The following is something I have not shared with very many people. But it has been on my mind of late and I just want to put it down on paper, so to speak.
Lately, as I spend more and more time with African-Americans, I have come to see that everyone hates them. With Denver having a booming African population, it has become clear that even, and sometimes especially, Africans hate them. Naturally, this triggers my desire to defend them. But why?
Why do I love African-Americans so much? They aren’t my culture. We have very different lifestyles. There are some similarities in worldview, but once we leave the Gospel and Word of God, there is often a terrific break. My daughter loves the church and her friends there, but as she gets older, it’s going to be more and more difficult for her to live in both the white and black worlds. Yet I persist. Why? Why? Why? Why?
I’ll tell you.
So there I was. Balad, Iraq, ca. 2008 AD. It was my third of three deployments. My squadron–the aircrew at least–was exclusively male. The lone life support troop was often female. Can you imagine it? She’s half-way around the world, all by herself. Not all by herself, of course. She’s surrounded by men in their most primal environment. At this point in my story, you can probably guess that she was African-American. And she was Christian. I noticed this right away. The LORD was her rock.
One evening, she was with us at our dinner table. She ate quietly. The conversation was loose and the jokes were filthy. One of the more senior officers couldn’t seem to avoid vulgarities. Some might say he was in rare form with this woman present. It was like he was a fly and dick jokes were the light. He’d tell a story, and then the next would be worse. I kept looking towards her and I could tell she was not happy. I just wanted him to give it a rest. He didn’t.
When we returned from dinner, this woman went back to where she worked. There, for at least ninety nights, with no days off, she diligently cleaned and prepared all of our helmets, survival radios, vests, and most importantly the night vision goggles. She was the definition of mission-essential. She did this all by herself–save for when one of us would grace her with some attempted pleasantry.
Something inside me would not let the dinner scene go unaddressed. So I got off the couch and took a moment to walk over to where she worked and struck up a conversation. I said, fully expecting an explosion of gratitude, “If I was more of a man, I would have put a stop to the conversation you just had to listen to at dinner.”
I remember her stony eyes more vividly than her words, but I do remember that with great resolve, she said, “Would you have?” Then she repeated it, “Would you have?”
What about you, reader? Do you possess enough penetration to see my mistake?
She didn’t want some empathetic friend. She didn’t want some “we’re all in this together” moment. She wanted righteousness. And the fact that I admitted that I knew it was wrong, made me more guilty, more unrighteous, than my boss.
This young woman had something most of us don’t recognize and are unable to do anything more than talk about if we do see. It’s something only got by experience. It’s something that’s forgettable–but that would be a tragedy.
The more you hate on her, the more you kill it. And for what?
I don’t know. Maybe that might help you understand why I love African-Americans and think you should too.
So I was at the gym last night, getting my “swole on,” as they say. I happened to notice some sort of drone racing on ESPN. Apparently there is a Drone Racing League, or DRL. Looks fun.
Then the announcer described the action and said, “Here you can see how the pilot has to…”
(Lifting up glasses to wipe tears away while slowing calming down)
I fought in Iraq.
Not often, but sometimes while I was there I felt a unique-to-me sensation which I later determined to be my body’s response to feeling afraid-for-my-life. For me, this kind of fear feels similar to run-o-the-mill crying. But whereas everyday crying feels localized to my face and eyes, afraid-for-my-life doesn’t leave any part of me untouched–plus it is many times more intense. Put another way, I might say crying cuts like a scalpel, afraid-for-my-life cuts like a semi-truck.
That said, as I keep reading about these attacks, I hear the interstate. What about you?
Maybe you don’t think you’re smart enough to see what is going on. It’s not that difficult. If you can read, you can get it.
Here’s what I could track down as the formal response of some of the West’s leaders. One formal statement is different from the others. Can you discern whose it is and how it is difference? Or do you need pictures?
Germany – Merkel: “We have to assume it was a terrorist attack.”
Russia – Putin: “This is a shockingly cruel and cynical crime committed against peaceful civilians.”
America – Trump: “Our hearts and prayers are with the loved ones of the victims of today’s horrifying terror attack in Berlin.”
America – White House Spokesman: “…we stand together with Berlin in the fight against all those who target our way of life and threaten our societies.”
Poland – Szydlo: “…with pain and sadness we received the information that the first victim of this heinous act of violence was a Polish citizen..”
London – Khan: “My thoughts and prayers are with everyone affected by the awful suspected attack on Berlin last night…”
Can anyone explain to me what Khan means by “suspected”? Does he not know what “an attack” is? Does he not know that even if it turns out to be the equivalent of a Columbine or Sandy Hook mass-murder that it is still an attack? Is he really asking us and expecting us to withhold forming an opinion?
What about you? Are you with Khan? Am I being silly? Does he seem reasonable to you? Should we put our ability to match like-with-like on hold? Also, who is he praying to? Allah? The same god that the “suspected” attacker prayed to? How does that work?
The Gospel of Jesus Christ is only path to victory. For H-‘s sake, do not believe the lie that the war is against flesh and blood.
Our God’s Word–the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, the God who loved the world so much He sent His son Jesus the Christ to die for us and whom He resurrected on the third day, this God and no other–could not be clearer: For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.
Do not send our children to fight flesh and blood. Instead, turn off the television and fulfill your calling and proclaim the Gospel. In our day this looks like ensuring and insisting the people in your life know that Our God is not their god. This begins with you knowing this is the case. Do you know this? Do you know our God? Do you know Jesus? Really know Him? If you have any doubt, then track down a “Christian” and ask them to remind you what the Gospel is. If they don’t seem to know, or if what they say doesn’t sound like good news, thank them for their time and find another one. (Christian churches are a good place to start…)
You know that a movie is no good when it’s available for free in high definition on the internet one month before it is in theaters. I actually have a theory about these things. You can’t tell me that all the big movies, like Furious 7, have some special agreement within their production team to not leak a copy early to the internet and that the lesser movies aren’t able to form this sort of solidarity. So my theory is that certain movies, even ones with A-list-ers, are purposefully leaked so the studio or powers that be can get a feel, or more properly, brace themselves for the box office flop that they already fear they’ve produced. Niccol’s flick Good Kill starring Ethan Hawke is just such a movie.
If you haven’t heard of the film that isn’t due in theaters until May 15th, it’s essentially American Sniper, except that it’s about an USAF drone pilot instead of a Navy SEAL sniper. But all the familiar themes are there–estranged wife, alcohol abuse, PTSD, questioning the war, suspected adultery on all sides.
Naturally, I watched the film because it’s about something very close to home. When I worked shifts in the operations center overseas, I watched “predator-vision,” as they called it, and saw little black missiles zip from the top left of the screen onto the astonishingly unsuspecting bad guy. I heard knuckleheads cheer in a way that made me uncomfortable, though I was never certain which of us was expressing the proper sentiment after witnessing such things.
I’ll tell you what my favorite part of the movie was, the movie that no one should watch (it really is terrible and boring and filled with an agenda that is not hidden anywhere close to well enough to be powerful), my favorite part of the movie were the scenes where the camera lingered–perhaps unintentionally–on shots of the six or seven trailers that were essentially the cockpits of the unmanned aircraft. There was just something about the idea that in the middle of the desert in an unknown location, Air Force personnel are sitting inside tan double-wides and sniping terrorists seven thousand miles away. It’s difficult to articulate my feelings about it, but especially if the director lingered on purpose, I think those scenes are the “a picture’s worth a thousand words” that define the issue (or whatever we’re calling it.)
In the end, I don’t know why I watch these movies and I’m probably going to call it quits soon. Hollywood’s proven they can get insider information and make a realistic movie, but Good Kill is just another example that despite this access they have nothing valuable to say on the matter.
The planet’s Earth-like gravity had an unexpected welcoming effect on Mission Commander Stevenson as he stepped out of the craft. This was the forty-first world he had visited on this particular eighteen month mission. He hadn’t shared with anyone yet that it would be his last. He was sixty-four years old and while his mind was never sharper, his body was starting to say no.
NASA probably expected him to call it quits sooner rather than later, but he knew they would be sorry to see him leave. Not the first mission commander to make a career of exploring new galaxies, he hoped he would prove to be the most steadfast. He had personally stepped foot on six hundred thirty-five extraterrestrial worlds. Not one of them contained life.
Oh, sure, he had had plenty of R and R back on Earth between missions, but it was all beginning to wear on him. As evidence of this, to a person, all the other astronauts could even deliver his famous “one complaint” speech–accent and all–verbatim.
Month thirteen, almost to the day, he’d say, “For someone as fortunate as me, someone who has seen the glory of the cosmos up close and in person, to complain would be criminal.” The imitator would then pause, just like Stevenson always did. “But I am human. I do have my own thoughts. And if I had to pick one thing that I would change about the program, it would be the gloves! I have spent over half my life feeling the inside of a pair of gloves. Every celebratory hug we’ve had after discovering we got a chance to live on after opening the door, every rock I’ve lifted, every flagpole I’ve planted, every tool I’ve used, everything has felt the same. I just wish something could be done about that.” Every newbie expected the speech to end at that point and just about interrupted the old man as he continued undeterred, which made it all the more amusing for everyone else. “I miss the feel of a woman, the feel of a Christmas tree, the feel of not quite warm enough shower water. Most of all, I miss the feel of dirt–my dirt.”
As he looked back for the others to join him on the ritual first walk around the new world, he unconsciously reached for the fastener on his glove.
I started writing the posts that make up this book April 20, 2012 after serving for eight years as an Air Force Captain and pilot. The most common response readers give is a smiling, head-shaking look of disbelief that is sometimes sprinkled with joy. What no one has said–but I’m confident all feel–is that after reading these posts, after reading this book, they know they are not alone. And that’s the truth. You are not alone. And the only way to get there is together.
The first Transformers movie will always have a special place in my heart. Instructor pilots of mine piloted the MH-53 that was the movie-opening Decepticon “Blackout”. Michael Bay even hand chose the pilot that marked me “unsatisfactory” once to be the hologram that “piloted” Blackout and later had a scene in the police car that interrogated Ladiesman217 (Shai LaBeouf).
I need a minute.
Okay, back to the review. Then came the second and third installments. Admittedly they were less than inspiring.
Then number four lost LaBeouf, but gained Marky Mark. Not interested enough to see the film in the theater, I started watching it four weeks ago, and finally finished it yesterday. Why did it take so long? And why did I persist, you ask? Because Optimus Prime riding a T-Rex Dynobot only happens once in a lifetime. And because that darn scene didn’t occur until the 133rd minute in the 165 minute film. But I still got goosebumps. It is awesome.
Here’s what some reviewers said about number 4 on Rotten Tomatoes:
“In the end, though, this is still a movie about giant robots fighting each other, which is to say it’s nearly impossible to take seriously on a narrative level.”
“Inflated, interminable and incoherent …”
“Transformers: Age of Extinction is simply more of the same mindless action, flat characters, and utter boredom that we’ve come to expect from these bloated mechanical sequels.”
And my personal favorite:
“Transformers have souls, this movie repeatedly tells us, but does Michael Bay?”
Know what I say? I say Michael Bay has a soul and it is the soul of a genius. Stay with me. I began watching this movie after listening to H- play for hours on end with a Beauty and the Beast doll set. The set included Belle and a few dresses, the human prince, and a Beast suit to put over the prince. (She hasn’t seen the movie yet.) These three characters became Belle, Belle’s father, and Beast (never mind he doesn’t have legs). And soon thereafter a lego character entered the mix so that it was an even two-on-two. Good guys became bad guys; characters that died came back to life; Beast was always asleep in the moments before only he could save the day. You know I love this child, but listening to her play can be mind-numbing.
Now, I can memorize a two hour movie’s story-line after one viewing, yet can’t follow, let alone repeat, H-‘s story-lines. Michael Bay, on the other hand, can. If you watch Transformers 4 as if you’re watching a four-year-old holding the actors and robots alike and performing all the voice acting, then the movie is perfect. Simply perfect. All the characters are yelling, injured, needing help, fighting, crying, whining, dying, or repeating some cheesy line they probably just heard the day before on TV. Even the scene where the boy and girl kiss after the victory seems like a child is forcing the two of them together while saying, “Mmua, Mmua” and thinking, “Eww gross”. The poor kid knows kissing is what happens when good guys win, but doesn’t understand why.
The genius of the movie and what the critics forget is that it is quite literally a movie about toys in the first place. Perhaps it is the 2007 installment that should be viewed as the fluke. But now with the fourth installment we’re finally getting to the heart of why Transformer toys and Transformers 4 are so great. And all these nay-saying critics probably don’t recognize that when they got big, they became the guy from Big who thinks that there’s something fun about a building that turns into a robot.
For the pilots. (And Greeny.)
Raccoons might be taking over the world. That is, unless roughnecks hear about the story.
To a roughneck nothing is impossible. So when I heard that the raccoons that Japan imported for fun have multiplied out-of-control and are about to destroy thousand-year old buildings and that there’s nothing that can be done about it, I pictured a roughneck. Clear as day I saw the same face I see on the rig every time I express doubt that something can be done. The face has eyes that are lit with excitement and a mouth whose left-half is pursed together while its right half is barely open in a smirk. And though a still image, I can see that the face is mid-nod and I know that the next words that come out of that face will be a confident, “We’ll get ‘er done.” And they do.
Since day one on the job I have been nothing but amazed at what roughnecks can accomplish. And you know me, I thought I had seen mountains move while serving in the Air Force. So that got me thinking. Who is more capable? Pilots or roughnecks?
It hardly seemed a fair comparison at first, what with pilots winning wars in hours and making ladies swoon by simply getting dressed in the morning and all; but the more I witnessed roughnecks at work, the more I thought back to a lot of pilots I knew that might not make the cut as a roughneck–I know most days I fall short.
Here’s the thing. I love that I get to say that I’ve done both–love it. But there’s something else. The other day I brought the paperback copy of this blog to the rig to prove to the fellas that it existed. Now, these men are not Luddites, so they’d read the posts about them. But one of them, you’ll read about him soon, was very excited to share the stories with a man who didn’t know about the blog. And so this young man started to read aloud in the change house (locker room). I had to hold back tears of joy. The pilots that are reading know why. Most of you know why. And that makes pilots more capable. But hey, even if I’m wrong and roughnecks actually are more capable, I still win. I love that type of competition.
The reason to attend college is debatable. It shouldn’t be. Let’s clear the air.
College, if you’re lucky enough to go, is simply the place to finish out the “how to be human” training we began in kindergarten. It is not, nor will it ever prove to be, a kind of vocational training ground. But that is what a lot of people seem to believe it is. My question, the question this post asks, is why? Why is college now discussed as merely a part of our professional development, as opposed to our human development? Perhaps more important than that question is this one: what can be done about it?
Lucky for all of us, I have the answers: College became known as a place for professional development because the baby-boomers found out they actually had to work for a living, and the resultant anger they felt clouded their subsequent decision making. Poor decision making led to them not wanting to accept or own the fact that the America they grew up in did not happen by accident. The question about the future is, of course, one that I can and will answer, but it is one that we all have to answer for ourselves. Do things have to get worse before they get better? Some seem to believe that. Or can we just start making things better right now?
It’s a given that I had the least military bearing of any of my peers in the Air Force, but even I still recognized the value of “Integrity First, Service Before Self, and Excellence In All We Do.” I’m sure the other branches have some similarly applicable ideals to guide their decision making.
In other words, we should never forget that college is the place where we learn how to be human. Being human entails getting along with people who are different from us.
Veterans know what it’s like to not get along with people who are different from us, and therefore must accept the new duty of re-enforcing college’s mission. But there is more. Veterans must not shirk the responsibility of reminding the country of the value of values. Unfortunately for veterans, then, it seems the fight never ends.
I’ve been thinking a lot about you recently. While I’d love to report that my memory of you grows fonder as the years pass, quite the opposite is true. To begin, I want you to know I feel like you took something from me. I think you took something I didn’t even know I had it until it went missing. I’m talking about care. And concern. Care and concern for things. Take work for example. How am I supposed to believe anything that is not life and death is worth spending energy on? Of course I’m capable, and of course I’m qualified. But the drive to ‘fight the good fight’, when it isn’t a fight, is gone. I think you took it.
I also feel like I’m not sure how people expect to be treated. While we were together, everyone was equal. It was beautiful. During missions the mission was all that mattered. Everyone checked their feelings at the door. Now, people’s feelings are the mission. Every experience since being with you has included not only completing the mission, but making the person feel like the mission was completed. Instead of results, people want to purchase experiences. I just don’t understand it. I know you don’t either.
Lastly, for now, because of what you taught me about what’s important and what’s not important when lives are on the line, taken together with the depth of the learning experience, I can’t shake the appearance of having a large ego. It’s like I’m expected to just forget all the lessons you taught simply because not very many people ever learn them. The trouble is, as you know, I couldn’t forget your instruction even if I wanted to. With you, there wasn’t endless debating. There was action. There was doing. Indecision was an enemy. Now, decisiveness is a detractor. It doesn’t make sense.
You know I love you, right? Don’t you? At the same time, I just can’t help wanting to blame you either.
In the end, I guess I really just wanted to say “Thanks” and “No Thanks”.
PS – This is just a little thing, and I don’t know if it’s you or just flying that is responsible, but I’m not loving how I can’t pass up a bathroom without feeling like “Might as well. Who knows when the next time I’ll have a chance to go will be.”