Tuesday, December 7, 2010

No Matter How Long it May Take us...the American People in Their Righteous Might Will Win Through to Absolute Victory

The day has come once again, that day which altered the path of this nation, which changed the course of human history. A day that shall forever live in infamy. On December 8, 1941 President Franklin Delano Roosevelt addressed congress with the following words...         (I edited a bit so you wouldn't have as much to read. Ellipsis indicate where words were removed)

    Yesterday, Dec. 7, 1941 - a date which will live in infamy - the United States of America was suddenly and deliberately attacked by naval and air forces of the Empire of Japan.

    The United States was at peace with that nation and, at the solicitation of Japan, was still in conversation with the government and its emperor looking toward the maintenance of peace in the Pacific...

    The attack yesterday on the Hawaiian islands has caused severe damage to American naval and military forces. Very many American lives have been lost...

    Always will we remember the character of the onslaught against us. 

    No matter how long it may take us to overcome this premeditated invasion, the American people in their righteous might will win through to absolute victory.

    I believe I interpret the will of the Congress and of the people when I assert that we will not only defend ourselves to the uttermost, but will make very certain that this form of treachery shall never endanger us again...

    With confidence in our armed forces - with the unbounding determination of our people - we will gain the inevitable triumph - so help us God.

    I ask that the Congress declare that since the unprovoked and dastardly attack by Japan on Sunday, Dec. 7, a state of war has existed between the United States and the Japanese empire.

    These words would come to redefine the character of not only this nation but also the very war itself. I have come to understand the significance of these words and of the events which occurred in the early morning hours of December 7, 1941 much more during this past year as I have been charged with the task of interpreting both the FDR and WWII Memorials. How does one explain such events to someone who lived through them? How does one connect such events to the lives of eighth graders from rural Tennessee? How are such events continuing to impact and influence each of our lives today? It is such questions that drive the life of a park ranger on the National Mall and it is fitting, I think, that here, as I face the final five days before my position here on the Mall is terminated, I find myself reflecting once again upon such thoughts.

    69 years ago this morning 2,402 Americans lost their lives in less than 90 minutes. Nearly half of these lives were lost on the USS Arizona alone, one of four battleships who sank to the ocean floor of Pearl Harbor that morning. Unlike many other ships lost in WWII the Arizona was destined to be more than simply a sunken relic. She has become an enduring symbol, not only of what had happened that day in Hawaii, but also as an iconic memorial to the lives that were lost, and most of all of what it is that we as a nation united around and stood up for in the greatest international crises the world has ever seen.

    Unlike anything before or sense in the history of this nation WWII united the country around a common cause. It touched the lives of everyone and the nation was forever changed when we once again emerged from the fires.
    Etched around the American flag flying at the WWII Memorial are the words, "Americans came to liberate, not to conquer, to restore freedom and to end tyranny." I can think of no better summary of what it was that we were fighting for, standing up to the powers of tyranny, ignorance, and oppression and proclaiming that indeed, all men are created equal.

    We were woefully unprepared when the war began, but as the country unified behind a common cause the nation was transformed into a powerhouse and ultimately emerged as the preeminent world power. On May 29, 1942 General George C. Marshall proclaimed that "we are determined that before the sun sets on this terrible struggle our flag will be recognized throughout the world as a symbol of freedom on the one hand and of overwhelming force on the other." It would seem as though his words have proven to be true.

    This is a day for remembering a great tragedy and a great loss of life, but it is also a symbol for a larger war, a war which claimed 404,800 American lives and more than 50 million human lives around the world. It is a symbol not only of those who died, but of all of the 16 million US men and women who served during WWII.

    As we, this holiday season, continue to face nearly 10% unemployment nationwide, as we face remarkable deficit spending and call for change and reform and congress, let us take a moment to remember what it is that this nation is founded upon, what it is that we are intended to represent, and what this day means for our identity.

    Every day more of those who served in WWII pass away from this earth. Among the most recent losses is Major Dick Winters, the commander of Easy Company made famous in Ambrose's book and Hanks' HBO production of "Band of Brothers." There are few who typify this spirit better than he. We would do well not to let what they stood for and represented pass away with them.

Monday, November 29, 2010

A Day of Thanksgiving and Praise to our Beneficent Father who Dwelleth in the Heavens

November is rapidly coming to an end and with it my time in service as a ranger at the National Mall in Washington DC. I have officially entered into my final two weeks in service. It is very strange to think that I will be leaving so soon! Many people have asked me to tell them if anything further happens in regard to the permanent positions here on the mall. Well… I don’t have much to tell. I did finally receive a notice of results which gave me my rating for the position. I did well, but it remains to be seen if I did well enough. And nothing further has been done with the position since then. The supervisors have yet to receive a list of names, so I have no idea if I even have a chance. I will most likely not know until after congress decides to pass a budget as, at present, it is really not possible to hire any new positions without knowing how much money is actually going to be available. So once congress decides to do something, things will move forward once again. Until then I will be unemployed as of two weeks from today.

It would be easy to grow discouraged and lose hope, but I am fighting very strongly to not only not let myself do so, but also to focus on the many things that I do have to be thankful for. And there are no shortage of those! I am blessed indeed and have come to see that very clearly in recent days. I have a splendid job that has allowed me to do some incredible things here in Washington, have been given an excellent place to live, have an amazingly supportive and loving family, and a girl with whom I am truly blessed to share my heart, just to name a few!

Appropriately this last week marked a celebration of Thanksgiving, a time of looking to Almighty God in recognition for the blessings and gifts He has lavished upon us. That tradition began during the Civil War, during a time where things looked bleak indeed, but in which President Lincoln called the nation to rise above that immediate perspective and to look upon the world on a higher plane.

On October 3, 1863 he issued the following proclamation…

The year that is drawing towards its close, has been filled with the blessings of fruitful fields and healthful skies. To these bounties, which are so constantly enjoyed that we are prone to forget the source from which they come, others have been added, which are of so extraordinary a nature, that they cannot fail to penetrate and soften even the heart which is habitually insensible to the ever watchful providence of Almighty God. In the midst of a civil war of unequaled magnitude and severity…peace has been preserved with all nations, order has been maintained, the laws have been respected and obeyed, and harmony has prevailed everywhere except in the theatre of military conflict.
No human counsel hath devised nor hath any mortal hand worked out these great things. They are the gracious gifts of the Most High God, who, while dealing with us in anger for our sins, hath nevertheless remembered mercy.

It has seemed to me fit and proper that they should be solemnly, reverently and gratefully acknowledged as with one heart and one voice by the whole American People. I do therefore invite my fellow citizens in every part of the United States, and also those who are at sea and those who are sojourning in foreign lands, to set apart and observe the last Thursday of November next, as a day of Thanksgiving and Praise to our beneficent Father who dwelleth in the Heavens.

-Abraham Lincoln,  October 3, 1863

This first celebration of Thanksgiving was followed in consecutive years by a further commitment to the same. Thus we all spent this past Thursday taking part in this celebration.

These last two weeks since last I wrote have been filled with moments of great blessing, not the least of which was spending Thanksgiving Day up at the ranch, sharing dinner with 14 other people gathered around a common table. Amongst the many other moments I could write about, a few stand out above the rest.

Today was the last bike tour, not only for me, but for the entire season. Because another ranger had to back out I was able to step in and take this final tour, a tour about Haunted History, or more simply put, ghost stories. It was great fun. I had no idea there were so many fun stories here in Washington concerning spirits, specters, and ghosts. Included amongst them are the ghost of the murdered son of Francis Scott Key warning Secretary of State Seward of an impending assassination attempt, Abigail Adams doing laundry in the East Room of the White House, Winston Churchill walking naked from the bathroom to his bedroom in the White House and encountering Lincoln standing by the fireplace, and a Demon Cat that appears at the capitol shortly before a national tragedy.

On Friday, November 19 I gave my final special program, a dual presentation  with another ranger in which I portrayed a Union soldier who had borne witness to both the Battle of Gettysburg and the
dedication of the National Cemetery. I spoke of many things over the course of the program, but by far the most moving for me was when I actually gave the Gettysburg Address, speaking the same 272 words that Lincoln spoke 147 years before on that very day with the words inscribed behind me on his memorial. Twice when I was finished I was greeted with rousing applause from the audience.

Last Wednesday I journeyed to Philadelphia with Alison for a day filled with potential for unknown adventure. We went with little agenda, deciding to let events take their course as the day unfolded before us.
And unfold it did! We went on a tour of Independence Hall followed by a visit to the house where Jefferson drafted the Declaration of Independence, and stopped by Christ Church on the way to an excellent hole in the wall joint called Nick’s Roast Beef where we ate lunch (a Philly Cheese Steak for Alison and a Philly-not-cheese-steak for me). We only got about halfway through lunch though, before realizing it was later than we thought and having to frantically pack up and run to barely make it on a special tour of the Todd and Bishop White houses (which only ten people get to visit each day).

By random chance that morning Alison had read that the Franklin Institute was free on the third Wednesday of the month, which just so happened to be the day we were in Philly. So we asked at the visitor center, but no one, not the rangers or anyone else, knew about it. By calling the institute we eventually confirmed that, indeed, it was open late that night and had free admission. Not only that, but we also found out that just down the road was the Philadelphia Museum of Art, the stairs of which are featured as the culmination of the famous run in “Rocky.” Well that was far too much of a temptation so we took a bus down to the museum, and after finishing our sandwiches from lunch along with a curious squirrel we participated in the obligatory reenactment of the running up the stairs scene and watched the sun setting overlooking the city. After a brief stop by the Rodin museum we headed over to the Franklin Institute. Contained therein we found a planetarium, a special 3D movie about mummies, a hands on exhibit about trains, a huge model of a human heart you could walk through, and a special exhibit about electricity (appropriate don’t you think?) in which you could shock each other, which we naturally had to do repeatedly.
Earlier in the day I had made a reservation at City Tavern, which we barely made by running to the tavern after the bus dropped us back off by the visitor center. We then proceeded to enjoy a lovely dinner by candlelight in the “most genteel tavern in America” as John Adams put it.  Not bad for a day of random adventure!

Sometimes when we can’t see the way ahead, the best course of action is to embrace the mysterious unknown and to find joy in the journey itself, for it is often the journey and not the destination that brings true meaning and significance into our lives.

Living always in dangerous wonder

Thursday, November 18, 2010

The Embrace of the Unexpected Opportunity

I would generally say that I truly love what I do here. There are times of frustration and aggravation, as would be the case in most any position, but there are far more times of joy and excitement, and perhaps even a deep sense of honor that I am gifted with the opportunity of doing that which I am doing. It is these latter moments that have convinced me that this is such an excellent fit for me, and the place in which I should be serving and working to bring God's kingdom to earth in tangible ways.

Most days I am assigned to work at a specific memorial and recently (due to the departure of many of the rangers due to term expiration in most cases) that has increasingly meant working at the Washington Monument. This can certainly get tiring after a while but even amidst such a routine there are still moments that shine forth. When I reported for duty a week ago after my days off I was given an opportunity to take advantage of just such a moment. The education specialist at the park had arranged a series of special programs/tours for a gifted education school in Virginia. Each day of the week this facility pulls different gifted students out of their normal classrooms and brings them together in a different setting to give them a greater opportunity to learn and expand their cognitive abilities. These 4th and 5th grade students had recently been studying structures and building methods so their teachers arranged this special tour of the Lincoln Memorial and the Washington Monument with our education specialist to learn more about them. So for five days in a row these teachers brought a different group of kids to the mall for that very purpose.

When I showed up for work on Veteran's Day I expected to be sent to one of the special ceremonies at one of the war memorials, but instead I was asked if I would be willing to assist in giving this special tour that day. After replying in the affirmative I learned that I would be solely responsible for taking 15 kids and two teachers down to the Lincoln Memorial, back to and up the Washington Monument, and then on a special walk down tour of the monument. As the last item on that list is something I have never done before in any context with visitors and I have never done anything officially with a group of school kids this was an especially interesting opportunity.

It proved to be infinitely better than I could have imagined. These kids were the model of elementary scholarship. I was amazed both by their level of knowledge and their level of engagement. They constantly kept me busy answering questions for the three hours I spent with them, and consistently impressed me with their quick and correct answers to questions I put to them. Since it was such a good group I tried to make it as special as possible, taking them around the back of the Lincoln Memorial and pointing out things I would not normally have shown them, and especially emphasizing how significant it was that they got to walk down the Washington Monument. As previously mentioned I have never given a tour of the interior of the monument, but thankfully I have paid attention to little bits of information picked up here and there and have a pretty good working knowledge of both the construction methods and the stories behind many of the commemorative stones lining those interior walls, and was able to pull it off.

An unforeseen and unexpected request turned into a wonderful opportunity to help establish a connection to these symbols of America that these kids just might carry with them the rest of their lives.

Another similar opportunity was thrust upon me the very next day. This time I was asked to assist in giving the special VIP tour for the Secretary of the Interior. Normally a single GS-9 Ranger does this tour, but there were more people on this particular one than could fit in a single van, so I soon found myself driving a 15 passenger van around the city giving a tour of not only each of the memorials, but of Arlington National Cemetery, and the city in general. Most of the official interpretation at each stop was done by the GS-9, but I did do all the talking at the Washington Monument and at the Lincoln Memorial, and did a great deal of impromptu interpretation and answering of questions while driving and walking around. I brought in all sorts of random knowledge I have accumulated from other rangers, reading, and my own exploration as a tourist and ended up sounding like I really knew what I was talking about.

The next two days brought further opportunities for special tours, this time on a bike. Saturday was a special tour on sites and events connected with the Civil War and the month of November, a completely random idea that had never really been fleshed out. It was not until the hour before the tour that the ranger leading it and I really discussed what we were going to do, and as it played out, he did the introduction and the final stop and I did the two hours in between, taking a group of 15 visitors around the city and weaving an account of events that changed the course of the war and this nation that had ties to the month of November. For a tour that was largely put together in the hours immediately proceeding it, things turned out quite well!

Sunday provided the final installment of my four days of special tours with a special bike tour on the Gettysburg Address and the events that led to it. This time I was with the same ranger with whom  I have planned and done several other bike tours as well as the university lecture on the siege of Petersburg. We only had five people on this tour, one of whom was Alison, but we put on the full show nonetheless. We didn't get to much of the information I had hoped to cover as both of us leading the tour have a propensity to get overexcited and talk far more than we should to stay on schedule, but it was still great fun and another excellent opportunity for me to learn and grow.

With the completion of these four days I officially entered into my final four weeks here at the National Mall. While I have great hope that I will be able to come back in a permanent capacity, unless things suddenly change in the next few weeks I will be addressing the public here on the mall for the last time in this position on Sunday, December 12. Though this thought it a sad one, I also feel that I have made the most of the time that I have had here, giving my all to embrace the position and convey the significance of these stories to all those whom I encounter that they might have a greater sense of their role in this ongoing story.

Saturday, November 6, 2010

For Such a Time as This

Last Saturday, October 30, 2010 John Stewart and Stephen Colbert staged their Rally to Restore Sanity and/or fear on the National Mall. It was a major media event with people converging upon the mall from all directions. My estimate of the crowd as seen from the top of the Washington Monument was 180,000. The paper put it at 200,000. That's a fair number of people supporting the idea of restoring sanity and finding a middle way.

I fully support such a notion in concept, but I must sadly report that, having observed hundreds of the people who had journeyed to the capitol in order to accomplish such a feat, sanity was most assuredly not restored on Saturday. In fact, I was consistently amazed at the lack of sanity and even basic intelligence exhibited by many of the attendees. It was a far cry from a picture of hope for this nation.

That is not to say that sanity and hope were not evident on the mall on Saturday though. Far from it. I saw evidence of such qualities not amongst the multitudes flocking to Colbert and Stewart, but rather from my vantage point at the WWII Memorial that day. We had three honor flights come in, each bringing men who had traveled across the country to view their memorial, each a veteran of the war, coming to commune together in a shared brotherhood in celebration of the values that their service and sacrifice represented. As has often been the case before I was deeply moved as these men came to the memorial, and their attitudes and sanity stood in stark contrast to the hundreds of other visitors (nearly all of whom were there for the rally) I spoke to that day. It was a keen reminder of what sacrifice, loyalty, liberty, and patriotism look like. I have one particular image that is indelibly etched into my mind as a symbol of this nation and its greatest generation. It is an image of three brothers, all of whom had volunteered and fought separately in the war, two in the navy and one in the army. None of the three had visited the memorial before, and they came together that day, unified in a common purpose, common values, and by common blood. These men at 90, 94, and 96 years old, displayed a sanity and appreciation rarely seen in this country today.

We live in significant times. The election this past Tuesday will bear great significance in years to come, potentially helping to set this nation onto a new course. In such times as we find ourselves in, we would do well to remember moments like the three brothers at the WWII Memorial, moments of love, compassion, and brotherhood. This is a recurring theme that I have encountered in many different forms here in my time on the National Mall. This is a time of both death and rebirth. A few weeks ago I wrote about the season as a symbol death in the midst of life. I am reminded once more of the truth of that imagery and its potency in my own life.

I am potentially facing the end of my tenure as a park ranger on the National Mall, and as I look into the future I know not what will come. But I know that God has called me to this place in this time and I am going to continue to embrace what time I have remaining wholeheartedly. I continue to be blessed by the wonderful opportunities to reach out and touch the lives of others in what I do. In recent days I experienced this at both the Lincoln and Jefferson Memorials. Last week I was sent to Lincoln alone, finding myself responsible for everything at the memorial that day. It would have been easy to be bitter and frustrated and let that come through in my talks and interactions with visitors, but I instead decided to use it as an opportunity to touch as many people as possible. Exhausting as it was I saw it bear immediate fruit, as three of my programs ran for nearly an hour as visitors were drawn into a picture of freedom, equality, and unity, a vision that permeates not only the memorial, but the fabric of this nation.

A few days later something very similar happened at Jefferson. I was leaving at 1:00 that day, but was assigned the 12:00 program. I had intended to cut it short to make sure I made it back to the ranger station with enough time to leave at 1:00, but as people gathered to listen I was drawn into the moment and that program too ended up stretching to nearly an hour as I painted a picture of the birthpains of a nation founded upon the God given rights of liberty and freedom. It is a powerful story and the stars aligned that day in such a way that that particular program emerged as one of the best I have ever given.

When I did leave work I picked up Alison and went to Prince William Forest Park to hike and appreciate the wonderful colors of Autumn. It proved to be a poignant depiction of the vibrancy of life filling the world around us, filling me with a great appreciation of the myriad ways in which each of us are blessed in this life each and every day. This same feeling was intensified a few days later when Alison and I traveled along skyline drive in Shenandoah, a land surrounded by the colors of the season. We were a few days late to experience the full impact of Autumn and we arrived just in time to be hit by a rainstorm, but that didn't stop us from finding ways to experience and appreciate the wonder around us all the same. We hiked along the bearfence trail to a splendid overlook stretching nearly 360 degrees around the entirety of the blue ridge mountains and Shenandoah Valley. If I had not already believed that the National Parks were America's best idea, that view would have convinced me!

So deeply is the spirit of the park service ingrained within me in fact that when we carved pumpkins just before halloween (on a dare from Alison) I took it upon myself to carve the image of the NPS arrowhead into my pumpkin. It took a great deal of exacting care and my set of precision exacto knifes, but I succeeded in producing a passable representation.

The weather has turned here as well. Apparently on November 1 it decided it was time to be cold. I have officially switched to the winter uniform once again in preparation of cold to come. And I have continued the charge of splitting and stacking firewood in preparation for winter. Over the last several weeks I have produced a modest stack of firewood along the back wall of the house. Included in the pictures attached to this email is one of Alison having just successfully aided me in that charge as an acting lumberjack for the day.

There is change on the horizon. In six weeks I might well work my last day on the National Mall. But then again I might find myself in the position of a permanent ranger, firmly established as a representative of our nation's history indefinitely. It's hard to know how to proceed when one does not know the future. But perhaps it is in such times that we are best able to appreciate joy and wonder, best able to see the world as God sees it, to realize the roll we play in the larger story of the redemption of creation. Perhaps it is when we see the world in such as fashion that we are most sane. Perhaps much that has happened in our past has led us here to this juncture in this moment. Perhaps the many blessings God has lavished upon us have prepared us to deal with the formation of hope and restoration of sanity around us. Perhaps we were brought to this place, exactly where we are, in the roles we are in, for a time such as this.

Monday, October 25, 2010

Encountering new frontiers

There is something compelling about the mysterious, the undefined, about uncertainty and the unexpected. Something that calls to you, that draws you in, holds you close, and compels you to continue to move forward in search of an answer. Sometimes we don't even know the question we are seeking to answer, and yet we search after the great unknown, seeking the very edge of the undefined frontiers of our existence.

And if we don't give in, don't shy away, and continue along the journey we often find that the frontiers that we come across are wholly different that what we thought we were searching for when we began our quest. It is in such moments, moments of encountering new frontiers and forging new pathways that we find ourselves closest to the heart of God, nearest to understanding what it is like to see the world through His eyes, held in the majestic embrace of wonder and majesty.

Today was a perfect fall day, a day in which the sun broke out and warmed the earth, offset by beautiful puffy white clouds and complemented by a nearly full moon looking across the sky at the rising sun.

It was a day characterized by a brisk wind, consistently causing the leaves to dance in the trees, leaves in many different phases of changing colors, symbols of the path of life, not remaining static, but embracing the change and shimmering in multi-colored brilliance before letting go of the arm which has nourished them to carpet the pathways with a blanket of colorful and crunchy magnificence.

This blanket obscures the pathways, making it more difficult to see the way ahead, yet simultaneously offering a unique and splendid opportunity to walk a familiar path in a new light.

Sometimes it is only in letting go like these leaves that we can appreciate the world from a new and uniquely vibrant perspective.

On October 15 I embarked on a journey, a journey across the country to simultaneously celebrate the nuptials of a dear and familiar friend and embrace an unknown future marked by unfamiliar relationships rising up from a new path into an unknown frontier I have begun to walk with captivated heart in tandem with a new and unexpected manifestation of brilliance and wonder.

Alison and I arrived in Livermore and engaged in a series of forays into super delicious culinary pleasures, a mission which would demand our attention and allegiance for the next several days. Such forays included stops at cupcakes, ice cream, chinese food, cookies, an array of wedding delicacies, tri tip, Mr. Pickles sandwiches, afternoon tea, and a requisite final detour to in-in-out burger.

Somewhere amidst the eating we did manage to find time to attend the wedding of a dear friend along with Kristen and Corey, celebrating an embarkation upon a new and uncertain path. Perhaps the greatest highlight of the evening was the entirely unexpected arrival of an account of the journey of bride and groom in the form of a musical, designed by the musical loving mother of the bride.

Further moments of great reflection and wonder along the path included a visit to the longest burning lightbulb in history, still burning after 109 years in Livermore Fire Station #6; riding in a '68 Shelby GT 350 Cobra Mustang convertible to go get the aforementioned in-in-out burger; driving through Santa Cruz with the top down in Alison's Volkswagen Bug convertible; and wading in the ocean along the boardwalk in Santa Cruz.

Perhaps the most poignant moment of the journey was one wholly unforeseen, the seemingly innocuous arrival of an old trunk that had belonged to Alison's grandfather at the front door courtesy of closing a storage unit and seeking a new home for that which had been contained therein.

Curious as to what this unknown trunk might be I joined others in going to peruse it to see if entry might be gained. As soon as I encountered the trunk I noticed it had the appearance of a WWII era foot locker, and was instantly intrigued. The quest to gain entry being successful, I soon found myself looking at a complete set of WWII uniforms of a US army infantry captain. The foot locker included the full sets of pants, shirt, coat for each variety of uniform, along with the appropriate hats and belts and numerous other accouterments. It was like walking into a miniature museum right in front of me and finding a pathway covered in a blanket of beautiful and wondrous leaves, leaves out of history, growing into tangible reality before my eyes.

It is not when we follow the safe well marked path that we come to value and understand the life we live, but rather when we find ourselves immersed in wonder and mystery that we encounter unforeseen frontiers that open our eyes to a new and greater appreciation of the value of footlockers rising out of the leaf strewn pathway.

Monday, October 11, 2010

New Seeds of life amidst the impending approach of death

Autumn has arrived! Despite the fact that the forecast high today was 87, the wonderful season of fall has officially come. The trees are beginning to change, which for me, having spent most of my life in Phoenix and San Diego, is a rather unique and exciting phenomenon. Except for today, there is a bite in the air as the fingers of winter begin to reach out to take hold of the arms of summer and draw all of us toward her embrace. The world is changing around me and I am blessed to see it happening as I spend the majority of my days outside in the midst of it.

This is a beautiful season, a season filled with wonder, joy, and fun, but it is also a season marked by the contrast of life and death. This is a time of transition. It is a time in which we move from vibrant green life to barren cold death. The luminous days of summer are fading into the long cold nights of winter. The life that blossomed in spring and came to fruition in summer is now beginning to fade. The green that has so dominated the landscape is beginning to disappear, replaced with a cornucopia of color as a grand display of what will soon be a loss of leaves altogether, as warmth and life is sucked away by the cold fingers of death. Is it not strange then that a time marked by such a transition can be a time of so much joy and wonder? Even as we are surrounded by the telltale signs of the approach of the grip of death we are immersed in the glory of life.

In the end, it really becomes a matter of perspective. Autumn can be seen as such a time as I have described above, but it can also be seen in a different light. It is a time of the seeming fading of life, but perhaps the approaching death is not the end of the story. For though we know well that the cold darkness will come, even as the light fades we know with certainty that it will return. Even as the leaves fall from the trees we believe that it is not an end in itself, but rather a time of changing, a time of preparation for a new chapter, that come spring, new life will bloom and rise forth from the very branches that will soon be so barren.

When we look beyond the impending hold of death we see this, not as a time for sadness and mourning, but rather a time of celebration and wonder. It is a time of appreciation and understanding, a time of maturing and setting in motion things that will grow and develop later.  It is a time for reflection and letting go of things we have been hanging onto unnecessarily. It is a time of stepping back and seeing the heart of how things really are, of stripping off the outer canopy that we might better understand the foundation and supporting branches that lie underneath. It is an opportunity to see and appreciate the seeds of new life amidst the impending approach of death.

These seeds can take many different forms and are what is produced by the seeds might not be at all what we expect. This past Saturday was a day marked by such seeds for me. It was a day marked by unexpected blessings and moments of wonder and fascination. It was a beautiful celebration of the glory of Autumn.

The day began with my arrival at work before the sun had deemed it worthy to appear. I loaded up the necessary equipment and headed down to the Korean War Veterans Memorial where I encountered a group of people who were willing to rise before the sun to give of their time to wash and beautify the memorial so that others might draw greater appreciation and significance from it. I am always impressed by the selflessness of those who come and do the wall washing, but was especially taken with this group. They were all connected with the Air Force and the Pentagon and not a single one of them had ever done this before. One man had heard about it, contacted the park and arranged for a day for them to serve, and then made the opportunity available to his peers. More than twenty of them came out to join me early Saturday morning.

One woman spoke to me about her dream of being a park ranger and wanted to know how to go about pursuing it. As that is a rather pertinent topic in my own life I was able to help her out. Thankfully the announcement for the permanent job on the mall had closed the day before so she could not apply and get hired ahead of me because of her veterans preference! Another man had come with his father who was visiting from out of town. His father had recently retired after serving in the air force for 27 years and when the son mentioned that he was thinking of coming to wash the memorial the father insisted that he come along as well, as a way of honoring his brothers in arms who had paid the ultimate cost of freedom and given their last full measure of devotion in Korea.

It was a touching moment to stand and watch these people serving with no thought of reward, no intention of recognition, but simply because they wanted to honor the lives and values represented by the memorial. In the midst of a place dedicated to honoring the fallen there arose a beautiful and vibrant seed of life, the very seed that so many were willing to fight and die for in a land they never knew, for a people they never met.

After washing the wall I was sent to help open the WWII Memorial. It was well that I was there because in the hour and half I was present at the memorial five honor flights came in. I was once again nearly overwhelmed in speaking to these men, many of whom were living out a dream of visiting their memorial for the first, and likely the only time. One man came to the window and wanted to search for his name on the registry but didn't know how. I helped him do so and when his name and picture were pulled up on the screen there was a light that took hold in his eye. He was a B-17 pilot who flew 25 missions over Europe, emerging unscathed and coming back home to Oregon. As I was walking through the memorial a little later I spoke to another man and when I asked him where he had served he told me in the Pacific. I asked if he had been on a ship or on the ground and he held up the nametag hanging around his neck which bore a picture of him dressed as a naval ensign at age 19. He was a radio operator, the man who received and transmitted all pertinent communication to and from the ship. Tears filled my eyes as he spoke about sitting on his ship off the coast of Japan waiting for the order to strike in August, 1945 when word came over the radio of the bombs that had been dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki and then of the subsequent surrender of Japan. He told me of the sheer joy with which he both received this information and subsequently communicated it to his fellows. For him it was a source of great hope and joy, a seed of new life planted amidst a world of death and destruction.

For many of the veterans visiting the memorial is a source of great hope, honor, and life. They are often greeted at Reagan National by people holding banners welcoming America's heroes and escorted to the memorial in their buses by motorcycle groups of Vietnam Veterans such as Rolling Thunder. On Saturday one group from Tennessee was joined by a trumpeter from the President's Own Marine Corps Band who played taps as the men gathered around the column representing their state. I witnessed this as I stood at attention myself saluting the American Flag, nearly overcome with emotion. That was not the only playing of taps that took place in the time I was there that morning. Another man, a veteran himself, who has been playing taps for 65 years came in and asked to play by his state's column. His tone was not the best, the sound warbled, the timing wasn't quite right, and it was one of the most moving, touching, and gripping renditions of taps that I have ever heard. It is truly amazing how significant these memorials can be for so many people. It certainly gives me a greater appreciation and value of the life that I live to bear witness to such moments.

My day did not end at work on Saturday though. I actually left early in order to attend the National Apple Harvest Festival just outside of Gettysburg, PA with Alison and her roommate. It was an absolutely perfect activity to participate in on a beautiful fall day. We arrived just in time to watch tractor square dancing. Yes, I said tractor square dancing! Two pictures are attached to give you some idea of what this looked like. Definitely a unique experience! We went on a bus tour of the orchards in which we got to pick an apple directly off the tree and take it with us. We consumed a delicious array of apply foods including apple sausage, apple butter, an apple fritter, apple cake, an apple doughnut, apple pie, and apple cider. Plus I left with a peck of apples and a jug of apple cider. An excellent apply day!

I also learned something I did not know about apple trees on the tour; you cannot predict the type of apple tree based on the seed you plant. If you take the seed out of an apple and plant it, there is no way of knowing if you will get the same variety of apple you removed the seed from, or something different entirely. The only way of controlling the type of apple that grows on a tree is through artificial influences like budding and grafting. The seeds one plants will produce life, but you won't know the variety and flavor of that life until it produces fruit.

After leaving the festival we stopped by a roadside stand and acquired pumpkins (pictures attached) before heading back into Maryland to visit the Lawyer's Moonlight Maze, the largest corn maze in Maryland. The theme of the maze is iron man and the entire thing is shaped like iron man himself. Go to http://www.lawyersmoonlightmaze.com/Welcome/Home.htmlto see an aerial picture. We arrived just in time to watch "Iron Man 2" as it was projected on a stack of hay bales. Following the movie we entered into a two hour adventure of successfully navigating our way through the inner depths of the maze, triumphing in our successful identification of all 18 hidden checkpoints and emerging as victorious conquerors as an excellent end to a wonderful day celebrating the beauty of autumn. It was a day of joy, of fun, and understanding. A day filled with moments of great appreciation of the seeds of life found amidst the impending approach of death that surrounds us.

Friday, September 24, 2010

Peace Like a River

The word peaceful is rarely one that we would use to describe the movement of water in a river. And yet it is common to associate peace with a river in our minds. But if we stop and think about it, is it the peaceful lazy portions of the river that we tend to find most fascinating? Or is it rather the turbulent uncertain sections where the water is breaking upon the rocks and cascading through gorges that we are drawn to? I know that for me it is unquestionably the latter.

The awesome power of water is significant to behold. We have only to look at places like the Grand Canyon to see the powerful changes that can be wrought by water, the way that a "peaceful" river can forever alter the landscape that it passes through.

I was reminded of the power of water and the value, beauty, and wonder of turbulence this past Wednesday as I sat overlooking the Potomac River as it passed through the area known as Great Falls several miles north of Washington. This area is clearly marked by the passage and turbulence of water. It is a region filled with evidence of the sheer undiluted awesome power of water. It is also an area of unspeakable beauty, wonder, and majesty. It is an area of peace, of quiet, of tranquility, and of reflection. But it is a peace that comes only as a result of the turbulence that has preceded it.

It is the turbulence that shapes us, that forms us into who we are, that brings out the beauty and wonder that otherwise might be hidden inside of us. Without the crashing tumultuous power of water the area of Great Falls would be quite unremarkable, but with it, it is a place of inspiration.

It is easy to see the effects of tumultuous and tempestuous turbulence in that kind of setting, but much harder in our own lives. When turbulence comes across our path we tend to shy away, if not run as fast as possible in the opposite direction. And yet, it is often the case that we cannot fully appreciate the beauty and the wonder either around us or within us without it.

I was reminded of this at Great Falls as well. As I sat with Alison, overlooking the river from the heights above, watching a falcon soar on the breeze and the water cascading through the gorge the sky began to rumble. The rumbling quickly grew into a full symphony of booming acclamations, culminating in lightning crackling across the sky as thunder cracked directly above us, jolting me in surprise.

Most sensible people would have ran for cover, knowing what would soon follow. We, however, stayed exactly where we were, continuing to watch the water, and the sky changing around us, welcoming the rain as it soon came falling down upon upon us. It was a glorious moment, a transcendent experience, a divine kiss, a breath of the eternal caressing our souls. And it would have been missed entirely had we run from the tempest as we are often wont to do.

When I was told seven weeks ago that I would be cut at the end of September I quickly did all I could to take advantage of what appeared to be the final opportunity for me to give special programs here on the mall. That action has resulted in a very busy schedule for me over the past several weeks as I have been engaged in giving some kind of special program nearly every weekend day this month. I have my final program coming up this weekend, culminating a fascinating month of learning and teaching what I have learned to others. It has been and continues to be a challenge not to be overwhelmed at times, but it has also been a splendid opportunity to capture moments of divine inspiration.

With the exception of the last couple of days (when it has gone back up to the mid-nineties with high humidity) the weather has been superb this month, so I have been trying to take advantage of any possible opportunity to be outside and enjoy it. Thankfully my job involves me spending a substantial amount of time doing exactly that!

One of the best examples of taking advantage of the wonderful weather came not through work though, but rather through a splendid opportunity to enjoy Lord of the Rings in a rather unique way. On the night of September 11 Alison and I joined hundreds of other people on the lawn of Wolf Trap Center for the Performing Arts in their presentation of "Return of the King." The film was shown in HD on a huge screen, underneath of which sat an orchestra, who played the entire score live as we watched the film. It was absolutely brilliant! I thought I loved both the movie and the soundtrack before, but I came to a whole new appreciation for both that night.

September 12 was that Nation's triathlon, a race in which more than 5,000 people competed. It was mass insanity down on the mall that day and I found myself right in the middle of it as I was stationed at FDR, which is just south of the area they were using to stage the race. Though there were thousands of people in the area, very few actually came through the memorial and ever fewer were interested in talking to a ranger, but I had two particularly memorable interactions that day. The first was when a young woman saw me and immediately identified me as the ranger who had given a talk she listened to at Lincoln two days previously. Her friends then inquired, "that's the guy?" and told me that she wouldn't stop talking about that program. They were surprised to see me at FDR instead of Lincoln and even more surprised to learn that I knew about that memorial as well, quickly asking if I could give them a tour. I proceeded to do exactly that and after an hour as we came to the end of the memorial they asked me if I could just come with them for the rest of their trip.

A little while later when I came out to give another talk I encountered another young woman and her family. She had just completed the triathlon, her fifth in the last year. As they were from New York they were especially interested in FDR and the way that the things he did while president are continuing to impact our lives today. What could have been just another standard talk turned into a wonderful conversation on a splendidly beautiful day.

Last Friday was the 148th anniversary of the Battle of Antietam. In recognition of this anniversary I gave a special program on both that day and the next on the significance of that battle in shaping both the outcome of the Civil War and the identity of this nation. I did it as living history, telling the story from the perspective of a soldier who had viewed the reality of the battle, and rather than running away from the carnage, was inspired to continue to fight, embracing the new vision of freedom and equality that began to emerge from the fires of Antietam.

The program was rougher than I would have liked. I simply didn't have enough time to prepare for it the way I wanted to. But even so, there were moments where a connection was made, a connection between a moment in history and the country we live in today.

On Sunday I gave the same program that I had on September 11, a program centered upon "moments that defined a revolution," moments in which not only the revolution itself, but the nation that was born from it came to have a new and distinct identity. I had thought that the program went well when I gave it the first time, but what happened last Sunday entirely eclipsed any program that I have done before.

I gave the program three times, at 11, 1, and 3 that day. The first program (including questions) ended at 12:52, giving me just enough time to grab a drink of water before giving it again. The second ended at 2:38, giving me about 15 minutes to use the bathroom and eat lunch before the final program. That time I didn't end until 5:26, nearly an hour after I was supposed to leave the memorial to head back to the ranger station.

Something clicked, something connected, something drew people in to what I was speaking of so much that they stayed and talked with me for two and a half hours. Amidst the busy turbulence of life we experienced a moment of transcendent beauty on the steps of the Jefferson Memorial, a moment which superseded any other needs or issues, a moment of understanding and clarity as to who God created us to be.

That last presentation I gave that day was, bar none, the most effective and thrilling presentation of any kind (sermons, lessons, programs, lectures, tours) I have ever given. Something happened, something that emerged from the turbulence to create a moment of wonder. There is power in dynamic force of turbulence, uncertainty, and the storms that so often surround us. Power to shape, to change, and to uncover that which we could not see before, allowing us to appreciate and understand in entirely new ways.

There are many uncertain storm clouds surrounding me at the moment. The long awaited permanent announcement finally came out. The long months of waiting are over. That is certainly good news. The bad news is that it really doesn't help me much at all. It is released all sources to everyone across the nation and there is not one single question of the 84 being asked that is specific to this park or that gives me an edge because of already being here. That means my only chance to be competitive is to have an incredibly descriptive and compelling resume that addresses each of those 84 questions in some fashion. So that too is clamoring for my attention as I attempt to do anything I can to make myself look like I should be hired for the position.

I don't know what will happen here. The way the job is announced does not look good for me. The way I see it, it will take divine intervention for them to even see my name. So that is exactly what I am praying for.

But either way, no matter what may come, I know that through the tumultuous storm beauty and wonder will emerge on the other side. I know that if I embrace the shaping power of the flow surrounding me that something new will be drawn forth to shine as a previously unseen beacon of light,a light that shines only if I am willing to let it be uncovered through the formative action of the peace of the river.

Saturday, September 11, 2010

With a Firm Reliance on the Protection of Divine Providence

This is the ninth time I have sat down to write a message on the anniversary of the events of September 11, 2001. A lot has changed in the last nine years. Much has changed on an international level, much has changed in this nation, and much has changed in my own life. In many ways each of these elements are distinct, but in some, they are intimately intertwined. As I reflect on my own journey over the last nine years I am reminded of my role in the larger picture, the larger story, the story of America, the story of planet earth, and the story of God. 

When I first sat down to write this email I was a sophomore at Point Loma Nazarene University in San Diego. I was seeking to find and establish my own identity in the midst of a nation searching to redefine its own. I write here today from a computer in the basement of the Jefferson Memorial, writing from an American icon in the heart of our nation’s capitol as a National Park Ranger, charged with interpreting and giving meaning to the American identity.

My perspective has certainly changed in these last nine years. It has greatly changed in the last year alone. A year ago I wrote this email sitting in the back of my truck in the shadow of Chimney Rock in Nebraska before spending the remainder of the day following the steps of the pioneers on the Oregon Trail. It is a fitting symbol for my own journey across the country that has brought me to the heart of the United States of America with the charge of bringing meaning to the same.

Much has changed in this city and this country since 9-11. In many ways we now live in a different world. The significance of what has changed since September 11, 2001 is very evident in my daily life here in Washington in a myriad of ways. Every time I walk up to the Washington Monument I have to take a circular path alongside walls built to keep vehicles from approaching the Monument and pass through security before actually entering the Monument itself. Much about the approach to the Capitol, the White House, and many other Federal buildings has been changed as well. It is strange to think that a single event can have such a dramatic effect on a national identity.

There is great power in an idea, and the idea that we, as a nation, are vulnerable to attack is a significant influence on our approach and policies to issues ranging from immigration to celebrating Independence Day. 

Ideas are what this nation is founded upon. Ideas centered upon the unalienable axiomatic rights shared by all citizens of humanity. This is not the first time that events that occurred in September  have influenced the course and identity of this nation. On September 11, 1777 the American army successfully stood its ground against the British at Brandywine. Although the British ultimately won the fight, the American defeat was a result of poor intelligence rather than poor fighting ability and it proved that we, as Americans, could and would stand up against the most powerful military force in the world. Eight days later, on September 19 Johnny Burgoyne launched the first of two attacks against Horatio Gates along the Hudson River that would culminate in the surrender of Burgoyne’s entire army on October 17, proving that we could not only stand up and fight, but that we could win.

Four years later Washington launched a coordinated attack against Cornwallis at Yorktown on September 28, leading to the surrender of Cornwallis three weeks later. That action effectively ended the military action of the Revolution, a sentiment which was made fact two years later on September 3, 1783 with the signing of the treaty of Paris. Four years after that the now united states came together and successfully produced the great compromise, a document we now know as the United States Constitution, officially ratified on September 17, 1787.

At this point you may be asking why I am telling you all of this. What does the American Revolution have to do with September 11th anyway? Everything. It has everything to do with it. Writing in June of 1776 John Adams stated that,
           "Objects  of the most stupendous magnitude, measures in which the lives and liberties of millions, born and unborn are most           essentially interested, are now before us. We are in the very midst of revolution, the most complete, unexpected, and remarkable of any in the history of the world.” 

It is this revolution that has come to characterize and bring definition to the identity of this nation. It is the unity that came out of this revolution that was so intimately touched by the events of nine years past. It is this revolution that causes us to believe that an attack upon one of us is an attack upon all of us. It is this revolution that gives meaning to the symbols of America across this nation.

I have been immersed in American History for the last eight months, not only reading a great deal, but also being privileged to see much of it first hand. Among the many things I have seen include both the Pentagon and Ground Zero in Lower Manhattan. It isn’t just a distant picture in my mind any longer; it is something tangible, that I have seen right in front of me. But I think the greatest and most lasting significance is not to be found in the physical locations of the attacks or in the details of the events that took place nine years ago, but rather in the impact that these events have had upon the American psyche.

Yesterday as I stood at the top of the Washington Monument directing people as they exited the elevator I noticed that five of the men that were exiting were dressed in the attire of a firefighter. I looked closer and saw that the patches on their arms bore the letters FDNY. I had the opportunity to talk to two of these men and asked them what brought them to DC. I was expecting the answer to be something about 9-11. Instead I was surprised to hear that they had come for a softball tournament that just happened to be this weekend. They went on to tell me that, though could not be in New York, they had gone to visit the Wounded Warriors at Walter Reed Medical Center the day before and would be at the Pentagon today.

Both of the men I was talking to had gone into the WTC towers that day. Both had risked their lives to save others. The one guy was stationed at a firehouse in Lower Manhattan in the immediate vicinity and was among the first to respond. He was the only one of the members of his engine company that walked away from ground zero that day. That was a deeply sobering thought. Here was a man standing in front of me for whom the events of 9-11 will be forever associated with sacrifice and loss, not only for the nation as a whole, but in the midst of his own brothers.

This is not a distant chapter in our history books. It is a deeply personal and life changing tragedy for many Americans. So let us remember those who lost their lives nine years ago. But let us also remember that it is but one chapter in a larger story, a story of a people united together in common purpose, through great adversity, in the sight of God.  

As George Washington put it,
           No People can be bound to acknowledge and adore the invisible hand, which conducts the Affairs of men more than the People of the United States. Every step, by which they have advanced to the character of an independent nation, seems to have been distinguished by some token of providential agency.

There is a higher purpose in the values upon which this nation is founded. I don’t mean to say that Americans are God’s chosen people. Rather that as representatives of these values we have an obligation to both hold true to them and to bring them into tangible application. There is nothing more important that the unity of the common bond of humanity, uniting us together as a free and independent state firmly relying upon God and his values as we seek to live them out in support of one another. That, like our fathers before us, “with a firm reliance on the protection of divine providence, we mutually pledge to each other our lives, our fortunes, and our sacred honor.”

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Touched by the Breath of Heaven

It is often the little moments in life, the moments in which the touch of a whisper brushes against our cheek or the soft breath of a kiss caresses our skin, that we are truly changed. There are times that God works in torrents, but it has been my experience that it is far more frequent that he works through gentle drizzle. It is not the situations we find ourselves in that define who we are, but the way in which we respond to them, the way in which we allow such moments to reach within us and permeate our being, transforming the way in which we view the world we live in.

I have been blessed by several heavenly "kisses" in the last few days, moments that transcended time and space and for a moment transported me out of myself and into a different way of looking at the world. It is so easy to miss such moments, but they are always there if we have the eyes to see them.

This past Saturday I rose early to drive down to the mall in the dark in order to be out at the Vietnam Wall at 6:00 to meet a group of volunteers that had come to wash it. It would have been easy to focus on my fatigue that morning, and had I done so I would have likely missed out on a whole series of moments that touched my soul that day. As I drove a golf cart in between the WWII memorial and the reflecting pool I glanced East and as I did so brought the cart to a stop so that I could get a better look at the site that greeted my eyes. It was just before dawn, with just enough light to bring peace and solace, but not enough to take away from the majesty of the WWII Memorial and Washington Monument as they were lit up as beacons in the darkness. I was entirely alone. There was not another person in sight. The moment was for me and me alone. It was a majestic picture of sacrifice and love as they rose out of the darkness up to the heavens. In that moment I knew that I was resting in the hands of the father.

When I arrived at the wall I remained alone. It was not until I was laying out the second hose that two men walked up. For a while it looked like they were going to be the only ones there that day. Eventually several others did come, but it was a smaller group, which meant that I was able to actually assist more directly than usual. As the sun rose into the sky over the United States Capitol that morning I held a brush in my hand, scrubbing a panel that bore the names of more than 500 men who never came home from Vietnam in 1968. The rays of the rising sun lit up the panel as it was covered in suds and as it was washed clean by the streaming water it glistened in the light of a new day, a day of hope, a day of beauty, a day that was marked not only by sacrifice, but also by a new birth of freedom.

After we finished cleaning the wall I returned to the ranger station whereupon I was sent to open up the WWII Memorial that day. When I walked out to give the 10:00 talk I was met by a wonderful older man who told me that he had served on the ground grew for American Pilots flying out of England from 1942-1945. He was joined that day by both children and grandchildren and I had the pleasure of leading the whole family through his memorial. It was one of the longer talks I have given there, coming it at just over an hour and including a discussion of the bas relief panels that lined that Atlantic side. I chose that side because I rightly figured it would mean more to him. It wasn't until I got partway down the wall that I remembered that one of the panels on that wall portrays the crew of a B-17 gathered around the bomber just after it had returned from a mission. I was about to begin to describe the panel when I thought better of it and asked him to talk about his experience instead. He spoke of the B-24s he served and the 214 missions they flew into France and Germany, and what it was like to see the boys come back safely. The panel wasn't just one more sculpture in a memorial any longer. It was a window into his story, the story of a man who had brought his family with him to see through that very portal and glimpse the role their father/grandfather had played in the story of America and of WWII.

That same day I was sent to FDR to help cover the 12:00 talk. This time I had a family of four who were so interested that although I tried to keep the talk down to less than 30 minutes, held me engaged for more than an hour, helping them to see how that era fit into the larger story of America. The combination of those two moments made it abundantly clear to me why I am here in this place, doing what I am doing.

I went from work straight to the Capitol Hill Baptist church to help move food and supplies for a wedding reception. Upon arriving at the reception hall I was drafted into helping with food preparation, finding myself helping to cater a wedding for people I did not know, joining with Alison and others from the church in serving in a way I never had before. I have been to a lot of weddings and seen them from quite a variety of perspectives, but that was unlike anything I had seen before. I felt like Cinderella as I snuck upstairs to get a drink or to bring a new bowl of fruit out to the guests of the wedding. Sometimes a change in perspective helps to understand ones own position in life a little more clearly.

I remained with Alison far too long that evening and slept very little before having to rise once more to work at the Washington Monument all day. Not only was I working my normal 8 hours there though; I was also going down to work another 5.5 at the capitol for the Labor Day concert. I didn't know how I was going to make it through the day. By chance I happened to be assigned to "relief" duty that night, which meant I simply had to wonder around and talk to the concert attendees and help to relieve any rangers at the entry gates if they needed it. That meant that I not only got to watch and enjoy the entirety of the concert, but also that I was able to view much of it along wish Alison and other friends who were there. It was a beautiful evening and the music included the theme from "Apollo 13," music from "Exodus," a tribute to hollywood that included 20 different films, and the Raider's March. It was like a concert designed to bless my soul! This Saturday, on September 11, I am going to go to Wolf Trap and watch Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King as it is projected in high definition on a giant screen while the entire score to the film is played live.

Sometimes amidst the exhaustion and fatigue of life we find moments of great blessing in which the breath of heaven brushes against our consciousness and lifts us up to a higher plane of existence. Life is filled with such moments if we have the eyes to see them.

Great Moments with Mr. Lincoln

I had intended to write this email a week ago, but have not succeeded in actually finishing it until now. So I apologize for the news being a little dated! There will be a second email about more recent events coming in the imminent future as well! 

The last weekend in August was characterized by some great moments with Mr. Lincoln (images of the "ride" at Disneyland anyone?). I actually worked at Lincoln on August 26th, 28th, and 30th so my life really was centered upon that memorial for a few days! Though I was working at the same location each of the three days brought very different experiences. 

The first talk I gave on Thursday was to a pretty large group (about 25) which included three folks that had come from Washington state across the country to visit Washington DC for Glenn Beck's "restoring honor" rally on Saturday. I spoke to them briefly before the talk started and they not only stayed for the entire thing, but also made a point to talk to me afterwards. The conversation was not unlike others I have had following programs I have given, but it stood out to me largely because of how deeply moved the one gentleman in particular was. The first thing he said when I approached me after the program was to ask me if I had every taped the program. When I responded in the negative he told me I needed to video it so that my grandchildren would one day be able to see what their grandfather had done and the impact that I was having upon this nation. It really took me aback and I took it to be a significant compliment. 

Apparently he was quite moved by what I had talked about. The talk had gone nearly an hour and my throat was very dry so I went to the back room to get a drink and sit down for a few minutes, but I had only just sat down when I heard a knock at the door and found the same man outside telling me that had some other people that needed to hear my talk. I followed him outside and found three women that he had brought with him into the chamber so that they could hear what I had to say. I put aside my fatigue and immediately engaged them in conversation. I ended up talking to them for about 40 minutes, but very little of what was spoken of was actually my normal "talk" at Lincoln. We covered American history from the birth of the nation through the Civil War and they seemed to be very happy with it as a whole. It was a great way to start the day!

I was at Lincoln again on Saturday, but it was quite a different experience! That day was the day of the aforementioned rally and I found myself right in the midst of it. I was stationed on the steps on Lincoln and spent the day telling people to keep moving and not stop in the walkway and trying to keep things under control. It was actually surprisingly tiring! There were people absolutely everywhere down there that day. The event itself started on the lower plaza moving East to the Washington Monument, but there were thousands of people in the area surrounding Lincoln as well. None of these people, myself included, could actually clearly here what was said from the stage though. I could hear them talking and saw both Beck and Palin very clearly, but could not distinctly tell what was said. So I really have very little impression on the message of the day in terms of what was actually proclaimed from the stage. 

It was very interesting to see the event from the perspective of a ranger though. The crowd was a very good crowd. There were no significant behavioral issues, which is rare in a group that large. The number of people is hard to calculate, but it was well over 300,000 by all estimates. That is a lot of people on the mall, though nowhere near the number that were there for Independence Day or other large events. I rode my bike into work because I knew the metro would be crazy, and even on a bike had a hard time making it in. When I went down to Lincoln to officially take my post I was quite disappointed with what some of the attendees were doing though. The whole point of the event was to focus on restoring honor to this nation and specifically honoring our forefathers and honoring veterans. Many of the people who showed up Saturday morning were too concerned with their own needs and desires to bother about honoring the memorials to the very people they were there to honor. There were people seated all along the wall at the Korean War Veterans Memorial, which is clearly a restricted area, disrespecting the veterans by attending a rally to honor them. Other people had gone right past the cones blocking their way to go and hang off the urns of the Lincoln Memorial in another clearly restricted area. So I and the other rangers had to exert a great deal of effort to dislodge people from these and other areas and to try and get people to respect the memorials and what they stand for and not be concerned only about themselves. 

Beck and his team also dramatically failed to prepare for the crowd. They had speakers and jumbotrons up, but very little water. The people in charge of the water that they did have refused to give it out to people who needed it, which was a significant mistake in the heat of that day. They also failed to have nearly any medical aid anywhere, and none at all in the area between Vietnam and Lincoln, which meant that we were completely swamped with medical casualties of the rally. So many people fell victim to heat exhaustion and dehydration that the Vietnam Memorial kiosk was turned into a triage center with at least seven rangers, including all of our EMT's down there trying to give people aid and get them to the ambulances, which were having great difficulty making it through to the area. 

People did do a good job of picking up their trash and taking it to the cans, but there were no provisions made to deal with it, which meant that there were tremendous mountains of trash all along the reflecting pool simply left behind for the Park Service to deal with. Amongst the trash I counted no less than 40 perfectly good chairs that people had simply abandoned and thrown away rather than take them with when they left. 

So yes, it was a significant event, but I couldn't help but see the way that Beck and his people neglected to prepare and how the federal government that he was preaching against had to pick up the slack. And I couldn't help but see the irony in the  people coming to honor the founding fathers and ideals of this nation and the men who have died to uphold them by disrespecting the memorials to those very same people and the demonstration of American materialism demonstrated by the abandoned chairs, which are now residing in our landfills. Still, definitely a powerful experience to bear firsthand witness to the event. 

And then on Monday I gave what turned out to be some of the best programs I have ever given at Lincoln, connecting the memorial to the larger story of the journey to define equality and freedom in this nation, and using the rally to illustrate the story continuing today. It was a busy and exhausting weekend, but one that was filled with great moments in the shadow of Mr. Lincoln.