CQ…Clark Here

Thoughts and opinions. LOTS of opinions.

Archive for the category “Philosophical Musings”

Betsy DeVos as Secretary of Education?

DeVos Post number 3.

Not really. I started with that for continuity, since a lot of folks have seen my previous Facebook posts regarding Betsy DeVos. This  post is about education in general.

I have been thinking a lot about education the past several days, due in large part to the controversy surrounding the Betsy DeVos nomination for Secretary of Education in the Trump administration.  There has been a huge amount of animus toward her, and I have been curious as to why.  The debate on my threads has been intense and impassioned. I have enjoyed the thoughts back and forth on the issue.  But I think the problems we face in education go much deeper than simply the Betsy DeVos nomination.

It is inarguable that the education system in America is in dire straits. The statistic I recently heard (I did not vet this) is that the United States currently  ranks 25th in science, mathematics, and reading. Twenty-fifth in the world! At one time, we lead the world in nearly every metric, but not now. But as poorly as we do in actual understanding, I also heard that our high school graduates rank near the top in their confidence in themselves. Educationally, our kids suck compared to the rest of the world, but they feel pretty darn good about themselves.  So why is this?  It is far too easy to blame “the teachers,” “the unions,” or “the parents.” Although I think there are issues within each of those categories, I think the issues run much deeper than those easy targets. Here are my thoughts.  Admittedly, they are rather general and simplistic, but for the purposes of this post, they will suffice.

Public education is indeed the bedrock of American education, and our public education system has been the model for education around the world. Historically, education in the United States started in “one-room,” with one teacher for all grades. As students got older and moved through the grades, they helped teach the younger kids, and on and on. Huge amounts of individual attention. On the other hand, education was rather optional, and families that didn’t think education important would just not send their kids, or sometimes the kids were needed at home to help with the family business.  Very, very few went to University after high school, and often “grammar school,” or primary school was as far as most students went in their education.  Teachers didn’t necessarily need a degree, many lawyers learned through apprentice-type programs, and most jobs that now require a degree were learned on the job.

After education became mandatory, there were loose standards for advancing through the grades.  Students usually needed to pass some sort of primer to move on to the next grade, with a fairly comprehensive test that one needed to pass in order to graduate high school.

Post-high school education was relatively strict, teaching a broad curriculum. As emphases changed, the curriculums became more specialized, with degrees in multiple areas. Today there is nearly an unlimited number of “specialties” in which one can major and get a degree. And that includes a number of specialties within the field of education.

There are multiple problems that I see for those getting a degree in education.

First, much of college education is structured around innovation. Partly this is understandable. Who, after all, wants to “rest on someone else’s laurels.” Most people want to make their own mark on the world. And the thought is that there is “always” a better way to do something. I don’t happen to believe that. I think there is definitely a place for rote memorization, and for learning to do things “as they always were.” Understand, I am NOT opposed to innovation. Otherwise, we would still be using an abacus for math, and if lucky, a slide rule for complex engineering issues. Heck, I’m so old I remember when a Texas Instrument calculator was about the size of a small iPad, could add, subtract, multiply, and divide, and ran around $100.00. So no, I am not a luddite, and I am not against innovation. But I think innovation should be measured, and should replace something only when it is proven to be better/faster/more effective than that which it is replacing. And I do NOT think that which we currently have is better than that which we used to have.

My father, when he was 79 years old (about 15 years ago or so), came to our home for a visit. While he was there, we found one of his old one-room schoolhouse primers. In it were several Algebra problems which my father figured out in his head. I couldn’t have solved them with an engineering calculator, paper and pen, and five hours to try. Admittedly, my old man was good at math; I am not. However, that doesn’t explain all of it. My education was good. Not excellent, but good. Our daughters’ education was very good; my wife and I saw to that. But what of those that don’t have “activist parents,” or dedicated teachers? Not sure. I agree that there needs to be a baseline. But common core isn’t it. Not with how math is currently taught.

I understand the theory of Common Core. As I understand it, the purpose of common core math is to teach kids an intuitive understanding of mathematics and how the numbers all relate to each other. And I know that some kids already think in a way that common core math reaches; that when common core math is shown to these kids, they instantly “get it,” because that’s how they already analyze problems. But many, many children do not think in a way that common core reaches, and will simply not understand common core math. In my opinion, I think common core math should be offered as one method of learning, but not demanded of all students. There is absolutely nothing wrong with rote memorization of addition, subtraction, multiplication and division tables. This works as well, and works far better for some. Let me end this paragraph with this thought: I wonder if common core math is kind of like the metric system. Yes, there are applications in which metric is far, far superior to the English method we currently use. But metric will never be adopted as the standard in the US, certainly not in my lifetime, anyhow. It’s superiority is irrelevant.  The Standard measurement system is so entrenched that to switch over would be nearly impossible. In the computer world, it is no different with Apple products. It is inarguable that there are applications in which the Apple operating system is far, far superior to the PC. But Gates is a marketing genius, and the PC is far too entrenched to ever be moved out of its current position.

As I said earlier, I think that “innovative” educational approaches are demanded, and perhaps to the detriment of what has worked, and worked well, for ages. But that is not the only issue.

One of the objections raised on Facebook regarding charter schools as opposed to public education is that charter schools might “put profit before education.” This is a valid concern. But my observation is that since the 1960’s, the socialist left/liberals/progressives (in my opinion, “a rose by any other name…) have done an excellent job of co-opting education; it appears that education is currently used to “put ideology before education.” And I believe that is inarguable. This is not to say that every single educator is a leftist intent on indoctrinating their students, but I am saying that such indoctrination is pervasive within higher education and it has been very effective, to the point that many, many secondary education teachers now follow the same ideology and use their position as teachers to influence the political leanings of their students. Debate is not encouraged, and opposing thoughts and beliefs are not only discouraged, but mocked and vilified.  And herein lies the basic problem.

At its best, education teaches one how to think. This is what I learned, although much of that was self-taught. I fear that much of current education is not so much about how to think as it is what to think. And that is a definite problem.

What is the answer? Not sure. But with our current world standing(s) in education, it is imperative that we do something, and do it soon. The status quo will not suffice, and the United States is on an educational slide that will harm our country for generations if it is not arrested and reversed.

Betsy DeVos has a passion for education. She has no formal learning in that area, nor first-hand experience. But she has been confirmed as Secretary of Education under the Trump administration. Although I am not an avowed “Trumpie,” President Trump has my support, and thus far, DeVos is the only appointment, decision, or executive order by President Trump that I am not entirely behind. With DeVos I am neutral, I am withholding judgment, and I am puzzled. Time will tell what policies will be enacted in the Department of Education, how those policies will be implemented, and what effect such policies will have on the education of our children in the United States. If those policies succeed, 100% of the credit goes to the Republicans. Not one Democrat supported her. If she fails miserably, 100% of the blame goes to the Republicans. Not one Democrat supported her. Time will tell. I hope she succeeds, and I hope the educational system tailspin in which we find ourselves is halted and reversed.

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Final Thoughts for the Presidential Election

It’s Election Day.

 

Election season is finally past,

And Election Day is here at last.

 

I know everyone will mourn with me that we can’t extend the season a few months. Perfect would be about a year of what we’ve had the past few months, with temperatures in the 20’s, and about three feet of snow. Right? Well, SOME people will agree with me. Alright, a few. Maybe a couple? Ok, ok, I’m pretty sure SOMEONE will. I hope.

 

Anyhow, I wanted to offer some final thoughts. First of all, remember I am an unabashed Conservative. What that means is that I “lean” Republican, but I am not joined to the hip with the Republican Party.  But generally speaking, the Republicans are closer to what I believe than Liberals and the Democrat Party. Further, I am a Christ-Follower; a Bible believing adopted Son of the King. So, I speak from that foundation.

 

And I start with this: God is STILL on His throne. Regardless of who wins. And I need to be content with that. I am called to pray for the President, and to seek God above all. My Bud, Dan Sheldon, read the absolute correct scripture this morning on WCTL radio;

Psalm 20: 7-8. “Some trust in chariots and some in horses, but we trust in the name of the Lord our God.  They collapse and fall, but we rise and stand upright ….”

 

Our hope is NOT in our country, our hope is NOT in a political party, or even a political movement. Our hope, our promise, is in He who rules the Universe.

 

But that does not mean that we just sit back and placidly watch the world spin around us. It is not incorrect to become politically involved, to follow the process, to formulate opinions and to voice them. But. As a follower of Jesus, I must remember that whomever inhabits the White House is not nearly as important as is keeping my eyes on Him who sits on the Throne of Heaven. And anyone who knows me knows how involved I have been throughout this election season. I enjoy the dialogue and the back and forth. And today we vote.

 

On the Candidates:

 

First, Hillary.

 

I am really, really frustrated with people that would still vote for this person. There is absolutely no doubt that in the course of her career she has committed election fraud (i.e. the primary as regards Sanders), bribery (minimum the same, possibly the FBI director as well), blackmail, destruction of evidence, money laundering, and lying under oath. And that is just the tip of the iceberg.

 

What frustrates me is how people either ignore what she has done, the crimes she has committed, or they simply don’t care. In either case, it appears that rule of law, as well as morality, take a back seat to ideology and world view. If a candidate believes the “correct philosophy,” they are permitted to literally any action whatsoever. Adultery? No problem. Rape? He’s just “hot blooded.” Lying under oath? No issue there. It’s a conspiracy against them. Drug use? Psssshhh. Everyone does that. Misuse of Classified material? Their maid printed out and handled Classified material? But look at how much good they have done. Sold Uranium to countries that will either use it against us or distribute it to those that do? Blah, Blah, Blah, don’t hear nothin’. And these are just the known and proven accusations against Hillary (and her husband). I haven’t even touched on the nearly certain issues that have followed Hillary over the years, but the evidence isn’t as “conclusive.” For those on the left, the ends justify the means. As long as one is working for the “correct” conclusion, one’s behavior is excusable. And that I find abhorrent. A Republican candidate, with the same baggage, wouldn’t even be considered. Further, if it were a Republican with any of these strikes, the loudest shrieks against them would be from the left, which would moralize against the candidate, and regard the issue(s) as proof that the Republican candidate is “not fit” for office, that they are “out of touch” with ordinary people, that they think they are “above the law.” While their own current candidate is all of those things.

 

So, my issues with liberalism in general are ideology over morality, a lack of morality, and hypocrisy. And Hillary Clinton is the poster child for all of these. In my view, she has absolutely no redeeming qualities, either as a person or as a politician, and she certainly has no qualifications to run for or hold, the highest office in the United States. At least I can look at Obama and see a relatively decent individual, one who appears to love his family, even if I vehemently disagree with every single policy, position, and action he has taken over the past eight years. With Hillary, there is not one single thing that would fit in this category.

 

Now Trump.

 

Am I excited about Donald Trump as an individual running for president? No, not really. Trump is crass, egotistical, over the top. But there are a number of things that I do like about him. He has helped folks when he didn’t have to, when no one was watching, and he wasn’t trying to score political points. So he is genuinely generous. He is clearly a political outsider. I find it interesting that on that note, people howl for “an outsider,” but when they get someone that is actually outside the political realm, then that person is suddenly “not qualified.”

 

Trump is ambitious. He wants to succeed. He is preaching a conservative agenda. He has beaten seventeen of the toughest Republicans to ever seek the presidency. He has waged an awesome campaign against Hillary, and has held his own in slanted debates with biased “moderators,” some of whom have been found to have given the questions to the Clinton camp, or have even gotten the questions FROM the Clinton camp. I find it interesting that Julian Assange of Wikileaks, when questioned as to why he hasn’t released incriminating stuff on Trump as he has with Clinton, said that there simply wasn’t anything to release. And remember, Assange was a darling of the left up until now. Has Trump had controversy? Oh, you bet. But not one of the scandals has shown much substance. Accusations of groping or sexual assault, withdrawn or the accusers shown to lack credibility. Crude language, yeah, he said lewd, crude stuff. Stuff of which I don’t approve. But stuff I have heard in the high school locker room, and from just about any group of guys I have ever been around.  I am far more concerned with what Hillary has done than I am with what Trump has said.

 

I have absolutely no illusions about Trump. If he gets elected, we will have to see how he will turn out. He could be a poor president. But, he could be good, even great. Hillary, on the other hand, will undoubtedly be a disaster. Illegal aliens will be welcomed with open arms. Unvetted refugees, a number of which will undoubtedly be terrorists, will come into the country in record numbers. America will slide further down the slide into socialism, even though socialism is a discredited governmental system with no successful implementation in the history of the world. Supreme Court appointees will further erode American freedoms and constitutional rights, and things that are not constitutional rights will be further elevated to the status of rights.  Government will be increased in size and seen as the answer to America’s problems.  A leftist worldview will be further implemented and entrenched.

 

Even after the Presidential disaster of the past eight years, I think America can recover. But not if we have another four to eight years of wimpy Republican leadership and overt leftist engineering of a socialist agenda. So I will vote for Trump. Honestly, I have hopes for him. With Romney, with McCain, I had to “hold my nose” and vote for them, because they were the lesser of two evils. I think Trump is a far, far better candidate than either of them, and I have hope that he will be a much better president than we could have expected from them.

 

We will see what the day brings. And God is still on His throne.

On Politics and the Presidential Election of 2016

Politics.

Ugly, dirty, nasty word, even for those that enjoy it. Politicians tend to be close to the very bottom of nearly every survey regarding profession’s standings as liked or trusted. Yet we are inundated with politics nearly every day, particularly so every couple of years, and overwhelmingly so every four.

Some of my friends absolutely hate it. Politics to them is about as tasteful as eye boogers, coughing in someone’s face, or pooping in public, and as welcome as fingernails on a chalk board or listening to Justin Bieber sing (but I repeat myself). Some friends just tolerate it and hunch their shoulders, just hoping to get through the “silly season” relatively unscathed. I think both of these groups just figure that it doesn’t really matter who is elected, one is as bad as the other,

But although it isn’t much of a secret, I personally love politics. No, let me clarify that. I am passionate about politics. To me there are very few things as important to the direction that we go as a society as who is elected, what their world view is, how are they going to solidify or change the status quo.

The reason I started thinking about this topic as an evaluation is that I saw a couple friends posts on social media in which they loudly proclaimed their hatred of politics. And they got several “Amens” on their posts. I can understand their feelings. I know how distasteful the process can be. Mudslinging, disparaging comments, accusations, candidates’ current nastiness revealed and past nastiness rehashed, skeletons best left in the closet discovered and paraded around in public, counter muck thrown, indignant denials and rebuttals, and on and on and on ad nauseam every hour of every day until one feels like they are Prometheus chained to a rock, watching an eagle rip out and eat their liver. Every. Single. Day.

So. I understand, and I respect them for their viewpoints. I understand their anger. We are all unique (Wait. Does that mean that by definition we aren’t unique? Whoa…), and we have our own individual likes, dislikes, enjoyments, and tolerance levels to those things happening around us. But sometimes we have to pay attention to situations, and do stuff we don’t like to do. When one is scheduled for a colonoscopy, one must ingest certain compounds that will, shall we say, hasten the movements of one’s bowels. Sometimes one must receive an enema. None of these things are enjoyable, including the colonoscopy procedure, but sometimes, as distasteful as these things may be, they are necessary. And I think the political process is one of those necessities (comparing politics to an enema? Kind of hard to rebut that.).

Ok, here is where I was going to go into the responsibility and necessity of being politically informed. But a few days ago, I read a column by Mike Rowe, and it actually changed my mind about a few things. Read Mr. Rowe’s thoughts here: (Mike Rowe: Urging “The Masses” to Get Out and Vote). What has changed for me is this.  Since I was about eighteen I have felt that not only is it our right to vote, but it’s our responsibility to exercise that right. But I was wrong. Yes, it is the right of every citizen to vote, but like every right guaranteed by the Constitution, each citizen has the choice to exercise, or not exercise, that right. The example given by Mr. Rowe concerns the Second Amendment. I am a huge Second Amendment guy, but I agree with Mr. Rowe that not everyone should own a gun. Before owning a gun, one should know how to use it, clean it, one should practice with it, and be comfortable with it. Yes, it is one’s right to own a gun, but nowhere does it say that one is obligated to use that right.

And Mr. Rowe’s example can easily be carried over to other rights as well. We have the right of free speech. But we are not obligated to speak freely in every situation at any time for all reasons. Same with our Freedom to Assemble (we do not have to go to the protest if we choose not to), our Freedom of Religion (we can be of any religion we choose, or none at all, as we wish), and on and on. What the Constitution guarantees to each of us is a binding contract between the government and the people, that our rights, should we choose to exercise them cannot be arbitrarily taken away, or refused. We are not required to exercise these rights.

And that includes the right to vote. Exercise that right, or choose not to. Your call. For me, I would feel guilty if I did not vote. For 41 years I have voted in every presidential election as it came along. And I have probably missed only two mid-term elections in that time period. But I have also taken my vote seriously. I don’t go in just to pull a lever, I study the issues. I study the candidates, their stands on the issues, their platform as well as the party planks. I look at each candidate’s background, how they have voted in the past, what they may have studied as younger people, and how they are likely to vote in the future. Or in the case of a candidate for President, what programs they will likely move to enact, what type of Supreme Court (or lower court) appointees they will try to confirm, and how they would likely protect the U.S. in the case of war or domestic trouble. I compare them to my values, and my understanding of right and wrong. I then vote for the individual that is closest to my beliefs. And I also confess that I very, very seldom vote “third party.” I know many people believe the third party candidate has a chance to win, but I simply don’t believe that. Third party candidates have not won since Lincoln, and that was a unique situation, in which one of the two major parties was nearly extinct anyhow. In fact “The Party of Lincoln” actually replaced the dying major party and became the Republican Party we know today. So when I vote, I contain my vote to one of the two major parties, today being the Republican Party and the Democrat Party. And as I said, when I vote, I vote for the candidate that is closest to my values and my worldview, regardless of the “D” or “R” by their name.

By the way, I actually think that an understanding of the issues is required of anyone that chooses to vote. I understand voting is a right. But if someone doesn’t know some basics of American politics, why do they feel that they should exercise that right? Some examples: What are the three basic forms of government (Monarchy, Socialism/Communism, Democracy)? What are the three branches of American federal government (Executive, Congress, Courts)? What are the two major political parties in the U.S. (Republican and Democrat)? Who are the two party’s candidates for President (this year, Clinton and Trump)? Who are their running mates for Vice President (this year, Pence and Kaine)? If one can’t answer these basic questions, how can they possibly have the depth of understanding to know the issues, and how the candidate elected will affect those issues? In my opinion, these are hugely important issues, and this is why I study, learn, and choose “my” candidate.

This year, we have two clear choices for President of the United States, Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump. And here is where I will probably veer away from relative objectivity to opinion. You see, I think this election is immensely important, perhaps the most important since 1776. Big statement. I know many elections have claimed that “this election is the most important ever,” and that this claim is overused. But for over 40 years, I have seen each successive election as hugely important. I have seen Presidents that have helped our country, Presidents that have at best done no harm, and Presidents that I believe have harmed our country. Unfortunately, I feel that three of the presidents I have seen as an adult have done tremendous harm to America, and have successively, in their turn, worsened our country. I believe that the values upon which this country was founded are under assault, and that America is dangerously close to being radically changed into something that was never meant to be. So I think that this year we are at a watershed moment in our country, and depending on which candidate is elected, I believe that our country has at least a chance to flourish, or that it will cease to exist as a vibrant, shining City on a Hill.

As I said, we have a choice between Clinton and Trump. One is a career politician, having married a politician, and has been personally involved in politics or connected to politics for pretty much her entire adult life. The other has never been in politics, but is an extremely successful businessman, and is connected to entertainment as well as more traditional “business” ventures. One is a committed Socialist who believes our current system is unfair and in need of drastic change. The other believes the “traditional” values should be revived and the changes made in the last eight years reversed. Critics of Clinton say that she may be a Socialist, but she is just as concerned for her personal power as she is for social change (if not more so). Critics of Trump say he is a bloviating political bumbler and a liar that has only converted to conservatism when it was expedient for him to do so. All of these observations have at least some basis in fact. Any objective analysis of Clinton will show that she is clearly a Socialist, and that she is tremendously concerned with her own wealth, power, and position. The same analysis of Trump shows that he was at one time a Democrat, that he moved in the same circles as the Clintons, that he has a huge ego, and that he is an absolutely novice in politics. However, none of these negatives are enough, in and of themselves, to disqualify either candidate from the Presidency. Depending on other factors, any candidate, even with the negatives cited, could be a good president.

But I believe this country is at a crossroads. A watershed moment. There is no need in this post to go into the specific negatives of Clinton or each of the positives of Trump. My personal opinion is that Ms. Clinton has absolutely no accomplishments that qualify her to be president. I believe her to be an evil person, and that she has already harmed this country terribly. And I honestly feel bad for her, as I think her health is such that she simply cannot serve competently as the President of the United States. Conversely, I think that Mr. Trump has shown that he has the chutzpah to be the president, that he has succeeded in every endeavor he has attempted and I believe he has the temperament and ability to do the job.  Mr. Trump is a true outsider. And I find it interesting that people clamor for a political outsider, but when they get someone that actually is an outsider, the fact that he is a political outsider is characterized as a negative and should be a disqualifier. Further, I believe that the traditional news sources have abdicated their responsibilities to be objective and equitable, and are now committed to the Democrat party, to the extent that organizations such as Wikileaks (https://wikileaks.org/) is now doing the job that journalists used to do. It appears that traditional journalists are willing to dredge up and present any potentially scandalous tidbit on Trump, but refuse to investigate the actual actions of Clinton, actions that may be illegal and disqualifying.

This is why I am passionate about politics. This is why I pay attention. I do not enjoy the process, and heaven forbid that I should ever be a politician. But the importance is huge, and I believe that the Democrat party, United States news organizations, and other areas of society are skewed against my beliefs and worldview. This election may well determine the direction of the Supreme Court for decades, as will any appointments to lower Federal courts.  America’s standing as a superpower will either be rehabilitated or further degraded.  The influx of undocumented individuals, among whom are undoubtedly hidden a number who want to harm this country, will dramatically increase or dramatically decrease.  Our methods of dealing with terror groups will continue as it has (in my opinion very ineffectively), or change to be more direct and effective. The President lying and disregarding facts about the actions of police officers will continue or cease.  Respect for law and order will continue to decline or police may be supported again.  Jobs will continue to erode or increase.  Dependence on government for income and insurance will grow or revert to the individual.  I believe we are on a slide toward Socialism, which will very quickly mean the end of the greatness of America. I believe that it is getting more and more difficult to slow down this slide and reverse the trend. Looking at Mr. Trump, I am hugely impressed with his drive and his ability to persevere. I also recognize his positives and his negatives. I believe it is possible that he may be a poor president. But I also believe that he has the potential to be a good president, or even a great one. It is far too soon to tell. But I absolutely know, without a shadow of a doubt that if elected, Ms. Clinton will be a disaster. So I will vote for the one that at least has potential to be a positive.

Hateful and Inflammatory? Inconsistent? Not sure I agree.

Note: I first want to apologize to my liberal and libertarian friends for my responses to various comments on social media yesterday.  For various reasons, I was Mr. Cranky Pants, and did not respond as well as I usually do.  I hope this post is a bit more rational.

Note:  For any readers that may be Muslim, liberal, or otherwise disagree with what I write, I sincerely hope my comments will not be seen as hurtful or callous.  They are not intended to be.  However, I will not apologize for what I say here, these are my thoughts and opinions.  I strive to be measured and rational, not strident and angry.  To a large degree, I think I succeed.  But I ask that you not be offended by this post, but I expect that many will disagree, and that, also, is ok.  You are as entitled to your thoughts, opinions, and beliefs as am I.

I am no different from the vast majority of Americans with how I have felt with the terrorist attacks in Paris.  And although I haven’t posted anything new here on my Blog, I have been active on social media, and posted multiple articles, opinions, thoughts, and memes regarding the Paris atrocities.  Regular readers of this blog already know I am a committed Christian, a family man, an American, a political conservative, and rather bold to state my opinions.  Due to my postings, in the past couple days my Christianity and my consistency in applying my Christianity has been questioned, and my posts on the American response to the Syrian refugee situation characterized as hateful and inflammatory.  I disagree with those questions and characterizations, and wanted to address them.  However, I figured my remarks would take a lot more space than social media, and light bulb above my head! I have a blog site that I can write on. (Um, duh?)

Anyhow, I want to address two things here.  First my Christianity, how I have come to this point, and how I interpret the Bible.  And Second, my thoughts on the Syrian refugee crisis.

First, regards my faith, Christianity, and Biblical interpretation.

I believe in the God of the Bible.  I believe that He created everything that exists, that He has always been, and always will be.  I believe that God exists in three distinct but equal “persons:” God the Father, God the Son (Jesus, the Christ), and God the Holy Spirit.  I believe that God is perfect, without error, and has been so forever, and always will be.  I believe that the Bible is the inerrant, inspired, complete Word of God, and includes the Hebrew Scriptures (AKA: the “Old” Testament), as well as the “New” Testament, which introduces the Jewish Messiah, Jesus the Christ.  I believe that I am separated from that perfect Creator-God because of my willful choice to commit “sin.”  Sin is simply doing what I know to be wrong, in the face of a perfect God.  I believe that because of God’s perfection, He cannot even be in the presence of sin, and so my cosmic treason has separated me from ever being able, on my own, to stand in God’s presence.  I believe that God loved me so much that he sent His Son, Jesus (who volunteered for this mission), to earth to atone for my treason. I believe that Jesus was born of a sinful woman, Mary, with no earthly father, but was miraculously conceived by Mary, through the working of the Holy Spirit.  I believe that Jesus was absolutely, completely, perfectly God and simultaneously was absolutely, completely, “perfectly” a man, as are any of us.  I believe that Jesus is the only Son of God, that there is no other.  I believe that Jesus literally lived, but never sinned; never lied, never coveted, never stole, never did any wrong thing that would cause separation from God the Father.  I believe that he led a ministry on earth, and was ultimately arrested by the religious leaders of the time, tried by Roman law, and crucified, suffering physical death, and retaining his spirit until he decided on his own to die.  I believe Jesus suffered a literal death, and was buried for (in modern understanding) for a day and a half (by reckoning of the time, three days); literally dead in a literal tomb.  I believe that when Jesus decided it was time, I believe he literally came back to life; that dead human tissue was re-animated, against human possibility and human rationale.  I believe that when Jesus allowed himself to be crucified, and when he chose to die and take his life back, that he paid the just and righteous penalty for my treason; that because he paid the penalty (my penalty), God is able to forgive me, and that due only to God’s grace, I can now stand in front of Him.  And that He sees me, not as I was, but in light of Christ’s finished work, perfect, just as Christ is perfect.  I believe that Christ came for the Jewish nation first, and that any national Jew that recognizes Jesus as Messiah automatically steps in front of me in as God’s chosen, and are ultimately my elder brothers and sisters.  I believe that it is God’s grace and God’s grace alone that has earned me the right to be called His son.  I believe belief in Christ in this way is the only way for anyone to find the ability to be allowed into God’s presence as a forgiven individual.  I believe that Christ’s sacrifice is all that is necessary for anyone who chooses to believe and confess the above to stand before God.  And I believe that if one does not specifically choose to believe this, then by that choice, that person, when they die, will never be allowed in the presence of God; that all goodness, and all hope will be removed, and that person will spend eternity in what the Bible defines as Hell.

More on the Bible:

I apply various, recognized rules to interpreting the Bible.  These are not “my” rules, but are a standardized method for Biblical interpretation.  First, it says what it says.  There is no hidden meaning, no “deeper truths,” no Gnostic gospel to apply.  Second the Bible is inerrant, inspired, accurate and complete as it currently exists.  Third, context and historical considerations must also be considered for a particular verse, and that each verse must be interpreted, not on its own, but in accord with the Bible as a whole.  Far too many people look at one verse and say, “Well, the Bible says (fill in the blank).” And this happens with folks that believe the Bible as well as those that do not.  One of my favorite examples is the one verse in the Bible that mentions tattoos.  Found in Deuteronomy, it says that one should not get tattoos or marks for the dead.  Many Christians use this to condemn anyone that gets a tattoo as unbiblical.  That is far from the truth.  That verse is speaking directly to the pagan practice of slicing one’s self and/or tattooing themselves specifically for ancestor worship or appeasement.  As such, it is addressing idolatry during a specific historical timeframe, not tattooing at any time forever and ever, amen.  But I digress.

I would also say that in reading and understanding the Bible, the way to do so is no different than reading any “classical” piece of literature.  One doesn’t have to be a Biblical scholar, nor does one have to believe the Bible to read it as it is intended to be read.  One should read it in the same way that one should read Melville’s “Moby Dick,”  Shelley’s “Frankenstein,” Homer’s “Iliad” or “Odyssey,” or anything by Shakespeare.

So that defines my Christianity, and how I interpret the Bible.  Next I want to expound (something some would say I do all too well) on the current situation involving the recent Paris terrorist attacks and the refugees from Syria.

I must first provide a further caveat.  Politically, I am conservative, which means that I do not identify as a Republican first, since I believe that the Republican party has strayed from its conservative roots.  I have been conservative since my youth, and it is my contention that conservatism works every time it is tried.  As a conservative, I believe that Ronald Reagan, although not perfect, was the best president in my lifetime.  I believe that George Bush “41” was more moderate than conservative, and George Bush “43” was more “Neocon” than conservative, but I support most of the actions taken by him during his presidency.  I further think that from Carter to Obama, each successive Democrat president was worse than the previous one, and that Obama is the worst president in my lifetime.  A further note on Obama.  It seems popular to tag those that oppose him as racist, and that opposition is due to his race.  Nothing could be farther from the truth for me.  I vehemently disagree with his politics, just as I do other far left liberals, such as Nancy Pelosi, Harry Reid, Joe Biden, Bill and Hillary Clinton, Bill Maher, Barbra Streisand, Michael Moore, and on and on.  I disagree with their politics, and I think their politics are dishonest and bad for the country.  Which is a nice segue into the Paris attacks and the Syrian situation.

The facts:  Just a few short days ago, several terrorists, in a coordinated attack, murdered upwards of 140 civilians in Paris.  Just a few hours later, the radical Islamic group ISIS claimed responsibility.  One of the dead terrorists was found to have a Syrian passport.  This created an immediate uproar, since a very large number of Syrians have claimed refugee status, conveyed by the United Nations, because of an ongoing war in their home country of Syria.  That war itself is very confusing, with the “players,” their “sponsors” and supporters not at all clear cut as to which is the “bad guys,” and which are the “good guys.”  This is not a situation that can be easily examined and a conclusion reached as to whom is at fault.  Due to that war, many people have been dislocated, and have fled the country and/or have sought refugee status.  This includes Muslims and Christians.  President Obama, even prior to the Paris attacks, has declared that the United States will accept up to 100,000 Islamic refugees.  However, the State Department has refused entry to many, many Christian refugees from other countries.

In light of the Paris attacks, it seemed prudent to me to re-think the President’s policy on the refugees, and I admit that I was furious that he did not do so.  In my opinion, the United States is in much more danger due to his position on this, and I posted multiple times on social media regarding this issue.  As I said earlier, those posts were characterized as hateful and inflammatory, and inconsistent with Christianity.  Hence this essay.

Prior to writing this article, I went back to November 14, and read through every single post on my page concerning the Paris attacks.  I then wrote out a line or two of their content.  Understand, I post a lot.  And if I had been required to rely on my recollection, I would have said that nearly all of my posts were somehow related to the Paris attacks, and that I had suspended my normal volume of typical posts, which run the gamut of humor to politics to sports back to humor to scuba diving to the weather and back to humor.  However, I was pleasantly surprised to find that this was not so.  I still posted my usual volume of non-political posts, with a lot of humor (example: I like to serve Eggs Benedict on hub caps because there’s no plate like chrome for the hollandaise.  Get it? “No place like home…” well, anyhow…).  Follows are the one-line synopses of every single one of my posts on the subject, starting from the first one to the latest:

  • 127 killed.  Bumps up to 140.
  • Putin insists immigrants become Russian. (in comparison to Obama’s lack of any similar conviction)
  • Obama refuses to acknowledge Islamic terrorism.
  • Obama stated that “Isis is contained” and approx. 12 hours later the Paris attacks occur.
  • Isis coming to US.  Warning to all.
  • Article on incident in Kenya, attack on Christians students at university.
  • Meme mocking Hillary.
  • Netanyahu statement that Islam behind Paris attacks; first world leader to say this.
  • Meme pointing out that the Tsarnaev brothers (Boston bombers) were “refugees.”
  • Seven points mocking Obama and the Clintons regarding their policies on Isis, gun control, refugees, police, Islam.
  • Posts regarding Bernie Sanders stupidity with attacks (he said that the attacks happened because the murderers had no jobs and because of climate change).
  • US refugee centers speeding up the process to get the refugees in faster.
  • An article identifying the victims of the Paris attack.
  • Map of where refugees are settling in the United States (including an additional 50 to be settled just fifteen miles from my home).
  • Location of jihadi camps in the US (including two in neighboring states).
  • An article and map of states refusing to accept refugees (multiple posts).
  • An article detailing that the US State Dept. has refused visas to persecuted Christians.
  • Statement from Senator Jeff Sessions that we cannot vet refugees.
  • An article that Republicans in the US House of Reps. are putting a bill together to address refugee issue.
  • An article on WHY Paris attacks get more media mileage than attacks in Africa, etc.
  • Obama saying that he is “not interested in the US leading or winning.”
  • A meme stating that “If you have ten grapes and two poisoned, would you eat them?”
  • A meme with a quote from ISIS: “We have 71 soldiers in 15 states,” and a corresponding quote that “We have 80 million gun owners…” 
  • An original post that there is not an “off-chance” that terrorists will infiltrate with other refugees.  This post sprang from a post I had seen comparing any current refusal to accept Syrian refugees to refusing to accept Jews in WWII.
  • A post, quoted as saying, “Before saying I support France, read this article by Michael Hurd.” This was a very conservative approach to Islam and refugees.  https://drhurd.com/before-saying-i-support-france-please-read-this/
  • A map of worldwide locations of tweets from ISIS supporters.  The US is fourth on the list.
  • An article detailing how President Obama was late for a moment of silence for the victims of the Paris attacks, and him saying that he was “not interested in posturing about the US winning…”
  • A video of a Greece/Turkey soccer match, showing that the Turks booed during a moment of silence for the Paris victims, and chanted Allah Akbar.
  • A meme placing the blame on Obama and Clinton for Muslim extremist terrorism currently being the largest worldwide threat.
  • An article quoting John Kerry, that people “shouldn’t be rushing to judgment” on the refugees.
  • An article expounding on why “Syrians refugees aren’t like Jews fleeing Europe,” and includes the US State Dept. saying vast majority of Syrian refugees coming to America are already safe, and are coming from Jordan, Turkey, Lebanon, Egypt.
  • Photo showing/comparing starving African babies to Muslim males as refugees
  • An article detailing how 5 Syrians with stolen passports were located in Honduras.
  • A John Pickering video, using gum balls to demonstrate the fallacy with the current US immigration policy.
  • An article that America has already allowed in 2151 refugees, and that only 53 are “Christians.”
  • A quote from Ronald Reagan, “a nation that cannot control its boarders is not a nation.”
  • A meme mocking Obama’s statement that ISIS is a “JV team.”  The meme said, “The JV team is winning.”
  • An editorial cartoon, “Which is the bigger threat to the US: Isis or Obama?”
  • An opinion piece detailing Kerry’s comments to the French regarding the Paris attacks.
  • An article about the female homicide bomber and Obama’s statements prior her death, in which Obama said, “apparently they’re afraid of widows and orphans…”
  • An article saying that a “missing refugee from Louisiana was found in D.C.
  • An article and video of refugees protesting conditions at hotel they were put up in, and giving demands.
  • An article analyzing why those on the political left “prefer” Islam to Christianity.
  • A two paragraph quote that America’s constitution does not vest the national government with enumerated power over immigration enforcement, suggesting that states can, in fact, refuse to accept refugees.
  • A meme stating, “And the sheep decided that instead of making friends with more sheepdogs, they would hang up signs saying, ‘No biting.'”
  • An article that Al Qaeda terrorists that had actually killed US soldiers were STILL allowed to legally entered the US. through a refugee program.
  • A meme that not taking in Syrian refugees and closing our boarders is not mean or heartless, and that “I lock my doors every night not because I hate people outside my house, but because I love the people inside my house.”
  • An article that Christiana Amanpour criticized Obama over statements he made at G20.
  • Another person’s  post that I passed along, stating that President Obama has drawn multiple lines in the sand with Syria, but that he hasn’t enforced a single challenge to those lines by Syria.
  • A bill introduced by US the U.S. House of Representatives that is virtually veto proof, due to the support of 47 Democrats.

 

Ok, admittedly my college degrees aren’t in mathematics, but I counted approximately 50 separate posts on the subject of the Paris attacks and the Syrian refugees.  The bulk of them are pieces that present perspectives from a factual and/or rather objective basis.  Of all of the posts on the topic, I counted three that I could consider to be inflammatory.  I have highlighted those three.  They are opinion pieces, and as such I can understand how they could be construed as inflammatory.  There are also other opinion pieces, editorial cartoons, and memes that I would not characterize as inflammatory, nor as hateful.  Several of the posts are barbed and sarcastic; such is the nature of editorials.  But hateful?  Inflammatory?  I’m not seeing it.  Each of my posts were published with a particular point.  Perhaps that current United States policy is wrong, or that we need to re-visit the whole topic of refugees.  Perhaps that President Obama is (or others are) pursuing a personal agenda that is harmful to the United States.  Perhaps that even Obama’s supporters are questioning him.  Further, I intentionally bypassed anything that mocked Muslims, Islam, or their specific beliefs and religious practices.  There are clearly a multitude of those, and I specifically wanted to distance myself from such, and attempted to present information that would not be perceived as hateful.  Perhaps I did not entirely succeed in that attempt.  I freely confess my frustration on the topic, and it is entirely possible that my frustration leaked over into some of my posts, and if any were hateful or inflammatory, I apologize.  That was not my intent.

Securing our borders and judicious selection of refugees is, to my way of thinking, not just our right as a sovereign nation, but our responsibility as well.  America isn’t perfect.  But because we are a “shining light on a hill;” because we are the “land of the free and home of the brave,” I understand and applaud those that wish to settle here.  I welcome those that come here legally, and make no distinction between natural-born and naturalized citizens.  I do not support those that come here illegally, any more than I would invite a burglar to sit at table with my family.  Nor do I welcome anyone that comes to the U.S., not with the intent to settle and assimilate into our culture, but to commit attacks on American citizens or property.  And I think that any country has the right to permit or deny entry, regulate the process to become a citizen, and to protect those that are legally within that country’s borders.  The first and most important duty of any government is the physical protection of its citizens.  The United States is no less within its rights to protect our citizens (and those here legally) than is any other country in the world.   I have read the scriptures, and thought about application to the current topic.  Nowhere do I read a mandate to commit cultural suicide by allowing an unchecked or un-vetted group to immigrate into our borders.  I recognize mandates to care for the poor, and to treat sojourners kindly.  But I do not think that means anyone can come into the United States at any time for any reason.  So I think that limits on immigration is simply common sense.  And I do not think that violates my Christianity in any way.

I used to LIKE roller coasters.

As usual, life has been difficult. I suppose I should understand that to be the norm, but somehow it often seems to catch me by surprise.

Part of the problem is that ever since I was a little boy, I have recognized fairness as a desired quality. My mother used to tell me that I would come home from school upset when someone suffered some unfairness. And though I tried to train my daughters to not expect life to be fair I didn’t, in the core of me, believe it. I still expect life to be fair, even though I know intellectually that it just ain’t so. Can you spell “conflict?”

I should probably make it clear that I am not complaining here. This is just a list of observations and my experiences.

We have a new President at Edinboro University. And any time there is a change like that, be it a new CEO at a corporation, a new pastor at church, or a new president at an institution of higher education, there are changes made and change should be expected. New priorities, new directions, new expectations both written and just understood. That is not to say that the process is easy. There will always be a state of flux until the water stops sloshing and reaches equilibrium (I have no idea how I could have mixed any more metaphors in this sentence). And easy it has not been.

Although my position is rather large and rather important, I am still middle management. And middle management is always getting pounded. Again, not a complaint. I recognized this fact coming in, and it is just a reality.

So work has been difficult. In addition to my normal (rather hefty plate of) responsibilities, I have had a shift in priorities and expectations. This is never easy for me. I like routine. I am comfortable with having the same tasks and expectations. Example: every morning my wife fixes me a breakfast burrito to eat in the car on the way to work. Variations on that are fine, but I am perfectly content to have the same thing every day.

I went on vacation this year from April 6 through April 15. Beth and I scheduled with our local scuba store to go to Little Cayman for a week of Caribbean diving, sun, and relaxation. Didn’t work out quite like that. Well, I need to clarify that. The diving and the sun were fantastic. Healthy reefs, coral, plenty of beautiful fish. We saw a lot of “old friends,” and a lot of “new friends,” too. I only saw one drum fish, and not one secretary blenny or flamingo tongue slug. However, we saw at least one queen triggerfish on every dive we did! Very cool. The weather was nearly perfect; hot and sunny, every single day. The resort, amazing. Great accommodations. Each of us had our own rooms, so there was no sharing of a suite. Nice. And the food! As I understand it, they have a gourmet chef, so breakfast, lunch and dinner were unbelievable. Two free drinks per day were included as well. Considering that is about my max, and Beth doesn’t drink, they didn’t lose a lot of money on us with that, but it was a great perk. And the company was fantastic. Great people to dive with and hang out with. If you ever want to go to Little Cayman, you could not do better than Little Cayman Beach Resort.

Normally, and this year was no different, I kind of depend on my vacation time to decompress and fill my tank so to speak. However, as great as all of the above was, the vacation did not help. I developed bronchitis just before we left, and was on z-pack until April 9. By evening of the 9th, I had a nasty sinus infection that I just had to push through until we got home. The dive boat we were originally on had a bad leak in the exhaust, and seven of us got violently sick on The first dive of the week on Sunday morning. On the plus side, we set a resort record for number of sick on one trip. Woo! NOT.

After I came down with the sinus infection on Tuesday, I looked at our dive itinerary.  We had signed up to dive the Capt. Keith Tibbetts on Cayman Brac on Thursday. Not wanting to miss that, I opted out of diving all day Wednesday. It was a good decision, as I was able to dive Thursday and Friday, but missing three Caribbean dives was not what I had gone there for.

The return home also proved difficult. On Little Cayman, there was a mix up with our bags that I had to work to fix. The lines at the airport on Grand Cayman were overly and unnecessarily long, and Beth and I barely got through security in time for our flight to Philadelphia. However we got to Philly, and waited a few hours for our connector to Erie. The plane was on time, and boarded on schedule. Unfortunately, Beth and I, along with four of our dive compadres, were refused boarding and had to stay the night in Philly. I have, by the way, sent this on to US Airways as a complaint, and have yet to hear from them. We will see if they are honorable about this or not. Stay tuned.

Because of the issues during vacation, I returned nearly as stressed as when I left. And last week was the “welcome back” from hell. There was an issue at work that happened while I was on vacation, and although I couldn’t have effected a change or a different outcome, I was expected to have taken care of it; I got into a shouting match on the phone with my boss (never a good career enhancer); and a couple other incidents occurred at work that I was expected to handle differently than I did (remember that “flux” I talked about?). There were seriously two or three days last week that I just wasn’t sure I would be employed at the end of the day.

And although work has been hard before throughout my various careers, I have usually had things to fall back on, things to divert me. But now my normal crutches have been taken away.

I love cigars no secret there. However, after my neck surgery (fusion of C5 to C6 and C6 to C7), my surgeon, uh, “disallowed” cigars until the fusion is complete, hopefully by the end of May. Some silliness about carbon dioxide and nicotine inhibiting oxygen absorption and bone growth or something. So cigars are out, and that is difficult. For me, there is something deeply relaxing in enjoying a quality cigar for an hour; relaxing, contemplative, nearly zen. Seriously.

In just the past few years I have discovered microbrew beer. Not the normal nasty American macros, but fine, flavorful micros. Now that is a fine topic for a future blog! For now, suffice it to say that I recognize that I need to be cautious with my new hobby. It would be easy to get lost in the beer, but that is, I am afraid, far too close to the edge for me. So, although relaxing, I have to put well-defined boundaries and limits on my beer consumption. Not always the easiest for me, but necessary.

Further, we have a small group of friends from church that we meet with almost weekly. We call this small group “Small Group.” Pretty clever, huh? And although I will deny it if you tell them, I love this group of people. We have seen each other through some pretty devastating situations, and they could not be more like family to me if we were blood. For various reasons, the past couple of months have been difficult for all of us in that group. No solace there.

Finally, I enjoy the computer game Civilization V. A couple of years ago I purchased a pretty upscale laptop specifically for Civ V, and I can get lost for hours. Beth says I am addicted, but I can quit any time I want. Really. I just choose to play as much as I do. Well, maybe I do kind of like to play it a lot. In any event, my laptop is down, and has been at the computer shop for three weeks, two days, and twelve hours. But who’s counting. No Civ.

I have been left with nothing to fall back on. No crutch, no salve. It feels like there is little but difficulty and hardship. And I wonder if that isn’t exactly where I need to be.

Beth and I were talking this morning, and her observation was that it has been hard for her as well. She didn’t sleep as well as she would have liked last night, and during one of her wakeful times, she said that she wondered just how centered her life has been on God lately. Her conclusion was, “not much.” And she recognizes that she needs to change that situation.

Hmm.

One of my favorite passages in the Bible is where Peter is in prison. I think I have said in the past that I like how Paul thinks; his logic, his orderly progression. John, not so much John is, to me, a bit of a goof; circular logic (which is no logic at all in my book), mystical, squishy touchy feely. Ick. But Peter? Oh, he’s the man! Hard charging, hard-headed, willing to leap in without even wondering what such a jump will cost. Peter is 100%. You never have to wonder where you stand with Peter. Peter is me. Up to, and including denying my Christ at critical times. Thank God it isn’t about me, but instead it’s about God’s grace and love.

But in this particular Bible story, Peter is in prison. Hopeless. An angel appears to him, and tells Peter to put on his shoes, which Peter does. The angel leads him out of prison, through the doors that the angel has opened, and past the guards to freedom. Now the point of this story for me, is that the angel did what Peter couldn’t; open the gates, shut down the guards. However, he told Peter to do what Peter could. Specifically, “put on your shoes.” I have struggled with that metaphor for a long time. I feel it is incumbent on me to “do what I am able to do,” and depend on God for what I am not able to do. We are all born with abilities and talents. I believe we are to use them to the best that we are able. But where does that stop, and my dependence on God begin? How much am I to “confidently go forth,” and how much am I to “give all to God?” And how do I have “joy in the struggle?”  ‘Cause I gotta tell you, I’m not real joyful right now.

There’s a song out that does a nice job of describing where I am. This is from Tenth Avenue North’s album, “Struggle.”  Please listen to this, it says it perfectly. I’m not stuck, this too shall pass. The day will dawn, the sun shall rise, hope springs eternal. But for now,

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UUEy8nZvpdM.

Caught in the corner.

Hang on, dig in, strap down, get set.  I am going to state a truism that may just rock your world.  Ready?  Here it is:  Life is hard.  Yep, I’m sorry to be the one to break it to you, but there it is.  Life is hard and there is nothing to be done about it.  “Life is pain Highness.  Anyone that tells you otherwise is trying to sell you something.”

When I was young (Wait.  I meant younger) I thought I was ready for anything that life had to throw at me.  I thought I would chew it up and spit it out.  Little did I know just how painful life can be.  Let me describe what I mean.

I met Beth at Behrend College of Penn State in 1975.  Through her feminine wiles, we soon fell in love and planned our life together.  Long walks, long talks, gazing into each others’ eyes, we did all those dewy, romantic and saccharine things that young couples often do when they fall in love.  Objectively speaking, our romance was (and remains) the best and finest romance in the history of the world.  And I wouldn’t trade one single minute for anything.

We married in 1978 (see, Beth?  I do too remember) and started with nothing more than an old Chevy Impala given to us by my folks, a cat, and love.  What a grand start to a marriage!  We moved to northwestern Pennsylvania and I found a job in, of all places, a donut factory on my way to my life-long dream job of being a policeman.  I got into police work over thirty years ago, and the trials and travails Beth and I experienced could have wrecked us multiple times.  But from the beginning, we both loved God more than anything, and have worked to make Him, and Him alone, the focus and center of our marriage.

Children came along, planned and anticipated.  Loved, adored, and our pride and joy.  We raised them “purposely and intentionally,” a catch phrase with a set of our closest friends; a catch phrase, but describes our parenting very nicely.  Everything we did with them was intended to be a life’s lesson, to instruct them and to train and prepare them for everything that life was going to throw at them.  Clearly we were not perfect, and there are innumerable moments I wish I could take back, change, re-do.  But we’re not given that option, are we?  Even so, no one has ever loved their children more, or worked harder to raise their children to be the best they could be.  I went back to school part-time, and worked toward my Master’s Degree from Mercyhurst College in Erie, PA.  I found that I enjoyed my class work (as opposed to my undergrad experience) and excelled.  Of course, I devoted a ton of time to my school work to do so, but enjoyed it none the less.

In the mid-1980’s, I joined the Erie Police Department in Erie, PA.  Having come from a small police department where every sneeze and belch was noted and scrutinized, when I moved to a larger department I was like a kid in a candy store.  I had more fun than anyone had a right to.  But all things change, and even good things have a habit of diminishing.  I finished my Master’s degree program and eventually left the street to become a detective, then a Detective Sergeant working Homicides, bank robberies with FBI agents, Presidential protection details with the Secret Service, Special Weapons and Tactics (SWAT),  just about any cool thing that one could desire.  I had a “patron” that was guiding me in the ways of politics within the city, and I was moving toward higher ranks; meeting people, shaking hands, joining clubs and organizations.

During this time I also worked in our church.  I found myself elected to the Deacon board, which at the time was kind of a combined Elder/Deacon position.  We made policy for the church, as well as watching for the immediate spiritual needs of our brothers and sisters in the congregation.  As was typical, I threw myself into it, and spent a lot of time working for the church.

As are many men, I am driven to excel at whatever task I take on.  And for most of the things I try, I push myself until I’m pretty good at whatever it is I am doing.  However, as I pushed and struggled to advance, I noticed something.  My daughters were in High School, perhaps only a few years from graduating and moving on.  And I hardly knew them.

I remembered some of the ideals that Beth and I had as young marrieds and as young parents, and I did not want to look back and regret the time that I devoted to my job; I did not want to regret the time that I should have given to my children.  So I did something that was very difficult for me.  I took myself off the fast track at work.  Man was I disappointed.  But, I thought, at least I had my church and my family.  Family, church, and work.  I measured myself as a successful man by these three things.

Oops, one down.  I intentionally gave work away, but that’s ok.  I still had the other two.  I convinced myself that as long as I “succeeded” at church and family, I was ok.  Work was actually the third on the list anyway, so I could be less than at the pinnacle there and still be a success at the other two.  However, church is a funny thing; it’s filled with people.  And people are the same no matter where they happen to be located.  I dealt with good folks and mean folks all across the spectrum.  I dealt with issues that I wish I had never known about.  Ultimately I kind of flamed out with leadership in church, too.  When my term as Deacon expired, I did not seek re-election, and I am not sure how eager I am even now, twenty-something years later, to repeat that experience.

Two down.  But I still have my family.  And this is the most important of the three.  As long as I “succeed” at family, I still have worth in my eyes.  I am still a “successful” man.

You kind of see what’s coming, right?

I had read a book once that described a father’s raising his family, and essentially his thoughts were that no matter what success he had elsewhere, if he didn’t raise his children well, what good is he?  I agreed with that, and worked accordingly.

Now before I continue, I want to make clear that I love my children.  With my whole heart, mind, soul, and strength.  Nothing has ever changed that, and nothing ever will.  Further, I need not detail more than this.  They are good people, working to be the best that they can envision themselves to be.  I am proud of them and their accomplishments.  Suffice it to say here that they have chosen to walk a couple of paths that I would not have chosen for them.  Their lives, their decisions.  I respect that and will support them, love them, help them to the best that I am able.

I think that at least in part, I took their “contrary” decisions personally, that it was my responsibility for where they have chosen to be.  Of course, each of us will ultimately take ownership of our choices and decisions, but at the time, I keenly felt that I was an abject failure as a father.  And for me that was strike three.  I was a failure as a man.

Some people turn to drink, some people may become even more spiritual, some turn to other outlets to ease the pain.  I have had several.

For years I have struggled with, shall we say, less wholesome outlets.  I honestly don’t know how teens can cope with the internet.  One can instantly find just about anything one would care to find.  With all that one can access today via the internet, I wouldn’t have survived as a teen.  Anyhow, through a lot of prayer, working with several dedicated and spiritual men, this particular area is much less difficult for me than it once was.

But there were other ways that one can feel momentarily better.  Food is one of my biggest struggles.  I love food.  I love the smell of good food, I love the taste of food and its texture as I roll it through my mouth, I love the satisfying feel of a full stomach.  And Beth is honestly the best cook I have ever known.

For a while this wasn’t as big a problem as it could be.  Although my metabolism had been slowing down, I was pretty active.  Being on the SWAT team was pretty demanding, and I had to stay in some semblance of shape, so even though I ate big, I burned a lot of it at the same time.  Also, at 6’3″, I can hide it pretty well.  This changed a bit when I retired from the team.  I ballooned to an all-time high of 260 pounds of unadulterated cellulose, and looked every bit like the chubby hubby that I was.

I had other outlets as well.  I am a very sensual guy.  I love taste, texture, beauty, scents.  I love trying new things.  I love learning.  So when I find something new that tastes great, smells great, and has nuance, I dive in.  Especially if it’s not something that a ton of people do.  I discovered craft beer and I discovered cigars.  Both are topics of endless discussion for me, I can talk for hours about either.  For the record, my buddy Matt makes the best beer I have tried; second is Founder’s Breakfast Stout or perhaps Great Divide’s Yeti Imperial Stouts.  Oh, man!  For cigars, my go to is always an Ashton, and specifically an Ashton Double Magnum, although I love all kinds of cigars at different times.  If you’re interested, go see Chris at Leaf Lover’s Tobbaconist in North East, PA for a great cigar.  And remember my advice.  If you can buy cigars and gasoline at the same location, don’t buy the cigars!!

Anyhow, along with Scuba diving, these were the outlets I used to “cope” with life’s little surprises.  I was a far cry from that twenty-one year old that thought he could handle everything.  Essentially, it looks like I can’t handle much of anything.  Or maybe life just kept throwing its little surprises until I was broken down.  Whatever, I was at a point that I needed help with coping.  But I didn’t like where I was.  That having been said, I think I need to clarify here.  As long as this post turns out to be, it is still a very abbreviated version of all this.  This entire process kind of evolved over the past twenty years or so, and I am condensing it here to a couple of thousand-ish words.  Also, it may look like I was just a total wreck.  Not so, but I had come to lean on tangibles, not on inner strength and God’s power.

So, here I was.  A failure at work, a failure at church, a failure with my family.  “Needing” food, scuba, beer, and cigars.  So what happened next?  Earlier this year I looked at a couple of photos taken of me, and man, I did not like what I saw.  This guy’s a fatty!  Beth and I both decided it was time, so we embarked on a weight loss and life style change.  Although I started at a lower weight than my all time high, since May, I have lost about thirty pounds with ten to go to my goal.  Beth has done even better.  I think we both look great, and the next step is to get back to the gym and get in shape.

Food’s gone as a crutch.

Beer has been assuming an increasingly anticipated portion of my life.  And I don’t mean nasty or cheap beer.  You folks that drink Bud lite or Coors, well, you have my pity.  Micros are the bomb!  So many different breweries, so many different styles, combinations of hops and malts, I could easily live in a Brewpub.  Wait.  Clark, what did you just say?  Did you hear yourself?

Beth pointed out to me a bit ago that I was consuming more beer than I had before.  She wasn’t yet alarmed exactly, but she was kind of concerned.  Her concern was justified.  Although in comparison to many I didn’t drink much at all, and although in comparison to Europeans I hardly drink anything, I was still using the beer as a crutch.  Clark, what are you doing?  Yep, I need to cut back.  And although I have no intention to cease, my beer consumption has hugely diminished.

Beer’s gone.  But I still have my last stronghold, I still have my cigars.

You can see what’s coming, right?  Hey, didn’t I already say that?

Many people would say this explains a great deal, but as a teen, I fell on my head a couple of times.  Looking back, I probably fractured my spine, but as I could get up and move, I never went to the hospital or even saw a doctor.  Fast forward four decades or so, and I now have two degenerative discs.  After several years of chiropractic therapy and numerous pain shots, I had my neck fused four months ago on two levels; C-5 to C-6, and C-6 to C-7.  The surgery went great, the chronic pain is gone, and the healing has been fine.  But.  My scuba season ended on the date of my surgery, and I probably won’t get back under water (except for assisting classes of new divers in the pool) until spring.

We went back to my surgeon last Monday.  After x-rays, he showed me that the higher level is about 99% healed; essentially completely healed.  The lower level, not as much.  He gave me a few restrictions, and said that he wasn’t concerned at all, and that the only way he would be concerned at all is if I was a smoker, which I am not.  I told him that I haven’t touched a cigarette in my life, but that I do have an occasional cigar.  At that point he kind of stared at me, hesitated a second, and said, “You need to stay away from those.”

Ok, I get it.  Nicotine restricts blood vessels and inhibits the uptake of oxygen, both needed for healing.  I won’t smoke a cigar for months.  But that was my last tangible support.  I am now officially left with nothing to fall back on, nothing to look forward to (And let’s be totally clear.  When I say that, I mean outside my marriage.  Our marriage is still great, and getting better every day!).  When he said that, I felt like my last pillar was knocked down, my bridge was collapsing.  I was bereft.  Even Beth felt bad for me, and she is not, shall we say, the biggest fan of my cigars.

So what do I do?  As I see it, I don’t have a lot of choices here.  My only choice is the one I should have made long ago.  My only choice is to depend on God’s grace; first, last, everywhere.  A few years ago I coined a phrase that I have tried to utilize.  I kind of forgot it, but I’m gonna pick it back up.  That phrase is this.  Let it go, it doesn’t belong to you.  So this is what I am left with, this is what I want to do, what I want to continually tell myself.  Let it go, it doesn’t belong to you.  I need to give it to God, let it go, live in Him.  Fill me Father.  Fill me with You.  You God.  All You.  Nothing but You.

I don’t know why it is necessary to be painted into a corner to see that one cannot “do this” on one’s own, but I would not be surprised to find that this is rather common.  Even if not, I often find that it is the case for me.  I’ve been cornered, and I have nothing that I can use to defend myself.  I figure I can go in one of three directions.  I can collapse into a puddle of emotional plasma, I can fall back on one of the less healthy things that I used to fall back on, or I can let go and look to the Author and Protector.  I think I’ll look to Jesus.

But boy do I want a cigar.  Let it go, Clark.  It doesn’t belong to you.  Yeah, I know…

Post Election Reflection, 2012

I have taken a break from Facebook.  After the election, I was hoping this would not happen, but the “end zone celebration” I saw from some was disheartening.  And I was so heartbroken over the results that I just needed to distance myself for a time.  I posted a couple of thoughts after the election, but since Wednesday I have seldom visited FB.

Wednesday morning, after the 2012 Presidential election, quite sincerely I posted the following on Facebook:

Brief thoughts on the election:

1) I am VERY happy for my friends that were pulling for Obama. Many were really invested in a win by him, and for them, I am truly happy. I do hope that all this silliness of “voter fraud,” disenfranchisement” and so on will be put to rest.

2) God is still on his throne. He did not wake up this morning, check the paper, slap his forehead and say, “Holy crap! …How did this happen?” He knows, he watches, and no matter who is the President of the US, He directs the course of history.

3) I worry for America. I believe we will be looking at a radically (not in the political sense) different country. In my opinion, we have slid a long way since the “Shining City on a Hill” that we were under Reagan.

4)I am disgusted with the Republican party that they cannot present a candidate that espouses conservative principles. I mean TRULY conservative principles. When done properly, conservative principles resonate with every voter group in the US.

5) I like cats. A lot. As much as I like dogs, maybe a bit more. This is perhaps a bit unusual for conservative types, so I am hoping when the liberal zombie police come to eat the livers of all good conservatives, maybe they’ll give my house a pass because I like cats. (kidding, people)

6) I still like good beer, and it is there for our enjoyment. I don’t care what one’s political position is, if you make good beer, we are best buds. Although, I MIGHT direct certain friends toward skunky beer due to their politics. *cough SteveS*

Of course I was being humorous with the last couple points, but the first four were completely serious. I woke up on Wednesday to an America for which I fear. I prayed more sincerely for President Obama than I probably have in the previous four years. I prayed for America, for my children, for my wife, myself, my friends and family.

I started musing on this about a week ago with a post from a liberal friend of mine. He had posted a “Nation of Change” article written by Robert Reich. Read the article here: “We the People, and the New American Civil War”. I had wanted to comment, but my thoughts were far too detailed to present in Facebook’s format.

First, a personal disclaimer regarding Mr. Reich. Robert Reich was in Bill Clinton’s cabinet as the Secretary of Labor. If one asked him, I believe he would say that politically he is a Moderate. But I have trouble with that. His background, his education, his statements all indicate to me that he is definitely liberal, and comes from a liberal perspective. So, I have a problem with him right there. Whatever one’s politics, my preference is that one be honest. Call it “Liberal” or “Progressive,” be honest about your stance.

In his article, Mr. Reich’s point is that our main challenge as a nation is for all of us “to rediscover the public good,” and what he indicates is that we need to meet more in the middle, and basically disregard the far right and the far left. There are several problems with Mr. Reich’s article, and I believe Mr. Reich to be much closer to the “far left” than he pretends to be.

In his first paragraph, talking about the vitriol of the latest Presidential campaigns, he feels that it is “Worse than the Palin-induced smarmy 2008. Worse than the swift-boat lies of 2004…” The problem is that in 2008 the only vitriol that I recall was toward Palin, not because of her. The hatred, vicious name-calling, and sexualizing of Mrs. Palin was truly appalling, and had it been a woman of the Democrat party being treated as she was by someone of the conservative persuasion, the howling and backlash would have been heard around the world, and yet how she was treated is apparently ok according to liberal standards (side note: I am not speaking of all liberals, I have many liberal friends that I cherish and trust. When I speak of liberals here, I am talking about what I see nation wide, in the media, and in the entertainment industry). Further, nothing that the swift-boat veterans said was inaccurate or lies. These were valiant men, serving with distinction in a miserable conflict. These men came forward and testified against the 2004 Democrat candidate for President and his claims of serving with distinction. And that is their crime. They disputed the only veteran the Democrat party has been proud of since the Vietnam war. And that is because he publicly denounced, not only the war, but the men who served in it. These men came forward, knowing they would be reviled, to set the record straight. And Reich calls them liars.

Second paragraph: Mr. Reich recognizes the many divisions in America, including “whether women should have control over their bodies, ” speaking of abortion, and I agree with him that the divisions he speaks of are not new. However, the issue of abortion is not simply that of whether women should have control over their bodies, any more than the Civil War was just a conflict over state’s rights. This is a topic that rates its own blog at some point, I suppose, but for now, suffice it to say that Mr. Reich oversimplified it here, and I believe he likely does it purposely. Or else it is that simple in his mind. Either way, I think it is telling.

I like what he said about things being more separated, geographically and online; this may have a spark of truth. It does seem that we have clustered as conservatives and liberals, without a ton of contact. However, I think that if one is seeking, regardless of political persuasion, relationship with people, it is actually easier to find than before. Many of my liberal friends I have found on Facebook. I enjoy spirited, passionate debate on issues (clearly, they never win, but it’s only because their feeble arguments wither in the presence of my stunning repartee, and the blinding logic of my positions. Right guys? Hey! Did you ever notice when one is correct, one says, “right?” One never says “left.” Kidding guys. Love you all!) with a number of committed liberals, who are just as convinced of their position as am I. We respect one another’s positions, thoughts, and backgrounds. I find that I am actually more brutal with those with whom agree than I am with those that disagree. I insist that my friends be shown respect and consideration, and I try to moderate the debates with those ideals.

In paragraph six, of Mr. Reich’s article he mentions Edward R. Murrow and Walter Cronkite, and proclaims both of them to be “ultimate arbiters of truth.” I cannot speak of Murrow, as that was quite some time before me. However, I understand that his fall from grace with CBS happened when Murrow bitterly complained that CBS was giving equal time to individuals on the opposite side of the issues he criticized. Further, Cronkite broadcast also at a time in which he was not the “ultimate” arbiter of the truth, but the only arbiter of the truth. Both men had, and enjoyed, unfettered and unopposed voices in what they presented to the public. And this I believe, is the actual problem. Mr. Reich goes on to attack Fox News and Rush Limbaugh as eagerly exploiting the anger and frustration of the “white working-class.” Mr. Reich calls them “pedlars of petulance,” and states that many of today’s politicians have “gained political power by fanning the flames.”

But I believe that Mr. Reich is emblematic of what the actual problem is here. I believe what he is actually upset about (and I doubt he would agree, or even recognize this) is that conservatives actually have a voice. Conservatives have avenues to get the news that are not controlled by those with whom they disagree. Avenues that are not presenting only one viewpoint. Fox News in particular is reviled by the left, and often cited for its “lies.” Does Fox News lie? Most of the “lies” presented are merely a different viewpoint from the person making that claim, and often, inspection finds that they aren’t lies at all. Further, Limbaugh, although sometimes bombastic, seldom presents anything that could be accused of being a blatant untruth.

I remember when I first heard Rush Limbaugh. It was probably close to twenty years ago, and at the time, I hated talk radio, and I only tuned in because a friend suggested I do so. When I listened to Limbaugh’s show, I nearly wept. I honestly thought that I was one of the few people in the entire world that believed as I did, but here was a man speaking from a position that resonated with me. I continue to listen to Limbaugh, not to “get the truth,” but because in my opinion, he presents the truth. Do I agree with all he says? No, but it’s not that difficult to separate that stuff out, and I think most can do the same.

Same with Fox News. Is it biased? Yep, but they make no bones about it, as opposed to CNN, MSNBC, CBS, ABC, and on and on. Nearly every news outlet has a slant or bias, but my frustration is that they refuse to admit it. I would have much more respect for any of the above if they would admit their bias, and work to present the other side. Fox News has a list of liberal commentators and contributors that clearly and cogently present the liberal viewpoint. As far as I have seen, the other networks may have a token conservative or two, but no one noteworthy, and very few that are taken seriously by anyone.

Here is the problem. The “left” has become the new “center.” and “meeting in the middle” means capitulating with the liberal position. Vitriol? That expressed against those with a conservative position is unrivaled and more frightening than anything one hears from a conservative position. Express a conservative thought or position? You are at best uncaring, and more likely a hateful, angry person. None of the conservative entertainers or commentators express the hate and anger expressed by liberals in the same industry, and yet those on the left are defended, and their jokes draw long, sustained laughter. Very seldom (and I am being generous, here) are they castigated for their words, let alone punished or an apology demanded. List something Limbaugh said that was hurtful and I can list ten from top liberals. And I can almost bet that Limbaugh apologized for what he said, unlike the comments from the other side of the aisle.

This post is not intended to be an apologetic for Fox News or Rush Limbaugh. And I intentionally oversimplified the issues. My intent is to describe my thoughts on the political divide in which we find ourselves, and the disparity I see between left and right. In today’s world, the NRA (National Rifle Association) is not a member-driven group intent on protecting one of our basic Constitutional rights, it is an extremist organization. Focus on the Family is not an organization seeking to preserve the family as the Biblical center of our society, it is a hate group. This is a clear shift in where the country has come from. Those who believe that the Bible is the inspired Word of God are not sincerely trying to follow God’s design for their lives, they are dangerous haters, trying to shove their zealous religious beliefs down people’s throats.

I am not a Luddite. I love technology, and love many aspects of where our society is right now. However, I believe there has been a shift in our society, and one that I do not see as altogether good. I believe that we must show dignity to all, regardless of viewpoint. However, it seems to me that the pendulum has swung to where those with a conservative viewpoint are increasingly seen as loony, stupid, or mean, or some combination of the three.

After the recent election, I found that I despair for our country. President Obama was elected back into that office, and now has four more years to work on his vision of America. And I believe that vision to be bad news for our country. Call it Socialist, Statist, or simply Progressive, it doesn’t much matter, it amounts to much the same thing. I believe we will see more confiscation of wealth (but not from liberal celebrities). I believe we will see an expansion of government’s role in our lives. I believe we will see the declining of America’s prestige in the world. I believe we will see a reduction in the military. I believe we will see more, not less, terrorism. I believe we are in more danger economically, socially, and physically than ever before. We are a Representative Republic. And the president has been re-elected. And I fear for what that means for all of us.

Honors to the Military

First, I must confess to being an unabashed Conservative in the mold of Ronald Reagan.  I have been, since High School.  And for those counting, that’s at least thirty-seven years.  In fact, I invited President Ford to my High School graduation (I still have his “thank you” around here somewhere).  And I have always loved the military.  Understand, as a career police officer, I have known guys that love to hang around cops, are dazzled by cops,  gravitate to cops.  So I’m not like that with those that serve, or have served in the military.  But I respect them and honor them (and their families) for their service.

My Father was drafted into the Army in WWII.  He never talked about his time in the Army much, but every now and then I could get him to tell a story or two.  I know he was in France.  I know he was tapped to go to Officer Candidate School but turned them down.  I know he was a foot soldier under Patton’s crew for a while.  I know he shot at people, and (I presume) was shot at in return.  One of the things he was happiest about regarding his time in Europe was that he could honestly say that “he didn’t know if he ever killed anybody,” which, if one reads between the lines, meant he was in some engagements somewhere.

I remember as a kid finding the few mementos he kept; some collar brass, a compass in a leather pouch, shoulder stripes.  I played with them endlessly, imagining myself to be in the middle of “the action.”  Of course, like most American kids, I had no idea what that meant.  I only knew that at the time, I thought my Dad, my uncle, and everyone else that I knew that had served was a hero (of course, that has not changed.  Ever.).

I had always wondered what medals Pop might be due, but it wasn’t until after he died that I actually looked into it.  There was an address that I found that would supply those medals earned and awarded, so I sent the required information, and promptly forgot that I had done so.  A few weeks later, a rather stuffed package came in the mail from an address that I didn’t recognize.  Upon opening it, I discovered that it contained my Father’s medals from World War II.  He had earned several, including Victory in Europe, Occupation of Germany, things like that.  However, he also had gotten a Purple Heart (he would have said that was for trench foot).  The largest I saved for last.  I opened it up, and my heart nearly broke.  My Father, as a rather low-ranking Sergeant drafted as a farm boy into the Army, had been awarded the Bronze Star.  Included with the medals was the paperwork citing what he had done to earn the medals.  However, there was a problem.

Many years ago, there was a rather extensive fire in a government warehouse that destroyed many, many of the records of military men and women.  My father’s was one of those.  The only thing salvaged of my father’s records was the page listing what he was due, with nothing saying what he had done to earn them.  Even the page with the medals awarded him was scorched and incomplete.  So, with Dad dead and buried, there is little I know to do to find out what he had done to be awarded the Bronze Star.  But I was right.  My Dad is a hero.

So I have always loved and respected the military.  I graduated High School in 1975, and close to my graduation date I called the Army recruiting office to see what I needed to do to enlist.  I remember my heart was pounding, and I was as nervous as I could possibly be.  At that time, I didn’t immerse myself in politics as I do now, and was only partly aware of stuff, although I think I knew more of what was going on than I might think I did.  Anyhow, Viet Nam was pretty much the defining event of my generation, and that was in my mind as I called the recruiter.  And I got  the oddest response I have ever had, and certainly not the one I expected.   He told me, “Don’t bother, kid.  The conflict’s over.”  And that was that.  I still looked into enlisting, in order to pay for college, but my folks insisted that they would pay for school.  As I had posted earlier, it wasn’t until years later that I learned that when I was adopted, my parents promised that they would get me an education, a promise that they were determined to keep, and did.  Even so, I went to Behrend College of Penn State and was one of the founding members of the ROTC program on Behrend Campus, learning under Captain Small (later promoted to Major), and Sergeant King.

These were two very interesting guys.  Captain Small was one of the first Cobra pilots in Viet Nam.  He was a good commander of the ROTC unit, good sense of humor, definitely a leader.  He had an odd habit, though.  He chewed on his hands.  He would kind of nip them all over until there were small scabs all over both hands; they would heal up, look great, and then a while later he would do it all over again.  I figured it was due to his time “in country,” but never asked about it.

Sgt. King was my hero.  I have said that he is the second heroic man who influenced me in my life, my Dad being the first.  Sgt. Don King was a large man, quiet, and a Green Beret.  He had been field grade Captain in Viet Nam, but due to the fact that he didn’t have a college degree was rolled back to Sergeant after the conflict.  I learned a lot from that man.  As far as I know, he retired to his home state of Texas, and if anyone knows of his whereabouts, I would appreciate connection, address, anything.  When I finished up at Behrend, and transferred to main campus, I opted to not continue the ROTC program there, and not enlist upon graduation.  One of the hardest things I have ever heard in my life was the words that Sgt. King said when he learned that I would not continue.  He looked me straight in the eyes, and said, “I’m disappointed in you, Clark.  You would have made a fine officer.”

But even though I did not serve, I have honored the military and those that have served, throughout my entire life.  And this is where I get “political.”  Politically, if you are liberal and get irritated easily, I would not be hurt if you stop reading here.

See, I just don’t understand how one can serve in the military and still lean liberal.  I hear liberals voicing honor to the military and my first inclination is to get irked.  Ok, I know many liberals that honestly appreciate the military, and are sincere in their voicing that appreciation.  My problem comes from having lived through the 60’s.  I remember how the military, and those that served then, were treated.  I remember seeing troops getting spat upon and called “baby killers” in public.  I remember the shame that was heaped on them, and that at a time that, as always, I loved the military.  From my perspective, the “traditional” liberal attitude is one of contempt for the military, including the Clinton years in the Presidency, when a General, upon saying good morning to one of the Clintons’ top staffers, was told, “We don’t talk to uniforms.”  The attitude of liberals may have changed to the point that younger liberals honestly see no inconsistency between being politically liberal and appreciating the military.  As I said, my perspective has been shaped by the 60’s, which by the way, I hated when I was in ’em.  And I simply do not believe liberals of that generation, say anyone older than 40 or 45, when they say that they like, love, or simply appreciate the military.

I seem to recall that during the Presidential election in which George W. Bush beat Gore, that the military vote was suppressed.  I didn’t hear howls of protest from the left about that, and if the military vote had been properly counted (as I recall that it was not), there would have been no doubt of the outcome.  Same with the current Presidential election.  Oh, I hear screaming from the left about this group’s vote being “disenfranchised,” or that group’s vote being suppressed, but the military?  Not a word.  Personal opinion?  Theirs is the only vote that should be taken early.  If you’re not in the military and can’t vote at the appointed time, on the appointed day, too bad, so sad.  There are absentee ballots for those with legitimate reasons for not getting there on time so use them!  If you forget, if you don’t have a legitimate reason to cast an absentee ballot, forget it.  You don’t vote.  In fact, voting is a constitutional right, I understand.  But I think it is a right that is also a privilege, and if you don’t show a certain respect for that right and privilege, then I would have no issue with denying that vote.  Liberal or Conservative, there is no reason that one should not understand the basics of our system.  I would personally institute a test that one must pass prior to voting.  The test would consist of something like the following questions:  first, what is our type of government?  The answer would be Democracy, Representative Republic, something like that.  Second, what are the two major political parties with candidates running for office (Democrat and Republican).  Third, define the difference between Capitalism and Socialism.  Fourth, what are the names of the Democrat and Republican Presidential nominees and their running mates.  Simple.  And if you don’t pass, you don’t vote.

Anyway, back to the military.

I read a Robert Heinlein story once in which the only eligible voters in that society were currently in the military or veterans of the military.  I was intrigued by that concept, and I would almost (emphasis on almost) support giving up the right to vote under that condition.  I would probably add police officers, fire fighters, nurses, and perhaps even something like the Peace Corps.  My thoughts are that if you aren’t willing to serve, do you really have the right to decide the course of the country?  Of course, I know the answer to that, and I support our country, the Constitution, and the intent of our Founding Fathers.  Even so, it’s an intriguing concept.

And I know of liberals that have served in the military.  Several I worked with on the Erie Police Department, and several that I have met along the way.  But I guess I am kind of puzzled, since generally speaking, it is the more conservative political party that appreciates the military.  The liberal side?  Not so much.  I remember John F. Kerry running against President Bush.  Kerry wore his service on his sleeve, and my personal opinion is that he joined, not out of patriotism, but cynically so he could utilize his service after he got out.  Even so, I appreciate his service.  At least he joined.  It’s what he did while in there and after that I despise, and acts as an example of what I believe is the general opinion that liberals have of the military.

I was prompted to write this blog after seeing a post on Facebook.  One of my liberal friends posted an article written by one that had served in the military on why that person was voting for Obama.  My friend stated that because of the author’s service, he should be taken seriously.  My friend and I are in what I would call the beginning stages of friendship.  We respect each other and our opinions, even though they often conflict.  But I am a good judge of character, and I believe that Steve is sincere when he vocalizes support for the military.  But I can judge his sincerity because I know him.  It is much more difficult for me when it is someone I do not personally know, and cannot read their character enough to judge their sincerity.

So, to all in the military, to all that have served, and to all that shall serve in the future, my undying thanks.  You have my appreciation, my admiration.  Your political persuasion is irrelevant to this, and I thank you.  As a right-winger, as an American, I applaud you, even if you are a “leftie.”  Your service is admirable, and this country would not, could not be what it is without your service, and your sacrifice.  May you be blessed and honored for your service.  May we who are protected get it right.  May you never have a moment’s time in which you are not certain that the vast majority of Americans are grateful for what you did, what you do, what you will do.  May God Bless.

Interesting.

“May you lead an interesting life.”

I have no proof of this, but I have always been given to understand that this is an old Chinese curse.  I used to think that such a thought was silly; who wants to lead a boring life.  Then I understood just how stressful and difficult it can be when one’s life is “interesting,” and I longed for a life that was perhaps a bit less “interesting.”  I even found that for a while.  However, I find myself at a place now where my life is again a bit interesting.

For a while I’ve been in a bit of a quandary.  I have wanted to post here, but was finding it difficult to develop a relevant topic.  And then I heard Jeremy Riddle’s “Sweetly Broken” on our local Christian radio station, WCTL (BTW, they also stream and can be found at www.WCTL.org).  This song touched me, and after pondering for a while, I realized why my life is currently interesting and why this song resonated at this point in time.  There are several components to where I am right now.

First, a couple of weeks ago I found myself in an odd state of mind.  It occurred to me that I was quite frightened of a situation in which I am close to finding myself.

In previous posts I have discussed our Pastor, Bob Klecan in one reference or another.  I have had the privilege of grabbing an occasional cup of coffee with him on several occasions.  We have discussed everything from theology and “the church” to The Beatles, Vietnam, and sports.  And two things I have noticed: First, Bob Klecan is extremely smart.  And second, he is often underestimated.  He is a very humble man, able to discuss a variety of topics, understands deep issues, and can preach the word in a way that is understandable both in theory and in application.

I once asked him, “How do you deal with people underestimating you all the time?”  The look on his face was priceless.  He was shocked, first of all because it is true, he is consistently underestimated, but also because someone noted that fact.  He asked me how I knew that.  My reply was that it was easy for me to recognize that in him because I am underestimated all the time as well.

Note to all.  I am not bragging here, and this is not a “How cool am I?” piece.  Puffing myself up is not my style, far from it.  But I need to acknowledge  some things in this post which could look like bragging.  Not so.

Anyhow, with that proviso, I admit that I’m a fairly smart individual.  I enjoy learning and I enjoy experiencing new thoughts and new situations.  However, I come from a blue-collar family, solidly middle-class; not intentionally identifying ourselves as intellectual.  My Father was a non-commissioned officer in the army in WWII, and after that a farmer.  After selling the farm (where I grew for the first six years of my life), Dad purchased a service station in Springboro, PA.  He later took a job as a tool and die maker, working in that job until he retired.  Dad also did tax work on the side, which is about the only post-High School education he had.  Mom, due to family situations prior to marriage, did not have a chance to complete High School.  Relatively common in her era.

My point in giving some description of my family’s levels of education is to show that I do not come from a background of  higher education.  Some people come from families of doctors, attorneys, accountants, whatever.  Those families more or less expect their children to also get an education, the key word being also.  I did not grow up in that situation.

Although they had no college background, my family expected me to go to college, and it was just understood that I was going to college my entire life.    It wasn’t until decades later I discovered that when my parents adopted me, the judge granting the adoption made my parents promise that their son would get an education.  My parents were two of the most honest and honorable people I have ever known and when they made that promise, they were determined to keep it.  And they did.

My high school years were spent in Saegertown Area High School (they called it Penncrest, but we that went to Saegertown knew better).  I kind of coasted through high school, and struggled through my undergraduate work at Penn State.  I wasn’t much of a student at that time, but that doesn’t mean that I didn’t find new stuff fun.  I did.  Leaving home and going to Behrend College of Penn State for the first time was cool!  Going to Main Campus from Behrend was cool!  Getting into my major class work as a junior and senior was cool, and I did a lot better, gradewise.  Within a few months of graduating from Penn State, I got a job as a policeman, my dream job, and I have been a policeman for over thirty years.

All this background is to get to this:  my entire life I have hidden my intelligence, my drive, and my love of learning and knowledge.  Cops are the best bunch of people one could ever find outside the military, and I am honored and privileged to belong to that fraternity.  And cops hate a peg that sticks out.  If someone is unique, cops will do whatever it takes to pound that person back into the hole.  This isn’t necessarily an “I’m threatened” kind of thing, either.  We depend on each other for our lives.  Very few professions worry about some knucklehead deciding for whatever reason to put a bullet into them because they had a bad day.  Cops have to know, viscerally, that the guy next to them is dependable, and will do whatever it takes to keep them safe.  A fellow officer’s oddities and uniqueness makes cops nervous, so they do what they must to feel secure that they are safe.  And that includes figuratively beating on intellectually minded people (I was also different from most cops because of the “peculiar and strange” values I brought with me due to my understanding of Christianity, but that isn’t what I’m discussing here).  So I learned (at least to some degree) to suppress that part of me.  Note:  This is not a value judgement or a criticism.  I understand the necessity of what cops do, and it is what it is.  It’s just not all that pleasant sometimes.

So here I am, thirty (plus) years later, and I find myself in a new position.  I am the Chief of Police at a University in northwestern Pennsylvania, Edinboro University of PA.  I enjoy this stage of my career, partly because of the position, of course.  I think I am doing some good where I am, and I have the chance to make a great police department even a bit better.  But for me, part of the uniqueness is being on a college campus.  I am an administrator at an institution that not only appreciates intelligence, it encourages people to apply that intelligence and to develop it.  I have found myself on various committees that I would have never dreamed of a few years ago, and I am enjoying that.  I find myself in debates with friends on the far end of the political scale from me, and have loved the debate.  My wife and I have visited an “Athiests and Agnostics” meeting, and I now have a couple of acquaintances that intrigue me and I look forward to developing a relationship with them.

And here is where I found myself frightened.  I find that I am close to being seen as a “smart” person, someone who, if not exactly an intellectual, enjoys intellectual debate and can hold his own in that area.  And not only seen as smart, but valued because of that.  I have suppressed that part of me for so long that it is scary to tap into it.  As a couple of examples, when we attended the Athiest and Agnostic meeting, the discussion was based on John Stuart Mill’s “On Liberty,” an essay he had written in 1849.  It is a philosophical treatise on Utilitarianism, and definitely not light reading.  I read it for the discussion, and I loved it!  I have not participated in philosophical readings or discussion in over ten years, and I had forgotten how much I enjoyed that.  I also took college level Spanish 101 and 102 this summer, and my comprehension of a foreign language was better than I have ever experienced.

There are also a number of events occurring this summer.  I am stepping out on a number of issues: instead of sitting in one place, Beth and I took the conscious step to confront some issues that had been effecting us.  So instead of just passively standing still and taking shot after shot from life, we decided to deal with it, and consequently we are in a much better place now.  I decided to have needed corrective surgery that I had been putting off for some time (healing nicely, thank you).  We are dealing with the loss of my Mother last fall, as well as other family issues.  I volunteered to be on a council that is quite frightening in and of itself, but I felt led to do volunteer, and so was obedient.  And we are going back to the Dominican Republic in January.

If you have read my posts regarding the one-week missions trip to the Dominican Republic which started this blog, you already know how astounding it is that I would want to go back this year.  I didn’t just kind of not want to go to the DR, I did not want to go, and I was angry that I had agreed to go and was being held to that agreement.  But, being the son of honorable people, I was determined to honor that commitment, even if I hated every single second of the time I was there. Read my posts in chronological order to see the progression, but suffice it to say that God worked in amazing ways in me over that week. I came back from the DR with a renewed spirit and huge gratitude for God’s love for me.

This year, I felt that we needed to go back.  However, no one at church had made any effort for that to happen and I felt God’s prompting to be the driver.  I contacted our team leader from last year, we conferred with Pastor Klecan, and we got a game plan together.  Last Sunday at church I made an announcement regarding the trip, and seventeen people showed up to discuss their participation in the DR trip in January.  Fifteen want to go, but only four can fund the trip for themselves, and the deadline for the down payment (and thus one’s ability to go in January) is two weeks from tomorrow.  This past week, an anonymous donor paid for five to go.  We have six to fund.

I have been battered and bruised.  Crushed, numb.  But I see changes in me, in the way I view things, in my outlook.  I see healing and the return of my desire to excel, to learn, to push myself and to “push the envelope.”  Although I am more than a little uneasy at where I am right now, I feel my sense of God’s presence returning and it is far from boring.

An interesting life?  Yeah, it sure is.  And for now, I love it.  Sweetly Broken?  I’m not sure I completely understand that concept yet, but I’m far closer to understanding it than I was.

Check out Jeremy Riddle’s song “Sweetly Broken” here: http://youtu.be/fyJuKHvoPGc.

To the cross I look, to the cross I cling
Of its suffering I do drink
Of its work I do sing

For on it my Savior both bruised and crushed
Showed that God is love
And God is just

Chorus:
At the cross You beckon me
You draw me gently to my knees, and I am
Lost for words, so lost in love,
I’m sweetly broken, wholly surrendered

What a priceless gift, undeserved life
Have I been given
Through Christ crucified

You’ve called me out of death
You’ve called me into life
And I was under Your wrath
Now through the cross I’m reconciled

Chorus:

In awe of the cross I must confess
How wondrous Your redeeming love and
How great is Your faithfulness

(2x’s)
Chorus:

Oh, I am REAL good at right and wrong. But nicey-nice? Uh…

I have been corresponding with a friend for a while on an issue that we both are working on.  John is my accountability partner with internet use and so on, and I would be so far from where I am if not for him.  Over time I have had several guys to whom I made myself accountable, and I am so grateful for their work and prayers.  So, thank you to Randy, Carl, Doug, and John.  May God richly bless you for taking the time to work with a hard head like me on such a difficult issue.  I remain a “work in progress,” but any success I have had is due to your prayers and work.  Thank you.

Anyhow, my correspondence with John took a turn in an interesting direction the past couple days.  We have come to a point in our discussion where the focus is on matching Biblical Grace with Biblical Truth, and not as separate issues.  This is what John said:

“Grace and truth often appear to be in conflict with each other and yet Jesus was FULL of both at the same time.

At the risk of offending you and apologies if I do, you are FULL of truth and light on grace. We need to be FULL of both and that’s so very hard (seemingly impossible) to do.”
A couple of weeks ago our Pastor, Bob Klecan, gave a message that I discussed earlier (see my earlier post, “Exclusive? Definitely.  Inclusive?  Even more so,” put up on August 19).  In just a sentence or two, his point was basically this: do I want to win a point, or do I want to make a mark for eternity?  And this is a difficult issue for me.
This past Sunday, Pastor Bob made a point that I paraphrase in this way:
“Christianity is unique from other religions in this way: other religions offer advice on what I must do so that in the end God may accept me.  Christianity says that I CANNOT earn my place with God.  ALL I MUST DO is accept the gift of God’s salvation through the finished work of Jesus Christ.  All I must do is repent, NOT first from my sins, but from my righteousness; from that which I think makes me ‘good enough’ to stand before God.  THAT is the ‘gospel;’ THAT is God’s Good news.”
Although the previous point is no problem for me, the others above are issues I have struggled with for a long time.  If one is familiar with the Bible’s New Testament, one is familiar with various personalities.  The Apostle John is rather a dreamer, a mystic.  He appeals to many “artsy” people, but for me he’s a bit too touchy-feely.  Ick.  At the risk of catching rocks, I just don’t identify with John.  Paul, I like.  Straightforward, intellectual, I like to read his stuff.  I like his mind, and I like his logic.  But of all the characters in the New Testament, I probably identify with Peter the most.  Peter, the impulsive one.  Peter the hard-head.  Peter the one-hundred percent committed one that was willing to jump into a sword fight and die with or for the unmistakable Messiah.  Peter, the one who denied that same savior not once, but three times in a matter of a couple of hours.  That’s me.  So the issue of grace and truth is a difficult one.  Truth?  Easy!  Grace?  Not so much.  Also, I want to point out that there are people on Facebook in particular that I really care about and although we disagree, I would never want to hurt them.  With them, it is no chore to be “nicer.”  I love them, and enjoy the debate, but harsh?  I just don’t want to be that to them.
In this post, I talk about two issues: divorce and pornography, and I need to make a couple of points now.  First, I think pornography wrong in each and every instance.  It’s pretty clear according to scripture that looking at someone not your spouse with lust is as destructive and sinful as adultery.  So in no case is porn ever ok.  Divorce is not so cut and dried.  Scripture maintains a few instances where divorce is acceptable, if not ideal.  For the sake of brevity, I would count those reasons as a partner’s infidelity and one suffering abuse.  Further, if one is divorced, so be it.  I have no condemnation for anyone in that place.  But I think in our “no fault” society, we are far too quick to dump someone for any reason what so ever.  And that is what I’m talking about below.
Edited, I responded to John’s email (above) in this way:
Ok, pretty much my whole life I’ve been angry, but I’m not sure exactly at what.  My Dad used to tell me (a lot) that I was going to wind up in jail if I didn’t get my temper under control, so this is not a new phenomenon.  Further, I have always had a strong sense of justice.  Mom used to tell of me coming home from school and after watching kids pick on other kids that were weaker or whatever, talking about how that wasn’t fair.  Finally, I do tend to see things in black and white.  It’s right or it’s wrong, and if it’s wrong, then it’s wrong.  Period.  This part serves me well with things like fidelity and purity, but maybe not so much in my relationship with people.
Now, that having been said, I have long maintained  that I don’t care what you think, or what I think, or what anyone thinks; what does the Word of God SAY?  And if something is spelled out as right or wrong, then there it is.
And here’s where all of the above clashes.  On controversial issues of the day, I have little patience for a unitarian approach, whereby if that’s what one wants to do, well, that’s just fine.  But I also recognize that the “hammer” approach doesn’t often win a lot of converts (or friends for that matter).  So, where does that leave me?
I think that with people whom I trust and feel comfortable with, like Beth, and those of you in Small Group, I feel free to just say what I think, and not hold back.  But that doesn’t really give an accurate representation of what I think, who I am, how I respond, and what image I put forth to the world.  I was talking about this to Beth and she observed that I seem to have “a public face and a private face.”  True.  Especially after Bob’s sermon two weeks ago, I have been trying to be a bit “softer” in my approach on Facebook.  And for a long time, I will rant about our daughters to Beth, but when talking to them, I am much more subdued.
I think I have two issues here.  First, quite honestly, I get tired of taking it.  I get frustrated with people taking foolish or just plain wrong positions, and acting like they are morally or intellectually superior to me.  Makes me nutty. The example I gave Beth was, so if someone says, “You know what, I don’t believe two plus two equals four.  I believe it equals five,”  the response I want to give is, “Idiot, NO IT DOESN’T, AND YOU ARE DEMONSTRATABLY WRONG!!!”  But I’m supposed to say, “Well, that’s interesting.  How do you come to that conclusion?”  That is hard for me.
Second, I really struggle with this:  Who is really served by soft-pedalling the truth?  I’m just not sure.  I know I am harsh, but I struggle with being “squishy” when “capital-T” Truth is being discussed.
One example from Sunday night.  As you said earlier, I am not trying to offend, and I apologize if I do.  I noticed something that was said.  The statement was made that she has no problem with people who are divorced serving in church.  Actually, I don’t either, but like I said then, it depends on why they were divorced.  Referring to what I said above, I don’t care what anyone thinks, what does the Word of God say?  And God says, “I HATE divorce.”  Now that is pretty strong coming directly from God, and I think we are a bit cavalier about divorce.  Is divorce the unforgivable sin?  Certainly not.  But it is a serious topic that we should not just gloss over.
Most sin, I think, affects me, and only indirectly others.  Gluttony or lying being examples.  Both are wrong, both are sin, but often the main effect of either sin is directly on me.  I bear the brunt of the crushing effect of them.  But pornography or divorce very often hurt people right next to the one committing that particular sin.  I recognize that in terms of value all sins are the same, but the ripple effect, I think, is much more striking in some sin than others.
 So, where do I go from here?  Hard to say.  I am trying to be kind.  I am trying to be less harsh, less of a hammer.  But how well is that working?  I don’t know, and I am still so conflicted.  In issues where it is so clear to me, how do I let it go?  How do I show love when I think a slap is more appropriate?  It’s not enough to say that God didn’t treat me like that, or any other similar platitude.  I know these things in my head.  but I am far more a “soldier” than a “diplomat.”  God help me!  I just don’t know how to spare the sword and offer a hand.

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