When I finished chaplain’s assistant school, I was fully prepared for whatever the Army had in store for me. I was a lean, mean, fighting machine. I was so gung ho that I even got Pro Deo Et Patria (For God and Country) tattooed on my arm. Looking back on it, I realize that it is a little cheesy to have put the Chaplain Corps motto on my arm, but again – I was motivated (and I was eighteen).
While I certainly felt prepared for what the Army had in store, I was never prepared for what it would do to my faith. The Army has taught me a lot about myself, but it has also taught me some important things about the church as a whole.
As we thank our veterans this Veterans’ Day, I thought I would share my top five things that I think the faiths of the world can learn from the Army:
1. Where you worship isn’t nearly as important as the opportunity to worship. The Army has given me the appreciation that God can show up in any place: in the middle of the woods, in the back of a Humvee, or even in a bombed out church (some of my favorites).
2. In the military, all the denominations share the same worship space. There is one building – a chapel – for everyone. I often wonder if the world would be more accepting if we all had to worship in the same place.
3. What if every pastor was employed by the same entity? The best conversations I have ever had the pleasure of being a part of or listened to in terms of faith have happened between military chaplains. Take two or three highly educated faith leaders and stick them in a room and the conversation just goes on forever. The beautiful part is that because we are all on the same team there is a sense that it is okay for us to agree to disagree.
4. Chaplains and their assistants are assigned to units, not to buildings. Doing contextual ministry for the troops and with the troops is essential to the mission. What would the Kingdom of God look like if we didn’t have to worry about buildings?
5. No matter what the situation, a chaplain and a chaplain assistant may be called upon to minister to anyone – regardless of their personal faith. In other words, we can’t turn people away. Now we may not perform religious services (based on personal faith), but we also do our absolute best to make sure they are cared for. What if every church in the world led with that kind of mentality?
Some of my best lessons have come from the Army Chaplain Corps. So this Veteran’s Day I say thanks – for an education that I could never have received on my own.