I was asked several profound questions today. First, I spent some time working with some JROTC cadets at a local school as I had a bit of open time this morning. One very bright young lady approached and after asking how dangerous serving in the military truly was, asked this question, "why is there a big war any way?"

Wow. She is probably about 13 or 14 which means she was probably five or six when Sept 11th happened. I started talking to her and the kids with her. They were for the most part not aware in any way of the cultural differences between the western world or the middle east, did not comprehend the nature and size of the threat presented by Al Qaeda and other terrorist organizations nor did they really seem to have given much thought to the fact that the United States is only part of a much larger wider world. But... they were starting to be aware of greater realities, and perhaps of the great challenges facing their generation as the world continues to shrink due to globalization and other factors.

A bit later, as I was working through various medical channels to begin to clear my path for my change of duty station that is coming later this summer, I had the opportunity to speak with an airman as I was an hour or so early for an appointment. He asked me a poignant question during the context of my encouraging him to pursue his college degree and dream to be a doctor. He asked, "how can I made sense of medicine which is supposed to be about saving lives, but I may be ordered to take the life of an unborn child or use a treatment created from an unborn child --I just can't see an embryo as so many body parts?" Wow. More deep thinking by a young man in a generation that is wrestling with huge questions brought about by capabilities from our increasing technological prowess. Then he asked me a profound question, "Chaplain, if you or someone you loved were sick, would you use a treatment that required me to harvest an unborn child from someone?"

If he doesn't make a doctor, he'd make a great philosopher -- or minister. The beginning of wisdom is the asking of questions, for beliefs come easy, but truth -- that is most difficult of all - but also the most easy, for truth is what is.

All this in light of a question I've been pondering for the last week after learning that only 4% or so of the current generation sees value in going to church and reading story after story following a a study that the number of folks who find value in religion is shrinking. That question is how can I as a person of faith and how can the Christian community share the value of religious insight in a way that is respectful and will gain a hearing, that can help people not only value our Creator and Redeemer but also find value in each and every other person.

I feel like Gandalf in the Lord of the Rings as he stands in the cozy abode of his friend Bilbo's home looking off into the distance, but in truth looking into the accumulated wisdom of his life and mumbles to himself, "riddles in the dark".

In some ways I believe our nation is like these young people, one a bit younger than the other. Waking up to the greater possibilities and challenges to life in this world. And as the young airman, wrestling with question of what kind of person (or in the case of a nation: people) shall I/we be. These are all questions about belief. Even the decision to not believe in God for instance is a decision about belief. Belief systems. Whether I listen to commentary on NPR, Fox News, MSNBC (which I avoid because being a philosophy major the plethora of logical fallacies gives me heartburn in most cases depending on the commentator), CNN, or read the major news papers or even just scan comments posted by people on controversial topics, one thing jumps out at me. Competing belief systems. Name calling, labeling, all the tricks and trade of amateur and professional rhetoricians come into play in a great battle of competing belief systems. But common to most of the arguments I read, even the ones that most fit my own belief system, is a lack of humility, a lack of openess to being wrong, and even a lack of willingness to take a stand at personal cost when one is right.

It is not going to be an easy world for our young people to live in. They have substantial questions to answer, substantial challenges, probably many yet anticipated, to face and resolve. And perhaps the greatest question of all in the face of merging cultures, ideas, and increasing technological power over our environment and our own physical bodies - what sort of people shall we be. What will it mean to be "human"? Will we surrender the view that we are special, created in God's image, with each individual having value and potential upon which our nation was built for some Darwinesk battle for survival of the fittest with the weak and defenseless utilized as a resource for those who are stronger?

Our race does not have the best of track records when it comes to respecting and fostering human values consistently over the long hall. Our history if full of war and conquest, rape, and slavery.

In many ways the questions that face human beings today because of the possibilties brought about by technology in the areas of global engineering and even human bioengineering are similar to the questions our nation faced 100 years ago - and even continued to face in the struggle for civil rights - do we believe "all people are created equal" or are some to be considered as tools, raw material, resources for use by the strong.

Will we follow the way of Jesus or Nietsche or some course leaning one way or the other?

But no matter the course, in the end, for every individual person our destination is the same. As seen in the shrouded markers of Arlington above, we came from dust and to dust we shall return. Humility and perhaps gratefulness mixed with grace and kindness is the order for the day.