Marines.Together We Served

Wednesday, April 30, 2008

A Lesson on Faith

The past several months have been filled with visits to the hospital for the Roots family.

It all began with the birth of our first grandchild, Alyssa Grace. Due to complications during birth, she was kept in the ICN (Intensive Care Nursery) for nine days, hooked up to electrodes and an IV (intravenous). She came home in early December and has done beautifully. We enjoy her so much!

Then later in December I went to see my doctor about a growing concern I had about some chest discomfort. After a battery of tests I was admitted to the hospital for an angiogram, ultimately having six stents placed in two of the heart’s three arteries.

Then last week in anticipation of the arrival of our youngest daughter’s child we encountered yet another challenging situation. Jenny and her husband, Josh, went to the hospital at 3:30 in the morning anxious for the arrival of Brooklyne Paige Sousa. She finally made her appearance about twelve hours later. However, she was not looking too well and showed signs of not responding to normal stimulus. So, off to ICN for the next three days. Brookie is now home with her parents and is settling in just fine. She has an excellent appetite and sleeps well, though not always at night.

Six months ago I could not have foreseen these three events coming down the pike. In fact, I couldn’t have predicted even one of these things. It’s true that I sensed something was wrong with me physically, but I had no idea of the severity – six major blockages in my heart arteries. I have no family history of heart disease, nor have I ever had any serious health problems. In a word, I was surprised.

I share these events with you because they are excellent opportunities to look to God. But, not to ask the normal question, “Why me, God?” but to say, “Okay, Lord, I’m not sure where this is going, but I’m holding on to you.” It is at times like these when faith is foundational. Allow me to explain: Faith is not an approach to life where you cross your fingers, squeeze your eyes tightly shut, intoning “Please, please, please, please, please, please, please,” imploring God to come to your rescue as though he needed to be convinced to help you out.

Faith is trusting in the one who has made the promise. My wife and I chose two verses from the book of Proverbs as our life verses when we were married nearly thirty-two years ago. Proverbs 3:5-6 says, “Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make your paths straight.” Faith is based upon the character of the one you trust. The more I read the Bible, and the more I walk with the Lord, the more I trust him. I don’t need to understand the complexities of a challenging situation. I don’t need to know how a difficulty is going to work out. Instead, I need to trust in the One who created me and has my best interests at heart. Regardless of how things turn out, I choose to trust God because of who He is!

If I may, it is much like a child’s relationship with a father. A small child places his hand in the larger, stronger hand of his father, perfectly confident that there is nothing that is going to happen that his father cannot handle. Cars may zoom by on the street; bigger boys are kept at bay; crowds melt away as dad passes through. No problems!

God can handle anything in my life. My worrying about problems will not accomplish one positive thing. And it certainly does not help the situation. God does not need my help. I need his. He simply asks me to trust him. And I do.

Our precious granddaughters are now home where they are loved, valued and appreciated as gifts from God. And I’m able to be involved in their young lives instead of a face on a picture with their mom’s saying, “This was your grandfather.”

Even if any one of these situations had turned out otherwise, it would not change the importance of trusting God.

If you haven’t trusted him yet, why not today? Why not right now?

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Baptism by Fire

I was intrigued by Democrat Presidential hopeful, Hillary Clinton’s Bosnia comments. She has retold this story on several occasions during the campaign, reciting how she was flown into a combat zone in this eastern European nation where they would be under sniper fire.

Two thoughts immediately went through my mind when I read this. First, there is no way on God’s green earth that a military pilot is going to fly the wife of a sitting president into a “hot zone.” Second, if you’ve ever been shot at, whether it’s bullets or bombs, you will never forget the first time it happens. In fact, you remember every detail of that moment.

I’d actually not intended to address this topic, but since it came up yet again during the Democratic Debate the other evening, I thought I’d weigh in. This is not an experience where you will “misspeak” concerning the details. To make the point that being shot at for the first time is unforgettable, I decided to contact several of my friends, all of whom I have served with at one time or another. To a man, they all agreed that you never forget the first time you come under fire. I guess that’s why they call it “Baptism by Fire.” In fact, this phrase goes back to 1822.

“The phrase baptism by fire or baptism of fire is a translation of the French phrase baptême du feu and is a reference to a soldier's first experience under fire in battle. It originates from the ecclesiastical Greek baptisma pyros, in which "fire" is used to mean "the grace of the Holy Spirit as imparted through baptism". Later it was used of martyrdom, especially by fire (e.g. Joan of Arc). Today, it has entered the common vernacular to describe anyone doing something "the hard way" for the first time, particularly if training is necessarily insufficient to fully prepare one for the experience (as is the case with battle).” <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Baptism_by_fire>

My friend, Gunnery Sergeant Roy Hutchings (USMC), currently a Nevada Highway Patrolman, said during the first Gulf War, 1990-91, he and his Marines were sitting around drinking coffee when they started taking enemy fire. Mortars were exploding around them. He was amused watching the eyes bug out of his Marines. They dove to the ground trying to disappear. As Roy put it in his inimitable way, they couldn’t get any closer to the ground because their buttons were in the way!

Navy Chaplain Ben Orchard, who currently serves as my deputy in the 4th Marine Aircraft Wing, was in a convoy heading for Baghdad. Just outside the city, the Marines set up camp where Ben held worship services. As the sun set, they were told to be in “light discipline,” meaning there was to be no light or noise that would allow the enemy to zero in on them. He and another chaplain tried to catch some sleep in the back of a Humvee. Shortly after midnight another convoy rolled in with lights on, immediately drawing enemy fire. Two Marines had been assigned to look after the chaplains. But when the bullets were flying, these Marines did what they were trained to do – they took a defensive position and fired back at the bad guys. Ben and the other chaplain hunkered down to wait out this fire-fight.

Colonel Al Cruz (USMC retired) was a young enlisted Marine early in 1967. He was assigned to an artillery battalion at Camp Carroll near the DMZ (demilitarized zone). The base had received a big attack just before he arrived. Sure enough, soon after he arrived rockets began to fall from the sky. At that moment, Al was asleep in his bunk. When the ground shook and the loud explosions woke him, he jumped out of the tent and dove into his fighting hole (Marines do not call them “fox holes.”). He says he remembers that he was not really scared as much as he was curious, wanting to watch what was happening.

Lastly, Master Gunnery Sergeant Ray Bael (USMC retired), president of the Stockton Marine Corps Club, was a Force Reconnaissance Marine in Vietnam. As a Private First Class (PFC) he was both new to the Marine Corps and had also just arrived “in country.” He was assigned to stand guard on the perimeter of an observation post situated on a hill. When I asked him what hill and where he was in Nam, he laughed and said he didn’t know. That’s how new he was! He said that all of a sudden they began to take artillery fire from the north. There were about twelve Marines at this post, and they all dove to the ground. Besides being scared, everyone was making sure they still had all their body parts!

If you want to know about being under fire, talk to a veteran, not a politician.

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Hankie Etiquette

This will be one of my more interesting articles in recent weeks. Why do I say this? Because I’m going to share with you my varying experiences with hankies. Bet you’ve never read an article about this priceless item carried around in pockets and purses!

Hankies, a.k.a., handkerchiefs, nose rags, snot rags, napkins, bandanas, and so forth, have a rather interesting history.

Having only recently returned from a trip to Greece and Israel, I was curious to discover that in the ancient land of Greece, during what is known as the Classical Period (circa 750-146 BC), the wealthier in society often carried a piece of fine perfumed cotton, known as mouth or perspiration cloths. During the Roman Era, men of stature typically would carry an elongated square of cloth (known as a sudarium) which was implemented for wiping away perspiration from the face and hands. Women would carry a square of cotton or silk. Much later during the Renaissance Period (14th-17th Centuries) it was called a “napkyn.” These became very fashionable, often embroidered or laced and with varying shapes.

A handkerchief or hanky is a square of fabric, usually carried in the pocket, for personal hygiene purposes such as wiping one’s hands or blowing one’s nose, but also used as decorative accessory in a suit pocket. Richard II of England is said to have invented the handkerchief as “little pieces of cloth for the lord King to wipe and clean his nose.” This record appeared in his Household Rolls or accounts, which is the first documented use of them.

In modern history, we have the advent of the facial tissue, or what has become known as Kleenex. The Kleenex Company literally struck it rich when they developed this handy-dandy disposable handkerchief. However, it was not the intent of the company to make a tissue for blowing one’s nose. The cloth handkerchief was here to stay. The facial tissue that Kleenex made was intended to assist women in removing their make-up. Later the company realized that people were using these tissues to blow their noses, and Voila! a new product was discovered. Oddly, some items become so connected with the company name that the company is constantly in danger of losing the rights to the name. Kleenex is one such company. It has become popularized by confusing the company name with the product. “Hand me a Kleenex, please,” we say, when in fact we should be asking for a tissue. Some others are: Coca-Cola (Coke); Xerox (Copies); and Levi Strauss (Levis).

A person is considered to be well-educated in Japan if they use a handkerchief. In our more environmentally-conscious world today, the use of facial tissues is looked upon with favor (although I wonder about the number of trees required to make tissues! How environmentally friendly is that?).

Probably because I watched my step father prepare to go to the office wearing a suit and tie everyday growing up, I just naturally began to carry a handkerchief in my pocket. I even have embroidered hankies given to me by my youngest daughter for her wedding last year that reads: DAD. I almost don’t want to use them!

If you think about it, it is a rather disgusting practice. Here I am, a grown adult, pulling out of my pocket a piece of cloth for the purpose of forcefully expelling the mucusy content of my nasal cavity, after which I ball the hanky up and shove it back into my pocket. My only hope at that point is to drop it in the laundry hamper before I have to use it again.

Then there’s the time when you are about to meet someone for the first time, only to discover as you extend your hand that they have just finished blowing their nose in a hanky. Hurriedly they jam the offending cloth in their pocket while reaching out to shake your hand. Yuck!

Over the years I have frequently offered my handkerchief to someone in need. Usually the hanky never returns to me. I’m okay with that. But sometimes the person to whom it is offered (typically while I’m conducting a wedding or funeral) will use it to wipe away tears and dab at their nose, or (gasp!) blow their nose. They then refold it and hand it back to me. Uh . . . no thanks! Of course I take it and make a mental note not to use this hanky until it has been properly laundered.

This October marks my tenth year as pastor of the Ripon Free Methodist Church. On my first Sunday back then, I was seated on the platform at the start of the worship service. Julie, one of the ladies leading us in our opening hymn, became emotional at one point, so I stood up, walked over to where she was standing and with a flourish, handed her my handkerchief. The congregation laughed and enjoyed the light-hearted moment. Julie thanked me and continued in leading our worship. The following Sunday she presented me with a box of brand new handkerchiefs. Pinned to each bright, clean hanky was a printed card that read: “This hankie belongs to Pastor Chuck. Use it with my blessing. But, please launder before returning. God Bless You!”

So next time you reach for that hanky, remember your Hanky Etiquette!

Wednesday, April 09, 2008

O Baby, Obama!

This election campaign has really become more than a race for the White House. It has moved into a new arena, revealing the beliefs of the candidates that ought to be causing every single American to take note.

Did you hear the most recent verbal blunder uttered by Senator Barack Obama? (Well, actually it may not be the most recent by the time you read this.) “Look, I got two daughters — 9 years old and 6 years old,” he said. “I am going to teach them first about values and morals, but if they make a mistake, I don’t want them punished with a baby.”

The argument for abortion has now taken a new twist: Babies are now punishment!

This is absolutely remarkable! Here is a man who has two children that he and his wife were responsible for bringing into this world, and yet, depending on circumstances, they are either a blessing or a burden; either as a source of great pride or as a punishment. Is it possible that a child’s value is based upon some arbitrary human value system? Or is there a value standard by which all humans are measured?

As a Christian, I take seriously the insight and instruction found in the Bible. How interesting then, to see that children are always portrayed in high regard. Consider these verses: “Don't you see that children are GOD's best gift? The fruit of the womb his generous legacy? Like a warrior's fistful of arrows are the children of a vigorous youth. Oh, how blessed are you parents, with your quivers full of children!” (Psalm 127:3-5). “He (Jesus) put a child in the middle of the room. Then, cradling the little one in his arms, he said, ‘Whoever embraces one of these children as I do embraces me, and far more than me—God who sent me.’” (Mark 9:36-37). “Children’s children are a crown to the aged, and parents are the pride of their children.” (Proverbs 17:6). “The people brought children to Jesus, hoping he might touch them. The disciples shooed them off. But Jesus was irate and let them know it: ‘Don't push these children away. Don't ever get between them and me. These children are at the very center of life in the kingdom. Mark this: Unless you accept God's kingdom in the simplicity of a child, you'll never get in.’ Then, gathering the children up in his arms, he laid his hands of blessing on them.” (Mark 10:13-16). “Oh yes, you shaped me first inside, then out; you formed me in my mother's womb. I thank you, High God—you're breathtaking! Body and soul, I am marvelously made! I worship in adoration—what a creation! You know me inside and out, you know every bone in my body; You know exactly how I was made, bit by bit, how I was sculpted from nothing into something. Like an open book, you watched me grow from conception to birth; all the stages of my life were spread out before you, the days of my life all prepared before I'd even lived one day.” (Psalm 139:13-16).

Like you, Senator, my wife and I have two daughters. We raised our girls in a Christian environment, teaching them to love the Lord with all their hearts; to worship and serve him all their days. We taught them biblical morals and values. Throughout their lives they have been loved and surrounded by Christian people in every church I have served. This was also true throughout our years in the military. Even with all that influence, we are creatures of free will. At age twenty-eight, our oldest informed us a year ago that she had become pregnant outside of marriage. This is certainly not the way we had anticipated having our first grandchild, neither was it the way our daughter had envisioned having her first child. But it never once entered our minds to not have this baby, and it never occurred to us that this baby would be anything but a blessing. We invited our daughter to move back home with us and have the baby here where we could help her through this challenging chapter in her life (I received her permission to share this with you).

The congregation I serve had a baby shower for Laura, practically outfitting her with everything she and the baby would need for months to come. They have not once wagged the finger of judgment or turned their backs on our daughter. That’s because they understand the grace of God.

The truth be told, this little four-month-old bundle of love has completely captured my heart. If having Alyssa Grace is punishment, you sure wouldn’t know it around our household! She has become the joy of our home.

You see, Senator, just because the law of the land says abortion is lawful doesn’t make it right. As humans we have devalued these priceless gifts from God, discarding them as so much protoplasm. We are each created by God. As the Creator, he reserves the right to determine the value of his creation. And he declared upon completing his creation that it was “very good.”

Our youngest daughter is married. She and her husband will be having their first child in a matter of days. Another granddaughter for us!

The blessings just keep on coming!

Wednesday, April 02, 2008

The Father of Christian Rock

I was surprised the other day to receive an e-mail from a friend informing me of the recent death of Larry Norman, known as “the Father of Christian Rock Music.” I was saddened by this news, for you see this man had a huge impact on not just the Christian Rock industry, but on Rock music all across the spectrum.

Larry Norman was a pioneer who was fearless in attempting to reach the counter-culture youth of the 60s and 70s with the gospel. He was born in 1947 in Corpus Christi, Texas, but shortly after his family moved to San Francisco. He grew up doing mission work with his father visiting prisons and hospitals. Larry was enthralled with Elvis Presley and would often regale his classmates with songs he would sing at school. He had the heart of an evangelist and the talent of a modern rock musician.

In 1959 he performed on Ted Mack's syndicated television show The Original Amateur Hour on CBS. For those unfamiliar with The Original Amateur Hour, consider it as the American Idol of the 50s. He left home in the mid-60s, joining up with a local band in the San Jose area, performing opening gigs for The Doors and Jimi Hendrix. For the next several years he was greatly sought after for his musical talent and writing ability. Paul McCartney of the Beatles even met with him in the late 60s to discuss his music.

One thing that truly stood out with Larry Norman was his passion to see people come to know Christ as their Savior. He was always witnessing to his fellow band members along with anyone else he encountered in the rock music industry. In a desire to help his fellow musicians with drugs, he began a Bible study in 1971 called the Vineyard. One of the attendees was folk/rock artist Bob Dylan.

To see Larry Norman up close and personal you would immediately think “hippie,” and “druggie.” He simply looked like the people he was trying to reach with the gospel. Reminds me of the nineteenth century missionary to China, Hudson Taylor, who believed it was necessary to assimilate into the culture if he would have any hope of sharing the message of Christ. So he wore the clothing any Chinese man would wear. He even shaved his head, growing the long pigtail, called a queue, commonly worn by Chinese men. His impact in reaching the Chinese with the message of Christ is legendary.

Larry Norman's relationship with the wider Christian church, and with the Contemporary Christian music industry, has been contentious for a number of years. According to Portland news/radio station KXL, Norman's early social positions caused a stir among many conservative Christians. His views against racism and poverty caused him to receive multiple death threats in the 1970s. A widespread ban on Norman's music, which is largely still in effect today, existed in Christian stores. This ban was due not only to Norman's social positions, but his preferred company as well. Said Norman in a separate interview: "The churches weren’t going to accept me looking like a street person with long hair and faded jeans. They did not like the music I was recording. And I had no desire to preach the gospel to the converted.” (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Larry_Norman)

It was my distinct pleasure to play many of the songs Larry Norman wrote while I was completing my undergraduate studies at San Jose State University in the mid-70s. My major was in Radio & Television Broadcasting, so I created and hosted the “Bread of Life Show,” a Christian radio show for the university radio station, KSJS. I would play as much contemporary Christian music as I could, but there was precious little of it. Larry Norman was a breath of fresh air. He wrote songs like: “Why Should the Devil Have All the Good Music?” “So You Want to Go Back to Egypt,” “I Wish We’d All Been Ready,” “Only Visiting This Planet,” “We Need A Whole Lot More of Jesus, and a Lot Less Rock and Roll,” “The Rock That Doesn’t Roll,” and a host of others.

In recording his first solo album in 1969, Norman had this to say: "I wanted to push aside the traditional gospel quartet music, break down the church doors and let the hippies and the prostitutes and other unwashed rabble into the sanctuary...I wanted to talk about feeding the poor, going into the world....[I felt that] most of the modern music was anemic and needed a transfusion."

Larry suffered a heart attack about ten years ago. His body has gradually lost the fight. He went home to be with the Lord, February 24, 2008. Just the day before, he wrote on his web site, “I feel like a prize in a box of Cracker Jack with God's hand reaching down to pick me up. I have been under medical care for months. My wounds are getting bigger. I have trouble breathing. I am ready to fly home. I won't be here much longer. I can't do anything about it. My heart is too weak. I want to say goodbye to everyone. We are not sure of the date when I will die. Goodbye, farewell, we will meet again.”

Thanks for your ministry, Larry. I’ll see you later.

Psalm for the Day