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Posted Tuesday, November 29, 2016 - 5:57pm in Bp. Dave Brauer-Rieke's blog

"In those days John the Baptist appeared in the wilderness of Judea, proclaiming, "Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near."  Matthew 3:1-2.

'Confession' and 'repentance' are not the same thing. "Confession" is acknowledging our wrong, or the world's wrong, before God. "Repentance" is a turning away from the power that has captivated your soul! This turning away is for the sake of turning towards - and in the case of Matthew 3 a turning towards God's kingdom which is drawing near.

This Sunday an expected 2,000-3,000 U.S. Veterans will be going to Standing Rock to protect the American citizens there being fired upon with rubber bullets and fire hoses. They will be interposing themselves between 'us and us,' that is between the Water Protectors and local police or National Guard. What have we all come to? This is beyond bizaar, one more wrinkle around these interesting days in which we live. Pray for our Veterans, law enforcement, Water Protectors and the earth's water itself. 

The "those days" Matthew makes reference to, as in "In those days ..." begs definition, doesn't it? I suspect most of us have something to say about "these days," in which the Gospel also comes to us, but Matthew is talking about his days. Usually, though, preachers try to apply the Word to modern day contexts. Perhaps it is enough to say "these days" are hard. They are, aren't they? There is significant turmoil in our world today, and much to be played out over the next several months.

My question for myself this week, though, is "How will I repent?" Or, more specifically, "What am I ready or willing to turn away from?" In a word, I am done letting the country's political angst and chaos dictate my life for me. I'm turning away from FB posts, news saturation, worry, anger and grief.  No more @realDonaldTrump or #FTS devotions. It's not a matter of whether I am for or against. It is a matter of having my life revolve around issues of power and politics rather than the "real" kingdom. This doesn't mean I'm through engaging important issues. Not at all! It's just that I'm moving from "reaction" to "response." My "reactions" are dictated by world events. My "responses" should be born of faith. This is what John the Baptist wants to say to us.

"The winnowing fork is in God's hand ..." Matthew tells us. This is not a new truth. It is not about American politics. Rather, American and global politics, economics, injustices and pressures are what is to be winnowed. Or rather, those of us who participate in the world are what - who - is to be winnowed. So, I am ready to repent. Yes, I believe I am! I am ready to turn away from that which causes me to faint, fail or swear. I am also ready, with God's help, to turn towards that kingdom which puts me to work protecting, feeding and pointing towards another Way. 

A voice is crying out. The Spirit is baptizing. Fruits worthy of repentance are ripening. It is the Advent of our Lord. Thank's be to God!

Bp. Dave Brauer-Rieke
Oregon Synod - ELCA

Posted Tuesday, November 29, 2016 - 4:19pm in Bp. Dave Brauer-Rieke's blog

Martin Luther’s Small Catechism is an amazing gift to the Church. For almost 500 years this little pamphlet has laid out the basics of Christian faith and teaching in a way anybody can understand. “What does this mean?” is a question designed to live in the heart of any inquisitive Christian. It’s all about the basics. If you’re a Christian, memorize the Small Catechism. It couldn’t hurt!

However, we do not live in a Christian culture any more. Our needs are different. What does this mean?  It means a lot! For example, here we are in the middle of Advent, we may find ourselves deeply em-bedded in practices of consumption rather than prayer. Soon it will be Christmas and we may talk about gifts rather than Incarnation. The “unchurched” – not just young people, but individuals of all ages and identity –hunger to talk about over consumption and what it’s
doing to our earth. How the Divine manifests itself in the everyday? People long to explore the mystery of incarnation. Yet, they perceive, rightly or wrongly, that
this is no longer what we in the Church are about.

What does this mean?

The question of the Catechism is not about calling forth the Reformer. The Catechism is about our common grounding. What is different in today’s world is that the teachings of the faith alone can no longer form our cultural, common grounding. The Church is no longer “the voice” of the culture. We are simply “a” voice.

Let’s talk about Baptism as the Small Catechism does. Yes! But when Luther asks “What is Baptism?” and writes, “Baptism is not simply plain water. Instead, it is water used according to God’s command and connected with God’s Word.” Let’s talk more about that part. What is God’s command for water, and how is it connected, deeply connected, with the incarnate Word? That’s a question that has traction today. Let’s talk ecology, faith and life!

Or, when reading Luther on the Lord’s Prayer, “Give us this day our daily bread.” And Luther asks, “What does this mean, ‘Daily Bread?’” saying, “Daily bread is everything included in the necessities and nourishment for our bodies, such as food, drink, clothing, house, farm …” let’s talk more about that part. Luther insists that God gives us our daily bread “Without prayer.” How does that work?

“The basics” for our world today are not to be taught. They are to be discovered. Like the baby Jesus, cradled in a bed of straw, you and I must start again. Listen, love, and learn. 

Blessed Advent,

Bp. Dave Brauer-Rieke

Posted Tuesday, November 8, 2016 - 5:37pm in Bp. Dave Brauer-Rieke's blog

The Bible always and forever belongs to God. Whether it be in German, English, or Spanish, it is “the Word” – and as such it comes to us as God wills. Part and parcel with Reformation, Lutherans celebrate Martin Luther’s translation of the New Testament into German. What this is all about, though, is the return of the Word to the people.

Putting the Bible into the hands of just everybody is a dangerous thing. We forget that Luther was among the first to do this. It is dangerous because the Word itself is dangerous. Oh yes, it is! The Word releases the Reformer in us, and when the Reformer appears the powers quake and people become uncomfortable.  Sit down and read the Bible – English is fine. You’ll see that what I say it true.

The fascinating part of the ‘Luther translating the Bible’ story is the trauma he went through in doing so.  The words he picked had to be just right.  There were political, economic and religious themes that challenged him. “How do you say that?” What is the cost of doing so?

Enter the Reformer. Enter trials, confrontations and divisions – all because the Word had been set loose once again.

Fear not! Know, though, that to read the Bible is to translate the Bible. “If they take our house, goods, fame, child, or spouse, they cannot win the day!”  Luther sings in A Mighty Fortress. Fear not. You can do this. 

We cannot read Scripture passively. You are invited to translate the words into 21st century Oregonian, that is to live the Word in a way that makes sense in the here and now. Nobody else can do this – only you!

Translate. Let the Word call out the Reformer in you.

By translating the New Testament into German Luther declared that he trusted the Spirit more than bishops or scholars. With Luther, I trust the Spirit in you. I believe that God will preach through your life, and that your life is vital!

It is not the Reformer who makes trouble. The world just sees us that way sometimes. The Bible both comforts and confronts. It forgives even while it condemns. And truly, Christ gives life even as he bids us to take up our cross.

Today I invite you to embrace your calling as a translator. Let the Reformer loose. Start with the Bible. Just read it. The rest will follow.

With you on the journey,

Bp. Dave Brauer-Rieke

Posted Thursday, October 13, 2016 - 2:59pm in Bp. Dave Brauer-Rieke's blog

So how is your Inner Monk doing? Augsburg Fortress has created a Reformation 500 resource book for congregations with lots of great stuff in it. One offering in this book is a series of bulletin inserts called, “ABOUT THE LUTHERANS.” You have to buy the book to get the inserts (and I encourage you to do so) but I’m also making inserts of my own for you which are designed to be a complement. Augsburg Fortress is offering you some history. I want to ask about the future!

So, how is your Inner Monk doing? “Martin Luther: Monk to Reformer” is the title of Augsburg Fortress’ insert – and mine. On their insert they offer these great gems of insight:

·        “Not long after he (the young monk, Luther) arrived in Wittenberg, he became incensed by the church…”

·        “Luther’s Ninety-Five Theses stirred up a hornet’s nest in the church and began the Reformation …”

·        “For challenging the church and refusing to back down, Luther was called before the Holy Roman emperor, Charles V …”

It was Luther’s “inner Monk,” his sense and practice of God; what he had been taught as a child – and a sense of betrayal that not all was as he had been told – that unleashed the Reformer in him - and oh the cost of letting that Reformer out!

The history of Luther is fascinating. Yet, what good is remembering this history if we don’t likewise listen to our inner Monk, and release the Reformer? It is not Martin Luther who makes us Lutheran. It is the Reformer within.

So let me ask you as your bishop: “What is troubling your soul? What is not as it seems? What were you taught that no longer fits? How do we articulate your Christian faith in a new day?’ What needs to change in the world around you?” We have the coming year to ask these questions.

October 31, 2017 will mark 500 years since “The Reformer” in Luther began to emerge. Oregon arise! This anniversary calls out to the Reformer within you!!

With you on the journey,

Bp. Dave Brauer-Rieke

Please find two bulletin insert PDF files below.  "Anniversary insert" you are free to copy and use as you wish. "Augsburg_01_MartinLuther"  is posted for display only. No further reproduction allowed without written permission of Augsburg Fortress. 

From Reformation 500 Sourcebook: Anniversary Resources for Congregations copyright © 2016 Augsburg Fortress. Posted by permission for display only. No further reproduction allowed without the written permission of Augsburg Fortress

 

Posted Wednesday, August 3, 2016 - 3:06pm in Scott Dunfee's blog

I recently passed the one year mark—a year since I returned home from service as the Command Chaplain for the NATO Training Mission in Afghanistan and left active duty with the U.S. Navy, returning to the Reserve. As I’ve said and written before, this first year home has been like that first year after the death of a loved one—where each holiday, season, anniversary of an event, is marked with the memory of what happened in Afghanistan—some of which are wonderful memories and many of which are painful and involve an intense sense of grief and loss. In that sense it’s been a difficult year ... and I’m grateful that I’ve been able to grieve, to process it, ... and much of the grief has dissipated.

Now that I’ve been home a year, I’ve found myself wondering: “What’s left?” What I’ve discovered is FEAR. All the fear I stuffed for ten months in Afghanistan so I could do my job, is starting to surface. Living daily with the real danger and threat of violent death takes its toll. I was kind of surprised, at first, that it was coming up a year later? But I guess it took that long to feel safe ... and apparently I needed some time to adjust and to enjoy being home before having to deal with this deep feeling and some dark memories. I had over 150 missions “outside the wire”—the phrase used to describe leaving the security of a base and being exposed to more imminent danger, out in public. Chaplains don’t carry weapons and in that sense can’t protect themselves. I had an armed Security Team everywhere I went—and I worried for their safety and well-being, as well. There are some things that happened that I can’t talk about for reasons of security. ... and there are other things that are too ugly, brutal and graphic to share. Know that I do have settings in which and people with whom I can work through these things.

The FEAR manifests itself at unexpected times and in unexpected places. I know it’s happening when I find myself feeling fearful in situations that don’t warrant the intense degree of fear I’m feeling. It’s a signal: “This is fear from Afghanistan.” And I have to stop, if possible, and sort it out and separate the fear of the present from the fear from Afghanistan. . . and just let the waves of fear wash over me. I guess it’s like a panic attack—although, to my knowledge, I’ve never had a panic attack. Sometimes my body literally shakes or shivers, but mostly the shaking and shivering is on the inside. I try to take deep breaths ... and pray. I usually have some sense of God’s presence—an inner, calming voice—and after the waves of fear come waves of Divine Light and Love. “God’s perfect love casts out all fear.” (I John 4:18). Sometimes I can verbalize what’s going on in the moment to people I’m with and they are very understanding. Sometimes circumstances don’t permit that and I have to push through until later. Until an opportunity to sit with it and process it.

I’ve known about POST TRAUMATIC STRESS for years. As a Navy Chaplain, I minister to those with PTS. It’s different being the one who is afflicted and processing it! Sometimes I feel like a little child who just wants to be held in loving arms that make the fear go away ... or until it passes ... and I feel safe. In May I spoke to a gathering for the occasion of Armed Services Day. I spoke about being in Afghanistan. After my presentation the group surprised me with a presentation of their own: they presented me with a “Quilt of Valor”. “Valor” is a word I have never used in association with myself nor does it feel comfortable or appropriate to do so, but there’s a group called the “Quilts of Valor” Foundation that specially makes quilts and presents them to veterans. The one made for me has my name stitched into it, along with stars that are “seconds” from a flag factory—stars made for a flag but never used for that purpose because of some slight flaw—but still serviceable in these quilts. My quilt is beautiful—so colorful and carefully pieced in a log cabin pattern and intricately quilted with red thread. They wrapped it around me at the presentation and told me it came with a condition: “You can’t hang it on the wall or fold it over the back of a chair. You have to use it!” So, in those situations when the fear comes and I can’t process it until later, “later” means, when I get home I wrap myself tightly in this quilt and let the waves of fear come ... until I feel wrapped in the loving arms of a Mothering God. “How precious is your steadfast love, O God! All people may take refuge in the shadow of your wings.” (Psalm 36:7). “In the shadow of your wings, I will take refuge, until the raging storms pass by.” (Psalm 57:1b). I don’t know if that’s what the “Quilts of Valor” folks had in mind when they said the quilt had to be “used”, but I don’t think they would object.

Pastor Scott Dunfee
Captain, Chaplain Corps, United States Navy

For more information about the “Quilts of Valor” Foundation, visit their website at www.QOVF.org.

 

Posted Tuesday, March 8, 2016 - 12:02pm in Scott Dunfee's blog

Soon it will be a year since I returned home from ten months in Afghanistan-- serving as Command Chaplain  for the NATO Training Mission and U.S. Forces in the Capitol Region. It's been a roller coaster since I came home. I remember when I had been home for about a month and spoke at our Oregon Synod of the ELCA Assembly and one person's comment was, “He's still over in Afghanistan.” Not sure what I said or did that made them think that-- but in many ways they were correct. Initially, upon my return, I was dealing with culture shock and re-entry into American life and culture after a ten month absence. I was still in Afghanistan! For several months I was more “in Afghanistan” than I was in the United States or in Oregon or at home. . . at least in my mind. The majority of my thoughts were about Afghanistan. My thinking and responses in many situations were shaped primarily by having been in Afghanistan. It was all I talked about-- when I talked-- but often I was silent and retreating due to the culture shock. . . and the post-traumatic stress.

Soon it will be a year since I returned from Afghanistan, and I wonder if it will turn out to be true? I've come to think this year has been very much like the first year of grieving after someone dies. I've told this to grieving people countless times and experienced it personally with the death of people close to me, that the first year is especially difficult. With each birthday, anniversary, holiday, gathering or event, routine or activity at which the deceased person would have been present, one feels their absence, feels the loss more deeply. They are missed and one grieves a little more each time. There are also, of course, good memories, stories to tell and laughter to share. . . as those we love may die, but the love never has to die. Well, this year at home, after being ten months in Afghanistan, has been a lot like that. As I've gone through the year, month by month, each holiday or event that occurred while I was in Afghanistan has come flooding back on its first anniversary.

For example, Thanksgiving was especially difficult. The Monday before Thanksgiving, while I was in Afghanistan, was when a friend was killed in a rocket attack. His son was also serving in Afghanistan and that Monday evening I was part of the team that went to tell him the terrible news and bring him back to Kabul to escort his Dad's body home. Tuesday was the Ramp Ceremony, when we put my friend's flag-draped casket on the plane, along with his son, for transport back to the States. Wednesday was Thanksgiving Eve-- our service in the Headquarters Chapel was filled to overflowing. . . and our hearts were overflowing with grief, as well as gratitude, as we read Psalm 137: “How could we sing the Lord's song in a foreign land” under such circumstances? (vs. 4) I spent Thanksgiving Day writing a funeral sermon and Friday was the Memorial Service with military honors—over a thousand in attendance. It was a hard week. . . last year and this year.

Christmas this year was a little better. My memories of Christmas in Afghanistan are all good. On Christmas Eve we observed the 100th Anniversary of the “Christmas Truce of 1914”--observed throughout Europe-- and, a century later, among NATO forces in Afghanistan, at least the Germans, Brits and French were all allies! There is some progress and hope! And my dear Afghan friends, Salim and Mirwaz, who are Muslim, invited me to have dinner with them on Christmas Day. Since they knew Christmas was a time for family and I was far from mine, they said they would be honored if I would let them be my family on that day! They prepared a traditional Afghan feast and fed me with great food. . . and with great love!

Gradually, at some point during this past year-- I'm not exactly sure when—things have shifted. . . and the majority of my thoughts have come to be anchored at home rather than in Afghanistan. I still think about Afghanistan and what's happening there. . . and about friends I made—and some are able to stay in touch-- but I'm not “still there”. I'm home. And. . . I wonder, as the one year mark approaches, will year two at home be easier than this first year has been? I hope so.

Posted Tuesday, September 29, 2015 - 4:57pm in Scott Dunfee's blog

Certain behaviors, part of the rhythm of life while I served as the Command Chaplain for the NATO Training Mission in Afghanistan, continue to be part of my daily life now that I am at home. But I don’t need them anymore. When will they end, cease, stop?!

For example, I was in a parade this past summer. While most people walk down the street in a parade looking out at the crowd and waving—which I did—I also found myself scanning the rooftops of buildings along the parade route . . . looking for people with weapons! It’s a habit . . . still. Any time we went into a crowded area or drove through neighborhoods, we searched the crowd and the rooftops for people who were armed. My eyes seem to just automatically go there.  The first time I went to the Mall—and to tell the truth, I find myself avoiding the Mall since I’ve returned—my eyes kept searching the crowds and looking to the upper level as I walked along the lower level.

The first time—and so far the only time—I went to COSTCO since I returned from Afghanistan was overwhelming. Granted, it can be overwhelming to go to COSTCO under the best of circumstances—what with the mass quantities of products screaming an in-your-face kind of consumerism! But my mind went back to the Base Exchange in Kabul—about the size of half an aisle in COSTCO—with one brand of toothpaste and one brand of shaving crème, in small sizes—no giant economy size in a twin pack! One toothbrush in Kabul costs $9 or $10—the same price for a blister pack of 12 in COSTCO! My Afghan friends often asked if I could get them toothbrushes for their children, because they were only $1.79 at the Base Exchange. I found my heart breaking as I walked the aisles at COSTCO—part of my heart still in Afghanistan.

And no one in COSTCO greeted me or responded to my, “Hello”. It’s impossible to walk anywhere in Afghanistan, to pass any person, without a greeting. And it’s not, “Hello”. It’s, “God’s peace be with you!” “Asalaam o Alaikom!” Sadly, no greetings of divine peace in the streets of our cities and the aisles of our stores here! We may carry the desire in our hearts, make it a silent prayer, but we know we’d be suspect, ignored or ridiculed if we spoke it out loud! I felt a strange kind of aloneness or emptiness as I walked the aisles of COSTCO—despite the crowd. Couldn’t wait to get out of there!

I was out in the countryside, part of an outdoor church activity, when I heard a barrage of gunfire. Turned out neighbors nearby like to shoot their guns periodically. It’s their property and they have the legal right to do so. But it was the first live gunfire I had heard since leaving Afghanistan. I didn’t hit the deck. . . but I was startled. . . and concerned. And my mind went on a little journey. Took me back to when there was an assault with small arms on one of the gates of the NATO Base by the Taliban. . . and a counter-attack by NATO and Afghan National Security Forces—a barrage of gunfire. A Taliban attacker was killed, Dozens on both sides were in direct fire. Many more were in harm’s way.  There are emotional responses to such incidents that one necessarily  puts on hold in the moment. . . and, sometimes, longer—for as long as one needs to continue to function in such an environment. It’s only at home—SAFE. . . and “far away” from the incident—that apparently those emotions are finally or fully felt. . . and, mercifully, released. And, by God’s grace, there are brothers and sisters in Christ who are literally Christ’s arms to hold us and offer holy hugs. A parishioner was there at this activity in the countryside, sensed something was going on for me, and asked, “Are you OK?” “That’s the first live gunfire I’ve heard since I’ve come home,” I said. “It’s taken me on a little journey back to Afghanistan.” This dear sister in Christ reached out and put a hand on my shoulder. . . and then offered a hug. It was the grounding I needed. It brought me back home.

In one sense this is all about culture shock—anyone who travels and spends extended time in another culture has similar experiences adjusting after returning home. Some of it reflects the normal symptoms of Post Traumatic Stress. There’s a period of processing the stuff that’s been on hold. It takes as long as it takes. Sometimes I’m just surprised by it. . . .and wonder when it will stop? When will I be done? Will I  return to normal? Truth be told, I’ve never been normal in that sense! And I’ve begun to think that we don’t really return after such experiences, so much as we go forward. . . changed by the experiences—hopefully for the better! That’s God’s promise. That’s the power of the resurrection—bringing something good out of something difficult, painful or bad. “All things work together for good, for those who love God and are called according to God’s purpose.” (Romans 8:28) In that sense it never stops. It is continually unfolding! . . . with holy hugs along the way!

Pastor Scott Dunfee

Captain, Chaplain Corps, United States Navy

Posted Tuesday, July 14, 2015 - 2:26pm in Scott Dunfee's blog

I've been surprised by the number of people who have asked me to continue blogging after my return home from ten months on active duty as a Navy Chaplain serving in Afghanistan. I'm not sure what to write about? At this point I've been back three months and many people ask if I've made the transition, re-acclimated, am glad to be home? My answer has been, “Most days!” I'm very grateful for the warm and caring reception I've received from everyone I've encountered, but let me write a little about those “days” when it's hard to be back.

Early on I told people that one way I had been changed by my Afghanistan experience was that I feel a certain “letting go” and “easing up” about a lot of things—i.e. If it doesn't explode and won't kill or permanently injure anyone, I'm just not going to get spun up about it. That doesn't mean some things aren't important . . . and I don't want it to mean anyone feels dismissed with regard to things they care about. It just means I have a different perspective. It's the relationships that matter most, the people.

Well, that hasn't been entirely or exactly the case! What I've found is that while I don't get spun up about a lot of things, I do get impatient with other people getting spun up about somethings. Sometimes very impatient. It's this feeling like life's too short to be so occupied with something I judge to be so mundane or unimportant! I've felt resentful and angry that my valuable time is being wasted . . . and I've needed to apologize for being so impatient and judgmental. I don't like myself or like being home in those moments! If I've failed to recognize my behavior in some situations, let me apologize now. If I've come across in a rude or less than caring manner, I apologize. I also confess that my truth is, part of me feels resentful and angry that I was put in an environment where people who don't even know me wanted to kill me . . . and killed many others, including some of my friends.

One morning I just felt like I was going to explode! I felt so agitated and impatient I was worried I would say or do something to people I care about that I would regret. I told my wife, Janet, what I was feeling . . . that I knew it was a symptom of Post Traumatic Stress (PTS) . . . and that I would need to get out of the house. She understood-- completely. I told my staff at the church office it was one of those hard “days” and unless it was an emergency, to give me a wide berth, privacy and to please pray for me. They understood-- completely. It was mid-afternoon by the time the agitation and anxiety passed. All of this is “normal” . . . it passes and there is healing and peace. But it made me think, “Is this what it's like for those who  suffer with a full blown diagnosis of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)?” I can't imagine what it must be like to feel 24/7 what I felt for just a few hours?! I found myself feeling such empathy . . . I wept . . . and I prayed for my brothers and sisters who suffer so. And while my experience doesn't compare (and that's not the point—to compare), I shed some tears as part of my own sense of grief and loss. I also had a very real sense of God's presence throughout that day. Comforting me and making it safe for me to feel all these feelings. And a sense that it would all pass, that I would indeed get through it . . . but I needed to lean into it. And lean on “the everlasting arms”-- which often feels like one of those trust exercises where you fall backwards and hope someone will catch you! As grateful as I was for that sense of God's presence and the understanding of others, I didn't like being home that day.

Memorial Day turned out to be extremely difficult and emotional.  Having conducted 17 Memorial Services while I was in Afghanistan-- many preceded by “Ramp Ceremonies”, loading the body of the deceased on a plane for transport home-- I shouldn't have been surprised. But somehow it caught me off guard. I had no official duties and did not attend any ceremonies, but my wife and I usually watch an annual PBS special on Memorial Day weekend, “The National Memorial Day Concert from the West Lawn of the U.S. Capitol”. It began with the playing of the National Anthem, . . . I was in tears before the music was finished. The Memorial Services and Ramp Ceremonies in Afghanistan that were for Americans (the majority of the 17) all began with the playing of the National Anthem. I wonder if I will ever be able to hear the National Anthem again and not think of them? Whereas, in Afghanistan I stood at attention and saluted during the National Anthem, on this occasion I sat in a rocking chair crying. My wife, Janet, asked if I would be OK, should we turn off the television or change the channel? “No,” I said, “I think I need to watch this.” As the two hour program continued, I found myself remembering scenes and feeling feelings—especially grief—that I had forgotten or put on hold. That was true for Janet, too. At one point the program featured the perspective of a Mother and her children—i.e. What it was like for them to have the Casualty Assistance Office and Chaplain come to their home to inform them that their husband and Father had been killed in action. Military families dread the approach of two officers in dress uniforms coming to the front door when a family member is deployed. They know what it means the minute they open the door, . . . before anything is even said. I've made too many of those calls myself in over 20 years serving with the Navy, Marine Corps and Coast Guard. As I listened to the story of this family, my wife said, “I was afraid they might come to our door to tell me you had been hurt or killed.” And she began to cry—releasing her tears and fears, bravely kept in abeyance while I was gone. She was always positive and upbeat when we talked on the phone across the 8,000 miles separating us. I hadn't fully realized or appreciated the extent of her anxieties and struggles during my deployment. I was both grateful and sorry for her sacrifice and support.  It was an intense two hours, watching that program and going on the emotional journey that accompanied it. It was healing in many ways, . . . but I didn't really like being home that day.

My first (and, at this point, only) reunion with someone I had served with in Afghanistan was also very emotion-laden. The Chaplain who had served as my Deputy returned home shortly after I did. As part of his leave he came to Portland to see some friends and to visit me and meet my wife. A Command Chaplain and Deputy are a lot like a Senior Pastor and Associate—or even co-pastors, though the Command Chaplain is senior in rank. We had a very collegial relationship, calling each other by first name when not in public. Dan and I were pastor to each other when needed and brothers in Christ, as well as brothers in uniform. He was everything one could hope for in a Deputy, a trusted and skilled second-in-command and a good friend with a great sense of humor! It was great to see him again . . . until it came time for the toast. Dan had brought a rare bottle of a special reserve anniversary edition Irish whisky he'd been saving for several years and chose to open and share it on the occasion of our reunion. He asked me to do the honors—to open and pour and give the first toast. We stood there in my kitchen, holding our glasses, unable it appeared to say a word—but staring into each others eyes and speaking volumes! Finally, I raised my glass and found myself saying: “To those who are still there, God keep them safe; To those who have come home, God grant us wholeness; and to those who didn't come home, God bless their memory and comfort their families.” Both of us had  tears in our eyes before finishing the last part of that toast. Our glasses clinked and we drank the warm, sweet Irish whisky. It was a bittersweet drink. We were silent for a few moments . . . and then we refilled our glasses and moved to another room to sit and sip and talk . . . and laugh. It was great to see Dan . . . but for a few moments, at least, it was hard to be seeing each other at home. I think we both felt in some way like we needed to be back in Afghanistan with those still there. That that was where we belonged. At least I know that's how a part of me felt. For a few moments, at least, I didn't like being home.

Well, that may not have been what you had in mind if you wanted me to continue blogging?! But it's been therapeutic for me to write this. And I appreciate you taking the time to read it. Please remember  to pray for those who struggle with Post Traumatic Stress and with PTSD and for their families . . . and for the families of those who won't be coming home . . . and for all those in harm's way and their loved ones waiting anxiously for their return.

Again, thank you for your warm and caring welcome.

Pastor Scott Dunfee,
Captain, Chaplain Corps, United States Navy

Posted Friday, February 20, 2015 - 9:24pm in Scott Dunfee's blog

As I prepare to leave Afghanistan, March 1st (it will be another 3-4 weeks before I’m actually home—with stops in Qatar, Germany, Norfolk, VA, and San Diego), two recent experiences stand out.

One is with children—children who have been orphaned by the war. PARSA, one of the NGOs (non-governmental organizations) whose work is supported by the Chapel Community at Resolute Support Headquarters (RSHQ), brings children from an orphanage in the city of Kabul out to their “farm”, which is part of the Red Crescent Compound (Muslim expression of Red Cross) on the outskirts of town. It gives these children, ages 4 to 14, a chance to get out of the city, to pet the horses and goats, play with the puppies, play games, eat fresh food grown on the farm and prepared in the Culinary School PARSA also runs. Members of the RSHQ Chapel also go to the PARSA Compound on days when the children from the orphanage are there. We bring school supplies, fruit and nuts and candy, clothing and stuffed animals we have collected from folks in the United States and other nations, and we play with the kids, do art with them and share a meal.

St. Stephen Lutheran Church, Gladstone, where I serve as Pastor has a Pre-School and active Sunday School and Youth Groups . . . I’m used to seeing children of all ages and spending time with them daily. It’s been a strange and depriving part of my time on active duty in Afghanistan to see so very few children. I see a dozen or so “street kids”, who sell scarves and bracelets they make, as I walk several times a week (with an armed escort) to the Afghan Ministry of Defense (MoD) in my role as Senior Advisor to the Religious & Cultural Affairs Directorate of the Afghan National Army (their version of a Chaplain Corps). These kids have come to call me “Grandfather”, an Afghan term of respect and endearment for an elder. I try to buy a little something from each of them every payday. They all try to go to school and several want to be doctors or teachers . . . many also help to support their families, which are usually large, and some of these children and young people are their family’s primary support. While we talk about their studies and families and joke and even laugh for the few minutes it takes me to walk from the Coalition Base to MoD, I’m wearing body armor and a helmet and must keep moving. It’s not exactly “quality time”! The time with the children at PARSA is.

Jamal, the little boy in the picture, is one of the youngest children in the orphanage. He’s about 4 years old. His parents were killed by the Taliban—according to social workers and eyewitnesses in his village, it may have happened right in front of him. He does not talk. One can understand why—he’s been traumatized. He’s still suffering from Post-Traumatic Stress. As I’ve heard several people say, “The whole nation of Afghanistan suffers from PTS!” Despite his trauma, Jamal smiles and looks wide-eyed at the world, as in this picture. The teddy bear he had just been given probably contributed to his smile and look of wonder. Jamal and I did art together. While he does not talk, he mimicked me in making the sounds made by the various animals we drew . . . and grinned and laughed after each rendition. I’d like to think it was some small way to bring Light and Life to a precious Child of God. He sat on my lap to do art since he could not reach the table sitting in a chair. Much of the time he was just content to sit in my arms and let me do the drawing. May he be held in Divine arms until he feels so safe he can he can begin to speak! And may no fear ever silence him again!

Aliya, the young girl in the picture, took me by the hand and led me outside to play games . . . and never let go of my hand for the next two hours—held on until it was time for us to leave. She never said it—and I wouldn’t have known if she had, as Aliya doesn’t speak English and I only know a few words in Dari, but it was like she said, “Here’s the deal: I get your hand to hold, exclusively, for the rest of the time you’re here . . . so, don’t try to let go—it’s not gonna’ happen! I don’t get this kind of attention and caring very often and I intend to take full advantage of the opportunity!” She led me many places around the Compound—petting the animals, playing games, just sitting in the warm sun  on a winter day, eating candy—but  I did it all with one hand . . . the other hand was held tightly by a precious Child  of God. I continue to pray: “Dear God hold her in the palm of Your hand . . . and never let go!”

These children are forever in my heart. It’s hard to leave them. And, as Brigadier General Mohammad Mukhles, Deputy Director of the RCA, said to me at our last meeting:  “It’s not as important for us to be among people, so much as it is to be in the hearts of people.” After General Mukhles said that he added, “And you will be in our hearts.” I had just told him that he and the Mullahs and RCA Officers I had met would be in my heart and my prayers back in the United States. Which leads me to the other recent experience that stands out for me.  As I mentioned earlier, during my time here one of my jobs has been to advise the RCA—the Afghan Chaplain Corps—all Muslim. They call me a Mullah, but I don’t advise on religious matters. I try to help “professionalize” their Corps--assist with training in such areas as Post-Traumatic Stress, conflict resolution and peacemaking, planning and policy, coordinated messaging and communications, and  advocacy for women’s and children’s rights.

In particular, I mentor BG Mukhles and Major General Mohammad Amin Nasib, the Chief of the RCA. Both have become dear friends, as well as professional colleagues, and we have shared regularly and deeply about our respective faiths and personal faith journeys.  They make it clear—repeatedly—that the Taliban and ISIL and all the extremists don’t represent Islam and don’t teach what the Holy Quran actually says. Indeed, according to MG Nasib and BG Mukhles, the horrible things the extremists do and the hateful things they preach are unholy and evil.  “Violence is not the way of Islam,” the Generals have repeatedly told me. They are deeply and genuinely grieved that most of the press in the west only report on the violence of the extremists.  I made it clear that the Christian extremists don’t represent my faith tradition—at least not today-- nor are their teachings the only way to interpret the Holy Bible. My Muslim friends and I disagreed about some things and have been honest about it, and we have come to the conclusion many times in our conversations that Muslims and Christians have more in common than we do separating us. And we have concluded that even when we disagree, it does not preclude our working together for justice and peace—that Muslims and Christians—and Jews—are all Children of Abraham and Sarah. I cherish the depth of spiritual conversation and mutual consolation we have shared and the “bridges” that have been built . . . built I believe, by the leading of the Spirit of the Living God.

And so, I was deeply touched by MG Nasib’s actions at the end of a Religious & Cultural Affairs Directorate Seminar in which I was invited to participate. General Sher Mohammad Karimi, Commanding General of the Afghan Army, presented me with a Certificate of Appreciation “on behalf of the People and Government of Afghanistan”, which reads in part: “It is humbling for me to acknowledge and recognize the tremendous efforts and sacrifices that you have made to support a professional National Army protecting the citizens of Afghanistan.” I can only think about the tremendous efforts and sacrifices made by my dear wife and family, the St. Stephen Community, its Interim Pastor and the Oregon Synod of the ELCA (Evangelical Lutheran Church in America). Thank you all for the many emails, cards, letters and care packages I have received while in Afghanistan. Often they arrived in those dark moments, when I needed a lift. Your support is humbling to me. You have all helped make anything I accomplished here or to which I contributed, possible. And I know many more were praying for me. God bless you all!

After General Karimi presented the Certificate, MG Naisib handed him the badge worn by an RCA Officer in the Afghan Army—it depicts a Mosque and the Holy Quran with the words, “God is Great”-- and the General pinned it on me! He said, “My dear brother, we now make you an honorary RCA Officer” . . . the first Christian Chaplain to ever be so named. I was so deeply moved . . . at this tangible sign of the bridges built, . . . the acceptance, . . . the unity that is ours in our Common Creator . . . in the midst of all the stereotypes and prejudice and misinformation and misunderstanding between Muslims and Christians. John Philip Newell put it this way in his devotional book, Praying With the Earth—a prayer I’ve quoted before and to which I keep returning. And this is my prayer as I leave Afghanistan and return home:

“O God . . .
May we know that we are of You
May we know that we are in You
May we know that we are one with You
Together one.

Guide us as nations to what is deepest
Open us as peoples to what is first
Lead us as a world to what is dearest
That we may know the holiness of wholeness
That we may learn the strength of humility
That together we may live close to the earth
And grow in grounded glory.” (p.20)

Amen!

Pastor Scott Dunfee
Captain, Chaplain Corps, United Sates Navy

PS: In case you would like to learn more about the work of PARSA, check out their website at http://afghanistan-parsa.org/

Posted Tuesday, January 27, 2015 - 8:27am in Scott Dunfee's blog

2014 marked the 100th anniversary of the beginning of World War I—“the war to end all wars”, they said when it was finally over. America did not enter the First World War until 1917, so this anniversary has received little attention in the United States. For European nations, however, it has been a significant observance. Serving as Headquarters Chaplain with the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) in Afghanistan—the core of which is NATO and troops from primarily European countries—the centenary received a lot of attention here. On Veteran’s Day (the current U.S. name—Europeans still call it Decoration Day or Armistice Day) ceremonies at ISAF HQ included references to the 100th anniversary . . . and to the encouraging reality that a century later, those who were once enemies are now friends and Coalition Partners, helping to end terrorism and promote freedom and peace in Afghanistan and throughout the world.

The 100th anniversary of the beginning of the First World War meant this past Christmas was the Centenary of “The Christmas Truce of 1914”. Again, an event receiving little notice in the United States, but widely observed throughout Europe . . . and, consequently, also observed at the ISAF Headquarters Chapel in Kabul, Afghanistan—where I serve as Chapel Pastor. An excerpt from my Christmas Eve sermon follows—a version of which was also used at a “Carol Service” a few days before Christmas and recorded for broadcast by the BBC.

“When fighting began in August of 1914, most people on both sides of this horrible conflict thought it would be over and they’d be home by Christmas. But by December they knew it would not be so. Many religious leaders pleaded for a Christmas Truce—if not an honest attempt to make peace—but political leaders refused. Consequently the military on both sides were strictly ordered not to allow any kind of cessation of hostilities or truce for Christmas. Yet, in the darkness of the evening of December 24th, candles began to appear atop the trenches . . . and the sound of singing-- Christmas Carols—made its way across the desolate landscape called ‘No-Man’s Land’. Soon men left the trenches and made their way into  this no mans’ land—enemies—some carrying candles and singing—meeting there to exchange gifts of tobacco, candy, uniform buttons and badges . . . and something strong to drink that warmed the insides! All in celebration of the birth of the ‘Holy Infant so tender and mild’ . . . and the ‘heavenly peace’ promised and proclaimed by the Christmas ‘angels’! This was something spontaneous—against expressed orders. This was something spiritual—for apparently there is . . . no stopping the Christmas message of ‘peace on earth and goodwill to all.’ (Luke 2:14)

And the one carol that both sides knew—albeit in different languages—was ‘Stille Nacht/Silent Night’. So, the guns fell silent on the Western front 100 years ago tonight, as all joined together to sing in their own native language:

‘Silent night, holy night;
All is calm, all is bright;
Round yon virgin Mother and Child . . . ‘

(from vs.1, words by Fr. Josef Mohr, 1816, & music by Franz Gruber, 1818—in the immediate aftermath of the Napoleonic Wars)”

And later in the services on Christmas Eve at ISAF HQ Chapel, we lit candles—as did many of you on Christmas Eve. And we sang “Silent Night” in German and English—an international worshipping community of Germans, Brits and Scots, French, Americans, Romanians, Swiss, Norwegians, Swedes and Danes, Albanians, Kenyans, Nigerians, Spaniards, Canadians, Australians and New Zealanders, Maldavians, Filipinos, Polish and Irish, Venezuelans and Costa Ricans, Italians, Greeks, and Finns. And I’m sure I missed some! We sang and we prayed for “heavenly peace” . . . like they did in “No-Man’s Land” 100 years ago . . . like the angels and shepherds did in the fields of Bethlehem 2000 years ago. We sang and we prayed for “heavenly peace” in Afghanistan. Believing that God is somehow still at work . . . and despite the unexpected incongruities, the difficulties and the dangers, there is no stopping the eternal truth of “peace on earth and goodwill to all”.

Pastor Scott Dunfee
Captain, Chaplain Corps, United States Navy

Posted Wednesday, January 14, 2015 - 3:31am in Scott Dunfee's blog

“How can we sing the Lord’s song in a foreign land?”  (Psalm 137:4)

Thanksgiving—the holiday—may seem long ago, since we’ve moved on to Christmas and the New Year—or who knows when you will be reading this? But I haven’t been able to write about that week. It’s been too difficult emotionally . . . and I’m still processing my own grief. However at this point, I think –hope—it will be part of my healing process to write about it. I feel ‘ready’—or, somehow, urged and pushed spiritually, to write. Part of me doesn’t want to write, but another part says, “You’ve got to do this.” So, here goes . . . !

I had planned for our Community Thanksgiving service at International Security Assistance Force Headquarters Chapel  to preach on two texts: (1) “How can we sing the Lord’s song”—or give thanks—“in a foreign land?” (Psalm 137:4); and (2) “Hold fast to what is good!” (I Thessalonians 5:21b).  Little did I know how powerful and meaningful those texts would end up being for the ISAF HQ Community . . . and for me personally!

The Monday before Thanksgiving began with news of an attack on a convoy. Two Coalition personnel were killed, several injured, and there were three Afghan civilians killed and several injured. “How can we give thanks in a foreign land?” “Hold fast to what is good!”  I was asked to visit the Command of one of those killed and was met at the entrance by a Sergeant in tears. “I guess you heard what happened,” she said in a shaky voice. “Well, I know there’s been a death, “ I told her, “but I don’t know who?” “Sergeant Major Turner, she said. It hit me like a ton of bricks. Now it was my voice that was shaky. “No,” I blurted out. “It can’t be!”  Command Sergeant Major Wardell Turner, the beloved Senior Enlisted Leader of the Combined Security Transition Command-Afghanistan (CSTC-A), was a member of one of the Chapel Communities I pastored and a dear friend. I had just seen him the day before and he had attended chapel on Saturday night. “No,” I said again. I was in shock—but realized I also needed to be tending to the shock and grief of folks who had called for the Chaplain. I allowed my emotions to come, to a certain degree—couldn’t really stop them . . . and used them to connect and empathize with those to whom I was called to minister, as best I could. “How can we give thanks in a foreign land?” “Hold fast to what is good!”

That night I flew to Bagram Air field with the Deputy Commanding General of CSTC-A to visit SGM Turner’s son—a Private in the U. S. Army serving in Afghanistan, to tell him that his Father had been killed. Wardell had arranged for his son to come down to Kabul the next day, so they could spend Thanksgiving together. He was very proud of his son and often spoke of him to me and to others.  Wardell was excited about their plans for Thanksgiving and had spoken often of them over the weekend. Now very different plans were being made. The General and I, both of us Fathers of adult children, informed this young adult son of his father’s death . . . and we began to make plans for transporting Wardell’s body home—his son wanted to accompany him, of course—and to make plans for a memorial service—the day after Thanksgiving. “How can we give thanks in a foreign land?” “Hold fast to what is good!”

Tuesday morning was the Ramp Ceremony—loading Wardell’s flag-draped casket on the plane and bidding farewell with full military honors, as he began his journey home . . . escorted by his son.  As I walked around camp that afternoon, I was in a kind of ‘fog’. I kept expecting to see Wardell coming around the corner, the big smile on his face for which he was known, extending his hand to shake mine, and pull me in for a shoulder-to-shoulder hug and back-slap—his way of greeting me ever since we had worked together to shepherd his Command through the combat death of their previous Deputy Commanding General, MG Harold Greene, almost four months earlier. Crises throw people together—draw people closer to each other and to God. That was the dynamic of the first Thanksgiving! It was after we had worked together in that intense experience and had planned and led the Memorial Service for MG Greene that Wardell and I had become friends . . . and he started attending chapel regularly.  He was a good leader and a good person, a brother in Christ. He cared deeply about people—his troops and the Afghans, his family and his Family in Christ . . . and me. When he asked, “How are you, Chaplain?” he was genuinely asking about me. He was an Encourager. I couldn’t believe he was gone—that I would never see that smiling face again. Or hear that booming voice. “How can we give thanks in a foreign land?” “Hold fast to what is good!”

Those texts took on deeper, more poignant meaning as a standing-room-only crowd gathered for the Community Thanksgiving Eve Service. We could not ignore the reality of what had happened earlier that week. And it was Thanksgiving-- our thoughts were also turned toward our own families and friends and faith communities at home. The music at HQ ISAF Chapel is quite remarkable for a forward deployed chapel community in a combat theater! The Community is blessed with many talented musicians and singers—Liturgical, from the Gospel tradition, and the contemporary Christian music genre. Any church in the United States would be delighted to have a music ministry of this quality and variety! All the musical groups and choirs contributed to the combined service. Psalm 137 is a lament recalling Israel’s defeat and the dark time of their captivity in Babylon. Their answer to the question, “How can we sing the Lord’s song in a foreign land?”(vs. 4) was to NOT sing. They “hung up their harps on the willow branches” and stopped singing (vs. 2).  Or did they? Psalm 137 is A SONG . . . about NOT being able to sing!  When you feel like you can’t give thanks and you can’t sing . . . there’s a psalm, a song, about NOT being able to sing! It’s ok to NOT sing. And it’s ok to SING ABOUT NOT SINGING! And rather than make it all or nothing, it’s ok to grieve . . . and  to give thanks—not let our grief and our pain negate what is “good”. “Do not quench the Spirit,” the Apostle Paul wrote to the Thessalonian Community and to us, “Hold fast to what is good!” (I Thess. 5:19 & 21b).

Thanksgiving Day I had a task I was not looking forward to—to write my sermon for SGM Turner’s Memorial Service. (The second sermon I didn’t want to write that week—didn’t really want to write the one for Thanksgiving Eve either!)  I was exhausted! Not the way I wanted to spend Thanksgiving Day! Thanksgiving Day began with a KABOOM! and the warning sirens went off in camp: “Shelter in place! Shelter in place!” the Big Voice said over the loudspeakers.  A vehicle-borne explosive device took out another vehicle near the British Embassy. Two more deaths and several injuries. “How can we give thanks in a foreign land?”  “Hold fast to what is good!” I felt numb to all the death and destruction . . . , to the task that was before me . . . , and to the idea of a ‘Happy Thanksgiving’. I still had that sermon to write . . . but I was resisting . . . couldn’t seem to get started. What do you do when you’re resisting and can’t start something? Check your email, of course! There was a message from Audrey, a parishioner at St. Stephen. My wife, Janet, had been to Thanksgiving Eve Service at St. Stephen and asked parishioners to pray for me and everyone who was grieving the death of SGM Turner. Audrey sent Thanksgiving greetings and prayers and ended her message by writing, “ I lift this song up in prayer for you.” I could hear the Praise and Worship Team at St. Stephen singing the beautiful, soothing melody and words:

“All who are thirsty
All who are weak
Come to the fountain
Dip your heart in the stream of life
Let the pain and the sorrow
Be washed away
In the waves of Your mercy
As deep cries out to deep
(We sing) Come, Lord Jesus, come
                 Come, Lord Jesus, come.”

(by Glenn Robertson & Benton Brown, recorded by “Kutlass”)

And the Spirit came. And the tears began to flow. And there was the release of some of my own grief . . . sufficient . . . for writing a sermon for Wardell’s Memorial Service and ministering to the Community.

The Camp Dining Facility went all out and prepared a wonderful, traditional Thanksgiving Dinner. It was truly ‘comfort food”. I was asked to do something unusual for meals at the Camp Dining Facility—begin the meal with a public prayer. We were all thinking of Wardell’s plans to have shared this Thanksgiving Meal with his son . . . and now his family was gathered for a Thanksgiving  meal full of “pain and sorrow” . . . and giving thanks for his life. “Come, Lord Jesus, come”!

Thanksgiving evening the warning sirens went off yet again and I heard the sound of gunfire—a small arms attack on a local ‘safe house’—killing a civilian contractor. “How can we give thanks in a foreign land?” “Hold fast to what is good!” But sometimes it seems there is nothing left to hold on to . . . and we need the One Who Alone Is Good to hold on to us and “hold fast” to us and never let us go!  Several of us ended up on the roof later that night, smoking cigars and drinking non-alcoholic beer (no alcohol in Afghanistan), and listening to country music. “How can we sing the Lord’s song in a foreign land?” We all joined in the chorus as Billy Currington sang, “God is great, beer is good, and people are crazy!” (by Bobby Braddock & Troy Jones).

Friday was a most moving Memorial Service for Command SGM Wardell Turner. The Memorial Stand in the photo that accompanies this article—that holds SGM Turner’s rifle, boots, dog tags, helmet and picture—SGM Turner himself designed and had made for MG Greene’s Memorial Service four months earlier. Now it was being used for Wardell. I pray we never have to use it again!

Saturday we decorated the Chapel and began the holy season of Advent:

“Come, Lord Jesus, come!
Let the pain and the sorrow
Be washed away
In the waves of Your mercy
As deep cries out to deep.”

Goodbye, Wardell . . . God be with you . . .and with us . . . until we meet again!

We’ll miss you until then.

Rest in peace.

Pastor Scott Dunfee
Captain, Chaplain Corps, United States Navy

 

 

 

Posted Tuesday, January 6, 2015 - 9:07am in Scott Dunfee's blog

“Did I just see clowns?”

I was speaking with a Colonel on the street at ISAF Headquarters, when he interrupted his focus by asking: “Did I just see clowns? Tell me, Chaplain, I did just see clowns go by, right?!” “Yes,” I told him, “you did.”

 I already knew about the clowns—a group of health professionals from Germany, who also do clowning on the side—a dimension of good health promotion for themselves and all to whom they minister. Especially in a combat zone! They had come to Kabul for a few days to visit a Children’s Hospital and several  orphanages. They had some free time and were trooping around camp having fun with the NATO forces and the Afghans who work at ISAF Headquarters. They had already accosted me and after a friendly and fun exchange, I suggested some spaces they might visit—the offices of some of the more senior members of ISAF, Colonels and Generals who have a lot of responsibility and tend to keep their noses to the grindstone. “Colonels and Generals need clowns,” I told them. “Where do we find these Colonels and Generals,” the clowns asked? “Oh, I’ll show you,” I said. And so, the Colonel mentioned above was doing a double take—not sure if he could believe his eyes. . . or if he had been working so hard that now he was seeing things!

Imagine the surprise of a General, when his or her Aide announces, “You have a visitor, sir/ Ma’am.” And without even looking up from his/her desk, they ask, “Who is it?” And the Aide says, “I’m not sure. . . ?” At which point the General becomes exasperated, saying, “What do you mean, ‘you’re not sure’?!” The Aide hesitates or stammers. . . the General stands to investigate. . . and in come the clowns!! (And the Chaplain stands just outside the door, laughing!)

Sometimes we take things too seriously—even in a combat zone. It’s easy to get caught up in the intensity and drama of life. . . of life and death situations. But you just can’t stay there 24/7. Even God, the Giver of Life, who conquered death, has a sense of humor. Some of the Early Church “Fathers and Mothers” (i.e. Augustine, Gregory of Nyssa and John Chrysostom, among them), thought of Easter and the resurrection as “God’s best joke”—a divine joke played on “the powers of sin, death and the devil”—and referred to the “risus paschalis”, “the Easter laugh” of Christ the Risen One, coming forth from the tomb! Other theologians have said that, perhaps, the ability to laugh—to laugh at ourselves—may be the thing that distinguishes human beings from the rest of living creatures and may be what it means to be “created in the image of God.” (Genesis 1:27). Or, as my Confirmation pastor used to say when I was growing up, “God has to have a sense of humor, after all, God made us!”

I’ve quoted before in these letters/blogs from the devotion book I’m using while in Afghanistan, Praying With the Earth by John Philip Newell,  and I think I’ve already made a reference to this passage. . . but it bears repeating—especially in this context.

“Peace where there is war
healing where there is hurt
memory where we have forgotten the other.

Vision where there is violence
light where there is madness
sight where we have blinded each other.

Comfort where there is sorrow
tears where there is hardness
laughter where we have missed life’s joy
laughter when we remember the joy.” (p.44)

Chaplains need clowns, too! All the People of God need clowns! So does the world. May we be willing “fools for Christ”! (I Corinthians 4:10).

Laughing in Afghanistan. . . at least sometimes!

Pastor Scott Dunfee
Commander, Chaplain Corps, United States Navy

Posted Wednesday, December 10, 2014 - 7:35am in Scott Dunfee's blog

I was walking down one of the main streets at ISAF Headquarters (International Security Assistance Force) in Kabul, Afghanistan, when I heard classical violin music—at least I thought I did. It didn’t sound like it was coming from a recording—it sounded like someone was actually playing the violin. I followed my ear... down a side road, through a parking lot, and there—next to a warehouse—sat a young soldier playing the violin! It was beautiful. So tranquil and peaceful and lovely. It was mesmerizing. I just stood there at a distance, listening. A few others were also gathered around, drawn to. . . transformed by. . . the sound and the sight. The soldier played with intense concentration and passion—seemingly oblivious to the small audience. His eyes were closed and he seemed lost in the music—as were the rest of us. When he finished and opened his eyes, we applauded.

The others left, as he laid down his fiddle and bow. I approached him and introduced myself. We talked a little (he’s from southern Oregon!) I asked if he would consider coming and playing in the Base Chapel? He said he didn’t feel ready, but he would let me know when he did. A few weeks went by, during which time I never heard the sound of violin music—I was listening for it! Then one Saturday afternoon I heard a voice calling, “Chaplain! Hey, Chaplain!” It was the young violinist. He asked, “What time is Chapel tomorrow morning? I’d like to come and play, Sir!” He’s been playing with the Praise Band at The Rock Chapel ever since—at both the Sunday morning and Sunday evening services—both traditional and contemporary music. Turns out he is very versatile and likes all styles of music—classical and modern, Celtic and country! He also plays the keyboard. He amazes us with his virtuosity. . . and humility. Sometimes he will play a solo—but rarely. Most of the time he plays along with guitars, bass, keyboard and drums. We are all blessed. I am continuously surprised by the different ways he can play the violin and the different sounds he is able to produce.

But my mind still drifts back to that day when I was walking down the road and heard the sound of a violin. The beautiful strains of some classical piece floating through the air. The music dancing around me, enfolding me, and leading me to its source. And then standing there, transfixed, upheld by the music, resting in it, as I watched the artist play with such passion. Such a moment of peace, comfort and beauty. . . in the midst of an often ugly, distressing and war-weary daily existence! It makes me think of the words of one of my favorite Christmas carols, “It Came Upon a Midnight Clear”:

“And you beneath life’s crushing load,
Whose forms are bending low,
Who toil along the climbing way
With painful steps and slow;
Look now, for glad and golden hours
Come swiftly on the wing;
Oh, rest beside the weary road
And hear the angels sing!”

(vs. 3, originally from a poem by Rev. Edmund Hamilton Sears, 1849; set to music by Richard Storrs Willis in 1859).

God’s “angels”, God’s messengers, come in many forms. Sometimes young Army Sergeants playing the violin! “Still though the cloven skies they come!” (vs.2). May you “hear the angels sing” or make music wherever you are this Christmas. And may. . .

“. . . the days be hastening on,
By prophets seen of old,
When with the ever-circling years
Shall come the time foretold
When peace shall over all the earth
Its ancient splendors fling,
And all the world give back the song
Which now the angels sing.” (vs. 4).

The promise and peace of Christ and Christmas comfort and sustain you!

Pastor Scott Dunfee
Commander, Chaplain Corps, United states Navy

Posted Wednesday, December 3, 2014 - 2:18am in Scott Dunfee's blog

“Do you have time for chai?”

That is frequently the question I am asked by Afghans. They know that NATO military personnel are often on tight schedules and that westerners are generally “in a hurry” compared to Afghans and middle-eastern people. But basic to Afghan hospitality is the custom of drinking tea together, chai. The Afghans do not extend the invitation lightly—they want to get to know you . . . and want you to know them. They want you to know that they do not like the violence and terror, destruction and corruption that ravage their land—that they want peace—and a foretaste of that peace is sharing a cup of chai in the midst of all the violence and destruction.

They want you to know that the terrorists—the Taliban, Al Qaida, ISIL and all the religious extremists—do not represent Islam, that is not what their faith is about. They believe Islam is a way of peace—and a foretaste of that peace, maybe a way even to build peace, is to share a cup of chai in the midst of the terror and corruption.

They want you to know that they are human beings just like you. They love life and they love to laugh. . . and they laugh and they live to love. And sharing a cup of chai is a way to do that.

So, it is with regret and sadness that I decline the invitation to chai when I have to . . . and it is with joy and thanksgiving that I say, “Yes! I have time for chai,” when I can accept the gracious invitation.

One Sunday afternoon, Farhad, one of the Afghan vendors at the market on base asked, “Do you have time for chai?” “Yes,” I said to him, and Farhad’s eyes lit up and he clapped his hands and smiled from ear to ear with genuine joy and delight. We sat outside his shop on handmade wooden furniture that was, thankfully, more comfortable than it looked. He brewed the green tea and said, “I will add something special today: saffron”—an expensive spice grown locally—“and afghan honey”—fresh from the mountains nearby. It smelled incredible as he poured . . . and tasted even better! Again, Farhad was delighted and clapped his hands when I told him how wonderful it was.

Then Farhad brought out the hookah—a large water pipe with several hoses and multiple mouthpieces. Now, I am not advocating anyone smoke tobacco—far from it! But, to be invited to smoke hookah with the Afghans is an intimate honor and an expression of not only hospitality, but friendship. One does not decline the invitation to smoke hookah. It’s not unlike sharing a “peace pipe” in the Native American tradition. So, I smoked hookah . . . and drank chai with Farhad and some of his Afghan friends.

We sat there for about two hours (you really must have time . . . or make it!) and we talked. We talked about their plans for their lives—they look forward to marriage when they can afford it and wish they could afford it now! We talked about American football—they are big fans! We talked about the things Christianity and Islam have in common—they think there are more similarities than differences! And we talked about their hopes and dreams for Afghanistan . . . and for peace.

And at one point in the conversation, as I held up my cup for some more chai with saffron and honey, my mind flashed to an image from earlier that day—at the Sunday morning chapel service: holding up the chalice and repeating the words of Jesus, “Drink of this all of you; This cup is the new promise in my blood poured out for you and for all people, that sins may be forgiven.

I know sharing chai and hookah with my Afghan friends is not The Eucharist . . . but I think it could be “eucharistic”—a time for “great thanksgiving”!  I know sharing chai and hookah with my Afghan friends is not Holy Communion . . . but I think it is a kind of “communion” . . . and it is “holy”.

I hope you have time . . . or make time . . . to share a cup of tea or coffee or whatever with your friends—and with those with whom you would become friends . . . and that it leads to “communion” and “thanksgiving”. . . and “new promise” and “peace” , love and laughter . . . even and especially in the midst of difficulty and struggle.

Pastor Scott Dunfee
Commander, Chaplain Corps, United States Navy

Posted Wednesday, November 19, 2014 - 7:06am in Scott Dunfee's blog

“Asalaam o Alaikom!”
“Walaikom Asalaam!”

That’s the traditional greeting and response in Afghanistan:

“God’s peace be with you!”
“With you also, God’s peace!”

Sometimes a person will place their right hand over their heart when they say these words. The response is then accompanied by the same gesture of the right hand over the heart. It adds a dimension of deeper sincerity and spirit to the greeting: making it literally “from the heart”; “from my heart to yours”; “heart to heart”. Sometimes a person will bow their head as they place their hand over their heart—another gesture of sincerity and spirit. As it says in the Holy Quran:  “Why do you not bow to the one whom My Own hands have made?” (Sad 38.75).

Sometimes, as people pass each other, they simply mouth the words, “Asalaam o Alaikom”, but the visible sign of greeting, the gesture of placing the hand over the heart, is made. Sometimes there are no words—the hand is placed on the heart as people pass each other and the head is slightly bowed as in a nod... and the eyes say it all. It touches my heart deeply when Afghans give me this greeting or respond to my greeting in this way.

In this land that is so full of violence and terror, this greeting takes on great meaning and purpose: God’s peace be with you!”... “from my heart to yours”... I acknowledge that you are “one whom God’s own hands have made”!

It becomes such a repeated ritual, that sometimes Coalition soldiers greet each other this way, too. So, there are no Afghans present, but a German greets an American this way, a Macedonian greets an Italian. It takes on great meaning and purpose to be in uniform—even wearing helmet and body armor—and to greet another member of the military similarly dressed and bearing arms, by placing one’s right hand over the heart and saying, “God’s peace be with you!”

It is a reverential ritual in the midst of the violence and terror, the guns and the bombs... that says there is something more than the violence and the terror...  and that our hands are for something more than guns and bombs.  That’s so important in a place where guns are everywhere... and sometimes it seems the violence and the terror is all there is... and it will never end!

Somehow it is an expression of our common humanity and vulnerability, ... divinely created, ... and our hope in that common bond and our Common Creator.

We have a similar ritual in the Church: The Sharing of the Peace. But we only do it in church. Perhaps, we need to take it out into the world—like the Afghans do?! Out into the violent, terror-filled word?

I think Jesus told us to do that!

“Asalaam o Alaikom!”

Pastor Scott Dunfee
Commander, Chaplain Corps, United States Navy
scott.j.dunfee@afghan.swa.army.mil

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