Tuesday, October 30, 2007

The Future of Iraq

I sure hope not.

Courtesy of
Intel Dump.

Here Come the Holidays!

Is it just me, or does it seem like Ramadan comes earlier every year? {cue rim shot}*

The 'holiday season' is a'changing. For one, we had to rearrange the name after Ramadan moved ahead of Halloween a few years back. Pretty soon we'll see if it drops from public consciousness once it stops lining up with the major Western festival season. The liturgical year has scarcely more weight these days, so maybe we can shorten it a bit there, too, by leaving Advent and Epiphany to the traditionalist fanatics.

In any case, for now, Have a Happy Ramahallowgivingsventzaahanaksmasyearpiphany!

*If you didn't get the joke, the Islamic calendar (well, pre-Islamic Arab pagan calendar, actually, but don't tell them that) is lunar, with twelve 28-day months, so the holy month of Ramadan does actually start 11 to 12 days earlier every year in comparison to the solar calendar.

Thoughts on Augsburg

Sunday night, in quiet lonesome celebration of the Reformation, I read through the text of the Augsburg Confession. I realized, while I was reflecting on my Lutheranism, that I had never read the most accessible of its founding documents. Reflecting on it, what a phenomenal document, indeed! I could certainly spend a great deal of time reflecting on each article in turn, but I guess I'll just comment briefly on the remarkable prescience of the reformers. In Article XXIII: On Priestly Marriage, the Confession has this to say:
Many God-fearing and intelligent people in high station are known frequently to have expressed misgivings that such enforced celibacy and depriving men of marriage (which God Himself has instituted and left free to men) has never produced any good results, but has brought on many great and evil vices and much iniquity. [...] And it is to be expected that the churches shall at some time lack pastors if marriage is any longer forbidden.
This was written in 1530, mind you, just shy of 500 years ago. Granted, the Roman Catholic church has held off these twin threats for a shockingly long time, but both the fallout of "evil vices and iniquity" and a looming lack of priests are now dangerously threatening the future of the Catholic church in the West.

The other place where the reformer's vision struck me as particularly farsighted is in Article XXVIII: Of Ecclesiastical Power. I'd hate to be reading too much into this, but I don't think I'm the only one who has a hard time reading this sort of thing without making connection to the principles that underly the proper separation of church and state:
Since the power of the Church grants eternal things, and is exercised only by the ministry of the Word, it does not interfere with civil government; [...] For civil government deals with other things than does the Gospel. The civil rulers defend not minds, but bodies and bodily things. [...] Therefore the power of the Church and the civil power must not be confounded. The power of the Church has its own commission to teach the Gospel and to administer the Sacraments. Let it not beak into the office of another; let it not transfer the kingdoms of this world; let it not abrogate the laws of civil rulers; let it not abolish lawful obedience; let it not interfere with judgments concerning civil ordinances or contracts; let it not prescribe laws to civil rulers concerning the form of the Commonwealth.
It is telling, then, to notice that the reformers seemed adamant to keep the Church out of affairs of state for the Church's sake. So much debate on the 'original' purpose of the Founding Fathers in separating Church and State in America comes down to back-and-forth about who needs protecting from whom, as if the one could only be corrupted by malicious forces from the other. The reformers here demand the separation of the "power of the Church and the power of the sword" and condemn church interference in state not out of secularist outrage, but rather recognizing that wielding power in temporal things weakens the Church in regard to the "eternal things".

I realize I could go on all night about this document, teasing out the implications of each article as I see them. I don't, however, have the time or energy to do that; nor do you have the time and energy (or interest) to read it all.

Bad Astronomy

I was reminded of the Bad Astronomy website and blog by my Superior Older Sister, who today dropped me a link to a curious argument against heliocentricity. While the WYSIWYG (What You See Is What You Get) premise is an inspiring ode to empiricism with its blinders on, it's a simple fact that there are compelling pieces of real, facts-on-the-ground evidence that show that the earth both rotates on its axis and revolves around the sun. Even if you're willing to decry Foucault's Pendulum as a hoax perpetrated by a vast Jesuit conspiracy, I doubt even the Jesuits could convince hurricanes rotate counter-clockwise in the northern hemisphere and clockwise in the southern. For that matter, if he's so determined to believe Foucault's Pendulum doesn't demonstrate the Coriolis Effect and ergo a rotating earth, why doesn't he just build one himself? It's a pretty simple experiment, really. Unless he's not actually interested in truth. Sigh. Some people. Bad Astronomy does a great job of debunking this sort of mischief, including one of my favorite sub-genres of this sort of thing, the Moon-Hoaxers, as well as Bad Movies, Bad TV, Bad News, and a variety of popular misconceptions about astronomical phenomena and physics in general. Good stuff.

Sunday, October 28, 2007

Christmas Music Already

As a recently-outed Dark Lutheran, I love the fading away of the Church year, and eagerly await Advent, probably my favorite season of the liturgical year. There's something about spending four weeks celebrating in hushed and reverent anticipation, and the way the building excitement of Advent parallels and prefigures the sadness of Lent.

That said, we're two months out from Christmas, and there's already a Christmas albums display at Best Buy. At least it's overshadowing Halloween, in the music department anyway. And while it's not yet the Christmas season, I was quite excited to find Sufjan Stevens "Songs For Christmas" album for sale. For years, he's made a small Christmas album that he would give out to family and friends, and last year they were released for the first time as a 5-disc album. I had looked all over for it last year, and never found it in time for the holiday. Short story, I bought it and highly recommend it. It has a great mix of Christmas hymns and songs respectfully performed, as well as his own reflections on family and the holidays, including "Come On! Let's Boogey to the Elf Dance!" and "Did I Make You Cry on Christmas Day? (Well, You Deserved It!)". He's one of my favorite musicians, who despite working in the 'mainstream' Indie music scene has many songs which are far more meaningfully Christian than the vast majority of what comes out of the "Christian rock" music machine. Consider the album "Seven Swans" which covers topics like the Atonement, the Transfiguration, the Binding of Isaac, and a hauntingly beautiful reflection on the Revelation in the title track.

Mind Your Doors, Papists! It's Reformation Day!

Happy Reformation Sunday, friends.

Today is a good day I think to reflect a bit on my Lutheran journey. It's certainly been eventful in the last few years. I was raised in the LCMS, and from Confirmation on have been committed to Lutheran theology, as well as I understood it at that point, anyway. The liturgy and practice of the church, however, were not something that particularly compelled me in my ignorant youth. In college, I experienced the beauty and comfort of Lutheran worship perfectly performed, yet the vapidity of sermons crafted to appeal to the broadest swath of idealistic and theologically-muddled youths kept me from ever feeling fed in chapel. As a result, I ended up attending the churches frequented by other members of the (generally excellent) Bible studies I attended during the week. While one of those churches lost me early when I found out I was hell-bound due to my infant baptism, through college I generally split my time between an American Baptist church and another from the Evangelical Free nebula. Both were solidly based in the Word, but I got the Word in Bible study as well, or for that matter, whenever I felt like opening my Bible. I couldn't put into these words at that time, but I know now that I was missing the Confession and Absolution, and the Sacrament more than anything. My time in college, then, was a split between learning about Lutheranism academically in class and chapel, and learning how much I yearned for it in those other churches.

I've known what my faith meant to me for a long time; better, I've continually been in the process of learning what my faith means to me. It wasn't until I joined the Army, though, that I've really begun to learn what my theology means to me, and been struck by how much Lutherans really are set apart. With the Army so heavily drawn from the deep South, Lutherans are rather poorly represented. In the Midwest, even the Evangelicals know what Lutheranism is and who Lutherans are. For many of my colleagues, though, the only committed believers they've ever met are Evangelicals or Mormons, and their expectations are based on that. It's been very eye-opening to me, then, to be such the odd-man-out, theologically. I'm starting to get better at explaining my beliefs, but more than anything it's made me realize how much more I ought to know about my faith and my theology. So, in celebration of this Reformation Sunday, I think I'll be staying in and reading the Augsburg Confession. It's a start, anyway.

For further Reformation Day reading, see this excellent commentary on praise music from Pagans and Lutherans, and an apology (in the original sense) of the liturgy from The Rebellious Pastor's Wife.

Friday, October 26, 2007

Deadly Euphrates Shark Attacks!

Well, actually, I suppose the fabled Euphrates Shark was only deadly to itself in this case. So for "deadly" read "suicidal". Which gives way too much material for snarky comments, and I'm just going to leave that train in the station.

Web Fun

It's a terrible thing to have a web-linked computer sitting in front of me in class all day. Then again, how else would I have to chance to expore the amazing artwork of Bent Objects? I think the creepy fry-spider is my favorite. Office supplies in the wild is pretty good, too.

Also a great time, check out Steve, Don't Eat It!, a subset of The Sneeze. The rest of the site is a bit juvenile and profanity-laden, but there's some good bits, too.

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Read Michael Yon

I get a lot of questions from friends and relatives about Iraq, and more specifically, whether I, as a soldier who will soon enough be visiting myself, have any insight as to what degree the picture we get from the media accurately represents what's really happening in that country. The short answer? Not very well. At all. What I hear from soldiers who've been there suffers from the usual problems of first-hand experience: everyone's viewpoint depends on their own preconceptions and the limits of the narrow slice of the country where they themselves worked. So even soldiers can't really say what's going on in the country as a whole, though all agree that the American public is hopelessly ill-informed by the media. Watch this space, because I'm sure I'll be discussing this more as I get closer to deployment.

That said, read Michael Yon. He's been all over the country, embedding with all sorts of units and traveling beyond where the military goes. If I had to trust one man's perspective, it would be his. And he's on a mission to take the MSM to task for the criminal laziness of their Iraq coverage. Read him, support him if you can. It's important.

And on a related note, what color are alligators?

Sunday, October 21, 2007


I've realized recently that since my primary connection to the blogosphere has been through my Superior Older Sister's blog, the vast majority of my blogrow is occupied by Lutheran homeschooling moms. Not that there's anything wrong with that, it just sort of lends a strange surreality to the whole thing. Well, in the interests of balance, I've added Ramblings, courtesy of Shane, one of my 'original' Army buddies from my Basic Training platoon. Shane was also the author of My Roommate Has Bad Ideas, an absolutely brilliant blog which unfortunately had to be taken down when it became clear it ought to have been called "My Roommate Has No Sense of Humor about Himself". Someday it'll be back up in all its glory, I hope.

Correction 22OCT07: I fixed the link to Shane's blog. Don't know how I messed it up in the first place.

Friday, October 19, 2007

In Defense of Gray

I ran across an interesting little blog post today, entitled "Why Illegal Immigration is not Simple", from Called As Seen. I don't have much time for strictly political blogs these days, or much interest, to be entirely honest. This post explains a big part of the frustration that has led to my growing apathy toward politics in general and American domestic politics in particular. Our society is increasingly incapable of dealing with subtlety in its issues. Everything is being reduced to soundbite politics, with the MSM to the fore, of course, but the blogosphere is hardly better. All too often, the rise of the New Media has given people the opportunity to insulate themselves in communities of like-minded people who can then pull out their broadest brushes to paint those holding opposing viewpoints. This is, needless to say, also not healthy.

The immigration 'debate' (to give it far too much credit) is possibly the single most frustrating example. I've been asked where I stand on the immigration issue. This is of course the modern iteration of the classic yes-no question, only now it's pro-anti. Is there really no space left for people to admit that immigration is a phenomenally complex issue? National identity, balancing majority and minority rights, economics, moral considerations; with so many angles, how could a person's opinion ever fall even on a single spectrum, much less a dichotomy? Where do I stand on immigration? The short answer? I don't know. There's compassion involved: who wouldn't break the law if he thought he could free his family from utter despair and hopelessness? There's fairness, too: what about the American dreams of millions far worse off around the world who were unlucky enough to be born across an ocean, rather than across the Rio Grande? There's constitutional worries: what is the state of a nation whose states rule it illegal to enforce federal law? Don't forget economic and social concerns: exactly how many immigrants do we need to keep this country's engines running, and how many can our society manage to successfully integrate? Each of these questions, if it can be quantitatively answered at all, is only one topic in the whole sticky mess. So why can we not admit this!?

The second issue that burns me on this is Israel/Palestine. Being an international issue happening very far away, people are even less-informed of the realities and even more prone to sweeping black-and-white statements of allegiance to one party or the other. I understand that any given person will come down on one side or the other, judging one side's position more valid than the other's. I lean towards Israel, and it's a pretty mixed sentiment. I cannot abide, however, a position that casts either side in the role of insatiable aggressor and the other as the hapless victim. This is rather bold, but I simply cannot recognize as valid any position that doesn't admit some level of sympathy for both the Israeli and Palestinian peoples, as well as some disgust for the actions of the Israeli government and extremist Zionists alongside those of the Palestinian terrorist movements. Bulldozing someone's house is not equivalent to blowing him up in the marketplace. But simply that they are not equally wrong does not make one of them right.

So what's the answer to all of this? Are there forums where people are still bold enough to step back and say, "hey, maybe this is complicated enough for there to be multiple reasonable positions toward it"? Few come to mind, and those are hardly major players in our modern society. As usual, I find myself fearing for the future. At least that's not new.

Thursday, October 18, 2007

Still Not Doing Any Work

NerdTests.com says I'm an Uber Cool History / Lit Geek.  What are you?  Click here!

So, apparently I'm an Uber Cool History and Lit Geek. That's pretty much exactly what I would have wanted this quiz to say about me. Nice.


Thanks to my dear elder sister, here are Seven True Things About Me:

1. My faith, my family*, and my country are the three most important things in my life, in that order. In other news, I'm shockingly traditional.

2. My personality has been shaped by my youngest-child status to a remarkable degree. Growing up hasn't changed that one bit, just made me more aware of it. My "Me Too!" Complex is a force to be reckoned with.

3. Who I am is perhaps unhealthily tied up with where I went to college. This is a common reflection among St. Olaf alumni, which probably accounts for why so many of us end up marrying fellow alumni.

4. I've somehow managed to live in or visit many US states and 16 foreign countries for various lengths of time, and I've learned that loving places is much like loving people. Loving other places could never threaten or replace my love for home. One the contrary, it has only made me love home that much more.

5. I had to lose about 60 pounds to join the Army. Since I've been in, I've lost about 40 more. After all that, I just wish I had better advice to offer people than to run four miles a day and be hungry all the time. Certainly never going to get a book deal with that one.

6. I've given up caring what the music I listen to makes people think about me. Now I listen to whatever makes me happy. It's been working pretty well for me so far, and I can handle the bemused looks.

7. My car is the closest thing to a bionic extension of my identity that I can afford right now. I used to think I was using it for reading and relaxing because I didn't like listening to my roommate's TV. Now I've got my own room, and still I spend just as much time sitting in my car. Huh.

So there it is, folks, the Bi-Coloured-Python-Rock-Snake in seven nutshells. Also: I've successfully avoided doing any work at all on the project I came to this coffeeshop to work on. Go me!

*Broadly defined, including family, friends, and Army buddies.

Sunday, October 14, 2007

Busy Busy Busy

I'm a bit frustrated with myself that I've been posting so little recently. I hate trotting out such a tired old excuse, but I've been busy. My current course of instruction is about the most intense course I've ever taken. It's not the single hardest thing I've ever done, but never have I done something so difficult for so long without a break: ten hours a day of wanting to pound my head against the wall in frustration. Some days it takes all my ambition to go get dinner instead of just crashing out for the night right after class. God be praised, however, that I have good teachers and some great classmates, and we somehow manage to laugh our way through it all. Also, despite the frustration and fatigue, I am incredibly thankful to be among the few assigned this supplemental course in addition to the basic course. Many of my colleagues will be first dealing with this same frustration not in a classroom but in Iraq, and with soldiers' lives on the line. I do not envy them.

In other career news, I received final word on the status of my assignment. The sergeant-major in charge of recruitment for Special Operations brought up my case with the HRC (Human Resources Command) to see if there was any way to switch my assignment to a Special Forces group. Unfortunately, the 82nd Airborne is in a state of "critical need" for soldiers of my particular skill set, and absolutely cannot give up my slot to the Special Forces. On the flip side, it is a comfort to know that I am in fact going where the Army needs me, and that I didn't somehow just slip through the cracks in the system. And I need to remind myself that while the 82nd may be the epitome of the "Big Army", conventional-forces world (as opposed to the unconventional-warfare background in the Special Operations community), it is still a prestigious unit and a great place to begin a career. You don't have to look far to see that All-American combat patch on some pretty distinguished shoulders.

So now I'm starting to mull the various paths available for my career. I've got a lot of options, but all of them are going to take careful planning if I don't want to simply float with the current. I need to take my GREs, for example, and start looking at Master's programs so I'll be on track if I happen to decide to begin Active Duty ROTC as early as next fall. I also need to continue to improve my PT score, so that I'll be ready physically if special training like Ranger School or Special Forces Selection ends up being my path. All my life I've made decisions (or rather, sort of avoided making them) by simply doing everything I could to keep all my doors open, so my path would become clear once God began closing the others. It's always worked out for me better than I could have ever predicted for myself, but it's still an incredibly difficult act of trust. I suppose it's pride that leads me to wish I could just write my own script, and I am in constant need of the grace which reminds me who the Author really is.

Spice Quest

It's fall in Texas. The days are getting shorter and the workdays longer, the weather's absolutely beautiful (though still "summer-like" by my standards), and winter squash are starting to show up at the grocery store. Which I probably wouldn't have noticed, if the sight of a butternut squash last week hadn't made me intensely hungry for "pumpkin" soup like we used to eat when I was a missionary kid growing up in Liberia. I decided I would have to get the recipe from Mom so I could make some for myself and my friends. Only one problem: the spice. No, not that spice, specifically, African chili pepper. See, African chilis are an entirely different family of peppers than those most Americans are familiar with via Tex-Mex cuisine, and an African meal would just not taste right without them.

So, off I went, scouring the internet for peppers. And boy I found plenty. Literally hundreds of varieties of peppers in dried and powdered form. Peppers from Mexico, Peru, Cuba, India, Thailand, China. From Africa, not a one. Imagine, an entire continent's capsicums woefully neglected by the world of online spicemongering! I broadened my search terms, narrowed them, broadened them yet again. I brought all my internet-sleuthing skills to bear, to no seeming avail. I was nearly ready to give up in frustration when I found World Spice Merchants, out of Seattle, purveyors of everything from asafoetida to wasabi and everything in between. Including beet powder, for when your dishes need that extra kick of... beets. In any case, they also carry African pepper, so by next weekend I hope to be cooking up a big pot of pumpkin soup for dinner. I can't wait.

Besides apparently being the only source for African peppers in the US, World Spice has another interesting quirk: online sales, old-fashioned style. Consider this:
"We prefer to do business the old fashioned way and won’t be asking for your credit card information. Your order will ship with an invoice enclosed and when you receive it, simply mail us a check."
That easy, huh? Don't see that sort of trust and service very often these days, particularly not on the internet. Sort of refreshing.