Marines.Together We Served

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Dogged in Iowa Hill

On a recent Sunday, my wife and I had one of life’s truly unique experiences.

A pastor friend of mine, Jim Crawford, has been inviting me to come and preach to his congregation for a number of years now, but with my own responsibilities at my church on Sundays, plus my military obligations, I found it difficult to surrender a Sunday from my congregation in Ripon. I’ve been retired from the military for three years, so that obstacle is removed. Then we hired a youth minister about six months back who is able to fill the pulpit for me on those occasions when I’m out of town. Thus, I have recently been available to accept the invitation to preach at Jim’s church.

Jim and I go back a lot of years having first met in 1966 at Azusa Pacific College (now a university). He is also retired from the Air Force Reserve, so we have a lot in common. Knowing Jim as I do, and his wife Diana, I was really looking forward to the experience. Now, please understand. I’ve preached the Gospel in a lot of places over the years, and on every continent, except Antarctica. Many of these opportunities were very unique, like the time I was in Australia. After my sermon one evening, a diminutive older lady came up to me and said in a thick Aussie tongue, “I just love your accent!” I smiled and said, “Madam, I do not have an accent. You have an accent!” She laughed out loud as though I had just told a joke. Then there was the time I was in Tokyo, Japan and was invited to preach to a Korean congregation. I found this to be humorous! There I was preaching in English, pausing after every sentence or two to allow a Japanese Christian to translate my English into Korean for the congregation. Basically, this turns a twenty minute sermon into a forty minute sermon.

So on this recent Sunday we were off to preach at the Free Methodist Church in the town of Iowa Hill, California. Referring to Iowa Hill as a town is a stretch. It’s barely a wide spot on a very small road in Placer County. For those of you familiar with gold mining, you recognize the word “placer.” (“Pla” as in plaque, and “cer” as in sir) What is a placer? It is “a deposit of river sand or gravel containing particles of gold or another valuable mineral.” A year ago this week Iowa Hill received its first telephone landline signal, even though the telephone has been around for 135 years! “It’s a big deal,” said Kathy Morgan, 72 years old, and one of the stalwarts of the church in Iowa Hill. The town of roughly 200 residents still has no electricity. The hum of generators can be heard, along with the use of solar panels and batteries providing much needed electric power. Kathy said most folks don’t want direct electric power because “electricity would just bring more people.” That’s Iowa Hill!

The town is a little less than three thousand foot elevation, some 58 miles northeast of Sacramento on the way to Reno, Nevada. It was founded in 1853 by two gold miners, not surprisingly, from the state of Iowa. During its height of activity in the mid-1850s, the town was mining $100,000 per week! It has been described as being “bound on the west by Iowa Hill Divide and on the east by Indian Creek, northeast of First Sugarloaf and 1.5 miles southwest of Monona Flat.” Once you leave the freeway, it’s a 13 mile drive back into the hills, twisting and winding its way, often on a road that is barely passable for one car. Sheer drop-offs fall hundreds of feet to the North Fork of the American River, forcing drivers to keep their eyes fixed on the road! The scenery is beautiful, and breath-taking – literally!

There is no church building in Iowa Hill, so they use a multi-use building which was primarily used as a school house. Unfortunately, the school has been shut down because there are no students. Kathy Morgan was the teacher, which provided a small income for her. Many of the folks in Iowa Hill simply want to be free from the rat-race of urban life. Some residents are retired, others have settled there simply wanting to be left alone. Living in a tent year-round is not unusual for some, snow and all.

The service was set to begin at 10:30, but Jim had informed me that we would begin when everyone arrived, which was closer to 10:45. All told, there were 20 of us which included a dog. After Jim introduced me, I launched into my sermon, enjoying a free-for-all, give-and-take style with these folks who were quick to ask questions in the midst of the message. I loved it! Anyway, I’m cruising along, fully engaged in the message. I had noticed that the dog, a beagle, had climbed into its owners lap and had fallen asleep just in front of me. I’m used to folks falling asleep when I preach, so I figured, “Why not a dog?” At a telling moment, I paused for effect before making my next statement. In the silence of that moment, the dog, deep in slumber, startled us all with a loud snore. Everyone cracked up, including me! The dog continued in his reverie undeterred by the outburst of laughter. I managed to conclude the sermon, whereupon we all sat together to enjoy a potluck lunch. What a great time!

I may never get back to Iowa Hill, but I can assure you that I will never forget the time we had with these wonderful folks – and the snoring beagle!

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Ideology: Good or Bad?

There’s a great deal of smoke and mirrors arising from the political landscape these days that makes it difficult to focus on what is really important in the presidential race. If you’re satisfied with the current administration and its policies, then this article will merely be so much extraneous information. But if you’re like me, you know we can do a lot better. Simply put: we need to cut taxes; reduce the size of government; and restore this country to its former greatness as the place where dreams are made possible.

Recently I heard a Republican senator remark that we need to “put aside all of our ideological differences” and come together in support of a certain candidate for the presidency. I found this comment to be stunning in its naiveté.

Let’s consider a good working definition of the word, Ideology: “A system of beliefs or theories, usually political, held by an individual or a group. Capitalism, communism, and socialism are usually called ideologies.” Hmmm. So, let me see if I have this right. I embrace a certain ideology. Why do I do this? Well, because it fits in with my particular world view. My world view is built upon my personal succession of life experiences, and the convictions that emerge as a result. Add to that equation my environment and the people I am exposed to and you have the basis for an ideological belief system. To arrive at such a point takes time. Life must be lived and savored. Life must be experienced daily. On the surface, this statement sounds absurdly obvious, but too many people are trying to hurry to the next phase of life, failing to enjoy the moments they have in the present. This can eventually warp and distort their ideology. But it is nonetheless their ideology. I may not agree with a person’s basic world view, and my world view may strike them as odd. So, looking back on the suggestion made by this Republican senator to put aside our ideologies for the sake of coming together in some sort of compromise to achieve some indefinable political end, is just so much nonsense.

In an opinion piece written for Fox News, October 10, Kyle Scott, wrote, “Mass movements require an ideology to sustain themselves over long periods. Charismatic leaders and slogans will only take a movement so far if it lacks a set of core values that people believe in. Getting people engaged is hard enough, getting them to stay engaged is almost impossible.”

Core Values. . . Now that’s a critical component in the process of establishing a group of people needing to unite around a cause. What we are witnessing with the worldwide movement of the “Occupy Wall Street” folks and their counterparts across the globe is a loosely held idea that might someday be considered a core belief in an effort to bring these diverse peoples together. That oft expressed idea is that “the rich are getting richer on the backs of the poor.” This plays well in the old canard that rich people do not deserve to be rich, and that poor people are poor because they are constantly pushed down by the rich. This class warfare mantra is as old as man himself. It is always pulled out when other arguments seem to fail when subjected to the light of truth.

Make no mistake – There are certainly people who make lots of money at the expense of those around them. They are greedy, self-centered, heartless, and in need of a life change. God is good at doing that! We all grew up watching a movie of any number of the various versions of Charles Dickens’ “A Christmas Carol.” Regardless of the portrayal by whatever actor, each story focused on the Ebenezer Scrooge character as mean, greedy and heartless. He was an ardent lover of money. In effect, he is the quintessential Wall Street “Fat Cat.” But in the end, he is changed from his wretchedness, to a life of loving compassion and selfless giving.

Because America has experienced such greatness is primarily because of God’s blessing our nation with the truth that emerges from the pages of the Bible. These are transforming words that utterly change a person’s outlook on life, the way they treat their family, the attitude they have toward others, and ultimately their entire world view. When a person subjects themselves to God’s love and control, they have to change their attitude! It is simply not possible to be a lover of God while despising those around you. You see, Jesus said you cannot love both God and money. You will serve one or the other. Many today are serving the god of money, wealth, prestige, status. They bow and worship at this altar, often sacrificing family, friends, and even their own lives for the brief moments in this life that such power gives them. But many others use their acquisition of wealth to benefit others and the nation as a whole, reinvesting the profits in order to grow the business, providing opportunities for others not to merely survive, but to thrive.

We recently heard of the passing of Steve Jobs, founder and developer of Apple Computers. Here’s a man who at first worked out of his own garage, experimenting in the process of developing what has become arguably the most lucrative technological industry ever. How many people are employed today because Mr. Jobs had a vision that his ideas could benefit others? How many others benefit from these handy devices which make communication so much easier? He had an ideology too. I, for one, am glad he did not compromise his beliefs.

After all the protestors on Wall Street and around the world lose momentum and return home, the Steve Jobs’ of the world will be working out of their garages with a vision to make this world a better place.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Democracy or Republic?

I’ve been listening to the protestors down on Wall Street recently who are complaining about the greed and avarice of the “fat cats.”

What I find troubling in all of this is the misunderstanding the protestors and too many other American’s have about our form of government. I hear a nagging theme from the protestors that simply reveals ignorance about the form of government that was originally established in the United States. The cry from these malcontents is that as a nation we need to reestablish our form of democracy. The question is: “Are we a democracy?” The answer: Yes. But not in the exact way it’s typically defined. A democracy is a “government by the people; especially: rule of the majority” (Merriam-Webster’s Dictionary of Law). There is an inherent problem with a strict democracy: the majority rules. This may, on the surface, sound just fine. But if you are in the minority, your voice is not likely to be heard.

Point of fact: We are also a republic. The difference between these two forms of governance is crucial to understanding the freedoms we have and need to hold on to. A republic is “a government in which supreme power resides in a body of citizens entitled to vote and is exercised by elected officers and representatives responsible to them and governing according to law” (ibid.). In a modern day republic the two-party system, or bipartisan system, allows for an election to be held in which all qualified voters may cast a vote in favor of their party/candidate which, in the United States, we call a presidency.

The United States is commonly referred to as either a “representative democracy,” or a “presidential republic.” Where we err in understanding such governmental policies is in the manner in which such bodies operate.

Let’s take the case of our protestors on Wall Street for instance. They insist on a democracy. One young lady was adamant that we get back to being a democracy. What is chilling in this is that a pure democracy is an unnerving drift toward a totalitarian government of statism. That is, economic and political power rests with a central government, reducing regional government, and the individual, with relatively little say in political matters. Taken to an extreme, such democracy invites socialism, and eventually, communism.

On the other hand, a republic can be equally dangerous. When the electorate votes their candidates into office, the power, technically, resides in the people who elected the candidates. But this power can be abused by those elected, believing they then can make decisions which are in their own best interests, ignoring the will of those who placed them in office.

It is important to understand why the United States is one of those unique governments that has successfully combined a democracy and a republic for the past 224 years since the Constitution was written. Such a government is always in danger of shifting in another direction should the power of the people to elect be marginalized, or removed. You often hear the argument from the two major parties, Republican and Democrat, dicker over the role of government. The Republicans, at least in principle, are for smaller government, allowing regional control to rule within the individual states. The Democrats, also in principle, focus on the importance of the centralized government being the defender of the individual who is typically portrayed as downtrodden and neglected by the fat cats.

As we are entering in earnest this new election cycle, we are being introduced to these variances in governmental form all over again. “Class Warfare” is one such “red herring” used to cause disparity between “the haves and the have not’s.” Thus, capitalism becomes the evil to be done away with. Another pitch to separate people is the idea that our elected representatives somehow know what’s better for us than we ourselves do. This is the bogeyman we call “Big Government.” And a third problem that is in the morass of politics is “Racial Tension,” suggesting that certain ethnic groups are being marginalized or ignored. Such refrains are heard ad nauseam during every election cycle, with diatribes of bitterness and dissent being hurled back and forth across the political landscape. The truth is frequently sacrificed on the altar of a political party needing to be (re)elected.

In the final analysis, any such form of governance will always tend to swerve out of control because the base nature of the human race is flawed. Our founding fathers understood this flaw. They valiantly attempted to establish a government that would be as equitable as humanly possible, short of a theocracy in which a fair and just God would be preeminent.

Wednesday, October 05, 2011

Human Trafficking in California

Human Trafficking is indicative of an immoral condition of such magnitude as to fly in the face of God. It is an affront to all the godly qualities and characteristics within the human soul. In other words, it dehumanizes all of us.

 After last week’s article, “Human Trafficking Redux,” my friend Linda, reminded me of the salacious activities uncovered by the work of two people posing as a pimp and a prostitute attempting to acquire housing through ACORN (Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now). I’m sure you watched the undercover tapes being broadcast on the news, where the man posing as a pimp openly stated that he wanted these homes for the purpose of bringing under-aged girls from South America to work as prostitutes. That was shocking enough, but the manner in which the employees of ACORN accommodated the request was stunning. It was handled in such a matter-of-fact manner that it spoke volumes of whatever else was going on under the guise of a community organization. There was the expected outcry from “We the people,” and of course the appropriate posturing of our elected officials who all huffed and puffed their indignation, harrumphing their disdain for such awful activities going on right under their noses. Then the attacks on the man and woman who filmed these various meetings with ACORN workers were relentless. I’ll leave you to decide the morality of their sting operation. But here’s a question: Would anyone in a position of power have bothered to investigate unless they had hard evidence? I think not.

I wonder how many of us are aware of a report that was released in 2007 by the state of California, entitled, “Human Trafficking in California – Final Report of the California Alliance to Combat Trafficking and Slavery Task Force.” This was published by the California Attorney General’s Office. I was particularly interested in the section which identified California as being a “Magnet for Traffickers.” The opening page quoted the 13th Amendment to the Constitution: “Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude, except as a punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted, shall exist within the United States, or any place subject to their jurisdiction” (Amendment XIII, Slavery Abolished (1865).

Well, that’s a great start. 

Consider this statement by California Assemblywoman Sally Lieber: “The problem of human trafficking has reached into neighborhoods throughout California and is one of the fastest growing criminal enterprises in the world. Individuals are bought, sold, transported and held in inhumane conditions for use in prostitution or as forced laborers. It would be morally and socially irresponsible to ignore this problem and the victims it creates in California every year.” (September 21, 2005 – signing of AB 22).

          There is a simple pattern to the way human traffickers operate. I shared some of this in my first article three weeks ago based on my own exposure and experience with this morally reprehensible so-called business. This next statement is taken from the findings of the California Task Force assigned to investigate trafficking. “Traffickers lure victims into the United States with deceptive promises of good jobs and better lives, and then force them to work under brutal and inhuman conditions, and deprive them of their freedom. Victims of human trafficking may be involved in agricultural labor, construction labor, hotel and motel cleaning services, illegal transporters, organized theft rings, pornography, prostitution, restaurant services, domestic services, servile marriage (mail-order brides) and sweatshops. Once in this country, many suffer extreme physical and mental abuse, including rape, sexual exploitation, torture, beatings, starvation, death threats and threats to family members.”

          The scope of the problem of trafficking in California found that “over 80 percent of the documented cases took place in urban areas: Los Angeles, San Diego, San Francisco and San Jose, and the majority of victims were non-citizens, with or without valid travel documents.”

          “To put the power of the economic magnet for trade in human beings in perspective, it took transatlantic trade 400 years to import 12 million African slaves to the United States. Yet, within Southeast Asia alone an estimated 30 million women and children have been trafficked – in the past ten years.”

To report human trafficking, call the U.S. Department of Justice Hotline, 1-888-428-7581.