Patriot: A Memorial Day Reflection

As we sit drinking our morning coffee this Memorial day, we are thankful for the freedoms we enjoy and reflect on the fact that people gave and still give their lives for those freedoms. We consider to be Patriots the people who fought and who still fight for the freedoms we enjoy.

Although we are too young to have first-hand experience with World War II, we know what it was about and the cost involved. One of the most devastating battles was during the invasion of Normandy, which is in the north of France. Our troops entered from the sea using amphibious watercraft. The area was a Nazi stronghold, and we were attempting to break that stronghold. Wave after wave of our soldiers hit the beaches under unimaginable gunfire from the Germans. The Germans were defeated, and France was liberated, but at a horrific cost. This single event in history is what we commemorate on D-Day in June. One of our grandfathers was part of this invasion where he was injured badly, suffering multiple gunshot wounds. One of our cousin’s grandfathers is buried in Margraten, Holland even though he was killed in action in Germany. He was temporarily interred in Germany, but we did not leave any of our soldiers buried there.

We have several family members who fought in World War II. They never really spoke of their time in service—only on a very rare occasion. Among those who served was a great uncle. I knew of his service as a marine and that he had been shot up pretty badly in the war. I heard him speak of it only once. He was probably around 80 years old at the time. We were sitting in the courtyard of a mall while waiting on his wife who was buying some shoes. He kept rubbing his hand as if it hurt. I asked him if his hand was bothering him. He said he guessed it was the weather. It was hurting a little more than usual. He said, “That one, and the one in my back, too. A little reminder from the Japanese.” I asked him, “Did you get shot in the hand?” He merely replied, “Yes,” holding up his hand. The spotlight from above us in the courtyard seemed to reveal the scars prominently. I had seen them before, but I didn’t know what they were from until that moment. After a while, he said, “It was bad over there.” After a few moments longer, in a shaky voice, he said, “We had to stop that scourge.” He emphasized the word “had”, letting me know that it was a necessity for mankind to defeat the Axis regimes and the ideology and terror that they propagated. Those were the only words that I had ever heard him speak of the war. He was a kindly man, and after the war, became a preacher and worked in the metal trades.

I would describe him and the multitude like him as a Patriot. Not only are/were these soldiers patriots for the United States, they were patriots for humanity. The problem now is how the media and other sources are trying to manipulate the public perception of the word “Patriot”. While we view patriotism as a good quality, worthy of being honored, it is often cast in a negative and derogatory light by those who mock the sacrifices made by so many, while enjoying the freedoms that those sacrifices purchased.

This weekend, a friend shared an article on our timeline. This article featured a deranged Caucasian male in his thirties or forties. He was dressed in T-shirt and shorts. Under the shorts were long leggings. He baseball cap was on backward. An American flag was wrapped around his shoulders like a cape, and he was shouting and giving a “Heil Hitler” salute. The article stated, “America, this is what a terrorist looks like.” This article was released Memorial Day weekend.

The writers of the article wanted the readers to get the idea that this was Patriotism, and that patriotism is tantamount to terrorism. After all, this deranged individual was dressed in a flag while giving the Heil Hitler salute. The writers chose to feature this man because he had recently stabbed and killed two people in a scuffle on a train in which he was harassing two women who were “thought to possibly be” Muslim. He had killed two men who had intervened on the women’s behalf. The writers of the article used a collage of old pictures of this deranged individual to manipulate the readers’ thoughts. Ironically, the writers of the article did not feature the two men who gave their lives to protect the two women from this man; they chose instead to feature the individual who committed the crime. In our minds, he is no Patriot. He is exactly the kind of person that my uncle and grandfather and actual patriots would have fought. From this article, we know nothing of the two men he stabbed. But, they are more patriots (patriots for humanity) than he is. There is nothing patriotic about this individual. I can adorn myself in a bear-skin rug, but that doesn’t make me a bear.

While we have grown to expect this type of biased story lines from media outlets, this type of thinking has infected other arenas of our culture, creating confusion and a slanted view of patriotism. None of these affected arenas are more troubling to us than the religious arena. We have heard multiple members of the clergy over the last several years speak against patriotism, military defense, and even self-defense, driving into parishioners’ brains that it is sinful to do so—creating guilt complexes if they even dare think about it. These comments are not from whacky online preachers but sadly are coming from pastors and pulpits right here in the heart of Texas. As we are writing this, we can’t help but see the irony involved between preachers speaking against patriotism and my great uncle who fought for freedom and who became a preacher. Even after almost sixty years of reflection since his wartime experiences, he still understood the need for what he had done. He never said, “We shouldn’t have been there.”

Today, the tragic misconception of patriotism incubated on college campuses and theological seminaries has hatched and is spreading throughout our country. Our great uncle and grandfather weren’t fighting for oil, land, money or some misguided ideal when they were shot. They were fighting for humanity. And, without men like them, we would not live in the world we live in today. We wouldn’t have the freedoms that we do, in our media, on our college campuses, and in our churches, even if those freedoms are used to mock and to debase the sacrifices of those who fought and died to achieve them.



The Reality of Prejudice

A young woman called one day to take me up on an offer. I knew that the company where she worked had given her and several other employees notice of impending layoffs. The company had been courteous and had tried to give their employees at least two weeks to line up other jobs. On a previous occasion, I had told the young woman that if she wanted help with her resume, or if she wanted moral support in looking for another job, that I would ride along or drive her to various companies to pick up applications and/or to hand out her resume.

She did not have a college degree, but she was professional and preferred working as an office aid or assistant at places such as lawyer’s offices, dentists, medical clinics, banks, insurance offices, etc. We made the rounds to places such as these. After one stop, she returned to the car with a scowl. I asked her what had happened. She said, “That’s the first time I’ve ever been discriminated against. I guess they don’t like _________.” (She named her particular ethnicity.)

My eyebrows raised. Whether or not the discrimination was real or perceived, it ruined her day. I could see the hurt and anger in her build. The rest of the afternoon had clouds over it, emotionally speaking. By midafternoon, she had handed out all of the resumes that she had prepared, and we decided to call it a day. I encouraged her to let go of the anger and resentment she had toward the individual who had treated her with aloofness and disrespect. She looked at me and said, “That’s easy for you to say. You’ve probably never been treated like that.” I carefully looked at her and said very seriously. “Yes, I have been, but it’s not who I am, and it’s not who you are.” I was concerned that this episode could sour her young life, and I didn’t want that for her. Prejudice is a long road to take, and it leads to a hellish end.

Later that day, my husband and I discussed the episode, and he said, “Well, some of what we call prejudice is just life. It happens.” I had to agree. But, his comment made me ponder on this particular problem in life.

I was fifteen years older than my young friend and had experienced either prejudice or forms of snobbery and unjust treatment on many occasions. I knew she had, too, but it had been closer to home, and she didn’t recognize it for what it was: I remembered my young friend’s difficulty in her relationship with her mother. Her mother treated my friend who was the oldest child with much less affection than she treated the two younger children who were boys. This had been a point of pain for my young friend.

I realized that favoritism, snobbery, and prejudice are all fruits of the same, rotten tree.

In the family, if you are treated with less fairness than your siblings, then we call this treatment by parents toward their children “favoritism”. In some families, one child is the “golden child” and the rest are ignored or treated with less favor. Or, in some families, one child is ignored, abused or neglected, while the others are treated with favor. In a society where most of the people share the same ethnicity and culture, if you are treated with less fairness by your own people, then we call it “snobbery”. The word “prejudice” typically comes in when it is applied to a person who is of different gender, ethnicity, or culture. Prejudice is typically a stranger-on-stranger action. For some reason, we, as a culture, find this more appalling than we do parental favoritism or societal snobbery; however, favoritism and snobbery typically cause much more long term psychological difficulties for a person than does prejudice by strangers.

I believe that favoritism, snobbery, and prejudice come from four possible sources: 1) negative experience with a particular person; 2) information about a particular person from someone whom we consider credible; 3) a sense of superiority that produces a dislike of a particular person based on appearances or social factors; 4) a dislike for a certain people group that has no basis in either personal experience or first-hand knowledge, but is more ingrained, like a belief system, i.e. dislike for women in general, dislike for men in general; therefore, even if you don’t know the individual standing before you, because he/she belongs to a particular people group, you have a dislike of him or her personally.

Additionally, I concluded that favoritism, snobbery, and prejudice produce dislike of individuals based on three basic categories: 1) What they are (genetically—how God made them and what family and nation they were born into); 2) How they are (culturally—how their culture has shaped their mannerisms, appearance, and speech); 3) What they do (personally–what they themselves, as individuals, act out in their lives regarding their belief system/religion/world view/life style/habits/actions).

I began to ponder on some of the ways I had experienced favoritism, snobbery, and prejudice by my fellow human beings. Looking back, I had to be honest and admit that some of the dislike that others had demonstrated toward me may have been caused by my attitude and demeanor. Other acts of favoritism, snobbery, and prejudice had, indeed, been inflicted upon me unjustly. I remember one day being treated frightfully badly by a man who was intoxicated at his place of work. As a representative of another company, I had shown up to discuss some matters with him. He yelled and cursed, and ordered me out of his place of business, stating that he wasn’t going to talk to “No God-________ woman.” I thanked God that I wasn’t damned, after-all, and just kept right on going. I don’t think we ever did business with him or his company again.

The truth is, some people are simply not going to like you. They can and do come up with all kinds of reasons. On the flip side, you may be treated better than someone else, simply because of race, gender, national origin, etc. One story that comes to mind was when I was traveling overseas. The people in whose country where I was a guest could not tell by looking at me what nationality I was. They had to see my papers or hear me speak to pinpoint my national origin. Because of my nationality, they often favored me over some people who looked like me but who came from different countries or different parts of the world. With my passport, I could pass easily between checkpoints. Other people who looked just like me but who sounded different or who had different national origin were often detained and harassed. There was a bias in that region for/against various nationalities, and I happened to be on the “favored” list. It could easily have been the opposite for me.

Bias can come for/against someone for many other reasons, such as, choice of church attendance, chosen profession, economic level, political views, and education level. The list can go on and on. The reasons others choose not to get to know someone or to X someone out of their lives can be infinite. But, guess what? It happens. The best response is to move on, courteously.

My personal opinion is that if a person has displayed no cause for alarm (his or her behavior does not indicate that you need to keep your distance), then treating him or her with less dignity than you would anyone else simply because of his or her gender, ethnicity, economic level, etc. seems trite and petty. In some cases, it can cause more prejudice to occur, and the ball just keeps rolling.

Having said that, I can completely understand the preference to mingle with certain groups and the preference not to mingle with certain other groups. Living in the rural countryside, I look at nature a lot and learn many life lessons from it. Where I live, one may often see multiple types of livestock in the same pasture. Most of the time, the cows will hang with the cows; the horses will hang with the horses; and the goats will hang with the goats. That’s okay. That’s natural. However, when the goats start denying the horses pasture rights, and the cows start denying the goats drinking rights, then we have a problem. It’s perfectly okay not to want to mingle with someone or a group of someones. But, to treat them with disdain or to deny them human dignity is another matter. One would hope that such things are relegated to grade school, but alas, they are not. They occur at family reunions, class reunions, community meetings, church gatherings, political gatherings, and many other venues where otherwise rational adults meet.

If you are on the receiving end of a mild prejudiced act or attitude, remembering who you are and Who your Maker is should bring things back into focus after an unjust hurt has been inflicted upon your psyche or person in the form of prejudice. However, if the prejudiced attitude is justified because of an action or attitude on your part, then it is best to do some soul searching and try to remove the stumbling block that perhaps others are falling over.

Obviously, forms of favoritism, snobbery, and prejudice can run the gamut from mild to severe. In some cases, a mild dislike of a person or people group is all that surfaces; in other cases, assault, terrorization, or murder can result. This can be true of a domestic situation in which a spouse or child is the targeted victim. This can be true of societal bullying or snobbery, in which a member of “one’s own people group” is the victim. This can be true of racial or cultural episodes where strangers or people outside of one’s own people group are targeted.

Can prejudice be eradicated? I wish it could be, but realistically, let me ask you, “Can you force your daddy to treat you as well as he treats your brother or your sister? Can you force your mamma to think of you and do little things for you like she does your sister or your brother? Can you force your classmates and community members to include you in their cliques and clubs? Can you force a stranger to acknowledge that you are a child of God, just like he is? This problem runs to the core of who we are as sinners. It is the mentality of, “Me and Mine, and Down with Everyone Else.” Prejudice against a member of the family first occurs in the home; prejudice against a community member occurs in schools, churches, and shopping centers right in the heart of where you live, against “your own people.” As grievous as stranger on stranger prejudice is, it causes far less damage than what we do to each other at family reunions, class reunions, church gatherings, social events, and political venues.

My young friend who had experienced the emotional pain of prejudice that day when we were handing out resumes was able to move on. The next day, a company who valued her skill level and her professionalism, and who recognized that she could be an asset to their business called, and she gained employment virtually right away. She is now a dental hygienist and very happy in her career. She doesn’t seem to have a chip on her shoulder, and I have never seen her treat others with less dignity because of their natural born (God given) place of birth, gender, or ethnicity, or their economic status in this world. She remembers that there is a world to come, and she must answer to God for how she treats others in the here and now.



Points from a book on Quaker Spirituality: A letter from Hannah Smith to her Granddaughter

Robert and Hannah Smith, leaders in the Quaker faith, and renown speakers and authors, traveled throughout the United States and England working tirelessly for causes such as suffrage for women and ending alcoholism. They spoke at many revival camp meetings and missions aimed at alleviating the ravages of alcoholism on families. At one revival meeting, Robert met with a female parishioner who later accused Robert of inappropriate contact when he “laid hands on her”. He denied that he touched her in any other way except as that of a “Christian sister in need of prayer,” however, this scandal brought misery and shame on the family, causing Robert to withdraw from public speaking altogether. Throughout the ensuing inquiries and investigation, Robert’s faith faltered and folded. The stress took its toll on his mind and body, and he became confined to a wheelchair for the remainder of his life. Hannah’s life had other tragedies as well. Of the seven children their marriage produced, only three lived to reach adulthood. All three of her adult children rejected the Christian faith, particularly Quakerism; one granddaughter even ventured on a foray into atheism. In a letter to this beloved granddaughter, Rachel, nicknamed “Ray”, Hannah Smith wrote (in part):

“I cannot help feeling that to be without any real faith in God, and without knowing of His love and care, is an irreparable loss to the soul, and to all the higher nature; and opens the door to miseries and unhappiness that could not possibly enter into a heart that hides itself in the keeping of a loving God. Don’t shut thyself out too determinedly against what long years of experience have taught me is by far the purest joy our hearts can hold. At least, darling Ray, keep an open mind, and listen to the still small voice of God that I am sure speaks to thy inner self. To His loving care I commit thee, and, even though thee may not yet thy self know Him, He will always surround thee with His love.”

Points from a book on Quaker Spirituality: The writings of Hannah Smith, touching on Human Loneliness

In the paperback book on Quaker Spirituality that I have recently been reading, a number of letters by Hannah Smith were included. I found them deeply insightful into the human condition. The fact of the Maker and His Creation ultimately being meant only for each other, to the point that nothing else can or will suffice, has been a point I have been discovering and exploring over the last couple of years.

Hannah Smith (1832 – 1911) was a Quaker lay speaker and author. Her husband, Robert, was also a Quaker preacher. Together, they impacted many people inside and outside of the Quaker faith. Later in life, Hannah and her husband moved to England where their children and grandchildren remained, identifying themselves as English, rather than American.

They were greatly active in the Women’s suffrage movement and the Temperance movement on both sides of the “Pond”. Life was not necessarily kind to them. Through all of life’s many, many struggles, Hannah’s faith remained strong. She encouraged and admonished others to do the same.

In a letter to a friend, Hannah touched on the very real issue of human loneliness, even in the midst of worldly activity and companions:

“The loneliness thou speaks of I know. For do not think, darling, that it is confined to unmarried people. It is just as real in lives that have plenty of human ties, husbands, and children and friends. It is the loneliness of this world life, the loneliness of hearts that are made for union with God, but which have not yet fully realized it. I believe God has ordained it in the very nature of things by creating us for Himself alone. And I believe He very rarely allows any human love to be satisfying, just that this loneliness may drive us to Him. I have noticed that when a human love is satisfying something always comes in to spoil it. Either there is death, or there is separation, or there is a change of feeling on one side or the other or something, and the heart is driven out of its human resting place on to God alone.

Sometimes God permits a little taste of a satisfying love to a human being, but I do not believe it ever lasts long. I do not mean that the love may not last, but separation comes in some way, and the perfect satisfaction is taken out of it. Now, darling, thy loneliness is not only because thou art unmarried and hast no very close human ties, it is the loneliness of a heart made for God but which has not yet reached its full satisfaction in Him. Human love might for awhile satisfy thee, but it would not last.

If thou can only see this and settle down to it, it will help thee very much. Thou wilt give up, as I have, any expectation of finding satisfaction in the creature, and will no longer suffer with disappointment at not finding it. And this will deliver thee from the worst part of the suffering of loneliness. Thee will accept it as a God-given blessing meant only to drive thee to Himself.

Thy loneliness is only different in kind but not in fact from the loneliness of every human heart apart from God. Thy circumstances are lonely, but thy loneliness of spirit does not come from these, it is the loneliness of humanity. Therefore, nothing but God can satisfy it. No change of circumstances, no coming in of the dearest earthly ties even, not my continued presence even, could really satisfy for any length of time the hungry depths of thy soul. I am speaking, darling, out of the depths of my own experience when I say this, and thee may believe me.”

Points from a book on Quaker Spirituality

Lately I have been reading a small paperback book on Quaker Spirituality. Although I can’t embrace much of their points of mysticism, I find some of the Quaker writings to be quite inspirational. One of the most famous Quakers is John Greenleaf Whittier, sometimes included as one of the Fireside Poets.

The Quaker faith had many subgroups, much like Baptists have; there are Missionary Baptists, Primitive Baptists, Fundamental Baptists, Southern Baptists, and so on. The Quaker group that Whittier belonged to had a traditional type of service format in which the “brethren”, including women (some of which were lay preachers), would gather in silence, without program or an assigned speaker, and the group would sit in long periods of silence which was broken only when/if someone felt “inspired” with a Word from God to speak or share. In his poem, “First Day Thoughts”, Whittier described such a meeting.

In calm and cool and silence, once again
I find my old accustomed place among
My brethren, where, perchance, no human tongue
Shall utter words; where never hymn is sung,
Nor deep-toned organ blown, nor censer swung,
Nor dim light falling through the pictured pane!
There, syllabled by silence, let me hear
The still small voice which reached the prophet’s ear;
Read in my heart a still diviner law
Than Israel’s leader on his tables saw!
There let me strive with each besetting sin,
Recall my wandering fancies, and restrain
The sore disquiet of a restless brain;
And, as the path of duty is made plain,
May grace be given that I may walk therein,
Not like the hireling, for his selfish gain,
With backward glances and reluctant tread,
Making a merit of his coward dread,
But, cheerful, in the light around me thrown,
Walking as one to pleasant service led;
Doing God’s will as if it were my own,
Yet trusting not in mine, but in His strength alone!

John Greenleaf Whittier (1833)

Confessions of a City Girl Who Moved to the Country: I Guess a Raccoon Did It

Early one morning, I looked out my kitchen window to see a sea of white blossoms down in the swampy section of the pasture where the stock tank overflow funnels into the creek. I put on my tallest work boots and picked my way through the willows, swamp grass, dead stumps, and briars toward the white blossoms. What were they? I didn’t recall them being there last year.  The huge patch was thorny and growing wildly in all directions. I was intrigued by the lovely and mysterious swamp bush that seemingly appeared over-night. Fixated on the delicate white flowers, I called my mother-in-law who knows all things plants and gardening. She came over and looked. “Well, it’s blackberries,” she revealed, with an unspoken ‘duh’ in her tone. My delight was quickly snuffed out by her matter-of-fact statement of the obvious: “But, you can’t get to them. They’re down in that swamp.” Well, how did they get there? I wondered out loud. She looked at me with a quizzical expression. My ignorance of such things sometimes exasperated her. “Well, I guess the seeds washed in from somewhere upstream, or that’s where a coon decided to squat,” she blurted. “And,” she informed me in that knowing tone, “A patch this big didn’t just ‘spring up overnight’. This has been here probably for a couple of years. You probably couldn’t see it for all the willows and the briars.”

Well! Where was the justice in that? A huge, healthy, patch of delicious blackberries practically in my backyard, and I can’t get to them. Undeterred, I pursued my conquest of the blackberry patch. With renewed vigor, I took a variety of chopping and trimming tools and cut a path through the swamp. It was the principle of the matter. Satisfied with my path that lead through much of the swamp, I would have to continue in ankle and knee deep water. I had a pair of waders, and I would put them to good use…I thought…

A very large water moccasin slithered literally right between my feet. I looked up and spied a second one headed in the opposite direction away from me. Ok. That’s it. I concede. No blackberries for me this year. Waders or not, the snakes can have the swamp. But every time I look out the kitchen window at that patch, I catch myself squinting at the thought of that vexing raccoon who didn’t have the courtesy to poop this side of the swamp.

A Godly Moral Compass that Regulates both Private and Public Affairs

We have noticed a trend that seems to have escalated in the last few years. This trend troubles both Sarah and me. We believe that a capitalist based economy is the best economic form for a society. Capitalism not only rewards hard work, ingenuity, creativity, etc., but it encourages it.  I stand to reap the economic rewards for my efforts and creativity; therefore, I have a reason to excel and achieve in the marketplace, much like an athlete has a reason to excel or achieve in his or her chosen sport. If I run the fastest in a race, I am rewarded with a 1st place ribbon or trophy. Actually, that held more true when I was a kid in the days before “participation trophies”; but that is another subject for another time. But I’ll just say that, if in the Olympics, everyone only received participation medals, the games wouldn’t be the same.

While we believe that capitalism is the best economic form, it needs to be kept closely in check by another force. That force is not government, because government is not capable of the task.  Only one entity is capable—it is He who imparts us with the ability to govern ourselves and our actions. I am speaking of God and the Godly moral compass He imparts to his followers.   Without a Godly moral compass or governor, capitalism over time becomes controlled by greed, which results in dishonesty, selfishness, and a list of other vices. These vices, in turn, create all kinds of misery for society at large. Does any of this sound familiar? Has anyone reading this experienced any unscrupulous marketing or business practices of late? This is the trend that we were speaking of earlier. It has always been around, but it is escalating in mainstream, and even small town America. Why? Because we have removed God from most of our society; hence we have removed the Godly moral compass that should keep our business practices in check. Without this governor, our business practices become ruled by profits and bottom lines. If we remove regard for God’s laws and compassion for humanity from the equation, price gouging doesn’t exist, neither would deceptive marketing. It would be about a business extracting as much money as possible for the least amount and least quality of a product or service as possible. Sound familiar? Because we have deemed ourselves too good for God, we now live in a world of escalating deceptive advertising, deceptive packaging, and deceptive pricing of products that are often shrinking in quality and size, all in an attempt to maximize profits. We have lost our Godly moral compass of what is right. While you might expect this type of behavior from the world at large, sadly many people who attend church and claim to follow Christ have developed the attitude that church is  church, and business is business, and they need to be as profitable as possible: it is just good business. God has become compartmentalized; He no longer has complete rule of our lives. We have become out of control. We have in essence removed ourselves from the principle stated in the Scripture passage, 1 Cor. 10:31, which states, “whatever we do, do unto the glory of God.”

Why can’t government step in to remedy this situation? Simple: because without a Godly moral compass, Government is just as corrupt as the businesses they are supposed to keep in check. In our society, “government” is a group of elected or appointed individuals, most often from within our own communities. There is no such thing as a mysterious entity called “government” absent the people. Government, is, in its very essence, people who are in positions to govern. Some societies choose a monarchy and are ruled by royal families. Some societies are prone to dictatorships and are governed at the point of a sword or gun. But, even in those situations, it is still people who are in a position to govern. In our society, those who govern are most often chosen through an election process and are consequently put in charge “at the consent of the people” to manage public affairs. However, they can, and often do, go awry with the power with which they are entrusted. We must return that internal governor of God awareness in order for both private and government affairs to be fair, just, honest, and effective. Otherwise, the strongest one wins, the one with the most money, power, influence, or intimidation techniques runs over the “governed”, and it most certainly does not represent the ideal of “with the consent of the governed.”