Veterans and their challenges

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Some thoughts to ponder today.

We’re really good at making civilians into soldiers.  The US has the best fighting machine in the history of civilization.  There’s really no comparison.

We’re not very good at turning soldiers back into civilians and having them re-enter the civilian world though.  I haven’t ever been a soldier, but based on conversations I have had over the years with soldier and veteran friends, it is my understanding that these are two very different worlds.  And that makes sense.  And there are many soldiers who have a difficult time re-entering the civilian world.

It’s disturbing that we have increasing suicide rates of both soldiers and veterans.

The suicide rate among veterans has surged 35 percent since 2001, driven in part by sharp increases among those who have served since 2001, according to the largest study of such suicides. Of particular concern is the suicide rate among women, which has increased 85 percent in that time.

(Source: https://www.nytimes.com/2016/07/08/us/suicide-rate-among-veterans-has-risen-sharply-since-2001.html?mcubz=0)

And it’s disturbing that there are many homeless veterans.

The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) states that the nation’s homeless veterans are predominantly male, with roughly 9% being female. The majority are single; live in urban areas; and suffer from mental illness, alcohol and/or substance abuse, or co-occurring disorders. About 11% of the adult homeless population are veterans.

(Source: http://nchv.org/index.php/news/media/background_and_statistics/)

The same could be said for veterans who face addictions.

A number of studies have shown that there are links between veteran substance abuse, depression, and suicide. In one study that involved roughly 600 veterans who were deployed to either Afghanistan or Iraq, 39% of the vets were screened and showed positive for probable alcohol abuse. 3% of the vets screened were positive for probable drug use.

A larger study that involved more than 675,000 active duty personnel determined that the rate of both substance use disorders and depression has increased among active members of the military. Another study determined that the rate of suicide across all military services in the USA increased between 2005 and 2007.

(Source: https://nvf.org/veteran-substance-abuse-statistics/)

I tend to believe that there is not a simple reason for any of this, nor is there a simple solution either.  One thing that is never talked about is what happens to a person and how they are changed in the process of making a soldier.  That might touch a nerve though.  In training a soldier, we aren’t just training people for a job, we are changing who they are as a person to do things that civilians will never have to do.  Some of those things turn out to be dangerous and deadly.  I can only imagine the toll that takes on a person.

If we are going to continue to make soldiers and change who they are as a person, we owe it to those same soldiers and to society in general to figure out how to reshape a person back into a civilian, to offer the proper support that is needed for veterans, and to do what we can internationally to pursue peace so that war is less of a reality in the future.

Evening Worship at the LWF

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We went to evening worship on the first day of the Lutheran World Federation assembly.  It was a great experience.

Here’s a couple of the neat things from the service.

First, the cross.

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This cross has been moving around the world at different events.  It was in Lund, Sweden for the ecumenical document between Lutherans and Catholics.  The artist is from El Salvador.  I have a friend who is Finnish, but from El Salvador who knows the artist.  How cool is that?  The cross itself is beautiful and about six feet tall.

The altar –

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The altar was made completely of wood.  Really nice.

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The candles show the theme of the assembly.

The people –

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This is me with Rev. Dr. Martin Junge, the Secretary General of the LWF.  He’s a great man.  It was an honor to meet him and have an opportunity to talk with him.

 

Spam

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When I look at my e-mails I am sure to have some spam.  Every time.  I didn’t ask for any of it.  I don’t care which shampoos can supposedly cause cancer.  If these people actually knew me, they’d know I shave my head and that shampoo is just not that important to me.

I didn’t ask to receive spam e-mail for dating Russian women and other things unsuitable for this blog.  How in the world did they even get my e-mail.  If they knew me, they’d know I was happily married.

I didn’t ask to receive spam e-mails that is going to show me shocking footage of Hillary Clinton screaming at someone.  Seriously?  Isn’t she old news by now?  Who needs that when you can easily be distracted by the President’s tweets or speeches.  If they knew me, they’d know that I’m registered non-partisan and find both parties to be seriously lacking, stale, and flawed – and certainly not placing any hope of salvation in either party or any politician.  Certainly not the current crop of politicians that claim to be leaders.

I don’t ask for any of these e-mails, yet they show up.  And every day when I get them, I unsubscribe from every single one of them.  But they keep coming.  It never ends.

Often times, life is like spam e-mails.  Things just show up that we never asked for.  Often these are annoyances, sometimes they are worse.  And sometimes they are down right offensive (like the second set of spam I receive – Seriously, how did they get my e-mail and don’t they get the message that I don’t want anything they have to offer?).

Often we are bombarded with what I call spam messages – you could call them spam gospel messages.  These are message that tell you that if only believe this, you’ll be great.  If you buy our product, then you’ll be in much better shape.  If you do this, you’ll make a fortune.  Then then there are literal spam gospel messages – messages that are theological based, but are just as baseless as any ad that tries to separate you from your money.  These are the Rapture theologies, the Prosperity gospel, and the televangelist “send in your money to receive a reward or healing” – often they call it seed money.  Who’s seeds are you planting though?

We get inundated with lots of spam.  We don’t ask for it.  We don’t even want to hear it or see it.  Yet it shows up – in our e-mails, on our TV’s, in the ads we see, on social media, in conversations we overhear in the grocery store, in political campaigns, and in sporting events.

But then we also receive some actual good news too.  Sometimes the message of good news gets lost because we are so upset or distracted by the spam.  But the good news will never go away.  It’s there, just waiting to be celebrated.  That’s the role of the church – to share Good News with people.  Church, I’m speaking directly to you – people want to hear good news.  They welcome it.  Let’s stop apologizing for talking about the Good News.  The rest of the news is spam frankly.  There really is no comparison here.  We have the best news in the history of creation.  It’s time to proclaim Good News to people.

Namibian Presidential reception

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We were in Namibia for the Lutheran World Federation Assembly.  Here’s some fun facts – about half the population of Namibia is Lutheran.  So is the President.  So honor the LWF Assembly being in Namibia, the President of the country held a reception for all attendees of the Assembly.  It was a great event!  We got through security fairly easily, and waited for the host to show up.  To our surprise we had the President, Vice President, Prime Minister, and Vice Prime Minister in attendance – all at the same time.  How cool is that?

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Here are some fun facts about the President of the Republic of Namibia.  His name is Hage Geingob.  He holds a Ph.D. from the University of Leeds, and studied in the US to earn both his B.A. and his M.A.  He was gracious in his speech, welcoming, and has a great sense of humor – all the things that most people expect in a head of state.  No wonder he was elected President in 2014 with 87% of the vote.

Along with the leaders of Namibia, we also were entertained by something that is purely African – choirs.  Here’s a short snipit of a children’s choir coming to the tent.

Then the choir sang a nice rendition of Sola Gratia.

Then we were treated with another choir and their talent.  Unfortunately, the file doesn’t want to load.

A fun time was had by all – and we heard some great music too.

Radical Christians

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I saw several articles people posted on Facebook over the last couple of weeks that caught my attention – and not in a good way.  I made a note for myself to revisit the articles after I had a chance to let them settle in a bit.

One article I saw was from someone who was saying that radical Muslims get off the hook, but radical Christians are persecuted.  That we are more afraid to sit with a radical Christian than we are with a radical Muslim.  That’s a bit simplistic, but that was the essence of the argument from the person who posted it.  I’m guessing the author of these words thought he was a victim because of his beliefs.

He claimed that “a so-called radical Christian is likely to refuse to bake a dessert for a gay wedding. A radical Muslim is likely to shoot up a gay club or throw gays off of roofs.”

(This was commentary on social media so I can’t point you to a specific web address for this).

There is a problem in definitions though, among other things.  A Christian who refuses to bake a dessert for a gay wedding isn’t a radical.  They may fit into several other categories and labels, but radical isn’t one of them.  As far as I know, there hasn’t been a cake maker who has gone and killed people because they were so upset about backing a cake for someone they didn’t like.  There isn’t a comparison of this with someone who shoots people and destroys lives – regardless of their religion.

Secondly, this is dismissive of real radical Christians – the people who have no problem driving a car into a crown and killing a woman in Charlottesville, VA recently for example.  These groups exist and yes, they are just as bad as any radical Muslim, or radical Hindu, or radical anything.  (Check out a simple list of radical Christian groups here)  These groups are real and are dangerous and have nothing to do with what Christianity is about but still steal the label for themselves.  While that statement might not sound controversial – substitute Muslim for Christian and I wonder how it changes for some people.

Then again, I’m not sure what baking a cake has to do with Christianity either, but that’s besides the point.

I don’t understand this quest to become victims that has captured so many people’s attention and conduct.  Everyone wants to be a victim.  Especially from people who really aren’t victims at all.  “They’re tearing down my statue of Robert E Lee – we’re a victim of historical theft.”  BS.

A cake baker who doesn’t bake a cake isn’t a victim.  It’s just someone who makes a bad business decision based on a bad interpretation of Scripture.  In one sense, they are a victim I guess – A victim of bad scriptural interpretation.

But here’s the point.  What is a radical Christian?  Here’s a radical answer to the question – someone who actually lives out what Jesus taught.  No, not the Old Testament laws that can be taken out of context and used as a bludgeon.  How about this instead – A radical Christian is someone who lives out the Sermon on the Mount.  (Read it – it’s in Matthew 5-7).  A radical Christian is someone whose loyalty is to the kingdom of God first and foremost and in advancing God’s kingdom through radical inclusiveness and love.  A radical Christian is someone who seeks to be a peacemaker in the midst of violence.  A radical Christian is someone who practices forgiveness.  A radical Christian is someone who doesn’t wait for someone else to change and do the right thing, they start.  A radical Christian gives voice to the voiceless.  A radical Christian feeds the hungry, clothes those who need clothing, houses the homeless, visits prisoners and the sick, and cares for orphans and widows.

A radical Christian in this sense isn’t really radical at all.  They are just living out what they claim to believe.  Yet, this way of living and believing is radical – it is far different from the radicalness we see around us.  It is a radicalness that is polar opposite to the radicalness that believes in fighting and might makes right and control and separation and violence and fear and hatred.

That kind of radicalness is becoming more prevalent and easier.

It’s much more radical to pray for someone – even someone who is our enemy – than it is to shout that person down or cause harm to them.  Causing harm to someone else isn’t radical – it’s just plain evil.

Maybe we need a new name for these type of Christians – ones who aren’t really radical at all.

 

LWF banners

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In the main hall of the LWF assembly there were several banners showcasing the history of past LWF assemblies.

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The images were neat to see and to see how life has evolved within the LWF – moving from a German-centric focus to other places.

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I, of course, had to get a picture of the LWF banner depicting 1963 in Helsinki, Finland.  It was a great reminder for me of my time in Finland.  And to walk in the same footsteps of Lutherans in the past is a special memory for me.

Solving “problems”

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How do we solve problems?  It depends on what the problem is.  How do you solve the problem of some homeless guys who the church is helping?  How do you solve the problem of people learning to hate other people because of skin color, or nationality, or language, or sexuality, or…?  How do you solve the problem of North Korea?  How do you solve the problem of drugs?  How do you solve the problem of ______?

I don’t think there is an easy answer.  That’s because all of these “problems” involve people and people are messy.  They aren’t black and white.  They aren’t either us vs. them.

There are people who try to classify the world this way.  But the problem with this way of thinking is that people themselves become the problem – another thing to be fixed, another box to be checked off.  People lose their humanity that way.  When people lose their humanity then it becomes acceptable to dehumanize others in terms of words, physical violence, killing, and extremists belief systems.  When we dehumanize people – we no longer see people as people – but rather as things.

How do we change this?  You can’t force others to change for one thing.  We can only model a different way to live.  One change is identifying names and using people’s names.  It might seem small and pointless, but we know that a person’s name is the most important word they know.  Further, when a name is attached to a person, they are no longer seen as the problem, but in a problem situation.

It’s really difficult to judge someone when you know them by name and you have met them face to face and you see their humanity.  Not impossible obviously, but a lot harder.

The crappy part about this is actually doing it.  As much as I just want to give the one finger salute to the white supremacists and yell at them and call them evil to their face (boy, wouldn’t that feel good and I get to feel all self-righteous), that is not modeling a better way to live.  It’s dehumanizing someone who I frankly abhor and makes no sense to me.

For those of us that are Christians, Jesus calls us to live differently.  It’s not easy, by any means.  I’m not saying that I’m going to go and make a friend with a white supremacist just so I can better understand him.  I’m not inviting a white supremacist over for dinner either.  But I am a bit more aware of how I respond to white supremacy.  First, by not adopting the tactics, language, or attitude of extremists.  Jesus calls us to live differently.  Sometimes that really sucks.  Sometimes I’d rather just let my real feelings rip out and let someone have it.  Sometimes I’d rather dehumanize because it would be easier, feel better, and show my obvious opposition.  But opposition to evil doesn’t mean we adopt evil ways.  We change the message and show a different way of living – an alternative way of living.  A better way of living.  And we pray for those who are blinded by fear and hatred because that’s about the only thing I know how to do right now.

Morning prayer at the LWF

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We made our way to the LWF conference setting and the first thing was morning worship.

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It was in a tent. The setting was nice, the air was flowing and it remained cool throughout.  It was wonderful to worship with people from all over the world (literally) and to worship in four + languages.

The official languages of the LWF are English, French, German, and Spanish.  The LWF has shifted over the years.  The primary language used to be German, with the other languages thrown in for good measure.  Now the primary language is English, with the other languages thrown in for good measure.  Most of the speakers spoke in English during the conference, but translation services were available.  We did have some French speakers, a couple of German speakers.  Regardless, knowing the primary language makes life a bit easier, if for nothing else, you don’t have to wear headphones all the time.  Even still, I enjoyed hearing the multiple languages.  It took me back to my time in Finland and visiting countries in Europe where hearing multiple languages is the norm.

Purpose and Meaning

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Have you ever driven through sections of town that raise questions?  When you look around, you can’t help but wonder what happened?  Have you driven through a city to a section where you can literally see a lack of hope and future in the faces of the people and the properties and the landscaping?  The entire area just looks and feels empty of life.  There is survival, but that’s about it.  And often it gets summed up as this – Why am I still here?

So often we look to government to provide for people who are poor – and government does to some degree.  But government is limited – it can only touch on people’s material needs.  It can’t touch the intangibles.

These are intangibles like community, spiritual needs, existential needs.  I don’t care who you are, we all have these needs and often these needs are going unmet.

This is an opportunity for the church.  This is one area that the church has a unique opportunity and role in the lives of people – to do something that no one else can do.  To help people answer the question of why they are still here.

There are many people who seek purpose and meaning.  It’s as if they are waiting for an answer to just show up.  They don’t know where to search for the answer to the age-old question – and so they just exist.  And after you have done that for a long time, you forget that you were searching.  And instead, you bide your time, you distract yourself, and you find ways to fill the void in life.  Too many turn to unhealthy distractions of drugs, alcohol, sex, and entertainment.  Others turn to work and materialism.

But none of these can offer the answer to these deep questions about life.  And this is where the church can step in and help people with these questions.  It’s what makes the church unique.  But it requires a long-term commitment.  It requires an outward focus.  It requires trust and a willingness to ask difficult questions and sit with uncomfortable questions.  It takes time.

Purpose and meaning – even people who we think don’t care about these things really do.  Purpose and meaning are the difference between existing today and having direction.

Windhoek for the first time

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When we arrived in Windhoek, the Lutheran World Federation had buses available for guests to transport them to where they were staying.   We were staying at a local hostel in Windhoek. Unfortunately, we had a bus driver who was not familiar with Windhoek, so we got a scenic (night-time) drive through Windhoek driving around in what felt like an aimless manner for about 2 hours.

Let’s just say that after you’ve been on a plane for essentially a full 24 hours, the last thing you want is to drive around aimlessly for another 2 hours.

But we were getting our first lesson of the Assembly – grace.  We were called upon to be forgiving and show grace.  And boy is that difficult when you are tired.  But we made it – Thank God.  And no one blew up along the way, although it did get a little tense.

At any rate, the next morning, we hopped on another bus to get to the actual Assembly and this time things were different.  First off it was light out and we had a chance to sleep.  And boy was it beautiful.  This is what we saw from the road out from of the hostel.

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Wow, a real city.  What a difference a few hours of sleeping makes.  And yes, this is Africa.  Just to be clear here, if your idea of Africa is that everyone on the continent lives in mud huts and is half-clothed, you’ve been listing to “Do they know it’s Christmas” for too many years.  (Which by the way is one of the worst “Christmas” songs ever created and performed.  Go ahead and listen to it, I’ll wait here.  Now tell me that’s not the worst egotistical garbage you’ve ever heard!)

At any rate, this African city is beautiful.  Even the street art is charming.

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And in case you were wondering, Windhoek has been named as one of the cleanest cities on the planet.  No joke on that.  There really was very little trash lying around – that takes some serious effort. Kind of like this statue on top of one of the nearby buildings.

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Yes, that was on top of the building.  Pretty cool.  I wonder where I can get me one of those for on top of my house.