Saturday, December 31, 2016

Night Flight: Climbing out of Baltimore

February 4, 2016

One evening last week my wife Barbara and I flew out of Baltimore's BWI airport en route to Dallas after a brief visit with our Virginia and Maryland family. Out the window I watched as the lights of the Washington,DC metropolitan area spread out horizon to horizon.

I love looking at city lights from above. In my teens and early 20s I served as a crew member on an Air Force transport plane. One evening after dropping off passengers at Washington,DC, we headed cross country to Dayton, Ohio to drop off a few more passengers. We had left Puerto Rico earlier in the day, and by now it had gotten dark.

Sitting on a jumpseat between the two pilots, I watched the lights of cities and towns roll up from the horizon, loom and disappear under us. It was like breasting waves of darkness and light. This short night flight, from Washington to Dayton showed me a majestic America that still lives in my heart.
It made me proud to serve the people these brilliant passing clusters of light represented.

Leaving Baltimore last week I had a similar feeling as I watched darkness replace the lights of cities and towns as our Boeing jet climbed and set course to Dallas. Then questions began arising in my mind as the wind passed by my window.

What would happen to our people if suddenly all the lights in America went out, or even became significantly more dim? A memory of the New York City blackout of 1977 passed briefly through my mind; pictures of looting, rioting, and arson. This memory was quickly replaced by darker questions.

Has the light dimmed in America? Is the light going out?

Teaching His first disciples on the mountain, Jesus said: "You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden."

How much light are we modern disciples shedding in our land? How many of us are looking more like shadow than light?

These questions left a much different feeling than the feeling I had as an airman on my night flight from Washington to Dayton in the late '60s.

"You are the light of the world", said Jesus Christ to His disciples. How true is this of me? How true is this of Jesus' modern church?

The feeling I have as I write is not the majestic  feeling I enjoyed decades ago, as cities passed beneath our military wings en route to Dayton. Instead what I feel now is God prodding me to turn more directly to the light and get some to share with the troubled people of this present time.

Published previously on Facebook

Wednesday, December 28, 2016

No U.S. History for History Majors?

"... the overwhelming majority of America's most prestigious institutions do not require even the students who major in history to take a single course on United States history or government."

From, No US History? How College History Departments Leave the United States out of the Major, Study by the American Council of Trustees and Alumni, published July 2016

Saturday, December 24, 2016

Christmas Eve morning, December 24, 2016

I woke up this morning at 6 AM. I stayed in bed till seven, musing about Mary and Joseph and the soon to be born Jesus. 

They may have still been journeying from Nazareth to Bethlehem at this morning hour. Or resting at the conclusion of the arduous 90 mile journey on foot or on some beast of burden. I cannot imagine the pains of a woman heavily pregnant and approaching the time of birth in this situation.

Nor was this all. They had no place to call their own for this life-changing event when the best available birthing chamber was a place where animals were fed. Picture this vulnerable young woman with her inexperienced husband in the place we commonly visualize as a stable! I suppose things could've been worse, but they were certainly poor! And then the precious baby was wrapped up and placed in a feeding trough!

That God would condescend for his Son to make entrance into our world in this way is appalling! For a Jewish couple accustomed to strict cleanliness in worship, this must've felt like the very opposite of a blessed event!

God was not lacking compassion, however. He first sent angels to inform shepherds about the coming of the promised Savior, then sent the jubilant shepherds to tell the weary Mary and Joseph the marvelous way God had revealed the Savior's birth to them.

For all the pain and fatigue of travel, and the struggle of giving birth in rough and grimy surroundings, Mary and Joseph celebrated with the shepherds and their loving God the birth of His promised Savior Jesus Christ the Lord. How that must've transformed what would otherwise be squalor and misery!

This gift of hope and joy despite circumstances is the same gift those who believe in Jesus Christ can expect from God the Father as we remember the birth of his Son amidst the turmoil of the world. For all of us, if we place our eyes on the risen Jesus, the celebration can be a truly holy time. We can share to some extent the God given joy that came to Mary, Joseph, and the shepherds.

Luke, chapter 2

Saturday, December 3, 2016

A genuine celebration of Christmas

A Prayer for the Poor in Spirit

 A prayer of Oscar Romero
“No one can celebrate
a genuine Christmas
without being truly poor.
The self-sufficient, the proud,
those who, because they have
everything, look down on others,
those who have no need
even of God–for them there
Shutterstock photo
will be no Christmas.
Only the poor, the hungry,
those who need someone
to come on their behalf,
will have that someone.
That someone is God.
Emmanuel. God-with-us.
Without poverty of spirit
there can be no abundance of God.”
God, help me realize how poor
I am.  Poor at loving, poor at discerning,
poor in wisdom, poor at choosing
obedience, poor in generosity,
poor in seeking You.  And so you
come to me.  To me. Emmanuel. 
With your abundance of all I need.
Thank you. Thank you.

From ...

Friday, September 16, 2016

A perspective on war refugees ...

"A native town destroyed is sadder than a British city, for there is so little help for the people. These people were stricken by the clash of greater nations than they in their land, and little could be done to help them in their trouble. Here were no Army doctors and nurses to help them; there were no gifts of clothes and food from other prosperous communities. A native town blitzed means an end to civilization in that district for the time; the survivors must disperse to live as best they can…"

From The Chequerboard, by Nevil Shute, Pan Books Ltd. (paperback) 1962, p137. Commenting on destruction of a town in Burma in World War 2.

Tuesday, May 10, 2016

Book Review: The Reconstruction of Warriors: Archibald McIndoe, the Royal Air Force and the Guinea Pig Club, by E. R. Mayhew

In the late 1960s I became impatient to see a new World War 2 movie, “Battle of Britain.” The attraction was seeing actual British and German fighter planes reenacting the “dogfights” of 1940 in the British skies. Finally it opened in a theater near me.

The dogfight scenes were all I had hoped. The fighters were fast and maneuverable. They laced the skies with vapor trails as they stalked each other across the skies over cities, towns and country.

But now it is not so much the flying scenes that stand out in my memory. Instead today I remember a scene where a young female officer of the Royal Air Force encounters a badly burned airman on the flight line of an airfield. His face is horribly disfigured. Wincing, she thinks of her lover who is a fighter pilot daily at risk for the same fate.

When I read Reconstruction of Warriors recently I learned that the burned flyer on the flight line was not an actor but an actual combatant in the British air war, Bill Foxley. His wounds were real – not the product of makeup artists.

How did the RAF manage to “reconstruct” horribly wounded flyers like Bill Foxley and return many of them to duty or normal civilian life? The book Reconstruction of Warriors tells the story.

Surgical teams of East Grinstead Cottage Hospital collaborated with the neighboring civilian community to restore both bodies and morale of burned and damaged flyers. The wounded flyers – who adopted the name “Guinea Pigs” due to the new surgical techniques applied to their wounds – participated in one anothers care and provided fellowship and mutual encouragement.

Chief surgeon Archibald McIndoe helped organize them into “The Guinea Pig Club,” a social group that survived and held annual meetings well into the 21st Century.

In short, the joint efforts of the injured flyers, medical staff, and neighboring civilian community made the flyers’ disfiguring injuries and surgical scars a badge of honor.

Therefore McIndoe’s airmen did not have to endure the shame encountered by disabled veterans of the First World War, whom the doctor had been seen begging, selling matches, or killing time on the streets of Britain. He was determined to avoid this for his men. He seems to have succeeded.

The book did my heart good.  It is hard to put down!

Tuesday, February 16, 2016

Abraham Lincoln: Self Taught Commander in Chief

I am tired of hearing glib arguments that people like Ben Carson and Marco Rubio aren't suitable candidates for president and - in particular - commander in chief. Those arguments would have disqualified Abraham Lincoln, and our Nation would be the poorer.

Lincoln was a country lawyer and legislator, and not - to my knowledge - a chief executive before he was president of the U.S. Yet he possessed a God-given energy and wisdom. Here's what historian James M. McPherson said about Lincoln as a self taught military commander:

"Lincoln faced a steep learning curve as Commander in Chief in the war…

[He had been a member of the Illinois militia in 1832 but had never seen combat.]

"He was also painfully aware that his adversary, Jefferson Davis, was much better prepared for that daunting task. A graduate of the US military Academy at West Point, Davis had fought courageously has a colonel of a Mississippi regiment in the Mexican war and is served as an excellent secretary of war from 1853 to 1857…

Lincoln possessed a keen analytical mind, however, and a fierce determination to master any subject to which he applied himself …

"As commander-in-chief Lincoln sought to master the intricacies of military strategy in the same way he had tried to penetrate the meaning of mysterious adult conversations when he was a boy. “He gave himself, night and day, to the study of the military situation,” Hay later wrote. ”He ran a large number of strategical works. He pored over the reports from the various departments and districts of the field of war. He held long conferences with eminent generals and admirals, and astonished them by the extent of his special knowledge and the keen intelligence of his questions.” Some of those generals, like Lincoln's courtroom adversaries, eventually found themselves on their backs in a ditch. By 1862 Lincoln’s grasp of military strategy and operations was firm enough almost to justify the assertion of the historian T. Harry Williams: “Lincoln stands out as a great war president, probably the greatest in our history, and a great natural strategist, a better one than any of his generals.”

[From Tried by War, Abraham Lincoln as Commander in Chief, by James M. McPherson, New York, Penguin Books, 2009]

If God gifts surgeon Carson, or lawyer Rubio, as He gifted lawyer Lincoln, we will have an outstanding president of the United States.