Sunday, November 24, 2013

The Bicycle Thief

Some time ago, I had watched an old foreign film called, “The Bicycle Thief”. This Italian film, made just after World War II, was about a poor man living in a difficult time who managed to
acquire a bicycle that he needed to work. He understandably treasured his bicycle. While working, someone stole his bike.
He spent the entire film chasing the thief and in the process he began to unravel. He began to abuse other people, including his son that was with him. Finally, in desperation, he himself became that which he abhorred -a bicycle thief.
He had lost not just his bicycle; he had lost his character and the respect of his son.

In an effort to spend quality time with one of my sons, he and I made a return trip to Washington DC. Due to health issues that make walking long distances difficult for me, I knew bringing our bicycles would be the only way I could handle this trip.  

We brought our own bikes and had them chained to a lamppost in front of the National Archives. As we exited the building and rounded the corner, I looked at the lamppost and froze. Recognizing my son’s bike and seeing no other, I was momentarily confused. I walked over and realized that my bicycle had been stolen. Standing there with the cut chain in my hand, anger began rising up in me—

Here? All of these people walking back and forth and someone had the audacity to cut the chain and just ride away?

My son instantly looked concerned. “Are we going to have to go home now?” he asked. “Can we find who stole it?” He knew my difficulty walking long distances and with the loss of my bike he presumed that would require our leaving. Disappointment flooded his face. In response to his questions, I looked down and, hesitating for a moment, the long narrative of the movie flashed through my mind...

Some time ago I had watched an old foreign film called “The Bicycle Thief”. This was an Italian film made just after World War II about a poor man living in a difficult time who managed to acquire a bicycle that he needed to work. He understandably treasured his bicycle. While working someone stole his bike.

He understandably treasured his bicycle. While working someone stole his bike.
He spent the entire film chasing the thief and in the process he began to unravel. He began to abuse other people,
began to abuse his only son that was with him and finally in
desperation he himself became that which he abhorred, a bicycle thief.
He had lost not just his bicycle he had lost his character and the respect of his son.

My momentary hesitation now past, I looked up at my son and said, “No, Ben, that hurts, but it is just a bike. We can take turns walking and riding."

We then proceeded to spend the remainder of the afternoon enjoying our time together smiling and laughing.

Bicycle gone, but this time at least, character and son maintained.

Sunday, November 17, 2013

That Name

Speaking just hours before He would depart from this world, He gave His final words of advice to his followers, saying,

“Remember the word that I said unto you, The servant is not greater than his lord. If they have persecuted Me, they will also persecute you… But all these things will they do unto you for my name’s sake, because they know not him that sent me. If I had not come and spoken unto them, they had not had sin: but now they have no cloak for their sin.  I am the way, the truth, and the life: no man cometh unto the Father, but by me.”

In the past two thousand years that Name, Jesus Christ, has caused denouncements, derision, division, and death. Even in America that Name has prompted fulfillment of its author’s prediction.

This past November 6th, the division caused by that Name managed to find its way into the highest court of the land, the Supreme Court. In the case Town of Greece v Galloway, two citizens filed suit demanding to end the regular prayer that this local municipality made prior to its proceedings.

Well, not exactly.

They recognized that the tradition of legislative prayer, from the inception of the Republic to the present, was unbroken. The clear precedent having been set from a prior case (Marsh v Chambers 1983), the lawyers knew that to claim that this act of prayer was a violation of the establishment of religion clause in the First Amendment would not work. So, if the act of praying could not be made an issue, then what?

Well, if you cannot stop the prayer the next best thing would be to make the prayer so innocuous and unoffensive that it would effectively cease to be a prayer. The Justices however would have none of this. When the attorney for Galloway asserted this necessity, they responded this way:

JUSTICE ALITO: Alright. Give me an example. Give me an example of a prayer that would be acceptable to Christians, Jews, Muslims, Buddhists, Hindus. Give me an example of a prayer, Wiccans, Baha'i...


JUSTICE SCALIA: And atheists. Throw in atheists, too.

Not surprisingly the attorney never gave an example.

What was really the issue here? Let’s go back to the outset of the arguments.

At the very beginning of the proceedings Justice Elena Kagan suggested a hypothetical prayer that invoked the name of Jesus Christ and asked if it would be permissible. The court debated for an hour. Near its close she asked the attorney for Galloway:

“Isn't the question mostly here in most communities whether the kind of language that I began with, which refers repeatedly to Jesus Christ…
will be allowed in a public town session like this one. That's really the question, isn't it?”

The attorney for Galloway responded, 

“That's the issue that actually arises in the case.”

Ahh—there we have it. THAT NAME.

What is it about that name that causes such consternation? Remember the words of Jesus long ago, 

“If I had not come and spoken unto them, they had not had sin: but now they have no cloak for their sin.” 

Those who know the truth about Jesus know that sin, their sin, is made front and center with that man. And that is unacceptable. 

“I am the way, the truth, and the life: no man cometh unto the Father, but by me.” 

They know His claim to truth was exclusive. And that is intolerable. So they try and have that Name banished from government proceedings.

The Supreme Court is expected to announce its decision next spring. What will they decide? I, for one, will be praying they retain this freedom to pray as we see fit and I will be doing so praying the only way I know how:

In the Name of Jesus Christ.

Sunday, November 10, 2013

The Falling Leaves

“Michael, Michael --- come outside and sit down with me. Let’s talk.”

Sitting down beside Sam in the fading sunlight, I ask, “How was the chicken dinner Sandy made for you?”

“Good. She cut up the chicken nice and small. You know these old mashers are worn out. Gotta have it that way.”

Having been away a week, I am curious as to his state of mind and heart. “How have things been this week, Sam? Has your sleep improved?”

“What? Speak up!”

I speak louder. “Your sleep. Any more dreams of Lilly?”

“Well, I wake up before the birds every morning, I tell you that. The dreams, though --- oh, the dreams. Nightmares, really. It’s hard, Michael. Sixty-two years together. We never argued.”

Wanting to help the man, I spur him on, “Tell me about the nightmares, Sam.”

“Same thing. Silver. A silver rope wrapped around and around Lilly and me. We were hugging closely, and” —his voice begins to crack and he stutters—“It, it breaks. The silver cord, the rope—it breaks…pancreatic cancer is a damnable thing, Michael.  I did everything I could!  Everything…”

 I grab his hand and he calms.

“It just rained yesterday, why are the clouds coming back? Ahhh, its getting dark too. Bring me the telescope. Let me look at the stars.”

I quickly bring him the telescope which he keeps out on his patio and he gazes up.

“Help me hold it, Michael. These old arms are weak.”

I hold the end of the scope and he tries to look.

“Is the lens clean? I can’t see anything!”

I take a look and tell him it is clear.

“These old windows in my head are dirty.” he chuckles. “Bring me in. Getting cold too.”

I gently help Sam stand. His legs have grown weak with his near ninety years. He uses a cane, still resisting a walker or wheelchair. Stubborn, but this trait is something I admire in the man.

As we enter his home, he asks me to take him to his bed, which I dutifully do. After getting him settled, he looks at my full head of dark hair and comments as he often does:

“Such a nice head of hair. My hair is almost gone now and all white. I’m getting old, Michael.”

“A little, Sam.” I smile.

“Did I tell you that before—about your hair?”

“Well, I do have all my hair!” I joke.

“Ahh, my brain. My brain used to be like gold. In fact, it made a lot of gold for me. My skull was like a golden bowl with a golden brain. Now it is breaking.” He paused. “Bring me some water. Put it by the bed. Water. Source of life, you know.”

I get him water, put it by his bed, and hand him a cup. He brings it to his mouth but his trembling hands lose their grip and the water tumbles down onto his shirt and lands on the floor.

“G** D***it!!!” He curses loudly.

“Sam!  You can’t talk like that!” I cry.

“I’m sorry. I’m sorry. You are right. I am such a sinner! God forgive me! How can I ever face Him?”

“God has provided the way and you have accepted it, Samuel Bryan. I know you believe.”

“Yes, I believe. It is just hard for me … all those years … I want to see her, Michael. I so miss my Lilly.”

“And you will. The beauty is that you will see her again. You and Lilly will walk together again, Sam.”

His mood eases as I clean up the small mess.

 Soon after, I make sure all is in order and prepare to leave for the evening.

“Lock the door. Make sure you lock the door. I don’t want a surprise tonight.”

After a prayer by his bedside, I leave into the night.

On the drive home my mind runs back to an ancient bit of poetry written by an old man. Timeless poetry, as the ravages of age are not bound by time nor place.

“Remember your Creator
    in the days of your youth,
before the days of trouble come
    and the years approach when you will say,
    “I find no pleasure in them”—
 before the sun and the light
    and the moon and the stars grow dark,
    and the clouds return after the rain;
  when the keepers of the house tremble,
    and the strong men stoop,
when the grinders cease because they are few,
    and those looking through the windows grow dim;
  when the doors to the street are closed
    and the sound of grinding fades;
when people rise up at the sound of birds,
    but all their songs grow faint;
  when people are afraid of heights
    and of dangers in the streets;
when the almond tree blossoms its white hue
    and the grasshopper drags itself along
    and desire no longer is stirred.
Then people go to their eternal home
    and mourners go about the streets.
 Remember him—before the silver cord is severed,
    and the golden bowl is broken;
before the pitcher is shattered at the spring,
    and the wheel broken at the well,
  and the dust returns to the ground it came from,
    and the spirit returns to God who gave it.

Ecclesiastes 12

Sunday, November 3, 2013

Constitutional Debate III:The conclusion of the matter

A Bill of Rights

“Where is it Mr. Madison?

Where is the listing of inalienable rights such as the freedom of the press to speak without government influence, the freedom of the sundry faiths in our country to practice each as they see fit? You yourself have fought recently with the utmost vigor in defense of this in your remonstrance against the bill introduced in the Assembly of Virginia to levy a general assessment for the support of teachers of religions. Why are you silent? The blood spilt in the recent revolution must not be in vain sir. We cannot allow, we cannot approve a constitution that refrains from the specific guarantees that so valiantly motivated our cause. “

Firmly Madison stated “I have resisted the inclusion of a Bill of Rights because the constitution as constructed is a BILL OF RIGHTS. I go further, and affirm that bills of rights, in the sense and in the extent in which they are contended for, are not only unnecessary in the proposed constitution, but would even be dangerous. They would contain various exceptions to powers which are not granted; and on this very account, would afford a pretext to claim more than were granted. For why declare that things shall not be done which there is no power to do? Why for instance, should it be said, that the liberty of the press shall not be restrained, when no power is given by which restrictions could be imposed? It is evident that it would furnish, to men disposed to usurp, a plausible pretense for claiming that power.”

Pausing with deep reflection Madison continued, “Robert, you have argued concerning the size of our proposed republic, the executive branch, the judiciary, the borrowing of money, and a Bill of Rights both now and in the future as unsustainable all grounded upon essentially one assertion. The nature of man. You lack faith in the future and lack faith in the goodness of man.

My good sir cannot you see that we share the same sentiment? We have endeavored strenuously to limit what history and common sense tell us is the antagonist. We cannot, as no man can, forever prevent the dire effects of human nature. The great republic of Rome lasted five hundred years before succumbing. If ours survives half of that I shall consider it a success. As Jefferson has said, ‘I hold it that a little rebellion now and then is a good thing, and as necessary in the political world as storms in the physical’.

Our proposed Constitution is the right one Robert and at the right time.”

Sighing Madison said “If you must then a Bill of Rights you shall have. May future generations note my warning.”

“Are we agreed then?”

“Agreed,” said Robert Yates as he extended his hand.

Thus began the American Constitution.

Federalist #84 Brutus #8,12

Friday, November 1, 2013

Constitutional Debate II

As Madison and Yates entered the tavern they were seated in a corner where they could continue their conversation privately.

“James,” said Robert, “I have another specific concern. The Judiciary.”

“The Judiciary ?” said Madison. “This was not expected. Tell me what troubles you.”

“As you have constructed this branch, it has no authority greater. There should be a body greater of some sort tied to the people. As you have it, in due time this body will give the constitution a construction according to the spirit and reason as they see it and not to confine themselves to its letter.”

Madison seemed almost confused. “The simple view of the matter suggests that the judiciary is beyond comparison, the weakest of the three departments of power. Even the celebrated Montesquieu, whom you like to quote, said, ‘Of the three powers above mentioned, the judiciary is next to nothing.’

Your fears of judicial usurpation are unfounded. Until the people have, by some solemn and authoritative act, annulled or changed the Constitution, it is binding upon themselves collectively, as well as individually; and no presumption, or even knowledge, of their sentiments, can warrant the departure from it, prior to such an act.”

Yates shook his head, “As always your view of the nature of man is more promising than mine, James.”

 Let me ask you another that greatly concerns me. 

The power to borrow money.

The power to borrow money is general and unlimited, James. Under this authority, the Congress may mortgage any or all the revenues of the union, as a fund to loan money upon, and it is probably, in this way, they may borrow of foreign nations, a principal sum, the interest of which will be equal to the annual revenues of the country. — by this means, they may create a national debt, so large, as to exceed the ability of the country ever to pay it. I can scarcely contemplate a greater calamity that could befall this country, than to be loaded with a debt exceeding their ability ever to discharge.”

Madison was standing now. Having had enough of “Brutus”, he said, “The power of creating new funds upon new objects of taxation, by its own authority, would enable the national government to borrow as far as its necessities might require. No government can be sustained in any other way. I must take my leave.”

“There is one final subject—the most serious of subjects—and this one Mr. Madison must be answered or New York will not approve of your Constitution. “

“A Bill of Rights.”

James Madison sat down.

Brutus #8,#12, Federalist Papers #49,78,79