Sunday, April 29, 2018

Why you matter

Do you matter? And if so, why? I read a physicist’s answer to that question once. He said that when the universe formed 14 billion years ago, matter and antimatter collided and burst into energy, then reformed into matter and antimatter and then did it all over again until, for reasons yet unknown, there was no more antimatter. The universe, he said, is made up of all the matter that was left over after all the antimatter had been destroyed. The difference in amounts between matter and antimatter was no more than one percent.

You matter, he said, because you are matter.

Well, maybe, but I doubt that answer is very consoling in the dark of the night. Here is a story, a parable if you will, of one evening on a Chicago commuter train.

It was about 10 o’clock one weeknight when three young tough guys, full of swagger and threat, boarded a car. There were not many riders aboard at that hour – a young woman clutching a grocery sack, a tired-looking, middle-aged laborer leaning against a support bar, not even looking up, a few others. As a leopard sees which gazelles are weak, the young punks scanned the car for prey.
They saw an older man, maybe 70 or so, in a gray coat and tie, not Brooks Brothers but not off the Goodwill rack, either. He was seated in the next section, reading a folded newspaper. And so, laughing loudly and shuffling noisily, the punks approached. The leader stood before the suited man and punched his newspaper.

“Hey man!” he yelled. “You’re sitting in my seat!”

When the man looked up, the young punkster was somewhat surprised that his face and eyes registered alert awareness, but not fear. So the punkster glared at him more threateningly.

The gray man spoke. “Well, I’d better move, then.” He pulled his paper back, folded it with care, placed it under his arms, and stood. “Pardon me,” he said kindly to the punk leader, and placing the back of his right hand gently on the young man’s sleeve, he pressed lightly to the side and stepped across the car. There he turned and sat, unfolded his paper, looked at the punkster, smiled slightly and said, “Please, have your seat.” Then he set his eyes on the newsprint and said no more.

The young punk stood there for a moment, slightly shrugged and sat down. The two gangster sidekicks with him sat on either side. “Well, what a bunch of losers we wound up with tonight!” said one, much too loudly and to no visible effect on the dozen people in the car. Then he stared at the gray man for a long moment. “And I think you’re the biggest loser of all.”

The gray man returned the gaze and shortly simply said, “Very well.” Then he began reading again.

The punk leader leaned forward. “Hey man, I’ll give you a real reason to be afraid!” Several people nearby glanced nervously. “You hear me?”

The gray man folded his paper into his lap. “No,” he said, “you may give me a reason to be concerned. But not a reason to be afraid.” Then the gray man did the most unexpected thing. He stood, stepped to stand in front of the sidekick and said, “Excuse me, but I’d like to sit there for a moment.” The sidekick snorted, “Man, stuff you!” or something like that, which evoked a comment from the gray man to the punk leader, “Would you mind, only for a moment?”

“Shee,” the punkster said. “I ain’t afraid of you.” To the sidekick he said, “Get up.” Wordlessly, the glaring young man arose and the gray man sat. “Well?” said the punkster. “I ain’t got all night.”
Looking directly at the punkster, the gray man said, “I am no match for you and I know it. If you want to wipe up the floor with me I can’t stop you. But you don’t know what to about me because you live with fear and I don’t.”

“What you mean?” came the answer. “I said I ain’t afraid of you! You talking stuff, that’s all, old man.”

“I know you are not afraid me of me, nor should you be. You are not afraid of anything inside this car. But I didn’t say you were afraid. I said you are full of fear. Not of anything in here. You fear what’s out there.” He waved his hand toward the darkness outside.

“Oh, yeah?” the punk retorted. “What do you think is out there that I am so afraid of?”

“Nothing,” the gray man said simply. “That nothing is all there is. That when you have finished walking down the path of life, there will not remain even a footprint to show your passing.” The punkster stared at the gray man, working his jaw, his eyes flashing. The gray man continued. “Nothing fills your soul because nothing matters. And that is your fear – buried so deep inside you that you hardly know it’s there, the fear that you don’t matter, either, not at all.”

It is the unique invention of Judaism, passed on to Christianity, that individual human beings matter personally to God. No other religion in the world teaches that.

One might think that Islam says that Allah cares for and about human beings just as Judaism and Christianity say, but no, not even close. A Muslim author wrote, for example, “The Quran states that Allah is as ‘near to man as the jugular vein’” but this is not an assurance of comfort but of threat. In Islam, Allah remains unknown, unrevealed by the Quran, which consists of admonishments and commands but says almost nothing about Allah himself. Allah is entirely separate and unconnected to human affairs except through the giving of strict laws. Allah remains a mystery; he does not make personal, self-revealing approaches to mortals nor seek fellowship with them. Muslim jurist Samuel Solomon wrote that Islam is not a personal religion at all. Islam claims no knowledge of a self-revealing and self-bestowing of God.[1]Allah commands, Allah judges, but the Quran says Allah loves only those who obey him and explicitly says he does not love non-Muslims.[2]Allah demands not human love but submission, willing or unwilling, either will do. As one Muslim author states, “We can know nothing about the nature of God except through [his] commands … .”[3]

In none of the Eastern religions is there the notion that individuals matter in any transcendent way.  The present life is viewed as a curse from which escape is desirable but almost impossible to achieve. Nirvana, for example, is “achieved by the extinction of desire and of individual consciousness,” to escape the cycle of life, death and reincarnation. If escape is achieved, all personal identity is lost and one’s soul merges with universal consciousness. But the gods, for the eastern religions that have them, do not care whether you achieve this, nor do they interact with human beings.

All the rest of the world’s religions are varieties of nature religions with hundreds of variants from Wicca to Voodoo in which the idea of a personal deity for whom individual persons matter is not included.

Outside of Judaism, in the ancient world of Jesus’ day the Greek pantheon of gods and goddesses reigned supreme except for vestiges of Babylonian and Persian religions. However, in all of them the god's interacted with humanity in unpredictable, often capricious ways. Mortals were tools of the gods to achieve their own ends when the gods bothered to notice mortals at all. The gods were not moral exemplars whose characters were spotless and pure. Murder, incest and rape were all attributed to the Greek gods, whose main attributes were power and immortality, not goodness. As for the ancient Greeks, as Tina Turner would later sing, “What’s love got to do with it?” A pupil of Aristotle wrote: "It would be eccentric for anyone to claim that he loved Zeus."[4]

Alone against all these religions of the pointlessness of human life stood Judaism and its daughter Christianity. Alone they made divine love for individual human beings the centerpiece of belief. This love, though, is not the mushy, vapid sentimentalism that our pop culture sings about. The love of God for us, and our love for God in return, is instead a steadfast, bi-directional loyalty in covenant relationship. It is commitment, conviction and enduring trust that no matter what, this committed loyalty will never weaken. Isaiah explained it in God's words in chapter 46:

I will be your God throughout your lifetime—
    until your hair is white with age.
I made you, and I will care for you.
    I will carry you along and save you.

Jesus explained it this way in the Sermon on the Mount:
Matthew 10:29-31
Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? Yet not one of them will fall to the ground outside your Father’s care. And even the very hairs of your head are all numbered. So don’t be afraid; you are worth more than many sparrows.

Jesus told a story about a man who had two sons. One day the younger son demanded his inheritance immediately. The father gave it to him and the young man moved far away, where he promptly wasted all his fortune on "riotous living."

Then he started back home, broke and hungry, determined to beg his father to accept him as a hired hand on the farm.

But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion for him; he ran to his son, threw his arms around him and kissed him.

The son said to him, 'Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son.’

But the father said to his servants, 'Quick! Bring the best robe and put it on him. Put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet. Bring the fattened calf and kill it. Let's have a feast and celebrate! For this son of mine was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.' So they began to celebrate.

The father is God, of course, and the son is you and me and anyone else we think doesn’t matter. The story is especially for every person like the Chicago punkster who fears he doesn’t matter. Paul Harvey related one day what actually happened in Spain some years ago. A man and his son, Pablo, had a bitter falling out. Pablo packed and left, vowing never to come back. For five years the father never heard from his son. The ache and regret and self-reproach was more than he could bear. Then one day a friend told him that he was sure he had seen Pablo in Madrid one day in a market.

The father took a train to Madrid and went straight to the newspaper office. There, he bought a full-page ad that said simply, "Pablo, I love you with all my heart. I forgive everything and beg you forgive me. Meet me Friday in front of the main library at 9 a.m. Love, your father."

Friday morning the father walked to the library with heart pounding. His son was waiting for him there, along with seventeen other young men, all named Pablo.

Yet these stories, as near the heart of the why we each matter to God as they are, only illustrate rather than define why you and I matter. At the center are not heart-warming stories but the bloody horror of the cross. That we matter to God is a guarantee sealed literally in blood. “For God was in Christ, reconciling the world to himself,” and no longer counts our sins against us.[5]And since it took crucifixion to do that, then Jesus endured the cross.

If you were the only sinner in the world, the only one ever, Jesus would still have carried that cross to Golgotha and died upon it, just for you alone.

That is why you matter.

[5]2 Corinthians 5:19

Saturday, April 28, 2018

Firebase Four-Papa-One, Korean DMZ, 1978

I explained the Korean DMZ and the Joint Security Area in a different (and later) post, "When I visited North Korea."

Just outside the DMZ during my tour in Korea (77-78) was an artillery firebase called 4P1, pronounced Four-Papa-One. Because the DMZ runs north-south in that part of the country, 4P1 was actually east of the DMZ.

I spent my Korea tour as a lieutenant assigned C Battery, 1st Battalion, 38th Field Artillery, whose motto was "Steel Behind the Rock." "Steel" referred to artillery fire, "the Rock" was the 38th Infantry Regiment, which earned the nickname Rock of the Marne for its heroic defense near the Marne River in France in 1918. My battery's standing mission in Korea was to provide artillery fire for the 1st Battalion, 38th Infantry. We were all part of the 2d US Infantry Division, which is still stationed in South Korea.

In 1978, 4P1 was the only combat firebase in the Army. The division's artillery units took turns rotating through duty at 4P1. My battalion's turn came up in the summer of 1978. There were five batteries in the battalion, three of which were firing batteries with howitzers. Each of those three spent 35 days there. We went up with our six 105mm howitzers in late May, commanded by Capt. Bill Brophy, an outstanding officer. (Bill retired in 1999 as a colonel and is now a vice president of Usibelli Coal Mines, Inc., in Alaska.)

I was the battery fire direction officer (FDO), in charge of the fire direction center, FDC. (Yes, I know, you didn't sign up for an acronym lesson, but that's what the military uses.) We also had three lieutenants as forward observers (you guessed it, "FOs"). Our FOs went to duty inside the DMZ.

There were two guard posts inside the DMZ. One was called GP Ouelette, so close to the boundary line with North Korea you could have spit on communist soil. The other GP was maybe 400 meters further away; I don't recall its name. Under the terms of the armistice, only military police are allowed inside the DMZ. So we had two infantry military police detachments inside the DMZ, one detachment at each of two guard posts. Each was at least of platoon strength and very heavily armed. Every time I went to Ouelette I became a military policeman, too, complete with arm brassard, rifle locked and loaded the whole time.

M102A1 105mm howitzer
Our guns fired projectiles weighing 35 pounds with a maximum range of 11 kilometers. A 105mm high-explosive projectile had a casualty radius of 30 meters. Our six guns could fire a total of 180 rounds the first three minutes of a fire mission, then for weapon-safety reasons, had to drop to three rounds per gun per minute for sustained firing. The guns were arranged in the open in a pattern we called a "lazy W,"with 25 meters spacing between guns laterally, and alternating front to rear about 15 meters.

My FDC was inside an underground bunker at one end of the gun line, about 30 meters up a rise. The FDC served as the operations center for the battery, with our bunks at the far end. We had radios to talk to the division command post-forward, which had a secure line to the main division command post in the south. We also had radio to the infantry operations center at Camp Liberty Bell, just outside the DMZ, where an infantry battalion was stationed at high alert. We had a radio to each guard post to talk to our observers and we had field phones to Capt. Brophy's ready room, each of the guns and the executive officer's battle station. We were up and running 24/7. Our main job was calculating ballistic firing solutions for the guns.

There were 125 prearranged targets inside North Korea and the DMZ for which we had to recalculate firing data four times per day. Weather has great effect on artillery ballistics, and four times per day a "metro" section, not part of our unit, flew weather balloons that collected weather data and radioed it back to the ground. These data were converted into a very lengthy numeric voice message which was radioed to us. Receiving metro messages was very exacting and time consuming. Fortunately, 4P1's bunker had an electronic artillery computer called the Field Artillery Digital Automatic Computer (FADAC, of course, pronounced fay-dack), but only my FDC sergeant, Sgt. Gosinski, and I had been trained on it. Without it we could not possibly have manually recalculated data for 125 targets four times per day. Sometimes, we got the weather data on punch-hole tape, which FADAC could read.

The permissible response time for fire missions was very short. The guns were laid on a target inside the DMZ, which we could have shot within seconds of receiving the radio call for fire. To keep us on our toes, the division had a practice mission called, "speedball do not load." At any time of day or night, no matter the weather, a division-staff officer could direct an FO to radio a call for fire to us - but obviously not to be shot. The stopwatch was ticking, and excuses were not accepted!

A breath away from war

To distinguish these missions from real missions, the call for fire was slightly changed. The FO would call us and say, "adjust fire, speedball do not load, over." That way we knew it was a practice mission. As I recall, though, we only had three minutes to report ready to fire, except that we did not actually load a round into the howitzer.

We'd flip a light switch by the radio that started a siren above the bunker. Across the fire base, every cannon crewman and battery NCOs sprinted to their guns if they weren't already there. Meantime, the FO completed the target information, we computed the firing data and read it on the field phone to the guns.

After just a few days we in the FDC could tell right away when the FO had a SDNL mission because of the stress in his voice.

So one afternoon the radio comes to life and I could tell it was a SDNL mission. But instead of saying, "Adjust fire, speedball do not load, over," he said, "Fire for effect, at my command, over." That was a real call for fire. I hit the siren.

There had been a breach of the MDL by a platoon of 40-50 North Korean troops. They had crossed to our side of the DMZ. On the division radio network I heard the infantry military police on patrol inside the DMZ being ordered to set up an ambush and kill them. Capt. Brophy was off site in his jeep. I called him on the radio and gave him a code phrase to return immediately.

We quickly computed firing data. I directed the mission be fired with three rounds per gun (18 total) of high-explosive rounds, using impact-detonating fuzes instead of air burst fuzes. Sgt. Gosinski sent the firing data to the guns. Some gun chiefs were a little confused about whether this mission was practice or real - the ones who were Vietnam vets weren't confused! I briefed the XO by field phone and he got the gun chiefs straightened out. Each crew loaded a high-explosive round and placed two more, ready to fire, in the ready rack. Things were very tense. The battery commander came in and I briefed him, then he went to the gun line.

I don't know how long we stayed ready to fire, probably 20 minutes. Then the FO called. My FDC soldiers were wide eyed when they heard him. I probably was, too! We knew that 4P1 could get hit by more than 600 North Korean artillery rounds within 10 minutes. We would have been atomized in such a barrage.

"End of mission," said the FO.

The enemy had crossed back over the line before they reached the ambush. So they lived to see another day, and so did we.

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