Marines.Together We Served

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Truly Enriched

This past week, April 18-24, was National Volunteer Week here in the United States. It got me to thinking about the spirit and attitude of the American people. From the time I was a kid I have been impressed with the spirit of volunteerism in our country.

It has been my good fortune to have lived all over this great land of ours, and to have been exposed to a multiplicity of cultures, and people groups. We are truly a diverse people, but we share the same desire to step up and help our neighbor.

In the early days of our nation it was critical for new communities to volunteer their help if that community had any chance of surviving, particularly as people moved west. There were barn raisings from Pennsylvania to the Pacific. There is not so much of a need for this today, but the Amish still do this for each other.

In 1997, there was a summit held on Volunteerism which was headed by General Colin Powell (Retired). During one of his numerous interviews, he made this observation about America’s volunteer attitude. “A lot of people do volunteer their time. That's one of the great things about this nation. We are very philanthropic, caring, compassionate people.” At another time he was heard to make this statement, “The United States is not stingy. We are the greatest contributor to international relief efforts in the world.”

Case in point: Haiti. So much relief has flowed into this tiny island nation since the devastating 7.0 earthquake on January 12th of this year that the entire economic structure of the country has been altered. The vast majority of support has come in through private volunteer agencies. The Haitian government is complaining because the people do not need to work since there is plenty of food, clothing, shelter and other necessities available without having to go to work! Care to guess where most of this is coming from?

Just before Hurricane Katrina struck on August 29, 2005, I had been informed that my new assignment in the naval reserve was to be the Command Chaplain for the 4th Marine Aircraft Wing – headquartered in New Orleans! Even though I was not officially to report until October 1st, I felt it was my responsibility to join my new command during this trying period. I spent a couple of weeks in that besieged city, witnessing volunteers extending themselves above and beyond the call of duty. One young lady, who was working with the Red Cross helping people find shelter, had a perpetual smile on her face. She sat at her make-shift desk kindly seeing to the needs of each person with a line out the door that wrapped around the block. I commented to her that I appreciated her attitude. Then I asked her how she had fared through the hurricane. She mentioned that while she was at this emergency shelter helping others, some unscrupulous people broke into her apartment and walked off with her belongings. Yet, there she sat, doing her volunteer job helping others. That was just one of several such stories I could recount for you.

Closer to home, I have to say I am blessed beyond imagining by the folks who are part of our church. A church, by its very nature, is almost entirely voluntary. Because they love the Lord and want to do something to bless others, I have a front row seat watching these folks step up to the plate without complaint, doing such tasks as working with 4th-6th graders, or teaching Children’s Church, or working on worship songs for Sunday services. Others take care of the buildings and grounds, and still others deliver welcome baskets to our visitors. Some of the more mundane needs that go unnoticed are folding our Sunday programs, restocking the pews with pencils, prayer cards, Bibles and other items. We have a volunteer janitor who keeps everything tidy throughout the week. And I couldn’t forget to mention my bell ringers! We do it the old fashioned way – we pull the rope that rings the bell thirty-five feet up in the bell tower for each worship service.

Ripon, California is where I live. In my town there are numerous volunteer organizations that make this a terrific place to live. The Soroptimists, Rotary, Ripon Arts League, the Chamber of Commerce, and so forth, all add immeasurably to the health and spirit of our town, just like in every other town across America.

We are an enriched nation because of the volunteers who are your friends and neighbors.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Jesus' House

When my oldest daughter, Laura, was two, my wife and I decided to get her a kitten for her birthday. Well, she loved that kitty and promptly named him “Bubbles.” Both cat and kid were attached at the hip and played all day, every day. She didn’t always know how to handle the kitty, such as those times when she would pick Bubbles up with her pudgy little fingers wrapped around its neck. Poor cat! He’d dutifully dangle in mid-air, seeming to realize that this small person had no intention of hurting him.

Unfortunately, after about six months, Bubbles contracted a urinary tract infection which required that I take him to the veterinarian. The cat’s system had gone into shock. The vet called informing me that, though they thought the cat had made a turn for the better, it still slipped from us and died. I thanked him and hung up the phone. I sat in my office at church wondering how I was going to tell Laura that Bubbles was dead. “Lord, what am I going to tell my two-and-a-half year old?” No answer seemed to be immediately forthcoming. I worked the rest of the afternoon and then headed home.

Dinner was ready shortly after I walked in the door, so we called Laura from her bedroom where she had been playing. As she came bouncing into the kitchen, the Lord gave me the words to say to her. “Laura, guess what?” She looked at me expectantly with upturned face. I said, “Bubbles is at Jesus’ house!” She cocked her head to the side and replied, “Bubbles not come my house?” “No, baby,” I said. Then with a cheerful face, she said, “Bubbles go Jesus’ house?” “Yes,” I assured her. “Okay!” she said. And that was the end of the matter.

I’ve shared this story any number of times over the years, but just this past week I had one of those déjà vu moments. On Monday morning I received a text message from my youngest daughter, Jenny. She was sad because their cat, Snowy, was diagnosed with liver failure and needed to be put down. I texted her back asking if Brookie (her two-year-old) knew about this. Jenny said Brookie only knew that Snowy was sick and at the animal hospital. Since her daughter hadn’t said anything about the cat for a few days, Jenny hoped she’d forgotten about it. She concluded with this line, “I don’t want to scare her with the ‘death talk’ yet.” This caught my attention.

I responded by saying that Brookie may not be afraid of that as much as Jenny was in trying to explain it. I then recounted the story of her sister and Bubbles. Jenny was still in the womb when we lost Bubbles. She wrote back that she thought the story about Bubbles was adorable. With this reply, I realized she must not have ever heard the story! Not sure how she escaped that because as I said, I’d told this story numerous times over the years. Anyway, she liked it. Then she said, “I hope they do go to Jesus’ house!”

Well, I was at work and didn’t have an opportunity to reply to her last comment for a while. About forty minutes later I received another text from Jenny. She said that a funny thing had just happened. Brookie walked into the room and announced that Snowy was sick. Jenny then told her that Snowy was going to Jesus’ house. Brookie’s response was, “Okay!” Jenny was delightfully surprised, especially since she hadn’t said anything to Brookie about our discussion.

I wrote back to Jenny and told her that there isn’t much in the Bible about animals going to or being in heaven, but there is enough said that I believe we’ll see lots of them there. The Lord lovingly made them as well, so they are important. And the Lord will do what is right. I was interested in discovering that there are more than 3000 verses in the Bible that mention animals, both wild and domestic.

Later that day, I was telling Laura about Brookie and her cat going to Jesus’ house. Laura then informed me that several months prior, when her aging cat took sick and died, that she told her two-year-old daughter, Alyssa, that Fatty had gone to Jesus’ house. Alyssa’s reply? “Okay!”

And it is okay. Anything having to do with Jesus, wherever that might be, is okay! In John 14 Jesus said, "Don't let this throw you. You trust God, don't you? Trust me. There is plenty of room for you in my Father's home. If that weren't so, would I have told you that I'm on my way to get a room ready for you? And if I'm on my way to get your room ready, I'll come back and get you so you can live where I live."

I sure like the sounds of that – and there might even be a few dogs and cats thrown in!

Wednesday, April 14, 2010


This past Sunday, April 11, was Holocaust Remembrance Day. My wife and I listened to the Focus on the Family radio program each morning this past week as David Faber recounted his harrowing experiences as a Jewish teenager in Nazi-occupied Poland. I have read stories and books on the Holocaust, so I am not unfamiliar with the atrocities perpetrated on Jews during World War Two.

More recently I was able to make a couple of visits to Israel where I visited the Yad Vashem Holocaust Memorial in Jerusalem. “Yad Vashem, the national Authority for the Remembrance of the Martyrs and Heroes of the Holocaust, was established in 1953 by act of the Knesset (Israel’s parliament) to commemorate the six million Jewish men, women and children murdered by the Nazis and their collaborators during the years 1933-1945. The Authority also commemorates the heroism and fortitude of the Jewish partisans and the fighters in the Ghetto revolts, as well as the actions of the "Righteous Among the Nations" (non-Jews who saved the lives of Jews).”

The Hebrew words, Yad Vashem, come from a verse out of Isaiah 56:5, "And to them will I give in my house and within my walls a memorial... an everlasting name, that shall not be cut off." The Hebrew word for “memorial” is yad, and the word for “name” is vashem. It is therefore fitting that the Memorial is situated on the Hill of Remembrance, and the main building of the Holocaust Memorial is called the Hall of Remembrance. Both times that I visited Jerusalem I made the pilgrimage to this place of remembrance. It is an emotionally-charged experience to walk from section to section, each section depicting a location in Europe where Jews were interred in concentration camps. Many old photos are displayed of the faces of those who were wantonly killed because they were simply guilty of being Jewish. It is a sad testament of man’s inhumanity to his fellow man.

David Faber lives in San Diego and continues to share his story of the holocaust. He tells how he and his family were hunted down by the Nazis until they were all killed, except David. His older brother, Romek, was working with the underground. In an attempt to get his younger brother to safety, they were caught and tortured by the Nazis. A hot poker iron was jammed into Romek’s eye, and then his tongue was ripped out of his mouth with tongs. He was kicked repeatedly with heavy military boots until he was dead. They then turned on David, giving him the same treatment until one of the Nazis stopped and said, “He’s too young to know anything.” They unceremoniously dumped him in the road where he was left for dead. Friends found him and carried him to a home where he was nurtured back to health. Soon after, his mother, father and five of his six sisters were machine-gunned in front of him by Nazi soldiers. This is all recorded in his book, Because of Romek.

Later he was again captured and sent to nine different concentration camps. In these camps he was tasked with opening the cans of poison that would be sprinkled on the Jews who were forced into the showers. He then was required to go in among the dead bodies and extract all the gold teeth and fillings and give it to the Nazis. In one instance he discovered a baby very much alive and feeding on its dead mother’s breast. Because the baby had been sucking, it had not breathed in the poisonous gas. He attempted to pass the baby along to some women in the camp, but was caught by the Nazis. They told him to throw the baby into one of the furnaces. He couldn’t bear to see harm done to the baby, so he pleaded for its life. After repeatedly ordering him to throw the baby into the fire, a soldier finally ripped the baby out of his arms and threw it into the furnace.

I have shared these gruesome details for a reason. Despite the fact that no less a personage as General Dwight D. Eisenhower witnessed these death camps with their ghastly furnaces filled with incinerated bodies, there are those today who claim the Holocaust never occurred. Eisenhower ordered that there be pictures and reports made of what they discovered in such places as Auschwitz, Bergen-Belsen, Dachau, Buchenwald, Treblinka, and many of the other horrid camps where Jews and those who helped them passed into eternity.

The ruler of Iran, Ahmadinejad, has made it very clear that he believes the Holocaust never happened. In addition I ran across a White Supremacist web site that called into question whether the Holocaust ever took place. They also glorify Adolf Hitler on this site. It is appalling to see the hatred some people have for others.

This is why I thank God for his sacrificial act of love in sending Jesus to address the sin problem in the human race. It is because of such awful acts like those I’ve written about that I have hope – hope that God will one day right all the injustices in the world.

But just as we have observed Easter Sunday on April 7th when we of the Christian faith celebrate Jesus rising from the dead, we would do well to also remember that unless our hearts are made right with God, every last one of us is capable of repeating the horrors of the Holocaust. That is what sin is capable of.

Remember that.

Wednesday, April 07, 2010

On Life Support

I stopped in to the local family-owned pizza parlor for lunch and ran into a friend. I was just walking away from the self-serve soda fountain when I saw Stephanie coming toward me. The walkway narrows for only one person at that point, so at the same moment we both step back to allow the other to pass. I insisted, so she smiled, thanked me, and walked to the soda fountain. As she passed, I commented, “Chivalry isn’t dead, but it is on life support!”

Later that day I was reading an article about a Hollywood actor who refused to participate in sex scenes for a TV program. Now, I don’t follow TV and movie stars, so most of them are completely unknown to me unless they make it into the news – usually because of bad behavior! This actor, Neal McDonough, is someone I’ve seen a number of times, and he is very talented and apparently quite well known.

In McDonough’s twenty years of acting, he has played many roles and has been in quite a number of well known movies and TV series. Most notably, he played in such movies as, Flags of Our Fathers, Angels in the Outfield, and Star Trek: First Contact. Among his TV credits, he performed in, Band of Brothers, Quantum Leap, JAG, The X-Files, and Desperate Housewives.

McDonough has been very upfront throughout his career as an actor that sex scenes were off limits. Why? Because he is a family man and a practicing Catholic. From this I believe it is safe to assume that both the wedding vows he made to his wife, and his personal religious beliefs mean something! How refreshing! So why am I writing about this?

Well, according to a March 31 news story, Mr. McDonough was recently removed from his role on ABC’s new TV series Scoundrels. The reason given for this was a “casting change.” An innocuous explanation if ever I’ve heard one! From the report, McDonough was fired because he would not participate in a heated love scene with Virginia Madsen. He was standing by his personal convictions, and was unceremoniously dismissed for doing so. But what makes this even more reprehensible is that ABC knew about his convictions before they hired him for the role. Nor is this the first time the actor has refused to engage in sex scenes in his career. He refused to abandon his morals even on the racy TV series, Desperate Housewives. Sounds to me like someone in the industry was trying to break down McDonough’s moral convictions!

A person close to this situation has said, “It has cost him jobs, but the man is sticking to his principles.”

Well I guess you could say that it has cost him! How about a cool million bucks per payday! How many people would surrender their moral convictions without even blinking if that much money was waved in front of their face?

I took the time to read some of the replies to the article, “No Sex Please, I’m Neal McDonough” on the Internet. My favorite was this one: “Character is all we have in this life. How exciting that an actor with character and a huge talent refuses to sell out his principles. He is definitely not alone. The press just hardly ever highlights the good guys.”

There are some who will read this article and laugh at McDonough for being so prudish. But I’ll bet he sleeps well at night – with his wife. And he’ll always be able to look his three little children in the face knowing he has given them an invaluable gift. What gift is that? He has demonstrated his love for their mother by not defiling the marriage bed.

Maybe chivalry is making a comeback – and from all places, a star out of Hollywood. Now that would be a miracle!