Saturday, January 16, 2010

Married to the Military!

Part of a military chaplain's ministry is with the spouses of servicemembers. In the Sea Services chaplains work with Navy ombudsmen and Family Readiness Assistants (who are often spouses) and a large part of our counseling work involves marital issues. Military marriages are occasionally synonyms for hardship, long separations, and fear and anxiety over whether their loved one is safe, or even worries about where they are. Many servicemembers marry very young, and some have unrealistic expectations. On the dark side, there are instances of abuse, including cases in which it is the husband who is the victim. Divorce rates in the military can be high, almost passing the national average, if it hasn't already. The chaplains are often on the "front line" with working with and helping couples, and this has become a major feature of chaplaincy work. If you plan on becoming a chaplain, get familiar with marital counseling! You'll be doing a lot of it!

However, long and happy marriages are possible in the military! I don't think there is any special "secret" to keeping a marriage intact; it's very much up to the individuals involved. I would like to offer one perspective on military marriages: since the end of World War II many American servicemembers stationed in Asia have brought home wives from those countries and, more recently, husbands! A percentage of these spouses are Buddhists, and their experience is a part of the landscape of Buddhism in the United States. I don't believe this is a subject that has been studied much (anyone in need of a dissertation topic?), but it is a fascinating one. How do multi-racial, multi-religious marriages survive, especially when it is linked to a difficult environment like the military?

Mrs. Connie (To Hing) Miller is one of these military spouses. She was born in Vietnam, as an ethnic Chinese, and married her husband, a U.S. Navy Chief Petty Officer, in 1971, so she is set to celebrate her 40th wedding anniversary. Her husband retired in 1978 after 23 years' honorable service in the Navy, and he worked at Sony Corporation for 20 years afterwards. Both are retired, with 3 adult children and 2 young grandchildren, whom she babysits occasionally. I came to know her as she spends her weekends volunteering at the Buddha's Light Bookstore, located next to the Hsi Fang Buddhist Temple in San Diego, and I engage in an inordinate amount of book-buying there. Hsi Fang is affiliated with the Fo Guang Shan (Buddha's Light Mountain) Order of Buddhism, also known as Humanistic Buddhism. Mrs. Miller is a devout lay member of this temple. She agreed to a short interview due to our joint interest in supporting military families (I apologize in advance for my poor transcription abilities)! I hope the Q&A below will act as a window into this world, and that others will follow in understanding the life of a military spouse, and being an ordinary Buddhist.

Q: Were you raised Buddhist?
A: Yes, when I was small I went with my parents to the temple. My parents were Buddhist. I did not know anything then, we only pray and then leave.

Q: How do you practice Buddhism now?
A: Fo Guang Shan is like a home to me (Mrs. Miller became a Fo Guang Shan member after moving to America in the 1970s). I understand religion better. I learned how to sit down and chant the sutras. I follow the teachings of Ven. Master Hsing Yun. Religion [ultimately] doesn't matter, it is harmony that is important, getting along. The family is very important. I follow the "Three Good Things" Ven. Master Hsing Yun teaches: One, your talk should be good, Two, you should do good things, Three, you should have a good heart.

Q: What is it like to be a military spouse?
A: My husband only went on one deployment [after we were married]. He was away for 6 months. During that time I lived with my husband's family in San Jose. I wanted to live overseas but [Navy] wouldn't let us. I think it is good for dependents, there are more benefits. It is good to see how other people live [overseas]. You can save money and when you retire you have a fixed income. Being a military wife was for me. It was a very good experience. [But] Asian wives may feel uncomfortable. I do not see many Asian spouses today. Only once I saw a young Japanese mother with 2 children at Miramar [Air Station].

Q: Is your husband Buddhist?
A: No he is not religious. Sometimes he says he is interested in taking the precepts, since he wants to be sure to "get to heaven!" [laughs] [He] doesn't have to be Buddhist, just do good things.

Q: What advice would you give to military spouses?
A: Just try to work on your marriage. Comfort the husband. Remember your vows on your wedding day, it is not just for one time. Try to keep busy, do volunteer work, or hospital work. Go to school, or work if you cannot afford to do volunteer work and need help with income."

Q: How do you reconcile being Buddhist and living in non-Buddhist environment?
A: All basic religions teach harmony, basic things like helping each other, do not discriminate. This is the essence of "The Diamond Sutra." Ven. Master Hsing Yun, he is from south [China] he went to north where people discriminate people of south. He says, "When we practice Buddhism, do not divide race, [any] kind of person from Buddhism." This is the heart of Buddhism.

Note: For those living in the San Diego area, Hsi Lai temple is accepting donations for the Haiti earthquake relief.

Respect Healthy for Different Faiths

Via Air Force Times:

By Erik Holmes - Staff writer
Posted : Saturday Jan 16, 2010 9:46:39 EST
A predominance of Christians in the Air Force creates an atmosphere that assumes all airmen are Christians, allowing prayers and other religious displays at everything from football games and holiday parties to commander’s calls and change-of-command ceremonies, according to non-Christian airmen interviewed by Air Force Times.

Still, the instances of overt religious intolerance are few, and the general acceptance of those who practice other faiths is good, the airmen agreed.

Religion in the service attracted renewed attention in November after an Army psychiatrist allegedly opened fire inside a soldier readiness center at Fort Hood, Texas, killing 13 and wounding 32. The suspected shooter, Maj. Nidal Hasan, is a Muslim and had made it known that he was disturbed by the wars being fought in Iraq and Afghanistan, where the vast majority of the populations practice Islam.

“I really believe that the Air Force and the military generally do a very good job of fostering tolerance,” said Capt. Omar Ashmawy, a judge advocate in the Air Force Reserve and one of about 700 self-identified Muslims in the service.

Hostility, though, is “right below the surface,” Ashmawy said. “And [after] an event like Fort Hood ... people who are inclined to discriminate against Muslims will do it.”

The subject of religious bias came to the forefront for the Air Force five years ago when non-Christian cadets at the Air Force Academy reported being harassed by Christian counterparts and feeling ostracized because they were not religious.

Last month, the academy superintendent, Lt. Gen. Michael Gould, issued a positive progress report — endorsed by one of its most vocal critics — citing the creation of a Cadet Interfaith Council, which helps identify upcoming religious holidays so scheduling conflicts can be avoided and meets with chaplains monthly to discuss the religious climate.

“This is the first time we feel positive about things there,” said Mikey Weinstein, founder of the Military Religious Freedom Foundation, which battled the academy in court over claims that evangelicals at the school were imposing their views on others.

Servicewide, about 80 percent of airmen in 2008 identified themselves as Christians to the Defense Manpower Data Center. Nearly 17 percent gave no religious preference, and about 3 percent listed non-Christian faiths. Less than 1 percent — 0.68 — said they considered themselves atheists, those who do not believe in God or any deity.

By comparison, 76 percent of the U.S. population told the Census Bureau that they practice Christianity. Roughly 13 percent stated no religious preference, and about 10 percent identified themselves as religious but not Christian. Again, less than 1 percent — 0.71 — listed themselves as nonbelievers.

In the Air Force, Wicca — witchcraft — is the largest non-Christian faith, with 1,434 followers. The breakdown of other religious minorities: 1,271 Buddhists, 1,148 Jews, 678 Muslims and 190 Hindus.

The atmosphere that non-Christian airmen mentioned to Air Force Times manifests itself most often at public events — invocations, Christmas carols and the like.

“The Air Force is laced with inappropriate religious display at commander’s calls, military formations and holiday gatherings,” according to an e-mail from a former airman and current civilian employee at McChord Air Force Base, Wash., who did not want to be identified for privacy reasons. “Airmen are force-fed religious jargon.

“I had many superiors over the years that were religious, and a few openly carried Bibles at work,” the former airman said. “Had they known I am agnostic, it would, I am sure, have affected their views of my annual performance ratings.”

A Wiccan airman said the displays are a tacit endorsement of Christianity and a subtle form of intolerance and exclusion.

“I don’t find the Air Force to have any improved tolerance of non-Christian religions,” said the airman, who also did not want to talk on the record. “What you practice on your own time is your business, but to have your nose constantly rubbed in one religion is getting plain ridiculous.”

For Ashmawy, the Reserve judge advocate, the issue isn’t overt discrimination or proselytizing, but the lack of inclusion of non-Christians.

“God in the military is almost exclusively Jesus,” he said.

Despite the public events, the non-Christian airmen reported they seldom come across overt intolerance one-on-one. Those rare occasions shock and hurt, nonetheless.

Ashmawy wrote a commentary for Air Force News shortly after the Sept. 11 attacks and received a deluge of e-mails and letters about it.

“The response to that piece was about 90 percent overwhelmingly positive, from all over the Air Force,” he said. But “10 percent, ranging from airmen to colonels, sent me hate mail — e-mails telling me I’m deluded, I’m against God, I’m not an American, I’m a traitor. ... That was my first real bad experience in the military.”

Another Muslim airman reported generally being treated well but occasionally experiencing hostility.

“There are always those that hear ‘Muslim’ and instantly go rigid,” said the staff sergeant, who also asked to not be identified for privacy reasons. “I mean, it’s a visible, physical reaction. ... The spine turns into a fence post, and you get the double take. ... [But] these are just personal reactions from individuals, [and] I can honestly say that I have never been impacted professionally because of my religion.”

The Wiccan airman has stopped talking to other airmen about religion because of the negative reactions.

“The most common inconsiderate comment I get is that I must worship the devil or that I must be a hippie tree-hugger,” the airman said. “Now, I just don’t say anything. It gets old listening to the ignorance that spews from people’s mouths.”

Thursday, January 14, 2010

U.S. Navy, Marines to Haiti


Source: Reuters
Jan 14 (Reuters) - The U.S. military is mobilizing thousands of soldiers, sailors and Marines along with members of the Air Force and Coast Guard for relief efforts in Haiti. Here are the main military components announced so far:
* The vast majority of the forces announced for Haiti have not yet arrived, but the military has flown in hundreds of rescuers and has advance teams and assessment teams on the ground. Air Force special forces were among the first military relief workers to arrive. The Coast Guard has deployed four ships as well as air support for evacuation efforts. The Navy destroyer USS Higgins, with about 320 sailors on board, arrived on Thursday.
* Up to 3,500 soldiers from the U.S. Army's 82nd Airborne Division at Fort Bragg will be deployed in Haiti by Sunday. An advance group of about 125 troops were due to arrive on Thursday and 800 more will arrive on Friday.
* Another 2,200 Marines from the 22nd Marine Expeditionary Unit at Camp Lejeune, N.C., may arrive this weekend or on Monday for what initially is expected to be about a 90-day deployment.
* An amphibious readiness group with three ships -- the USS Bataan, the USS Fort McHenry and USS Carter Hall -- will take the Marines to Haiti. This group can produce its own purified water.
* A U.S. Navy aircraft carrier, the USS Carl Vinson, with a crew of between 4,000-5,000 sailors on board, is on the way and will arrive in the area by Friday, with 19 helicopters on board. It has three operating rooms, several dozen hospital beds and can produce fresh water.
* The much-anticipated hospital ship, the USNS Comfort, will not arrive until around Jan. 22. It has 12 operating rooms and 250 hospital beds. The Pentagon says the Comfort is a slow-moving vessel and will need a week to arrive in Haiti.
* Two additional ships, the USS Underwood and the USS Normandy, with 400 and 250 personnel, are expected to arrive on Jan 16.

Also: Buddhist relief organization Tzu Chi Foundation has worked on relief to Haiti, and will provide earthquake relief. Visit their site to learn more about donating for Haitian assistance.

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Pardon the Mess...

I'm also in the process of cleaning up the links and everything on the blog, so pardon the construction...I hope to have most of the links up and running soon, and if you were regularly contributing on this blog (or would like to), please let me know...

A New Blog!

Hello all!

I have started a new blog, The Western Quarter, which will focus exclusively on my tradition of Buddhism: Jodo Shinshu, or "The True Pure Land School." I hardly have time to post here, so I don't know how regularly that will be updated! But if you are interested in this particulary form of Buddhism, please check it out!
Not too much up there, but soon hope to be posting just basic information about Jodo Shinshu, what it is, etc.

Friday, January 1, 2010

Happy New Year!

Happy New Year to all of this blog's readers! (And everyone else too!)

2010 should be a very productive year. I will be deploying again this Spring (to Afghanistan this time). Also some of our chaplain candidates should be graduating soon, hopefully!

I have another poll below (I'm not sure how reliable these are, since the last one actually seemed to run backwards). This one focuses on what you would like to see on this blog.

I will have a separate blog up soon also; this will not be exclusively about Buddhists in the military, but will focus specifically on Jodo Shinshu Buddhism (my tradition). Once I get around to doing it(!), I'll have a link on this site also.

In gassho,
Chaplain Shin
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