Thursday, December 13, 2007

Do not forget to entertain strangers, for by so doing some people have entertained angels without knowing it.
13:2 HEB

Life is a school for angels. Love is the Teacher, so do your homework without fear. Death is merely graduation.
found on a Starbucks cup

Prayer For Today: You are faithful, Lord. Your promises are from everlasting to everlasting and your saving power is our sure salvation. Though on every side in our world our faith and hopes are attacked, yet will we trust in you. Teach us to live as those who believe that love which goes on loving will always win at last. Amen.

Suggestion: Learn to get in touch with the silence within yourself and know that everything in life has a purpose.
-Elisabeth K├╝bler-Ross (1926 -)

Thursday, November 29, 2007

Buddy and Me

Rev. Harley G. "Buddy" Babb, Jr., 83, went home to be with the Lord, and his beloved wife Ruby, on November 23, 2007. Born March 1, 1924, Rev. Babb was born and raised in Fountain Inn. A veteran of the European Theatre in World War II, he was wounded multiple times and awarded the Bronze Star and Purple Heart with Oak Leaf Cluster for his service. After returning from the war, he was called later into the ministry and graduated from Furman University. He studied at Erskine Theological Seminary, and had further training in pastoral counseling and chaplaincy at Spartanburg Regional Medical Center. Rev. Babb pastored Crestview Baptist (Fountain Inn), Poplar Springs Baptist (Moore), and Arcadia First Baptist (Spartanburg) churches. After leaving the pastorate he was chief of counseling with the Greenville County Alcohol and Drug Abuse Commission until retirement.


Some people come into our lives and quickly go. Others come, stay for awhile, touch us and we are never ever the same again. The poet Flavia said this and oh so true as relates to my friend, Buddy. He touched me, really touched me. I think that Jesus probably welcomed Buddy personally into heaven. In fact, I doubt seriously if many of the preachers, famous or infamous, maybe Mother Teresa, received the heavenly welcome of Buddy. He truly was a "giant" in terms of service; never had a big church or one that could decently pay him: humble without guile. I am sad.

I have so many stories to tell about Buddy; a book but these come quickly to mind. I had gone to Furman University, a small Baptist college in SC, on a football scholarship. Unprepared for college, I failed out after the first year and lost my scholarship. I already had two jobs and was on the verge of leaving college and going home. The college dean had called me in. As I sat in his outer office, thinking that I was getting my walking papers, I was resolved. This was pretty much the gist of our conversation: you are not prepared and it is enviable that you feel the calling to the ministry but there are denominations where you don't have to have a college education. Maybe go to Bible School or something. He was trying to be helpful.

I walked out of the office, not only with a heavy heart but honestly, with no direction. It was a spiritual moment even if I didn't realize it then. The Bible says, "God, who has become a good work in you, will see it through" or something like that. Maybe this was one of my problems, I knew it was in the Bible somewhere but couldn't find it half the time. A real calling would have better placed a guy to at least know the Bible.

I had an old 49 Ford, coupe, I loved that car. Taped to the sun visor were all these Bible verses and one said, "I can do all things through Christ who strengthened me." I believed it even if I couldn't quite figure it out. I started out toward town, thinking, "Maybe it is time to consider other options." What? Well, the Army maybe, something.

I stopped at a 7-11 to get a Pepsi, which was always comforting. Walking to it, I walked past a printing place or some sort of business, on the window was a Help Wanted sign. Without thinking I went in: they wanted a janitor, preferred a college student and maybe train me to help in the business which was actually called, Therma Fax Copying Machines. She hired me without me having a clue what I was going to do. Thus Buddy Babb entered my life. The lady that hired me was actually his sister who was the office manager.

Immediately, we bonded. I learned that Buddy was the Service Manager for the business. And, it was much later than I discovered he was the primary force behind its success. Everybody loved him. Buddy already had felt the "calling" and this job was merely something to keep bread on the table.

Buddy became a force in my life: mentor, encourager, friend, confidante. He should have taken me off his income tax as a dependent. Ruby, the wife, was this wonderful cook. And, believe me, a few times in those days, a good meal was no small thing. Sometimes after the meal, Buddy would always want to pray; and, for Buddy, it was not just praying but these long conversations with God--he'd literally pray for every single person he knew, to include people overseas, you name it: sometimes, it was an hour or two. I would go to sleep and wake up about the time he finished and was always so thankful as I would have been mortified for him to think I was asleep while he was exhorting God to use my life for good.

At Therma Fax Copying Machines, making like $2 an hour, Buddy convinced the anal retentive boss to allow me to start doing service calls on machines. It was more money but I didn't know anything about the machines--pretty complicated for their day. Buddy says, "No sweat, I don't even know much about them. Just look like you know what you are doing and when nobody is looking, open the machine and hit it a couple of times on the side and then about 95% of the time, it will be OK. I did and it worked.

Buddy adopted the absolute untouchables; adults/kids who were mentally and physically challenged in every way. I don't know where he found them. Once he got me to go with him to this burial service for a young teenager that he found living with his Dad in a trailer park. You guessed it, Buddy adopted the family. The child lived much longer than usual because, according to Buddy, the father, although poor doted on this kid who had Spina Bifida. My girlfriend at the time who is now my wife, went with me. The only attendees were Buddy, Jackie and me and the father. Buddy insisted we have a funeral service as though we had a cast of thousands. Jackie sang, His Eye Is On The Sparrow. It was beautiful.

When I was in Vietnam, I went through a particularly hard period, mainly disillusionment. I knew that young Americans were dying and for what. I had determined there was no good reason. I wrote Buddy about it. In his own right, he was a real hero, having served in the Infantry in WW ll. I knew about it, not because he ever discussed it but once I saw all his medals: three silver stars, several purple hearts and other medals. His brother-in-law did tell me an actual event that happened. They were pinned down by a German regiment all night and one of his squad members was severely wounded. Buddy shielded his body all night by laying on top of him. Why was I not surprised?

Buddy wrote back and said, "God has only called you to be faithful. You are and have to trust that He will give you courage and strength to do what you have to do." He included in his letter this beautiful polished rock and said, "When there's doubt, rub this." It was a small thing but I cannot convey how often this simple act provided comfort and solace. Buddy loved to get these simple stones that he found by the roadside and polish them into this beautiful luster. I think he saw this act as symbolically being the way our own lives are. We are works in progress.

Buddy Babb was a giant among God's servants. What little I am today, without reservation, I owe much to this man. He quoted this to me one day and I added it to my Ford's visor, "Life may not be the party we hoped for, but while we are here we might as well dance." THANKS, BUDDY.

Saturday, September 22, 2007

Good and Evil

Right and wrong. Wow, what subjects? My Dad use to say all the time, "Son, always try to do what's right." I never realized as the years stretched out and I became my Dad, the truth, right and wrong, adinfinitum would be so complicated but also so simple. And, there's nothing that conveys doing the right thing more than old time cowboy movies. I think so anyway.

My hero has always been Randolph Scott and a close second, Joel McCrea: you could count on those guys to do the right thing.

Recently, I watched a special on Sam Peckinpah who made many cowboy movies with Randolph and Joel. His best was Ride The High Country, which was Randolph Scott's last. I had already seen it several times but saw it again. Watching it through different lens, based on what I had heard on the Penkinpah Special made it even more meaningful.

Randolph Scott and Joel McCrea are aging former lawmen. Randolph Scott and Joel get locked in a good or bad, right or wrong confrontation. Randolph is the realist of the two and sees all the hard work as less than principled and now is the time to maybe cash in. Along the way, Randolph, who in this movie and most I have seen, is ever the renaissance man. He has taken as a partner a young potential ne' the well. There's a young girl who forces Joel to be her protector, simply because it is the right thing to do. When asked by Randolph why he is so straight and narrow and everything is black and white, Joel says, "I want t go into my house justified." Who knows what that statement means? Here's my take: I want to live my life in such a way that when it's over, I have done my best. Just about sums it up.

In a world where nothing anymore seems to be black and white, looking back to Ride The High Country seems mighty good.

Sunday, July 22, 2007


Tammy Faye has gone on to her just rewards. I'm a little sad. I saw the documentary, The Eyes of Tammy Faye, done by two gay guys. Very interesting and I think I might watch it again--what I got from it before was the mutual respect of the film makers and their subject.

What a storied background that Ms. Tammy has lived. Most of us got to know her when, along with her former husband, Jim, they were ripping off the faithful. All of us know that story and the downfall. When it happened, I had mixed feeling, although never a fan. I was constantly asking questions: how could people be so stupid as to be taken in by these two. But, to be fair, I was constantly asking that of all the televangelists, whether they promised riches or keys to the kingdom.

I always thought that Jim and Tammy Faye were kind of naive with a simple message that made people want to believe. And, then there was Jim's near tryst with a not quite so innocent believer, Jessica Hahn. He didn't quite seem to know how to pull that off--there was always a question of whether they got it on or not. And, let's face it, Jessica made out financially OK. Maybe a little disillusionment, although it didn't keep her from having breast augmentation.

Remarkably, Tammy Faye and even Jim, after a little prison time, went on to rebuild their lives somewhat. So, as often happens in our culture, the famous become infamous.

Larry King announced Tammy's departure on his show. She had promised him "dibs." The last time she was on his show, she allowed as how she was going straight to heaven once it was time. Tammy, I don't doubt that but since nobody knows quite how heaven works, I can't believe that you're not going to have to wait a bit--straight I would think refers to those like Mother Teresa and others who probably never concerned themselves with the Larry King show.

Saturday, June 16, 2007

Father's Day

Being A Father by John Henry Lee:

Are any of us the father we want to be or wish we'd been? I doubt it. Most of the Dads I know do the best they can, relatively speaking. The flip side of the coin is that there are some pretty sorry fathers. Amazingly, so many kids constantly are searching for their fathers, literally or figuratively, regardless if they were good or bad; there's something about wanting to know your real Dad: amazing.

I first encountered it when I was part of a group that started the organization, Vietnam Veterans Southeast Asia Children's Project, mostly working with Amerasian (mothers are Asian and fathers mostly American GIs) kids: all of them wanted to find their American fathers who didn't want anything to do with them. Pretty sad, but understandable. I remember one vet I located --he was so outraged that I would contact him because he had his own life now, wife, kids,etc. Vietnam was over forever and he doubted if the kid was his anyway. (I actually wrote a play about my encounter with him; and, if I ever get any big money, I'm going to produce it.)

Let's face it: In a real sense, the greatest job; or, at least the second (Mother first maybe) that anyone would ever have, is being a father. My own Dad was terrific; and, even today, I hear many things inside my head from him.

Recently, I was in a situation, not so much with me, but with a friend and I said, "The only thing I know to tell you is an expression my Dad used all the time: 'You might as well laugh as cry.' " I was amazed at hearing myself saying, "You might as well laugh as cry." I had not thought of the expression in years; and yet, when I needed the cogent comment, there was my Dad. Also, someone said to me recently, what was your first memory? Hands down it was when my Dad "whipped the daylights out of me" for cursing. I was about six.

There is a concept that we invent the parent of our childhood. I don't know. I do know that my older brothers and I have a somewhat different view of our Dad. I was the youngest, hung out with him lots and listened to his stories. He was a great storyteller and I listened over and over to the same one which always varied just a shade each time. From what I hear from my brothers, I got the best of him. When they were younger, putting bread on the table and making sure there was a future i.e., in other words, surviving consumed much of my Dad's time. When I came along, those things were more or less secured I think or maybe my Dad was just a little more easy-going with his sixth child, who knows.

But, I am a product of my own Dad and my children are of me. Please God, I hope I've done a good job, the most important one I'll ever have. Happy Father's Day and a special Hoooo-aaaaah to all the fathers in the armed forces who are away from their children this year.

Tuesday, April 17, 2007


There is simply no way to make sense of the senseless killings at Virginia Tech. What we try to do is put some sort of sensible explanation on the inexplicable tragedy. Impossible!

I know the school really well and have been there many times and can imagine the pall covering the school like a shroud.


First, there was the convocation; a kind of memorial service. Good idea--let the grieving come to some sort of "life goes on." Speeches, politicians, the President representing America. The highlight was a Virginia Tech professor. At first I wondered why she felt the need to equate the tragedy with most every evil in the world but still, no criticism here. She ended well, "We are strong and brave and innocent and unafraid. We are better than we think, not quite what we want to be. We are alive to the imagination and the possibility. We will continue to invent the future through our blood and tears, through all this sadness. We are the Hokies! We will prevail, we will prevail! We are Virginia Tech!"

After her speech, there was wild applause, an outpouring of emotion. I was moved.

No explanation for the tragedy. We live in a very violent society. One of the thoughts among many as I watched and listened to the Memorial Service: in Iraq, the Iraqis experience this every single day. Almost 200 dead Iraqis in the last few days.

THE SHOOTER. Korean. And, based on my knowledge of the Korean people, they literally will be burdened about this in a big way. One of their own, although in America, they will see it as "losing face." Their whole lives are built around the Confucian philosophy. It really is not a religion but a philosophy of living. Kibun is the word which most describes it: means well being. In KoreaTown in Los Angeles, the feelings of shame are rampant. There are over 2 million Koreans in America. No single group of people revere America like the South Koreans. In some ways, it is a love/hate relationship. Based on who they are, older Koreans will be the first to tell you that they would not exist had it not been for the American rescue during the Korean war. Younger Koreans who have not lived through it love the American way of life but not the Americans.

In this tragedy, however, all South Koreans will stand toe to toe in shame. Americans view a tragedy of this nature as sad, useless. They weep with the people. They lament the loss but they do so individually. Not so with the Koreans, as a country, they see that they are shamed by a fellow countryman. They hang their head, even though they have no responsibility in it.


In this tragedy, we are faced with the ambiguities of what the media means to our society. We want news, we are an open society, the media performs a useful function. However, as I watched all the media malaise, I couldn't help but think, what is going on? A circus! And, what we realize as usual is that the media is not interested in the truth, grief, whatever--they are interested in a story. And, they are giving us stories.


Grief is a powerfully consuming emotion without adequate description and feelings for the parents is an empathy that any parent knows. They sent their kids off to college and were concerned about grades, the choices they would make, binge drinking, adinfinitum but safety was not high on the priority list.

Any death is sad and the loss of the physical presence, the ability to call the son or daughter and say, "how's it going?" For those killed, they are gone.

As my seminary professor often said, "Sometimes there is a sympathy for people that is so great that you simply do not know what to say." I am there.

A type of terror came to roost at Virginia Tech and it was in the form of a lone crazy. There is no answer. We second guess. Some use it to push their issues, gun control, lack of response. Whatever. Simply, it is and our hearts go out to the loved ones of those murdered. God help us.

Sunday, April 15, 2007

DON HO--Mr. Slack Jaw

This was a humorous name given Don by a neighbor when I lived in Germany. Don Ho recently transitioned from this life to the next. He's up there singing Tiny Bubbles in God's heavenly choir. I have no doubt.

American GIs on R and R in Hawaii were introduced to Don and in ways big and small, he endeared himself. I remember his talk during his show. It went something like, "I want to welcome all the American GIs from Vietnam to my part of the world and to the show. I cannot begin to tell you how much you mean to me and to all Hawaiians. When I was a little boy I use to marvel at the planes flying into and out of Hawaii. And, I was inspired and joined up. One of my all time best decisions. Thank you for what you are doing and never forget, we love you and appreciate you. God bless you and return you home safely"

There we sat, a little like Lil' Abner's, Joe Btfsplk with a cloud hanging over our heads, never doubting for a moment that Don was sincere. Don eased our pain a little and we've never forgotten him. He was more than an entertainer, he was Hawaii and for a few short days so were we. So long Don, slack jaw or not, our world is a little reduced since you're not in it.

Saturday, April 07, 2007


I don't know and it doesn't matter. Happy Easter. What prompted this look anew at my beliefs was a recently conversation I had with someone. She was giving me the typical California view of faith or lack thereof: Jesus was a good teacher, like Buddha or Mohammed or the wind, nature or whatever. I said, no sweat with me. It is fine for you to believe anything you want. What I didn't tell her was that I was raised in Primitive Baptist NC and they basically have a belief that they don't proselytize and so if "you want to go to hell" in their terms, fine with them, choice.


My friend said something like, "I don't see how anyone can possibly believe in all the illogical things that Christians do: heaven, hell, adinfinitum." Well, it is called faith and by its very definition, it cannot be proven. And, in fact, it is why it is called faith. Faith is, by the Christian Bible definition--the substance of things hoped for but not seen.

CNN had a series of specials, well, two I saw that examined Christianity. It was what most of us know if we think about it: Christians are as varied as there are people, especially how we practice. For instance, there are the Catholics that are wedded to Canonical law and rules and regulations. There are some things that you have to do and be in order to be a "good" Catholic. For the rest of us Christians, with something like 150 denominations, what it boils down too essentially is faith. It is what makes it faith--cannot prove it, touch it, know for sure what it is. It just is. And, for the person who follows all the ideas of the Bible as well as the person who sees God in nature or pizza dough, it is all about faith.


And, I mostly say, I am a Christina and it is my faith that makes me so. I don't have a need to be logical about it, prove it, have a theory--simply my faith that comes mainly from the Bible, especially the synoptic gospels, Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. These gospels are what Jesus said and did: the rest of the New Testament is interpretations of what He said and did. Consequently, you can put on your own interpretation.


What I strongly believe in is the "conversion" experience. Most Christians don't get it and simply, people's experiences are all different. And, no one can say a person's experience is invalid. They might say they don't believe it, see it another way or that you are a fool; however, they cannot say it is not your experience. For instance, the conversion may come like the Apostle Paul who was struck down on the Damascus Road and blinded according to the Bible. But, all "conversion experiences" do not come like this. For some, the conversion might be shrouded in mystery, wrapped in logic or the "still" quiet voice. For instance, I was "saved" as a 12 year old at a small rural Church during the annual Revival Meeting. Saved is one of those Christian "buzz" words, part of the language. And, as I look back on it today, there's an enormous amount of humor in it. Regardless, it was my conversion, I remember it like yesterday and believe in it. From then on, it is a matter of wrestling with life.


Sin is one of those wonderful but misunderstood words. When I read that someone has sinned, i. e., so and so is a sinner, I always say, "says who?" Jesus has the best metaphor: when asked by his enemies what should happen to a woman taken in adultery where the usual punishment was stoned until dead. He used the word sin--one of my favorite scenes, he who is without sin, let him cast the first stone. The completed picture to the story is when he says to her, "where are your accusers? Neither do I condemn you, "go and sin no more." Sin (actually sins) in this case was powerful and loving, not condemnatory. Jesus was the original renaissance man.

What few modern Christians understand is the basic difference in sin and sins. Sin is really the mystery of what Jesus did for us on the cross. And, it is all that surrounds the mystery: the language of religion: saved, redemption, blood, all of it. And, the conversion is when we accept what He did: the suffering, the dying on the cross, and the Easter message of His life--the resurrection--however it may be or however it may have happened is almost beside the point. And, in my faith, it never has to happen again. The sin is taken care of forever--you accept.

The rest of life is lived in dealing with the "sins" the living in the flesh. It is part of being human, whatever that may be. And, every single individual has to deal with the handling of the sins on his/her own. That is faith. Sometimes we fail, sometimes we get it, sometimes we don't. And, then of course, there are all the beliefs surrounding that: heaven, hell, etc.; part of the faith is believing in all of it regardless of how illogical it might sound. It is faith.


I've never been much for interfaith meanderings. It doesn't do anything for me personally. People can believe what they want and as a buddy of mine once jokingly said to me, "don't say God bless you. Say,'may the God of your choice bless you.' " Well, I don't believe in all these faiths and that we are going to be OK. I am a Christian, I am comfortable in my faith. I don't know about these other people. I don't know what their fate in life is and it is not my job to find out. I don't have any doubts into the claims of my faith. So, there you have it. A last thing: my basic mantra about Christianity is that it is at its core, a faith of peace. Jesus constantly talked about peace. When he said, I have not come to give y ou peace but a sword. To me, he was talking personal, no doubt about it, the dealing with the flesh and wrestling with sins. The most violet thing He ever did was throw the money changers out of the temple. "I will not have you making my father's house a den of thieves. I like it. God bless you.

Sunday, March 11, 2007


EDITORIAL NOTE. As little as most Americans know about the military, they know even less about the military chaplaincy. For instance, do the chaplains get their sermons from God or the Pentagon? Below is a press release talking about the duties of chaplains. Although it is a little sterile, it is good and insightful. My memoir, Gun Totin' Chaplain deals with most of these things. All chaplains are different and it is merely one chaplain's approach to doing ministry in combat.

Subject: Meditating in the field: Chaplains bring higher power to combat
Multi-National Corps - Iraq
Public Affairs Office, Camp Victory
APO AE 09342

RELEASE No. 20070310-02
March 9, 2007

Meditating in the field: Chaplains bring higher power to combat
By Spc. Chris McCann, 2nd BCT, 10th Mtn. Div. (LI) Public Affairs

CAMP STRIKER, Iraq - It has been said that there are no atheists in
foxholes. The stress and life-and-death situations of combat can make
the most hardened soldier look toward a higher power.
In order to provide that counsel and communion, that hope and holiness,
there are chaplains.

Chaplain (Maj) Lonnie Locke, a native of Dothan, Ala., and chaplain for
the 2nd Brigade Combat Team, 10th Mountain Division (Light Infantry),
oversees his brigade's six chaplains. "A chaplain's main purpose is to be a representative between Soldiers and the commander," said Locke. "The religious program is the commander's, we just run it."
"We have a responsibility to see that each Soldier has his
constitutional right to worship as he sees fit," Locke said. "We're
ultimately here to uphold every Soldier's privilege of worship."
Aiding each chaplain in his duties is a chaplain's assistant, an
enlisted Soldier trained in the myriad necessities of the administrative
part of the chaplain's work.

"I think chaplain's assistants do not receive enough credit for what
they do," said Chaplain (Capt.) Jeffery Bryan of the 4th Battalion, 31st
Infantry Regiment, 2nd BCT. "Mine is excellent. Although I don't carry a
weapon, I don't feel any need to, because he does such a great job."
Locke agrees that chaplain's assistants play a critical role in unit

"Chaplain's assistants have special skills as enlisted Soldiers," Locke
said. "They have the training and are able to see people's problems and
do 'triage' for us. They support us not only by being our protectors,
but also providing technical help." "We set up services for the chaplain," said Sgt. Michael Frickie, a native of Cache, Okla., and assistant to Chaplain (Capt.) Danny Wilson. They serve the 1st Squadron, 89th Cavalry Regiment, 2nd BCT. "During the
week we screen people who come in for counseling, do paperwork, whatever
the chaplain needs done. And off the forward operating bases, we're
bodyguards, since the chaplain is a noncombatant." The assistants, besides training on common tasks and Soldier skills,coordinate with units for training, environmental leave and deployment briefings, prayer breakfasts, and retreats.

Staff Sgt. Randall Hansen, a native of Alpine, Utah, and assistant to
Locke, explained that the chaplain's assistant position also carries
some heavy burdens. "We're trained to recognize the symptoms of combat stress and suicide," he said. "And we know basic intervention. We're also the funds clerks.
The chaplain's assistant gathers offerings and deposits them into
sub-accounts for each denomination. We keep accountability of each
group's funds."

Many assistants are drawn to the military occupational specialty because
they are religious, but the only requirement is that they demonstrate a
"higher moral character" than other Soldiers. "I'm the most irreligious guy you'll meet, especially compared with my comrades who go to church every week," Frickie said. "But I like being around the different people. I've learned a lot about different faiths since I've been in the Army."

Perhaps the toughest aspect of being a chaplain's assistant is that the
chaplain and his assistant are seldom of the same religious affiliation.
"You have to be flexible enough to work with any chaplain and his
religious preference," said Hansen. "It may not be the same."
The job also comes with rewards, he added. "Out in the field, we're able to move around and visit Soldiers to provide them with some small spiritual enhancement," Hansen said. "They're in the trenches and their spirits can get low. Any spirit we
can bring them, enhances them."

The chaplains are perhaps most visible while conducting religious
services, but that's not their primary workload, Locke said.
"Seventy to seventy-five percent of our work is done in counseling,
depending on where we're at," said Locke. "Back in the rear, most of it
is about relationships and marriage counseling. Here it's about death
and dying, coping with grief ...making sense of 'why God allowed my
friend to die.' Depending on where we're at, the type of counseling

"Chaplains and their assistants help Soldiers by befriending them in
battle and comforting them if they're hurt," Bryan said. "And we help
bring closure by conducting memorial ceremonies." Providing care for Soldiers in such trying circumstances can be trying in itself, Locke said, and it can be draining. That is where downtime comes in. "We have to do self-care," said Locke. "I like reading, prayer, exercising. And talking to other's good to have a battle buddy to vent and talk to. Sometimes, just having alone time. It's how I

Bryan has had his share of tough experiences, he said. "One Soldier said, 'Sir, I am terrified of being killed by an (improvised explosive device), but when I'm with you, I'm not afraid.' A few months later, he was killed in an IED explosion, and the fact that he was this close to me was life-changing for me. But the worst part is
dealing with casualties," said Bryan. "I have been with Soldiers who
have (been injured.) I have shoved them into air medical evacuation
helicopters, and I have memorialized many of them." But he isn't going to give it up.
"I'm wired for counseling," he said. "It's part of my job that I really
enjoy. And it's amazing how people's problems fall into two or three
different categories. On the spiritual side, people get frustrated with
their lives, and they're seeking something in the physical world that
can only come through a strong spiritual relationship with God. They
need to redirect their attention from filling that void with other stuff
and realize that God is the only one who can fill that.

"On the other side, we do a lot of counseling about relationships and
deployments. Many people don't know how to communicate well. They need
to prepare their relationships for long periods of separation. They
deploy and leave their spouses behind with little support."
Spirituality, as well as communication, is critical in combat, said

"In order to be ready as a Soldier for combat, you must be preparing
mentally and spiritually to (deal with death.) That's part of the mix -
the reality of life and death is very obvious in combat and religion
speaks about what there is after life." "Most Americans are religious," said Bryan. "Soldiers are no exception, and war causes many participants to consider life and death. Not only does freedom of religion help Soldiers deal with the issues of war, it helps support the very freedom of religion they fight for."
Trying to provide hope, though, can sometimes be frustrating, said
Locke. Making sure that all soldiers are taken care can be difficult.
"My frustration as the brigade chaplain - it's my responsibility to see
all denominations cared for. It's more and more difficult how few
Catholic priests, for example, are in the military. It's very difficult
to supply what the soldiers need. We need Catholic priests, rabbis - the
'minority' faith groups are in dire need of chaplains." In many cases, Soldiers can fill in as lay leaders for worship services. In others, religious doctrine forbids full services without the presence of ordained clergy.

"Catholics allow lay leaders to do the Liturgy of the Word, but not the
full Mass," Locke explained, citing an example. "It's a matter of
recruiting and getting priests and rabbis in, and the Army chaplaincy
doing a good job of dispersing chaplains where they need to be to
minister to faith groups in different places." Despite the frustrations, said Locke, he loves his job. Enlisted for four years in an aviation job, he planned to become a warrant officer and pilot before his life changed course. "I met a chaplain in Germany who really made me think," he said. "I felt God calling me - but was the Army preparation for a mission, or was it my mission?"
Looking back, he says, now he knows. "This is my mission. God intends for me to do what I do. And it's the
best job in the Army."

Tuesday, March 06, 2007

Prayer Request

Tanya, a former Marine helicopter pilot in Iraq and now the mother of two, will soon undergo serious surgury. Her husband, also a Marine just back from Iraq, is home with her for the surgery. The good news is that she is in a super hospital: Loma Linda. When I was in the 82d, we had a massive jump into the Mojave Desert and had six paratroopers killed and 200 of us were banged up pretty badly. We all went to the Loma Linda hospital. I remember it like yesterday. They were so great and really looked after us. I was limping and hobbling around visiting the banged up soldiers and a nurse corralled me and said, "You look like you could use a cup of coffee." Well, I knew that was impossible because in the 7th Day Adventist, coffee is verboden. We went into her office and she opened up the bottom drawer and there were all these packets of coffee. A lifesaver and an example of how great they were. So, Tanya is in good hands. I will fervently pray. God bless Tanya and the children and the father.

Monday, January 29, 2007


Final Exam is a fascinating book with a thesis that doctors are so geared to life that they don't know how to help their patients face death. Dr. Pauline Chen says that doctors fail patients miserably at the end of life. I think I love this woman. In my next life!

She's a liver transplant surgeon and is on the cusp when young people who often die too soon, give life to those almost dead waiting on a transplant. She talks about medical training and doesn't give the docs any slack--from the idea of how they treat the terminally ill, the turf battles among specialties, and the ritualized hazing of residents (I think she means long working hours and treating them like servants. I watch Scrubs afterall)

Having been a hospital chaplain, I get it. It was probably my worst assignment in 29 years and yet I think I did the most good. Working with docs who somehow think they are in the Trinity: Father, Son, Holy Spirit, doctors, not necessarily in that order, no day at the beach. As good as they are, I think it has to do with their training and the good Doc Chen addresses this. Way to go.

Friday, January 26, 2007



Teach us to number our days that we may get a heart of wisdom. Psalms

Three score and ten years--perhaps fourscore--that is our life span, in
round numbers, according to the ancient psalmist. To a youngster in the
prime of life, seventy or eighty or ninety years seems to stretch out
in the an endless succession of days. But in fact, life has its limits;
our days are numbered. A seventy year life span equals exactly 25,567
days counting the extra days in leap years. We have no way of knowing
how many days are allotted to us. But even if we did know, a mere
numerical count of so many days would give us neither wisdom nor
virtue. Surely then, the psalmist meant something more than years when
he prayed, "teach us to number our days." When we make the psalmist's
brief prayer our own, we ask for wisdom rightly to contemplate our
mortality; but also we seek wisdom to live well all the remaining days
of our life.

This is, to me, the lesson of Phil Woodall's life. Phil passed from
this life into the next at a relatively young age: 58 but as we all
know, he lived his life, "large."

For us combat vets, we know Phil mostly as a soldier. He was not only a
good one but the best. As a member of a fire team, he distinguished
himself time and time again. His leadership was evident when he moved
to squad leader, then to the command section as the commander's Radio
Telephone Operator. Highly decorated for his tours of duty, Phil always
remained the poet. Most of us remember how, when the fighting lulled,
he would write his poetry. He would write it on toilet tissue, on c
rations boxes, anything available. In a sense, stretching from Vietnam
to throughout his life, his poetry touched the lives of scores. With
the aftermath of Vietnam, his statement, "they may have died in vain
but they lived in honor" remains the absolute definition of a

We will miss Phil, the fact that he is not physically any longer in our
world does have an impact. We will miss his presence at our reunions,
the phone calls, the emails, the new poetry scribbled on whatever he
had near. Our lives will not be the same. I think Angelo Patri had it
right: "in one sense, there is no death. The life of a soul on earth
last beyond his or her departure. We will always feel Phil's life
touching ours, that voice speaking to us, that spirit looking out of
other's eyes, talking to us in the familiar things he touched, worked
with, loved as familiar friends. Phil lives on in our lives and in the
lives of all that knew him." The "poetry" of his life lives forever.