Monday, February 27, 2023

The Theology of Natural Disasters

Our six a.m. men's Bible study got a little heady this morning.  We're working through an apologetics study, designed more to get us in the mindset of continuing conversations and asking questions.  To that degree, we've started raising questions that can be naturally posed by those that are seeking a deeper understanding of the faith or by those that will challenge different aspects of the faith.   Today we hit on a variation of the questions regarding the goodness of God.

"Why does God allow natural disasters?"

The question stemmed from the earthquakes in Turkey and Syria.  And while that formed the central theme, the questions got deeper and more complex.

"Are they really natural or caused disasters?  Are they natural/caused forces that existed before the fall or are they a result of sin?  Are they a form of judgment, natural/caused expressions of creation, or both?"

Not easy to discus when you are just getting your caffeine fix.  But it created an interesting discussion nonetheless.

We noted there has to be a natural component to the disaster.  The earth in and of itself is a creation and natural disasters can have specific functions in regulating the earth as creation.  As a living creation.  Look at the wildfires in our west, which are often responsible for clearing out old growth and making way for new growth.  Likewise, earthquakes coming from the result of tectonic plates rubbing against or smashing into each other.  This can result in new ground or from new ground, quite literally.

From there, we have identified a purpose for these disasters.  Whether they existed prior to the fall is another and much harder question.  If everything did not die, if death did not exist before the fall, it is unlikely these did as well, as often their purpose is to clear out the old and make way for the new.  Either way, in our current environment they can have some net positive effect, potentially. 

But even phrasing it like that, raises another question - positive in relation to what?  

Why is an event a disaster? Is it only from a "human" perspective regarding the loss of human life or property damage?

Put another way, if a hurricane strikes and devastates a deserted island, was there any disaster?

We focus on the human because this is the context is raised.  Part of the "why would God allow such loss" cry.  And in that frame of mind, we can rightly call them disasters, for they can have a great impact on human life and existence.  They can be great tragedies.  And it can lead us to wonder why.  To wonder if it is judgment, fate, or chance.  

I am greatly skeptical of anyone who can definitely state that a specific natural disaster is God's judgment. The one's we have described in the Bible all seem to have a supernatural component to them.  There is a prior proclamation of them as coming, a warning of destruction and then the supernatural event.  To ascribe God's judgment to an event afterward is stretching for a reason, in my opinion.

Such attribution often comes from those who deem that every event is one that God is controlling or causing.  That his sovereignty requires that He is controlling everything that occurs, as He is all powerful. But this does not have to be the case for Him to be all powerful.  There is a difference in having power and exercising it.  It's often in the restraint in using power that we see the greatest display.  After all, this is the idea of mercy and grace.

But if God does not cause the disaster, then we have the question of why God allows them to occur.  Why God does not spare the people?  The deaths, the tragedies, the loss.  Why does God not supernaturally intervene?

This circles back to the larger question of suffering that we have been exploring.  And there are a multitude of reasons that suffering occurs.  Sometimes it is the result of the consequences of our actions, of our sins.  If we keep building houses in a flood plain, it is likely they will flood and often.  Sometimes suffering is the result of other people's actions, of their evil.  Other times, it's to teach us a lesson, for some lessons we learn the hard way.  Or it is to prepare us for something that is coming ahead.

There are multitude of reasons why suffering occurs, even with an all-good God.  That doesn't change his status.  For what we see in the tragedies are how God can take the absolute worst this world has to offer and make something beautiful.  

We didn't come to any final answers this morning.  That's not the point.  It's to think, it's to discuss, it's to listen.  To ask questions and to keep the discussion going.

I just pray I'm more awake next Monday.

Sunday, February 26, 2023

Lent 2023 - Invocabit

Today marks Quadragesima or the first Sunday of Lent, so named because it marks forty days until Easter Sunday. The day is also known as Invocabit, named for the first line of the Introit read today. Psalm 91:15a. “When he calls to me, I will answer him.”

Invocabit me et exaudiam eum

The theme of the Sunday is on temptation. The Old Testament reading is focused on Genesis 3 and the temptation and fall of man. Highlighting our great need. Our inherent brokenness and need for salvation. 

The Gospel reading then turns and focuses on Matthew 4:1-11. The Temptation of Jesus, from which we can draw several interesting parallels, both with the temptation of man and with the Lenten period. 

To start out of order, we see both the temptation and Lenten periods as forty days.  This is not a coincidence.  This season of fast before the greatest celebration reminds us of that prior forty day fast. Where Jesus prepared for his ministry, where he prepared for all that had to come, with intense reflection and  dedication to his father.  In this Lenten season, can we be similarly reflective?  Can we keep our minds to the severity of what Jesus will endure for our sake?  For our blessing?

Secondly, in this temptation, we see Jesus as the perfect counterpoint to Adam.  While both Adam and Jesus were tempted, we see only Jesus able to overcome it. Able to resist all that the devil throws at him. 

This had to be so. Jesus had to be tempted, to show that he was man. He had to overcome it, to show that he was perfect.

There is, though, greater disparity between Adam and Jesus. Jesus was tempted in harsh circumstances.  Jesus’s temptations came in a time of struggle. Where Jesus was testing the limits of his physical body through a fast in the desert.  He was hungry, he was tired, his body was stressed. Likely hot and sweating. He was being tempted with food in a time of hunger, protection from a place of danger, and power from a position of submission. 

Adam was tempted from a place of plenty. 

And yet, Jesus overcame and Adam did not.

Doesn’t this also seem to be the case with us, if only on a much smaller scale?  

Not to minimize Jesus’s victory - for I believe none of us could have stood as he did. 

But when we are struggling, when times are tough, aren’t those the very ones when we turn to God?    And in times of plenty, when things are going well, that’s when it’s most easy for us to trip up.  To remove our focus and give in.

It’s why we need these intentional times of refocusing in every season. “To prepare for a truly Christian life, to have God sanctify our heart and cleanse it of self-love and sin.”  Jesus’s actions in the desert show us how to achieve this. Through prayer. Through the study of the scripture, to such a degree as to be able to hear when it is being manipulated and to address it with appropriate context. And through utmost dedication to the life to which we have been called. 

We can celebrate in knowing that Jesus is rooting for us. He’s been there.  “For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are—yet was without sin.”  Hebrews 4:15.  He’s not aloof, he’s not distant, he’s not unaware of what it is like. He’s caring, he’s close, and he remembers. He knows. He has overcome!  And he desires that we should too!

I pray this season of Lent is such a refocusing for us all. Imagine if all Christendom came through these forty days having wholly committed to seeking the Lord’s will through steadfast prayer and petition. 

What an amazing celebration that would bring, indeed!

Saturday, February 25, 2023

My Sense of Humor, Part 2

As with the previous post, I thought I would continue to share my sense of humor, this time focusing on my favorite comedy films.  The comedies that formed my humor, for good and bad.  

They aren’t the best films.  In fact, some might be considered down right bad.  But they give insight into specific areas of my sense of humor.

So now, in no particular order, here are the top ten films that have truly informed my sense of humor and continue to tickle my funny bone.

  • A Night at the Opera - “You can’t fool me, there ain’t no sanity clause.”  Rapid-fire wit, with out and out farce. The Marx Brothers are geniuses and created so many of the gags that influenced so much of the cartoons and television that I love. That they created the mirror gag fascinated me. I singled out this film for the contract negotiation scene. One of my favorites. 
  • Singin' In The Rain - “Well of course we talk  Don’t everybody.”  Musical comedy, along with a self-deprecating look at Hollywood. And while the whole cast is great, Jean Hagen just jumps off the screen.  The voice, the self-confidence. It’s amazing. 
  • Arsenic and Old Lace - “You don’t think I’d stoop to telling a fib.”  A comedy of subverted expectations. The most unlikely murders and pitch perfect black humor. I loved being in this play and I love watching Frank Capra’s film. 
  • Some Like it Hot - “Well, nobody’s perfect.” Billy Wilders masterpiece. Each piece just works. From Tony Curtis doing his best Cary Grant, to the lunacy of Jack Lemmon’s performance. I just love it. 
  • Blazing Saddles - “You know, morons.”  Comedy is best when everyone is a target.  I don’t know if they could make it again today. But I’m glad they did. So many pieces that come together as a greater whole. I’ll always remember watching this at the Alamo Ritz, busting out into a pie fight on Sixth Street. 
  • Monty Python and the Quest for the Holy Grail - “on second thought, ‘tis a very silly place.”  Silly, silly humor. This was the best thing to get introduced to in high school. I’ll also never forget that midnight show. My introduction to British humor. 
  • The Birdcage - “Actually, it’s perfect.  I just never realized John Wayne walked like that.”  This one is a guilty pleasure for me. Great performances by Nathan Lane, Gene Hackman, Hank Azaria, and the wonderful Robin Williams. This might be my favorite performance of his next to the Genie in Aladdin.  It’s wry and sardonic and acidly funny. 
  • Drop Dead Gorgeous - “The communal wine just proves too tempting for some people!”  “That's why we Lutherans use grape Kool-Aid for the blood of Christ.” A true under appreciated gem. The darkest of dark humor, showing how lethal beauty pageants can be. A mocumentary style film before that was the rage. Great early performances by a host of actresses. Hard to find but worth it. 
  • Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back - “I’m Jay and this is my hetero-lifemate Bob.”  I have a soft spot for Kevin Smith films. They are filthy but part of my college years.  While other films do land a little better, I appreciate this one for seeing it at the Paramount with smith himself holding a marathon discussion after. 
  • Hunt for the Wilderpeople - “He's molestering me!” One of the funniest films of recent years. While not his best film, this is perhaps Taika Watiti’s funniest. Sam Neil and Rachel House make this film. Clever and touching, and very well put together. 

Friday, February 24, 2023

The Cost of Being Right At Any Cost

I struggled with what to name this.

I started with something pithy like Just Say Gay Already, to reference the law that got us into this mess.  Or No More Words to reference the lack of books.

I then went to something angry and factual, like Life Under Fascism.   

I settled on a slight pun, but a sobering reality, for this image reflects the sad future coming to much of our country based on the trajectory of the laws that we are looking to pass.

“There must be something in books, things we can’t imagine, to make a woman stay in a burning house; there must be something there. You don’t stay for nothing.”

This photograph was taken on January 27 by Brian Covey, a substitute teacher at Mandarin Middle School in Duval County, Florida. He posted it as proof of a prior post that he had made where he told his followers that the district had removed every book from his children's classrooms.  This was a photo of all the fiction books removed from the library of the same school.

Covey has indicated the district was aware of the photograph when he posted it, and had never indicated it was a problem.  Covey, instead, had been recently praised in a staff meeting by the school principal for bringing order and stability to a previously unruly class of math students.

The was no issue with the photo until February 14, when reporters asked Governor DeSantis about it.  They specifically asked him about photos of "bookshelves empty" in schools.  DeSantis responded that this was a "false narrative" and not true.

The next day, Covey was fired in a 45-second phone call, for violation of the schools social media and cell phone policies and had been the subject of several complaints.

“A book is a loaded gun in the house next door. Burn it. Take the shot from the weapon.”

Representatives for the school have since described the video as manipulative and shown other "full" shelves in the library.  They have confirmed that the books were the school's fiction titles, but that they had been removed pending review by a media specialist, as required by the state's "curriculum transparency" law.  Each book is required to be reviewed to determine if it violates the states broad child pornography law and the new STOP Woke Act and Parental Rights in Education Act, i.e. the Don't Say Gay act.

This review has made more than 1.5 million books inaccessible to students in Duval County Public Schools.

Let that number sink in.  1.5 million books.  In one county's school system.  The entire media collection for the DCPS is around 1.6 million.  This put nearly 94% of the school system's books under review.

To make matters worse, though it is supposed to have many more media specialists, the school system currently only has 54.  54 people assigned to review 1.5 million books. That's 27,777 books a person to review.  

And if they get it wrong, they can lose their jobs, or, at worst and most crazily, face third-degree felony charges.  

No wonder it's moving so slow.  Up to February 17, the specialists had only reviewed 6,000 books and returned them to the schools.  Counting for 0.275% of the total in their review.  

A pittance.

And this is on top of their other responsibilities to the school like supporting teachers.  No, their time is now focused on reviewing all these books.

A wide variety of books.  While the image showed the fiction section, even non-fiction titles are still being held under review.  Books like:
  • Roberto Clemente The Pride of The Pittsburgh Pirates
  • Henry Aaron's Dream
  • Unstoppable: How Jim Thorpe and the Carlisle Indian School Football Team Defeated Army
  • Thank You, Jackie Robinson
  • The Hero Two Doors Down: Based on the True Story of Friendship Between a Boy and a Baseball Legend
  • Barbed Wire Baseball:  How One Man Brought Hope to the Japanese Interment Camps of WWII
Notice a pattern?

These were all books in the Essential Voices Library Collection, highlighting the stories of a variety of ethnic, religious, and gender minorities.

The thing is, it would be really, really surprising, if it wasn't so transparent.  DeSantis may claim the laws were designed to remove only the books that 99% of the public would oppose.  But anyone who actually read the bills could tell him this was what was going to happen.

It's a feature, not a bug.

Plus, this is only one county, one school system in Florida. 

It's happening all over the state.

“The books are to remind us what asses and fools we are.”

We often seem to forget the purpose of art, of literature.  While it exists for many functions, literature, like art, exists to hold a mirror to ourselves.  Literature is meant to push us.  To expose us to new opinions, new ideas, contrary opinions, contrary ideas.  It's meant to make us empathize with people we could never otherwise identify with.  It's meant to shock us.  And yes, it's even meant to offend us sometimes.

We are best served by a wide exposure to as much literature as possible.

Can we agree that there are somethings that should not be in an elementary school, a middle school, a high school library?  Of course.  There are such things as grade level appropriate. 

Remember, though, there are always those who read above grade level.  Who think above grade level.  Those who have life experiences that would not be deemed grade level appropriate.

Are we really so afraid of our students actually learning something and growing, that we will strip away all access to non-lowest common denominator information?  To only provide the most sanitized of sanitized material for our children?

I realize knowledge is a weapon.  

I just didn't realize we wanted our children un-armed.

“Cram them full of noncombustible data, chock them so damned full of ‘facts’ they feel stuffed, but absolutely ‘brilliant’ with information. Then they’ll feel they’re thinking, they’ll get a sense of motion without moving. And they’ll be happy, because facts of that sort don’t change. Don’t give them any slippery stuff like philosophy or sociology to tie things up with. That way lies melancholy."

Throughout this post, I've been including quotes from one of my favorite novels.  I read it in high school and it has continued to impact me since that first read.  I've read it multiple times since then and it continues to get more applicable, more prescient, and more frightening.

In Fahrenheit 451, Ray Bradbury imagined a future in which books were burned.  There firefighters didn't stop fires; they started them, burning any books they found.  The masses were controlled by removing their access to information.  Or I should say, by removing access to information that the state didn't like.  The people had video walls full of information, enough to overwhelm the viewer.

Drowning in information for a lack of comprehension.

I wonder if my kids will have the experience of reading this book as part of their high school English curriculum.  Or will it be deemed to controversial?  

Too dangerous?

There are similar bills being discussed and enacted across the United States.  Here in Indiana.  In Texas.  And at least thirteen other states.

We're not to burning books, yet.

But it's hard to imagine a future with so many empty shelves.

With everything "pending review."

Thursday, February 23, 2023


I don't know if you have been following the story of events at Asbury University in Wilmore, Kentucky, but they are worth a note.

On February 8, 2023, the University began a regular 10:00 am service in its Hughes Auditorium.   This service has just never ended since.  The congregants and students didn't want to leave.  They "felt what they interpreted as an unusally palpable presence of God."

Since that initial service, thousand shave flocked to this small university in Kentucky to be a part of what they see as an overwhelming revival.  These visitors have included faculty and students from over 22 schools across the country.  International travelers from as far as Singapore.  The service began to peak on February 14, 6 days since the start, with over three thousand attendees.  Two-thirds of which were from out of state.  The service has since spread to four additional facilities to handle the number of the crowds that are attending.

The movement also seems to be spreading to other campuses including Lee University in Tennessee, Andersen University in Indiana, and Ohio Christian University near Columbus, Ohio, to name a few.  

It's become so much, that the university President has announced that the official service for the general public will be wrapping up tonight, marking a celebration of the National Collegiate Day of Prayer.  Services for the general public will continue at other churches in Central Kentucky.

Much has been made of this event, with many referring to it as the start of a revival movement among generation Z.  There has been much debate about the use of the term revival and whether that is appropriate.  On what revival really means.  And there has even been those that have picked at the theology of the services.

Whatever you call it, I don't think you can ignore that this is a real movement of the Holy Spirit.

And I don't think you can ignore the hunger that remains for true, genuine interaction with the one Creator of us all, particularly among the younger generations.

I think this is surprising to most people in "church" circles. 

There's this prevailing thought that the younger generations are just turning away from the church.  You can look at the exvangelical movement and the rise of the religiously unaffiliated or "nones."  People look at lagging attendee in the current church and equate it with a lack of appetite for Christianity.

That is a logical fallacy.  

Just because people reject church the way you are doing it now, does not mean they reject the faith.

Because, there's a little secret to this - maybe some of what you are doing now or requiring now in your church has nothing to do with the faith at all and has everything to do with tradition, preference, or comfort.

This is the same thing we were talking about in the early 2000s when I got to be a part of the launch of terranova, a church within a church aimed at college students.  Even then, study after study identified a hunger for a real connection with something spiritual, and a great excitement when the younger generations found that connection in Christianity.  

The problem was they found that genuine, real spiritual connection to God missing in most churches.

Churches too locked in the way of doing things as they have been done to be receptive to the faith.

And that points to one of the biggest questions that Asbury raises - why can't this happen where we are?  Is this just a one time thing at a Christian college, an area primed for it if you will?  Or can we see genuine revival break out where we are?

Can revival happen in my church?  In my community?

And I don't know the answer to that question.

Think about it this way, what would happen at your church if people just refused to leave?  If they kept on worshipping and the service just wanted to keep going for hours on end? 

Could your service go on and on?

It gets hard when you have a second service starting an hour after one is designed to finish.  I know the heart of the people on the worship team and the pastoral staff, and I know our church would love for revival to burst forth and to have a genuine supernatural religious experience, but we also are pretty scheduled.  I would hope we would continue the moment, but the rubber hits the road when people start getting uncomfortable.  When there's no more room, when it starts to really hit home.

That's the challenge of Asbury.

Are we willing to be uncomfortable to see God really move among us in really powerful ways?

Lord, I pray we are.

"Lord send a revival, and let it begin in me..."

Wednesday, February 22, 2023

Ash Wednesday 2023

"Nevertheless, the liturgy of Ash Wednesday is not focused on the sinfulness of the penitent but on the mercy of God.  The question of sinfulness is raised precisely because this is a day of mercy, and the just do not need a savior."

Thomas Merton

Today, much of Christendom enters the period of Lent.  The 40 days leading up to Easter.  A time of fasting and devotion, mirroring the 40 days of Jesus' temptation in the desert.  And one of the most prominent aspects of Lent is the self-denial.

This often manifests as a goal to give up something for the 40 day period. To give up sweets, alcohol, caffeine, meat, chocolate, fast food, television, internet, etc.  Something that represents a challenge.  That is a true denial.

It's a form of fasting, like the full-fasts on Ash Wednesday and Good Friday, as well as the abstinence from meat on Fridays during the period.  In that aspect, it is important to remember the purpose of a fast.

Fasts in scripture are generally used for two purposes: to seek direction or to beg for mercy.

Both require the proper attitude for the fast to be fruitful.  With those purposes, it's easy to see why.  A half-hearted attempt to seek mercy will be clearly seen through and reveal unresolved issues that must be dealt with first.  Likewise, an attempt to seek direction that will likely not be followed is folly.  Both purposes have the ultimate goal of bringing the supplicant closer to God.  That should never be done lightly.

For God warns us of the fasting that He desires.  And of what follows from self-serving fasts.

"For day after day they seek me out; they seem eager to know my ways, as if they were a nation that does what is right and has not forsaken the commands of its God.  'Why have we fasted,' they say, 'and you have not seen it?  Why have we humbled ourselves and you have not noticed?' Yet on the day of your fasting, you do as you please and exploit all your workers.  Your fasting ends in quarreling and strife, and in striking each other with wicked fists.  You cannot fast as you do today and expect your voice to be heard on high.  Is this the kind of fast I have chosen, only a day for people to humble themselves?  Is it only for bowing one's head like a reed and for lying in sackcloth and ashes?  Is that what you call a fast, a day acceptable to the Lord?  Is not this the kind of fasting I have chosen: to loose the chains of injustice and untie the cords of the yoke, to set the oppressed free and break every yoke?  Is it not to share your food with the hungry and to provide the poor wanderer with shelter - when you see the naked, to clothe them, and not turn away from your own flesh and blood?  Then your light will break forth like the dawn, and your healing will quickly appear; then your righteousness will go before you, and the glory of the Lord will be your rear guard.  Then you will call, and the Lord will answer; you will cry for help, and he will say: Here am I.   If you do away with the yoke of oppression, with the pointing finger and malicious talk, and if you spend yoursevles in behalf of the hungry and satisfy the needs of the oppressed, then your light will rise in the darkness, and your night will become like the noonday.  The Lord will guide you always; he will satisfy your needs in a sun-sorched land and will strengthen your frame.  You will be like a well-watered garden, like a spring whose waters never fail.  Your people will rebuild the ancient ruins and will rise up the age-old foundations; you will be called Repairer of Broken Walls, Restorer of Streets with Dwellings."

Isaiah 58:2-12

Oh, what the world would be if all of Christendom took these next 40 days to fast as the Lord has indicated.  How far His mercy would go.

May we use this time well.

Tuesday, February 21, 2023

Fat Tuesday 2023

"It has been said that a Scotchman has not seen the world until he has seen Edinburgh; and I think that I may say that an American has not seen the United States until he has seen Mardi-Gras in New Orleans."

Mark Twain

Today marks Fat Tuesday.  The end of Carnival, of Mardi Gras.  The end of Shrovetide.  A day of the feast, for tomorrow brings the fast.  The last day before Lent.

Today is a day of celebration. Of joy. It's time for good music and great food. To embody that special joie de vivre.

So grab another slice of king cake or fry up some beignets.  Put on a little Preservation Hall Jazz Band or Marsalis Family.  Add a little rum to the punch.

Celebrate this wonderful world we live in and make an effort to enjoy as much of it as possible.

Do what you can to enjoy the day today.  Bring a little spice, a little music, and a whole lotta love to the day.

To encapsulate the notion of Mardi Gras as nothing more than a big drunk is to take the simple and stupid way out, and I, for one, am getting tired of staying stuck on simple and stupid.

Mardi Gras is not a parade. Mardi Gras is not girls flashing on French Quarter balconies. Mardi Gras is not an alcoholic binge.

Mardi Gras is bars and restaurants changing out all the CD's in their jukeboxes to Professor Longhair and the Neville Brothers, and it is annual front-porch crawfish boils hours before the parades so your stomach and attitude reach a state of grace, and it is returning to the same street corner, year after year, and standing next to the same people, year after year--people whose names you may or may not even know but you've watched their kids grow up in this public tableau and when they're not there, you wonder: Where are those guys this year?

It is dressing your dog in a stupid costume and cheering when the marching bands go crazy and clapping and saluting the military bands when they crisply snap to.

Now that part, more than ever.

It's mad piano professors converging on our city from all over the world and banging the 88's until dawn and laughing at the hairy-shouldered men in dresses too tight and stalking the Indians under Claiborne overpass and thrilling the years you find them and lamenting the years you don't and promising yourself you will next year.

It's wearing frightful color combination in public and rolling your eyes at the guy in your office who--like clockwork, year after year--denies that he got the baby in the king cake and now someone else has to pony up the ten bucks for the next one.

Mardi Gras is the love of life. It is the harmonic convergence of our food, our music, our creativity, our eccentricity, our neighborhoods, and our joy of living. All at once.

Chris Rose, 1 Dead in Attic: Post-Katrina Stories.

Laissez Les Bon Temps Rouler!

Monday, February 20, 2023

Presidents' Day 2023

Today marks Presidents' Day, a state holiday set aside to honor and remember all who have served as the President of the United States of America.  The holiday falls on the third Monday of February, a date chosen as a midpoint between Lincoln's birthday on February 12 and Washington's birthday on February 22.  

Since 1862, there has been an ongoing tradition that Washington's Farewell Address be read in the United States Senate.  I can think of no better way to remember and honor the office of the president than to do likewise.  

It's surprising how much it is still applicable to us today.  He pleas for unity and warns against partisan fighting.  He emphasizes the purpose and importance checks on political power.  He pushes for neutrality and free trade.

I've included the text of his address below, with my emphasis added, as well as a bonus at the end.

The period for a new election of a citizen, to administer the executive government of the United States, being not far distant, and the time actually arrived, when your thoughts must be employed designating the person, who is to be clothed with that important trust, it appears to me proper, especially as it may conduce to a more distinct expression of the public voice, that I should now apprise you of the resolution I have formed, to decline being considered among the number of those out of whom a choice is to be made.

I beg you at the same time to do me the justice to be assured that this resolution has not been taken without a strict regard to all the considerations appertaining to the relation which binds a dutiful citizen to his country; and that in withdrawing the tender of service, which silence in my situation might imply, I am influenced by no diminution of zeal for your future interest, no deficiency of grateful respect for your past kindness, but am supported by a full conviction that the step is compatible with both.

The acceptance of, and continuance hitherto in, the office to which your suffrages have twice called me, have been a uniform sacrifice of inclination to the opinion of duty, and to a deference for what appeared to be your desire. I constantly hoped, that it would have been much earlier in my power, consistently with motives, which I was not at liberty to disregard, to return to that retirement, from which I had been reluctantly drawn. The strength of my inclination to do this, previous to the last election, had even led to the preparation of an address to declare it to you; but mature reflection on the then perplexed and critical posture of our affairs with foreign nations, and the unanimous advice of persons entitled to my confidence impelled me to abandon the idea.

I rejoice, that the state of your concerns, external as well as internal, no longer renders the pursuit of inclination incompatible with the sentiment of duty, or propriety; and am persuaded, whatever partiality may be retained for my services, that, in the present circumstances of our country, you will not disapprove my determination to retire.

The impressions, with which I first undertook the arduous trust, were explained on the proper occasion. In the discharge of this trust, I will only say, that I have, with good intentions, contributed towards the organization and administration of the government the best exertions of which a very fallible judgment was capable. Not unconscious, in the outset, of the inferiority of my qualifications, experience in my own eyes, perhaps still more in the eyes of others, has strengthened the motives to diffidence of myself; and every day the increasing weight of years admonishes me more and more, that the shade of retirement is as necessary to me as it will be welcome. Satisfied, that, if any circumstances have given peculiar value to my services, they were temporary, I have the consolation to believe, that, while choice and prudence invite me to quit the political scene, patriotism does not forbid it.

In looking forward to the moment, which is intended to terminate the career of my public life, my feelings do not permit me to suspend the deep acknowledgment of that debt of gratitude, which I owe to my beloved country for the many honors it has conferred upon me; still more for the steadfast confidence with which it has supported me; and for the opportunities I have thence enjoyed of manifesting my inviolable attachment, by services faithful and persevering, though in usefulness unequal to my zeal. If benefits have resulted to our country from these services, let it always be remembered to your praise, and as an instructive example in our annals, that under circumstances in which the passions, agitated in every direction, were liable to mislead, amidst appearances sometimes dubious, vicissitudes of fortune often discouraging, in situations in which not unfrequently want of success has countenanced the spirit of criticism, the constancy of your support was the essential prop of the efforts, and a guarantee of the plans by which they were effected. Profoundly penetrated with this idea, I shall carry it with me to my grave, as a strong incitement to unceasing vows that Heaven may continue to you the choicest tokens of its beneficence; that your union and brotherly affection may be perpetual; that the free constitution, which is the work of your hands, may be sacredly maintained; that its administration in every department may be stamped with wisdom and virtue; than, in fine, the happiness of the people of these States, under the auspices of liberty, may be made complete, by so careful a preservation and so prudent a use of this blessing, as will acquire to them the glory of recommending it to the applause, the affection, and adoption of every nation, which is yet a stranger to it.

Here, perhaps I ought to stop. But a solicitude for your welfare which cannot end but with my life, and the apprehension of danger, natural to that solicitude, urge me, on an occasion like the present, to offer to your solemn contemplation, and to recommend to your frequent review, some sentiments which are the result of much reflection, of no inconsiderable observation, and which appear to me all-important to the permanency of your felicity as a people. These will be offered to you with the more freedom, as you can only see in them the disinterested warnings of a parting friend, who can possibly have no personal motive to bias his counsel. Nor can I forget, as an encouragement to it, your indulgent reception of my sentiments on a former and not dissimilar occasion.

Interwoven as is the love of liberty with every ligament of your hearts, no recommendation of mine is necessary to fortify or confirm the attachment.

The unity of Government, which constitutes you one people, is also now dear to you. It is justly so; for it is a main pillar in the edifice of your real independence, the support of your tranquility at home, your peace abroad; of your safety; of your prosperity; of that very Liberty, which you so highly prize. But as it is easy to foresee, that, from different causes and from different quarters, much pains will be taken, many artifices employed, to weaken in your minds the conviction of this truth; as this is the point in your political fortress against which the batteries of internal and external enemies will be most constantly and actively (though often covertly and insidiously) directed, it is of infinite moment, that you should properly estimate the immense value of your national Union to your collective and individual happiness; that you should cherish a cordial, habitual, and immovable attachment to it; accustoming yourselves to think and speak of it as of the Palladium of your political safety and prosperity; watching for its preservation with jealous anxiety; discountenancing whatever may suggest even a suspicion, that it can in any event be abandoned; and indignantly frowning upon the first dawning of every attempt to alienate any portion of our country from the rest, or to enfeeble the sacred ties which now link together the various parts.

For this you have every inducement of sympathy and interest. Citizens, by birth or choice, of a common country, that country has a right to concentrate your affections. The name of american, which belongs to you, in your national capacity, must always exalt the just pride of Patriotism, more than any appellation derived from local discriminations. With slight shades of difference, you have the same religion, manners, habits, and political principles. You have in a common cause fought and triumphed together; the Independence and Liberty you possess are the work of joint counsels, and joint efforts, of common dangers, sufferings, and successes.

But these considerations, however powerfully they address themselves to your sensibility, are greatly outweighed by those, which apply more immediately to your interest. Here every portion of our country finds the most commanding motives for carefully guarding and preserving the Union of the whole.

The North, in an unrestrained intercourse with the South, protected by the equal laws of a common government, finds, in the productions of the latter, great additional resources of maritime and commercial enterprise and precious materials of manufacturing industry. The South, in the same intercourse, benefiting by the agency of the North, sees its agriculture grow and its commerce expand. Turning partly into its own channels the seamen of the North, it finds its particular navigation invigorated; and, while it contributes, in different ways, to nourish and increase the general mass of the national navigation, it looks forward to the protection of a maritime strength, to which itself is unequally adapted. The East, in a like intercourse with the West, already finds, and in the progressive improvement of interior communications by land and water, will more and more find, a valuable vent for the commodities which it brings from abroad, or manufactures at home. The West derives from the East supplies requisite to its growth and comfort, and, what is perhaps of still greater consequence, it must of necessity owe the secure enjoyment of indispensable outlets for its own productions to the weight, influence, and the future maritime strength of the Atlantic side of the Union, directed by an indissoluble community of interest as one nation. Any other tenure by which the West can hold this essential advantage, whether derived from its own separate strength, or from an apostate and unnatural connexion with any foreign power, must be intrinsically precarious.

While, then, every part of our country thus feels an immediate and particular interest in Union, all the parts combined cannot fail to find in the united mass of means and efforts greater strength, greater resource, proportionably greater security from external danger, a less frequent interruption of their peace by foreign nations; and, what is of inestimable value, they must derive from Union an exemption from those broils and wars between themselves, which so frequently afflict neighboring countries not tied together by the same governments, which their own rivalships alone would be sufficient to produce, but which opposite foreign alliances, attachments, and intrigues would stimulate and embitter. Hence, likewise, they will avoid the necessity of those overgrown military establishments, which, under any form of government, are inauspicious to liberty, and which are to be regarded as particularly hostile to Republican Liberty. In this sense it is, that your Union ought to be considered as a main prop of your liberty, and that the love of the one ought to endear to you the preservation of the other.

These considerations speak a persuasive language to every reflecting and virtuous mind, and exhibit the continuance of the union as a primary object of Patriotic desire. Is there a doubt, whether a common government can embrace so large a sphere? Let experience solve it. To listen to mere speculation in such a case were criminal. We are authorized to hope, that a proper organization of the whole, with the auxiliary agency of governments for the respective subdivisions, will afford a happy issue to the experiment. It is well worth a fair and full experiment. With such powerful and obvious motives to Union, affecting all parts of our country, while experience shall not have demonstrated its impracticability, there will always be reason to distrust the patriotism of those, who in any quarter may endeavor to weaken its bands.

In contemplating the causes, which may disturb our Union, it occurs as matter of serious concern, that any ground should have been furnished for characterizing parties by Geographical discriminations, Northern and Southern, Atlantic and Western; whence designing men may endeavor to excite a belief, that there is a real difference of local interests and views. One of the expedients of party to acquire influence, within particular districts, is to misrepresent the opinions and aims of other districts. You cannot shield yourselves too much against the jealousies and heart-burnings, which spring from these misrepresentations; they tend to render alien to each other those, who ought to be bound together by fraternal affection. The inhabitants of our western country have lately had a useful lesson on this head; they have seen, in the negotiation by the Executive, and in the unanimous ratification by the Senate, of the treaty with Spain, and in the universal satisfaction at that event, throughout the United States, a decisive proof how unfounded were the suspicions propagated among them of a policy in the General Government and in the Atlantic States unfriendly to their interests in regard to the Mississippi; they have been witnesses to the formation of two treaties, that with Great Britain, and that with Spain, which secure to them every thing they could desire, in respect to our foreign relations, towards confirming their prosperity. Will it not be their wisdom to rely for the preservation of these advantages on the union by which they were procured? Will they not henceforth be deaf to those advisers, if such there are, who would sever them from their brethren, and connect them with aliens?

To the efficacy and permanency of your Union, a Government for the whole is indispensable. No alliances, however strict, between the parts can be an adequate substitute; they must inevitably experience the infractions and interruptions, which all alliances in all times have experienced. Sensible of this momentous truth, you have improved upon your first essay, by the adoption of a Constitution of Government better calculated than your former for an intimate Union, and for the efficacious management of your common concerns. This Government, the offspring of our own choice, uninfluenced and unawed, adopted upon full investigation and mature deliberation, completely free in its principles, in the distribution of its powers, uniting security with energy, and containing within itself a provision for its own amendment, has a just claim to your confidence and your support. Respect for its authority, compliance with its laws, acquiescence in its measures, are duties enjoined by the fundamental maxims of true Liberty. The basis of our political systems is the right of the people to make and to alter their Constitutions of Government. But the Constitution which at any time exists, till changed by an explicit and authentic act of the whole people, is sacredly obligatory upon all. The very idea of the power and the right of the people to establish Government presupposes the duty of every individual to obey the established Government.

All obstructions to the execution of the Laws, all combinations and associations, under whatever plausible character, with the real design to direct, control, counteract, or awe the regular deliberation and action of the constituted authorities, are destructive of this fundamental principle, and of fatal tendency. They serve to organize faction, to give it an artificial and extraordinary force; to put, in the place of the delegated will of the nation, the will of a party, often a small but artful and enterprising minority of the community; and, according to the alternate triumphs of different parties, to make the public administration the mirror of the ill-concerted and incongruous projects of faction, rather than the organ of consistent and wholesome plans digested by common counsels, and modified by mutual interests.

However combinations or associations of the above description may now and then answer popular ends, they are likely, in the course of time and things, to become potent engines, by which cunning, ambitious, and unprincipled men will be enabled to subvert the power of the people, and to usurp for themselves the reins of government; destroying afterwards the very engines, which have lifted them to unjust dominion.

Towards the preservation of your government, and the permanency of your present happy state, it is requisite, not only that you steadily discountenance irregular oppositions to its acknowledged authority, but also that you resist with care the spirit of innovation upon its principles, however specious the pretexts. One method of assault may be to effect, in the forms of the constitution, alterations, which will impair the energy of the system, and thus to undermine what cannot be directly overthrown. In all the changes to which you may be invited, remember that time and habit are at least as necessary to fix the true character of governments, as of other human institutions; that experience is the surest standard, by which to test the real tendency of the existing constitution of a country; that facility in changes, upon the credit of mere hypothesis and opinion, exposes to perpetual change, from the endless variety of hypothesis and opinion; and remember, especially, that, for the efficient management of our common interests, in a country so extensive as ours, a government of as much vigor as is consistent with the perfect security of liberty is indispensable. Liberty itself will find in such a government, with powers properly distributed and adjusted, its surest guardian. It is, indeed, little else than a name, where the government is too feeble to withstand the enterprises of faction, to confine each member of the society within the limits prescribed by the laws, and to maintain all in the secure and tranquil enjoyment of the rights of person and property.

I have already intimated to you the danger of parties in the state, with particular reference to the founding of them on geographical discriminations. Let me now take a more comprehensive view, and warn you in the most solemn manner against the baneful effects of the spirit of party, generally.

This spirit, unfortunately, is inseparable from our nature, having its root in the strongest passions of the human mind. It exists under different shapes in all governments, more or less stifled, controlled, or repressed; but, in those of the popular form, it is seen in its greatest rankness, and is truly their worst enemy.

The alternate domination of one faction over another, sharpened by the spirit of revenge, natural to party dissension, which in different ages and countries has perpetrated the most horrid enormities, is itself a frightful despotism. But this leads at length to a more formal and permanent despotism. The disorders and miseries, which result, gradually incline the minds of men to seek security and repose in the absolute power of an individual; and sooner or later the chief of some prevailing faction, more able or more fortunate than his competitors, turns this disposition to the purposes of his own elevation, on the ruins of Public Liberty.

Without looking forward to an extremity of this kind, (which nevertheless ought not to be entirely out of sight,) the common and continual mischiefs of the spirit of party are sufficient to make it the interest and duty of a wise people to discourage and restrain it.

It serves always to distract the Public Councils, and enfeeble the Public Administration. It agitates the Community with ill-founded jealousies and false alarms; kindles the animosity of one part against another, foments occasionally riot and insurrection. It opens the door to foreign influence and corruption, which find a facilitated access to the government itself through the channels of party passions. Thus the policy and the will of one country are subjected to the policy and will of another.

There is an opinion, that parties in free countries are useful checks upon the administration of the Government, and serve to keep alive the spirit of Liberty. This within certain limits is probably true; and in Governments of a Monarchical cast, Patriotism may look with indulgence, if not with favor, upon the spirit of party. But in those of the popular character, in Governments purely elective, it is a spirit not to be encouraged. From their natural tendency, it is certain there will always be enough of that spirit for every salutary purpose. And, there being constant danger of excess, the effort ought to be, by force of public opinion, to mitigate and assuage it. A fire not to be quenched, it demands a uniform vigilance to prevent its bursting into a flame, lest, instead of warming, it should consume.

It is important, likewise, that the habits of thinking in a free country should inspire caution, in those entrusted with its administration, to confine themselves within their respective constitutional spheres, avoiding in the exercise of the powers of one department to encroach upon another. The spirit of encroachment tends to consolidate the powers of all the departments in one, and thus to create, whatever the form of government, a real despotism. A just estimate of that love of power, and proneness to abuse it, which predominates in the human heart, is sufficient to satisfy us of the truth of this position. The necessity of reciprocal checks in the exercise of political power, by dividing and distributing it into different depositories, and constituting each the Guardian of the Public Weal against invasions by the others, has been evinced by experiments ancient and modern; some of them in our country and under our own eyes. To preserve them must be as necessary as to institute them. If, in the opinion of the people, the distribution or modification of the constitutional powers be in any particular wrong, let it be corrected by an amendment in the way, which the constitution designates. But let there be no change by usurpation; for, though this, in one instance, may be the instrument of good, it is the customary weapon by which free governments are destroyed. The precedent must always greatly overbalance in permanent evil any partial or transient benefit, which the use can at any time yield.

Of all the dispositions and habits, which lead to political prosperity, Religion and Morality are indispensable supports. In vain would that man claim the tribute of Patriotism, who should labor to subvert these great pillars of human happiness, these firmest props of the duties of Men and Citizens. The mere Politician, equally with the pious man, ought to respect and to cherish them. A volume could not trace all their connexions with private and public felicity. Let it simply be asked, Where is the security for property, for reputation, for life, if the sense of religious obligation desert the oaths, which are the instruments of investigation in Courts of Justice? And let us with caution indulge the supposition, that morality can be maintained without religion. Whatever may be conceded to the influence of refined education on minds of peculiar structure, reason and experience both forbid us to expect, that national morality can prevail in exclusion of religious principle.

It is substantially true, that virtue or morality is a necessary spring of popular government. The rule, indeed, extends with more or less force to every species of free government. Who, that is a sincere friend to it, can look with indifference upon attempts to shake the foundation of the fabric ?

Promote, then, as an object of primary importance, institutions for the general diffusion of knowledge. In proportion as the structure of a government gives force to public opinion, it is essential that public opinion should be enlightened.

As a very important source of strength and security, cherish public credit. One method of preserving it is, to use it as sparingly as possible; avoiding occasions of expense by cultivating peace, but remembering also that timely disbursements to prepare for danger frequently prevent much greater disbursements to repel it; avoiding likewise the accumulation of debt, not only by shunning occasions of expense, but by vigorous exertions in time of peace to discharge the debts, which unavoidable wars may have occasioned, not ungenerously throwing upon posterity the burthen, which we ourselves ought to bear. The execution of these maxims belongs to your representatives, but it is necessary that public opinion should cooperate. To facilitate to them the performance of their duty, it is essential that you should practically bear in mind, that towards the payment of debts there must be Revenue; that to have Revenue there must be taxes; that no taxes can be devised, which are not more or less inconvenient and unpleasant; that the intrinsic embarrassment, inseparable from the selection of the proper objects (which is always a choice of difficulties), ought to be a decisive motive for a candid construction of the conduct of the government in making it, and for a spirit of acquiescence in the measures for obtaining revenue, which the public exigencies may at any time dictate.

Observe good faith and justice towards all Nations; cultivate peace and harmony with all. Religion and Morality enjoin this conduct; and can it be, that good policy does not equally enjoin it? It will be worthy of a free, enlightened, and, at no distant period, a great Nation, to give to mankind the magnanimous and too novel example of a people always guided by an exalted justice and benevolence. Who can doubt, that, in the course of time and things, the fruits of such a plan would richly repay any temporary advantages, which might be lost by a steady adherence to it ? Can it be, that Providence has not connected the permanent felicity of a Nation with its Virtue? The experiment, at least, is recommended by every sentiment which ennobles human nature. Alas! is it rendered impossible by its vices ?

In the execution of such a plan, nothing is more essential, than that permanent, inveterate antipathies against particular Nations, and passionate attachments for others, should be excluded; and that, in place of them, just and amicable feelings towards all should be cultivated. The Nation, which indulges towards another an habitual hatred, or an habitual fondness, is in some degree a slave. It is a slave to its animosity or to its affection, either of which is sufficient to lead it astray from its duty and its interest. Antipathy in one nation against another disposes each more readily to offer insult and injury, to lay hold of slight causes of umbrage, and to be haughty and intractable, when accidental or trifling occasions of dispute occur. Hence frequent collisions, obstinate, envenomed, and bloody contests. The Nation, prompted by ill-will and resentment, sometimes impels to war the Government, contrary to the best calculations of policy. The Government sometimes participates in the national propensity, and adopts through passion what reason would reject; at other times, it makes the animosity of the nation subservient to projects of hostility instigated by pride, ambition, and other sinister and pernicious motives. The peace often, sometimes perhaps the liberty, of Nations has been the victim.

So likewise, a passionate attachment of one Nation for another produces a variety of evils. Sympathy for the favorite Nation, facilitating the illusion of an imaginary common interest, in cases where no real common interest exists, and infusing into one the enmities of the other, betrays the former into a participation in the quarrels and wars of the latter, without adequate inducement or justification. It leads also to concessions to the favorite Nation of privileges denied to others, which is apt doubly to injure the Nation making the concessions; by unnecessarily parting with what ought to have been retained; and by exciting jealousy, ill-will, and a disposition to retaliate, in the parties from whom equal privileges are withheld. And it gives to ambitious, corrupted, or deluded citizens, (who devote themselves to the favorite nation,) facility to betray or sacrifice the interests of their own country, without odium, sometimes even with popularity; gilding, with the appearances of a virtuous sense of obligation, a commendable deference for public opinion, or a laudable zeal for public good, the base or foolish compliances of ambition, corruption, or infatuation.

As avenues to foreign influence in innumerable ways, such attachments are particularly alarming to the truly enlightened and independent Patriot. How many opportunities do they afford to tamper with domestic factions, to practice the arts of seduction, to mislead public opinion, to influence or awe the Public Councils! Such an attachment of a small or weak, towards a great and powerful nation, dooms the former to be the satellite of the latter.

Against the insidious wiles of foreign influence (I conjure you to believe me, fellow-citizens,) the jealousy of a free people ought to be constantly awake; since history and experience prove, that foreign influence is one of the most baneful foes of Republican Government. But that jealousy, to be useful, must be impartial; else it becomes the instrument of the very influence to be avoided, instead of a defense against it. Excessive partiality for one foreign nation, and excessive dislike of another, cause those whom they actuate to see danger only on one side, and serve to veil and even second the arts of influence on the other. Real patriots, who may resist the intrigues of the favorite, are liable to become suspected and odious; while its tools and dupes usurp the applause and confidence of the people, to surrender their interests.

The great rule of conduct for us, in regard to foreign nations, is, in extending our commercial relations, to have with them as little political connexion as possible. So far as we have already formed engagements, let them be fulfilled with perfect good faith. Here let us stop.

Europe has a set of primary interests, which to us have none, or a very remote relation. Hence she must be engaged in frequent controversies, the causes of which are essentially foreign to our concerns. Hence, therefore, it must be unwise in us to implicate ourselves, by artificial ties, in the ordinary vicissitudes of her politics, or the ordinary combinations and collisions of her friendships or enmities.

Our detached and distant situation invites and enables us to pursue a different course. If we remain one people, under an efficient government, the period is not far off, when we may defy material injury from external annoyance; when we may take such an attitude as will cause the neutrality, we may at any time resolve upon, to be scrupulously respected; when belligerent nations, under the impossibility of making acquisitions upon us, will not lightly hazard the giving us provocation; when we may choose peace or war, as our interest, guided by justice, shall counsel.

Why forego the advantages of so peculiar a situation? Why quit our own to stand upon foreign ground? Why, by interweaving our destiny with that of any part of Europe, entangle our peace and prosperity in the toils of European ambition, rivalship, interest, humor, or caprice?

It is our true policy to steer clear of permanent alliances with any portion of the foreign world; so far, I mean, as we are now at liberty to do it; for let me not be understood as capable of patronizing infidelity to existing engagements. I hold the maxim no less applicable to public than to private affairs, that honesty is always the best policy. I repeat it, therefore, let those engagements be observed in their genuine sense. But, in my opinion, it is unnecessary and would be unwise to extend them.

Taking care always to keep ourselves, by suitable establishments, on a respectable defensive posture, we may safely trust to temporary alliances for extraordinary emergencies.

Harmony, liberal intercourse with all nations, are recommended by policy, humanity, and interest. But even our commercial policy should hold an equal and impartial hand; neither seeking nor granting exclusive favors or preferences; consulting the natural course of things; diffusing and diversifying by gentle means the streams of commerce, but forcing nothing; establishing, with powers so disposed, in order to give trade a stable course, to define the rights of our merchants, and to enable the government to support them, conventional rules of intercourse, the best that present circumstances and mutual opinion will permit, but temporary, and liable to be from time to time abandoned or varied, as experience and circumstances shall dictate; constantly keeping in view, that it is folly in one nation to look for disinterested favors from another; that it must pay with a portion of its independence for whatever it may accept under that character; that, by such acceptance, it may place itself in the condition of having given equivalents for nominal favors, and yet of being reproached with ingratitude for not giving more. There can be no greater error than to expect or calculate upon real favors from nation to nation. It is an illusion, which experience must cure, which a just pride ought to discard.

In offering to you, my countrymen, these counsels of an old and affectionate friend, I dare not hope they will make the strong and lasting impression I could wish; that they will control the usual current of the passions, or prevent our nation from running the course, which has hitherto marked the destiny of nations. But, if I may even flatter myself, that they may be productive of some partial benefit, some occasional good; that they may now and then recur to moderate the fury of party spirit, to warn against the mischiefs of foreign intrigue, to guard against the impostures of pretended patriotism; this hope will be a full recompense for the solicitude for your welfare, by which they have been dictated.

How far in the discharge of my official duties, I have been guided by the principles which have been delineated, the public records and other evidences of my conduct must witness to you and to the world. To myself, the assurance of my own conscience is, that I have at least believed myself to be guided by them.

In relation to the still subsisting war in Europe, my Proclamation of the 22d of April 1793, is the index to my Plan. Sanctioned by your approving voice, and by that of your Representatives in both Houses of Congress, the spirit of that measure has continually governed me, uninfluenced by any attempts to deter or divert me from it.

After deliberate examination, with the aid of the best lights I could obtain, I was well satisfied that our country, under all the circumstances of the case, had a right to take, and was bound in duty and interest to take, a neutral position. Having taken it, I determined, as far as should depend upon me, to maintain it, with moderation, perseverance, and firmness.

The considerations, which respect the right to hold this conduct, it is not necessary on this occasion to detail. I will only observe, that, according to my understanding of the matter, that right, so far from being denied by any of the Belligerent Powers, has been virtually admitted by all.

The duty of holding a neutral conduct may be inferred, without any thing more, from the obligation which justice and humanity impose on every nation, in cases in which it is free to act, to maintain inviolate the relations of peace and amity towards other nations.

The inducements of interest for observing that conduct will best be referred to your own reflections and experience. With me, a predominant motive has been to endeavor to gain time to our country to settle and mature its yet recent institutions, and to progress without interruption to that degree of strength and consistency, which is necessary to give it, humanly speaking, the command of its own fortunes.

Though, in reviewing the incidents of my administration, I am unconscious of intentional error, I am nevertheless too sensible of my defects not to think it probable that I may have committed many errors. Whatever they may be, I fervently beseech the Almighty to avert or mitigate the evils to which they may tend. I shall also carry with me the hope, that my Country will never cease to view them with indulgence; and that, after forty-five years of my life dedicated to its service with an upright zeal, the faults of incompetent abilities will be consigned to oblivion, as myself must soon be to the mansions of rest.

Relying on its kindness in this as in other things, and actuated by that fervent love towards it, which is so natural to a man, who views it in the native soil of himself and his progenitors for several generations; I anticipate with pleasing expectation that retreat, in which I promise myself to realize, without alloy, the sweet enjoyment of partaking, in the midst of my fellow-citizens, the benign influence of good laws under a free government, the ever favorite object of my heart, and the happy reward, as I trust, of our mutual cares, labors, and dangers."

George Washington
United States - September 17, 1796

One last time.


Sunday, February 19, 2023

Some Lessons

"Well I'm buckled up inside
It's a miracle that I'm alive
I do not think I can survive
On bread and wine alone
To think that I could have fallen
A centimeter to the left
Would not be here to see the sunset
Or have myself a time

Remember the sound of the pavement
World turned upside down
City streets unlined and empty
Not a soul around
Life goes away in a flash
Right before your eyes
If I think real hard well I reckon I've had some real good times

Well why do the hands of time
So easily unwind

Some lessons we learn the hard way
Some lessons don't come easy
That's the price we have to pay
Some lessons we learn the hard way
They don't come right off and right easy
That's why they say some lessons learned we learn the hard way"

There are songs that you come to in round about ways.  I'm not talking about those you hear on a radio or have a friend introduce you to.  I'm talking about those you learn something about first and then you have to track it down.

Some Lessons is one of those songs.

I first heard of this song through an NPR interview with the artist Melody Gardot.  The interview focused on the events of her life that led her to writing the songs on her album Some Lessons: The Bedroom Sessions, including the title track Some Lessons.

In November 2003, Gardot was struck by an SUV while riding her bicycle.  She sustained head, spinal, and pelvic injuries, leaving her confined to a hospital bed for a year, struggling to relearn simple tasks, over-stimulated by light and sound, and suffering from short-term memory loss.

The songs on Some Lessons where part autobiography and part therapy, dealing with the injury and her healing from it.  In the title track, she mentions her injury, in how if she had fallen just a centimeter to the left, she would not have survived.

It's a song about her gratitude to be alive.

And it's heartbreaking and beautiful.

This brings me back around to the problem of suffering.

That theological and philosophical problem of how a good God could allow so much suffering in the world.

While I can't speak to Gardot's faith, one answer she comes to in the song still rings true.

"Some lessons we learn the hard way."

Gardot reveals her appreciation for life, her gratitude just for being able to take another breath, comes from the suffering she endured.  She learned a new appreciation for something so foundational, so simple because of having to struggle for it.

While it's not a popular idea, I think we instinctively know this.  Some of our suffering comes to us because there is a lesson we have to learn.  God allows us to struggle because there is a concept he needs us to understand to prepare us for something that comes in our future.  And he knows this is the way we will learn it the most.

Those of us who are parents understand this concept.  The idea of having to let your children fail, even and especially at things that are hard and really matter, for them to internalize and learn a lesson.  It's not being a bad parent or being uncaring; it's instead the most loving thing you can do.

So, yes, God allows some struggles, some suffering, because He loves us.

This is part of Christ's example to us.  Look at what he suffered and endured.  Torture and death.  Agony and pain.  He begged "if there is another way, please take this from me."  But ultimately, he knew that then hard way was the only way.  

Some lessons.

I want to emphasize here that it is some lessons.  An important modifier.  This does not explain all suffering, all struggle, all evil.  There are struggles that yield no lesson, that are unknowable.  Products of an extremely broken world that reflect its corruption.  Those things we will never understand until far later, when pain has been completely wiped away.

But there are ones that do teach us.  Even big ones.  Struggles that slow us down, that focus us on important matters.  That humble us.  That stretch us and grow us.  And reveal our flaws, our strengths, our character.

They are the price we have to pay.

For some lessons, they remain learned the hard way.

Saturday, February 18, 2023

My Sense of Humor, Part 1

I love to laugh.

Accordingly, there is really nothing better than finding a good comedy.  Something that really makes you laugh heartily, from the depths of your soul.  

They are getting harder to find now.  More diffused among the myriad of streaming platforms and litany of films released each year.  So much harder to find, that the moments that really make you bust a gut stand out so starkly among your other experiences.  I can point to one specifically last year in getting to binge Only Murders in the Building.

In that spirit, I thought I would share my sense of humor.  The comedies that formed my humor, for good and bad.  Given the scope of the assignment, I've split it into two parts, with today focusing on the television comedies that have shaped my personality and the films to come later.

With that in mind, in no particular order, here are the top ten television series that have truly informed my sense of humor and continue to tickle my funny bone.

  • Coupling (The Original British Version) - I still say this is hands down the funniest show that I have ever seen.  Before I even knew the series name, I searched for this show.  When I first went to London and Scotland, I remember watching the episode The Girl with Two Breasts with Dad the night before we returned home and laughing harder than ever before for a television show.  The title is a reference to a misstep in translation and the episode was split into two versions, one showing the events from the English cast and then one showing the same events from the Israeli girl who was the object of Jeff's affection.  For the longest, I could never find the name of the show, but thankfully stumbled across it again on BBC America.  A bit bluer in discussion than American television, but otherwise similar to an American sitcom.  I also highly recommend the episode The Man with Two Legs.
  • Spaced - This is nerd humor.  Humor steeped in the fandoms that I love, performed by actors whose work I greatly appreciate.  I love the Cornetto trilogy that grew from this and this show is a great entry point to that.  Deeply British, but wonderfully done. Two seasons is too short.
  • Pushing Daisies - This shows off my love of puns and whimsy.  While this show is not laugh out loud funny, it never fails to leave me with a smile  I love what Bryan Fuller does on television.  His vision for set design and color and how that all contributes to the mood is incredible.  And it was all incorporated so well into Pushing Daisies.  Such a unique concept, a forensic fairytale about a piemaker who can touch the dead and wake them for a minute.  Gone far too soon.
  • Freaks and GeeksSpeaking of gone too soon, a one season show that really launched so many careers.  For all the shows that have mined the 1980s for nostalgia, this one got it so right.  For anyone who was not in a popular clique at the time, this really resonated and its comedy was so genuine.  It felt like that type of comedy you developed as a defense mechanism if you didn't fit in.  Or just the general reminders of parents in the 80s.  "And you know what happened to him - he died."
  • Frasier - To me, Fraiser is the perfect definition of a situation comedy, in that the enjoyment of the show comes from identifying the situation that Fraiser gets himself into and then seeing the hi-jinks that will ensue as he tries to get out of them.  There are so many tropes that are done so well here.  A Servant of Two Masters, Upstairs/Downstairs, mistaken identities, overlapping promises.  When it works, it works so well.  Amazing for a spinoff from another classic sitcom.
  • Seinfeld - The show about nothing.  In many ways, the opposite of a situation comedy.  This is humor derived from character.  Put a character in an environment and the humor comes from how they would interact.  Plus, it helps show the humor in everyday situations.  Waiting at a Chinese restaurant for a table.  Getting a smell out of your car.  The characters might not be the most likable people in the world, but they are certainly funny.
  • The Muppet Show - This is a current rewatch, going through all five seasons on Disney+.   It's part parody, part variety show, part Goes Wrong Show, and sometimes just weird.  The key is, it's all done with heart.  It's the earnestness the modern versions of the Muppets are missing, but it shines through in these episodes.  Plus its fun to watch the kids crack up at a gag, like when the characters get turned into a chicken or fall off the mountain singing The Happy Wanderer.
  • The Good PlaceOne of the smartest shows that I've seen in a long time and the definition of a smart comedy.  It deals with heady topics, but does so in a thoroughly entertaining way.  It does take getting through the first season to get to the twist for it really to take off, but it's worth it.  While not the best on theology, the exploration of morality and philosophy is excellent and the premise and show is genuinely funny.  Great characters and truly charming.
  • Arrested Development (The Early Seasons) - One of my favorite comedic tropes - the straight-man surrounded by the absurd.  Told in such an inventive way, the trials of Michael trying to deal with his crazy family are consistently entertaining.  This so way ahead of its time and struggled to find an audience on network because of it.  As a plus, in our current environment, it really does benefit from binging.
  • Golden Girls - I've said it before and I don't care.  This show still holds up and if I'm feeling down, there is nothing else I'd rather watch.  I want to picture Sicily in 19-whatever, be regaled with stories of Saint Olaf, and do thank you for being a friend.   The comedy is in the mix of personalities. There are Saint Olaf stories I still laugh at, like the tiny little ginsu knives.  Bea Arthur's snark continues to impress.  And Estelle Getty steals the show. I'll claim this one for a lifetime.