A Soldier’s Dilemma

I served in the United States Army Reserves for 12 years. April 29th was my End of Service date, one which required me to contract a third time with the army to continue being a soldier. I opted out this time around, even though the army threw many incentives at me to stay in. Including promotion to E-7, Sergeant First Class. I know, however, how unstable it is being in the military. Even the reserves require a level of interruption that wreak havoc on anything one is trying to do in the civilian world. Instead of re-enlisting, I “got out” hoping to finish my seminary and ordination studies uninterrupted. You see, I’m planning on getting back in, this time around as a chaplain. This in of itself was a pretty huge transition at the time even though now it seems so natural, to become a chaplain.

So, I got out.

Today in some weird twist of ignorance and circumstance, I made my last act of service as a Staff Sergeant and my first act as a chaplain.

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This beautiful cemetery is Edmonds Memorial Cemetery, where they hold an annual Memorial Day Service in honor of our country’s service-members, especially our MIA/POW. A few months ago a man called me to ask if I’d be willing to give the benediction at this year’s service. He’d received me as a recommendation from a pastor of the church I attended when I used to live in Edmonds. I enthusiastically said yes of course, but wasn’t sure if I’d be able to wear my uniform since my “get out” date was in April. The man insisted I do, and said he would even get something official from the Mayor if it turned out to be a problem. I didn’t think it would be a problem as this was an official community ceremony in remembrance of our nation’s heros, of which I am.

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Here are several VFW members setting up what’s known as the Missing Soldier’s Table (wiki). Some ceremonies, like the one I attended today, are more respectful of our Constitutional right to Freedom of Religion and therefore opt out of displaying the bible. This table is set in remembrance of our fallen, missing or imprisoned service-members. I find it to be incredibly moving, especially when explained in the context of a memorial service.

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This is only a SLIVER of the crowd. I think close to 500 people attended the event! I don’t have a picture of me actually giving the benediction – maybe I can find it on a news website tonight. Many people came up to me afterwards and said it was very meaningful for them. After serving twice in Iraq, this became one of my proudest military moments. Plus, affirmations like this really feed my calling. I’m also genuinely and humbly grateful to support such a community event along-side other service-members, some all the way back from WWII. Definitely from Vietnam and Korea. I’m a part of this. Little Meggie Rodgers from crab-apple cove, double combat veteran of Iraq, is a part of this.

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In what I thought was a stroke of genius, I invited Jimmy to busk Pike’s Market with me for a little bit on my way home from the ceremony. We had played all weekend long, but like me, he’s a trooper and said yes. We put smiles on so many people’s faces, and so many people, veterans and civilians alike, thanked me for my service. At one point this very old, very small lady came up to me (I was bending down putting my fiddle away), and gave me a great, big hug! She looked into my eyes and said, in some accent I couldn’t quite place, “I love you.” I of course said I love you back and returned her great, big hug. I remembered my mom telling me of having a similar reaction from people on her travels across the globe when speaking of our family. Apparently, the United States military freed a bunch of Nazi occupied countries during WWII, and some people still remember. Some people from other countries still actually love us.

But then, some guy walked up to me and said I shouldn’t be doing this in uniform. He gave me a pretty hard time about it. He even went so far as to tattle on me to the police! I know this because a different person came up to me and told me he overheard the tattle! I knew the police wouldn’t do anything, but deep inside I felt unease. It’s not like this is some schtick that I do to get sympathy when busking. Even in my personal context however, I suddenly felt ashamed. I tried to shake that feeling thereafter.

Jimmy and I finished busking after about an hour and a half. I love him so much for coming out and supporting me after such a hard weekend of playing. I hope I can be there for him just as much when he needs it because it really meant the world to me. And now I have enough money to pay for another month of music lessons! At the very least, all a musician can ask is that their craft pay for itself.

But again, the unease, the shame! The minute I got home, I looked up the regs.

Turns out, no big deal. US Constitutional Law provides that a military uniform can be worn in a theatrical performance as long as it doesn’t discredit the military. Well, I certainly hope I did the army proud with my little fiddle.

However, turns out I was out of regs when giving the benediction! I should have been wearing a dress uniform, but instead I was wearing our normal, everyday duty uniform. I actually don’t even have the newest authorized dress uniform, and it didn’t even cross my mind to wear my old dress greens. Interestingly enough, many people told me they appreciated that I was wearing the familiar uniform. I think I was more approachable. It was especially meaningful for me that it was one of the uniforms I wore during my second tour in Iraq. We certainly didn’t wear our dress uniforms there. Heck, we didn’t even bring ’em with!

And since the new dress blue uniform was the official dress uniform when I got out, I can’t participate in an official capacity wearing my dress greens. Looks like I’ll have to wait to get back in as a chaplain before giving another benediction!

Even with all my criticisms, I would never, ever, want to bring discredit to the army by wearing the uniform improperly or inappropriately. The only thing I would ever want to do on Memorial Day is show my pride in serving and remain in solidarity with our fallen, missing, and imprisoned service-members.

I guess all I have left for these old, dusty threads is as Vio Lin – fiddle player for Sweet Lou’s Sour Mash. Maybe this can become my ritual of transition – busking at Pike’s Market on Memorial Day. Though I suspect this will be the last time I busk in uniform as well.

Anywho, In honor of my fellow comrades across space and time, Happy Memorial Day, everybody.

Hearts,
Meggie

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Year in Review

I wanted to keep up my Chaplaincy series, I really did. Just like I wanted to keep up last new year’s resolution to post at least one blog a day for the rest of the year. I made a really good run with that one, so I’m not sad at all that it went by the wayside. I’m also not upset that I stopped the Chaplaincy series on like, day six. Not much endurance there, but I got several gems of revelation that will probably take me months, if not years, to tease apart. The thing is, both of these projects are merely part of my larger narrative for 2013 – a blockbuster year for me in terms of my writing. I took poems that were ten, ten, years old and, with the help of my band, turned them into songs. My dad took an essay I wrote my freshman year of college and gave it to the wife of the person who inspired the work. A person who is now dead. My dad said it was very meaningful for her, and I’m once again blessed by this man’s impact on my life. I am also one of the authors on a new publication in ATVB from research we did in Pittsburg several years ago. So, wow, I’m not at all sorry for my unfinished art of 2013 because someday I just might complete it. At least the seeds of possibility have been planted here in this little ol’ blog o’ mine.

Anyways, Happy New Year, fellow Earthicans!

Love,
Meggie

Day 6

I’m alone. I am the only chaplain at the hospital. The other chaplain, one of my mentors, and the Priest stop by early, 7:30ish, to make sure I have the print-out of the daily census for the hospital. It’s on the shared server that I have yet to access, so they stop in on their way to the mandatory Spiritual Retreat that all the real chaplains in the hospital system need to attend.

I say, “You two kids go have fun.” (Their both older, especially the Priest.) They smile warmly, and I feel confident as I place my imaginary chaplain hat on. Previously, I was in training. But this time, I’m the only chaplain here. I am the chaplain.

And that’s when I really feel it – what is called Incarnational Theology. It’s distinctly Christian in that it deals with the theology that arises (one of many, mind you) from the Gospel story of Jesus Christ. Many Christians believe Jesus Christ himself was God. Many others posit that Jesus Christ was the Son of God. I’m not entirely sure what either mean, especially the latter whose language arose to describe Emperors in ancient Greek culture.

I consider myself a Christian, and deeply ponder who and what Jesus Christ means to me. I don’t feel I have a sufficient answer for myself yet, but I truly believe that seeking is not a sign of lack of faith, but of deep faith. I hold the questions carefully in my heart because I understand that they have eternal significance (whatever THAT even means!). But I feel it, with every fiber of my being, even if I don’t quite understand it.

So, when I put on my imaginary chaplain hat, I know in some way, some beautiful, mysterious way, that what I am to the people I visit is the incarnation of a God that:

cares deeply about them
listens to their pain
is with them in the deepest sense of the word

Because I am the only one here, I really try to fully embrace this – I attempt to set all my feelings of inadequacy aside, all the other “stuff” that clogs my brain surrounding my life.

And I visit patients, family, staff. From the depths of my being, I try to embody love in the best way I know how. I know, with that great knowing, that I am always inadequate, yet God uses such an open, seeking heart to minister. Where I fall short, the grace of God steps in.

Day 4

It’s like a middle school dance
That awkwardness
How I want to be there, yes, definitely
But I just don’t know how
What to do
How to hold my hands,
Stand

I don’t know what to do when I go see
Someone who has 3 months to live
But the doctor hasn’t told him yet
The weight of that knowledge on my heart
The unfairness that I know
And he doesn’t
So, I stand
awkwardly.

I stand and I try to remember
My presence is enough

So I smile, say hi,
My name’s Meggie
I’m the chaplain

Chaplain Internship: Day Three

I’m taking a preaching class right now at school, and one of the patterns we’re supposed to avoid when creating our sermons is called proof-texting.  Basically, we all proof-text to a certain degree.  We have an opinion, whether ignorant or informed, and we gather pieces of evidence from the world to support it.  The same can be done with Scripture.  We have a certain theological, usually cloaked by the word moral, perspective and use sacred texts to support that ideology.  So, when I’m doing chaplain work, I’m given by the title some sort of authority when it comes to such matters.  But I really don’t feel that I have this authority, especially since I do not know the Christian Bible so well.  I know even less when it comes to other religions.  When I make the statement, “In my professional, religious opinion…..xyz, ” I need to be able to back that with some sort of evidence.  Yet, isn’t this in of itself proof-texting?  And is this what gives me the authority to make such statements?  Especially when they are directly contradictory to what others have said using the same texts.

It’s really complicated this authority piece.  Like anything else, it’s imbedded within the structure of injustice that is my society.  I, by my position within the world, was able to access health and education, which foundationally gave me the ability to eventually be enrolled in the chaplaincy internship, which is how I came to say, quite definitively in the middle of the hospital to a woman who’s daughter just had a psychotic break due to her mental illness and parental-taught belief that God does not love her because she is gay:

“In my professional, religious opinion, it’s okay to be gay.”

Chaplain Internship: Day Two

Holy crap, so much to unpack. Already, my second day! But really rich, good stuff, so I’m not all that bothered by the challenge. I have some homework to do based on what I learned today: find local clubs in the area that offer military honors to veterans who’ve died. I say this because a WWII vet just died today when I was at work. We walked over and talked with the family, and it came up that the deceased was a WWII vet. We conversed about that for awhile, and it felt really good to be able to follow that line of conversation based on my military experience. I need to look into local clubs in the area who give military honors at funerals (Legion? VFW?). I remember being on funeral detail when I was a young buck sergeant in Alleghany County, Pennsylvania. It’s weird how I can fold a flag drapped over someone’s coffin at a funeral and never flicnch. Perfectly executed movements. The snap of the flag as we fold it, into a perfect triangle. No blue showing, whatsoever. But on the drive home, I can barely see the road. I remember this, and I tell the family – You are entitled to full burial honors.

But I shouldn’t have said that, because I don’t know. I can’t remember if you need to be honorably discharged to be eligible for this. I can’t remember if any WWII vet was ever actually dishonorably discharged. The point is, I spoke in the moment, and I don’t know if what I said was true. All I know is – I folded a couple flags at a couple of local, forgotten ceremonies for vets. I hope they look into it. I need to get more information about this.

And then a story I can’t hardly recount it’s already so long (and it’s only my second day!). But it ended with this theological rumination:

There are some things that happen in life that shake even the most able-brained of people. Things that even perfectly normal, well-adjusted adults need help with. So, imagine how these instances might disrupt an already disrupted mind. It feels like uncharted territory. The thing about it is, it’s just like sitting with someone in their grief. You sit with them. Yet so many people seem hesitant to sit with someone when they’re in cognitive disarray. At the end of the day though, it’s always about grace:

There is absolute freedom in knowing that you are wholly loved by God.