Return to the Bahamas


Carnival Dream
Saturday, September 25,2021…The day we had been anticipating for months finally arrived, and we began our journey back to the Bahamas via Carnival Cruises…namely the “Carnival Dream,” a ship we have never sailed on. We were happy this time that our children, Bobby, Shanna, and Kimberly would be traveling with us. Shirley and I were especially happy, because that meant we would not have to do all the planning, driving, parking, and other hassling things that one does to go on a sea cruise. Kimberly, with her massive Toyota Tundra truck, would be the driver, picking up Bobby and Shanna and then us before heading to Galveston. She would handle the parking and delivery to the dock, and all would be fine.

       Promptly at 10:00 a.m. the black Tundra rolled into our driveway, and in a matter of minutes we were on our way to our new adventure. Our boarding time was to be straight up noon, so we felt we had plenty of time. We arrived at the parking garage shortly after 11:00 am. We were a couple of blocks away from the massive ship that is the Dream, but the shuttle driver promised us a quick delivery. The delivery part was true, but we were dropped off several hundred feet from the check in station and had to haul our luggage a long distance before it was checked in. By this time the hordes of prospective travelers had all converged at the same place, and the luggage check in was organized pandemonium. Then the fun began.  In previous voyages, the check in procedure was a massive mob of people attempting to all get into the same door (ship’s door) at the same time, so the cruise line came up with the novel idea of assigning sign in times to each traveler which would be spread over about three hours to alleviate the massive mobs. All I can say is that everyone must have been assigned the 12:00 o’clock slot because there were hundreds of people lined up attempting to sign in.

    The current national situation with the COVID problem made it even worse because each person had to show proof of having received the Covid-19 vaccine and passed a COVID test within the three days prior to embarkation, so checking boarding passes, driver’s licenses, passports, vaccine proofs, and negative COVID tests was time consuming. All the while we are standing in a very long line becoming wearier by the minute.   Getting one’s papers confirmed was just the start. Next came security, and we endured the walkthrough X-ray check, which I always fail because of my metal hip, and then the baggage X-ray. Having cleared those hurdles, it was time to make the vertical climb up a very steep walkway to the entrance to the ship. We were told once on the ship our first duty was to go to “Station A4” for the obligatory safety training, which consisted of how to put on the life jacket.

    Where was Station A4? Nobody knew. We deduced it might be on level 4, so we elevatored up to deck four. Got off the elevator and all was quiet. We wandered around for a few minutes until finally a steward came by and pointed us in the right direction. Station A4 was in fact on deck 4 and was a large auditorium…with hardly anyone in it. But a guy came out and briefed us on how to put on a life vest and sent us on our way.  Since we could not get into our rooms till 1:30 we decided to have some lunch,

so we had barbecue at an on-deck place called “Pig and Anchor.” Good, spicy barbecue. Afterward we made it to our rooms which are typical cruise balcony rooms. Compact but comfortable and with a nice balcony. We were on deck eleven; the ship has fourteen decks. By this time Shirley and I were both pretty exhausted from all the walking and climbing, so we rested and unpacked our bags after they eventually arrived.

     At 6:00 p.m. we had dinner reservations at the Scarlet Restaurant which turned out to be clear to the stern of the ship. Our rooms are very near the bow which meant we had a nearly 1,000-foot walk to dinner. By the time we sat down we were sure enough worn out but ready for a good dinner.   Maybe it was because it was our first night out or maybe it was the first day on the job for the wait staff and cook, but the dinner was not good. I ordered grilled mahi-mahi, and it tasted like dead fish, and the vegetables were unknown. They offered bread, and it was a single small piece that was like hardtack. The chocolate lava dessert I have bragged about since our first cruise was more like a serving of Hershey chocolate poured into a cup. All in all, very disappointing. We were back in our room by 8:00, and, although Shirley went next door to Bobby and Shanna’s to play games, I was worn out and went to bed. 


Sunday, September 26…Slept reasonably well, and we were outside our door heading to breakfast at 9:00 with the kids. Discovered Kimberly was not feeling well, so she did not accompany us to breakfast at the Lido Restaurant on Deck 10. The Lido was buffet style, and it had about anything you can imagine for breakfast. Every Carnival Cruise ship has a Lido Restaurant, and it is a major breakfast gathering place.   Back to the room after breakfast and sat on the balcony and watched the water slip by. We saw a few flying fish and sea birds, but mostly water. To Guy’s Burger Joint for lunch for two reasons: one, because it has great hamburgers, and two, because a good friend of mine, Jerry Stewart, who is a veteran cruiser, wondered if Guy’s still offered all the condiments for burgers for the taking as they used to do. The COVID pandemic has altered how restaurants offer food to customers, but as far as I can tell, things were normal all over the Dream…it was serve yourself throughout the boat. 

    We wandered around Deck five for a while. That’s where all the stores offering overpriced souvenirs were located….and the casino. I confess…I donated twenty dollars to the casino cause in about three minutes and quit…. especially after a woman who was standing behind me said, “Yeah, I lost $200.00 on that machine last night.” I think the casinos keep the odds stacked severely in their favor on these cruise ships. Back to the room to take a nap in preparation for supper.

Scarlet Restaurant Staff Entertaining

Tonight we requested another table on a different level of the Scarlet Restaurant, and it was like night and day. The wait staff quickly learned our names and gave us excellent service. The food was very tasty, and the dinner experience tonight was just as good as last night’s was bad. Encouraging, anyway. We had our first group photos taken with the roaming cameramen, so we’ll see the results tomorrow. Afterward we went to a live show featuring ‘80s music, and I drew the conclusion that it’s no wonder kids today are the way they sometimes are. There was no “music.” It was all flashing lights, noise, and scantily dressed girls…shallow, cheap entertainment...and the poorest Michael Jackson impersonator I’ve ever seen. To the room about 8:30.



    Monday, September 27. Today was a “cruising” day which meant that we were on the high seas all day without reaching our destination. Last night was a rough night for me because I must have eaten something that did not agree with my system or something. The result was a reflux problem during the night which awakened me about every hour. I was feeling really tired this morning when we arose, so I had an unusually light breakfast of cereal and dry toast instead of the usual cruise feast. We all decided to go up to the Lido Restaurant and play cards. En route to the Lido, we stopped by the photo shop and purchased one of the photos. At $17.50 each, one becomes a little selective. Besides the which, Kimberly had been holed up in her room because she has a touch of the flu, so we wanted to wait and get a full family photo. For an hour or so we played 3-13, but I was still feeling the effects of the night before. II told everyone I was not feeling well, so we broke up. Shirley and I came back to the room, and I laid down and took a long nap. After an hour or so of napping and the much lighter breakfast, I awoke feeling much better. I think I just overate
yesterday (easy to do on a cruise), and I needed to tone down my gluttony.  Back to the Scarlet Restaurant for supper tonight and again received excellent service. Their menu changed each night, and one had many options for an excellent supper. 

Tuesday, September 28. We awoke to a view of the harbor at Freeport, Bahamas. Actually, the view is not too impressive as Freeport apparently is the main shipping terminal for The Bahamas, and what one sees mostly are huge storage tanks for oil, container ships coming and going, and a small forest of cranes for unloading the cargo. We have taken the tour of this island before and there isn’t too much to see, so we opted to stay on board. So, it was to the Lido deck for the usual big breakfast.  We decided to at least go ashore and visit some of the shops clustered around the terminal.  I bought the obligatory tee shirts and a Bahamas vacation shirt for myself. Kimberly is still under the weather, so Shirley stayed on board with her. I was on Bahamian soil for about an hour before reboarding. Kimberly had called for a nurse this morning who came and examined her. She

was diagnosed as not having Covid but was given medications to take and confined to her quarters for 24 hours for observation. The whole world is skittish about Covid-19 at this time, and although the nurse said she probably didn’t have the virus, for the sake of caution she should be quarantined for a day.     

    We had eaten breakfast relatively late and were not too hungry for lunch, so we all went back to the Lido Restaurant and played dominoes instead. It was relaxing and enjoyable. I did manage to eat a couple of cookies, a slice of cake, and a bowl of ice cream, so the time wasn’t a lost cause. Back to the room for a good restful nap. By the time I awoke, we could see action beginning to be taken to cast off the moorings and prepare to head to our new destination tomorrow…Half Moon Cay. By 5:30 or so, Freeport was in our rear-view mirror, and we were back on the high seas.

Freeport, Bahamas

    Another great supper in the Scarlet Restaurant with our trio of outstanding waiters. Karel, Sora, and Wayan now know our names and what we want to drink and treat us like long lost friends. Last night and tonight they prepared additional food for Kimberly which we took to her, and they did it with a smile. After supper we sashayed through the gift shops for a few minutes and caught the tail end of a cowboy trick roping act in the auditorium. Mildly entertaining. He was advertised as a comic juggler, but all we saw were the rope tricks. Maybe he juggled at the beginning.   Back to our room about 9:00 to get ready for tomorrow.


Half Moon Cay, Bahamas
      Wednesday, September 29. Today was our visit to Half Moon Cay, the private island owned by Carnival Cruises. Our ticket to the tender (boat) to take us ashore was for 9:00 a.m., so we did not go to breakfast. The island itself is what its name implies…a slender curve of an island in the shape of a half moon. In the middle of the crescent is the pristine beach with accompanying cabins, cabanas, clamshells (canvas coverings in the shape of a clamshell) large enough for two people, and miles of beach chairs. They also have seashore tours, snorkeling tours, sightseeing tours, you name it, and you can get it (if you have enough money.)  We chose a clamshell on the beach; at least it gave us the opportunity to get out of the sun if desired and a place to stash our goods. The water was quite nice…not as cold as Hawaiian waters and very clear, but being a swimming beach, there wasn’t much to see underwater. I had brought my waterproof GoPro camera and had it strapped to my head. I let it run for about 40 minutes, but since there is no screen to see what is recorded, I will have to wait until I get home and to edit the video as needed. Got a few clips of some really tiny fish, but that’s about it. We floated and soaked in the water for some time, then I got a little tired and went ashore to our clamshell while Bobby, Shanna, and Shirley continued to swim. Kimberly is still confined to her cabin until at least tomorrow, so we missed her not being with us. 

        Underneath the shade of the clamshell, I dozed peacefully whilst the others frolicked, although I would occasionally awaken to the sight of another person who should never be seen in a bathing suit. To view an Atlas of a man or an Adonis of a woman on a beach is a rare occurrence these days, and I discovered that a woman can be 100 pounds overweight and still fit into a bikini; although is it a sight that makes one turn your gaze elsewhere. The same thing goes for men, however, except most don’t wear skimpy suits…you just can’t see too much of the suit because the belly coves most of the front. Oh, well…maybe that’s true freedom…to be able to enjoy nature no matter what one’s physical condition.  The only difficulty we had with the whole day was directions as to what to do were very skimpy. In the beginning we had to ask a couple of people where the clamshells were and how does one claim one’s clamshell. We had to hunt for restrooms. We heard by the grapevine where the food was, and we had to ask for directions as to how to get back to the ship. It was an enjoyable day, but all these items should have been covered before we left the ship. Carnival has gone practically paperless, and every bit of news is transmitted by the Carnival app or by QR code. It’s just that the information given is inadequate for confused tourists to be able to decipher.

      Around 2:00 p.m. we decided to head back to the ship. Back to our rooms to shower, de-sand, and relax (nap) for a couple of hours before supper. To our usual table (418) in the Scarlet Restaurant with our outstanding waiters. Nearly two hours of pleasant dining with excellent food and lovely company (my family…unfortunately, still without Kimberly…maybe tomorrow…)  Afterward we went to the same show we saw last night (Comic Juggler) except this time there really was a comic juggler. He was quite an accomplished juggler and an entertaining commentator as he juggled. That wrapped up about 8:45, and we headed back to our rooms for the evening.



     Thursday, September 30. Up this morning about 7:30 (ship’s time) and headed to the Lido Restaurant for breakfast. Whatever one wants for breakfast will be in the Lido buffet, so we all had a good breakfast. We were now in Nassau, Bahamas, overlooking the city from our monstrous fourteen-story tall ship. Bobby and Shanna went ashore to snoop around, but we relaxed on the ship. We have toured Nassau before, and it’s mildly interesting. It’s just that this time, neither of us was up to much walking, and the Covid scare had limited the number of accessible tourist spots anyway. When Bobby and Shanna returned, they confirmed the fact that many shopping stores were closed and activities were limited. We stopped by Kim’s room on the way back to ours and hoped she would be released to have fun this afternoon.  Late morning, we all met on deck eleven out on the rail and played cards (3-13) for an hour or so, then decided to head back to the Lido to find a bit of lunch. We have almost reached the saturation point of food, so we are starting to reduce our portions to try to avoid the dreaded “stuffed” feeling. So far with only moderate success. 

     To the room for the obligatory afternoon nap and were pleasantly surprised when Kimberly came out of hibernation and announced she was clear to roam the ship. She had been confined to her cabin since Monday, so we’re glad to have her back with us.  Bobby and I went to the Spa Club and took advantage of their jacuzzi, a cauldron of hot, churning water that will hold about 15 people. Fortunately, there was only one elderly (like me) couple in the water, so we had a good, relaxing boil in the jacuzzi. They also have these sauna rooms with varying temperatures to sweat out all the evil spirits. We sat in the coolest of the hot rooms for a few minutes, at which time I headed back to the room while Bobby stayed and explored the area. The jacuzzi was good, but the sauna rooms had these ceramic chairs that did not conform to my body and were very uncomfortable, so I bailed out early.  About 4:30 p.m. (while I napped) the Carnival Dream slipped out of Nassau Harbor for the long two-day journey home. About 5:00 we went up to Deck 11 and sat outside in the reclining chairs while the winds whipped around us. At least we were on the shady side of the ship. Kimberly was with us, so we were a whole family again. 

     Back to the Scarlet Restaurant for another excellent evening of fine dining with the excellent wait staff. They were glad to see Kimberly. I think they were beginning to believe she existed only in our imaginations. Kimberly did not eat much; she is still feeling a little delicate and did not want to tempt fate with spicy food.  It was as we were leaving the restaurant the Shirley gave us all a group heart attack.  Just as she exited the main entrance to the restaurant, her shoe caught on something and she stumbled forward headed for the floor.  She was about halfway down when Kimberly, who was fortunately next to her, caught her arm, and when I heard the commotion behind me I turned around just in time to keep her from banging her head on a support post on the way to the floor.  We were all stunned for a second, but she said she was okay, and we continued on our way, as we allowed our hearts to start beating again.  Back to our rooms for us and Kimberly, while Bobby and Shanna went down to take in a show. We were thankful to hear today that our pastor and wife are recovering from their bouts with Covid-19. Though still weak, they hope to be back in church in about 10 days. 

     Friday, October 1. To the Lido for our full breakfast, and we continued there for another hour or so to play cards. Today is the first of two “Fun Days at Sea” as we make the journey back to Galveston. We did not get back to our room until nearly noon, and since neither Shirley nor I were hungry, we did not go to lunch. After a bit of rest and sitting on the balcony watching the sea slip by, we ordered room service and had a couple of sandwiches brought up. Around five o’clock we all meandered down to the fifth deck and sat outside in the deck chairs and just mellowed out. To the Scarlet Restaurant for a special treat tonight…. stuffed mushrooms, filet mignon, and key lime mousse for dessert. It’s going to be tough to go back to peanut butter next week. After the lovely supper, we went to the theater where there was a “comic magician.” He was a portly guy with a good sense of humor, moderately skilled in magic, and mildly entertaining. He was characteristic of the entertainment we have seen so far…not too bad, but nothing to write home about.



    Saturday, October 2. Our last full day at sea, and I am running out of gas. I have a leg problem that affects my walking, and as I have said before, the Scarlet Restaurant is 1,000 exhausting feet away from our room, and any place else also takes a bit of walking. Even the walk to the Lido for breakfast requires a bit of a walk, thought certainly not 1,000 feet. Anyway, we made it to the Lido for breakfast and then played dominoes for over an hour. We decided (I thought) to head back to the rooms so off I started with Shirley and Kim behind. I got to the elevator and turned around and they were nowhere to be seen. I waited fifteen minutes, thinking maybe they had stopped by a restroom. No one appeared so I headed to our room, thinking they would be along shortly. Two hours later Shirley showed up.

 

    Apparently, they had decided to have lunch and then go outside on deck to relax. Fortunately, I had half a left-over ham and cheese sandwich from yesterday’s room service order, so I didn’t starve.  Everyone decided to go up to deck fourteen, the Sun Deck, to relax a bit, so there we chilled for an hour or so. Bobby, Shanna, and Kimberly decided to go do the jacuzzi and sauna, so Shirley and I went to our room. We had received preliminary directions for debarkation tomorrow, so we began organizing our items and packing for the inevitable leaving of the ship. By the time 5:30 rolled around, we were pretty well packed and ready to go to dinner.  Our last trip to the Scarlet Restaurant was as enjoyable as the other visits have been. Bobby had his usual four appetizers (!) including boiled shrimp, fried shrimp, some kind of strawberry soup, and a cobb salad. Being more moderate, I only had the fried shrimp and cobb salad. The short ribs and trimmings were excellent, and the baked Alaska was divine. Toward the end of our dinner session the wait staff sang us a goodbye song and bade us farewell. We responded by tipping our three waiters we’ve had all week; they were excellent. I have eaten in some very expensive restaurants where the wait staff was not nearly as efficient or personable. They were great.
Back to the room to finish preparation for the early exit in the morning. Alarm set for 7:00 a.m.

 


    Sunday, October 3   We were up before the alarm went off…in time to see the massive Carnival Dream slip silently into Galveston harbor, do a slow motion 180 degree turn around, and ease up to the dock.  If one had not been looking outside, one would never have known the ship was moving.  Shanna, my beloved daughter-in-law, had procured for me last night a wheelchair to use today, since I was still having difficulty walking.  Promptly at 8:20 the wheelchair arrives, and I flop into it while the family trails behind.  We went to deck 3 to a central waiting area for all mobility-challenged people were.  There my wheelchair assistant asked if Shirley would care to have a wheelchair, too.  She quickly agreed, so both of us were able to anticipate a smoother exit from the ship.  Kim had left the ship earlier to go get her truck to save us a little time and avoid the hassle of bussing to the parking area. 

    We started the long walk (roll) to the exit all the while with proper identification in hand.  Down to the exit door, down the long winding gangplank, into the cavernous room where our luggage was…somewhere.  Fortunately, the luggage was arranged according to exiting time, and it did not take too long to find all our gear.  However, to get from the luggage area to where Kim was to pick us up was way “over yonder,” so Bobby and Shanna were stuck with dragging all the luggage the distance to the pickup area.  We got there just as Kimberly was passing by and unable to stop, so she had to make another round to get back to us. But get back to us she did, and we all loaded up and headed north, stopping at McDonald’s along to the way to get a semblance of breakfast.  From the Lido Buffet to McDonald’s is a bit of a letdown.

     Around noon, we rolled into our driveway, finding thankfully our house was still all there.  We quickly unloaded our baggage, and the kids went on their way with Kimberly dropping off  Bobby and Shanna on her way home.  Although we enjoyed the Bahama time and ship time, what we valued most was the time we were able to enjoy with our kids.  I know we say our “kids,” although they are all grown, responsible adults, but to parents, your kids are…your kids…no matter their age.  We have been blessed to have children and I include our daughter-in-law, Shanna, who love their parents…almost as much as we love them.  They took care of us on our cruise like we were…well, like we were old people.  We are, unfortunately, at that age where we say in our minds, “We can still do that!” but our bodies reply, “Oh, no, you can’t.”  Unfortunately, our bodies are usually correct.  Regardless, it was an immensely enjoyable week.  We’re ready to go again.



Too Much, Too Soon, Too Little, Too Late...The Tragedy of President Donald Trump


      Fred Trump was born in New York on October 11, 1905.  By the time his son, Donald J. Trump, appeared on the scene on June 14, 1946, senior Trump was a wealthy real estate investor with hundreds of residential properties and commercial developments.   Determined to give his children a head start in their professional careers, he incorporated them into his businesses and put them in positions of power and responsibility at early ages.

     Donald took to the business world enthusiastically, especially after his father gave him a personal financial stake of several million dollars.  Bored with mundane investments of ordinary residential and business properties, he envisioned bold real estate structures emblazoned with the marquee “Trump” name.  Riding the crest of his father’s financial power, he was able to borrow millions of dollars. As a result he was successful in purchasing and building major New York City buildings and investing in nearby casinos and resorts…all the while making sure that the name Trump was well displayed.

     Drawing on his father’s financial clout and his own emerging business aura, his negotiations with future properties were from a position of strength, and it was seldom that he was forced to deal with a financial adversary of equal stature.  As owner and CEO of his own empire, he was not accustomed to resistance to his ideas and dealt accordingly with those who disagreed with him.

     His intransigence to listening to sound advice began to backfire when many of his glitzier businesses, such as the casinos and resorts, began to experience business downturns due to fluctuations in the economy.  Heavily leveraged financially with bank loans, many of the enterprises filed bankruptcies, but Trump escaped personal losses through creative financial wiggling.  Those who suffered worst were the employees of the failing establishments, but Trump was willing to walk away from the debt or renegotiate the businesses’ mortgages.

    On November 1, 1987, his book, “The Art of the Deal,” was published and remained number one on the New York Times book list for ten weeks.  Ghost written by Tony Schwartz, it was part memoir, part auto-biography, and part business advice.  Trump, though taking claim for the book, has never admitted what, if any, portion of the book he wrote.  However, in later years Tony Schwartz wrote that the publication was the most embarrassing book he had ever been associated with and stated flatly that the book should be classified as fiction.  But it did what Trump wanted; it reinforced to the public that he was a financial wizard.

     His aura of acumen pushed him to express interest in the 2016 presidential campaign, and when the time came for him to announce his candidacy, he presented to the public the same braggadocio he used when involved in business dealings.  Brash, rude, and crude, he plowed through the Republican presidential candidate debates like the proverbial bull in a china closet, but his brashness to some voters seemed to be a breath of fresh air compared to the otherwise conventional presidential candidates.  He won the Republican Presidential nomination.

    His presidential campaign against Hillary Clinton was the quintessential “slash and burn” approach.  With little interest in the national issues of the day, Trump accused and insulted Clinton repeatedly with innuendos, half-truths, and rumors.  Clinton, however, was so confident in her winning the presidency that she barely responded and in general just ignored Trumps barbs.

   The night of November 8, 2016, was a shocker.  The result of the popular vote was as predicted; Clinton won by over three million votes.  However, by a quirk of electoral votes, Trump became the proclaimed winner and the next president of the United States.  Clinton was floored that she actually lost, and Trump was amazed that he actually won…to the point that he was totally unprepared to begin creating a new administration, and the scramble began to find appropriate political appointees.

   Inauguration Day, January 20, 2017, proved to be a prophetic day for the usual proceedings of the Trump Administration.  Trump’s first brouhaha with the press was over the size of the inauguration crowd which was clearly smaller than the previous Obama inauguration crowd.  Insults flew from the president and his press agent about the “hostility” of the press, and relations between Trump and the press would only go from bad to worse over the next four years.

   Due to Trump’s intransigence to equal negotiations, his relations with Democrats never got off the ground.  Unable to talk issues nor negotiate, Trump resorted to false accusations and insults to fully alienate the opposing party.  The business acumen of which he was so proud, that of dealing from strength, he discovered did not work in a democratic assembly like Congress where all voices are heard, and votes are taken to decide actions to initiate.  Unable to tolerate anyone who disagreed with him, his Executive Branch became a merry-go-round of individuals either jumping on board or being pushed off, and the result was a bumbling Executive Branch approach to any issue.

   And yet, in spite of a bumbling, insulting president, the economy of the United States flourished. The economic rebound, which actually began in 2015 during the Obama Administration, continued into the Trump Era.  Jobs were plentiful, businesses were flourishing, and the soap opera shenanigans of the Trump Administration were of little interest to the man on the street.  And then came news from China…

     As early as October 2019, news was coming from China concerning a strange virus which was spreading rapidly.  The coronavirus labeled Covid-19 in three months’ time spread to most continents of the world, and scientists gave grave warnings concerning its potential impact on citizens’ health.  In February 2020, Donald Trump, in a television interview, stated he was aware of the dangers of the virus and its seriousness, but he had made the decision to downplay it because he “didn’t want to panic the people.”  It was a politically fatal mistake.

    Due to his administration’s failure to face the virus and create contingency plans for prevention, the United States during the Trump presidency suffered over 750,000 deaths.  Additionally, when it became evident that the U.S. economy was beginning to suffer, Trump’s administration created a Covid task force to create a strategy, only to see the task force's efforts thwarted by Trump himself who questioned its recommendations.  Openly flaunting the task force's Covid guidelines and ridiculing the experienced doctors, Trump encouraged the man on the street to ignore any safety precautions.

    By the time the 2020 Presidential election rolled around, the economy was in shambles, unemployment was sky-high, and our hospitals were on full emergency alert.  Joe Biden ran on a “Beat Covid” platform, and Trump ran on a “What Covid?” platform.  Election Day, 2020, was predictable.  Joe Biden won by over eight million votes, gaining well over the minimum electoral votes for confirmation.

    It is an interesting comparison to consider.  On November 8, 2016, Hillary Clinton won the popular vote for the presidency by three million votes.  However, realizing that she did not have the electoral votes to win, less than 24 hours after the election she conceded and congratulated Donald Trump.  On November 3, 2020, Joe Biden won by over eight million votes and additionally won the electoral count, but Trump refused to concede.

    As Biden formed his government in the months leading up to Inauguration Day. Trump continued to claim fraud and refused to concede. Although his army of attorneys filed over fifty lawsuits in various states contesting the election, not a shred of evidence proving fraud was ever presented, and all were thrown out of court.

   Trump continued to fan the flames of his loyal followers to the point that on January 6, 2021, the day the electoral votes were officially counted by the nation’s Congress, a mob encouraged by Donald Trump, descended upon the Capitol Building, overrunning the security guards and ransacked the building all the while calling for the capture and harm to several congressmen.  Five people died and over 125 security guards were injured.  The result was the second impeachment of President Donald J. Trump on the charge of inciting a rebellion against the Congress of the United States.

    To watch the resulting trial in the Senate during the week of February 8-13 was frightening and saddening.  The thirteen-minute montage of video taken during the mob siege was unbelievable, and the resultant testimonies were both damning and frightening. The verdict was clear, and the Senate voted 57-43 that Trump was guilty of sedition and promoting rebellion.

    However, because conviction requires a two-thirds majority vote, Trump was not convicted.  Once again Trump “won” with a minority of the votes in his favor.  I was amazed when I read a loyal Trump follower's comment on Facebook, “Finally, truth has prevailed!”   I agree with that; truth did prevail…in that anyone who watched the trial knows the evidence was overwhelmingly against Trump.  However, what did not prevail was justice.

    It is interesting to note that Trump has been involved in three major votes…two presidential elections and one trial.   In NONE of the processes did Trump ever receive a majority of votes.  He has never “won” an election.  He has been successful in two (2016 and the trial) due only to technicalities.  And even in the Senate, senators came forward to announce they knew he was guilty but decided to vote to acquit to “get on down the road.” Due to senators who were reluctant to resist party pressure and judge the evidence at hand, once again Trump escaped justice.  The Senate Committee which is now investigating the events of January 6 is being successful in slowly bringing to light the seditious activities committed by Trump fanatics.  In addition, as a result of his presidency, the Republican Party lost the White House and its majority in both houses of Congress.

    Only time will tell the extent of the political damages done by the presidency of Donald J. Trump to the Republican Party.  A party which prided itself in promoting fiscal and social conservatism allowed a populist non-political eccentric to take control, and the party has paid a heavy price for that error.  




Election 2020

    In the latter years of the Vietnam Conflict, the United States military unofficially adopted a controversial tactical strategy in a desperate attempt to halt the encroachments of the Viet Cong and North Vietnamese troops into the villages of South Vietnam as they slowly but surely advanced toward the capital city of Saigon and capture of the entire country.  The United States in the late ‘60s had begun massive sweeps of the countryside outside Saigon using grandiose nomenclatures like “Operation Thunder” with the noble intent of clearing areas and villages of the dreaded Viet Cong and restoring order and peace to the allegedly loyal citizens of the target areas. By clearing areas of the enemy, the objective was to slowly recapture the countryside and save South Vietnam from a communist takeover.

    The United States soon learned that the task was comparable to holding back the tide with a mop.  Moving into a village, the US military would find a quaint, idyllic Vietnamese citizenry busy with all the duties of a township with nary a sign of the enemy…especially confusing when just a few hours earlier military intelligence had indicated that the place was a beehive of enemy activity.  Compounding the difficulty was trying to identify the enemy at all…many Viet Cong troops dressed in the standard clothing of the country villager and became part of the village populace simply by hiding any trace of weaponry.  The US military would search a village, and occasionally the enemy would make a mistake in unsuccessfully hiding their weapons.  Retribution quickly followed, but, more times than not, the US military was frustrated in its lack of engagement with the enemy.  This frustration led to a logical conclusion: if military intelligence had positive proof that a village was a haven for the enemy, and there seemed to be no evidence that the local citizens were being cooperative in identifying the enemy, the village was put to the torch and burned to the ground.  This military policy was bluntly explained one evening on national news when a military official was asked about the burning of a village, and he replied, “In order to save the village, we had to destroy it.”

    Much has been written in recent years of the general frustration of the United States citizenry with its government.  Though we pride ourselves with our democratic process and look with disdain at other not-freely elected governments around the globe, we are still disappointed at the seeming inability of the U.S. government to face the issues confronting our country today and come up with solutions to our problems.  It is not a problem which has surfaced only since Donald Trump became president; it has extended backward through several previous administrations, and the prognosis for the future is not encouraging.  In the richest country in the world we have one of the highest percentages in the world of children who nightly go to bed hungry, of citizens who cannot afford proper health care, and of elderly who have no place to go for security.

    Democracy, by its very name is…well…democratic.  While it is a form of government founded upon the concept of rule by the majority, it is also founded upon the principle that any governmental decision will be made with general welfare of the population in mind.  Democracy by its very modus operandi requires compromise, and every law and every decision is an amalgamation of the corporate minds which join together to make the decision.  The problem with democracy is that it occasionally clashes with individual principle.  Consider the hypothetical situation of an elected official who has sworn (remember George H. W. Bush?) to his constituents “No new taxes!” and then must consider a proposed bill which would take care of a serious problem in the country…but the final version of the bill as drawn up by his associates contains a tax increase.  Although it will ease a problem in the country, does he vote to pass the law and in doing so override his principles, or does he stand firm, waving his flag of unbent principle, and let the country suffer the consequences?  George Bush chose to compromise in the interests of the country…and lost the next presidential election to Jimmy Carter. In today’s political climate, we have many politicians who have adopted the strategy of “destroying the village in order to save it.”  Rather than reach a political compromise on an issue which would help ease the concern of the populace, many lawmakers would rather see the country suffer than renege on an unwise commitment or pledge made in the heat of political campaigning…a commitment or pledge which should have never been made in the first place.

    Unfortunately for our country, both major political parties have adopted the “destroy to save” philosophy, and it depends upon who is in power as to what role each party plays.  With the current Republican president, the Democrats have adopted the knee-jerk reflex of “No!” to anything President Trump remotely suggests.  Knowing that the 2020 elections were on the horizon and seeing the light at the end of the Trump presidential term, Democrats dug in their heels and threw out every possible stumbling block to any potential political success for the Republicans…and the country foundered with high unemployment, porous borders, a shaky economy, crumbling infrastructure, and rising crime.  Please understand…I am an independent and not a fan of President Trump.  He has done his fair share of uncompromising destruction.  During the Obama presidency, the tables were turned, and it was the Republicans who were stumbling blocks, and any legislation which may have benefited Obama or the Democratic Party was soundly squashed…in the name of “principle,” and Obama, being loyal to Democratic “principles” was not anxious to cooperate with the Republicans.

    If you ask any politician in the country about democracy, the instant response is “Democracy is the greatest form of government on the face of the planet.”  However, if you ask what the definition of democracy is, the response will be divided into two camps.  These two camps represent two versions of the same delusion.

    The believers of the first version of democracy can quote the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution from memory.  They are for a government which is mostly kept at a distance, allowing the individual to soar like eagles to unlimited success with the least amount of restriction.  Everyone in this democracy contributes a fair share to the government for basic services such as national defense, but a person’s well-being is a personal responsibility.  In this democracy, every person is born healthy and disease free with a marketable talent which allows for the achievement of success.  Working hard and not abusing the rights of others, these believers live fruitful lives, leaving legacies of great influence.  The difficulty with this form of democracy is that it does not know how to handle those individuals who do not fit into the mold.  Forgive me for mentioning the Bible, but even Jesus said, “The poor you have with you always.”  In this form of democracy, if one is “poor” it must be because he/she has not exerted adequate effort to reach the inborn potential which is in every person.  To offer alms to the poor is to deter their work initiative.   

    Along with the poor are the physically challenged be it through injury, birth, or disease.  Knowledgeable people have proposed that, to cut our health costs in this nation, committees should determine how expensive extending the life of a disabled person would be, and, if the cost is prohibitive, health care should be withheld.  I guess it would be the natural thing to do.  After all, in nature, there are many examples of infant creatures that are abandoned to die by their mothers for the good of the healthy ones.  So, a person’s health would be a personal responsibility and dependent upon the person’s ability to pay for services.  What I find fascinating about this group is that most believers are aggressively pro-life when it comes to the abortion issue, arguing about the sanctity of the unborn child, etc.  However, if that child is born with a defect, well, we hope mom has good insurance.  If the child is born to poor parents, it’s the parents’ fault…but the child suffers because the government will not offer any helping hand (hurts the budget, you know.)

    Lastly, those in this form of democracy have not learned the lessons of human greed.  One never has enough money, power, or prestige, and without restrictions or governmental regulations big businesses will stretch ethical boundaries far beyond the breaking point.  Competition, which is a concept hallowed in the annals of capitalism, is not restricted to obtaining the largest share of the market but also eliminating as many competitors as possible on the way to the top. Therefore the “pursuit of happiness” mentioned in the declaration may in fact require the deterrence of happiness in someone else.  But, hey, that’s competition.

     At the other end of the spectrum (other side of the aisle, as it were) is the second group of democratic proponents.  Interestingly enough, they, too, are familiar with “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness,” but at that point the similarities end.  Because the citizenry is united under the government’s guidance, a newborn child becomes in effect a ward of the state.  Every citizen has the right to the pursuit of happiness, but if another citizen cannot…or chooses not…to make that pursuit, it is the responsibility of all others to “carry those who cannot walk.”  An incredible fact of this group, however, is that the government’s concern for you only begins at birth.  Should a child be undesired prior to birth, an abortion is acceptable with no consequence; however, if that fetus can somehow survive to birth, the child is offered cradle to grave security.

    This group has a great distain for the natural competitiveness of man.  It is convinced of the innate greed of corporate America and therefore attempts to control business activities and restrict success, or at least force it to be spread around to more recipients.  The result is excessive restrictions causing hesitancy among businesses to invest and take risks.  Additionally, should some citizens exceed the “normal” levels of success, they should be taxed more heavily because they have more to spend.

     It is in the area of “liberty” where the two groups most contrast.  The second group interprets liberty to mean unbridled freedom.  When the constitution mentions freedom of speech, it means you can say anything you wish, no matter how offensive and no matter the consequences.  There is no decorum or standard of behavior because there is total freedom.  Freedom to choose is interpreted to mean the rights of one may infringe upon the rights of others.  Although a majority of the group may have an opinion in a particular matter, one objection can stop the discussion.  As an example, polls concerning prayer in schools have always shown a tremendous majority in favor, but due to the efforts of a scattered few, there now is no prayer.  It is due to the efforts of this group that we can now enjoy pornography in our homes and obnoxious behavior in our stores and schools.  It is through the efforts of this group that we are now enjoying the greatest federal deficits in the history of our nation with scant positive results. There is another word for unbridled, unlimited freedom…anarchy. 

     As we entered the election process of 2020, we saw the polarization of the two major parties into the two camps described above.  Most of the candidates offered to the electorate subscribed to one or the other of the two positions, and that was the tragedy of this election because both positions are disastrous for our country.  Forgive me for being biblical again, but many times in the scriptures, the word “moderation” pops up when discussing actions or behaviors.  It is not just a biblical philosophy but one that has been expounded by many, and it is a philosophy which works in government and politics, also.  The essential element to democracy which has become anathema to many in the political spectrum these days is moderation…a “give and take” in the halls of government which allows for solutions to national issues to be reached.  In truth, government must be friendly to business to encourage investment while at the same time monitoring corporate policies and operations.  A businessman will borrow money to expand his business, knowing that he will be able to repay the loan with increased sales and profits.  At times, a government may also borrow money to invest in people or infrastructure, but it should only be done when there is a good chance of a return on the investment and a repayment of the loan. It must offer help and assistance to those less fortunate while making it clear that effort must be made to stand on one’s own feet.  It must value life from conception to burial, and make it clear there are standards of speech and behavior which respect the privacy of others.  The interesting note here is that these positions are reflected by a majority of the citizens of the United States.  Was there a candidate who subscribed to these basic principles?  If so, he/she was probably vilified for lacking “principles.” Unfortunately, it seems that both those in power and those who are aspiring to power embrace only the two extreme positions.  The prognosis for the future does not bode well. The United States needs a healer, not a divider.

    

The Vanishing Pastor


 
     At the appointed time for the service to begin, the pastor approached the pulpit.  With a welcoming voice, he greeted the gathered congregation and exhorted them to stand and pray for God’s presence to be in the service and for God to anoint the singers, musicians, preachers, and congregation to join in one mind and one accord in worship to God.  Once the opening prayer was ended, the pastor invited the song leader to come to the pulpit and lead the congregation in a series of worship songs from a hymnal which contained musical worship, some of which had been written by dedicated song writers over one hundred years ago.  The songs themselves were testaments of the power of God and His promises to the church and were representative of the core values on which the church had been established.
      With the enthusiasm shown by the dedicated song leader and musicians, the congregation quickly began to rejoice in the songs of Zion, and soon a worshipful, praising spirit saturated the auditorium.  By the time the song leader sat down, there was a spirit of expectancy in the air concerning what other uplifting events were about to take place in the service.
     The pastor, returning to the pulpit, reinforced the spirit of worship and praise and after a few minutes asked the audience to stand.  He then gave them an opportunity to offer any prayer requests they may have had for which the church could pray.  After all requests were made know, the pastor led the church in community prayer for each request.  Once the prayers had subsided and the congregation had sat down, the pastor gave members of the congregation opportunities to give personal testimonies of what God had done for them.  Many times, a congregational member was invited to the pulpit to “lead the testimony service.”  After giving a personal testimony, he/she would invite others to testify who wished to stand and offer their own brief praise to God.
     After a few minutes of testimonies, the pastor returned to the pulpit and invited the singers who had been asked to sing a “special song” to come and present their music.  Sometimes it was a soloist, sometimes a duet, trio, or quartet.  Regardless, the song presented was a song of praise and worship, and many times the audience would respond with corresponding praise.  
    Afterward, the pastor again returned to the pulpit and generally offered any pertinent church announcements which may have been newsworthy for the congregation.  About this time, an offering was taken from the congregation, and tithes and donations were freely given by congregants who wished to support the church.  Additionally, if there were members in the audience who had special needs, be they in the areas of health, finances, or situations, they were invited to come forward to the front of the church, and the pastor along with elders of the church would anoint them with a touch of oil and pray God’s divine intervention on each particular need.
    Eventually, the time came for the sermon to be given.  The pastor took his Bible and opened to particular scriptures which he felt God had laid on his heart.  The congregation would stand, and the scriptures would be read.  Once read, the pastor admonished the congregation to join him in praying that God would give him the words to speak which would encourage, strengthen, and guide the spiritual flock for which he was the shepherd.  The sermon then went forth, sometimes encouraging, sometimes admonishing, sometimes condemning, but always with a pastoral love which was evident in his concern for his church family.
     After delivering the sermon he felt God had laid on his heart, the pastor gave an invitation for those who wished to pray to come forward either to make a commitment or to renew a consecration.  He circulated amongst the praying souls, admonishing, encouraging, and blessing.
    As the service dismissed, the pastor made an effort to greet each congregant as they were leaving, to continue a personal and spiritual relationship with each of his members, and in doing so, encourage each one to “keep the faith."
   
     What I have just described to you is a church service which is rarely seen in contemporary churches. Under normal circumstances, a church has someone designated as “pastor,” the person who is responsible for the spiritual welfare of the church members, and, because of his/her leadership, is financially supported by the members.  It is a symbiotic relationship; both congregation and pastor need the other to successfully maintain a spiritual relationship to God.  It is interesting that the term “pastor’ is only mentioned nine times in the Bible, and of those, eight appear in one chapter of Jeremiah and once in the New Testament in Ephesians 4:11.  
    In Jeremiah, the prophet establishes what a pastor should be.  He compares a pastor to a shepherd, and even refers in Jeremiah 23:2 to the people a pastor leads to a “flock.”  He describes a pastor as someone “…which shall feed you with knowledge and understanding.” Jeremiah 3:15.   Jeremiah was also to quickly condemn pastors who did not fulfill their pastoral obligation: “Ye have scattered my flock and driven them away and have not visited them.” Jeremiah 23:2   And in Jeremiah 23:1: “Woe to the pastors that destroy and scatter.” 
    If a pastor is to be like a shepherd, what are the requirements to serve as a competent keeper of the sheep (the congregation?)  It is noteworthy that a shepherd’s job is usually a lonely task.  Surrounded many times by predators who desire to destroy the sheep, the shepherd must be continually alert to surrounding dangers.  Once those dangers are realized, the shepherd moves swiftly to protect the sheep.  He keeps them in sight, closely grouped together, and attentive to his voice.  The sheep are comforted by his soothing voice and visual presence, and, should the sheep sense danger, they are magnetically attracted to the shepherd, expecting protection and encouragement.
   What the shepherd never does, however, is turn his responsibilities and job over to another person because the shepherd knows that no one else will have the dedication and commitment to protect and lead the sheep as he.
    We read in the scriptures of the Parable of the Lost Sheep how the shepherd searched diligently to find the lost lamb.  A shepherd watches for those lambs who may be about to stray and does everything in his power to bring them back into the flock. The competent shepherd is constantly monitoring his flock, ensuring that each lamb is within the circle of safety, well fed, and comfortable.  The good shepherd does not look at his position as a job, but he serves out of a love for his flock.

    Consider now the “contemporary” church service.  The pastor is nowhere to be seen.  As the appointed time draws near, musicians and singers take their places, and the lights of the church dim slightly.  Suddenly a cacophony of noise from drums, keyboards, stringed instruments begins to build until, amongst the singers, a voice begins to loudly proclaim that it’s a time of celebration.  For the next forty-five minutes, the thundering music and deafening voices work feverishly to get the audience worked up to a fever pitch.  The congregation is not expected to sing along; enthusiastic handclapping is the order of the day.  There is a display of words on a screen that lets the audience know what is being sung, but the singers and music drown each other out so that the words are indecipherable, anyway.  But at least there aren’t many words; most song phrases are repeated over and over.
  After the singers and musicians have exhausted themselves, an assistant to the pastor comes to the pulpit and leads the congregation in prayer for the sick or needy, but verbal request are not taken because all requests must be submitted in writing before the service.  They will not be read; just acknowledged.  Afterward, another assistant will come to the pulpit and call for the ushers to receive the offering, followed by the assistant reviewing any announcements which may be pertinent to the congregation.
   Finally, after the hour or so of preliminaries, the pastor takes the pulpit and delivers his sermon.  Following the sermon, there may be praying around the altars.  Once dismissal occurs, the pastor disappears to the confines of his office; there is very little mingling with the congregation.

    The two church services I have described give a clue as to why the spiritual footprint of the pastor of a church has become smaller, and his influence on his congregation weaker.  By the very fact that he was much more visible, the pastor in the first example was able to establish a rapport with his flock, not just as a pastor but also as friend who showed concern for a fellow member.  As a result, his church members were much more loyal to him and his church and far less likely to hop from church to church.  The pastor that you see for one hour per week at a distance of one hundred feet is hardly one with which you will feel any connection.
   I find it interesting that, beginning with Matthew 28:19 when Jesus admonished his disciples to “Go ye therefore, and teach all nations…” he was commissioning them to become preachers and spread the Gospel.  Every scripture which refers to evangelism and spreading the Word is aimed at the ministry, and yet in recent years the ministry has skillfully slid that responsibility off their backs to the common church member who is just trying to stay saved.  Those who should be leading the charge to spread the news of salvation are rather in the background admonishing the spiritual troops to advance.  There was a day when a church had just a pastor; only on rare situations was there an assistant pastor.  Today it is not uncommon for there to be several licensed ministers in a congregation, even in a church of modest size.
   I have to wonder; How can a person be “called to preach” and then have no desire to go preach?  We have churches in our area with no pastors, and yet we have “ministers” taking up offerings.  I know of many great ministers of the past who were called to preach at an early age and without training, without a seminary degree, and without monetary support started evangelizing and preaching because they had the burning desire to answer the call they had received.  The UPCI has seen a tremendous drop in the number of ministers willing to evangelize, while at the same time our churches are overstocked with preachers. Why?  No desire to “Go ye therefore…”
   The same thing, I believe, applies to pastoring.  We have pastors who like to have the honor of being a pastor, but do not care to fulfill the duties of a pastor.  Content to accept the respect a pastor deserves, they at the same time delegate as many pastoral duties to preacher wanna-bes as possible, and therefore reap the rewards without the hardships.  Content to preach…but not pastor, they show up at church for their grand entrances, then slip quietly away when the spotlight is turned off.  I am convinced after years of observation of this fact: to be a pastor you need to be a preacher, but many preachers are not qualified to be pastors.

    Does all this rambling get me off the hook as a common church member? Absolutely not.  The scriptures are very clear how we as church members should live and conduct ourselves.  We pray for guidance. We are faithful to church, both in attendance and offerings.  We honor our pastor and those in positions of responsibility.  We represent the church to our friends and loved ones and encourage them to seek out their salvation. We lift up and encourage one another.  If we see one of us straying, we gently try to nudge that person back into the fold.  Most of all, we stick together and follow our shepherd.  Someday we…and our shepherd…will answer for our deeds.