Category: CIVICS

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.

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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

Memorial Day Sentimentalizing

Here are a collection of Instagram and Facebook posts from this weekend. They’re more sentimental than angry or political, but because they’re so personal and passionate, I decided to post them under the “rant” banner rather than “Civics 101.” This isn’t about teaching or encouraging thought or discussion, this is about sharing my personal feelings and beliefs. That said, I hope I didn’t just scare you off. Original posts are regular and new comments are blue and in italics.

Do leave your comments in below, but don’t be a jerk or a troll even if we disagree- especially if you’re a Russian bot.


This weekend remember, if we’re not dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal, then we’ve let those who gave their last full measure of devotion so that any nation so dedicated might live, have died in vain. It’s not the flag, it’s the “liberty and justice for all” that needs our allegiance and respect. Otherwise we’re just going through the motions.

Must be because in Civics class I just taught about the Gettysburg Address and passage of the 13, 14 7 15th Amendments. maybe because I just take myself and history and holidays all WAY too seriously.


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Sure, I honor those who served and those who gave their last full measure, but it’s not about flags or ceremonies or even about those who fought. It’s about the principles they were fighting & sacrificing for. When we forget that, that’s when we truly dishonor them. That’s when we allow them to die in vain. If we allow government of, by and for all people to perish, then all our pride and patriotism is nothing more than vanity. #Lincoln #GettysburgAddress #mashup #MemorialDay #equal #equality

 


Lots of WWII movies on this weekend. Know what I’ve noticed? NAZIs are evil and Americans oppose them. American’s don’t trust Russia. Ah, simpler times.

Most Summers you see ‘Midway’ on all weekend. This year I saw ‘Patton’ and ‘Battle of the Bulge.’ Both excellent films, although- with all due respect, George Patton was a narcissistic piece of work!


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I suppose it’s because Memorial Day ceremonies are so similar to the military rites

of internment that I think about losing my dad more this weekend than on his birthday or on the anniversary of his passing, even though he was always humble & never made a big deal about his service.

Some of why I miss my Dad is that he’s the one who taught me about treating ALL people with dignity and respect, about equality. He’s the one who taught me to be respectful yet scrutinize those with power and authority. He taught me the value of military service, but also of civilian service, duty and responsibility. He helped instill in me a love for history and reading and learning. He’s the one who taught me to respect and honor women, African Americans, Mexican Americans, Native Americans, workers & unions, and immigrants too. And he’s the one who taught me how to see through political BS.


Dissent is not ridicule.

Scrutiny is not persecution.

We indeed allow them to have died in vain not so much by failing to recognize their sacrifice, but when we are not dedicated to and devoted to that same proposition that Lincoln and Jefferson both claimed that our nation is dedicated to- that all men are created equal.

Honor and duty certainly are noble, but how much more noble are liberty and justice- especially livery and justice for ALL?

Certainly we should honor all those who have sacrificed so much for our freedom, but venerating veterans shouldn’t become the idolatry of militarism.

Being proud of our patriotism will only be hollow if it is about mere nationalism rather than striving and working and continuing to sacrifice for the principles for which our flag stands, not just for the flag itself: Equality, rights, social contract, unity, justice, domestic tranquility, common defense, general welfare, perpetual democracy, freedom of religion, of speech, of media, of assembly, association, to protest, to criticize and scrutinize our government and to petition for redress of grievances.

If it’s not about these principles, for everyone- even those different than us, even those we disagree with, then what good people is it?

This, no doubt was partly in response to the Address at our town’s Memorial Day ceremonies put on my the American Legion. Their guest speaker was one of our State Assemblymen. I really prefer it when they invite veterans or officers on active duty rather than politicians.

did a good job for the most part. He spoke mostly about a speech Genera MacArthur made on honor, duty and country. It’s not so much that as a history student, I prefer Eisenhower and Truman to Mac- it’s probably that this legislator and I went rounds about confederate statues on facebook a few months ago and he called me “stupid” and “crazy.” Maybe it’s because he’s such a huge Trump supporter or that he’s screwed teachers and public worker unions.

Whatever the case, I know I’m a hypocrite for being so angry and judgmental about him- but if he genuinely thinks that Democrats, progressives or immigrants are actively trying to destroy America or our treasured way of life, he is very insecure and doesn’t trust democracy.

To say that people who criticize politicians or their policies are “ridiculing” patriotism is about like Evangelicals, who are in power and in the majority somehow imagine that they are being “persecuted” and denied religious freedom.

Anyway, it seems such a shame that we have the Gettysburg Address read every year, but no one seems to have a clue about what Lincoln was saying. At least if they do, they don’t agree with him. Perhaps those disagreements about confederate war memorials were still too fresh in my mind. How can you serve in the USMC for 20 years and want to honor men who, in direct violation of the Constitution, wanted to destroy this country? Especially so that they could owning human beings as property? If that makes ME a “radical” and a “liberal,” I can live with that.

Yeeeeah… I guess this post has now earned it’s “rant” label. I apologize for that. It’s hard for me to not be indignant when people are offended by Black football players reverently taking a knee to draw attention to racial injustice, but when ICE lost almost 1,500 children of immigrants, they coldly say “shouldn’t ta broke the law,” or when the Mueller investigation is bringing in dozens of indictments and it’s clear that Russia DID hack our election, they shrug it off with “all politicians do it on both sides…”

Okay- I know that last paragraph alone will incite TONS of angry comments- May I just say, I know that this politician loves our country, and I absolutely value and honor his decades of military service- my problem is that he does not acknowledge that people who disagree with him politically can ALSO love our country and want what’s best for it.


I know its Memorial Day, not Veterans Day or Armed Forces Day, but I can’t help thinking of, praying for, worrying about and thanking not just the members of our community who served but have since passed away, but peers who enlisted after 9/11.

Former students who served already and students who are about to begin their service.

Thank you for the sacrifices you & your families make.

Please remember as you work for “Uncle Sam,” that it’s not the branch you serve in or even our flag you serve under, but the ideals and principles our nation was founded on that you are working to uphold and protect. Equality, Liberty and Justice are not just words, or even ideas or abstract concepts, they are self-evident truths worth sacrificing for.

God bless you & keep you safe as you do your duty to keep us all safe.

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A Valuable Read/View for Our Times

“Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly.” ~Rev.Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., 1963

Thank you Kirwan Inst. and kudos to Jamaal Bell. I teach middle school civics and we’re studying Dr. King’s letter and how it relates to the civil rights movement as it’s covered in our textbook and the 14th Amendment. I think that both having a variety of narrators rather than a single actor portraying King or merely reading the letter, combine with the still images and historic footage you’ve woven together made this a more meaningful and compelling piece- especially for rural, mostly white Iowa eighth graders in 2018, who otherwise may not have understood or appreciated the letter as well.

When I re-read or re-teach this letter, I am reminded of Dr. King’s intelligence, patience, compassion, and insight. This letter has inspired me to write poems and blog posts and paint paintings.

This year, however, just as Dr. King wrote it in response to well intentioned white clergy fifty-five years ago, I wish I could introduce it to all the well-meaning white Christians, especially moderates and conservatives.

King, speaking to clergymen after all, even though it’s an “open” letter that the entire world was privy to in newspapers and magazines, alluded to several saints, philosophers and scriptures. He referrers to the teachings and examples of Jesus frequently in the letter.

These days, my family, friends and neighbors don’t understand the protests over police brutality in the last 2-3 years in Ferguson, Baton Rouge, Baltimore, etc. They saw white supremacists demonstrating in Charlotteville, VA and somehow they blamed former President Obama for being racially divisive during his time in office.

President Trump started his campaign off by describing Mexicans as drug dealers and rapists and started his administration off by calling for a ban on travel and immigration from predominantly Muslim countries.

Just this week Attorney General Jeff Sessions let slip during remarks to law enforcement officials in Washington that he thinks that sheriffs’  have an”AngloAmerican heritage.”

My own Congressman, Steve King (R) of Iowa has opposed immigration because he doesn’t think we can restore our “superior culture” with “other people’s babies.” King has met with and admires Tomio Okamura, the leader of a neo-fascist white supremacist party in the Czech Republic.

As much as people would like to think that we’re more enlightened than Americans were in 1963 or have somehow achieved racial harmony, but obviously we haven’t. I fear that too many of us ARE the “white moderates” that Doctor King criticized in this letter.

We have become complacent or numb to injustice and inequalities. We’re reluctant to recognize let alone repent of our own latent racism. Many of us our even either in denial about or oblivious to institutional forms of racism and the racism of many of our leaders, either because recognizing it would mean having to do something about it or worse, recognizing it would reflect poorly on ourselves. We don’t want to admit that we could possibly be wrong.

Then there’s women’s inequality. Why do we hesitate to equate sexism with racism? Are they not the same? I think that when King talks about Austrian philosopher Martin Buber’s discussion about “I and Thou” rather than “I-It,” we could apply that to women as well as to people of color. Don’t we too often treat women as things rather than people?

And of course today discussion of LGBT rights is much more prominent than in the 1960’s. Even if you have difficulties getting past religious qualms about non-traditional (“non-binary”) sexuality, its impossible to get around that the Constitution’s requirements of equal protection and due process for all, regardless of race, creed, gender, and political persuasion. Discrimination is discrimination, no matter who it’s against or what your motivation.

This year, what made an impression on me was King’s discussion about just and unjust laws. Too many politicians have been using the argument about following the “rule of law” to whip up anger and indignation against DACA “Dreamer”immigrants, who’s parents brought them to this country when they were young children and who essentially have never known any country (home) than this one, but now face deportation decades later.

Doctor King handles head-on the fact that morality and justice are more important than the letter-of-the law, especially when state or local laws are abused by those in power to discriminate, segregate, or violate the rights and protections guaranteed by the Constitution. Had he been a judge or a lawyer rather than a pastor and organizer, he probably would’ve quoted the Fourteenth Amendment directly.

I wish my loved ones would realize that when laws are inadequate, unclear, or unfair, it is our responsibility to revise, reform, or replace them. And that challenging them, protesting, sometimes even deliberately breaking them are all part of our constant democratic process.

I feel like ‘Letter from a Birmingham Jail’ is a masterpiece of writing. Personally, I consider it part of the broader American “unwritten-constitution,” along side things like Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address or Washington’s farewell address or Teddy Roosevelt’s corollary to the Monroe Doctrine and along side his own ‘I Have a Dream’ speech which he made just four or five months after he wrote this.

If you’ve never read it, I encourage you to find a copy. If you have about an hour that you’d otherwise end up using on Netflix or YouTube anyway, watch the video linked to at the top of this blog post. Consider it kind of an audio version of this letter. My prayer is that it will impact you half as much as it has me.

 

Lessons from Doc

5376582452_9b812aa1f4_bI realize that MLK Day was a couple of weeks ago but this blog post has kind of been nagging at me ever since then.

Everyone knows him from his ‘I Have a Dream’ speech from 1963 and as an important civil rights leader who was assassinated in 1968. But how many of us have ever took the time to really read, study or digest that speech?

History buffs and civil rights advocates may know more about him. They may know that he’s also remembered for his ‘Letter from a Birmingham Jail,’ for leading protests there and a march from Selma to Montgomery, Alabama to draw attention to state discrimination in voting rights.

They may credit him with helping to put pressure on President Johnson and Congress to pass both the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965. They know that after fighting so long against legal segregation and political equality in the South, he had begun campaigning for economic justice nationwide.

But we forget that he was a pastor, a theologian, an intellectual, a husband and father, a reader, thinker and writer. “Rev. Dr.” means that he was ordained and had a PhD. He wasn’t just a gifted speaker, activist and organizer. He was a ridiculously prolific writer.

He’s one of my personal favorite writers.

As a History/Social Studies teacher, I think his most fascinating piece, in therms of political science, sociology and philosophy has to be his 1967 speech ‘Beyond Vietnam.’

Two of my favorite books aren’t political speeches or editorials though, they’re sermons, devotions and essays on spirituality, love, and King’s  trademark non-violence. Strength to Love  from 1963 and The Measure of a Man , from 1968.

Without having open copies by my side, or a tab open to search for quoted from MLK, I want to share some principles I’ve gleaned from Doctor King’s writings that I try to apply as life lessons. Full disclosure; I’m a white male that grew up in the middle-class suburbs of Phoenix in the 70’s (‘Leave it to Beaver,’ only not in the 50’s).

Maybe that’s the point though- while as a progressive it ticks me off to see right-wing extremists and conservative Republican pundits and politicians try to co-opt Dr. King’s quotes or use his image to try to evoke pretend inclusion or phony compassion- much of King’s teaching really does transcend race, gender, and era.

King made no secret that he was influenced by Mahatma Ghandi, Henry David Thoreau, Martin Luther, and Jesus Christ of Nazareth.  I bet he was also influenced a lot by Mahalia Jackson and Cloretta Scott-King too. What positive role models? We could all use some role models like those today.

When I read King, I see much of his ideas and beliefs echoed in secular authors like Viktor Frankl and Christian authors like C.S. Lewis. white And in white evangelicals like Tony Campolo and black activists like John Lewis and Cornell West. Most of all, I hear echoes of Saint Paul and of Jesus.

If I could pass anything on to my children or my students, I wish I could plant these lessons in their hearts and minds, but I know they have to read Kings books for themselves, listen to his speeches for themselves, study history, read scriptures and encounter God all for themselves. I can’t do it for them. Be that as it may, here are some things I learned from Dr. King.

Off the top of my head, & from the well of my heart-

Lessons I’ve learned from Doctor King

  • Meet physical force with soul force
  • Peace isn’t just an end, it’s a means to many ends
  • Forgiveness is hard, but it shouldn’t just be a habit, but a way of life
  • Be a thermostat, not just a thermometer
  • Better to be tough minded and soft hearted than hard-hearted and soft-minded!
  • Never give up hope, seek to become a prisoner of hope
  • Undeserved suffering is redemptive
  • ALL of our destinies are inextricably tied together
  • Injustice ANYWHERE is a threat to justice EVERYWHERE
  • Never stop; if you can’t fly, run, if you can’t run, walk, if you can’t walk crawl- but keep moving forward.
  • Hate can’t drive out hate, only love can do that
  • Just a sneeze can change history
  • Just because something is a law doesn’t make it just and unjust laws sometimes may even need to be broken to draw attention to the fact that they ought to be changed
  • Change comes from faith, prayer, love, community, and sacrifice
  • Words are powerful
  • It’s one thing to claim to believe something, it’s another to live out the true meaning of those beliefs
  • Love
  • Love others, even your enemies

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