Monday, December 9, 2013

December 9, Monday of Week Two of Advent

To you, O LORD, I lift up my soul;  my God, I put my trust in you let me not be humiliated nor let my enemies triumph over me. Let none who look to you be put to shame; let the treacherous be disappointed in their schemes. Show me your ways, O LORD, and teach me your paths. Lead me in your truth and teach me, for you are the God of my salvation; in you have I trusted all the day long. Remember, O LORD, your compassion and love, for they are from everlasting. 
Remember not the sins of my youth and my transgressions; remember me according to your love and for the sake of your goodness, O LORD. Gracious and upright is the LORD; therefore he teaches sinners in his way. He guides the humble in doing right and teaches his way to the lowly. All the paths of the LORD are love and faithfulness to those who keep his covenant and his testimonies. My eyes are ever looking to the LORD, for he shall pluck my feet out of the net. Turn to me and have pity on me, for I am left alone and in misery. The sorrows of my heart have increased; bring me out of my troubles. Look upon my adversity and misery and forgive me all my sin. Look upon my enemies, for they are many, and they bear a violent hatred against me. Protect my life and deliver me; let me not be put to shame, for I have trusted in you. Let integrity and uprightness preserve me, for my hope has been in you. (Psalm 25: 1-9, 13-20)

32 years ago on December 3, 1981, I rose my right hand and accepted a commission as a Second Lieutenant in the United States Air Force. I had "washed out" of pilot training but I was a good enough officer candidate to request a change in training to become a navigator. I caught a break and remained at Officer Training School, completed my candidacy program, and became an Air Force Officer and aviator. It was a big day!  I got my gold bars and I was on my way to flying F-4s and serving on the staff of the Air Combat Commander's Quality Improvement team. 

I had a fairly successful military career. I flew more than 1500 hours in Phantoms in Europe, Asia, and around the United States. I was fortunate to train German and American F-4 students and served as a Flight Commander for three years. I attended Squadron Officer School, and Air Command and Staff College. My Squadron and Wing leadership nominated me to be selected as Tactical Air Command's F-4E Weapon System Officer of the Year. I won that award in 1991. I was promoted to Major in 1995.  It was a purposeful life and I was fortunate in may ways. I flew and worked with brave, talented, and adventurous pilots and navigators. I was extremely impressed by the diligence and dedication of several enlisted women and men. I thankfully never engaged in combat or dropped bombs on other human beings.

I wasn't successful at one thing though. I couldn't remain a closeted gay man and serve in the military. Ultimately,  I was outted by a colleague and compelled to resign my commission. I shamefully left the military in January, 1998, after serving for more than 17 years. It still hurts to re-live that experience. I caught another break though as I was suffering through the Don't Ask Don't Tell policy that was still in effect when I was in the military. The lawyers at Servicemembers Legal Defense Network helped me to negotiate receiving an honorable discharge. I did not retire from active duty but I maintained my Veterans Affairs benefits and returned to civilian life with some psychological and professional wounds as well as with the rights and responsibilities that an honorable discharge empowers veterans to exercise such as being eligible for VA Educational Assistance while attending seminary. 

I therefore pay attention when I observe the United States' Department of Defense and Veterans Affairs Administration actively seek to deny veterans' benefits. I become especially disturbed when I note such injustice when these veterans have served our nation with honor and suffered psychological as well as physical harm because of their military service.  I listened to a news story this morning on NPR describing how the US Armed Forces have discharged more than 100,000 veterans with less than honorable discharges over the past decade. I am willing to bet that most of these vets were enlisted personnel rather than officers. I'd also postulate that many of them were not fully informed of their entitlements prior to being kicked out. They may have been too afraid to ask. They may not have know that there were external agencies that would be available to help them with their discharge process. 

In Reed Holway's case, he became addicted to pain medications a military doctor prescribed to him while recovering from a knee injury he suffered on active duty. He was arrested for a DUI infraction and the US Navy discharged him from active duty. You can read more about  his and other servicemembers' stories. The ones that are truly horrific are the stories of young men who suffer from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder because of the mental and physical wounds they suffered during combat. Many of them tragically sought to reduce their stress through drug and alcohol addictions. Some of them were consequently discharged because of their associated criminal and/or violent behaviors. The consequences of such dishonorable discharges is that these women and men cannot access the VA's Healthcare system and are at much higher risks of becoming suicidal, remaining unemployed for lengthy periods of time, and becoming incapable of using their military service to live as a well-integrated and healthy member of society and their families. These veterans are in our midst everywhere and we either blissfully ignorant of their plight. We (un)intentionally avoid aiding them or assist them to challenge the Pentagon when the government refuses to respond to these brave servicemembers' stories and suffering.

The Psalmist in Psalm 25 pleads to Elohim and Yehovah for guidance, compassion, and forgiveness. "David" who was a leader of military forces as well as a soldier himself was certainly a jealous and treacherous ruler as well as a faithful Jew and penitent King. Perhaps he provides a biblical example for veterans and civilians alike in terms of how to best understand God's invitation for us to offer mercy and support to soldiers and their families. God's Reign in Jewish and Christian terms alike exists as a Kingdom where perhaps no one better understands the horror and consequences of war and violence than those who have witnessed and experienced it. I am reminded that it is a centurion who stands at the foot of Jesus' cross who acknowledges that Jesus The Christ truly was The Son of God. (Mark 15: 38). It is that same instance when the curtain of the temple was torn in two signifying that the boundaries between a transcendent God and humanity were forever redeemed through Jesus the Christ's sacrificial and unconditional love. 

The Cathedral Choir of The Cathedral of the Episcopal Diocese of Ohio offers this wonderful chanted performance of Psalm  25. I post it here with the hopes that my guests will listen to the words while pondering how we together may continue upon paths of righteousness, support the needs and hopes of servicewomen and servicemen who have offered their lives in military service. They have often suffered undue harm.  May we continue to seek peace rather than war, hope rather than fear, and enter into more compassionate relationships with one another as we trust in God and God's redemption through the on-going birth, life, death, and resurrection of Jesus in our lives who will soon be born in Bethlehem's stable once again.

Blessings Along The Way, Jim+

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