Monday, October 28, 2013


I love baptisms!  Is there anything more restoring to the soul than a baptism? 

We've had two baptisms in my unit, one that I performed recently and another that I facilitated through a friend and fellow chaplain.  Here are some pictures from the latest:

 Matt 3:13-17
Then Jesus came from Galilee to John at the Jordan, to be baptized by him. John would have prevented him, saying, ‘I need to be baptized by you, and do you come to me?’ But Jesus answered him, ‘Let it be so now; for it is proper for us in this way to fulfill all righteousness.’ Then he consented. And when Jesus had been baptized, just as he came up from the water, suddenly the heavens were opened to him and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and alighting on him. And a voice from heaven said, ‘This is my Son, the Beloved, with whom I am well pleased.’

Sunday, September 1, 2013


Last week Jenn and I went to Oahu, Hawaii, sans kids (thanks to my mom and sister for filling in back in Joshua Tree).  It was an overdue 10-year anniversary trip and second honeymoon. 

We had an amazing experience.  As someone who loves to snorkel, Oahu was heaven.  While Jenn sunbathed on the beach, I spent almost all my time in the water.  The diversity of the fish, and their vibrant colors never ceased to amaze me. 

While floating in the blue waters of a bay at North Shore, something large came into view.  Snorkeling can be relaxing, exciting, and, at times, terrifying—like when a wave threatens to throw you into some rocks, or when a big unknown mass comes swimming your way.  In the back of my mind, the Jaws music is always queued up for when something large materializes in the water (usually another snorkeler).  As I made out the shape, my fear melted away as I realized that it was a massive sea turtle.

I expected the turtle to swim away, but it didn't seem bothered by my presence.  Instead, the turtle seemed like it was inviting me to follow.  Precious seconds turned into minutes as the turtle slowly led me on a tour of the rocks and plants and fish, our bodies floating and moving together as waves rolled over us. 

At one point, with the turtle floating directly below me, our bodies aligned, a large wave crashed over us.  And I fought against it.  The turtle seemed startled by my ungraceful movements.  It looked me in the eyes, as if to say, "Don't fight the waves."  In fact, as I processed this experience later while speaking with Jenn, I told her, "It was like the turtle was speaking to me.  Like he had something to tell me."  Jenn asked, "Well, what did he tell you?"  I paused, and then it was quite clear.  "He told me, 'Aloha.  Be at peace.'"

Commonly used to say hello, or goodbye, Aloha means so much more: peace, mercy, compassion, love.  Visiting the islands taught me that it's a way of life, a way of being--not unlike the idea of shalom.

The turtle was both my guide and messenger in a holy place.  I felt like I better understood the experience in Isaiah 6, even if just a little bit.  After about 10 minutes, another snorkeler swam up, scaring away the turtle.  So I swam back to Jenn, without words to adequately describe the experience or convey how it transformed me.  

Saturday, August 18, 2012

Shadows and Reflection

EARLY yesterday morning, I found myself taking part in a nine-mile hike, or a "hump" as the Marines call it.

The stars were out, and as we climbed into the hills, there was just enough light from the base below us that I could see shadows.  Cast at my feet on the sand, I was surrounded by shadows of Marines carrying rifles, with their packs and all their gear.  You could tell from these shadows that these men were warriors.

As I looked about me, a memory came rushing back.  Fourteen years ago, I first caught a glimpse of my shadow as a young private in the Army, going on a very similar hike during some early morning hour.  Seeing the shadow of me carrying an M16, and decked out in battle gear, shocked me into the realization that I was indeed a soldier.

With this memory bubbling to the surface, I then focused on my own shadow.  Unlike the others, including the one in my memory, there was no rifle.  I looked like all the rest, burdened down with gear, except for that one crucial difference.

As I mused on this, something wonderful happened.  A bright light from the base below caught the brass cross on my collar just right.  For a brief moment, dancing on the sand where my shadow lay was a large golden cross.

It may have just been a coincidence, but the combination of everything created a holy moment for me.  As I stumbled through the dark, on a very difficult hike where every footstep seemed to sink into the soft sand as I labored up and down the desert hills, I had reason to praise God.  Like passing through the shadow of the cross at the temple, I had found a holy path as I walked in the reflection of God's love.

Sunday, July 15, 2012

Strange Ministry

The view from our back porch in Joshua Tree, California.

The desert is remote, having a stark beauty punctuated with relentless heat.  In God or the Navy's wisdom, my orders were switched from Okinawa to 29 Palms, so here we are.

I found myself this last week giving suicide prevention briefs inside of an armory, surrounded by M16s, M4s, 9mms, and rocket launchers.  It struck me that this was a most absurd combination, and a most strange ministerial task for a priesthood member of Community of Christ.

That was Thursday.

Come Friday, I attended a safety brief where the Marines were told to have a good time this weekend, but don't do anything stupid.  For good measure, one of the leader's threw in his advice on relaxation, telling them to "Go [expletive] somebody this weekend, then come back ready to work on Monday."  Again, in this moment, it struck me that this was a most unusual place for a member of the priesthood to be ministering. 

Aware of my presence, several looks shot in my direction to see what I would do or say.  Once the leader became aware of me among the troops, he then added, "Sorry, chaps!"  Without thinking, I shouted in response, "Use a rubber!"

Good advice?  Sure.  Laughter in response?  Absolutely.

As I walked away, I weighed my response to what would have been a most absurd statement at any other workplace.  Perhaps, if they remembered, my three words might have stopped an unwanted pregnancy or STD.  But I was worried that when I should have been crying repentance, the best I could do was cry prevention.  And prevention seems too much like condoning.  Maybe I'm just relenting, being a realist, when the vision of a redeemed creation shouldn't bow so easily.  But three words and two seconds were about all I had, and what else was I supposed to do?

I find myself caught in a landscape so foreign to traditional ministry.  It's a rough place because its occupied by the Marines, men as harsh as the desert about me.  I would have preferred to preach on responsible sexual ethics during that safety brief, using words more in line with the statement just produced by my church.  But I am caught in a strange ministry.

And this strange ministry reminds me that we live in a broken world.  I have, through Christ, renounced the world's brokenness and embraced the hope of restoration and wholeness.  And yet I belong and minister to a population that is simultaneously our best defense against and best indication of the brokenness.  Some would say that the military only perpetuates the brokenness, rather than solving it.  They'd probably be right.  Still, like two angels on my shoulders, the proud military officer inside of me reminds my tree-hugging idealist self that the freedom for some to dream comes at a terrible cost born by others.  And the tree hugger shouts back, "Live by the sword, die by the sword!"

We can put padding about the sharp edges of our broken world, to avoid getting cut.  But the disjointedness between ideals and reality is bound to frustrate efforts and souls.

Am I frustrated?  Sure.

And yet, in this last week alone, my one-on-one ministry likely, with no exaggeration, averted the most terrible tragedy and disaster that you can imagine in the lives of several persons.  So I keep pushing on, mending and making whole where I can, and padding the sharp edges where I have little choice, hoping that my work is making a difference for the better.

Hear the word of the Lord:
"Wo be unto him that is at ease in Zion" (2 Nephi 12:30).

This strange ministry has me in a state which is anything but "at ease," straining to see a vision of Zion that ever seems on the horizon.  Yet I believe.  Yet I hope.  Yet I labor.

Wednesday, February 8, 2012


I have arrived at Chaplain School in Columbia, SC.

To say a word or two about ODS in reflection:
It is much harder than I anticipated, but only for the first week or two. The last two weeks we were rarely yelled at, and did little corrective PT. What was challenging was how tired and worn out my body became after very little sleep and doing PT very early in the morning. Despite this, the last week--with firefighting, and the sinking ship simulator--was a lot of fun.

And on to Chaplain School. The accommodations are infinitely better than ODS. I have my own room, which is quite spacious, and a king size bed. At ODS, we were staying two men to a spacious closet.

In that I haven't had a chance to really figure things out here, I will hold on an assessment beyond the room being nice. In some ways, we are very free, and in others we are definitely being treated like students in military training.

Finally, on to the title of this post: Mission. I am committed to and proud to serve as an officer of the United States Navy, believing our mission is to be a global force for good. As one also committed to Christ's mission to proclaim peace, I hate that militaries exist in the first place; but I am also mindful of events like 9-11 and the intent of others to extinguish our liberties and very lives if they could. If there must be war, as a defense of our right to live, then those versed in peace and the words of truth and light should be at the forefront providing a moral framework and ministering to those who carry the awful burden.

A story from scripture has been on my heart the last few days:
Certain Jewish elders once came to Jesus, asking that he heal the servant of a Roman Centurion. Of the soldier, they said to Jesus: “This man deserves to have you do this, because he loves our nation and has built our synagogue” (Luke 7:4-5). Now I don't know if they would say this of every Roman soldier, but it is likely that this particular commander was good to the local population and had won their respect. In any event, Jesus did not deny ministry to him or his servant. He did not say: "No, I cannot minister to someone associated with war; I will not minister to the household of those who occupy us." Instead, finding the Centurion's faith great, he praised him, and then healed the servant.

In these verses, I find peace.

Sunday, January 15, 2012


I've been mulling over my last post since I posted it yesterday, and feel the need to clarify one thing:
I believe in the right of persons to defend themselves. I believe defending oneself is backed by scripture and the best minds of the Christian tradition. I also find myself wondering, however, when violence will end unless the enlightened stand up against it.

For me, the message of the cross is the futility of violence. Jesus had meted out against him pain beyond comprehension, through capital punishment of the greatest power the earth had then known; and in response, he said, "Do your worst, your most violent, and I will show you the power of God's love to overcome."

Not on wooden crosses but the crosshairs of rifle scopes do the enemies of our way of life find a final end. I hate that this is so; and with the earth, I cry out over humanity's sins. When, O Lord, will we lay down our weapons of war for peace?

What would such a world look like, where peace comes from love instead of force? God help us to find a better way, to be willing to pay the price--a much higher price than we pay for defense.

Saturday, January 14, 2012


I'm on my first liberty, and am so tired I'm almost falling asleep as I type this. In the first time since my Army basic training in 1998, I fell asleep standing up, and almost busted my face as my body went limp and I fell forward.

It's not all bad. Sometimes I can't believe that they're paying me to be here! Accommodations include a room overlooking the beautiful Narragansett Bay; every morning I get a personalized wake up call; I have a personal trainer who is really good at motivating me; I get three meals from a galley which has signs saying that it's award winning; and, I got to go on a $2k shopping spree, buying a whole new wardrobe. Overall, I can't remember a more memorable trip.

The first day started out slow, but the next morning the chiefs came in at 4am screaming and yelling. I did so many pushups and other exercises that I almost passed out. Since then, we generally have gotten up around 4:15. Nights usually end from 10pm (if I'm lucky) to 1am if I have a uniform inspection or something else the next morning. This last few days the chiefs have let us get up on our own, which is nice--but we still have to get up early.

We get punished for not following instructions, which is daily. My prior military experience has been very useful, but it's like learning a second language: I have to translate everything from my native tongue of Army into Navy.

Yesterday, my chief, anticipating my conflict of wanting to proclaim peace while a military officer, stated: "You don't kill people; you fix people. But the people you fix are going to go out and kill the enemy, and you've got to realize that." Reading it simplistically, he's right. But where does ministry stop and complicity start?

Hear the word of the Lord:
Matthew 10:28
Fear not them which kill the body, but are not able to kill the soul: but rather fear him which is able to destroy both soul and body in hell.