December 3, Alert, Personal

Part 2, on a more personal level.  Today’s Gospel Story (Mk 13:33-37) is about a master who goes away, and tells the servants to be alert so his return doesn’t catch them by surprise. As with Gospel Stories, there are both the “majority report”, what the Story is generally understood to be saying, and the “minority report”, what the Story says to each of us in our every day living.  

The “majority report” sees this as telling us to prepare for Jesus’ coming to us at Christmas. It also has the sense of pointing to the future, referring to Jesus coming at the end of the world, the Last Judgement. As important and traditional as these are, neither has much impact on how I live my everyday life. And so I look to my own minority report, what the Story says to me, something to put more meaning and context into my living these days.

What is going on in my life today, and the filter through which I’m processing the Story, is the unexpected tragic death of one of our young food service cooks where I live. We are all hurting bad over this tragedy. Some of his co-workers are pretty young, compared to me and our residents. I am concerned about them. In the Army I saw a lot of “loss of the sense of invincibility” episodes among young soldiers. Not all of them went well. I am concerned about that here with our young staff workers. We had to learn the hard way that men do cry, and it’s ok. It’s not ok to pretend we’re not hurting, because then our hurt will continue and fester, and it will come out some where and some time not under our control, and may even bring more hurt to others and damage important relationships.

I believe the master in the Story is knocking at my door telling me to get to work, and so I ask him, “take me where you want me to go, let me meet who you want me to meet, let me say what you want me to say, and keep me out of your way” (Mychal’s Prayer). How do you want me to work with you to live our compassionate love with these hurting people? What are you calling me to do? May I ask the grace to be open to your whatever, and not force how I know you on others, but be open to you in how others know you? 

I wonder why I’m thinking in terms of what I did in combat ministry. Why did I hear so much from folks in my  combat times the past several days before yesterday’s tragedy? Is there a connection with my combat ministry and what I’m doing today? Feel like a combat chaplain again, the focus of the other guys’ attention or interest. Thinking back to Christmas Eve 1970, the BDE CDR COL, Warrior 6, when I told him I felt responsible for the sniper team and security being KIA because personnel matters didn’t concern me – “Chaplain, anything that affects your people in any way concerns you, and don’t you ever forget it”. Yes sir. Haven’t forgotten it. Have the scars that go with it. Thinking about it now. Just don’t know why. What am I supposed to do? What are you calling me to? How can I help here?

These last few days in our community leave me no doubt that God is not just a name, God is a verb. God gods. God is godding a lot here these days, and doing quite a bit of it through people to people happenings. While I believe this, and for me it is an operational value, it is not important that others believe it. Many good people have no interest or awareness of God, and this is ok. The way religions have done and are doing things leaves a bad taste in folks’ mouth, including mine. How do I live my belief, my experience, without any way forcing it down other folks’ throats, so to speak? Thinking back to my time with the young, and occasionally not so young, soldiers, less god talk, more listening and being open to God being God in whatever encounter is happening, having an open mind, always ready, even expecting, to be surprised and amazed. It’s not about making my understanding of God to be important to others, just letting it be important to me, living it, being open to it, letting God be God however God is being God. None of this can be about me, only about God and God’s created people. I don’t want to get in the way. 

I have a concern about well meaning outsiders who come into our community to minister to the patients their particular service has contracts with. How they provide care for the patient is up to them. When they start publicly evangelizing our community at large with their sermons and prayers, might become problematic, and it seems to me this might need to be addressed. One wonders about proselytizing – is this the place? Our pastoral care person has set up a safe and welcoming pastoral presence that IMHO some of these visitiors are bumping up against. I remember similar situations in the Army that became constitutional issues: soldiers of different or no religious traditions being forced to stand at attention in a military formation while a chaplain prays in their own tradition loudly and forcefully, eg praying in Jesus’ name while Jews, Muslim, atheist soldiers had to stand at attention because it was their place of duty and they had to be there. Their constitutional rights were being violated in the name of someone else’s version of God. The upshot was that a number of commanders chose not to allow chaplain prayer at any official formation. I agreed with this course of action and supported the commanders. I know it is possible to pray in Jesus’ name without mentioning Jesus’ name at all. I’ve done it many times. Same with praying in God’s name. The Rabbis did this very well and with great wisdom. I can’t let myself get so wrapped up in my understanding of God that I feel it is okay to force it on other people. It can never be about me.

If people choose to trust me, I can never abuse their trust in any way for my own benefit. If I ever come close to doing that, I’m not worth having around. Someone’s trust is a precious gift I have to gratefully and humbly respect and treat with great tenderness. It might mean get involved, do something, take chances. It’s about who needs some help. Do what has to be done. Take care of your people. The uniform, what it means, and those with whom I was privileged to wear it, taught me a lot.  Sometimes at a high price. Just sayin  .  .  .