Wednesday, July 27, 2005

Christian Carnival LXXX is Up!

The latest edition of the Christian Carnival has been posted at Daddypundit.

A quick stroll through the Carnival yielded the following treats.

There is a lot in our labels -- but we are not labels -- we are people, and we are people who are at our best when we find ourselves in a proper relation with the triune God--according to John at Blogotional.

Wayne's World 2005 looks into the human side of peacekeeping and reconstruction in Iraq through the eyes and handsome smile of Sgt. Wayne West and his family.

Lance at Ragged Edges also adds his two cents to the discussion in a post entitled There's Something About Harry.

And of course, I might suggest my own post, A Matter of Consequence, where I reflect on Abraham Lincoln, who led our country with deep conviction during a time of great tragedy and sacrifice. His words pointed back towards Truth and the Eternal he saw as directly guiding our Nation's destiny – if it would but survive.

Stop by, take a stroll, and do your part to encourage Christian blogging!

We Have the Poor With Us Always

(A simultaneous posting over at Dadmanly)

Matthew Stokes at Stones Cry Out (I love their blog name) has an excellent post commenting on the ONE Campaign and world poverty. His thesis:
It seems more and more Christians are developing an open, demonstrable concern for third-world poverty. This is a good thing. I share these sentiments and I'm heartened to see others make overtures towards caring for the suffering overseas. My faith in Christ compels me to care for the fatherless and the widow. Yet I am also called to do everything to the glory of God, a phrase that the Church has long understood to mean a call to excellence. Christ has not called us to mediocrity, whether in the arts or the sciences or our daily work. And when we're talking about alleviating the suffering of millions of people and accomplishing that task with billions of other people's dollars, then the burden to do the right thing is that much greater. The issue of poverty in the third-world goes beyond wanting to help. That's a prerequisite to "doing the right thing." To do the right thing, we must move beyond the idea that our concern even matters. If our concern is misdirected, or we feel that doing something, anything, is better than doing nothing, then we've deluded ourselves and harmed the people we sought to help.
Matt has it exactly right. Watching the recent reporting on Live 8 and similar efforts, I immediately conclude that these efforts are counterproductive if they enable corrupt, malignant, and incompetent regimes to further enslave or impverish their own people. Overwhlemingly, poverty in nations of the Third World is greatly exascerbated (if not caused outright) by the thievery and venality of their despotic rulers. Violence and brutal mayhem, theft and genocide often accompany these miseries.

Yet we are called as Christians, to do everything for the glory of God, quite correctly understood as a call to excellence as Matt points out. Finding one's course in this regard requires great discernment, a proper quantity of which is all too frequently lacking on the part of well-intended but misguided celebrities.

Matt emphasizes that a change of heart is a necessary and critical component of any real change to the structures and causes of poverty and related depravations. As Christians, we must acknowledge that peace and truth that lasts comes only through Christ. He concludes:
As much as I pray that Africa and other poverty-stricken regions of the world can find relief, I must acknolwedge that true relief is found only in Christ. I must also acknowledge that my intentions mean nothing if my plans don't work. A fisherman can want with all his heart to catch a fish, but if he is not fishing correctly, his longing is in vain. Likewise we must acknowledge that Christ's command to care for the less fortunate must mean more than tossing money at the problem and thinking that true change can come from the government and not from the heart. To pretend otherwise is extremely dangerous.
We so often try to put troubles and problems out of sight and mind with mere money, don't we? That's perhaps our greatest temptation in this age of material over-abundance. Dollars to this, dollars to that, assuage our conscience and make the hurt seem so much further away from us and our creature comforts.

Jesus said, "For you have the poor with you always, but me you do not havce always." This was not intended as a perpetual acceptance of the misery of the poor, but rather a sad statement of the vagaries of this life, and the inevitability of those who will fall and stumble and lack through no fault of their own but by mere inheritance of poverty. When he said this, Jesus was warning His followers of that time that He would be taken away from them in sacrifice for their very sins and the sins of the whole world.

And yet, He knew that in the ripening of time and His Father's plan for salvation, that He must be taken and die and lie buried and rise again on the third day. And in this, His ressurection, atone for all the sins of man that make the everpresent poor and foresaken as foresaken as they are. And in that act of mercy, Jesus pointed a way towards the call to excellence, all for the glory of God. How mislead we would be, if we turned from His example and focused solely on the hurt we would vainly seek to soothe.

Monday, July 25, 2005

The Fairness of God's Judgment

I continue my journey today in Romans Chapter 2.
1 Therefore you are inexcusable, O man, whoever you are who judge, for in whatever you judge another you condemn yourself; for you who judge practice the same things. 2But we know that the judgment of God is according to truth against those who practice such things. 3And do you think this, O man, you who judge those practicing such things, and doing the same, that you will escape the judgment of God?

4Or do you despise the riches of His goodness, forbearance, and longsuffering, not knowing that the goodness of God leads you to repentance? 5But in accordance with your hardness and your impenitent heart you are treasuring up for yourself wrath in the day of wrath and revelation of the righteous judgment of God, 6who "will render to each one according to his deeds":[a] 7eternal life to those who by patient continuance in doing good seek for glory, honor, and immortality; 8but to those who are self-seeking and do not obey the truth, but obey unrighteousness--indignation and wrath, 9tribulation and anguish, on every soul of man who does evil, of the Jew first and also of the Greek; 10but glory, honor, and peace to everyone who works what is good, to the Jew first and also to the Greek. 11For there is no partiality with God. (Romans 2:1-11 NKJ)
Paul at many times in his ministry needed to speak Truth to Power, but in many ways he reserved his sternest rebukes for the communities of fellow believers to whom he owed the responsibility of his attention.

Our society today abhors any form of chastening. Many “enlightened” believers today might view Paul as too stern a scold. Some might even liken his patient correction as judgment in itself, and see a contradiction in his remonstrance to the Romans, but that would be wrong I think. God instructs us to so love our brothers and sisters in Christ that we not shrink from lovingly but firmly bringing faults and wrongs to their attention, that they might repent of any sin and find reconciliation. Paul likewise notes that chastening is never first received with joy, though we should come to enjoy its fruit:
11Now no chastening seems to be joyful for the present, but painful; nevertheless, afterward it yields the peaceable fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it. (Hebrews 12:11 NKJ)
Paul served as an instrument in God’s eternal purpose in growing those who would respond to God’s call upon their lives, but his instruction could be difficult to receive. In speaking to the Church in Rome, Paul, speaking as the one-time way outsider and inquisitor, and through his ministry was approaching the seat of power for the known world. He spoke of God’s great promise, but one that carried a price. And perhaps in spite of what might have been entreaties from Roman believers to acknowledge and admonish evil in the community mote by mote, Paul responded with a call to the fellowship for true humility.

And as one who had been on the business end of a heartless judgment in persecuting Christians, Paul knew whereof he spoke. As a Brother in Christ, his words to the Romans are an attempt, guided by God, to speak humility into a people who had grown stiff-necked in seeing fault all around but not within.
12For as many as have sinned without law will also perish without law, and as many as have sinned in the law will be judged by the law 13(for not the hearers of the law are just in the sight of God, but the doers of the law will be justified; 14for when Gentiles, who do not have the law, by nature do the things in the law, these, although not having the law, are a law to themselves, 15who show the work of the law written in their hearts, their conscience also bearing witness, and between themselves their thoughts accusing or else excusing them) 16in the day when God will judge the secrets of men by Jesus Christ, according to my gospel. (Romans 2:12-16 NKJ)
Paul here speaks of a mystery that lies at the heart of God opening up His blessing and covenant to the Gentiles (non-Jews). The Jewish People, as those chosen, had been given God’s Law as revealed in the Ten Commandments, the Prophets, and millennia of working His purposes through His elect. God opens up His promise of Salvation to all who would act on that promise. No longer would strict observance of His laws and ordinances be the single path to Grace. As Paul explains in his letter to the Galatians, the law was the way God preserved His promise and invested His grace until, in the fullness of time, He would work a greater purpose, not just for the Jews, but for the whole world:
24Therefore the law was our tutor to bring us to Christ, that we might be justified by faith. (Galatians 3:24 NKJ)
4But when the fullness of the time had come, God sent forth His Son, born[a] of a woman, born under the law, 5to redeem those who were under the law, that we might receive the adoption as sons.
6And because you are sons, God has sent forth the Spirit of His Son into your hearts, crying out, "Abba, Father!" (Galatians 4:4-6 NKJ)
God established His intent to deepen His connection to His people in speaking forth a future covenant through Jeremiah:
33But this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, says the LORD: I will put My law in their minds, and write it on their hearts; and I will be their God, and they shall be My people. (Jeremiah 31:33 NKJ)
We may rightfully fear (in the sense of respect and diligently attend to) the judgment of God. But we can find peace by recognizing and nurturing that belief, that while we were yet sinners God saved us through Salvation offered by the atoning death of His Son Jesus. And as He promised, by our faith He might draw us close to Him as He writes His Holy law upon our hearts.

Friday, July 22, 2005

A Matter of Consequence

Abraham Lincoln, I believe, grew far greater in stature than his mere physical stature above others of his time. He led our country with deep conviction, during a time of great tragedy and sacrifice. Yet at the same time, he and his nation were barely beginning one of the great periods of advancement in technology, innovation, and human creative achievement. Yet his words ever pointed back towards Truth and the Eternal he saw as directly guiding our Nation’s destiny – if it would but survive.

I believe he knew Paul’s letter to the Romans intimately. His later reflections make clear that while he would at all costs preserve the Union, he was convinced (and convicted) that the terrible carnage and staggering human cost of the war on both sides was God’s wrath upon the sins of both sides in condoning, tolerating and abetting slavery for so long after our founding. An excerpt from Romans 1, New International Version:

18The wrath of God is being revealed from heaven against all the godlessness and wickedness of men who suppress the truth by their wickedness, 19since what may be known about God is plain to them, because God has made it plain to them. 20For since the creation of the world God's invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that men are without excuse.

21For although they knew God, they neither glorified him as God nor gave thanks to him, but their thinking became futile and their foolish hearts were darkened. 22Although they claimed to be wise, they became fools 23and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images made to look like mortal man and birds and animals and reptiles.

24Therefore God gave them over in the sinful desires of their hearts to sexual impurity for the degrading of their bodies with one another. 25They exchanged the truth of God for a lie, and worshiped and served created things rather than the Creator—who is forever praised. Amen.

28Furthermore, since they did not think it worthwhile to retain the knowledge of God, he gave them over to a depraved mind, to do what ought not to be done. 29They have become filled with every kind of wickedness, evil, greed and depravity. They are full of envy, murder, strife, deceit and malice. They are gossips, 30slanderers, God-haters, insolent, arrogant and boastful; they invent ways of doing evil; they disobey their parents; 31they are senseless, faithless, heartless, ruthless. 32Although they know God's righteous decree that those who do such things deserve death, they not only continue to do these very things but also approve of those who practice them.
God has set in motion all the works of creation. What the person who may seek purely mechanical explanations for the world sees as cause and effect and natural consequences are simply reflections of the system God created. Much of what God speaks to us in the received revelation of His word is nothing more or less than God’s patient and careful explanations of cause, effect, and consequence.

What may be known about God (and His truths) through direct experience is readily apparent in the created world. This continues to confound the “worldly wise,” as God’s eternal power and divine nature are invisible, though clearly discerned.

As Man and Woman grow in their confidence in their own prowess and abilities, they may so “enthrall” themselves with their own creative constructs as to lose sight of or actively shun the self-evident around them. This amounts to acts of suppression. They avoid hints of consequence; they shrug off or minimize hurt that’s caused to others or diminishment of spirit that hedonism and selfishness can cause.

How many of us stubbornly stand on “you’ve got to show me, I’ve got to see it for myself,” even if the truth expressed has been respected and acknowledged for generations upon generations. These turn their moral compass on its edge, and can no more tell their way with the needle hanging lifeless down upon its spindle.

Humankind’s hearts grow dark as they turn from God and choose to see only the material, and seek the immortal and divine only in those self-created works of created man. They worship and serve the created object and not the Original Creator. This inevitably leads to all kinds of material and sensual excess, as they accept as true only that which they can touch and covet.

These are the natural consequence of our rebellion. God’s revelation through His word is not just some punishment or a one-time correction, but warning what the inexorable decline looks like, so we don’t have to stumble around any more than we have to.

Worse, each step we take away from God and His truths causes more harm, breeds greater distrust, and causes more shame. God’s law can instruct, but if we fail those laws, the natural consequences will eventually find their obedience in us at one time or another.

As James says in James 1:14:15:
14but each one is tempted when, by his own evil desire, he is dragged away and enticed. 15Then, after desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and sin, when it is full-grown, gives birth to death.
Filled thus with all kinds of wickedness, evil, greed, depravity, our emptiness that could be faith can instead be filled with every sin and evil known to man and abhorred by God. Paul says we well know or should well know God’s impending judgment, His words and edicts, but yet we can pursue our sins and honor and approve those who practice them. Those fallen away celebrate their idols and factories of sin.

There is a process of decay involved in our willful turn from God. God’s word to us describes a process, we can call it “natural” if we want, but it’s His nature we’re describing (in both senses, His divine Nature and the natural world He’s created). And this process can led to spiritual death.

And as with people, so with our Nation. Lincoln may have well known too the words of C.L. De Montesquieu (hat tip to The Federalist Patriot, 05-29):
"The deterioration of every government begins with the decay of the principles on which it was founded."
In Lincoln’s Message to Congress, December 1, 1862, Lincoln warned (Sandberg’s Lincoln, Page 330-331):
If there ever could be a proper time for mere catch arguments, that time surely is not now. In times like the present, men should utter nothing for which they would not willingly be responsible through time and in eternity.
The dogmas of the quiet past, are inadequate to the stormy present. The occasion is piled high with difficulty, and we must rise to the occasion. As our cause is new, so we must think anew, and act anew. We must disenthrall ourselves.
Sandberg reflects on the deeper purpose that Lincoln sought in his message, which reverberates today as we face two extreme challenges: one from hostile popular culture, another from fanatic Islamic Terrorists bent on destroying Western Civilization (American, Democratic, Capitalist, and Free):
Possibly never before had Lincoln used that word, “disenthrall.” It was not a familiar word with him. He seemed almost to imply that though we might give physical emancipation to others who were oppressed, each individual must achieve his own disenthrallment, rise out of his old into a new self. A subtlety of philosophic thought was in the added suggestion, “In giving freedom to the slave, we assure freedom to the free – honorable alike in what we give, and what we preserve.”
It is long past time for us to disenthrall ourselves of ourselves, our own creations and conceits. God no doubt blesses us with wonderful gifts and abilities, and channeled constructively, these gifts can allow us to create the most magnificent and astounding achievements. But we must remain grounded, we must forever harken to the True source of the creative spririt.

And in giving to our world through ways in keeping with His purposes, we can preserve for ourselves that greater portion of His pleasure in our obedience.

Thursday, July 21, 2005

Finally and Fully Back!

Am I glad that's over!

No, not my time away, that could have gone on forever with Mrs. Dadmanly, Jilly Bean, Spud, and Little Manly. I'm glad the Odyssey of my return has finally ended.

It is a pleasant idea that the process of the Army sending Soldiers home on R&R (Leave) reflects an admirable expediency. Policies, processes, and the core mechanics of the task favor the departing Soldier and gaining him or her maximum advantage in reaching final destination (home, vacation spot, whatever). Less pleasant is that the gathering back in of returnees is anything but. Some of it is probably due to physics. (Not like aerodynamics, although there may be some quantum components in play, but I digress).

Think of the difference between a fan (or central air?) and a vacuum. Going on leave is central air, coming back is a vacuum. (I'm beginning to enjoy this exercise, because of course, it goes without saying that going on leave is a blast, while coming back sucks.)

Sorry, back to our metaphorical construct. Soldiers going on leave (from Iraq) are immediately aggregated to a single colection point. The responsibility for moving these Soldiers is each individual command and base location, funneling to the collection point (that's like the air intake to the air conditioning system.) Again, the Soldier's aren't "drawn," they're "pushed" in this sense.

Once at the consolidation point, a huge air and ticketing operation kicks in, with the tremendous desire to get the Soldiers out of theater and on to their rest the "coolant." (Army, Air, military contractors, USO, various non-profits all contributing "freon" to the mix.) The output of this massive airlift operation blasts the departing Soldier to the 4 corners of the globe, home or some desired recreational venue.

And the U.S. Military and everyone involved does a terrific job. Most of our Soldiers made it home within 3 or 4 days, which with the distances and numbers involved seems pretty remarkable.

The return was remarkable, but not at all in the same way.

The return flights were all prebooked; as we hit our major stateside hub we were handed a return ticket that brought us all back at the appointed end of our leave period. Which of course efficiently returned each of us to the hub, which runs continuous operations back to the in-Theater end of the consolidation.

And this is when the vacuum gets turned on and the physics kick in.

Huge masses of Soldiers (and airmen and sailors and Marines in fact) need to now get back to their respective places of duty, and each trip may involve different varieties of fixed wing, rotary wing, and ground transportation (read, convoys) to get each Soldier "home." (Mrs. Dadmanly gets upset at how naturally I refer to my hootch here on the FOB as home, but it is my home away from home, and a rather nice one at that, despite how poorly it compares with ours stateside!)

Scheduling of all this transportation from the central site -- and all the required staging of Soldiers for billeting, dining, and personal hygiene -- becomes a logistical and management nightmare. Any casual reader of the Stars and Stripes (the unofficial, independent, but ubiquitous military-partnered media) would eventual stumble across the grumble fest of complaints about the R&R processing site in Kuwait.

Most of us can well tolerate the waiting, but conditions at the site can be deplorable, and the longer one sits there, the less tolerable they become. I myself spent 5 days on hold at the site, and through a combination of careless record-keeping, inefficient processing, and major problems with contracting operations, what might have been just tedious was often odious as well.

From the first day, we were all held in huge transient open bays (hanger-style warehouses actually). These remained lit 24 hours a day, subject to continual flow of personnel coming and going, and subject to regular, full-throated announcements every hour or so. (In our bay, this was most often, "Female on the Floor!" as all but one of the R&R schedulers was female, and the shortest route between her offices and half of the dozen or so bays involved went right through our section.)

Sometimes, this was to announce new or scheduled roll calls for flights, sometimes just to wake us up to police up the bays, sometimes to announce flight infomation formations. I would use the term "accountability" formations, but at no time was there an explicit check of names of individuals awaiting transport for specific destinations. The only time individuals were explicitly identified was when a manifest for a specific flight needed to be generated, and only those named to fit the allotted seats were recorded, with others identified as "hold-overs."

Once a flight got off the ground (and didn't somehow get turned around), any hold-overs went back into the pool of those awaiting flights, and there was no guarantee that those waiting longest would get first priority on any subsequent flight, though that was the stated and hoped for intent. But As my fellow management professionals would say, preferred outcomes don't just happen, they're managed.

Making an original flight manifest meant you had a 25% chance of actually leaving. Getting boarded on a bus for the airstrip for your manifested flight meant you had a 50% chance of making your destination. We watched some individuals make 6 or 7 attempts to get on a flight before one actually left, and actually made it to their destination.

Now, in fairness, summer months mean not only peak volume, but some of the worst weather for Kuwait and Iraq due to duststorms (as I've discussed previously, more accurately silt storms), high winds, reduced visibility, and reduced human resources due to -- you guessed it, those away on leave.

As if all of that doesn't make for a grandly aggravating return, pending changes to the R&R process and site locations are causing one-time disruptions to all manner of services and capabilities at the R&R collection and staging points. Base closures and relocations (in Theater and in interim locations) are causing limitations on services. Contracts are ending, repairs are forestalled, services are slow or halt altogether for who knows what reasons.

Recreation and personal care facilities, already very limited due to the necessities of being on a perpetual "stand-by" for any "pop-up" (unscheduled) flights, are further reduced by closures and breakdowns. Sanition facilities are taxed beyond their capacities. Contract personnel in some basic services are not being held to contract standards, and with contract ends looming, neither incentives nor disincentives have much hold.

Was it worth all the aggravation and unpleasantness? You bet. Precious time away with our families and friends in the midst of a prolonged separation and the hardships of deployment, priceless.

But with the week I had after I said goodbye to Mrs. Dadmanly and Little Manly, I was very relieved and grateful to get all the way back. Step foot into my hootch, drop my stuff, clean nearly 4 weeks of silt from every exposed surface in my room, take a shower, get some sleep, and catch up with my fellow soldiers.

Oh, and get back to work.