Monday, March 30, 2009

It's All Greek to Me

I've recently become aware of one of the most colossal blunders I've made during my time in seminary. Allow me to explain:

As an M.Div. student, I'm required to take either Greek, Hebrew, or a combination of both.

I chose Greek.

I took the first course in the fall of 2006, and did okay - ending up with a C. So far, so good. But then I took a wrong turn; my professor, Mark Strauss, took a sabbatical and his replacement took over the next course with an entirely different teaching method. Soon, I felt myself sinking and decided to simply withdraw from the course rather than risk failing. I thought I'd just pick it up again the next year when Mark was back and go from there - after all, how much difference could one year make?

Unexpectedly, I was faced with a dilemma when the next year rolled around: a new course called "The Ethics of War" was being offered, but it conflicted with the Greek class I had intended to take. Thinking that the ethics class would be much more valuable to my future career, I opted to take it instead, thus putting Greek off for yet another year. Bad move.

Finally, I resumed my Greek studies in January 2009, more than two years since my last Greek class. I quickly found that I had barely retained anything from my previous class, and began cramming to catch up. However, unlike most other classes, one does not "cram" Greek. It has to be built layer upon successive layer, starting with a firm foundation - which I lacked. To make matters worse, my accident occurred in the middle of all this, causing me to miss several weeks of classes and fall even further behind.

Though my professor was kind enough to grant me an extension to complete the course, this means that I now have to hastily work to build and strengthen my foundation of Greek knowledge while simultaneously enrolling in Intermediate Greek this quarter.

And all of this while I still have make-up work from other courses, 12 hours of new courses (Greek included) to complete, a senior Statement of Faith to finish, and my physical therapy sessions to attend three times a week!

So keep me in your prayers, as it's going to be a long, hard road these next 10 weeks.

Sunday, March 29, 2009

Brothers at War & Jon Voight

In case you haven't heard, there's a new documentary in town called "Brothers at War." Unlike the recent spate of anti-American films on the Iraq war, which paint our soldiers as confused, angry, or psychopathic killers (Lions for Lambs, Stop-Loss, In the Valley of Elah, etc.), Brothers at War is a relatively simple story of one brother's quest to understand the motivation behind two of his brothers' decisions to serve in the Army and deploy (repeatedly) to Iraq.

As the oldest of four brothers, Jake Rademacher travels to Iraq to see his brother Isaac, an Army captain. After several weeks there, he returns home somewhat cocky, thinking he now understands his brothers and discovers that his youngest brother Joe still doesn't think he "gets it,"since he only spent a short time over there. So he goes back again, this time embedding with a Marine Corps mobile training team and their Iraqi counterparts. He goes out on numerous missions and patrols with them, and is present when an IED explodes only a few hundred yards away from him, wounding several of the Iraqis. He returns home much more subdued than before, but he has accomplished his goal - he has finally earned the respect of his brothers.

This is no big-budget, Hollywood film; rather, it was shot on a shoestring budget with money raised from a handful of supporters in Decatur, IL (the producer's hometown). The only reason it was able to make the leap to the "big screen" was due to the efforts of Jon Voight & Gary Sinise, both of whom are huge supporters of the military. Voight saw an early screening of the film and called Sinise, telling him "You gotta get in on this project!" Gary signed on as executive producer, and was key in helping getting it released into theatres, albeit on a limited basis.

Oceanside, CA happened to be one of the 25 locations nationwide where the film opened this past weekend, and I was able to convince my father-in-law, Fred, to accompany me. Little did we know that we would have our brush with fame before the evening ended...

We headed out to the 4:45 showing, and made it just in time, with Fred pushing me in my wheelchair. As we rolled inside, we were met by some ladies with Soldiers' Angels, an awesome group whose goal is to help out servicemembers in any way they can. As we stood (or sat) there chatting with them, who should walk in but Jon Voight! Seeing me in my wheelchair, he walked right up and shook my hand. As I rose to stand on my one good leg, he asked me questions about myself as the SA ladies began snapping pictures. When he asked me how I'd been injured, I was quick to point out that it hadn't happened "over there" in Iraq or Afghanistan, but rather was the result of a recent motorcycle accident. I went on to tell him about my 18 years of service in the Marines and my ongoing efforts to finish seminary and become an Army chaplain. He seemed genuinely impressed with my commitment to serve our troops, even if it meant returning to a combat zone without a weapon in order to minister to their needs.

Jake Rademacher, myself & Jon Voight

The SA ladies quickly gathered around and began snapping pictures, and at one point Jake Rademacher came over and joined us for the impromptu photo op. My father-in-law didn't waste the opportunity either. While Voight stood munching my popcorn, Fred told him about his idea for a new movie about his favorite Civil War character, Nathan Bedford Forrest. To my surprise(!), Voight appeared interested and even pulled out a small pad of paper to take down the details - even going so far as to ask "So what part would I play?" After thinking about it for a bit, Fred replied that he thought Jon could play the role of Forrest's chaplain, while Forrest himself might be played by Brad Pitt. "I understand you're some relation to him, aren't you?" Fred asked with a straight face, to Jon's wry amusement.

Later, after the movie was over, we had the opportunity to sit in on a Q&A session with the film's producer, Jake Rademacher himself. He did a great job explaining his motivation in making the film as well as conveying a deep sense of respect for all those who serve in the military.

So if you get a chance, please go see this film - especially if you can make it by next weekend, since box office receipts from the first two weeks are used to determine whether or not a film will receive wider release. This is definitely the type of film that the American public needs to see - not a slick Hollywood production, but a simple glimpse into the lives of our average - yet extraordinary - servicemembers and their families, and the ideals which caused them to put their lives on the line for their country.

Oh, and if you happen to hear about a movie called "Wizard in the Saddle" about the life and times of Nathan Bedford Forrest in the next few years, you'll know where it came from...

Friday, March 13, 2009

More Good News

Just got back from two doctor's appointments today - one with the physical therapist for my wrist, the other with the orthopedic surgeon who operated on my ankle. Good news on both fronts!

The physical therapist was impressed with the level of progress I'd made in just the time since my visit with her last week; I have much greater flexibility in my fingers, although my wrist movement is still very limited. The surgeon was also very happy about how well my ankle is healing; so much so that my hard cast was tossed out and I was given a new "air" cast, which basically looks like a giant ski boot, complete with an assortment of Velcro straps. Best of all, it's removable, which means I can finally wash my leg and foot! (Trust me, it looks pretty grody)

He also told me that I can begin putting weight on it in about two more weeks - but no more than 20-30 lbs. in conjunction with my new crutches. Best of all, he said that in only four weeks I should be able to walk around with my air cast - so I can finally bid farewell to my wheelchair! Yay!

Even though I know this healing process is going to be a long one ("Like training for the Olympics," said one surgeon), I'm still very encouraged to see how my body is beginning to respond to even the small exercises I'm able to do at this point. Praise God!

Monday, March 9, 2009

Is it me or God?

We had an interesting discussion in our small group this evening. In talking about the Fruits of the Spirit, the question arose as to what portion of developing these attributes was the Spirit's work and what amount was a conscious effort on our part. Certainly, arguments can be made for both sides - the Bible clearly teaches that the Spirit is at work in our lives; yet on the other hand, our efforts can certainly either help or hinder the growth of that fruit.

So what is the answer to that question? Where does the line fall between the Holy Spirit's work and my own efforts?

To me, this represents another angle of the age-old question that arose between Calvin and Arminius concerning salvation and free will. I'm not going to take sides here, because to me the point is moot.

Why should I be concerned with whether my responsibility is 1%, 50% or 90%? The fact of the matter is that I have some God-given responsibility - so my primary concern should be in carrying out that responsibility to the best of my abilities. God, in His infinite wisdom, has seen fit to allow me a role in the work of His Kingdom - my job is simply to be a willing participant in that work. The more attuned I am to the Holy Spirit, the more I'm able to recognize opportunities to advance the Kingdom as they come my way. Likewise, if I'm out of tune I not only fail to recognize those opportunities presented to me but I may in fact do damage by insisting on handling things MY way - not God's way. But even then all is not lost, for God is still able to take even my mistakes and use them for good.

I can't say how much a relief it is to know that my personal spiritual development does not depend solely on my own efforts. At the same time, it gives me great encouragement to know that God has invested me with a key role to play in events of eternal significance.

Sunday, March 1, 2009

The Slow Process of Healing

Well, it's been nearly a month since my accident and by all accounts I'm mending properly. Still, it's a hard thing to get used to - especially being cooped up in a wheelchair, having little or no personal freedom, and depending on others to do many of the simple tasks that one normally takes for granted. While I'm still amazed at the doctors' ability to reconstruct and repair the human body, and the body's own miraculous God-given ability to repair itself - I still find myself impatient that the process seems to take so long.

Yesterday was one of those days where it all just kind of hit me at once. I felt useless, trapped, frustrated, and a little stir-crazy from basically sitting around the house for the past few weeks. Even my recent effort to return to school last week was somewhat thwarted as I found myself unbelievably tired and worn out after only a few hours of attempted study. I had to go and lay down on the couch in the lobby with my arm and leg elevated and rest for awhile just to summon enough strength to sit through my three-hour Greek class.

Still, I'm trying to remain open to what God has to teach me through all of this. One important lesson I believe I'm learning is an increased empathy for the wounded veterans I will be dealing with in the future. Though my injuries aren't as severe, and will heal with time, I now know what it's like to be a cripple, and to have one's life placed "on hold" for the time being. I know the teeth-grinding frustration of chronic pain, and the havoc it can create with one's emotional stability. I know the embarrassment of bodily functions suddenly gone haywire, and of the creeping despair as one wonders whether or not his body will ever become "whole" again.

I'm grateful to be surrounded by loving friends and family, and am becoming increasingly aware of the role they play in the healing process, especially as it relates to keeping my morale up.