working party

My church sponsored a Women’s workshop this weekend at the former Naval Training Center in San Diego.  It’s now the Liberty Station community.  Asked to help set up, I found myself reminiscing about my recruit and technical training that occurred here 40 years ago.

As the former Senior Chief, I expected to carry a few boxes, direct a couple younger volunteers, and drink a little coffee.  Instead found volunteerism meant an ushering, security and cleanup crewmember for the minister.

20171021_120054But military training never leaves you behind.  Planning, process improvement, kicking “lovingly” a few peers (civilians) in the behind who spent the day “lollygagging” , was all in a day’s work.

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Tools and their uses

For this very reason, make every effort to add to your faith goodness; and to goodness, knowledge; and to knowledge, self-control; and to self-control, perseverance; and to perseverance, godliness; and to godliness, mutual affection; and to mutual affection, love. For if you possess these qualities in increasing measure, they will keep you from being ineffective and unproductive in your knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. -2 Peter 1: 5 -8 (NIV)

 

Academy to so educate train and develop midshipmen 1 That they may have a fine sense of honor,  a wholehearted love for the best traditions of the service,  an enduring love for country,  subordination based on proper initiative of the subordinate,  an appreciation of the humanities,  and a keen sense of responsibility in assuming authority over others

– Report of the Board of Visitors to the United States Naval Academy, p 10, 1910

“What tools are in your toolbox?”. the speaker asked last night at our men’s church devotional service.   tools_and_their_uses_tm_9-243-10He went on to offer several additional scriptures on faith and perseverance, as tools.   As a former Navy Senior Chief Petty Officer,  I understood that  any young Sailor – or young (spiritually) disciple of Jesus,  life is embracing that you do not know what you do not know but then learning the doctrine, spending time with a mentor and persevering through conflicting desires and priorities.  Perhaps it is safe to say that “duty” is the first concept I embraced.   As a Sailor matures,  the life that each voluntarily accepted  on the NAVY’s terms has certain obligations and responsibilities.  So to as a student of Jesus,  voluntarily but without a ‘contract.   Some skills are beneficial as they will potentially save you or a shipmate in times of peril.  Mastering your calling and seeking to help others grow stronger – for a greater good – will keep you from being ineffective and unproductive in your naval career.

So too, with a spiritual compass.  The Master Mariner, Jesus, sets my course though I voluntarily follow.   But a path voluntarily chosen can build character, endurance, positive outlook and joy that the world desperately needs. (Happiness is a shallow, easily damaged emotion where joy is not.)   Where the military prepares a service member to prepare for war,  it is no less true with even a glimpse of a spiritual life,  war continally rages around us.  For us to rise and help others to rise out of violence,  hatred,  greed, fear, selfishness, loneliness, and misery,  requires faith in a gracious God and the proper tools – faith, perseverance, knowledge, self-discipline, good character, and whole-hearted love.    God’s Word  and the Navy I served for a quarter-century are tools for life.   FB_IMG_1491759647178

heroes aren’t like in the movies

There are things that we remember from our youth ( or while I was still ‘under 30’) that should be left in those musty corners of our mental garage.  Just like the old cassette tape  I found during one ‘Spring Cleaning’ out there,  hearing the Split Endz again – or 38 Special  just doesn’t make me “feel” the same thirty years later.   Same thing tonight. A little casual dinner on the couch while watching the beginning of “Highlander” – the one with Sean Connery and Christopher Lambert.  (I recognized the villain, but I can’t remember his name.)   The effects are so rudimentary and the dialogue is rather lame – Sean Connery sounds a Scot but is supposed to be Spanish; however, Chris Lambert – he’s got one of those Kevin Costner-like non-accents due apparently to limited ability to speak English.

Even the swordplay and beheadings are cheesy.   I am trying to figure out why that movie spawned sequels and a television series.  Men in kilts?  Swords?  Perhaps it is the decades in the Navy that have colored my judgement.  I often let reality get in the way of plot on a lot of alien, superhero, or alien versus battleship dramas.   I should have read Mental Floss ‘s review here before I realized a few minutes in that watering the plants and picking up the dog poop was a better use of my time.

I offer a list of dropped must-have guy movies (or TV collections) of the last 30 years.    Some I don’t get why I liked them in the first place.  I don’t have either on DVD or nor recorded on the DVR:

  1. Top Gun (I still can watch Minority Report – for Max Von Sydow ) Cruise movies annoy me
  2. Die Hard (sequels)  ( the first was a classic, then they just kept coming)
  3. Highlander ( love Connery, but fast-forward 20 years to see how comic book-type movies are made WELL)
  4. Smokey and the Bandit ( Gleason’s last films, but such a dumb plot!)
  5. Battlestar Galactica (1978) (Lorne Greene still Cartwright for me !)
  6. Star Trek (only one of those movies I’ll watch again is Wrath of Khan with Monteban – I saw the original TV episode and loved the movie.)  However, the reboot movies with Chris Pine are great!
  7. Talledega Nights  ( now I wonder why I thought Ferrell was funny)
  8.  X-men after the first one.  I cannot keep up with the comic book plot jumps)
  9. Outlaw Josey Wales ( I prefer the Eastwood movies he’s made since 2000)
  10. Taken.  I liked Liam Neeson’s portrayals in Star Wars, the villain in Batman Begins, and Taken -even Love, Actually.  Then he just annoyed me with his Taken sequels   and his anti-gun off-screen preaching.

I think I need to watch Gladiator,  Lone Survivor,  and any of the movies that Sam Elliott was in. Testosterone, guts, courage and attitude.  What we need now more than ever are heroes: dads who want to raise their children responsibly,  people who recognize the effort and support the work of cops, volunteers to help our senior citizens  and young people who don’t want a hand out, or a “safe space”.

In memoriam

Their feet rush into sin;
    they are swift to shed innocent blood.
They pursue evil schemes;
    acts of violence mark their ways. Isaiah 59:7

Prayers go out tonight to the victims of yet another terror attack in London.  Mayhem and murder committed by corrupt men.   In London, Manchester, Kabul or Manila the violent seem to strike randomly.

What these acts of terror have generated however is a resolve among the population to oppose evil.  While many, myself included want to take up arms to defend against these monsters,  those who prowl around looking to shed blood (1 Peter 5: 8) are ultimately opposed by love.  When children no longer are taught to hate from remote corners of the world, then terror will have no power here.

 Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.  

-1 Corinthians 13: 4 -7

 

Burial at sea

 

One of the privileges that a Navy man can request,  when the end time comes, is to be buried at sea. While I was on board the USS PETERSON in the mid-1990’s,  I was on the honor detail when we performed the last rites for (ashes of) a veteran of World War II. The ceremony was a solemn, set on the fantail of the destroyer.  Taps was rendered.  The Navy Hymn was played ( we had a boom box with a recording).  An officer, selected by the duty roster, read some words about the veteran and the tradition.  And everything was recorded on videotape for the deceased’s relatives. This was 1994 or 1995, so there was nothing like today’s live streaming technology.   When the time came to commit our Shipmate into the deep,  the wind shifted.   Our brother went partly into the briny — and also across the fantail.  A little splicing that evening in the Media center edited the re-shot final images of the burial at sea.   No need to stress the family with the ‘Sweepers’ call that was mustered up.

A burial — and a rebirth at sea, was exactly what occurred for me personally when I spent eight years on sea duty assignments with three different ships.   As I continue to read letters written in my first two years in the Navy, and from time when I went back into the Navy seven years later, I see a person that I no longer recognize.  I had tackled one of the most-rigorous technical skills the Navy offered,  but it took trial, error, failure, and opportunity that unexpectedly resulted in a review that medically discharged me.   At that time  I was an introverted teenager trying to escape Arizona and a negative self-image by joining the Navy;  in the Eighties, as a twenty-something stuck in a rut, with a challenging relationship, and poor job outlook,  I was able to re-enter the Navy, but only in that same field that had so challenged me previously.   The grass, or rather the salt air was beckoning me and I chose selfishly.   As my letters from this period show, I markedly changed as I matured.  When my personal life fell apart- my then wife took up with someone else,  I became more callous, even cynical at times, and a workaholic.    The go-to guy if something needed to be done.

However , San Diego changed all that.   I, metaphorically, died again, and was reborn –while I was still on active duty and assigned sea duty.   My new spiritual chain of command started with God and Jesus.  You listen when your ISIC (Immediate Superior in Command)  wears actual stars on his uniform. As stuck as  I had been in my past lives and self-interests,  I enjoy now a real freedom with my wife, family and church.  My skills, passions, and commitment is focused positively.   For almost twenty years, I have found that a burial at sea, and resurrection into a new life is truly freeing.  Thank God.

Remembering where I came from

Looking through old photo albums, when they were actually processed and printed on

paper,  I spent part of Saturday rewinding about 90 years of my family’s history through some dusty albums that were in my garage storage bins for several years.

my dad

Old photos encourage me.  Even seeing my father looking so athletic and proud with his young son dispels memories  of the many years he was crippled by illness.  My dad was a brilliant, funny and an athletic man.  I spent many years of my youth thinking of many negatives: when dad read something in the Wall Street Journal that said that glow-in-the-dark balls were unsafe, I was marched back to the toy store to get my change back.  When we went on road trips I was drilled on my multiplication tables.  Later when my mom and he were divorced,  and dad took me out on his weekend visit, we would go to nice restaurants,  but he always ordered the cheap meals and we filled up on the free rolls and butter.

Only later as an adult, I remembered that he would drive across the country from his job to attend my middle school and high school graduations.   He took a teaching job near our home so he could spend time with me.  At that time he was still trying to get half his body to respond after a stroke – and dealing with people who would equate debilitation with stupidity.   Far from it  – even in that condition.  He graduated near the top of his class in high school and in college as an aerospace engineer but also played sports.   He probably was motivated to excel as my grandfather’s occupations seemed to change as jobs came and went.   Instead, he worked in missile propulsion and development in the early years.  (Which likely helped me to get the jobs I held that involved trust.)  My father died 28 years ago while I was in the service.  I did not find out for two years.

mom

My mother was a good-looking woman;  as sharp mentally as attractive outwardly.  And it must have been quite the catch for my father.   When my maternal grandparents emigrated from Ireland at the end of WWII, she had to contend with Seniors in high school making fun of her accent.  In New Jersey they did not have much else to poke fun at.   She had graduated at the top of her nursing class at Mount Sinai Hospital, and as an R.N. worked with infants, intensive care, emergency treatment, and supervision.  Looking back at my teen years, it no longer seems odd that she pursued a dream to become an english literature scholar and college teacher in middle age.  She became a nurse for the career opportunity that would always be useful and financially secure.  But her passion was elsewhere. 20170423_150516

Mom’s aged photos showed several beaus – a soldier who looks like he only just lost out to my dad;  and some guys who might have been doctors, attorneys or business people.   Among her circle of friends included a Nobel laureate.  But the family photos bear witness to the changes that time, health, and fortunes – waxing and waning produced.

After deciding to marry again, she later learned that her second husband was attracted to children.  That divorce sealed her future as a bitter woman, more inclined to spend her savings on old horses, rescue dogs, cats and a burro.   You see, I have a sister, an adoptee, whom I have rarely spoken with in forty years.  Robin never forgave her mother for divorcing my father and subjecting her to abuse.   We went separate ways after I initially joined the Navy – and she was the one who suffered at the hands of my mother’s second husband.  After thirty years, we last spent any time together in the few months after my mother’s passing six years ago.

son

I chose to go into the Navy as much for the adventure,  the training – which has become the means I earn a living,  and for several veterans’ benefits, as I did to make a clean break from the family.   That’s actually the ironic part,  as I returned after my first enlistment to the same city, Tucson,  to attend the University of Arizona.  My father, still living at the time, moved to Tucson, and I spent time with him and with my mother – still my most ardent cheerleaders for my success.

I can only speak for myself, but I realized around the age of 39, that all of life’s successes mean less than how you handle failure.  Raised with a concept of the spiritual, but never seeing God,  I was continually trying not to be the sum of my upbringing and family.   But after twenty years of a changed life,  I recognize suffering allowed me to treasure the family I have now.   I realize that there is a God that cares for us, but does not force us to engage with him;  most of the world is suffering at the hands of people. For the goodness and love to have any impact, overcoming self-centered attitudes,  misgivings about our childhood,  misgivings about our marriages or children or jobs or finances or health have to be overcome.  Some people blame God for being on the sidelines. Others have no room for God.  Still others have god in their schedules but not in their driver’s seat.

And that is why I can look at these photo albums of people and places that shaped my life with contentment.  I appreciate family history but I am not bound by the people my parents became nor am I limited by my own shortcomings. I trust in my heavenly Father and Lord.   And the future does not hold any fear for me.