Monday Morning Music Ministry

Start Your Week with a Spiritual Song in Your Heart

The Way To End School Shootings, I

2-19-18

Another week, another school shooting. Or so it seems; the news media and politicians recently cited 18 deaths by firearms on American school properties in the first six weeks of this year.

Well, it turns out that most of those were parking-lot encounters after dark, between adults; or accidental discharges barely near schools, and so forth. Four angry, and ugly, assaults – but I am not saying “only four,” Any is too many.

The gun issue is one of many in contemporary America where hyperbole has overtaken rationality. Everyone – I think on both, or all, sides – readily adopts exaggerations and logical extensions and, lately, personal invective, to press their points.

What once was abstract is individual, and we see it in the “gun debate” as much as in any other area, and even among people who never encountered danger or grief. We can of course be passionate about issues without being touched personally. But I know the real root cause of our heated debates these days in America – that are more heat than debate.

It is the Slippery Slope. The term in logic indicates the danger of granting one point, in fear of losing the entire argument. To open the door a crack threatens to destroy the entire house, given time.

The Slippery Slope is more than a debating term. When it is used today, even when not called by name, people in effect indicate distrust of the opponent. In the gun debate, for instance, many defenders of the Second Amendment believe that any compromise will be seized upon, leading to… seizure of all firearms. “Give an inch; they’ll take a mile,” and it did not help rational debate when a Democrat officeholder a few years ago admitted that, yes, she would not stop at each restriction.

We can avoid slippery slopes by not even going near the slopes.

For instance, the solution to the “gun problem” in America is simple.

Not “easy,” but simple. Questions and answers:
For two centuries we have had virtually unrestricted access to firearms, and virtually no mass slayings and “senseless” attacks. Why?

Is it because guns are more sophisticated and deadly? Nonsense. Everything exists in the context of its time. Daggers are more convenient than dueling swords, yet there were not mass stabbings when they were readily available.

Speaking of knives, if the automatic reaction of many people – ban all guns – were a solution, should we look at the growing numbers of mass killings around the world by weaponized cars and trucks, and, yes again, random stabbings, and… ban cars and trucks and knives?

Such scenarios depend on slippery slopes, to propose and dispose… and will never lead to solutions.

It is self-swindling delusion to look to Washington for the answer to these problems, and almost everything, these days. “Why doesn’t the president act?” “Why doesn’t Congress DO something?”

Let’s explain something to America: Shut up. Washington is not the answer to everything… cannot be the answer to everything… and, as often as not, is the answer to nothing; unable to have the answers. Washington is not our savior.

We already have a Savior. And now we are face to face with our solution. Remember, I said “easy,” but not simple; not simple to make happen. Not in America, 2018.

Guns don’t make kids shoot. Hate makes them shoot. Listen to people shouting about laws and calling for more guards and more psychologists and more counselors. Where is Jesus in the middle of it all? Can you hear anyone calling for Him? For more God?

Some of the “simple” solutions in next week’s message.

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Click: Hard Times, Come Again No More

Changing Laws… or Minds… or Hearts

11-27-17

If you have been visiting with this Junior Jeremiah of late, you know that I am persuaded that our problems in America, in the West, in the church, are well nigh intractable. I am afraid that we have slipped down the slippery slope, and probably are close to swirling down the tubes.

God is sovereign, of course; and many of us pray for revival. Fervently. But logic, not to mention Biblical history, argues against spontaneous moral regeneration. Does God impose rectitude on a people who are not so inclined? Is it likely that our culture, en masse, will awake some Monday morning, saying, “OK, enough of several generals of decline! Let’s all return to being moral, polite, just, considerate, chaste, responsible, and religious”?

The Law of Civilization and Decay (posited in the brilliant but largely forgotten book of that title by Brooks Adams, 1895) is unfolding in history’s latest crumbling culture, our post-Christian West. The statistics about our condition are dispositive… and daunting.

Yet as a Christian, if not otherwise an optimist, I do not prescribe resignation. As Christ’s representatives in the world, we will go down, if we do go down, fighting. Christians have already won in the sense that we are joint heirs with Christ to the Eternal Home that is ours. But to fulfill His Great Commission, for the sake of our children, and for the lost souls of the world who need to hear the Truth… we fight on.

The signs of “progress” around us can be mirages. Communism largely has been defeated, but repressive governments have not. We have become a people who brag about liberating people’s minds and bodies, yet millions willingly enslave themselves to drugs and destructive ideologies. Including folks in our very midst.

At home, we have built a society where “sex sells” — libido-drenched imagery in movies, TV, ads, commercials, music, entertainment. And then we should be surprised when people conform their behavior to sexual impulses?

Overseas, our government cuddles up to China, which this week raided yet more Christian churches, jailing worshipers and ordering the installation of portraits of Xi Jingpin. “Acting on American values” — which are…?

The “progress” we applaud is an opiate, calming our sense to the Pentecost of Calamity that is coming in this world.

So. How do we fight these trends?

There is a crisis of the Old Order. We, as citizens – albeit pilgrims and strangers in this world – are stuck with Democracy. Can I mean that? Yes, I choose my words. Democracy in many ways has come to mean a corrupt web of favoritism, corruption, and deceit. Broken promises, cynical use of the System. Secret alliances between Big Money, Big Media, and Big Politics. Running up IOUs to fall upon our children. Consensus-building by pandering.

In the same manner I have also realized that Capitalism has become our enemy, having been transformed into Finance Capitalism, Crony Capitalism. We instead should embrace Free Enterprise, a nice-sounding brand name for our economics, but which scarcely ever has been practiced.

Winston Churchill is supposed to have said that Democracy is the worst form of government… unless you consider the alternatives.

A clever aphorism, but it has the practicality of a sieve when we need to bail the sinking lifeboat. If we recognize that we are in a spiritual crisis, it is a spiritual solution that we need. Political action? God bless activists… but we must look beyond. There are three traditional areas we turn to these days, each more difficult than the next.

The first: CHANGE LAWS. Especially in this system of pandering, of government by propaganda, of Big Lies and False Promises… the cry to “make things right” by new laws is the biggest lie of all. Laws are not magic wands. Prohibition did not work; drug laws are a farce; and gun regulations are chimeras. However, people look to Washington for salvation… in futility.

The second: CHANGE MINDS. Here is where Big Media plays its game. Background players and manipulators control the debate… and, we see increasingly, they monitor, manipulate, and censor internet communication and cell-phone activity. We think we may persuade (and, theoretically, we still can, in small ways) but appeals to reason are merely tolerated, and do not thrive, these days.

The third: CHANGE HEARTS. Aha. The simplest route? Sit down; talk and share; appeal to morality and self-interest; cite ethics and God’s Word. The “hot button” issues – guns, abortion, heresy, homosexuality, war, abuse, divorce, greed, immigration, workplace discrimination, drugs – can’t we all “get along”?

All you have to do in each of these topics is cite a “higher authority”; for Christians it would be the Bible. Secularists would fall back on philosophers. Changing hearts of opponents in such arenas should be the easiest way to begin changing hearts, no? Laws get rusty, and peoples’ minds change. And such remedies are seductive: easy to try, relatively easy to apply, and… very easy to forget. We can wipe our hands, and brush the dust from our sandals, and move on.

No, the hardest of all methods to bring change to our world is to change hearts.

It is the surest way, too. But to change hearts we must be committed, be earnest, be persistent, and be sincere. We must, if necessary, leave some our OWN hearts with those with whom we contend.

Take the current sexual-predator scandals. We can appeal to the Law: “We will make it (more) illegal to do such things.” We can appeal to the Mind: “Wise up! You might get caught!” Or we can appeal to the Heart: “It is wrong. You are harming someone. You disgrace your family. You are displaying a lack of self-respect. You are better than that! It is a sin. Repent, seek forgiveness.”

“Wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it. But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it.”

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Click: The Wide Gate

We Are All Vets. Some Have Not Served Yet.

11-6-17

George Santayana famously said that those who do not know history are doomed to repeat it. A cartoon-meme popping up on the web these days has an old guy reflecting that those who DO know history are doomed to watch other people repeat the mistakes.

That IS a danger. Rather, it is a reality. We see it around us, every day.

Without delving into whether this is unprecedented or one of history’s tragic cycles is open to question, but ultimately the question is silly – in the face of reality. In this world, today, it surely seems that a large portion of humankind has gone mad. We have rejected in many ways the concept of Absolute Truth, the possibility of its existence, and the benefits of seeking to know it. History’s masses, let us say in the West, often suffered as a lot in life. However they usually believed in improvement; in advancement; in better things and better days. They believed in themselves, in leaders they respected… in God.

The world, in turning inward instead of outward, living for today without regard to an afterlife, abandoning standards that nurtured their ancestors, of course will reflect disharmony and chaos. Art imitates life, after all (what Plato called “Mimesis”). This should worry us very, very much about the state of things ‘round about us. This world is not one politician or one new fad or one hangover away from righting ourselves. We fool ourselves when we think so. And meanwhile we are diverted by bread-and-circus movies and sports and TV shows and celebrity orgies…

Never since the Flood has humankind, over the face of the earth and not in isolated pockets, rejected Truth and Purity in such determined ways.

So, we fight. We fight as individuals, we fight as nations – or, we give in as individuals and as nations. This truth reflects a crisis of the age, and the great challenge of our time. It has always been our portion to fight – “Life is real; life is earnest,” Longfellow wrote:

Not enjoyment, and not sorrow, Is our destined end or way; But to act, that each tomorrow Find us farther than today.

In the world’s broad field of battle, In the bivouac of Life, Be not like dumb, driven cattle! Be a hero in the strife!

Lives of great men all remind us We can make our lives sublime, And, departing, leave behind us Footprints on the sands of time.

About these fights as individuals and as nations, Theodore Roosevelt reminded us that it is beyond our choosing to participate in our fate. Our only choice is whether we play our parts “well or ill.”

For more than a generation America has had a volunteer military. I cannot imagine American society, our country’s youth, ever returning to a military draft. To have to interrupt (or fulfill) your life’s path by having to serve in one of the military branches? Frankly, I wonder even if America were attacked whether the spirit of service and sacrifice, across the population, would exist again as in the past. I wonder, further, that even if there were universal social-work service for one, two, or four years whether American youth would comply.

We have compartmentalized military service. In an intellectual manner we have come to treat the military as slaves. We “thank them for their service,” yet keep our hands clean of their work; the sacrifices; the threats; the separation, injuries, deaths; the stress and trauma. At the same time, sadly, we also separate ourselves from the glory of service, the thrill of victories and fights well fought, and the pride of wearing those uniforms.

That is a tragedy. Unfair to the servicemen and women; robbing the rest of the population of necessary components of healthy souls.

In these days of “advanced warfare techniques” (a sanitized term for more efficient means of maiming and killing) it is almost beyond comprehension how men and women enlist – and often re-enlist, and volunteer for repeated tours – knowingly assuming the collateral “oncoming” of separated families, variable support from the System, oftentime insufficient medical and psychological care as veterans.

We cannot admire these servants enough. Even if we dissent from foreign policies, overseas involvements, controversial missions and nation-building… we must stand in awe and gratitude to the people who serve.

And. For those of us “at home,” we cannot forget that we serve too. Soldiers, sailors, airmen, marines do our bidding in faraway places. Which makes it easier to be seduced by the feeling that all our battles are being waged by others. But we, all of us, have battles too, every day.

We must fight for our souls, against evil. We fight for our families, against all manners of threats. We fight for our culture, against corruption. We fight for our civilization, against enemies seen and unseen. We fight for our God, against the devil and all his ways, and for the Kingdom that is to come.

Or… we should.

If we don’t fight these battles, we surely will be subsumed.

On Veterans’ Day let us honor those who have served… and let us re-enlist, the rest of us, for the battles of life. Sooner or later, we too will be counted as veterans of those good fights.

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Click: Gone Home

Faith, Hope, and Clarity

8-21-17

Do we need one more essay or column on the cultural/political divide in our country? When certain points of view have not been articulated, I think so.

Crowds gather to vent their spleen in Ferguson, Charlottesville, Boston, ready for fights. Itching – hence the ersatz riot gear, the homemade armor, the hoods, the intimidating costumes, and, sometimes, mace and sticks.

Any of us who watched coverage of the day in Charlottesville knew beforehand that protesters were there to dissent from Robert E Lee’s statue being torn down. The larger assembled group, armed and wearing hoods, were there to protest the protesters. The police were ordered to not keep the groups separated, for reasons still be to be explained.

Initial reports noted that the driver of the car had a stone thrown through his windshield, and protesters rocked his car. Whether out of fear and panic, or premeditated vehicular homicide… we saw what happened. Copycat of Nice and London? Precursor of Barcelona?

In coverage of the Boston protest, networks spent hours talking about “protesters” and “counter-protesters,” with no hint of which “side” was defined as free-speech advocates. Both? Neither? By the way, eventually the crowd estimates were released – about 100 conservatives; about 39,900 lefists.

It is a circus, but largely a media circus. Many people are merely sheep, feeling the need to be angry; expressing inchoate frustrations; and willing to test the limits of discourse… for the cameras.

A few years ago I had a meeting in the Summit Ministries office of Dr David Noebel at the Brannon Howze’s Worldview Weekend headquarters. These are people and organizations that do much good, but I was struck by pictures framed on the wall – large, vintage portraits of Stonewall Jackson and other Confederate leaders.

I am not a crusader on the slavery issue, mostly because it is, thankfully, dead and buried; or should be. There still is slavery in the world, but not of the “South will rise again” variety; on present-day slavery I am a crusader. Nobody in America dreams of its re-institution; however there are multitudes who profit from phony controversies and threats. I agree with Lincoln that “If slavery is not wrong, nothing is wrong,” and I wish more people felt the same about abortion, our current social abomination.

I remarked on the portrait of Stonewall Jackson in Dr Noebel’s office and was reminded that he was a Christian who prayed every day with his troops. I replied, “He was also a ‘gentleman’ who defended slavery; and, after taking an oath to defend the United States, proved himself a traitor.”

Treason, vintage 1860s, does not bother some people. But neither does treason and anarchy today bother other people. Not “Antifa” protesters; not the slobbering media.

As a historian, and an artist, and a patriot, I am deeply disturbed by actions to pull down and destroy statues and paintings. I am Christian, yet I was aggrieved to see the demolition of ancient Buddha statues by the Taliban. ISIS has destroyed priceless religious artwork in Africa and the Middle East. The Nazis burned books. Good company of the Antifa movement and Black Lives Matter. Role models?

Even the French Revolutionaries let cathedrals stand. Bolsheviks did not destroy the Amber Room or the Winter Palace of the Czars (although the Palace was looted by Bolsheviks, especially its wine cellar, leading to the “longest hangover in history,” as it became known). Stalin, on the other hand, airbrushed his enemies from photographs. Futile, but it is what totalitarians attempt.

In the rush to eliminate immobile “vestiges” of history, self-appointed censors have climbed up statues like monkeys and defaced or toppled statuary, a few of which, ironically, have been artistic allegories having no relation to slavery.

There is a joke that goes: “Do you know how to save a drowning bigot?” “No.” “Good.” Bigotry, in whatever cause, and the crime of re-writing history, can never be allowed – at least by a society that needs to know where it has been, in order to know where it is going.

In another nod to good intentions, I suppose, the county executives of Lee County FL, reached an agreement this week to hire an artist to doctor a portrait of Robert E Lee in the county seat. Lee will remain, but soon he will be clad in a business suit, not a general’s uniform. Strange. Maybe his statue can be altered so he rides a Harley.

Where will it end? Will black people refuse to drink from Dixie Cups? Stop driving through the Lincoln Tunnel? Before white radicals move their next nihilistic cause (remember when the names of “Christian” cities like St Louis and Los Angeles were targets? They moved on from that) will they burn those portraits of Andrew Jackson in their wallets? Teachers are fired for saying positive things about Southern authors, but a Missouri state senator is praised for openly calling for Pres. Trump’s murder.

Statues are works of art (except when poorly executed, another matter) – but provide teachable moments. Talk to your children; don’t teach them to make paint balls. Live a life so your grandchildren will honor you, maybe hang a portrait in your honor, or theirs; not slash a painting of someone else. Martin Luther King denounced homosexual marriage; should his statue on the Mall be felled?
If you do not – if you cannot – learn from history, you will be its next victim.

I have a solution to the current furor: Stop shouting, and learn sign language. What do I mean by that?

I urge a variation of Marschall’s Solution to the Pete Rose controversy. Should he kept out of the Baseball Hall of Fame because he gambled and lied? No, I say. His statistics earned him a place. But his plaque should include, alongside his dates and numbers, the facts that he gambled and lied and was banned for life. History.

In the same way, write new signs beneath or next to statues and paintings of “controversial” historical figures. Birth and death dates; training, accomplishments, failures; then the “negative” information. Numbers of slaves owned or people killed. If Civil War generals, the good (valor) and the bad (carnage) (both sides, sure; Trump was correct). And so forth.

History, laid out. The truth, the whole truth, nothing but the truth. If future generations are too stupid to be informed and instructed by such signage, we are lost anyway. But let people glimpse history, and reflect.

And then they can yell at each other about the signs, instead of statues and paintings. Bad television, but good public policy.

Come now, let us reason together, says the Lord: though your sins are like scarlet,they shall be as white as snow; though they are red like crimson, they shall become like wool.” Isaiah 1:18
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Click: Iris DeMent’s Keep Me, God

We See Our Power; God Sees Our Values

7-24-17

1.
Last summer, learning about Michigan trip by trip, I visited Grand Rapids and the Gerald R Ford Presidential Library. I came away with a new repect for the modest accidental president. This week, returning from my latest European trip, I came home with a new respect for America. It was in an unexpected manner, in unexpected ways.

I have waved the flag in many ways through my life. I support our heritage and our military in traditional, and often fervent, ways. My patriotism – the catch-all word for the bundle of impulses – has an aspect that is somewhat unorthodox these days, but not unique.

I favor a strong military, but I think we have used it far too often in recent years. I am for peace, but not always going to war on its behalf. I endorse democracy, generally, but I do not think it is perfect for every society, especially by our imposition. I have been uneasy about America having bases in something like 140 countries. I think we breed resentment among other nations by interfering in their affairs, their trade – and, yes, their elections – when we wantonly define our own self-interest. I think “nation-building” is noxious and pretentious elsewhere when our own nation is crumbling in many ways – structurally, economically, morally.

My patriotism, then, is not qualified but has standards. Neither is it blind; and not defined by knee-jerkers of the left or right.

It is informed by the eternal wisdom of the Roman military tactician Publius Flavius Vegetius Renatus in his book De Re Militari: “Si vis pacem para bellum” — “In times of peace, prepare for war.” Unfortunately, he lived in the Fourth Century when Rome, about to be overrun by by Vandals, most needed the advice. Rome was paying the price of choosing Empire over Republic, however.

My patriotism is informed by George Washington, who warned his countrymen, and posterity, to be free of “entangling alliances.”

And it is informed by Theodore Roosevelt, who combined both outlooks, and, typically, other sober considerations when he said: “To be rich, aggressive, and unarmed, is to invite certain disaster and annihilation.”
2.
I mentioned Gerald Ford because upon my arrival on home shores, the commissioning ceremony of the USS Gerald R Ford, the biggest and most powerful battleship in the world, and world history, took place this weekend.

It was worthwhile for any patriot, indeed any citizen, to watch. It is a ship possessing as many superlatives, perhaps, as weapons systems and lethal innovations. The length of more than three football fields and powered by two nuclear reactors, the floating fortress will be head of a battle group, not even a solo player on the world’s oceans.

I was unexpectedly moved by elements of the ceremony that, to military people, could have been the most mundane. But the uniforms; the protocols; the orders, salutes, and marching; all impressed me. Military life is a way of life from which the American public has largely grown ignorant, even immune, since Volunteer Service created a segregated system almost half a century ago.

Thank God for aspects of that system, that tradition, for instance the discipline that still flows therefrom.

Perhaps my sensibility was tilled by two weeks in Ireland, where I was struck by comments from all manner of people about the current state of things in America. After many overseas trips since the age of 14, I am used to Europeans being curious about the United States. Whether as a tourist peppered by questions about blue jeans and rock ‘n’ roll; or making appearances on behalf of the US Information Service of the State Department about… well, often again, blue jeans and rock ‘n’ roll, I was aware of a fascination with America.

Seriously, I have also parried questions about Pershing Missile deployment under Reagan; the first Gulf War under the first Bush; and, now, about Donald Trump.

Trump largely is despised by the European public, left and right. When he is not despised, he is dismissed or merely dissed. That is a given, at least at present, and was not a surprise.

But what did surprise me, in many (and unscientifically charted) conversations was a common feeling among all types and classes of my encounters. Generally stated, it was not a basic resentment of the United States as a country, even as a power. Rather, many people confessed to a realization, even a conscious reliance, on America’s role in world affairs… European security… even country-by-country’s occasional internal matters.

Not about all details of their lives, surely; but, nowadays, more than blue jeans and rock ‘n’ roll. “We need America.” You ask them about paying their share of NATO, and they will shrug in embarrassed agreement, but there is little “America, Go Home” sentiment in Europe. They cannot understand Trump – as if all Americas can – but they appreciate our presence, including our military shield, in inchoate ways.

3.
Which brings me again to the commissioning of the USS Gerald R Ford, and what the battleship (and the commissioning ceremony) represents.

Ultimately, even if the battleship sees action in some virtual holocaust, it is more of a symbol than an arsenal. The USS Gerald R Ford represents American might. Our entire military complex manifests our strength. American power has been in danger of losing its effectiveness over the past decade because the world came to realize that some presidents and some parties are unwilling to deploy; that bluffs have become seen as substitutes for action; that red lines are empty threats and “resolve” can only be found in the dictionaries, not operations manuals, of the White House and Pentagon.

Americans, and Europeans, can be sure that the current president is not ambiguous on such matters. Significantly, Russians and Chinese, as well as Iranians and North Koreans, can be quite unceratin about how Trump will act – and that is a powerful stealth weapon in and of itself.

However, deflating my swelling breast a bit, I have legitimate worries that America of the 21st century is too much like Rome of the 4th century.

Are we an empire being eaten away at the edges? Are we a society whose spiritual core has rotted? Are our priorities chiefly wealth and it accumulation? pleasure? license? relativism? Do we project power, and not values, any more?

Of course, the questions are rhetorical. II Chronicles 7:14 says, “If my people, who are called by my name, shall humble themselves, pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways….” We read the holy promise, but we can hear the holy warning.

God forbid that the elements of the American arsenal like the USS Gerald R Ford will be just so much metal and wires and tubes and diodes. Things that rust and decay were never what made America great.

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The Naval Hymn, with a photo of Gerald Ford in uniform. He rose to the rank of Lieutenant Commander in the US Navy.

Click: The Naval Hymn / Eternal Father, Strong To Save

Lincoln. Trump. Gettysburg. Commemorations.

5-29-16

July 4 is a pivotal date in American history, not only the date when the Second Continental Congress adopted the Declaration of Independence. Fifty years later, to the day, two of the Framers, erstwhile political opponents, John Adams and Thomas Jefferson, the second and third presidents of the United States, respectively, died. After the Siege of Vicksburg, U S Grant accepted the surrender of that Confederate stronghold of the Civil War. The battles around San Juan Hill were fought and won by Col Theodore Roosevelt’s Rough Riders in the Spanish-American War.

And, of course, it was on the 4th of July that Southern troops under Gen Robert E Lee withdrew after three bloody days at Gettysburg PA in 1863, and retreated to Virginia.

It was to establish a National Cemetery and commemorate that Battle of Gettysburg during the iconic Fourth, that President Abraham Lincoln delivered the Gettysburg address. It was one of the great state papers in America history; and indeed one of the finest orations in the history of humankind.

It is, not at all, to denigrate that speech – how could anyone? – nor to criticize our current President, whom I have grown to admire, if for nothing else, daring to keep his commendable campaign promises, that I offer here the Gettysburg Address as it might be delivered by Donald J Trump (stick with me!):

Four score and seven years ago – that’s eighty-seven years, folks; a long, long time ago, let me tell you – our forefathers brought forth, upon this continent, this great, great continent, believe me, nothing like it anywhere in this country, a new nation; conceived in Liberty – right? Liberty, nothing like it, I tell you – dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal. Great, great men. And women too, don’t forget the women.

Now we are engaged in a great civil war, the greatest – maybe the greatest ever in this country, and I know what I’m talking about, believe me – testing whether that nation, or any nation so concerned, and so dedicated, and so civil, let me tell you, can long endure. Long. Endure. I tell you, long endure, right? We are met here on a great, great battlefield of that war, that great war. The greatest; you know that, right? See, I told ya. We have come to dedicate a portion, a wonderful, wonderful portion of it, as a final resting place for those who here gave their lives that that nation might live. Resting and living, how great. Rest and live. It is altogether fitting and proper that we should do this. Fit – we fit, right? C’mon!

But in a larger sense, a much, much larger sense, we can not dedicate, we can not consecrate, we can not hollow this ground. Hollow ground, believe me. I love hollow ground. The brave men, living and dead and many other ways, many wonderful wonderful ways, I tell you, who struggled here, have consecrated it far above our poor power to add or subtract. But not poor for long, just wait! The world will little note, nor long remember, what we say here, but can never forget what they did here. Never. Forget. The great state of Gettysburg, which supported us in November. Right? Remember? C’mon – the world WILL remember!

It is for us, the living, rather, you and me, and Corporal James Tanner – where are you, James? Where are you? Stand up! Somebody help him stand – we are dedicated here to the unfinished work which they have, thus far, so nobly carried on, ahead of schedule and under budget! It is rather for us… to be here dedicated… to the great task remaining before us… that from these honored dead, all those dead, those many, many dead, believe me, to take increased devotion to that cause… for which they gave the last full measure of devotion… to which we are devoted… a great, great devotion, let me tell you… that we hear. Highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain, I tell you. That this nation shall have a new birth of freedom, great freedom; and that this government will Drain. The. Swamp. I tell you. With all of the people, to all of the people, from the people, shall not perish from the earth. I tell you, you will be tired of not perishing.

Thank you. Thank you very much. Thank you. Thank you very much. Thank you. Thank you very much. Thank you. Thank you very much. Thank you. Thank you very much.

Well, I beg forgiveness to those who think I being irreverent to either Lincoln or Trump… or those hallowed dead. In fact, Gettysburg, and Lincoln’s address, are the closest things we have to civic holiness in America. I am tweaking the president’s rhetorical style, as a friend – and as an admirer of his most recent speech to vets and Christians, on July 1, 2017.

There is a larger point, perhaps, that as thinkers and writers and speakers we should be careful about our presentations. Words matter. Lincoln’s genius was in part his pellucid thoughts… and his flawless delivery. Not his voice, which was remembered as high and raspy, but his brilliant arrangement and construction.

This attends whether we argue legal cases, preach the Word of God, teach classes, or instruct our children. Everyone’s business is communication.

End of “lesson”! I am loth to finish, however, without citing the actual Gettysburg Address. It is something I long ago committed to memory; and I think every American should.

Four score and seven years ago our fathers brought forth on this continent, a new nation, conceived in Liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.

Now we are engaged in a great civil war, testing whether that nation, or any nation so conceived and so dedicated, can long endure. We are met on a great battle-field of that war. We have come to dedicate a portion of that field, as a final resting place for those who here gave their lives that that nation might live. It is altogether fitting and proper that we should do this.

But, in a larger sense, we can not dedicate — we can not consecrate — we can not hallow — this ground. The brave men, living and dead, who struggled here, have consecrated it, far above our poor power to add or detract. The world will little note, nor long remember what we say here, but it can never forget what they did here. It is for us the living, rather, to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced. It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us — that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion — that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain — that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom — and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.

Finally, we go from Fake News to Fake History if we believe the books that say that Lincoln was a religious skeptic or agnostic. Year by year through his life he increasingly invoked God and the Bible. In his last years his speeches, writing, proclamations, letters, and conversations were so spiritual that he sometimes sounded like a preacher.

Of the many biblical affirmations he made, to me among the most profound is:

My concern is not whether God is on our side; my greatest concern is to be on God’s side.

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Click: Battle Hymn Of the Republic

Bullets and Ballots

6-19-17

The subject of this essay has been on my mind for some time, and was outlined before the assassination attempts at the Republican baseball practice this week. I will not intone about the “need for civility,” as many are doing and which of course I endorse. But I fear that such hopes are futile, and that was, and is, the sad conclusion I want to discuss.

First, what I substantially had written and still believe:

Donald Trump is likely to be assassinated. Of course I do not urge such I thing. I largely support him, and in fact am happy with his initiatives, and the president he has become. I will take one day – one hour – of his Administration to eight years of his predecessor.

So it is prudent for me to repeat that I do not favor nor encourage his assassination. Neither do I think that raising the topic will inspire any nutcase. To be precise, I am not even prophesying or predicting the heinous act. I am not in that business. I am only reckoning that a personal, physical attack is likely, given the arc of ugliness, violence, threats, and extremism – not infesting politics in general, which is the case, but specifically directed toward President Trump.

Not occasionally; not every day; but virtually every hour since his election. It grows uglier and bloodier. It serves no reason to claim that candidate Trump suggested that thugs at his rallies be given the bum’s rush, or other coarseness; everybody, even leftist protesters, were taught by their mommies that two wrongs don’t make a right. And blue-haired ladies at Tea Party rallies cannot be conflated with Antifas or Bernie and Hillary supporters who set cars on fire and smash store windows.

Ugly words that quickly turned to violence, and “satire” that transformed itself into an ISIS-like depiction of a decapitated President, or his bloody murder on a New York stage, inevitably will inspire weak minds to turn thoughts to deeds.

More, I fully believe that the despicable act can be committed not by an impressionable left-wing nitwit, but by a celebrity. An actor or actress, a “journalist,” a celebrity whose access to a president is easier to achieve than among normal, sane, folks.

John Wilkes Booth was a prominent actor in his day. The moment people heard of Lincoln’s assassination, they immediately recognized Booth’s name. Today, it could be a Baldwin brother, or a Maddow, or a Madonna. I suppose many leftists would be happy to do the deed and be considered martyrs. In a nation virtually free of the death penalty, the perpetrator would a) be considered a hero by half the country; and b) serve less than a life sentence.

Does any reader think this is implausible? Booth thought Lincoln a “baboon” who ruined the South (while the Reconstruction President would have been the defeated South’s best friend). Garfield’s assassin Guiteau was disappointed that he had not received a political appointment; the president represented a faction different than Guiteau’s. That was it.

McKinley’s assassin Czolgosz was an anarchist, plain and simple. Largely forgotten by history is the fact that between the 1880s and World War I there was a worldwide epidemic of bombings and political assassinations. Royalty; elected leaders; prominent businessmen – dozens were killed by anarchists and leftists, down to the “match” that lit the fires of the Great War in 1914: the murder of an Austrian archduke by a Serbian nationalist.

When Theodore Roosevelt was shot point-blank in the chest during the Bull Moose campaign (and, with the bullet in him and blood pouring from the wound, he insisted on delivering his 90-minute speech) it was by an unemployed bartender whose “mind” was inflamed by newspaper editorials calling TR a tyrant.

Given the fever-temperature of our political health these days, an attack on President Trump seems not unlikely.

So. This week an apparently average liberal activist and Bernie backer, after months of stalking, and preparing a written hit-list of Republicans found in his pocket, targeted an enclosed field of GOP politicians warming up for a charity baseball game. That his guns were legal and registered, and he was a liberal, there were few calls for the Second Amendment to be repealed. That nobody died, and only a few people maimed, liberals felt safe, outside the comments and prayers at second base during the game, to blame Trump’s “rhetoric” and other diversions.

The New York Times even wrote, immediately, about Gabby Gifford’s attack six years previous, citing a Sarah Palin campaign sheet with “targeted” Congressional districts. Aside from the canard, “equivalency” is losing its meaning in the United States of Alinsky.

Should we remind ourselves?

During the campaign (thanks for notes to The Daily Caller), anti-Trump protesters attacked, pushed, spit on, and verbally harassed attendees forced to walk a “gauntlet” as they left a Trump fundraiser in Minneapolis, and beat an elderly man. Protesters also attacked Trump’s motorcade;

Protesters in El Cajon CA, chased and beat up a Trump supporter;

A GOP office in North Carolina was firebombed and spray-painted with “Nazi Republicans get out of town or else”;

The president of Cornell University’s College Republicans was assaulted the night after Trump won the election;

Maryland high school students punched a student who was demonstrating in support of Trump, and then kicked him repeatedly while he was on the ground;

California GOP Rep. Tom McClintock had to be escorted to his car after a town hall because of angry protesters. The tires of at least four vehicles were slashed;

Protestors knocked a 71-year-old female staffer for California GOP Rep. Dana Rohrabacher unconscious during a protest outside the representative’s office;

Milo Yiannopoulos’ speech at the University of California-Berkeley was canceled after rioters set the campus on fire and threw rocks through windows. Milo tweeted that one of his supporters wearing a Trump hat was thrown to the ground and kicked. Ann Coulter and other speakers have been prevented from speaking on campuses;

Protesters at Middlebury College rushed the conservative Dr Charles Murray and Prof Allison Stranger, pushing and shoving Murray and grabbing Stranger by her hair and twisting her neck as they were leaving a campus building. Stranger suffered a concussion. Protesters then surrounded the car they got into, rocking it back and forth and jumping on the hood;

Republican Rep. Tom Garrett, his family, and his dog were targeted by a series of repeated death threats deemed credible by authorities;

-FBI agents arrested a person for threatening to shoot Republican Rep. Martha McSally over her support for Trump;

-Police in Tennessee charged a woman for allegedly trying to run Republican Rep. David Kustoff off the road;

After the shooting of Rep Steve Scalise and others, GOP Rep Claudia Tenney received an email threat that read, “One down, 216 to go.”

These were overt acts. Following is a list complied by Breitbart News of threats spoken and threatened by the celebrities I spoke of earlier. It is not unreasonable to foresee one of these people, or simple minds inflamed by them, to follow through:

Kathy Griffin “beheads” Trump in a graphic photo

Madonna – “I’ve thought a lot about blowing up the White House”

Snoop Dogg “shoots” Trump in the head in music video

Robert De Niro: “I’d like to punch him in the face”

Joss Whedon: “I want a rhino to [F—] Paul Ryan to death”

Shakespeare in the Park stabs “Trump” to death in performance of Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar

Rapper YG threatens Trump in “[F—] Donald Trump” song

Marilyn Manson kills “Trump” in music video.

A New Jersey “Democratic Strategist” issued a statement the day after Rep Scalise’s shooting that the attack might have been deserved, echoing comments by elected Democrats across the country. Surely, there were many sincere offerings of regret by the political establishment. Nancy Pelosi’s impromptu comments from the House well were eloquent and heartfelt, about Scalise’s recovery, and about political amity.

Will these expressions bear fruit? They did not, after 9-11; the state of our nation grew bitterer.

Winston Churchill said that democracy is the worst form of government, until you consider every other. Democracy gone wild is what we have in America today, and the world, similar but worse than 125 years ago: akin to anarchy. The outrageous has become normal. People’s own agendas are considered not only more valid, but exclusively valid, over opponents… and “opponents” have become “enemies” today.

People throughout history have debated with opponents. But enemies are deemed deserving of being killed. This paradigm is what is unfolding in America today.

Welcome to the End Times. Your road map can be II Timothy 3: 1-5: There will be terrible times in the last days. People will be lovers of themselves, lovers of money, boastful, proud, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, without love, unforgiving, slanderous, without self-control, brutal, not lovers of the good, treacherous, rash, conceited, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God — having a form of godliness but denying the power thereof. Have nothing to do with such people.

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click: Trauermusik (Funeral Music) Marche Funebre by Chopin

 

Presidents and Their Faith

2-20-17

When James Garfield was elected president, he left his position as an elder in his church and said, “I will resign the highest office in the land to become President of the United States.”

The religious beliefs of presidents and presidential aspirants has become more important to segments of population than ever before, in America. More than “religion,” many citizens look for spiritual commitment and individual testimonies from their political representatives. As the influence of organized religions – that is, denominations – has waned in the United States, peoples’ personal relationships
with God and His incarnate Son has increased.

The intensity has increased, I feel safe to say, in the general population; and therefore as a box to check in the list of criteria that are important to voters.

Despite the widespread suspicions of (and evidence of) corruption among the political class, the percentage of fervent spiritual belief has increased in Washington. Again, I feel safe to say this, but the evidence is elusive. Public expressions of belief were more common, more PC even, in times past. Yet prayer breakfasts, weekly Bible studies, faith fellowships on Capitol Hill thrive now, and were not regular events in earlier times.

Or… maybe they were needed, as the general level of Christian “walks” might have been higher in those earlier days.

We cannot know, but the question makes for useful study. The Supreme Court declared in Holy Trinity v. United States (1892) that America “is a Christian nation.” It has never been overturned. Justice David Brewer, who wrote this finding, wrote a dozen years later (not from the bench) that he considered the fact a cultural, not a legal, proposition.

It generally has been forgotten that the First Amendment is not a tool to attack religious expression, but a preventative against governmental policies that would otherwise pass laws that would restrict the free exercise of people’s religious beliefs. Moreover, the national government is prohibited from passing laws establishing religions – that is, specific denominations, as in Great Britain and many European countries. Nothing to do with “Merry Christmas” or Nativity scenes in community parks; or athletes choosing to pray before or after games; or bakers being free to say “no thank you” to customers requesting cake-decorations they consider offensive.

It also in generally little known that Thomas Jefferson’s phrase “the wall of separation” between church and state, was written to a church group about a narrow issue, and years after the Declaration of Independence and even his presidency. But is has been misappropriated by secular and atheist zealots who seek to drive Christianity, faith in God, even religious traditions, from public life.

David Barton has made a career of documenting the signposts of religious freedom in America. As a collector and archivist of documents and statements he is superb. It will be superseded only by the national Museum Of the Bible, a project of Hobby Lobby’s Green family. (The traveling exhibition of these artifacts, called “Passages,” which I have seen, is astonishing in its breadth and depth. The forthcoming Museum of the Bible, on the National Mall, will be an important site among the District’s many museums.)

But David Barton has written books, advised officeholders, and spoken widely about Christianity and the fabric of American life. I know David slightly, having appeared at some of the same conferences, and assigned him articles in Tim Ewing’s “Rare Jewel” magazine a dozen years ago. As much as I admire his work, and his intentions, I was uneasy about his tendency to over-reach, even before he made some claims that caused a recent book to be withdrawn from stores.

David Barton’s discretion was to impute more Christianity to historical figures than they likely embraced. He grasped straws in – forgive my hyperbole and paraphrases – claiming that Jefferson was a follower of Christ. That many of the Deists among the Founders and Framers were secret Jesus freaks (hey, we can all over-reach). Or he would focus on the early words of patriots like John Quincy Adams and Noah Webster; and not their later comments on faith. Both of these men, and many other New Englanders of the day, became Unitarians.

In truth, the list of Americans is not like a virtual Sunday-School pageant, everyone wearing little pins indicating perfect attendance, so to speak, or adherence to an air-tight orthodox Christian, biblical, Protestant faith. Jefferson certainly was a Deist. The second Adams was indeed a Unitarian; so was Taft. Lincoln was one of several presidents whose church attendance was virtually nil throughout their lives.

But these are not “aha!” facts. The first Adams, susceptible to Transcendentalism, never declared himself “a church-going animal”! Benjamin Franklin (a President’s day message should not exclude him, nor should any essay on any topic) was a professional skeptic, yet made many affirmations of the divinity and pre-eminence of Christ. Lincoln seldom attended church, yet the last year of his life, he was a virtual preacher – invoking Christ, quoting the Bible, confessing to praying often. In conversations and public documents.

There are, it seems to me, at least three pertinent facts to be recognized and respected on President’s Day.

The first is prosaic, only honored in the breach: What we call personal faith, personal beliefs, personal relationships with Jesus… were in the past, “private” as well as “personal.” The most exuberant and transparent of presidents, Theodore Roosevelt was (I have written here and elsewhere) perhaps the most observant Christian of our presidents, nevertheless today would be viewed askance, by some Christians, for not proselytizing.

The second perhaps is hard to reconcile today. But many Christians, not only Christian presidents, assumed the divinity of Christ, but as folded into a greater appreciation of the entire Bible – pointing, as Christ Himself did, to the Father. We cannot assume all these men thought of Jesus as merely a Teacher.

The third is an extremely important distinction. Even if the Framers were not only Episcopalians and Presbyterians but Catholics and Quakers and Deists, they relied upon the Bible as a model for the creation of a government and the maintenance of a just and civil society. This fact is a cornerstone of American Exceptionalism.

A conclusion, on President’s Day? Here: for all the nihilistic tinkering with our heritage and foundational documents by secularists – for all the rats who nibble away at America’s civil/sacred documents, rotting our cultural underpinnings – they play with fire. Their success so far has not been by strength or argument, or logic, it has been the supine surrender of Christians.

But if they press their subversion of religious freedom too far, they will fulfill the prophecy of Hosea 8:7: “They who sow the wind shall reap the whirlwind.”

Try removing the Ten Commandments from the Supreme Court. Try outlawing the Senate Chaplain. Try denying the President the choice to affirm his or her oath on a Bible. Try taking “under God” from the Pledge.

Then shall Christians finally rise up – and maybe a few agnostics who realize that Freedom itself would be in death throes. Pitchforks would replace petitions. Again might we see the loosing of the “fateful lightning of His terrible, swift sword.” And President’s day would take on meaning of renewed spiritual clarity again.

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Click: In God We Trust

We Love Him for the Friends He Has Made

1-23-17

A quick, virtual GPS for some readers: this essay will be entre nous – between us, assuming some common ground; not arguing to change minds or convert anyone. Nor even to persuade; only some observations.

The title is a paraphrase of a description of Grover Cleveland when he was nominated for president in the 1884 Democrat convention. Gen Edward S Bragg of Wisconsin complimented the reform governor of New York with those words. Cleveland was little know nationally, having served as governor fewer than two years; and had been mayor of Buffalo just as briefly.

In an era of cesspool-corruption – in 1880, President James Abram Garfield was assassinated by a frustrated office-seeker from a different party faction – Cleveland was what supporters called “ugly honest.” Rock-ribbed integrity, and the sort of man who could, and did, hang convicted criminals himself when executioners were squeamish.

As a New York Democrat, it took courage and daring to buck the corrupt Tammany Hall political machine in New York City. But Cleveland did, and gained approval from more and more voters in his state and around the nation.

“We love him for the enemies he has made.”

My observations today are about President Trump, and very much about the status of faith in America; even, possibly, the politics of faith.

Early in the campaign season, I was skeptical of some of Trump’s pronouncements (if not testimonies) and expositions of his faith. Attempting to “judge not, lest I be judged,” believe me, it caught my attention when he spoke of “Two Corinthians” and thinking he never needed forgiveness, and not wanting to bother God with such things. And so forth.

But readers know that my opinions of Trump changed over the course of the campaign. He named Mike Pence, a sincere, consistent, and bold Christian public servant. He grew more sincere, forceful, and detailed about conservative policy positions… as, oddly, his opponents grew imprecise and rudderless. Toward the end of his campaign, and certainly since election day, he rebuilt his platform of solid oak, so to speak, and, one by one, incorporated the long-held goals of conservatives, nationalists, non-interventionists, libertarians, laborers, home-schoolers. And Christians.

Among many “surprising” voter groups who came as if from nowhere to support Trump was the so-called “evangelical” bloc. They did not, in fact, come from nowhere. They have been in the ideological heartland – not merely the geographical heartland – of America, a sleeping giant. We do not riot; we do not burn cars or smash windows. We do not scream obscenities at every opportunity. But we did launch, spontaneously, the Tea Party movement. A sleeping giant that stirred.

Well… fast-forward to Inauguration Week, just concluded. We awakened; we stopped caring what the elites called us; we are happy – wherever we came from – to have a leader who is willing, maybe eager, to break some china.

“We love him for the friends he has made.”

It is as dangerous to judge, even definitively assess, someone when you agree with them, as when you dissent. It is risky, and it is wrong. So I am not claiming that President Trump is a tongue-talking, snake-handling Fundamentalist. I do not know his soul, or how he is versed in scripture now or in his past.

But it is worthwhile for us to look at details of recent days, otherwise easy to overlook. The Trump inauguration featured more prayers and invocations than any in history. Many of the ministers were not “mainstream” clergy but strong Evangelicals, Pentecostal, some fundamentalist.

The same with the Saturday service at the National Cathedral. More dedicated, notable, evangelical and Pentecostal figures, many of them. As the National Cathedral requires a broad range of faiths at such services, over the two days the nation, and the President, heard from Franklin Graham and his daughter Cissie, Paula White, Greg Laurie, David Jeremiah, Alveda King (Dr MLK’s niece), Robert Jeffress, Jack Graham of Prestonwood Baptist, and Darrell Scott.

President Trump is a onetime disciple of Norman Vincent Peale, the famous pastor of New York’s Marble Collegiate Church, but an exponent of “Christianity Lite.” He could have invited fewer faith leaders, or ones blander in their faith expressions. But he did not. He did not have to form an Evangelical Advisory Board, with whom he meets and prays regularly. But he did; and does. And… watch for the nature, character, and, yes, “litmus test” of the person he will soon nominate as Supreme Court Justice.

Again, I am not presuming anything about the President’s faith, or his relationship with Jesus Christ. I do not believe he surrounds himself with people of faith out of superstition or artifice or camouflage. I am not inured to his evident, or manifest, flaws. But he could be presenting himself as a different man who has evolved in recent months. In certain ways, this man of huge ego is as transparent as could be.

And we can love him for the friends he has made.

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A few words of thanks, and a medical bulletin, for those friends who have been praying about the procedure performed this morning on my forehead. Yes, Suturday morning. My trusted doctor was pretty snippy with me, but he saw a little spot the other day, and advised that we take care of it right away. “We” is term that always makes me chuckle – “This won’t hurt us…” – but, no matter how you slice it, I followed his advice.

What was it? What was it? I didn’t take note of the medical term the other day, but friends demanded I give them a name. So I named it “Spot,” just like a pet in my childhood. I had so many friends talking about Basal, I thought I was in the Spice Market. No, it was the Slice Market.

Needles to say, I first received anesthesia. The whole procedure reminded me of when I walked into a baseball bat way back in my skull days, in third grade. Fortunately Doc has a great sense of humor – you know I will say he had me in stitches. Honestly, I could not tell how many stitches the old sew-and-sew used, but he did a head-count. Four.

The meat he excavated looks like a cherry Hershey’s mini-kiss, as I saw it floating in a vial ready for biopsy. What’s even more vile is the splitting headache I have now, probably to be expected. But if he had gouged an inch or two deeper, I would have a splitting-head ache now instead.

Seriously (?) all this was rather minor and Doc assured me that it likely was nothing for worry (there we go again: it wasn’t his forehead) but precautionary. Really minor… but these descriptions are easier fare for puns. I followed our Savior’s command to Render unto scissors the things that are scissors’. And very seriously, thanks to all for your concern and prayers.

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Click: Tell Me the Story of Jesus / I Love To Tell the Story

A Leader Anointed of God?

1-16-17

Four years ago this week my wife lay dying. She had been sick for a long time – all her life, really – but in recent years the diabetes and heart attacks and strokes and cancers and heart and kidney transplants and amputations and much else, had taken their toll. She suffered a hemorrhage, lost most of her blood before transfusion, and was in a coma for a week. Our children flew in from far and wide – half an hour away; from across the continent; from Ireland.

It was on Monday, January 21. In the hallways of the hospital, and from other rooms, we could hear the TVs turned to news: Inauguration Day. It was pushed back from January 20, as the Constitution respects Sundays. We stood around Nancy’s bed, with monitors blinking, and we faintly could hear the pomp and circumstance, the music and announcers, from the Capitol steps, echoing in shiny hospital hallways.

At the moment, the very moment, that Obama took the oath of office, Nancy died. The monitor flat-lined. The first of us to break the silence was my son Ted: “Mom always said that if Obama actually became president a second time, she’d just die.”

Families have different ways of coping. Seeped in humor and politics for years, we evidently found ours. Lest we be thought cold, my daughter Emily will tell people that we had grieved for Nancy in many ways for many previous years.

“My thoughts are not your thoughts, nor are your ways My ways,” says the Lord
(Isaiah 55:8-9). Thank God.

This anniversary of sorts has me thinking of the upcoming inauguration, also. Meditating upon God’s ways, I thought about that famous unpredictable, larger-than-life character; intemperate and over the top in uncountable ways; notable for prowess and strong actions, but also for womanizing and crazy hair. Well known to history. An unlikely person to be chosen by God to lead and perhaps redeem His people.

Donald Trump?

No, actually I was thinking of Samson.

We can find parallels, antecedents, and foreshadows wherever we look, if we look hard enough; affinities as well as exceptions to rules that tempt us to draw lessons. So I will only go so far. I mean, Samson was flawed, yet ultimately obeyed the commands of righteousness. He tore down the temple; yet to reform the system he deigned to destroy its artifice.

With Trump a new era begins – and I think this is, for once, not a quadrennial cliché. At the beginning of the campaign I opposed him, wrote against him, saying that I would not want to vote for someone whom I would not want as a neighbor. I still am not reconciled to his coarseness… but I have learned to discern between scatology and straight talk. The vocabulary of hard truths and agenda of bold solutions.

As the campaign progressed, he defined his message and platform, even to enumerating specific grievances and remedies, while his opponents in the primaries and general election actually grew less explicit about their own views. Week by week, citizens in living rooms and kitchens, churches and taverns, offices and factories, started to think that things they had complained about last week – and even since the ‘60s – were finally being articulated. And by someone who they seemed to trust would not forget them, as politicians always do.

The silent revolt of the Silent Majority is thus explained. No mystery. People with grievances; evangelicals; disillusioned working people; long-suffering victims of stagnation and rising crime rates and economic insecurity and public corruption… did not stay home this year. No mystery. People who had become too cynical to vote for president, for years, trekked to the voting booths. I know. I was one of them.

But, now what? Who knows? A man as unpredictable as Donald Trump might wind up disappointing his legions. But I don’t think so. More likely, he will disappoint nervous Republican politicians who are hoping he will revert to form in Washington DC – to be the same old, do the same old.

But the entrenched interests – those within his own party; and those who thirst for his blood, even before the inauguration, from the Disloyal Opposition – sense their possible doom, and they will fight like wounded rats. Return to this essay in a year, in four years, in a decade, if the nation and the world last that long. Let’s see: I say that myriad things will never be the same. We are at a turning point.

Civility; good will; public discourse; genuine bipartisanship; legislative compromise; political traditions… all are now virtually extinct. Those geniis will never return to those bottles. And if your first mental response to this was, “Yes, but remember what so-and-so did…” inserting the name of your favorite enemy, you have proven my point.

Samson tore down the temple, a necessary act of obedience. Daniel calmed vicious lions. Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego endured the fiery furnace. David was a horrid and lustful sinner who yet was anointed of God for great works. Review the heroes of faith and history, and pray that President Trump may be found not wanting.

Get ready for a ride. Whether Donald Trump is a committed Christian I know not. But he can receive, as any of us can, and act upon, God’s call. Buckle up your prayer sandals: the new president will need our prayers, as does the nation, as do we all, every one of us.

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Click: Battle Hymn Of the Republic

A Little More About Veterans

11-14-16

The thing I like most about holidays is that they remind us, at least one short day a year each, of things worth remembering or commemorating or honoring.

The thing I like the least about holidays is the human tendency to compartmentalize, especially in these busy days.

Check the box… put away the decorations… the events are over for another year… back to work.

Except for Halloween, I guess I can’t think of a holiday where that is not a crying shame. We should anticipate, meaningfully celebrate, meditate, share, teach our children, and linger over the heritage and purpose of holidays (and holy days, their first ID).

Surely is the case with Veteran’s Day. It is almost an awkward holiday, with its curious history, shrouding legends, and hybrid purpose. Several countries observe it – mostly the remnants of the victorious nations in the Great War. Originally called Armistice Day, it was designed to observe the day, or, ironically, the minute, when World War I ended. In America, arguably a post-patriotic place in some corners, its goals are somewhat lost in the wash of July Fourth, Memorial Day, and other holidays festooned with flags and fireworks.

The 11-11-11:11 legend, if true, has a monstrous presence in the PR Hall of Fame. For even one soldier to be gassed or to die during the stopwatch-interregnum for the sake of a convenient publicity ploy, was appropriate only as an aspect of what already was the stupidest of history’s stupid wars. The “Armistice” associated with the 1914-18 war, as it receded in relevance and the awful shuffle of subsequent bloodlettings, was changed to “Veteran’s.” Its purpose is parsed this way: on Memorial Day we honor those who died; on Veteran’s Day we honor those who served.

Worthy. That is, if we observe it “worthily” (as in partaking of the Host worthily) – which puts the onus on the rest of us. Something to pause and contemplate.

It is well and good that we honor veterans and thank a service member. Vets don’t feel the love enough. But, honestly, the value of this holiday is for us, the living, rather, that we not merely shake a vet’s hand, but join arms and continue the work we recognize them for having undertaken. That would be a meaningful celebration of Veteran’s Day.

At the risk of denigrating the holiday or any single military veteran, I want to share my thoughts this weekend, as I contemplated those who have served… and what kind of people are veterans of what kinds of service.

My father was a conscientious objector before the United States joined World War II. He relented, enlisted, and went on the serve as an Army gunnery instructor in Kentucky and Albuquerque; and then in the newly formed Air Force as a meteorologist who overflew the Normandy invasion. No less cynical about war after his discharge as Captain than before enlisting, he was proud of his service.

I thought of him this weekend when I watched a terrific movie, Hacksaw Ridge, about WW II c.o. who served as a medic in the bloody battle of Okinawa. Desmond Doss, a Christian opposed to taking up weapons, performed miraculous and numerous acts of heroism, dragging wounded soldiers from active battlefields. He modestly estimated 50 soldiers; his Medal of Honor citation said 75 soldiers; his platoon mates claimed more than a hundred. The movie, directed by Mel Gibson, is a must-see.

Pfc (later Cpl) Doss was a hero – a super-hero? can we imagine? – but he was also a veteran, and not “merely” a veteran. Service members who were not deployed overseas are also veterans. Wives and daughters who worked in defense factories also were vets. Those who “kept the home fires burning” – teachers, farmers, firemen, weathermen – also were veterans of the war effort, serving where they could, the best they could.

But I don’t want to cast this in the past tense. Those who wear the uniform around the world will be vets when they return. And I think, with a wonderment that frankly I cannot describe or, I fear, emulate, of those who redeploy and return, again and again, to theaters of war. Those vets deserve special thanks. And so do their wives and children and parents, many of them worrying and praying, but also prideful and cheering; sometimes, curse this government, on food stamps or public assistance.

We admire these service-men and women. They serve. Serve what? The flag? Of course, but they serve us. They will never meet most of us, but they serve us. They do not love war; that is not why they serve. They love peace… especially the peace, and security, of the neighborhoods that produced them. And the flag that, earlier, inspired them.

Thinking larger, true patriotism is not only about flags and uniforms. That is when we think of patriotism as love of country in the larger sense. Love of nation. We don’t really have equivalents of the German words “heimat’ (roughly, home town, homeland) or “volk” (roughly “folk,” of course; but the people we love, our heritage, shared memories and loyalties). Veterans there are who serve the same flag and country that the military does.

Teachers who work 60-hour weeks and lay out their own funds for classroom supplies… factory workers who still take pride in their work, their place in the line… charity workers who do work for the poor… parents who adopt… and so many more. My wife was in hospital for many ailments, including heart and kidney transplants, and I was astounded at the service and sacrifice of nurses. Doctors have skills; nurses have hearts.

When people serve people and the community, they serve the country too. When they rest their weary selves, they are veterans, and should be honored too.

A step further, to appreciate the nature of heroes and veterans. At the risk, again, of being misunderstood. It should be recognized that, say, the 9-11 responders were brave… but, honestly, they were doing their jobs. That is not to denigrate their service: it is to recognize and encourage each other, all of us, that our jobs are honorable. And unique. And worthy of recognition on days like Veteran’s Day… veterans of our individual challenges and triumphs.

Veterans of war ought to be honored (and cared for back home). Veterans of life’s toils in this one nation, under God, indivisible, if we can maintain that, should honor laborers and creators, teachers and preachers, even political volunteers, too; and every loyal citizen who loves country.

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A song that has become associated with veterans actually began life as a song, by Bill Carlisle, written after his grandfather’s death. It has been recorded by groups as varied as Flatt and Scruggs and the Grateful Dead. He tells the story and song in this video, recorded shortly after I met the country music legend.

Click: Gone Home

Watering the Tree of Liberty

11-7-16

For a few weeks here, I have been pointing my usual concerns to the presidential election. It has been a legitimate detour because the choices – the crises – we face are more momentous than any in memory. Also, the nature of our regular topics, including spiritual and patriotic matters, are dispositive this year. That is, the nation is about to reconfirm our standards and values, or depart into uncharted territories. Everyone senses it.

Many people will think that Hillary represents continuity, and Trump will bring the Unknown to office. I argue, in these days before the election, that the situation is precisely the opposite.

I have urged friends and readers who, like most citizens, are enthusiastic about neither candidate, to ignore the candidates as much as possible, and vote for the policy outcomes most important to them. This is why parties have platforms, why congressional caucuses compose manifestoes, why candidates offer “contracts with voters.” Officeholders, once elected, often break their pledges, but we still have yardsticks to measure and hold them accountable.

In this regard, “I hate them both” becomes a fatuous position. Generally, people dislike Trump but distrust Hillary: reason enough for a thoughtful choice. Personally, my view of Trump as a vulgarian of malleable principles has evolved – mostly because, during the campaign, he has evolved, and actually has articulated a set of positions. These positions are strong, consistent, and far more detailed than of any presidential candidate since Reagan.

Oddly, his manifesto has come under the radar – not, for instance, with the PR fanfare of Gingrich’s “Contract with America” in 1994 – and, ironically, subsequent to the primaries and his nomination. Yet on immigration (moderated), international trade, school choice, abortion, Constitutional issues, taxes, judicial appointments, health care, regulation, and other issues, he has become this generation’s issues-oriented candidate. Who would have thought?

Moreover, his positions, especially for a man of chameleonlike attitudes and ideological U-turns through the years, are consistent with longstanding goals of Christian activists, right-wing loyalists, and “movement conservatives.” Many of these goals have been frustrating failures to activists, but Trump trumpets them. Not timid because of past failures of the governing class, he doubles down. Liberals decry these stands, but Establishment Republicans, in whose hot-houses these views were hatched, strangely are silent. Why?

Well, Trump is not one of “them.”

Surely he is not, and that is one reason he has caught the imagination of the electorate. Many prominent elected Republicans have not endorsed him; and only one major newspaper has. He has, by traditional standards, repeatedly committed political suicide; but he refuses to die. Scandals, gaffes, embarrassments… and he rises in the polls. The “world” “hates” him, but he is dead-even in polls now; and I believe will prevail.

There is something extremely profound at work. For all of Trump’s brand of charisma or his unorthodox appeal, it is not about him. And it is only partly what he says. It is what he represents. Almost despite of himself. He is giving voice to an inchoate but tsunami-like Spirit of the Age. He is the inheritor of a bubbling brew of protest figures. Barry Goldwater; Howard Beale, the maverick TV newsman in the movie Network (“I’m mad as hell and I’m not going to take it any more!”); George Wallace; Spiro Agnew; Ronald Reagan; Pat Buchanan; Ralph Nader; Pat Robertson; Ross Perot; and various columnists, talk radio hosts, and cable news people.

Beyond that, Trump represents the same, or similar, packages of discontents that have fueled the Le Pens in France; UKIP and Brexit in England; Geert Wilders in the Netherlands, and anti-immigrant, small-government, nationalist leaders in Italy, Germany, Hungary, Poland, Sweden, and even Iceland.

Given the tide of right-wing populist passions throughout the West – none of it coordinated, not yet – it is evident that if Donald Trump had not emerged, the Silent Majority would have manufactured someone like him.

What kind of president would he make? Hillary, as noted above, surely would be a continuation… of Obama, of Bill, of ObamaCare, of endless and purposeless wars in the Middle East, of endless and purposeless bureaucrats, of the familiar old faces and tired old policies. Trump might come to office, with no baggage and few commitments, and run the government as a CEO would. He could appoint powerhouses to Cabinet posts; would formulate programs and deadlines to deal with priority issues; and hold periodic board meetings to check the progress on his agenda. How refreshing a prospect; what a difference.

Or… he could appoint lackeys; bluster his way through controversies, and relish arguments more than solutions. Unlikely, but a possibility. But hour by hour, Americans are willing to take the chance rather than vote for Hillary. And that is apart from the larcenous and perhaps treasonous future of Clinton Inc., about which facts are being revealed, also virtually hour by hour.

As in other parts of the world, “the old order changeth.” Citizens are now eager to break with their old parties, to punish and abandon old politicians. Apart from the over-arching issues I listed above, I can explain the flight from Hillary and Democrats, and the tide toward Trump, in a way I have not seen analyzed elsewhere.

In recent years, many social conservatives often remained loyal to Democrats – at least their House members; or because of unions’ appeals; or with sympathy for Obama as a Black, or other ethnic concerns. This year I politely have eavesdropped in areas of Michigan and Pennsylvania and Colorado. In factory and suburban and executive neighborhoods. And I have heard people who used to caricature Republicans now bitterly complain about Democrats and leaders like Hillary. Why? Their priorities of unrestricted immigration, sanctuary cities, LBTGBTQ (sorry) “rights,” and pedophiles’ access to Women’s rest rooms. Candidate aside, the Party has changed.

On one less inflammatory issue, liberals like Obama and Hillary boast about the increased numbers of people on food stamps. Conservatives, and, once upon a time, even Democrats, used to work toward the day when nobody needed to be on welfare assistance.

The coming populist wave is easy to understand.

If the wave is postponed, Canute-like, four or eight years, or fails in its essentials, ugly things might happen in America. I already anticipate violence in the streets, looting, and other such “civic protests,” if Trump wins. Count on it.

If Trump loses, many of us, patriots and Christians, will recognize that our country is lost. Suburbanites, shopkeepers, and churchgoers might not take it to the streets, maybe not, but many of us will be ready for radical action and fundamental change. We will say “thank you” to the old system, keep portions of it, and work, really work, to build something new. There will be opposition to us; we will have to accept the rejection of friends and family members; and we will turn to civil disobedience.
All of which, counterintuitively, would be a very traditional reaction to our current crisis. Thomas Jefferson himself said that in each generation, the Tree of Liberty might have to be nourished with the blood of patriots.

I will enlist. But it is my belief, with a couple days to go, that Enthusiasm and Momentum are building, as they always do, toward an election wave. Let us pray.

In any case.

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Click: Turn the Tide – A Prayer for America – Abigail Miller

Are We Damned If We Do, Damned If We Don’t?

10-31-16

One of the opportunities afforded blog essayists is to see how many “hits” we
attract; how readers find you; and what links they wander to. Some people respond with messages; some to the blog’s address, some to my personal address; some readers appreciate the music tie-ins; many ignore them.

And I can tell when people click on messages from years past. That is satisfying to me, because I intend that most messages be “evergreen” – as pertinent today as, say, seven years ago. Just (I hope) as the Bible’s lessons have the same relevance to God’s children as they did in millennia past.

Over the past week I have purposely focused on the presidential election, not a typical pattern here. But I think the issues are so critical that we should take special notice. Moreover, the issues (as in the larger American culture) relate to biblical principles, biblical warnings, and horrible consequences of “biblical proportions.”

I have read some of my essays from years ago, and I think that most still are relevant. Even points I shared during the previous presidential campaign seem to me (as I attempt to be objective) neither moldy nor mistaken. But in the 2016 election cycle, things – not only facts but factors – change in days. Or hours. This is a campaign that is unprecedented for vituperation, lies, irrelevancies, numerous endorsements and abandonments, and, of course, scandals.

I might enter the previous sentence in the sweepstakes for Greatest Understatement Of the Year.

Through this political year I have written articles, as a historian, for national newspaper about previous political controversies – where bigamy, murder (Jackson); drunkenness (Andrew Johnson and Grant); an illegitimate child (Cleveland); an illegitimate child while president (Harding); sexual affairs (FDR, Kennedy, Clinton) – were commonly discussed. Et cetera. In other words: “Nothing new here.” And I never got close to the frequent charges of imbecility over 240 years.

Early in our campaign, this was a valid set of reminders; pacifiers, perhaps. But things are different, very different right now.

I am not being an alarmist. One who legitimately rings an alarm technically is not alarmist. An alarmist is a Chicken Little, one who falsely spreads fear and unnecessary warnings of impending doom. No, there is doom. It impends.

America has become two – or more – nations. I truly think that whether Trump or Hillary is elected, there will be riots here or there; no, here AND there. And not only on election night, but on Inauguration Day. And when major initiatives are undertaken by either putative president. (I use the word “putative” carefully – not “eventual” or “likely” president, but “generally assumed” president, because the legitimacy of Trump or Clinton surely will be challenged.)

Major questions, serious scandals, and hitherto disqualifying revelations have been commonplace this year. Our heads spin. Seismic civic explosions are forgotten scandal after scandal, because they are eclipsed by worse ones – always more bizarre. I believe that we long ago passed the point of a Hollywood studio accepting any recent news stories as possible treatments for a political thriller… or comedy: too unlikely!

OK, you know all this. I must remember to get over the astonishing and unprecedented events (partly because the two remaining weeks are bound to drop more bombshells). We must, all of us, come to grips that we very possibly are coming face-to- face with a constitutional criss.

Can a president pardon herself? Possibly… but, then, would the hundreds of millions of the “governed” be governable?

Can institutions once regarded as sacrosanct (the “most scared of holies”), for example the FBI and great charities, ever redeem their integrity?

Will personal probity ever return as a standard of public officials, or be demanded by a moral public?

Look at what has happened to us in this campaign. Except for the lurid flashes in the pan, the “breaking news,” the debates have largely centered on polls, trends, voting blocs, daily charts – in other words, the game more than the issues. Surely, the three “debates” centered more on name-calling than national challenges. We have come to assume the worst, including the worst motives, to our opponents. Hence, the two Americas: we have come to assume hatred… and adopt hatred.

I have suggested we Americans have deserved all this, and surely we do. What are we supposed to do, blame it on the Russians? We held primaries and caucuses (interminable, at that) and the voters spoke. At least in the Republican primaries there was a huge crop to choose from and a clear winner, and unlike elsewhere, no charges of rigging. So the system worked like systems do. To challenge the winner is to insult the voters.

As I also have suggested, Christians ought to look at likely results – desirable policy outcomes – instead of candidates’ personality tics or appearances.

Very slowly, but surely, Donald Trump’s speeches have featured fewer boasts and paranoid fantasies. More and more he ticks off his checklist: opposition to abortion; defending Christians overseas; reaffirming the First Amendment (freedom of religion) and Second (the right to bear arms); championing home schools, parochial schools, charter schools; ending Federal Government interference in education; and so forth.

He has fine-tuned his policy on immigrants. Not that all Mexicans are thieves and rapists, but unchecked floods of people at the borders might allow such to enter. The same with unvetted Muslim immigrants vis a vis terrorism. And so forth. Eventually, he has made sense.

This weekend Phil Robertson of Duck Dynasty spoke directly of how he recently witnessed to Donald Trump. Explained the Gospel as nobody else has done. He believes that Trump accepted Christ, and he sees a work in progress.

But no matter how the election goes, voters must remember that the “perfect might be the enemy of the good.” In any event, as vital as this election is… there are many, many, many deep, deep, deep problems with this society. From schoolyards to the Supreme Court; from those who make movies to those who watch them; from those who reject Christ to… those who are faithful church-goers. One man cannot change all, so we should work with those who will try. And One who knows.

How far have we drifted? Are “damned if we do and damned if we don’t” – is it that late? Have we slept through our alarms?

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Click: Where Did America Go?

Praying for Revival? Forget It.

10-24-16

Democrat Vice-presidential candidate Tim Kaine grew up in Kansas City KS. Recently, that city’s Archbishop, Joseph F Naumann, described the senator as a “Cafeteria Catholic” for picking and choosing the Church doctrines he chose to respect.

Kaine, who has a rare lifetime Zero rating from the American Conservative Union – which I realize is not a religious organization – favors abortion, and voted for its legality, extension, and federal funding; among opposing other teachings of the Church.

There are Protestants who have conflicts, too – claiming belief in the God of the Bible, but denying large portions of the Bible of God. “Pick and choose Christianity” is a cancer in Protestant (and Evangelical and Pentecostal and mainstream and post-modern) churches too; a cancer that metastasizes rapidly.

Kaine, and others, predictably fall back on the crutch of Relativism and say, “I am personally opposed to abortion, but I will not impose my view on others.” You have heard such things. Maybe you have said such things.

Some Day, these nominal Christians will answer for their hypocrisy. Abortion, death penalty, whatever the issue, if you believe something… stand up for it. If, further, your opinion is informed by your faith – if you believe it involves God’s will – then I worry for your soul if you fail to share His truth in public.

“Whoever disowns Me before others, I will disown before my Father in heaven.” That’s Jesus, quoted in Matthew 10:33.

Hey, politician – Hey, neighbor; Hey, person in the mirror – if you “personally oppose” abortion but tolerate it in society, how were people wrong to “personally oppose” slavery back in the day, but permit its practice? Slaves were private property, it was argued – who would you have been to interfere? Hey – what about the persecution and slaughter of Jews during World War II? It was argued that Jews were sub-human, after all; and how would have it affected you? Was it your business?

Since babies who are murdered up to hours before natural birth cannot speak for themselves, I will make their plea: Why are their lives less important than babies one day old? Or two years old and disabled? Or… why are their lives less important than your life?

The administration and party whose power Mr Kaine wants to perpetuate frequently has shown less compassion, and expended less political capital, on behalf of little victims of infanticide, and uncountable Christians martyred for their faith around the world, than toward trans-sexual persons who claim that landlords don’t like them; or sexual predators who demand free access to women’s restrooms in malls.

America, 2016.

Republicans are not off the spiritual hook. The Supreme Court that has written offensive rulings, and “discovered” rights that were not enumerated in the Constitution, have largely been Republican courts. Republican Congresses have been Big-Brother enablers since the 1930s. Conservatives, let’s admit it, have become mere foot-dragging liberals.

Speaking personally – c’mon, that’s what we all do – when Donald Trump, for all his many flaws, said that he is opposed to abortion; describes “late-term” abortions in graphic detail; and promises that any Supreme Court nomination he makes will be committed to overturn Roe vs Wade… that did it for me. No matter what other promise he makes or breaks; no matter what Hillary advocates and pledges… Trump deserves the vote of Christians and those who respect life (including descendents of slavery and holocausts).

Can we step back and realize that as few as four years ago, even most Republicans, conservatives, and “faith-based” candidates, refused to voice approval of Roe vs Wade being overturned? to dare to admit that they had a “litmus test” for judicial nominees? Mr Trump does. It is a political earthquake few have noted. In his Gettysburg speech, he further committed to positions — school choice, for instance — that conservatives and people of faith have wished for in living-room discussions and Republican “leaders” have failed to commit.

To those many people of faith, so-called, who lament our spiritual crisis, and the moral swamp wherein we slog: I am often among you, and hear many prayers for God to “bring revival to this land.”

I am not optimistic about a response that you people pray for. God could send revival; He is sovereign. Of course. But just as He did not send ten thousand angels to pluck Jesus from the cross… so He will not cause the Supreme Court building to spontaneously combust; or The New York Times building to float into the Hudson River and sink.

True revival comes less from God, and more from the hearts of His people.

And, when it comes, things are directed to Him, and not to rulers or candidates or politicians.

Everything else – everything – will fall into place when we seek revival as a people. Be not deceived, God is not mocked (Galatians 6:7). Do you believe God wants a relationship with a people who snap their fingers so He can clean up their holy mess?

Until and unless true revival comes, we deserve the mess we have created. I will support any candidate who commits to core biblical principles (apart from generic “caring” and compassion” as even the heathen do), and who is forthright about it.

We have sunk so low in America that I actually am grateful to have spiritual straws to grasp.

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Click this Johnny Cash performance: Help Me, Lord

Slippery Slopes

10-17-16

Once upon a time there was a president named Franklin Delano Roosevelt. No… I will start this story earlier, and in another way.

Once upon a time there was a different America. Different than we know now. Not only different presidents and candidates, but different manners and morals. Different standards. You and I could go back in time and might recognize places and relate to interactions. But it is possible that Americans of earlier times, if they could materialize in our midst today, would be lost and bewildered.

U. S. Grant, the superior general and inferior president, was known to like his cigars and whisky. After a dinner with a group of generals or politicians – those details are lost; but a group of men who enjoyed after-dinner cigars and whisky – one man rose and proposed to tell a story or two. He signaled that the humor would be bawdy (“purple,” in the day’s parlance, meaning naughty) by announcing, “I see there are no ladies present.”

Grant reportedly said, “No, but there are gentlemen present”; and told the man to leave. The good old days. Can you imagine?

Theodore Roosevelt, exuberant hunter and woodsman and cowboy, was sometimes photographed and frequently caricatured in informal attire, however was respectful of the dignity of the presidency. He chose frock coats and top hats. He hated newsreel cameras.

But almost every day the weather allowed, he played tennis on White House courts. Other presidents had “kitchen cabinets” – unofficial advisers and confidants who met in friendship or for policy brainstorming. TR’s was on the tennis court. Yet not one photograph exists of TR playing in his tennis whites.

At the end of his term the Tennis Cabinet met for one last time, and TR was presented with a gift from the assembled friends. Finally they were photographed as a group… in formal attire. Dignity (even if readers from 2016 think it was irrelevant) was important.

Now I will mention TR’s distant cousin, FDR. The nation knew that Franklin Roosevelt suffered from polio; that he was in braces, unable to walk, barely able to stand. He had run – sometimes literally – for vice president in 1920, hale, hearty, handsome. But then polio struck.

Common knowledge it was, but he seldom was photographed struggling with crutches or arm-braces. Occasionally a news photo showed him tightly, and awkwardly, gripping a podium. Or when sitting with Churchill and Stalin at a wartime conference, his leg-braces could be seen peeking between his pants-cuffs and his shoes.

Dignity on his part; respect on the part of photographers and newsreel cameramen.

Fast-forward to 1976. I covered a George Wallace rally in suburban Chicago during the Democrat primaries. “The Fighting Judge” was the victim of an assassin’s bullet four years previous. Paralyzed from the waist down, he was dependent upon wheelchairs and assistants.

In those days the press’s role had changed – on a track toward today’s blatant partisanship. Wallace was viewed with opprobrium by most of the liberal media for his earlier segregationist stands, as was the incumbent president, Nixon, for a variety of excuses and justifications.

At that rally, a few photos were snapped during the speech. And then reporters and news photographers gathered at the hall’s exit, where a car would meet Wallace, who waited in his wheelchair. When the car pulled up and opened its door, Wallace’s aides did what was necessary and routine. Nowadays these maneuvers can be effected differently, but that night, two men joined arms to raise Gov. Wallace like a bundle of bones, from underneath, and awkwardly trundled him into the seat of the car.

It was inelegant. Embarrassing, clearly, to Wallace. Which is why the assembled photographers of the press corps instantly snapped their flash photos for every nano-second of that clumsy scene. I never did see any such photos on front pages… but the reporters seemed intent on making Wallace uncomfortable.

My point is not so much about presidential dignity, itself (remember that Lyndon Johnson surprisingly lifted his shirt to show a gall-bladder scar; and Jimmy Carter chatted about his hemorrhoids), but more about society, that it has changed. Our culture is cheapened; we have lower standards; manners and morals are endangered species.

“F Bombs” are dropped with total-war intensity. Movies are replete with filthy language and filthier behavior. Young girls in malls are heard talking in ways that once would have embarrassed stevedores. Plotlines of TV shows deal in topics once too “delicate” to raise in family or social circles; that is, in private. Athletes who denigrate the flag are stoutly defended; athletes who affix slogans to their shoes, supporting the police, are threatened with suspension. An upside-down world.

In politics, which, traditionally, closely follows and carefully leads the normative values and aspirations of society, cutting-edge outrages now are indulged. Onetime taboos – for instance, allowing men into any public restroom where little girls might be – is suddenly decreed to be a Constitutional Right. And, as with monarchs or tyrants of old, is allowed with a stroke the pen, a punishable crime if violated.

In this year’s politics we have a candidate who is endorsed by “Evangelical” leaders and immediately salts his speeches with hells and damns. Instead of issues, we hear discussions of sex allegations about him, and about a former president. The latter’s wife, a current candidate herself, is cast as an enabler, almost a harridan persecuting the putative victims. Whether true or half-true, these become part of the evening news, press conferences, dinner-table conversations.

That other candidate continues the march toward re-defining customarily deviant behavior. Discovering “rights” in the same manner as the incumbent president, her new discoveries routinely offend traditions, always under fraudulent banners. Inventing “rights” for sexual deviants or criminal aliens is to dishonor those who fought for racial justice, female suffrage, and other civil rights.

So Hillary would enshrine privileges for “women” with male accessories, and pedophiles, into the Constitution. She would continue her predecessor’s crusade to denigrate Christians at home and abroad. She frequently boasts of her early, and continuing, passion for vulnerable children, yet evinces no second thoughts about the killing of viable children sucked from wombs in their ninth months, and murdered by a blade to the bases of their skulls. Suddenly, in Hillaryland, these children are “formerly vulnerable.”

Debates and speeches seem to be ghost-written, now, by headline-writers of supermarket tabloids. What, in 2020? Spitballs and water-balloons at 20 paces?

Our current level of discourse has been cheapened, I believe irretrievably. All these things I have mentioned – and myriad others – are, none of them, splotches of toothpaste that possibly can be put back in their tubes.

Are we on a slippery slope?

Rather, a vortex in the unfortunate toilet-bowl of contemporary life, almost flushed away completely. And deserving of it.

Anyone who teaches something different is arrogant and lacks understanding. Such a person has an unhealthy desire to quibble over the meaning of words. This stirs up arguments ending in jealousy, division, slander, and evil suspicions. These people always cause trouble. Their minds are corrupt, and they have turned their backs on the truth.
I Timothy 6: 4,5a NLT

They prove the truth of this Proverb: “A dog returns to its vomit.” And another says, “A washed pig returns to the mud.”
II Peter 2: 22 NLT

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Click: Sin City

The Election, “Acts of God,” Acts of Man

10-10-16

This week an enormous storm brushed by the United States. It was a long time building, it moves deliberately, and forecasters say that it likely will circle around and hit again, causing even more distress and severe adjustments to a fearful population.

In other news, Hurricane Matthew pummeled the East Coast.

But back to the election campaign.

The Election of 2016 is a plain illustration of how bankrupt our political system – our culture – is. A nation of a third of a billion people, and these two are the best we can do? Trump might be the “citizen politician” that the Framers hoped for; but scarcely of the caliber they envisioned. He is a messenger: a mailman carrying the accumulated complaints of a restive population. Many people love him for it… understandably, for all his faults. It seems like everyone else has failed us.

Hillary’s rise – or, rather, her decades-long hovering presence – is disturbing evidence of our civic insolvency. Once again, a population as large (and, supposedly, as diverse and resourceful) as ours, and we lately subsist on dynasties? The Kennedy royalty? Bush – Clinton – Bush – Obama – maybe Clinton / almost another Bush / talk of Michelle Obama / Chelsea Clinton / George P Bush / … and more Kennedys being spawned?

Incest. It results in mutants and defects, in politics as well as genetics.

In this interminable campaign, Donald Trump has had more lives than a litter of cats. Part of his relative stability in the polls is his strong (and, to me, inexplicable) support from “Evangelicals.” Christians, following Christian celebrities, have chosen, endorsed, and largely remained loyal to, Donald Trump.

His agenda, largely nationalist if not nativist, and generally in the tradition of economic royalists, Manchester Liberalism, and an America-First foreign policy – at the least the most recent iteration of his positions – is an agenda with which I generally am comfortable. Many conservative Christians feel the same way, at least manifested by an inchoate attraction.

Trump has given voice, or more appropriately speaks with the same voice, as those of the Goldwater-Wallace-Agnew tremors across our political landscape in the ‘60s and ‘70s. Of the Reagan Revolution’s foot-soldiers. Of the Tea Party insurgencies. Of the decentralization earthquakes in the Europe of Thatcher and UKIP and Brexit; the LePens in France; Geert Wilders in Holland; of anti-immigrant and nationalist movements in Germany, Italy, Austria, Spain, Hungary, Poland, Denmark, Switzerland, and elsewhere.

He is not unique… except for his unique baggage. His “evolving” positions (for instance, on abortion) might be more encouraging than troubling. His boorish social skills might be overlooked by supporters who think there are many butts that need kicking here and abroad.

That his morals, seemingly those of a pig, should surprise anybody is absurd.
Least of all should Christians be startled by the words in the tape that recently surfaced. Like other supporters and politicians, some of whom are now abandoning ship, they should not be discomfited, because nothing new is on display. Merely a new soundbite.

When James A Garfield was elected president, he left his position as an elder in his church, saying, “I resign the highest office in the land to become president of the United States.”

In William McKinley’s first inaugural address he said: “Our faith teaches that there is no safer reliance than upon the God of our fathers, who has so singularly favored the American people in every national trial, and who will not forsake us so long as we obey His commandments and walk humbly in His footsteps.”

Is Trump or Hillary capable of saying, or believing, such words? Especially the “humbly” component?

The real crisis in America is not deficient candidates. They are the symptoms, not the disease. To focus too much on these individuals is like a weatherman pointing to humidity levels in Arizona but ignoring Hurricane Matthew.

Ah, back to the Hurricane. An act of God, so-called. Our political storms, however, are man-made. We get what deserve, and what we have constructed. The fault, dear Brutus, is not in the stars, but in ourselves that we are underlings. Look in our mirrors for the authors of this current mess.

Meanwhile, Trump’s major political sin is not what he bragged about doing on the tape; nor in being careless to speak when being recorded. To me the political (that is, not only personal) sin was bragging, even fabricating, to a nobody. Trying to impress a Hollywood hack. Sounding like a wolf in cheap clothing. That manner of discretion, that twisted sort of probity, is spoken by loose lips that sink ships.

To apologize “to those who are offended” is a weasel-worded deflection. To claim that Bill Clinton did worse things, or at a faster rate, is the very opposite of contrition; more jealousy than remorse. To condemn Hillary for persecuting Bill’s mistresses and girlfriends is almost irrelevant, when Trump needs to reassure his supporters. To say that other world leaders (France, Italy, Russia) have had affairs, is a startling reversal of his attitude about foreign leaders. Those justifications are irresponsible efforts to distract people. It is an insult to his followers. It is cynical exploitation of the “Evangelical” “leaders” who support him.

Should Christians or patriots therefore abandon Trump and vote for Hillary? I think that the worst that can said about Trump – politics, integrity, probity – is insignificant compared to her resume, which is half sordid and half empty.

Is a third party (“What’s a Leppo?”) or a write-in a viable option? I think that these are virtual ballots for Hillary. She will have enough dead voters, illegals, and multiple fraudulent ballots already.

Should Christian patriots “grow up” and realize the world is “that way,” as some friends who decry what they see as a self-defeating rise of Neo-Puritanism argue? Nonsense. Most of us are loath to accept “things as they are” in any other sphere; political activism, even mere commentary, is (as Omar wrote) to smash the world to bits “and then re-mold it nearer the heart’s desire.”

What should Christians do? I am asked this frequently, a month from Election Day.

Once upon a time, the president was a minor part of the campaign. The PLATFORM was what attracted, or repelled, voters. Vote for the representatives of the positions you favor.

Myself, I think that if Hillary does everything she promises we are in a very bad place. If Trump fulfills only 25 per cent of his promises, we are in a much better place.

Christians, patriots, all voters: If this candidate is horrible; if that candidate is disgusting; if the other candidate seems like a dope; if others seem clearly dangerous… look at the policy options. Vote for likely outcomes, the best bundle of policies you can hope for.

Then, pray.

And vote.

And pray.

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Click: Funeral March

The Evil of Two Lessers

10-3-16

Ever since as I was a young boy, I heard adults talking about elections, and resignedly saying that they would, sigh, be voting for the lesser of two evils.

I picked up the mantra when I achieved majority, not as a matter of patrimony, but because the choices invariably were and are crummy. There were exceptions – I enthusiastically supported Ronald Reagan – but I frequently have voted for third-party candidates or skipped presidential ballots.

For a while I would not vote at all, local or national elections, on the premise that doing so would just encourage the scoundrels.

Eventually I realized that a wisecrack is an inadequate substitute for civic responsibility. Slightly more sophisticated was my objection that illiterate welfare scammers had the same “say” that I did… but abdication in the game we call democracy only enhances the self-defeating aspects of my inchoate protest.

Now I am fully engaged, voting and debating and writing columns and drawing political cartoons and glued to C-SPAN like a dog in heat. But, the more engaged I am, the more enraged I am.

That a nation of approximately one-third of a billion people cannot produce better presidential candidates then the two (or four) major candidates we are stuck with… is demoralizing. With troubling implications for the future – heck, the present state – of our republic. We have a flawed system, surely; but we also are in a tailspin in almost every sphere of national life. Politics is merely the mostly visible symptom. In this season, the nearest whipping-boy.

As I have evolved to a Christian Patriot, and as an essayist in this realm, the choices would seem to be clearer, the decisions easier to make. We all have checklists and litmus tests, whether clearly biblical or informed by our faith. Even secular voters have criteria, perhaps more so.

So why do so many Christian patriots – “value voters” – feel seriously conflicted this year? Being on the horns of a dilemma has never been so uncomfortable!

This week the author of books in Christian field Philip Yancey said in an interview that he was “baffled” that “Evangelicals” (a term of deliberate ambiguity, but that is another topic) could support a Donald Trump. He defined Trump as a “bully” who has taken positions contrary to the Bible and has been thrice-married and has built casinos.

Yancey is correct on the resume of Trump. I do not disagree. Personally, I don’t think I would like Trump as a neighbor, much less as a president.

There was a relative firestorm of response on social media, and Yancey quickly stated that he was not implicitly endorsing Hillary Clinton. In fact, without the clarification, of course the “implicit” endorsement was inferred by his many followers. To me, his greater offense was pretending to be “baffled” by “Evangelical” support for Trump. Our angst, our debates, our essays, our, yes, social-media posts are legion. Everywhere. For many people – many Christians, even many Yancey acolytes – support for Trump has been discussed endlessly.

For some, support is reluctant. For some, it might be automatic. For some, it is painful and anguished. Two prominent names in Christianity (neither of them ministers, by the way) have reached different positions: Falwell Junior, Yay; Yancey, Nay.

Christians in a democracy must realize the implications of supporting Hillary Clinton. She has also lied, is corrupt, doesn’t act like Jesus in myriad ways. Her hands arguably are dirtier, or bloodier, from her militant support of abortions. Lying to Benghazi parents. Spinning new absurdities about her e-mails, servers, and Foundation shenanigans. Start there.

Any (and every) candidate is going to be flawed. Does Yancey think “Evangelicals” should not vote for anyone? Of course not. He now says he will not vote for any presidential candidate this year. For my part, “been there, done that.” I think the only thing that Christian voters can be sure of about this election, about the choices facing us, is that there is no easy choice. You will not wake up tomorrow morning, slap your forehead in a V-8 moment, and realize that you have missed the obvious answer.

Another thing I did when I was a kid was to go to Union Square Park in lower Manhattan and listen to the speakers, most of them crackpot and most of them Communist, spout off to ersatz audiences of transients and passersby. A dying phenomenon, really – maybe the young Obama, on ghetto street corners of Chicago, was among the last – but I considered them to redolent of earlier days, and London’s Hyde Park. (I honed my debate skills, such as they are, in Union Square. Also my talent for heckling.) Like so many other things, this phenomenon has not so much disappeared as it has morphed into electronic social media. Now, gasbags (save yourself the Comments) float on electrons instead of standing on soap boxes.

… which is either democracy at work, or a pressure-valve from more serious dissatisfaction and dissent. I think violent days of protest and civil disobedience are coming soon, from sides of the political spectrum. But that, too, is for another time here.

In the meantime, we still are face-to-face with a seething, ugly, menacing dilemma. And we cannot escape it. We are in a horrible place — we Christians in this “democracy” — and nothing will save us but One thing. We know that Person. But other things can guide us, good, bad, and “Mister In Between.” Am I going to vote, once again in my life, while holding my nose?

Yes. I am going to hold my nose and vote. Any well-intentioned Christian patriot wanting to stay home, or abide a Clinton presidency, explicitly endorses an extremist Supreme Court, further erosion of Constitutional rights, more regulations favoring abortion and the homosexual agenda, uncountable immigration numbers from Mexico and from terrorist lands. Et cetera. That can sound like my opinion, but Hillary would thank me for stating her positions succinctly.

If Christians stay home, they should be consistent, and withdraw from all government activities and programs; all schools and institutions; all media… because everything is corrupted. “Let the Supreme Court [a response might say] go wacko. God is in control; He will see us through; His eye is on the sparrow and He watches over us.”

I agree. But He is watching us kill ourselves, too.

Under a sovereign God, Christianity is not a democracy. Conversely, once the Founders accepted pluralism, this is not a theocracy. I hate the thought of voting for “the lesser of two evils”… because that implies that both choices are evil. Neither Christianity nor a republic are roulette-tables, either. But I will take my chances.

One candidate is certain to continue the secular agenda, the war on believers, and a Frightening New World. The other has, among other things, promised to maintain Constitutional guarantees, restore traditional values, reverse governmental overreach, respect Christian expressions in school, courtrooms, public squares… If Trump keeps only a quarter of such promises, we will be better off.

One is the Lesser of two evils.
The other is the Evil of two Lessers.

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God DOES watch over us. That should bring us comfort! Here is the wonderful Ethel Waters, near the end of her life, singing the great song about God’s Eye on the Sparrow, at a Billy Graham crusade. BUT, as we take comfort from these lyrics, let us remember that He feeds the sparrows… but as He watches, we are accountable for how we respond to His care.

Click: His Eye Is On the Sparrow

Remembering an American Icon

9-12-16

Anniversaries are convenient things to help us remember and commemorate what we ought. The 15th anniversary (integers are cooperative) of the 9-11 attacks will evoke appropriate tears, and possibly inspire people to actions of some sorts. This week – and I hope not lost in the political rhubarbs and 9-11 remembrances – we lost another iconic American Tower, so to speak.

Phyllis Schlafly has died.

Of course there will be people in 2016 who don’t know her name, but many do; and virtually every American has been affected by her work, her dedication, her crusades, the force of her personality. For more than half a century, this elegant bulldog of a lady changed politics and public policy in America. She inspired millions; she caused laws and regulations to be enacted, and – doing what even King Canute of legend could not – she withheld many waves of political “change,” for instance almost single-handedly preventing the requisite number of states to make the Equal Rights Amendment part of the Constitution.

I was an impressionable teenager in 1964, persuadable by both sides in that momentous presidential election. Until, that is, I read two books: Barry Goldwater’s Conscience of Conservative, after which I became one of “Barry’s Boys; and Phyllis Schlafly’s A Choice, Not an Echo, a history of American politics and a tocsin about the Current Crisis. Hers was an informed, logical blueprint: appreciating the genius of the American Experiment; learning the nature of threats to the Republic; and the essential importance of activism.

Nothing, for me, was the same after that. Advocacy in high school; engagement in college (in Washington DC during the Vietnam era); community work in local politics; work as a newspaper columnist and political cartoonist. Phyllis taught me, and uncountable others, what we could do and should do if we want to rescue, redeem, and restore traditional and vital American principles.

She did this through the most minute efforts, the old-fashioned neighborhood work of persuading neighbors, attending meetings, writing to officials. And, in “major” ways, she wrote almost two dozen books, founded the advocacy group Eagle Forum, established Stop ERA, which battled the radical-feminist attempt to add an intrusive amendment to the Constitution – despite massive push-backs and abuse, her efforts stopped the states’ passages of the Act at 35 when 37 were necessary. Eventually, thanks to Phyllis, five states even rescinded their approval. She championed the Defense of Marriage Act, and many other pro-life and pro-family initiatives.

President Reagan appointed Phyllis to commissions in honor of her ability and accomplishments (by the way, she was a practicing lawyer, and received a Masters degree in Government from Harvard) (and not by the way, she was also a mother of six children). In his diaries there are notes of his breathless admiration of her work and dedication. I remember a column by Bob Novak, written during Platform deliberations at the 2004 – usually dry sessions, devoid at attention – when he encountered Phyllis Schlafly, alone in a vast side-room. The 80-year-old bulldog was going through drafts line by line, determined as always to find devils in details, to keep politicians’ feet to the fire.

All politicians. All their feet. All the fires.

Obviously, she was a heroine to me. I followed he through her long-running newsletter. Through her weekly newspaper column. Through the five-day-a-week radio commentaries. Seeing her on C-SPAN, making speeches, testifying before Congress. I once interviewed her, by phone, for a magazine I edited, the late lamented Rare Jewel, published by Tim Ewing.

But I never met her until we both attended a conference conducted by Dr D James Kennedy. And it was like this: I walked into the hotel’s breakfast room, and there sat Phyllis, alone. We both were earlier than our appointed breakfast-mates.. There she was, in person, and I suddenly realized her resemblance to Margaret Thatcher. Without the overbite. With preternaturally and, seemingly, permanently coiffed hair. Warm smile and steely eyes. Yes – Phyllis was American politics’ “Iron Lady”: how she would have done if we had a parliamentary system and she stood at Question Time! Her last book, by the way, was the recent Conservative Case for Trump.

I nervously introduced myself, and explained that I merely wanted to tell her what a difference she made in my life, and continued to; and how I could attest to what I hoped she knew, that there were many, many committed warriors like me. Like her, if we could manage.

With genuine humility she thanked me but then asked what I did, where I worked, how things were going, what was next… and suggesting even moiré ways I could be engaged. Amazing. A general with the passion of a recruit, and the enthusiasm of a common foot-soldier.

I have not yet mentioned what motivated Phyllis Schlafly. A love of America, certainly. But she was a committed Christian… and she willingly admitted – insisted – that her faith informed her patriotism. Christianity was the foundation of her concerns. The essential urgency she continuously evinced was of a kind with an evangelist’s zeal.

She was the person who put “Christian” in the Christian Right, and “Right” in the lexicon of Christian patriots. As the culture rapidly grew more and more secular, she was the girl with her thumb in the dike, fighting the good fighting at same time as alerting the rest of us to the tides of opposition. Amazing.

To the extent the crisis in our culture has involved secularism in all spheres, she said to me in my magazine interview: “I think the secularists have mounted a force on every front. You see this in the attack on the Pledge of Allegiance, the attack on the Ten Commandments, the attack on any public acknowledgment of God.

“What they want to do is treat Christians like smokers. ‘You can do it in the privacy of your own home, maybe down a dark alley, in a little corner somewhere, but not out where anyone can see you.’ … We have a big battle in the political sphere, in the cultural sphere, and the spiritual sphere.”

And who responds to battles? Soldiers. We have lost a mighty soldier in our society’s wars. But Phyllis Schlafly was a von Clausewitz, a Sun Tzu, a Saint Paul: equipping us for the tough work ahead. With the Bible in one hand and the Constitution in her other, Iron Lady Schlafly, dignified yet ferocious, showed us the way. We should all be, not followers, but actual leaders in her fashion.

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Click: Mozart’s Lacrimosa

The Sweetest Songs I Know

9-5-16

I have told this story before. It is about a holiday far away from home… but very close to my heart. It happened on a Fourth of July years ago, and was duplicated virtually unchanged two months later, on the Labor Day weekend.

A number of years ago I was working on a book, a three-part biography of rock ‘n’ roll pioneer Jerry Lee Lewis; evangelist Jimmy Swaggart; and country-music superstar Mickey Gilley, all first cousins to each other. My good friend Maury Forman offered me his unused condo in Montgomery, Texas to get away for a bit of a personal research and writing one summer. Since Lewis lived in Mississippi, Swaggart in Louisiana, and Gilley in nearby Pasadena Texas, it made geographical sense.

Once settled, I took out the Yellow Pages (remember them?) to chart the location of Assembly of God churches for all the weeks ahead, intent on visiting as many as I could. East Texas was in every way new to me, and I wanted to experience everything I could.

Well, the first one I visited was in Cut and Shoot, Texas. That’s a town’s name; you can look it up. A small, white frame AG church was my first – stop that summer… and I never visited another. For one thing – coincidence? – I learned that a member of the tiny congregation was the widow of a man who had pastored the AG church in Ferriday, Louisiana, the small town FOUR HOURS AWAY where, and when, those three cousins grew up in its pews. She knew them all, and their families, and had great stories. Beyond that, the pastor of the church in Cut and Shoot, Charles Wigley, had gone to Bible College with Jerry Lee Lewis and played in a band with him, until Jerry Lee got kicked out. Some more great stories.

But there was more than that kept me there for that summer. In that white-frame church and that tiny congregation, it was, um, obvious in three minutes that I was not from East Texas. I was born in New York City. Yet I was treated like family as if they had known me three decades. A fellow named Dave Gilbert asked me if I’d like to go to his farm for the holiday where a bunch of people were just going to get together and “do some visitin’.”

I bought the biggest watermelon I could find as my contribution to the pot-luck. Well, there were dozens and dozens of folks. I couldn’t tell which was family and who were friends, because everybody acted like family. When folks from East Texas ask, “How are you?” they really mean it. There were several monstrous barbecue smokers with chimneys, all slow-cooking beef brisket. (Every region brags about its barbecue traditions, but I’ll fight anyone who doesn’t admit low-heat, slow-smoked, no sauce, East-Texas BBQ the best) There was visitin,’ surely; there were delicious side dishes; there was softball and volleyball and kids dirt-biking; and breaks for sweet tea and spontaneous singing of patriotic songs.

I sat back in a folding chair, and I thought, “This is America.”

As the sun set, the same food came out again — smoked brisket galore; all the side dishes; and desserts of all sorts. Better than the first time. Then the Gilberts cleared the porch of their house. People brought instruments out of their cars and trucks. Folks tuned their guitars; some microphones and amps were set up; chairs and blankets dotted the lawn. Dave Gilbert and his brothers, I learned, sang gospel music semi-professionally in the area. Pastor Wigley, during the summer, had opened for Gold City Quartet at a local concert, playing gospel music on the saxophone. But everyone else sang, too.

In some churches, in some parts of America, you are just expected to sing solo every once in a while. You’re not expected to – you want to. So into the evening, as the sun went down and the moon came up over those farms and fields, everyone at that picnic sang, together or solo or in duets or quartets. Spontaneously, mostly. Far into the night, exuberantly with smiles, or heartfelt with tears, singing unto the Lord.

I sat back in the folding chair, and I thought, “This is Heaven.”

I have grown sad for people who have not experienced the type of worship where singers and people who pray, do so spontaneously. From the congregation. Moving to the front. Sharing their hearts. Crying tears of joy or conviction. Loving the Lord, freely. If you have not… visit a church where this is commonplace; even witnessing it is an uplifting balm to the soul. Where there is freedom and joy in singing spontaneously.

I attach a video that very closely captures the music, and the feeling – the fellowship – of that evening. A wooden ranch house, a barbecue picnic just ended, a campfire, and singers spontaneously worshiping, joining in, clapping, and “taking choruses.” There were cameras at this Gaither get-together, but it took this city boy back to that holiday weekend, finding himself amongst a brand-new family, the greatest barbecue I ever tasted before or since… and the sweetest songs I know.

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Click: The Sweetest Song I Know

God’s Word for Worried Christians This Election

7-25-16

Pray.”

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Click: Oh, God Our Help in Ages Past

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“I Will Heal Their Land”

7-18-16

Our recent essay “Welcome To the Revolution” has excited a bit of discussion, some readers claiming I am an alarmist, and others granting that I might be predicting the future instead of, as I believe, reporting on the present. To the charge that I am an alarmist, I would reply that doctors operate when there is disease; firemen rush to houses on fire; when I see alarming things, I sound the alarm.

There are many subjects that American schools do not teach any more, and we generally are an anti-intellectual society. In that vein – specifically, the danger of even right-thinking Americans being ignorant of the Current Crisis – I recall what Alexander Boot wrote about Hellenistic Man, that “he was not ignorant of history; he simply did not see how it affected his life.”

For the immediate future, I believe we are headed for the Summer of Our Discontent. Where once a polite diving-line was drawn between Democrats and Republicans, even liberals and conservatives, now there are bottomless chasms between family members. Ugly schisms divide former friends. “Occupy” and “Black Lives Matter” partisans ascribe blood libels to Tea Partiers, and vice-versa.

Those who think murdered soldiers and policemen are victims of random gunfire, and those who think we are seeing war in the streets. Now, Baton Rouge. Next?

The conventions and campaigns will be ugly – and the Thanksgiving dinners and Christmas parties of many families likely will be bloodier. These rifts will slowly – if ever – heal: people must first desire healing; and for all the empty clichés about Getting Along, the contemporary American is quite happy to excoriate his opponent. Hate Thy Neighbor.

So this is a classic case of “inability to see the forest for the trees,” America’s fatal state of decline. We have gone from decadence to destruction, and when we catch a glimpse of the “forest” – an active society where things continue to happen, where we still wake up, go to sleep, and scurry about our affairs – it is rather a case of inertia that masks the crisis.

Our fall has not been the result of a sudden explosion, but gradual poisons in our cultural water supplies.

One of the favorite Bible verses of Christians in recent years has been II Chronicles 7:14: “If My people, which are called by My name, shall humble themselves, and pray, and seek My face, and turn from their wicked ways; then will I hear from heaven, and will forgive their sin, and will heal their land.”

How many of us are guilty of quoting that verse, even applying it, superficially? For one thing, it seems, in a forest-for-the-trees manner, like a fortune-cookie aphorism. “Straighten up your act, people,” to be followed by spontaneous revival and Heaven on earth.

But the verse needs to be parsed – examined phrase by phrase. In the first place, linguistically, it strictly is not a promise of God. It is a conditional statement: “If… then.” The Bible is filled with many such conditions, warnings, threats, and yes, promises. But God requires things of His people. Humility. Prayer. Seeking Him. Repentance. All of them “big time.”

THEN He will forgive transgressions and heal the land.

“If.” That is the condition – a big “if.”

“My people.” Not necessarily the entire population, but the Children of God. The saved; today, Christ-followers.

“Who are called.” All of us must be open to the specific call of God on our lives: His will for us.

“Humble themselves.” This does not mean to stop being haughty in church, but to adopt true servants’ hearts.

“Pray.” Jesus Himself prayed fervently before every important act. How less should we?

“Seek My face.” Request guidance and acknowledge God as the source of all good things.

“Turn from their wicked ways.” Here God means true repentance… transformative changes in our personal lives.

Then you “will hear from heaven.” Prayers will be answered.

Then He will “Forgive your sins.”

Then He will “heal your land.”

That makes this verse more than “words to live by.” Or something for Christians to claim in agreement or to memorize for a Bible study or Sunday School class. Not those things alone – good start – but incomplete. Even the famous verse is incomplete! It is the second half of a sentence, not a new sentence in Two Chronicles, as Donald Trump would call it.

Can we, o average American and Christian Patriot, read the context, and learn what the Lord was really saying? Starting with Chapter 7, verse 11:

Thus Solomon finished the house of the Lord, and the king’s house: and all that came into Solomon’s heart to make in the house of the Lord, and in his own house, He prosperously effected.
12 And the Lord appeared to Solomon by night, and said unto him, I have heard thy prayer, and have chosen this place to Myself for an house of sacrifice.
13 If I shut up heaven that there be no rain, or if I command the locusts to devour the land, or if I send pestilence among my people;
14 If My people, which are called by My name, shall humble themselves, and pray, and seek My face, and turn from their wicked ways; then will I hear from heaven, and will forgive their sin, and will heal their land.
15 Now Mine eyes shall be open, and Mine ears attent unto the prayer that is made in this place.

First, that is a lot of IFs. Second, there are severe warnings. A third point might be that these are specific instructions to David’s son Solomon and the people of ancient Israel. However, it is valid for us to draw lessons.

The most sobering of lessons, chastisements, and warnings of punishment (indeed, God’s promise) is a few verses later:

19 …If ye turn away, and forsake my statutes and my commandments, which I have set before you, and shall go and serve other gods, and worship them;
20 Then will I pluck them up by the roots out of My land which I have given them; and this house, which I have sanctified for my name, will I cast out of My sight, and will make it to be a proverb and a byword among all nations.
21 And this house, which is high, shall be an astonishment to everyone that passeth by it; so that he shall say, Why hath the LORD done thus unto this land, and unto this house?
22 And it shall be answered, Because they forsook the Lord God of their fathers, which brought them forth out of the land of Egypt, and laid hold on other gods, and worshipped them, and served them: therefore hath He brought all this evil upon them.

In effect: We bring this evil upon ourselves.

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Click: Leaning On the Everlasting Arms

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Welcome To the Revolution

7-11-16

Next week the next chapter of the political season commences, a national political convention. Otherworldly events, horrible and startling, have intruded on the already turbulent political news of recent weeks. We scarcely can catch a breath.

Nevertheless the conventions will come. Partisans and opponents prepare for a summer of conflict and confrontation, claims and calumny. And these things seem to be the mode à la mode for most people. Reasonable discourse is obsolete; debates are extinct; persuasion has been replaced by insults and invective.

We are in the midst of a revolution in America.

Of this there is no doubt. It is one of those revolutions, as approximately half of history’s examples, that did not begin with a Lexington and Concord or 95 Theses; that is, one seminal moment or event. Some profound revolutions have commenced with general discontents and scattered protests. Cultural angst usually derives from myriad sources, and then manifests itself in myriad ways. And when the dust settles (as ephemeral as dust is, things slowly come into focus), societies have been transformed.

To consider the ironies of many cultural revolutions, and citing the two examples above, Lexington and Concord led to a military confrontation, bloodshed, and a course-change among nation states. Yet the United States, newly free and independent, was in most ways indistinguishable from Great Britain. But Martin Luther’s mere petition and modest hammer and nails resulted in convulsive changes to Christian theology and worship, the political alignment of the European continent, literacy of the masses, and democracy.

We can also look to the Protestant Reformation – properly, Revolution – and see why it is difficult to distinguish between hard and soft revolutions in their midst. The Counter-Reformation’s Council of Trent was so intent on proving the reformers incorrect that it doubled down on dogma, rather than meeting minds and answering questions. Galileo’s requirement to make the sun stand still, so to speak, was a result of the revolutionaries’ challenges and the church’s orthodoxy. The Inquisition resulted. Ironic, but so goes the course of intellectual effects.

Even in anti-intellectual periods of history (and they outweigh the sober, rational times) intellectualism directs the affairs of humankind, like Archimedes’s fulcrum. So: by these criteria, I claim we are in the midst, not on the verge, of a revolution in America. And likely in all of the West: Europe also.

The breakdown of social order hurtles along with compounding velocity. We can fool ourselves that it is otherwise. Or that “incidents are merely more reported than in the past.” Or that this is a passing phase. No, the tentacles of Islamic terrorism have reached into the American and European heartlands, and, scarcely rebuffed, are met with excuses and “tolerance” as unique welcome mats. Domestic terrorism, in the guise of Black Lives Matter, gangs of illegal drug and gun lords, and other PC-protected thugs, inflict fright on the homeland.

In the Land of the Free, legal abortions have killed more babies than all the “holocausts” of recent history combined. Among Blacks, unwed mothers account for 80 per cent of the babies who are not snuffed. Urban-school dropout rates are at all-time highs, and increasingly so. Academic test scores fall, despite constantly lowering definitions of passable scores. (I think the math competency of American students currently is behind that of Chad.) (Which is a country, not a high-school kid in the next town.) Borders, the security of which is a historical marker for statehood, are a joke. The flow of drugs is less a function of porous borders than a perverse population of addicts and moral zombies who provide lucrative markets. Failed marriages; homosexuality; spousal abuse; human trafficking; political corruption; sexual perversion; kids into cutting; poverty; violence; prejudice; child predators; suicide among veterans…

Et cetera. Ad infinitum. Ad nauseam.

And the church. Supposed to be a bulwark, in this supposedly Christian nation. The church – you and I, may I presume? – has been the Great Enabler. The church has compromised its standards. Christians became so deadened to Peter Abelard’s warning (in Expositiones) against “the world, flesh, and the devil” that it surrendered. It became so “tolerant” of alien beliefs that it lost its own. It was so centered on contemporary culture that it morphed from roaring lion to timid chameleon. We have lost our faith in faith.

The great historian of culture Jacques Barzun wrote in his monumental book From Dawn to Decadence that “the cultural predicament after a revolution is how to reinstate community, how to live with those you have execrated and fought against with all imaginable cruelty.” His use of the world “community” is dispositive in this discussion, the canary in the mineshaft of our cultural abyss.

For a generation we have been hearing of “community”; in fact the popular culture harangues us with the word. “The African-American community.” “The gay community.” “Community organizers…” Where are these communities? Are there boundaries and welcome signs? No, today, “community” is a concept of diffusion and disruption, not comfort and cohesion.

“Diversity” is the deceptive enemy of unity… the camouflaged term, like “community,” that divides America. For years, America exercised goodwill to build a unified nation, a melting pot. To cherish traditions but eliminating differences. But forces today work to divide and separate us one from another. To incite resentment instead of fostering fellowship.

The Entitlement Society celebrated by the enemies in our midst force-feeds Identity Politics as the new American creed. Divide; hate our heritage; destroy not only the ideals but the people themselves who cling, yes, to their Bibles and guns. Glorify Diversity even if might offend you in any way; but accept Community with those who might hate you.

“Do not put your confidence in powerful people; there is no help for you there,” is our reminder from Psalm 146:3 (NLT). As the political conventions draw nigh, we have this command, not necessarily to reject all leaders and potential leaders… but to not put confidence in them. Psalm 46:1 – The LORD is our refuge and our strength, our ever-present help in times of trouble.

And these ARE times of trouble.

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Click: Bruce Springsteen – Satan’s Jewel Crown

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Real Clear Religion, on whose site many readers have followed Monday Music Ministry, has been for many people an indispensible part of their daily fare. It is going through changes right now after almost seven years.

For those who have followed us on RCR, please be sure to continue receiving our weekly essays by Subscribing to Monday Morning Music Ministry. (See link under “Pages” at right.)

Wanted – a Declaration of Dependence

7-4-16

Our recent essay concluded with a question posed by the successful Brexit vote, wherein the United Kingdom voted to end its membership in the European Union, and the certainty that many other countries soon will do the same. That question is this: If the current mode of virtually unbridled democracy had existed on July 4, 1776, how different would that world, and our world, be?

Men gathered from 13 colonies in Philadelphia to air and share their grievances. The Mother Country had dismissed their concerns, levied taxes, and arbitrarily stationed troops throughout the colonies. An emerging people – a nation of newly minted, self-conscious Americans – had chased off their lands the armies and representatives of the Netherlands, France, and Spain; pacified or cowed numerous native tribes who previously had squabbled among themselves for the same pieces of earth; and generally adopted English as the common and legal language.

In short time there arose common bonds of affection within the colonies, also trade and “commercial intercourse,” and the shared values of daily life’s fabric. Many “Americans” believed that the Crown and Parliament owed deference and special status to these British colonies. So did some prominent Britons, like Edmund Burke, whose “Conciliation With the Colonies” is still a literary classic. But London answered with less, not more, deference.

Eventually the leading figures of politics, government, business, trade, and society gathered in Philadelphia. They knew it was not to compose another letter, another petition, to the Crown. They had schooled themselves in biblical history, Greek democracy, Roman law, the Magna Carta and English Common Law, and philosophers of the Enlightenment. They were a remarkable collection of intellects, representing yet other luminaries of American history who did not attend these sessions, but supported the deliberations.

Those deliberations were no mystery; there was no shroud of secrecy, no imminent surprises. Their councils were idealistic… but grim.

The men who gathered were not, strictly speaking, suicidal. Yet they all declared – they so agreed and announced to the world – to “pledge their lives, their fortunes, their scared honor” to declare independence, to formalize nationhood.

Independence. It is a word that should still cause inchoate swelling of pride and even defiance in the descendants of those rebels, 240 years later. It is, strange but true, the motivation of the Brexit campaigners in the UK, and the nationalist movements in a dozen other European nations right now. The establishment press and political elites are trying to argue for 2-out-of-3; or claiming that voters were unprepared for the vote; or… any desperate evocations they can muster of King Canute of legend: the futile inability to order back the crashing ocean waves.

Ironically, King George III is reincarnated in the Bureaucrats of Brussels. It is the critique of Kafka and the jibes of Jefferson, however, that animate the workers and middle classes of traditional Europe these days. The soul of Sobieski, martyrdom of Martel and others who, over 15 centuries, battled to keep Europe Christian and white. But today we remember the Declaration of Independence.

The question I have posed is not rhetorical: if the document that was introduced to England and the world on July 4, 1776, in all its literary and ideological brilliance, had not been a manifesto and call to arms, but rather a Brexit-like Referendum, what would have happened? If Parliament had bound itself to the results of such initiatives, well… just think.

Historians agree that the colonies of ’76 were fairly divided in their passions: roughly one-third each loyal to the Crown, favoring independence, and indifferent. Alexander the Great felt no such restrictions; nor the Roman legions; nor waves of conquering Vikings, Huns, Mongols, Vandals, barbarians, Saracens. The European imperial powers for centuries enforced their worldwide hegemonies by means ranging from suzerainty to brutality.

Athens would have voted to be free of the Spartans; India attempted plebiscites against British rule; Zionists resorted to terrorism to establish Israel and in turn Palestinians employ bombs when ballots are not available.

Let us return to July 4. If the Declaration had been a Writ of Attainder against the King (more pacific Colonists did try to cast it so), there might not have been battles of Monmouth and Saratoga, nor the stirring examples of Valley Forge. No Yorktown, no Lafayette or Steuben, no heroes like George Washington. We cannot know these things.

But we do know that a list of grievances, not a declaration of war or even a “declaration of independence” was nailed to a church door in a German village in 1517. Martin Luther’s 95 “theses” were, basically, opinions, complaints, and pleas for reform within the Roman Catholic church. Luther was a priest in that Church, and had no desire to start a revolution.

But Christian reformers, German princes, and God Himself had other visions. The Protestant Revolution, in substance and in effects, has been as profound as the famous battles at Thermopylae, Marathon, Hastings, and Waterloo.

But I am not asking us, even on July 4, to turn to history books. Let us turn to our Bibles. Scripture tells us that we are pilgrims and strangers in this world – indeed a world of woe, a “vale of tears” – but we are Citizens of Heaven. Nevertheless, here we are now, and we are commanded to be, if not “of” this world, to be obedient residents in it. Uncomfortable passages for Tea Partiers of 1775 and today alike, but we “render unto Caesar” and recognize the Divine Right of Kings; and read that God ordains the positions of those in positions of power.

More dilemmas, especially for Christians in democracies. And more reason for us to search the scriptures and seek spiritual guidance. All the time. To pray, not just over jobs or romances, but in EVERY question affecting our daily lives… and our country’s future.

We should adopt the mindset that every choice between candidates is also a spiritual question. Every ballot item – referendum – presents us with spiritual choices. Electing representatives who decide questions of education policy; judges who will rule on abortion; presidents who send us to wars, or not – these are all decisions that God would have us consider prayerfully.

“Consider prayerfully” is not an empty cliché – well, yes it is, if we allow that. The problems in America virtually all stem from Christians surrendering their prerogatives. We have lost our way, insecure in our faith, ignorant of our heritage. Otherwise we would be throwing bums out of office, overturning noxious laws and regulations, and storming courthouses.

Whether it is time for a Convention of States (as per Article Five of the Constitution), civil disobedience, or armed resistance if, God forbid, things get that bad, Christian Patriots should think about a new Declaration of Independence. Read the old one, write a new one!

Better yet, Christians should act according to a Declaration of DEpendence… dependence upon God Almighty. Among other things, that will make America great again.

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Click: Looking For a City

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Real Clear Religion, on whose site many readers have followed Monday Music Ministry, has been for many people an indispensible part of their daily fare. It is going through changes right now after almost seven years.

For those who have followed us on RCR, please be sure to continue receiving our weekly essays by Subscribing to Monday Morning Music Ministry. (See link under “Pages” at right.)

Brexit for Believers

6-27-16

The UK has sued for divorce from the European Union. In fact the United Kingdom was not fully united, because England and Wales voted Go; Scotland and Northern Ireland voted Stay. Whether this will be a trial separation or an ugly split cannot be forecast. The proponents of every shade of Brexit’s arguments failed to anticipate consequences and adjustments attendant upon any result.

Trade will continue and probably thrive. Regulations – one of the onerous justifications for the revolt – might, or might not, continue, as Whitehall so chooses. And the same for the challenges posed by immigration, the other major irritant. There are myriad issues, small in the metanarrative but major in everyday life: what about sports leagues; the re-imposition of passport and customs policies; pensions of Brits who worked in Brussels; the status of long-term EU residents, for instance the numerous Polish workers who have lived in the UK and Ireland.

In fact the European Experiment always has been an uneasy arrangement. The countries that flocked to join, as they did to NATO, often were motivated by fear of the Russian bear that lingered outside their territories. And just as often, many countries flocked toward an EU trough of subsidies and debt forgiveness, a continent-wide and endless (they hoped) Christmas party.

As time marches on, and historians dissect this failed experiment (as I assume it will be – further disintegrating), the EU will be perceived as designed and nurtured as much from negative as positive impulses. Back during Churchill’s propositions, a United States of Europe was seen either as a non-military NATO or a muscle-flexing counterbalance to the USA. Countries that were non-Atlantic, marginally European, and congenital mendicants scurried into the tent, as Common Market, common-currency factors, and bizarre regulations on Slavic rutabagas and Greenland’s fish; annoying rules for chefs and smokers and vacationers; smothered the Euroquality of life.

The confusion about a thousand things, and (I predict) the rush of similar referenda in (pause for breath) France, Italy, Netherlands, Austria, Denmark, Sweden, Spain, Portugal, Hungary, the Czech Republic, and elsewhere – all suggest that this Brexit vote was an effect, not a cause. A symptom, not (as some allege) a disease. An electoral tantrum of deep-seated legitimacy, no less valid for its flailing and dramatic aspects.

Brexit thrived not in a vacuum. This same week, the populist, anti-statist Five Star Movement in Italy elected a young female mayor of Rome; a mayor of Turin; and strengthened the separatist Northern League – a quiet but significant revolution. Italy has as many course changes as gelato flavors, so let us take that pulse in 12 months. However, the LePens of France’s Front National have knocked on the door of power. Holland’s Geert Wilders is poised to become leader of the Netherlands.

Formerly “fringe” political leaders now are charting the courses of nations. The establishment is losing its power of imprimatur. If Lech Walesa was a credible leader after a life spent as a shipyard worker, or Václav Havel could turn from writing plays to writing policies… so can Beppe Grillo, a former comedian, lead a popular movement in Italy; or a lifelong college teacher, anti-establishment, be elected president of Iceland (this week); or a businessman and media celebrity possibly become president of the United States.

Do Americans “have a dog in the fight” of Euro-politics? Surely. We are still one big family, if not happy. Western Civilization is one of the remarkable stories – remarkable achievements – of world history. I generally applaud any people’s impulses toward self-identity, cultural pride, folkish traditions, and robust independence. Everywhere in the world, every moment in history’s timeline, it has led to vibrant expressions in art and music, literature and poetry, fashion and cuisine.

Nationalism is a positive virtue. When it has mutated into bullying, that problem should be addressed by means other than imposed homogenization and bureaucratic strait-jackets. One size does NOT fit all. Suppression can cause as many ills as indulgence.

And so… Brexit. The common people – the middle classes, working people, the so-called (thanks again, mass media) “non sophisticates” – are fueling the revolt in every one of the nations listed above, for instance in Brexit’s margins, the Midlands and working communities. Also the core of Marine LePen’s support, and the essence of Donald Trump’s victories.

Our media savants treat Brexit as a seismic crisis, as they will describe the dominoes that will fall across Europe. “Anemic PR; bad salesmanship; voters’ ignorance.” But there is a much, much larger picture.

We are not in a major place, but rather a virtual snapshot, maybe a mere moment in a vast continuum, of Western history. Perhaps (only perhaps) the first inklings of pulling back from deadly secular statism. Does Kafka live, or continue to loom? A major aspect of this continuum has been nation-state politics. In succeeding centuries, Spain, the Netherlands, France, and Great Britain, virtually ruled the virtual world. When Germany united 150 years ago and gained similar strength, the party largely was over: prospective colonies gone, the seven seas jealously retained by Her Majesty’s navy. World War I can be seen as the attempt of the Entente countries to deny the Central Powers hegemony, or even much economic mobility, in Europe. The subsequent war can be seen as Germany’s attempt, aided by brutality and bigotry, to assert itself again.

With the EU, it is possible that the industrious and resourceful Germans will be seen by history as having discovered the optimum method of gaining lebensraum after all, their place in the sun, only by economic and peaceful means. And not incidentally, beneficial to almost everyone affected, natives and neighbors alike.

Notice that, for all the nations agitating to leave the European Community, Germany is not one of them. That is because Germany, for all intents and purposes, is the EU. Its nationalistic Pegida movement (also on the rise, certainly) is more concerned with migrants than with seats at EU tables in Brussels. Vladimir Putin has praised the Brexit vote, and the West ought to realize that recent developments have realigned the interests, no longer automatically antagonistic, of Russia and the West.

Continuums? In the more significant sweeps of history, Europe has successfully resisted scores of determined invasions by Muslims since the 700s. This is a major theme in Western history; as are unchecked migrations in many global settings. Whether European resistance and that of Christendom is now flaccid animates the fervent debates of our recent times.

In another meta-narrative, socialism has been viewed as a panacea, or a curse, hatched by Marx in the 1840s; but paternalistic schemes and associations were in fact the foundations of serfdom, feudalism, and the beneficent Craftmen’s associations, guilds, and enterprises like that of the Fuggers of Augsburg, in the Renaissance.

As the world has become more complex, state socialism has become a seductive solution to social problems; so has state capitalism. Centralization. Anne Morrow Lindbergh, in a naïve but prescient description, foresaw centralization as the wave of the future – “every wave has scum on its crest, but a wave of the future nonetheless.” Waves recede after they crash… but are also followed by other waves. Where are we now?

And what is next in the headlines? As Communist states fell and Germany reunited, so might Ireland, especially in the wake of Brexit’s anomalies. Unthinkable, a generation ago. Scotland finally might (re)achive independence. London, a “Remain” island within an island – because of internationalist elites and many immigrants – might become a city-state like the Vatican. Improbable, but borders possess dimished sanctity in this changing world. A multitude of speculation: if rampant democracy had seized the world earlier than it did, the Declaration of Independence might have been a Referendum instead. Imagine.

And as the world has become more complex, so too do Christians find themselves in a new place. Or at least in place they have read about, and when equipped by study of the scriptures, ready for. Really? Are we ready? Not really. Even the most studious eschatologist cannot anticipate the twists and turns of history… of the enemy… even of the Lord. We are watchmen at the gate.

End Times obsessions sometimes are counter-productive. To be an apocalyptic sometimes can persuade people to abandon not just temporal hope, but defenses and self-defenses as well. We have been advised for a long time (at least since the 17th chapter of John’s Gospel, quoting Jesus) that we should be “in this world, but not of this world.”

Do we withdraw? … from everything? Political parties, schools, associations, alliances? No, but we must be willing to assert spiritual as well as civic independence. “If the world hates you, remember that it hated Me first. The world would love you as one of its own if you belonged to it, but you are no longer part of the world. I chose you to come out of the world, so it hates you” (John 15:18-19).

Despite many Christians surrendering the prerogatives, every day is Independence Day for believers. Don’t hesitate to vote NO; vote “Leave”; vote “exit” for many of the things of this world.

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Click: I Don’t Want To get Adjusted

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Real Clear Religion, on whose site many readers have followed Monday Music Ministry, has been for many people an indispensible part of their daily fare. It is going through changes right now after almost seven years.

For those who have followed us on RCR, please be sure to continue receiving our weekly essays by Subscribing to Monday Morning Music Ministry. (See link under “Pages” at right.)

People of Faith Ask, To Trump Or Not to Trump

5-9-16

I have been asked many questions these days about the proper attitude and informed decisions to be made by Christians and people of faith about the elections this year. To be more precise, I have been asked the same question by many people: Is Donald Trump someone to be trusted; does he know or understand biblical principles and basic Christian creedal tenets; is he someone who will “make deals” with the devil – so to speak – once in office?

I am asked those questions by a variety of folks, in my putative role as a social critic, political commentator, and Christian writer. I have no special insights, not holy ones I claim, anyway. Among those who ask me these burning questions is… myself.

A crazy political season. A crazy world, crazier and more ominous by the day. If it is not the advent of End Times, we might wish it were. We all should be primarily seeking spiritual, moral, and ethical answers – because our major challenges in America are, and have been caused by, spiritual, moral, and ethical lapses.

I will don another one my hats, my actual training as a historian, and posit some observations. Those who make stark critiques and censure are Jeremiahs. Most of us historians, as Gibbon and Macaulay did, wait millennia to make sense of history, to discern missteps.

There is an aspect of the human spirit that tends to think that contemporary crises are unprecedented, perhaps apocalyptic. It cannot always be true; but someday it will be. Oddly, we occasionally adopt the attitude of Dr Pangloss, that “this is the best of all possible worlds,” and in certain ways it too sometimes is correct.

But has our society, in our days, begun its ultimate dissolution? Is it possible that we are past “sliding down the slippery slope” and, rather, in the maelstrom of the flushing toilet of history, a vortex going “down the tubes”?

I think it is reasonable to think so. Too many of our foundations are crumbling, too many moral traditions are denigrated or ignored. But our political season, as crazy as it is, is not unprecedented.

We can look back at other crises in presidential contests. In 1800 the election was deadlocked – at the time, the House of Representatives, not the general populace, voted for president and vice-president, separate votes for each of two candidates; all later adjusted by a Constitutional amendment. Thomas Jefferson and Aaron Burr each had more votes than the incumbent president John Adams, but a secret deal withheld some of Burr’s electoral support and resulted in his defeat. The invective, chicanery, and dirty dealing all led to what history calls the “Revolution of 1800.” A few years later, Burr killed Alexander Hamilton in a duel, and eventually fled west where he reportedly attempted to organize an uprising against the United States and/or Mexico.

Let us gloss over the social aspects of Andrew Jackson’s presidency, bereft by scandals, charges of “loose women” in the White House kitchen, and White House events where the president invited the general public, leading to shredding of carpets, destruction of furnishings, and theft of property. Jackson’s presidential campaigns led to the “spoils system” of trading votes for jobs.

In the 1860 election, the Republican Party, then only six years old, gained the White House as beneficiary of four candidates in the field. Abraham Lincoln’s nomination was secured by his manager who forbad Honest Abe from attending or knowing anything about their machinations – such as promising the same federal offices and cabinet positions to more than one person. The campaign was dirty (Secession was imminent) and dangerous (Lincoln reportedly travelled through pro-slavery Baltimore on his way to the inauguration in a plaid cloak and Scottish cap to evade assassins).

In 1896 a virtual unknown, William Jennings Bryan, delivered a speech (the “Cross of Gold”) to the Democrat convention that stampeded the delegates to nominate him in a frenzy. Barely old enough to serve as president, Bryan’s radical, socialist agenda split the party in two and had Americans, those who were not seduced by the firebrand, fearful of blood in the streets.

Theodore Roosevelt, wildly popular on his retirement in 1909, went on an African safari and tour of Europe for a year, partly to grant the spotlight to his hand-picked successor William Howard Taft. But during Taft’s term, there were personal slights of TR; reversal of many Roosevelt policies; serious broken promises; and a calamitous decline in the GOP’s popularity, including the loss of Congress. Severe affronts to Roosevelt, and an irresistible demand from many Republicans, persuaded him to challenge Taft for the nomination.

An ex-president versus a sitting president. Friends became enemies. “Liar” and “Fathead” were among the many epithets. There were mass defections from the GOP after the nomination was wrested from TR, who had won most of the new-fangled primaries. The speakers’ platform at the Republican convention had barbed wire under the bunting, in fear that riots would break out. TR’s bolt of the convention led to the independent Bull Moose party, which soundly trounced the GOP; Taft won only two states. A Socialist, Eugene Debs, polled nearly a million votes. In late October, a bartender who had been persuaded against a Third Term shot Roosevelt point-blank in the chest. TR insisted on continuing to his speech; with blood streaming down his shirt, he spoke for almost 90 minutes. Democrat Woodrow Wilson won the four-way election.

Another year of the gun, 1968: Martin Luther King Jr and Bobby Kennedy, after a primary victory in California, were killed. A sitting president, Lyndon Johnson, was forced from running again when he could not endure widespread protests and a rebellious Democrat Party. Millions in the streets and campuses; a bitter primary; riots outside the convention; the anarchist Yippies; a candidate nominated (VP Humphrey) who had not even run in the primaries; the return of the has-been Richard Nixon; and the amazing grass-roots revolt of third-party candidate George Wallace. The story of 1968.

So… does this year’s election cycle seem tame yet? For all the elements that foreshadowed our current season of discontent, I think the campaign of 1884 has the most parallels. So far. The GOP, in the White House for 24 straight years, was rife with divisions. Factions called “Half-Breeds” and “Stalwarts” hated each other and vied for power. An office-seeker of one faction had assassinated President James Garfield, of another, when he was frustrated in securing a federal job. Bosses continually attempted a comeback for ex-president Ulysses Grant, whom they could control.

Sen. James G Blaine was the favorite for the nomination. A former Speaker of the House, he had been involved numerous. He sold influence; he had solicited bribes. He arrogantly admitted many of these discretions, but he was a magnetic speaker who swayed crowds and inspired devotion. He faced opposition, however, not so much from strong candidates, but a field of lesser names.

The major threat to Blaine instead was from the reform movement in the GOP, a gaggle of veterans and newcomers. Among the former were George William Curtis and Carl Schurz, whose political careers went back to the Civil War. Leaders of the latter group were young Henry Cabot Lodge and 24-year-old Theodore Roosevelt, a major force in the convention. Their efforts to advance reform candidates failed on the floor.

There was public revulsion against Blaine (“Blaine, Blaine; James G Blaine! The continental liar from the state of Maine!” street crowds chanted) but a lot of GOP voters fell in line. Grover Cleveland, the Democrat candidate, was “ugly honest,” a good reputation for 1884; but midway through the campaign it was revealed that Cleveland had fathered an illegitimate child – remember, this in the staid Victorian era. (“Ma! Ma! Where’s my pa? Gone to the White House, ha ha ha!” rival crowds chanted.) THAT was some campaign.

As in 2016, a large number of Republican politicians and activists faced moral and practical dilemmas. Many of them sincerely believed that Blaine was toxic for the party’s self-esteem and for its future; and they had made threats – or promises – never to vote for Blaine. Excruciating.

There was, collectively, a Solomonic decision. Reformers like Curtis and Schurz and Henry Ward Beecher, America’s most prominent pastor, whose sister had written “Uncle Tom’s Cabin,” left the Republican Party, and supported Cleveland. They were dubbed “Mugwumps.”

Reformers like Roosevelt and Lodge, however, reluctantly remained within the party. Never endorsing Blaine, they “supported the ticket,” stating that the only way to influence the party was from within the party. Young TR, whose wife and mother had died a few months earlier (on the same day), left for an understandable “sabbatical” on his cattle ranch in the Dakotas. For two years he was a cowboy, out of the public eye. He made one or two campaign speeches for down-ticket candidates, including Lodge who ran for Congress.

Lodge lost. He and Roosevelt both considered their political futures ruined.

Both were mistaken, of course. Many of the Mugwumps eventually returned to the GOP, which thereafter always had – has had – a reform wing. Cleveland won, but a dozen years later he and many establishment Democrats boycotted the agrarian radical Bryan. Blaine lost the 1884 election, but by a whisker.

The final detail of the final moments of that crazy 1884 campaign might be relevant if not dispositive to troubled Republicans weathering Hurricane Donald this year: a moral, specifically a religious, aspect.

Just before election eve, Blaine attended a dinner of industrialists and monopolists at Delmonico’s in New York. One of the speakers, a nonentity minister, in his speech described the Democrats as the “party of Rum, Romanism, and Rebellion.” Rum was a smear on lowlife aspects of stereotyped Democrat voters; Rebellion was a reminder of the Democrats’ association with Secession.

Romanism, however, was a word that touched social and religious nerves. It was a direct reference to Catholicism, imputing a congenital association between Democrats and the Pope; and was not meant as a compliment. The consequent furor over the insult (which Blaine had ignored) energized New York City’s Irish immigrants. New York City went Democrat; New York State and its electoral votes narrowly went for Cleveland… enough to tip the national outcome away from the GOP.

The scenario is a different animal than whether to endorse a candidate you distrust or despise in 2016 – but it reminds us that religion is never far from the larger debate. Our civic consciences might still roil over whether to Trump, or not to Trump. Life has gone on in America despite, as Kipling wrote, “The tumult and the shouting dies.”

Myself, I greet with dubiety Trump’s assurances that he is familiar with the Bible, understands doctrine, and has a saving knowledge, as we say, of Jesus Christ. But we are not to judge: I question, however. “God judges the man; voters judge the candidate” is, this year, less of a maxim and feels like more of an excuse.

Many of us have the nagging feeling that things are different this time, that past is less than prologue. The Captains and the Kings may depart, yet we seem closer to our destiny, maybe an apocalypse.

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Real Clear Religion, on whose site many readers have followed Monday Music Ministry, has been to many people an indispensible part of their daily fare. It is going through changes right now after almost seven years.

For those who have followed us on RCR, please be sure to continue receiving our weekly essays by Subscribing to Monday Morning Music Ministry. (See link under “Pages” at right.)

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Click: I Am a Pilgrim

Welcome to Post-Christianity’s Brave New World

4-11-16

What would you call the age we live in? When I was a child, we were told that the Machine Age had been superseded by the Atomic Age. But that was marketing of sorts. Anyway, nuclear energy and the ability to incinerate the planet have become mundane topics. We might be in the Computer Age, but that term soon will sound as musty as new-fangled “horseless carriages” and “talkie movies” that once inspired awe.

I think we all flatter ourselves that we are blessed to be “modern,” up-to-the-minute (if not quite hip). So is this the Modern Age?

Actually, philosophers and artists maintain that the Modern Age ended long ago, followed by Post-Modernism… which has also ended. Eclipsed by – Post-Post-Modernism? Some people use this term. Do you get the feeling that we have just taken our seats at the stadium, and the game is already in extra innings?

My preference, and it seems very logical to me, is that our age is best described, in perspective of history’s grand sweep, as the Post-Christian Era. Some people would dismiss that as being too theocentric… but in view of the cultural, artistic, intellectual, economic, even diplomatic, and yes, religious, core of two millennia: yes, “Post-Christian” describes where we are.

“Modern” and its permutations are terms that tend to elude us. Whether the Renaissance was the last whiff of Classicism or the dawning of Modernism is debated. But we must go back in history that far. Luther was the last Pre-Modern. The Age of Reason was on the horizon in Europe, espied from the platform of Humanism. Yet Luther, the last Medievalist, held fast to the proposition that “reason is the enemy of faith.”

More than two centuries later, Luther’s artistic disciple Johann Sebastian Bach summed up the heritage of the Gothic, Renaissance, and early Baroque eras. Intending to summarize more than innovate, he was not seduced by potential acclaim nor his effect on the future. In fact, he was rejected by the first “Moderns” in Rococo Europe. Bach’s scientific contemporary, Isaac Newton, was representative of the Age of Enlightenment.

I am aware (all too aware, because it is clearly counter-factual) that many schools today teach, when they teach at all, that Enlightenment scientists and philosophers freed Western Civilization from the shackles of religion and superstition. That’s what “enlightened” meant, right?

Wrong. Philosophers like Pascal and Locke; scientists like Galileo and Newton; and creators like Bach and William Blake, all saw the substantial advances in their fields as confirming, not disproving, the existence of God and His plans. Newton concluded, it has been said, that we live within the space of God’s mind. The poet Alexander Pope wrote: “Nature and Nature’s Laws lay hid in Night; God said, ‘Let Newton be!’ And all was Light!”

But then, 50 years or so later, the mad swirl of Romanticism, revolution, industrialization, and social turmoil broke forth as like a lanced boil. It has not healed; the burst dam has not been mended. We have had Marxism since the 1840s, Darwinism since the 1850s, wars and rumors of wars since the 1860s, and the Industrial Revolution that brought many blessings but also brought poverty, injustice, dislocation, and wage-slavery instead of less pernicious traditional slavery.

Many people have not yet come to full realizations about the enormous disruptions caused by elements of contemporary life specifically of the past 200 years. As people became educated; climbed the ladder of prosperity, or were crushed under it; and earned the new commodity of leisure time… religion became less important.

People relied less on God. And for those vulnerable souls who need God’s blessings, the Modern State and its Socialist and Marxian manifestations are there, attempting to substitute for the Church. These tendencies have multiplied and accelerated. Not only the Dynamo (Henry Adams’ term for the Machine Age’s deity, supplanting the church) but the arts and ever-more secular philosophers, all worked to convince people that God was dead.

God has indeed died, in the Nietzschean sense that society no longer acknowledges Him, depends on His Word, worships His Son, or serves Him.

This is true. The inclination of sinful souls to reject God finds comfort in a culture that makes it safe to reject Him. Denominations even twist scripture and call evil good. Humankind’s soul is no less dark then ever, wars are more brutal, and the world hurtles toward unprecedented chaos, envy, and strife.

The Secularists have an answer: that we distance ourselves even further from God and His Word.

We have itching ears, as the Bible foretold – we hear what we want to hear. We invite cultural enablers.

We are happy to revel in wine, women, and song – or what seduced the decadent Romans, called “Bread and Circuses.”

How do we respond to all the biblical prophecies, all the warnings of our wise forebears, all the lessons of fallen civilizations gone before? We laugh and ignore the certainty of calamity.

The anti-religious impulse of scientists, of Marx, Darwin, Nietzsche, Relativism, Secularism, the negative effects of finance capitalism and repressive Socialism, the pollution of the earth and of our minds; indeed, human nature unfettered for the first time in history – where has it gotten us? Where are we headed? Adherents of those false gods should repent, as should we ALL.

Given the signs of the times and biblical prophecy, those who reject God ought to repent or at least desperately HOPE there is a God. For their alternative ideas have not worked, but rather have brought the world to chaos. Welcome to the brave new world of Post-Christianity.

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Our Click this week is a song by Merle Haggard, the iconic American poet, songwriter, and singer who died this week on his 79th birthday. Of the many genres he mastered, God and Country predominated. This song is among his best. Sadly, it is as pertinent now as when he recorded it, 1971.

Click: Merle Haggard – Jesus, Take a Hold

The Big Lie About Evangelical Voters

2-15-16

This crazy political season is notable for several things. First… its craziness. Second, its politics; that is, we have a virtual saturation of political arguments, political bitterness, political warfare. Like never before.

I am a political junkie. Politics is my second-favorite spectator sport after baseball; and, as a sometime cartoonist and columnist, politics is also among my favorite team sports.

Unfortunately, in America today, politics virtually has become a contact sport too; a blood sport.

I was reminded of that fact this week when I listened to two people arguing over issues, using the most abusive and foul language, personal attacks and insults, dirty words and exaggerated claims. And that was just two grandmothers at a local McDonald’s. OK, not really, but nearly the case across the fruity plain.

The problem is that politics permeates every aspect of our lives these days. You cannot think of an issue that has not been politicized, from children’s playground activities to workplace conversations, the size of soda containers to opinions on movie awards. Notice I do not address partisanship – I do not mean Democrat vs Republicans; nor even liberals vs conservatives.

The Political Tendency is a virus that is, rather, an aspect of our busy-body culture, basically a totalitarian impulse. We have been persuaded that it is our duty to persuade. Or cudgel. People must agree with us. Every idea is merely the first half of a debate… that must be won. People who disagree with you are not only wrong or even deluded, but morally reprehensible.

When I maintain that this imperative has infected all of society, I cannot exclude religion. It is within our faith life, as a nation, in fact, where this new ethos runs most rampant. It doesn’t merely run; it sprints; gallops.

One of the distillates of this cultural fermentation is being served up in the current presidential campaign. I have come to the point of gagging every time I hear the term “Evangelical” in the news, in speeches, in analyses.

Are you an Evangelical? There is no denomination simply called Evangelical (in Germany the Lutheran Church, though, is formally called Evangelische) although it survives in a couple adjectives. The word and its root is associated with evangelizing… and only a small percentage of “Evangelical” voters are those who approach strangers or ring neighbors’ doorbells to convert people to belief in Christ.

No, the word “evangelical,” to paraphrase Peter (who referred to love), covers a multitude of sins. That is, under the umbrella can be found Fundamentalists and Pentecostals and Born-Again believers and Orthodox and traditionalists. Uneasy allies like Primitives and Catholics, meeting in anti-abortion battles. Socially conservative Seekers and socially liberal Emergents. Old-school worshipers and Post-Modern innovators. Black, White, Hispanic. Mennonites, Quakers, and the Urban Churches.

We have differences, but common interests. We might not be unified, necessarily, but we are united on many, many issues. We all believe in Jesus Christ, the Son of God, and our hearts bleed for His Kingdom. And, by the way, also among us, according to surveys about attitudes among people of faith, are conservative and Orthodox Jews; Mormons and other traditions; and I am sure certain conservative Muslims who also care about patriotism and safety, morality and security.

Memo, then, to politicians and the media: stop lumping us all as “Evangelicals” and taking us for granted until election day. You display your ignorance, and your contempt. Let me explain it this way – not exactly a verse from scripture, but you will get the gist: Shut up. Stop pretending that you know us (or are one of us!)… learn who we are… share our concerns, or don’t; but get to know us.

This political junkie, offered the distilled spirits from the political still this year, is ready to take the pledge. To “swear off.”

Ever since I was a child in chronological terms, I have heard people claim they were resigned to voting for the “lesser of two evils.” I have said so myself, scarcely acknowledging that the lesser of two evils is still, by definition, evil. I used to say, “I don’t vote for any of the politicians; it only encouragers them.”

This year, for me, there are more candidates than usual who I can tolerate, or even admire. But the campaigns, in both parties, have devolved to infantile food fights. Insults. Petty “gotchas.” Wild claims. Personality clashes. Name-calling. “Did too / did not” spitting matches. And not, this time, old birds in McDonald’s, or even my young grandchildren. But, among them, leaders of the greatest country on earth, ready to sit for portraits to be displayed next to Washington, Lincoln, and Theodore Roosevelt.

It is demoralizing. The insults really are suffered by us, the voters. I think I will cast my vote for the first candidate who says, “I don’t care what you say about me. I am going to talk about what I propose to do as president.” Even if that is somehow uttered by a candidate’s dog.

But as a Christian, especially, I am sick and tired of being sick and tired of candidates who talk down to me… who take my vote for granted… who stereotype us… who pander to our supposed views, which are precious and basic and essential; views that are not for sale at any price.

Politicians and candidates should learn-and-earn. If they thirst for our votes, let us require them to recognize our standards and values, not our clichéd labels. We are patriotic citizens of faith who care about our nation, its heritage, and our common future. We have shadows of difference, as significant as, yes, the things that unite us as a bloc. Learn what they are! It is not difficult. Then talk to us.

Stop insulting each other; stop insulting us; and, for once in your careers, all of you… remember us between elections.

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Click: How Firm a Foundation

Presidents Day and An American Caliphate

2-8-16

In a season, during this time, in American history, when traditions are being abandoned; myriads of concepts and lifestyles are “new normals”; and basic assumptions are no longer basic nor widely assumed… we had an American president, this week, who spoke at a mosque associated with the murderous Muslim Brotherhood. And the next day he argued before the annual National Prayer Breakfast about the “fundamental contributions” Islam has made to American society.

Obama did not mean current contributions, such as his usual focus on voting blocks, or even the negative effect of violence, terrorism, or such fears: those contributions. No, he maintained that Islam has been here from the start. Typically, few lovers of Christianity – or of history, or of common sense – spoke up in protest, there or afterwards in print or speeches. More astonishing, to me, than his bizarre claims.

It was a peculiar re-spinning of history, as if the Declaration of Independence were drafted by Abu-Ben Franklin, or the Constitution advocated by Al-Exandir Hamilton, or that presidents swore upon the Qu’uran or fought the Civil War to uphold Mohammed-sanctioned slavery.

His speech (not his first such with distortions of history and slights against Christianity) was more like a revision of the classic collection of fairy tales, “The Arabian Nights Entertainment,” rich in lore and imagination. His speech could embellish that book’s alternate title: “A Thousand and Two Nights.” Aladdin, Sinbad, Scheherazade, Ali Baba and The Forty Thieves and… Barack Hussein.

On this Presidents Day, in this month when we ought to discern the actual birthdays of two of America’s great sons, George Washington and Abraham Lincoln, I would like to leave the hot burning desert of our national spiritual wandering, and return to the oasis of America’s Golden Age. Whether we can reestablish ourselves in that cultural oasis, or reclaim our unique birthright… or whether our moment as a blessed society in history’s grand sweep was, to continue the nomadic metaphor, ultimately a mere mirage.

Obama’s greatest display of ignorance, or cultural subversion, has been when he has decried claims of “American Exceptionalism,” as if people think they are special by virtue of their pulses or ZIP codes. American Exceptionalism does not refer to people; it refers to the American experiment of biblical foundations, systems of laws, recognitions of rights, devotion to liberty, a brilliant Constitution, and balance of rights and responsibilities. As a result of these unique factors… we have been blessed with gifted leaders; we have succeeded in correcting inevitable flaws; we have been generous-minded in uncountable ways; we have forged a nation out of many peoples. We have been blessed because we bless.

If we (loosely) turn an Arabic word and Islamic concept to English and the American context, the United States never was tempted to be a Caliphate because its foundation was as a democratic republic; citizenship was borne and maintained by loyalty, initiative, and merit; and its “Caliph” was the God of the Bible. We have stumbled, in my opinion, by the seduction of Empire – the deadly prescription of all of history’s great civilizations – but can redeem ourselves of that, and further distance ourselves from a Caliphate’s model.

Returning here to the presidents we should remember specially this month, I recall first something Lincoln said to a group of visiting ministers who advocated for firmer military measures – in effect that we should not be as concerned that “God is on our side,” as, always, that we be on God’s side.

This, from a supposed skeptic and one who rejected the Bible. Nothing is further from the Truth. Progressively and almost constantly during the last 15 months of his life, Abraham Lincoln read the Bible, quoted scripture, and appealed to God as much as, say, any preacher might have. His speeches and letters often were virtual sermons.

We recall Washington’s words:

“Of all the dispositions and habits which lead to political prosperity, religion and morality are indispensable supports… And let us with caution indulge the supposition that morality can be maintained without religion. Whatever may be conceded to the influence of refined education on minds of peculiar structure, reason and experience both forbid us to expect that national morality can prevail in exclusion of religious principle.”

Years after Lincoln’s death, his old friend from Kentucky days, Joshua Speed, recalled: “As I entered the room, near night, he was sitting near a window intently reading his Bible. Approaching him, I said: ‘I am glad to see you so profitably engaged.’ ‘Yes,’ said he, “I am profitably engaged.’ ‘Well,’ said I, ‘if you have recovered from your skepticism, I am sorry to say that I have not.’ Looking me earnestly in the face and placing his hand on my shoulder, he said: ‘You are wrong, Speed. Take all of this Book upon reason that you can, and the balance on faith, and you will live and die a happier and better man.’”

To honor these amazing Americans – whose lives and service we must consider as gifts from God, appearing at the right time, in the right places, and doing the right things – I will quote another great American, Theodore Roosevelt:

“As a people, we are indeed beyond measure fortunate in the characters of the two greatest of our public men, Washington and Lincoln. Widely though they differed in externals, the Virginia landed gentleman and the Kentucky backwoodsman, they were alike in essentials; they were alike in the great qualities which made each able to render service to his nation and to all mankind such as no other man of his generation could or did render.

“Widely though the problems of to-day differ from the problems set for solution to Washington when he founded this nation, to Lincoln when he saved it and freed the slave, yet the qualities they showed in meeting these problems are exactly the same as those we should show in doing our work to-day.”

“There have been other men as great and other men as good; but in all the history of mankind there are no other two great men as good as these, no other two good men as great.”

Amen.

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Click: When I Get To the End Of the Way

God Won’t Fix This

12-7-15

“God Won’t Fix This.” This was the four-word headline splashed over the front page of the New York Daily News after the terrorist attack in San Bernardino.

They printed four small photos, insets of public officials, with their quotations asking for, or offering, prayers. “Thoughts and prayers,” in the current parlance; and the News yellow-highlighted the word “prayer” in each instance. Their copy, on the front page and successive pages of the “news”paper, criticized Republican candidates for offering prayers “and not solutions.”

Put aside for the moment the point of view that prayers to God might be solutions, it was interesting – no, that’s not quite the precise word; ah, yes: disgusting – that the editors politicized the horror by ripping solely into Republicans’ statements. And noting that three Democrat candidates for the presidency did not ask for prayer or invoke God. And not mentioning that President Obama, whatever else he says, routinely assures the nation that “our thoughts and prayers go out” after such incidents. Politics 101? I give ‘em an F.

Personally, my spirit bristles when people talk about prayer and God in superficial ways. Prayer is a powerful tool designed to communicate with our Heavenly Father. “Our prayers go out” is so clichéd – often, but not always – as to weaken its sincerity. If a Christian proposes prayer, having God’s ear, so to speak, he or she should pray then and there. Not the Sinner’s Prayer, not necessarily a rambling list of petitions, but a “Dear God”… followed by the plea or praise… ending with an “Amen,” is sincere, sufficient to most occasions, and effective.

Even Gov. Huckabee, an ordained minister, used to end his TV shows with, “God bless.” Finish the sentence! Is it a request or a demand? God bless what, or who? A pose, a mask; get real!

But I digress. The Gospel According the Daily News was very significant. In journalistic terms, it was symbolic. The tabloid, founded in 1919 and for many years boasting the second-highest circulation in the United States, has fallen like a rock and has been up for sale for some time. Owned by the mogul Mortimer Zuckerman, it was on the auction block for months, reportedly at one point offered for a single dollar… if the new owner would assume the gargantuan debts. No takers. After firing entire department staffs and abandoning categories of coverage, it teeters between going digital and folding outright.

Mortimer Zuckerman’s property was launched by Captain Joseph Patterson, cousin of the Chicago Tribune management. For decades both papers were two of the most conservative and traditional-values organs in the nation. No more. It is tempting to think of cause and effect (crummy stands and low readership); evidently Mortimer Zuckerman does not.

Whether the blasphemy splashed across the paper’s front page was a publicity stunt or not – here we are, after all, discussing it — Mortimer Zuckerman’s disgraceful display is perfectly emblematic of a deep problem in post-Christian America. The mockery of the screaming headline was not so much directed at politicians’ statements, or their failures to join, lockstep, liberals’ solution of laws, laws, and laws, in the face of violence of Islamic terror.

No, the scorn was directed at peoples’ natural reactions to turn to God in crises and troubled times. Candidates, everyday citizens, neighbors, the wounded, the children and families of the dead – they (we) are ridiculous hypocrites or deluded wastrels in the eyes of contemporary society. Today’s reigning culture hates us.

More, the sacred institution of prayer, ordained of God; and God Himself, are the real targets. Scornful, mocking, blasphemous. America, 2015. We have laws – California’s among the strictest – but the impulse to seek God is “futile,” we are told in today’s secular sermons and front pages.

This just in: Next in the parade of the Misplaced Moralists was the News’ neighbor, the New York Times.In its Saturday, Dec 5, print edition, the “Paper of Record” printed a front-page editorial for the first time in 95 years. Publisher Arthur Sulzberger wrote that “America’s elected leaders” should be ashamed of themselves for “offering prayers for gun victims and then, callously and without fear of consequences, reject[ing] the most basic restrictions of weapons of mass killing.” By the way, the public scolding made no reference to Islam or Muslims, or jihadi terrorism; rather to do away with the Second Amendment, promote “reasonable regulation” and outright confiscation of firearms.

In the larger picture, we have barred God and the Bible from classrooms… and classrooms became incubators of rebellion and false values. We have stripped the public forums of our Christian heritage… and America enjoys (?) drugs, sex, abuse, violence, social dislocation of all sorts.

Some call this coincidence. People like Mortimer Zuckerman and Arthur Sulzberger do. I call it Judgment. “God is not mocked,” the Bible warns. Who are the hypocrites? I remember when Hurricane Sandy slammed New York City, flooded its basements and filled its tunnels, Mayor Bloomberg, who had been on a crusade to remove God from public events and public places, all of a sudden called on churches to come to the city’s assistance. Bloomberg and Zuckerman and Sulzberger, the New Prophets of the Religion of No Religion… until needed.

Is it an empty cliché to say “God has been barred from classrooms”? God, of course, is sovereign. He can be anywhere, and do anything. But He has principles and consistency as part of His person, too. God cannot contradict Himself.

When He became incarnate as the Christ, Jesus returned to His native Nazareth, as recorded in two of the Gospels. Not a happy homecoming: many of the people were scornful of Him and unbelieving of His divinity. Matthew 13:58 relates: “And he did not many mighty works there because of their unbelief.” That is the King James translation; in the Aramaic Bible in Plain English direct translation, we read, “And he did not do many miracles there because of their suspicion.”

Could Jesus have performed miracles? Of course. The incarnate Deity was sovereign. Was He scolding the population, petulantly withholding miracles to “get even” or teach them a lesson? Not likely. If He had performed tremendous, showy miracles, many people might have been affected.

But the ways of God are many, and mysterious, and just. “As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways, and my thoughts than your thoughts,” saith the Lord (Isaiah 55:9). After all, one lone Centurion who believed was blessed; the woman touching the hem of His garment was healed, and so forth. In contemporary America and its media and Hollywood elite, to reject prayer and a turn to God – by victims themselves – displays our society’s hard heart and stiff neck.

Where does this leave us, in this all-too-common environment of fear and terror? Let us pray: Not in the Councils of the Ungodly. Can we Americans be so arrogant to think that God owes us mercy or pardon, while we offend Him daily in so many ways as a society? Even the non-Zuckermans and non-Bloombergs and non-Sulzbergers among us have become content to place our affection with corrupt things; to put our trust in man’s laws; to have faith in worldly things.

Liberals might scoff and say we need fewer prayers and more rules, but, even objectively, why must they be mutually exclusive? Rather, we need more love and less hate; more sincere hearts than know-it-all heads; more prayers and fewer laws; more God and less government.

“God Isn’t Fixing This”? Can anyone wonder?

http://www.nydailynews.com/news/politics/gop-candidates-call-prayers-calf-massacre-article-1.2453261

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Click: The Faith Of Our Fathers

Gifted Hands

11-30-15

There has been a firestorm of chatter – accusations, distortions, smears, confusion, explanations – lately about Dr Ben Carson and elements of his biography. Whether he had violent tendencies in his impoverished youth in inner-city Detroit. Whether he attacked, or wanted to, kids and even his mother. Whether, as an excelling young student, had the SAT scores he has spoken of, and whether he was told he would be a good candidate, with reason to feel confident, for the US Military Academy.

Et cetera. Dr Carson has noted that the rabid press has not pursued for almost a decade the mysteries and inconsistencies of Barack Obama’s past. Dr Carson’s modesty has not made an issue of the fact that all the calumny has been disproved – the charges have, one by one, been refuted by facts and history and eyewitnesses.

Myself, I am just as (not) surprised that the tsunami of questions at Dr Carson’s press conferences are not about, say, being named head of Pediatric Neurosurgery at Johns Hopkins. At the age of 33. The landmark surgeries he performed. Becoming a world-renowned, encyclopedia-named brain surgeon. The number of lives he saved. His dozens of honorary degrees. The work of his foundation, which encourages and supports academic excellence in youth. His Christian witness and talks, inspiring millions. Where are THOSE stories?

… in fact they are in Dr Carson’s book “Gifted Hands.” It is his autobiography, written years before he retired from medicine and turned to public service (what a term – he has been serving the public all his life!), and from which an inspiring movie was produced (Cuba Gooding Jr portrayed Carson).

And that brings me to why I am writing this essay. The “man in the news” I want to share is not Carson, here, but his co-author on “Gifted Hands,” Cecil Murphey. That book is being cited, mis-characterized, and everything in between.

Cecil Murphey is a friend of mine, if I may boast, and I would like to share some things about a man who, to many people at the moment, is just a name. Cec is the author or co-author of almost 150 books. He is the absolute master of co-authoring the works of notables, interesting people, and average but inspirational folks; as well those who are inexperienced or too busy for the nuts-and-bolts of putting a book together.

“…With Cecil Murphey” appears on the covers of life stories of Ben Carson, Don Piper (“90 Minutes in Heaven” and others), Shaun Alexander, Dino, et al., including many famous names on whose books he did not receive credit (which is a common practice in publishing).

He also assisted on Dr Carson’s book “Think Big – Unleashing Your Potential for Excellence.” He has also written scores of other books – Bible apologetics; romance mysteries; travel and self-help; devotionals; and inspirational books addressing addiction, recovery, loss, healing, caregiving, grief, exercise, aging, sex trafficking, loved ones with dementia, and living with sexual abuse. Specifically, sexual molestation from the family’s point of view, living with the victim; and from the victim’s own viewpoint. Cec himself suffered abuse as a child, and his own book (“When a Man You Love Was Abused”) on the subject was difficult to write, challenging to have published, and… is touching, powerful, and useful.

Behind the scenes (for many) – Cec has also written books on the craft of writing. He holds seminars and has mentored many writers; he is an encourager. He has appeared at many writer’s conferences (Marlene Bagnull’s Christian Writers Conference is where I was blessed to first meet Cec) and has – anonymously – donated thousands and thousands of dollars for scholarships to aspiring writers.

He has received honorary degrees, many awards, was a pastor in the Atlanta area, has served as a hospital chaplain, and was a missionary in Kenya for six years. He is a man of unbelievable energy (myself, I am worn out just listing a few of his accomplishments!), with a generous heart, tremendous talent, and – pertinent these days, as his name is being dragged into mud-slinging political smears – utter integrity. A man of God, serving God and humanity. No less than the similarly modest, gifted, and brilliant subject of certain of his books, Dr Ben Carson.

The Founding Fathers of the United States fully intended – and fervently prayed – that future leaders would arise not from a permanent political class but from the general population. They would be farmers, and lawyers, and shopkeeps, and… doctors; they would serve as law-makers for a spell, representing their neighbors, always feeling responsible to them and obligated to serve them. And then they would return to their farms, their offices, their shops, their patients. Citizen Patriots.

Dr Carson understands that vision, and fulfills that aspiration. He lives it. And Cecil Murphey, the man who wrote Dr Carson’s story almost 20 years ago, understood it too, and communicated. In the same manner, he is a journeyman writer with his own Gifted Hands.

Every news item has a back-story. Cecil Murphey is the story behind a lot of other stories, and the stories of a lot of impressive people. There is a good chance that you have read a best-selling book he helped to write, or ghost-wrote, without your being aware of it. I am glad to share his story here, and proud to have him as a friend. He is also a Christian worker who is a Citizen Patriot serving his nation.

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The slings and arrows of outrageous fortune will not deter Dr Ben Carson as he seeks the presidency and, perhaps someday, even higher positions; nor Cecil Murphey, whose pen is a mighty sword of God. Here, a contemporary song of Christian encouragement, sung by Joni Eareckson Tada.

Click: Alone Yet Not Alone

Cecil Murphey

When Christianity Is Outlawed, We Will Be the Illegals

10-4-15

Faith has been in the news recently. More precisely, news about faith has confronted us, almost daily, of late.

The Pope visited America, and his words were examined, feared, or cheered. He put some current issues in a religious context. He secretly met with a Baptist woman from Kentucky who went to jail rather than certify, as a municipal clerk, marriage licenses for homosexuals; he reportedly encouraged civil disobedience like hers.

The scandal and controversy about selling harvested body parts of aborted babies has, of course, a religious cast, whether the faith in question is biblical or secular-humanist; its battles are fought, however, with religious fervor.

Christian expression, from signs and symbols to prayers and oaths, are being attacked by some citizens and suppressed by some governmental and military agencies.

Very recently there was another school shooting, at an Oregon college, where the murderer asked the victims’ faiths. Those who answered “Christian” he shot in their heads; others were shot in their legs. Echoes of Columbine, and other violent attacks. President Obama, almost immediately, addressed the nation and deplored the guns.

In a familiar pattern, Obama and the media not-so-subtly assign mass shootings and gun violence into one of two categories. If white people commit the crimes, they are deranged radical Christians whose guilt is shared only by an evil society obsessed by weaponry. If the shooters are black or Muslims, they are misunderstood victims of a bigoted society who justifiably retaliate in a form of workplace violence. So goes the analyses and their logical extensions.

This all might look like random bits, issues of war and terrorism and Constitutional rights and women’s rights and free speech and random violence or mental-health… but they are all, as I said above, religious matters at their core. Spiritual crises; spiritual warfare; spiritual solutions that are lacking. In fact I think the problems are deeper than news headlines or society’s fads: I think the many problems facing our neighborhoods and nation and the world are fundamental, not momentary, troubles.

History might be at a turning point. Our Western heritage is on the verge of extinction.

I might be one lonely essayist making these observations, and you might agree or disagree. But I invite you to read the words of someone who might surprise you, because they scarcely have been reported in the press. So I am happy to quote some presidential passages here:

“Many Euro-Atlantic countries have moved away from their roots, including Christian values… Policies are being pursued that place on the same level a multi-child family and a same-sex partnership, a faith in God and a belief in Satan.”

“I did as [my mother] said and then put the cross around my neck. I have never taken it off since.”

“First and foremost we should be governed by common sense. But common sense should be based on moral principles first. And it is not possible today to have morality separated from religious values.”

“The… Church plays an enormous formative role in preserving our rich historical and cultural heritage and in reviving eternal moral values. It works tirelessly to bring unity, to strengthen family ties, and to educate the younger generation in the spirit of patriotism.”

Quiz time is over. Not Washington nor Adams. Not Lincoln nor Theodore Roosevelt. (Not, either – need we say? – Barack Obama) These are quotations from speeches by President Vladimir Putin of Russia.

Russia has reinstated the churches that were outlawed by the Soviets; and encourages religious expression. Putin has been baptized, has testified to faith in Christ, and attends church regularly. Russia’s foreign policy has been victim of radical Islam, and has pursued policies against it at home, in provinces, and abroad.

In Syria, Russia recognizes that ISIS is at heart an anti-Christian movement. President Assad, for all his sins, is of the Alawite minority, as are Syrian Christians; and Christians generally are protected in Syria – and were similarly protected by Saddam Hussein in Iraq. But after the US invasion and withdrawal, Christians have been slaughtered wholesale or driven from their ancient towns – now virtually extinct as a people in Iraq after 2000 years.

Russian law now bans homosexual “propaganda,” abortion advertising, abortions after 12 weeks, and has criminalized the “insulting” of people’s religious sensibilities – a refreshing twist of the American fetish with “hate crimes.” Rev. Franklin Graham has applauded these priorities. President Putin has declared Russia a “Christian country,” not that other religions are outlawed (he recently attended a mosque dedication) but respecting his nation’s heritage and traditions. As once was the case in Christian America.

I, and many friends, are in the odd position of wanting automatically to defend our flag and our country that stands, today, for hedonism, pornography, homosexuality, feminism, same-sex marriage, euthanasia, assisted suicide, sale of baby body parts, Hollywood “values,” easy divorce, easy abortions, easy immigration, easy drugs… And we are in the odd position of seeing an old foe, Russia, suddenly championing Christian values, calling Islamic expansionist radicalism what it is, and acting where the weak-kneed (or treasonous) American leaders will not.

The Administration favors killing babies, but not ISIS murderers, and Islamic terrorists.

Our government forces the entry of illegals across porous borders and from terror states, but initiates lawsuits against nuns who resist being forced to support abortions, and husband-and-wife bakers who decline to decorate cakes for homosexuals.

This week the presidential candidate Dr Ben Carson widely was criticized for saying that he would not vote for a Muslim for president. Lost in the din were details about those Mohammedans who elevate Sharia law above the Constitution; and the fact that Dr Carson does not advocate the banning of Islam or the deportation of Muslims. He would not vote for one, absent the conditions he stated. We still have freedom of conscience and freedom of action in America. Maybe not for long.

Secularists have almost convinced America that Abraham Lincoln was an atheist, but he once said: “I do not think I could myself be brought to support a man for office whom I knew to be an open enemy of, and scoffer at, religion.”

In the year of our Lord 2015, America is making life hell for Christians at home, and acquiescing in Christian persecution abroad. While worship and freedom of thought are still legal, before our liberties slip away, while all these religious and pseudo-religious battles rage, let us recall another admonition of Lincoln. Let us not worry so much whether God is on our side… but whether we are on God’s side.

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Click: The Old Country Church

War By Another Name

9-14-15

We are witnessing, night after night on television news, and in photographs on newspaper front pages and magazine front covers, one of several things, depending on how you categorize it.

A humanitarian crisis. The flight of refugees from war-torn Syria. Migrations from lands surrounding Syria toward areas of a prosperous Europe. People, some of whom might be terrorists or, certainly, potential terrorists, pushed to migrate. Many Arab and Muslim countries refusing to accept the refugees. White European nations’ reactions, ranging from declining to rend their social fabrics, to countries accepting of them.

And ascribed motives across the board – from prejudice to shaky economies to needy workforces to guilt bred of political correctness.

In all our lifetimes we, sadly, have witnessed similar “humanitarian crises,” usually fomented by natural disasters, or famine, or war. But this might be the first time that virtually every picture and story features the hordes, instead of orderly, hopeful, and grateful… angry, resentful of their benefactors, shouting curses at their hosts, making obscene gestures to cameras, and, from their scanty provisions, leaving mountains of trash in their wake.

Different. Different in many ways. We plausibly can say that these scenes comprise the largest funeral, or funeral parade, in history. It represents the funeral of the West.

As a funeral cortege – I hear strains of the second movement of Beethoven’s Eroica Symphony, labeled “March Funebre,” when I watch the videos – these people are not mourners nor pall-bearers, but rather headed straight for the wake and after-party, so to speak.

In yet another view, this flight of uncountable migrants is war. The invaders’ strategy we know, for the pawns are being resettled by the vilest forces of the region, ISIS especially (the more benign of Arab and Muslim countries, for instance Lebanon, have absorbed many refugees).

The tactics – war’s other side of the coin – play upon the West’s weaknesses; guilt or self-loathing among the elites; force of numbers; and the most effective weapon, propaganda and the pliant media. The world should be suspicious or hostile to Muslim machinations these days, yet the Christian West (that is, the post-Christian world) is, despite a few speed bumps and detours, paving latter-day Trade routes and Spice routes from the neighborhoods around Syria through Turkey to Greece and Macedonia, to Serbia and Bosnia. Through Austria, to the promised land of Germany.

Those who do not know history are doomed to criticize my analysis. Of this I am certain. Save your letters; I am not a hater but a lover. I love our nations and our peoples. Opening our hearts, and our wallets, is separate from opening our minds to the extent that our brains fall out. I endorse and insist on compassion, and invite us all to think of the best way to exercise compassion and love and assistance. Anon.

In the meantime it does nobody any good, and does everybody much bad, to deny that this situation is what is.

* Many of the migrants are from places even far from Syria, like Pakistan and Bangladesh. Discarded identity papers indicate such. Some estimates put the migrants from war-torn countries (Iraq, Syria, Afghanistan) at only 30 per cent.

* This instant burden of accommodating refugees is not falling evenly. Neighborhood (and prosperous) Arab states including Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates, Oman, Qatar, and Kuwait have, between them, taken in zero refugees. Iran, an “enemy” of ISIS, has taken in none. Faraway Germany has pledged to take in 800,000 this year and half a million annually after that.

* The EU, unelected; and Merkel, with no mandate, choose to forever change the character of Christian Europe. Clear-thinking leaders (of the Czech Republic, of Hungary, for example) have framed the issue as a spiritual crisis more than economic or social, to their credit.

* We see photos, like the heartbreaking picture of the dead child washed up on shore… and then read allegations that the man holding her is a human trafficker, a profiteer, from whose overcrowded boat she fell. It is still heartbreaking!

* A real humanitarian crisis would not result in hordes that are 80 per cent healthy young men: in fact, it would be logical to see a majority of elderly, women, and children; but we don’t.

What is going on? A friend, Robert Chandler, recently wrote: “If you have any historical perspective, you would know that Islam invaded Western Europe in force and gravely threatened our civilization very recently. This when Vienna was under siege by Ottoman armies in the 16th and 17th centuries. … in historical terms, not long ago at all.

“It is not ‘ancient history.’ It is, in fact, at the beginning of modern history. The Balkans are an historic hell-hole because Islam did succeed in gaining a large foothold there, and civil war has transpired for all the centuries since. This is for real now. This is deadly serious.

“Your children, your grandchildren, not just in Europe, but in America, are threatened by this. The cruelty of ISIS is a foretaste of what could befall us. The cathedrals of Europe, blown up like [historic temples in] Palmyra. Our sons and men tortured and beheaded. Our daughters and wives raped and tortured and enslaved.”

For 1500 years, Islam has been trying to take over Europe, and defeat Christianity – an equal goal in its eyes, if not to contemporary Westerners and Christians. Vicious battles, “soft” invasions, from Bulgaria and the Balkans, to Greece and Italy (Sicily once was an Emirate), to Spain almost totally, and a significant part of southern France, to Hungary, and the “Gates of Vienna.” And of course by waves of migration, forced by their Mohammedan masters.

Many brave defenders of European culture and Christian tradition, some famous in history and lore, sacrificed for their values. The difference today is that many citizens and most leaders in the West do not care about their heritage. Mostly because they do not know about it. A shame and a crime.

One reason the West is losing this war, or has already lost it, is because once we believed in God, and we do not today; and the invaders believe in their god and are thereby motivated. I talk about God, but for a moment I am being secular. We no longer have foundational values; we are indifferent to guiding principles; we mock morality and a heritage worth defending; we have no will to resist.

People see the Muslim baby washed ashore in that photograph and are shocked into action. But we are the same people who read of abortionists in our own country, slicing babies for so many pennies per pound. And to that we are indifferent.

How can such a people – that which we have become – prevail?

Next. We still do have the situation of displaced people and war-caused refugees and migrants. As Grover Cleveland said in another context, “it is a condition, not a theory, that confronts us.”

The present “refugee” “crisis” exists in the first place because of the West’s longtime collectivist, statist, mindset. That is: governments must be all, do all. Answer all, provide all, solve all. The proposition, of course, is absurd; yet it has become the guiding principle of the West.

What? Governments should not respond to the humanitarian crisis? My answer is as revolutionary as it is hopeless in the Year of Our Lord 2015: Governments should respond minimally. Governments, by socialistic and collectivist paradigms, have usurped the roles of individuals, families, churches, guilds, unions, corporations, and associations in such cases.

From hurricane relief to famines to displaced persons and victims of war, governments sometimes help… but sometimes hinder. Corruption often creeps in. Monies are appropriated, against wishes of citizens, who seldom are provided much information. Usually coercion is involved; and, always, gargantuan bureaucracy.

Private agencies are more sincere, and usually more effective. Individual action often means just that – people involving themselves, volunteering, even travelling and serving. Peoples’ consciences are at work; and they invest their concern as well as their sweat or resources.

This is how God intended it. “Faith, hope, and charity,” Jesus said; “And the greatest of these is charity.” To be our brothers’ keeper never meant to let Rome, as it were, take our money and decide what “projects,” what people and causes, to pursue… often against our wishes. The Good Samaritan knelt down, did not send a text to the local relief agency, so to speak, instead.

To support “refugees,” even to sponsor some, perhaps to take some into households: governments should let citizens decide such things. Individually. Would things “work out” in crises such as the present one? I am absolutely certain, after inevitable adjustments, the migrants and the hosts, and our next generations, would be more at peace, and living in higher security.

But then let me tie this together like the end of a Seinfeld episode. If we recognize this current “crisis” as just one more chapter in a 1500-year-old war; if we protect our own heritage, values and traditions (first, by re-learning them!); if we deal with the causes of the swelling migrant tide – Islamic radicalism, which hates portions of its own people – and if we return to private initiative, love, and compassion…

Then we will have the chance to fulfill the Lord’s commands, as we operate with renewed hearts – something that Western governments would never allow – to witness to lost souls about the love of Jesus.

Heal the sick that are therein, and say unto them, the Kingdom of God is come nigh unto you (Luke 10:9). In this way we minister in love. Instead of being victims ourselves of war, we can wage Peace.

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As an allegory, I offer a video of “Dido’s Lament” from Purcell’s Dido and Aeneas (1688). She commits suicide… needlessly, as America is doing. “When I am laid in earth, May my wrongs create no trouble in thy breast; Remember me! Remember me! Remember me! but ah! forget my fate,” we may sing to History, and begging God’s mercy. Dido played by the amazing Maria Ewing.

Click: When I Am Laid in Earth… Remember Me.

Candidates and God

7-27-15

That America is no longer a Christian nation, the theme of our most recent message, struck a chord. Many people sense this sea-change in our culture.

A few people, we know, celebrate the facts that the church, and traditional values, no longer underpin our society. They are like maggots on a rotting corpse. But the vast majority of Americans today, the virtual silent majority, are troubled. They recognize the shifting sands; they despise the new morality; they reject the Brave New World.

America once bragged about being a pluralistic society. All forms of thought, all stripes of opinion, were welcome. No longer: Christian patriots are bring attacked. Cultural traditionalists are on the run, seeing nowhere to turn. A complete turnaround from what pluralism was supposed to preclude.

Where to turn? What options are there in a culture that has been hijacked, a nation that is no longer pluralistic, scarcely tolerant of our foundational principles? Threats of arrest for dissenting from homosexual marriage? A publicly funded agency caught discussing more efficient and profitable harvesting and sale of baby parts?

Traditionally, despite the “dirty” connotations, we turn to politics. Every mature society throughout history has, perforce, established rules, codes, and laws. When laws have been capricious (from dictators and mad monarchs) they have disappeared; sometimes quietly, sometimes bloodily. But the other societies, in natural if not always smooth evolution, codify the prevalent manners and morals, beliefs and byways, of the people. In recent centuries, this happened more and more (more or less!) through democracy.

Therefore, politics. Leaders and statesmen, for the most part, rise from the people… and represent them. Think Abraham Lincoln. When – not so long ago – our societies were more organic, it mattered little whether leaders reflected public opinion or molded it. In the main, it was the same thing, for our societies were organic. We knew our origins, we shared our faith, we accepted the same premises, we were unified, if not quite uniform.

That has all passed, hasn’t it? But I will put my pessimism aside and focus on the topic of politics – not to be partisan or to boost any candidate – but remembering the time when the public looked to leaders in their midst during crises.

I want to be specific about the topic of candidates and Christianity here. In the past, oh sure, some politicians were adulterers or drunks, but we are all sinners. In the past, most politicians clung to the principles of the Bible, dedicated themselves to Christian principles, honored the nation’s heritage. So voters could count on candidates, generally, to be of one mind on morality.

Today, we have examples of the Catholic Church, in various dioceses, denying Communion to politicians like Joe Biden and Nancy Pelosi for their advocacy of abortion.

Today, we have a president who often has been dismissive of Christian beliefs, of Christian martyrs and hostages around the world, of persecuted Christians; and at the same time has been strangely tolerant of Islamic extremism, at home and abroad.

Today, we have a recent presidential candidate, Romney, a Mormon – member of a counterfeit Christian-sounding sect. I am not saying LDS should be outlawed or proscribed, but I had trouble voting for someone, not who would “take orders” from his church any more than John Kennedy did… but who could believe the mumbo-jumbo about figgy underwear and magic glasses and such. But, you know, President Taft was a Unitarian and denied the divinity of Christ, and America survived him.

But I want us to think more about candidates who fill our airwaves in the run-up to 2016. Again, will they represent the values of the broad public? As Christians, we have, and we should have, views on issues that our central to our lives. And, yes, our faith… because our faith is under attack.

We are losing our freedom of religion. The very first words enshrined in the Bill of Rights are: “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech…”

Congress never has tried to establish an American denomination, and never will. But it – and the courts (and the press, and the educational complex, and the entertainment industry) – are trying to destroy organized religion, and the small-c church of Jesus Christ. Certainly, examples are numerous of the government prohibiting the free exercise of our faith these days.

We have some candidates indicating a perception of these threats, and a few sharing our (proper) alarm.

What will they do? We must watch. We must study. We must apply pressure. We must challenge. We must work. We must push back. We must speak out, or shout out. We must sacrifice. We must organize. We must… pray.

There is a high percentage, thank God, of candidates who have heard, or even rung, the alarm bells! Support them. Some are not afraid to share their faith, to pray in public, to invoke Jesus and the Bible. Join them. They are not saviors; only Jesus is our Savior. But they might be prophets: godly leaders.

I have avoided most names in the news here, but one news clip prompted this rant. Donald Trump was asked this week if he believed in God. “I am an Episcopalian,” he replied, as if it were a rhetorical question. It is not. And it would have been easy to confess Jesus Christ right there.

Then he was asked if he ever sought forgiveness from God. In his life. Trump said no; if he thought he did something wrong he would try to correct it on his own. He displayed no understanding of the basis of the entire Bible or the life, ministry, sacrifice, and resurrection of Jesus Christ: as much understanding of Christianity as the most ignorant aborigine from the dankest jungle somewhere. “I don’t bring God into that picture. I don’t.”

Then Trump volunteered: “When we go [to] church and when I drink my little wine – which is about the only wine I drink – and have my little cracker, I guess that’s a form of asking for forgiveness, and I do that as often as possible because I feel cleansed, OK?” My little wine? Cracker?

This is Christianity, according to one candidate.

I don’t want a Christian caliphate in America, but I do want us to support a candidate who shares our values, understands our bedrock beliefs, who embraces our heritage. Knowing what, in fact, to defend in these perilous days. This week’s opinion about immigrants should not be the only bell whose ring invigorates us. I was shocked at the appearance of a candidate who evidently feels on a par or superior to God, or irrelevant to Him, if he in fact does believe in Him.

One candidate or many candidates; one party or different factions; one nation or diverse communities – what ever happened to the idea, and the humble application, of One Nation Under God?

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Click: In God We Trust

Memorial Day’s Special Creatures

5-25-15
(Memorial Day)

They are special creatures. And rare. They do jobs not everyone understands, but they do understand. They are willing, and often do, “pay with their bodies for their souls’ desire,” as Theodore Roosevelt, whose son Quentin was killed in an aerial dogfight over German lines, said of fallen servicemen.

The finest tribute we can pay
Unto our hero dead today,
Is not a rose wreath, white and red,
In memory of the blood they shed;
It is to stand beside each mound,
Each couch of consecrated ground,
And pledge ourselves as warriors true
Unto the work they died to do.

— Edgar Guest

Throughout history there have been many military forces stocked of conscripts, sometimes unwilling, even ignorant of their “cause.” But often – and especially in this era of the volunteer military – service people take their oaths, don their uniforms, and support their missions. Victory is their goal, but they all know that death is an option. Other options include the certainty of family separation and changed civilian lives if and when they return; and, increasingly these days, cruel injuries and challenging disabilities.

But they volunteer, these special creatures. Sacrifice and Service are what their loves become. Gen. George S Patton is supposed to have said: “War is not dying for your country. It’s making the other bastard die for his country.” True as far as it goes, even a brilliant distinction; and a great motivational aphorism on a battle’s eve. But discordant on Memorial Day.

Heroes of old! I humbly lay
     The laurel on your graves again;
Whatever men have done, men may,—
     The deeds you wrought are not in vain!

— Austin Dobson

We don’t have to agree with the “cause” of a war or the decision to put a nation’s young men and women into battle in order to admire the fallen. I dissent from many adventures of recent years – or at least their strategies and tactics – but I am in awe of those who serve, sacrifice, sustain wounds, and die. They do not hate, for the most part, as soldiers and sailors and marines and airmen have been taught throughout history. Rather they love.

The motivations of those dead military souls whose we honor this weekend was more love of country than hatred of enemy. Not killing a foreign leader but protecting their families. Not focusing on distant spoils but venerating their spouses, kids, friends, and lives back home. Not against “them” but for “us.” Paying with their souls for their hearts’ desires.

To slightly parse another popular phrase, as I did with Patton’s above, the military man or woman did not bring us our freedom. Only God can do that, and has done that; and such a proper perspective has nurtured America for centuries, in war and peace alike. I am tempted to say that the service members might preserve our freedoms… except for this New Day and Age where civilian politicians and judges erode liberty faster than our military can “defend” it.

All we have of freedom, all we use or know–
This our fathers bought for us long and long ago.

— Rudyard Kipling

It saddens me that in recent American wars – let me say, larger, in recent generations – disputes rage not only over grand causes. But behind the battle lines, at home, wars claiming thousands have been undeclared, by politicians afraid of committing themselves as members of the military do, to the ultimate point. The public is often disunited, and too frequently dismissive of military service per se. Orders are countermanded; war aims abandoned; world and national politics subsume military goals.

Military families are neglected and often live in poverty, on welfare benefits. Veterans organizations and private charities care in innovative and effective ways – but their every success is a blot of shame on a government that should thus care by itself for its valiant. Scandals in military hospitals and veteran’s administrations are many, and continue.

… It is this situation – an America far different than the nation’s previous soldiers, sailors, airmen, and marines fought for – this situation for which our uniformed heroes are willing to die. And an America where their chaplains are being denied the freedom to share Christ. Where the values many of them cherished or desired to defend, have changed or been perverted by courts and bureaucrats.

Yet they die, and are willing to die.

Because you passed, and now are not,—
     Because, in some remoter day,
Your sacred dust from doubtful spot
     Was blown of ancient airs away,—
     Because you perished,—must men say
Your deeds were naught, and so profane
     Your lives with that cold burden ? Nay,
The deeds you wrought are not in vain!

— Austin Dobson

Special creatures, these fallen heroes. Let us honor them in our minds and hearts, in ceremonies public and private. A flower, a flag, a prayer. Prayers of thanksgiving for such as these – in all humankind, special men and women admirable for their amazing devotion and sacrifices – and prayers that their kind may not perish from amongst us.

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Music vid: I had the pleasure once to meet the legendary singer/songwriter Bill Carlisle, in the course of writing one of my books on country music. He was part of a “brother act” with Cliff, and famous for leaping high on stage, guitar in hand, during one of his trademark novelty songs. I was not aware at the time that he was the writer of one of the great gospel songs, “Gone Home.” He was reluctant to perform it often because he was identified as a comic singer – so Flatt and Scruggs, GrandPa Jones, Ricky Skaggs, and others made it part of their repertoires. Another singer who revered the song, and sang it often, was Jerry Garcia of the Grateful Dead, who enjoyed bluegrass and gospel music. Here is his acoustic version – appropriate here because its lyrics have become identified with fallen soldiers, brave family members, and missing friends, on Memorial Day: those who have Gone Home.

Click: Gone Home

Not Praying That God Be On Our Side

4-13-15

April 15th. A Day That Will Live in Infamy. No… not Income Tax day. It is the day Abraham Lincoln was shot and killed. This year, it is the sesquicentennial of the horrible crime – 150 years ago. My readers know that I revere Theodore Roosevelt above almost all Americans in history, and for myriad reasons. Yet I think that Lincoln was the closest we have had to a civic saint: certainly a secular saint for his wisdom, actions, and imparted words. I think so partly because he was not exalted, except by ballots, but more as he was the simplest of men; common; honest.

TR’s way of reaching the same assessment of Lincoln was to say (also about
Washington): “There have been other men as great and other men as good; but in all the history of mankind there are no other two great men as good as these.”

Anniversaries are useful things when they suggest to us reasons to remember, or set us to seriously think about worthwhile things. Lincoln left us 150 years ago. But that sentence is wrong, at least certainly inadequate as to the situation. And the situation is this: Abraham Lincoln was a once-in-a-lifetime man; that is, the lifetime of a nation. There was little that could have predicted his greatness; his elevation to the presidency, over many famous and seasoned rivals, was an anomaly; and his decisions, despite frequent controversy, were brilliant – exactly what was needed to preserve the Union.

More than anything, we are struck by Lincoln’s humanity. He was forever patient. He arrived at policies through anguish, but he executed them firmly. He knew firsthand the turmoil of broken families, brothers fighting brothers. And suffered all these painful tests and duties. We know he kept his sense of humor. But what I have come to admire as much as any other trait is Lincoln’s faith.

It is a matter of debate how “religious” Lincoln was; whether he accepted Jesus as the Son of God; whether he believed in salvation or the need of personal salvation. It is not a matter of debate that he seldom attended or joined churches. It is a matter of record that he read the Bible his entire life, quoted even obscure verses often, and laced his speeches and writing with Bible quotations, scriptural allusions, King James cadences.

We cannot judge most of these things: some close friends like his longtime Illinois law partner Billy Herndon claimed that Lincoln was a gnarly heathen – but Herndon’s relationship was always rocky, and he wrote a biography of Lincoln after the assassination that sniped at a hundred particulars. Lincoln’s personal secretary John Hay, however, testified to Lincoln’s spiritual struggles, and his reliance on prayer in the White House. This at a time, generally, of private expressions of faith, when many Christians thought that respecting Christ’s teachings was more important than affirming His divinity (this is not a recent phenomenon!), and when Old Testament lessons were preached more than New Testament parables. And most babies received Hebrew names.

But I am here to appreciate the aspect of Lincoln’s faith that is beyond doubt. God never resents whatever crises bring us to our knees, but clearly the pressures of holding a country together and prosecuting a horrendous war… coincided with Lincoln’s growing faith. It is inspiring to read of this evolution (and I have read more than 65 books on Lincoln, including his complete letters and all his speeches), but more inspiring is to read his own words themselves.

There was a steady progression of appeals to God… invocations of Providence… seeking the Lord’s guidance… biblical quotations… allusions to Bible history… setting aside national days of prayer, as well as fasting, humiliation, and thanksgiving, multiple times. By the end of the war, the speeches and proclamations of President Abraham Lincoln resembled sermons. Always beseeching God in humility, never presumptuous. Always inspiring.

It is this Lincoln we remember today. Some of his quotations included his
reference in the first inaugural address to “a firm reliance on Him who has never yet forsaken this favored land.” In the second address, “the judgments of the Lord are true and righteous altogether.” And of course his reference in the Gettysburg Address that this “nation shall under God have a new birth of freedom.”

A proclamation:
It is fit and becoming in all people, at all times, to acknowledge and revere the Supreme Government of God; to bow in humble submission to His chastisement; to confess and deplore their sins and transgressions in the full conviction that the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom; and to pray, with all fervency and contrition, for the pardon of their past offenses, and for a blessing upon their present and prospective action. And whereas when our own beloved country, once, by the blessings of God, united, prosperous and happy, is now afflicted with faction and civil war, it is peculiarly fit for us to recognize the hand of God in this terrible visitation, and in sorrowful remembrance of our own faults and crimes as a nation and as individuals, to humble ourselves before Him and to pray for His mercy.

In private communication, 1862:
We are indeed going through a great trial – a fiery trial. In the very responsible position in which I happened to be placed, being a humble instrument in the hands of our Heavenly Father, as I am, and as we all are, to work out His great purposes, I have desired that all my works and acts may be according to His will, and that it might be so, I have sought His aid.

About his black moments when Lee’s army invaded Pennsylvania, Lincoln wrote:
When everyone seemed panic-stricken… I went to my room… and got down on my knees before Almighty God and prayed… Soon a sweet comfort crept into my soul that God Almighty had taken the whole business into His own hands….

During the war, Lincoln responded to someone’s wish that “the Lord was on the
Union’s side.” Lincoln responded:
I am not at all concerned about that, for I know that the Lord is always on the side of the right. But it is my constant anxiety and prayer that I and this nation should be on the Lord’s side.

Lincoln said about the Bible:
In regard to this Great Book, I have but to say I believe the Bible is the best gift God has given to man. All the good Savior gave to the world was communicated through this Book.

And other reflections:
I have been driven many times upon my knees by the overwhelming conviction
that I had nowhere else to go. My own wisdom and that of all about me seemed
insufficient for that day.

God loves us the way we are, but too much to leave us that way. I have held many things in my hands, and I have lost them all; but whatever I have placed in God’s hands, that I still possess.

As we remember Abraham Lincoln on the sesquicentennial of his murder, his
martyrdom, we should be inspired anew by his words. And reflect on the contrast between the words of a president once called an “agnostic, deist, infidel”; and the words of a contemporary president whose mentions of Christianity are often to criticize it and its adherents, even if having to reach back a thousand years.

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Here is a country version of “What a Friend We Have in Jesus” – perhaps evoking Lincoln’s roots in Kentucky, Indiana, and central Illinois – with a story of the president granting a condemned soldier’s pardon, in the spirit of Christ. (The secretary in the real story was not Secretary of State Seward, as pictured here, but his personal secretary John M Hay.)

Click: What a Friend

Hard Times

3-2-15

In a recent visit here we discussed Bad Things that inevitably dot the path of our life’s walk. Sometimes more like speed bumps, roadblocks, or outright broken bridges, that we encounter when we have no alternative but to proceed. The reality of bad things, versus the sometimes-illusory mantra about the “God thing,” if you remember our thoughts.

There have been many reactions to that theme, with suggestions to broaden our discussion to Hard Times – those moments in a nation’s history, or our own, when events conspire to beat us down. Distract us. Threaten to demoralize us. But, Christians, this is for you: …never to defeat us. We can only do that to ourselves.

Stephen Foster was a songwriter, perhaps America’s greatest. He lived from 1826 to 1864. He was born on July 4, on the exact 50th anniversary of the Declaration of Independence; and he died, penniless and fraught with care, on the Lower East Side of Manhattan in the middle of the Civil War. During his short life, he wrote some of the most popular music ever listened to and sung in these United States.

Many of his songs live today. For a while they were considered moldy or politically incorrect or merely light-weight, but they endure because of their solid, not diaphanous, sentimentality; and their hauntingly beautiful melodies. You know many. They were generally of three categories: Parlor Songs (popular music of many themes); minstrel songs (sympathetic songs inspired by black folk tunes, although Foster never lived in the South); and gospel songs —

Oh! Susanna; Nelly Bly; Camptown Races; Old Folks at Home (Way Down Upon the Swanee River); Old Dog Tray; My Old Kentucky Home, Jeanie With the Light Brown Hair; Hard Times Come Again No More; and Old Black Joe. Foster wrote more than a hundred songs, maybe hundreds; he gave many away. Or he sold the rights for a few dollars. Or he let other people take credit for his compositions. His was a life of penury. He battled alcohol addiction in his last years, after his wife left him. He died of a fall in his tenement bathroom, much loved but much beset.

He experienced hard times yet by all accounts never despaired, always of a cheery and trusting disposition. Hard times didn’t get him down – or not for long – and one of his most enduring songs, if not most famous, is “Hard Times Come Again No More.” It is extremely popular in Ireland, so much so that some people think Foster was Irish. Bob Dylan, Bruce Springsteen, Emmylou Harris, Mavis Staples, and Nanci Griffith have made it part of their standard playlists.

Its lyrics are more descriptive than pessimistic, and more resigned than hopeful. Yet the prayerful “come again no more” weakly shakes a fist at the hard times we all encounter:

“Let us pause in life’s pleasures and count its many tears, While we all sup sorrow with the poor; There’s a song that will linger forever in our ears; Oh! Hard times come again no more.

“There’s a pale, drooping maiden who toils her life away, With a worn heart whose better days are o’er: Though her voice would be merry, ‘tis sighing all the day, Oh! Hard times come again no more.

“‘Tis the song, the sigh, of the weary: Hard Times, hard times, come again no more. Many days you have lingered around my cabin door; Oh! Hard times come again no more.”

These lyrics are at the beginning, not the conclusion, of our meditation on hard times. America is going through Hard Times right now.

I do not refer specifically to the wave of terrorism filling our headlines and TV screens… and maybe, many think, on our doorsteps soon. I do not refer specifically to the fragility of a high-unemployment economy, of the many families living paycheck-to-paycheck. I do not refer to the social cancers of crime, addiction, illegitimacy, illiteracy, abuse – I do not refer to these specifically or even in a group. But I DO refer to all these things as part of our national crisis.

America has been fond, or full of pride, in pointing to statistics that tell us, despite stagnant wages or numbers of people on welfare, that we are better off than many nations around the world. And that our poorest and least educated are still living well, compared to previous eras, other cultures.

These statistics are delusional, self-swindling nonsense. Many nations are racing past the United States in measures of comfort, literacy, proficiency in science and math, health, safety, security, and contentment. These criteria are important, but not essential, yardsticks of a society’s value; or an individual’s.

The United States of America has squandered its inheritance. What once made us rich in these areas, in themselves, and relative to history and other countries – the spiritual values – have been wasted. They are more than unfashionable: our government, our establishment, our media, our educational and legal systems maintain that they are somewhere between irrelevant and despicable.

And those of us who have predicted a social breakdown if we surrender our standards and coddle the enemies of our heritage… we have been proven correct. But that is no comfort.

When people hear the phrase “Hard Times,” they often think of the Great Depression in the 1930s. Indeed times were tough; life was miserable for years for multiple millions. Yet I believe the nation was stronger, morally, and more content overall, than in our recent “prosperous” times. Does anyone disagree?

A world war immediately followed the Great Depression, and virtually every citizen mobilized at home or in uniform, and made unbelievable sacrifices. Do we “have it in ourselves” to respond in that way if another true world war were thrust upon us? Or would selfishness, disagreements, indolence, jealousies, illusory “rights,” and such factors interfere with national unity?

Surely our erstwhile unity has evaporated in these times when it should have been easier to achieve, replaced by the institutionalization of that socially centrifugal force, “diversity.”

Attributed to Georges Clemenceau – but so correct that many vie for authorship – is the observation that America is the only nation in history that miraculously has gone directly from barbarism to degeneration without the usual interval of civilization.

There was an in-between period, of course. When lands and communities were established in the name of Christ, and operated according to biblical principles. When constitutions and laws codified the basic ideas of responsibility and personal liberty. When immigrants were welcomed, according to rules; and immigrants willingly abided by those rules. When horrible flaws like slavery were corrected despite the blood and angst to see it through. When the population was able to find common cause in confronting the contradictions of social and industrial progress; and fighting common enemies.

But we lost our way. We have lost our way. We lost our faith, after losing our faiths by the wayside. We lost self-confidence. We became more concerned with gaining dubious friends than defeating real enemies. We became happier to compromise than to convince. Our priority has become not to offend those who are determined to be offended, instead of standing for something – anything. We pretend that our hypocrisy and weakness will bring security, all the while knowing, deep down, that we are only buying a nervous, temporary security for ourselves… and certain, miserable destruction upon our children.

We can sing the beautiful, haunting Stephen Foster song from the 1850s, “Hard Times, Come Again No More,” knowing that it brought comfort in those troubled times. But for us, in the 21st century, I have the feeling we can hear it only as a musty museum-piece, and nothing more.

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Click: Hard Times, Come Again No More
Another version, if you, like me, cannot get enough of this great parlor song:

Hard Times

“It’s a God Thing”… Isn’t It?

2-23-15

All the time, all the time, I hear the phrase, “It’s a God thing.” And, frankly, I dislike it — because half the time people are explaining (that is to say, NOT explaining) horrible things. Explaining away, as it were. Sometimes it is not a “God thing”; sometimes it’s a Satan thing.

“Why? Why?” my kids, and friends I pray for, and strangers, would ask, as kids and friends have asked throughout history (not always of me). “Why me?” “How can a God who loves me…”; “How could a loving God…” Even skeptics and agnostics and atheists pose that question; in fact it is a question with which they frequently begin their arguments. Well, there is sin in the world. It’s all very clear. Mosquitoes suck, and so do a lot of other things. The Bible calls life a vale (valley) of tears. God DID promise a time free of care and a place of perfection – Heaven.

Until then, He promised comfort, wisdom, acceptance, encouragement, and faith. Not a bad group of second-choices. Especially when promised by the Lord of the Universe. Especially since His plan for us provided the Holy Spirit to deliver comfort. Thou shalt not whine.

…I shalt not whine; we shalt not whine. As with all my messages, and all proper sermons, this is directed at myself as well as anyone with eyes or ears. So you may eavesdrop.

Bad things happen to nations and to individuals. We need only the most cursory glances at recent headlines to know what the world is experiencing: wars and rumors of wars; natural disasters; slavery; genocide; revived practices of barbarity. We see that religions are suffering prejudice, oppression, and persecution; innocents are murdered in the name of faith, and people die for their faith.

Individuals no less than nations, races, and institutions are experiencing bad things. I do not think that matters are especially worse than at other times in history – or better, either – but, as is natural, for a spell I have been more aware of bad things endured and sustained by family, friends, and self. Sometimes I think a definition of “Happiness” is when, by circumstance, we merely are less aware of the distress of others.

This is not gloomy pessimism; it is reality. I think it is consistent with God’s nature, not to cause suffering, but occasionally to allow it – for a variety of spiritual reasons. The poor we will have with us, so we should cultivate charitable impulses in response. People with spiritual needs cross our paths so that we might comfort them. We are sensitized to the horrors of war, in order that we have clarity to do battle for righteousness and peace. And we, ourselves, might suffer anguish, insecurity, or even doubt, until we are receptive to the ministrations of friends. That we see the Jesus in each other.

My heart has fairly been breaking lately for people in my immediate circle who experience anguish in various forms, from various sources. A friend from church grows progressively sicker, and in pain, and her doctors are unable to determine a cause, much less a cure. A friend’s husband has had a heart transplant and another friend is listed for a kidney transplant. My wife went through both: so if I cannot minister better, at least I can pray more wisely; or at least join that mystical bond of fellowship that sufferers share.

My sister, after losing her daughter, having her apartment ruined by Hurricane Sandy, recently escaped the new apartment’s ruination by fire… and now she has been given a short prognosis for life, several serious illnesses having overtaken her. A dear friend’s grandson just attempted suicide. Another close friend has had some professional frustrations and economic hardship, on top of family distress. Usually an encourager, my friend feels like Bad Things are piled on his plate, not only professionally and financially, but emotionally and spiritually.

Nevertheless, while all these circumstances might not be strictly “God things,” God can work through circumstances when we let Him.

That is the exegesis of Romans 8:28 – “All things work for good to those who love God and are called according to His purposes.” This doesn’t mean that all things ARE good. Surely, they are not. But it is our job to turn the bedevilments of Bad Things around on their source, to MAKE them “God things,” and slay those dragons. And to accept wisdom and comfort from, often, unexpected places. My friend confessed to finding comfort in the companionship of another friend who in turn said, no doubt compassionately, that he would be given his space. So to speak. But then, almost immediately, a virtual acquaintance appeared and assumed a burden of caring and sharing.

Is that a “God thing,” or a “Life thing”? Neither… if we are not open to such things in the first place. George Eliot wrote: “What greater thing is there for two human souls than to feel that they are joined… to strengthen each other… to be at one with each other in silent unspeakable memories.”

To finish the look at Romans 8:28, its mystery becomes a reality when every word is appreciated. “All things work for good…” We have noted that this does not say that all things are good. They WORK for good.

For whom? “To those who love God…” Let us whisper a prayer of thanks that God is not a dispenser of fortune-cookie promises – worthless pastries. We should love and honor God, surely not a burden but a sweet privilege.

How will this work in our lives? “… and are called…” This is the conversation with God; answered prayer; His leading; the inspirations of the Holy Spirit as promised. We will know that we know that we know His call on our lives when we earnestly seek Him.

What is our confirmation? “… called according to His purposes.” We know that God cannot contradict Himself, either in promises or what He allows for us. A God we can know, never changing or causing doubt, is a solid rock on which we can stand.

Before we know it, problems shrink, and we realize the blessings we have, and can expect. Our perspectives change; we no longer see through a glass darkly. Old things are made new. All things work together for good. Bad things become good things; “God things” we see, indeed, as good things. We love God, and accept the call, according to His purposes.

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Nearer, My God, To Thee

When Presidents Urged Church Attendance and Warned of Islamic Extremism

2-16-15

President’s Day, 2015. I’m not sure I could have written this a year ago; certainly five or 10 years ago I would have considered even my pessimistic and alarmist self straining credulity. The events of our time; the lack of leadership from the presidency; the transformed nature of our civic culture… remind me of my warning only months ago, now a reality. America looks for wishbones, when we should be finding backbones.

Never have the men who filled the presidential chair seemed more historical – that is, remote.

Regular readers will expect me to invoke Theodore Roosevelt, and I shall. Not a reflexive habit, but I think this year, more than most, he stands in starkest contrast to the current resident of the White House. Also, of TR’s many wise words that thunder down through the years to guide us, two topics he addressed resonate today.

In some ways Roosevelt was very private about his faith – odd for this most extroverted of men – but he nevertheless quoted scripture, referred to God, cited Bible verses, and lived the life of Christian faith as much, if not more, than any other president. When in college he organized Sunday School classes; when he was a young hunter in Maine he slipped out of his camp on early mornings to read his Bible (that spot is now a designated landmark, Bible Point); when he retired from the presidency he shunned lucrative offers from many quarters to serve as an editor of a weekly Christian opinion magazine; he called his most significant speech in the heat of the Bull Moose campaign “A Confession of Faith” (“We stand at Armageddon and battle for the Lord!”); he titled two of his books from Bible verses.

Even so, he was private about aspects of his faith. Yet to his diary he confided after the death of his father: “Nothing but my faith in the Lord Jesus Christ could have carried me through this.”

TR soft-pedaled theology, and stressed the personal and social benefits, of church attendance in an article for Ladies’ Home Journal. Here is my point: imagine an American president today writing in a high-circulation magazine, urging church attendance. These were his words:

There are enough holidays for most of us that can quite properly be devoted to pure holiday-making. Sundays differ from other holidays, among other ways, in the fact that there are 52 of them every year. On Sunday, go to church.

Yes, I know all the excuses. I know that one can worship the Creator and dedicate oneself to good living in a grove of trees, or by a running brook, or in one’s own house, just as well as in church. But I also know as a matter of cold fact the average man does not thus worship or thus dedicate himself. If he strays away from church, he does not spend his time in good works or lofty meditation. He looks over the colored supplement of the newspaper.

He might not hear a good sermon at church. But unless he is very unfortunate, he will hear a sermon by a good man who, with his good wife, is engaged all the week long in a series of wearing, humdrum, and important tasks for making hard lives a little easier.

He will listen to and take part in reading some beautiful passages from the Bible. And if he is not familiar with the Bible, he has suffered a loss.

He will probably take part in singing some good hymns.

He will meet and nod to, or speak to, good quiet neighbors. He will come away feeling a little more charitably toward all the world, even toward those excessively foolish young men who regard churchgoing as rather a soft performance.

I advocate a man’s joining in church works for the sake of showing his faith by his works.

Church work and church attendance mean the cultivation of the habit of feeling some responsibility for others and the sense of braced moral strength, which prevents a relaxation of one’s own moral fiber.

The man who does not in some way, active or not, connect himself with some active, working church misses many opportunities for helping his neighbors, and therefore, incidentally, for helping himself.

In the actual world, a churchless community, a community where men have abandoned and scoffed at or ignored their religious needs, is a community on the rapid downgrade.

“On Sunday, go to church.” Good advice for TR’s time, our time, all the time.

Another contemporary topic where Roosevelt’s words thunder through the years, grabbing our attention, are from his book – note again the title – “Fear God and Take Your Own Part” (1916):

“Christianity is not the creed of Asia and Africa at this moment solely because the seventh century Christians of Asia and Africa had trained themselves not to fight, whereas the Moslems were trained to fight. Christianity was saved in Europe solely because the peoples of Europe fought. If the peoples of Europe in the seventh and eighth centuries, and on up to and including the seventeenth century, had not possessed a military equality with, and gradually a growing superiority over, the Mohammedans who invaded Europe, Europe would at this moment be Mohammedan, and the Christian religion would be exterminated.

“Wherever the Mohammedans have had complete sway, wherever the Christians have been unable to resist them by the sword, Christianity has ultimately disappeared. From the hammer of Charles Martel to the sword of Jan Sobieski, Christianity owed its safety in Europe to the fact that it was able to show that it could and would fight as well as the Mohammedan aggressor.

“The civilization of Europe, American and Australia exists today at all only because of the victories of civilized man over the enemies of civilization… The Christians of Asia and Africa proved unable to wage successful war with the Moslem conquerors; and in consequence Christianity practically vanished from [those] two continents… During [a] thousand years, the Christians of Europe possessed the warlike power to do what the Christians of Asia and Africa had failed to do – that is, to beat back the Moslem invader.”

The lessons of Roosevelt’s history were hard; the truth often is. Today, evangelists have done what warriors did not: advance the gospel in Africa and Asia, bringing light to millions. But, of course, they sustain persecution, torture, and murder in their defense of Christian faith.

But on President’s Day 2015 we must come face to face with the possibility that Western Civilization – “Christendom” – has lost that pride of heritage and reverence for the traditions of our faith, for the first time in 1500 years. Are we to bear the shame, invite the obloquy, of all those previous brave and faithful generations?

Our precious communities and nations, claimed for the gospel and open to its free exercise, were sometimes established amidst strife, and sometimes were opened freely to believers. All, however, tell inspiring stories. Can this all be slipping away in our lifetimes, so quickly before our eyes? Where is our responsibility? Is this not the Land of Beulah?

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Click: Is Not This the Land of Beulah? / Beulah Land

Train Up a Child… In Obama’s America

1-26-15

After President Obama’s recent State of the Union address he spent an hour being interviewed. As usual he handpicked the questioners, but they were not of the predictable softball corps of friendly journalists. He chose three internet blog hosts of irreverent, even absurdist sites, like one girl with green lipstick famous for filling her bathtub full of milk and Fruit Loops and eating breakfast. His hour of questions, not surprisingly, were either banal, as were his replies, or loopy. Not Fruit Loopy: just weird, random, irrelevant.

His defenders claim that the President was going where the votes are, or will be, and “connecting” to young people. By implication his allocation of time and attention is clear. This same month he declined to be present at an anti-terrorism event in Paris that virtually all other major world leaders attended; and refused to meet the Prime Minister of Israel who soon will visit Washington. The President wants to be seen, rather, with semi-literate, foul-mouthed internet curiosities.

A sharp contrast for me was an invitation I received, this past week, to address a group of home-school students several towns away from where I live. Polite, well-dressed, courteous, curious, thoughtful. Many of them introduced themselves as they filed in; most thanked me afterward; all sent written appreciation of my talk. The Q&A period was sincere and lively.

If the president had invited three such students to interview him, or to have a televised conversation, how much better a picture of young America would that have been?

What better encouragement for other youngsters to be intellectually curious and determined to face the questions of society?

Could there have been a higher standard, a better example, for our culture – to set a bar of self-respect, to show other kids, adult citizens… to demonstrate his own self-respect?

What kind of leader trolls the lowest common denominators of our culture to… lead? to be an example? to create a legacy? (I am tempted to say that he doesn’t have a legacy to stand on.) Perhaps, as with Trayvon Martin, the internet’s GloZell reminded Obama of one of his daughters.

Such actions by our leaders today cannot be seen as infrequent occurrences, or in vacuums. By the way, I should rather more precisely say, our celebrities, not “leaders,” because leadership today is an endangered species in the United States and Western Civilization. As the business leader and possible presidential candidate Carly Fiorina pointed out this weekend at the Freedom Summit, America has an abundance of people who consider themselves managers… but has very few real leaders.

For all the aggressive acts by prominent people in politics and popular culture that leave traditionalists astonished, and make responsible citizens worry for the future, the bad things that plague us today could not happen if the culture itself neither created the degenerate conditions, nor was not ready for even more downward momentum.

Maggots generally eat away at organisms that have first begun to rot. It is a rule of nature that things generally do not decay until they have been neglected, or rust sets in, or decomposition has been introduced and tolerated. And societies never spontaneously regenerate. Rather, the law of civilization and decay ends in disintegration, putrefaction, and death.

At the other end of the spectrum, in reality as well as metaphor, is a strong organism: healthy, upright, long-lasting. “Train up a child in the way he should go, and when he is old, he will not depart from it,” it says in Proverbs 22:6.
 
So when Christians and patriots and traditionalists despair, we should resist the temptation to blame, too much, the representatives we identify as agents of decline. That would be a president whose small acts, like the demeaning love-fest with YouTubers, to substantial decisions like inaction against Islamic terrorism or defending persecuted Christians around the world. And politicians and judges who enable the advance of abortion and drugs. And the education monolith that presumes to know better than parents what values to instill in children. And the Hydra-headed entertainment monster that seductively inculcates destructive standards of violence, sex, ethics, and civility.

Our complaints cannot be laid totally at their feet, because, to paraphrase Shakespeare, the fault… is in ourselves. We let our guard down. And we tolerate the things we now claim to despise.

But. Before we leave, we can remind ourselves of a few pertinent Bible verses about leadership, and about evil or false leaders:

“For lack of guidance a nation falls, but many advisers make victory sure” (Proverbs 11:14).

“Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a worker who has no need to be ashamed, rightly handling the word of truth” (II Timothy 2:15).

“Here is a trustworthy saying: If anyone sets his heart on being an overseer, he desires a noble task. Now the overseer must be above reproach, the husband of but one wife, temperate, self-controlled, respectable, hospitable, able to teach, not given to drunkenness, not violent but gentle, not quarrelsome, not a lover of money” (I Timothy 3:1-3).

“Understand this, that in the last days there will come times of difficulty. For people will be lovers of self, lovers of money, proud, arrogant, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, heartless, unappeasable, slanderous, without self-control, brutal, not loving good, treacherous, reckless, swollen with conceit, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God, having the appearance of godliness, but denying its power. Avoid such people” (II Timothy 3:1-17).

Let us return to the stark contrast I experienced this week: President Obama’s portrayal of the rising generations of Americans, exemplified by the green-lipped Fruit Loop bather; and the young citizens I met in a home-school event.

The students I met stayed my tendency toward pessimism about this nation. God help us, that a generation, even a remnant, might arise and be the leaders we need.

“If my people, which are called by my name, shall humble themselves, and pray, and seek my face, and turn from their wicked ways; then will I hear from heaven, and will forgive their sin, and will heal their land” (II Chronicles 7:14). Incidentally — or not so incidentally, speaking of contrasts — this verse was Ronald Reagan’s favorite Bible verse. His mother’s Bible, with this verse underlined and with a margin notation, is where Reagan placed his hand when he took the oath of office as President.

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An old American folk-gospel song aurally illustrates this essay. The plaintive song is sung by the Swedish singer Jill Johnson, who has mastered American folk and rural music, in Uppsala.

Click: Calling My Children Home

Faith Of Our Fathers – Distinguished Guests Bloggers

6-23-14

We approach the Fourth of July again. I am going to suggest we save a little time apart from our backyard barbecues, or town parades if your town still holds them. In addition to ketchup and mustard, add some of these patriotic condiments to your picnic fare; in addition to cheering the flag or the Boy Scout troop in the parade, cheer some of these quotations.

In fact, in addition to prayers, or the Pledge, at your gatherings – even if your family does not already exercise those traditions — draw together and exchange the quotations by our distinguished “guest bloggers” here. (And they are verified quotations, not those manufactured by well-intentioned patriots or challenged by Snopes and Urban Legend watchdogs.)

Long ago, a Frenchman visited the United States, toured the great cities and smallest towns, and came away astonished. Alexis deToqueville reportedly said, “Not until I went into the churches of America and heard her pulpits flame with righteousness did I understand the secret of her genius and power. America is great because she is good, and if America ever ceases to be good, America will cease to be great.”

Our president has denigrated the term of current popularity, “American Exceptionalism.” He has said that he is sure every nation thinks of itself as exceptional. We can worry that his complete misunderstanding of that term reflects his complete misunderstanding of America. Americans are not exceptional by virtue of birth certificates or driver licenses. American farmers or American firefighters are not different, or “more exceptional,” than human beings anywhere doing their jobs honorably. Heroes are heroes. And American villains can be as villainous than any others.

“American Exceptionalism” refers to the American system. What “is” the USA? The first of nations, not to declare independence, but to enshrine Liberty. To acknowledge God in the foundational documents of its Declaration and Constitution. To be a nation of laws, not men. To be a Republic, not a Democracy: elevating individualism, under law, over institutions and governmental whims. To respect religion, and religious freedom, as vital components of our American system. In revolutionary fashion – yes, the first; exceptional in world history – to protect minority rights but guard against majority tyranny.

Here, our guest bloggers may remind Americans of things we might have forgotten, God forbid.

“The propitious smiles of Heaven can never be expected on a nation that disregards the eternal rules of order and right which Heaven itself has ordained.” George Washington, first Inaugural Address.

“Of all the dispositions and habits which lead to political prosperity, religion and morality are indispensable supports. In vain would that man claim the tribute of Patriotism, who should labor to subvert these great pillars of human happiness, these firmest props of the duties of Men and Citizens.” George Washington, Farewell Speech, 1796.

“I therefore beg leave to move that henceforth prayers imploring the assistance of Heaven and its blessing on our deliberations, be held in this Assembly every morning.” Benjamin Franklin, 1787, Constitutional Convention.

“I’ve lived, Sir, a long time, and the longer I live, the more convincing Proofs I see of this Truth — That God governs in the Affairs of Men. And if a sparrow cannot fall to the ground without his Notice, is it probable that an Empire can rise without his Aid? We have been assured, Sir, in the Sacred Writings, that except the Lord build the House they labor in vain who build it. I firmly believe this…” Benjamin Franklin.

“Our Constitution was made for a moral and religious people. It is wholly inadequate for the government of any other.” John Adams.

“I have a tender reliance on the mercy of the Almighty, through the merits of the Lord Jesus Christ. I am a sinner. I look to Him for mercy; pray for me.” Alexander Hamilton.

“Providence has given to our people the choice of their rulers, and it is the duty, as well as the privilege and interest of our Christian nation to select and prefer Christians for their rulers.” John Jay, Constitutional framer, First Chief Justice of the Supreme Court.

“[The Bible] is the rock on which our Republic rests.” Andrew Jackson.

“It is the duty of nations as well as of men to own their dependence upon the overruling power of God, to confess their sins and transgressions in humble sorrow, yet with assured hope that genuine repentance will lead to mercy and pardon.” Abraham Lincoln, Proclamation Declaring the National Day of Fasting.

“My concern is not whether God is on our side; my greatest concern is to be on God’s side, for God is always right.” Abraham Lincoln.

“Our laws and our institutions must necessarily be based upon and embody the teachings of the Redeemer of mankind. It is impossible that it should be otherwise; and in this sense and to this extent our civilization and our institutions are emphatically Christian.” United State Supreme Court, 1892.

“Ever throughout the ages, at all times and among all peoples, prosperity has been fraught with danger, and it behooves us to beseech the Giver of all things that we may not fall into love of ease and luxury; that we may not lose our sense of moral responsibility; that we may not forget our duty to God, and to our neighbor.… We are not threatened by foes from without. The foes from whom we should pray to be delivered are our own passions, appetites, and follies; and against these there is always need that we should war.” Theodore Roosevelt.

“Can we resolve to reach, learn and try to heed the greatest message ever written, God’s Word, and the Holy Bible? Inside its pages lie all the answers to all the problems that man has ever known.” Ronald Reagan

These are exceptional credos. It would be an exceptional disaster if a free people would forget such an inheritance. Happy Fourth. GO forth.

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Many songs, many hymns, many patriotic airs could be the background music for this essay. “Faith of Our Fathers,” “Battle Hymn of the REPUBLIC,” many would be appropriate. But since I have quoted aphorisms of the past, I offer you a recent song about America a different-yet-similar rallying cry. “America First” by the poet of the common man, Merle Haggard.

Click: America First

In God We Trust – Oh, Yeah?

6-16-14

The Pledge of Allegiance added the phrase “under God” in 1954, on Flag Day – 60 years ago this week. So Happy Birthday… not to God, but to the phrase. Its inclusion has been a matter of some discussion since it was appended.

Theodore Roosevelt was criticized during his presidency for wanting to take “In God We Trust” off American currency. This seems counterintuitive about the man I have elsewhere called possibly the most observant if not the most intensely Christian of our presidents. One of his missions was to reform and beautify American coinage, and his friend Augustus St-Gaudens in fact designed the most impressive coins in our history, the $20 “Double Eagle” gold piece, and the $10 “Indian Head” gold eagle.

Why did TR want “In God We Trust” off our coinage? In fact, he considered it irreverent, making a cheap slogan of a sacred matter. He said he was witness, in his rancher days in the Bad Lands, to cowboys in saloons citing it coarsely; “In God we trust – all others pay cash,” and so forth. “My own feeling in the matter is due to my very firm conviction that to put such a motto on coins, or to use it in any kindred manner, not only does no good but does positive harm, and is in effect irreverence, which comes dangerously close to sacrilege,” he wrote.

“It is a motto which it is indeed well to have inscribed on our great national monuments, in our temples of justice, in our legislative halls, and in buildings such as those at West Point and Annapolis – in short, wherever it will tend to arouse and inspire a lofty emotion in those who look thereon. But it seems to me eminently unwise to cheapen such a motto by use on coins, just as it would be to cheapen it by use on postage stamps, or in advertisements.”

His view did not prevail; an aroused public and Congress overcame his objection. A similar groundswell of popular support added “under God” to the Pledge 60 years ago. Anent both matters, debates have not merely continued but intensified of late.

I am generally of the Theodore Roosevelt school regarding the nation’s confirmation of belief on public buildings, monuments, courtrooms, and legislative halls. It is a matter as much of tradition as of faith. Commonly, societies tend to codify their basic tenets by such means – dispositive acts like public prayers, and displays of the Decalogue in public squares. I understand TR’s disinclination to have a sacred concept coarsened – but I would take that chance, trusting to peoples’ eventual conviction. And simply asserting universal, foundational, shared beliefs. After all, dumb jokes are occasionally made about “e pluribus unum.”

Further, myself, I would proceed on such matters to avow in every pertinent manner that the United States were settled as Christian communities; that Founders and Framers alike cited biblical principles and reliance on God; that the Supreme Court formally declared the United States of America a “Christian country.” This is no knock on Jews or Muslims or atheists, who are guaranteed every legal right the majority enjoys. But if I moved to Israel, I would never think of agitating, say, to have the Star of David removed the nation’s flag because I would be “offended” as a minority. If I moved to an Islamic society I would be embarrassed to attempt to eliminate Muslim symbols, traditions, and observances, simply because I as a newcomer had a pulse and “feelings.”

But… genii are out of the bottles in America. So debates rage, Christians are on the defensive, and traditions are upended. I believe this is due as much to the moral lassitude of Christians as to the aggressive pursuits of rampaging lawyers. Shame on us.

It has become easier to insist on the retention of slogans on currency, phrases in pledges, and crosses in cemeteries, than to be bloodied in the dusty arena of ideas. Ultimately, the real, burning question for Christians in 2014 is this: what exactly are we defending in these debates? What in hell – I choose my words carefully – are we really supporting in contemporary America?

“In God We Trust.” Oh, yeah? Then why have we allowed a runaway government to be our primary source of security in life? Why not God? Why not each other? Why not ourselves?

“In God We Trust.” Oh, yeah? Then why have we, as a culture, turned from biblical ways of finding comfort in God, and bowed to drugs, drink, decadent entertainment, and false gods of pleasure?

“In God We Trust.” Oh, yeah? Then how has America suddenly transformed itself from a traditionalist society of manners and morals to a country awash in abortions, addictions, physical abuse, divorce, illegitimate births, and myriad sexually transmitted diseases?

“In God We Trust.” Oh, yeah? Then why have traditional expressions of faith been banished in favor of secular concepts and moral relativism? Legislators and judges sit in halls with “In God We Trust” on their walls, and open their sessions with prayer – yet day by day, now, they mock that very pledge. In hypocrisy we trust.

“In God We Trust.” Oh, yeah? As a people? Then why do our movies, TV shows, pop-music lyrics, literature, graphic novels, political discourse, judicial decisions, and bureaucratic rules dedicate themselves to be, not “neutral,” but hostile, toward God and His Revealed Word?

“In God We Trust.” Oh, yeah? America is America – the essence of the misunderstood term “Exceptionalism” – because a diverse group of peoples came here through the centuries, disparate in uncountable ways, but spiritually unified, somehow: United, before the fact, in trusting God, being suspicious of authority, loving liberty, embracing tradition, reliant on selves, and therefore – yes, part of American Exceptionalism too – loving their neighbors.

Is the next chapter of the American story to be entitled, “In God We Once Trusted”?

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Since we are discussing traditions, our musical video for this message is “Nearer, My God, To Thee,” an old hymn sung here in Sacred Harp fashion. This is a purely American musical expression that took root centuries ago in rural areas and the South, where instruments and musical literacy alike were once scarce. The hymns were sung a capella; out of books with “shape notes”; often sung with the musical terms Do, Re Me Fa, So, La, Ti, Do corresponding to the notes; then followed by lyrics of the hymns; singers arranged in a square, with a leader in the “hollow”; forceful vocals (a euphemism for joyously loud!); emphasis on four-part harmony; arm gestures that emphasized the rhythm; often, strong foot-tapping to carry the beat; a large number of standard hymns in the songbooks, often identified by their numbers instead of titles or first lines.

These exuberant, evangelical, exhortations almost died out until recently. Now they are being revived in churches and – God works in mysterious ways – in secular shape-note and Sacred Harp groups in the North, in urban centers, among (not yet) religious singers, singing conventions, and in more than a few European communities too. Here, an amateur video at Mount Pisgah Primitive Baptist Church in Stroud, Alabama, few years ago.

Click: Nearer, My God, To Thee

The Other D-Day

6-9-14

Anniversaries, as the root of the word implies, are annual observances, but some years are more significant than others. D-Day, just commemorated 70 years after the invasion, attracted a little more consideration than usual this year because of its “big, round” number, just as its 75th anniversary will elicit even more attention. This is never a bad thing: we humans occasionally need a kick in the awareness.

In spite of my intense research as a history buff, I can appreciate D-Day only vicariously. My father was part of the invasion force – ‘way above it. A member of the US Army Air Force’s weather team – technically, Detachment 113, 18th Weather Squadron, 8th Air Force, which routinely performed weather reconnaissance during daylight, and dropped “leaflet bombs” (propaganda literature) at night – his planes scouted weather conditions before the invasion and overflew Normandy, monitoring, during the assault.

He talked very little, actually, about D-Day, and firmly declined any plaudits. Although planes were lost in air fights or accidents, he said he was seldom in harm’s way. The hardest part of the war, to him, was counting his buddies who never returned, and noting the fewer number of planes that returned from every mission. Compared to the soldiers who landed on Normandy’s beaches and scaled those heights.

Dad never glorified war. He always said that most of the “heroes” who spent their lives boasting of their actions probably were no-names in the action; the heroes he knew who went through hell and back seldom bragged about those experiences. He characterized D-Day as the biggest suicide mission in history. The soldiers in that invasion force mostly all knew that it was a Mission of Attrition.

The only way to breach that booby-trapped shoreline, advance along the bullet-riddled beaches, and scale the nearly impregnable heights, was to climb over and crawl past the dead and wounded who preceded you, wave after wave. The soldiers didn’t land on Normandy’s beaches as much to kill, but to be killed. Men knew that. Men did that.

In dwindling numbers now, the veterans – the Boys of Pointe du Hoc, Ronald Reagan called them – return and reminisce; they embrace each other and former enemies of the horrific crucible; they celebrate survival and, at D-Day reunions in France or at home, keep their misted eyes focused on the middle-distance of life’s random challenges and blessings.

Remembering those boys, these men, reminds us also of the nearby anniversary of another holiday – Father’s Day – the “other D Day”… D for Dads.

There was a generation of men who sacrificed, or were willing to, more than their bodies. They sacrificed careers and relationships and many other things to fight in World War II. However, every generation demands some sort of sacrifice. I have always dissented from Tom Brokaw’s appellation “The Greatest Generation.” To me, the remarkable thing about the men (and women) who endured and triumphed through Depression and World War was not that they were especially “great,” but that they were ordinary. That is: America produced a generation of ordinary, average citizens whose ordinary, average habits were to suck it up, meet challenges, overcome obstacles, not complain, “make do,” sacrifice, and report for duty in the battles of life.

Can we have a discussion about whether THAT America still exists?

In the meantime, we should similarly recognize, especially on Father’s Day, the other D Day; that our dads should not be honored because random accidents of genes made us their children; or that they should be honored in accordance with their worldly success, or big salaries, or fame, or newsworthy accomplishments they might have accumulated.

Let us remember our dads for the little and “unremarkable” things. For in countless modest examples or quiet words do we find the building-blocks of the lives of children. Through unconscious revelations of character, dads influence the moral growth of their children. And when we children absorb, often subliminally, the creditable acts of fathers in good times and bad, we are nourished in our souls as surely as dads, “putting food on the table,” have nourished our physical maturation.

Heroics can take many forms, but godly dads, providing solid examples, sustaining sacrifices for their children, and positively nurturing the next generation, are heroes no less than the Boys of Pointe du Hoc.

In my youth I went through a brief period of wiseacre agnosticism. Before I left for college, I shared this with my father, wanting him to know that I arrived at these ideas on my own, and not to blame it on “college life” afterwards. “It’s a stage,” he replied. “You’ll grow out of it.”

I resented that response at the time, and subsequently. Wasn’t his faith strong enough to confront my arguments? Didn’t he care about my salvation? Years later, I asked him about this. He said, “You were raised well. You know the Bible. You never left church after Confirmation like your friends did. Everyone doubts just about every THING at that age. But I trusted you.”

“I trust you.” I realized that I HAD received that implied message, internally. Dads should be fathers to children, not to robots. And the wisdom of those few sentences to me was not of the moment, but made possible by a lifetime of quality rearing, good examples, godly wisdom, and appreciating a role model. My Dad.

Yesterday’s hero… a soldier… but I remember not in a uniform beyond bedroom slippers, and smoking a pipe, talking with his son, for uncountable evenings on innumerable subjects, bringing me, this week, to an emotional celebration of the “other” D Day.

Rick, Dad and fishRick, Dad and fish

Rick (left), his Dad (right) around 1968. The figures in the middle are unidentified…

+ + +

Not exactly cosmic convergence, but with D-Day and Fathers Day only a week apart, we are reminded of the role of dads, the heroes of our families’ battles. “He will restore the hearts of the fathers to their children and the hearts of the children to their fathers…” Malachi 4:6.

Click: Seeing My Father in Me

Dead Presidents

2-17-14

When searching for a music video for this blog essay, I surfed through YouTube as per usual. More and more there are commercials, at least for first-time clickers of a link, lasting anywhere from 5 seconds to 30 seconds. Some must be endured, some can be clicked off. A fact of internet life. This week, intending to write about Presidents’ Day and the Christian beliefs of our presidents, as I am wont, I was struck by the common theme of the advertising pop ups.

Presidents’ Day – that is, Presidents’ Day mattress sales. The $5-bill face of Abraham Lincoln with moving lips, reminding us of Two-For-One sales. An animated George Washington saying, “I cannot tell a lie. I am CHOPPING prices this Monday!”

It is odious enough that the American culture effectively stopped honoring great men like Lincoln (whose birthday was February 12) and Washington (February 22). It is offensive enough that nonentities and shady characters who held the presidential office for a season are elevated to equal status with Lincoln and Washington by the invention of a vacuum-cleaner holiday like Presidents’ Day. It is depressing that America, at a point when we should be mature as a civic society, has descended to such base materialism.

Patriotic displays largely have withered and died in the public square. Prayers have disappeared from schools and civic events. Politicians seem more grasping than ever. There are exceptions, but these things mostly are true. People wear flags as apparel decorations, and stick them to bumpers, but how many people, even of such patriotic extroversion, can name the presidents of the United States, in order, or the Bill of Rights so frequently invoked?

I have been reading a book, “The Final Secret of Pearl Harbor,” by Rear Adm. Robert A Theobald. It details the impossible diplomatic position the United States put Japan in during the months leading to Pearl Harbor, with the intent of inviting an attack by the Japanese; the purposeful failure to alert US commanders of the imminent attack; the scapegoating of Naval and Army personnel after 3300 lives were lost; the reason for the machinations – an obsession to enter a war against Germany, Japan’s ally, and to save Great Britain. This was at a time when American public opinion was overwhelmingly against participation in any foreign war. Franklin Roosevelt unilaterally skirted Congress and committed arms, bases, ships, and diplomacy to one side of a foreign conflict. Germany didn’t take the bait; Japan did.

It matters little whether FDR was betting on the right side of history. He could have proceeded honestly and openly to persuade the American people. That he did not might cast him as a war criminal. Other presidents have lied, betrayed the trust of their people, and occasionally spent lives and fortunes unwisely.

I state these facts to say that I don’t think US presidents all deserve halos. Even the greatest have clay feet. Not all were well-intentioned.

But many had sterling intentions. In this polyglot nation of immigrants we have produced a class whose ranks are generally above any average group we can assemble. The Framers were a remarkable assembly whose faith, maturity, and foresights was extraordinary. We have been blessed. As Theodore Roosevelt said, in Abraham Lincoln we had a man whose greatness was due to his goodness. Theodore Roosevelt himself was the most accomplished, intelligent, well-prepared, visionary, and… religiously observant of our presidents.

On this last aspect we discover the major difference – perhaps the diving-line – between exceptional and ordinary presidents; between the old America and the new. We are told that Washington’s circle was comprised of Deists; yet his famous prayer, the injunctions to pray by Franklin, the language of the Declaration and Constitution, prove to us that these men knew, and feared, God.

We are told that Lincoln seldom attended church. Yet we can read in the notes of his associates, in his letters, in his speeches, an evolving awareness of God – and a reliance, a summons, a sharing of biblical principles – in the last two years of his life. His last speeches, his Second Inaugural, read like sermons.

And Theodore Roosevelt became an editor of a weekly Christian magazine when he left the White House. He titled two of his books after Bible verses. He made impromptu speeches for five nights at a prominent seminary. He wrote an article for Ladies Home Journal about why men should go to church. This irrepressible personality quietly, but largely, lived his faith.

Are these days past? Do giants still walk amongst us, in American civic life?

Most of the faces on our currency consists of presidents of the past. Since Presidents’ Day has been distorted and perverted to be a glorification of sales and commerce, it might be appropriate that the currency that is King for a Day on the third Monday of February is nicknamed “Dead Presidents.”

+ + +

I have chosen a song that goes ‘way back in the American heritage for the music video with this essay. No message, but, as we have recalled Washington, Lincoln, and Theodore Roosevelt of an earlier, and greater, time in America, a moment of nostalgia for the time when American held promise. “Oh, Shenandoah” is an old folk tune about the pioneer’s relentless move westward, remembering the Shenandoah Valley, and determining to “cross the wide Missouri” River. This is a remarkable “virtual” duet with the legendary Tennessee Ernie Ford and Sissel Kyrkjebo, the stunning Norwegian soprano. With members of the Chieftans. Click the YouTube button if prompted.

Click: Oh, Shenandoah

That Ragged Old Flag

5-26-13

Revisiting some old thoughts, at the request of some old friends. A day for reflection, and to ask some questions relevant to today’s Memorial Day:

Hey, Soldier. Or Sailor, Airman, Marine. Late servicemen, fallen or passed on.

It’s Memorial Day. Your day.

Back when all the holidays meant something – or meant something different – this began as “Decoration Day.” When people decorated military graves, or commemorative statues, or monuments and plaques.

That’s why I’m addressing you as one group, and as anonymous veterans, because Decoration Day was designed to memorialize, to remember and honor, dead servicemen and women. All of you.

You know, on the Fourth of July we celebrate our independence; on Veterans’ Day we honor the retired military among us.

That’s the way it was supposed to be. Decoration Day was changed to Memorial Day, maybe because the act of placing decorative flowers and flags was becoming an empty gesture. Or simply wasn’t being done that much any more. Whatever: most Americans think of it now as “the beginning of summer,” the vacation season. So, backyard barbecues have replaced parades and cemetery services.

Maybe that’s what you fought for, and many of you died for. “The American Way of Life.” My dad didn’t fight in World War II because he hated the Nazis or Japs like the government told him to hate; he didn’t even believe that Main Streets in the American heartland were about to be invaded. He volunteered and served because it was his duty. That’s another old-fashioned concept.

The dirty little secret about history is that the best fighting forces have met success not because they hated, but because they loved. You American Soldiers, Sailors, Airmen, and Marines, in your graves through the land – throughout the world, sometimes buried where you fell – loved the flag, loved your people, your homes, your Main Streets; and you loved the concepts of duty and honor.

Most of you guys are probably like my father, and would tell me that you just “did what you had to do,” and most of your kids are probably like me, in awe of dedication and sacrifice. You would tell us to honor the people in uniform right now. And we do.

If we are not inspired by uncountable acts of bravery, because the news media dismiss your service, or because we are too busy back home here with bread and circuses, then we are reminded, often enough, when we notice your missing arms and legs, when we learn of tearful surprise reunions with your kids… or when we see your weeping widows.

We are reminded of you, despite ourselves, when we read of crowded and shabby Veteran’s hospitals. We cannot forget you any more when the headlines reveal delays and needless deaths at VA facilities. Many of your families were forced to subsist on food stamps when you were “defending our freedom” overseas, and now that you are home, are poverty and neglect America’s real memorials to you?

I am aching to ask you questions, you older servicemen, if I could: is it all different now? Today we fight enemies so far from our shores, toward victories that have not been defined. So often fulfilling missions to build roads and schools and deliver classroom computers, when back home here, your own families are on government assistance, and there are American communities in need of roads and schools and classroom computers.

I know one thing that’s NOT different, because I have met some of the returning service people today, and have seen them on TV too. The uniforms still grace good people; people who have a sense of honor and duty; brave people who serve because service is honorable.

So, old timers, maybe if anything is different these days, it’s not the Soldiers, Sailors, Airmen, and Marines themselves; and maybe, when all is said and done, it’s not so much the service they are asked to perform. Maybe the biggest difference is what kind of America they have been fighting for, what Main Streets to which they return. I pray they are not much different than those of your day.

… but it was you men and women, now in your graves and represented in those memorials, who brought us to the point where we can even discuss these questions. You didn’t give us Freedom – God did that – but you all defended it. You knew the difference, and you did it well. Often it was brutally difficult, and usually it was far, far away from your homes.

So I’m going to tell you about trips we will take, many of us, this Memorial Day. Not as far away as your places of service and sacrifice. Some of us are not close to our relatives’ military graves, but all of us are close to some military grave or memorial. I am going to suggest that we, the living, pick some flowers or buy some flowers, or get a flag, even a little flag, and visit a military cemetery. Or any cemetery, and then look for a military emblem on the stone. Or a town’s war memorial.

We are going to place a “decoration,” maybe a thank-you letter or a prayer, to brighten your memory and honor you… whoever you are. We are going to pray thanksgiving for your service. For those of us who cannot get out, we are going to make that trip in our minds.

I look forward to visiting the grave of a stranger. I will symbolically shake your hand, and salute you. You represent much that was great about America. You represented US. God bless you.

+ + +

Many songs – patriotic, traditional, military – could follow this message. I have
chosen this old Johnny Cash recitation that decorates the memories of our late
military members with the colors red, white, and blue.

Click: That Ragged Old Flag

Terrorism, Like We Never Knew

4-7-14

Words. Words can liberate our minds. They can be used to sway the masses and instruct our children. They can bring joy and comfort. Remembering that the Bible calls words potentially dangerous – “No one can tame the tongue; it is restless and evil, full of deadly poison,” says James 3:5 – we know that words can misinform, confuse, and be harmful.

In that regard I noticed that two recent news stories – the disappearance of a Malaysian Airlines plane, and another shooting at Fort Hood – were accompanied by speculation about terrorist involvement. Indeed, most news anchors spouted, in advance of any journalistic reason to raise the topic, “It is too early to speculate on whether there is a terrorist connection.”

Game, set, match. Thus the speculation begins. Moreover, by contemporary journalistic-speak, what more evidence of terrorism than a missing plane or a shooting rampage? What the media mean in 2014 is “Islamic Terrorism.”

“Terrorism” has become another kidnapped word, ripped from dictionaries and traditional parlance. “Gay” and “Holocaust” are two other such words. When the storm troopers of Political Correctness are on the rampage, we become haters if we do not conform. And so “Terrorism” is now equated with “Islamic Terrorism.”

I maintain there is a third spin to this neologism. Quick: a pop quiz. How many victims of terror were there on 9-11? An approximate number will do.

It is likely that you thought, Approximately 3000. More, some would reckon, adding to the Twin Towers, the horrors in Shanksville, the Pentagon, the planes, the Pentagon employees.

Those numbers are ‘way off the mark. I would have us realize that the 3000 or so who died on 9-11 were not victims of terrorism. They were murder victims. The victims of terrorism are approximately 300-million who were left with pain, hurt, sorrow, fear, anxiety, inconvenience, and life-routines forever altered. Such a result is the goal of terrorists. The dead were murdered; the living are terrorized.

They commit murder to spread self-doubt, fear, and even hatred. To terrorize the survivors. Innocent people can never be reconciled to terror, and therefore terror triumphs in the prevalence of paranoia, the surrender of security, eventually the loss of liberty.

These are not matters of “sticks and stones”: words have meaning, and can define how we navigate the troubled waters of life, as citizens and as Christians.

In the civic realm, we are seeing lawbreaking condoned, and criminals excused. Acts regarded as harmfully anti-social a generation ago – actually, throughout human history in all cultures – are being promoted today as beneficial and “progressive.” To oppose dependency and sloth is (to the Compassion Police) committing “hate crimes,” whatever that really is.

In the spiritual realm, we are witnessing the fulfillment of biblical prophecies. Men are calling evil good, and good evil; putting darkness for light, and light for darkness; putting bitter for sweet, and sweet for bitter (Isaiah 5:20). We see traitors, reckless, conceited, lovers of pleasures more than lovers of God (II Timothy 3:4). And the Bible prophesied: “For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine; but after their own lusts shall they heap to themselves teachers, having itching ears” (II Timothy 4:3).

So is it a surprise that many Christians are quiet when religious expression is attacked by our own government? Why are Christians afraid to proclaim Christ against the attacks of false faiths and aggressive atheists? Why are those who claim the title of Christian so numb to the horrific persecution of believers around the world? – greater in numbers, in the past century, than in all previous centuries, added together, since Christ?

The answers include the facts that “truths” from the new pulpits have lulled us to sleep. That heresy and error have subverted the churches. That we have become more interested in pleasing other people, than pleasing – obeying – God.

WORDS have made truth relative, and irrelevant. Words are encouraging people to abandon the faith of their fathers. Words enable feeble minds to think that God’s precepts depend on our opinions of them.

Words are sending America to hell.

And that alone should terrorize us.

+ + +

An old-fashioned but utterly relevant musical coda to this message can be found in Tracy Chapman’s “All That You Have Is You Soul.” Whether it is a grandmother’s message to a vulnerable child, or a symbolic lesson to a nation gone astray, through all the struggles and temptations and false hopes and glory, and shiny apples… in the end, all that we have is our souls.

Click: All That You Have Is Your Soul

Dead Presidents

2-17-14

When searching for a music video for this blog essay, I surfed through YouTube as per usual. More and more there are commercials, at least for first-time clickers of a link, lasting anywhere from 5 seconds to 30 seconds. Some must be endured, some can be clicked off. A fact of internet life. This week, intending to write about Presidents’ Day and the Christian beliefs of our presidents, as I am wont every year, I was struck by the common theme of the advertising pop ups.

Presidents’ Day – that is, Presidents’ Day mattress sales. The $5-bill face of Abraham Lincoln with moving lips, reminding us of Two-For-One sales. An animated George Washington saying, “I cannot tell a lie. I am CHOPPING prices this Monday!”

It is odious enough that the American culture effectively stopped honoring great men like Lincoln (whose birthday was February 12) and Washington (February 22). It is offensive enough that nonentities and shady characters who held the presidential office for a season are elevated to equal status with Lincoln and Washington by the invention of a vacuum-cleaner holiday like Presidents’ Day. It is depressing that America, at a point when we should be mature as a civic society, has descended to such base materialism.

Patriotic displays largely have withered and died in the public square. Prayers have disappeared from schools and civic events. Politicians seem more grasping than ever. There are exceptions, but these things mostly are true. People wear flags as apparel decorations, and stick them to bumpers, but how many people, even of such patriotic extroversion, can name the presidents of the United States, in order, or the Bill of Rights so frequently invoked?

I have been reading a book, “The Final Secret of Pearl Harbor,” by Rear Adm. Robert A Theobald. It details the impossible diplomatic position the United States put Japan in during the months leading to Pearl Harbor, with the intention to invite an attack by the Japanese; the purposeful failure to alert US commanders of the imminent attack; the scapegoating of Naval and Army personnel after 3300 lives were lost; the reason for the machinations – an obsession to enter a war against Germany, Japan’s ally, and to save Great Britain. This was at a time when American public opinion was overwhelmingly against participation in any foreign war. Franklin Roosevelt unilaterally skirted Congress and committed arms, bases, ships, and diplomacy to one side of a foreign conflict. Germany didn’t take the bait; Japan did.

It matters little whether FDR was betting on the right side of history. He could have proceeded honestly and openly to persuade the American people. That he did not might cast him as a war criminal. Other presidents have lied, betrayed the trust of their people, and occasionally spent lives and fortunes unwisely.

I state these facts to say that I don’t think US presidents all deserve halos. Even the greatest have clay feet. Not all were well-intentioned.

But many had sterling intentions. In this polyglot nation of immigrants we have produced a class of presidents whose ranks are generally above any average group we could gather. The Framers were a remarkable assembly whose faith, maturity, and foresight was extraordinary. We have been blessed. As Theodore Roosevelt said, in Abraham Lincoln we had a man whose greatness was due to his goodness. Theodore Roosevelt himself was the most accomplished, intelligent, well-prepared, visionary, and… religiously observant of our presidents.

On this last aspect we discover the major difference – perhaps the dividing-line – between exceptional and ordinary presidents; between the old America and the new. We are told that Washington’s circle was comprised of Deists; yet his famous prayer, the injunctions to pray by Franklin, the language of the Declaration and Constitution, prove to us that these men knew, and feared, God.

We are told that Lincoln seldom attended church. Yet we can read in the notes of his associates, in his letters, in his speeches, an evolving awareness of God – and a reliance, a summons, a sharing of biblical principles – in the last two years of his life. His last speeches, his Second Inaugural, read like sermons.

And Theodore Roosevelt became an editor of a weekly Christian magazine when he left the White House. He titled two of his books after Bible verses. He made impromptu speeches for five nights at a prominent seminary. He wrote an article for Ladies Home Journal about why men should go to church. This irrepressible personality quietly, but largely, lived his faith.

Are these days past? Do giants still walk amongst us, in American civic life?

Most of the faces on our currency consists of presidents of the past. Since Presidents’ Day has been distorted and perverted to be a glorification of sales and commerce, it might be appropriate that the currency that is King for a Day on the third Monday of February is nicknamed “Dead Presidents.”

+ + +

I have chosen a song that goes ‘way back in the American heritage for the music video with this essay. No message, but, as we have recalled Washington, Lincoln, and Theodore Roosevelt of an earlier, and greater, time in America, here is a moment of nostalgia for the time when American held promise. “Oh, Shenandoah” is an old folk tune about the pioneer’s relentless move westward, remembering the Shenandoah Valley, and determining to “cross the wide Missouri” River. This is a remarkable “virtual” duet with the legendary Tennessee Ernie Ford and Sissel Kyrkjebo, the stunning Norwegian soprano. With members of the Chieftans. Click the YouTube button if prompted.

Click: Oh, Shenandoah

Victories vs. Veterans

11-11-13

I am glad that, through the years, the name “Armistice Day” was transformed to “Veterans’ Day.” There are legends that assert the choice to order the end of hostilities in World War I – 11:11 on 11-11 – was a public-relations conceit. Maybe so, but surely there were scattered soldiers – maybe hundreds or thousands? – who died as the artificially set clock ticked down. This, in conclusion of the “War to End All Wars,” the “Great War,” the war to “Make the World Safe for Democracy.”

World War I was none of these things, except “great” in terms of its numbers of participants, scope, and abject – not to say useless – horrors. And, as any examples would be superfluous to assert, neither the war nor its armistice, ended all wars. Indeed, its “peace treaty” rather sewed seeds of the next world war, as many commentators of the day cynically predicted. For neither the first nor last time in history, war’s victory was illusory; peace’s triumph was elusive.

As I write this, I am listening to Handel’s “Dettingen Te Deum” in the background. A church piece dedicated to a British battlefield victory on the banks of the Rhein, in Germany. It is, like much of Handel’s, wonderfully stirring music. Stick with me on the background of this battle so celebrated: it was part of the War of Austrian Succession, although Austrian troops were not in the battle. The British were commanded by King George II, the last time a British monarch led troops in battle. The Brits were allied with Hessians and Hanoverians, but not (looking farther northeast on a map of German states) Prussia, which was an enemy. The Brits arrived on the continent in the Netherlands, which was then ruled by Austria. The enemy was France. And all this was memorialized in a mass by the German composer living in England, Georg Friederich Handel.

Confusing enough, but not unique in history. Similarly convoluted was the array of grievances behind World War I – Czar Nicholas was cousin of the Kaiser, whose aunt was Queen Victoria. Under slightly altered circumstances, that war could have been conducted as a parking-lot fistfight of drunks after a wedding reception. And 22-million lives would have been spared.

Listening to the Te Deum also had me thinking about all the music and poetry and anniversaries dedicated to wars and battles; and how few dedicated to peace. Yes: there are some – the consecration of Armistice Day, and several poems and masses. Thanks to God (“Te Deum”) for victory presumes that peace will follow.

But I return to the new, and better, name, Veteran’s Day. Like precious few other holidays, the justification for this holiday should be universal, observed every day on the calendar. Wars come and wars go, but veterans we always have with us. I realize that is a facile aphorism whose elements can be switched, but I mean for us to remember that views about Rights and Justice, as in the War of Austrian Succession or the Great War, shift with the years, and are temporary passions.

But veterans – that is, the soldiers, seamen, and fliers who survive – are with us all. Whether they don uniforms willingly, or are conscripted, through history they have been the people who risk odds and defy death, performing amazing tasks. They wear those uniforms to love, more than hate: love their nations, their homelands, their families’ security, their children’s future.

For motivations as complex as the charts explaining the logic of some wartime leaders, veterans serve and sacrifice. They seldom complained or revolted. Traditionally they return to societies that try to forget they exist (that a splendid organization like Wounded Warriors had to be established, doing what the government should be doing for veterans, is a repugnant shame on America). Their selfless service to fellow-citizens is astounding, light-years beyond questions of “following orders.” Sacrifice does not demand attention or rewards, but the recipients of their service – that’s the rest of us – ought to honor veterans in any and all ways possible.

The seemingly discordant juncture of mercy and war is in fact not uncommon. One example is found with President Abraham Lincoln. I have been researching the life of his secretary John Hay for a possible novel, and learned this story: A Union soldier was recommended for severe punishment, perhaps death, for falling asleep on duty in a dangerous theater of war. His case reached Lincoln’s desk amidst a pile of other cases of other soldiers. All the others, however, carried appeals by important officials or “connected” figures, arguing for clemency in each case. A weary Lincoln asked Major Hay about the order at the bottom of the pile. “Has this man no ‘friends’?” His secretary said No. Lincoln said, “then I shall be his friend,” and issued a pardon.

Yes, there is military justice. But there is also heavenly pardon. In the 21st century, for good or ill, American soldiers fight fiercely, and they build communities too. They do war, but they do peace. They are remarkable creatures, doing remarkable things. May we, as a nation, be remarkable enough to deserve such servants.

In 2013, as on many Veterans’ Days of the past, I take flowers and a little flag, drive to a random cemetery, find a gravestone marked with a military legend or symbol, and honor that man or woman. Random representation. It seems more appropriate than seeking out a statue of a general on a horse. So many risked all… some gave all… we should honor all.

+ + +

I had the pleasure, when interviewing country music legends for a book on American roots music, to meet Bill Carlisle. Once part of a “brother act” with Cliff, Bill largely was known for novelty songs, and for jumping high on stage while singing and playing his guitar. But his best song, perhaps, is a solemn gospel favorite called “Gone Home.” Here it respectfully is sung by Ricky Skaggs and Kentucky Thunder. Images of my father’s generation of servicemen, by that amazing video producer Beanscot.

Click: Gone Home

“Now We Are Engaged In a Great Civil War”

6-31-13 / 4th of July, 2013

The Fourth of July is as close as the United States has to a secular holy day. Considering that actual holy days rapidly are becoming secularized, July 4th deserves our attention, more than mere celebrations. The days around July 4th are when the rebellious representatives of the American colonies put their names (“and fortunes, and sacred honor”) to a revolutionary declaration that continues to stir hearts around the world. The days around July 4th are when the ragtag Rough Riders, on the heights above Santiago, Cuba, fought through withering gunfire on open ground and captured Kettle Hill and San Juan Hill, effectively sealing the land operations of the enemy in the Spanish-American War.

And the days preceding July 4th – three long, bloody, momentous days – are when the Army of Virginia’s invasion of the North was repulsed in the streets, wooded hills, and fields of Gettysburg, Pennsylvania. There, and in faraway Vicksburg, Mississippi, which surrendered to the US Army’s forces of Gen. Grant on the 4th itself, the outcome of the Civil War largely was sealed. Hundreds of thousands of deaths still lay ahead, but the dreamers and the fearful in the North and South alike generally apprehended the outcome.

The coincidence of significant national events around July 4th is just that, a coincidence. But modern holidays are observed too often as artificial consolidations for vacationers and retailers. The Declaration of Independence, the impromptu heroism and success represented by the Spanish-American War, and the salvation of the Union – and the hundreds of noble impulses and human dramas that hover, as benign angels, over Gettysburg’s fields – are well worthy of our contemplation today.

“Revisionist” history has become a cottage industry of late. Napoleon defined history as “lies agreed upon” by succeeding generations. To challenge conventional wisdom is seldom a bad thing, even when Revisionists have points of view to advance. But the exercise – that is, a society’s discussions and considerations of new viewpoints – is beneficial only so far as solid facts underlay. People are entitled to their own opinions, but not their own facts.

So it becomes a disgrace when bad history, or, worse, “no” history replaces the proper sense of heritage in a culture. We read polls today that large percentages of American youth do not know why the colonies sought independence; who major presidents were; why important wars were fought. I am afraid (in the context of a pop-culture society, which we are) that more teenagers know Lincoln as a vampire slayer than as the central character of another movie, “Lincoln.”

Recent events persuade me that we might be engaged in another civil war, or its opening stages. And it is hard to answer, or resist, or overcome, when you have no sense of self, in a civic context. How can we know who we are and where we are when we don’t know how we arrived here?

But among the things we do know – or should know – is that a nation was founded on a set of noble ideals, dedicated over and over again to God, and was established in various places and by people of different backgrounds with a common, burning devotion to liberty. Or, to be precise, an UNcommon devotion… unique in human history. Among the anomalies the founders knew would have to be solved, never assuming it would be easy, was the institution of slavery. When the time came, men – and their wives and children – took a collective breath and prosecuted a grinding, nightmarish, burdensome conflict. A somewhat bloodier reflection, Lincoln was wont to wonder, of slavery itself: perhaps national penance for its sin.

Past the fratricide and carnage, a century and a half later, we still are astonished by the bravery and nobility and sacrifice and endurance and faith of those soldiers.

Theodore Roosevelt said, when he visited Gettysburg: “As long as this Republic endures or its history is known, so long shall the memory of the Battle of Gettysburg likewise endure and be known; and as long as the English tongue is understood, so long shall Abraham Lincoln’s Gettysburg speech thrill the hearts of mankind.”

Every American should know this by heart:

Four score and seven years ago our fathers brought forth on this continent a new nation, conceived in Liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.

“Now we are engaged in a great civil war, testing whether that nation, or any nation so conceived and dedicated, can long endure. We are met on a great battlefield of that war. We have come to dedicate a portion of that field as a final resting place for those who here gave their lives that that nation might live. It is altogether fitting and proper that we should do this.

“But, in a larger sense, we cannot dedicate, we cannot consecrate, we cannot hallow this ground. The brave men, living and dead, who struggled here, have consecrated it, far above our poor power to add or detract. The world will little note nor long remember what we say here, but it can never forget what they did here. It is for us the living, rather, to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced.

“It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us – that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion – that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain – that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom – and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.”

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Julia Ward Howe, a poetess, met President Lincoln in the White House in November, 1861. That night, as a guest at the nearby Willard Hotel, she responded to requests to write new words to the popular song “John Brown’s Body Lies A-Moldering in the Grave.” It was an incitement to fight the Confederacy, but Mrs Howe took it a step further, writing the immortal Battle Hymn of the Republic to its tune. Ironically, Mrs Howe’s life-long crusades included abolitionism, women’s suffrage… and pacifism. But she knew that some battles were proper to fight. This amazing video clip is of Judy Collins performing before tens of thousands of citizens on the National Mall 30 years ago, with the US Army Band Soldiers’ Chorus, and the Harlem Boys Choir. Significantly, Judy sings some little-known verses – reminding us that this is a Christian hymn, not just a battle song.

Click: Battle Hymn Of the Republic

The “Daddy Plan” – Two Months or 100 Years?

6-17-13

Thinking about Father’s Day, there is someone in the news who, perversely, might be deemed “Father of The Year.” Not that he is a great role model, or has been honored by his children. Someone named Desmond Hatchett has fathered 30 children by 11 different women in the past few years.

Proud, not ashamed, of himself (“the wimmins just be lovin’ me”), Hatchet recently petitioned the courts to reduce or void his child support requirements. Although a previous court divided his financial responsibilities among the children he was found to have fathered (some of them slated to receive, thereby, $1.47 a month), he claims that chronic unemployment, partly due to his criminal record, prevents him from meeting the obligation.

In some American cities, unwed pregnancies account for 70 per cent of births, at least among certain ethnic groups. To discuss ethnicity in relation to such social maladies is virtually verboten in today’s politically correct culture. We will never “right the ship” in America unless honest debates return: it is just as wrong, for instance, to excuse a person due to race, as it is to condemn a person because of race. And that applies from reckless baby-makers to presidents. Nobody is immune from personal responsibilities, and nobody is immune from the responsibility to address social and spiritual crises.

Similarly, it is a mistake to exempt some citizens – that is to say, every citizen – from frank discussions. I take the news item about Daddy Hatchett as a take-off point for this essay. But illegitimacy, irresponsible parenting, crummy and absent fathers infest every group, every class, every race, and, yes, the church population too… almost in the same numbers as the overall population.

The courts can only go so far (except when they overturn deep traditions and voters’ referenda about, say homosexual marriage and legalized drugs), but it is a sad commentary how they address irresponsible fathers. Enforced employment? Prison? Sterilization? No, child support, alone, is the routine application of justice. Justice… to the children? And child support frequently goes unpaid, and often is scarcely sufficient, even on paper, to begin with.

But officially, when we are at a cultural crisis, the System’s official definition of Fatherhood is boiled down to “child support.” Spare change, and you’re done, dad.

To read other headlines, you would think that neglect, abuse, and all manner of dysfunction inhabit every home on Main Street, every apartment on Broadway, in contemporary America. To the extent this is true (and can we all generally agree we live in a flawed, corrupt, society?) let us fix things, starting with the nearest mirror we can find, and proceeding: our households, our larger families, our neighborhoods, our schools, our workplaces, our governments and courts, our nation.

It is proper to relate all those problems, and all these areas where solutions can be made, to Fatherhood.

Fathers are heads of households, or should be (I mean there should BE fathers present in family units). Fathers are role models. Mothers make physical sacrifices; fathers do, too, but must add to the qualities of nurture. Guidance and example, counsel and wisdom, integrity in the workplace and in relationships, forbearance and leadership, strength and tenderness. All in ways much different than mothers’ duties to their children. Not more or less important, but, certainly, different.

It is best to look beyond the statistics and the poor examples in our news and neighborhoods. Work to correct… but look beyond. We should even look beyond the great examples – surely we all have them! – of our own loving fathers, tender parents, grandfathers who dispensed wisdom. For those of us whose fathers were heroes, as I can say, and who miss them every day, even then, even on Father’s Days, we may look past them.

The example is our Heavenly Father. Almighty, Omnipotent, Giver of life and of laws, Who loves us so much that His Son gave Himself so that all His other children might be free of their sins and commune eternally with Him. Father. “Abba” in the Bible – it means “Daddy”!

There is a story that James Abram Garfield, 20th president of the US, once gave advice to a father who asked about the possibility of the man’s son’s short-cutting his training. “Certainly,” Garfield is supposed to have replied. “But it all depends on what you want to make of your boy. When God wants to make an oak tree, He takes a hundred years. When He wants to make a squash, He requires only two months.”

The story says a lot about the type of children we may produce in this country. But it also says a lot about the proper attitude of proper fathers in this country.

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One of the great sentimental songs about Daddy was written by Elsie McWilliams and Jimmie Rodgers, and recorded by Rodgers, the “Father of Country Music.” Elsie was Jimmie’s sister-in-law and wrote many of his hits. Here it is performed with feeling by Tanya Tucker, a tribute to her own dad.

Click: Daddy and Home

Western Civilization “Already a Wreck from Within”

6-10-13

I recently visited an exhibition of biblical artifacts that, weeks later, still has me breathless. Properly, the traveling exhibition called “Passages” is an enormous presentation of ancient texts, original documents – letters from the early Church Fathers; even a portion of the Dead Sea Scrolls – illuminated manuscripts, Torah scrolls, first printings of the Bibles of Wycliffe, Tyndale, Gutenberg, Calvin, and more.

One item particularly caught my attention: a letter – not a reproduction, you understand – from Martin Luther to a friend, written the night before his trial before in Worms, Germany. He thought it likely he would be convicted of heresy, surely then to be tortured and executed. So there were elements of a Last Will. But in a slight rehearsal, he wrote in strong words that were spoken the very next day – that before God and his conscience, he could not recant what he had written about the Bible and about corruption in the Church.

I lingered over this letter. It is not only a foundational document of the Protestant Reformation; nor is it merely a notable artifact by a famous figure in history. That humble hand-written letter is one of the great documents of mankind, representing a fulcrum of history. Metaphorically, a stone thrown into the lake of Western civilization, and among its ripples were the liberty of men and women to know Scripture on their own… the invitation to people to learn to read… to be free to think… to challenge people in authority… to worship freely. These were the ripples that also empowered people to assemble freely and form their societies and governments just as they could run their churches.

The simple letter represented a wind that would blow across Europe to the American colonies and back to Europe, ultimately around the world. Religion, philosophy, the arts, science, economics, and government were never the same.

It is seldom that one document can represent so much: sum up, codify, and forecast great shifts in human history.

Another such document is a book, an American book. I thought of it this week, with everything going on in the headlines. It once was a best-seller, and its author one of the major celebrities of the late 1940s and early 1950s. Except for occasional historical reassessments, the book and its author have tended to slip into relative obscurity. And that is why every year or two, I re-visit “Witness” by Whittaker Chambers.

Chambers was a genius, a sensitive product of a troubled family. He drifted for a while in the corridors of intellectual and artistic pursuits, a student at Columbia University and a convert to radicalism. He became a Communist, and a spy; he also translated “Bambi” to great acclaim. He underwent a spiritual journey that led to his break with Communism, and embracing of Christ. Thus began his painful testimony against former friends in the Communist underground who had risen to the highest posts in government.

It was his conflicts — the pain of revealing old friends as enemies of the nation, of the American heritage, of Christianity; as well as his one-time adherence to these heresies – that makes “Witness” compelling reading. Chambers captured the sweep of history and the war of ideas. He precisely defined the choices that thoughtful people of his generation had to make, in eloquent, persuasive words.

… those choices still confront people today. Whittaker Chambers and Alger Hiss are dead. So are Stalin and his Soviet Union. Yes, the American flag still waves.

But the brutal choices of the recent century still confront us: liberty vs tyranny; spirituality vs secularism; values vs relativism; the Bible vs “Das Kapital” by Karl Marx. The choices should be easy. They always have been easy. But the wrong choices almost prevailed in Chambers’ day. And it is clear they are losing today, in America, in Western Civilization.

At a flash-point in Chambers’ conversion, he wrote in “Witness”:

At some point, I sought relief from my distress by trying to pray … As I continued to pray raggedly, prayer ceased to be an awkward and self-conscious act. It became a daily need to which I looked forward … The torrent that swept through me … swept my spirit clear to discern one truth: “Man without mysticism is a monster.” I do not mean, of course, that I denied the usefulness of reason and knowledge. What I grasped was that religion begins at the point where reason and knowledge are powerless and forever fail — the point at which man senses the mystery of his good and evil, his suffering and his destiny as a soul in search of God.

This brings me, here today, full circle, because Martin Luther, the harbinger and prophet of individualism, freedom, and democracy, also once declared that “Reason is the enemy of Faith.” Does this mean we are to reject our learning, distrust our intelligence, deny science? No! But it does remind us that Man cannot serve two masters.

This week, many citizens are face-to-face with a situation that seems like it is from another popular book of the recent past, “1984” (Saturday was the 64th anniversary of its publication, coincidentally). Americans are reaping a harvest of years of social policies that encouraged trust in the state before trust in God. We see the fruits of denying God in schoolhouses and courthouses – a culture and an Establishment that have no anchors, adrift. And a government that has grown to be a power unto itself, seeking us ill instead of serving us first.

Whittaker Chambers, despite his spiritual conversion, was convinced he had joined the losing side in the world’s great, historic battle. Liberty against tyranny; self-reliance against entitlements. He was aware of the forces at work. He knew how the public could be flattered into submission. He was familiar with the ways of infiltration and subversion. Whittaker Chambers wrote to Bill Buckley toward the end of his life a rueful assessment and prediction:

The enemy – he is ourselves. That is why it is idle to talk about preventing the wreck of Western civilization. It is already a wreck from within.

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When society – Western Civilization itself – is threatened and seems doomed, we need to remind ourselves of one sure thing on which we may rely: It is described in Psalm 62:2, “He only is my rock and my salvation; He is my defense; I shall not be greatly moved.” Millions of people have found comfort in this truth through the hymn composed by Augustus M. Toplady in 1775. This impressive video features a performance of “Rock of Ages” by the Antrim Mennonite Choir, thanks to the Sesamonte Channel.

“Witness” and other books by Chambers are in print today, published by Regnery. Click “Passages” for information about the biblical artifacts exhibition.

Click: Rock of Ages

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About The Author

... Rick Marschall is the author of 74 books and hundreds of magazine articles in many fields, from popular culture (Bostonia magazine called him "perhaps America's foremost authority on popular culture") to history and criticism; country music; television history; biography; and children's books. He is a former political cartoonist, editor of Marvel Comics, and writer for Disney comics. For 10 years he has been active in the Christian field, writing devotionals and magazine articles; he was co-author of "The Secret Revealed" with Dr Jim Garlow. His biography of Johann Sebastian Bach for the “Christian Encounters” series (Thomas Nelson) was released in April, 2011. Read More