Force Chaplain's Thoughts
Our Place in the Great Play
SUFFOLK, VA - Choice Greetings to you all. As a way of introduction, I am Chaplain Underwood, and I have the privilege of serving the NAVIFOR community in the role of Force Chaplain. Most of my experiences in the Navy have been with Naval Special Warfare and with the Submarine Force, and it was there I served the “end users” of the vital products that your community provides on a daily basis. The learning curve for me is steep as I “reset” my acronym dictionary and get accustomed to a new way of doing things. I look forward to getting out on travel, experiencing the lay of the land, and meeting as many of you as possible. It brings me great comfort to rely on the things that remain the same in my moments of newness and confusion. Learning and serving a community is my constant, and finding my place, role and opportunities are the comfortable challenge. This is the unique challenge that we all face.
“All the world’s a stage, and we are merely players.” Such is the worldview of many in the writings of Shakespeare, and in the life we have chosen in the Navy. In “King Lear” (III:vii) there is a man of such minor importance he is simply called “1st Servant.” All of the players around him are long term players. They know how the play ends because they have long term plans, but they are wrong. 1st Servant has no such plans, does not know how the play will end and simply, is a witness to a horrible crime. This crime he will not abide, and with his sword out, he attempts to stop the act. At the same moment of his heroism he is stabbed in the back and dies. That is all his part – just more than eight lines. But of all the parts of the play, I think his is the part most profound. Why? He plays his part well and with honor. We never hear him bemoan his fate or dishonor himself with petty demands for fairness. He lives well, acts with honor and dies with dignity. We should all wish to attain such loftiness.
The biblical doctrine of end time events teaches us that we cannot know when this worlds’ drama will end. The lights may come up, and the curtain may come down at any moment: perhaps even before you have finished reading this paragraph. To some this idea is frustrating and fearful, what with so much left undone. “I haven’t ended my enlistment; I haven’t gotten married yet! I haven’t yet reached retirement eligibility!!” Certainly no kind and loving God would be so ill mannered as to interrupt all of my plans. Not now, of all moments!
But we keep on thinking these things because we have made so many plans, and we falsely assume that we know the end of the play. We do not know the play! We do not even know whether we are in Act 1 or Act 5. We do not know who the major and minor characters are. But the Author of our play does. The audience, if there is an audience (if there is a great cloud of witnesses watching us), may have an idea. But we – never seeing the play from the outside, never meeting any characters except the tiny minority who is “on” in the same scenes as ourselves, wholly ignorant of the future and poorly learned from our past – cannot tell at what moment the end ought to come.
The end will come. That it will come when it ought to, we can be assured of. But still we waste our time guessing when it will come, never bothering to prepare ourselves for the eventuality. That the end has meaning we may also be sure, but we cannot yet see its meaning on this side of the play. When it is all over, we may be told. We are led to believe that the Author will have plenty to say to each of us on the part that we have played. So I urge all of you to take a reflective moment of critical self-assessment. Look at your part in the play of life and honestly see if you are playing fully to your potential. Are you playing your part well and with honor? Are you a poor performer? Look deep into your own soul and know that the player you are today is the player you are preparing to be for all of eternity. After all, it is the “playing it well” that matters infinitely and eternally. I look forward to my time with you, on this stage, occupying a role as “Chaplain and servant”, desiring to assist you as you define your role and refine your performance. May we all play well—and play better!
Chaplain M. H. “Buck” Underwood
CAPT, CHC, USN
Naval Information Forces