We drove down to Cannon Beach on the Northern Oregon Coast for Thanksgiving Day. Rainy drive, and light rain on the beach. But not too rainy to walk. We had mid-afternoon turkey and trimmings next to the big warm hearth at Morris' Fireside Restaurant after our walk.
They've had powerful storms on the coast recently. How'd you like to drive up to your rather spendy beach getaway house and see this in your driveway? Yes, that's sand. It's on the roof and in the gutters above the covered entryway. It wasn't all blown there by wind.
Notice how much sand is between the sliding glass doors here. There was sand on the sills of the windows to the left.
The once bare concrete patio looks like just another part of the beach. I can't imagine how much water flooded into the house as the waves were pounding the windows and doors. Inside, the floors, subfloors, carpet and drywall have to be soaked. It will take a major "gut and stuff" rebuild.
How many of us have wished for some kind of beach house all our own with sunset and sunrise views to die for? Can you imagine the consequences around the globe if sea levels rise another six inches? Another two feet? The poor will suffer much more than the wealthy.
There are many things to be thankful for in life. I find more all the time.
Most of all, I'm thankful for these two people of my family. That's especially so considering our (now) long life together. There were times when I could have lost them both, these gifts, these priceless treasures.
We have each other. We shared hours together loving the company of one another. We drove to Cannon Beach and returned home safely in our newer car with 411,000 miles on it. We've all had our colds in the past few days but no flu. We have our health. We have a home with a few leaves to clean up but not a truckload of sand and water damage to face as our Christmas gift to each other. Life is truly good.
May we all walk more lightly on the earth and treasure each step together.
This penny appeared in the offering basket at Operation Nightwatch last Sunday night.
It reminds me of something Mr. Behrens said perhaps 55 years ago. Mr. Behrens was principal of St. Paul's Lutheran school in rural Nebraska, my school for the first eight years of my education. All our U.S. coins and currency bear the words In God We Trust. Mr. Behrens pointed out how the more of them we have in our pockets, the less we seem to trust in God.
That was before sports stars and rock stars and Wall Street stars made millions and billions.
Lately, I wonder whom we trust and how much.
Consider what we can't do because we don't have the money (bear in mind, that "we don't have the money" often comes across as "it might hurt the economy"):
1. Be the leading innovator and global example for renewable energy, all sorts of new technologies and replacing throw-away lifestyles with sustainable ones.
2. Provide universal health care cheaper than we do it now non-universally.
3. Provide ourselves with transportation and infrastructure that doesn't increasingly make us look like a thrid-world nation.
4. Begin planning for the implications of global climate change (even if it's 100% non-human caused, climate change will require nearly everything about our lives to change in some way; the sooner we plan and prepare, the less disruptive and costly it will be).
5. Work increasingly toward non-military responses to terrorism, poverty and ignorance. I'm dead certain that they would be far cheaper and far more effective, both in the near-term and long-term, than what we are doing now--which, by the way, we can't afford.
We seem to be approaching the world from one perspective only, that of scarcity. We are afraid there won't be enough so we withdraw from embracing the world of possibilities. Our actions seem to say that we trust our dollars and not our God. Are we more motivated by fear than love?
Five barley bagels. No, the next lines don't lead to "And a partridge in a pear tree."
Jesus once fed 5K people with five barley bagels. And two cans of tuna. When all was said and fed, his students policed up 12 bushels of leftovers from the picnic grounds. They were so blown away by this incredible multiplication of gifts that they didn't even notice the 14 black plastic bags. The bags were huge, some 50-gallon size. And stuffed. The rabbi's students walked right past 'em, left 'em lying out there on the grass.
But the people from Cornerstone Church went gleaning on the picnic grounds. They found those 14 bags and delivered 'em to where they belonged. Bags were stuffed with coats, sweatshirts and blankets.
My friend Kevin delivered 'em to Operation Nightwatch last night. Filled up the whole bed of his F250 pickup. Some were a challenge to carry up the two flights of stairs leading to the third floor storage area.
In one fell swoop, Cornerstone Church just out-donated dozens if not hundreds of other churches. No committee proposal or big debate. Somebody just went ahead and did it: asked people to go through their closets.
Pastor Barry was pretty modest about it. He says it says something when this much warm clothing can be found just lying around unused in our closets and garages. Some folks for sure went out and spent money to buy things for other people, either new or from thrift stores and garage sales. But Pastor Barry says even his generous folks still have some way to go before reaching the level of Philippians 4: giving until they themselves have "need".
Maybe. But his people are far ahead of most of us. Makes a person wonder what we might do here if we gave as the folks in Philippi did. Even the folks at Cornerstone Church.
Why, we could be walking around lucky and not even know it.
We could be walking around wildly wealthy. And not even know it.
When Jean and I lived in Turkey, we would occasionally visit Istanbul. I remember walking past the Consulate of the Soviet Union several times. It had a heavy steel gate around it. At the gate was a guard shack and a room about the size of this garage. A bronze plaque near the entrance to the room proclaimed Zal Ozhidaniya ("Hall of Waiting").
I often joked, "Yeah, I'll bet there's ozhidaniye going on in there alright. Hour after hour after hour. . . Waiting is something modern folks don't do well, especially with the advent of online shopping, a 24-hour news cycle and instant messaging.
OK, a few days back I asked people to read the Christmas story in the Gospel According to Mark. By now, everybody must think, "Well, he must have meant Matthew, not Mark. There is no Christmas story in Mark."
Exactly my point.
But there is really a Christmas story in Mark. It just looks different. Consider this. In Mark, there is :
1. No genealogy.
2. No annunciation to Mary.
3. No magnificat.
4. No angel Gabriel telling Joseph to take Mary (with child) as his wife.
5. No stable and manger.
6. No shepherds abiding in the fields.
7. No Magi from the East. So that means no star seen in the East. No gifts.
8. No slaughter of the innocents by Herod.
9. No flight of the Holy Family into Egypt.
10. No presentation in the temple and Nunc Dimittis by Simeon.
11. No boy Jesus at the age of 12 staying behind in the temple in deep discussions of the Torah while his parents walked a whole day's journey.
12. No water turned into wine in Cana of Galilee.
None of the above. But here's what Mark does have in the first 15 verses:
1. Mark says it's a good news story and that Jesus is Messiah and Son of God.
2. There's a prophetic reference, actually from Malachi, not Isaiah.
3. John the baptizer is preaching a baptism of repentance.
4. John is wearing the attire of a true prophet like Elijah. (In the Passover seder ritual, a door is left open so that if Elijah returns he can enter the house; the return of Elijah will signal the arrival of Messiah and a new messianic age. If Elijah's here, so is the age.)
5. Jesus is baptized by John and the Spirit descends to identify him.
6. Jesus is immediately tempted in the wilderness w/o food and water--just like Elijah.
7. John is arrested.
8. Jesus takes up the prophetic mantle and returns to Galilee calling people to repentance and to believe in the good news that the kingdom of God has come near.
The kingdom of God is Mark's Christmas. The kingdom of God is what Jesus proclaimed. It was the hallmark of his ministry. Today it seems like a present that we have never unwrapped.
What are we waiting for?
I hear people on radio and TV talking about "the Christmas season". They universally refer to the time between Thanksgiving and Christmas when they talk about the Christmas season. But wait, doesn't the season of Christmas begin afterChristmas?
What do we have before Christmas? We have Advent, a time of waiting, a time of preparing, a time of living in the kingdom of God. Followers of Christ in the time of Mark referred to their core beliefs and the life they led them to lead as "The Way".
Maybe we should wait to celebrate Christmas until we have actually experienced Advent. Maybe we should wait to celebrate Christmas or even speak the word until we have lived Advent, until we have figured out what The Way and the kingdom of God are.
Mark's gospel has no traditional birth narrative. But it does have Easter. It does have the kingdom of God. Should we have any trouble figuring out the implications of relative importance from that?
Happy journeying on The Way! Awesome Advent to you and yours! It won't be Christmas until we figure out what the kingdom of God is--another 34 days or as long as it takes in the Zal Ozhidaniya.
We often say that we owe our freedom to our soldiers. Some of our honored veterans of military service are in this picture of the recent Living History Day at Milwaukie, OR High School. Thanks, sisters and brothers!
We owe our freedom to our military?
That may be true of Gen. Washington's Continental Army which lost most battles but won the campaign by being an insurgency, not much of a military force. It may be true of WWII.
As a Cold War veteran during the Vietnam era, I think that our military--especially those in Iraq and Afghanistan today--contribute to our safety and security. That is, provided that the net result of these wars is not an overall increase of extremism and terrorism. The jury is still out on that.
But only we can keep ourselves free as a people. We do that by vigorously exercising the rights and responsibilities of citizenship: informing ourselves, educating ourselves, expressing ourselves, asking questions, seeking answers and solutions, and communicating regularly with our neighbors as well as our representatives and leaders in government. It also requires us to hold our sources of information every bit as accountable as we do our leaders and our own family members. There is no substitute for honesty. Anywhere.
That requires us to actually know something about what is going on. That requires us to invest some sweat equity to acquire actual information and to process that into some kind of knowledge. That requires us to do more than simply hold opinions which are plentiful and free-of-charge. How well are your fellow Americans doing that?
Take this little self-test as a starter. Then see how your friends and neighbors do.
It's here. It's been here for a while already. The True Value hardware store I frequent, mainly because it has a selection of fasteners I have never found on the shelf anywhere else in my life, had its Christmas lights and displays out in early October.
Yes, there's a life-size Santa Claus seated in a recliner. His motorized head scans slowly left and right. I say words to him each time I pass. I won't print them.
Every year as we enter this part of our culture--and modern Christmas is really about commercial culture, not about Christ--I encounter those rare individuals who seem to thrive on it. I'm always amazed by them and wonder, "If this didn't exist (tinsely decorations, advertising, etc.), would our lives be joyless? Or would we in fact discover a lasting source of 'Joy To The World'?"
Our modern celebration of the birth of Jesus in Bethlehem does not coincide with the date of his birth. Long ago it got plopped onto a pagan festival of the winter solstice, which by definition is very different in the Northern Hemisphere from what's going on in the Southern Hemisphere. Snow and reindeer? Not in Australia, Argentina, Namibia.
Maybe we should lift up the layers of tradition to look at what lies beneath. So here's a challenge. Read the Christmas story in the Gospel According to Mark. Read it and meditate on it this week. Then get back to me. As you meditate, here's a little Northern Hemisphere poem for the season:
A Time Between Christmas is a time between It's not yet the New Year, nor really the old It's pre-income tax, it's post-Halloween It's long before springtime, it's winter, it's cold.
Christmas is a time for joy. And peace. And love. We save these all for one brief day For the time between designed to remove The burden of failure, of losing our way.
"Give love for Christmas this year!" by the sign in the store I am told. How much it will cost, how long it will wear? Am I too late? Am I too old?
"Sorry! We're all out of love this Christmas. Come back next year when it's sold." But it's long before springtime. It's winter. I'm cold.
I love little piggies. Of all the creatures we had on the farm when I was growing up (a few steers and heifers for beef, 500-600 laying hens, Muscovy ducks, a Guernsey milk cow, a tired Shetland pony, cats, dogs and hogs), the little oinkers we by far my favorite.
Contrary to popular urban myth, they don't like to be dirty. In hot weather they need to stay cool. But clean the pen and provide fresh straw for little feeder pigs, and you can find no more joyful and grateful creatures on earth.
As a group, they would agree on one corner of the pen to do their business in first. When that was thoroughly soiled, they would move to the next and the next. It was a sad day for them when they had to use their remaining sleeping quarters for their bathroom. And when the opportunity finally came for us to clean the whole thing, they would run and play like the happiest kids when school lets out. (That was before video games paralyzed our children.)
We Americans are chronic complainers, I think. And yet, we are the most empowered people on earth in so many ways. We get to choose where we spend our dollars. A week ago I needed some clear tape for shipping cartons and some strapping (filament) tape. I went to the local Fred Meyer grocery/variety. I had my choice between tape made in China, or clear tape from Canada and strapping tape made in the USA. I bought the North American products for several reasons:
1. They were shipped a far shorter distance. 2. They would have been manufactured to higher standards of quality. 3. They would have produced less industrial waste handled more responsibly. 4. They would have been made with cleaner electric power. 5. They would have given somebody on this side of the globe a job. 6. They were more expensive.
You get what you pay for. Yeah, the label of these little piggy banks says, "Made in China". They are in the grocery store where we buy most of our food. Most of that still comes from here, fortunately.
If I'd gone to Wal Mart, I'm sure I would not have had a choice between North American or Chinese tape.
Save money. Live better. Wal Mart.
Not always. Every choice is a voice. Every dollar is a vote. We're staring a "jobless recovery" in the face. There's no secret trap door for our economy like there is in this Chinese piggy bank.
There will only be jobs for our neighbors nearby when we buy what our nearby neighbors make. When they buy what we make.
Every choice is a voice. Every dollar is a vote for what the world and our country will look like in the future. We have incredible power over those choices.
I'm married to the daughter of a World War II veteran. I wish my father-in-law Herb were here today for me to thank him again for his service and his daughter. My sister-in-law is married to a Vietnam vet. My two brothers served in the Army National Guard. My best male friend in life, Jack Moore, was a Cobra pilot in Vietnam and won his final battle with his last breath on March 29. My friend and schoomate of 12 years was KIA in Vietnam on 5 April 1968. My great uncle N.O. Wittmann was a WWII pilot and went on to a Navy career that eventually put him in charge of maintenance of U.S. Navy aicraft in the Pacific, including the one in which Sen. John McCain was shot down.
N.O. Wittmann, Jr., his son, was my second cousin and gave his life in Vietnam in August 1967.
I fought the Cold War, helping to keep it from becoming hot. I served three years, 11 months and 28 days. This portion of my life changed my life forever.
I've been to Washington, DC many times but only once on a Veterans' Day. That was in 1997 to take photos for the multi-media segment of the play I was writing and would stage 11 years ago this month. It was an incredibly moving three days. If I could be anywhere on this earth today besides my own house, it would be in Washington, DC for another Veterans' Day.
In 1997, my head and heart were so filled with hundreds of emotions and thousands of sights and images that I literally could not sleep. Finally, I gave in to the stirrings in my head and heart and got up at 4 AM to write. One of those pieces was the following, and I dedicate it today to Narvin (both of them), to Wes, to Jack, to Les, and to my college fraternity brother Lyle who served in U.S. Army Special Forces and was laid to rest today in Omaha:
A Time of Changing Leaves
In a time of changing leaves,
In a time of leaves that bleed the colors
of the seasons all
We pass and place our fingertips into
Familiar spellings on the Wall
Of those whose journey passed its outer marker
just a little sooner than our own
In a time of changing leaves.
In a time of changing leaves,
In a time of leaves that shed their passing quietly
Upon the earth once more,
We are again confronted
by the passing of ourselves
Even the passing of our passing...
Whose familar letters?
Whose the names well-worn into our hearts?
And whose the memories that rain again into the earth,
One by one
Day by day
Year by year,
Now in a time of changing leaves?
One day, no one shall come here
Who has ever heard the voice of any
Upon these sacred walls.
And yet, they shall keep coming
To pause, and to pray in passing
When all have taken their turn in passing quietly
Into a time of changing leaves.
Copyright 1997 by Roger D. Fuchs. All rights reserved.
Veterans, thank you! Welcome home. To those no longer with us, we know that you are receiving the best of care in the hands of the One who created you for us.
See you again one of these days. One of these fine days.
His name was Bill (William, actually). He never got to enter any kind of memorial to his service in World War I. He was a blood relative with a clear case of PTSD. And a moral conflict he could never resolve.
Most of you have probably seen Saving Private Ryan, Steven Spielberg's lavishly set WWII film focused on a small band of soldiers on an odd mission in the land war in Europe.
Perhaps you remember the scene where a German soldier is overtaken in his foxhole by the Americans. He does his best to seem sympathetic to the Americans and to American popular culture. Then comes the decision: to shoot him or let him go unarmed since the GI's are on the move and in no position to hold a POW.
They let him go. Later, he pulls the trigger in a standoff with the boyish GI clerk typist who is unable, or unwilling, to shoot first. The GI is unable to kill. So he is killed.
This happened to great step-uncle Bill. Bell overran a German in his trench. He threw down his weapon when Bill cried, "Haende hoch!" (Hands up!). I'm sure that in reply to Bill's fluent German, the German soldier would have replied "Nicht schiessen, nicht schiessen! Bitte nicht! Ich moecthe Ihnen sprechen." (Don't shoot, don't shoot! Please don't! I want to talk with you.). He was just a young boy, really.
Uncle Bill didn't know whether he could trust this enemy who shared his blood and ancestry, but not his nationality. Bill had already seen plenty of battle, had surely lost a number of buddies. The German begged for his life. How much trench warfare and mustard gas had he seen?
Bill shot him.
And he could never rid his mind of the German's last words, the sight of the young man's body falling to the earth. Bill had nightmares. He cried. He self-medicated with alcohol. He smoked. He never married. He never forgot, and he died long before his actual death.
He left Mom $200 in his will. She used it to buy the window air conditioner that at last cooled our house during the hot Nebraska summers in the early 60's.
What pastor would have been able to counsel Bill back in his day? Where could he have turned? And who in the family would have had a clue? Did he ever go to Holy Communion again and feel welcome, healed?
And we should remember this. Before we were forced to rename it World War I, this was called "The Great War" and "The War to End All Wars". It only did that for 21 years. Remember that the next time you read about, see a photo of or visit the site of a Nazi death camp where a solemn marker proclaims "Nie Wieder", never again.
"He was never the same," my Mom recalled on my visit with her two months ago.
I don't know how Fourth of July and fireworks ever worked for Bill. I don't know how they could have. But I pray that the voices of angels and the eternal light of Christ do what we were unable to do here on earth: give him peace.
Lord Jesus, thank you for saving Private Hagerbaumer. Rest well, Uncle, and welcome home!
The rain has stopped long enough to put out my flag. It's at half staff, the way it flies more frequently than it does at full staff.
We mourn the loss of life and the deeper tragedies at Ft. Hood, Texas.
Nidal Malik Hasan. Officer. Mental health professional. Major. Member of our armed forces. U.S. citizen by birth just like most of us. Muslim, unlike most of us.
I'm glad I have known other Muslims besides those seared into the minds of most Americans by 9/11, homicide bombings, interfaith sectarian bloodshed, honor killings and forced marriages of young daughters who seem to barely qualify as property.
I'm glad that Jean and I lived for 2.5 years at the very beginning of our marriage as tennants of the generous and loving Aydogan family: Muazzez and Ali and their three kids: Esen, Ali and Sedat. Ali was a farmer just like my Dad, but he lived in town. And they opened their little apartment building to us and, before us, to other GI's who didn't live on base. They didn't rip us off by jacking up the rent. They welcomed us and respected us, as did countless merchants who often insisted that before we did any business we first have tea.
Then there were the two Muslim Turks who helped me out of the ditch after a motorcycle accident in August 1972 as several carloads of Americans passed by. I know the parable of the Good Samaritan from the ditch-level view, not that of a spectator two millennia removed.
Likewise, I am glad that I know Christ followers other than the KKK, slavers, the IRA and the Orangemen, the popes and kings and armies of the Thirty Years' War, the Inquisition, the Salem witch trials and the Crusades, apartheid, the 1990's bloodshed between Catholic Croats and Orthodox Serbs who spoke the same language simply written in different alphabets.
May I never be judged by them. May our faith lead us only to humility, forbearance and compassion. Not to judgment but to new resolve.
A trail of bread crumbs, the agonizingly clear signals in hindsight, so often have us asking, "Why didn't we heed the warnings given by this person?" A legitimate question. Too easily we deny because the person is an active church member or occupies a position of authority.
How much of the buildup to the Holocaust was rationalized, ignored or just plain denied?
Now, shall I be judged by the Holocaust because the blood in my veins is 100% German? And will our president be blamed for this tragedy because of his absent father and his middle name Hussein (blessed)? Already, in the minds of many, I'm sure that connection has been made.
That's how the Holocaust started. And spread among literate, educated Christians.
But not all lives giving warning signals of potential tragedy actually end in tragedy. There are countless stories of signals heeded, help offered and received, healing experienced, lives rebuilt and restored. Mental health victories are the great unrealized and unexplored frontier of our lifetime as a civilization. Some of them are on the streets of downtown Portland, and I am blessed to know and to pray with some of them on Sunday evenings. Their lives make no headlines and attract the hot breath of no cloistered pundits far away.
But they are banner headlines in heaven causing the angels to sing.
Lord, give us wisdom, humility, compassion and your peace. Amen.
Exactly 40 years ago today, November 3, 1969, I was dressed in this blue suit. I had only one stripe on my sleeve then. After waiting around most of the day and finally getting paid, I was at last on the way back to the airport in San Antonio, Texas, where I had landed on August 15, 1969 to begin basic training in the United States Air Force.
After waiting an extra month for orders because my background investigation took a little more time (having been all over Europe the summer before, my trail was longer), I was on my way with fellow Airmen to become part of SR9-11-69B. That is, Syracuse Russian Training category 9 Class starting in the month of November (11) Year of starting classes, 1969 Language instruction level: B for basic.
We flew from San Antonio to Atlanta by daylight. In Atlanta we changed planes, flying the last leg from Atlanta to Syracuse on an Eastern Airlines DC-9. It was a nice ride, unlike the thunderstorms I had flown through on my way into San Antonio back in August. Enroute, I had a good conversation with seat mates. I think I paid the two or three dollars and had a beer.
We arrived in Syracuse after 10 PM, collected our duffle bags and boarded a chartered bus. I remember driving through Syracuse once we entered the city and seeing beautiful hardwood trees, so unlike the pale chartreuse mesquite trees we had left behind in Texas.
Someone a couple of rows back remarked upon seeing the brightly colored leaves of November in Syracuse, "Wow! It's actually fall here!"
So it was. And so began the next phase of my training that would eventually lead my path in life to that of a young woman named Jean Beth Robson from Buffalo, NY, the following May 23.
And that's the way it was, November 3, 1969.
Today I wore this uniform again, the first time publicly in 36 years. I went to Milwaukie High School's Living History Day. I heard a few vets tell their stories. I added a few comments from four decades ago.
Left-handed aircraft engine mechanic, machinist and engineering specialist. Playwright and poet. Minister among wonderful and unique people in downtown Portland. Veteran, husband, father, outreach pastor. Christ follower by the grace of God.