4.28.2016

The Bat Man

Waiting on the Lord
I’ll renew my strength, I’m told.
It’s there, in the word
But this waiting’s gettin’ old.

The Lord will provide –
I really do believe that.
Still feel cast aside
Like the baseball player’s bat.

Against the backstop
Blending with the backfield dust
Haphazardly drop’t.
I’ve got some use left – I must.

Waiting for the boy
To come running and fetch me,
Another t’employ
Challenge the devil’s pitching.

It seems forever,
Though I’m sure the boy’s running.
He won’t leave me here.
I’ll wait. He must be coming.

********

It's been ten months since I stepped aside from my position as senior pastor and I've two and a half months before this CPE residency is over.  Waiting and trying to discern how and where I should serve next is hard.  I hold to the promises of God - they've never failed me yet - but it's getting old.

4.23.2016

Choose the Form of the Destructor

It is looking increasingly like Trump v. Clinton.  Sad.  It doesn't say much for either party that these are the likely nominees.  One is an ignorant gasbag, more a carnival barker than anything - and like the stereotypical carnival barker, way too expensive for way too little.  The other is a walking parody of feminism, having earned almost nothing except by hitching her wagon to a man.  Her actual accomplishments are no more substantive than her opponent's.

Both of them are backed by supporters who are shrill and emotionally reactive, primarily it seems because they think that if they scream loud enough at the nay-sayers, the flaws in their chosen candidates will somehow fade away.  They are behaving like a 2-year-old, fingers in his ears, insisting that if he doesn't hear your unpleasant truths, they won't apply to him.

It's easy to blame Trump, but Trump is just being who he's always been.  It's the willful blindness of supposedly conservative voters who choose to ignore who he has always been because Trump hit on a couple of catch phrases that resonated with them.  Say "I'll build a wall" even though you have no plan on how to pay for it and 1/3 of the GOP will apparently vote for you no matter how dishonest, disingenuous, and ignorant you may be.

It would be equally easy to blame Clinton, but she also is simply being who she has always been.  Laws don't apply to her - they're for the little people of whom she sneeringly claims to be a champion.  She was a disaster at the State Department and as Bill's "co-president."  She did okay - not great, but okay - as a senator from New York and in truth she is better as a legislator than an executive.  Even so, corruption and scandal follow her and her husband as surely as the smell follows a honey-wagon.  But too many vote for her, holding their noses and hoping that somehow the utopia they envision will magically arise out of the manure she spreads.  It won't.

We still have a very slight chance at a contest between two serious men who take their principles seriously - Cruz and Sanders.  I despair of it happening, though.  Instead, we'll get two tired, broken-down, unprincipled egotists.

It is all reminiscent of the kind of chaos of Rome that led to the desire for a Caesar to ride in on a white horse and somehow save the day without requiring any sacrifice of us.  Sorry.  Not possible.  We still govern ourselves and these impotent claimants to omniscience can't fix everything or even anything, just as the Caesars of old couldn't.  We'll get a Julius and maybe an Augustus, and things will hold together for a decade, maybe two, but eventually we'll get a Caligula, and then a Nero.  It's not invading Goths that will get us.  The real barbarians are inside the gates.

2.18.2016

Evening Prayer

Three bells. 2130. Time to go.
Across the passageway, down the ladder,
Through the hatch out into the hangar bay
Dodging the low-slung wings of the fighters
As I to starboard make my quiet way.

There’s a long line aft at the smoking head;
Shadows that snake and curve in the red light.
Through hangar doors, reflecting off the crests
Of waves rolling by, bright sparks of moonlight
Burst and fade on soft, brilliant, foamy nests.

Another hatch, then start the long slow climb.
On the way up, I pass by the skipper,
Then one more ladder and I’m at the bridge.
Declare myself: “Permission to enter?”
Traditions reach out, bind us, stitch by stitch

In the muted stillness, greet the bo’s’n,
Take my station by the 1MC where
Four bells sound. 2200. Then pipe
“All hands, stand by for evening prayer”
Read a psalm, say a prayer – you know the type:

“Now I lay me down to sleep,
I pray thee Lord my soul to keep.
Watch those who watch throughout this night
And bring us safe to morning light. Amen.”

I linger just a little on the bridge –
Maybe step outside to the weather deck,
Or talk with the bo’s’n, or silently
Peering into the space ‘tween black and black
Of deep, dark sky at night and ink-toned sea.

More often I go up the ladder aft,
Find the weathered chair on the signal bridge,
Relax and talk to the quartermasters
Debating which constellation is which
And what it all means, these stars upon stars.

I drift off to another place and time
Where other chaplains stood beneath the stars
As bo’s’ns piped the ship to ev’ning prayer.
The sails billowing above hard-worked tars,
While yardarms creak and fresh, young middies stare.

In our modern age, it’s almost a curse,
This honored past and the word “tradition.”
But on nights such as these, it’s like the weight
Of an old blanket, comfortable, known –
Thus cocooned, I enter that bless├ęd state.

Six bells. 2300. I’ve retired.
Snug in my stateroom, that sweet, sweet bastion,
I pull this tradition up to my chin.
Another day underway is fin’lly done
And e’er the seventh bell sounds, I’m all in.


*****

During my two year stint on an aircraft carrier, my favorite part of the day was evening prayer. After I finished on the bridge, I’d go up and aft to the signal bridge and sit there with the quartermasters and signalmen, looking up at the stars. I love this tradition, connecting us to generations of sailors over the centuries.

2.15.2016

Trump Can Dish It Out, But Apparently Can't Take

Trump decided to skip the Iowa debate a short time before the caucus.  Something didn't suit his prima donna-ness.

Now I see he's threatening to sue Ted Cruz about something or other and is whining to the RNC about the Senator from Texas.  Meanwhile, he continues to claim the senator isn't eligible to be president because he was born in Canada, which is, itself, a lie.  No, not that Cruz was born in Canada.  That's true.  But the law on this point is clear and settled.  He was born to an American while in Canada and the law at the time he was born says that makes him a US citizen by birth.

But the whole imbroglio says to me that Donald Trump is a spoiled, tantrum-inclined brat who can dish it out but can't take it.

Personally, the media fixation on Trump strikes me as another instance of the main stream press trying to encourage the GOP to select the nominee most likely to lose to Hillary or Bernie.  I think that's why they were fairly early fixated on Jeb Bush, too, but since he's obviously going nowhere, they're jumping on Trump's bandwagon for the moment.

The people I really liked as potential candidates are out - Jindal and Walker - and of the remaining ones, my preference would be, in order: Fiorina, Rubio, Cruz, and Carson.  If Trump is the nominee, I'll probably not vote in the presidential election.  When it comes to the man's character, he's just Obama without Obama's good points.

1.30.2016

Shoes

I join the Ops-O out on the fantail,
Looking into the darkness over the water.
The noise and bustle has paused
And we stand silent, as anxious fathers.

“There are all sorts of hazards out there,”
He says grimly. “Things that will tear out a boat’s keel.”
He just sent the ship’s boats out.
We wait, flinching at each radio squeal.

Young people, out in the looming dark
Searching, searching desperately for survivors:
Gulf Air Flight 72
A few moments ago hit the water.

How hard it is to stay back in safety
While sending our children away into danger
Then seeing them return, changed –
Searing pain engraved by mangled strangers.

In their eyes is where I see it first –
Angry, haunted, pleading, hoping, despairing eyes.
What did they see in the dark?
What lies beneath their mangled, stifled cries?

Wreckage, yes, and torn, shredded bodies,
But what hurt most were things that didn’t make the news –
Looters sifting through corpses,
Souvenirs from last vacations, and shoes.

Shoes – little shoes, bobbing up and down
Beside little feet that will not wear them again,
Bump up against the gunwale –
Toddlers in pieces, knocking, “Let me in.”

The young officer is nearly frantic
“I have to stand my watch. I have to. I have to!”
He needs to do, dares not think
Of teddy bears and tiny feet and shoes.

As he tells me what he saw, I see
Shoes and feet and teddy bears swimming in his tears.
I hear his heart in pieces
Knocking, begging, pleading, “Will someone hear?”

A fatherly embrace, I tell him
“You did well, son. I’m proud. You did your duty well.
Come back after watch is done.
We’ll face the demons, though we wade through hell.”

He leaves, relieved; he will stand his watch.
On the fantail, I note the sun’s first dawning hues.
As waves lap against the hull,
I hear the children looking for their shoes.

*****
I was on board the USS GEORGE WASHINGTON (CVN 73) in August of 2000. We were getting ready to leave the port of Manama, Bahrain when Gulf Air Flight 72 crashed on approach, killing all 143 people on board. We were tasked with recovery operations over the next 48 hours and for the next 72 hours afterwards I was busy with critical incident debriefing. Almost all of the young people mentioned the looters and the shoes. The older officers spoke of the worry they had sending sailors about the same age as their own children out into those dangerous waters. All of us were changed.

1.05.2016

In and Out

In and out, in and out, in and out –
Can you just go already?
In and out, in and out, in and out –
I need something more steady.

In and out, in and out, in and out –
Children round me patter.
In and out, in and out, in and out –
Do I look like your father?

In and out, in and out, in and out –
Rules constantly changing.
In and out, in and out, in and out –
Home always re-arranging.

In and out, in and out, in and out –
Never know where I’m at.
In and out, in and out, in and out –
It’s not a ship, it’s a cat.

In and out, in and out, in and out –
Really, I do love you.
In and out, in and out, in and out –
Please know that the kids do, too.

In and out, in and out, in and out –
But we need you to go
In and out, in and out, in and out –
Put an end to “to and fro”

In and out, in and out, in and out –
Bring on this six month bout
In and out, in and out, in and out –
Then when you’re out, you stay out

In and out, in and out, in and out –
But when at last you’re back
In and out, in and out, in and out –
Then we can get our lives on track.


One of the most difficult parts about being married to, or the child of, somebody in the military - especially somebody in the Navy - is the constant in-and-out that goes with it.  Between training exercises, work-ups, inspections, TAD, and more, the family dynamics are in a constant state of flux.  One weekend, Dad's home and the relationships in the family function in this way, next weekend he isn't and the relationships function a completely different way.  The actual deployment can come as a relief because it means for at least the next six months or more, there will be a set, stable order to the family.

12.02.2015

Wandering the Wilderness

Before I was born, my father left Egypt,
His wife expecting their first child.
Out into the wilderness they went
By Providence light, to Athens, count the miles!
Then further, away to the east,
Wandering out through the windswept wilds.

Later, I was born in that wild wilderness
As father sought the Promised Land.
I think, at last, he may have found it –
He is dead now, his discovery in hand.
But I’m still out here wandering
Over windswept sea and endless sand.

In its way, it’s beautiful, magnificent,
Carved and whittled by God’s own hand.
Multihued towers, stunning blossoms –
Against wondrous backgrounds, posed, they stand,
Sweep my breath away in glory!
Yet I still long for the Promised Land.

It’s been a great adventure and I’ve seen much –
Beclouded pillars backed by sun;
Colossal waves dancing in the wind;
Towers of fire leaping forth from the mountain;
Endless sky on a bed of grass –
But there’s still one place I’ve never been.

In all my wandering, Canaan still eludes
I’m not even sure where it is.
Would I recognize it? I don’t know.
Maybe it’s just a dream and doesn’t exist.
Maybe there is no Promised Land –
Just earth, sky – a vast, wide nothingness.

But I think my dad may have found it
After his years in the wilderness,
After his struggles and his stumbles.
So I’ll wander ‘till I find it, too, I guess –
Keep looking for the Promised Land
Out somewhere beyond the emptiness.
_______


My father left the comfortable confines of our denomination and the community of Dutch Calvinism in West Michigan to join the Navy in 1960.  He returned to that community in 1979 after spending time in 7 states and one foreign country.  His time between leaving the Navy and returning to West Michigan was spent largely among Native American peoples in Montana, Oklahoma, and New Mexico.  He returned home, but his home wasn't, and isn't, mine.  So I'm still wandering.