Thursday, October 17, 2013

Faith in the Army, Part 2

I got several responses on Facebook about this post, and two in person.  Two sergeants in my class seemed worried about me this morning after they read yesterday's post.

After reading the responses on Facebook and talking to Brian and Lealan (not a misspelling) I was thinking about something else vastly different abut my current experience of the military.  In the 70s when I was on active duty, I shared long stretches of time with the men who became my best friends.

For several months, I was Cliff's roommate.  For almost three years, Abel and I were in the same tank platoon.  For a while we commanded tanks next to each other in the motor pool and in road march order.

Shared time, better yet, shared hardship, is the best soil for friendships to grow in.  The time is the soil, the hardship is the fertilizer.  So Abel and I had time for endless conversations about faith, the Bible, the second coming, whether Pentacostal believers were crazy or more faithful than us, and a thousand other topics only discussed by people with lots of time and curiosity.

Soldiers don't really have much time together in the National Guard.  One weekend a month and two weeks in the summer is usually jammed with training.  In 1977, our battalion went to Grafenwohr, Germany for annual gunnery.  Fog blanketed the base for two weeks.  During those two weeks we sat in our tanks and waited for the fog to clear for days on end.  That was the first time I read the entire Bible cover to cover.

Even in Iraq, it was clear from day one that we had missions, requirements, and would be working a lot.  My roommate and I worked in different places, on different shifts and had very few interests in common.  Being roommates with Cliff was different than any roomie I have ever had in the military.

Cliff was getting ready to get discharged.  After he went home for a few months, he planned to come back to Germany and be a Franciscan Brother at a monastery in Darmstadt, Germany.  To this day he is Bruder Timotheus.  I had the chance to visit him many times during the last few months I was in Germany while he was a Novice at the monastery.

Anyway, I really like some of my current classmates, but as Brian has pointed out several times, I go off and do my own thing when people are eating together during the week and have gone home on the weekends so I seldom go on the class trips around the Baltimore-Washington area.

But the point of yesterday's post was the folly of looking for faith in the Army.  I met faithful men in the military, but the military was not the source of their faith.  Since returning to the Army, I have met some of the best people I know.  But they came to the Army with virtue they got from parents, family, their own faith and the grace of God.

The Franciscan monastic community where Cliff lives requires a vow of poverty, chastity and obedience.  Although many of my fellow soldiers believe themselves to be poor, and we are more obedient than most Americans, no one I know is taking the middle vow.

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