It's in the hands of Allah!...or whatever his name is....

Spring of 1987.

I recently was promoted to E-5, was in NCO leadership class, when one of my classmates conveyed a story, that to this day reverberates though my consciousness, because, I still cannot succumb to the concept that a fellow human being could be so disconnected.  The story is a follows:

"You are not going to believe this" our classmate said during one of the breaks.

"What?!" someone asks.  Our classmate was a crew-chief in one of the C-130 Hercules training squadrons at Little Rock Air Force base, where every "Herc" pilot had to attend for training.  This includes international countries that purchased the aircraft from Lockheed Martin.  One particular mission our classmate was on, the student-pilot was from Saudi Arabia, and after basic flying training, cockpit familiarization training, I assume, the instructor pilot commanded the student to take control of the aircraft.

You don't get to take control of this multi-engine, multi-million dollar asset without some prior flight experience and certification.  So this wasn't the student's first exposure to controlling an aircraft while in flight.  Typical of hilly Arkansas, getting some light-choppy turbulence is a fairly common occurrence depending on winds, temperature, low-level wind shear, etc.  On this day, as the aircraft was flying over one of the the training zones at about 2,000 feet, they experience some chop and the student let go of the yoke and declared "Its in the hands of Allah!!!"

End of training mission, the instructor immediately took over and returned to base.  I never envisioned, I, or any Christian could get that deep into it.

I was a believer, at the time, and maybe because of the Jim Jones incident , in Jonestown, Guyana, in 1978, I always allowed myself enough room to be skeptical of ardent-absolute belief, and not relying on everything to the god, I believed in then. I have a certain expectation of self-responsibility and autonomy to do for myself, even when I believed, this has always been a part of who and what I am. One of my best friends introduced me the the 'Conan the Barbarian' series, when we roomed together in 1982-1983, and I reveled at Conan's approach to his god.  In the series, Conan when challenged, would pray to Crom (his god), but also command Crom to get the hell out of his way, if Crom didn't want to help.

Even back then, the depiction of Crom in the Conan series, appeared a more rational approach to god, than the notion of the Christian god, watching, guiding, and influencing every aspect of life on earth. This most common view of the Christian god has always been something of learned helplessness, from my perspective.  Why did god give us the tools of cognition, reason, muscles, determination, and appreciation if we are to rely on, ask, and praise god for every detail of our supposedly inadequate lives?

There are only two prayers I ever made that were born of a personal want; the vast majority were prayers of gratitude. The first time I asked god for anything was on March 18, 1986:
"Dear God, thank you for bringing our precious daughter into the world.  I know, I don't ask for much, but I want to be a good father, and I need your guidance, please show me what to.  Again Jesus, thank you for everything, Amen"

Considering I was not quite 24 years old when our daughter was born, and didn't have a consistent father figure growing up, was always lit on the short fuse, I was concerned about how I would parent.  My worry was, our children will always fear what I was then and our relationship would suffer, because I didn't know better, so that prayer came at a time when I thought I was ill-prepared for the incredible responsibility of being a father.

The last time I would ask god for anything, was my most urgent and last genuine prayer.

I had two tours in Panama, one as an observer from 1982-1985, and then as a forecaster from 1990-1995.  As an observer, the development of thunderstorms in the tropics fascinated me.  To see the subtlest of flow from the oceans get lifted to the atmosphere, and convert from nothing to massive billowing columns of energy, in about as much time as it takes for you to save 15% with GEICO, was impressive, every time.

One day, with my thoughts literally in the clouds, an elderly San Blas Indian man, who washed our cars, disrupted me and said "Car Wash" in Spanish.  I glanced at him, pointed to the fast-building towering cumulus (TCU) clouds about 25 miles Northeast of the base, as if he were nuts.  He said "No lluvia, no lluvia!" emphatically.  'What was his certification?' I asked internally.  He then promised, if he washed my car, and it rained, I would get the next three free.

Deal! - I had this scam in the bag.

I then went inside to record the hourly observation then walked outside 15 minutes later, expecting to see new development supporting the expected storms, and all that remained were debris clouds from the TCU's earlier.  My San Blas friend smiled deeply as he soaped my car up.  Not a fucking drop of rain.

How did he know?  This guy had no formal training, he wasn't a weather 'expert', did he have divine instincts?  My curiosity led me to ask this guy when ever I saw him, what he thoughts were on just about every weather threat, and he was amazingly accurate. So after a few more car-washes, I asked him what is the secret, on a day he didn't recommend the car wash, and he pointed to what should be so blatantly obvious an indicator to anyone who really had the desire to know.

Thunderstorms are formed as relatively hot air lifts into the atmosphere and the air cools and condenses. Before the clouds form, the air is already rising in the form of thermal or mechanical (fronts or terrain) lift.  Buzzards, the laziest flying birds on the planet, use convective thermals to rise to great atmospheric heights, I assume to spot carcasses.  My Indian friend pointed to the thermal just 3 miles to the north, filled with about 10 buzzards that looked like small crows at the altitudes, still circulating in rapid ascension, without an indicator of any cloud yet.   I walked inside and told the forecaster to amend and issue the thunderstorm warning, the forecast was 2 hours behind what was happening. We managed to get 20 minutes positive lead time.  The forecaster asked me how did I know, "The vultures", I responded as I scrambled to record my special with the first rumble of thunder.

It is amazing how science can manifest itself.  My San Blas car wash friend was in a minor essence, a scientist. Either he, or someone before him, developed the correlation between the circulating buzzards, and when or where thunderstorms are likely to develop. He was able to make accurate now-cast weather predictions modeled primarily on the flying patterns of buzzards.  An incredibly simple and obvious process, yet, if you were to ask most meteorologists, most would never consider natures black 'Dorothy's' as clues.  In ancient times, it seems logical to assert such examples of basic observations techniques by astute humans, were used to claim supernatural powers over those less willing to observe their natural world, and through human ingenuity achieve statuses of shamen, holy priests, and witch doctors.

On a later day, similar to the day I lost the bet, and us once again expecting thunderstorms, I walked outside to check on the storm's development, and noticed the buzzards not circulating upwards but flying in straight lines with the prevailing wind.  My friend was washing someone else's car, "No lluvia" I shouted at him, he turned and smiled back, nodding as he recognized I figured out the secret, "No lluvia".

When I returned to Panama as a forecaster, I don't recall seeing my 'instructor'.  With Just Cause, a lot of the faces from 6 years prior, changed.  Within a few months after my return, I was asked to be the NCOIC of the Army support team, a job I did for two years, but gave up because the frequent deployments interfered with my ability to complete my bachelor's degree - a goal I set before returning to Panama.  While deployed, and supporting the Army, I frequently and quietly, contemplated my deepening skepticism regarding the Christian faith, and at this juncture needed a definitive declaration to stay in faith, or get out; approximately 3 years had passed since I first read the bible, objectively, and established serious disagreements with biblical science, compared to the observable world, and how god was portrayed, from a moral perspective.

On my last day of faith, I was at the base weather station, I walked outside, and the buzzards were flying with the wind versus surfing the thermals.  My forecast was spot on, perfectly reflecting the scenario, calling for thunderstorms in the vicinity, but none at the base; I eventually solved the synoptic and micro meteorological conditions that supported this particular situation, during the Panamanian wet seasons. Like many of my fellow skeptics at the brink of losing faith, I asked god for a sign, something I knew would confirm supernatural cause, to an extent. I could have stacked the deck against god, but figured, that in a 50/50 scenario, getting this supernatural god to demonstrate his power, would not be a leap beyond reasonable probabilities, or expectations. By this time, I had incredible confidence with my approach to the science of making weather predictions, especially with regards to convective scenarios.

On this random November Day in 1992, if god is actively engaged, he would have heard something like the following from a desperate, questioning, believer........

"Dear god, I know I am not supposed to question, but in search of truth I have questions.  I want to believe, but I have serious doubts.  I beg of you, to demonstrate to me, somehow, you are real - a simple request, make it thunder.  Make me amend this forecast, and I will remain your loyal servant, Amen".  This is the only time in my life, I left any aspect of my existence entirely in the hands of the Christian god. The buzzards didn't find any thermals to surf the sky, the science proved accurate, once again, and the hand of god was not evident, not even in a 50/50 proposition.  It was at this moment, agnosticism became my way of being, and rather than any definitive answers, a million more questions manifested in my unsatisfied curiosity, that made me dig even further. With each answer, more questions, but not once in the last 22 years, have I found any evidence to validate the Christian faith.

The only vehicle, I have found that consistently works, is approaching things from a scientific perspective, and with insatiable curiosity, to know, understand, learn, and apply lessons to constantly be better that I was - yesterday.  Since then, the evolution of who and what I am, became someone whose skin, I am very happy to be in.  I no longer needed the surveillance, and supervision of the asserted sky-father watching over me.