Reblogged from Proclaim Peace
by Seth Bryant, a US Navy Chaplain serving the Marines at 29 Palms, CA
I found myself this last week giving suicide prevention briefs inside of an armory, surrounded by M16s, M4s, 9mms, and rocket launchers. It struck me that this was a most absurd combination, and a most strange ministerial task for a priesthood member of Community of Christ.
That was Thursday.
Come Friday, I attended a safety brief where the Marines were told to have a good time this weekend, but don’t do anything stupid. For good measure, one of the leader’s threw in his advice on relaxation, telling them to “Go [expletive] somebody this weekend, then come back ready to work on Monday.” Again, in this moment, it struck me that this was a most unusual place for a member of the priesthood to be ministering.
Aware of my presence, several looks shot in my direction to see what I would do or say. Once the leader became aware of me among the troops, he then added, “Sorry, chaps!” Without thinking, I shouted in response, “Use a rubber!”
Good advice? Sure. Laughter in response? Absolutely.
As I walked away, I weighed my response to what would have been a most absurd statement at any other workplace. Perhaps, if they remembered, my three words might have stopped an unwanted pregnancy or STD. But I was worried that when I should have been crying repentance, the best I could do was cry prevention. And prevention seems too much like condoning. Maybe I’m just relenting, being a realist, when the vision of a redeemed creation shouldn’t bow so easily. But three words and two seconds were about all I had, and what else was I supposed to do?
I find myself caught in a landscape so foreign to traditional ministry. It’s a rough place because its occupied by the Marines, men as harsh as the desert about me. I would have preferred to preach on responsible sexual ethics during that safety brief, using words more in line with the statement just produced by the church. But I am caught in a strange ministry.
And this strange ministry reminds me that we live in a broken world. I have, through Christ, renounced the world’s brokenness and embraced the hope of restoration and wholeness. And yet I belong and minister to a population that is simultaneously our best defense against and best indication of the brokenness. Some would say that the military only perpetuates the brokenness, rather than solving it. They’d probably be right. Still, like two angels on my shoulders, the proud military officer inside of me reminds my tree-hugging idealist self that the freedom for some to dream comes at a terrible cost born by others. And the tree hugger shouts back, “Live by the sword, die by the sword!”
We can put padding about the sharp edges of our broken world, to avoid getting cut. But the disjointedness between ideals and reality is bound to frustrate efforts and souls.
Am I frustrated? Sure.
And yet, in this last week alone, my one-on-one ministry likely, with no exaggeration, averted the most terrible tragedy and disaster that you can imagine in the lives of several persons. So I keep pushing on, mending and making whole where I can, and padding the sharp edges where I have little choice, hoping that my work is making a difference for the better.
Hear the word of the Lord:
“Wo be unto him that is at ease in Zion” (2 Nephi 12:30).
This strange ministry has me in a state which is anything but “at ease,” straining to see a vision of Zion that ever seems on the horizon. Yet I believe. Yet I hope. Yet I labor.