Martin W. Bender
If you’re into podcasts you’ve probably heard of Serial. Serial is a show that in its first season explored the issues surrounding a murder trial and exploded into a phenome of low budget journalism. It draws the listener into the story of Hae and Adnan and makes them feel like fellow researchers in case. It’s excellent storytelling and very gripping.
Because the first season was so very prolific the second season had to be even more impressive. Enter Bowe Bergdahl.
This isn’t going to be a review of Serial Season 2, nor is it going to be a rant about the mysterious actions of a misguided E-5. Instead, these are the thoughts of a fellow veteran who identifies, in part, with the reported idealism of this generation’s most infamous sergeant.
I met Pix (an abbreviation of his last name) while working at UPS. Pix was a veteran of Operation Iraqi Freedom and the Global War on Terrorism. I identified with him immediately as soldiers do in civilian environments. He had been medically discharged from the Army and was not happy about it. I remember him telling the story of how he and a few other soldiers daydreamed of taking over their FOB and running it the way they saw fit. This, it turns out, is not an unusual fantasy among enlisted men and Bergdahl’s story sounds strangely familiar to those of us who drank in those Army Values and made them our own.
The difference between Bergdahl and Pix, myself, and every other soldier I’ve spent time talking to is that he actually acted on his fantasy. His plan was to leave his post, cause an uproar, and show up at the main camp in order to gain an audience with a general. He hoped to explain the leadership problems within his unit and accept the punishment for leaving his post. The plan is absolute lunacy.
This type of lunacy, though, is not uncommon. When pushed to an extreme position only extreme actions seem reasonable. Bergdahl likely thought his position was extreme, but there is a fundamental flaw in his planning: It violated the most basic standards of military behavior.
“I will guard everything within the limits of my post and quit my post only when properly relieved.”
If there are equivalents to the greatest commandment of Jesus in the Army, they are the general orders. Privates in basic training say them like prayers before meals. They are recited, sung, repeated and for good reason; a soldier must be reliable. For all Bergdahl’s claims to have the best interest of his unit in mind he missed this fundamental truth.
Heinlein writes in Starship Troopers that it is the right of the soldier to complain. It is their job to do things they do not understand for the accomplishment of greater missions they will never hear of. This is why they maintain that right. They can complain all they want. What they cannot do is violate those greatest commandments. The general orders must be held higher than all perceived injustice and complaint because the general orders save lives.
Bergdahl claims he acted to save lives, but the reality is his actions cost the lives of fellow service members tasked to find him. This must never be overlooked.
During my deployment to Kuwait and Iraq our unit had leadership issues. Don’t think it is an exact correlation to Bergdahl’s situation, it wasn’t. We were running redeployment missions not patrols and while there was danger from occasional IED’s and coordinated attacks the bulk of what we did was drive. Thankfully, our entire company made it through the deployment with zero combat related injuries. That’s a success.
The leadership issues we had caused numerous complaints, but to my knowledge, there were no drastic plans to draw attention to our problems. Sure, there were IG complaints and a few people got into trouble, but for the most part, we put our heads down and continued with the mission till it was time to rotate back to reality. The best way to deal with the leadership conflicts was to stay on the road, keep on mission, turn and burn. That is precisely what we did.
Having trusted leaders is the greatest gift a soldier can receive. On our clip (or squad) we were blessed to have an experienced SSGT who took great care of us. Despite issues that may have occurred at the battalion, company, or even platoon level, our clip, led by Irish, knew we were the main priority with her.
Perhaps this is why feelings of pity arise when thinking of Bergdahl. He obviously didn’t feel like he was a priority to his leadership. No soldier should feel that way. In the service, one expects to have to do difficult things, but at the same time there is a rightful expectation that those difficult things must be done. Risk is mitigated as much as it can be. Personal differences don’t affect assignments. It seems like Bergdahl’s perception of his situation was at best flawed and at worst self-created.
It would be great if every squad could have a leader like Irish. It would be wonderful if all commanders could adequately communicate their concern for the well-being of their troops, but the real world is different from our ideals.
Idealism in the military is dangerous. Everyone has a hard time. Everyone has an image of their ideal leader. Everyone faces challenges. The question each soldier must ask is are they willing to forgo their ideals and work within the situation they find themselves? Bergdahl decided to bow out. He chose to act outside of the structure in which he placed himself. When he did that, when he violated his first general order, he abandoned that which makes soldiers different from civilians. He chose his own ideals over the ideals of the Army. That is why he must face court martial.
Like Bergdahl, I’m an idealist. Based on what I’ve heard about him from the second season of Serial my guess is that we would get along well on a personal level. I imagine if one of his leaders better fit his idealized image of military leadership his entire ordeal would not have happened, but perhaps all of the drama surrounding his experience will prompt this and the next generation of leaders to take seriously the concerns of all those under their care.
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Starship Troopers, Robert A. Heinlein – Just so you know, this is as much a book about political theory as it is about giant space bugs. It has been required reading at a number of military academies and officer training courses. If you are interested in purchasing this book, please consider doing so through the Two Bearded Preachers affiliate link. It will help us defer the cost of hosting. Thanks.
How about a big fat fail on a family day, or choosing to get yelled at instead of putting your kids to bed? That's what happened when both of the bearded preachers failed as fathers this week! Listen for a few minutes and you'll feel a whole lot better about your ability to parent compared to us.
Martin W. Bender
So after a few weeks of being distracted by the Next Level Leadership Conference and Valentine’s Day I’m getting back on track with my goal of reading 100 books and writing 100 blogs to go with them. Most of the books I’ve read so far have dealt with theological issues or wizards, but this post is dedicated to an entirely practical book for my work at church: George Barna’s The Power of Vision.
At Glennville First Christian Church we are in the process of developing long term plans for the future of the congregation. In order to be effective in this goal, I’ve decided to do a little reading on the importance of vision within organizations. Since it’s a church, the majority of the goals are already set in place. Ideas like preach the gospel, serve others, and worship together are in place and being practiced, but in order to have a greater impact on the community we need to become more focused on what we hope to accomplish through our efforts. Thus, a clear vision of the future is necessary.
Barna’s book on vision helps to articulate just what a vision statement is, what it should do, and how it benefits the congregation. Much of the argument for the use of vision statements in the religious world is based upon the success of similar ideas in business, but the concepts are easily applied to congregations as well. The general idea is that without a clear focus on specific outcomes it is highly unlikely such results will be achieved. Since congregations desire a particular set of outcomes having a well-conceived vision statement is both wise and helpful.
As the elders of GFCC work to establish a clear vision for the congregation I realize we are violating Barna’s advice. He clearly indicates that creating a vision for a congregation can only be done by the pastor over that congregation. He minimizes the effectiveness of consensus and directs the pastoral professional to take this task upon themselves. I respectfully disagree. If vision is in fact produced by God, as Barna repeats throughout the book, then the vision established by a plurality of elders is just as possible. The Holy Spirit can certainly work through a collection of leaders just as effectively as through one individual. At the same time, I agree with much of what the author shares in the book.
Having a clear vision allows the congregation to embrace some ministry opportunities while allowing others to pass by. One of the greater challenges my congregation faces is choosing an area in which to focus attention. As our vision statement is developed, it will become increasingly clear which areas we need to focus on and which opportunities are met by other groups.
A clear vision promotes forward thinking. As a congregation that has existed for nearly ninety years, we do a lot out of organizational muscle memory rather than from the perceived benefits that could result. This means time, energy, and money are being spent on ministries and programs that are ineffective or unnecessary. By focusing on a specific vision a congregation like mine can break out of its ruts and move in a new direction.
It is obvious from the style of this post that I’m thinking of the implications of creating a vision for GFCC rather than talking about the book itself. That is probably greater praise than I could articulate. If you a leader and would like a well thought out examination of the value of clearly communicated vision The Power of Vision: Discover and Apply God’s Plan for Your Life and Ministry by George Barna is a great place to start.
If you’d like to purchase a copy of The Power of Vision consider doing so through the Two Bearded Preachers affiliate link. It won’t make a difference in the price you pay, but it will help to support our podcasting endeavors. Thank you so much.
On the Shelf
Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, by J. K. Rowling
Tell it Slant, by Eugene H. Peterson
On Christian Doctrine, by Augustine
Justin has one of those days where one bad experience ruins his day. Martin describes a terrible experience he had at the barber shop. The two discuss the ways in which God speaks to people in biblical times and today. Surprisingly, they have a high level of agreement on the primary way the Lord communicates with believers. On top of this, the facially impressive friends discuss the beneficial effects of punching others in the face. Pacifism is right out in this episode. Check it out!
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Martin W. Bender
This is Martin, half of the Two Bearded Preachers, taking this opportunity to move my reading blog to the podcast site. If you’ve been reading my posts on Medium you can expect more of the same except now all the posts will be hosted here. It’s an elaborate plan to get more people exposed to the show. If you haven’t heard an episode of the Two Bearded Preachers yet take a quick minute to start one while you’re reading this response to the ninth book I’ve finished this year: King’s Cross by Timothy Keller.
I have a confession to make, I’m a huge Tim Keller fanboy. I’ve listened to hours upon hours of his sermons, interviews, and lessons and even made it a point to go to The Gospel Coalition conference in 2015 just to hear him speak (I also benefitted from the other lecturers, but my motivation was mainly to see Tim). With that in mind, you’ll not be surprised that I absolutely loved this brief treatment of the Gospel of Mark.
Tim walks through Mark’s gospel sharing observation on the humanity, divinity, and wonder of the person of Jesus. He takes time to point out the differences between the ancient culture Jesus participated in and our own while showing Jesus’ presence on earth was a profound act of love on the part of our Heavenly Father. The content of the book is similar to much that is available on the life of Jesus, but presented with Tim’s pastoral and accessible writing style making the book ideal for the seeker and seasoned believer alike.
Of particular note in the book is the treatment of Jesus’ time on the cross. As Jesus is dying he cries out some of the lines from Psalm 22. He may have even recited the entire poem. It is here that the reader of Mark’s gospel, and Keller’s recounting of it, comes into contact with how Jesus viewed himself. Jesus is despised by men, seemingly abandoned by God, yet speaks of a time when the Lord is glorified. It is here, right at this moment, the moment of his death, that Jesus is most in tune with the will of God and is crushed under the burden of our sin. Tim brings this idea to the forefront and shows how great a savior we have found in Christ Jesus.
King’s Cross is a devotional on the book of Mark. It is neither heavy intellectually nor academic, but at the same time remains profound in the simple truths it communicates about the greatness of Christ. If you are looking for something pastoral in nature I highly recommend the book.
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King's Cross: The Story of the World in the Life of Jesus by Timothy Keller (also published as Jesus the King: Understanding the Life and Death of the Son of God)
In this episode Martin and Justin talk about the pervasive nature of pornography in the modern world and how it impacts Christians. Several outside sources were referenced, some of which can linked to below. The raw conversation was 1:32:00. If you are interested in hearing more about the problems associated with pornography feel free to contact us as we would love to discuss it further.
Covenant Eyes, Pornography Statistics: 250+ facts, quotes, and statistics about pornography use