Thursday, October 28, 2010

Of Care Packages and Such

I’ve been participating in a project conducted on Twitter by Operation Gratitude designed to send care packages to our troops. And doing so has brought back a flood of memories about my own experience with care packages.

I spent the second half of 1971 in the mountainous jungles of Vietnam commanding an airmobile rifle platoon. Our routine was to patrol for a couple of weeks at a time, then return to the rear for three days of R&R, which included washing clothes, cleaning weapons, and packing rucks for the next mission.

Our rucksacks contained just about everything a grunt needed for living in the boonies: socks, ammo, grenades, stationery, and, perhaps most importantly, C-Rations. These meals, packaged in tin cans, were the staple of the GI diet during Vietnam. We would pack three or four days worth of rations into our rucks before we climbed into the Hueys to fly out to the jungle. And, pending weather or other circumstances, we counted on being resupplied by helicopter every three days. On resupply day, the drill was to clear a landing zone and secure it with a defensive perimeter so that the Huey could set down and we could offload the food, ammo, and the all-important mail. As dangerous as it was, this was Kumbaya time – passing out the mail, wondering what meals we were going to get, and trading certain foods for cigarettes, which came in a pack of four in every box of rations.

This is how the quartermaster of the Army described C Rations:

"The Meal, Combat, Individual, is designed for issue as the tactical situation dictates, either in individual units as a meal or in multiples of three as a complete ration. Its characteristics emphasize utility, flexibility of use, and more variety of food components than were included in the Ration, Combat, Individual (C Ration) which it replaces. Twelve different menus are included in the specification.

Each menu contains: one canned meat item; one canned fruit, bread or dessert item;
one B unit; an accessory packet containing cigarettes, matches, chewing gum, toilet paper, coffee, cream, sugar, and salt; and a spoon. Four can openers are provided in each case of 12 meals. Although the meat item can be eaten cold, it is more palatable when heated.

Each complete meal contains approximately 1200 calories. The daily ration of 3 meals provides approximately 3600 calories." (from ) The description still makes me salivate. Yeah, right.

Some of the Charlie-Rats were better than others. Or, I should say, there were some meals that no one cared for. Ham and limas anyone? And I think no one would argue that the beans and weiners (beenie weenies) were the universal favorite.

On one of our forays into the jungle I was delighted to receive a box that arrived on the resupply chopper. I recognized my wife’s handwriting, so I couldn’t wait to tear into it. What a delight to find candy, other edible treats, stationery, a love letter, and a bottle of Tabasco sauce accompanied by what was labeled “The Charlie Ration Cookbook.”

The cookbook, replete with cartoons, contained a number of recipes designed to make the C Rations more palatable. Some of the titles were: Foxhole Dinner for Two, Breast of Chicken Under Bullets, and Battlefield Fufu. My theory is that the recipes were designed so that the grunt would shake so much Tabasco sauce into the food that he essentially cauterized his taste buds. As I tried the various recipes it wasn’t long until I had gained a reputation as a C Ration master chef. Soon the men wanted to sample my dishes.

My method was to take an empty tin and place a small amount of C4 explosive in it, light the C4, then put the C Ration entrĂ©e into my canteen cup, season to taste with Tabasco sauce, and heat. Many of the ingredients in the cookbook weren’t available in the jungle, so I used the field expedient method of blending in whatever I could find that seemed to suit the dish. Elephant grass was not one of the ingredients of choice. Nor were leeches.

If you’re interested, here is a link to the actual cookbook.

Let me encourage you to be a part of sending care packages to our troops. Let our brave men and women experience the same delight that I had some forty hears ago. The hashtag is #cinnabonsaysthx, and the sponsoring organization, Operation Gratitude, goes by @OpGratitude.

Monday, October 25, 2010

The Jerusalem Pot Luck

In the early church the believers would regularly gather for a meal called the Agape, or Love Feast. They pooled their resources, much like today’s believers. Who has not enjoyed a pot luck dinner either at church or a friend’s home? That was the scene in the young church as it seems everyone brought his or her favorite dish to share with the gathered fellowship. Growing up a Southern Baptist, I’ve enjoyed my share of such gatherings and I’ve sampled the favorite dishes of scores of saintly cooks.

The idea of the Love Feast was to portray the togetherness of the young church. The membership at this time was made up largely of Jewish converts, but there were an increasing number of Gentiles that were coming into the fellowship through their faith in Christ.

Into the midst of this effort at togetherness crept some legalistic, narrow Jews who insisted that God’s plan was for the Jews and that Gentile believers were in some way second class citizens of the kingdom.

Even Peter and many, if not most, of the church leadership were influenced by this prejudice. Paul states that Peter was more than ready to associate and sit down at table with Gentile believers on most occasions, but that when these narrow Jews were around, Peter would separate himself from them.

Paul confronted Peter and all the others who were being hypocritical and took them to task for showing such partiality. The account is in Galatians 2:11-13.

Sadly, today many who profess to follow Christ show the same sort of partiality, although it often follows racial or socio-economic lines. Our youth and I got a lesson in our oneness in Christ on a trip several years ago. I posted this a couple of months ago, but again, here’s the story.

Some years ago we took our youth choir on a singing tour up around the Great Lakes. One of the last stops was at the New Rose of Sharon Baptist Church on the south side of Chicago. When we arrived we didn’t know what to expect. All we knew was that this was an African-American congregation located in what Jim Croce referred to as “the baddest part of town.”

As we stepped down from the bus we were greeted by the pastor, James Butler, a slight, 60-something gentleman, and a young man who introduced himself as Mark. I asked Mark, a rather round type with a ready smile, if he also was on staff. He explained that he was a “deacon-in-training.” Judging from his Christlike demeanor and his eagerness to help, I would say that he had already mastered the art of “deac-ing.”

After enjoying the meal the ladies of the church had prepared for us, we made our way to the sanctuary for the evening’s celebration...and what a celebration it was! Our kids sang their hearts out. And the dear saints of the New Rose of Sharon Baptist Church responded with rejoicing. And the more they rejoiced, the better our choir sang. In fact, from my vantage point at the sound board in the back of the sanctuary, I noticed that Wally, our choir leader, was getting into it also. I’m not sure that he had both feet on the floor. Dancing, for us tighty-whitey Baptists, was strictly taboo. But throwing caution to the wind, we all entered into the celebration. We were having church!

When it came time for me to conclude the service with a brief message and altar call, I felt impressed to share the account of heaven in John 14. In this passage Jesus tells his disciples that he would soon be preparing for each of his followers a room in the Father’s house. I shared my interpretation of the passage, which is that we will all be one huge heavenly family living under one roof and dining at the same banquet table.

After I had concluded the service (so I thought), Pastor Butler came forward and expressed appreciation for our choir’s presentation and announced that their choir would like to respond in an appropriate fashion. It was at this point that we began to have church. It was amazing the sound that came from this 20-voice choir, accompanied on a Hammond B3, Leslie speaker and all. They started with a mellow song about how Jesus takes our burdens. Then, after an up-tempo song about joy, they launched into “O, Happy Day,” with deacon-in-training Mark singing solo. Wow! I’d never heard it like that before. By the time they finished their last song, we thought the roof might fly off.

What a taste of heaven it was. And that’s what heaven will be: all the saints of all the ages, red and yellow, black and white, gathered round the throne singing the praises of the Lamb. And sitting down as one around the marriage feast.

Friday, October 15, 2010

God Won!

Who has not been riveted to the screen watching the rescue of the Chilean miners? And now that they’re safe the debate has begun about who was responsible for freeing them from their deep grave.

"I was with God and I was with the devil. But God won," said one of the miners.

And the Chilean president affirmed the families of the miners, acknowledging that they “maintained faith – this faith that ended up moving mountains.” (Christian Today)

Others have argued that it was the effort of the rescuers that freed the men.

So, who gets the credit for the rescue? God? Or people? The answer is a resounding “yes.”

There is no doubt in my mind that God was there with the miners, as he is with anyone who invites him near. I’ve experienced the presence of God in good times and bad, in mountaintop experiences and in deepest valleys. He was in the jungles of Vietnam, in my intensive care room, in the delivery room for the births of our four children, and in the waiting room with a nervous father. He’s in the laughter of grandchildren and in the beauty of fall. God is all around. It just takes spiritual sensitivity to recognize his presence.

David realized this. In Psalm 23 he expressed his sense of God’s presence, even in the valley of the shadow of death. And in Psalm 139 he declared that there is nowhere that one can go where God isn’t.

Everywhere I go I see your face through the cloud.
Everywhere I go I hear your voice clear and loud.
Everywhere I go you are the light that I seek.
Everywhere I go you have found me. (Amy Grant)

And, as for the rescue, I’m certain that God had a hand in that as well. After all, he is the author of all truth and source of all knowledge, and I have no doubt that he was at work in helping the engineers come up with a plan of rescue and at work giving strength and encouragement both to the rescuers and the trapped miners.

If you look back through biblical history, often God accomplishes his will through his followers. Notables come to mind such as Abraham, Isaac, Noah, Moses, Joshua, Gideon, Deborah, David, and hundreds of others. And remember, if he can speak his message through Balaam's ass, I'm sure he can use scientists as well.

Of course, some will argue that God has allowed other miners to perish as a way of explaining away his presence and power. I confess that I don’t understand God’s ways or his sovereign will, but I trust him and I trust his word that he is always at work for good. (Romans 8:28)

So I will join with others of faith and declare: The miners are safe. Praise the Lord!

Sunday, October 10, 2010


There are times when one must stand for what is right regardless of the repercussions or consequences.

I faced such a time as a junior officer in Vietnam. As a rifle platoon leader, I was given command of three dozen young men, mostly conscripts, in a hostile territory. Our area of operations was the mountainous region west of Danang, where we battled both the enemy and the elements.

On one particular mission the company command post traveled with my platoon, which meant providing security for the company commander and his gaggle of staff. While we were making our way through our assigned area, the CO was contacted and ordered to move the company to another location by a certain time. It was fairly early in the day and I knew that we could easily reach our destination long before nightfall.

However, the CO, a West Point grad and captain, wanted me, for whatever reason, to lead my platoon down an open stream bed in order to arrive at our destination a few hours sooner.

I asked for a word in private with the captain. Here is the gist of our conversation.

“Sir, with all due respect, there is no need to subject my platoon to unnecessary danger by exposing them to a possible ambush while we’re out in the wide open.”

“Lieutenant, are you questioning me?”

“Well, sir, all I’m saying is that we can take a safer route by cutting a trail through the jungle and still reach our destination before nightfall.”

“Lieutenant, you will follow my order.”

“Sir, with all due respect, I refuse to subject my men to such an unnecessary hazard. We can cut trail and still get where we need to go in plenty of time.”

This conversation quickly devolved into a “yes you will,” “no I won’t” battle of wills.

I was fully aware of the consequences that I faced for being insubordinate, but in that moment I felt that what I was standing for was right, and I was unwilling to relent. I stood my ground.

We cut the trail.

Sunday, October 3, 2010

God speaks

I was at a wedding rehearsal dinner last Friday night and heard a young man who is an ordained minister give a little talk to the groom about his memories of their childhood and high school years and their time playing college football.

He started by telling some humorous anecdotes and cracking on the groom about the way his mother used to dress him.

But, in the midst of this little talk, he began to preach, and to share with the groom, also a minister, about the spiritual bond they share and how he envisions God will use him.

It was one of the most impressive, inspiring impromptu sermons I’ve ever heard. Truly, I sensed that God was speaking.

In chapter one of Galatians Paul declares that Jesus Christ revealed the gospel message to him shortly after Paul’s conversion. And I believe him, because I believe that God still speaks.

In Experiencing God, the author, Henry Blackaby, asserts that God speaks by the Holy Spirit through scripture, prayer, circumstances, and through other people.

The other night I heard God speak through a young preacher boy.

Saturday, October 2, 2010

Dashboard Madness, Or How I Learned to Drum and Drive

I don’t know the exact moment that I discovered rock and roll, but my earliest memory is from seventh grade. Back then there was no such thing as FM radio, at least not in a popular, affordable format. (I can hear you GenXers gasp in amazement.) My radio was a little handheld transistor model that I carried around next to my ear. I’m sure that people who saw me thought it was a growth on the side of my head.

But a few years later I got my driver’s license and my world changed. Suddenly my radio was in the dashboard, with a single speaker mounted inside with little holes for the sound to come out. It was then that I really got into music and found that I had a unique skill – playing the dashboard or the steering wheel in time to a tune. Having been in band since 4th grade, I had developed some rhythm skills that, when the time arrived, I was more than ready to hone while driving.

Now there are two techniques for playing the dashboard. The first is the “through the steering wheel” technique. In the sixties most cars had a steering wheel that was large enough to easily reach through with both hands extended to the dashboard. I became adept at playing along to “Wipe Out” and steering with my forearms. You can hear the announcer with the disclaimer: “Professional dashboard drummer. Do not try this at home.”

The second technique is the “grasp the wheel between your thumbs and and palm” method. This approach frees up the other digits to keep time on the wheel. A variation on this is to steer with the heels of both hands and whale away in time to the music. With the size of today’s sportier steering wheels, this has become my second favorite method.

As I was driving today, though, listening to Sirius 14, Classic Vinyl, I played along to “Swingtown,” reaching through the wheel and playing the plastic just behind, which makes a nice, percussive sound. And I got to thinking about my favorites dashboard madness songs of all time; those that make it the most fun to play along. So here’s my list.

10. Wipe Out. This is a great oldie with a really simple rhythm. Your hands have to be fast enough to keep up with the sixteenth notes in a method that drummers call a paradiddle. Once you master the basic form it becomes simple to add a little accent. But a caution – this song is tiring. Even the drummer on the original recording breaks with the rhythm as he’s running out of gas toward the end of the song.

9. I Saw Her Standing There. Granted, this song is best known for the incredible Paul McCartney bass riff, but it’s great for pounding the dashboard as well.

8. Bits and Pieces. The Dave Clark Five seemed to be formed around the drummer, maybe because Dave Clark was the drummer. Playing the triplets at the end of each verse requires some additional skill as the wheel actually has to be released to do it properly.

7. I Feel Good. Everybody plays air snare on the rim shot at the end. “Hit me!”

6. Devil With A Blue Dress On. “Fee fee, fie fie, foe foe, fum.” This songs makes me want to drum.

5. The Letter. This is another oldie with a famous air drum rim shot at the end. I perfected this song on a table at a pizza joint near my college campus. Wore out the jukebox too.

4. Born to Be Wild. Cranking the car was not the only way to get the motor running and head out on the highway. Great tom tom beat in this one.

3. Dance to the Music. All we need is a drummer. Happy to oblige.

2. Call On Me, one of my favorite Chicago tunes. Love the latin rhythm. Even us anglos can get down.

1. And at the top of the list is a tie: (Dashboard drum roll please) Santana’s Black Magic Woman/Gypsy Queen, and Chicago’s Beginnings, both of which end with an incredible latin percussion outro.

The truth is that this list is totally arbitrary. I could make a list of just Hendrix tunes. ’Scuse me while I kiss the sky. Duh-duh-duh, duh-duh-duh, duh-duh-duh.

To paraphrase a little proverb: Sing as if no one is listening, and drum as if no one is watching.