Dear Representative Boebert:

I read  about your speech at the Cornerstone Christian Center in Basalt, Colorado on June 26th. You are quoted as saying “The church is supposed to direct the government. The government is not supposed to direct the church. That is not how our founding fathers intended it.” You are reported to have gone on to say that you are “tired” of the separation of church and state in America, and that the long-standing concept stems from a “stinking letter” by Thomas Jefferson in 1802 to the Danbury [Connecticut] Baptist Association. In his private letter to the association, Jefferson writes “religion is a matter which lies solely between Man & his God” and that the American people have chosen to build a “wall of separation between Church & State.”

Since you have taken on this topic in your speech, I give you the benefit of the doubt that you have read and studied The Constitution and especially its First Amendment, which states that “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof” which is historically interpreted to mean the separation of church and state — although that phrase is not explicitly used. Also, since your referred to an 1802 letter of Thomas Jefferson, I must assume that you read and studied Jefferson’s words concerning the separation of church and state.

As an elected leader with a national platform, I ask you to consider your words as they carry much more import than those of a private citizen. As a member of the House of Representatives, I suggest that many people think your words demonstrate a deep understanding of whatever topic of which you speak. But your office requires a higher standard—or it should, and you saying that “The church is supposed to direct the government” demonstrates a gross misunderstanding of our system or government or, worse, a willful use to gain political advantage.

I wonder if you did your own research before the speech or if an aide told you what to say or did the speech come from another source? The expressed ignorance in your speech and your reference to Jefferson’s letter as “stinking” are pitiful- regardless of the sources.

If you are sincerely interested in the separation of church and state, I suggest you spend an afternoon doing a simple Google search and gain an education on the topic. Here is one opinion you may find. It is of John Adams: “The Government of the United States of America is not, in any sense, founded on the Christian religion.” But there is much more to find, all from our Founding Fathers.

However, if you are truly “tired” of our separation of church and state, I suggest you try living in any of several countries of the Middle East. Perhaps one of them would invite you to join and live how their religion directs the government.

Dear Coach Joseph Kennedy:

We do not know each other. But like many Americans, I have read about you because of Monday’s U.S. Supreme Court ruling concerning your on-the-field prayers following games in Washington state. From what I read, you first began your prayers in 2015, and you said that your prayer was brief, and no player was forced to participate.

That said, I ask you to consider several things, which I offer to you as a coach with 40+ years of experience, and a Christ-follower.

As a coach, you have tremendous sway over your athletes, which I know you know. Because of your influence, please consider that you send a message to your athletes when you go to the fifty-yard line after a game. They watch their coaches and want to please them. Do they come willingly to the 50-yard line or do they come because of the implied and direct pressure you send by your act?

I also ask you to consider your influence over young athletes, and whether your act brings any of them to be Christ-followers. Is your ritual (and it is a ritual) without dedication or deeper meaning? Are you teaching vain-repetition or something more Christ-like?

Is this the Christian message you want to send to the young athletes?

Jesus tells us, “… for they [Pharisees] love to pray to stand in the synagogues and the corners of the streets, that they may be seen of men…. But thou when thou prayest, enter into thy closet, and when thou hast shut thy door, pray to thy Father which is in secret.…” Matthew 6:5,6 (KJV)

The verses I quote from the book of Matthew were the words of Jesus when he rebuked religious ostentation in His Sermon on the Mount. We are instructed not to make our prayers a performance for others, but rather, as a talk with His Father, a private conversation.

I ask you to think of these things.

Respectfully,

Roger Barbee

    Life Cancelled for a Bit

For over twenty years I have lived life with my wheelchair. I was 55 when I had the  accident that made me a T 5-6 paraplegic, and as expected and required, over those years I have adapted. Adaption is easier written than done, but with the help of family, friends, and medical professionals, I have matured into my life from a wheelchair. However, I would be dishonest if I do not confess to certain feelings—such as pining for the days when I raced everything from 400 meters to the marathon; or the ability to bound up a flight of stairs two at a time;  or my day-long hikes on The Ridgeway in England each July; or taking a walk with a loved one on a cool evening. While I learned to manage the new life, I did miss aspects of my old one and at times, I admit, to wallowing in a self-dug pity-pit. But I always remembered the words of Tom Oberdorfer, my counselor, “It’s alright to go there, just don’t stay.” So, whenever I fell into the pit I always crawled out-usually after a good wallow. However, a recent happening has changed my view of my life and what I can’t do.

I got COVID! I had had two shots and one booster, but the horrific infection made me extremely ill for three days. To breathe I sat on a sofa for over 24 hours with my feet propped in my wheelchair. When I was finally able to transfer out of the sofa onto my wheelchair, I had developed my first pressure sore-right on my tailbone. Still feeling the issues from COVID, I went to the ER to have the sore examined. Home again, my wife and I had directions and the name of a local wound-care doctor. Two weeks and two appointments later and after great care by my wife Mary Ann, the sore has lessened a bit. But like all pressure sores, it will only be cured by not applying pressure in any way, which is simple in one aspect–don’t sit. Yet how to do that when a wheelchair is my only way to move? The remedy is to lay in bed to reduce the pressure on the sore. A pile of good books and bandages and butt cream make the hours and curing go faster and better; but it represents lost hours of living as I knew them-wheeling about, living  life in my wheelchair. The pit Tom warned me of looms larger and deadlier.

However, I have concentrated on the things that I used to be able to do—all during my last twenty years. I remember how good it felt to vacuum the downstairs and screen porch and to pick-up pines cones in the front yard and to ride my stationary bike and to and to and to.

Like all good lessons learned by living, my appreciation of the many things I did just a few weeks ago is being  re-taught to me by this experience. I knew that my life was rich and full these past twenty years, but not being able to do those things just now has made them more attractive and appreciated. They become like the old English proverb that describes stolen fruit as the sweetest. There may some wisdom in that proverb because once on the Thames Towpath my friend Druin and I stopped our run to pick delicious cherries from a garden tree overhanging the towpath. We stood stuffing ourselves until a stern voice on the garden side of the wall reminded us that those were not our cherries. Correct. But they were so good.

Soon the cancelled life I led so brief a time ago will return, and I shall celebrate it by vacuuming the downstairs and picking up pinecones. Until then, however, I will read and appreciate my good care.

Stonehenge in the Garden

Two weeks ago, if you had walked through our back garden gate, the gardenia would have made you take notice of it because its full blooming filled the garden with sweet fragrance. And over in a neighbor’s yard, a large Ligustrum would be adding to the scents of early summer. The gardenia is only three years old, but its rich green leaves and its full bright white blooms add to what was a corner of the garden before we moved the fence to the far back, and the Ligustrum’s blooming scent sent waves of sweetness across the yards.

Now all that remains are dull brown blooms on both plants. No more does a visitor smell them before seeing them. But the abelia next to the screened porch has blossomed and its small white flowers not only attract bees but sends a soft scent more subtle than the others and powerful in the way its summons the bees. The going of one leads to the arrival of another, and that is the pleasure of gardens.

Yesterday folks gathered in various ways around the world to mark the summer solstice, but I marked the beginning of the season by observing the gardenia, Ligustrum, and abelia. Their life cycle and fading blooms are my Stonehenge sunrise, my notice that another season has arrived.

            I Deserve What

The reports of some professional golfers signing to play for a new league remind me of an old story that goes like this modern version: Senator Pockets attending a fund raiser is approached by a well-heeled lobbyist who says, “Senator, my group needs your help with some pending legislation.” “Well,” answered the Senator, “call my chief aide tomorrow with the details. Now, how much of a  contribution is your group prepared to make to one of my re-election committees?” “We were thinking $10,000,” answered the lobbyist. “My gracious,” responded Senator Pockets, “do you think my influence can be purchased?” “Oh,” the lobbyist answers, “We’ve established that. We’re just arguing for  how much.”

            John Feinstein reports the following exchange between two well-known professional golfers: “McIlroy and Garcia are good friends; they were in each other’s weddings. But when Garcia told McIlroy the reason to join the LIV Tour was ‘so we can finally get paid what we deserve,’ McIlroy laughed out loud. ‘Sergio,’ he said, ‘We’re golfers. We don’t deserve to be paid anything.’ ”

             In fact, the entire reasoning of Sergio Garcia and his sense of entitlement expressed in the quoted exchange, also prevails with too many of our elected leaders. They seem to think that being elected to public office is an entitlement and not a service. Power and money rule their decisions. If you don’t believe me, examine the faltering gun safety measures and other needed legislation that languishes somewhere in the bowels of Congress.

            Deserve is a much-abused word. Not only is it abused by golfers and other professional athletes and their owners, but politicians also abuse it to manipulate voters into thinking that they have, somehow, been cheated of something they deserve. But what do we deserve–if anything?

            Deserve is a verb which  means “to be worthy.” It is derived from the Latin word, deservire which means “to serve zealously.” So, as I understand this brief etymology of the word, it seems to me that “What I (and you) deserve is the privilege to serve not ourselves but our society, our country, even our world. But as used by Garcia and so many others, deserve is a verb of taking, but it should be one of giving.

            Some golfers who have signed with the new league offer light excuses for their choice, such as, “It’s good for golf.” Like the words of Senator Pockets, however, theirs are only a self-serving rationalizing that makes a shoddy attempt to cover the truth: They signed on because of their greed.

            McIlroy gives us all good advice. We may not be golfers or famous athletes or politicians, but we all are citizens who deserve to give back, not to take simply because we are here.

  Experts in Grace

An art dealer in Florida has been charged by federal agents with wire fraud, money laundering, and mail fraud. It seems he sold fake art works by Jean-Michel Basquiat, Andy Warhol and other well-known artists for millions of dollars. The dealer supposedly purchased one fake work by Basquiat on a website for $495 and sold it to an undercover agent for $12 million. His extensive fraud was uncovered after technology revealed the signatures on the art were false and examinations by art experts collaborated that the works were not originals. However, the dealer assured purchasers that he stood behind the work in his gallery 100 percent and that each purchase was a fabulous deal.

Forgeries have been with us, but the Internet gives the cheater easier access to those who may not have the knowledge to determine if an item is authentic.  However, what if the offering is not a concrete item like a work of art? What if the offering is a promise formed out of words from a respected community member like a teacher or religious leader? How does one not believe someone that is so revered?

In my career as a teacher of literature and writing, I would at times deliberately lie or make an outlandish claim to my students.(For instance: Romeo was too old for Juliet.)  I did this in order to teach them that a teacher was not infallible, and they should not accept as a cardinal truth everything a teacher said. In that small way, I was hoping to teach them that they were responsible for their educations. They had the text and were required to read it and draw their own conclusions based on the text.

Like teachers, religious leaders have influence, even power, over people. They can sway the way people think and act. Just as I did with Shakespeare, a religious leader can use a holy text to teach. However, what if that teaching is that all infidels should be killed, or the holy city of Jerusalem should be rid of all non-Christians. What if a religious leader taught that homosexuals deserve to lose civil rights or that only one political leader deserves a vote?

Christians have the Bible and its teachings. We can read and study the Gospels to guide us. We have the examples of Jesus. The written words of James, Paul, and other writers can instruct. We should read and study those lessons and upon hearing some “pastor” tell us that anyone not in agreement with what he or she shouts from the pulpit is to be despised and shunned, we should go to John 4 and read Jesus talking with the woman who was such an outcast that she had to go to  the village well at noon, in the heat of the day. But she, the Samaritan woman, encountered a Jewish man who spoke to her with kind words.

The Text is our expert guiding us in what we believe and how we act. That Text will reveal any forgery blabbering from a pulpit of lies and misinformation.

Robert’s Lesson

One of my favorite hunting stories is told by my friend Robert and it happened when he took his grandson for the first time on a yearly family visit to rural Kansas.

Robert took his oldest grandson to introduce him to his Kansas relatives. As imagined, much talk took place over bountiful meals and the young teenager was enjoying himself. Robert and some other males of the Kansas family had hunted prairie dogs in past summers to reduce any infection of the rodents, which was a nuisance for the farming family. Robert, a skilled hunter, was asked to help thin one of the coteries , and his grandson wanted to go on the hunt. Robert helped his grandson find a good location from which to see and shoot the rodents, and he took the rifle Robert handed him, but when Robert gave him a single bullet, the boy looked at it with surprise and asked was that all. Robert told him, “We’re shooting, not spraying. Now hunt!”

Following the massacre in Robb Elementary School, I have read the words of two elected officials defending the ownership of the AR-15 assault rifle. A senator from Louisiana justifies having such a rifle in his state because it is needed to shoot wild hogs. Now I know that a wild hog is a ferocious animal and even deadly, and I did a simple Google search for the best weapon to use to kill feral hogs. No list included the AR-15. As if that were not enough, a congressman from Colorado justified the ownership of AR-15s in his state because they were needed to kill racoons that were killing local chickens. Once again, in a simple Google search for the best weapon to kill those pesky racoons, no mention was made of an AR-15.

My searches showed some hunters who profess their preference for the AR-15 for a multitude of  reasons. However, the fact that the gun is designed and made to kill humans should outweigh anyone’s preference, especially when any hunter has a buffet of other choices for the killing.

My friend Robert’s lesson in giving his grandson one bullet was a powerful one telling his grandson that hunting was based on shooting; explaining the difference between shooting and spraying is one from which all hunters could benefit. Learn to shoot, then hunt and not butcher it on the hoof.

     Rhetoric

Words matter, and that is why advertisers, lawyers, religious leaders, and politicians usually are careful of their chosen words. The words used can convince a consumer to make a purchase, persuade a jury of peers, encourage a congregation to work at being better individuals, or believe a particular way. A skilled writer can use chosen words to sway a reader or listener to a new way of thinking. Words matter because they move their audience and elected leaders are masters at using words to do that. Patrick Henry’s  words “Give me liberty or give me death”, not only moved a state government in 1775, but they are also still used today to inspire. However, the speech he gave that day should be read for more than those oft-quoted words. In arguing for a state militia he says to his opponents in the Second Virginia Convention,  “But different men often see the same subject in different lights,” which is a powerful but eloquent way of saying, “I don’t agree with you.”

Henry is one of our Founding Fathers who used his words to argue for what he saw as the best path in building a nation—from scratch. He and all the other Founding Fathers (and Mothers such as Mrs. Adams) had various views, but they used rhetoric to help form our great democracy. Yet, all their building was done in years of turmoil, but they came to compromise  through words of persuasion, not vulgar ones of violence. But our current political climate, while rife with disagreements like that of the Founders, is full of vulgar and violent rhetoric. Now, instead of persuading words, we have bombast and worse.

Rep. Ruben Gallego, a democrat from Arizona wrote these words on Tweeter to express his disagreement with a senator: “F*** you @tedcruz you care about a fetus but you will let our children get slaughtered. Just get your a** to Cancun. You are useless,”

The Lt. Governor of North Carolina, Mark Robinson, explained his opinion on guns this way: “I got them AR-15s in case the government gets too big for his britches because I’m going to fill the backside of them britches with some lead, “I’m going to say it to you plain. Your boy ain’t going down without, he isn’t going down without swinging.”

Words should accomplish something, but Galleo’s public vulgarity only offend and disappoint. They do not show disagreement but attack in a vile fashion. They are shameful.

While Robinson does not use the vulgarity of Galleo, his words express a false bravado in a phony down-home manner that he hopes will appeal to a base populous. His words are a good example of condoning violence without using violent language. They, too, are shameful.

While few of us can speak like Patrick Henry and other great people, we all should aspire to. We should all strive to use words that persuade and motivate. We  should express our disagreement with policies and beliefs in carefully chosen words and not attack. We should seek discourse not discord. All of this is an expectation for any citizen. However, a greater expectation is hoped for from community and national leaders. Because of their position, certain people like teachers, clergy, and elected officials need to set an example of excellence not one of ugly filth.

My mother used many country sayings to teach us children lessons. One of her favorites was, “You can catch more flies with sugar than vinegar.” While some of her sayings were more difficult to understand and apply to daily life on the mill-hill, all us children understood what our mother was teaching us by this one.

President Obama told us that we can disagree without being disagreeable.

He and my mother speak a truth that we all need to follow.

Open Caskets

In 1955 when the body of 14-year-old Emmett Till arrived home to Chicago, the only thing that identified him was a ring. His swollen body was missing teeth, an ear was severed, and an eye hung out after he had been kidnapped, tortured, shot, wrapped in barbed wire attached to a heavy fan, and dumped into the Tallahatchie River by two white men in Money, Mississippi.

His mother, Ms. Elizabeth Till-Mobley, saw the body of her only child and made a courageous decision. She told the mortician to leave her son as he was and insisted on an open casket so that all the world could see the horrific acts committed against her son by white men.

            Now, here we are all these years later and more children and their teachers have again been brutally murdered. Young, small, precious bodies in Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, Texas so mangled by bullets that DNA is needed to identify some of them. Mutilated like the body of Emmett Till.

            The photographs we see of the victims are ones made in happier times like when a 10-year-old holds a certificate for making his school’s honor roll. Or a photograph of a smiling teacher likely taken for the school web page. Happy faces. Clean clothes. Life at its fullest. No photographs of mutilated bodies, body parts separated from their body, blood, and gore.

            Open caskets! Awful and even grotesque when they show the result of the carnage caused  against a 75-pound body by an AR-15 rifle.

            Perhaps it is time for another brave decision such as the one made by Ms. Till.

Walkers

I am not writing about people who walk for exercise and are referred to as “walkers.” I am writing, instead, about the support devices that many elderly or needy people use to help them walk from place to place. You probably have seen them in stores, restaurants, and other such public spaces. The simple invention is a “life-saver” to those who need more than a cane to walk about safely as they hold onto the two bars and push the three-sided walker to where they want to go. While the original model was somewhat bulky with its stiff three sides, the newer models fold neatly, thus taking up less room when not in use. With all this in mind, I was taken aback recently when a woman complained to my wife that she was tired of walking around two such walkers on her way to communion during our church services. It seems that two elderly parishioners like to sit next to the main isle of our church with their walkers folded/unfolded against the pew next to them. The parishioner said to my wife, “I don’t see why the ushers don’t move those things out of the way. I’m tired of walking around them on my way to communion,”

A T 5-6 paraplegic, I use a wheelchair and am conscious of taking more public space than a walking/standing person. Restaurants are especially fraught with issues of space, and if I  sit in a booth I always allow the staff to move my wheelchair out of the isle.  However, in doing so I disregard the ADA regulation stipulating that all wheelchairs must be next to their user in case of an emergency. The same reasoning should be applied to a walker and its user.

However, as legal or logical as the ADA rule is,  the woman’s complaint concerns church space, not secular space like a restaurant, and that, in my view, changes the calculus of her objection.

Churches are places for sinners but while in church a sinner should not act like one. If we think of  the ten original commandments and the “new commandment” given to us in John 15:12 our church behavior and words would be more compassionate and understanding. If we are truly in church to become better followers of Christ, then we would not complain but comfort. After all, any obstacle like a walker or a wheelchair or an “old, rugged cross” in our path to communion is a blessing.