Quick Thought: Belief or Acts

What is more important, a man’s belief or his acts?

In a perfect man, his acts will flow from his beliefs, so the dichotomy won’t really matter. But on some subjects there is a disconnect; sometimes it’s quite out of our control and so our beliefs can never be acted upon in a meaningful way. A man who opposed slavery in America before the Civil War would have had little chance of abolishing it at the national level.

So it is, I think, with politics: what a man believes about politics is nearly useless. His actions matter far more. What does it matter if he voted for a democrat or a republican? Did he treat his enemies with kindness, his opponents with love and respect? Then he is a good man, whatever his policies may be. Did he tell the truth, and say it openly? Then he is an honest man. Did he abide by the Constitution even when it was to his disadvantage? Then he is an honorable man.

In all things, treat others the way you wish to be treated.

Dear Jesus, You have a problem, and it’s Me

I recently listened to a lecture by a catholic speaker on pornography addiction. He told the story that once, when he was in confessional, he confided his pornography addiction to his priest and asked what he should do. The priest replied, “You need to tell Jesus He has a problem.” The young man was confused. “How is my pornography addiction Jesus’ problem?” The priest replied, “You belong to Jesus don’t you? You need to pray to Him and tell him He has a problem, and it’s you.”

 

This was, to my thinking, quite right and also very counter-intuitive: certainly against much of what I’ve been impressed upon by sin. My thought on sin had been this: God lays down the rules, which are nearly impossible to follow, since you have to be perfect to do them all right; then if and when you break them you have to ask for forgiveness in Christ, which He will give you. But what I didn’t get was that God does not expect you to get better all by yourself.

While it’s our responsibility to do what He asks, we should not expect to get better without His help. This, I think, is what the Apostle meant when he wrote “Casting all your care upon Him; for He careth for you.” (1 Pater 5:7)

Sin as a Pearl

There are many views of sin in the world, and many metaphors for what it is like in the Bible. Jesus likens sin to a lion, prowling around and seeking to devour, as something crouching at the door, as a thief in the night, and as leaven that levels a whole lump of bread. I wonder though, if in Christ, when we are saved, if sin becomes something else.

The Christians speaks often  of being “saved”, that is, Christ took the penalty of our sin away when he died in our place. This allows us to be with God when we die, yet it does not remove our desire for sin, nor our proclivity to sin. We still lust, we still get angry, we still feel self-righteous and judgmental just like every other human. For this we are meant to repent. Lately in my life I’ve wondered if I’m really a Christian because I’ve reflected on one sin in particular that I can’t seem to shake off. It is what St. Augustine would call a “besetting” sin, or something that we acknowledge as sin but keep doing, for one reason or another. For some people it’s drugs, for others its anger. The thing about sin is it’s not a mistake. It’s something you deliberately do. So if we keep choosing to do it, can we really say we believe and accept Christ? I have felt hopeless so much because of the shame of being tempted by this sin, that I often just give into it. And yet, I wonder if Sin takes on a different form once saved. Rather than a little leaven, infecting the whole person, perhaps sin becomes a grain of sand, irritating us, but turning us continually to Christ, until eventually it forms a pearl of wisdom and humility in us.

Character of the Week: Demosthenes of Athens

Greek, Athenian statesman most noted for his speeches against Alexander the Great’s father, Philip of Macedon, collectively known as “philippics.” He shaved half his head to prevent himself going out in public until he had learned to speak without lisp or stammer, and practiced orating with pebbles under his tongue to enhance pronunciation and by the sea to master projection and rhythm.

Born: 384 B.C.

Died: 322 B.C. (62 years old, which is quite good considering the time period.)

DemosthPracticing

Demosthenes Practicing Oratory by Jean-Jules-Antione Leconte du Nouy (1842-1923)

 

 

 

Of Men and Dragons

It is the beginning of strawberry season in Virginia, and growing up in the suburbs of Los Angeles I did not have much occasion to pick fruit for myself. As a litigation attorney most of my job revolves around the misery people inflict upon one another. I find cooking a therapeutic outlet, especially when cooking for others. It’s refreshing to make other people happy. I got it into my head to pick local strawberries and make some jam.

After I got home with my haul, I offered to make whipped cream and strawberries to share with one of my room-mates who was lounging on the couch. He said that two men sharing strawberries and cream was ‘gay’ and that I was welcome to eat them on my own, but he would not participate. ded3475d592c0e6932859cfec4b91250Now I should clarify that this friend is older than I am, from the South, and consistently sarcastic. I am quite literal, which impels me to continually clarify whether he is joking or not. I pressed whether he really meant what he said; he insisted it was very un-manly.

I confess I was quite hurt by what he said. I think this sort of thing happens because the modern mind does not have a good model of what is manly, so it goes to extremes to ensure it is never mistaken for its opposite. But is cooking inherently effeminate? Does my enjoyment of this, and desire to share it make me effeminate? I think not. I think men are like dragons.

Dragons share common characteristics; they are reptiles, they are large, strong, tough, and potentially dangerous. Generally they can breathe fire, have wings and can fly. But it’s important to note that not all dragons have these later abilities.

lord_of_the_rings___glaurung_by_vaejoun-d71q48f

Glaurung, the First Dragon.

Glaurung for instance, the first dragon according to J.R.R. Tolkein, did not have wings. Haku the water-dragon from “Spirited Away” could fly without wings, and showed no ability to breathe fire. But those dragons are not lesser dragons because they were different; they were simply an uncommon type of dragon. So too it is with men. Some men are artists, some warriors, some a mixture of both; some are fast, some clever, some strong. Some men have none of these abilities,

Tyrion_1_3295189b

Not all men are equal, but they may still be men. Tyrion Lannister, from Game of Thrones

yet they can move the soul with music. King David was blessed with both the arts of music and war.

I may lack “some of that quick spirit” which is in other men, but I am not a lesser son because of it. Did not Jacob cook the stew while Esau hunted? Yet God chose Jacob to be his instrument. It was Jacob who eventually wrestled with God from evening until morning, not Esau. Paul himself wrote:

And if the ear should say, “Because I am not an eye, I do not belong to the body,” that would not make it any less a part of the body. If the whole body were an eye, where would be the sense of hearing? . . . The eye cannot say to the hand, “I have no need of you,” nor again the head to the feet, “I have no need of you.” On the contrary, the parts of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable, and on those parts of the body that we think less honorable we bestow the greater honor, and our un-presentable parts are treated with greater modesty……–1 Corinthians 12:12-27 (partial)

Unless something is inherently or explicitly sinful, I do not think we should so casually disdain it because it is different. It is un-christian. I am not a normal type of dragon, but I am no less for it.

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Haku, from Spirited Away.

 

 

Poem of the Week: The Day is Done

The day is done, and the darkness
      Falls from the wings of Night,
As a feather is wafted downward
      From an eagle in his flight.
li195_mis

“Mist Raven” by John Avon

I see the lights of the village
      Gleam through the rain and the mist,
And a feeling of sadness comes o’er me
      That my soul cannot resist:
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A feeling of sadness and longing,
      That is not akin to pain,
And resembles sorrow only
      As the mist resembles the rain.
Come, read to me some poem,
      Some simple and heartfelt lay,
That shall soothe this restless feeling,
      And banish the thoughts of day.
rockwell_crackersinBed.2
Not from the grand old masters,
      Not from the bards sublime,
Whose distant footsteps echo
      Through the corridors of Time.
For, like strains of martial music,
      Their mighty thoughts suggest
Life’s endless toil and endeavor;
      And to-night I long for rest.
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Read from some humbler poet,
      Whose songs gushed from his heart,
As showers from the clouds of summer,
      Or tears from the eyelids start;
Who, through long days of labor,
      And nights devoid of ease,
Still heard in his soul the music
      Of wonderful melodies.
Such songs have power to quiet
      The restless pulse of care,
And come like the benediction
      That follows after prayer.
Merlin_Julek_Heller
Then read from the treasured volume
      The poem of thy choice,
And lend to the rhyme of the poet
      The beauty of thy voice.
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And the night shall be filled with music,
      And the cares, that infest the day,
Shall fold their tents, like the Arabs,
      And as silently steal away.
Frederick_Leighton_Flaming_June
Henry W. Longfellow

Poem of the Week: The Jewish Cemetery at Newport–Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

How strange it seems! These Hebrews in their graves,
      Close by the street of this fair seaport town,
Silent beside the never-silent waves,
      At rest in all this moving up and down!
The trees are white with dust, that o’er their sleep
      Wave their broad curtains in the south-wind’s breath,
While underneath these leafy tents they keep
      The long, mysterious Exodus of Death.
And these sepulchral stones, so old and brown,
      That pave with level flags their burial-place,
Seem like the tablets of the Law, thrown down
      And broken by Moses at the mountain’s base.
OT-041
The very names recorded here are strange,
      Of foreign accent, and of different climes;
Alvares and Rivera interchange
      With Abraham and Jacob of old times.
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The Jewish Cemetery at Newport.

“Blessed be God! for he created Death!”
      The mourners said, “and Death is rest and peace;”
Then added, in the certainty of faith,
      “And giveth Life that nevermore shall cease.”
sleeping-goddess-mud-maid-woodland-walk-lost-gardens-of-heligan-england1
Closed are the portals of their Synagogue,
      No Psalms of David now the silence break,
No Rabbi reads the ancient Decalogue
      In the grand dialect the Prophets spake.
OT-114
Gone are the living, but the dead remain,
      And not neglected; for a hand unseen,
Scattering its bounty, like a summer rain,
      Still keeps their graves and their remembrance green.
How came they here? What burst of Christian hate,
      What persecution, merciless and blind,
Drove o’er the sea — that desert desolate —
      These Ishmaels and Hagars of mankind?
Willem_van_de_Velde_the_Younger,_Ships_on_a_Stormy_Sea_(c._1672)
They lived in narrow streets and lanes obscure,
      Ghetto and Judenstrass, in mirk and mire;
Taught in the school of patience to endure
      The life of anguish and the death of fire.
All their lives long, with the unleavened bread
      And bitter herbs of exile and its fears,
The wasting famine of the heart they fed,
      And slaked its thirst with marah of their tears.
Anathema maranatha! was the cry
      That rang from town to town, from street to street;
At every gate the accursed Mordecai
      Was mocked and jeered, and spurned by Christian feet.
Pride and humiliation hand in hand
      Walked with them through the world where’er they went;
Trampled and beaten were they as the sand,
      And yet unshaken as the continent.
For in the background figures vague and vast
      Of patriarchs and of prophets rose sublime,
And all the great traditions of the Past
      They saw reflected in the coming time.
NT-187
And thus forever with reverted look
      The mystic volume of the world they read,
Spelling it backward, like a Hebrew book,
      Till life became a Legend of the Dead.
But ah! what once has been shall be no more!
      The groaning earth in travail and in pain
Brings forth its races, but does not restore,
      And the dead nations never rise again.
Henry_Wadsworth_Longfellow,_photographed_by_Julia_Margaret_Cameron_in_1868

Longfellow, one of the five Fireside poets of America, who wrote their poetry for the common man to be read “around the fireside.”

The Scandal that Wasn’t: Mike Pence and Misogyny

Gender issues pervade the political airwaves, from transgender bathrooms to whether Donald Trump really sexually assaulted women. The newest kerfuffle is that Vice President Mike Pence is practicing a kind of “soft misogyny” by refusing to dine with other women unless his wife is present.

Mike Pence

Mike Pence, Former Governor of Indiana, Congressman for Indiana, Current Vice President.

Liberal pundits, commentators and bloggers took to their preferred media outlets to decry yet another example of the male-dominating patriarchy after the Washington Post published an article profiling the relationship between Vice President Mike Pence and his wife Karen. Tucked away in the lengthy article is a once-sentence paragraph that reads: “In 2002, Mike Pence told the Hill that he never eats alone with a woman other than his wife and that he won’t attend events featuring alcohol without her by his side either.” The general consensus from the left is that this view treats women as inherent temptresses, holds men to be inherently untrustworthy and excludes women from networking and mentoring opportunities that are so often vital to their advancement. One writer went so far as to liken this treatment to shaming and “victim-blaming”.[1] Let us examine:

Preference is not Policy:

            First, recognize that a personal preference is not the same thing as an office policy. The writers at the ACLU insist that Pence’s decision is akin to mandated policies. They devote half of their article to examples of mandatory school uniforms and the injustice of forcing girls to wear skirts. They then state that Pence’s decision is just as bad because it prevents women (with the implication of all women) from getting mentoring and networking opportunities. But the glaring difference that makes their example so inappropriate is that Pence has never set his personal standards as a policy for anyone else. Other staff members are free to associate, mentor and network however they like.

It is also important to note that the preference actually does not prevent women from getting mentoring and networking opportunities. Women coming into contact with Pence would still be able to eat with him, his wife would simply be present. Most of the eating opportunities would be at large functions anyway, so this policy would change nothing in those settings. Neither would it prevent networking with women, since most networking events are social gatherings where men and women co-mingle, and Pence’s wife would be just as appropriately placed there as anywhere else. His preference changes nothing, and harms no one.

Chivalry is not Misogyny:

The dictionary defines misogyny as “dislike, contempt, or prejudice against women.” Chivalry is defined as “the combination of qualities expected of an ideal knight, especially courage, honor, courtesy, justice, and a readiness to help the weak.” The ACLU and the Guardian both accuse Pence of practicing “soft misogyny” because his views portray women as temptresses, or alternately as being weak and in need of protection.[2] In fairness, both can be true, but Pence’s view actually
hinges upon neither. How the
liberal commentators can intuit his motivations from a single-sentence description is unknown. But the only evidence from the article is that he chooses to do so because of his wife, relatively unrelated to any other influence. This would fall under the “honor” and “courtesy” categories of chivalry,
and has no resemblance to the “dislike” and
“contempt” qualities of misogyny. If the liberals cannot tell the difference between courtesy and contempt, they should get out of the commentating business.

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Mike Pence and his wife Karen.

Prudence is not Prudishness:

           Pence’s personal policy prevents even the possibility of perceived impropriety. Whatever the liberal commentators may say about how it discriminates (see above for why it doesn’t), even they would have to admit the probability of a sexual scandal from Pence is very low with these precautions. The liberals seem to have a selective memory when it comes to scandals; Bill Clinton had no witnesses to corroborate what did or didn’t happen between him and Ms Lewinsky, which did nothing to dispel the accusations against him. Clarence Thomas was accused of sexual harassment, the charges conveniently appearing as he was being nominated for the Supreme Court, and Trump’s statements from years before his Presidential run appeared at just the right time to give his opponent an opportunity to exploit them. Pence’s decision would prevent any of this from happening to him. In an era of Trumps and Antony Weiners, we should celebrate that one man at least has put himself well beyond such reproach.

[1] https://www.aclu.org/blog/speak-freely/what-does-mike-pences-no-girls-allowed-rule-have-common-school-dress-codes-and

[2] https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2017/mar/31/mike-pence-doesnt-eat-alone-women-speaks-volumes?CMP=fb_gu

What’s so Bad about Term Limits?

President Trump made term limits the first priority in a list of approximately 18 tasks to accomplish within his first 100 days.[1] With Senator Cruz (R-TX) recently proposing an amendment to the Constitution to limit senators to two terms and representatives to three, it is time to consider the proposal on its merits.[2]

Ted Cruz

Sen. Cruz Proposed an Amendment limiting Senators to two 6-year terms and Representatives to three 2-year terms

Term limits will worsen, not solve our political problems. Imposing term limits would increase the incentives for corruption, weaken the system of representation, diminish the quality of representatives and further entrench the bureaucracy.

Corruption and Lobbyists:

Proponents argue that if a politician has an exit date from office then he will be less susceptible to lobbyist corruption. However, term limits would more likely increase the incentive to capitulate to special interests and bribes, not insulate politicians from such influences.

Term limit advocates believe lobbyists can control a politician’s vote by spending money on campaigns. This assumes that such spending actually influences the way a politician will vote, and that this spending works against the interests of the people the politician represents. Neither of these is particularly true.

First, voting keeps a politician in office, not money. Without question money plays a significant part in fostering positive or negative public opinion, but companies do not vote, nor can they buy themselves more votes by spending more money. Money may influence the result, it does not guarantee it, ex. Meg Whitman in the California governor race of 2010.[3]

Second, if politicians were so corrupted by special interests that they had become unaccountable, we would expect to see incumbents regularly re-elected and low individual approval ratings i.e. the special interests buying their candidate into office against the will of the people. This is not the case. Gallup polls show that while congress’ approval ratings are consistently low as a group (ranging between 17%-25%), the average approval rating of individual representatives is between 54-62%, which is enough to get them re-elected every time.[4] One of several conclusions is possible from this information: either lobbyists interests are adverse to the people but do not have a significant and continuing effect upon politicians, or their effect is not adverse to the wishes of the constituents. Either way, the politicians are still popular enough among their voters to win their votes, quite apart from special interests.

Third, the amount of money spent by lobbyists will not be affected by term limits, because the incentive structure is still the same; the risks and rewards of influencing a powerful government to grant favors, contracts, or exemptions would change only if the powers of the Federal government were reduced. If there was less to gain by influencing politics, the money would be better spent elsewhere. So long as the government powers is great, so long will there be an incentive to influence its powers. Changing one person for another does nothing to affect this.

Weakened Democracy:

The single most important principle of representative government is the ability of people to choose who they want to lead and represent them. This principle allows for efficient and accountable government. Term limits significantly weaken this principle. Such policies effectively patronize the people by allowing them a few chances to choose who they like, and then denying them that choice after an arbitrary amount of time.

James Madison

Madison believed frequent, regular elections were the ultimate check upon government power.

Competency:

In addition to denying the people the choice of who they want, term limits would inhibit progress in congress, not foster it; while Ted Cruz may opine that the Founders envisioned a Congress with a ‘citizen legislature’ without any “career politicians”, there is little evidence that even the first congress worked out that way.[5] The workings of a national government are complex, and the experience needed to familiarize a person with the processes, interests and policies to create and implement effective policy will not come about over a period of six years. Politicians need time to become effective in office. John Adams, James Madison, George Washington, Hamilton, and Benjamin Franklin were all “career politicians” and our country was much better off for it. Shortening the time a person can spend in office will shorten their ability to become effective.

The Establishment Bureaucracy:

Term limits, it is theorized, will create an incentive for new congressmen to reclaim powers previously delegated to the President and the unelected bureaucracy.[6] This is unlikely. Term limits would change who is in office, but they would not change the power structure or improve the way congressmen vote.

When congressmen vote they must balance their personal views against the wishes of their constituents. But whether they vote rashly or prudently is tied to whether they will face the wrath of voters come re-election. Term limits would remove this incentive. They will have no reason to struggle to reclaim powers and accountability if they will not be in office long enough to use those powers.

In sum, term limits will do nothing positive to change the incentives for congressmen to vote: they will make them less accountable in their final term, will not encourage them reclaim powers they’ve given up, will not change the incentive to spend money lobbying and campaigning, and will harm the democratic process. Real change is possible, but this is not the way to do it. Structural change should be directed at the powers of the Federal government, not limiting the choices of the people.

[1] http://www.npr.org/2016/11/09/501451368/here-is-what-donald-trump-wants-to-do-in-his-first-100-days

[2]https://www.cruz.senate.gov/files/documents/Bills/20170103_TermLimitsBill.pdf

[3] http://www.cnn.com/2010/OPINION/11/03/navarrette.california.whitman/index.html

[4] http://www.gallup.com/poll/162362/americans-down-congress-own-representative.aspx

[5] https://www.cruz.senate.gov/?p=press_release&id=2940

[6] http://www.learnliberty.org/blog/why-congressional-term-limits-could-limit-presidential-power/