Category: CIVICS

How to not waste your shots

Emotion is your enemy… Losing control of your emotions, at work as much as anywhere, is a losing proposition. As a leader, it’s important that you manage your emotions instead of letting them manage you.” ~John Wooden, UCLA Basketball Coach

“Complaining about a problem without proposing a solution is called whining.” ~Theodore Roosevelt, President of the United States

Gotta tell ya, some politicians irk me. I mean make me so angry I just want to shout expletives. But my wife reminds me that I’m a Civics teacher, and a Sunday School teacher, and a parent.

Part of me is so full of angst when I see the groundwork for authoritarianism being laid that I feel like I HAVE to say something. After all, as a History Major in college I had British parliamentarian Edmund Burke’s words pounded into me- “All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing.”

But I think about the poor “spaz” on the elementary playground. So full of frustration that they must lash out at their bullies, but all they manage to do is flail around spasmodically- only giving the bullies and their schoolmates more material to ridicule, instead of injuring their tormentors.

Wouldn’t you rather get in one good knockout punch, thus delivering a powerful lesson in who not to mess with?

So, some advice, and believe me, this is a case of “physician heal thyself,” but nevertheless, advice on when and how to exercise one’s First Amendment rights rather than to abuse them.

  • Be articulate
  • Be specific
  • Avoid being coarse or profane
  • Attack policies, positions and actions- NOT persons, personalities, or appearances
  • Back up you assertions with facts (even though your opponents may not use them, or may believe in “alternative” facts).
  • Allow trolls to troll (and make themselves look ignorant and angry), or delete their comments, but don’t engage them.
  • Above all, speak out of your passion FOR something, based on principles, rather than get carried away with your anger against someone or something.

Granted, “do as I say, not as I do” may indeed apply here plenty of times. But this is still advice that I recognize that I myself need to follow.

For here we are not afraid to follow truth wherever it may lead, nor to tolerate any error so long as reason is left free to combat it.” ~Thomas Jefferson, President of the United States.

 

 

 

Multi-Front Attack on the First Amendment

c_fasm_rpr_2Collective Bargaining is the very embodiment of at least three, if not four of the five rights guaranteed by the First Amendment & public employees, police, fire, civil service and yes public school teachers MUST have it protected for them.
Meanwhile the Supreme Court has equated campaign money with “free speech,” so that billionaires and corporations have enormous leverage over individual voters, but workers are denied the leverage they need to balance their needs with the interests of employers, corporations and political pressure groups.
A free and freely functioning press/media is not only vital, but imperative for the functioning of a participatory democratic-republic. Incidentally, this is also protected by the First Amendment.
If Christians are honest about wanting “religious liberty,” they MUST protect this right for all religions, no matter how egregious their teachings or some interpretations or misinterpretations of their teachings may be. Ironically, the contentious travel ban on 7 majority Muslim countries not only violates the establishment clause of the First Amendment, it also violates many of the teachings of Jesus Christ about welcoming strangers, loving our enemies, and caring for the dispossessed.
The First Amendment protects our rights to free speech & expression, peaceable assembly & association and the right to petition the government for redress of grievances. If you don’t want people to riot, let them march and picket. If you don’t want them to burn or walk on flags or fly them upside-down, then don’t deride them for taking a knee instead of singing the national anthem.
Voting is the most important means of exercising our First Amendment right to freedom of thought and participation in our democratic-republic. The Voting Rights Act was intended to protect this. In recent years it has been gutted and Congress has refused to renew it. In that climate, state governments and officials have taken advantage of the opportunity to make it harder for groups of voters to exercise their God-given right.
Meanwhile systemic dysfunction plagues our criminal justice system. You can argue that you don’t believe it’s “institutionalized racism,” but regardless of cause, there is unarguably demonstrable gross inequity in arrests, grand juries, prosecution and incarceration. Even if this weren’t deliberate discrimination by design- it is undeniable that huge portions of our population are having their 5th, 6th, 8th, and 14th Amendment rights violated or ignored.
So that when Senator with a recognized history of racism has been nominated to become the Attorney General, who’s very role it is to insure justice and fairness and protect the Constitutional rights of American citizens, it is only fitting that another Senator might oppose his nomination by reading a letter from the wife of a slain civil rights leader.
And when the Senate majority leader prevents her from being heard in the well of the Senate itself, not only is he violating the First Amendment right of that Senator, he his violating the rights of ALL Americans who would stand for justice and equality.
Make no mistake- “…our fathers brought forth on this continent a new nation, conceived in liberty and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal. Now we are engaged in a great civil war, testing whether that nation or any nation so conceived and so dedicated can long endure.”
THIS is why we can’t remain silent. I teach my students that your rights (and your brains, for that matter) are like your muscles, “use ’em or lose ’em.”
Disagree with me. Be offended by me. Think I’m over reacting to the changes in government since the election. But I can’t shut up. YOUR rights are being challenged and eroded and violated. Not just foreigner’s rights, refugees’ rights, Muslim rights, Black rights, Mexican rights, not just liberal’s rights, not just my rights, not just your political opponent’s rights. OUR rights. Americans’ rights. Human rights.
Please take this seriously. It’s not complicated or boring or academic and theoretical.
If you don’t like “#BlackLivesMatter,” how so you feel about #democracymatters? Does the First Amendment matter?
  • Religion
  • Speech
  • Press
  • Assembly
  • Petition

Don’t give up any of them. Don’t deny them to ANYONE, no matter how different they are from you, no matter how differently they exercise each right or how much you disagree with them. These are fundamental human rights. God-given rights. These are the principles on which America was founded.

Iowa Voters in Crawford County; Save our Schools!

Dear Jason & Steve,

I am very concerned about recently proposed cuts to our community colleges, state universities, correctional facilities, and human services.

Iowa legislators have failed to abide by our 1995 allowable growth law for several years in a row now.

But I know that you will remember, that Iowa children are our most vital investment, not corporations or out of state interests.

Please do everything you can to oppose the bills which came out of appropriations committees this week. Prove to your constituents that you are willing to put Iowa’s children first.

Thank you for your consideration.

Feel free to copy & paste, although phone calls work even better.
jason.schultz@legis.iowa.gov (712)269-2178
Steven.Holt@legis.iowa.gov (515)281-3221

Stick to your principles

Plenty has been said about how Donald Trump’s election wasn’t legitimate. Congressman John Lewis said that his presidency would be illegitimate. I forget which news magazine, but one of them posted a story online about how Trump’s biggest fear is having his legitimacy questioned.

Some would cite how he lost the popular vote by more than 2.8 million. Some argue that he’s unqualified and unprepared. Of course, there’s the fact that Russia meddled in the election process. What’s worse, it would seem that FBI Director William Comey helped. What would be treasonous is if Trump himself knew about it or had a part in it- of course, we do have him on video inviting Russia to hack us.

Not to mention the archaic and many of us feel unnecessary vestige of the slave era, the electoral college.

It ought to be self-evident that any or all of these facts render Trump illegitimate, but I would like to point out that what really makes him illegitimate is his lack of principles- or more to the point, the fact that his behavior and policies are contrary to America’s founding principles.

In his famous ‘I Have a Dream’ speech, Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. challenged the United States to finally stand up and live out “the true meaning of its creed,” that “all men are created equal.” Lets look at some of our principles.

In the Declaration of Independence, Jefferson expounds on three core democratic principles.

  • All men are created EQUAL- Trump antagonizes Latinos, dehumanizes African Americans, subjugates women, and ridicules people with special needs.
  • And endowed by their creator with certain inalienable RIGHTS- From First Amendment rights to a free press and freedom of assembly, to women’s rights, to LGBT rights. About the only rights that Trump & Co. supports are gun rights.
  • (SOCIAL CONTRACT) To secure these rights, governments are instituted among men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed.- This is a man who routinely breaks contracts and promises. If he or his cabinet appointees abandon or abolish entire departments and agencies of the Federal government, or slash Social Security, Medicare or veterans’ benefits as alleged, that’s not draining the swamp or bucking the establishment, that’s breaking the social contract. By refusing to make public his taxes or documents connected to business conflicts of interest, by continuing to benefit from foreign business investments, by refusing to divest himself of his businesses, he has broken the social contract and in some cases already violated the Constitution before ever taking office.

Not only does he have severe issues with these three most fundamental principles of our republic, but also with the principles that Madison and Hamilton wove into the Preamble to our Constitution.

  • We the people- I believe  that Trump cares about himself; he clinically suffers from narcissistic personality disorder at worst, an immature sociopath at best.
  • In order to form a more perfect Union- Trump may say he want’s us to come together and to win again or make America great again- but he was divisive even of his own party while he was running in the primaries. His base supporters wave confederate flags. Never since the Civil War have we been so polarized. This is the furthest thing from unity.
  • Establish Justice- We have been failing poor people and minorities, especially African Americans through our criminal justice system. Not all police are racist and it’s not anti-police to recognize that we have systemic inequality in the grand jury processes and in our penal system. Does anyone believe that appointing an Attorney General who jokes about the Klu Klux Klan being too socially liberal will address these injustices?
  • Domestic Tranquility- He has encouraged violent treatment of dissenters at his rallies, incited and failed to condemn racism and violence perpetrated by his supporters and he plans to continue holding rallies even though the election is over. This is the opposite of seeking harmony or reconciliation.
  • Common Defense- He joked about carpet bombing Middle Eastern countries during the campaign and has alienated our allies, saying that NATO is obsolete and antagonized China and North Korea. He has been reckless in matters of state and ignored Defense and State Department protocols for reaching out to foreign leaders. He has refused to hear intelligence briefings and instead has alienated our intelligence agencies. He’s slandered and devalued various heroic veterans. Worst of all, he admires tyrants and has storied interests with Russia and Vladmir Putin. Forget defense, he in the months since he has been elected has already been putting us all in jeopardy.
  • General Welfare- His cabinet appointees speak volumes. Mostly male, all white, mostly fellow billionaires. This fits on an internet meme:
    • An Attorney General who opposes restoration of the Voting Rights Act
    • A Secretary of Health & Human Services who opposed Medicare
    • A Secretary of the Treasury who opposes Dodd-Frank
    • A Secretary of Education who opposed Public Education
    • A Secretary of Housing & Urban Development who opposes the Fair Housing Act
    • Plans to privatize and cut Social Security & Medicare, repeal the Affordable Care Act, leaving millions without insurance, eliminate the National Endowment for the Arts & privatize public television and public radio, tax plans that will benefit the wealthiest 2% even more than those of those of George W. Bush.
    • Essentially, not just undoing the policies and programs of President Obama, but unraveling 90 years scientific, legal, social, economic and political progress.
  • Promote the blessings of Liberty for ourselves and our posterity- He’s curtailed or circumvented rights to freedom of speech, the  press, assembly and petition. Besides Russian melding, egregious attempts at voter suppression took place in various states in an effort to disenfranchise Latino, Black and poor voters, voter I.D. laws and plans a national registry for Muslim Americans all constitute horrendous attacks on the 1st, 14th and 15th Amendments.

This is not a man of the people. This is not a representative of our shared interests or of our common principles. This man has shown every indication that he intends to rule as an authoritarian. His hyper-nationalism, racism, militarism, and corporatism are a formula for fascism and tyranny.

Our best hope may actually be that he establishes a “kakistocracy,” a government of those most stupid, ignorant, least qualified and unprincipled citizens in power. And that our midterm elections replace the Republican majorities in Congress who enable him.

Reading his tantrums on Twitter leads you to believe that this may be the case. It may not be that he disagrees with or misinterprets the Constitution. It may just be that he doesn’t understand it or is wholly ignorant of it.

How can any president be considered legitimate, who diametrically opposes or violates virtually every one of our most basic principles?

These are the reasons that I believe the man about to take the oath of office is not a legitimate president.

God have mercy on me if I’m wrong. I do not want to end up in prison somewhere for my disloyalty to the state. I love my country, but what I love most about America are the principles of freedom and democracy which I’ve listed above. My family & I faced plenty of ridicule & resentment during the Bush administration because of my opinions.

But if I’m correct in my evaluation of the new president and his administration. Then God help us all. Pray for the president elect, but pray for our entire nation.

#notmypresident #illigitimate

Don’t ever forget, THESE are Donald Trump’s principles…

Millions of Marching Women

That this is SO HUGE the day after the inauguration, the fact that it’s not just in DC and NYC but in HUNDREDS of cities nation wide AND WORLD WIDE- is a phenomenal piece of history. This isn’t just about abortion or birth control or women’s health. This is more than just equal pay for equal work. Much of this is about opposing belittling and objectifying women. This is more than just reaction to the “pussy grabbing” recording or the “golden shower” allegations or sexual harassment charges- in fact, with crowds this large and so diverse in SO MANY cities- this is about far more than just women and women’s issues.

This many people isn’t an anomaly. Even if the vast majority of these people don’t become consistently active and committed, there are just too too many of them that will, for this not to become a movement.

Trump claimed his election was part of a “movement.” Which one? The “birther” movement? The Tea Party? The “Alt-Right?”

The establishment should be scared. Racists should be scared. Privileged straight white males who responded to Trumps pandering to fear and anger, may now actually have something to fear.

Is this the Occupy movement, begun in the 2000’s? Is this Obama’s movement, started in 2008? Is it Bernie Sander’s movement, begun in 2016? Is this a Women’s movement? None of that is quite clear.

What IS clear is that unlike the Tea Party movement, this truly is grass-roots, bottom-up, rather than something bankrolled by billionaires, top-down.

Nothing like this has been seen before in the United States, even at the heights of the anti-Vietnam war and pro civil rights movements. Hundreds of thousands in hundreds of cities simultaneously, peacefully. This is historic.

Millions of young people, yes especially young women and yes especially young women of color, but MILLIONS of young people are initiating their political awareness and political involvement today. This is the death knell of the predominance of rich white conservative males in America. This will mark a sea-change.

Historians take note. Journalists get a clue. Demagogues with aspirations of tyranny take warning.

 

A Tough Mind And A Tender Heart

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This is a painting I created back in 2006 as a wedding present for a former student who’s a dear friend. I thought it would make a great temporary profile picture for MLK Day weekend. King wasn’t just a political/social activist. He was a powerful writer, theologian and pastor. Especially in the renewed racially & politically divided climate we’re facing today, I thought I’d share one of my favorite of his sermons. I agree with him that we need to have tougher minds and more compassionate hearts, instead of the soft-minds & hardened hearts that most of us have.

SERMON: A Tough Mind And A Tender Heart, by Martin Luther King, Jr.

Be ye therefore wise as serpents, and harmless as doves. (Matthew 10:16)

A French philosopher said, “No man is strong unless he bears within his character antitheses strongly marked.” The strong man holds in a living blend strongly marked opposites. Not ordinarily do men achieve this balance of opposites. The idealists are not usually realistic, and the realists are not usually idealistic. The militant are not generally known to be passive, nor the passive to be militant. Seldom are the humble self-assertive, or the self-assertive humble. But life at its best is a creative synthesis of opposites in fruitful harmony. The philosopher Hegel said that truth is found neither in the thesis nor the antithesis, but in an emergent synthesis that reconciles the two.

Jesus recognized the need for blending opposites. He knew that his disciples would face a difficult and hostile world, where they would confront the recalcitrance of political officials and the intransigence of the protectors of the old order. He knew that they would meet cold and arrogant men whose hearts had been hardened by the long winter of traditionalism. So he said to them, “Behold, I send you forth as sheep in the mist of wolves.” And he gave them a formula for action, “Be ye therefore wise as serpents, and harmless as doves.” It is pretty difficult to imagine a single person having, simultaneously, the characteristics of the serpent and the dove, but this is what Jesus expects. We must combine the toughness of the serpent and the softness of the dove, a tough mind and a tender heart.

I
Let us consider, first, the need for a tough mind, characterized by incisive thinking, realistic appraisal, and decisive judgment. The tough mind is sharp and penetrating, breaking through the crust of legends and myths and sifting the true from the false. The tough-minded individual is astute and discerning. He has a strong, austere quality that makes for firmness of purpose and solidness of commitment.

Who doubts that this toughness of mind is one of man’s greatest needs? Rarely do we find men who willingly engage in hard, solid thinking. There is an almost universal quest for easy answers and half-baked solutions. Nothing pains some people more than having to think.

This prevalent tendency toward soft mindedness is found in man’s unbelievable gullibility. Take our attitude toward advertisement. We are so easily led to purchase a product because a television or radio advertisement pronounces it better than any other. Advertisers have long since learned that most people are soft minded, and they capitalize on this susceptibility with skillful and effective slogans.

This undue gullibility is also seen in the tendency of many readers to accept the printed word of the press as final truth. Few people realize that even our authentic channels of information – the press, the platform, and in many instances the pulpit – do not give us objective and unbiased truth. Few people have the toughness of mind to judge critically and to discern the true from the false, the fact from the fiction. Our minds are constantly being invaded by legions of half-truths, prejudices, and false facts. One of the great needs of mankind is to be lifted above the morass of false propaganda.

Soft-minded individuals are prone to embrace all kinds of superstitions. Their minds are constantly invaded by irrational fears, which range from fear of Friday the thirteenth to fear of a black cat crossing one’s path. As the elevator made its upward climb in one of the large hotels of New York City, I noticed for the first time that there was no thirteenth floor – floor fourteen followed floor twelve. On inquiring from the elevator operator the reason for this omission, he said, “This practice is followed by most large hotels because of the fear of numerous people to stay on a thirteenth floor.” Then he added, “The real foolishness of the fear is to be found in the fact that the fourteenth floor is actually the thirteenth.” Such fears leave the soft mind haggard by day and haunted by night.

The soft-minded man always fears change. He feels security in the status quo, and he has an almost morbid fear of the new. For him, the greatest pain is the pain of a new idea. An elderly segregationist in the South is reported to have said, “I have come to see now that desegregation is inevitable. But I pray God that it will not take place until after I die.” The soft-minded person always wants to freeze the moment and hold life in the gripping yoke of sameness.

Soft mindedness often invades religion. This is why religion has sometimes rejected new truth with a dogmatic passion. Through edicts and bulls, inquisitions and excommunications, the church has attempted to prorogue truth and place an impenetrable stone wall in the path of the truth-seeker. The historical-philological criticism of the Bible is considered by the soft minded as blasphemous, and reason is often looked upon as the exercise of a corrupt faculty. Soft-minded persons have revised the Beatitudes to read, “Blessed are the pure in ignorance: for they shall see God.”

This has also led to a widespread belief that there is a conflict between science and religion. But this is not true. There may be a conflict between soft-minded religionists and tough-minded scientists, but not between science and religion. Their respective worlds are different and their methods are dissimilar. Science investigates; religion interprets. Science gives man knowledge that is power; religion gives man wisdom that is control. Science deals mainly with facts; religion deals mainly with values. The two are not rivals. They are complementary. Science keeps religion from sinking into the valley of crippling irrationalism and paralyzing obscurantism. Religion prevents science from falling into the marsh of obsolete materialism and moral nihilism.

We do not need to look far to detect the dangers of soft mindedness. Dictators, capitalizing on soft mindedness, have led men to acts of barbarity and terror that are unthinkable in civilized society. Adolf Hitler realized that soft mindedness was so prevalent among his followers that he said, “I use emotion for the many and reserve reason for the few.” In Mein Kampf he asserted:

By means of shrewd lies, unremittingly repeated, it is possible to make people believe that Heaven is hell – and hell, Heaven. The greater the lie, the more readily will it be believed.

Soft mindedness is one of the basic causes of race prejudice. The tough-minded person always examines the facts before he reaches conclusions; in short, he postjudges. The tender-minded person reaches a conclusion before he has examined the first fact; in short, he prejudges and is prejudiced. Race prejudice is based on groundless fears, suspicions, and misunderstandings. There are those who are sufficiently soft minded to believe in the superiority of the white race and the inferiority of the Negro race in spite of the tough-minded research of anthropologists who reveal the falsity of such a notion. There are soft-minded persons who argue that racial segregation should be perpetuated because Negroes lag behind in academic, health, and moral standards. They are not tough minded enough to realize that lagging standards are the result of segregation and discrimination. They do not recognize that it is rationally unsound and sociologically untenable to use the traffic effects of segregation as an argument for its continuation. Too many politicians in the South recognize this disease of soft mindedness that engulfs their constituency. With insidious zeal, they make inflammatory statements and disseminate distortions and half-truths that arouse abnormal fears and morbid antipathies within the minds of uneducated and underprivileged whites, leaving them so confused that they are led to acts of meanness and violence that no normal person commits.

There is little hope for us until we become tough minded enough to break loose from the shackles of prejudice, half-truths, and downright ignorance. The shape of the world today does not permit us the luxury of soft mindedness. A nation or a civilization that continues to produce soft-minded men purchases its own spiritual death on an installment plan.

II
But we must not stop with the cultivation of a tough mind. The gospel also demands a tender heart. Tough mindedness without tenderheartedness is cold and detached, leaving one’s life in a perpetual winter devoid of the warmth of spring and the gentle heat of summer. What is more tragic than to see a person who has risen to the disciplined heights of tough mindedness but has at the same time sunk to the passionless depths of hardheartedness?

The hardhearted person never truly loves. He engages in a crass utilitarianism that values other people mainly according to their usefulness to him. He never experiences the beauty of friendship, because he is too cold to feel affection for another and is too self-centered to share another’s joy and sorrow. He is an isolated island. No outpouring of love links him with the mainland of humanity.

The hardhearted person lacks the capacity for genuine compassion. He is unmoved by the pains and afflictions of his brothers. He passes unfortunate men every day, but he never really sees them. He gives dollars to a worthwhile charity, but he gives not of his spirit.

The hardhearted individual never sees people as people, but rather as mere objects or as impersonal cogs in an ever-turning wheel. In the vast wheel of industry, he sees men as hands. In the massive wheel of big city life, he sees men as digits in a multitude. In the deadly wheel of army life, he sees men as numbers in a regiment. He depersonalizes life.

Jesus frequently illustrated the characteristics of the hardhearted. The rich fool was condemned not because he was not tough minded, but rather because he was not tenderhearted. Life for him was a mirror in which he saw only himself, and not a window through which he saw other selves. Dives went to hell not because he was wealthy, but because he was not tenderhearted enough to see Lazarus and because he made no attempt to bridge the gulf between himself and his brother.

Jesus reminds us that the good life combines the toughness of the serpent and the tenderness of the dove. To have serpentlike qualities devoid of dovelike qualities is to be passionless, mean, and selfish. To have dovelike without serpentlike qualities is to be sentimental, anemic, and aimless. We must combine strongly marked antitheses.

We as Negroes must bring together tough mindedness and tenderheartedness, if we are to move creatively toward the goal of freedom and justice. Soft-minded individual among us feel that the only way to deal with oppression is by adjusting to it. They acquiesce and resign themselves to segregation. They prefer to remain oppressed. When Moses led the children of Israel from the slavery of Egypt to the freedom of the Promised Land, he discovered that slaves do not always welcome their deliverers. They would rather bear those ills they have, as Shakespeare pointed out, than flee to others that they know not of. They prefer the “fleshpots of Egypt” to the ordeals of emancipation. But this is not the way out. Soft-minded acquiescence is cowardly. My friends, we cannot win the respect of the white people of the South or elsewhere if we are willing to trade the future of our children for our personal safety and comfort. Moreover, we must learn that passively to accept an unjust system is to cooperate with that system, and thereby to become a participant in its evil.

And there are hardhearted and bitter individuals among us who would combat the opponent with physical violence and corroding hatred. Violence brings only temporary victories; violence, by creating many more social problems than it solves, never brings permanent peace. I am convinced that if we succumb to the temptation to use violence in our struggle for freedom, unborn generations will be the recipients of a long and desolate night of bitterness, and our chief legacy to them will be a never-ending reign of chaos. A Voice, echoing through the corridors of time, says to every intemperate Peter, “Put up thy sword.” History is cluttered with the wreckage of nations that failed to follow Christ’s command.

III
A third way is open to our quest for freedom, namely nonviolent resistance, which combines tough mindedness and tenderheartedness and avoids the complacency and do-nothingness of the soft minded and the violence and bitterness of the hardhearted. My belief is that this method must guide our action in the present crisis in race relations. Through nonviolent resistance we shall be able to oppose the unjust system and at the same time love the perpetrators of the system. We must work passionately and unrelentingly for full stature as citizens, but may it never be said, my friends, that to gain it we used the inferior methods of falsehood, malice, hate, and violence.

I would not conclude without applying the meaning of the text to the nature of God. The greatness of our God lies in the fact that he is both tough minded and tenderhearted. He has qualities both of austerity and of gentleness. The Bible, always clear in stressing both attributes of God, expresses his tough mindedness in his justice and wrath and his tenderheartedness in his love and grace. God has two outstretched arms. One is strong enough to surround us with justice, and one is gentle enough to embrace us with grace. On the one hand, God is a God of justice who punished Israel for her wayward deeds, and on the other hand, he is a forgiving father whose heart was filled with unutterable joy when the prodigal son returned home.

I am thankful that we worship a God who is both tough minded and tenderhearted. If God were only tough minded, he would be a cold, passionless despot sitting in some far-off Heaven “contemplating all,” as Tennyson puts it in “The Palace of Art.” He would be Aristotle’s “unmoved mover,” self-knowing but not other-loving. But if God were only tenderhearted, he would be too soft and sentimental to function when things go wrong and incapable of controlling what he has made. He would be like H. G. Well’s loveable God in God, the Invisible King, who is strongly desirous of making a good world but finds himself helpless before the surging powers of evil. God is neither hardhearted nor soft minded. He is tough minded enough to transcend the world; he is tenderhearted enough to live in it. He does not leave us alone in our agonies and struggles. He seeks us in dark places and suffers with us and for us in our tragic prodigality.

At times we need to know that the Lord is a God of justice. When slumbering giants of injustice emerge in the Earth, we need to know that there is a God of power who can cut them down like the grass and leave them withering like the Greek herb. When our most tireless efforts fail to stop the surging sweep of oppression, we need to know that in this universe is a God whose matchless strength is a fit contrast to the sordid weakness of man. But there are also times when we need to know that God possesses love and mercy. When we are staggered by the chilly winds of adversity and battered by the raging storms of disappointment and when through our folly and sin we stray into some destructive far country and are frustrated because of a strange feeling of homesickness, we need to know that there is Someone who loves us, cares for us, understands us, and will give us another chance. When days grow dark and nights grow dreary, we can be thankful that our God combines in his nature a creative synthesis of love and justice that will lead us through life’s dark valleys and into sunlit pathways of hope and fulfillment.

Think about what you are saying and why

“I pledge allegiance to the Flag of the United States of America and to the Republic for which it stands, one nation, under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.”

You’ve probably recited it a million times. Every day in elementary school. As part of Memorial Day or Veterans Day ceremonies. Perhaps as an opening to meetings of civic organizations or governmental proceedings.

But do you really think about what the words mean?

I’m not talking about it’s political or sentimental origins or Supreme Court decisions on the legality to refuse to recite it or to mandate that others recite it. Nothing so controversial.

And with all due respect, I’m also not talking either about any sentimental or profound interpretation of it by an inspiring speaker. When I was a child a fast food chain issued 45 rpm recordings of television and radio comedian Red Skelton’s dramatic interpretation of it. Nor am I about to urge you to sincerely utter it out of respect for those who have given their lives for our freedoms.

I’d simply like to challenge you to think, regardless of your political or philosophical leanings. I’d like to encourage you to actually consider and digest the meaning of the words we so often drone through mindlessly and complacently without giving a second thought to what we’re saying.

  • I pledge [a serious promise or agreement]

  • allegiance [ loyalty to a person, country, group, etc.]

  • to the Flag [ Consider these words of President Woodrow Wilson to luncheon in New York City in 1915- “I see alternate strips of parchment upon which are written the rights of liberty and justice, and stripes of blood to vindicate those rights, and then, in the corner, a prediction of the blue serene into which every nation may swim which stands for these great things.” Sure, it’s a piece of cloth, but it is a symbol. Ah, but this isn’t merely a symbol of nationalism or puffed up patriotism, or even of veterans’ sacrifices; it symbolizes principles- specifically liberty & justice.]

  • of the United States of America [ Think about the Preamble to the Constitution here; “We the people of the United States, in order to form a more perfect union…” What is meant by unity? Is it our nation’s motto, “E Pluribus Unim?” From Many, One. After all, let’s face it, this exercise is intended to promote unity. Don’t believe me? Read about it’s history yourself.]

  • and to the Republic for which it stands, [I tell my students not to think about the old republic in the Star Wars movies, nor of the Republican party, but of the “republican principles which James Madison talks about in Federalist Paper #51; Representative government, Federalism (power limited & shared between tiers of government, separation of powers and checks-and-balances between the three branches of government and balancing the interests of the majority with the rights of minorities by balancing the various factions of our large and diverse population). If you don’t understand these, let alone agree with them, what business do you have pledging your allegiance to this republic? Don’t we have a responsibility to ourselves and our fellow citizens to learn about and understand our own system of government?]

  • one nation, under God, indivisible, [“impossible to divide or separate : not divisible” kind of like prime numerals in Math class. We are one. Even our deepest racial, political and RELIGIOUS (I wasn’t glossing over it) differences should not, can not divide us- we are pledging not to let it when we pledge allegiance. You see, if “We the people” ARE the government because WE ordain and establish our Constitution, because Lincoln urged us not to let government OF the people, BY the people, and FOR the people perish from this Earth- then we are pledging our allegiance, not to the flag, not just to the republic, but TO EACH OTHER. Even the “others” that are different from ourselves, even to the others with whom we disagree or whom we fear or disrespect. One group may want to emphasize “under God” so that they can subjugate segments of the population under their own interpretation of God’s laws. My understanding of the Bible and the God of the Bible is that we all need to “love mercy, act justly and walk humbly with our God” Micah 6:8- that precludes coercing my fellow citizens into believing what I believe. Whatever you believe about religion, please notice that the “under God” is inserted between “one nation” and “indivisible.” Christian, Jew, Gentile, Atheist or Agnostic, we are all one, like it or not. Are we going to let religion divide us? Then we’re liars and hypocrites when we take this pledge. Pretty sure most major religions say that lying is a sin. Remember that.]

  • with liberty [ Merriam & Webster say this- “1:  the quality or state of being free: 
    a :  the power to do as one pleases 
    b :  freedom from physical restraint 
    c :  freedom from arbitrary or despotic control 
    d :  the positive enjoyment of various social, political, or economic rights and privileges 
    e :  the power of choice”
    I say that it’s not just a synonym for “freedom,” but it is the power and opportunity to participate in the republic, it is the ability to exercise your inherent, Creator-endowed rights. If an when any of us curtail, abridge, erode or deny any of these of any other human beings, we are degrading and dissolving our very own rights as well. “Those who deny freedom to others deserve it not for themselves, and, under a just God, cannot long retain it.”–Abraham Lincoln.]

  • and justice [ I teach my students that this isn’t just fairness, nor is it just enforcing laws and imposing penalties for violating laws- it is the very act of participating in the social contract itself. “To secure these rights, governments are instituted among men…” in short, justice is making sure that there is liberty. Perhaps that’s why the two words are usually used together. Princeton University professor Cornell West once said that “Justice is what love looks like in public.” That resonates with my religious beliefs since Jesus taught again and again to love one another, to love they neighbor as thyself and even to love your enemies. But why not look at what Merriam and Webster have to say about it- 
    Full Definition of justice

    “1 a :  the maintenance or administration of what is just especially by the impartial adjustment of conflicting claims or the assignment of merited rewards or punishments
    b :  judge
    c :  the administration of law; especially :  the establishment or determination of rights according to the rules of law or equity
    2 a :  the quality of being just, impartial, or fair
    b (1) :  the principle or ideal of just dealing or right action (2) :  conformity to this principle or ideal :  righteousness
    c :  the quality of conforming to law
    3:  conformity to truth, fact, or reason :  correctness”]

  • for all.” [ALL as in EVERYBODY, not just males, or Whites, or wealthy or Christian- not even just naturalized, legal U.S. citizens, EVERYbody, EVERYONE ALL HUMAN BEINGS.]

Yes, I’m saying that if you pledge allegiance to the republic for which that flag stands, you are promising to offer liberty and justice to ALL as a member of that nation. Did you realize that? Has that ever occurred to you? Are you still prepared to make a solemn oath be before God that you will be loyal to such a republic? One “conceived in liberty and dedicated to the proposition that ALL men are created equal?”

Is that “just my interpretation.” Sure, okay, I’ll stipulate as to that. But if you disagree with my interpretation, then what DO these words all mean? Have you ever thought about it? Does it matter to you? Shouldn’t it?

Shouldn’t you think about what your pledging before you make a pledge?

Maybe that’s why so many religious groups have gone before the U.S. Supreme court to argue that they have the liberty NOT to recite the pledge of allegiance, because they believed Jesus when He taught in the sermon on the mount,

33 Again, you have heard that it was said to the people long ago, ‘Do not break your oath, but fulfill to the Lord the vows you have made.’34 But I tell you, do not swear an oath at all: either by heaven, for it is God’s throne; 35 or by the earth, for it is his footstool; or by Jerusalem, for it is the city of the Great King. 36 And do not swear by your head, for you cannot make even one hair white or black. 37 All you need to say is simply ‘Yes’ or ‘No’; anything beyond this comes from the evil one.” ~Matthew 5:34-37