Marines.Together We Served

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

A Resolution

It’s that time of year again! We are the only creatures on earth that feel he need to improve ourselves. So each January 1st we set about making what is more often than not a comical attempt at some sort of self-improvement. It’s time for the New Year’s Resolution! Usually by mid-January, or at the latest, February 1st, we’ve failed again.

We swear off chocolate; commit to exercising more regularly to rid ourselves of those unwanted pounds; quit smoking for the umpteenth time; finish that degree you’ve always wanted; finally sit down to write that book that has been in your head all these years; or be more patient with my ________ (fill in the blank).

Here’s a resolution I’d like to challenge you with if you’d care to accept. Commit to going to church on a regular basis. Now hang with me! You say you have difficulty making it to church? Too tired? You often have to work on Sundays? It’s your only “down time”? Haven’t found a church you like?

The reason I’m challenging you with this is because I want to share a story with you I received this week from one of our Free Methodist missionaries in Nigeria, Africa. If you think you have challenges making it to church, wait till you read this! I will let missionary Phyllis Sorter tell you the story. . . .

Let me introduce you to the Ogor family: David, Christiana, their children and two grandsons, Gold and Wisdom. This family has been faithfully attending the Free Methodist church here for about two years, coming to Bible study on Thursdays and to morning worship service every Sunday. David and Christiana are elderly. David suffers from arthritis but still manages to farm and fish, along with taking primary care of Gold and Wisdom who attend Hope for Little Shepherds School, never missing a day.

I was unaware of the unique story behind their attendance until last Thursday. Apparently around here no one thought their situation unusual - rather - their particular way of coping was just a normal way of life in this part of the country. But to me - it is simply amazing!
         

On Thursday morning Pastor John told me all of us would go out to the Ogor's compound for Bible study, as Christiana wasn't feeling well. I was happy to add my Jeep to the van as a means of transport. So at 4:45 pm we loaded up as many members as possible then followed Clement across the main road onto a dirt track leading off in the general direction of the Niger River.

I'd never been to their place before so was surprised as we drove farther and farther into a desolate, uninhabited area, soon leaving the road and crossing stretches of barren hard pan - the dried out flood plains of the river. Finally we parked the vehicles and after a few minutes' walk came across the Ogor's small compound. It was pitifully poor - only a tattered tent with an old thatched roof held down by driftwood. The family lives in that tattered tent in the flood plains of the Niger.

As we walked across the hard pan of the dried flood plains I began to wonder how this family managed in the rainy season. Well, I found out.
The Ogors SWIM to church, to Bible Study and to school. David and Christiana showed us two big plastic wash basins into which they put the children and their Sunday clothes. The adults float the basins on the water, pushing them in front of them as they themselves swim the kilometers necessary to get to dry land and church.

When they get to dry land they change into their Sunday clothes. After church they change back into their wet clothes and swim back home.
Amazing! I chatted for a few minutes with David and Christiana after Bible study.
"What is it," I asked David, "that would push you to go through this kind of suffering, day after day, week after week, to get to church? What is it that makes it possible for you to endure this kind of hardship?"

         "It's all for Christ," David answered. "What else can we do? Our canoe was borrowed by a neighbor who had an accident with it. As someone died in the incident, the canoe was confiscated by the police. We have no means of acquiring another.

"We must attend worship, no matter how difficult. We do it all for Christ."
Will I ever be able to give ANY excuse for missing church again?

Thank you, Phyllis, for this cogent reminder of what’s really important!

Now, dear reader, what was that reason you say you had for not being able to make it to church?

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Home for Christmas

 
It was December 17, 1972, a week before Christmas, and I was on the “Freedom Bird” flying back to the States following my tour in Vietnam. We landed at Travis Air Force Base north of San Francisco. I was wearing my Marine “Alphas,” the green trousers and jacket with khaki long-sleeved shirt and tie, and the fore & aft green cover (“hat” for you civilians).

My parents, sister and grandmother were at the terminal to welcome me home. My brother also flew out from Louisiana having returned from ‘Nam himself just four years earlier. The sense of excitement when you realize you are back in the Good Ole USA is hard to explain. No more war zone. Family and friends glad to have you back. And the opportunity to breathe air that smells of freedom! As the plane touches down, you are met with a flood of emotions. Will my family be there? Will they be on time? Have I changed? Will they notice anything different about me?

Finally the plane rolls to a stop at the terminal. Then you wait while the plane is shut down, and a military representative boards the plane to give some inane instructions before you were allowed to deplane. Oddly, there was a general tendency on the part of most of us to drag our feet as we grabbed our carry-on items from the overhead bins. We were ecstatic to be home, but having been away for a year, many of us had experienced some of life’s uglier lessons. It was as though death was on us and everyone could see it. We had certainly smelled it, and we were forever changed. And you could never forget that fellow Marines were also returning home in vinyl body bags. There would be no more family Christmases for them.

As I walked down the portable stairs from the plane, I hesitated to look up at the terminal for fear that my family would not be standing there. Of course they were, and all of a sudden I was smiling. But we had to wait for our sea bags to be unloaded first before we were set free to embrace our loved ones. The two hour ride to our home in Danville is a complete blank in my memory. I’m sure we chattered the whole way back to the house, or perhaps I dozed off, comfortable in the knowledge that I was safe back with my family.

The house was brightly decorated with all manner of Christmas lights and ornaments both inside and out. The odors of freshly baked sweets and the foods we always enjoy at Christmas were heavenly. For days I sat around the house having no desire to go anywhere. I was home. And I relished every moment of it. It was as though my soul was a sponge, absorbing every aspect of being home. I was surrounded by the people that meant the most to me, so there was nothing more I needed, nor wanted. I was perfectly content.

It wasn’t until we prepared to sit down for Christmas dinner that I was emotionally ambushed. As I watched everyone gathering around the table, I was overwhelmed with a thought that had never before assaulted me. Why was I home safe with my family preparing to enjoy another Christmas dinner lovingly prepared by my mother, when there was an empty seat at so many other tables of fallen servicemen? They wanted to live just as much as I did. I had to excuse myself from the table for about ten minutes or so before I could collect my emotions, knowing they might yet betray me again before the evening was over.

Each night I would grab a blanket and stretch out on the living room floor next to the Christmas tree. I would have a few logs in the fireplace burning warmly while I would lay there taking in the pine smells of the Christmas tree brightly lit with colorful lights only a few feet from me. Some nights I would sleep there the whole night. Other nights I would awake sometime in the early hours and stumble off to my bed. I didn’t care. I was home. And that’s all that did matter.

I fear I have become rather maudlin in my recounting these experiences from a Christmas now 39 years in the past. But in recent weeks our military men and women have been arriving home from Iraq, rejoining their families, preparing to enjoy another Christmas around the table. Gifts will be exchanged, and special moments shared. But for those who have left the ugliness of war behind them, there is a special smell in the air, and a taste of freedom that is hard to define. But for those who have been there, it is inescapable.

As you gather with loved ones this year, please pray for our returning warriors and their families. They are the reason you are able to enjoy the Christmas season.

And may each and every one of you have a Merry Christmas!

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Tebow Time

You may not be a fan of the National Football League (NFL), or even have an interest in ridiculously paid, frequently badly behaved, notoriously spoiled athletes. The names of the various 32 NFL clubs may mean nothing to you. But if you are paying even a modicum of attention to what is happening in the news, you must have heard the name of Tim Tebow and the NFL team he plays for, the Denver Broncos. It is being referred to as “Tebowmania.”

As a collegiate player he was nothing short of inspirational to his teammates at the University of Florida, developing something of a cult following from the fans and sports aficionados alike. He always made winning exciting even though the Gators usually trounced their opponents with ridiculous scoring differentials. People knew the outcome of the game before the kickoff, but that’s not why they came to the game. They came to see Tebow. They referred to him as Superman!

This young man is only two years removed from his very successful college football career where he lead the Florida “Gators” to two national championships, plus he won the coveted Heisman Trophy. Part of his mystic has to do with his very strong Christian faith. He made it a point of wearing his eye black (the black smudge worn by football players on the cheek bone) in a unique way. He would have a Bible verse address stenciled in white which was sure to be picked up by TV cameras. His favorite has been John 3:16; but he also wore Philippians 4:13 for the SEC Title game. (“I can do all things through him [Jesus] who gives me strength.”) He became a media phenom. At the beginning of practically every interview he would begin by saying, “Well, first I want to give all the glory and honor to my Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.” You see, Tim Tebow was raised by parents who were missionaries, instilling in the young lad the virtues and beliefs of the Christian faith. He is always smiling, obviously enjoying life and having a wonderful time. He is courteous to a fault. He’s even respectful toward those who harshly criticize him, which is a growing number of people, mostly in the sports world. And he deflects credit for his successes back onto his teammates, coaches, and fans. And they love him!

After graduation he was drafted into the NFL by the Denver Broncos where he was expected to be the backup quarterback to Kyle Orton. Tim was thrilled to be in the NFL and was content to play second-fiddle so he could learn the NFL system of playing quarterback which is quite different from that same role in college football.


As life often goes, Orton was injured in the sixth game of the season. Tebow fans made it clear they wanted their man to be the quarterback for the Broncos now! At this point the Broncos had a dismal win-loss record of 1-4. Tebow was given the responsibility of shouldering the team for the remainder of this season. In his very unorthodox style, Tebow has carried the Broncos to an 8-5 record. This means under his leadership on the field the Broncos have won 7 and lost one game. That is an amazing turn-around! But Tebow has created another phenomena – it’s called “Tebow Time.” This is actually a carryover from his college days, but it has been crystalized in the past two months. In his often bumbling attempts at playing quarterback the way the NFL wants him to, he has reverted to the way he played in college which has confused opposing defenses. In virtually every game he figures out some way to win the game, frustrating the opposing team with his heroics and dogged determination. It invariably comes down to the Broncos being behind with only minutes left on the clock. Tebow then leads the team down the field for a touchdown to win, or a field goal to tie and go into overtime. This is nail-biting time. This is Tebow Time! And his fans love it! As many sportscasters admit, “It ain’t pretty, but it’s a win.”

When asked what was most important to him about being an NFL quarterback, he said he’s just playing a game. What is really important to Tebow is the ministry he supports that takes care of orphaned children in the Philippines. You see, during his college days at Spring Break when many of the kids would head for the Caribbean to romp and play, Tim would jump on a plane to the Philippines to spend his two weeks helping disadvantaged kids who knew nothing of his superman status at the University of Florida, nor did they care. All they knew was he was there for them, and most importantly, that he loved them.

Tebow is a threat to many people for several reasons. First, he’s outspoken about his Christian faith. This makes a lot of people uncomfortable. He has been roundly criticized for this. But he always responds with a smile toward his detractors. Second, he’s a winner. He was a winner in high school, then in college and now in the pros. Third, he’s very comfortable and confident in himself. Yes, he is intensely competitive. But he’s enjoying the whole ride that life has offered him. Fourth, it’s difficult for some people to believe someone could be this good, this squeaky clean. They’re hopeful he’ll have some dark side revealed. But Tim knows we’re all sinners in need of God’s grace. That’s why he enjoys life so much because Jesus has saved him from his sin.

There are now three games left in this NFL season and the Broncos are solidly in first place in their division. The way things are going the Broncos will most likely make the playoffs in January. Could they get to the Super Bowl? Tim certainly believes so. Maybe he’ll wear the eye black with Phil 4:13 on that day!

Oh, one last thing. There’s another phenomena surrounding Tebow. Whenever he’s involved in a good play, such as a touchdown, he strikes a pose of prayer by kneeling on one knee, with his left elbow on his knee and his head bowed on his left hand. This is called “Tebowing.” There are people of all ages assuming this pose around the world. On the Internet, this picture of Tebow prayerfully giving thanks to God has gone viral!

You go, man of God!

Wednesday, December 07, 2011

Christmas in Djibouti

     Picking up from last week’s article about the Christmas lights we strung on the chapel at Camp Lemonier in Djibouti, Africa let me tell you of another situation that happened that long ago and far away Christmas.

     The year was 2003, and I had been sent to this small African nation to set up the command religious program for this newly established counter-terrorism base on a long-abandoned French military base.

     Early in December I was sitting in my office in the chapel when two senior enlisted Marines came in. They both worked in intelligence, but had also been very involved in the chapel program. Excitedly, they told me of a plan they had concocted. They announced that they wanted to put on a Christmas play! I smiled and said, “Great! What’s the play called?” “Well, we haven’t written it yet, sir.”  I continued smiling, somewhat bewildered. “Gentlemen,” I said, “It’s December 6th, and you’re telling me you want to put a Christmas play on by this Christmas? Just how do you propose to do this in a little more than two weeks?” They said they were going to write the play that very evening, and then recruit the actors for the various parts. I blinked a couple of times and gave my consent. I knew these two men well and believed they could, and would pull it off.

     Sure enough, the play was written, and the cast members brought together, and the rehearsals began. The play was a version of the Christmas story taken from portions of the Bible story found in the Gospels of Matthew and Luke. I asked the guys where they were going to get costumes and props to fit with the times. They assured me they had that covered.

     The original plan was to schedule one performance for December 21st. However, the performance that evening was so well attended (Standing Room Only), that there was a request for an additional performance so those who missed it could still experience this amazing program. What sealed the deal to have another performance was the request from the commanding general of CJTF-HOA (Commander, Joint Task Force – Horn of Africa). He had to be out of the country for the first performance, and since he is an openly professing Christian, he wanted to see the play. So the play was performed two more nights, if memory serves me correctly, on December 24th and 26th. Everyone loved it, including the general, who asked me to have the play performed two more times. The actors were thrilled! These were all military people who were doing their military jobs while also rehearsing and learning their lines.


     The general’s plan was to have a special evening where he would invite a number of guests to his quarters on base for a relaxed evening of refreshments and entertainment. He invited the general of the French base and his wife, various other diplomats and dignitaries, along with embassy personnel from the capital, Djibouti City, which, by the way, included a number of Muslims (Did I mentioned that Djibouti is 94% Muslim?). He also invited the Bishop of Somalia and Djibouti. Because there were so many guests, he needed two performances. He would split the group of guests in half, having one group attend the performance while the other stayed and socialized with the general, and then vice versa. At the end of each performance the actors received a standing ovation!






After the second performance, the Bishop grabbed me out in front of the chapel and stated unequivocally,
“Chuck, you must let me have these people do a performance at the Catholic Church in the city!” I explained, “Bishop, that’s not my decision. See that Marine colonel over there? He’s the commanding officer of the base. We all belong to him. It’s his decision.” The colonel joined us and was immediately importuned by the bishop to have the performers bring the play to his church. The colonel smiled and said, “Anything you want, Bishop!”


     So now my crew of actors were to perform January 5th for the French expatriates at the Catholic Church in Djibouti City. That was also the day I was to fly home to California to rejoin my original command, I MEF, at Camp Pendleton. I missed the final performance, but was later told everything went wonderfully well.

     As for the costumes and props, all manner of clothing articles and objects were used. Roman soldiers wore combat boots and cut-off camouflaged shorts, cardboard shields and swords. Mary was played by a white, female, Navy nurse, and Joseph was a black, male, Marine! The Star of Bethlehem was made of cardboard wrapped in tin foil. Behind a tarpaulin curtain the Star was carried on the end of a stick across the fake stage. From the back of the chapel with the lights out, a large flashlight held by another Marine was focused on the Star as it moved. You had to have been there to appreciate the effort. It was all utterly fantastic! The story of our Savior was told in the most unique way I have ever witnessed.

     I am still amazed to this day at the way God worked in that whole event. So many lives were touched and, I believe, transformed. It was and remains a moment in my life when I clearly saw the hand of God.

     Merry Christmas!

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Christmas Remembered

        
My wife reminded me of a very special Christmas that took place in 2003. But it was not a Christmas we shared together. During this year I found myself traveling around the world to several different military destinations. I had been called up from the reserves in late 2002 to serve as the Assistant Command Chaplain for the First Marine Expeditionary Force (I MEF) headquartered at Camp Pendleton, California.

The I MEF was the main Marine command leading the charge in Iraq, and in particular, the taking of Baghdad. I left Camp Pendleton on the first of May for my new assignment as Command Chaplain at Camp Commando in Kuwait. Sand storms were quickly added to my list of least favorite experiences. I also spent a week in Babylon, Iraq (about 45 miles south of Baghdad) where I MEF was headquartered. Then it was back to Camp Commando where I figured I’d serve out the rest of my time overseas. About a month later I was contacted by the Command Chaplain of Marine Forces Pacific (MarForPac) in Hawaii. He asked me if I would accept a new assignment. I asked where this might be. He said, “Djibouti.” The name Djibouti rattled around in my brain attempting to find a geographic location. All I could remember was Djibouti was somewhere on the African continent. Anyway, the assignment was for me to set up the command religious program for the base. Sounded like a challenge I would enjoy, so I agreed to go.

I was flown back to the States from Kuwait to enjoy a couple of weeks of leave with my family before heading for Djibouti for six months. I had to pick up my orders and plane tickets at McDill Air Force Base in Tampa. Florida. The day I flew into Djibouti the temperature was 145 degrees. I knew this was going to be a challenging time just adjusting to the climate!

After I was there about four months we were coming up on Christmas. The base chapel was a very busy spot. My RP (Religious Program Specialist) and I brewed Starbucks coffee each morning which soon became a popular item for our military personnel, stopping in for a quick cup before heading for their assigned duties that day. The chapel was constructed of thick plywood in the classic design of the old style churches that had a steeple and pitched roof. For some reason lost to me there were several strands of miniature white Christmas lights in the chapel. This was the first Christmas since this base was established, so you can see why I was flummoxed over having Christmas lights on hand. Other service members had friends and family ship them more lights. We put the lights all along the trim of the chapel. In early December I set up an official lighting ceremony. I arranged to have the Commanding Officer (CO), a Marine colonel, do the honors of plugging in the lights at 9:00 PM. A large crowd of service members had gathered outside of the chapel for the event. When the lights came on, the best way I can describe it is that it was magical! The oohs and aahs from the folks present were proof enough.

      A few days later I ran into the CO. We were discussing the lights on the chapel when he suggested that maybe it wasn’t such a good idea having the lights lit at night on the chapel, especially since the chapel was centrally located on the base and made for a rather attractive target for the bad guys. Djibouti is about the size of Rhode Island and is surrounded by nations that were breeding terrorists – which is why this counter-terrorism base was established. I agreed that the chapel made for a convenient target for the bad guys, but I said, “Sir, they already know we're here.” He agreed and the lights stayed lit all through Christmas. Because we had personnel working shifts around the clock throughout the base, I kept the lights lit on the chapel all night long. It really was a sight to see! The major portion of the base spread out below the chapel, so when the lights were on it was very easy to see it from our tented living quarters. Felt like a bit of home for us all.

I had many service members tell me how much they enjoyed seeing the chapel lit up for Christmas that way. Many pictures were taken, and it was a topic of conversation for weeks.

Next week I will share more of my Christmas in Djibouti with you. It was not only a magical experience, but I got to see God’s people do some amazing things, and to witness something even I could not have anticipated.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Trust Betrayed

I can’t help but wonder if we are witnessing the death of a nation. The recent revelations (posited as allegations until presented in a court of law) coming from Penn State are chilling to the soul. We experienced similar rumblings of the soul when the Catholic Church went through a catharsis some years back when priests were identified as having molested children over a period of decades, only to have been covered-up by the ecclesiastical hierarchy.

Young children and babies are disappearing almost daily, and more often than not, found dead, tossed aside along some roadway, or deposited in a trash dumpster. Just this week it was reported that a one-year-old boy, missing from his St. Louis home, was found dead in a cemetery. No one has been charged in this apparent homicide, but the mother is considered a suspect.

Like you, I am weary of reading about these young ones being abused and/or killed, frequently by the very adults who are supposed to be protecting them.  

Let me ask you: What has become of us when the very institutions which are designed to cherish and protect the youngest among us fails in this responsibility? The home should be the safest of all places for the young (and the old alike). In the same way our churches and other places of worship should be bastions of safety and sanctuary, followed by our academic institutions. When these vaunted organizations within our society can no longer to be trusted with the responsibility of caring for our children, what’s left?

There will be some who will be quick to point out that such abuses have always happened. I would agree, but in the past the punishment for such heinous behavior was swift and sure. Society would not tolerate such wickedness against our young. Someone else might argue that most of those abuses went unreported. Such a statement is impossible to substantiate, and such an argument attempts to make it seem as if things are no worse now than they have ever been. To this I say: Nonsense! Our nation grew up under the teachings of the Scriptures, and in those days people actually feared the Lord, knowing that their neighbors would bring the terrible sword of justice down on their heads. This is the primary reason why those who even considered harming these little ones didn’t, because they would be found out and dealt with without mercy.

I’m certain there will be much more that comes out from the investigation of Penn State and the despicable deeds of certain deviants and those who were willing to cover it up. What appears to be taking place is an attempt to protect a prestigious university. Bottom line: it’s all about money and the support the school receives. The football program, with an iconic coach, has been a cash-cow elevated over the years to the level of a golden calf – a thing to be worshipped and protected. Never mind that there is the collateral damage of young lives in the process – the institution must be sheltered at all cost.

A number of verses from Scripture come to mind when I read such stories. I would like to share two of these with you. First, James 4:17, “Remember, that knowing what is right to do and then not doing it is sin.” Second, even more pointedly, Jesus has this to say concerning those who might harm children in Luke 17:1-3, “There will always be temptations to sin, but what sorrow awaits the person who does the tempting! If he were thrown into the sea with a huge rock tied to his neck, he would be far better off than facing the punishment in store for those who harm these little children’s souls. I’m warning you!”

Please understand, I am not passing judgment on Penn State or any individuals associated with that institution. Our judicial system is designed to do just that. I’m simply pointing out the obvious: As a nation we need to decide if we are willing to continue to slide down the slippery slope of moral decay, or whether we will return to being an ethical people who have a renewed passion for serving God and living for Him.

I am convinced that if we are to survive as a nation, we need to experience what is called a revival. By definition a revival is a period of renewed religious interest. Put another way, it literally means “to bring back to life.”

I would echo what Joshua of old said, “As for me and my house, we will serve the Lord.” Let’s do this, America!

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Vietnam Vets

Some weeks ago I was invited by the Veteran’s Day Committee here in Ripon to be a speaker at this second annual event. In particular, I was to speak about the Vietnam Veteran. I wasn’t sure I should attempt to speak for Vietnam Vets. But since this was my designated task, I began the process of wrestling with the way I should approach this topic.

After I delivered this talk on Veteran’s Day last week, I had several people suggest that I submit this as my next Roots in Ripon article. So, the remainder of this article is what I shared that day.

What is a Vietnam Veteran?

          Throughout our nation’s history, every generation of men has faced the challenge of answering the call-to-arms when the nation has faced the possibilities of war. In more recent days, our women are filling the ranks of the combat fighter, establishing a new chapter in our nation’s storied legacy of ordinary folks stepping up to perform extraordinary service.

          The Vietnam Veteran has often been castigated for having been pampered as kids – spoiled, if you will. Products of the post-World War II excesses which ranged from affordable housing to Hula Hoops; from Electric Refrigerators to TV Dinners; from 9” Television Sets to Candy Cigarettes. And the dream of our parents was that we, their children, would be able to get a college education. That education, we were told by all of the adults in our lives, was the door to our future. We were expected to pursue this educational track so we could better ourselves and strengthen our country through economics and commerce.

          In the midst of this aggressive pursuit of higher education, a war in Indo-China pops up. Where in the world is this place? Oh yeah, it’s called Vietnam now. What was this all about? Well, being the sons of World War II veterans, later to be called the “Greatest Generation,” we wanted to prove we were up to the task in protecting our home and loved ones, just as those before us had done. Never mind that President Eisenhower had strongly cautioned America against getting involved in a land war in Asia. Never mind that President Kennedy was trying to avoid committing combat troops to Vietnam. Then President Johnson made the decision to have our military push the communist forces in Vietnam back out of the south. The cat was out of the bag now.

          But many of you will remember how the country rallied around our forces going into Vietnam. Even the media was supportive! Young men were signing up to serve. Yes there was the draft, but so many were willing to raise their right hand and take the oath to defend the Constitution against all enemies foreign and domestic, that the draft hardly seemed necessary. Along the way something happened in America. The colleges and universities, where we were to have received these priceless educational opportunities, became hotbeds for pointing out what was supposedly wrong with America. Throw into this the cauldron of racial unrest brewing in our inner-cities, and it was a recipe for national disruption. Then there was the counter-culture movement with its emphasis on free love, seemed to cause us to question everything we were as Americans. Now add to this the reminder on the evening news of the number of American servicemen killed in Vietnam that day, and you have a growing discontent with a war in a land that most Americans could not locate on a map.

          In the midst of this growing discontent for all things American, the returning veteran was singled out as a stooge, a foil, for a government that was now looked upon as being engaged in a war for the profit of large American corporations, and not to eradicate communism from the world stage. That was all so much political mumbo-jumbo, and we, who were asked to carry the fight to a distant enemy, did so because we wanted to be faithful to our nation. It is also a bit of historical irony that in ten years of warfare in Vietnam, the Vietnam Veterans did not lose one battle.  

          The Vietnam Vet seemed to be the embodiment of all the ills of the nation. Many of these vets preferred to take their chances in Vietnam rather than return to a nation that despised them and spit on them, calling them women and baby killers. My personal take on all of this is that the malaise of the 1960s and 70s will not pass until my generation has left this world.

           So, does the Vietnam Vet expect anything as far as an apology, or even a “thank you” for having served? No. We know that when it was our time to serve, the conditions were such that our sacrifices were not so readily appreciated. However, I believe today many Americans are grateful for the effort of their Vietnam Vets. And that’s enough for us.

          The Vietnam Vet served with pride and dignity. He returned home to put his war-fighting days behind him, and perhaps to go back to those same colleges and universities where we were previously pilloried, and pursue that elusive education. We found jobs, got married, raised our children, and helped make our communities better places to live – communities just like Ripon.

          But with all the troubles that surrounded us in those dark days, may I say to you who are our neighbors and friends, Thank you! We, the Vietnam Vets, love our country just as you do. Thank you for standing shoulder-to-shoulder with us in making this a greater country. We, the Vietnam Veterans, are proud to have served. And we would do it again in a heartbeat!

          I would like to ask all the Vietnam Veterans to stand. These are your veterans, Ripon!

Wednesday, November 09, 2011

In God We Trust

         Have you ever wondered how “In God We Trust” wound up on our money? You haven’t? Well, okay, but I’m going to share this bit of our national history anyway.

The motto “In God We Trust” has not always been stamped onto our coinage, and certainly not on our bills. Coins began to carry the motto during the Civil War. It was much later in our history that our paper money carried this same motto. In truth, the first paper money was issued by the Massachusetts Bay Colony on February 3, 1690. It was known as a “bill of credit” and was created with the express purpose of financially reimbursing soldiers for their military service during war. It was like an IOU which the bearer could spend or use just as if it was silver of gold. Coins came into existence even earlier by the rebellious minded folks in the Massachusetts Bay Colony. They minted silver coins in 1652, against the orders of the British throne.

In 1775, the colonial leaders of our soon fledgling nation attempted to insert paper money into our economy. Unfortunately, this effort ended in failure primarily because there was no significant backing for the money, such as silver or gold. Paper money did not show up again until the Civil War in the 1860s, but just as before, it did not have solid backing, and fluctuated based upon the fortunes of the war effort. Whichever side of the conflict seemed to have the advantage would also see a strengthening of its dollar value.

It was in 1862 that the U.S. Government first issued paper money. Because of the cost of the war effort, coinage was running low, so paper money was used as a promise to the holder that the government was good for it. These notes became significant because of the green ink used on one side of the bill, thus earning the nickname: Greenback.

During the Civil War there was enacted by Congress the National Banking Act in 1863 establishing a secure monetary system which is in use to this day. This will make you laugh! The first paper money was printed for the values of 1 cent, 5 cents, 25 cents and 50 cents! How times have changed!

So as you can see, our country has only had paper money in continuous use for about 145 years. And another irony in all of this is that paper money is not made from paper. Currency paper is composed of 25 percent linen and 75 percent cotton. Red and blue synthetic fibers of various lengths are distributed evenly throughout the paper. Before World War I these fibers were made of silk.

So when did our paper-money-that-isn’t-paper end up with “In God We Trust” printed on it? Congress passed the law for this addition to our currency in 1955 during President Dwight Eisenhower’s first term in office. It wasn’t actually printed until 1957, and then only on the $1.00 bill. It was not until 1963 that all currency carried the motto, “In God We Trust.”

The story behind this use of the motto is part of our national legacy. In the early 1950s, Matthew H. Rothert, a businessman in Camden, Arkansas who ran a furniture store, was sitting in church one morning probably pulling some bills out of his wallet for the offering when he happened to notice that the paper money did not carry the motto, “In God We Trust,” the way our coins do. He wondered why this was, but then decided to see what he could do about having this changed. Mr. Rothert was aware that U.S. currency was used all over the world. He surmised that with the spread of Communism, what better way than on an international scale, proclaim our nation’s belief in God, than to have it printed on our bills? At any one time, two-thirds of our nation’s money is circulating in foreign countries, including atheistic communist countries. In a letter to Mr. George C. Humphrey, then Secretary of the Treasury, Mr. Rothert suggested that paper currency have the motto included. Mr. Humphrey’s reply was, “To put the motto on a bill would require an act of Congress.”  

Not one to give up so easily, Mr. Rothert wrote letters to senators, representatives and newspapers. He asked, “Why shouldn’t paper money bear the same inscription as coins? Our paper money should carry a spiritual message to all nations.”

Senator J. William Fulbright, one of Mr. Rothert’s senators from Arkansas, introduced a bill before Congress to include the motto, “In God We Trust,” where it was approved and then signed into law by President Eisenhower on July 30, 1956.

God Bless America!

Wednesday, November 02, 2011

Impending Culture Clash

 

The United States is set on a course for a major cultural clash unless we return to those values that made our nation great and the envy of the nations of the world.

For the last couple of decades Europe has experienced an influx of Muslims who had no intention of assimilating to the culture of the country where they chose to settle, be that France, England, Holland, or any of the other countries that make up the European Continent. Because the philosophy of Islam is to conquer wherever they settle, Europe was ill-prepared to handle the large numbers of Muslims desiring to make Europe their new home. Europe has historically maintained an open-door policy when it comes to immigration. This has worked fairly well for a long time. The reason it has worked well is for the simple reason that those who immigrated to a European country embraced the culture of that country. But the Muslim influx is another issue all-together.

For the past several years many European countries have found themselves engaged in clashes with their Muslim neighbors. Not long ago British courts allowed sharia law to be legal in Great Britain. This shocked me, and I don’t shock easily anymore. Just today I heard on the news that churches in England are shutting down due to diminished attendance. As each of these churches closes, Muslims buy the church and convert it to a mosque. This is part of the principle of conquest within Islam. France has had rioting which has lasted for weeks where Muslim youth rampage through neighborhoods overturning cars and setting them on fire, torching stores, and all sorts of bedlam, costing millions of dollars in destruction.

Now we in the United States are facing these same challenges. Muslims complain about their women having to reveal their faces so a picture can be taken for driver’s licenses and other forms of personal identification. The most recent challenge by Muslims in America is a concerted effort to legalize – you guessed it – sharia law. Make no mistake, there are judges who are seriously considering allowing this to become part of our American law. Do you know what sharia law allows? Muslim states are theocracies. This means that religious law is law for everyone. Sharia is primarily law handed down from Allah, the god of the Muslims, to Muhammad the prophet.

Consider these laws from sharia: It is forbidden for post-pubescent women to expose their faces in public. While in public, women must cover their faces with a Hijab, a face scarf (Roy Orbison’s hit, Pretty Woman, would never see the light of day!). The use of alcohol and the consumption of pork are prohibited (So much for a cold beer and a hot dog at the ballgame!). Because Muslim states are theocratic, any criticism of the government is taken as blasphemy, for which sharia prescribes prison or death (I can imagine Congress embracing this law!). Want some more?

Men can have up to four wives and can divorce (called talaq) at their option. If they do not divorce their first wife but just abandon her, she is obliged to carry on as a married woman and cannot seek out another spouse without risking the traditional punishment for adultery: stoning. Stoning is done in public by first wrapping a person in a blanket and burying them in a deep hole exposing their head, and the population gathered around is invited to throw large stones at the adulterer, the size of which sharia law prescribes, and the sentence is always fatal. (That’s a sure way to reduce the high divorce rate in America!). The penalty after a fourth conviction of a homosexual act is death (I’m not feeling a lot of love here!). Adoption is not allowed. Adults can become guardians of the children of others but not the legal parents through adoption (Actually, these children become slaves to the adoptive family.). Sharia law prohibits dating and marriage between a Muslim and a non-Muslim and it is practically impossible for a Muslim (even a recent convert) to renounce the Muslim faith (Choose carefully!).

Many states which implement sharia law have blasphemy statutes which punish by prison or death any person preaching Christianity, or are found guilty of the distribution of Christian items (Wow! I would be in so much trouble!).

Let me close with this final statement regarding sharia law: “As with most theocracies, sharia law is difficult if not impossible to reconcile with the fundamental principles of democracy. One of the features of sharia is that, in theory, it is invariable and stable. Democratic principles such as political pluralism and the constant tug towards expanding individual freedoms are incompatible with sharia.” (www.duhaime.org)

It is inevitable that sharia and western democracy will clash. They already have. The question is – what will America look like when the dust settles?

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Dogged in Iowa Hill

On a recent Sunday, my wife and I had one of life’s truly unique experiences.

A pastor friend of mine, Jim Crawford, has been inviting me to come and preach to his congregation for a number of years now, but with my own responsibilities at my church on Sundays, plus my military obligations, I found it difficult to surrender a Sunday from my congregation in Ripon. I’ve been retired from the military for three years, so that obstacle is removed. Then we hired a youth minister about six months back who is able to fill the pulpit for me on those occasions when I’m out of town. Thus, I have recently been available to accept the invitation to preach at Jim’s church.

Jim and I go back a lot of years having first met in 1966 at Azusa Pacific College (now a university). He is also retired from the Air Force Reserve, so we have a lot in common. Knowing Jim as I do, and his wife Diana, I was really looking forward to the experience. Now, please understand. I’ve preached the Gospel in a lot of places over the years, and on every continent, except Antarctica. Many of these opportunities were very unique, like the time I was in Australia. After my sermon one evening, a diminutive older lady came up to me and said in a thick Aussie tongue, “I just love your accent!” I smiled and said, “Madam, I do not have an accent. You have an accent!” She laughed out loud as though I had just told a joke. Then there was the time I was in Tokyo, Japan and was invited to preach to a Korean congregation. I found this to be humorous! There I was preaching in English, pausing after every sentence or two to allow a Japanese Christian to translate my English into Korean for the congregation. Basically, this turns a twenty minute sermon into a forty minute sermon.

So on this recent Sunday we were off to preach at the Free Methodist Church in the town of Iowa Hill, California. Referring to Iowa Hill as a town is a stretch. It’s barely a wide spot on a very small road in Placer County. For those of you familiar with gold mining, you recognize the word “placer.” (“Pla” as in plaque, and “cer” as in sir) What is a placer? It is “a deposit of river sand or gravel containing particles of gold or another valuable mineral.” A year ago this week Iowa Hill received its first telephone landline signal, even though the telephone has been around for 135 years! “It’s a big deal,” said Kathy Morgan, 72 years old, and one of the stalwarts of the church in Iowa Hill. The town of roughly 200 residents still has no electricity. The hum of generators can be heard, along with the use of solar panels and batteries providing much needed electric power. Kathy said most folks don’t want direct electric power because “electricity would just bring more people.” That’s Iowa Hill!

The town is a little less than three thousand foot elevation, some 58 miles northeast of Sacramento on the way to Reno, Nevada. It was founded in 1853 by two gold miners, not surprisingly, from the state of Iowa. During its height of activity in the mid-1850s, the town was mining $100,000 per week! It has been described as being “bound on the west by Iowa Hill Divide and on the east by Indian Creek, northeast of First Sugarloaf and 1.5 miles southwest of Monona Flat.” Once you leave the freeway, it’s a 13 mile drive back into the hills, twisting and winding its way, often on a road that is barely passable for one car. Sheer drop-offs fall hundreds of feet to the North Fork of the American River, forcing drivers to keep their eyes fixed on the road! The scenery is beautiful, and breath-taking – literally!

There is no church building in Iowa Hill, so they use a multi-use building which was primarily used as a school house. Unfortunately, the school has been shut down because there are no students. Kathy Morgan was the teacher, which provided a small income for her. Many of the folks in Iowa Hill simply want to be free from the rat-race of urban life. Some residents are retired, others have settled there simply wanting to be left alone. Living in a tent year-round is not unusual for some, snow and all.

The service was set to begin at 10:30, but Jim had informed me that we would begin when everyone arrived, which was closer to 10:45. All told, there were 20 of us which included a dog. After Jim introduced me, I launched into my sermon, enjoying a free-for-all, give-and-take style with these folks who were quick to ask questions in the midst of the message. I loved it! Anyway, I’m cruising along, fully engaged in the message. I had noticed that the dog, a beagle, had climbed into its owners lap and had fallen asleep just in front of me. I’m used to folks falling asleep when I preach, so I figured, “Why not a dog?” At a telling moment, I paused for effect before making my next statement. In the silence of that moment, the dog, deep in slumber, startled us all with a loud snore. Everyone cracked up, including me! The dog continued in his reverie undeterred by the outburst of laughter. I managed to conclude the sermon, whereupon we all sat together to enjoy a potluck lunch. What a great time!

I may never get back to Iowa Hill, but I can assure you that I will never forget the time we had with these wonderful folks – and the snoring beagle!

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Ideology: Good or Bad?

There’s a great deal of smoke and mirrors arising from the political landscape these days that makes it difficult to focus on what is really important in the presidential race. If you’re satisfied with the current administration and its policies, then this article will merely be so much extraneous information. But if you’re like me, you know we can do a lot better. Simply put: we need to cut taxes; reduce the size of government; and restore this country to its former greatness as the place where dreams are made possible.

Recently I heard a Republican senator remark that we need to “put aside all of our ideological differences” and come together in support of a certain candidate for the presidency. I found this comment to be stunning in its naiveté.

Let’s consider a good working definition of the word, Ideology: “A system of beliefs or theories, usually political, held by an individual or a group. Capitalism, communism, and socialism are usually called ideologies.” Hmmm. So, let me see if I have this right. I embrace a certain ideology. Why do I do this? Well, because it fits in with my particular world view. My world view is built upon my personal succession of life experiences, and the convictions that emerge as a result. Add to that equation my environment and the people I am exposed to and you have the basis for an ideological belief system. To arrive at such a point takes time. Life must be lived and savored. Life must be experienced daily. On the surface, this statement sounds absurdly obvious, but too many people are trying to hurry to the next phase of life, failing to enjoy the moments they have in the present. This can eventually warp and distort their ideology. But it is nonetheless their ideology. I may not agree with a person’s basic world view, and my world view may strike them as odd. So, looking back on the suggestion made by this Republican senator to put aside our ideologies for the sake of coming together in some sort of compromise to achieve some indefinable political end, is just so much nonsense.

In an opinion piece written for Fox News, October 10, Kyle Scott, wrote, “Mass movements require an ideology to sustain themselves over long periods. Charismatic leaders and slogans will only take a movement so far if it lacks a set of core values that people believe in. Getting people engaged is hard enough, getting them to stay engaged is almost impossible.”

Core Values. . . Now that’s a critical component in the process of establishing a group of people needing to unite around a cause. What we are witnessing with the worldwide movement of the “Occupy Wall Street” folks and their counterparts across the globe is a loosely held idea that might someday be considered a core belief in an effort to bring these diverse peoples together. That oft expressed idea is that “the rich are getting richer on the backs of the poor.” This plays well in the old canard that rich people do not deserve to be rich, and that poor people are poor because they are constantly pushed down by the rich. This class warfare mantra is as old as man himself. It is always pulled out when other arguments seem to fail when subjected to the light of truth.

Make no mistake – There are certainly people who make lots of money at the expense of those around them. They are greedy, self-centered, heartless, and in need of a life change. God is good at doing that! We all grew up watching a movie of any number of the various versions of Charles Dickens’ “A Christmas Carol.” Regardless of the portrayal by whatever actor, each story focused on the Ebenezer Scrooge character as mean, greedy and heartless. He was an ardent lover of money. In effect, he is the quintessential Wall Street “Fat Cat.” But in the end, he is changed from his wretchedness, to a life of loving compassion and selfless giving.

Because America has experienced such greatness is primarily because of God’s blessing our nation with the truth that emerges from the pages of the Bible. These are transforming words that utterly change a person’s outlook on life, the way they treat their family, the attitude they have toward others, and ultimately their entire world view. When a person subjects themselves to God’s love and control, they have to change their attitude! It is simply not possible to be a lover of God while despising those around you. You see, Jesus said you cannot love both God and money. You will serve one or the other. Many today are serving the god of money, wealth, prestige, status. They bow and worship at this altar, often sacrificing family, friends, and even their own lives for the brief moments in this life that such power gives them. But many others use their acquisition of wealth to benefit others and the nation as a whole, reinvesting the profits in order to grow the business, providing opportunities for others not to merely survive, but to thrive.

We recently heard of the passing of Steve Jobs, founder and developer of Apple Computers. Here’s a man who at first worked out of his own garage, experimenting in the process of developing what has become arguably the most lucrative technological industry ever. How many people are employed today because Mr. Jobs had a vision that his ideas could benefit others? How many others benefit from these handy devices which make communication so much easier? He had an ideology too. I, for one, am glad he did not compromise his beliefs.

After all the protestors on Wall Street and around the world lose momentum and return home, the Steve Jobs’ of the world will be working out of their garages with a vision to make this world a better place.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Democracy or Republic?

I’ve been listening to the protestors down on Wall Street recently who are complaining about the greed and avarice of the “fat cats.”

What I find troubling in all of this is the misunderstanding the protestors and too many other American’s have about our form of government. I hear a nagging theme from the protestors that simply reveals ignorance about the form of government that was originally established in the United States. The cry from these malcontents is that as a nation we need to reestablish our form of democracy. The question is: “Are we a democracy?” The answer: Yes. But not in the exact way it’s typically defined. A democracy is a “government by the people; especially: rule of the majority” (Merriam-Webster’s Dictionary of Law). There is an inherent problem with a strict democracy: the majority rules. This may, on the surface, sound just fine. But if you are in the minority, your voice is not likely to be heard.

Point of fact: We are also a republic. The difference between these two forms of governance is crucial to understanding the freedoms we have and need to hold on to. A republic is “a government in which supreme power resides in a body of citizens entitled to vote and is exercised by elected officers and representatives responsible to them and governing according to law” (ibid.). In a modern day republic the two-party system, or bipartisan system, allows for an election to be held in which all qualified voters may cast a vote in favor of their party/candidate which, in the United States, we call a presidency.

The United States is commonly referred to as either a “representative democracy,” or a “presidential republic.” Where we err in understanding such governmental policies is in the manner in which such bodies operate.

Let’s take the case of our protestors on Wall Street for instance. They insist on a democracy. One young lady was adamant that we get back to being a democracy. What is chilling in this is that a pure democracy is an unnerving drift toward a totalitarian government of statism. That is, economic and political power rests with a central government, reducing regional government, and the individual, with relatively little say in political matters. Taken to an extreme, such democracy invites socialism, and eventually, communism.

On the other hand, a republic can be equally dangerous. When the electorate votes their candidates into office, the power, technically, resides in the people who elected the candidates. But this power can be abused by those elected, believing they then can make decisions which are in their own best interests, ignoring the will of those who placed them in office.

It is important to understand why the United States is one of those unique governments that has successfully combined a democracy and a republic for the past 224 years since the Constitution was written. Such a government is always in danger of shifting in another direction should the power of the people to elect be marginalized, or removed. You often hear the argument from the two major parties, Republican and Democrat, dicker over the role of government. The Republicans, at least in principle, are for smaller government, allowing regional control to rule within the individual states. The Democrats, also in principle, focus on the importance of the centralized government being the defender of the individual who is typically portrayed as downtrodden and neglected by the fat cats.

As we are entering in earnest this new election cycle, we are being introduced to these variances in governmental form all over again. “Class Warfare” is one such “red herring” used to cause disparity between “the haves and the have not’s.” Thus, capitalism becomes the evil to be done away with. Another pitch to separate people is the idea that our elected representatives somehow know what’s better for us than we ourselves do. This is the bogeyman we call “Big Government.” And a third problem that is in the morass of politics is “Racial Tension,” suggesting that certain ethnic groups are being marginalized or ignored. Such refrains are heard ad nauseam during every election cycle, with diatribes of bitterness and dissent being hurled back and forth across the political landscape. The truth is frequently sacrificed on the altar of a political party needing to be (re)elected.

In the final analysis, any such form of governance will always tend to swerve out of control because the base nature of the human race is flawed. Our founding fathers understood this flaw. They valiantly attempted to establish a government that would be as equitable as humanly possible, short of a theocracy in which a fair and just God would be preeminent.


Wednesday, October 05, 2011

Human Trafficking in California

Human Trafficking is indicative of an immoral condition of such magnitude as to fly in the face of God. It is an affront to all the godly qualities and characteristics within the human soul. In other words, it dehumanizes all of us.

 After last week’s article, “Human Trafficking Redux,” my friend Linda, reminded me of the salacious activities uncovered by the work of two people posing as a pimp and a prostitute attempting to acquire housing through ACORN (Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now). I’m sure you watched the undercover tapes being broadcast on the news, where the man posing as a pimp openly stated that he wanted these homes for the purpose of bringing under-aged girls from South America to work as prostitutes. That was shocking enough, but the manner in which the employees of ACORN accommodated the request was stunning. It was handled in such a matter-of-fact manner that it spoke volumes of whatever else was going on under the guise of a community organization. There was the expected outcry from “We the people,” and of course the appropriate posturing of our elected officials who all huffed and puffed their indignation, harrumphing their disdain for such awful activities going on right under their noses. Then the attacks on the man and woman who filmed these various meetings with ACORN workers were relentless. I’ll leave you to decide the morality of their sting operation. But here’s a question: Would anyone in a position of power have bothered to investigate unless they had hard evidence? I think not.

I wonder how many of us are aware of a report that was released in 2007 by the state of California, entitled, “Human Trafficking in California – Final Report of the California Alliance to Combat Trafficking and Slavery Task Force.” This was published by the California Attorney General’s Office. I was particularly interested in the section which identified California as being a “Magnet for Traffickers.” The opening page quoted the 13th Amendment to the Constitution: “Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude, except as a punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted, shall exist within the United States, or any place subject to their jurisdiction” (Amendment XIII, Slavery Abolished (1865).

Well, that’s a great start. 

Consider this statement by California Assemblywoman Sally Lieber: “The problem of human trafficking has reached into neighborhoods throughout California and is one of the fastest growing criminal enterprises in the world. Individuals are bought, sold, transported and held in inhumane conditions for use in prostitution or as forced laborers. It would be morally and socially irresponsible to ignore this problem and the victims it creates in California every year.” (September 21, 2005 – signing of AB 22).

          There is a simple pattern to the way human traffickers operate. I shared some of this in my first article three weeks ago based on my own exposure and experience with this morally reprehensible so-called business. This next statement is taken from the findings of the California Task Force assigned to investigate trafficking. “Traffickers lure victims into the United States with deceptive promises of good jobs and better lives, and then force them to work under brutal and inhuman conditions, and deprive them of their freedom. Victims of human trafficking may be involved in agricultural labor, construction labor, hotel and motel cleaning services, illegal transporters, organized theft rings, pornography, prostitution, restaurant services, domestic services, servile marriage (mail-order brides) and sweatshops. Once in this country, many suffer extreme physical and mental abuse, including rape, sexual exploitation, torture, beatings, starvation, death threats and threats to family members.”

          The scope of the problem of trafficking in California found that “over 80 percent of the documented cases took place in urban areas: Los Angeles, San Diego, San Francisco and San Jose, and the majority of victims were non-citizens, with or without valid travel documents.”

          “To put the power of the economic magnet for trade in human beings in perspective, it took transatlantic trade 400 years to import 12 million African slaves to the United States. Yet, within Southeast Asia alone an estimated 30 million women and children have been trafficked – in the past ten years.”

To report human trafficking, call the U.S. Department of Justice Hotline, 1-888-428-7581.

Psalm for the Day