Marines.Together We Served

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Well, I Declare!

With a New Year upon us, I thought there was no better time to address the course of our nation than when we are looking at a fresh start each New Year provides for us.

Every month I receive a publication, provided free, entitled, Imprimis, (Latin: in the first place) from Hillsdale College located in Hillsdale, Michigan. The slogan for the school reads, “Pursuing Truth – Defending Liberty since 1844.” Each publication prints one article, usually an extrapolation from a speech given at the school by a guest lecturer. Make no mistake – this is a conservative school, thus a conservative publication. The December issue has the school’s president, Larry P. Arnn, addressing the concern many have today in the denigration and disdainful dismissal of the Constitution of the United States as antiquated and out-of-date.

Within the article, I was struck once again by the opening words of the signers of the Declaration of Independence.

“When, in the course of human events, it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bonds which have connected them with another, and to assume among the powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which the laws of nature and of nature's God entitle them, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation.”

Please note if you will, the very clear reference by the founders of our nation to the basic assertion that there is a God, and God’s laws ought to prevail in all the affairs of men. This is the foundation upon which the founding fathers of our nation then crafted the entire Declaration and Constitution. Neither of those documents makes sense without the solid belief in a God who is supreme over man.

Here’s why this is important: First, if we accept the premise that there are laws in nature, called Natural Law (A law or body of laws that derives from nature and is believed to be binding upon human actions apart from or in conjunction with laws established by human authority), then it can be safely assumed that these laws were instituted by a God who is responsible for establishing these laws. The Britannica says Natural Law is “in jurisprudence and political philosophy, a system of right or justice common to all humankind and derived from nature rather than from the rules of society, or positive law. The concept can be traced to Aristotle, who held that what was ‘just by nature’ was not always the same as what was ‘just by law.’"

Second, following this line of thinking in what is called deductive reasoning, you would have to draw the conclusion that since God created natural laws for the physical world, then he must have also created laws for the spiritual world. It is in these laws that God has established the value of humankind. It is intentionally designed for us to be protected from one another.

For instance, when you look at the divine laws established by God, the Ten Commandments are the bedrock for all other divine (or spiritual) laws which follow. Let’s suppose you had neighbors living all around you. If you knew that they all believed in and lived by the Ten Commandments, you could leave your house unlocked, your garage door open, and the keys in your car. However, it only takes one person as your neighbor who does not adhere to the Ten Commandments for you to then change the way you look after your property.

There are still some of us who remember not having to lock our doors. We could leave our bikes outside. The keys to the car were perfectly safe sitting in the ignition. Some folks are still around who remember when cars didn’t have locks and didn’t require keys for the ignition. Just step on the pedal located on the floorboard and Vroooom! Off you go. Have you ever asked yourself why that was?

In the establishment of our nation, the vast majority of the people were God fearing. That is, they believed in the Laws of Nature as being provided by a God who ultimately holds each one of us accountable for our actions.

That’s something to ponder as we start 2010. More on this next week.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Merry Christmas!

There has been a lot of rancor over the improper recognition of Christmas in recent years. I’ve watched all of this while attempting to not allow others to define the reason we celebrate the birth of Jesus.

On my way to the church office today, I saw a man standing on the freeway overpass holding a large festive sign that read, “Happy Birthday Jesus! Thanks for Your Forgiveness.” I smiled and waved to him as I pulled away from the stop sign. I have no idea how long he stood out there with his hand made sign, but he was conveying the simple message of Christmas and why we celebrate it.

I’m not one of those who get upset because employees of department stores and local businesses may be told they are not to say “Merry Christmas” to their customers. I can usually tell when some hapless clerk is saying “Happy Holidays,” when they really want to say “Merry Christmas.” Listen! They work there. There are always things we are asked to do in whatever job you have that may not be entirely to your liking. And in today’s economy having and keeping a job has become pretty important.

Think about it. If the owners of a particular business do not want their employees to engage in personalized greetings for Christmas, that’s their option. They may also be atheists, or believe in the tenets of another religion, or have some personal angst with Christians, etc. I have some options too. One of those is I don’t have to shop there. That is not an option I have ever chosen to use. Why? Because it doesn’t accomplish anything, except perhaps to offer some sort of silly, surreptitious sensation that “I showed them!”

Instead, as a Christian, as a believer in of Jesus Christ and his sacrificial, atoning death on the cross for my sins, I believe my attitude should be to shop in the store regardless of whether they greet me with Merry Christmas or not. I, on the other hand, am perfectly at liberty to express my beliefs openly by saying “Merry Christmas” to whomever I choose. Often in these store situations I will say Merry Christmas to a frazzled, overworked employee, only to have them momentarily pause, glance up from their task, and with a look of surprise mixed with a bit of mischief, they’ll look me in the eye and say “Merry Christmas.” It’s like I’ve engaged in doing something naughty with them and we got away with it. I can tell it lifted their spirits, and I walk out with a smile on my face.

Another one of those Christmas Season issues in recent years has been the displaying of a crèche on the town square, or somewhere centrally located in the community. This manger scene is another example of the Christian faith and its strong early influences on our nation. Sadly, we have moved a long way from those influences, even in the sixty-one years I’ve been on planet Earth. Even as a kid, I really had no idea what all that manger scene stuff was about, other than it looked cool for a few weeks in December. Maybe your town doesn’t have a manger scene or an official tree-lighting any longer. Okay. Here’s what you can do. Set up your own manger scene in front of your house, and decorate a Christmas tree somewhere in the yard festooned with lights and any other items that please you. Then encourage your friends and neighbors to do the same thing. Christmas decorating in neighborhoods has become a big deal in several places we’ve lived over the years. In Fresno, California where we lived in the early 80s, they have a stretch of homes in an exclusive part of town that goes all out at Christmas. Night after night throughout the season, cars cruise along “Christmas Tree Lane” oohing and ahhing at the spectacular displays on and around the homes of these upscale homes. It is one of the “things to do” when you live in that city.

When we lived in Turlock, California in the mid-90s, we discovered a neighborhood only a few blocks from the church where I was serving at the time that decorated each year what is called, “Candy Cane Lane.” With headlights off, cars poke along this two block area with faces peering out at the Christmas displays, enjoying the amazing creativity some folks have. Others park and stroll along the street simply taking in the beauty of the scene. It was magical!

One last thought. As a Christian, I want everyone to take pleasure in the joy of Christmas. I want them to know this Jesus who was born to die for their sins. But more importantly than whether a store employee says Merry Christmas, or manger scenes are authorized, is the attitude you display to others. They are far more likely to be drawn to the beauty of Christ when you demonstrate his love in both your attitude and your actions than if they see another crèche, or are greeted with Merry Christmas. Think about it.

And have a Merry Christmas!

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Tiger - Meet the Lion

Where do I start?

I’m referring to the trials and tribulations of Tiger Woods. When first I heard the story about his having a car accident, ironically, I was on the golf course. My mother called me on my cell phone. I didn’t answer because I was in a foursome and didn’t want to be a distraction, plus we were teeing up on the 18th tee box so we’d be finishing in the next fifteen minutes anyway. I did listen to my mother’s voice message that said, “I suppose you’ve heard what happened to Tiger. Talk to you later.” No, I had not heard anything about Tiger. So as soon as we finished play, I called my mom to find out about Tiger.

Well, this sordid tale has grown to the point that most people are already weary of any further details. How many more women need to come forward claiming to have had a tryst with Tiger? That his marriage is in trouble is an understatement. That his children will have to endure years of snickering and tasteless comments is a given. That his persona as a professional golfer/athlete is forever tainted is the enormous price to be paid when such personal indiscretions are made public.

Like most of you, I was hoping that Tiger’s early morning incident was nothing more than an easily explained fender-bender. Alas, such is not the case. I have been a Tiger fan since he emerged on the professional golf circuit thirteen years ago. I never thought I would see anyone as good as Jack Nicklaus. Tiger simply took the PGA by storm. I truly believed he would be the one to break Jack’s record of eighteen major championships. As much as I like Tiger, in my personal estimation, only Bobby Jones would be in a class by himself. There are two reasons for this. First, Jones played during an era when American golf was first gaining world-wide recognition. The British golfers owned the sport up till then. Jones changed all of that. He was also the consummate “Southern Gentleman” from Georgia. Bobby Jones also played in an amateur status because of the negative image professional athletes had in that era. On top of that, he always played with golf clubs that were made of hickory wood, hitting drives 350 yards. Secondly, Bobby Jones only played competitively for eight years, concluding his career by winning the Grand Slam in 1930, a feat accomplished only once since then by Tiger Woods. Purists will say that Tiger didn’t really win the Grand Slam because the four events, though won in succession, were won over two seasons of golf (2000-2001). But more importantly, Bobby Jones kept a promise he made to his wife, a promise to leave competitive golf at the end of 1930, allowing him to return to his law practice where he would be home with his wife and five children. Bobby had his priorities straight – family first.

I hear the question asked, “Will all of this trouble of infidelity affect Tiger’s golf game?” Whether it does or doesn’t is irrelevant. The man has fallen into his own personal hell, a condition he created for himself. Arguably he is the most famous athlete in the world, and the most recognized. He has built an image for himself that comes across as someone who is clean-cut and in control. He seems very likable when interviewed by the media, and has rejuvenated professional golf at a time when it needed rejuvenating.

However, Tiger is now facing the crumbling of his world. Endorsers are pulling out, starting with Gatorade, with rumblings of others to follow suit. Tiger has made far more money through his endorsements than from playing golf. He is the first billionaire athlete. True, money is no object for him, but he is now being subjected to the ramifications of his actions. In a sport where cheating is regarded as the unforgivable sin, his extra-marital affairs will forever stain his image in the minds of sports fans – golf fans in particular. He has sullied the game of golf. Sure, he may go on and win future tournaments. He may even play better than ever. And he may yet grasp the golden ring in breaking Jack’s record of eighteen majors. But how empty that will be! He will have lost the respect of his peers in his profession, his name will be a byword throughout the sports world, and he will have left a legacy for his family that will be the source of jokes and ridicule for years to come.

It is my prayer that Tiger will seek the Lord. Why? Because it is the Lord who created him, and who established and ordained the act of marriage. In Hebrews 13:4 it is the Lord who instructs us to “honor marriage, and guard the sacredness of sexual intimacy between wife and husband. God draws a firm line against casual and illicit sex.” Paul describes in the Letter to the Galatians that “it is obvious what kind of life develops out of trying to get your own way all the time: repetitive, loveless, cheap sex; a stinking accumulation of mental and emotional garbage; frenzied and joyless grabs for happiness; trinket gods; magic-show religion; paranoid loneliness; cutthroat competition; all-consuming-yet-never-satisfied wants; a brutal temper; an impotence to love or be loved; divided homes and divided lives; small-minded and lopsided pursuits; the vicious habit of depersonalizing everyone into a rival; uncontrolled and uncontrollable addictions; ugly parodies of community. I could go on.”

Tiger can yet be a hero to his children and his wife by allowing the Lord to cleanse his heart and soul from the ravages of sin, and loving their mother as God intended. “Husbands, go all out in your love for your wives, exactly as Christ did for the church—a love marked by giving, not getting.”

There are consequences to our actions in life. Tiger may be regarded as the greatest golfer of all time, but many will never see him as anything more than an adulterer. Ah! But God loves Tiger and is in the business of restoring lives. He wants to restore Tiger’s.

Nothing would bring greater joy than to know that Tiger has been introduced to Jesus. And by the way, Jesus is described in the Bible as a lion. In fact, he is the Lion – and this Lion always wins. Tiger has met his match!

Update on Tiger, Saturday, December 12:

Wednesday, December 09, 2009

Sturm und Drang

For those of you who speak German, or are otherwise up on your international idiomatic expressions, you will recognize this phrase, Sturm und Drang. The meaning of this expression is “storm and stress.” The implications are that the conditions you are presently faced with would be best described as turmoil and upheaval.

Let’s see – What things are going on that might cause a universal/national sense of Sturm und Drang?

1. I have serious concerns about this president. In particular, his apologizing to the rest of the world for America’s existence. Since when did we need to apologize for coming to the rescue of nations that were mercilessly attacked and ravaged by the likes of Germany and Japan? Or for halting the spread of Communism in Southeast Asia? Or the liberation of an entire nation from the brutality of Saddam Hussein in Iraq, and the vile regime of the Taliban in Afghanistan? What nation have we ever conquered that we didn’t also eventually surrender it back? We did not keep any of the blood-soaked islands of the Pacific. We rescued a thankless France from the Germans twice in the last century! We returned all lands acquired during the Spanish/American War - not the least of which was the Philippine Islands. What about the emergency funds from America, both private and governmental, that have always flowed immediately into the devastated regions of the world when crises occur? Why do we send billions of dollars to the Palestinians, yet Saudi Arabia right next door hasn’t lifted a finger to help people of their own faith and culture? Nor has the fabulously wealthy Saudi Arabia attempted to provide assistance to their neighbors in Iraq? Yet America sends her young men and women, plus astronomical amounts of financial support to Iraq and Afghanistan to set them free to choose how they wish to be governed. Where is the aide from Islamic nations? Since we are not sure of where this man spent his formative years, I am left to wonder how much of America he has incorporated into his soul. We are still the last, best hope in the world for those who yearn to be free. People continue to risk their lives to come to America.

2. The Stimulus Bill scared me to death! The president and Congress were in an absolute lather to get this bill passed because our nation was in danger of financially collapsing if this stimulus was not enacted immediately. Two concerns leapt out at me when this bill was introduced. First, I asked the question, “What’s the big hurry?” I was taught growing up to not make hasty decisions, but rather to step back, take a deep breath, and evaluate the situation before making any decisions. Second, I’m no whiz when it comes to math, but I was taught that you don’t spend money to save money. And now our geniuses in Congress want to pass another Stimulus Bill, even though the first one nine months ago was a flop. I would love to see Special Agent Gibbs from the hit TV show, NCIS, walk over to the Halls of Congress, starting with Pelosi and Reed and begin slapping each one of them on the back of their heads, which is his trademark means of getting his junior agents’ attention.

3. Since when does the president, in cahoots with Congress, take over private industry? For General Motors to roll over, and the media to not raise the roof, is simply beyond understanding. How was this possible? Have we become so weak as a people that we don’t even object when the Constitution is simply ignored? The government has no right to interfere with the business community. And who is this 31-year-old character that was placed in charge of revitalizing the auto industry? I don’t care that he’s only 31. The problem is he doesn’t have the credentials to take on such a task.

4. Now we’re facing a passage of a National Healthcare Bill that will radically transform the way you and I are treated for our maladies. This is socialism in its most blatant form, make no mistake. Reform is necessary in the healthcare industry, I grant you that. But have the government run it? Please! Remember this: Anything the government runs is always going to work on the basis of the “bottom line.” They will continue to cut costs until what you thought you were getting is gone. The government does not know how to effectively run anything.

5. I will conclude with our military. We are at war. Point of fact, we are at war with Islamic fundamentalists. They are cowardly, conniving, and utterly reprehensible. Yet our leaders in government are submitting our military to conditions that are unacceptable.

Due to space constraints, I must draw this article to a close. I may return to this, as there are many more issues I am concerned with, such as taxes, illegal immigration, etc.

As Americans we must wake up and get involved. America is worth fighting for, against all enemies foreign and domestic.

Wednesday, December 02, 2009

The Importance of Religion

Religion is a topic that has prompted great debate during the history of man. Such debate has not been without severe disagreement, even violence, and sadly, war. None of these outcomes should deter us from seeking the truth about religion, faith, and God. Why? Because, if there is in fact a God, then you and I are directly answerable to this God. If there is no God, then the debate is at best an academic exercise, and at worst a delusion of man’s hope of making sense out of this world.

American history is filled with some of the most colorful characters to be found anywhere. Lew was born in Indiana in 1827. He had a dislike of school, and a love for fishing. He even patented a new type of fishing pole. He served in the Mexican-American War of 1846, and earned his law degree in 1849. A couple of years later in 1852 he was married to Susan Ellston. They had their only child the following year. At age 29, he was elected to the Indiana State Senate where, among other things, he organizes the Montgomery Guards, a state militia unit that will mark him for later appointment as a Colonel of the 11th Indiana Volunteer Infantry at the outbreak of the Civil War. This is fortuitous because he is promoted the next year in 1862 to Major General (two stars), honorably serving the Union throughout the remainder of the war. Most notably, he leads troops into the fight at the Battles of Fort Donelson, and Shiloh, both in Tennessee. In 1864, Lew successfully defends Washington, DC from Confederate forces advancing on the capitol. With the war over in 1865, Lew is assigned to be the judge over the assassination case of President Abraham Lincoln, and also over the trial of Henry Wirz, Commandant of Andersonville Prison where so many Union soldiers were abused and killed. In 1881 he served as a government minister to the nation of Turkey under President Chester A. Garfield.

You would think this was more than enough service and acclaim for one man in life. But, these are not the things Lew is best remembered for in our nation’s history. Among his many interests and pursuits, Lew was also a writer. He published his second novel in 1880. The name of this novel? Ben Hur! The official name of the book is: Ben Hur: A Tale of the Christ.

So how did Lew Wallace come to write this book of faith which became the most popular book of the 19th Century?

While on a train ride in 1876, Major General Lew Wallace had a chance meeting with a Colonel Robert Ingersoll (I use their military titles because at that time in our history a man often used his military rank even after his military service was completed. It was considered to be a sign of respect and recognition of accomplishment.). Ingersoll was a well-known atheist. In his own words, Wallace says, “I confess that my attitude with respect to religion had been one of absolute indifference.” Born and raised a Methodist, the importance of religion in his life to this point, failed to make an impression on Wallace. Here is the dialogue (in part) between these two men.

"Is there a God?"

Quick as a flash, he replied, "I don't know: do you?"

And then I --- "Is there a Devil?"

And he ---"I don't know: do you?"

"Is there a Heaven?"

"I don't know, do you?"

"Is there a Hell?"

"I don't know, do you?"

"Is there a Hereafter?"

"I don't know, do you?"

Wallace then explains what happened next. Ingersoll had been asked to explain why he was an atheist to a group of folks on the train which he did for the next two hours until they arrived in Chicago. Wallace says, “I sat spellbound, listening to a medley of argument, eloquence, wit, satire, audacity, irreverence, poetry, brilliant antitheses, and pungent excoriation of believers in God, Christ, and Heaven, the like of which I had never heard.”

Lew Wallace was ashamed to admit that he could not even begin to defend his religious beliefs or explain what little he knew of his own Christian upbringing. He set out on a course to remedy this situation. “To lift me out of my indifference, one would think only strong affirmations of things regarded holiest would do. Yet here was I now moved as never before, and by what? The most outright denials of all human knowledge of God, Christ, Heaven, and the Hereafter which figures so in the hope and faith of the believing everywhere. Was the Colonel right? What had I on which to answer yes or no? He had made me ashamed of my ignorance: and then---here is the unexpected of the affair---as I walked on in the cool darkness, I was aroused for the first time in my life to the importance of religion. To write all my reflections would require many pages. I pass them to say simply that I resolved to study the subject. It only remains to say that I did as resolved, with results---first, the book "Ben Hur," and second, a conviction amounting to absolute belief in God and the Divinity of Christ.”

How important is your faith to you? Do you know what you believe about God, Christ, Heaven, Hell, Eternal Life, the Hereafter? If not, this Christmas Season is a great time to begin again. Dust off your Bible, and go to church.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

An Attitude Adjustment

As kids growing up it was not unusual to hear some adult state with absolute certainty that some person needed an attitude adjustment. Most often this carried with it a rather ominous tone with heavy implications that a boot to the person’s backside was a good start.

I’ve heard it said that life is more about a person’s attitude than it is talent or ability. This seems to make sense, particularly when we are witness to pampered athletes and Hollywood actors who have the world at their feet with adoring fans, and a ridiculously engorged bank account. It strikes me, as well as many of you, that these are the folks who have hit life’s lottery, yet they frequently behave like spoiled children.

I knew a Navy lieutenant who needed an attitude adjustment. This hot-shot officer was zipping around a military base in his nifty little sports car when the tell-tale lights of a base security car lit him up. As the young Marine lance corporal approached the car, the lieutenant unwisely decided to exert his superior rank on this junior enlisted man. “How dare he pull me over!” thought the lieutenant. Following protocol, the lance corporal rendered a hand salute to the Navy officer and then asked for his license and registration. As he handed over the requested documents, the lieutenant said, “Do you know who I am?” Not missing a beat, the lance corporal replied, “No sir. Do you know who I am? This badge that I wear should tell you that I am the direct representative of the commanding officer on this base, and I can assure you that he will be very interested in knowing who you are!” This story did not end well for the lieutenant. The commanding officer of the base brought up this attitude issue with the lieutenant’s command. As a result, the lieutenant was encouraged to find employment elsewhere – outside of the Navy!

All of us, at one time or another, have found ourselves struggling with a bit of an attitude problem. Our egos get in the way with a hyper-inflated sense of self-importance, and the next thing you know, folks simply do not like you, and do not wish to be around you. It is at this moment that we would do well to remember what God wants for us. In the Bible it says, “Give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God's will for you in Christ Jesus.” Let’s think about that for a minute. We’re to give thanks to God in all circumstances. Hmmmmm. Why would the Bible suggest such a thing? Allow me to offer these thoughts.

First, you and I must consciously choose the attitude we will have. You may be saying right now that you don’t even think about what attitude you have. After all, you’re just being you. And at least you’re being honest about it! Here’s the problem with this sort of thinking. When you do not choose to be positive, you will always drift toward being negative. That’s the problem with our sin nature. When you do not choose to be positive, by default, you have chosen to be negative. So when you allow the negative to rule, you are frequently unpleasant, which you then excuse by saying such silliness as, “Well, that’s who I am, like it or not.” Or “I’m just being honest.” And you’re being unnecessarily hurtful of others in the process.

Second, you may be wondering how you could possibly be thankful in all circumstances. Ah! Here’s the interesting part. Two things are at play here. The first is how your outlook changes when you choose to be thankful even when the circumstance does not seem to warrant thankfulness. The second part is you simply do not know what God knows, therefore you cannot see what he may want to accomplish through the circumstance you are facing. This is where trusting God is essential and critical.

The best way to establish this attitude of thankfulness which God wants you to have, is to intentionally offer up your thanks to him for his love, for his provision, for his gift of life, and for his gift of eternal life through Jesus his son. When you choose to change your attitude, and demonstrate a thankful attitude, your whole outlook on life in general, as well as on every aspect of your daily existence, will alter. You will like the change and others will like it too.

So, as you gather with family and friends for Thanksgiving, choose now to have an attitude of thanksgiving. By so doing, you bless God, and others will also find they are blessed to be with you.

And eat a drumstick for me!

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

The Worst Kind

Last night my wife and I turned on the news to get caught up on what was happening. The news story that has been consuming the news services is the murderous attack on our soldiers at Fort Hood in Killeen, Texas. The news people were making various vacuous comments about the motivations of the shooter, Major Nidal Hasan. The debate continues as to whether this Army officer is a terrorist, or just mentally deranged, or both. My wife’s verbal response to the television was Major Hasan’s actions are the worst kind of terrorism. She is correct.

From the moment I heard of this shooting, I had little doubt that this was an act of terrorism. Just so that we’re on the same page, terrorism, by definition, means, “The calculated use of unlawful violence or threat of unlawful violence to inculcate fear; intended to coerce or to intimidate governments or societies in the pursuit of goals that are generally political, religious, or ideological.” This definition is taken from the Department of Defense Dictionary of Military Terms.

This act of terrorism is of the worst sort primarily because it was performed by someone who was purportedly “one of us.” That is to say, an American faithfully serving his country. Military people do not serve a political, religious, ideological, or philosophical entity. Instead, we obey the civilian head of the nation. This is why the president is the Commander-in-Chief of all branches of the military. Military members are non-political. That is not to be confused with not holding a personal political view on the way things should be handled in our country. You will find a wide variety of opinions held among military members. However, these views and opinions are to have no bearing on the performance of one’s duties.

I experienced a great sadness when I heard about this shooting. The reason for this was obvious on the surface, but there was much more that affected me. The part that is obvious is the wanton killing of military people on their own base – a place that should be safer than anywhere else in the world. The second reason I was saddened has to do with a loss of innocence. You see, when you live on a military base the way my family did for many years, you have a tremendous sense of security. You’re living alongside of the people you work with every day, the people who wear the same uniform, who have sworn the same oath to protect and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic. Only now the enemies who are domestic are those very same ones who wear the uniform and have obviously sworn a false oath of allegiance, as with Major Hasan. How do you fight against that?

Having grown up in the 1950s, I had a lot of fun, never fearing for my safety, or the safety of my community. Sure, we took the precautions associated with an aggressive Soviet Union, but that was far away, and our leaders were strong, and our military was ready. As I watched the world change from what I had known, I longed for my own children to have an experience like mine. When I came back into the military as a Navy chaplain in 1983, we moved on base at Camp Pendleton. I couldn’t imagine any place being safer. I told my daughters, “This is as close to my experience of growing up in the 50s you will ever have.”

Because of the actions of one man, that has now changed!

So, allow me to make some observations. First, Major Hasan is a terrorist. Is he also mentally disturbed? No more so than any other terrorist who commits such hideous cowardly acts against innocent people. His actions were premeditated. He knew exactly what he was doing. Second, I suspect that the Army chain-of-command saw this guy as a hot potato and no one wanted to be the one to take any action against him for fear of becoming an instant front page story, along with being branded as an Islamiphobe. That is the extent to which political correctness has taken us. Third, this man was in communication with radical Islamic groups. Supposedly, the FBI was on to him. Granted, he hadn’t done anything other than arouse a lot of concern and suspicion as to where his loyalties lay. But he is a commissioned officer in the United States Army and should have been, at the very least, removed from his duties as a psychiatrist working directly with our men and women returning from the war zone. Fourth, if he didn’t like the way the war was being handled by the United States, he had the option of resigning his commission. This, more than anything else, confirms to me that he was very intentional in his actions. I believe he was surprised when he was not killed in the process.

In October of last year I wrote a two part series for Roots in Ripon on “What Terrorists Say.” In the article I mentioned the author of the book, “Out of the Mouth of Bombers,” Ruthie Blum. Here’s an exchange between her and Aaron Klein, an Israeli newspaperman. Ruthie Blum asks Klein, “What makes terrorists tick?” “That’s a good question,” Klein says. “A lot of people think that terrorism is about pieces of territory. Others think that Hamas, Islamic Jihad and the whole alphabet of Palestinian terrorists simply want to destroy Israel or that al Qaeda wants America out of the Middle East. But one thing that has really been driven home to me in all my talks with terrorists – which is the thesis of all my work – is that they are looking to serve Allah by spreading Islam around the world. That’s what makes them tick.” Blum then asked, “It is often said of terrorists that desperation and poverty – sometimes mental illness – is at the root of their actions. Is there truth to that?” “About a year and a half ago, I met with a 22-year-old Palestinian who had been recruited to become a suicide bomber for Islamic Jihad and his recruiter in Jenin, and I specifically asked them whether they were carrying out their operations because of poverty and desperation. Their response was to get offended and to call it Zionist propaganda. They explained that suicide is forbidden in Islam, and that blowing oneself up in the midst of innocent men, women and children does not constitute suicide, but rather jihad for Allah – that therefore it is not only allowed, but it is the creed.”

Did you pay attention to that last sentence? Just as I was finishing this article I saw on the news that an investigation of Major Hasan’s apartment revealed material which implicates him in as a “Soldier of Allah.”

Make no mistake - Major Hasan is a Muslim terrorist. The sooner we quit pretending he isn’t, the sooner we’ll be able to protect ourselves as a nation against such reprehensible characters as Major Nidal Hasan.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Once a Marine . . .

There is a phrase that is very appropriate for the Marine Corps and it goes like this: “Once a Marine, Always a Marine.” This simply means that whether you did a two year hitch, or spent forty years in the Corps, you are a Marine first, last and always. This is more than a slogan – it’s a fact.

Let me give you a for instance. In a room full of people, if there are two guys who previously served as Marines, they will find each other. Don’t ask me how this happens – it’s a Marine thing. Recently, I was sitting in a restaurant waiting for a friend. There was nothing on my person that would indicate I had once served as a Marine, except for a watch on my wrist. I have always worn my watch on my right wrist with the crystal facing in. This is also a watch that has a thick rubber ridge around the crystal to protect it. On the face of the watch is the Marine Corps logo: the Eagle, Globe, and Anchor. This was not easy to see because of the way I wear the watch. Yet, a man stopped by my table and asked if I was a Marine. I assured him I was. He smiled, stood a bit straighter and informed me that not only had he previously served as a Marine, but his son is currently a Marine serving in Iraq. I shook his hand and thanked him for his service and his son’s service to our nation. This sort of encounter has happened more times than I can recall.

So a couple of weeks ago I was on a journey to San Diego from my home in northern California to join up with two men I met in Marine Corps boot camp. We three had managed to reconnect via the Internet. Joe lives in Atlanta, Georgia, and Larry lives in Dallas, Texas. We’ve been making plans to actually get together for the past year, deciding to make it for late October in conjunction with the fortieth anniversary of the day we arrived at Marine Corps Recruit Depot (MCRD), San Diego, October 27, 1969. On Sunday the 25th Joe flew to Dallas so he and Larry could fly to San Diego together. I, on the other hand, would drive down after church arriving about the same time their flight landed. I got started a bit late, so arrived after Joe and Larry were already at the house we were renting for three days. When I pulled up, these two were sitting out front, enjoying the view of the harbor while sipping a cold beverage. Joe and I have actually seen each other a couple of times over the past eight years, but neither of us had seen Larry since 1971. As I got out of the car, Larry bounded out of his chair, crossed the lawn in about four steps, leaped off the wall to the sidewalk and grabbed me in a bear hug. All I could hear him say was, “Just as the father ran to embrace the prodigal son, the least I could do is run and embrace you!”

For the next three days we talked for hours, getting caught up on all that had happened in the intervening forty years. We also made a couple of visits to MCRD, retracing our steps during our boot camp training. Each of us remembered things that had happened that the others had forgotten, or the details had become fuzzy. We started out by first visiting the base chaplain’s office where we were treated like royalty. When folks heard we were getting together for our own 40th reunion of boot camp, they wanted to know more, and be of assistance in making it all the more special. We were given the loan of a petty officer who guided us through the training area, seeing to it that we didn’t wander into areas that we were not authorized to enter.

Boot camp for all Marine recruits begins by standing on the “yellow footprints.” At this moment your life changes forever! You belong to the drill instructors from this point on until your training is complete, when you have officially earned the title, “Marine.” The yellow footprints we three stood upon forty years ago were no longer there, but there were new ones in a different location. We also were able to visit the first barracks ever built on the base for recruits. We started out in Quonset Huts, but later moved into the new barracks – which are now the oldest barracks on the base!

We were invited to attend the Marine Corps Historical Society’s quarterly meeting at a breakfast at the mess hall the next morning. The new commanding general for the base, Brigadier General Ron Bailey, would be the guest speaker. As we walked through the chow line and settled down for the program, the general was walking around and introducing himself to each one who had come. He later made mention in his speech that we three were there at MCRD for our own reunion. But what really made us feel old was the fact that the general entered the Marine Corps ten years after we did! Ouch!

Among other things, we drove to Camp Pendleton for a visit to the rifle range where we each reminisced about the challenges of qualifying with the M-14 rifle. We stopped for dinner in Carlsbad at the Vera Cruz Fish House, a favorite of Isaura’s and mine. As we sat there enjoying the warmth of renewed friendships, a man at the next table overheard our conversation and acknowledged that he, too, was a former Marine. He was curious about our reunion, so we filled him in. He was waiting to meet with a client, who, when he showed up, indicated that he was a former Marine too. It was a wonderful time and a great way to end our three days together.

I couldn’t help but be amazed at the way the three of us picked up the relationship we’d once had as if those forty years were nothing. It’s as though we’d never missed a beat.

Larry still carries shrapnel in his body from his time in Vietnam. Joe and I were more fortunate. But as you remember Veterans Day today, November 11th, be sure to thank a vet for their service.

And I want to say thank you to all veterans from all branches of the service, particularly to my Marine brothers and sisters, and especially Joe and Larry.

Semper Fi, Marines!

Wednesday, November 04, 2009

One Year Away

This time next year we will have voted in the mid-term elections for many of the Congressmen across our fair land. Now is the time to prepare for this event. It may well shape the future course of our nation.

What may be very telling, yet could be lost in the midst of what is normally assumed to be a non-voting year, is that two states, New Jersey and Virginia are voting for their governor’s race this week. The reason these two races could be very telling is that they would either bolster President Obama’s agenda, or set it back on its heels. As of this writing, the Republican challenger Chris Christie, to the Democrat incumbent governor, John Corzine in New Jersey, is ahead by 4 points in the latest Rasmussen poll. New Jersey has been a huge Democrat stronghold for as long as I can remember. It is ranked among the highest taxed of all 50 states. If the Democrats were to lose this governorship, it would be a serious blow to the current administration.

In Virginia, the pundits are saying the Republicans have this governorship sown up. The finger-pointing and blame game is already in full swing among the Democrats as to why this race was lost. The polls have the Republican challenger, Bob McDonnell, so far in front of Democratic rival, Creigh Deeds, that it is considered to be all over but for Deeds’ concession speech.

Ever heard of TABOR? This is an acronym for Taxpayer Bill of Rights. This measure limits state spending growth to the rate of population growth plus inflation. Tax revenues growing faster than that would be rebated back to taxpayers. Colorado instituted TABOR in 1992, a concept advocated by conservative and free market libertarian groups as a way of limiting the growth of government. It requires that increases in overall tax revenues be tied to inflation and population increases unless larger increases are approved by referendum. Now hold onto your hats! Of all the places where you might least likely expect a similar TABOR to be successfully introduced – the Great State of Maine (Yes! Liberal Maine) shows a double digit lead in passing this bill. Same goes in the equally liberal state of Washington.

So, you see, these seemingly insignificant elections may be indicators of how events could turn out in 2010 and 2012.

I have grown to be more and more alarmed by the actions of our government over the last twenty years. For instance: The continuous and exponential growth of the national debt; our weakened economic stance in the face of a rapidly rising superpower in China; the back-breaking economic strain that is being borne by the American people in caring for those who have come to this country illegally; a two-party system of government that lives in their own little bubble totally devoid of any appreciation for the hard-working average American citizen; a tax & spend political mentality shared by Democrats and Republicans alike; a political mentality that first uses, then accuses, and then abuses the men and women of our military who continually answer the call of their nation; and a collective moral failure of this country to stand up for what is right, proper, and honorable. This list could be extended ad infinitum.

Greatly intrigued with America, French political thinker and historian, Alexis de Tocqueville, made this astute observation in the early 1830s about the fledgling United States: “The American Republic will endure until the day Congress discovers that it can bribe the public with the public’s money.”

Are we allowing ourselves to be seduced by an ever-ravenous Congress that feels itself entitled to more and more of our money? Have we lost the will to openly declare that we want our freedoms and liberty restored? Or have we supinely submitted to the comforts that our elected officials are grudgingly willing to grant us – at a price?

I, for one, am tired of being abused by those who are supposed to represent “We the people.” Keep this in mind: In the elections of 2010 all members of the United States House of Representatives will be up for reelection. That’s right: ALL members of the House. That’s 435 Congressmen. And one third of the one hundred members of the United States Senate will be up for reelection.

You think your vote doesn’t count? That’s only because you have been led to believe that it doesn’t. But it does. If enough of us across this great nation of ours will stand up and be counted, I believe, by the grace of God, that we can rescue our land from those who seek to dismantle our Constitution and destroy our way of governance.

This move to turn this nation around may well begin this week in New Jersey and Virginia, Maine and Washington, but you and I can make the bigger difference this time next year. The message we send will resound through the chambers of Congress, the Halls of Justice, and yes, even the White House. Then our newly elected leaders will be quick to represent all the people.

Wouldn’t that be refreshing!

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Leadership 101

Leadership is essential for any organization to survive and thrive. Without solid leadership, it is simply a matter of time before the organization is dismissed as ineffective.

In his just released book, Master Leaders, George Barna writes, “The best leaders see themselves as servants and truly respect other people. These leaders did not perceive a division between ‘us’ and ‘them,’ the indispensable ones and the worker bees… they acknowledged that a leader without a great team gets little, if anything, accomplished.”

Leadership is a trait that is sometimes hard to explain or even to define. People may stumble in attempting to give clarity to leadership and what it looks like, but people usually know good, solid leadership when it’s right in front of them.

The finest military organization in the world is the United States Marine Corps. All of their storied exploits and colorful history come down to one simple common denominator: Leadership. And not only has the Marine Corps established leadership as part of its lore, but it has made it a point of teaching sound leadership continuously up and down the chain of command. Everyone is included, from generals to privates.

What George Barna discovered about leadership could easily be overlaid in the training process implemented by the Marine Corps for the past two-hundred and thirty-four years.

The following is a list of Marine Corps Traits, taught with a passion to every Marine from the moment they have earned the title, Marine.

“The 14 leadership traits are qualities of thought and action which, if demonstrated in daily activities, help Marines earn the respect, confidence, and loyal cooperation of other Marines. It is extremely important that you understand the meaning of each leadership trait and how to develop it, so you know what goals to set as you work to become a good leader and a good follower.”

• JUSTICE. Definition: Justice is defined as the practice of being fair and consistent. A just person gives consideration to each side of a situation and bases rewards or punishments on merit. Suggestions for Improvement: Be honest with yourself about why you make a particular decision. Avoid favoritism. Try to be fair at all times and treat all things and people in an equal manner.

• JUDGMENT. Definition: Judgment is your ability to think about things clearly, calmly, and in an orderly fashion so that you can make good decisions. Suggestions for Improvement: You can improve your judgment if you avoid making rash decisions. Approach problems with a common sense attitude.

• DEPENDABILITY. Definition: Dependability means that you can be relied upon to perform your duties properly. It means that you can be trusted to complete a job. It is the willing and voluntary support of the policies and orders of the chain of command. Dependability also means consistently putting forth your best effort in an attempt to achieve the highest standards of performance. Suggestions for Improvement: You can increase your dependability by forming the habit of being where you're supposed to be on time, by not making excuses and by carrying out every task to the best of your ability regardless of whether you like it or agree with it.

• INITIATIVE. Definition: Initiative is taking action even though you haven't been given orders. It means meeting new and unexpected situations with prompt action. It includes using resourcefulness to get something done without the normal material or methods being available to you. Suggestions for Improvement: To improve your initiative, work on staying mentally and physically alert. Be aware of things that need to be done and then to do them without having to be told.

• DECISIVENESS. Definition: Decisiveness means that you are able to make good decisions without delay. Get all the facts and weigh them against each other. By acting calmly and quickly, you should arrive at a sound decision. You announce your decisions in a clear, firm, professional manner. Suggestions for Improvement: Practice being positive in your actions instead of acting half-heartedly or changing your mind on an issue.

• TACT. Definition: Tact means that you can deal with people in a manner that will maintain good relations and avoid problems. It means that you are polite, calm, and firm. Suggestions for Improvement: Begin to develop your tact by trying to be courteous and cheerful at all times. Treat others as you would like to be treated.

• INTEGRITY. Definition: Integrity means that you are honest and truthful in what you say or do. You put honesty, sense of duty, and sound moral principles above all else. Suggestions for Improvement: Be absolutely honest and truthful at all times. Stand up for what you believe to be right.

• ENTHUSIASM. Definition: Enthusiasm is defined as a sincere interest and exuberance in the performance of your duties. If you are enthusiastic, you are optimistic, cheerful, and willing to accept the challenges. Suggestions for Improvement: Understanding and belief in your mission will add to your enthusiasm for your job. Try to understand why even uninteresting jobs must be done.

• BEARING. Definition: Bearing is the way you conduct and carry yourself. Your manner should reflect alertness, competence, confidence, and control. Suggestions for Improvement: To develop bearing, you should hold yourself to the highest standards of personal conduct. Never be content with meeting only the minimum requirements.

• UNSELFISHNESS. Definition: Unselfishness means that you avoid making yourself comfortable at the expense of others. Be considerate of others. Give credit to those who deserve it. Suggestions for Improvement: Avoid using your position or rank for personal gain, safety, or pleasure at the expensive of others. Be considerate of others.

• COURAGE. Definition: Courage is what allows you to remain calm while recognizing fear. Moral courage means having the inner strength to stand up for what is right and to accept blame when something is your fault. Physical courage means that you can continue to function effectively when there is physical danger present. Suggestions for Improvement: You can begin to control fear by practicing self-discipline and calmness. If you fear doing certain things required in your daily life, force yourself to do them until you can control your reaction.

• KNOWLEDGE. Definition: Knowledge is the understanding of a science or art. Knowledge means that you have acquired information and that you understand people. Your knowledge should be broad, and in addition to knowing your job, you should know your unit's policies and keep up with current events. Suggestions for Improvement: Increase your knowledge by remaining alert. Listen, observe, and find out about things you don't understand. Study field manuals and other military literature.

• LOYALTY. Definition: Loyalty means that you are devoted to your country, the Corps, and to your seniors, peers, and subordinates. The motto of our Corps is Semper Fidelis!, (Always Faithful). You owe unwavering loyalty up and down the chain of command, to seniors, subordinates, and peers. Suggestions for Improvement: To improve your loyalty you should show your loyalty by never discussing the problems of the Marine Corps or your unit with outsiders. Never talk about seniors unfavorably in front of your subordinates. Once a decision is made and the order is given to execute it, carry out that order willingly as if it were your own.

• ENDURANCE. Definition: Endurance is the mental and physical stamina that is measured by your ability to withstand pain, fatigue, stress, and hardship. For example, enduring pain during a conditioning march in order to improve stamina is crucial in the development of leadership. Suggestions for Improvement: Develop your endurance by engaging in physical training that will strengthen your body. Finish every task to the best of your ability by forcing yourself to continue when you are physically tired and your mind is sluggish.

These are the leadership building blocks that make Marines – the ones who fight our nation’s battles. They not only deserve your respect – they have earned it. On November 10th next month, the Marine Corps will be celebrating its 234th birthday. If you know a Marine, or happen to run into one, wish them a Happy Birthday. You’ll make their day!

Happy Birthday, Marines! Semper Fi.