Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Freedom Is Not Free

This Fourth of July I will fly the stars and stripes -- proudly. I am thrilled to be a citizen of a country that welcomes opposing viewpoints, that encourages open and rational debates, and that protects those who are different. I am proud to be a citizen of a country that offers abundant opportunities for its citizens to make the most out of their lives.

This Fourth of July I will honor the Triune God without fear of retribution, reprisal, or rebuke. I am proud to be a citizen of a country that permits -- and protects -- my choice of worship. I will remember -- as I hope I do every day -- that what we have in the United States is a way of life that is the absolute envy of the world.

This Fourth of July I will eat hot dogs and drink the beverage of my choice, as I get together with my family and cherish our time together. I am proud to be a citizen of a country where my family can freely congregate, partaking in one another's company, and practicing our family traditions without fear of arrest.

This Fourth of July I will join with my fellow citizens and watch the night sky explode with sound and color. I am proud to be a citizen of a country that honors its past and the veterans -- both men and women -- who gave their time, their energy, and often their very lives to secure the freedoms we currently enjoy.

Make no mistake on this one: freedom is not free -- never was, never will be. It was with the sacrifice of blood that our founding fathers forged this magnificent nation. Each succeeding generation has paid a heavy price for our freedoms to continue. And though the blood of countless citizens has been shed to win and preserve our freedom, there's more to it than that. There's a home front that must be minded as well. Ensuring our freedoms continue requires the hard work and diligent perseverance on this side of the battlefield. Bob Dylan sums it up when he says, "I think of a hero as someone who understands the degree of responsibility that comes with his freedom."

I am honored to do my part in this demanding and necessary work. I will be an informed voter. I will speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves. I will support those fighting overseas to ferret out and eliminate those whose perverse ambition is to terrorize anyone who doesn't conform to their totalitarian agenda. I will honor those who safeguard our country's future. I will support those who likewise serve and protect us here at home. I will work for justice and freedom to the best of my ability, and I will pray that God's will be done in our nation and in my heart.

Will you take 15 minutes this Fourth of July and remember the cost of your freedom?

God bless America.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Lessons Learned From Dad

My Dad was a great teacher. Over the years he taught me many valuable and useful lessons. I can still remember the day he taught me how to drive a manual transmission car, which led to another lesson: how to use creative language to describe one's feelings when grinding down second gear. I can also remember the day he taught me "Bier auf Wein, das lass sein; Wein auf Bier, das rat' ich dir." (Loosely translated this means "Don't drink wine then beer, beer first.") This gem, in turn, led me to another great lesson: aspirin in the morning will help. And how can I forget the day he schooled me on roofing? The lesson learned here was that it is better (as in much) to be the boss sitting in the shade then the one hammering on the hot roof.

This Father's Day I will reflect on all the lessons Dad taught me over the years. From how to tie a hook onto the fishing line to how to shine my shoes, Dad was always teaching. He enjoyed sharing his wisdom with his children, and his children enjoyed the time they spent learning together. It really didn't matter that most of his lessons revolved around some form of manual labor -- cutting grass, pulling weeds, planting flowers, hanging screens, chopping wood, and the like -- it was good to be with him.

But he taught me more than just how to use my hands; he taught me how to use my mind. He challenged me to read, to memorize poetry, to add numbers in my head, and to play with words. He would play word games with me, encouraging me to learn new words and new meanings for old ones. He would play spelling games with me on long car rides and rejoice when I beat him.

He taught me history by taking trips to visit sites. He taught me beauty by walks through the forest. He taught me wonder by laying still on summer nights -- watching for falling stars. He taught me good humor with bad jokes. He taught me honesty and hard work through his example. He taught me to love as I watched him with my Mom.

He taught me the Bible and the catechism. He took me to church and taught me to sing loud. He taught me reverence and awe as he knelt to pray.

My Dad taught me that there is no greater gift a man can give the next generation then the gift of himself -- pouring out on the next generation all of his accumulated skills, knowledge, and values. I will remember my Dad this Father's Day and pray I can teach the next generation as well.

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

We Need A Good Cause -- Not A Slogan

This week we commemorated the anniversary of D-Day -- the Allied invasion of Europe. This invasion launched the liberation of Europe from the stranglehold of Nazi Germany. The world was allied around the cause of freedom from tyranny. World War II united people from different countries and cultures -- each person giving his or her all to achieve this important victory. Never since then have so many different countries and cultures been united in a single cause.

Although the world may be divided, every nation has had its share of unifying causes. For America, the last one came to an end in July 1969 with a footprint on the moon. That singular event brought to conclusion the last cause that Americans far and wide supported with great enthusiasm. Not since then have Americans united behind a national objective with such fervor.

These days what have replaced causes are slogans. Slogans serve to unite factions of the populace. They offer a rallying cry, a chant often devoid of substance. The American presidential campaigns have given us some examples of slogans trotted out to promote a cause -- most of them vowing to influence society: "America Needs a Change"; "A Kinder, Gentler Nation"; Don't Stop Thinking About Tomorrow"; "The Better Man For A Better America"; "Yes, America Can!"; Yes We Can!"; and the ever popular, "Change We Need." It seems as if every campaign pitches rhetoric out in an attempt to rally voters around a slogan filled with empty promises and undeliverable -- if not simply unbelievable -- goals.

Today's fragmented culture reflects our lack of unifying causes. Each cause becomes equal to the next. Here we have saving the environment equal to stopping the war equal to treating animals humanely equal to providing food for the homeless equal to preventing the murder of children equal to universal health care and on the litany goes. One's personal cause is determined by preferences, peer pressure, propaganda, personal values, and sometimes just plain misinformation. Today's world would have us rally around the serious and the frivolous -- giving equal weight and attention to both.

Men, we need to rally around a cause -- not a slogan. We need substance, not smoke. We need a unifying cause that can ultimately change the world -- one person at a time. I would suggest we take up the cause of living out our God-given roles as spiritual leaders and eliminate slogans altogether. If we do, we just might, by God's grace, change the world for the better -- one man at a time.

Is that a cause worth working for?

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

A Time For Everything

There's a pretty good chance you're reading this after enjoying a bit of rest from your daily labors over the Memorial Day weekend that just ended. This past weekend is considered by many the start of the summer vacation season. School children are on vacation; workers plan for vacations; regions depending on tourist income are opening doors long closed for winter, and bank accounts are being emptied -- rapidly. I personally believe in the regenerative power of a retreat, vacation, or some other designated time to break away from the daily routine. I have already booked my summer plans for a weeklong visit to Alaska -- taking my wife and father-in-law to celebrate his birthday.

But as a man, I have a hard time living with the guilt of not being at work. As a man I often define my place on this earth first in terms of how I make a living. If someone asks me, "Who are you?" my initial impulse may not be to give my name but rather describe my job title and what I do. How common is that?

So I have to listen to the writer of Ecclesiastes when he writes, "There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under heaven" (Ecclesiastes 3:1). Yes, there is a time for vacations. I consider a vacation absolutely necessary for me to be my most productive. The experiences I encounter, the memories I accumulate, the time I spend with family and friends, and the opportunities I have to experience new cultures, customs, and cuisine -- all help me mature and keep my mind active and sharp.

But not all my brothers are taking time away from the job. One in four Americans receive no paid vacation time, one in three employees doesn't take all the vacation time he is due, and one in five Americans cancels a vacation because of work. Men, you need to take care of your family and yourselves. You need to take a break and renew. You need to kick back and take your wife on a picnic, take the kids to a park, or visit a zoo with your grandchildren. You need to drive a back road without a map and without a destination for a whole day, eat ice cream cones at the beach, or park at the "cell phone lot" and watch the jets land. You need to lay on your back and show your kids the stars, walk hand in hand with your beloved through a wooded path, or find a waterfall and listen to its roar. You need to write a letter to your mom, visit Alaska and - maybe -- even take time off from work to go to Cleveland, New Orleans, or any other work/service project you've got a hankering to tackle. Not surprisingly, time spent helping others is often the best way to help oneself.

What are you doing for your summer vacation?