05 December 2012

Les Miserables: Book Review

In every place where man is ignorant and despairing, in every place where woman is sold for bread, wherever the child suffers for lack of the book which should instruct him and of the hearth which should warm him, the book of Les Miserable knocks at teh door and says: "Open to me, I come for you."
Les Miserables, the quintessential French story, isn't just for the French, as Victor Hugo himself said above. It's an epic story of a man chased by a past society remembers but God forgives. It tells of the evils of society, from prostitution to war to injustice to the city sewer. It argues for the right over the law, charity over chastisement, education over imprisonment, humility over pride, whole truth over little lie, the infinite over the finite, peace over war, private conscience over public reputation, and light over dark.

Divine love, motherly love, fatherly love, young love, brotherly love, old love, are all described on the pages of Les Mis. The living faith is compared with the stifled faith; that is, the convent. The letter of the law collides with the conscience and is found wanting.

There is so much wound through this story - it is a story which anyone, anywhere, has experienced at least in part. But Victor Hugo ties it all together magnificently.

In short, you should read it, but know that it's not short. You're running out of time to finish it before this comes out:

21 October 2012

Red Shirt

I wasn't there to win the race; I was just there for a good 13.1 mile run.

But when you put runners in front of me, I can't help but compete with them.

Yesterday, I ran the Blackwater Trail Series Half Marathon - which was indeed a good 13.1 mile run. Just under two miles in, we had to cross a stream. The race staff had put up a bridge, but the bridge was carried away with the rains this week. So we grabbed a rope strung across the water, and clambered in up to our chests. We did the same on the way back through.

I knew the stream was coming up by the shouts and screams of those in front of me. Turns out, it wasn't too bad; the water was warmer than the air. I couldn't help but think to myself "By God Woodrow, it ain't dyin' I'm talkin' 'bout. It's livin'."

Just across the stream, I asked someone with a GPS watch what his pace was. 9:17, but that was too fast, so he was gonna slow down. I took off ahead, thinking I'd shoot for 9 minute miles. My long solo runs had been in the 9:30-10 minute mile range.

After about 3.5 miles, we turned onto a big loop, and on the loop is where I saw Red Shirt in front of me. I don't know his name, but I called him Red Shirt. He stayed about 50-100 yards in front of me the whole time, sometimes closer, sometimes further, depending mostly on how long we stopped at aid stations.

My wife was waiting for me at the third aid station with a refill for my handheld (water bottle) and some more Clif Shot Blocks. Race staff had told me this aid station was at six miles, and I arrived in 45 minutes. That means I was doing 7:30 miles, or it wasn't six miles. I don't think it was six miles. I ran up to my wife, topped off my bottle and my snacks, gave her a sweaty, snotty kiss, and took off with renewed motivation. Something about my woman will do that to me. She got back in the car and drove along the road which paralleled the trail, honking on her way to the next station for another one of those lovely kisses and some shouted encouragement.

Did I mention she's wonderful?

At the end of the loop, we went up a little hill next to an aid station, and he started walking. I slipped past, finally. Colorado made hills a lot easier, and thanks to my support team of one, I didn't have to stop.

I came across the finish line at 1:50:51. My pace? 8:28. That's a definite personal record.

My shoes, New Balance Minimus Zero Trails, performed excellently. They feel like a moccasin, but they have excellent traction, even in mud. And the water didn't stay in them very long, and it didn't make them heavy. I wore lightweight Injinji socks underneath to prevent blisters.

On the trail, I ate Clif Shot Blocks, which are the best endurance food I've found. I just cut the tube-pack of six in half and shove it in the pocket of my handheld or my shorts. They're not sticky, won't cut your lip like a Gu, and they're easy to chew. Now I just have to find a place to buy them cheap.

Three more weeks of training until the Pensacola Marathon. After that, who knows?

12 October 2012

Legislating morality

This popped up in my Twitter feed this morning:

I disagree. Assuming the tweet is about the Vice Presidential debate last night, specifically the question concerning the candidates' religious views and abortion, let's talk about it.

Both candidates are Catholics. Both believe that life begins at conception. Congressman Ryan believes abortion should only be an option in cases where the life of the mother is endangered, or in rape or incest. Vice President Biden disagrees: "I accept my church's postion on abortion... life begins at conception, that's the church's judgement, I accept it in my personal life. But I refuse to impose it on equally devout Christians, Muslims, Jews... I just refuse to impose that on others."

So what the Vice President is saying is that he believes abortion is murder - he believes life begins at conception, so the killing of that defenseless life is murder. But if someone else believes it's not murder, they're free to do it.

Let's extend that line of reasoning a bit. Say someone else believes that life does not begin until age five. So it would be OK to "abort" - kill - that person until they're five?

What we're talking about is whether or not universal truth exists. The Vice President seems to believe it does not exist; what's true for him isn't necessarily true for everyone else. That position is untenable. To say that universal truth does not exist is a statement of universal truth. It's like trying to pull yourself up by your bootstraps.

Now, the tweet above is talking about legislating morality, and Vice President Biden is talking about legislating morality based on religion. Legislating religion is not OK. It's not legal, and it's not what God wants.

But Congressman Ryan believes life begins at conception not only because of his church, but also because of "science and reason." And if science and reason determine that life does begin at conception, this becomes not a religious question, but a moral one.

And legislating morality is essential to our nation. That's why we have laws against murder, theft, and perjury. Not only can we have these laws, but we must.

07 October 2012

Expectations

"The secret to happiness is low expectations," or so my economics professor liked to say.

I don't think he's right when it comes to life, but I certainly don't think he's right when it comes to marriage.

I need someone who has high expectations for me. I always have needed people like that. My parents expected me to get good grades. I worked for a framer who demanded my cuts be straight and my work be square. My academic advisor was disappointed when I got a B.

I thrive under people like that. And I want - need - my marriage to thrive. So I need someone who will push me to be a better husband, a better man, a better Christian.

I don't want to live a life of mediocrity. It wouldn't be worth living.

So thanks to my better half for making this half better.

06 October 2012

On the Road Again

Seven National Parks. A National Monument. Mackinac Island. Five weddings. Canoeing on a sand-bottom river and a stormy mountain lake. A move to Florida, setting up our first house, and Initial Flight Screening. 

It's been an exciting year for my beautiful bride and I. 

And, we found out yesterday, we'll be moving again in three months. After fifteen years, the Navy and Air Force are bringing their joint pilot training programs to an end. 73 Air Force flight students who have arrived at Naval Air Station Whiting Field in the past two years are being relocated to Vance, Laughlin, and Columbus Air Force Bases. 

My wife and I are headed to Laughlin at the end of January. Until then, we'll do what we've been doing all year: traveling. Exploring. Loving life, and loving each other. 

24 June 2012

endless pursuit

It's hard to believe that this love doesn't end.
That this woman
this beautiful woman
will be by my side until kingdom come.
That we will share a bed
until we sleep no more.
That I will pursue her heart
until it stops beating.

Her heart -
beautiful.
compassionate.
adventurous.
mysterious.

I do not have enough life
- enough time -
to fully understand her heart.

But I find joy in the pursuit -
each day a new discovery:
an old memory that makes her laugh
a new created thing
forgotten wounds remembered
subtle passions ignited to roaring flame.

What if heaven
is an endless pursuit of God?
For my pursuit of this woman
is finite and imperfect.
What would it be like to pursue an infinite being?
A being wholly good
and entirely holy?
Each day
- though there will be no days -
will bring a new cause for worship
for laughter
for awe
for joy.

Listen to me, you who pursue righteousness
     and who seek the Lord...
The Lord will surely comfort Zion
     and will look with compassion on all her ruins;
He will make her deserts like Eden,
     her wastelands like the garden of the Lord
Joy and gladness will be found in her,
     thanksgiving and the sound of singing.
[Isaiah 51:1,3]



08 May 2012

Soldier on

He looked about 23. I couldn't see his rank, and I wouldn't understand it anyway. He was in the Army. He was in the middle seat.

I sat down in my seat, next to him, and said hello. He was on two weeks' leave from Afghanistan. Been there four months, eight months to go when he gets back. He came home for his four-year-old daughter's birthday. He turned down an upgrade to first-class, wishing he was in civies.

He's a Specialist, an E-4, and a combat engineer. He just re-enlisted.

"Do you like it?"
"Not really."
"Then why did you re-enlist?"
"'Cause I got a house and wife and a daughter." He smiles.

The flight attendant came by and asked if we wanted drinks. He asked what was available, and he was surprised when she mentioned beer.

"How much is that?" "
"For you, free."
"Aw, shoot. Yeah, I'll have a beer."

His eyes got wide at the Blue Moon - both of them - and the oranges. He smiled and offered me one. "No thanks, man."

He fell asleep, and his head fell on my shoulder. I could feel his hair poking through my shirt.

He awoke when we landed, surprised - "Oh - sorry, man. Are we here?"
"Don't worry about it - yeah, we're here."
"Dang, I was out. That beer did me in."

He asked what I did, and I told him I was at the Air Force Academy.

"So are you gonna be an officer?"
"Yeah, I'll be commissioned in a couple weeks."
"So the next time I see you, I'll have to salute you."

"I'll try to earn it."

08 April 2012

Worth it?

We lost another cadet yesterday. He was killed instantly in a car accident.

I knew who he was - he was in D Flight when I was C Flight cadre during BCT 2010. I yelled at him when he screwed up, and even laughed at him when he did something embarrassing.

I'm not proud of that.

He came to BSU a couple times. I don't think I ever talked to him there.

And now he's gone. And I found out more about his life from General Clark than I ever knew from talking to him.

I'm not proud of that.

Was he saved? Is he in heaven now? Why didn't I do more for him?

I could've done more. I didn't have to laugh at him. I could've talked to him.
You have never talked to a mere mortal. Nations, cultures, arts, civilizations - these are mortal, and their is to ours as the life of a gnat. But it is immortals we joke with, work with, marry, snub, and exploit - immortal horrors or everlasting splendors.
- C.S. Lewis, The Weight of Glory

08 March 2012

Kony 2012

In three years, Joseph Kony's Lord's Resistance Army has killed 2,400 civilians, abducted 3,400 and displaced 440,000. Over the course of his life, Kony has used 30,000 child soldiers. He is the number one most wanted by the International Criminal Court. Invisible Children (IC) created a video about him that's going viral.

Kony and his army originated in northern Uganda, but have since fled to the DRC, south Sudan, and the Central African Republic. In October, President Obama authorized the deployment of 100 military advisers to assist the Ugandan army (UPDF). These advisers are not to participate in combat - but neither were the advisers who helped kill Pablo Escobar.

Which leads me to my first question: If Kony isn't in Uganda, why should we support Uganda in arresting him? Invisible Children states that the UPDF is the most effective local force in the region, and the U.S. is trying to encourage cooperation between affected countries. It appears there was cooperation between the U.S., the DRC, and Uganda in 2008, for the failed Operation Lightning Thunder. The U.S. helped plan the mission, but had no forces actively involved - likely in accordance with guidance from Washington. The UPDF lacked training, and in some cases ignored U.S. advice. But the UPDF is probably still the best option - maybe with increasingly active support from U.S. forces.

What can we do to get them that support? Invisible Children's strategy is to raise awareness and put pressure on policymakers. In FY 2011, 44% of their expenses went towards raising awareness, with 37% going to programs in central Africa, 16% to administration, and 3% to fundraising. Will IC's strategy work? It could - and I don't see another option One of my Facebook friends suggested setting up a fund for a Private Military Contractor to go after him, which could lead to a lot of nasty issues. Of course, the UPDF has had some nasty issues, too, which IC admits to. Maybe U.S. advisors could help change UPDF's track record with respect to human rights violations. In any case, IC gives no money to the UPDF or the Ugandan government.

What should we do? First, understand this is a complex issue. Taking out Kony - whether with a bullet or a pair of handcuffs - won't end Africa's problems. Kony isn't in Uganda, and he will be hard to find, just like Pablo Escobar was. But Pablo had a direct effect on American interests. Kony doesn't. IC and the U.S. involvement have received a lot of criticism, which we should study. And think about it. And check out IC's response.

Kony doesn't affect the U.S. But he does affect the world, and he's currently affecting the 440,000 refugees he's forced to flee their homes. Should we blow him up with a missile fired by an RPA pilot sitting outside Las Vegas? Probably not.

But we should know. We should care. We should help arrest Kony. Not because of a poster, not because of a video, but because we care enough to know the consequences - good and bad - of our actions. And in this case, the good outweighs the bad.

09 February 2012

Pros and Cons

Last night, I got a piece of paper that said: "Flint, MI. 36.3, -97.9. Lubbock +17." When I read it, I had a gut feeling that I wasn't assigned to Whiting Field, FL. Wikipedia confirmed those coordinates were for Vance AFB. Crap. (The Lubbock +17 part is code for my report date.)

I wanted to go to Whiting Field, to do Undergaduate Pilot Training (UPT) with the Navy. My fiance really wants to go there, and so do I. It's less intense, and would give me some much-needed down time after four years of increasing intensity here at USAFA.

But, there's another firstie in my squad who got Pensacola and wants Vance, and he has the same report date. We can easily swap. I thought about it: God is sovereign, so He knew I'd get Vance - did He want me to go there? All the while, my mind was on Critical Design Review, where my Capstone design team briefs the department head (an O-6) and various other faculty and staff in the Mech Department. We had a lot of work to do to get ready for the briefing.

I texted my fiance that we got Vance, but that we could switch for Whiting. She got super excited, really wanted to switch. I wasn't so sure. I headed to the Mech Lab to get ready for the briefing.

When I got back to my room at 0100, I couldn't sleep because of stress from the briefing and deciding what to do about my assignment. I got up and read Deuteronomy 24:5:
If a man is newly married, he must not be sent to war or have any other duty laid on him. For one year he is to be free to stay home and bring happiness to his wife.
I took a shower and thought and prayed about it. Going to Whiting would give me a little more freedom, and it would bring a lot of happiness to my future wife - which, according to that verse, is my priority in the first year of marriage. Of course, she'd be happy anywhere, and after praying last night, she was willing to go wherever God wants us to go. And I believe God wants us to go to Whiting.

Vance is probably better for my career - the training is AF training, so I'd train in the same mindset I'd fly in. I'd get done faster, so I wouldn't fall behind my peer group. One of my groomsmen and his fiance will be there, so my fiance and I will already have friends there when we show up.

But God doesn't care about pros and cons. What if Moses had weighed the pros and cons? Jeremiah? Jonah did weigh the pros and cons, and he spent three days in a whale's belly.

I don't want to spend three days in a whale's belly. I want to do God's will.

And if God's will puts us next to the ocean... awesome.

30 January 2012

Plans: La Española

I didn't get the Fulbright Scholarship. I'd been planning spending ten months in the Dominican Republic with my new bride, talking to people and doing research and exploring the country.

Then I got an email with the subject line, "Fulbright Applilcation Status." Who wants to do a scholarship with people who can't spell anyway? But actually, it was disappointing news. I called my fiance, and she took it well: this means God has something better for us. True. And this means we can have kids sooner! Also probably true. My Academic Advisor, in his typical fashion, responded with a pun: "So you're only a half-bright?"

But there's another side to the island: Haiti. My fiancé and I initially planned to go on the Baptist Student Union mission trip to Russia, but that trip was cancelled because the dates couldn't mesh. My fiancé thought she heard from God that we should go to Haiti, and I thought I heard the same thing.

But last week, she texted me and told me she was having doubts about going on the trip. We talked the next night, weighing the options, then took a break to read our Bibles and pray. She read 2 Samuel 7, where David says, “Here I am, living in a house of cedar, while the ark of God remains in a tent.”

To which the Lord responded, "Are you the one to build me a house to dwell in?" Then God turns it around, saying that He'll take care of Israel and establish a house for David. The next morning, the same scripture came up on my reading plan - coincidence? Probably not.

We came to the same conclusion: God wants us to establish our house before we go to Haiti to help build His. We're getting married in less than four months, and we have a lot of wedding preparation ahead of us. And more importantly, we need to prepare for our marriage.

Plans change. But God doesn't.