Marines.Together We Served

Wednesday, December 25, 2013

Christmas Joy

              For several weeks my granddaughter Alyssa has been singing different Christmas songs that she’s been learning in her kindergarten class at Colony Oak. She dutifully informed Meema and me about the Christmas program that she was to be in so we could put it on our calendars. Of course we would attend because we wanted to see her perform.

The Friday before Christmas was the big day, so Meema and I joined Laura and Ken (Alyssa’s parents) on the bleachers in the school gym. Good thing we got there early because it was standing-room-only. Lots of parents and grandparents were packed into the bleachers while the kids filed in by grade and classroom and sat on the gym floor starting with the youngest sitting closest to the stage.

Two kindergarten classes were putting on this production, which initially caused me to wonder whether I was wasting my time. I could envision myself sitting there constantly glancing at my watch, anxious to see this over so I could leave in order to get on with more important matters. A pleasant surprise awaited me.

The first thing to arrest my attention was how well behaved all of the kids were. And I’m not just talking about the kindergarteners. Watching the classes file in by age group was a coordinated process with a minimal amount of fooling around. The school runs from kindergarten through 8th grade (K-8), so the potential for misbehavior increases at an exponential rate, especially as you hit the 6th–8th grades. The noise factor increased as adults and kids were all talking. However, once the principal came to the microphone, everyone – and I mean everyone – quieted down and respectfully remained attentive throughout the hour-long program.

The kindergarteners on stage were positioned on risers waiting for the prompting of their teacher. One of the two kindergarten teachers was seated on a chair down on the gym floor. She was like the band master. I never once heard her say a word, yet she was “directing” the kids. The other teacher was in the wings off stage.

The program was entitled, “Christmas Around the World.” Four countries were chosen for representation: England, Germany, Holland, and Mexico. This was understandable since the vast majority of the children would have their ancestry traced back to these countries. Early in the program the children sang a beloved Christmas song, Silent Night, in both English and German. They also sang Jose Feliciano’s famous rendition of Feliz Navidade.

Throughout the performance, various kids, either individually or in pairs or more, would, on cue, approach the microphone to recite their part. I must give credit to the teachers for helping these kids understand the importance of standing still, speaking up, and remaining disciplined throughout. Yes, there were a couple of kids who didn’t get the memo. For instance, one little girl stood on the risers with her classmates constantly swinging her arms back and forth like a world-class runner warming up, all from nervousness I suppose. And one little boy on the front row was mugging for the audience from time to time. Otherwise, the fifty or so kids were amazingly poised.

My wife and I came away from this experience greatly encouraged by all that we witnessed. Even when the program was over, the kids seated on the floor of the gym enthusiastically cheered and clapped for their littlest school mates. Eighth graders clapping for kindergarteners? Yup! I saw it with my own eyes.

Kudos to Principal Marlon Gayle, and kindergarten teachers Ms Sherri Huff and Ms Dana Phelps. Thank you!

So, Merry Christmas everyone!

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Celebrating Christmas

              I guess it’s fair to ask the question: Why does anyone celebrate Christmas anymore? After all, there are an awful lot of folks trying to rid the United States of its Christian history and roots.

So, why then celebrate Christmas at all? It would seem logical to cease such a celebration since our President has declared unequivocally that the United States is no longer a Christian nation. Is he right? I don’t know for sure, but I’m guessing Mr. Obama has miscalculated the power and influence of God’s Holy Spirit that is still very much at work in the hearts and lives of countless Americans all across the “fruited plain.” There is no single person, organization, religious group, or government that will ever be able to thwart the plans of God.

Then there are the atheists. They have rallied in recent years and are flexing some political and organizational muscle. A coalition of eight atheist groups ran a campaign of ads this past October on the New York subway system which transports more than five million passengers per day. The ads appeal directly to people who do not consider themselves to be religious or affiliated with any specific religious organization.

During this Christmas season the American Atheists are running electric billboard ads in New York’s Times Square that asks the question, “Who needs Christ during Christmas? Nobody.” There has been a running debate in the media over the question of whether or not there is a “War on Christmas.” Again, I don’t know for sure, but it certainly seems to be more targeted and aggressive than previous years. Does it bother me? No, not really. You see, God does not force anyone to believe in him. It is a matter of choice.

That brings up an important point about atheists. They often profess not to believe in God. This is not a basic tenet of atheism. For a person to state that they do not believe in a god leaves open the possibility that there is a god to believe in. An atheist, by strict definition, believes there is no god to believe in, even if a person wanted to believe in a god. The word “atheist” is a Greek word that literally means “no god.”  What atheists should say is, “There is no god to believe in.”

So then, back to whether we should celebrate Christmas. The president of American Atheists, David Silverman, claims that Christmas, celebrated on December 25, is really a Winter Solstice celebration and has been around longer than the Christian faith. I would agree with him. However, he than advises, “Don’t go to church.” Here’s where I disagree. If you read my article two weeks ago, “Is Christmas Christian?” you will recall that I wrote about the various influences on the celebration of Christmas, and that regardless of what day Jesus was actually born is of no matter. What Christians celebrate is his birth and his purpose for coming to this planet we call earth. Not only is it unlikely that December 25 is the birth date of Jesus, it has been fairly safely projected that he was born between 3 and 7 years earlier than originally determined. That would mean instead of my being born in the year 1948, I would actually have been born between 1951-1955. Weird! But so what? I’m here nonetheless. And just as Jesus was born about 2000 years ago, the exact day and year are of no consequence. He was here in the flesh.

Christian religious groups have chosen to enter into the billboard wars with the atheists. Here are some of those replies: “To all our atheist friends — Thank God you’re wrong.” and “You Know It’s Real. This Season Celebrate Jesus.”

And that’s the reason I celebrate Christmas – It’s REAL. Knowing Jesus Christ as my personal Lord and Savior means my life has been changed – transformed – made new. That happened because of an encounter I had with Jesus on September 8, 1972, and my answer to him then was “Yes!” And my answer to him today is still “Yes!”

My son-in-law, Ken, is a sheet metal worker and a master in his craft. My wife asked him to make a sign with the words “Jesus is the Reason for the Season.” He finished it the other night and mounted it on top of our church marquee. He boxed in the sign so that the letters that he cut out would have lights inside to shine so as to illuminate the letters. It has become an attraction on Main Street with people stopping to capture its beauty in pictures.

Because of my own experience in knowing Jesus I could not for one minute discount the stories of countless millions of people over the past 20 centuries who have also had a personal encounter with him, whose lives have been changed by this God-Man Jesus.

When I celebrate Christmas, I don’t just celebrate Jesus being born in a manger two thousand years ago. I also celebrate his being born in my heart 41 years ago.
 
And that, my friends, is worth celebrating!

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Is Christmas Christian?

              The first Sunday of the Christmas season I took a different angle in presenting the biblical message. Typically a sermon is focused on a main point that I, as the preacher, hope to communicate, usually providing numerous Scriptural references to support and defend the point of the message. Not so last Sunday.

Over the years I have heard innumerable accusations leveled against Christians and the church, criticizing us for our celebration of December 25 as the birthday of Jesus, and other targeted derogatory comments which, to be honest, are frequently valid criticisms. So in my preparation I decided to do some research of various beliefs and practices associated with the celebration of Christmas. I will present this through a series of questions, and then the answers.

Is December 25 the actual birthday of Jesus? The answer is: We don’t know. The Bible does not provide a date for his birth. We can surmise, however, that it is not December 25. Shepherds would not have had their sheep out on the hills in the dead of winter. They would have been closed in a pen near town to be fed from feed set aside for the winter months. Shepherds typically took their sheep out to graze in the spring. Once the fields had been worked over throughout the spring, the shepherd would have moved the sheep up into the mountains where there was fresh, green pastures, and also predators (see Psalm 23).

So why December 25? Good question. First, the birth of the Jesus was not even celebrated for the first 300 years or so following his death and resurrection. It was actually Pope Julius I who chose December 25. Julius was the bishop of Rome from 337-352 AD. It is commonly believed that the church chose this date in an effort to adopt and absorb the traditions of the pagan Saturnalia festival. Saturn was the Roman god of agriculture. Beginning in the week leading up to the winter solstice and continuing for a full month, Saturnalia was a hedonistic time, when food and drink were plentiful. Also around the time of the winter solstice, Romans observed Juvenalia, a feast honoring the children of Rome. In addition, members of the upper classes often celebrated the birthday of Mithra, the god of the unconquerable sun, on – you guessed it – December 25. It was believed that Mithra, an infant god, was born of a rock. For some Romans, Mithra's birthday was the most sacred day of the year.

Second, in Germany, people honored the pagan god Oden during the mid-winter holiday. Supposedly Germans were terrified of Oden, as they believed he made night-time flights through the sky to observe his people. Then he would decide who should prosper or who should perish. Because of his foreboding presence, many Germans chose to stay inside. Oden sure sounds a lot like Santa Claus, only Santa is kindly and not so inclined to whack people! The flying around at night, and checking on who’s been naughty and nice makes you wonder.

The church went through some periods of time where the celebration of the birth of Jesus was outlawed. Martin Luther was not in favor of this practice, and the early Pilgrims in the Massachusetts Bay Colony would fine anyone who was showing any indications of celebratory activity around December 25. The fine was 5 shillings – no small sum for that time. One of the reasons for not celebrating Jesus’ birthday is that of the two other birthdays mentioned in the Bible, Pharaoh and Herod – bad things happened. And then the prophets, Jeremiah and Job, mention cursing the day of their birth.

The Christmas tree is considered by some as Christianization of pagan tradition and ritual surrounding the Winter Solstice, which included the use of evergreen boughs, and an adaptation of pagan tree worship. Saint Boniface (634–709), who was a missionary in Germany, took an axe to an oak tree dedicated to Thor and pointed out a fir tree, which he stated was a more fitting object of reverence because it pointed to heaven and it had a triangular shape, which he said was symbolic of the Trinity.

By 1841 the Christmas tree had become widespread throughout Britain. By the 1870s, people in the United States had adopted the custom of putting up a Christmas tree.

December 25–Christmas Day–has been a federal holiday in the United States since 1870.

People often confuse Santa Claus and Saint Nicholas (St. Nick). Here’s how to remember one from the other. Santa Claus is a fictional character at best. Saint Nicholas was a real person. He was born in a part of Greece which is now in modern-day Turkey. His parents were Christians and very wealthy. During a plague the parents died and the young Nicholas was left in the care of his uncle, also named Nicholas. Stories abound about the life of young Nicholas. Most prominently, he was known for tossing small bags of gold (from his inheritance) into the bedrooms of those in need. Supposedly, he heard that someone was waiting to see who was doing this, so Nick dropped it down the chimney whereupon it fell into a girls stocking which was hanging to dry over the warm embers.

Just remember – Christmas is a celebration of God coming to earth in the flesh, revealing himself to us in his Son, Jesus, our Savior. That’s worth celebrating!

Wednesday, December 04, 2013

Feeling Fine

              It has been six years now since I began my medical journey. After a life of nearly sixty years in which I experienced very few health problems, I found myself faced with two life-threatening health problems.

The first was detected in December of 2007. Over a period of several years I was experiencing an increasing lack of energy with accompanying tiredness. I figured I was just getting out of shape. But when I would make an attempt to go for a run I’d be out of breath within a quarter of a mile. I remember slowing to a walk and thinking, “I’m in worse shape than I thought!”

What brought this problem to a head was the afternoon I went out to play a round of golf. I would carry my bag while walking the course. On this day in December I was dragging around the course, not enjoying my outing. After finishing nine holes I simply wanted to lie down on the grass and take a long nap. Even though I still had enough daylight to play a few more holes, I opted to stop. I was exhausted! When I got to my car I called the office of Dr. Rutgers, my personal physician. Since it was after hours I left a voice message. I received a call the next day asking me to come in and see him. Once I was there they ran an EKG on me. It revealed nothing definitive. While discussing my symptoms, Dr. Rutgers informed me that he wanted me to see a cardiologist to see if there might be any heart problems. He called and made the appointment for me.

The next day I was in seeing the cardiologist. They administered another EKG coming up with the same results that Dr. Rutgers office had determined. Again I found myself in consultation with another doctor. Dr. Hussain didn’t believe I had heart disease, but he wanted to run me through more advanced tests to eliminate this as a possibility. So I was scheduled for an echo cardiogram, to be followed by a nuclear stress test. Bingo! The nuclear stress test revealed that I had several blockages in the arteries of my heart. The doctor called me and wanted me in right away to perform an angiogram (sometimes called, Coronary Angiography). Two days later I was at the hospital signing a consent form for bypass surgery if my heart needed such a procedure. My wife, daughters and other family members were joined by many people in my congregation who were gathered in prayer in the waiting room. It turns out I had six blockages. Stents were inserted and I did fine for a number of months. However, during a check-up a year later, it was determined that one of the stents had been rejected by my body. So back in I went for two more stents to open the closing artery. I’ve felt fine since.

The second health issue had to do with an incorrigible prostate. The symptoms were standard: frequent need to vacate my bladder, and an irregular stream. I mentioned this to Dr. Rutgers during my annual check-up, so he referred me to a urologist. My PSA was 7.5, so he scheduled me for a biopsy. Wow! Was that ever painful! The result was that eight of the twelve needles that penetrated my segmented prostate revealed cancer. This came as no surprise for two reasons: First, my brother, John, had already had prostate cancer with follow-on surgery. And, second, the number of Vietnam Vets exhibiting the symptoms of prostate cancer far exceeds all other male groupings. It is supposed that we were all exposed to various levels of Agent Orange.

I’ve written about the cancer problem previously, but here’s a synopsis of what my wife and I decided. Initially I scheduled a date to have my prostate surgically removed. After discussing this with Isaura, we decided to look into alternatives. Bottom line: we did not care for any of the medical options – surgery, chemo, or radiation, or a combination of those three. Instead we opted to try a holistic approach. We did an enormous amount of research because we knew that if we went this route it would be a significant life-style change for us.

We connected with a holistic doctor, Lisa Hunt, in Modesto. Dr. Lisa is a D.O. – a doctor of osteopathy – or in English: a holistic (whole body) doctor. Osteopathy is a form of drug-free non-invasive manual medicine that focuses on total body health by treating and strengthening the musculoskeletal framework, which includes the joints, muscles and spine. Its aim is to positively affect the body's nervous, circulatory and lymphatic systems.”

My symptoms associated with prostate problems, and in my case, prostate cancer, are gradually clearing up. Plus my entire body is functioning much better.

Many of you have asked me how I have been doing, so perhaps this report will answer this for you. I so appreciate the concern expressed that I felt it was time to let you know where things stand with me concerning my health.

To put it concisely – I’m feeling fine!

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

With Thanksgiving

             Thankfulness is truly a human trait. It often evidences itself as an emotion that bubbles up from deep within the human spirit. A near traffic accident might cause even the most calloused of people to utter a brief word of thanks to whatever entity or deity exists.

So what is it that brings out an attitude of thankfulness from the animal class in the world known within the scientific community as Homo sapiens? Homo sapiens is Latin for “the wise humans,” or “the clever humans.” Well, I would suggest that thankfulness is a divine quality that emanates directly from God. He is the one who made us so that we can experience the full range of senses and emotions that are intended to round us out as human beings. In fact, a person who lacks this quality is considered to be seriously deficient in their character. Typically a person who fails to demonstrate thankfulness is regarded as self-centered, a bore, and is probably someone who lacks the capacity for caring and being compassionate.

As you are reading this in the paper you are preparing to enjoy the pleasantries of a sumptuous feast tomorrow, no doubt to be enjoyed with family and close friends. Many prayers of thanks will be offered over golden roast turkey, mounds of mashed potatoes, bowls of beans, heapings of stuffing, generous slices of pumpkin pie with a healthy daub of whipped cream, accompanied by a freshly brewed cup of coffee. It is factored that you and I will consume roughly 3,500 calories in this one meal on Thanksgiving Day.

What were the original pilgrims thankful for way back in 1621? The main emphasis of thanks on the part of those first settlers on America’s shore was that they had managed to see some of them through a very cold winter with little in the way of food and clothing to fight against the oppressive elements. In the spring of 1621, Indians (Native Americans) approached the greatly depleted pilgrims and offered to show them how to properly plant corn and other successful agricultural methods. Later in the fall after bringing in an abundant harvest, the pilgrims invited the Indians to join them in a Harvest Celebration. The food most likely consisted of deer meat, wild turkey, and a mash of vegetables. Games and feats of skill were entered into with great relish. Settler children and Indian children taught each other the games they often played. The feasting and celebrating continued for many days, and a good time was had by all.

However, the one overarching thought on the part of the settlers was their attitude of thanks toward God for seeing them through these early challenging months in the New World. Many of the pilgrims survived the arduous crossing of the Atlantic Ocean on the Mayflower, only to succumb to disease or illness in what was one of the coldest winters on records in 1620 at that time.  

In addition to being thankful for their lives being spared, they were beginning to enjoy the reality of being a free people. They worshipped as they chose without the ever present Church of England spies reporting them to the authorities. This liberty was intoxicating, and coupled with the drafting of the Mayflower Compact by Governor William Bradford, this document was the genesis of what was to become the United States Constitution some 160 years later.

As you can see, the pilgrims were thankful for a whole different set of circumstances than we might be today, although in either case the thanks should be directed to God. The Bible instructs us to approach God always in an attitude of thanksgiving. Even in Webster’s Unabridged Dictionary of 1913, the definition for Thanksgiving is, “A public acknowledgment or celebration of divine goodness; also, a day set apart for religious services, specially to acknowledge the goodness of God, either in any remarkable deliverance from calamities or danger, or in the ordinary dispensation of his bounties.” This definition seems to have had the pilgrims in mind.

It was in 1777 that General George Washington and his army were on the way to Valley Forge. They stopped in blistering weather in open fields to observe the first Thanksgiving of the newly established United States of America.

When you gather around the table consider this poem, Thanksgiving Observance (unknown author). “Count your blessings instead of your crosses; Count your gains instead of you losses. Count your joys instead of your woes; Count your friends instead of your foes. Count your smiles instead of your tears; Count your courage instead of your fears. Count your full years instead of your lean; Count your kind deeds instead of your mean. Count your health instead of your wealth; Count on God instead of yourself.”

And everyone said – Amen!

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Life Lessons

             The other day I was thinking about a special time that occurred in the summer of 1991. For my youngest daughter, Jenny, it became one of those life lessons that would be character forming.

I had just finished a year of study on my doctorate when the family and I flew to Alaska to spend some time with my brother and his family in Anchorage. We had lots of things planned during this visit. We spent several days at Denali Park camping out and hiking through the spectacular terrain around Mount McKinley. But the trip that capped it all off was a five-day hike on the Resurrection Pass Trail.

My brother, John, had been helping with the youth group at his church, and every June they would take this 39 mile jaunt down the Resurrection Pass Trail North, camping each night at a predetermined location. During this hike the elevation changed from 500 to 2600 feet above sea level. Each person packed their own stuff, which included clothing, bedding and food.

The church youth group consisted of about a dozen or so high school kids. My brother’s son, Josh, was in high school, but his sister, Abi, and my girls, Laura and Jenny were several years younger. The question was, could our girls hang with these older kids on a very challenging trek through this rugged wilderness area. Laura and Abi were twelve with Abi celebrating her 13th birthday out on the trail. Jenny, on the other hand, was nine. We discussed all of this with the girls and they said they wanted to go.

Departure day had us all gathering at a remote location where the trail began. There was nothing else around. After taking pictures of the whole group, we said our goodbyes to our wives and waved as they drove off. The teens immediately took off running down the trail. Jenny slipped into her backpack and started walking. I knew that the two of us would be bringing up the rear, so I was in no hurry. I noticed that after about 50 yards Jenny had stopped. As I walked up to her she looked at me with a look of consternation. “Oh Daddy,” said wailed, “this pack is so heavy!” “Well,” I said, “you’ll get used to it. Let’s go.” I made like I was going to continue down the trail, but Jenny wasn’t having any of that. “Oh Daddy, it’s so heavy!” she moaned. “I’d be willing to trade backpacks with you,” I said, “but yours weighs about 25 pounds and mine weighs about 70.” Tears were forming in her eyes, so I stopped and said, pointing back to the parking lot, “Your mother and aunt just drove back to Anchorage going that-a-way. We’re hiking this-a-way,” pointing toward the mountains in the opposite direction. “When we get to the end of the trail in five days that’s where your mother and aunt will be waiting to pick us up.” “But Daddy . . .” she pleaded. I said, “If you like, we can just sit down here and wait with the hope that someone will come along and rescue us, or we can hike this trail and catch up with the rest and have a good time. I’ll let you decide.” And I sat down on the trail to wait. After a bit she realized I wasn’t kidding, so she mumbled, “Okay,” and started down the trail.

The rest of the morning was a constant complaint of the pack being too heavy, and the trail is rough, etc. We arrived at our first camp in time for lunch. Jenny saw the kids running around and playing so she dropped her pack and joined in the games. After lunch we headed out again. The moaning began once again and lasted throughout the afternoon until we broke for dinner. She played with the kids again before we hit the sack, only to start the process all over again the next morning. “Oh Daddy . . .” it began and lasted until our noon break. At that point she seemed to realize she wasn’t going to die out here, and she decided this was kind of fun.

While we were plodding along we were coming through what is known as “The Devil’s Pass.” The wind was blowing very hard and it was cold. Then we were pelted with hail. Since Jenny and I were still pulling up the rear, we decided to sit down and take cover until the hail stopped. John wandered back down the trail to check on us, but we were fine and enjoying the whole experience.

A special moment was when John baked a birthday cake over an open fire for Abi. It was something you had to see, but it worked and everyone helped polish it off. Delicious!

On the final day we stopped for lunch alongside a river with a cascade of waterfalls creating a pristine setting. But we had about five miles to go to reach the end, so we stepped out smartly knowing Isaura and Lynne would be picking us up soon. Jenny took off at a run trying to catch up with her sister and cousin. She suddenly stopped. I noticed the pack was hanging off her shoulder. The strap, which attached at the bottom part of the pack, had detached. I fiddled with it and finally jury-rigged it so Jenny could carry it, albeit, awkwardly. But she soldiered on without complaint.

The trail ended in a series of switch-backs through trees down into a parking lot. When Jenny saw that parking lot she took off running down the trail. As I watched her I also saw Lynne and Isaura drive into the parking lot. Fortunately, Lynne had the presence of mind to grab her camera. She took a picture of Jenny just as she broke out of the trees racing full tilt toward the car.

It was a wonderful experience for all of us. But what made it so special was the lesson Jenny learned. Since that day she has never hesitated to tackle difficult challenges. Today she’s married with two kids, and she is in a business partnership. And in her spare time she runs half-marathons!

That’s my girl!

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Free Speech Zone

              A local radio talk show host has been using as one of his promos the line, “Free Speech Zone? Free Speech Zone? The whole country is a free speech zone!”

Even though the guy was stating the obvious, it begs the question: Why did he feel the need to make such a statement?

Allow me to offer some thoughts on this. The United States Constitution establishes for all Americans rights that are inherent to living in America. The Bill of Rights were written to insure that we the people would be guaranteed these rights in the eventuality that someone, or some entity, would come along and attempt to alter, restrict, or remove this right. The Constitution was officially ratified in 1787, but it was four years later that the Bill of Rights was ratified and attached to the Constitution. These rights were hewn out of the life experiences these Founding Fathers had already lived.

Once Christopher Columbus opened the way to the New World, those nations which were historically monarchies jumped on the bandwagon by expanding their reach and power around the world. The big dogs in this race for power and expansion were England, France, Spain and Portugal. There were others, but they were relatively minor, particularly in their influence in the Americas. Spain gobbled up almost all of South and Central America including a significant portion of the Western United States. France primarily grabbed Louisiana and the Mississippi River spreading out through what is “Fly-Over Country” in the U.S. today, plus a significant portion of Eastern Canada. Portugal was a lesser player, but they managed to snag a prized section of South America: Brazil, which is the largest country in South America encompassing the Amazon River.

Britain wound up being the top dog by having control of the Eastern U.S. and the majority of Canada. Here’s where the trouble began. The monarchy of an English king ruling over the colonies in the New World by fiat was increasingly onerous to the colonists. They were treated like second class citizens, and increasingly taxed without anyone acting as an advocate for them in the halls of the English Parliament. Thus the phrase many of us learned in school about our American History, “No Taxation Without Representation!”


But remember that the original colonists coming to America in 1607 was to escape religious persecution and manipulation. England had devolved into a single religion nation. If you did not openly embrace the Church of England, you were persecuted, intimidated and generally harassed by the monarchy and the Church. Church attendance was required. An itinerant English street preacher in the mid-1600s, John Bunyan, was arrested and imprisoned for many years for preaching the Gospel. Little wonder that the colonists penned the First Amendment as they did! No establishment of religion (i.e., a state run religion); and prohibiting the free exercise thereof (i.e., worship as your conscience dictates).


These pesky colonists in America were ignored in their attempts to gain the attention of the monarchy. The king and the Parliament were content as long as the supplies of tobacco and cotton kept coming into English ports. This growing discontent on the part of the colonists ultimately brought about a need to “Put up, or shut up.”

The American Revolution was inevitable due to the English royalty’s disregard for the plight of their charges in the Americas. It is often believed that all the colonists were in favor of revolution. This was not the case. It has been speculated that as much as 1/3 of the colonists were opposed to war with England. Mostly they were successful businessmen, tradesmen, and farmers who were still making a profit despite the increasingly oppressive taxation being levied against them. “Don’t upset the apple cart,” would have been their mantra. Leave well-enough alone. Or as we hear today, “You go along to get along.”

The reason I have taken the time to give you a thumbnail sketch of the historical events leading to our American Revolution is so that you can once again appreciate the reason the Founding Fathers made sure we the people would have rights available to us that were so blatantly ignored previously by high-brow elites in Europe. This is why the First Amendment is so crucial, and it sets the stage for the other rights drafted in that 1791 document.

“Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press, or the right of the people to peaceably assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.”

So, yes, the First Amendment is crucial to all our freedoms. Never surrender this right! America is a Free Speech Zone because of the Bill of Rights. And for that, you should thank God.
 

Wednesday, November 06, 2013

My Heroes

              Growing up I remember reading about heroes. George Washington, Abraham Lincoln, Christopher Columbus, Paul Revere, Molly Pitcher, Sergeant Audie Murphy, Sergeant Alvin York, Harriet Tubman, Davy Crockett, Ira Hayes, General Jimmy Doolittle, and Jackie Robinson, to name a few.

Let me ask you: Have you heard about any heroes lately? You see, I’m very careful of who I regard as a hero. There are numerous definitions for hero. However, the definition I choose to use is, “A hero is a person who performs extraordinary deeds for the benefit of others.” Now add this as part of the definition: “a very brave person, one who has committed a courageous act.”

So, with those definitions, let me state what I do not think merits hero status. First: athletes. Particularly, football players. I may get in trouble with my barbershop pals because we just performed our annual concert in which we sang a song entitled, Football Hero. But seriously, playing football, even if you’re the best at what you do, in no way raises you to hero status. It’s a game.

Second: movie stars. John Wayne, Steve McQueen, Clint Eastwood, Jimmy Stewart are actors – not heroes. I love these guys as actors! They frequently played the roles of real-life heroes. And unquestionably they are great actors. But they are not heroes.

Third: politicians. There is far too much self-aggrandizement, egotism, and personal advancement in the halls of government at all levels. Some of their adherents will blindly follow their rise to power believing these elected officials are above reproach. They may be well-intentioned, but they frequently delve into sycophantic patterns willingly embracing political and philosophical tenets that they previously opposed. These politicians may attempt great things, but they are not heroes.

These three categories are not the only groups that I find unsuitable for heroes to emerge, but it will suffice for this article.

The folks that I find to be in the hero category are more likely to be unknown, rarely becoming a household name. In recent years I would add the name of Todd Beamer to my list. Couple that with firemen and policemen who charged into harm’s way knowing the dangers they faced. They went anyway. Hundreds lost their lives on 9-11.

Since then, I have been humbled by the courage and commitment of our young men and women serving in the best military in the world. They are not driven to serve by political ideology, or religious zeal, like so many of our nation’s enemies are. They simply love America, and believe she is a nation worth fighting for up to and including the laying down of their lives if need be.

Heroes come in all shapes and sizes, and typically they are self-effacing. They do not believe they are doing anything extraordinary. They are convinced that anyone in their shoes would do the same thing. Just listen to the remarks made by the recipients of the Medal of Honor. There is no attempt to credit themselves for their recognition. In fact, most would say something like, “The real heroes are the ones who didn’t come home.”

Besides those I mentioned at the beginning of this article, my heroes today wear, or have worn a uniform: law enforcement, fire, and military. My brother, John, tops the list. He was a Marine helicopter pilot. He flew the CH46 Sea Knight in Vietnam in 1967 when Marine 2nd Lieutenant helicopter pilots had a 2 minute life expectancy in a combat zone. Despite that he racked up more than 220 combat missions, earning 11 air medals and the Distinguished Flying Cross (DFC). After completing five years of active duty he remained in the active reserve for the next 28 years, retiring as a colonel.

In my role as a Navy chaplain during Operation Enduring Freedom and Operation Iraqi Freedom, it was my responsibility early on in that war to greet the planes bringing back our first wounded. Then, for those capable of continued service, I made arrangements for their reintroduction to their units once they were cleared. In all that time, not once did I hear a young sailor or Marine complain about what happened to them. In fact, many of them were anxious to rejoin their units and reengage in the fight. You won’t ever know their names. And truth be told, I have forgotten the names of most of them, but their attitude, their commitment to preserving our freedom, and their willingness to place on hold their futures so you and I can be secure in our homes is what makes them heroes to me.

November 10th is the birthday of the United States Marine Corps, and November 11th is Veterans Day. Take a moment to pray for our troops. And if you run into someone serving, or having served, just tell them “Thanks.” They will probably be embarrassed and not know what to say. But they will appreciate it more than you could possibly know.

You see, they are my kind of heroes.

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Single-Payer Healthcare

              If you’re like me you probably know little of the Single-Payer Healthcare. Heard of it? Yes. But beyond that, very little. After some of what I’ve been reading of late, I obviously need to pay more attention.

Single-payer is a term used to describe a type of financing system. It refers to one entity acting as administrator, or “payer.” In the case of health care, a single-payer system would be setup such that one entity—a government run organization—would collect all health care fees, and pay out all health care costs. (PNHP – Physicians for a National Health Program - www.pnhp.org/facts/what-is-single-payer)

“I want to cover everybody. Now, the truth is, unless you have what is called a single-payer system in which everyone is automatically covered, you’re probably not going to reach every single individual.” President Barack Obama, July 22, 2009.

So, is Single-Payer something you should know about? I hope to shout! This is the direction our government is taking us. ObamaCare, otherwise known as the Affordable Care Act, is the vehicle being used to get us there. I’m convinced that the obvious conclusion to ObamaCare is the collapse of the medical system we currently have in place because the government will not be able to sustain it. Just look at the mess people are facing simply trying to sign up through the Internet website! Single-Payer would eliminate all current medical insurance programs. In its place would be one governmental agency that would handle every single Americans medical records and the decisions that would be made regarding your health care. Such a system might sound easier to manage and oversee than the present system which is problematic in its own right. However, there are a few things that are very troubling to me in such as system as Single-Payer.

First, we the people are being forced by the government to enroll in some sort of medical program. There is no other option available. This is contrary to the freedoms guaranteed by our Constitution. Americans should not be required to pay for something that they do not want – in this case government healthcare. Someone might argue that we are required by the government to obtain a drivers license to drive a motor vehicle. That’s true. But you are not required to drive a vehicle.

Second, can you show me one government agency that has been run effectively and efficiently? I would suggest that the military does a somewhat respectable job of it in the area of recruitment and producing warfighters. But not much beyond that. Having worked on the electronic components of jets during my time in the Marine Corps, I witnessed first-hand the rampant waste and abuse in the purchasing of parts. Simple items such as nuts and bolts were exorbitantly priced through government contractors which cost pennies on the dollar in town.

Third, a government run operation overseeing my medical care will have non-medical people making decisions about what I can and can’t have when it comes to treatment for illnesses and life-threatening conditions. Such decisions will be driven by the bottom-line. So, if the person reviewing my record sees that I am 65 and need a another stent put in my heart, he may think I’m already in the senior citizen category so it would be a waste of money to pay for such an expensive procedure.

Lest you believe I’m being paranoid in my thinking, or simply misinformed, ask yourself this question: Why do so many Canadians who pay into a single-payer system travel across the border into the United States to receive medical procedures in our hospitals? Aren’t those same procedures available in their hospitals? Yes. But – and this is a big But – to receive such a procedure may mean the person waits 18 months or more before they can be treated. If it is life-threatening, you might not make it. Same is true in England.

Last week we were visited by a former foreign-exchange student from Brazil who is now a medical doctor. I had a discussion with her about Brazil’s socialistic medical system. I asked her how it was working. Ummm, not so good, apparently. She said the whole system is going broke because it simply costs too much.

That, my friends, is the trouble with where were heading. ObamaCare and/or Single-Payer Healthcare will be a cash cow for the government which will spend it on other programs just as they have with Social Security.

Our healthcare system needs to be changed, but ObamaCare is not the answer, nor is Single-Payer. Remember this in next year’s elections, and especially in the presidential election in 2016.

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Fly the Flag

             There’s a growing concern I have as I drive around commercial areas and neighborhoods. The American flag is flown in front of many homes and businesses which is always encouraging. However, I am witnessing way too many flags in various conditions of disrepair due to overuse.

Let me explain what I mean by overuse. Simply put, it means the flag has been left out well beyond its time. The red stripes have turned pink; the white stripes and stars are now a dingy gray; and the blue field is washed out losing its luster. Some flags are tattered and torn, snagged on roof tops, or wrapped around itself on the flag pole, and generally looking nasty and disrespected.

When the American flag is disrespected in this manner it conveys a disregard for the nation and its core values, beliefs and system of governance. The flag of our nation is a symbol which embodies our history, honor, hopes and humility as a people. It doesn’t mean you agree with everything that occurs within our borders or even the manner in which we conduct our affairs of state outside our borders. What it does mean, however, is that we hold to its best values such as are listed in our Declaration of Independence and the Constitution with its Bill of Rights. With such documents in place we are always made aware of what we can be as Americans. To disregard them places us in peril of losing the very beliefs that made this a great nation. For well over two hundred years people from all over the world have sacrificed to make it to our shores for an opportunity to make something more of their lives.

The words etched at the base of the Statue of Liberty in New York Harbor says it best: “Give me your tired, your poor, Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free; The wretched refuse of your teeming shore, Send these, the homeless, Tempest-tossed to me. I lift my lamp beside the golden door!” The United States has been that beacon of hope to countless thousands of immigrants who have come to our shores. One immigrant who arrived from Greece recalled, I saw the Statue of Liberty. And I said to myself, ‘Lady, you're such a beautiful! [sic] You opened your arms and you get all the foreigners here. Give me a chance to prove that I am worth it, to do something, to be someone in America." And always that statue was on my mind.’”

         One of the best and simplest ways to show respect for the flag of the United States of America is to properly care for it. Look out your window. Look carefully at your flag. What does it show? If in doubt, simply replace it. On average, most flags for home use run about twenty dollars including the new pole and bracket. Flags for businesses range from $150-$200. I recommend to businesses (and homes as well) that they budget for two flags a year. This way you change it every six months. The flag always looks fresh and clean this way, and you avoid the disheveled appearance that seems to be commonplace today. It’s an easy fix, so let’s change it!

         If you are uncertain as to what to do with your old flag, simply drop it off at your nearest American Legion Post, or Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW) Post. These folks will properly and honorably dispose of the flag for you.

         A few weeks ago I gathered up several used flags I had in my garage. Wanting to use this as a teaching moment, I picked up my five-year-old granddaughter, Alyssa, to go along with me. We stopped at the VFW Post 1051 in Ripon, CA. The lady who answered the door, smiled and gladly took the flags from us. It was all of a five mile round trip and one minute at the door. But it also taught Alyssa an invaluable lesson in the proper care and disposal of the flag.

         You may find yourself wanting to suggest to a neighbor or a business establishment the need to replace their flag. The way I approach this is to ask to speak to the homeowner, or manager, if it’s a business. I begin by thanking them for flying the flag in honor of our great nation. Then I point out that the flag they are currently flying needs to be replaced according to the Flag Code in federal law. Often I have found that these folks have not taken a good look at the flag in a while. They are usually surprised that I point out this discrepancy to them. One CEO of a hospital walked outside to look at the offending flag. He was stunned by what he saw. At that point I didn’t need to say anymore.  
         Fly the flag proudly! But make sure you look at it once in a while.

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Shutdown

              Are there any adults left in our government?

Whether you side with the Wasquelly Wepublicans or the Dimwit Democrats makes no difference. This government shutdown is being handled in a most irresponsible manner in a way that is apparently intended to harm the most number of people.

And it’s only a partial shutdown at that. A full 85% of the government is fully operational. And may I remind you that though the private sector can be affected by this government shutdown, most businesses and industries will manage to carry on with little impact. It’s a bit of a yawner really.

But, when our World War Two veterans, the youngest of which is perhaps 88, are barred from visiting their own War Memorial in our nation’s capital; and when our military chaplains are told they cannot provide religious services to our troops; and when a veteran and his wife are forced from their home which happens to be on federal land; and when independent businesses that are in no way connected to the federal government are forced to close their doors to business, then I found myself getting just a bit agitated.

The capper for me was when the families of our most recently fallen soldiers in Afghanistan were not afforded the customary courtesy of having transportation provided by the government to meet the casket of their loved one at Dover Air Force Base, Maryland, to then be accompanied to the final resting place, and the Death Benefits check was also not provided, I was seething. This is utterly irresponsible! It is despicable that our nation’s leaders would not stand up in unity to defend those in our military “who gave that last full measure of devotion.” Such inaction on the part of our government, particularly a Defense Department that would be complicit in this, is absolutely unconscionable.

As I said at the outset – I don’t care what your political views are – the proper respectful and expected treatment of those who have voluntarily stepped forward to serve their country in times of peace and war should always be honored. For instance, many of our Vietnam veterans were roundly criticized for being “women and baby killers.” They also endured insults and lies about their service, and their names and character impugned daily within the press. "Do not fear the enemy, for your enemy can only take your life. It is far better that you fear the media, for they will steal your HONOR." ~ Vietnam Pilot.

As I write this article we are thirteen days into this shutdown – and there does not seem to be any success of the two parties coming together to break the stalemate between the fractious Republican and Democrat Parties.

I know that I am not alone in my disgust with our elected officials and their sycophantic media lapdog that is more than just a little bit complicit in the failure to report actual news. Instead, they are agenda-driven, willingly advocating for the removal of the Constitution, declaring it to be an “antiquated, outdated set of laws established by rich white men.”

It appears to me that our American society today has forgotten the difference between democratic ideals and the role of a republic. “The democratic ideal of self-government is the idea that people can rule themselves. This goes back to the Enlightenment in the 1600s, fostering the idea that kings and political leaders are not chosen by God; that man is born free, and he voluntarily gives up a little of his freedom to form a government in return for social order. The government works for the people, not the other way around; and when a government no longer serves the people's needs, they have both the right and the duty to make whatever changes are necessary, or to abolish that government and come up with a new one that better serves their needs.”

The role of a republican government, on the other hand, is a different concept. “The role of citizens in a republican government is to decide who shall represent them. This makes the people not give up their voice in government.”

So here is the crux of the matter: We are a republic. We freely elect those who will represent us within the government – everything from local to federal. The democratic ideal is the idea that everyone is equal before the law. So it falls upon us as the electorate to choose wisely those who would seek to represent us. If you do not like those who are currently holding elected office, then do something about it! Get involved supporting those who would share your beliefs and ideals and then get them elected. By the same token, work diligently to defeat those who do not represent you well.

We can fuss and moan all day long about the nonsense that passes for representative government in Washington DC today, but until we oust these “snake-oil salesmen,” we have no one to blame but ourselves. We are a year away from the mid-term elections. So get involved now! I know I am. Are you?

I want my government to represent me again.

Wednesday, October 09, 2013

Common Core

              Well, school is back in session throughout the United States. So I was curious when the story broke about a parent, Robert Small, who seemingly got out of line at a Common Core meeting in Maryland where he had to be physically removed because of his vocal criticism of this new teaching/testing method called Common Core Standards.

Going to school in the 50s and 60s our system of education seemed challenging enough to me. But then again, I was coming at this education thing from a rather biased perspective. My early ventures into academia were, shall we say, not exactly ideal. I started school in Connecticut where I was born. A couple of years later, after my mother remarried, we moved to New Jersey where my step father, “Pop,” was employed as a corporate manager. Two years after that we moved to New York. I was now nine-years-old.

Now, all this moving around may sound interesting, even exciting, but it played hob on my academic pursuits! Here’s an example. In New Jersey at that time (mid-50s) you started to learn your Times Tables in 4th Grade. I was coming to the end of my 3rd Grade year when we moved to New York. I would finish out my 3rd Grade year in a school there. No problem, or so I thought. I walked into a class taught by Mrs. Bean, a woman of advanced years, who still stands out as my favorite teacher of all time. Why? Because she sized up my problem immediately and did something about it. You see, kids in the New York school system began learning their Times Tables in 3rd Grade. By crossing the state line from New Jersey to New York I was one academic year behind in mathematics just that quick. In the two months that remained of school, I was like a deer caught in the headlights. Each day Mrs. Bean would give the class their work assignment, after which she would take me off to the side and work with me on my Times Tables. Bless her!

Now add to this the fact that I was what constantly evaluated by my teachers with written comments on my report card that said such things as, “Charles has potential,” or “He needs to learn to concentrate,” and so on. For me, I just remember sitting at my desk, gazing out on the baseball diamond, desperately wishing to be free from the confines of the classroom so I could play baseball with my friends.

I managed to get through grades 4, 5 and 6 before we moved yet again. Only this time we moved to Paris, France in the summer of 1960. Pop was in on a business venture with several other American businessmen. So I found myself being enrolled in a bilingual school. Initially, an attempt was made to get me in the American School in Paris, but the waiting list for 7th Grade was as long as my arm. The alternative was the bilingual school. By definition, bilingual meant that every class was taught in French, and all the teachers spoke English. I was in shock! I didn’t speak French! And they don’t play baseball. And football to them is what we call soccer. Argh!

I remember sitting with my parents and the administrator discussing the classes I would take. French, of course. English? Yes, but it was taught by a teacher from England (Trucks are lorries, and car hoods are bonnets), but I felt I could at least manage in that class. I was required to take another language class as well. Spanish or German? I reluctantly chose German. My teacher was Mrs. Wolfe. The administrator then suggested I take Latin. At this point I’m near panic. I looked at my parents with desperate, pleading eyes: “Help me!” Oh, another of those classes you take later on back in the States? Algebra. Stateside we would take that in 9th Grade. In the bilingual school in Paris you take Algebra in 7th Grade – taught in French of course. Oh boy!

I survived the school year with the aid of a neighbor, Madame Hanoka, a Jewish lady who spoke seven languages and was infinitely patient in working with me every afternoon when I arrived home from school. (The Hanoka’s story of escaping from sword-wielding Muslims in Egypt in 1948 is worth an article all its own.)

I would go on to attend yet another junior high school in Norway and then five high schools before finally graduating from Pacific Palisades High in Los Angeles in 1966.

My reason for sharing all this about my early schooling is to simply say that from what I can make out from the Common Core Standards, it is an attempt to unify the academic process so that students across the fruited plain of America would all be learning the same stuff at the same time, and the testing would be reflective of that teaching.

There may be problems with Common Core, I really don’t know. I have read a lot of articles and commentaries but can’t see anything seriously flawed in this approach. Folks from both sides of the aisle, conservative and liberal, are finding fault with this system. I would simply suggest that teachers and administrators create an environment so kids are encouraged to learn.

And may they have the likes of Mrs. Bean and Madame Hanoka to guide them in their academic pursuits!

Wednesday, October 02, 2013

Granddads Rule!

              My two five-year-old granddaughters began kindergarten in August which had an indirect impact on my own weekly schedule. Alyssa lives here in Ripon. Brooklyne, on the other hand, lives in Turlock.

I am now delightfully responsible for picking up Alyssa from school on Fridays. I say “delightfully” because it provides me with a few hours of one-on-one time with one of my grandkids. Priceless!

So, after I pick up Alyssa we go to McD’s for a hot fudge sundae, or a smoothie or some other treat that I’m a sucker for. Then we head for Spring Creek Golf and Country Club where I’ve been working with Alyssa on enjoying the game of golf. She brings her golfing togs in her backpack and changes in the ladies locker room. Then it’s putting on the practice green before heading out to play a few holes. My manner of instruction is to allow her to hit a ball when she wants to, or just ride in the golf cart with me. She likes to sit on my lap and steer the cart as we travel from hole to hole.

Last week Brookie spent the weekend with Alyssa. On Saturday Alyssa had a birthday party to attend, so it was previously arranged that I would take Brookie to the club to play golf. So when Isaura stopped by to pick Brookie up from Laura’s, the following exchange took place.

Laura said, “Brookie’s going to go play golf with your granddaddy, while you go to the birthday party.” Alyssa said, with big tears, “But I don’t want to go to the birthday party. I want to go play golf with my granddaddy.” Then Laura said, “Your friend is expecting you. We bought the gift, and it’s a princess party, and you love princess parties.” Alyssa was insistent, “But I don’t want to go. I want to go play golf with granddaddy!”

Well, chalk one up for granddads! I was surprised that spending time with me playing golf trumped a princess-themed birthday party, but that’s how the story was told to me. Alyssa composed herself and attended the birthday party. And Brookie and I had fun at the club.

Now Brooklyne does not have quite the same level of interest in swinging a golf club that Alyssa has at this point, but she sure does like to sit on my lap and steer the cart. I asked her where she learned to drive the cart so well. She told me her other grandfather, Papa Joe, has a cart that he drives around where he works, so she’s had quite a bit of practice.

As we cruised around the course, Brookie asked me why I couldn’t have her play golf with me more often. I explained that with her living 25 miles away it was much less convenient connecting with her than with Alyssa who is only a mile away. Brookie then said, “But you could come and take me to the Turlock Golf and Country Club!” I attempted to put it into perspective. “I’m not a member of the Turlock club,” I said, “like I am at Spring Creek.” She was having none of this excuse making on my part. She was backing me into a corner and I could see that she was settling for nothing less than more involvement in her life with time together centered around the game of golf. I told her I would check with the folks at Turlock as to the possibility of bringing her over to their club where we could play. That’s next on my list of things to do.

Alyssa is a blur of motion when we are at the club. She grabs her golf club, tees up her ball and lets fly. She then runs to the ball where she again tees it up, and gives it another mighty swing. Now for you purists, I’m quite aware that this is not the proper way to play the game. It’s okay! I want the girls to have fun playing. If they like it well enough to want to learn the nuances of the game, then I will stress the importance of knowing the rules and etiquette of the game. I have already shown them how to repair ball marks on the green, and to fill in the divots with sand on the fairways, and the proper way to rake the sand traps. Both girls especially like raking the traps!

But, this running to the ball, stopping to hit it, then running again is the perfect remedy for a sound night’s sleep, according to Alyssa’s mother. Laura told me that whenever Alyssa plays golf with me she sleeps like a brick that night!

In the Book of Proverbs, chapter 17, verse 6, it reads, Grandchildren are the crown of the aged.” I can hear the affirmative "Amen!" from the grandparents reading this article.

Both my wife and I had close relations with a grandparent which helped enormously to formulate our personalities as well as our appreciation for life in general. I want to have a powerful positive effect on my grandchildren. That’s a legacy worth investing in!

Psalm for the Day