Marines.Together We Served

Wednesday, January 26, 2005

A Dirty Business

All together now – everyone put your hands together and wring them real hard. Now I want to hear you mutter such denunciations as: “We’re in another Vietnam!” or “This is a quagmire!” or “This is all about oil!” ad infinitum.

I have withheld comment on this vituperation for some time. But listen very carefully: War is a dirty business.

It is a given that we will always have those who see things differently; or for ideological reasons choose a position that is contrary; or have allowed themselves to be mislead by war stories that are often untrue, or at the least unsubstantiated. That’s simply a part of life. Opposition is okay, and can even be healthy, as evidenced in our recent electoral process. Just don’t get sucked into the negative press and hype that surrounds us on a daily basis.

Case in point – the young Marine who shot and killed a terrorist while clearing buildings one room at a time in Fallujah. No one would give this a second thought if the cameraman hadn’t been filming this particular moment. If the frightful scene played out on video is abhorrent to you, then that is a good thing. War is ugly at best. People die in ways that can only be classified as gruesome. War is a violent affair. The terrorists who were in the room being cleared by the Marines had been instructed to leave the area well in advance of the Marines starting their sweep. Just a day or two prior to this shooting, those same Marines had gone in to clear a room of terrorists, only to find one of them dead on the floor, but whose body had been booby-trapped by his pals so that when the Marines rolled him over the grenades would explode, killing more Marines.

Let me put it like this: if you have never been in such an environment, then at the very least withhold judgment. These Marines are well-trained young men. The Marines didn’t gain a reputation for being the best fighting force in the world by making nice to bad guys. At the same time, they typically give every opportunity for those same bad guys to give up the fight. If they choose not to surrender, then they will die.

Not quite a month ago, I participated in the funeral of a Marine who was killed in Fallujah clearing a room. Leading his squad room to room, he kicked in a door, but this time the terrorists were on the other side waiting for him. Only three days before his death he had been wounded in the leg and neck, yet would not leave his unit. They were his Marines, and they needed him.

I know these young men. I have worked with them; slept in tents and on the ground with them; eaten the same MREs with them (an MRE means: Meal Ready to Eat); and listened as they shared with me their concerns about having had to shoot and kill. These are mostly 18 to 25 year old men who must now live for the rest of their lives with the reality that they killed a man. It never leaves you.

While serving at our base in Djibouti, Africa in late 2003, one Marine came to see me for counseling. He had only a few months before been in Iraq. We talked for quite a while. I listened as he described for me in painstaking detail the experience where his unit had taken a town. He told me of seeing a terrorist, aiming his rifle, pulling the trigger, and watching the man fall to the ground for the last time. He spoke in hushed tones, causing me to have to lean closer to him in order to hear. After he was done, this nineteen year old man looked me straight in the eye and asked, “Can God forgive me for killing this man?”

Any time our nation is at war, we are asking our sons, and in more recent years, our daughters, to take up arms to defeat a threat somewhere around the globe. Because of the very nature of war, these willing warriors will never be the same. They will return home and take up their lives again, adjusting to civilian life with hardly a glance back. Some will wake up in the middle of the night in a sweat, having relived some horror from war that has violated them in the midst of their sleep. They will not speak of this, except perhaps to their spouse, or another warrior, or a chaplain/minister, and then possibly one time only. These are men who walk in our midst, sensing they are marked with a sign over their heads identifying them as killers. They wonder if people will accept them, or avoid them. War is an ugly business. Its residue is everywhere.

I know men who fought in World War Two who still wake up in the middle of the night in a panic, reliving their ghastly experiences.

This is why no president, be he Republican or Democrat, ever wants to choose war.

Let me encourage you to always honor those who must carry such a heavy load. As a nation, we have placed this upon them, asking them to do the nastiest of life’s business. At the very least, they deserve our continued support and respect.

Wednesday, January 19, 2005

The Bone Watch

Here I sit quietly on a Boeing 737 beside my wife as we wing our way back to California. The kid in me never ceases to be amazed at mans ingenuity. We are cruising at 39,000 feet traveling at something around 500 miles per hour. Wow!

This trip took us to St. Petersburg, Florida where I was attending the Navy Chief of Chaplains “Senior Leadership Symposium.” This annual symposium is for those who hold the rank of Captain (06) and Master Chief (E9). It was held in the Hilton Hotel, thus allowing my wife to enjoy some quiet time while I sat through a succession of professional presentations each day. Each evening we could enjoy dinner together at a local restaurant.

Since this is a gathering of very senior ranking chaplains and Religious Program Specialists (ergo, all senior in age, too!), we all know each other, or know the reputations of each other. It’s a great time to renew old acquaintances.

A personal highlight was the presentation by pollster, George Barna. I’ve read some of his books on polling, particularly pertaining to church growth. So hearing him in person was a real treat!

Each morning one of our chaplains would bring the devotional. The second morning, one of my dearest friends in the world, Ric Wilkins, led us in our devotional time. Ric is black, having been born and raised in St. Thomas, the Virgin Islands. He was blessed with a voice that the rest of us preachers would be willing to kill for. It is deep, easy-going, melodious and absolutely wonderful to listen to!

This morning’s devotional was given by our reserve flag officer, Rear Admiral Harold Robinson, a Jewish rabbi. He talked to us about the “bones of Joseph.” It was a delightful time of relevant insight into God’s use of even the seemingly insignificant, mundane stages of life to bring about his desired purpose.

I have familiarity with Jewish thinking, subscribing to the Jewish World Review (JWR) on the Internet, and having served with several rabbis during my military chaplaincy. They have a fascinating way of digging into the scriptures, continually asking questions, while at the same time researching the answers to those very same questions.

Rabbi Robinson used a common Judaic form of presentation called the “midrash.” This is where you take a passage of scripture, and then look for another passage that would, on the surface at least, appear to have no connection. The rabbi announced that we were going to look briefly at Queen Esther; and then Joseph, the son of Jacob (who would later be called Israel), from which the nation derived its name.

We live in a world full of people who believe their lives really don’t matter, and simply, in the grand scheme of things, don’t amount to anything. Well, this is where the rabbi picked up. He quickly reviewed the events of Esther, a Jewess, living in ancient Persia in the city of Susa (located in present day Iran) about 500 BC. Because of her beauty, she was selected by Xerxes (zurk-zees), King of Persia, to be his queen. Later, she would be instrumental in preventing the extermination of the Jews in Persia. Her Uncle Mordecai wisely counseled her to speak to the king about the man who sought to kill all the Jews. His words live on: “Do not think that because you are in the king’s house you alone of all the Jews will escape. For if you remain silent at this time, relief and deliverance for the Jews will arise from another place, but you and you father’s family will perish. And who knows but that you have come to royal position for such a time as this?” Today, some two thousand five hundred years later, she lives on in the Bible, and also in Jewish history and lore, as a heroine.

Then the rabbi took us to a passage in Genesis where Joseph, after becoming ruler in Egypt, second only to Pharaoh, made his twelve brothers swear to return his bones to the land God had promised to give to the Israelites. He died about 1800 BC. The Jews were taken into captivity by the Egyptians for approximately four hundred years before the Exodus took place, and the then forty years of wandering in the wilderness, ultimately arriving in the Promised Land. Joshua had the privilege of taking them across the Jordan into their new homeland. It was only after they had settled in Israel that Joshua finally allowed Joseph’s bones to be buried.

The point of this narrative is simple: God had made a promise to the Jews that he would deliver them to a land of their own. Joseph longed to have his body, his “bones,” returned to this land. This means that his bones needed to be kept secure during the four hundred years of captivity, and then through their wandering in the wilderness for forty years. Someone had to take responsibility of caring for Joseph’s bones. Most likely one tribe had this task, and it was probably shared among various families and their members.

How exciting could it be to have the daily assignment of “bone watch?” While Moses is on the mountain receiving the Ten Commandments, it’s your turn for “Bone Watch.” While the rest of the Jews are reveling in debauchery, you get the “Bone Watch.” Boring. Compared to what Moses was doing, “Bone Watch” was worse than insignificant. But, it was your day to watch after Joseph’s bones. You had the “Bone Watch.” Not very glamorous. Not very sexy. After all, you’re the one who always misses out when the important stuff happens.

What’s important to remember is that you performed a task that was instrumental in the accomplishment of God’s plan in delivering his people from slavery, and then bringing them into a life of freedom in their own land.

Are you willing to be one of God’s “Bone Watchers?” You may not think it’s important, but God does. In fact, anything done in obedience to God is important.

You may never know just how important your faithful execution of the ordinary and mundane is. But it is just such faithfulness that God blesses and uses for his purpose.

So let me say with all sincerity to my fellow “Bone Watchers,” to those of you who feel your life is insignificant and meaningless: God bless you! Never give up.

Wednesday, January 12, 2005

Natural Response

Terror struck in South Asia with devastating force.

A “tsunami” (Japanese for “harbor wave”) literally wiped out entire generations of people groups in moments. Grasping such a reality is more than I can personally take in.

Nations may wage war against other nations with amazingly destructive power, but the power and force of natural elements makes man’s efforts seem puny. The force of a Mount Saint Helen’s eruption is supposedly a hundred times more powerful than the atomic bomb dropped on Hiroshima in August 1945. I have no idea how they measure such things, but it seems reasonable that the force of nature trumps man’s feeble efforts every time.

The United States again has stepped up to assist the world in a disastrous situation. You may wrangle all you like about our president not responding sooner; or not offering more money initially; or how our Gross National Product in giving is so much lower than other nations. All of these are easily explained, though that is not the reason for this article. But for the sake of argument, allow me to address these three challenges before moving on.

1. President Bush took too long to respond – This is not true. What the president was doing was conferring with his cabinet and others who could help him assess the situation accurately, not emotionally. The wheels of American aid were in motion from the moment we heard of the disaster. But who then knew how bad things were?

2. Too little money was offered initially – Based upon what? Probably this criticism came about after it was discovered how much worse the carnage actually was. The first numbers I remember hearing announced were at least ten thousand people dead, and probably many times that. By the hour this number increased exponentially. And two weeks later we still have no idea just how many people were lost, and I suspect we never will. But the U.S. responded, as it always does, by upping the dollar amount to three hundred and fifty million. It will certainly go higher.

3. We give far less per capita than other nations – This is true. But why is it true? Because other nations provide money that comes from the taxes levied on their people. Our government ponies up with significant amounts ($350M+) that are taken from our taxes. But the amount of money that is raised from within the private sector dwarfs what our government offers. Through various agencies and organizations, both secular and sacred, huge amounts of money are received to assist in such crises.

So, are we stingy, as some have suggested? No. What we need to remember is that we always answer the cry for help, even while being roundly criticized. You may be sure that the amount of money and goods we provide in relief will be staggering. And it will be offered with no strings attached.

We would also do well to remember that it is the United States Navy with its battle groups strategically positioned around the globe that ensures open waterways and free transport of trade and commerce. You may not know much about world tensions between nations, but I can assure you that were it not for our muscular Navy, the Persian Gulf would be off limits to free trade. And what do you think would happen between Communist China and Taiwan without our war ships patrolling the seas separating these two enemies? How much do you suppose it costs us as taxpayers to keep those ships deployed so you and I can buy inexpensive items that say, “Made in China”? We’re all glad to see the price of gasoline drop at the pump, but what do you think would happen if we didn’t protect the waters of the Persian Gulf? How much would oil cost from OPEC then? Who pays for all this protection that is enjoyed by the world? As American taxpayers, you and I do.

Stingy? America? That’s laughable. And any person who suggests that we are, specifically the deputy secretary general of the United Nations, is grossly delusional.

A word of caution is needed here. We as a nation are in danger of feeling that we extend the helping hand too much without receiving credit or thanks. Labeled as being stingy, or accused of being responsible for causing the earthquake on the oceans floor that triggered the tsunami, is hurtful. But do not lose heart, my friends!

We would do well to remember what the Bible says about always doing good for others. Paul writes to the church in Galatia, “Let us not become weary in doing good.” Later he adds, “Therefore, as we have opportunity, let us do good.”

Americans are not perfect. But Americans are good. Forget the “nay sayers.”

Let’s determine to always do what is good. The world is counting on it.

Wednesday, January 05, 2005

Forever Books!

My name is Chuck, and I’m an inveterate reader.

The truth be told, I look for any and all opportunities to sit down with a book and simply read. There are not enough hours in the day for me to read the books that are of interest to me. I am unashamedly a bibliophile – a lover of books. Books have been my constant companion since elementary school. I can usually be found reading two or more books at one time. There are books I read for my own personal continuing education; books I read for my ministry (particularly sermon preparation); books I read as part of my role in the military; books I read for pastoral counseling; and books I read purely for personal enjoyment.

Closely linked with reading is the need for a dictionary. I always have this necessary tool within reach. At my desk at home where I write these articles, weighing in at about ten pounds, sits my 1989 edition of Webster’s Encyclopedic Unabridged Dictionary of the English Language. When I’m traveling I carry my Webster’s Pocket Dictionary. It is a “must have.”

I’m all too aware of the fact that the Internet has been touted as replacing the need for books. My response to that is: Nonsense! I read a significant amount of material each day on the Internet, but there is nothing that could ever replace the comfort of reading a good book. In fact, to my way of thinking, the term “a good book” is a redundancy. I can count on one hand the number of books I’ve read in my life that I threw away. One of those that will probably surprise you is, “Forrest Gump.” It was awful. Specifically, it was vulgar throughout, depressing in its characterization, and it used gratuitous sex, inappropriate sexual references, and outright sexism, that left you scratching your head. What could the author have been thinking? The Forrest Gump character in the book is the antithesis of the wonderfully warm and innocent person portrayed in the movie of the same name, brought to life by one of the finest actors of our generation, Tom Hanks.

But I digress . . .

My family first moved to Paris, France in 1960 where I was quickly confronted with a number of challenges. First, the culture with its resplendent history was overwhelming. I couldn’t even begin to appreciate the lengthy reign of the French kings who sat upon the throne before the proletariat rose up on what is known as Bastille Day, unceremoniously ousting the blue bloods. Second, I was enrolled in a bilingual school. Literal translation: classes were taught in French, but cheer up! All the teachers spoke English. This dilemma brings me to my third point. I needed to learn to read and speak French fast!

My means of escape was to visit a huge bookstore in Paris where I could buy a book in English. I particularly enjoyed a series called, “We Were There.” It placed the reader into the lives of the young characters in the book who were thrust back to a significant world event, seeing it all unfold through their eyes. I would read until I fell asleep, or had finished the book! One of my favorites being, “We Were There at Pearl Harbor.”

The next year we moved to Norway. Once again, I was rescued by books in English. I discovered the wonderful world of Louis L’Amour, the prolific writer of Westerns. As a thirteen year old, with roots from Texas, I was figuratively in my element.

I have a book with me all the time. If I’m heading off to the store, or a doctor’s appointment, or a meeting with a friend, I always have a book in hand, just in case I have a few minutes to kill. Then I find that occasional rare find of a book that captivates me. I refer to such writings as “bathroom books.” I look for any opportunity to sneak away if only to read a few more pages. Perhaps the famous English essayist and critic, Charles Lamb, said it best: “I love to lose myself in other men’s minds.”

I have been a part of several organizations that use a Latin phrase that embodies what they represent. In the Marine Corps we say, “Semper Fidelis” (Always Faithful). My seminary used the Latin, “Sola Scriptura” (Scripture Only). So I’ve been thinking I would start a group of book lovers. We’ll use a Greek phrase, and call ourselves, “Aionios Biblios” (Forever Books).

Shortly after returning home from my tour of active duty a few months ago, I was approached by Brigitte Long. She is spearheading the Friends of the Ripon Memorial Library. She invited me to work with her and her committee in raising the consciousness level of the community regarding our library. I can report to you that this is not the library of yesteryear! In fact, I was pleasantly surprised to discover how the library has expanded its resources. They have guests who hold mini-seminars on a variety of topics and subjects. They are fully up to date with CDs, videos, DVDs, audio-books, and multi-language books for our ever-changing society.

You really should stop by and check it out. Go on-line to: http://www.stockton.lib.ca.us/. Then scroll down to where it says Ripon Branch.

You know where it is. It’s catty-corner from Ripon Elementary on Main Street. Melinda Kopp is the librarian. Tell her Chuck Roots sent you.

Psalm for the Day