Tuesday, May 22, 2018

Zombie

Zombie - a will-less and speechless human... held to have died and been supernaturally reanimated. Merriam-Webster Dictionary

I was training this weekend, huffing a 55lb rucksack 3 miles in the rain to a remote location in the woods with other soldiers from my battalion and joined by 15 soldiers from around the state to evaluate and certify them for Search and Rescue. The outing involved the hike as well as being in the woods for at least 24 hours, totally self-sufficient and demonstrating knowledge and skills such as land navigation, survival, rescue rope and knot work, clue identification and handling, first aid, etc. It rained all day and it was cold and we got sandy.... Hoaaah!! It was a chilly night (temps in the 30's)  but we all survived despite the fact that no fires were allowed depriving of us the opportunity to warm up and dry out. Needless to say we were busy.

When I got home I was watching the news and saw an interview with a teenage victim of yet another school shooting who was shot in the head and survived. I can't give you the details as I don't know them, I haven't had a chance to see any other news on it but I don't have to. It's the same old story, disturbed student goes relatively unnoticed, mentally unsound probably ostracized and ignored even though everyone says if someone's going to pop it's going to be him and then he finally does. Then here goes the rest of the cycle all over.... the politicians jump in with their arguments for and against gun control, tighter security at schools, more efforts to recognize and help those with mental health issues, and on and on. (How am I doing so far? Mind you I've only seen that one clip)

I was talking with some high schoolers Sunday afternoon about an upcoming trip and some topics they want for discussion on the trip. Of course violence is one of them. So what can we say? Nearly everything I listed that is talked about is a band aid. Take away guns they use knives, cars, mom's pressure cooker, fire, you name it. Do we put guards at the doors? What happens once they're in the school? More mental health services? That's a start but how do we identify these individuals and help them short of scooping them up and slapping them on the couch? I don't know but I do know it starts with compassion, one person seeing this person is hurting and reaching out to them, to let them know they're not alone. That's the only place to start, at the spark of the fire. I'm speechless for answers beyond that.

If it were an easy fix I'd fix it. If I could say "take me and let me be last the one" I'd do it, in a heartbeat. Violence is not the answer. (Funny coming from someone in a uniform associated with the Army? Well besides the point that our unit is disaster oriented I've yet to meet a soldier that wants to go to war or kill. Every person I know joins any unit to defend, to come between a threat and the innocent.) All I know to do is pray and never stop asking why until we find the answer. For the lucky ones it's always someone elses kids, family, friends so we continue to stumble on like zombies, painting over the pain with golden distractions. How do we break out of this? Consider the lyrics to this remake of the Cranberries song Zombie. (Every time I hear the word zombie all I can hear is Stop it! even though I know that's not what he's saying, perhaps it's my subconscious responding to the violence. Go ahead an try to not tear up.)

Zombie by Bad Wolves


Another head hangs lowly
Child is slowly taken
And the violence causes silence
Who are we mistaken?
But you see, it's not me
It's not my family
In your head, in your head, they are fighting
With their tanks, and their bombs
And their bombs, and their drones
In your head, in your head, they are crying
What's in your head, in your head?
Zombie, zombie, zombie-ie-ie
What's in your head, in your head?
Zombie, zombie, zombie-ie-ie, oh
Another mother's breakin'
Heart is takin' over
When the violence causes silence
We must be mistaken
It's the same old theme
In two thousand eighteen
In your head, in your head, they're still fightin'
With their tanks, and their bombs
And their guns, and their drones
In your head, in your head, they are dyin'
What's in your head, in your head?
Zombie, zombie, zombie-ie-ie
What's in your head, in your head?
Zombie, zombie, zombie-ie-ie, oh
It's the same old theme
In two thousand eight-teen
In your head, in your head, they're dyin'
What's in your head, in your head?
Zombie, zombie, zombie-ie-ie
What's in your head, in your head?
Zombie, zombie, zombie-ie-ie,

Tuesday, May 15, 2018

Rugged Life

So two weeks ago I was sitting at a small table in the common area of the barracks with our First Sargent at 0530 waiting for our Company Commander to come out to go to the gym to workout. While we were waiting I pulled out a blue tooth speaker and asked the First Sargent if he minded a little music. He said and I quote "Oh no Sir, does this mean we're going to listen to The Old Rugged Cross all day?" I said "No you won't even know it's Christian unless you listen to the lyrics."  Now obviously that stuck with me as it's been two weeks now since that discussion. Our First Sargent is an MP and our Drill Sargent and he's everything that goes with it. You don't want to be on the receiving end as many wilt under his scrutiny. His language, temper and demeanor can make you blush, but in his heart he is a God fearing Christian and many times in  a conversation he interjects "I'm sorry Sir!" because he's afraid he's offended me. We've talked about our Faith and many of the deep issues in life and he is grateful that he is still alive and swears he owes his life to a driver and gunner who literally worked to dodge incoming rpgs while in Iraq, one that creased the hood of the humvee right in front of the windshield where he was a second before it crossed his window. So you know a little about him but you need to know a little more. He's one of my go too people. We've grown close and I know when I've burned my bridges with every single human being on this earth he will still have my back, and not because I am his superior, as he was my drill instructor up until 6 months ago and he's mainly responsible for preparing me that, but because that's who he is.

But that got me to thinking. Is that what Christianity has become, nice old lullabies like the "Old Rugged Cross" and "How Great Thou Art" and "Amazing Grace"? Are we a bunch of do gooders that people are afraid to offend that act like door mats covering our eyes and ears at every little hint of something questionable? I know many people like that and THAT IS SO NOT ME!!! I know I fall in the weird category but for me the Christian life is not anything like sitting on the porch on a Sunday afternoon reading the Bible and sipping Lemonade, although that sounds great and I hope to be able to do that someday. But if this is really what we've become and what we promote as The Way then no wonder young people find it so hard to connect and assimilate the Christian life. For me being a Christian means fighting a war, every day, first against the dark side of myself and then against every other demon and injustice that hounds those most vulnerable in our world. It's slogging through the mud and blood of disease and addiction and poverty and persecution with those who drag themselves my way for help.  It's standing like a rock against the sledge hammers of gossip and false perceptions and misplaced priorities. It's scars on my knees, dirty, sweaty, bloody hands from prayer and fighting and building and forgiving.

I have perhaps one cliche that is so outdated that it's not even a cliche anymore but more of an icon. When I hear someone say "Let us  Pray..." my head goes down and my eyes go shut. The first time I did this I was a senior in high school. I came blazing into the Church parking lot for the noon Mass most likely with Def Leppard blaring on the radio of my souped up hot rod '72 Mustang. When I slid into the pew with my long feathered hair, my boots and my leather motorcycle jacket the elderly lady next to me slid down the pew.... waaaay down and looked at me as if to say "eeeew". It was at that point that I decided I was going to be the kind of Catholic Christian that was different then the Old Rugged Cross variety. I wanted to show her that no matter how I looked on the outside there could be a polite, faith filled person on the inside. So if you see me bow my head and close my eyes you now know the rest of the story.

That's the way it's been for me and I hope for you.... if it's your calling. Maybe it's not. I've had to laugh over the years at the times I was pulled out of lines by security at movies I was taking our youth group to see or others who treated me as an undesirable or a threat. Apparently they didn't like my  shoulder length hair, black buckle laden bikers jacket and my earrings. I'm an enigma or oxymoron of sort. I don't fit the bill of what Christianity has become for many. I meditate on Scripture and the writings of the Desert Fathers. I crave silence and jam to the likes of Red, Demon Hunter, Evanescence and Skillet. I promote peace and love while serving in a military uniform. I live a rugged life fashioned after a rugged man whose life wasn't anything like that of a tv preacher, a tent revival or a judgmental, fearful righteous person. I just have to wonder how things got so watered down. It's not a blue eyed, Fabio looking man in a bathrobe that I follow down the beach but rahter. I imitate, learn from and am being transformed into what many now consider me to be.... a Radical by Disciple.

Wednesday, May 9, 2018

Wet, Cold and Sandy

I'm told there's a saying among Navy SEALS to start every day wet, cold and sandy. It ties back to their legendary BUD/S (Basic Underwater Demolition /SEAL) training when among other things, they spend countless morning hours as a team fighting the cold ocean surf while trying to accomplish some task such as holding a Zodiac boat over there heads with an instructor in their face, screaming, berating and trying to mentally break them down. After the allotted time they're ordered on shore for pushups, situps, planks, running and just rolling around in the sand. This is how they start their day. There's always an easy out.... there's a bell you can run up to and ring when you've had your fill and then you're excused from the rest of the workout. You're also excused from the remainder of the training camp, the compound and your future as a Navy SEAL.

In the Catholic Church we also have a version of this training. It's an ongoing training, unlimited in time, and graduation doesn't come until you've breathed your last. We don't call our training BUD/S  and it's not practiced by the mainstream. We call ours Asceticism. One dictionary definition is "severe self-discipline and avoidance of all forms of indulgence, typically for religious reasons".  I don't know about you but for me self-discipline is a little more difficult than having a drill sergeant breathing down the back of my neck. I live both and I know. Having a company of soldiers all pushing me on goes a long way to keeping me on track to meet my goals. When I'm alone and it's just me and the Devil breathing down my neck trying to break me down that's when I'm at my weakest. And cue Asceticism.

I read a lot of stuff on self-discipline, some of it is Navy SEAL material, much of it is Army training and leadership development because it's what I do, and most of it is Christian. Some of it is how to, but I prefer the biographical material or stuff written by the people that've done it, particularly the mystics and Saints. Let me give you a little secret... if you're tying to do something or live a particular life style find someone who is the best at it, learn all about them, find out what they do and do it. It's that simple. Prayer, fasting, silence, works of mercy and charity, find out who's the best and become them. Some may look at me and what a mix my life is and scratch their heads. For me one of the persons who is the best of the best of the best in all realms is St. Francis of Assisi. So I study him, read his material, I started doing what he did and it became such a part of me I made my Solemn Profession to live the rest of my life according to his rule of life as a Third Order Franciscan. My prayer goes deep and it spits me out the other side with an insatiable passion to help people in need. The poor are always top priority, but perhaps those most in need are those who have experienced sudden disasters because they've fallen so far so fast that it's hard to find hope. So I started working in disaster response and support and the deeper I got I realized that those who are put face to face with them the most and are the best at addressing needs and bringing order to chaos, are highly trained, equipped and disciplined is the military or in my case the State Guard which focuses specifically on disaster medicine, response, recovery and search and rescue. And voila! You have a Franciscan marching and leading a military unit in an Army Combat Uniform (ACU's).  Aaaannnd of course seeing all the pain and suffering and exhausting myself with countless hours of training etc I'm driven deep back into prayer.

I start my days with a 45 minute workout, a less than warm shower (my own version of wet, cold and sandy) and a small breakfast that's just enough to tease my stomach. All this after an hour of prayer. Add in an occasional 2-3 mile hike wearing a 25lb weight vest or 40lb backpack (my wife thinks I'm crazy and says it reminds her of being pregnant) and by bed time I sleep like a fuzzy little puppy. The other night I was watching 13 Hours about the Benghazi attack and those soldiers that fought off the enemies and I couldn't help but think about how up until that battle they just kept coming back to that lifestyle. They just couldn't stay away. There's something in our spirit that thrives on the challenge, the struggle, the discipline. It brings us closer to who we were created to be. Some people shy away from lifes challenges and confrontations. They can't embrace their faults and failings because they have some misplaced idea of who they're expected to be. In the process of dodging lifes difficulties they fail the lessons that teach them how to adapt, grow and overcome those things that keep them from being who God created them to be. This is the purpose of asceticism, to willingly leave those things that make us comfortable to embrace those things that make us uncomfortable along with all those who suffer these challenges through no choice of their own. We learn self-discipline, patience and endurance and we learn to accept ourselves as we are, take responsibility for our mistakes and be fully human and fully alive with the fullness of Christ. Nothing gets me more irritated than people who make excuses, especially for me. When I screw up I take credit for it, I worked hard to screw up and I want full credit. I may be broken, I may be imperfect but it's that brokenness and imperfection that makes me human and leads me to the broken Christ that hung on the cross and was made perfect. So whatever you do, no matter how bad I blow it, don't you dare try to Fix Me by 10 Years.

Monday, April 16, 2018

Legacy

Sometimes I think about when I'm gone. Most likely after a few years I'll be forgotten but then I wonder if I am remembered what it'll be for. Hopefully it's the right stuff, the things I want to be remembered for. 

Our Tradition is full of giants, people bigger than life. There's the Saints and the sinners, there's the martyrs, the pillars, the servants and in my life I've been blessed by having heavy hitters who have helped me be something, even if it is only a raindrop in the ocean, but at least I have purpose. Then there's times that I realize that there are those who have made such an impact in my life and I've almost forgotten about them. How can that be?

A legacy is like a song. It writes a melody and message on the world that's played time and time again in the lives of so many people. I've written a couple of songs over the last week, at least the music but I always struggle when it comes to lyrics. You'd think for someone who drones on and on in a blog that putting music to a melody that has a message would be easier, but not so. The problem is what kind of message do I want to put out there that will be sung again and again? I just can't seem to get the right words so I struggle and stumble. 

But what about the song of my life. The message has so much more meaning and impact. My actions, my message, who I am, this is all bigger than life yet often times I'm so careless in the words I spew and the actions that play out. Do we live with intention? Does our life have a purpose, a message that we actually want to be played over and over? Do we give our life the purpose that will leave a legacy or is our legacy merely the air that we breathe?

When I get the new songs done I'll share them with you, if I find my legacy I won't have to share it, it will find you. My legacy begins now, not when I'm Gone by Red.

Tuesday, April 10, 2018

Vultures

Thomas had to see the nail marks. Thomas wanted to be sure you were who you said you were. I believe you are who you say you are, my doubts are not about who you say you are.

I want to see your back. I want to see if the scars ever go away. I want to know if it's possible to lead, for people to actually follow when it seems they always want to fixate on the scars and pick and pull at the flesh and the scabs, distracted with all the wrong things making it impossible to not want to fade away into the back of the crowd. It plays out in every scenario with every leader and every follower. They just don't want to Let Go by Red.

Wednesday, April 4, 2018

Sheep in Wolves Clothing

For Lent I took on the idea of eliminating noise in my life. While I wasn't perfect what I did eliminate was effective. I had 40 days or so to really take a look at some things in my life. Lent is always a tough time for me as my life turns into a Catholic version of Jumanji and the themes come alive in my life so given everything going on already I decided to not get so intense that I went over the brink. But I did have a chance to see things in a new light, some of the details and nuances might've been missed up until now due to noise and chaos.

I noticed a couple of things like the inherent good in people. Many people who in so many ways seem to be busy about their own agendas and often times at odds with many other good things and initiatives stepped up to help someone in need. I noticed that for most people there is something good that is just clawing to get out, regardless of how they seem to bury it with thoughtless and sometimes not so good actions and intentions.

I also took a good look at my own life and how I spend my time. I saw that there are many things on my periphery that are just busy work. Maybe a good idea but the reality of the idea ever coming to fruition are slim to none so they're pretty much a waste of time. I also began to question those things I do for "good" and the "good" people I do them with and I realized that often times my efforts are the least appreciated by "good" people. The "good" people that are part of the "good" institutions seem to be the most critical of others and their efforts as they wash over them with a tide of judgement, ego, pettiness and gossip while the "fringe" people, the people that try to do good but aren't part of the "good" institutions, are the ones most appreciative, respectful and honest.

I'm starting to think that it's much easier to be a sheep in wolves clothing. We're always warned about the wolf in sheeps clothing but no one is ever looking out for a sheep in wolves clothing. But how do you tell the difference? The sheep act like wolves and the wolves behave more like sheep. Do I act like a wolf when I'm in sheeps clothing and more like a sheep when in wolves clothing? I honestly think I have to say yes. Perhaps there are no sheep and no wolves, maybe just people in sheep moments and wolf moments? Maybe it really is like they say, maybe we are all the same, capable of so much good and so much bad. Maybe it really is only skin deep. So who's really under the clothing, a wolf? A sheep? The Shepherd? How will ever tell? Take a good look and think twice, you just never know who you'll run into while you're making your way through Another Day in Paradise by Phil Collins.

Tuesday, February 27, 2018

Narcicism

Sooo did you watch the Olympics? I love watching the athletes from all over the world that are brought together under the umbrella of competing in their sport but end up forging a bond with others from all over the globe in moments of unity and togetherness.

What I don't enjoy is the promotion of self, which is generally pushed by the corporate sponsors. The most blatant, offensive ad I've seen in our part of the world is an ad promoting the latest iPhone. Their ad doesn't have anything to do with the performance of the phone as a communication tool or the functionality of the phone capabilities. It doesn't even mention the worthless "appeal" of the sleek design or cool looks. The entire ad, while slick in sales technique, is aimed at hitting our modern day culture right where they live, their own self absorption. The ad is all about "me", flaunting "me", telling the whole world that it's all about "me". Never mind you, I'm the most important. And we wonder why employers have to bribe the younger generations with free gas cards if they show up for work more than 3 days in a row, or we have a culture of people screaming and yelling at each other because their "rights" are violated. We wonder why we have division, derision and degradation. When we are so focused on ourselves the only thing we can do is spotlight every little thing or person that threatens our ego or little kingdom because in the end it's the only thing we can see worth defending and we're so threatened that we totally ignore the other. Annd God is also one of those "others".

So carry on, snap those selfies, get them out there on social media, sell your story to the world about how awesome you are and your life is. I'm not sure how much more counter Gospel we can get.

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