Monday, May 29, 2006

God mend thine every flaw

The nature of a democracy is that each citizen bears responsibility for the actions of the nation. Today, we send men and women into battle on our behalf. Yet our national discourse is as much about whether Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie chose a good name or that at least gas is cheaper than $3.00 than it is about the sacrifices our military and their families are making. And, oh, yeah, there was an earthquake somewhere.

Is there any chance there will be more votes for the next American President than Taylor Hicks got last week? What are the chances of congress getting as upset about health care as they are about an FBI warrant?

O beautiful for pilgrim feet
Whose stern, impassioned stress
A thoroughfare for freedom beat
Across the wilderness!
America! America!
God mend thine every flaw,
Confirm thy soul in self-control,
Thy liberty in law!

O beautiful for heroes proved
In liberating strife.
Who more than self their country loved
And mercy more than life!
America! America!
May God thy gold refine
Till all success be nobleness
And every gain divine!

Tuesday, May 23, 2006

Her middle name is Miriam

I’ve heard time and again that kids grow up faster than parents realize. My work takes me among older people often so as I seek their wisdom about life I hear time and again to enjoy parenting because it goes so quick. I had no idea how quickly Charis Miriam has grown.

Misha has returned to part time work so today I’m home alone with the girls. While both are asleep, I continued planning a lesson for the confirmation kids about Moses and that story of the exodus. I cued the opening music scene from the film Prince of Egypt. Before I could start watching, Charis woke from her nap and wiping sleep from her eyes, came down the stairs and crawled into my lap. I know she misses Misha – whenever her baby sister Rebekah starts to cry, Charis says it’s because “she misses Mommy” – so it’s nice when she just crawls into my lap like this. She doesn’t watch a lot of television, but since she’s barely awake, I figure I'd watch this scene with her. I didn't expect her to understand the story.

I got pretty involved emotionally in the film: they do a great job of depicting the inhumanity of slavery and the cries of the Hebrews for God to "Deliver Us." Amid several scenes of forced labor, we see Moses' family escaping and his mother's (Yachoved?) final lullaby as she gently floats him toward what she hopes is safety. As I'm watching this, I glance at my other daughter, three months old, napping, and I'm overwhelmed with emotion as I imagine the difficulty of the decision to seek a child’s safety at such risk. I brush away a tear from my own cheek and notice that Charis, with her back to me, seems stiff. I reach out to hug her and realize she completely understands what she's watching and is crying that a baby is floating away from his mother.

I wrap her in my arms trying to console her. In a few moments as she looks back at the screen, I decide to keep watching because Moses is safely drawn from the river and Miriam offers a prayer for his safety and the Hebrew's deliverance. I point Miriam (her middle name-sake) out to Charis as we both weep. I wipe her tears as Moses is safely adopted into a new family.

The preacher and English major in me so wants my children to understand stories. Stories shape our identity. Stories help us find our own place. A significant part of my responsibility as a father will be to tell my daughters stories that teach them about the world and their place in it. I had no idea Charis was old enough yet to follow a story with such intensity as she did on this film.

So one part of me is thrilled to reach this landmark in parenting. Now I can begin nurture that is not only physical and emotional but spiritual as well. But another part of me feels horrible that the first story I saw her understand is so tragic.

Monday, May 22, 2006

Great Mother's Day

Three years ago, Mother's Day was a bit tense for us. Painful actually. We weren't certain that we would ever be parents, and dreams of carrying a child to term were distant and unrealized. This year, as you can see, is different. A bit hectic, yes, with no time to clean off the table and take real pictures! But a much better celebration.

Tuesday, May 02, 2006

Visible reminder of the Holy

A week after Hurricane Katrina hit the gulf coast last fall, I buckled into the back of a Blackhawk helicopter and tried to find room for my feet amid bags of ice, bottles of water and cases of meals ready to eat (MREs). Through the open doors I saw what could have been fields of grass bending in the wind – except they were whole forests with tree tops still windblown from the force of the storm. We landed in elementary school playgrounds and volunteer firehouses to distribute food and water and ensure people had diapers, prescriptions or whatever they needed.

Later that day I was assigned to a battalion of engineers who had rolled in to Hancock County, Mississippi as the last of the storm passed over them to open the roads for emergency and utility vehicles. For two weeks I was chaplain to these men and women of the Mississippi National Guard. These fathers and sisters from the north part of the state were called to duty before Katrina arrived and had not yet been to their own homes to survey damage. I counseled, led worship, helped clear roads and rubbish, shared MREs and slept in an abandoned paint warehouse with the rest of the battalion. In the words of the Air Force Chaplain Service, I was a ‘Visible reminder of the Holy’ to those men and women.

As a military chaplain, I am trained and therefore able to accompany our troops wherever they work. The men and women we send into harm’s way on our behalf need to know that God is with them – chaplains are visible reminders to service members of all faiths that a loving, forgiving God is indeed present in all circumstances. Military chaplaincy is a unique opportunity for a Christian: St Francis taught that we are to ‘preach the gospel at all times, if necessary using words.’ I have the opportunity to live as a faithful Christian in such a way that people of any faith see God at work through me.