Wednesday, January 29, 2020

Fort Stevens State Park

My An Arkie's Faith column from the January 29, 2020, issue of The Mena Star

My wife and I enjoy visiting the Oregon coast. We have family that lives in the Pacific Northwest and we have spent a lot of time in the area. There is so much natural beauty and history that we always find something new and interesting to do in the area.

On one trip a few years ago, my wife and I visited Fort Stevens State Park. The original fort was completed in 1865. Its purpose was to protect the mouth of the Columbia River from Confederate gunboats and the British Navy during the Civil War. The fort was named after Civil War general and former Washington Territory governor, Isaac Stevens, who died in 1862 at the Battle of Chantilly.

Fort Stevens was used for 84 years, closing at the end of World War II. Today, it is a 3,700-acre state park. There is a visitor’s center that tells the history of the fort. We enjoyed the visitor's center and the informative film that we saw there.

The fort was Oregon's only coastal defense fort during the Spanish-American War, World War I, and World War II. Fort Stevens is the only military fort in the United States to be fired upon by an enemy during a time of war since the War of 1812.

On June 21, 1942, a Japanese submarine used a screen of fishing boats to avoid minefields and slip into position eight miles west of Fort Stevens. The immediate objective of the submarines was to attack a U.S. Navy submarine and destroyer base, which the Japanese believed to be near the mouth of the Columbia River. The Japanese intelligence was wrong; there was no such base.

At 11:30 P.M., the crew of the submarine fired on Fort Stevens. The first of the 16-inch long, 60-pound shells headed toward the coast. In all, 17 shells were fired. At 11:45 PM, the last shell was on its way, and the submarine headed west, on its way to the open sea. The crew of the submarine had no way of knowing where the shells landed, or what effect they had.

The men of Fort Stevens responded quickly after the first shell hit, with soldiers scrambling to get dressed and to their posts. Within a few minutes, the men had the guns at Battery Russell loaded and ready to fire. While waiting for the order to return fire, Captain Wood and his men considered their options. Eventually, a response was received:  “Do not fire – I repeat do not fire.”

Captain Wood’s men were unhappy. Richard Emery, who was a soldier at Fort Stevens that night, said, “We were frustrated. There was a lot of anger. We felt that we should have been able to fire back.” Major Robert Huston, who was the Senior Duty Officer that night, made the decision. It was a tough call. He knew the effect it would have on troop morale.

Fortunately, the shells from the Japanese submarine caused very little damage. One shell damaged the backstop of a baseball diamond within 100 yards of Battery Russell,  and another landed near a beach house but didn’t damage the house. When asked the next day how close the shells had come to the military post, Colonel Doney told reporters, “Too close.”

Why was the decision made not to return fire? Following the attack, there was a good deal of speculation about the decision. One rumor was that the officers decided not to take action because the U.S. Army would have been required to give combat pay to soldiers who returned fire. Major Huston and Colonel Doney gave an official explanation. The submarine appeared to be out of range, so why give away defense positions to a target that couldn’t be hit? It wasn't in the best interest of the fort or the men in it to return fire.

When we are attacked, the basic human response is to return fire. When we are mistreated or threatened, we want to return hurtful words or harmful actions. We let our natural human emotions dictate our behavior. We feel anger and want to lash out. We feel fear and want to defend or attack. We feel wronged and want to get revenge. But is that how a Christian should handle conflict?

In Proverbs 15:1 (NET), Solomon wrote these words of wisdom, “A gentle response turns away anger, but a harsh word stirs up wrath.” And James wrote in James 1:19,20 (ISV), “You must understand this, my dear brothers. Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to get angry. For human anger does not produce the righteousness that God desires.”

I am not suggesting that there is never a time when Christians should defend themselves. But I have noticed that often we as Christians are slow to listen but quick to speak and get angry. My social media feeds are filled with angry Christians. Some answer every perceived attack, or even a difference in opinion by returning fire in an angry way.

Gentle Reader, Ecclesiastes 7:9 (AMP) says, “do not be eager in your heart to be angry, For anger dwells in the heart of fools.” Are you eager in your heart to be angry? Are you quick to return fire? When you are attacked, and you will be, remember that there is no downside to a gentle response. Don’t be eager to be angry, don’t be eager to return fire.

Thursday, January 23, 2020

Winter Beauty

An Arkie's Faith column from the January 23, 2020, issue of The Mena Star.

What is your favorite season? I've always been a big fan of spring. There is nothing like the anticipation of springtime after three long months of winter. Crisp air, budding trees, greening grass, and blooming flowers make spring an amazing time. I have never liked winter. Short days and cold weather put me in a bad mood. My favorite thing about winter is that it signals that spring is on the way.

Even though winter isn’t my favorite time of the year, I find that winter can be beautiful. A fresh snowfall makes any landscape delightful. What is under the snow might be ugly, but the snow hides any blemishes and makes everything pure and white. God does the same thing with each of us. We may have a sordid past. We may not be currently living as we should. But God longs for us to ask for forgiveness so that he can cover our sins. “Come now, and let us reason together, saith the Lord: though your sins be as scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they be red like crimson, they shall be as wool.” Isaiah 1:18 (KJV)

Have you ever been pleasantly surprised when you woke up and looked out your window to see snow covering the landscape? A dull and dreary day unexpectedly transformed into a beautiful winter day blanketed with snow. As I write this, our area hasn’t seen any snowfall, but that doesn’t mean that we haven’t had some winter beauty.

A week ago, a major storm made its way through Arkansas. It started with temperatures in the upper 60’s with heavy rain, thunder, lightning, and possible tornadoes. The following day, temperatures dropped into the 20’s and 30’s. The roads remained clear, but a thin layer of ice coated some trees. When temperatures in our area are hovering around the freezing mark, it is usually a few degrees colder on the Talimena Drive going to Queen Wilhelmina State Park. We decided to drive to the park and see the sights.

As we drove out of Mena and gained elevation, it became very foggy, and white frost covered the trees. Bare and seemingly lifeless trees turned into marvelous works of art. The fog and the trees changed the landscape into a mystical, magical place. The fog, ice, and frost filled the mountain with winter beauty.

I enjoy a bit of fog; it turns the world into a surreal landscape. But driving in a heavy fog can be frightening. You must slow down and be very alert. Faith is like driving in the fog. As we go through life, we don’t always see what’s right in front of us. Like a drive on a foggy day, life is revealed to us little by little. We can’t see into the future. God wants us to slow down and to make each action carefully and deliberately. He doesn’t want us to get in a hurry. That’s when accidents happen. We must trust that we will get to where God wants us to be when His timing is right.

Although a snowstorm makes the landscape look clean, white, and beautiful, driving in a heavy snowstorm isn’t any fun. I grew up in Colorado and experienced lots of snow and cold weather. I can still remember how frightened I was the day that I experienced a Colorado blizzard. When I headed home from work that day, the snow was coming down hard. Soon the snowfall was so heavy that visibility was almost zero. As I inched my way along, I frequently stopped the car and got out to find the edge of the road. I knew that if I slipped off the road, I would never be able to get out. My progress was very slow, and the storm intensified as time went on. I ended up being stuck and stranded for a few hours before I was able to make it home. It was a frightening experience.

“Faith assures us of things we expect and convinces us of the existence of things we cannot see.” Hebrews 11:1 (NOG) When you drive in a blizzard or fog at night, your headlights can only illuminate a few feet in front of the car. It creates tension and fear. What if there’s something I can’t see? What if the road turns and I miss it? High beams that help you to see farther when it’s clear, only make the situation worse. To feel safe, you must drive slowly and carefully. True faith is finding certainty in uncertain times. It is learning to trust God in the patches of fog that happen in everyone’s life.

To have faith is to believe that God is with you, whatever your circumstances are, whether life is going smoothly, or you are experiencing the foggiest night of your life. When the foggy night comes, we are not alone. In Psalms 32:8 (NIRV), God makes this promise to you; “I will guide you and teach you the way you should go. I will give you good advice and watch over you with love.”

Gentle Reader, in our lives, we need to stay constantly connected to God. If we put our faith in God, we will be okay. The confusion of a foggy night or a blizzard may come, but we can trust that God will guide us through. Don’t panic because you can’t see into the future. Don’t let the fear of the unknown unnerve you. God knows your future. He has promised to guide you. “‘For I know the plans I have for you,’ declares the Lord, ‘plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.’” Jeremiah 29:11 (NIV) Trust God to guide you through the storms of life, and to get you where you’re going right on time. “Your word is a lamp for my feet, a light for my path.” Psalms 119:105 (NAB)

Thursday, January 16, 2020

The Little Studebaker

An Arkie's Faith column from the January 16, 2020, issue of The Mena Star.

Bob and Leo stood in front of their shop, watching the sunset, as it spread across the western sky. The yellow ball of fire changed to hues of red blended with oranges, purples, and crimsons. The workday was over and the business they owned, Tri-Town-Service, was closed for the day. But the workday seemed never to be over. They were getting into their 1953 Studebaker pickup and heading from Frederick to Denver. They had vehicles that they needed to bring home.

Each month Bob and Leo attended the Denver Police impound auction. The City of Denver would auction off impounded vehicles. They sold the vehicles in lots of twenty, with the high bidder buying all twenty vehicles. All the vehicles purchased had to be removed from the impound lot before the next sale. Bob and Leo had quite a few cars that they needed to get back to the shop, but the only time they could do it was after they had closed for the day. They planned to put one car on a tow bar behind the six-cylinder Studebaker pickup and see if they could get one of the cars to run so they could drive it home. On this trip, Bob’s Daddy, Ben, was going along. They were going to have Ben steer a car on a chain behind the Studebaker and the car it was towing.

When they arrived at the impound lot, they were able to get an old Mercury started. Bob attached a tow bar between the Mercury and a big Buick while Leo hooked his tow bar up to another Buick. By the time they had everything hooked up and ready to leave, it was late in the night. The Mercury wasn’t running very well, so Bob said to Leo, “I will go first in the Mercury so if I have any trouble you will be behind me and able to help.” They were quite a sight as they left the impound lot around one o’clock in the morning. The Mercury was sputtering away in the lead with a Buick behind on a tow bar. Next came Leo in the six-cylinder pickup with another Buick in tow, followed by Ben, in an old Chevrolet, pulled on a chain.

The headed home under the summer night sky luminous with starlight and a full moon. Traffic was light on the Valley Highway, and the little group made their way easily down the road. Bob had hoped that the Mercury would smooth out and run better while driving, but that didn’t happen. It began to run worse instead of better. When they were still over ten miles away from their shop, the Mercury’s engine sputtered, then stopped. Bob tried to start it again, but the Mercury was done for the night. Bob was still on the highway, moving slowly. He put his arm out the window and motioned for Leo to pull up. Leo downshifted to first gear and pulled forward until the bumper of his Studebaker pickup tapped the Buick that was being towed by the Mercury. He then slowly started to accelerate and the whole group picked up speed. Pushing the Mercury and the Buick, and pulling another Buick and the Chevrolet, the little six-cylinder Studebaker made it the rest of the way home. Leo claimed that he drove in high gear and even shifted the Studebaker into overdrive.

Do you ever feel that, like the little Studebaker, you are pulling more than your weight? I know that many of us feel that way. When we are pulling more than our weight, it can drag us down. The little Studebaker made it home, even with four other vehicles depending on it. But the Studebaker wouldn’t hold up under long term use like that. The website How Stuff Works says, “although you may not see the effects of exceeding towing capacity at first, the gradual wear and tear will lead to eventual failure. The best-case scenario is repeated trips to the repair shop; the worst is a major wreck.” I think that it can be the same way with us. The gradual wear and tear can be detrimental.

I have a customer that always seems to be taking care of her family. When she came by to pay for another family member’s windshield, I told her that I noticed she was always taking care of someone. She appreciated that I noticed she was pulling more than her weight. When we carry someone else’s heavy loads, we are doing what God has asked us to do. “Carry one another’s heavy loads. If you do, you will fulfill the law of Christ.” Galatians 6:2 (NIRV)

Often, others have heavy loads that are too big for them to bear alone. They don’t have enough strength, resources, or knowledge to carry the load, and they need our help. Doing for others what they can’t do for themselves is showing them the love of Jesus. On the other hand, Galatians 6:5 (NIV) says that “each one should carry their own load.” God wants us to carry one another’s heavy loads, but that doesn’t mean that we should be a burden to others by not being responsible. The Bible ideal is that you help me with my heavy loads, and I help you with yours.

Gentle Reader, the story of the little Studebaker is true, and the names have not been changed. Bob is my Daddy; Leo is my cousin, and Ben is my Grandpa. On that night in Colorado, the little Studebaker did push and pull four cars for over ten miles. When situations come up, and people need your help, be like the little Studebaker. But you don’t have to do it alone. Psalm 55:22 (MSG) says, “Pile your troubles on GOD’s shoulders— he’ll carry your load, he’ll help you out.” “Cast all your care upon Him, because He cares for you.” 1 Peter 5:7 (MEV)

Thursday, January 9, 2020


An Arkie's Faith column from the January 9, 2020, issue of The Mena Star.

The little red-haired girl crept to the back of the hallway and sat with her back against the door of the linen closet. The soaring music of the movie had started, and the story scrolled up the screen of the 19-inch Zenith television. A tiny silver spacecraft races through space while being pursued by a giant destroyer. The little red-haired girl knows what is coming next, and felt safer sitting at the back of the hallway than she did in the living room.

On the screen, an explosion rocks the tiny spaceship, and two robots struggle to make their way down the corridor. Soldiers race past the robots and take their positions. Suddenly a blast blows a huge hole in the passageway, and dozens of stormtroopers in imposing white spacesuits pour into the tiny ship with a blaze of laser fire. Even if you aren’t a Star Wars fan, you probably are familiar with the image of the stormtroopers.

While the little red-haired girl was attending college in Michigan, the fourth Star Wars movie was released. At that time, the little red-haired girl from Arkansas was rooming with Courtney, a New York girl from The Bronx. That girl from The Bronx became a clinical psychologist, writer, and ordained minister. While reading Spectrum Magazine, I came across her latest article, "Empathy for Stormtroopers" by Courtney Ray, published January 2, 2020, on The article made an impact on me, and I contacted Spectrum Magazine to see if they would allow the article to be used in another publication. They graciously permitted me to quote extensively from the article.

Courtney Ray wrote, “for those not well versed in Star Wars lore, the heroes are the Jedi who follow the Light Side of the Force, while the antagonists use the Dark Side. The bad guys also employ the use of a Nazi like regime staffed by soldiers called Stormtroopers. Stormtroopers are clad in identical white and black armor. They are the faceless disposable army that attacks our protagonists. That’s not an unusual narrative element in this genre of film. Often a battle must ensue. And although the good guys get faces, names, and back stories, the enemy side will often have interchangeable minions who can be dispatched and summarily killed without much emotional impact on the audience. This is how it’s always been. However, within the last three Star Wars films, it comes to light that Stormtrooper ranks are filled with people taken as children and forced to be in their army. Many fans have expressed that this was a distressing element of the story’s development – no one wants the enemy humanized. When that happens, one may have remorse, or at least pause, when they are destroyed.

It’s fascinating to see human moviegoers in real life recoil from the thought that fake characters on a screen may be getting a bum deal by being identically labeled and fired upon when, in fact, each of them is supposedly an individual person. I was amazed to observe the feedback. There has been a nontrivial amount of empathy extended to admittedly ‘bad guy’ characters in a movie. This was achieved by simply reminding the viewers of their humanity.

Oddly enough, people are reticent to extend that same empathy to other humans in real life. We are quick to dismiss that which is ‘other’ as ‘the enemy,’ and we don’t have compassion for those with whom we feel no connection. This is human nature though. Like a featureless identical Stormtrooper uniform, our preconceived notions about those unlike us can strip them of their humanity, in our minds. We prejudge them. Many times we regard these groups as our enemies. At best, we are merely indifferent to their suffering.

Dehumanizing the ‘other’ allows us to justify our lack of compassion toward their plight. This has implications in government policy, principles of our justice systems, rules of engagement for war, and even Christian behavior. If we think about ‘foreign migrants’ as a monolithic block, it colors our thinking differently than if we knew the story of a single child seeking asylum as a refugee.”

Jesus challenged us to love others, even our enemies. “You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemies.’ But I say to you, love your enemies. Pray for those who hurt you. If you do this, you will be true children of your Father in heaven.” Matthew 5:43-45 (NCV) In Luke 10:25-27 (NLT) we read, “One day an expert in religious law stood up to test Jesus by asking him this question: ‘Teacher, what should I do to inherit eternal life?’ Jesus replied, ‘What does the law of Moses say? How do you read it?’ The man answered, ‘You must love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, all your strength, and all your mind.’ And, ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’” Jesus told the lawyer that he must love his neighbor. “‘Ah,’ said the lawyer, wanting to win the point, ‘but who is my neighbor?’” Luke 10:29 (NTE) Jesus answered by telling the story of the Good Samaritan, pointing out that this man, even though he was considered an enemy, was a neighbor. The Good Samaritan, finding his perceived enemy hurt beside the road, tended to the man's wounds and paid for his recovery care. After telling the story, Jesus said to the lawyer, “Then go and do what he did.”Luke 10:37 (NCV)

Gentle Reader, Courtney Ray concluded her article by writing, “It may feel as uncomfortable as admitting the humanity of Stormtroopers, but I admonish us to begin to view one another as more than a label. When we find ourselves tempted to dismiss someone as ‘liberal’ or ‘conservative’ or ‘sinner’ or ‘unfaithful,’ let’s slow down enough to recall that they are more than the ideas they hold. We are all more than our labels. We are brothers and sisters. If filmmakers were able to make moviegoers empathize with the definitive ‘bad guys’ of a 4 decade drama, most assuredly there is hope that we can develop empathy for the real life people who are our brothers and sisters.”

Thank you to Courtney Ray and Spectrum Magazine for allowing the use of "Empathy for Stormtroopers" published January 2, 2020, on

Wednesday, January 1, 2020

Black-eyed Peas

An Arkie's Faith column from the January 2, 2020, issue of The Mena Star.

The young man stood at the counter, ordering a gallon of paint. “I need a gallon of synthetic enamel for a 1971 Oldsmobile,” he said to the man behind the counter. “It is brown, and the paint code is 68.”

“I will get that mixed and bring it to your shop this afternoon, is there anything else that you need?”

“Give me a sleeve of 220 grit wet or dry sandpaper.”

“Let me get that from the back.”

“And get me five gallons of lacquer thinner,” the young man hollered.

The counterman came out carrying the heavy bucket of thinner and set it down along with the sandpaper. Then going back behind the counter, he reached into a box on the floor and took out a can of black-eyed peas. Handing the can to the young man, he said, “Happy New Year.”

“Thank you,” said the young man with a puzzled look in his face. He carried the thinner, sandpaper, and can of black-eyed peas to his car. He took the can home to his wife, who was puzzled by the strange gift from the auto parts store.

It was December 1981, and I was the young man ordering paint at Southern Auto Supply in Mena, Arkansas. Earlier that year, I had moved to Mena from Colorado with my wife and young daughter. There were still many things about Southern culture that I didn’t understand. I asked another bodyman if the auto parts store had given him a can of black-eyed peas. He said, “yes, why do you ask?” I told him that I thought it was a bit strange. He explained that it was a long-standing tradition to eat black-eyed peas on New Year’s Day. I had never heard of such a tradition.

Southern Living magazine says, “according to folklore, this auspicious New Year’s Day tradition dates back to the Civil War, when Union troops pillaged the land, leaving behind only black-eyed peas and greens as animal fodder. Rich in nutrients, these were the humble foods that enabled Southerners to survive.” Like most traditions, this one has many variations. Some say you should eat exactly 365 peas on New Year's Day. If you eat any less, you'll only be lucky for that many days. Others say you should leave one pea on your plate, to share your luck with someone else. I have also heard that if you don't eat every pea on your plate, your luck will be bad.

Traditions are a part of life no matter where you live. Traditions vary from place to place and from one family to another. Our family has many Christmas traditions. Christmas morning, my wife makes the same breakfast every year. The interesting thing about this special meal of egg, cream and sausage casserole, sliced bananas and cream, and Christmas Coffee Cake is that we don’t eat those foods any other day of the year.

My daughter takes Christmas traditions very seriously. A couple of years ago, we bought new living room furniture that didn’t leave enough room for the Christmas tree to be where it has been for over 20 years. I wasn’t sure my daughter was going to be able to handle the tree being in a different location. On our first Christmas together, my wife bought a Disney paint by number ornament kit. She painstakingly painted the wood cutouts of Disney characters. They have hung on our tree for over 40 years. When my kids were teenagers, they wanted to know why we had to put those ugly old ornaments on the tree. They didn’t think they were attractive. When I explained how important they were to me, and what they represented, they decided that it was okay to use them. Now it is traditional for my daughter to complain, tongue-in-cheek, about those old ornaments.

This year, my wife is hoping to start a new Christmas and New Year’s tradition. She has purchased all the special baking tins and ingredients needed to make Kransekake, which is a Scandinavian cake that forms an impressive showpiece. It is made of eighteen different sized rings placed on top of each other, largest on the bottom to smallest on top, with icing between each ring. Because of her Danish heritage, she would like to incorporate Kransekake into our holiday tradition.

When two people get married, they have to blend the traditions of their families, or they have to create new traditions. My wife’s family always opened their gifts on Christmas morning. I grew up opening gifts on Christmas Eve. When we were married, we compromised by opening our gifts on Christmas morning. My wife believes very strongly that Christmas morning is the proper time to open gifts.

I have noticed that many Christians believe very strongly in their traditions. Traditions are not inherently good or bad, right or wrong. Some people defend traditions because the church has practiced it that way for years. Other people dislike tradition and want change just for the sake of change.

Christians should be neither "traditional" nor "non-traditional.” They should neither accept nor oppose a practice simply because it is a tradition. It doesn’t matter how long we have practiced something or when it began. What’s important is what God’s word says about it. If God's word requires it, then we must do it. If God's word forbids it, then we must oppose it even if it is a tradition. If God’s word is silent, then there is no problem with tradition. But I can’t expect all Christians to follow just because it is my tradition.

Gentle Reader, do you eat black-eyed peas on New Year’s Day? If you do, that is wonderful. If you don’t, that is okay too. The more important questions are, do you follow the traditions of God? Or are you following human traditions and doctrines that differ from His word? Are you trying to force other Christians to follow your traditions? “Beware lest anyone cheat you through philosophy and empty deceit, according to the tradition of men, according to the basic principles of the world, and not according to Christ.” Colossians 2:8 (NKJV)