Friday, February 25, 2022
Wednesday, February 23, 2022
Take Me to the Mardi Gras
My An Arkie's Faith column from the February 23, 2022, issue of The Polk County Pulse.
The road stretched out ahead as I headed south towards Louisiana. Paul Simon’s voice filled the car as the scenery flew by my window. “Come on, take me to the Mardi Gras, where the people sing and play. Where the dancing is elite, and there’s music in the street both night and day.” As the song nears the end, the legendary Onward Brass Band of New Orleans takes over, and I can almost feel the streets of New Orleans. I was heading south to visit family and experience a Mardi Gras parade.
People who live outside Louisiana and have never experienced Mardi Gras primarily perceive it as a drunken holiday filled with debauchery. But contrary to public perception, Mardi Gras is primarily a family, kid-friendly celebration. Mardi Gras New Orleans advises, “The only area that we don’t recommend taking kids during Mardi Gras is the French Quarter.” Almost all of the parades are family-friendly. Families set up along the parade routes to picnic, play games, and watch the parades pass. Throws often include toys, stuffed animals, beads, and more that kids have the opportunity to catch.
I wasn’t going all the way to New Orleans. My destination was Shreveport. Our group from Arkansas and Missouri met our family from Louisiana at the Krewe of Centaur parade in Shreveport. My son-in-law’s family owns a building on Barksdale Highway along the parade route, so we had an excellent place to park, tailgate, and watch the parade. It was a fantastic location to see the family-friendly parade.
Many floats passed by, with participants throwing gifts out into the crowd. Over 11,000 people lined the streets waving their hands in the air and yelling, “throw me something.” Participants on the floats threw traditional Mardi Gras throws such as beads, doubloons, and plastic cups. The Krewe of Centaur is famous for unusual throws. Because it is a family-friendly parade, throws also included candy, frisbees, mini-footballs, toys, superballs, and a wide assortment of stuffed animals. My young nephew caught a toy sword and a hula hoop. My granddaughter caught several toys, including a stuffed animal.
The Krewe of Centaur was organized in 1991. The Krewe focuses on building a better community and pursuing good family fun. The Krewe of Centaur Mardi Gras Parade has grown over the years to become one of the largest parades in the Ark-La-Tex. Since the first parade over thirty years ago, the Krewe of Centaur parade has continued to be a family parade sticking to its original mission, a family-friendly Mardi Gras parade for the people of Shreveport.
It is incredible to see how excited people get about the possibility of catching some plastic beads or other trinkets. Everyone, including me, is swept up in the idea of being the one to get that unique item. Everywhere you look, there are kids on their parent’s shoulders, giving them a chance to catch beads and toys. Participants on the floats often single out kids in the crowd to provide them with a special gift. The kids in our group had a great time.
As I put a large bag of “treasures” in the car when the parade was over, I thought about how everyone at the Mardi Gras parade clamored for these plastic items that had little actual value. I thought about how I wished people were that excited about the gift of God’s grace. Romans 3:24 (NIRV) tells us, “the free gift of God’s grace makes us right with him. Christ Jesus paid the price to set us free.”
The Bible is clear that God’s grace is a gift. Why don’t more people accept the gift? If you were to ask one hundred random people, “how do you get to heaven?” you would hear a lot of different answers. You would hear things like, “try to be good and do your best,” or “work hard at being a good moral person,” or “do more good things in life than you do bad things.” All of these ideas are based on our abilities and actions. They are not based on the idea of a gift. When people don’t feel the need for the gift, They don’t see any reason to accept the gift of God’s grace. Many religious people fall into this way of thinking. They feel that they can do it themselves and don’t need a gift.
The Bible is very plain in Romans 5:16 (NLT) “And the result of God’s gracious gift is very different from the result of that one man’s sin. For Adam’s sin led to condemnation, but God’s free gift leads to our being made right with God, even though we are guilty of many sins.” The Bible is also clear that our efforts can only lead to condemnation. Isaiah 64:6 (NIV) tells us that, “all of us have become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous acts are like filthy rags.” We need to understand that we can’t be righteous apart from the gift of God.
Not only do we not have the ability to be righteous, but we are also under a heavy penalty. Romans 3:23 (KJV) says, “all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God.” And Romans 6:23 (KJV) adds, “for the wages of sin is death; but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.” Every person on the earth is under the penalty of death. But thankfully, there is hope because of Jesus Christ. The book of Acts tells the story of the Philippian jailer. The jailer asked Paul and Silas, “Sirs, what must I do to be saved?” And Paul and Silas answered, “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and you will be saved.” Acts 16:30,31 (NKJV)
Gentle Reader, we don’t need the beads and baubles of a Mardi Gras parade, but we all need the gift of grace. We all need to have the penalty paid for our sins. We need the gift of God, eternal life. Don’t be too proud to accept the gift. Don’t think you are good enough on your own. “For by grace you have been saved through faith, and this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God.” Ephesians 2:8 (NRSV)
Wednesday, February 16, 2022
The Medal of Honor
My An Arkie's Faith column from the February 16, 2022, issue of The Polk County Pulse.
On Hacksaw Ridge, soldiers lay dead or dying. Over the noise of gunfire and artillery, voices yelled, “medic!” The enemy had caught them by surprise. Mortar rounds were exploding, and bullets were flying. The order came, “retreat!” While soldiers scrambled away from danger, one soldier ran toward the enemy, looking for wounded soldiers left on the battlefield. More than seventy-five men remained behind, too wounded to retreat.
For hours, without any help, he carried injured soldiers through enemy fire, lowering each man on a rope-supported litter he had devised to a safe spot over forty feet below the ridge. He used double bowline knots he had learned as a young boy, tying the makeshift litter to a tree stump serving as an anchor. Many hours later, after rescuing countless injured soldiers, he refused to stop even though he was at the point of exhaustion. He was determined to find every fallen soldier who was still breathing. His motto was, “as long as there is life, there is hope.”
At the beginning of the day, his company had launched the assault of Hacksaw Ridge with 155 men. After the vicious enemy attack, fewer than one-third could retreat down the escarpment to relative safety. The rest lay wounded, scattered across the enemy-controlled ground. One lone soldier charged back into the firefight to rescue as many men as he could, knowing that he would probably die that day. The soldier had a strong faith in God, and his prayer after each rescue was, “please Lord, help me get one more.” He was an example of the principle found in John 15:13 (NKJV), “Greater love has no one than this, than to lay down one’s life for his friends.”
The soldier in this story was Desmond Doss. He enlisted in April 1942 but refused to kill or carry a weapon into combat because of his strong belief in the commandment that says, “Thou shalt not kill” Exodus 20:13 (KJV). The Army gave him the designation of conscientious objector. Desmond worked at the Newport News Naval shipyard and could have requested a deferment. But he desired to do his part for the war effort. For him, that meant saving lives, not taking them. He described himself as a “conscientious cooperator.” He became a medic and served in the Pacific theatre.
His refusal to carry a gun caused trouble with his fellow soldiers. They called him a misfit. One man in the barracks warned him, “Doss, as soon as we get into combat, I’ll make sure you won’t come back alive.” His commanding officers wanted to get rid of Desmond. They saw him as a liability. Nobody believed a soldier without a weapon was worthwhile. They tried to intimidate him, scold him, assign him extra tough duties, and when that didn’t work, declared him mentally unfit for the Army. Then they court-martialed him for refusing a direct order; to carry a gun. But they failed to find a way to throw him out, and he refused to leave. He believed his duty was to obey God and serve his country. But it had to be in that order. His unwavering convictions were most important.
Desmond never held a grudge. With kindness and gentle courtesy, he treated those who had mistreated him. He lived by the words of Jesus, “in everything, therefore, treat people the same way you want them to treat you.” Matthew 7:12 (NASB) When the men in his unit saw him in action, displaying incredible courage and selflessness, his tormentors became his biggest supporters.
Because of his bravery during the American assault on Okinawa in May 1945, Desmond was awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor by President Truman on October 12, 1945. As he shook the hand of Corporal Desmond Doss, President Truman said, “I’m proud of you. You really deserve this. I consider this a greater honor than being President.”
Before being discharged from the Army in 1946, Desmond developed tuberculosis. He would spend most of the next six years in hospitals. Doctors surgically removed his left lung along with five ribs. He survived on a single lung for the rest of his life. At the age of 87, Corporal Desmond Thomas Doss died on March 23, 2006.
I have known the story of Desmond Doss for many years. When I was a young boy, I read The Unlikeliest Hero by Booton Herndon. The book is an in-depth look at the life of Desmond Doss. One story that I remember happened three weeks after Hacksaw Ridge. In a night attack, Desmond remained in exposed territory while the rest of his company took cover. A grenade blast seriously wounded his legs. Rather than call another aid man, he cared for his injuries and waited five hours before litter bearers reached him and started carrying him to safety. When Desmond saw a more critically wounded man nearby, he crawled off the litter and directed the litter bearers to take care of the other man. While he was waiting for the litter bearers to return, he was hit by enemy fire, this time suffering a compound fracture of his arm. In extreme pain, he bound a rifle stock to his shattered arm as a splint and then crawled 300 yards over rough terrain to the aid station.
In 1999 I had the honor of meeting Desmond Doss. I had taken a group of young boys, ages 10 to 14, to hear him speak. After his talk, my boys wanted to meet him. We waited for a chance to talk to him. Desmond stayed until everyone who wanted to meet him had a chance. He took the time to speak to each of the boys personally. The boys loved him and were very impressed. They said to me, “we got to meet a real American hero.”
Gentle Reader, I’m proud to have been able to meet this humble man. His story made an impression on me when I was a boy. When I met him, I was impressed by his humility. Even though everyone in the audience wanted to hear about his Medal of Honor, he was uncomfortable talking about his actions. He focused more on being prepared and being willing to help others. He stressed the importance of standing up for your convictions. His life reminded me of the words found in Proverbs 15:33 (NCV), “Respect for the Lord will teach you wisdom. If you want to be honored, you must be humble.” The world needs more people like Desmond Doss.
Wednesday, February 9, 2022
My An Arkie's Faith column from the February 9, 2022, issue of The Polk County Pulse.
One of my favorite things to do is drive the back roads of Arkansas. I love the adventure and scenery. When I see a road, I always wonder where it goes. Sometimes exploring a new road can be quite an adventure. When traveling a rural Arkansas road, you often don’t know where you will end up.
I like to watch videos of people traveling the back roads of Arkansas on YouTube. Several YouTubers that I watch recommended the Gaia GPS app to help navigate back roads. I purchased the app thinking it would be nice to have detailed maps of backcountry and Forest Service roads downloaded to my phone. I started using the app and enjoyed the tracking feature that records my back road adventures.
After using the app for several weeks, I found one shortcoming; The small screen of my phone made it hard for me to see a large enough portion of the map to plan a route. I decided to download the app to my iPad to have a larger screen. On my first outing with the iPad, I was disappointed. The app didn’t work. I could see the map but could not see where I was, nor could I record where I had been.
When I returned home, I began researching the problem. I discovered that iPads with the cellular option have an embedded GPS, but the WiFi-only iPads do not. My iPad is WiFi-only, so it doesn’t have an embedded GPS. I found that the only way that my iPad will work with the Gaia app is if I purchase an external GPS.
After more internet research, I purchased the Dual Electronics XGPS150A Multipurpose Portable Universal Bluetooth GPS Receiver. Both pilots and overlanders recommended the unit. When I received the device, I was surprised by how small it was, two inches square and three-quarters of an inch tall. I couldn’t wait for my next backcountry adventure so that I could try it out.
But my next trip was another disappointment. The Dual GPS still didn’t work with my iPad. I was very frustrated because I would be in Big Bend National Park in Texas in two weeks, and there is no cell service there. The only way I would have access to maps on my electronic devices would be to get the Dual GPS working.
Back home, I tried to troubleshoot the problem. On the Gaia app website, I found an article titled, “Using External GPS Devices with Gaia GPS.” One heading in the article was, “Pairing - Download the companion apps for these devices that confirm that the devices have properly connected.” One of the lines under the heading was the companion app for the Dual Electronics XGPS and the app’s link. “Perfect,” I thought, ‘this will give me the exact information that I need.”
That weekend we made a trip to the top of Eagle Mountain on Saturday, and then on Sunday, we went to our favorite spot on the Cossatot River and spent several hours just relaxing by the river. As beautiful as it was, I was in a bit of a bad mood because my app still did not connect with my GPS. “What was I going to do,” I thought. “I am just about out of ideas.” I started watching videos of people using their Dual GPS with WiFi-only iPads. They would explain all kinds of things, but the GPS connected automatically to the iPad, and they never discussed it.
While researching the problem, I found a link to the Dual GPS user manual. Like many electronics these days, the device did not come with a manual. I downloaded the manual and started reading every word from the beginning. After a few pages, I read a section that said, “the mode switch must be set for the device you want to use the XGPS150 with. With the tip of a fine ballpoint pen, move the mode switch to the proper position: If you are using the XGPS150 with an iPad, slide the switch right, away from the USB connector.” The manual included a photo that showed a tiny unmarked switch next to the charging port.
After following the instructions and changing the position of the tiny unmarked switch, I went on a short drive to test the GPS. I was delighted when everything worked properly. I had spent many hours trying to figure out why the GPS wasn’t working, and all that was needed was to change the position of a tiny switch. Now I can navigate Big Bend National Park and not worry about getting lost.
Have you taken any wrong turns in your life? Have you been on any bad roads? Have you ever been lost? How do you know which route to take? Having a good GPS can be very helpful. In Psalms 25:4 (NLT), the Bible says, “Show me the right path, O Lord; point out the road for me to follow.” That sounds like a GPS. God will point out the right road for us to follow. You can trust him. You might not always trust your GPS, but you can always trust God. No matter how knowledgeable you are, you aren’t the best navigator for your life. Proverbs 14:12 (VOICE) tells us, “before every person lies a road that seems to be right, but the end of that road is death and destruction.”
Gentle Reader, one of the advantages of being a Christian is having a knowledgeable navigator to guide us through this life to our eternal destination. Solomon explained it well in Proverbs 20:24 (VOICE), “Every one of our steps is directed by Him; so how can we attempt to figure out our own way?” Why would we decide not to listen to the best guide there is and use our judgment instead? The only reliable GPS for our spiritual life is God’s word. “Your word is a lamp to guide my feet and a light for my path.” Psalms 119:105 (NLT) I hope that you and I will be able to say what David said in Psalms 73:23-25 (NET). “I am continually with you; you hold my right hand. You guide me by your wise advice, and then you will lead me to a position of honor. Whom do I have in heaven but you? On earth there is no one I desire but you.”
Wednesday, February 2, 2022
My An Arkie's Faith column from the February 2, 2022, issue of The Polk County Pulse.
The unassuming woman stood in front of her congregation at the Temple Beth Torah in Holliston, Massachusetts, and for the first time, told them her incredible story of survival. Everyone in the community knew Misha Defonseca, but they had no idea she had experienced such hardship during the Holocaust. The weeping fifty-something woman kept her friends and neighbors spellbound as she related her wartime experiences.
In a soft-spoken voice, she gave horrifying details of her childhood. The Nazis hauled off her Belgian parents to concentration camps in Germany. Misha was taken in by a Catholic family and given a new name to hide her Jewish identity. Hers was the story of so many “hidden children” of the era. According to the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum, “only 6 to 11% of Europe’s prewar Jewish population of children survived. Among the small number of European Jewish children still alive at the end of the Holocaust, thousands survived because they were hidden. Many parents sent their children into hiding with Christian families. For many of those lucky enough to be sheltered by religious institutions or adopted by Gentile families, survival often came at the cost of their true identity.”
Misha related the details of her story. She was placed in the care of a Catholic family who gave her a new name: Monique de Wael. The family mistreated her, so she determined to run away and find her parents. Over the next four years, she wandered through Germany, Poland, and Ukraine, turning south through Romania and the Balkans, hitching a boat to Italy, then walking back to Belgium via France. For most of this time, she slept in forests and was fed and protected by packs of friendly wolves for weeks at a time. Tears streamed down her face as she talked about witnessing the execution of children and saving herself from a German soldier by killing him with a pocketknife.
“I had tears in my eyes,” remembers Karen Schulman, a friend of Misha’s. “She was hungry; she was cold; she was lonely; she wanted her parents. How did this person survive?” Rabbi Joanne Yocheved Heiligman, who was at Temple Beth Torah related his memories of that day.” Misha said she was a survivor. She was obviously very traumatized, but she had never talked about it,” He continued, “she wasn’t pushing to tell the story—she told the story when I asked her.”
When Jane Daniel heard Misha’s story that day, it made a deep impression on her. Jane owned Mount Ivy Press and realized that the story would make a great book. She convinced Misha to write her story with the help of a professional writer. Misha: A Mémoire of the Holocaust Years was released in 1997 and translated into twenty languages. It became a hit in Europe, where Misha became a celebrity, touring with her book from country to country. Disney expressed interest in acquiring the rights, and Oprah chose the book for her Book Club, filming a segment of Misha playing with wolves. On the day of the interview with Oprah, Misha backed out. Her friends and publisher were shocked.
At this point, things started unraveling. Misha’s relationship with her publisher deteriorated, and they ended up in court. The lawsuit and subsequent ruling in favor of Misha left Jane Daniel millions of dollars in debt. The publisher turned detective, hoping to find something that would help overturn the verdict and the 32 million dollar judgment. Jane began to investigate the inconsistencies in Misha’s story. With the help of Evelyne Haendel, a Belgian genealogist, Daniel uncovered the truth about Misha’s past. Evelyne, a Holocaust survivor, did the detective legwork in Belgium, poring through the birth register and lists of wartime deportations. She found that Misha was never a “hidden child,” and she wasn’t Jewish. Evelyne found documents from Misha’s life, such as a baptismal record and a school register showing her enrolled in elementary school in 1943 when Misha was supposed to be wandering through Europe.
The truth is that Misha was born in 1937 as Monique de Wael to Catholic parents. She would have been only four years old when her fabricated story occurred. Her parents were a part of the Belgian resistance and were arrested and taken to Germany, where they died during the war. Misha, or Monique, never left Belgium during this time, living with family members and attending school.
In 2008, when Misha finally admitted that her story was pure fiction, she issued a statement that read, in part: “They called me ‘The Traitor’s Daughter’ because my father was suspected of having spoken under torture. This book, this story, is mine. It is not the actual reality, but it was my reality, my way of surviving. I ask for forgiveness. All I ever wanted was to exorcise my suffering.” And she told the newspaper Le Soir, “It’s not the true reality, but it is my reality. There are times when I find it difficult to differentiate between reality and my inner world.”
In the documentary Misha and the Wolves, writer and director Sam Hobkinson tells Misha’s story. Talking about his film, he says, “we want to believe—and I don’t think that’s a bad thing. But we should be careful. We’re in a world now where truth is a very slippery concept, so it should remind people to be more questioning.” We live in a time where many people seem to find it challenging to differentiate between the truth and the lies they tell themselves and others. It looks like David was writing about our times when he wrote, “Everyone lies to his neighbors. They say one thing and mean another.” Psalms 12:2 (ICB) The proliferation of fake news and polarized views represented in unending social media arguments demonstrate that the truth isn’t always easy to determine.
Gentle Reader, we as Christians need to make sure that the widespread falsehoods of this world are not deceiving us. Even more importantly, we need to ensure that we are not passing along untrue things. Lying changes more than the facts; it also changes the liar. If I lie to you, I erode our relationship. If I have lied to you, why should you believe anything else that I say? Today, let us pray these words from the book of Proverbs, “keep me from lying and being dishonest.” Proverbs 30:8 (ICB)