Follow by Email

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Service Before Self: The Four Chaplains

Service Before Self: The Four Chaplains

It was 12:55 a.m. on February 3, 1943 when four Army Chaplains aboard the USAT Dorchester demonstrated what service before self truly means.  As we approach the 72nd anniversary of their sacrifice I thought it might be a good idea to share the story.

On January 23, 1943, The USAT Dorchester, an Army transport ship, left New York Harbor with 904 aboard.  The ship was destine for Greenland.  

Wednesday February 3, 1943 began as a quiet day on the Dorchester. Nothing seemed amiss, the ship was only 150 miles off the coast of Greenland.  But that all changed at 12:55 am,  when a torpedo from the German U-Boat 233 struck the ship.  Six hundred and five men were lost.  This was the worse single loss of American personnel of any American convoy during World War II. Two hundred and twenty nine survivors were rescued by U.S. Coast Guard Cutters Escanaba and Comanche.

During the twenty minutes it took for the Dorchester to sink, the four Chaplains aboard exhibited extraordinary courage and service.  They were Reverend George Fox  (Methodist), Rabbi Alexander Goode (Jewish), Reverend George Poling (Dutch Reformed) and Father John Washington (Roman Catholic).  The four were Army Chaplain Lieutenants who met a few months earlier while attending the Army Chaplains School at Harvard University and are now remembered as the Immortal Chaplains. .

The torpedo severely damaged the transport causing the boiler room to lose power.  There was inadequate steam to sound the signal to abandon ship and the crew could not send a distress signal.

In the twenty minutes following the strike the Chaplains worked together to calm the crew, comfort the injured, direct others to safety and distribute life jackets.  When they ran out of life jackets to distribute they removed their own and gave them to crew members. As the ship sunk the four Chaplains stood arm in arm praying.

The United States Congress attempted to posthumously award the Chaplains the Medal of Honor. But because of the stringent requirements that the heroism be performed under fire the attempt was blocked.  In 1961 Congress created the Four Chaplains Medal with the intent that it carry the same weight and importance of the Medal of Honor.  These four Chaplains demonstrated "service before self in the time of crisis."    Let's not forget the courage displayed as they served their fellow man.

Saturday, January 24, 2015

Praying: A Conversation With God

Praying: A Conversation With God

I grew up in a traditional Roman Catholic family.  We attended church most Sundays, my brother and I attended Catholic school for part of our education and when we did not we attended Confraternity of Christian Doctrine (otherwise know as CCD or to non Catholics Sunday School) each weekend. 

We were Baptized as infants, participated in the Sacrament of Reconciliation  regularly, celebrated First Communion and were Confirmed.  We also memorized prayers, many prayers, including the one that most Christians pray "The Lord's Prayer" also known as the "Our Father".  This prayer was taught to us by Jesus himself and is fund twice in the New Testament, Matthew 6:9-13 and Luke 11:1-4.  

I have prayed and still do pray the structural prayers of my youth daily but there came a time in the late 1990's when I learned that I could also have a conversation with God.  

If you want to watch a short two minute video about how I learned to have a conversation with God please click on this link  But I will also share the story here.

It began as an ordinary trip home.  I was traveling on the recently opened Route 100, which travels from Ellicott City, Maryland to Gibson Island, Maryland.  I was traveling westbound and close to home when I noticed an eastbound car which went out of control.  It then crossed the median and entered the westbound  flow of rush hour traffic. To make matters worse I was going about 15 miles an hour over the posted speed limit.  

In a matter of less than a second it became clear that I might be meeting my Savior face to face in the very near future. The eastbound traveling car jumped the median and cross directly in front of me.  I felt there was no way to avoid my fate.

I closed my eyes and said something to the effect of "God help me".  I am not sure what transpired in that short period of time but the next thing I remember was being on the side of the road shaking but safe and my car was in one piece.  

The two cars behind me also pulled over and later as we were talking to a State Trooper the woman in the car behind me told me if it was not for my quick reaction we all would have been killed.  She then told a story of how I skillfully maneuvered my car to avoid hitting the oncoming out of control car.  Still shaking I looked at her and said without thought "Jesus took the wheel".  There was no other way to explain it because I shut my eyes and froze. There was no skillful maneuvering on my part.  The credit clearly belonged to Our Lord.

As I went home I looked at the pictures of my two children, sat down and cried.  I thanked God for allowing me to have more time with them.  It was then I had my first honest and open conversation with God.  I spoke from the heart. I was truly grateful for His mercy and grace. 

This experience was not the end of my journey but simply the beginning.  I had always had God in my life but now I began to truly have a relationship with him that has grown and is still growing. 

My life was about to be shaken up.  A lot of life changing events were about to occur, some good and some bad.  I have come to believe that God allowed me to connect with Him in a more personal way just before this series of events to help me grow. I learned He has a plan for me and it is still unfolding.

The events began to unfold. I lost a home.  I was ordained. I became Chaplain for a large county wide fire department. Lost a legal career due to untreated major depression.  The depression then resulted in several in patient hospital stays.  I also had the honor of become a grandfather three times. Talk about ups and downs but my ability to have conversations with God help sustain me during this challenging period. God gave me strength and hope.

In the midst of this my daughter in law introduced me to a large non denominational church, Grace Community Church in Fulton, Maryland. Grace has been my church home for the past ten years and supported me through some of the most difficult times in my life.  I don't know if she knows how grateful I am to her for that introduction. Not long after I began to attend Grace my untreated major depression began to reveal itself and ravage my life.   I wrote a five part series on this experience which can be found at

While my life is not perfect now, it has stabilized and I have been blessed to serve families during difficult times.  My relationship with God has also grown.  My major depression has been in remission for five years.

I now feel closer to God than ever before and I feel that with Him I can withstand any challenge thrown my way.  

I still offer up the structural prayers of my youth. They help settle my mind and prepare me to open up my conversation with God.  As I end my series of structural prayers I begin my conversation by thanking God for all the things He has done for me. I specifically thank Him for those things that I can recall.  I also thank Him for the that I am not aware of because I know He is always acting in my life and I can not know everything He does for me. But I want to let Him know I am grateful. After giving thanks I just talk to God as I would a friend.  I rejoice over the good things that have happened.  I ask for the Holy Spirits guidance in all things I do and I ask Him to help me face any challenges that may come my way.

I have found myself praying and talking to God throughout the day and yes as much as I hate to admit it sometimes in frustration, when things are not going the way I would like them to, I do throw up my hands and say God why?  Why God?  It is important to realize that God understands human frustrations.  But as I would with a friend after I calm down I do say sorry about that God, my frustration got the best of me.

God always answers my prayers.  Maybe not with words.  Maybe not the way I want.  There are times the answer is No or I have better plans for you.  The answers might come in a bible verse, an event, just a thought that comes in my head or through others.  

Here is an example of how God answered prayers through others.  Last year, I had a time where I was going through some tough financial difficulties.  I honestly had days where I did not know where my next meal would come from. Each time that happened I prayed and God used others to help me without me even asking them. There would come an unexpected opportunity to earn some income and once a friend just walked up to me and handed me some money and said I just felt I should give this to you.  It was just enough to get me the two meals I needed before I was to receive a check I was waiting for.

There are times it might seem like God has forgotten you but He has not, just keep your faith.  Keep praying and keep talking to Him.  God loves each of us and wants to hear from us.

As I close I would like to share with you a prayer I learned in a 12 step recovery group.  Every time I pray I close with it.  It is called the Serenity Prayer and I am sure some of you pray it regularly.

"God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change,
The courage to change the things I can,
And the wisdom to know the difference."