Marines.Together We Served

Monday, October 30, 2006

Voters Guide

No, I am not going to tell you who or what to vote for. Nor am I going to suggest you affiliate with a specific political party. But I got to thinking about the way I personally go about voting. Why do I vote the way I do? Is there a method in my madness, or is it more random selection?

With the enormous amount of campaign material we are bombarded with in the final weeks leading up to the election, I thought I might jot down the process I take in determining who and what gets my vote.

The list of reasons for how I vote is in no particular order.
First – I ignore all the hysteria in the media during the final three to six months prior to Election Day. Candidates of all stripes entirely lose touch with reality in their frantic efforts to come out on top. Things are said, implied, inferred, and otherwise spoken in libelous terms that once would have produced a demand for satisfaction – that is to say, the insulted person would call for a duel with the offender, either with pistols or swords, thereby “satisfying” their honor. All this is done in a most dignified and gentlemanly manner, don’t you know! Had one or both parties been more civil with each other beforehand, they most likely wouldn’t have found themselves in the present predicament where injury and death most surely awaited. Ah, but those were in bygone days. Today we’re too sophisticated for such crude behavior. Instead, words are used to inflict the greatest amount of harm with no concern for the consequences, or fear of reprisal.

Second – Any proposition, or the like, that will increase taxes is an automatic “No.” For me to change my mind on any tax increase would literally take an act of Congress. I have observed enormous mismanagement of taxpayer monies for too many years to now believe that an increase in taxes is going to help pre-existing problems. Many of the propositions are intended to throw money at society’s ills in the hopes that it will somehow fix the problem. It doesn’t.

Third – Character does matter. Therefore, I look carefully at a candidate. The first item of concern is the candidate’s world view. Do they realize the enormity of the struggle we find ourselves in against people who, quite simply, want us dead? This speaks to the need for an aggressive approach to national security. Another item of extreme importance to me is the candidate’s view of life. What value does life have? If the candidate does not recognize that life is a gift from God and is in fact sacred, they will certainly not get my vote.

Fourth – I want to know how a candidate handles pressure. This is not always so easy to determine, but when they are confronted on the issues, or are in a debate format, you can see if they are able to stand up under the pressures of that moment. Do they stick to the issues, or lapse into personal mischaracterizations of their opponent? They may one day run for the highest office of the land. I want a person who is cool under pressure.

Fifth – My values are important to me. Therefore, I am looking for someone who closely reflects those values. This is why party affiliation and voting a straight ticket (checking the box for everyone in your party) is common practice. You know the values that are generally held within that party, so you trust that those running for office will uphold those values.

Sixth – It is important to know where a candidate stands on the issues. This, my friends, is particularly important in the election of justices to the lower courts. For instance, we who live out west have paid too little attention to judges being voted in by “We the People” simply because we didn’t want to be bothered with finding out who these black-cloaked justices are. Once voted in they may eventually find themselves appointed to the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals. This court has made a practice of making very bad laws. The fact of the matter is they are there to interpret laws. So find out if the judge has an axe to grind, or whether they desire to serve the people in order to interpret the law of the land.

Seventh – Is the candidate a servant? Do they have a servant’s heart? Or are they more interested in advancing their own agenda? Way too many elected officials are self-serving and don’t mind if we know it. In the early days of our country a person served as an elected representative of the people only after they had already established themselves financially in business or commerce. They would serve in government for a pittance because they could afford to serve without relying on taxpayers to support them. Unlike today, politics was not a career choice.

Eighth – Where does the candidate stand with regard to our military? Having spent thirty-two years in the military, including two wars (Vietnam and Iraq), I’m mightily interested in the support I, and my fellow service members, can expect from the candidate should they be elected. We in the military had the rug pulled out from under us in Vietnam. I have no interest in seeing that repeated now, or anytime in the future. The candidate need not have served in the military themselves, but they’d better be prepared to take care of those who keep the wolf from the door.

I could expand on all of these points, but you get the idea. Tonight my wife and I completed our ballots. It’s always an exhilarating moment for me. Placing that Absentee Ballot in the mailbox is a reminder to me that I have just participated in one of the greatest testaments of freedom known to man. I wouldn’t miss it for the world!

Go vote! It’s the right thing to do.

Monday, October 23, 2006

Pass the Ammunition

The phrase, “Praise the Lord and Pass the Ammunition,” has been around a long time.

A few months ago I wrote about the “Quaker Guns” which were tree trunks cut down to look like real cannons and used as a ruse during the Civil War, mostly by Confederate forces, in an attempt to convince the Union forces that the southern boys were better equipped than they actually were.

Recently, while reading a book “Civil War Trivia and Facts,” I ran across a bit of information about Confederate Brigadier-General William Nelson Pendleton. It seems the general was quite the character, and a favorite of General Robert E. Lee. Prior to the “War of Northern Aggression,” as the southerners refer to the Civil War, General Pendleton was the Right Reverend William N. Pendleton, rector of Grace Episcopal Church in Richmond, Virginia; a position he held from 1853 until his death thirty years later. When the war broke out in 1861, Rev. Pendleton asked for a leave of absence from his church so as to serve in the Southern Cause.

Pendleton began his military career as a cadet at the United States Military Academy at West Point. During his years as a cadet he became friends with fellow students Robert E. Lee and Jefferson Davis. Upon his graduation from the Academy, the newly appointed 2nd Lieutenant was assigned to the 2d Regiment of Artillery, Augusta, Georgia. He was to become what is called in the military today, a “Cannon Cocker.” This is anyone who is a Marine or soldier serving in the artillery; or in the Navy – a gunner’s mate.

After serving for three years in the Army, Pendleton left to pursue his vocation as an educator and minister in the Episcopal Church. In 1839 the church formed a new school of 35 students. Pendleton was appointed as the first principal of “The High School,” the name still used for Episcopal High School in Alexandria because it was the first high school established in Virginia. To this day, the school still holds to its Honor Code: “I will not lie. I will not cheat. I will not steal. I will report the student who does.” Imagine that – an honor code!

War is rarely associated with things humorous. But the good minister obviously had a lighter side. When he was first appointed to serve as the commander of the Rockbridge Artillery under General Joseph E. Johnston, he named the four guns in his battery after the Four Apostles: Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. It is said that each of the Four Apostles roared so effectively in battle that Parson Pendleton, so named by his troops, was both promoted to colonel and appointed Chief of Artillery for Lee. When the Parson wasn’t firing his cannons, he was preaching from the Bible to his troops.

In the Battle of Bull Run (or First Manassas), it was reported that Reverend Pendleton stood behind his loaded cannons, raised a hand as though offering a blessing and said, "May the Lord have mercy on their misguided souls--fire!!"

His only son, Col. "Sandie" Pendleton, was a member of Stonewall Jackson's staff, and fell mortally wounded at the battle of Winchester, in September, 1864.

The Four Apostles were later captured by Federal forces at the fall of Richmond. After the war they were returned to the Virginia Military Institute (VMI) where they are kept today.

Pendleton served from First Manassas (July 1861) to Appomattox (April 1865) and was Chief of Artillery of the Army of Northern Virginia (ANV) for much of the time. Late in the war he would be in command of the reserve ordnance.

At the end of hostilities, Pendleton was selected to assist in formalizing the conditions for surrender to General Grant at Appomattox Courthouse.

Pendleton was devoted to General Robert E. Lee. In a letter to Pendleton in 1864, Lee writes in closing, “I appreciate in the fullest manner your feelings of friendship which has always been to me a source of pleasure and am deeply obliged to you for your fervent pious prayers in my behalf – no one stands in greater need of them. My feeble petitions I dare hardly hope will be answered. Very Truly Yours, R E Lee.” After the war Pendleton resumed his duties as rector at Grace Church, where General Lee was a vestryman, a position dealing with handling the daily affairs of the church. During this time the reverend worked tirelessly to raise money for a Robert E. Lee monument. The relationship of the two men was clearly one of mutual respect and admiration.

I was further intrigued by the fact that, during the time he served with the Confederacy, Reverend Pendleton had to deal with the issue of his tenure at Grace Episcopal Church. Some people in his church complained about his being gone to war instead of staying home to care for the congregation. Even today with ministers serving as chaplains in our Armed Forces, some congregations are not willing to wait for their pastors to return from war. I know of many who simply resigned because they felt the church needed to move on with another shepherd. I have been more fortunate than some of my colleagues. My congregation chose to wait the two years for me to come home.

It has been my privilege to know a number of chaplains who once served as infantry officers, artillery officers, line officers, tank commanders, pilots, or as enlisted men. But all were willing to serve, and go into harms way in defense of our country.

I once served four years with a Marine artillery battalion as their chaplain. Unlike Reverend/General Pendleton, I never named any of our cannons (155 Howitzers) after the Four Apostles, but I did preach to them from the Gospel books of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John!

We continue to be at war today. Please pray for those who faithfully serve us in the military.

Monday, October 16, 2006

Election Year Malaise

Every couple of years we Americans have the opportunity to decide who we want to serve as our elected representatives. Seems like we barely get past one election before the next one is upon us.

The phone at our home is ringing every day with some candidate’s office telling us how terrible his/her opponent is. We decided a couple of years ago to set up our home phone to work on “Caller ID.” This way we listen to who is calling, thus effectively screening our calls. When I arrived home a short time ago, we had two phone messages from political action groups soliciting our support. As I write this article, several more such calls have come in. I guess these personal attacks must work with a lot of people because we keep getting them every two years. I certainly have my beliefs, strongly held and forged over a life-time, but I do not believe that those who are of a differing view are evil or wish to enslave my progeny. We just happen to see things differently. In today’s world, agreeing to disagree is no longer the norm. “Why, if you don’t side with me, then you’re the devil incarnate! You are my enemy!” Or so the prevailing attitude seems to be. This was not what the founding fathers had in mind.

I fully understand the weariness you feel after listening to politicians and pundits run around during the election year like Chicken Little, decrying the ills of our society and predicting the demise of the nation if we don’t vote for them. I, for one, happen to believe the American people are a lot more savvy on the issues than our media and elected officials think.

In September, Isaura and I attended The Washington Briefing: 2006 Values Voter Summit, held in Washington DC. It was a new experience for both of us. It began with a Pastors’ Prayer Breakfast (to include spouses) hosted by Dr. Jerry Falwell. One comment he made that I took note of was this: “There is a deafening silence from America’s pulpits today when it comes to addressing the issues that affect us all.” Through organizations like the ACLU, pastors have been bullied into believing their church would lose its non-profit status if preachers spoke out on the issues. This is patently false. Preachers must, and should, speak out against anything that is a violation of biblical truth. We have an obligation to do so. What we could find to be troublesome is siding with a preferred candidate or political party.

The Family Research Council has published a number of booklets which are well done and address many concerns we face today. There is “Publicly Honoring God,” a short treatise by Justice Antonin Scalia on the Ten Commandments. Another is entitled, “Why You Should Be Involved,” a biblical case for social and political involvement. And lastly, “Judicial Activism and the Threat to the Constitution.”

Why do I trouble myself with voting? Several reasons. First, it is a right that is given to every American citizen – a right that was bought with the blood of patriots. At the very least, I owe those who paid that price. Second, I want to have a say in who serves as my representatives in the local, state and federal governments. They most likely will never know who I am, but I need to know who they are. You see, I believe character does matter! Third, I vote because I want my values and beliefs carried to the highest levels of government. I vote for those men and women who share those values and beliefs. And if they don’t, then I will try to steer them in that direction. Fourth, as a Christian, I believe it is my obligation to support my government, constantly praying for those in public office. Where government is doing the right thing for “We the People,” I will applaud and encourage them. When they make poor laws and decisions, I will call them on it. If they will not hear my voice, then I and others will peacefully vote them out through the ballot box. That’s the power of one!

In two weeks I trust you will either be going to the polls or mailing in your absentee ballot. Don’t become weary of the political process. Despite the harping of nay-sayers, you do make a difference. Look back on recent elections. In 2000, the number of votes that caused New Mexico to swing to one presidential candidate over the other would not be enough to populate a small American town.

To borrow a passage from the Apostle Paul, “Let us not become weary in doing good.”

Make a difference: Vote.

Monday, October 09, 2006

Great Hymns Redux

Since I wrote a previous article last month on the Great Hymns of the Faith, I thought I’d bring you up to date on the hymns I’ve covered since then. Several responded to the original article requesting I write about all of the hymns.

Of the eight hymns I selected for this preaching series, I have preached five and am working on the last three. The reason I enjoy these hymns so much is that there is an inspirational story behind each one which adds real-life dimensions to the song. I cannot help but think of the story when I sing these hymns. The first three were “It is Well With My Soul,” “Amazing Grace,” and the “Battle Hymn of the Republic.”

Since the end of September I have preached on “All the Way My Savior Leads Me,” and “How Great Thou Art.”

Frances Jane Crosby, known as Fanny Crosby, wrote more than nine thousand hymns. You read that correctly: 9000 hymns. That is in itself an amazing accomplishment, but you have to take into consideration that she was blind as well. She was born in 1820 and at six weeks of age lost her eyesight at the hands of an inept doctor. She lived for 95 years and there is not one mention in any biography I could find where she ever complained about her handicap. In fact, she felt that if she had been given her sight she might have never learned to praise God for who he is.

One time a preacher sympathetically remarked, “I think it is a great pity that the Master did not give you sight when he showered so many gifts upon you.” She replied quickly, “Do you know that if at birth I had been able to make one petition, it would have been that I should be born blind?” “Why?” asked the surprised clergyman. “Because when I get to heaven, the first face that shall ever gladden my sight will be that of my Savior.”

For one who lived her life shut out of the light in this world, she, of any, could truly write the inspiring words to a hymn, “All the Way My Savior Leads Me.” She understood that the Christian life is a walk of faith, not sight. It is trusting in the Lord, and not in your own abilities. She started as a student in the New York Institution for the Blind, later becoming a teacher. She worked all of her life helping the poor and displaced.

The first verse of this great hymn is more a testimony of God’s promise to lead and protect. “All the way my Savior leads me – what have I to ask beside? Can I doubt His tender mercy, Who through life has been my guide? Heavenly peace, divinest comfort, here by faith in Him to dwell! For I know, whate’er befall me, Jesus doeth all things well.”

This past Sunday I was preaching on “How Great Thou Art,” a hymn written in 1885 by Carl Gustaf Boberg, a Swedish pastor. After a church service, he was walking the two miles back to his home when a violent storm rolled in, creating a torrential downpour. From where he sought shelter he could look out on the waters of the Baltic Sea as it churned and foamed. But as quickly as the storm had blown in, it became calm. He was awed by the power of the storm; but was just as awed by the quietness that followed, once again hearing the birds singing sweetly in the trees, and noticing the calm, glass-like appearance of the waters. His heart was overwhelmed by the awesomeness of God. He quickly put pen to paper with the result being the song which would become the signature song for the Billy Graham Crusades throughout the 1950s. It is ranked as the number two hymn of all time: Number one being “Amazing Grace.”

The last three hymns in this series are, “Majesty,” “Take My Life and Let It Be,” and “A Mighty Fortress.” Pastor Jack Hayford, a prolific hymn writer, wrote the hymn, “Majesty,” while he and his wife were on vacation in England in 1977. It was the same year for the 25th anniversary of the coronation of Queen Elizabeth. There were lots of decorations with symbols of royalty everywhere. Pastor Hayford said, “I began to sense the influence one might feel if raised as a child in such regal settings. One day as Anna and I drove along together, all at once the opening lyrics and melody of ‘Majesty’ simply came to my heart.”

Francis Ridley Havergal was in poor health from birth. However, a more dedicated Christian you could hardly find. Though she died at age 44 in 1879, she had served the Lord wonderfully all those years. She learned that the Lord could use her even through her weakened body. Many of the hymns that she wrote came out of a life of prayer where she simply asked the Lord to use her. Thus, the first verse of the hymn: “Take my life, and let it be consecrated, Lord, to Thee. Take my moments and my days; let them flow in ceaseless praise. Take my hands, and let them move at the impulse of Thy love. Take my feet, and let them be swift and beautiful for Thee.” That, friends, is right praying!

The Reformer, Martin Luther, wrote the hymn, “A Mighty Fortress is Our God,” around 1527. Europe in those days was made up of city-states. Instead of countries with boundaries, cities were the center of life and activity. Each city had a ruler, or king with a standing army prepared to protect their territory. Martin Luther had incurred the wrath of the Catholic Church, so relied on the protection of city-state rulers who supported his protests against the church in Rome. He eventually realized his protection was not behind man-made walls, but in the hands of God. Thus, he used the analogy of God as a “mighty fortress.”

The testimony of these hymn writers speaks of a relationship with God that any one of us would welcome. So, let me ask you: How do you see God? Is he awesome and powerful? Or is he merely an occasional interest once a week? Ask him to reveal himself to you. Prepare to be amazed!

Monday, October 02, 2006

USO Show

The year was 1987. I was the command chaplain for the USS White Plains, a supply ship home ported in Guam.

As a supply ship, our mission was to be a sort of “floating grocery store,” if you will. We carried everything from aviation fuel to ice cream. We would rendezvous with our war ships at sea to deliver the goods so they could avoid the time and expense of having to always pull into the nearest port to resupply.

There we were sailing into a tiny island atoll in the middle of the Indian Ocean called Diego Garcia, or D-Gar for short. It was the morning of December 24. We looked forward to a brief respite on this mini-island before sailing to the African continent. What we didn’t know was that the USO was also at D-Gar. That evening in one of the warehouses on the pier next to our chip, Bob Hope and a cast of stars and entertainers put on a show for us! Mr. Hope was well into his 80s yet continued to perform as he always had, telling jokes and bantering with the audience. We loved him for all this, but more so because he loved us. One other highlight of that Christmas Eve performance was when Lee Greenwood sang, “God Bless the U.S.A.” Now that was a moment to remember!

The USO, an acronym for United Service Organization, was started in 1941 to provide a bit of home and comfort for our troops. World War II veterans will remember the USO tents set up serving free coffee and doughnuts. Entertainment quickly became a staple of the USO enlisting the services of no less a celebrity than Bob Hope. For those of us who have served in our nations wars since WWII it is a source of pride to say you attended one of Bob Hope’s USO shows.

I also met the man who would succeed Bob Hope as the personality associated with the USO. Earlier in 1987 another USO group was brought to our ship somewhere in the China Sea. This band of entertainers, led by Wayne Newton, spent a few days with us, giving us a wonderful program on the helo deck, what we euphemistically refer to as “Steel Beach.”

Fast forward to 2003. I find myself in Kuwait. Who shows up at Camp Commando where I am? The USO show with Wayne Newton and an amazing array of entertainers, among which were sports figures, the Dallas Cowboy cheerleaders, rock stars, comedians, etc. My brother, John, had been a board member for the USO for a number of years. The President of the USO, Ned Powell, knew I was in theater so encouraged my brother to make the trip. What a surprise that was to see my brother walk into my tent! We had a great time, and I enjoyed meeting many of the troupe that came along for this show, including getting reacquainted with Wayne Newton. He is a warm and gracious gentleman. When I mentioned having met him sixteen years earlier he told me how he had been thrown out of his bunk on the USS White Plains when we encountered some rough seas one night.

Later in 2003 I was serving as command chaplain for our base in Djibouti, Africa. Word came that the USO troupe was coming. I think every person on the base that could be spared attended that open-air show! I located Ned Powell to say hi and thank him and the USO for bringing such a welcomed gift to our men and women in uniform. We promised to connect later back in the States.

This past Thursday night was our reunion of sorts. Earlier in the year I had received an invitation to offer the invocation for the USO World Gala, a dinner in honor of the USO’s 65 years of serving our military. I can tell you it was a great privilege to offer a prayer for the USO and to do so before so august an assembly of dignitaries and luminaries there in Washington D.C. There were members of congress, athletes, entertainers (Sinbad was fabulous!), the highest ranking officers in our military and hundreds of folks who love and support our military. This was a formal black tie affair, or for those of us in the military we wore our mess dress uniforms. We even had a video from President Bush congratulating the USO for their many years of faithful service. But all this paled when compared to the tributes made to five honorees. A service member from each branch of the military was brought up on stage to be recognized for their service. They walked a line of senior military members, including the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Marine General Peter Pace, to receive personal congratulations for their heroics. Their stories were read, specifically detailing their acts of bravery. We all sat in awe as these young people received much deserved thanks.

Let me tell you of three of the honorees. The honoree from the Army was a woman. While on patrol in Iraq, she and her soldiers were ambushed by insurgents. Outnumbered 5 to 1, she took charge, directing return fire. But that wasn’t all. She then organized her troops and attacked the enemy, routing them from their hiding places, thus eliminating the threat.

The honoree from the Coast Guard was recognized for his participation during Hurricane Katrina. This man personally rescued 181 people from the flood waters. One lady was entangled by a hose and was being pulled under water. This petty officer dove into the toxic waters to free her from certain drowning.

You need to know about the Navy corpsman. Traveling in a Humvee, he and a couple of Marines were hit with and IED. His leg was seriously injured. After tying a tourniquet on his leg, he dragged himself to his wounded Marines where he tended to their wounds, saving their lives. His own wounds were so severe that he would later lose his leg.

So, remember these who were honored for their service. And if you’d like to help our military, make a generous contribution to the USO.

After all, the USO knows how to put on quite a show!