Let All Things Now Living

The time has come for Norman Rockwell, for the gathering, the feasting, the football and I begin to realize that with the climate of the country being what it is we’re likely to lose the holiday we call Thanksgiving. Thanksgiving implies a God to whom we should be thankful, and political correctness won’t tolerate that for long; someone might be offended.  But the truth is that such an eventuality, while it will be sad, will not affect the heart that is truly grateful and aware that God has given all, everything – here and in heaven. Thanksgiving is an attitude, not just a holiday.

We need to be giving thanks for both the temporal blessings with which we Americans are so blessed, and for the spiritual gifts that are so freely available to all who desire a relationship with our Creator. Let’s look at the earthly first:

I can’t think about this issue without the words of great writers coming to mind –

Thornton Wilder’s Our Town deals with gratitude and appreciation of the everyday things in our lives. His heroine, Emily Webb, dies in childbirth and is given an opportunity (by the stage manager – it’s a strange play) to go back and relive a day in her life. She chooses her 12th birthday and as she watches herself live that day she comes to realize that she missed most of it, failed to appreciate, to even notice the blessings that filled her existence. She finally says goodbye to “clocks ticking, and Momma’s sunflowers. And food and coffee. And new-ironed dresses and hot baths… and sleeping and waking up…”

Simple things, these – coffee, new-ironed dresses, and sleep, but she suffers such pain realizing how little she had cherished her life that she begs to go back to her grave.

Do you remember the song Maria sings in The Sound of Music? "Raindrops on roses and whiskers on kittens,/ Bright copper kettles and warm woolen mittens,/ Brown paper packages tied up with strings;/ These are a few of my favorite things.”

Lists like these have always fascinated me partly because they come so close to my favorites, but also because they remind me to notice, and noticing reminds me to be thankful, and thankfulness calls me to joy.

One of the best prefab gratitude lists is a poem by the British poet Rupert Brooke entitled The Great Lover. He begins that poem with quite a flowery and passionate introduction, but then he gets down to listing all the things he has cherished. Read through this and look for similarities with the things you treasure ---

These I have loved: White plates and cups, clean-gleaming, Ringed with blue lines; and feathery, faery dust; /Wet roofs, beneath the lamp-light; the strong crust/ Of friendly bread; and many-tasting food; /Rainbows; and the blue bitter smoke of wood; /And radiant raindrops couching in cool flowers; /And flowers themselves, that sway through sunny hours, /Dreaming of moths that drink them under the moon; /Then, the cool kindliness of sheets, that soon /Smooth away trouble; and the rough male kiss/ Of blankets; grainy wood; live hair that is/ Shining and free; blue-massing clouds, the keen/ Unpassioned beauty of a great machine;/The benison of hot water; furs to touch;/ The good smell of old clothes; and other such./  The comfortable smell of friendly fingers, /Hair's fragrance, and the musty reek that lingers/ About dead leaves and last year's ferns/... Dear names, /And thousand other throng to me! Royal flames; /Sweet water's dimpling laugh from tap or spring; /Holes in the ground; and voices that do sing; /Voices in laughter, too; and body's pain, /Soon turned to peace; and the deep-panting train; /Firm sands; the little dulling edge of foam/ That browns and dwindles as the wave goes home;/ And washen stones, gay for an hour; the cold/ Graveness of iron; moist black earthen mould; /Sleep; and high places; footprints in the dew; /And oaks; and brown horse-chestnuts, glossy-new; /And new-peeled sticks; and shining pools on grass; /All these have been my loves. And these shall pass…

Let us feel challenged to come up with a list of this many things we love, -- anything lovely, or comforting, or delicious; things mysterious, distant, gone; things made by human hands, or by the hand of God; thoughts and imaginations, fragrances and friendships, fun and flatteries. What do we love about being here, now?

Then let us contemplate the things above. We Christians have a great deal to be grateful for beyond our creation and the creation of our home-away-from-home. We have the free gift of salvation – note the word free. “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and thou shalt be saved.” Just “believe.” Is Jesus Christ God? Is He also man? Did He successfully pay for all the sins of the whole world? Did He rise from the dead? If you answer yes to these questions, you believe and I’ll see you in heaven someday.

So, we have the love of God to be thankful for, and then the lovely people and loving pets, and the love God has taught us to feel for the unlovely.

We will gather with family this week, as we have our whole lives, and remember those who have gone on and celebrate the living loves of our lives. We will break bread, as a nation, in the company of those who matter the most to us – let us fully appreciate that blessing.

We have the Word of God to be thankful for – in fact, we have language in general for which to give thanks; it makes all things possible. We have our guardian angels for which to be grateful; I know I wear mine out – the narrowly avoided collision, the bad fall that miraculously causes no injury, the sudden awareness of danger.

And we have purpose. For that I am most thoroughly thankful. So many of us live in this frightening and difficult world without any idea of why we’re here. As a Christian I know that each day I wake what I do will in some small way matter, that my simplest daily activities are worth doing and doing well. It brings me joy to know that. It brings me joy to write this, to know I can, to know you will take the time to read it.

In fact, all that I’ve mentioned here gives me joy and for that I am filled with gratitude and praise.

Let all things now living, a song of thanksgiving
To God the creator triumphantly raise.


Sticks and Stones

Whoa. The door has swung open and now we can see what’s really in there. Oh my goodness. We see actual grown people, whom we assume to be somewhat intelligent because they’re college students, but they may not be entirely human because homo sapiens are supposed to be rational creatures who grasp things like cause and effect, fiction and reality, right and wrong. I see, however, very little logic happening – lots of mania and misery, but very little thinking.

In fact, I’m even having trouble figuring out what their problem is. One kid says he’s against white privilege, but his family, which is all black, is solidly part of that famous and much maligned 1%. So if a black man can earn millions of dollars a year in Middle America, what’s his son so mad about? What privilege can he possibly gain from disrupting a major college campus?

Students at Yale and at Ithaca College say they need “safe rooms” where they can hide from words they don’t want to hear. There’s no way to even think about that; my nonsense siren keeps going off like the sound effects in Harrison Bergeron. It’s true that the students at UCC in Oregon could have used a safe room, so could the Parisian revelers last Friday, but none of them would have had time to get to it. Those were bullets flying at them, not just words.

Words actually are the problem, though. You see, we don’t have any anymore. The students in Ithaca, NY, are worried about “covert and overt racism” on campus. The word “racism” by itself has lost almost all meaning, being hurled constantly at conservatives despite the Republican civil rights record, but then to compound the felony by adding “covert?” Oh my.

What, on God’s green earth (can I say that?) is “covert racism?” Nothing observable or measurable comes to mind, so how do we know there is any?  Is it just looking at someone the wrong way? Would the recipient of this politically incorrect evil eye have to be a person of color in order for the r-word to apply? And what does it take to be a “person of color?” It seems that people like Ben Carson, or Marco Rubio, or Ted Cruz don’t qualify in spite of being black and/or Hispanic and conservative– and yet these people got through life at American universities apparently unscathed, and they had no access to safe rooms.

As far as I can tell very little systemic, racial unfairness is going on in American colleges. If I remember properly, Affirmative Action was supposed to correct any racial discrepancies. At Smith – one of the colleges hosting demonstrations this month – 87% of its black students graduate – that’s a graduation rate 4% higher than its white students. Ivy League schools appear to be enrolling record numbers of blacks, but the number of black males is dropping. Is that “covert racism?” or sexism or evidence that young black males can make more money selling drugs than they can being lawyers?

And what is “micro-aggression?” What can that possibly mean? A raised eyebrow? A snicker? An eye-roll? An opposing point of view? Seems like it could be almost anything, which is convenient if what you want to do is pitch a public fit.

The situation is ridiculous and made even more so by the fact that anyone anywhere is taking these kids seriously. Though maybe we should – there’s some obvious mental derangement problems on our campuses.

If students of color were entering these colleges and then disappearing, jumping out of dorm windows, or being kicked out disproportionately then investigations and fit-throwing is reasonable – but some kid used some language some other kid didn’t like, some feelings were hurt and the reputations of important people have been ruined and what was once a fine university comes off looking like a mismanaged zoo. Is anything of substance going on in these institutions? Is anyone learning any thing real about history? Anything about ethics?  Anything about the rules of logic? What are these kids getting for their money? Neuroses?

Yes, neuroses is another way to say liberal, progressive indoctrination, which produces people with no clear boundaries about anything. No sexual boundaries. No linguistic boundaries – just a twisted view of taboo language. No awareness that one’s feelings are not the only, or even the best measure of anything. They appear to have no idea that reality is real; that’s what they learn for sixty thousand dollars a year. I guess that would make me mad, too.

We have coddled several generations into thinking that – in a misunderstanding of Copernicus – the world revolves around them. That there is only one world and 7 billion individuals is not a reality that breaks through their personal cosmology. They are dead sure that all that happens in this life must be designed and arranged to please them and make life comfortable for them and for anyone else who also hates the status quo. You see, the status quo – law, morality, the Constitution, the Bible, the American work ethic, the traditional family – all these, because they not only provide, but demand, are the enemy.

Therefore, there’s room in their boat, leaky as it is, for all the outrages of Islam, of socialism and communism and they’ve been trained to blithely repeat the old saw that we must be “willing to break a few eggs.” In my outdated understanding of numbers, 200 million is a tad more than a “few,” but why quibble – facts are fungible on American campuses.

There’s also room in this floundering boat for hatred of those who fund the educations these folks are so unhappy with. No one is more despised than the 1% who so generously contribute to the endowment funds that make scholarships and private grants possible. These same rich people, through their tax dollars, also make government largess possible. But it is somehow politically required that college students hate these successful people. I find this confusing because I had always thought that one went to college to join the ranks of the elite and powerful. It must be so confusing to be a student today.

The colleges themselves have caused this and are now reaping the whirlwind. You know, if you don’t take in nutrition for a few weeks your body starts to digest itself. That’s what we’re seeing happen on these campuses; students have not been fed anything intellectually nutritious for decades and now they are digesting their own schools, and their own chances for meaningful careers.

Time was we trained our children to ignore rude speech – “Sticks and stones may break my bones/But words will never hurt me.” That’s not entirely true, but it helped us raise tough, resilient kids. Now, however, we’re dealing with a generation that has no idea that society is a matter of both give and take, and this lack of understanding has put them and everything around them at terrible risk. The door has swung open and now we’re seeing what utter nonsense is going on in these places we used to call schools.


Morality – What is it good for?

As the chips continue to fly off the rock that was once America, little by little an icon takes shape – a double stone tablet bearing ancient Hebrew letters, the foundation on which people – ordinary, troubled, imperfect people – have built the most successful of human societies. The Ten Commandments stand as the base of all moral concepts, and morality is the only condition on which we can be a free nation. Why? Doesn’t “free” mean we can do whatever we want to do?

No. Because, you see, humanity is a mess – can we agree on that? Left entirely to our own devices we run amuck fairly quickly. Atheists and agnostics tend to blame God for that, which is logically puzzling, and shows a complete ignorance (or rejection) of Christian doctrines concerning the free will of man, his fall, and his salvation through Christ’s work on the cross. Even most Christians don’t seem to know much about the angelic conflict, which accounts entirely for the suffering and mayhem that is this world. And we are all anxious for explanation because each day’s news brings new horrors to light -- a shooting in a school, a beheading on a beach, a baby force-fed to its own mother,.

So, if man is unlikely – as history clearly demonstrates – to manage on his own a benevolent, peaceful, prosperous existence, what are we to do? This is where morality comes in. You see, law can’t create a copacetic environment where everyone gets along, and no one hurts anyone else, and everyone gets a clean shot at successfully becoming all they can become. We’ve tried that. (I know of no way to get an accurate ratio, but I’d bet the United States of America boasts the largest number of laws, rules and regulations ever created by a nation.)  And we claim to be a free people. Free to do what?

Free to choose to obey God. But we don’t. And what if we don’t? Doesn’t the 1st Amendment guarantee us the right to make that decision?

Yes – but. Most atheists I talk to assume that because they don’t believe in an Almighty God and because our government won’t force them to, that there will be no ramifications at all for that choice. There’s no understanding that their refusal to recognize God in no way removes Him from existence, in no way erases His sovereignty, His perfect justice, His reaction to being rejected by those He created.

Ever walk into a party and spot someone you really didn’t want to see, someone – an old girlfriend, an ex-husband, a person you’d hurt in some way? What’s our first instinct in situations like that? We pretend he or she is not there, maneuvering around the room keeping distance between us, as if we can wish him out of existence. But, we can’t. We can turn and run, but she doesn’t vanish. We can gather our misguided sense of outrage and make a scene, but that only makes things worse.

My point here is that we can, as many folks do today, pretend God isn’t there, that there are no attitudinal or behavioral expectations, that we can make it up as we go. But the consequences do not go away and no number of gay pride parades, no amount of media disdain, no convocation of condescending college professors can protect us from either the natural consequences of our actions or from the wrath of God. God hasn’t gone anywhere.

The Decalogue, presented to Moses on top of Mt. Sinai c1440 B.C., was the first written codification of God’s preferences for a nation’s moral behavior. Other nations had laws, but these ten parameters were different; no legal consequences are listed; it doesn’t say Thou shalt not steal and if thou dost thy hand will be summarily removed. The 2nd Commandment threatens disaster, but not until the 4th “generation of them that hate me,” but these are societal sanctions, not personal. Both the 2nd and the 4th offer rewards – for, again, the whole society. Later on, in the remaining 603 laws, some punishments are delineated, but not in the Decalogue. The punishments for disobeying those laws are outlined in Leviticus 26 and are aimed at the nation, not the individuals; the penalties affect the entire society because these divine rules were designed to protect the entire society.

So morality appears to be both a personal and a national issue, which is sensible since a nation is made up of individuals. We are not, however, as John Donne pointed out, islands unto our own. One person’s behavior affects another’s. We all influence each other and in this day of mass media those influences travel at the speed of light.

We can almost make a flow chart showing the paths through which the moral decline of America has traveled: from the church (ironic and horrifying as that might be) which early on began replacing morality and the love of God with social justice, to the schools where all societies, and all individual choices have been declared morally equivalent, to science which no longer used empiricism to learn about God and His creation, and instead used a warped version of the scientific method to erase Him, to the newsmen who learned in their schools to see journalism as a calling to change the world, not to merely record its events. These elements are now operating in sync, with the government backing it all.

I’d say Heaven have mercy on us, but we are, I fear, past that point. Let’s look at the last part of the 2nd law – “for I, the Lord your God, am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children, on the third and the fourth generations of those who hate Me,…” To the third and fourth generations? How many generations have we seen since the sexual revolution in the 60’s? How many since we shoved God out of the schools? By my reckoning, time’s almost up.

What happens then? Look at the closing paragraph in Romans 1: 28 And just as they did not see fit to acknowledge God any longer, God gave them over to a depraved mind, to do those things which are not proper, 29 being filled with all unrighteousness, wickedness, greed, evil; full of envy, murder, strife, deceit, malice; they are gossips, 30 slanderers, [v]haters of God, insolent, arrogant, boastful, inventors of evil, disobedient to parents, 31 without understanding, untrustworthy, unloving, unmerciful; 32 and although they know the ordinance of God, that those who practice such things are worthy of death, they not only do the same, but also give hearty approval to those who practice them.”
Sound familiar? Earlier I mentioned Leviticus 26, and though I don’t have space to quote it all here, and though, like the Mosaic Law it was first given to Israel, we can peruse the five levels of national discipline and see that we are experiencing a lot of this already. Israel felt the brunt of these levels of punishment three times, each time resulting in death, destruction and expulsion from their land.

The historical fact is that the more people who choose to live according to the divine code of morality the more stable, prosperous, and free a society will be.  The more people choose to denounce God (I think of the last Democratic convention) and refuse to live by His instructions, the less stable, less prosperous and less free it becomes. Less stable because life becomes unpredictable – words no longer mean anything, logic is totally lost, and behaviors become erratic; people take to walking into schools and shooting students or parading down the street naked; less prosperous because the work ethic dissolves and public thievery – by the government, no less – becomes rampant; less free because those who won’t control themselves need to be controlled.

And here we are cutting down monuments to God’s law and teaching our students to deny Him. Here we are -- flagrantly disobeying every sexual restriction, killing our babies, shrugging it off when our leaders lie to us, and inviting into our land the very people who will administer the death blow to us all.