Friday, August 9, 2019

Further Thoughts On Domestic Terrorism


In response to my last post on August7, 2019 (The Current War of Domestic Terrorism) a good friend of mine wrote the following.



I propose that if these military style weapons are to be constitutionally made available to the citizenry to protect them from their own government  ( which is ridiculous but is at the crux of the NRAs  2nd amendment argument) that a $50000 annual permit must be purchased in order to legally own one .  Are people allowed to legally own RPGs and Tanks ? Maybe it should be legal for people to own sidewinder missiles and F16 fighter jets?  Where does it end.  These last couple of weeks I was thinking about the moon landing . I have to think that one of Kennedy’s greatest achievements as President was inspiring a generation of people to believe they could with hard work and positivity ,do anything  even  put a man on the moon -and they did it!  What our leaders say matters!  And when those leaders inspire hate and discord we get what we have seen at the Tree of a  Life synagogue  and  El Paso the list goes on and sadly is getting longer everyday.   John Lennon said War is over - if you want it - and the only way these things will change is if people want it and make it into reality. I am hopeful that love will prevail. 

-          JK



He makes a great point.  Where does it end?  If the Second Amendment to the Constitution is intended to allow citizens unlimited ownership of arms, then what is to stop a deranged person from stockpiling tanks, missiles, or even nuclear weapons?  Such thinking sounds absurd, of course, but only because we recognize that there are limits and reasonable minds must decide where those limits are placed.



I heard this morning on NPR that until the Supreme Court heard the case of The District of Columbia vs. Heller in 2008 the Second Amendment was understood to apply to State militias rather than individuals.  In Heller, however, the Court ruled 5-4 that individuals also should have the right to bear arms.  However, even in saying this, the Court admonished that there were limitations to this right.  Specifically, the Court ruled that its opinion should not be taken to cast doubt on longstanding prohibitions on the possession of firearms by felons and the mentally ill, or laws forbidding the carrying of firearms in sensitive places such as schools and government buildings, or laws imposing conditions and qualifications on the commercial sale of arms.



And so the debate continues.  Where are the boundary lines to be established?  It seems to me that current conditions demand stricter regulations.  Above all else the role of government is to protect its citizens at all costs.  We know that unrestricted speed on the highway causes death, so we regulate how fast drivers are allowed to drive.  We know that safety belts in cars saves lives, so we have made their use mandatory.  We know that heroin, methamphetamines, cocaine and certain other drugs cause deaths when misused, so we regulate their availability.   These are common sense regulations that are accepted and undisputed.  Can anyone tell me why on earth this nation is so ignorant to think that something as dangerous and lethal as an assault weapon should be less restricted than a seat belt?  Let’s get real.  Any reasonable analysis of the facts will reveal that assault weapons have consistently been used to terrorize this nation.   Our government must step up and protect the public by banning these horrendous killers.

-George Douglas Gehr
August 9, 2019






Wednesday, August 7, 2019

The Current War of Domestic Terrorism




NOTE:  Senator Pat Toomey (R-PA) announced yesterday (August 5, 2019) that he and Senator Joe Manchin (D-W.Va) are reintroducing bipartisan legislation to expand background checks on gun purchases.  Then, today (August 6, 2019) he announced on Fox News that he refuses to support a ban on assault weapons.  This announcement prompted me to write the following letter to Senator Toomey.



Dear Sen. Toomey,



I was encouraged when I heard that you and Sen. Manchin were renewing your effort to create background checks on weapons purchases.  But now I just read an article that claims you refuse to support a ban on assault-style weapons.  You claim that to do so would infringe on the rights of citizens to purchase arms.  You use the very weak and incorrect excuse of the Second Amendment to hide behind on this issue.  So please tell me where in the Second Amendment assault-style weapons are mentioned!



You are a smart man.  I encourage you to consider the rights of gun violence victims who are massacred by people who own and use assault style weapons indiscriminately.  We have a war raging in this nation right now.  Its called Domestic Terrorism.  Thanks to you and your comrades who are owned by the NRA you are supplying weapons to the enemy.  In any other war this would be considered TREASON!



I know you love this country and want the best for it.  Please come to your senses and introduce a bill in Congress to ban assault style weapons.  STOP ARMING THE TERRORISTS!  Instead, let's support the rights of the victims and all law-abiding citizens who want to live!



Sincerely

George Douglas Gehr



---------------



I doubt very seriously if I will get any response from the good senator other than a form letter sent to me from one of his aides.  I have written numerous letters to Toomey and every time I end up receiving a form letter in response that does little to address the issue that I raised with him.  Instead, it typically regurgitates worn out talking points that vaguely responds to my concern but mostly reminds me what a good guy the Senator is.



I have nothing against Pat Toomey.  He is not a bad Senator, even if I do not totally agree with his positions.  We have had worse.  But I do feel strongly about this point I raised in the letter above.  We have a war raging within the United States of America.  It is not a conventional war, like WWI or WWII.  Domestic terrorism resembles guerilla warfare more than conventional war.  The enemy is not obvious.  He or she does not wear a uniform that clearly identifies who they are.  Neither do they march in line under a unique flag with rifles on their shoulders.  In almost every case they are U. S. citizens who have become disillusioned by the way things are or they have spent far too much time on the dark web or listening to mindless talking heads from the alt-right.  Some of the talking heads are heard on the radio, a few on television, and some are elected officials.  But the message is always the same:  they are against immigration; they are strongly in favor of unrestricted gun laws; they spew forth hatred and prejudice towards anyone different than themselves.



My point is simple.  If we see this as a war – and I believe that is accurate – then we must revisit the whole question of the legality of assault-style weapons.  We cannot continue to allow people unhindered access to these killing machines.  Background checks are good but not nearly good enough.  Far too many mass killings have occurred at the hands of people who had legally obtained these assault-style weapons.  They passed the background checks.  In nearly every case they would have passed the “red flag” test as well.  The sad truth is if these weapons are legally available the “enemy” will find a way to obtain them.  Some will argue that the bad guys will get their hands on these weapons even if they are illegal, and that may be true.  But without a doubt many will not.  And do we not owe it to our law-abiding citizens to make it as difficult as possible for these people to kill others?



To me this is a no brainer.  If this were any other war we would never consider selling arms to the enemy so they could use them against us.  As I wrote to Senator Toomey, that would be a slam dunk case of treason.  We might as well place an ad in the local newspaper inviting terrorists to kill us.  We could even tell them where they can find the best deal on an AK47 or whatever they want.



-          This is not a position against hunting.

-          This is not a liberal or conservative issue.

-          This is not an infringement on anyone’s reasonable rights.  I say “reasonable” because I have yet to hear an argument that justifies why anyone needs a semiautomatic weapon.

-          And this is most certainly not unconstitutional.  As proof, we once had a ban on assault style guns from 1994 until 2004.  The ban was endorsed by former Republican Presidents Ronald Reagan & Gerald Ford, and Democratic President Jimmy Carter.  All three sent written endorsements to Congress urging approval for the ban.  However, when the 10 year term of the original ban expired in 2004 President George W. Bush did nothing to renew it and the Republican Party, which controlled both Houses of Congress, refused to bring it up for a vote.

Thus, the argument that the Second Amendment prohibits a ban on assault-style weapons is refuted.  It does not.  The only thing preventing it today is the National Rifle Association and their nearly unlimited financial backing of the Republican Party’s Congressional members.  That’s it.  Let’s call it what it is.



I wish somehow the question of gun control and assault weapons ban could be put to a binding referendum in a national election.  Let the people decide.  Since Congress will not even make a decision on it, other than for one or two persons to decide that it will just die in some back room without ever coming to the floor, let the American public take control.  If Congress will not do their job and represent the safety of American citizens, then let us forget about them and do it ourselves.



We need some serious changes in how this country operates.  The present system has failed.  People are dying and the Republicans who control the U. S. Senate have given their approval to the terrorists.  More specifically, Mitch McConnell, the Senate majority Leader, has renounced his role as a public servant.  This is true on so many levels.  Why should one person be allowed to decide what can be voted on or even debated and what cannot?  McConnell is the ultimate example of failed politics.  His refusal to even consider any form of regulation on guns is his legacy, and I hope he pays the political price for his betrayal of the rights of American citizens.  That is to say, I hope he is either voted out of office altogether or at a minimum, voted out as Majority Leader.



Our nation will not survive these mass shootings.  Dayton, Ohio and El Paso, Texas are only the most recent.  They certainly will not be the last.  This is going to escalate and destroy us if we do not stop it now.


by George Douglas Gehr
August 7, 2019
Comments encouraged!

Saturday, April 20, 2019

The Bachmann Bogus Bible Translation


I have frequently commented on the embarrassing display of support shown to Donald Trump by the self-proclaimed “Christian Right”, or evangelical Christians.  “Embarrassing” isn’t even the right word to describe it.  Hypocritical is far better.  Nauseating, more accurate. 
            There have been times when it felt to me like some in this camp have completely lost their minds.  The praise and admiration they openly pour out upon their leader is appalling.  It borders on demagoguery.  I seriously have to question if Christians who not only support Trump but even exalt him with the highest expressions of praise have, in fact, become enraptured with one of the greatest false prophets of our day.  I do not say this lightly.  In fact, I say it with great trepidation.  There is something disturbingly unholy about the support Trump manages to garner for himself.  It is a support that is blind, unwavering, and completely contradictory with what the Christian community has represented for the past 2,000 years.

            I want to make it clear that I am not merely taking a political stance when I evaluate this topic.  I have no problem at all admitting that I am not a Donald Trump supporter.  I do not support his political agenda.  But that is not what I am talking about here.  For the purposes of this article, and the PeaceAbility project, I am seeking to view this from a Christian perspective.  My Christian perspective, to be blunt.  In doing so I find it completely baffling to see so many well-intentioned believers throw their most basic convictions aside in order to praise Donald Trump.  Good grief, some of them actually seem to worship the man!  Yet in all that has taken place over the last two and a half years since Trump was officially crowned the Republican Presidential candidate at the convention in Cleveland, Ohio, the one that really blew me away was when I recently read that former U.S. Representative Michelle Bachmann openly praised Trump in the highest terms and said, among other things, “He is highly biblical, and I would say to your listeners, we will in all likelihood never see a more godly, biblical president again in our lifetime.”*

            Excuse me?  Did I read that correctly?  Donald Trump is the most godly, biblical President we will likely see in our lifetime?  In what realm of reality?  Or should I say, according to which translation of the Bible?  It would appear as if the former Representative has written her own version of the Bible.  I’ll call it the Bachmann Bogus Bible translation, or BBB.  Personally, I have many different translations of the Bible in my library but I am very hard-pressed to find any traits, values, morals or ethics in any of them that can be attributed to Donald J. Trump.

For example, lets take a look at the Ten Commandments, which are to be found in two locations (Exodus 20:1-17; Deuteronomy 5:1-20).  The Ten Commandments are by no means the sum total of righteous living or godly character, but they are a pretty good place to start.  Each Commandment I will attempt to rate in Trump’s life using the following scale.

1.      Strong evidence supporting the “godly” claim

2.      Some evidence supporting the “godly” claim

3.      Its hard to say (or in other words, not much evidence to support or deny)

4.      Some evidence to contradict the “godly” claim

5.      Strong evidence to contradict the “godly” claim

Admittedly I do not have any personal relationship with this man.  All I can use to make my deductions are his very public statements.  Its not a scientific study!  But then, Michelle Bachmann is basically using the same evidence to make her claim.  So here goes!

I.                    You shall have no other gods before me.
I certainly do not know what is in the heart of any man, least of all Donald Trump.  But the man certainly does seem to be obsessed with money and with himself.  These two topics dominate his discourse.  I hear virtually nothing from him about God.  Once when asked about his relationship with God as it pertains to forgiveness, Trump said he was "not sure" whether he ever asked God for forgiveness, stating "If I do something wrong, I just try and make it right. I don't bring God into that picture." 1

RATING:  4  Some evidence to deny the claim.  (He is at least a proclaimed member of the Presbyterian Church, though the congregation he claims to be a member of denies that he is an active member.)

II.                 You shall not make for yourself any idol….you shall not bow down and worship them.
This is a bit difficult to evaluate for most people, I suppose.  Trump seems obsessed with owning the tallest buildings, the gaudiest decorations, and largest crowds.  Jesus said, “Where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.”  Idols need not be a physical object.  1 Samuel 15:23 equates arrogance with idolatry.  Well, Trump is most certainly arrogant!  He once said, “I have one of the great minds in history!”  And again, in Colossians 3:5 “
Put to death, therefore, whatever belongs to your earthly nature: sexual immorality, impurity, lust, evil desires and greed, which is idolatry.”  The very things condemned as idolatry are strongly evident in Trump.
                     RATING:  5  Strong denial of claim

III.              You shall not take the name of the Lord your God in vain.
I will avoid this one since I have no real insight.
                     RATING:  3

IV.               Remember the Sabbath Day by keeping it holy.
There is no evidence that Trump attends church services regularly.  But then, that is not what this means, in my opinion.  Like the third commandment I feel this is too personal to rate.
                     RATING:  3

V.                 Honor your father and your mother.
Again, this is too personal for me to rate.
                     RATING: 3

VI.               You shall not murder.
Even though he bragged that he could shoot someone on Fifth Avenue and not lose any voters the fact remains he has never been accused of murder. 
                        RATING:  1.  Strongly supports claim

VII.            You shall not commit adultery.
While nothing has been proven in a court of law, the accusations of adultery abound.  The payment of hush money could be interpreted as an admittance.  Certainly his talk has indicated that he is guilty of adultery.
                        RATING:  5  Strongly denies claim

VIII.         You shall not steal.
There have been many claims of Trump stiffing contractors and not paying his bills.  His businesses have declared bankruptcy six times.  By his own admission he has used this tool to avoid paying his debtors.  It may be legal according to civil law, but in my opinion this is nothing more than theft from a moral, spiritual perspective.
                          RATING:  5  Strongly denies claim

IX.               You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor.
We are talking about a man who routinely lies.  Whether he simply makes up his own “alternative facts” (which are no facts at all) or tells false stories about his rivals and opponents, Donald Trump is a disgusting liar.  Just a few examples:  the Obama birther conspiracy theory; his claim of thousands of Muslims celebrating in Jersey City on 9/11; “Puerto Rico got $91 billion for the hurricane, more money than has ever been gotten for a hurricane before”; the attendance at his inauguration; and far too many others to list!
Add to this the findings of the Mueller Report and its abundance evidence of lying and deception, and this becomes an easy one to rate.
                           RATING:  5  Strongly denies claim

X.                  You shall not covet…
Again, this is challenging to measure.  Between his narcissism, his arrogance, his bullying and intimidation, and his general lust for outdoing everyone else in just about every way, I must conclude that this person is obsessed with coveting whatever his heart desires.  After observing a large military parade in France Trump demanded that he wants a huge military parade as well.
                           RATING:  5  Strongly denies claim


By totaling these ratings I come up with 39.  That represents an average of 3.9, or basically a 4 (Some evidence to deny the “godly, biblical” claim).  The only reason it is not a full pledge 5 (Strong evidence to deny) is the fact that some of these Commandments simply cannot be measured under these conditions due to their personal nature.  However, I can say with confidence that Michelle Bachmann’s insane claim says more about her than it does about her President.  And what is says is not flattering!



So there you have it.  Just based on the Ten Commandments there is no way one can conclude that Donald J. Trump “is highly biblical, and … we will in all likelihood never see a more godly, biblical president again in our lifetime.”



Unless, perhaps, you are using the BACHMANN BOGUS BIBLE.



G. D. Gehr

April 19, 2019




            1 Wikipedia

Tuesday, April 16, 2019

BOB'S STORY: Challenged But Not Broken


I feel compelled to share a story that has touched my life in a most profound way.  As a pastor I have become acquainted with so many people at so many different levels.  Some on a professional level, most as either members of the church or the community where we served, and others just because life happens.  But a few I would have to elevate to the status of “Friend”.

Proverbs 17:17 says, “A friend loves at all times, and a brother is born for a time of adversity.” (NIV).  This is not to be taken lightly.  While I have many acquaintances that I enjoy being around or knowing, I am not entirely sure just how many true friends I have that would consistently meet the test of this verse.  But there is one whom I know that I can call my friend without any reservation.



A Man With A Vision

I first met Bob Martz in early 2001.  I was the pastor of the Pottstown First Church of the Brethren in Pottstown, Pennsylvania.  The church is located on the corner of York and Fifth Streets.  I was still quite new in town, having moved there from Western PA just a few months earlier.  As I recall I was studying in my office at the church one afternoon when a man walked in and asked if he could have a word with me.  He explained that he lived about two blocks down the street, was a lifelong resident of Pottstown, and wanted to meet the new pastor in his neighborhood.  He struck me as a rather pleasant fellow who was very comfortable with who he was - - not proud by any means but … comfortable.  He seemed to know who he was and he was OK with that.  He did not need to play games or give false impressions to others.  He appeared to be a straight shooter.  I was impressed.

As we talked I learned that he once worked as a cabinet maker/installer for a local company that specialized in kitchen cabinets.  But he now had his own business as a handyman.  I silently wondered why a married man in his mid-thirties would trade a fulltime job with some security to become a self-employed handyman.  I later learned that health issues played a large part in that decision.

Bob seemed to have something specific on his mind but he was not quite ready to address it at first.  Looking back, I believe he wanted to get a feel for who I was and whether he could approach me with whatever was on his mind.

I guess I was passing the test because it did not take too long before he asked how I liked living here and what I thought of the neighborhood.  Somehow he knew that we had purchased a house just a block and a half away from the church, on Fourth Street.  We were located just around the corner from Bob and his wife, Rebecca, though this was the first time we had met.

I responded that we liked it here a lot and we thought the neighborhood was a good one.  I suppose I wasn’t entirely honest in my assessment.  I had a few concerns as I could tell the Numbered Streets were a bit on the decline. 

That is when Bob began to reveal his thoughts.  He grew up in this neighborhood and it obviously was important to him.  But its current state was just a shadow of what it once was.  Locally known as “The Numbered Streets” this neighborhood consisted of an area about 12 blocks long by 4 blocks wide.  It was almost entirely residential.

Pottstown’s Numbered Streets were fast falling victim to the dual sucker punch of “D & P”, i.e., drugs & prostitution.  I quickly learned it was far worse than I realized.  Half a block from my house was a biker bar.  It was regularly attended to by the police for illicit activity and in response to brawls.  There were a number of crack houses scattered throughout the neighborhood that I never knew about.  Less than two blocks from Bob’s house was a large structure that, I believe, used to be a hotel but now was apartments.  According to Bob there was considerable prostitution conducted within it.

As I listened to this man sitting across from me, telling his stories, I thought of how Pottstown had become a kind of symbol for much of the Rust Belt.  Here was a once-proud industrial city with a booming economy.  It all began with the establishment of an iron forge in 1714 which soon became the foundation for a growing iron industry.  By 1751 John Potts began to organize a village with some actual streets.  By 1815 it was incorporated into a borough, only the second one established in Pennsylvania at that time.  The steel industry flourished as Pottstown provided much of the products used in the construction of the Panama Canal and the Golden Gate Bridge.  Bethlehem Steel was the primary producer but it was joined by a few other companies as well.  Pottstown also became a hub for the automobile industry with the arrival of such big-name companies like Firestone and Dana.  Mrs. Smith’s Pies was headquartered here and marketed their goods across the Northeast.

This phenomenal growth was fueled largely by the Philadelphia & Reading Railroad whose mainline cut through the heart of the town.  The P&R later became the Reading Railroad, the largest anthracite coal carrier in the world.  It was a great route for delivery of raw materials coming into the many factories as well as the shipping of final products to the rest of the world.  And, of course, the Reading Railroad also provided a valuable passenger link from Reading, PA to Philadelphia.

 But as towns across America soon discovered the industrial revolution was temporal.  One by one the factories began closing or at best, downsizing to a mere shadow of what they once were.  With the loss of jobs came a loss of purpose.  As the country greeted the 21st Century Pottstown felt lost in time.  Factories were abandoned, store fronts were largely closed, schools were showing their age and the people just seemed weary.  The Numbered Streets, which once housed the factory workers, clearly paid the price for this economic shift.  And the Church of the Brethren in many ways mirrored its surroundings.  Located right smack in the middle of the Numbered Streets, the Church had gone through a major reconstruction project in the 1970’s.  It was a great facility.  But the exodus of jobs also led to an exodus of church members.  Most of the members had moved out of town and only commuted in to worship on Sunday mornings.  Then, not too long after the construction project, the Church experienced a major split in which a large number of members left completely, sticking the faithful remnant with an overbearing mortgage.   By the time I arrived in late 2000 it was obvious that we had a challenging job ahead to try and get the church – and its neighborhood – back into a respectable status.

This was one of the reasons my wife and I intentionally chose to purchase a house in the Numbered Streets.  Without standing on a soap box, megaphone in hand, we wanted the locals to know that we were not afraid of the ‘hood!  In fact, we embraced it.  We had no intention of being an absentee pastor.  We wanted to identify with our surroundings.  Consequently, I routinely walked or road my bike to and from the office and throughout the neighborhood.  I wanted to be seen – not because I was anyone, but because I wanted to be invitational and accessible.  Bob would later tell me that he quickly noticed this and it was one reason he felt he could stop in and talk to me that first day we met.

So, he took a chance and offered to me his vision for the area.  He wanted to see this section of town restored to what it once was; what it could be.  He was waiting for an opportunity to find someone willing to join him in becoming a positive force for change.  As he shared his heart with me I could readily see his passion, his drive.  He had a plan.  He wanted to introduce a Town Watch chapter to the Numbered Streets, enlisting local citizens to reclaim their community.  His question for me:  was I interested in being a part of it?  And did I think the Church would join in?

I could not answer for others but I assured him I would do whatever I could to be part of it.  Thus began a partnership that quickly developed into a very deep and rewarding friendship.



Bob’s Story

Bob and Rebecca had an interesting story themselves.  Neither had any real church background.  In fact, Bob was quite turned off by organized “church”.  His parents were members of the Lutheran Church.  His father was rather respected in the congregation, as I understood it.  But his father also had a drinking problem and was very abusive both to Bob and to his mother.  One day, after suffering physical abuse at the hands of her husband, Shirley Martz went to see their pastor for some help.  The pastor, in turn, refused to believe her and basically told her to go home and be a good wife.  She must be having a bad day and making something out of nothing.  As I recall it was not long after that when Bob’s father gave his mother a particularly frightful beating.  Bob got a hold of his father’s gun and threatened to shoot him with it.  The father probably knew his son was quite serious and decided not to chance it.  He left.  They were divorced soon after that but the scars would never fully heal.

Bob was born with Spina Bifida.  His was of the more serious nature.  As he likes to tell it, he was born with a tail.  People with his condition have a hole in their spine that leaves the spinal cord unprotected and exposed.  In more severe cases a sac of fluid comes through the baby’s back and forms what looks like a small tail.  Within this sac are nerves and parts of the spinal cord.  With surgery the sac can be reinserted, and the hole sown shut.  But the damage is already done to the spinal cord.  Depending where this occurs along the spine will determine what kind of problems it may cause.  For Bob, his was located in the lower back.  Consequently he was plagued with leg problems and bathroom issues.  These became worse as he reached his late 40’s and into his 50’s.

Because of his Spina Bifida Bob was forced to plan his life around his medication and access to a bathroom.  He was never far from his faithful knapsack in which he kept his necessary supplies.  Never knowing when a flareup would hit him, he got to the point where he could not hold a full time job.  Without a doubt he could have easily gone on disability and experience at least a little less financial stress but he refused to do so.  He pushed himself to do what he could to earn a living and provide for himself and his wife. 

Bob turned his attention to metal polishing and fine woodworking.  He did wonders in restoring brass, silver, and other metals into beautiful objects.  It was a job he could do at his own pace, and he was a master at it.  He was even commissioned by the Pottstown Carousel organization to restore the brass poles on an antique carousel that they owned.  For many years it was a dream to restore the carousel from an age gone by and make it the center piece for a hoped-for revival of the tourist trade.  Bob worked tirelessly on the project and today the carousel is indeed a great attraction.  See more on this at https://www.carouselatpottstown.org/.

Another project of his was restoring old houses.  By the time we met he was working on his second house.  He has recently completed his third house.  His work is meticulous, down to every detail.  That is impressive enough.  But what blows me away is the fact that he does the work himself.  Whether its mixing and pouring concrete, drywalling, carpentry, cabinet making, routing, plumbing - - you name it.  Yes, he did subcontract a few things, like HVAC.  And he would enlist the help of a friend or two when he needed more than two hands.  Nevertheless, he was an astounding artisan.


“Neighbors In Numbers”

Clearly the central focus in Bob’s life was improving his community.  Nearly everything he did was motivated by this goal.  Even his house remodeling was intended to provide better housing and increased home value.

It was a natural step, therefore, to see his interest in organizing a Town Watch chapter.  Now, in some cases, the Town Watch can be seen almost as authoritarian, as if Big Brother was lurching around the corner anticipating the opportunity to catch someone in violation of some kind of ordinance.  But such an approach would have been totally out of character for Robert Martz.  Instead, he envisioned a group that was part social club, part exercise group, and part civic improvement.  His desire was to gather a group of neighbors who would walk through the neighborhood and get to know each other.  In the process they would also be a visible reminder to everyone that we were observant and would hold people accountable. 

The key to getting a movement some wind in its sails is to be simple and catchy.  The first order of business was to create a plan.  We would talk to people in the church and in the Numbered Streets, inviting them to join us on evening walks.  Our goal was to walk at least twice a week.  But we did not want to become too predictable, so we planned to vary the days we would walk.  We would always notify the police that we were going out and keep our cell phones ready in case we saw or needed anything.  The police also met with us frequently for training and encouragement.  They also made a few rounds through our territory just to connect and make sure all was well.  We clearly knew our limitations and wanted to be nothing more than a source of encouragement to the public and extra eyes for the police.

Next, we wanted a name.  “Town Watch” seemed too cold and organized.  After some thought Bob’s brother came up with the term “Neighbors In Numbers”.  We loved it.  I immediately saw the purpose in it:  building relationships with our neighbors in the Numbered Streets.  We even had fluorescent green T-shirts made with our own logo & name.

Neighbors In Numbers caught on quickly.  What began with two people soon became an excited group of roughly 10.  As we walked along we would stop and chat with people sitting on their porch or working in their yard.  People started looking for us.  If we did not walk by one night but they saw us another evening they wanted to know where we were.  It was contagious. 

The next step was to plan for a National Night Out celebration.  NNO is a nationwide event sponsored by Town Watch.  The plan is to connect the police with the people in a positive and encouraging way.  To this basic plan we added a few things like free food, live music and door prizes.  We invited other civic organizations to set up a booth, groups like the American Cancer Society, the local hospital, EMS and fire departments, and a host of service organizations.  We approached the Borough of Pottstown with a request to block off York Street from 5th to 6th streets.  The Church and its parking lot would serve as central command.  Though the Church of the Brethren was the only place of worship in the Numbered Streets we nonetheless invited other Churches to join us.  Television and radio stations were naturally contacted for coverage.  We solicited door prizes and financial support from local businesses with a surprising level of interest and response. 

It required a lot of work, but it paid off.  The first year we held a National Night Out we had roughly 300 people attend.  That was in August of 2001 – just before 9/11.  Each year after that it grew.  I have no idea how many people came in the following years but it was quite a party!

Slowly we observed results.  I really feel the Numbered Streets were improving over time.  It could even be seen in the market prices of the homes that went up for sale.  The streets looked cleaner.  The people seemed more relaxed and a little quicker to open up.

A transformation like this does not just happen.  It takes motivation, commitment and leadership.  Bob was just the person for the job.  I was happy to support him any way I could but clearly without Bob Martz there was no success to be seen. 


Faith In Action

As I said earlier Bob held a bitter attitude towards “church”.  I cannot blame him.  Between his health issues and the failure of his pastor to support his mother it comes as no surprise to me that he equated church with hypocrisy.  Words meant little to Bob.  His thought was: “Don’t tell me what you believe.  Show me!”  Without realizing it Robert Martz was fully in tune with Jesus.

I never pushed the issue.  I saw so much good in this man’s heart that it meant little to me to make any effort to get him inside the doors of our church building.  I did pray for him and Rebecca regularly.  And hopefully I planted a seed or two along the way.  But I knew it was up to God to bring things to fruition.

It took about two years or so.  One day Bob and Rebecca came to me and wanted to talk.  I expected it to be something about Neighbors In Numbers or NNO, but I was wrong.  They wanted to talk about faith.  To make a long story short, that night I had the opportunity to lead them both to Christ.

They both began attending our Church and joined my membership class.  The baptismal service was an exciting and memorable one.  The pleasant approach and genuine excitement they displayed was refreshing.

For the next several years things were positive on many levels.  Eventually, I was called to serve as pastor of another church a good hour away.  It was not easy to leave Pottstown after investing so much in the Church and the community.  But if there is one thing I have learned its that God always a plan, and when he closes one door he opens another.  So we left. 

Sadly, about a year or so after we left, Bob and Rebecca had a falling out with the congregation.  Basically, they wanted to keep the fire going, to challenge the status quo and to invest in the community.  After nearly 7 years of my pushing them the congregation apparently felt they needed a rest.   They gradually settled back into a routine of worshipping on Sunday morning and then skipping town.  That may seem a bit harsh but that’s what it felt like.  And it did not sit well with Bob.

For whatever reason I had the impression that a few things were said to him that just did not sit well.  To top it off Bob felt that members tended to avoid him when they were seen in public.  It got to the point where Bob and Rebecca just stopped attending.  They never lost their faith in God, but they could no longer express it in the confines of the church.

With that decision we were free to reconnect again.  Though I tried to advise them to remain in fellowship with the church I was not successful.  However, our friendship only grew.  We continued to be very close in spite of the distance between us.

Spina Bifida is a cruel and disturbing condition.  There is no cure and it only becomes increasingly worse.  For all of our medical advancements the central nervous system remains a bit of a mystery.  The price Bob paid with his health was beyond anyone’s understanding.  Added to that he began having a few emotional problems that manifested itself through mood swings.  That, too, can be attributed to the Spina Bifida, to some degree.

We had a few serious conversations recently that gave me a glimpse into what was going on.  Still, I must confess I didn’t see it coming.  One day Rebecca called me in tears.  She was deeply concerned for Bob.  He just wasn’t acting right.  He was saying and doing things that did not make sense.  He also had moments of anger.  I offered to come over to see him but she felt sure it was only temporary.  She promised to let me know if it continued.



Three days later Bob Martz took his life.  Rebecca came home from work to find the garage boarded up.  She tried to open the door but could not.  She got the neighbor and found him inside.

Rebecca was devastated.  I am still trying to wrap my brain around it.  I have dealt with the aftermath of suicide three times previously in my pastoral career.  It is never easy.  But nothing could possibly prepare me for this.  I expect I will be trying to work through this for a long time.  I feel consumed by an emptiness I cannot address.


Seven Truths To Live By

As I look back over my eighteen-plus year walk with Bob Martz I find myself greatly humbled.  Here was a man who understood life.  He was challenged by it, but he turned it around and challenged life right back.  As I reflect on this I find myself organizing just a few lessons that I am sure will stay with me.

1.      Words are overshadowed by actions.
It is easy to say the right thing, to dress up our thoughts in fancy language, to impress people with our words.  But none of it means a thing until we back it up with action.  “If anyone has material possessions and sees a brother or sister in need but has no pity on them, how can the love of God be in that person?”  (I John 3:17)

2.      Good citizenship is consistent with a true, spiritual faith.
This principle is at the heart of our Neighbors In Numbers” program.
“Work for the good of the city where I’ve taken you as captives, and pray to the Lord for that city.”  (Jer. 29:7) NIV

3.      Friendship is a special gift that can endure incredible challenges.
Some 9 months ago my wife and I were selling our mobile home.  Just when it went under contract a storm hit and caused two leaks in our roof that came through the ceiling in two of our bedrooms.  I hired a restoration company to repair it only to find that all they would do is remove the damaged ceiling and leave us with two large, gaping holes in our bedrooms.  I was upset and desperate.  Who do you call?  In my case it had to be Bob.  Even though he was putting the finishing touches on his renovated house he dropped everything and came to my rescue.  For two days he took the lead and repaired the damage.   And, of course, he did it the right way.  I never could have done it without him.  Proverbs 17:17 says, “A friend loves at all times, and a brother is born for a time of adversity.” (NIV).  Yep, Bob Martz is a first-class friend!

4.      Relationships rule!
Programs are nice; organization is helpful; doctrine can clarify our thoughts.  But not much can compare to the rewards of a solid relationship.  A good relationship is foundational to getting anything meaningful done.  “What does the Lord require of you?  To act justly and to love mercy and walk humbly with your God.”  (Micah 6:8) NIV.
“Carry each other’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ.”  (Gal. 6:2) NIV
Relationships must be horizontal – with our fellow man – and vertical – with our God.

5.      It is time we stop behaving selfishly and treat others with respect.
This applies to all people we encounter.  “Those who consider themselves religious and yet do not keep a tight reign on their tongues deceive themselves and their religion is worthless.” (James 1:26) NIV
“Show proper respect to everyone” (I Peter 2:17)
We can disagree on anything.  But there is no need to be disrespectful toward anyone.  Bob attempted to show respect to all.  I am not going to portray him as having perfected this, but he did his best.  Conversely, it hurt him when others could not show the same respect in return.

6.      There is a limit to how much we can bear.
We are not created to fly solo all the time.  We are social creatures who need one another.  We need a support system.  We especially need God.
“Cast your cares upon the Lord and he will sustain you.”  (Psalm 55:22)
“Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you.”  (1 Peter 5:7)
God knows that life can be overbearing at times, which is why he wants us to share our burden with him.  Jesus said, “Come to me all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.  Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.  For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.”  (Matthew 11:28-30)
As I told Rebecca, Bob took a terrible amount of pain and frustration upon himself.  He dealt with it well most of the time.  But after a while all the problems, the health issues, the frustrations are like drops in a bucket.  Each one on its own is manageable.  But in time the bucket fills and begins to overflow because it just cannot handle anymore.  We all have our limits.

7.      Suicide is NOT the unpardonable sin.
I have to state this in the clearest way I can.  There remains among some the archaic and false belief that a person who takes their own life is doomed to eternity in hell.  Such thinking angers me.  There is nothing biblical about such illogic.  This thinking is a terrible distortion of God’s Word.  The truth is, suicide is a product of mental illness.  It is a health issue.  And like any health issue, if left untreated, it can lead to death.


Epilogue

I have truly been blessed to have known Robert Martz and to share so many wonderful experiences with him.  He has been an inspiration for my life.  I do not want to give the impression that he was perfect.  He was not.  Bob was a perfectionist to the point he could be annoying at times.  He was no stranger to demonstrations of anger.  And he knew how to hold a grudge – at least for a while.  But I admired his simplistic take on life, his infectious humor, and his desire to be genuine. 



I find comfort knowing that tonight, as I bring this to completion, Bob has found his peace.  His Spina Bifida has been healed.  His mind is clear.  He sees things in the Light of God’s Truth.  And for this, I thank God.





G. D. Gehr

April 16, 2019