Marines.Together We Served

Monday, April 24, 2006

One Nation

This past weekend was the annual Asparagus Festival held in Stockton, California. As a member of the Stockton Marine Corps Club, I volunteered to help man the gates Sunday afternoon. Several of us sat in booths where we sold tickets to the general public.

One of the club members asked me if I was ever going to write about the illegal immigrant problem. I said I probably would, but I can’t say I was too excited about addressing something so emotionally charged and highly politicized as “Illegal Immigration.” It is, to use a phrase, something akin to the “third rail” in today’s lexicon of taboo topics.
A source that I have found to be quite informative and extremely knowledgeable is Victor Davis Hanson, “a Senior Fellow at the Hoover Institution, Stanford University, a Professor Emeritus at California University, Fresno, and a nationally syndicated columnist for Tribune Media Services. He was a full-time farmer before joining California State University, Fresno, in 1984 to initiate a classics program” (taken from his web site: Hanson is an old school Democrat, much like now retired Senator Zell Miller (D-GA). Hanson’s family goes back several generations as farmers in the San Joaquin Valley of California. He is only too aware of the problems faced by California and other states when it comes to the issue of illegal immigration. Read his current article on his web site, “France’s Immigration Problem – And Ours” April 23.

There are several premises that I would like to make in opening this topic. First, our country is built upon the rule of law. That is to say, we have laws in place to benefit all of society, regardless of where you came from. In the eyes of the rest of the world we are considered to be “law abiding people.” This makes folks comfortable when they visit our country. Case in point: traffic laws. Except for the occasional erratic driver who will most likely be seeing flashing lights in his rearview mirror, Americans are, by and large, safe drivers. Semi trucks stay in the far right lanes on the freeway. We use turn signals to let other drivers know of our intentions. But, travel to, say, the Dominican Republic as I did a few weeks ago, and you have entered your worst driving nightmare. If there are any traffic laws, they are totally unenforceable. There are only two other countries in the world where I have traveled that are worse: South Korea and the Philippines.

Because we are a nation of laws, the laws we have (admittedly, there are far too many) need to be enforced if the rule of law is going to mean anything. Otherwise, you invite anarchy. Laws, therefore, must be obeyed and enforced. To ignore the law is detrimental to the orderliness of any society, creating an atmosphere of distrust and angst. Coupled to that is the impression that the person who has circumvented the law is, in fact, being rewarded for breaking the law.

Depending on your sources, there are currently anywhere from seven to eleven million illegal immigrants in our country. Faced with this daunting reality, I see several very dicey issues. 1) Enforcing the law. Just how do you do that when you’re asking to round up (using the lower figure) seven million people scattered over fifty states. Though the focus of illegal immigrants is mostly on Mexico, estimates indicate only 70% are Mexican. That means practically one in three entering our country illegally is from somewhere else. 2) Logistics. How would you reasonably transfer this many people back to there countries of origin? 3) Cost. Who’s going to pay to have them returned to their countries? Do you want U.S. taxpayers (you) to pay for it? Do you think the receiving countries will pay for it? What do we do with a problem such as Castro emptying his prisons and shipping those prisoners to our shores? You think he’d take them back, let alone pay for it? 4) Births. Many illegal’s have had children and raised families. The U.S. has had an unwritten law that virtually guarantees any child born in the United States is automatically a citizen. So do we send those kids back too?

I’m all for enforcing our laws, but I believe the problem has become virtually unenforceable. I don’t have a good answer, short of Draconian measures. Just be sure to listen to the whole debate as it rages on. There is going to be a lot of grandstanding and politicking this election year. I’m just glad I’m not the one who has to make the decision.

Let me remind you that the Bible is clear that we are to pray for those in authority over us, and “to be subject to rulers and authorities, to be obedient, to be ready to do whatever is good, to slander no one, to be peaceable and considerate, and to show true humility toward all men” (Titus 1:1-2).

I will address this further next week, looking at what I believe is a more compelling problem facing our country. And what I believe to be the solution.

We remain “One Nation, Under God.”

Monday, April 17, 2006

The American Male

It’s difficult to imagine, but many Americans seem to have forgotten the horrors associated with the events of 9-11. Hollywood is reminding us.

A new movie, to be released April 28th, is “United 93,” the story about 9-11 in general, and the particulars of the fourth hijacked plane – United Airlines flight 93, departing Newark, New Jersey, scheduled to arrive in San Francisco about five hours later. We know they never got there. It ended up as rubble in the Pennsylvania countryside.

My initial reaction when hearing about a movie about Flight 93, was, “What spin is some Hollywood producer going to put on this event?”

I have not seen the movie as yet, but intend to do so once it’s out. Why? Because I have heard and read a number of very positive reviews. In fact, Rush Limbaugh attended a private screening and said there are parts in the movie where you want to stand up and cheer. That got my attention.

On one of the movie’s web sites, I read the official comments made by the director of the movie. He said, “The terrible dilemma those passengers faced is the same we have been struggling with ever since. Do we sit passively and hope this all turns out okay? Or do we fight back and strike at them before they strike at us? And what will be the consequences if we do?”

I thought, “Is the director correct? Are we faced with a ‘terrible dilemma’ should any one of us find ourselves in such a situation?” Well, yes, it would be a terrible choice, but not a difficult choice. I say that because either way you are going to die. That realization, once understood, makes the choice easier. I would rather die attempting to thwart the bad guys, than to simply sit in my seat until whatever end may occur. In point of fact, I would enjoy making it more difficult for the bad guys. There would be some satisfaction in that.

One of the callers to Rush’s show was a retired United Airlines pilot. He said he knew the flight crew of United 93. He and a female pilot on 93 were both reserve police officers and had shared many hours together flying the friendly skies. Not long after 9-11, this pilot said he was briefing a crew as to what to do should another such hijacking take place. He told the flight attendants that if they had any trouble with a passenger to simply announce over the public address system that a flight attendant was having problems with a passenger in Row X, Seat Y. And then get out of the way. One flight attendant asked, “Why get out of the way?” His answer? Because the American male is alive and well and every man on board will rush to your assistance.

I got to thinking about that because my own reaction after 9-11 is that never again would American men sit by and allow themselves or others to be mercilessly slaughtered without putting up a fight. Every time I board an airplane now I look all around me. I’ve always done this, but I’m much more aware now than ever before. I want to know my surroundings, the configuration of the airplane, where the exits are, and what sort of flight attendants are on board. I also look to see if there are other American males who would put up with any nonsense should we be confronted by bad guys.

Frequently I’m asked by family and friends how my flight was. My standard reply is, “Uneventful – just the way I like it.” May it ever be so.

But if the fools who think our nation is weak should try such tactics again, then they should prepare to be surprised. The “Let’s Roll” spirit of Todd Beamer from United 93 resides in the hearts of all Americans.

We will continue to bicker and fight amongst ourselves as Americans. But when threatened – we are no longer Democrat or Republican, no longer Liberal or Conservative, no longer White, Black, Hispanic, Asian, or some other ethnic group – for we are Americans all.

And we will defend each other and our beloved nation, whatever the cost.

Monday, April 10, 2006

You'd Better Be Right!

Recently I was visiting an elderly man who is suffering from a number of physical ailments and complications. Right away he let me know he did not believe in God, and then proceeded to ask me all the difficult questions about life that he’d managed to store up over a lifetime.

Mostly, I just listened to him. Attempting to answer all his questions would have been pointless because no answers I might have offered, regardless of how much sound reasoning I used, would be sufficient to change his mind. Finally I made this statement to him: “Sir, suppose you are correct in saying there is no God. Then when you die, you’ve lost nothing. But – if you are wrong – you’ve lost everything!”

Those of us who are of the Christian faith celebrate Easter this week – primarily focusing on Good Friday and Easter Sunday. This is significant because it concentrates on the singular event that sets Christianity apart from all other religions, and that is the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.

Now, if the death and resurrection of Jesus did not actually occur, then all of us who claim to be Christians are wasting our time, and would have to confess that we have been duped, deceived, and otherwise seriously misled. It’s an all or nothing gambit.

Several books have hit the stands recently suggesting alternatives to the stories of the historical Jesus. Most notably is author Dan Brown’s controversial book, “The Da Vinci Code.” In his book, Brown suggests several alterations to the historical record. Most notably is the idea that Jesus was married to Mary Magdalene. After his death, Mary escaped to Gaul (France) with their child, a girl named Sarah, who established a family line leading to the development of French royalty. Supposedly this line still exists, although secretly, and so the tale continues ad nauseam. Never mind that there is no basis of truth for this story – but in today’s culture of sensationalism, it sells. And what “might have happened” is often viewed as “what did happen.” Furthermore, there has emerged in today’s world a growing suspicion of anything that previously was considered sacrosanct. A Christian rebuttal to Brown’s book was written by Erwin Luther, called, “The Da Vinci Deception.” You might want to pick it up.

Then in the last few days we’ve been hit with the “Gospel of Judas.” The basic argument in this hyperbolic bit of second century writing by one of the many Gnostic creators of fiction for the day, is that “Jesus wanted Judas to betray him so his body would die and his soul would be liberated.” Huh? You see, in postmodern thinking, you can challenge with impunity the tenets of anyone’s faith, even if the basis for the attack is without substance or credibility.

In more recent years there has been the “Jesus Seminar,” where a group of supposedly learned men ask the question of the New Testament, “What did Jesus really say?” Then, using the backdrop of modern theology and a bias against the eye-witnesses who recorded the Gospel records, they proceed to postulate what Jesus said and didn’t say. It’s all very politically correct and rings well with today’s post-Christian thinking. It’s also very bad research, not to mention being theologically incorrect to the extreme.

Let me get back to my discussion with the man at the beginning of the article. He confessed to me that he’s afraid to die. He should be. When it comes to God, and who he is, and how he has presented himself to the world, you’d better not be wrong. Author Dan Brown and his ilk will one day have to give an account before that same God. An account having to do with their blasphemous drivel about Jesus Christ, God’s Son, and our Savior.

The death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, the Jesus of the Bible, the real Jesus, is one of the best documented facts in all of history. This is why Christians celebrate. Others will come along and attempt to discredit this event. But unless they can irrevocably prove Jesus is dead, and rebut the eye-witness account of the disciples, the record stands. It’s not a matter of the Christian religion being better than other religions. It has to do with the physical resurrection of Jesus Christ. That is the cornerstone of what we believe.

Happy Easter! He is risen!

Monday, April 03, 2006

Adios Santo Domingo

Our time in the Dominican Republic is quickly drawing to a close. It has been the most adventuresome of the four mission’s trips our church has engaged in since beginning this outreach in 2002.

Last Saturday night, the church we came to paint as one of our designated projects, held a service. Pastor Adolfo Perez of the Redwood City Communidad Christiana La Puerta de Abierta (Christian Community of the Open Door), a Free Methodist Church, was asked to preach. He and his wife, Maria, both from Baja California, Mexico, are members of our mission team. Their fluency in Spanish has been most valuable! Pastor Adolfo is a very animated and fiery preacher. It was quite an evening.

The next day I was asked to preach in the traditional Sunday service. I chose a passage from Matthew 19 where Jesus had an encounter with the Rich Young Ruler. Pastor Eduardo Paulino of our San Francisco Free Methodist Church was my translator since my ability to converse in Spanish is limited to greetings and asking where the “facilities” are located. Pastor Ed is originally from the Dominican Republic and had accompanied us on our mission’s trip to Peru last year. He does a great job of translating so it made my job easier in preaching to these folks there in the heart of Santo Domingo (abbreviated Sto Dgo), the capital.

On Monday the nine men on our team headed for the hills. Pastor Ed was taking us into the mountains northwest of Santo Domingo. The drive took several hours, partly on paved roads, and the rest on dirt and mud. We found ourselves being drenched by a continuous rainstorm that stayed for several days, making our travel on muddy uphill roads very challenging. We spent the next few days helping build a retreat center. On our first mission’s trip four years ago, we traveled to Ethiopia. One of the places we visited was a town called Arbegona which our team decided was at the end of the world. Well, in the Dominican we found the next closest town to the end of the world. Only there was no town – just this acreage on a mountain where Pastor Ed had a vision for a retreat site for families and ministers.

This retreat site is in rugged country with little having been done to the land because Pastor Ed and his family are the ones doing all the work when they can. We didn’t get to the camp until just about dinner time, so we ate traditional Dominican food prepared by the secretary of one of the churches. This was all done over open fires with big pots. We wolfed it down!

The next day we started in on several projects before breakfast was even served. Several of the men took rolls of barbed wire to finish erecting the last of the fencing along the property line. Why did we need barbed wire fencing when we were so far removed from any human population? Cows. The government owns cows that freely graze in the mountains and were a constant nuisance, nibbling off the vegetable plants that Pastor Ed was trying to grow.

Another project was to build an outhouse. The frame was there along with a wooden floor. Jake Bakke was assigned to complete this much needed facility. He labored for two days getting all the wooden siding up and a roof on top. A sheet of canvas served as the door. A porcelain toilet was precariously placed over a hole in the floor. It was comical because there is no such thing as running water and probably won’t be until the next century, if then. We all celebrated the completion of the outside john and dubbed it “Jacob’s John.” In particular the ladies were thrilled because they could bath in there using collected rain water instead of walking to the creek which was a fair distance away from the camp. This made Jake very popular with the fairer sex!

The main building was the center of attention for most of the workers. Siding on the frame, and the installation of windows was the order of the day. This was nothing more than hammer and nails work for hour after hour. The men attacked it with a vengeance, accomplishing far more than was expected in the amount of time we had.

As our time on this island came to an end, an island where Columbus first set foot on December 5, 1492, we were gratified to have accomplished several projects. But more importantly, we met some of the most gracious people on earth, who had little enough of their own, but freely shared with their American brothers and sisters in Christ.

In a closing service on our last night I shared with our Dominican friends these words: “We may never meet again in this life. But this much I know – we’ll meet again around the throne of God in heaven.”

Revelation 7:9, “After this I looked and there before me was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, tribe, people and language, standing before the throne and in front of the Lamb (Jesus).”