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Archive for August, 2008

Ten years ago today I flew a helicopter for the last time. I logged 2.8 hours (1.4 hours each as pilot and co-pilot, as was customary practice) giving me a total of 873.2 hours in just over four years as a naval aviator. It was a functional check flight (FCF), required to OK the aircraft to full-mission status after corrective or routine preventive maintenance. I guess we “upped” the bird because I distinctly remember coming in pretty hot (intentionally) for my final landing at NAS North Island and doing an aggressive sideflare over the landing pad. It was pretty sweet! Maybe even bittersweet. I knew when I showed up that day that I had decided to resign my flight status. No one else knew, including my HAC, Kyle Taylor. For the rest of the crew it was another day at the office. For me it was a little surreal. I remember being acutely aware with each action that it would be my last ever…engine start, takeoff, taxi, checklist, log entry, radio call, etc. When I walked away that day, it felt a little anticlimactic. I had a gnawing ache in my stomach knowing that the next day I would announce my plans to my fellow detachment pilots, my det officer-in-charge and later our commanding officer. I had no doubts then and I have had no doubts since that it was the right decision for me, but until it was all behind me, it was stressful. For the next year or so, I felt pretty self-conscious every time I was in uniform. When anyone in the Navy sees those gold wings, invariably their first question is “So, what do you fly?” And the answer, “Well, I used to fly…” often began a conversation I felt awkward having. But eventually, I grew used to that part of my story.

The decision to resign from flying initiated perhaps the biggest change of life direction I’ve experienced so far. That moment has been on my mind recently; partly due to the anniversary, partly my recent high school reunion, and partly I think the fact that I’m facing another change in direction in the near future. This one (from youth ministry to seminary) might not be quite as radical a change in trajectory as that one was, but momentous nonetheless. High school, college, navy assignments, MCYM…I felt restless to move on after each chapter of my adult life. Sometimes I wonder if I’ll ever find something I’m content doing for more than four or five years in a row. I think I hope so. But maybe God’s just given me a sojourner’s heart that will keep us on the move as longs as we’re able. We’ll see. It’s been a pretty great flight so far.

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Last week at the end of our trip to the U.S., Shannon and I had the opportunity to visit Princeton Theological Seminary. Many readers of my blog are already well aware that I’ve been talking about applying to this school for some time, but for those who did not – here’s me going public with our future plans. After our visit, both of us felt sure that PTS is where we want to be for the next three (plus?) years. As this school may very well have a huge impact on the course of my life from here on out (if I’m accepted!), I figured a brief introductory post would be in order.

Princeton Theological Seminary, the oldest Presbyterian seminary in the U.S., is located in New Jersey, about an hour north of Philadelphia in the same town as Princeton University. However, it is and always has been a completely separate institution. Though I (and other folks) will commonly refer to the seminary simply as “Princeton,” it is probably not the Princeton you are thinking of. It’s a common misperception (or at least one recently held by me), that PTS split off from the University at some pont in the past. Not so. Their relationship is only geographical.

When I’ve mentioned Princeton, several friends have asked, sometimes with uneasy concern, “Isn’t it pretty liberal?” (Or as my good friend Kerry said, tongue-not-quite-in-cheek, “You know they don’t believe believe anything there, right?”) Well, first of all, I don’t know. I have liberal friends and aquaintances who seem to think of PTS as conservative. It is a PC(USA) seminary, which is generally a liberal denomination. So if there was some hypothetically objective liberal-conservative theological center point, I suppose Princeton would be to the “left” of it. But second of all, I don’t care. I’m really weary of the liberal-conservative dichotomy. I don’t find thinking that way helpful to faithfully following Jesus. And inasmuch as I feel more and more discouraged when I hear conservative people say the word “liberal” as if it was synonymous with “evil”, I’m inclined to welcome some “liberal” influence in my life.

What I do know is that the PTS grads I’ve personally known (three of them, from three different decades) are thoughtful, intelligent, joyful, fair-minded people who are passionate about following Jesus. (And if matters to you, all theologically conservative too!) Yeah, that’s a pretty small sample set, but Princeton seems to be a place where we would be surrounded by people who are commited to Christ and committed to academic scholarship. I’m excited about that. There’s more I can say about why PTS for us, but that will have to wait for another post.

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Ludicrosity

This story is a little stale as far as news of my life, but it’s too good not to record for posterity. I know “ludicrosity” is not a valid logos, but it aptly describes an experience I had a couple weeks ago right after returning from Beach Break. My regional director Otis and I drove a big yellow cargo van from Italy back up to Germany. At the Italy-Switzerland border, the border guards apprised us of the fact that we’d lost our front license plate somewhere along the way. Front plates are mandatory all over Europe. The guard let us through, but warned us that the German police would fine us if they saw the missing plate. We had a similar conversation at the Swiss-German border, but again got through the border with little hassle. So to reiterate: the law enforcement officials of two sovereign nations saw fit to let two rather disheveled Americans driving a large windowless cargo van with a missing license across their national borders without searching the van or even looking at our passports. But then we tried to go on the U.S. Army base in Heidelberg.

MCYM has a storage cage in the basement of a building in the area of the base where the PX is. There are no military personnel, offices, equipment, etc on this part of the base; just some fast food, a gas station, and other commercial outlets. The civilian security guard (after scanning our valid ID cards and searching the vehicle) flatly refused to let us enter because of the missing license plate. We would have to drive back to the main post (Patrick Henry Village – PHV) to file a report with the MP’s. “How will we get through the gate there?” The MP desk sergeant will call the gate to let you through. “Can’t he just do that here?” No – we need to go get a report form for the missing license plate.

Ten minutes later, after another vehicle inspection, we explain the story to the gate guards at PHV. They had received the call from the MP’s and they do let us on post. Otis goes into the MP station and starts the process of filling out the report for the missing plate. In his conversation with the desk sergeant, it comes to light that we are driving a rental van, not a government van. “Oh! That’s a different story! You don’t need a police report; I’ll just call the gate and have them let you in.”

“So you want us to go back to the PX and you’ll do what we wanted you to do in the first place?” Of course, Otis didn’t actually say that, but we had a good laugh about it as we drove back over the PX. After searching our van for a third time that morning, the gate guard at the PX called the MP desk to confirm what we had told him. He came back and said “You’re not going to believe this, the desk sergeant says you need to go back over to PHV again.” Fortunately, he was kidding. Unfortunately, I think I would have believed it.

Well, seeing it in print, that story is not as funny as I remember it. Maybe it was the sun and sleep deprivation.

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