Do you know someone who has a passionate love of fishing? Or perhaps golf? Maybe amateur motorcycle racing? Or sailing? You know the kind of person I mean… the person who has a “hobby” that they are so passionate about that it encompasses much of their soul? The fisherman who gets up at 4am several days a week to sit on a lake, trying every new lure they kind find (or develop themselves). The golfer who spends every spare dollar they have, and even some that are not so spare, in search of the perfect golf shot. The amateur motorcycle racer who is willing to put themselves at risk in search of a win. The sailing fanatic who loves sailing so much they try to talk their life-partner into selling the house and moving onto the boat.
You know these people… the ones who approach a “hobby” with such a love and passion that others might confuse it with their career. Sometimes even the person with this passion confuses it with their career, which usually has detrimental effect on their actual career or job. I have met people this passionate about knitting, or protesting, or movies, or so many different things. When it is healthy, it can bring joy and vibrancy to a life, and the energy and passion can be infectious. When it is not healthy, it can cause someone to ignore their actual career and responsibilities, spend resources they do not have, and lead to connecting only with others who share this particular passion.
I bring this up, because I have such a hobby. I have a hobby that lights my soul, that feeds my spirit. I have a passion that I have to be careful how much of my time, my attention, my heart, and my resources I dedicate to it. I know I am good at it. I am sometimes surprised how good I am at it. I love that I can do it because I love to do it, not because I have to do it to pay the bills. I have spent most of this month of vacation on this hobby, and it has been a blast! I am energized, feeling competent, and excited again… three things I was not feeling when I began my vacation from my church ministry a few weeks ago.
So, what is this hobby? Military Chaplaincy.
Now, I know… the first time I said that I approached my Military Chaplaincy as if it were a hobby to my Ecclesiastical Endorser (the Rev. Sarah Lammert) I received what could only be described as an “old fashioned” look. I think it implied to her that I did not take Military Chaplaincy seriously enough… that I was “playing” at it. Admittedly, my attitude does lead me to the quandary of how I motivate myself for the “careerist” aspects of Military Chaplaincy, such as taking my evaluations seriously or making sure my retirement points are correct… but as far as my not taking the practice of Military Chaplaincy seriously… please. As if.
Sandy (my wife) has commented on the months where I seem to have spent as much or more on my military chaplaincy as I get paid to do it. As a Reserve Chaplain, we simply do not have access to the kinds of resources active duty chaplains have, and so I have a tendency to just go out and buy what we need. No chairs? I went out and bought some. No décor for the chapel? Magically it appears. The military can’t afford for me to travel in order to do some in-person ministry, and yet somehow I still appear there to be with the soldier and their family.
And remember, I only get paid for 4 days a month, and then maybe another two weeks in the summer.
I travel across the country to teach classes and counsel soldiers and families about the emotional and spiritual challenges of deployments, and how they can come back together after having been apart. I sit with soldiers who have fought hard to get out of the gangs of East LA, and have to continue that fight because they are only in the reserves… they live 28 days of the month in the same neighborhood they grew up in. I speak with young commanding officers about how to trust their sergeants to handle the unit, while still knowing that the ultimate responsibility rests with them, the commander. I help my Battalion Commander make difficult decisions, by helping her see what is both ethical and what is compassionate in any given situation (every commanding officer I have had as a Chaplain has been a woman, which I am starting to think is not a coincidence). I answer text messages asking for forgiveness, and help couples who are struggling find a way to be together. I have been with families who are grieving, and celebrated the lives of soldiers who have died, from WWII through the present wars.
Don’t tell the government… but if I could afford to I would probably do it all for free. It gives me joy. I am passionate about it. It lights my soul…
When I say that Military Chaplaincy is my hobby… I want people to understand the fullness of my meaning. If it were my job, or my career, I can’t imagine I would love it any more. In fact, making it my career would probably make me less dedicated as a Military Chaplain… So, when you look at my life, and tell me “David, you need to get a hobby… something fun outside of ministry” (which was the advice I received from the Ministerial Fellowship Committee this go-round) don’t be surprised when I tell you that I already have a hobby, thank you very much. And I doubt you could love your hobby any more than I love mine.
Yours in faith,