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Rise Again—An Easter Lament

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He is risen! He is risen indeed! And yet….

Death rains and reigns.
Evil dances.
Lies cry out.
And still He waits.

Your time is perfect,
Your grace severe,
Your patience intolerable

As children die
Women raped
Men slaughtered

A bike lies fallen
Bodies draped with sheets
Cars become tombs

How many more will die
Before one more is saved for eternity?

And where are Your people?
Who will cry out “PEACE! STOP!”?
Who will sacrifice for war to end?
When will the world arise?

Are we so terrified of the killing machines we ourselves have created that we will allow thousands more to die, to be raped, maimed, orphaned, before we will say with our lives, “ENOUGH!”?

And what of my own hypocrisy?

Yes, I care more for the thousands in Ukraine
than the thousands in Syria.

Forgive me, Gracious Father.

Aleppo broke your heart as much as Mariupol.
Or more, for its forgottenness in the world.

Let my heart break for
the widows
the orphans
the immigrants and refugees
the poor
wherever they are
whatever their skin or homeland or language or faith

Rise again, LORD Jesus
On this Easter morning.
Won’t you rise and bring death to its end

Judge the world
Strike down the brute
In the palace or the tent … or my own heart

LORD Sabaoth, LORD of Hosts
Bring an end to the reign of terror
Let the generals rise up against their commander
Let the privates lay down their arms
Let the officers and the sergeants end the atrocities

Reveal yourself as God of justice and wrath
…and grace

Rise again, my Lord and my God.

Ukraine

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A storm of thoughts and emotions is swirling inside me as I take in the news from Ukraine. Somewhere in my family history, on my mom’s side, we have roots in Ukraine—not a strong or deep connection, but it’s there.

Stronger is the pull from the four years I invested in the U.S. Air Force, fighting the Cold War that helped buy Ukraine’s freedom and independence from the oppression of the Soviet Union. Stationed in England, I took the Soviet threat seriously: we knew their missiles were pointed at us; a U.S. missile base was both built and decommissioned in the space of those four years, just eight miles from where I was stationed; F-5E fighter jets, painted and trained as Soviet fighters, were among the aircraft assigned to my base, flying to train western air forces in air-to-air combat. (The 527th Tactical Fighter Training Aggressor Squadron was the Air Force’s version of the Navy’s better-known Top Gun Fighter Weapons School.)

Some say the Cold War was a war of words—but they were words backed up by very real weapons, many of them nuclear. Those were scary times. Between the rhetoric and the propaganda (on both sides) and the missiles, life—particularly in Europe—was lived under a threatening cloud known as MAD: “mutually-assured destruction.” Our hope was vested in leaders on both sides who were reasonable enough to long for, and work for, a greater peace.

We won that war, that Cold War. Reason prevailed. Treaties were signed. Missiles dismantled. Oppressed citizens were empowered to rise against their oppressors to demand freedoms they’d never known. It wasn’t easy; change … transformation … never is. The pull back to what is known, what is comfortable—even oppression—is great. (I think of the ancient Israelites who, in the heat of the wilderness, yearned to go back to the familiar slavery in Egypt.) But the pull to something better won out, and throughout Eastern Europe, men and women endured the discomfort of change for the sake of their children and grandchildren.

Yet always there is someone who wants to go back, who misses the power that would have been, could have been, theirs under the old regime. They proclaim strength and freedom and prosperity. They decry the hard work of real freedom, they bemoan the discomfort of real transformation, they blame the present sufferings on the future hope. And their sweet words entice even reasonable men and women to offer up even their own power and freedom on an altar to evil.

History is repeating itself. Again. At what cost? Will Ukraine become the first casualty of a war for a new Soviet Union or will the invasion be crushed by a global coalition as happened in Kuwait in 1991? Will the world be drawn into a third Great War or is this, as some suggest, the biblical Armageddon—truly the War to end all wars?

Pray for peace. Fight for freedom. Silence the evil

No Shave November

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It’s been more than thirty years since I’ve had a beard. Eiley doesn’t care for them and, well, that pretty much seals the deal. This year, though, she graciously (though also rather reluctantly) allowed me to participate in #NoShaveNovember along with others at the Sonora Police Department, which I serve as a chaplain.

In case you’re not familiar with it, the goal of No Shave November is to raise funds and awareness for cancer prevention and treatment, particularly for men. (Sonora Police raised $525—which was matched by another donor—for the Cancer Patient Support Fund at Adventist Health Sonora). I love the fact that the day we presented the donation, one of our dispatchers joined the fun by giving herself a beard!

Part of my motivation this year was to honor my brother, who spent his last two years of high school—and life—battling cancer. Rick was eighteen months older than me and had already fought off a kidney disease before he turned eight. The summer before our family moved to Germany, in our physicals prior to the move, Rick was found to have testicular cancer. (I learned only in the last few years that the cancer was likely the result of an experimental treatment for the earlier kidney disease.) Rick spent his 16th birthday in the hospital recovering from surgery, and over the next two years would spend as much as three weeks at a time in the hospital receiving chemotherapy and radiation treatments.

Those treatments, of course, took Rick’s hair, meaning that over his last two years of high school, he had at least three different heads of hair: the straight, auburn hair he grew up with, a sandy-brown wig, and finally the dark red, wavy hair that grew back after chemo. Rick never had a chance to grow a beard. On March 26, 1980—an official high school graduate three months shy of his 18th birthday—Rick passed into eternity.

Rick, this beard’s for you.

Getting What We Want

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Recently I read something about the power of the media to “control the minds of the masses.” As I read, the thought came to me that the media give us what we want to see. And politicians tell us what we want to hear.

We get what we want … but we don’t want what we get.

We say we want truth, but really we only want the truth that makes us feel better about ourselves, or the truth that confirms what we already think (or want to think). We don’t want the truth that tells us we’re wrong, that we’re going in a bad direction, that the Titanic is sinking. Former Vice President Al Gore recognized this in the title of his book, An Inconvenient Truth. Jack Nicholson’s character in the movie A Few Good Men nailed it when he bellowed, “You can’t handle the truth!”

Shortly after reading the statement about the media, I read my mom’s most recent blog post, in which she wrote about how she makes it a habit to look inside herself, to discover ways in which she still needs to learn and grow. Yet such introspection is hard. It’s uncomfortable. We’re not sure we can “handle the truth” about ourselves.

It’s easy to point fingers at the media, politicians, or anyone else we want. It’s easy to blame parents or teachers or society or even God for the brokenness we know we live with but don’t want to deal with.

What we need instead, though, is to stand in front of the mirror and point—to acknowledge that what is wrong in the world really is just a reflection of what is wrong with ourselves.

Maybe instead of looking at the media and seeing what we want to see, or listening to the politicians and hearing what we want to hear, we need to listen to the prophets—the prophets of old and the prophets of today—who speak God’s truth even at the risk of their own lives; who will point the finger at us and point our eyes toward God.

Inauguration Day 2021—A Day of Peace and Hope

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Four years ago today I was substitute teaching in a familiar classroom of fifth graders. After a contentious presidential election campaign, I thought the history lesson of watching the inauguration would be good for my students: they could watch as two very different sides would come together under the banner of unity to celebrate the peaceful transition of power in the world’s oldest democracy. Though personally disappointed in the result of the election, I nonetheless held out a modicum of hope that the new president, through his choices of advisors and cabinet officials, could lead the nation forward. I was wrong on both counts.

As the inauguration preliminaries played out on the big screen, most students quietly did their morning work, largely uninterested in the distant events in our nation’s capital  A few, whose parroted views had been overly enthusiastic (for ten-year-olds) throughout the previous fall, continued their boisterous cheering of their candidate’s victory. Others, more reserved in defeat, sat in silence.

Then I saw her: one normally-bubbly student sitting with head down, unable to focus on the page on her desk, tears streaming down her face. I knelt down beside her and asked what she was thinking.

“I’m afraid my family will be deported,” she replied.

I knew nothing of her background beyond that she was Hispanic. Were her parents illegal immigrants? Had she been born in the U.S. or in Mexico? In that moment, none of that mattered to me. All that mattered was that one of my students, a ten-year-old girl, was not celebrating democracy but fearing for her own security, her family’s security, her future. Far more devastating than an election loss was, for this girl, the prospect of losing her family and likely the only home she had ever known. She was afraid—legitimately, I think—not only because of the words she had heard on the nightly news from the man becoming president, but because those same words were coming from the lips of her fellow students.

As adults, we have learned to distinguish between the bombastic speeches we hear or read and what we can expect in reality. Friends, neighbors, and politicians alike will often speak far more boldly from behind the safe wall of a camera or social media, but never act on their bold speech or thinly-veiled threats. Fifth graders haven’t yet learned to separate that.

As I sought to comfort and give hope to my young student, I was caught in a poignant, agonizing moment that portended what would lay ahead in ways I would never have imagined … or, indeed, feared. Never in my wildest dreams did I consider that just two weeks before the next inauguration, our nation’s capitol building would come under attack not from a foreign enemy, but from within, from Americans fighting for their own distorted view of democracy. Never did I imagine that the president whose inauguration that little girl feared would be accused by long-time allies—members of his own party—of inciting an insurrection against his own capitol. And yet that is precisely what has taken place in the past two weeks.

And so on this Inauguration Day in 2021 I watched with a greater hope as our nation once again celebrated democracy’s greatest tradition: a peaceful transition of power. It was, again, a poignant moment, historic not simply as every inauguration has been historic, but because of the firsts: the first woman, first African-American, first Asian-American vice president (sworn in by the first Latina Supreme Court justice); the oldest first-term president (significant in a myriad of ways!); the first time in more than a century that the outgoing president has been absent from the inauguration. It was a poignant moment because of the pandemic that has gripped our nation and the world for the past ten months. There will be no comparison of crowd sizes this year, but the Capital Mall was resplendent with thousands of flags representing the nation, the states, the territories.

And it was poignant for me because of the hope I feel again: hope that our nation can begin to heal, hope that we can begin to put division and disunity behind us, hope that we can rejoin the nations of the world in working together for peace and prosperity for all. It won’t be easy. Millions still grieve their candidate’s loss; many still mistakenly—or willfully—believe that the election was fraudulent. Many of us—myself included—still have questions about the new administration and its commitment to values we hold. It will take all of us putting aside our differences in order to move forward in unity.

And yet today I am convinced that we can walk through the hard days ahead with hope. And hope is one thing that has been in desperately short supply these past four years.