Month: April 2019

Still coming home

750x450 endthewar

Fiddling while Rome burns

I spend many hours blogging at my local library.  They regularly host events on a wide variety of topics.  I rarely take one in; its tough enough for me to keep on track without one more distraction.

However, recently a program called “Still Coming Home” caught my attention-so I attended.  Organized by the Colorado Humanities council, it was billed as a program featuring veterans reading what they’d written about their war experiences.

In a small, dimly lit auditorium, the barrel chested first speaker read his account of a drunken brawl he’d been involved in after Marine basic training at Camp Pendleton before he shipped out to Vietnam.  The second, also a Marine and a Vietnam vet, read his account of how he, again drunk, had taken down and properly disposed of a giant but tattered American flag that was being used as a mere advertising device by an auto dealer on Havana Street, one of Denver’s main drags.  The third, this time a younger Marine and vet of one of our current, perpetual wars, read about how his experience had led him to enroll in a Catholic seminary.

But what about . . .

The was a brief time for questions and answers after each speaker.  Before asking mine I waited till everyone else in the audience had their chance.  And, to be frank, the questions from other audience members were softballs; about writing style and whatnot.  So then, a bit nervous, I asked each speaker in turn, “What’s your opinion of the ongoing wars in Iraq, Afghanistan, and Syria?”  Then I shut up.

To a man, they opposed them.  But the last speaker-by then he knew what was coming-asked me a question: “But what’s your opinion of the wars?

“Well,” I responded, “initially I was an enthusiastic supporter.  But now I’m completely opposed.  After nearly 20 years, I can’t see that we’re doing any good.  As far as I can tell, about the only thing we’re doing is making a bunch of defense contractors wealthy.”

At that, one of the previous speakers, exclaimed, “Amen!”

I didn’t, but wish I had added, that Israel is probably the main beneficiary of our wars because they do such a great job of deflecting Muslim anger away from the Jewish state. And turning it on us.  Oh well, this won’t be the last time I suffer from delayed intelligence.

Whatever happened to “Peace Now!”

I came of age during the 1960s, the height of the Vietnam War.  The country bristled with anti-war rage:  kids burning their draft cards on college campuses, protest marches, riots, rock concerts.  And the protests played a big part in bringing our involvement in Vietnam to an end.

So, 20 years on in our current perpetual wars, what’s changed?  Why have we become a nation inured to war?  It’s certainly not that the death and misery have gone away.  Either for us. Or, for that matter, our enemies a half a world away.  And these wars are every bit as futile and costly as Vietnam ever was.

But here’s one thing that has changed: the draft is gone.  Sure, they’re still protesting on college campuses.  But not, as far as I can tell, about our endless wars.  Instead, college students are fiddling about “big” issues-like the largely imaginary slights to the LBGTQ community.  And the countless other whiney groups that indulge in identity politics.  While their largely white country and urban poor cousins join the Army, travel to distant, sandy lands.  And get their legs blown off.

And, as far as I can tell, things aren’t likely to change so long as things don’t change.

 

 

 

 

Project Sanctuary Redux

Project Sanctuary Bus at Snow Mountain Ranch

What is impossible for man is possible for God

Well, here I am again.  At a Project Sanctuary retreat, the only organization designed to serve the entire military family, helping them reconnect after a member returns from one of our perpetual wars.  Except it’s winter this time and we’re at Snow Mountain Ranch, a YMCA camp just over the Continental Divide from Denver.

Much is the same.  Lots of hyperactive kids who, before the week is out, have made some new buddies.  Plenty of opportunities to unwind:  ice fishing on Grand Lake, snowmobiling on the Continental Divide, a trip to the Fraser Rec center for the water slides or flips off the tramp into the foam pit.  Like last time, I’m sous chef for Tom who, despite laboring under the handicap of institutional raw materials, manages to whip up pretty tasty meals that satisfy the whetted appetites of everyone from kids in high chairs to their parents.

And, again, more of the darker aspects of a Project Sanctuary retreat.  The Post Traumatic Stress workshops.  The “Reconnection With Your Family” sessions.  The presentation from the Cohen Veterans Network on how to access mental health care for service members when, as is too often the case, the VA system falls short.

A Well Oiled Machine

Since I was there a couple of days longer this time, I had the opportunity to get to know a few of the families better than last time.

One of those was the Johnson family.  The husband, Jeremiah, is a military nurse.   His wife is Felicia.  They live near San Antonio, Texas.

My acquaintance with the Johnsons began when I sat on a bench next to an older daughter, Toby, looking across Grand Lake where one of the P.S. kids squealed with delight as he pulled a trout through a hole in the ice.

“So,” I asked, “what grade are you in?”

“Well,” she replied, “I’m in about 11th grade.  But my mom home schools us.”

“That’s nice; home schooled kids usually do very well.  How many brothers and sisters do you have.”

“There’s 8 of us, the youngest is 1, the oldest 20.”

“You’re kidding,” I said, looking over at her dark eyes under the Prince Valiant haircut.  “And you guys all drove up here?”

“Yep,” she said, “all except my oldest sister. She lives in Colorado Springs.”

“Amazing.  And what do you think you want to do when you’re done with school?”

“I want to be a farrier.  We have a horse and I like to work with them.

“Not easy work,” I said.  “Is that why you have that splint on your wrist?”

“No,” she replied, “I’m accident prone.  I cut myself.”

But wait.  There’s more.

That evening I got the chance to speak briefly with Toby’s mom as we stood in line for supper.  

“Toby,” I began, “tells me that you guys have eight kids.  And that you have a blog.  How in the world do you do it all?”  

Without skipping a beat, and holding the one year old on her hip, she pointed upward and said “We get some help from up there.”

“I have a blog also,” I said.  “What do you write about? And how often do you post?”

“It’s about Christian homeschooling.  And I post once a week.  Here’s my card.”

“The ‘Zoo I Call Home,'” I read.  “That’s a good one.  I’ll definitely take a look.  Here’s the card for my blog.  With all your spare time,” I concluded, as a little boy in boots that looked like they’d been through several kids before him began tugging at her, “maybe you can take a peek at mine sometime.”

Life with an open hand

In the “liberated” ’70’s, when I was a new believer and a student at C.U. Boulder, I knew a guy named Mike McElroy.  He ran the Christian bookstore on The Hill.  Mike was a brilliant, thoughtful guy who had a way of forthrightly challenging my comfortable assumptions.  I’m sorry I’ve lost touch with him.

Mike and I both attended the Hillside Church of the Savior, a Protestant church that met in the home of Gene Thomas and had a vibrant outreach to college kids.  

Once, for reasons that I’ve entirely forgotten, we got into a discussion about sex, contraception, and children.  Mike’s opinion was that the Catholics had it right.  And Protestants had it wrong.  “Catholic doctrine forbids the use of contraception.  And it’s not because the Pope wants us to procreate like rabbits.  It’s because sex without contraception is to be open to how God may want to intervene in our lives.  Contraception is our way of saying “No” to that intervention.”

Mike’s argument impressed me.  But it wasn’t something we adopted for our marriage; I had my tubes tied after our third child.  The prospect of the financial burden of having more kids frightened me.  And a good case, of course, can be made that fear is the opposite of faith.

I didn’t ask, but given that they live smack dab on the buckle of the Bible belt, I’d be stunned if the Johnsons are Catholics.  But regardless of their denomination, the Johnson’s, with their 8 kids, took a different path than ours.   One that, at least from the perspective of an outsider, is driven by faith.  One that’s radically open to how the Lord might choose to disrupt their lives with little ones.  A life that puts up with cars that have 350,000 miles on them.  A life that grins and shrugs when a hand me down boot has a hole worn through the top.  But one that that allows the Johnson’s to know, first hand, the promise and, no doubt, the challenges of Psalm 127:3:

“Children are a heritage from the Lord, offspring a reward from him.” 

 

The cry baby channel

My guilty pleasure

I’ve mentioned my personal trainer, Charlie, before.  Between the beat down sessions he inflicts on me, I enjoy trying to give him a bit of his own medicine-at least verbally.  A sort of pay it backward for all the cans of whup-ass he’s opened on me.

So, I’m not quite sure what came over me last week when I started off a discussion with, “Now, if you ever mention this to Dianne or any of the other lady trainers around here, you’ll never see my face again.  But, I’ve pretty much become a Hallmark Channel addict.”

“Yeah,” he answered, as we both began dissolving into uncontrollable laughter, “Beth likes it too.  Whenever she turns it on, she has a box of Kleenex beside her. She calls it the Cry Baby Channel.”

I’ve seen this movie before

“Yeah,” I said, still trying to stifle my guffaws, “you don’t even need to watch the show to know what happens.  There’s some guy from the city who works at a ruthless real estate investment company that likes to go into a small town, buy it up for development, and ruin it.”

“Yeah,” continued Charlie, his face covered with mirth, “then he bumps into some cute young woman who runs the town coffee shop.  And who’s the daughter of the guy who owns the beautiful, local vineyard who’s decided it’s time to cash in his chips and sell out.  Because he doesn’t know that his daughter would really like to take over the winery.”

“Yeah,” I reply, now wiping the tears of laughter from my face, “then the city slicker and the beautiful coffee shop girl bump into each other and get into a squabble.  Before they eventually team up and turn the coffee shop into the next Starbucks, fend off the nasty real estate company and manage to keep the vineyard in the family’s hands.  And then finally getting married in the old barn that they completely renovate over the course of three days.  All while the city slicker makes a clean break with his icky, former girlfriend.  And then, after the show’s one modest kiss at the wedding ceremony, settling down happily ever after in a rustic log mansion beside the vineyard overlooking the lake.”

Make fun if you want

It’s probably not a coincidence that I happen to be listening to English philosopher Roger Scruton’s book, Beauty: A Very Short Introduction.  In this intellectually dense work, Scruton makes the case that true beauty, whether in art, literature, or music is a reflection of the divine and so invites us to participate in that divine life.

But, Scruton continues, “beauty” has been turned on its head and corrupted in two ways by what passes for “art” in our age.  First, and probably most obviously, by the desecration of art by way of pornography, violence, and the postmodern rejection of all value and meaning.

Scruton, however, goes on to decry “kitsch” as the reverse side of the pornography coin.  Defined as “something tawdry . . or content created to appeal to popular or undiscriminating taste,” there’s little doubt that the Hallmark Channel churns it out by the boatload.  And it’s far from beautiful.  Saccharine sweet, kitsch is grist for overactive tear ducts.  Agree with him or not, Scruton argues that no more than the sleazy film, Pretty Woman, does kitsch invite us to genuine participation in the holy.  

But there’s still a difference

Now, far be it from me to argue with Scruton, who’s written over 50 books on aesthetics and political philosophy-but I still say he’s missed the mark on this one.  Yes, kitsch might not do much to raise our sights to the heavens.  But that’s a far sight from pornography’s invitation to lower our sights to the fetid mire-and then get down and wallow in it.

A plea for attention

You probably remember the storm of controversy that arose from Piss Christ, an alleged “work of art” that depicted Jesus on a crucifix submerged in a jar of the artist’s urine.  No doubt, the “artist” achieved his objective with the display:  for one brief moment, the art world turned its brightest lights on him.

How pathetic, then, that Psalms tells us that there’s no place where we aren’t eternally at the center of attention of the only One that really matters:

Where can I go from your Spirit?
    Where can I flee from your presence?
If I go up to the heavens, you are there;
    if I make my bed in the depths, you are there.
If I rise on the wings of the dawn,
    if I settle on the far side of the sea,
 even there your hand will guide me,
    your right hand will hold me fast.
If I say, “Surely the darkness will hide me
    and the light become night around me,”
 even the darkness will not be dark to you;
    the night will shine like the day,
    for darkness is as light to you.

Now, it’s a fact that being at the center of the Lord’s attention isn’t always comfortable.  And you know what I’m talking about.  But you’d better get used to it.  And make your peace with it.  Because we’re going to be there, for better or worse, for a very long time.

And what better time to get all that figured out than Easter?  When we celebrate the One who gave his all on that crucifix to allow us to forever enjoy a peace that passes all understanding at the very heart of Beauty.