Calvin Coolidge and The Peace and Mercy of Christmas

Calvin Coolidge has long been one of my favorite presidents, based upon biographies I have read, his renown for executive restraint and fealty to Article II of the Constitution, and his whimsical penchant for pulling pranks on staff members – as Paul Johnson notes in his sweeping book, Modern Times, Coolidge would ring the bell for staff and then jump and hide under his desk.

He isn’t as widely revered and regarded as much more active presidents and abusers of executive authority, and that is a shame, because it validates American respect for the bully pulpit at the expense of valuing the freedom of the individual. It is also a shame in that it ignores Coolidge’s meaningful contributions to the American ethos, including his writings on the Spirit of Christmas. As the Acton Institute blog notes, Coolidge provided several narratives on the transcending value of Christmas as a defining moral and spiritual essence that Americans should follow for all time.  The most succinct of this prose occurred in his 1927 Christmas address to the nation, quaintly delivered as a hand-written snapshot in newspapers.

To cherish peace and good will, to be plenteous in mercy, is to have the real spirit of Christmas. If we think on these things there will be born in us a Savior and over us all will shine a star sending its gleam of hope to the world.

Further, in a 1930 Syndicated column, Coolidge would further state that:

Every day has been numberless times a birthday. Only a few are widely celebrated, for it is not the event of birth but what is done in after life that makes a natal day especially significant. For many generations, Christmas has been joyously observed wherever there has been a vestige of western civilization, because on that day was born one who grew to be the only perfect man and became the saviour of the world. No other fact, no other influence in human experience, has compared with the birth and life of Christ.

Down through the ages He was borne the name of Master. He gained that everlasting title not by the use of any material force but by demonstrating the moral and spiritual power of mankind.

Jesus’ birth on earth, quite simplified, was this – mercy and peace brought through a divine deity to earth. Let us all endeavor to have this spirit of peace and mercy forevermore.

Merry Christmas to you all! – Matt


A holy, beautiful, and moving Christmas work of art

I recently had the pleasure of hearing Morten Lauridsen’s “Lux Aeterna: O Nata Lux” by the Los Angeles Master Chorale on my holiday station of choice, WQXR (their specially set up, focused, and temporary holiday channel, to be precise. However, I do regularly tune in to their traditional channel). Having performed a Lauridsen piece as a member of a high school chorale, I immediately recognized the composer’s touch for the Latin liturgy delivered in an ethereal acapella without having to look up the composer name. This piece’s sereneness and holiness is worshipful, and the lyrics are in praise of Jesus’ birth on earth and its significance.

The song speaks directly to and honors the transcendent act of peace, mercy, and salvation of the deity who became flesh for our sake. The translation from Latin to English reveals the simple yet powerful narrative.

O nata lux de lumine,
Jesu redemptor saeculi,
dignare clemens supplicum
laudes precesque sumere.
Qui carne quondam contegi
dignatus es pro perditis,
nos membra confer effici
tui beati corporis.
O Light born of Light,
Jesus, redeemer of the world,
with kindness deign to receive
the praise and prayer of suppliants.
You who once deigned to be clothed in flesh
for the sake of the lost,
grant us to be made members
of your blessed body.







This rendition is as close to the WQXR rendition that I can find. It may be of the same recording.

In the wake of Orlando – A time to mourn, a time to heal, a time to act

This is not the first mass casualty event connected to radical Islam that Americans have witnessed, but somehow I can’t prevent the inescapable and oppressive feeling that over the last few days I have woken up to a new America, one that is riven with a population that does not even know how to mourn properly given all of our seemingly intractable divisions. With previous acts of terrorism, such as 9-11, Boston, and San Bernardino, we could plausibly point to the external enemy born outside of our shores who were naturally and somehow expectedly inimical to American freedom and our way of life. This tribal us versus them mentality would seem to have its own galvanizing effect fostering feelings of national unity against a common foe. Contrast that to the shocking tragedy carried out by one of our own homegrown malcontents using radical Islam as an excuse for his madness, and one can’t help but feel that our steep descent into mass violence has entered a new and uncertain phase. My own reticence on the tragedy in the wake of its immediate aftermath was borne out of shock, sadness, helplessness, and a feeling that bereft of any facts, it was honorable to keep my mouth shut in an attempt to abide by the old proverb that it is best to not speak unless one can improve the silence. I readily admit to lacking the soaring rhetoric that such a situation requires – then and now.  Alas, there is such a cacophony of noise on the issue that silence itself is hard to find. Silence is currently hiding in caves of ignominy and fear that I wish the mad men that choose to make macabre public displays out of violent aggression would make proper use of.

Consider that my Facebook feed immediately became an onslaught between people on both sides of the ideological spectrum manning their respective barricades, some blaming gun control, others lamenting the lack thereof; some blaming Islam, others quick to defend it; some finding refuge in religion, others saying all religions are flawed and blaming it at large for violence and backward thinking; some offering up prayers, while yet others ridiculed and spurned those same prayers.  Given this palpable discord, one wonders if we can ever find a proper state and stage of national unity and mournful silence and healing ever again. Personally I look at this ugly world and what it is capable of at its worst and I lament what my four children, in their current merciful innocence, will have to face. What senseless acts of barbarism and evil await their paths? Not only is the world full of horror, but the aftermath of horror can be vicious and cruel in an emotional sense. Pain can be debilitating, even more so when one finds no relief and comfort from their fellow man. This war against random and massive violence and bloodshed, whether it be in the form of virulent radical Islam, or in the form of a mental case shooting at schools and churches and minority communities out of who knows what irrational grievance and loathing of his fellow-man, is one that I can’t feel will be complex, multifaceted, and necessarily generational. It is daunting and foreboding. The great paradox of humanity has always been its dual nature – its great capacity for evil has always precariously been balanced by its great capacity for good. Otherwise, what hope do we have for any humanity and goodwill going forward? It is this force for good that gives me some semblance of optimism, and our ability to support one another in times of need is the highest form of goodness and charity.

I feel compelled to break my own refuge in silence in order to do the very least good that I can – which is offer my deepest condolences and sympathies over such a historically large casualty event and for the specific targeting of the gay community. As a Christian who believes in a merciful God who can heal and bring justice, I pray for these things for all involved. Recognizing that at a time such as this, many directly impacted may not be as receptive to that message and have their own hurts and anger for which my offer to prayer will not resonate, I expand on this approach to express a deep-seated and sincere sadness for the tragedy, barbarity, and senselessness of it all. One can never fully identify with the fear and deep emotions that someone in these situation faces, but I am trying to do what I can to enter into the proper emotions and feel deep regret and sincere pain for the feelings evoked by lost loved ones and being subjected to primal fear and tragedy. To be hunted down and murdered by a cowardly loser who discovered faux and fleeting power behind a gun is tragic and worthy of national unity in mourning and caring for those and their families that this injustice was visited upon. I can only hope that these sentiments, publicly spoken, provide succor to someone hurting in this time of need.

I want to be extremely careful not to take a tragedy and move beyond the mourning phase into the action phase too quickly, which is a tendency of society that I lament in this post. However, part of the figurative rush to the barricades is completely understandable, as unfortunately we seem to have listened to this same awful tune multiple times. The collective pain and anger stems from our seeming incompetent and powerless responses, as if we are sitting in some lounge chair sipping on fruit juice while a diabolical disc jockey keeps playing the same horrific tune over and over again. We wring our hands over the song, but we fail to shut off the radio. We don’t move from our chair. We fail to take any action to forcibly remove this acrid conductor. We shout aloud to the powerless birds sitting outside of our window, “who will remove this fiend and shut off this awful song!” Angry and mystified by their lack of response, we remain motionless in the chair.

I don’t presume to have the wisdom to know how to immediately solve this most monumental of societal and moral problem of our times. As I mentioned previously, I don’t believe any quick fix is on hand for this fight against terrorism, either global or domestic, and I believe it will be multi-generational. No doubt the major news publications will be littered with observations and policy proposals from our pundits and politicians in the coming days. What could I possibly add to this onslaught of information? Humbly, I make the following quick observations of my own personal beliefs:

  • We can give up on the notion that we can safely observe and contain ISIS from afar. Their murderous ideology only takes a maladjusted and angry misanthrope with an internet connection to find fertile ground in the U.S. ISIS feeds off of momentum of a caliphate built on physical land. We have to be committed as a nation to the complete annihilation of ISIS on a short timetable. Making it a loser on the ground will make it a loser not worthy of being followed (ironically) by the social misfits that fall prey to its dystopian ideology. This will take more American resources and American forces than is currently planned for or allowed. The bulk of the forces can and should come from Sunni powers, but American commitments and strategy are essential to bringing about this coalition.
  • Counter propaganda must be funded, sustained, intense, fierce, and supported and fronted by moderate Sunni communities making a religious and ideological case for why violent jihad is for the weak, impure, and misguided.
  • The above will take time to make a marked impact. Meantime, the ISIS strategy will shift from holding territory to exporting terror to the West. This is obviously already occurring. Unfortunately, in the short-run this will spawn even more potential threats from lone wolf terrorists until the ISIS poison is eradicated at its source in the Middle East. These individuals may not even have to be in direct communication with their overseas counterparts, making actionable intelligence gathering even more difficult. Basic plans on inciting terror and the appropriate targets (schools, churches, and gay clubs) are already in abundance on ISIS websites. Intelligence tools will necessarily have to become much more robust in picking up on clues and breadcrumbs dropped along the way through web searches, websites visited, and social media posts. It is apparent that much of this and more occurred with the Orlando massacre perpetrator (my choice to not even speak his name is deliberate) including hateful and telling statements and rants made to fellow employees and FBI investigators. These warning signs went nowhere. Remarkably, this individual was still allowed to legally serve as a security guard and purchase and keep weapons, which gets me to my next point below.
  • I am a 2nd Amendment advocate and believe that individuals have a right to protect themselves from harm by owning and maintaining weapons. But surely there must be some common sense reforms that can be enacted and intelligence sharing holes that can be filled in the aftermath of this tragedy. A case in point is when a confirmed potential menace to society wants to purchase a weapon, much less a semi-automatic, he should not be allowed to until cleared through some defined  and safeguarded process of mental health evaluations. Such a model would have to be governed well so that it is not abused by government, which might be able to unilaterally slap the mental health label on anyone with whom it disagrees. Policies that foster connecting the dots between federal agencies and maintaining accurate and timely weapons “no buy” lists seems to be a right policy direction. That being said, I also believe that movements in this direction are but a small palliative and addresses a symptom and not a cause of the cultural malaise that we face. Gun control can’t be a feel good distraction from the true heavy lifting that must occur. After all, the Paris attacks happened in a country with much more restrictive gun laws than America. Perhaps more effective than hopelessly trying to prevent all guns from getting into the hands of creative and committed jihadists would be better strategies for our intelligence forces in fleshing out potential terrorists through sting and baiting operations.
  • I sincerely wish that the media could make a concerted effort to de-emphasize the individuals who enact these horrific crimes. Rather than plastering their faces all over and in effect sensationalizing their exploits, I would rather see a concerted effort to de-humanize them in the process. Infamy can be its own form of toxic draw to the maladjusted, after all. What if the headlines were always something along the lines of, “Cowardly loser who will be forgotten in a short amount of time and who by blowing themselves up achieved precisely 0% of what they were trying to achieve in the long run, unjustly murders 50, bringing eternal and lasting shame upon themselves and their families, and according to many highly renowned Imams, consigned himself to eternity in a blazing pit of fire…” I wonder if a drumbeat of such announcements regularly produced over time might begin to have a lasting impact on the would-be terrorist conscience.
  • My final point to make, at great risk of being considered alarmist, is that I at long last will personally get my concealed carry license. No, this is not to be that guy in Whataburger with a gun strapped to my holster. In the extreme outside event that someone attacks a place that I happen to be, such as a church or shopping mall, then as a relatively good shot with great familiarity with firearms from my Army days, I feel duty-bound to protect my family and serve my various communities in some way. It seems reasonable to me that a madman with a gun firing at innocents is better held down by someone who is trained in firing back. Basic army tactics indicate that covering fire, even when it does not hit the mark, can pin an enemy down, which makes them far less lethal. History favors the prepared.  I am not exactly at the point where I am stock-piling Ramen noodles quite yet, so reserve the heightened scorn for another day.

To achieve better happiness, start thinking about your own death

Talk about the ultimate premortem, I found this article by one of my favorite authors, columnists, and bloggers, Arthur C. Brooks an insightful thought experiment in imagining life as if it is almost over for you. The crux of the article and mental exercise is that there is a great amount of dissonance between the actions that what we as individuals know makes us highly satisfied and the decisions we actually make as it relates to what we spend our time doing. Brooks states:

In fact, most people suffer grave misalignment. In a 2004 article in the journal Science, a team of scholars, including the Nobel Prize winner Daniel Kahneman, surveyed a group of women to compare how much satisfaction they derived from their daily activities. Among voluntary activities, we might expect that choices would roughly align with satisfaction. Not so. The women reported deriving more satisfaction from prayer, worship and meditation than from watching television. Yet the average respondent spent more than five times as long watching TV as engaging in spiritual activities.

If anything, this study understates the misalignment problem. The American Time Use Survey from the Bureau of Labor Statistics shows that, in 2014, the average American adult spent four times longer watching television than “socializing and communicating,” and 20 times longer on TV than on “religious and spiritual activities.” The survey did not ask about hours surfing the web, but we can imagine a similar disparity.

Thus, the imperative is for us to stop wasting time and make better decisions with our present moments. Perhaps regular exercises in thinking earnestly about the dreadful prospect of only having a year left to live will provide an aid in helping us make better choices and paradoxically make us happier.

The Enduring Legacy of the Gideons International


A recent Wall Street Journal article on the Gideons International reminded me of the special reverence and esteem I have always held for the organization. I can vividly recall Gideons showing up year after year at my rough and tumble lower class junior high school, patiently handing out their colorful mini Bibles to students that for the most part were either indifferent, walking past without looking up, or outright mocking. Still, these men would come back the next year to perform this duty. They were not there to preach or pass judgment, they were there with a simple mission to pass on the enduring legacy of handing out one of the oldest printed books known to man, a book that they believed held the most important lessons to the meaning of life.

A few years later, I would gain a better appreciation for the work of the Gideons. I was 17 years old and six days removed from high school graduation. I found myself in an overnight stay in Amarillo, Texas for final steps at the Military Entrance Processing Station prior to departure for basic training for the Army National Guard out in Fort Benning, Georgia. This was my first step in my military and college education journey, the two being inextricably linked in my life given that the military is how I paid for my undergraduate studies at Texas A&M and I spent four years as an Army officer after graduation. All that being said, a 17 year old spending his first true night alone knows nothing of what the future really holds and has a rather potentially toxic mixture of emotions of excitement and trepidation competing for outlets and attention. I recall that after a day spent at the processing station returning to my room to  discover that the man staying in my room, who must have shipped out that day en route to his own basic training for the Navy, had stolen the $100 I had in my bag meant to last me the couple of days in Amarillo. Lonely, broke, disabused of the naive notion that there would be nothing but honor amongst military men, and holed up in a shady motel on the remarkably dirty and seedy Amarillo Boulevard, I spent a bit of time reading the Gideon Bible in the drawer. The reading gave me a great sense of encouragement on my last evening as a free man. I can therefore say that the unglamourous and hidden work of the Gideons provided aid and comfort to me personally. I wonder how many others out there have found some comfort from a Gideon’s Bible in a time of dire need? Traveling on the road can be a remarkable experience for the clarity that it can provide an individual for deep thought and a forced time away from distractions. It is during those times that people can be prone to despair. Thus, the Gideons provide a remarkable service, even if it does not create the same level of fanfare as other forms of global missions.

My youthful crucible was by no means the last time I would have direct exposure to the work of the Gideons. Recently, and almost two decades after my hotel experience,  I had the pleasure of attending a morning Gideons meeting with my Grandfather’s chapter in the small farming community of Plainview, Texas. The event was simple enough: mostly middle-aged and older men meeting to eat breakfast burritos, drink coffee, talk about the weather, rib each other (as men age, I suppose that they never grow out of the boyhood tactics of questioning one another’s intelligence and/or manhood), and to discuss the business and financial matters of the chapter. True to the nature of the group’s mission, this was a group of men gathering to lift up their families, communities, the American nation, and the world up in prayer. Most importantly, this particular chapter was meeting to discuss their plans to provide weekly church service coverage for prisons throughout the surrounding area. Each week, the farmers, doctors, and retirees of this Gideon’s chapter go throughout the surrounding area to provide comfort and succor to those amongst us in most need of love and meaning. My grandfather is one who heads out to a prison on just about a weekly basis, providing an example of the dedication the Gideons have to God’s work that is safely out of the limelight, but directed at those most in need. Whether it is handing out Bibles to school students on the wrong side of town, placing Bibles in hotels, or ministering to locked up and forgotten prisoners, the Gideons do a lot of the work that remains firmly out of the public eye and directed at those most in need of reaching. This makes the Gideon’s hidden work all the more important and worthy of support from Christian communities.


Tragedies and a Chaotic and Evil World: A Layman’s Spiritual Perspective

Don McCullin’s ‘Shaped by War’ Exhibition, Imperial War Museum, London”

This holiday and festival season gives us a time to pause and reflect on all that we are grateful for. For those of the Christian faith, the season is a remembrance of the bounty we have been granted but not necessarily deserved as well as a celebration of a central tenet of the faith: the birth of Jesus Christ on this earth. Indeed, many of us have much to be thankful for, and it is proper to pause and reflect on these things in a spirit of modest gratitude. This season has given me a great amount of reasons to think on those that have much less reason to celebrate, chiefly in that this season I have been exposed to an inordinate amount of friends and acquaintances that are facing personal loss or dealing with unspeakable and hard to understand tragedies. Indeed, a sense of fairness and justice would indicate within our hearts that people should die old after a life well-lived, that marriages that began with such harmony and joy should not end abruptly with one party seemingly going off the deep end, or that parents should not have to suffer the loss of a child in the prime of their life, that children should not starve or suffer, or that children should not be abused by heinous adults that have guardianship over them. And of course, there are the senseless acts of violence that we seem increasingly subjected to, with domestic terrorism at home with the drumbeat of lone-wolf attackers of schools and theaters and the depravations of ISIS and the jihadist attacks that continue apace, most recently in Paris and Beirut. Aside from evils that befall us in the form of human hands, there are the seemingly random forces of nature that destroy human civilization as well as life. The Indian Ocean tsunami a few years ago that killed hundreds of thousands is a case in point.

What is a person to make of such tragedies? Indeed, the fact that human evil and random suffering from natural forces exists is one of the hardest criticisms leveled at faith to intellectually rebut. The argument that evil and human suffering disproves God’s existence can follow trains of thought that a Creator that is powerful but creates evil in the world and allows it to happen can’t possibly be good, or further if such a creator exists that can’t stop evil, then he must not be powerful. It is recent events that compel my authoring my own beliefs on the subject matter. As a preface, longtime friends won’t confuse me with someone that deals frequently in matters of theology or metaphysics, as I tend to gravitate towards fields one might group into rationalistic aims. I have long not considered myself a theologian qualified to wade into such matters and have long left this sort of discourse to the “experts.” Alas, I was recently reminded by a pastor in my church at Texas that, “everyone is a theologian, they just differ on their views and how good they are at defending them.” Recent events make me feel compelled to record my own views on the critique of human evil and suffering invalidating belief in God, if for nothing else to consolidate into one place for my own historic viewing on the subject. If it so happens to help someone also grappling with this topic, then all the better.

Beginning with the concept that a good God could never allow evil, I draw upon the writings of C.S. Lewis, who focuses on the concept of free will. In his chapter titled, The Shocking Alternative within the wonderful book, Mere Christianity, Lewis discusses why evil is allowed to exist and as the title chapter belies, why the alternative to evil existing is a ‘shocking alternative’ while also subtly pointing out that evil is not actually in God’s will. Within the chapter, Lewis uses one analogy of a parent that knows their children must learn to tidy their room. The parent’s will is that the children learn to be self-sufficient, which is a necessary condition of eventual life as an adult. The conditions that the parent has duly set in place create the conditions for the child to grow and learn, but also creates the conditions for the child to leave an inkwell turned into the carpet, forever staining it. The latter event is hardly the parent’s will, but their designed framework did create the conditions for that to event to be possible.

This type of freedom to choose wrong or right is the order of human nature. We have free will. We can go wrong or right. Thus, free will has made evil possible, but instances of evil are hardly in God’s will. So the question becomes why did God give us free will? Lewis’s answer is that, “…because free will, though it makes evil possible, is also the only thing that makes possible any love or goodness or joy worth having. A world of automata – of creatures that worked like machines – would hardly be worth creating.” Further, Lewis elaborates on how remarkable we are as a creation – we have the great power to do good as well as evil through our remarkable composition, “The better stuff a creature is made of – the cleverer and stronger and freer it is – then the better it will be if it goes right, but also the worse it will be if it goes wrong.”

All of this begs the question of what God did do in order to mitigate our descent into unchecked evil. Lewis points out that he left us with a conscience that is powerful in determining right from wrong whether we are Christian or not and he sent Jesus as the ultimate bridge between God and Man, so that those that follow him would have an even greater reason to do good and vitiate evil wherever it is found.

This then gives the reader something to ponder on the nature of evil, but what about random natural forces, accidents, and disease that maim and kill or take lives from us much too soon? There is little logic or solace that I can provide save for what has been previously offered – that a fallen world based upon free will is also going to have its natural forces that are allowed to move and occur and that will inevitably impact us all. If there is any solace that can be given, it is in the sense that the Christian views the life perspective in terms of immortality rather than the short time we spend on earth. As the Lutheran theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer observes in his book, The Cost of Discipleship, “Time is short. Eternity is forever.” Indeed, when viewed in this perspective, a few short years on this earth will pale in comparison to a life of joy spent in eternity, and perhaps how we respond to tragedies in the short run will provide the mark of our character. Will we collapse in the face of tragedy? Will our faith wane due to the personal impact of tragedy? Or will we remain strong in the hope and knowledge of immortality? Will we use this tragedy to help others that have also been impacted by similar tragedies? Bonhoeffer’s own life experiences makes the quote above quite appropriate and show the mark of character, as his was a life that ended in the prime of his career. At the relative young age of 39 and at the height of his theological writings and impact, and while engaged to be married, Bonhoeffer was executed by the Nazis for taking part in a plot to kill Hitler. Even before that fateful decision, Bonhoeffer took courageous vocal stances against the evils of Naziism.

Even within this lifetime, time can heal much pain and give us great perspective on evils and sufferings. While we may fail to ever truly understand them or comprehend them, or indeed praise God for them in this lifetime, there are some of those that we can see from the vantage point of time passed as useful for refining us into who we are as people. Sufferings can make us equal parts more modest, patient, empathetic, loving, prudent, wise, courageous, and divining. I don’t mean to indicate that this is always the case, and indicating to someone in the throes of pain that the tragedy is somehow God’s will or that they will learn from it in the long run is as insensitive as it is theologically unsound. I only mean to indicate that the passage of time can have both healing and a positive effect on one’s outlook. Even when events are too painful for us to bear or understand, the Christian faith provides the example of Jesus, who himself endured tremendous sufferings in his own death on the cross. Thus, if nothing else, we can point to a Creator that can wholly enter into and empathize with our deepest moments of despair. This concept is echoed in Tim Keller’s Reason for God in which he states that, “Christianity alone among the world’s religions claims that God became uniquely and fully human in Jesus Christ and therefore knows firsthand despair, rejection, loneliness, poverty, bereavement, torture, and imprisonment.”

Still, there are some human sufferings that we will fail to see perspective on or that time will fail to heal completely. There are admittedly some things in this life that we are exposed to that seem so profane and so tragic that we will fail to grasp them.  Our human faculties may fail to completely reconcile them or in our human frailty, we may fail to see what possible good can come from them, and this can grievously wound our sense of human order and thus our faith. For this, I can only think that just because we fail to see the good in sufferings does not mean that the good is not there. Further, I am drawn to the writings of Dostoevsky, who ironically uses the conflicted agnostic character Ivan in the book The Brothers Karamazov to declare,”

“I believe like a child that suffering will be healed and made up for, that all the humiliating absurdity of human contradictions will vanish like a pitiful mirage, like the despicable fabrication of the impotent and infinitely small Euclidean mind of man, that in the world’s finale, at the moment of eternal harmony, something so precious will come to pass that it will suffice for all hearts, for the comforting of all resentments, for the atonement of all the crimes of humanity, for all the blood that they’ve shed; that it will make it not only possible to forgive but to justify all that has happened.”

What are the practical implications of all of this? One is to not descend into inescapable despair and loss of faith in the face of tragedy while affording ourselves the proper time and feelings of mourning. Unfortunately, evil and sufferings are part of this world and are a necessary component of a free will and allowing us to develop the highest form of love for our fellow man and God. A further implication is to view mankind in terms of immortality and that our time here is remarkably short – we must be busy about serving and loving our fellow man, and using trials and sufferings to those aims wherever we can. When confronted with friends and family that are going through their own tragic circumstances, we need to pray for them to receive comfort and grace, pray with them for healing, mourn for them, and mourn with them. As Matthew 5:4 indicates, “Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.” Bonhoeffer indicates that part of this mourning is reflective of the evil that exists in this world and suffer from it. Finally, in this season, I would submit that it is proper to focus on our spiritual and relationship blessings and that it is misguided to speak too much in the presence of others of material ‘blessings.’ I have come to the conclusion that material gains probably matter but little to the things of God, and can even detract from them, particularly if we interpret their gain as God’s favor and the converse, their absence as a sign of his lack of favor. The life and experiences of the apostles on earth, that ended with penury and in most cases death would indicate that God’s desire for our lives can often involve endured hardships. This is the concept embodied in Bonhoeffer’s costly discipleship rather than the soft and weak cheap grace that seems to be embodied in many modern day practitioners of a prosperity gospel. We need to be exceedingly careful not to indicate to those around us that our new house, our large salary, or new car are somehow favors from God. There is a extremely fine line between gratitude, which is appropriate, and self-centered gloating that seems to indicate we have a higher worth or value than others. I would argue that God is often closer to us and more concerned with our tragedies and the tragedies of those around us than with our comfort and ease. In essence, we have a faith based on comfort in the face of tragedies, an immortality that can help us draw timeline perspectives, and a faith that exhorts us to love our fellow man as we love God, meaning we can draw on our tragedies to empathize with and love others. I part with I Corinthians 13:13 – So now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; but the greatest of these is love.

Abuse of the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment – Football coach suspended over private prayers

I welcome the looming judicial review of the abuse of the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment cited by Bremerton, WA school officials in the suspension of a high school football coach that has a routine of praying at the 50 yard line after games. Over time, students chose to join him on their own volition. In today’s hypersensitive, increasingly secular, and Orwellian society this singular coach’s action is somehow astonishingly interpreted as a state institution promoting or enforcing a state religion. The school officials involved here seem to flatter themselves that by virtue of one coach making a private choice to exercise religion in a public fashion is somehow conflated to them being significant enough to suddenly jump to the vertiginous conclusion that this is enough to serve as the establishment or promotion of a single faith.

Perhaps one of the most alarming elements within this episode is that we are entrusting our children’s education to school officials such as these that can’t seem to pass the most basic tests of reading comprehension and an understanding of the governing charter of our land, the U.S. Constitution. So let’s review the First Amendment cited as a reason for removing the coach in this case:

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances.

The school officials are inherently twisting the “shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion…” into a justification that somehow a private coach’s prayer is the state’s sanctioning of a religion. They in turn conveniently ignore the rest of the clause, which is, “…or prohibiting the free exercise thereof…”

Since secular militants like to abuse and misconstrue language of Thomas Jefferson on “separation of church and state,” let’s review some of the language that Founding Father had on this topic, taking from an earlier post I made on the topic of Thomas Jefferson on religious liberty:

“Almighty God hath created the mind free…no man shall be compelled to frequent or support any religious worship, place, or ministry whatsoever, nor shall be enforced, restrained, molested, or burthened 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.”

Note Jefferson’s emphasis on that no man should suffer on account of his religious opinions or beliefs and that they should be free to profess their religious opinions, and here is the most important point he makes: that this shall not diminish, enlarge, or affect their civil capacities.

The Liberty Institute will be bringing the suit, since the school officials can’t seem to have the wisdom or foresight to back down, and perhaps it is time for us to have this discussion and find the balance between overt coercion and enforcement and promotion of a religion at an institutional level and a private individual following their own private religious beliefs. Religious beliefs held in a public manner are protected too. In a way, I personally welcome the escalation to the higher court so that we can have this conversation and decision at a national level.

There is some Supreme Court precedence here that the Liberty Institute cites that:

  • Teachers and students do not shed their constitutional rights to freedom of speech or expression upon entering the schoolhouse (Tinker v. Des Moines Independent School District, 1916)

  • The First Amendment protects religious activity that is initiated by individuals acting privately, like Coach Kennedy during his post-game prayers (Everson v. Board of Education, 1947)

  • The government may not restrict the speech of private individuals for the sole reason that their speech is religious (Good News Club v. Milford Cent. Sch., 2001)

  • That speech by a public employee—including a teacher—does not always represent or appear to represent the views of the state (Tucker v. California Department of Education, 1996)

In essence, not only would a reasonable reading of the First Amendment and an understanding of the Founders’ intent behind it but also judicial precedence serves to indicate which way this case would go.

Thomas Jefferson’s concepts of religious liberty – even more relevant today

Thomas Jefferson for Today: Why Religious Liberty is a 21st Century Cause

We are certainly passing through a transformational transition stage in which the cultural plurality will transition from what has predominantly been one of Protestant dominance and belief to one that will increasingly erode into an ever diffuse plurality of non-affiliated people who hold some nominal religious belief as well as an increasing percentage of agnostics and atheists.

Even in an age of religious dominance, Jefferson was right to stress religious freedom as a foundational plank of individual liberty – namely the freedom from coercion of government or coercion of fellow man.

As Meacham (who wrote the seminal biography of Thomas Jefferson) notes, Jefferson made his case for religious liberty not only in secular but also in theological terms when he states:

“Almighty God hath created the mind free…no man shall be compelled to frequent or support any religious worship, place, or ministry whatsoever, nor shall be enforced, restrained, molested, or burthened 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.”

Meacham elaborates:

Jefferson argued, essentially, that if God Himself did not compel obedience, then no man should try to enforce what the Lord chose to leave as matters of free will. The “Holy Author of our religion,” wrote Jefferson, as “Lord both of body and mind . . . chose not to propagate it by coercions on either.”

I really enjoy the closing points Meachem makes on moderation throughout this transition and to remember the value of liberty and freedom of conscience for both those of a religious bent, like myself, and those of a secular bent:

In what is likely to be a tumultuous period ahead, it seems important to remember that our Founders had it right: religion is a matter of choice, not coercion. Believers should be on guard against self-righteousness; secularists should take care not to fall prey to smugness. “America proudly stands with people of every nation who seek to think, believe, and practice their faiths as they choose,” Obama said last week. “We urge every country to recognize religious freedom as both a universal right and a key to a stable, prosperous, and peaceful future.” That’s a message worth heeding not only on January 16, but every day.