Friday, December 4, 2009

God's Provision

Since I wrote my last post, we have continued to see God's hand at work in taking care of our needs financially. He has provided several friends, colleagues and family members who have graciously contributed several thousand dollars in either gifts or loans that have enabled us to remain current on our mortgage as well as take care of several other outstanding bills.

Yesterday and today I received notification that the 20.5 days of leave that I had lost last year under similar circumstances had been recouped and sold - so we will receive several thousand dollars more by the end of next week. This is in addition to the 20.5 days of leave I have from this year that I am also in the process of selling back. Today I was also told that my DD-214 (discharge papers) would be finalized and send out next week as well, which will finally enable me to receive unemployment benefits. To top it off, today we unexpectedly received a check for $500 to use towards our expenses. Thank you, God!

All of this will see us through the month of December, and by early next year I will be receiving both Army Tuition Assistance money as well as the quarterly disbursement of my student loan funds, which should carry us on for a few more months. This will provide more time to look for a job without having the added burden of wondering how the bills will get paid now.

When I met this morning for coffee and prayer with some friends, we talked about how the Lord's Prayer reminds us to pray for "our daily bread." We don't ask for enough to last us through next week, or next year - but only enough for today. This requires us to continuously return to God (at least) on a daily basis to ask Him to graciously continue to meet our daily needs.

I am both awed and humbled to see that God is continuing to remain true to His promise to care for His children. Awed by the way in which He has used people to respond to our needs, and humbled by the fact that it is often so hard to trust Him - to truly put one's faith into action.

Although I've been in seminary for the last three years and will soon earn my Master of Divinity degree, I am convinced that the most important lessons will have been learned outside of the classroom.

I feel like I'm getting a Ph.D in faith-building, and it's all practical application.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Joy in the Midst of Suffering

Wow. It has seriously been a long time since I've posted anything. Not surprising, really - given all that's been going on these last several months. Allow me to elaborate:

Way back in January, when I had my accident, I was forced to withdraw from or extend most of my seminary classes - there was simply no way that I could keep up my studies while undergoing intensive physical therapy several times a week. Nevermind the fact that I was in a wheelchair and on some type of pain medication for much of the time. Thus, instead of graduating in June 2009, I would extend my schedule and complete my degree by the summer of 2010. So far, so good.

As for work (and income), I had been on Active Duty Special Work (ADSW) orders with the California National Guard since March 2008 doing officer recruiting for them. My history with them over the last year or so has been... well, interesting, to say the least. After an unexplained break in my orders from Nov 08 - Jan 09, I was given one more set of orders from 26 Jan - 28 Feb 09. As I was led to understand, the state would not be renewing my orders, but I would be able to continue doing my job, only I would be under the auspices of the National Guard Bureau, which oversees all the national recruiting programs.

However, a week into my new orders, I went and got myself hurt, which totally threw a wrench into the well-oiled machine that is the National Guard. *smirk*

As I lay recuperating in the hospital, my boss called my wife to see how I was doing. After chatting for a few minutes, Tamara shared with him her concern about how my orders were due to expire in a few weeks, and what would we do then? "Don't worry," he assured her, "we'll take care of him and keep him on orders for as long as he needs so he can continue to receive a paycheck and get medical care." And, true to his word, that's exactly what happened - until September rolled around.

I had been receiving 30-day orders at the end of every month that extended me for the following month (why they chose to do it this way, I have no idea). At the same time, they were working on enrolling me in the Active Duty Medical Extension (ADME) program - sort of a Wounded Warriors unit - that would keep me on orders until I was well and fully fit for duty again. Although the ADME process was only supposed to take 2 weeks to accomplish, they somehow managed to drag it out until sometime in early October. The completed packet wasn't sent to the medical board until October 8th, over 8 months from the date of my accident.

Anywho, around the last week of September, I start expecting to see a new set of orders show up in my inbox. When none appear, I start calling the folks up at HQ in Sacramento to see what's going on. Unsurprisingly, I am unable to reach anyone on the phone, nor do I get any response to my emails (this lack of communication had been endemic ever since I began working there). Finally, on October 8th I managed to get in touch with the new head recruiter at HQ who had taken over for my old boss. She informs me that my orders had ended on September 30th (duh) and that they wouldn't be renewed (what?!?). The reason I was given was that there had been budget cuts, and that I was just dead weight who was just sucking up their limited financial resources while not adding anything to their bottom line (Ok, maybe she didn't actually say it in those words, but that was the distinct impression I received).

To put it bluntly, unless there was some regulation that required them to keep me on orders, they weren't gonna do it. Period.

We went 'round and 'round on that point, but it was a battle I couldn't win. The rules, such as they are, were worded in such a way as to allow various interpretations - depending on who's doing the reading. And the budget-conscious folks at HQ weren't going to be very liberal in interpreting them in any way that would be favorable to yours truly.

So there I am, just now learning that my last paycheck was over a week ago and that I'm on my own as far as finances are concerned.

"But wait," you say, "what about that ADME packet that was finally submitted?"

Ah yes, thanks for reminding me. My last hope - to be transitioned over to a medical unit that would be able to continue to pay my wages while helping me down the road to full recovery. Surely the good folks on the medical board will see all the evidence and clear the way for me to be admitted to this program, right?

Umm, no. Unfortunately, that was not the case.

On November 18th, over a month after submitting the packet (and 9 1/2 months after my accident, for those of you who're counting), I learned that my request had been denied. I still haven't received official notification of the fact, so I have no idea what they based their decision on.

So now I'm six weeks out from my last paycheck, I have no real job prospects, and I can't even file for unemployment since the Guard hasn't seen fit to send me my discharge papers. The bills are piling up, my family healthcare has been cut off, we're having to apply for food stamps, and to top it off I'm struggling to get through a Greek Exegesis class that I'm woefully unprepared for since I had to drop out of Intermediate Greek earlier in the year.

So how do I feel?

Joyful.


Yes, you heard it right - despite all that's occurred, fairly or unfairly, my response is one of joy.

How can this be? Well for starters, I still have a lot to be thankful for. I'm alive, when the accident could've easily have been fatal. I'm recovering, when I could be crippled or worse. I'm not in pain, when it could be chronic. I have a wonderful wife and two beautiful kids when I could be alone in all of this.

But more than that, I have joy because of who I am in Christ. I'm his child, deeply loved by Him, and nothing can take that away, according to Romans 8:38-39. I am where He has put me, doing the work He has given me to do, and my strength comes from Him. Because of this, I can join Paul in saying, "I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. I can do everything through him who gives me strength." (Philippians 4:12-13)

Saturday, November 7, 2009

A Late Post about Michael Moore

Awhile back, a friend of ours sent me an email containing a message that Michael Moore had posted on his website in support of his movie "Capitalism: A Love Story." Here's an excerpt:

"Friends,
I'd like to have a word with those of you who call yourselves Christians (Muslims, Jews, Buddhists, Bill Maherists, etc. can read along, too, as much of what I have to say, I'm sure, can be applied to your own spiritual/ethical values).

I have come to believe that there is no getting around the fact that capitalism is opposite everything that Jesus (and Moses and Mohammed and Buddha) taught. All the great religions are clear about one thing: It is evil to take the majority of the pie and leave what's left for everyone to fight over. Jesus said that the rich man would have a very hard time getting into heaven. He told us that we had to be our brother's and sister's keepers and that the riches that did exist were to be divided fairly. He said that if you failed to house the homeless and feed the hungry, you'd have a hard time finding the pin code to the pearly gates.

At the same time, Wall Street bankers ("Blessed Are the Wealthy"?) are amassing more and more loot -- and they do their best to pay little or no income tax (last year Goldman Sachs' tax rate was a mere 1%!). Would Jesus approve of this? If not, why do we let such an evil system continue? It doesn't seem you can call yourself a Capitalist AND a Christian -- because you cannot love your money AND love your neighbor when you are denying your neighbor the ability to see a doctor just so you can have a better bottom line. That's called "immoral" -- and you are committing a sin when you benefit at the expense of others."

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I wrote an email response to our friend, but then thought that if I really wanted to argue against Moore's film, I should probably go to see it first. But how could I justify paying $11.50 to Michael Moore when he clearly is against capitalism, and would certainly not want to take my hard-earned money? The solution was simple: I paid to see another movie, then snuck in later to watch his as well. Moral crisis averted. I also brought a small notebook so I could recall exactly what he was saying.

But before I get to his film, I'd like to answer some of the questions he raises in his letter. First, his initial few questions strike me as a flawed premise. Is there something inherently “sinful” in creating something people want and then selling it to them at a profit? Did he and Joseph just give their stuff away? As for what form of economy & government Jesus would approve of, I think we’re trying to read too much into his purpose and goals. Jesus was apolitical – but he did tell the Pharisees to “Give to Caesar what is Caesar's,” so he at least recommended supporting whatever government one found themselves under. As far as capitalism goes, I’m sure Jesus would be against many of the excesses, but probably not the system as a whole.

I think he’s less concerned about economic systems than he is about attitudes of the heart. If your sole aim is money and you’re consumed by greed and lust for wealth, I don’t think he’d be happy with you regardless of how fair your business practices were. In theory, communism was supposed to be an egalitarian society based on common ownership of property & production – and we’ve seen how that system eventually imploded after only 70 years of practice.

As for the Bible, Michael distorts different passages and takes them out of context. Why did Jesus say what he did to the rich young ruler? Was it simply because he was wealthy? Or did he know that great wealth creates a feeling of self-sufficiency that can cause one to rely one oneself to the exclusion of God? Was it about his physical possessions or the attitude of his heart? As the saying goes, “When a man becomes rich, God either receives a great deal of money or loses a man.”

Michael mentions that “It is evil to take the majority of the pie and leave what's left for everyone to fight over.” This sounds noble enough on the surface, but what pie is he talking about? Are resources so limited that if I make a million dollars I’m somehow “robbing” others of some of that money? And I’m sorry, but I’ve never read the passage where Jesus says that all riches are to be divided fairly – maybe someone could point that one out for me. Again with the homeless & hungry, Jesus is talking about compassion – an attitude of the heart – and not about a form of government and/or an individual’s ability to gain wealth.

He probably has some good points to make in examining corporate greed and the unethical practices that many investment firms followed which led to the economic quagmire that we are now swimming in. But he loses me when he tries to take that big picture and narrow it down to you and me. I’m not denying anyone their healthcare, nor am I benefiting at the expense of anyone else.

The part that gets me the most – the pill that I have a hard time swallowing – is where he declares that he intends “to do what I can to stop this evil.” Considering that his personal net worth is somewhere north of $50 million – what exactly is he going to do? Is he going to give his money away to those who need it more than he does? Is he going to move to France as a means of protest against “evil America?” He’s not exactly known for his philanthropy – according to Peter Schweizer’s book "Do As I Say (Not As I Do): Profiles in Liberal Hypocrisy," he found that "for a man who by 2002 had a net worth in eight figures, he gave away a modest $36,000 through the foundation, much of it to his friends in the film business or tony cultural organizations that later provided him with venues to promote his books and film."

As for the movie itself, it was another example of Moore's well-known pseudo-documentary style of film-making. That is, he claims he is making a documentary, but he takes clips out of context and edits them in such a way as to support his bias, instead of presenting the facts as they are and letting his audience draw their own conclusions. Basically, it fits the definition of propaganda.

This is not to say that he doesn't have any good points to make - he does - but they're buried in all the other rubbish. For instance, he points out the pitiful wages that airline pilots make these days and how some of them are on welfare or getting food stamps to make ends meet. Ok, I agree that it seems pretty absurd to pay people who are doing such an important job little more than what they could earn working at Wal-Mart, but nobody's forcing them to do it. Their career is their choice - if they don't like the pay, they can always leave and find another job.

Despite Moore's religious-sounding letter, there was actually very little in the movie about the immorality of capitalism. He "interviews" three liberal Catholic priests - Father Dick Preston, who married Michael and his wife; Father Peter Dougherty, who married his sister; and Thomas John Gumbleton, a retired bishop of the Archdiocese of Detroit. The whole segment took maybe five minutes (out of two hours) and provided little in the way of enlightenment. Father Preston said that capitalism is evil, wrong and unjust - but provided nothing in the way of Biblical support for his opinions. Likewise, Dougherty said that capitalism was "radically evil" and Gumbleton quoted the "woe to the rich - blessed are the poor" passage, but neither gave any convincing argument from Scripture.

Of course, as expected he devoted a significant chunk of his film to bashing on Republicans. Reagan was portrayed as an actor endorsing various products, and Bush was presented as the master conspirator behind a national financial "coup d'etat" to undermine the economy and pass the bailout bill. No criticism was leveled at Obama, despite the fact that the bailout passed on his watch, and he was an ardent supporter of it, along with Pelosi, Reid, and others. In fact, a quick search will reveal that 60% of Democrats voted in support of the bill, while only 33% of Republicans did so.

The end of the film has Moore showing FDR's proposal in 1944 of a "2nd Bill of Rights" that would guarantee every American:

  • A job with a living wage
  • Freedom from unfair competition and monopolies
  • A home
  • Medical Care
  • Education
  • Recreation
While I agree that all of these things are good - and may in fact be necessary - they are in no way a "guaranteed right" for any of us. The key issue here is freedom of choice - if I choose to show up for work late or not finish my assignments, I may lose my job. If I do, that's my choice. Similarly, I may not want to go to college, buy a home or pay for health care - those are all choices that I make. It's not the government's job to provide any of those things for me (I for one would hate to see what government-sponsored "entertainment" looks like) - it's my job to decide for myself what I want to accomplish seek to meet my goals. The governments job should simply be to remove any unfair impediments - such as racism or sexism - that would stand in the way.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Ted Kennedy & King Manasseh: A Comparison

This is not a political blog; for one, I prefer to keep my political views largely to myself. For another, there are any number of bloggers who do that for a living, and whose insightsare most likely much more profound than mine would be. Having added that little disclaimer, I noticed on one of the sites I frequent a reference to the recent death of Sen. Ted Kennedy. To my surprise, several of the initial comments were so full of hatred and vitriol that I could scarcely believe what I was reading.

Now, I can't say that I approved of Sen. Kennedy's political leanings, nor many aspects of his personal life, but far be it from me to judge the contents of his heart and speculate on where he will be spending eternity.

It reminded me of the the life of Manasseh, King of Judah, told in 2 Kings 21:1-18 and later in 2 Chronicles 33:1-20.

King Manasseh “reigned in Jerusalem 55 years” (longer than Kennedy!), and “did evil in the eyes of the LORD,” even going so far as to sacrifice his own son in the fire, as an offering to the god Molech. 2 Kings 21:16 tells us that “moreover, Manasseh also shed so much innocent blood that he filled Jerusalem from end to end.” In addition to this, the king engaged in numerous forms of idolatry; worshiping the stars, practicing divination, sorcery and witchcraft, and even building altars to other gods in the temple of the Lord.

2 Chronicles 33 continues this unholy narrative by telling us that Manasseh “did much evil in the eyes of the LORD, provoking him to anger,” and that “[he] led Judah and the people of Jerusalem astray so that they did more evil than the nations the LORD had destroyed before the Israelites.”

As a result of this, the Lord brought about his capture by the Assyrians, who “took [him] prisoner, put a hook in his nose, bound him with bronze shackles and took him to Babylon.” I suppose if the narrative stopped there, or ended with a story of his gruesome death at the hands of his captors, we might feel some sense of divine justice for the evil perpetrated by this wicked man, right?

But surprisingly, the account abruptly changes course. We read in vv. 12-13 that “In his distress he sought the favor of the LORD his God and humbled himself greatly before the God of his fathers. And when he prayed to him, the LORD was moved by his entreaty and listened to his plea; so He brought him back to Jerusalem and to his kingdom. Then Manasseh knew that the LORD is God.”

I won’t claim to know all that was in Ted Kennedy’s heart. But I will say that it is indeed possible that in his waning days he “sought the favor of the LORD,” as many are wont to do in the hour of their distress. And if he did, then I believe that God heard his prayers and reassured him of His great love for him.

How grateful I am that God’s love is so limitless – that He loves me abundantly and without measure, and that He pours out this love to all His sons and daughters, whether they acknowledge Him or not. For if God were as petty and capricious as I am in extending love and offering grace and mercy, what a wretched world this would be, and with what fear and trepidation would I contemplate death and eternity!

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Rachel's visit to Disneyland

We took our daughter to Disneyland this past weekend for her sixth birthday, and let me tell you, it was quite an experience. Even if you've been before (which I have), it's a whole different ballgame when you bring a young child on their first visit to this magical place.

First of all, I have to say that I think we made the right decision in waiting until now to take her there. Six seems about the right age for a child's first visit - they're tall enough to ride most of the rides, and old enough to not be scared of the full-size characters or the skeletons/pirates that some of the rides contain. Most importantly, they can walk - which means they don't have to be pushed or carried by mom or dad all day long.

Thanks to "Disney's Salute to the Military," we got quite a deal on our tickets and hotel room. Normally, the three-day passes would cost $179 each, but I was able to get a free ticket for myself and up to five others for only $93 apiece. We also received a 50% discount on our hotel room, which was quite nice. And being close to the monorail definitely was worth the extra bucks, as it saved us a ton of time and energy walking back and forth from the park to our hotel over two days.

Here's Rachel during the "Celebrate!" street party where she got to dance with the Disney characters. I think the look on her face says it all.

During our two-day visit, there were of course a number of memorable moments. But two stand out in my mind that pretty well summarize my daughter's character. The first occurred as we were walking around Sleeping Beauty's castle in the center of the park. I spied a character dressed as the evil queen from Snow White and asked Rachel if she wanted get her picture taken with her. She said yes so we got in line to wait our turn. When she got up there and got her picture, she turned to the queen and asked, "Is the reason you're so mean because no one gives you hugs?" The queen replied, "That could be part of it." Without hesitation, Rachel then stepped up and gave her a big hug before waving goodbye and skipping off. How cute is that?

The second memory that stands out in my mind was when we went to ride Space Mountain, Disneyland's fastest, scariest roller coaster which zips and zooms in complete darkness, save for some scattered points of light that are meant to represent stars. Ever the cautious mother, Tamara wasn't at all sure that it was a good idea, but I thought it would be okay. We loaded into our "rocket ships" with Rachel sitting next to me and Tamara behind us. As we crept up the first big hill with all the flashing lights preparing us for takeoff, Rachel could barely contain her excitement. The next moment we were plunged into darkness, spinning round and round, up and down with no clue as to what was coming next. I felt her hand squeezing mine tightly, but because of the darkness I couldn't see the expression on her face. At that point, I became a bit worried. Maybe this was too much for her. Maybe she was getting scared, or worse - nauseous. What had I done to my little girl? All my fears evaporated as we slowed down and came back into the station. With a look of pure joy, Rachel beamed up at me and exclaimed, "THAT WAS AWESOME!" So it appears that I'm not the only adrenaline junkie in the family...

Of course, one can't visit a place like Disneyland with a small child and not spend a small fortune on candy, snacks, drinks, etc. And we were no exception. Normally, like most responsible parents, we try to limit our kids' sugar intake and provide healthy alternatives - like fruit (especially strawberries & blueberries, which she loves) to satisfy the ever-present sweet tooth. Well, we made an exception this time, and I think me must've tried most of the sweet stuff they had to offer - from cotton candy to Mickey Mouse-shaped ice cream bars. Here's Rachel inside the giant sweet shop on Main St. looking like, well, a kid in a candy store. I can't remember what we bought in there, but obviously it made her very, very happy!

So that's about it. Obviously, there's much, much more to tell - princesses and fairies and Mickey and Goofy and pirates and castles... but suffice it to say that it was without a doubt her best birthday yet and Disneyland still lives up to its name as "The Happiest Place on Earth" - at least in the mind of one particular six-year-old!
Happy 6th Birthday, Rachel!
We love you!

Monday, August 3, 2009

Sex in the Bible

I don't think I've ever done "book review" before, but in this case I'll make an exception. You see, I'm doing a paper for a seminary class on sex and marriage in the Old Testament and as part of my research I've been reading a book titled Sex in the Bible: A New Consideration by J. Harold Ellens. According to his biography, Dr. Ellens is "a retired Presbyterian theologian, an ordained minister, a retired U.S. Army colonel (chaplain), and a retired professor of philosophy, theology, and psychology." One would think that a person with such an impressive resume would have some worthwhile things to say on a number of theological issues, right? At least, that's what I thought - until I read his book.

Ellens' main purpose in writing this book is to point out that many Christian assumptions regarding sexuality are misguided, misunderstood or misinterpreted. He attempts to "set the record straight" on such topics as polygamy, homosexuality, adultery, and morality. So far, so good. In fact, such a work would be a welcome addition as an attempt to integrate one's faith in daily living. But Ellens goes far beyond that noble goal by injecting his own brand of morality, making assumptions that lack biblical support or evidence, and by sexualizing biblical passages that strain the credulity of any astute reader. Allow me to quote some passages from the book:

"The most interesting thing about sex in the Bible is the fact that the Bible does not moralize sex. It simply takes a matter-of-fact view of sex as a central human reality, like eating, sleeping, hunting, gathering, building, and worshipping. That is, the Bible thinks of sexuality as a common form of human creative expression. You could even say that the Bible simply thinks of sex as a valuable form of human communication and connection, and that is all there is to it."

"The Bible... assumes that sexual communion between consenting adults who have a meaningful friendship is a natural, normal, and desirable form of communication and sharing."

"The Bible... is aggressively against... promiscuous sex, incest, pedophilia, necrophilia, bestiality, adultery, homosexual behavior by heterosexual persons, and rape. It almost never mentions all other kinds of sexual behavior and assumes they are being practiced by humankind, universally, and are essential to life of God's Shalom: peace and prosperity. These would include sexual union within marriage, sexual communion between unmarried consenting adults within a meaningful friendship, and premarital sexuality between persons exploring the possibility of, or engaged in a potential marriage contract."

"The Bible says nothing about sexual relationship between two unmarried adults who have a meaningful friendship but do not intend engagement or marriage. The Bible assumes it is taking place in that it is normal; as natural a thing for humans to do as are any other forms of intimate communication."

The problem with these statements is that Ellens never qualifies them. That is, he never gives any biblical (or other) rationale for why he believes these things to be true - he just puts them out there and I guess we're all supposed to be persuaded by the weight of his many degrees and life experience. I will concede that the Bible does appear to be silent on the issue of premarital sex - at least in the New Testament, since the definition of "fornication" can be debated - but this hardly means that one can just "assume" that God is in favor of it. In the OT, premarital sex was analogous to marriage; that is, if you had sex with a virgin, you were obligated to marry her (Ex. 22:16, Deut. 22:28-29). There was an implied commitment with sleeping together that assumes that lifelong marriage is intended. Indeed, for a woman to be found not to be a virgin at the time of her wedding was grounds for her stoning (Deut. 22:1321), since such promiscuity was seen to be a disgraceful thing.

By contrast, Ellens seems to adopt the "silence is consent" method of morality - that is, unless something is expressly forbidden, it must be okay. He seems to conveniently overlook the fact that many of the modern moral dilemmas faced by us today have no mention in Scripture simply because such things as in-vitro fertilization, cloning, euthanasia, etc. were not envisioned by biblical writers. Other issues such as masturbation and abortion are not expressly mentioned either. This doesn't mean we can't uncover moral guidelines that pertain to these issues, but we don't necessarily look to the Bible to address them specifically. Ellens neatly sidesteps the moral quandary he may find himself in by simply referring to a lack of explicit biblical criticism, then shrugging his shoulders as if to say, "It must not matter then." As to where he gets this whole "meaningful relationship" thing - and what that means exactly - I have no idea.

One of the most preposterous statements made by Ellens is his claim that "obviously...heaven is a setting of holy promiscuity, where we shall enjoy total union with everyone who really delights us." He reaches this conclusion by recounting the story in Mark 12:18-27 where the Sadducees came to Jesus with the story about the widow and her seven husbands, asking whose wife she would be at the resurrection. Jesus replied, "when the dead rise, they will neither marry nor be given in marriage; they will be like the angels in heaven." Call me unenlightened, but this doesn't seem to be an "obvious" conclusion to make in this case.

I won't go into his whole chapter on homosexuality, but one claim he makes at the outset is quite telling. He says that "Recent brain tissue studies persuade us that sexual orientation is inborn and preset at conception." Since one of the key arguments in favor of legitimizing homosexuality has long been that they were merely "born that way," it is obviously in their favor to find some evidence to support this assertion. But in Ellens' case, of course, he cites no particular study to buttress this argument - he just throws it out there and hopes (again) that no one will notice his lack of scholarly support.

In case it isn't immediately obvious by now, I found this whole book to be an exercise in frustration. No doubt there are some good and healthy views to be gleaned from its pages, but they are overshadowed (in my view) by the specious claims of the author whose effort, if not his intent, is to make Christian sexuality no different from the ambiguous morality of the surrounding culture.

Thanks, but no thanks.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Margaritaville

I realize that I haven't posted anything on here for quite a while, and am aware that the two people who actually read this blog must be wondering what's happened to me. Well, I'll get to that, but before I do I thought I would share with you all my personal recipe for my favorite summer drink - margaritas!



Ingredients:
2 oz. good tequila ( I prefer Sauza Hornitos)
1 oz. triple sec (or Cointreau, if you have the $)
1 oz. Midori melon liqueur
fresh lime juice (key limes are great if you can find them)
4 oz. margarita mix

Directions:
Fill a shaker with ice and add all ingredients. Shake vigorously and strain into a margarita glass (or whatever you can find). Enjoy!

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Rethinking things

Awhile back, I posted the reasons why I'm not a Navy chaplain. These were the answers I'd come up with back in 2006 when I first put in my paperwork to resign from the Marine Corps and accept a commission in the Army's chaplain candidate program. Given my past, and the number of years I'd served in the Corps, the reasons were valid, and I believe it was the right decision to make at the time.

Now, after three years of seminary, I've had reason to reassess and reevaluate those same reasons.

You see, according to some friends (both Army chaplains, BTW), the Army is currently at 108% for the Chaplain Corps - so they're overstrength. This is due to a number of reasons I won't get into here, but suffice it to say that they're having to take active measures to reduce their overall number. In the long run, it will mean that promotion to Major (O-4) will be more competitive, and will take longer to get there (8-9 years vs. the current 7-8 year timeframe). Also, they are instituting a new 3-year contract for newly assessed chaplains, which could mean that you get pushed out the door pretty soon after you just got started. And there's also the distinct possibility that I could get all done with school and ordination only to find out that my services aren't needed at the moment, and why don't I apply again next year?

The Navy, on the other hand, appears to be about 70 chaplains short at present, which means that - all things being equal - I would stand a much greater chance of immediately going on active duty after seminary with the Navy vice the Army. And, having spoken with a Navy chaplain (who's also a former Marine) down at the Marine Corps Recruit Depot in San Diego, there wouldn't appear to be much difficulty in spending a lot of my time with the "green" side (Marines), should I choose to do so. And, the optempo for both the Navy/Marine Corps is much different - deployments run 6 or 7 months to the Army's 12. On top of all that, Tamara's family is all here in San Diego, and mine is all on the east coast - where there's an abundance of both Naval Stations and Marine Corps Bases to choose from. Heck, we could spend my entire career just on one side of the country if we wanted!

In light of these new developments, I've started to reexamine my original decision for not pursuing the Navy chaplaincy. And, I've been somewhat surprised to find that most of the reasons I posted not four months ago are no longer valid. Maybe it's the fact that I've been out of the Corps for over three years, and time has allowed me to gain some perspective. Perhaps it's the fact that I've grown in my vocational identity to the point where I would no longer be conflicted about serving with Marines. Or maybe, just maybe, God wanted to test my resolve and see if I was really willing to lay down something dear to me for His sake - only to find in the end that He gives it back to me. Kind of like Abraham being told to sacrifice Isaac in Genesis 22.

I'm still not sure what I'll do with all this information - for one thing, I'm still on medical orders with the Guard, so I won't have to make an immediate decision. But I do feel a sense of freedom about it all, as though the Lord has put it back into my hands again.

So who knows, I may end up switching services (and uniforms) yet again.

And you know what? I'd be ok with that.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Medical Update

Wow, I hadn't realized that it's been over month since my last post. For those who are interested, I'll try to recap what's been going on:

Three weeks ago I had another medical procedure performed called an MUA, which stands for Manipulation Under Anesthesia. Basically, they numbed up my arm and then worked the wrist back and forth to break up all the scar tissue that had formed since the operation. By all accounts it was a success, and I was surprised to see my wrist move with something close to the flexibility it had before the accident. Now the question was, could I maintain it?

In order to take advantage of the situation, we scheduled daily therapy appointments for the next 2 1/2 weeks. Since we live 35 miles away from the naval hospital, we decided that it would be impractical to try to drive down there every day for my sessions, especially since I wasn't cleared to drive yet and my wife would have to act as my chauffeur. It would be much better if I could get a room down there and simply walk to my appointments, with the added benefit that I could get some schoolwork done down there as well.

Since I'm in the process of being transferred to the Warrior Transition Unit, or WTU, I decided to go see the unit commander there at the hospital about getting a room. After I explained my situation to him, he told me that it simply wasn't possible - the quarters were for enlisted personnel and officers weren't allowed to stay there. The nearest Bachelor Officer Quarters, he told me, were down the road at the 32nd Street Naval Station. "That's fine," I said, "but how am I going to get my appointments, since I can't drive?" "Oh," he replied, "we'll have a driver pick you up." "Ok, but how am I going to get around down there - I can't get too far on my crutches, and there's no mess hall or restaurants nearby." He had no answer for that, so he simply repeated the fact that he was sorry but no rooms were available. Too bad.

Not being one to take no for an answer, I left his office and went down to the hospital's Patient Admin office and spoke to the sailors there. They in turn called in the Chief, and I told her my story. She immediately said that she would "take care of it" and I could check-in the following Monday. Sure enough, when I arrived Monday morning she was waiting with a letter signed by the Navy commander in charge of the barracks authorizing me to stay there for the next three weeks. The Army liaison at the barracks was a little miffed that I hadn't going through "proper channels" to work my request, but a short and one-sided conversation with the Chief was enough to change his state of mind and by the time it was over he was all too willing to get me squared away in my new quarters. As anyone in the Navy will tell you, if a Chief can't get it done, then it simply can't be done or isn't worth doing. :)

Now, three weeks later, I'm back at home. I've managed to retain somewhere around 80% of the flexibility I had immediately following the manipulation, which is good. I'm still working on being able to rotate my arm palm up (supination), but that too is progressing. As an added bonus, I was recently given the all clear by the doctor who operated on my ankle to finally lose my air cast and began walking on my own. I still have a bit of a limp, but that should clear up once my joint gets more stretched out.

Thanks to everyone for their prayers and words of encouragement - God has been faithful! And BZ to the Navy's CPO association for getting things done!

Apologetics 101

For those who haven't stopped by there yet, Neptunus Lex is one of my favorite blogs - authored by a retired Navy Captain and former F-18 pilot (callsign "Lex") who has a knack for writing and who also tells some wonderful sea stories.

Yesterday, he posted a bit about The Atlantic's Ross Douthat and his essay up on the New York Times entitled “Dan Brown’s America." Quite unexpectedly (for me), this led to some critical comments on the veracity of Scripture and Christianity in general and prompted my response to those allegations. Since the "core group" of Lex's readers is relatively small, the same people tend to post repeatedly, and one gets to almost know them over time. My "handle" is MajHarvey, and since I've been an active reader for nearly 5 years, most of his followers are pretty much aware of my views and the fact that I'm pursuing the chaplaincy. Hence, I figured that it was almost expected that I would have some sort of response to the challenges to my faith. The gauntlet was being thrown down, as it were.

Take a look for yourself and see how it went - if you're so inclined, feel free to jump into the fray and post your own response to the issue(s) being discussed.

Saturday, May 16, 2009

School Update

Awhile back I posted about my struggles with Greek, and all the work I had to do to stay on track to graduate this June. After much thought and prayer, and upon the recommendation of my advisor, I've decided to drop my Greek classes - as well as a few others - and take a reduced course load this quarter, the better to focus on my recovery & rehabilitation.

Although I was not able to get a refund for the classes I had already signed up for, the registrar worked out an acceptable solution - I'll take an "incomplete" for the courses I had to withdraw from during the Winter and Spring quarters, then will audit them again when they come around next year. I'll do the homework then, and the professor will simply enter a change of grade once they grade my assignments. This way, not only do I not have to pay for another course ($1300 per class), but this arrangement also ensures that an "F" grade does not show up on my transcript - which would've been the case if I'd simply dropped the courses.

What this means in practical terms is that my graduation timeline has been pushed back - instead of graduating this June and finishing my remaining classes in December, I'll now be finishing everything and graduating in June 2010. Naturally, I was a little perturbed at this initially, but I've come to realize that this is the best (and most realistic) course of action. It simply was untenable for me to "make up" ten hours of credit while simultaneously taking another twelve hours of classes this quarter - all while trying to fit in therapy sessions 3x/week.

I feel a great sense of peace in this decision, and know that God has a plan for all of this - I just need to keep in mind that I'm operating according to His timeline, not my own.

Saturday, April 11, 2009

Laying It down

I've been watching a show called Top Sniper on the Military Channel recently, and I have to admit that it made me a bit nostalgic. Watching those guys engaging targets with their scoped-out rifles while adjusting to the terrain, wind, and various obstacles made me wish that I could be a part of it.

You see, I love to shoot.

This started back when I was six years old and received a BB gun for my birthday. My dad and I used to go out in our backyard and set up skeet for me to plink at. It was there that I learned the fundamentals of marksmanship as well as how to handle a weapon safely. This would be further refined over the years as I learned to hunt dove, squirrels, ducks, deer, and other wildlife with my dad and brothers in the woods and marshes of Georgia and Virginia. Eventually, the Marine Corps would build upon this solid foundation and teach me to hit a target consistently at up to 500 yards using the open sights of my M-16A2 service rifle. My dream was to one day be assigned to the Marine Corps Rifle and Pistol Team and compete in enough matches to earn the coveted Distinguished Rifle and Pistol badges. Alas, it was not to be...

But that didn't mean I couldn't try.

Since all Marines are riflemen, and since officers are required to qualify with both rifle and pistol, I had ample opportunity to show my stuff on the range on an annual basis. In boot camp, the weeks we spent on the rifle range were my favorite times, if anything can be considered favorable during those hellacious 12 weeks. The reason was simple - on the range the DIs couldn't mess with you - it was just you, your rifle, and the target. No distractions, just you in your own little world. I loved it. Unlike others who worried about getting enough points to qualify, my only concern in those days was to see how high I could score in the Expert category. In fact, at one point I held the range record at Camp Pendleton with a score of 63 out of 65 - a mere two points away from a "possible," or perfect score; a record that would remain unbroken until just a few years ago. Eventually, I would earn multiple awards for consistently shooting Expert with both rifle and pistol - as denoted on the requalification bars on the different badges:

This would be enough for many Marines; indeed, most would be quite proud of this achievement.

But I wanted more - I want to compete in an actual match. I finally got my chance in the spring of 1999 when I heard that Camp Pendleton would be hosting the Pacific Fleet/All Navy matches. I found out that my regiment - 11th Marines - would be putting together a team, and that they needed a "tyro," or new shooter who'd never competed before. After begging my CO for permission, I was granted TAD to shoot with the team. The only problem was that the competition was only a few weeks away, and none of us had much time to get familiar with the weapons we would be using - M-14s for the rifle competition, and .45s for the pistol matches.

Still, we did the best we could with the time we had, and by the time the competition rolled around we were as ready as we would ever be. Among our fellow competitors would be SEAL teams, Recon Marines, and marksmanship units from other services. Quite an impressive lineup. In the end, though, our team would go on to take first place in the team matches for both rifle and pistol, have our pictures taken for the base newspaper, and I would earn an individual bronze medal for the Excellence in Competition (EIC) pistol match.

Sadly, those glory days are long past. To add insult to injury, as a (future) chaplain I am forbidden from even carrying a weapon, much less shooting one - not even in training. It may not seem like much, but this was a hard thing for me to give up - to sacrifice on the altar as it were. But, I know that I'm answering a higher calling and that certain desires must be set aside in order to accomplish the mission that God has set before me. I don't regret it - not even a little bit - but I still feel a longing as I watch the show and wonder what might have been if I had pursued a different path.

I think I would've made a pretty good sniper.

But, I have to admit, I'm pretty pleased with the fact that the Army at least allows me to wear my EIC badge on my new uniform - I figure it lets the troops know that I'm not a complete pogue. :)

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

It Could Always Be Worse...

Well, it's been a little more than two months since my accident and I have to admit that my recuperation is progressing well, albeit slowly. But even with all the support of my family and friends, there have still been days where I've found myself frustrated, anxious or depressed about my injuries and the length of time it will take before can return to full duty. Sometimes the emotions were so strong it was almost overwhelming, and I would find myself engaging in self-pity, wondering why all this had to happen. I imagine it's pretty easy to feel that way when you're the only one you know with injuries like this.

That all changed for me last week.

I was down at Balboa Naval Hospital for another session of occupational therapy, and noticed the guy sitting next to me at the table. Like me, he was doing some exercises with his injured hand in an effort to increase its flexibility. In an effort to strike up some conversation I asked him what had happened. He responded by lifting the sleeve of his T-shirt, revealing an ugly-looking series of scars and skin grafts that wrapped around his upper bicep. It turned out that he too had been involved in a motorcycle accident, except in his case he had been forced into the guard rail which resulted in the muscles of his right arm basically being stripped off. Though the surgeons had been able to reattach them, there was still a significant amount of nerve damage. He could still move his fingers, but his hand hung limply from his wrist. He said the doctors would eventually have to fuse the wrist so that he'd at least be able to have some use of his hand.

Wow. And I thought I had it bad...

As I was considering my own injuries in light of this fellow's circumstances, I happened to notice another young man entering the therapy room. Like me, he was in a wheelchair; unlike me, I saw that he would never leave it. You see, both of his legs had been amputated at the knee - one above and one below, and his right arm was encased in a cast from his elbow to his fingertips.

I didn't get an opportunity to hear his story, but the effect it had on me was profound. Though my injuries are the worst I've ever experienced in my life, they pale in comparison to what others have to deal with. My prognosis is good - the doctors are confident that I'll eventually walk and run again, and will regain full (if somewhat limited) functionality in my wrist. It all came home to me - in a way that it never had before - that it all could have been so much worse. I could easily have been either of those two guys in the therapy room, or even worse. By God's grace and mercy I only sustained a few broken bones, neither of which were life-threatening, and which (hopefully) won't seriously impact my life or future plans beyond this year, Lord willing.

Oh, I still get frustrated from time to time - but it's not the same as it was before. Instead, I find myself focusing more on finding things to be grateful for.

And that list never ends.

Monday, March 30, 2009

It's All Greek to Me

I've recently become aware of one of the most colossal blunders I've made during my time in seminary. Allow me to explain:

As an M.Div. student, I'm required to take either Greek, Hebrew, or a combination of both.

I chose Greek.

I took the first course in the fall of 2006, and did okay - ending up with a C. So far, so good. But then I took a wrong turn; my professor, Mark Strauss, took a sabbatical and his replacement took over the next course with an entirely different teaching method. Soon, I felt myself sinking and decided to simply withdraw from the course rather than risk failing. I thought I'd just pick it up again the next year when Mark was back and go from there - after all, how much difference could one year make?

Unexpectedly, I was faced with a dilemma when the next year rolled around: a new course called "The Ethics of War" was being offered, but it conflicted with the Greek class I had intended to take. Thinking that the ethics class would be much more valuable to my future career, I opted to take it instead, thus putting Greek off for yet another year. Bad move.

Finally, I resumed my Greek studies in January 2009, more than two years since my last Greek class. I quickly found that I had barely retained anything from my previous class, and began cramming to catch up. However, unlike most other classes, one does not "cram" Greek. It has to be built layer upon successive layer, starting with a firm foundation - which I lacked. To make matters worse, my accident occurred in the middle of all this, causing me to miss several weeks of classes and fall even further behind.

Though my professor was kind enough to grant me an extension to complete the course, this means that I now have to hastily work to build and strengthen my foundation of Greek knowledge while simultaneously enrolling in Intermediate Greek this quarter.

And all of this while I still have make-up work from other courses, 12 hours of new courses (Greek included) to complete, a senior Statement of Faith to finish, and my physical therapy sessions to attend three times a week!

So keep me in your prayers, as it's going to be a long, hard road these next 10 weeks.

Sunday, March 29, 2009

Brothers at War & Jon Voight

In case you haven't heard, there's a new documentary in town called "Brothers at War." Unlike the recent spate of anti-American films on the Iraq war, which paint our soldiers as confused, angry, or psychopathic killers (Lions for Lambs, Stop-Loss, In the Valley of Elah, etc.), Brothers at War is a relatively simple story of one brother's quest to understand the motivation behind two of his brothers' decisions to serve in the Army and deploy (repeatedly) to Iraq.

As the oldest of four brothers, Jake Rademacher travels to Iraq to see his brother Isaac, an Army captain. After several weeks there, he returns home somewhat cocky, thinking he now understands his brothers and discovers that his youngest brother Joe still doesn't think he "gets it,"since he only spent a short time over there. So he goes back again, this time embedding with a Marine Corps mobile training team and their Iraqi counterparts. He goes out on numerous missions and patrols with them, and is present when an IED explodes only a few hundred yards away from him, wounding several of the Iraqis. He returns home much more subdued than before, but he has accomplished his goal - he has finally earned the respect of his brothers.

This is no big-budget, Hollywood film; rather, it was shot on a shoestring budget with money raised from a handful of supporters in Decatur, IL (the producer's hometown). The only reason it was able to make the leap to the "big screen" was due to the efforts of Jon Voight & Gary Sinise, both of whom are huge supporters of the military. Voight saw an early screening of the film and called Sinise, telling him "You gotta get in on this project!" Gary signed on as executive producer, and was key in helping getting it released into theatres, albeit on a limited basis.

Oceanside, CA happened to be one of the 25 locations nationwide where the film opened this past weekend, and I was able to convince my father-in-law, Fred, to accompany me. Little did we know that we would have our brush with fame before the evening ended...

We headed out to the 4:45 showing, and made it just in time, with Fred pushing me in my wheelchair. As we rolled inside, we were met by some ladies with Soldiers' Angels, an awesome group whose goal is to help out servicemembers in any way they can. As we stood (or sat) there chatting with them, who should walk in but Jon Voight! Seeing me in my wheelchair, he walked right up and shook my hand. As I rose to stand on my one good leg, he asked me questions about myself as the SA ladies began snapping pictures. When he asked me how I'd been injured, I was quick to point out that it hadn't happened "over there" in Iraq or Afghanistan, but rather was the result of a recent motorcycle accident. I went on to tell him about my 18 years of service in the Marines and my ongoing efforts to finish seminary and become an Army chaplain. He seemed genuinely impressed with my commitment to serve our troops, even if it meant returning to a combat zone without a weapon in order to minister to their needs.

Jake Rademacher, myself & Jon Voight

The SA ladies quickly gathered around and began snapping pictures, and at one point Jake Rademacher came over and joined us for the impromptu photo op. My father-in-law didn't waste the opportunity either. While Voight stood munching my popcorn, Fred told him about his idea for a new movie about his favorite Civil War character, Nathan Bedford Forrest. To my surprise(!), Voight appeared interested and even pulled out a small pad of paper to take down the details - even going so far as to ask "So what part would I play?" After thinking about it for a bit, Fred replied that he thought Jon could play the role of Forrest's chaplain, while Forrest himself might be played by Brad Pitt. "I understand you're some relation to him, aren't you?" Fred asked with a straight face, to Jon's wry amusement.

Later, after the movie was over, we had the opportunity to sit in on a Q&A session with the film's producer, Jake Rademacher himself. He did a great job explaining his motivation in making the film as well as conveying a deep sense of respect for all those who serve in the military.

So if you get a chance, please go see this film - especially if you can make it by next weekend, since box office receipts from the first two weeks are used to determine whether or not a film will receive wider release. This is definitely the type of film that the American public needs to see - not a slick Hollywood production, but a simple glimpse into the lives of our average - yet extraordinary - servicemembers and their families, and the ideals which caused them to put their lives on the line for their country.

Oh, and if you happen to hear about a movie called "Wizard in the Saddle" about the life and times of Nathan Bedford Forrest in the next few years, you'll know where it came from...

Friday, March 13, 2009

More Good News

Just got back from two doctor's appointments today - one with the physical therapist for my wrist, the other with the orthopedic surgeon who operated on my ankle. Good news on both fronts!

The physical therapist was impressed with the level of progress I'd made in just the time since my visit with her last week; I have much greater flexibility in my fingers, although my wrist movement is still very limited. The surgeon was also very happy about how well my ankle is healing; so much so that my hard cast was tossed out and I was given a new "air" cast, which basically looks like a giant ski boot, complete with an assortment of Velcro straps. Best of all, it's removable, which means I can finally wash my leg and foot! (Trust me, it looks pretty grody)

He also told me that I can begin putting weight on it in about two more weeks - but no more than 20-30 lbs. in conjunction with my new crutches. Best of all, he said that in only four weeks I should be able to walk around with my air cast - so I can finally bid farewell to my wheelchair! Yay!

Even though I know this healing process is going to be a long one ("Like training for the Olympics," said one surgeon), I'm still very encouraged to see how my body is beginning to respond to even the small exercises I'm able to do at this point. Praise God!

Monday, March 9, 2009

Is it me or God?

We had an interesting discussion in our small group this evening. In talking about the Fruits of the Spirit, the question arose as to what portion of developing these attributes was the Spirit's work and what amount was a conscious effort on our part. Certainly, arguments can be made for both sides - the Bible clearly teaches that the Spirit is at work in our lives; yet on the other hand, our efforts can certainly either help or hinder the growth of that fruit.

So what is the answer to that question? Where does the line fall between the Holy Spirit's work and my own efforts?

To me, this represents another angle of the age-old question that arose between Calvin and Arminius concerning salvation and free will. I'm not going to take sides here, because to me the point is moot.

Why should I be concerned with whether my responsibility is 1%, 50% or 90%? The fact of the matter is that I have some God-given responsibility - so my primary concern should be in carrying out that responsibility to the best of my abilities. God, in His infinite wisdom, has seen fit to allow me a role in the work of His Kingdom - my job is simply to be a willing participant in that work. The more attuned I am to the Holy Spirit, the more I'm able to recognize opportunities to advance the Kingdom as they come my way. Likewise, if I'm out of tune I not only fail to recognize those opportunities presented to me but I may in fact do damage by insisting on handling things MY way - not God's way. But even then all is not lost, for God is still able to take even my mistakes and use them for good.

I can't say how much a relief it is to know that my personal spiritual development does not depend solely on my own efforts. At the same time, it gives me great encouragement to know that God has invested me with a key role to play in events of eternal significance.

Sunday, March 1, 2009

The Slow Process of Healing

Well, it's been nearly a month since my accident and by all accounts I'm mending properly. Still, it's a hard thing to get used to - especially being cooped up in a wheelchair, having little or no personal freedom, and depending on others to do many of the simple tasks that one normally takes for granted. While I'm still amazed at the doctors' ability to reconstruct and repair the human body, and the body's own miraculous God-given ability to repair itself - I still find myself impatient that the process seems to take so long.

Yesterday was one of those days where it all just kind of hit me at once. I felt useless, trapped, frustrated, and a little stir-crazy from basically sitting around the house for the past few weeks. Even my recent effort to return to school last week was somewhat thwarted as I found myself unbelievably tired and worn out after only a few hours of attempted study. I had to go and lay down on the couch in the lobby with my arm and leg elevated and rest for awhile just to summon enough strength to sit through my three-hour Greek class.

Still, I'm trying to remain open to what God has to teach me through all of this. One important lesson I believe I'm learning is an increased empathy for the wounded veterans I will be dealing with in the future. Though my injuries aren't as severe, and will heal with time, I now know what it's like to be a cripple, and to have one's life placed "on hold" for the time being. I know the teeth-grinding frustration of chronic pain, and the havoc it can create with one's emotional stability. I know the embarrassment of bodily functions suddenly gone haywire, and of the creeping despair as one wonders whether or not his body will ever become "whole" again.

I'm grateful to be surrounded by loving friends and family, and am becoming increasingly aware of the role they play in the healing process, especially as it relates to keeping my morale up.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Iron Man

Well, I had another visit to the orthopedic clinic today, and managed to get a copy of my x-rays while I was there. The stitches in my wrist came out as well, and I actually got to help out with that part by holding them with the tweezers while the corpsman cut them with a small surgical blade. Very interesting to be involved in one's own suture removal procedure, lemme tell ya.

This here's my left wrist, post-surgery, obviously. Though you can only make out two, there's actually three plates in there, with something like 18 screws holding everything in place. The weird thing is that when I have my cast off, I can actually feel the hardware in there, which is a bit unnerving.

I've still got a long ways to go with the physical therapy, as I can't really flex my hand forward or backwards much, and can't quite make a fist just yet.

Here we have my right ankle, with what looks like about a 4 or 5-inch steel plate with 8 screws holding it in place. If you look closely at the bottom of my tibia, you can see what appears to be multiple fractures down there. I don't know if there really are that many, but it sure looks pretty cool.

What you can't see is the fracture in my fibula, the thin bone on the left. I'm told it was broken a few inches below my knee, which means the force had to travel between the two bones, which also means there's some risk of damage to the ligament between the two bones. Although the doctors could've done another operation to screw the two bones together (and there was much debate on the subject), they ultimately decided that everything was aligned as it should be, and additional surgery was (thankfully) unnecessary at this point.

Obviously, I'm very grateful that this is the extent of my injuries - motorcycle accidents have a nasty way of turning out very, very badly for the rider. However, I am getting a little tired of the knowing looks and self-righteous mini-lectures from the medical staff when they find out that I was in a *motorcycle accident*, but I suppose that they see this kind of thing all too often, and that undoubtedly colors one's perceptions somewhat.

Of course, all these plates and screws means I'll never have a normal airline flight at any time in the foreseeable future...

Thursday, February 12, 2009

God's Timing

You know, a funny thing about being one who is "in need" (as opposed to having everything in order and simply trying to maintain the status quo) is that the Lord has a remarkable gift for bringing just the right people into your life at just the right time. Allow me to illustrate:

Around Thanksgiving 2005, I was beginning to think seriously about pursuing the chaplaincy. One of the first orders of business was to decide where to go to seminary, obviously. Since it was important to both my wife and me that we be near family, I had narrowed the choice down to two places in Southern California: Talbot School of Theology and Bethel Seminary San Diego.But I couldn't decide between the two schools. Then my wife and I attended an OCF retreat. There we got to know Chaplain Fred Robinson and his wife, who taught many of the classes that weekend. Just before we left, we happened to sit with them at lunch. When he heard that I wanted to become a chaplain, he naturally wanted to know where I was going to go to seminary. I told him my two choices - and my dilemma, and was surprised to find out that he had degrees from each of them! He told me everything I wanted to know about both schools, and based on his recommendations I chose Bethel, which has proved to be the perfect place for me.

Another example of this occurred just this past week. I have been a long-time reader of a blog called "Neptunus Lex," written by a now-retired naval aviator whom I've actually had the pleasure of meeting a few times. He posted a brief article about my accident, and asked his readership to wish me well. A few days later, I was contacted by a woman who also happens to live nearby and is the Assistant to the President of an organization called Soldiers' Angels, whose purpose is to provide support for servicemembers in many different ways. When she heard about my situation, she offered to check and see what she could do for us. Imagine my surprise when she called the next day and told us she had been authorized to purchase me a brand new laptop with voice recognition software! Not only that, but she came by the same day to deliver it and help set it up and get it linked in with our desktop computer.

Now I no longer have to wheel myself out to the garage and sit there trying to type with one hand while my injured leg gradually begins to throb because I am unable to elevate it. Instead, I can now work from the comfort of my bed, allowing my body to heal while still keeping my mind engaged with schoolwork and blogging.

My friend Jay Tobin once gave me this bit of knowlege; he said that "God is rarely early, never late, and always on time." I'm continuing to find out just how true that is.

Why I'm Not a Navy Chaplain

Ok, this is the question I've gotten most frequently when people hear of my prior Marine service (18 yrs) and then find out that I'm planning on being an Army chaplain. To be honest, it was a bit of a struggle for me, as I had originally planned on doing exactly that, and it took quite a bit of work for me to change my mind.

Briefly then, here is my reasoning:

- First, having spent so many years in the Marines, my desire (as a chaplain) would be to continue that by serving with Marine units whenever/wherever possible. This in itself isn't a bad thing, but I felt that I would in some ways be less-than-enthusiastic about the (necessary) assignments I would have to have with the "blue" side - those strictly Navy assignments where there's not a Jarhead in sight. I felt that I would in some ways be "chomping at the bit" to get back to "my" Marines, and that my ministry to those sailors might suffer as a result.

- Next, I also believed that my wanting to be a "Marine chaplain" had something to do with my continued ability to wear the Marine uniform and associate with my fellow "devil dogs." All of which seemed to boil down to a pride issue - I didn't want to give up the pride that came with being affiliated with the Marine Corps, and pride isn't exactly the best trait to have as a chaplain - humility is much better.

- Lastly, I felt that when I was with the Marines, there might be a tendency to want to revert to a Marine officer mentality; that is, I could potentially forget my proper role as a chaplain and instead let my 12 years as a Marine officer begin to color my advice and recommendations - all of which would run counter to my ultimate purpose and efforts as a chaplain.

In the end, I realized that I had to be willing to give up all those personal pride issues that were so near and dear to me, and get down to what really mattered: serving those men & women in our nation's armed forces by ministering to their spiritual, mental and emotional needs. Now, as a soon-to-be Army chaplain, I find that my clarity of purpose is much better; every time I don my Army ACUs I am again reminded that it's not all about me - it's not about the uniform, the rank, or any of the shiny bits they may give me to wear. It's about service. As the Apostle Paul said, "I have become all things to all men so that by all possible means I might save some. I do this for the sake of the gospel, that I might share in its blessings..."
- 1 Corinthians 9:22-23, NIV

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Things Break


(Note: this post was typed over several days at Balboa Naval Hospital. With one hand.)

Well, I suppose it had to happen eventually - at least according to the safety statistics my father used to throw at me in my younger days: I had an accident, Not just any accident, mind you - but the dreaded motorcycle accident. No falling down the stairs/slipping on ice/tripping over the curb mundane wonks for yours truly - no sir!

It began as a very normal - maybe even unusually good Friday morning. I had pried myself out of bed to meet some buddies for our weekly 0600 coffee & muffins Bible study at Pannikin's in Encinitas. There I splurged and got one of their excellent cinnamon rolls, with no idea that this tasty pastry would be my "last meal" until Sunday evening. After sharing some prayer and camaraderie with my buddies, I headed to Vista for some personal training with another buddy of mine, Van. You see, Van and I have known each other for almost 15 years. We were roommates at artillery school back in 1995, then were assigned to the same Marine unit here at Camp Pendleton, where we did a "WestPac" deployment together, then ended up as roommates again up until we both left the Corps in 1999 - me temporarily; him permanently. Though we'd stayed somewhat in contact over the years, it had only been in the past year or so that we'd begun renewing our friendship. So when he told me that he was opening up a small gym in Vista to do personal training, I thought it would be a perfect chance to kill two birds with one stone. I would be able to see my friend on a regular basis, AND I would have someone who knows me to encourage me in my efforts to get back in better shape. Oh, and since he's a self-described agnostic, I get a lot of time to talk to him about God. (Van, if you're reading this, yes, I am trying to convert you...)

So I showed up at 0800 and went through an hour of cardio/core training, then headed home to get cleaned up. I didn't have much on the schedule, but had been invited to attend a luncheon at Bethel Seminary with our guest speaker at noon, so I decided to get down there with plenty of time to spare. Being a "typical" day here in sunny SoCal, I decided that a ride on my "Trusty Triumph" would be just the thing. Despite the warmth, I still put on my heavy-duty Vanson leather jacket, little realizing that this garment would live up to its well-deserved reputation for durability less than an hour later. I headed down the I-15 for the 30-mile run to school, a trip I'd made countless times since purchasing my bike last May. The weather was beautiful, the sun was shining, traffic was relatively light, and I even got to zip along in the HOV lane for part of my journey - what could possibly ruin such a perfect day?

Plenty, as it turned out.

I was only a few miles from the seminary, heading east on I-8 as I entered the off-ramp for College Ave. I could see that the far end of the ramp was blocked with traffic, so I eased off the throttle in order to increase the gap between me and the guy in font of me for the inevitable slowdown. That's about when it happened. Some guy in the next lane to my left decided that gap was meant for HIM, so he darted into the space, unaware of the traffic piling up only a few hundred yards further down. I imagine that a few seconds later he had an "Oh crap!" moment as he realized that the equation [Mass • Velocity = Momentum] was about to interject itself in a very hard and fast way. So he did what any other knucklehead would've done - he slammed on his brakes. Since I had insufficient time to re-establish a safe gap between us since his abrupt lane change, I was forced to do the same thing.

Funny thing about motorcycles - you can hit the brakes pretty darn hard when you're straight & level, and she'll respond fine; just hunker down a tad as the front forks absorb the weight shifting and deceleration. In an uphill curve? Not so much.

So, I ended up laying her down on the right side going maybe 30mph, which wouldn't have been nearly so bad had not my right foot gotten caught underneath (causing multiple spiral fractures in my tibia) or had I not been thrown forward onto my left hand (shattering the wrist to such a degree that it took 3 plates, 4 wires and 18 screws to put the pieces back together).

X-rays of both my left wrist and right ankle (pre-surgery)

You can see how the bones on the wrist are all pushed over to the side - what you can't see is all the little bone fragments from my radius that were sheared off by the impact. It would take the doctor 6 1/2 hours of surgery to put it all back together.

On the right is my right ankle, with a couple of pretty nasty spiral fractures at the bottom of my tibia. I would also need a 5" long steel plate screwed into the bone to hold everything together.

And no, I have no idea what that thing on my hand is.

-----------------------------------------

Now, after 10 days at Balboa Naval Hospital and two (successful) surgeries, I'm here at home recovering nicely. All the CT scans came back negative for any other damage - no head trauma, spinal injuries, or internal bleeding - just the two aforementioned fractures. Amazingly, there was hardly even any "road rash," which I must attribute to wearing the proper safety gear, esp. a good quality leather jacket! God truly was with me through all of this, as I am well aware that it could've turned out much worse. As it is, I'll be off my feet for a few months, and will have to endure lots of physical/occupational therapy, but the prognosis is good, and I anticipate regaining full movement and use of both wrist and ankle.

Thanks so much for the many prayers and offers of help and support that have been sent our way - we are very grateful and thankful!

Saturday, January 24, 2009

Cheering up daddy

Ok, well, since this is my blog, I get to brag a bit about my family.

This is my daughter, Rachel. She's 5 1/2.

I love this picture.

She just started kindergarten last fall. Very outgoing - the type who will run up to you and give you a hug, whether she knows you or not. And, as I'm increasingly discovering, she's very sensitive.

We'd recently gotten some bad news regarding my job, and I was talking with my wife on the phone about what was going on. Rachel didn't hear the conversation, but she heard enough of my wife's responses to understand that daddy was upset about something. As soon as Tamara hung up, Rachel came up to her and told her that she thought daddy was sad, and wanted to do something to cheer him up. "Like what?" Tamara asked.

"Well, first we could go play tag in the park, then we could blow bubbles, then we'll go to his favorite fish taco place, and then we'll go get him a peanut butter and chocolate ice cream cone!"

"Wow, that sounds like a lot, Rachel - why don't you tell dad when we get home?

"No, no - it has to be a surprise!"

So that's what I got. We didn't have time for tag & bubble-blowing, but we did get fish tacos and ice cream. And I gained a new appreciation for the caring and sensitive nature of my precious daughter who loved her daddy and wanted to do whatever she could to cheer him up.

Y'know what? It worked.

Friday, January 23, 2009

The Shack

Recently, I've been reading a fascinating book by Wm. Paul Young entitled... you guessed it... "The Shack." It was given to me by a friend, and at first I was a bit skeptical about it. I had neither the time nor the inclination to read another novel about someone's supposed encounter with God. But I have to say that this book was a pleasant surprise. For one, it's actually very well-written; it engages you and draws you in and I found myself unable to put it down for long periods of time. For another, it actually has pretty good theology in it. Though the writer personifies the Trinity as a large, jovial black woman (God the Father), a big-nosed, Middle Eastern carpenter (Jesus), and a small, ethereal Asian woman (Holy Spirit), it is neither disrespectful nor unimaginable. In fact, the more you read it, the more it becomes plausible to imagine the Godhead assuming these various roles if they were to appear in human form.

The book centers around Mack, a father of four whose youngest girl was kidnapped and murdered. As a father of a precocious five-year-old, I could immediately imagine the pain and torment that he undergoes as he struggles to reconcile his guilt, fear and anger. Honestly, there were several times when I was unable to continue reading as I found my eyesight suddenly being blurred by tears.

He receives an invitation to return to the site of his daughter's murder - only now it becomes transformed into a place of peace and tranquility. He spends a few days there, and his interactions with each member of the Trinity is truly impressive from a literary standpoint. The author admirably describes the various characteristics of each one, and provided what I believe to be a credible apologetic for how and why God allows evil in this world.

I read a lot of books, and I've rarely been as engaged as I was in reading this one. If there's one book you should put on your list for 2009, it should be The Shack.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

I Wonder, Do You Know Him?

Dr. Shadrach Meshach (S.M.) Lockridge was the pastor of Calvary Baptist Church here in San Diego from 1953 to 1993. Listen to his three minute description of our King of Kings.


Wednesday, January 21, 2009

First Sermon

Well, a few hours ago I preached my first "real" sermon - with a pulpit and everything! Surprisingly, I wasn't nearly as nervous as I had previously thought I would be. No doubt the prayers and support of family and friends helped in that regard.

I had a few accolades when I was finished (maybe *because* I was finished?), with people telling me that they thought I did a great job, etc. Now, of course it's nice to receive "attaboys" for something you've done, but in this case all I was really concerned with was whether or not people *really* got something out of my sermon. I was acutely aware of the fact that I am not pursuing this line of work for any sort of personal gratification or "will to power." I'm doing it because I want to share the Good News of what Jesus Christ has done/is doing/will do in our lives and I seem to be blessed with certain talents in relating that message in a clear way.

I don't ever want this to be about me - not 5 months, 5 years, or 50 years from now.

Lord, may you and you alone receive the glory and honor for any work I may do on this earth.

Sunday, January 18, 2009

Gran Torino

Went and saw Gran Torino last Friday, and came away impressed. In my opinion, this is one of Clint Eastwood's best movies. He plays a cantankerous old Korean War vet whose wife has recently passed away and who finds himself living alone, alienated from his family, and surrounded by Hmong neighbors whom he doesn't understand. I won't give it all away, for you must go see this movie for yourself. There's a great deal of character development throughout, along with a strong theme of redemption. There's a lot of humor here, too, and fans of Eastwood will no doubt enjoy several of the scenes where he confronts would-be thugs or teaches a young teenager how to talk "like a man."

I'll be very surprised if this movies isn't at least nominated for a few Oscars at the next Academy Awards.

Saturday, January 17, 2009

Undulation

I'll be preaching my first "public" message this Wednesday, and thought I'd use as my topic the idea of undulation. I wish I could say this is an original subject, but it is not. I first came across the idea years back when reading C.S. Lewis' book The Screwtape Letters. In it, an older demon (Screwtape) has a series of conversations with his young nephew & protégé, Wormwood. Here's an excerpt:


“Humans are amphibians--half spirit and half animal. As spirits they belong to the eternal world, but as animals they inhabit time. This means that while their spirit can be directed to an eternal object, their bodies, passions, and imaginations are in continual change, for to be in time means to change. Their nearest approach to constancy, therefore, is undulation--the repeated return to a level from which they repeatedly fall back, a series of troughs and peaks.”


LIFE IS A SERIES OF UPS AND DOWNS.

We must realize that “the law of undulation” is a natural part of our human existence. Periods of growth and vitality will alternate with periods of dryness and dullness. Being or becoming a Christian does not free us from this cycle, but it does allow us to change our perspective. Are you married? Well, whether you've been married for 3 months or 30 years - has your life been a continuous stretch of wedded bliss? No? If it's been like mine, it's a series of ups and downs. This holds true for every aspect of our lives - work, family, football - as we've seen in the recent Chargers season - and everything else.

Now, quite naturally...

WE TEND TO ENJOY THE UPS

RATHER THAN THE DOWNS.

*** THIS MAY BE NATURAL, BUT IS IT BIBLICAL? ***

I'm always leery when I hear something about the "prosperity gospel" - that's the idea that God wants all of his children to be healthy, wealthy, popular and successful. For one thing, Jesus didn't seem to live up to those standards, and neither did the Apostle Paul. Look at II Corinthians 11:23-30 and read Paul's description of all the hardships he's endured. Doesn't seem to be the normal "career track" of one who follows God, does it? But look at what Paul says in the very next chapter, in 12:9-10:

"But he said to me, 'My grace is sufficient for you for my power is made perfect in weakness.' Therefore, I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ's power may rest on me. That is why, for Christ's sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong."

So here's Paul, one of the pillars of the early church, and he's gone through more pain and suffering than likely any of us will have to endure in our lifetime. Is he bitter? Is he resentful? No! In fact, he actually boasts about his weakness and suffering! Why? Because in his weakness, the power of God became necessary, and the only thing Paul was willing to boast about was what Christ was able to do in him and through him during those times of trial and difficulty. And, if you let him, he will do the exact same thing in your life.

Now, based on this I am convinced that what we naturally tend to view as good and bad is actually mistaken. If we were to spell it out, we would probably say something like this:

OUR VIEW

That which benefits me or makes me happy = good

That which hurts me or makes me unhappy = bad

But God uses a different paradigm. I think His would look something like this:

GOD’S VIEW

That which brings you closer to me = good

That which takes you farther away from me = bad

Hebrews 12:7,11 says:

"Endure hardship as discipline; God is treating you as sons. No discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful. Later on, however, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it."

Another excerpt from Lewis' book:

“Sooner or later He withdraws, if not in fact, at least from their conscious experience, all those supports and incentives. He leaves the creature to stand up on its own legs--to carry out from the will alone duties which have lost all relish. It is during such trough periods, much more than during the peak periods, that it is growing into the sort of creature He wants it to be. Hence the prayers offered in the state of dryness are those which please Him best. We can drag our patients along by continual tempting, because we design them only for the table, and the more their will is interfered with, the better. He cannot "tempt" to virtue as we do to vice. He wants them to learn to walk and must therefore take away His hand; and if only the will to walk is really there He is pleased even with their stumbles.”

Recently I've had some tribulations concerning a continuation of my military orders, with the (unexpected) result that I've not been paid in the last 7 weeks - which is rather hard to manage in an expensive place like San Diego. But as frustrating as the situation is, I've noticed a few areas where God is at work in my life. For one, He's teaching me a lot about patience and not being in control - something that doesn't come naturally for me. For another, my faith is increasing as I have to rely on Him to provide for our basic needs - we still have to pay our mortgage and other bills, buy food, gas, etc.

The key to shifting paradigms is that we must learn to take our eyes off of ourselves & our problems and instead look to God. We must try to see what it is that He is trying to teach us in the midst of these trials, even if we don't yet have the perspective to put it all into context.

James 1:2,3 tells us:

"Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance."

There must be a building of strength before there can be a testing of strength. In the military, a new recruit/candidate must endure boot camp/OCS and then go through other training to be a Navy SEAL, Special Forces, Ranger or Airborne qualified, etc. before they are ever sent out on a mission. In each case, there is a tremendous amount of training and strength building before these men and women are ever tested. You don't just grab a recruit and hand 'em a rifle and send 'em off to Afghanistan - they have to learn how to use it. They have to be trained and built up. They have to learn endurance and perseverance - otherwise, there's a good chance they'll never complete the mission. And this training isn't just a one-shot deal; it's on-going. Faith, endurance and patience are not attributes that develop in calm, serene places where all of our needs are continually met. They are produced in austere environments where we feel battered, bruised and in need. They develop as we recognize that we alone do not possess the necessary traits to see us through - we must rely on God and His provision. We must be continually strengthened by trying circumstance in order to develop the perseverance that will hold us in good stead for when we are truly tested.

So my challenge is for you to look at your circumstances in light of what the Bible tells us, not on the basis of what your human emotions want you to think or feel. Whatever your circumstances are - whether your trials are at work, in your marriage, or wherever - look for the lessons God is trying to teach you. Endure. Persevere.

“Our cause is never more in danger than when a human, no longer desiring, but still intending, to do our Enemy's will, looks ‘round upon a universe from which every trace of Him seems to have vanished, and asks why he has been forsaken, and still obeys.”