Why I want to be an Army Officer

Below is the essay I was required to write as part of the application process for the Army Officer Candidate school. The title isn’t mine – it’s part of the guidelines for the essay. Of course I left out certain motivations, such as “to lift up and encourage the saints who are there,” and “we need the money.”

The first time I considered joining the Army was shortly after September 11, 2001. That was the first time it became spotlessly clear to me that every individual and every organization is responsible to God, not on the basis of their capacity, but their potential. Only America could be the “world’s policeman,” so America, by Providence, is – whether we want it or not. And therefore the role of defending civilization planted itself on our doorstep. Applied to myself as a Christian man, I have a responsibility to provide leadership and protection for my family, for my church, and for my country. Continue reading “Why I want to be an Army Officer”

Need Career Advice

God’s purposes will ripen fast
Unfolding every hour
The bud may have a bitter taste
But sweet will be the flower!

The house fell through. That’s the first thing you need to know. The second thing is that we’re going to have another baby.

When Gideon was confronted by an angel with the task of throwing out the Midianites, he asked for a turn of Providence to make his path clear: He’d throw out a lamb fleece with a challenge: one night, make the the dew fall on the fleece, but leave the ground dry. The second night, make the ground all dewy, and the fleece dry. There’s been a lot said lately against the use of “fleeces” in determining the will of God, but I find that, understood correctly, a fleece can be a very useful thing. In Gideon’s case, attacking the Midianites would have been a very, very foolish thing – apart from a miracle of God. So asking for a little token miracle in advance seems quite reasonable. Of course, most of us aren’t putting our necks on the line for a miracle, so asking for a sign on the same order of the miraculous would be a little presumptuous.

But what’s wrong with taking a few hints from Providence? For instance, if God makes a path clear for you to buy a house, it seems reasonable to conclude that you ought to live there for a year or two. In fact, only sheer bullheadedness would make you even consider taking up a chance to move. On the other hand, not buying a house… makes mobility more of an option. So it is clearly possible by a house to be fleeced. Continue reading “Need Career Advice”

Smoking Flax

Every so often, our church takes a few moments for a short ceremony centered around one young man or another who is entering into pastoral ministry. So far this year, I think we’ve had three: an ordination of a current pastor, a pastor returning from our Pastor’s College in Maryland, and a pastor being sent to the Pastor’s College with the intent of training to lead a church plant. I think I can say with confidence now that no event convicts me more of my selfish ambition and pride than to witness the presentation of these men. Continue reading “Smoking Flax”

Of dwellings and duty

Hello all. Valerie has commissioned me to write a little review of what’s coming up in the next few months, because interesting times are on us, apparently all at once. Usually, I’m not allowed to write up the family news because I get stuck in the theory of it. It’s not my habit to say anything important without explaining it from the foundation up. I don’t intend to start that kind of thing now, so you’ll have to forgive me for long-windedness. However, even though it’s messy, in order to be kind, I’ll give you the scoop before the cone:

The bad news is that I am not announcing any new babies coming into our home. The good news is that we are laying a foundation for a life that is more condusive to baby-bringing. Two things are about to happen: We’re buying a house, and I’m joining the Army (reserves).

Believe me, they’re connected. The house part, I think, is easy to see as a universal good. How can owning a home be bad? Unfortunately, a universal good is not always uniformly good. For us, buying a house means that our total debt levels rise to the neighborhood of $255,000 – more than a quarter million – which is to say: a lot. And it’s not that we’re buying a mansion somewhere. About 2/3 of that will be school debt, which has been hanging like an anvil from my neck since we quit schooling. As best I can tell, there has been almost no direct financial benefit from all that educatin’. Valerie might have gotten her job as a result of her education, but the return has not been in proportion to the investment.

And this (partially) is where the Army thing comes in. I get a $20K bonus for joining. There is another potential $20K school debt waiver. That money could immediately reduce our payments in the neighborhood of $350 a month. Plus there is the pay during training, which will be greater than what I’m making at my job, and again in the event of active duty. And this is reserves, which means that, while I may be an absent father for a little while, my family stays rooted, which is important to us, particularly in the light of the house we’re about to buy.

For those who worry, my official enlistment in the Army looks to be this Friday, but basic training is likely not to begin before November, so there will be plenty of time to transition into a home before I have to leave for a time.

Now that was the bare bones report. Next comes my dreary reasoning. If all you needed was the facts, read no further; what follows is philosophy.

When Valerie and I first began to pursue a life together, from all appearances, she was the dedicated career woman, and I the hopeless drifter. Her unceasing ambition from childhood had been to become a doctor. She was enrolled in biology, pre-med. I was getting a degree in English, with the nascent idea of becoming a poet, or maybe a fantasy author. I had a memory of a desire to become a minister of some kind, if ever I got the theology figured out. Sappy romanticism was in my blood.

In fact, so romantic was I that the idea of a wife who was permanently chained to her career was ugly to me. So as we started talking about getting married, I started insisting that, if Valerie ever took it into her head to become a stay-at-home mom instead, I’d find a way to make it happen. Though I didn’t know what it meant, I meant it just the same.

Rush forward a few years. We have incurred a mountain of debt and Valerie has made a discovery: At least during the early years, raising children is the most demanding, rewarding, and absolutely vital role a woman could ever fill. (I say “during the early years” because, as children grow older, that responsibility shifts from the mother to the father. As they come into this world, the mother raises them, and the father helps. As they approach adulthood, it shifts to the father doing the raising and the mother who helps.) I ask a question: granted that it’s sometimes financially necessary and can’t be helped, is child-rearing the sort of thing that can be outsourced? Outsourcing is the process of taking relatively low-skilled work and assigning it to a secondary party that can perform it at a reduced cost, thereby freeing up time and resources that can be applied to more vital work. Is it appropriate to give over child-rearing for the greater part of the day to a secondary party so that a mother has the time and resources to pursue a career? Valerie’s answer is that child-rearing is more important for a mother to do than to pursue a career. The only time it’s right for a mom to put her kids in day care is if she has to in order to put food on the table.

That’s the sound of the gauntlet being thrown to the ground. The food on the table bit is my job. In my book, a wife should have the liberty to work because she wants to, not because she has to. Unfortunately, we have a quarter million dollars worth of ‘want to’ that have become ‘have to’ on the sly. And for the last year at least, the elimination of that impediment has been my highest, most consuming goal (save one – the reformation of my soul according to the image of Jesus Christ, the recovery of a deep devotional life. But in my mind, the two are linked considerably.)

I have got to find a way to make more money. But my options for doing so are limited. Now I need a career, and nothings coming to me. Poetry and theology aren’t exactly the big money makers. An MBA or accounting degree involve moving first in exactly the wrong direction. And lo, here is the military siting out with a solution: immediate debt reduction, supplemental pay, and the ability to acquire the sort of experience that can transition into a well-paying civilian career.

Still, joining the Army strikes a lot of people as a sort of drastic decision, especially if you drop it on them all at once. It demands long hours, takes you away from your family for extended periods of time, and then there’s the risk of physical harm. People in the Army can get shot!

It does, and they do, but Valerie and I have discussed these things for some time, and decided that the cause is worth the risk. It’s that important for her not to have to work until the kids are grown. The benefits of joining the military are high, but the diminish with time. The costs of joining are also high and they increase with time. Ten years ago, without a family, I could have joined as active duty with no constraints. Today, I may be to old to become an officer. Another ten years, and I would be too old to join at all.

Joining the army also isn’t only about income. There’s also the issue of patriotism, which I mention quietly, because it’s out of favor lately. Ten years ago, I wouldn’t have joined any branch for any amount of money. I loved my country, but not like that. I thought I could love the people and have no respect for their government. I’ve reversed that position now. I had a similar problem theologically: I thought you could love the church without loving churches.

But as I’ve been growing in my theology, I’ve come to the conclusion that God believes in government, because he desires order. He intended man to be the superintendent over all creation, to create networks and systems and economies. God established authority from the beginning, and expects us to submit to it and participate in it’s administration, rather than sliding out from under it through some anabaptist clause. Therefore I have a duty, not just to government in the idea, but to my government. This government to which I have a duty is the same government that is willing to give out generous gifts I really need, in order to fill its ranks with quality men. So it seems that the cause is doubly worth the risk.

I told Valerie that, in light of this line of thinking, I needed to either join the military or serve some time in local politics. Even though I understand politicking is more lucrative, she said she’d rather I joined army.

The Title Says it All

So my dad was offered several free magazine subscriptions that he had basically already paid for so he decided to get some random titles that looked like they might be interesting. One of the magazines he is having sent to the house is called Working Mother.

Sounds interesting right? Well, when the first one arrived I flipped through it and found it to be both intriguing and appalling at the same time. This second issue is no different.

On the cover there is a perfectly coiffed platinum blonde mother and her two platinum blond children. One boy and one girl of course and they look to be about 7 and 10. Oh, and by the way, the Papa is missing in the photo because this is about the working mother.

In the past year or so, I have come to the conclusion that you cannot be a mom and a career woman and be satisfied with your life in both arenas. You can either be the best mom or be the best at your career. It takes more than 40 hours a week to do either them exceptionally and there aren’t enough hours in the week (unless you intend not to sleep and no one can go full throttle on no sleep for long).

Now I’m not saying that a mom can’t work. In fact, there are a lot of women who enjoy their jobs and being a mom. And there are lots of women who have jobs they might not like so much but have them because of financial constraints on the family. What I am saying is that the focus and time allotment to really succeed cannot be divided between two objectives: motherhood and careerhood.

The table of contents of Working Mother really hits this dilemma on the head, or should I say the order in which articles are clumped exemplify the point. First up are the articles focused on You, then Work, and finally Family.

The main problem is found in the first focus: you. When we focus on ourselves everything else does come secondarily and even tertiarily. But I believe that our positions in which we serve others (family and church) suffer the most. Even careers don’ suffer as much because ultimately a career is also self-focused and about how I can get ahead, make more money, attain esteem, etc.

Gathering Ambrosia

Richard Hobson gives me permission to write this sort of thing:

A few weeks ago, my mother sent me a personality test. A real one – not one of those quizilla things. It turns out that I am an INFJ on the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator: An introverted, intuitive, feeling, judging type (In this case, “judging” refers to the act of making a decision, or defining something, rather than the act of condeming). We are rare birds, quite literally – INFJs are approximately 1-2% of the human population. If you have 100 friends, and I am one of them, then you might have one other friend who has a similar personality to mine, and if you know who that other person is, I really wish you’d introduce them to me because it’s getting a little bit weird over here being the only one.

The Personality Page has a list of potential career options for INFJs, starting with clergy, then teaching. Next, if you skip over the medical options which are nulled by my aversion to cutting and poking people, there comes psychology, psychiatry, and counseling, which are options I had actually at one time considered. So it seems I have been unwittingly working my way down the list. Continue reading “Gathering Ambrosia”