Remembering with gratitude the men and women who have served the nation and the chaplains who have served them.

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What do you think of this chaplain’s actions?

According to an Army Times article, a Christian Broadcasting Network report with journalist Chuck Holton, and an interview with the Army chaplain at the center of the story on the Daily Signal, the facts are that

– in conducting a suicide prevention program, an Army chaplain presented various sources of non-religious support and help to troops

– the chaplain shared with the troops that, personally, when he was an infantryman, he had found the Psalms and the story of King David and his Christian faith helpful in overcoming depression

– troops are required to attend such suicide prevention programs

– the handout the chaplain gave troops at the end of the session had a list of non-religious resources on one side; on the other, he had written Psalms from the Old Testament Bible

– the chaplain states that he presented his personal approach as just that, personal, and did not indicate any of the options he outlined were mandatory

– some troops objected to being  given, in the handout, religious material at a non-religious, mandatory program

– the Army issued a letter of concern to the chaplain

– “A local letter of concern is not punishment,” according to a statement by Maj. Gen. Scott Miller quoted in the Army Times.  “Rather, it is an administrative counseling tool, with no long-term consequences. By design, letters of concerns are temporary, local administrative actions that are removed from a Soldier’s personnel file upon transfer to another assignment.”

– Gen. Miller, the article continues, further stated that “the role of military chaplains is to serve the religious needs of military members of a unit and their families.  Their role is not to provide religious instruction during non-religious mandatory training classes. Chaplains may appropriately share their personal experiences, but any religious information given by a Chaplain to a military formation should be limited to an orientation of what religious services and facilities are available and how to contact Chaplains of specific faiths.”

– chaplains, who are both ordained clergy and military officers, are typically in charge of these suicide-prevention briefings


Did this Army chaplain overstep his bounds by sharing his faith as a personal aside in a mandated, non-religious program?  Would he have been neglecting his duties as a chaplain endorsed by a Protestant church not to do so?  Should he have not addressed the help many find in religion and spirituality at all?  Was it okay to address the help many find in religion and spirituality but do so more broadly, encouraging troops of all faiths to turn to their church, mosque, temple, synagogue…?   Should the handout have had no references to religion at all?  Should he have listed on the back information on how to get in touch with a representative of one’s own faith tradition? Was the Army right to reprimand the chaplain or out of line?….

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From talk to action

Intersections International has just announced that it is bringing its veteran-civilian dialogs to a close… in order to make way for Service Together (you can read more about it on its blog).

Cannot think of a better way to celebrate Veterans’ Day than to move from mutually respectful conversation to joint service.


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Our fragile and amazing First Amendment

At a recent evening hosted by the Crossroads Cultural Center, a young woman in the audience asked  how chaplains minister to troops of other faiths or no faith.  This is a question that always comes up, and, indeed, it was one of the issues that drove us to make the film: we wanted to see for ourselves whether and how a predominantly Christian clergy in the employ of the state served the needs of a religiously diverse population.  Chaplain Ken Bolin answered in a way that reminded us of the many chaplains we saw in Afghanistan and Iraq.  They reached to others out, fueled by their faith to love, not judge, fellow service men and women.

The more time passes, the more I realize how very important this is.  Anyone read the book Christian Nation?  It is a particularly chilling dystopia because it underscores that what we have is so very valuable and, possibly, so very fragile.  We take its existence for granted, but the  Constitutional balance that at once guarantees our free exercise of religion and prohibits the government from establishing any one religion is delicate and finely tuned.  And it needs to be protected if it is to endure.  In his extremely well researched novel, author Fred Rich sets out how, through a confluence of planning and accident, a dogmatic religious faction comes to power in the US.  And, yes, military chaplains play a role in this dystopia: rather than reaching out in faith-inspired love to help and comfort troops, the chaplains in this novel love only those who share their faith and help the government impose that faith on those who do not.

We are so very lucky that the world Rich describes exists within the pages of a book and not in the world we inhabit.  As we approach Memorial Day, we want to thank all the chaplains and all the troops who have died upholding this delicate and oh so valuable balance in our Constitution.

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with apologies

All the blogs we posted from 2007 when we were filming in Afghanistan and Iraq got frozen, so we are now transferring what we can salvage to this wordpress blog.  Unfortunately, every time we publish one, subscribers will get something from 2007 in their inboxes.

There will be several over the next few days, and we apologize for this avalanche of old news.


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Crossroads: “Hope for our Veterans”

We are delighted and honored to be part of “Hope for Our Veterans,” a three-part series organized by  Crossroads Cultural Center

Under Fire: A Candid Look at the Military Chaplaincy

April 24th at 7:30 pm at The Catholic University of America

(McGivney Hall, Keane Auditorium)

The event is free and open to the public   —  join us and spread the word!

Crossroads Cultural Center in Washington, DC, is hosting a three-part event that explores “Hope for Our Veterans.”  The first (on March 21st) focused on the difficulties facing too many of our veterans upon their return and it featured Nancy Albin, co-founder of a valuable resource and source of hope: the Los Angeles Habilitation House, which helps returning veterans suffering from PTSD tackle the sometimes seemingly unsurmountable challenges to reentering the workforce.

The second event will take place April 24th and will explore the role of military chaplains with excerpts from “Chaplains Under Fire” and a discussion with Chaplain Ken Bolin (who was an infantryman before he became a chaplain) as well as documentary’s editor, Andrea Hull, and director Lee Lawrence.  The evening will be moderated by Suzanne Tanzi, managing editor of Traces magazine.

Part three of the series, “The Arts and Military Healing,” will be presented by Smithsonian curator Jane Milosch on Veteran’s Day. We’ll keep you posted about the time and location.

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On view for another month at the Brooklyn Museum, WAR/PHOTOGRAPHY: Images of Armed Conflict and Its Aftermath is an amazingly effective show.  It groups some 400 images taken over the last 166 years thematically — from training to deployment to combat, injuries, death, and the 1000-mile stare of returning troops.  By organizing the show this way, it drives home the constants of war.  The equipment and circumstances change, the realities of sending people into combat doesn’t.  There are acts of bravery, tenacity,  loyalty and love on the battlefield, in hospital tents, by gravestones. There is also unspeakable brutality, suffering, and devastation both individual and collective, military and civilian.

This was our take on it.  If you have seen the show in Brooklyn or any of its previous venues (Museum Fine Arts, Houston;  Corcoran, Washington, DC; Annenberg Space for Photography, Los Angeles), please share your thoughts.

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