Thursday, August 25, 2016

Review of Incoming: Veteran Writers on Returning Home

Here's an inspiring and succinct review of Incoming: Veteran Writers on Returning Home, an anthology of homecoming stories, in which I have an essay called "Becoming a Veteran." 

Even more gratifying, Dr. Kaurin in particular mentions my essay.

"Fourth, and connected to the aforementioned point, is the meaning of becoming a veteran and the bond of sister and brotherhood between veterans. One author relates a story of participating in the funeral of a veteran he did not know, but it wasn’t until this experience he identified as a veteran."

Tuesday, March 1, 2016

"The Great Unknown" appears in Hippocampus Magazine

This is my first piece to be both written and published after completing my MFA. Thanks for reading.

Wednesday, January 20, 2016

"Becoming a Veteran" in the anthology Incoming

I wrote an essay about finally feeling like a veteran. The feeling wasn't something that happened as soon as I got home from Iraq, it took years, actually. It took leaving the Army and moving from Anchorage to Arctic Village, and the death of another veteran for me to understand my place in the heritage of comrades of armed foreign conflict. 

That essay appears in this new anthology produced by an organization called So Say We All. I hope you'll order a copy. There are at least twenty fantastic essays in here about various experiences of homecoming



Monday, December 14, 2015

On Literacy

Sometime in 2012, well into my second year of teaching, I read the book Boys in Poverty: AFramework for Understanding Dropout. This book connected what I saw happening in my classroom with trends seen around the rest of the country. It substantiated the importance of literacy, and in particular, the importance of early education. And though the data is stark, at best, especially for privileged folk, it should be motivating, not immobilizing.

Maybe it would be helpful to add context to where I was when I read Boys in Poverty. My career at that point was serving as a “Secondary Generalist Teacher” in a small indigenous Alaska native community. There were approximately 22 students in my classroom spanning grades 5 through 12. I say approximately because our school’s population varied throughout the academic year. Kids get sent off to boarding school and kids come back from boarding school. Our village was only accessible by airplane—one flight arriving once a day. Often kids went to town with family and could be gone a month or more. Often kids went to town and stayed with family and didn’t come back. There were also kids around the village not enrolled in school, especially older adolescents. Secondary generalist means there was the potential for me to teach any subject. I was hired as a qualified language arts and social studies teacher for grades 7-12. Upon arriving at the school my first day in the fall of 2010, I was told I’d be teaching math and implementing a new reading intervention program. Generalist means you teach whatever the district tells you to.

Boys in Poverty was published in 2011, so this data is now at least four years old, but I imagine not much has changed.

  • Nationally, about 70 percent of students graduate from high school on time with a regular diploma, but little more than half of African American and Hispanic students earn diplomas with peers.
  • Approximately two thousand high schools (about 14% of American high schools) produce more than half of the nation’s dropouts. At these “dropout factories,” the number of seniors enrolled is routinely 60% or less than the number of freshman three years earlier. “Dropout factories” produce 81% of all Native American dropouts, 73% of all African American dropouts, and 66% of all Hispanic dropouts. 
  • More than 1/3 of all dropouts occur in the 9th grade.
  • Approximately 75% of state prison inmates did not complete high school.
  • A male high school graduate with a D average is fourteen times more likely to become incarcerated than a graduate with an A average.
  • Dropouts from the class of 2007 alone cost the nation nearly $329 billion in lost wages, taxes, and productivity other their lifetimes.
  • Over the course of a lifetime, a high school dropout earns, on average, about $260,000 less than a high school graduate.

There isn’t one way to prevent a student from dropping out. The framework for understanding dropout is complicated and developmentally considers physical, emotional, cognitive and social behavior as indicators, though many studies link dropout to literacy. Proficient readers are less likely to dropout and some research even shows that by the fourth grade the likelihood of a student dropping out of high school can be determined merely by measuring reading proficiency. Reading isn’t the only antecedent. There most certainly are many other environmental concerns that affect a student’s success, but literacy plays a big part. Literacy doesn’t begin in high school nor does it begin in the fourth grade. Literacy begins before a student can even read, before they can even communicate. Infants begin cataloguing vocabulary by the time they’re 6 months old. They begin understanding math and logic almost immediately after they’re born. Emotional regulation begins at about the 3-month mark. Motor coordination is always developing. These are windows of opportunity, beginnings of literacy that start very early and according to many researchers, impact dropout.

So, what are we to do as future clergy? According to theELCA website, Lutheran congregations and synods operate more than 1,500 early education programs, elementary schools and secondary schools—the majority of these being early childhood centers (preschool and kindergarten). I’m curious what the demographics are. I’m curious about the socio-economic status of the student’s parents. I’m curious if we’re talking all day, day care style programming, or curriculum that emphasizes literacy. Public schools have mandated curriculum and nation wide testing, which private schools don’t. For better or worse, private schools have the liberty of autonomy.

When you get to your congregation what are you going to do with your church’s pre-school? Is it the first item on the list of budget items that can be cut? Is it stuck in the recesses of your building, someplace you rarely visit? Do you have a preschool because you’ve always had a preschool, or do you have a preschool because its part of the mission of your church, and a way of serving the community? How many families in the neighborhood around your church have children not enrolled in early childhood education?

While public school is freely available, largely funded by property taxes, preschool is not usually free. Unless a child is part of a special education program (SPED/IEP) they wouldn’t be authorized public preschool (often called “Head Start”). Could your church start a sponsorship program? Those young professionals in the congregation that don’t have children yet. Or those older couples with older children no longer in school. Create a scholarship program supporting families in your church’s community who can’t afford to send their kids to preschool. Empowering individuals through early childhood literacy could be the single most effective way of combating racial and social inequities in our country right now. 

Post five in a series of five posts for a class at Luther Seminary this semester: "Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Eleanor Roosevelt, and Martin Luther King Jr. in Dialogue with Public Theology Today."

Friday, November 13, 2015

What Makes a Hero?

Why don't soldiers like being called heroes?

Is there such thing as glory in war?

Where does this archetype originate and why is it still so prevalent in society?

What happens when you thank a veteran for their service?

This twenty minute mini-documentary from BBC is well worth the watch.

Click the image or follow this link: 

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

On Armistice Day

How did we go from commemorating the cessation of one of the worst wars ever to discount products at the local mini market, free passes to a local movie theater, and a plethora of adoration poured upon individuals that claim they “were just doing their job?”

Armistice Day: the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month, 1918, for all intents and purposes, it was the end of World War I. The war to end all wars. The Great War. Over 38 million casualties. Nearly 2/3 of all European ‘military age males’ either killed or maimed beyond the ability to procreate. And thus the recurring remembrance of Armistice Day was not for the dead, nor the living, but for peace. What we now call Veteran’s Day in the United States falls on the same day as the old Armistice Day, though it was originally a commemoration of peace, of the end of the ugliness that scoured itself across Europe and swept up most of the western World. But in 1954 the United States grew Armistice Day into Veteran’s Day, expounding recognition for millions of World War II and Korean War veterans.

What happened to the original intent? Is it still there somewhere? I’m not arguing for a dismantling of Veteran’s Day. Nor am I wishing to make my own disillusionment contagious so that civilians become cynical of the respect they have for Veteran’s on November 11th.
I’m curious how remembrance of peace evolved into admiration for Veteran’s, which now seems to manifest itself in nearly exponential adoration lurking within the proclamation, “Thank you for your service.” It’s not the ‘thanks’ bestowed upon the Veteran that degrades or detracts from the intent of the holiday, but when the ‘thanks’ over shadows the ‘service,’ because it is the service originally responsible for the holiday. I think the complication is the disconnect between the civilian and the soldier. Many soldiers don’t want thanks, and have few words to respond with when they receive thanks. While the latter part of the proclamation, the mention of service, is something vivid for the veteran but vague for the civilian. And so it’s the service that the civilian might not understand. The countless hours spent on guard duty, the vivid memories of carrying body bags to a landing zone to be picked up by a medevac helicopter, the sound an incoming mortar or rocket, the sound of outgoing artillery, the sound of gunfire in crowded streets, the sound of gunfire in open fertile farm country, the mixing of cigar smoke with diesel exhaust none of which mask the body order of 130 degree heat and smell of fear after an IED explodes and oily opaque smoke still wafts the air. Memories are on the forefront of a Veteran’s mind and a day that risks’ idolizing their service corrupts the recognition of peace which originated on November 11th and the peace which the veteran hopes for in their heart.

And so I’m wondering how we got to become a nation that unequivocally supports veterans while participatory rates of military service, even in a time of war, continue to dwindle? And when we so easily support our veterans through proclamation, do we risk committing idolatry? When we glorify our veterans as heroes, sharing proclamation and praising a popular phrase do we turn them into idols?
This is a time when fewer individuals are volunteering for our nation’s military, and particularly, during the last decade’s bout with war, less than 1% of our population participated in armed conflict in Iraq and Afghanistan. Yet we’ve continued to love and adore the soldier. Maybe our nation has a preoccupation with the glorified soldier archetype, which we idolize, and in doing so completely miss the nuance of the individual. But it’s the individual you need to know on this day. Not necessarily what they went through. But get to know the peace they seek after war.

So if thanking a soldier for their service creates momentary recognition of lifelong burdens the veteran will always bear, what do you do? Don’t not talk to the veteran and don’t be afraid of the veteran. Instead of echoing a line we’ve all heard, ask us how we’re doing. Challenge us to a conversation. Listen us into free speech. Be genuinely interested in what we’re up to. Create a space for relationship and opportunity—not adoration. And if you have no idea what else to say, share the peace. Say, “peace be with you dear veteran, on this day in particular.”

Post four in a series of five posts for a class at Luther Seminary this semester: "Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Eleanor Roosevelt, and Martin Luther King Jr. in Dialogue with Public Theology Today."

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

Brian Turner on Incoming

If you're not familiar with the poet Brian Turner, take 20 minutes and listen to this podcast from last Friday. So Say We All is a literary non-profit from San Diego promoting the lives of Vets through their series "Incoming."

Stay tuned because at some point a collection of redeployment/reintegration essays will be released.