Archive for July, 2014

I wrote an entire book and movie about the changes in America over the past one hundred years. (I shamelessly encourage you to order “Gamaliel’s Advice” on Amazon or wherever.) While I can’t vouch for living through a full century, I can offer somewhat of an eyewitness account for the past six decades.

One such testimony includes that of The Green Brook Swim Club, the site of so many of my boyhood-to-adolescent summer memories. I recently went back for “Family Day” only to find out that it is struggling to keep its gate open. The question is, “Why?” It is not as simple as arithmetic.

To say that organizations, in general, have run their course because of a lack of membership dues is a little too simplistic for this sentimental swimmer. No, I think the fate of my former club has more to do with the “why” of the decline in membership. It seems to mirror the changes in our country. The waiting-list here used to stretch past the three-year mark. There were good reasons.

My mom was the mother of seven. The swim club’s dues were a financial sacrifice for our family. After all, there were plenty of bills ahead of R & R. But, in the end, it was a steal for that many kids and their guests. It was a magnet for family picnics. In the midst of the typical barbecue wafts, Mom had the distinction of spicing up the picnic area with the smell of homemade tomato sauce. The nose of every man in the club were teased enough for them to drift over to compliment Lucy and beg a taste. As they looked down into the gigantic pot of sauce sitting on a BBQ grill really meant for burgers and dogs, they might see chicken one week, pork the next or meatballs and some varied  combination the following Sunday.

For my mom, the club was a bargain and a rallying place for our family, not to mention a great place for Lucy to get out of her hot kitchen.

Green Brook was not exactly next door which means it drew members from several towns. We regularly rode our bikes from neighboring North Plainfield through scorching heat and wicked downpours which made the jump in the pool all the more rewarding.

Once inside the gate, there seemed to be an endless, albeit routine, list of things to do. I loved shuffleboard and can still hear the scrape of the chalky discs rubbing against the concrete as they slid onto the favored “10” or the dreaded “-10.” There was “Beep, Beep” which was our version of “Marco Polo.” Leading on the unfortunate one who was “It,” I’d tap them on their shoulders, then quickly dive directly under them only to emerge several seconds later, customarily to accuse them of opening their eyes.

My first great pool memory involved Lucille, my older sister. One day, I was walking along the deeper end with her when we heard the lifeguard’s whistle, followed by the foreboding cry, “Deep Water Test in fifteen minutes.”

“Why don’t you try it?” she asked. As a seven year-old, I didn’t dare. That was 12-feet deep and who knew what monsters lurked down there. Just then, a ladybug landed on my shoulder.

“That’s good luck,” she prodded. What a great persuader. No wonder she ended up becoming a lawyer!

One minute I was holding her hand tightly, the next moment I was proudly holding the coveted “Deep Water” badge which opened up a new world of diving board acrobatics and marked me with a bit of honor that I left permanently pinned to my bathing suit. It also allowed me access to witness my brother John’s impressive gainers and backflips from the high board.

As I grew into my teens, I loved to bake in the sun, get the best tan in town and go up on the sun deck where members of the opposite sex were baring their wares. It was there that I discovered that a particular blonde was the most beautiful girl in my class. I could almost notice the subtleties of her basting perfection and progression from her tan lines with each passing day.

Speaking of “hot,” there was the basketball court in the parking lot. Between the competition and the sweltering temperatures, it was the place to be. Upon reentering the pool area, we felt as if we had marched through the city gates as triumphant soldiers with more than one glance up at the sun deck.

Meanwhile, my brother Paul seemed to be unbeatable in Pinochle and it ranked as a rewarding pastime because it was one of the few pleasures that my dad indulged in whilst being my baptism into the game that would become a family tradition that still goes on today.

All of these memories seemed to be a counterpoint to the possibility that the Green Brook Swim Club could become just that: a memory.

Life doesn’t offer a lot of simple answers, but I’d venture that this pool’s troubles have something to do with our nation’s prosperity. What was a Memorial Day-through-Labor Day continuous-vacation-on-the-cheap for my parents turned into a big yawn for succeeding generations and their parents. For example, I looked across the club’s fence to the back yard of a single-family home and there stood a a sophisticated playground – easily bigger and grander than the one the entire club uses in their picnic area. That means that it’s an economic reality that individual families can afford a bigger and better play set than what the dues of many can purchase. It made me wonder how many families now had their own pools. I have one and just yesterday I went to a party and they had a park-like pool, complete with a water fall.

And while towns have had pools for many years, it seems that public ones now have more guaranteed funding than private swim clubs can sustain.

When asked if he would join the club today, my brother Michael noted that it would take his attention away from his boat. His boat? When we were kids, a boat was for the upper crust. I’ve had a boat. They are a bit more common today.

Additionally, the sizes of families have shrunk dramatically. If my family and two other good Catholic clans showed up on the same Sunday, the whole club would joke about a takeover with our numbers of nine, eleven and thirteen, respectively, leaving little room in the picnic area for others. With smaller families, there are a few more bucks to throw around at summer camps, second homes, vacations and the aforementioned boats and pools.

“Family Day” seemed to be ironically named because although there were several there, the parking lot attested to the fact that families had taken their action somewhere else. It’s ironic because this generation and their younger parents’ mantra is all about “community.”

Joining the Green Brook Swim Club in your area may knock off two birds with one stone: you’ll save  the money that it takes to build and maintain a pool and you’ll discover the community that families and individuals still need.

Come in. The water is fine.


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Amazing Grace is the most beloved and popular hymn of all time. Interestingly enough, it’s one of those few songs that often and almost inappropriately pops up in un-Christian circles and events, despite its core message being the rock-solid foundation for the Christian faith which is that we are “wretched” sinners in need of an outside bail-out. So, the question is: Why would a sinner-in-need-of-a-savior theological hymn strike the chord of people who, deep down, reject the Christian faith? That’s part of the reason the hymn is so amazing!

Those who have never recognized that Jesus Christ is the bridge over this horrid gulf between man and God will often tell you that they will go to heaven because they are “good people who try to do good things and treat others well.” If that were true, why do they relate to a song that says just the opposite? Though it’s been attempted, the word “wretched” hasn’t been popularly changed yet for a softer, easier sound. No, it’s wretched. We are bad, and, even in some of the things we do that are “good,” there are often unholy motivations.

Eventually, the most hardened criminals will sometimes conclude that evil is wicked and good is godly and that there is a tremendous chasm between the two.

Why, I’ve seen disobedient puppies sheepishly convicted by their behavior. There is some intrinsic meter that spikes when we sin, whether we deny its alarm or not.

Most people know the story of “Amazing Grace.” Written by John Newton, it is likely that “amazing” was the only word that he could pen to accurately portray the grace that he felt for the forgiveness of his dastardly behavior toward slaves and his well-documented rebellious character and iron will.

Another “amazed” sinner wrote this:”For he has rescued us from the kingdom of darkness and transferred us into the Kingdom of his dear Son, who purchased our freedom and forgave our sins.This includes you who were once far away from God. You were his enemies, separated from him by your evil thoughts and actions. Yet now he has reconciled you to himself through the death of Christ in his physical body. As a result, he has brought you into his own presence, and you are holy and blameless as you stand before him without a single fault.But you must continue to believe this truth and stand firmly in it. Don’t drift away from the assurance you received when you heard the Good News.” St. Paul to the Colossians in 1:13,14;21-23

The last line of Paul’s admonition here reminds us that we are not to forget why the Good News is good news: we were, indeed, wretched.

Amazing grace! (how sweet the sound)
That sav’d a wretch like me!
I once was lost, but now am found,
Was blind, but now I see.

‘Twas grace that taught my heart to fear,
And grace my fears reliev’d;
How precious did that grace appear
The hour I first believ’d!

Thro’ many dangers, toils, and snares,
I have already come;
‘Tis grace hath brought me safe thus far,
And grace will lead me home.

The Lord has promis’d good to me,
His word my hope secures;
He will my shield and portion be
As long as life endures.

Yes, when this flesh and heart shall fail,
And mortal life shall cease;
I shall possess, within the veil,
A life of joy and peace.

The earth shall soon dissolve like snow,
The sun forbear to shine;
But God, who call’d me here below,
Will be forever mine.

John Newton, Olney Hymns, 1779

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The following passage is part of the historic dedication of The Temple by King Solomon:

“But will God really live on earth among people? Why, even the highest heavens cannot contain you. How much less this Temple I have built! Nevertheless, listen to my prayer and my plea, OLord my God. Hear the cry and the prayer that your servant is making to you. May you watch over this Temple day and night, this place where you have said you would put your name. May you always hear the prayers I make toward this place. May you hear the humble and earnest requests from me and your people Israel when we pray toward this place. Yes, hear us from heaven where you live, and when you hear, forgive.” 2 Chronicles 6:18-21

This scripture has always plucked every string of my heart because it is both daring and humble at the same time, a true harmony of the creature and The Creator.

And its essence brings me to the individual, rather than corporate, aspect of Solomon’s prayer.

Speeding probably nine centuries ahead, St. Paul asks the Corinthians, “Do you not know that your bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God? 1 Corinthians 6:19

Who can fathom that what the “highest heavens cannot contain,” that same God indwells in the physical and spiritual body of the believer through The Holy Spirit?

The location of the temple in Jerusalem made it necessary for the Jewish people to travel to the city for the holy days. Some had to journey for many miles on foot. Yet, this newer temple is our bodies and that affords us great privilege coupled with the daunting task of its upkeep.

Which brings us back to Solomon’s wise prayer. Knowing that we will sin, he asks in advance for forgiveness for his individual sin and that of the nation’s iniquity. 

When Jesus hung on the cross, He paid in advance for all sin and particularly for those who are humble enough, and who share a bit of Solomon’s wisdom, to receive that forgiveness. 

In essence, Jesus becomes the new temple, the High Priest and everything that Solomon’s Temple represented. “Destroy this temple, and I will raise it again in three days,” Jesus said of Himself in John 2:19

And the writer of Hebrews sums up everything so perfectly: “So Christ has now become the High Priest over all the good things that have come. He has entered that greater, more perfect Tabernacle in heaven, which was not made by human hands and is not part of this created world. With his own blood—not the blood of goats and calves—he entered the Most Holy Place once for all time and secured our redemption forever.” Hebrews 9:11,12

In Solomon’s day, man built the temple. In our day, an invitation goes out to allow God to build His temple in us. May we have the wisdom of Solomon to acknowledge our need for such a place.






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Shabbat Shalom

There’s no reason I can’t share my sin with you. I share so many other things.

Several years ago, Father God convicted me to honor the Sabbath. Without going into whether it is truly on Saturday or Sunday, sun up or sun down, I will continue.

He made it very plain that it is still and will forever on earth remain one of The Ten Commandments. It’s in the “top ten.” That’s elite status, particularly when You think that God’s fingers don’t write that many letters – no less, in stone,  so no eraser or wear and tear could blot out its message.

It was during this time when The Lord was speaking to me strongly about the Sabbath that I tested God. I distinctly remember going to the mall for something. I knew that this little trip didn’t have to occur on Shabbat (the Sabbath). Before there was E-Z Pass at the booths, the toll collectors would give us back change for our dollar. I could see that the poor toll collector was suffering from a serious cold. As she handed me the change, I knew I was done. Sure enough, within a day or so, I had a rare cold that I can still remember almost 20 years later.

As if that wasn’t enough, I repeated the offense a year or two later. This time, it was to pick up a day bed for my daughter. Why I thought I had to do it on a Sunday is beyond me. My schedule opened up so I went. Feeling guilty all of the way to the store, I proceeded to get the bed, strain to put it on top of the van and drive home. That very next day, my back was in spasms and it lasted long enough so the lesson wouldn’t be forgotten.

These were blatant acts of disobedience. I knew I wasn’t supposed to work. Most chores can wait. There are exceptions and Jesus makes that clear: “Which of you doesn’t work on the Sabbath? If your son or your cow falls into a pit, don’t you rush to get him out?” Luke 14:5

Flash forward 15 years and it’s about as beautiful a Shabbat as one can imagine. My pool lies before me in the front yard and my four-wheeler sits at the back porch steps. Hmmmm. What to do? Enjoy nature on my ATV or sit and relax at the pool and read? I decided to go for a ride that would warm me up a bit and jump in the pool and then read. It was going as planned until I constantly stopped to snip the path’s overgrowth with my shears. This wasn’t rest. This had turned into another one of the thousand chores on the property. And then it happened. I saw a rotted tree partially infringing on my path. I kicked it to break it, but only the end was rotted and my foot got lodged between the log and my four-wheeler and almost snapped my ankle in half. Fortunately, I wasn’t going that fast.

I simply prayed, “Grace, Grace” and I feel that Jesus somehow had mercy. The best lessons are the ones we remember. If it takes pain for the more stubborn amongst us to remember the lesson, then I can’t complain.

People think Shabbat is a little strange and inhibiting. Depending on how you celebrate it (yes, I said, “Celebrate”), it’s not constraining at all. It’s the most liberating feeling in the world. Like a time clock for the weary worker, you literally punch out. I try to keep it simple. I try to preclude myself from chores. I have been guilty of going to restaurants and a grocery store which results in someone else having to work on the Sabbath. I’m “working” through that one. When I was a teenager and worked in a nursing home, I certainly had to work on a Sunday.

But the spirit of The Sabbath is REST. To cease from our labor. It’s not only a freeing and needed concept, it’s so poignant. God created the world in six days and then rested. He was modeling that there is a time when chores are finished, done, complete…Kapish*?

Plumbing the true depth of the concept of sabbath-rest, Jesus said, “It is finished,” when He died on the cross for our sins. DONE! ONCE FOR ALL! The bookends of theology from creation to the sacrifice of Jesus Christ is that of completion.

The remarkable thing in the Old Testament and New Testament is that humans still think we have something to add to something that’s complete. That’s why we work on sabbaths. Because we feel we have to be in charge of getting things done instead of trusting God that He is going to provide for us, even AS we rest. That means He is doing it, not us.

Bridging the two testaments is an interesting section of the Book of Hebrews. To sum up the Shabbat-part of this book, it says that those in the Exodus from Egypt who disobeyed God by not believing in His promises to care for them never made it into the promised land – His “rest” for them. They died in the Desert of Sin, literally. Well, kind of. It was there where they stubbornly refused to believe in God’s deliverance for them; the very thing many did in the New Testament and still others do today! Reading Chapters 3 & 4  in Hebrews in full are the best way to plum this incredible truth, but for the sake of brevity, here is the admonishing bridge from that writer:

“So in my anger I [God] took an oath: ‘They will never enter my place of rest.’” Hebrews 3:11

“So let us do our best to enter that rest. But if we disobey God, as the people of Israel did, we will fall.” Hebrews 4:11

Disobedience often stems from unbelief. As you can see from the above, judgment awaits those who refuse to believe in the completed work of Christ. We all need to stop trying to add anything above the cross. Even good works, which should be the result of our faith, don’t add one single ounce of justification to our case.

That is why The Sabbath is so profound. It’s in resting in the knowledge that God, through Jesus Christ, has things covered. Because of this, we are free from our labor. It is finished. Punch out. Sit by your pool. Kapish?

*”Kapish” is Italian slang for: “You understand, you idiot?” Well, not quite that harsh…but almost.


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(A true story…in a manner of speaking.)

I am an usher for our church. When I was asked to pass the collection plate each Sunday, I was both honored and bothered. It was pretty cool that the powers-that-be thought I was worthy to represent the body in this way and even better yet that they trusted me with the cash!

But honestly, I was troubled that they believed that ushering was the extent of my abilities: pass it down the aisle, fold my hands in front of me like you do when you’re on line at a wake…a little pious, a little humble. I pridefully resented that they figured this was the extent of my skill set.

After the first Sunday, I went home feeling alright about it. But by the end of the first year, I subtly began to envy the guy that preached the great sermon and the musician who hit notes somewhere near the ceiling and that associate pastor who prayed after church and got to see all of these healings.

An usher doesn’t get to see miracles.

All I had to do was pick up the empty gold-rimmed plate and pass it around the church. At the end of the collection, the money would be counted and deposited in the local bank. No surprise ending here.

As time went on, I realized that it was actually a privilege to pass the plate. I began to take more seriously the sheepish look of some of the congregants. My eyes would dart away to avoid embarrassing their lack of participation in my endeavors. Oh yeah, that was the guy who got laid off the other month. I had heard about him at the men’s meeting on Saturday morning.

And there was the middle-aged woman with the two adult children. I knew they weren’t weighing down the kitty as it passed through their hands. Her husband had left years ago and their tithe didn’t amount to much – and that was their combined total, at that.

Sunday after Sunday, I witnessed more life. My hands were still altar-boy-folded, but my heart was opening wider every week. For example, there was the time when I noticed two wrinkled hands folding a check to put in the collection. There was some hesitation, but the older woman’s determination earned a victory over her ambivalence. Ah yes, she was the one who just last month lost her husband of 58 years and the retirement benefit that went with his passing. Instinctively, my pious hands unfolded and I reached out to touch her quivering palms. She looked up  with an appreciative nod. I found that I wasn’t one bit apprehensive that her row saw my glistening eyes.

She wasn’t the only one struggling. The economy was weakening and so was the church budget and the “guy” who gave those great sermons was beginning to get concerned if the church could keep operating in its present fashion. It’s funny that he’s my first “customer” every Sunday because he sits in the first row. I imagined it was a stretch of faith to look into that empty plate as it passed from my hands into his every week. But each week, he would drop his envelope into it and the plate was no longer empty.

Then there was the Sunday when I had the week off and I decided to sit in the back of the church. This time, it was my turn to put money in the offering. I can’t explain it. Sunday after Sunday, I had never noticed it before. But there in the last row of the church and right under my nose, the plate was overflowing. What started as empty was now full to the brim.

It was there that I realized that ushers get to see miracles.












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At one time or another, we are all guilty at looking at things on a superficial level.

In 1852, Harriet Beecher Stowe burrowed below pro-slavery rationale in what has been called the most influential book in American history. Of her and “Uncle Tom’s Cabin,” Abraham Lincoln asked, ““So you’re the little woman who wrote the book that made this Great War?”

Many believe this one literary work led us directly into The Civil War. A civil conflict is profound by nature because it is fought by people with exceedingly common values. What could finally turn people who agree on most things into ardent enemies on a singular thing? Art that tears at the heart through the revelation of something that goes a little deeper.

Today, books have been primarily replaced by arts, entertainment, media and the internet. MovieGuide’s research indicates that by the time a child is 17 years old, he or she will have spent 51,820 to 60,200 hours using various media.

This all brings us to the Mt. Soledad Veterans Cross. Seventeen years ago, I visited San Diego only to find out that an imposing veterans cross was ordered down because the Mt. Soledad park sat on public property. A lone atheist considered it offensive and the controversy went on to be the longest-running court case of its kind in U.S. history. Some experts consider it the most important religious-freedom lawsuit in modern times.

As a writer, I went into Harriet Beecher Stowe-mode and authored a novel and movie script to highlight and dig into this case in a deeper manner. (You can order the book below.) I truly believe the blood that bought our freedom cries out for justice in this case that would save this cross that so perfectly illustrates their sacrifice. If you could survey every fallen American serviceman or servicewoman, they would be pained from this attack by the enemy within.

This movie will be their story, digging six feet down to get at the real reason we put crosses on graves and monuments.

Unlike books, however, movies cost hundreds of thousands if not millions to make. There is an urgency here that cannot be underestimated.

Will you, your local American Legion or VFW post, Knights of Columbus post, War Veterans group or other organization you belong to help get this movie made as soon as possible?

We’ve tried the courts. We put forth legislation in Congress. Now, it’s time to do what Harriet Beecher Stowe did. She bypassed all of these and went straight to the hearts of the people.

They responded. Will you?




WEBSITE: mtsoledadmovie.com

FACEBOOK: https://www.facebook.com/mtsoledadmovie



TO ORDER THE BOOK: keepcross.net or call 518-435-1250




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In The Weeds

I know people who keep their closets meticulously and I bet if I went into their underwear drawer, each undie would be perfectly folded as well.

I’m not one of those people. I happen to be an “organized-chaos” type which simply means that if you pay close enough attention, you’ll understand how I juggle, but you may not like my style too much. I can tend to be a little rough around the edges – one thing so nicely in place juxtaposed against an eye-strainer. Picture a beautiful living room sofa with a huge rock next to it.

I’ve had many employees in my days. Some think I’m O.K. Others think I stay up all night thinking of ways that I can undo their underwear drawer.

In my own little world of organization, I am actually constantly trying to conquer my A.D.D.ishness so I don’t drive myself crazy. It may sound incongruous to some, but us creative types are actually self-induced into controlling our lives as the only way to keep the various activities from crashing at would be tantamount to one of those 5-way intersections. Picture a traffic circle before it became a traffic circle. If I could get a traffic engineer inside my brain, I’m sure he or she would have traffic circles every 20 yards. But like some of my employees, the engineer wouldn’t be able to remain in the job for too long.

And so it has been with my 40 acres of heaven here in upstate New York. It’s a living metaphor of my brain and life. Every 20 seconds, I see something new (or old, at that) that has to be done. It ranges from cobwebs in my bilco door to that one little kitty litter “clump” (the most tasteful euphemism I could come up with before my next thought ran away from me) to the mowing of grass to the…oh,yea, this is what this piece is all about: the acres of weeds. Yes, I did say, “acres.”

I look up now and then and see these acres. Then, from time to time, I look up again and see these acres and acres again. Can you tell this bugs me? It’s not exactly an underwear drawer. Whatever it is, the deer love it as they saunter through their greenery buffet. I’m told I’d have a lot less ticks if I would only “manage” my property better. “Get a brush hog!” the critics cry. “Have you thought about leasing your land to a farmer?” “You need a good landscaper.” “You know, wouldn’t the fields look cool with wildflowers?” And on and on it goes.

They are not the only people with eyes. As I said, I look up now and then and see these acres of unfolded underwear.

Then, after four years of this guilt, frustration and exhausting land management self-critique, I made a huge discovery. It was all by accident. I have had one victory. I have kept one path so I can walk and ride my four-wheeler without brushing up against the craving-for-attention-Lyme-spreading ticks.

From walking these paths after the weeds have been given a full Spring and part of the Summer to grow, I discovered all sorts of wild raspberries, blackberries, black-eyed Susies, wild asparagus and an untold amount of, you guessed it, wildflowers! Wow, I actually took someone up on their organizational idea without planning it. Throw in another traffic circle. Does that make me an organized person? Don’t look in my underwear drawer.

In a poignant moment, I truly believe God was showing me that what I thought was disorganization was truly something He had under control and that it may be the very reason for the increase in bird chatter I noticed this year. And as I looked around, these winged creatures were enjoying the fields, darting from “weed” to “weed.”

It was a perfect metaphor for my life. I wouldn’t pin “organized-chaos” as an exacting description of God the Creator. But it did make me wonder if He enjoyed “being in the weeds” as much as I did this very day.



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“Don’t rain on my parade” is an old song and an old expression. It conjures up the imagery that just when some celebratory event is about to happen, some dampening spirit takes all the joy out of it.

It’s the 4th of July and one of the effects of Hurricane Arthur is that it is going to rain on a lot of parades, including our regional favorite in Pittsfield, Massachusetts.

While children may sob about not seeing their favorite helium-filled cartoon character and local vendors will get hit where it hurts, one begins to wonder if we’re drenched with “self” for forgetting what it took to march this far along as a free nation.

Rain affected the critical Battle of Bennington in the American Revolution and downpours on July 4 following the Battle of Gettysburg in The Civil War actually caused some Confederates to drown and made their disheartening retreat all the harder as The Union forces attempted to track them down.

Rain factored in Eisenhower’s delay of the launch of D-Day and Operation Popeye by the United States in the Vietnam War was an attempt to induce rain to inhibit military truck travel.

I don’t even like to grill in the rain or walk out to the car in a downpour. Yet, these guys with life-threatening injuries, hunger in their bellies and uncomfortably hot wool suits made their beds in the mud.

Recently, it’s been reported that America is no longer the force it once was in terms of stabilizing conflicts around the world and that we even have weaknesses yet to be exploited in our national security at home that could make 911 look like nothing.

It seems like it’s raining on “The Beacon of Light” and its extinguishing that glow because we don’t have the will to sacrifice so that our goodly and godly reign doesn’t end. It makes me wonder just how fat we’ve become when we think it’s a tragedy if a kid doesn’t get his cotton candy at the Fourth of July parade.

BELOW: Google, an American company, went for an international-themed “World Cup” design instead of a patriotic icon on The Fourth of July when you open up a Google page. Later, on a different computer, mt-soledad-memorial-1some parade theme popped up. Left: Mt. Soledad Veterans Cross, currently stayed but ordered down (see mtsoledadmovie.com). The flag raised in my hometown.


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