It’s finally over. After a year, I am back at home with Sheri and Rachael. Thanks for all of your thoughts and prayers over the past year. Please continue to pray for:
The safety of the many soldiers, sailors, airmen, marines, and civilians who remain in harm’s way
The psychological health of those who have returned
The families who heroically endure long separations
The thousands of families who mourn the loss of a loved one who died in combat
The people of Iraq, who deserve lives of prosperity and peace.
It is time for the enthusiastic, yet reluctant, soldier to become simply an enthusiastic philosophy professor. I have enjoyed writing the blog, though, and may continue to post about more trivial matters: philosophy, religion, and politics. So, check back here occasionally. Before I put my year of service to rest, I’ll post some pictures. My connection speed in Baghdad made it too difficult to do so from there. Thanks again, and continue to pray for peace.
We have made it back to the place where all of our training began – Ft. Dix, New Jersey. After a few days in Kuwait, we began the long process of clearing customs and awaiting transportation. We landed at Maguire Air Force Base on Tuesday. We had to walk across a lawn to get on a bus that was waiting to take us to Ft. Dix. It was wonderful to smell grass once again. The weather is cool, the trees are beautiful, and all is well. I should return to Oklahoma on Tuesday.
It is a bittersweet time. I can’t wait to see my family and friends again, but I’m also preparing to say goodbye to some people with whom I have shared some intense experiences. I have already said goodbye to some, for several elected to stay in Iraq for a time. May God continue to watch over them.
This should be my last post from Iraq. Soon, we will move out of our trailers and into some tents, awaiting our flight to Kuwait. As I prepared this morning’s sermon, it struck me that most of the Old Testament was written with this place as a context. I won’t give you the whole sermon, but here are some of the lessons that I’ve learned.
First, the practical lessons: 1) You can lose your tolerance for spicy food. 2) They close the latrines for 45 minutes each morning for cleaning. 3) Don’t sit in the right rear seat of a UH-60 helicopter. It’s not called the “cyclone seat” for nothing. 4) Don’t leave the bunker until the “all-clear” signal sounds, even if the rounds have stopped coming in. The first and second lessons are painful ones to learn on the same day. The fourth lesson was one of the most frightening days of my life.
Now, the other lessons: 1) Find someone that you can be honest with about grief and anger. 2) Take God’s call to be holy seriously. 3) Never forget the importance of true community. 4) Remember that God’s reasons for your being in a place may not be same as your reasons for being there. Try to see things from the perspective of the eternal. 5) Remember that God chose you, and maybe you should give him the benefit of the doubt.
In Jeremiah 29:4-7, the prophet gives some advice to those living in exile. One thing he says is to pray for the welfare of the city where he has sent them into exile, for “…in its welfare, you will find your welfare.” Pray for the people of Iraq. It matters little now what one thought about the justification of the war. One thing that we are truly discovering is that our welfare now lies hand in hand with their own.
Thank you for your prayers over the past year. May God bless your faithfulness, and may you continue to pray for peace.
We have made it to our last full week in Iraq. I was never very interested in prophecy about the future, but lately I have been thinking a lot about eschatology, or the study of last things. Today, I thought about the last time I will change the sheets on the bed here, or the last time I do a PT run down “Sniper Alley.” I wonder if today is the last time that the rockets come in, but given the way things are in Basra right now, I somehow doubt it. I did start working on my last sermon today, titled “Lessons from my Babylonian Exile.” When I figure out what those lessons are, I’ll let you know.
It was a beautiful early spring day in Baghdad today. The high was only 99. Fortunately, we’ll be long gone before it gets in the 120’s. On a recent trip, I made it within two miles of the ruins of ancient Babylon. Unfortunately, it was too dangerous to visit the ruins. Tradition maintains that the house that Abraham lived in before he left on his journey of faith is at Tallil, which is in southeastern Iraq. One of the sergeants and I are trying to concoct a justification for a trip down there. It’s unlikely to happen, though.
I just finished the Good Friday Tenebrae service. The Tenebrae, or Service of Shadows, has always been a very meaningful service for me. It is a very somber service, as is fitting on Good Friday. A reader reads a passage of Scripture associated with the betrayal, crucifixion, or burial of Jesus, and then blows out one of the candles that provides light for the service. As the readings progress further into the Passion story, the room grows progressively darker. At the end, the final candle is extinguished, and the congregation is to depart in silence.
Tonight, just as we blew out the last candle, the “incoming” alarm went off. We had to wait until the “all clear” sounded before we could leave the chapel.
I am always surprised at how dark this place is. There are no external lights, and if there is no moon, it can be remarkably dark. Before the base engineers spread it out, there was a very large pile of gravel near my trailer. One night, I walked out, and started trudging up something that I couldn’t see. After a moment, I realized that I must be on that pile of gravel, but still couldn’t see it. I’m sure that it is kept dark for two reasons. First, it minimizes the possibility of sniper attacks. Second, all the electricity is produced by generators, and lighting a camp this size by generator would be enormously costly.
I cannot help but think that the darkness is somehow fitting on this Good Friday. The darkness is an indicator of a greater spiritual darkness. It’s tempting for Christians to associate this spiritual darkness solely with Islam, but that would be a mistake. The greater spiritual darkness is a result of war. I have seen firsthand the spiritual, psychological, and emotional effect that killing a fellow human being has on those who must do so. Many of them will experience darkness in ways that we can never imagine.
Palm Sunday has passed, and we are moving into the most solemn period in the church calendar. As we enter this time of reflection concerning the sacrifice of Christ, think about these results of a recent poll by the Pew Research Center. Last August, 54% of Americans polled knew the approximate number of American military personnel that had been killed in Iraq, a percentage that had held steady since the beginning of the war. This year, the percentage has dropped to 28%.
Participants were asked to state the number of American military deaths in Iraq to the nearest 1,000. Only 28% of those polled knew the correct number. To date, nearly 4,000 Soldiers, Sailors, Airmen, and Marines have died in Operation Iraqi Freedom.
What explains this sudden and drastic change in the awareness level of Americans? Apparently, as the economy spirals downward, the war is no longer the dominant issue in people’s minds. Remember though, that we have sent, and continue to send, men and women into harm’s way. At least 4,000 of them will never return. We owe it them, to their families, and to our own children to never forget.