Marines.Together We Served

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Laughter

 
This past week is one I’m not likely to forget.

Every year our church conference holds a retreat for the SCAMPS at Silver Spur Christian Camp in Tuolumne, California. SCAMPS is an acronym for “Senior Citizens Are Marvelous People.” To qualify you must be at least 55 years old, or your spouse must be that age even if you are younger.

Folks roll in from all over northern California, and more than a few do so in a motorhome or some other RV. The rest of us stay in separate rooms within the campground. Each year there is a special speaker, along with someone to lead us in singing and worship. And like most retreats, we seem to be sitting down to a meal every time we turn around.

During this get-away (Monday evening through Thursday noon) we engage in a variety of sessions and activities. Some of our oldest attenders are well into their nineties! It is such a treat to be around these saints who, in most cases, have been walking with the Lord for many decades. Just this morning I was seated at breakfast with Dick, a man who had served in the Army during WWII. He asked me if I’d ever heard of Officers’ Christian Fellowship (OCF). I assured him that I certainly had. He then told me he was in on the original planning for OCF in Washington, DC in 1943. It was originally founded as Officers’ Christian Union (OCU), and later changed to OCF in 1972. He told me about the first president of OCF, General Hayes Kroner, and his enthusiasm for bringing together Christian officers from our different branches of the military for Bible study and fellowship. In all of my 34 years in the military I had never met anyone who was part of the founding of this group. What a blessing!

For most of our sessions at SCAMPS I sat next to one of the sweetest ladies you’ll ever meet. She is well into her 90s but still exhibits a real joy for life. Laura was widowed a few years ago when her husband, Virgil, went home to be with Jesus. He had been a pastor and conference superintendent in the southern California area. What is so unique about Laura is that she makes you feel as though you are the most important person in the world when you speak with her. And she always has an encouraging word for you. What a joy to be with this godly woman!

Each evening following our snack time, quite a few of us would sit around the dining tables and play Mexican Train for the next few hours. I counted four games going at the same time. What a blast we had!

On the final night together, there is always a Talent Show. Folks from the various Free Methodist churches in our conference cobble together some skit for the entertainment of all the rest. These things are planned before we get to camp because of the need for props and rehearsals. Well, those of us from the Ripon Free Methodist church had decided we would do a skit where the men would simulate performing an Olympic-style synchronized swim. We five hardy souls donned our sleeveless T-shirts with FM (Free Methodist) emblazoned on the front, swim trunks (no Speedos!), a woman’s shower cap, and swim goggles. We marched in to the Olympic anthem, stood before the audience which was already busting up, and then walked behind a three-foot-high blue tarp stretched across the stage simulating water in a pool. We then began our various “synchronized” moves. It includes diving moves to left and right, circle moves, and the one that took the cake was when we laid down on the floor with our legs sticking up in the air. We moved our legs around as though we were in the water, including wiggling our feet! The whole skit couldn’t have lasted more than three minutes, but it had folks laughing till some were nearly gasping for breath. Some admitted later that their stomachs hurt. One lady told me she awoke at 3:00 in the morning laughing thinking back on our skit.

The next morning the folks from Ripon gathered around the breakfast table discussing the success of the skit. I mentioned that we’d have to begin planning immediately for next year because we have really raised the bar of expectation. I think we’ve come up with a good one, but all I’m going to say is that it will involve tutus.  

I finally arrived back home late Thursday. I unpacked all my clothes and other items I had stowed in my car. My wife informed me that our nearly five-year-old granddaughter, Alyssa, would be spending the night. Sure enough, she showed up at the front door with her mom about eight o’clock. We played for a while, and then it was time for Alyssa to make popcorn with granddaddy. One of Alyssa’s delights is to “steal” popcorn from my bowl, even though I prepare a bowl just for her. I pretend like I don’t see her little hand sneaking into my bowl. She laughs with total delight, thinking she has pulled a fast one on me. Just before heading for bed, Alyssa noticed my swim goggles sitting on the kitchen counter where I had placed them after coming home. She grabbed them and asked her Meema (that’s her name for grandma), “Are these for granddaddy so he can look for his golf balls?” Isaura found great humor in this remark and couldn’t wait to tell me. The mental picture in my mind got me to chuckling. Isaura and I laughed together at the perceptions of our little blessing called Alyssa.

It was a great week, full of fun and laughter. It made me reflect on Proverbs 17:22, which says, “A cheerful heart is good medicine.”

How’s your heart today? Have you had the medicine of a good laugh lately?

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Run MCRD

             No, this is not about the hip-hop group Run D.M.C.

In early September my wife and I drove to San Diego to attend and participate in a friend’s retirement from the military. Steve is a Lieutenant Colonel in the Marine Corps, starting out as an enlisted man in 1971. Over the years he acquired his college degree and was accepted into the Marine officer program. Later he earned a Ph.D. He accomplished a lot during those forty-one years.

The location for the retirement ceremony was the courtyard of the museum at Marine Corps Recruit Depot (MCRD), San Diego. It was a beautiful day and a wonderful time to reconnect with Marine officers I’ve served with over the years. I’ve been retired from the military for four years, so I am, for all intents and purposes, out of the loop. On this august occasion I was honored to be asked to offer the Invocation.

I went to MCRD in October of 1969 as a Marine recruit to begin boot camp training. The Marine Corps has been training Marines at this base since 1919. The memories of such an experience never leave you. There’s probably not one day that goes by for all former enlisted Marines that something doesn’t cause you to harken back to those days in boot camp. The image of a Drill Instructor (DI) with the tell-tale “Smokey” (because it looks like the hat Smokey Bear wears, but is officially known as the WWI campaign hat), still causes me to wonder if I’ve done something wrong. It was 1984 before I ever returned to MCRD after graduating from boot camp. When I returned, I was a commissioned officer, serving as a Navy chaplain. As such I was senior to all DIs on the base, but it didn’t matter! You never quite get over the intimidation these folks placed on you!

On the way down to San Diego we stopped at Camp Pendleton where I was first stationed as a chaplain in 1984. I needed a haircut, so we stopped by Mainside to have “my ears lowered.” I now looked military again with a close-cropped “high-and-tight.”

Once on base at MCRD Isaura and I checked into the Transient Officers Quarters. It is located on a small bay with perfectly manicured grass, colorful flowers, and swaying palm trees. Our room was spacious and comfortable. Even though I retired as a Navy captain (meaning the only ones senior to me are admirals and generals), you still get a twinge while coming on the base where DIs ruled your life for a few months. Isaura commented on how beautiful it was. I reminded her that as a recruit I never saw this part of the base!

During boot camp training you run everywhere. So, before Isaura and I left for home I decided to go for a run on the base. I ran up toward headquarters, then around to the building where the Marine Corps Band is located. This leads out to the Parade Deck, a place where we marched as recruits in formation endlessly. I stopped to take in the view of this magnificent rectangular area, with a huge American flag (called the Holiday Flag) on the far side of the parade deck centered for various ceremonies. It fluttered beautifully in the ever-present breeze which comes in from the San Diego Bay. This being a Sunday morning there were no platoons of recruits marching in formation where they learn the finer points of “close-order drill.” But Sunday afternoon? They’d be back out there. There is a reason why Marines know how to march!

I wasn’t quite ready to leave this scene, so I looked over to my left and marveled at the architectural structure of the commanding general’s office building, all part of the base’s Spanish Revival Style (circa 1920) used throughout the base. But none of us going through boot camp will ever forget the mustard-yellow color of all of these buildings!

Starting up my run again I swung a loop around the end of the parade deck where the parking lot is and headed for the alcoved entrance separating the general’s office from the base chapel. A number of recruits in their first week were heading back to their barracks after church services. The reason I knew they were in their first week is because they had there pant legs hanging straight down instead of “bloused,” and they were wearing tennis shoes. Dressed in this way makes you feel like a real dork. And you cannot wait until you are given permission to wear your combat boots so you can then blouse your trousers. It may not seem like a big deal, but trust me: It is! You want to at least look like a Marine. And all the while you’re striving to prove you are worthy of being called a Marine.

I continued my run until I arrived back at our room. I truly enjoyed those moments of reflection, and particularly the run itself. Don’t get me wrong – I do not, nor have I ever, enjoyed running. But this was different. This time I went for a run because I wanted to – not because I had to.

Semper Fi! Oorah!

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Godless?


            Political parties do many strange things, but this seems especially so during a presidential election year. And, boy, are we in the middle of a doozy!

As I write this article we have already seen the conclusion of the Republican National Convention (RNC), and we’re in the midst of the Democratic National Convention (DNC). Since many of the goings-on mean very little to the vast majority of us, I have been delving into some of the terms we hear each election cycle, but know very little about them. In particular, what does “platform” mean within the context of the conventions?

Well, here’s what I’ve discovered. On the web site, wiki.answers.com, they provided this answer to political platforms. American political parties are organized on a national, state, and local basis. Every four years, the parties hold a national convention to nominate a presidential and vice presidential candidate. They also meet to approve a party platform of issues and positions upon which the candidates will run. A party platform is a set of principles, goals, and strategies designed to address pressing political issues.”

From this definition it would appear that the leadership of each party works diligently to establish pertinent issues and policy positions. Then it is expected that the party candidates for president and vice president will comply with this platform.

So what was the platform established by the Republicans? First: Jefferson’s vision of a “wise and frugal government” must be restored. Second: this platform affirms that America has always been a place of grand dreams and even grander realities; and so it will be again, if we return government to its proper role, making it smaller and smarter. Third: we will lift the torch of freedom and democracy to inspire all those who would be free. Fourth: we will always support and cherish our men and women in uniform who defend our liberties with their lives. And so the list of issues and ideas continues extensively.

The Democratic Party has their platform as well. First: cutting waste, reducing the deficit, asking all to pay their fair share. Second: all-of-the-above energy policy. Third: out-building and out-innovating the rest of the world. Fourth: standing up for workers. Fifth: help small business. And so the list goes on much like the Republican platform.

So what’s all the fuss about the Democratic Party and their platform? Simple. There was one sentence carried over from the 2008 platform that said: We need a government that stands up for the hopes, values, and interests of working people, and gives everyone willing to work hard the chance to make the most of their God-given potential.” Using the phrase “God-given” is what raised a ruckus. This is the only place in the entire document where God is ever mentioned.

Besides the silliness of this dust-up is the fact that Ohio Governor Ted Strickland was the chairman for the Platform Drafting Committee. “Who’s Ted Strickland?” you ask. Besides his role as governor, he is an ordained minister in the United Methodist Church. Under his supervision both this phrase “God-given,” and the recognition of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel were removed from the Democratic Party platform for 2012.

Republicans, seeing an opportunity to embarrass the Democrats, made an issue of this intentional removal of God and Jerusalem from the platform. It worked! Last night during their convention, the DNC made a motion to reinstate God and Jerusalem back into the platform. This would seem to be a rather simple and perfunctory process, right? Not so fast!

Los Angeles Mayor, Antonio Villaraigosa, had the unenviable task of chairing the conference last night. I’m sure he thought this would be a mindless procedural move and then they could get on with the meatier parts of the evenings events. Unfortunately, things did not work out that way. Using the parliamentary process of “voice vote,” the proposal was read which would return the God language and Jerusalem back into the platform. He told the delegates to vote “Aye” for reinstating the original language, or “No” to keep the platform as is. There was a loud chorus of Ayes, which I’m sure the good mayor figured would seal the deal. But when the Nos were heard, it was every bit as loud as the Ayes – maybe louder. The mayor hesitated. He began to declare that “the Ayes have it.” But he stopped, realizing that would sound silly. So he asked the question again. And again, the Ayes were very loud in favor of putting the God language back in. And the Nos were again, very loud. The mayor stood there, uncertain as to what to do next. He looked around for possible advice or help. An adviser told him to go ahead with it, so he asked the question again. This is now the third time! Same results. Visibly frustrated by this unforeseen glitch in the proceedings, he made a decision which merely reflected what had already been previously determined. He said, “In the opinion of the Chair, 2/3rds have voted in the affirmative, the motion is adopted, and the platform has been amended.” What followed was a rumble of Boos coming from the delegates throughout the convention center.

I can’t help but reflect on a passage of Scripture, (Psalm 2:1-6, The Message). Why the big noise, nations? Why the mean plots, peoples? Earth-leaders push for position, demagogues and delegates meet for summit talks. The God-deniers, the Messiah-defiers: ‘Let’s get free of God! Cast loose from Messiah!’ Heaven-throned God breaks out laughing. At first he’s amused at their presumption; then he gets good and angry. Furiously, he shuts them up: ‘Don’t you know there’s a King in Zion? A coronation banquet is spread for him on the holy summit.’”

Two things you should know: 1) God is laughing at our foolishness in our vain attempts to be rid of him. 2) Zion is another name for Jerusalem, which is where King Jesus will make his residence when he returns.

Think about it! Where do you stand in relation to God, and his Son, the King of Jerusalem?

Wednesday, September 05, 2012

A Matter of Trust


             What a ride this has been!

On Saturday, September 8, I will be celebrating my spiritual birthday. It marks forty years since I first made the decision to trust Christ as my Lord and Savior at a Christian Servicemen’s Center in Yokosuka, Japan, 1972.

As I look back on that far away time and place, I can’t help but marvel at all the Lord has allowed me to experience in my walk with him. In my wildest dreams I could not have envisioned the places Jesus would take me.

Through the remainder of this article I will share my path in coming to faith in Christ, and also some of the lessons I have learned. Some of these lessons I have had to learn more than once!

My parents grew up in east Texas which is part of the geographic area in the United States known as the “Bible Belt.” The Bible Belt is an informal term for a region in the south-eastern and south-central United States.

Following their marriage in 1933 it was to the northeastern section of the United States that my parents moved. They settled in Connecticut just outside of New York City where my father commuted to work. Not long after I was born in 1948 my parents were separated and eventually divorced.

The first time I can remember ever setting foot inside a church was when my mother remarried in 1955. I was not quite seven years old. My understanding of church was limited. I knew nothing of God or Jesus, salvation, sins, or the need to have those sins forgiven. My brother John and I were taught to say our prayers every night, dutifully kneeling by our beds with eyes closed, hands folded, reciting the standard prayer, “Now I lay me down to sleep . . . .” embarking on a litany of family members most of whom I barely knew because they were in Texas. But this nightly routine was as spiritual as we got.

From time to time our mother would mention that it sure would be nice to have another minister in the family. John and I figured there must have been someone like that back in the family tree, but for two rambunctious kids it sounded like a death sentence, so we avoided any such talk.

Our step father was interested in church – specifically, Christian Science. He however, did not have the Bible Belt background. Instead, he came from the Boston area where Christian Science was founded. On those weekends when the folks talked about going to church John and I would attempt to change their minds. Mostly I remember church being rather odd and altogether boring. I had no idea what was going on or what I was expected to do. Over time, church gradually dropped off our schedule altogether.

Strangely, throughout those years growing up, I sensed something was not quite right in my life. I could not have told you that at the time, but it was nagging at me. It was like something was broken in me and I had no idea how to fix it. I had no answers. I kept it to myself, though, since I didn’t know anyone who did have answers, or if there were even any answers to be had.

The transformation occurred when I was 24 years old and a sergeant in the Marines. I had been growing increasingly frustrated by the way I was living my life. There seemed to be no purpose or meaning. A song by Peggy Lee a couple of years earlier summed it up for me – “Is That All There Is?”

On that night of September 8, 1972, I was in town with a couple of friends when we happened upon a Christian Servicemen’s Center. I heard the gospel message presented clearly. God loved me, Jesus died for me, and I needed to accept him into my life. For me this was a no-brainer. I figured if God loved me enough to die for me, I could sure trust him with my life. I gladly asked Jesus to come into my heart. I’ve never once regretted that decision.

So, what have I learned in these 40 years as a Christian? Well, as a follower of Jesus I have learned several critical things. First, Jesus always knows what’s best. Trust him, especially when it doesn’t make sense. Second, study God’s Word, the Bible. Let it become part of your very being. It will lift you up, particularly in those times when life knocks you sideways. Third, spend time with Jesus as often as possible. Daily is best. Talk to him – he’s listening. He will strengthen you. Fourth, sin is like an addiction. It is very powerful. It takes no prisoners. Call on the Lord. He will set you free. And because we are weak, we may need to have him set us free often, even repeatedly. Fifth, Jesus promised he would never leave you nor forsake you. I’m holding on to him with everything I’ve got.

Gospel writer, Andre Crouch, wrote a song in the ‘70s called, “Through It All.” The chorus goes like this: “Through it all, Through it all, I’ve learned to trust in Jesus. I’ve learned to trust in God. Through it all, Through it all, I’ve learned to depend upon His Word.”

Indeed! I have learned to trust in Jesus!

Psalm for the Day