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Is There Hope Left in Afghanistan?

I’m sitting here in southern Alabama in my travel trailer as Tropical Storm Fred makes its way from the Gulf Coast north through Alabama. Living in a lightweight trailer, there’s a lot of uncertainty as the rains and winds increase, challenging gravity’s hold on my shelter.

While I sit wondering about my future, whether my life will literally be turned upside down or not, I’m reading the news coming from Afghanistan where the Taliban is taking control of a country that for twenty years has tried to distance itself from the stringent and archaic rules of the Taliban’s flavor of strict Muslim government. For many Afghans, the only life they have known is about to be only a memory. For older Afghans who remember life before the American-led coalition forces dispersed the Taliban, I imagine the dread of an oppressive life is returning. For Soldiers like myself who served there, answering our nation’s call to duty, questions about our sacrifice -and the sacrifice of our comrades whose lives were lost there- swirl through our minds.

For me, not being a combat Soldier but one who tries to bring God’s peace to places of anti-peace, my memories revolve around the lives of the Soldiers I served with, the memory of those who died there, and the faces of the women and children who thought they found hope in the gifts we shared with them when we visited their villages or when they came to our bases for medical care.

In the village elders and the children who gathered around them, I saw a glimpse of a future that the old men and women only dreamed of and the young boys and girls had never known but hoped for. In the women whose faces sheepishly peaked out from behind their coverings, still afraid of who may challenge their new-found freedom, I saw a desire to be who they were created to be, to share a smile or an encouraging expression.

But now, with the Taliban returning to power, the natural question is “where did we go wrong?” Were we wrong to enter Afghanistan in the first place? Were we wrong trying to set up a central government in a country governed for so long by regional elders? Were we wrong to try to train an Afghan Army to defend its people? Were we wrong to try to negotiate with the Taliban, knowing they would return to power when we left? Were we wrong to stay so long? Were we wrong to leave so soon?

I don’t have an answer to any of the questions, though I do have my opinions. But my opinions, like yours, are meaningless to the countless Afghans who now face a future so bleak that most Americans can’t even imagine it.

One question question I do want to answer is: was it worth it? I wouldn’t presume to justify the death of any American Soldier based on my experience in Afghanistan so will only speak to what I know…or think I know. The time I spent in that poor country was mainly occupied with compassion. I, with other American Service Members, would regularly go to the Egyptian and Korean Hospitals at Bagram Air Base and distribute clothing, shoes, school supplies and candy to the mothers and children who came there for care. I, with members of my Signal Battalion stationed at Bagram, would visit villages near Bagram to share with the elders donations for them to distribute to their villagers.

During these humanitarian efforts, I saw in the faces of young and old a smile that seemed deeper than a passing good feeling, but filled with hope for a better future, hope for a better life. Yes, that hope may have been dashed as the Taliban rolled in and took over, but was it completely? Could it be that having felt a bit of hope, that it will remain within them, longing to spring forth again? Could it be that the hope that they were given during our presence there, will give them the strength to endure and maybe even overcome the oppression that is ahead for them? Could it be that the brief years of hope -though a fleeting time in the long history of the Afghan people- brought enough happiness and joy that their memories might be filled more with what can someday be rather than what once was and is lost? Can the little bit of hope that our presence and help gave them while we were there be a glowing light to sustain them through the darkness that is now overtaking them?

I don’t know, I can only hope so.

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What should we call “Illegal Aliens”?

With election day in high gear it was hard to get away from all sorts of posts. Many that I saw appeared “religious” in nature but by the quote or verse used you could tell which way the poster leaned, essentially making them political posts rather than religious. Worse yet, political under the guise of religious.

My “delete” button got a lot of use this day as I began to comment or respond to comments only to decide it wasn’t worth the effort or would only consume my time for fruitless dialogue.

I did read through many comments, however, especially those on posts from Facebook friends I respect. One of these comments included a person being rebuked for using the term “illegal alien” when speaking of, well, illegal aliens. He was instructed that they are called “undocumented immigrants” then was further chastised for putting them in the same category as Klansmen or drug dealers, with the challenger going on to insist that “actions are illegal not people.”

I at first relegated the lashing the commenter received to another liberal diatribe but then I got to thinking about the chastiser’s argument that illegal aliens are people deserving respect and understanding for what they have gone through, what they may be trying to escape from, or what they are seeking by coming to the United States. Contending that their identity shouldn’t be bound to their illegal actions to get here.

Frankly, I wasn’t convinced.

Can we really separate a person’s identity from their actions? Is not some one who steals a thief? Someone who kills a murderer? Someone who lies a liar? Someone who breaks the law a lawbreaker? Some one who enters a country illegally an illegal alien?

Why do liberals insist on calling illegal aliens “undocumented immigrants”? Regardless of their worth as a person or their reason for wanting to enter another country (or leave their own), if they break the law to do so, they’re lawbreakers so following how other people are identified by their actions in every other case (thief, murderer, liar, lawbreaker), they are illegals.

At what point after committing their crime are they no longer known by it? After completion of their trial? After they serve their sentence? After a certain amount of time? After they stop doing that particular crime?

Obviously, we want to be loving, caring and compassionate. We want to recognize the worth and value of people as individuals. Is it reasonable, then, to revise our terms? Would it be any better to instead say “person of value who broke the law”? Is their another alternative?

Or is it just another way liberals try to pull the wool over the public’s eyes about those who enter our country illegally. “They’re not criminals for breaking the law, they’re just immigrants who want a better life. Open our borders, let them in, take care of them.”

Of course for Christians, it gets a bit more complicated. In the Old Testament God made it clear to the People of Israel that they were to welcome, even love, foreigners. Jesus went on to teach that his followers should love and care for their neighbors and strangers. The Apostles continued this teaching in the New Testament letters, encouraging their readers to show hospitality to strangers. Of course, all of the admonitions in Scripture are to individuals: individual Israelites (even as a “people”), individual disciples, individual Christians. These instructions were not given to a nation, government or even religious leaders, per se, except as they are individuals.

Governments, however, have the responsibility to protect their citizens, to secure their borders and to enforce their laws. A person who enters a country illegally may not intend to endanger the citizens of that country, but if they enter illegally how can the government be sure? If these immigrants begin their residence in a country by breaking that country’s laws to get there, why would one not assume that they will continue to disregard that country’s laws? Why should they not be considered illegals since they attempted to enter illegally?

Ideally, as individuals are involved in government service, their compassion will come through in legislation and enforcement. Governments should treat people -even illegal aliens- humanely, of course. Their officers and representatives should be compassionate to them as they should any person -law abiding or law breaking- but the government cannot ignore their illegal actions. They cannot treat them as law abiding citizens when they are not. They must be held accountable for their actions, as we all should.

So we’re back to the original question: “what should we call illegal aliens?” I have my opinion as undoubtedly you have yours. Here’s mine: If you are the government, it needs to be clear who you are dealing with while enforcing the law: they’re illegal aliens. If you are a politician or voting citizen or activist, involved in advocating for humane treatment or different laws, it’s also important to remember who they are to accurately identify them and to make your argument. When you use the term “undocumented immigrants” you are not clearly describing what they have done but are shrouding their entrance into our borders with euphemisms, so not discussing the situation or working toward legislation honestly. If you are an individual welcoming and caring for strangers, from across town or across the border, they are people. They don’t need a title, neither illegal alien or undocumented immigrant, they only need a name, their name.*

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*Of course, if you are taking in, or providing for, people who have illegally entered our borders, you have also stepped over to the wrong side of the law, but that’s a discussion for another post, which should include when you should break your government’s laws to keep God’s law or if you can keep both.

Photo: Large groups of illegal aliens were apprehended by Yuma Sector Border Patrol agents near Yuma, AZ on June 4, 2019. The Yuma Sector continues to see a large number of Central Americans per day crossing illegally and surrendering to agents. CBP photo by Jerry Glaser. (Photo public domain)

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There’s Only One Hope

Everybody seems to have something to say about the recent death of George Floyd in Minneapolis and the resulting riots there and in other cities around the country but something that even many of the most righteous church people seem to be neglecting is the spiritual aspect of all of this.
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It’s easy to write a moving Facebook post. It’s easy to condemn privileged white people. It’s easy to defend the actions of law enforcement placed in difficult situations. It’s easy to call for justice and declare it a Scriptural mandate. It’s easy to sympathize with (and even support) the rioters as using whatever means they can to be heard…even illegal ones. It’s easy to protest in solidarity with the apparent victims.
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But what is needed isn’t more laws or an assurance of justice. What is needed isn’t more cops fired and jailed. What is needed isn’t giving the victims a pass to be law breakers. What is needed, at least as a first step, is a recognition of the sinful world we live in which will never be fully redeemed until the finality of God’s restoration of His people and planet.
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We will never see the U.S. fit the vision that so many dream of in the coming Kingdom of God. We can take everyone’s guns. We can jail every racist. We can resist violence and insist on nonviolence. We can put into action everything that is suggested in the thousands of “inspired” Facebook posts, but sin will continue and with sin, hatred and with hatred, racism.
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Can we do anything to make a difference? Not as long as we think in worldly terms like “rights” and “justice” and “legal” and “privilege” and all the rest. Sure, you can make a case for using these terms from Scripture, but all of them on their own are powerless and useless. We may take racists and haters off the streets and put them into the jails but that won’t change who they are or why they hate, or remove the hatred from the hearts of those who haven’t yet broken a law.
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What is needed in our country, and what few seem willing to encourage or pursue (likely for fear of being offensive or being labeled as “judgmental”), is a Christian outpouring of the Holy Spirit of God.
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This Sunday is Pentecost Sunday, a day on the Christian calendar when we remember -even celebrate- the gift of the Holy Spirit to the Church and Christ followers. What Pentecost did in Jerusalem was a reversal of the judgement at the Tower of Babel, bringing together people of all nations and races who had been separated since the confusion of languages at Babel-those who had considered each other enemies and saw others as beneath them or even less-than-human. Pentecost initiated the work of the Holy Spirit through the people of the Church to reconcile humankind to God and to each other.
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It is only the Holy Spirit who can change the hearts of men and women who now only see violence against each other as the answer. It is only the Holy Spirit who can effectively check a police officer when he/she begins to go too far in subduing a subject. It is only the Holy Spirit who can convict rioters that their actions accomplish nothing but bringing pain and suffering to their own community. It is only the Holy Spirit who can cause people of different colors and different nationalities to love each other (really love) and care about each other’s welfare (really care). It is only the Holy Spirit who can give wisdom to those who would rather continue dividing our nation and stirring things up with their posts and platitudes than actually making a difference.
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Could we see the Holy Spirit work like that in the U.S.? Pentecost will never be repeated (so don’t expect “the sound like the blowing of a violent wind” or tongues of fire to rest on your head!) but the Holy Spirit given at Pentecost remains available to us. The 120 who first experienced Pentecost didn’t just show up and receive Him but prepared for the gift that Jesus promised. I suggest that we can prepare for a fresh outpouring of the Holy Spirit in a similar way.
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First, the 120 were obedient, they did what Jesus told them when he promised the Holy Spirit. Second they praised God, they went to worship and they met with the Church. Third, they prayed (and prayed and prayed). Fourth, they were together, more than just geographically but in mind, heart and spirit. They were unified with a common goal that flowed from their obedience and desire to receive what Jesus had promised.
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What do you think would happen if instead of taking sides or taking to the streets or taking out our neighbor with a well-crafted argument, we came together and in obedience, got on our knees and prayed -not for our enemies to be defeated- but for our enemies to be overwhelmed with the matchless love of God? What do you think would happen if instead of the Church forming sides like political parties, we became bipartisan in our pursuit of holiness and in our desire to see our communities converted and filled with the Holy Spirit? What do you think would happen if instead of urging our government to act and attempt to legislate what only a commitment to Christ and the infilling of His Holy Spirit can accomplish, we took to the streets -not to protest- but to love, to share the Gospel in word and deed, to call others to a commitment to Christ and to urge them on to perfection through the power of the Holy Spirit?
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I’ll tell you what would happen: God will be empowered to act by our prayers. God will work through our actions. God will draw sinners, haters and racists to Him and change their lives and hearts. God will make our communities -our nation- examples of His grace and love poured out on people who seek Him, who desire Him, who crave Him, who realize that He is our only hope.
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The Sting of Not Being Promoted

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I recently had to avoid Facebook for a while because it was just too painful to be there. Not because of the waste of time that is inherent to Facebook or the idiocy that so many people display in their posts and comments but because, at least in my military chaplain circles, there were too many posts of “congratulations!” and “I’m humbled at being selected…” and “I feel so blessed…”

You see, the Chaplain, Lieutenant Colonel, Promotion Board results were officially just released and (you guessed it) my name was not on it. There were several chaplain friends who reached out to me with their condolences and words of encouragement, which was kind but as much as I appreciated it, was often not helpful (sorry). Sure, words of affirmation are usually encouraging, but they seldom reduce the sting of being passed over for promotion.

If you have never been in the military, you may not fully understand why being passed over is so painful. I can’t say for sure what others feel, but I can share what I feel, and thought that some of you might want to know.

  1. Being passed over makes you feel like a failure because if you weren’t a failure, you would have been promoted.
  2. Being passed over means you won’t be considered for assignments of greater responsibility, so you’re stuck in positions tied to your current rank.
  3. Being passed over means you have to watch many of your peers (and sometimes past subordinates) advance beyond you and become your “superiors.”
  4. Being passed over means you won’t be included in discussion groups, advanced training, and chaplain teams, that are gathered to consider the future of the chaplaincy.
  5. Being passed over means you won’t be asked as much for your advice or opinion, because you’re not viewed as successful, like those who have been promoted.
  6. Being passed over means your pay (and your future retirement pay) remains at a lower rate.
  7. Being passed over makes you wonder if everything you have done for the Army, for the Chaplain Corps, and for the Church, has been worth it.

Even though you’ve worked for years to try to effectively minister to the Soldiers and Family Members in your unit; you’ve train and mentored your subordinate chaplains and chaplain assistants; you’ve done your best and poured yourself out, often neglecting time with your family along the way; you still aren’t recognized by the promotion board as having potential to serve at the next higher rank.

Let me explain how promotions in the military work, at least promotions in the Chaplain Corps. Every year, officers are evaluated (called an Officer Evaluation Report) by their superiors, usually with their 1st line supervisor being their rater and their rater’s supervisor as the senior rater. If neither of those are chaplains (which is often the case) you also have an “Intermediate Rater” who is a chaplain who can speak more specifically to the performance of a chaplain. The rater and senior rater have an option of where to place you in relation to the other officers they rate, similar to getting a grade in school except only a certain number can get an A, the others have to get a B or a C. This is supposed to be based on your performance during the evaluated year but sometimes is more based on the percentages. Your rater just has so many “A’s” to give (referred to as “Top Blocks”) so everyone, regardless of how well they performed, can’t get one.

Every year, chaplains’ “board files” (mainly their annual Evaluation Reports) are reviewed by a Promotion Board. To be competitive, a chaplain needs to have at least what some call a “heart beat” in their Evaluation Reports: a Top Block, then a “center mass,” then another top block, then a center mass, etc.. If there aren’t a sufficient number of top blocks, the promotion board will assess the officer as not being of sufficient caliber for promotion and they’ll be passed over.

Sometimes chaplains just don’t do a good job, so they don’t get enough top blocks. Sometimes, the chaplain may do a great job, but not better than the other officers of his or her rank that the senior rater rates, so can’t get a top block. Sometimes the senior rater saves his top blocks for officers in his or her own branch. Other times, it’s just the timing or the assignments, like not being in a position long enough to get a top block.

As you can imagine, nearly everyone who gets passed over has an explanation for why they didn’t get promoted. Sometimes they’re just reaching for some way to explain their failure, sometimes they have legitimate reasons. I won’t go into my explanations here, since there’s not much point to it, but regardless of whether one’s explanations are legitimate or delusions, the pain of not getting promoted is real.

Many will offer what I have already told myself, that my work as a chaplain is doing God’s work, which He sees, so I don’t need what the “world” has to offer (like a promotion and higher pay). Others will contend that the rank really doesn’t matter, it’s the cross we wear as ministers and chaplains that matter. Still more will console, “you’re a great chaplain, those who have worked for you and with you know it.” And one that I have told others recently, “God called me,  the Army didn’t, so I’ll keep doing my best anyway.” All of these sentiments are true and maybe for some they relieve the pain, but for many who have been passed over, or at least for me, the pain continues.

The good news is, the pain won’t last forever. Like any loss, one works through the stages of grief, and eventually gets to the point where things begin to feel normal again and life goes on; that is until the next promotion board results are announced, or they encounter one of their peers who has been promoted, or … they look in the mirror with their uniform on.
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Move to Alaska-Day 11

My last travel day, from Beaver Creek into Fairbanks, Alaska!

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Move to Alaska-Day 10

This morning video begins in Haines, Alaska as I leave for Beaver Creek in the Yukon Territory, Canada.

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Move to Alaska-Day 9

On the ferry in Juneau then on to Haines. Here’s the morning’s video when it was 14 degrees!

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Ketchikan & Waxman Alaska

The first ferry stop after boarding in Bellingham, Washington (over 30 hours into the trip) was Ketchikan, Alaska which is a historic town known for it’s long (and sordid) history as well as being the salmon capital of the world.

Above are photos of Ketchikan with the statue and rainfall scale from the waterfront and Creek Street from in town a few blocks. In Ketchikan’s early history, Creek Street was the location of the homes of women of ill repute.

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Above are pictures from Totem Park in Saxman, a few miles south of Ketchikan.

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Move to Alaska-Day 8

We had a brief layover in Ketchikan, Alaska, where I filmed my Day 8 video at Totem Park in Saxman:

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Move to Alaska-Day 7

I wasn’t sure that I would be able to post anything while on the ferry, but I got out my Day 7 video, filmed onboard!

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