Marines.Together We Served

Monday, December 25, 2006

My "I Love Me" Wall

As this year comes to an end, I thought I would share with you some of those personal items that are important to me. They wouldn’t necessarily mean anything to someone else, but it’s the story behind each one that brings back a flood of memories.

Last week a friend stopped by the church office to visit me unannounced. Wes is a retired Marine colonel. We had served together a number of years ago down at Marine Corps Base Camp Pendleton in Southern California. We haven’t been in touch since his retirement several years ago. Last October, while I was assisting my wife’s company with their annual golf tournament (not exactly a hardship!), I received a call on my cell phone. It was Wes. He informed me that he was in Ripon. In fact, he was visiting a friend at City Hall where he saw my picture on the Military Wall. After stating that he knew me, he asked if anyone had my phone number. Thus we renewed contact.

So last week Wes was traveling back to Ripon on business. Sitting in my office he commented on my “I Love Me” Wall. For the uninitiated, an “I Love Me” Wall is an unofficial military term. This wall consists of various items of importance that a military person has acquired during their time of service. Typically, for instance, when you complete a tour of duty with one command, you receive a plaque with the command logo, your name, and the dates served with that command, and any other bits of info that identify you. Pictures, promotion documents, coins, and a host of other items now festoon the wall of many service members today. The focus is on the individual. It tells of where they have been and what they have done. Thus, it is referred to as the “I Love Me” Wall.

Allow me to share with you some of the items on my wall.

There are four pictures that stand out for me. The first picture is of my brother, John, and me in 1970 at Camp Pendleton. He is in his Marine green flight suit, and I am in my Marine sateens (solid green dungaree material). The second photo shows me shaking hands with President Ronald Reagan in the Radisson Miyako Hotel during the 1986 Economic Summit in Tokyo, Japan. The third photo is of the flag-raising on Mount Suribachi. No, I was not there in 1945! But, for any Marine to have such a picture is practically iconic. What sets this picture apart is that I met the man who took this photo – a photo that is considered to be the most recognized photo in the world. Joe Rosenthal was a civilian reporter with the Marines when they stormed the beaches of Iwo Jima February 19, 1945. Joe passed away a few months back. In 1999 it was my pleasure to meet Joe at the Marine Corps Combat Correspondence Association, Joe Rosenthal Chapter’s monthly luncheon held in Alameda. Knowing that he would only sign pictures that were printed from the original negative – and he owned the negative – makes this picture that much more special. The fourth picture is when Brigadier General Mastin Robeson presented me with the Defense Meritorious Service Medal in Djibouti, Africa in 2003.

Other items: 1) a 3 foot Christian cross that was made for me with rebar (unfinished steel bars) by a Navy Seabee in Kuwait, 2003, 2) a Vietnam era helmet like the one I wore there, 3) various military coins I have received over the years. The first one was given to me by the commanding officer of squadron HMM-364, the “Purple Foxes,” Camp Pendleton, 4) an honorary Religious Program Specialist plaque from the RPs at Naval Station Rota, Spain, 1992, 5) four small jars that contain the following: sand from Omaha Beach; sand from Utah Beach; sand from the beach at Iwo Jima; and a portion of a stick from a tree at Belleau Wood, France. For an explanation of the first two, ask a soldier. For an explanation of the last two, ask a Marine, 6) my step father’s honorable discharge from the Marine Corps at the end of World War II, and 7) a picture of my wife and me at the 208th Marine Corps Ball. This was my last Ball as Marine Staff Sergeant wearing my dress blues, 1983. The next month I was commissioned as a chaplain in the Navy.

There are many more things I could share with you that embody moments or experiences that help make up the whole of life. Makes me wonder what this New Year has in store that may become part of my “I Love Me” Wall.

Whatever lies ahead in 2007, being in the service of the Lord is reward enough. The best part is simply knowing that my picture is on Jesus’ “I Love Me” Wall.

Happy New Year!

Monday, December 18, 2006

War Leads to Peace

No, this is not a continuation article of my World War III series. I concluded that last week. You can read all past articles on my web site: http://rootspressure.blogspot.com. Instead, I am writing about Christmas.

What does war and peace have to do with Christmas? Good question! Stay with me and let’s see if we can put this conundrum together.

On the Christian Calendar there is what is called Advent Season. This refers to the time when God visited the earth in the person of his son, Jesus. Specifically, it means the coming of Christ. The four Sundays leading to Christmas typically address four characteristics associated with God: Love, Joy, Hope, and Peace.

This past Sunday I was preaching on Peace. It is amazing how many times the term “peace” is used throughout the Bible. With few exceptions, the term normally is in reference to us and our relationship to God.

So let me ask you, “What is your relationship to God?”

Assuming the existence of God (something the Bible does in the very first verse), we quickly see that mankind was created to have a personal, intimate relationship with this Creator God. Why does the Bible assume the existence of God? Because since God made us, we naturally respond to him. To do otherwise is to go against the very reason for your existence.

Since a relationship such as we are invited to have with God is close and personal, we can only enjoy the relationship as long as it is entirely voluntary! If God were to force us into this relationship even a little bit, we would rebel and withdraw. Love cannot be forced. It must be voluntary. This allows both parties to relax and love each other.

Before I lose the men here, let me explain that the love that the Bible refers to is not the mushy, gooey love so often associated with romantic love. That’s all well and good and has its place in any relationship, but love for God is 1) based upon respect for who God is, 2) acknowledging his attributes, usually the big three: All Powerful, All Knowing, and Ever Present, and 3) Accepting that he loves us despite our fallen, debased, craven, sinful nature. This third part is a mystery, to be sure!

There’s the rub! Even though we know we have sinned against God, he declares his love for us anyway. Go figure! Part of the mystery is why? Why would he love me when I couldn’t have cared less about him at one period in my life?

Allow me to try and answer that. God loves you because you are just like him. He made you that way. You can’t change it. Just as any parent sees themselves in their child, God sees himself in us. The problem is, sin has marred and distorted that image of God. In our sinful condition, we are at war with God, we push him away because we know we’re not worthy of his love.

Well, since I can’t change my sin nature, and if it’s going to be changed at all, God is the only one who can do it. He makes this happen by coming into the world as one of us. That’s Jesus! He came as a baby and lived as we live. As an adult he walked among us, showing us in person the love of the Father. This was no more evident than when Jesus went to the cross. It was there that the war between us and God was fought and won. Jesus, the son of God, paid the price for our sin. This opened up the way for us to have a new relationship with God.

As a man, Jesus did not come to threaten us with damnation. He did not come to dazzle us with his superior knowledge. He did not come to cause us to be awe-struck by his miraculous deeds. He did not come to chasten us for our sinful behavior. He came to demonstrate the most powerful force in the universe. Nothing can defeat this force. Nothing can shake it. Nothing can compare to it. That force is love – God’s love.

Because of God’s love, Jesus, the son of God, came to offer us peace with God. That peace is available when we accept, by faith, the work of God’s love and forgiveness. It’s all wrapped up in the person of Jesus Christ. This is the message the angels gave to the shepherds the night Christ was born: “Peace on earth, good will toward men.”

We no longer need to be at war with God. He offers us his peace.

And once you are at peace with God, you can be at peace with others.

And that’s why we say, Merry Christmas!

[Allow me to suggest a last-minute Christmas gift idea. There are two books that are absolutely “must read” material and they are in sequel format. The first is, “Dinner with a Perfect Stranger,” and the second is, “A Day with a Perfect Stranger.” The author is David Gregory. They run about $13.00/ea at you local Christian Bookstore, or Christine’s Little Bookstore in Ripon]

Monday, December 11, 2006

World War III? (Part IV)

Since the late 1960s Vietnam has become synonymous with failure. To be more precise – it means failure in foreign policy when it comes to American military intervention.

Here’s the nation that grudgingly entered two world wars within twenty-five years taking on the world’s most powerful military forces at the time. It goes without saying that had we not stepped into the fray Americans would have been speaking German or Japanese. So how is it that since the end of WWII we have yet to win any war or conflict?

Let’s go back and look at what happened since 1945. The United States barely had the opportunity to catch its collective breath when we were confronted with the rapid spread of Communism. The newly formed United Nations, in an attempt to prove itself superior to its predecessor, the League of Nations, called on the United States to engage Communist forces in Korea. The U.S. now found itself in the unenviable position of being an attack dog in hot spots around the world. Remember: previous to this we were extremely reluctant to get involved anywhere around the globe. We retaliated only if we had been pushed too far. Now there is a world organization in the U.N. asking us to do their bidding. If there is a familiar ring to this, you’re quite correct. For the past sixty years we have either been tabbed by the U.N. to intervene in such places as Korea, Kuwait, and Iraq, along with a list of lesser known places; or we’ve been vilified by this same organization for taking independent action apart from their approval. Just today outgoing Secretary General of the U.N., Kofi Annan, used his farewell speech to rail against our country, and President Bush in particular.

All of a sudden the United States, the nation that virtually liberated the world from tyrannical dictators in the first half of the last century, is today denigrated as the bad guy. Since then we have been engaged in quite a few military conflicts and wars. Each has been fumbled because we have lost sight of the goal. Consider the following: 1) 1950s Korean War – we fought to a draw, 2) 1963 Bay of Pigs in Cuba – the U.S. was a no-show, 3) 1960-70s Vietnam War – we abandoned the field, 4) 1980 Tehran, Iran U.S. Embassy Hostage Rescue – it was called off at the last minute, 5) 1983 Beirut, Lebanon Barracks Bombing – we pulled out, 6) 1991 Gulf War – we promised to support anti-Saddam forces but went home instead, 7) 1993 Twin Towers Bombing in New York City, and the “Blackhawk Down Debacle” in Somalia – nothing was done, 8) 1996 Bombing of the Kobart Towers military quarters in Saudi Arabia – we again did nothing, 9) 1998 Bombing of the U.S. Embassies in Tanzania and Kenya – we did nothing, 10) 1999 the Bombing of the USS Cole – we did nothing. And now Afghanistan and Iraq since 2001. Will we stay and finish the job?

So what does this mean to us? When it comes to fighting it means we have lost our will as a people. Politicians, who are elected to serve the American people, stumble when taking a stand against any aggressor. We allow ourselves to be bullied by petty dictators. We stand by when our motives are questioned. We apologize for being bigger and more powerful than any other nation. We turn on ourselves when it seems the rest of the world doesn’t like us. All the while our military, the best, most powerful force in the world, stands ready to act on the orders of their civilian leaders.

Consider this: The last war we fought that interrupted the lives of the average American was World War II. Since then all wars and conflicts have been news items on the 6 O’clock News hour. Unless, of course, you had a family member or close friend serving in the military at the time. But it still didn’t affect your daily life.

The places where we have been fighting for the last sixty years may not make much difference on the grand scale of world affairs. But the enemy we face today, Islamic radicals, have made their intentions quite clear. One way or the other, they want us dead. If we should wind up pulling out of Iraq, you may be certain that these enemies will follow us right back to our own shores. Remember these two things: 1) The 9-11 hijackers had been living in the U.S. for several years, waiting, and 2) The Islamic radicals are counting on us to lose our nerve.

The question is whether we want the promise of security more than we want our freedom. If it’s security we want, we will be intimidated into submission in hopes that the enemy will not harm us. If it is freedom we want, we will stand firm against this enemy and fight.

In closing, consider these quotes from two previous presidents. In the early 1960s, President John F. Kennedy said, “In the long history of the world, only a few generations have been granted the role of defending freedom in its hour of maximum danger. I do not shrink from this responsibility - I welcome it.” He later said, “Let every nation know, whether it wishes us well or ill, that we shall pay any price, bear any burden, meet any hardship, support any friend, oppose any foe to assure the survival and the success of liberty.”

President Ronald Reagan stated this as his beliefs concerning freedom, “Above all, we must realize that no arsenal, or no weapon in the arsenals of the world, is so formidable as the will and moral courage of free men and women. It is a weapon our adversaries in today's world do not have.” “Freedom is never more than one generation away from extinction. We didn't pass it to our children in the bloodstream. It must be fought for, protected, and handed on for them to do the same.” “Freedom prospers when religion is vibrant and the rule of law under God is acknowledged.”

We can, and we must turn away from hand-wringing when dealing with the world’s troubles. When our freedoms are imperiled, we are safer when we act with courage and boldness. This once was our nation’s trademark. It can be again.

Monday, December 04, 2006

World War III? (Part III)

Yes, this is the third part to a series I’ve been considering for some weeks. No, I do not intend to continue this series ad nauseam. However, I do believe it is critical for us to have a basic understanding of how we arrived at this point in our nation’s history.

Last week we finished with President Nixon attempting to withdraw American troops from Vietnam honorably. This may have actually worked had the president not been embroiled in the Watergate scandal. Our combat forces left Nam in January of 1973. We maintained a presence there in hopes that the South Vietnamese might miraculously put a stop to the aggression of the North Vietnamese who now saw the South as being ripe for the taking. In 1975 we saw the fall of Saigon and the evacuation of the U.S. Embassy. In the months that followed countless Vietnamese loyal to the South and who had supported our American forces were rounded up and sent to repatriation camps, a euphemism for concentration camps if ever there was one! We will never know the number of people who vanished, or died at the hands of their countrymen from the North in these camps. During this time there was a rash of communist brutality sweeping across Indochina (Vietnam, Cambodia, and Laos). The Khmer Rouge, a vicious communist government in Cambodia under their leader Pol Pot, is responsible for killing anywhere from one and a half million to three million people during their reign of terror. The area outside of the capital, Phnom Penh, became known as the “Killing Fields.” One of their mottos was: "To keep you is no benefit. To destroy you is no loss."

During this same time in the 1970s, millions of Vietnamese were attempting to leave their country in hopes of having some sort of future anywhere else but Vietnam. One Navy chaplain I know was a young priest in Vietnam when Saigon fell to the communists. His brother-in-law offered to help him escape. He was closed up in a wooden crate, placed on a cargo ship bound for the Philippines, and eventually was released from his wooden prison before starving to death. He was one of the first of what became known as the “Boat People.” Once again, the number of people who were lost attempting to escape is unknown. (This was not our first experience with boat people. Before the United States entered World War Two, boatloads of Jews from Germany came to America’s shores only to be turned away. Instead of the new start they had hoped for, they had no choice but to return to Germany where most of them would eventually be taken to the Nazi death camps.) In any event, thousands of Southeast Asian boat people wound up coming to America. Many of them settled in the Central Valley of California. I was pastor of my first church in the early 1980s and witnessed a huge increase in the number of people who settled in Fresno. My superintendent asked me if I would work with these folks. I was honored to do so. Having served in Vietnam as a Marine I felt we owed these folks a debt. After our inglorious exit from Vietnam I was somewhat mystified that they were still willing to come to the United States.

Also in the 1970s there was a “cleansing” of sorts taking place in Communist China, with a focus on anyone who is educated or is a professional (doctor, lawyer, minister, etc) within society. Even if you wore glasses you were regarded as being educated. Their logic went something like this: “Why do you need glasses unless you are reading?” This is, and continues to be, a threat to non-democratic nations. Communists typically deal with non-communist countrymen by killing them. At the very least they are imprisoned for the remainder of their lives, or forced to work in labor camps which is equal to a slow death.

The bottom line is: America should have finished what she started. We had the means, but we lost the will. We’ve heard about the atrocities perpetrated on helpless people groups throughout Indochina after we left. Sadly, this is a dark chapter in our history. People who were counting on us to stand by them during the difficult times were left to face ruthless tyranny. Countless lives were lost in the process, not the least of which was the more than fifty-eight thousand U.S. troops killed during our ten years in Vietnam.

It is my belief that our nation has yet to get past our failures in Vietnam. This is the specter that is raised every time we even think about engaging in warfare. The mantra is quickly and frequently intoned, “We don’t want another Vietnam!”

So with Iraq, are we in another Vietnam? Yes & no. But that will have to wait for next week.

Monday, November 27, 2006

World War III? (Part II)

Picking up from two weeks ago, I had written about wars and the ways nations typically find themselves embroiled in them. What I have presented in the previous article and what you will read now are the ways the United States has become ensnared in various major wars during her history.

Just after the conclusion of WWII, the United States found itself confronted on the world-wide scene by a muscular, robust Soviet Union. When the Tsarist regime was toppled in 1917, communist forces, under the leadership of Vladimir Lenin, established a new political government known as Communism. Communism spread rapidly, incorporating the basic teachings of Karl Marx. This form of Communism became known as Leninism. This set in motion a movement under the general banner of Communism which has caused the United States decades of challenges and problems.

Ironically, though the United States was ardently opposed to Communism, the Soviet Union became an ally during WWII in our struggle against Hitler and the Third Reich. So devastating was the German military advance into Soviet Russia that it is said that the Soviet Union lost an entire generation of men. Because we shared a common enemy (in this case, Hitler’s Germany), we were allies. But we were not friends. The old adage is true, “My enemy’s enemy is my friend.”

Since the Second World War allowed the Soviets to become a world force, they made moves into Asia: specifically, China. Communism had made huge inroads into China during the 1920s & 30s. Chiang Kai-shek, became the ruler of China in the 1920s. He attempted to eradicate Communism from China during a twenty-two-year-long civil war. The Communist Chinese prevailed and took control of this massive country in 1949. Chiang Kai-shek took his military forces and retreated to Taiwan. It was his dream to rebuild his army and retake what was now known as The Peoples Republic of China. We in the West have called it “Red China,” the color associated with Communism. As a kid in the 50s there was a common saying: “I’d rather be dead than Red!” My first roommate in college in 1966 was a Chinese kid from Taiwan. He was an ardent follower of Chiang Kai-shek, believing he would return to Taiwan to join his leader in militarily retaking China.

Once Communism was entrenched in China, it began to expand rapidly. The northern part of Korea embraced this philosophy, placing them at odds with their southern brothers. The United States, still recovering from the effects of WWII, was asked by the United Nations to help stop the spread of Communism in the Korean Peninsula. This led to the Korean War. After a back and forth struggle for several years, the “Forgotten War” as it was known, ended in a truce, with the geographic 38th Parallel line now separating the two nations of North Korea and South Korea. It should be pointed out that American forces were not just fighting North Korean troops, but Chinese troops as well. There were also Soviet advisors working with the North Korean and Chinese forces.

Communism was making its way into Indochina, (Vietnam, Cambodia and Laos). Northern Vietnam was coming under the influence of Communism. The southern portion of Vietnam was fearful of Communism’s advance. In the 1950s, President Dwight Eisenhower cautioned the U.S. against getting involved in a conflict in Southeast Asia. President John Kennedy provided American military advisors to the Diem regime in South Vietnam. However, South Vietnam’s President Ngo Diem, had lost influence with world leaders, and also with his own military. In a coup held November 2, 1963, Diem was assassinated. The U.S. had promised to stay out of the way. Oddly, President Kennedy was assassinated twenty days later.

Under President Johnson, the United States committed troops to South Vietnam in 1965. For the next ten years we fought a war in an effort to halt the spread of Communism. It was during President Nixon’s administration that the United States exited Vietnam, causing our Vietnam veterans to bear the scorn of having lost a war – something that had never happened in our country previously.

Now here’s a bit of history you may not be aware of. We, the United States, lost the Vietnam War. This is true. But it was not the military that lost the war. In fact, our military never lost a single battle in Vietnam. We lost this war back home. The American people grew tired of the war dragging on, with the nightly news giving the daily tally of dead American soldiers. Domestic concerns were taking center stage. We endured the assassinations of two dynamic and popular leaders: Bobby Kennedy and Dr. Martin Luther King. There was ongoing unrest on college campuses. Coupled with that was the racial unrest and rioting in the inner-cities. The counter-culture movement was in full swing with its free love, hedonistic lifestyle. Add to that the Watergate break-in with an increasingly paranoid President Nixon, and Vietnam was old and tired news.

This bit of historical background is important if we are going to understand where we are today, and how we got here. If the United States is going to survive a far graver threat than Communism, we had better wake up. The threats of world leaders and nations such as Hitler’s Nazi Germany, Hirohito’s Imperialist Japan, Lenin’s Soviet Union, Ho Chi Min’s Vietnam, Mao Zedong’s China, or any other dictatorial leaders, pales by comparison to the threat of radical Islamists.

This will be continued next week.

Monday, November 20, 2006

All About Attitude

I intended to write a continuation of last week’s article addressing World War III. But this being the start of our holiday season an article on Thanksgiving seemed more appropriate. What follows are thoughts and excerpts taken from my sermon on Sunday. So, here goes.

Thanksgiving is more than recognizing God’s providential blessing on you, your family, or the United States. It is more than a federally authorized day off. It’s even more than a long weekend. In particular for the Christian, or any person who desires to know God more fully, thanksgiving is a way of life.

When you get right down to it, it is your attitude that makes the difference. Some Christians I know want a closer walk with the Lord, yet their attitudes are hardly godly. I would submit that your attitude is more a reflection of your heart than anything else. Are you smiling on Sunday, but the rest of the week you’re walking around with a chip on your shoulder? Are people avoiding you because you’re angry about something? Do you claim to have a great marriage but in reality resent your wife/husband? The best face you can put on this would be to say you are na├»ve. At worst, you are hypocritical. So, what do you do?

An attitude is something you develop by the choices you make. For instance, you choose to listen to the positive and negative attitudes in your life. You embrace them, or your reject them. It’s your call. There’s no blaming others. No pointing the finger at parents. No passing it off on your heritage. This is why you have heard the phrase, “You are known by the company you keep.”

God has the most positive attitude of anyone. After all, he’s the one who sees us at our worst – and he still does not give up on us. If you and I had treated our parents the way we have treated God, we could hardly blame our folks for washing their hands of us. Not so with God. He loves you and me so much that he is willing to endure our bad behavior because he knows what he can accomplish in us given the chance. This is one of the primary reasons why I rejoice in my relationship with the Lord. He never gives up on me.

I find it interesting that Jesus always gave thanks. When he was holding the loaves of bread and the fish he gave thanks. Four thousand and more people were fed from those few loaves and fish. So momentous an occasion was this that the hillside where this miracle occurred became known throughout the region as, “the place where people had eaten the bread after the Lord had given thanks.” (John 6:23)

When Jesus was enjoying a final meal with the disciples, “he took the bread, gave thanks and broke it.” He also “took the cup, gave thanks, and offered it to them.” He was able to give thanks at a meal where he knew he would experience the ultimate betrayal. In a matter of hours he would be hanging on a cross.

Since the Bible says we are to be conformed into the image of Jesus, God’s son, it makes sense that we might ask the question, “What should my attitude be then?” Answer: It should be the same as that of Jesus.

One final thought about attitude. How do you want people to remember you? Ask yourself this question: “If I were to die today, how would people remember me?” If you’re not sure, or you don’t like the obvious answer, you may want to ask God to help you with this. He’s an expert at changing our attitude. It begins with a new heart.

This Thursday, Thanksgiving Day, begin the rest of your life with an attitude of thanksgiving. You’ll be amazed at how much better you’ll feel, not to mention the difference family and friends will see. Being thankful is not a feeling – it’s an attitude. Others will see it.

Happy Thanksgiving!

Monday, November 13, 2006

World War III?

There’s a question being bandied about in recent days as to whether we are involved in a world war. Is this the long dreaded World War III? Good question!

On the surface it would not appear to be so. Historically, we have imagined a cataclysmic clash between two equally potent armies who are in a colossal struggle for potential world dominance. In the 20th Century we had our first ever identified World Wars. First, 1914 became the first of our world wars. This conflict came about over disputed land in the Balkans. Because of past European colonization, alliances were made to protect their territories or to grab more from neighbors. What is often thought to have been a war fought in Europe, this conflict literally spread around the world. The United States did not enter this war until 1917. It ended in late 1918.

German and Russian forces were fighting throughout Eastern Europe in a see-saw rhythm of battle. Early in the conflict, Britain, Australian and New Zealand forces were fighting a losing effort against the Turks. Eventually prevailing, the British managed to capture Baghdad and Jerusalem. This sounded the death knell for the Ottoman Turks. The cost in human life is enormous. Britain alone lost 19,240 soldiers on the first day of the Battle of the Somme.

What made the First World War so unique was the development of what would be 20th Century technology using 18th-19th Century battle tactics. For the first time in history the recently invented airplane was used in war. This provided a clear advantage to nations that could afford such expensive weapons of war. Add to this the cost of training and you have the makings of an expensive war machine. Compounding the horrors of modern-day warfare was the introduction of what would be known as “Mustard Gas.” This chemical agent in its pure form is odorless and colorless. When used in warfare, the agent is given a yellow-brown coloring, and the smell is that of a mustard plant, garlic, or horseradish, thus gaining its name. The German Army first used it in 1917. Other modern war machines were the tank and the submarine. We also saw the use of parachutes by those in observation balloons; flamethrowers were brought into the mix; and the machine gun was modernized to be used by a single individual instead of the cumbersome Gatling Guns of only a few decades earlier. The advancement in the many ways of killing caused this war to be known as the “War to End all Wars.” If only that had been true.

In World War Two the United States found itself in a two-front war. As President Woodrow Wilson had done before him leading up to America’s participation in WWI, President Franklin D. Roosevelt made a valiant effort to keep the United States out of any entanglements in what was then thought to be Europe’s War in the mid-1930’s. We were in the midst of the worst depression our country had ever experienced. Unemployment lines, soup kitchens, and hobos (what we would call homeless today) were part of the American landscape. Feeling relatively secure, protected by two large oceans on either side of the country, we figured that through hard work we would emerge triumphant from what was being called, “The Great Depression.” Good old American ingenuity, know-how and determination would get us on top again.

But with the growing threat of Nazi Germany, despite the hollow promises of a duplicitous Adolf Hitler, the United States still felt safe enough. Japan was making trouble for her neighbors throughout Asia, but again, that was not any immediate concern to us. Our shores were far from the blustering Emperor Hirohito and the Imperialist Japanese Army and Navy.

What brought about our involvement in World War II in both Europe and Asia is an interesting study. Europe was of particular interest to Americans because of the close ethnic ties we shared with our European cousins, not to mention long-standing trade relations. As for Asia, we had developed trade lines with some of these nations, but what was of particular concern to us were the island nations we had acquired as a result of the spoils from the Spanish-American War in 1898. Of strategic significance to American interests was the Philippine Islands. We had a respectable contingent of American army forces there keeping watch on activities in that region of the world. Unfortunately, when Japan attacked our naval forces in Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, December 7, 1941, there were also Japanese forces preparing to land on Luzon Island in the Philippines in a coordinated attack. American forces fought as long as they could at a place called Corregidor. Eventually out of ammunition and food, our diminished forces surrendered to the Japanese. What followed became known as the Bataan Death March.

Next week I will continue this article looking more closely at the possibility of a World War III. But let me close with this thought. Wars are normally the result of perceived or real hurts. Or, to put it another way, you have something I want. This causes folks to want to right the wrong that was done. Then back and forth it goes until someone quits or is defeated.

The first war was waged between two people: Eve and the devil. He used the same reasoning with her that causes wars today – You’ve been hurt by someone. In this case, the devil suggested that God was not being entirely truthful with Eve. After all, why shouldn’t she be allowed to eat of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil? A perceived hurt brought about man’s war with God.

I trust you had an enjoyable Veterans Day weekend. More next week.

Monday, November 06, 2006

Death by Hanging

I’m back in Newport, Rhode Island with the Navy for a three week Strategic Leadership and Ministry (SLAM) Course. As I was sitting in my room watching the news the other morning the announcement was made that the trial of Saddam Hussein was over and he was sentenced to die by hanging.

Like most everyone else around the world I was intrigued by these developments. As I watched this former dictator, having the ignominy of being known as the “Butcher of Baghdad,” I was struck by his apparent surprise at the verdict. He seemed to look around for someone to come to his defense while the presiding judge read the sentence. Suddenly realizing he was all alone, he quickly reverted to his modus operandi (MO) of interrupting the judge, showing disrespect for the due process of law, and generally attempting to intimidate everyone in the courtroom. One news commentator even said Saddam’s presence is so intimidating that she was grateful for the protective glass that separated her and her cohorts from Saddam. His aura is nearly tangible.

My thoughts immediately centered on what I perceived would be the likely reaction of folks around the world. Allow me to share some of these with you.

First, some people will (and already have) reacted with horror that this newly formed democratic nation, Iraq, would resort to such a barbaric practice as hanging. Let me ask a question in return. Exactly what form of execution is not barbaric? Or putting it another way, what form of execution would be appropriate? Would a firing squad be preferable? Or an electric chair? Or how about a needle in the arm dripping a life-ending chemical? Would dragging the offender through the streets satisfy? Then there’s the traditional beheading. How about that? Or we could simply chop up the miscreant into little pieces, placing the pieces in a plastic bag for delivery to his family. All of these ways of execution were previously implemented by Saddam against his enemies.

When I was in Babylon, Iraq in 2003, the stories of atrocities committed by Saddam Hussein were chilling. One story that will ever remain with me had to do with Saddam’s occasional visits to this ancient city, a city of biblical antiquity. Saddam would drive through town with his henchmen, pointing to various women and girls that caught his eye. His goons would then forcibly abduct these females for an evening or more of sexual pleasure in his palace. Once he was through with them, these women would have there heads cut off and their bodies thrown into the river where they would then be retrieved by their families.

There was an Iraqi man who worked on the base in Babylon whose mother had disappeared at the hands of Saddam some years earlier. No one knew what happened to her, or why. During my brief visit to Babylon a mass grave was unearthed not far from the base. One of the bodies was that of this man’s mother. She was identified by her dress and by a photograph of one of her sons in her pocket. What was her crime? There was no crime. Saddam simply wanted to make a point. He was sending a message to the residents of Babylon that as a dictator, he could do anything he wanted to them, any time he wanted. He ruled by intimidation. Is it any wonder that the Iraqis were celebrating in the streets upon hearing that their nemesis was now going to be permanently removed from planet earth?

Second, this trial was timed to end 48 hours before the mid-term elections in order to benefit the Republicans running for office, and to help the president’s popularity numbers by highlighting the war on terrorism. These allegations are unfounded primarily because the Iraqi government is controlled by Iraqis – not the United States. Hanging by the neck until dead is the preferred method of execution in Iraq. I would surmise that the United States government would prefer to have Hussein incarcerated for life rather than be executed. A Saddam pathetically languishing behind bars sends a stronger message to other dictators than a dead Saddam who could be painted by his admirers as a martyr or, (gasp!) a saint.

That Saddam was a vicious, hateful man is not to be argued. That he invokes the teachings of Islam when he did not practice that religion underscores his hypocrisy. That he believed he was the embodiment of the ancient caliphs is clearly evident (much as Iran’s Ahmadinejad believes about himself today).

This pitiable figure now faces the end of his life. He will not be missed. Yet, I cannot help but think of him facing death and eternity - a death by hanging. If only he knew the Savior, Jesus, who also died a death by hanging, hanging from a cross. Then he could experience God’s grace and forgiveness. Such a gift is offered even to a wretch like Saddam Hussein.

Monday, October 30, 2006

Voters Guide

No, I am not going to tell you who or what to vote for. Nor am I going to suggest you affiliate with a specific political party. But I got to thinking about the way I personally go about voting. Why do I vote the way I do? Is there a method in my madness, or is it more random selection?

With the enormous amount of campaign material we are bombarded with in the final weeks leading up to the election, I thought I might jot down the process I take in determining who and what gets my vote.

The list of reasons for how I vote is in no particular order.
First – I ignore all the hysteria in the media during the final three to six months prior to Election Day. Candidates of all stripes entirely lose touch with reality in their frantic efforts to come out on top. Things are said, implied, inferred, and otherwise spoken in libelous terms that once would have produced a demand for satisfaction – that is to say, the insulted person would call for a duel with the offender, either with pistols or swords, thereby “satisfying” their honor. All this is done in a most dignified and gentlemanly manner, don’t you know! Had one or both parties been more civil with each other beforehand, they most likely wouldn’t have found themselves in the present predicament where injury and death most surely awaited. Ah, but those were in bygone days. Today we’re too sophisticated for such crude behavior. Instead, words are used to inflict the greatest amount of harm with no concern for the consequences, or fear of reprisal.

Second – Any proposition, or the like, that will increase taxes is an automatic “No.” For me to change my mind on any tax increase would literally take an act of Congress. I have observed enormous mismanagement of taxpayer monies for too many years to now believe that an increase in taxes is going to help pre-existing problems. Many of the propositions are intended to throw money at society’s ills in the hopes that it will somehow fix the problem. It doesn’t.

Third – Character does matter. Therefore, I look carefully at a candidate. The first item of concern is the candidate’s world view. Do they realize the enormity of the struggle we find ourselves in against people who, quite simply, want us dead? This speaks to the need for an aggressive approach to national security. Another item of extreme importance to me is the candidate’s view of life. What value does life have? If the candidate does not recognize that life is a gift from God and is in fact sacred, they will certainly not get my vote.

Fourth – I want to know how a candidate handles pressure. This is not always so easy to determine, but when they are confronted on the issues, or are in a debate format, you can see if they are able to stand up under the pressures of that moment. Do they stick to the issues, or lapse into personal mischaracterizations of their opponent? They may one day run for the highest office of the land. I want a person who is cool under pressure.

Fifth – My values are important to me. Therefore, I am looking for someone who closely reflects those values. This is why party affiliation and voting a straight ticket (checking the box for everyone in your party) is common practice. You know the values that are generally held within that party, so you trust that those running for office will uphold those values.

Sixth – It is important to know where a candidate stands on the issues. This, my friends, is particularly important in the election of justices to the lower courts. For instance, we who live out west have paid too little attention to judges being voted in by “We the People” simply because we didn’t want to be bothered with finding out who these black-cloaked justices are. Once voted in they may eventually find themselves appointed to the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals. This court has made a practice of making very bad laws. The fact of the matter is they are there to interpret laws. So find out if the judge has an axe to grind, or whether they desire to serve the people in order to interpret the law of the land.

Seventh – Is the candidate a servant? Do they have a servant’s heart? Or are they more interested in advancing their own agenda? Way too many elected officials are self-serving and don’t mind if we know it. In the early days of our country a person served as an elected representative of the people only after they had already established themselves financially in business or commerce. They would serve in government for a pittance because they could afford to serve without relying on taxpayers to support them. Unlike today, politics was not a career choice.

Eighth – Where does the candidate stand with regard to our military? Having spent thirty-two years in the military, including two wars (Vietnam and Iraq), I’m mightily interested in the support I, and my fellow service members, can expect from the candidate should they be elected. We in the military had the rug pulled out from under us in Vietnam. I have no interest in seeing that repeated now, or anytime in the future. The candidate need not have served in the military themselves, but they’d better be prepared to take care of those who keep the wolf from the door.

I could expand on all of these points, but you get the idea. Tonight my wife and I completed our ballots. It’s always an exhilarating moment for me. Placing that Absentee Ballot in the mailbox is a reminder to me that I have just participated in one of the greatest testaments of freedom known to man. I wouldn’t miss it for the world!

Go vote! It’s the right thing to do.

Monday, October 23, 2006

Pass the Ammunition

The phrase, “Praise the Lord and Pass the Ammunition,” has been around a long time.

A few months ago I wrote about the “Quaker Guns” which were tree trunks cut down to look like real cannons and used as a ruse during the Civil War, mostly by Confederate forces, in an attempt to convince the Union forces that the southern boys were better equipped than they actually were.

Recently, while reading a book “Civil War Trivia and Facts,” I ran across a bit of information about Confederate Brigadier-General William Nelson Pendleton. It seems the general was quite the character, and a favorite of General Robert E. Lee. Prior to the “War of Northern Aggression,” as the southerners refer to the Civil War, General Pendleton was the Right Reverend William N. Pendleton, rector of Grace Episcopal Church in Richmond, Virginia; a position he held from 1853 until his death thirty years later. When the war broke out in 1861, Rev. Pendleton asked for a leave of absence from his church so as to serve in the Southern Cause.

Pendleton began his military career as a cadet at the United States Military Academy at West Point. During his years as a cadet he became friends with fellow students Robert E. Lee and Jefferson Davis. Upon his graduation from the Academy, the newly appointed 2nd Lieutenant was assigned to the 2d Regiment of Artillery, Augusta, Georgia. He was to become what is called in the military today, a “Cannon Cocker.” This is anyone who is a Marine or soldier serving in the artillery; or in the Navy – a gunner’s mate.

After serving for three years in the Army, Pendleton left to pursue his vocation as an educator and minister in the Episcopal Church. In 1839 the church formed a new school of 35 students. Pendleton was appointed as the first principal of “The High School,” the name still used for Episcopal High School in Alexandria because it was the first high school established in Virginia. To this day, the school still holds to its Honor Code: “I will not lie. I will not cheat. I will not steal. I will report the student who does.” Imagine that – an honor code!

War is rarely associated with things humorous. But the good minister obviously had a lighter side. When he was first appointed to serve as the commander of the Rockbridge Artillery under General Joseph E. Johnston, he named the four guns in his battery after the Four Apostles: Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. It is said that each of the Four Apostles roared so effectively in battle that Parson Pendleton, so named by his troops, was both promoted to colonel and appointed Chief of Artillery for Lee. When the Parson wasn’t firing his cannons, he was preaching from the Bible to his troops.

In the Battle of Bull Run (or First Manassas), it was reported that Reverend Pendleton stood behind his loaded cannons, raised a hand as though offering a blessing and said, "May the Lord have mercy on their misguided souls--fire!!"

His only son, Col. "Sandie" Pendleton, was a member of Stonewall Jackson's staff, and fell mortally wounded at the battle of Winchester, in September, 1864.

The Four Apostles were later captured by Federal forces at the fall of Richmond. After the war they were returned to the Virginia Military Institute (VMI) where they are kept today.

Pendleton served from First Manassas (July 1861) to Appomattox (April 1865) and was Chief of Artillery of the Army of Northern Virginia (ANV) for much of the time. Late in the war he would be in command of the reserve ordnance.

At the end of hostilities, Pendleton was selected to assist in formalizing the conditions for surrender to General Grant at Appomattox Courthouse.

Pendleton was devoted to General Robert E. Lee. In a letter to Pendleton in 1864, Lee writes in closing, “I appreciate in the fullest manner your feelings of friendship which has always been to me a source of pleasure and am deeply obliged to you for your fervent pious prayers in my behalf – no one stands in greater need of them. My feeble petitions I dare hardly hope will be answered. Very Truly Yours, R E Lee.” After the war Pendleton resumed his duties as rector at Grace Church, where General Lee was a vestryman, a position dealing with handling the daily affairs of the church. During this time the reverend worked tirelessly to raise money for a Robert E. Lee monument. The relationship of the two men was clearly one of mutual respect and admiration.

I was further intrigued by the fact that, during the time he served with the Confederacy, Reverend Pendleton had to deal with the issue of his tenure at Grace Episcopal Church. Some people in his church complained about his being gone to war instead of staying home to care for the congregation. Even today with ministers serving as chaplains in our Armed Forces, some congregations are not willing to wait for their pastors to return from war. I know of many who simply resigned because they felt the church needed to move on with another shepherd. I have been more fortunate than some of my colleagues. My congregation chose to wait the two years for me to come home.

It has been my privilege to know a number of chaplains who once served as infantry officers, artillery officers, line officers, tank commanders, pilots, or as enlisted men. But all were willing to serve, and go into harms way in defense of our country.

I once served four years with a Marine artillery battalion as their chaplain. Unlike Reverend/General Pendleton, I never named any of our cannons (155 Howitzers) after the Four Apostles, but I did preach to them from the Gospel books of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John!

We continue to be at war today. Please pray for those who faithfully serve us in the military.

Monday, October 16, 2006

Election Year Malaise

Every couple of years we Americans have the opportunity to decide who we want to serve as our elected representatives. Seems like we barely get past one election before the next one is upon us.

The phone at our home is ringing every day with some candidate’s office telling us how terrible his/her opponent is. We decided a couple of years ago to set up our home phone to work on “Caller ID.” This way we listen to who is calling, thus effectively screening our calls. When I arrived home a short time ago, we had two phone messages from political action groups soliciting our support. As I write this article, several more such calls have come in. I guess these personal attacks must work with a lot of people because we keep getting them every two years. I certainly have my beliefs, strongly held and forged over a life-time, but I do not believe that those who are of a differing view are evil or wish to enslave my progeny. We just happen to see things differently. In today’s world, agreeing to disagree is no longer the norm. “Why, if you don’t side with me, then you’re the devil incarnate! You are my enemy!” Or so the prevailing attitude seems to be. This was not what the founding fathers had in mind.

I fully understand the weariness you feel after listening to politicians and pundits run around during the election year like Chicken Little, decrying the ills of our society and predicting the demise of the nation if we don’t vote for them. I, for one, happen to believe the American people are a lot more savvy on the issues than our media and elected officials think.

In September, Isaura and I attended The Washington Briefing: 2006 Values Voter Summit, held in Washington DC. It was a new experience for both of us. It began with a Pastors’ Prayer Breakfast (to include spouses) hosted by Dr. Jerry Falwell. One comment he made that I took note of was this: “There is a deafening silence from America’s pulpits today when it comes to addressing the issues that affect us all.” Through organizations like the ACLU, pastors have been bullied into believing their church would lose its non-profit status if preachers spoke out on the issues. This is patently false. Preachers must, and should, speak out against anything that is a violation of biblical truth. We have an obligation to do so. What we could find to be troublesome is siding with a preferred candidate or political party.

The Family Research Council has published a number of booklets which are well done and address many concerns we face today. There is “Publicly Honoring God,” a short treatise by Justice Antonin Scalia on the Ten Commandments. Another is entitled, “Why You Should Be Involved,” a biblical case for social and political involvement. And lastly, “Judicial Activism and the Threat to the Constitution.”

Why do I trouble myself with voting? Several reasons. First, it is a right that is given to every American citizen – a right that was bought with the blood of patriots. At the very least, I owe those who paid that price. Second, I want to have a say in who serves as my representatives in the local, state and federal governments. They most likely will never know who I am, but I need to know who they are. You see, I believe character does matter! Third, I vote because I want my values and beliefs carried to the highest levels of government. I vote for those men and women who share those values and beliefs. And if they don’t, then I will try to steer them in that direction. Fourth, as a Christian, I believe it is my obligation to support my government, constantly praying for those in public office. Where government is doing the right thing for “We the People,” I will applaud and encourage them. When they make poor laws and decisions, I will call them on it. If they will not hear my voice, then I and others will peacefully vote them out through the ballot box. That’s the power of one!

In two weeks I trust you will either be going to the polls or mailing in your absentee ballot. Don’t become weary of the political process. Despite the harping of nay-sayers, you do make a difference. Look back on recent elections. In 2000, the number of votes that caused New Mexico to swing to one presidential candidate over the other would not be enough to populate a small American town.

To borrow a passage from the Apostle Paul, “Let us not become weary in doing good.”

Make a difference: Vote.

Monday, October 09, 2006

Great Hymns Redux

Since I wrote a previous article last month on the Great Hymns of the Faith, I thought I’d bring you up to date on the hymns I’ve covered since then. Several responded to the original article requesting I write about all of the hymns.

Of the eight hymns I selected for this preaching series, I have preached five and am working on the last three. The reason I enjoy these hymns so much is that there is an inspirational story behind each one which adds real-life dimensions to the song. I cannot help but think of the story when I sing these hymns. The first three were “It is Well With My Soul,” “Amazing Grace,” and the “Battle Hymn of the Republic.”

Since the end of September I have preached on “All the Way My Savior Leads Me,” and “How Great Thou Art.”

Frances Jane Crosby, known as Fanny Crosby, wrote more than nine thousand hymns. You read that correctly: 9000 hymns. That is in itself an amazing accomplishment, but you have to take into consideration that she was blind as well. She was born in 1820 and at six weeks of age lost her eyesight at the hands of an inept doctor. She lived for 95 years and there is not one mention in any biography I could find where she ever complained about her handicap. In fact, she felt that if she had been given her sight she might have never learned to praise God for who he is.

One time a preacher sympathetically remarked, “I think it is a great pity that the Master did not give you sight when he showered so many gifts upon you.” She replied quickly, “Do you know that if at birth I had been able to make one petition, it would have been that I should be born blind?” “Why?” asked the surprised clergyman. “Because when I get to heaven, the first face that shall ever gladden my sight will be that of my Savior.”

For one who lived her life shut out of the light in this world, she, of any, could truly write the inspiring words to a hymn, “All the Way My Savior Leads Me.” She understood that the Christian life is a walk of faith, not sight. It is trusting in the Lord, and not in your own abilities. She started as a student in the New York Institution for the Blind, later becoming a teacher. She worked all of her life helping the poor and displaced.

The first verse of this great hymn is more a testimony of God’s promise to lead and protect. “All the way my Savior leads me – what have I to ask beside? Can I doubt His tender mercy, Who through life has been my guide? Heavenly peace, divinest comfort, here by faith in Him to dwell! For I know, whate’er befall me, Jesus doeth all things well.”

This past Sunday I was preaching on “How Great Thou Art,” a hymn written in 1885 by Carl Gustaf Boberg, a Swedish pastor. After a church service, he was walking the two miles back to his home when a violent storm rolled in, creating a torrential downpour. From where he sought shelter he could look out on the waters of the Baltic Sea as it churned and foamed. But as quickly as the storm had blown in, it became calm. He was awed by the power of the storm; but was just as awed by the quietness that followed, once again hearing the birds singing sweetly in the trees, and noticing the calm, glass-like appearance of the waters. His heart was overwhelmed by the awesomeness of God. He quickly put pen to paper with the result being the song which would become the signature song for the Billy Graham Crusades throughout the 1950s. It is ranked as the number two hymn of all time: Number one being “Amazing Grace.”

The last three hymns in this series are, “Majesty,” “Take My Life and Let It Be,” and “A Mighty Fortress.” Pastor Jack Hayford, a prolific hymn writer, wrote the hymn, “Majesty,” while he and his wife were on vacation in England in 1977. It was the same year for the 25th anniversary of the coronation of Queen Elizabeth. There were lots of decorations with symbols of royalty everywhere. Pastor Hayford said, “I began to sense the influence one might feel if raised as a child in such regal settings. One day as Anna and I drove along together, all at once the opening lyrics and melody of ‘Majesty’ simply came to my heart.”

Francis Ridley Havergal was in poor health from birth. However, a more dedicated Christian you could hardly find. Though she died at age 44 in 1879, she had served the Lord wonderfully all those years. She learned that the Lord could use her even through her weakened body. Many of the hymns that she wrote came out of a life of prayer where she simply asked the Lord to use her. Thus, the first verse of the hymn: “Take my life, and let it be consecrated, Lord, to Thee. Take my moments and my days; let them flow in ceaseless praise. Take my hands, and let them move at the impulse of Thy love. Take my feet, and let them be swift and beautiful for Thee.” That, friends, is right praying!

The Reformer, Martin Luther, wrote the hymn, “A Mighty Fortress is Our God,” around 1527. Europe in those days was made up of city-states. Instead of countries with boundaries, cities were the center of life and activity. Each city had a ruler, or king with a standing army prepared to protect their territory. Martin Luther had incurred the wrath of the Catholic Church, so relied on the protection of city-state rulers who supported his protests against the church in Rome. He eventually realized his protection was not behind man-made walls, but in the hands of God. Thus, he used the analogy of God as a “mighty fortress.”

The testimony of these hymn writers speaks of a relationship with God that any one of us would welcome. So, let me ask you: How do you see God? Is he awesome and powerful? Or is he merely an occasional interest once a week? Ask him to reveal himself to you. Prepare to be amazed!

Monday, October 02, 2006

USO Show

The year was 1987. I was the command chaplain for the USS White Plains, a supply ship home ported in Guam.

As a supply ship, our mission was to be a sort of “floating grocery store,” if you will. We carried everything from aviation fuel to ice cream. We would rendezvous with our war ships at sea to deliver the goods so they could avoid the time and expense of having to always pull into the nearest port to resupply.

There we were sailing into a tiny island atoll in the middle of the Indian Ocean called Diego Garcia, or D-Gar for short. It was the morning of December 24. We looked forward to a brief respite on this mini-island before sailing to the African continent. What we didn’t know was that the USO was also at D-Gar. That evening in one of the warehouses on the pier next to our chip, Bob Hope and a cast of stars and entertainers put on a show for us! Mr. Hope was well into his 80s yet continued to perform as he always had, telling jokes and bantering with the audience. We loved him for all this, but more so because he loved us. One other highlight of that Christmas Eve performance was when Lee Greenwood sang, “God Bless the U.S.A.” Now that was a moment to remember!

The USO, an acronym for United Service Organization, was started in 1941 to provide a bit of home and comfort for our troops. World War II veterans will remember the USO tents set up serving free coffee and doughnuts. Entertainment quickly became a staple of the USO enlisting the services of no less a celebrity than Bob Hope. For those of us who have served in our nations wars since WWII it is a source of pride to say you attended one of Bob Hope’s USO shows.

I also met the man who would succeed Bob Hope as the personality associated with the USO. Earlier in 1987 another USO group was brought to our ship somewhere in the China Sea. This band of entertainers, led by Wayne Newton, spent a few days with us, giving us a wonderful program on the helo deck, what we euphemistically refer to as “Steel Beach.”

Fast forward to 2003. I find myself in Kuwait. Who shows up at Camp Commando where I am? The USO show with Wayne Newton and an amazing array of entertainers, among which were sports figures, the Dallas Cowboy cheerleaders, rock stars, comedians, etc. My brother, John, had been a board member for the USO for a number of years. The President of the USO, Ned Powell, knew I was in theater so encouraged my brother to make the trip. What a surprise that was to see my brother walk into my tent! We had a great time, and I enjoyed meeting many of the troupe that came along for this show, including getting reacquainted with Wayne Newton. He is a warm and gracious gentleman. When I mentioned having met him sixteen years earlier he told me how he had been thrown out of his bunk on the USS White Plains when we encountered some rough seas one night.

Later in 2003 I was serving as command chaplain for our base in Djibouti, Africa. Word came that the USO troupe was coming. I think every person on the base that could be spared attended that open-air show! I located Ned Powell to say hi and thank him and the USO for bringing such a welcomed gift to our men and women in uniform. We promised to connect later back in the States.

This past Thursday night was our reunion of sorts. Earlier in the year I had received an invitation to offer the invocation for the USO World Gala, a dinner in honor of the USO’s 65 years of serving our military. I can tell you it was a great privilege to offer a prayer for the USO and to do so before so august an assembly of dignitaries and luminaries there in Washington D.C. There were members of congress, athletes, entertainers (Sinbad was fabulous!), the highest ranking officers in our military and hundreds of folks who love and support our military. This was a formal black tie affair, or for those of us in the military we wore our mess dress uniforms. We even had a video from President Bush congratulating the USO for their many years of faithful service. But all this paled when compared to the tributes made to five honorees. A service member from each branch of the military was brought up on stage to be recognized for their service. They walked a line of senior military members, including the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Marine General Peter Pace, to receive personal congratulations for their heroics. Their stories were read, specifically detailing their acts of bravery. We all sat in awe as these young people received much deserved thanks.

Let me tell you of three of the honorees. The honoree from the Army was a woman. While on patrol in Iraq, she and her soldiers were ambushed by insurgents. Outnumbered 5 to 1, she took charge, directing return fire. But that wasn’t all. She then organized her troops and attacked the enemy, routing them from their hiding places, thus eliminating the threat.

The honoree from the Coast Guard was recognized for his participation during Hurricane Katrina. This man personally rescued 181 people from the flood waters. One lady was entangled by a hose and was being pulled under water. This petty officer dove into the toxic waters to free her from certain drowning.

You need to know about the Navy corpsman. Traveling in a Humvee, he and a couple of Marines were hit with and IED. His leg was seriously injured. After tying a tourniquet on his leg, he dragged himself to his wounded Marines where he tended to their wounds, saving their lives. His own wounds were so severe that he would later lose his leg.

So, remember these who were honored for their service. And if you’d like to help our military, make a generous contribution to the USO.

After all, the USO knows how to put on quite a show!

Monday, September 25, 2006

Stand Down!

Well now, isn’t this a fine kettle of fish!

What I’m referring to is the outrageous personal attacks by two heads of state against President Bush while they were addressing the United Nations General Assembly recently. This is unprecedented. Any semblance of decorum and civility by these two leaders were not only absent from their vituperative attacks, they were clearly premeditated, apparently finding a ready audience in the U.N., which comes as no surprise really.

As is President Bush’s character, he chooses not to get into the personal attack mode with the likes of Iran’s current leader, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, and Venezuela’s president, Hugo Chavez. Some are critical of President Bush for not meeting with Ahmadinejad personally. Why should he? Iran’s leader has made it clear that he is no longer in control of his faculties. Case in point: He denies the Holocaust ever occurred and continues to call for the elimination of the State of Israel and all Jews. Do you seriously think this is someone you could sit down with over a cup of coffee and have any meaningful discussion?

Make no mistake – Ahmadinejad is a central figure in the Middle East. He holds such a position primarily because he is the loudest voice in the region with no one else able to counter-balance his strident rhetoric. He is a lone voice, barking at the moon. But for all of his talk, he is a dangerous man and should not be dismissed out of hand.

Hugo Chavez, on the other hand, is also dangerous because he controls a lot of oil. And America buys a lot of oil from this South American nation. This fellow is now running around the world befriending all of those nations that are at odds with the United States, not the least of which is Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. Whatever backroom shenanigans these two are cooking up, we’d best be on our guard.

What I personally find unsettling in all of this is that no one, or at least no one of note, has denounced the personal attacks against our president. Party politics aside, George Bush is our president. I may have missed it because I’ve been traveling and don’t always stay as current with the news as when I am home, but no one has come to his defense! Are there no politicians willing to defend the Defender of the Free World? Are there no journalists who may yet have some patriotic blood coursing through their veins? Are there no ambassadors to the United Nations who are willing to receive the scorn of lesser men and women and denounce these two leaders from the very same floor of that General Assembly? If not, then I say the United States has, at best, “fair-weather” friends.

Allow me to put this in perspective. First, I will not even dignify the slanderous remarks made by these two leaders against our president by mentioning them in this article. If you are not aware of these remarks berating Mr. Bush, then sleep on. Second, though these world leaders say they have nothing against the American people, they are obviously not as smart as they think they are. America is a nation of laws. As such, we live under a constitutional government. That is to say, we elect our leaders from within the populace. We have free elections, from our local city council members to the President of the United States. In this regard, we are the envy of the world.

Having said this, Messieurs Chavez and Ahmadinejad would do well to remember that it was the registered voters of these United States that willingly voted for George Bush to be our president. So, when they attack our president, they are attacking us.

Let me conclude by speaking directly to these two heads of state:

Dear Sirs: As Americans we will continue to keep the Free World free. We have always been willing to do so, and our men and women in uniform in far off places such as Afghanistan and Iraq are evidence of our continued commitment to fight for, not just our freedom, but all who yearn to be free. Read the plaque at the base of the Statue of Liberty: “Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, the wretched refuse of your teeming shore. Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost (sic) to me, I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”

You are allowed to come to these shores and say what you will about our president in the safety and neutrality of the United Nations – a safety that is afforded to you by us. I do not for a minute believe such a courtesy would be offered to our president were he to be in your country. That is a clear difference between our nations. You may consider this to be a weakness, but only to your peril. Free people are not weak, and we do not appreciate threats leveled against us. So, be very careful what you say.

In the annals of world history, the best either of you can possibly hope for is to be found in some footnote, if that. But the United States of America and her presidents will be remembered for the courage and resolve to maintain freedom for Americans and all who yearn to be free. That could hardly be said of either of you. You may want to reconsider the sort of legacy you wish to leave behind. If you choose to embrace freedom and not tyranny, you are more than welcome at the table of free nations. Otherwise, you will be relegated to the ash-heap of wanna-be’s who flickered on the world stage for a moment, and then were no more.

In the military of the United States, there is a term we use when someone is getting out of line. They are ordered to “Stand Down!” I cannot order you to do anything. But I can strongly recommend that you take heed, and Stand Down! If not, and you continue to attempt to beard the lion, you will have to answer to the nation that defends the free world.

Have a nice day.

Signed, Chuck Roots, a citizen of the United States of America.

Monday, September 18, 2006

And God Was Pleased

My brother, John, gave me a book not long ago which I was not able to get around to reading until recently. The reason for this is that it is a tome. That is to say, it is a large, hardback, 480 page doorstop. The title is, “The Grand Slam.” No, it’s not about how Denny’s Restaurant developed the popular breakfast special of that name. This book is about the greatest golfer of all time, Bobby Jones, and his quest for the “Grand Slam” of golf.

The Grand Slam for men is nearly an impossible act of athletic prowess. Typically, it means the golfer has managed to win, in consecutive order, the four major tournaments in the same calendar year (The Masters, the U.S. Open, the British Open, and the PGA Championship). The tournaments were of different names when Bobby Jones accomplished this in 1930. Tiger Woods won all four in order, but over two years. An argument could certainly be made, and has already been made, that Tiger Woods is the greatest golfer of all time. On his current pace, he has won twelve majors, not to mention having won seven tournaments this year alone, the last five in a row. There will be many who will crown him the new king of golf. Considering what he has accomplished, I would not argue.

One aspect of Bobby Jones is his absolute commitment to integrity on the golf course. You see, in golf, you play against yourself, not another golfer. The game of golf is unique in that you are measured by what you do in hitting your ball. In practically every other game I can think of, you play against an opponent using the same ball, be it a tennis ball, football, baseball, racquetball, basketball, soccer ball, or whatever. The ball is not yours, except during the time you have it under your control. Not so in golf. Each golfer plays his own ball. So in reality, the golfer is not playing against another golfer. He is playing against the golf course.

Now, before you lose interest because you’re not a golfer, hear me out. A golfer is playing his game – alone. He must be disciplined enough to comply fully with the rules of the game. This is another reason why golf is considered a “Gentlemanly Game.” It applies to the ladies too! There are so many rules that it would choke a horse. But if you are going to play the game, you are expected to play by the rules. Other golfers playing with you will expect you to know and abide by those rules.

Bobby Jones was a stickler when it came to obeying the rules and fair play. On more than one occasion he penalized himself for an infraction of the rules. In golf, your quest is to shoot as low a score as possible in order to win. When you are penalized in tournament play, it means you add a stroke, or strokes, depending on the infraction. Jones committed the merest of infractions twice during separate tournaments. Once when he was preparing to hit the ball from some deep grass (called “rough”) his club caused the grass to move which caused the ball to move ever so slightly. No one but Bobby saw it move. He knew the rules. He had committed the infraction. He stopped; motioned for one of the officials to come over, whereupon he told the official to penalize him a stroke. The amazed official did so, though he tried valiantly to dissuade Bobby from being so hard on himself, especially since he was the only one who saw it. Bobby Jones would have none of it. It cost him the match against Walter Hagen, the top professional golfer of the day. The second time was when he was preparing to putt on the green. In lining up his ball, the ball moved, but as before, no one saw it. Jones penalized himself a stroke. This time, however, he won the tournament – the prestigious United States Open Championship.

Many reporters and writers for various publications made a big to-do over Jones’ sportsmanship, humility and strict adherence to the rules of the game. This elicited a severe reaction from Bobby because he felt he had done what was right, living to the standard of the game. He said, “You’d as well praise me for not breaking into banks!”

During another golf tournament, Bobby was playing against a golfer who was very jealous of Bobby and his reputation. He had made it quite clear to anyone who would listen that he intensely disliked Bobby. In a match where they were tied after sixteen holes, Bobby made par on seventeen. His opponent had a six-foot putt for par, but the crowd around the green made a dash to the next hole in anticipation of continued play. Bobby saw that this was disturbing to his opponent, so he conceded the putt. Bobby would wind up losing the match. But as one sports writer, and a close friend, put it, “Of all the championships, I loved him best in that long and losing battle.” Such was the character of Bobby Jones.

In my book, this matter of personal integrity alone makes Bobby Jones the greatest player ever.

I have not been able to determine Jones’ spiritual standing with God from the book, but I couldn’t help but think that when he alone saw the infractions he committed for which he penalized himself, there was Someone else who also saw the ball move. Such moments are played on a far grander stage than a golf course. Bobby Jones did the right thing – and God saw it.

And God was pleased.

Monday, September 11, 2006

Hymns of Faith

In all the years that I’ve been preaching, I had never considered doing a preaching series about the Great Hymns of the Faith. Well, I dove in with both feet, taking a different hymn each Sunday for September thru October.

While attending seminary thirty years ago I remember how much I enjoyed the one class I had on Hymnology (the study of hymns). What intrigued me most were the stories of the people who wrote the hymns. More often than not the hymn was first written as a poem, later to be picked up by a song writer and published.

The question that persisted in my mind was why one hymn would catch on while so many others fell into the pile of anonymity. My findings are hardly scientific, nor am I an expert in this field. But allow me to share with you some of my observations.

 The hymns that become well loved typically have a powerful personal story behind them. The writer of the hymn would have had a life-changing event that is conveyed in the song.

 The tune of the hymn is simple to pick up because the words flow with the tune. Memorization becomes easy, enabling everyone to learn the song.

 And despite the fact that the words in older hymns may be a bit archaic, there’s a certain “something” about the song and its story that resonates in the soul. We can personalize the experience in an esoteric way.

The first hymn I researched was written by Horatio Spafford. This wealthy,
affluent American businessman from Chicago had a succession of misfortunes and tragedies. First, his only son died unexpectedly. About the same time, the Great Chicago Fire of 1871, which destroyed most of that city, also wiped out Spafford’s real estate business. For the next two years in Chicago he worked to help the less fortunate recover from their losses due to the fire. Being a friend of evangelist Dwight L. Moody, he was invited to travel with the evangelist and his entourage to England. Business kept him from leaving right away, so he sent his wife and four daughters ahead. The steamer they were on was involved in a collision on the Atlantic. Hundreds died, including Spafford’s four daughters. His wife alone survived. He sailed to England to comfort his wife in their loss. While passing the location of where the ship had sunk, he experienced a calming of his spirit. When he later saw Moody in London, he said, “It is well.” Only the presence of God could bring peace to a troubled soul after such heartbreak. The hymn he wrote that we sing today is, “It is Well with My Soul.” It begins, “When peace like a river attendeth my way, when sorrows like sea billows role; whatever my lot, Thou hast taught me to say, It is well, it is well with my soul.”

The second hymn I selected was written by Reverend John Newton. This English preacher, who hailed from London, did not even grow up in church. His mother attempted to teach him about the things of God, but she died when he was quite young. His father was a sea-faring man and soon introduced his son to a seaman’s life. He engaged in the lucrative slave trade, transporting Africans to England and America. On a trip returning home, the ship was ravaged by a horrific storm, causing Newton and all on board to believe they were not going to survive. He prayed and experienced a “great deliverance,” as he put it. He did not immediately leave the slave trade, but made sure the slaves he transported were properly cared for. As he grew in his understanding of God’s love, grace and forgiveness, he realized he could no longer participate in this awful practice of slavery. He studied the Bible, learning Hebrew and Greek, eventually becoming a minister in the Church of England. He preached forcefully against the sin of slavery for the rest of his life. One congregant who sat under his preaching was a man by the name of William Wilberforce. Through the influence of John Newton’s transformed life and powerful preaching, Wilberforce became the lightening rod that brought about the end of slavery in England, and which carried over to America. Some historians believe our own Civil War was brought about sooner due to this one man’s influence. John Newton was so awed by God’s patience in working with him, he once wrote, “My memory is nearly gone, but I remember two things: That I am a great sinner, and that Christ is a great Savior.” This best-loved hymn is, “Amazing Grace.” Of course, you know the first verse. “Amazing grace, how sweet the sound that saved a wretch like me. I once was lost, but now am found, was blind, but now I see.”

The hymn for this next Sunday was written by Julia Howe. In the early days of the American Civil War she had occasion to visit Union troops in Washington, DC. She heard the soldiers singing a little ditty about John Brown’s Body, the fiery abolitionist. That night her sleep was interrupted by words she was compelled to put to the song of John Brown. What she wrote became, “The Battle Hymn of the Republic.” This powerful hymn that is at the same time both patriotic and spiritual, has become a classic. When I used to preach to Marine recruits, I’d always finish the service with this hymn and challenge these hard-chargers to sing this with everything they had. When they got to the chorus, singing, “Glory, Glory! Hallelujah!” they literally would raise the roof! I still get chills down my spine just thinking about that. Wow!

Well, that’s only three of the eight that I’ll be sharing. Stop by a Christian book store and pick up a book on hymns. It’s great fun, and you’ll be blessed

Monday, September 04, 2006

Goodbye to God

In preparation for a sermon recently I ran across an interesting bit of information. I learned something about the word “goodbye.”

Now this got me to thinking. An awful lot of people seem to want to remove all vestiges of God from our society. For a nation built upon the Judeo-Christian scriptures, this would be no small undertaking. Reasonable people would see God-references and accept it as part of life. Unfortunately, there are a lot of unreasonable people who are so doggedly determined to relegate God to the “Once Was” category, that they have lost touch with reality.

Let’s just suppose for a moment that we attempted to rid our nation of anything that smacks of God – anything that makes any reference to the Almighty. What sort of things would we need to erase or eliminate in order to not violate someone’s sensitivities? Let’s make a list, shall we?

 Money – Good place to start. Everyone likes to have money. Everyone wants money. Most everyone works for money. So we’ll need to scrub our money. After all, it does say, “In God We Trust.” Every coin. Every bill.

 Pledge of Allegiance – Big brew-ha-ha over this patriotic declaration. Scrub this too. In the Pledge we intone, “Under God.” Can’t have that anymore. Of course it has always been implied in the Pledge, even though it wasn’t added until 1954 by then President Dwight D. Eisenhower.

 Jewelry – Bet you hadn’t thought about this one! Crosses in particular would be scrubbed, along with WWJD (What Would Jesus Do?) bracelets and other decorative items.

 Bumper Stickers – Think of the impact on this huge, lucrative industry! No more “God Loves You!” pronouncements from the rear bumpers. This, too, must be scrubbed.

 Music – Whoa! Here’s a problem. How would we rid ourselves of “God language” in music? Would Lee Greenwood no longer receive royalties from “God Bless the USA”? And I remember the members of Congress standing on the steps of the Capital Building on 9-11 singing “God Bless America.” Sorry! They have to be scrubbed.

 Geography – Now here’s a massive undertaking! Imagine having to scrub our maps of anything making reference to the divine? Say goodbye to American cities Saint Louis, Saint Petersburg, and Saint Paul. California? No more San Diego, San Francisco, San Jose, Santa Barbara and Los Angeles. The list is endless.

 Oaths – If those wanting to rid our culture of “God” references, then, to be fair, we must eliminate using God and Jesus as swear words, such as “Good God Almighty!” or “Jesus H. Christ!” Good luck scrubbing the potty-mouths out there!

 Language – Most of us don’t realize how many references we make to God, divinity, religious beliefs, and scriptural references every single day. No more “God Bless You” and “I hope to God.” No references to the Bible such as “Going the extra mile” (Matthew 5:41), “He’s a water-walker” (Matthew 14:29), “It’s like manna from heaven” (Exodus 16:31), “It’s a miracle!” (Psalm 77:14), “They nailed him” (Acts 2:23), and “Out of the mouths of babes” (Psalm 8:2), etc. Scrub it.

 Buildings – Travel to our nation’s capital and begin taking note of all the God references on the buildings and monuments, usually chiseled into granite. Even the layout of the capital has a religious significance. For instance, as you walk up the steps to the Capitol Building which houses the Supreme Court you can see near the top of the building a row of the world's law givers and each one is facing one in the middle who is facing forward with a full frontal view — it is Moses and the Ten Commandments!

You must think I’m overplaying this issue. I am not. There are efforts made
continually to remove all references to God wherever it resides. You may be thinking, “That can’t possibly happen in America!” Really? May I remind you that it only took one very determined atheist to have prayer legally removed from our educational system?

With the ongoing criticism of religion and religious groups, such as Jews and “Born Again Christians,” it is not beyond the realm of possibility that a charismatic figure could convince the masses that any references to religion and faith is a bad thing. Then what will you say?

You wouldn’t be able to use the word “goodbye.” That’s right! Goodbye is a contraction of an old English phrase, “God be with ye.” So, you see, no longer will you be allowed to intone this beloved term.

If you can no longer say “God be with you,” then say goodbye to God.

Monday, August 28, 2006

Rancor, or the Golden Rule?

Now here’s a topic I’ve been intending to write about for some time. You may be saying to yourself, “I know what this word means . . . at least I think I do. Agh! I can’t remember! All I know is it isn’t good.”

If you are able to recall that much about the word rancor – that it isn’t good – you’re half way home. Here’s what Webster’s Unabridged Dictionary says: “Rancor – bitter, rankling resentment or ill will; hatred; malice - “The rancor of sworn enemies.”

Not surprisingly both rancor and rancid (rotten smell) have the same Latin root word.

You are probably wondering where I’m going with this. I’ll tell you.

It is apparent to me that there is an emerging sociological shift taking place in the United States, as well as around the world, that places people at odds with each other, at times over the most ridiculous matters. Make no mistake, people have always had disagreements, and they always will. But the level of disagreement is clearly over the top.

The original rancor raised its ugly head when Cain killed his brother Abel.

Do you remember the story? Adam and Eve’s first son, Cain, became jealous of his brother, Abel. He was jealous because God was pleased with Abel’s attitude, and displeased with Cain’s. The Lord said to Cain, “Why are you angry? Why is your face downcast? If you do what is right, will you not be accepted? But if you do not do what is right, sin is crouching at the door; it desires to have you, but you must master it” (Genesis 4:6-7).

Today I see far too many Cain’s with fewer and fewer Abel’s. One of the most obvious examples of this is what we call “Road Rage.” People will get behind the wheel of a car that weighs several thousand pounds, backed by lots of horse power, and go thundering down the road as if they owned it. Little care for the consequences of such behavior is considered. Hardly a day goes by that we do not hear of some car being T-boned, or run off the road by out-of-control drivers. Then there are those who take it personally when they are cut off in traffic, or find some other reason to feel slighted by someone they do not know and will probably never meet.

Another area that is disturbing is the matter of descent behavior in public. Recently, while having lunch with my wife on the garden patio of a very upscale restaurant in Napa Valley, we couldn’t help but overhear language being used a couple of tables over by four young men. Typically, people avoided looking in their direction, and the food servers simply busied themselves with their customers. This was unsatisfactory, so I told my wife I’d be back in a moment. I walked over to the table where these four potty-mouths were spewing their filthy talk. Politely I asked them to curb the language. They said they would. I returned to my table and resumed my lunch. No more obnoxious language came from their table.

But have you noticed how such language is common fare today? Movies and television are full of such ugly language. The cable channels are the worst. Because of my many travels, I spend way too much time in hotels. Not really being much of a TV watcher, I will occasionally click through the channels made available by the hotel. Wow! Emmy-winning shows like “The Sopranos,” and “Deadwood,” are as profane as anything I ever heard. And I’ve spent my entire adult life around sailors and Marines!

Such language does not work toward bringing people together. The opposite actually occurs. Tone of voice, inflection, and meaning are spewed out in an attack on another person, or simply as a form of speech.

Did we lose the bubble somewhere? Yes, we did. When as a nation we decided moral values and principles were no longer important, or were out of date, or were old fashioned, we opened the proverbial Pandora’s Box, thus ushering in an era of “Me-ism.” This is called other things, but it has as its focus the importance of self. It is usually exhibited in “I can do whatever I want, and you can’t stop me.”

Increasingly, we see more people opting for this attitude toward life. Such behavior starts in the mind, and eventually becomes a pattern of behavior. What would have been unthinkable only a few years ago is commonplace today.

Such behavior creates uneasiness in society because people never know what to expect. Now people are afraid to challenge such behavior, because there efforts seem wasted since “everybody’s doing it.”

There is a reason for the Golden Rule. It works. Every time. And it creates the sort of environment where people can relax.

You say you’ve forgotten the Golden Rule? Okay, here it is: “Do to others as you would have them do unto to you.” This principle is found in every major religion. Interestingly, in Muhammad’s Farewell Sermon, he says, “Hurt no one so that no one may hurt you.” In the Jewish faith we read, “What is hateful to you, do not do to your fellow man. This is the law: all the rest is commentary.”

So what’ll it be? Rancor, or the Golden Rule?

Monday, August 21, 2006

These are the Times

Recently President Bush referred to those terrorists who are creating so much trouble in the world as “Islamic Fascists.” He has been roundly criticized for using such a term. I got to thinking about that.

Perhaps we would do well to review the definition of “fascism.” Webster’s Unabridged Dictionary defines fascism like this: “A government system led by a dictator having complete power, forcibly suppressing opposition and criticism, regimenting all industry, commerce, etc., and emphasizing an aggressive nationalism and often racism.” The etymology of the word is Roman-Italian, and was popularized by Italian Dictator Benito Mussolini from 1922-43. “Fascio” means, “group, association.” Thus, “fasci” were groups of men organized for political purposes. The word goes back to Roman times when similar groups, called fasces, conducted political campaigns, in modern times becoming the symbol of Mussolini’s party.

Robert O. Paxton in his book “The Anatomy of Fascism,” gives a more thorough definition of fascism. He says fascism is “a form of political behavior marked by obsessive preoccupation with community decline, humiliation or victimhood and by compensatory cults of unity, energy and purity, in which a mass-based party of committed nationalist militants, working in uneasy but effective collaboration with traditional elites, abandons democratic liberties and pursues with redemptive violence and without ethical or legal restraints goals of internal cleansing and external expansion.”

Allow me to dissect Paxton’s definition of fascism. In fascism, a group forms that shares similar views where they perceive that their way of life and view of the world are no longer taken seriously. They focus on being victims, complaining that they have been humiliated by present political philosophies. They join together believing they must take matters into their own hands, using violence to achieve their objectives. This is called “purifying,” or “cleansing,” a euphemism for wholesale slaughter of those who do not fit their fascist view. Elitism within the group rises to the top. Democracy and freedoms are abandoned. In an attempt to achieve dominance, ethical behavior is redefined – meaning the end justifies the means. Hitler’s Third Reich would be such an example. Saddam Hussein would be another example, as would be the president of Iran, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. Add Kim Jung Il of North Korea to this list of infamous characters. Also Osama bin Laden.

In Chuck Colson’s daily article for August 21, he points out that “the fascist influence on today’s Islamic terrorists is made crystal clear in the book ‘In the Shade of the Koran.’” This book was written by the late Sayyid Qutb. It is a book that has had a profound impact on Osama bin Laden. In it, Mr. Qutb addresses all the characteristics that were mentioned in the definitions of “fascism” listed earlier in this article.

As I mentioned in the opening paragraph, President Bush was loudly criticized for using the term Islamic Fascists. The fear expressed was that the bad guys, i.e., the Islamic Fascists, might be made even angrier than they already are if we use such inflammatory speech. Are they serious? These guys care nothing about you, me or anyone else. And that includes their own. They are mad at the world and don’t care who knows it. Their perception of those who try to “make nice” with them is that such people are weak – therefore an easier target to attack. They do not sit back and reflect on how they can restore “normal” relations with their western neighbors. In their view, we are the enemy. This is a war that must be won in the hearts of all who love freedom, and then on the field of battle in whatever form and in whatever environment it takes.

Fascism is what we face today, and the President is perfectly correct in calling it what it is.

Allow me to close with this thought from American Revolutionary and Patriot, Thomas Paine, The Crisis -- December 1776:
“These are the times that try men's souls: The summer soldier and the sunshine patriot will, in this crisis, shrink from the service of his country; but he that stands it now, deserves the love and thanks of man and woman. Tyranny, like hell, is not easily conquered; yet we have this consolation with us, that the harder the conflict the more glorious the triumph."

As the Iron Lady, Britain’s former Prime Minister, Margaret Thatcher, said to the first President Bush concerning Iraq, “This is no time to get wobbly in the knees, George.”

She had it right.

Monday, August 14, 2006

Hooray for Hollywood!

At present, I am on my two weeks of Annual Training which is being conducted at Marine Corps Air Station (MCAS) Miramar in San Diego. As usual, the weather here is fabulous. Since I have to be gone, it’s a great time to be away from the 100+ degree weather in the Central Valley of California.

During this weekend between the training evolutions several of us decided to take in a movie. It was agreed that we would have dinner Saturday night at a local Mexican restaurant before seeing “World Trade Center,” (WTC) which was just released this week. I like movies well enough; I just don’t care for most of the stuff Hollywood puts out. The last movie I went to see, “Cinderella Man,” was during my annual training last summer at MCAS Yuma, Arizona. For those of you who have been reading my weekly articles for a while, you may recall the article I wrote on that movie.

Since I’m not very trusting of Hollywood to produce wholesome and historically accurate movies, I approached WTC with some skepticism. Occasionally they get it right. This is one of those occasions.

Obviously the movie is about 9/11, but specifically it takes a personal look at three very real people and how their lives were affected by the collapse of the twin towers of the World Trade Center. Mind you, this is an extremely intense movie! The producer, Oliver Stone, did a masterful job. In particular, despite the nail-biting drama unfolding on the screen, he managed to include some light-hearted humor which was just enough to relax the audience periodically. One of the three characters profiled in the movie is a Marine reservist who leaves his Lower Manhattan office, puts on his camouflaged uniform, and heads into the rubble of the collapsed towers looking for survivors. He encounters another Marine there doing the same thing. They both wander over the wreckage calling out, “United States Marines! Call out if you can hear us!” After locating the two other main characters (both of who are officers with the Port Authority Police Department [PAPD]), the Marine uses his cell phone to call for help from fire and medical. Once at the scene, one of the firemen asks the Marine in a friendly manner for his name. The Marine replies, “Staff Sergeant Karns.” The fireman then says, “You got a shorter name?” To which the Marine replies, “Staff Sergeant.” Every Marine in the theater busted out laughing. It’s a Marine thing!

The main focus of the movie was on the importance of relationships in life. The movie followed the harrowing ordeal of the families during the hours following the collapse of the twin towers, switching back and forth from the PAPD officers trapped deep in the rubble, to their wives and kids desperately hoping against hope that their loved one would come home. As one of our happy band of five commented over Cold Stone Ice Cream following the movie (“comfort food” we called it!), after seeing the movie he simply wanted to go home and hug his wife and kids. This movie will force you to reevaluate what’s important in life. One of the wives in the movie confessed to a friend, “I can’t even remember what my last words were to John!”

What surprised me the most about this movie was the role that faith played. Specifically: faith in God. In fact, it was central to the story line. The two Port Authority officers were Catholic: one, who when he died, saw a vision of Jesus; the other claimed not to be a religious man, but when he was slowly being crushed by the cement blocks and steel girders, he cried out to God, and recited the Lord’s Prayer. The Marine was a strong Protestant. After a time of prayer in his church, he sensed God leading him to search for survivors in the rubble of the World Trade Center. An interesting piece of information at the conclusion of the movie said the Marine Staff Sergeant returned to active duty and did two tours in Iraq.

We are spared the gratuitous images of the planes being flown into the towers, but the reality of what had taken place could not be missed. The sound effects, creating the sensation of the towers crashing to the ground, is breath-taking. The movie kindly avoids the gore and carnage, focusing instead on the three main characters and their families.

After all, what’s most important in life than family?

What’s most important in your life?

Psalm for the Day