Tag Archives: freedom

Let Freedom Ring

Declaration of IndependenceMy husband and I are usually early to Mass, early to everything for that matter. This morning was no exception as we entered the spacious nave of our local parish church.

I was glad to be early, for the organ soon sounded a lilting prelude. The time is a precious one, the fifteen minutes in this gentle quiet, a hushed time that settles my heart and mind. It is a quarter of an hour that bridges the rushing noise of the world outside with the sacred space of the church inside. It bridges chattering thoughts demanding attention with silence and melody. Time enters eternity in this brief segment of time and I wanted eternity to enter my soul.

Today, especially, this Third of July, I wanted to pray extra thanks for tomorrow, the Fourth of July. I opened our Book of Common Prayer and began reading the Psalms appointed for this day, kneeling on the cushioned kneeler and glancing up to the bright chancel before me.

A worn red carpet led to the chancel steps and on to the marble altar and white-draped tabernacle. Bouquets of red, white, and blue carnations shared the altar with gilded candlesticks and flaming tapers. The red brick apse caught some of the morning light shafting from the skylights, light that illuminated the medieval wooden crucifix. The red, white, and blue, the band of light descending, the American flag draped to the left all seemed to express truth, beauty, and goodness.

As my eyes rested on the flag, I recalled why I was giving thanks.

Every Eucharist (Greek for thanksgiving) is a prayer-song of thanks, an offering of praise and glory to God for his great gifts, including freedom, and today was one of many Sunday thanksgivings. But Independence Day, remembered in our Prayer Book, is when church and state unite, for our church would not be here without the protection of the state.

True, history tells us that we are celebrating our independence from Great Britain. But the essence of that departure is the freedom to worship as we please. And freedom of worship is the daughter of free speech, free expression within the law. As long as we keep the peace, our Founders reasoned, we could express ourselves freely. Self expression has come to mean many things, but originally America was colonized by those pilgrims fleeing religious persecution. And so we hold this truth to be self-evident, that man should be allowed to worship God as he chooses.         

No longer could the elite dictate to the rest of us, for we Americans declared in writing on July 4, 1776 that, 

“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness… That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed… “

We are created equal by our Creator. We have the right to Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness. We have the right to withdraw or grant our consent to government action. 

The Declaration of Independence led to revolution and the creation of a sovereign nation. In the next years a Constitution and Bill of Rights (first ten amendments) limited government’s powers to those consented by the governed (1789). And so the First Amendment reads: 

“Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.” (Italics mine) 

And so I considered these things, these American things, as I knelt in the pew of our parish church, gazing at the stars and stripes of the flag. I knew such liberties were British too, going back to Magna Carta, but somehow they had been overruled in these American colonies. So, naturally, we expressed our dissent. 

The American flag stood appropriately between pulpit and altar, connecting these two threatened expressions of religion – word and sacrament. For we are men and women who express ourselves in many ways, with five senses, with bodies and minds, hearts and souls. Our Creator gave us imaginations enriching the human community with poetry and art, song and dance, love and longing. We are created whole persons by our Creator, known by him even in the womb, and are made holy by our Creator in Sunday worship. For he too expresses himself imaginatively (we were made in his image), creatively, for each one of us is unique. 

But perhaps the ultimate creative act of our Creator was to give us freedom. For in giving us the choice to love or not to love, he gave us the ability to define the outline of our souls, who we really are, who we desire to be. Free will, the greatest gift of love, opened a world of surprise, a Pandora’s box, allowing evil and suffering, disease and death into our world, so that in our last days, our last breaths, we see two doors, one to death and one to life. And even then we have the freedom to choose. 

I sat back in the polished oak pew and found the processional hymn #279. And as the crucifer and the torchbearers lead the clergy up the worn red carpet, I joined my brothers and sisters in song: “Praise to the Lord the Almighty the King of Creation….” The Mass began, the prayers were prayed, scripture and sermon were sounded, as the Holy Eucharist pulled us into eternity, into Love. 

It was good to be in church today, to celebrate our freedom of religion, to give thanks for our country’s founding. It was good to sing together, just before the sermon, Hymn 141: 

My country,’ tis of thee,  Sweet land of liberty,  Of thee I sing; 

Land where my fathers died,  Land of the pilgrims’ pride,  From every mountainside  Let freedom ring! 

My native country, thee,  Land of the noble free, Thy name I love; 

I love thy rocks and rills,  Thy woods and templed hills;  My heart with rapture thrills,  Like that above. 

Let music swell the breeze,  And ring from all the trees  Sweet freedom’s song; 

Let mortal tongues awake;  Let all that breathe partake;  Let rocks their silence break,  The sound prolong. 

Our fathers’ God, to thee,  Author of liberty, To thee we sing; 

Long may our land be bright With freedom’s holy light; 

Protect us by thy might,  Great God, our King. Amen.

 Samuel Francis Smith, 1832

 Indeed. Let freedom ring!

Why Walls

HADRIAN'S WALL

Hadrian’s Wall

The heatwave in the Bay Area is a dangerous one, for much of the golden grass covering our rolling hills has not yet been plowed under. It doesn’t take much to set it ablaze, and so I’m glad for firebreaks, those borders that protect us from the fires, those walls that keep us safe.

Much has been said about borders and building walls, tall walls, long walls, fortified walls, cyber walls, customs walls, checkpoint walls. Why have walls? Americans like people. We are friendly folk. Why do we need walls?

It goes against our grain to build walls around our country, concrete walls scarring our land. In spite of the media’s assertions to the contrary (and if a lie is repeated it somehow becomes true), Americans are not racists. We found ourselves in the twenty-first century scarred by our shameful history of segregation but accepting, even lauding, integration and equal rights for all. If anything, an inflammatory press keeps the uncivil Civil War alive. And we welcome immigrants of all races, as long as they desire to be Americans and respect our rule of law. And so we build walls, borders, fire trails, to ensure this happens.

We have an iron fence around our property to keep out wild animals, for we live near a state park. Turkeys fly over the fence (it’s a sight to see, a turkey flying) and do their considerably large business on our patio. That is merely annoying, not dangerous. But young bobcats and coyotes squeeze through the iron bars. They would make short work of our cats. They are not friendly, even if cute. I was sad when we fenced our olive trees with green wire to protect them from the deer. Every fall, these bucks rid their adolescent antlers by rubbing them against the trunks, so their adult antlers will grow. The practice reminded me of children and their baby teeth falling out to make room for the permanent ones. And at some point we all must leave childhood behind if we are to become adults.

There are places for fences and walls and I hold, as does the poet Robert Frost’s disagreeable neighbor, that “Good fences make good neighbors.” The narrator in his poem, “Mending Fences,” questions the mending of fences, the building of walls, as not encouraging the true “mending of fences” between people. Many question today. We want to be friendly. We are big-hearted good Americans.

But we need to keep our fences mended, not to keep us in but to keep the coyotes out. President Reagan cried, “Tear down this wall,” for it was a wall that kept people in, imprisoning them, not a wall that kept people out. The why, the purpose, is important. Pope Francis, according to the fiery press, has decried those who build walls. That’s not quite what he meant, but he could have been more specific, more careful in his choice of words with a predatory press at his heels.

Historian Victor Davis Hanson of the Hoover Institution in his syndicated column this last week referred to Hadrian’s Wall that kept the Scots out of Roman Britain: “Rome worked when foreigners crossed through its borders to become Romans. It failed when newcomers fled into the empire and adhered to their own cultures.” Immigration is fine if assimilation is desired, but dangerous if assimilation is shunned. This latter case has been true, it appears to me, with many illegal immigrants crossing our southern border.

Assimilation has also been intentionally avoided by Muslim refugees transplanted by the United Nations, encouraged and supported by “humanitarian” foundations, both religious and secular. These refugees are flown over our borders, placed in rural communities throughout the U.S., towns unprepared for those who disapprove, hate, and fear American culture and freedom. Sharia law replaces American law. But we cannot have two sets of laws. We must be equal under the law. Lady Justice is blind.

Let’s rephrase Mr. Hanson’s excellent and succinct doctrine: “America works when foreigners cross its borders to become Americans. It fails when they cross its borders to adhere to their own culture.” We are a melting pot. We need to melt (at least to a degree).

This is a start, but I would add “when foreigners cross its borders legally.” We have much in common with our Catholic neighbors to the south in terms of faith and culture, for cult produces culture. I believe most Hispanics do assimilate into American life, stabilizing it. We welcome Western cultures who respect freedom. That there are so many immigrants here illegally, that children have been impacted by this national travesty, that there are sanctuary cities allowed, cities that encourage ongoing illegal activity, is a tragedy.

As we head for the California primary on Tuesday, it is gravely unfortunate how the press, both right and left, have misrepresented the desire, indeed the urgent need, to build a wall. They hype hyperbole and invite mob rule. They silence free speech.

We should not be afraid of walls. Walls define who we are. They are a tool. They protect us so that we can thrive, can love one another and live in peace. And America must thrive. She must be the light on the hill, the beacon of hope to a world of lawlessness. She must hold her lantern high, and welcome all who love her law.

I’ve been promoting my new release, The Fire Trail (eLectio Publishing), which is about the border between civilization and barbarism. Lady Liberty commands the cover, but the sun is setting in a fiery sky. Hope is in the lit lantern she holds up to the world. Hope flames in the candles at her feet.

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The Fire Trail is now being carried by Orinda Books and Rakestraw Books as well as online retailers.

I will be doing a reading of The Fire Trail at Curves Walnut Creek (a chapter is based here), Tuesday, June 14, Flag Day at 11 a.m., 1848 Tice Valley Rd., near Rossmoor. Some of the ladies are taking parts and it should be fun. Open to the public. Copies available with a $10 donation to Blue Star Moms East Bay. Come on by!

Uncovering a Cover

Cover Art v2 (Flattened).jpgThis last week I received (and approved) the cover for my new novel, The Fire Trail, to be released by eLectio Publishing May 10. It always astonishes me when I open that email attachment. I am filled with anticipation, then wonder.

Covers cover things, in this case, the interior pages, the real book. I had signed off on the interior galley earlier, having changed a word here and there, having caught some inconsistencies. They say one never finishes writing a book; one merely abandons it. How true. I usually have a sinking feeling when I sign off on a book, for it is like sending one’s child into the great wide world. Twinges of regret will shadow my exuberance over the release, and I shall be nervous to open a copy once published. Like many authors, I am my most demanding critic and shall always see errors to be corrected and changes to be made.

And so as I gazed at the cover of The Fire Trail I asked myself if it was a good representation of the story and its themes, its characters and their arcs, the burning passion that I had seared onto the pages with my words and phrases. The cover shows the sun setting in the west beyond the Statue of Liberty, the orb of fire falling into a dark horizon, with votive candles flaming below.

I suppose it is a truth (possibly trite) universally acknowledged that humans have their own covers hiding their true selves. Does my outward manner reflect my soul or hide it? Is my book to be judged by its cover? Am I am open book, disingenuous, integrated, whole?

Our flesh, our clothing, and our behavior cover and protect us. We are born with bodies and live within them a lifetime. Body and soul are at once separate and united. And yet we have a yearning to reach out, to experience something other, transcendence beyond ourselves. Some of us make this journey with drugs. Some travel into prayer. Some are absorbed by the beauty and truth of music and art, some lost in work and some in play. In fact, being absorbed in anything, be it work, books, movies, or love of another, pulls us out of ourselves. The movement away from self is a relief, a rest, a relaxation. Self absorption is exhausting. This is why, I am told, that a good sleep is more about the rest of the mind than the body. We need a break from ourselves.

As I peer at these words through the windows of my eyes I know that I desire such escape from self. I am blessed to have found rest in God, in worship, in prayer and praise and sacrament. I’m also re-created through beauty, in music, and in nature when it is friendly not deadly. I have found rest too in books and movies that pull me into another world.

As I gaze at my new cover for The Fire Trail, I ask myself, do the images invite me inside? Just so, our outward demeanors sometimes belie rather than reflect our inward states. Sometimes they protect the inner person with layers of sophistication, sophistry, fads, political-correctness, the zeitgeist of today. Sometimes it is frightening to drop the mask, the public persona, to be open, honest, and loving.

The Fire Trail referenced in the title of my new novel is a firebreak in the Berkeley hills that many walkers and runners enjoy for the panoramic views of San Francisco, the bay and its bridges. It’s a path that safeguards civilization from the wilderness, that protects Berkeley and its university from the firestorms that rage through the dry brown grass of the East Bay hills in late summer.

The Fire Trail considers whether the sun is indeed setting over Western civilization, ushering in a new dark age. But the fire of the setting sun is also the fire of burning votives, those prayers that lighten the dark. And the fire of prayer is lit by the burning love of God.

And so today, this last Sunday in Eastertide, Rogation Sunday, we pray for our world. Rogation comes from the Latin rogare, to ask, and we petition God for peace in the world, and the freedom to pray. In prayer, we unite with God’s sacred heart of burning love.

One of the appearances of Christ after his resurrection was on the road to the town of Emmaus. The two disciples who walked with him did not recognize him as Jesus who was crucified and risen from the dead. It was only when Christ breaks bread (recalling the last supper and the Eucharistic body broken) and vanished from them that they knew who he was. They wondered at their own blindness, saying: “Did not our hearts burn within us, while he talked with us by the way, and while he opened to us the scriptures?”

It has been said that when we face the last judgment, we shall either burn with the love of God or be burned by it, for mankind cannot bear too much reality. He must cover himself with anything that will distance himself from real life, from truth and even beauty. C.S. Lewis in The Great Divorce, a story about the irreconcilable distance between Heaven and Hell, describes the blades of grass in Heaven that will cut our tender feet if we are not made more real in our earthly journey, more full of the love of God.

And so we uncover our hearts and minds and souls, open them wide to God’s love – in history and in the present – so that we may infuse our culture with his law and liberty, peace and transcendence. Such experience of truth and beauty will make us more real, faith warriors able to protect our culture from the barbaric and deadly, so that that fiery setting sun will rise again, revealing a new day.

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.

Wonderful Words

birdIt’s been a week of words, words, words, and more words. 

Some words were heated such as those between Mr. Trump and Mr. Cruz in the Republican debates. Some words were measured and thoughtful, such as those of Mr. Carson and earlier Ms. Fiorina in those same debates on Thursday. If words had trajectories, the former words were missiles launched; the latter words were birds circling and weaving.

I’ve been thinking about words and their power, particularly this last week of Epiphanytide when the Church celebrates the Word made incarnate in Bethlehem, Christ manifested to us, the world, the Word alight in the darkness. 

Words continue to light the dark, to beam bright epiphanies into despair and loss and confusion. Words comfort and heal and explain and judge. They forgive. They love.

The Bible is called the Word of God, and I’m glad the Gideons still supply hotels with free copies in nightstand drawers. The Gideons, a society of Christian businessman formed in 1899, has distributed over two billion copies of the Bible in two hundred countries in one hundred languages, today printing eighty million copies a year. Lately I’ve noticed the Bibles sitting alongside the Book of Mormon and sometimes the Teaching of Buddha. I wondered about the rarity of the Koran in these rooms but understand there is a concern about disrespect. One imam said that Muslims don’t need a copy of the Koran for they have memorized the first chapter, prayed five times a day.

It is good there are other faiths represented in these nightstands. Inclusivity protects the Bibles from the charge of exclusivity when guests complain of religion in their room. Americans are a freedom-loving people. We believe in freedom of religion, freedom of speech, freedom of thought and conscience. It is why we debate conscientious issues before choosing our president. It is why we fearlessly use heated words, or words launched like missiles across a stage toward our opponent, missiles targeting other words.

I enjoy the politically incorrect Republican debates. They show that America still has a pulse, her arteries are flowing, her heart beating, in her celebration of free expression. Some pundits have complained there are too many candidates in the field, but I laud the number. Let us encourage this multi-faceted discussion and be proud of the raucous, boisterous conversation. Let us appreciate the talented and articulate candidates who give of their time, talent, and treasure, of varying gender and generation, race and ethnicity. This is America at its best. This is how we elect our governors.

And we use words, words, words. Let them fly through the air, circle and weave, and come home to roost in our hearts and minds. Let the words win and lose, as they become forged in debate, fired by truth.

Lots of words. I’ve been sorting our late bishop’s words, his sermons, scrutinizing the yellow lined pages, the brown parched sheets, scraps from hotel stationery scrawled with words, handwritten, prescient ideas pressed onto paper, words written in the purple ink the bishop favored. Staples or  clips join some pages, linking sermons back to 1951, his year of ordination to the priesthood. I’ve come to see an order in the pages, and the words, how they fall naturally into Church Year seasons and feast days within those seasons. There are also speeches given at dedications, ordinations, baptisms, synods, pilgrimages, retreats, and funerals. Dates, places, and occasions are recorded in the pale pencil script of his loving wife. 

Hundreds, thousands, hundreds of thousands of words. “He was a mystic,” a friend said recently. But then, all sacramental Christians are mystical by definition, for we believe in the mystical and mysterious action of the Holy Spirit among us in this hard world of matter. We believe in the mystical change in the bread and wine as the Word once again becomes flesh and dwells not only among us but within us in the Eucharist. We believe in the Spirit mystically flowing through the waters of Baptism and the oils of Unction and the words of absolution given by a priest to a penitent in Confession. The Spirit mystically weaves into the vows of bride and groom as they say committing words before a priest who, in the name of the Body of Christ, blesses their marriage, and the Spirit works mystically through the hands of a bishop in Ordination and Confirmation. 

As I study our bishop’s words, his purple script on yellow paper, I pray that God will enter my mind and heart and speak to me just as he entered my bishop’s mind and heart and spoke to him, that I might share these words bridging heaven and earth, spirit and flesh. One day, God willing, the words will flow onto pages bound into a book to be held and read, words that will instill the greater Word.

This last week, before the political words and the sorting of the words on the yellow lined pages, I sent off my review of Michael D. O’Brien’s Elijah in Jerusalem to CatholicFiction.net. In this end-times novel, Bishop Elijah confronts the Antichrist in Jerusalem. Like his namesake, the Prophet Elijah, Bishop Elijah listens for the still small voice of God. I too am listening for it, hoping to hear those huge words spoken by the little voice, whispering in the stillness of heart and soul. I often observed my bishop listening, listening to all of us with our many words and opinions, hopes and fears, but also listening to something else, someone else, trying to catch the quiet voice that wove among us as well. 

With the many threats at home and abroad, threats to freedom and faith, to liberty and law, let us celebrate free and faithful words, expressions of who we are and who we are meant to be, as Americans, as believers in God who became the Word made flesh.

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.

Licensed to Vote

voteSometimes I think one should be licensed to vote in national elections, perhaps take a test as one is tested for a driver’s license. Each of us wield a powerful tool, the vote, more deadly than any vehicle. We should be responsible with that tool, just as we should be responsible with our vehicles. We must know the rules of the road – the role of government, the history of our country, essentially, Civics 101.

The history of the West is largely the history of Jews and Christians and their systems of right and wrong, codified in time, ways of living together (not always successful) that honor the dignity of every person. We are taught shoulds and oughts. We feel shame and guilt when we should and ought to feel this way. We honor humility, and we dishonor pride. These are mechanisms of change within and without, ways to right our behavior, to become righteous, better people. We confess our sins and we make amendment. We repent, return to the right path. Can a society survive without these habits of living and thinking? Can a society that values self-esteem over self-sacrifice continue as a community? That is the challenge of today’s secular culture.

In many areas of society – government, church, family – I increasingly meet those who want to run away from serious debate, rational reasoning. We are like birds with our heads in the proverbial sand. It is more comfortable to avoid discomfort, to insulate oneself with rosy visions of reality. Who doesn’t want to love everyone and be loved by everyone? Sounds good.

But life is more complicated than that, indeed, survival as a nation is more complicated. One behavior slides toward another. In studying history, whether it be the history of an individual or a nation, we see these patterns and can better predict outcomes from those patterns. We apply that knowledge to current crises and so make better decisions.

In a democracy we citizens need to be educated on the issues. Without an educated electorate electing, choosing candidates and platforms who will determine our nation’s future, democracy becomes a sham and we the people, blindly teeter on the edge of a cliff.

It takes courage to face reality, whether it be the state of our own hearts or the state of the state. Many of us would rather not face facts, just to keep the peace. The price is high, however, as we veer unchecked toward the precipice.

In our nation, we look to educational institutions to educate us, to ensure each generation learns their country’s founding story, as unbiased as possible, through clear lenses rather than filtered through biases of gender or class, race or religion. We look to our schools and universities to foster honest debate, in fact, to teach us how to debate civilly, how to consider the opposite side of an argument. Most importantly, we want to be able to hear criticism and not deem it hate speech, to differ without fearing jail.

There has been a recent trend on university campuses for students to veto invitations to speakers with whom they disagree. So far, among many, Ayaan Hirsi Ali, George Will, and Charles Murray have been invited and disinvited because of the possibility of disagreement among students. For disagreement has become synonymous with hate. Here, on university campuses, where the exchange of free ideas should be encouraged, where the First Amendment right of free speech should be explained and exalted, tyranny of thought and language reigns.

McLaughlin & Associates conducted a survey of attitudes towards free speech on campus, and by wide margins, students desire codes regulating speech for students and faculty, requiring “trigger warnings” in class in case material might be uncomfortable. Might be uncomfortable? I would find the trigger warnings themselves uncomfortable; does that mean there should be triggers for the triggers?

Such absurdity nearly sidesteps the serious harm done to free speech and the dumbing down of an electorate who should be tough on all sides through reason. The gift of reason is unique to our species, one claimed divine and proof of God’s existence, that is, the existence of a reasoning Creator. We think things through, we legislate laws, we judge our fellows innocent and guilty. Courts and their legal systems, rights to defense and trial, separation of powers stemming from Magna Carta and earlier, all are rooted in the remarkable belief that we can reason through our differences, and only in this way can we maintain peace.

That we must train the next generation to do the same, to carry on this great tradition of Western civilization, seems obvious, at least to this writer, using her limited talents to reason.

Children who are surrounded by serious conversation around the dinner table are deemed to have a head start in life in contrast to those not exposed to such speech. They learn by example the steps taken to reach a point, and the charity required to listen to opposing views. Such beginnings are far more powerful than class or gender or race. There was a time it was thought that only the best educated could provide these beginnings for their children.

Not so any more, it appears, with the current trends. For academia favors a sweet diet of no opinion, sameness. We must agree (with the liberal viewpoint) or be arrested. Why does this brave new world remind me of a book by that name? Why does it remind me of Islamic State and its thought police who behead Christians and crucify those of differing beliefs, who sell their children into slavery, who watch and wait as America grows increasingly weak and wavering?

The natural desire to avoid conflict, to silence speech contrary to one’s own, and then silence one’s own speech to keep the peace, is especially harmful to a nation nearing national elections in 2016. But we must take courage, pull our heads out of the sand, and listen to the arguments pro and con. We must study our Western patrimony (Daniel Hannon’s Inventing Freedom is a good and readable start) and make intelligent, educated choices in the voter booth next year. We should listen to the candidates and judge their true character. Do they understand America’s true character? Are they unafraid to uphold the character and the history of the West? Or do they feed us a sweet diet of platitudes and promises to make us feel better?

If we don’t do our homework, then we should not be voting. If we do not license ourselves to vote, others will take our vote from us.

The Human Search for Meaning

IMG_0044One of the many reasons I like going to church each Sunday is that I am reminded regularly of what it means to be fully human and to live life to the fullest, within a human community, a society.

For I do not live alone. What I do affects others. What others do affects me. With the creed of self, of rampant individualism birthed in the sixties and nurtured by the sexual revolution, one needs reminding regularly what it means to be human, that we are a human community.

And the community is not only a horizontal one in present time, but one which extends back in time and forward in the future. What I do today affects future generations. What my ancestors did, my parents, my grandparents did, has affected me.

So in church I come face to face with the fact that not only do I bear some degree of responsibility for others, that it’s “not all about me,” but that my life has real meaning.

Rabbi Jonathan Sacks in the Wall Street Journal writes of the vital role of religion in society:

“No society has survived for long without either a religion or a substitute for religion… Homo sapiens is the meaning-seeking animal. If there is one thing the great institutions of the modern world do not do, it is to provide meaning. Science tells us how but not why. Technology gives us power but cannot guide us as to how to use that power. The market gives us choices but leaves us uninstructed as to how to make those choices. The liberal democratic state gives us freedom to live as we choose but refuses, on principle, to guide us as to how to choose… the twenty-first century has left us with a maximum of choice and a minimum of meaning.”

We are creatures who  seek meaning. We are recognizing today that generations have been raised in a largely secular society that has sought to strip serious meaning from the public square, substituting causes, grievances and movements that gather around likes or dislikes. These politically correct “isms” do not tell me who I am, why I am here, how I should live, where I have been and where I am going. There may be meaning on some level in decrying global warming or GMO’s or political candidates but not meaningful enough to ward off depression and it’s offspring, despair.

And there is plenty of depression and despair that has filled the void. Pharmaceuticals and other feel-good drugs have followed suit, re-enforcing the divine monarchy of self and isolating us more and more from one another. The vicious spiral continues downward into darkness.

And so I go to Church where I am told that, as a matter of fact, it is not all about me. Mary Wakefield writes in The British Spectator, “In my twenties… full of self-pity…. I dropped in to see a priest… and poured out my woes. (He) listened quietly, then said: ‘The point of being a Christian is not to feel better, it is so God can use you to serve others.’ Others? It wasn’t all about me! I actually laughed with the relief of it.”

Yes, the relief. And we end up feeling better by serving others. Instead of contemplating my own needs, worship and service pulls me out of myself, towards God and my fellows, and life becomes deeply and beautifully meaningful. Depression and despair will ever be nearby, waiting to fill the void, so I make sure there is no void to fill. I make sure I am full to the brim with meaning, with God, by going to church regularly.

Our preacher today spoke of his heartrending experience as a social counselor to prisoners being released in California. He has come to see that their broken lives do not exist in a vacuum, but were influenced by earlier generations – their parents, grandparents, even great-grandparents. And so the “sins of the father” were indeed visited upon the children. He works to stop the cycle.

Our preacher said how science has given us proof of that legacy in the way drug use is biologically passed on to offspring, so that newborns must undergo a detoxing, shattering the air with their screams.

We are not alone in our actions. No man is an island, as the priest-poet John Donne said.  We are affected by those who have gone before us and we will in turn affect those who come after. We affect one another today.

Douglas Murray writes of the slippery slope of euthanasia, assisted suicide, a topic debated in Britain, passed into law in Holland and Oregon, and recently signed into law by the governor of  California. Mr. Murray traces the acceptance of this shift in our culture to the baby-boomer generation desiring the “full panoply of rights”:

“The right to education and welfare were followed by sexual liberation, which… came with the idea of having total rights over one’s own body, including the right to abort unwanted fetuses… the baby-boomers (are) awarding themselves one last right – the ‘right to die.’ “

The ownership of one’s body is a powerful idea. The fallacy lies in the fact that we are communal beings, with responsibilities to one another today and to the future. In terms of abortion, the fallacy also lies in the right to own another human being by virtue of that person residing within one’s body.

We fought slavery and won, but society will always know the anguish that we allowed it to happen at all. So too, as we kill our children because we own our bodies and claim ownership of the life growing within, we will grieve far into the future. We shall wake up and see the greatest genocide of all, generations of Americans lost, our own children, our own grandchildren, and now our own great-grandchildren, all fellow human beings on this good earth. We know already the grief of Rachel weeping for her children that were no more, the slaughter of the innocents. We are linked together in our humanity.

It has been observed that where euthanasia has become legal, palliative care has lessened. Those in favor of assisted suicide using the euphemism “death with dignity,” point out that I don’t have to choose death by injection. But others choosing assisted suicide may mean that my end-of-life care, my palliative care, will diminish in quality, availability, and affordability. A slippery slope. We are linked together.

There are ways to care for one another that reflect our Creator’s love for us. When we choose death instead of life, at either end of our numbered days, we withdraw from our common bonds, our humanity. Christianity and Judaism has taught for centuries to choose life over death. Doctors have sworn an oath to do so; what do they swear to uphold today? Can I trust my doctor?

I recently watched a good friend meet a good death. I pray, when my time comes, that I die as well as he did. He knew who he was, why he was here, and where he was going. He knew he was passing through a gateway into eternal life, eternal love, eternal joy. Shedding the corrupted body is not easy, but we have many means to palliate and soften the journey.

When I go to church I am reminded of these things, these “higher” things, the difference between truly living life to the fullest, as our Creator intends for each one of us to do (he should know) and slowly dying by degree, inch by inch, slipping into myself, into depression, despair, and eternal death, even while living.

And when I come home from church I come home full of meaning, full of God, nourished and ready to brave the six days until the next Sunday.

Three Great Ladies

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I, like many, have been intrigued with the Carly Fiorina candidacy for President of the United States. Many of us have eagerly waited to see if she was more than a CEO with controversial reviews. In the first debate she was clear, cogent, and compelling. In the second debate this last week she was even more so, with a powerful composure, an admirable knowledge of the world, and an iron will, not unlike our “Iron Lady,” Margaret Thatcher, in England. 

Ms. Fiorina has separated herself from other female candidates over the years, aided by Mr. Trump’s inappropriate comment, by making her presidential bid about merit not gender. Women sighed with relief nationwide. Did you hear it? That universal sigh? At last, we thought, someone who understands.

But what I hadn’t focused on, and probably why as a writer I have come to especially value her candidacy, is Ms. Fiorina’s use of language. She is a poet with an intuitive sense of the power of words, images, and symbols. She understands America’s need for the right phrases at the right times to draw our nation together, to heal our divisions.

Her closing statement, using the images of Lady Justice and Lady Liberty, spoke to Americans’ hopes and dreams, our very identity. It explains why waves of migrants are fleeing to the West with only the shirt on their backs, why thousands make great sacrifices for a glimpse of Lady Liberty in the New York harbor, why they count on Lady Justice for their future. It explains why America is indeed exceptional:

I think what this nation can be and must be can be symbolized by Lady Liberty and Lady Justice.

Lady Liberty stands tall and strong. She is clear eyed and resolute. She doesn’t shield her eyes from the realities of the world, but she faces outward into the world nevertheless as we always must, and she holds her torch high. Because she knows she is a beacon of hope in a very troubled world.

And Lady Justice. Lady Justice holds a sword by her side because she is a fighter, a warrior for the values and the principles that have made this nation great. She holds a scale in her other hand, and with that scale she says all of us are equal in the eyes of God. And so all of us must be equal in the eyes of the government, powerful and powerless alike. And she wears a blindfold. And with that blindfold she is saying to us us that it must be true, it can be true, that in this country in this century it doesn’t matter who you are, it doesn’t matter what you look like, it doesn’t matter how you start, and it doesn’t matter your circumstances. Here in this nation, every American’s life must be filled with the possibilities that come from their God-given gifts, one nation, under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.

Such patriotism is scoffed by liberal academic elites. But after years of these elites governing, years of dangerous sophistication and overweening arrogance, years of enforced political correctness, Americans are disheartened and angry enough to look to someone brave and true. We bolt our doors and fear the dark. Our streets are not safe. Our police are attacked and prevented from enforcing the law, in communities where the law needs enforcing. And we wonder when terrorists, abroad or at home, will next attack.

I recalled Ms. Fiorina’s Lady Liberty when I recently read Rob Greene’s poetic description of the New York harbor statue (“The World is Still Yearning to Be Free,” Wall Street Journal). He writes of Emma Lazarus’s sonnet engraved on a plaque that was placed on the ground floor of the statue in 1893:

The New Colossus

Not like the brazen giant of Greek fame,/With conquering limbs astride from land to land; /Here at our sea-washed, sunset gates shall stand /A mighty woman with a torch, whose flame /Is the imprisoned lightning, and her name /Mother of Exiles. From her beacon-hand /Glows world-wide welcome; her mild eyes command /The air-bridged harbor that twin cities frame. /”Keep, ancient lands, your storied pomp!” cries she /With silent lips. “Give me your tired, your poor, /Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, /The wretched refuse of your teeming shore. /Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me, /I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”

And to this day, we welcome legal immigrants to our shores, as long as they welcome us, as long as they embrace freedom and liberty, justice for all, speak our language, as long as they want to be Americans, unhyphenated, undivided.

The Statue of Liberty, made of copper, was designed by Frederic Auguste Bartholdi, built by Gustave Eiffel, and given to the U.S. by France. Somehow, I would venture to say, our “Eiffel tower” is more powerful (and beautiful) than Paris’s Eiffel Tower. Representing the Roman goddess of liberty, Lady Liberty holds a torch that lights the path to freedom and a tablet of law inscribed with the date of American Independence, July 4, 1776. A prisoner’s broken chain lies at her feet (Wikipedia).

Ms. Lazarus’s poem is titled “The New Colossus,” referring to the Greek Colossus, one of the “Seven Wonders of the Ancient World,” a statue erected on the island of Rhodes in 280 BC marking victory over Cyprus. Our Lady Liberty, the new Colossus, is quite a different creation, a “Mother of Exiles,” a “mighty woman.”

And so is Ms. Fiorina. The tablet that Lady Liberty holds is the law of Lady Justice, blind justice, equal-under-the-law justice. Many Americans have forgotten what that means, as it grows more rare with each day. Many Americans feel they have been exiled from their own country or one day will be.

And so I thank you, Ms. Fiorina, for reminding us of these two great ladies, Liberty and Justice, and for giving us renewed hope in America. I pray that you inform the substance and standards of future presidential debates and that having raised the bar, others must reach higher. I pray that those who belittle excellence, who crave clamor over conversation, that they take note that this is how we want debates to be, this is how we want our leaders to sound, this is how we want to be represented to one another and to the world.

For we Americans have become those masses who are so very tired and poor and huddling and yearning to breathe free. We are exiled, and we want to call America our home once again.

Waking the West

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This last week we recalled the September 11, 2001 attacks on American soil. As we mourned our dead and honored our heroes, waves of migrants fleeing oppression flooded into Western Europe. 800,000 men, women, and children are expected in Germany this year. It is a vast humanitarian crisis caused by Western benevolence.

America’s exceptional roots were planted by Christian Europeans, and the saplings, those thirteen colonies, grew strong, while the parent plant, Europe, declined. Europe has retained its own exceptional ideals of freedom, equality under the law, individual rights, and religious liberty. It even from time to time fought for those rights, that way of life Americans and Europeans have taken for granted.

Sometime after World War II, or perhaps earlier, Europe began to count on the protection of their American ally and ensure cradle-to-grave social programs for their citizens.

But America’s eviscerated military has left them (and us) exposed, leaving the Western way of life undefended. Now that we have become more like Europe in our national deficit, burgeoning state, and slashed military, who will protect us?

Bret Stephens writes in the Wall Street Journal how “We wanted a new liberal order – one with a lot of liberalism and not a lot of order. We wanted to be a generous civilization without doing the things required to be a prosperous one… the result is our metastasizing global disorder… openness is a virtue purchased through strength.” Every parent knows how painful yet necessary it is to practice “tough love.” Benevolence is not always good and often harmful.

Waves of desperate people are fleeing their homelands in the east. They are entering Hungary, Austria, and Germany; they are circling through Iceland and into Oslo. They are fleeing persecution, war, and poverty, looking for a better life. Peggy Noonan quotes the U.N. refugee agency when she says that they are coming from Syria, Afghanistan, Eritrea, Pakistan, Nigeria, Iraq, and Somalia. The majority are Muslim men.

Walter Russell Mead, professor at Bard College, writes in the WSJ of a “Crisis of Two Civilizations,” claiming that the Islamic worlds have tried and failed to create a workable society, so that the victims of the resulting tyrannies are fleeing into what they see as a prosperous and safe Western civilization. But the West no longer knows who it is or where it is going.

The Goths that crossed the Danube and conquered the Roman Empire didn’t find much resistance for the same reason. The Romans had become effete with a weak military. They didn’t know who they were or what to preserve and defend or why.

Professor Mead describes the crisis in Europe and the West:

Increasingly, the contemporary version of Enlightenment liberalism sees itself as fundamentally opposed to the religious, political, and economic foundations of Western society. Liberal values such as free expression, individual self-determination, and a broad array of human rights have become detached in the minds of many from the institutional and civilizational context that shaped them… Too many people in the West interpret pluralism and tolerance in ways that forbid or unrealistically constrain the active defense of these values against illiberal states like Russia or illiberal movements like radical Islam. (italics mine)

The Western world has a right to defend itself, its ideals and way of life, with military might. If nothing else, we must keep that defense at the ready, simply to assure the balance of power and peace in the world. American withdrawal from the mid-eastern theater in the last eight years has been a key factor in this current humanitarian crisis. We share the guilt with European governments who shy away from their own defense.

As we remember the Trade Center bombings, the Pentagon attack, and the plane crashing in the Pennsylvania field, those tragic attacks on American soil, we must face the unwelcome fact that the world has become less safe with all of our benevolence. It may be too late to teach our children the roots of freedom, so that they understand who they are and what they must defend, but we must renew our efforts. 

We must encourage policies that ensure prosperity, capitalistic policies that grow the economy, so that we can afford a strong military that will keep the peace with its presence. Some experts say it is too late for Europe to wake up from their dream and rally a defense. Is it too late for America? The answer lies in the next election.

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