Friday, November 14, 2008

The Fourth Talent

This Sunday's lesson, from Matthew, is what is commonly called the Parable of the Talents. I've always gotten a little unsettled by the ending of the story when the one who had merely buried his money must surrender it to the one who had made the most. That God prefers the wealthy and powerful is a concept/heresy - prevalent in churches - that makes me sick.

A colleague shared the following story with me yesterday by William White. I like it.

Once there was a businessman who entrusted his property to his employees. To one servant he gave $5,000, to a second, $2,000, and third $1,000. The first two invested the money and returned 100 cents on the dollar, while the third employee buried the money in the earth. On the day of accounting he returned the original money to the master and was soundly chastised for failing to invest wisely.

A fourth employee was given $3,000 to invest. He returned several days after the accounting took place and approached the master cautiously. "I invested the money that you left with me," he confessed, "but the investment turned sour. Not only has your money gained no interest, I have lost nearly $1,000 of the amount you entrusted to me."

The master smiled at his worried servant. "Well done, good and faithful servant. You invested as you were commanded. You have been found faith over a little, I will set you over much."

Saturday, November 01, 2008

At least once every day this summer I waited for a C- 17 to land from Iraq or Afghanistan. If we timed it right, we sat for about 15 minutes before we saw our "bird" arrive and taxi to its parking spot. When the pilot signaled it was clear, we rolled onto the flight line, a caravan of blue modified school busses painted with large red crosses. We'd park near the tail of the aircraft and I was among the first people out of the vehicles who headed into the plane. As soon as I was onboard, I started talking with patients.

"Welcome to Ramstein Air Base. You are in Germany and you are safe. I'm Chaplain Marvel, I work with the people who are going to transport you today into the next level of medical care. In a moment, the back of this plane will open up and you'll see our ambulance buses. You might want to put on your coat - it's probably a little colder than where you came from. Once we are all on the buses, we'll drive you to Landstuhl Regional Medical Center where we'll get you some breakfast and a chance to meet some of the finest docs in the world who are here to help you.
"As you work your way through this process, I and other chaplains are here. Remember that what you tell us stays with us - we don't report what you say to anyone without your permission. If you need to talk, I or others have chosen to be here because we want to listen."

I assured snipers they are forgiven. I swapped out crutches for some more comfortable. I listened to cries of "Where was God when my sergeant was blown up?" I arranged phone calls to tell parents what's happened to their children. Some people were going home to broken marriages, some to infants they'd never met; many had seen or experienced such horrible events "downrange" that they just wanted to talk with another human being. As a chaplain, I provided Holy Communion, I prayed with people, I anointed them and prayed for healing. But my most effective ministry was often in listening to and holding their stories - hopefully, therefore, making them Holy. My job wasn't to fix anything, but to rely on the Spirit to mend their brokenness.

Since coming home, I've had a difficult time relating my experience, which I've discovered is true for many military members. Often, it's been difficult to clarify that my military duty is in no way related to a particular political agenda. I serve as a military chaplain not because I like war, but because I am that visible reminder many of us need at some time or other that there is no place we can go where the Holy would abandon us.

Friday, August 08, 2008

Talking on the bus

Patients are, for the most part, moved around on busses. Some busses are equipped to hold litters, some are set up like I remember in third grade. Patients laying down on litters often have little to look at other than the roof and a whole lot on their minds. I'll get on the bus and ride with patients when I can to offer an ear.

Sunday, August 03, 2008

All in a day's work

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Paris Trip

Saturday, July 26, 2008

My days are blending together

My days are blending together to the point that I’m not always sure which day of the week it is here. There’s not been a day here yet without and inbound flight, so I’ve come to divide our time into one of two categories: Outbound days and MTD days.

MTD is our abbreviation for Medical Transportation Detachment, or something like that. On these days, in addition to greeting the inbound flights of the day, which generally arrive in the mid morning or mid afternoon, we host the folk who are flying back to the States the following morning. They have been in the hospital at Landstuhl and are healthy enough to spend the night out of the hospital. Sometimes they have minor injuries, maybe a broken arm or leg, sometimes they have minor psychological issues like depression. The docs have cleared them to go home and the hospital wants to open beds and make the next day’s loading go faster. We’ve had as few as few as five one of these nights since I’ve been here, but generally there are closer to twenty or twenty five.
On MTD nights, which start when the bus from the hospital arrives at about 7pm, these patients come into our facility and meet with a nurse and a doctor for one final evaluation. The process usually takes a few hours. I greet them and amid all the information they receive tell them that as a chaplain, I am here to listen to their stories and anxieties if they care to share them with me. I have found this night, and the time I spend with them the following morning, the most productive ministry I’ve ever experienced. Some guys are going home to broken marriages, some to infants they’ve never met, many have seen or experienced such horrible events “downrange” that they just want to talk. I never know what will happen on a given night: I’ve assured snipers they are forgiven. I’ve swapped out a pair of crutches for some more comfortable. I’ve listening to cries of “Where was God when my sergeant was blown up?” I’ve done relationship counseling. I’ve helped people call home to tell a spouse what’s happening to them. I’ve assisted the Red Cross in telling someone her grandmother was in a car accident.
I leave these evenings emotionally exhausted, but with a feeling that I’ve helped some folk make steps closer to health or faith.

I get to sleep in a bit on Outbound days: the day starts traveling one exit on the autobahn so that I can arrive no later than 8am (it’s about a 15 minute drive to work). I’ve already met most of the patients who are flying out that day, though we get at least one more busload about 10am. I offer Holy Communion and anointing for healing; sometimes I get a big group who want to receive, more often only a few. I’m around again to hear stories, I end up spending a lot of this time escorting guys to the smoking area where tongues tend to loosen up a bit more. I have an official “briefing” in the midst of all this that is intended to offer some tools to help them move into their new lives at home.
We load the busses in time to be on the flight line usually by 11am. I continue listening and encouraging and counseling as we load them onto the plane. I’ll help carry patients on a litter, maybe carry a backpack for someone with a bad back. Often an ambulance will arrive from the hospital with critical care patients. Once all the patients are onboard, the crew will begin to close up the plane. I’m often among the last people to walk off the aircraft, climbing down the steps the pilots use because the loading ramp in the back of the plane is already closing up.
Inbound flights can come at any time and we’ve not had a day without at least one. Some come early in the morning, most in the middle of the day. For inbound flights, I get on the aircraft as soon as I can and begin to meet the patients. I welcome them to Germany – some have no idea where they are – and explain to them what the next hour or two of their life will be like. We offload patients onto busses again and they drive the 20 minutes to Landstuhl where they are met by a team of volunteers who help get them off the bus and into wherever they are headed in the hospital. Some go straight to ICU, some walk to the dining hall for a meal. All are met by someone from their branch of service who is assigned to be their liaison through the chaos – paperwork, briefings, signatures, ID cards, new clothes, appointments with specialists – they experience before they are checked into their rooms. I sometimes ride to the hospital with patients, but generally at that point head back to the CASF with the staff.

Of course, often these things happen at the same time. I’ll leave for work in about ten minutes to meet the MTDs for the night. I’ll come home for the first half of my night’s sleep and then turn around to help meet an inbound scheduled to arrive at 2am. After that, I’ll get the second half my night’s sleep and then do the Outbound work. Tomorrow another inbound aircraft will be on the flight line right about the time we are done sending off the Outbounds so we’ll just stay out there to greet them. Since tomorrow is Sunday, I offer a worship service for the CASF staff who are unable to attend the Base Chapel on Sunday because of our schedule. I should be back to my room tomorrow night by 7pm at which point I’ll probably crash in bed so I can be ready to meet a morning inbound on Monday and the MTD patients Monday night.

I’ve returned from the MTD work and discovered that we have additional missions tomorrow. Within fifteen hours, we have five missions. That’s the bad news. The good news is that I’m not alone.
The military has taught me the value of teamwork.
Jerry called tonight. He’s the enlisted Chaplain’s Assistant. We don’t have any backup other than each other when we deploy. We also don’t have any other team to back us up: there are two docs, two pharmacy techs, and four shifts of nurses/medics. But only one chaplain team. And so we haven’t had much as far as days off. I’ve been more faithful to Jerry’s days off than to my own, to be honest: I’ve worked ten days straight now without a day away. Today is Jerry’s day off and I didn’t want to call him to ask him to do the 2am flight, mainly because I wouldn’t want him to do that to me. Nonetheless, he checked in with the CASF tonight, found out about the 2am mission, and then called me offering to do it. Offering. I agreed, and that means I get a full night’s sleep – if I can fall sleep tonight.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Emptying my pockets after work...