Categories
Responsible Citizens

The Thirteen Folds

On November 20, 2018, my father-in-law, Col. Troy Alcorn, USAF Retired, was honored at his internment service at the Pikes Peak National Cemetery in Colorado Springs, Colorado. His son-in-law, Command CMSgt Bobby Smith, USAF Retired, explained the meaning of the 13 folds of the flag-folding ceremony. I had never heard the official meaning of the folds, and thought you might be interested. 

If you’ve attended a funeral honoring a veteran who served our country, perhaps you witnessed the folding of the flag that once covered the casket of a loved one. Each of the 13 folds of the flag holds great significance.

And at the ceremony of retreat, a daily observance at bases during which all personnel pay respect to the flag, “the flag is lowered, folded in a triangle fold and kept under watch throughout the night as a tribute to our nation’s honored dead. The next morning, it is brought out and, at the ceremony of reveille, run aloft as a symbol of our belief in the resurrection of the body.”

Please think about these respectfully:

  1. The first fold of our flag is a symbol of life.
  2. The second fold signifies our belief in eternal life.
  3. The third fold is made in honor and tribute of the veteran departing our ranks, and who gave a portion of his or her life for the defense of our country to attain peace.
  4. The fourth fold exemplifies our weaker nature as citizens trusting in God; it is to Him we turn for His divine guidance.
  5. The fifth fold is an acknowledgment to our country, for in the words of Stephen Decatur, “Our country, in dealing with other countries, may she always be right, but it is still our country, right or wrong.”
  6. The sixth fold is for where our hearts lie. It is with our heart that we pledge allegiance to the flag of the United States of America, and to the republic for which it stands, one nation under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.
  7. The seventh fold is a tribute to our armed forces, for it is through the armed forces that we protect our country and our flag against all enemies.
  8. The eighth fold is a tribute to the one who entered into the valley of the shadow of death, that we might see the light of day, and to honor our mother, for whom it flies on Mother’s Day.
  9. The ninth fold is an honor to womanhood, for it has been through their faith, love, loyalty, and devotion that the character of the men and women who have made this country great have been molded.
  10. The 10th fold is a tribute to father, for he, too, has given his sons and daughters for the defense of our country since he or she was first-born.
  11. The 11th fold, in the eyes of Hebrew citizens, represents the lower portion of the seal of King David and King Solomon and glorifies, in their eyes, the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.
  12. The 12th fold, in the eyes of a Christian citizen, represents an emblem of eternity and glorifies, in their eyes, God the Father, the Son, and Holy Ghost.
  13. The last fold, when the flag is completely folded, the stars are uppermost, reminding us of our national motto, “In God We Trust.”

This might be one of the blogs you would like to print out and keep. Or, maybe you would like to distribute this to your friends and family members. The flag folding ceremony has always been meaningful to me as one who has personally witnessed the struggles others face who do not enjoy our heritage, but after hearing this explanation, the ceremony is even more powerful to me.

Categories
Responsible Citizens

Change Is Inevitable; Improvement Optional

Paul instructed Timothy:

I urge you, first of all, to pray for all people. Ask God to help them; intercede on their behalf, and give thanks for them. Pray this way for kings and all who are in authority so that we can live peaceful and quiet lives marked by godliness and dignity. This is good and pleases God our Savior, who wants everyone to be saved and to understand the truth. For,

There is one God and one Mediator who can reconcile God and humanity – the man Christ Jesus. He gave his life to purchase freedom for everyone.

The book of Genesis describes how God created order from chaos, which is exactly what godly people do so that we can live peaceful and quiet lives, marked by godliness and dignity. Others, though, are never satisfied with existing order. They want change. And their goal is simply change for the sake of change, sometimes at any cost. I, too, believe that we should embrace change, but only as a means to create something better. Positive change produces greater peace and order and requires thoughtful people to shape it.

Sometimes human dissatisfaction grows out of injustice, bigotry, lack of opportunity, or repression. In these cases, challenging existing norms is justified, even necessary. Other times dissatisfaction is rooted within ourselves and, because we tend to blame others for our dissatisfaction, we challenge others or the existing norms in a way that creates chaos that actually makes our lives worse.

To illustrate, the American Revolution was rooted in change and led to our constitutional republic which allows for a continual, orderly evolution of government for the good of all. As a result, we’ve experienced over 200 years of orderly transitions of power that have adjusted to changing social norms. The lives of American citizens have steadily improved, and we are better off now than ever before. These changes have provided greater opportunities for improvement for all of us.

The opposite takes place when extremists’ revolutions lead to mass genocide, extreme poverty, starvation, abuse, the denial of civil liberties, and the establishment of dictatorships under the guise of promoting the common good. These types of revolutions use the language of empowering powerless people, but instead create chaos that allows the deceptive and power hungry to gain dictatorial power.

Since change is inevitable, we are all better off if necessary changes are directed by thoughtful people.

Gayle and I have recently watched the first two seasons of the Amazon Prime TV series The Man in the High Tower. So far, it has depicted the situation that might have developed if America hadn’t used the bomb to end World War II, thus allowing Germany time to develop the bomb, destroy Washington, and win the war. In the series, Nazi Germany and Japan divide the United States with the east ruled by a Nazi dictator and the west ruled by a Japanese Emperor.

While watching this series, we read the acclaimed Robert K. Massie biography of Nicholas and Alexandra, the history of the last Czar of Russia and his family who were ultimately assassinated. At that time, many Russians were promoting the idea of changing the government to a republic, while others were demanding more extreme changes. The chaos that ensued during these shifting times created an opportunity for Lenin to form a communist dictatorship that led to more poverty, genocide, and abuse than any single governmental system in the history of the world.

We engaged in reading this historical biography and watching the TV series while we also were experiencing the 2018 mid-term election season. Because of what we were watching and reading, I was keenly aware of how quickly nations can come and go. So I became somewhat concerned for the state of our nation as violent discord and an unusual lack of civility gripped our public discourse.

Unknown-22-1.jpeg

I asked some of my friends where they thought the chaos was coming from. Most simply blamed one or the other of the political parties. But several of them pointed me to Saul Alinsky’s book, Rules for Radicals,which I have now read.

Alinsky argues that people must take risks to force change, assuming that change will produce improvement the majority of the time. He claims that he is not a promoter of any particular ideology, but that he wants to encourage radicals to force change for the sake of change. He also encourages radical intervention for any powerless group that wants to take power. But since he wrote his book in 1971, he did not have the benefit of the lessons we’ve learned during the last fifty years from disastrous revolutionary movements that took place in the last century—the failure of Stalinist ideals, the mass genocides, poverty, and abuses that have been attributed to totalitarian regimes.  Yet strikingly, even though his book lacks the wisdom we’ve gained in recent history, the ideas it promotes are being embraced by some in our current political discourse and they are negatively impacting the civility we have earned and enjoyed. As I read it, I was starkly reminded that change happens, but when those who lack wisdom and thoughtfulness direct it, the outcome is disasterous.

In contrast, we can benefit from the wisdom we’ve gained over time. For example, we’re all aging, but we’ve learned we will enjoy higher quality aging if we eat good food, exercise, learn, and engage in social interactions. Children will become adults, but we’ve learned their odds of becoming healthy adults is increased if their parents stay married, they enjoy learning, they are socially involved, and they regularly attend a good life-giving church.

Change is inevitable, so we all must wisely direct change to improve our families, our communities, our workplaces, and our churches. And THIS is exactly why the Bible is so important.

No other book in the history of the world has led to so much opportunity, prosperity, freedom, mutual respect, wholesome family life, and healthy community as the Bible. The Book That Made Your World, How the Bible Created the Soul of Western Civilization, by Vishal Mangalwadi,  and the book How Christianity Changed the World,by Alvin J. Schmidt are excellent reads that explain why Western Civilization, built on Judeo-Christian principles looks so different than other civilizations.

The opening Scripture in this blog exhorts us to pray for those in authority. When we pray, read our Bibles, and fellowship with other believers, we have to contemplate time-proven ideas. The purpose of reading books, thinking about trends in history that help or hurt, or discussing ideas in a way that helps everyone gain understanding, is so that we can all improve. Sometimes that might lead to a revolution. Other times it simply inspires us to live wisely.

Many “progressive” ideas do not create progress at all. They are instead a return to failed 20th century theories that proved to be counterproductive. So, since change is inevitable, let’s thoughtfully direct it based on the wisdom we’ve gained, rather than repeat the failed leftist ideas of the past. Instead, let’s learn from the past and thoughtfully direct change so that it will create opportunities for improvement for everyone.

Unknown-21-1.jpeg

Categories
Responsible Citizens

Elections and Wisdom in Our Great Country

I like being a middle-aged man. I don’t get as excited about current events as I used to. For example, though some elections go my way and others don’t, I have learned that as long as they are free and fair, the right person ends up in the right place most of the time. And when we elect the wrong person, our constitutional system of checks and balances works just fine. So I’ve participated in every election since I was 18 years old. I vote, but I don’t scream at others in the street.

The same is true with my faith. I know the Bible is the Word of God, Jesus is the Son of God, and that Earth is not Heaven, so events on Earth don’t get me all bothered. Here on the Earth, there are lots of influences that do not reflect God’s best plan for people. But in Heaven, God’s perfect goodness dominates all. Here on Earth, I’ve seen nations come and go. Some have lost their freedom; others have gained it. Some spiral into chaos; others find order and good government. I have a strong political philosophy that protects people’s freedoms and allows them to acquire the goods and services that they need. But I’m not the only one possessing conviction, so sometimes others prevail.

Personally, I’ve had very good days, and very bad days, but in the midst of both, I stay pretty steady. I’m not saying I don’t get mildly emotional sometimes, but I have never been mad at God. I’m secure in God’s forgiveness and love, so I can rest.

Job said to his counselors (whose advice sounded good and would be popular today, but in God’s estimation missed the mark),

Wisdom belongs to the aged, and understanding to the old. But true wisdom and power are found in God; counsel and understanding are his.

We witnessed contrasting opinions and motivations play out in the highly politicized Kavanaugh hearings. For those of you who don’t remember, Judge Brett Kavanaugh was nominated by President Trump to the Supreme Court during the passionate 2018 mid-term election season. From the outset Democrat senators opposed his nomination and Republicans favored it. After the private and public hearings, FBI investigations, validation by the American Bar Association, and the predictable bantering of special interest groups, the judiciary committee was ready to vote pretty much along party lines.

Then, everything exploded when Dr. Christine Blasey Ford came forward accusing Kavanaugh of sexually assaulting her at a high school drinking party. At the time our nation was already sensitized to sexual abuse by the powerful against vulnerable victims and, no doubt, Americans did not want a sexual abuser on our highest court. I’ll spare you the drama that went on as a result of this accusation, and the bandwagon effect that created other similar accusations. Rather let’s fast forward to today.

Kavanaugh is now on the Supreme Court, and the cameras, hype, and spin associated with Judge Kavanaugh have moved on to newer stories. Those accusers who jumped on the bandwagon have all been discredited, and Dr. Ford has become a millionaire. And it’s been reported that she will write a book, which will probably lead to a book tour.

Meanwhile, the Senate Judiciary Committee released a massive 414-page report revealing their findings. Among them, the report summarizes a statement from a man who believes he may have been involved in an encounter with Dr. Ford around the time of the sexual misconduct incident she attributes to Kavanaugh.

Interestingly, Dr. Ford testified that the assault was hampered because she was wearing a bathing suit under her clothes, and that Kavanaugh’s friend, Mark Judge, playfully jumped on top of them and they fell off the bed, stopping the assault.

The man mentioned in the 414-page report, whose name was redacted in the publicly released document, claimed exactly that scenario. The man told the investigators that when he was a 19-year old college student, he had visited Washington over spring break and kissed a girl he believes was Dr. Ford. “He said that the kiss happened in the bedroom of a house which was about a 15-to 20-minute walk from the Van Ness Metro, that Dr. Ford was wearing a swimsuit under her clothing, and that the kissing ended when a friend jumped on them as a joke,” the report said.

Senate Investigators interviewed this man before Dr. Ford testified before the committee, which was before these details were publicly known.

According to the report, this man and Judge Kavanaugh looked very much alike at that time.

The man also reported to investigators that the encounter was consensual.

The point of this blog is not to validate Judge Kavanaugh or the Senate Report. These reports might be mitigated in the future. But the point of this blog is to simply say that we Christians need not be emotionally moved by every trending story. Instead we need to be powerful in prayer, active in responsible participation in our democratic system of government, and, regardless of what happens, trust the Lord.

With that in mind, it might be wise to:

  • Read your Bible every day for perspective,
  • Pray every day, which will give you peace,
  • And attend church at least once a week, which will center your life.

Proverbs 3:7 says,

Do not be wise in your own eyes; fear the LORD and shun evil.

Let’s do that.

Categories
Responsible Citizens

Finding Truth

Everyone lies.

I’ve watched many seemingly honorable couples slip into deception, false accusations, and exaggerations while going through divorce.

In addition, my wife and I watch the news every evening when we are home. Often, after hearing or seeing firsthand the items being reported on, we observe news reporters distorting, exaggerating, and sometimes totally misrepresenting what actually happened.

We just experienced the confirmation hearing for Judge Kavanaugh for the Supreme Court. At the end of the process, three women came forward accusing him of sexual misconduct when he was in high school and college. Though the hearings were already partisan, it was interesting that the belief or disbelief of the accusers or the accused were partisan as well, sometimes based on political persuasion of gender rather than facts. I used to think that was partisanism and sexism. I also thought these persuasions were unacceptable in a progressive society, especially when it comes to establishing truth.

I guess not.

Though every civilized society has struggled to construct systems for determining truth or lies, guilt or innocence, America has heralded her ability to utilize due process under the law to protect the innocent and the guilty from mobs. However, our nation seems to be spiraling into an abyss of giving equal credibility to people’s construed “truths” that fit their belief systems regardless of the verifiable facts. Actually, we’re so confused, some would rather support opinions that fit their persuasions, rather than provable, factual evidence.

That’s one reason why we all need to know that everyone lies.

Romans 3: 10-18 points out why all human beings need Christ. It says,

“No one is righteous—
not even one.
11 No one is truly wise;
no one is seeking God.
12 All have turned away;
all have become useless.
No one does good,
not a single one.”
13 “Their talk is foul, like the stench from an open grave.
Their tongues are filled with lies.”
“Snake venom drips from their lips.”
14     “Their mouths are full of cursing and bitterness.”
15 “They rush to commit murder.
16     Destruction and misery always follow them.
17 They don’t know where to find peace.”
18     “They have no fear of God at all.”

This accurately reflects the human condition and it matches what I have observed in life. When I went through a scandal in 2006, I publicly lied. Interestingly, everyone else involved did too. Throughout that process, those disciplining me also publicly lied, the press lied, and my accuser lied. We all lied. We were all guilty of that seemingly innocuous offense that created devastation.

Thus, the complex system we’ve designed in our legal system to determine truth and dispense justice ought to be promoted and preserved for the good of all of us. It’s probably one the best we human beings have come up with thus far—though it still must be improved.

As a society, we rejected the practice that mob rule and lynching was fair, reasonable, or right, and demanded that rational and reasonable due process be used to determine truth and dispense justice. But that advance has recently been rejected by our advocacy press corps, shared ignorance on social media, and the politicization of truth.

Now we can easily incite mobs, motivate the angry to bully and threaten, and celebrate the extermination of others. If a popular narrative weighs heavier than the facts and allows us to destroy the individual civil liberties of others for our own gain, we have negated the presuppositions in western civilization that used to protect us all.

In the last century, many of our best political leaders strove to reject racism, sexism, and bigotry. But now the tide is turning and an increasing number of our leaders are embracing these ideas. We regularly hear what white men can or cannot do, and what women ought to do, believe, and promote. An increasing number of our political leaders defend violence, intimidation, and bullying. And many of our institutions of higher learning create ideologues who are incapable of working with and serving those with whom they disagree, but are instead fashioning them into experts who conquer, intimidate, and silence those they don’t like. Are we going to allow this? I hope not.

We human beings are sinful, no doubt. And just about every human being is on a personal search for significance, which often involves conquering or destroying our enemies. But Christ can help all of us rise above that darkness and see a vision of life and light that is unnatural to our dark human condition, and can make all of our lives better. I am the living proof of that.

I’m not a racist, so I’m not going to vote or treat people better or worse according to the color of their skin. Nor am I a sexist, so I’m not going to vote or respond to others based on their gender or sexual preferences. And I’ve rejected bigotry, so I think there is a role for mutual respect, manners, and civility toward others, even those with whom I disagree. I used to find comfort knowing that the majority of our national leaders thought this way too, but I no longer have that assurance.

It now falls to me to be much more responsible in thinking past the spin, sexism, racism, and bigotry that is being promoted by many, and maintain a determination to believe that facts matter, people are human—and therefore fallible, and that we as a society should continue to struggle to help others be better off than they were in the past.We all need to protect due process, the rule of law, and the protection of the weak and vulnerable. I still believe that truth exists, and that since everyone lies, our systems to differentiate between fact and fiction need to be defended and protected so that our rapid-fire communications systems don’t lynch too many. Whether guilty or innocent, everyone deserves due process. We have a constitutional republic instead of a democracy for a reason. It’s to protect all of us from the mob.

Categories
Responsible Citizens

Walls Work

My wife and I raised five children. In our home we appreciated the walls that surrounded us as well as those that created a degree of separation within. They made heat in the winters and cool in the summers possible, provided privacy and security, and communicated in an indirect way that our house was actually a home where a family resided. Within the walls of our home we all shared the same last name.

Last summer my wife and I, along with our youngest son, Elliott, toured Europe. We stayed in hotels with walls, crossed borders protected by security guards, and transported on public transportation that had systems ensuring that people were in the correct place. The systems worked beautifully.

We visited London where we saw Buckingham Palace surrounded by walls, gates, and guards. We saw the world-renowned Louvre museum in Paris, also surrounded by walls which were heavily guarded. And then we toured the most guarded of all the locations we visited, the Vatican in Rome.

As you might know, the Vatican is a city-state that typically has only one citizen, the Pope.

I’ve been to the Vatican many times, and each time, my experience regarding Vatican security and order was extensive.

Surrounding the Vatican are tall, thick walls to keep intruders out and provide security for the wealth that the global Catholic Church has accumulated throughout the centuries. Its well-ordered system includes an abundance of armed guards, security police, and electronic monitoring equipment to ensure that all Vatican visitors are in the right place at the right time.

Once in the Vatican, everyone is carefully instructed as to where they can be, how long they can stay there, and where the exits are located if they need to leave. Violations are dealt with immediately and effectively. Though I have never been an official guest of the Vatican, I am told that official guests are also strictly instructed as to where they are to be, when they are to be there, how they are to respond to the church officials present, and when they will be escorted off the premises. A certain protocol is expected and enforced within these walls.

St. Peter’s Basilica and St. Peter’s Square, overlooked by the Pope’s apartment and balcony, are always a highlight. When I was there many years ago, the courtyard was open to all. On more recent visits, I’ve discovered the addition of metal barriers, designating areas for tourists, parishioners, priests, bishops, and cardinals. Heads of state and guests of the Vatican are escorted with great precision through these barriers. Security is everywhere.

And this is on an average day.

Walls are morally neutral, neither good nor bad in themselves. It’s their purpose that can be hurtful or protective. When the Pope, who lives in a walled city, made the comment that we should “not raise walls, but instead build bridges,” he was emphasizing the importance of positive relations. However, a quick glance at his home and the security that surrounds him as he travels reveals the importance of systems that ensure safety.

The Bible says a lot about walls. Even in eternity there is a wall. Revelation 21:12 says, “The city wall was broad and high, with twelve gates guarded by twelve angels.” Then the Bible describes the walls and gates in details. The Bible speaks extensively about the walls around Jerusalem and Jericho, and the separation points between Abraham and Lot provide a few examples. Bottom line, walls work, whether we like them or not. So the debate need not be whether or not they work, but whether or not we want or need a wall.

I remember years ago, as a guest of the State of Israel, I stayed in the King David Hotel in Jerusalem. I was there to participate in a meeting with Prime Minister Ariel Sharon and some of his advisors. Sharon was interested in discussing whether or not giving Gaza to the Palestinians would bring peace, as the Palestinians promised it would, and whether or not he should continue building the wall that had been declared illegal by the world court in the Hague the day before.

The morning of  our meeting, a suicide bomber blew up a bus full of passengers near our hotel. I went out to see the aftermath. It was horrific. It deeply impacted me because I couldn’t help but notice that the dismembered body parts of Palestinian students looked the same as body parts of Jewish kids. The blood of old women looked the same as the blood of college students. The terrorists announced their intent was to stop our meeting. In response, the Prime Minister just moved the meeting time up. We were in his office within two hours.

We worked all afternoon and settled on several decisions that day. Immediately Israel started moving portions of the wall off of occupied territory onto Israeli land, which satisfied the Hague. Later the Prime Minister decided to give the Palestinians The Gaza Strip. The wall worked, Gaza didn’t.

The bombings stopped for years. Now when they happen, they are highly unusual. Rockets still fly from Gaza regularly, but they either miss their targets or are shot down. Partially because of that ugly, awful wall, peaceful Muslims, Jews, and Christians work together in Jerusalem every day, and some peaceful Palestinians are allowed to cross into Israel and work. Many people, both Palestinian and Jewish, are alive today because of the wall.

When my kids were younger, sometimes they would poke, tease, and fight with one another in the back seat of the car. My wife and I would try negotiating a peaceful settlement with them, but usually the best way to stop the fighting and any ensuing tears was to create barriers—invisible walls—between our children so we could drive down the road peacefully, arrive at our destination safely, and give all of us a future.

Now our kids are grown. We don’t have to create walls in our car any more. They are no longer necessary. Now, our grown children live in their own homes with . . . walls that keep them warm and safe.

Walls work.

Categories
Responsible Citizens

An Honest Obituary for a Wicked American

Hugh Hefner, gone to his reward at the age of 91 in September, 2017, was a pornographer and chauvinist who got rich on masturbation, consumerism and the exploitation of women, aged into a leering grotesque in a captain’s hat, and died a pack rat in a decaying manse where porn blared during his pathetic orgies.

Hefner was the grinning pimp of the sexual revolution, with Quaaludes for the ladies and Viagra for himself — a father of smut addictions and eating disorders, abortions and divorce and syphilis, a pretentious huckster who published Updike stories no one read while doing flesh procurement for celebrities, a revolutionary whose revolution chiefly benefited men much like himself.

The arc of his life vindicated his moral critics, conservative and feminist: What began with talk of jazz and Picasso and other signifiers of good taste ended in a sleazy decrepitude that would have been pitiable if it wasn’t still so exploitative.

Early Hefner had a pipe and suit and a highbrow reference for every occasion; he even claimed to have a philosophy, that final refuge of the scoundrel. But late Hefner was a lecherous, low-brow Peter Pan, playing at perpetual boyhood — ice cream for breakfast, pajamas all day — while bodyguards shooed male celebrities away from his paid harem and the skull grinned beneath his papery skin.

This late phase was prettied up by reality television’s “The Girls Next Door,” which kept the orgies offstage and relied on the girlfriends’ mix of desperation, boredom and charisma for it’s stage appeal. The behind-the-scenes account were rather grimmer; depression and drugs, “dirty hallway carpets and the curtains that smell like dog piss,” the chance to wait while Hefner “picked the dog poo off the carpet — and then ask for our allowance.”

Needless to say the obituaries for Hefner, even if they acknowledge the seaminess, have been full of encomia for his great deeds: Hefner the vanquisher of puritanism, Hefner, the political progressive, Hefner, the great businessman and all the rest. There are even conservative appreciations, arguing that for all his faults Hefner was an entrepreneur who appreciated the finer things in life and celebrated la différence.

What a lot of garbage. Sure, Hefner supported some good causes and published some good writers. But his good deeds and aesthetic aspirations were ultimately incidental to his legacy — a gloss over his flesh-peddling, smeared like Vaseline on a pornographer’s lens. The things that were distinctively Hefnerian, that made him influential and important, were all rotten, and to the extent they were part of stories that people tend to celebrate, they showed the rot in larger things as well.

His success as a businessman showed the rotten side of capitalism — the side that exploits appetites for money, that feeds leech-like on our vices, that dissolves family and religion while promising that consumption will fill the void they leave behind.

The social liberalism he championed was the rotten and self-interested sort, a liberalism of male and upper-class privilege, in which the strong and beautiful and rich take their pleasure at the expense of the vulnerable and poor and not-yet-born.

The online future his career anticipated was the rotten side of the internet — the realms of onanism and custom-tailored erotica, where the male vanity and entitlement he indulged has curdled into resentment and misogyny.

And his appreciation of male-female difference was rotten, too — the leering predatory sort of appreciation, the Cosby-Clinton-Trump sort, the sort that nicknames quaaludes “thigh openers” and expects the girls to laugh, the sort that prefers breast implants to female intellect and rents the charms of youth to escape the realities of age.

No doubt what Hefner offered America somebody else would have offered in his place, and the changes he helped hasten would have come rushing in without him.

But in every way that mattered he made those changes worse, our culture coarser and crueler and more sterile than liberalism or feminism or freedom of speech required. And in every way that mattered his life story proved that we were wrong to listen to him, because at the end of the long slide lay only a degraded, priapic senility, or the desperate gaiety of Prince Prospero’s court with the Red Death at the door.

Now that death has taken him, we should examine our own sins. Liberals should ask why their crusade for freedom and equality found itself with such a captain, and what his legacy says about their cause. Conservatives should ask how their crusade for faith and family and community ended up so Hefnerian itself — with a conservative news network that seems to have been run on Playboy Mansion principles and a conservative party that just elected a playboy as our president.

You can find these questions being asked, but they are counterpoints and minor themes. That this should be the case, that only prudish Christians and spoilsport feminists willing to say that the man was obviously wicked and destructive, is itself a reminder that the rot Hugh Hefner spread goes very, very deep.

(This is an op-ed column written by Ross Douthat, published in The New York Times on September 30, 2017. I posted the original link on my two most popular Facebook pages, and as far as I could tell, no one clicked on the link or commented on the post, which is highly irregular. But I thought the importance and honesty of this column deserved attention, so I decided to cut and paste the column, with a few minor changes and my own bold highlights on my blog page hoping it might encourage some who have enjoyed my blogs to read Ross’ column.

This column should not be casually read and contemplated. It must be thoughtfully read and seriously considered. It’s message goes much deeper than the surface. Ted)

Categories
Responsible Citizens

The Las Vegas Shooter

Stephen Paddock killed 58 people and injured almost 500 last Sunday night after his shooting rampage from the Las Vegas Mandalay Bay Hotel and Casino overlooking the Route 91 Harvest Festival. So far, no motive has been established. But a few preliminary facts have been reported about the shooter:

  1. He had no religious affiliation or core religious beliefs,
  2. He had no political affiliation or core political beliefs,
  3. He had few, if any, long lasting interpersonal relationships, and
  4. His favorite activity was gambling.

As I’ve read the news about this shooter, it seems to me that he subscribed to the belief that all of life is based on chance. It might be that in the coming weeks we’ll learn that he did possess a belief system that motivated him. But thus far, based on the reports I’ve read, he didn’t believe anything that would have constrained him from shooting people at the festival. It appears that to him shooting people was no different than shooting fish in a barrel, birds in the sky, or animals in the woods just for sport.

Atrocities happen, but at least we can make some sense of these atrocities when they are motivated by political or religious ideologies (however misguided), or because of a mental illness. To have someone reduce all of life to chance, making it no more than a series of random, meaningless events, and viewing people as no more meaningful than ants in a field, is alarming to all of us.

In recent blogs I’ve been describing what the writer of Hebrews lists as six basic experiences we must have with Christ that are fundamental to God’s perfect plan for our lives (Hebrews 6:1-2). I think these six experiences create foundations in our lives that allow us to become healthy participants in society. These experiences are described for us in the Scriptures to ground us, and when embraced by society, ground an entire culture. These ideas establish us, causing us to be firm and unwavering, and give us a solid footing upon which we can build our whole lives. They also cause us to value our lives and respect others’ lives, which promotes safety among all of us.

They are:

  1. Repenting from evil deeds,
  2. Placing our faith in God,
  3. Believing the doctrine of baptisms,
  4. Practicing the laying on of hands,
  5. Understanding the resurrection of the dead, and
  6. Acknowledging eternal judgment.

Each of these encounters with Christ transforms us, relieves us of impulsive living, and brings stability and goodness into our lives. And they build a world-view that empowers us to serve others. These ideas elevate humanity, cause us to value life, and result in us bringing goodness into the world instead of terror.

Our world would be very different today if Stephen Paddock would have repented of his evil deeds just two weeks ago. Think of it. If he had placed his faith in God, gone to a local church and been water baptized, and had the church leaders lay hands on him imparting God’s blessing and life, he would have never been in the news and many of those now in coffins would be alive.

If two weeks ago, Stephen Paddock would have been convinced that there is resurrection of the dead and eternal judgment, he would have become one more baby Christian, a new creation, a brand new man, maybe even attended a men’s Bible study instead of gambling. And, when he would have died, which probably would have been years in the future, he would have experienced the reality of his redemption instead of an eternal sentence of punishment and suffering.

These six foundational experiences and beliefs are key to building a good life. We don’t become instantaneously perfect, but instead we become increasingly like Christ, full of his goodness and life. We are changed for the better, our lives are not given to chance, but become purposeful, and we are able to produce good and not evil in our world.

Let’s all go to church Sunday morning and invest something good in our lives.

Categories
Responsible Citizens

The Reality Is — Donald Trump is Our President

Since January 20th, 2017, Donald Trump has been my president. Prior to that, Barack Obama was my president, and prior to that George W. Bush was my president. I joyfully supported Presidents Bill Clinton, George H.W. Bush, and Ronald Reagan. And I vividly remember loving my America while Jimmy Carter, Gerald Ford, Richard Nixon, and LBJ were in the White House. I know, I know, in today’s society, people claim their individuality by saying their reality is actually reality. Not so. Life is real, and you are part of reality, but your perceptions don’t establish reality. One mark of maturity is to respond to outside situations realistically and responsibly. I know. I’ve been around since JFK and Eisenhower were also my presidents.

It seems harder to respect presidents nowadays. Not because they don’t deserve it, but because the news media prospers by presenting everything as bad. Many in the news media have refined yellow journalism, criticizing, complaining and abuse of it’s independence into marketable skills. They have made nagging public figures a favorite pastime, and have become experts at blame. That is interesting to me because most journalists have never held a position of consequence, they just criticize those who do. They give the impression that they are experts on everything.

Now to the President: I totally blew it predicting the 2016 election. I don’t want to replay the campaigns, and I’m sure you don’t want me to. But that election cycle totally surprised me. When Trump was nominated, I predicted Hillary Clinton would win 50 states, five territories, and the District of Columbia, not because I was for Clinton, I just couldn’t imagine Trump winning. I was wrong. Trump won.

But how did he do it? I think Forbes Magazine’s article on Jared Kushner (December 20, 2016 issue) is the best explanation I’ve read yet on the Trump strategy that helped win the election. (It’s excellent and deserves to be studied by everyone). So much has been written and debated about this election, but I have some additional thoughts:

  1. I think the press helped elect Trump: In the 2016 Republican primaries I liked Marco Rubio, John Kasich and Jeb Bush. I couldn’t see Donald Trump going very far. But he did, largely because the press could not resist him. All of the experienced, mainstream candidates with first hand knowledge of governing were negatively branded “establishment” by the press and discounted. Because of that, the candidates with proven skills appeared boring and routine, while Trump had the press salivating at every word. His ideas and language were so entertaining, shocking, funny, repulsive, and pretentious, it was great television! And it turned out to be very appealing to mid-America. I read somewhere that the mainstream media gave him $1,000,000,000 worth of free coverage, while the others couldn’t get a sound-bite. The press inadvertently nominated and elected President Donald Trump.

Gayle and I used to watch DVR recordings of Meet the Press and Fareed Zakaria’s Global Public Square every week (we don’t any more.) As we watched these shows and other mainstream media outlets align against Trump and blatantly assail him, it actually endeared us to him. Surprisingly, their prejudice, arrogance, and disrespect triggered our kindness and forgiveness toward Trump. Although he’s offensive to many of our values and even inconsistent with many of my political preferences, when the unelected elites in the press became so passionate that their view of America was the only authentic view, I had to reconsider.

Since I believe in the power of checks and balances, and that our republic will survive and there will be other elections, I’m not troubled by any one single election. I am, though, troubled when we put people on the Supreme Court who do not believe the constitution means what it says. My interest was the Supreme Court, not political personalities. When the press was openly calling a guy like me an idiot, a racist, and a sexist for thinking I wanted a president who would appoint a strict constructionist to the Supreme Court, they impacted me. Was I “nuts” and a “buffoon” to think vacated seats should be filled with someone who believed the constitution should be closely followed? I had, and have, very good reasons not to prefer Trump as president, but the Supreme Court is more important to me than those concerns. The press helped persuade me.

  1. I think Sanders helped elect Trump: I think Sanders had better manners and answered questions more directly than Trump or Clinton, but I’ve traveled the world and know that the compelling language of socialism does not deliver as promised. Since Clinton allowed Sanders to pull her further left, I was again motivated to disregard my concerns about Trump. I believe we are in the early stages of the socialization of America, but I did not want to contribute to that slide. When I learned that 85% of Sanders supporters switched to Clinton, that helped persuade me to shift the other direction.
  1. I think Hillary Clinton helped elect Trump: Clinton’s resume was impressive, and I’m not the guy who is going to hold someone else’s sins against them. And I’m not a sexist, so gender did not play a role in my contemplation. But when she identified aborting children as the “women’s issue” of our generation, and refused to differentiate between someone who immigrates to our country legally from those who come here illegally, I became disenchanted. I just couldn’t support her generalizations or determination to characterize guys like me as enemies of Americanism. It appeared to me that the Democrat party had perfected identity politics (dividing people into groups: women, men, college educated, high school educated, native Americans, blacks, LGBTQ, Hispanics, whites, immigrants, students, etc.), and Clinton repeatedly implied these were warring interest groups instead of diverse Americans who value that we all flavor one another, like various ingredients in a melting pot. I like diversity, but I don’t like politicians who assume differences inherently promote competition and hate.

I want government to help responsible people who need a hand, to aggressively retrain people so we can be competitive in a changing marketplace, and to help the disadvantaged, like my special needs son who, without a miracle, will never be able to help himself. I believe our laws need to be equally applied to all of our citizens regardless of race, gender, or religious or sexual preferences. But when Clinton assumed I was against those needing help or those who were different than me, she sent me the other direction.

I want to be a giver, not a taker. There are lots of good people who pay taxes, obey the laws, and support as many benevolent activities in our communities as we can. We pursue our educations so we can serve others, and keep working past retirement age because we think it’s honorable to work hard. We patronize quality businesses and support those in need. By seeming to come against these good folks, Clinton, in effect, helped Trump.

It’s starting to look like Trump is getting great results. Time will tell. Regardless, he is our president. Note that in my opening paragraph that listed all the presidents who have served in my lifetime, I didn’t mention their party. Why? Because once they are elected, it does not matter to me. That’s my reality, and my hope is that regardless of your political party, Facebook friends, or age — regardless of the group you belong to, you’ll see the benefit of making our country work. If you are only accustomed to helping when the person or party you prefer is in power, it might be time to talk to some older folks and learn the value of serving people who are different from you. We have a great country. Let’s all serve it well.

Categories
Responsible Citizens

Year End Charitable Donations

Beginning the day after Thanksgiving, when so many dollars will be spent on soliciting your charitable giving, I just want to encourage you to prefer your local church. I understand your church probably does not have a marketing agency designing web promotions, billboard, and television ads to encourage you to give. Most churches do not spend money on graphic artists selecting emotionally moving pictures to encourage you to give. And most churches do not even spend funds to send you Christmas pictures. But research has shown that local churches are the most accountable with expenditures, most effective at actually impacting a community for good, and more focused on providing goods and services to their communities per dollar spent than any other type of group.

Certainly many organizations are doing good work, and we thank God for the good that’s done through all charities, but often we take our local churches for granted.

I know that we go to a variety of styles of churches, or maybe none at all. Research shows that the greater the variety of churches in a community helps the community even more, because more people (with varying preferences) are served. Churches facilitate volunteerism more than any other type of charity, thus maximizing their impact per dollar spent. Churches also provide multi-generational services, providing a family dynamic that few other charities have. And churches, of course, promote Christ and His Word, where many others are forbidden to do so, or choose to minimize the Gospel because they fear offending those who are not believers.

As far as I know, churches produce more quality lives and families than any other institution. They are just as effective, if not more effective, at combating drug and alcohol abuse, keeping families together, helping troubled students become successful, productive adults, and caring for those in need than any other institution. Studies are showing now that churches have the same success rate at helping the addicted find sobriety as the PhD controlled, high dollar rehab residential facilities. But churches compliment that with supportive families that are there for the newly sober, without needing to be paid. The best results are a combined effort, professional counseling in harmony with a community of faith that infuses spiritual strength.

So even if you are not a believer, just because you care about living in a civil society with good people, you would be wise to fund your local church. We all fund our schools, whether we have students in them or not. Why? Because we hope that well educated people produce a better world than people who don’t know. It’s even more important with churches. People who have been transformed by God’s gracious love, set free from selfish thinking and living, are motivated by love and accountable for their thoughts, words, and actions make better people. Everyone benefits when there are life-giving, Bible believing churches influencing the people in their community.

I once had a district attorney from a large city tell me that he had never needed to bring charges against anyone who had been to church the week before. We all know that is not always the case, but it is certainly the trend. That is why it’s newsworthy when a person who goes to church commits a crime. It’s unusual.

Few of you reading this have ever lived in a community void of churches, or a community that has not had churches for generations, and you don’t want to. God’s salt and light in any community transforms. The simple public reading of God’s Word every week makes a difference in the atmosphere of a community. Funding a local church near your home is the best investment any of us can make in our lifetimes.

I’m not talking about media ministries. I’m talking about the local church in your community teaching people to worship God.

Churches are important. So please remember your local church when giving this season. It’s the best “Merry Christmas!

Categories
Responsible Citizens

People Crumbling Internally

I think too many people are emotionally weak. Of course, I was raised on a farm with three older brothers, so I don’t recall anyone getting away with the type of whining that makes news today.

In the past we were kept somewhat sober because disease, famine, and war highlighted our vulnerabilities. They were brutal reminders that we were not in control. However, ours is the first generation in which more of us will die from eating too much than from eating too little; from old age rather than from infectious diseases; or from suicide rather than from soldiers, terrorists, and criminals combined. My friends and I are far more likely to die from binging at McDonald’s than from drought, Ebola, or an al-Qaeda attack. We’re the first generation in which starvation, epidemics, and violence continue to be serious, but are, in fact, manageable. In response, it seems as though we are replacing our external fears with internal conflicts, which makes us increasingly appear like babies.

We’re getting soft.

Last Christmas I remember a news story about an over-weight elementary-age boy whose mom brought him to see Santa. He asked Santa for an I-Pad and a Play station, both of which produce sedentary activities that would keep him in the house, looking at screens, and probably eating snacks. Santa teasingly responded that he would give the boy his request if he would lay off the hamburgers. The story went on to report that the kid cried all afternoon and even cried himself to sleep that night. Apparently Santa wounded him. In response, the boy’s Mom demanded Santa apologize (which he did) and that he be fired. He was fired and had a stress based heart attack the next day because of threats directed at him and his family. Certainly there are multiple causes for obesity and I don’t know the boy’s reasons, but what I do know is that now her son’s emotional sensitivity was empowered.

I’ve noticed the church also having to deal with a heightened emotional sensitivity among worshippers. When I was growing up, we went to church because we were Christians . . . period. We did not go for entertainment, soothing, or therapy. As I think about attending First Presbyterian Church in our small farming community, I don’t think anyone cared how we felt about it. We needed to know the facts to live well, so we learned the Scriptures, worshipped, served, and returned the next week to worship again. I never remember my parents discussing whether or not we would go to church, or even whether or not they liked the church. Their view was that the church provided an important and firm foundation for our lives. It was based on the truths of the Scriptures and timeworn logic and wisdom. It was fundamental because the alternatives were not acceptable. It was reasonable and had a core of conviction about it and was not subject to our whims or approval . . . and certainly not our feelings.

But today it seems as though we have replaced the Scriptures and logic with emotional sensitivity and personal exaltation. I don’t know if this comes from television, humanism, social media, or all of us feeling entitled because we’ve been raised with benefits earned by others, but we sure seem spoiled.

During that season, even Saturday Night Live mocked the hyper-sensitive. Their Christmas skit, “Wells for Boys,” was a spoof advertisement of “toys for sensitive boys,” so sensitive little boys can “live a more examined life.” These toys included a wishing well for little boys to sit beside and contemplate, a broken mirror to remind our boys of “the complex contradictions of their being,” and a plastic balcony so they can express themselves. The SNL skit mocks the overly sensitive way we’re creating weak children.

I don’t typically watch Saturday Night Live, so for me, the tipping point was the emotional response to Clinton losing the presidential election. I have to admit, Trump’s victory caught me by surprise. I knew Clinton had the experience, money, and machinery that would be difficult to overcome. As a Republican, I fully expected that Clinton would win the presidency, Democrats would retake the Senate, and the Supreme Court would move left.

But the actual results were very different. It turned out that Trump won the White House, the Republicans kept the House and the Senate, and the conservatives will have opportunity to fill one seat, maybe two, in the Supreme Court.

When Democrats started blaming their losses on others, protesting in the streets, burning police cars, and damaging private property, I questioned what they expected to accomplish and if they were emotionally healthy. If these responses were, in fact, intentional, then the protesters looked like leftists in third-world countries overthrowing democratic processes because they could not understand another point of view – believing everyone else must be ill informed or misled. Or, if they were upset and reacting emotionally and spontaneously, then they were just throwing a fit because they didn’t get their way and wanted everyone to know they were angry.

Either way, we need more adults in the room.

They say the diversity we have always had in America has morphed into bitter divisions. Perhaps this idea is due in part to political parties, scholars, and the press who have grouped us by our age, our race, our gender, our faith, our education, our professions, our sexuality, etc., in order to highlight and contrast the severity of our differences. No doubt, it makes their presentations more interesting. When there is tension, more people pay attention than when there is peace. As a result, those institutions, which rely on followers, students, and ratings, have no incentive to help America be a melting pot where we all can benefit from and enjoy one another’s strengths in an atmosphere of respect. Oh, they do give it lip service, but with every newscast and opportunity in our classrooms, pundits and lecturers irritate their audiences by pitting groups against one another. They encourage us to feel like emotionally damaged victims and, in effect, be selfish children willing to defame Santa because he doesn’t give us what we want and make us feel good.

I suggest that instead of simple emotional reactions, maybe we ought to think and let wisdom dominate our emotions. We have a choice. We can crumble internally, yell, scream, block traffic, hurt people, burn police cars, and bust out the windows of our businesses to show the world we did not get what we wanted. Or we can grow up, toughen up, and respond constructively to life’s circumstances. When we are emotionally strong, we can build peaceful communities, solid churches, and a great country. I think we should opt for the latter. Our survival in a brutal world may depend on it.