Tag Archives: Coast Guard

In such a fragile world, let’s focus on eternal life Jude First St Johns Nov 22, 2015

[for the audio please click on the above Sound Cloud link]

We make our beginning in the Name of God the Father and in the Name of God the Son and in the Name of God the Holy Spirit and all those who are ready to be used to truly save lives, to eternity said … AMEN!

We are again talking about eschatology, end times, I seem to run into different people over and over who have this fascination with eschatology. But there are “end times” when God will decide that the world will come to an end. And there are end times when someone dies now and dies to eternity, who does not have a saving relationship with God and is forever lost and condemned, they have had their “end time”. You can talk about the end times that Jesus tells us in the Gospels and in the Book of Revelation, but for those who die without being saved in Jesus, their end time happened when they died. I don’t understand this fascination, to me, the end of time, the final judgment, Armageddon, are all about the fragility of life. We just do not appreciate how much of a miracle it is for us to be here, to be what we are, to do what we do. The human body is so fragile, relatively slight changes around us can limit us, cripple us and even kill us. Yet we survive pretty well, considering how much could go wrong with us, the vast majority of people are healthy, death is unusual. But when we talk about end times, I think back to how very fragile we are and also to the fact that despite all my physical limitations, as complicated as the human body is, how easy it would be for something to go wrong, that our Creator, Glorious God keeps us strong, in body, mind and spirit and if it wasn’t for Him, we would be living day to day, in terror of the evil in the world. The Holy Spirit protects us from that evil.

St Jude writes: “But you beloved, building your selves up in your most holy faith and praying in the Holy Spirit, keep yourselves in the love of God, waiting for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ that leads to eternal life And have mercy on those who doubt; save others by snatching them out of the fire;”

While serving in the Coast Guard I had a number of times when I was reminded of the fragility of life. One time started out as a foggy, cool, quiet Sunday morning and the Search and Rescue buzzer going off. It was really foggy, you couldn’t see more than ten – fifteen feet ahead. There is a lot of low water around the station and you just can’t go flying out of there even in a serious emergency, because there’s just too many areas that you can ground the boat. When there’s only about fifteen feet of visibility, it’s even more difficult and we had to pick our way out of the harbor. A small commuter airplane, the husband was the pilot and the wife was a stewardess missed the runway at Logan Airport. The airplane went right into Boston Harbor. The husband was very lucky. He was ejected out of the cockpit and a lobsterman, who just happened to be working on a Sunday morning, which they don’t usually, heard him calling out and the lobsterman picked his way over to the man and pulled him out of the water. Even in the middle of the summer, the water north of Cape Cod, of the Gulf Stream is cold, you don’t want to all of a sudden find yourself thrown out of a plane and into the water. While it was tough on the husband, the wife was trapped in the fuselage and at the bottom of Boston Harbor. I was driving the boat, while two other crewmen were in the back tending to the husband, he had been pretty battered. I had already dealt with a lot of death and injury, but for some reason this one hit me hard. I’m concentrating on trying to pick my way back into Boston Harbor, to the base in Boston to transport the man to the hospital as quickly as possible, but I also became preoccupied with the wife in the cold water, at the bottom of the harbor. I remember at one point having to choke back tears to focus on driving the boat and avoid hitting anything in the fog. It really hit me, this is a couple that just wanted to be back in Boston in the morning, enjoy the city, had no other expectations than to have Sunday brunch and enjoy a day off. The husband did survive, but the wife didn’t make it.

If I could have articulated the passage in Jude at the time, it would have really hit me. I didn’t know if this woman was saved, if she knew Jesus as her Lord, if she knew that Jesus died for the sins of the world, her sins included, in order to restore us to the Father and save us to eternity. St Jude’s quote really hits home and is convicting to me and should be convicting to all of us who are in Jesus: “…save others by snatching them out of the fire…” I had the privilege of serving for 29 years, full-time and part-time Coast Guard, I had many opportunities to “snatch people out of the fire”. I participated in saving many lives. But I and all of you here today, have an opportunity to “save lives” in a much more significant way. Anyone that I was involved in “snatching from the fire”, may have been saved that day, but will, eventually, die. We all will. But the issue is will any of us die and then be in the presence of the Lord? Or will we die for eternity? You have the opportunity with so many of those around you; family, friends, those you work with, your neighbors, to genuinely save lives. It might sound more exciting to plod through the fog to pull someone out of the water and save them from physical death. But it means so much more to save someone from eternal death and all of you here, young, old, strong, not so strong, regardless of education level, work status, marital status, you can save people to eternal life in Jesus. Someone can be saved now, will grow old, sick, infirm, and die without Jesus and be lost eternally. Or they can be saved now, and have the promise of the eternal resurrection. Eternal life in the perfect world, to life that God intended for us at the beginning of creation. We have the promise in today’s Gospel lesson, that at the end of time, when we see the stars falling from heaven and the powers on earth and in heaven be shaken, that the Son of Man, Jesus will come in the clouds with great power and glory, that He will send His angels to gather His elect. Who are His “elect”? You and me, those who Jesus chose from the beginning of time to be saved in Him. We don’t know who those elect are. How do we know that we are elect? We are baptized in the all powerful Name of God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit. We are confirmed to be members of His Body, His church. We take His Body and Blood to strengthen us in our relationship as new creations, sons and daughters of God the Father. That we are forgiven saints, restored in our relationship with the Father. We hear His preached Word as we are doing right now, that reminds us of that relationship and our responsibility to live our lives in the world, right now, to reach those who the Holy Spirit is guiding us to reach. We can be the greatest life-savers, that even if someone’s physical life ends tomorrow, what we did to witness to Jesus and show them salvation and eternal life in Him, that their lives will be saved to eternity and to true life in the resurrection. That is true life-saving and we get to do that every day we are in this world to serve our Lord and Savior Jesus. Isaiah writes: “My righteousness draws near, my salvation has gone out, and my arms will judge the peoples…” (Isaiah 51: 5) God comes nearer to us every day and His righteousness will triumph over the evil of the world. The Father has promised us salvation in Jesus, He who died to pay for our sins. But He also promises there will be a judgement. For those in Jesus the verdict will be true life eternal. For those not in Jesus, the judgment will be eternal separation from God in Hell. Take some time this week to think and write about the lives you could be saving to eternity.

The peace of God which surpasses all understanding keep your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus. Amin and Shalom

Our emotional responses

I guess this is a follow up on the previous diatribe, it’s not intended to be, not as high minded but something I feel I should raise. Henry Blackaby (Experiencing God day by day p 19) “…discipleship … Is learning to give Jesus Christ total access to your life so He will live His life through you…” Okay, I’m not sure about Jesus “living His life through us” I would see it more as Him guiding our life to be more like Him.  Blackaby goes on to write:”when others see you face a crisis, do they see the risen Lord responding? Does your family see the difference Christ makes when you see a need? What difference does the presence of Jesus Christ make in your life?”

” God wants to reveal Himself to those around you by working mightily through you…” I will say that when it comes to genuine crisis that I respond pretty rapidly and effectively. Over twenty years of being in a U.S. Coast Guard boat station, responding to many cases I have had to deal with many life threatening situations and I can only remember one time when I had an emotional reaction and I did get that under control.  Business, church, I think I do well in that area. If I do get a little assertive I think it is for the right reasons. I’d like to say it’s always Christ like, conforming to His nature, but I’m sure you would be, at least dubious and rightly so. I do need to respond in a more Christlike way and set aside the emotion, except for compassion. But the areas I really need help in is the petty nonsense.  I just get so fed up with the selfish, lazy (intellectualy and physically) attitudes. I expect others to be Christlike because I try to be and when I see the failure in others prayI respond in a manner that is most definitely not Christlike. I end up shooting my self in the foot by exemplifying unChristian behavior to those in the world who are certainly never going to be Christlike.

I need your prayers to help me to respond in the highest manner. Sometimes that response does require an emphatic demonstration that shows this is serious and vitally important. But if the other person just doesn’t even get it, what’s the point of getting in a twist? Pray that I can properly respond. To remain composed in a crisis, to respond lovingly to those who just don’t know better and in those times, which will be rare to be emphatic, but to not lose my composure. I do have to be strong. We just had Good Shepherd Sunday. The point being that Jesus stays strong and vigilant to protect us and isn’t going to stand for Satan’s nonsense or the nonsense of the world, He is there to protect the flock, His church, from so many dangers. As a pastor I am an under shepherd and Jesus uses me to protect the part of the flock I’m responsible for.  Help me do it in a way that honors Jesus. So that the world knows I, in Christ, am serious, determined even to death. But still compassionate and welcoming. And also so that my share of the flock will feel safe and secure in Christ. Thank you for your prayers.

Just a routine day, almost.

The ocean/sea can go from being calm, beautiful and enjoyable to a tempest, gray and ugly and threatening very quickly. Sure we get storms that come on us quickly on the land, but it’s not like our feet are rocking back and forth and we can’t see where we are or where we’re going.

I’ve had at least two major occasions when we are out cruising in calm, even pleasant weather and then out of no where have dangerous weather just descend on our boat.  Both times there was just no where to go find shelter and we didn’t have that option. If we got caught in sudden bad weather, you can imagine others less trained, experienced and equipped got caught in the same weather and now require help.  It doesn’t take much on the ocean to alter your situation so much that you are facing very real danger or you’ve already been seriously injured, tossed into the sea or even killed.  Ending up in the water off of Massachusetts is a very dangerous situation. You may think you can swim to shore, but I don’t think I’ve ever heard of it happening. The ocean may look inviting but even strong, conditioned, experienced swimmers can quickly end up in life-threatening situations. Often people will go out in vessels that are just not designed or equipped for sea travel and it can often end up killing you.

A buddy of mine and I were assigned to the Group Boston Aids to Navigation Team (ATON). It was an interesting four years. It was good experience and good training and the Boston area is so rich in maritime history we got to be at sites and work on buildings that most people would never see. Certainly the iconic Boston Light House and other lesser known but just as impressive structures. There’s Graves Light, which sounds forbidding and it actually is.  It is almost at the entrance of Boston Harbor almost out of sight of land, but oddly surrounded by rocks, ledges and other low water.  Many Mariners not really aware of the area have not made it home ending up on the dangers around Graves. Many think it’s named Graves because of that, but it’s actually named after a British Admiral named Graves. There’s Minots light which also guards very treacherous water. We had one case, the subject managed to wend their way inside the rocks and ledges and then realized they couldn’t get out. Of course it was the middle of the night and we had to pick our way in to get them and then gently and gingerly pull them out with us.

As I said in this particular occasion we were assigned to the ATON team. Since we both had much experience in the area and driving boats and it was our job rating we would often shuttle people out to different locations by boat to do different kinds of work. Boston Light was the last manned lighthouse and so it required additional attention to accommodate the Coast Guard personnel that had to live out there two weeks at a time.

In respect to that we had just finished a day of work helping electricians do work out on Boston Light and were transporting them back to Boston which is, usually, a rather pleasant boat trip. This one would be challenging.

We were just using a small work boat big enough to transport four Electronic Technicians (ET) and their equipment out and back.  We were just approaching the main channel when the emergency radio frequency just went berserk. As we looked into Boston we could see why. There was this monstrous blue/green cloud cover and from what we could pick out from the babble on the radio it was producing torrential downpours and very dangerous lightning. We really had no time to react and it was on us. We had no special navigation equipment on this boat and in this weather probably wouldn’t have helped anyway. Heavy downpours can just blank out radar and can also cut off satellite GPS. (like when a heavy downpour blanks out your satellite television at home).

So there we are, this is definitely the most intense thunderstorm I’d been in and I think the other guy. I know for sure it was for the ETs cowering in the boat cabin. I was outside with no foul weather gear on because it really wasn’t necessary when we started and it was hardly the first time I’d received a good hose down. I was trying to figure out where we were and where we are going it doesn’t take much for a small boat to get pitched around and going in a direction you don’t want to go. Inside Boston Harbor there are plenty of areas that you don’t want to hit either. We figured it out and were proceeding very carefully. It was mid-summer so getting hosed down was kind of fun.

The lightning was so intense I can only describe it by imagining what it would be like under artillery attack. Although it was so thick I couldn’t see the lightning I could very much hear it hitting and got that ozone smell of lightning disrupting the atmosphere. We may not have been at risk for artillery shrapnel, but even a close hit could have taken us out or at least disrupted the boat’s electronics and shut down the engine.

We made it through and my buddy and I thought it was great fun. That sentiment was not shared by the ETs who were expecting a routine uneventful day. Twenty nine years in the Coast Guard on the water taught me that sure there are routine days, but those days can get dangerous quickly and might just ruin your day.

The Grim Reaper

It was the middle of the winter at Point Allerton Coast Guard station which is usually a time when the crew kind of hunkers down. There usually isn’t much going on, although there are still people out on the ocean. For most who are out there, they are trying to make a living. Making a living on the ocean, especially in areas that are cold and stormy such as the North Atlantic, Bering Sea, is dangerous, very difficult, extended darkness and cold. People who make their living on the ocean don’t usually need help, but when they do, you know it’s serious.
Being right on the coast, the wind is blowing off the ocean, while it was 17 degrees, the “real feel” is much colder. Sea conditions were at least five foot and probably at least up to 7-8 feet.
The duty boat crew for the 47 foot Motor Life Boat at the station was called into the station office at about 9 pm (2100 hours), a time of day, in the winter, when you’re thinking about just huddling away to get warm and getting ready to crash in your bunk. You’re in a room with three other guys, not luxury accommodations, but warm and sufficiently comfortable. For the boat crew, there wasn’t going to be any sleeping and definitely not being comfortable.
In this briefing we were told that we had a fishing boat, about 25 nautical miles off the coast, that lost its generator and was functioning on batteries. Needless to say, in the current conditions, those batteries weren’t going to last long. The boat was at the mercy of the elements, getting pushed around by currents, waves and wind. In the wave action, the boat would be taking waves from the side, meaning the boat is rocking from side to side, probably rather acutely, The crew is getting rocked back and forth in bitter cold and the darkness being far away from shore and other boats.

The boat is far away from shore, surrounded by water, no reference points at all. Yes, they can tell us their current position with their GPS, but they aren’t going to be at that position for long, being rocked around by wave action and ocean current. We were able to stay in touch with them the entire time, so we could track where they were and we could find them fairly quickly. Often that is the big challenge in locating a vessel in distress. Small boats often don’t have enough battery power and at some point communications are lost. At that point the current weather conditions have to be determined in order to calculate, as closely as possible, the subject vessel’s “set and drift”. That is trying to figure out how the seas and wind are moving the vessel, estimate how long it will take the rescue vessel to get on scene and try to figure out the closet point they will come to.

We are briefed and then we have to put on the bulky three layers of exposure clothing that is worn in hazardous weather conditions. The suit consists of polypropolene underwear, which is covered by a flight suit over which is an exposure suit. The exposure suit is difficult because you have to force your head and limbs through rubber openings that form around your body parts. You then have to bend over to pull on exposure boots and then gear for your head and hands. Frankly, at this point throwing down a dramamine is a good idea, because it’s late, you’re tired, the cold is very wearing and you’re going to get tossed around by waves.

It is now 2200 hours, which at military installations is “taps”, that is time for everyone to either go to bed, or make sure their quiet so people can sleep. I know it’s 2200 hours because on the way out the door taps is playing. Here we are going out into the darkness, a good ways off shore, it’s about 17 degrees and there’s a stiff wind. Taps is not exactly what you want to hear at this point. We get down to the boat house get the Motor Life Boat underway. The 47 foot Motor Life Boat is designed to go into very rugged sea conditions. It’s designed to function in hurricane force winds and at least fifty foot seas. If it gets rolled over it is designed, when properly secured to quickly roll back up. In these conditions the crew would be strapped into high impact seats and, hopefully will be quickly rolled back up and should be able to proceed with their mission. You can imagine it would still be a good ride.

As we were getting underway for a trip twenty-five miles into the Atlantic Ocean into the darkness, cold, wind and seas well into the night, hearing taps on the way out of the station, we start to get more information on the boat. Boat name, description other specifications and information. We are told that the boat we’re looking for is named The Grim Reaper. 

Needless to say all the different factors are not exactly comforting, but conversely we have had to deal with more difficult conditions. We made it on scene fairly quickly and uneventfully. Obviously we still had to look around because we’re looking for a relatively small object, unlighted in fairly heavy seas in the pitch black. We did locate the boat and at this point we have to stand off from the boat to see what it looks like, how it is being bounced around and plan how we will approach and get the tow line on.

You may think “what’s the big deal?” The problem is that you have a fishing boat that’s around ten feet longer. it will probably have a large load of fish and the fish are kept fresh by a heavy load of ice and the boat was a very sturdy wood construction. This will all combine to make it very heavy. We can’t risk getting too close to the boat because if it happens to go up on a  wave over our boat and comes down on our boat it will almost inevitably crush part of our hull. At that point the water tight integrity of our boat will be lost, we may not sink, but we will not be able to roll and come back up and the performance of the boat will be seriously affected. Worse case scenario is that the hull is crushed right down to the water line. The MLB may not sink, but it’s definitely not going anywhere.

Now the boat has to be backed down so that two crewman can pass a heaving line to the boat that’s attached to a much heavier tow line. We are backing down on the Grim Reaper and two crewman are working in the well deck hooking up all the towing gear. The tow line is set up into a tow pendant so that there are two separate attachments to the boat, this will reduce the load on the main tow line and will also leave one line attached if one separates. In backing down, this kicks water up into the well deck. The deck is now covered with slush, making all the work to complete these fussy line connections a lot more difficult. We all want to get a line on that boat without getting too close and as quickly as possible. We’re getting knocked around by the waves and slipping around on the slush in bulky clothing, cold fingers… You get the picture and then trying to throw a line, anywhere from about ten yards to maybe up to twenty five in a wind that’s probably about thirty to forty knots. We have to throw up wind and hope that it carries over  the boat to the crewman waiting to receive it and attach to his boat.

After a few attempts we do get a line on The Grim Reaper and finally take it in tow. The boat is out of Gloucester, which is north of Boston Harbor. Point Allerton Station is on the southern point of Boston Harbor. While we made it out to the boat quickly and uneventfully, now that we have it in tow, our speed is now greatly reduced and we’re headed to a location north of where we came out of. We are now going to be getting affected by the wind and seas a lot more and moving much slower.

At this point a boat from Gloucester has been dispatched and the plan is that we meet, but it’s going to take time for them and we’re well on our way back to Gloucester. After six hours we meet up with the Gloucester boat, transfer the tow without incident and are directed to RTB (Return to Base). We get back at about 5 am (0500 hours), about seven hours underway. Under normal conditions seven hours is a good days work. Seven hours in these conditions take a lot out of you, but after securing the 47 so that it would be ready for another case, we walk back into the station self-assured that we overcame a big challenge and saved some lives.

Do all to the glory of God

This is a subject that is near and dear to my heart. I have not always been a Christian. So when I discuss this, it’s not from the perspective, “well that’s what Christians do their whole lives”. I’ve been involved in athletics pretty much all my life. I was on and off swim teams since I was about 8 years old. I played football from when I was eleven years old until I was seventeen. I worked at the local YMCA where I played basketball, racquetball, weights, and other stuff here and there. I’ve stayed active for the last 40 odd years mostly training and participating in triathlons, also kickboxing and a little basketball mixed in. If anyone can get me into to a racquetball regular game, I’d love it if someone could hook me up with a regular racquetball game again.

Having said all that, yes, it’s been a regular part of my life. And frankly, while I do try, I’ve never been good at anything. It was necessary, serving in the Coast Guard Reserve, my job was operational. I had to stay in condition, because I could be called on at any time to be involved in very physically strenuous situations. So yes, I’ve had a reason to stay active for a long time and it’s been an important part of my life. It really drags me down when I don’t keep up a regular routine. So who knows, maybe I need those endorphins, dopamine etc in order to feel good. But as I grew as a Christian and have become a pastor, I’ve realized that we do have a responsibility to maintain the body God gave us and to especially not abuse it. Now believe me, I’m not any “George Gorgeous”, if you saw me I look pretty much of a dumpy old guy. But… a year ago, I did get a stress test done because of a minor issue. The technician asked me if I worked out because she could see it on the results I was producing and when the doctor looked at my results, he pretty much told me to “get outta here, you’re wasting my time”.

Having said all this, in no way shape or manner am I saying that to be a “good Christian” you need to be in great shape. It’s not a works thing, but in my continual discussion about our “relationship” with Jesus, He gave us our body, mind, everything we have. Don’t most of us want to be in good shape and look good for our spouse, SO? Don’t we want to feel good, have energy, all the benefits of good health? The better we maintain ourselves, the better we serve our Savior, our family, our brothers and sisters in Jesus, the church etc. So don’t we serve and relate better to everyone involved when we do the best we can to maintain ourselves?

Now, IN NO WAY SHAPE FORM OR MANNER, am I saying that you can only be a good Christian if you’re in good physical condition, you’re all pretty and photogenic and all that stuff. Too many “churches” have some need to be all pretty and everyone associated all pretty, that is straight out phoney, hollow and misguided. It’s sort of in the sense of the “cool kids” table in high school. No that’s unacceptable in a Christian church. We need churches that are authentic, phoniness in the church is killing the church and is leaving too many others to die without Jesus. I’ve known plenty of great saints who could barely lift themselves, no less a dumbbell. And believe me I have my own issues that need to be dealt with, I’m not trying to sell that I’m perfect. What I am trying to say is that we still strive to be the best we can with what God gives us. There is way too much mediocrity, and excuses out there. We are called to be perfect as our Father is perfect. Let’s do what we can to strive for that goal, but accepting that no matter what, all of us will fall short and most (like me), miserably so.

An article in Christianity Today (June 2013 pp 39-43) discussing this very subject and I think is a really good perspective. One beef I do have with many Christians is their ability to phoney themselves, their church, their lives in general up. Which certainly does not enhance our witness in the world and refers back to my “cool kids table”. If you’re a Christian and concerned about being part of the “cool kids”, you are already way off track. The world is phoney beyond all question. Why do we keep trying to emulate the world? The church has to be authentic, warts, chubby pastors (like me), lack of talent, but authentic, faithful disciples of Jesus Christ.

Leslie Leyland Fields makes some great points and does sternly caution against a wrongheaded approach to encouraging all that God’s given us. We should be strong in mind, body and spirit. Doesn’t always work out that way, sometimes due to circumstances beyond our control But we should work on what is in our control, not because it makes us better, but frankly makes us a better witness to Christ. Ms Fields quotes Charlie Shedd: “…if our bodies are to be [or already are] temples of the Holy Spirit, we had best get them down to the size God intended.” Fair enough.

“PraiseMoves cites 1 Corinthians 6: 19-20 as its foundational verses: ‘Do you not know that your bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God? You are not your own; you were bought at a price. Therefore honor God with your bodies.’ … Many in the faith and wellness movement cite the apostle Paul: ‘Whether you eat or drink, do all to the glory of God.”

I really like Ms Fields point: “…outside the church, it challenges the prevailing notion that our bodies belong to us alone – either as machines to be hacked and fueled, or as ‘plastic’ to be reshaped, starved, pierced and used for pleasure or vanity. and inside the church, it challenges the dualistic worldview that God cares only about ‘spiritual’ matters.”

To be sure, as Ms Fields points out, we do not become stupid, obsessive and phoney over the subject of physical fitness and conditioning. We do it with intelligence, planning, something that we will benefit from on many levels. With the mind-set of serving God, that we want to build our relationship with Him, that we want to serve our family, fellow Christians, our church to the best of our ability and this is one way to do it. Realizing that regardless of our physical condition we are to always serve the Lord and the Body of Christ. But to quote Nike “just do it”. How about a church filled with people who do strive, who do want to bless each other, who are spiritually, mentally and physically doing their best in order to disciple others to strive to be their best for Christ who gave us His best.

Being aware of your environment

Another sea story which is frankly a little bizarre. I assure you this hasn’t been embellished at all, frankly you just can’t make this stuff up.

One of the issues I have with recreational sailors and divers is that they really don’t know what they’re doing. The sea is an easy place to get into trouble, very fast, and in too many cases people end up seriously hurt and often dead. This is a story where the worst was realized. Sailors need to be aware of what parts of the sea they’re going into. Far too often the attitude is that if you’re right near shore in a harbor, there really isn’t anything to worry about. After all I know where I am, I’m right next to such and so, so no need to worry. In this particular case ignorance turned out to be fatal.

Back in the day, people used to dump all their waste right into the ocean. It was right there, it was huge, what difference would my trash barrel make? U.S. Coast Guard Station Pt Allerton is located in Hull, Massachusetts. Hull is an old town even for Massachusetts. The Point Allerton area of Hull is named after the man who founded it who came to America on the Mayflower. So there have been people in this area for about 400 years now and with most of them dumping material into the waters off of Hull for most of that time. These areas are marked on nautical charts, they mark areas that could be shallow, the bottom may have shifted and certainly it’s just a mess for any diver to go down into.

It was a really nice mid-summer day, FAC (sailor for “flat ass calm”). Nothing remarkable about the day, station work was going on and not a day where we would be on any special kind of alert or advisory. I happened to be in the comm center when a call came in from a boat that had brought a diver out to an area to search for their anchor. They had lost their anchor earlier in the week and a friend, who was a diver, had agreed to try to find their anchor. When they called they reported that it had been about half an hour since they had seen any air bubbles! I’m sure I don’t need to add anything to that.

As soon as I heard that i was already on a run to the boat house, the SAR alarm screeched out and three others went out to meet this boat. At the same time a request went in for the Massachusetts State Police Dive Team. Needless to say that was going to take awhile and all we could do at this point was go out, get the information and secure the area for the dive team.

They went right into the water when  they arrived and when one diver surfaced he reported that the water was so junked up that he couldn’t see his hand in front of his face. After groping around for awhile the victim was finally discovered. The diver came back up to get a line to haul the victim up and reported that the victim was so tangled in debris that he had to hack stuff off of him to try and get him free. He took a 2 1/2″ nylon line down with him (a very substantial line) and put it around the victim so that we could haul him into the boat. There were three of us and we were all big guys and quite capable to haul any size adult out of the water. But the victim had been so tangled, the State Police diver had to follow the line back down and hack more junk off of him.

We finally got him free and on board and transported back to the station. In situations where there is an unnatural death the responders have to maintain the victim and adjacent area as close to how they found it as possible and wait for the coroner. Obviously the coroner is not going to examine someone in the water or on a 21 foot boat, so we returned him in the stokes litter to the station and placed him on one of the docks, watched over by our people, They were  to make sure that nothing was touched and no one that had a need to know came into the area.

While we were recovering the victim, a civilian boat had pulled in to the station and tied up to an adjacent dock, not a unusual situation. Since no one was on the boat when we got back we weren’t concerned that it was there. The rest of us went back to work in the boathouse, it was the middle of the summer and a weekend. The coroner was about four towns away, so it was going to take awhile for him to get to the station.

The walkway from the parking lot to the boathouse is about fifty yards, so it’s a walk (or often run) to get out there. Well we became aware of what the civilian boat was waiting for, a group of people in formal dress were walking down to the boat house, escorting a man formally dressed and a woman in a bridal gown. (Like I said, really? You just can’t make this stuff up).

Someone burst into the workshop yelling that these people were on there way down, we look at each other in our “what the heck do we do?” We grab a bunch of stuff in the workshop, blankets, life jackets, whatever else would camouflage the occupied stokes litter to make it look as if it were just a pile of boat gear. We then formed a circle around the litter, leaning on each other, trying as hard as possible to make it look like it was just a bunch of guys huddled up, yapping with each other. I’m sure people were less then impressed seeing a bunch of guys just “hanging out”, but the alternative might have been seeing something that would certainly throw a pall on an otherwise memorable day, we thought we would take the hit. I didn’t even turn to look, so I really don’t know what reaction people had, if any, to what we were doing. But they finally all boarded their boat and got underway,. And shortly thereafter the coroner arrived and took custody and let us get back to our regular routine.

Needless to say this is a definitive lesson in diving in a marine environment. Be aware of where you are diving. If he knew where he was diving, I would hope that he would have decided that because of the centuries of accumulated junk, it would have been pointless to search for something as inconspicuous as an anchor. Next he went down there alone. That is a huge diving mistake. There is just too much that could go wrong and having someone else with you who could assist you or at least go for help is mandatory. Next he did not have a flash light. In any underwater environment the light fades out quickly and a flashlight is a requirement. Finally he didn’t have a knife People expressed concern that boat crew members would always have a substantial knife with them, thinking that it was there as a weapon. I guess it could have been, but in a marine environment, it is so easy to get tangled in things that a substantial knife is required in order to cut your way out of something you might have been tangled in. A good knife might have been enough for him to cut his way out when he realized he was in trouble and make his way to the surface. This is not an isolated incident, I relate it because of the events surrounding it and as a graphic example of how easy it is to get into serious trouble.

Sea – Stories I

I could swear I’ve written this, but I can’t find it and if for no other reason then I want to compile some of my sea stories, I’m writing it again and I hope that I don’t bore or annoy anyone, but it really is a great story, on a few levels.

This happened sometime in the mid-80’s, reason I remember that is because as a result of this God smacked me in the head and made me realize that I needed Christ as my Savior and Lord of my life. So in my mid-twenties I was baptized and came to be reborn, a new creation, a child in Jesus and yea, it was as a result of my Coast Guard service.

It was in October, fall weather is definitely the worst, seems like cruddy weather, wind, high seas, raw cold, just the worst and this day was the worst I ever experienced.

Interesting thing was that we had been out the night before and was a nice evening for October in New England, calm, warm, wasn’t even wearing a jacket and we were out until 1am, that’s 0100 hours for you military types. Next day was Sunday, usually “holiday routine”, only necessary work and of course all response, but no station work. Since we had been out late and it was Sunday, we were all trying to get some extra sleep and then the Search and Rescue (SAR) alarm just rips through the station. That alarm could wake the dead, All I remember is falling from my top bunk bed, grabbing clothes and just running. Now the first tip off was that while we were running out, the other duty people were yelling at us “44”, which meant the 44 foot Motor Life Boat.

The 44 foot MLB is designed primarily for bad weather, it was supposed to go into seas up to fifty feet. I wouldn’t bet my life on it, but that was the standard. If people are yelling at us on the way out, it’s urgent and it’s crummy weather. We have to travel aways to get into open water, outside the chains of islands in Boston Harbor. So it was fine, initially, once we cleared the Brewsters, the islands marked by Boston Light the roller coaster ride began. Seas were in excess of fifteen feet, the boat was headed south to Marshfield to the North River. A man who had his boat moored in Marshfield decided it would be safer in Boston, despite the fact that he would have to go through high winds and fifteen foot seas. He went aground in the river, a MLB crew from Scituate station went aground trying to get him. The subject ended up in the water and died, the boat coxswain and engineer from the MLB both ended in the water, all were medevaced.

The trip is about 10-15 miles by water, in normal conditions on a normally fast boat the trip would take 30-45 minutes. It was not normal conditions and the 44 footer was not a fast boat. It took about three hours. On our way we’re going by Minots Light, I kept watching this big, ancient light house wondering why we weren’t passing it. We are getting tossed back and forth, there was no uniformity to the wave action and we were being tossed all over the place. We are keeling so far over to the side that the antennas on the side of the boat are actually whipping across the waves, this boat is very close to being on its side on the water.

 Needless to say seasickness is now rampant, furthermore I didn’t bring any foul weather gear, why would I perfectly nice out the night before. I’m becoming hypo-thermic with waves breaking over the front of the boat and side to side. The Atlantic Ocean isn’t warm, and getting doused over and over, on an open deck, with the wind howling around you, you’re going to get cold fast. At this point I’m leaning over the side, “discharging”, holding on. Add into the equation that the only other boat in the area that could come to get us if something happened with our boat is hung up in the river. Now the MLB is made so that if it does roll over, it will come back up and it’s made so that you should reach the nearest safe mooring. Yea…, OK…, small comfort and any damage to the boat and if we rolled, we might well not come up. No one wants to take a dip in the Atlantic in October and if you do come up, soaking wet, in the wind, you will probably live, but you will suffer.

After three hours, that is not a typo, we made it into the North River, we take the remaining crewman off the other MLB, get both boats secured, then start the trip back. During the trip down, hypo-thermic, purged of stomach contents, still dry heaves, I look over the water and say ‘OK God get me out of this and I will go to church.” Well He did, even though I had little concept of what that meant. Sometime around 5pm we finally return to Point Allerton Station in Hull, Ma. We had been underway almost eight hours, I was now off, got my bags, threw them in the car, drove home, took a very hot shower, fell into bed, and the next day woke up and went to the day job.

As i said it was an adventure on many levels. The obvious in terms of the storm and running a SAR case under those conditions. But the biggest adventure was just starting, God plucked me up, and while I had very little understanding of what being a Christian was, I was about to find out and it has been an adventure that has led me to Concordia Seminary in St Louis, Mo. I earned a Masters of Divinity degree and was called to be the pastor of First St Johns Lutheran Church, in York, Pa. I have no doubt that even after four years of ministry God has a lot more adventure in store for me and that’s good. Being a Christian should be about adventure, being led to find the lost, disicipling those in Jesus and all that goes with ministry, especially ministry in a downtown, inner city area. God has provided and continues to do so and He helps me to serve to the best of my ability.

Be a man and not a one-way creep

I will admit, I’m not a really empathetic person, you may think that’s not where a pastor wants to be, but more and more I’m learning that too many people would rather bring you down to where they are, then to try to start rising up from their pit. I’m simply not going to let people drag me down, God’s got a lot for me and I have to remain faithful to Him. God wants to raise me up, He wants to raise all who are Christians up. He wants them to all be faithful disciples. The original disciples were very ordinary men, God took them, gave them the Holy Spirit and these men went to various points of the world to bring Christ to the nations, The Great Commandment.

For those people who want to strive, who want to keep pushing, who want to move in faith to Christ, I am with them. For others, I try to set a strong example, I try to model strength, perseverance, creativity, desire to learn, curiosity. Too many people want you to be an enabler, simply support them in their habit, their sin, their little comfy place, well frankly I’m not the right guy.

Too much of secular counseling, psychology, as it were, is simply enabling, not pushing someone to where they need to be. The Holy Spirit is always pushing us, always encouraging us to grow and mature as disciples. This lead up is in regards to an article in “Black Belt Magazine” (Aug/Sep 2014 pp 32-33). Point taken to Keith Vargo, the author. In this particular issue he has made me much more empathetic. For the “there’s no difference between men and women” troglodytes, yea the narrow minded groovy/hippy types of the 1960s, the ones who never let the facts get in the way of their opinion, please, for once, try to keep an open mind.

Mr Vargo is talking about women involved in martial arts, but is certainly across the board. “Women are most often assaulted by men. Worse still, it’s usually by men they know… the fear of rape and abuse changes how women see us.”

Yea, ok, right. I have no doubt that women need to be more cautious. Mr Vargo points out that men generally think of people as well as themselves, as trustworthy, we would be more concerned with danger from strangers then someone we know. Ya, point taken. I was the oldest of five boys, we moved to Brockton, Ma. when I was ten years old. Brockton is an old mill city, very much on the decline when we moved there. Rocky Marciano grew up there. Rocky is the only undefeated heavy weight champion in the history of professional boxing. He was killed in a plane crash the summer we moved there. I, kinda, grew up with Marvin Hagler, knew him just a little. Marvin was the middle weight boxing champion of the world. There were others guys who were not quite so good, but believe me, I knew plenty of guys who could fight, often finding out the hard way. Brockton was not a gentle place for me growing up. For those little girls who look like males (and I really hate that neutral term, but I hesitate to call such whimps “men”), and who are only tough with a gun in their hand, who are scared to death of anything and everything and try to look tough, you need to straighten up and start acting like men. Quit the nonsense you’re involved with, grow up, get your life together, find a woman you can serve and protect and start acting like a man.

As a kid, it was pretty routine for me to fight my way to and from home. I was active in athletics, mostly swimming, football, basketball, other stuff here and there. Not good at that, or much else. In a way I think God used this to make me really reliant on Him. [Note- I was not a Christian at the time, or maybe just vaguely so] No talent, having to regularly confront physical abuse, no one to rely on to help, having to stand up on my own. God provided for me, taught me to be physical, gave me a good strong body, through football, basketball, the military, taught me to not only be strong, but stay strong. Learned self-defense as a civilian police officer in the U.S. Coast Guard, so yea OK, guess I’ve been pretty well indoctrinated and if there’s a lack of empathy, well maybe that’s not a bad thing.

But in terms of Mr Vargo’s comments on women, yea, I get it: “…It doesn’t matter that the majority of men will never beat their spouse or rape anyone Somewhere among all the decent men in a woman’s life, there’s a man with bad intentions. He could be a family member, a friend, a co-worker or even a guy at the dojo. Because women can’t know for sure who the bad guys are, it’s reasonable for them to be cautious anytime they get attention they didn’t invite.”

As men become more about themselves, no longer provider or protector, but just whining and demanding, obviously women become even more vulnerable. Heck, don’t want to judge there now do you? As men are just more wheedlers or demanders, as Vargos points out: “What happened to them [women] didn’t start with the overt aggression you learn to handle in self-defense class. It started out with persistent interest and slowly edged into coercion…”

So yea it is time for me to man up, that doesn’t mean try and saddle me with every fuss, but in terms of protecting from the fear of and actual physical violence? Yes! For being more empathetic and ready to listen yea. That means guys, knock it off! Quit being creeps, find that women, help her to feel safe, loved, provide for her, have children who will see what a really great man you are and maybe we might start to turn around this crummy one-way, secular, whimpy, society and oh yeah, get yourself and them to church, mine! Ladies, I am your big brother in Jesus and you should expect that from every man around you and not tolerate anything less. Any “man” who thinks he’s got it altogether and doesn’t need that Jesus stuff, lose him and find a man you can rely on as a husband and a brother in Jesus and then treat them as the men they deserve to be treated as too. This way you both grow in each other, keep bringing each other up and reaching for the Lord. Yea, now that’s the way to go.

Success, Growth, Service, urgency, in life and for Christ

Bo Burlingham of Inc Magazine (October 2013) visited West Point, the US Army Military Academy, and made some interesting observations about military training, thatt I never really heard articulated. I have seen a reasonable facsimile of a team environment in the corporate world, but for the most part too many environments, including the church, just do not seem to be able to grasp the following concepts.

I can hear you say, “the military’s a different environment, different mission, different conditions,” Yeah, but. For way too many in the rest of the world, it’s the pursuit of the “buck”, and it’s all about the individual, I have to do anything and everything that is good for me. Frankly I’ve seen too many who didn’t even really understand what is actually good for them.

Burlingham makes this observation: “Every cadet also is extremely busy. Yet these cadets were taking time away from their studies and other duties to help their friends get through the course.” Well yeah, because you need to. There simply cannot be a “weak link” in the unit, whether it’s the class, the squad, boat crew, air crew, on and on. It is the unit that is successful, if it’s not, then no one in the unit is. If anything comes close to that it’s sports teams, but even in that environment, it’s the individual who’s torn between getting the championship ring and the new contract for next year.

I did not go to a military academy, but even in the shortened version of that, in boot camp and “A” school, you certainly get a sense of the four year environment. And I can really relate to  Burlingham’s next observation: “,..not only were the cadets more collegial, but they seemed to be happier – much happier- than students at civilian universities…” I’ve done college and I’ve done the military. Oh yes, college can be stressful, but puhlease, getting yanked out of bed at midnight to get screamed at and run around and in kind of physical, I don’t know, abuse. Sorry but most college students I know/known, would be sobbing, quivering masses. In the world’s  “it’s all about me environment”, they just can not internalize the concept that “if we’re all getting beat on together, it’s not personal, it’s intended to make us stronger and pull together.” But today you can’t seem to look at most people without them taking it personally. There’s way too many people out there who would do themselves a big favor and listen more and talk a lot less and get over themselves.

Burlingham says: “A cadet’s life is anything but fun. And yet these young people seem to get something out of their lives that is missing from the lives of many of their contemporaries.” Amen, preach it brother. Just to give you some context, I’m not some sort of “I remember the big one…” I only retired 9 years ago. I started when I was 17 years old. I served 29 years and I saw many changes, but for the most part, things were still the same principles and I can very much relate to this article. Things haven’t changed that much in the last nine years and with a real actual shooting war going on for, in or about, 13 years, all the more sense of urgency, mission and team. People could be readily killed and were. No one wants to send anyone into a shooting mission or a mission of any kind of danger without doing everything possible to make sure they come home alive. I’ve never had to deal with it, but I can imagine the sick feeling a senior person must feel when they hear about someone they trained being killed in action or some other operation. I think one of the things that Burlingham sees is the sense that cadets are, to an extent, living on the edge, meeting challenges that the vast majority of their peers wouldn’t and couldn’t begin to step up to, the sense that they are making a real difference, they are serving and also the sense that they will be meeting challenges very soon that could mean lives, including theirs.

One observation he makes that I think is unique and yet if you’re not feeling this, regardless of the environment you’re in, you are not really stepping up, you are frankly coasting. He asks “Does anyone get through West Point without feeling that sense of inadequacy?” The response from the cadets was, “No”. Their isn’t any nonsense about “self-esteem”, hurting someone’s feelings, no one cares, you should feel inadequacy and on a regular basis. How else are you going to push yourself, step-up, achieve more then you ever thought? Get over yourself, if you’re not failing, if you’re not being challenged and losing once in awhile, you are simply not living, you’re existing: “…repeated failure was built into West Point’s culture. Yet that didn’t seem to faze the cadets in the least. They came across as irrepressibly positive and devoid of the alienation that infected other campuses … there was the phenomenon he had observed in the gym: cadets going out of their way to help one another, even as they were competing intensely to outdo one another.” Interesting paradox, I have to win, but I cannot let you fail. And if I win and make you successful, well heck, I’m doubly successful and you are too. You also manage to avoid the inevitable “you got me this time, but now it’s personal and I’m going to do whatever I can to mess you up the next time.” I have seen this toxic, immature environment constantly, and in the end, everyone ends up messing themselves up. Why do we have the world we have today? Because everyone is stomping on everyone to grab everything they can get, only to get subsequently stomped on (and with prejudice), by someone else.

Too bad more people don’t have the following attitude: “‘It’s better to fail here and have other people help you get it right than to fail in Afghanistan, where the consequences could be catastrophic,’ said … cadet, Christer Hosrtman.” Great observation young man.

A man named Jim Collins who, among other things, has written business books, made this observation: “Collins took out a piece of paper and drew a triangle. One point he labeled success, another growth and the other service. Those three corners of the triangle, he sensed, held an answer to the paradox he had observed in the culture of West Point.”

I really don’t see it as a paradox. In military life, in Christian life and yes even in your day to day workaday life. You have to have these elements, you also have to have a sense of urgency, you have to have a sense that this matters and not just in a “just one more transaction, one more customer tedium” but in a way that you are serving a greater cause.

I would also like to pay tribute to so many I have served with that have exemplified these qualities of the military that protects you. My big brother Chief Jerry DeModena, my rebel southern cousin Lt Colonel Roger Niblet. Lt Commander Dave Wajda, Lieutenant Eric Bernstein, really all the men and women I served with in Harbor Defense Command Naval Coastal Warfare. All my brothers four of them and we covered the span of services; Coast Guard, Army, Navy, Marines, my father Air Force, my son Army and my nephew Air Force. Joe and Kathy Mokris both Annapolis graduates and Marine officers. God has blessed me greatly with great military brothers and sisters,  and Christian brothers and sisters. But this caveat, those Christian brothers and sisters, in whatever walk of life, need to  learn this lifestyle and it was a lifestyle that Jesus and the disciples exemplified. They had constant success because the Holy Spirit used them to turn those they were led to, to lives  in Jesus. They knew failure too and and trusted God in the successes and “failures”. They knew growth, growing through those they discipled and through the trials God put them through and they certainly knew service. Not just in terms of providing for bodily needs, but in eternal service, what really matters in Christ.

I know all rah, rah, but this is where it’s at. True faith, true service, true sacrifice, on and on in whatever you do. You may not feel the need to be so “Semper” in your position, but I can tell you that I have been truly blessed by people in what many would see in humble positions. Serving others, serving Christ with a sense of urgency, with a sense of, yes, making myself better, but challenging and helping those around me to be better too. When you have that kind of synergy, the Holy Spirit will use that to do amazing things to benefit you and to bless so many others. Do it, and let’s talk about it on Wednesday 10am corner of W King St and Beaver St, you are welcome to park behind the church and for those who are new I will buy you coffee.

U.S. Coast Guard Station Point Allerton

This is the current patch, there have been a lot since I’ve been there, of Coast Guard Station Point Allerton. I had the privilege of serving there for about 24 years and it was quite an adventure. P.A. is one of the most historic stations in the Coast Guard. One of the most decorated and long- serving life savers in Coast Guard history was the, essentially, commanding officer, Joshua James, who is said to have died at about 70 years of age during a life boat drill, he collapsed and his dying words are supposed to be “The tide is ebbing”. Not sure about the historical reliability, but it sounds great. For my own benefit I will be writing, at times and probably not too soon, about the history of the station and some of my own adventures there. Not sure it will generate a lot of interest, but it’s more for me. Feel free to jump in.

I ripped the following off the station website:

Station Point Allerton

Captain Joshua James, USLSS (1826-1902)

View Larger Image of Joshua James Captain Joshua James served for nearly sixty years patrolling the shores of Hull. He participated in his first rescue at age 15, receiving his first medal of many at the age of 23. In 1876 he was made keeper of four lifesaving stations in Hull, including Point Allerton. He was 62 at the time and rules requiring his retirement had to be waived by an act of congress.

During his career, Joshua James has been credited with saving over 600 people and has been touted as the world’s most celebrated lifesaver.

On March 17th, 1902 the Monomoy Lifesaving Station tragically lost seven of its crew during a rescue attempt. Joshua James deeply affected by this tragedy, took his crew into the surf to ensure the capabilities of the boat and proficiency of the crew met his high standards. After more than an hour of maneuver’s Captain James said to have been “very satisfied” with the drill, and ordered the boat ashore. After returning to the beach and disembarking  the boat Joshua James glanced at the sea and remarked “The tide is ebbing,” and dropped dead on the beach at the age of 75. He left a widow and several children with no money. This situation so intensely appealed to the public that a contribution of $3,733 was collected and given to his wife.

Joshua James is honored every year at his gravesite on May 23rd (Joshua James Day) by the Hull Lifesaving Museum and Station Point Allerton.

Joshua James’s medals include:

  • 1850, Humane Society Bronze for rescue of crew of French brig L’Essai
  • 1885, Humane Society Silver Medal for “brave and faithful service of more than 40 years in the lifeboats of the Humane Society,” and $50
  • Humane Society Gold Medal for Great Storm of 1888
  • Congressional Gold Lifesaving Medal for the Great Storm of 1888