Monday, November 29, 2010

Swept Away...

...things will be just as they were when Noah lived. People were eating, drinking, and getting married right up to the day that the flood came and Noah went into the big boat. They didn't know anything was happening until the flood came and swept them all away. That is how it will be when the Son of Man appears. Two men will be in the same field, but only one will be taken. The other will be left. Two women will be together grinding grain, but only one will be taken. The other will be left. (Matthew 24:37-41 CEV)

Swept away... If you've ever let your eyes stray to the covers of the romance novels on sale in the grocery store, the cover art says it all.
Studly man with Greek god hair and physique to die for (either no shirt on or already unbuttoned to the waist) is holding woman in his arms with her clothing shredded like that of the eyesore women's costumes of Dancing With The Stars. She's swooning in his arms.
She's being "swept away".
Yeah, right. Until the divorce lawyers get involved.
One minute the two guys were standing on top of this peak on the east edge of the Wallowas in NE Oregon, their hang gliding chute on the ground. The next minute, their wing was aloft on the breeze and they were flying. Swept away.
Their world changed instantly, you better know!
We've often heard this passage, the first gospel text we read in the season of Advent, as a prediction or description of the end of the world. At least, talk about "End Times" to people and they'll always, always, always come up with end-of-the-world scenarios of tribulation, calamity, and blood up to the bridles of the horsemen of the Apocalypse.
That solo understanding of biblical End Times is flat out "corpus abuse" of the text. No, the man in the field who was taken, the woman grinding who was taken, were not raptured out of the evil world into heaven while the ones who were left suffered horribly.
No, the ones TAKEN were overcome by life. Their lives were completely thrown off track when life changed, when the world changed. They weren't prepared.
The ones who were left were prepared. They stayed on the job, continued to serve and get the work done in radically altered conditions.
The Noah reference informs us if we are ready to shove rapturous misinterpretations out of our minds and actually hear what Jesus has to say.
Noah and family weren't swept away. The others were. Noah and family lived in, on, with and through the worst natural disaster imaginable--and they saved God's living creatures along with them.
How? The big boat didn't fall out of the sky. They didn't pick it up at 75% off on Black Friday. It wasn't imported from China. Didn't steal it on e-Bay. They spent years building it.
They were preparing and so became prepared to serve when the whole world changed.
We live in the times between our Lord's first appearance and earthly life and our waiting and expectation of the next. We are not living daily looking for the end of the world but its New Beginning. Actually, we are already living its new beginning.
In the best of times and the worst of times, we are on the job and prepared to serve because we are prepared with Jesus' durable word that outlasts earth and sky.
And happy landings, all you hang gliders out there!
Blessed Advent!

Thursday, November 25, 2010

In Flower Years...

Iris After Veterans Day

The iris did not expect
autumn's chill so soon,
shivers in the rain,
in vain awaits the sun
among the casualties of war,
roses and the wilted red carnations.
Cut tulips skyward reach
for a helping hand
an entire week after Veterans Day,
too weak to lift their wet winged leaves
from the cold gray granite.

Frost and snow failed their fight for life
somewhere in its prime:
Age nineteen in flower years.
Copyright 2010 by Roger D. Fuchs. All rights reserved.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Angels Among Us

Steve Hanks is our favorite living watercolorist. His rendering of the human form has a draftsman's precision. But his shading of skin tones has to be a gift of the Creator. You have to be born with it, I think. Gosh, he's good.
This painting is titled "There Are Angels Among Us".
OK, which one is the angel? Woman walking the dog? The dog? Guy walking away? Guy in the background with his kid? Couple way in the background?
The woman in black?
Guy wearing the hoodie?

Kids would be willing to hazard a guess. Probably won't get a peep out of adults. Too afraid of being "wrong".
"Pastor wants me to say it's the homeless guy in the hoodie." That's what we might think.
"Or maybe it's the gal in black... Do angels really wear black? Could they?"
How might your answer about the angel question change if I asked this:
"OK, hold the answer to who the angel is. Meanwhile, ask this question: Who is the Christ?"
While you ponder, ponder another question. Is there someone else in the picture you haven't seen yet?
How about the person whose eyes are seeing this picture? How about you?
Rob Bell in his breathtaking short film DVD "Open" poses this thought. Maybe God wants to involve you in the answer to prayer. Then he gets to the meat. "Don't ask God to feed a hungry person if you have plenty of food."
We have no idea what act of kindness and grace anyone in the painting has just performed--or is about to. Even the person behind the eyes that see the scene before us.
There are angels among us. And so is Christ. So are you.

Monday, November 15, 2010

Far Greater Generation

Tom Brokaw may not have coined the title "Greatest Generation", but he certainly gave it a permanent place in our psyche.

I don't contend a single qualification of the Americans who lived and served and experienced the sacrifices and the decisions of World War II.

They deserve all the thanks and honor we can give them.

But as my fellow Nebraskan, Dr. Mary Pipher observed in her book The Shelter of Each Other--Rebuilding Our Families, when the wolf is at the door and the enemy is external, coming together is so much easier to do.

When the wolf is inside, it's a totally different deal.

I fought the Cold War in the Vietnam era. I've actually heard WWII veterans say in front of Vietnam veterans, "I fought the GOOD war." I found it gracious of the Vietnam vets that they kept their silence and didn't shout, "Excuse me, but we didn't get any more of a choice than you did."

I've had it stuck in my face for much of my life that I'm a "baby boomer". As if I had a choice. I'm supposed to be one of America's first worthless generation, a generation that lost America's first war, the generation of free love and no morals. The generation of Americans that expected the government to do everything for them. Totally spoiled. Well...

I've got a beef with a few things. The Greatest Generation did great things in WWII. But it was also that generation that got us into Vietnam and then could not figure out what the hell to do with it or how to be honest about it. A guerilla war for national unification was constantly fought with the mentality (on America's part) of a traditional European land war with fronts and opposing powers wanting to annex adjacent territory. It was none of those. Greatest Generation was not great enough to see that or to make an appropriate course correction if they did. Political calculations colored everything but were colorblind to the color of blood--my generation's blood.

Even greatness has limitations.

Our country, our culture, our families, our political system and our economy and our churches and our entire way of life are threatened today by insidious enemies from within even as our way of life threatens the entire planet without. So far, we are not responding well at all. We are mostly like the grumbling Israelites longing for "the flesh pots of Egypt." We're looking back. We still like Ike and wanna go back there.

We haven't found our Moses to show the only way: forward.

I don't know who the parent was who left their child's note at the Oregon Vietnam Memorial in May. I wonder if the adult(s) involved had any more of an idea how to spell, construct a simple declarative sentence or to reason than the child who made these letters in crayon. At least the kid had the wisdom and the courage to say something, whatever it means.

So here's my response to the accusations that my boomer roots and birth date have made me a substandard American:

1. We've never bounced a check.
2. We've never been in jail.
3. We've never been in credit card trouble.
4. We've been married to only each other for nearly 40 years.

5. We've raised a daughter who has been employed and self-sufficient since she graduated from college over 8 years ago.
6. Our house is old and paid for.
7. Our cars are old and paid for.
8. We pay our taxes.
9. We inform ourselves and vote.
10. We have never collected a dime of unemployment compensation.
11. We have household income at the poverty level.
12. We go to church and actually provide church and meals for people who are homeless and mentally ill.
13. We've never sued anyone, but I have helped to defend others wrongly accused and sued in court.
14. We've both interrupted education tracks and careers to serve our country and live overseas at well below poverty level.
15. We've never expected the government to provide for us.

16. We've let our elected representatives know repeatedly what we think is right and necessary.

None of this deserves an award or a certificate of achievement. It's simply the minimum standard we should expect of everyone who lives here.

We've got serious problems here in the USA, and they are bringing the nation to its knees. We have actually glorified war over responsibility.

These problems will not be solved by entertainment and thinking no deeper than 140-character tweets. They will not be solved by spending even more money on election campaigns.

"Getting the message out" is not the impediment to moving forward. Being clueless or careless is.

Crushing burdens have been handed to Americans under the age of 35, burdens which Jean and I have decried in every way we could because we foresaw them. We are not ready to quit, but we are discouraged. VERY discouraged.

And here's my take on things. If Americans under the age of 35 can figure out how to salvage the mess that's been left to them, they will far, far exceed the Greatest Generation in imagination, courage and sacrifice. They will indeed have earned the title "Far Greater Generation".

By comparison to what today's younger Americans face, the challenges of WWII were flat out idiot-simple.

Younger Americans, we're here to help. Let's talk.

Time we got going. Waiting makes none of the tasks ahead easier or simpler.

Prayers accepted and appreciated. Thanks!


Thursday, November 11, 2010

With Alcohol He Built A Wall...

Veterans Day...

We're supposed to fly flags and be patriotic today. Whatever the "being patriotic" part means... For the record, I AM flying my flag today but only at half staff. In fact, I never fly my flag at anything but half staff. Flying the flag should humble us. "Pride goeth before a fall." We've had enough pride, and falling is a distinct possibility now.
Time to check out the humility side of the aisle.
Well, Veterans Day 2010...
The newspapers have been full of Biggest (Christmas) Sale of the Year flyers already.
Ain't even Turkey Day yet.
I was supposed to donate blood at the Red Cross today. But I'm recovering from a cold and will shed the red stuff another day when it's healthier. I gave them a triple unit of platelets just a week ago today. My veteran's gift to life.
But on this day I'm remembering so many things, and I know there are so many unshared memories and untold stories. Please read a few of these and share with friends:

And on this day I can't help thinking about Wes. And what he told Ron just before he shipped out for Vietnam in '67. Wes didn't expect to return. And he didn't. Almost did, but he didn't. You can only wish all soldiers would return alive. Most did return alive, of course.
Not all were well.
I saw first hand the life and death tightrope that many walked daily when many years ago I visited the counseling groups for veterans and their families at the Klamath Falls office of (then) Lutheran Family Service of Oregon. LFS was saving countless lives with tools other than surgery, IV's and antibiotics.
Let's say Wes had returned. What kind of life would his have been? I don't know, and no one but God does. Years later my late friend Jack, an 1800-hour Cobra pilot, would tell me point blank:
"When you have killed other human beings, it can be hard to think of yourself as a moral person again."
I learned in the vets' groups at Klamath Falls just how many returned vets and their loved ones were struggling to make it. Not all who made it, "made it." For those who did not, for those who still struggle today, these words:
The time never stopped
though it seemed to come and go, inverted
Nightmarish nights of terror, unnerving days between
He died in the spirit at nineteen
too wounded to feel the pain--injury went unseen
And a youthful dream was left to rot
stillborn in muddy fear.
His body returned, warm and breathing
though the eyes told pale death within
Never certain if it ended,
if anything else had been...
With alcohol, he built a wall
Held together with pills and pain
People never got near, let alone inside
They never cared to once they'd tried
And somewhere the fog would close again,
remind him of the rain...
Chills and sweat and pain, bloody mud and rain
The fog would close...
Sometime between his childhood
and early Friday afternoon
The fog came in...
And he walked off the edge of the World.
Copyright 2010 by Roger D. Fuchs. All rights reserved.
God's eternal peace to you today, brothers and sisters.
Thank you for your service, and welcome home!

Monday, November 8, 2010

Swords Into Plowshares, or Back Again?

He shall judge between the nations, and shall arbitrate for many peoples; they shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks; nation shall not lift up sword against nation; neither shall they learn war any more. Isaiah 2:4

I traveled to my hometown of Arlington, Nebraska last month to visit my Mom. She's lived her whole life in this county until the past two months in neighboring Dodge County, the county where I was born.

Arlington has a little VFW Hall, now headquarters also for the American Foreign Legion, or what's left of it. They have burger barbeques regularly and post honor guards at funerals of veterans, plant flags on veterans' graves on Memorial Day and Veterans' Day.

Outside the VFW Hall is, of course, a flagpole. But there's also the mandatory piece of non-functional armament. In this case, it's a 155mm model M1A2 Howitzer.

It's been brush painted with several coats of olive drab paint that are now badly oxidized again. The military tires have actually been replaced since a previous visit, but they are not faring and aging well in the heat and sun of Nebraska summers and the cold of Nebraska winters.

In the few minutes I spent around the artillery piece last month, I probably looked more closely at some details than almost anyone in town. It's kinda like that with things we see every day and take for granted. Kinda like veterans whom we see every day assuming that we know what's there.

Within the length of two football fields from this big gun, one can be standing in my cousin Verdel's soybean or corn field, depending on what he's planted that year. Farming is now an industrial process limited exclusively to two heavily genetically modified crops: corn and 'beans. It wasn't always so, but things are always changing in this technologically driven world of ours.

Illinois blacksmith John Deere gave the world the steel plow. It worked so much better than its cast iron predecessor because the steel would polish up nice and smooth and scour much better as it turned the soil. It tilled better. The horse could pull it more easily. John Deere's peer named Oliver accomplished the same thing using chilled iron.

And with the growth of the iron and steel industry, American manufacturers were able to bolt and rivet together huge 10-bottom plows to break up the prairie sod when pulled by monstrous steam tractors burning coal and wood. Hello, Dust Bowl, a few decades later!

As with all things that rise rapidly, an apex is reached, then a fall. At the height of intensive tillage, turbocharged diesel farm tractors pulled 6-bottom plows, mostly 16-inch bottoms unlike the smaller 12- or 14-inch bottoms pulled by the steamers. Some of the better ones were made by the Oliver Corporation of Chicago, Illinois. Zip code 60606.

Chi Town. Also home of International Harvester, successor to the McCormick-Deering Company that grew out of the reaper invented by Cyrus McCormick. Among Chicago, Moline, Waterloo, Minneapolis, Milwaukee and Coldwater (Ohio), you had over 90% of the farm equipment manufactured in the United States.

The Oliver Corporation went belly up long ago. IH had to merge with Case to stay afloat. There is no Minneapolis-Moline. No Massey-Harris, no Cockshutt (Canada), no Ferguson, No Allis-Chalmers, no Avery. Thankfully, farmers no longer use plows. No-till farming has begun to save a lot of fuel and topsoil, and none to soon. But we've replaced plowing to some extent with genetic tinkering and massive amounts of chemicals. How long before we figure out that doesn't work in the long haul either?

I wonder how many of the farmers or farm rooted people in Arlington know that the gun carriage for the big Howitzer was made by The Oliver Corporation? 1955. Says so right on the barely legible data plate. It's a composite piece, this big gun. Barrel came from the Watervliet Arsenal, 1984. Breech has been welded shut. So has the muzzle.

Sometimes these big guns took lives. Sometimes they saved them. Sometimes they took friendly lives on our side when we put expired Korea era shells into them: short rounds that exploded near the gun, not the target.

A friend's father, David Paul Spears, was killed that way in July 1966. He left behind a young widow, Shelby, and three little kids. Years later, David Spears would also have a granddaughter named Shelby. And since we're talking about iron and steel, how about this irony: The Oliver Corporation manufactured carriages for the 155mm Howitzer at its Shelbyville, Ohio factory.

And sometimes the big guns took lives even when they weren't present. Because they existed and we sold them to others, munitions were made and stockpiled. Sometimes, as the Saturday Night Live Coneheads used to say, "in mass quantities."

Decades later a whole new technology of asymmetric warfare would emerge. The shells would be pilfered "in mass quantities" after the fall of Saddam because we went in with too few troops to actually occupy Iraq and then naively dismissed the entire armed forces of Iraq.

Can you say "Improvised explosive device?"

Proclaim this among the nations:

Prepare for war, stir up the warriors. Let all the soldiers draw near, let them come up. Beat your plowshares into swords, and your pruning hooks into spears; let the weakling say, "I am a warrior." Joel 3:9-10.

Seems so many things are becoming obsolete all around us. The military draft has become obsolete. But war hasn't yet. I wonder when we'll figure out that we can't afford war. Philosophically or financially...

Funny how much the M1A2 on the Howitzer's data plate looks like MIA2. I wish war would go MIA, too. I wonder if we could grow to embrace that thought?



P.S. In case it looks insignificant, the inside diameter of the welded shut Howitzer muzzle below measures 6.1 inches.