Tuesday, June 27, 2006

The reason why

I got to go on another convoy last week. We came so close to hitting an IED that I could have reached out of my door and brushed my hand against it. I was not really afraid when it was happening; we were just having a normal conversation and then entered a bit of chaos. After the incident when everyone was relaying their stories is when it hit me that we had come that close to danger.
I was impressed with the high level of competence in our troops. They did everything exactly right for the situation. In the end no one was hurt and the IED was collected for further study. Every mission they go on every day is that dangerous. Sometimes they are not fortunate enough to avoid the IEDs. Sometimes they get hurt, but that doesn't stop them. They know the danger but they go anyway. They go with enthusiasm.
That kind of confidence encourages me to not be afraid, it is contagious. I am sure that everyone there is afraid at some level, but they go anyway. They go out because they are ordered to go, but I believe that they would go out even without orders. It begs the question; "Why?"
Why would someone who has a family and a good and comfortable life volunteer to come over here and purposefully put themselves in the path of danger? I do it because I care about the American soldier. I think that they do it because they are protectors. There are people here that need and want our protection. That need alone is enough to set most of these guys in motion.
These guys are far more noble than me. I risk my life for them, but they do it for people they didn't even know until that day. I do it because I believe that soldiers need God, they do it because someone needs their help. That fact is enough; the fact that there exists ordinary people who are being harassed/oppressed/threatened is reason enough.

Saturday, June 17, 2006

Tragedy at the gates

It was a Friday like any other. Friday is an admin day (the day I work on my sermons and stuff) I was sitting in my office contemplating King Solomon and the Kings of Israel and Judah, when my phone rang.
Me: "Hello, Chaplains office Chaplain Luken speaking."
LT: "Hey Chaplain this is Lt (Soandso) could you come to the gate we have an issue."
me: "what's this all about?"
LT: "well one of our soldiers witnessed something and they are pretty shook up."
Me: "When is shift change?"
LT: "in an hour"
Me: "I'll see you then"
So I quickly ran off to eat lunch, and geared up for going to the gate. The gate is considered hostile territory so we have to wear all of our gear.
I arrived at the gate just as the next shift was gathering to go on. I got a lot of "hey chaplain, haven't seen you here in awhile." or "hey chaplain, remember me?"

After a few short conversations, the LT finds me. He tells me that he wanted me here in case someone wanted to talk. I said, "great thanks for calling me" LT said, "I got your number up on my board, I knew I would be needing it at some point."
As they gathered for their end of shift debrief, I went and talked to the first line leader of another soldier I was worried about.

There was an incident awhile back concerning a soldier belonging to this guy. A genuinely good troop with some bad circumstances (I get that way too much) I asked him how his soldier was doing, and he assured me that they were doing much better. Circumstances were turning in their favor. As I was talking to this NCO, I heard the LT say to the soldiers going off shift that I was here if anyone wanted to talk to me.

At first I didn't think anyone would want to talk. Its kinda uncool to be affected by the realities of war for some reason, and talking to me is like admitting your weak side. One soldier, however, did stay behind. His look was rather sullen, I said hey lets go over here to this room out of the way of the others. I had my assistant let the LT know that we would be able to give him a ride home.

The soldier followed me into the break room. There was no one there thankfully. I was turning to shut the door when the soldier threw his helmet and glasses down on the floor and started to weep uncontrollably. I closed the door and waited. After awhile he gathered himself together so I asked him what happened.

He told me that he was working check point one (that's the checkpoint furthest out) when a local came to the check point with their daughter. He said that he thought at first she was 5 or maybe 6, but she turned out to be 15. He said, "she was so gray chaplain, so gray and unconscious. I was thinking that if I can only get her to the CSH (that's our hospital) Then she will be alright. I knew she didn't have long so I tried to get her in as quickly as possible."

He explained how he gave a quick search and helped get her into the ambulance as quickly as possible. He said, "There was so much yelling, and she was so grey. Her parents kept yelling, yelling like I have never heard before. I cant get their screams out of my head. She was so grey and I knew that if I could just get her to the CSH. Then it happened, she released her bowels and I knew, I just knew it was over. There was nothing I could do."

"She reminded me of my own daughter. I realized that everything I was thinking up until then was so petty. What is important is the safety of my daughter. I don't care what else happens as long as she is alright. Chaplain, why did God have me see something like that? Why did I have to see that little girl die?"

I told him that God needed to show her parents that someone cared about her daughter as much as they did. Someone understood their agony even though he didn't understand their language. They did not grieve alone for their daughter that day, another father grieved with them and still does. He thinks about her and wishes he could have done more, but I believe that he gave more than any parents could have asked for that day.

It turns out that the local hospital turned them away. There is a curfew or operating hours or something like that where you can only come in at certain times. It is just another telling sign of how hard life is here for the locals. In the US something like diabetics is an illness, easily treatable and people live long happy lives despite their condition. I know, I have a good friend my age who has had this condition since we were kids. Here it is a death sentence. Proper medical treatment is not just a matter of filling out the right paperwork.

5 minutes later they just brought her body back to the gate and her parents had to take her home. He was worried about the parents, and how hard it must have been to ride all the way home with their daughter. He said to me that he had visions in their head of these parents driving all the way home with their daughter just to bury her. "They came here as their last hope and we let them down."

I let him know that he did every thing he could have done. That it is OK to be upset. Believe it or not, even in these extreme circumstances, we feel like we should be able to handle these situations. If there is one thing that we do not train our guys for enough it is this. I believe that we were not meant to be OK with death. That is why we attach words like; pain, loss, separation, sorrow, grief, and ask questions like why.

Tuesday, June 06, 2006

Convoy ops

This big news this week is that Cowell and I finally went on a convoy. We have been trying to get on one for awhile. Everyone wondered why we would want to go on one, but I had good reasons to go. Basically the guys who do the convoys are tough to visit because I never know where they are. Well this time they were stuck with me for a few hours. It was great to finally visit these guys.

They have several interesting rituals that border on superstition, but for the most part everyone had their job and they worked together to get it all accomplished. Every time before they leave the chute (that's our driveway), they say a prayer over the radio. This time out they let me say the prayer.

15-20 guys at a time. It looks like it will take some doing to get these guys covered. I don't put myself or my assistant in danger for no reason. I think it is important for me to be where these guys are in order to minister to them effectively.

This Sunday I preached from 1 Samuel to a sold out audience. Ok not sold out but the biggest attendance I have had so far, 7! I talked about Saul and a little about his career as King. He started out good, but he finished bad. He didn't have the moxy to trust God for the duration of his Kingship. I encouraged the guys to finish this deployment well. To go home with their heads held high proud of what they have done, rather than ashamed of themselves for losing their moral compass.

Circumstances should not change our morality. What was wrong before crisis, should still be wrong during and after a crisis. We saw a lot of this post 9/11 when everyone wanted a pound of flesh from anyone. Whenever we experience a crisis in our lives like Saul did in 1 Samuel 13, we need to dip into our moral compass and take a look at what we believed to be right pre crisis. Otherwise we may end up doing something that we are ashamed of in the end.

The other problem Saul experienced was his lack of repentance. We see later on in the chapter when Samuel catches Saul in the act, so to speak. And Saul plays it off like he did nothing wrong. His heart remains convinced he was justified by his circumstances. This tendency only gets worse as his kingship tour continues.

The last part of the chapter hints at another. "a man after God's own heart..." one we see toward the end of the book. The next king, King David is a man who is no stranger to sin. In fact on a compare this for that scale, David's sin seems worse. Difference is that David's heart remains open to correction from God. Whenever he sins, and when he does it is often a big one, he repents just as big. God honors his contrite heart. As such David is known as the greatest(short of Christ) king of Israel ever.

Check your heart, is it broken before God? Do you still hear the voice of the Spirit, telling you of God's trail? If you are secure in your own way, and you think that you no longer need God to direct your path, it may be time to turn around. Repent, it does your heart good.

Thursday, June 01, 2006

If you don't like the heat stay out of Iraq

Well I have just lived through my first week of temps averaging in the 1-teens. We live here about 50 meters or so from the Tigris so the humidity is usually around 40% or so. It is literally like that feeling you get when you open the oven on a hot day except everywhere. It makes you wonder why people live here. I mean really come on, I understand the need for cheap property but....

One positive is that no matter weather or not you believe in evolution or in creationism this is probably where we all started out. Kinda convenient I thought. Something that a philosophical science and religion agree upon (kinda) I guess there had to be something.

I have been pretty busy lately with counseling and more counseling. Guess we are getting into the busy time. On Tuesday the phone was literally ringing when I came in at 8 AM, and rang just before I was going to go to bed at 11PM. Long day. I enjoy visiting guys, just don't like leaving my air conditioned office.

Well I am sitting here thinking over last weeks sermon and contemplating next weeks. I thought if I wrote about them it would help me prepare. I have been doing like a whole bible series going from Gen to Rev, trying to weave a common thread of God's grace and his desire for a relationship with us. It seems right to me that since the fall God has been building his relationship with us and revealing himself to us in a special way.

Anyway last Sunday we were talking about the book of Ruth. I found it interesting that Ruth tells Naomi that Boaz is our redeemer. So naturally I had to look up the word redeemer, and it means one who buys back. One who gets back what was lost. In Jewish law it was the responsibility of the oldest male to look out for the family name. This meant that if a family member had to sell their property to pay their debts, or themselves even to pay their debts. The oldest son would then be responsible to take care of the family name and buy back what was lost. Boaz returned life to Naomi and Ruth. They had lost everything when their men had died, but now they could live again new because of what Boaz did for them.

Since I started doing this project of preaching through the bible, it never fails to amaze me how rich scripture is with living examples. What an awesome paradigm to describe Jesus Christ, he is our redeemer. He is the one who buys us back from slavery. Not only that but he is our kinsmen redeemer, he is like our older brother buying us back from the chains of sin's slavery.

This week we start with the Kings. I suppose I should start digging through 1st Samuel. Saul what can you say about Saul. Started strong, finished weak. He always seemed like someone who was prone to rash decisions and immaturity. A bad combo for a king. The people wanted a king.... hmmm. Wanted a king.

That's all for now cya