Friday, November 11, 2005

Veterans Day

In 1968, Glenn walked into the high school building.

That was before security systems.

It was even before the now ubiquitous decal on school doors, "Visitors must sign in at the office."

He just walked right in and went from class to class saying "hi."

People used to do that all the time in 1968. Glenn had just gotten back from Vietnam and was spending a few days in his hometown before heading back for another tour of duty.

For those of you too young to know, 1968 was a lousy year. Martin was shot and killed. Bobby was shot and killed. Riots were in the cities. Our high school, like many others in the nation, was about to be integrated for the first time and tensions were high. North Koreans captured the US ship, Pueblo. There was the Tet Offensive. Remember the photo of a South Vietnamese shoting a prisoner in the head -- 1968. US ground troops in Vietnam masacred over 500 men, women and infants in My Lai during a 3 hour period until US fliers stopped them. The Soviet Union invaded Czechoslovakia. Nixon was re-elected.

The only good thing that seemed to happen was the successful flight of Apollo 8. There is a scene in Tom Hanks' HBO series "From Earth To The Moon," that mentions someone wrote a letter to NASA with the words, "You saved 1968."

You had to have been alive in 1968 to know what that would have meant.

So in March, 1968, Glenn came into the classroom.

He was a hero to us all, and not just because he got us off of the subject of Algebra. He was a soldier and he was from our home town. He had done his duty and we were proud of him. The fact that he had fought in Vietnam didn't matter. I don't remember ever having met a single person who supported that war, many were vocally and demonstratively opposed to that war.

The fact that everyone who greeted Glenn with love, honor and respect was also opposed to that war, taught me that Veterans' Day is not about supporting or honoring war. It is about supporting those who do what their nations asked of them.

There are stories of Vietnam vets coming home and being spat upon during those years. I never saw that -- perhaps the South is just a different culture. I've talked with Vietnam Veterans, and I know it happened to some, but not all.

I am strongly opposed to this present war we are fighting in Iraq. I think it is wrong and I think we are in a deep mess and will be for years to come. But come Sunday, I will ask Veterans to stand and be recognized, and then lead a prayer for those who served their nation, adding a special prayer for those who are serving right now.

Thursday, November 10, 2005

You Know You Live In Florida when...

1. You have FEMA's number on your speed dial.

2. You have more than 300 C and D batteries in your kitchen drawer.

3. Your pantry contains more than 20 cans of Spaghetti O's.

4. You're thinking of repainting your house to match the plywood covering your windows.

5. Your Social Security Number is not a secret, it's written in sharpie on your arms.

6. The road leading to your house has been declared a No-Wake Zone. (as in the wake left by a motor boat for you land lubers).

7. You can wish that other people get hit by a hurricane and not feel the least bit guilty about it.

8. Three months ago you couldn't hang a shower curtain, today you can assemble a portable generator by candlelight.

9. You catch a 13-pound redfish. In your driveway.

10. You can recite from memory whole portions of your homeowner's insurance policy.

11. You can rattle off the names of all the meteorologist who work at your local stations and at least 3 of the ones on the Weather Channel.

12. Someone comes to your door to inform you that they found your roof.

13. A battery powered TV is considered a home entertainment center.

14. Your child's first words are "hunker down"

15. Having a tree in your living room does not necessarily mean it's Christmas.

16. Toilet paper is worth more than gold coins.

17. You know the difference between the "good side" of a storm and the "bad side."

18. Your kids start school in August and finish in July.

19. You go to work early and stay late just to enjoy the air conditioning.

Monday, November 07, 2005

Antiwar Sermon Brings IRS Warning

According to the LA Times, the All Saints Episcopal Church in Pasadena may lose its tax-exampt status for remarks a pastor made in 2004.

Apparently a guest sermon by former recttor on October 31, 2004, prompted the IRS letter. In his sermon, Regas, who from the pulpit opposed both the Vietnam War and the Gulf War, preached a sermon that criticised the Presidents doctrine of pre-emptive war. In the same sermon, the pastor affirmed that people of faith could vote for either candidate -- Bush or Kerry. So this was apparently not a political statement, but a theological statement about war.

Click here for the story.

The church's newsletter material was last posted the day before the letter's receipt was announced in church, but it will be interesting to see if they say anything on the Internet. Hopefully, they will post the sermon. To go to the church page, click here.

Friday, November 04, 2005

Catching Predators Online

I saw a disturbing edition of Dateline on NBC tonight.

I'll get to that later, but first let me tell you about Adam.

I met Adam in college. He was going into the ministry and so was I -- so immediately we had two things in common. We met at the Presbyterian student's organization, but we didn't hit it off for some reason. I didn't see much of him for another year or two.

The year that Nixon resigned, I was in summer school taking my toughest classes. I'd found summer was the best time to tackle the hard courses. Adam was also enrolled in the summer term and we found ourselves sitting at a table together in the dining hall with several other students.

"This food is awful," someone said -- to which the rest of us agreed and headed toward Shoneys.

Going to Shoneys was a routine that summer, and Adam was often part of the group. He seemed like a nice guy -- shy and a bit socially awkward, but other than that, a nice guy.

When summer ended and the Fall term began, Adam went his way and I went mine. We'd say "hi" when we ran into each other, but that was about it.

One day, he disappeared. He showed up several days later packing his room to move out. He'd been arrested for skinny dipping, so he said. That didn't fit -- we'd all done that. This was, after all, a school in the South.

We later learned he'd been skinny dipping with children. Or at least those were the rumors.

Years later I was on the alumni committee tracking down lost classmates. Adam was not on the list of the lost or found. He was not listed in the classes ahead or behind mine. I mentioned this to someone on staff of the school, who looked up his transcript. Nope. No Adam had ever been a student here.

I showed the staff member a year book photo. "I know he went to school here. He may not have graduated, but his father was a Marine general and was on the Board of Trustees."

"Oh yes," said the staff member. "I know who you are talking about now. Leave it alone. He's been erased from the earth."


The story was that Adam had molested a professor's 11 year old son. He'd been kicked out of school and quietly arrested. He was now serving a prison term in the Caribbean.

I'd like to say Adam was the only predator I'd ever met, but I can't.

Bob was a member of my third pastorate. He gave me the creeps, but I was never sure why. Bob would give candy to the children and the kids loved him. My oldest son was around 5 or 6 at the time, and he would not go near Bob. I figured it was because my son was picking up on my feelings. Then again, perhaps not.

I walked into the sanctuary one day to see Bob all alone. A little girl was sitting in his lap enjoying some of his candy, while he rocked her back and forth -- and it was obvious to me what he was doing. The girl was oblivious to what Bob was up to, so I told her to go to Sunday School. I talked with the parents and we talked with the police -- but that was in the 1980's and even the police didn't know quite what to do with folks like Bob -- It was a different world back then and perhaps my evidence was a bit flimsy. The police caught him later with a 12 year old girl in his home -- both Bob and that girl were naked when the police went into the home. I remember the police told me his excuse -- "The air conditioner is broken and we got hot." When Bob died a few years ago, they named the church's playground after him.

Charlie was already a convicted sexual predators when I met him. He was on what was then the "new" internet. His mug shot was online with the State of Florida's web page.

David was the administrator of a nursing home. He was arrested for molesting a resident, and they later found he'd molested children. David was one of my elders.

Imagine my frustration last year when two of my elders balked when I suggested to the Session (or governing body of our church) that we should do background checks on all volunteer youth workers. The policy passed, and I sleep a little bit better these days.

But not much.

It is a dangerous world out there, as tonight's Dateline on NBC revealed.

The story involved reporters and investigators going online, pretending to be boys and girls age 12 , 13 or 14. In chat rooms, adult men made sexual advances toward them. I find so many things disgusting and incredible about this story.

I'm not naive -- I knew this existed. But what stunned me was the audacity and boldness of these predators.

They were invited to a private home, and they actually showed up and walked right in, expecting to find a young child to have sex with. That could be your home, or mine!

Once confronted by the Dateline reporter, some ran out the door while others sat down and had a conversation with the reporter. Only when the cameras came out did these run out the door.

Two things hit me hard -- one was a man who was asked online to arrive at the home and strip naked in the garage before coming in. He not only did this, but the next day he was caught online trying to meet yet another child.

The other was a rabbi.

Man of God.

None of these men have been arrested, but they are all under investigation.

For parents, Dateline's web page has a good list of things parents can do to keep their children safe.

The most important point: "it’s important for all of us parents to make certain computers are in open areas of our homes— not in kids bedrooms. We should know who their children are talking to online and Web cams."