Sunday, December 22, 2013

Ghost of Christmas Past

December 22, 1983.

Turning my memory toward the small town and the boys there the Ghost of Christmas past beckons me follow.

I recognize the streets. Cold rain from the night had frozen but I didn't notice. It was early in the morning and I had somewhere to go. I was starting down the two lane out of town and heading toward a sharp curve but why was the car in front of me going so slowly? Pulling out to pass quickly before the curve the other car suddenly speeds up, matching my speed. Is he trying to kill me?  My 1977 Mazda GLC strains but has nowhere near the power necessary for the task. I slam the brakes pulling behind the car. How could he do that?! I could have been killed! Anger instantly filling my mind I begin to chase the car. I WAS going to pass him. Turn after turn losing ground up the hills but making ground on the downside I pursue. Finally on a long downhill I slip beside the car and begin the pass.

Spinning, spinning. Darkness. Cold. Why am I lying in the grass? What are those people doing in the car? Warm blankets and pain. Writhing on the table my confused bruised mind is shallow. Why is Mr. West here? Saying nothing but grimacing and squeezing his hat.

The Ghost looks down the road. I know where he is going. Snowy hillside part way up just beyond the tree. I hesitate but cannot stop. Why are you tormenting me I scream in my mind! Now I want to stop but it’s too late. Pointing toward the grave marker this gray shadow looks at me. With deep heaviness I remember. I was not alone in the car that day. While anger was flowing through my veins sleep was covering my brothers’ outstretched limbs. Now sleep is all he knows.

On my knees crying out, “Dear God, forgive me!  Let me forgive myself! I have changed. Believe me, see me. I have changed. Anger rules me no more.”

Returning to the present, I see my children as they play.They are excited for Christmas so I stand and sing peacefully to them,

“Silent night, Holy night, all is calm, all is bright…”

“Be not quick in your spirit to become angry, for anger lodges in the bosom of fools.”

Ecclesiastes 7:9

Sunday, December 8, 2013

Tombstone Worthy

With the Supreme Court recently agreeing to hear a case addressing the free exercise of religion, Hobby Lobby (and Conestoga Wood) v Sebelius, I could not help but think back to Thomas Jefferson.

Before he died on July 4th 1826, exactly fifty years after the Declaration of Independence was written, he would direct only three things to be inscribed on his tombstone -- the creator of that very same Declaration, the founder of the University of Virginia, and the author of the Virginia Statute of Religious Freedom. Many Americans today would know the first, some know the second, but few know the last. No doubt more than a small number, who have visited Monticello and looked upon his grave marker, have thought, “No mention of President? What was that Virginia statute about?”

You see, Jefferson was a free thinker. Living in the waning days of authoritarian civil and religious authority, he was among those who would feel the wrath of nonconformity. Often accused of being an atheist or deist    
(charges that remarkably persist to this day), he was in fact neither. He lived a long life and his thoughts changed through the years as he searched for truth. Toward the end of his days, he anticipated his death and looked past it. On April 11th, 1823, writing to his old friend John Adams, he said, “I join you cordially and await his [God’s] time and will with more readiness than reluctance. May we meet there again, in Congress, with our ancient colleagues, and receive with them the seal of approbation, “Well done, good and faithful servants.” Jefferson repeatedly claimed to be a Christian, believed in the resurrection and looked forward to it. He, however, held what was and still are considered unorthodox even heretical views on various positions. He tried to keep these views secret as it caused him much grief whenever the public became aware of his real or perceived views.

Which brings me back to his tombstone and that law he helped create as a young man in Virginia. Being greatly concerned with obtaining the freedom of conscience, the freedom to think and believe and act on those without fear of retribution, he pressed hard for this law. This was not just a man-made temporary law. It was natural law. A God given law. Listen to the words Jefferson wrote as a 34 year old man in 1777. Words that he would carry with him to his grave:

An Act for establishing religious Freedom.

Whereas, Almighty God hath created the mind free;

That all attempts to influence it by temporal punishments or burdens, or by civil incapacitations tend only to beget habits of hypocrisy and meanness, and therefore are a departure from the plan of the holy author of our religion, who being Lord, both of body and mind yet chose not to propagate it by coercions on either, as was in his Almighty power to do.

That the impious presumption of legislators and rulers, civil as well as ecclesiastical, who, being themselves but fallible and uninspired men have assumed dominion over the faith of others, setting up their own opinions and modes of thinking as the only true and infallible, and as such endeavoring to impose them on others, hath established and maintained false religions over the greatest part of the world and through all time;

Be it enacted by General Assembly that no man shall be …enforced, restrained, molested, or burdened in his body or goods, nor shall otherwise suffer on account of his religious opinions or belief, but that all men shall be free to profess, and by argument to maintain, their opinions in matters of Religion, and that the same shall in no wise diminish, enlarge or affect their civil capacities. And though we well know that this Assembly elected by the people for the ordinary purposes of Legislation only, have no power to restrain the acts of succeeding Assemblies…yet we are free to declare, and do declare that the rights hereby asserted, are of the natural rights of mankind, and that if any act shall be hereafter passed to repeal the present or to narrow its operation, such act will be an infringement of a natural right.

Today, out of the thousands of letters he wrote, we remember only one of Jefferson’s quotes and it being misunderstood. The quote was from a letter to the Danbury Baptists in 1802, where Jefferson mentioned a “wall of separation of church and state”. We have forgotten the law he helped pass and had engraved on his tombstone.

The Supreme Court hears the latest assault on the freedom of religion next year. I wonder, will they be the succeeding assembly that declares this right null and void? If they do, like Jefferson I declare:

The rights hereby asserted, are of the natural rights of mankind, and that if any act shall be hereafter passed to repeal the present or to narrow its operation, such act will be an infringement of a natural right.”

A right, I must say, that is tombstone worthy.

#Thomas Jefferson #Hobby Lobby#religousfreedom

Sunday, December 1, 2013

Engraved with the point of a diamond

Long ago, in 587 BC, a man stood within the walls of a city that was being destroyed because it would not, could not do the right thing. He said with disgust, “From the least to the greatest, all are greedy for gain. 
All practice deceit. Sin…is written with a pen of iron, and with the point of a diamond: it is graven upon the table of their heart.” His name was Jeremiah.

Fast forward 2,588 years. Has man's basic nature changed?

 In 2001, a company called Enron became enveloped in a scandal that would lead to its demise. The greed and hubris of the executives was finally made known. The supposed watchdog, the auditing firm of Arthur Anderson, was also brought low due to their complicit activity in covering for Enron. In response, a number of laws were passed in an effort to prevent such behavior in the future. One of these changes was to require that certified public accountants, who perform the auditing, undergo proper moral training. It was thought that would prevent what occurred at Arthur Anderson.

Recently, I attended an all-day seminar covering a variety of relevant topics - taxes, rule changes, etc. Many were scrambling to complete their eight hours of required "continuing professional education" before the end of the year so as not to lose their license to practice. I attended with two colleagues. After a couple of hours, one leaned over to me and said, "I am going to step out for a bit. I’ll be back."

The clock ticked and hours went by. Finally, one hour before the end of the day he reappeared. “Had to make a couple long phone calls” he said. Interestingly, the final hour subject ? Ethics. The instructor spoke of right and left turns and of - well - just doing the right thing. My colleague leaned over toward the end and said, “This is all just common sense.” The final session ending he picked up his certificate reading, “Eight Hours of Continuing Professional Education Achieved.”

Smiling, he casually walked out of the hall.

“Sin…is written with a pen of iron, and with the point of a diamond: it is graven upon the table of their heart.”

Some things never change.