Sunday, August 31, 2014

The Ice Bucket "Threat"

Currently, there is a big fundraising drive for the ALS Association. ALS is the organization fighting Lou Gehrig's Disease. Somebody had the bright idea to create what is called the Ice Bucket Challenge. You pour a bucket of ice water over your head - capturing it on video - and then challenge one to three others to do the same. The idea is, if you do the challenge, you give a donation of $25. If you don't, you give a donation of $100. In other words, the ice bucket is a "coupon".

My company has gotten into the act as well. A few of the executives did this, and challenged the entire staff to do it. They notified the media, and will be doing a simultaneous dumping at all of the company's locations. They want staff, family, and friends to participate.

Here is where I bring out my "I don't like kids. I don't play games. Get off my lawn!" attitude. The challenge is bringing in record donations - that's a good thing. What bothers me, is that this is purely based on extortion and peer pressure. I, for one, have a tendency to buck any trend. I don't even tend to participate in company picnics or "fun day" events. If everyone is doing it, I find I'd rather not.

Most would consider me an extrovert, so when I decline such things I get confused looks and peer pressure; which further pushes me away from involvement.

I probably can come up with a half-dozen or so "reasons" for my attitude. A psychologist would have a field day. And I'm sure a half-dozen psychologists would come up with a half-dozen different "sources" from my childhood. But am I hurting anyone in this? It's not like I won't donate to the ALS. We have a charity fund for such things. But I won't be donating an amount based on peer pressure. Even if I'm "double-dog-dared". I'll donate what we would normally donate to a charity.

For those of you thinking I'm nothing but a cad, I'll put it to you this way: I don't wear the pink ribbon, but I do give my green cash. Which of the two ultimately has value? The first can be considered a badge: "Look at me! Look at me! I'm wearing a ribbon!" The second? Whether you know it or not, I AM helping to make a difference. And frankly, I really don't care if you do.

Bottom line: if you feel ALS Association is a worthwhile cause, write a check. If you don't - you can always go "soak your head".

© Emittravel 2014

Sunday, August 24, 2014

Where is the Compassion?

In a previous post I describe the process I go through when writing poetry. Not a lot of head - mostly heart. This post, though not poetry, is affecting me in a similar way. There is a cry in my heart: Where's the compassion?

I have a friend. A guy who has opened up his heart to me. Allowed me in to share in his pain. Funny thing is, I'm not the "first" of his friends during this season of his life. He has had others who were there to be with him farther back in his story than I have been. But the difference between them and I, is that I'm still here to share in the joys as well. They are noticeably absent - and missing out.

I don't want to share here too much of his life. That's up to him. What I can do is take you back several years and share something similar in my own.

Some of you may be aware that Lisa is not my first wife. I call her my "final" wife - because, no matter what happens, I'm NOT doing this again! I was married previously for nine and a half years. This was shortly after I got out of the Navy. How to describe the relationship? To put it simply: the first three years were hell. I thought I had done something terribly wrong and lived in a continuous state of guilt/pain/anger. After that first three, I realized that I did NOT do anything to bring this on. Being a Christian, and coming from a family where "divorce" was not an option, I stuck through it for another six and a half - best described as riding a roller coaster: but where a roller coaster is hills and valleys, this was plateaus and toilets (toleration and misery). I finally had enough and the marriage ended in divorce.

I'm not kidding about the above. When I told my parents that I was getting divorced, instead of trying to talk me out of it, they said, "We were wondering when you would come to that point." They knew it all along.

I had a friend that allowed me to open up my heart to him. He shared in my pain and confusion. We had many long talks over the bible and what the "right" thing to do as a Christian was. Part of it, to be honest, was for him to come to grips with my divorce as a Christian as well. I loved him for being there for me. And I loved his wife for letting her husband spend so much time with me.

After being divorced for awhile, I met a wonderful young lady named Amy. She was sweet, funny, intelligent, and a gorgeous redhead! The only thing she wasn't, was a Christian. She and I became an item. She even moved in with me. And my friend - my confidant and support - abandoned me. I was living in sin, and therefore he was justified in walking away.

Amy and I were together for quite awhile, though eventually we moved in different directions and she moved out. (I'm thrilled to say that one day she called me to let me know she had become a Christian. We never got back together, but that was great news. I'm still thrilled for her - even after all these years.)

Keeping this brief, I met Lisa at our 20th class reunion and we eventually started hanging out, then dating, then engaged. During this time I would mention my friend. I reached out at different times, in different ways (Christmas cards, text messages, and the like), and sometimes at the prompting of Lisa. She saw the longing in my heart to get back with him, and wanted to see that happen. Over time, he and I did eventually bridge the communications gap and even started to mend the tear in our friendship. Happy to say that he and his family were present at our wedding, and we've maintained a friendship ever since. Part of me knows it is not on the level it used to be, and who knows if it will ever get back to that again. Maybe it shouldn't. It's probably more reciprocal now. And I'm just happy that he is there.

Again, the cry in my heart is "Where is the compassion?" Going back to the friend at the beginning of this article, I'm thrilled to be sharing in the joys of his life. And I ache with him over the absence of those others who have abandoned him.

Is it justifiable for a Christian to abandon someone who is "in sin"? I know there are plenty of verses in the bible that talk about not even eating with someone who is a sinner. Many of those verses are pulled from the epistles (those falling between Romans and Jude). That is also the area of the best buffet-style Christianity. You know, pick a little of this, and ignore what you don't find convenient. If we took everything contained in the epistles literally, we'd have a very different Christianity today. And to be honest, believing that much of what is written there has heavy cultural influences, I'm glad we don't. Regardless, it is in there where the justification comes from.

(Unlike some of my other blog articles, I'm not going to quote long passages of the bible. I'm going to give you the references and trust that, if you are interested, you'll look them up yourself.)

Looking at the life of Jesus sometimes gives us very different perspectives than the epistles. Some things are because Jesus was living "under the law" - the time prior to his crucifixion and resurrection. When the "rich young ruler" asks Him what he must do to gain eternal life, Jesus doesn't give him a tract with the quick way to salvation printed on it. He doesn't tell him to simply believe on Him. He tells him to obey the law. In the book of John, Jesus also gives us something that my friend's "abandoned ones" missed: compassion.

Look at John chapter four. This is the passage where Jesus' disciples leave him sitting by a well while they go to buy some food. While there, a woman of Samaria (a people known as "dogs" to the Jews of the day) shows up to draw water. Jesus asks her for a drink, which spawns a conversation of real/spiritual and the "right" places for worship. At one point Jesus tells her to go and get her husband. She responds that she doesn't have one. Jesus acknowledges her honesty and points out that she has had five husbands, and is currently living with someone who is not her husband.

My New King James Version has a heading over John, chapter four: "A Samaritan Woman Meets Her Messiah". Before I started writing this I realized I had never noticed that before. The passage implies that she has met the Messiah, but never outright states it. The best part, and the reason I bring it up, NOWHERE do you see Jesus shun, condemn, or abandon the woman because of her being a Samaritan who is living with someone not her husband. What you do see is Jesus showing what is most important to her: compassion. Don’t get me wrong, there are plenty of times where Jesus tells the person to go and "sin no more". Not here.

Why do I consider this compassion? I'm reminded of a friend that was at our 30th class reunion. She introduced us to her "cabana boy". She said that she has had two failed marriages and has come to the conclusion that marriage and her just don't get along. She has been with her "cabana boy" for nine years. Sounds like what they have is working for her.

I've heard many times over the years that the reason she was at the well at that time of the day was because she was living in shame. Possibly a prostitute. Once again, I've read this many times and I don't see that. Makes for good preaching, but maybe - just maybe - it was just what was working for her.

Jesus looked past the "sin" and showed a compassion that brought salvation to not only this woman, but a large part of the city.

There's a lesson there for each of us.

© Emittravel 2014

Saturday, August 16, 2014

Middle East Peace - An Oxymoron?

First off, a statement of the obvious: the Middle East is one messed up place. I think we can all agree upon that. And no matter what anyone has done, peace in that region has been a fairy tale dream at best; a major catastrophe of "biblical" proportions at worst.

I keep wondering why we are so heavily invested in trying to barter peace there. The Left says that it is all about oil. The Right says we need so support our allies there. In one sense, they are both right. In another, I think they are standing on flimsy arguments. Let's take a look at the Left's side of it first.

Oil. Black gold. Texas "T". (Wait, did I just alienate some of my readers? Sorry 'bout that. Guess I'll have to go dunk my head in the ol' "cement pond".) No matter what Earth Day advocates have said, oil is still this nation's blood. No other energy source even comes close to the power and convenience of oil. We, in the United States, used to produce most of what we needed ourselves. Thus the "Texas 'T'" reference. But costs to produce it here have become so astronomical that it became cheaper to import it. That's where the Middle East comes in. That area of the world is one of the areas we get it. It's not the only place, but any drop in production there has a significant enough impact upon our nation that we will do anything to keep it flowing. Even poke our heads in wars of solely religious significance to those who live there.

Now, the Right says that we are there to support our allies. You know, Israel, Saudi Arabia, and the on-again-off-again love affair with Iraq and Iran.

When we went into Iraq under President G.W. Bush, we were going in based on "supposed" Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMDs). Saddam Hussein even used them on his neighbor (Kuwait). We had "Intelligence" reports (I put that in quotation marks to signify that I question the validity of the existence of governmental "intelligence") that said he had them. After much feet dragging with the useless entity known as the United Nations, we finally went in to find that no, he didn't have any. "Bush lied / People died" became the chant of the left. But did he really lie?

Saddam DID indeed have WMDs. I'm not going to argue what happened to them during the foot dragging. That's not the issue. He DID have them. How do I know? Let me ask you a question: Where do you think he got them? Saddam was put in power by the U.S. as an "ally". We supplied him with the weapons to protect him from his neighbors. Do you honestly believe that Iraq had the technical knowledge to actually create and store such weapons? Really? Hell, even Iran - the country most-likely-to-get-a-nuke relies heavily on Russia for weapons. Most of the weapons these countries use are stamped "Made in" some other country than their own.

Which brings me to the whole "ally" argument of the Right. Why do we consider those religious nut jobs our allies in the first place? If we, the U.S., were to be invaded by a hostile nation, do you think any of those nations are going to send troops over here to support us?!? Yet, we send our troops there to protect them. Why? I'll tell you why: those nations are not our allies - they are our vendors. Our suppliers. I'd like to see the cost analysis comparing the cost of producing our own oil, or obtaining from non-hostile environments, versus the cost in weapons, aid, and the lives of our troops (yeah, place a dollar amount on THAT) currently spent.

"But J.P., Israel is not a source of oil. They ARE our ally." Israel "needs" our support. Is it really supporting them that when they are attacked we help barter a TEMPORARY cease fire that their enemies have CONSISTENTLY broken? You want to support Israel? Let them take care of themselves. They are fully capable of doing it on their own. Sure, that means those attacking them will have civilian casualties. In war they are called "collateral damage". If those civilians are in support of their government attacking Israel, they cannot be considered innocent civilians. If those civilians are not in support of their government attacking Israel, they have the responsibility to do something about that government.

I've read that the worst kind of call to respond to for the police is a domestic dispute. There's something to that.

As I mentioned above, those in the Middle East are fighting over religious differences. Do you realize, that before the Islamic takeover of those nations (think: sharia law), Muslims in that area were the leaders in technological and scientific advancements? Not so much any more. Their religious system has stifled any growth in those nations. And they want to force everyone else to follow suit. According to them, Israel has no right to exist. I've read the bible. It's hard to make the argument whether they have the right to that land or not. But they've been there for years. Should they now be kicked out because it belonged to someone else years ago? Let me ask my fellow Americans specifically: Would you move out of your house freely and hand your land over to the Native Americans/Indians/whatever-is-PC who lived there before? Do you think Alaska needs to go back to Russia? Heck, it was their land before it was our land.

This is a religious war. I say leave them alone and let the best God win.

© Emittravel 2014

Sunday, August 3, 2014

The Light of the Moon

I’m writing you this
in the light of the moon,
under the stars
and dark of night.
Alone on the sea,
With nothing but the waves
striking my vessel.
The breeze is warm;
that which gently moves my hair.
And the sound of the earth
fills my soul
with solitude.

There is nothing to bother,
nothing to hamper,
the peace of night
on the ocean.
in the midst
of all this beauty,
a cloud covers
the light of the moon,
and darkness fills the night.
My vision fades to that
which can be seen
by the sparseness of stars,
that still peer
through the shadow.

And with the darkness
that encompasses all,
comes the knowledge of the breeze,
in its never-ending movement,
that shall remove the cloud
from its path,
and once again fill the void
with that
of the light of the moon.

Oh how much does this,
this vision of mine eyes,
reflect an overpowering likeness,
of that
which envelopes our love.

I sit here
in the light of your love,
under the beauty
of God’s divine power.
Alone with myself,
with nothing but the thoughts of you
striking (oh so gently) my heart.
The time is slow,
that which gently moves our lives,
and the sound of my heart
fills my soul
with loneliness.

There is nothing to disturb,
nothing to hinder,
the peace of love
in my heart.
in the midst
of all this love,
a cloud covers
the joy in my heart,
and despair fills my soul.
My hope fades to that
which can be hoped
with what love
that could survive,
through this cloud
which is separation.

And with the loneliness
that envelopes my being,
comes the knowledge of time,
in its never-ending movement,
that shall bring us together,
and once again fill the void
with that
of the light of the moon.

J.P. Wiegand
© Emittravel 1985

This one is kind of long, but it was written in two stages. The first portion was written while sitting on the deck, off the port side, of the USS Elrod (FFG-55) - you'll notice in the picture the "motor-whale boat" in the upper left portion of the shot. This part was actually written EXACTLY the way it took place. I went back in to finish the second portion due to lack of light.

The photo was taken back in 1986 while our ship was in the Caribbean. The USS Elrod has recently finished her last deployment and will be decommissioned. -j.p.

© Emittravel 2014