Archive for the ‘history’ Category

What it means to be a crunchy conservative

First published Oct. 3, 2016

There are many mansions in the American conservative house, and some of them are old and funky and smell like a pot of organic mustard greens cooking down on the stove.

— Rod Dreher, from “Crunchy Cons”

It wasn’t until I was 45 that I started to think of myself as a conservative.

At heart, I had always been one, even in my 20s, when I called myself a democratic socialist, traveled to Nicaragua, read Hunter Thompson and listened to Neil Young.

I still listen to Neil Young.

Like many of my contemporaries, I had the idea that to be a conservative meant to be a belligerent neocon on foreign policy, a self-centered libertarian on economics and a closed-minded culture warrior on social matters.

I was wrong.

Although I’ve never met him — and he’s several years younger than I am — Rod Dreher had a big influence on my thinking after I had left the Democratic Party over its ideological rigidity, joined an Anglican church and become the managing editor of a daily newspaper.

Dreher’s book that introduced me to a different way of understanding this venerable philosophy had a title that could have been a chapter: “Crunchy Cons: How Birkenstocked Burkeans, Gun-loving Organic Gardeners, Evangelical Free-range Farmers, Hip Homeschooling Mamas, Right-wing Nature Lovers, and Their Diverse Tribe of Countercultural Conservatives Plan to Save America (or at Least the Republican Party).”

Crunchy conservatism, Dreher explained, is not a political program, but rather a “practical sensibility” based on what the wisdom of tradition teaches is best for families and communities.

It is about conserving those things that are good and true.

This summer, I read the book again, and was struck by how much things have changed in the 10 years since it was written.

What a different time 2005 was. George W. Bush was president, Pope John Paul II was succeeded by the even more orthodox Benedict XVI, the Defense of Marriage Act was still the law of the land, legal recreational marijuana was a pipe dream, we were engaged in costly wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, Hurricane Katrina demonstrated how inept big government could be, the housing market was soaring, fueled by bad loan practices, and almost no one could foresee the financial meltdown that was coming.

I’m convinced that if the Republican Party had gone in the direction that Dreher and others suggested, rather than toward the hard-line libertarianism and isolationism of the tea party movement, it would have been able to compete with the Democratic Party for the hearts and minds of younger Americans and could have made a positive difference in our society.

Dreher’s crunchy (read: earthy) conservatism is traditional Burkean conservatism for a new generation. Edmund Burke, an 18th century Dubliner and British statesman, rejected abstract Enlightenment reason and “natural law” as guiding lights. All of us, he wrote, are influenced by our cultural traditions, and while individual liberty is important, community is no less so. We belong to one another, and that affects who were are.

Burke wrote that the individual is foolish, but the species is wise. We must learn from those who have gone before us and not rely solely on ourselves. And we must rely on the greater wisdom of the Supreme Being as handed down through the ages.

Mainstream liberalism and conservatism are both essentially materialistic, Dreher argues, and we should not be surprised that neither has led to the improvement of our national character. He describes his book as a rebuke to both the economic individualism of the right and the moral individualism of the left. Its purpose is to explore ways to live out conservative values in a culture that seeks to separate us from our values, families and communities.

In less than 250 pages, “Crunchy Cons” uses Dreher’s own experiences as well as those of people across the country who are living countercultural lives that are socially, spiritually and physically healthier than the ways of the dominant culture. He looks at organic farming and the slow food movement, new urban planning, walkable neighborhoods and aesthetically pleasing architectural design such as bungalows, the attraction of liturgical Christianity to a generation bored with “relevant” contemporary worship, and the understanding that conservation is the essence of conservatism.

“Crunchy Cons” was not a bestseller and is now out of print. It won’t make a list of the most influential conservative tomes, like William Buckley’s “God and Man at Yale” or Russell Kirk’s “The Conservative Mind.” But it influenced me more than any other book in my evolution into a conservative, and to see that I had been one all along. I recommend it to others.

You probably won’t be able to find it, though, unless you come across it at a secondhand bookstore or on Amazon, so in the weeks to come, I want to share a little more of it and hope it will stir your imagination, as it did mine.

Marriage is inseparable from religion

First published July 25, 2015.

It was Jesus, not Jefferson, who first advocated separation of church and state when he said, “Render unto Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s.”

In other words, don’t give the state what belongs to the One who has authority over everything.

Paul, a persecutor of Christians until he met the risen Christ on the road to Damascus, wrote that all authority is ordained of God, and Luke warned that whenever political leaders overstep their bounds and misuse their God-given authority, “We must obey God rather than men.” (Acts 5:29)

I quote Scripture only so that readers understand the bedrock beliefs that inform the political thinking of traditional Christians. We are not theocrats, but we do believe, as the Founders did, that the rights we have come from our Creator, and that there’s a higher law than the Constitution.

Now that’s clear, let me turn to marriage — a subject I feel inadequate to write about because I’ve never been a husband, but I have seen unions stand the test of time because of faith.

One of the oddest remarks I’ve read since the Supreme Court’s Obergefell vs. Hodges decision was from Sarah Sturgill of Bardstown, who was denied a license to marry the woman she loves. She was quoted in this newspaper as saying she believes religion has no part in marriage and should be entirely separate from government.

Religion separate from marriage? Marriage is older than either church or state and was instituted by God as a union between man and woman.

One could no more separate marriage from religion that separate baptism from religion. That’s why so many Christians have a problem with the ruling on same-sex marriage. If the decision had entitled all couples to civil unions, most Christians wouldn’t have a problem with it. Render unto Caesar. But marriage isn’t a contract, it’s a sacred covenant.

The Kentucky Standard’s editorial board chastened Nelson County Judge-Executive Dean Watts for saying he would avoid discriminating against LGBT couples by not marrying any couples. It is not required of judges, he explained, and performing same-sex weddings violates his Catholic convictions. The editorial said that a wedding before a judge or magistrate is “a purely civil procedure.” It is not. The words and the structure of the ceremony are similar to a wedding performed in a church before “God and these witnesses.” One civil ceremony used by LaRue County, invokes God no fewer then eight times, and the judge marries the couple “according to the ordinance of God,” not a county ordinance. The one used by Hardin County acknowledges, in Matthew 19:4-6, that marriage was instituted by God in the beginning.

Our editorial also said Watts’ “personal belief that couples of the same sex should not be able to marry” is a form of discrimination. That’s true, but it is not discrimination in a legal sense.

Is the secular agenda now to require everyone to think alike on this issue? If so, that’s an illiberal way of looking at liberty in a pluralistic society.

While marriage is inseparable from religion, maybe it is time to separate marriage from government. How the state got involved in an institution that is essentially religious is too complicated to explain here. But I believe the right compromise is one advocated a decade ago by liberal evangelicals and recently adopted by libertarian conservatives. It is to distinguish between marriage and civil unions.

Let those religious groups that support LGBT weddings, such as the Episcopal Church and Reformed Judaism, perform them, and let the vast majority of religions that oppose them, such as the Catholic and United Methodist churches, Islam and Orthodox Judaism, opt out.

Whether or not there is a religious ceremony, let all couples, straight or gay, go to the courthouse and sign contracts guaranteeing them the financial and legal benefits of married couples.

Just don’t call that marriage because it is not.

With malice toward none, with charity for all

First published March 5, 2016

Democracy is made for disagreement, but for it to work, everyone must have a seat at the table, and the tone must be respectful. Inclusiveness, civility and individual liberty are its defining characteristics.

It warmed my heart when I went to the Nelson County Republicans’ Lincoln Dinner Thursday night, and the last speaker was a black woman who overcame poverty and rose through the military and industry to become lieutenant governor of Kentucky.

Jenean Hampton is an exemplar of the ideals of equality of opportunity that Abraham Lincoln devoted his career to, and upon which his party was founded.

The lady was gracious in her remarks. She talked about how she persuades people about the truth of conservative principles, because they work. Unlike many others in the tea party movement, she makes this argument without derision or contempt.

During a season in which I’ve often hung my head in embarrassment over the harsh rhetoric on the right about Mexican Americans and Muslims, Governor Hampton, for a shining moment, made me proud again to be a Republican.

In a letter to his friend Joshua Speed in Kentucky, written Aug. 24, 1855, Lincoln expressed his frustration about the growing anger in his country over immigration and ethnic and religious diversity, and how it was being exploited by the American Party, better known as the Know-Nothings.

“I am not a Know-Nothing. That is certain. How could I be?” he wrote. “How could anyone who abhors the oppression of Negroes be in favor of degrading classes of white people? Our progress in degeneracy appears to me to be pretty rapid. As a nation, we began by declaring that ‘all men are created equal.’ We now practically read it, ‘all men are created equal except Negroes.’ When the Know-Nothings get control, it will read, ‘all men are created equal except Negroes, foreigners and Catholics.’ When it comes to this, I should prefer emigrating to some country where they make no pretense of loving liberty — to Russia, for instance, where despotism can be taken pure, and without the base alloy of hypocrisy.”

These were strong words from a man who, in public life, liked the adage that “a drop of honey catches more flies than a gallon of gall.”

Lincoln, and his heir, Ronald Reagan, were men of humble beginnings who became great because they knew humility is the hallmark of a public servant. They weren’t arrogant and abrasive like most members of their party today who seek the presidency. They deflected criticism with good humor and gentle sarcasm.

I came of age in the era of Reagan, and I can’t once remember him calling anyone a liar or a loser, or questioning an opponent’s manhood, or dissing his mother, or using the F-word in a speech, or ridiculing a reporter because of his physical disability or her menstrual period, or wanting to punch a protestor in the face.

When I remember Reagan’s visage, I see a sunny smile, not the scowl of someone who wants to be Benito Mussolini and who quotes him on social media.

If Lincoln had lived to see the rise of the Ku Klux Klan, he most certainly would have harshly condemned it as un-American and un-Christian. And Reagan, an Irish-American who made a pathway to citizenship for immigrants and invoked William Bradford’s biblical imagery of America as a “city upon a hill,” would not tolerate bigotry.

Both Lincoln and Reagan knew that in a two-party republic, nothing can be accomplished without bipartisan compromise and polite dialogue. They were men of strong moral principles, but they were also tough-minded pragmatists who knew how to treat an adversary with deference.

As an evangelical Christian, if I were to choose someone who best represents Judeo-Christian values in public life, I would use the test of the Apostle Paul, who described the fruit of the Spirit as love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Lincoln and Reagan represented these traits. But many would-be leaders today represent hatred, anger, rancor, intolerance, meanness, smugness, selfishness, bile and boorish behavior.

There is a debate going on within the Republican Party, and it is one the party needs to have. It is over whether the GOP is to be the party of Lincoln and Reagan or the reincarnation of the Know-Nothings.

Why I am no longer a Republican

First published April 9, 2016

When Ronald Reagan became a Republican in 1962, he explained his decision like this: “I didn’t leave the Democratic Party. The party left me.”

I felt something similar when, several days ago, I went to the Nelson County Clerk’s Office and changed my voter registration from Republican to independent.

The party I joined when I turned 50 is not the same Republican Party we have today — although the transformation was already beginning with the birth of the tea party movement.

The Grand Old Party that attracted me as I became more conservative in my prime was one that balanced a belief in personal responsibility with a commitment to opportunity. It respected individual liberties, but also cherished community and traditional virtues. It practiced fiscal sobriety, but offered a hand to the disabled and disadvantaged. It had a rich heritage of racial equality going back to the time of Abraham Lincoln and Frederick Douglass, when the Democrats were the party that elevated states’ rights above human rights.

The party’s compassionate conservatism was rooted in Judeo-Christian principles of justice. It can be summed up in these words from President George W. Bush’s first inaugural address: “Americans in need are not strangers, they are citizens, not problems, but priorities, and all of us are diminished when they are hopeless. … I can pledge our nation to a goal: When we see that wounded traveler on the road to Jericho, we will not pass to the other side.”

That perspective has been evident in policies such as charter schools in inner cities to give poor children a chance at a better life, federal funding for faith-based initiatives that work because they address the root causes of poverty and addiction rather than money for big bureaucratic programs that don’t, enterprise zones that give businesses incentives to locate in depressed areas, and humanitarian and military aid to victims of brutality in other countries. It is based on the biblical belief that were are our brothers’ and sisters’ keepers.

In the past seven years, this compassionate conservatism has been supplanted by radical libertarianism, which holds that our brothers and sisters are on their own and that selfishness is a virtue not a vice. It is rooted in the nihilistic philosophy of Ayn Rand rather than the traditional philosophy of her contemporary, Russell Kirk, the father of modern conservatism.

In the current election, though, we have seen something uglier than libertarianism at work. It is a populism that hearkens back to the Know-Nothing movement of the mid-19th century and the John Birch movement of the mid-20th. It stokes the fires of bigotry against anyone whose religion, skin color or country of origin is different than the majority’s, and it has an authoritarian attitude.

What other way is there to describe the faction of the party that wants a caudillo (strong man) like Donald Trump? He is someone who quotes the founding father of fascism, Benito Mussolini, who initially refused to reject the endorsement of David Duke and the Ku Klux Klan, who incites his followers to acts of violence against peaceful demonstrators, and has said that if he becomes president, he will undermine the First Amendment freedom of the press.

The likeliest alternative to Trump in this year’s presidential race is Ted Cruz, a tea party ideologue whose idea of governing is to repudiate efforts at bipartisan compromise — even compromise with the mainstream of his own party — and shut down the government if he doesn’t get his way. He wants to eliminate the Departments of Housing and Urban Development, Education and Commerce, as well as the IRS, and he favors a flat tax that would reduce the responsibility of the rich and increase the burden of the poor. He would deport Hispanic immigrants who were brought to this country illegally as children. He would dismantle the law that prohibits insurance companies from refusing to sell policies to people with cancer and has added tens of millions of people to the rolls of the insured for the first time.

Health insurance has long been one of my concerns, and six years after the Affordable Care Act, I’m still waiting to see what “repeal and replace” means. The only specifics congressional Republicans offer would allow companies to sell policies across state lines — which sounds like a good idea, but means the policies won’t be regulated because the regulating is done by the states — and would replace guaranteed insurance with tax-free health savings accounts.

Really? That’s all they’ve got after six years?

The great irony is that the Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare, is a warmed-over Republican idea from the early 1990s that Republicans rejected en masse as soon as President Barack Obama accepted it.

I’m also embarrassed by Republicans’ embrace of absurd conspiracy theories, such as the notion that President Obama is not a natural-born American citizen or that he “hates America,” or that his wife ridiculed Old Glory — based on lip (mis)reading, or that fossil-fueled global warming is a hoax cooked up by the world’s climate scientists to keep government research money rolling in to pay their salaries. As one of my curmudgeonly college professors sometimes asked her students: How can you be so damned dumb?

I cannot return to the Democratic Party of my youth, because it now insists on a “right” to abort babies up until the moment of birth. It equates religious liberty with bigotry, and believes Christianity is something best practiced in private by consenting adults. It supports public sector unions that make it almost impossible to get rid of inept teachers. It seeks to confiscate the wealth of the nation’s wealth creators. But I can’t go back to the Republican Party — until it comes to its senses.

First freedom isn’t a secondary human right

First published July 11, 2015

Since the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling in Obergefell vs. Hodges, there has been a growing chorus calling for the resignation or removal of county officials in Kentucky who cannot, for reasons of faith, support same-sex marriage.

On Thursday, Gov. Steve Beshear joined those voices, telling Casey County Clerk Casey Davis that he should issue marriage licenses to all who may now marry or step aside — in which case the governor would appoint someone to fill his position until there is another election.

While Davis’ grandstanding approach has gotten the most attention, 57 county clerks last week signed a letter asking the governor to call a special session to address the problem of how to protect their religious liberty while also complying with the court’s ruling, which made gay marriage legal in every state. This was after Beshear had already turned down such a request by Speaker of the House Greg Stumbo, a leader of the governor’s own party.

Beshear said the issue can wait until 2016. Meanwhile, nearly half the county clerks in the state, who have until now faithfully executed their responsibilities as public officials, are faced with the choice of either participating in something that violates their consciences or giving up their careers and turning their backs on those who elected them, in most cases knowing they were people of faith.

It is a conundrum the justices created when they decided by a 5-4 margin to create a new civil right by changing the definition of marriage that has existed since the beginning of civilization. It comes as no surprise, yet it comes with questions that must be addressed regarding the place of faith in a nation founded on Judeo-Christian ethics and religious freedom as well as on Enlightenment ideas about the nature of humanity and liberty.

Although our nation’s founders were men of diverse views — from Thomas Paine, a Deist who despised Christianity, to Patrick Henry, who was a devout Christian — they were able to agree that all of us are “endowed by our Creator with certain unalienable rights …”

In other words, all rights come from God, and so does all political authority, according to the Bible in Romans 13:1. Those who oppose same-sex marriage make the case that God cannot grant a right that is contrary to his perfect order. And in Matthew 19:4-6, Jesus — who was the Word of God incarnated (John 1:1) — teaches that God was the author of marriage from the beginning. Quoting the ancient Jewish scriptures (Genesis 2:24), Christ said that “a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.”

The Bible is also unambiguous in describing homoerotic relationships as sinful, although I believe we are guilty of the ultimate sin of pride if we believe those relationships are worse than other sins or that any of us is without sin.

Conservatives conveniently forget that the sin of Sodom, according to the prophet Ezekiel, was that the city’s people had become “overfed and unconcerned” and “did not help the poor and needy.”

That’s something we might want to keep in mind when we’re stuffing ourselves full of fried chicken and potato salad at a church social and grousing about our taxes paying for food for the children of the working poor.

As the United States becomes an increasingly secular society, more Americans conflate Thomas Jefferson’s limited idea of the idea of separation of church and state with the broader postmodern notion that religious beliefs have no place in the public sphere. Not only is that not possible, but if it were, it would be discriminatory.

“Efforts to craft a public square from which religious conversation is absent, no matter how thoughtfully worked out, will always in the end say to those of organized religion that they alone, unlike everybody else, must enter public dialogue only after leaving behind that part of themselves that they may consider the most vital,” said Stephen L. Carter of Yale, a prominent constitutional scholar.

And John Adams, who played an eminent role when this nation was conceived in liberty, wrote: “Our Constitution was made only for a moral and religious people. It is wholly inadequate to the government of any other.”

At the heart of Christianity is the commandment that we must “love our neighbors as ourselves,” and there is no caveat that excepts our LGBT neighbors. And at the core of American democracy is the principle that all of us “are created equal” and endowed by the Creator with human rights.

In balancing LGBT rights with religious liberty, though, we should not forget that the First Amendment right of religious freedom is first for a reason.

Family stories are Kentucky’s history

First published April 17, 2015

When the big snow of February 1994 brought Lexington to a standstill for two days, I didn’t mind because it gave me time off from my job at Transylvania University to read Robert V. Remini’s magisterial biography of Kentucky statesman Henry Clay.

The setting for reading the book was ideal. The building I worked in, Old Morrison, was built under the supervision of Clay, speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives, candidate for president and one of the great senators of the antebellum era. He also taught law at the university, and his little law office still stood about a block away from my apartment, which overlooked the backyard of the Hunt-Morgan House in historic Gratz Park.

Clay and his family worshipped at the Episcopal cathedral on the other side of the park, Christ Church, and theirestate, Ashland, was only a mile or so away.

Living in the Bluegrass, I was always reminded of the Clay family. The old Colby Tavern near my parents’ home in Clark County was a stagecoach stop between Lexington and Winchester where Henry Clay sometimes stayed the night before trying cases at the Clark County Courthouse.

On the way to Richmond, where I cut my teeth as a young reporter, was White Hall, the mansion of Henry’s cousin, Cassius Marcellus Clay, the famous abolitionist, newspaper editor and President Lincoln’s ambassador to Russia. The hospital in Richmond was named for his daughter, Pattie A. Clay.

And in Mount Sterling, I lived on Clay Street, named for Cassius’ father, Green Clay, who owned land for miles around, and a little red brick house down the street belonged to his family.

The Clays’ rich legacy is a reminder that the history of Kentucky is the history of the families that made our commonwealth what it is today. But that history is not only the story of the great and famous, but of those who aren’t as well known, yet made important contributions — families like the Coomeses of Bardstown.

If you read this column regularly, you may remember that last year around Veterans Day I wrote about Bill Coomes, a Marine in World War II who fought in the bloody Battle of Iwo Jima.

We’ve all seen the iconic image of Marines raising the flag atop Mount Suribachi, but Bill saw it firsthand from a few hundred yards away. When I interviewed him, he told me his father had fought in the trenches in World War I, his brother served in Korea and his son in Vietnam.

Days after the column was published, Bill stopped by the office to thank me for mentioning him, and he had a thin green folder containing some family background.

I learned the Coomeses played an important part in Kentucky’s story long before the 20th century.

If the genealogy is accurate, Bill’s great-great-great-great grandparents, William Coomes and Jane Frances Greenleaf Coomes, were an Irish Catholic couple from Maryland who came to Kentucky in 1775 with a party led by Abraham and Isaac Hite. They helped establish the first colonial settlement in Kentucky, Fort Harrod (now Harrodsburg) and defended it against Indian attacks.

William, who also fought in the Battle of Blue Licks during the Revolution, and his family moved in 1783 to Kentucky’s second city, Bardstown, which they also helped establish. They played a major part in the formation of the Catholic Church in this area, and donated part of their farm to the new western diocese for its see, which is now the Basilica of St. Joseph Proto-Cathedral.

And Jane Coomes, according to the history, was Kentucky’s first schoolteacher.

That, as the late radio announcer and armchair historian Paul Harvey would say, is “the rest of the story.”

Heritage of hate and the changing South

One of oddest mental images I have from my days as a weekly newspaper editor in Nicholasville is of a little black girl waving a Confederate battle flag from atop a parade float.

The Chamber of Commerce had prohibited displays of the rebel flag in the Jessamine Jamboree, and I had written a commentary supporting their decision.

The editorial had resulted in angry letters to the editor from the Sons of Confederate Veterans, who vowed to fly their flag in defiance of the order.

The Stars and Bars, they said, was a symbol of “heritage, not hate.” I argued that it belonged in a museum, not at an event intended to bring people together.

On the south end of Main Street, most African-American residents stood in stony silence while watching the display go by, and a few hurled epithets. On the north end, someone joked as I was taking pictures that I shouldn’t get too close to the float. I laughed, but a rangy figure who overheard leaned close and told me I’d be safer with the heritage group than surrounded by his friends.

———

Members of the National Socialists Movement and the White Knights of the Klu Klux Klan salute to start a rally Saturday April 21, 2012, at the Capitol in Frankfort, Ky. At least 70 law enforcement officers were present to control a crowd of 150 to 200 demonstrators when a group of neo-Nazis and Ku Klux Klan members rallied against illegal immigration on the steps of the Kentucky Capitol. (AP Photo/John Flavell)

“The past is never dead. It is not even past,” William Faulkner wrote.  That has been true of race relations in the South, but reactions last week to the racially motivated murders of nine parishioners at Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, S.C., were astounding.

Since Gov. Nikki Haley and other leaders called for the removal of the Confederate battle flag from the statehouse grounds in Charleston, a chorus of voices across the country has demanded the removal of the flag and other symbols of the Confederacy, including the statue of Jefferson Davis from the Kentucky Capitol.

Even more encouraging is that Walmart, eBay and other retailers have said they will no longer sell the flags.

Once again, we’re hearing from resisters that the flag represents “heritage, not hate.” That may be true for some, but there is also a heritage of hate associated with the flag that is seared into our national consciousness and with which we must reckon.

I have referred to the Stars and Bars as the Confederate battle flag because it is not the official flag of the Confederacy that flew over capitols during the Civil War. It is the flag of Gen. Robert E. Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia, which was revived 100 years after the Civil War as a symbol of white supremacy and defiance of civil rights. That is its legacy in the minds of many Americans.

Based on I know of Lee’s desire for reconciliation, if he were alive today, I think he would agree it’s time to retire it.

———

In Montgomery, Ala., the birthplace of the Confederate States of America, demonstrators Saturday protested a decision by Gov. Robert Bentley to remove the battle flag from a war memorial.

“Right now, this past week with everything that is going on, I feel very much like the Jews must have felt in the very beginning of the Nazi Germany takeover,” one protestor told the Associated Press. He added that “there is a concerted effort to wipe people like me out, to wipe out my heritage and to erase the truths of history.”

It’s outrageous that he would compare those who want to remove a stain from our past with Nazi Germany’s racist regime because America’s apartheid movement has included many who identify with that evil episode in the world’s history.

Here’s an example. Three years ago, when I worked for the AP in Frankfort, I covered a rally on the Capitol steps by neo-Nazis who were joined by a Ku Klux Klan group. The swastika and the Stars and Bars flew side by side.

About 200 counter-demonstrators heard white supremacists say they were not a hate group, but a civil rights group, yet the rhetoric was hateful.

While Nazis and Klansmen shouted, “God hates homosexuals,” Victoria King of Lawrenceburg held aloft a message of Christian love — a sign with words of a prayer attributed to St. Francis of Assisi: “Where there is darkness, let me sow light.”

———

The light of liberty cannot be forever hidden under a dark shroud.

Fifty years ago, the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., led another rally on the steps of Alabama’s Capitol steps, not far from where another Montgomery memorial today celebrates a better legacy — that of the civil rights movement.

“The moral arc of the universe is long, but it bends toward justice,” King said.

It is well that we remember those words as we celebrate the birth of our republic this weekend. America has not always been the shining City on a Hill that our forebears envisioned, but it was and is the right vision, and we should expect nothing less.

The real St. Patrick — a slave for Christ

Published March 14, 2014

Near the entrance of St. Patrick’s Cathedral in Dublin a simple plaque marks the location of the well, where, legend has it, Patrick baptized converts to the Christian faith in A.D. 450.

I visited that Church of Ireland cathedral while in Dublin in 2010, and it brought back memories of worshipping, 10 years earlier, at another Anglican cathedral, in Belfast, where there was a big, beautiful mosaic of Patrick — or Padraig in Irish. The saint is said to have first landed on Erin’s green shores at Downpatrick (thus the name), in Northern Ireland, and in that town, both the Catholic and Anglican cathedrals are named for him.

We have all heard the myths of Patrick — how he drove the snakes from Ireland (there were never any there), and used the three-leafed shamrock to explain the concept of the Trinity. There are fantastical tales of his use of magic, such as the time when he changed his shape, and that of his companions, into deer to elude capture by fierce pagan warriors.

When I was in Ireland five years ago, I walked the Hill of Tara, where ancient Druids offered human sacrifices to their false gods. It was on the nearby Hill of Slane that Patrick, in defiance of the high king of Tara, lit the paschal fire of Easter that signaled to the king and his druids that the light of Christ had come to Ireland and would never be extinguished.

This tale, whether or not it is factual, comes closer to illustrating the truth about who Patrick was — not a wizard, but a bishop and evangelist.

As the 15-year-old son of an aristocratic Celtic Briton who was both a Roman official and a Catholic deacon, Patrick had been captured, probably near the River Severn, by pagan Irish raiders and taken across the sea to be a slave. He believed this was his punishment for a sin he committed, but in his writings he doesn’t say what the sin was. While he was a slave, his faith in God grew, and while tending his sheep herds, he prayed sometimes as many as 100 times a day, from morning until night, according to the written record he left behind.

Patrick escaped from Ireland, but had a dream, which led him to believe he was being called back to the Babylon of his captivity to spread the gospel. After being educated to become a priest and bishop, he did eventually go back and served the church as a missionary for the rest of his days. His writings consist of his “Confession,” similar to St. Augustine’s, and a letter to a British chieftain Coroticus, excommunicating him and his soldiers for slaughtering Christian converts in Hibernia (Ireland) on the day of their baptism.

I was preparing for a short mission trip of my own to Northern Ireland with Habitat for Humanity in 2000 when I read “The Spirituality of St. Patrick” by Lesley Whiteside, a thin paperback published in Dublin by Morehouse Publishing in 1996. It is an explication of Patrick’s writings. Here is an excerpt from his best-known work. It gives us a better understanding of the real Patrick and why he matters.

St. Patrick’s confession

The Spirit elsewhere is a witness that even uncultivated ways have been created by the Most High — I am, then, first and foremost unlearned, an unlettered exile who cannot plan for the future. But this much I know for sure. Before I had to suffer, I was like a stone lying in the deep mud. Then he who is mighty came and in his mercy he not only pulled me out but lifted me up and placed me at the very top of the wall. I must, therefore, speak publicly in order to thank the Lord for such wonderful gifts.

Who was it who called me, fool that I am, from among those who are considered wise, expert in law, powerful in speech and general affairs? He passed over these for me, a mere outcast. He inspired me with fear, reverence and patience, to be the one who would if possible serve the people faithfully to whom the love of Christ brought me. The love of Christ indeed gave me to them to serve them humbly and sincerely for my entire lifetime if I am found worthy.

Books: ‘41’ and other great reads of 2014

George H.W. Bush may be the most under-rated U.S. president of the past century.

Ronald Reagan gets the credit for ending the Cold War, but it was really Bush who did more than he to bring that decades-long conflict to a peaceful resolution.

The 41st president also acted decisively to remove a drug-running Panamanian dictator, built an international coalition to drive invading Iraqi forces out of Kuwait, and laid the groundwork for the economic recovery of the early 1990s — in part by backing budget cuts and a tax increase, for which he was harshly condemned by the right.

Bush was an extraordinary commander in chief, diplomat and leader, but most significantly, he was a gentleman.

In his recent memoir, “41: A Portrait of My Father,” former President George W. Bush, describes a scene that attests to the character of his dad. Early this year, President Barack Obama, isn’t popular in Texas, flew into the Houston airport, and the elder Bush was on the tarmac in his wheelchair to greet him.

“When the president comes to your hometown,” the old man said, “you show up and welcome him.”

“In an era characterized by bitter partisanship, George Bush set an example of a man who put civility and decency ahead of the ugliness of politics,” Bush ’43 wrote.

It is one of the qualities that endears him to so many Americans.

Political memoirs usually have a short shelf life, but “41” soared to the top of the bestseller lists and stayed there. I can see why. It’s the best nonfiction book I read in 2014.

Probably my favorite fiction of 2014 (although I won’t finish reading it until 2015) is the novel I got for Christmas, Patrick Taylor’s “An Irish Country Doctor in Peace and at War.” It is the ninth novel in the Irish-Canadian’s “Irish Country” series that began in 2007. It’s based on the antics of the gruff rural GP with “a heart of corn,” as they in the wee North of Ireland.

The books are set in the fictitious village of Ballybucklebo near Belfast in the early 1960s, before the Troubles. They feature a cast of characters reminiscent of those in the BBC comedy series, “Doc Martin.”

They are different from his earlier, darker work.

At the end of each year, I share a list of books I’ve read throughout the year. Here’s the list for 2014 except for those I haven’t yet finished:

“The Bully Pulpit: Theodore Roosevelt, William Howard Taft, and the Golden Age of Journalism” by Doris Kearns Goodwin

“Unfinished: Believing is Only the Beginning” by Richard Stearns

“The Last Campaign: Robert F. Kennedy and 82 Days That Inspired America” by Thurston Clarke

“The Wily O’ Reilly: Irish Country Stories” by Patrick Taylor

“Sackcloth and Ashes: Penance and Penitence in a Self-Centered World” by Ann Widdecombe

“This Beautiful Mess: Practicing the Presence of the Kingdom of God” by Rick McKinley

“The Vicar of Baghdad: Fighting for Peace in the Middle East” by Andrew White

“Walking Home: A Poet’s Journey” by Simon Armitage

“Paris” by Edward Rutherfurd

“Walking with God Through Pain and Suffering” by Timothy Keller

“Duty, Honor, Country: The Life and Legacy of Prescott Bush” by Mickey Herskowitz

“The Last Great Senate: Courage and Statesmanship in Times of Crisis” by Ira Shapiro

“Captured: An Atheist’s Journey with God” by Anna D. Gulick

“Recovering Redemption: A Gospel-Saturated Perspective on How to Change” by Matt Chandler and Michael Snetzer

“TransAtlantic” by Colum McCann

“Eli the Good” by Silas House

“A World Lost” by Wendell Berry

“The Daring Heart of David Livingstone: Exile, African Slavery, and the Publicity Stunt That Saved Millions” by Jay Milbrandt

“Now and in the Hour of Our Death” by Patrick Taylor

“The Ghosts of Belfast” by Stuart Neville

“Republican Leader: A Political Biography of Mitch McConnell” by John David Dyche

“Eisenhower: A Life” by Paul Johnson

“To Make Men Free: A History of the Republican Party” by Heather Cox Richardson

“41: A Portrait of My Father” by George W. Bush

“The Snow Goose” by Paul Gallico

“Exploring Advent with Luke: Four Questions for Spiritual Growth” by Timothy Clayton

“The Day Christ Was Born” by Jim Bishop

“The Mad Farmer Poems” by Wendell Berry

No peace on earth for Iraq’s Christians

Published Dec.13, 2014

The true story of Christmas isn’t about a newborn in a menagerie manger being heralded by cherubs in the sky. It is about a family of refugees fleeing the wrath of a tyrant who puts every infant boy in Bethlehem to the sword to prevent another king from usurping his throne.

Herod was appointed “King of the Jews” by the Roman Senate in 40 B.C. to subjugate his people to Caesar’s rule. The Gospel of Matthew tells of the Slaughter of the Innocents in this way: “Then Herod, when he saw that he was deceived by the wise men, was exceedingly angry; and he sent forth and put to death all the male children who were in Bethlehem and in all its districts, from two years old and under, according to the time which he had determined from the wise men. Then was fulfilled what was spoken by Jeremiah the prophet, saying: ‘A voice was heard in Ramah, lamentation, weeping, and great mourning, Rachel weeping for her children, refusing to be comforted, because they are no more.’”

Twenty-one centuries later, there is another slaughter of the innocents in the Middle East.

Canon Andrew White, the Anglican “vicar of Baghdad” I introduced you to on Easter, tells an interviewer about the gruesome murder of children by the Islamic State of Syria and Iraq. In the video, published Nov. 28, White said that days before, ISIS fighters ordered four children, all under the age of 15, to say the words to become followers of Muhammad. The little ones refused.

“No, we love Yeshua,” they said. “We have always followed Yeshua.”

So the brutes chopped their heads off.

White wept for them.

“They are my children,” he said.

The Sunday Times of London reported that Andrew, 5, the son of a founding member of White’s St. George’s Church in Baghdad, was named for the English vicar who has devoted his life to the pastoral care of Christians in war-torn Iraq. When attacking the city of Qaraqosh this past summer, ISIS killers cut the boy in half.

Throughout Syria and northern Iraq, ISIS, which thinks of itself as the successor of the medieval Islamic caliphate, is beheading children in front of their parents. They are crucifying Christians on wooden crosses, as the Romans did. Neighbors of the “Nazarenes” are painting the Arabic letter “N” on the homes of Christians who are targeted for extermination.

White, who spoke at my parish, Apostles Anglican Church in Lexington, during Lent, says 25 years ago, there were a million and a half Christians in Iraq. Now there are fewer than 300,000.

The ancient city of Nineveh, where Jonah preached and Doubting Thomas shared the Gospel, is Mosul, until recently the center of Christianity in Iraq. But the believers have nearly all fled or been butchered.

White has lost more than 1,000 members of his flock to violence. His staff members have been murdered. White has been kidnapped, beaten, imprisoned and threatened with death. He is now in Israel because Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby ordered him there to save his life and the lives of those around him.

White is a peacemaker, but he is no pacifist. He has negotiated the release of hostages, worked with the U.S. and U.K. militaries and heads the Foundation for Relief and Reconciliation in the Middle East. But there is no possibility of reconciliation with ISIS, he says. They only want terror, torture and death.

As in the time of Herod, Christians are being persecuted to the point of being eliminated from Iraq, Syria, Palestine, Egypt and other countries where Christianity was born and has thrived for two millennia.

The question Christians in the West should ask ourselves is what will we do about it?

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