Tuesday, March 29, 2011

In Memory of Jack

Two years ago on March 29 it was a Sunday. The phone rang in the morning. Early, but not too early. It was Nila. "We lost Jack this morning," she said. I can't believe he's been gone that long. I remember beers at the Ramada Inn on Dallas Love Field in 1977. I remember a flight over north Texas in a Piper Cherokee 140, N6341W. I remember dinner at a cafe across the way from the Hooters in the Atlanta Underground. I remember the conversation we had there. How Jack told me he was doing after the war: the imponderable implications of having taken human life. Perhaps quite a lot of it. Jack flew a Cobra. He also flew Hueys when he wasn't on a direct combat mission. He flew all he could to stay out of base camp where the drinking was non-stop. People didn't have to think so much about what they were doing that way. I remember the conversation we had a few years later at an Applebee's in Fayetteville, or thereabouts. Jack told me what he would do if he were in my situation where a family member had been wounded by another person in ways we can't talk about. I remember a rainy night in Georgia in a restored '67 Valiant convertible with an intermittent electrical system. I remember Jack's love of books, flying and his friends. I remember Jack's skepticism about religious types but his trust and honor of me. We could talk about anything, and we did. In his last e-mail to me a week before he died, Jack wrote that knowing me was one of the highlights of his life. It's one of the best things anyone ever said to me. I'll never forget it. Ditto, my friend. Ditto. Rest well. I remember. I miss you, Jack. Roger

Saturday, March 19, 2011

Three In A Row...

Here we go again.
By my count, it was March 19, 2003 when President Bush sent U.S. forces into Iraq.
We're still there, of course. We'd been in Afghanistan since October 2001, although we diverted most of the effort in Afghanistan to Iraq.
We're still in Afghanistan.
Of course.
Anybody want to place bets on how this will go?
First, we cheered as Libyans revolted and took control of half the country.
Next, we waited, thinking that Gadhafi (remember when we called him Kaddafy??) was toast.
Then, we watched as his forces began nibbling away at the poorly armed and organized rebels' gains. Cities and towns got taken back, retaken, retaken again.
Now, with practically nothing left as a haven for rebels except Benghazi, we decide to move.
Must have been a few neighbor-against-neighbor episodes in there. Quite a few.
And what comes next?
I got two things to say: 1) Where's the money for this coming from? 2) Whose sons and daughters are going to be there to police up the mess when the Libyan air defenses are crushed, the military dispersed and neighbor-against-neighbor clashes erupt as the Libyan economy further collapses and the blame thing starts to set in?
Another question. If Libya were buying U.S. debt the way China has been, would our response have been different? How? I wonder.
Pray for peace.


Saturday, March 12, 2011

If you're the Son of God, jump.

That's what the ol' guy with the pitchfork told Jesus up there on a high place on the wall of the Temple in Jerusalem.

This was after Jesus had gone without food and water for 40 days, 40 nights and had already been tempted with food and fame.

"Jump," the devil says.

"Just do it. Just DO it. If you're the Son of God, angels will never allow any harm to come to you."

But then, if he's the Son of God, why does he need angels in the first place?

Lots of unanswered questions here.

But the biggest one of all is this one: Who are you, Jesus?

As in, "WHO ARE YOU?"

Just between you and me, if I'd been there, I'd probably have said the same thing: jump.

'Cause if he jumps and doesn't get hurt, or if a flaming chariot comes out of the sky... well, then that proves he was never like us in the first place and always had this "ejection seat" capability to punch right outta here.

But if Jesus does jump as the devil asks, and if he gets hurt or dies... well, then that proves that he was just plain silly to listen and has wasted his life for nothing.

I don't want a God who can't go where I am, who can't go with anybody who might climb up onto one of the fire escape landings or a bridge railing and decide to jump and just end it all. I don't want a God who can't be underneath piles of earthquake rubble or who can't be underneath the muck and debris of a tsunami bigger than a Hollywood disaster flick.

I don't want a God who either can't die at all or who dies stupid.

We ordinary human beings, we seem to have a lock on that latter category. We die stupid all the time. Yep.

Nope, I need a God who dies real. I need a God who gets real. I need a God who looks the devil's choices in the eye and says, "I'll see your shortsighted, self-serving choices and raise you all I have. I'll raise you life. Life is of God. Death is what you are all about, Mr. Devil."

I need a God who says to me or anyone else climbing up on the railings above, "Come down. Don't jump. You leave the fixing of things to me. Don't harm yourself or anyone else. Leave the death and sin business to me. I came to raise you from that. And I'll show you how by going first. "

Jesus says, "Trust me on this. I won't lead you to harm. I'll lead you to life. Trust me on this."

Thursday, March 10, 2011

In Bondage to Sin: Ashes to Ashes... Lent

According to Matthew 4:2, Jesus fasted for 40 days and 40 nights. THEN, famished and weak, he met ALL EVIL face-to-face. It came in a condition of weakness, not strength.
Moses went up to the mountain 40 days w/o food, only the presence of God. Elijah went into the wilderness and lived on the strength of his last meal for 40 days. They both knew the legend of Noah and his family and the onslaught of being tossed about after 40 days of rain (and nights).

In Reformation times, the practice of doing penance went seriously out of whack. The Basilica of St. Peter in Rome was essentially built on the fundraising efforts of paying a monetary sum as a demonstration of true contrition. But the church detoured from being discipling agent to dispensing agent.
Along the way, a very important and beneficial practice got lost or disarmed. The step back to consider the seriousness of one's sins and doing something different in life as a reminder, that got turned into the purchase of forgiveness--with advance ticket sales offered for a nice price.

No coach I know would consider scrapping the entire practice of taking a time-out. The team needs it. He/she needs it. And so do we. It's more than our little foibles, the unkind word here and there, the lustful thought, the alms not given, the prayer not said, that constitutes our sin.

It is our whole condition. Our whole broken relationship with God and with each other. As my church says in corporate confession, "We confess that we are in bondage to sin and cannot free ourselves..." This rift is not repairable by self-help, a six-week diet, or a makeover at the spa. It is by the grace of God. Grace is a very dramatic story. It never hurts to take a time-out. Any discipline or ritual that serves as a mnemonic device for that time-out time is helpful. It can open the heart and mind just like prayer.

And I think sometimes the best prayers we can ever pray are not the ones that ask for what we don't have. They may be those that for once do an honest job of saying who we are, what we are, what is--without a pre-fab answer in mind.
We all need time for that.

Sunday, March 6, 2011

Thank You, Fran

Fran. . .

Frances Roselee Wagner Rauschkolb was born in Chicago, Illinois on April 10, 1922. During World War II, Fran served at Ft. Knox, Kentucky as a member of the Women’s Army Corps.

She met Frank Rauschkolb, a flying officer of the United States Army Air Corps, who was awarded the Distinguished Service Cross for great heroism in the rescue of 17 downed U.S. airmen. Fran and Frank were married in 1945.

After several years, Frank returned to military service, serving as a commissioned officer for more than 20 years in the new United States Air Force. Together, Fran and Frank raised five sons. Fran was preceded in death by her loving husband Frank and by their son Jan who was killed in action in 1969 while serving in Vietnam with the United States Marine Corps.

Fran was called to eternal rest on March 2, 2011, at the age of 88 years, 10 months and 2 days. She is survived by her sons Frank, Jr. (Fairview, OR), Barry (Parker, CO), William (Oklahoma City, OK), and Fred (Tigard, OR) as well four grandsons and eight wonderful great-grandchildren.

As veterans and Gold Star parents, Fran and Frank, along with many other dedicated souls, worked tirelessly to bring our community, our state, and our nation the treasure of the Garden of Solace, the Oregon Vietnam Veterans Living Memorial. In lieu of flowers or other gifts, the family requests memorial gifts be given to the Vietnam Veterans of Oregon Memorial Fund, Inc., 1750 SW Skyline Blvd., #15, Portland, OR 97221.
It's been a great honor to know you, Fran. It was indeed a privilege to lead your memorial service today.
Thank you for your service, and welcome home.
Pastor Roger

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Oaths, Vows, Pledges, Promises and Creeds

Knowing the etymology of that word in the feudal system and its connotation of owing everything to your liege lord, including your family and your life, I reserve it for God alone as do my Mennonite friends. Most Americans today, I'd bet, would probably tell you that the Pledge of Allegiance was written by our nation's founders along with the Declaration and the Constitution. Hardly. I've wished for many years we could replace it with something I wrote for myself and say in its place when others say the pledge:

"I recognize and I accept the privileges and the responsibilities of citizenship in the United States of America, and I pledge my very best efforts in the faithful exercise of both my whole life long."

For me, it ends the confusion of national idolatry, the confusion of symbol with its antecedent. I place my hand over my heart when the flag is presented and the national anthem is played, not because a piece of cloth is there but because the flag calls to mind the abstract ideals of an empowered, self-governing people living under the rule of constitutional law (as opposed to tyrannical plutocracy and autocracy). It is this ideal that commands my respect and my best efforts to translate from concept to concreteness.

Words matter. They must matter. They have to matter. That's why as a 24-year-old Airman First Class with a brand new 22-year-old wife on my arm I made a vow as we walked from the altar down the aisle to greet our guests. We had memorized our traditional vows so that we said them to each other as complete statements from our hearts. My new silent vow to myself was that I would remember that wedding vow and repeat it verbatim to my wife on our 25th anniversary. I did so when that day came 15 years ago. I can still say that vow verbatim. Over the years it's been a superb and humbling reminder to me what I promised 40 years ago. Words matter.

One of my greatest conflicts of conscience was the oath of enlistment. I didn't promise to uphold the country, a party, a president or an ideology. I promised to defend the Constitution against all enemies, foreign and domestic, and to faithfully execute the lawful orders of my superior officers. Since I considered the Commander-in-Chief at the time to be a formidable domestic enemy of the Consitution and the war we were engaged in to be illegitimate, there would have been things that I would have had to say "No, sir!" to, had I been ordered to do them.

Fortunately as a Cold Warrior with real and numerous enemy nuclear, chemical, biological and conventional WMD under our purview, I could comply with what I was asked to do without a violation of both oath and conscience. Again, words matter. If not so, we would never have written the Constitution, the Bill of Rights, numerous laws. We would not have courts to decide exactly (well, maybe somewhat approximately) just what all those words mean and how to apply them.

It might be really good for us to take a time out in our churches and coffee klatsches to consider the words that define our lives. I was ordained into the "holy catholic church", the church of the whole shebang, on January 29. More words. I take them as seriously as all others. As the bishop said before placing his hands on my head, for this office I am accountable to God. It doesn't go any higher than that. At my age, that accounting will come sooner rather than later. Soon and very soon...

Yes, it would be good for us to review our vows, our promises, our oaths, our pledges. And before we ever presume to send another person to lay down their life in our name, we first ought to be completely clear ourselves just what their oath of enlistment requires of them and what citizenship requires of us. Yes, they can be ordered to lay down their lives--provided that a legal test is met from stem to stern. Convenience has nothing to do with it. And no laws or legalisms are legitimate unless they are first on the side of the right. Strange that we task our soldiers with making that interpretation with every order when the responsibility and the authority both clearly rest with us. Our job.

That is, after all, what we said this country was about when we built it. Words mattered then. They still do. They are all we have to give definition to the ideals that I hope always fly overhead like a flag that never touches the ground over which those ideals reign under the dominion of God.