Marines.Together We Served

Monday, February 27, 2006

Rescued Reputation

Like most folks, I try protect my reputation. The best way to do this is to pay close attention to what the Bible says. Often we hear such verses of Scripture intoned in the format of “Thou shalt,” and “Thou shalt not.”

Just before I was released from my active duty stint in August of 2004, my wife, Isaura, traveled with me back to a conference at our Navy base in Millington, Tennessee. It’s about a thirty minute drive north of Memphis. In the conference I ran into my friend and fellow chaplain, Rob Scott. He and I served together in Djibouti, Africa during Operation Enduring Freedom and Operation Iraqi Freedom. We had some great times together, and really saw God do some amazing things through our ministries. Isaura had often heard me talk about Rob, but had not had the opportunity to meet him. I suggested to the chaplains in the conference that we have dinner together one evening during the conference. We all agreed it was a good idea. It turned out that some twenty chaplains accepted the invitation!

On the evening selected we managed to get enough tables together at a local restaurant so we could all sit together. There was animated conversation all evening while we enjoyed our fried catfish and hushpuppies. Then, out of nowhere, Rob decides to tell my wife a story about me while we’d been in Djibouti. He had a certain twinkle in his eye, and I knew I was about to be ambushed!

Rob began innocently enough, telling Isaura how he and my RP (Religious Program Specialist – Navy enlisted rate that works directly with chaplains), RP1 Brett Baldree, were concerned about my health. You see, after being in Djibouti about five or so weeks, I came down with a nasty case of the Djibouti Crud. It is the African version of Montezuma’s Revenge. At any rate, I was stretched out on my bunk which was only about fifty feet from our portable bathrooms. I had been lying in this condition for several days, miserable beyond imagination, drinking Gatorade and munching on an occasional cracker. Baldree walked down from the chapel several times during the day to check on me.

So, Chaplain Scott runs into RP1 Baldree, who commences to tell him he’s concerned about me, and could he pay me a visit. Rob, being the fine chaplain that he is, says he’d be glad to.

At this point in the story, I have no idea where Rob is going with this. Isaura is smiling benignly, also wondering where Rob is taking this story. You must also appreciate that this is the first time I’ve heard this story. Here’s the rest of it.

Rob was sure he knew where my hootch was. Actually, it wasn’t a hootch. It was a tent; but we called it a hootch. So Rob strolls into the hootch, waiting for his eyes to adjust to the darkened interior. It’s only then that he notices that the hootch is empty at the end he entered with a sheet of canvas separating from the other end. At that moment the flap into the other side is pulled back, and a female is standing there with nothing but a towel wrapped around her. Startled by each others appearance, the female says to Rob, “What are you doing in here?” He replies, “I’m looking for Chaplain Roots!” She sternly replies, “This is the women’s tent!” Feeling flustered at this moment, Rob blurts out, “But, is Chaplain Roots here?”

We all roared with laugher, Isaura enjoying the story greatly, as did others who keyed into the tale as it unfolded. I sat there slack-jawed, stunned, but really getting a kick out of hearing this for the first time. Rob is a good friend and a great brother in the Lord.

But it did get me to thinking. A good reputation takes time to earn, while it takes only a moment to lose. This was a story that, if misunderstood, or used in a harmful way, could destroy a person’s character and integrity. Or what if a person only overheard part of the story, and then passed on partial information such as, “I heard Chaplain Roots was dropping by the women’s tent while in Djibouti!”

So let me ask you – how are you maintaining your reputation? Do you help others to keep their reputations intact? Or do you criticize and look for opportunities to attack a person’s character?

Paul writes in Philippians, “Do not act out of a spirit of rivalry, nor out of empty conceit. Act rather with humility and consider others better than yourselves. Each of you must look to the interests of others as well as to the interests of yourselves.”

Take good care of your reputation. It may be the only gift of value you have to pass down to the next generation.

Sunday, February 19, 2006

Birds and Bees (Part 2)

Continuing from last week’s article where I referenced bees and their amazing abilities, I’ll be looking at birds in this article. Specifically two birds.

First, there’s the humming bird. These tiny little birds are what I call bee-birds. They have a very pointed beak which they use to extract nectar from flowers, just like bees. Unlike bees, however, they do not return to a hive where the nectar would be made into honey. But, like a bee they can stop in flight, hover, and even move backwards. Their wings flutter at an incredible rate, moving the whole wing as one unit, providing them with a furious humming sound. Some so-called experts on hummingbirds have described this method of flying as being “inefficient.” Someone should tell the hummingbird!

With something like 330 different species of hummingbirds (the second largest family of birds in the world), these amazing birds may be found in the New World from Alaska to Tierra del Fuego in Argentina. No hummingbirds are known to exist in Europe, Asia or Africa. Why? I suspect God has his reasons.

California boasts of 13 species of this bird, the most common being the Ruby-throated. Hummingbirds will migrate each year to Central America. Unlike Canadian Geese and other migratory birds, hummingbirds fly solo. The smallest of these birds is 2 grams and the largest is 20 grams. In preparation for their migration they will eat more food to put on an extra layer of fat! Now that’s funny!

Seriously, these little guys will travel thousands of miles from North America to winter over in Central America, and then the next year return to the exact site where they were born. They feed off of nectar which gives them the energy required to fly at such impossible speeds. Otherwise, they feast on tiny bugs and spiders, giving them the protein they need.

Who of us hasn’t sat and in awe of these little flying wonders? I bought a new hummingbird feeder for this spring. I look forward to simply watching the frenetic flying of these feathered friends.

Where did these birds learn to migrate? What internal clock tells them it’s time to go, even though it’s the middle of summer and there’s plenty of food, and the climate is perfect?

Then there’s my favorite bird of all – the loon. This is also a migratory bird. It has so many oddities about it that space does not allow me to adequately expand on this fascinating creature. But consider this: Loons summer on fresh-water lakes, and winter on the ocean or bays (salt-water). Loons mate for life and have one or two chicks a year, usually in late May. Their bodies are designed in such a way that their entire existence is on the water. Their webbed feet are located at the rear portion of their bodies, totally unlike the center-line design of every other water fowl. This makes it possible for the loon to propel himself across the surface of the water at amazing speeds which is essential for becoming airborne. A loon may require as much as a quarter of a mile of water where he races frantically in his attempt to fly the skies. These webbed feet also allow them to be strong swimmers, particularly under water. This also means it’s impossible for them to exist on land. They are incapable of walking.

But what really tickles me about loons is that they have solid bones. Every other species of flying bird has hollow bones – but not the loon. This makes them decidedly heavier. This also means that loons must flap their wings continuously; otherwise they would fall to the earth like mythological Icarus. Even though there are other birds with solid bones, they are incapable of flying.

One other thing the loon can do which clearly sets him apart from his feathered family is his ability to sink under water on command and remain there swimming great distances at ever increasing speed, popping up to the surface perhaps 100 yards or more from where he first went under. They do this by compressing their feathers, forcing the air caught in the layers to be pushed out which allows the body to literally drop straight under water. Every other water fowl dives head-first. Not the loon. He sinks.

I’m fascinated with our natural environment, which is stating the obvious after two weeks of describing the idiosyncrasies of birds and bees. These examples, of which I’ve only noted a few, make me laugh, while at the same time I scratch my head and ask, “Could this be an accident of nature? Or is there Someone Greater behind all of this who quite possibly delights in his own creativity, and who changed the norm, breaking the pattern, just because he wanted to? Or did he make such amazing creatures just to see our drop-jawed reaction as we discovered them?”

Then I pause and realize just how meaningful Jesus’ words are when he said, “Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they?” And this verse, “Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? Yet not one of them will fall to the ground apart from the will of your father. So don’t be afraid; you are worth more than many sparrows.”

Did you know you are that important to God? He delighted himself in making the bumblebee, the honeybee, the hummingbird, and the loon. But he loves you. That should put a smile on your face!

Tuesday, February 14, 2006

Birds and Bees

No, this is not an article by a pastor on sex education. I’m sure you’re relieved now.

Instead, I want to share with you some of the reasons I have a firm faith in a creator God. It comes from observing nature as it functions every day.

From my childhood I found it simply implausible that life as we experience it on planet Earth could have been an accident. I do not want you to have the mistaken impression that I was raised in the church, learning all the stories about God from the Bible. That didn’t happen. Most of my conclusions were drawn from watching what goes on around me.

There is an ongoing debate over the theories of evolution (there’s more than one) versus the belief on creation. Joining the mix in recent years has been the postulation of “Intelligent Design.” This is something of an adjunct to the creation argument. Regardless of where you stand as to how we homo sapiens and other life forms found ourselves on terra firma, there is not a thinking person alive who does not want to know the answer to this simplest of life’s questions: “Where did I come from?”

I’ve lived in the Central Valley of California for quite a number of years going back to the ‘70s. Getting to know some of the farmers in the area has afforded me the opportunity of learning literally about the birds and bees.

Take bees, for example. These little guys are truly amazing! There are many types of bees – but the one that tickles me most is the bee that isn’t supposed to fly: the bumblebee. I first learned this in a biology class in junior high. My thoughts then were, “Since bumblebees are supposed to be incapable of flying according to the laws of aerodynamic design, then why are they flying?” The bumblebee, with his round body flits around without a care in the world. He doesn’t know that the brightest minds in academia have determined that with the formation and size of the bumblebee body in relation to the size of the wings, he should not be able to fly. Someone forgot to tell the bumblebee.

Now consider the ordinary honeybee. The things they do boggle the mind! They continuously fly to and from the hive in search of water and pollen. When they find either of these much needed basics, they return to the hive, whereupon the rest of the hive’s inhabitants turn and face the returning bee and wait for his report. By performing a dance, the bee reports what he has found (water or pollen); how far away it is; and the exact direction to take from the hive. All the bees protect the queen bee who must be kept in a perfect climactic environment of 90 degrees. This means in the winter they huddle in real close to the queen using the warmth of their tiny bodies to maintain the proper temperature. In the summer, they need to cool the hive down. This requires that the bees find a ready supply of water. This is what they do: They pick up droplets of water, carrying it back to the hive, and with their wings in a blur, they cool the inside of the hive to the required temperature of 90 degrees. Incredible!

Where I live, bees are critical at this time of year. Ripon, California is the “Almond Capital of the World.” For the almond growers to have a successful crop, the bees must pollinate the orchards when the blossoms come out in early February. If the weather is nasty, or cold, or both, the bees will not come out of the hive. Get this! For the bees to come out and pollinate the trees, the outside temperature must be at least 55 degrees. If the temperature is 54 degrees or lower, they stay home in the hive, and the trees are not pollinated, and the growers feel the effects of a poor crop. We should have a great crop this year since the temperatures the past week have been in the 70s!

We typically think of bees and their nasty stingers. But, unless you are perceived as a threat to the bee or the hive, they’ll leave you alone. The stinger is used most often in defense of the hive. At times, an intruder bee will enter the wrong hive, only to be driven out, or stung to death. These little bees are very territorial. The sign reads: No Trespassing or You Die!

Let me conclude with this: Evolution not withstanding, how in the world did bees ever learn to do the amazing things they do? Does this not cry out that there is Someone behind all of this?

Next week I’ll take a look at birds.

Monday, February 06, 2006

Quaker Guns

Things are not always what they seem.

The Civil War is arguably the most fascinating era in our nation’s history. The art of warfare brings about some of the most creative of inventions.

Consider if you will, what became known as the “Quaker Gun.” Quakers, as is commonly known, are pacifists. During the Civil War, Quakers did not take sides. Instead, they emphasized their doctrine of non-violence. They remained a neutral force throughout the war, often providing medical care for combatants from both sides.

Early in the War Between the States (another term used for the Civil War), General Joe Johnston of the Confederate States of America (CSA), came up with what could only be described as a brilliant ruse. Johnston had 40,000 troops in the small northern Virginia town of Centreville. He used the Mount Gilead House for his headquarters. Built in the 1800s, it was originally used as a tavern. Knowing he would eventually be surrounded by Union forces and driven out, he decided to build several “forts” around the town. These forts, however, were made of earth, not wood. Union forces spying on the town from a distance could not clearly make out what was actually taking place, but it didn’t look good.

General George McClellan, commander of the Union forces, received reports that Centreville was heavily fortified. It was decided that an attack on the town would be too costly in loss of life for Union troops because of Johnston’s strong defenses. The Union scouts were awestruck by the fortifications – particularly the huge cannons set in place around the walled forts.

In the meantime General Joe and his forces were able to make good their escape from under the noses of Federal Troops strategically positioned in the defense of Washington, DC.

McClellan, not known for being particularly aggressive in engaging enemy forces, fell for the Confederate trick. When Union troops finally arrived in Centreville, they found the massive fortifications abandoned. General Joe and his merry men had moved elsewhere.

To the eternal embarrassment of McClellan and his forces, the fearful defenses that were set up in Centreville were merely armed with “Quaker Guns.” Johnston’s troops had felled large trees, skinning them of branches, and placing them along the walls of their fortifications to look like large cannons. It worked. This was not the only time in the war that southern forces made fake guns – some from tree trunks, and others out of cardboard.

You can’t blame the Union forces, though. Only eight months earlier they had been soundly beaten at the First Battle of Manassas, June 1861, or what the north called Bull Run for the stream that flows through the area. Manassas is not quite three miles from Centreville, so I can understand if the boys in blue assumed that the boys in gray had come up with more powerful weapons. Then, a few months later in August of 1862, Confederate forces once again defeated Union forces at the Second Battle of Manassas.

Not to be outdone, the captain of a Union ship on the Mississippi River created a fake warship using logs for cannons, causing enemy ships to believe they were seriously outgunned. Commander David Porter was promoted to the permanent rank of rear admiral – simply for employing a ruse which tricked the enemy into surrendering.

In more modern times during the Gulf War in 1991, though not intended to be used as a deceptive measure, a large Iraqi force came out of their bunkers to surrender to, of all things – a drone! These unmanned aircraft fly over enemy areas providing us with a real-time camera view of enemy fortifications and movement. These aircraft are also unarmed. The camera is monitored by a sailor located in the bowels of a Navy ship sitting off the coast of Kuwait. Imagine his surprise when he sees on his monitor screen Iraqi soldiers looking up at the camera of a passing drone with their hands held up indicating surrender. With coordinates quickly established helicopters were soon dispatched to round up these enemy combatants.

Tricks, fakery, ruses, and deception are part of the tactics of war. But make no mistake: Our men and women in uniform today are engaged in battling against an enemy that wants to see us all dead. Suicide bombers, IEDs, RPGs, and AK47s are not Quaker Guns.

Please continue to pray for our military and our leaders. With the delicate dance that is taking place on the world stage right now, we need to be united, and our leaders need Godly wisdom.

God bless America!