Friday, November 6, 2015

My Last Post (at least for now)

This will be my last post in this blog. There are several reasons for this.

 First, as of 1 November I am no longer a Salvation Army officer.

Secondly, because of the address of this blog, I feel that to further write under the name "Progressive Salvationist" might not be in favor of The Salvation Army since I cannot speak on the Army's behalf. I'm still a soldier (member) of The Salvation Army.

Finally, I will continue to blog, but not in this particular format. When I start another blog, I will leave a link to it here.

Those few of you who have read my blog, I appreciate all of your comments and support (even criticism).

May God be with you and shine his favor on you!

Monday, April 20, 2015

I like you!

My son, Gabriel (who is 4 years old), is one of the most affectionate little boys I know. Of course, I'm biased in my opinion, but I sincerely believe he is the most sincere person, too.

Sometimes, without even knowing it, he can be profound. For instance, he often likes to say grace at meals. This is normally the formula he prays (or something similar), "Dear Jesus, thank you for this day and that we are all home." He hardly ever thanks God for the food, but I don't think that's the point.

He's glad that we are altogether as a family. When someone is not home, he prays that they come home soon.

Gabriel is not shy with his affections. He will often come up and without asking or prompting, he will give me a hug and a kiss. I pray that he never grows out of this phase. I do absolutely nothing to squelch the affection either. I give all my boys kisses and am grateful when it's returned, but I never force them to. Gabriel gives the affection back always.

Gabriel is sincere. Whatever Gabriel is feeling at the time, he let's you know. Just the other day, I special ordered a toy that he had been looking for, but had been unable to find. When it came in (three days early!), he was so grateful. He kept saying, "Oh, thank you, Papa! That was so nice of you!" Often times, he will come unbidden and simply declare, "I like you, Papa! You're the best Papa ever!" When he's feeling even better, he's upgrades my status to "love." However, when I am forced to discipline him, he is also not shy about letting me know how he feels about me right then and there. I take it all in stride, knowing that his love for me outweighs the discomfort he is going through with the discipline.

Finally, my son is profound and sometimes unintentionally so. Just the other day, Gabriel came up to me and told me, "God sent me to you so I could love you!" After giving him a big hug, he made me cry.

I have come to cherish the small unexpected gifts that come into my life. Gabriel is one of these. His profound statements of love have impacted me so much. I am grateful to God for him and cannot imagine my life without him.

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

His Last Tweet to Me

Last week a friend of mine pointed out a tweet from a pastor in Memphis, Tennessee I was not familiar with, but it seemed like an interesting topic to engage this minister with. The pastor, Samuel Onwuchekwa (@SamOhhh) of the Fellowship Memphis Church had tweeted:

At first glance, this seemed to me to be a slight misconception. Those who had little or no knowledge of Christianity might, in my opinion, think that Jesus offers nothing to our life. I felt that Christ had come to give us life in abundance, not just the promise of a life in Heaven.

Thus began an interesting conversation. I tweeted back:

With that last tweet from Pastor Onwuchekwa, I decided to leave it at that for the time being. I had said what I meant. I also did not disagree with the substance of what Pastor Onwuchekwa said, but just how it was said. That, in and of itself, was enough.

A few days later, Pastor Sam's last tweet to me was being retweeted and favorited and quoted over and over again. You should understand something about my Twitter account. I rarely use it. I have few followers and I follow more people than people follow me. I am OK with that, too. I just thought I would engage a fellow pastor in a discussion of semantics.

I couldn't understand what was going on. Why in the world would Pastor Sam's last tweet to me be tweeted so much and so often? So I went back to Twitter and checked it out.

Pastor Samuel Onwuchekwa had passed away.

I was dumbfounded and quite saddened. I looked at Pastor Sam's last tweet to me. He had quoted from Philippians 1:21-25 (ESV):

21 For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain. 22 If I am to live in the flesh, that means fruitful labor for me. Yet which I shall choose I cannot tell. 23 I am hard pressed between the two. My desire is to depart and be with Christ, for that is far better. 24 But to remain in the flesh is more necessary on your account. 25 Convinced of this, I know that I will remain and continue with you all, for your progress and joy in the faith,

Was God preparing Pastor Sam for his final moments in this life? I do not know. I would like to believe so. Let me be honest:  I had nothing personal against Pastor Sam. I simply wanted to engage him in this discussion about life in Christ and our life in Eternity.

I sincerely believe that Christ had come into this world to show us how to live so that we may emulate him and have life in abundance. I also believe that death does not have the final word and that we have eternity with God as well.

Having served in Germany for 10 years, Philippians 1:21 is more poignant to me in German, which states:  Christus ist mein Leben und Sterben mein Gewinn.  This translates as:  "Christ is my life and dying is my gain (or victory)."

I extend my condolences to the family of Pastor Onwuchekwa and to the whole congregation at Fellowship Memphis. May God grant Pastor Sam eternal rest.

Thursday, December 11, 2014

He Doesn't Know Me.

When our family first moved to Ludington, we got to know of a neat thing that happened each year, called the "Santa Train." The local freight railway had Santa and his elves stop at all of towns along the railroad and Santa would greet all of the children and pass out candy.

Our two oldest boys thought that was amazing! They both loved trains. In Germany we traveled by train all of the time, but since being back in the United States, which doesn't really have the train culture that Germany has, this was great. Our boys were also quite familiar with the book and movie, The Polar Express, and thought that this would be something similar. Our youngest son had just been born a month ago. So his excitement was geared more towards milk, sleeping, and cuddling.

When we came up to the train, there was Santa with his elves! All the children were scrambling to get close to him to touch him and tell him what they wanted for Christmas. When my oldest son, Zachary, came up to Santa, the bearded gentleman asked him, "What's your name, little boy?" My son was suddenly shocked and became quiet as he told him his name.

Afterwards, while we were going back to the car, Zachary began to cry and said, "Santa doesn't even know my name!"

My son learned a hard lesson that day. Santa was not omniscient.

There is was something that I could do for him, though. God knows him. God loves him. I told him that even though Santa might not know him, God does know him and cares for him deeply.

Now, I won't get into the huge debate about whether God is omniscient, too. As an Open Theist, I believe he restricts his knowledge in this regard; however, I do love the German expression of "kennen," which means "to know intimately." In that way, God knows us personally and intimately. I love this about God.

As the Psalmist says, "Lord, you have examined me. You know me." (Psalm 139:1)

I hope that you will also get to know our Lord more personally in this Advent Season!

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Poppies, Flanders, and Third Stanzas

Today is Veteran's Day in the United States. It is Remembrance Day in other countries.

Often quoted on this day is the haunting poem, written by Canadian physician and officer, Lt. Colonel John McCrae, "In Flanders Fields." Here is that poem in its entirety:

In Flanders fields the poppies grow,
      Between the crosses, row on row,
   That mark our place; and in the sky
   The larks, still bravely singing, fly
Scarce heard amid the guns below.

We are the Dead. Short days ago
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
   Loved and were loved, and now we lie
         In Flanders fields.

Take up our quarrel with the foe:
To you from failing hands we throw
   The torch; be yours to hold it high.
   If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
         In Flanders fields.

Oh, how I wish that third stanza had not been written. The First World War was a useless war, fought to punish each other for some hidden grievance. It became the impetus for the Second World War, the Cold War, and the War on Terrorism. If only that poem had ended after the second stanza, it would emphasize the futility of the conflict. That third stanza seems to me to suggest that the soldiers would go on haunting those who do not fight in that same cause.

What cause? What was so noble that they had to die in some field in Belgium, only to become the ground that poppies grow on? World War I exemplified that depravity of humanity to kill each other for political reasons.

A friend of mine, Mark Sandlin, wrote an impressive blog about his true feelings for Veteran's Day. I can only quietly echo his sentiments.

Shane Claiborne has also shared an equally powerful story of Charlie Liteky:

I respect those who have served in Armed Forces. What they have done is something that I could never do. I do not respect the political machinery they suffered and died for. I do not respect that so many men, women, and children had to die for a political cause that could not be solved through other means. We remember our own veterans, conveniently forgetting those that our veterans killed, including the innocent men, women, and children.

I mourn for veterans who come back, suffering from scars and wounds that will never be healed, especially the scars of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, which used to be known as shell shock. The adage, "Thank you for your service," does not seem to be adequate for my feelings. I'd rather say, "I'm so sorry that you had to suffer."

I know there will be those who think I am trying to dishonor the veterans who served and died. I am not. Rather, I am trying to honor all the victims of war. War is the sign that we have given up on showing the Fruit of the Spirit to each other. War is the sign that it is easier for us to kill each other than to love each other.

Love is hard. Love is not merely an emotion. Love takes real work.

On this Veteran's Day, let us resolve to love. This is not an option. Jesus commands it:

"I give you a new commandment: Love each other. Just as I have loved you, so you also must love each other." John 13:34 CEB

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Crying With Those Who Cry

When Job’s three friends heard about all this disaster that had happened to him, they came, each one from his home—Eliphaz from Teman, Bildad from Shuah, and Zophar from Naamah. They agreed to come so they could console and comfort him. When they looked up from a distance and didn’t recognize him, they wept loudly. Each one tore his garment and scattered dust above his head toward the sky. They sat with Job on the ground seven days and seven nights, not speaking a word to him, for they saw that he was in excruciating pain.  Job 2:11-13 CEB

Be happy with those who are happy, and cry with those who are crying. - Romans 12:15 CEB

The parable of Job is an interesting one. It deals with the complex situation of suffering and grief. The age old existential question, "Why does a good God allow suffering?" comes to play here.

I could give an answer to that, but it won't solve anything. God doesn't give an answer to Job, either.

So, I don't want to talk about the suffering question. I want to talk about his friends. Job had 3 friends who came to be with him after they heard about his misfortune. Scholars, theologians, and lay people have always come down hard on these 3 friends. However, I would like to praise them for one thing they did:  They came to be with him and share in his suffering.

Sometimes that's all that a grieving person needs:  the presence and comfort of a friend. They don't need any platitudes, any trite sayings. They want to know that they are not alone.

In 2003, my wife and I suffered a miscarriage of our child. It was one of the most horrible experiences I have ever gone through. My wife blamed herself (even though it wasn't her fault). She would grieve every additional month she wasn't pregnant. She would be furious at every pregnant woman she saw walking the street who was smoking. I suffered in silence. I tried calling my friends in the United States, but got no support. (I lived in Germany at the time.)

People would ask me how my wife was doing. They would never ask me how I was doing, as if the miscarriage didn't happen to me, too. The people at our corps (congregation) did not know what to do. So they resorted to the familiar platitudes, "You'll have another baby some day." "You're still young!"

Probably the worst thing that happened was when we received a condolence card from a retired Salvation Army officer. Interestingly enough, he quoted from Job, too. He wrote, "The Lord gives and the Lord takes. Unfortunately it seems he has been taking a lot from you lately." When my wife read that, it just sank her into a deeper depression. I was furious. How could someone be so callous as to say that to my wife?

The three friends of Job helped him out the best when they said nothing at all. Everything else was ruined when they opened their mouths and tried to explain the suffering away.

We do not need the suffering to be explained. In fact, this is the lesson I learn from Job. What we need is God at our side and the companionship of our friends and family. We can apply this advice from Paul:  "Cry with those who are crying."

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Where Were You?

This past week was the 13th anniversary of the attacks on the Pentagon and the World Trade Center. So many of my friends talked about it, posted about it, shared memes with each other.

It's an open wound for many to this day.

Even though it didn't affect me personally, I am reluctant to talk about it. Why? My conclusions about the whole episode are not mainstream.

On that day on the 11th of September, I was in Germany. There is a 6 hour difference between New York and Germany. So it was in the middle of the afternoon for me at the time. We had just finished Home League, which is a women's group of The Salvation Army. One of the ladies just got off of her mobile phone and told me her daughter said that something had happened in New York. So I went upstairs to my apartment and turned on the television. The Pentagon had just been struck. So I assumed it was a common misunderstanding.

However, then the view switched to New York City and the unforgettable Towers on fire, smoking up to the heavens. I was transfixed. I could not look away. A surreal incident happened. I called my father, who was stationed with The Salvation Army at our Territorial Headquarters in Chicago. He had no television in his office. He knew about the attacks, but wasn't watching anything at the time. While talking with him, the South Tower of the World Trade Centers collapsed. So while I was in Germany, I told my father about what was happening in New York.

The German version of MTV and the other music video station, VIVA, turned off their regular broadcasts and issued a message that stated, "Out of respect for those who died in the attack in New York and Washington, we have cancelled our broadcast for the rest of the day."

At one point, my mind had had enough. I was over-saturated with information and images. I had to turn off the television and go to sleep. The next morning, I went to the main train station to pick up the local newspaper. I didn't have a subscription. So I wanted to at least have this copy of what happened the day before, knowing that this was an event to remember. As I left the train station, a radio reporter stopped me and asked about what my opinion was on the whole matter, not realizing that I was an American. When he found out, he was very interested in knowing my thoughts. I told him that the world would see what kind of nation the United States is after this event happened.

Those words have come to haunt me.

What kind of nation are we?

That day and in the weeks to come I had friends and acquaintances call me up to express their condolences to me. That felt awkward. I wasn't personally affected by the whole incident. None of my loved ones were among the victims. However, I was the token American that they knew and I realized that they were coming to grips in dealing with that situation, too.

What kind of nation are we?

At first, things seemed to be going smoothly. We were united. We rallied behind the first responders. We volunteered. We sent money in support of those who were helping others.

Then things began to get strange.

Conspiracy theories abounded. Copies of the pseudo documentary, "Loose Change," circulated the Internet.

We locked up "non-military combatants" in Guantanamo Bay because we found a legal loophole where we could hold people indefinitely without trial and at the same time circumvent the Geneva Convention because we didn't call them soldiers with whom we were at war.

Iraq was invaded. Some vague thread of logic seemed to combine the two incidents of the attacks on the 11th of September with Iraq. People believed that Saddam Hussein was somehow involved, too.

Abu Ghraib happened. We humiliated Iraqis for no good reason. I even recall retired General John Gowans commenting at our Congress in Hanover, Germany in 2004 how horrible that situation was where American soldiers humiliated Iraqis and posed with them in degrading pictures.

We have been trying to solve violence with violence. What has that gotten us?

Good men and women return home with missing limbs, scars, or in a pine box. The scars are both physical and mental. We leave death and destruction across 2 continents, killing more people than we ourselves lost. More Americans died in Afghanistan and in Iraq than we lost on the 11th of September.

In Afghanistan, 3469 Coalition Troops (including Americans) died in Afghanistan. However, at least 21,000 Afghans have lost their lives during this time.

In Iraq, 4489 Americans have lost their lives, compared with the approximately 1.4 Million Iraqis who have died due to the fighting.

War has done something terrible to the American psyche. I see no justification for this war. I am at fault, too, because I spoke up after it was all over. Too many people are dead.

The attacks on the 11th of September did something terrible to us. It brought out the good in us. We saw this manifested in the small and large acts of heroism of the first responders and those who assisted them. The attacks also brought out the evil in us. We meted the revenge on those who did not deserve it.

Jesus gave us a hard task to fulfill. He said, "You have heard that it was said, You must love your neighbor and hate your enemy. But I say to you, love your enemies and pray for those who harass you so that you will be acting as children of your Father who is in heaven." (Matthew 5:43-45a CEB) What would have happened if the United States, instead of killing our enemies and all those civilians, went into those countries and helped them out where they were? Whether or not they would have accepted our aid is another question, but simply offering love to them when they offered us hate would have had a more meaningful and lasting impact.

Have we as Christians forgotten how to love?