Ash Wednesday (also known as dies cinerum, ‘day of ashes’) is a moveable feast day, observed exactly 46 days before Paschal (Easter) Sunday (40 days, not including Sundays). It is a day of repentance, and marks the beginning of Lent (a period of fasting in preparation for Easter). Ash Wednesday gets its name from the ceremony where congregants come before a minister, who dips his thumb into ashes and marks their foreheads with the sign of the cross as a symbol of repentance. As he does this, he reminds them, “Remember, O man, that thou art but dust, and unto dust thou shalt return.” He may also utter the phrases, “Turn away from sin and be faithful to the Gospel,” or “Repent, and hear the Good News.” The ashes used in this ceremony are made by burning the remains of the palms blessed on the Palm Sunday of the previous year.
Holy Scripture indicates dusting oneself with ashes (and wearing sackcloth) was a way for penitents to express mourning over sin. Job, for example, said to the LORD, “I had heard of You by the hearing of the ear, but now my eye sees You; therefore I despise myself, and repent in dust and ashes” (Job 42:5-6). Other examples include laws for purification (Numbers 19:9, 17; Hebrews 9:13), the repentance of Nineveh (Jonah 3:6-8), and the Lord Jesus’ warning to Chorazin and Bethsaida (Matthew 11:20-21; Luke 10:13). Protestant/ Evangelical groups which observe Ash Wednesday include Anglicans/Episcopalians, Lutherans, Presbyterians, Congregationalists, the United Church of Christ, the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ), Methodists/Wesleyans, Nazarenes, the Church of God (Anderson), and some Baptists. Here are some thoughts from various Reformed Baptists regarding the observation of Ash Wednesday as noted by The Confessing Baptist.
The use of food stamps increased in 2013 among military families, with nearly $104 million worth of food stamps redeemed at military commissaries during the past fiscal year. The use of food stamps has increased steadily among military members since 2008. According to the executive director of the National Military Family Association, Joyce Raezer, some states have lowered the eligibility requirements for receiving food stamps, and that may account for some of the increase. Thomas Greer, spokesperson for Operation Homefront (a non-profit organization that helps military members experiencing financial difficulties), stated that his group received 2,968 emergency requests for food last year. While that number is down from two years ago, it is three times as high as the number in 2008. He added, “I’m amazed, but there’s a very real need [for food stamps].”
Marriage was outlawed by Claudius II, Emperor of Rome, in the third century. The emperor thought married men, who were reluctant to be separated from their wives and children, made terrible soldiers. He believed outlawing marriage would strengthen his army. Individuals were either imprisoned or put to death. Claudius also outlawed Christianity, desiring to extinguish the one religion which repudiated the validity of worshiping the emperor as divine.
The Bishop (Pastor) of Interamna, Valentinus, believed individuals should be free to worship the true and living God and to follow God’s plan for union through marriage. Many young couples requested Pastor Valentinus to conduct their wedding ceremonies, which he did gladly, though in secret. He was arrested for this eventually and brought before Emperor Claudius. The Roman leader tried to persuade Valentinus to abandon his faith in Christ Jesus, promising full pardon if he would only serve Rome and its deities. The bishop refused to renounce Christ, further angering the emperor and resulting in the sentence of a three-part execution. Valentinus was to be beaten brutally, then stoned with rocks, and finally beheaded.
While imprisoned and awaiting his fate, he fell in love with the jailer’s daughter, Asterius. Prior to his execution, which was carried out on February 14, AD 270, he sent her a final farewell note. It was signed, “From Your Valentine.” Now you know the rest of the story about St. Valentine’s Day.
The U.S.A.T. (U.S. Army Transport ship) Dorchester, a 5,649-ton luxury coastal liner that had been converted into a transport ship, was one of three ships traveling in a convoy from Newfoundland to an American base in Greenland on 2 February 1943. The convoy was escorted by three Coast Guard Cutters (CGCs) – the Tampa, Escanaba, and Comanche. There were 902 military members, merchant seamen and civilian workers aboard the Dorchester. The ship’s captain, Hans J. Danielsen, was concerned because the Tampa, utilizing its sonar, detected a German U-Boat. Several ships had already been torpedoed and sunk by the Nazis in these same waters. Captain Danielsen ordered those on board to sleep in their clothing and to keep on their life jackets. Many in the ship’s hold disregarded the order, however, because the engine’s heat kept the area heated to an uncomfortable level. Others disregarded the order because the life jackets were simply uncomfortable to wear.
The night was passing without incident, but at 0055 hours (3 February) U-223 of the German Navy targeted the ship and fired three torpedoes. One of them struck the starboard side, amid ship, far below the water line. When Captain Danielsen was notified that the Dorchester was sinking rapidly he ordered those aboard to abandon ship. The ship had less than 20 minutes before it would be submerged in the icy Atlantic. Although the torpedo strike knocked out the ship’s power and radio contact with the escort ships, members of the CGC Comanche witnessed the explosion. It rescued 97 survivors. The CGC Escanaba rescued an additional 132 survivors while the CGC Tampa escorted the other two ships in the convoy.
The explosion killed many on board, and seriously injured many others. Those aboard were in a state of panic. Many soldiers tried to jump from the ship into lifeboats, but over-crowding caused many of them to capsize. Other lifeboats drifted away before men were able to get into them. Eyewitnesses recalled that in the midst of the chaos, four Army chaplains provided a sense of peace and hope. The chaplains – Lieutenant George L. Fox (Methodist), Lieutenant Clark V. Poling (Dutch Reformed), Lieutenant John P. Washington (Roman Catholic), and Lieutenant Alexander D. Goode (Jewish) quickly spread out among the soldiers, calmed those who were frightened, tended to the wounded, offered prayers for the dying, and guided the disoriented towards safety. Private William B. Bednar was floating in oil-smeared water, surrounded by dead bodies and debris. He recalled, “I could hear men crying, pleading, praying. I could also hear the chaplains preaching courage. Their voices were the only thing that kept me going.” A sailor, Petty Officer John J. Mahoney, attempted to reenter his cabin to get his gloves, but was stopped by Lt. Goode. “Never mind,” Goode told him, “I have two pairs.” The rabbi then gave the sailor his own gloves. In retrospect, Mahoney recalled that Goode was not conveniently carrying two pairs of gloves, and that had no intention to leave the Dorchester.
Most men were topside at this point. The chaplains opened a storage locker and began distributing life jackets. Engineer Grady Clark witnessed the locker being emptied until there were no more life jackets. The chaplains then removed the ones they were wearing and gave them to four frightened young men. Another survivor, John Ladd, remarked, “It was the finest thing I have seen or hope to see this side of heaven.” Survivors in the nearby rafts witnessed the four chaplains link their arms, brace themselves against the slanting deck as the ship was sinking, and offer prayers in their final moments.
The U.S.A.T. Dorchester lost 672 of its 902 members, leaving only 230 survivors. When news of the tragedy reached America, the nation was stunned not only by the magnitude of the calamity, but also of the extraordinary faith, extreme courage, and selfless conduct of the four chaplains. The Distinguished Service Cross and Purple Heart were awarded posthumously to the four chaplains on 19 December 1944 to the next of kin by Lieutenant General Brehon B. Somervell, Commanding General of the Army Service Forces. Congress attempted to confer the Medal of Honor to the four chaplains as well, but was blocked by the stringent guidelines required to award the decoration. A unique posthumous Special Medal for Heroism was authorized by Congress with the intention of having it carry the weight equal to the Medal of Honor. It was awarded (only once) to the four chaplains, given to their family members by President Dwight D. Eisenhower on 18 January 1961.
By a unanimous act of Congress in 1988, 3 February is “Four Chaplains Day.” It is unfortunate that the courage of these four men is not observed by government agencies, reported by the media, or taught in public schools. Members of the American Legion (wartime veterans) in California, however, are convinced that the selfless service and courage of the Four Chaplains should be remembered by Americans. By resolution, they have initiated an effort to honor these men on Four Chaplains Day 2014. On Monday, 3 February, at 1300 hours (1:00 p.m.) ceremonies will be held dedicating a permanent plaque at Mt. Soledad National Veterans Memorial to honor the military chaplains.
The service will include tributes from America’s most decorated living veteran, Major General Patrick H. Brady (ret.), Medal of Honor, and Admiral Jeremiah A. Denton (ret.), who spent seven years and seven months as a Prisoner of War (POW) in Vietnam (and later served as a U.S. Senator). General Brady’s tribute states:
“As one who has been honored by many great men up to and including the president of the United States, no honor has been more satisfying than my Humanitarian Award from the chapel of the Four Chaplains. Their legacy of courage and sacrifice is vital for our nation’s survival. Our youth need to know that courage is the key to success in life and that God will give us all we ask for. You can’t use it up – and their faith is the foundation of their courage. Sacrifice is love in action, the source of happiness and our eternal inheritance from the Four Chaplains.”
Admiral Denton’s tribute declares:
“The Four Chaplains proved their faith with ultimate sacrifice – not in a flash of combatant action – but with peaceful discernment, humble devotion and extraordinary valor. They lived this life knowing God’s real presence and eternal promise. Blessed with men of this caliber, our nation must do the same.”
General Brady, Admiral Denton, and other veterans and patriots will honor the Four Chaplains at Mt. Soledad, beneath the cross there that honors veterans.
Today (30 Jan 14) Adelle M. Banks of the Religion News Service reported, “Discrimination Against Military Chaplains Subject of a House Panel, Pentagon Unaware of Bias.” Lawmakers grilled Pentagon officials yesterday regarding claims that military chaplains have faced religious discrimination. The Army, Navy, and Air Force Deputy Chiefs of Chaplains stated repeatedly they were unaware of any such claims. The deputy assistant secretary of defense for military personnel policy, Virginia Penrod, informed the House Subcommittee on Military Personnel she was unable to cite specific instances in which chaplains were forced to preach a sermon or conduct a ceremony that conflicted with their beliefs. She added, “There’s absolutely nothing in policy or code that prohibits a chaplain from praying according to the dictates of their faith.” The hearing followed on the heels of the Pentagon releasing an updated “instruction” on religious accommodation. Updates to the instruction, including specific policies regarding chaplains, will be completed this summer according to Penrod.
Though not dealing directly with a military chaplain, nothing was stated during the hearing, to my knowledge, which pointed to the recent episode regarding Senior Master Sergeant (SMSgt) Philip Monk. SMSgt Monk was serving as a first sergeant at Lackland Air Force Base in San Antonio, Texas, when his commander, an openly homosexual Air Force officer, relieved him of duty because he refused to agree to disciplinary action against an instructor over comments the instructor made regarding same-sex marriage. SMSgt Monk stated that during one of their initial meetings, the commander “objected to one particular chaplain that she called a ‘bigot’ because he preached that homosexuality is a sin. She then said, ‘I don’t know what kind of people actually believe that kind of crap.’”
Panel members questioned whether commanders are permitted to proselytize. Chaplain, Brigadier General Charles R. Bailey, the Army Deputy Chief of Chaplains, stated it would be “wrong” for commanders to declare their faith was superior to others, but that private conversations related to matters of faith are permissible. He said, “They’re never told they cannot share their own personal faith of any sort.” In 2012, however, Lieutenant General Ronnie Hawkins, who took command of the Defense Information Systems Agency (DISA) held a commander’s call to introduce himself. He provided a PowerPoint presentation that included 18 of his personal rules for life. The first was, “Always put God first, and stay within His will.” The last was, “Always remember that God is good — all the time!” Hawkins’ public faith was disturbing to some DISA members. The Military Religious Freedom Foundation (MRFF) claimed to have been contacted by 21 members about the presentation, and lodged a protest.
Banks reported that several members of Congress have a different impression from the military’s top chaplains about the state of religious accommodation in the military, according to Bishop James B. Magness of the Episcopal Church’s armed services office. Magness rightly noted, “There’s a real disconnect if things are being said to members of Congress that are not getting to the chiefs of chaplains. I don’t have a reason for why.”
This is the Top 10 list of my All-Time Favorite Military Movies. What are yours? (I have not yet seen Lone Survivor, though I’m tempted to think it could break into this listing after I do view it).
10. Heartbreak Ridge
Partly because I remember the news accounts regarding Grenada, and partly because Clint Eastwood is pure greatness as ornery Gunnery Sergeant Tom Highway, I love this film. Close to retirement, Gunny Highway returns to Cherry Point, NC, in order to train a Marine reconnaissance platoon. His commanding officer, Major Powers, disdains the NCO as a relic of an old-school military. It is exactly the old-school mentality and tactics which are essential in training the members of recon, and providing them with the ability to be successful in liberating Americans in Grenada. It amazes me how relevant this movie in relation to the current military situation.
A movie about the War Between the States, Glory is about Col. Robert Shaw. Shaw was a Federal Army officer who volunteered to lead the first company consisting of African-American soldiers, and was forced to deal with the prejudice he faced from his peers and his enemies. This movie should have won the Oscar for best picture in 1989, in my opinion.
8. Saving Private Ryan
Opening with the Allied invasion of Normandy on 6 June 1944, members of the 2nd Ranger Battalion under Capt John H. Miller fight to secure a beachhead. During the fighting, two Ryan brothers are killed in action. Earlier, in New Guinea, another Ryan was killed. Their mother receives notification of the three deaths all at once (in a very memorable scene where the chaplain is silent, yet prominent). U.S. Army Chief of Staff, George C. Marshall, orders Capt. Miller and seven others to find Private James Ryan so that he may be sent safely home. This movie is based upon a real-life event.
7. Gods and Generals
The War Between the States was one of the saddest chapters of American history, but it was not without its heroes. Thomas Jackson was one of them. No other movie demonstrates his military genius and his devout faith like this one. Gods and Generals is the prequel to Gettysburg.
6. Taking Chance
Lt Col Mike Strobl volunteers for escort duty and accompanies the remains of Private First Class Chance Phelps, a 19-year-old who was killed in action in Iraq. As he travels from Dover to Phelps’ home in Wyoming, he notes how person after person pays respect to this fallen solder. It is an outstanding movie, and if you’re a patriot, there’s no way you watch it with dry eyes.
5. To End All Wars
A true story about four Allied prisoners of war who endure harsh treatment from Japanese captors who force them to build a railroad through the Burmese jungle during World War II. The POWs ultimately find freedom through forgiving their enemies. Based on the book by the Scotsman and chaplain who endured that hellish experience, Ernest Gordon, and written by a very gifted acquaintance, Brian Godawa.
One of my heroes was also the hero of many – General George S. Patton. While our theologies were worlds apart, our views regarding military tactics, strength, and leadership are quite similar. This movie relates the life of Patton during World War II, with his career in North Africa and progressing through the invasion of Germany and the fall of the Third Reich. George C. Scott won an Oscar for his role as Patton, though he refused to accept it.
3. We Were Soldiers
Taking place in a small clearing called landing zone X-Ray, Lt. Col. Hal Moore and 400 soldiers were surrounded by 2,000 North Vietnamese in the first major battle of the American phase of the Vietnam Conflict. It was one of the most savage battles in U.S. history. The movie is based upon the book by Lt. Gen. Hal Moore, We Were Soldiers Once…And Young. The book and the movie are tributes to the nobility of those fine men. This movie is significant for me in particular because I had the pleasure of meeting Lt. Gen. (ret.) Hal Moore a few years ago.
This movie is a quasi-historical account of true-life hero William Wallace. Wallace helped unite the Scots during the 13th century in order to overthrow the illegitimate and oppressive rule of the English and reestablish independence for Scotland, though that freedom was not won until after his death. It’s a bit difficult to ignore the many historical inaccuracies in this film, and the “romantic” scenes were completely gratuitous, yet it is still a fantastic flic
1. Band of Brothers
The story of Easy Company of the the U.S. Army’s 101st Airborne division during World War II. Beginning with their training at Ft. Benning, it follows them on to Operation Overlord through to V-J Day. This one is my favorite because it is based upon real-life heroes, shows clips of them reminiscing, and demonstrates the sacrifices made by the “Greatest Generation” to win the war. It has an advantage over all the other movies on the list in being a mini-series.
This past week, the Department of Defense (DoD) announced it would be loosening certain restrictions related to religious apparel (e.g., yarmulkes, turbans) and religiously-based appearance (e.g., beards, tattoos) in order to accommodate “individual expressions of sincerely held beliefs.” The DoD also announced that unless such accommodation has an adverse impact on military readiness, unit cohesion, good order and discipline, health and safety, or any other military requirement, commanders are able to grant military members permission to display their religious articles while in uniform. In addition to apparel and appearance, the policy also opens the door for military members asking for specific times to pray. The new policy also points out the fact that military members have the right to observe no religion whatsoever. Though the new policy is being hailed by the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) as expanding the rights of non-Christian religions, Sikhs do not believe the restrictions have been loosened enough. Across the entire U.S. military (about 1.4 million members), there are approximately three Sikhs, 1,500 Wiccans, 3,700 Muslims, 4,677 Jews, and 6,300 Buddhists.