Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Snowmageddon and Waking Up Before the Sun

"Snowmageddon" from my window...
I'm just about a week from being able to go home and be with my family.  I've completed two and a half weeks of Chaplain Initial Military Training (Basic Training for Chaplains), and have learned a lot so far.  Today is a day "off" (we don't get days off... just more time to get work done) because of the ice and snow we received overnight. Down here, a little snow causes big problems. In Michigan, we don't have much concern for this little accumulation but we have the equipment to move it around and melt it.

A few things I've learned this week:

  • In the Army, it's always your fault.  Even if it's not.
  • A haircut each week makes the day go much better (and keeps the sergeant happy)
  • Not getting a haircut means everyone has an opportunity to "learn" (do push-ups) with you. FYI I was not the one who didn't get a cut, so not my fault (oh wait, bullet point one...).
  • Waking up at 4am means bedtime by 8pm.
  • Staying up until 11pm to catch the Grammy's was not a smart move.
  • I am an MRE (Meals Ready to Eat) hoarder...
  • The Army seems to enjoy making you do things, just because
  • I can rappel down a 40 foot tower and not die, pee, or poop in my pants
  • The commando rope obstacle is the spawn of Satan
  • Marching can be fun!
  • Left-face means LEFT-face (my other left)
  • Having chapped lips in the gas chamber leaves one speechless...
  • I am better at using a compass than I thought! (Thanks, orienteering merit badge!)
I am sure that as this week progresses, I will have more opportunities to learn.  Overall, this has been an awesome experience so far.  I hope that I can keep honing the skills I've been learning so that I can be the best Army Chaplain I can be.

Until next time!

Pro Deo Et Patria!

Saturday, January 18, 2014

CIMT - Week 1 Done

As you may already know, I am serving in ministry as an Army Reserve Chaplain while leading my congregation full-time.  As a Chaplain in the United States Army, I am required to undergo basic training so that I am prepared to minister to my soldiers as a soldier myself.  I have heard people say that Chaplain school is "basic training lite" or that it's "basic training for gentlemen".  Nothing could be further from the truth.  While it is true that our training is not as intense as an enlisted soldier, the requirements are very much the same.  Chaplains are required to meet the same physical, emotional, and psychological challenges with the same fortitude as an E-1 Private (or, warrior as they are now referred to).

The first segment of training that an Army Chaplain is required to go through is called Chaplain Initial Military Training (CIMT).  It is during this segment that we are trained to think and act like soldiers.  Keep in mind that several of us have not had prior service or experience in the military.  This four-week course is designed to get us into shape and teach us the in's and out's of being a soldier and leading other soldiers as an officer.  

I have just completed my first week of CIMT, and I am feeling it!  This week included a lot of in-processing (paperwork for medical, legal, insurance, etc.) and several classes on various topics (How to fill out certain forms to get paid, differences between active and reserve components, and physical training standards).  I can say that there have been some low points where I have felt overwhelmed and very much unprepared for the weeks ahead.  I have also been learning that in the Army, a culture of accountability and responsibility are at the core of everything that is said and done.  We have been assigned a Battle Buddy, someone we are accountable for and to.  If you get to do push-ups, your Battle Buddy joins you (as I found out as my BB had his hands in his pockets).  It's all good, because I'm sure that I'll experience some of this Army "joy" at several points.  At the same time, I have experienced some great moments of real joy and affirmation as I stand side by side with my fellow Chaplain students and we recall our purpose for joining in the first place.  These affirmations are strong as we all come from different faith backgrounds and experiences, and as we share these experiences, we recognize a common thread of love for people and God.

I have surprised myself this week, running faster than I thought possible and engaging in more exercises with less exhaustion.  To be honest, this is an area that I have been nervous about as I know that I am not a strong runner and my upper body is in need of improved strength.  However, there has been great encouragement as I have been pushed to my limit, and I know that in the weeks to come, my limit will be stretched even further.  

I am thankful that God has led me to this ministry, and I look forward to serving in ministry to soldiers and their families.  I really believe that there will be a breadth to the ministry that God as called me to, both in the local church and in my "extended" congregation in the military.  

Thank you for your continued prayers of encouragement, strength, and protection for me, my family, and my church.

Until next time!

Pro Deo Et Patria - For God and Country!

Monday, November 18, 2013

When You Know You're Doing It Right

Andrew's artwork titled "Joseph"
Sunday afternoons as a clergy family are interesting...

In the fall, I typically turn on the Lions and watch them (attempt) to play football.  Yesterday was no exception (at least for me - The Lions didn't even seem to show up during the second half).  The boys will get out their Legos, monster trucks, and various other toys.  My wife will typically be seen watching a movie on Chicktime (Lifetime, that is).  Sometimes we will play a family game together, or just enjoy snuggling on the couch as we watch a family movie.  

Sometimes, the boys want to make things.  Usually out of play-dough or sand.  However, many of the gifts that I typically receive are in the form of artwork.  Andrew and Josh both enjoy making works of art and giving them away.  Yesterday, Andrew gave me this drawing of his interpretation of Joseph, from the Old Testament stories.  With a smile on his face, and a hint of pride in his voice, he said "Here daddy, put this in your office."  Not thinking anything of it at the moment, I said "Thank you" and set it down (not my proudest parenting moment but hey, football!).  Andrew promptly responded by saying "Now go put it in your office".

What is it about receiving hand-drawn pictures from our children that just melts our hearts like warm butter on a hot ear of corn?  I'm not sure, but I think it has a lot to do with the satisfaction of knowing that, as a parent, you must be doing something right.  And, I think that the reciprocated feeling of our children seeing the smile on our face brings them great joy and satisfaction that they, too are doing something that brings joy to us.

After all, is it not our job as parents to encourage our children and cheer-lead them on in their lives?  

Another thing... I wonder how God feels when we use our gifts and talents to honor him... I tend to believe that God puts on a humongous smile and says "Great job".  And, unlike the earthly parent who decides to soak up just one more play from the football game, God gets up right away to put the picture on his wall.

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

A Quarter and a Thankful Heart

For the past several years, I have enjoyed shopping at Aldi for many of our grocery needs.  When we moved last year, I was disappointed that we would have a longer drive to the store we would typically frequent.  However, just last week I discovered that there is an Aldi in Ann Arbor, YES!

But, why do I talk about Aldi?  And, what in the world does this have to do with my journey with Christ?

Quite frankly, a lot!

For those who have never had the Aldi "experience" (and that's what it is, let me tell ya!), let me elaborate on one of my favorite things about Aldi - You pay a quarter for your shopping cart.  That's right!  But, you get it back when you return the cart.  Not only do you get to back out of your parking spot without the surprise that someone left a cart, just for you, in your blind spot, but the quarter experience is something you can pass on to someone else.  For me, it means leaving the quarter in the cart so that the next person can use it.  I have been the recipient of this gift many times, and it just makes my day!  How wonderful it is to leave this simple gesture of thankfulness and generosity for someone else to experience.

What if we were more aware of the simple ways we could be thankful for what we have been given, and be a blessing to someone else? This must be what it means to be "thankful in all things" (1 Thessalonians 5:18).

The Shaker's had it right when they wrote "Simple Gifts".  I leave you with some of the verses from this great hymn...
'Tis the gift to be simple, 'tis the gift to be free
'Tis the gift to come down where we ought to be,
And when we find ourselves in the place just right,
'Twill be in the valley of love and delight.
When true simplicity is gain'd,
To bow and to bend we shan't be asham'd,
To turn, turn will be our delight,
Till by turning, turning we come 'round right.
Maybe, if we learn to be thankful for all things, we'll all come 'round right...

Saturday, June 8, 2013

A New Adventure Begins

Signing the Oath of Office in my office
Those of you who have been following my blog and my social networking status updates know that I have been working toward commissioning as an Army Reserve Chaplain.  I have posted previously about why I want to be a Chaplain, and have also talked about my time going through the MEPS in preparation for Army Chaplaincy.  Already, the journey has been quite an adventure as I have had the opportunity to witness and experience God's grace through meeting Army Chaplains and others who support this vital ministry.  Throughout the process I have been strengthened and challenged in my faith as I seek to honor God through this calling.

I am blessed to have the opportunity of knowing a brother in the Lord who is in my congregation and is also a retired Army officer, a Lieutenant Colonel to be more precise.  George had offered to swear me in when my oath arrived, and sure enough on 6 June around 1300, he did just that.  I am blessed because I know that my congregation is supporting me in this endeavor, knowing that there will be times that I will need to be absent to fulfill my Reserve duties.  In essence, I will be serving another church, yet this church will not have a church building per se.  This is one of the most exciting aspects of Army Chaplaincy that I am honored to be a part of.  Although I have yet to be assigned a unit, I know that God's hand is upon the process.

Please continue in prayer for me and my family as we continue to navigate the continued process and as Maria and the boys transition to life as an Army Reserve family.  I know they are making a great sacrifice as well and they need to be recognized for their dedication to this call.  Again, I am blessed to be surrounded by such affirming people.  

I will do my best to keep you updated throughout the continued process.  Keep checking back for updates!

God is good!   All the time!

Until next time...

Pro Deo Et Patria - For God and Country

Chaplain (1LT) Aaron Kesson
(I've been waiting to use this!)

Monday, May 6, 2013

Trespassing on Sacred Space - Or, What My Four-Year Old Taught Me About the Presence of God

"And forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us..."
I am a Christ-follower who prays using the trespasses/trespass version of the Lord's prayer (no big theological issue with debts/debtors, sins/sin, etc. just what I'm used to).  I am a firm believer that it does not matter to God what method we use to pray, just as long as we are praying.  I know there is varied theological depth to the different words we use, and I appreciate the various ways that others commune with God in prayer.

Just a few weeks ago however, my eyes were opened to a new way of understanding what trespasses could mean for those who claim Christ, from the eyes of a four-year old.  As with many deeply theological lessons I have experienced in life, this one also arrived in the form of one of my boys.  Fridays are daddy day-care days with Josh, and also my day off.  On this particular Friday however, I had a hospital visit that could not wait one more day, and I knew that Josh's smile would be the right medicine, so with Bob the monkey (Curious George) and blanket in tow, we ventured out to the hospital.  "The one where Jesus lives in their hearts, dad?" Joshua asked.  (Like many Catholic hospitals this one also has a large cross on the building's exterior). 

After spending five minutes going around and around in the automatic rotating door, we finally entered the hospital where Josh noticed a security guard at the information counter.  Josh approached the man and immediately said "Sir, do you have Jesus in your heart?" to which the man replied with an awkward stumble in words and finally, "the room you're looking for is 903."  Not one bit satisfied with that response, Josh said "you know, if you hit your chest too hard you'll hurt Jesus because he lives in your heart."   The man could not escape the question this time, so he replied by saying "Maybe I need to think about that a little more."

I don't know if the security guard went home that day pondering what Josh had said to him, but I know one preacher whose mind and heart were stirring with joy and a hint of challenge.  I thought to myself...
"How many times do I trespass- get in the way of someone's experience of God, either by judging them or being critical of their life?"
Jesus lives in the hearts and lives of God's people.  Who are we to trespass on that sacred space?

Thursday, April 11, 2013

Relationships Matter

Canterbury Cathedral - Accessed from
Remember the song, "Here is the church, here is the steeple, open up the doors and see all the people"?  I still enjoy doing the hand motions along with this song as I sing along with my children.

This song gives a clear message - The Church IS the people.  Another truth is blatantly clear - If you go to church, you will run into people (hopefully!)  

Read the gospel accounts of Jesus hanging out with people.  Who did he hang out with?

religious people
people who don't care about religion
people who had questions
people who thought they had answers
people who thought they had it all
people who had nothing
marginal people
good - hearted people
hard - hearted people
healthy people
hurting people
ordinary people

Chances are, these people are in YOUR church!

How we interact with one another is central to the kingdom of God.  Relationships matter!

Even when we disagree with one another.  Especially when we disagree with one another, relationships matter!

Much like our churches today, the Corinthian church was dealing with some heavy disagreement and division.  Paul reminded them that God is the source of their lives(1 Corinthians 1:30), and that believers are to boast, not in our own power, but in the power of God.  Earlier in the letter, Paul encourages believers to be "united in the same mind and the same purpose" (1 Corinthians 1:10).  I don't believe Paul was suggesting that the people were going to agree on everything, or that they were even going to be in agreement on the "big issues" of their day.  Rather, agreement that the source of life and grace, peace and love, is God alone.
Putting disagreements aside, and instead focusing on how we relate with one another is more important than coming to 100% agreement on the issues of our day.  
The fact of the matter is that our churches need to be places where all people are invited into relationship with the living God, regardless of how we feel about them, or how they live their lives, because we remember that God is the source of grace, forgiveness, salvation, and life itself.  Not us.

How do you relate to people in your church?  How about the surrounding community that your church serves?  

I ask myself on a daily basis, "have I related with others in genuineness and Christ-like love?"

How about you?