffee in the Wardroom Of the USS HUE CITY, waiting for the arrival of General Peter Pace, Vice Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and Veteran of the Battle Of Hue City. General Pace was our guest speaker at the annual,Battle Of Hue City Memorial. He was remembered fondly by the Marines who served with him at Hue City as their Lieutenant. As I waited the wardroom Television was tuned to CNN which was covering the re-entry of the Space Shuttle Columbia. As I watched the coverage Columbia broke up on re-entry over Texas and Louisiana. General Pace was delayed in his arrival due to an emergency meeting of the National Security Council, but he did arrived. However, for the seconded time in my life I witnessed the destruction of a Space Shuttle, but by then I would never again make the comment “Don’t be silly, Space Shuttles don’t explode.”

Honestly, I want to live to see the day when human beings land of Mars, and to really dream when humanity achieves the capacity for faster than light space travel, or as it is called in Star Trek, “Warp Speed.” I would love to live to see first contact with a friendly Alien race like the Vulcans of Star Trek. I still dream, but I know that there are risks, and that in such undertakings that lives will be lost, that there will be tragedies, but that is the price of human progress.

As the entity called Q told Jean Luc Picard in the Star Trek Next Generation episode Q Who:

“If you can’t take a little bloody nose, maybe you ought to go back home and crawl under your bed. It’s not safe out here! It’s wondrous, with treasures to satiate desires both subtle and gross…but it’s not for the timid.”

I remember and mourn those lost aboard Challenger and Columbia, but I pray that their sacrifice in the name of humanity will not be forgotten, nor their quest abandoned.

Until tomorrow,

Peace,

Padre Steve+

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“If Only…” Thinking about the Tapestry of Life

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Friends of Padre Steve’s World

It is interesting to think about life, what has transpired, and what might have been if only…

Like anyone I wonder about all of the “what ifs” and “might have been” parts of my life. Of course there are many, going back to things that I could not control, such as the choices that my parents made regarding their lives, career, family, and home. Then there are my own choices, choices that I made, some for better, and some maybe for worse. Then there were the choices of men and women in my life and career that impacted my life and the decisions that I made, again for better or worse.

Some of my dreams, and nightmares too, involve those decisions, particularly the ones that I could not control; but then there were those decisions, particularly regarding my military career choices, that come back to haunt my dreams. Those can be troubling; the things that I volunteered to do and the costs of those to Judy as a result of those decisions. Many of those decisions, particularly my decisions to volunteer for certain deployments and operations have come at a great cost to both of us, the struggle with the effects of PTSD even ten years after my return from Iraq is still very real.

But then I am reminded that none of us have a crystal ball that allows us to see what the result of our decisions will be; none of us are God, or some other omniscient being. We make our decisions based on what we know, and what we think might be the outcome of our decisions.

I love the television series Star Trek the Next Generation. One of my favorite episodes is called Tapestry. In the episode Captain Picard is killed. He is then met by the being known as Q, played by John De Lancie for a do-over, a second chance to reverse a choice that he made as a young officer.

On Q’s promise that his choice will not alter history Picard takes the chance and he ends up regretting it. In his second chance to avoid the incident that allowed him to be killed he alienates himself from his friends, and turns him in to a different person, unwilling to take chances and doomed to insignificance. When he returns to his new present he finds himself alive but a different person. Instead of a starship captain is a nondescript lieutenant junior grade doing a job that he hates as an assistant astrophysics officer.

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Distraught Picard complains to Q:

Picard: You having a good laugh now, Q? Does it amuse you to think of me living out the rest of my life as a dreary man in a tedious job?

Q: I gave you something most mortals never experience: a second chance at life. And now all you can do is complain?

Picard: I can’t live out my days as that person. That man is bereft of passion… and imagination! That is not who I am!

Q: Au contraire. He’s the person you wanted to be: one who was less arrogant and undisciplined in his youth, one who was less like me… The Jean-Luc Picard you wanted to be, the one who did not fight the Nausicaan, had quite a different career from the one you remember. That Picard never had a brush with death, never came face to face with his own mortality, never realized how fragile life is or how important each moment must be. So his life never came into focus. He drifted through much of his career, with no plan or agenda, going from one assignment to the next, never seizing the opportunities that presented themselves. He never led the away team on Milika III to save the Ambassador; or take charge of the Stargazer’s bridge when its captain was killed. And no one ever offered him a command. He learned to play it safe – and he never, ever, got noticed by anyone.

It is a fascinating exchange and one that when I wonder about the choices that I have made that I think about; because when all is said and done, my life, like all of ours is a tapestry. On reflection Picard tells Counselor Troi, “There are many parts of my youth that I’m not proud of. There were… loose threads – untidy parts of me that I would like to remove. But when I… pulled on one of those threads – it’d unravel the tapestry of my life.”

I think that I can agree with that. All the things in my life, the good things and the bad, as well as the paths not taken have all been a part of the tapestry of my life. I would not be who I am without them; and that I cannot comprehend. I would rather be the flawed me that is me, than the perfect me that never existed. Thus, all of those threads of my tapestry are in a sense, precious and even holy.

I’ll keep all of them.

Peace

Padre Steve+

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Paralyzed by Doubt

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Friends of Padre Steve’s World

Just another short thought as I continue to read, reflect and recharge this week. I am all too certain of my doubts and fears, and I do try to be honest about them. That being said, over the years I try not to let them rule me, or keep me from living life. I think that it is possible to live a life that understands the connection between faith, doubt, hope, and love; life that is full of meaning and purpose. Yes, even in the most times of abject depression, despair, and when it seems that I am looking into the abyss, it is always the most important to continue to move forward, and to live.

In the Star Trek the next Generation the character Q chastises Captain Picard when Picard complains about the loss of some of his crew in the first encounter with the Borg, “If you can’t take a little bloody nose, maybe you ought to go back home and crawl under your bed. It’s not safe out here. It’s wondrous, with treasures to satiate desires both subtle and gross. But it’s not for the timid.”

I have had a number of people at various times in my life tell me that I should quit, pack up my bags and go back to some supposed place of safety were doubt, danger and risk are minimized. But what kind of life is that? Just because danger, rejection, and even failure and defeat are possible; why quit?

When I go through weeks like last week I am reminded that I cannot quit, and that I cannot allow doubt, even legitimate doubt in myself and what I believe about God, or my experiences with others, to paralyze me, to keep me from moving forward.

Paul Coelho wrote, “You must be careful never to allow doubt to paralyze you. Always take the decisions you need to take, even if you’re not sure you’re doing the right thing. You’ll never go wrong if, when you make a decision, you keep in mind an old German proverb: ‘The devil is in the detail.’ Remember that proverb and you’ll always be able to turn a wrong decision into a right one.”

So until tomorrow,

Peace

Padre Steve+

 

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Tapestry: The Importance of Just One Thread

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Friends of Padre Steve’s World

It is interesting to think about life, what has transpired, and what might have been if only…

Like anyone I wonder about all of the “what ifs” and “might have been” parts of my life. Of course there are many, going back to things that I could not control, such as the choices that my parents made regarding career, family, and home. Then there are my own choices, choices that I made, some for better, and some maybe for worse. Then there were the choices of men and women in my life and career that impacted my life and the decision that I made.

Some of my dreams, and nightmares too, involve those decisions, particularly the ones that I could not control; but then there were those decisions, particularly regarding my military career choices, that come back to haunt my dreams. Those can be troubling; the things that I volunteered to do and the costs of those to Judy as a result of those decisions. Many of those decisions, particularly my decisions to volunteer for certain deployments and operations have come at a great cost to both of us.

But then I am reminded that none of us have a crystal ball that allows us to see what the result of our decisions will be; none of us are God, or some other omniscient being. We make our decisions based on what we know, and what we think might be the outcome of our decisions.

Judy and I have been watching a marathon of Star Trek the Next Generation episodes of late. We are currently in the midst of season six. One of the episodes that we watched the other night is called Tapestry where Captain Picard is killed, but given a chance by the being called the Q for a do-over, a second change at life. Picard ends up regretting the do-over, it alienates him from his friends, and turns him in to a different person. Instead of a starship captain is a nondescript lieutenant junior grade doing a job that he hates.

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The resultant decision leaves Picard distraught and he complains to Q:

Picard: You having a good laugh now, Q? Does it amuse you to think of me living out the rest of my life as a dreary man in a tedious job?

Q: I gave you something most mortals never experience: a second chance at life. And now all you can do is complain?

Picard: I can’t live out my days as that person. That man is bereft of passion… and imagination! That is not who I am!

Q: Au contraire. He’s the person you wanted to be: one who was less arrogant and undisciplined in his youth, one who was less like me… The Jean-Luc Picard you wanted to be, the one who did not fight the Nausicaan, had quite a different career from the one you remember. That Picard never had a brush with death, never came face to face with his own mortality, never realized how fragile life is or how important each moment must be. So his life never came into focus. He drifted through much of his career, with no plan or agenda, going from one assignment to the next, never seizing the opportunities that presented themselves. He never led the away team on Milika III to save the Ambassador; or take charge of the Stargazer’s bridge when its captain was killed. And no one ever offered him a command. He learned to play it safe – and he never, ever, got noticed by anyone.

It is a fascinating exchange and one that when I wonder about the choices that I have made that I think about; because when all is said and done, my life, like all of ours is a tapestry. On reflection Picard tells Counselor Troi, “There are many parts of my youth that I’m not proud of. There were… loose threads – untidy parts of me that I would like to remove. But when I… pulled on one of those threads – it’d unravel the tapestry of my life.”

I think that I can agree with that. All the things in my life, the good things and the bad, as well as the paths not taken have all been a part of the tapestry of my life. I would not be who I am without them; and that I cannot comprehend. I would rather be the flawed me that is me, than the perfect me that never existed. Thus, all of those threads are in a sense precious and even holy.

Peace

Padre Steve+

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Explore, Dream, Discover: Thoughts on Living My Dream

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April 1978, Navy Junior ROTC Cruise: I’m on the Right

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

Yesterday I wrote about the Navy Birthday and I have been reflecting on life as so much of my life is connected to the Navy. It’s funny, for all the difficulties that I have experienced in life, the difficult times and even coming back a changed man from war, I am a very fortunate man, for I have been able to pursue my entire adult life my childhood dream of serving in the military, but even more specifically serving in the Navy.

I grew up in a Navy family, my brother and I were both born in Navy hospitals, and the first fourteen years of my life were spent following my dad around from duty station to duty station, up and down the West Coast and in the Philippines. I still recall the magical feeling of going to sea for the first time when I was about four years old on the USS John C. Breckenridge, a transport ship converted to carry military personnel and their families to and from the Far East. It was exhilarating and I never forgot it.

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Boston 2002

As a kid I spent countless hours reading history and military history, but my favorite books were about all things navy. Biographies of the great naval leaders, not just Americans caused me to dream, as did books about naval battles, and the courage of the men who fought them. Then there were the books about ships, ship design and development that inspired me to build more models ships than I can count, and which cause me to still read up on the great ships of history, but also new developments in ship design and construction.

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In high school I was in Navy Junior ROTC and was able to spend over 70 days at sea on six different ships, even sailing to Hawaii and back. I wanted to enlist but my parents suggested that I try college for a semester to see what I thought of it and it was a good thing that I did.

I went to college and I met Judy and toward the end of college ended up in the Army because I didn’t want to change my major in my senior year to enter Navy ROTC. Of course I need to mention that Judy said that she wouldn’t marry me if I joined the navy, but even in the Army my heart was all Navy. In fact when it was time for the Army-Navy Game I would wear by “Go Navy” button on the inside of my uniform shirt and flash it to get people going.

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Iraq 2007

After 17 ½ years in the Army I was serving as a Major in the Army Reserve and because of my rank was unable to go back on active duty, unless I was mobilized to serve in war. I wanted to go back on active duty, I was still under forty years old, and without consulting Judy, in retrospect I should have done that as she would have supported my decision, but I’m a guy, and sometimes not very smart or sensitive.

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Judy getting to help promote me to Lieutenant Commander 2006

Even so it was the right decision. One day I was an Army Reserve Major and the next day I was a Navy Lieutenant. My parents were proud, as was Judy but she was going to pay a price for my decision, years of separation due to deployments and the hardships that went along with them. Since entering the Navy I have served over six years with the Marines, five years in Navy Medicine, two years aboard ship, two years with Navy EOD and another couple of years in Joint assignments working with other military services. My current assignment is amazing, I get to teach, both military history and ethics to senior officers, some of whom will become Admirals and Generals. I can understand what Randy Pausch said in “The Last Lecture” “It’s a thrill to fulfill your own childhood dreams, but as you get older, you may find that enabling the dreams of others is even more fun.”

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USS Hue City 2002

Mark Twain once wrote, “Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things you didn’t do than by the ones you did. So throw off the bowlines. Sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover.” I am so fortunate. I got the second chance to fulfill my dream of serving in the Navy, and I still dream, I still want to discover, and as Denny Crane (William Shatner – Boston Legal) said to “live big.”

The past couple of years have been very trying, many challenges and much discouragement. Judy had a cancer scare and in the summer of 2014 I dropped into an emotional abyss that I wondered if I would ever emerge. But recently I have felt that spark again, and the spark that wants to ignite an inferno of creativity. T. E. Lawrence once wrote, “All men dream: but not equally. Those who dream by night in the dusty recesses of their minds wake up in the day to find it was vanity, but the dreamers of the day are dangerous men, for they may act their dreams with open eyes, to make it possible.”

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To explore the unknown possibilities of existence…

I still have dreams, I still want to explore and I want to explore deeper things, the unknown possibilities of existence. To quote the character Q (John de Lancie) in the final episode of Star Trek the Next Generation, where he tells Captain Picard “That is the exploration that awaits you; not mapping stars and studying nebulae, but charting the unknown possibilities of existence.”

Have a great day and never let your dreams die.

Peace

Padre Steve+

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New Year 2014: Resolutions, Coffee and Donuts, The Mendoza Line and the Unknown Possibilities of Existence

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“New Year’s Day: Now is the accepted time to make your regular annual good resolutions. Next week you can begin paving hell with them as usual.” Mark Twain

New Year’s Day is typically one of the laziest days that I observe during the year and this year was no different. The reason for this is because I figure that there are another 364 days left in the year and I need to pace myself.

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Last night we were up a couple of hours after the ball fell in Times Square and thankfully our dogs Molly and Minnie let me sleep until eight-thirty. After I let them go out, take their morning constitutional and feed them breakfast I went back to bed and stayed there until after noon when Minnie told me in no uncertain terms that I needed to be up and that she needed another constitutional.

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After that it was time for a shower followed by a cup of coffee, and this morning in a fit of wild abandon I discovered that Krispy Kreme Chocolate Mini Donuts are great when dipped in coffee. It is amazing the chances I will take in a New Year, as Johann Wolfgang von Goethe said “Whatever you can do or dream you can, begin it. Boldness has genius, magic, and power in it.” But I digress.

Like I said yesterday I don’t do New Year resolutions. I find that I don’t do well with them and my reality is more in line with Mark Twain who so rightly observed:

“Yesterday, everybody smoked his last cigar, took his last drink and swore his last oath. Today, we are a pious and exemplary community. Thirty days from now, we shall have cast our reformation to the winds and gone to cutting our ancient shortcomings considerably shorter than ever.”

That doesn’t mean that I will not seek to improve myself or do better. As I have mentioned on numerous occasions I am not a “Hall of Famer” in the game of life, I am a “Mendoza Line” guy when it comes to doing life. For those unfamiliar with the Mendoza Line it is named after Mario Mendoza a shortstop for the Pittsburgh Pirates and other teams who was competent at defense but a marginal hitter, his batting average being just enough not to be sent to the minor leagues. The Mendoza Line is considered to be a batting average of .200 though Mendoza’s actual lifetime average was .215. Thus for me life is something that I manage to muddle through and if I do well I might muddle through a bit better than I have before.

That being said I do have some goals this year. I want to become a great teacher of Ethics and Military History and get started on a Ph.D. so that whenever I retire from the Navy I can be competitive in teaching at the college and university level. I want to get started on a book this year and maybe even find a publisher and I hope that a major media or commentary site will start publishing some of my blog articles.  So if you know someone that can help in that last category please give me a shout out.

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Other things I want to do apart from work and education. I want to make a trip to England, Ireland and Scotland with Judy this year. I want to go to a lot of Norfolk Tides baseball games at Harbor Park, see a Orioles game at Camden Yards, and maybe if possible see a game at Fenway Park or Wrigley Field.

On a personal level I want to see more improvement in my PTSD recovery, to sleep better without nightmares and night terrors, to not be as anxious in crowded places or in bad traffic and to develop some better spiritual disciplines. Those are all things I have struggled with since coming back from Iraq and though I am have been doing better over the past year I want to see some more marked improvements in each area this year.

Likewise I want to be better at caring for those in my life, family, friends and those that I work with and those that I will teach and those who read this website.

Of course none of us know what the future brings, but thankful to paraphrase Abraham Lincoln “the future only comes one day at a time” so we should be good.

So a New Year is a hand, 364 more days in it and lots of possibilities. The past is now past, and though the past may still be with us and influence the present it does not have to bind us in its icy grip.

The new year presents me, and maybe all of us the chance to look at possibilities that we never imagined, to accept the past and all that is part of it without being trapped by it. It is as the entity Q told Captain Jean Luc Picard in the Star Trek the Next Generation episode Tapestry:

Captain Picard: I sincerely hope that this is the last time that I find myself here. 

Q: You just don’t get it, do you, Jean-Luc? The trial never ends. We wanted to see if you had the ability to expand your mind and your horizons. And for one brief moment, you did. 

Captain Picard: When I realized the paradox. 

Q: Exactly. For that one fraction of a second, you were open to options you had never considered. That is the exploration that awaits you. Not mapping stars and studying nebulae, but charting the unknown possibilities of existence. 

Our trials will not end in the coming year. However, if we open ourselves to new possibilities and to options that we never before considered we just might find that at the end of 2014 things might go better. Even more important we might be different, better or changed. As T.S. Elliott wrote: “For last year’s words belong to last year’s language and next year’s words await another voice.”

Peace

Padre Steve+

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Letter to a New Military Chaplain: Part Two The Minefields of the Heart

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This is second part of a response to a question I had from a new Navy Chaplain. I have decided to post it here without any identification of the chaplain because I know that many men and women who are new to the military chaplaincy or who are exploring the possibilities of becoming a chaplain have the same questions. I was fortunate to have had a number of chaplains who at various points in my decision process and formation as a minister, Priest and Chaplain in both the Army and the Navy help me with many of these questions. Likewise I learned far too much the hard way and blew myself up on some of the “land mines” that almost all who serve as chaplains experience in their careers. This is the second of several parts to the letter and is my attempt to systematically explain my understanding of what it is to be a Chaplain serving in the military and in particularly the Navy. The first part is linked here:

Letter to a New Military Chaplain: Part One

“There is a twilight zone in our hearts that we ourselves cannot see. Even when we know quite a lot about ourselves-our gifts and weaknesses, our ambitions and aspirations, our motives and our drives-large parts of ourselves remain in the shadow of consciousness. This is a very good thing. We will always remain partially hidden to ourselves. Other people, especially those who love us, can often see our twilight zones better than we ourselves can. The way we are seen and understood by others is different from the way we see and understand ourselves. We will never fully know the significance of our presence in the lives of our friends. That’s a grace, a grace that calls us not only to humility, but to a deep trust in those who love us. It is the twilight zones of our hearts where true friendships are born.”Henri J. M. Nouwen

Dear Chaplain

The next section of our discussion is about the “minefields” that we so often encounter as Chaplains and to some degree as Ministers, Priests or Rabbis or other religious leaders. As I noted in the first section I am dividing these “minefields” into three major areas; the personal, the behavioral and the professional.

This section is about the “personal” minefields which I call the “Minefields of the Heart.” I call it this because it seems from the Christian and Jewish Scriptures the heart is the figurative locus of what we are, good and bad alike as human beings.

Of course there is always some spillage between the areas personal, behavior and professional areas and our behaviors and professional relationships are certainly influenced by the things that we hide deep in our hearts. As human beings we may try to compartmentalize our life to keep things apart such as keeping our personal life separate from our professional life, or hide behaviors from our friends, families, peers or co-workers; but the cold hard fact is whether we are aware of it or not each area impacts the other. If we are not aware of this fact, if we have little self awareness, if we have self awareness but try to live our lives with the illusion that we can separate our lives into neat little boxes we will most undoubtedly hurt ourselves, and as spiritual leaders harm those that come to us.

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There is a scene of the last episode of Star Trek the Next Generation entitled “All Good Things” that comes to mind.  In it the being known simply as “Q” helps Captain Picard discover how his actions influence human history.

Q: You just don’t get it, do you, Jean-Luc? The trial never ends. We wanted to see if you had the ability to expand your mind and your horizons. And for one brief moment, you did.

Capt. Picard: When I realized the paradox.

Q: Exactly. For that one fraction of a second, you were open to options you had never considered. That is the exploration that awaits you. Not mapping stars and studying nebulae, but charting the unknown possibilities of existence.

You may wonder where I am going with this but it has to do with the personal minefields, those that exist inside of us, those that lurk beneath the surface which if we are unaware wreak havoc on everything else that we do. In the episode of Star Trek that I am referring to Captain Picard is allowed by Q to see the effects of his actions and to see how limited his thinking was.  The challenge for us is chaplains are to be aware of what Nouwen calls “the twilight zone in our hearts” and how what is at the depth of our heart impacts everything else that we do.

Too often though, mostly because of our own personal limitations and serious lack of real theological and pastoral formation involving self reflection and exploration we fail to see them. Like an uncharted minefield we are unaware of them until we either discover their existence through accident and “blow ourselves and others up” or until we listen to those that can see those twilight zones, those minefields better than we ourselves. Of course the latter, especially when it comes from those who love us, care for us and have our best at heart is the preferable method to learn about these things.

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However, that being said part of this can be done through reading. A lot of us simply read “how to” type books when it comes to ministry. We seek direct easy answers in how to run our programs be it in the church, in a para-church ministry or in the chaplaincy. Believe me there are plenty of those kinds of books out there, not only that but a plethora of “self help” books that tell us the “three things we must know” the “five whatever’s to success” or the Seven Habits of Highly Defective People.” The sad thing is, even when these books contain nuggets of truth, they serve it like fast food and reduce it to the lowest common denominator. In a sense, even the most well intentioned of these “how to” or “self help” books promote a reductionist view of faith, spirituality, psychology and in some cases ethics and doctrine.

Reading is important, especially the hard stuff, philosophy, history, moral theology, but also things that you might not expect science fiction for example. In addition classic literature from antiquity and from non-western traditions also sheds light on those personal minefields. Heck we can even find truth in television and film, note my continued references to Star Trek. I find that God can speak to us in many ways.

As Christians we may also find lessons, insights and inspiration from the Bible that can be quite helpful. Unfortunately most of us have so many theological filters in place that we often miss the very things that would be most helpful to us. They can serve as blinders that keep us from sensing what the Spirit of God is trying to teach us. Our church, denominational or theological traditions as well as our hermeneutical methods often cloud our minds to what God is trying so hard to say. It was a problem that the religious establishment of his time had with Jesus, and often with the various prophets that preceded him whose stories we read about in the Old Testament.

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I am sure that others who are not Christians can say similar things about their faith, traditions and holy books. I remember an Iraqi General who I met who took the time to show me his well worn and read Arabic-English Bible. He was a Moslem, but he said that he learned so much from it because it was different than what was in the Koran and he meant no disrespect of his own faith by saying that. He had opened his mind to truth that others turn a blind eye to.

Some of the personal issues that prove to be deadly include what we don’t know about ourselves, usually dating back to childhood, how were raised, how we see God, if we perceive ourselves to be worthy of God’s love or worthy of the love and respect of others.  Those attitudes, especially those created as a result of negative relationships or even physical, emotional or sexual abuse, abandonment and rejection are powerful. Many of us like to pretend that we have gotten past those things but few of us actually do. Unfortunately there is a tendency for those issues to raise their heads in often very ugly ways as we minister as Chaplains.

For example: Let us say that we are distrustful of authority because of having an abuse parent, that we fear that no matter how well we do that there is always someone waiting to take us down. Let us say that we had previous experiences in the church, at work or maybe in prior military service where we were mistreated by those in authority.

I have found that if that condition is not dealt with that in a hierarchical organization such as the Chaplain Corps and the military that it is almost always fatal to the ability of the chaplain to minister in the organization. That is because the military is based on trust, our lives and mission depend on it. We have to trust the chain of command, we have to trust those that serve alongside of us and we have to trust our subordinates. There may be times when the chain of command fails and things don’t go right. There are toxic leaders and there are also toxic chaplains, one has to be aware that they are out there, know how to deal with them or survive under their command but one cannot presume that everyone is like that, trust is essential.

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I find it interesting that Jesus commended the faith of the Roman Centurion when instead of asking Jesus to come to his house and heal his servant simply said “But just say the word, and my servant will be healed. For I myself am a man under authority, with soldiers under me. I tell this one, ‘Go,’ and he goes; and that one, ‘Come,’ and he comes. I say to my servant, ‘Do this,’ and he does it.”Matthew 8: 8b-9 Jesus told the people around that “he had not seen such faith in all of Israel.” Jesus saw the virtue of the Centurion, a virtue that many of his own people were lacking.

That is just one of a myriad of personal issues that can trip up a Chaplain in the military. The fact is that issues of the heart those things that we don’t like to admit are true about us, things that we are unaware about or in outright denial about in our lives are the things that go to the “heart” of who we are.

As fa as the minefields of my heart, they too are many. However the one that gets me time and time again is my passion for justice and my visceral reaction to those that I believe are bullies. That comes from my childhood. As a Navy brat I was always the new kid in town, and being that I was kind of the short, shy and introverted kid I was also kind of a nerd, or geek. I was not gifted with speed or great athletic abilities and it took me a while to find my academic prowess. That meant that I often didn’t fit in and though I was generally well liked that I would on occasion be bullied and I learned to defend myself, not very well at times but well enough to as the Klingons say “to die an honorable death.”

Jeremiah the prophet, who admittedly was most certainly clinically depressed if you look at his writings did note that “The heart is deceitful above all things and beyond cure. Who can understand it?” Jeremiah 17:9 Depressed or not Jeremiah did seem to understand that what he and many writers of scripture call “the heart” is hard to understand, especially when it is our own.

Thus I go back to Nouwen’s comment about the “twilight zone of the heart” that we cannot see. That it is why as Chaplains we have to develop relationships with people who can help us see what is in the twilight zone of our hearts and lovingly come alongside of us, not just as colleagues but as friends.

Those people may be clergy or other chaplains, but then they may not be. Perhaps they are senior enlisted personnel, long time friends, teachers, spiritual directors, counselors or our God forbid our spouses, I jest about the latter because my wife can see things about things about me that I cannot see, she is incredibly wise.

The minefields that exist in our hearts are so varied, so diverse and so treacherous. They have the potential to affect so many other parts of our lives. Thus for us as chaplains if we are not careful they can be destructive not only to us, but to those that we serve as well as those that we presume to love.

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When I look back at my career and I am honest about it, I can say without a doubt that most of the things that hurt me were a direct reflection of the minefields that were already present in my heart. When things that happened that I felt were unjust or threatening I reacted and quite often my reactions caused problems greater than what I was reacting to. All they needed was something to set them off. What I have come to understand is even though I have had a very successful and that I am now a Senior Officer that what lies in my heart can still blow me up and that I need to always be careful of those minefields that exist in the twilight zone of my heart.

Lao Tzu said: “Watch your thoughts; they become words. Watch your words; they become actions. Watch your actions; they become habit. Watch your habits; they become character. Watch your character; it becomes your destiny.”

That is the key, those things that emanate from the deepest recesses of our hearts are full of minefields and we need to guard our hearts and minds in this ministry that we are privileged to have as military chaplains.

Peace

Padre Steve+

 

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