Posted in All Things American, Uncategorized

Freedom & American Exceptionalism: Part I

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In his Inaugural Address the 40th President of the United States, Ronald Wilson Reagan, affirmed his belief that America was exceptional, special and unique among nations. America’s long-standing success and liberty was perceived by nations around the world as a miracle of history. That miracle, Reagan believed, was the spirit found in individual Americans, and the political system that unleashed their potential.

Reagan’s belief was not novel, nor was it political. It was found in the laws of nature, America’s history, and it was found to exist by critical observers, most notably the French political thinker and historian, Alexis de Tocqueville. America was exceptional because she was free, and this freedom was founded on timeless principles of natural law and rights which recognized the human dignity of the individual.

Reagan’s ideas were thought revolutionary when he was elected president, even inspiring a book compiling these ideas, written in Reagan’s own hand, in 2001. But Reagan’s ideas were not revolutionary, as has been offered by some critical scholars. They pre-dated America’s founding, were found in the writings of the ancient philosophers and religious sages, were embraced by the Founding Fathers, and acknowledged by the French historian and philosopher Alexis de Tocqueville in 1835 as the key to America’s greatness.

Reagan’s vision sought to restore America to her original ideals, to re-kindle them as it were, not to install something new. America’s foundation was sound and established in history. If she was going to be restored to greatness, Reagan knew, Americans needed to be reminded of their unique station in life as divine creatures, created to be free. Tocqueville had observed that many believed these principles and values were “irresistible.” They were uniform, ancient, and the most permanent tendency to be found in history. Reagan knew this, too. Today many Americans have forgotten it. Our children aren’t even taught them anymore. We cannot let these ideas die, or be forgotten.

American Exceptionalism

America’s greatness was not created in a vacuum and it was not the result of new and revolutionary ideas. It rested on those principles that were found in her heritage, a heritage not limited to the Founding Era, but could also be found in creation itself, and observed throughout history. These principles were built into American institutions and lived in the hearts of her citizens. America, Tocqueville said in 1835, possessed an almost religious enthusiasm for her ancient customs and laws, virtues and rights. In 1981, however, that enthusiasm was gone. America had lost its enthusiasm because she had lost her way. She had forgotten her heritage and institutions. Reagan’s address was the first step toward restoring it, and the timeless values that brought it. We would do well to follow Reagan’s lead.

When Reagan gave his Inaugural Address in 1981, he outlined a bold vision for America. In doing so he reiterated these timeless principles that had led to America’s greatness. Quoting Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address, he reminded Americans of their government “of the people, by the people, and for the people.” Self-governance was her heritage, with each American in charge of his own destiny, pursuing his own happiness, while contributing to the good of the nation.

What was the origin of this belief? It was found in the principle of equality, of men in harmony with the laws of nature, which led to an understanding of man’s responsibility in the divine order, and the God who established it. Today we have become content to accept the oligarchy that our government has become, surrendering our individual freedom to people that don’t accept those inalienable truths, and are willing to once again become “subjects” to a ruling class.

In America, though all men were equal, they contributed to America’s greatness in different ways, Reagan said, each according to the special talents of his vocation. Aristotle himself, in his renowned discourses on the body politic, had said the same, emphasizing the importance of these individual contributions in striving for a just society. In his acknowledgement of accountability to this divine order, Aristotle accepted that these various individual associations came together to form a community, and government was required to protect and encourage its pursuits.

Reagan believed Americans had been sold on the reversal of that relationship, with individuals meant to serve a pre-existent government and her aims, rather than pursuing their individual goals with a consideration toward divine accountability and purpose. It was stifling American growth and inhibiting her God-given right to pursue happiness. America was better than this. If she was ever going to reach her potential, she needed to return to the principles that first empowered her. Government should help, not hinder those pursuits. This idea, though sitting on a dusty shelf in America’s annals of history is still true, even it not taught or encouraged.

Reagan was not simply choosing to use inspiring rhetoric. He truly believed these things, with former aides noting that his Inaugural Address was simply a reflection of his personal philosophy. He believed Americans believed it to, they had just forgotten. When one considers the observations of Tocqueville, and his praising of the independent spirit and self-reliance of Americans, Reagan had a point, and his point was grounded in America’s history. These characteristics were the basis of dreaming big dreams. America could solve big problems, accomplish great things, and live in peace. It was her God-given right and destiny. What she needed was a little history lesson.

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Posted in Bible Study, Theology, & Christian Living, Uncategorized

Teaching the Bible: It’s About the Relationship-Part II

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Strong relationships rely on good communication. I need to communicate in a way that is conducive to learning. With adults in particular, the old classroom setting with the authoritarian teacher demanding attention, that they learned to loathe when they were children, must be abandoned. These are God’s students; I am merely the messenger.

These students are not objects to boss around; they are people who need to be nurtured in their faith. It is not my job to be their sole source of information. My job is to direct them to the only source of information, God. In this way we share the learning together, not just as teacher and pupil, but as a group of people seeking the Lord together.

These group dynamics are important in the life of any learner and, as a teacher, I have a direct impact on the attitude of my students. While the personal relationship between teacher and student is important, it is also important that a teacher encourages strong relationships between the students themselves since believers are all members of one body of Christ.

Personally, I take the first five minutes of my Sunday school class just talking about whatever is the hot topic of the day, from the latest baseball trade, the Super Bowl, the hot button political issues, even the weather. I have seen fifteen year olds chat intimately with sixty year olds during this time. We all laugh together, debate each other, and rib each other. More importantly, we all grow together in our relationship to one another. When the good weather arrives, we usually try to have one good barbecue together. By being involved in each other’s lives, in a context we are all comfortable with, we serve to encourage each other—to learn, to grow, and minister to others. The apostle Paul recognized the importance of this, using this truth in his own ministry.

This environment of encouragement serves as a fertile ground for learning. With the students encouraging each other, the teacher’s job is made significantly easier if the right methods are employed. It is not enough, though, even in this fertile environment, to just stand up and teach. A farmer, to use an analogy, once he has tilled and fertilized his soil, does not just simply throw seed anywhere without thought or plan. He carefully selects, by using many factors, what he will plant, where, and how. Since the Word of God is called a seed by the Lord Jesus, Bible teachers can take a lesson or two from the farmer. The farmer must learn first what he can sell at market. It makes no sense to grow something he cannot sell.

A Bible teacher’s lesson must be relevant; it must find a “market” in the lives of the students. Teaching on Levitical law may have its purpose, but if your church is suffering through hard financial times, perhaps teaching on faith and responsible stewardship will find more fertile ground. A farmer also organizes his crops, sometimes planting them in different soils according to a crop’s ability to grow in certain environments. The Bible teacher must also understand that each lesson may “grow” differently in each student and that must be considered in the presentation of any lesson.

Finally, the teacher must have an organized approach to communicating information with a clear objective in mind, whether it is specific application of knowledge or knowledge for personal enrichment. Very few students will stay on the ride if they do not know where it is going. To return to the farmer analogy, he also has a destination, to reap crops. But his process is very systematic—plan, till, fertilize, plant, water, grow, and harvest. If the process is in any way out of sequence, his yield is affected.

If the Bible student knows where he is going, why he should go there, the plan for reaching the destination, and the reason for the trip, the struggle to get him there is greatly diminished. In specific regard to application, when the system for instruction is clearly given, with the reasons being fully understood, the knowledge that is imparted to the student, once he has agreed to take the ride, has a greater chance of taking root and being applied in his life.

Having been a teacher in several different capacities—adjunct college professor, home school parent, Sunday school for junior high students, Sunday school for adults, and training officer for law enforcement organizations, I can offer some advice:

  • First, to be credible, a teacher must know the subject matter. For the Bible teacher, it is not simply knowing what the Word of God says, but knowing the God who wrote it; know His Word and you will be credible with your audience.
  • Second, know what subject matter is important to your audience and the only way to know that is to know the students on a personal level; spend time with them, get to know them, and let them get to know you. If they know you care, they will listen to you.
  • Third, do not be afraid to share personal experiences with your students, even if they portray you in a negative light. It shows you are genuine and gives more power to your testimony and your teaching material, especially if what you are teaching has proven true in your life. If it is good enough for you, chances are it will be good enough for them.
  • Lastly, be prepared, even if you think you have good command of the material. Poor preparation will manifest itself in a hurry and it will demonstrate to your students that you do not really care about the material; if you do not care, neither will they. Impart knowledge with the passion that reveals a true concern for your students and their lives and you will always have an attentive audience that will apply what you have taught them.

Jesus was a Master, teacher, and friend. We need to be the same.

Posted in All Things American, Uncategorized

Even in Tragedy, Support the 2nd Amendment

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Evil will rear its ugly head and use whatever device is available, whether it’s a gun, automobile, knife, or bomb. We seem to be unwilling, as a society, to admit that evil will occur regardless of the availability of firearms and we should have the right to defend ourselves from it. Removing the device does not remove the evil, but our ability to defend ourselves can minimize its effect on us.

Our Constitutional Right

Thomas Jefferson wrote in the Declaration of Independence that all men are created equal, endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights…and that to secure these rights, governments were instituted among men. Government cannot take away these rights; it is responsible to secure them. The Preamble to the United States Constitution reads:

“We, the people of the United States in order to form a more perfect union, establish justice, insure domestic tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general welfare, and secure the blessings of liberty to ourselves and our posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.”

Outlined in that timeless document is the Bill of Rights—the first ten amendments. There you will find the 2nd Amendment—“A well-regulated militia being necessary to the security of a free state, the right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed.”

Clear & Settled

It seems pretty clear, doesn’t it? “…the right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed.” Though the language is clear as to the meaning of that clause it continually is debated in Congress, our state legislatures, and city councils all over America whenever an incident involves a gun. Our twenty-four hour news cycles will see to it that the necessary hysteria is created, which demands swift and sweeping action on “easy access to guns.”

The argument will be made that we need to place more restrictions on firearms possession to keep us safe. This argument should be viewed with caution, if not outright hostility. It’s not about safety, it’s about restricting individual rights. The arguments that will be made will try to indict all gun owners, based on “evidence” that would not convict anyone in an American court of law. It wouldn’t even result in an indictment. Attempting to apply further gun control measures on our collective society simply violates due process and is unconstitutional.

Presumption of Innocence, Due Process, & Irrelevant Arguments

Why do I say that? The explanation is simple. Before someone can be brought into a court of law and accused or convicted of a crime, resulting in the loss of their liberty, the accuser must have evidence that a crime was committed. Our system of justice doesn’t allow a charge or a conviction without evidence. Simply opining that someone belongs in jail is not sufficient.

If credible evidence is provided, the legal system presumes the accused is innocent. It is the accuser bears the burden of showing guilt. The justice system in America requires that guilt is never presumed, it must be proven.

Since the accuser has the burden of proof, meeting that burden to establish guilt requires meeting two more burdens: 1) the burden of production and 2) the burden of persuasion. The burden of production requires that some evidence be put forward by the accuser that suggests that there is a factual basis to proceed with charges. The burden of persuasion requires that the evidence that is put forward prove guilt beyond a reasonable doubt. Only then, according to our Constitution, can our system of justice proceed with any discussion of forfeited rights, like loss of liberty or other measures–like the loss of 2nd Amendment rights. This foundational legal truth is learned in the first year of most law schools. To briefly summarize:

  • Evidence must exist that is sufficient to accuse someone of a crime
  • We presume the accused is innocent
  • The accuser must meet the burden of proof
  • The evidence provided must establish guilt beyond a reasonable doubt

But we cannot just introduce any evidence. Evidence, too, must meet certain criteria before it is considered admissible in court. Admissible evidence falls into the following categories:

  • Direct evidence (ex. eyewitness testimony)
  • Circumstantial evidence (ex. a fingerprint at a crime scene)
  • Testimonial evidence (ex. oral testimony given under oath)
  • Real evidence (ex. physical evidence like possession of the murder weapon or other physical evidence connecting someone to a crime)
  • Scientific evidence (ex. forensic evidence like DNA)

The above is the only type of evidence allowed. We call this wonderful legal practice “due process.” No United States citizen can be deprived of “‘life’ (capital punishment), ‘liberty’ (imprisoned or suspension of rights), or ‘property'” (fines or forfeiture) without there first being an accusation, legitimate admissible evidence to support it, and it persuades an impartial audience (judge or jury) of guilt.

Gun control efforts—whether those efforts seek to regulate gun or ammunition purchases, outlaw guns that are presently lawfully owned, or severely restrict firearm possession—are not based on due process. Consider any gun-related tragedy. Each incident has inspired a number of efforts to place ever more restrictions on law-abiding gun owners, gun owners–mind you–who were never involved in the tragedy. Why? Guilt by association?

Let’s just be honest. The gun control lobby in America rests its case largely on what the court system calls subjective or irrelevant testimony. Thus, gun legislation that seeks to restrict your 2nd Amendment right is based on “evidence” that would not be allowed in open court. Imagine this scenario:

“Your, Honor, this man should be prohibited from owning a semi-automatic handgun with a high capacity magazine.”

“Why?”

“Well, sir, a similar handgun was used in a mass-shooting recently at a shopping mall.”

“Was this man the shooter?”

“No, your Honor.”

“What is the legal ground to take away this man’s handgun?”

“It’s similar to the one used in the mass-shooting.”

“How is that relevant to this man’s handgun?”

“Well, your Honor, we believe that owning the same kind of handgun increases the likelihood that this man will commit the same kind of crime.”

“What is the evidence to support this?”

“We feel that possessing a handgun with a high capacity magazine increases the likelihood this man will commit the same type of crime.”

The foundation of this argument–and ridiculous circular reasoning–is based on irrelevant and subjective testimony. The law-abiding gun owner is presumed guilty in this argument based on the actions of someone else (irrelevant) and the opinion (subjective) of the accuser. The accused in this scenario (the lawful gun owner) is denied his presumption of innocence, required by our criminal justice system, and an attempt is made to deprive him of his right to bear arms based on inadmissible “evidence.” There is simply no legal basis for establishing guilt and no justification to take away his 2nd Amendment rights.

The Illegitimacy of Gun Control Efforts

You can see the ridiculousness of the argument of the gun-control advocates. A little simple logic will illustrate the absurdity of it. Premise #1 states: John Doe is an insane killer. Premise #2 states: John Doe is a human being. Conclusion: All human beings are insane killers. The conclusion does not logically follow the premise here and it should not follow when applied to law-abiding gun owners.

We don’t take away driving privileges from all drivers because some of them drive drunk and kill people. We don’t deny 1st Amendment rights to all reporters because one reporter libeled someone else. Society would not tolerate it. It should not tolerate it when it’s applied to lawful gun owners, either.

Gun control advocates, however, are not deterred by this. Instead, they try and make an end run around the court system. It’s clever, really. They use the legislative process to introduce their “evidence,” evidence which would never be allowed in open court, to pressure legislators to enact restrictive gun control laws targeting law-abiding citizens as a group. This method, however legitimate it may appear, still denies individuals their presumption of innocence and circumvents due process of law.

There is no legitimacy to a process that seeks to use the legislature to deny a citizen a right he would never lose in court. However, in the arena of politics you do not need to present evidence that meets the “burden of production.” You do not need any evidence to meet the “burden of persuasion” or “burden of proof.” Heck, you do not even need to overcome reasonable doubt. You simply need to convince individual legislators that they can determine an individual’s guilt on the basis of behavior committed by someone else or the subjective opinion of what someone thinks they might do. Shame on our elected officials who fall for it.

We must fiercely be on guard to prevent these gross violations of our rights, especially in the face of tragedy. The 2nd Amendment to the United States Constitution states the right to keep and bear arms “shall not be infringed.” The 5th Amendment states that no person shall be “deprived of life, liberty, or property without due process of law…” To deny a citizen’s right to keep and bear arms–even through the seemingly legitimate legislative process–is to deny them liberty. We should not surrender our rights—any rights—as citizens because someone else abused theirs.

Posted in All Things American, Uncategorized

Why the 2nd Amendment is Still Important

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Exercise Your Right

“The police cannot be everywhere at once.” That statement would seem common sense to most people. In fact, if you do a cursory internet search of that sentence, you will find that it is an admitted truth from the President of the United States to the local police chief. You will find it admitted in newspapers, criminology research journals, police department websites, and by individual cops.

When we hear about crime-related tragedies we do not hear reasonable citizens ask “Where were the police?” Reasonable citizens know the police cannot be everywhere at once…nor do they expect them to be. The reasonable citizen knows that crime respects no boundaries. Crime does not wait for a police presence before it tries to infect our communities; it wants an advantage, not a fair fight. The Orlando bar, for example, was a gun-free establishment. Patrons need to disarm before they go in or they are committing a crime.

It’s rare when a crime is committed in the presence of a police officer, but it’s always committed in the presence of its victims. Police frequently respond to crimes only AFTER they have happened, AFTER the citizen has been victimized, AFTER victims have been shot. That is not a knock on cops, it just is what it is.

Who IS Responsible for YOUR Safety?

This introduces a really serious question: who IS responsible for our safety when the police are not there? When someone comes to break into our homes, who do we turn to for help? When someone pulls a gun and attempts to rob us while we are walking down the street, what do we do? When some nut decides to walk into a crowded establishment bent on as much murder and mayhem as possible, how do we protect ourselves? The answer has profound implications for a free society.

It’s ridiculous to suggest that we leave our fate in those circumstances to chance, hoping some lunatic–religiously motivated or just plain crazy–will choose not to harm us or our loved ones. It’s equally ridiculous to leave the fate of our families, homes, and community in those situations to law enforcement when it admits that it “cannot be everywhere at once.” Who, then, fills the void? Us? Our neighbors? Something else?

We MUST Be Free to Protect Ourselves

A variety of ideas have been suggested: encourage citizens to observe, monitor, and report suspicious activity in their communities. Heck, our own government leaders coined the phrase “if you see something, say something.” Neighborhood watches, expensive surveillance equipment, and security guards have been offered as an answer. Or, and I just love this one, put up a “gun-free zone” sign. None of them, however, would’ve stopped the Parkland school shooting, the Orlando bar shooting, or any other shooting, whatever the motivation…none.

And then there is the “gun control” argument. Since we have the police to protect us, we have no need to carry firearms for self-defense. Nonsense. There were 17 students killed in Parkland and over 100 victims in that Orlando bar. The government has admitted it cannot protect you, the “police cannot be everywhere at once,” remember? The argument that the 2nd Amendment is obsolete because we now have police officers or standing armies has no merit. In a free society, the citizen must be free to protect themselves and their families, not hope help will get there in time.

Stop Crime, Not Solve it After the Fact

That is what I want—what we should all want—the freedom and resources to stop a crime at the point of attack or even earlier. Once my loved one has been murdered, the sanctity of my home has been violated by a burglar, or my community has been ransacked by a riotous mob, “catching” the person who did it becomes a secondary—and very distant—concern. I want my loved one back, the sanctity of my home and peace of my community restored.

Resolution after the fact is not what I want. Do the families of those killed in Parkland, Orlando, or any other shooting, find comfort in knowing the gunman who killed their loved one is also dead? Or has been apprehended? No. The loved one is still dead. In short, I want crime prevention, not criminal apprehension and there is a very big difference.

All of life’s good intentions, well wishes, positive thinking, and pixie dust are no match for a determined criminal. You are on your own. YOU are responsible for your safety and the safety of your loved ones. As a wise sage once said, “When seconds count, the police are only minutes away.” And that is just not good enough.

Posted in Religion & Politics, Uncategorized

America Should Agree with President Trump on Immigration

LegalImmigration

America is what President Ronald Reagan called the “shining city on the hill.” The Statue of Liberty welcomes immigrants to the “golden door.” I get it. President Trump gets it. Most Americans gets it. My grandfather was an immigrant. President Trump had family who were immigrants. Immigrants have thrived in America. But there is an expectation in America’s offering to the “huddled masses yearning to breathe free.”

Let’s first understand a few things. America is not a candy store. It’s not a far-off fantasy land where money grows on trees and things are free. It’s not a place where you can sit on your duffs, not work, and go out to the mail once a month and collect the check that buys free stuff. There are some who would like us to believe that’s what America is. It isn’t. It’s what some want to make it…but that’s not what America is.

Immigrants should know that when they come to America, the rest of America is ready to welcome them, subject to meeting certain expectations. Here is what I, and I think most Americans, expect:

  • We expect immigrants who come to America to become Americans. If you are coming from a country where the quality of life caused you to flee, then leave that country behind you. Embrace the things about America that brought you here.
  • We I expect immigrants to honor the American flag and mourn for those who died to defend it. America is great because those men and women believed her values were worth dying for and wanted to preserve them for their loved ones. You have a place to escape to because that road is paved with their sacrifice. Respect it. Recognize it. Honor it. Don’t try to change the values they died for.
  • We expect immigrants to learn the language–English. Unwillingness to do so means you don’t wish to communicate with Americans or become part of our nation or our communities. You’re the guest who wants to make their own rules.
  • We expect immigrants to respect the U.S. Constitution. The bedrock principles found in that document are the foundation of everything that made you want to come to America in the first place. I don’t expect you to come from a country where you feared for your safety and then come to America and try to make it like the country you fled from. The U.S. Constitution IS the supreme law of the land. Don’t try to subordinate it to something else.
  • We expect immigrants to earn their own way. America is not a free ride and every dollar of support that comes from the federal government to support you comes from the pocket of someone else, someone with a family that has needs, too. Coming to America because you think you can sit back with your hand out is tantamount to theft. It’s not our responsibility to provide for your family. It’s yours.
  • We expect immigrants to respect the rights of other Americans–their right to honor the flag, worship as they choose, eat what they wish, love who they wish–without you being offended.
  • We expect immigrants to do no harm. Don’t come to America to create strife, wage war, sell drugs, or commit crimes against the people who live here.
  • Finally, we expect immigrants to come to America legally, like they did for decades, not sneak in the back door and force Americans to support you. Come in the front door, be willing to offer everything you have, and work–like all of the immigrants before you.

President Trump’s hard-line stance is to ensure American values are preserved. America is very pro-immigrant. The invitation to the “huddled masses” has always been open. But there are certain expectations. It is not a lawless free-for-all. These expectations are not unfair. They are not unreasonable. They are not anti-immigrant. Meet them and you will be welcome here. If not, I greet with suspicion why you wanted to come in the first place. The rest of America will, too.