Saturday, October 16, 2010

An allnighter

Staying up all night is much harder now than when I was in college. So when I did so last night in order to witness four groups of soldiers returning to the United States, it took a toll on me. My sacrifice, however, pales before what each one of them gave in the past year. Some of their comrades did not return. Those who survived, served in difficult environments. They lost a year of memories with their spouses, children, and parents. They gained a sense of how living in our nation compares with living in another. They learned what it means to help someone else when the other may not always want or appreciate the help. Many also experienced the joy of watching a light come on in another's eyes when that person receives an unexpected gift. My loss of sleep was a small price to pay in order to honor men and women who put their lives on the line to help others gain a chance for a better life. I had also the opportunity to meet veterans who came to welcome new members of their fraternity, their band of brothers. Families waiting for reunion gave the morning even more sparkle. My wife's presence at my side give me energy to keep on through the night. Watching her connect with military families, taking pictures of newly reunited couples, and holding small children to give a mother a break inspired me. What a night!

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Rejoicing in Resurrection

How may we rejoice in resurrection when news of death accosts us at every turn. Terrorist actions, natural disasters, oil spills, and disease end life every day. Grief dismantles joy. When a loved one dies, people often react first with denial, then lash out angrily at the messenger. Anger and depression soon follow. Two biblical stories (1Kings 17:17-24 and Luke 7:11-17) relate how reactions to the deaths of two young men changed when God came into the picture. Cynicism changed to faith. Grief became hope. Death segued into life. The prophet Elijah and Jesus teach us that even when hope seems an illusion, we still can rejoice in resurrection.
The mothers of the dead young men react as we often do when we grieve. Elijah’s landlady lashes out in anger at the alleged man of God from Israel. “What do you have against me, man of God?” she says. The woman also voices the fear that her own sin has in some way caused the death of her son. “Did you come to remind me of my sin and kill my son. In contrast, the widow from Nain asks nothing of Jesus. Perhaps, numbed by her grief, she thought nothing could be done. She, too, may have felt anger when Jesus told her, “Don’t cry,” and when he defied tradition by reaching out to touch the coffin. For each of these widows, the death of her only son bore great costs for her future. How would she provide for herself? The death of an only son hinted at economic catastrophe for the family. Poverty was almost certain when his mother was already a widow. As Jesus, his disciples, and the crowd with them see the mournful procession, Jesus takes in the situation and seems to realize all that is taking place. “When the Lord saw her, his heart went out to her.” Jesus has compassion for the woman.
When the grieving mother verbally attacks him, Elijah simply replies, “Give me your son.” He then uses prayer and ritual as he pleads with God to restore the boy’s life. Jesus tells another grieving woman not to cry. He then goes to the coffin and touches it. Jesus did more than offer a trite expression of sympathy. He acts to remove the source of the grief. With words that must have stunned hearers from both his followers and the funeral possession, Jesus spoke to the dead body and said, “Young man, I say to you, get up!” “What is he saying? Is he mad?” – Those thoughts probably ran through the minds of those who hear him speak. But then, they marveled and stared in fear and surprise as “the dead man sat up and began to talk.” Jesus gave him back to his mother. What a reunion that was! At one moment, the woman viewed her future as bleak and lonely; the next moment she saw only hope and love as she held her living son, her only son, close to her again.
Resurrection gave birth to faith in both incidents. The Sidonian woman says, to Elijah, “Now I know that you are a man of God and that the word of the Lord from your mouth is the truth. The reaction of the woman from Nain remains a mystery, but surely she shared the response of all who surrounded her: “They were filled with awe and praised God. ‘a great prophet has appeared among us,” they said. ‘God has come to help his people.’ Later in Luke 7, an imprisoned John the Baptist sends messengers to ask Jesus, “Are you the one who is to come or should we expect another. The raising to life of the young man from Nain foreshadows the answer given by Jesus to the messengers from John: “Go back and report to John what you have seen and heard: The blind receive sight, the lame walk, those who have leprosy are cured, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the good news is preached to the poor.” Yes, Jesus says, God has come to help his people.

Both resurrections produced a reversal of emotion. Wailing and painful protests resolved into shouts of jubilation. The widow of Zaraphath’s cynical mocking of Elijah becomes a confession of faith. The villagers of Nain spoke the truth when they rejoiced, “A great prophet has appeared among us. God has come to help his people.” You and I know more than they did just how true those words were. We may rejoice as did the Ethiopian treasurer after his conversion because God has brought us from spiritual death to life. As the apostle Paul writes in Romans 6:4, “We were therefore buried with him through baptism into death in order that just as Christ was raised from the death through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life. Where hope and happiness have evaporated, God moves to renew through his word and his grace.

The stories of these two widows begin with bitter grief. Their stories end with faith and joy. However, we must contemplate not only their stories, but also our own. Anger, cynicism, doubt, and fear rob us of joy. We suffer loss. Those whom we love most, die. Employers downsize. Deployments and training separate military families. Illness and injury interrupt plans for active living. Pride corrupts our perspective. We see, as it were, through a glass darkly, very darkly. We question motives and actions. Pain is real. Without it, we would really suffer, for pain warns us that something is wrong. The pain in these two scriptures initially overshadows any hope. Hope returns when people realize that they can trust the word of the Lord and that God has acted to help his people. Then they, and we, can rejoice in resurrection.

Saturday, February 20, 2010

Marking a Milestone in my Mother's Life

My family and a select number of her friends gathered today to celebrate the 80th birthday of our matriarch, my mother. For once, we managed to surprise her. She walked into a room totally unaware that the people there had gathered to honor her. We remembered specific ironies from her life. This mother almost died as an infant herself. Only her paternal grandmother's determination and loved saved a frail baby even as her mother faded and died within a month after giving birth. This animated, highly intelligent woman went to college, spoke to groups of Christian women in several states, was married for over fifty years, but did not get her driver's license until the age of 76. We honored her sacrificial love, her sense of humor, her ability to inspire loyalty in friends, and her joy in learning new things. Three sons gave thanks that this marvelous woman had set them on their way into life.

Saturday, January 23, 2010

The Six Thousand Mile Walk

I enjoyed a great walk with families from Ft Stewart's 3rd Infantry Division this morning. A kickoff for the post's "Walk to Afghanistan/Iraq and Back" campaign, it brought out hundreds of Soldiers and Family Members who want to show solidarity for their deployed Soldiers. Deployed Leaders and Soldiers spoke to the participants through large screen video teleconference. Walkers will continue to walk regularly and turn in their mileage to their unit groups until they collectively surpass the distance of more than six thousand miles that marks their goal. This activity will fight depression and loneliness by getting people out of their houses for exercise and interaction with people who share their experience. It's a truly marvelous idea. I am glad that I get to be a part of it.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

A Refuge in Chaos

A deluge of emotions swirled among University of Tennessee athletic fans. Four basketball players, pulled over by police, were found in violation of several laws. An energetic young football coach deserted the university to return to a former employer in a weaker conference. Followers of the Volunteer sports program were stunned. Comments on Facebook, in blogs, and in other media reflected disarray. Yet on the basketball court, under the tutelage of Coach Pearl, the remaining players shocked the nation by defining character and honor as they defeated first the top ranked school in the nation, and then another ranked team from within their own conference. Leaders at the university hired a new football coach with deep roots within the Southeastern Conference and experience working in a winning program. While all this drama played out, a horrible earthquake devastated the nation of Haiti. Hundreds have died; horrible agony persists. Much infrastructure of this already poverty-stricken nation lies in ruins. People from around the world have rushed to help. Yet some of the aid has not reached those who need it. The Haitian experience brings perspective. Athletics can teach us valuable lessons about life. Life sometimes does not wait for those lessons to be learned and rushes in on the unprepared. I stumbled across a paragraph in the rarely read biblical book of Nahum this past week that gives hope in dire circumstances: "The mountains quake before him, and the hills melt; the earth heaves before him, the world and all who live in it. Who can stand before his indignation? Who can endure the heat of his anger? His wrath is poured out like fire and by him the rocks are broken in pieces. The Lord is good, a stronghold in a day of trouble; he protects those who take refuge in him"(Nahum 1:5-7 NRSV). When all in life crumbles arounds us, hope remains. In a world in which so much evil and horror exists, good remains. God protects those who take refuge in faith in his goodness rather than those who enjoy their acidic bitterness. Patient faith reveals that life prevails against the darkest and most terrible that life throws at us. A playoff loss by a favorite sports team won't ruin one's life. A hero's fall from favor will not devastate the balance of power among nations. God protects, and because he protects, believers assist and protect those who have for a time lost the ability to care for themselves. University of Tennessee students and fans will survive the recent upheavals in their athletic department. The people of Haiti will emerge from this crisis. Even in the midst of apparent chaos, order remains and hope persists.

Saturday, January 02, 2010

Sifting for the Significant

A new year begins even as we sort out the significant from the year before. We reflect on what happened last year. I accomplished some of my goals in 2009. I took my wife to Disneyworld for her first visit. Following up on a suggestion at a seminar for chaplains that I attended, I started reading the Quran (and finished today). Reading it both dismissed and confirmed opinions I had had concerning Islam. Much prejudice is based on ignorance. Security requires knowledge. Understanding demands knowing enough to have a conversation. I reconnected with old friends at the Freed-Hardeman University Bible Lectureship and on Facebook. My work responsibilities shifted during the year in ways that helped me to learn new skills and gain a greater appreciation for the complexity of our national defense. Singing gives me great joy. The Diana Singing for forty years has given Christians the opportunity to stay up all night singing praises to God and having great fellowship. The past two years I have participated in that magnificent celebration of God's love for his people. Patrick Swayze's death from pancreatic cancer reminded me how that horrible disease killed my father. Perhaps someone quickly will find an answer, or at least a way for quicker recognition, for that illness. Each of my children found a way to make me proud during the year. While each may stumble, as is the tendency of people their age, I pray that they will continue to mature and succeed in ways that will bless not only themselves, but the world around them. Faith, family, and friends enrich my life. I pray that my love and my work will return the favor.