Wednesday, March 19, 2003

"There were men called 'army chaplains.' They preached inside some of these buildings. There were actually soldiers, dead now, who sat or stood, and listened. Holding on to what they could. Then they went out, and some died before they got back inside a garrison-church again. Clergymen, working for the army, stood up and talked to the men who were going to die about God, death, nothingness, redemption, salvation. It really happened. It was quite common."
Gravity's Rainbow, p. 693

Speaking of God, preparing for war
Knight Ridder

CAMP COMMANDO, Kuwait - On the brink of war, chaplain Doug Dowling is thinking about the sermon he will deliver today to American leathernecks in his sandbagged chapel a few miles from the Iraqi border.

He will urge the Marines to treat enemy bodies with respect, to look away from the grotesque mutilations of war. He will tell them the war is not about getting even for 9/11. And he will tell them that amid the horror of war they may find the beauty of valor and comradeship and, perhaps, the presence of God.

A stocky Navy lieutenant with a blond mustache and bare-walls haircut, the 42-year-old Milwaukee native looks like a Marine in his digital desert camouflage uniform, floppy "boony" hat and military web gear.

But he wears a tiny black metal cross on his shirt and speaks with the fervor of a former Navy warplane navigator who was stationed in Kuwait during the Iraq-Iran war in the 1980s, who fought in the 1991 Gulf War and then became a pastor for the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America.

"There is a God who is a warrior, but God is the same always," Dowling said. "The God you believe in as you may go to war is that same God you believed in yesterday and the day before, so nothing changes for me on this day."

Dowling has baptized 32 people here, including a Navy officer he met briefly in a military base parking lot and christened with water from a plastic bottle.

He will hold one more service today in his tiny chapel with a cross on top, really a bunker dug halfway into the desert sand and then sandbagged for protection.

"I will pray for our men and for theirs, too," he said. "And I will pray especially for peace."