A college homecoming sheds light on the state of America

I’ve spent the last quarter century living in college towns, both in the US and overseas. One of the features of those burgs in America in the autumn is the homecoming parade.

If you’re American you know what that is. If you’re not, then it might require some explanation.

Homecoming is a college celebration focusing on the return of alumni to that school. Held on Fall weekends, the centerpiece is an American football game against a (usually) weaker opponent. (After all, losing would spoil the fun.)

There are other events surrounding homecoming as well. This morning my town had a run/walk happening which I wondered into on the way to getting coffee. My route to the shop was on the same road as this little fun run and the parade. In fact, I had forgotten all about Homecoming and was mainly interested in getting a cup of Java.

The coffee shop and the sidewalk in front of  it were packed with customers awaiting the parade.  I waited until the tidal wave of people dissipated and then went to get my caffeine fix. When I got to the cashier, she and another barista smiled at me and said, “Nice to see a familiar face.”

I returned to my table and caught the show. I was struck by how patriotic the parade was. American flags were everywhere. The first thought in my head was, “Nobody’s kneeling.”

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“Nobody’s kneeling.”

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Like many Americans, I have been inundated by young folks kneeling when the national anthem is played and the  flag displayed. The scenes are so ubiquitous in the media that the impression is imprinted on my mind.

What I saw at homecoming conflicted with all the reports we have all viewed of late. I began to have some cognitive dissonance.  I also regained some pride in my country.

I must add a caveat. I live in a distinctly red state. Furthermore, although the local university is fairly sizable, the town only has about 60,000 inhabitants and is situated in the middle of farmland. This kind of community tends to be more traditional then the bigger metropolises.

That the nation is so consumed with “kneelers”, historically confined to worship services, is a huge change in my lifetime.  There was a period when youth burned the flag. It was common during Vietnam.

However, things settled down after that war ended and Ronald Reagan became president. We all were all back to trying to make a buck.

The era was typified by young Republican Alex P. Keaton of the fictional sitcom “Family Ties”. Saddled with left wing parents, Alex went after filthy lucre. much to the dismay of his father and mother.

Now we’re back to dissing the flag. The Swarthmore University Indigenous Students Association even resurrected the bygone method of torching our the Stars and Stripes on Columbus Day. But the go-to method now is to kneel when the flag is honored, and the technique is expanding. This week a young lady tasked with singing the national anthem at an NBA game knelt as she performed.

There’s a large disagreement among the populace as to the appropriateness of such demonstrations. One side thinks kneeling or tarnishing the flag is disrespectful and unpatriotic while the other believes our freedoms represented in that banner provide the right to manifest unhappiness with injustices in our land of liberty.

A  vexillologist will tell you that a national flag is meant to inspire. When certain elements of our people protest while it is honored is indicative of how disgruntled these folks really are.

This discontent makes EVERYONE unhappy. It’s not nice, and if there is any value that dominates American society, it is the expectation that we all be “nice” to one another.

Part of the problem with the airing of gripes during a flag ceremony is that this kind of grousing is thought to be an extreme form of dissent in most countries. My take is that not all Americans grasp this way of thinking. After all, it’s just a piece of fabric. NOT!

The New Zealand Flag Institute notes the importance of national flags to most people. It states:

A flag represents an idea, or an ideal. It is neither a mere piece of decoration, nor an object to be honored for itself. It is honored for what it represents. Many flags are held in high esteem for their history; for the sacrifices made by the people; for the qualities for which the country and people stand. 

Such respect does not depend on the aesthetic appeal of the design, or on it attempting to represent visually the people or politics of a country. If it represent anything tangible, a national flags generally symbolizes the unchanging characteristics of a nation… In democracies they do not generally represent political affiliations.

Like everything else in American life, the honoring of the Stars and Stripes has been politicized. As a result, the ceremony appears to  have taken on a different meaning for some.

What is disconcerting is that there may be something more spurious at work. Those remonstrating during a time when they should be honoring the flag might have deeper issues.

“To fly the national flag is a sign of pride and patriotism,” says the National Flag Institute. “It a positive affirmation of loyalty and commitment.”

It marks out a country that has confidence in itself, and is comfortable with its place in the world, its history and its future.”

What is worrisome is that the tidal wave of howling at the flag as a dog does at the moon could denote a nation where a significant amount of the citizens don’t care for its history, present or future. Yet, there are folks like who I saw today who seem to be just fine with the America we have.

The celebration included whites, African Americans, those of Spanish descent and even internationals. This local march gave me the impression we are still one nation indivisible.

I hope this weekend’s homecoming parade bore the earmarks of the true America, no the one I see in the media every day. If it did, the country is in good shape. If not, we might be coming apart at the seams.

 

 

 

 

 

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Rebirth Day

On October 17, 1781 Lord Cornwallis, the commanding officer of 8,000 British troops at Yorktown, Virginia asked his opponent George Washington for terms of surrender. On October 19 the Redcoats marched in defeat before the Yankees and the fruits of revolution had bloomed. On October 18 not much happened.
However, October 18 is an important date for me. I was born that day in the city of Baltimore. This particular birthday I am experiencing my own revolution of sorts.IMG_20171018_092837_356 (1)
Yesterday a close friend told me that he thought a weight was being lifted from my shoulders. I wrote back this morning. This is what I told him:

It’s funny you should say those things about weight being lifted from my shouders. I just got a note wishing me a happy birthday from a Christian life coach I did some writing for, a guy now in Australia. He told me at the end of the note that “you are a good man.” Don’t hear that much.

I told him that I was coming out of a dark place spiritually and circumstantially but that it has taken good men to help me do it. You of course are one of them, and probably the prime mover.


As you are well aware when God sends you connecting patterns you had better be alert. So it was yesterday with the “arrows of the Lord” metaphor. (Note: I had told my friend that I felt like Job, who said “for the arrows of the Almighty are within me, the poison whereof drinketh up my spirit: the terrors of God do set themselves in array against me.”
I am reading the memoir of Steven Curtis Chapman, the singer/composer. He was 30 miles from here over the weekend and I really wanted to see him. But I couldn’t make it.
Anyhow, in the book he says he was able to connect with the ministry of Steve Saint, the son of Nate Saint, one of the missionaries killed by Auca Indians in South America in the 1950s, along with Jim Elliot. (Eliot was the husband of Elizabeth Eliot, who wrote their story in “Through Gates of Splendor”.)  Chapman went down to the tribe and met the murderers, all who had become Christian believers.
 
A documentary was being filmed outside the hut they were in. Kimo, one of the converted Indians said, “That’s the sound we heard.” Steve Saint said,”What? You heard music?”

The Indians had indeed heard music when the missionaries approached their area on a nearby beach. The Indians had never heard music. “Yes, it came from the trees and the skies,” Kimo replied.

 

Stephen Curtis Chapman wrote the following in commenting on what the Indian had told Steve Saint:

 

Whether it was the sound of angels we will never know. But I couldn’t help wondering if Kimo’s revelation answered the often-asked question, “Where was God when this horrible thing happened?”. When his messengers were attacked, when the spears were plunged into their flesh, when their bodies were dumped into the river. Was the sound in the trees and the skies an indication that God’s presence had been there even as the spears were run through the missionaries? I felt I knew the answer.”

 

Kind of blew me away that God was in the midst of all that has happened to me in the last few years. But I think I am getting the message. As you said to me recently, God thinks outside of our evangelical box.

 

So, I am optimistic about the future. This is something for me to say that. Last birthday I tried to forget all about it. At Christmas I holed up in my apartment and just waited for it all to be over.

 

Not this year. Today I am celebrating my birthday, i.e “life”. Went to a coffee shop first thing, and will go to see a movie later. I might even buy myself a cake. On the way I met a Gideon who gave me a Bible. I don’t think that was an accidental.
I later wrote my buddy and told him I had read Psalm 118 out of that Gideon Bible. Some verses immediately spoke to me. “Out of my distress I called on the Lord; the Lord answered me and set me free…the Lord is my strength and my song; He has become my salvation…I shall not die but shall live and recount the deeds of the Lord…This is the Lord’s day, it is marvelous in our eyes.”
Another passage to sum of the meaning of my own little revolution just came to mind. In the Old Testament book of Deuteronomy God told the Israelites: “I call heaven and earth to record this day against you, that I have set before you life and death, blessing and cursing: therefore choose life, that both thou and thy seed may live.” (30:19)
This birthday I have decided to care, whether others do or not. I have decided to choose life. It’s an important day for me.

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What to do about the Harvey Weinsteins at work

If your name is Harvey, you’re the bad guy these days.

In August a storm with that moniker became the first major hurricane to make landfall in the United States in over a decade. It killed over 70 people in this country and did untold damage to Houston and other places.

This week the news has been full of another “Harvey”, one with the surname Weinstein. The Hollywood mogul, a major financial backer of successful movies and also of Democratic politicians was called on decades of alleged sexual harassment involving actresses and other females with whom he came into contact with as part of his job.

Politically, Harvey Weinstein is dead in the water.  His support of the causes dear to Hollywood types isn’t going to save him from the outcry and punishment which have resulted over his alleged crimes.

When the dam broke for him in the media, a large number of women came out of the woodwork to pile on. Weinstein is even on tape in once incident.

It took years, but Hollywood Harvey was  finally outed. At minimum he was a workplace bully, and probably far worse if testimonies of actresses are to be believed.

Unfortunately, many office oppressor’s get away with this kind of bullying behavior. They are never caught and live “successful” lives while continuing to destroy other people.

Harvey Weinstein’s demise is timely given that next week is Freedom from Workplace Bullies Week.

The Workplace Bullying Institute defines workplace bullying this way:

Workplace Bullying is repeated, health-harming mistreatment of one or more persons (the targets) by one or more perpetrators. It is abusive conduct that is :

This definition helps me to analyze the behavior of coworkers and supervisors ant previous jobs and determine if I was bullied at those places. I have always thought that in certain cases I was. Now I am not so sure.

I did have a couple of encounters with supervisors that would qualify over the years. However, these abuses did not fit the above definition because the behavior was constant.

Mostly the harm that was inflicted upon me (and others) at work was due to the incompetence of my bosses,  not because of overt and regular bullying. I have been the “victim” (I put it in quotes because I really don’t like that word because it communicates helplessness) of lying, bogus retention practices and employers’ own violation of stated policies, but I wasn’t “bullied” per se.

Even so, this doesn’t mean I worked with people of high character in those instances. I wouldn’t vouch for the integrity of these folks.

On the other hand, some of the methods used by these former supervisors were similar to those used by workplace browbeaters.  As is the case with bullies, the bosses had sycophants who supported their shadiness in order to gain personal advantage. Further, the bosses’ personal agendas seemed to take precedence over the goals of the departments I worked for.

In some cases, my directors were the opposite of bullies. They were so laissez faire in their approach to management that it was painful. Complaints were ignored. These bosses only stepped into a situation when one of their pets was affected by a problem.

Dealing with people like Harvey Weinstein is problematic.  A lot of the women he abused are being criticized for not exposing him years ago.

Some did the best they could. These ladies managed to avoid  Harvey’s advances, but their careers suffered as a result.

I don’t blame any of these victims, and that’s what they are when it comes to Harvey. It would have taken a lot of maturity and courage to uncover the man’s crimes, and these women were young. It’s hard enough for a person with some years under their belt to deal with a sick person at the office.

A brief review of online literature about what to do about workplace bullying shows that about the only thing that can be done about being tormented at work is to leave. Yes, organizations have policies in place to deal with bullying, but they don’t seem to be worth the paper or software they are written on.

If you’re willing to go through the lengthy pain and suffering, filing a lawsuit might at least give organization’s pause. I know of at least one former colleague who has done this.

But the arrogance of these employers knows no bounds, so I am not confident lawsuits are the way to go.  One former boss of mine purportedly said when they were sued, “Bring it on.”

The human factor comes into play.  We’re rebellious sinners who selfishly look out for our own interests, even when we’re getting paid to look out for others’. For example, as I have personally experienced, bullying is excused and tolerated because of the favoritism and cowardice of managers.

Some things are more important than a career. Keeping your mental health is one. This is the stance of the Workplace Bullying Institute.

Hopefully we can all learn from the events surrounding the abuse of Harvey Weinstein. It does appear the societal outcry has reached such a fever pitch that at least people like him will think twice before carrying out their schemes.

 

 

 

 

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Why Aaron Rodgers’ call to link arms is a good idea

At the moment the United States doesn’t seem so united. In fact, the country seems to be tearing itself apart.

We seem to be at war with each other. The conflict isn’t so much physical yet, although there are signs of it with recent rioting. It’s more of what University of Virginia scholar James Davison Hunter called a “culture war.”

The recent hubbub about professional football players refusing to stand for the national anthems is just a symptom of this struggle.  The kneeling is starting to spread to other venues.

“Taking a knee” is becoming a hashtag and is either praised or vilified. Some think doing so is a protest of injustice in American society. Others think this gesture is unpatriotic.

The nation is not only threatened from within. We also seem to be walking on the edge of a possible armed fight with North Korea, one that could easily go nuclear.

Our president seems to be provoking not only the battle with North Korea,  but also the ones with his own citizens. Some of these Americans are not going quietly into that good night.

Some people seem to enjoy a scrap. Donald Trump apparently is one of them. I could easily name some of his enemies in the media and Congress who are just as happy to get down in the mud with him.

While politicians and competitive athletes seem to enjoy the contents of a chamber pot, most of us try to avoid kakka. Count me as one of them.

Because of my aversion to cultural rot I plan to avoid tonight’s planned “linking of arms” in Green Bay, Wisconsin.  Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers has called for fans at Lambeau Field to do this in order to display unity. I would just prefer Aaron and the rest of the guys just play ball. I am sure that his intentions are good but I just think the NFL is the wrong venue for political statements and such displays in stadiums just enflame the culture war in a hugely divided nation.

The Bible tells the story of a young fellow who found that the road to hell was indeed paved with good intentions. He didn’t plan to end up in dung-filled waters, but found himself in a pig pen because of his actions.  He goes by the name of “The Prodigal Son” in modern vernacular.

This youth asked his father for his inheritance early and wandered off into a “far country”. There he squandered all his resources and as a result had to slop pigs and eat their food in order to survive.

Why did this wayward child leave his safe space at home? 20th century preacher J. Vernon McGee said that he bid adieu to his home because he was drawn to the far country, a place of mystery.  It held a certain allure for the boy.

War and fighting holds a similar attraction to some. Young men are fascinated by it. Older ones are as well.

Confederate general Robert E. Lee was 56 years of age at the time of the Battle of Fredericksburg in 1862. As he watched Union troops advance on his army’s entrenchments, he said to General James Longstreet, “It is well that war is so terrible. Otherwise, we should grow too fond of it.”

Lee’s assessment on the horror of war was correct, especially during this battle. The North’s soldiers would be slaughtered as their own general sent them wave after wave into Lee’s unconquerable defenses.

Yet, the generations after General Lee seemed to shout “hurrah” and march off to battle when their governments called on them to do so. But they too learned of the terrible reality of combat once they were there.

Many cultural commentators are saying that the US is reaching a crossroads in its life as a nation. When they look at the landscape they see a country where the internal strife has put it on the eve of destruction unless something is done.

However, America has been up against it before. The Great Depression in the 1930s was one of those times. It was a period of extreme economic and social upheaval, yet we came out of it and became the leading power on Earth.

One of the reasons is that capable people have been trying to draw lessons from that period ever since. One of these experts is Christopher Burns,  who has authored a book on how supposedly knowledgeable people made wrong decisions that lead to some of America’s greatest disasters, such as the sinking of the Titanic and war.

In a documentary about the Depression called “When the World Breaks”, Burns discusses how societies reach their breaking points. But he also suggests a positive consequence that come from these emergencies.

“I think we progress in lurches. I think we lurch forward. I think we adopt a set of rules and a vocabulary and a standard for truth and that serves us well. This is certainly true in science. It serves us  well right up until the moment where all of a sudden it isn’t working and the whole world comes apart.  We don’t know how to change it gradually. We just have to wait for the iceberg. And then a wonderful thing happens: the world falls apart. And we are able to stand there and say ‘what are we really trying to do here? What is our world really like?’ And one of our most important resources in our country is creativity. 

Like the Titanic, America has hit the iceberg and is at risk of sinking. Instead of working together to plug the leaks, Americans are at war.

We have to stop fighting before we all drown. To get to the point that we put down our weapons, we Americans have to change our thinking.

Traditionalists have to see that the ship has sailed on change in America. Like it or not, the US is not the country it was, even 50 years ago.

Progressives need to comprehend that people who have views different from theirs are by and large decent human beings and not bigots or fascists. In the midst of change, America should not throw the baby out with the bath water.

If we don’t get creative together we will continue to fall apart. Our war will destroy us. On the other side of war is darkness.

NFL quarterback Aaron Rodgers has called for fans at to link arms tonight at his team’s game in Green Bay, Wisconsin in order to display unity. The National Football League has become ground zero in the culture war lately.

My first inclination when I heard about this was to become dismissive because I would just prefer that Aaron and the rest of the guys just play ball and avoid politics at a sports event. But now I think that Rodgers is onto something.

I think it’s better that we lay down our rhetorical arms and link them together than keep battling each other. If that’s the purpose of this demonstration, I am all for it.

 

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The Confusing Nature of the NFL Protests

You can learn a lot about people, organizations and government by how they respond when they are threatened or in a crisis.

Look at the National Football League (NFL), the professional American sports league, for instance. The commissioner’s office and the owners are caught between a rock and a hard place at the moment.

It’s all over the news today, but if you left on Planet Nine this weekend, here’s a summary of the situation.  Teams were confronted with how to react to comments by President Donald Trump last week. The Donald said that an owner should fire a player who kneels instead of stands when the national anthem is played. Mimicking what this owner should say, Trump shouted “Get that son of a bitch off the field.” He added his signature line from his reality TV days: “You’re fired!”

The original protest of kneeling while the anthem is played was originated by quarterback Colin Kaepernick, a mixed race man who is now out of the league because his abilities are not worth the distraction caused by his presence. His view is that the anthem and flag represent a country that oppresses his fellow minorities and are therefore not worthy of respect.

Trump’s outburst exacerbated a situation that seemed to be dying down, fanning the flames anew and sending players into a tizzy. One team even held a four hour meeting on Saturday to decide what to do about the president’s statement.

The result on Sunday was varied, but suffice it to say that in every stadium players, owners and coaches all engaged in some form of protest. The commissioner and owners issued separate statements decrying Trump’s remarks.

After these protests the league made the announcement that there would be no punishment for those who engaged in protest while the national anthem is played. One of the things being reacted to on conservative talk radio is the fact that the NFL does indeed have a rule that states that the national anthem is to be played before each game and that players and coaches are to stand in allegiance to the flag of the United States. Suddenly, the rule doesn’t seem important.

One radio personality, while opposing the players actions, didn’t seem to think the rule was that important. “Rules schmules!,” he said.  Obviously, to the players their protest outweighed any rule that got in the way.

Why is this?Why is it that even the NFL administration threw out enforcement of the league’s  own rule when it was violated?  The answer is expediency. The Google dictionary’s definition of this term is “the quality of being convenient and practical despite possibly being improper or immoral.”

The immediate answer to the pressure the league and owner’s faced over the Trump-caused brouhaha was of the knee jerk kind.  Already facing declining attendance and TV revenues over the league’s allowance of politics into their realm, NFL leadership decided to side with the players.

This seems wise over the short term given that over 3/4 of the players in the league are African-American and that the sports media that covers the NFL is primarily left wing and are thus proponents of social justice. Over the long term this could mean disaster, however.

One little piece of anecdotal evidence supports this. Jersey sales for one Pittsburgh Steelers player, a decorated military veteran, have gone through the roof after he made a point of defying his coach and coming out of the locker room to stand for the anthem.

There are a lot of issues involved in the protests of NFL players, so much so that it is unclear to me exactly what they are upset about. I have heard many reasons for their outcry, including opposition to alleged police brutality against blacks and the need for some ephemeral unity.

In such a situation as this, when the cause is not defined, the cultural battle lines can be blurred. Further adding to the fog is the disinformation campaign of those with a political agenda.

For example, those supporting the player protests over the racial issue have claimed that President Trump’s statement was racist, thus further inflaming emotions. The president has denied this, stating  that his remarks were about patriotism, and on the surface the words he used make no reference to race.

Everyone chooses (and perhaps even “cherry picks”) facts on which to formulate an argument.

Mr. Trump does it. The NFL players do it, too. So do media folks.

But what is important is the truth. What is the difference between facts and truth?

A post from the Focus on the Family offers a clear answer:

There is an important difference between facts and truth. In some ways it’s analogous to the difference between a pile of bricks and St. Paul’s cathedral, or between a list of dates and Arnold Toynbee’s A Study of History… An isolated fact is like a stray piece of a puzzle. It’s an object, an article, a fragment of information, a bit of trivia. Truth, on the other hand, is all about meaning.

To put it another way, discerning truth is a matter of interpreting the facts. In a courtroom setting, the same facts are available to both prosecution and defense. Each attorney puts his own spin or construction upon the evidence, but this does not imply that both sides are right. There is still one truth.

Getting at the truth behind these protests will go along way in deciding if the NFL remains a major influence upon American culture. This is what those who care about the NFL need to get straight after the media moves on from the events of this weekend.

 

 

 

 

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In a threatening world, who loves ya baby?

As I write this the world is supposed to come to an end. As the story goes, some legendary ninth planet called Nabiru is supposed to appear today and destroy the Earth.

My view is that a  “Christian” conspiracy theorist named David Meade is trying to make dough selling his book.  Guys like him give my faith a bad name.

Even so, if you don’t think people are worried about the state of the world, just check the social media posts you get.

One friend of mine sent me an instant message out of the blue this week expressing his feelings about the ongoing dust up between the Trump administration and North Korea. My pal said to me that it was just a matter of time before the formerly hot war on the Korean peninsula reignites. He’s obviously concerned, as we all should be.

The conflict seems personal, with Kim Jong Un lobbing insults as well as missiles and the Donald responding in kind, at least verbally for now. In the last couple of days, however, the Donald has upped the ante by threatening to physically “destroy” North Korea should America or its allies have to defend themselves.

My friend’s worries could be justified. From what I read in the news, there are some questions about the mental stability and motivations of the North Korean leader. For that matter, the mostly anti-Trump media wonders about our own president’s mental health and competence.

I read a fascinating article about Joseph Stalin and Adolph Hitler yesterday morning in “Foreign Affairs.” It noted that despite repeated warnings that Germany was about to attack Russia, Stalin could not believe that Hitler would invade.

Germany and Russia had a non-aggression pact. The Russian dictator figured that Hitler would not risk a two-front war. He guessed wrong, and Stalin almost had to flee as Nazi troops approached Moscow.

There’s no doubt that there’s  a lot to fear these days. None of us are guaranteed the next hour, much less the next day, because of the dangers out there.

I had this morbid thought yesterday morning before I left my home that someone could just blow me away with a gunshot outside my door. We’re that violent now. In fact, there was a fatal shooting of a woman outside my window in the last couple of weeks, so perhaps I am not a conspiracy theorist like the Planet 9 guy.

It’s not easy to ascertain the true perils we face on a national or individual level. Stalin had to depend on his advisers, intelligence services, and news reports to make his decision to not mobilize Russia’s military.  He didn’t trust them.

Sometimes it’s not until after disaster hits that we learn how to avoid future problems. Even then the lessons may not be clear. Hindsight is not always 20-20.

Experts interviewed for  “When the World Breaks”, a documentary about the Great Depression in the 1930s, revealed that researchers still don’t agree about what caused the worst economic catastrophe of the 20th century. They can only offer possibilities.

However, author Christopher Burns offered some sage advice for handling any kind of potential menace to our basic well being before we end up in a world of hurt. He said,

“If you’re going to function, you have to be certain about some things. You have to be pretty certain about who you trust; who loves you; where the next meal is coming from; and what you’re going to do it if rains. You have to have that stuff figured out so that you can take risks and grow and all the other things that are so much fun to do.”

The Bible provides an example of a person who seems to have figured out Burns’ advice. He’s the key figure in Jesus’s parable about a “prodigal son.”

The young man asked his father for his inheritance early and ran off to the “far country” to live in debauchery. When he ran out of money, the boy ended up slopping pigs.

His meals consisted of swine food. The fellow had no money left, having thrown it away on wine, women and song.

However, he knew who loved him.  Therefore, he decided to humble himself and return to his father.

His Dad welcomed him back with open arms. He even threw his son a party.

Students of the Bible know that the father in this parable is God. Jesus’s point was that God receives sinners who are in danger of losing their lives for eternity.

Ultimately, God is who we need to turn to when we are faced with threats. He’s trustworthy and He loves us.

I am not saying that we should be the embodiment of the expression “some people are so heavenly minded they are no earthly good.”  Surely we should take actions to protect ourselves and our loved ones.

There are some who operate out of false beliefs that do themselves and others harm. For example, American Civil War general Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson was a strong Christian man who took risks because of a fatalism rooted in Calvinism. He would subject himself to enemy fire, believing that God had a time for him to depart this earth.

One night during the Battle of Chancellorsville he was reconnoitering in the no-man’s land between his own Confederate lines and those of the Union. His staff advised him that this was no place for the most valuable general of the Confederacy.

Jackson ignored the pleas of his advisers. That night he was mistakenly gunned down by his own men in the dark.

What we know and what we believe matters. When it comes to worrying about my life span, I listen to and believe Jesus Christ. He told his followers:

What’s the use of worrying? What good does it do? Will it add a single day to your life? Of course not! And if worry can’t even do such little things as that, what’s the use of worrying over bigger things?

He has a lot of other things to say that I listen to as well. For example, in the Scriptures he talked about the truth about the end of the world.

However, I also believe that if we can influence our circumstances, we should by all means do so. We shouldn’t take unnecessary risks like Jackson nor should we throw up our hands or shrug and say “what will be will be.”

If I am concerned about losing my health care, for example, then I ought to write my Congressional representative. I’m not sure I can influence Kim Jong Un, but former basketball star Dennis Rodman thinks he can. I’m all for giving him a shot at it if it keeps us from annihilation.

But Kim Jong Un isn’t trustworthy. Neither was Hitler. Our politicians in America may not be either.  Burns counsel is sound.

In this crazy world find out the answer to the question that Telly Savalas in the old “Kojak” TV series used to ask:”Who loves ya baby?”

Trust them.

 

 

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Americans should quit dreaming and change the way they think

I was raised in the South. When I was a kid there were still remnants of the War Between the States around. (We southerners preferred that moniker for the American Civil War.)

I recall for example a couple of bumper stickers I saw as a youth. One said “Hell no, I ain’t forgettin’.” Another exhorted, “Save your Confederate money. The South rise again.”

The Confederate battle flag, known as the “Stars and Bars” was prevalent in my area. Vestiges of Jim Crow still lingered.

As an adult I became a Civil War buff. Living in Virginia I could tour numerous battlefields where Union and Rebel soldiers laid down their lives.

I enjoyed going to reenactments, where people dressed up in the blue and grey. There were even “civilians” who took part in the living histories. They came costumed as sutlers, camp followers and even ministers of the Gospel.

In the 90s I worked for a small college in South Carolina. In their main parlor the most prominent painting was of Confederate general Robert. E. Lee.

Fast forward about 20  years. General Lee is now a controversial figure. A statue of him in Charlottesville was this summer the catalyst for a confrontation in the streets between white supremacists and so-called anti-fascists.

This week the general’s descendant, Rev. Robert Wright Lee, denounced his own great uncle.  He told the press that he felt shame at General Lee’s role in the Confederacy.

There is now an outcry from some to do away with any and all memorials to American heroes who owned slaves. The most prominent Founders now being maligned include George Washington and Thomas Jefferson, both slaveholders.

In his will Washington freed his slaves. Jefferson did not.

Yet, Thomas Jefferson wrote the Declaration of Independence. He even included in one of the early drafts a condemnation of slavery.

Yet, 15 years ago historian Stephen E.  Ambrose published a piece for the Smithsonian that was highly critical of Jefferson. He wrote:

Jefferson knew slavery was wrong and that he was wrong in profiting from the institution, but apparently could see no way to relinquish it in his lifetime.

Ambrose didn’t stop at these unflattering comments. He was even more condemning:

Jefferson owned slaves. He did not believe that all were created equal. He was a racist, incapable of rising above the thought of his time and place, and willing to profit from slave labor.

When I have thought of the Founding Fathers who owned slaves, and of the southerners who fought in the Civil War, I have tended to excuse them. “They were men of their time,” I think. “Everybody thought like they did.”

Ambrose did not excuse Jefferson . He saw him as a hypocrite who espoused equality for all, but did not express it in his own behavior. Ambrose said:

Few of us entirely escape our times and places. Thomas Jefferson did not achieve greatness in his personal life. He had a slave as mistress. He lied about it.

As a man with southern roots, and someone who considers Virginia his native soil, I find Ambrose’s comments deeply troubling. I also recoil at attacks on men like Robert E. Lee,  a revered son of Virginia. It is as if he is attacking my own personal world view.

However, I have now come to the conclusion that Ambrose is correct.  While I still consider Jefferson and Lee great public figures, I cannot excuse their racism.

How could these bigger-than-life figures have been so wrong? I think it might have something to do with our human natures.

The Bible portrays us all as sinners, i.e. people who are in rebellion against God. It describes us as people with corrupt natures who do corruption.

Yet, the Scriptures also call on us to master our sin. For whatever reason, men like Jefferson and Lee did not master theirs when it came to racism and bigotry.

Ambrose wrote that Jefferson had a “great mind and a limited character.” I think this was probably true of a lot of mythological characters in American history.

It is also true of many of us in modern life. I am not an intellectual by any means, but I do like to think and analyze. Unfortunately I tend to “overthink.”  This leads me to indecisiveness.

Like Jefferson I muse and write on subjects, but take little action in my own personal life.  I have recently thought that this is due to a lack of faith in God and His Word, the Bible.

I have for  most of my life agreed with the truth that Jesus died to pay the penalty for my sins and rose again from the dead to reign over me. I have also espoused intellectual assent to the truths of Scripture.

The reality though is that my life does not reflect these beliefs.  I have not done what the Bible has told me to do.

I have a myriad of excuses for this neglect, but the crux of the issue is that I have preferred doing things my way, perhaps out of convenience, or perhaps out of lust of the eyes, lust of the  flesh or pride of life.

I have determined of late though that God means  what He says. The Scriptures say “do not be deceived; God is not mocked. For whatever a man sows that He will also reap.” In many ways I have sown the wind and reaped the whirlwind.

The Roman philosopher Seneca wrote, “Why is it no man confesses his vices? It is because he has not yet laid them aside. It is a waking man only who can tell his dreams.”

J. Vernon McGee, a popular pastor and radio personality from the last half of the 20th century said of Seneca’s quote, “A man in sin is like a person still dreaming.

He alone (Jesus) can give comfort and understanding to the afflicted as well as extend mercy and grace.”

I have now after a lifetime awoke from my dream and seen my sins. The dream is to me more of a nightmare.

I should have obeyed God and His Word and listened to the men and women over my lifetime who taught me the way to live.

There’s still time for me, though. Thankfully, I have taken a first step.

The Bible says, “Don’t copy the behavior and customs of this world, but let God transform you into a new person by changing the way you think. Then you will learn to know God’s will for you, which is good and pleasing and perfect.”

I have begun to change the way I think. I am trying these days to think about how I can please God.

That in itself pleases Him. McGee said, “God in interested in what we think when we lie upon our pillows.”

Changing the way we think would be a good start for a lot of Americans today. But first, we have to wake up from our dreaming.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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