Category: CIVICS

Is America is Dead Yet?

Following the exodus of many Christian believers from the religious right “evangelical” church, I’ve heard a few leaders of the “deconstructionist movement” critique hyper patriotism and Christian nationalism as idolatry. I could’t agree more.

Jesus is Lord, not our country, not either party, not any candidate or President. Any time we begin to imagine that our politics and opinions are the only ones that can save us all- we’ve fallen on our knees before a false god.

But as a fan of the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution, Bill of Rights, Abe Lincoln and American history in general, I want to point out that many if not most practicioners of this blasphemous “civil religion,” aren’t even practicing this false religion correctly. They violate it’s commandments (14th Amendment) and ignore it’s creeds (just as MLK accused us of in his ‘I have a dream’ speech.

The three core tennants/doctrines of our secular (civil) religion were origionally equality, human rights and the social contract theory. The sacred virtues were unity, justice, domestic tranquility, common defense, general welfare and the securing the benefits of freedom for an optimistic future. The holy sacraments were voting, speech, assembly, and ingenuity.

I know, I too have to tear down my own asherath poles of progressivism even as I demand that conservatives grind their baal alters into dust. Egalatarianism, fraternity and liberty aren’t going to get anyone into Heaven or more Christ-like than capitalism, guns or military superiority. But I just can’t help thinking that if you’re gonna depend on horses and chariots instead of God’s Spirit, you should at least depend on the correct horses.

It sees to me if you’re going to elevate America or it’s flag to an object of worship, at least do America the favor of honoring the republic for which it stands, one nation (UNDER) God, indivisible with liberty & justice for ALL- rather than just Republicans standing (never kneeling) for the flag, with God being an afluent, White, male, always supporting one political party over another, polarized with “opportunity” if you work hard enough, and retributive justice if you can afford it.

So, for my deconstrutionist brothers & sisters, as well as for my athiest and agnostic brothers and sisters, I present a thought experiment. Friedrich Nietzsche’s much reviled and misunderstood 1882 story, “Parable of the Madman”- replacing the word “God” with “America.” A decidedly Trump-Era fable.


Have you not heard of that madman who lit a lantern in the bright morning hours, ran to the market place, and cried incessantly: “I seek America! I seek America!” — As many of those who did not believe in democracy were standing around just then, he provoked much laughter. Has she got lost? asked one. Did she lose her way like a child? asked another. Or is she hiding? Is she afraid of us? Has she gone on a voyage? emigrated? — Thus they yelled and laughed.

The madman jumped into their midst and pierced them with his eyes. “Whither is America?” he cried; “I will tell you. We have killed her– you and I. All of us are her murderers. But how did we do this? How could we drink up the land from sea to shining sea? Who gave us the sponge to wipe away the entire frontier? Do we not need to light lanterns in the morning? Do we hear nothing as yet of the noise of the gravediggers who are burying America? Do we smell nothing as yet of the national decomposition? Nations, too, decompose. America is dead. America remains dead. And we have killed her.

“How shall we comfort ourselves, the murderers of all murderers? What was holiest and mightiest of all that the world has yet owned has bled to death under our knives: who will wipe this blood off us? What water is there for us to clean ourselves? What festivals of atonement, what sacred games shall we have to invent? Is not the greatness of this deed too great for us? Must we ourselves not become gods simply to appear worthy of it? There has never been a greater deed; and whoever is born after us — for the sake of this deed he will belong to a higher history than all history hitherto.”

here the madman fell silent and looked again at his listeners; and they, too, were silent and stared at him in astonishment. At last he threw his lantern on the ground, and it broke into pieces and went out. “I have come too early,” he said then; “my time is not yet. This tremendous event is still on its way, still wandering; it has not yet reached the ears of men. Lightning and thunder require time; the light of the stars requires time; deeds, though done, still require time to be seen and heard. This deed is still more distant from them than most distant stars and broad stripes — and yet they have done it themselves.

It has been related further that on the same day the madman forced his way into several campaign rallies and there struck up his requiem aeternam demos. Led out and called to account, he is said always to have replied nothing but: “What after all are these party debates, primaries and caucuses now if they are not the tombs and sepulchers of America?”

This isn’t how things are supposed to be

It seems to me that on the one hand, we’ve become so tribal and collective in out thinking that criticism of any politician or party with whom we’ve identified ourselves becomes a personal “attack” impugning our own integrity- while at the same time, we’ve become so individualistic, that we refuse to take any corporate responsibility for injustices perpetrated by those politicians, parties, celebrities, groups, subcultures, etc. with witch we’ve identified ourselves.
 
Lets be clear, you don’t hate all law enforcement officers because you believe there’s systemic racism in our criminal justice system. Likewise, we get that you’re not a hateful Klan member even though you want to MAGA, be that as it may- as Edmund Burke said, “The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.”
 
I want my Facebook friends, family, and followers to know that I’m not accusing any of you of anything when I post, re-post or comment on what I do here, I’m sharing MY concerns and my perspectives. But I gotta tell ya, it does frighten and confound me that so many people I love, appreciate, and respect seem desensitized to what I perceive as corruption, injustice or threatening.
 
Maybe it’s my personality type that I both want what’s best for everyone and yet want to avoid conflict, but I often wish we had a three-party or multi-party system. Like while driving on the interstate; I with there were three lanes and not just two because the fast lane goes too fast for me but the slow lane goes too slow. I wish all my Republican friends would denounce and stand up to Trump without feeling like they were admitting to some heinous crime or denying all their other deeply help principles. Meanwhile I wish I could speak out for the progressive issues that align with my personal, political and religious convictions without people accusing me of being “Socialist” or trying to destroy America.
 
So there it is. In religion I believe that Jesus taught that His #1 priority is love. In history & government, I believe that the U.S. is exceptional because it was a republic dedicated to equality, basic human rights, and a participatory form of democracy through federalism intended to offer a process through which ALL people could acquire justice.
 
This isn’t how either America nor Christianity are supposed to work, friends. It’s instinctive to be defensive or to “fight” for what we believe is right. But we’re living in a time that requires us to be creatively maladjusted. When MLK said “Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.,” he was alluding to Leviticus 19: 1-2; 17-18; 33-34, Romans 12:17-21 and Matthew 5: 38-48.
 
Lefties will admonish me for not being tough enough against hate, but if I hate people who don’t believe they are being hateful- they’re only going to dig in their heels or feel like I’m the one doing the hating.
 
What’s the answer? Be humble and kind? Do unto others as you would have them do unto you? Don’t just repeat what your tribe/echo chambers recite to you but read for yourself?
 
Read Scripture for yourself. Ever read the book of Amos or 2nd Samuel? With all due respect to the 10 Commandments (Exodus 20) have you read the Beatitudes (Matthew 5)? Any of the Psalms?
 
Read many of America’s founding documents since high school Government class? I get that the Federalist Papers and the Constitution can be a little daunting (and dry), so how about the Declaration of Independence? The Gettysburg Address? The Bill of Rights? They’re all easy to find on your phone.
 
John Adams advocated for free universal public schools so that voters could read for themselves. Martin Luther encouraged broad, public education so that believers could read the Bible for themselves.
 
So, I’m sorry if I frustrate of offend you by my being frustrated or offended by things our government officials do which you don’t have a problem with, but it’s just because I love my country.

The Lost Art of Taking Notes

TAKING NOTES

“…Using a pen and paper will help you learn and comprehend better. Researchers at Princeton University and UCLA found that when students took notes by hand, they listened more actively and were able to identify important concepts…” Six-brain-hacks-to-learn-anything-faster

Many students ritually complain about taking notes, but really, note taking is a powerful thinking and learning tool. Many adults find it very helpful not only to record and remember things, but also to help them figure things out and solve problems.

Open Note Policy

I allow students to use hand-written notes on tests and quizzes. In part this is to get them into the habit of note taking in order to prepare them for high school and college. One drawback of this policy unfortunately is that some students rely too heavily on finding answers in their notes instead of remembering what they’ve learned. As parents, you can help them my encouraging them to read over and review their notes during the week, especially the night before a quiz.

Part of Your Grade

I reward student for paying attention and taking notes by giving them credit for turning in completed notes. For chapter section notes are worth ten points per section. For most chapters, this will mean 40 points.

Missing Notes? Students who miss section notes due to absence should borrow a classmate’s and copy them. They can also look for the chapter & section on this website in the menu to the left, to find the Google Slideshow which contains the notes they missed. Really, since the notes are based on the textbook, if they print off the notes outline worksheet, you could help them complete the outline just by reading through the chapter section and deciding what information best fits in the outline.

Cornell Notes are worth 30 points, ten points for each step  in the Cornell process (each “box” on the page).

Repetition as a Learning Tool

Ideally notes help you learn first while you’re being introduced to new material, second when you review them (AKA “studying”) and a third time if you refer back to them to help you an homework or when completing projects and finally if/when you use them as a resource on an open-note quiz.


Five Ways Notes Improve Learning

  1. Increase Focus | Researchers believe students who hand write their notes seem to think more intensely about what they’re learning as they write it due to increased focusMiddle-schoolers are notoriously squirrely. Mindfulness and presence are buzzwords that essentially mean concentrating on what you’re doing and lengthening your attention span. 
  2. Understanding, Processing & Comprehension | Maybe it’s because you aren’t just listening or viewing but also having to record some of what you’re hearing/seeing and decide what and how much of it to write down, note taking uses more of your brain than seeing or hearing alone. More work, more benefits (“no pain, no gain”). Bottom line, note taking helps students actually “get” what they’re learning, not just be able to repeat it.
  3. Improves Memory & Retention | There’s lots of research that suggests students are more likely to remember information better when they take hand written notes. Part of that may just be the repetition of the extra step of not just seeing/hearing, but bothering to write it down, but much of it is due to using more of your brain and understanding the material better.
  4. RESPECT THE DOODLE! | One study reports that if you doodle on your notes you’ll remember 29% more of the information presented than if you don’t. That’s why I not only allow students to draw oon their notes, I ENCOURAGE it- not just because I’m also an Art teacher. I also URGE my fellow teachers of other subjects to allow kids to doodle on their notes too. Just like note taking itself, incorporating pictures into your notes improves attention, understanding and memorization. It super-charges your notes. Click on the “RESPECT THE DOODLE!” headline to read more.
  5. Boosts Creativity and Meaning | There’s an old saying that goes, “sometimes you can’t feel yourself into new ways of thinking; You have to think your way into new ways of feeling.” It’s not just positive psychology, it’s practical advice for learning. Students may not enjoy, appreciate or value material taught in a class because it doesn’t seem important, relevant or interesting. So instead of choosing to ignore the material because it’s boring- what if you could change your brain and your attitude toward the material? Believe it or not, taking notes  can help improve creativity and openess to new ideas. One study even claims that note taking is strongly linked to emotion processing– in other words, building an emotional connection to the material being learned, helping you “own” your learning.

Cap’n Sam Asks; How do we ‘Form a more perfect union?’

Got a question for ya; Who are “We the people?” Who’s government is it? Who IS the government? Was it the 55 rich white guys at the Constitutional Convention in Philadelphia in 1787? Is it the people we’ve voted for who represent us in Washington D.C.? Is it the people who are hired to work in all to government agencies and departments and bureaus in national, state and local governments? Or is it you? Is it me? Is it us, U-S? If it is, what’s that mean? Are you prepared to govern? What do we need to be equipped to govern our America? 75 years later in his Gettysburg Address, Abraham Lincoln called for a new birth of freedom so that government “OF the people, BY the people and FOR the people might not perish from this Earth.” What if it does? What would life be like? What’s it mean for life to be of, by, and for the people? I’ll as you again; who are “We the people?” What’s that mean to you? What’s it mean for all of us? I dunno, you tell me. YOU tell me.

POEM; Our Issue

I think I know what our issue is
at least I have an idea

To you, America is a noun

To me, America is a verb

To you, America is an INTERJECTION!

We were always taught that America is a conjunction,

But I’ve come to see it as a question,

I wonder if it shouldn’t be a preposition

I guess that’s our other problem;

I listen, read, consider, discuss, and then write

But you just watch and then shout.

I try to listen to you, but get so tired of the shouting
that I seek shelter in my reading

On rare occasion, you tell me that you want to listen to me,
but then it turned out that you were just looking for something new to shout about.

I know I could be wrong,
no doubt you’re ready to shout that I am,
but anyway- that’s what I’m beginning to think the problem might be.

Don’t miss the main point; Re-read the important stuff if you have to

FAITH TALK

I try to read through the Bible about once a year and it really all boils down to a few things. I’ve read the law and the prophets and the psalms and the proverbs in the old testament and I’ve read the gospels and the acts of the apostles and the epistles in the new testament and it all seems to come down to these:

Faith, Hope, and Love

Of course, the greatest of these is love. God is love, there is no fear in love. The whole of the law and the prophets is summed up in love the Lord your God with all your hear and all your soul and all your strength and love your neighbor as yourself. The greatest commandment is to love one another.

But still, people who call themselves Christian demand, compete for and cheat to gain and maintain control (showing a lack of faith). They use fear as a tool to get leverage and to motivate, and they seem to be motivated by jealousy, defensiveness and anger- all showing their lack of hope.  And they behave and talk as if they’re motivated by hate. Even if/when they claim not to be, their actions and words convince other people that they are.

Now I don’t read Greek, Hebrew or Aramaic, and I realize that whether I like it or not, many people seem to interpret Scripture very differently than I do. I’m only human and I pray that if I’m way off base, God will correct my thinking, but I guess my suspicion is that most people who throw around the Bible to support their political, social or philosophical positions haven’t spent a lot of time reading it, let alone asking God’s Spirit to truly work on their hearts or change their character to be much like Jesus’.

You’re right- I’m not an ordained minister, I don’t have a ThD or a PhD or a DivD or RelD, or whatever expert degree in Biblical history, literature or doctrinal studies to make me the ultimate expert. I’m not God. I’m just another sinner like everybody else.

If you really want some credentials, I’ve taken undergraduate college-level religion and theology courses, been taught about at least basic level hermeneutics and exegesis and was given a diploma granting me permission to teach religion classes to 7-12th graders in Lutheran schools. I’ve taught adult (not very well) and youth (not very well attended) Bible studies and helped my wife teach junior high Sunday School classes. I’ve served as an elder at two congregations and on the church council at one.

None of that makes me any holier than the next schmoe or more better, smarter, or the definitive expert on God’s Word- but even a numb-skull jerk like me can tell you that if your religion tells you to hate people, hurt people or deny them the same legal/social/economic/political rights as you, then there’s something very wrong with your religion.

May I suggest that either you’re not listening, you’re not willing to surrender and let God be God (and give up being god yourself) or you’re not bothering to read God’s Word as often or as deeply as you say you do (or as you think you do).

Ask yourself something. If God gave YOU your rights, your property, your money, your lifestyle, your position in life- what makes you think He hasn’t given those same rights to other people? Or don’t you think of all other people as people?

Which brings me to my next line of thought.

CIVICS 101

I end up reading through a lot of other things pretty much every year because I teach Civics. The Mayflower Compact, the Declaration of Independence, the U.S. Constitution, the Federalist Papers, the Bill of Rights and the rest of the Constitutional Amendments, our state constitution (Iowa,) a number of laws, treaties, Presidential speeches (including the Gettysburg Address)  and number of letters and speeches from other noted historical figures like Ben Franklin, Thomas Paine and Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

And guess what?

It really all boils down to a few things:

Liberty and Justice for ALL

Some read the Pledge of Allegiance and focus on the flag, the republic for which it stands or on God, but I stick on last three words because I’ve noticed a pattern where these three concepts (at least in synonym form) keep showing up in document after document.

The Mayflower Compact doesn’t address freedom (liberty) and it certainly didn’t offer rights or equality to women, natives or other non-whites, but it does say that the signers would offer all DUE obedience to any JUST laws meant for the GENERAL good of the colony. That certainly seems to cover justice and all.

I teach my Civics classes that at the core of the Declaration of Independence is that King George III and Parliament had broken the social contract (been unjust) to the colonists, therefore Congress believed that they were justified in separating from the mother country.

“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that ALL men are created EQUAL and endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable RIGHTS… to secure these rights, governments are instituted among men, whenever any government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the right of the people to alter or abolish it…”

The three principles there are equality, rights, and justice (social-contract), or if you reverse the order; liberty (rights and freedoms), and justice for all (equality).

The Preamble to the Constitution implies and assumes equality when it begins “We the people.” The “blessings of liberty” means the right to partake in participatory, representative-democracy. Establishing justice is the first goal meant to help us form our more perfect unity.

The First Amendment describes our most fundamental rights (including religion, speech, press, assembly, and petition.  Other amendments cover many other rights and liberties and the Fourteenth Amendment in particular emphasizes the equal nature that justice is supposed to take.

Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address reminds us that America is supposed to be “dedicated to the proposition that ALL men are created equal” (as the Declaration says). Yet most people seem to miss that that proposition is the “great task remaining before us” to which Lincoln urges us to find increased devotion toward.

I contend, in fact, that his closing about “government of the people, by the people and for the people” embodies these same three concepts. It is OF the people because ALL people are created equal- there isn’t supposed to be a ruling class like in an aristocracy, oligarchy or plutocracy. It is BY the people because we all have a RIGHT (the LIBERTY) to participate- if not to run, then to vote, to speak up and speak out, to assemble and petition.

And this is the “creed” in his “I have a dream” speech that MLK imagines the United States rising up and finally living out. Keeping the contract that promised equal rights, because we’re ALL created equal and endowed by God with the same rights.

Liberty and justice for ALL.

I don’t see these three the least bit incompatible with faith, hope, and especially love. Bottom line; If you don’t believe ALL human beings are equal and therefore entitled to justice, equal rights, equal opportunities, equal dignity, equal respect and fair treatment- well, you’re not doing “America” right.

I recommend reading some of the documents that formed this great experiment in participatory government. You don’t have to be a History Major or take a graduate course in political science. The Declaration, the Constitution, and the Gettysburg Address are all a Google-search away, for free. There are free versions available on many app for your phone. Look for whenever you see those three concepts of equality, rights and social-contract, AKA liberty, and justice for ALL.

If you STILL can’t see what I see, if you STILL don’t find that governments exist to protect rights and we have rights because we’re all created equal- if you still aren’t humbled or inspired toward altruism, compassion and community- if you’re still convinced that America is for only a chosen, exceptional few and government’s only role is to protect the privileges and property of those few- well, then, may I recommend that you start reading the Bible and look for the core message THERE.

End of sermon (rant/plea/manifesto- whatever you want to call it.

 

 

3 Core Principles found in the Declaration of Independence