“Say It Ain’t So!”

That was the headline of the Chicago Tribune on Thursday, February 12. It referenced the news that the Jackie Robinson West Little League team was stripped of its National Championship title because the adult leaders of the team “knowingly violated Little League International Rules and Regulations by placing players on their team who did not qualify to play because they lived outside the team’s (district) boundaries.” They were accused of using a falsified boundary map for their 2014 tournament team. The leaders cheated and it cost the kids the great joy they had brought to themselves and to the South side of Chicago. So very sad…

Wes Stafford, former president and CEO of Compassion International, once wrote of his experience growing up as a Third Culture Kid on the Ivory Coast. His folks were missionaries among the Senufo tribe; a people of hunters, fishermen, and farmers. Every Wednesday he and his friends would walk into a nearby village for Market Day where the different tribes would buy each others’ goods. A tribe of craftsmen would always arrive early and set up their kiosks under the shade of a grove of mango trees. This shade was a luxury as the temperature in the sun would often reach 120 degrees F. Unfortunately, these craftsmen were also “crafty” in other ways and would try and sell cracked and split wood carvings which had been filled in with wax and covered over with shoe polish; the defects hardly noticeable to the unsuspecting eye.

However, Stafford and his friends had watched the adults shop and had learned from them. They would always ask in French, “Est-ce sans cire?” Literally, “Is this without wax?” “Is it sincere?” Of course the shop-keeper would always fake being insulted, but then the discerning customer would threaten to take the carving out in the sunlight for a closer look. The craftsman would suddenly become very gracious and offer a special deal on something else lest the sunlight melt the wax revealing his insincerity.

Where are the sincere and honest leaders; not perfect, but honest? Where are those genuine women and men who look the same in the sunlight as they do in the shade? Where are the authentic newscasters, dads and moms, and coaches of Little League teams who impart to their children true character and not one that “melts from scrutiny and drips with deception.” (Stafford)

“I will walk with integrity of heart within my house” (Psalm 101:2). Oh God, help me to be that kind of person; a man without wax.

Of Pigs and Pee…

There are a lot of strange laws in the world today that reflect what some people have taken very seriously at one time or another. For example, in Victoria Australia, only a licensed electrician is allowed to change a light bulb. (I’m going to ask my Aussie family to confirm this.) I have also heard that in England there is a law against dying in the Houses of Parliament. (I wonder what they do with the offender?)

Apparently, in France, it is forbidden to call a pig Napoleon. (I think that was the name of the pig in Orwell’s “Animal Farm.”) There is also one I heard about when I was in Switzerland; it is against the law for men to urinate standing up after 10pm, which is the same time that it is illegal to flush the toilet. Upon further investigation I found these restraints were true only if you lived in an apartment complex. (So I guess there is no such thing as the “pee patrol” in Switzerland.)

Since we are on the subject: after sanding the hardwood floors of our home many years ago, I was in the process of coating them with polyurethane when the phone rang. I asked my youngest daughter (about 8 yrs. old at the time) to answer it and ask if I could call back later. She did so by saying, “My dad can’t come to the phone right now because he is “polyurinating” the floor. Can he call you back?” (I never did find out who called because I was too busy laughing.)

Ok, we are on a roll here, so let me inform you about an incredible victory for men’s rights that I read about in a recent news report over Reuters wire service: “A German court ruled in favour of mens’ right to pee standing up…, after a landlord tried to retain part of a tenant’s 3,000 euro (2,298 pounds) deposit for allegedly damaging the marble floor of a toilet by sprinkling it with urine.”

The debate about whether men should stand or sit is no laughing matter in Germany, where some toilets have red traffic-style signs forbidding the standing position. In response, the Germans have developed a derogatory term for men who sit and pee – “Sitzpinkler” – which implies that it is not masculine behavior. (I hope you are not laughing at this)

We could actually biblically defend “anti-sitzpinklerism.” Did you know that in both 1 Samuel 25:22 and 1 Kings 14:10, the word translated as “male” in our English text literally means “one who pees against a wall”? (Check it out in the KJV for a more crass idiomatic expression.)

Where am I going with this? I have no idea. I guess it just goes to show you that some people can get riled up and moralistic about some pretty insignificant things – kind of like the New England Patriot’s “deflategate.”

However, there is one important thing to remember about what I’ve said — guys put the seat up!

Gay by birth or choice?

There is a new twist to the “born this way” debate. In the past, the logic has been that if a gay person is determined by their genes, then it is illogical to suggest that they can be “cured” by treatment or religion. However, since there is the recognition that no research has yet proven that gayness is biologically determined, therefore, a new rationale may be needed.

Brandon Ambrosino, who wrote a 2013 article in the Atlantic entitled, Being Gay at Jerry Falwell’s University, has recently written that he was not born this way; he chose to be gay. He claims that the aversion to the word choice in the LGBT community stems from the belief that if we can’t prove our gayness is biologically determined, then we won’t have any grounds to demand equality. In America, we have the freedom to be a well as to “choose” to be. I see no reason to believe that the only sexualities worth protecting are the ones over which no one has control. After all, isn’t trans-activisim fueled by the belief that the government has the responsibility to protect all of us regardless of our sexual choices? And aren’t protections for bisexuals based upon the same presupposition of sexual autonomy?…

One of the reasons I think our activism is so insistent on sexual rigidity is because, in our push to make gay rights the new black rights, we’ve conflated the two issues. The result is that we’ve decided that skin color is the same thing as sexual behavior. I don’t think this is true. When we conflate race and sexuality, we overlook how fluid we are learning our sexualities truly are. To say it rather crassly: I’ve convinced a few men to try out my sexuality, but I never managed to get them to try on my skin color. In other words, one’s sexuality isn’t as biologically determined as race. Many people do feel as if their sexuality is something they were born with, and I have no reason to disbelieve them. But as I and other queer persons will readily confirm, there are other factors informing our sexualities than our genetic codes. Part of what it means to be human is to be adaptable and elastic, to try on new identities, to try new experiences, to play with the paradigm, to bend the norm to its snapping point and see if it cracks under the pressure of its own linguistic limitations. The re-inventiveness of our human condition is one of our greatest traits, and it is worth protecting both legally and philosophically.

Then he utters a challenge. I understand that the genetic argument for homosexuality is a direct response to the tired “You weren’t born that way” rhetoric of religious people. But in my opinion, we could strip that religious argument of much of its power if we responded like this: “Maybe I wasn’t born this way. Now tell me why you think it matters.” I imagine many religious people haven’t really though through the implications of their own rhetoric.

Why does it matter?

First, it acknowledges what many have been saying for years; that there is far more to same sex attraction than one’s genetic code and that it is inaccurate to place it on the same level as race. To concede on this point is nearly tantamount to an atheist admitting there might be a God, but then saying that it really doesn’t matter since he has the right to believe whatever he wants. But it does matter.

Second, Ambrosino’s effort to place something as important as sexual identity and behavior at the level of choice opens up a whole discussion of morality and values, especially for the Christian who is trying to slog their way through the issue of same sex attraction. We are not as flexible and adaptable as Ambrosino has suggested. The snapping point is not due to linguistic limitations, but to the agony of the heart searching for an identity. It also means that what defines me as a person is not so much determined by how I we feel about myself, but by what I choose to believe and how I choose to act. I may be tempted to act out on any number of desires tumbling around in the dryer of my past and present, yet my life will be defined by what I believe and how I choose to act on that belief. It really does matter.

Third, Ambrosino’s argument about choice and government protections propels us to think through the bigger issue of freedom and liberty. As John Milton warned in his Sonnet XII, “License they mean when they cry liberty!” When we take our Founding Fathers and Mothers desire for freedom without their core beliefs and habits of the heart, we expose America’s Achilles’ heel and the fact that the worst enemy of freedom is often freedom. Os Guinness has said that since there is such a crisis in cultural authority (faith and values in America), “the center no longer holds; the core has lost its compelling power; the moral and social ecology of the nation has been contaminated; the different spheres of society are undermining each other; and the escalation of extremes is underway.”

So, yes, it does matter.

Free to wire-walk, but for what?

wallendaI thought I was the only one who felt this way. Rex Huppke wrote an editorial in the Chicago Tribune yesterday about his thoughts on Nik Wallenda’s attempt to walk a tightrope stretched between two Chicago high-rises this Sunday evening. His article was titled, Wire Walk Dumb, not Heroic. “Let’s be clear, I hope nothing bad happens, and I wish Wallenda nothing but good fortune. But if walking a tightrope some 600 feet in the air above the Chicago River is heroic, then so is sticking your face in a fan…We have a tendency to conflate actual acts of heroism, like soldiers parachuting into a war zone or firefighters running into a burning building, with things that are bold but in the end purposeless.”

That is it; what is the purpose and value in such death-defying acts? We live in a free society where we can do what we want, but that is a problem. Os Guinness in his book A Free People’s Suicide says that the only way freedom is sustainable is if it leads a people to act in a way that has value greater than just for oneself. In other words, freedom is not merely the warrant to do whatever I want, but the ability to do what I ought. The goal of the American Revolution was not just independence from Britain; it was a freedom to build the American Republic.

Guinness writes, “People confuse freedom with choice, as they are dazzled daily by an ever-expanding array of external choices in consumer goods and lifestyle options. But the pursuit of choices has led to a surfeit (surplus) of choices and a scarcity of meaning and value—a point at which choice itself, rather than the content of any choice, has become the heart of freedom. The result is that modern people value choice rather than good choice.” The story is told of Socrates walking through the market place of Athens, a version of our mall, and saying in the face of all the options, “Who would have thought there were so many things that I could do without.”

Using Huppke’s analogy: If I exercised my freedom by announcing a trip to Hawaii to break the world’s record for distance-walking on the hardened crust of a lava flow, and I ended up a half-torso and a head. What would be the tragedy? Would you mourn my death or how senseless it was? Would you call me a hero or would you say, “That half a torso guy was a nincompoop?”

Paul says to the Galatians concerning their use of spiritual freedom in Christ, “For you were called to freedom, brothers. Only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another” (Gal. 5:13). Peter says a similar thing, “Live as free people, not using your freedom as a cover-up for evil, but living as bondservants of God (1 Peter 2:16).

Thus my freedom is not absolute, to do whatever I please, but it is a directed freedom; to choose to act in such a way that has meaning and purpose beyond me. Perhaps Wallenda’s free act could be justified as entertainment; perhaps his act could be used it to raise money for Chicago’s homeless; or maybe, if he was a Christian, he could invite people afterwards to an evangelistic crusade. One or more of these might make his act more purposeful, but I would still have this nagging suspicion that maybe his choice was not the best one; that maybe this act was still more about him than his cause.

I saw his great-grandfather Karl (age 73, the Great Wallenda) fall to his death in 1978 doing a similar thing in Puerto Rico. It was not heroic. I read somewhere that Karl told his wife that he always felt like a dead man when he was on the ground and that life was being on the wire. Hmmm…

“Why I Hope to Die at 75”

old-woman-1435250Ezekiel “Zeke” Emanuel recently wrote an interesting article in The Atlantic headlined, “Why I Hope to Die at 75.” It is worth the read especially if you are approaching 75 or have parents or grandparents that age. Emanuel is a doctor, bioethicist, and older brother of the mayor of Chicago. http://www.theatlantic.com/features/archive/2014/09/why-i-hope-to-die-at-75/379329/

His basic premise is that by 75 “creativity, originality, and productivity are pretty much gone for the vast, vast majority of us” we no longer leave behind a legacy of vibrancy and engagement, but of feebleness and frailty. Not only do we heap upon our children additional emotional and financial burdens, but we leave them and our grandkids with “memories framed not by our vivacity, but by our frailty.” He calls that “the ultimate tragedy.” Therefore, he does not wish to live beyond 75.

He does not advocate for euthanasia, but it is his plan (he is now 57) that if he lives to 75 he will not prolong his life. “At 75 and beyond, I will need a good reason to even visit the doctor and take any medical test or treatment, no matter how routine and painless. And that good reason is not ‘It will prolong your life.’ I will stop getting any regular preventive tests, screenings, or interventions. I will accept only palliative—not curative—treatments if I am suffering pain or other disability… This means colonoscopies and other cancer-screening tests are out—and before 75. If I were diagnosed with cancer now, at 57, I would probably be treated, unless the prognosis was very poor. But 65 will be my last colonoscopy. No screening for prostate cancer at any age… After 75, if I develop cancer, I will refuse treatment. Similarly, no cardiac stress test. No pacemaker and certainly no implantable defibrillator. No heart-valve replacement or bypass surgery. If I develop emphysema or some similar disease that involves frequent exacerbations that would, normally, land me in the hospital, I will accept treatment to ameliorate the discomfort caused by the feeling of suffocation, but will refuse to be hauled off… Flu shots are out… no to antibiotics… Obviously, a do-not-resuscitate order and a complete advance directive indicating no ventilators, dialysis, surgery, antibiotics, or any other medication—nothing except palliative care even if I am conscious but not mentally competent—have been written and recorded. In short, no life-sustaining interventions. I will die when whatever comes first takes me.”

While I agree with him about the American obsession with living forever, he falls off the other side of the saddle with his American obsession with control. He sees the 18 years that he has left (as if he is in charge) as a self-imposed deadline so that he can get done the important things in life before he begins his inevitable decline. He is also dismissive of any faith perspective that would be used to rebut his view. “I also think my view conjures up spiritual and existential reasons for people to scorn and reject it. Many of us have suppressed, actively or passively, thinking about God, heaven and hell, and whether we return to the worms. We are agnostics or atheists, or just don’t think about whether there is a God and why she should care at all about mere mortals.” He seems to make a life of faith seem more like a knee-jerk reaction to our mortality rather than well-intentioned choice in view of our creatureliness and frailty. He also completely overlooks the positive impact that our suffering can have in the development of our children and grandkids.

There is an arrogance embedded in this article which belies the name of the author; Ezekiel (means his strength is in God). The prophet was keenly aware of God’s presence and power in human affairs. He suffered captivity and the very death of his own wife, but prophesied a message of hope and reassurance for the people of Judah. There was one thing that the biblical Ezekiel knew for sure: God is in control and we must humble ourselves before him. And in this relationship of submission, humility, and trust regardless of life’s circumstances, we find our greatest usefulness.

“Lord, teach me to number my days that I might apply my heart to wisdom” (Ps. 90:12).

Poor Talk (Part 2)…

poorOK- so what is wrong with poor talk and why do I believe that it qualifies as a sin of the tongue? (Read last week’s blog to get caught up.)

First, grousing about how others are prospering while we feel we are not doing as well, keeps us from remembering the blessings of God for what we do have and being thankful (1 Thess. 5:18). We can draw some consolation from the fact that the adaptation-level principle works in both directions: if personal or societal economic pressures force us to adopt a simpler life style, we will eventually adapt and recover life’s balance of happiness and satisfaction. Perhaps that is why many people claim to be so much happier when they simplify their lives.

Poor talk also keeps us from being content with what we do have, therefore, showing a distrust in God’s provision. “We can exercise choice in the selection of our comparison groups. We can resist the tendency to measure ourselves against those higher on the ladder of success, and instead choose to compare ourselves with those less fortunate. Earlier generations were taught to perform such comparisons by way of ‘counting one’s blessings.’ Today we can gain the same benefit by means of selective exposure to comparison groups. Discovering how relatively small our problems are can make us more sensitive to real poverty. It can give us an appreciation of the extent to which some people’s unmet needs — clean water, adequate nutrition, medical care — are things we take for granted. Realizing this will not only sensitize us to the suffering of the truly impoverished; it will also help us develop an attitude of gratitude for what we have.” (“Poor Talk,” Thomas Ludwig and David Myers, Saturday Review)

Finally, poor talk blinds us to the needs of the actual poor because our attention is fixed upon ourselves and our relationship to others who are doing better than we are. “We [need to] make a conscious effort to reduce poor talk… Over and over people complain that they are underpaid, defeated by inflation and taxes, and no longer capable of affording their family’s needs. Some think that such mutual commiseration is harmless, but research has indicated that what people say influences how they think and feel. The very act of complaining about unwelcome economic changes may therefore increase our discontent. Poor talk also focuses our attention on ourselves in a way that blinds us to the needs of others.”

At the end of his Chronicles of Narnia, C. S. Lewis depicts heaven as the ultimate liberation from the relativity of experience. Here creatures cannot feel deprived, depressed or anxious. There is no adaptation-level trauma, for happiness is continually expanding. Here is “the Great Story, which no one on earth has read: which goes on forever: in which every chapter is better than the one before.” This resurrection hope does not eliminate the ups and downs of day-to-day life, but it does offer a liberating cosmic perspective from which to view them.

Here on earth we will never completely escape the “I need more treadmill.” But by becoming aware of the relativity of our appetites, by reducing our poor talk, by consciously selecting our comparison groups, and by viewing life from the perspective of resurrection faith, we can share the humble and grateful response of the Psalmist: “The Lord is my Shepherd; I have everything I need.”

We thank Thee, then, O Father,
For all things bright and good,
The seed-time and the harvest,
Our life, our health, our food;
No gifts have we to offer,
For all Thy love imparts,
But that which Thou desirest,
Our humble, thankful hearts.
(Matthias Claudius, 1784)

Question: When is a poor talker no longer a poor talker? When he stops poor talking?
Answer: No; when he is grateful and content with what he has and generous towards others.

Poor Talk…

poorPoor Talk; a very important issue for us to consider because of the present economic condition of our country and of the world. Many of you are unemployed or working ‘below your skill level,” and many of you have just graduated and are facing a job market that is less than friendly. Others are retired or facing retirement with shrinking resources and facing the prospect of getting a part-time job or of working longer before you can think of retirement. It is a perfect storm for Poor Talk; blaming those Greeks, Spaniards, and Italians for not getting their economic act together and bringing down the value of my Facebook stock; angry at those in the futures market who artificially drive up oil prices to fill their pockets while I struggle to fill my gas tank every week; disgust with the 1% who are so filthy rich while we in the Middle Class are sacrificing our slice of the American Dream.

Some very significant research was done by Psychologists Thomas Ludwig and David Myers during the economic crisis of the late 1970’s when Jimmy Carter was president. Some of you may remember the Iran Hostage issue and the oil crisis with long gas lines and the distribution of gas based upon odd or even license plate numbers. The research was written up in a magazine called the Saturday Review and the article was called Poor Talk. It presented several principles that helped to explain the emotions that accompany economic fluctuations as well as why we are rarely content with what we have, even in good times.

The first principle is the adaptation-level phenomenon. “The basic point is that success and failure, satisfaction and dissatisfaction are relative to our prior experience. We use our past to calibrate our present experience and to form expectations for the future.”

I remember experiencing this when I was a paper boy. This was back when newspapers were .25 and I was earning a grand total of $4 or $5 a week. To me that was huge- I felt wealthy. Then Christmas came, the Nirvana of very paper boy or girl, and I started getting tips. I remember that my income shot up to about $15 for a few weeks and I re-calibrated my expectations; it became the new normal. Then after Christmas, when I went back to making 4-5 stinking bucks a week, I wanted to quit.

The second insight from this psychological research is the relative-deprivation principle. “Whereas the adaptation-level phenomenon is rooted in changes in our own experience across time, the relative—deprivation principle is based primarily on comparison with other people.” And we usually compare ourselves with those who are better off than we are to the extent that we can actually feel poor if we do not have what they have. Plato was right when he said, “Poverty consists not in the decrease of one’s possessions, but in the increase of one’s greed.” Ouch!

A third principle is one of the self-orientation mentality; “the fact that it is a very real human tendency to view oneself as better and more deserving than others.” One of the dangers that those in Christian ministry fall into is not only comparing what we make with those in the secular world, but also feeling that we deserve more than the average person because of the sacrifices we make for the Lord. We feel deprived not on the basis of what we have but on the basis of comparison with what others have. And do you know what? Once again, we usually compare ourselves with those who are doing better than we are and not the other way around. You can see how this can blind us to the very real need of the real poor.

Next week…what we can do to overcome Poor Talk?

A World Split Apart…

A world split apartLast week I mentioned that on June 8, 1978, a Nobel Prize winning author stood before Harvard’s graduating class and gave a speech that both offended and fascinated our nation. Alexander Solzhenitsyn was a Soviet Army veteran arrested in February 1945 for speaking against Joseph Stalin in a letter to a friend. He spent the next eight years in prison in the Gulag, eventually being transferred to a camp for political prisoners. It was out of this experience that Solzhenitsyn wrote his first novel, One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich.

The Harvard speech was complex and somewhat disorganized, but Solzhenitsyn delivered it with conviction born out of his suffering. His listeners are now in their upper 50’s and have become some of the leading intellectuals, elites, and journalist of our day. I wonder if they listened? After laying the foundation that the world is perilously “split” culturally, economically, and philosophically, Solzhenitsyn offered five broad propositions.

1. Americans’ beloved “pursuit of happiness” is denigrated into a self-consumed, self-interested pursuit of materialism, which has serious consequences for the health and stability of the United States—especially since we’ve grown more litigious and misuse the legal system as the only means to solve social and personal problems.

2. Journalistic standards in the United States are morally bankrupt because it trivializes important events and people, shamelessly invades privacy, refuses to acknowledge errors in judgment, and has built up a comfortable collusion to prevent new views from reaching the marketplace of ideas. The press can both simulate public opinion and miseducate it. Thus, we may see terrorists described as heroes, or secret matters pertaining to one’s nation’s defense publicly revealed, or we may witness shameless intrusion on the privacy of well-known people under the slogan: “Everyone is entitled to know everything.” But this is a false slogan, characteristic of a false era. People also have the right not to know and it’s a much more valuable one. The right not to have their divine souls [stuffed with gossip, nonsense, vain talk.]

3. Intellectuals in the West continue to be enamored with the ideas of socialism, even though citizens of such regimes have repudiated its utopian illusion. The well-known Soviet mathematician Shafarevich, a member of the Soviet Academy of Science, has written a brilliant book under the title Socialism; it is a profound analysis showing that socialism of any type and shade leads to a total destruction of the human spirit and to a leveling of mankind into death.

4. Americans’ treasured ideas of freedom are corrupted because there is no longer a belief in the existence of evil, leaving us defenseless against the evil of pornography and crime, and the very real possibility of our civilization’s destruction. As long as we wake up every morning under a peaceful sun, we have to lead an everyday life. There is a disaster, however, which has already been under way for quite some time. I am referring to the calamity of a despiritualized and irreligious humanistic consciousness. We have placed too much hope in political and social reforms, only to find out that we were being deprived of our most precious possession: our spiritual life.

5. The foundational reason for humankind’s woes and the West’s current weakness is the Enlightenment philosophy that we are independent from God and accountable only to ourselves, which has left us spiritually depleted and morally anemic. Taken together, these propositions add up to a major crisis for the human race. So what does Solzhenitsyn propose we do to avoid a catastrophe? We must cease from the deception that evil doesn’t exist. The dividing line separating it and goodness runs through every human heart. We must stir up our courage and resist evil wherever we find it, even if it means fighting it to the death. Finally, we must acknowledge God’s sovereignty over His creation, including us. No one on earth has any other way left but—upward.

Christopher Lasch, in his Culture of Narcissism suggests that our American culture is headed either for a totalitarian dictatorship or a spiritual awakening. Let’s pray for the latter.

(Elements of this summary are from a WordPress blog by D. Jeter 2007)

Don’t Take Your Eye Off the Ball, America…

eye on the ballOn June 8, 1978, a man who looked more like an Old Testament prophet than a Nobel Prize winning author stood before Harvard’s graduating class and gave a speech that both offended and fascinated our nation. Alexander Solzhenitsyn was a Soviet Army veteran arrested in February 1945 for speaking against Joseph Stalin in a letter to a friend. He spent the next eight years in prison in the Gulag, eventually being transferred to a camp for political prisoners. It was out of this experience that Solzhenitsyn wrote his first novel, One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich.

He was exiled to southern Kazakhstan after his imprisonment and taught at a local school. He developed cancer and was treated successfully. He saw this as a miracle. “I could see no other explanation. Since then, all the life that has been given back to me has not been mine in the full sense: it is built around a purpose.” And he believed that purpose was to expose the injustice of the Soviet prison system which he did in his book The Gulag Archipelago and subsequent works, which resulted in him getting kicked out of Soviet Russia. He eventually came to the US and, two years later, gave the Harvard speech, “A World Split Apart.”

It did not go over well. James Reston of The New York Times said the speech represented “the wanderings of a mind split apart.” Arthur Schlesinger Jr., then Professor of Humanities at the City University of New York, and former speechwriter for President John F. Kennedy, said the speech promoted “a Christian authoritarianism governed by God-fearing despots without benefit of politics, parties, undue intellectual freedom or undue concern for human happiness.” And philosopher Sidney Hook insisted that “theology is irrelevant not only to democracy and capitalism and socialism as social systems, but to the validity of morality itself.” But to the more philosophically conservative, his speech was a prophetic warning. Michael Novak, resident scholar for the American Enterprise Institute, described the address as “the most important religious document of our time.”

“Many of you have already found out,” Solzhenitsyn said in his opening, “and others will find out in the course of their lives that truth eludes us as soon as our concentration begins to flag, all the while leaving the illusion that we are continuing to pursue it. This is the source of much discord. Also, truth seldom is sweet; it is almost invariably bitter. A measure of truth is included in my speech today. . . .”

America’s concentration has flagged. She has taken her eye off the ball of truth and has been distracted by other things, like her own absolute sovereignty and supremacy. She has also been blinded to other things, like her own evil and injustice. In junior high I was playing pitch and catch and I took my eye off the ball. It hit me just above the eye and they took me to the ER for stitches. America needs more than stitches. Solzhenitsyn may have spoken to young graduates, but his speech was meant for us living 36 years later. More about what Solzhenitsyn said, next week…

(Some quotes were taken from a 2007 WordPress blog by D. Jeter)

Things You May Not Know About The Star-Spangled…

Francis Scott KeyHappy Fourth of July; a beautiful day here in Chicago! My dad’s birthday is today and if he had lived, he would have been 108! When I was very young, he told me that people shot off fireworks because they knew it was his birthday. I believed him! And I’ll admit that fireworks, even today, remind me of him.

Since our national anthem is so much a part of our American Experience, I thought it would be interesting if I gave you a little quiz on the story of the “Star-Spangled Banner.” This quiz doesn’t need a key (no pun intended) because it has the answers embedded. It is the kind of quiz I wish my teacher used in 8th grade Algebra. Ready?

• The anthem was written during what war? A) War of 1812, B) Viet Nam, C) War of the Worlds.
• Francis Scott Key wrote the words while he was watching what event? A) The World Cup, B) the British bombing Pearl Harbor, C) the British bombing Fort McHenry.
• Where was Key when he was watching this? A) at Rosattis, B) on board a British ship of war, C) at a re-election dinner party with Rahm Emmanuel.
• What was he doing there (besides watching and jotting some words down)? A) picking up pizza, B) as a lawyer, seeking the release of a prominent American doctor taken prisoner by the British, C) sitting with Hilary Clinton.
• Was he successful in his mission? A) yes, he secured freedom for the doctor, but the British did not let him leave the ship before the bombardment because he knew the positions and armaments of the ships, B) no, he was taken to England where he wrote the song, “I Wanna Hold Your Hand,” which the Beatles plagiarized a few years later.

How are you doing so far? Half way there…

• Fort McHenry was the built to defend what famous port city? A) Boise, ID, B) Wheaton, IL, C) Baltimore, MD.
• What was it that Key saw through his telescope during the bombardment? A) mommy kissing Santa Claus, B) Bill Clinton kissing Santa Claus, C) the over-sized American flag, which the commandant of the Fort said was “so large that the British will have no difficulty seeing it from a distance.”
• What happened after the bombardment? A) the British sailed away after releasing Key and the doc, B) the Cubs won the World Series, C) Congress agreed on immigration reform.
• Congress made “The Star Spangled Banner” our national anthem in what year? A) 4 BC, B) 1931, C) they haven’t yet because they can’t agree on the hyphen between “Star” and “Spangled.”
• With what organization did Key have an affiliation? A) the Taliban, B) the SPCA, C) the American Bible Society.
• Extra Credit: What motto did Key urge Congress to adopt? A) Remember the Alamo, B) Don’t Eat Yellow Snow, C) In God We Trust.

If you did not get them all correct, you must view the following top ten worst renditions of the national anthem, especially #1 at the bottom of the list: http://www.toptenz.net/top-10-worst-national-anthem-peformances.php

Have a Happy 4th!