Tag Archives: freedom

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 Protecting our Children

I’ve been pondering children’s beauty pageants, why it is that I recoil from them, what it is that troubles me? One of the themes that I am weaving through my novel-in-progress, The Fire Trail, is the early sexualization of girls in our culture, a concern I share with many mothers and grandmothers and fathers too. The boundaries of permissiveness have been redrawn, the taboos redefined. Wrong has merged into right; deviancy has blurred into the new norm. Ah, freedom! And without responsibility! The great sixties legacy. But is it a coincidence that crime is up, out-of-wedlock births more common, single parent families a larger portion of the population. Delinquency is clearly related to fatherless and broken homes. 

Many women, seeking their career as they have been urged to do, never find Mr. Right (don’t count on a man to support you, they are warned, and probably correctly so). Their biological clock races forward and soon test tube babies are the answer to their natural longing for motherhood. Adding to this, and a result of this as well, many men never grow up, take sex where they find it, sex being so available, are never held accountable for their actions,  never become fathers to their children or breadwinners to their families. They drift through life, suddenly finding themselves, well, adrift, and perhaps slightly depressed.

The traditional family, with all of its imperfections, has tried to protect women (and men) from exactly this situation. Sex within marriage ensured two parents raising children, or at least if did not ensure, won the prize for the best chance we had and have today to create stable homes for the raising of the next generation. And why must we have stable homes? Because broken homes are just that – broken – and do not provide the environment in which children can grow to become healthy adults, reach their God-given potential. This brokenness also puts tremendous stress on the single parent raising a child alone.

Full disclosure, I was divorced and a single parent. The pain involved in the breakdown of a marriage and the brokenness of a family is enormous. The guilt, the fear, and the sheer exhaustion all take their toll on mothers (and it’s usually the mothers) who try to be all to the child and at the same time provide food and shelter. There are not enough hours in the day to do both adequately, and usually food and shelter come first.

So as I see more and more of this brokenness in our culture, due largely to easy artificial birth control and casual sex that lead to casual marriage or no marriage that lead to casual families holding together until falling apart in casual no-fault divorce. These are serious, sacramental events – sex, marriage, childbearing – that have serious consequences for our children and for our society. 

This coarsening is somewhat reflected in child beauty pageants. But wait. Am I against spelling bees involving ten-year-olds? How about my church Christmas pageant with the cute preschool angels? Are all stage competitions and productions involving the young something we should worry about? I think not. While adoration and fame may create a false impression of the real world, it is a good thing for children to experience success and be recognized for it. I played in a piano recital when I was ten, as did my son when he was ten. Folks listened and clapped. We sang in choral concerts, church and school. My husband played solo violin and even sang a few solos as he was growing up (until his voice changed), performing with adults in the Oakland Symphony Orchestra.

So what is it that bothers me? Where is the line crossed, the fire trail breached by the flames? We all recall Jean Benet Ramsey of Colorado and her tragic death at the age of six. What troubles many of us is the sexual aspect to some of the pageants: the adult makeup, the adult costumes, the pouting lips, the luring looks, the posing and flirting and acting the part of a Hollywood ingénue or a Las Vegas stripper. In these instances, the children are molded in a strange (even dark) way to value skin-deep beauty and to see sexual manipulation as a good thing. They are also taught that it’s okay to be treated as an object, to be objectified, and in the end, to be used.

From the audience’s standpoint, men are gazing upon children who are striking sexual poses. It’s supposed to be “cute” but, in the words of Dan Rather, it’s really “kiddy porn.” And Internet porn has become an international pastime. It says, hey, it’s okay to look at these children this way. And Facebook encourages the uploading of “selfies” by wannabe teens in response to “modeling” calls. The culture tells the children and the adults who look that it’s okay.

But it’s not okay. 

In researching these pageants across the country I’ve noticed that many have two “types,” one called “natural” and one called “glitzy.” The natural ones require modest clothing; the glitzy ones do not. The natural ones require no makeup; the glitzy ones encourage makeup. So perhaps the industry is policing itself to a degree. The murder of Jean Benet Ramsey spotlighted child beauty pageants in the 1990s, and perhaps things are changing on their own.

Probably not soon enough. I’m all for free enterprise and as little government regulation as possible, but I was pleased when I read that France was banning these pageants for young children. The role of government is a proper one when it protects children in their younger years. We have laws against child pornography, Internet and otherwise. We have laws against parents abusing their children and even parents who neglect to protect their children from harm.

In our highly sexualized culture, with the power of the Internet setting things on fire, let’s discourage children from growing up too fast. Let’s give them, at the very least, a chance to grow up.

Today, this First Sunday in Lent, we cry “Lord, have mercy.” We weep and we cry out, not only in repentence for our own selfishness, pride, envy… but for our families, our nations, and our world.

 

Thanksgiving for Families

It has been said that you can choose your friends, but you can’t choose your family. We don’t always get along with our siblings, our parents, our children. But we know they will always be our brothers and sisters, mothers and fathers, sons and daughters. Family bonds, however fragile, bear stress better than other bonds, but even these can break when hearts are broken.

Just so, we speak of our parish family, using similar words. Here too, the bonds are stronger than friendship, or perhaps different than friendship, more like family bonds. Common beliefs run deep like underground rivers, not always seen, but necessary to the watering of roots. As sacramental Christians, we believe that when we partake of God at his altar, he unites us with one another, past and future. God joins us, and he enjoins us to love one another in a special way. He enjoins us to invite all and everyone into this holy family. All are invited to his table; we are siblings, with one God the Father and one Mother the Church.

And like biological families, we do not always get along. Sometimes I think that because the belief and altar bonds are so deep we trespass on kindness, we assume assent and approval. We might push one another too far, for we sense things will all sort themselves out in time. I hear many such stories of other parishes, and witness such events in our own parish life. Because we love one another, we are close, and because we are close we have more to gain and more to lose, just like a natural family. Our hearts and souls are exposed for all to see.

We are all in training for Heaven, to sing with the family of God and the angels, the white-robed martyrs and the great prophets and apostles, with our ordinary, extraordinary brothers and sisters who have made the journey ahead of us. Our time on earth is a testing time, a time of trial and formation, of growth, of sanctification.

Ideally, within the natural family we learn discipline and delayed gratification. We learn to look out for one another. We learn work habits – beginnings, middles, and finishings. We learn to pass the potatoes and share a meal with one another. We learn to converse, to lace words into phrases so that we can touch the person alongside, to bring our minds and hearts together for a brief moment, like dancing. We learn the liturgy of the family, the morning rising and breakfasting and heading out for work and school, the coming together in the evening, lighting a supper candle, holding hands and saying grace, the washing up, the struggling through homework, the shared moments of recreation in the time left, the evening prayers, the slipping into sleep. It is a dance in which we never lose touch never let go of one another, as we follow the notes and the rhythm of family life. We learn to love by learning the law of love – the Ten Commandments: Thou shalt not murder, lie, steal, covet; thou shalt honor God, honor parents, honor husband and wife. The law of love is straightforward, simple. The law of love is crucial, the center of the Cross.

In this daily dance we may not always get along, but the rituals pull us through anger and frustration, through selfishness, greed, envy, and other mishaps of our souls. We might fight with one another, spar, test, lash out or “vent” as is said today (as though we were machines), but with God’s grace, we apologize, we make amends by amending ourselves in humility, by repenting and reforming, by turning around. The family, hopefully, teaches us how to do this, or tries to, and in this daily hymn of life, we school our children to be part of larger families: the community, the town, the nation, the world. 

So we give thanks this Thanksgiving not only for families but for our national family, for the United States of America. We give thanks for this incredible experiment in democracy. Earlier this month we gave thanks for those who fought for our country to preserve her freedoms. Now we give thanks for those who founded her, who birthed her. 

Will America need to be re-found, re-born? Will she survive these challenging times? Will she crumble as the family crumbles under the weight of easy divorce, easy sex, easy abortion, easy love? Without the school of the family, this remarkable training ground in the law of love, will we find ourselves in a wilderness, a wild-ness, a human jungle in which an elderly woman is punched out by a heartless teen or a tourist is shot for the fun of it, a jungle in which girls and boys die from binge drinking, drugs, and Internet bullying, in which babies are slaughtered, thrown out, before they breathe their first breath?

As Americans, our beliefs in freedom run deep like a river, unseen, assumed and unquestioned. Do we take these freedoms for granted? Do we exercise our rights without considering the accompanying responsibilities that support those rights? Are our American roots in life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness, roots that tap the deep waters of freedom of speech and religion – are these roots shriveling underground and unseen? Are we paying attention to their dying?

This Thanksgiving week, as we gather together the fragments of of our families, those from near and far, those members whom we like and those whom we don’t, we give thanks for this a-gathering, in church and at home, before altars and hearths. We give thanks for our freedom to gather in the squares and legislatures of our land. We give thanks for law and order, such as it is. We give thanks for family life that trains us for participation in a greater American life. 

And we pray that we, a nation founded under God, will preserve and protect those institutions that water liberty and a love for one another: the family and the church.