Marines.Together We Served

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Exceptional

There is a word which is uniquely associated with the United States of America. That word is Exceptionalism. This term was first used in association with America in 1831 by French political thinker and historian, Alexis de Tocqueville. He traveled throughout the United States in the 1830s, spending two years absorbing everything he could about this remarkable new nation. Remember: at the time de Tocqueville was crisscrossing the American landscape there were only 24 states.

In de Tocqueville’s first book, Democracy in America, (1835) he writes, “The position of the Americans is therefore quite exceptional, and it may be believed that no democratic people will ever be placed in a similar one. The actual term, “American Exceptionalism,” was coined in 1929 by Soviet leader, Joseph Stalin, which he used in criticizing the American Communist Party. The definition for American Exceptionalism is, “the idea that the United States and the American people hold a special place in the world, by offering opportunity and hope for humanity, derived from its unique balance of public and private interests governed by constitutional ideals that are focused on personal and economic freedom.”

 The early settlers in America knew something unique was taking place on these shores. “The idea of America as an exceptional entity dates back to colonial times. Its roots can be found in the thought of Puritan settlers who regarded the North American continent as a promised land where a new Canaan could be built as a model for the rest of the world. The earliest expression of this belief that continues to live on in American public memory comes from John Winthrop, a Puritan leader and first governor of the Massachusetts Bay Colony. Winthrop delivered a lay sermon aboard the Arbella, during its passage to New England in 1630, in which he declared that his fellow settlers "must consider that we shall be as a City upon a Hill, the eyes of all people are upon us." This belief has persisted throughout our history and is what has been the underlying influence in our nation’s foreign policies.

It is this religious theme in American history that I find most fascinating. Based upon the definition for American Exceptionalism, I believe God was granting this fallen world another opportunity to experience freedoms that were both religious and political – something quite unique in the annals of world history. De Tocqueville wrote, “The Americans combine the notions of Christianity and of liberty so intimately in their minds, that it is impossible to make them conceive the one without the other.”

In an attempt to explain the uniqueness he found in America, de Tocqueville made this astute observation: “There is no country in the whole world in which the Christian religion retains a greater influence over the souls of men than in America, and there can be no greater proof of its utility, and of its conformity to human nature, than that its influence is most powerfully felt over the most enlightened and free nation of the earth.”

In a pamphlet written in 1855 entitled, “Liberty Bell: Testimony Against Slavery,” de Tocqueville boldly expresses his grave concerns over the practice of slavery in America with all of its apparent contradictions. I do not think it is for me, a foreigner, to indicate to the United States the time, the measures, or the men by whom Slavery shall be abolished. Still, as the persevering enemy of despotism everywhere, and under all its forms, I am pained…… An old and sincere friend of America, I am uneasy at seeing Slavery retard her progress, tarnish her glory, furnish arms to her detractors, compromise the future career of the Union which is the guaranty of her safety and greatness, and point out beforehand to her, to all her enemies, the spot where they are to strike. As a man, too, I am moved at the spectacle of man's degradation by man, and I hope to see the day when the law will grant equal civil liberty to all the inhabitants of the same empire, as God accords the freedom of the will, without distinction, to the dwellers upon earth.”

Today we face enemies within and without our nation that are quick to disregard de Tocqueville’s exceptional analysis of America. Many say we are no more exceptional than any other nation and its history. It is true that each region and nation of the world has its own unique history. But I will be forever convinced that God chose America to be a beacon of hope to the world because of the spiritual and political balance that was established. There’s a reason why an annual average of one million immigrants are legally brought into the American family to pursue the American Dream.

         With all of the problems our nation faces, America is still the last great hope of the world.

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Rules for a Happy Marriage

It has been said that marriage can either be the nearest thing to heaven on earth, or its extreme opposite.

I ran across some papers I’ve used in the past when conducting marriage workshops or when counseling couples wanting to be married. This particular paper I pulled from my notes is a list of rules to follow if you want to create an environment for a happy and lasting marriage. In light of the flood of failed marriages listed in the newspaper each week, this bit of instruction seems eternally appropriate and timely.

Of course the best instruction on marriage is to be found in the pages of the Bible. God established the marriage relationship. He created us to be in relation with each other. But the marriage relationship is unique within the human experience because it is intended to be akin to the relationship God desires to have with us. Barely two chapters into the book of Genesis we see that God saw that the man, Adam, was experiencing loneliness. God said, "It's not good for the Man to be alone; I'll make him a helper, a companion." So the Lord made a woman in the same fashion as the man. Adam was thrilled!  He said, "Finally! Bone of my bone, flesh of my flesh! Name her Woman for she was made from Man." Therefore a man leaves his father and mother and embraces his wife. They become one flesh.

Ever since the first couple was created we’ve been trying to figure out this whole business of a man and woman living together without killing each other! Marriage seems to fall into three major categories: 1) Delight, 2) Fright, 3) Flight. In a marriage experiencing delight a couple has figured out how to make the relationship work. Things are not necessarily perfect, but disagreements are worked out without the need for personal attack and criticism. Generally the couple is happy, feeling loved and affirmed. Couples in the fright category realize their marriage is suffering from an inability to resolve conflict and disappointment. Each partner has settled into an approach to their relationship that could at best be described as tolerance. They stay in the marriage, but they are merely sharing the same residence. The third category, flight, is the result of a marriage that has disintegrated, ultimately leading to divorce. The partners have exhausted themselves emotionally in a desperate attempt to make it work. When the divorce is final they look to escape from the horrors associated with the failure.

Wherever you are in the process of the marriage relationship, these suggestions are meant to help you strengthen your commitments to each other.

Unselfishness is rule #1. A selfish attitude in a marriage (or any relationship) is the beginning of rottenness in the bones. “Agree with each other, and show your love for each other. Be united in your goals and in the way you think. 3 In whatever you do, don’t let selfishness or pride be your guide. Be humble, and honor others more than yourselves. 4 Don’t be interested only in your own life, but care about the lives of others too.” (Philippians 2:2-4).

Rule #2. Never speak loudly to one another unless the house is on fire! The volume of the voice is in direct proportion to the level of hurt and frustration.

Rule #3 must be practiced if there is to be peace and harmony in the marriage. Never, ever bring up your partner’s past failures and mistakes! To berate them with their less than stellar past is to sow the seeds of ruin in the marriage. Instead, you are to be each other’s biggest cheerleaders in life.

This next rule must be followed. Rule #4 says to never make a comment or remark derogatory of your mate, either to them or in the presence of others. To do so is to humiliate them and damage your relationship, even if you think you’re being cute or funny. Trust me: You’re neither cute, nor funny!

Rule #5 is close on the heels of #4 in that it says never hold onto a resentment or hurt. Instead, be willing to forgive and be forgiven.

Often couples live with the “What if’s.” What if I’d married that other guy? Or, perhaps I was meant to be with the girl I first fell in love with. You will never know. Instead, Rule #6 says to focus on your mate and make the best of your present relationship. If you allow yourself to wander into the “What if’s,” you will gradually fall out of love with your marriage partner.

Rule #7 is the foundation of all the rules. It says that marriage is ordained of God and that his blessings alone can make it what it should be.   

There are more of these rules, of course, but time and space will only allow so much. Consider these seven and see if they do not begin to improve your attitude toward your mate and your marriage relationship.

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Band of Brothers

Shakespeare is normally credited with coining the term, “Band of Brothers,” based upon his notable play, Henry V, and is found used in the famous St. Crispin’s Day Speech. In more recent times, Stephen Ambrose wrote a book by the same name, followed by a WWII TV miniseries “Band of Brothers” produced by Steven Spielberg.

Last night Isaura and I drove to San Francisco at the request of MajGen Mike Myatt, President and CEO of the Marines’ Memorial Club on Sutter Street. The event was “A Salute to Vietnam Veterans,” hosted by the Marines’ Memorial Club and the Association of the United States Army (AUSA). Dinner was served in the Commandant’s Room to, I would guess 250-300 people, roughly half being Vietnam War veterans. General Myatt knew I was a former enlisted Marine and Vietnam vet, so he had asked if I would provide the invocation at the beginning of the meal.

Adding to the festive atmosphere for the evening was a small musical combo. A number of folks got up and danced in the very limited spaces available between the tables. After the main course, and prior to dessert, war correspondent and author Joe Galloway, was our first speaker. He is perhaps best known as the co-author of “We Were Soldiers Once……and Young.” A movie was later made starring Mel Gibson as Colonel Hal Moore, commander of the Army battalion in our first major battle in November of 1965. Following a tasty dessert, we were then treated to a brief speech by General Anthony Zinni, a Marine’s Marine, as we say in the Corps. The best line of the night was in reference to the accomplishments of the Vietnam Veterans. General Zinni, a wet-behind-the-ears 2nd Lieutenant in Vietnam, said there are a lot of people running around pretending to be Vietnam Veterans (see the book, “Stolen Valor: How the Vietnam Generation Was Robbed of its Heroes and its History” by B.G. Burkett), but no one is running around pretending to have been at Woodstock!

          The following are some of the statistics from this often misunderstood and maligned war.

To substantiate the truth that many people falsely claim to have served in Vietnam, consider this statistic: As of the Census taken during August of 2000, the surviving U.S. Vietnam Veteran population estimate was: 1,002,511. During this same Census count, the number of Americans falsely claiming to have served in Vietnam is: 13,853,027. Thus four out of five who claim to be Vietnam Vets are not. 58,260 were killed, and 304,000 were wounded out of 2.7 million service members that served in Vietnam. 240 men were awarded the Medal of Honor. 97% of Vietnam Veterans were honorably discharged. 91% say they are glad they served. 74% say they would serve again, even knowing the outcome. 85% of Vietnam Veterans made successful transitions to civilian life. 87% of Americans hold Vietnam Veterans in high esteem. Two-thirds of the men who served in Vietnam were volunteers. 70% of those killed were volunteers. 86% of the men who died were Caucasian, 12.5% were African-American, and 1.2% were of other races.

          The rest of this article is the prayer I wrote for this Band of Brothers:

Heavenly Father,

Tonight we gather to remember. We warriors from a past war remember when we fought in a distant land. Like our fathers before us who fought to rid the world of fascism, Nazism, and imperialism, we were called upon to battle against communism. Many of us stepped forward from a sense of patriotism: a love of God and country.

          Those were hard times, Lord. Truth be told, more than a few of us preferred to take our chances in the rice fields and jungles of Vietnam rather than the internal upheaval that was taking place all across our beloved country. The anti-war movement; the social unrest; the campus rebellions; the racial discord; the violence in the inner cities; the Hippies and free-love; and the multiplicity of attempts to tear apart the fabric of our society caused many of us to wonder what in the world was going on back home.

          But when it is all said and done, Father, I suspect every last one of us would do it again if we could. Why? Because you made us not only to fight, to be warriors, but you created in us the means to act justly, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with you, our God.

          There are some among us who yet have wounds that have not healed. I pray your anointing touch on them right now. For others, who carry the scars of war, a reminder daily of the burden that was shouldered lo, these many years ago, I pray you would provide peace in the soul. For the family members who lived with the uncertainty of their loved ones return, and who dreaded answering the door for fear that their worst nightmares might be realized, I pray for their comfort.

          In closing this prayer, Father, I would simply ask that in the same way each of us served to the best of our abilities in Vietnam, we ask nothing more than on that final day when our time here on earth is over, we may say with the Apostle Paul, “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith,” and in so doing we might hear you say, “Well done, good and faithful servant! Enter into thy rest.”

          In Jesus’ Name!

Wednesday, March 07, 2012

Father Abraham

 
President’s Day came and went last month. I had planned to write an article about Abraham Lincoln, our 16th, and arguably our greatest president. It would be a toss-up between George Washington and Abraham Lincoln.

There is a disturbing trend in our nation. That trend comes from the halls of academia. It is the attempt on the part of those who do not like the way history, in particular, American History, has been recorded. This is called “historical revisionism.” Let me give you a for instance: A common theme espoused by those who want to revise history concerning George Washington is to declare that our Revolutionary hero and first president was not a Christian. This is so blatantly false as to be laughable. Even a cursory reading of Washington’s extensive writings would reveal a man of deep faith in God and God’s Son, Jesus, our Savior. Add to that the many written testimonies of those who knew him and worked with him. He was a godly man without equal.

When it comes to Abraham Lincoln, the revisionists have tried to convince the younger generation that “Honest Abe” was not a Christian. This accusation was also ascribed to Lincoln in 1846 when he was running for Congress from Illinois. In response to this, Lincoln wrote this reply for the Illinois Gazette, August 15, 1846, which read, “That I am not a member of any Christian Church, is true; but I have never denied the truth of the Scriptures; and I have never spoken with intentional disrespect of religion in general, or of any denomination of Christians in particular……I do not think I could, myself, be brought to support a man for office whom I knew to be an open enemy of, and scoffer at religion.”

One of the revisionist accusations leveled against Lincoln is the argument that he was not really interested in freeing the slaves, but was only interested in preserving the Union. In part, this I true. Allowing the Union to be destroyed in an attempt to rid the nation of slavery, he believed, was tantamount to national suicide. Instead, Lincoln was convinced that if the South could be contained, that is, preventing slavery from extending into the New Territories of the West, slavery in the South would die out on its own without the costly price in blood and resources required in a civil war. This decision was made for him, as many of the Southern States seceded from the Union before Lincoln even assumed office.

What were his thoughts about slavery? Consider these two quotes, "I have always hated slavery, I think as much as any abolitionist." "I am naturally anti-slavery. If slavery is not wrong, nothing is wrong. I cannot remember when I did not so think, and feel."

In a letter to a friend dated April 6, 1859, Lincoln wrote these insightful remarks about slavery, “This is a world of compensation; and he who would be no slave must consent to have no slave. Those who deny freedom to others deserve it not for themselves, and under a just God, cannot long retain it.”

Just days leading up to his assuming the Office of the Presidency, Lincoln gave a speech at Independence Hall, Philadelphia, February 22, 1861. In a chillingly prophetic comment, the President said, “The Declaration of Independence which gave liberty not alone to the people of this country, but hope to all the world, for all future time. It was that which gave promise that in due time the weights would be lifted from the shoulders of all men, and that all should have an equal chance. This is the sentiment embodied in the Declaration of Independence……I would rather be assassinated on this spot than surrender it.”

The next day in a letter to his friend William Dodge, Lincoln had this to say about slavery, “With the support of the people and the assistance of the Almighty, I shall undertake to perform it……(the eradication of slavery). Freedom is the natural condition of the human race, in which the Almighty intended men to live. Those who fight the purpose of the Almighty will not succeed. They always have been, they always will be, beaten.”

A month before Lincoln’s untimely demise at Ford’s Theater, the president addressed the Indiana Regiment, stating, “Whenever I hear anyone arguing for slavery, I feel a strong impulse to see it tried on him personally.”

In the early weeks of 1865 Lincoln had just survived a close reelection campaign, and was beginning his second term when he spoke of what the United States could yet become. Only weeks before Lee’s surrender, effectively ending the Civil War, President Lincoln shared these thoughts with State Senator James Scoval of New Jersey, “Young man, if God gives me four years more to rule this country, I believe it will become what it ought to be – what its Divine Author intended it to be – no longer one vast plantation for breeding human beings for the purpose of lust and bondage. But it will become a new Valley of Jehoshaphat, where all nations of the earth will assemble together under one flag, worshipping a common God, and they will celebrate the resurrection of human freedom.”

In his famous “House Divided” speech in 1858, Lincoln had the vision to see that the Union, our United States, would either eliminate slavery, or the whole nation would embrace slavery. "A house divided against itself cannot stand. I believe this government cannot endure permanently half-slave and half-free. I do not expect the Union to be dissolved - I do not expect the house to fall - but I do expect it will cease to be divided. It will become all one thing or all the other."

Lincoln was known as a man of the people. He had his finger on the pulse of the nation. He was determined to do the right thing. During the Civil War, President Lincoln overheard someone remark that he hoped “the Lord was on the Union’s side.” Lincoln gave a straightforward reply, “I am not at all concerned about that, for I know that the Lord is always on the side of the right. But it is my constant anxiety and prayer that I and this nation should be on the Lord’s side.”

That is a prayer we should pray fervently today!

Psalm for the Day