Saturday, May 15, 2010

No Calls Means...

Sgt. Brian Armstrong, Austin's recruiter, said that if anything went wrong during the Crucible that would keep Austin from graduating next week--injury, failure, quitting--he'd get a call, and so would we.

And it would happen pretty quickly.

The schedule for today was Reveille at 3 a.m., nine-mile march from 4-7 a.m., Emblem Ceremony at 7:30, and Warrior's Breakfast at 8.

So at 7 a.m. I thought, "He's done."
At 7:30, "He's receiving his Emblem. He's a Marine."
At 8, "He's eating."

But it was all expectation based on the schedule. No confirmation that it had really happened.

Pam saw Sgt. Armstrong this afternoon.

He hadn't received a phone call.

We hadn't received a phone call.

It's over. He made it.

Can't begin to tell you what it feels like.

But everyone should feel this way at least once in their lives.

Friday, May 14, 2010

The Crucible, Day 2

Day 2 began at 4 a.m., but no march. They went right into training/testing events, resupplying ammunition, water and MRE's through what's called the Combat Assault Course. There is a lot of tasks involving high walls, ropes, logs and ladders, and firing at targets at unknown distances.

Tonight from 8 to 11 is the Night Infiltration Course, in which teams re-supply water, ammunition and MREs at night in a simulated combat environment. The teams take their ammunition cans, water cans and simulated MREs through the Combat Assault Course with the added obstacle of darkness.

When that's over, undoubtedly there is a great sense of relief and accomplishment. The Crucible isn't over yet, as 4 a.m. brings a 9-mile march from the Crucible site back to the battalion, and while that is nothing to sneeze at loaded down with full gear after two days of minimal sleep and almost no food, each recruit knows that the hardest part is over and what waits is the Emblem Ceremony, Warrior's Breakfast, and the honor and accomplishment of being a Marine.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

The Crucible, Day 1

The beginning of the end started at 2 a.m. for Austin and his fellow recruits in Platoon 1038, Company A of the 1st Marine Recruit Battalion.

Day One of the Crucible started with Reveille at 2 a.m., and I woke up right at that time. Smiled and said a prayer for him.

At 3 a.m. they started a six-mile march to the Crucible site, and went immediately into a one-hour event in which the teams resupply water, ammunition and MREs through a course which consists of trenches, wire fences and walls, then a series of physical challenges requiring creative leadership and teamwork. For instance, they must work together to cross a series of stumps without touching the ground using three planks. They will demonstrate their knowledge and skill in hand-to-hand combat as well as competitions with pugil sticks (big padded Q-tips). And they will evacuate wounded comrades through trenches and obstacle courses.

Interspersed will be discussion of core values, and the day will conclude with a five-mile march, and they'll have an hour to make camp and be read for bed at midnight.

And I think they will be ready for bed by then. Four hours sleep, then up and at it again.

Only one MRE all day.

Hard. Tough. Exhausting.

Proud of him.

At Odds Living

There is a common way of explaining that in Christ we are justified “just as if I’d” never sinned. It’s cute and easy to remember. It’s also unfortunate. It will never be as if it never happened. As Dallas Willard says, “I will always be a redeemed sinner, and that’s going to be part of the mental and spiritual furniture that helps me live before God for eternity.” Our life in God can’t ever be as Never-Sinned Humans. We stand before Redeemer God as his Beloved Forgiven, and there is a certain richness in that relationship that comes from an acceptance of those terms.

Justification is about the resumption and restoration of relationship with God, often referred to in the Bible as “peace with God” and “being reconciled to God.” We even have to be careful in using those phrases that we understand that there is nothing in God that has to be changed in order for that reconciliation or peace to occur, but something in us. I’m not sure about those understandings of atonement that say that God is an angry God whose honor has been offended and who requires that someone be punished in order for his anger to be assuaged and his honor restored, even if that one is his own son. Or those that say that God is Perfection and therefore cannot allow sin or sinful persons in his presence or else he will get sullied. (Jesus came into a sinful world and by his name declared that God is With Us, then hung around with sinners.) No, Jesus’ death and resurrection didn’t change something in God that was blocking reconciliation, he changed something in us that was blocking us from reconciliation and peace. It was/is our enmity toward God, not his enmity toward us, which stands in the way. This is not to say that sin doesn’t grieve God, or doesn’t disappoint God, or doesn’t anger God. It’s just to say that that’s not the problem. Our ignorance of God, or our ignoring God, or our denying God, or our disappointment in God, or our anger at God—these are the things that stand between us that must be dealt with. And that’s what Jesus did.

Justification has traditionally been understood as the restoration of our relationship with God, and there is much to be learned and valued in that understanding, but it is not the only way that the Bible presents justification.

A synonym for justification is vindication. Vindication isn’t a change in status from unjust to just, vindication is a determination that a person has been just all along, that their actions have been right all along.

In 1st Century Judea, a dead messiah was a false messiah. Everybody knew this. It was indisputable. That’s why Jesus’ disciples kept expecting Jesus to do something when he was arrested, accused, tried and convicted. It’s why Peter drew his sword when Jesus was arrested. He was probably surprised that he was the only one who had drawn his sword, surprised that Jesus not only stood there swordless but actually rebuked him. It’s why Judas sold Jesus out, either to force his hand to rise up against the Temple leaders and the Romans, or because he saw that Jesus was on a suicide mission that would ruin everything, so he might as well get some silver for his wasted 2½ years. Because a dead messiah is a false messiah.

And the resurrection proved that Jesus really was the Messiah. It vindicated Jesus’ decision to confront the corruption of the Temple cult and the violence of the Romans with non-violent, sacrificial love. It justified his entire life and teaching.

In the same way, Jesus calls us to live our lives in a way that is at odds with the way the world says one should live. The Kingdom of God is at odds with the kingdoms of this world, because the kingdoms of this world have it backwards, or upside down. He calls us to live as citizens in the Kingdom of God even though it has not yet come in fullness and the kingdoms of this world still control most everything. He calls us to live right-side up in an upside down world, and right-side up in an upside down world appears to everyone—including us—to be upside down.

Jesus tells us to love our enemies. Everyone else points out that if your enemy is truly your enemy, acting in loving ways toward them is going to get you killed, and you know what? That makes a lot of sense. Jesus says that the first are last and the last are first, and the world points out that that’s just nuts. The last are…last. First is…first. And second place is just first loser. Makes sense? Sure it does.

Jesus asks us to live in a way that doesn’t make sense, and that will feel, in many ways, wrong. Upside down. Not working.

And he says, “I know. I know it doesn’t feel right, look right, or result in a lot of success or even happiness right now. But you gotta trust me. You gotta believe in me. You gotta have faith in me. And if you do, in the end, when my Kingdom comes in all its fullness, it’ll be shown that the way you lived was right-side up all along. You’ll be vindicated. Justified. Live by faith in me now, and you’ll be justified by that faith.”

Isn’t that what Paul says? “A person is justified by faith.” (Romans 3:28) Justification in this sense requires living at odds with the ways the world says to live. These ways of the world make sense in an upside down world, and to live at odds with ways that make sense doesn’t make sense. And that’s what Jesus tells us to do, live in ways that don’t make sense. Yet.

For the Kingdom is coming, and those who have lived according to Kingdom values will be vindicated. And they’ll be ready. Those who don’t live at odds with the world won’t be ready. There will be a lot of adjustments they will have to make in order for the Kingdom to feel like home, and maybe some will never be able to make the adjustments and will always feel like aliens in the Kingdom.

So here’s the bottom line: you can’t be vindicated (justified) if you don’t live at odds with an upside down world.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

The Crucible

I haven't posted much--actually, I guess, I haven't posted anything--about Austin being at Parris Island for the last three months for Marine Corps basic training. It's been a somewhat surreal experience. It seems more like six months since he left, yet the time has flown by. At first I felt grief, then anxiety, then overwhelming pride and excitement. These latter two emotions have pretty much been the norm. I haven't missed him as much as I have been excited for him and wished that I could talk to him each day to find out what he did, what it was like, how he has liked this or that.

The only communication has been short letters, averaging about one a week, but it's clear from even short letters that he has changed, matured, grown. He's come a long way, and we are all very excited and proud of him.

Tonight is the beginning of the end. At 2 a.m. he will begin The Crucible, the final test before a recruit becomes a Marine. The Crucible is a 54-hour test of endurance, a physically and emotionally challenging event in which, under conditions of sleep and food deprivation, recruits must work as a team to overcome various obstacles. There are 36 stations and 29 problem-solving exercises that must be negotiated, and they will hike a total of 48 miles throughout the event. They will get to eat only 3 MRE's over the course of the 54 hours, and, in addition to their gear, uniform and rifle, they will each carry 45 pounds of equipment during the Crucible.

It ends on Saturday morning with a nine-mile hike. Upon completion, they receive the coveted Eagle and Globe emblem, and they are no longer recruits but Marines.

So, if you're awake tonight at 2 a.m., say a prayer for Austin. And if not, say a prayer when you awake, and occasionally throughout Thursday and Friday.

And I'll keep you posted--pun intended--on each day's activities.

We leave one week from today to see him graduate and to bring him home for 10 days.

And I am going nuts with anticipation and excitement.

Saturday, May 8, 2010

Getting Ready for Strings

Today I unclamped the bridge and cleaned up the glue squeeze out. Then I moved on to cleaning up the fretboard and frets, which is a lot easier to do without strings than with. I checked to make sure that the frets were still level, and found some that weren't, for whatever reason. They were mainly the ones over the body, but there was one or two up the neck as well, and it meant that I had to get out the fret file and level just about all of them again, then re-crown them. I then sanded all the frets with 600 grit to remove the file marks, after which I attached a buffing wheel to my Dremel, applied some polish to the wheel, and brought each fret up to a nice shine.

Then I sanded the fretboard one more time with 600 grit paper to remove any finish that accidentally got on top, as well as any scratches through all the handling.

OK, on to making the nut. Both the nut and the saddle are made of bovine hip bone that's been bleached white. This provides superior sound transference than the plastic used by the large manufacturers, but there's a drawback: when bone is cut or sanded, it smells just like when the dentist is drilling your teeth.

Good memories.

The nut blank must first be thicknessed to fit in the nut slot, first on the belt sander ("Nog thir, ith dothn't urth at ahl") to hog off a lot of material quickly, then on a piece of sandpaper laid on a flat surface (tablesaw) to bring it to final dimension. I want it loose enough to fit in fairly easily, but not so loose that it will slide out on its own when the guitar is tipped.

Mission accomplished.

Then I cut and sand it flush to each side of the neck. I use a pencil that has been sanded flat on one side to mark the top of the first fret as well as the curve of the fretboard onto the nut, then sand to just above this line.

I place it in a nut-making vice, measure 1/8" from each edge, and mark a line. These are the locations of the first and sixth strings.

I want the six strings to be equally spaced between each other, but it's not as simple as just dividing the distance between the first and sixth strings by four, because the strings are different thicknesses, so the gap between the wound strings would be closer than between the unwound strings. There's a way to figure out the correct distances mathematically, but I'd rather use a string-spacing rule that I bought for like $10.

I use it to mark the locations of the other four strings:

I rough cut the slots using a fret saw, angling down toward the back of the nut so that the high point of the resulting nut slot is at the fretboard side. (The special vice allows for this; normal vices would get in the way.)

This will be the break point of the string, and the zero location of the fret scale. If it breaks back toward the headstock the scale length for that string will be lengthened, all the fret locations will be off, and it will be impossible to play in tune.

There. All the slots have been cut and will hold a string. Later on I'll file the nut slots with special files to accommodate the different thicknesses of the strings, but at the same time I'll file them at the correct depth to give me good action at the first fret.

If you look at the far left at the sixth string slot you can see that some of the bone blew out when sawing the slot. That's all right, because the next thing I do is file that back edge off so that the nut slants toward the headstock, and when I do that chip out will go away.

Can't hold strings without tuning machines, so I install those next.

Hey, it's really looking like a guitar now, huh?

No strings until the saddle is made and installed and holes for the string pegs have been drilled in the bridge, so that's next.

Friday, May 7, 2010

Bridge Gluing

There are some steps that just scare the heck out of me, and this is one of them. The bridge needs to be glued with the front face square to the centerline, and positioned correctly so that the saddle is precisely where it needs to be. Screw this up and the guitar just will not play in tune.

Fortunately there are some tools that help with the precision, and then there is a little bit of wiggle room that will help compensate--literally--for minor imprecision. We'll get to that part after the strings are on and I'm doing the final setup.

The tool is a clear plexiglass centerline finder, which as two dowels which grip the sides of the neck in two places. This naturally puts the centerline of the plexiglass jig on the centerline of the neck.

It's used first of all when attaching the neck to make sure that its centerline lines up with that of the body.

But it also has an attachment whose edge is square to the centerline, and when placed in the proper position the bridge can butt against this edge and ensure that the bridge is square to the centerline.

First I have to sand the bottom of the bridge to match the 30' radius of the top. I have a small sanding dish with a 30' radius dome that I lay some 80 grit sandpaper on and sand the radius on the bottom of the bridge.

This doesn't take much time at all, because a 30' radius on this small a section is almost flat.

Then, just in case to top hasn't quit maintained that 30' radius I place the sandpaper on the guitar top at the bridge location and do a final bit of sanding. Now I know that there is a good mating surface between the bridge and the top.

Now it's time to do a dry run with the clamps to make sure I've got the sequence down and can identify any problem areas before its time to glue the bridge and the pressure is on because the clock is ticking.

First I cut a small, thin waste piece of mahogany to use as a clamping caul and use double sided tape to attach it to the bridge plate under the top so that the clamps don't damage the rosewood bridge plate. Then I cut some smaller pieces of mahogany along with some cork to protect the top of the bridge from the clamps. I'm going to use three deep throated bridge clamps and one cam clamp:

Once I've got that done, I take the mouse trap apart, and use tape to mark the side and front edges of the bridge position.

OK, now's the moment of truth. Slather a generous amount of glue on the bottom of the bridge, position it according to the tape marks, and use the centerline finder to make sure its square to the centerline. Then I let it sit for a few minutes so the the glue has a chance to get a little less slippery and will grip the top. Otherwise, the rotational forces brought on by the screws in the clamps (and the cam in the other clamp) will cause the bridge to slide.

After a few minutes I remove the centerline finder and put one of the clamps in position, slowly tightening it to make sure the bridge doesn't skate on me. Then the cam clamp, followed by the two clamps on the wings. I can see just a smidge of skating, so I loosen the clamps enough to allow me to slightly reposition the bridge, then I slowly clamp them down tight. I use a razor blade and chisel followed by a wet paper towel to clean up the glue squeeze-out.

And there it is!

Look at the bear claw--isn't that gorgeous?

This is an important glue joint, so I'm going to let it dry overnight. After that I'll mark and rout the saddle slot, make the saddle and the nut, and soon there will be strings!

Bridge Building

The last week has been spent putting the oil finish on the neck and headstock of Clark's guitar. No pictures for you, because there's really nothing to see. Clark decided to go with an oil finish, as many players do, because it maintains the feel of the wood under the thumb, which a lot of people like, and it will not grip the thumb or the hand when sliding up the neck as really glossy finishes can do when the hand gets a little sweaty.

I use Tru-Oil, which is a polymerized linseed oil with other natural oils added that is made for gun stocks. It is easy to apply, dries quickly, and is completely safe to use since it does not emit toxic fumes like lacquer.
It is not as hard or as protective as lacquer (the traditional finish for steel string acoustics) or the acrylic urethane that we used on the body of this guitar, but it is still a beautiful finish that can be used on the entire guitar. In fact it is what we used at Vermont Instruments on my first guitar since we only had two weeks to complete the entire guitar. Lacquer, on the other hand, has to be applied over the course of three days, you must wait at least a month for it to cure before it can be buffed.The process is simple: just squeeze a little on a lint-free rag, rub it on, then wipe off the excess with another rag and let dry. It'll actually be dry to the touch in less than an hour, but I like to give it several hours between coats so that it really gets hard. The first application I let dry over night, then used 0000 steel wool to level any grain that might have been raised and applied another coat. After this dried overnight I used 600 grit sandpaper to smooth and level it, then for the rest of the week I would put a coat on in the morning, then another in the evening. One or two days I'd put a coat on as soon as I came home from work, then another right before bed about six hours later. By the end of the week the neck and headstock were beautifully shiny. I may polish the headstock even more, but maybe not; it already looks really nice.

OK, to the bridge. The bridge blank is a rectangular piece of ebony. First I use the belt sander to make sure the glue surface is smooth and completely level and that the front edge--the one toward the neck, is also completely level. Then, using double-stick tape, I attach a plywood template of my bridge shape onto the blank, aligning the front edges.

I use the band saw to cut close to the shape, and draw lines around the template, remove it, and use a drum sander on my drill press to bring the blank down to the lines.

(I have since bought a sanding drum with a bearing on the bottom that can ride against the template and sand an exact duplicate of the template.)

Then I use the belt sander to bring the blank close to my final thickness of 3/8".

I mark off a rectangle 4" x 1", which is where the saddle will be. This also delineates where the wings and back will be tapered.

I use the round edge of the belt sander to shape these areas:

I hand sand with 150 grit to smooth these top surfaces, then work through 220, 320, 400, and 600 grit papers to really make the ebony shine. Ebony is an extremely hard wood, but it's also a little oily. It's a mess to sand, and you have to use a mask, but at 600 grit with the natural oils the wood is being polished. I finish off with 1200 grit paper, and the bridge really shines, almost like a finish has been applied.

All right, time to glue this baby on!

Thursday, May 6, 2010

Baylor Flash Mob

Here's what some Baylor students did to celebrate the end of the semester and to get ready for finals:

I usually just played some basketball.

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Poverty and Earth Vision

In this space the last couple of weeks I have written about God’s—and therefore our—vision for the earth. He doesn’t intend to destroy and replace his creation, as some popular theologies assert and many people seem to believe. These theologies and beliefs need to be Left Behind so that we can grasp the biblical vision: that God intends to renew, redeem, and restore his creation. The proper role of humanity in this renewed creation is one of stewardship and care-taking, which has certain implications for the role of ecology in theology.

Taking hold of God’s earth vision has certain implications for the role of poverty in our theology as well—or, perhaps better stated, the role of theology in our dealings with poverty. This was brought home very forcefully this past Monday at a Symposium on Poverty that I participated in that was held in east Baltimore. The group that sponsored the symposium was the “New Day” group of Caucasian and African American pastors that I wrote about a few months ago. In east Baltimore, the issue of poverty and systemic racism cannot be separated. Poverty and class-ism cut across racial lines, but particularly in urban areas racism has to be thrown into the mix. (I’m not talking about the kind of hate-filled racism characterized by white robes and burning crosses, but rather a set of problems caused, often unintentionally [but not always] by societal systems that disproportionately affect one race or class of people.) We heard from a variety of people leading organizations that try to help people in Baltimore city deal these issues, from prison re-entry programs to HIV/AIDS awareness, job training and housing renewal. After each presentation one pastor would always ask, “What can churches do to help?” And as I listened to the answers, I kept thinking, “Our theology is too small. In order to make a difference, the theology of many of our churches has to change, has to enlarge, has to encompass, not only the death and resurrection of Jesus, but his life and teachings as well.” As long as our theology is principally about heaven and hell, there will be no moral or theological imperative to deal with poverty. It will be seen as a good thing to do, along with a lot of other good things that Christians do. You know, one option among many. The problem is that dealing with poverty is tough, complicated, messy, scary, costly, and any number of other difficult things. Given a choice, most Christians will opt for another Bible study. And do.

What is needed is a more complete theology, one that includes not only the death and resurrection of our savior and the afterlife of humans, but the teachings of the biblical prophets as well—including Jesus. A prophetic theology—a theology of the Kingdom of God—sees issues of poverty and justice as imperatives, things that the Gospel compels us to do because they are central to our understanding of what God is doing in our world. Lacking that, churches will do little to address poverty.

This was poignantly highlighted to me at the end of the meeting. The organizer of the symposium is a member of our New Day group, Bill Simpson, who started and runs a ministry to the poor in east Baltimore. Bill expressed his frustration over the fact that he has a hard time getting evangelical churches to work with him. Most maddeningly, the Southern Baptist Convention will not provide him any funds if his primary focus is addressing poverty and not evangelism and church-starting. Understand, he’s not against evangelism, but he does not understand a mindset that views addressing the needs of the poor as unworthy of support in and of itself. And neither do I.

One of the pastors present mentioned that, in the few areas where the SBC has ministry to the poor as its primary focus, the effort has resulted in a higher percentage of baptisms than in efforts that are primarily about evangelism. In other words, ministering to the poor and addressing the issues surrounding their poverty is a more effective evangelism strategy than evangelistic efforts to the poor aimed primarily or solely at their spiritual conversion.
We need a theology that does away with dualistic ways of viewing a person i.e. of having a soul that is spiritual and separate from the body, which is unspiritual, so that you minister to each one separately, and ministry to the soul is more important than ministering to the body. Instead we need a theology that embraces a biblical view of the person as a whole, with a body and a soul that are united, so that ministering to one is to minister to the other. We need a theology that likewise does away with dualistic ways of viewing heaven and earth as separate entities, one spiritual and eternal, the other unspiritual (or even anti-spiritual) and temporal, and instead embrace a biblical view that the end that God is working toward, and which he invites us to join him, is the renewal of all creation, the heavens and the earth, and every creature in it. Until then, our theology will be too small, and insufficient for following our Creator God.