Marines.Together We Served

Wednesday, May 27, 2015

On Being Conservative

              There certainly seems to be a greater divide between Conservatives and Liberals today. But I’ve always tried to have fun with the differences. Though less and less humor is focused on philosophical, political and theological differences regardless of where you stand in the continuum of Far Left to Far Right.

Words of wise counsel were given to me by my step father when I was a child. He said, “Don’t take yourself too seriously.” Because I tend to take myself and everything else too seriously, this was important for me to hear.

During my time in the Navy Chaplain Corps (1983-2008) I was selected to attend post-graduate school. This means you attend a school of higher learning to study at the doctoral level for one year. My field of academic endeavor was Pastoral Counseling. The school was the School of Theology at Claremont (STC), in a suburb of Los Angeles. I had a wonderful time that year (1990-91)! Several moments stand out as I reflect back. Allow me to share them with you.

Prior to the school year beginning, I was asked to speak at a conference of my denomination in L.A. I shared how I was tickled to have been selected to attend post-grad school at STC. After my talk I was approached by a number of church members telling me that they would be praying for me while I was at STC. I noticed that many of them appeared to be very concerned for me. STC is known to be a very liberal school in every way possible. I chose to attend there because it had the highest academic rating nationally. So I divined that these dear friends in Christ were concerned that I might somehow wind up being influenced, and thus change my views to conform to the liberal view of Christianity. I laughed at the absurdity (they obviously didn’t know me). I challenged them to pray for the school because I intended to proclaim Jesus there!

In August of 1990, Iraq had invaded Kuwait, you may remember. The United States then geared up for war. The faculty, staff and many students of STC decided to engage in a protest march. Well, I wanted none of that, so I decided that since I was on active duty while attending this institution of higher learning I would wear my uniform to school one day a week throughout my year there. My purpose in doing this was to visually remind them that American men and women were putting themselves in harm’s way so all of us could live in liberty and freedom. No one ever said anything, but I definitely upset their sensibilities.

One incident that is etched in my mind was during a class discussion on various theological conundrums. All the students were sitting in a circle of chairs. I was warming up to my subject, waxing eloquent to my fellow doctoral students. I was on a roll! One gal was sitting directly across from me with her arms folded across her chest, glaring at me. I had no idea what was troubling her. When I finished she spoke right up, stating in no uncertain terms, “It really offends me that you refer to God as he!” I blinked a couple of times, collecting myself for a response. I smiled (further infuriating her) and said, “I’m sorry if my reference to God in the male gender offends you. However, I have it on very good authority that God sees himself as male. No less of an authority than Jesus himself said in Matthew 6, ‘When you pray, pray in this manner: ‘Our Father who is in heaven . . .’ If Jesus had said, Our Mother, then you would have no argument from me. But he didn’t say Our Mother – he said Our Father.” She had no comeback which ended the discussion. I later had an opportunity to minister to her through some personal hurt she experienced in a relationship.

Toward the end of the school year (in another class) each student was required to give a ten minute synopsis of their term research paper. On the day I was to give my talk, sitting there waiting my turn, I spoke to the Lord and asked him to help me get through to these students who viewed me as an alien from some far distant galaxy. I often felt that they looked at me like I was a science lab project. “Oooh, look! It’s a conservative! I wonder what type of species he is?” It was now my turn, so I stood up, smiled at the class, and said, “It may surprise you to know that I’m more liberal than you would imagine. However, I am far more conservative than you’d ever want me to be!” The class burst out laughing uproariously. I glanced over at the professor. She was laughing so hard I thought she might fall out of her chair. It broke the ice, and I was able to present my talk to a most receptive and transformed audience.

And yes, I completed my doctorate from STC. I had a great time doing it, too!

Wednesday, May 20, 2015


              Perhaps Memorial Day reminds me most of why the United States of America is such a great country.

As a young child I was intrigued by the military service of my step father, Charles Garratt. When World War Two broke out he was married, living in New York City where he drove a Wheaties truck. As so many men did at that time, he attempted to join the military to fight against Imperialist Japan and/or the hated German Third Reich. He wanted to be a Navy fighter pilot. Only one problem: On his test flight to see if he qualified to be a pilot he demonstrated a frightening lack of depth perception, a condition that immediately disqualified him from flying. They thanked him and sent him on his way.

Later, he decided to see if the Marines would have him. He met their standards, which I believe may have been nothing more than to demonstrate that he had a pulse. Growing up he had been a first rate athlete, excelling in football. He had been the captain of his high school football team in Concord, Massachusetts in the late 1920s. He received a scholarship to play for the University of Alabama (“Roll Tide!”) where he played on the same team with the future legendary “Bear” Bryant. My step father kept in good physical condition his whole life, so even though he was 31 years old when he enlisted in the Marine Corps, he had no problem with the rigors and demands of boot camp. He married my mother ten years after the end of the war.

I gained a valued respect and appreciation for the United States from him, because of his willingness to volunteer to serve in a war he could have legally and legitimately have avoided. His age and his marital status could easily have exempted him. In fact, while in boot camp with 17 and 18 year olds, he was affectionately referred to as “Gramps.”

That my step father chose to serve as a Marine, the toughest branch of service, also impressed me. I decided early on that I wanted follow in his footsteps. My older brother, John, also must have thought the same thing because both of us enlisted in the Marines, each serving a tour in Vietnam. Oddly enough, we never discussed joining the Marines with each other.

During the years growing up in New England, I recall those special days like Memorial Day, the 4th of July, and Veterans Day when parades and special recognitions were given to our veterans. There were, of course, many WWII vets, and still quite a few WWI vets. There may well have been some Spanish American War soldiers in those parades down Main Street with American flags all aflutter in the breeze, marching to lively martial music. And I know that the last surviving veteran of the Civil War died in 1956 when I was eight.

I can still see in my mind’s eye the veterans from the American Legion and Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW), wearing their fore-and-aft caps. These were the men who left their jobs, their homes and families, to take up arms to face a fierce enemy who was determined to destroy our freedoms and our beloved country. But these world enemies that our men faced, Japan and Germany, mistakenly misjudged the will and the determination of the American fighting man.

So why has the American military person been so ready to take up arms against an aggressor? Simple: Freedom. Our men and women in uniform are, and have always been, ready to fight for the freedoms the rest of us have enjoyed with hardly a ripple while going about our daily routines.

As a Navy chaplain it has been my sad duty and privileged honor to lay to rest numerous men and women whose mortal remains are resting in small town graveyards to massive national cemeteries. Their lives were cut short by war so your and my life could continue unabated.

So take time this Memorial Day, Monday, May 25, and visit the grave of a veteran from your family or friend. If you don’t know a military person who now lies entombed in the ground, then attend a Memorial Day Service at your local cemetery, and join others in giving thanks to God for those who were willing to stand in the gap and keep the wolf from the door.

You and I can sleep peacefully at night because rough men do the hard work of guarding our freedoms and keeping us safe.

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

Old Glory

            Every so often I feel compelled to write about a certain topic that is near and dear to my heart. That topic would be the proper display and care of the American flag.

As I drive through my community and surrounding areas, I take great pride in the number of businesses and homes that display our flag. It is, in a word, the greatest symbol of freedom the world has ever known. People from other countries are still risking everything to make their way to our shores because it is known world-wide that opportunity to make a wonderful life for them and their family is still very possible in the United States of America.

The American flag is called by many names, or nicknames, if you will. Some of them are: Old Glory; the Stars & Stripes; Colors (military term); the National Emblem; the Star Spangled Banner; and the Red, White and Blue.

Perhaps the best known name used for the flag is Old Glory. There’s quite an interesting story associated with the naming of the flag. In the early part of the 1800s, a ship captain of a commercial vessel, William Driver, was given a gift by his mother of a handmade American flag with the blue field boasting 24 stars, and the 13 alternating red and white stripes. Driver flew the flag on all his voyages, finally retiring in 1837, and settling in Nashville, Tennessee where he proudly flew his flag on all national holidays.

When the Civil War broke out in 1861, Driver asked some neighbor ladies to sew his beloved flag into a comforter, thus hiding it from the Confederates who were in control of Tennessee, searching to destroy anything that had to do with the United States and the Union Army. He chose not to ask his mother or other family members to undertake this task of hiding the flag. Exactly why, no one knows. I suspect it had to do with not wanting his family to reveal its whereabouts should they be pressed to give up the information.

When the war was over, Driver brought out his flag whereupon it was selected to be flown atop the spire of the state capitol building. The Ohio 6th Infantry was on hand to witness this event. Caught up in the moment, the famed unit adopted Old Glory as their motto. Newspapers printed the story referring to the flag, just as Captain Driver had done for so many years, as Old Glory. Americans all across the land quickly adopted the new name for the national flag.

Today, flags are used to represent countries, states, schools, and organizations. Flags incorporate the history and ideals of an organization or country through symbolism. For you logophiles, you lovers of words, here’s one for you: Vexillology. This mouthful means the “study of flags.” You’re sure to have fun testing your friends at work and school with this word!

Back to the point of this article today: We’re coming up on Memorial Day, (a specific day we remember those military members who have died serving our country) which is recognized this year on Monday, May 25. Then there’s Flag Day on Sunday, June 14. This is a time for all Americans to show their love of country and patriotic fervor by flying Old Glory from homes and businesses. And of course, there is our Independence Day, Saturday, July 4. All of these days are made-to-order for flying the flag.

But the love of country and the surge of patriotism will not mean very much unless the flag is properly displayed and cared for. I see far too many American flags displayed in front of homes, as well as businesses and government buildings, which are in a pathetic condition. Besides being ripped and torn, worn and frayed, the colors have faded due to constant exposure to the elements, particularly the intense sun we receive in the Central Valley of California. The bright red stripes are faded to a dull pink; the blue field is a dingy grey; and the white stars, and alternating white stripes, are a dirty beige.

I love to see Old Glory flying throughout our town, and across the nation. But, please, if you are going to fly the flag, be responsible enough to have it replaced so it never deteriorates into a condition that is embarrassing.

Take a moment to stop and look at the flag flying in front of your home. And then look at the one flying at your place of work. The flags we fly typically from our homes cost about $25-$30 dollars at any hardware store. Flags flown from businesses will run from $150-$200 and can be purchased or ordered from a flag store.

My suggestion is to purchase two flags. This way you always have a replacement flag on hand. A flag will begin to lose its luster and crispness after about six months. So replace the flag every six months. It’s the cost of lunch for two for you folks with flags flying from your home. For business folks, write the cost of two flags into your annual budget just as you would any other business operation expense.

I’m proud to be an American! I want my flag to reflect that pride, don’t you?

Old Glory! Long may she wave!


Wednesday, May 06, 2015

Praying Leaders

              Last week my wife and I were graciously invited by our friend, Susan Vander Schaaf (like: scoff), to attend the San Joaquin County Leadership Prayer Breakfast. Leaders from various parts of our county were in attendance for a full-blown breakfast in the basketball gym of the University of the Pacific (UOP) in Stockton. There were county supervisors, mayors, city council members, church leaders; there were the presidents and CEOs of businesses and leaders of our community covering a wide spectrum, all gathered for one purpose – to seek the heart of God in prayer.

A short history was written on the back of our program which explained the background for this gathering of community leaders. It reads, “In 1953, the International Christian Leadership Group first sponsored the First Annual Presidential Prayer Breakfast, or National Prayer Breakfast in Washington, D.C. Every year this event brings men and women together to seek Divine guidance for our leadership and to reaffirm our faith. Communities throughout the nation have followed this tradition by establishing their own Mayor’s Prayer Breakfast or Leadership Prayer Breakfast. Over twenty years ago, Stockton began its own Mayor’s Prayer Breakfast. In 1995, the name of the event was changed to “The San Joaquin County Leadership Prayer Breakfast” to more properly reflect the extent of its outreach.”

I can assure you that this prayer breakfast was not for the faint of heart! It started at 6:45 with a sumptuous meal served buffet style. In this environment there was an energy that was virtually palpable, only with a growing sense of expectation. Animated conversations were taking place at the multitude of tables set up all over the gym floor. A stage was set up for the emcee and various other dignitaries. Assemblywoman Kristin Olsen was our Master of Ceremonies. We opened in prayer, followed by the Pledge of Allegiance and the singing of the National Anthem. What a wonderful start!

Next followed various community members offering prayer specifically for business, agricultural and civic leaders; for military leaders, troops, law enforcement, fire service and their families; for clergy and staff; and for schools, families, and the impoverished. But there was one corporate responsorial prayer offered that, to me (and a lot of others), was the highlight of our time together. We were lead in this prayer by Dr. Stacy McAfee, Associate Vice President for External Relations at UOP. I spoke with her after the breakfast and told her how much I appreciated this prayer. The opening part of the prayer began like this: “Heavenly Father, we are human, and struggle at times to obey your commandments when it is easy to ignore them. As community leaders we humble ourselves today and ask first for your forgiveness for our transgressions as we forgive those who transgress against us. Humble our hearts as we pray for our nation’s Leaders, Families, Neighbors and ourselves with fervor and sincerity. Lord, we thank you for wisdom, understanding, and for your Holy Word. Bless us with courage, strength, and boldness to be agents of change you have called and ordained us to be.” The assembled responded with, “Lord, hear our prayer.”

The keynote speaker for our breakfast was Hercules! Well, not really, but the man who played the character of Hercules in the hit TV show, Hercules: The Legendary Journeys, ran for seven seasons. I was very interested in hearing what Kevin Sorbo had to share. I don’t think I ever watched one of the Hercules programs, but I certainly recognized his face. And Isaura and I did watch the movie he was in, God’s Not Dead! where he plays a very convincing college professor who is an avowed atheist. It was wonderfully done and I highly recommend it. In chatting with him during the book signing, he said he believes the best of the movies about faith that he’s done is What If. We’ll be watching it soon, you can be sure of that!

Besides being a highly successful actor, he is also a director, producer, and author. I had heard some time back that Kevin had become gravely ill, never realizing just how close to death he came until I listened that morning to his story. I could not begin to do it justice in the space I have, but you can read it in his recently released book, True Strength: My journey from Hercules to mere mortal and how nearly dying saved my life.

Listening to Kevin share his story, particularly how his near death experience following numerous strokes brought him to faith in Jesus, I was struck by how down-to-earth he was in sharing his struggles. He is humble about the entire ordeal but isn’t hesitant to share it with you.

So pick up a copy of his book, and watch the two movies I mentioned. You’ll be blessed!