26 February 2010

Move on

My great uncle is in his last days. My dad just called to let me know after he talked to my grandma, Uncle Bill's sister. Uncle Bill's ready to go, ready to "move on".

Those words struck me. Move on. From what? To what? We don't really know either, but we have a better idea of the former than the latter. I was just reading Annie Dillard, and she compared Earth to the one blot on the canvas: it is the only place with death. Yet out of death comes Life: how? why? We only faintly understand our world, in all its created glory: how can we hope to understand the next?

"Behold, I am making all things new..."

It's gonna be awesome. Are you ready to move on?

19 February 2010

Compassion and violence: a continuum

I thought it odd that one man could be a humanitarian worker in eight countries, a Rhodes scholar, and a Navy SEAL. So after his briefing, I decided to ask him what he thought about violence vs. compassion: which one works for peace?

He told me of a Bosnian refugee he met once in a refugee camp. Although the Bosnian man was very thankful for the aid he'd been given, he said what his people really needed was for the Serbs to stop burning down their houses. Violence and compassion are not separate: we need, at the same time, to be compassionate towards the oppressed and violent towards their oppressors.

As another example, he said it's like caring for a small child: we love that child, we care for and nurture them. But if someone tries to hurt the child, we become the protector, ready to "do violence on the child's behalf, if necessary.

I'm reminded of the Reverend's quote in The Patriot. The militia, meeting to go to war, is surprised to see Reverend Oliver joining them, a rifle over his shoulder. As an explanation, he says, "A shepherd must tend his flock. And at times... fight off the wolves."

I'd rather tend the flock - and the other flock - than fight off the wolves. After all, aren't we all sheep?

But if it comes to fighting, I'll pick up my rifle and fight. Doesn't mean I'll like it.

Rhodes Sholar to Navy SEAL

This morning, I heard from Eric Greitens, a Rhodes and Truman scholar and Navy SEAL officer. He's done humanitarian work in eight countries, served in combat hunting top Al Queda operatives, and now runs an organization called "The Mission Continues", dedicated to challenging wounded warriors to continue their service to their nation in many different ways.

He began his speech by telling us about the Hoplites of Athens. The defenders of the first democracy were the first citizen soldiers. When their shields were joined, it looked as if it was all one shield. They were called "the shield of Athens".

We, then, are the shield of America: "When we're serving, we're not simply representing America; we are America in action." When you kick in a door in Fallujah, when you're manning a checkpoint outside the city, when you're distributing food in Rwanda... those people you interact won't be coming to St. Louis or San Diego or Chicago. Their experience with you is the only American experience they'll ever have.

Dr. Greiters went on to speak about courage, things he'd learned in refugee camps and in BUD/S (SEAL training). "We have an uneven level of courage," he said, like the national heavyweight boxing champion too afraid to confront his gardener over an overcharged bill. Soldiers often have great courage in combat, but when it comes to facing people at home, they hide. I can't really blame them.

Courage is easier to have when we're in the fight, when we're doing the task. Dr. Greiters told us about Hell Week, the hardest part of the hardest military training in the world. On the second night, the instructors took all the trainees out to the beach and had them watch the sunset. Then they came over the megaphone:

"This is only the second night."

"That water's only getting colder."

"If you quit now, you'll get hot coffee and doughnuts."

Men began running to ring the bell, to quit. As Dr. Greiters said, "Who would've thought that the hardest thing in SEAL training would be to stand on the beach and watch the sunset... I could count on one hand the men number of people who quit when we had started something. They quit when they thought about how hard it was going to be."

He went on to talk about how to build courage and purpose in people who have lost their reasons for purpose and courage: refugees and wounded soldiers. Wounded soldiers who can't return to their unit are heartbroken. Refugees have lost everything they've ever known.

The way to inspire purpose in these people is not to give them things. It's to challenge them to give something back. Wounded warriors need to hear "thank you" and "we still need you".

18 February 2010

Thoughts from General Hayden

Just got the opportunity to hear from General Michael Hayden, who served as director of the NSA and later as Director of the CIA. Pretty interesting guy. His main idea? Who you are shapes how you'll lead. So he talked a lot about his hometown of Pittsburgh.

"Everyone is entitled to their own opinion. Everyone is not entitled to their own facts." General Hayden played a significant role in the waterboarding controversy. He's thankful he didn't have to make the go/no-go policy decision, and he doesn't know what he would have done in his predecessor's shoes. He said he got many calls from congressmen telling him, "Stop water boarding because it's wrong, and it doesn't work anyway." He pointed out to each of them that they could say the first part - that's a matter of opinion - but not the second part. That's a matter of fact, and the facts say water boarding works.

Thus, the statement is a weak one. The strong statement? "I know water boarding works, but it's still wrong, so you need to stop."

"I never looked for an open table. I looked for an open seat." General Hayden said one of the most important things he did as CIA director was to eat in the cafeteria. He ate with his people, talked to them, heard their stories.

Some of those stories involved CIA family day. He said there were two types of people who came. The first, the twenty-somethings, brought their parents. Their parents proceeded to have an other-worldly experience. The second group, the forty-somethings, brought their teenagers. They'd walk up and say, "Mr. Director, Mrs. Hayden, this is my daughter, and today I told her where I work."

"Always stand between your people and those who wrongly accuse them." General Hayden dealt with this quite a bit, between the water boarding scandal at CIA and the terrorist surveillance - incorrectly dubbed domestic surveillance - at NSA. But he defended his people. That presumes, of course, that his people deserved defending.

The intelligence world is by nature shrouded in lies. But honesty within the organization and vertically to political leaders is critical. General Hayden dismissed anyone who did not deal honestly with the CIA or political leaders.

So, stand by the facts, and stand by your people.

17 February 2010

You without coffee = an African with safe water

Here's a great idea for lent: give up every beverage except water, and donate the money you would've spent to help people in Africa get clean water. More info here: Forty Days of Water. It's through Blood:Water Mission, "a grassroots organization that empowers communities to work together against the HIV/AIDS and water crisis."

15 February 2010


My dentist told me I can't go for a forty mile ride or a one mile jog, but I can meander for five miles over level terrain. So I meandered today, behind the BSU house.

From exploring the neighborhood

I'm reading Annie Dillard's Pilgrim at Tinker Creek, and it's pretty convicting. We miss so much: we don't pay attention. We don't explore. We're too self-concious to realize the mystery around us.

From exploring the neighborhood

I want to live in the present. That's where God wants us to live. Tomorrow is His and yesterday is gone, but He has given us this moment. What shall we do with it?

Watch. Listen. Praise.

07 February 2010

In my Father's house

In my Father's house are many rooms; if it were not so, I would have told you. I am going there to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am. -John 14:2-3

It's so clear - why didn't I see it before?

Our Pastor at Woodmen Valley Chapel focused on this passage this morning, and he pointed out a meaning I've never seen before: Jesus is using a metaphor which has been lost in our culture.

He's talking about a Hebrew wedding: a young Hebrew man would go with his father to meet with the girl he wanted to marry and her father. At the meeting, they would be betrothed, and there marriage would be a done deal - all but consummated.

The young man would then return to his father's house and begin to add on a room for him and his bride. Once it was ready, they would be married, and they would consummate it.

Jesus is getting ready to consummate our marriage.

"I will come back and take you to be with me."

Lord Jesus, come quickly.

06 February 2010

No place to lay his head

After theMILL, Thomas invited Ben and I to watch a movie, but Ben had a better idea. So we went back to his sponsors' house, borrowed their car, got me a Slushee for my tooth, bought seven double cheeseburgers, and drove downtown to give them to the homeless. 

On the way, we prayed that God would use us and the burgers. Oh, how He did. 

The first man, Eddy, asked us for some change. I offered him a burger and the fifty cents in my pocket. He stuck the burger in his backpack for later. We talked to him a bit about his life, his struggles, and his faith, which seemed pretty genuine. He had to go, but he introduced us to Troy, who we spent te rest of the night with. 

Troy will be sixty in September. His wife is dead and his children gone. He lives out of a large Walmart-brand backpacking pack, heats his tent with a propane Coleman stove, and buys the propane with change he picks up in the gutters. Drunk people coming out of bars tend to drop a lot, he says. 

We gave Troy some bottled water and two burgers, and talked to him for about thirty minutes. Then he said he'd better go and find some change for some propane or possibly a hotel room. We offered him both; he decided he'd go with us to Walmart for some propane.

He said his biggest problem is loneliness: with his wife dead and children gone, he hasn't got much to live for. We reminded him of Jesus' promises of companionship and salvation. I'm not sure how he accepted them - he seemed to want someone to care for more than someone to care for him. 

He was so humble, in fact, that he refused to pray for himself. So we prayed for him, for his physical and spirtual needs. Lord, may those prayers be answered. 

Once at Walmart, Ben told him we'd buy a hotel room whether he'd be staying in it or not - he could leave it empty. But once we got there, he said the money could go farther if he gave it to the other homeless down by the creek. 

Ben and I had our doubts, but I remembered some words of Jesus: "Give to the one who asks of you, and do not turn away from the one who wants to borrow from you." So we decided to give him the money. 

But before we left the hotel, we gave him a Bible we picked up at Walmart. His initial comment about keeping it in pristine condition worried me, so I showed him my beat up Bible, and told him I expected his to be equally well-used. 

"Tell ya what," he said, "Point me to something to read and we can meet and discuss it tomorrow night." So Ben and I decided on 1 John, and we all decided on a place and time. 

Before he left, I gave him my half of the hotel room money, with the promise that Ben would give him the other half tomorrow night - which by this point was really tonight. He pulled on his pack, picked up his cane and bags, and walked away. Ben and I drove away amazed. 

God connected need and fulfillment tonight. I do not share this to tell you what we did and gave, but what God did and gave. He gave Ben and I the ability to provide for Troy's needs. 

But more importantly, He gave Troy and Ben and me and you the gift of His Son and the grace that saves us. He dwelt among us, and like Troy, the Son of Man had no place to lay His head. 

I'm glad we didn't watch a movie. God had something bigger in store. And I'm looking forward to tonight, when we meet Troy again. Pray that his and our hearts would be open to the leading of the Spirit.


03 February 2010

Sunsets, Wiccans, and a Cross: Controversy at USAFA

A few weeks ago, during our training session on the LZ, we found some strange new rocks in a circle at the top of the hill. I thought nothing of it, figured someone had made a firepit.

When I went back later, I discovered it's actually an earth-centered religion/Wicca worship center. That's rather ironic, because it was one of my favorite places to pray last year, and I know some of my friends have gone up there to worship under the stars. It's a great place to watch the sunset - God's sunset.

Apparently, there's a pretty big controversy about a cross that was placed up there, leaning on one of the rocks. First of all, I'm pretty sure I saw crosses there - like the one described - long before the earth-centered religious people set the rocks there. Second, it's entirely possible that the cross-placer didn't know it was an earth-centered worship center. It could just as easily be a God worship center, like it was before for me and others, without the rocks.

So, I think Mikey Weinstein's comment comparing the cross to a swastika in the Jewish chapel is a little over the top. Crosses and swastikas stand for entirely different - indeed opposite - things.

But, if - that's an if - the cross was placed there to spite the Wiccans, it's the wrong approach. Jesus did not shove his cross in the face of those who did not believe Him or even opposed Him. He bore the cross for them. He died for them. He loved them.

And that is what we should do. Placing a cross on the hill will not change anyone's heart, "for the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing" (1 Corinthians 1:18). Love will change a man's heart.

So, instead of placing crosses at earth-centered worship sites, we need to love earth-centered worshipers and Wiccans and those who follow similar belief systems.

Because "We don't have a belief system. We got the truth."

"And the truth will set you free." (John 8:32)

02 February 2010

Meteorites from Finland, bearing diamonds

I thought you might enjoy this headline from the magazine Popular Science: “Carbon Crystals Harder Than Diamond Found In Finnish Meteorite”. The article explains that carbon compounds in the meteorite are harder than diamonds. Despite the misleading headline, there are apparently no diamonds in the meteorite. Also, I suspect the meteorite is not actually Finnish in origin, but rather had the good fortune to strike that portion of our planet where the Fins reside.

Unless, of course, we do have astronauts on Mars, and they found a chunk of Finland at the bottom of Martian crater. In that case, the question of how to travel to Mars is resolved: we’ll ride meteorites and brace for impact.