An Independence Day Perspective

American_Flag-2 I turned the corner. Just over the rise, I would be home. It had been a busy week and I was tired. More than once, I had asked myself the question “What is this life?”

It was not a question asked in total despair, but rather in response to the subtle pressures both inward and outward to “make life count,” and “live with purpose.”

What is this life?

It was not a question for which I do not have a ready answer. Simply put, for the Christian, life is about loving God and loving and serving others (for God’s glory).[1] Not necessarily in a grand way, but rather in the milieu of life—in the everyday happenings and in a culture that seeks to exchange the truth for a lie.[2]

My street now in view, I spotted a man in the roadway waving his hands at passersby. As each car slowed but continued on, he waved vigorously at the next car.

Before long, I was the next car.

I eyed the situation with apprehension. The man was standing beside an SUV with a bag in his hand. A woman was turned sideways in the passenger seat.

Fearing that she or someone in the backseat needed medical attention, I pulled onto the right shoulder, turned my emergency flashers on, opened my car door and yelled, “What’s wrong?”

“I need a jump!” he called back.

This was perhaps the worst possible place to need a jump. It was a busy two-lane road in each direction, with a raised median in between.

A flurry of cars gave me time to collect myself. I needed to make a U-turn in the middle of the road and face oncoming traffic. Yikes.

The fellow seemed to read my mind. With an occasional backward glance at me in hope, he continued his appeal to oncoming traffic.

A break in the flow enabled me to do the seemingly impossible.

From the bag in his hand, the man extracted jumper cables (aha!) and ably affixed them to my battery and his. The first turn of his ignition produced a feeble whine. The second attempt sounded a bit more promising but was equally unfruitful. I revved my engine a couple of times—I seemed to recall my Father teaching me that—and the fellow tried again. The engine roared to life—a geyser of anti-freeze shooting up in celebration.

I pointed out this latest bit of bad news, which noticeably made the young man’s shoulders droop.

Life is hard. …Making that second U-turn in the middle of the road was fairly easy.

We live in a great country that was founded on religious freedoms and the rights to “Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness.” At the same time, we live in a culture that increasingly calls evil good.[3] As a result, the interpretation of what constitutes “life, liberty and happiness” has become whatever anyone wants it to be—as opposed to the clear principles set forth in the Bible by the “Creator” mentioned in the opening lines of our nation’s Declaration of Independence.

A certain recent court decision may seem like our country has easily made a U-turn and is heading in the wrong direction entirely. As grievous as this is, we shouldn’t be all that surprised. People who do not know or acknowledge the triune God in whose hands our forefathers entrusted a young America will not seek to do what is truly good. Their idea of good will be based on personal preferences—what feels good and what seems right in their own eyes.

No doubt, U-turns in our culture—those seemingly progressive, open-minded and inclusive changes that make some people feel liberated and happy (but the eternal consequences of which are horrifying)—will get easier and easier to make. If this continues, the flow will begin to move steadily and fully in the opposite direction—becoming the new direction—leaving those of us who hold to a biblical worldview facing oncoming traffic.

Take heart, true Christian. Our job (purpose) is the same as it always was. Love God and serve others, so that the love of Christ, who died for the sins of the world, may be seen in us.[4] Shine bright in the midst of a culture that cannot do anything truly good or be truly free apart from the saving knowledge of Jesus Christ.[5] Shine bright like the stars in the heavens, which were created and are superintended by Almighty God.[6]

Shine bright, like the stars on our American flag. American_Flag_NC-2


[1] Matthew 22:37-39; Galatians 5:13-14 [2] Romans 1:21-25 [3] Isaiah 5:20 [4] Matthew 5:14-16; 2 Corinthians 4:3-6 [5] John 8:31-36Romans 8:2-11 [6] Psalm 8; Psalm 24 Suggested reading: the book of Ephesians; Romans 12

11/11: Honoring Those Who Served

Courage is almost a contradiction in terms. It means a strong desire to live taking the form of readiness to die.” -G.K. Chesterton

Currently, there are 23.2 million veterans of the United States armed forces. [1]  Today, November 11th, we honor them. Their service has ensured our freedoms and protected our homeland.

I’m sending out an especially heartfelt “salute” to my father, who served in the United States Army in the 1960s. Last Veterans Day on my blog, I posted a picture of my Dad with William Sommerville (SP5). This year, I’m going a little further back to his basic training days at Fort Jackson, South Carolina. I am grateful for your service, Dad!

ft_jackson_1965

Dad (back left) in 1965 with two of his comrades-in-arms. Fort Jackson, SC

To all the military men and women who have served our country—and to those who are currently serving—THANK YOU!

The battle, sir, is not to the strong alone; it is to the vigilant, the active, the brave.” —Patrick Henry


[1] U.S. Census Bureau and United States Department of Veterans Affairs

Memorial Day: It’s Not Just a Picnic

Did you know that Memorial Day (in the United States) was originally called Decoration Day?

Decoration Day originated after the American Civil War to honor, remember, and decorate the graves of the Union and Confederate soldiers who died in combat. By the 1880s, Decoration Day was gradually and informally being referred to as Memorial Day. In 1967, it was declared the official name by Federal law. [1] By that time, the day had also extended to remember all Americans who had given their lives in service to the United States Armed Forces.

The Antietam National Cemetery at the Antietam National Battlefield in Sharpsburg, Maryland Antietam National Cemetery is one of the 130 cemeteries of the National Cemetery System, a system that began during the Civil War. There are 4,776 Union remains (1,836 or 38% are unknown) buried here from the Battle of Antietam, South Mountain, Monocacy, and other action in Maryland. All of the unknowns are marked with small square stones. These stones contain the grave number, and if you look closely on a few stones, a small second number represents how many unknowns are buried in that grave. There are also a few of the larger, traditional stones that mark unknown graves. In addition, more than 200 non-Civil War dead are also buried here. Veterans and their wives from the Spanish-American War, World War I and II, and Korea were buried here until the cemetery closed in 1953. Recently an exception to the closure was made for the burial of Keedysville resident Patrick Howard Roy, United States Navy. Fireman Roy was killed during the attack on the USS COLE and was buried in the Cemetery on October 29, 2000. If you walk to the back of the cemetery you will notice a few separate graves. Ironically, on the battlefield that led directly to Abraham Lincoln's Emancipation Proclamation, African-American graves from WWI were segregated to this out-of-the-way corner..

In this photo: The Antietam National Cemetery in Sharpsburg, Maryland, contains the remains of 4,776 Union soldiers, 1,836 of which are unknown and marked with small square stones. Also, some of the veterans and their wives from the Spanish-American War, World War I and II, and Korea were buried here. Most recently, nearby Keedysville resident Fireman Patrick Howard Roy, United States Navy, was buried in the otherwise closed cemetery on October 29, 2000, after being killed during the attack on the USS COLE. In the back of the cemetery are African-American graves from World War I.

One of my favorite presidents, Ronald Reagan, summed up Memorial Day and extended a challenge to all Americans in his May 31, 1982, speech at Arlington National Cemetery. His words still ring true, and I pray that ten, twenty, a hundred years from now these words describe our nation, not our nation’s history.

The United States and the freedom for which it stands, the freedom for which they died, must endure and prosper. Their lives remind us that freedom is not bought cheaply. It has a cost; it imposes a burden. And just as they whom we commemorate were willing to sacrifice, so too must we — in a less final, less heroic way — be willing to give of ourselves.


[1] Alan Axelrod (1 June 2007). Miracle at Belleau Wood: The Birth of the Modern U.S. Marine Corps. Globe Pequot. p. 233. ISBN 978-1-59921-025-4

Riches and Honor: The Putting On of Peonies

With his penknife, Dad cut the top off the empty, plastic milk carton.  He then arranged rocks in the bottom before filling the carton with water from the outdoor spigot.  A man of few words, he walked over to the row of pink and white peonies that lined the turn-around of our long, gravel driveway.  With the use of his trusty penknife, he snipped an equal number of pink and white fragrant stalks from the blossom-laden bushes. Mom arranged them in the milk jug.

peonies

Dad, Mom, my two sisters, and I then piled into our old, Chevy pickup truck.  It was a snug fit as we drove down Route 67 to the cemetery in Pleasant Valley, Maryland; but more than this, it was a Memorial Day tradition, this putting of peonies on my grandmother’s grave. We did it every year from the time that I was little until the time that I left home.

I never knew my Grandma Sullivan, but her reputation was as large as life.  She loved people–even (especially) the less than lovely ones.  She was strong in spirit, despite a long-term lung disease that slowly killed her, and she was persistent in her mission to tell (and to show) her community about God–the Creator, Sustainer, and Savior of the world.  Well into my twenties, I would encounter people who said their lives has been forever changed by her charity.  Now her soul is in heaven and her bones are at rest for a time in the grave. During my growing-up years, we preserved her memory with peonies, which are traditionally symbols of riches and honor.

This past week on Twitter, the Eisenhower Library tweeted about a 1955 Memorial Day initiative by President Dwight D. Eisenhower in which he urged the nation to “slow down and live.”  It reminded me of two 1961 photographs that bear my Grandmother’s handwriting.  The photos are of Eisenhower, whom Grandma Sullivan refers to as “General Ike.” The pictures were taken by my grandparents when General Eisenhower visited Hagerstown, Maryland, on September 3, 1961. Eisenhower, who had completed his two-term presidency earlier that year, was in town to speak at the rededication of the Washington Confederate Cemetery, (which is a graveyard for soldiers killed during the Maryland campaigns of the Civil War).  Eisenhower had traveled to Hagerstown from his farm in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, less than an hour away. Also at the rededication was General U.S. Grant III, grandson of Civil War Union General (and 18th President of the United States) Ulysses S. Grant.

I hope that you enjoy these snapshots from America’s past, and I wish you a safe and happy Memorial Day.

Eisenhower_HagerstownMD_1961

General Dwight D. Eisenhower gives the peace sign during his visit to Hagerstown, Maryland, on September 3, 1961, for the rededication of the Washington Confederate Cemetery.

IkeEisenhower_HagerstownMD_1961

General Dwight D. Eisenhower smiles for my grandparents’ camera during his visit to Hagerstown, Maryland, for the rededication of the Washington Confederate Cemetery on September 3, 1961. Seated to the far left of Eisenhower is U.S. House of Representatives, (6th Congressional District of Maryland), Charles “Mac” Mathias, Jr; and beside General Eisenhower is J. Millard Tawes, Governor of Maryland from 1959-1967.