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Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Washington DC visit

My wife and I returned a couple of days ago from a trip to the nation's capital.  We had smooth connections and uneventful transportation going and coming.  Our daughter, a veteran of many European travels, arranged the travel and hotel for us.  Hooray for Alison!  Nice hotel in Bethesda as well with easy connections downtown.

We used the Old Town Trolleys for two days there as we went through the actual city and to Arlington.  The guides are knowledgeable, friendly and interesting.  The price I thought was reasonable.  You can get on and off at any stop.  You really get to know the town well.

We also used the Viatour buses.  Again, the guides were friendly and knowledgeable.  The buses were comfortable.  The first tour was to Gettysburg.  We were able to see and learn a lot.  The only downside was the lack of time to sightsee the shops in the town itself.  Oh well.  Didn't need more souvenirs anyways!  The other Viatour was to Mt. Vernon and Arlington.  The only downside again was the lack of time at Mt. Vernon.  Three hours was not enough!  If you go, make it at least five hours.
The side of the building is marked with bullet holes, even 160 years later.

Devil's Den at Gettysburg

My wife and I were impressed by the simplicity and character of the Washington family, especially in contrast with many of today's leaders who seem eager to live like kings at public expense.

Washington's tomb

I really liked the Mall.  At one end is the Lincoln Memorial, at the other the Capitol.  They speak together of sacrifice, unity, and freedom in the Lincoln Memorial and the power invested in the people of the country in the Capitol Building.  Off to the side is the White House, speaking of the power of the Presidency but also the fact that presidents come and go, and that they are secondary to the people and the history of the nation.  They should serve with humility, not with arrogance.

In the center of the Mall is the Washington Memorial, drawing attention to the founding of the country and its leader at that time.  In between the two ends are many memorials to the men and women who fought and died, and to those who helped lead the country through difficult times to better times.

WW II memorial

Washington DC is a sobering place to go, a place for respect, thought, and reflection.  We have strayed far from the ideals of our founders, and are far from liberty and justice for all.  Yet we continue to strive for those ideals, and hope to leave the country in good shape to our children.

On a lighter note, I saw the insect below at Mt. Vernon.  It was as big as my thumb!  Lots of beautiful trees as well - Cedar of Lebanon, Cypress, and others I don't know.

In light of some of today's controversies such as the Hobby Lobby birth control mandate and the redefinition of marriage, I found the following quotes by our founders enlightening.  How far we have come!  Notice how the recent attempts by Obama and the LBGT community to force their views clearly go against what the founders intended.

"Almighty God hath created the mind free. All attempts to influence it by temporal punishments or burthens...are a departure from the plan of the Holy Author of our religion...No man shall be compelled to frequent or support any religious worship or ministry or shall otherwise suffer on account of his religious opinions or belief, but all men shall be free to profess and by argument to maintain, their opinions in matters of religion. I know but one code of morality for men whether acting singly or collectively." Thomas Jefferson memorial

While we are contending for our own liberty, we should be very cautious not to violate the rights of conscience in others, ever considering that God alone is the judge of the hearts of men, and to him only in this case they are answerable.
GEORGE WASHINGTON, letter to Benedict Arnold, Sep. 14, 1775
A collection of quotes attributed to U.S. President 
George Washington.

Friday, July 11, 2014

America: the Movie

Today my wife and I went to the theater and watched America narrated and directed by Dinesh D'Souza.

It's about an hour and a half long - plus the trailers of course!

It's worth seeing.  The first part of the movie explores 5 or 6 common criticisms of America including the treatment of the Native Americans, slavery, imperialism, capitalism, and the Mexican-American War.  Most of the remainder of the movie responds to these accusations.

If you are well familiar with American history you will recognize that the gist of D'Souzas arguments are well done, although short.  They would probably not convince someone on the Left because they are short answers and  the accusations against America deserve  longer, more careful responses.  Furthermore, history is more complicated than that one view of America is right and the other view is wrong.

Nevertheless, the movie is a good introduction to the answers to those accusations and hopefully the beginning of helpful dialogue.

Some important things to consider.
First, all the indictments of America are actually indictments against all of humanity.  There isn't an empire in world history that isn't guilty of all or most of the accusations made against America (maybe couched in slightly different terms).  Most world empires are far worse than we have been.

Human beings, the world over, are nasty creatures - prone to treat their fellow humans with cruelty and evil.  This sad fact is true of every society that I have heard of.  And as we saw after World War II, evil runs through every human heart.  Part of the American genius was to recognize this human weakness and write into our Constitution and laws safeguards against evil and power hungry humans.  We are forgetting this at our peril today and allowing too much power in the hands of the President at the expense of Congress.  Too much power is in Washington compared to the states.  And too much is in the hands of large businesses who are accountable to few, and certainly not the voting public.

Second, America is guilty of many sins - including some of those described in the movie.  What those critics of America forget, and the movie reminds us, is that these are not uniquely American faults.  Those who would criticize America alone for these faults are ignorant or hypocritical.  Nor should we expect that America will be a perfect nation now or in the future.  Searching for such perfect has led many people down many terrible roads.  Communism and the Nazis come to mind.

The high point of the movie for me as an American and as a Christian was in the description of Saul Alinsky's methods.

One of Alinsky's methods to help refashion America was to polarize the country and to not allow for forgiveness or reconciliation.  Sound like where we are?  People are more and more nasty to each other, the two major parties are moving further and further apart.  Yet when I talk to ordinary people who claim to be Liberals or on the Left, or who don't like Conservatives, it's amazing that we have so many things in common and so many similar goals.

Yes, there are hard core people on the Right and the Left who won't move at all.  But can I hope that those more in the middle can at least talk to each other and not see each other as evil monsters?  Perhaps we can love each other in spite of our differences and find solutions to benefit the entire country?

As Christians reconciliation is our task.  (See NT Wright's book Surprised by Hope)  We are heralds for a God who has gone to and is going to great lengths to reconcile a nasty, sinful human race to himself and then to restore and transform this world for them.

As Americans let's reconcile and forgive each other -- or at least talk to each other!  As Christians, let's do the same.  For the future of our nation and for the sake of the kingdom of God.

Monday, July 7, 2014

Some thoughts on immigration reform

Right now in the news there's a lot of talk about comprehensive immigration reform.  The President even threatens to take care of it himself if Congress won't.  Many people are very upset about the influx of children onto the borders and then further into the country.  Others say that we should welcome them all. And then there's the question about what we as Christians should do toward immigrants, especially those who are here illegally.

I doubt that most Americans know what the laws actually are for those who want to immigrate or what the reality is for those who come here, legally or illegally.  If we don't know these facts, how can Americans lobby our representatives for good reforms?

I also doubt that most of us have thought through what we want our laws to be and what the goals of immigration reform would be.  What do we want America to be like relative to immigrants:
  • A source of cheap labor?  
  • A drain economically? 
  • A refuge from tyranny and violence?  
  • A place to escape grinding poverty? 
  • An attraction to the world's brightest and best?
Do want to welcome everyone?  Can we?  What benefits should immigrants receive?  What would they owe us in return?  What do we do about those who are already here?  We hear of "amnesty" but it is not defined.

I wish someone out there - (news media do your job!!!)  - would tell the stories and make suggestions for change that is in as many people's best interests as possible and is feasible.

Then we can move beyond rhetoric and get real things done for the sake of real people and a real country, not just for political points for our side and against the other side.