May 14, 2018.
I’m no longer a civilian. Yesterday I was commissioned as a U.S. Army chaplain. Part of me thought this day would never come. I’ve spent 5 years re-submitting forms to the Army and amid that had a brief stint submitting forms to the Navy to see if they would get me in faster. I started applying for the Chaplain Candidate Program in 2013, shortly after I entered seminary. This program would have offered me training and pay without the obligations of serving after I finished school, though service would have been highly encouraged. In preparation for writing this blog, I looked back at a blog I wrote those many years ago. Reading my 2013 words, I can feel the enthusiasm and hope that I would be able to have a smooth process through the Chaplain Candidate Program and eventually into the Chaplain Corps.
It wasn’t meant to be, despite my trip down to Garden Grove, CA, to visit Chaplain David Pyle during a battle assembly – even after submitting numerous signatures, scanned personal information and doctors’ notes. No, my commissioning and accessioning would only happen after I was ordained and forced to make a longer and more impactful commitment than I’d ever had to make in my young adult life. Those 5 years of feeling that I would never be acceptable to the military, that I was not “good enough” despite the fact that I was in the best physical, emotional and spiritual shape of my life – those years were important for me to fully understand what I was signing up for.
From a sermon I gave on this topic 2 years ago:
I reflect on this call regularly, debating with myself as a Unitarian Universalist who believes life is sacred, to make sure I’m headed where I need to go. I was called to ministry because I was looking for hope in action. I’m a minister-in-formation who would love for the very same institutions I pray will one day employ me to be unnecessary, that I will be required due to an overwhelming peace in the world to serve elsewhere. Yet, I don’t see that happening and I do see a real need within the institution. I continue to scribble my signature on the line, check boxes and email my recruiter. I have been surprised by the positive responses from colleagues and friends as I slowly but continually push for this calling to become reality. I expected more argument. More protest.
Overwhelmingly, the response has been “We need you in there.” “I’m proud of you for pursuing this.” And very meaningfully, from the spiritually grounded, action heroes with a sense of humor who currently make up the UU Military Chaplain crew, the affirming: “You belong here.”
… Our faith demands that we seek responsibly and accountably. Pacifism is absolutely part of this. Military chaplains are a part of this. People who believe that the military perpetuates problems should have a place in the conversation and community as should service members and the people who love them. Our faith proclaims a desire to stretch out beyond borders, to be inclusive, to not be monolithic. Our Universalist forebear John Murray was commissioned by George Washington during the Revolutionary War to chaplain the troops – even with his scandalous views of universal salvation. I find the argument of continuing a tradition simply because it is tradition weak and lacking. It’s important to me that we explore modern issues and context when continuing a tradition. It is because of our own values, not simply our history, that Unitarian Universalist chaplains belong in the military – are necessary there – because of (and not in spite of) our values.
Unitarian Universalism is a faith of conscience, of personal wrestling with what is true and meaningful. We come together in community on Sundays and throughout the week to connect. Not having a creed, but gathering in the mystery of the hour. Gathering in our one, strong body of accountable searching. Gathering in our belief that every person is linked with something beyond themselves – be it human capacity or God or other.
I know this call will not be an easy one. I know my faith will be tested in ways I never imagined. For now, I am grateful to be able to explore where it will lead me.