A Seat at the Table

This article was printed in the September 2017 issue of Army Magazine, published by Association of the US Army: http://www.ausa.org.

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The Black Hawk ride from Camp Victory, located at Baghdad International Airport, down to Ad Diwaniyah covered about 120 miles. Diwaniyah was the Iraqi headquarters for the militia leader Muqtada Al Sadr, and we got there just before Operation Black Eagle, meant to rein in militia violence, kicked off. Technically, my Chaplain Assistant and I were assigned to a military transition team, but for the past three years, Camp Echo had no Religious Support Team, so our job was to establish a religious program for the installation.

One day, after two weeks at Camp Echo, I got to the Dining Facility late. There were several casualties that day, and I spent a lot of time in the medical clinic, and with two units that had lost some Soldiers. I was tired and hungry, and finding an empty seat was difficult. Several units were at our forward operating base to assist with the operation, and many of the visiting Soldiers were in the dining facility.

Locating a vacant spot, I placed my tray on the table, but before I had a chance to sit, a Master Sergeant next to the empty chair growled in my direction, “No officers welcome here.” I doubt that he noticed the cross on my uniform. He probably just saw the major’s insignia on my chest, but it might not have made a difference even if he had recognized that I was a chaplain. There were three possible courses of action, and I had to make a quick decision.

• Look for a different chair

• Attempt to pull rank

•  Tell him I am an Honorary NCO

After completing a two-second strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats analysis, I came to attention, turned up my collar to reveal a Sergeant E-5 insignia, and shouted as loud as I could, “Request permission to sit at your table, Master Sergeant,” then remained standing at attention and waited.

The growler did a double-take, and his eyes got real big. “Have a seat, Sarge.”

The other NCO’s at the table were howling with laughter by now. They knew the Master Sergeant, but they didn’t know me. And they had never seen a Major with NCO’s rank under the collar. They found the whole encounter to be quite entertaining.

After the others at the table calmed down, the Master Sergeant said, “OK. Suppose you tell me why you’re wearing that rank.”

“Sure, Master Sergeant. When I was a rookie fresh out of Officer Basic, my first assignment was with an Evacuation Hospital in the California Army National Guard, where I had a great rapport with the NCO’s. When they invited me to attend their dining-in, I thought it was because they wanted me to do the invocation, but that wasn’t it. During the program, the first sergeant pinned the NCO insignia on me and gave me a certificate appointing me to the honorary rank of sergeant, making me an ‘E-5 for Life.’”

“Hmmm. And you actually wear it?”

“Yes.”

I wore the SGT Stripes invisibly throughout my entire career. When in the woodland Battle Dress Uniform, it was pinned under my collar. When we switched to the newer army combat uniform, it was velcroed under the collar. And when I wore the dress greens or dress blues, it was under the pocket flap, beneath my name. Every time I went to a new unit, I met with the first sergeant or sergeant major, presented the documentation, and asked for permission to wear the rank and be part of the NCO corps. I was always welcomed.

After eight years in the Guard, I became an Active Duty chaplain in the Army Reserve’s Active Guard Reserve program. These chaplains don’t usually deploy, since our role is administrative and training. But while stationed at Fort McPherson, GA, in January 2007, I heard that the U.S. Army Forces Command wanted to send three chaplain teams to Iraq. There were some areas that needed religious support immediately, and Forces Command gave the task to the Army Reserve.

Strong Sense of Calling

As part of the chaplain staff at the U.S. Army Reserve Command headquarters, I had trained many chaplains before they went overseas. But this time I wanted to go. We were running out of chaplains who hadn’t already deployed. But more importantly, I felt a strong sense of calling. We had Soldiers in dangerous places with no chaplain, and I wanted to be there with them, so I volunteered. It took a while, but I managed to talk my boss into letting me go.

Those Sergeant stripes were under the collar when I went outside the wire with the military transition team. They accompanied me every time I visited wounded soldiers at the medical clinic. I wore them at each memorial ceremony or funeral. They were there for the worship services, the counseling appointments, and the Critical Incident Stress Management sessions. Whenever we had incoming rockets or mortars and we gathered in the bunkers—yep, still had them with me. One time I was eating lunch in the dining facility and the sirens started blaring. In a hurry to get out to the bunker, I forgot my helmet. My Chaplain Assistant grabbed me by the collar and pulled me back inside, “Chaplain, you forgot your Kevlar!” Just then a mortar landed right outside the door. It’s quite possible that she saved my life or prevented injury. See why I love NCOs?

The day after I met the master sergeant in the dining facility, he showed up in my office. The night before, he was feisty and energetic; now he seemed sad and tired. Something had happened.

“Good afternoon, Master Sergeant. What can I do for you?”

 “This morning, I lost a Soldier . . . a close friend. I wanted to know if you’d do a memorial ceremony tomorrow morning before we head out.”

“Of course, I will.”

“And Chaps, I’m sorry about last night.”

“Not a problem, Master Sergeant. I understand.”

“You can sit at my table any time.”

It meant a lot that this senior NCO welcomed me at his table, that he wanted me to be there to honor his friend and that we had overcome the invisible barrier between officer and NCO. In 2015, I retired as a Colonel. But I’ll be an E-5 for life.

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By Wisdom a House is Built

treasure-chest-619868_1920The theme verses for the Biblical Principles of Marriage are Proverbs 24:3-4: “By wisdom a house is built, and through understanding it is established; through knowledge its rooms are filled with rare and beautiful treasures.”

The house in this proverb refers first to the marriage, and second to the family: the people residing in the home. The building, its furnishings, its decorations, and its treasures symbolize different aspects of the relationships in the home, or perhaps the character of the people in the home. It speaks of the lives, the relationships, and the happiness of the people who live together in the home.

The writer of the proverb demonstrates an understanding that in the same way people desire nice homes and nice “things” inside the home, people also desire good relationships. He uses the home as a metaphor for the kind of marriage and family that are worth striving for. In reality, the quality of our relationships is worth far more than the homes we live in.

That is why there are other proverbs that say it is better to live in a hut or in a corner where love and peace can be found, than to live in a huge mansion with horrible relationships. When the interaction between the husband and wife is good, it results in long-lasting happiness for everyone in the home. When the marital interaction is negative or painful, it doesn’t matter how nice the home is or how much money the couple has. Life gets ugly, and the relationship is headed for disaster.wood-1629185_1920

Giant Springs, Montana

dscn8486In the spring of 2004, I was in Montana on business when I heard about Giant Springs State Park, so I drove over to take a look. What I discovered captured my imagination, and I vowed that someday I’d return to investigate more thoroughly, perhaps to use the springs, the river, and the water process as a parable or a metaphor for what happens in a person’s life. That “someday” happened in the summer of 2016.

I had some free time before starting a new job, and decided it would be a good time to go back to Montana. However, I needed help. So I called my brother to ask if he’d go with me. Gene has a tremendous understanding of science and engineering, and I wanted him to help me make sense of the underground water system in preparation for the project.

When I mentioned that I’d like him to take a trip to Montana with me, his immediate reply was, “Are you looking for grizzlies, moose, bison, or what?”

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“Gene, I need you to become an expert on the underground water system in Montana, you have four months to learn it, and I want you to go there with me.”

He listened to what I had to say, asked a few questions, and told me he was intrigued and would consider going. Then, because he lives in Arkansas and I live in Florida, he asked, “How are we going to get there? A road trip?”

“No, I think it’d be a better use of our time to fly up there, do what we need to do, then fly home.”

Having worked for Boeing, Rockwell, and McDonnel Douglas for many years, Gene enjoys airplanes and flying. Yet, he wasn’t sure he wanted to spend that kind of money on some harebrained idea from his younger brother.

So I said, “Would you go with me if I buy the plane tickets?”

“Well, now! That makes it easier to decide. Yes, I think I would.”

Once my brother accepted the challenge, he dove into the project wholeheartedly. He read articles, searched online, and called from time to time to tell me what he was learning. I was doing much of the same reading, but his comprehension was keener and broader.

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The focus of our project was the water that gushes out of Giant Springs and forms the Roe River. Up until 2006, the Guinness Book of World Records listed the Roe River of Montana as the shortest river in the world. Guinness no longer includes “shortest river” as a category, but the Roe is still there – 201 feet of pure, crystal clear water.

The western sliver of Montana is west of the Continental Divide. On the other hand, Helena, Great Falls, and the Little Belt Mountains are immediately east of the Divide. Ironically, this means that the shortest river in the world flows into the longest river in America – the  2,341-mile Missouri.

The first English speakers to describe Giant Springs were Lewis and Clark, who explored Montana in 1805. The people of the Blackfeet Nation, however, had been using the springs as a winter water source long before Lewis and Clark arrived.

What continues to captivate my curiosity, though, is the decades-long process the water takes to get from the mountains, 60 miles away, to Giant Springs. I can do a lot of research online and in the library, but I wanted to see the springs, the terrain, the mountains, and the streams. I wanted to take pictures. So I had to go. And, I wanted Gene to go with me.

I drove from Florida to Arkansas and spent the night at Gene’s home. The next day we drove to Oklahoma City, and from there, flew to Salt Lake City, changing planes, then taking the jaunt up to Helena. Flying over Wyoming was the first time Gene saw the Grand Teton mountain range from the air, but with their majestic peaks jutting straight up, he recognized them immediately.

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After landing in Helena and checking in to the Super 8 hotel, we took some time to drive around Helena and get acquainted with the town. One of the highlights was seeing the beautiful Cathedral of St. Helena. Another was driving by Carroll College. Then we went out to dinner to go over our game plan.

The next morning, we drove 91 miles to Great Falls, MT, which is known as the “Electric City” because of its numerous dams and power plants. Along the way, we talked, sang, and laughed. We took pictures of mountains, rivers, geese, squirrels, and waterfalls, including the Black Eagle Falls, one of five waterfalls on a ten-mile stretch of the Missouri River as it runs through Great Falls.

When we got to Giant Springs State Park, we took pictures and read all the literature and signs we could find.

After a couple of hours at the Roe River, we headed east. I’d heard about a town called Stanford about an hour’s drive from Great Falls. My grandfather was Stanford Linzey, my dad was Stanford Linzey, Jr., and my brother is Stanford Linzey III. So I thought, “Hey! We’re already in Montana. Why not drive a little out of the way and have lunch in Stanford, in honor of my grampa, my dad, and their namesake – my brother?” So we did.

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We had a delightful time in Stanford, which has a population of about 400. We ate lunch in the Basin Trading Post, learned some of the history of the area, and saw the infamous White Wolf in the display case. Then we toured the town, taking more pictures, of course

From there, we drove up to the Little Belt Mountains to see the source of the water that flows underground to Giant Springs. On the way, we discovered a breathtaking gorge, carved by the Belt Creek. It was named Sluice Box State Park because the geographical structure looked like the sluice boxes used by miners to remove dirt, rocks, gravel, and sand. From the 1870s through the 1930s gold, silver, zinc, and lead were mined from these hills.

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We passed an old farm house that had burned to the ground, and imagined together what might have happened there. Then we continued driving deeper into the mountains, taking note of the many streams and creeks. At one point, Gene mentioned he’d read somewhere that for all the water you see above ground, there’s much more than that underground.

“Sort of like the iceberg principle?” I asked?

“Yes, similar. But not the same ratio.”

We drove south through the towns of Monarch, Neihart, and Showdown. Then, going down the other side of the mountains the road was being repaired, so we got in line and followed the Department of Transportation vehicle into the town of White Sulphur Springs and stopped for gas. After pulling back onto the road, a pickup truck sped dangerously around us, slamming on its brakes right in front of us. The driver got out and marched over to our car.

This representative of the great State of Montana was quite angry that I hadn’t waited for the escort before getting back on the unfinished road, and decided to make sure I understood what she thought of me and my driving. Screaming at me, she asked, “Didn’t you learn anything at all in high school drivers training class? Or are you blind?”

When I told her that yes, I did learn how to drive in high school, and I was not blind, but I just didn’t see any escort trucks anywhere, she escalated the discussion to yelling, berating, and cussing at me.

“I hope you have a fine day, too, ma’am,” I said as she stomped back her truck, climbed onto her throne, and slammed the door.

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After returning to the flatlands, we headed north and drove along a wide place in the Missouri River, stopping outside of Winston to photograph a lone pelican on the water. Then we came full circle to where we started the day, pulling into the Super 8 parking lot in Helena. We had driven over 350 miles that day in an effort to experience the setting and context where the water parable takes place. We had to see the springs and the mountains in person, get a feel for the distances involved, and take the pictures. Just as importantly, we needed to talk about what we saw while we were there, which brought the project to life in a new dimension.

That night, we went to a steakhouse to celebrate our time together and to discuss what we had seen and done, the places we visited. In the hotel later, we shared our pictures so we’d have duplicates, just in case my computer crashed or Gene were to lose his camera. If either were to happen, the other would still have a photographic record of the experience, which brings us back to the parable of the hidden waters and the invisible forces.

Using the story about the Madison Aquifer and Giant Springs as an allegory, we want to explore some of what goes on internally in human beings, and examine some of the invisible forces at work in each of us. Hopefully, the result will help us – and our readers – more effectively manage the things that have happened in our past, how we respond to them, and how we relate to the people in our lives. Please go with us on this journey. As we discovered, it’s a lot more fun to travel together.

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Check Your Baggage

Luggage 2When we say a person is carrying a lot of baggage, what we mean is there has been some pain, abuse, or failure in the past, and the person hasn’t finished dealing with it. We often have trouble letting go of it, healing from it, or forgiving the people involved. Whatever is in “the baggage” still has a negative impact on present-day relationships and attitudes.

There’s a Biblical Principle of Marriage in Genesis 2:24: “For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and they will become one flesh.” I call this verse the Old Testament equivalent of Philippians 3:13-14: “But one thing I do: forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.”

Spiritually, in order to fully live in the present we have to let go of the past. If we want to enjoy the Christian life and grow in the grace and knowledge of the Lord, we have to allow God’s grace to set us free from our past, and move forward in a new direction, with different habits and attitudes, forming a different lifestyle that is shaped by the Word of God and the Holy Spirit. This might entail ending some relationships and forming new ones.

Relationally, if we want today’s marriage to succeed, we have to stop focusing on previous relationships, good or bad, and live the life we are currently called to live. We can’t afford to live in the past.

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While Genesis states that it is the parents who must be left in order to form a new unity, there are others besides parents we must leave behind as well. These might include a boyfriend, girlfriend, or a previous lover or spouse. There may be a number of people and situations that have to be included in what we let go of: friends, abuse, wealth, lifestyle, job, fame, sports, or any number of things.

One couple lost a son in a boating accident. The woman drove her husband to divorce because she was unable to let go of the pain and loss, unable to heal, and unable to stop blaming him. She couldn’t let go of yesterday, so it ruined today.

House 1But it’s not only the negative that has to be left behind. Sometimes we have to let go of some positives: the good old days, a happy first marriage, the perfect job, a previous home and neighborhood, wealth, fame, or even a dream or ambition. An athlete who can no longer play is often headed for emotional and relationship disaster. A business person or a Soldier whose career comes to an end might find it hard to stop living that life and transition to retirement. Someone who loses a leg or an arm in an accident at work can have a tough time accepting the new reality, and letting go of the previous physical ability. Cancer survivors have to get used to “the new normal.” But anyone who can’t accept the new normal is in trouble. So is their marriage.

It is crucial that we understand the power of forgiveness. When we forgive, we release ourselves and others from the pain and injustice of the past. But forgiveness doesn’t happen quickly. It can’t happen quickly. It happens slowly, with a little understanding, and with some confusion. It has to sort out the anger, the pain, the betrayal, and the injustice. When forgiveness finishes its work, however, both the forgiver and the offender have been renewed, transformed, and liberated.

Forgiveness doesn’t mean there will be no scars. We typically carry the consequences of pain long after the hurting stops and forgiveness is complete. The singing group Point of Grace sings a song called “Heal the Wound.” The words of the chorus deal with scars that might remain for a lifetime.

  • Heal the wound but leave the scar
  • A reminder of how merciful You are
  • I am broken, torn apart
  • Take the pieces of this heart
  • And heal the wound but leave the scar

Water and ReedsOne middle-aged couple recognized that they still carried some of the baggage from their past, so they decided to do something about it. They had both been in a previous marriage, and still felt some attachment and affection for their exes. They also felt guilt and pain because of some of the decisions they had made early in life. They called their pastor for guidance. He suggested that they create a private ritual, during which they would identify the aspects of their past that they wanted to be free from. They also talked about how to forgive each other, and how to receive God’s forgiveness. They took a month to plan, and then went camping. The second day, they took a hike along the river, until they came to a suitable spot. They both wrote down the specifics of what they wanted to let go of. Then they read them to each other. They prayed and asked God to wash them, forgive them, and help them to let go of the past. They also asked each other for forgiveness. Then they threw their lists into the river. Watching them float downstream was therapeutic. The river represented a washing or cleansing, and they were able to start fresh, committed to each other, committed to living in the present.

To the degree that a couple is willing and able to leave the past, they have an opportunity to create a new unity as a couple. The opposite is also true. To the degree that they cannot or will not let go of the past, they will be unable to create the unity essential to growing a healthy, happy marriage.

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Marriage Seminar in Kentucky

Couple 4Linda and I are speaking at a marriage seminar in Kentucky the weekend of March 4-6. Slightly south of Lousville is a town called Radcliff, which is right next door to Fort Knox. Pastor Josh Nagel of a church called Lifeline Assembly has asked us to come. And you are invited. The focus of the weekend will be “Getting to the Next Level.”

If you’d like to join us for a fun experience that is designed to help you build a great marriage, please consider crashing the party. Here’s how you can get more information about the event.

Lifeline Assembly

Phone: (270) 351-6150

Address: 1116 South Dixie Blvd. Radcliff, Kentucky 40160

Email: lifelineag@gmail.com

Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/groups/57756292718/

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Getting to the Next Level? Yep. Every couple gets to a point in their life where they need to get away, take some time to focus on where they are and what’s become of their relationship, and then do something about it. No, not punch each other in the jaw. Our approach will be to take a few Biblical Principles of Marriage, add the results of clinical research and the best writing on marriage in the country, plus our own experience as a couple. The result is a weekend experience that’ll help you take the next step in building a great marriage.

Mapping Census 2000:  Location Maps

Designed to Help

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The first term in the Bible for couples is not husband, wife, spouse, partner, or mate. The first word for a married person is “Helper.”

After each day of creation, God looked at what he made and said, “It’s good.” But after he made man, he looked and said, “Hmmm. Something’s not good here. He needs help” (Genesis 2:18).

It’s important for both husband and wife to keep in mind that their first and most important role in the marriage is to help. It’s also a good idea to understand what “help” means and what it doesn’t mean. For example, when God made a woman to be the man’s helper, it doesn’t mean she is less important. It doesn’t mean he is the main character and she’s in a supporting role.

Throughout the Bible, God is called our helper. We see this in Deuteronomy 33:29, “The Lord is my shield and helper,” in Psalm 10:14, “God, you are the helper to the fatherless,” Psalm 46:1, “God is our refuge and strength, an ever-present help in trouble,” and in many other scriptures, as well.

In American culture, we tend to think of a helper as someone who’s less important. A good analogy would be a sidekick, a companion or colleague who is usually considered to be subordinate. The sidekick is not the hero, not the leading role. It’s a support character. But this is NOT what God had in mind when he created woman for man, and man for woman.

When helper is used in the Bible, it’s just the opposite. God is our helper, and he’s certainly not the sidekick. He’s the strong one. And this is the term used for the first woman. God has no intention of men thinking they are the more important person in the marriage. No hint that the woman is of lesser value.

The point is that in marriage, a woman represents God to her husband. Similarly, a man represents God to his wife. Each of us needs help in many ways. God is our help, but he often uses people to be his hand extended, his love expressed, his agent to help in time of need.

We need to understand this not just in theory, but in practical ways, as well. For example, next time there’s an argument or a conflict, what would happen if the husband and wife said to themselves, “My lover is obviously upset about this. What can I do to help? What words can I choose that, instead of making things worse, will actually help make things better?”

What chore around the house does your spouse hate? You could offer to do that. Does your partner have a huge project to get started on? Perhaps you could volunteer to assist, without trying to take over and be in charge.

ID-10076456 My wife is a teacher, and has a ton of books – literally! When she had to move to a new office across campus, I volunteered to spend a day helping move her books, files, and other stuff. Then a few weeks later, I took an afternoon to help her rearrange the bookshelves.

A couple of weeks ago, I was yelling at my computer because it wasn’t behaving how it was supposed to. In my desperation I called out to my wife, who stepped in and asked if she could help. YES! PLEASE! She solved the problem and taught me a few things about the software.

The fact is, we all need help from time to time. What if when we’re on our way home from a tough day at work, we turned our thoughts towards home and started thinking about the minute we’ll walk through the door, how we can be a helper to the people living there. Can our words bring healing instead of pain? Can our actions invite peace instead of strife? Can our behavior encourage rather than tear down our partner and kids?

Life is hard in many ways. Life beats us up. We need someone to come alongside, put an arm around us, and be there for us. God invented marriage so we’d have a friend to help when the going gets tough.

  • Photos courtesy of  Nenetus, Stockimages, and Ambro at Freedigitalphotos.net

 

The Safest Place in Iraq

CH 1While deployed to a small coalition-led Forward Operating Base as a chaplain in the spring and summer of 2007, I experienced the danger of war, the loneliness of being away from home, and the exhilaration of watching up close as God answered prayer, changed lives, and performed miracles. After asking to go to Iraq, I was assigned to Camp Echo, just outside the city of Ad Diwaniyah. There hadn’t been a chaplain there during three years of war. I had to start from scratch and lay a foundation for ministry.

Heat, danger, dust, and death formed the context for the ministry I was sent to do. My job was to establish a religious program. There was no chapel, no office, no phone, and no internet connection designated for a Religious Support Team. There were no Bibles, literature, or supplies. Operating from my philosophy that “ministry follows friendship,” I built relationships among the men and women, military and civilian, American and Coalition. This allowed me to be there when people were at their best and at their worst, in their strongest and weakest moments.

The Safest Place in Iraq is the story of what happened in my life and theirs. Drawing on personal experience, I created a narrative of war that is different than you’ve ever heard or read.