Marines.Together We Served

Monday, September 24, 2007

Leaders Who Lead

I’ve lived long enough now to have observed a phenomenon that puzzles me, while also bringing a sardonic smile to my face.

What might that be, you ask? It is the ability of our nation to praise and criticize our presidents and our military leaders. It is understood that when a person assumes a position of leadership, criticism is part of the package. You live with it. But does it have to slide to such depths of incivility?

Here’s the strange part of this oddity. Americans love a winner! Hurray for us! But once that winner has won, and the cheers and tributes of praise have died down, get ready, because the critics are already sharpening their pencils and tongues. The barbs of the malcontents are soon to embed themselves in the conscience of the American people.

For those of you who are history buffs, let me ask you: Has there ever been a president, along with his military leaders, that has not been roundly criticized during a time of war? Even if you are not an American History aficionado, you can probably assume the correct answer: NO!

Let’s consider our first president, George Washington. He was the subject of enormous criticism, first for the manner in which he managed the newly formed Continental Army. Americans at that time were generally against having a standing army due to the prior abuses of the British Army toward the colonists. He was later criticized in his role as our first president as weak in his leadership skills.

Abraham Lincoln, our sixteenth president, was no stranger to criticism. His handling of the Civil War was daily fare in the newspapers and in the halls of Congress. The commander of the Army of the Potomac, George McClellan, and his successor, Ulysses S. Grant, were both pilloried throughout the War and beyond.

Franklin D. Roosevelt, our thirty-second president, was abused from all quarters, as was his top general, Dwight D. Eisenhower. The Normandy Invasion and its devastating losses to American and Allied forces was almost the end of Eisenhower’s career in the Army, let alone, any future political aspirations he might have had.

Our current president, George W. Bush, has been labeled and vilified in the most egregious manner imaginable. He’s lampooned as stupid, a warmonger, a terrorist, a cowboy, "in it for the oil," worse than Saddam, equal to Hitler, ad nausea. General Tommy Franks, who led the successful Iraq invasion in 2003, has had to deal with his share of criticism for "failing to plan sufficiently for the postwar phase." Most recently, General David Petraeus, commander of the Multi-National Forces responsible for the current surge in Iraq, has been horrifically criticized and mischaracterized by the same people who unanimously approved of his appointment to lead our forces. Leading up to the recent Congressional hearings, he was already being criticized for his report before it was even given. He’s a puppet for the Bush administration, was a common lament. Or, General Petraeus had to have his report edited by the White House before he ascended to Capital Hill. But the most disgusting portrayal of this honorable man was the ad by the far-left,, in the New York Times. In the full page ad, just below a picture of the general, in bold letters, it reads: “General Petraeus or General Betray Us? Cooking the books for the White House.”

Let me be clear on this. You do not have to like General Petraeus. You don’t have to like the military or what it represents. You don’t have to agree with the general’s evaluation of the war situation in Iraq. But you have clearly gone over the top when you question this man’s patriotism and loyalty. I do not know the general personally, but I have spent thirty-three years out of the past forty in the military. I’ve seen a lot of leaders. Most are very capable and good at what they do. A relative few aren’t worth a plugged nickel. Then there are those who are simply outstanding.

Four-star generals like General Petraeus do not obtain promotion because they sat on the softest part of their anatomy; or paraded themselves around Washington DC as a sycophant, or jingoist, or propagandist. They are men who know how to lead from the front. They are men who know only too well the horrors of war. They are men who would be willing to take a bullet for you, and consider it their duty to do so. These are men who uphold the virtue and values of the "Home of the Free and the Land of the Brave." These are men who are the defenders of our freedoms. These are men who are deserving of our eternal admiration and respect.

After the critics fade from the spotlight, these are men who will have served us well. And they will consider it a privilege and an honor to have done so.

May God continue to bless our nation with such leaders.

Monday, September 17, 2007

Do It Anyway

Recently, the news has had a field day with an upcoming book chronicling the spiritual journey and struggles of none other than Mother Teresa. This diminutive nun was born Agnes Gonxha Bojaxhiu on August 27, 1910 in Skopje, Macedonia (the former Yugoslavia).

The book, Mother Teresa: Come Be My Light, was just released in early September. The book reveals the private thoughts and correspondences that this woman of God had for more than sixty years sharing her “dark night of the soul” with her confessors and superiors. This selfless servant felt called of God to reach out to the least valued and loved in the world. That place was Calcutta, India, a city of nearly five million people. In 2001 the city name, Calcutta, was officially changed to the native pronunciation, Kolkata. It was in this weary, war-torn environment that Mother Teresa pitched her tent in service to God and man.

It is easy to point a critical finger at someone who has struggled with their faith. There is not one single person of faith who, in serving God, has not experienced times of doubt, uncertainty, questioning, and lack of belief. In Christian theology, we believe the world is in a real mess primarily due to sin. As a result, the human race is, tragically, on a collision course with self-destruction. There will be, as the Bible predicts, wars and rumors of wars as this planet we call home careens toward it’s eventual end.

Into the midst of the world’s insanity, God has chosen certain people who are unconditionally committed to him to step into certain environments to serve him by serving others. This is a basic principle of the Christian faith. When Jesus was asked (Matthew 22:34-40) by the religious leaders of his day which was the greatest of the commandments, he said, “To love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.” (See: The Shema, Deuteronomy 6:4) Then he followed that up with this comparison, “There is another just like it: Love your neighbor as yourself.” (See: Leviticus 19:18). When Mother Teresa was still a young woman she knew God had called her to love those who are considered the dregs of Indian society, the outcasts that no one wanted around, but no one had a solution as to how to take care of these people who populated the streets of Calcutta.

In the late 1940s Mother Teresa knew the Lord was directing her to bring a loving, caring touch to the disenfranchised people of the city’s most poverty-stricken bergs. They are the lepers of today. No one dared touch them. They are diseased, sick with all sorts of maladies and infirmities, filthy from living on the streets, and abandoned by families simply to die in the midst of squalor. Most of us could not stand such an environment for more than an hour. Mother Teresa spent her entire adult life there helping people die with dignity.

So, let me ask you: If you knew God had called you to spend your entire life serving this refuse of society, do you think there might be times when you’ve had quite enough of bathing the festering wounds of people who could not care for themselves? Is it not possible that while holding in your arms one more emaciated, abandoned baby that you and everyone else knows will die in a matter of hours or days, it might just be more than you can take? Or is it understandable that you might just question man’s inhumanity when there are so many in the world who have so much and these unfortunates have nothing?

Mother Teresa was no Pollyanna! She dealt with the realities of life that you and I not only wouldn’t touch, but we would be more like Jonah, who when called by God to preach to “the great city of Nineveh,” ran the other way. Not me. Lord! You got the wrong guy!

I am just completing a sermon series on I Corinthians. This past Sunday I was in chapter 15, which is called the Great Resurrection Chapter of the Bible. The concluding verse says, “Therefore, my dear brothers, stand firm. Let nothing move you. Always give yourselves fully to the work of the Lord, because you know that your labor in the Lord is not in vain.”

The special music for Sunday, sung by two of our ladies, was a song written by recording artist, Martina McBride. It’s called, Anyway. I believe the chorus of the song would make Mother Teresa smile.

God is great, but sometimes life ain’t good,
When I pray it doesn’t always turn out like I think it should,
But do it anyway,
I do it anyway.

Monday, September 10, 2007

Golf: The Siren's Song

Golf is so seductive. It promises so much. Yet, even if you play a good round, you feel used somehow.

Just like the Greek hero, Odysseus, who sailed past the Siren sisters’ alluring songs by having himself tied securely to the main mast of his ship, while also stopping the ears of his men so they could row safely past. Otherwise, they would meet the fate of so many other sailing ships that ran up on the rocks and shoals of the island where the Siren sisters lived. Golf is like that.

It all began when I was about ten years old. Ben Hogan was then at the top of his game. My step father loved golf, so he thought I should learn how to play the game. His own infatuation with the game began to develop about the time Bobby Jones won the Grand Slam in 1930. My brother, John, is an avid golfer. I’ve even heard him refer to himself as a “golf junkie.” That’s the effect this game has on you.

Though introduced to golf at a young age, I never figured to play, if for no other reason than golfers are the worst dressed people on the planet. Plaid trousers! Are you serious? Golfers wear clothes on a golf course they wouldn’t be caught dead wearing anywhere else. But once you try this game, your fate is sealed. You’re doomed.

A couple of years ago I had my game working pretty well. That spring I was beginning to feel like it was all coming together. However, I made one fatal error. I began to think (O, the shame of it all!) that this game was pretty easy. You are lulled into this manner of thinking simply because you have enjoyed the recent experience of a couple of good rounds. You allow yourself to believe that you can actually play like this all the time. You then start to think you could play even better than that if you got out to play more often. Who knows, if I could get my scores down low enough I might establish a handicap that would give me a shot at playing on the Seniors Tour! The Siren song began.

It’s about this time when the bottom drops out. Each year for the last number of summers, my wife and I have joined other family members for vacation in Maine. At these times John and I are on a mission to play as much golf as possible. Pat, a golfing buddy of John’s, vacations in Belgrade Lakes, Maine each summer. So the Roots brothers join Pat for a couple of rounds at the Belgrade Lakes Golf Course, one of the most spectacularly beautiful golf courses in the world. Only this time I was ready to play “lights out” golf! “Bring it on!” I said.

It’s important to remember that wisdom and golf are not normally used in the same sentence. Whatever game I thought I had working for me, up and left me. When swinging my club, I looked more like a Neanderthal beating his dinner to death, instead of the graceful, fluid, finely-honed sweep of a precisioned golf swing. It was painful for my brother and Pat to watch me. It was even more painful for me to watch me. As fellow sufferers, they patiently waited for me while I hacked my way around the golf course. I, in turn, had the look of the proverbial “deer in the headlights.” Then the self-talk began. “What happened to your game, Chuck? You’ve been playing so well! You’re embarrassing yourself out here! You look like a person who has never even played the game before!” My score was worse than a disaster. Shooting par for the round is 72. I normally shoot in the low 90s. On this day I shot a 133. John and Pat tried cheering me up. “You’ll be back on your game tomorrow,” they said. “You’ve got this bad round out of your system.” I desperately wanted to believe them. I almost convinced myself that I would have a much better outing the next day. Right! The next day I played even worse. I shot a 134!

Now, the Holy Grail of golf is to achieve a hole-in-one. This near perfect shot is typically performed while playing on a par 3. I have been close so many times that I’ve lost count. What’s worse is that John has made a hole-in-one. He never says anything to me about that – but then again, he doesn’t have to. He knows that I know that he has made one and I haven’t. In fact, he made his hole-in-one playing in Alaska. I was stationed in Rota, Spain at the time. I walked into the office one morning with a phone message from my brother. It said, “Have you ever had a hole-in-one?” This is coded speech for, “I got a hole-in-one! I got a hole-in-one! I got a hole-in-one! Nyaah, nyaah, nyaah, nyaah nyaah, nyaah!”

It has always been my wish to make my first hole-in-one while playing with John. Last year I was visiting him at his home in Virginia. We went out to play at the nearby country club where he is a member. The third hole is a par 3. I hit a beautiful fade to the green. The wind was blowing ever so slightly left-to-right. As I watched the ball descend ever closer to the flag stick, I thought, “Yes! This is it! John’s here to witness my first hole in one! And it’s on his course!” Alas! It was not to be. The ball hit four inches from the cup and rolled about one foot past. So close!

Recently my game has been improving. I’ve been shooting some decent rounds. I’m back in the groove. My handicap is coming down. I am also having a strong sense of foreboding. What’s that song I hear?

As a minister I guess I can best relate to comic Jim Murray’s evaluation of the game of golf. "Golf is not a game; it's bondage. It was obviously devised by a man torn with guilt, eager to atone for his sins."

Woe is me!

Monday, September 03, 2007

What's Your World View?

Every person has a world view. Simply put, a world view is a way of looking at the world and events surrounding it through a lens mostly made up of personal experience, education, and understanding.

For instance, suppose I grew up understanding existence as merely the process of evolutionary selection. I learned in school that Charles Darwin “proved” we evolved from lower life forms. My experience normally tells me that “survival of the fittest” is how the world works. Weaker species are always at the mercy of the stronger. Therefore, my understanding of life will form my world view.

Perhaps you have a world view that says life is only what we experience here and now. What you experience in the moment is all that matters. This view says there is nothing beyond the grave. So, I might as well attempt to make as much money as possible and live in the fast lane, because when I breathe my last, I will have died with the most toys.

Enter: Jesus Christ.

Regardless of your previous world view, having an encounter with Jesus will challenge your current world view. Let’s look at some of those who had their views challenged and changed.

Abram lived in a culture that said it was perfectly fine for a man to believe in any number of gods, worshipping idols of all kinds. A man could even have many wives. But Abram (renamed by God to Abraham) had an encounter with the Lord. He was totally changed. He became monotheistic (believing in the one, true Creator God), and he committed to having one wife (monogamous), Sarah. He then moved to a strange land. Why? Because the Lord told him to. His world view was changed because of his encounter with God.

Then there’s the rich young ruler who met with Jesus. This man’s world view said that because he was so wealthy, and had prestige and power, he was already blessed of God. But Jesus burst his bubble and challenged him to change his world view. He was to go and sell everything he had, give it to the poor, and then he would have treasure in heaven. Of course, he would need to follow Jesus. He sadly walked away, refusing to change, even though Jesus offered him eternal life.

Paul is my final example. He was fully immersed in religious education and training, having been taught by Gamaliel himself. Paul was a Pharisee, and was recruited to persecute this new religious sect called Christians. He was very good at his job. He even believed he was doing God’s will. But, surprise, surprise, he had an encounter with Jesus which completely changed his world view.

So why is a world view so important? Because it will determine how you live your life. For me personally, I came to a crisis thirty-five years ago. Up to that point I had embraced a world view that went something like this: “Seek as much pleasure in life as you can.” This is called hedonism. I ran the bars, chased after women, often took unnecessary risks just for the thrill of the moment, and sought pleasure wherever it could be found. As I considered life, there was an emptiness. All the self-pleasure I engaged in left me asking the question, “So what?”

Much to my surprise, I unexpectedly had an encounter with Jesus. As the Apostle Paul experienced, scales fell from his blinded eyes and he was changed. I, too, experienced a change in my life. My eyes were opened to the truth that God loves me. Jesus died for me. My world view radically changed. Life was no longer about me. It’s about God and my relationship with him. I made this choice thirty-five years ago this week.

How about you? What is your world view?