Tuesday, May 24, 2016

A Prayer to Our Lady of Whitewater

The right to go potty in the bathroom of one's own choosing shall not be infringed upon.

Hillary for President? Batter say your prayers!

We believe in one Hillary, who was baptized in the turbulent currents of Whitewater, who performed the miracle of the cattle futures, and who was very near the miracle of the disappearing and reappearing files. For our sake, she has been viciously attacked by a vast right-wing conspiracy which has falsely accused her of jeopardizing top-secret intelligence by using a private email server. She has suffered political defeats, but, behold, our savior Hillary is rising again. Oh, sweet resurrection! She was the best  Secretary of State in history, and she is alive and running for President. Oh Hillary, hear our prayers and rescue us! 

Note: This is an update of a piece which was first published in The Door Magazine in January of 2000.

Saturday, May 21, 2016

The Heroic Faith of Henry "Red" Erwin, Medal of Honor Recipient

360px-Henry-E-Erwin

Nowadays, we worship, as heroes, people who have never done anything remotely heroic. We idolize people who can throw a ball, or hit a ball, or sing, or dance, or act. Indeed, most people believe that fame is more important than heroism. Occasionally, we do recognize real heroes, but generally they have to be at least a little bit famous first. Henry Erwin, a real hero, was a man of faith who lived heroically before he became famous and afterwards too.


“My parents raised me to help others as they did. They never really told me to, they did it by example. Daddy didn't have to think about picking up the phosphorous bomb and throwing it out of the airplane. He knew that if he didn't get this dangerous thing out of the airplane they all would die. It is hard to think of being so unselfish, but those who had been raised like my parents to help others don't think. They don't think - they do what they can to help even if it means losing their own lives in the process.” Bette Cobb, daughter of Henry Erwin.

Henry Erwin lived heroically his whole life, up to and beyond the incredible act of heroism for which he received the Medal of Honor. He was the oldest of seven children and his father died when he was just ten. Reflecting on that period, Erwin said, “I asked the Lord to help me, and he did. And he has never, never let me down.”

Instead of finishing high school, he went to work in a steel mill to feed his family. Young Henry worked very hard and earned enough to get his family into a new home. In 1942, he enlisted in the Army. He actually had hopes of one day receiving the Medal of Honor. Little did he know what it would cost him.

In 1945, on a B-29 bombing mission to Japan, Sergeant Erwin was the radio man. One of his other jobs on the flight was to drop large phosphorescent flares down a chute in the bottom of the aircraft. But something went tragically wrong that day. Erwin said, “We hit an air pocket and that thing came plowing back up into the plane. It exploded and hit me in the face. Blinded me. Took my ear off. Took all my red hair.”

A flare like that puts out lots of smoke very fast. “It filled the plane with smoke so dense, we could not see any of the instruments. It was burning our throats, our noses, our eyes. That phosphorous smoke is terrible,” said Captain William Loesch, the bombardier.

Henry Erwin was blind. One of his ears had been burned off. The B-29 was diving toward the ocean. It’s astonishing that anyone in those circumstances could have the presence of mind to understand what needed to be done. Sergeant Erwin not only understood. With God’s help, he did what had to be done. “I couldn’t see, but I knew I had to get the thing out, or we were all going to die. I kept trying to find it, and I couldn’t find it. And I said Lord, you’re going to have to help me.”

Henry found the flare, which was burning at over a thousand degrees. One of the first things we learn as children, and one of the most important things we ever learn, is to avoid touching hot objects. It’s utterly unnatural to pick up a hot object. But Henry knew what he had to do. He picked the flare up with his bare hand. “I was determined I was going to get that thing out.”

Hugging the flare, he crawled to the front of the rapidly descending plane. When he got to the cockpit, he told the officers there to open the window. Then he threw the flare out. “I was fortunate to get it out, with the help of the good Lord.”

“I don’t know how the hell he did it,” said Captain Loesch. At three hundred feet above sea level the pilots regained control of the plane and leveled it out. Henry Erwin wasn’t merely badly burned. The man was smoldering! His crewmates, a dozen men whose lives he had saved, put him out with fire extinguishers. The B-29 was over five hours out from the nearest airbase at Iwo Jima! Sergeant Erwin never lost consciousness. “Maybe it was a good thing,” he later said. “For I was the first-aid man on the ship, and I told the gunner just how to give me plasma.”

He made it back to Iwo Jima. It normally takes Congress months, or years, to pass an act awarding the Medal of Honor. In Sergeant Erwin’s case, it only took Congress a day. They hurried it along because nobody expected Henry to live very long and they wanted him to get the medal before he died. A week after his act of heroism, Sergeant Erwin received the Medal of Honor, on his deathbed. Or so people thought. But he was as determined to live as he was determined to get the flare out of the plane.

When he came home to the states, he was still in terrible shape and was wrapped up like a mummy. One of the big questions on his mind had to be how his wife would take it. He had married Betty, his Sunday school sweetheart, just six months earlier. But he was no longer the handsome, healthy young man she had known. Would she faint? Would she cry? Would she leave and never come back? Evidently, she was made of the same stuff he was. She kissed him and said, “Welcome home.”

Henry had regained some of his vision by that time. “I thought she was the prettiest thing I’d ever seen. Made tears come in my eyes. I knew then that I had nothing to worry about. I just thanked the good Lord that I was home.”

When the moment of truth came in his life, Henry Erwin stepped forward and did what needed to be done, with the help of the good Lord, as he would say. He lived through the most painful type of injury a human being can suffer. Nothing compares to being severely burned, and anyone who knows about burns knows that the face and hands are the worst parts of the body to burn. He went through over forty painful reconstructive surgeries. After all that, he went on to work for the Veterans Administration, helping burn victims. He and Mrs. Erwin raised four children. One of them became a minister. Henry Erwin lived an inspiring life and passed away on January 16th, 2002.


"The biggest thing I got from him was a life of integrity. His whole life revolved around integrity. He kept his nose clean and honored the Lord." Rev. H.E. Erwin, Jr.

Notes

I found material for this article in several places. They’re listed below, along with a few other websites related to the Medal of Honor where you can read about more real heroes. Most of the quotes attributed to Henry Erwin are his very words from a video titled Medal of Honor: Real Heroes of a Grateful Nation. The video, produced by GRB Entertainment, included the stories of other MOH recipients like James Stockdale.

A story about Henry Erwin from The Tuscaloosa News by Ben Windham.

A fuller account of what happened, from Home of Heroes.

A tribute to Henry Erwin by his daughter, Bette Cobb.

A Brief History - The Medal of Honor

Congressional Medal of Honor Society

Medal of Honor Citations

Wednesday, May 18, 2016

Nonsensical Censorship


This shot is from 2009 when 
I was trying to get work 
as a lookalike for the late 
Philip Seymour Hoffman. 
Audrea Johnson Herrera 
took the shot.
Have you noticed that there are a lot of people who are offended these days? People get offended easily. You can hardly watch the news without seeing a story about someone who was offended or someone who wants someone else to shut up because they were offended. It’s a form of censorship that has gotten so bad that it borders on  having real thought and speech police.

Almost any joke has the potential to offend someone. Sometimes the jokes that people find the most offensive are the ones that make them think or question their own beliefs. Jesus told parables that were both educational and entertaining. People listened because Jesus was a great storyteller. When you think about it, he's probably the greatest storyteller there ever was. While people listened to him, their thoughts were being provoked.

The Pharisees didn’t much care for the stories Jesus was telling. They were smart enough to know when they were the butts of his jokes and they really wanted to shut him up. Remember when they tried to trick him with a question about taxes? He told them to render unto Caeser what was Caesers’s and unto God what was God’s. They marveled at that brilliant response. In this context, marvel equates to  scratching their heads. It wasn't the outcome they had anticipated. Trying to match wits with Jesus was no fun. The Pharisees gave up on that and made their exit, but it wasn’t because Jesus told them to shut up. It was because he saw through them and engaged them in a way that only he could. 

Back to jokes and politics, wouldn’t it be nice if someone really funny was running for office? Not somebody who mocks and belittles others, but someone who tells kinder gentler jokes. Here’s what a speech by my dream candidate would be like.

“I envision an America with a thousand points of laughter, all over this great land of ours. This laugh is your laugh, this laugh is my laugh. Life, liberty, and laughter - these are the values that will bring our country back together. Ask not what your country can do to make you laugh. Ask what you can do to make a fellow American laugh. Give me laughter, or give me death!

#MakeAmericaLaughAgain

Thursday, May 12, 2016

Facebook Anonymous: A Tale of Addiction



These are the first three chapters of Facebook Anonymous: A Tale of Addiction. With Facebook in the news lately, it seemed like a good time to post some of this material. The story is in first person as told to me by Candace Crush. My daughter, Patricia, did the cover art. The ebook is available on Kindle from Amazon.

Recreational User

I was a recreational user when I joined Facebook. It wasn’t a big deal. I posted a few status updates per month. I could take it or leave it. I never logged in at work. Within a year, I was logging in every day. Another year, and I was a complete junkie. If I couldn’t get hooked up for some reason, I was a complete wreck. As an Addiction Prevention Professional, I should have recognized the warning signs.
My work included marketing, P.R., and event photography for a substance abuse rehab. FB was growing like crazy and everybody seemed to think it was a key marketing tool. My boss told me to start posting some of the photos I took on the company’s FB page. Soon after that, I was managing the FB page. Then the boss told me to keep an eye on what my fellow employees were doing on Facebook. It was the perfect excuse for staying connected.  
My photography was good enough to get a picture or two in the newspaper every month. I enjoyed seeing my name in print. However, posting photos on FB was more gratifying because FB friends could “like” them. Sometimes they made comments. The likes and the comments were a tremendous turn on. That instant feedback was exhilarating. 
I started posting lots of photos on my personal Facebook page. Sunsets, birds, and funny photos when I could get them. When people liked a photo, it energized me. I soon developed an insatiable appetite for that high. On the downside, whenever I posted a picture that I really liked and nobody liked it or commented on it, I got depressed.

To Be Liked, or Not To Be Liked

I craved the likes. Then I needed the likes. Then I couldn’t get enough of the likes. What I didn’t realize was that the likes were triggering releases of dopamine in my brain. I was, in a sense, metabolizing my own martinis. I posted more and more pictures.
However, no matter how many people liked a picture or a comment, it was never enough. I wanted the same high that I had felt the first time one of my photos became really popular. The harder I tried to get that buzz, the further away it seemed to be. I spent more and more of my time on FB. It was taking over my life.
I logged on when I was sad hoping to see something that would lift my spirits. I logged on when I was happy to tell my friends. Most of the time, I logged on just to see what my peeps were up to. I sent friend requests by the dozens to people I didn’t know and who I would never meet. That didn’t matter to me. All I wanted was to get my numbers up.
Any tiny thing – whether it was music, a movie, a book, or something else – that I had in common with someone was a sufficient excuse to send a friend request. When I received friend requests I always accepted them. Lots of other people were doing the same thing. Of course, I hoped my friends would look at my beautiful pictures and my clever comments and that they would like me.
Games Users Play
I tried some of the games – Fruit Ninja, Angry Birds, and Farmville. Being a virtual farmer was fun, and I enjoyed taking care of my virtual livestock and tending to my virtual crops. It felt like it mattered, unlike the rest of my life. I’m proud to say that no pumpkins died on my watch. Also, my farm looked better than most of my friends’ farms. I didn’t pay to get the farm looking nice either, the way some people do. I did the hard work that it takes to build an attractive farm.
Then I developed a sweet tooth for Candy Crush. Looking back, that sugary application is where I began to lose control. In the beginning, it was free. They’ll give you a taste for free because they know that once you’ve had it, you’ll want more.
For some people, the addiction is instantaneous, like heroin and cocaine. After you use up all of the sweet lives they give you, you have to wait thirty minutes to get more. Why would I wait when I could have fresh lives for a buck? It soon became more like a habit than a game for me.
Game developers are like casino owners. They play to win and rarely, if ever, lose. At some level I knew that, but I played anyways. Free to play games are like the “free” buffets in Vegas. That’s how they get people to come in.
Not everybody who eats at a buffet in Vegas becomes a compulsive gambler. Some people eat their meals, play a few slot machines, and go to a show or return to the hotel. A percentage of the people who partake of the buffets will listen to the enticing call of the roulette wheel.
The free games on FB were an entertaining and welcome diversion for me. My life was dull and I had a job that was lousy in a lot of ways. After I started playing a game, it was hard to move on to the next part of the day. I always wanted more. Game developers know how to manipulate people to keep them playing.
Once I was hooked, which didn’t take long, I didn’t stand a chance. For addictive players, paying a dollar for new lives or skins or whatever doesn’t seem like much. To get to higher levels of Candy Crush, I needed boosts and extra moves. The more I got, the higher I could go. The higher I went, the higher I wanted to go.
I loved being in my own little world when I was playing. Before long, I didn’t have much time for my husband and kids. My virtual friends were better company and the games were more fun. If I woke up in the middle of the night I would go to a computer and login. Candy Crush was virtual comfort food to me. I sometimes played till it was time to go to work.
That was the problem. My work interfered with my FB time. Chatting, playing games, and checking out my timeline to see what my friends were up to was much more interesting than the stupid projects my ignorant boss, Mr. Roach, had me working on. I arranged my desk so he couldn’t sneak up behind me and see what I was doing.
I couldn’t stand my colleagues. They were part of the world I wanted to get away from. I wanted as little to do with them as possible.  If someone invited me to lunch, my response was always the same. “I can’t make it. I have to finish this project I’m working on.”  
If you liked this, you might like to check out the whole ebook. And, by the way, if you don't have a Kindle, you can get a free app from Amazon.