We are His Church… and Warriors

“We weren’t a very impressive group, four men who seemingly had two things in common: 1) we were Christian, and 2) we were soldiers.”

*** Vibrations ***
*** Vibrations ***

My phone was ringing, although I’ve long since spit the bit out on these retarded ringtones, so my phone was actually vibrating.

(210) 925-1110

I showed it to my wife.

“You know this number?” I asked.

She just shook her head no. We were doing some power grazing at a little burger joint just down the road called Lil’ Jim’s.

I had missed a call from this number on July 4th as well. But, no message. So, I was curious.

“Is James O’Brien there?” came a glimpse of familiarity accompanied by an abruptness of which I doubt my good friend was even aware.

“This is he.” I said half wondering if I was hearing who I thought I was hearing.

There was a long pause.

And then he burst through the silence again, “Stoney Portis here, calling from Afghanistan. Am I calling at a bad time?”

Wow. I wanted to say, “Are you kidding me? You’re half way around the world and it’s probably the middle of the night and you’re asking me if it’s a bad time. I’ll make time.”

Anyway, I didn’t say any of that and we had a nice conversation, but that’s not what this is about. He also sent me an email this afternoon. He asked that I look it over and if felt compelled to do so, to post it here on SpiritualHorseman.com.

Well suffice it to say that I’m compelled.

An excerpt from our conversation included these words from Stoney, “There’s no underlying profound message, but it was a church service that really spoke to me and so I wanted to share it.”

I agree and disagree. You’re right Stoney, there’s no underlying message. But profound, well it’s the very definition.

Here’s the email:

It had only been a week since I first heard of Michael Travaglione, and he was already a legend. Like an episode of déjà vu, every new detail I heard about him in the days leading up to this moment was a fascinating encore that reiterated what I already knew. This man is a badass. And there he stood, right in front of me.

Lieutenant Colonel (LTC) Mike Travaglione has been to more combat zones than there are continents. He’s climbed to outposts in the mountains of Afghanistan, to patrol bases in the deserts of Iraq, and dove on combat dives to the depths of the Red Sea in the Sinai Peninsula. While he doesn’t recommend it, Mike has enjoyed his current deployment of 24 consecutive months (12 in Iraq and going on 13 in Afghanistan, back to back), although he admits with a sly grin that he could really use a glass of scotch. This man is a warrior. The tattoos that define his forearms and biceps are rugged – maybe he inked them himself, decades ago, before American soldiers operated in Iraq, Afghanistan, Kosovo, or Vietnam. He’s lived in several third world countries, sometimes for years at a time, and he speaks a handful of languages. His memory is so good that he can recite long excerpts from several books, many in multiple languages. He’s a stocky man of average height, and the wrinkles on his weather-worn face tell a story all their own. This man has lived a life worth living. LTC Travaglione’s voice sounds like a scruffy version of Robert DeNiro that comes from deep within the toughest corners of the Bronx. He’s a living paradox, embodying the bravado of a 1920s mobster while having a boundless capacity for compassion and humility. This man has wisdom.

There were four of us on this day, five including him. He stood on one side of the table, we stood on the other. We were in a lowland, southwest of the Hindu Kusch Mountains, miles from Pakistan, in an American Forward Operating Base in Afghanistan. The room we were in was relatively safe, but with all the warfare going on outside the camp’s walls, we were hoping this man could lead us in our fight for peace. It was Sunday morning near Jalalabad, and Father Mike Travaglione had just arrived via combat patrol to lead our church service in a makeshift chapel. At the age of 71, Father Mike Travaglione is the oldest priest in the US Army.

We weren’t a very impressive group, four men who seemingly had two things in common: 1) we were Christian, and 2) we were soldiers. All of us had been deployed before, all of us carried a weapon in church, and before we knew it Father Travaglione had all of us singing a hymn to symbolize that Mass had begun. No musical instruments, no background music, no professional singers (that’s for sure). But we sang together in broken harmony anyways: “Make me a channel of your peace. Where there is hatred, let me bring your love. Where there is injury, your pardon, Lord. And where there’s doubt, true faith in you. O Master, grant that I may never seek, so much to be consoled as to console. To be understood as to understand, to be loved, as to love, with all my soul.” How ironic to have men of war singing together a song of peace.

Chaplain Travaglione’s homily was short and simple. He delivered the message as if he were talking to his own grandsons, fully aware of our exhaustion, our loneliness, and the spiritual war that pervaded everything around us. He was clear, and concise: “Lord speak, for your servant listens. Men, sometimes we get too caught up in the prayers we pray and the lives we lead, trying in angst to be men of God. Stop. Be quiet. Listen. Some of the most powerful prayers we have are those quiet moments of peace where we don’t say anything. Lord speak, for your servant listens. Sit. Quietly. Listen. That is prayer.” Father prepared the Eucharist, we all recited the Lord’s prayer, and we shared in the sacrament. Then we sat, we listened, we prayed. We closed the worship service not 20 minutes after we had opened it by singing “America The Beautiful,” it seemed entirely appropriate on 4th of July Weekend. But after we sang the 1st verse and started to close our hymnals to go back to work, one of the old, crusty non-commissioned officers continued singing in a raspy voice the 3rd verse, skipping the 2nd verse entirely. “O beautiful for heroes proved in liberating strife, who more than self their country loved, and mercy more than life! America! America! May God thy gold refine, till all success be nobleness, and every gain divine.”

David immediately comes to mind. And Goliath.

Let’s talk church first.

I can’t recall a single verse that speaks of David being in a ‘church’ and yet, God describes him as “a man after my own heart.” (I’m not sure of the verse, but it’s in Acts.)

The world, God’s creation, was David’s church. And every day was a prayer.

We are lead where we are lead. And it is there that we should deliver His message. We are the church. A church is not a building but a body, the body of Christ. And we are ALL members. This isn’t a suggestion to not go to the building people. It’s a statement as to why the building even exists. It’s our job to come together as Christians. And even in an Afghani AFOB southwest of the Hindu Kusch Mountains these men made it happen.

Why? – War requires a main operating base. With Christianity, it’s the church. Go. What would happen to these soldiers if they never returned to their base camp, their forward operating base, or their main operating base? They’d be tired, hungry and lonely. But more importantly, they’d be low on moral, uninformed and questioning their purpose. Sound familiar?

“We weren’t a very impressive group, four men who seemingly had two things in common: 1) we were Christian, and 2) we were soldiers.”

This sums it up… for all of us. The question though, for all of us, is what kind of soldier are we?

David was a true warrior. A leader. A king. But at one time, he was a spindly little shepherd. A nobody. And when that nobody was faced by what was everyone else’s worst fear…

He ran. But, He ran toward what everyone else feared. He ran toward Goliath.

1 Samuel 17:48The Philistine then moved to meet David at close quarters, while David ran quickly toward the battle line in the direction of the Philistine.

We are all at war. Goliaths roam freely. Debt. Disaster. Danger. Deceit. Disease. Depression… And Actual War.

Well, we are all soldiers. Ask yourself what kind of spiritual soldier you are. I’m not talking about going and sitting in a corner and praying your problems away. Read the email again and look to these men as an example. An example of how we can handle our spiritual warfare. An example of action. Spiritual warfare is real. And look to David as well.

Will you take up your weapons and stride toward the giants in your life?


5 thoughts on “We are His Church… and Warriors

  1. James, Stoney and you both have such a gift for words. Your words are truly a gift; a gift to everyone that reads them. I am so glad Stoney was able to get a hold of you. I miss him terribly, but he’s doing great things – great things for all of us. Thank you James, and thank you Stoney.

  2. Wow. As I dab my eyes with my second kleenex… Very powerful Stoney. Thank you for letting us be a part of your world. We would never know what it is like otherwise. I am so proud to have men like you taking care of America. And James, thank you for allowing us access to a wonderful story, and the perfect writing to go with it…

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