Sunday, May 29, 2011

Heaven and the World

Heaven and the World

In the World. . . all girls look like high school sweethearts
voices all the song of angels
their touch the breath of God, back there
Back home in Heaven and the World...

Back in the World, fireworks fan only Fourth of July fun, not fear
doors slammed by the wind ignored
dreams all end in restful sleep
In Heaven and the World.

In Heaven, mothers always arrive there first
not long years after their young sons
they shed no tears on sunny days for seemingly no reason
Dads don't go for long and longer drives alone, oblivious of the season
in Heaven.
Girls have grown up to be women never leaving
homemade notes on distant granite walls
collages, plastic covered photos of a youthful man in uniform
posters asking, "Did you know my Dad?"
Boys today are men who never wondered, "How much am I like him?"
And children never grew to celebrate first years of life
synonymous with their fathers' last
In Heaven and the World...

In Heaven, gold stars are simply local scenery galore
not adjectives describing mothers, families, wives
no logo on the door of households changed forever
In Heaven, no memories of things you cannot tell your soul
come hell, high water, enemy all about
nothing there unutterable, unspoken, unresolved
In Heaven...

and in the World today
Pray God keep these names we number
Pray God grant them rest in Heaven's grace
Pray God keep alive a dream that slumbers
of life beyond a world at war with all that gives us life.
Pray God keep alive that peace
surpassing human understanding,
healing all our weariness here assembled.

Pray God multiply this grace
Pray God ever sanctify this place
And pray we live and die to see His face
In Heaven and the World.

© 2007 by Roger D. Fuchs, Portland, OR 97230-6151. All Rights reserved. 701120

Heaven and the World. For those serving overseas when I did, especially those in Vietnam, the World, capital “W”, was back home, the idealized version of home so unlike Vietnam that it was practically heaven.

As John Ketwig, author of “And a Hard Rain Fell” wrote, the World was a 396 Chevelle with cheater slicks. The World was the back row at the drive-in movie on a summer night with your girlfriend and her sweet perfume. The world was cold beer, hot coffee and just about everything you and I so easily take for granted on a daily basis. The World was populated with round-eyed, energetic young girls like the ones above who on 5/21 helped to prepare the Oregon Vietnam Veterans Living Memorial for the ceremony tomorrow. The World, that dream, kept many a soldier alive and sane and still does today.

Perhaps instead of discounting this dream that kept the soldiers going we would do well to make their dreams our goal and destination. Perhaps our task is to make the world a little more like heaven so that heaven is more like the world.

Today, I dedicate this poem to Jim and Marilyn Weisenburg of SE Portland. Their son David J. Weisenburg of the 2/162 Oregon National Guard was killed by an IED in Taji, Iraq on September 13, 2004. The Weisenburg Family has carried on with grace and faith through the loss of a beloved son but far, far more. They are a shining example of the ordinary and extraordinary Oregon families that make “the World” worth living and dying for.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Sounds of Silence, Part II

Hello, darkness, my old friend, I've come to talk with you again..." (Simon and Garfunkel, from the Sixties)

Heard anything about soldier suicide lately? Divorce?

If the journalism of today is the answer, what is the question?

I maintain that we get exactly what we pay for in terms of the dollars or hours we spend. While the nation has gone nuts over the failed Judgment Day prediction for May 21, and its current replacement date in October, lives and families are being shed by the stress of war and repeated deployments. How many of us have actually asked "the media", any form of it, for different content? Better yet, how many of us have contacted advertisers and asked them to pull their dollars?

We are the most empowered people the world has known but exercise little of it. I'm 64 years old, and I have yet to meet one of my peers or any member of my extended family who ever bothered to write a single letter, either pro or con, re the Vietnam War. Postage was only 6 cents back then, and you'd think that over the span of 15 years most would have written multiple times, given the cost and the omnipresence of that war. So much for government "of the people and by the people".

Here are some now old stats from Chuck Dean's 1988-90 book "Nam Vet" in which he describes his journey to healing for self and help for other vets:

*Of vets married before going to Vietnam, 38% were divorced within 6 months of returning.

*Divorce rate for all Vietnam veterans is in the 90th percentile.

*40-60% of all Vietnam veterans have persistent emotional adjustment problems.

*Accidental death and suicide rate for Vietnam vets was (then) 33% above national average.

*While 58K+ actually died in the war, over 150,000 had (as of 20 years ago) committed suicide.

*500K had been arrested or incarcerated; between 100 and 200K were in prison or on parole.

*D&A abuse problems ranged between 50 and 75%.

*40% were unemployed and 25% earned less than $7K per year.

From the current wars, we are now beginning to see them on the streets: young men self-medicating on more than marijuana and alcohol of yore. Their decline on meth is stunningly rapid.

Recently, author Karl Marlantes was on public radio here to talk about his Vietnam novel "Matterhorn" now out in paperback. One statement was sobering. At a book signing recently a young couple came up. As he signed the book, the young wife started to cry. Her husband was shipping out again soon. Marlantes asked the young soldier, "Your second deployment?" "No, sir," the soldier replied, "my seventh."

While somewhere around 80% of the names on the Wall in DC were men not old enough to vote, I once took slight comfort in the ages of the KIA's reported regularly in the paper: usually in the mid- to upper-20's. Very small comfort, really. Maybe with only one tour under their belts, these later 20-somethings would do a little better upon return than the 19- or early-20's vets of the Vietnam War. But with multiple tours for nearly all of them, I see nothing at all to be encouraged about.

It's mostly too late now, but I will suggest this in writing to the local newspaper editor (after I get my daughter's car fixed today): in addition to name, age, rank and branch, hometown, unit and casualty info, I'd like to know this number for EVERY reported casualty: NUMBER OF DEPLOYMENTS.

Pray for our invisible soldiers and their young families. Nobody you talk to this week will honestly know the current rate or total of solider/family suicides.

And the numbers reported above for Vietnam vet suicides are two decades old and way low. WAY low.

No way? I could only wish.

Monday, May 23, 2011

Practicing Resurrection

During prayer time at our worship last evening, a guest from Hawaii asked that we pray for those whose predictions had yet again proven wrong. We prayed for humility, for the wisdom to leave to God the things that are God's. I read some words a while back that have proven very useful: "It seems that some believers have been saved from death without being brought to life." Amen. What good is my life unless it is filled with life each day?

A story. On Saturday, I sat in on the second installment of a 90-minute intverview/dialogue at the downtown Central Library. The series is called "A Mile in my Shoes." Each week, a different guest is interviewed by Emily Harris, formerly with NPR, now back home at Oregon Public Broadcasting. What's it like to be Muslim? What's it like to be homeless? What's it like to be a victim of sex trafficking? These questions...

The homeless man (he prefers to say "I sleep outside") is a very intelligent and articulate man with rather severe bipolar disorder. I wish everyone had heard him. He's a felon with a record with some drugs in his past; needs legal drugs to help manage his condition and stay right side up. His dreams? Go back to college and finish his degree in psychology, specifically eco-psychology and start a D&A rehab program outside the city where residents can plant, nurture and harvest the crops whose bounty they will enjoy and be healed by. He has an integral view of living in the Kingdom of God, although he might not call it the KoG.

I don't give the prophets who expropriate God's domain a second of my time because there is so much living to do. Now. And the man with BPD shows us what it means to be both saved from death AND brought to life.

As Simon and Garfunkel wrote so many years ago, "The words of the prophets are written on the subway walls, and tenement halls." We'd do well to pay attention. They are right before our eyes. God put them there.

Have a blessed life. Live.



Thursday, May 19, 2011

May 21--and beyond... South Sister and Heaven

If May 21 is "Judgment Day", so be it. Been ready since January 12, 1947, the day I was baptized as an infant. Meanwhile, I've been to the mountaintop a time or two. Gives me a climpse of heaven... Or heaven's garbage dump. Ha!

Imagining Heaven

I cannot imagine heaven
unless there are mountains in it
Cannot imagine majesty beyond
Jagged rock and snow against the sky.

What sound would ever be heard from
quickened mighty winds
Unless they blew against the rocks and trees
That reach into the clouds?

Whenever I am blessed, or someday glorified
Whenever I am lifted to eternal life
Oh please, oh please let there be mountains!
Such places for the soul to soar!

For I could not imagine heaven
If mountains were no more.

- -Roger Fuchs
above Golden Lake/South Sister

© 1995, 2003, Roger D. Fuchs, Portland, OR 97230. All rights reserved. 598180

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Happy MSHD!

Three decades plus...

It's only been 31 years since the moderately sized eruption of Mt. St. Helens.

We thought it a big deal. It was. People died. The landscape changed. The economy changed a bit.

I even wondered at the time whehter the company I worked for then, AAR Western Skyways, would be able to continue to overhaul and sell aircraft engines.

Who would want an engine that had been test run on a diet of air laced with volcanic ash?

We didn't really have a tangible sense of what volcanic ash even was. When we think of ash, we typically think of flakes of sooty gray or black carbon. That's what we get when we burn paper and wood. When mountains burn, we get rock dust. Silica. Glass powder, essentially.

The mountain I love to spend time on, South Sister, is a volcano. There's a crater at the top, now filled in with snow and ice. But the whole thing, and everything around it, are piles of rock that was once molten foam, piles of dust, and piles of volcanic glass known by the exotic term "obsidian".

South Sis is a recent little gem on the earth's surface. She got there by the violent birthing process of eruption. She's part of the young Cascades. There are older Cascades buried and reburied underneath. Life goes on. Creation goes on. The earth shapes and reshapes itself. That's how it works.

We sometimes think things are more violent today, that stuff like quakes and tsunamis are indicators of the end of time, the end of the world. No, we are living in a quiet time now. Really, we are. It's just that there are more of us two-leggeds in more places on the face of the earth. We have more of our stuff in the way of earth's movements, so we think things are more violent.

Life goes on according to God's time, not our evaluations of it. My prayer is to leave a little of me in the people around me for a time, but to leave as little as possible of me on the earth itself when I am gone. After all, I need to leave as much room as possible for those still to come on this planet.

I thank the One who made it and makes it. I thank those who left room for me.



Monday, May 9, 2011

Folding the Flag

Folding the flag is taking care of the nation.
Folding the flag is putting it to bed for the night.
I'm falling through a hole in the flag...
--lyrics from the 1968 Broadway musical "Hair"

When word broke a week ago that Osama bin Ladin had been killed, a demonstration broke out across from the White House.

Cool. Ever since back in '68, we haven't been able to get very close to the White House. It may have been during the Vietnam War demonstrations that some of the barriers went in. We couldn't have mobs getting too close to the seat of power where they might actually be heard.

After 9/11, things really became hardened. Barriers in front of U.S. Courthouses across the land. You know about all the airport stuff. Kids today don't even know that at one time, a non-passenger could walk right up the airport concourse and actually greet arriving passengers as they stepped off the jetway into the terminal. Or walk with them and give them an embrace and goodbye kiss just before they boarded the big bird.

Back during the 'Nam War, protesters sometimes desecrated the flag. Sometimes they flew it upside down. 'Cause it seemed like things were upside down. About 80% of the 58,200 names on the Wall in DC are people who were considered capable of giving their lives in battle but not old enough or responsible enough to vote. Upside down alright.

Sometimes the upside down situation led protesters to burn the flag. They weren't usually people who'd saluted the flag or seen it folded at the funerals of loved ones. But sometimes those folks, sometimes those veterans who'd seen the discrepancy between what the war was supposed to be and what it actually was, sometimes those folks did other things. Like throw their medals back at the White House. Or demonstrate for health care and benefits for disabled veterans.

Lately, we've seen other mobs of people demonstrating. In Cairo. In Syria. In Bahrain. In Lybia. In Afghanistan after a Florida pastor insisted on burning a Quran/Koran.

Then came the demos on May 1 when bin Ladin was pronounced dead. I hardly knew how to take it as I heard people chanting "USA, USA, USA!" at something other than an Olympic medal victory when a gazillion Nike sponsorship dollars had finally turned to gold and a mega-gazllion dollars' worth of incidental advertising and expected sales.

At the spontaneous demo, some held the flag and wrapped themselves in it. Some waved it around like a pom-pom at a high school pep rally. Some practically stuck it right up the lens of the news cameras.

In many ways, it felt like being given the finger. The flag turned into a fabric form of the finger.

Legitimate manifestation of pride? Relief? Or a desecration of the flag?

Whether it's celebrating the death of a terrorist murderer or the women's 4 x 400 relay, wrapping oneself in a flag is desecration in my book. Pure desecration. Not of the piece of fabric itself, but of the intangible ideal behind it

That's why the flag is not supposed to touch the ground. It's supposed to FLY!

It's supposed to fly over all of us, to remind us that the ideals of our Constitution are of value only when lived out in our daily lives and when upheld through the rule of law. Such things are not honored when the flag is used as a beach towel over a sweaty or intoxicated body. They are not honored and actualized in a hopelessly gridlocked Congress or a hopelessly (almost) gridlocked populace unable to pay attention to where we are going.

Over the past several years I've heard that rallying cry "Take our country back!"

From whom, for God's sake? From ourselves, I conclude. From our inattention to it and what the flag stands for: our duty to pay attention to it.

The vacuum our inattention and non-participation have left has been backfilled with planet-sized bags of campaign money. The ideal over which the flag must fly is us, not money.

I hope we have a resurgence of citizenship. I hope the flag never again becomes a fabric form of flipping off friends, enemies or neighbors

Long may it wave.


Tuesday, May 3, 2011

If We Build It, They Will Come: Field of Dreams

They came once. So they built it. They kept coming for a few decades. Maybe even a century. Then fewer came. Then the ones who were left began to age.

Soon the ones aging were the vast majority of the ones who were left. Look around at many older mainline churches, and the sign on the fence for special parking will seem like a redundancy. Because, aren't all church-goers elderly? Don't they all carry some disabilities?

In the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, 58% of the congregations have an average worship attendance of 100 or fewer, the size considered the minimum in order to employ a full-time pastor. Oh, and those were 2008 numbers.

Here in the Oregon Synod, 12 of 118 congregations are growing. The others are holding steady or declining. And with churches and the mission of the gospel, holding steady IS declining.

In 1969 I was shipped off to San Antonio, Texas, for Air Force basic training. On a weekend pass, I attended church with two other buddies, both Lutherans from Iowa. St. XXXXX Lutheran in the heart of San Antonio, was an American Lutheran Church congregation, I believe. Church was packed that Sunday. Nearly all were white folks looking and dressed much like those I'd grown up around in Nebraska.

Less than 20 years later, that church was gone. Closed. The neighborhood around it was becoming increasingly African American and Hispanic. "Our people" (at least, not enough of "our people") didn't see "those people" as God's people. Well, maybe they were God's people. But they weren't St. XXXXX people. Not those people......

"Those people" were never made them feel welcome. "Our people" never went out to invite them or get to know them. Instead, "our people" clung to a vision of who they were that matched the neighborhood of 25 years ago. Or more.

The etched glass on the window pane is aside the main entrance to the church of the SE Asian Vicariate along NE Sandy Blvd in Portland. Look closely at the outlines of the three nation states represented: Vietnam, Thailand, Cambodia. The map is superimposed over the cross.

Or the cross surrounds the map. It's a large and growing congregation: tons of young people, people we were once at war with. Refugees and immigrants built this church into what it is today: a house of God and a vibrant center of community life.

That's how churches of European immigrants started out. It's the way they all start.

Whether or not they remain such has entirely to do with how churches hear the gospel and see their mission:

A) stability and preservation in a changing world


B) outreach and rebirth in a perpetually changing and challenging world.

I'm betting that Jesus is betting on option B.

What do you think?


PS: The sign in the first picture? It's in the parking lot of another church right across the street from the one with the etched glass window.

Monday, May 2, 2011

Living Remains

The young men above never knew their Grandpa. His own kids barely knew him, if at all. He died young. His two kids were very, very young. But something of him lives in his grandsons, both of them serving in the United States Air Force. I've met all the survivors in this family. I wish I'd met the one who left us at age 24.

Osama bin Laden has been taken out. Someone's sons had to do it. America wants to hug these highly trained, secretive young men who did this work for us. Mostly, because of their work, they will have to remain anonymous to us. They could not do what they do as celebrity idols.

But they will carry something of this work with them for life. It may never be something they are able to discuss with family and loved ones. We owe them a lifetime of gratitude. But we also owe them our prayers for health, healing and wholeness.

They have taken life to avenge its loss. They have taken life to save life. They have done so at our call. They have done our work. Living remains to be done. For them. For us, too,

Living Remains

"Grandpa, were you in the war??
question rarely asked by sons and daughters
of their Dads.
Mamas often warned them not to
Mostly, they just somehow knew.
Sons and daughters may not ask
unlike the way that grandkids do…

He who talks of it openly most days
has likely never seen it
never carried sounds of rounds,
sweaty smell of fear,
bloody mud beneath his fingernails, or else
He has a mission to see that others never do
Mission to unpack the things old warriors carry still
In Grandpa bellies, feelings in the gut that never feel
more than the age of twenty
inside a body graying now on every edge.

"Grandpa, were you. . ."
If I say “yes”, what will you do?
If I concede these keys to me, where will you drive me to?
What will we do when we arrive there, will we ever?
And will we ever leave?

In places overgrown with trees and vines,
grasses taller than a man
where annual floods bring fields of rice to bloom
They are finding them in bits
and pieces, remains of stories never told
Lives that filled their quotas long ago

I may have let the jungle grow awhile
Because there are human remains in earth
and me
remains in heart and mind and memory
Remains of war live on forever, so they are forever
living remains
And in these things, all things
Living remains for us to do.

"Grandpa, Grandma, were you in the war?
Was war inside of you?"
You tell me so. You tell me true.
While living remains for you.

--Roger Fuchs

© 2010 by Roger D. Fuchs, Portland, OR 97230-6151. All Rights reserved. 018011