Sunday, December 16, 2007

Imagine It Is Your Birthday

Your birthday is special; it’s a time you look forward to celebrating with friends and family. But imagine if this is what your birthday was like.

Imagine it is your birthday. At first just your family and a few friends celebrate it with you. It is a quiet celebration.

However, as time goes on, more and more people get to know you. They decide they want to celebrate your birthday as well. The birthday parties become more elaborate and widespread. Every so often someone comes to your birthday party who doesn’t know you personally but you don’t mind, you’re glad they are having a good time.

As the years go on, more and more people hear about you. Even people in other countries know about you and decide they want to celebrate your birthday as well. They come up with many strange and different ways to celebrate you birthday.

Somewhere along the way, in addition to giving you presents for your birthday, people start giving presents to each other. This idea becomes really popular. Before long, even people who have no idea who you are begin giving and receiving presents on your birthday. They even start making up lists of things they want to be given on your birthday!

People begin having parties on your birthday but never mention you or even give you a second thought. They are having so much fun celebrating by giving presents to each other they don’t even bother giving you any presents. They send out birthday cards to each other that have nothing to do with you.

Then one day, someone says to you “I don’t think we should invite you to the birthday party anymore. You make some people uncomfortable. Please just go away and let us have the party without you.”

Imagine your birthday was like that. How would you like it?

Isn’t that what has happened to Jesus Christ’s birthday? Hasn’t it become a birthday party at which He is not welcome?

Saturday, November 24, 2007

Second-Hand Profanity

Recently, my wife and I were having dinner in a restaurant that is near the campus of Salisbury University. It was an early Saturday evening so, not surprisingly, the crowded restaurant had many patrons in their 20’s.

The restaurant was noisy, which was to be expected. What I did not expect was the second-hand profanity made up the ambiance of the restaurant. Several nearby groups of young diners had free-flowing profanity as a major part of their dinner conversation. They were particularly fond of using f-bombs. Not only were these groups co-ed, some of the women were using the f-bombs right along with the guys. These groups didn’t give a second thought to others in the restaurant, including several families with young children.

I really enjoy this restaurant but the second-hand profanity ruined the evening for us. What’s more, since it was several groups using this offensive language, I didn’t go from table to table and ask them to stop—it seems we were in the minority.

I am intentionally using the term “second hand profanity.” Second-hand smoke has been recognized as a real hazard and irritant. Smokers have had to accept the fact that their freedom to smoke doesn’t give them the right to inflict that smoke upon others. I think the same principle applies to second-hand profanity. Someone’s freedom of speech expressed as profanity does not give them the right to inflict it upon bystanders.

As a Christian, I believe that words have great power to either help or harm. Words can inspire or leave scars that last a lifetime. I think profanity is a careless use of offensive words that have no positive effect and in fact have great potential to harm.

According to studies, profanity is becoming much more common and accepted in our culture. The halls of our schools echo with language that would have embarrassed sailors a couple of generations ago. However, being more common doesn’t make it right.

Perhaps restaurants and public facilities need to separate the profane and non-profane. Perhaps there can be a “cursing-free section” in restaurants, theatres, athletic arenas [Ball games are another location where profanity has become not only accepted but expected!], etc. Of course, if we who are offended by profanity are indeed a shrinking minority, we may find ourselves as social outcasts like the forlorn smokers forced outside to grab a smoke.

I would be interested to hear if profanity bothers you and if so how you handle it in public situations. If it doesn’t bother you, I’d be interested in your defense of profanity.

Sunday, November 11, 2007

Taxes…The Beatles were right again!
What do the Beatles and Maryland’s current special legislative session have in common?

As a Beatles’ fan for more than 40 years, it never ceased to amaze me how much insight into life these young men from Liverpool showed in some of their songs. Remember how the song “Eleanor Rigby” so eloquently expressed the haunting pain of loneliness?

Well, they knew much about government and taxes as well. Here are the lyrics written by George Harrison in angry response to the abusive taxes in Great Britain all those years ago.
Let me tell you How it will be.
There's one for you,Nineteen for me, '
Cause I'm the taxman.
Yeah, I'm the taxman.
Should five percent Appear too small,
Be thankful I don't Take it all.
'Cause I'm the taxman.
Yeah, I'm the taxman. I
f you drive a car,I'll tax the street.
If you drive to city,I'll tax your seat.
If you get too cold,I'll tax the heat.I
f you take a walk,I'll tax your feet.
'Cause I'm the taxman.
Yeah, I'm the taxman.
Don't ask me what I want it for,
If you don't want to pay some more.
'Cause I'm the taxman.
Yeah, I'm the taxman.
And my advice to Those who die.
Declare the pennies On your eyes.
'Cause I'm the taxman.
Yeah, I'm the taxman,
And you're working for no one but me.
This brings me to the current special session of Maryland’s legislature. This session was called because of the “crisis” of a huge budget deficit of $1.6 billion facing the state next year.
[These things are always portrayed as crises, which demand urgent drastic measures. Were there no accountants around when the legislature passed all these spending bills to warn them they were spending more money than the state would take in?]
Now we are told drastic measures are needed. What is their creative response to this “crisis?” More taxes! Income taxes are going up, sales tax is going up, car titling tax is going up, and cigarette tax is going up. [Here’s my prediction for the not-to-distant future: when people stop smoking in large numbers, another budget crisis will cause the desperate search for new taxes to replace lost income from cigarette tax.]
Harrison perfectly caught the attitude of politicians and taxes: “don’t ask me what I want it for if you don’t want to pay some more…you’re working for no one but me.” Enough is enough.
Even though Maryland is effectively a one-party state, I urge you to take a hard look at the candidates you vote to send to Annapolis. If we send enough political leaders with a heart to serve the people, maybe we can change the attitude of the Taxman.

Saturday, November 3, 2007

Is That It?

Could there be a less fulfilling World Series than the one just concluded by Boston and Colorado? There have been Delmarva Shorebirds-Hickory Crawdads series with more excitement. [These are Single A minor league affiliates of the Baltimore Orioles and Pittsburg Pirates respectively.]

Is it the fact that I’m getting older or has baseball--all professional sports for that matter—lost its magic?

I have been a lifelong baseball fan. I remember when people anxiously anticipated the outcome of World Series games. Long before there were sports bars, you could go into many a local business and the World Series would be on the radio by the cash register. People talked about the games in the barber shops, around the water cooler at work, and in the coffee shops.

How different it is today. Quick, without looking it up, who was the winning pitcher of the deciding game of this year’s World Series?

The biggest baseball news of this Fall has been from the team which didn’t make it out of the first round of the playoffs, the New York Yankees. The best player in baseball, Alex Rodriquez, opted out of his contract to play anywhere else but for the Yankees. The manager who won four World Series’ championships, Joe Torre, was effectively shown the door and told to not let it hit him in the butt on the way out.

[By the way, Joe is not the only Yankee manager to which such a thing has happened. Charles Dillon Stengel, known to everyone as “Casey” and “The Old Professor, had an even more successful career and a more ignoble departure as Yankee manager. Casey like Torre managed the Yankees for 12 seasons. During that span they played in 10 World Series and won 7 of them. His clubs included Joe Dimagio, Mickey Mantle, Yogi Berra, and Whitey Ford. Yet after losing the 1960 World Series in 7 games to the Pittsburg Pirates because of the late inning heroics of Bill Mazeraski, Stengel was dismissed being told by management that he was too old to manage.]

Frankly, baseball and all sports have become overexposed. We know the most intimate details about the players which as a result makes them seem smaller somehow. Cal Ripken may be the last baseball hero. We have sports saturation as a result of cable networks like ESPN which have an insatiable appetite for events to hype and fill their 24/7/365 schedules.

By the time the championship is finally decided, we are weary of it all and just anxious for it to be over. As a result, the World Series is anticlimactic. By the time it concludes, we really don’t care. We lifelong baseball fans ask ourselves “Is that it?”

Sunday, September 30, 2007


Some things never go out of style. Take the shell game for example. You may have seen this game—or a variation of it such as “3 Card Monte”—on the midway of a fly-by-night carnival. The concept is very simple: the slyly smiling con artist running the game shows you a pea, puts it under one of three shells lined up in front of you, mixes up the shells with lightning fast moves, then challenges you to find the pea. You are certain you followed the shell with the pea and you confidently point to it. He lifts the shell to reveal it is empty! Stunned you try again—same result, no pea! No matter how many times you try it, the guy’s hand is always quicker than your eyes.

They must teach this game at orientation classes for politicians. Many political leaders do this regularly. Our taxes are collected for worthwhile and noble purposes. Yet, so many of those promised noble services are never delivered while our taxes never seem to be sufficient. Like the shell game operator, no matter how carefully government operations are watched by the public, we never can find the elusive pea of fiscal responsibility.

Which brings me to the situation in my state of Maryland. We are told that there is a $1.7 billion deficit in this year’s state government budget. Our erstwhile Governor O’Malley has proposed that the solution is raising taxes and finally getting approval for state-sponsored slot machines.

When an individual or family faces a budget deficit—more month than money—they look at both sides of the budget equation. They look at ways they can get more income. They also look at ways to reduce spending in order to restore budget balance. Individuals and families recognize they can’t do everything they’d like to do and still live within their means. They make hard spending decisions based on what is more important to them. In this way, they learn to live within their income.

Government always looks at ways to get more income—taxes and gambling are always the prime methods. However, I never hear discussion about reducing spending. It’s as if the thought never occurs to the smartest minds in Annapolis. It seems our political leaders are never willing to acknowledge they can’t give us everything everyone wants. Their solution is to keep the shells moving, all the while taking more money out of our pockets. As I said, some games never go out of style.

Governor O’Malley has called for a special session of the legislature to enact this latest round of shell manipulation. It’s great timing for such action. Most of us will pay no attention to what’s going on in Annapolis. We’ll be too busy getting ready for Thanksgiving and Christmas to notice the games being played with our money in Annapolis.

In my next posting I want to talk about shell game of state-sponsored gambling.

Wednesday, September 12, 2007


I find the idea of time travel fascinating. It was a key element of storytelling in one of my all-time favorite television series The Twilight Zone, the original created by Rod Serling not the lame imitation of a few years ago. Classic time travel stories take a person unexpectedly from the familiar surroundings of their own time to places either in the past or the future.

Rev. Samuel Madden is considered one of the first writers to tell a time travel story, Memoirs of the Twentieth Century: Being original letters of state under George the Sixth written in 1733. Others from Mark Twain to Washington Irving to Charles Dickens to Isaac Asimov to Robert Heinlein to Woody Allen have joined Madden and Serling in writing about time travel.

All those stories seemed wonderfully fanciful. But maybe not. Quantum theory suggests the possibilty of time travel. Who knows if it might be possible to step through a time portal and find yourself suddenly in another time, another place?

Which leads me to the point of this: when would you go if you could travel anywhere in time to the past or the future?

I love history so there are many historic moments in the past I would love to visit. Some of them are:
· As a Christian there are many moments from the Bible I would love to visit: the Garden of Eden, to see Noah building the Ark, the parting of the Red Sea, and the confrontation of David with Goliath. Most of all I would love to be there at daybreak on the first Easter morning when Jesus emerged from the tomb.

· One of my heroes has always been Davy Crockett. I would like to be in the Alamo when Davy and the others make their heroic last stand against Santa Anna’s army.

· I would love to be there on July 20, 1969, when Neil Armstrong steps off the landing pad of Eagle and onto the surface of the moon.

There are also moments in the past that are only meaningful to me that I’d love to visit—or revisit.

· How thrilling it would be to witness the moment my parents met for the first time. I’d love to see them as teenagers who meet having no idea what the future has in store for them.

· I’d give anything to go back in time and sit around my Mom-Mom Collins’ Sunday dinner table with my family. Though we were poor, that table was filled with wonderful homemade dishes of every description, with her fried chicken at the center. The joy and love around that table was priceless.

· I’d love to be in the Midway Drive-in Theatre on a hot early June night in 1968 when I met Karen, my future wife. It would be embarrassing to see how awkward and slightly intoxicated I was but it would be worth it to see how gorgeous she was—and still is.

Time travel is intriguing to think about. Regardless of the mechanics—a visit from Christmas Ghosts or sitting in a sleigh surrounded by blinking lights—the concept is awesome to consider. These are some of the times to which I would travel. Let me ask you: when and why would you go in time? I’d really be interested to hear from you.

Sunday, September 9, 2007


My local newspaper, The Daily Times [Salisbury, Maryland], ran a front page story today that was hardly a scoop. It tells the sad story of the rapidly fading corporate remembrance of the events of September 11, 2001.

In the years immediately following 2001, September 11 was marked by well-attended memorial events, both secular and religious. But in more recent years, poor attendance resulted in the cancellation of most community 9/11 memorial events. I attended an excellent worship service today but their was no mention of the impending anniversary of the terrorists’ attack on America. This year’s observances shall be confined to first-responders’ organizations.

Why has this happened? It certainly didn’t happen following the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. How can we so quickly forget such a cataclysmic event in United States history that occurred just six years ago?

It would be simple to find the answers in some sweeping analysis of society. However, I think the answers are much simpler; I think it is found in two of the primary causes of forgetfulness.

Stress: We all live in a stress-packed environment. No matter your age or occupation we are all under immense stress. If you are a student, you’ve got the stress of being socially accepted, studying to be able to pass the state examinations, and the hectic schedule of sports practices and music lessons. If you’re a parent, you’ve got all of your kids’ schedules to keep in addition to keeping your job so you can pay the mortgage, car payment, and credit card bills. Ask a farm family dealing with this year’s devastating drought, they can tell you about stress. If you’re a retiree, you’ve got the stress of worrying about your pension, your health, and trying to figure out how to fit into a world where everything is changing.

Get the idea? We are all so stressed with the challenges of real life that we can’t seem to take the time or have the energy to look at the bigger picture which includes the post-September 11th world in which we are living.

What’s more, if we keep the vivid memory of the ugly realities of 9/11, then we are forced to face the fact of how vulnerable we all are to such attacks today. Even after spending billions of dollars, it is doubtful that you and I are any safer from attacks by suicidal fanatics.
It would seem we’ve taken the Scarlet O’Hara approach to dealing with hard and uncomfortable facts: “I’ll worry about that tomorrow!”

Fatigue: A related problem to stress is fatigue. Fatigue and stress feed on each other like an emotion atomic reaction, one intensifies the other.

Everyone is fatigued these days. Like stress, fatigue afflicts every age group. Children are getting less sleep because of long hours of school, soccer, and homework. Adults find they have so much to do that the only way they can even come close to keeping all their commitments is to use time they would normally sleep. We are people who are physically exhausted—that’s one reason for the skyrocketing popularity of the new energy drinks and high-octane Starbuck’s coffee. In spite of these, fatigue causes us to limit ourselves to dealing with the most immediate and personal matters. We just don’t have the energy to worry about the world at large.

Another kind of fatigue that is also making us forgetful about 9/11: war fatigue. We have been fighting the Iraq War longer than we fought World War II yet a victorious conclusion seems nowhere in sight. Instead, it seems to be never-ending. We are weary of trying to fight terrorism by being in league with corrupt Iraqi politicians, an inept Iraqi army, and an Iraqi population that seems more devoted to settling ancient tribal grudges than they are to defeating global terrorists. We are simply tired of the Iraq War which we said we were fighting as payback for 9/11.

Remembering 9/11 only makes us more frustrated and fatigued, so we choose to stop remembering.

Until the next attack happens.

The words of philosopher George Santayana will echo on Tuesday “Those who cannot remember the past are doomed to repeat it.”

Sunday, September 2, 2007

What You Will Not See In The Washington Post

What You Will Not See In the Washington Post
There are fewer things I find more offensive than biased attempts at political correctness. A recent example of by a virtuoso purveyor of biased political correctness, the Washington Post, is a prime example.

Berkeley Breathed is the cartoonist who produced the marvelous comic strip “Bloom County” during the 1980’s that featured biting satire in the velvet glove of humor. Several years ago, Breathed began producing a Sunday comic strip called “Opus” which continues offering his views on today’s world.

A couple of weeks ago he did the strip you see here which offers some subtle satire of the Muslim view of women. Religion and religious leaders have never been exempt from Breathed’s wit. Several weeks prior to this strip, he did a strip that had a sarcastic remark about the late Rev. Jerry Falwell.

Here is where the biased political correctness reared its head. Decision makers at the Washington Post decided the above strip was possibly offensive to Muslims and refused to publish it. However, they’d had no concerns about Christians being offended by the earlier strip that targeted the late Rev. Falwell. The juxtaposition of these two strips makes the bias all the more obvious.

The fact of the matter is that neither the Washington Post— nor any other mainstream media—have any hesitancy about offending Christians. But there is a growing fear among the media of offending Muslims. Why is that?

One writer said he thinks it is because they think there is the chance that an offended Muslim might just declare jihad [“holy war”] and set off a bomb. That is an extreme statement—certainly most Muslims are not bombers and terrorists. However, perhaps that much distorted stereotype is how the Washington Post pundits and other media elite think of Muslims.
Conversely the Washington Post knows there is no chance that Christians will respond violently to criticism or ridicule from a comic strip or editorial writer. The worst they can expect from Christians is a few angry emails.

I don’t think either strip should be censored. Do I like the ridicule of Rev. Falwell after his death when he can’t defend himself? No, but much worse was said about him during his lifetime yet he never let it stop him. I was not a great admirer of Rev. Falwell’s political activism—he was however a wonderful preacher—but he graciously accepted the rough and tumble nature of the public forum.
However, neither should we fear public critique of Muslim or other faiths. They are part of the public landscape. Furthermore, Muslims in other countries have no qualms about ridiculing and demeaning Christianity and anything remotely American. Therefore, they should expect and accept public critique, the kind that is not allowed in any Muslim-controlled country.

Biased political correctness is nothing more than the worse kind of prejudice in a thin disguise.

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Michael Vick and a Wake-Up Call about Dog Fighting

Even if you’re not a sports fan, you know about the legal troubles of Atlanta Falcons’ quarterback Michael Vick. Mr. Vick is known in the NFL as an escape artist who manages to elude the opponents’ biggest, toughest defensive linemen. However, he found that not even his legendary scrabbling skills could help him avoid the biggest, baddest pursuer he’s ever faced—the federal government.

Next week in federal court, Michael Vick will plead guilty to being a major participant and money-man in dog fighting, some of which occurred on his property in Virginia. He is certain to spend at least a year in prison and is in real jeopardy of losing his $130 million pro football contract. That seems like a very high price for “keeping it real.”

I must admit the existence of this extensive dog fighting subculture came as a complete surprise to me. I cannot imagine that anyone of any age, social class, income, or other demographic would find the spectacle of one dog killing another dog to be fun. Yet apparently dog fighting is the modern equivalent of gladiators in many metropolitan areas, especially among drug dealers, gangs, and hip-hopsters.

The outrage in this country has been explosive. The reason is simple: many of us have dogs and we can’t imagine such cruelty being visited upon such lovable animals, as our own Casper—an energetic Bishon Frise.

One infuriating aspect of this story is that Michael Vick, who was living the fantasy of so many sports fans, threw it all away for the sake of such a barbaric pastime as dog fighting. You wonder why some of his true friends of advisers didn’t tell him how foolish his dog fighting involvement was. Maybe they did and Mr. Vick just assumed he could get away just like he always did on the playing field. As it turns out, he was not as invulnerable as he thought.

One final infuriating aspect of this sad story is now emerging. Just today the NAACP is publicly defending Michael Vick and insisting that the NFL allow him to play when his prison sentence is over. Doesn’t the NAACP remember the principle of its most eloquent spokesman Dr. Martin Luther King? Dr. King looked forward to the time when people would be judged “not by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.” NAACP should passionately defend people of character not simply those who share a skin color.

Tuesday, August 7, 2007


This is a picture of a miracle in a box. Recently my wife gave me a Garmins® global positioning device, commonly known as a GPS, for me to use when I travel by automobile. I confess I am not a tech person and therefore am easily amazed by the wonders of today’s technology. But, this device is an awesome piece of computer wizardry.

The concept is wonderfully simple. It uses signals from satellites orbiting hundreds of miles about the earth to pinpoint your current location, and then gives you step by step directions on how to get to where you want to go. What’s more, while you are traveling the map on the screen shows precisely where you are and how far away you are from your next turn. If you make a wrong turn, it immediately alerts you to turn around then tells you how to get back on course.
[One word of warning, if you are paranoid about the government always watching you, GPS technology is going to make you even more wary of “them.”]

What’s more, you can store in memory a number of your favorite locations for quick recall as needed. If you forget—let’s say—your way to church, you simply bring up that location, and off you go! Or, if you are really confused and forget how to get home, you simply pull up that location, and head for home.

GPS seems like something Captain Kirk would use on the Starship Enterprise. In fact, I had a Captain Kirk moment as we were traveling to visit family in Tennessee. As I was using the GPS to guide me to where we were going, I pushed a button on my center console which gave me computer readout of gasoline mileage and distance before my tank would be empty. Meanwhile my wife was talking on her cell phone. I felt ready to cry out “Beam me up, Scotty!”
This idea of clear step-by-step directions to get where you want to go and warning when you get off course is terrific for driving. But what if there was a GPS for life? What if there was something that would take you step-by-step through learning to hit a baseball or surviving junior high school? What if there was a GPS for guiding you step-by-step to a happy marriage or a successful career? With the 20-20 hindsight of a parent of adult children, how I would loved to have had something that would have given me step-by-step directions to raising happy, healthy, well-adjusted children! Even doing these things by faith in God, the directions were never as clear or immediate as my GPS.

I highly recommend this wondrous gadget to you. Like all technology, the price is continuing to decrease on them—my wife got ours on sale! However, the manufacturers of these miraculous devices are missing a great selling point in their advertisements. The greatest thing about a GPS is not the convenience or safety. The greatest thing about having a GPS is that I will never have to be nagged about stopping and asking directions again!! That alone is worth the purchase price.

Thursday, August 2, 2007

Where has he been?

Did his computer die?
Did he die?
Did he get mad and quit?
Did he run out of things to say already?
Who’s he anyway?
These may be things anyone who has visited this blog before has been wondering, if they bothered to think about it at all. It has been a month since I posted anything on this blog. I realize this is a cardinal sin for bloggers. For the record none of those things are true! Let me explain myself.
I love writing. I express myself most fully through writing. What’s more I like the give and take of public writing. For a number of years I wrote regular opinion columns in local daily newspapers; I even got paid for them. I loved it when something I wrote inspired an emotional “Letter to the Editor” or telephone call.
It never ceases to bring joy to me that someone takes the time to read and respond to something I write. For that reason, I have really come to enjoy the quick response time of blogging. Often you get feedback to a blog within hours of posting it—sometimes even in minutes.
So why haven’t I written anything in a month?
Certainly there has been no shortage of things to write about. I considered writing about the drought that is crushing farmers on the Delmarva Peninsula—but I didn’t. I wanted to write something following the very public death of Tammy Faye Bakker Messner—but I didn’t. I wanted to write something about the Stephen King-like discovery of the skeletal remains of four babies in the front yard of an Ocean City, Maryland, taxi driver—but I didn’t.
I find myself in something of the quandary that the Biblical writer Paul described when he said “The things I want to do, I don’t do and the things I don’t want to do, that’s what I do.” Lately, I find that my time and energy get devoured by things that are urgent but not necessarily important. Writer Charles Hummel called this the “Tyranny of the Urgent.” [I highly recommend his essay written in 1967 by that title; it’s more true today than ever.]
This leads to great frustration because the things that matter most are left undone while all my efforts are being spent on things that seem necessary but bring little joy.
I think this problem is not limited to bloggers or writers in general. I suspect many of us find this kind of frustration smoldering within. I can’t give you 3 or 5 easy steps to overcome it. I can tell you the first step is to recognize it is happening. You may find that this tyranny of the urgent is keeping you from spending more time with people you love, playing golf, reading the final installment of Harry Potter, or writing your own blog. In any case, recognize that you are missing out on what would bring you real joy.
Next, in the immortal words of Nike “Just Do It!” I had to find a quiet spot, open my computer, and start writing. It wasn’t enough for me to keep saying to myself “I wish I had time to write something” or “My schedule is keeping me from writing.” This is certainly not the best piece I have ever written but it’s better than anything I wrote in the last 30 days! The same will be true of time you spend with your loved one today or that round of golf you play tomorrow—it’ll be far better than nothing.
Let me know how your own battle with that terrible tyrant of the urgent goes. As for me, I am writing regularly again so I hope you’ll be back.

Wednesday, July 4, 2007

The Miracle of Our Freedom

On the Fourth of July it is usual for people to wax eloquently about freedom. We symbolically break out powdered wigs, quill pens, and flintlock muskets to celebrate another observance of that radical revolutionary defiance of the most powerful nation in the world at the time, Great Britain.

Perhaps for us living in America of the first decade of the 21st century, we should take time to reflect on just how miraculous it is that the revolution symbolized by that document signed in a steamy Philadelphia in early July 1776 has lasted these 221 years. Twenty-two decades later we still enjoy “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.” We should take a moment to realize how rare such an outcome is for revolutions, how rare it is that widespread personal and political freedom continues.

Less than ten years after our victory at Yorktown, revolutionaries seeking freedom for the common man in France overthrew their king. They executed King Louis XVI and his queen, Marie Antoinette, on the guillotine. The revolution was high jacked by radical extremists bent on revenge and retribution. In the name of revolution they carried out wholesale slaughter of anyone perceived as an enemy of the people. This in turn led to rise to power of a military strongman, Napoleon Bonaparte, who in turn made himself absolute emperor of France. Liberty, equality, and fraternity were lost for many decades.

In my lifetime I have seen our nation try to export liberty. That was one of our goals in Viet Nam. We were going to build a bastion against Communism in Southeast Asia by having a strong democracy centered in Saigon. After spending billions of dollars and sacrificing the lives of 51,000 of America’s best and brightest, the dreams of democracy were crushed by the victory of Ho Chi Minh and his Communist allies.

Our latest effort to export radical democracy is facing a similar fate. In 2003 we had grand visions of removing the brutal dictator in Iraq and establish a strong democracy centered in Baghdad which would become a launching point for democracy to spread throughout the Middle East. This, we were sure, would be a bastion against radical Islamic extremists.

In a terrible flashback to Viet Nam, the same tragic chain of events is again unfolding. We have not found a cadre of brilliant visionary patriotic Iraqis to lead their people. We have instead gotten caught in the middle of a scenario more like the French Revolution, where leaders are using their newfound power to settle old grudges and fill their own pockets. We have invested many more billions of dollars and a growing number of the lives of America’s best and brightest with little to show for it. Ultimately we will be forced, like we were in Viet Nam, to accept failure and leave Iraq no closer to genuine democracy than they were under Sadam Hussein.

The French Revolution, Viet Nam, Iraq, and a countless other failed efforts to establish real democracy should serve to remind us that we are the continuing beneficiaries of an 18th century miracle—the successful establishment of democracy. I believe our liberty is precisely a miracle, an undeserved gift from Almighty God. As such the most appropriate way to celebrate the 4th of July is not with fireworks but with fervent prayer of thanks to Him who continues to give us “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.

Sunday, June 24, 2007

10 Things I Want to Do Before I Go to Heaven

Sometimes we can get so caught up in the hectic day-to-day flurry of activity that we can lose sight of some important things of this life. Few are guiltier of this than me.
I came across an article from that caught my interest; it is entitled “10 Things You Should Do Before Going to Heaven.” In deference to the blog format, I am going to talk about several of them in this posting, then consider the others in future postings. These are not in any particular order.
Reconnect with a Long Lost Friend
This really hit home with me. My wife and I have moved 10 times during our marriage. With every move we left dear friends behind with all the good intentions of keeping in touch. Of course it almost never happened. We’d get busy at the new place, meeting new friends, and before long we had lost touch with the ones left behind.
One friend in particular comes to mind. You may know him: Gene Esham of Millsboro, Delaware, known to everyone as “Gerb.” For two critical years in my late teens, Gerb was my best friend. I trusted him with my life. He was my best man at my wedding. We kept in touch for awhile after I got married and moved away but gradually we lost touch. I haven’t talked with him for 35 years.
I am going to find his address and reach out to him. I want to see what he’s doing, meet his kids and grandkids; I want him to meet mine. I want to sit around with him, tell each other lies about how we haven’t changed a bit, relive some old memories, and make some new ones.
Refuse to Act Your Age
I am thinking more and more about a quote from one of my childhood sports heroes, Mickey Mantle. The Mick, who suffered from terrible injuries from playing baseball and the terrible ravages of a lifetime of alcohol abuse said toward the end of his life “If I’d known I was going to live this long, I’d have taken better care of myself.”
Age has a way of giving you a new perspective. However, the passing of the years is no excuse for acting like a grumpy old man. Though teenage cashiers at restaurants automatically give me the “Senior Citizen Discount” without even asking, I am going to refuse to act old. That means I will not:

  • Drive down the highway in the right lane at 40 mph for ten miles with my blinker on.
  • Tell young people how much better music, movies, clothes, or kids were in “my day.”
  • Retire, sit around, and do nothing but complain about the government.
  • Buy a rocking chair.
  • Live in the past.
  • Be a general complainer about everything from the music at church to the service in Wal-Mart.
    To me this does mean I will:
  • Laugh more and help others to laugh as well.
  • Enjoy the present I have with my family, my friends, and my ministry.
  • Refuse to live in fear of anything, even getting older.
  • Learn to play the guitar and play it publicly.
  • Every once and awhile just act silly.
    Spend a Day Alone with God
    I have been in ministry a long time; I left my career in retailing to answer God’s call to ministry. I am busy with many tasks every day that are part of my ministry. My calendar is filled with commitments and appointments.
    I need to clear my calendar and just spend an entire day with God. This is not some elaborate ritual to be performed in hopes of gaining brownie points with God. It is to simply spend time with Him with no agenda, no prayer list, no sermon preparation, and no problem needing an immediate solution.
    This will be a day of getting reconnected, the same kind of regular reconnecting we need with our spouses, our children, and our friends. I have never been very good at this—see item #1 about finding my once best friend. So, I will spend a day just hanging out with the One with whom I will spend eternity.
    There you have it—the beginning of my “To Do Before Heaven List.” I’ll continue this in later postings but meantime, I’d be interested in hearing what’s on your list.

Saturday, June 16, 2007

Wisdom from Dad

On this Father’s Day, like many I have been thinking about the wisdom which I got from my Dad. My father is Clifford Revel, know to everyone as Cliff. He died in 1998 after an 18 month bout with a particularly nasty form of cancer. I speak of him in the present tense because though he is no longer around physically, his wisdom and role modeling are a living reality for me. So let me share three things I learned from my Dad.
If you’re going to do something do your best or don’t do it at all.

Dad didn’t invent this idea but he lived by it and he insisted his sons do so as well. This principle is very simple. If you agree to do something, do your very best regardless of anything else. It doesn’t matter how much you are being paid to do it or if you’re getting paid at all. If you have started something, finish it the very best that you can.
I have found this to be a very high standard. I have worked at some low paying jobs but I strove to do my very best even for minimum wage. I have done things as a volunteer. That was no excuse for Cliff’s boys to do them half-way. The same is true for menial tasks I do around home—I’ve got to do my best or not do it.
As I look back at 40 years of schooling and employment by someone other than my Dad, I am thankful that’s been my standard. My teachers and employers have always gotten—and will always get—my very best effort. I am proud of that standard.
Don’t be afraid to change.
Like most who grew up during the Great Depression, my Dad’s formal education was cut short by the necessity to work to help support the family. He only completed the 8th grade before he left school to work on the tenant farm his family tilled. However, no one ever mistook his lack of education for a lack of intelligence.
Following the path of his father, when Dad had a family of his own, he became a tenant farmer as well. If you know anything about the tenant farm system, you know that a person will never get ahead financially. My Dad worked second jobs, he started a couple of businesses on the side, and my Mom worked full time in a shirt factory just to make ends meet. Sometimes they did and sometimes they didn’t. We always struggled financially when I was growing up.
Dad was a great believer in the value of education. He was determined that I was going to college. In my senior year of high school Dad knew something had to change. If I went to college he would no longer have the unpaid farm hand that was needed to keep the farm running. My younger brother was 5, much too young to fill that role. What’s more Dad faced the reality of having to go deeply in debt to get newer farming equipment—everything we had was worn out.
He decided he was never going to get ahead the way things were going. Therefore, he decided to quit farming and take the only decent paying job he could get—a prison guard at the state prison. It was a job that offered a steady income, health benefits, and retirement plan—none of which farming offered.
So at age 41 Cliff Revel made a drastic life change, leaving farming which he loved to take a job he hated. He did it for the sake of his family. It was a huge change which many people at that age would have been afraid to make. But not my Dad.
He showed me what real courage is. In an earlier posting I talked about my hero worship of John Wayne. However, as I got older I realized that real courage is more than what cowboys on the silver screen do.
Real courage is how people face the tough times of life.
I already knew my Dad had quiet courage’ I’d seen it many times. But never was his courage more evident than in his final battle with cancer. For 18 months he fought the good fight with the pain, fear, and uncertainty that comes with pancreatic cancer. As the days passed, cancer withered him physically but not spiritually. His faith in Jesus Christ, which he had renewed some years earlier, gave him the courage and the strength to withstand the worst cancer could throw at him.
In those months, Dad and I became closer than we’d ever been. In some ways, I became his pastor. We talked about everything. He trusted me with his most personal thoughts, a new quality our relationship had not had before.
My Dad’s courage was evident not in loud bravado but in quiet resolution to not surrender to the disease. He kept his good spirits; he encouraged others who visited with him. He treasured the times with family, especially my Mom. He never surrendered, never backed up from the challenges of cancer. He fought it to his last breath. I can remember standing at his bedside moments after his spirit had departed his body thinking “Cancer lost. All it could take was his body.”
I hope that I can face the challenges of my life with that kind of courage.
We have two adult children and four grandchildren. As I have thought about the things I learned from my Dad, the inevitable next question comes: what wisdom, if any, are my children learning from me?
Only they can answer that question.

Monday, June 11, 2007

Having a Bad Day?

So, you think you are having a bad day? What is your definition of a bad day?
• Did you turn off the alarm clock, overslept, and were late for work?
• Has everything you have done today seemed wrong?
• Did you forget your wedding anniversary?
• Did your favorite team lose the game?
• Were you unhappy with The Sopranos final episode?
• Did you find you couldn’t get online to check your email?
• You had to wait in line at the store?
Let me tell you what having a really bad day is like. Ben Carpenter of Kalamazoo, Michigan, had a bad day on Wednesday, June 6. Ben has muscular dystrophy which confines him to a wheelchair. He was visiting in nearby Paw Paw to see a friend.
As Ben was crossing a street, strapped in his wheelchair, the traffic light changed. A semi-trailer truck driver didn’t see Ben and started moving his truck forward. The truck turned Ben’s wheelchair forward and the handles became lodged in the massive truck’s grille. The truck continued moving forward pushing Ben in his wheelchair ahead of it.
The truck picked up speed as the driver sought to make up lost time. Soon he was traveling at 50 m.p.h. All the while, Ben and his wheel chair had become the unintentional hood ornament for this semi moving down the highway. Imagine that, going 50 m.p.h. in a wheelchair!
Ben’s friend was horrified when she realized what had happened. Frantically, she flagged down a motorist to tell him what had happened. The motorist took off after the truck, relentlessly blowing his horn. Meanwhile the friend called 911 pleading for help from the police.
Quickly police cars responded. They managed to get the bewildered trucker stopped after about four miles. The trip had worn all the rubber off the wheelchair’s wheels. By the grace of God, Ben was uninjured and none the worse for the experience. In fact he told the officers “It was quite a ride!”
So, the next time you think you are having a bad day, remember Ben Carpenter. Your day is probably not as bad as being a grill adornment for a semi. It’s all a matter of perspective.

Sunday, June 3, 2007

Sgt Pepper's 40th Anniversary

Saturday, June 2, marked the 40th anniversary of the release of one of the greatest albums of all time Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band by The Beatles. Can it really have been 40 years ago?
Sgt. Pepper was released at the beginning of the summer of 1967, what has become known to us Baby Boomers as the “Summer of Love.” It has a special place in my heart because I had just bought a 1966 Pontiac Tempest, which was my second choice because my Dad wouldn’t sign the paper work for me to get what I really wanted—a 1966 red GTO convertible. Then I made the major purchase of the latest audio technology: an 8 track tape player. After buying the player, I could only afford one album so I bought Sgt. Peppers. I listened to that tape over and over and over again until I could afford to buy another tape.
I knew the words, the chord changes, and the inflections to every song by heart—I still do. When I listen to the album now on cd I still expect to hear the “click” which the 8 track player would make when it moved to the next track.
This Beatles’ album provided the sound track for the summer of 1967. You cannot appreciate how inventive and creative those songs were! They opened the door for me to another world far removed from the stifling confines of rural southern Delaware. Riding around on hot summer nights listening to “Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds,” “Get By with a Little Help from my Friends,” “A Day in the Life,” and even the maudlin “She’s Leaving Home” carried me far away from the life I was living.
For me, and many other Baby Boomers, the “Summer of Love” was not what the merchants of nostalgia tell you it was. There was no chance I was going to drive cross country to San Francisco, California. That was only for rich kids. My Dad needed me to help him on our tenant farm for one more year as he was trying to find a new career to better provide for him, my Mom, and baby brother.
I had just graduated from Millsboro High School and was going to begin college classes at the new Delaware Technical and Community College because my family could not afford for me to go anywhere else. The two choices facing an 18 year-old male in the summer of 1967 were either college or the Army.
I had a part time job in a supermarket and a car payment for my “new” one year-old car. [I have had car payments for more than 40 years!] Even as an 18 year-old I had responsibilities that limited my options.
What’s more the “Summer of Love” was also a time of bad news and heartache for many Baby Boomers. During that year 11,100 American soldiers died in Viet Nam; that’s an average of nearly 1000 per month. During the “Summer of Love” the families, friends, girlfriends, and classmates of 2800 men received news of their death in that crazy Asian war. Some of those men had just graduated in June. The summer of 1967 was not all hippies, flowers, and free love. It was also heartbreak and grief for many.
All the while, playing in the background was Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band. In some ways it’s hard to believe that was 40 years ago, yet it also seems like it happened in another lifetime. Such is the reality of aging.
In less than three years the Beatles would break up and never reunite. We who loved and listened to Sgt. Pepper would move on and grow up. We would have families, responsibilities, and greater things to worry about than “Fixing a Hole” in the roof. But the Beatles gave me a warmth from their music that I carry with me to this very day.

Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Centenniel of a Legend

Saturday, May 26, marked the 100th anniversary of the birth of Marion Robert Morrison in Winterset, Iowa. That name may not ring a bell. After Marion’s family moved to southern California, he got a summer job working in the movies. They changed Marion’s name to John Wayne, know affectionately as “The Duke.”
For those under 40 years old, John Wayne is somebody in a late-night grainy black and white movie or an antique action hero in a feature on Turner Classic Movies.
For my generation, John Wayne was the quintessential American hero. The characters he played were always men who stood up for right, didn’t care what other people thought, and weren’t afraid to use their fists or their guns to beat the bad guys. They didn’t worry for a moment about being “politically correct.”
It was said that John Wayne always played himself. That may have been true but we loved him all the same. That was true of most of the movie stars of his era—Cary Grant always played Cary Grant, Humphrey Bogart was always Bogey no matter his character’s name, and Clark Gable was always The King.
I know when John Wayne became my hero. I was a ten year old boy sitting in the darkened Ball Theatre in Millsboro, Delaware. The movie playing that night was The Alamo, starring John Wayne as Davy Crockett. It was a great story of these vastly outnumbered rough-and-tumble frontier heroes standing up against a Mexican tyrant and his army. There was a great final battle which I was sure Davy would win. But in the last shocking minutes of the movie, one after the other of these heroes is killed. Then, Davy with his rifle empty, grabs a torch to blow up the gunpowder, and is stabbed by an enemy soldier. He stumbles off, throws the torch, and dies in the explosion.
Almost 50 years later, I cannot fully explain what happened within me as that shocking scene unfolded. I walked out of the theater in stunned silence, my ten year old mind trying to figure it out. How could a hero die? The image of John Wayne as Davy Crockett dying at the Alamo was indelibly burned into my psyche. He remained a hero to me for the rest of his life.
In the years that followed I saw the Duke in other films: North to Alaska, The Man Who Shot Liberty Valence, and El Dorado just to name a few. Later, I learned he’d been a movie star long before he played Davy Crockett. It seemed he always won his battles with the bad guys. If John Wayne was on your side, you couldn’t lose.
As I grew up, I continued to admire the Duke and the kind of movies he made. They were simple stories of the battle of right and wrong, in which right always won in the end.
As the 1960’s went on, John Wayne was out of step with the politics and values of many in that turbulent decade. He wasn’t as popular as he’d once been, his movies weren’t as successful. Other movie stars became more popular as action heroes—Clint Eastwood, Steve McQueen, and Sean Connery. Ominously, not even John Wayne could win the Viet Nam war in The Green Berets.
In spite of all this, he finally won an Academy Award in 1969 for playing a one-eyed, fat, drunken Deputy Marshall named Rooster Cogburn in True Grit. Appropriately enough, even in this late 1960’s movie the Duke defeated the bad guys in the final showdown.
The 1970’s were not kind to John Wayne. Even to a devoted fan like me, movies like Big Jake, McQ, and Brannigan were forgettable. He was blamed by social scientists for every social ill in America. He was ridiculed by comedians and liberal editorial writers.
What’s more his old enemy “the big C,” cancer, returned. As he battled cancer, he rallied to make one final film, The Shootist. It was a story about a gunfighter that has outlived his era and who is dying of cancer. It was an eloquent celluloid culmination of almost 50 years of making movies. As he continued to battle cancer, in his final public appearances the Duke was a mere shell of the towering heroic figure he’d been for so long.
John Wayne died of cancer on June 11, 1979. It was the end of an era for America and for me. I’ve learned a lot about heroes since then. Sadly, I learned the Duke didn’t always do the right thing in real life. What’s more, I learned that there were real life heroes right in front of me, heroes that I didn’t notice as long as I was so fixated on the Duke. They were heroes like my Dad and my Pop Pop Collins. These were men of real courage who enriched my life and shaped my character far more than any hero on the movie screen. I’m glad I learned that in time to tell both men how much they meant to me before they too passed on.
I still like John Wayne movies. If one comes on, I’ll watch it even if I’ve seen it a dozen times before. There is something comforting about those morality plays. In these days when it seems so hard to defeat the real bad guys like the terrorists of 9/11 and Iraq, its good to watch a brave hero like John Wayne stand up against evil and win the battle in two hours.
A man who can still do that for us 28 years after his death deserved to be remembered on the centennial of his birth. Perhaps it was appropriate that this man who became famous portraying warriors—soldiers, sheriffs, Marines, and marshals—was remembered on Memorial Day weekend.