Today, you'll hear my thoughts on life, death, and the recent passing of a friend's dad.
Tertullian, an early Church Father and Christian Theologian from the 2nd century A.D., is one of the first to record the importance of the phrase "memento mori." According to his account and other apocryphal stories, this phrase was uttered by a slave to remind a triumphant military commander as he paraded gloriously through the streets of Ancient Rome that his victory was temporary, and ultimately life itself was fleeting.
Today, you'll hear my thoughts on life, death, and the recent passing of a friend's dad.
Here is a new and highly experimental method of communication for me, mostly because I'm tired of typing and editing my extensive ideas. Hope you enjoy, and Lord willing there will be many more to come.
The theme of this Podcast, as the title suggests, is "Trying Something Different."
Einstein said the definition of insanity is repeating the same actions and expecting a different outcome, so today I briefly utilize my new presentation method to explore what that means to me.
Obduration is, according to morphological analysis, a lexeme "obdurate," which serves as a root marked by morphological inflection (specifically affixation) to include the bound morpheme -ation, signifying the creation of a derivational morpheme for the condition or process of becoming hardened. Derived from a Latin etymology, the word obdurate is very often used in the context of a strenuous debate to refer to the hardening (durare) of one's position against another (the Latin prefix ob- signifying against).
Now that midterms are over, I'm free to focus a little more on issues in the wider world, not to mention show off a little of the knowledge which I so studiously crammed into my noggin. About a month ago, I had the pleasure of attending a "Meet the Fellows" open house which included a Democratic Congressman, a (female) BP Oil Executive, and several other media, corporate, and political insiders. After a brief sales pitch for their respective "Student Strategy Teams," designed to elicit student participation on some of the key issues facing our nation and world, the panel opened the floor up to a Q&A. The questions that followed were very enlightening, in particular one student asked, "what, in your opinion, is the most pressing or intractable issue facing our nation today?"
To a person, all the media, political, and corporate elites echoed the same sentiments: "Before we can tackle any issues, whether they be climate change, immigration, defense spending, or anything else that faces our nation and world, we cannot accomplish ANYTHING until we find a way to deal with and move past the political partisanship in this country." If there's one thing people of all stripes can agree on at this present moment, it's that something needs to be done... and nothing is happening.
Two weeks down in the semester, and I still haven't had a major panic attack. The reading schedules for these classes are challenging, but praise God it's not overwhelming. My courses this semester are: Intro to Linguistics, Intro to Philosophy, Intro to Theology, and Cognition. I can't really tell you how excited I am to be doing something new and different, and to have the opportunity to learn with greater depth and breadth than ever before on subjects about which I've always been passionate.
It's amazing to me how already my different courses and professors all seem to be pointing me unintentionally (at least from their perspective) to the same Truth, which is that God had a plan far more lengthy and detailed than my own when I set out from San Diego ten years ago this month. All four of my classes have made repeated reference to the importance of linguistics and language in the different areas of human knowledge and affairs.
My cognition class is extremely focused on the study of observable behavior as it pertains to the collection of processes known as "cognition." There are four main processes: perception, memory, thinking, and comprehension. One area where cognitive analysis is currently very interested is in the acquisition and processing of language, where we can directly measure the output based on the successful retention and use of another language.
In philosophy, we've already discussed how the empiricists such as Berkeley and Hume struggled against the rationalists like Descartes and Leibniz for supremacy in defining whether knowledge comes ultimately from perception or reason, resulting in a revolutionary synthesis by Kant which allowed the two to coexist. The professor also went into detail about the Romanticist period following the Enlightenment and how it generated a resurgence of interest in the Classical period. He specifically mentioned Ferdinand de Saussure, a renowned linguist and philosopher who explored the idea of "signs," or his so-named relationship between words and the objects or concepts they signified. This is of particular import to philosophy because Kant had previously argued that a "thing-in-itself" can never be known independently from the perceptual bias of its observer.
In theology, we've already explored and tried to define the nature of faith, whether it must necessarily be a quality of every individual to place "faith" in something or someone, and how one's faith in anything (be it the Judeo-Christian God or even the concepts of secular humanism and scientific exploration) necessarily requires us to structure our life and actions around a set of core beliefs. Further, and I believe we'll delve into this more in the coming weeks, we've talked about morality as it pertains to faith, and how moral codes are established and lived out by individuals and by groups.
Finally, in Linguistics itself, we've studied the mechanical process by which sounds are produced, and are beginning to unpack the places and methods of articulation. In each class, it amazes me how unique the gifts of language and communication are to human beings. I am very blessed to be at a school with a Jesuit worldview, and it reassures me to see that even the most atheistic professor (and there are still a few) can't help but muse at the possibility of man's special place in the order of the universe.
I won't go into too much detail about finances, but God has absolutely and unequivocally blessed me to be able to attend a university which costs the average undergrad $52k a year ($71k if they live in student housing) for a significantly reduced price, thanks both to the GI bill and some generous financial aid from the school. Based on the quality of the facilities, the caliber of the students and faculty, and the depth of the instruction I've already received, I'd say it's worth every penny.
I posted something on my Facebook in response to the Charlottesville situation which generated some controversy. Apparently when I advocated for moderate and liberal Americans everywhere to arm themselves in the face of neo-Nazi hate, that was a little far for some people's taste. Since I have a platform of my own, I'd like to better explain myself.
I have made the case for violence before, but never in response to the actions of other Americans. In those past posts, I made it clear that we as Christians have a responsibility to live at peace with others as far as possible, but also that there are certain evil elements in this world who simply will not be reasoned with under any circumstances. I would not have joined the military and served honorably for almost ten years if I truly believed that the Gospel required us to be pacifists.
We are blessed and fortunate to live in a country where the rule of law is generally extremely strong, and acts of wanton evil are sporadic and highly localized. In other parts of the world where bands of evil men roam more freely, the task often falls to the US military to intervene on behalf of those who can't protect themselves. Here, we trust our valued members of law enforcement to handle that task for us. The cases in which a person might have to exercise their Second Amendment rights in defense of their own life or the life of an immediate bystander are pretty rare.
Nevertheless, there are elements of people within this great country of ours who prey on the defenselessness of others. Whether we're talking about violent inner city gangs, or the thugs this weekend who wore body armor and swung billy clubs at the elderly and women, there are always going to be people who use the threat of violence as a means of intimidation and coercion against those who are less capable of defending themselves.
Anyone who knows me knows that I'm a very congenial person who can hardly be described as a fighter. My stance on the use of force has always been that it should be a last resort...but it is unequivocally an option when faced with unrepentant evil. I would like to believe that if a band of men wearing SS uniforms and riot gear were doing violence to someone simply on the basis of the color of their skin, I would try my absolute best to at least de-escalate and at worst outright resist them before they harmed someone. Isaiah 1 is the beginning of a long indictment of the people of Israel for their neglect of the Lord's commands. It reads, in part:
Learn to do right; seek justice.
In my mind, this is a pretty clear mandate to stick up for those who can't defend themselves.
For those who haven't heard (and I can't imagine who that would be), I've been accepted to Georgetown University for a Linguistics major. I've been furiously preparing for the last few months to get out of the Navy early and hopefully start school in the fall, Lord willing. To say that I feel a little out of my depth is an understatement. I'm dealing with a wicked case of impostor syndrome these days, feeling as if at any moment people will realize that someone has inadvertently allowed a drooling neanderthal to run loose around the campus. While the rational part of me knows that that's an extremely unfair assessment of my own abilities, it does virtually nothing to diminish the anxiety that comes with matriculating at an institution with such a sterling reputation.
Sitting down with a Dean yesterday to talk about my course selections for the coming semester was an amazing experience. He not only reassured me that I belong here, but also opined that I would likely fare much better than many of the students there who were valedictorians and 5.0 GPA scholars at their high schools. This was because, and I quote him, "some of these kids will probably fall to pieces when they see their first B. You've faced adversity before, and you've no doubt overcome a lot in your Navy career." Brother, you have no idea.
I have been through more harrowing moments in the last ten years than I could possibly recount in one blog post. Some of them were very physical, like getting a stress fracture in boot camp and being told I'd have to convalesce for six weeks before I could graduate (I got out after four weeks), others were extremely intellectual, like DLI. Some were emotional, like being told by my entire chain of command that I'm a failure, despite knowing that most of their accusations were wildly exaggerated. All of this, it seems, was part of God's master plan that I knew nothing about the day I signed the line back in San Diego.
I have traveled the world on the Navy's dime. I have met fascinating people all over the world and had the opportunity to use my language skills to do some downright-awesome stuff. Never in all my travels and struggles did I imagine that this next chapter was a possibility.
I'm very much reminded of the ancient seafaring maps with large blank spaces at the edge which read, "here be dragons." In their limited understanding of the world back then, it only made sense that if one sailed too far from home they would simply fall right off the face of the earth. Now as then, it's time for me to expand my horizons. This endeavor will require all of my abilities, and I'm quite frightened of the possibility that my best efforts might simply not be good enough (it wouldn't be the first time). Nevertheless, I serve a good God.
I'm reminded of the song "Oceans," by Hillsong. Though it's been playing on the radio for years, it still grabs me whenever I hear it, because it reminds me that there is much in this life which God has called us to do, knowing full well that we are in no way qualified to do it. He specializes in this sort of thing, to be honest. Just ask men like Gideon, Jonah, or King David. "Why me?" they all asked, "I am literally a nobody." Fortunately, God plus a nobody equals something he can use.
I leave you with this video, recorded by Hillsong at the actual Sea of Galilee. It reminds me that, when God calls you to get out of the boat, the best thing you can do is trust him and move.
For those who've noticed my absence, I'm finally back on Facebook. I shut it off at the start of March because I was preparing to go through some intense Navy training (SERE school, for those who are familiar) which required a certain amount of anonymity. After I graduated, lent had already begun, so I figured I'd just give up social media as an appropriate self-denial until Easter.
Now that I've been off of social media for over six weeks, it surprises me just how much time I was wasting on scrolling through my news feed.
During these past six weeks, I also had another opportunity to deploy for a very short time. This is of special note to me, because about a year ago I was essentially told that my deployment days were over. Due to circumstances I'd prefer not to elaborate on, my career had essentially been sidelined by the higher ups at work, so to be given even this short chance to get out and do operations again was a very welcome surprise.
I also crammed for a ham radio license exam and got my license right before I left. That was pretty exciting, considering I had almost no interest in ham radio up until a few weeks ago when I bought some nice walkie-talkies which it turns out I couldn't operate without a license. After just a couple days of intense study, I took and passed the 35-question exam on my first try (I got 34 right, no big deal).
As you can also see, I have once again taken the time to sit down and write something on my badly-neglected blog. I've spent so much time doing random things with my free time that I almost forgot what it was like to be intentional about sitting down to write, even when you have virtually nothing to say.
One thing I can say is this, after spending Holy Week in a very austere environment where I had a lot of time to read the Word and focus on God, it seems appropriate that I use the occasion of Christ's resurrection to celebrate some personal resurrections in my own life, most notably my operational career. Though I have firmly decided that the Navy is not for me anymore, I am still grateful for every opportunity to get out there and do some work that may hopefully result in a little more security for our nation. If nothing else, I got to travel to some cool places and meet some interesting people.
That's all for now. If you missed my updated pictures, be sure to check out the splash page on this blog for a few updated photos from my most recent trip abroad.
Hope to be blogging again someday soon, with God's continued inspiration and grace.
I hope everyone had a wonderful day celebrating the birth of our Lord and Savior yesterday. I spent my first Christmas voluntarily separated from my family, and it was at once both a great blessing and a very trying ordeal. Fortunately, I have some wonderful family and friends in this area who helped me to mark the holiday with all the love and cheer in the world. Despite that though, I've spent the last few days and weeks wondering whether I was doing the right thing by denying my family back home the right to spend Christmas with their whole family.
The truth is, times and seasons change in life. We can all think of one major event or another that we missed with our family, whether because of work (or in my case two deployments), or school, or financial limitations, or any other reason; there are always times in life when we wish we could be someplace else.
After all the trials and tribulations of the last few years, I'm learning to love more than ever the simple and mundane joy of just being where you are. Too often in life we wish away days, weeks, or even entire multi-year seasons of our lives simply because we think that later on will bring us more joy and happiness. The thing about time is, it never comes back to you, no matter how you spend it.
I made a conscious choice after some of the recent calamities in my life to be more intentional about enjoying the moments as they come, because God knows I could always be someplace worse. This holiday season, I just want to encourage all of you to be present where you are, because every moment in this life is an unrepeatable miracle which you can never get back.
I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. I can do all this through him who gives me strength. -Phil. 4:12-13
Live in the moment, love where you are, and thank God for everything you have.
I had the great privilege to be asked by our young adults pastor to preach the message this past Sunday during the Young Career Fellowship (YCF) bible study. YCF has been a wonderful part of my life since I started calling 4th Presbyterian Church home. We're currently on a semester-long read through the Westmisnter Confession of Faith, which was written by a group of Reformed theologians in the 1600s to establish the foundational doctrines of the Reformed movement in England. This week, I was speaking on Chapter 15 of the confession, titled "Of Repentance Unto Life."
Here follow my sermon notes:
So yeah, I didn't watch the debate last night, and could only successfully stomach about five total minutes of the previous one. Fortunately, my absentee ballot for California has already been mailed in, and neither one of these two abominations got my vote. This entire election season has proved that our democratic process is more or less a joke, from the systematic blackballing of Bernie Sanders to the never-ending train of national embarrassment which flows from the mouth of the other one, this election has proven more or less beyond a doubt that polemical rhetoric and money triumph over substance and principle in modern America.
I'm J.R., a US Navy veteran and Linguist. This blog is devoted to insights and experiences I've gained over the years.