Archive | February 2006

Self Doubt pt. 2

Always doubt. Am I doing this right?

It’s always there. The creeping suspicion that everything I’m doing is missing the point, or otherwise misdirected. After all, I have been corrected and put in my place before, what if I was overdue to be admonished?

It’s a lot like being the character in a mystery or horror movie. The audience, unseen to the character, is sitting there, maybe knowing what’s around the corner. They get wrapped up in things, saying, “Ack! Don’t open that door!” or “Almost there, keep going! Don’t go back for the hat!”

I see it as the heavenly host, watching the unfolding drama of humanity. They may have a higher perspective on things – something that we, as the main characters don’t see. Sure, it’s nice to be the audience, sitting at home, safely noticing things. But we’re IN the movie. We’re the ones that experience reality, it’s rough and smooth spots. They admire us like we admire Tom Cruise in “The Last Samurai” and secretly want to be him. Well, we’re there. And insert whatever movie you want, it was a bit gender specific.

So for all the aloneness that sometimes accompanies life on Earth, there’s more out there than we think. Whether it’s angels or ancestors, there are higher powers with vested interests in our struggles.

Would I have recognized Jesus, were he here today?

That’s tricky, but stay with me.

There’s a lot of talk about “if I was living back then” or “if only I was born in such-and-such” time. Most of it is just spouts of romantic fancy, and all of it is ill-advised. We’re obsessed with becoming who we aren’t

My values, quirks, style of humor, methods of thinking would not have gone over very well in the 1600s…all were tailor made for me to live from 1980 on to my appointed time. There is no other period of time where I would have fit in. We are all exactly where we were meant to be, be it chronologically and socioeconomically (rich and poor).

The Bible talks that both the poor and the rich should take pride in their position, and that God made them both rich and poor.

While we all pine for wealth, it ain’t that great. Take a look at studies of lottery winners, their lives fall apart. The influx of money brings out the worst in people.

I have some fairly wealthy acquaintances and the biggest thing they always talk about is how fake everyone is when you’re rich. You can’t trust anyone. You don’t have any true friends outside of people who want you to fund their little projects. They’re so alone. Sure we say “I’d give it a shot!” and joke, but honestly…

While the rich do have advantages, so do the poor. No one is apt to learning more about meekness and humility (core characteristics of every major religion) than the poor.

Without the noise in life, the truly poor have a window at becoming truly happy, at drawing nearest to God himself. To have nothing leads us closer to having everything.

But enough about all that, we are where we were meant to be. We have it in us to click in to our circumstances here and now, because no one else can be us. We must be ourselves.

And it is when you overcome the strong envy of others’ traits, gifts, or things when you begin to experience genuine reality.

And it is genuine reality that Jesus offered. In him wasn’t death, but life. He offers the most real and the most passionate, truthful existence there is – something only available to people who aren’t busy doing their own social or religious thing, but people who are able to listen with their hearts and hear the message.

Because the message strikes a chord in us, no matter what our backgrounds are. It’s a chord of compassion, of patience, of understanding, of the need to be a blessing to others, of the realization of truth.

We give because it’s better than receiving. We offer money to help enable programs and groups to bless others. We devote our daily lives to acting in small acts of grace and silence, hearing the woes of the world and weathering the battering storm of despair with a better, kinder answer than rants and raves.

To anger, we are to give love. To hatred, we are to give love. It’s not some hippy, orgy thing, but the all-encompassing force of betterment. Love your neighbor, your enemy, take the blows because you’re stronger than those who would harm you. What weapon can possibly do harm to the soul of someone who is in the grace of the Almighty?

I would see the now Jesus because I vibe with what he’s about. What excites me excites Jesus. I’m not talking about caffeine or some new movie or video game “excited,” but the deep down, yeah that matters, sign me up sort of “excited.”

Forgetting all the dogma and the baggage, the expectations or the liturgy, that’s the kind of excited that saves people.

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God gone sour

Light bled from the gaps in clouds. The sun set and the remaining day drained from the sky.

I sat under the wooden roof of a bus stop near the office, listening to the patter of the light spring rain. Even in Iraq, that scent was there – the smell from wet asphalt signaling an impending summer shower like in afternoons back home.

1830, mail room time. I met up with some of my people passing by. None for me today. No biggie. I had scored some packages the other day. I walked with them for them, to give some company.

There was our chaplain’s assistant, walking with a limp. Poor bastard. That guy was a walking bad day – always on the ragged edge of despair. Jerks at work, jerks at home, jerks with finance; his world was in a perpetual state of disintegration.

I waited for him to go first. “How’s it going?” he asked.

“Fine. Fantastic. Super great!” note: hyperbole.

“Well, at least that’s one of us.”

Lord Jesus, grand unto this man the will to live beyond these next few minutes.

“Ha ha!” I said suddenly. I thought I’d throw him off.

“What?”

“Nothing.”

“You have your government credit card?”

“Nope, they deactivated mine when I left Fort Knox.”

“Well, I’ve been dealing with…” The synopsis: chaplain wants him to order supplies from a web site he can’t access. Add extremes like terse admonitions and times like “five in the morning.” Bring to boil. Fast forward eight minutes.

“Man..,” I said afterwards. I forgot my line. What page were we on?

“You taken your PT test yet?” he asked. Ok, found it.

“Yeah, back in November.”

“They want me to take mine, but what they don’t realize is…” The synopsis: Army wants soldier to maintain physical state of readiness. This requires exercise. People are lazy. People fake injuries to get profiles. Mix thoroughly. Add artificial colors and flavorings to produce misdirected one-sided whining. “…so I don’t see how they can expect me to get it done.”

“Yeah, it’s hard…,” solidarity, my brother. For sheezy. It was hard, but minus a few tubs of ice cream and add an hour every other day at the gym and problem solved.

“You been outside the wire, yet?” he asked.

“Yeah, a few times.”

“I’ve had my times out there. I don’t want to go back.” That actually was the end of that episode. Add long, vacant stare until suitably awkward.

“Well, I better let you go,” he said drearily. “Don’t want to hold you up anymore. I guess I’ll go back to the office to get yelled at some more. I swear I need to file an EO complaint and get out of there.”

“Wow, Jeez! That bad, huh?”

“Yeah…well…have a good night.”

“You too.”

“Whatever.”

Yikes. The chaplain’s assistants I’ve met in the Army have all been promiscuous, cursing, thieving jerks; save for this guy, who siphons the life out of our days here like a vampire on an invalid.

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To war!

Baghdad from the air.

Baghdad from the air.

The Sunnis and Shia are going ape crazy. This could be the big civil war we’ve been hoping wouldn’t happen.

Luckily, the media seems to be hyping things a bit too much. I spent a good two hours flying over the capital the day after the Golden Mosque was destroyed.

Everything seemed normal from the air, but the way the news read, the whole city was erupting in mass riots like some New Orleans repeat.

Kids were playing at schools, cars were jammed into the normal traffic pile-ups, markets were open. Things seemed relatively normal.

We’ll have to see if the sporadic sectarian violence continues. If civil war does break out, well…

God help us.

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Replacements

We had our first influx of soldiers arrive yesterday to bolster our failing forces.

Word spread through the headquarters, “New people are here!” “Wow, really? Where are they being assigned?”

Majors and captains vied for the new blood, throwing their administrative weight around, jockeying for claiming position as the new sergeants and privates made their way from station to station, in processing and being cajoled by the section heads.

My section major was late catching on to the scent of the new personnel. “What? New soldiers?” he asked one of our E7s.

“Yes sir, just came in today.”

“How many can we get in here?”

He always was looking for more slave labor. With himself, two captains, a lieutenant, two E7s, one E6, one E5 and one E4 (and then the attached finance, safety and PAO sections), his section was the largest in headquarters, yet there were never enough lower enlisted to load boxes, clean the office and the like.

Too bad for him, most of the new guys had already been claimed. He was just a few days from flying out on R&R leave and had taken to not showing up to work until the afternoon. This left him generally with little interest in the office goings on.

“I’ll work my magic. We need some more soldiers,” he said. Always a big talker, we’d have to see if he could pull anything off, not that I would suffer any of the medics or mechanics to be assigned to trash and filing duty in the personnel office.

An hour or two later, our roster remained unchanged. Too bad, good major, have fun on leave.

Several of the new soldiers stopped in to our office to see the finance sergeant. They were fresh faced and pretty chipper.

“Hey sergeant?” one asked me. I looked up. “How long have you guys been here?”

“Since September,” I answered.

He counted off some numbers in his head and turned to one of the other new soldiers, “So only six months left? Yes! See, dude. Short tour! Ha ha! Woohoo!”

Yeah, thanks! Ass.

Our brigade had been slowly bleeding off numbers due to pregnancy and a myriad of “medical” problems. Our greatest enemy wasn’t insurgents, but cowardice.

Most of the medical cases would end up back and Fort Hood, where they’d undergo a battery of tests and doctor appointments in an attempt to discern their problems. With none apparent, the soldiers would slip in and out of symptoms until their condition had exasperated diagnosis to such an extent, that we’d be on our way back to the states before they were finally cleared to return to duty. War averted.

Sure there were the honest medical problems, but seeing so many “uhh, my wrist hurts” cases, one tended to grow a little skeptical.

The S6 section was lucky enough to receive one of the new appointees.

“Wow, they lucked out,” I mentioned to my section sergeant. “Heck, they just got a captain the other day. Now they’re stacked.”

“The new guy was to replace their E7,” she mentioned.

“Replace? I just saw him the other day.”

“He had an ‘eye’ problem. He’s back in the states.”

E7s and E8s were famous in our unit for magically coming down with ailments, sending them home. Some used the opportunity to finish their retirements. They finally found out a way to get back at the Army for involuntarily extending them past their planned exit dates.

E5s and the like were just stuck. Not that I wanted to play the malingering card. It’d be nice to tell the grand kids I finished my time with honor, rather than wiggled and scammed my way through the system.

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Self Doubt pt. 1

No matter how good you are at something, someone will always be better.

My father taught me that.

The same goes for intelligence. As smart as you might be, there’s always someone smarter, or wiser, or someone more apt to understanding a certain concept.

Remembering that we don’t know everything tells us to remain humble throughout life. Despite all that one may learn along the way, we still know very little and shouldn’t grow too haughty.

For all I can say I’ve learned in the world, I always wonder if I’m missing God, you know? I’m terrified I’m missing what’s important.

I often ask myself if I would recognize Jesus if he was here today. I’m not talking about the second-coming mumbo-jumbo, I’m talking about if he were to come today like he did before.

Jesus was born into a very strong and very structured religious culture. There were scriptures, given to man by God himself; from which the customs of life were derived. Men by the thousands diligently studied the sacred texts and guided the people through their day-to-day interactions with the world and God.

Ecclesiastes, an ancient Jewish book of wisdom, says “There’s nothing new under the sun.” Everything has been done before. Now we’d say something like “The more things change, the more they stay the same.” Doubt and uncertainty are constants in life.

Jesus’ culture was rife with political and ideological splits, exactly like today. Factions and political parties vied for the support of the people, and interpretations of sacred texts were just as contested as are now. Instead of “Are you pro-choice or pro-life?” you had “Which commandment was the greatest?”; instead of “Do you support the war in Iraq?” you had “Is it right to pay taxes to Rome?”; instead of “Should women be pastors?” you had “Where is it right to worship, the temple or the mountain?” With each rabbi, there was another take on the issues of the day, just like with each religious denomination.

So, if the Messiah were to come today as the first time, would I recognize him? Would I have ears to hear, or eyes to see?

Firstly, just where would he be, were he here now? Church? Jesus didn’t spend too much time in the synagogues, and when he did, it usually wasn’t pleasant, confronting and arguing with religious leaders. He was constantly living among the broken and outcast people of his culture.

Moreover, he was considered someone who “ate with sinners.” That phrase doesn’t have the sting it used to have. Nowadays we could say he was someone who hung out with drug dealers, pimps and prostitutes. And not just hung out, but was close enough to share a meal with them – close enough to hang at their houses and be in their lives.

He was real, and chilled with the broken people – the people not good enough, the people not pretty/smart/rich enough. He was there when religion had turned their back on these so-called “sinners.”

To bring it to today, you might have seen Jesus at a gay-rights march, showing his support for the dignity of human beings – standing against the “God hates fags” signs and vicious hate-mongering that breathes threats of hell and judgment from bullhorns. He would have been at the AIDS shelters, embracing the weak and the sick. Basically, he would have been everywhere the religious weren’t.

Another thing is to remember Jesus wasn’t “Jesus” back in the day. He didn’t walk around with a halo over his head; he was just a guy, saying some unbelievably harsh and revolutionary things – calling into question every preconceived religious notion of the day. It wouldn’t have been so easy to say, “Sure I would have believed him, he was Jesus.”

Picture him today as a guy who lived with the homeless. He’d have ripped jeans, a faded, stained sweatshirt. He’d be a bit unkempt, in need of a shower and a shave. You’d see him at prominent churches and in the homes of the rich every once in a while; invited because of his popularity with the people, not necessarily because of his character or reputation.

People would whisper about him, saying his mother was a whore or a crack addict and that he was born in a dumpster in some back alley behind the hospital. You’d see him with a drink in hand – spurring rumors that he was an alcoholic. His entourage would be a little unruly, young and a bit brazen. They’d track some mud into the house and put their feet up – that sort of thing. The hosts would be indignant, and the party-goers would be embarrassed. It would all be a bit awkward.

And then there would be the things he taught. Jesus took most of what the religious thought and said, “No.”

Living for nothing else but to fulfill the law? Live for God. Exclude Jews who don’t agree with the XYZ faction and all gentiles? Include everyone. Fight against the invader: Rome? Tolerate their rule and persevere. Hold out for a physical kingdom? Embrace the spiritual one. Remission of sins through strict rituals? No rituals needed anymore.

It was notion-shattering, unbelievably subversive and dangerously revolutionary stuff came from this guy’s mouth.

How many times did scores of followers leave him because of the crazy stuff he said? Good Jewish boys and girls, confident in their knowledge of God, couldn’t bring themselves to follow this guy. He was just too out there. Moreover, how many times did the people he talk to try to kill him because of what he said?

Would it be the same today? If he said, “the new testament is just a collection of letters, there are gaps and errors, don’t worry about it,” would I be able to go along with it? If he said, “Sell your church buildings and go into the world, church is in the heart, not in bricks,” could I agree? What about, “Stop campaigning, America will eventually burn.” Think of the most whacked out and out-there sentiments that could be said, and you’ll start to get how crazy his teachings were to the religious.

What if the revolution kept going further? Would I be like those very few remaining disciples that when Jesus asked, “Aren’t you all going to leave too?” they said, “Master We have nothing and nowhere else to go”?

Or would I quote the Bible and condemn him, just like the religious did back then? After all, they had mountains of verses as to why he couldn’t be the Messiah.

They were too confident in their understanding of God. They couldn’t live free. They were slaves to their religion, unable to see the movement of God.

That movement continues, but am I too tied down to see it? Is it possible to move past religion and into the real?

Don’t fret peeps. There’s always hope and, in this case, a part 2.

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Notes for those taking notes

This oil pipe burned for 30 days. Gave me cancer.

This oil pipe burned for 30 days. Gave me cancer.

Whew, back from another mission. This one was pretty short, just three days down on FOB Falcon, another one of the myriad posts sprinkled throughout Baghdad.

Lots going on down in the city. In response to the bombing of the Golden Mosque, a major Shiite holy site, over 100 Sunnis were killed in revenge attacks today. Moreover, the Sunnis are backing out of talks concerning the new forming government. Check out more here. Lord help us if the civil war breaks out on our watch.

Here are a few notes:
1) For the record: Outgoing artillery is loud as f*ck.
2) If you hear a rocket or mortar attack detonate, don’t panic — if you’re still alive, then you made it! Congrats.
3) A big “hullo” to the new readers from “forest“! Thanks for stopping by!
4) Work begins on a new “Wrangler” in a few days. Just hold on for a little while longer.
5) The lovely and talented Brie (one of our uber peeps) has a new artist myspace profile. Check it here and give your support. Rock!
6) Some have expressed concern that I’ve gone “Godcore.” Don’t worry, kids, I’m still me 😉 I’m just in search of truth. Truth is. It doesn’t matter if it has a “religious” garnish on it or not.

Oh and check this out, I made it into the Feb. 20 issue of “Stars and Stripes,” the major newspaper we get in the service while deployed.

There was an article that appeared a few days before detailing a new Pentagon report suggesting the military end the pay difference between married and single service members.

See, if you’re married, in addition to getting your own house (and away from the nasty barracks), you get paid more money while in the states and receive an additional bonus when deployed due to the “stress of being away from family.” Single soldiers get nada.

So I wrote an editorial. Here it is since there’s no online version that I know of (Stars and Stripes isn’t free, so you’d have to buy a copy):

End the Pay disparity

Whether anything comes from the study that suggested, among many things, to end the disparity between married and single pay, it’s still great news that someone noticed (“Pentagon urged to end married-single pay disparity,” Military Update, Feb. 17).

I’m a single soldier and have often wondered why my married co-workers get more money. If someone was ordered to get married, I’d understand; I see no need for the government to subsidize a personal choice. If I went out and got a body piercing that required so much money per month to keep infection-free, the government would laugh if I asked for a bonus.

The article listed the “cost” of paying single soldiers equally as a major hurdle. Doesn’t the government realize I, as a single soldier, cost them a lot less? I don’t require on-post houses, playgrounds, parks, Department of Defense schools — none of the normal married infrastructure. Can’t some of those wear-and-tear savings be credited against the cost of this supposed obstacle to equality?

Just because the majority of soldiers choose to eventually marry, I don’t see why I should be financially penalized for the risks I take in Iraq just because God made me single.

Booya.

***Someone asked about the photo. I took it a few days ago here on Taji. It’s just one of the billowing clouds from fires that rage around Iraq. This one was an oil pipeline that went boom, but there are trash fires, wood fires, building fires — all manner of reasons to fill the air with choking blackness.

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Introspection is heavy pt. 2

Yesterday we talked about how every second of your life has led you to this moment in your sociological, psychological, physical, and spiritual development; and that your life continues to decohere into where it was meant to go.

Now, many people will say “Great! All chocolate all the time!” and just go ape sh*t with hedonism. That’s not where I’m going with all this.

Back to the “Go” illustration – a player has choices as to where to place his or her piece. At the beginning of the game, the possible places to put the first move are limitless, but as the borders begin to form in the game, the choices of moves becomes more restricted, with some options being better or worse.

This is where the “wisdom” of living life comes in. Sure, a Go player could just throw down anywhere on the board, but his or her opponent will quickly win. The player’s life will be very short, with few peices to show for it. Now, with more “wise” playing, the player engages his or her opponent blow for blow and follows the path of the game all the way to the end. Even if, ultimately, the player loses, the fact that the game was played well will make it evenly-matched.

A choice we all have to make every day is this: “Am I going to be a force for good or evil in the world?” Heavy, I know, but each choice we make when interacting with others has its root in this question. For all the varied possibilities and colors of the world, our existence furthers goodness or malice – with love or with hate, as a white or black piece in the Go game.

In living, our acts either usher in more love, compassion and understanding into the lives of those around us, or instead bring impatience, irritation, anger, and selfishness.

I’m in the military, in a crummy part of the world, working for nincompoops. I can either wallow in my situation, sit in the mud and cry and cry, or I can make something of it. I can work hard, if for no one else then God himself. I can keep my snide little comments to myself when something ridiculous comes down from on high. When so-and-so needs help with college classes after a long day, I can say “sure” and go help, instead of saying “no thanks” and heading off to surf the web. I can honestly be happy to talk to someone. I can apply my traits and talents to do my job well and make it easier for someone else.

Now I’m hardly a saint at this crap, I’m just saying there’s wisdom in restoring others and folly in tearing people down.

In Go, groups of pieces can be captured and turned from white to black if surrounded. But, inversely, black pieces can be turned white if surrounded. There’s opportunity for both.

It’s a choice of where to put the pieces.

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