Out of Many, One
There’s a phrase in my family that always brings a knowing smile anytime we hear it: “have you ever been to New York?” The phrase has its own back story but for our purposes today it means making judgments about a place without ever having been there. In other words, speaking without a full understanding of the topic being discussed.
It seems there’s a lot of that going around in America these days – people making judgments about places or people they know very little about. Millions of people lumped together into baskets of deplorables, for example. Value judgments that don’t rest on facts and experience, but on individual biases and prejudices.
We have a very incomplete view of America if we’ve only seen it from 40,000 feet en route from one coast to the other. A more complete understanding comes with a close-up ground-level view. When you travel by air you won’t see any “you’re now entering Nebraska” signs alerting you to the fact that you’re now in the airspace of the particular state miles below. When we travel over America and not through it, we’re not greeted by state mottos, slogans or people at the state lines and we can miss the richness and individualism that add color and understanding to the American Experience.
As hard as it is to imagine, the mainstream media that now either ignores or demeans middle America, once sent reporters into the red state heartland to take the cultural pulse of those living and working there – who were politically as well as geographically distanced from fellow citizens in blue coastal states. I fondly remember and looked forward to Charles Kuralt’s On the Road reports broadcast on CBS, and those came to mind when and Pam and I took recent road trips, first into the northwest: to Oregon, Washington, Idaho, Montana, Wyoming and Utah, and then from southern California across Arizona, New Mexico, Texas, Oklahoma, and Arkansas before ending in Tennessee.
It was an education that brought an appreciation for those with callings and values rooted in an earlier time. We saw vast fields with fences and gates designed to protect and keep livestock in, not keep the unwelcome out as may be the case in more established and higher socio-economic neighborhoods.
No matter what day it was, we saw tractors in fields doing the work that would not wait until tomorrow.
We marveled at the seemingly endless trains that carried the necessities of life east and west to their destinations. To us.
And we saw trucks, endless streams of trucks, headed toward or away from the comfort of their own homes and families to transport the essentials of life to us. And we benefitted from the vast trucker support network of fuel, food and convenience stations selling virtually anything that could be needed. And then some.
Off the Interstates we drove through the business districts of what were once the centers of their regional communities. Buildings with architecture of a different era, some with boarded up windows and some with painted signs announcing the services still provided inside.
In each community we saw steeples, places of worship where the continuity of shared faith continues to be expressed as it has been for centuries, back to the time when people of common values joined together to form a new nation of United States.
And there were flags, lots of flags. Flags painted on buildings, flags flying on poles, flags rippling from the back of pickup trucks. Everywhere … flags … that expressed the values of people – Americans – whose viewpoints about the United States may be different from those in other regions, but who have equal standing to participate with those of different persuasions to create a blended American experience.
E Pluribus Unum. Out of many, One.
And as we drove and experienced new things, we imagined the stories they could tell. An unpainted, gray cinder block building, now abandoned, that once provided gasoline and clean windshields to travelers in northeastern New Mexico.
Weathered wooden homes and barns in Texas that have withstood decades of severe weather and now stand in disrepair as reminders of a different time. We wondered what kinds of celebrations had they witnessed when they were first built, or when the harvest exceeded expectations.
Then we walked on sacred battlefields in Tennessee, where Americans wearing both blue and gray prayed to the same Deity and died on the same blood-red soaked fields.
Can we look at our history today and make the necessary adjustments to preserve our future as United States? Can we, will we, learn before it’s too late, that the escalating tensions between Teams Blue and Red are a serious threat to those on both sides? And also to the world that will be catastrophically diminished if America’s lamp of freedom is extinguished?
Abraham Lincoln assessed the threat of his day with this warning: A house divided against itself cannot stand. I believe this government cannot permanently endure half slave and half free. I do not expect the Union to be dissolved; I do not expect the house to fall; but I do expect it will cease to be divided. It will become all one thing, or all the other.
George Washington, in his Farewell Address delivered in 1796, saw beyond the horizon of his generation to see the dangers that threaten our generations today.
For a nation to survive, its citizens must share common values, because conflict is the inevitable consequence of unshared expectations. I believe President Lincoln was correct: we cannot survive as a house divided, And I believe President Washington accurately foresaw the problems that jeopardize our continued existence as a nation.
Either we will become all one thing or all the other. Which will it be? Our choices will determine our future.
That’s all for now, but I hope you will watch for the next blog post when I review several of the specific warnings in Washington’s Farewell Address and discuss how they are relevant to the political and constitutional divisions that are facing Americans today.
A Time to Remember
Early in the morning of the week in 2014 that marked the 70th anniversary of the invasion of Normandy, I walked Omaha Beach with a friend and our wives. Only the four of us were present, and the peaceful silence was a stark contrast to the violent sounds that I imagined filled the air on the same beach on D-Day. Alone with our thoughts, we watched the empty sands and the tides ebb and flow untouched by human conflict.
It was a time to remember, and a time to reflect on the extraordinary sacrifices that took place on the beaches of France in 1944. The beaches … they were so much larger than I had imagined they would be, there was so much empty land to be crossed before the relative safety below the bluffs, a safety that was just an illusion until the bluffs above could be scaled and secured.
It was hallowed ground, walked in reverence to the price that had been paid there.
Not far away, on the bluffs overlooking the beaches, we saw evidence of that price when we walked among the thousands of Crosses and Stars of David that marked the graves of those who paid the price with their lives. You cannot visit the American Cemetery in Normandy and not be challenged by the small white Lasa marble crosses, in perfectly aligned rows that contrast with the green, immaculately trimmed grass that blanketed the former battlefield. It was a time to remember.
For Christians, this week marks another time to remember, a special time to recall another battlefield, another cross, and another tomb. Jesus’ final week didn’t begin in a violent assault, but a triumphant entry for the Prince of Peace. It began with shouted Hosannas and being welcomed as King. He shared one last supper with his friends, washed their feet as a servant would, then agonized with his Father. Then he was betrayed, falsely accused, torturously beaten, mocked, and executed on a rough-hewn Roman cross.
Like those who reflect silently on Omaha Beach, it is impossible to imagine the horror of what Jesus endured to win the Battle for our Salvation. Even the savage imagery of Mel Gibson’s Passion of the Christ cannot capture the evil of what surrounded Jesus execution. Perfection offered up, so that perfection could be offered us. The One who created the world came into the world and the world rejected him – it executed him. Think about that. Think about the price that was paid when the Perfect One became a sacrifice. For us.
Here, though, the parallel ends between Omaha Beach and Golgotha, between the white marble crosses in an American Cemetery and a single blood-stained wooden cross on Calvary. More than nine thousand bodies are buried above Omaha Beach but there is only an empty tomb to remind us of the victory achieved on that solitary cross.
This week is a time to remember, reflect, rejoice, and join our voices with the countless millions who have celebrated the victory of the empty tomb with this declaration: He is Risen. He is Risen indeed.
The book of Mark records the following verse: Then, because so many people were coming and going that they did not even have a chance to eat, he said to them, ‘Come with me by yourselves to a quiet place and get some rest.’
Have you ever noticed that virtually all aspects of American life conspire to keep us away from being alone with Jesus? We’re bombarded with distractions. It can become impossible to hear his voice if we don’t intentionally take time to be away with him. When the disciples were so busy “coming and going that they didn’t even have time to eat”, Jesus said this to them: Come with me by yourselves to a quiet place and get some rest. Do you have a quiet time, a place to be alone with him? A time apart from the busyness of life where he can speak, and you can hear?
I’m married to a teacher and father of a principal. I’ve overheard them talk about classroom management and lowering the volume. When the noise increases, they don’t always raise their voices, sometimes they soften them to barely more than a whisper. They don’t try to shout over the storm, they wait for quiet so they can be heard. Maybe we need to do this with God. Maybe it just seems as if he’s not speaking, when in reality we just can’t hear him over the noise of life.
Did Elijah find God’s counsel in the wind, the earthquake, or the fire? Or was it in the gentle whisper after the calamities had subsided?
How will we hear the heart of God when we constantly live among texts, calls, or emails? When our questions are sent not to God but to Alexa, Siri or Google? Try this: choose a time, then get away. No mobile device, no distractions. Nothing. Get alone. Then, like Samuel, wait before the Lord with this petition in your heart: Speak, Lord, for your servant is listening.
A War on History
A nation separated from its roots will, like any plant, surely wither and die. That is the danger facing America today
Decades ago, extreme elements of American culture began infiltrating its mainstream institutions in an effort to separate America from its roots, and re-make it to their own liking. The goal was, and remains, to create a vastly different America than the one our founders envisioned, and in many different arenas today we see the evidence of their intentions and their successes. Public schools usurp parental rights. Technology platforms restrict free exchange of ideas. Major corporations are hostile to cherished values. Media companies transitioned into leftist megaphones. Entertainment ceased entertaining in favor of indoctrinating. In the name of justice, injustice is imposed by the state. Government pierces the wall separating church and state, and public expressions of faith are threatened. Freedom of speech is under attack.
There are more examples, but this post focuses on the more strategic objectives underlying individual battles in what has become a War on History. America’s history is being systematically distorted, destroyed, and re-written. Why? Because the lack of historical context will prevent citizens from gaining an accurate understanding of the current issues they face. Those who do not learn from history are doomed to repeat it, and the lesson of history is that if we abandon our heritage, our future will be one of chaos and uncertainty.
Those who would re-make America understand that they must first destroy the history of our founding, and the progress we have made since. Their strategic objective is to erase past truths and replace them with current ideologies. The Father of Lies puts a high priority on distorting and abolishing the past. The God of the Bible puts a high premium on truth and remembering. Here are three examples.
Paul told the early church in Corinth, “Do this in remembrance of me.” Since then, believers have remembered what Jesus did for them when his body was broken and a new covenant was established. They understood that the taking of the bread and the cup is only meaningful because they are connected to the historical realities of a crucifixion and a resurrection.
Joshua was the leader of ancient Israel when it finally left its wandering, crossed the Jordan River, and entered the land of promise. He directed that a memorial of stones be erected so when future generations asked about its meaning, they would be told what the stones meant and would be reminded of God’s covenant and promise. The memorial of stones was built for the benefit and education of all future generations who would see the stones, and remember. America has its similar reminder in the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution.
Then consider Jeremiah, who lived centuries later in an Israel that had ceased to follow God’s covenant. But not all disbelieved. In the midst of a rebellious nation being carried into captivity, in the midst of horrific things happening all around him, Jeremiah remembered. “But this I call to mind, and therefore I have hope,” he said. Because of the Lord’s great love he would not be consumed. He remembered God’s faithfulness and knew that his compassions would never fail, but be given new every morning. He remembered, and his remembering provided him the larger and more truthful context that allowed him to declare “The Lord is my portion; therefore, I will wait for him”.
We are called by God to remember, yet we are also pulled away and enticed by the Father of Lies to forget. Like ancient Israel, America shares a heritage that comes from faith in the Creator. If we ever desert this truth and cut ourselves off from our roots, we will cease to live in the freedom of his blessing and experience the tyranny of man’s oppression instead.
We must resist the systematic de-construction of the Constitution, the rejection of its values, and the cancelling of our history. We must see a larger picture and understand the strategic objectives of those who sow the seeds for America’s destruction, and then respond wisely and engage in the battles that must be won.
The Common Good
The Apostle Paul wrote this to the church in Corinth. “Now to each one the manifestation of the Spirit is given for the common good.”
In late April I’ll celebrate 76 years on planet earth. I’ve visited four continents and seen unbelievably beautiful sights. God does good work! Today, I want to share about one of those places – Utah’s Bryce Canyon. Shortly before the Covid shutdown in early 2020, Pam and I stood on an overlook there, with the blue sky and wispy white clouds looking down on snow-topped red and yellow sandstone pillars, called hoodoos. Splashes of green from stubby trees clinging to the canyon walls dotted the scene. Everything came together to form a magnificent expression of God’s creation.
Before leaving we bought a jigsaw puzzle that mirrored what we saw. Now, I’d like you to imagine “what if?” with me. What if we’d gotten home and some of the pieces were missing? What if our eye was not attracted to the whole, but the hole? What if?
The Holy Spirit gifts each one of us, every one of us, so that working together we can demonstrate the common good intended by God, not just in his creation but in His Body.
We must never discount our role because our piece is too small or our shape is too irregular. We must not abstain from fitting into his plan because our piece is in the shadows and not the more prominent place in the blue sky that we so admire. And perhaps even covet.
It would be a shame if we opened the puzzle box and couldn’t duplicate the scene we remembered. But it would be a terrible tragedy if the world were unable to see God’s design because we withhold our portion from its view.
We’re not the first generation to live in a world increasingly hostile to the ways of God. We’re not the first to ponder “what if” as we pray and consider the consequences if God does not deliver.
What if there hadn’t been a ram caught in the thicket as Abraham prepared to sacrifice God’s Promise in obedience to God’s command?
What if the waters of the Red Sea had not parted and the newly freed Israelites had been slaughtered or drowned?
What if the priests that Joshua directed to set foot in the Jordan River had been swept away by flood-stage waters?
What if Esther had not been welcomed by the King when she entered his courts uninvited?
What if Gideon’s “army” of 300 was whittled down too much to win the battle?
What if David’s aim was off just a little, or God was asleep when Elijah was calling down fire?
We believe in a God who is able to deliver us, and will deliver us. But our prayers are offered in faith. Faith can be hoped for, but is not always seen. Our prayers are prefaced with “your will be done” and with trust that a sovereign God will answer according to what he has purposed.
The test of our prayers sometimes takes Danielian faith. It is the trust of Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego when they declared that their God was able to deliver and would deliver … and then proved their trust with these words: but even if he doesn’t we will not serve your Gods or worship the image of gold you have set up.
For their faith they were thrown into the furnace, only to be joined by a fourth man who looked like a son of the gods. Immanuel, God was with them.