I have words for her

Nana and I, black eye and all.

Korea has been weird in that it looks so much like Pennsylvania at times.  Its so diametrically opposite of Texas that it has set my mind to PA many times.  The trees, the hills, the bird calls, the pollen… I round a corner and could think I was down by the Juniata, or behind my parent’s house.

There I was thinking of my allergies, specifically and reflecting on how terrible they were in PA, and I got to thinking about my Granddad’s time here.  So many questions to ask that I never thought of asking before.  What did my Grandad think of Korea?  Did he ever round a corner and think for a moment how much it looked like home?  Did he also have allergy problems here?

These are the things I need to ask my Nana.

But I can’t.  I was thinking of talking to her again and feeling the need to call her on the phone, and then it hit me as surely as if I had walked into a wall.  Like a slow avalanche, I felt that knowledge wash over me.  She’s gone on to defeated death and I can’t talk to her for now.  And when I see her, or even meet my Granddad for the first time, I don’t know that I will remember all these questions.  The heartache of death is that it comes and robs us of the comforts of community.  It takes away those who connect us to the past and our identity.  It brings no comfort.

And for now, that part of my life is gone.  How many more moments like this will I have?  When will it go away, and I won’t have that automatic reflex to reach out to her?

When I get to Pennsylvania I plan on going to the grave and saying my “goodbye for now”.  I’m hoping that will help.

The greatest balm I have and know is the hope I have in Christ.  Because I know and am sure of his rule, as surely as I take the cup and bread each opportunity I have, I know and am sure that I will see her again.


The Unexpected Graveyard

Incheon Landing Memorial

I stood on Radio Hill at incheon.  Its a promontory surrounded by ship yards and the Sea.  It looks like most of Korea now, a grassy knoll next to industry.  We were there for a “Staff Ride” to learn about the Incheon Landings that stated the first great push in the Korean War.  A different Lieutenant took their turn to explain the importance of the landings and the many facets that lead to its success.  I paid attention, but was distracted, as usual.

I looked out over the hill to the Sea and saw a graveyard.  There was no hill or field with marked tombstones.  The Sea itself is the graveyard, full of the bodies of soldiers who never made it back home one way or another.  I understood the weight of the decisions those generals, admirals, the myriad of officers made leading up that point.  All of those decisions weighed on the lives of America’s Greatest Weapon, the soldiers who went from boat to shore to fight for a people they never knew.

What else would the Chaplain think about but the sanctity of the lives that were gone.  I’ve done my fair share of funerals and graveside services, and, as I always remind other Chaplains, “Gravesides are for the living to say good-bye.  They are of no benefit to the dead.”  But here was a graveside so immense, who could tell the good-byes enough?  What kind of closure did the families have back then?

And in the same thought, as quickly as the wind blew, I turned to praise the One who will one day call the dead from the Sea into Life Everlasting.  One day, not even the Sea can hold back all that she possesses.


Granddad and NanaI really don’t now much about my Granddad, my Dad’s dad.  My dad never really talks about him.  He died when my dad was quite young, and I don’t know that my dad knows much about him, as it is.  For my Nana to talk about him you would have to ask her, which I would and write things down so I wouldn’t forget.  It was always the hope that as I found out more about my family in the past I would understand who I was and maybe where I was going.

I know my Granddad was in Korea during the war. I know he was at FT Dix, back in the day.  I know he got hurt here and was sent home.  I know he was in 2-9IN, the Manchus, and that he probably saw some of the worst fighting on the Korean Peninsula.  I’ve had the chance in Korea to go to Camp Casey, where the Manchus presently call “home” and have gotten to walk around a bit of what i call “Manchu Country.”  Being here and at FT Dix I’ve often wondered if I’m where he was.  Did we ever share the same space?  How did he find it here, knowing that it looked a lot different than it does now.  What would he have thought about the country and its people today, knowing how it got its start?  I hear some veterans are just amazed at the progress of this country since the war.  Would he share their same enthusiasm?

And what would he think of his Grandson, the chaplain?

Because my Granddad was a Manchu, I got invited to participate in the last Manchu Mile on the Korean Peninsula.  The Manchu Mile is a 25 mile ruck march to commemorate the 84 mile march 2-9IN accomplished during the Boxer Rebellion.  Its a tradition and a rite of passage for the 9th Regnant.  I was really excited to do it, as I hoped that it would afford me some closer bond to my Granddad.  It was rough.  It wasn’t walking the ridge line, or the majority of the hills that ate away at me as much as the extended walk along the river.  It was lonely out there, though I was surrounded by others.  It just never seemed to end.

But I did it, and I received my belt buckle.

Manchu Belt Buckle

Human beings are funny creatures.  We’ve been created with this longing to be connected to people, and mourn those we’ve lost… even if we’ve never met them.  We can understand the cost of life, and the vast mark others can have on our lives.  I feel all that, and I feel the want for an anchor to the world I live in, some understanding that I belong to a group of people.  Earning the buckle has not given me new insight into my Granddad’s life.  I don’t think he ever did the Mile.  But it was with great satisfaction to feel that I have a bit of him in me and in my life.

Miles to go

Manchu Mile Marker 25Being here in South Korea has been rewarding for the most part.  I’ve had the opportunity to serve my soldiers and the post in ways that I could not have done back in the States.  We were forced to live with each other, and see each other in stressful situations.  Its not as if we could leave the post for extended amounts of time.  Leaving the post was just as stressful.  I like to think of our little bit of ground as an American island, adrift amongst the Korean people.  You’d leave post and be surrounded by a people, and a noise, that quickly became white noise.  With no understanding, it was easy to slip through and pay no real attention at times.  You would just get bothered by the incessant babbling and the heavy press of bodies in a culture that does not have the same appreciation of personal space as Americans do.  “Don’t fence me in.”

Its a marathon, being over here.  Some gave in, some struggled, some ran the race and did well.  Some were just happy to finish.  I was, and am, happy for the soldiers I got to see really thrive here.  We didn’t really know what to expect being over here.  We were banking on the fact that we weren’t going to get shot at, and no one did, as far as I know.  If someone did, I hope to hear that story because it sounds like a good one.  The stress was not the same as those who are serving in active war zones.  But being away from friends and families, wives and other commitments, definitely had its toll on some.

Looking back, behind me, I can see my own struggles.  I did not doubt I would be ok, because I know I have a future.  For my soldiers, that was the difference.  They would get caught up in the past problems, or their present dilemmas that they could not see the hope of a future… with their loved ones, with a place. As I talked to them, the best change would come as they could look forward, as they could think ahead and plan on things with their loved ones.  They could deal with the present because they could see the hope of being home.

Being home.  As the miles turns to feet, I look forward to the future I have, assured to me by the One who wrote it and holds it firm. In Jeremiah 31:17, God assures his people, whom he loves, that he is taking care of them even in the midst of their exile.  They’re not to look at their present predicament and see anything but that God has a plan for them, for their good.  And their forward looking will sustain them.  I’m assured the same, by the hand who draws me close despite the distance I may feel from my home.

My Nana Saying Good-bye

Stella Campbell

I remember my Nana saying good-bye to her sister.  We were all standing about as they closed the casket lid on my Great-Aunt Mae (whose real name was Stella.  I don’t know that I ever really learned the whole story behind why they called her Mae.).  Until that moment my Nana did not take her eyes off her sister, lying in that box. As if it was not real, with hope she watched her.  And as they closed the lid, my Nana looked with tears and said, “Good-bye, Stella”.  In a crowded funeral parlor, no one else’s voice was heard.

We couldn’t walk out to the plot there in New Bloomfield.  It was in the middle of winter and the ice and snow had won the day.  My Nana, with the rest of us, watched as they carried the coffin out the door and into the winter.  I don’t even remember who the pall bearers were.  I don’t remember a lot about that day.

She had asked her pastor if it was ok that her sister had died a United Methodist.  She said that he said it was fine.  She was relieved.  Her eyes brightened up as she told me.  It mattered to her, and she knew it mattered to me.  I didn’t really worry what shade of Christianity my Great-Aunt was but my Nana thought it mattered to me.  She wanted to know that it mattered to me. It did, but not the way she thought it did.

I will not forget that voice of my Nana saying good-bye to her sister.  That was at least ten years ago.  It was so full – of mourning, end, of finality.  I don’t know that my Nana walked out of that funeral home the same.  She started giving away things to her grand-kids, to soften the inevitable good-bye, I think.  I always felt uncomfortable as she did this.  It just made me sad.

No man escapes death, except our Risen Lord, and he even died – once.  I didn’t want the basket my Nana gave me.  I couldn’t tell her that I would rather have had her than the basket or anything she could’ve given me.

The National Shrine of the Martyrs and the Ascension

The Shrine of the Martyrs

I got to see the National Cathedral in Seoul and the Martyr’s Shrine in Jeoldusan.  I’ve seen relics in Europe, but none in the US.  Its a good reminder to see the foundation of the faith for the people of a certain group.

The Martyrs’ Shrine in Seoul is where the prison used to be and where political prisoners used to be tortured and killed.  Over top of that land there is now a Roman Catholic Shrine, where they hold Masses. Its a circular room, painted white and full of light.  There is a soft glow that just envelopes the room; the light coming from the floor and the open ceiling makes you feel like the more important space is there, not in the room below.  Below the altar there is a small room where plaques are hung for the parishioners to pray and reflect.

Being on that ground is a good reminder for what we take for granted: Christianity is a rival to the world’s kingdoms – it is a rival that far surpasses anything that this world could offer.  And , even here in Korea, the kingdom suffered at the hands of those who felt the threat of the invasion of a foreign king.

I take this for granted, too.  I take for granted that I serve a nation that allows me freedoms to worship as I choose.  But, even more so, the only way that freedom matters is if I have a King worthy to be served.  Only Jesus as King, ascended, can afford me the freedoms I long for.  Only him, as resurrected, can give me the forgiveness I desire, and the ability to be changed.  I have no King but Jesus.


We took the girls to audition for a local play yestrday.  I sat and waited with another family we’ve come to know of late, and I played with the kids. Their dad has been gone for about a month and I’m leaving shortly for an extended period of time.  My wife talked and looked over the rehearsal schedule and they made decisions and talked about the near future.  Its a future that I’m removed from.

The hardest part about this is the knowledge that there will be a blank spot of 9 months in my memory with my family.  Contemporary technology will make it all the more clearer what I’m missing and will allow me to be a part of it.  But still.

I’m excited to be a part of my unit and to work with my soldiers over there.  I’m excited to be a part of 3-8 Cav history.  And whatever I’m going through in my head is universal to my soldiers, as well.

I was once given terrible advice that I should remove myself frommy congregation and not let them know what I’m going through.  “It makes you vulnerable,” he said.  This is the worst idea anyone in ministry could have, that we must set ourselves against those we serve as though we are indeed on a pedestal. I need Christ just as much as any of my soldiers.  To rob my soldiers, or anyone I’m serving, of them getting to know my need for Christ or my thankfulness for Him is hypocrisy and couldeasily lead them to think I know everything.  Truth be told, I know a little Hebrew, a little Greek, and my need for a Saviour.  If I would have my soldiers think that I’m better than them I have removed myself from their lives.  If I would have my soldiers believe that I do not miss my family, I have removed myself from a sphere of influence that my God has called me to.

New Worlds

“I wished to give a complete relation to your Highnesses, and also where a fort might be built…. However, I do not see it to be necessary, because these people are simple in armaments…. With fifty men I could subjugate them all and make them do everything that is required of them.”
Christopher Columbus, 14 October 1492

When I was a kid we had Columbus Day off. My kids are in school today. We used to learn about Columbus and his voyage and how it inspired people to come over to this New World and be free from all sorts of tyranny. I know that there were vast repercussions on what these boat loads of free thinking individuals purposed when they got here. That’s celebrated more than the “discovery” today.

Someone had to do it at some point. Someone had to sail West. What if they waited 100 more years. Would 1592 had been a better time for the natives of the Americas? Would that much time had changed the Europeans’ perspective on who they’d find and how they’d treat them? Considering the paths the Spanish, the English, and the other colonial powers had taken in Africa and in India, probably not.

What can a guy learn from all this? What can a father teach his children, even as he embarks on his own journey across another ocean to the lands Columbus was aiming for, to do what he knows God has called him to do?

Todays journeys may be seen as yesterday’s mistakes tomorrow.

That sounds too trite for a guy, even as he sailed and subjugated and took, who still felt he was being true to his God. I’m not looking to take or win anything.

I need clothing

“The night’s far gone; the day is at hand.”
~ Rom 13:12

My favorite image in Scripture is the night and day imagery that Paul uses over and over. It explains so well all that I understand of my walk and how I understand us as a community walking together. It is what grieves me as a look around at those outside of the community.

But I stand in daylight, stripped of all the things I want to claim for myself. There is nothing that stands in the way of the gaze of the God of light. And so, I am Adam. I am aware of my shame more than anyone else. He calls my name and I’m aware that I’ve been hiding. And like Adam, He clothes me. I “put on” Christ. I can stand before my God; He is my righteousness.

He is my delight.

The moon did not join us at formation this morning

I’m not a superstitious guy. I don’t keep things because I think they’re lucky. My fault is that I hang on to things because they connect me to someone else.

As I stood in formation this morning I was greeted by the moon as it vanished behind the Earth’s shadow. I was half tempted to shout something about it being a bad omen and that we should cancel PT for the morning if not the rest of the week. The Earth’s shadow stretched across it, revealing the redness of Mars on our orbiter. Our closest friend and companion in the universe. We would miss the moon if it were gone. We would miss this constant in our lives, our evening friend.

I remembered all those verses that have to do with the moon going away in Scripture. It’ll be a day when God’s judgement will be complete, our Earth will be shaken and all the things we once held close, that remind us of our King, will be gone.

But even in those days, He reigns. He is still in control. He’s the one who gave us the night and the day, the sun and the moon. The moon is only complete when we can ascribe to Him the thanks for such a close companion. And when we have to say good bye to our companions, it’s because He knows what’s best for us.