Do You Have an LSO?

Today’s aircraft carriers are small towns (Pop. 5000) that exist only for the purpose of moving their 4.5-acre airport and 80 jet fighters anywhere in the world. But there’s a huge problem. That airport is too small for what it must do. So fantastic (and frankly weird) machines must compensate.

First, a catapult rams a 50,000-pound jet from zero to 165-mph in 2 seconds in order to slingshot it into the air at sufficient speed for flight. Then, when the plane returns, another contrivance reverses the process; the plane’s tailhook snags an arresting cable that slams it to the deck. And this happens while the plane is flying 150 miles an hour and the runway is jumping up and down and rolling from side to side. No wonder the landing is called “a controlled crash.” It’s like a first baseman catching a line drive.

And that is why the flight deck of a modern aircraft carrier is considered the most dangerous working environment on earth. People can be, and have been, sucked through jet engines or sliced in half by the arresting cables.

While spending five days aboard the USS Nimitz in 2005, I saw why the Landing Signal Officer (LSO) is one of the most important jobs on the carrier. Every day, several times a day, he or she is responsible for the safety of a human life and a 40 million dollar piece of equipment. The pilot’s purpose, field of vision, and mental awareness are all so tightly focused that he or she cannot possibly perform the landing without the LSO.

Incredibly, the success of the aircraft carrier’s mission comes down to each pilot completely trusting another human being with his or her life. Survival means a total commitment to another person’s vision, perspective, instincts, wisdom, skill, and personal stability.

Who Cares?

In 1972 I ran into the blinding revelation that life is dangerous. Even though I was 25, married, and had a child, I was like a drunk monkey driving the Indy 500; someone was about to get killed. So I reached out to Glen Roachelle, the most stable and mature man I knew at that time (or today). I asked him, in essence, to be my LSO. But I used the word “pastor.”

I believe that God cares for His creation and that His loving care is built into the whole package of life. The biblical words “pastor” and “shepherd” reveal the expanse of God’s care. That’s why the “LSO” is a fine metaphor of His provision of care. But we don’t get it. We think that needing an LSO is demeaning. We also demand that a “pastor” be an institutional CEO, Director of Sales and Marketing, TED talker, comedian, and funeral and wedding planner.

Totally wrong.

A pastor is simply one who “keeps watch for another”…you know, like an LSO keeps watch. It’s so simple: I can’t see myself clearly. I need objectivity. A pastor can see me with greater clarity and perspective. And he brings wisdom, skill, and maturity to the pastoral role.

I could tell many stories that illustrate real pastoral care. Very few involve Bible studies, prayer, or church gatherings. Most feature cars, kids, health, houses, and financial needs. Glen’s pastoral eye has nearly always seen my need for rest, a raise, or a doctor before I did.

We all need someone who can see who we really are and the vast sweep of our circumstance – someone who can see everything and actually give a damn for both the grand purpose and the individual lives at stake.

Like an LSO. He or she is the point of connecting the grand macro mission of the aircraft carrier with the micro safety and welfare of the individual pilot. The LSO not only sees everything, like where the plane and the deck are, but also instinctively knows where the deck will be when the jet touches it. You think that may be important?

You and I live and work in an extremely dangerous time and place. The casualties are high and so very visible. We all know the tragic stories of business, political, and spiritual leaders who suffered great pain, loss, shame, and even death. And they are simply the most visible. We’re all exposed and vulnerable.

Think about it; your purpose is too panoramic and your life is too important to not give it your very best. Perhaps that means you need someone to watch for you.

Do You Have an LSO? Read More »

Mother Antonia’s Great Adventure

Grandma Chinn probably had Alzheimer’s. But we didn’t have a name for it in those days. Her mental and behavioral quirks were just…Grandma. We knew her, not a disease. After a visit with her we said things like, “Bless her heart, she’s a little confused today.”

By the time my father became afflicted with Alzheimer’s, we knew a whole lot about it. In fact, I grew to despise my knowledge of that disease. I found it too easy to relate to Alzheimer’s, not to Dad.

The Bible says that knowledge “puffs up.” Sure does. Knowledge is like vodka; a little of it gives me the swagger and bluster to announce judgments about things far above me, things that are simply none of my business and not within my capacity.

That must be what gives us the arrogance to believe that we can classify human lives as “tragic, good, cut short, blessed, cursed, troubled,” etc. Those are very audacious pronouncements. And our “helping professions” are worse. They use terribly insulting language in their catalogs…defects, deformities, disfigurement, malformed, etc. Malformed? Disfigured? According to whom?

Surely I am not the only one who hears the phrase “vegetative state” as grossly dehumanizing. How did civilized people ever allow an old school yard slur – “Vegetable!” – to enter the lexicon of medical language?

Sounds like knowledge might puff up.

A better perspective comes from David, the Psalmist. He wrote of God, “Even the darkness is not dark to Thee, and the night is as bright as the day. Darkness and light are alike to Thee.” (Psalm 139:12)

Maybe a life is a life. Maybe lives of one hour or those lived with severe spinal injuries are as beautiful and blessed as ones lived in great health, luxury, and longevity. Is it possible that God sees them alike and grants the grace to live there? Perhaps life needs to be lived straight ahead, without comparison to others and without the imposition of human designs or alterations.

Mary Clarke grew up in the wealth and splendor of Beverly Hills. She was a socialite and had closets of fine clothes. Cary Grant, Spencer Tracy, and Dinah Shore were her neighbors. Mary lived a typical Southern California life; she was a member of the Beverly Hills Country Club and she married and divorced twice.

When she was 50, she gave away all her possessions, became a Roman Catholic nun and moved into – into, not near – a notorious Tijuana prison. As Mother Antonia, she lived in the same conditions as the prisoners; her home was a 10’ by 10’ cell (which she painted pink) and she ate what they ate. She lived in that cell for the last 36 years of her life (she died in October 2013).

In 1994, when a full-scale riot broke out, the 5-foot-2 Mother Antonia walked through a blizzard of bullets, her face aglow. Eyewitnesses said she never stopped smiling. Armed only with love, she saw the riot come to a peaceful end. Prison was to her what a basketball court was to Michael Jordan. The zone.

She once said, “Happiness does not depend on where you are. I live in prison. And I have not had a day of depression in 25 years.” Incredibly, this woman moved into the darkness and found that it became as bright as the day.

Do you think that Mother Antonia’s great sense of adventure could turn Alzheimer’s or quadriplegia or even death into a brightly lit ballroom?

If God sees darkness and light the same, maybe we can too. I know many people who have lived “a hard life.” And I know it’s not easy. But I’ve also seen them put that life on, like a new tuxedo or evening gown, trusting God to bless it, fill it up, and turn it into a grand ballroom waltz.

Mother Antonia’s Great Adventure Read More »

Living Life in all the Ways it Might Come to Us

Growing up in the farm country of south central Kansas, I quickly learned that agrarian life could be brutal. I saw the long days (and sometimes nights) of very hard labor; watched farmers cope with tornadoes, blizzards, livestock diseases, and volatile market conditions; and we all knew the sickening thud of sudden accidents. By the time many farmers lie down in satin caskets, the passing mourners well understand the scars, missing fingers, and empty sleeves.

The Portal of Suffering

Not coincidentally, I also grew up in a large sense of God.

The prairie Calvinism in farming communities molded people into a vertical posture. All day long their eyes searched that enormous sky; they knew it could bring life or death. And they bowed their knees to whatever it brought. As a result, the “grain” of their lives revealed the deep burnished luster of rich woods, an unfathomable beauty and excellence of spirit.

Suffering had not reduced them; it had enriched them.

A dear friend’s wife has struggled with multiple sclerosis for more than forty years. Recent emergency surgery revealed that she now has extensive cancer, and during that surgery she suffered a heart attack. They both know the end is near.

In a recent email, he gave me an astounding view of their journey. To read his description of what they have both seen through this grueling trial is to stand at the edge of a spiritual Grand Canyon – it is deep, majestic, humbling, and bottomless. And he summed it up with: “Life has to be lived in all the ways it might come to one.”

Those simple and profound words describe how humans have lived for most of history. Only recent decades have brought the possibility of a self-designed life. “I’ll take a little of that…maybe just a pinch more. And no, none of that.” Convenience, comfort, and control are the new values. But what have they stolen?

Designer Gods

The moment of human conception brings life to us in a new way; that baby is a tiny slow-motion hurricane. She or he slowly careens around the womb, evicting any shreds of convenience, comfort, and control. Furthermore, the baby brings nausea, pain, morning sickness, baby furniture and other expenses, and a final and primal explosion of water, blood, muck… and a new human. Sometimes that new person is ill, deformed, or dead.

Historically, even when life brought an unplanned or perhaps mortally ill baby, people lived it as it came. In the depths of the crucible, people begin to see that God, only God, could bring shimmering beauty from the gnarled grain of a wind-warped cypress. After all, He is the One Who “is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine.” (Ephesians 3:20 NIV)

Self-designed gods tend to select only the babies that we can imagine.

Have you noticed that most people die when they are hit with a terminal disease or terrible injuries? That’s been happening throughout human history (of course, God sometimes heals people. But to live in expectation of that is to entertain distractions from living a purposeful life).

Clearly, the God Who is God often sends diseases and infirmities as His servants, to escort His children to a higher dimension of life. The wise and weathered heart knows that this too is just part of living life in all the ways it might come

But, in recent decades, many have migrated to a self-designed faith, a true American folk religion. Perhaps its primary feature is human control. Therefore, it has gutted the classic faith. Trust is no longer a factor.

This new faith accommodates the illusion that we do not have to pass on from earth life. New designer theologies insist that God has chosen to heal everyone. We all know many well-meaning Christian believers who have marshaled heroic and urgent prayer for the purpose of helping people stay …right here in River City.

Oh, the irony; meeting God must be avoided at all cost!


What if we all stepped away from our obsessions with ourselves and just embraced all the ways that life might come to us? Do you think we might find ourselves in a larger and more magnificent design? Might we live better if we stopped spending so much time trying to control our health and continuity? Could we rediscover trust?

The farmers of my youth were generally humble folks. From their example, I see that humility is the only way to “live life in all the ways it might come to one.” But it never begins till we give up our design and control.

When we do that, trust is the only road left.

Living Life in all the Ways it Might Come to Us Read More »

Scroll to Top