The Magazine of The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America


My soldiers: Right or wrong

As a Green Beret, World War II and Vietnam veteran, my father's creed was "My country: Right or wrong."

But as an Army Reserve chaplain, Iraq War veteran and parish pastor, my creed became "My soldiers: Right or wrong."

Chaplains, like civilians, are free to have their own opinions. No one, not even our commanders, can tell us what to preach. However, ultimately our task is simple: "Nurture the living, care for the wounded, honor the dead." This is the Army chaplaincy's mission. Sharing opinions isn't on the list.

War exacts its toll--some seen, most unseen. The loss of a comrade, the guilt of surviving, and the difficulty of transitioning the skills that kept them alive in combat back to home and civilian life all put enormous stress on soldiers and their families.

National Guard and Reserve troops face an especially tough challenge. Five days after a year in combat, they are released to joyful reunions back home. Once-cohesive units scatter into hundreds of communities, leaving citizen-soldiers feeling alone. They often are unable to feel that someone else can understand them like their buddies who shared in common the heat, danger and fear. Loved ones become perplexed at their restlessness and unhappiness even after they've made it safely home.

With their "battle buddies" far away, to whom can they turn? The church? Perhaps. But most pastors can't comprehend--or they only share their political opinions on the war.

The reason: Few clergy have experienced military life, much less combat. Although willing, they aren't prepared to deal with this.

That is why the ELCA Federal Chaplaincy Office is offering 14 one-day workshops around the nation this fall to help pastors better understand returning combat veterans. Every bishop and pastor who wouldn't know a Hummer from a hummingbird or have never heard impacting mortar rounds, rockets or IEDS needs to attend these seminars. The challenge in understanding our troops is as great as their need for understanding clergy.

As a chaplain, I feel they are "My Soldiers: Right or Wrong." And as a parish pastor, I feel they are also "My Parishioners: Right or Wrong." They are your sons and daughters, neighbors and friends, children of God in Jesus Christ.

Be bold. Ask your bishop and pastor if they have attended the Returning Veterans Seminars this fall. In uniform or out, our warriors/friends need our understanding--not our opinions.

Check out this week's articles:Church Basement Ladies

Road trip!: (right) 'Church Basement Ladies' now on tour.

Great faith: It's unshakable, firm on the rock that is Jesus.

Conversations with God: Listen in as Cistercian monks chant.

Biblical fluency: Book of Faith 'not simply another' Bible study.


Also: Are we connected?

Also: Pray for peace Sept. 21.

Also: Enjoy a global banquet.

Read these articles at our front page ...

Discuss Church Basement Ladies:

Martin and NelsonToday through Sept. 23: Join Janet Letnes Martin and Suzann Nelson (right) to discuss Church Basement Ladies, the musical comedy that has played for capacity crowds at the Plymouth [Minn.] playhouse.

Three years ago Mavis Gilmerson, Vivian Snustad, and Karin and Signe Engelson emerged from the church basement and onto the stage. They, and Pastor E.L. Gunderson, are the characters of Church Basement Ladies.

Consider reading "Road trip!" before joining in.

Join the discussion ...

This week on our staff blog:Amber Leberman

Amber Leberman (right) blogs about her favorite synod Web sites.

Julie Sevig blogs about celebrating an anniversary with hymns.

Sonia Solomonson blogs about the meaning of the term "family values."

Check out our staff blog ...

Take our 2009 topics survey:

SurveyEvery year The Lutheran gives our readers the opportunity to help select the topics we'll cover the following year.

The Lutheran staff has collected your comments and suggestions throughout the year to create a list of 25 potential cover stories. Choose 10 from our list or suggest your own.

The deadline to complete the survey is Sept. 30. Results will appear in the December issue of The Lutheran.

Take the survey ...

The September issue of The Little Lutheran has arrived!TLL

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The Little Lutheran helps children 6 and younger learn about God's love for them and the world in which they live. It teaches them about Jesus, their friend and savior.

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February issue


Embracing diversity