Today was nothing short of a miracle.
I don’t know what it is about little kids, but adults like to play tricks on them. I can’t think of a child I know, that hasn’t had the trick played on him/her, to put his/her feet into his/her parent’s shoes. I know it happened to me as a kid. I remember walking out of my father’s closet with his big clunky dress shoes somehow attached to feet, hidden somewhere beneath my stubby legs.
It is difficult to walk on you father’s shoes, especially when you are little.
Of course, one of the defining characteristics of modernity is that we are no longer stuck in a role given to us by our parents. Blacksmiths usually gave birth to blacksmiths. Farmers usually gave birth to farmers, but now, just because my father was an accountant doesn’t mean that I need to become an accountant. (He will tell you that this is a good thing for the sake of all who work in accounting.)
James and I used to be the closest of friends. We never went to the same school. We never went to the same parties. We haven’t really talked to each other for twelve years. Still, there was always the good memory of our friendship which began through countless childhood Boy Scout activities that we did together.
His father used to be our Scoutmaster. He was the best. Scoutmasters tend to be a second father to many people, and Jim was that. You could depend on him for his unconditional support, as well as the metaphorical swift kick in the butt, whichever you needed most.
James has followed in his father’s footsteps, in his own way. James’ father used to serve in the United States military as a soldier in the Air Force. Now James is serving in the United States military as an officer in the Military Police of the Army. I knew that James was serving in Germany, in Mannheim, and I knew I would have the opportunity to see him on this trip.
When becoming an adult, there seems to be a characteristic about healthy adults that all adults must achieve. We have to “grow up” to the point that we are no longer clumsily moving around in our parents’ shadow, but instead have the ability to fill their shoes, and walk in our own direction. It is a bit complicated. We must both grow into, and grow past the worn models of our past.
I wanted to walk in my father’s shoes. Both when I was little, and today. I wanted to visit a shrine that very few people would even consider a shrine. It was the chapel at the Patch Barracks in Stuttgart, the United States Military Post where my father served in the Army fifty years ago. At this chapel, he attended daily Mass, which engendered in me the notion that, somehow, going to daily Mass was important.
It is also a shrine that many would not consider relevant. I am friends with many people who think it is an inherent contradiction to be both Christian and pro-military. The idea that I would be a pilgrim to a church within the military industrial complex is anathema to them. Of course I am also friends with people who think that the participation in the military is a constitutive part in the full development of a human being. One should be willing to fight both for the Faith and for the country, in equal measure.
Christianity is much bigger than either partial view. There is a need for peace to be brought to the warring, to minister to the soldiers who would sacrifice their very life for their country. There is also a need for the Church to call those who make war into living lives of peace, and demand that the strength of a nation be used only for justice.
My college campus minister put it this way. The Church should always comfort the conflicted, and conflict the comforted.
The U.S. military is here in Germany, and as long as it is I would consider the place where my father gave service to his country a place of holy ground, a sanctuary, a shrine. I wanted to go there to pay respects to the time my father spent there, and his dedication to both God and country (I’ve also read some of the love letters he sent my mom while he was living there, which is kind of touching in a sentimental way.)
Only one problem. I’m a U.S. citizen, not U.S. military personnel. I can’t get onto a U.S. Military base. I mean I could sneak on, but as much of a rascal I am, I’m still afraid of getting shot unjustly. And then what if I get there and the chapel is closed?
Wouldn’t it be nice if I knew someone who could get me onto base, and even open the doors to the chapel if it was closed?
Oh yeah… my childhood friend James is here… in the military… in the military police… and he’s even willing to take a day off, to drive me to Stuttgart (2 hours away)… and call one of his military police buddies to open up the chapel if all else fails. I know once again the importance of friendship in achieving someone’s dreams. It was because of James that I was able to make it to the chapel at Patch Barracks today.
As I said, today was nothing less than a miracle.
In the Patch Barracks of Stuttgart, I walked in the footsteps of my father, but I will mark it as one of many times as of late that I am realizing that I now walk as an adult, and no longer with the flip flop awkwardness of a little kid in big shoes trying to play “dad.” Being an adult means that you have the ability to fill those shoes as you need to do, but also the ability to walk at the tempo for which you have been created. The inspiration that led to who I am, began in a man who once frequented the walls of this chapel. I came to Patch Barracks in an effort to be refreshed by the inspiration of my father’s past when he spent time within these walls, not to be confined to their parameter. I think that is an important thing for us to remember about Christian life. The past is already over. We have no need to relive it. But we do tell the stories of the past, of the adventures and the heroes, in an effort to move forward, beyond both the goals and the limitations of our father’s shoes.