Monday, July 26, 2010

On Funerals and Flags

Last week was a busy one. We held Vacation Bible School Monday thru Wednesday mornings. We were taking care of last minute details for my mother’s 80th birthday party scheduled for Saturday. And I had funerals at the church on Monday afternoon and on Friday afternoon.

I’ve presided at five funerals since June 9th, four of which were for active church members. It has been both physically and emotionally draining.

I’m not writing to whine about my busy schedule though. These things come and go. In my 20+ years of full-time ministry, I’ve had plenty of weeks when very little happened.

But Friday’s funeral brought up a long-held pet peeve of mine, and that I do want to gripe about.

The church member we memorialized on Friday had enlisted and honorably served his country in the U.S. Marine Corps back in the late 50s.

His widow wanted the traditional military honors – a flag-draped coffin, a Marine Honor Guard, the playing of “Taps”, a crisply-folded flag presented to the widow at the conclusion of the service, and the words:
“On behalf of the President of the United States, the Commandant of the Marine Corps, and a grateful nation, please accept this flag as a symbol of our appreciation for your loved one's service to Country and Corps.”
As some of you who read this blog may know, I am not the most patriotic person. My first allegiance is to the Kingdom of God; all else comes second. But I do love my country and I do respect the flag.

Okay, at least at baseball games I stand and remove my hat as the National Anthem is sung.

But let’s talk about patriotism for a moment. Last year over Memorial weekend, I noticed an American flag flying on a short pole in my neighbor’s yard. Oddly, the neighbor was out of town all weekend. I also noticed the flag was left out all night and not properly lighted according to protocol. I thought about saying something to my neighbor – along the lines of, “If you’re going to be patriotic, do it right!”

A week later, I saw a Boy Scout come by the house, pull up the flag pole and drive off. It turns out, the Boy Scouts were providing the flags, presumably upon request, but apparently hadn’t studied the finer points of flag etiquette.

(You can read some of my other thoughts on patriotism here and here. And especially here.)

At the funeral on Friday, the coffin was draped with the American flag, the official 5’ X 9.5’ drape. The 4-member USMC Honor Guard arrived an hour before the service. They looked very sharp in their dress uniforms. We went over the order of service. Everyone knew what to do.

At the appropriate time, I heard the tinny sound of the pre-recorded playing of “Taps” (good buglers are hard to find!), and two of the Honor Guard walked with a dignified cadence to the casket. I started to choke up; it’s a very moving part of the service.

They set about the ceremonial 13-fold procedure for folding the flag. But when they came to the end, there was not enough fabric to make the tuck… only the white strip of canvas with the grommets.

I saw this coming. The soldier on the lead end had made a six-inch fold before beginning the triangle folds. I knew it would not come out right. But there was nothing I could do. They also did not hold the flag taut throughout the folding, so it was rather puffy. I remained stoic as the two soldiers tugged and pulled and finally did a short tuck that held it all together long enough to present it to the widow.

‘On behalf of the President of the United States, the Commandant of the Marine Corps, and a grateful nation, please accept this wadded up ball of fabric that had once been a crisp, new American flag as a symbol of our appreciation for your loved one's service to Country and Corps.’

This problem is not limited to the Marine Corps. I have done funerals for veterans from every branch of the military, and with only a couple rare exceptions, the flag-folding ceremony has been a major embarrassment.

--At one funeral, the Honor Guard came up with too much fabric at the end; the effort to tuck it all into the triangle looked like two fat people fighting over the last donut in the box!

--At another funeral, a commander of the Honor Guard stood nearby to oversee the folding, and to inspect the flag before presenting it to the widow. The folding went so poorly, he made them unfold it and start over, right there in front of the grieving family and gathered congregation. I noticed the commander was wearing a side arm; I was hoping he would use it!

--And at a couple funerals, I swear the funeral home just found a few street people and put them in wrinkled and ill-fitting uniforms they happened to have in the trunk of the car!

I recently asked a soldier about this problem. He said the role of Honor Guard was rotated through a platoon, so while they were all supposedly “trained”, few were experienced enough to do it right.


Doing a little online research, I came across a video made by a husband-and-wife team who run a small flag shop. The husband claimed that this video would demonstrate how to properly fold the flag. The husband held the union end of the flag. As the camera panned down the length of the flag, it caught the wife holding the other end under her chin as she grasped for fabric to make the first fold.

They, too, ended with extra fabric, which they stuffed into the fold like it was a garbage bag.

Now, I ask you, dear reader: If you were making an informational video designed to be patriotic as well as promote your business, wouldn’t you do enough takes until you got it right?

Deep sigh.

I don’t have the answer to the problem. It just seems to me that if this folded flag is to really show the nation’s appreciation for service rendered, it should be done with all due skill and respect.


I’m just sayin’…

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Happy Birthday, Papa!

Ernest Hemingway (1899 - 1961)
(escritor, periodista, trotamundos, cuentista, esquiador, aficionado a la pesca y a la caza, músico, jugador de rugby, soldado en la II Guerra Mundial, sparring para boxeadores, amigo de Fidel Castro y activista político)

*  *  *
De nacionalidad norteamericana, Hemingway publicó 8 novelas, entre las que se cuentan: El viejo y el mar (Premio Pulitzer en 1953), Por quién doblan las campanas (1940), Adiós a las armas (1929).

En su estilo narrativo confluyen los temas valóricos (amor, sentido del honor, heroísmo, entre otros), destacándose la economía de medios al momento de escribir; frases directas, sin mayores detalles irrelevantes, con un ritmo casi periodístico en los textos.

Su constante curiosidad, sentido de aventura e inquietud intelectual lo llevaron a ser un viajero: Paris, España y Cuba estuvieron entre sus principales destinos. En 1954 gana el Premio Nobel de Literatura y poco después vuelve a Estados Unidos, a Idaho.

A los 62 años el escritor decide que no puede escribir más y se dispara con su escopeta, perturbando aquel soleado 2 de julio de 1961.

(text taken from blog "Sibum 2.0")

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

In Case You Missed It...

Every now and then, life gets busy and we sometimes miss really important stuff going on in the world around us. Thanks to the fine staff at "Banana Winds", you're about to be caught up for the week.

Here's what you might have missed:

Fiesta de San Fermin
The Fiesta de San Fermin began on July 6th with the fabled "Running of the Bulls". Originally, this was simply a way to move the bulls from their holding pens to the arena, but as time went by -- and more than a little wine was consumed -- it has become an annual spectacle as grown men dressed in white with red sashes try to outrun an angry herd of bulls -- 1,500 pounds each with sharp, pointy horns.

According to news reports, this year's run has produced a few tramplings, but no gorings... news anchors around the world reported with a disappointed sigh.

Buffett Plays the Beach
As reported in a previous blog, Jimmy Buffett is concerned about the still-leaking oil well in the Gulf of Mexico. In an effort to help local businesses (like sister Lulu's restaurant) which are suffering from a slow-down in tourism, Buffett and the Coral Reefer Band performed a free concert on the beach at Gulf Shores, Alabama. The concert was originally scheduled for July 1st, but due to Hurricane Alex, the date was changed to July 11th, resulting in the loss of Kenny ("I wanna be Jimmy Buffett") Chesney and other performers.

Of course, since he was in the area, Buffett performed at Lulu's on June 30th under the name "Freddie & the Fishsticks".

Anyway, some 35,000 tickets were given away for the July 11th show, and the first half of the concert was aired live on the Country Music channel (CMT).

This makes me ask, why isn't this an annual event in Gulf Shores?

Haiti, Six Months Later
Former President Bill Clinton, co-chair in charge of raising billions of dollars in international relief for Haiti, reports that now six months after the catastrophic earthquake, Haiti is slow to recover. Confounding the problem, many nations who pledged assistance have done so with "debt relief" instead of cash.

"Don't Ask, Don't Tell"
As military leaders discuss whether to drop the standing "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" policy regarding gays & lesbians in the military, USAToday weighed in with point / counterpoint articles. Oddly, the focus of the articles were about military chaplains: if gays and lesbians openly served in the military, would military chaplains be required to go against their professed beliefs in order to "minister" to the troops?

Okay, here's my thought - three actually. 

1) If gays and lesbians are already serving (covertly) in the military, then the chaplains presumably are already "ministering" to them. So nothing has changed.

2) Military chaplains are expected to minister to soldiers of other faith traditions (Jews, Muslims, Mormons, etc.) and even Atheists. In the recent past, the Southern Baptist Convention has specifically declared "war" against Jews and Mormons, yet Baptist military chaplains minister to them. How would gays and lesbians present a different problem?

3) On what occasion would a military chaplain need to preach against gays and lesbians? How often does a soldier's sexuality come up at chapel services?

So, as the issue is discussed, think about this:

John Stamos
And finally, John Stamos is in the news again.

Remember him from "Full House"?

I think he's been in other stuff recently, but then, who cares?

Reportedly, Allison Coss and Scott Sippola recently tried to extort $680,000 from him. Now the pair is alleging that in 2004 -- when Allison was only 17 -- Stamos propositioned her. (The details are not for modest ears.)

But again, who cares?!?

This is the guy who was once married to Rebecca Romijn.

According to People magazine back in 2004, the couple separated because Stamos wanted children, Romijn did not.

That's not unusual -- for a guy to want children and his wife to not -- but c'mon, John... a 17-year-old???

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

I Had a Dream

I had a disturbing dream in the wee hours of Tuesday morning.

I don’t dream much these days – at least not that I can remember - so when I do, I pay attention.

The dream began on a Sunday morning. I was about to begin worship.

The setting wasn’t my present church – the architecture was much more dark and gothic.

Or perhaps that was symbolic. 

Because while it wasn't my present church, it really was my present church.

I approached the pulpit, which seemed to be set too far away from the congregation. So I moved up to the lectern, which was right at the front edge of a high platform overlooking a sparse crowd.

For some reason, they were seated at round tables instead of in pews.

Just as I was about to start preaching, a family of four got up and approached me. The man said, “Just give me your sermon in four sentences. We’re leaving.”

I followed them all the way to the door, making apologies and excuses for the worship service – everything from the boring order of worship to not-so-great music to why the roof still leaks (which is how I knew it was my present church).

When I returned to the lectern, the rest of the congregation was gone.

I woke up. It was 5:30 a.m. I couldn’t go back to sleep.

What the dream means to me is simple: In short, no more excuses.

After four years as pastor here, it’s time to stop blaming the bad decisions of the past and making excuses for the problems we are presently facing. It’s time to make things happen… it's time for ME to make things happen... before the congregation leaves altogether.

No More Excuses!

Sunday, July 4, 2010

Happy 4th!

"The second of July 1776 will be the most memorable day in the history of America; I believe it will be celebrated by succeeding generations as the great anniversary festival, with shows, games, sports, balls, bon fires and illuminations, from one end of the country to the other, from this time forward and forever more..."
- John Adams