With Liberty and Justice for All

On Saturday I attended the annual ‘Massing of the Colors’ at a high school downtown. I estimate as many as 150 military units and social organizations were represented; in most cases each had a U.S. Flag and a flag or banner identifying their group. The I Corps Army Band played a medley of patriotic-themed songs, and a Major General gave a short address about two military heroes.

We attended in support of the Refuge, the retreat center founded and operated by my parents – they were competing for a participation award (which they won). Each organization that could rally at least 50 supporters was eligible to win a prize of $500 – we apparently had enough supporters, and my folks received the check on behalf of The Refuge.

David and Cooper are the flag-bearers in the very center of this photo.

David and Cooper are the flag-bearers in the very center of this photo.

I must admit, I wasn’t very eager to go. The program was more than 2 hours in duration, and the school was a good half-hour from my home – surely I had better things to do on a Saturday afternoon? I was teaching Sunday School the next morning – this cut into my preparation time considerably.

But a friend of our family and a long-time Refuge supporter had asked my son David to carry a flag, and it was very possible that I would be needed to make up the required count of 50 supporters, so I decided there was no easy way to get out of it. It is hard to say ‘No’ to a retired Colonel who has invested so much of his own time into the Refuge, and has been so kind to our family over the years.

When we arrived, I was surprised and a little impressed at how many flags were there. It seems nearly every military unit in the 7th Division was represented, and there were dozens of community groups, including Boy Scout and Cub Scout groups, Chambers of Commerce, and Veterans organizations in attendance as well. So I took my seat behind my parents and settled in to endure the ceremony.

While I was sitting there, I began to reflect on patriotism, and my emotional and intellectual response to the flag and the songs being played by the band. Patriotism is a tricky subject is our post-modern society, and it is further complicated by the fact that, as a Christian, my true citizenship is not tied to a particular earthly nation. Is my allegiance to Christ compatible with being a Patriot? If I was a German or Brazilian or Syrian man, would it be appropriate for me to be a Patriot?

About halfway through the ceremony, a young soldier sang a rendition of the Pledge of Allegiance. Since we recite the Pledge as part of our weekly AWANA ceremony, it is something that rolls through my head more often than most adults. I’m not sure if public schools still recite the pledge – perhaps not in this left-leaning State where I live now, because of the ‘Under God’ component that seems so abhorrent to liberals.

One phrase that was particularly stressed in the song was the final refrain of the Pledge: “… with Liberty and Justice for All.” I found myself considering the uniqueness of my nation as originally founded. Say what you like about the Founding Fathers, the majority of them were Christians, and those that weren’t, were well-steeped in Biblical knowledge. Baked into our national DNA is a firm belief that the Government is subject to God and may not trespass within the borders of religious freedom.

Liberty is a strange word. It means release from jail for the prisoner, equality for a racial minority, and freedom of expression for others. It is a basic sense that, within reason, and with consideration of the rights of others, I ought to be left to pursue my own happiness without undue interference.

And yet of the two words, I think ‘Justice’ is the more critical of the two words. Without Justice, Liberty only exists for the powerful and influential — yet Justice limits individual Liberty by its very nature.

But what is Justice? Is there a universal standard that people can agree to? Without some transcendent standard (like the Word of God), Justice descends from its lofty place, to the sordid will of the majority at a given time. If the majority is in favor of slavery for people of a certain race, then that is Justice. If the majority votes to murder the unborn or the elderly or the sick, that becomes Justice.

In recent years, corruption and hypocrisy seem rampant in political and financial circles. As political correctness continues to push God out of the public sphere, is Justice just a matter of taking a vote and letting the majority enact whatever tyranny it desires? What happens to the ‘for all’ part of the Pledge?

As I drove home, I was sobered by the thought that the Liberty and Justice I often take for granted, is under assault from all sides. How long, I wondered, will we continue to enjoy Liberty, when the foundation of Justice is eroded and destroyed by those who say there is no God?


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Valentine Tree

There is no question that my favorite season of the year is Christmas time. Summer is delightful (especially here in the Pacific Northwest, where summer is never too hot) and I do enjoy Thanksgiving as much as the next guy (unless the next guy is Joshua, who REALLY loves Thanksgiving). I always enjoy my birthday, although the last few have been a bit lonely, with Kathy out of town.

But there is something really unique about the anticipation, the wonder; the nearly-universal joy that is Christmas. Sure, people get stressed about the season – buying too much and trying to meet everyone else’s expectations, but even so, there is something quite special about focusing on the Advent of the Savior of the World, and seeking to show love as much as possible to others.

Round up the usual Christmas suspects!

Round up the usual Christmas suspects!

When I was a little boy, my Dad used to tell a story about a Christmas gathering he had attended (or maybe only imagined) in which a bratty child feverishly unwrapped a generous pile of presents on Christmas morning. When there was nothing left under the tree, the boy looked around angrily. “Is that ALL?” he whined. (My Dad can imitate a really impressive whine.)

This boy was held up as the pinnacle of the height of ingratitude – we all knew that we didn’t want to be identified with that child in any way. I can only hope he never existed, and was only a product of my Dad’s inventive mind.

And yet.

Truth be told, there is a part of all of us that is just the tiniest bit disappointed when Christmas is ‘over’. When the last presents have been opened, and the visiting relatives have gone home, and the leftovers have become passe’ – when all is said and done, there is a sense of a bit of a let-down.

January is a cold and rainy month in Western Washington – usually too cold and damp for comfort and too warm for snow. The contrast between the warmth and color and joy of the Christmas season is rather stark, and I find myself unwilling to venture out into the relative ‘cold’ of the New Year.

So I don’t. I keep listening to Christmas Carols and I refuse to even consider taking down the Christmas tree. I leave the lights on the outside of my house burning each night, taking a defiant (and I dare say, heroic) stand against the turning of the seasons. “What does January have to offer, that I should take down the lights?” I ask anyone who questions my unflagging Christmas Spirit.

But my wife likes variety, and is a bit more forward-looking than I am. Even though our tree is fake, she begins to pine (pun intended) for change, and to reclaim the space lost when the Christmas decorations descend upon the house. Even my children (who ought to be on my side) begin to raise an eyebrow when they hear me relentlessly playing Christmas music on my computer.

This year, my wife was very crafty. She slowly (and rather sneakily) put away the decorations, bit by bit, until only the tree and the outside lights remained as a bastion against the tide of progress. Waiting until I was out of town for a Men’s Retreat, she whisked away the tree and the outside lights. When I came home, it was a ‘fait accompli’, with only the ‘extra’ tree in our bedroom still remaining.

My Valentine Tree keeps the season alive, even at the end of February.

My Valentine Tree keeps the season alive, even at the end of February.

Even that tree was subjected to a transformation, of sorts.

“It’s a Valentine’s Tree,” she told me, smugly.

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A Golden Birthday

According to the interweb, a ‘Golden Anniversary’ is when a couple celebrates their 50th wedding anniversary. My parents celebrated theirs five years ago, to much fanfare and family enjoyment.

But according to my beloved wife, a ‘Golden Birthday’ occurs when your age in years coincides with the day of the month you were born. So, for example, my ‘Golden Birthday’ was the year I turned 8, since my birthday is on the 8th of the month.

Parenthetically, it really was a ‘Golden’ day. It happened to fall on Columbus Day, which (at the time) was celebrated as a holiday in the city where I lived. School was cancelled, and we spent the day touring the many attractions of the city. Although I knew, intellectually, that it was the holiday that gave everyone an excuse to celebrate, I couldn’t help feel that, if they really knew, the people of New York City were celebrating my birthday.

So, if you were so fortunate as to be born on the same day as the number of your month, then I imagine you could have a ‘Platinum Birthday’. For example: someone who turned 11 on the 11th of November.

And I suppose if the years and the time of your birth lined up such that you turned 9 on September 9, 2009, then you’d really have it made. Maybe you’d call that your ‘Californium 252 Birthday’, since that is the rarest and most valuable metal?

Fascinating as this study of precious metals may be, today we studied (and enjoyed) a very precious person, more valuable to God and to us than his weight in Californium 252. Today, my youngest son David turned 16.

It was a pretty good day. Due to some late-night work last night, I was able to work from home (usually I am in the office on this particular weekday) and so I was able to take David to take his ‘Road Test’ at the 911 driving school. Passing with flying colors, David and I celebrated with a tasty lunch at Subway. We ordered his driver’s license online, opened presents, and celebrated David as much as we could, considering he has a cold and a difficult Algebra II exam that he had to take and submit today.

Scoring an impressive 96%, David may have outdone us all in driving prowess.

Scoring an impressive 96%, David may have outdone us all in driving prowess.

This evening, Sarah and David drove to Albertson’s to buy Kathy some grocery items. To some parents, such an errand may not seem to have any significance, but Kathy and I have been through this a few times already — we know what happens when a teenager gets their driver’s license. Suddenly, the world is their oyster, and they find many opportunities to enjoy the freedom of the road. It can be a very poignant time for a parent who is already reeling from the abrupt departure of three older children.

But who knows? David is, in many ways, a very unique young man — he makes his own way and doesn’t follow the usual rules of being a teenager. Maybe he’ll drive when he needs to, but will still find ways to hang out with Kathy and me and Sarah. Time will tell.


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That’s Chief Petty Officer, to You!

When I was in elementary school, I suffered greatly from Middle Child Attention Deficit Disorder (MCADD). It was never diagnosed, but in hindsight, it seems clear that I had all the trademark symptoms:

  • A wildly-inflated view of my own importance in my family and in the world
  • A deeply selfish attitude toward my siblings and parents
  • A hair-trigger sensitivity to any perceived injustice
  • An insatiable desire for attention and privilege

A textbook case, as you can see. Of course, it was mostly my brother’s fault. Had he not been such a stalwart firstborn, oozing with virtue and a strong commitment to duty, perhaps my parents would not have been so entirely unprepared for a second-born who shared few (if any) of his brother’s character strengths.

When she could stand it no longer, my poor Mom would resort to sly sarcasm and insults.

Mom: “Have you considered a career in the Navy, Tim?”

This was odd, because our family (steeped in Army traditions) didn’t know much about the Navy except that they had strange-sounding ranks and presumably swabbed the decks a lot.

Me: “Not really, Mom. Why do you ask?”

I knew enough about my Mom’s slyness to be on guard.

Mom: “I was just thinking that some of the ranks might really appeal to you … “

Me: “Oh, really? Which ones? Admiral? Commodore? Commander?”

Mom: “No, I was thinking more in terms of ‘Petty Officer’.”

In our household, the word ‘petty’ was used to describe someone who was mean-spirited, small-minded, physically weak and cowardly, and in every way contemptible. Eustace Scrubb (from C.S. Lewis’ Voyage of the Dawn Treader) in his pre-Dragon days was the template for this word.

So whenever my Mom wanted to tease and needle me for my lack of virtue, she would designate me as ‘Petty Officer’ or even (shudder) ‘Chief Petty Officer’. Howls of outrage ensued.

Jump forward with me, across the mists of time, some 40 years. My older two sons both participated in the Naval Junior Reserve Officers Training Corps (NJROTC) program at a local high school, and David has decided to follow in their footsteps, these past 18 months.

David in his standard uniform, participating in a Military Order of the World Wars flag event.

David in his standard uniform, participating in a Military Order of the World Wars flag event.

Although he managed to distinguish himself early-on, receiving several quick promotions, there was a change in leadership in the program, and David found it difficult to gain the attention and favor of the new Commander, who also had no prior experience with David’s older brothers. Higher ranks tend to be awarded in direct proportion to the amount of time a student invests in the program, and David has been unable to spend very many extra hours at the school this year because (a) he doesn’t yet drive, and (b) the difficulty of his online classes through the Potter’s School.

And so he seemed to languish as an E-6, Petty Officer First Class, PO1. He went to the ‘boot camp’ 4-day exercise even though he was sick, and many of his peers were promoted, but not David. He waited for several months, yet each time merit promotions were awarded, David’s name was not on the list. It was a difficult time for him and for those of us who were watching.

Finally, I took David aside for some fatherly counsel. Since David is not a quitter, I felt free to explore some other options.

Me: “David, if the leadership of the program can’t see your obvious merit, maybe it is time for you to spend your time in a more profitable way.”

David: “Yeah, well, maybe you’re right … “

Me: “But … ?”

I could tell he was not yet ready to quit the program.

David: “If I can just get this next promotion, it would mean a lot to me.”

Me: “Why is that?”

David: “Well, if I can just get to the next rank, I can wear the SDBs.”

Suddenly it all became clear. Junior Navy enlisted uniforms are like most military uniforms the world around – they’re designed to be both uncomfortable and unattractive, and they succeed admirably. But the Service Dress Blues (SDBs), now, they are another story altogether. Even high school students look very sharp in SDBs, as we have noticed at previous Navy Balls attended by our older sons.

A couple of weeks ago, David came home with a uniform on a hanger and a wide smirk.

He always WAS a good lookin' kid.

He always WAS a good lookin’ kid.

“What’s that? Did you finally get promoted?”

I peered hopefully (and a little enviously) at the uniform on the hanger.

“Yep. These are my new SDBs,”

David waved the hanger gently in front of me. Light gleamed off the gold buttons, ribbons, medals and the sleek dark blue fabric. David’s patience had paid off in a big way.

I’m sure my Mom will be so proud – there is finally a Chief Petty Officer in the family.


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My Sons, the Comedians

For one reason or another, we like to laugh a lot in our family. Kathy and I have always keenly enjoyed each other’s sense of humor, and we’ve tried to incorporate a love for laughter into our children.

It may be that we have succeeded a little too well.

On Monday, I made some hard-boiled eggs in Kathy’s swanky Insta-Pot. We generally mark the eggs with a Sharpie so that people don’t try to scramble them for breakfast. Sometimes, if Kathy is feeling particularly cheerful, she’ll put little hearts on them, or even write messages like “I love Tim” on a few of the eggs. This can be a bit disconcerting for guests, so we try to pre-shell the eggs if we offer them in a salad to lunch visitors.

But Kathy was busy working on her computer, so she asked David to mark the eggs. It is possible that he resented the job — a fact I discovered the next day when I opened my lunch.

I'm not sure which is worse, that I ate the egg without hesitation, or that I was vaguely proud that my homeschooled child could spell 'poisoned' correctly.

I’m not sure which is worse, that I ate the egg without hesitation, or that I was vaguely proud that my home-schooled child could spell ‘poisoned’ correctly.

Recently, Daniel’s computer video card died. For several days, the computer would not display anything at all, until we figured out how to revert to the integrated video card on the motherboard. Since Daniel mostly uses his computer to play high-graphics video games, you can imagine how distressed he was.

Unbeknownst to Daniel, I recently ordered two new computers for my parents, but had them delivered to my house so I could install some additional hardware and software. Dan happened to be home when the computers were delivered, and he quickly made some alterations to the labels on the packages. Kathy sent me this sequence of pictures at work, to let me know my packages had been delivered, and were greatly appreciated:

Daniel spots the packages by the front door ...

Daniel spots the packages by the front door …

His heart leaps in hope ...

His heart leaps in hope …

Daniel can't believe his eyes, when he reads the address label ...

Daniel can’t believe his eyes, when he reads the address label …

A close-up of the professionally-printed address label ...

A close-up of the professionally-printed address label …

I’d like to think that God is honored by the fun that we have in our house … that the joy we take in each other brings joy to His heart as well. I guess we’ll find out in Heaven, if Jesus plays practical jokes — He’s had more than 2000 years to be working on some of them. If that doesn’t worry you at least a little, then you have no imagination …


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