Tag Archives: America

Making America Great Again

voteI find it troubling how the media exaggerates and condemns discord stemming from political debate.

For discord is the bedrock of democracy. Silence is democracy’s opposite, and should be feared, for it means a drugged populace, whose speech has been taken from them.

As we watch both political parties engage in heated debate, I see the heat as healthy. We should be celebrating the candidates’ right to speak, their passion. To be sure, there are degrees of civility and incivility, lines we don’t like crossed, a continuum that can be slippery, but that is the rough-and-tumble nature of freedom. “Sticks and stones can break my bones but words can never hurt me.” Not entirely true, but true enough. We have laws governing the degree of hurt, of slander, of libel, and when dealing with public figures the laws stretch to accommodate the free speech necessary to the public square.

I celebrate the fierce rivalry displayed over the last year between our many candidates. But I also celebrate those who bemoan the incivility, the name calling, the “tricks” played with “rules” regarding delegate selection. Let those who bemoan continue to be the brave watchdogs that report the crossing of lines and the slipping down the slope of unmannerly dialogue.

All this is good for our country, healthy for America. And there are other kinds of dogs in our political arena – underdogs, those who have been surrounded and bullied by both the left and the right and the media. While it is difficult at times to view Mr. Trump as an underdog, he is clearly beset by his own party powers-that-be, as well as his opposing party and the media both left and right. It is difficult not to root for such a knight clanking clumsily about in his rusty armor, such a strange American hero disguised in rich man’s clothing. For our knights since the time of Arthur and Lancelot are supposed to be gallant and polite. Our heroes are supposed to be in rags. The riches are ordained to come later, after the conquest, like trophies. Mr. Trump is a curious hero appearing on the American scene. He is rich and he is unpolished. Upper classes call such persons “boors.” They are embarrassed by him.

America is not a monarchy and because her people are fighters in both word and deed, they have saved the disintegrating, nominal Western monarchies from foreign occupation. Essentially, America has fought their wars, rescued them. And so when I see the upper crust in Britain and France bemoan our gutter candidates, looking down at such American roughnecks, I wonder at their grasp of reality, their knowledge of history. Remember World War II? Remember the London bombing? Remember Dunkirk? Remember the Holocaust threatening Britain?

The world is affected by America’s national elections. We make a difference in the balance of power, and how we structure our elections matters immensely. While I’m not a fan of the electoral college, I understand its history and the place of state’s rights. As a conservative in California my vote has rarely counted in Presidential elections. I would like to see more enfranchisement and less disenfranchisement. I would like to see, as Mr. Trump would like to see, a complete overhaul of the electoral system.

I would like to see a more honest media, both left and right. I have read again and again allusions to Mr. Trump’s invective against Muslims, Mexicans, and women. The “invective” as I recall regarding Muslims, while poorly stated, called for a temporary ban on non-citizen Muslims entering our country until the borders were better secured against terrorists. Makes sense to me. The “invective” regarding Mexicans, again poorly stated, called for building a wall to keep the drug traffic out and to require all immigrants to enter legally and obey our laws once here. Makes sense to me. The “invective” regarding women, while again poorly stated, concerned a reaction to the slurs against his wife by the Cruz campaign. Makes sense to me.

Mr. Trump does not yet have my vote, such as it is. I am concerned, as many are, as to whom he will nominate to the Supreme Court. I am concerned about religious liberty and compromises he might make with Congress, in his deal making. But then, candidates promise all kinds of things and don’t deliver. This we know. At least he isn’t making specific false promises.

I believe that if America is made strong again, both militarily and economically, many problems will be solved or slowly dissolve. But without a strong military and a robust economy we will not be able to survive the many invasions across our borders that will destroy our culture, silencing our freedoms. Tyranny will reign, and those polished monarchies across the seas with their good manners will not send us aid, for they will have been silenced by sharia law.

It might be the time to elect a bumbling bear of a fighter, an unpolished knight in rusty armor. Perhaps he can improve his manners, polish his act. Perhaps he can be more “presidential” as his wife has urged him to be.

It might be the time to elect a strongman to protect the weak, a strongman who celebrates law, freedom, and the rule of the people. Ineffective leadership at this crossroads in our nation’s history will invite an even stronger regime from outside or from within. Americans want peace at home and abroad, but do they want marshal law, curfews, and a police state? History tells us, in the midst of anarchy, such an answer lurks in the shadows.

Let us celebrate and honor all of our candidates, for America truly has an embarrassment of riches, so many highly qualified men and women of varying ethnicities. The debate has been enriching, informing, and has awakened a sleeping giant, millions of voters paying attention. We are showing the world our greatest strength is our people. We are showing the world we are unafraid of confrontation, of free speech, and of searching for the truth. We may stumble and bumble and even be unmannerly but we will always fight to keep our Camelot democratic and free.

Americans and Mr. Trump

voteIn considering the remarkable Trump phenomenon, I watch and I wonder, trying to understand his massive appeal. He seems trumpeted by those outside our nation’s elites – academia, media, politics, wealth.

Those folks outside these exclusive national clubs may not have succeeded as they hoped they would. The American Dream didn’t happen to them or they didn’t have the resources to make it happen. They didn’t make it (for whatever reason) to the top universities to sail into teaching or law or medicine. They couldn’t compete in the world of journalism and publishing and Hollywood, perhaps because of appearance or opinion or luck. They didn’t run for office because of quiet temperament or lack of desire, or the inability to pivot, preach, or promise with fingers crossed. And lastly they didn’t have the financial backing and courage to go into business and take risks, compete for their market share, broker deals so that others would lose and they would win. In the end, they perhaps weren’t competitive, and were happy to allow others do the competing, fight the fight, and provide products at competitive prices.

What does this group who trumpets Mr. Trump do for a living? I haven’t studied the stats but my guess is that they are proudly working class, sometimes working at several jobs, counting on their spouse to do the same. They watch their children bullied in school and on sidewalks and graduating unable to read and not knowing why America is great. All they want is public safety, good schools, and protection from tyrants at home and abroad. Freedom of speech and worship are taken for granted. They work hard, pay their taxes, and wonder why the schools are on lockdown and they can’t own a gun to protect their families and their pastor is going to jail for preaching from the Bible. 

They don’t have the time to study the issues. They aren’t schooled in the national debt and what it means for our future and our children’s future and even national defense. Many don’t understand that growing government means raising taxes or cutting programs. The nuances of numbers require a degree in accounting or economics or at least the time to study the current issues, none of which the working voter has. They are losing their faith in the media’s lockstep endorsements and explanations and they look to someone who says what they mean and mean what they say in words that make sense.

All the while we are seriously threatened by those who hate our freedom, outside our borders and within. We are not only threatened internationally but by homegrown terrorists in gun-free zones and by fellow citizens who would disallow people of faith to practice their beliefs. We are threatened by the dominant culture of self: selfishness, sloth, lust, envy, greed, gluttony, and arrogance, all vices that encourage self-pitying grievance and frivolous lawsuits crippling our courts. We are threatened by the strong who rob and kill the weak in dark alleys and bright abortion clinics.

Mr. Trump says, enough! And the disenfranchised hear him. They understand his message. And as I watch Mr. Trump in the debates what strikes me is his simplicity. A tad arrogant, to be sure, but clear and compelling.

I worked my way through college when college degrees meant something, and today have the rare opportunity, the time, to study issues and candidates, but I still feel incompetent to judge the complicated questions that will make or break our country. It makes sense that the Supreme Court shouldn’t be legislating new law,  but rather interpreting the Constitution. And it makes sense that our three branches of government serve to check and balance one another so that we the people are protected from tyranny. After all, we fought a revolution about that once, as I recall from fifth-grade Social Studies. The First Amendment is still a good idea, or I wouldn’t be allowed to write this or worship as I choose, at least as of this writing.

What I don’t like about Mr. Trump is his apparent arrogance, but perhaps he hasn’t been coached as well as the others on the art of image. He changes his opinions on the issues, but he says he’s learning as he goes. He often speaks in hyperbole, but the media (conservatives and liberals singing together) treats his simplifications as lies. They seem to enjoy misunderstanding his statements even as they reap huge ratings from them which means, of course, huge advertising dollars. When does exaggeration misrepresent one’s position? When Mr. Trump, for example, said he would like to see worse torture than waterboarding I assumed he meant within the law, that he would work to see the law changed. Many presidents work to see the law changed, some work legally and some don’t. Somehow I trust Mr. Trump to work legally, not like others we all know.

Mr. Trump is unpolished. His words are unpolished like many voters. He is a straight-shooter if it is safe to use a shooting analogy. But he listens and he learns and in spite of it all I trust him.

I’m not sure who I’m voting for. I’m undecided, although I will vote for the Republican nominee in the General Election. By the time the primaries get to California there won’t be too many candidates left standing. I long ago studied the two parties, trusting principles over people, and decided that the greatest good for the greatest number was represented by the Republicans. The greatest danger remains clear and present in the history of the last century when Hitler, Stalin, and Mao slaughtered close to 100 million in their totalitarian regimes. Big government stifles freedom and smothers the poor. It curtails creativity and hampers hope. It rewards those who promote bigger government, a self-perpetuating enterprise.

I will vote for the candidate that will work to keep America safe, ensuring our freedom and our future and our children’s future. I will vote for the candidate that will protect my right to worship, to speak, and to defend myself and my family. I will vote for the candidate that understands the need for an educated electorate, beginning with fifth-grade History, Economics, and Civics.

And I will vote for the candidate that sees America as exceptional, a beacon to the world, so that we can welcome more legal immigrants into our national family. They will, to be sure, add their own time and talent and treasure to our unique land of opportunity. Let’s build that border wall so that our laws can be enforced, so that no-one cuts in line. This is America, a land of liberty and justice for all, not just for some.

I have to thank Mr. Trump, for his energy, enthusiasm, and simple rhetoric, albeit sometimes harsh to the ear, has captured the national attention. Voters are listening. Voters are voting. They are taking their place in our exceptional history.

Crying for Paris

Paris MapThe horrific attacks in Paris this week brought home once again the precarious nature of our freedoms. 

And so we cry for France and the rest of Europe, so vulnerable with porous borders, weak military, costly social welfare, and alarming inclusivity. 

As the daughter of England, America looks to France, and all of Europe, with anguish and tears. America was birthed by the English, explored by the French, settled by the Spanish, and later enriched by Germans, Italians, Irish, East Indians, Africans, Asians and many others. America has gloried in inclusivity, insisting this great experiment in democracy will after all succeed. Yet, in the last fifty years it is showing signs of serious failure. 

Since her birth, America has welcomed all who escaped to her sanctuary of sacred space, of liberty and life and the peaceful pursuit of happiness. All who came desired safety and a chance to live a better life in which to raise their children. Some sought life itself. This stream of grateful immigrants continues, legal and illegal, crossing borders, running around and over borders, desperate to get in. 

As America grew in strength and wealth, she defended England and the countries of Europe, as any good son or daughter would defend their family from harm. She became a force for good, sometimes through might, sometimes through love of all humanity, usually well intentioned. 

But as Europe aged she grew complacent about defense, counting on America’s strength. Americans looked across the seas to Europe’s villages and history, her cobbled streets, her quaint ways, her saints, her cathedrals, her vineyards and her civilized way of life. We were wealthy and could afford a military that could defend the free world, protect our Western Civilization. Europe rested, relaxing borders. With American might, Europe could afford generous social welfare programs. She could house, feed, nurse, and school all who crossed into her lands, even those who broke her laws. Giving and giving, Europe self-righteously distributed her benevolence. Americans, those coarse fellows across the sea, could provide troops as necessary. 

But no longer. A little like Robin Hood, America robbed from her defense to protect her domestic welfare. She too wanted to feel self-righteous, to “care” as Europe cared. To pay for these programs, programs that buy votes, the CIA was cut and we were attacked on 9-11-01 in New York. To pay for these programs, the military budget was cut and policies of disengagement and “dialog” with our enemies were preferred over shows of strength. 

Islamic State took notice. And so, the barbarians are no longer at the gates. They are here. Living among us, networking their creeds of jihad. National boundaries no long keep the bad guys out. They keep them in. 

It has been predicted by many that Europe as we know or knew it is over. Demographics prophesy that France will be a Muslim state within the next decade, and a sharia state soon after. Put simply, free French are not having children; sharia French are. The same could be said for England. 

In America we are teaching our surviving children to hate our culture, its history, its freedoms. They will not be a generation interested in protecting us. 

In America we rob our children of religious faith and leave them to wander in a nihilistic desert. They will fill this void and find meaning in a Facebook network of suicide warriors. 

In America we slaughter our unborn and euthanize our aged, blinded in our selfishness, not seeing that we are assisting in America’s own suicide. 

But in spite of all the wars and rumors of wars, all the fear on city streets, all the anguish in the once glorious city of light, we hope and do not despair. Those who can see are seeing for others. Those who can teach our children the truth are teaching them the truth. Those who can pray are praying. 

We prayed for Paris this morning in our little chapel in Berkeley. And I prayed that the eyes of the West have been briefly opened, hopefully long enough to change course, to destroy this cancerous evil spreading through the free world. We need a strong America again, one clear-eyed and courageous, yet humble enough to sacrifice for others. We need to wave the flag and revive old-fashioned patriotism.

We need an America that will defend the streets of Paris, once again showing the world and its tyrants that we will ensure peace through strength.

Heroes on a Train to Paris

flagAs news came of the heroic actions of three Americans aboard an Amsterdam-Paris train last week, many voiced admiration and relief that yes, heroes still exist in today’s world. Granted two of the men were off-duty military. Still, civilians also braved the danger, risking their lives. We are proud to be Americans once again, proud to do the right thing at the right time, proud to be heroic, risking all. We wonder if, after all, virtue does exist and might even be alive and breathing. Virtue might even be something we should teach our children. Are ideals making a comeback?

Perhaps the antihero of the last fifty years is not such a wise role model.

The antihero has formed today’s sensibilities through the arts, literature, and media. In real life he has banded together with other antiheroes to form collectives, grievance groups quick to take offense and to demand entitlements. In stories, these characters are often morose, turned inward, bored with life, and anti-authority on principle. They are narcissistic, nihilistic, without direction. They do not possess moral qualities once called “virtues.” These victims blame the system and society, never themselves. Publishers have promoted the antihero, finding readers desiring validation.

The intent to produce and market antiheroes is actually a noble one, ironically, even perhaps a heroic one, encouraging one to empathize with the least in our society – those hurt by race, crime, drugs, divorce, poverty. We want our children to care (and rightly),  but we give them dark novels with stories of rape, incest, and pederasty. In time, literature’s antiheroes, instead of becoming nobler and overcoming adversity, became darker, more ignoble. Novels must increase the terror and degradation, so that sexual sadism and violence towards women spans fifty shades of grey, with relative degrees of darkness, legitimizing the prurient experience.

Without ideals, standards of virtue, even right and wrong, the bar of civilized culture plummets. Civilization fragments and spills into a bestial world we call barbarism.

I was thinking about heroes and their welcome return to the public square when I came across Bret Stephens’ lovely column this week in the Wall Street Journal, “The Gifts of a Teacher.” In this tribute to Mrs. Amy Kass, his Literature professor at the University of Chicago, he describes how we have too many choices in our modern world. Mrs. Kass could see this and saw her vocation as one giving structure and direction to the chaos of those choices. In the past society supplemented law, adding morality, manners, and tradition. Today, we have no such rules, or few of them, so that students in those formative years of schooling that should move them from adolescence into adulthood often flail about undirected.

It was Mrs. Kass’s role to provide a framework of living through the great stories of an earlier time. As Mr. Stephens writes, “Jane Austen still offers the best advice on dating. Aristotle still has the last word on friendship.” The stories considered how to ennoble life, what and how to dream, how to grow a great heart and soul. Simply pondering how others answered, “What is the good life?”, a question I recall from my own two years of Western Civilization, is a start.

We need to train our children to be heroes in all walks of life, to be self-sacrificial rather than self-aggrandizing. We used to do this, assuming it was a necessary education for adulthood. Perhaps we should return to the old ways.

There is a morning prayer in our Anglican Book of Common Prayer that speaks of God’s service as “perfect freedom.” God gives us rules, a framework in which to live. He provides a recipe for happiness, rules for the road as it were. When we serve him we follow those rules, or try to. Once we learn the rules (like riding a bike perhaps) we have plenty of freedom, many choices within the frame of God’s law (we can ride all over the place). That is what we call free will: God… whose service is perfect freedom.

Just so, a culture (through government, schools, churches, temples), to survive, must provide a framework of ideals in which we can live our best lives, pursue our greatest happiness. Mr. Stephens describes the problem of choices without limit:

“We can satisfy our desires, but we have trouble recognizing our longings. We can do as we please but find it difficult to figure out what truly pleases us, or what we really ought to do. Limitless choice dissipates the possibility of fully realizing the choices we make, whether in our careers or communities or marriages. There’s always the chance that something (or someplace, or someone) better is lurking around the corner.”

The heroes on the train knew immediately what they needed to do and they did it. I pray that America’s teachers embrace the honorable and heroic role with which they are entrusted, just as Mrs. Kass did, giving students a framework for figuring out life, how to choose what’s right and what’s wrong, what to do and what not to do, when and where. Such an education will put our culture back on track.

Thank you, Mrs. Kass, and thank you, Mr. Stephens. Thank you, National Guard Specialist Alek Skarlatos, Airman First Class Spencer Stone, and Mr. Anthony Sadler. It is good to remember who we are and who we can become.

The Road Taken

american-flag-2a2So much depends on the road taken, or not taken. 

The last I read that there were twenty-two Republican candidates for president and two Democrats. The year should prove interesting. Let the debates begin. 

And now that the Supreme Court has clearly usurped the legislative function of government in Obergefell v. Hodges, and our future president may appoint judges to this august bench, the election is one that will change the course of our nation for good or ill. 

It is a time to pay attention, and for voters to consider who will keep our country free, who will protect our people from international and domestic terrorists, who will protect the individual from the state and individuals from each other. Who best will honor American ideals, those perfect standards, those road signs that show us our destination, where we want to go, who we want to be, and the road we must take to get there? 

So much depends on the rule of law, our attitude toward that great body of do’s and don’ts codified and built upon past law. Do we respect the commands of government, the demands of the commons for the common good? Do we respect those who enforce those laws: police and courts, juries and justices, attorneys and jailers? Without common law, and without respect for its ordering and its enforcers, we have no future. Without equality under that law, the law that we the people have legislated, we will collapse from within. Like a rotting apple in a barrel, the cancer of lawlessness will spread and devour us. 

So much depends on our care for the poor, those poor in spirit or flesh, our neighbors in city and country. We are called to look after the least of these, for they are a part of our national body, our e pluribus unum, for from many we are one. We must care for each other by supporting those institutions that build hospitals and schools, that open soup kitchens, those saintly groups that brave inner cities to kiss lepers and teach children and bind wounds of the brokenhearted. Government cannot do these things. Churches and temples, and perhaps other private charities, enterprises of love, can best do these things. 

So much depends on integrity, an integral term rarely used today and nearly forgotten. Integrity comes from the Latin integretas, meaning soundness, wholeness, blamelessness, the quality of practicing what one preaches so that one is integrated, without and within. Actions match words. Integers are whole numbers, and integrity is wholeness, wholesomeness, health. Of course no one is perfect in word or deed, but some care more about trying to live lives of integrity than others. They see the ideal, the road that must be taken to get there, the goal for which we must strive. They pay attention to their conscience. They recognize corruption; they can see it taking root like a fast-growing weed. 

So much depends on natural law, that ancient communal sense of right and wrong governing marriage, family, and children, the unborn and the aged, euthanasia and slavery. Civilizations have known the rights and wrongs of how to get along. They have sensed that certain ways, or paths, are better than others to survive as a species, our humanity considered precious. They have been concerned to identify how such ways affect the common good, affect the human heart, affect the conscience. 

Someone once said that the first time a person steals he feels guilty. The second time he steals he finds an excuse to rationalize the theft; the guilt is lessened. The third time he steals, he feels no guilt. His heart has become inured, hardened and his humanity lessened. Perhaps this is reflected in the recent video of the woman discussing the sale of baby body parts while eating a salad. It is all too easy to no longer react humanely to acts of horror. It is all too easy to be proud of what had once been unthinkable. It is all too easy to send the undesirables to a concentration camp. It is all too easy to dismember babies in utero. 

The presidential debates, one of the glories of our democracy, will show us ourselves, who we are and where we should go. We may glimpse integrity or we may see only bravado and corruption. Where we go from here will make a difference in our lives, in the life of every one of us. Let’s pay attention to our candidates, what they say, how they say it, and the ideals they embody. 

So much depends on the road taken.

Good Fences Make Good Neighbors

u.s.mapLast week we celebrated the twenty-fifth anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall. This week we worry about building a wall along our southern border high enough and in time enough to stop the flood of illegal immigrants. And we worry about a president who disregards our laws.

Walls wall people out, and they wall people in. The Berlin Wall, a part of the “iron curtain” separating the Communist East from the free West, walled people in, imprisoning them. The purpose of the border is key. The quality of freedom and the degree of tyranny on either side is key.

America, as a free society, allows freedom of travel, albeit with the legal documents to do so, documents that protect not only the traveler, but the citizenry at home and abroad. We cross borders and checkpoints, and walls seem to disappear for legal American citizens. Those of us fortunate enough to be born here must never take this for granted. Those of us who have come here legally will, to be sure, never take it for granted. Those who crossed our borders illegally however have harmed both themselves and us, for the rule of law, our justice system, is integral to America’s very definition. Illegals would not be coming to America if it were otherwise. But their breaking of our law has also harmed those legal immigrants who have waited in line patiently. Their breaking of our law has harmed the millions of law-abiding workers whose wages are challenged by an influx of a low-cost and illegal labor force.

I have found in my sixty-seven years on this earth, that personal walls are useful parameters in my life. We call such walls self-discipline. I build walls around my time, boxing in an hour to write this blog post on a Sunday afternoon, imprisoning an occasional day to write a another scene in The Fire Trail, my novel-in-progress, or fencing in a morning to worship God in church.

I don’t always feel like going to church. I confess there are often other things I would rather be doing. But my time wall tells me it’s time, it’s Sunday, and since this wall is one of the Ten Commandments, I had better have a good reason for breaking this commandment. I don’t always feel like writing this blog, but see it as a good discipline, an exercise in words, rather like my stretching exercises each morning. Who wants to exercise? We do it because we know we will feel better, that we will prevent injury by strengthening muscles and pumping the heart. If we ignore this time wall, we hurt ourselves.

Likewise, when I skip Sunday worship I don’t feel as happy as when I honor the Sabbath. A friend once said to me that there are no mentions of happiness in the Bible. I wondered about that. It turns out that each time the word blessed is used, it can be translated as happy. The difference seems to be that blessed means that the happiness is a gift from God, rather than happiness self-induced through drugs or a good dinner or any of the short-term highs we laud today.

So building that wall around Sunday morning, i.e. reserving that time for worship of God with his people, the Body of Christ, makes me blessedly happy all week. I’ve also found that morning prayers bless each day, and evening prayers bless me with a good sleep. I often tell insomniacs to try reciting the psalms… the rhythm, the worship, the letting go of oneself in the pool of God’s love is very relaxing. The best way to sleep is to let go of your self.

When I ignore those daily and weekly boundaries of time, I find a curious unease settling around my heart, as though I have starved my spirit. Studies have recently shown that church-goers are less likely to be depressed. How true.

Since the sixties, our culture has torn down boundaries and mocked moral discipline, has destroyed all kinds of walls. Deviancy has been defined down; crime has risen. Standards of dress, behavior, academics, work, and many other areas of social interaction have sought to be inclusive so that no one be offended by beauty, truth, goodness, excellence or wealth. Our culture has mainstreamed variation, including everyone in one main stream. When this happens, when walls no longer define excellence, when borders no longer define truth, goodness, and beauty, their edges smudge and we find ourselves living in a tepid gray area along with everyone else… wearing the uniform of sexless comrades in a steely city, a dystopia growing more familiar each day.

It is as though we have mistaken inclusivity and warm-heartedness for love. But God’s love, true love, loves the uniqueness of each created being, warts and all. He sees into the dark corners of our hearts; he wants to teach us how to love as he has loved and will always love; he wants us to clean out those dark places and let his light in. And so he arranged for each one of us to be created through an act of love, a union of two unique persons, complementary in gender and unique in genes, and thus we are wondrously born to be only ourselves. We can be no other. Love rejoices in these differences, doesn’t deny and merge them, hoping they will disappear in a gray land without borders.

And as we rejoice in our human differences, whether they be race, gender, beauty, or talent, let us also rejoice in the borders defining our nation, a land that is just and free, boundaries that celebrate legal crossings and prosecute illegal ones. This is the America that immigrants desire. This is the America we are proud of. This is the America we are honored to fight for in a world of shadows and merging grays.

In Robert Frost’s poem “Mending Wall,” the narrator repairs a common-border wall with his neighbor, who states, “Good fences make good neighbors.” The poet considers what this means, asking,

Why do they make good neighbors…
Before I built a wall I’d ask to know
What I was walling in or walling out
And to whom I was like to give offense.

His neighbor doesn’t consider why, just repeats his slogan. But Mr. Frost is right, it is good to answer where and why we build walls, consider who’s outside and who’s inside and possible offenses caused by our defenses, for there are good reasons.

Let us build a just wall along the borders of our nation that will  no longer invite illegal entry. Let us encourage those already here illegally to become legal through due process and to stand in line like everyone else. And let us keep the wall repaired to protect us all. Let us be good neighbors.

The Land of the Free

american-flag-2a2As I watched the children running through the grass, clutching strings tied to red and blue and white balloons, I was thankful once again to be an American, to live in this land of the free. The burgers were grilling, the buns waiting to be slathered with mustard and catsup. Folks mingled and chatted, then scooted onto wooden picnic benches. It was our annual church picnic, enjoyed this year on Fourth of July weekend.

And so far, the last I heard, we are still the land of the free. As I watched the children, I thought as I often do, how law protects us, allowing these children to run with such abandon and joy. I then recalled a few lines from the movie A Man for All Seasons, where Sir Thomas More challenges the thinking of his son-in-law Will Roper:

Roper:  So now you’d give the Devil benefit of law!

More:  Yes. What would you do? Cut a great road through the law to get after the Devil?

Roper:  I’d cut down every law in England to do that!

More:  Oh? And when the last law was down, and the Devil turned ’round on you, where would you hide, Roper, the laws all being flat? This country’s planted thick with laws from coast to coast– man’s laws, not God’s– and if you cut them down—and you’re just the man to do it—do you really think you could stand upright in the winds that would blow then? Yes, I’d give the Devil benefit of law, for my own safety’s sake.

Our national Independence Day is a time to reflect on who we are as Americans, the stuff we are made of, the values for which we fight, suffer, and die. And while freedom from tyranny comes to mind, considering how our fledgling family of thirteen colonies protested British taxation, I usually return to the principle of law and order, something we happily inherited from British common law.

We have inherited a great deal from Britain in spite of our young rebellion over two hundred years ago: language, literature, philosophy and religion; traditions, secular and sacred; the desire for monarchy as seen in our icons, political and cultural; freedom of speech, especially in the media, freedom of thought and belief; the rights of property and families and individuals.

On July 4, 1776, in the “unanimous Declaration of the thirteen united States of America” we held certain truths to be self-evident: that all men were created equal, that God has given them the right of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness, and that governments derive their power from the people, from the consent of the governed. And so to guarantee these truths, to protect the great heritage we received from Britain, and to thus ensure a peaceful democracy, the young union of States constituted a body of law.

Our nation would have not survived, will not survive, without the rule of law. Without laws, we, like young Roper, would have no protection from tyranny in all its forms, in all areas of our national life.

But changing the law is a tedious process. Perhaps this is wise, helping to ensure good laws. But we are a nation of do-ers, and we become impatient. We march with banners and placards year after year before the White House or the Supreme Court or Capitol Hill to challenge a 1973 law considered immoral and deadly not only to the individual and the unborn, but to our cultural climate as well. Killing the innocent, some of us cry, begets more killing of the innocent. Please change this law, we say with our signs and heartfelt tears.

We look to government to lead us and to govern with our consent. We demand they too be law abiding, knowing that if our governors are corrupt, so will be their governing. We demand of them what the law demands of us.

Internationally we are the saviors of the world. Immigrants throng to and over our borders, determined to touch and taste America, scrabbling over fences, tunneling under boundaries. Confident in America’s salvation, they give away their children, hoping they will have will have a better life, a peaceful life, or simply life itself. They are desperate, for they see us and other Western nations, as we truly are, the bearers of law and order, the protectors of freedom, the guarantors of peace.

And yet, they too must realize somewhere deep within that to break the law is to break America. To loosen and lessen, bend and broaden without the consent of the people is to invite disorder. And disorder leads to anarchy which demands, even welcomes, the bully, the tyrant, the one who promises to restore order, at a price. In America, these immigrants know as do we, that cutting ahead in line is unfair, simply wrong. And Americans are fair; they desire to right the wrongs.

So this year, this Fourth of July, 2014, I am thankful our nation is still undivided and that we still form a more perfect union, even if imperfect. I am thankful that our separation of powers (Congress, Courts, Presidency) though threatened, may right itself in the future. I am thankful that outrage may still be penned, if penned respectfully (with due regard to libel and slander), that the press’s freedoms are not always misused, that debate and dissent still breathes (although barely) in our land. I am especially thankful for the courageous men and women who fight for us, for our freedoms.

I am glad that God is not dead as has been pronounced, and that respect for all beliefs is honored if not always practiced.

I’m glad, too, that I for one do not take America for granted. I see her as exceptional, enlightened, and great. The rest of the world sees her this way, as a shining light that will not go out, a beacon on a hill. She may not be perfect, but she values life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. She rules with the consent of her people, a nation of rules that protects dissent as well.

And now as I write, I see in my mind (and my heart) the children running freely through the grass, their colorful balloons flying high.

Happy Birthday, America.

On Angels and Devils and Holy Confirmation

I recently finished a book called Raising a Modern Day Knight: A Father’s Role in Guiding His Son to Authentic Manhood, by Robert Lewis. One of the many valuable suggestions in this unique and compelling work is the creation of ceremonies that celebrate stages of maturity. These ceremonies are not merely for father and son, but for communities of fathers and sons. They serve to give the young man self-knowledge, ideals, and support.

Ceremonies marking rites of passages are not new to mankind, but with the disintegration of American culture, ceremonies are often overlooked. It seems that there was a time when the many cultures that formed our union melted into the pot we called America. Not so much anymore, as we shift to encourage multi-culturism, which whether intended or not, affirms division rather than union. It is true that our many ethnic threads strengthen us and richly texture our nation. But being a naturally inclusive and friendly people, we have chosen a celebration of division, so that what defines America – both internationally and domestically – has become increasingly difficult to state.

This morning when we celebrated Holy Confirmation in our parish church, I was thankful for this moment of definition. The bishop laid his hands upon the heads of the confirmands as they knelt on the steps leading to the altar. As Anglican-Catholics, we believe that Confirmation marks publicly the moment when children become adults in the Church. For adult confirmands it marks a new adulthood in the Church, as they witness to their beliefs. The younger confirmands are asked to confirm the promises that were made for them as infants in Baptism. They are of an age of reason, no longer children, and they can promise with understanding. “Do  you promise to follow Jesus Christ as your Lord and Saviour?” the bishop asks them. The bishop then prays that they be strengthened by the Holy Ghost, the Comforter, and that they be given the Holy Ghost’s gifts of grace: wisdom and understanding, counsel and ghostly strength, knowledge and godliness, and lastly, holy fear.

They will need these knightly gifts, I thought, as they live out their faith in a world often hostile to Christianity. They shall don the shield of faith and the armor of righteousness, and the Church, the Body of Christ, shall comfort and nurture them throughout their lives, through marriage, childbirth, sickness, even in their dying. God shall never abandon them. As a shepherd he shall lead them beside still waters. He shall restore their souls.

It was particularly fitting, on this bright Sunday morning as September gives way to October, that we celebrated these Confirmations, these confirmings of faith and receivings of the Holy Ghost, on the feast day of St. Michael and All Angels. As the lector read from Holy Scripture, we heard the account of the great war in heaven when Michael the Archangel threw out Lucifer and his angels. “The great dragon was cast out, that old serpent, called the Devil, and Satan, which deceiveth the whole world: he was cast out into the earth and his angels were cast out with him… And they overcame him by the blood of the Lamb, and by the word of their testimony… Woe to the inhabiters of the earth and of the sea! for the devil is come down unto you, having great wrath, because he knoweth that he hath but a short time.” (Revelation 12:7+)

Angels and devils are not common beliefs today. We might speak of angels whimsically as though reliving the fairy tales of our childhood. But devils are definitely not the stuff of acceptable conversation. Yet Scripture affirms their existence. Demons are said to be angels – pure spirits created separately from mankind – who have rebelled against God and now are given a span of time to scurry among the people of the earth, wreaking havoc where they can and undoing the good that is being done.

The good angels, however, are with us too, and we can call upon them. They are all around us, if welcome. And Confirmation – that affirmation of faith in Jesus Christ – welcomes them. These angels help us to be modern-day knights. They guide us on our journey on earth as we head to heaven. At times, I believe, they protect us from bodily harm. Dear friends of mine recently survived a rear-end collision, emerging from their totaled sedan shaken but, it turns out, having suffered only minor wounds. Angels were there, I am sure, as the drunk driver slammed into their car, stopped at a red light. Angels took some of the brunt of that crash.

So with ceremony and prayer and song, with ritual and the dance of the Eucharist, we re-affirm who we are, what we are, where we are going. We re-affirm to whom we belong, and with the company of the angelic host we are given our own wings to heaven. With the gifts of the Holy Ghost we are embraced by the Body of Christ.