Lazy, Hazy, Crazy Days

When I was growing up in the Chicago suburbs, the school year did not end until the middle of June. Memorial Day (which was not yet a Monday holiday, but always the 30th of May) was just one day off of school, and when I was in high school it was not even a day off, since the marching band took part in Memorial Day activities at the local cemeteries. One of the first high points of summer, then, would be Independence Day with its parade and fireworks. Vacation Bible School happened some time in the summer—I cannot remember if it usually happened before or after July 4, but I suspect that some years it was before and other years it was after. Then, the other grand event was the DuPage County Fair. Being active in 4-H, I always had projects to prepare for exhibit at the fair. Then came the spectacular four-day celebration with carnival rides and meals at the fair, side shows and exhibits of various kinds, barn after barn of farm animals to visit, and all the sights and sounds and smells that meant a county fair. There was also an air show at the nearby DuPage County Airport every July. Many of the airplanes would fly over our house, practicing their routines in the days before the show. And, of course, everyone for miles around knew when the big act arrived—the Air Force Thunderbirds and the Navy Blue Angels in alternate years.

I read a lot during the summer. The library always had a reading program. I always took part, and I always won first prize. I lived within walking distance of the library, so I could visit every day, check out books, and even start reading while I was walking home. There were also books at home that I read every summer: Tom Sawyer, Huck Finn, Heidi, Five Little Peppers, Alice in Wonderland, Wizard of Oz, and a few others. I could ride my bike up to the school playground and swing on the swings, or I could take a ride through the neighborhood. And, of course, there were gardening chores—pulling weeks—with the benefit of fresh fruits and vegetables from the garden.

My father generally took a week of vacation in August for a small family trip. Until I was in high school, those trips were not out of the region—when my mother’s parents stopped traveling because of their declining health, they gave large Christmas gifts to my parents so they could travel, and we finally got to see the Rocky Mountains and other sights in the west. I have dim childhood memories of a rented cabin in a state park—Starved Rock, if I remember correctly. Our vacation stays did not get any more primitive than a cabin. My father said that he slept in tents often enough in the army to satisfy him with that experience for life.

School started again the last days of August. For me that was another landmark event, seeing friends I hadn’t seen during the summer, and settling into a new classroom with a new teacher and a new routine for the year. For me, summer was just long enough and just full enough that I didn’t become bored, but I didn’t regret going back to school. J.

Prince Louis at the Platinum Jubilee

While I have not had time to sit and watch the coverage of Queen Elizabeth’s Platinum Jubilee, I have seen a few highlights. (Such an event is not merely a once-in-a-lifetime celebration; it may very well be a once-in-history event. Can anyone else name a king or queen who ruled for seventy years?) The picture that remains in my memory is that of Prince Louis, the four-year-old great-grandson of the Queen, covering his ears and screaming during the royal fly-over at the beginning of the ceremonies.

That picture sticks in my head because I was once that child. I could not bear loud noises. Much as I enjoyed the Fourth of July parades every year, I hated those moments when the fire engines came down the street, blowing their sirens and honking their horns. I also was not fond of fireworks, and as an adult I have stayed away from firework shows. When the electric company sent out their trucks to trim branches from the trees and grind them into mulch, I was in agony. I remember running through the house, hands over my ears, screaming, just as the young prince was doing in London last week.

Other people—even close family—do not understand the pain that loud noises cause in some people’s lives. The prince’s mother, Catherine, Duchess of Cambridge, appears to be laughing. I hope she is not laughing at her son, but at something else happening the same moment. My family sometimes laughed at my reaction to loud noises. They apparently did not realize that I was genuinely suffering, that my reaction to the noises were not an exaggeration but were a sincere response to the pain I felt from those sounds.

Like anyone, I am startled by a sudden, unexpected, loud noise. When something shorted out at the power pole last evening while we were at the dinner table, there was a bright flash of light and a loud report, and we all jumped. But I got over the surprise as quickly as everyone else. Ongoing noises, even when they are not as loud, bother me more. Lawn trimmers and leaf blowers create a sound that resonates in my head, making me unable to read or do other work while they run. Music and conversations often break my concentration. For me, there is no such thing as background noise. I play music when I want to hear the music. I turn on the television when I want to watch something. When I want to work, to read, to concentrate on something important, I prefer a quiet house or office. Not everyone is like me. Not everyone understands the condition.

I hope that, as he grows, Prince Louis will find family members and other people who respect his reaction to noise. I hope that people will not speak of him as “spoilt” merely because loud sounds upset him. In general, as society becomes increasingly accommodating for people with “special needs,” increasingly aware of the diversity that goes far beyond appearance and language and culture, that there will be room for those of us who are sensitive, who cannot handle noise, who sometimes need some peace and quiet. The prince may offer an opportunity to promote that awareness. J.

Five movies for Independence Day

On this fourth day of July, citizens of the United States of America celebrate the independence of our country and remember the freedoms we have as citizens of this country. Americans celebrate with parades, picnics, fireworks, and other traditional activities. Here is a list of five movies that I like to see around Independence Day. Not that I claim they are the best possible movies or that every American should see them. I don’t even watch all five every year, but it’s a safe bet I’ll be watching one of these five movies while others are out watching the firework show.

Mr. Smith Goes to Washington (1939): Actor James Stewart and director Frank Capra combine to bring viewers this movie about America’s government. Jeff Smith, played by Stewart, is a simple honest patriot. Named by the governor of his state to fill a vacancy in the United States Senate, Smith finds himself confronted with cynicism and corruption in the nation’s capital. Some elements of the movie fall short—for example, it’s hard to believe that a patriot like Jeff Smith would need a lecture from his office secretary about how a bill becomes a law. Still, the unabashed patriotism of Smith and his supporters—along with the tour of Washington DC’s landmarks—makes this movie a refreshing holiday treat. Some American politicians objected to portions of the movie that depict corrupt politicians (although no states or political parties are named), but the movie was banned in the totalitarian countries of Europe for its celebration of democracy and the power of the common man.

Music Man (1962): Made from a successful Broadway musical, this movie is not about patriotism or the Fourth of July so much as a celebration of the heartland of the United States and the people who live there. Harold Hill is a traveling salesman who markets musical instruments, lesson books, and uniforms, promising to form a boy’s band, even though Hill cannot read a note of music. Marian Paroo is the town’s librarian and must choose whether or not to reveal his scam. With songs including “Seventy-Six Trombones” and “Til There Was You,” Music Man joyfully depicts the state of Iowa in the summer of 1912. The dance scene in the library is particularly not to be missed.

1776 (1972): Also made from a Broadway musical, this movie uses song, dance, and acting to depict the writing and acceptance of the Declaration of Independence in the Second Continental Congress of the North American colonies of Great Britain. No movie is a purely accurate source for history lessons, but this movie comes close. The actors truly live the parts of John Adams, Benjamin Franklin, Thomas Jefferson, and the other founding fathers of the United States. At times humorous and at times gloomy, 1776 does not back away from the harsh realities of war and of American slavery. In the end, though, it is a glowing endorsement of that document created back in 1776 which gave the founding principles of a new nation.

Moscow on the Hudson (1984): Robin Williams plays a Russian musician who defects to the United States while his employer, a Russian circus, is performing in New York City. A landmark movie that can help younger people understand the issues of the Cold War, the movie shows the differences between the United States of America and the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics, but it does not retreat into jingoistic propaganda. Life in Russia has joy as well as gloom, and life in America has sorrow and fear as well as freedom and opportunity. Several other powerful actors depict the population of New York City, a group of people who have traveled from all over the world to take part in the American way of life. Though the film is not entirely family-friendly, it remains one of the clearest proclamations of America’s values during the Reagan administration.

Independence Day (1996): An obvious choice for the Fourth of July, Independence Day tells the story of Earth being invaded by hostile aliens from outer space. Jeff Goldblum, Will Smith, and Bill Pullman all shine in their roles of survivors who must confront and defeat this unexpected threat. Goldblum is especially effective as the environmentally-conscious computer expert who perceives the threat earlier than most people and eventually helps to create a solution. Doses of humor spice the action of this movie, including some lines so subtle that they might not be noticed until a second or third viewing. The President’s speech to his troops before the final battle is particularly uplifting and memorable.

Happy viewing, and happy Independence Day!  J.

(originally published July 3, 2015)

Dual citizenship

I am a citizen of the United States of America. I am also a citizen of the Kingdom of God. I have privileges and responsibilities in both of these loyalties, and I thank God for them.

I am endowed by my Creator with certain inalienable rights. Among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. Various levels of governments exist to protect my rights. They are balanced, so none of them will have too much power to threaten my rights. The national government, the state government, the county government, and the city government each have certain duties, but they balance one another. The legislative branch, the executive branch, and the judicial branch each have certain duties, but they balance one another. Even the legislative branch on the national level is balanced. Senators serve six-year terms, so they can take a longer view of concerns; Representatives are up for election every two years, so they must pay attention to immediate concerns. States are equally represented in the Senate but proportionally represented in the House. The government of the United States of America is balanced so that the imperfections of any one leader or group of leaders can be offset by the efforts of other members of government.

I am endowed by my Redeemer with certain unconditional gifts. Among these are forgiveness of all my sins, the guarantee of eternal life in a perfect world, and victory over all my enemies. The King of God’s Kingdom is perfect, so he does not need to be balanced by opposing forces. He is Almighty and all-knowing, so he does not need to have his authority distributed among various levels of leadership.

My King has given me instructions, telling me why he made me and guiding me to live a useful and productive life. I have not always followed those instructions. I have rebelled against his authority and have tried to do things my way instead of his way. Instead of delivering me to the punishment I deserve, my King has redeemed me, paying the price for my wrongdoing. He has saved me, taking me out of the hands of my enemies. He has reconciled me, canceling my rebellion and counting me again as a citizen of his Kingdom. He has even adopted me, making me royalty in his Kingdom.

This redemption was not without cost. My King gave his life for my sake and for the sake of all the members of his Kingdom. Yet his sacrifice did not end his reign. By dying, he overcame death, rising to eternal life. Because of what he has done, I can be sure that I will live in his Kingdom forever, “in everlasting righteousness, innocence, and blessedness.”

The United States has enemies. Other countries compete with the USA in the economic world. Terrorists try to weaken the United States at home and abroad. The soldiers in our armed forces deserve our encouragement and support as they protect us from these enemies.

The Kingdom of God has enemies, but they are not flesh and blood. The devil entices me to sin and join his rebellion against our Creator. The sinful world around us tries to drag me down to its level of sordid evil. The sin still within me cooperates with the devil and the world. All these enemies have been defeated by the work of my King. I can contribute nothing to his victory, but he freely shares that victory with me and with all his people.

Dual citizenship is filled with blessings. I rejoice to live under the government of the United States of America. Here I have freedom to think and say and write whatever I choose, within very generous limits. I am free to exercise my religion without government interference. I am free to pursue happiness. But my greatest freedoms come to me as a citizen of the Kingdom of God. I am free from the burden of my sins. I am free from the power of death to end my existence forever. I am free to imitate my King, having been given power from him to be like him. I am free to be the person he created me to be, knowing that even while I continue to fall short, he continues to forgive me and to rescue me.

This Independence Day weekend I celebrate freedom as an American. I also celebrate freedom as a citizen of the Kingdom of God. To Christ be thanks for both sets of freedoms! J.

 

Independence Day, freedom, and politics

On the Fourth of July, citizens of the United States of America celebrate Independence Day. Especially as part of a three-day weekend, the festivities include parades, picnics and cookouts, outdoor concerts, and fireworks shows. Independence Day is the biggest national holiday that is not faith-based, as are Christmas and Easter. Best of all, though, is that the day commemorates signatures on a document. The holiday is not about victory in battle, like Mexico’s Cinco de Mayo. It is not about a mob storming a castle, like France’s Bastille Day. Independence Day is about ideas: the idea of freedom, the idea of human rights, and the idea of government limited by the people and responsible to the people.

Thomas Jefferson echoed the philosophy of John Locke when he wrote that “all men are created equal… [and] are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights… among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.” Locke’s formula had been simpler—life, liberty, and property—but nothing is more American than the idea of the pursuit of happiness. Happiness is not guaranteed. Being created equal does not ensure that all people will be equally happy. We possess the right to pursue happiness, seeking happiness where we expect it to be found.

All rights are limited. Most Americans concede that a murderer or other violent criminal has waived a right to life, although a minority opposes the death penalty in all cases. Americans generally agree that certain crimes lead to imprisonment, a loss of liberty, although ongoing prison reform is needed to keep imprisonment from being a cruel and unusual punishment. Nearly all Americans concede the right of the government to tax its citizens so it can provide services needed by those citizens. These include the work of armed forces to keep citizens safe from hostile foreign governments and terrorists, police protection where we live, public schools, highways, inspections of various kinds to protect workers and customers and to limit pollution, and many other government functions. Citizens debate how many services the government should provide and how much property and liberty it can claim to make those services available. My point is that we can debate these questions. We can talk about them and write about them without fear of arrest and punishment. We can send messages to our leaders. We can vote leaders out of office and replace them with new leaders. We can work in campaigns of potential leaders or campaigns targeting specific policies and causes.

Freedom is not cheap. Not only do we need armed forces to protect us from those who would rob us of our freedom; we also need men and women willing to serve as leaders. These men and women know that they will be publicly insulted, mocked, and reviled. They expect to work long hours to educate themselves about the issues facing government, to respond to requests from the citizens they represent, and to talk to one another about the choices that must be made in their sessions. They will be paid less money than they could receive in other careers for which their abilities qualify them. They will be called “politicians” as if that word is vulgar. The positions they take will be challenged vigorously by opponents, and then they will be scolded by their supporters for compromises they must make to accomplish the work of government.

The word “politics” comes from the word “polis,” which described the independent units of ancient Greece (such as Athens, Sparta, and Corinth). Some poleis were monarchies; others were oligarchies. Athens experimented with broader participation in government, which their leaders called “democracy.” To make democracy work, citizens had to talk to each other. They had to listen to each other. They had to defend the ideas that were most important to them. They had to compromise on some of their ideas to preserve those ideas that ranked highest to them.

Politics is the art of communication and compromise which allows a government to rule wisely and efficiently. Otto von Bismarck is quoted as saying, “Laws are like sausages—you lose your appetite for them when you see how they are made.” Politics is not a career for the weak-hearted or the thick-headed. Politics requires quick and clear thinking, the ability to listen and to speak, and zeal for serving the citizens of a city, a state, or a country. Politics requires a strong trust in one’s own abilities, but also the humility to realize that, in every election, more than half the candidates are going to lose.

America needs politicians. In the United States, we have the privilege to choose among our politicians, to try to select the best of them to be our leaders, to disagree with our leaders, to inform them of our positions and beliefs, and to work to replace the leaders we think are wrong. This freedom, defined by the Continental Congress in 1776 and eventually structured by the Constitution of the United States, is celebrated on Independence Day across this great land. From sea to shining sea, let freedom ring! J.

 

Five movies for Independence Day weekend

On this fourth day of July, citizens of the United States of America celebrate the independence of our country and remember the freedoms we have as citizens of this country. Americans celebrate with parades, picnics, fireworks, and other traditional activities. Here is a list of five movies that I like to see around Independence Day. Not that I claim they are the best possible movies or that every American should see them. I don’t even watch all five every year, but it’s a safe bet I’ll be watching one of these five movies while others are out watching the firework show.

Mr. Smith Goes to Washington (1939): Actor James Stewart and director Frank Capra combine to bring viewers this movie about America’s government. Jeff Smith, played by Smith, is a simple honest patriot. Named by the governor of his state to fill a vacancy in the United States Senate, Smith finds himself confronted with cynicism and corruption in the nation’s capital. Some elements of the movie fall short—for example, it’s hard to believe that a patriot like Jeff Smith would need a lecture from his office secretary about how a bill becomes a law. Still, the unabashed patriotism of Smith and his supporters—along with the tour of Washington DC’s landmarks—makes this movie a refreshing holiday treat. Some American politicians objected to portions of the movie that depict corrupt politicians (although no states or political parties are named), but the movie was banned in the totalitarian countries of Europe for its celebration of democracy and the power of the common man.

Music Man (1962): Made from a successful Broadway musical, this movie is not about patriotism or the Fourth of July so much as a celebration of the heartland of the United States and the people who live there. Harold Hill is a traveling salesman who markets musical instruments, lesson books, and uniforms, promising to form a boy’s band, even though Hill cannot read a note of music. Marian Paroo is the town’s librarian and must choose whether or not to reveal his scam. With songs including “Seventy-Six Trombones” and “Til There Was You,” Music Man joyfully depicts the state of Iowa in the summer of 1912. The dance scene in the library is particularly not to be missed.

1776 (1972): Also made from a Broadway musical, this movie uses song, dance, and acting to depict the writing and acceptance of the Declaration of Independence in the Second Continental Congress of the North American colonies of Great Britain. No movie is a purely accurate source for history lessons, but this movie comes close. The actors truly live the parts of John Adams, Benjamin Franklin, Thomas Jefferson, and the other founding fathers of the United States. At times humorous and at times gloomy, 1776 does not back away from the harsh realities of war and of American slavery. In the end, though, it is a glowing endorsement of that document created back in 1776 which gave the founding principles of a new nation.

Moscow on the Hudson (1984): Robin Williams plays a Russian musician who defects to the United States while his employer, a Russian circus, is performing in New York City. A landmark movie that can help younger people understand the issues of the Cold War, the movie shows the differences between the United States of America and the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics, but it does not retreat into jingoistic propaganda. Life in Russia has joy as well as gloom, and live in America has sorrow and fear as well as freedom and opportunity. Several other powerful actors depict the population of New York City, a group of people who have traveled from all over the world to take part in the American way of life. Though the film is not entirely family-friendly, it remains one of the clearest proclamations of America’s values during the Reagan administration.

Independence Day (1996): An obvious choice for the Fourth of July, Independence Day tells the story of earth being invaded by hostile aliens from outer space. Jeff Goldblum, Will Smith, and Bill Pullman all shine in their roles of survivors who must confront and defeat this unexpected threat. Goldblum is especially effective as the environmentally-conscious computer expert who perceives the threat earlier than most people and eventually helps to create a solution. Doses of humor spice the action of this movie, including some lines so subtle that they might not be noticed until a second or third viewing. The President’s speech to his troops before the final battle is particularly uplifting and memorable.

Happy viewing, and happy Independence Day!

J.