Marines.Together We Served

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

America the Beautiful

I never cease to enjoy the beauty of the United States. Whether I’m flying at thirty-seven thousand feet looking down on the Rocky Mountains, or the wheat fields of the mid-West, I am awed by the expanse of our nation.

Last Sunday I caught a plane to Washington, DC where I was met by my brother, John. Monday morning the two of us drove to a country club in Maryland to play in a golf tournament which was a fund-raiser for a particular congressman my brother knows. It was a beautiful day – perfect for golf. Then again, every day is perfect for golf. This particular day happened to be more perfect than most. However, my ability to play this game of golf was in a serious state of malfunction (See: “I Need Help!” May 28, 2008). This is hard to take, not only because I know I can play better, but my brother’s game is so much better than mine at this point that I can’t even begin to compete with him. This is a deep and grievous wound to my soul which can only be eradicated by my soundly thrashing him on the golf course.

The next day John spent the day in his office in downtown DC. I, on the other hand, being on vacation, drove to the country club where he belongs near his home and spent more than two hours hitting golf balls on the practice range. I was then invited to play with a couple of John’s friends. I accepted their invitation. Unfortunately, my play was not pretty. (See: “I Need Help!”) They kept saying, “You’re playing with your brother later this afternoon, so you’d better not hit the ball like that!” Tell me . . . Where’s the justice? Sure enough, John arrived about 3:30 followed by his son Josh. Then John’s longtime friend, Pat Murphy, arrived. The foursome was now formed. This round of golf would be different, I kept telling myself. Fool! At the end of the day I was humbled yet again! (See: “I Need Help!”)

So Wednesday morning I had a brief respite from golf. The family had gathered at John and Lynne’s home, preparing for the trip to Maine where we vacation every year. I was driving John’s 79 Toyota Camry, a car he’s had since it was new, and drives like a dream. My route would take me through Newport, Rhode Island where the Navy Chaplain School is located. John and Lynne are driving up stopping along the way to visit friends. My mother and sister, Joy, are flying up to Portland, Maine on Saturday where I will be picking them up on the way to the cabin.

Golf aside, I thought I would share with you some of the things I observed as I drove from Virginia to Rhode Island. The first thing I noticed traveling the highways, staying off the Interstate, were the fields of corn and wheat. The hay was rolled up in huge cylindrical shapes. Farm land was everywhere. Silos stood high above the farm houses acting as veritable beacons of plenty. The Appalachian Mountains ran south to north on my left basking in the soft warmth of the sun as the day moved on. I passed into Pennsylvania with much the same scenery. I proceeded north through the capital, Harrisburg, and then on to Scranton before bearing east into New York State, Connecticut and then Rhode Island.

I saw American flags hanging from many more homes than those out west. Businesses also had the flag flying, or bunting strung across the front of their establishment or homes. Granted, it was Flag Day on June 14th, but this sign of patriotism is commonplace in this part of the country.

Now, for all my Methodist friends, there was a Wesley Drive as you entered Harrisburg. As I crossed the Susquehanna River in the capital, I looked to my left and noticed a beautiful train bridge made of brick with something close to fifty arches as its design and support. A sign just outside of Hershey, Pennsylvania announced Funck’s Café. Then there was Fort Indiantown Gap. I pulled off the turnpike to have lunch in Newton, but wound up in Tremont. This is coal mining country. I topped off the tank there paying $3.99/gal. Diesel was going for $4.94/gal.

I found a small restaurant on the main street called, Mancino’s. Their advertised specialty is Stromboli dinner. On the lunch menu was something called a California Burger. Curious, I asked what was in this burger. The answer? “Mayo, lettuce, and tomato.” Okay, now that’s inspiring! I opted for the meatball sandwich. Delicious! I couldn’t even begin to remember the last time I had one of those. I loved them as a kid, but I moved from New England when I was seventeen.

Next to Mancino’s was Alex’s Place, established in 1898. On the front windows facing the street were painted “God Bless America,” and “United We Stand.” Made me proud!

If I had had the time I would have stopped at Gettysburg, Pennsylvania to visit once again the famous battle site of the Civil War. It was here that President Lincoln eulogized the sacrifice of the many fallen soldiers from both sides of the conflict.

Some of the billboard signs I saw read: “Farmers can be heroes,” and “Muslims for Peace Conference.” Another sign advertized two establishments: “O’Reilly’s Irish Pub/Lone Star Saloon.” This struck me as funny. The Irishman says, “Aye! Would’ja be havin’ a pint with me, lad?” To which the Long Tall Texan replies, “Why, sure padner!”

Some of the businesses advertized were comical. “Rockzilla Jewelers” (Are they serious?), “Turkeyfoot Nursery” (Exactly what are they raising?), and “Claws and Paws Animal Park” in Lake Wallenpaupack, located in the Pocono Mountains in eastern Pennsylvania. But I liked this one, especially for my Dutch friends in Ripon, California: “America’s Best Road Food – Dutch Kitchen,” (Ummm, too close to “road kill” for my taste!). There was “Marvelous Muggs” restaurant outside of Scranton, PA, and “Peter Pots Pottery” in South Kingston, Rhode Island.

Amusing town names include: Point of Rocks, Maryland; Shamokin and Shickshinny, Pennsylvania; Fishkill, New York; Squantz Pond, Connecticut; and Wyoming, Rhode Island.

I had a sobering moment while driving through New London, Connecticut. The bridge you cross to get to Groton (Navy submarine base) is called the Gold Star Memorial Bridge. As I rolled over this symbolic bridge with the Atlantic Ocean to my right, I offered a prayer for all of our Gold Star families, and the pain they experience every day in the loss of their loved one in time of war.

There’s so much more! It’ll have to wait. I just want to say in closing: This is a great country!

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Hey Buddy!

Recently, my wife and I celebrated our 32nd anniversary. Part of our Honeymoon included a visit to Carmel (officially known as Carmel by the Sea). Over the years we have returned to this quaint little town simply to enjoy its charm. This year Isaura told me she’d like to go back for our anniversary. So, I got busy.

I went on the internet to see what restaurants in Carmel she might like. Being Portuguese from San Miguel, the Azores, she always enjoys European dining. I spent several years in Europe as a kid and was forever spoiled living in Paris. Once you’ve been exposed to French cuisine you are spoiled for life. The French know how to cook!

So I found a quaint French restaurant whose name is bigger than the restaurant itself: Patisserie Boisierre. I made a reservation for 5:30 pm which is also the time they open for dinner. We arrived in Carmel in time to give Isaura an opportunity to do some window shopping. As the time for dinner approached, I wandered over to the restaurant so I could be the first one in. The lady who opened the door smiled and asked me where we’d like to sit. I pointed to a table by a window that was absolutely perfect. Isaura walked in a few minutes later. It was an excellent restaurant! Isaura had the salmon baked in parchment paper. I went with their chicken pot pie where, instead of a flour crust, they use mashed potatoes. Delicious!

However, it was the dessert counter that grabbed us! As you come through the front door, you are looking at a chilled case filled with unbelievable French pastry. After eating the entrée, we stood before this display of after-dinner elegance vainly attempting to decide which dessert to choose. We’re talking about: Crème Brulee, Chocolate Mousse Cake, Mocha Custard, Black Forest Cake, etc. Isaura chose the Strawberry Triangle, and I had the Bread Pudding. Yum!

We had to tear ourselves away from the restaurant because we had reservations for a musical a few blocks away. The PacRep Theatre (Pacific Repertory Theatre) was performing “The Buddy Holly Story.” Growing up during the early days of Rock and Roll, I couldn’t wait to see this performance. My friend and retired Navy doctor, Will Harrison, sent me an e-mail recently announcing that his son was performing in this production. The e-mail included a YouTube video of a scene featuring his son, Scott Free (that’s his stage name – I love it!) playing the role of the Big Bopper. Another actor played the role of Ritchie Valens. Many of you remember that time when Buddy Holly, the Big Bopper and Ritchie Valens had performed a concert together in Iowa. That evening they boarded a plane for their next concert. The plane crashed and these three icons of rock and roll were killed. Don McLean wrote a song years later, entitled, “American Pie,” in which he referred to this loss as “The Day the Music Died.”

I’ve attended a lot of repertory productions over the years across the country and most are very well done. This one, especially as a musical, is outstanding. You do not want to miss this! Travis Poelle, the actor who plays Buddy Holly, is “spot on,” as our British friends would say. He looks just like him, sounds just like him, and he plays a mean electric guitar for all the music. It is uncanny how Travis sings like Buddy Holly, including Buddy’s unique “hiccup” style. His backup band of two, and sometimes three, guys playing the Crickets are all terrific musicians. You would be hard pressed to differentiate between the original Buddy Holly and the Crickets, and the performance of these actors in this musical. Though there are a lot of speaking parts, everything centers on Buddy Holly and the Crickets singing and playing. The finale with Buddy, Ritchie and the Big Bopper is priceless! And you definitely don’t want to miss the scene when they are invited to play at the Apollo Theater in Harlem, New York. What a hoot!

Here are some of the songs they perform live: That’ll be the Day, Everyday, Maybe Baby, Peggy Sue, Peggy Sue Got Married, Heartbeat, Raining in my Heart, It Doesn’t Matter Anymore, Rave On, Johnny B Goode, and Oh Boy.

Now add to this Scott Free as the Big Bopper singing and playing his classic, Chantilly Lace, and Davitt Felder as Ritchie Valens singing and playing La Bamba, and this is one heck of a show! Members of the audience were dancing in the aisles!

The Buddy Holly Story plays through August 3rd, so I suggest you get right to it and make plans to catch this performance. It will bring back lots of nostalgic memories as well as put a smile on your face.

It is currently being performed at the Golden Bough Theatre in Carmel. You can buy tickets by calling the box office at 831-622-0100, or go on-line at: www.pacrep.org.

Trust me! You’ll thank me for it.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Religious Half-Truths

What exactly is a half-truth? Well, according to Webster’s, it is: 1) a statement that is only partially true, 2) a statement that mingles truth and falsehood with deliberate intent to deceive.

Religious half-truths are those clever, cute, over-used isms that we all of us grew up hearing, and then wind up using ourselves. One thing is certain: These half-truths are false. Therein lies the deceptiveness of them. Even though I had no real religious training to speak of while growing up, I frequently heard these utterances. Not knowing the truth, I accepted these remarks as valid.

I remember hearing a phrase used in criticism of those who were overly religious. It went like this: “He’s so heavenly minded that he’s no earthly good!”

What was the implication of this? A person who spent too much time at church, reading their Bible, praying, and who was simply too religious could not be of any use in this world. I remember thinking that this analysis always sounded right. But is it?

Another phrase I frequently heard was, “Religion is just a crutch for the weak.” Implication? Such people are too weak, unable, or unwilling, to face life head on – whereas the rest of the world sucks it up, toughs it out. Real people are made of sturdier stuff. They don’t need to be rescued by some supposed deity. Or do they?

Then there is the classic comment that says: “God helps those who help themselves.” Implication? Real religion is where God needs my help – not the other way around. God needs my help? Are you serious?

Not to be outdone, there’s always this beauty: “Cleanliness is next to godliness.” Implication? God cannot be bothered with our getting dirty and seriously frowns on our messiness. Some mother must have spouted this saying in frustration with her kids!

Then there’s the Karl Marx quote: “Religion is the opiate of the people.” He wrote this in German in 1844 in the process of establishing his philosophy of materialism over against religion. From this premise he began formulating his Communist Manifesto in concert with Friedrich Engels. The implications of this quote are similar to that of “Religion is just a crutch for the weak.” Some people need a drug, cannabis, an opiate, in order to make it in life. Do they really?

You may be thinking that all this half-truth business isn’t really a big deal. At first blush, I would agree with you. However, such isms repeated often enough eventually become part of our thoughts and beliefs. Unfortunately, the human condition is to grow increasingly more cynical as we grow older. Thus, we lean toward believing half-truths when they fit life’s experiences. Consider the manner in which people of faith are portrayed through the media! Such a portrayal clearly supports the half-truths referenced above.

Allow me to give you a quick biblical, albeit, accurate, response to the religious half-truths I have addressed.

1.) “He’s so heavenly minded that he’s no earthly good!” The Bible says in Colossians 3:1-2, “Since you have been raised with Christ, set your hearts on things above, where Christ is seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things.” I have modified this over the years by saying, “If a person is not heavenly minded, then he’s no earthly good.”

2.) “Religion is just a crutch for the weak.” The Bible says in Proverbs 3:5-6, “Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make your paths straight.” Please note: “Do not lean on your own understanding!” This is the danger inherent in religious half-truths!

3.) “God helps those who help themselves.” The Bible says in Romans 5:8, “But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” In other words, you and I are helpless to do anything about our sinful condition. Only God can deliver us from this dilemma.

4.) “Cleanliness is next to godliness.” The Bible says in Titus 2:11-12, “For the grace of God that brings salvation has appeared to all men. It teaches us to say ‘No’ to ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright and godly lives in this present age.” God’s Word has much to say about cleanliness, particularly regarding certain foods that should not be eaten; avoiding the unclean sickness – leprosy; and clean hands and clothes. But the one act of cleanliness that trumps the rest is a heart made clean by God!

5.) “Religion is the opiate of the people.” The Bible says in Psalm 34:8, “Taste and see that the Lord is good; blessed is the man who takes refuge in him.” The bottom line is: God loves us, and desires to have us share in his glory.

God’s Word warns us not to embrace false teachings and half-truths in
Colossians 2:8, “See to it that no one takes you captive through hollow and deceptive philosophy, which depends on human tradition and the basic principles of this world rather than on Christ.”

Paul says those who have accepted Christ as savior now have the mind of Christ. That sure beats the world’s false teachings and half-truths!

Wednesday, June 04, 2008

We the People

I have always been intrigued with the opening phrase of the Constitution: “We the People . . .”

It goes without argument that the United States is the greatest nation to have ever existed in this world of ours. Called “The Grand Experiment” early in our existence as a country, it remains a work in progress. However, I fear we are moving further and further away from the intended purposes of this once fledgling nation.

“We the people” determined at that time that they would be free from the tyrannical rule of the British monarch. Taxes were increasing at an alarming rate in the 1700s (though they pale by today’s standards of taxation!). Forced taxation by the British Crown grew increasingly offensive to the colonists. The declaration, “No taxation without representation!” became the rallying cry for those who were fed up with King George and his ravenous appetite for all things colonial.

The Preamble to the Constitution states: We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common Defense, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.

A constitution is “a document or statute outlining the basic laws or principles by which a country or organization is governed.”

Let’s look at the Preamble in more detail. First you have the phrase mentioned at the top: “We the People of the United States.” We the People is a testament to the common man of that day in Colonial America. The Constitution, therefore, was to be a document emerging from the people of America. This was somewhat similar to the British Magna Carta of 1215. In that novel document, the king was forced to acknowledge certain rights of the people. Over time this document was changed, modified, and ignored so that when the colonists of the 18th Century came along, they resented the infringement of the Crown in their lives, both commercial and private.

When the Constitution was being written in 1787 it was understood that the strong-armed, heavy-handed manner of the king was no longer to be tolerated. The Government of the United States was to function at the pleasure of the American people.

“In Order to form a more perfect Union.” This line came as a result of the original Articles of Confederation (1777), which served its purpose, but was not adequate for the new Constitution. The Constitution would be “more perfect” than the original Articles.

“Establish Justice.” This is no small task! In that day people were treated with injustice by the British Crown, particularly when it came to laws and trade. One of the injustices that was particularly offensive was the British law allowing any British soldier to demand food and shelter from any citizen – like it or not.

“Insure domestic Tranquility.” As the nation emerged from the revolution, former soldiers of the revolution sometimes disagreed with new governmental laws and action. As in the landmark case of Shay’s Rebellion, a sizeable group of these men in Massachusetts grabbed their rifles and marched on their government. After being suppressed, it was believed that such rebellion was not good for the new country. Thus, such armed dissent was forbidden. Laws were written to provide adequate venues for grievances.

“Provide for the common Defense.” In an uncertain world, the new nation was keenly aware that they needed to band together in a common defense. No one state could stand against Britain, Spain, or France, or even certain powerful Indian tribes. They truly needed each other.

“Promote the general Welfare.” A strong national government that could ensure Justice, Tranquility, and Defense, would naturally promote the general Welfare of its people.

“And secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity.” This was the goal of the revolution – Liberty for all. To live as free men and women, and to enjoy the protection of a government that was to ensure their safety, was nothing short of intoxicating. Future generations had this hope.

“Do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.” This final phrase says what the people have determined for the good of all. The “ordain” portion is a direct reflection in acknowledging God’s providential hand on this new nation. And the “establish” portion marks a new view of the way “We the People” choose to govern and be governed.

Everything about the Preamble itself, and the Constitution, has to do with “We the People.” Please remember this as we forge ahead in this presidential election year. The rights we have were obtained through the shed blood of American patriots. We dare not forget this or we will soon lose those rights, becoming servants of the government, instead of the government being the servant of “We the People.”

God bless America!

Psalm for the Day