Saturday, September 11, 2021
Daniel J. Summers
The events of the last month have been difficult to watch as they unfolded. Pages and pages have been written about our withdrawal from Afghanistan, and its hasty collapse that occurred before our own withdrawal was complete. There is a discussion to be had regarding military withdrawal strategies, whether it was even necessary, etc. (especially when I've seen no one espouse how I would have handled it) However, that is not what is occupying the majority of my thoughts when I reflect over the past 20 years; rather, it's the people.
I've been thinking about Louis Neil Mariani (“Neil”). I profiled him back in 2009, and his story is heartbreaking. When I searched his name again, I found that his wife Ellen was one of the last victim families to sue vs. taking the compensation fund payouts. Losing her husband wasn't enough; she spent years raising funds and bouncing through some questionable legal representation, just to be told that she could not have her day in court. I have no idea what either of their politics are - it doesn't matter, and that's the point. I mourn for Neil, Ellen, and the entire Mariani family - and I wonder if we, as a nation, have learned anything from their involuntary sacrifice.
I've also been thinking about the time I spent deployed back in 2006. It got me thinking even then, but it's come to mind more frequently, particularly with the Afghanistan collapse. One of the aspects of that job was to open, inspect, and repair packages that were found to be damaged when they passed through our facility. In doing this, I would see glimpses of what was being sent to the military members downrange; quite frequently, it was pictures of children, love notes from spouses, and food items that weren't easily available in a combat zone. We also, on occasion, had to inspect mail headed home from the war zone. In these, too, I would see family memorabilia, often wrinkled and dirty; they had accompanied their owner through some very difficult times.
These difficult times didn't always have a happy ending. There were marriages strained, many broken; even among my paltry crew of thirteen co-workers, there were families dissolved because of those four months. This toll, too, is something I mourn; each party usually bears some of the blame when a marriage ends, but the circumstances that led to that dissolution were brought on by the stresses of war.
I realize that some of these marital partnerships may not have made it; if it wasn't the war, it would have been something else. Maybe Neil would still be alive and well, preparing for his 80th birthday soon - but maybe not. The “maybe” questions belie what is behind much of the mourning, which is the loss of potential - unrealized potential, unjustly snatched from its owner well before it should have been.
One of the hardest questions I've fielded over the past month or so is “How are you?” I try to say the requisite “fine” in return, but sometimes the question just hits differently. My… uh, eyes sweat… way more than they used too. I mourn that we lost thirteen Americans, and untold Afghans who had been “on our team” as we ham-handedly exited that nation. I mourn the “falling man” picture of 9/11, and the very similar images of people falling off the landing gear 20 years later, so desperate to escape. A younger version of me would have been angered by this; now, though, my main emotion is sorrow.
It is important, though, to not let the sorrow and long-term futility of the heroic efforts of so many - so great a price for so quick a loss - give rise to despair. One of the most encouraging things I have read over the past month was a Sunday French Press entitled “They Held the Line”; I would encourage you to read it as well, especially since this post is not going to end with some uplifting, inspiring hope for the future.
“Never Forget” became the rallying cry after 9/11 (even though it had previously been used regarding the Holocaust; I guess we did, in fact, forget). But, for those of us who prosecuted the War on Terror, forgetting will never be an issue. My prayer is that future generations will not have such an agonizing event, and a 20-year struggle to defeat a difficult enemy, where the hard fought gains are lost before our boots have even left the soil.
Saturday, April 17, 2021
Daniel J. Summers
My father passed away in late January of this year, and I had the honor of delivering the eulogy at his funeral service. Over the past few months, I've tried to write different tributes to him, but I did not like any of those attempts more than what I said about him that day.
I love you, Dad, and I miss you very much.
Allen Jackson Summers – born Valentine's Day 1944, passed 3 days before his 52nd anniversary, faithful husband, and, quite possibly his most notable achievement, fathered the best two kids ever to walk the earth! No, I'm not here to present an exaggerated, self-serving obituary; I'm here to honor the man I've called Dad for 47 years. In the day-to-day busyness of life, we often don’t take the time to think through and identify just what exactly makes our loved ones so special. When I started thinking, though, it was very easy, and two big things came to mind.
The second was his humor; he has been funny for as long as I can remember. Growing up, we had joke books that we could read – and we did, then borrowed more from the library when we finished those. Every Sunday after church, we’d stop by White Star Market and get the Sunday paper. When we got it home, Mom got the coupons, but Dad got the funnies. His prowess with puns was near-legendary. It didn't matter if he got a laugh or a groan; any noise he could coax from you would signify a well-executed pun. He knew the short ones ("How many tickles does it take to make an octopus laugh? Ten tickles."), but he would also tell elaborate stories, just for the punny punchline at the end. I'll recount one of his that I remember, and you can honor him with whatever sound it inspires in you.
A piano player asked his piano player friend if he had any recommendations for someone to tune his piano. “Of course,” he replied, “Opperknockity is who I use.”
“What kind of name is that?” asks the guy.
“It’s odd, but he does great work,” was the reply.
So, the player calls Opperknockity, who comes and tunes the piano. He leaves his card, and says to call him again once the piano starts to lose its tune. Well, 6 months in, the piano still sounds great. A year in, still perfectly tuned.
A few months after that, he sees his friend again, and tells him he can't believe his piano is still in tune! His friend said, “Don’t you what they say? Opperknockity only tunes once!”
I mentioned that his humor was the second thing I thought about; the first was what I would describe as his quiet faithfulness. Despite his joke-telling, he was rarely the one in the center of attention. He worked 3rd shift at a few different jobs, and he did very well with very little supervision. Every year, he worked as the registrar for Neighborhood Bible Time, staying late after each night's activities to ensure that the boosters were recognized for the work they were doing, keeping them motivated to memorize Scripture. I know he fell right back into that when he moved back to Seymour; I don't know who did it while he was gone, but they didn't seem to mind giving that job back to him!
Growing up, I remember that even though he worked 3rd shift, he would go to the Rescue Mission's Thursday dinner and Bible study. He would go even when he wasn't actually presenting that day, just to be there to talk with those who came. He served in the bus ministry. He sang in the choir. In our home, we always had daily family devotions, and I can't remember ever noticing him missing his own personal devotional time.
I could probably fill lots of time talking about the many things he did - things very few people may have seen - but these things made a vital impact for the kingdom of God. 1 Corinthians 4:2 says “Moreover it is required in stewards, that a man be found faithful.” I can stand here today and say that he lived that verse out in many, many ways; and, while my ministry opportunities have often led to serving more publicly, I pray that I have followed his footsteps.
In 1 John 2:6, John writes “He that saith he abideth in Him ought himself also so to walk, even as He walked.” Dad modeled this in his life, and pointed many people to Christ through his example – including both his children. One of his favorite hymns was “He Hideth My Soul,” with the chorus taken from Psalm 63 and John 10. (We sang the first and last verses of this song of praise.)
A wonderful Savior is Jesus my Lord,
A wonderful Savior to me;
He hideth my soul in the cleft of the rock,
Where rivers of pleasure I see.
He hideth my soul in the cleft of the rock,
That shadows a dry, thirsty land;
He hideth my life in the depths of His love,
And covers me there with His hand,
And covers me there with His hand.
When clothed with His brightness transported I rise
To meet Him in clouds of the sky,
His perfect salvation, His wonderful love,
I’ll shout with the millions on high.
He hideth my soul in the cleft of the rock,
That shadows a dry, thirsty land;
He hideth my life in the depths of His love,
And covers me there with His hand,
And covers me there with His hand.
– “He Hideth My Soul” by Fanny J. Crosby (public domain)
We are now 4 solid months into America's reaction to COVID-19. Early on, the focus was on a national response to a pandemic that affected New York and Washington State most acutely; ventilators, masks, and all sorts of personal protective equipment were in short supply (or so we were told), and it was the Federal government's job to get the states these vitally important supplies. Many people clamored for a national lockdown order to keep the virus from spreading; never mind that a) the Federal government does not have that power, and b) the same people clamoring for heavy-handed action from Washington, D.C. were the same people who constantly told us that the current occupant is just waiting for his chance to become a dictator.
The national order never came, and the reason why leads us to our first term; if you read the linked article above, you saw David call it “federalism at work.” The word “federalism” can be a bit confusing, as we use Federal government and national government (or U.S. government) synonymously; however, “federalism” is the opposite of a centralized government. Federalism pushes as much responsibility and power as possible to the lowest level possible, the idea being that government “of the people, by the people, and for the people” is best done by people in close proximity to one another. Our Federal government gets that name because it is a federation of the “several states” (to use the term from the Constitution) designed to deal with national-level issues.
How does federalism help us with our pandemic response? Easy - the states are in control of their responses, and can ask for help from the Federal government if they need it. We have seen this as the various states have begun their reopening procedures. Some have been aggressive, and ended up having to pull back; other states have been as aggressive, and have not seen as many issues. Some states are opening more cautiously - and, again, some are fine, but some are seeing cases spike in spite of that. Taken in isolation, this demonstrates that there is no one right answer for the nation at large. As we head into fall, states, cities, and school districts are trying to decide what school will look like; the one thing we can say for certain is that there will not be 50-state uniformity in these plans.
Back in the 1930s, Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis voiced a concept that is now paraphrased "The states are laboratories of democracy." The term “laboratory” is interesting, in light of the pandemic; they're now serving as laboratories for more than just democracy! Different states will try different things, with different results. As a nation, our job will be to determine if successes could replicated at a larger scale; not everything that works in one place will work everywhere, and as programs grow, their efficiency often wanes. Federalism gives us a structure where we can have these public policy debates, realizing that we do not have to come up with a national answer. (I realize that I'm writing this in an election year; it can be tough to find candidates who say “Here's what I'm going to stop having the Federal government do ‘for’ you,” but you can find them if you try.)
The other principle I want to highlight is known as subsidiarity. That link will give you lots of history behind the word as a civil, political, and social concept; but, the quick version is the idea that issues are best handled at the lowest level possible, and the level that handles it is also responsible for it. Subsidiarity begins with self, and works outward to family / home, church / school, city / county / state, etc. A piece of trash on your kitchen floor is likely not a county issue; a missing guardrail on a dangerous curve is likely not something for your church to fix; and funding prisons is not likely the sole responsibility of your family. If you're thinking that it sounds a lot like federalism, you'd be right; federalism is subsidiarity in government.
Properly applying subsidiarity allows us to see positive changes in our communities. Politicians are going to politic; we can't control that. However, we can make sure that we are not becoming careless spreaders of disease. We, along with our families, can make food, do chores, or otherwise care for someone who needs it. Our churches and civic organizations are a great level for community-oriented help, and often serve as a way to get people who need help with those who can provide it. As each organization's focus gets wider, they are going to be the most productive if they can stay focused at that level. If they are having to do things that require more detail, they will be bogged down; if they are responsible for things above their level, they will not be able to do their actual mission.
A lot of the political anger overs masks vs. no masks, supplies, support, etc. can be seen as a failure of subsidiarity. Paul Harvey, the outstanding radio announcer, wrote “Government big enough to supply everything you need is big enough to take everything you have” (though this has widely been misattributed to Thomas Jefferson). The Federal government is the not the appropriate level for opening and closing decisions; that is why the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines are precisely that - guidelines. Wyoming is going to have different needs than Florida; and, within Wyoming, Laramie and Cheyenne may need a different focus than Moorcroft or Hyattville. Pushing these decisions up too high is asking for those decisions to be poor and/or insufficient.
This isn't to say that the Federal government does not have a role to play; through laws and programs, it has stockpiles of emergency supplies, and it has the ability to shift a large amount of money around (relatively) quickly. This can help those who need it; yet, even then, our culture is such that those who don't need the help will raise a stink about those who do need it actually getting it. We also saw that Paycheck Protection Program funds went to many entities that are most certainly not small businesses; this, too, can be seen as a failure of subsidiarity, as these companies represented themselves as (at least) a level below what they actually were.
There really is no grand conclusion here. Just as no government can blink and make a million tests appear, I cannot sit here behind my keyboard and prescribe how all this gets better. What I can do, though, is encourage each of us to embrace and employ the principles of federalism and subsidiarity as our best chance of getting the best results for the largest number of people. Insisting on a centralized response is insisting on a lackluster, inept response - no matter who is in the White House.
p.s. This was planned to be the 3rd installment of this series from the time I wrote part 1, which I expected to have done within 2 weeks. But, given the emphasis of that post, the timing of this just proves the assertion I made in that first post - we are not in control.
This Independence Day, I am saddened by news that pride in our nation has hit an all-time low(for the 20 years Gallup has been asking the question). I am saddened - but I am not surprised. This is the effect of emphasizing group identities over our collective one, the natural fruit of the “salad bowl, not a melting pot” tree. Some of us have been warning that viewpoints such as those were bad for the nation, and would lead to disunity; this has to be one of the least satisfying "I told you so"s of my life.
At this point, we have at least two generations of adults who learned history not as the facts about what happened, but as a narrative of American imperialism and subjugation of every non-white person they encountered. No wonder people are not proud to be part of a nation like that! These courses have failed to transfer the idea that, while imperfect, America is still a place where your voice can be heard, where opportunities to better yourself and your family (still) abound - a nation with vast resources and amazing beauty.
To be sure, we have not always lived up to our ideals. One of our culture's current hobbies is taking the worst possible interpretation of anything that ever happened; but, let's set that aside for a moment. The founding fathers have been derided for writing a Constitution that allowed for even the possibility that slavery could exist. Have you ever thought that, maybe, they deserve some credit for writing it in such a way that it was: a) an acceptable compromise for those who were pro-slavery, getting everyone to agree to rule by the same government; and b) contained the trap-door that eventually led to slavery's abolition? For their many flaws, they brought the country together, and moved us forward towards our ideals, even though they did not see that movement in their generation.
They did the hard work of building a nation. Tearing things down, the “revolution,” the violent mobs - all this is straight out of the Marxist playbook. As anyone who has ever had responsibility to maintain a home or a vehicle knows, it is way easier to tear things up than it is to preserve them; and, focusing on its flaws is a surefire way to discontentment.
Furthermore, forming “separate but equal” groups within a nation does nothing but encourage disunity, no matter how those groups are defined. The NFL is going to play “Lift Ev'ry Voice and Sing” prior to “The Star-Spangled Banner” for its week 1 games. In many respects, I have no issues with this. “Lift Ev'ry Voice and Sing” is a great song, and in some respects, speaks more directly to our ideals as a nation; I hope people will listen to the lyrics. The NFL is also free to do whatever it wants with its pregame ceremonies. However, this song is also known as the “black national anthem,” and given the NFL's history with protests during the national anthem, this seems to be kowtowing to those who have disrespected the flag and the anthem over the past few years. (Sure, call it protest; “it's not about the flag/anthem” is disingenuous, as they made it about those items when they selected them for their time of protest.)
The NFL isn't the only offender here - far from it. As a public service, let me provide this handy chart for those who truly value unity within our diversity…
This is fine…
This is not.
Working through these - supporting law enforcement is good; superimposing that on the US flag is not. While I disagree with the spirit behind the pride flag, its meaning is well-established; the US flag (per)version is offensive, and narrows their cause. (Did you know that there are nations where being gay is enough to get you jailed or killed by the government? None of those nations are "The United States of America.") Finally, as a Falcons fan, I find both flags on row 3 distasteful; however, I will staunchly defend my misguided NFC South opponents' right to fly the one on the left. (Superiority should be settled on the field, not in fandom; and, as a Falcons fan, I don't have a whole lot to point to in that regard in the recent past.)
Here's what the flags on the right should look like:
While the flags on the left are banners around which people can rally for a cause, the flags on the right take the United States flag and change it into a form of which not everyone will agree. In the spirit of diversity and inclusion (my cause + the US), they end up divisive and exclusive. (Lest you think that I've cherry-picked those symbols above, I've seen all three “in the wild” on multiple occasions.)
Everyone in our nation should be able to see themselves represented by the US flag; however, its supporters have not done much to make their argument. Particularly within the NFL controversy, it was said that disrespecting the flag and the national anthem was the equivalent of disrespecting the sacrifice of those who fought to gain and preserve our freedom. This is not untrue; I served for over 2 decades under that flag, and swore my life to protect and defend that “nation for which it stands.” That argument, though, is too narrow. It turns the US flag into the military flag, which becomes a symbol over which not all of the nation's citizens can agree.
Whether they agree with the current trajectory of the nation or not, every American should be able to see our flag and hear our national anthem, and take pride in their part of this American experiment, going strong now for 244 years. Our flag should be just that - our flag - and should encourage us to see each other as fellow Americans (no hyphens) with whom we can work together to bring us closer to our ideals. May future generations look back at us, and describe us the way I described the founding fathers above. “You know, they had some issues, but they really did a great job bringing us together as a nation, and moving us forward in a land of liberty.”
p.s. Some may say “Are you really this upset about symbolism?” Well - yeah; if we can't agree on the symbolism, how on earth are we going to agree on substance? How can we have serious discussion over multiple ways to get to our goal if we don't agree on what that goal should be? That's -literally- the reason nations are formed.
p.p.s. Unity does not mean uniformity; I have a draft of my next worldview lesson post that dives into federalism and subsidiarity, and its importance in realizing the most effective governance for all. I may have it posted later this month.
The death of George Floyd, at the hands (and knees) of Minneapolis police, was a spark that has lit protests around the world. These protests have varying themes, but most are either against excessive police brutality or “systemic racism.” On the latter - note the scare quotes - many white people believe that this is not the case, as they harbor no racial animus themselves, nor do they know anyone who does. How can people with dark skin look at a system and cry “racism” if we can't see it?
The Dispatch has been doing “Dispatch Live” events for its members, and the one this past Thursday is the genesis of this post. David, Steve Hayes, Jonah Goldberg, and Sarah Isgur were discussing the disconnect I described above, how people's observations and claimed experiences could be so different. They asked David about his experience, and if there was a way we could think about it. What follows is my paraphrase of his point (even though it's in a block quote to set it off from my own thoughts).
Grant the following two assumptions:
First, assume that 1 in 10 white people is racist.
Second, assume that these 1-in-10 people know that their views are unwelcome by the other 9, so they don't ever give any indication of their racist views.
This means that, as white people, we don't know any racists (technically, we don't know that we know any racists). But, as a black person, every tenth white person you meet treats you poorly.
I thought that this was profound, as a great way to understand someone else's lived experience. And, the principle holds even if you want to say that the ratio is more like 1:100 - especially when the consequences of that one interaction could leave you in George Floyd's current state.
(Follow David to keep up with his writing, and subscribe to The Dispatch; it's one of the best places on the Internet.)
Saturday, April 18, 2020
Daniel J. Summers
When orders started coming out to avoid groups larger than 250, then 50, then 10, many organizations were affected. The NBA season ended almost immediately, NCAA's March Madness tournament was canceled, Major League Baseball has yet to have opening day, concerts have been canceled, and theaters have sat empty for a month. Churches are also place where regular meetings of more than 10 people occur, and they were affected as well. And, while sport and concert tickets can be refunded, and movie release dates pushed back, very few churches have chosen to go completely idle during this time.
Some people may just accept it. Others, though, may wonder why, and some people may completely not understand. If you can rewatch your favorite series on Netflix, why not rewatch or relisten to your favorite sermon? Nearly everyone owns at least one Bible, and even if not, Bible Gateway is free! Just read the Bible for yourself! In this installment, we'll look at the concept of “church during a pandemic” from the Christian worldview, and see why its practitioners feel it is essential.
Scripture Commands and Exemplifies It
The best-known verse cited as a reason to gather regularly is Hebrews 10:25, presented here in context with verse 24:
24 And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, 25 not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near.
We also see it in the example of the early church, meeting together every day!
46 And day by day, attending the temple together and breaking bread in their homes, they received their food with glad and generous hearts, 47 praising God and having favor with all the people. And the Lord added to their number day by day those who were being saved.
This is far from exhaustive (remember the “bite-sized” nature of these posts), but from these origins, believers have regularly met together. And, while I'm not aware of a church that has the full Sunday morning treatment every day of the week, there are churches that have activities nearly every day. These activities help believers obey this command and follow the example of those who came before us.
An interesting companion study of Scripture is to study times where Christians did not meet together, or where they adjusted their techniques due to government persecution. That would push this way longer than I've planned to write, but there are examples of people separating themselves for sickness, and of abandoning the temple for smaller gatherings in homes. I know of no orthodox Christians who have continued their normal services during these times.
Christians Need It
Notice that, in the above two passages, there was more than just a command or an example - there was a recognized or promised benefit. In Hebrews, believers meet together to stir up each other towards love and good works, and in Acts, they had glad and generous hearts. Meeting together with other believers was commanded because God knew that we, as Christians, would need those benefits. In one of his earliest recorded letters, Paul is discussing various spiritual gifts, and this is what he says as he concludes that discussion:
26 What then, brothers? When you come together, each one has a hymn, a lesson, a revelation, a tongue, or an interpretation. Let all things be done for building up.
Christians can get these benefits virtually, and many have been. Prior to this, we would have scoffed at Zoom Sunday School classes; now, we are grateful for the tools that allow us to stay connected. I can't remember who I first heard say “the Internet is a terrible place to go to church” (and they were right), but in a pinch, it's been a great way to continue in fellowship with other believers. (Once this all goes away, these go back to being true; in-person is still preferable. There are many benefits these tools don't provide.)
We All Need Hope
This is a dark time for many people. They have lost jobs and have no idea where money is coming from next week. They have lost loved ones, and weren't even able to see them for the last weeks of their lives. They are depressed, the normal routine of a life they enjoyed exchanged for a house that feels like a jail. These are not people who need to “suck it up” and get over it – these are people with real, genuine hurts, and the world offers them very little in the way of comfort or hope.
Jesus, though, offers hope to hurting people. He spent His entire earthly ministry “comforting the afflicted and afflicting the comfortable.” We, as the church, carry on His ministry today; but how can we offer hope if all we have is a greatest hits playlist? Hurting people need acceptance, a listening ear, and kind words; these pre-recorded messages may have truth, but struggling people “don't care what you know until they know that you care.” Jesus offers salvation, which addresses the root of all of our problems, and He offers hope and peace between here and Heaven; we are the ambassadors He's trusted to share that message.
Churches also need to meet to mobilize help where it may be needed. Most churches have several members who struggle to get out and get the things they need when nothing is wrong; under these conditions, they simply can't do it. Most churches also have able-bodied, healthy members who can care for those who are struggling. We cannot build up the body (physically or spiritually) if we do not know the needs.
So, that is why you see churches live-streaming, driving CDs around, renting FM transmitters to let people park at the church and attend from their cars – it is that important. And, I'll wrap up with a bit of afflicting the comfortable – shouldn't our “salt and light” be so self-evident that no one wonders why we're still meeting?
As I enter week 5 of working from home, our nation is walking through its 2nd month – and the world is wrapping up its 3rd month – dealing with SARS-CoV-2 (AKA “novel coronavirus 2019,” the virus behind COVID-19). Responses to this virus are testing Americans' worldviews like nothing else in our current lifetime. Things are moving fast, and scientists and doctors are learning how to fight a new disease on-the-fly, while the fatality rate continues to creep up, and is at 3%+ as of this writing. Authoring a definitive tome on the entire thing is outside my abilities (and time constraints), but I thought I would write about some individual aspects, and consider how each one meshes with my understanding of a proper Christian worldview.
This first one came to my mind as I wondered “what form of government is best at handling this?” As I've read about various efforts at prevention and management from around the world, the answer to which I arrived was “none of them.” To be fair, some countries have fared better than others; but, to also be fair, comparing countries is a pretty terrible way to understand this pandemic. Communist countries, socialist nations, democracies, and republics have all fallen victim to this disease, especially in their larger population centers. No nation has been able to prevent the initial spread of this virus into their borders.
This does not match the expectations many people are levying on those governments. The clamoring has been loud and long for tests and treatments, and many of these people seem to think that government can just have these things at the ready, long before a need for them arises. They have a view of government and science that simply does not jibe with reality. When doctors make harmless mistakes, or miss a diagnosis that they eventually catch, we sometimes joke that “that's why it's called medical practice.” But, in reality, that is exactly why the term exists. To be sure, there is established science and a body of medical knowledge that, were its practitioners to ignore, they would be considered negligent. However, there is always the possibility that a doctor is encountering something that is either unknown, or presenting differently than current wisdom or protocols suggest.
Even if the medical care was there, though, the Federal government is wholly inept at doing anything, on a large scale, quickly and correctly. This is not a knock on it per se, and deeper discussions of government, both good and bad, will appear in future installments. The biggest reason for this broad statement is simply its size; it is nearly impossible to get a large organization to do anything quickly, much less something as large as a national response to this crisis. Think of the RMS Titanic - there is a reason they couldn't avoid the iceberg, even though they spotted it before they struck it.
So, how does the Christian worldview address this? Quite simply - “duh!” Of course we are not in control. This world is fallen, cursed with sin, and subject to all manners of calamities.* Job experienced a lot of calamities, and asked God a lot of questions. When God came to answer him, though, He asserted His sovereignty over this entire planet:
1 Then the Lord answered Job out of the whirlwind and said:
2 "Who is this that darkens counsel by words without knowledge? 3 Dress for action like a man;
I will question you, and you make it known to me.
4 "Where were you when I laid the foundation of the earth?
Tell me, if you have understanding. 5 Who determined its measurements—surely you know!
Or who stretched the line upon it? 6 On what were its bases sunk,
or who laid its cornerstone, 7 when the morning stars sang together
and all the sons of God shouted for joy?
8 “Or who shut in the sea with doors
when it burst out from the womb, 9 when I made clouds its garment
and thick darkness its swaddling band, 10 and prescribed limits for it
and set bars and doors, 11 and said, ‘Thus far shall you come, and no farther,
and here shall your proud waves be stayed’?”
We trust that God is continuing to work His will on this earth, whether through a pandemic or in spite of it; and, we also trust that He is big enough to protect us through it, and give us wisdom as we navigate these changing times. We also give thanks that God's size does not affect Him the way it does our human institutions.
* As I finish writing this, I've learned that my high school alma mater was devastated by a tornado overnight; be praying for Grace Baptist Church and Academy, and all of those throughout the southeast who lost something much more precious than a building.
Wednesday, January 1, 2020
Daniel J. Summers
“Dave” is David Alton Herrington, my father-in-law of right at 24 years (counting engagement time as well). He passed away Monday evening after a multi-year battle with cancer. I'm sad, to be sure, but when I think back to who he was and the time we had together, behind the sadness is a large pool of gratitude. The remainder of this is addressed to him, but public so that others know the positive impacts he had on my life. (I'm also grateful that I did not wait to share this with him; though the words aren't verbatim, nothing here would be new to him.)
First, thank you for your daughter. Listing the ways she improved my life would likely fall short; from changing my outlook on my own talents, abilities, and worth, to the gift of your three grandsons, to unconditional love, to challenges when I needed it - I am the man I am today, in large part, because of her. A girl does not become a woman of her character in a vacuum; your guidance is a large part of who she is today, and I am forever grateful for that. Besides, without her, I likely would not have even known you - and my life would have been lesser because of that.
Next, thank you for welcoming me as your son. That same guidance that helped Michelle also helped me. From clean laundry back before Michelle and I were even married, to a place to stay when we visited, to places to stay even when we weren't with you, to trips with you, you spared no resources to make sure that my family had a place to stay and a means to get where we were going. You advised me on investments, and not taking your advice is one of my regrets - you were right on that! You also respected who I was as a man - you didn't try to change me into you; that meant a lot.
Thank you, also, for being strong. Whether it was in business, advising me about safety issues when we both worked in the field - or whether it was in the face of a body that had decided to turn against you - you showed true tenacity in every circumstance. As my body decides it doesn't want to do everything it has done in the past, I look to your example to keep pushing it to do what it can. Thank you for applying both strength and resources to enriching the lives of my sons; each one of them can tell me fun times with “Papa and Gran” where they made memories that will be with them the rest of their lives.
Finally, thank you for holding on through this past Christmas season. I know that it wasn't really in your control per se, but I will always be grateful that we had the opportunity to spend your final Christmas together, celebrating and making memories that all of us will long treasure.
Wednesday, December 25, 2019
Daniel J. Summers
As I stated in my last post, I have realigned my political affiliation. I set out to find previous posts I've written here which no longer reflect my opinions, and I didn't find much. Most of the things I would write differently if I were writing them today would differ in tone more than content. This confirms my suspicion that it wasn't me who changed as much as it was my party.
To be fair, I'm quite happy with many of the things the current administration has done. The Supreme Court has a nice balance now, regularly confounding people who expect party-line votes from what is supposed to be a non-partisan institution. There are now enough strict-constructionist justices that the Constitution is being followed much more closely. And, for as much scorn as I've heaped on “the resistance,” it's been nice to have a press that sees how unjust many of the things our government has been doing is. It's a shame they lose interest when it's discovered that prior administrations also did those things - or they choose to ignore that, acting like every shame is a new shame that should be borne solely by the current administration.
What changed (or what was revealed) is the character of those in the party, not just the guy at the top of the ticket. It is a perfectly defensible position to say that you agree with the political job that someone is doing, and still lament their character. Pro-life judges don't excuse callous mocking of deceased political opponents. Increasing religious freedom doesn't eliminate adultery and hush-money payments. Yet among the vocal Republican majority, it does. For the “character matters” warriors from the Clinton administration, this is hypocritical; among Christians, this is absolutely devastating to our witness.
(begin evangelical Christian-targeted rant)
Yes, King David was anointed by God to lead Israel; that doesn't mean his adultery with Bathsheba and murder of Uriah were fine, because he was “God's anointed.” For those making the “Trump is appointed by God” argument - you're not wrong, but I don't think that argument makes the point you think it does. I wrote on my devotional blog about Paul's writing to the Romans; his words in Romans 13 were written about Nero. Remember, too, that the only reason Israel had kings was due to their rejection of God as their ultimate ruler. King David is a terrible analogy to use if you're wanting to speak positively about our current President while ignoring his personal and professional misconduct; maybe you could draw a parallel about pride, but that's not really what I think you're wanting to highlight.
As a faithful Christian, I can no longer maintain a political affiliation with the Republican party. And, while I'm still part of the “vast right-wing conspiracy” against Hillary Clinton (which, of course, is tongue-in-cheek; there is no such thing, as much as she'd like to blame them for her failures), that is no longer the best description of my views. So, the new tagline here is “Conservatarian at Large” (a nod to Jon Gabriel and Stephen Miller's podcast portmanteau), indicating both a conservative (AKA “classically liberal”) and libertarian viewpoint.
I will also unequivocally state that I do not think that Christians who make a different choice are somehow going against what God wants them to do. There are many different ways to parse our current nuanced environment. Those who believe just as I do may land on continued support for Donald Trump, and advocate for giving him 4 more years at the helm of the good ship USA. As long as they are not seemingly blind to his faults, in my view, they are following a path which they feel God has directed them. That's the nice thing about a proper view of God's sovereignty; He can make His followers have different viewpoints - sometimes to call others to change, and other times to cause them to think.
As for me and my conscience, though, I cannot continue with the GOP. As I alluded in my last post, I'll be exploring the relationship between conservative Christianity and libertarianism in the near future. That won't be the only thing about which I'll write here, but it will probably be the first thing (unless I find some time to resurrect the “good, bad, and ridiculous” thing for 2019).
Housekeeping-wise, the college football posts from 2012-2014 have been removed; those URLs will return a 404. If anyone misses them, you can turn this site's URL into an e-mail address and let me know.
Saturday, December 21, 2019
Daniel J. Summers
As I write this, we are on the other side of the House's impeachment vote, though some legal analysis says that it's not official until those articles are sent to the Senate. Our hot take culture is filled with people sharing their view of what's happened. That's not really my thing, though; the early take is often completely wrong. (Exhibit A for this was the circle game non-troversy at the Army/Navy game; so glad the wokescolds wasted our military's time investigating that.) Another of our culture's pasttimes is giving the worst possible reading to anything that happens, and assuming the worst possible motivation behind it. (See “Exhibit A” again…) Again - not my style and not my speed, because doing that rarely leads one to the truth. So, I've been following the reporting, transcripts, defenses, analyses, and prosecutions from an information gathering viewpoint, trying to cut through the partisan bovine excrement and resistance-disguised-as-objective reporting to determine what happened, how severe it was, and what should be done about it.
“These are the established facts” rarely is followed by established facts as I've found them, using primarily the transcript of the alleged dastardly call and the testimony of the Ukrainians involved. The Congressionally-approved aid was not discussed as much as Ukraine's desire to buy more missiles. Then, in the most quid pro quo part of the call, a White House visit was offered in exchange for Ukraine announcing an investigation. Note what this wasn't - it wasn't a request to do an investigation, it was a request to announce an investigation. It also wasn't part of the previously-approved military aid or the future missile sales. The announcement would have been embarrassing to Joe Biden, whose son Hunter would be implicated; interestingly, Biden's lowest polling to date occurred when this was the main story occupying the news. Ukrainian leaders have also said that they did not feel like they were being extorted.
The above are the facts, as the dictionary defines facts; other characterizations are something other than facts. It was neither a perfect call nor a gross abuse of Presidential power.
That being said, what President Trump did with Ukraine was not good. If there is an investigation needed, then encourage them to do it. Unless there are allegations that Joe knew that his son was trading on a connection to the US government, though (which I've rarely seen alleged), doing a “guilt by association” attack on Joe through his kids is way more objectionable than someone making a pun with one of his children's names. And, connecting requests like this with a call that had discussed foreign aid is worthy of official censure…
...which brings us to his detractors. The House of Representatives, and the Democrats within it, have behaved even worse. From Adam Schiff's creative interpretation of the transcript to open the hearings, to their misrepresentation of the facts (holding up Congressionally-approved aid for personal political reasons), to their lack of objectivity and transparency - they seem to be hanging on to a thread of legitimacy. They focus-grouped their prosecution, settling on the term “bribery,” which they repeated ad nauseum until it was time for official articles to be drafted. Then, we get a charge called “obstruction of Congress,” which isn't even a thing, especially as applied to the executive or judicial branches. My more cynical nature thinks that they were hoping that reporters would say “obstruction of justice” (because that's a thing, and a thing to which most people are opposed), or that people would at least think it. Given the misconduct, a motion to censure would have been much more appropriate; interestingly, until they forward the articles to the Senate, that's exactly what they've done.
Those defending the President are just as bad. The call was far from perfect and the aid did not flow when it was expected to flow. Republicans have (rightly) long complained about how Presidents Clinton and Obama (especially Clinton) traded access and overnights at the White House for political gain or favors; how is this now just the way it is when it's someone in the same party? You don't get to claim to be the party of principle if you abandon those principles to keep or maintain power or influence. And, while Trump's impeachment was conceived 60 days before he took office, and has been executed in a purely partisan way, Senators McConnell and Graham deciding to double down on the lack of objectivity bewilders me. In an impeachment trial, the Senate is the jury; juries aren't supposed to pre-judge the case to which they are assigned.
One of the strangest aspects of this administration is how evangelical Christians (among whose number I count myself) wholeheartedly defend Trump not just as a politician, but as a person. This is the crux of an editorial posted at Christianity Today entitled "Trump Should Be Removed from Office." In the editorial, the author says that this removal can come from either the Senate or the next election, but it's hard not to view the headline as intentionally incendiary, particularly given the current context. And, true to form, I've seen liberals and atheists sharing it far and wide saying, “See? Even Christianity Today thinks he should be thrown out!” (It doesn't.) It's also prompted responses from prominent evangelicals, including Franklin Graham (Billy Graham's son), whose defenses fall into the category of the paragraph above. Christians should be better than this; Scripture emphasizes the importance of truth, and of being quick to hear yet slow to speak.
I continue to be an evangelical Christian, believing that our problems will not be ultimately solved by government, but through the transforming work of Christ in each of our lives. This is a key point missed by those who paint Billy Graham's silence on civil rights during his early years as racism. God working in human hearts can eliminate racism, but people in racist cultures (both oppressed and oppressor) need eternal salvation far more than earthly salvation; he was focused on the former. When government follows biblical principles, government flourishes; however, our government cannot follow biblical principles simply because they're biblical. Our government operates “by the consent of the governed,” and forcing behavior does nothing to change the ultimate state of a soul. To be sure, the current administration has appointed many people who protect life and religious liberty; that should not cause us to sweep bad behavior under the rug.
While my Christianity has not changed, the Republican party to which I belonged through 2016 has changed immensely. The GOP has been known, at different times in history, as the “party of Lincoln” and the “party of Reagan.” Both these men were inspirational leaders who presided over difficult times in our nation's history, and the legacy of both only increased once they left office (with reconstruction and the end of the Cold War). The GOP is now the “party of Trump,” demanding sycophantic loyalty to a leader, and looking to use the same heavy-handed government intervention on social issues that the liberals do - just to different ends. This does not align with my conservative principles at all. No leader is perfect, and our presidents put their pants on one leg at a time, just like the rest of us. And, while the life issue is very, very important, a host of other issues need less government, not more.
Hello, Libertarian Party. You have a new member whose sole dissent with your platform is preborn life, but I know I'm not alone in that. I look forward to working with you to advance the cause of freedom and conservative less-government principles, and I encourage my Christian friends to consider the same things I have. I will write more about how I've aligned my faith and the LP platform in the months to come.