Tom in Iraq as a Military Observer

Tom in Iraq as a Military Observer
They sent me here just to watch...

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

The Day After

A hurricane and winter storm made things difficult in the northeast.
Some had to wait hours to vote.
Some hardly waited at all.
Some are celebrating victory.
Some are crying.
Some don’t care.
But once again, the United States of America has peacefully elected a president, vice president, and a legislature.  That’s an accomplishment even if your candidate or party didn’t win.
There are no troops or tanks in the streets.  There was no blood shed. 
There was a participatory process that produced a government.
Whether you like the outcome or not, count your blessings that we live in a nation that believes power emanates from the people.
This is a bigger blessing than most realize.
Pray for your leaders.
Pray for those service men and women who offer their lives for our liberty.
Pray for God’s continued blessings on our nation.

Friday, September 7, 2012

Recalled to active duty.

On November 7th, 2012, 4 men need to be recalled to active duty for 60 days of government service.

They are Jimmy Carter, Bill Clinton, George H. W. Bush, and George W. Bush.  Each may bring 3 assistants with them.

Why would we do this?

To build an independent task force to prioritize and strategize on how to address this nation’s problems and how to realize the opportunities before us.

Why recall presidents?  Why not experts?  Why not technical experts?

Because these 4 men have all been the chief executive and know that no campaign agenda will survive fully once in office.  These 4 men have no further political ambition.  We have seen former presidents work together to produce excellent results before.  The burden of the office is lifted.  There is no election at stake.  There is a lot of hard earned experience that could be leveraged in the name of statesmanship and patriotism instead of party loyalty.

Why 60 days?

So the plan may be before the president and congress by the time everyone is ready to get to work in 2013.  There will be some familiar faces and some new ones in our government.  We won’t have the scorecard completed until the election is over, but we could have a bi-partisan plan in place by the time they all took office for the term to which they were elected.

Politically and philosophically, this country is split in half—or so nearly so that compromise, tradeoffs, and perhaps even a little synergy and creativity will be needed to get anything of substance done in the New Year.  This is not such a bad thing.  Our representatives will have to talk to and listen to each other to get anything done.

Would it not be easier if they were handed a blueprint for the first steps?
Would it not be more expeditious if 4 men of presidential stature proposed the give-and-take in advance?
Would 4 men who held the oval office not be the best equipped to move beyond politics to solutions?

There have been bipartisan commissions before.  Sometimes their recommendations were followed and sometimes their efforts were squandered.  Sometimes the bipartisan group could not produce anything of substance.

But would 4 former chief executives settle for anything less than something workable—perhaps even something excellent?  Would they not work together to produce the best possible strategy for a nation struggling to maintain both liberty and an economy?  Would they not be the wisest counsel available for addressing our current wars and those conflicts which seem to be looming on the horizon?  Could they not come up with the best approach for job creation and deficit reduction?

I say, let’s recall these 4 men to active duty for 60 days and have them work out the basics before the next terms begin.

Let’s jumpstart the cooperative process in our government before the new government convenes.  Let’s give them no choice but to hit the deck running.

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Get to work

Do you remember the days when someone hired you to do a job and you were actually expected to do the job?  I know that there are some old enough to remember.  It wasn’t but a decade or two ago when work, team work, and completed work were still words active in our vocabularies.

On Tuesday, 6 November 2012, those registered voters so inclined to exercise their vote will do so if they have not already availed themselves of an early voting option.  After the continuation of the process in the Electoral College, we will likely have a president for the next 4 years.  It may be the one we have now or a new one, but if the miracle of our republic continues, it will once again come without bloodshed or tanks in the streets.  Congress will surely be full once again with some old and some new faces.

To say that this process comes at a price is to slight the term understatement.  We pay an incredible price in vitriol and acrimony.  The election process widens the chasm between parties and within the electorate.  There are no clean hands here.  Politics is dirty business and we have become exceptional business men in this trade.

But the campaigns will end. 
God willing, they will end.

And when they do, it is time for the citizens of this Grand Experiment to send a clear message to all of our elected officials.


No blaming.
No posturing for the next round of elections.
No excuses.

Regardless of the faith of our representatives, all of them could take heed of the words that Paul wrote in Colossians 3:23-24.

Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for human masters, since you know that you will receive an inheritance from the Lord as a reward. It is the Lord Christ you are serving.
Our representatives need an immediate reminder that they don’t work for themselves or their party or the President or the Speaker of the House.  They need to be reminded that we don’t need any more politicians.  We do have a need for statesmen.  We have a need for men and women who will honor their values and the values of this nation and work together with other representatives from other areas of our nation to preserve the blessings of liberty not only for ourselves but for our posterity.

While the election will soon be over—none too soon for many—the process of self government continues for each of us.  We must inundate inboxes—physical and electronic--- of our officials with letters, messages, and notes that read:  GET TO WORK.

Some cynically say that we get the government that we pay for.  It’s easy to get caught up in that game especially with the nature and finance of modern campaigns.  The problem is that cynicism leads to self-pity and pretty soon we are all victims.

 Victims of what? 
The system?

No, we become victims of our own choices; specifically, the choice to stop being involved.
Sometimes I wonder if God isn’t shaking his head saying, “So you guys want to try self-government, do you?”

We say we do, but we vote and forget, or maybe it’s vote and complain.

But will just telling our elected officials to GET TO WORK be enough?

No, but it is a starting point.  With such divergent views represented, they are also going to have to learn to listen to each other.  This is a tough task as they had to do a lot of talking to get elected.

For most of my adult life, I have preferred the proactive approach.  So why don’t we all go ahead and fill out the body of the letter or email that we will send to each of our officials once we know who they are.  We can add the names later.

Go ahead and start writing.  What to say?  How about:

Get to work.
Listen and learn.
Learn and listen.
Grow into a statesman.
Don’t shrink into a politician.
Yes, that means working for a greater good.
Yes, that means working for the best interests of this nation not for any special interest.  The nation is the only special interest, and we are very special.
Sometimes you may have to compromise on approaches, but never on values or integrity.
Sometimes you may find that synergy is attainable and it is always better than compromise.
Never forget that you are privileged to serve.  You are not entitled to anything special.
This nation is a Grand Experiment.  We expect nothing less than your best while you are its servant.
Learn to love the name servant.
If you can’t do that, you will become a politician and you just need to go home.
But we have great expectations for you.
We are praying for you.
We are praying that God will guide you and equip you to do wonderful things in the service of our nation.
Now get to work!

Monday, August 27, 2012

As we grow closer to the November election

Obama and Isaac might not care much for Romney,
But the American public wants to vote out all this acrimony.
Debates are coming and some sparks will fly,
But the guys and gals watching just have to ask, “Why?”

Why can’t we govern for the good of all?
Why must someone always take a fall?
Can’t both men advance solely upon their merits,
Without trying so hard to scare us completely of out wits?

There was a day when the candidates who ran,
Were considerably less politician and much more statesman.
If those days are gone, tell me where did they go?
I’ll go and retrieve them as soon as I know.

Perhaps power in its purest form brings out the worst that’s in us.
A change of leader in other lands oft comes with blood and vengeance.
But here our bloodlust is replaced with a deluge of tainted oratory.
In the hopes that voters will believe the latest, greatest story.

But in the end no blood is shed and a leader will emerge.
Perhaps by only a few votes or maybe with a surge,
For one candidate or the other who somehow rallied the greater vote.
But when the music stops there is no final note.

For the campaigns for the next round are already in motion,
But in those intervening years people pray that for our nation—
That those who are elected to govern not become addicted,
To mainlining power for surely they will be convicted.

Not of crimes we find in law books or even regulations,
But of putting self before the welfare of this great and glorious nation.
For it is the Grand Experiment and it has survived beyond expectations,
But if we revived true statesmanship, we would have a genuine celebration.

For we have pointed fingers at each other for too many decades now,
It’s time to set aside all selfishness and to our God we bow.
And be the land of liberty and justice for the whole world to see,
And get back to working together from sea to shining sea.

Monday, August 13, 2012

I won't lower the bar

In the whirlwind of social media that pervades today’s world, I wish to speak a word of civility.  I speak on behalf of kindness, understanding, respect, and humor.  I speak on behalf of returning the humanity to humanity.

It seems that everyone has their own personal rules for social media.  I made my contribution to this construct.  That’s fine, but when everyone has their own set of rules, they can’t apply to anyone but one’s self, so we shouldn’t be too offended when someone else violates rules that can only apply to our self.

Enough generalities, let’s get down to the rat killing.  Yes, you may repost that metaphor with the rabbit ears, 8 track players, and other aspects of generations gone by.  See who “likes” and reposts because they know where this quote became famous.

I will not lower the bar when it comes to social media.
What does that mean?

Some folks say that you shouldn’t talk politics on Facebook.  Others seem to put religion off limits. These are not new ideas.  Guidelines for military officers at social events since Caesar crossed the Rubicon have always been never talk about religion, politics, or women.  What’s that leave?  Sports and work—isn’t that what we talk about all the time anyway.

People were all over the Chick-Fil-A stir.  How did this become a life or death cause?  Can we not have different opinions without having to protest or rally to someone’s support?  When did we lose our civility?

Can we not disagree without having to hate each other?  Since when did American politics have to draw battle lines?  Since when can we no longer laugh at ourselves?  Have we lost the taste for the common good?

A couple years ago, someone had posted a comment about the founding fathers and the foundation of our nation.  There were many posts, but they all had one thing in common—they were shallow, sophomoric thoughts.  Despite its potential, Facebook is currently not the place to delve into in-depth discussion.  The discussions usually follow a simplified format of “you’re right and we are all going to hell if people don’t agree,” or “you are an idiot and had better repent of this line of thinking.”

I enjoy a good discussion about the wonderful creation of our founding fathers and the challenges of maintaining liberty today.  In fact, I have written substantially on the subject, but I broke one of the cardinal rules of social networking:  I posted a link to something I wrote.  I was chastised by the thread’s originator.  I wasn’t playing by the rules of shallow and offensive phrases.  I removed my post.

One day a vulgar post appeared on my feed about how worthless some people in our community were because of something they had done or failed to do.  Many jumped on the condemnation bandwagon.  I made a post asking all to consider addressing the problem without hatefully condemning the people in question.  I was asked to take my insensitive thoughts elsewhere.  I did.  If the option is to proceed only to the exclusion of civility, I will go elsewhere.

But I won’t lower the bar.
I won’t aim for less.
I won’t let capricious rules that diminish us restrict what I will do within the confines of social networks.  

What does that mean?

If it’s funny, then it’s just funny.  We need to laugh.  Political figures can be respected and a source of comic relief at the same time.  I sometimes wonder if God doesn’t get a daily laugh at our expense saying, “So you want to give self government a try do you?”

If you believe in something, then don’t hold it back, but put forth your position without acrimony or viciousness.  If you disagree with someone, reply with honesty and civility.  A put down never elevates its author.

It seems strange to me that in a land of liberty, the best we can come up with is:  Don’t talk politics at the family reunion.  In this Grand Experiment, we are asked to stay away from religious topics when the very first amendment in our Bill of Rights guarantees religious freedom.  Do we have so much freedom that we can’t stand it and must muzzle our thoughts?  In a country that values the freedom of assembly and the press, the best we can come up with for social media is don’t talk about anything important.

Those all seem like safe approaches, but perhaps they are disingenuous.  Can’t we talk about real things?  Can’t we discuss important matters with civility?

I turn off most of the talking heads shows on television these days.  Every point must be countered not only in counter-point but in retribution, name-calling, and increased volume as well. 

I miss the days when two or more people could disagree and everyone thought they could learn something from each other in the process.  I think we asked more questions and listened more then.  At least that’s the way I want to remember it.  Perhaps that’s just the halo effect putting a little luster on my memories, but whether it was fact or not, it could be going forward.

Our social media could be the best learning venue going if we could just learn to treat each other with respect, listen, and realize that we may not have all the answers.

We won’t get any smarter by anchoring ourselves to defensive positions ready to repel all who disagree.  We won’t enjoy the fullness of life unless we can learn to laugh and be laughed at.  We won’t be people of courage if we keep to ourselves in a social venue.

What’s that mean in real actions?

For me, I will post something if it is truly funny.  All politicians are fair game because we put them where they are.  When we laugh at them, we laugh at ourselves.

I may have a position that is different than yours.  It’s my position. If I post it, feel free to disagree with me.  I might learn something.  I might respond.  We might both learn something if we proceed with integrity and mutual respect.

I will talk politics on a social network.  I wouldn’t be a very good citizen of the republic if I shied away from the most ubiquitous sounding board in all of history. 

I will talk religion on a social network, not to proselytize, but to inspire and challenge and hopefully to engage in meaningful discussion about matters of importance.

John Milton once wrote, “Let her and Falsehood grapple; who ever knew Truth put to the worse in a free and open encounter?”

Can we not have good, open, vibrant discussion without having to hate each other?

I for one am not ready to lower the bar and just stop talking about some things. The social media available is a wonderful way to engage the greater community, but the value of this engagement is directly proportional to the integrity, civility, and mutual respect that we invest in it.

Saturday, June 23, 2012

Rest in peace

Duty followed by rest,
Steady in uncertain times.
Unselfish in a self-centered world,
Steadfast amidst turbulent times.
Departed but not forgotten,
At least by those who understand the words:
The last full measure of devotion!

Well done, good and faithful servants!

National Cemetery
Beaufort, South Carolina

Friday, March 30, 2012

A glimpse at PoMo Poverty

Here's a glimpse of the first part of PoMo Poverty:  Finding Abundance in the 21st Century.

PoMo Poverty

Finding Abundance in the 21st Century

Tom Spence


©2011 by Tom Spence.

All rights reserved.

No part of this book may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording or otherwise, without written permission from the author.

The contents of this book are unrestricted and may be put to use immediately and repeatedly!

PoMo Poverty

Poverty or Paradox
What can we do?
Towards Abundance
And Back to Paradox
The Abundance of Inclusion

God told them, I've never quit loving you and never will.
Expect love, love, and more love!

Jeremiah 31:3 (The Message)

Poverty or Paradox

In early 1981, I was hiking into the Philippine jungle with my platoon behind me. I was the third platoon back on the company march along a very narrow trail in which it was difficult for two Marines to walk abreast of each other. We were in the boonies for sure.

After a couple hours of walking, the trail opened up.

To our left was a fair sized house made out of C-Ration cardboard. What ingenuity! What genius. What poverty. A family was living in a house made out of discarded cardboard.

Don’t get me wrong, C-Rat cardboard is the best in the world for waterproofing. It has a fair insulation value. It is sturdy.

How do I know this?

In many a cold and wet moment, a piece of C-Rat cardboard was just the insulation from the cold or wet ground that I needed to get a couple hours of sleep.

These people had built an entire house out of the stuff, to include what seemed to be a garage, at least there was a garage door sized opening that faced the trail which brought us past this unique site. But there was no car in the garage, not even a Jeepney or a bicycle.

Instead, there was a beautiful pool table around which were gathered some young men who seemed to be enjoying themselves and nearly oblivious to our passing.

What a contrast. What a dichotomy. What a paradox. We were witness to luxury within poverty.

Or was this poverty?

The shelter was adequate.

The people were happy.

The jungle was full of food.

It obviously took some sort of income to purchase the table and transport it to this site.

Was this poverty?

What is poverty?

This is 2011, so instead of thumbing through my Webster’s, I found a most comprehensive definition at It follows.

pov·er·ty  [pov-er-tee]


1. the state or condition of having little or no money, goods, or means of support; condition of being poor. Synonyms: privation, neediness, destitution, indigence, pauperism, penury. Antonyms: riches, wealth, plenty.

2. deficiency of necessary or desirable ingredients, qualities, etc.: poverty of the soil. Synonyms: thinness, poorness, insufficiency.

3. scantiness; insufficiency: Their efforts to stamp out disease were hampered by a poverty of medical supplies. Synonyms: meagerness, inadequacy, sparseness, shortage, paucity, dearth. Antonyms: abundance, surfeit, sufficiency, bounty, glut.

The United States Census Bureau, using a plethora of information and formulae, has defined 48 thresholds of poverty. The income range for poverty in America is roughly between eleven thousand dollars for an individual to forty-two thousand dollars for a very large family.

Wikipedia contributed the following to the definition.

Poverty is the state of one who lacks a certain amount of material possessions or money. Absolute poverty or destitution refers to being unable to afford basic human needs, which commonly includes clean and fresh water, nutrition, health care, education, clothing and shelter. About 1.7 billion people are estimated to live in absolute poverty today. Relative poverty refers to lacking a usual or socially acceptable level of resources or income as compared with others within a society or country.

And even in 2011, we cannot exclude Mr. Webster entirely in defining poverty.

1 a: the state of one who lacks a usual or socially acceptable amount of money or material possessions b: renunciation as a member of a religious order of the right as an individual to own property

2: scarcity, dearth

3 a: debility due to malnutrition b: lack of fertility

A somewhat synthesized definition proved by the search engine Google is:


noun /ˈpävərtē/ 

1. The state of being extremely poor

- thousands of families are living in abject poverty

2. The state of being inferior in quality or insufficient in amount

- the poverty of her imagination

3. The renunciation of the right to individual ownership of property as part of a religious vow

So did this Philippine family live in poverty?

By income standards to which I have grown accustomed, yes. They were outright poor.

By possessing the means to meet their needs, no. These people had an abundance.

This was a paradox of poverty. There was abundance without wealth as we define wealth these days. There appeared to be happiness and contentment in this snapshot view.

There was no further explanation or exploration of this circumstance. When you are a Marine on the move, you make your observations quickly. Assessments may come over time.

We don’t see homeless people in the part of the United States where I live. Somehow, some way, they find shelter.

We don’t see C-Rat houses here either.

Perhaps homelessness is big in the big cities, but most of the population of this nation does not live in the big cities. They live near cities so as to have access to what metropolitan areas have to offer, but for the most part, they live semi-rural areas. Even many who once lived in the suburbs have sought something a little more rural.

Homelessness is not an issue in most of America, but surely poverty is.

We live in what many consider a post modern world. So what does post modern poverty look like?

That will be the first part of this essay.

The second will be to answer the question, “What can we do about it?”

Want more?  Follow this link to PoMo Poverty:  Finding Abundance in the 21st Century in hard copy or buy it in the Kindle Store.  Amazon Prime members may read this book for free.

Thursday, March 29, 2012

A Christian's Prayer for America

My prayer is for a strong America.

One that is both safe and free.

My prayer is for a land where God

Is truly first in all we see.

My prayer is that the bitter acrimony

And the vitriolic overtones

Depart from every heart among us

And let the fruit of the Spirit be known.

But hate and divisiveness are the order of the day

And they have left no stone unturned

And hope of a revived nation

May not come before Christ’s return.

Oh how I would love to see the judgment

Of all the nations, but most of all

To hear the words “Well done” and “faithful”

When these United States of America are called.

Though I long to see our nation

Strong, and healthy, and on top once again.

It seems that we are headed elsewhere,

Thriving on hate and loving sin.

But God did not promise to preserve this nation,

Though that request I make anew each day.

He has commanded that we love and serve him

And follow Jesus along his way.

Sadly those two paths may be parting

The one of country and the one of God.

‘Tis a sad choice we leave our children

When God and country separately trod.

But to the Christians of this nation

Our call is clarion, crystal, clear.

To be God’s light amidst the darkness

In a land that once we held so dear.

But truly we are far from lucid

To think to be American is to be godly and just

When our words and actions question the motto

That we claim for our own:  “In God we trust.”

But as for me and for my household

We take light over darkness, and choose it again this very day.

And do pray in earnest that our nation will witness

The call to life that says Jesus the only way.

We knew this was coming yet tried to ignore it

For this very land some have shed their own blood.

But when faced with a choice so distinct and so real,

We are loyal to our homeland, to the Kingdom of God.

 When I shut up the heavens so that there is no rain, or command locusts to devour the land or send a plague among my people,  if my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, and I will forgive their sin and will heal their land.

 2 Chronicles 7:13-14

Friday, February 24, 2012

On teacher professionalism

I take exception to Janet Barresi’s latest remarks, that parent and community involvement produces better performing educators.  Community and parental involvement is truly needed.

What is not needed is action based upon faulty assumptions—that the professionalism of the educator is dependent upon the parents or the community.  Professionals are professionals because that is who they are.  Having been married to a professional educator for over a quarter of a century, I can attest that her professionalism, dedication, and desire to equip every student for success come from within and not from the external circumstances.  She has taught in public and private schools in many states.  Sometimes parental and community support was beyond expectations.  Other times it was pitiful.  Neither condition changed her professionalism.

One thing every leader must learn—and the sooner the better—is that if the premise is false, everything put forth thereafter may be proven true—even the most absurd concepts.  It is time to verify some assumptions.  The first of which is that the professionalism of our teachers is based upon any external set of circumstances:  Not true.

Our superintendent is walking the path of the ancient Pharisees.  They placed burdens on the backs of people when they were supposed to be shepherding them.  It is time for self assessment at the top before capriciously implementing any widespread changes.

There are none so blind as those who will not see.     
Matthew Henry