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”

Ambitious discontent

My greatest difficulty at present is that I am afflicted with too many ambitions. In the past 24 hours I have:

  1. Wanted to be a college professor,
  2. Felt called to prison ministry,
  3. Wished to start a Christian high-end grocery store,
  4. Debated whether to join the Army as enlisted or an officer,
  5. Imagined starting a young married couples ministry at my church,
  6. Re-structured my morning devotionals (twice),
  7. And planned a novel series.

Every one of these was a serious consideration, and not a passing whimsy. It’s like I’m suddenly seven again, except that I was never like this, even at seven.

What I can’t decide is whether this sort of ambitious discontent is from God or somewhere else.

Big Frothy Mess

I continue to be perplexed by the subtleties of the will of God. That’s probably a bad sentence to start on, but the other openers I thought of really weren’t much better.

I’ve just finished reading, at a friend’s request, a book on finding the will of God, and why you shouldn’t. It’s literally titled Finding the Will of God: a Pagan Notion? by Bruce Waltke. But it’s not nearly so bad as it sounds. He’s mostly against something he calls Christian divination – that practice of fumbling about looking for cryptological Providential hints God might have hidden concerning any major decisions – which admittedly sounds more like perusing the horoscopes than any faithful pursuit of God’s plan for your life. He also seems to be against asking God to communicate directly to you about your plans (a point on which I differ), mostly I think because he believes God does that relatively infrequently, and only on His own schedule.

The odd thing has been that, as Waltke pounds out his method of Biblically and theologically ciphering the will of God, he keeps undermining himself. And I don’t mean that he makes arguments I don’t like to support positions I don’t care for. I mean that, in the process of making a point with which I expect to agree, he makes frequent use of non sequitur and choppy reasoning. So by the time he gets to the finale of a point where I expected to agree with him 100%, he’s so bungled it that I end up suspicious of myself for intending to agree with him. It’s made it really difficult to finish the book. But finish I did, all the while dreaming of writing my own book, which says all the things he said, only… better, and in the right order.

Then I turn to the last chapter, an afterward, and everything changes. Continue reading “Big Frothy Mess”

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.

B.S., MPH, CNA, Mrs., and M.O.M.

I think I can actually say that I represent the new and improved stay at home mom. I am part of the growing group of young mothers with a good education, mountains of debt, and an intense love for being a wife, mother and homemaker. Even with the occasional fussiness there is nothing that can beat the giggles of a ticklish snugglebug who can be chewing on your pocketbook stap one minute and jumping joyfully the next.
Continue reading “B.S., MPH, CNA, Mrs., and M.O.M.”


I think I’ve mentioned before that I’m a mystic. But I’ve discovered that word makes some people, particularly non-charismatic evangelicals, nervous, so let me explain. By “mystic” I mean a person whose devotional life is characterized by intensely affecting spiritual experiences. These experiences may be in the realm of simple theological insight, or they may take more literary forms. At times they may cross over into the realm of prophecy; that is, dreams, visions, words, and phrases laden with theological context.

From a natural perspective, mysticism can come from two sources. It can be personal, or social: On the social spectrum, mysticism can be presented as something to aspire to. Some Christian traditions – the Pentecostals, the Orthodox, some revivalist traditions – present mysticism in such a way that it seems to be the only way to have a properly Christian devotional life. At the other extreme, some traditions, particularly the Reformed and Protestants as a whole, seem to perceive mysticism at best as something useless, at worst as something suspiciously unchristian, smacking of Papism, adding to scripture, even beckoning the demonic. On the personal spectrum, a person could be naturally predisposed to have certain kinds of experiences, or they could find themselves completely unable to do so, or they could be somewhere in between. (Please note that, for the sake of simplicity, I’m lumping what a person thinks about these things in with the social scale.)

The difficulty, of course, comes when a person’s natural predisposition doesn’t align very well with the tradition they find themselves in. Continue reading “Mystic”

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”

Written vs. Oral Communication: an application

As I was saying last week, before I was so rudely interrupted by the weekend, I have my own personal little conflict between talking and writing. Talk is easier, but writing is more cogent, more permanent. I have lots of great ideas all the time, nice little five-minute blasts of controversy. When my life is peaceful, these things show up here, in print. But when things are all crazy, like they’ve been for the last six months (or so), writing things down just takes too much effort. I keep having great ideas, but you never hear about them. My poor wife hears them – over and over and over again – because seeing that I can’t expurgate them by writing, I keep talking until I’m done thinking about them.

For instance, last semester, I had a spiritual encounter that was a sort of culmination of a period of thought and study on the nature and purpose of the church. This was a Big Encounter, something on the level of the call I had to go to seminary. Continue reading “Written vs. Oral Communication: an application”