Marines.Together We Served

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

I Need Help!

Okay, there’s no rhyme or reason for it. Why do I play this insane game? I’m talking about golf, of course!

After all, I’m a grown man. I like to think of myself as being mature. My role in the community as a minister is considered to be one of respectability, specifically as a pastor of a church, a position that carries a certain level of dignity and decorum befitting a “man of the cloth.” So then why do I humiliate and embarrass myself by continually attempting to play this outrageous game of golf? I need help!

“I can’t believe you did this!” my wife said the other day, holding up a pair of my slacks, looking at them, and then over at me. “You played golf with these?” Somewhat defensively I replied, “Yeah, so?” She laughed, shaking her head, giving me a side-long glance that said something akin to “You’ve got a problem!”

Here’s the story: A few weeks ago I was in New Orleans for several days of military duty. One afternoon I joined a chaplain friend, Commander Tom Webber, for a round of golf. It was a nice day. Not too humid. After paying the greens fees and loading our clubs on the cart, we proceeded to the first tee. We started out on a good note, each of us hitting the ball well. Things started to come unraveled, literally, on the second green. I was preparing to line up my putt. Looking very professional, I stepped back from my ball, pulling my trouser legs up slightly so as to take the pressure off the cloth as I squatted down to line up my ball with the cup. As I bent my knees, easily gliding into my normal position for such shots, I felt the seat of my trousers give. It wasn’t a tear. It wasn’t a rip. It was a complete release of the seam in the pants from the crotch up the back to my belt. Still in the squat position, I sheepishly looked over at Tom who was unaware of my dilemma. Catching his eye, I said, “Oops!”

Being the gentlemanly sort, Tom asked me what I wanted to do. Without hesitating, I said, “Play, of course! We’ve already paid for it.” We proceeded to play the remaining sixteen holes with my backside resembling a pair of little kids unbuttoned sleepers. Fortunately, we played the entire round without being joined by anyone else. After we finished it was a bit dicey loading our clubs in the car and making it out of the parking lot without drawing a lot of attention to my plight. I still had to negotiate the hotel parking lot and lobby where I was staying.

A couple of weeks ago I played in a golf tournament which was a fund raiser for the San Joaquin Teen Challenge ministry. The course we played, Stevenson Ranch, is a difficult course under the best of conditions. On this particular day we experienced one of the worst wind storms of the spring. A sane, rational person would seek shelter from such conditions. But not golfers! The United States Mail has nothing on dedicated golfers. "Neither snow nor rain nor heat nor gloom of night stays these couriers from the swift completion of their appointed rounds." We played!

Last week I was invited to play a round with a couple of friends at their country club. Little did we know this was to be the hottest day of the year to date, setting records even for the Central Valley of California. It was 106 degrees! Did this stop us from playing a complete round of golf? Absolutely not! Hardy souls that we are, we laughed in the face of such withering weather. Lesser mortals would shrink from such a challenge.

Then this week I played in yet another tournament hosted by my friend, Rick Van Unen and his company, Van Unen/Miersma Propane. The “shotgun start” was set for eleven o’clock at Lockeford Springs Golf Course. The wind had really started to pick up at this point, so by the time we finished in mid-afternoon, the wind was in full gale. It never occurred to us not to play.

I got to thinking about why otherwise intelligent, level-headed men and women will subject themselves to such abuse and humiliation. My brother, John, and I have played golf in cold, rainy conditions with rain suits on and warm gloves. We were miserably cold, and our feet were soaked, but we played on! We’ve finished rounds of golf at 12:30 in the morning during the summer in Alaska. Granted, the midnight sun helps. But even though it is still somewhat dark, it was light enough to play. Then again, for a true golfer, the light inside a coal mine is sufficient to play! A couple of years ago we played one January day at the country club in Virginia where he is a member. It was cold. So cold, that it began to snow when we were on the fifteenth hole. Did we stop? No way! On the eighteenth green our putts were hilarious! There was already at least an inch of snow on the ground, so when we made our putts the ball would roll along to the hole, collecting all the snow in its path, eventually stopping and flopping to one side from the shear weight of the accumulated snow.

In looking at the word golf, I was curious to see that written backwards it spells: Flog! I have therefore deduced that there is a psychiatric condition that plagues golfers world-wide. It is a psychotic ailment called masochism, which is the tendency to invite and enjoy misery of any kind, especially in order to be pitied by others or admired for their forbearance. There’s something in us that makes us want to be hurt; or humiliated; or embarrassed.

If I was even moderately good as a golfer, I might understand the compulsion to play in less than pristine conditions. What’s wrong with me?

This September when I retire from the Navy, John and I are planning a week-long golf outing to Ireland. Ireland: part of the British Isles where it’s windy, frequently rains, often cold, but having some of the most spectacular golf courses known to man. Can’t wait!

You see! I really do need help!

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Back in the 50s

I was struck this week with a bit of nostalgia. Someone sent me an e-mail with a PowerPoint attachment that takes you back to an earlier time in life. As I scrolled through the list of youthful experiences, I was acutely aware that I had enjoyed nearly every single thing listed. Then I added some of my own. Allow me to take you back . . . .

Growing up in New England, springtime was cause for rejoicing as we said goodbye to winter. Baseball bats and gloves would come out of our closets and we’d begin playing Flies Up. There’s a tremendous feeling of satisfaction when you make solid contact with a baseball and bat. It just feels right. Holding a wooden bat in your hands was absolutely euphoric. At school we’d flip baseball cards. My, how many cards were exchanged with names like Willie Mays, Pee Wee Reese, Roy Campanella, Moose Skowron, Jackie Robinson, Ted Williams, Whitey Ford, Mickey Mantle, Hank Aaron, and so on. The baseball cards we had more than one of we either traded, or we put them on the shaft of our bicycles with clothes pins so they would flap against the spokes as the wheel turned creating the coolest sound ever! Those cards today would be worth a lot of money I’m told. Little did I know then . . .

Remember going to the principal’s office? This was no big deal, really. But I learned very early that this was a bad thing. So I simply made it a practice to behave myself in school. Why? Because I knew that if I got in trouble in school, I had to go home and face my parents. They were on the side of the teacher and principal! This was also known as double-jeopardy, something I wanted no part of!

My step father gave me my first allowance when I was seven. It was a nickel. I thought that was pretty neat. Then when it was increased to a dime I realized I could actually go out and buy something. With ten cents I could buy a pack of gum; or a Coke out of the machine (you remember the glass bottles!); or I would walk to the 5 & Dime store where there was no end of trinkets to choose from. A dime could buy you a lot back then.

I remember that any adult had the authority to correct your behavior on the spot. “Do your parents know what you’re doing, Charles?” That was enough to bring me back in line. Or old Mrs. Dixon next door would think nothing of asking me to carry her groceries into the house. Seemed natural enough to me. She always had a cookie jar, too . . .

One of my very favorite things to do on summer nights was to take a glass jar, punch holes in the metal top, and then catch fireflies. This could occupy an entire evening!

You could get cooties from girls, but there was no one prettier than your mom!

Having two or more best friends was not unusual. In fact, it was normal.

Spinning around in circles on the grass, and then falling down from dizziness was great fun and made us laugh till our sides hurt.

Sitting in school all day having to wait for your Little League game was torture. Going to T&W’s for an ice cream cone after the game, win or lose, was always special.

Having your name mentioned over the local radio because you pitched a two-hitter was beyond ecstatic.

Remember giving your friend a ride on the handle bars of your bike? We didn’t wear helmets then either.

I can’t remember ever going to a friend’s home and his mom wasn’t there – unless she was at the grocery store.

One of my very favorite things to do was to climb trees. New England has great trees. We would look for the tallest tree and see how high we could go before possibly losing our nerve.

Remember the siren at noon that would blast every day? How about the volunteer firemen who would race out of their offices or shops the moment the fire alarm sounded?

Saturday morning cartoons were always cool. My favorite was Mighty Mouse. Then there were the Westerns, such as The Cisco Kid, Gene Autrey, Roy Rogers and Dale Evans, The Lone Ranger, Johnny Yuma, Bat Masterson, Gunsmoke, Have Gun Will Travel (Paladin), and Bonanza (a new kind of western).

I loved the sounds of crickets chirping away, heard, but not seen. Playing hide-and-seek just as the sun was going down. Running through sprinklers was great fun.

Thanks for letting me reminisce.

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Seeing the Heart of God

Years ago when I was Base Chaplain at Naval Communications Station, Stockton, California, we wound up being adopted by a beautiful Orange Point Siamese cat. The reason I say adopted is because we were not looking to have a pet. On this wonderful island base, separated from the city of Stockton by a network of delta waters, we lived in one of two Navy officer houses. It was idyllic.

An Orange Point Siamese is an all-white cat with faint stripes of orange much like a tiger. The tips of the ears and tail also have the orange coloring. I failed to notice these markings until a friend stopped by one day. She said, “Did you know this is an Orange Point Siamese?” I confessed that even though I grew up with Siamese cats (Seal Point and Chocolate Point), I had never heard of an Orange Point.

Anyway, we found Snowball sitting on our back step one day shortly after we moved in. The yard was huge and was a haven for gophers. I had mounds of dirt every few feet. After checking with folks on the base about a lost cat, I decided that if we kept her, she’d be my means of eradicating the gopher population in my yard. She rose to the occasion. I watched her patiently wait at a gopher hole until the varmint stuck his little black nose up through the dirt to take a sniff for danger. Too late! Snowball had a claw in that nose, ripping the poor critter out of the hole and up into the air. As it fell back to the ground, the cat was at its throat. Game over. I got my yard back!

Snowball also delivered a litter in my front yard, followed two months later with yet another litter. I had sixteen kittens! I jokingly threatened to bundle them up and drop them into the delta. The housing officer was not happy with me. Base policy was two pets. Fortunately, both my wife’s brothers are dairymen. The kittens would have a new home.

Not long after Snowball adopted us, Jenny, our youngest, who was about seven, came home from school one day with a kitten she found in a trash barrel. She has a big heart and asked if we could help this little ball of fur. It had obviously been neglected. The kitten seemed to be of the same size as the other kittens. I explained to her that we could try to encourage Snowball to nurse this kitten along with the others, but there was no guarantee that the kitten would be accepted by the momma cat. This kitten looked nothing like the other kittens. Yet Snowball took her into the brood as if it was her own. This homeless kitten snuggled in with the other kittens, looking for a nipple to nurse from. The kitten was now adopted into the family.

My point in retelling this story is to emphasize that the month of May is “Foster Parents Appreciation Month.” My wife, Isaura, has been working with Agape Villages Foster Family Agency for the past eight years, finding families that would take in children who were neglected, abused, or otherwise not properly cared for. Foster parents step up to the plate to care for these children who find themselves homeless through no fault of their own. Their parents may be hooked on drugs, or have been abusive physically and/or emotionally, or who may have consistently demonstrated an irresponsible lifestyle that necessitated the removal of the children for their safety.

These foster children find themselves plugged into another home with strangers, all the while wondering if they will be accepted and loved. Will there be a place for them at the family table? Will they be treated equally with the blood-born children? Will they ever get back with their biological parents?

Foster parents do the yeomen’s work of caring for these children who are already carrying the burden of rejection. The foster parents know that despite their best efforts, these young children struggle with accepting being accepted. They often expect to be rejected. This cycle often repeats itself, not only in foster homes, but in all of life’s relationships. I am always awed by the level of dedication and commitment demonstrated by foster parents.

The action of these foster parents demonstrates godly character. They willingly accept foster children into their homes, realizing that these children are frequently “damaged goods.” They pour their hearts and lives into these children, praying they will know that they are loved and valued, just as God in Christ has loved and accepted us into his eternal family.

God bless our foster parents! They show us the heart of God.

Wednesday, May 07, 2008

Who's Your Daddy?

Allow me to address the matter of jealousy. Not in the normal sense that we see in human relationships, but in our relationship with God. First, there is the negative connotation associated with jealousy. This is typically evidenced in relationships where one or both parties are insecure about their standing in the relationship. We often see this with teenagers who have not had the time yet to develop healthy associations with members of the opposite sex. This sort of jealousy is frequently destructive, causing a rift of distrust between the pair, leaving both bitter and resentful.

Second, jealousy can have very positive connotations. This is what prompted me to write about this topic. Recently I was reading an article about Oprah Winfrey and her New Age Theology. There were several audio/video clips from her daytime TV program where she routinely espouses her admixture of religious dogmas that seem to encompass practically every religious practice and belief currently in the universe.

What struck me was a particular comment she made. She was describing a time when she was attending a Baptist church sometime in her late 20’s. The preacher was waxing eloquent about the love and forgiveness of God, all of which resonated well with Oprah. Then the pastor said something that didn’t ring right with her. He said that God is a jealous God. This didn’t make sense to her. Why would God be jealous? And jealous of what? Try as she might, she simply could not reconcile this paradox. This is when she departed from the Christian faith.

Now, her questions are very legitimate. Her mistake was in not seeking out her pastor to explain this apparent enigma. Even a cursory search in the concordance of a typical Bible would have produced the desired results. If she had looked up the word jealous she would have discovered several verses that would have shed light on the meaning of God’s jealousy.

When God gave Moses the Ten Commandments he said in regard to the second commandment, “You shall not make for yourself an idol in the form of anything . . . You shall not bow down to them or worship them; for I, the Lord your God, am a jealous God.” What is he jealous of? His creation! Specifically, the crown of his creation – the human race.

Let me attempt to put this in terms that personalize God’s jealousy for you. I come from a very small family. How small is it? Well, let’s just say that if my family had been our original parents (Adam & Eve), the human race would have long ago died out. My wife, Isaura, is Portuguese. Need I say more? So when Isaura and I were married thirty-two years ago we were looking forward to having children, possibly in bunches (my mother-in-law had triplets!). During our first year of marriage my wife took sick. Because of this, the doctors suggested we might not be able to have children. That’s not quite what we had envisioned. So, thankfully, a little more than a year later our oldest daughter, Laura, was born. Three years later we welcomed our youngest, Jenny. Each daughter has now provided us with a granddaughter, Alyssa Grace and Brooklyne Paige.

Now let’s suppose that some other man came along and declared that he was in fact the father of Laura and Jenny, and therefore, the grandfather of Alyssa and Brookie. How do you think I would react to this? Exactly! I would challenge his claim by saying something like, “Who are you? What right do you have to make so blatant and absurd and assertion as to claim parentage to my daughters and granddaughters?” I would jealously guard my relationship with my daughters/granddaughters. Even if my girls were to say, “Yeah this other man is our father,” I would not stand for it. Besides that, Laura is the female version of me. So much so, that my mother-in-law called her “Little Chuck” when she was small. Laura’s daughter, Alyssa, looks like her mom, who looks like me. No denying it. And if necessary, with today’s modern technology we could always revert to a paternity test which confirms parentage through DNA testing. I am their daddy. Period! And there are few joys greater than being called, “Daddy.”

Now let me put this in perspective with our relationship with God. He is the one who made you. He is the one who established parentage. This is why the first commandment is, “You shall have no other gods before me.” Let me reword that a bit. “You shall have no other fathers before me.” In Exodus 34:14, we read, “Do not worship any other god, for the Lord, whose name is Jealous, is a jealous God.” You see, when you and I follow after other gods (meaning: false gods, false religions, false philosophies, false beliefs), God will not simply say, “Oh, that’s okay. It doesn’t matter. True, I’m the one who created you. I’m the one who has loved you. But if you want to claim someone else as your father, that’s no problem for me!” Folks, that simply isn’t going to happen, any more than you would tolerate someone else claiming to be the parent of your child.

Had Oprah taken the time to investigate this with her pastor, she would rejoice in God’s jealousy for her. God doesn’t want her following other gods. And he won’t let her go so easily, “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.”

Who’s your Daddy?