19 April 2015

1995-1996: A Year of Change

On the morning of 19 April 1995 I was sitting in my apartment in Alaska. I was a miserable wretch, lost and in despair. Just a few weeks earlier, to the astonishment of my friends and co-workers, I had enlisted in the US Air Force and was due to depart for basic training in mid-May.
I was watching the news as the story broke. Alaska is of course a few hours behind Oklahoma City. I was still in my Rush Limbaugh days and I immediately assumed Islamic terrorists were behind it and that we would be going to war. I was convinced it was all Clinton's fault. He had played a weak hand in Somalia and they'd probably gotten together with the Iraqis and come to get us.

Obviously I was mistaken on a great many points. My apprehension turned to confusion when not long after it was revealed that a Right-wing extremist had perpetrated the bombing. I couldn't understand it. I didn't understand myself.

A few weeks later my head was shaved as I joined the death-cult also known as the US military and I found myself in San Antonio Texas until the end of July. I had gone to church on occasion while still in Alaska. I was looking for answers, trying to find peace in the midst of my guilt and sin. In Texas I began to read the Scriptures. I looked forward to being assigned night watch. The hours of quiet would afford me time to read. Since you're being brainwashed everything is taken from you except the Air Force manual and the things issued to you. Thankfully you can gain access to a Bible. I guess they have little to fear from that as most churches support the nation and the military. Little do they know that it's actually subversive to their cause!

I began to read and pray. When released from boot camp, it's like getting out of an intense stay in prison. On weekends we were allowed to venture out into San Antonio and I certainly forgot myself more than once. I was still struggling, caught between two worlds, two paths.

The culture of the military is a wicked one and it's real easy to tag along and get pulled into stuff. We haunted the River walk and visited the Alamo.  

By the end of July I found myself in Europe and by October I was baptized. Before 1995 had ended I was already in a state of despair, repenting of my decision to put on the uniform of the United States and further disturbed by what I was part of and what we were doing. We were stooges for the expansion of NATO, the expansion of the American Empire and I was already beginning to see it.

Reading the Scriptures over those six months completely changed my life. I abandoned the Dispensationalism and Arminianism of my upbringing, became a Reformed zealot but isolated from the American context it did not translate into Dominionism and Patriotism.

I ordered books through CBD and Great Christian Books. I eagerly awaited the arrival of cassette tapes in the mail. I poured through catalogs and sent for free pamphlets. I read everything I could get my hands on. The barracks were like Sodom and Gomorrah so I spent hours in coffee shops and traveled whenever I could. I read in the woods and mountains, on trains and on airplanes. Many a time I sat in a forklift cab on a rainy flight-line waiting for F-16's or a C-5 to take off while I worked through Romans or Calvin. I also dove in history. It had always been a passion but being in Europe it came alive. I was forced to reconsider many of my assumptions. Could it be that my conservative even Christian narrative that I embraced as a lost person was in fact wrong? I had to wrestle with these questions. The Christian world was astir, as the hostility to Clinton was every bit as vicious as what we've seen with Obama. People seem to have forgotten.

I was forced to reckon with the Christian arguments for a Constantinian vision. I was new to these things but benefitted greatly by interacting with the arguments of Bahnsen and others. I learned of his death via his organization's PenPoint newsletter in January 1996. It had just arrived in my mail box and I opened it while sitting with a friend in a parking lot. We were looking at the Dolomites in the distance and I remember we were startled to learn of his death. We didn't agree with him but we loved the fact that he challenged us to think and work through the issues.

At the time I couldn't quite answer the Theonomists but reading the Scripture I knew they were wrong. It pushed me and I kept digging. God blessed me with some solid fellowship. The Internet was newly available and though much more limited I scope I utilized it and accessed theology as well as a great deal of material regarding US policies during the Cold War and other pieces of the historical puzzle that had not been taught in school.

It drove me to the small base library. Here I was, a grunt of the Empire and yet undergoing an intellectual and spiritual transformation which would lead me to reject everything I had been when I sinfully took the Constitutional oath in May of 1995.  

By April of 1996 I was labouring to get out of the Air Force. I was deep in the daunting bureaucratic process, labouring away to separate myself from the entity I had come to despise. It was also around this time that I and my Calvinist friends had all but been run out of an Independent Fundamentalist Church we had been attending. The pastor who is still active and equally destructive had grown weary of our Calvinism and told us to "hit the road".

It was quite a year. In terms of learning it was something of the fire hose treatment, but long hours alone hiking in the mountains had provided me time for reflection and prayer. I was in a state of conflict and opposition but I flourished. It was good to be removed from all that but I also learned that the hard times can also be good and profitable times.

I went home on leave in January 1996 and while in Alaska I picked up a little Gideon New Testament that I still carry with me. It's pretty battered. It's been with me all over the place. At this point it's mostly held together by electrical tape.

Inside I had inscribed the date and place I had acquired it. Ironically I picked it up at the local gun store. It was run at the time and perhaps still is by a prominent family within the local Baptist church. It makes me chuckle now to think I picked up my old tried and true New Testament at a gun store. Life is funny.

But I also remember standing there in January 1996 and looking at the guns and the culture of guns and beginning to question it. That would take awhile to bear fruit but the seeds were planted.

It was an amazing year of my life.

And it's been an amazing twenty years. Praise be to God!