Saturday, November 28, 2015

Founding Fathers: Updated

Last weekend, I was grading exams and listening to NPR when a story came on about Republican candidates making an appearance at Bob Vander Plaate’s Iowa Family Leader.  Since my days as a Nebraskan, I’ve been familiar with Bob and his evangelical right-wing dog and pony show.  Appearance at his forums are a necessary pre-condition to receiving the Vander Plaate endorsement, which is sadly valued by Iowa Caucus Republican candidates.

Donald Trump skipped the forum but Marco Rubio was there, patiently explaining to the folks that, “This nation was not founded on political principles. This nation was founded on spiritual principles.“ He then qualified his rather unconventional claim by noting that in the Declaration of Independence our rights are granted by God.  Strictly speaking, the language of the Declaration references Nature, Nature’s God, and a Creator, word choices that were deliberate.  The segment is at the start of the Declaration; an explanation of what the Declaration is about and in whole reads, “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 entitle them, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation.”

Then comes the most famous line of the Declaration: “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….”

I’m not one to split hairs, but let me just go ahead and split some hairs.  I have been studying and teaching the Declaration to students for more than 20 years.  I’ve been reading about the document for even longer.  While all of the founders were men who claimed a Christian faith for themselves, many were not particularly religious, among them Thomas Jefferson, the author of the Declaration and a man whose questioning of religion was well-known to his peers.  In the Declaration, he makes a general reference to God, but always Nature’s God or the Creator, a notion that could accommodate Christianity as well as other faiths and, perhaps most importantly, no faith at all.  In any case, the most important claim being made here is that mankind has rights, popularly called natural rights, and that those inherent rights require that we be permitted to govern ourselves.  

Beyond Marco Rubio’s deliberate misinterpretation of Jefferson’s language is his claim that the American Revolution was a Christian one.  This understanding of the revolution is just flat-out wrong.   It was an economic revolution; they protected their property, including a designation of enslaved men and women as property.  It’s a political revolution; as they claimed political rights and liberties for themselves that had never before been claimed for all free men and ultimately would create a representative democracy system of government.  To the extent that they claimed political equality for white, free men, while excluding Native Americans, enslaved people of color, and otherwise free women, it was a social revolution for some members of the society.  

But a nation that would ultimately require government to stay out of the religious life of the nation, as the founders did in the First Amendment, was not in the business of a revolution founded on spiritual principles.  To claim this is as a private philosophy or in the midst of a discussion with one’s family and friends is one thing.   But to claim it in public forums an an effort to earn your party’s nomination for the presidency, as Marco Rubio did, is to demonstrate yourself as unworthy of the presidency.

It’s also a way to fail the 7th grade unit test on this subject.  That, Mr. Rubio, is a distinction to be avoided.

Friday, November 27, 2015

Unseasonal and Unkind: Week 5

The Halloween flag made it through Thanksgiving, unfurled and ready to celebrate some kind of Fall holiday.  

The real challenge, of course, will be making it through this weekend.  No one enjoys hanging Christmas lights when it’s below freezing and with temperatures in the 60s yesterday and today, the rest of the neighborhood is scrambling to get out Christmas decorations before cold takes hold.  Stay tuned for your Week 6 report!

Thursday, November 26, 2015


Sometimes, I feel a little sorry for Thanksgiving, a holiday that can get lost in the shuffle of Black Friday sales and the coming of the Christmas season.  But a well-laid meal with loved ones and time for gratitude and thankfulness is a tradition worth enjoying.  In my mind, Thanksgiving is a very nice way to pause and renew for the busy weeks that lie ahead.

When we return to school on Monday, it will be a quick-moving three weeks of wrestling practice, school events, and children getting increasingly excited about the coming of Winter holidays and two weeks off from school.  Quiet in advance of that frenzy is richly rewarding.  I love all of the planning and cooking that goes into Thanksgiving, a holiday that I appreciate more and more as the years pass. Here’s to a reminder to appreciate our blessings and to give thanks for them.

Happy Thanksgiving, y’all!

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Fall Chores

We’ve had a warm fall and only this week have we had several nights of freeze warnings in a row.  The warmth has meant extended flip flop enjoyment.  It’s also meant that I could hold off on many of my fall chores.  Earlier this month, I put away my fairy garden.  This past weekend, I raked some leaves, dug up my dahlia bulbs, and stacked away my tomato cages.  I also decided that I needed to mow the lawn one last time.  Though it was late November, the grass was as thick and lush as if it was a Springtime lawn; the downed leaves were the only indication that it was Fall.

I enjoy mowing and I’m always sad to put the mower away for the season.  But it’s been run out of gas and placed in the back of the garage, having earned a rest for Winter.  Leaves have been mulched or raked into bags; I’ll finish some more of that this weekend.  Two nights of temperatures well below freezing confirm that Winter is on its way.  My yard is ready for the chill.

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Sign of My Advancing Decline

When I first got my station wagon it was June 2011 and the notion that heated seats would be a welcome addition to my world seemed unlikely.  After all, I had never had a car with heated seats before and seemed to function quite nicely.  But that first winter I found value in the heated seats and since then the return of cold weather finds me increasingly thrilled to turn on the heated seats.

I’d assume this affection was a sign of my advancing dotage, but JT is as much a fan as I am.  This week, very cold mornings have returned with a vengeance (today it was 28 degrees when I started the car) and each day we have been grateful  for the blessing of a warm seat on our morning commute.

Before you know it, I’ll be setting the furnace in the house above 75, just like a genuine old lady.

Sunday, November 22, 2015

Communications Issues

I can only speak for myself, but I think that Jesus’s PR rep might want to think about drawing more favorable comparisons.

Thursday, November 19, 2015

Unseasonable and Unkind: Week Three

Still going strong with Halloween over at the neighbor’s house.

Ben Franklin On Liberty

Like everyone else I know, I have followed events in Paris since the attacks last Friday.  For me, the tragedy has been magnified by the unthinkably unkind and fearful American rhetoric about refugee immigration that has followed.  As I understand terrorism, its primary weapon is fear.  Fear is an irrational emotion, one that thrives off our feelings of uncertainty and anxiety.

The power of terrorism lies in its unpredictability and the fear generated by that uncertainty.  We don’t know when, where, or why a strike will happen.  Life always features uncertainty, of course, but acts of terror magnify that uncertainty.  We want protection.  When we have been free of terrorist acts, we can rationally admit that such perfect protection is impossible.  But a recent attack, like the one in Paris, finds us afraid and longing for safety and security.

It’s hard to remember that even in the best of all worlds,  perfect protection is impossible to secure.  When terror strikes, all bets are off.  Alas, terror thrives on the fact that rational minds are not in charge when fear has taken hold.  Demands for restrictions of Syrian refugees that have been cloaked in terms of safety are appealing because they claim a protection that we crave.

Such protection cannot be had.  It is irresponsible to claim otherwise.  Syrian refugees who wish to come to the United States are seeking liberty as generations of refugees before them have sought.  We are a nation of immigrants, one whose ability to persevere and thrive is a function of our multicultural identity.  Calls to shut the door on refugees are not just cruel, they are inconsistent with the liberty that we have claimed for ourselves since the first settlers came ashore in North America more than 400 years ago.  Governors, Congressional leaders, and presidential candidates who demand that we shut the door on those in need of refuge are ignoring the historical mission of this nation.  They are a betrayal of who we are and what we believe about ourselves and the world.  For them I recommend the wisdom of Ben Franklin, who seemed to understand the conundrum of human emotions that follow from fear for our safety.

Franklin isn't the only leader reminding us that fear is not the answer to our troubles.  There are others who urge us to stand up for what we believe.

Monday, November 16, 2015

Season 2

The cross country season has officially ended and JT’s next sport, wrestling (!), doesn’t officially begin practice until November 30.  However, the team (which seems to be as much a cult as a sport) has decided to have some early morning runs to get in the spirit of things.

To be honest, I cheerfully agreed to twice-a-week  7:15 am runs with the view that they would never last.  But it’s week 2 of morning runs and there are a lot of boys out there stretching and otherwise getting ready to make a 2 mile jog down the towpath along the canal that is next to campus.

Last night I told T that 7:15 runs were a damn sight better than midnight trips to the police station, which I suppose nicely sums up my current parenting philosophy.  It would also seem to explain why we arrived at school at 7:10 this morning.

Sunday, November 15, 2015

Philadelphia Freedom

Last week was my birthday and on Saturday, JT, T and I set off for a little adventure in Philadelphia.  We listened to a soundtrack of Elton John songs on the way, arriving at Philadelphia Freedom just in time.  Bam!

Though we live less than two hours from the city and I’ve lived in this corner of the world for more than 10 years, I’ve never taken the time explore the well-known historical sights of Philadelphia.  Last weekend’s adventure was an effort to remedy that oversight.  We had a look at the Liberty Bell, which JT declared to be awfully small.  We were too late to get tickets to see Independence Hall but we could peer in the windows.

We did have the chance to walk through the door of Carpenter’s Hall, where the First Continental Congress was held.  That was awfully thrilling for the history geek in me.  Independence Hall is important, of course, but at Carpenter’s Hall, the whole business of revolution got started.  I enjoyed the thought of the rebels walking through the doorway to a whole new future.

We saw the Ben Franklin Museum and dropped by the Reading Terminal Market for an early supper.  JT tried his hand at Rocky-like feats as preparation for the coming wrestling season.

All in all, it was a lovely adventure.  There is still plenty of the city left for us to see, so Philadelphia, consider yourself on notice.  We’ll be back.