Below are photos taken by my aunt when she visited the burial site of our family's ancestors who fought in the Civil War.
I started Civil War reenacting when I was 14 years old. At the invitation of our aunt and uncle, who were history teachers, our family decided to attend a Civil War reenactment in an abandoned California mining town called Calico. Since then, I've lived in Georgia for several years, where I fell in with another group of dedicated reenactors who portrayed both the 39th Georgia and the 3rd Wisconsin, depending on which side needed more muskets at any given event.
1Praise the Lord, my soul;
all my inmost being, praise his holy name.
2Praise the Lord, my soul,
and forget not all his benefits--
3who forgives all your sins
and heals all your diseases,
4who redeems your life from the pit
and crowns you with love and compassion,
5who satisfies your desires with good things
so that your youth is renewed like the eagle’s.
6The Lord works righteousness
and justice for all the oppressed.
7He made known his ways to Moses,
his deeds to the people of Israel:
8The Lord is compassionate and gracious,
slow to anger, abounding in love.
9He will not always accuse,
nor will he harbor his anger forever;
10he does not treat us as our sins deserve
or repay us according to our iniquities.
11For as high as the heavens are above the earth,
so great is his love for those who fear him;
12as far as the east is from the west,
so far has he removed our transgressions from us.
13As a father has compassion on his children,
so the Lord has compassion on those who fear him;
14for he knows how we are formed,
he remembers that we are dust.
15The life of mortals is like grass,
they flourish like a flower of the field;
16the wind blows over it and it is gone,
and its place remembers it no more.
17But from everlasting to everlasting
the Lord’s love is with those who fear him,
and his righteousness with their children’s children--
18with those who keep his covenant
and remember to obey his precepts.
Well it happened. I met my daughter Margaret for the first time, and she was more beautiful than I ever could have imagined. The bible is replete with metaphors about God as a loving and compassionate father, and while it's not difficult to understand intellectually what that means, you truly can't feel what the love of a parent feels like until you become one yourself. There is no way I can truly articulate to you how it feels to be so instantly, hopelessly, irrevocably in love until you see your child for the first time.
There is nothing that my daughter could ever do in her entire lifetime, good or bad, that would make me love her more or less than I already do. She is mine, and that makes her unconditionally loved. In the past, I've been forced to explain to my parents some of the greatest mistakes I've made over the course of my life, only to hear them say every time, "we still love you." Now that I know what it is to love someone like that, it makes perfect sense. Her actions will never dictate the level of my love for her.
While those of us who go by the title of Christian seek to spend our lives in pursuit of holiness, trying our best to become more Christlike every day, ultimately we know that there is no amount of effort we can put forth on our own to attain perfection. We all need to be reminded at times that the Christian life is not a treadmill of good works, and there is enough Grace in God's economy for every single sin. I'm reminded of that now every time I look into the face of my beautiful little girl.
Too often in life we forget that, "there is no one righteous, not even one." (Rom. 3:10) He knew from the beginning of time that we would never be able to perfectly keep the rules and laws he laid down for us, which is why from the beginning Jesus existed as the mediator who would come to satisfy the law and secure our right relationship with God once and for all.
Hopefully you will all one day share the joy of parenthood. When you do, entire passages of the bible will take on infinitely more meaning and depth than they've ever had before. You can't possibly understand what unconditional love is until you feel it for a tiny little human who is too helpless to even lift their own head, let alone feed and clothe themselves. Then you will see passages like Isaiah 46:3-4 differently:
“Listen to me, you descendants of Jacob,
You were as helpless as a newborn when God found you, unable to save yourself or even comprehend your need for a savior. Yet God, who knew you from the womb, loved you and cared for you enough to reveal himself to you by his Holy Spirit. He sustains us in our weakest and most depraved moments, and "does not treat us as our sins deserve, or repay us according to our iniquities."
Though my sins were as scarlet, he has made them white as snow.
I love you for always, my darling Margaret.
Today's topic begins with important international issues which I feel are not getting enough attention. Next, I move on to the importance of engaging on politically and religiously sensitive issues, and finally, I talk about the BIGGEST development in my life so far, and how it relates to the first two topics.
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 such an expensive university, 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 been money well spent.
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'm J.R., a US Navy veteran and Linguist. This blog is devoted to insights and experiences I've gained over the years.