God Is Good! All The Time!

Have you heard that as a cheer? We hear it when something “good” happens. We hear it less often when nothing good happens, and even less often when BAD things happen.

But he is still good.

I heard good news last week. In fact, the news was “good” to a whole region of people. Western New York oft repeated the phrase, “God is good!” on Twitter, Facebook and out loud upon hearing the news that former Buffalo Bills quarterback, Jim Kelly—a member of the NFL Hall of Fame, and beloved by so many here, and around the world—was cancer-free, again! (The second time he’s had to fight cancer, and won.)

Jim has an incredible story, really. He was not such a nice guy in his playing days. But God has used one crazy, tragic event after another to transform him into a man who is so generous, so thoughtful toward others, some might hardly recognize him. He does much good for many people, and is loved (as I said) by so many.


God is good! All the time!

But when I read and heard all those things, there was a twinge of “yucky” feelings in me. (And I now admit, that really should not be there. I am to rejoice with those who rejoice. The Kelly news should be celebrated! It’s great! God is good!)

I could only think, “Would those people have said the same thing, ‘God is good, all the time!’, had God not written a full recovery into Jim’s story? They might… but probably fewer people would remember to say it.

Job did. He had absolutely everything taken from him other than his wife, and his life. All his children, his wealth, his possessions, even his health. And still he said:

He said,

“I came naked from my mother’s womb,
and I will be naked when I leave.
The Lord gave me what I had,
and the Lord has taken it away.
Praise the name of the Lord!”

We’ve heard the story. But have you lived it? Are you now? We know many people dealing with many hard things, and despite the wearisome, never-ending, painful, life-draining circumstances they are enduring, they too will staunchly declare: God is good! All the time!

They know He is. They’ve felt him, even in the darkest moments, reminding them of his deep love for them, and his true goodness, and his constant care and affection for them. Not just a Bible memory verse, but an every day—every moment—reality.

Do you know that? I ask myself, do I? Am I not prone to the same “God is Good” when things go the way I hope they would go, and less often when they do not?

Yes. I am weak. I can not always (without hesitation) say “Praise the name of the Lord!” as Job, or my friends.

But their example reminds me that even in the most unimaginable, unwanted, nearly-hopeless situations… yet we have hope. We know that he is with us. Really with us. When you see these friends, you can’t help but smile in response to their smiles! What a great example of the hope we have in Jesus, and the true joy we can know in him (not to mention a great example of the love of a husband and wife for each other, enduring together all things, no matter how difficult).

What is life throwing at you? What is too hard to handle, to bear, to stand up under.

Stop trying to stand. Rest. Trust. Hope.

Have you not known? Have you not heard? The Lord is the everlasting God, the Creator of the ends of the earth. He does not faint or grow weary; his understanding is unsearchable. He gives power to the faint, and to him who has no might he increases strength. Even youths shall faint and be weary, and young men shall fall exhausted; but they who wait for the Lord shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings like eagles; they shall run and not be weary; they shall walk and not faint.

Those are words on a poster—until you need them. And we all do, or someday will.

Count it pure joy when you face trials of many kinds. They are reminders that we need him, yes, and it is usually in those times that we are reminded that (even better) He is with us.

So it is true: God is good, all the time. All the time, God is good.

The trick is learning to say that when the times are less than “good”. Still he is and always will be… good.

Independence Day

declaration-of-independenceIt’s hard to appreciate independence as an American in the 21st century.

We are still benefitting today—July 4th, 2013—from the courage and bravery of a people whose chosen leaders pledged their “lives, [their] fortunes, and [their] sacred honor” two hundred and thirty-seven years ago. Well over two centuries of time has passed since that particular July 4th.

(Actually, it was July 2nd, but that’s not really the point here…)

Today we live in the freedom that they fought for, and were successful in gaining.

The founders knew the value of freedom, even though they all had grown up in a culture where human slavery was an open practice for two centuries before their birth! Many of them opposed it strongly and spoke out often against it, including Thomas Jefferson, who tried to introduce a bill into the Virginia legislature to abolish slavery.

(Please read this article, The Founding Fathers and Slavery. It’s full of information that is frequently omitted from discussions about the country’s founding and the obvious paradox of the institution of slavery continuing for nearly another century more.)

They knew and understood that freedom—for all—was an essential, foundational right, given to every individual person created by God.

That is worth fighting for. And it’s worth preserving.

Listen to this, from John Quincy Adams (known as the “hell-hound” of abolition):

The inconsistency of the institution of domestic slavery with the principles of the Declaration of Independence was seen and lamented by all the southern patriots of the Revolution; by no one with deeper and more unalterable conviction than by the author of the Declaration himself [Jefferson]. No charge of insincerity or hypocrisy can be fairly laid to their charge. Never from their lips was heard one syllable of attempt to justify the institution of slavery. They universally considered it as a reproach fastened upon them by the unnatural step-mother country [Great Britain] and they saw that before the principles of the Declaration of Independence, slavery, in common with every other mode of oppression, was destined sooner or later to be banished from the earth. Such was the undoubting conviction of Jefferson to his dying day. In the Memoir of His Life, written at the age of seventy-seven, he gave to his countrymen the solemn and emphatic warning that the day was not distant when they must hear and adopt the general emancipation of their slaves.

Wow. That’s pretty clear. (I added the emphasis you saw above.) Adams said they were “universally” against it, with Jefferson being foremost in that “undoubting conviction”.

Because they knew freedom was so essential.

We the People of the Unites States of America have been traveling down a path towards much LESS freedom for generations now. It’s a pattern in human history; certainly we should be no different. Or maybe we should?

When in the course of human events, it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another, and to assume among the powers of the earth the separate and equal station to which the laws of nature and of nature’s God entitles them, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation.

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. That whenever any form of government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the right of the people to alter or to abolish it and to institute new government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form as to them shall seem most likely to effect their safety and happiness. Prudence, indeed, will dictate that governments long established should not be changed for light and transient causes; and accordingly, all experience hath shown that mankind are more disposed to suffer while evils are sufferable than to right themselves by abolishing the forms to which they are accustomed. But when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same object, evinces a design to reduce them under absolute despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such government and to provide new guards for their future security.

Today, the Campbells will be reading the Declaration together, again. (It has become a family tradition to celebrate the Fourth of July.) And we will discuss the courage of the founders to stand against those who tried to suppress their inalienable rights, beginning with freedom.

(We also plan to read today from a book called For You They Signed, detailing the lives of all the signers of the Declaration.)

The 4th of July is not about fireworks. The meaning behind our holidays often are lost after only a short time of the annual commemorations.

We must not lose this one.

We are created free, and equal, and are meant to have the unconstrained rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.

Celebrate today what those men stood for, fought for, and many did die for: your freedom.

And thank God today that you were born here, when we were free. Not all can say that.

Happy Independence Day!

If you’d like to read more about slavery and the attempts in the 18th century to do away with it, I so highly recommend starting here (and then here), and then reading the book about William Wilberforce that that post is in reference too.

Question With Boldness

Thomas JeffersonThough most people nowadays can conceive of no better poster child for agnosticism (or, at the very least, deism), Jefferson himself may have had a bone to pick with such people.

In a letter to his nephew, on the topic of forming his own views on religion (a topic which he labeled “important”), Thomas Jefferson wrote the following, now reasonably well-known words:

Fix reason firmly in her seat, and call to her tribunal every fact, every opinion. Question with boldness even the existence of a God; because, if there be one, he must more approve of the homage of reason, than that of blindfolded fear.

(Somewhat of an aside: My favorite quote from Thomas Jefferson’s autobiography regarding his own faith, “…I am a REAL CHRISTIAN…”. Well that about says it.) 🙂

There are (many) times when I think my being appropriately labeled a “Christian” might be questioned by those who determine such things. I believe I’ve written about my borderline-heretical thinking at least once or twice.

In fact, just the other day I was reading through the Old Testament book of Ezekiel and wondering things like, “Wow, this voice of God does not seem to be the same as even the book of Jeremiah, one book before—and he seemed pretty peeved in that book, too! I wonder if some of the books in what we call the Bible are even supposed to be in there? Who says that council got it right?”

Now, proceed with caution here. I am NOT SAYING that I unequivocally, irrevocably believe and hold to be fact that such questions even might be “true” (in the black-and-white sense of “true”) …

But perhaps my reason for such an emphasized statement above is that, in dealing with things of God, it’s sometimes considered heresy merely to question.

And, folks, that is plain wrong. Really, really wrong.

So, I may be a heretic, but I’m going to keep questioning.

Turns out, by the end of Ezekiel there was some really neat stuff in there kinda flipping the “rules and regulations” voice of God (being interpreted through Ezekiel) on its head. Chapter forty-seven has a really neat image of God abiding in a temple from which living water flows, giving life to everything it touches, including dead things. Hmm… the Living Water… giving Life… where have I heard those things before…?

I believe Thomas Jefferson had it right when he urged his nephew to throw away all bias and personal opinion and really dig into the facts, evidences, truths, and his own reason. Think. Don’t be afraid of the truth (or that it might not be the truth). Find, and know what is true. This is important! To know and understand the Creator is much more important than anything else.

I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full. —John 10:10

I am the way, the truth, and the life. —John 14:6

And this is the way to have eternal life—to know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, the one you sent to earth. —John 17:3

We believe in education in this home. Not school, or curriculum—although those can have their place.

Real education. Seek out original sources; find people who are not only knowledgeable but passionate about a subject and learn from them (whether in person, or through recorded words); then, find someone else and hear other voices. Putting all of these pieces together, along with your God-given intellect (reason), and asking the Spirit to guide the entire process. (He is the one who teaches us, after all.)

Question with boldness, even the very existence of God.

And the world—starting with you—will be better for it.

If you wondered about that “I am a REAL CHRISTIAN” quote from Thomas Jefferson, here’s the full text of his introduction to what some call the “Jefferson Bible” (but he titled otherwise). It should give an even more convincing context to that quote!

I have made a wee little book from the Gospels which I call the Philosophy of Jesus. It is a paradigma of his doctrines, made by cutting the texts out of the book and arranging them on the pages of a blank book, in a certain order of time or subject. A more beautiful or precious morsel of ethics I have never seen. It is a document in proof that I am a REAL CHRISTIAN, that is to say, a disciple of the doctrines of Jesus, very different from the Platonists, who call ME the infidel and THEMSELVES Christians and preachers of the Gospel, while they draw all of their characteristic dogmas from what its author never said nor saw. They have compounded from the heathen mysteries a system beyond the comprehension of man, of which the great reformer of the vicious ethics and deism of the Jews, were he to return on earth, would not recognize one feature. (Thomas Jefferson: In His Own Words, Maureen Harrison & Steve Gilbert, editors. ©1993 Excellent Books, New York, NY.)


tolkienThere is no word to describe what I’m attempting to put into words. The concept of capturing extant reality in written words when no words are used—nor in the true reality, are they necessary—in order to communicate by text or mere oration (and auditory-only experience of that oratory) the experience in its entirety. It’s so difficult, and yet so masterfully accomplished by J. R. R. Tolkien in his stories of Middle-earth.

My two oldest boys and I have been making the journey through Tolkien’s adventures, starting with the Hobbit and subsequently through the Lord of the Rings trilogy for probably the past two years. (We’re taking them at a Sunday Driver’s pace…) The worlds that this man must have seen in his mind’s eye, and the incredible attention to detail that he conveys through description and dialogue are truly, utterly astounding. At times it even feels like too much; there are moments when after a few pages of reading poetry in Elven tongues you begin to wonder, “What is the deal with this guy?”

But then there are moments where you almost feel you are not simply present with the characters, in the magical places—rather you feel as though you are one of them.

Of course this is the goal of anyone who puts pen to paper (or fingers to keyboard), but how many can so well achieve this as has Mr. Tolkien? When you have a society in your name, you’ve probably made a name for yourself.

We’ve nearly reached the end of the third book in the LoTR series, and tonight’s chapter was just such an enjoyable read. Tolkien is bringing together several long, arduous journeys for so many characters through whom he has helped us live this adventure; their joys are ours, all that they are experiencing can be felt by the reader.

When I read the following paragraph, I stopped and commented to my son Ian, the aspiring author, observing that what Tolkien is able to do is to put into words things which have no words. He assembles (even creates) just the right words to allow the reader to enter the entirety of the moment. Not only does he elaborately describe a lush environment in all its fullness, but he also so perfectly captures the emotions and even the reasons for the emotions without “spelling it out” … rather he brings it to life.

‘A great Shadow has departed’, said Gandalf, and then he laughed, and the sound was like music, or like water in a parched land; and as he listened the thought came to Sam that he had not heard laughter, the pure sound of merriment, for days upon days without count. It fell upon his ears like the echo of all the joys he had ever known. But he himself burst into tears. Then, as a sweet rain will pass down a wind of spring and the sun will shine out the clearer, his tears ceased, and his laughter welled up, and laughing he sprang from his bed.

If Artists did not exist who could master the words to somehow so beautifully capture the fullness of that moment, it might have gone something like this:

‘A great Shadow has departed’, said Gandalf, with a laugh, a sound which Sam had not heard for a long time, as their journey had been so full of sadness, toil, and hardship. The sound made him glad, but Sam began to cry. After a while, his tears ceased and he too began to laugh. Then he got out of bed.

One of these things is not like the other …

I remain awe-struck at the way Tolkien not only paints a vivid picture using words, he really creates a wordality. (A reality brought to life—as near as possible—with only words.) The way the emotions of the moment are described in that paragraph, to think to describe the depth of the joy as laughter “[falling] upon his ears like the echo of all the joys he had ever known”, is much more engaging and colorful and real than, “The sound made him glad”.

(It’s quite obvious that I am no J. R. R. Tolkien!)

While words can never capture the fullness of experience, there truly is power in words, and I am becoming a firm believer that J. R. R. was one of the finest word craftsmen/artists/story-tellers ever to have breathed our air.

I shall greatly miss Middle-earth when we finally complete our reading of The Return of The King. I may have to delve into one of the sundry other works of Tolkien that rest quietly on my shelves, anticipating their turn to share the worlds which they contain.

The wordalities I myself endeavor to create may not be as complete and vivid as Tolkien’s, but I will nonetheless continue with ardent fealty my quest to capture with words the thoughts that are stirred in my heart and mind, ruminate in my soul, crescendoing within the depths of my being from the simplest melodies to the most elaborate symphonies; becoming then all the more enjoyable when shared with a fellow Word Enthusiast and Lover of Locution, like you.

Constitutionally Speaking: The States Have It (as do the People)

Thomas JeffersonIf you are a fan of history, and perhaps also an American citizen—both of which I am—then I hope you’ve enjoyed this look at our Constitution, and the Bill of Rights, as seen through the eyes, words, and actions of the people who constructed it. It’s very interesting to see where we’ve come from, how it began, and even the direction we are going.

I am certainly no authority on this subject, but I’ve spent a good amount of time (even as I wrote these articles) studying original sources and commentaries upon those. I would definitely encourage you to do the same if you are made curious by what I’ve written, or find that you wholeheartedly disagree!

Regarding the pursuit of truth, even in regards to theology and religion, Thomas Jefferson advised:

“Fix reason firmly in her seat, and call to her tribunal every fact, every opinion. Question with boldness even the existence of a god; because, if there be one, he must more approve the homage of reason, than that of blindfolded fear.”

It’s up to each of us to learn what we believe, and why we believe it. And never be afraid to question it.

In this series, we’ve looked at the initial question—whether or not the federal government has the authority to limit what laws an individual State can or can not pass—as well, we have considered whether the Bill of Rights grants rights, or protects them.

And now we come to the conclusion.

The central point to the current Constitutionally Speaking series (I, II, III) has been to understand the original intent of the Constitution. When it was written, the framers hoped to grant very limited powers to the federal government, while the states would each retain “numerous and indefinite” powers.

James Madison said as much in Federalist No. 45:

“The powers delegated by the proposed Constitution to the federal government are few and defined. Those which are to remain in the State governments are numerous and indefinite.” [ref]

In the first part of this series, I quoted Thomas Jefferson several times as I feel that he was a great example of this strong conviction that the Federal government should not have powers over the States, other than any specifically granted to it. Jefferson was an anti-federalist: he was opposed to a strong central government. The Federalists were the framers of the Constitution (thus the Federalist Papers, explaining the reasoning behind the Constitution) but one of the hallmarks of the document was that all members of the Constitutional Convention made every effort to come to complete agreement—Federalist and Anti-Federalist alike; consensus, rather than just a majority vote. Thus was born a limited, central (Federal, general) government, designed to function as the representative of all the states in four areas: common defense, preservation of peace (domestic and foreign), regulation of domestic (interstate) and foreign commerce, and diplomacy with other nations. [ref]

In this last edition of this series, I have one last Jefferson quote for you. This one is from The Kentucky Resolutions of 1798, when Kentucky successfully brought a grievance against the General Government for overstepping its authority:

That the several States composing, the United States of America, are not united on the principle of unlimited submission to their general government; but that, by a compact under the style and title of a Constitution for the United States, and of amendments thereto, they constituted a general government for special purposes — delegated to that government certain definite powers, reserving, each State to itself, the residuary mass of right to their own self-government; and that whensoever the general government assumes undelegated powers, its acts are unauthoritative, void, and of no force: that to this compact each State acceded as a State, and is an integral part, its co-States forming, as to itself, the other party: that the government created by this compact was not made the exclusive or final judge of the extent of the powers delegated to itself; since that would have made its discretion, and not the Constitution, the measure of its powers; but that, as in all other cases of compact among powers having no common judge, each party has an equal right to judge for itself, as well of infractions as of the mode and measure of redress. [ref]

And all of that is to say: the States, and the People, still hold ultimate, final, and also primary power.

The Constitution was written to bring together several autonomous states under one “general government”. It’s purpose was to spell out the compact between those states, and those people, to be one entity—one people.

Somewhere along the way (many places, actually) we moved from a place where we were many states joined as one (e pluribis unum?) to one very large “state”, commanding and governing from the central head: Washington.

That’s not what we were designed to be. The Constitution allows for, or more accurately, attempts to preserve a government closer to the people. Local and state governments, comprised of neighbors. True representatives. (We are not a democracy. The United States federal government is a federal republic. It is a group of representatives from other states/entities.)

This was fundamentally lost during the Civil War. It was, in fact, the primary cause and reason for the Civil War. The south, as wrong as they were about slavery, believed strongly in states rights and autonomy. The north believed more closely what the Federalists believed: a strong central government was essential to a strong Union. The north was victorious (which was good for preserving our union, and of course for finally abolishing slavery) and thus was cemented the United States of America in its current form.

Prior the the Civil War, the country was refered to in the plural: “The United States are…” Following the War, that phrase became, “The United States is…” [ref] Hear the difference? We are no longer one from many, we are just one.

When one examines the way our country was first established, and the intended separation of powers, it’s rather fascinating to see how much we’ve changed over time. It seems now rather commonplace to think that Washington or the federal government is our supreme authority. As we’ve seen, power was originally supposed to be remain more with the state and local governments—and of course, the People. This allows for a much more diverse—and free?—people overall.

But, as the saying goes, “Give an inch, and they’ll take a mile.”

When we first saw the need as a nation to cede some of our autonomy to a central government in order to exist and survive as a society or a nation, we allowed for the possibility of ceding more and more power to that created entity. Our Constitution provides amazing checks and balances, and separations of power, and multiple devices for ensuring, as best as possible, that the power remains first with the People. And yet today, the People generally operate as though the government has primary power and authority, which it then grants to the People (generally bypassing the States entirely).

This has occurred, in my opinion, simply as a result of that first “foot in the door” of drafting and ratifying the Constitution—great as that document may be. But it has progressed thanks to the desire within Man’s spirit to be led, to have a King. (See here, and here for more on that.)

Also helping us toward a view of our federal government as the more centralized authority are several Supreme Court decisions as well as constitutional amendments throughout the generations.

The Supremacy Clause (Article VI, Clause 2) of the Constitution has often been interpreted to grant primacy to Federal law (power) when any conflict with State law might exist. The First Amendment has often triggered the use of this Clause to determine where the authority lies, as far back as cases in 1803. Subsequent cases and rulings [example], as well as the Fourteenth Amendment, followed by President Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s New Deal [ref], have all led us to a place where we see the Federal government as supreme, and continue to move it towards greater power, primacy and supremacy.

At some point we might discover that we have ceded too much power.

For now, we Americans are definitely one of the most free people and civilizations of all time. Our Constitution is still the basis for preserving and protecting that freedom. We are a people governed by Rule of Law, not a privileged class or other type of nobility. This ensures the opportunity of fairness and equal justice for all.

Many attempts are made to undermine that. (Lust for power is a strong force, as is the desire for comfort and safety.) Benjamin Franklin was asked, “Well Doctor what have we got—a republic or a monarchy?” His reply? “A republic, if you can keep it.” He is also credited with saying, “They who can give up essential liberty to obtain a little temporary safety deserve neither liberty nor safety.”

Freedom is our God-given right; unalienable. However, to coexist with others as a nation, as a republic—the United States of America—we must work to preserve that freedom. Knowledge of the original intent is essential, as well as a foundation in the understanding that neither we nor any government, whether of our own construct or forced upon us are ultimately in authority over us. God the Creator is our supreme authority, and one reason that our republic has survived is that He and the ways of his Kingdom were central to the worldview of the Framers.

But that’s for another series… 🙂

I encourage you to find the original sources mentioned or linked here. Own a copy if possible. Read, understand, and pass along.

And in that way, you can be part of perserving our liberties, from generation to generation.

Gotta Be In The Same Room

Men often hate each other because they fear each other; they fear each other because they do not know each other; they do not know each other because they can not communicate; they can not communicate because they are separated. —Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

I’ve been meaning to write this post many times over. It’s changed from time to time, focusing on one particular story or detail or another. But the core of it has remained the same: we are really not listening to each other.

Worse yet, we aren’t even trying. Worse still, we might not even know how!

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.The quote above is from a book I am reading written by Dr. King about his years in Montgomery, Alabama—the heart of the “Deep South”. And since today is Martin Luther King, Jr. Day… it seemed the perfect time to write out these thoughts!

Incredibly, in the 1950s—nearly 100 years after the Emancipation Proclamation, and almost 150 years since the slave trade had been abolished (see here and here)—the people of Montgomery still lived as two very separate groups of people.

You’ve heard the stories. “Whites” and “Negroes” or “Coloreds” were separated on buses, restaurants, drinking fountains, even churches. Montgomery was one of the more segregated cities in America.

Feeling like this was his home (the South), the current state of race relations understandably troubled King very much. Enough that he did something about it.

So much that he has his own holiday.

But one of the things he did was not political, nor legislative, nor even “activist”.

He just got people together.

He said in his book, early in the story, that one certain committee of people—the Montgomery Council—was vital to the health of his city, Montgomery, because it was the only place where both sides who were (more than) very polarized were actually together in the same room. Otherwise, there was no communication at all.

And when there’s no communication, there’s no understanding, and that leads to fear and hate as King said.

Isn’t that where we are today? It’s mostly not race-related*. (Though that reality certainly persists, even if lessened, and will to the end of time.) Today our divisions are social, political, idealogical. But they are just as divisive, and we are just as un-hearing of the “other” side. We are still “separated”.

Those of us who read the Huffington Post already know what the rest who get their news from The Blaze or Fox News think, and even what they will do. Those of us who vote Republican and identify with the Tea Party may have a bit more tolerance for other opinions (due to a love for individual freedoms), but often know with certitude what the CNN/MSNBC crowd think, and again, what they “will do”.

And so the incessant banter continues, without either side listening much past the first thing they think they heard the other side say.

We’ve gotta be in the same room. If not physically, then at least in spirit.

It is extremely rare to find anyone who is truly open enough to sit in the same room with a person who has equally deep convictions on any given subject or subjects, just in the opposing camp. We tend to congregate with people of like mind. And that can certainly be good, helpful, encouraging in a way, but it is most certainly not helpful towards a more united community, local or on a larger scale.

And so we continue in hate, produced by fear, produced by lack of knowledge, produced by a lack of communication (meaning when both sides are spoken, and heard) …

And we get nowhere. Only further apart. More polarized. Less of a Union.

An interesting piece for a future post is that when we were first forming our Constitution, one of the arguments for the forming of a stronger union was that the larger and more diverse the Union, the less power would be given to factions of any sort. Factions were defined as homogenous groups of people united on the things they hold in common (in contrast to other people or groups of people). So if the Union was comprised of people from all classes, faiths, backgrounds, cultures, etc, then no one group could ever get a majority power of any other minority group. (And again, I’m not mainly talking “races”.)

But in the end, we have to listen to each other. Really listen. (I’ve been talking about this for a while. Re-read this article when you can, along with the links within to two other articles.)

And finally, more than just listen… we need to do. That was what set MLK apart. He acted on his beliefs and convictions.

And the world was changed.

If you want some more reading for MLK Jr. Day, please check out my post from last year, or find a copy of Stride Towards Freedom somewhere. Or I’m also reading The Life and Death of Martin Luther King, Jr (though definitely not far enough in to recommend it, or not recommend), and you can just read his own words in his speeches online!

He was a great man of conviction, courage, principles, and above all he loved God and the people he made, regardless of skin color, or anything else external. He fought for that dream, and paid for that deep conviction with his life.

No greater love than this… to lay down his life for a friend.

His love for others brought people together, an we are better for it today.

Note: I agree with Ken Ham from Answers in Genesis who contends that there are no races… we are all one race. Since God made us all from two people, that would seem to follow. But this article is most certainly NOT about creationism! 🙂

Incredible People: Martin Luther King, Jr.

Today is Martin Luther King, Jr. Day. I know that because my in-laws are visiting (since they don’t have to drive their school busses today). I am not a very good observer of holidays in general. My thinking is that we should honor whomever we are honoring more than just one day per year. (And anything can become meaningless when you just do it out of habit…)

But today I was reminded of a post that I started last September. (Yes, I have really neglected writing over the past six months or so…)

I began writing about MLK’s “Dream” speech. The famous one… you’ve heard it. What happened was… well, read on below…

Last summer, Glenn Beck hosted a gigantic rally in Washington, DC on August 28th at the steps of the Lincoln Memorial—the day and location of the historic Martin Luther King Jr. speech, “I Have A Dream

There was a “backlash” in the news, and even a “counter rally”. Accusations were tossed around of trying to co-opt the day… hogwash. The notion that Martin Luther King Jr. belongs to any one group of people is nearly flat-out denying the substance of all that he said.

As I was listening to all this talk about MLK—who he was, what he thought, what he said, what he stood for—I decided that I really didn’t know a lot about him first hand, so, I began investigating. I began, of course, with his most famous speech, “I Have A Dream”. It’s famous for a reason.

I found his speech online and we read it together as a family back in early September last year. It was shorter than I imagined, actually … but very to the point. The dream he spoke of was that one day there would be no colors, no division. One day, all of us would live together as equals. I think his courageous efforts to stand against injustice—leading other people to do the same—went a long way toward improving that in our country, but there are still so many “us” vs. “them” divisions (not necessarily, or at all, based on skin color) that sadly, I’d say we have a long way to go still. Perhaps we’ll never fully realize his dream this side of heaven, but it doesn’t hurt to keep trying, keep encouraging each other toward it.

The text this speech can be found here, and I will quote most of it below, highlighting some of the spots we thought were the most interesting/thought-provoking/great.

The speech begins with historical context. They were gathered at the feet of the Lincoln memorial. At the symbolic feet of the man who ended slavery. But the segregation had not ended. King said, “[the Negro] finds himself an exile in his own land.”

Then he said:

In a sense we have come to our nation’s capital to cash a check. When the architects of our republic wrote the magnificent words of the Constitution and the declaration of Independence, they were signing a promissory note to which every American was to fall heir. This note was a promise that all men would be guaranteed the inalienable rights of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.

All men. I believe that the people who founded our country believed that. There are many stories and evidences to show that, though for hundreds of years there had been a culture of slavery that was more than abhorrent, many (perhaps most) did not support it, or even opposed it. But that’s not what I want to highlight here… I think it’s great that MLK was an American. Not an African-American, but an American… this was his “land”. And he took the words of our founders literally: That all men would be guaranteed—equally—these inalienable rights.

So we have come to cash this check — a check that will give us upon demand the riches of freedom and the security of justice.

I don’t think most of us today realize how important these two things are. We all live in relative freedom, purchased by many who have come before us. Perhaps many of us have known injustice. But in general, we think of riches more as material things rather than these more basic, more fundamental rights.

But there is something that I must say to my people who stand on the warm threshold which leads into the palace of justice. In the process of gaining our rightful place we must not be guilty of wrongful deeds. Let us not seek to satisfy our thirst for freedom by drinking from the cup of bitterness and hatred.

This was an amazing paragraph. How strong is the dark power of bitterness and hatred. It clouds our judgment, fills our heart with darkness. It is definitely powerful, and in a bad way. King was right to acknowledge it, but emphasize that those who were perhaps justified in feeling it must not remain in it, or allow it to remain in them.

In another speech King said, “So this morning, as I look into your eyes, and into the eyes of all of my brothers in Alabama and all over America and over the world, I say to you, ‘I love you. I would rather die than hate you.’ And I’m foolish enough to believe that through the power of this love somewhere, men of the most recalcitrant bent will be transformed.” He was right.

I say to you today, my friends, that in spite of the difficulties and frustrations of the moment, I still have a dream. It is a dream deeply rooted in the American dream.

I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed: “We hold these truths to be self-evident: that all men are created equal.”

I have a dream that one day on the red hills of Georgia the sons of former slaves and the sons of former slave owners will be able to sit down together at a table of brotherhood.

I have a dream that one day even the state of Mississippi, a desert state, sweltering with the heat of injustice and oppression, will be transformed into an oasis of freedom and justice.

I have a dream that my four children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.

King saw the true American dream. Self-evident truth: all men are created equal. The founders knew it. They may not have fully lived it out, but they knew it. MLK knew that those rights were given to each person by God. It didn’t matter what your skin color was or what country you were from or how much money you had… those are all external things. If we could all get past those things then we would be an oasis of freedom and justice. We would be a nation who judges “not by the color of [our] skin but by the content of [our] character.”

Incredible people are definitely uniquely gifted by God in some ways, but more often, they are just regular people who believe in something, and whose convictions (and usually their deeply rooted faith in God) allow them—perhaps require them—to stand up for what is right. To do what is right. Martin Luther King, Jr. was another incredible person, and definitely worthy of a place of honor in our nation and around the world.

When we let freedom ring, when we let it ring from every village and every hamlet, from every state and every city, we will be able to speed up that day when all of God’s children, black men and white men, Jews and Gentiles, Protestants and Catholics, will be able to join hands and sing in the words of the old Negro spiritual, “Free at last! free at last! thank God Almighty, we are free at last!”

(note: Today, 1/17/11, the server was overloaded on that I Have a Dream link above! You can find the text of the speech (and that page) via the archive.org Way Back Machine here.)

Bonhoeffer: Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy

Bonhoeffer by Eric MetaxasI heard of a book the other day simply called, “Bonhoeffer”. It was highly recommended, and my interest was piqued when I heard who wrote the book: Eric Metaxas. “Eric Mah-who-huh?” you say? Indeed. However, you may recall that I highly recommended his previous book, “Amazing Grace” (the story of William Wilberforce) and wrote a couple long posts (here, and here) after following Metaxas through Wilberforce’s life. An inspiring man, with an equally inspiring story, masterfully told by Metaxas.

So you can imagine that I am eager to get a copy of this book and learn of the life of another inspiring man. I really think that walking through life alongside great people as they face choices and make decisions helps motivate, challenge, and inspire us to do the same in our lives. So I look foward to getting to know Dietrich Bonhoeffer, through the eyes and prose of Eric Metaxas.

Amazon has a preview video available. Just a two minute overview of who this man was, and why his story was an interesting one. Watch below. (Then go get the book!)

Ten Rules To Live By – Thomas Jefferson

Saw this on a friend’s blog today and had to repost here. If ever there was an intelligent, wise man… well most of them seemed to live in the late 18th century! Thomas Jefferson being chief among them. You may remember I posted here awhile ago that I found a collection of Jefferson’s writings in one book (Thomas Jefferson: In his own words) … it really is fantastic.

So, here are your 10 rules to live by, from Thomas Jefferson:

1. Never put off till tomorrow what you can do today.
2. Never trouble another for what you can do yourself.
3. Never spend your money before you have earned it.
4. Never buy what you don’t want because it is cheap.
5. Pride costs more than hunger, thirst and cold.
6. We seldom repent of having eaten too little.
7. Nothing is troublesome that we do willingly.
8. How much pain the evils have cost us that never happened.
9. Take things always by the smooth handle.
10. When angry, count ten before you speak, if very angry, count a hundred.

A Few More Thoughts on William Wilberforce

I finally officially completed the book I wrote about previously, Amazing Grace, which tells the story of the life of William Wilberforce. I said it before, but I feel like I can’t say it enough: this man was an incredible human being. His life, so affected by what he called the “Great Change”—his awakening to a real, life-changing relationship with God—was not only completely dedicated to just treatment and equality for all his fellow man (and just and kind treatment of animals, actually) but the effectiveness of that life given to this cause was simply astounding. He was relentless, never tiring of doing the right, good thing… and the world is better for it.

In his lifetime he not only took on and defeated the African slave trade, he also saw slavery abolished altogether, Africans were emancipated and the British citizenry was brought along to view them as fellow men and women (rather than some sub-human species), and he also just in general turned the entire culture of his nation (and likely others) toward a more thoughtful, and in reality, a more Christian people.

The affect of true, life-changing “Christianity” was an interesting thread to follow throughout the narrative. In a time when religion had sullied the name of Jesus and the Kingdom of which he spoke, to the point that anything bearing his name had become completely irrelevant, Wilberforce’s life righted the ship, so to speak, and set Britain’s course for the next century or more on improving (or at least being concerned with) the plight of the oppressed around the world. One of the things he tackled following the victory he’d won for abolition was the condition of life in the British colony of India. He endeavored to bring the truth of the Gospel to that nation, educating her people, and in so doing, hoped to set them free: both spiritually, and socially… and otherwise.

It is a misunderstanding (often brought on by those who would presume to promulgate it) that Christianity is in any way the cause of suffering in our world. There are certainly those (previously mentioned) who would distort the teachings of Jesus, usually to their own gain, but sometimes just out of a sheer ignorance of the grandness of God’s grace. When properly understood, however, there is no greater “force” for change than a true understanding of the Good News that Jesus taught and lived.

For God loved the world so much that he gave his one and only Son, so that everyone who believes in him will not perish but have eternal life. God sent his Son into the world not to judge the world, but to save the world through him.

Sadly, we under the banner of his name, too often judge the world (though even God himself through Jesus did/does not) … and end up pushing our fellow creatures away, and/or elevating ourselves above others, where we should not. The truth is, we are all the same. And when we know that truth, when we see the world in that way, and when we live in the world in that way … the world is a much, much better place.

William Wilberforce did that. And, as much as one man with such a view of his world can change and affect it for the better, he most certainly did.