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Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Thanksgiving

In October of 1863, a group of Lutherans in what was then Russel's Grove, Illinois, banded together and formed St. Matthew Lutheran Church.

That same year, President Abraham Lincoln gave the following proclamation - Happy Thanksgiving!


The year that is drawing towards its close has been filled with the blessings of fruitful fields and healthful skies. To these bounties, which are so constantly enjoyed that we are prone to forget the source from which they come, others have been added, which are of so extraordinary a nature, that they cannot fail to penetrate and soften even the heart which is habitually insensible to the ever watchful providence of Almighty God.

In the midst of a civil war of unequaled magnitude and severity, which has sometimes seemed to invite and provoke the aggressions of foreign States, peace has been preserved with all nations, order has been maintained, the laws have been respected and obeyed, and harmony has prevailed everywhere, except in the theater of military conflict; while that theater has been greatly contracted by the advancing armies and navies of the Union.

The needful diversions of wealth and strength from the fields of peaceful industry to the national defense have not arrested the plough, the shuttle or the ship. The axe has enlarged the borders of our settlements, and the mines, as well of iron and coal as of the precious metals, have yielded even more abundantly than heretofore. Population has steadily increased, notwithstanding the waste that has been made in the camp, the siege and the battlefield; and the country, rejoicing in the consciousness of augmented strength and vigor, is permitted to expect continuance of years with large increase of freedom.

No human counsel hath devised, nor hath any mortal hand worked out these great things. They are the gracious gifts of the Most High God, who, while dealing with us in anger for our sins, hath nevertheless remembered mercy.

It has seemed to me fit and proper that they should be solemnly, reverently and gratefully acknowledged as with one heart and voice by the whole American people; I do, therefore, invite my fellow citizens in every part of the United States, and also those who are at sea and those who are sojourning in foreign lands, to set apart and observe the last Thursday of November next as a Day of Thanksgiving and Prayer to our beneficent Father, who dwelleth in the heavens. And I recommend to them that, while offering up the ascriptions justly due to him that, for such singular deliverances and blessings; they do also, with humble penitence for our national perverseness and disobedience, commend to His tender care all those who have become widows, orphans, mourners or sufferers in the lamentable civil strife in which we are unavoidably engaged, and fervently implore the interposition of the Almighty hand to heal the wounds of the nation and to restore it, as soon as may be consistent with the Divine purposes, to the full enjoyment of peace, harmony, tranquility, and union.

In testimony whereof I have hereunto set my hand and caused the seal of the United States to be affixed.

Done at the city of Washington this third day of October, in the year of our Lord one thousand eight hundred and sixty-three, and of the independence of the United States the eighty-eighth.

Abraham Lincoln.

Monday, November 19, 2012

What They Gave


Image courtesy of http://billcainonline.com/
On November 19, 1863, Abraham Lincoln gave a short speech in a new cemetery in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania. We know it today as The Gettysburg Address. One of the phrases that jump out at me as especially meaningful is this one:

…from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion….

From the War of Independence to the current War on Terror – American men and women have given their last full measure of devotion for the cause of liberty and freedom.

They gave their all. They gave everything.

I'm asking my self today, what will I give?

When I dance, I don't dance with one finger. I put my whole body into it. I don't sing by simply moving my lips. The sound has to begin from deep within. I don't worship by reciting or hearing a few words. I open up my whole self to the Spirit of God. I give to this moment in God's presence - everything I  am. I am not talking about what amount of money I give to the church. I am talking about how much of myself I am called to give in living relationship with God and all creation. I am called to give - everything. And who is it who calls us to give everything?

I have to consider what my financial responsibilities are to the various communities in which I participate. But financial considerations and all considerations need to come from a total commitment to living with faith in God's creation. In the parable of the Widow’s Mite (Mark 12:41-44), the widow's two coins are not just money. They symbolize something. What do they symbolize? Everything. She gives her everything, her all. Parents sometimes ask me what the fee is for baptizing their children. There is no fee. The cost, however, is everything. The one who paid the cost calls us to follow him, to live and love with abandon, to give to life and all that participates in life, not a part of ourselves, but all of ourselves, everything.

The men and women who gave the last full measure of their devotion defending our liberties and freedoms – and those who survived their deaths – know this full well.

There is the story of George Adkins who fought in World War I. George joined up in 1915 at the age of 26. His brother, Marty, was killed in June 1916, and his brother, Bill, shortly after that. George alone, survived. After the war George married and resumed farming until his death in 1950.

A letter was written to George by a comrade a decade after the war.

The letter dated August 27th, 1928 was written by an I. W. Anderson. The most powerful part concerns the death of George's elder brother, Marty, or Mart, for short.

"You will remember after the June 3rd scrap, I was corralled for the Orderly room because of Sergeant Sharpe (the Orderly Room Sergeant) having been wounded. Well, if I remember rightly, Mart was killed the next trip into that hell-hole, which would be about the 18th of June, 1916, at a point, judging from where his body was found some 500 feet east of Maple Copse. I remember when his personal effects were taken from his body, we found a note - a note which left so deep an impression on me that I have never forgotten it and never will, for I consider it one of the sublimest (sic) acts of heroism of which I have ever heard, of which one seldom hears except in the pages of romantic fiction. The words were written after he was wounded and in the brief period before he died:

                         On the Battlefields of Flanders, Good bye Mother, good bye all.
                                                                                 Mart."

What do you make of a young man who with his last bit of strength writes a goodbye note to his mom, and then says good bye to all and signs his name. He sounds to me like someone who loved life and loved people.

The battles of the First World War were indeed hell, but here a man gives this overpowering expression of his humanity. Mart Adkins gave everything, not just his breath and his blood, but his soul. His brief words point to the absurdity of war. On the battlefields of Flanders, goodbye. Why should a young man from the other side of the world be mortally wounded on the battlefields of Flanders? He should be plowing and seeding and harvesting those fertile fields around his home. But a crisis much larger than himself called Mart Adkins, and he gave everything he had to its resolution. What blows me away is that he tries to communicate something before he dies. In saying goodbye to the living, he gives everything to life. In a dehumanized situation Mart Adkins says in this brief note, "I am a human being, born of a mother, and related to many others by blood and friendship. While I have this breath of life, my last thought is for my loved ones."

George, Marty and Bill Adkins gave everything. Marty and Bill gave everything and died in Europe. Bill gave everything and had to bear the burden of living with those memories and that grief. And yet living is a beautiful as well as a terrifying burden: missing loved ones, remembering their sacrifice, encouraging ourselves and others to be hopeful, and trying in our own lives to justify the many gifts to us and the many sacrifices made for us. It is wonderful that a decade after the war Mr. Anderson could write George Adkins and talk about both sides of their experience, the genuine bonds of friendship, and the terrible losses. 

Some might think that Mr. Anderson should have left it alone, and that the best thing for George Adkins would be to put the horror in a box and forget it ever happened.

But when we do that, when we deny what we have experienced, then we are only partly living. When we forget the special days set aside to remember and give thanks by making them just a day we get off work and school, by making them just  days to eat and have fun with family and friends, we ignore our collective historical experience, and is so doing we are only partly living.

But we are called to much more. These three brothers and all who served in our nation’s conflicts and who kept their humanity in an inhumane situation, they call us to live fully. By the example of their lives, they call you and I - to give everything.

I am struck by Jesus' words concerning the poor widow who put her two copper coins into the temple treasury. "She out of her poverty has put in everything she has." If we were thinking about giving a part of ourselves, wouldn't we look to our riches and our strengths? If I win the lottery, then of course I will have a few bucks to spare for some good causes. If I had a lot of teaching ability then I could give some of that teaching to others. If I had many lives to live, like one of the immortals on the Highlander movie and TV series, then I could be a soldier and risk one of those lives on the field of battle. But all I have is me, with all my limitations.

When I give from my riches, I am not risking too much. I still have plenty for my own security. Indeed I expect something in return for my giving so that I can add to my security. This is the transaction against which Martin Luther spoke with such passion - the notion that our good works secure us some measure of grace from God. But that isn’t true! God gives everything freely of His grace. That’s the message of the cross! And will we give a measured amount from our riches and expect a profit in return for our investment? George, Mart and Bill Adkins gave the life, the courage and the commitment they had. Their cause was something much greater than self-preservation.

When we have much and give little, then there is little meaning in our giving. The message of Abraham Lincoln's Gettysburg Address is that many gave so much – they gave everything! It wasn't a photo opportunity. Horrific circumstances forced them to put their lives on the line. Thanks to their sacrifice we now live. The men and women he remembered this day in 1863 call us to do more, to live a passionately in our time as they lived in theirs, to give as they gave, which means giving everything.

The most powerful thing we can give is when we give from our weakness, when a person who is nervous comes to the microphone to share her prayer, when a person who is not out-going opens up and smiles, when a rigid person connects with teenagers, when a person who never hugs opens his arms to someone in need. Mart Adkins was a soldier with a rifle, trained to kill, but he showed us that he was a human being connected with family and friends. The poor widow had two copper coins which together made one penny. She gave them both, because what she was really giving was herself. Take this to heart. For this is exactly what Jesus did – He gave His all: His very life on the cross for you. Where do you see people giving their all? I am glad that men like Stephen and Hugh Ambrose (Band of Brothers, The Pacific) gather the stories of the soldiers who fought in the wars. We need to hear their stories.

But I think we can also look at the persons around us in the pews. They have powerful stories. Perhaps they don't see them as powerful. Perhaps the power is something that God wants us to see, as we open our hearts, as we listen to each other, as we find the courage to live more fully. God help us all to share our strengths and weaknesses, to live with intelligence but not limited by fear, to live with passion, but the kind that builds rather than tears down. May the Spirit empower us to give to the Giver of life, not a pittance, nor a portion nor a part, but everything.

Thursday, November 15, 2012

A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving


Charlie Brown is as traditional to Thanksgiving as turkey, pumpkin pie and football.

Speaking of football, A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving begins with Lucy convincing Charlie Brown that place-kicking a football on Thanksgiving is a great honor. It usually is a great honor to be part of anything that is steeped in tradition.

But of course Charlie Brown will never kick that football; at least not as long as Lucy is the holder!

This scene serves to remind us that traditions sometimes do fade away. One of the most long-standing traditions in the world is that of Passover. It has been a part of the Jewish faith for nearly 3500 years. But it was not something that was traditionally celebrated at first – not like it is now. In fact, the Bible makes a big deal about the first couple of times that the Children of Israel actually celebrated Passover (or the Feast of Unleavened Bread) because they did NOT traditionally celebrate every year.

Traditions are important. Every family has its own traditions.

Holidays – for adults at least – can be very stressful times. Not so much for kids, although Charlie Brown is an exception. He even says clearly that Thanksgiving is “another holiday to worry about.” Charlie Brown’s worries about this particular Thanksgiving are that he has three, somewhat uninvited, guests coming for the holiday dinner. While his sister Sally offers an explanation for why this has happened – because Charlie Brown is so “wishy-washy” – there is probably a better reason. The worry that accompanies many holiday traditions comes from a need to please.

Charlie Brown has a need to please other people. This is something that is, to a certain degree, in every person. We want people to like us. We want to make other people happy. And when people have company coming over, people usually have a desire to feed them well. Charlie Brown’s dilemma is that not only does he have three guests coming for Thanksgiving dinner, his culinary prowess is limited to “cold cereal and maybe toast.”

But for all of Charlie Brown’s wishy-washiness, he is not without friends who will help him in his desperate hour. Linus, Snoopy and Woodstock will all help

Snoopy learns the lesson that with every traditional holiday there are sometimes battles to be fought. Deadlines to meet, menus to fill, gifts to be bought, cleaning, setting the table, etc. Snoopy’s battles happen to be with ping-pong tables and chaise lounges.

But soon, Snoopy orchestrates a new traditional meal.

Charlie Brown’s New Traditional Thanksgiving Dinner is:

Two slices of buttered toast,
Some pretzel sticks,
A handful of popcorn, and
A few jelly beans.
  
Of course, Peppermint Patty is not happy with this new tradition. Oh, and by the way, Peppermint Patty is a girl. There seems to be some confusion as to that recently. She’s what used to be called a “tom-boy,” a girl who tends to do things that are more traditional for boys to do: play baseball, wear comfortable clothes, stuff like that.

Patty takes out her anger on her host, breaking his heart. Patty then is reminded what Thanksgiving is really all about. It isn’t about a meal – it is about being thankful for what you have.

You and I have plenty to be thankful for – Jesus Christ being at the top of the list. His salvation given to us as a free gift is the reason we should be thankful, especially at this time of year. Because our sins are forgiven, we can get together and get along with our family and friends. Even at what can be a stressful time of year!

A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving closes with a reminder that while the real Thanksgiving is more than a meal, we should not forget the meal!

It doesn’t have to be turkey, mashed potatoes and pumpkin pie. It can be salmon steaks with oyster sauce. It can be PP&J’s with cold milk.

But each meal is important, so much so that the Bible refers to heaven as a banquet, a feast to come.

So this Thanksgiving, as you gather around a meal with your family and friends, remember to give God thanks for all His gifts to you, number one of which is Jesus Christ! Don’t let the holiday stress you out, enjoy it and help others to enjoy it and give thanks.

Monday, November 12, 2012

Thank You, Veterans


Stephen Ambrose, Steven Spielberg and Tom Hanks have done a great service to my generation and those younger in that they remind us why we are free to blog, make movies, vote, travel, and live as we do.

Their books, movies, and TV series bring to life the men and women who fought, bled, and some who died, to keep us free. Band of Brothers, the Pacific, Citizen Soldiers, etc. all tell a story - a true story - that needs to be told to us and our children.

But I also thank another author by the name of Marcus Brotherton. He has brought to the forefront some of the men that didn't make it to the forefront of those other men's stories. Brotherton tells the stories of Shifty PowersEd Pepping, Earl "One Lung" McLung, Forest Guth and others. They were just as much heroes as Richard WintersBill Guarnere, and Buck Compton - and Winters, Guarnere and Compton would be the first to tell you that.

Recently I met another hero of World War II - my word, not his. In fact, he seems to think his service to be no big deal. I'm sure no one would ever write a book or make a movie about his war exploits. But what he did was no less important than anyone else's contribution to the war effort.

His name is Daniel Brown. As far as I know he never fired a rifle in combat, never even saw a battle. Brown served in the Army Air Force as a mechanic - specifically responsible for B-29's. When not serving in the States, he was stationed in Panama. No battles were fought there. 
But of course, the Panama Canal was of vital strategic importance.

Dan Brown left his wife Betty and all his family to serve in the Army Air Force. He knew that going into battle was a distinct possibility. But go he did because our country needed defending. He put aside his own comforts and dreams - for a time - to do the job that needed doing. That is what a leader does. Dan Brown continues to lead today and is teaching me what it means to be a leader and a true man.

"Doc" Brown and all those who served -whether in battle, in support, or in the states - deserve our recognition and thanks. I love spending an hour or two with him and his wife, Betty, as they tell stories of the war years and after. "Doc" Brown came home to his wife, started a family, lived his life in the freedom that he served to protect.  He went on to become a cop and later a chiropractor. Betty was a dancer and musician. Both were - and are, today - active in their church and share the love of Jesus Christ with everyone they meet.

Just two of the wonderful people we should all thank on this Veterans Day.

So stop a vet today, tell him or her thanks. After all, you owe them a lot!

Happy Birthday, U.S. Marines


Image courtesy of Pam King.
Edward Schiffmann Wear joined the United States Marines during World War II and was sent to the Pacific Theater. He was the brother of Irene Wear – my grandmother. He died during the Battle of Iwo Jima. The story is told in my family that as he died, he was praying the Lord’s Prayer with a chaplain.

Achieving the rank of Corporal in the 9th Marines Regiment, my great uncle answered the call of his country to defend her freedom against an aggressor nation.
He was one of the 6,812 Americans killed or missing on Iwo Jima.

A man I never met who died long ago and far away continues to have a tremendous impact on my life. My mother still talks about him to this day. She has been sharing stories of her memories of him with me the last couple of days. Yet, I still hardly know anything about him. I don’t know what his favorite food was. I don’t know what he thought of being the youngest to three sisters. I don’t know how he felt about living in the city of Chicago but spending his summers on Long Lake.

In spite of this I still feel tremendously proud, and humbled at the same time, that I am part of his family.

The Battle of Iwo Jima was one of the most important battles of the Pacific side
Image courtesy of iwojima.com
of World War II. It has become iconic of the sacrifice, determination and leadership that United States Marines personify in today’s world.

Called by some the “Greatest Generation,” most of the men and women who answered their country’s call to fight in World War II did so not for glory or fame, but to do a job that needed to be done. They came from all walks of life. Some, like my great uncle, from humble beginnings. Many, again like my great uncle, went to war never to return to the United States alive.

But as far as I am concerned, they did not die in vain. They died, in part, for me. They died for you and for all Americans as well as for all peace- and freedom-loving people around the world. They made the ultimate sacrifice so that I could be free to worship, work, play, and live as I choose.

In this way, they are a lot like Jesus Christ. Jesus Christ laid down His life so that others – the world, in fact – could be free from sin, death, and the power of the devil. Jesus Christ personifies the United States Marines motto – Semper Fidelis – “Always Faithful.”

United States Marines have been protecting these freedoms longer than there has been a United States. Formed on November 10, 1775 in Philadelphia, men and women who served as U.S. Marines have been making sure that the United States is protected from those who would take our freedom away.

Happy Birthday, United States Marines. May God always bless and protect you as you are always faithful to corps and country.
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