Weekly Pin Therapy

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I have always enjoyed recreational bowling since I was a teenager. Up until last year, I never bowled on a league. Always thought I needed to have an average up around 200 to compete. My average was more like 150.

Last year as I was recreationally bowling at Ft. Benning’s main post bowling alley, I saw signs advertising a Monday night league. THAT, I might be willing to try. I needed something recreational and different to do on a Monday night. I signed my name to the sheet just below where it said “This is a handicapped league.” I believed I could play in such a league.

The first night I showed up around Labor Day 2012. The place was packed. They quickly assigned me to three other players, Deloris – the mother of an active duty Army General, Tyrone – the manager of the Ft Benning Bingo Hall, and Atsuko – 80 yr old Japanese born naturalized American citizen , who loved to drink two Jack Daniels and mix one with her Ensure. I stunk in league bowling. Tried to do too much. I discovered I wasnt as relaxed as I would be during recreational bowling.

But as the year progressed at work, during the rear detachment duties of our brigade’s deployment, I found that Monday night league to be my oasis. Most of the league bowlers were retirees – many of them Army veterans or DoD civilian retirees. And most of them bowled in leagues for years. But before the start of each game there was often a prayer, prayer requests for hospitalized league members, etc. Two times during rhe season we all brought covered dishes and feasted. It was a competitve family atmosphere. They accepted me even though my average dropped to 142.

Monday nights became my $16 a night therapy. I gradually learned to relax, breathe slowly, and slow my rolls down. My average started to climb. At the end of the season, even though our team “The Moon Lighters” placed 20th out of 22 teams, each of us collected over $200 of our money back!

I couldnt wait for this season. In fact, I really missed the Monday night “Agressors” League over the summer. The first night of this season was last week. I showed up, not knowing whose team I’d be on. I was sad to see my old teammates from last season didn’t make it. But I was delighted to be teamed up with a retired Army Command Sergeant Major who is in his mid-70’s who bowls a slow steady ball while leaning on his four-pronged cane. Also on our team are Maureen and Brenda, two retirees. Racially, I am in the vast minority in our league. But we dont care about race. We care about sportsmanship and friendship. And just after two nights, Walter, the CSM, is a blessing and pleasure to bowl with. It inspires me to see him hobble to the line and throw a strike or spare. Then turn and with that big grin, hobble back to high five everyone on both teams.

Im already bowling more relaxed, and seeing a rise in my scores. We are called “Three Queens and an Ace” a holdover name from last year. Not sure how it applies this year but who cares. We have a ball! I look forward to Monday nights and my $16 recreational group therapy. Thank God for a Ft. Benning bowling league and the opportunity I have to bowl with alot of veterans!

Holy Spirit is On Duty

“What about you, in the front? What job do you have?” asked the whitewater rafting guide as we paddled down the Chattahoochee River in Columbus, GA. “I’m a chaplain,” I answered.

Our guide, who had a very salty tongue, was a buff shirtless guy probably in his early 30’s who looked like he just walked off the set of Duck Dynasty, sporting a huge bushy dirty blonde beard. He was getting to know his crew of six Soldiers from HHC, 3-3 BSTB before we got too far down the river. Soldiers sat in the raft, and all told him their jobs. Then it was my turn.

“So, you’re a preacher man?” “Yes,” I responded, “but probably more of a counselor – but be yourself.” “Well, I’ll tell you something, Preacher Man, I’m always myself. It’s the only way to be. And…thanks for what you do but I have issues with that Book of yours. No offense, but I just have a different view of things. I’m more of a natural man. I live my life and have a good time. It’s all about having a good time. Tried your Book in the past but it didn’t work out for me, so I do the best I can.”

“No offense taken,” I said, realizing it unwise to argue with a guide who can keep you safe on an unfamiliar river. I decided to focus my eyes forward and on the quickly approaching whitewater rapids. I did say a quick silent prayer for the guy. Strangely, I soon noticed a change in the guide’s language. It got instantly cleaner. He kept on telling his stories and cracking jokes in between instructions to his crew. But I noticed him catching himself and making his language PG-13 instead of R, which I appreciated. But I also silently wondered what impact “my Book” did have on him in the past. He guided us through the rapids and once we were out of the river, we boarded the bus to go back to the outfitters and start all over again in two-man rafts called “ducks.”

This time our guide hopped into a two-man raft with another Soldier. Before he donned his life vest, I noticed the many tattoos he had on his upper body. He sported a huge one over his right pectoral muscle – a portrait of Jesus wearing the Crown of Thorns. Across his neck from one side to the next it read “Be patient, God isn’t finished with me yet.” I was faced with a choice – comment on those two tattoos, or say nothing.

“I like your tattoos,” I told him. “That one of Jesus is powerful, and that one around your neck is very true.” “Thanks, Preacher Man,” he said. A little while later down the Chattahoochee River, when my buddy and I hit a particularly wild Class IV rapid, the little raft popped up and tipped to the side, throwing me overboard. My buddy was also thrown from the raft trying to reach me. The guide and his Soldier partner frantically paddled to reach us. We were in no real danger because my buddy already had one leg back inside the duck raft and I was floating down stream in the current, wearing my personal flotation device, waiting for my paddle to reach me before I swam back to the raft. The guide frantically kept barking orders to my buddy to paddle the raft towards the rocks on the side of the water flume. And then as I was making my way over to my raft with my recaptured paddle in hand, the guide said, “You got it, Preacher Man, you got it. Throw your leg up over the side and climb up in that thing.” Adrenaline was pumping and I thrust myself up over the side of the raft and successfully climbed in. “Woohoo! That was awesome!” my buddy and I were shouting. “What a ride!” Later, after the river run was over and we turned our rafts in back at the outfitters, I grabbed the hand of the guide and as I shook it, I told him, “thank you very much for an awesome time. Thanks for rescuing us too, because I might have gone through that next rapid outside the raft. The current doesn’t bother me, but I just didn’t want to slam my ankles against underwater rocks.”

He thanked me for our group being there and said, “See you again soon, Preacher Man.”

I realized that another crew member was on that river with us. Nobody could see it, nobody could hear it, but its presence was certainly felt. The Holy Spirit was on duty. The Spirit apparently changed the behaviors and language of our guide, without me getting in the way.

In the Army, I serve many Soldiers with a wide variety of religious views, and lack thereof. I learned early on that the most effective way to be a witness to the non-Christians I serve or work around is to step out of the way and let the Holy Spirit work. The Holy Spirit is always on duty. In the past I would develop this careful plan about when and where I would introduce spiritual truths, using different tricks and methods to start the Gospel conversation. That was alot of pressure because if I failed to engage my plan I would feel guilty.

The trouble with all of that is that it was about ME. I have no power to save anyone, let alone myself! It’s not about my plan but the Lord’s Plan! When I shifted to saying silent prayers for the guys around me, and respecting them, not being shocked at what they told me about religion, and TRUST THE HOLY SPIRIT TO DO THE WORK IT WILL DO ANYWAY – I moved out of the center of the picture and the Lord took over the process of changing the hearts and minds of people I was around. My job as a witness is easy: be present, be respectful, and be myself. I saw it work on that river last week. I see it work daily when I counsel Soldiers.

Last week, I was approached by more than one Soldier with seriously opposing views from mine about religious matters. I respectfully listened, asked probing questions to determine how they came to hold their views – and then did not seek to change their views. Why? Because I’ve learned that when the person is sitting there talking to a Chaplain with a Cross on his uniform, and Christian symbols and prayers are on his office walls, the person clearly recognizes where the Chaplain stands. They didn’t come to me to hear me espouse my views, but to get help with their issues.

When the person sees that I respect their views, and don’t approach it like I have a captive audience to tell them the error of their ways, they begin to respect me, and possibly my views. And what they don’t realize is that the Holy Spirit is the third being in the conversation. I stay off my soapbox and try to find common ground with the person – no matter how different they are, and the Lord has easy, unobstructed access to the person who came to a Christian for help. In my counseling sessions I will often ask the Soldier if I can say a quick prayer for him or her, but I never assume I have permission. I already know the Lord is working on their heart just because they came to a Christian for help.

Yes, I know the person could die still as a spiritually lost person. But I know this to be true: everyone lives eternally – we just have to choose where. No need to panic when we have prayer and the awesome power of the Holy Spirit. More life-changing than any powerful weapon used in the Army. I’ve seen self-proclaimed atheists ask me for Bibles. I’ve seen backslidden Christias ask me to teach them to pray. And I’ve seen it countless times – men and women intentionally check their dirty language just because I come around. And all the time I tell them, “at ease,” “relax fellas,” and “please, be yourselves.” Yes, the Holy Spirit is on duty. The Holy Spirit is real, alive, and changing hearts. My prayer is that I can be a witness and ready with an answer when asked, but stay out of the way and let the Lord’s Plans prevail instead of mine. The Lord will show me what to do and say.

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America’s Greatest Treasures

Before I entered the Army as a Chaplain, I served in local churches as a staff minister. These days it seems the mega-churches with multimillion dollar buildings and audiovisual, publishing and broadcasting resources get all the press and most of the glory.

While these houses of worship do a great work – indeed, I have used their resources, they often have a disadvantage over small churches. I have seen many Soldiers with strong spiritual core. I have seen some solid Christians. But to be honest, I have encountered more Soldiers who are struggling spiritually. Either they have no relationship with God or do not believe in the divine. They have heard of God, and may have even heard and seen programs from America’s megachurches. So those churches’ messages are getting out, but they aren’t getting through to everyone. We have more evangelical big events than we know what to do with, yet we are failing in our mission to reach members of our armed forces – whose job it is to literally protect the freedom we have to our evangelical big events. Suicide rates, numbers of clinically depressed young men and women, and other serious issues are on the rise. Another big Christian worship camp isn’t addressing the issues I’m seeing. Not for the most part, at least.

As a Chaplain, I see that one-on-one trust-building relationships is probably the most effective way to do ministry. Soldiers and their family members could be considered as thermometers that reveal the spiritual health of America’s families. If that’s the case – we are unhealty.

I see that small churches, or communities of faith that emphasize creative neighborhood outreaches as opposed to large, centralized worship events, may have an advantage over the larger churches that focus on the worship service. Yes, worship of God is priority one. But there is the worship service and the service of worship.

I have come to believe – since I’ve been a Chaplain, that what is needed the most in America is Christians reaching out to their neighbors to develop caring, trusting relationships. Discover what the needs are and organize the church’s resources to help meet those needs. Non-Christians are more likely to start attending a small church where someone has shown them love and care, and where they can feel part of a family and not lost in the shuffle.

I wonder if the American Church may have high-teched itself out of relevancy. As a Chaplain, I am better able to share faith in one-on-one relationships than with programs or worship services. Worship services have an important place – but not at the expense of more difficult one on one relationship building.

I would go as far to say that small churches that are outreach minded are America’s greatest treasure. Because you can have the most highly trained, best equipped Soldier in the world. But if that Soldier has a lack of faith or a lack of spiritual core that helps him or her stay focussed and resilient, that is a Soldier who is weak within.

I must say that the health of America’s families are revealed every day in the Soldiers we see. And I must say that I think the largest risk to the security of our nation is the lack of spiritual center. This is more threatening to the United States than terrorist attacks.

Small churches? Pray for the hearts, minds and families of our Soldiers. And realize the small church has an advantage over the mega church. Small churches are able to develop relationships with the lost a little bit easier. Pray for the TOTAL heaths and health of the Soldiers. But even more so, pray for the hearts and minds of the Soldiers. And….do your parts to protect our country from the enemy described in Ephesians 6. Reach out – truly reach out and care for your neighbors. That way, when they do join the armed forces, they might already have a spiritual core that Chaplains can help them nurture!

YOU CAN’T TAKE IT WITH YOU

Over the years I have collected a lot of things I don’t ever want to part with. Old trinkets, photo albums, objects, trophies and memorabilia from my childhood. When relatives passed away they would “will” me some of their things. Some things I kept, while others quite frankly had little value to me. I collected baseball cards, books, CDs, vinyl albums, art supplies, hand tools, sports equipment, cool t-shirts, camping gear, fishing and sports equipment, and so on. The collection filled many boxes over the years. So recently I rented a storage facility. But as I started filling it, I had to upgrade twice to what is now a full-size $70 a month storage room. It is filled with things I once thought I just couldn’t live without.

But over the last holiday block leave I realized something. I HAVE been living without them and doing quite fine. Turns out the family heirlooms are things I don’t want to part with, but will my kids even KNOW their ancestors much less appreciate their belongings after I hand them down upon my own death? And is there someone else who can use my sports equipment NOW more than me paying to store them in a room where I never can get to them? When we die, we cannot take one thing with us. Look at the ancient Pharaohs of Egypt. Buried with all of their treasures, mummified in their tombs within the Great Pyramids, so that they could be well-equipped for the afterlife. Well, now we can go see all their stuff – including their own skeletons, in museums. We really can’t take it with us.

So, what sort of stuff do you have? Are you like me, paying for a storage facility to keep stuff you can’t really use locked up? My goal for this year is to start going through that stuff and either giving it away to folks who could use it more than me, or selling it to make some extra cash, or simply tossing it or donating to libraries. I want to travel lighter in my Army career and in my life. To leave a smaller footprint. Besides, the less I have the less I have to worry about someone stealing. Jesus said something along these lines in the New Testament. He told folks to store up their treasures in heaven and not here on earth. In other words, to see our belongings as resources to help others, and not to simply hoard for ourselves. For when we get the items the first time, we gain enjoyment. But when we give them to others and see the positive response we get, we get to enjoy them all over again. And hopefully we can then spend less to store them! How will you use all that stuff you’ve been keeping up with? Because either today or after you die, you’re getting rid of it.

BUDDY CHECK!

I love the Buddy System. The Army didn’t invent it, but relies heavily on it. Ever since I was a kid I have heard about the buddy system. As a Cub Scout and later a Boy Scout we always had to have a buddy with us everywhere we went. In swimming areas the lifeguard would blow the whistle every 15 minutes and we would stop swimming, find our buddy, and hold our hands up high. The point was to make sure everyone was safe. In college we had roommates. The trick was finding one you could live with without punching each other in the face. At summer camps we always used the buddy system for kids. It was easier to ensure safety and to keep track of campers. Police and Fire and even EMS workers use the buddy system. Look how many “buddy cop” shows and movies there have been, before the “ensemble cast” shows took their place.

In Chaplain School, my Buddy and I were good friends. We shared different values in some things, but when it came to Army business, we made sure each other were squared away. The Army designed the Chaplain Corps around the buddy system, placing a Chaplain with a Chaplain Assistant. They may not be of the same religion, but they are on the same mission – to provide religious support to the unit as part of the Commander’s intent and plans. I could not have been successful without my Chaplain Assistant. I have been blessed to have had three work with me – SGT John Finley, SSG Kembra Brooks, and SPC Kara Holsey. In the Chaplain Corps, the buddy system is a necessity.

The buddy system was invented by God, the way I see it. Adam was placed into the Garden of Eden by God, created from the mud of the earth. Adam had it all, but God saw him and said “It is not good for man to be alone.” So God caused Adam to fall asleep and took a rib from him and created Eve, the first female. Now whether you believe that to be truth or legend, the reality is that we have male and females of just about every species. I believe it was the Creator’s intent for people and all creatures for that matter, to not be alone. What “buddies” do you have in your life? Family? Spouse? Friends? Coworkers? Teammates? It is not good to be alone all the time. Identify your buddies, take care of them, and be honest and open when you need something from them. Care for each other. Because even the Lone Ranger wasn’t alone. He had his sidekick Tonto!

EXPIRATION DATES

EXPIRATION DATES

On every milk carton you buy – unless you get it straight from the cow, you will find an expiration date printed clearly where you can see it. People are like milk cartons, in that we each have an expiration date. Only our dates aren’t printed on our exterior. But from dust we came and to dust we shall return.
Death is a certainty. It’s just a matter of when.

There was a powerful song from the 1980’s band Mike and the Mechanics. It was a chart hit called “The Living Years.” Essentially the song is about a man who never quite saw eye-to-eye with his father, and lived with regret that his father died before he had a chance to tell his father his true feelings. I was adopted by a loving man who wanted to become my father. There are many things we disagree on, and some of those things have caused a strain in our relationship. But at the end of the day, I love that man for caring for me. Hearing that song on the radio encouraged me to write a letter to Dad telling him that even though we had our differences, I still loved and respected him. Our relationship changed for the better after that. I am glad because he nearly died of a heart attack several years later. Today we are closer than ever.

Whatever you do, never let pride get in the way of making peace with your loved ones. You may never agree on everything, but you can agree to peacefully disagree. Make peace with loved ones before either they – or you, expire. And don’t put it off for another day. Because unlike a carton of milk, only God knows when the expiration date is.

I KNEW A GUY WHO KNEW A GUY

Soldiers love to tell stories. Cavalrymen tell some of the best stories. A lot of the stories I have heard start with, “I knew a guy who knew a guy…” Sometimes we listen to the story and we’re not sure how true it actually is. But it’s interesting just the same. Usually the story describes a guy someone knew who either did something awesome, hilarious, or really stupid. We may never know the person in the story, but his reputation is at the very heart of the story. And we go away either admiring or shaking our head at the person.

A person’s reputation is built upon a person’s actions – either one major action or a pattern of actions. Ever heard the phrase, “his reputation precedes him?” It means that others have heard about the person before he arrives and many in the group already have an impression of the guy – either good or bad, before they even meet him. May not sound fair but that’s the way it works. When you hear “don’t be THAT guy,” you know what that means. It means “don’t screw up!” What you want is to be the OTHER guy who succeeds and is squared away! An old children’s magazine I used to read was called “Highlights.” In every issue there was a comic about two boys named “Goofus” and “Gallant.” It used contrasting pictures to show how we should and should not act in certain situations. Gallant was always doing the right thing while Goofus couldn’t seem to do anything right.

When you look in the mirror every morning what do you see? A Goofus or a Gallant? To be honest, I see a little of both in my mirror. While I’d love to think I am totally squared away, I can assure you I am not. Overall, though – and with the Grace of God, I see more of a Gallant than a Goofus. I try really hard not to be “THAT guy,” whose sorry reputation precedes him. When someone tells of a guy who knew a guy who knew me, I want it to be about something good. Why? Even though I am far from perfect, I care about doing my best. I care about my character and my name. I am adopted and I want to be a credit to my father’s name. As a Christian, I want to be a credit to my Heavenly Father’s Name. I take pride in myself and in my reputation. I know and understand the Army Values and I do my best to live them. I’m not better than anyone. I just am trying to be the best me I can be.

What about you? When they tell of a guy who knew a guy who knew you, what will it be about? For something “goofus” or for something “gallant?” Reputations are huge. But very few people’s reputations will be based on some huge accomplishment. Most people’s good reputations are built over a long period of time by a steady series of the right actions and attitudes. Start building your good reputation now, if you haven’t done so already.