Marines.Together We Served

Wednesday, May 25, 2005

People Watching

My continued involvement in the Navy Reserve requires me to travel a fair amount. A couple of weeks ago I attended a military workshop in San Diego. As I sat in the airport waiting for my flight, I couldn’t help but observe a number of quirks and other odd human characteristics. Allow me to elaborate.

Cell Phones. This wonderful convenience has become indispensable. Folks were sitting all around the gate area waiting for the same flight, and at least half were using their cell phones. Some were using the phones to play electronic games. Very few people were actually engaged in face-to-face conversation.

Another phenomenon that is really apparent in the use of cell phones, especially in a public setting such as the airport gate area, is the decibel level of the human voice when speaking into a cell phone. What is it about people speaking so loudly when they are on cell phones? For those of you who feel the need to include everyone within fifty yards of your call, here’s a news flash: Keep it to yourself. I don’t want to listen to your personal conversation.

Sitting in one of the eating establishments near the gate, I noticed two guys sitting at a nearby table. One was on his cell phone animatedly talking (loudly). His friend, sitting across from him, had his cell phone in his hand. He was playing a computer game.

Clothing. Absence of appropriate clothing would be a better description. I am amazed at the lack of discretion people show in the clothing they wear publicly. I’m old enough to remember when flying on an airplane was a big deal. We would actually dress up. As a little guy I would have on pressed pants, white shirt, clip-on bow tie and a sport coat.

Today, anything goes when it comes to what people wear while traveling. Admittedly, I normally wear blue jeans and a polo shirt when traveling by air. But my jeans are clean, pressed, and have no holes. Nor do I wear them like so many of the young guys wear today – halfway down their posteriors. I have to admit I am laughing when I see one of these guys walking by with his pants hanging low enough to where I’m convinced a healthy sneeze would bring them all the way to the floor. It’s comical! I’m easily amused anyway. Hopefully I won’t laugh at the wrong guy!

The weather in California has been very wet and cold this winter and spring. I’ve heard it set a record. I believe it. Well, the sun’s out again. Spring is here in typical California fashion. This means some women make brainless decisions regarding the clothing they choose.

The human body is an amazingly wonderful structure. I truly appreciate God’s handiwork. He designed us to be attracted to the opposite sex. As the French phrase goes, “Viva la difference!” But please, ladies! Leave something to the imagination. I am finding that I must increasingly look down or turn away from a woman who is passing by. Besides, most folks do not have a body that is that remarkable. Save it for the bedroom – shared with your spouse.

Here’s an idea. As people pass through the security check-point, they are assigned a clothing code, much like movies are rated. For instance, a person wearing a suit would be labeled “G.” Then you can run this all the way to the “R” rating that I witnessed on my most recent trip. One woman wore clothing that would not have even been enough at the beach or swimming pool. Modesty prevents me from providing a more complete description.

Security Guards. These folks with the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) do an amazing job. I cannot even imagine doing what they do. Yes, they get paid to do it, but let’s be honest – would you really want to check people all day, every day? There are more than enough travelers passing through security who show their resentment at being so inconvenienced. My response: 9/11. Get used to it.

With few exceptions, I have found the folks with TSA to be professional, considerate, and understanding. Look, they don’t like to have you remove your shoes. They don’t enjoy having you raise your arms so they can pass a wand over you. They don’t get a kick out of having you turn your belt buckle out. It can’t be much fun digging through someone’s purse, briefcase, or carry-on bag. I’m sure they’ve seen everything. Actually, I’m surprised someone hasn’t written a book about the odd and disgusting things TSA agents have found while trying to protect you and me from terrorists and other idiots.

Here’s a suggestion. Be nice to these folks. You’ll feel better, and you just might make their day a bit more pleasant.

Watching people is one of the many reasons I have no problem believing in God. Surely, He has a great sense of humor! After all, we humans provide so much entertainment for Him and each other!

Wednesday, May 18, 2005

Stop the Insanity

I’m in a quandary.

The article for this week was to be a humorous endeavor wherein I share with you my observations while traveling. I’m an inveterate people-watcher. I find it both amusing, as well as entertaining. The article was mostly written last week. It will have to wait.

What I really want to do today is write an article allowing me to vent my spleen regarding the utterly detestable, irresponsible news reporting that is foolishly referred to as journalism. It is an embarrassment to the profession.

What I’m talking about is the story run in Newsweek last week where they reported that our military members serving in Guantanimo Bay, Cuba, desecrated the Islamic Holy Book, the Koran, by flushing it down the toilet in an attempt to humiliate the detainees. When I first heard this report I admit I was disgusted. But then I caught myself. “Wait just a minute!” I said. “I know our military. I don’t believe this story.” I even said so to my wife. Sure enough, we now know that this story was not true, with Newsweek supposedly making an apology in their next issue. I can’t wait to see how they word this. If the apologist Newsweek used on the TV networks is any indication of what the magazine will say, then they can save it.

What has been the fall-out from this erroneous story? Anti-American rioting in the Islamic streets, with more than a dozen people known to have been killed. Newsweek says, “Sorry!” and gets a pass. This is reprehensible!

Those in the media with a bias against the war effort are willing to say whatever they believe needs to be said in order to get the outcome they want. May I remind you all that we are in a state of war against terrorism? Our efforts in Afghanistan and Iraq are designed to destroy the terrorist structure that has not only controlled much of the Islamic Middle East, but has targeted the United States and various European and African nations for annihilation.

Couple this malicious news reporting with a radio program I heard over the weekend and it is frightening what some folks are willing to say in an attempt to win the ideological wars. I had heard recently about a new radio broadcast called Air America. It is supposed to be the liberal response to Rush Limbaugh and the predominantly conservative talk radio. Wow! I couldn’t believe what I heard.

It was while I was in San Diego attending a military conference. Driving to the Naval Amphibious Base on the island of Coronado, I decided to see what was on the air. I tuned to what obviously was Air America. How did I know it was Air America? Well, the vitriolic, hateful, demeaning speech that emanated from the radio nearly took my breath away. I couldn’t confirm this until a station break, but I’d read about this radio programming. Every mention of a conservative was preceded with a less than flattering adjective. Having learned math the old fashioned way, I put two and two together and came up with Air America. I was right.

Liberal media types are not the only ones who speak in such an irrational manner. The conservatives certainly have their share of bombastic name callers who have forgotten what civility is all about. Ann Coulter comes to mind. Her most recent book, “How to Talk to a Liberal if you Must,” is an example of such childish, disrespectful attempts at making a point. It is done so by tearing someone else down, using character assassination, all in a shameful marketing ploy.

I have no time for such lack of character. The moment the mouth is engaged, you have lost the argument. Grow up.

As for news journalists, the world is not a platform for you to spew out your own ideological bents. You’re supposed to report news in an unbiased manner. Look up unbiased in the dictionary. It says, “unprejudiced; impartial.” Synonyms are: fair, equitable, tolerant, neutral.

I earned my bachelors degree in Radio & TV Broadcasting where I was required to take several courses in journalism. I know what it’s supposed to look like. I rarely see it anymore today. And that’s a shame for our country and the world.

People are dead because of a selfish need to push a personal agenda. More people will die before this matter is resolved.

The Bible once again proves to be correct. In the book of James it says this about the tongue: “Consider what a great forest is set on fire by a small spark. The tongue also is a fire, a world of evil among the parts of the body. It corrupts the whole person . . . .no man can tame the tongue. It is a restless evil, full of deadly poison.”

Sobering, but true. I choose not to be poisoned by Newsweek, Air America, Ann Coulter or anyone else flinging their wretchedness in my direction. Clean up your act. Repent of your foolishness. Sanctify your heart.

It would be a good start in stopping the insanity.

Wednesday, May 11, 2005

A Nonsensical Habit

Okay, here’s a subject that is both popular and offensive. Popular because in today’s cultural climate, anything you want to say is okay. Offensive, because of what is being said. I’m talking about the very unpleasant habit of many who use coarse, foul language. What we used to call “cussing.”

Today, we find ourselves exposed to the use of vulgarity from all quarters of society. From Vice President Cheney’s use of the dreaded word on the floor of the Senate, to kids playing foul-mouthed-laced rap music from their cars while filling their gas tanks next to you. On more than one occasion I have made my wishes known that their music be turned off.

Then, of course, we see offensive language in books, magazines, and newspapers, often times gratuitously. There is this primal need to shock the reader, tantalizing them with what is yet to come. It is perceived as being bold and daring, creatively challenging the old status quo, implying that the civil manner of communication used in previous eras was disingenuous. It is even argued today that using such foul terms is being honest, which is another way of saying, “It’s okay for me to offend you.”

My mother pointed out an opinion piece in the local paper today, entitled, “Nations’ cussing habit needs to be curbed.” In the piece, the writer mentions a web site by Jim O’Connor: This is companion to his book, “Cuss Control: The Complete Book on how to Curb Cussing.” I have not read this book, but at least someone is addressing this offensive problem.

Cussing of all kinds has made inroads throughout the broadcast medium. We are subjected to it on television (particularly cable), radio, and the music and movie industries.

Underlying all of this is a pervasive disrespect for others. I was sitting in a local eatery in our small town, enjoying lunch with my mother, when in the booth adjoining ours I heard some of the most disgusting words a person could utter. I reacted by rising to my feet, locking my gaze on the offending party, saying, “If you don’t mind . . .” It wasn’t a question or a request. It was not intended to be. The young man, at first, simply looked back at me, unsure of what was happening. Then it hit him that he was using dirty language in a public place. He mumbled an apology, at which point I resumed my lunch.

Here is another problem we have in society: Cussing has gone unchecked for too long so that folks are unaware of the words they are using. Or worse yet, they no longer see anything wrong with it.

As I emerged into adulthood, I was well acquainted with the use of vulgar language. During my time as an enlisted Marine I made profuse use of all the ugly words known to man, along with their various combinations. Point of fact, when I surrendered my life to Christ at age twenty-four, I specifically asked the Lord to help me with my foul mouth. It was then that I discovered a verse in the Bible that helped me get a handle on this problem. In Ephesians 4:29, we are given instruction on the proper use of words when we speak. “Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen.”

The word “unwholesome” (“corrupt communication” in the King James) in the original Greek literally means “rotten words.” That has always stuck with me, because that’s what it is – rotten.

What’s the alternative to rotten words? The verse above gives us the answer. Use only words that are helpful in building others up. If someone needs encouragement, say something that will be encouraging, lifting them from their moment of discouragement.

In the book of James, we learn much about the tongue. “With the tongue we praise our Lord and Father, and with it we curse men, who have been made in God’s likeness. Out of the same mouth come praise and cursing. My brothers, this should not be.” Engaging in the habit of swearing is a contradiction if we claim to be godly, not to mention it is an offense to God when we curse others.

The Reverend Daniel Thatcher Lake, my great grandfather, wrote in his memoirs in the late 1880s, that “several years of my boyhood days were spent in a village, a young Sodom: two whiskey shops, and no church. Card playing, horse racing, cock fighting, whiskey drinking and fisticuffs were the order of the day.” He grew up as a waiting boy for the guests in the boarding house his step father ran, located across the street from one of those whiskey drinking gambling halls. Being thus exposed daily to men in their baser nature, he marveled that he avoided such nastiness. “I never contracted the nonsensical, wicked habit of swearing,” he wrote.

How about you? Have you developed this “nonsensical, wicked habit”? You can make a difference in the way you choose and use your words. You can bless folks, or you can be an embarrassment. It’s your choice. But choose wisely.

Wednesday, May 04, 2005

History Repeats Itself

For a number of years now, I’ve been talking about writing a book about the life and times of my great grandfather, the Reverend Daniel Thatcher Lake. You see, about fifteen years ago my mother’s cousin, Emogene Mize of Greenville, Texas, sent me the memoirs of Great Granddaddy Lake.

What makes this so interesting is the fact that the Rev Lake was born in 1828 in Tennessee. He was self-taught, becoming a school teacher in the East Texas area around 1850. It was shortly after arriving in Texas that he had a conversion experience. So thorough was the change in his life that he soon felt God calling him to preach. He was licensed as an “exhorter,” whereupon he began to preach in various churches, finally being assigned as a circuit rider in the East Texas Conference of the Methodist Episcopal Church, South. By definition, one who exhorts “uses words or arguments to incite to good deeds.” It was commonly used years ago as a synonym for preaching.

I became enamored with his story, written in the last couple of years of his life. He died in 1891. I can only deduce that he either had an incredible memory, or else he had maintained a journal throughout his adult years in which he had recorded copious notes. I knew when I first sat down to read these memoirs that I had something very valuable in a literary sense. Allow me to explain.

Great Granddad had two families. His first wife died in 1872. He remarried in 1874, fathering several more children, one of who was my mother’s father, Jesse Allen Lake, born in 1884. From the time my great granddad died until my own conversion experience in 1972, there were no people in the family who followed the call of the ministry. As kids, my brother and I used to hear our mother lament how nice it would be if there was another preacher in the family. Ha! Fat chance, we thought.
Well, God has a great sense of humor!

Even after I surrendered my life to Christ, I had no intention of going into the ministry. The truth be told, I was just happy to be saved! I didn’t believe I was cut out for the role of a pastor. With the decadent manner I had been living my life prior to coming to faith in Christ; I figured there was no way I could even consider such a lofty position. At the time, I was only vaguely aware that there had been some ministers in our family somewhere back there on our family tree. It wasn’t until Cousin Emogene sent me the memoirs that I was able to come face-to-face, as it were, with one of those ministers.

As I read through his experiences, I began to see the numerous parallels between our two lives. Both of us moved away from our places of birth early in our lives. He lost his father, being raised by his mother, and later, a step-father. My parents were divorced when I was five, raised by my mother, then my mother remarried. Both of us came to a saving knowledge of Christ in our early twenty’s. Both had the call to preach. And we each have had circuit riding ministries. His was the old fashioned way, riding on horse-back, or mule, or even on foot. I, however, have enjoyed a different kind of circuit riding ministry. As a Navy chaplain, I have traveled from ship-to-ship at sea either by helicopter or Zodiac (a rubberized boat), and at other times traveling with the Marines visiting their many commands to provide ministry. He served in the Civil War, and I have served in the Vietnam War and Iraqi War.

I was fascinated with Great Granddad’s ministry, particularly when he served in Whitfield’s Legion, Patterson’s Brigade from East Texas during the Civil War. After his wounds forced him to return home, he resumed his circuit riding ministry until ill health forced him to retire in the 1880s.

There are so many stories to share from Great Granddaddy Lake that it truly needs to find its way into a book. One of my dearest friends and fellow writer, Lynne Thompson, recently met me for lunch to see how I was doing on my book. I confessed to her that I haven’t been able to make any headway because of a barely controllable schedule. Lynne was having none of my lame excuses. After confiscating some printer paper from Gayle, my secretary, Lynne spread about ten sheets out on the floor. Then, armed with a pen and a pad of sticky-notes, we began to put a book together. Chapter subjects were written on each of the sticky-notes and placed arbitrarily on the sheets of paper lying on the floor. There we were: two grown adults on our hands and knees, getting excited about a book in the making.

You see, Lynne has heard me tell the stories of my Great Granddad’s sojourns. Ever since I returned home from my current time of active duty in support of Operation Enduring Freedom, Lynne has been pressing me hard, relentlessly prodding me to get started on this book. The other night I received an e-mail from her challenging me to write a certain number of words every day. She, by the same token, would write an equal number of words for her current project. In this way we would become accountability partners.

So that’s the deal. Each of us will write our predetermined word count, and then have to check in by e-mail with the other each day. By the time you read this article, I should have my first chapter written, and be well into chapter two.

I read in Great Granddaddy Lake’s memoirs that he didn’t really see why he should write his life’s story. After all, he thought, he hadn’t done very much that would be of interest to anyone. He was asked to write his memoirs just after he turned sixty years of age. Fortunately for me and my family, he finished them before he died . . . . at age sixty-three.

I want to publicly thank my friend, Lynne, for holding my feet to the fire. I will get this book written.