The Call of Death – A Warrior’s Road

I am posting this after Memorial Day because I do not want to take away from the honor due to those who we traditionally honor at this time of year.  However, maybe glorifying war is not the best way to honor them.  Maybe this is a good time to consider the cost and think about how we think about the institution of war.

As time goes by and I experience more of God’s grace, I continue to gain new perspectives on life. Fr Richard Rohr in his Falling Upward: A Spirituality for the Two Halves of Life calls this gaining second-half-of life-language.  As I reflect on those who have given their lives in military service, I hope use some of that second half language to bring some fresh perspective to the human sacrifice that we call war.  

Previously I posted a tribute to a shipmate Remembering the Sacrifice -ETC(SS) Hill who succumbed to the call of death that lurks at the door of everyone who takes up arms against another.  In his case, death came at his own hand.  This year I want to expand that to others.

As I ponder the loss of lives offered upon the altar of battle, I find it necessary to consider the process of death on the battlefield. Death comes to us all in stages, but war hastens the process exponentially.

We’re all scared. You hid in that ditch because you think there’s still hope. But Blithe, the only hope you have is to accept the fact that you’re already dead, and the sooner you accept that, the sooner you’ll be able to function as a soldier’s supposed to function. Without mercy, without compassion, without remorse. All war depends on it.” – Capt Ronald Speir – HBO’s Band of Brothers

The death of the Warrior begins the moment the hand is raised and an oath is taken. oath_of_enlistmentWe begin to talk about virtues like honor, duty and courage. Yes these are virtues, but they begin prioritized in such a way that we begin to forget the higher virtues like love, grace, and mercy. By tapping the violent nature fear is overcome. Actions and thoughts that just months before would have been considered abhorrent have now become justified.  The child that entered into military training rarely survives.

I honor all who raised the hand and sacrificed the innocence of childhood in defense of this nation.

“Battle is the most magnificent competition in which a human being can indulge. It brings out all that is best; it removes all that is base. All men are afraid in battle. The coward is the one who lets his fear overcome his sense of duty. Duty is the essence of manhood.” – George S. Patton

Since training is often viewed as a game for many, the child sometimes survives the first onslaught, but death is relentless. Death continues to take prisoners when the instruments of training become instruments of war. That moment when the object of war becomes real.  

“The object of war is not to die for your country but to make the other bastard die for his. “ – George S. Patton

In an earlier post I Am Not Proud That I Am a Veteran I describe the struggle that may occur when confronted with reality of duty.  When one realizes that the game is us vs them with lives are on the scoreboard.  If training has been effective, death has claimed the conscience of the child, cowardice defeated, and our higher cause justified.  On the other hand, training that has not accomplished complete death, must complete it on the field of battle.

“He felt that in this crisis his laws of life were useless. Whatever Soldierhe had learned of himself was here of no avail. He was an unknown quantity. He saw that he would again be obliged to experiment as he had in early youth. He must accumulate information of himself, and meanwhile he resolved to remain close upon his guard lest those qualities of which he knew nothing should everlastingly disgrace him.” The Red Badge of Courage (S. Crane)


In Stephen Crane’s classic novel, The Red Badge of Courage we are witness to Henry Crane’s  struggle against his former life. Everything that he believed true must be left behind forever if he would survive this new reality.

“He saw his vivid error, and he was afraid that it would stand before him all his life. He took no share in the chatter of his comrades, nor did he look at them or know them, save when he felt sudden suspicion that they were seeing his thoughts and scrutinizing each detail of the scene with the tattered soldier. Yet gradually he mustered force to put the sin at a distance. And at last his eyes seemed to open to some new ways. He found that he could look back upon the brass and bombast of his earlier gospels and see them truly. He was gleeful when he discovered that he now despised them. With the conviction came a store of assurance. He felt a quiet manhood, nonassertive but of sturdy and strong blood. He knew that he would no more quail before his guides wherever they should point. He had been to touch the great death, and found that, after all, it was but the great death. He was a man.” The Red Badge of Courage (S. Crane)

Fear and horror sear the conscience; necessity drives out the individual; and he becomes  “not a man but a member.” We are left to believe that Henry has won the battle with the “red sickness” and can rest in peace as a man of honor and duty.  Death has completed its task.

I honor and mourn the loss of every life lost in the cause of war.  I honor those whose lives were lost heroically in battle. We will never truly know their stories. We will never know when Death first began to claim these lives as his own.  I believe that much of the warrior was lost well before last breath was taken.

I also would like to honor who have answered the call of death.  

  • Those who like Chief Hill could not endure death’s process and took their own lives.
  • Those who could not make the transition to warrior and must live the life of a coward. (Many were executed in the field in past wars)
  • Those whose life has been altered beyond recognition and walk the streets as the walking dead
  • And those who were killed in training.

My hope is that we consider not only our decisions about the act of war, but also the process by which we prepare warriors.  Is it imperative that we limit the number of young people required to answer this Death’s call.

For those who have answered the call of death but still walk among us, there is hope.  It is not an easy road, but you can answer a new call of life.  Resurrection is available for all who will answer that new call.

“But let me tell you something wonderful, a mystery I’ll probably never fully understand. We’re not all going to die—but we are all going to be changed. You hear a blast to end all blasts from a trumpet, and in the time that you look up and blink your eyes—it’s over. On signal from that trumpet from heaven, the dead will be up and out of their graves, beyond the reach of death, never to die again. At the same moment and in the same way, we’ll all be changed. In the resurrection scheme of things, this has to happen: everything perishable taken off the shelves and replaced by the imperishable, this mortal replaced by the immortal. Then the saying will come true:

Death swallowed by triumphant Life!
Who got the last word, oh, Death?
Oh, Death, who’s afraid of you now?

It was sin that made death so frightening and law-code guilt that gave sin its leverage, its destructive power. But now in a single victorious stroke of Life, all three—sin, guilt, death—are gone, the gift of our Master, Jesus Christ. Thank God!

With all this going for us, my dear, dear friends, stand your ground. And don’t hold back. Throw yourselves into the work of the Master, confident that nothing you do for him is a waste of time or effort.”  1 Cor 15:51-58 – The Message

 

How do you determine who to vote for or do you not vote at all?


My friend Anne posted a heartfelt question on Facebook today and instead of writing a simple comment, I figured I would vomit out my answer on my much neglected blog.

“Let’s say you vote for your convictions, principles, and values when it comes to your President, your Senators, etc. Let’s just say that no candidate truly expresses your values, but they do profess (and who knows what is just talk and what is true) some things that you do agree with. They just may not be of the character you would hope for – they may not be the perfect expression of all that you hold as valuable and dear.

Let’s just say that NONE of them do so.

How do you determine who to vote for or do you not vote at all?”

Most people I know are struggling with this decision just like Annie!  To me it is not an option to not vote so … how do I decide when no candidate fits the perfect ideal?

Here is the process that I am trying to sort through.

Primary Considerations

  • Is the candidate trustworthy? The rest of this is moot since we cannot honestly answer the rest of these questions.
  • What key issues and challenges will the next chief executive face?
  • What is the candidate’s view on those issues AND would they have the authority to execute or influence the government regarding those issues? (If a candidate has an off-the-wall idea that could never be enacted, it is not an issue)
  • How does the candidate’s views on those issues line up with the things I feel are core values for a “just” society?
  • Is the candidate an effective leader and manager? Can he/she get things done?
  • Would the candidate be a respected leader on the world stage?

Secondary Considerations (What if they fail the primary considerations)

  • Is there an issue that is a game changer for me? (for many, a pro-life/pro-choice stance or their stand on same sex marriage is a game changer)
  • Is the candidate even keeled and reasonable? (Not a hot-head or mean) (Unfortunately, the only even keeled guy I have seen probably won’t make it through the primaries)
  • This will sound awful, but if I can find no good characteristics in the candidates, then maybe I should vote for the one that is least likely to bring about change. This puts the onus on Congress (which might be even scarier).

I have tried to wean out my opinions in my little checklist.   I don’t intend on publically backing a candidate because quite honestly, I am not as certain of anything once was.  There is a tremendous freedom in uncertainty.  Releasing faith from that box is quite empowering and allows me to see a God that is much bigger than I ever imagined.  In the case of politics, it allows me to be able to see past candidates and look instead to the mission set before me.

“I look to the hills! Where will I find help? It will come from the Lord, who created heaven and earth”. (Psalm 121:1,2 CEV)

The anger and bitterness that prevails in our nation is reflected in the candidates that appear to be succeeding.  What is the driving force of this anger? I have some ideas…

A portion of our population is dropping farther and farther behind. There are many reasons for this (not just laziness and victim mentality).  Generational poverty caused by centuries of racism, rapidly changing economic structures that have left working class people without societal worth, and the resulting quick fix programs, have left them slaves to government programs, addictions, or crime.

What about the middle class? Why are they so angry?  In our arrogance we bought into the consumerism peddled to us and became slaves to our jobs, our credit rating, and our material possessions.  (We bought into the American Dream)  We became intoxicated with a false sense of security.  Cast as superior to the victim class we were empowered and felt like the movers and shakers of society.  Unfortunately this left us vulnerable to the puppet strings of the drivers of the economy.  What happens when the puppet master revokes power and it all comes toppling down?  Suddenly your values are no longer the mainstream of society and your social standing begins to slide. White, middle class, Christians unexpectedly have lost their grip on the reigns of society resulting in confusion, depression, defensiveness, anger and bitterness.

The oppressor has worked a masterful plan to divide and conquer.  We are goaded into battle against the powerless and become a part of a plan to enslave an entire society.   As long as we refuse to lock arms with the weak and continue to side with the power brokers, we will continue to find ourselves powerless to take dominion over the Kingdom.

If we continue to buy into the narrative of anger and bitterness, we will continue to be rewarded with candidates that reflect our anger and bitterness.

It is up to us to make changes to society.  It is not going to be easy and it won’t happen overnight.

It may cost us:

  • We may have to give up liberties that we feel are our “rights.”
  • We may have to put away our sword.
  • We may have to grieve sin (ours and those of others) instead of hating it.
  • We may have to give up our status.
  • We may have to give up our right to be right.
  • We may have to place a priority on love in the face of hate.
  • We may have to pick up a cross and laydown our lives for our nation.
  • We may have to give up our nation for the sake of Christ.

Let love be your only debt! If you love others, you have done all that the Law demands.  In the Law there are many commands, such as, “Be faithful in marriage. Do not murder. Do not steal. Do not want what belongs to others.” But all of these are summed up in the command that says, “Love others as much as you love yourself.” No one who loves others will harm them. So love is all that the Law demands. (Rom 13:8-10)

I Am Not Proud That I Am a Veteran

I understand this is likely to be a very unpopular post, but I have to be honest. Veterans Day is not a day of celebration, pride, or flag waving to me. This is a day of sadness, regret, and dishonor.  And that is not a bad thing.

When I think of my service to my country, I am glad that I served. I am proud to be an American. We live in a world that is dangerous and riddled with violence and I did my job to as best I understood it. I would probably even do it again under certain circumstances. I support my sons decisions to serve, and I pray that will always remember that they serve a broken and hurting world.

EisenhowerChapterBut … I am not proud that I am a Veteran. I wish that no one had to serve. Our violent and vengeful natures are proof of our fear, despair and lack of love. I wish that my son did not need to strap on his firearm and don a bulletproof vest each day when he enters his police cruiser.

Last year I explained my feeling about the whole hero thing: You Keep Using That Word  Since then I have reflected even more about what really brings honor. Some questions have surfaced I have a hard time answering.

  • Are the sailors, soldiers, marines, and airmen I served alongside the most honorable people I can imagine?
  • Should taking up arms against other human beings be a source of pride
  • Why do we place such high value on our ability to dominate in defense of our values?
  • How is it that despite our nation’s military superiority, we cannot achieve peace?
  • What does it say about us as a people who no matter how much we evolve as a civilization, we continue to regress back to violence as our measure of strength.

I served our nation for over 12 years. I was indoctrinated into the ways of the brotherhood of undersea warriors. I was enraged by the knowledge that a dirty “Commie” Soviet submarine had passed within our waters and felt the joy of chasing it out again. I slept between nuclear warheads with the capability to devastate large portions of the human race.

And …

I felt the fear and turmoil that surged through me when it occurred to me when during the simulation of a nuclear launch.  I with struggled with an anger that began to simmer within as I worked alongside shipmates and people of Kuwait recovering from the atrocities of the Iraqi invasion and subsequent withdrawal.

Five years later, that anger surface on Sept 11th, 2001. I supported our fear driven retaliation. I watched as that fear was covered in nationalistic pride and a resolve for vengeance.

Vengeance is not justice … Vengeance is action driven by fear and hate. I saw that desire for vengeance in the eyes of Kuwaiti children and parents. It is the evident in the desperation of people in our own society caused by perceived or real inequalities. Yes, it is even the same force driving the ISIS conspirators.

I am sad that we have failed to achieve relative peace in our world and that we are a world encompassed by fear.

I regret that I allowed that fear to override my faith and that I could not even effectively love my enemy or even my neighbor.

I find no honor in taking up arms to bring about peace. Although it may protect us for a while and may seem to be the best we can do at this point, I think it is ineffective and frankly the coward’s way.

Now you are the body of Christ and individually members of it. And God has appointed in the church first apostles, second prophets, third teachers, then miracles, then gifts of healing, helping, administrating, and various kinds of tongues. Are all apostles? Are all prophets? Are all teachers? Do all work miracles? Do all possess gifts of healing? Do all speak with tongues? Do all interpret? But earnestly desire the higher gifts.
And I will show you a still more excellent way.
1 Corinthians 12:27-31 ESV

What is that more excellent way?

My son-in-law posted today every veteran signs a blank check. I have to disagree. Each of us signed up With the knowledge that we might die in the line of duty, but that is far from a blank check!

For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. For one will scarcely die for a righteous person—though perhaps for a good person one would dare even to die— but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.
Romans 5:6-8 ESV

I did not sign up to die for my enemy.

“This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends.
John 15:12-13 ESV

Laying one’s life down is much more honorable and difficult than dying. Each of us can live a life for others and possibly even defeat some fear and hate.

That not excellent way…

If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. If I give away all I have, and if I deliver up my body to be burned, but have not love, I gain nothing.

Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never ends.

As for prophecies, they will pass away; as for tongues, they will cease; as for knowledge, it will pass away. For we know in part and we prophesy in part, but when the perfect comes, the partial will pass away. When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I gave up childish ways. For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I have been fully known.

So now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; but the greatest of these is love.
1 Corinthians 13:1-13 ESV

img_0184

A Different Justice System

Mark 2:23-29 – Sabbath Snacks

Ancient Fast FoodAnother few verses into the Gospel of Mark and yet another “I never noticed” moment.  In the previous verses, Jesus was asked about His disciples not fasting like John’s followers and the Pharisees.  He was being questioned about the actions of His disciples.  It was His disciples that were feasting when everyone else was fasting. Now he is answering for them again .. It was His followers that were plucking grain (reaping) on the Sabbath.  Two chapters in and already he shows His vocation as advocate for others, answering accusations made against apparent sinners.

And who were these guys following them around looking for ways to discredit the new teacher anyway? These guys were just a bunch of intellectuals with no authority, akin to many of the talking heads of today. Masters of the art of influence and persuasion, adept at swaying public opinion. Acting like the prosecuting attorney without any actual authority to render a judgement. (Rather Satanic actually). Were they actually intent on bringing about justice, or were they more interested in maintaining the power and status that comes from “winning?”

Jesus came to take on the accuser on our behalf. What an awesome way to begin defining His role as Messiah!   The Messiah is not an accuser. As a matter of fact, there is not an accuser in the Godhead.  Although God demands righteousness, He is not the prosecuting attorney, He is the judge.  He leaves the defense to Jesus.

God is not mad at me and brings no accusation against me.  It is not that He does not care when I stumble, on the contrary.  He sent us an advocate to help turn things around; an advocate with a goal to restore us to His image so that I can take me rightful place in the society of His kingdom. He did not send the newbie public defender,  He deployed the best, His Son to defend not only us, but all of His creation.  He didn’t stop there, He sent His Spirit to walk us through rehab and to protect us from the Accuser. What an awesome model of justice!

Each of us has a role to play in this system, we also need to be like Jesus and defend the defenseless with compassion.  By modeling His empathy and mercy we help to disarm the prosecutor and establish a different justice system.

Vision / Course Correction

I have not written since November.  It is hard to write about transition and direction when you find yourself not exactly sure where you are going.  I think it is about time I discussed this Vision Correction / Course Correction, for both my old friends and those that are crossing my path.

 

“Be good to your servant so I can go on living
and keeping your word.
Open my eyes so I can examine
the wonders of your Instruction!” (Ps 119:17-18)
Open my eyes
Throughout my time in high school, something was just not right. I was just not comfortable.  I noticed it in the classroom … an inability to follow along with teachers.  It was evident on the athletic field, mostly baseball … I could not track the ball as well as I always hadl. Without ever  really noticing it, I found myself moving to the front half of the classroom. During my senior year it should have occurred to me when I could not see the numbers on the scoreboard from the wrestling mat, but like the proverbial frog in the pot (not familiar with this proverb?  Check it out here,)  I was oblivious to the change. (I am truly disturbed at how many people have set out to prove / disprove this boiling frog theory … people are really wack!) Myth or truth … you get the point … slow change is often imperceptible.

 

For whatever reason … I did not notice that my vision was deteriorating. In my last month of school a military physical indicated my substandard eye sight.  Two weeks later … I saw the individual leaves on the trees.
Clarity
It is unclear (see what I did there) when I began to experience spiritual squirminess.  One could argue that this was just a mid-life crisis since it started  around my 40th year and about the time the oldest of our seven offspring began to move on to bigger and better things. I was busy with work, church and had begun coaching regularly, but that notorious question began to roll around in my head … is this all there is? I began to believe that I had buried my talent in the ground: that God was about to take it away and give it to the one with ten.  When I voiced my own disappointment in myself, most people gave an answer that did not sit well with me; “there is no higher calling than being a father and a husband. You have raised great kids and that will have impacts way beyond your lifetime.”  Something about the self-centered nature of that statement just rubbed me wrong.

 

 _sermon_on_the_mountYears of teaching the parables of Jesus and the sermon on the mount in children’s church just made me feel like I was missing something major. Jesus was pressed from every side by the consequences of a fallen creation – His creation.  He directed His anger at those who should have known His love for the down-trodden sinner and grieved along with Him; those who should have been first to jump in and work to restore a broken world.  About two years ago it occurred to me that I could be more closely identified with those Pharisees than with the crowds of sinners  to whom He poured out His grace. How could I so readily lose the big picture? Although I will get into that much more in detail in future posts, I am convinced that I allowed subtle (some not so subtle) influences to draw me away from the Kingdom work that was started by Jesus and concern myself with the work reserved for the one who sits on the throne.  False battle lines were drawn between “us” and “them” and the pride of a soldier just out of boot camp coursed through my being.  A spiritual equivalent of the “let’s go kill some Commies”  that I heard during my time, serving in the Cold War, poured across the conservative air waves and blanketed my Facebook newsfeed. (Note: the “other side” had their hate whisperers as well which of course justifies our own position advancement)

 

1Kings1912
Any of you who have followed my blog may have recognized when I began to hear that small still voice. I realized that I was not a sheep, but a goat.  The fire under the pot was lit and I either needed to jump out or become Frog Soup.  Since I have abused my body so badly over the years I determined I was not fit to become a meal so I jumped out With my vision clearing, it was obvious that a course correction was in order.

 

 It has been a process that included a great deal of study, observation and prayer.  I sought sources outside my comfort zone and ones that would have been considered blasphemous to me a few years ago.  I am learning to look past the behaviors and history of the Samaritan woman at the well (John 4:7-26) and to look at her as Jesus did.  It is unnatural to picture a resurrected creation, but I believe that it is possible. I have a long way to go.

 

I left the tradition that I had been associated with for 30 years: not because of the people or the teaching. They have been a loving people who fed us, took care of us, and helped us raise a family of faith.  Through corporate worship and Spirit led preaching, I developed an unquenchable longing for God’s presence.  The power of the Holy Spirit worked in and through me.  I witnessed powerful miracles. Over 30 years, scripture has become a natural part of who I am. God has been sovereign through out and I was exactly were I need to be.

 

Compass ColorDespite all of that God has directed me in another direction and removed me from some life patterns that prevented me from maturing and moving on. I have developed a love for liturgy and many of the lessons-learned by the early church and throughout history. I have realized that even when I don’t agree with everything another tradition believes does not mean that I cannot worship alongside them and learn from them. Movements that have been scoffed at by traditional evangelicalism (Emergent, Progressive, Missional), main line “liberal” denominations, and Orthodox and Roman Catholic churches all offer insights and are a part of God’s plan to bring about restoration to His Kingdom.  At this point, Lynn and I have committed to worshiping as part of a “three streams” Anglican Church (ACNA).  We like it because we can grow and serve and not “sweat the small stuff”.

 

 Now that I have gotten this out of the way, hopefully I can start writing consistently about where I see God taking me now.

 

This was somewhat inspired by a Twitter buddy Chad West ( @MisterPreacher) (http://misterpreacher.com) I think I also can be labeled a “Recovering Pharisee” In light of this new found label, I would like to leave you with the story of a couple of accounts of some other “Recovering Pharisees” with whom you may be familiar.  Nicodemus – That creepy night stalker that sought out Jesus to avoid being called out by his “buds.” &  Gamaliel – Who utilized his wisdom and status to not only influence the counsel, but later on prepared Saul of Tarsus for ministry as the Apostle Paul. They were associated with exactly the people they needed to be around to be developed and utilized by God without becoming clanish and hardened.

 

“Now there was a man of the Pharisees named Nicodemus, a ruler of the Jews. This man came to Jesus by night and said to him, “Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher come from God, for no one can do these signs that you do unless God is with him.” Jesus answered him,“Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God.” Nicodemus said to him, “How can a man be born when he is old? Can he enter a second time into his mother’s womb and be born?” Jesus answered, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God. That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit. Do not marvel that I said to you, ‘You must be born again.’ The wind blows where it wishes, and you hear its sound, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit.” (John 3:1-8)

 

“When they heard this, they were enraged and wanted to kill them. But a Pharisee in the council named Gamaliel, a teacher of the law held in honor by all the people, stood up and gave orders to put the men outside for a little while. And he said to them, “Men of Israel, take care what you are about to do with these men. For before these days Theudas rose up, claiming to be somebody, and a number of men, about four hundred, joined him. He was killed, and all who followed him were dispersed and came to nothing. After him Judas the Galilean rose up in the days of the census and drew away some of the people after him. He too perished, and all who followed him were scattered.So in the present case I tell you, keep away from these men and let them alone, for if this plan or this undertaking is of man, it will fail; but if it is of God, you will not be able to overthrow them. You might even be found opposing God!” (Acts 5:33-39)

You Keep Using That Word – Who is a Hero?

*Stink! Jamie the Very Worst Missionary stole my line before I could publish it. Great blog about the word #blessed read it here

In January 1991, I lay in hospital bed in Naval Medical Center Portsmouth recovering from a belly wound brought about by “friendly fire”.  My perfectly healthy gall bladder decided to go to war with the rest of my immune system.  Ultimately the immune system destroyed the rebelling organ which required an extraction by Naval Surgeons.  This unfortunate situation left me in a bed watching CNN as Coalition forces invaded Kuwait and Iraq during Operation Desert Storm.  Little did I know that just 7 months later, I would be joining them aboard the USS L.Y. Spear (AS-36) and would breathe the smoke tainted air that hung above the Persian Gulf .  In October, after a close call navigating heavily mined waters, the ship would drop anchor off Kuwait City and I would accompany my shipmates into the city to embark on several humanitarian rebuilding efforts. In November we would be deployed on a mission to recover sensitive equipment off the coast of Iraq before returning home.

Let Go the Anchor, Kuwait Harbor
Let Go the Anchor, Kuwait Harbor

I don’t let tell this story to bring any sort of glory to myself or to my shipmates.  On the contrary, few of us felt worthy of any such glory.  Most of the people I enlisted with entered Naval service during peace time or at worst, during the end of the Cold War.  We were looking for training, stability, and a paycheck.  Even though there was danger involved, it was just our job and in truth, the risk we were taking was less than it would have been during electrical switchboard testing back in Norfolk.  Sea stories sound really great, because not everyone gets to experience them, but they are nothing more than my perspective of a unique experience.  You have those in your life as-well.

Jump forward 20 years.  That battle crossed the ocean and first responders of the NYFD & NYPD were asked to run into danger to help innocent victims of senseless terrorism.  None of them ever anticipated facing this kind of catastrophe, but duty is a powerful motivator when the chips are down. We have little doubt that these are heroes.

What followed in response to this was a new military build up.  A military that was swelling with young men and women filled with national pride and to be honest … probably a good dose of vengeance as well.  The danger was now real. Not only from the weapons of war, but also from the unseen weapons that attack the mind and the soul.  Some would lose their lives and others would be physically broken beyond repair.  Still other, untouched by physical harm, would have their lives forever altered by the sights, sounds, and smells of war. There is no doubt that these  young men and women entered willingly and made great sacrifices.  But … does this make them heroes?

What really constitutes a hero?  To one a hero may be a mother who sacrificed so her children could go to college, to another, it maybe the image of the father he never met who made the ultimate sacrifice for his country.  So what is it that makes a hero? … sacrifice? selflessness? commitment? honor and duty?

So who is a hero? I can’t really tell you how you should define a hero.  I do know that every Veterans Day I am very uncomfortable when I am lumped in with heroes just because I put on a uniform for many years.  On the one hand, I understand and appreciate that people feel honest gratitude for those that served their country to protect the freedoms that we hold dear. Still, there are those out there that spend their whole lives with their noses to the grind stone everyday that will never get even a pat on the back or a word of encouragement for the service to society that they provide …  I am in awe of those who faithfully execute the office of “human” with little acknowledgement from us.

Yes, the military has been instrumental in maintaining our safety and security, but it is not the military that has made it great and it is not the military will spell our demise.  It is the everyday people of our society that have made our nation great and it is the everyday people who will bring it to an end.

Everyone one of us has the opportunity to be a hero. All of us can faithfully answer the human call to be selfless in our dealings with others. There is not one of us that cannot make daily sacrifices that might just benefit someone else. Who among us will take our commitment to our neighbor as seriously as we do to our favorite sports teams?  Is it possible that we could look past the bottom line and honor the duty that God entrusted to us to care for the “least of these” and “love our neighbor as ourselves.”

Who is a hero?

He is the one waiting to shed his light on those around him.

He is the one who does not care that there is no day set aside to honor him.

He loves unconditionally, it is what he was created to do.

He understands it is going to be a fight to get control.

He is powered by love and is undaunted by the task.

He is the image of the Creator.

He is within you.

The everyday hero is buried  deep within each of us. He may be covered by years of crap like bitterness, cynicism, pessimism, selfishness … you know life stains (use to be called sin). The fight is not hopeless though.  Although I seem to forget it now and then, Jesus gave us a way to find the hero and is standing by to help us become heroes.

For you say, I am rich, I have prospered, and I need nothing, not realizing that you are wretched, pitiable, poor, blind, and naked. I counsel you to buy from me gold refined by fire, so that you may be rich, and white garments so that you may clothe yourself and the shame of your nakedness may not be seen, and salve to anoint your eyes, so that you may see. Those whom I love, I reprove and discipline, so be zealous and repent. Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and eat with him, and he with me. The one who conquers, I will grant him to sit with me on my throne, as I also conquered and sat down with my Father on his throne. (Rev 3:17-21)

Why Are We “Acting the Goat”?

Acting the goat.

Disclaimer:  This article has not been written with the intent to slander goats or offend goat lovers. The goat is a time honored metaphor used to indicate diverse attitudes of humans towards each other. Goats and sheep have attitudes that serve them well considering their physical attributes and place in nature.  I apologize if comparing people to goats is offensive to the goats or their advocates.

Initially, I thought it was the political season that was starting to irritate me with just about everyone around me.  The ramp up of attack ads, manipulative Facebook promotions, and “fair & balanced” media coverage began to develop an environment began to bring out the worst of character in just about everyone I know.  Many who I thought to be loving and caring suddenly began to launch attacks those with differing views. Intelligent well intentioned individuals, attacking and countering their own friends with weapons supplied by groups trained and commissioned to develop well defined battle lines.  Observing this who process I came to realization that,it is not the process that is so vexing, it is the ease at which we allow ourselves to become transformed.

Some interesting characteristics about goats: (from http://fiascofarm.com/goats/behavior.htm#amf )

  • No matter how sweet and loving your goat may be with you, they will on occasion get violent with their herd-mates. This is the natural ways of things, and no matter how you want them to always get along, there will be occasions where your goats fight and take “pot shots” at each other.
  • Goats do not push well.  If you push them to get them out of your way, they will lean into the push.  It you want them to move, pull them.
  • They will fight between themselves to establish dominance and they will take “pot-shots” at smaller goats to show them who is boss.  There is really nothing you can do to get them not to do this – it’s what goats do.

Understanding the nature of a goat makes it very easy manipulate them.  If I push … they push back. It is easy to get them to take pot shots. In the end “There is really nothing you can do to get them not to do this- it’s what goats do”

One of my best friends realized this the other day and acknowledged his political “goatiness” on Facebook Here is the excerpt from that FB conversation:

Friend:  I’ve decided something last night and this morning. We lost. It’s that simple. So now I am going to walk away from a hobby I’ve had for a long time. I’m a political junkie I guess. I watch it, read it, and talk about it. However I feel that it’s a waste of my time.
So with God’s help I will walk away from it and spend the time doing what is far more important than this. Digging into my word, praying, preaching, and teaching my Grandson about the Lord! May God bless President Obama with the wisdom to do what is right and the strength of will to know and do God’s will! May he bless congress with the same, and may He pour out His spirit on the USA!

Response Not me. I agree the part about spending more time in the word and such. But I will always keep my eye on politics. Remember, it is when Christians turned their backs that prayer was removed from school and Roe VS Wade was passed. Now so many years later, all religions except Christianity are PC. And instead of abortion being made legal, we now get to have our tax dollars help to pay for it even if we are morally opposed it it. No, I do not think completely stepping away from politics is the answer.

My Response:  It was not when we took our eyes off politics, it was when we took our eyes off the Lord, stopped doing His work, and started acting like goats instead of sheep that we lost His blessing. When we aligned ourselves with “the most of these” instead of “the least these” we surrendered them to the enemy. Who are the least of these?  They are those little blue spots in those big red states. They are the ones stained with pain and agony of sin who we scoff at, call names, and tell to go back to where they came from. They are the one’s that someone else offered a false hope and gladly accepted it when we kept the truth to ourselves seeking only our prosperity and comfort. It will not be a politician that answers for this tragedy before His throne, it will be those who neglected the power available to change their lives yet kept it for themselves!

This exchange was not included to make a political statement.  If you are offended and angry about any of the thoughts express in the above exchange … YOU are “Acting the Goat”.  If you push back and become angry when someone pushes your button or disagrees… goat.  If you are tempted to take a “pot shot” … goat.  Is it important to you to establish dominance … you guessed it …goat.

Maybe you think being a goat is OK.  You like goats and that is who you are.  Well, all I can say is, have fun with that, but fortunately, we don’t have to be goats and we don’t have act like goats.

“When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him,then he will sit on his glorious throne. Before him will be gathered all the nations, and he will separate people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. And he will place the sheep on his right, but the goats on the left. Then the King will say to those on his right, “Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me.” Then the righteous will answer him, saying, “Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you drink? And when did we see you a stranger and welcome you, or naked and clothe you? And when did we see you sick or in prison and visit you?” And the King will answer them, “Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me.”

Then he will say to those on his left, “Depart from me, you cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. For I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me no drink, I was a stranger and you did not welcome me, naked and you did not clothe me, sick and in prison and you did not visit me.” Then they also will answer, saying, “Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did not minister to you?” Then he will answer them, saying, “Truly, I say to you, as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to me.” And these will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.” (Matt 25:31-46 ESV)

I have been acting the goat way to much and I am pretty much fed up with it.  With God’s help, I am pressing forward into the plan that He has for me and no longer pushing back.  Pot shots are kind of fun, but not at the expense of relationships.     I urge any of you that truly desire to see our world changed, commit to learning the life of the sheep and following the Shepard that will always lead us into green pastures.  If you don’t know The Shepard, I would love to introduce you.

Not convinced … listen all the way through this song … maybe you will get it.

“The Hat” – Remember the Sweat

Many athletes have crazy superstitions. Routines, clothing, food … ridiculous as it seems, these routines bring some sort of confidence to otherwise sane people.  Let’s not limit it to athletes; artists, performers, business professionals, fans, and even preachers often have routines to help get them into their “groove”.  Whatever it takes to make a person comfortable can actually help their performance.  Call it superstition or call it routine, if it helps do it.  OK, a fan’s routines really have no bearing on the outcome of a game or the performance of the athletes (except for during the NCAA Basketball Tournament when it is imperative that we never change our routine as long as UK is winning!)

marathon picThis actually has nothing to do with my subject in this post although it may at first glance seem that way.  I want to tell you about my hat. It is a simple Kentucky blue cotton ball cap with a white ‘UK’ embroidered on the front. Christmas of 2007, I received this ball cap.  If you have not been able to tell from any of my other post, we are a little bit fanatical about our C-A-T-S … CATS! CATS! CATS! so obviously this ball cap became a prized possession. In January of 2008, I began my training for the 2008 Derby Festival Marathon.  The hat became a mainstay in my running apparel.  Actually, I did not wear it for every run since I trained in some sub-freezing weather (UK Blue stocking cap), but any time I could, this hat was a part of the apparel.

This does not seem all that crazy does it?  Well how about the fact that I did not wash that hat … at all.  The closest it came to being cleaned was when I ran in the rain.  By the end of my training the hat was covered in salt. Starting to sound a bit crazy now?  As a matter of fact, I did not wash this hat until I started this new adventure!  Superstition you say?  Not exactly.

When all the nation had finished passing over the Jordan, the Lord said to Joshua, “Take twelve men from the people, from each tribe a man, and command them, saying, ‘Take twelve stones from here out of the midst of the Jordan, from the very place where the priests’ feet stood firmly, and bring them over with you and lay them down in the place where you lodge tonight.’” Then Joshua called the twelve men from the people of Israel, whom he had appointed, a man from each tribe. And Joshua said to them, “Pass on before the ark of the Lord your God into the midst of the Jordan, and take up each of you a stone upon his shoulder, according to the number of the tribes of the people of Israel, that this may be a sign among you. When your children ask in time to come, ‘What do those stones mean to you?’ then you shall tell them that the waters of the Jordan were cut off before the ark of the covenant of the Lord. When it passed over the Jordan, the waters of the Jordan were cut off. So these stones shall be to the people of Israel a memorial forever.” (Joshua 4:1-7)

One of the things that I discussed in my training journals was how much I hate to run. (Is This Fun?) It was hard, I was out of shape, and if not for the accountability of my teammates and some God given determination I would never have made it through the training.  The 26.2 miles that I ran in April was just the culmination of over 200 miles of training.  It was important when I started that race to remember all of those miles … the pain, freezing cold, the rain & snow, and all of the sweat that it was involved.  That training was my Jordan River that I crossed to escape some really tough years. “The Hat” was my memorial to the process that process that God brought me through.

A few year later, I pulled out “The Hat” for another purpose.  In the Fall of 2011 I began coaching  “The United”.  We had started together as a new team and it was my first experience coaching 11 v 11 soccer.  Few of my players had been coached in the fundamentals of soccer and were in pretty poor physical condition. We were starting from scratch.  We worked hard that Fall and made great strides, but fell short in the tournament loosing to the eventual champions.  In the Spring, we were determined to continue our progress.  We had a good season, but still had a few teams that we just could not handle.  At tournament time, I pulled out “The Hat” and explained the significance of the sweat stains and all that it represented to me.  The United took up the mantra “Remember the Sweat”.   Those guys fought hard and beat teams with superior talent to win the championship.  Not only that season, but the following Spring as well

2011 United

It is not superstition, karma, or Rafiki’s magic that brings about success.  It is the processes that we endure and the resulting character that develops us into the people we were created to be.  Unfortunately, even as we grow, it is easy to forget how far we have come and the storms we have weathered during the journey.  Forgetting often brings discouragement.  Remembering on the other hand brings hope!  What have you done to “Remember the Sweat?”

Therefore, having been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom also we have access by faith into this grace in which we stand, and rejoice in hope of the glory of God. And not only that, but we also glory in tribulations, knowing that tribulation produces perseverance; and perseverance, character; and character, hope. Now hope does not disappoint, because the love of God has been poured out in our hearts by the Holy Spirit who was given to us. (Romans 5:1-5)

But be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves. For if anyone is a hearer of the word and not a doer, he is like a man observing his natural face in a mirror; for he observes himself, goes away, and immediately forgets what kind of man he was. But he who looks into the perfect law of liberty and continues in it, and is not a forgetful hearer but a doer of the work, this one will be blessed in what he does (James 1:22-25)

Haystack Life – Live Undaunted

Warning: if you don’t like rock music … turn down your volume, but note the lyrics.  Then rock out in your own way! 

A few weeks back, I knocking out 9 miles late at night,  I was rocking to some Switchfoot and feeling pretty good about my progress.  As I jogged along, I reflected on some of the blogs I had read and people who have influenced my mini life-renaissance that is currently pushing me forward.  I have told you about a couple of these folks (Annie B and Bill).  I find myself in awe of their ability to utilize the gifts that God has placed within them to overcome adversity and still reach out to touch others. There are many others that I have watched impact lives on a consistent basis. I may not know their stories, but I think that it is safe to assume that they have had their share of adversity.  After all, bible even warns us that we will run into some bumps in the road.

I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation… ” (John 16:33a ESV)

FB whiningSo what sets these people apart from the rest of us, who are often just paralyzed by the storms of life? (or who bemoan our “tribulations” on Facebook) How is it that some people just seem to dwell on the positive, press on, and become a light instead of disappearing into the black hole of despair?  Admittedly, some people are not as susceptible to clouds of depression and a negative outlook.  Maybe it is genetic or possibly experiences in our past, or a result of negative upbringing.  Whatever it is, maybe we should just keep reading and see what the bible says about this dilemma.

“…But take heart; I have overcome the world.” (John 16:33b ESV)

Oh … take heart .. and you have overcome.  Nice …  What?  I don’t use words like “take heart”. My dark cloud of despair often throws a shadow over my faith so that I can’t see His overcoming power. I am just not getting this!

I am not usually a fan of using the Amplified Bible. (The same reason I don’t read much Charles Dickens … to many words for my tiny brain)  In this case, I like it. (I check it out whenever I run across phrases I don’t normally use)

“In the world you have tribulation and trials and distress and frustration; but be of good cheer [take courage; be confident, certain, undaunted]! For I have overcome the world. [I have deprived it of power to harm you and have conquered it for you.]”

Undaunted! I love that!  It is better than courageous; better than confident; and more than certain.  It speaks to moving forward despite the challenge. What about that challenge?  It has been deprived of power!  The only power it has over the purpose that God created me for is the power that I give it.  He created me to accomplish some things in this life and He has deprived the storms of life (pain, physical abilities, sadness, loneliness …) of the power to stop me from accomplishing all that He has for me.  I am the only one that can do that.

What am I doing with this abundant life of mine? Sure, I know I have raised 7 awesome children that are making a their own mark on the world.  Admittedly, I have a touched a life or two with my coaching and mentoring., but out of the 52 years of life that I have lived, how much of that time has progressed toward a goal that is worthy of Him whom I purportedly serve?

Have I been moving forward undaunted by adversity?  No, I have lived a “daunted” life.  I allow myself to become easily discouraged and stagnated by circumstances that do not go as planned.  Well … at least as I planned.  Are God’s plans daunted by troubles?  Of course not!  I think it is about time I realized that every moment of every day of this gift of life that He has given me is part of His plan if I choose to be a part of it.  It is about time that I start seizing every opportunity to be a part of that plan.

“Come now, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we will go into such and such a town and spend a year there and trade and make a profit”— yet you do not know what tomorrow will bring. What is your life? For you are a mist that appears for a little time and then vanishes. Instead you ought to say, “If the Lord wills, we will live and do this or that.” As it is, you boast in your arrogance. All such boasting is evil. So whoever knows the right thing to do and fails to do it, for him it is sin.”  (James 4;13-17)

Haystack

Rhythm of the Run

This past Saturday marked a key point in my training. I completed 13.2 miles so technically, I am half way to my goal.  For me, the real accomplishment was finding a rhythm in my stride.  My per-mile-pace varied by no more than 10 seconds during the entire run.  As an added bonus, I ran about a minute per mile faster than my average runs through out my training.  (only 27 seconds from my goal pace of 10 min/mile)

Based on the work that I have put in, this does not make sense. I have not been consistent in my training (Up-Downs), workouts have not included “speed work”, it was raining during my run, I could not find my phone arm-band or my “CAT Sweat Hat” (More to come on this in a future post), forgot body glide on my feet again … in other words, conditions were not optimal for a great run.  So what could possibly have made that kind of difference?

Rhythm …

During my initial recovery, one of the major goals of my physical therapy was to walk without a limp.  Hmm … Have you ever thought about what is actually happening when you limp?  More specifically, what is causes a limp when there is no pain? Although I had suffered multiple ankle sprains, broken toes, and muscle pulls, but once the pain was gone, the limp was gone as well so I never really thought about what caused my limp.  Since I was limping significantly, yet was not in pain, I had to ask, “what in the world is a limp?”  Mark my physical therapist admitted that no one had ever asked him that, but that it was a very good question (He was probably just humoring me)

thegaitcycle

So let me “sum up”.  My left leg was more weak and less flexible so my left leg “push-off” could not propel my body as far forward as my right leg.  Basically, the length of my stride was different.  Not only was the length different, but the amount of time between steps (beats) was different. So “stepstepstepstepstepstep” became “stepstep,stepstep,stepstep”.

As I learned to walk again, I concentrated on that “push-off” to even out my gait.  My limp became nearly imperceptible when I was walking.  I could still notice it when I was tired, but for the most part, I seemed to walk pretty normally.

IpodIn the past, I did not run with music. I ran in the quiet of the morning with just my thoughts and the rhythm of my breath and my the pounding of pavement to keep me company.  As I began my training several months ago, I decided that I would join the ranks of millions of other runners and stick in those headphones.  I formulated a good rock & roll playlist and off I went.  For those who do not follow my runs of my Running with the Footman FB Page, let me provide a sample; “today’s run was hot and slow, but I made it through”.  I have struggled with my pace and my endurance with the exception of two runs; a 7 mile run with Travis and an 11 mile run with Eric from TeamLLF.  Both of those runs went well because I allowed them to set the pace. (both are musicians and Travis is drummer who runs to a geeky click-track).

Last week as I began ran without the headphones when I ran late at night by myself and listened for the first time to my breathing and foot strike.  I was disappointed to realize that although there was a rhythm to my gait it was not correct.  stepstep,stepstep,stepstep.  This was not good.  I went back to my music and realized that my playlist had no consistency. Obviously this video  is not the answer to finding my muscle memory.  How was I going to get back into my running groove?

Amazing stuff this internet.  I was able to find a playlist made for my target pace!  It is a very eclectic mix, but I found that with very little effort, I could orchestrate my left foot push-off into the mix. Wow … what a difference a good kick drum can make (again this video link is not an example of a good kick drum).

mixingIn one of my other lives, I sit behind a live sound mixing board.  After 20 years of trying to mix musicians, I have found that if that rhythm section is not tight, nothing else can pull together that band.  That drummer and bass player are the glue that holds everything together and they can make or break the set.  An like the video at the top, the tempo that they set and maintain is crucial to the mission of the band.

I find myself out of rhythm and “limping” through much more of my life than I would admit.  Nothing seems quite right.  I know that I am going the right direction, but it does not feel like I will ever get there. Fatigue sets in early and hangs on and I can’t seem to pull it all together.  I really need a good rhythm section to hold this life of mine together and straighten out my gait.

“And he is before all things, and in him all things hold together. And he is the head of the body, the church. He is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, that in everything he might be preeminent. For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, making peace by the blood of his cross.
 And you, who once were alienated and hostile in mind, doing evil deeds,he has now reconciled in his body of flesh by his death, in order to present you holy and blameless and above reproach before him, if indeed you continue in the faith, stable and steadfast, not shifting from the hope of the gospel that you heard, which has been proclaimed in all creation under heaven …” (Colossians 1:17-23)