A Teaching Ministry: Worth the Effort

El PradoAs August draws near, my thoughts are beginning to turn once again to the new academic year. All my courses are ready and syllabi complete. I have to admit I always look forward to the fall semester. Fresh new faces showing up in the classroom, very welcome “old” faces, and the opportunity to share God’s truths make it all worthwhile.

I am privileged to be at a university like Southeastern where I have liberty to teach without censorship or threat of “re-education” training. This will be my eighth year here, and I’ve been able to develop new courses without hindrance. I doubt there are many universities where students can take a course on Ronald Reagan and modern conservatism—taught sympathetically, that is—or another entire course on Whittaker Chambers and the history of communism. In most places, I’m sure you can learn about communism, but only as a springboard for promoting radicalism:

Limber Up Cliches

Christian universities are not immune from such perspectives, but they’re not as prevalent as at other universities. Our students differ as well. When you think of the typical college student, what image comes to mind?

Familiar Refrain

Yes, we have our quota of students who don’t take their studies seriously, but we have a much higher percentage of those who seek to do God’s will through what they learn. That makes for a far better classroom environment. Not a perfect environment, by any means, particularly in a survey course where many students don’t really want to be there, but even that is part of the ministry God has given me. If I can, by the end of the semester, convince many of those apathetic students that learning history is essential for their overall understanding of life, I will feel like I’ve succeeded.

When you view your life’s work as a ministry, it stops being merely a “job” or “career.” I thank the Lord for the ministry He’s allowed me to have. This is my twenty-fifth year of teaching at the college level; sounds like it ought to be celebrated as some kind of landmark. I don’t need some special celebration, however; I celebrate each day as I receive reports from a few hundred of my former students who are now raising families and fulfilling the ministries God has given them. Those good reports make all the trials of these twenty-five years worth the effort.

Shlaes’s Coolidge

Amity ShlaesAmity Shlaes is a very good writer. She’s also a top-notch researcher. Her niche is showing how the 1920s and 1930s are not what many people think they were. Tackling academic political correctness is not for the fainthearted, so she apparently has a rather stout heart. I first became acquainted with her writing in the book The Forgotten Man, which lanced effectively the liberal-progressive theme that FDR was the nation’s savior during the Great Depression. Now she has struck again.

CoolidgeHer newest work is simply entitled Coolidge. In it, she resurrects the reputation of the president that most liberals enjoy ridiculing. I’m only about halfway through the book, but already I deeply appreciate her ability to explain people by placing them into the context of their times, rather than imposing a later worldview onto them for the sake of merciless critique.

What I find especially interesting in her portrait of Coolidge is her depiction of his journey from a progressive Republican to what he is better know for today—the staunch conservative that Ronald Reagan used as a model when he took the presidency. Her research indicates that it took some years for Coolidge to fully develop his beliefs, and that they were only coming to fruition around the time he became governor of Massachusetts and then vice president under Warren Harding after the 1920 election.

One of the highlights of the book thus far is her description of how Coolidge handled the Boston police officers’ strike in 1919. By standing firmly for law and order and rejecting the idea that police could strike, thereby harming the public safety, he won the admiration of an entire nation. It was that key event that lifted him into the national political arena.

I normally don’t review books without reading them all the way through first, but thought I’d give a heads-up on this one because I already know it’s worthy of your time.  Perhaps when I finish it, I’ll provide an update on what I gleaned from the last half. In the meantime, I just plan to enjoy the rest.

Memorial Day 2013

Memorial Day 2As I reflect on Memorial Day, I try to make it as personal as I can. That’s not easy because I never served in the military. My dad was in the newly formed Army Air Force after WWII, so he didn’t see combat. His brother—my uncle—was in the service during the Korean War, but I don’t recall any particular information about that; I don’t think he actually went to Korea. If he had seen combat, I assume I would have heard about it.

When I reached the age where I could possibly become part of the armed forces, Vietnam was in full bloom. I went to college right after high school, thereby earning a deferment. The draft was on, but protests against it, and Vietnam in particular, led to a new system—kind of a lottery—where dates of the year were pulled out of a drum, and each draftable guy was assigned a number according to his birthday. I remember watching the news that evening, waiting to see the number for my birthday. It turned out to be #254, meaning I didn’t have to worry about being drafted. My college roommate, however, came up #16, so he voluntarily signed up for the Air Force, headed to officer training.

So I went on with my life, got married, and never even considered joining the military. I believed God had other plans, and He did. But that doesn’t mean I don’t appreciate those who have served. Those post-Vietnam years were bad for the armed forces: returning GIs being called baby-killers; Congress cutting back on national defense to the point that spare parts for airplanes, etc., were unavailable; an honorable service turned into dishonor by the prevailing post-Vietnam syndrome.

Ronald Reagan restored our national defense and brought the proper kind of pride back to the military. Once again, it is honorable to serve. Yes, we’ve done our best to turn each branch of the armed forces into a social engineering project with the outright acceptance of homosexuality, thereby damaging the luster of military service. But I’m going to continue to honor those who serve and recognize those who have died in an attempt to rid the world of the evils of taxation without representation and attacks on liberty of conscience (American Revolution), naval impressment and national disrespect (War of 1812), slavery and illegal rebellion against lawful authority (Civil War), despotic colonialism (Spanish-American War), German militarism (WWI), Nazism and other forms of fascism (WWII), communism (Korea and Vietnam), Middle East dictators (Gulf War), and radical Islam (War on Terror).

On the whole, the United States military has been used to carry out noble objectives, even in wars that brought protests and disunity at home. The soldiers who served, and particularly those who died in their service, deserve to be acknowledged and honored on this day.

Korean War Memorial

Obama: Dishonoring Margaret Thatcher

Today is Margaret Thatcher’s funeral. It’s such a special occasion for the British that even the queen will be there to pay her respects. The last time she attended a funeral for a former prime minister was in 1965 to mark the passing of Winston Churchill. However, today is also a day of insult, and the British have noticed the slight. There will be no representative present from the Obama administration.

Those who think this is no big deal will point to the fact that no administration figure attended the funeral of Hugo Chavez of Venezuela last month. Apples and oranges. Chavez was a Marxist radical who hated the United States. Obama knew he couldn’t openly mourn the loss of a dictator who persecuted Jews, served as a banker for Iran, and trampled the civil liberties of his own people as he built up a personal cult following. Ideologically, Obama was practically Chavez’s soulmate, but he had to stifle his admiration for appearance’ sake.

Thatcher, on the other hand, was America’s best friend during her tenure as prime minister. She and Ronald Reagan teamed up to deal the death blow to the old Soviet Union without, as she famously noted, firing a single shot. Both leaders brought their nations back from the brink of fiscal disaster, and both restored the proper kind of pride in their countries. Neither do I believe it is coincidental that both were firm in their Christian faith.

As most of the civilized world—or what remains of it—pauses to reflect on Margaret Thatcher’s accomplishments, may we see in her life an example of fortitude and devotion to principle that inspires.

Margaret Thatcher: Conviction, Not Consensus

Margaret Thatcher, prime minister of Britain from 1979-1990, departed this world yesterday morning and, I hope, has entered into an eternity without the pain and weakness she had to endure over the past few years. Raised a Methodist, daughter of a middle-class grocer, not born into privilege, she had to work hard to earn a university degree, become accepted into the gentleman’s world of politics, and rise, improbably, to the highest elected office in her land. Determined, conservative, and confident in the rightness of her beliefs, she brought Britain back from the edge of a socialist abyss and restored prosperity through the privatization of industry and controls on spending. If nothing else, she showed that a nation can be rescued from the brink of disaster, thereby offering hope for America at this critical time in which we now live.

Even before she took the leadership of the Conservative Party, and before her prime ministership, her indomitable spirit earned her the epithet “The Iron Lady,” a nickname that first came from the Soviets. She always liked it.

Throughout the 1980s, she partnered with Ronald Reagan to reverse the tide of Soviet aggression; the two saw eye-to-eye on almost everything, united in philosophy and faith. He called her Maggie and she referred to him as Ronnie. They got on famously, a relationship built on mutual respect, and one that, for at least a brief moment in history, led to the ascendance of liberty over totalitarianism. In addition, both followed policies that revived their ailing nations—policies that now have been abandoned, the sad consequences of that abandonment becoming more evident over time.

Thatcher spoke her mind and never minced words. She told it straight. By doing so, she developed an avid following of admirers on both sides of the Atlantic. The critics were just as avid.

I scoured the Internet yesterday for samples of Thatcher’s straightforwardness in speaking. I found a treasure trove of examples. Here are a few, beginning with comments on the economy and socialism:

Gentlemen, if we don’t cut spending, we will be bankrupt. Yes, the medicine is harsh, but the patient requires it in order to live. Should we withhold the medicine? No. We are not wrong. We did not seek election and win in order to manage the decline of a great nation.

Socialist governments traditionally do make a financial mess. They always run out of other people’s money. It’s quite a characteristic of them.

Mrs. Thatcher also had a lot to say about being principled:

There are dangers in consensus: it could be an attempt to satisfy people holding no particular views about anything. No great party can survive except on the basis of firm beliefs about what it wants to do.

To me, consensus seems to be the process of abandoning all principles, beliefs, values, and policies. So it is something in which no one believes and to which no one objects.

Standing in the middle of the road is very dangerous; you get knocked down by the traffic from both sides.

Do you think you would have ever heard of Christianity if the Apostles had gone out and said, “I believe in consensus?”

I am not a consensus politician. I am a conviction politician.

She also could manifest a biting wit:

If you want something said, ask a man. If you want something done, ask a woman.

Being powerful is like being a lady. If you have to tell people you are, you aren’t.

I am extraordinarily patient, provided I get my own way in the end.

When I’m out of politics, I’m going to run a business; it’ll be called rent-a-spine.

If my critics saw me walking over the Thames they would say it was because I couldn’t swim.

I think our world needs more Margaret Thatchers. Iron Lady indeed.

I never say “rest in peace.” If we are in the presence of God, we will always be busy, but we will enjoy our tasks. I believe Margaret Thatcher is already about her Father’s business in her new location. She is content, but we will miss her. May many more conviction politicians fill the gaping hole she and Ronald Reagan have left.

Our Budget-Conscious President

I’ve had some pretty serious things to say the past few days, and they were things that needed to be said. How about some levity today? What’s nice about looking for levity is that often you don’t have to stray past a new Obama headline in the news. A couple days ago, I heard this joke:

President Barack Obama, who has increased the national debt by $53,377 per household, has proclaimed April “National Financial Capability Month,” during which his administration will do things such as teach young people “how to budget responsibly.”

“I call upon all American to observe this month with programs and activities to improve their understanding of financial principles and practices,” Obama said in an official proclamation released Friday.

“My administration is dedicated to helping people make sound decisions in the marketplace,” he said.

Alright now, get up off the floor. Laughing that hard could cause long-term physical damage. Yes, I know Obama hasn’t yet submitted his budget for this year. Yes, I know he plans to submit it 65 days late, thereby violating the law. Yes, I realize this is the third year in a row he has done this. And yes, I understand he’s the only president in American history to have submitted late budgets in consecutive years. Hey, give the guy a break. He’s never run anything before that required a budget. Everyone needs some on-the-job training. What’s that? You say you don’t want him teaching your children how to budget? Why, think of what they could learn from his experience!

Besides, the job of being president is so wearying that both Obama and his family need an occasional vacation:

George Bush got out of Washington quite often also, but spent most of those days at his own ranch in Texas, where he continued to work. Same with Ronald Reagan, who signed his major tax cut bill at his ranch outside Santa Barbara, California. It’s more the nature of the Obamas’ vacations that stand out. They’re always at some fancy resort or super-expensive locale—all at the taxpayers’ expense, of course.

Having this president lecture anyone on fiscal responsibility is like listening to Bill Clinton speak on the importance of marital fidelity.

The Wisdom of Ronald Reagan

Yesterday was Ronald Reagan’s birthday. He would have been 102. Many of us long to have a president like him again. To commemorate his presidency and to remind you of his insights, I hereby present an excerpt from one of his most famous speeches. In 1983, he spoke to the National Association of Evangelicals, where he blatantly called the Soviet Union an evil empire. He was correct. Yet, beyond that, I hope you can see the heart of the man through these words:

We must never forget that no government schemes are going to perfect man. We know that living in this world means dealing with what philosophers would call the phenomenology of evil or, as theologians would put it, the doctrine of sin. There is sin and evil in the world, and we’re enjoined by Scripture and the Lord Jesus to oppose it with all our might.…

They [the Soviets] must be made to understand we will never compromise our principles and standards. We will never give away our freedom. We will never abandon our belief in God.…

Let us pray for the salvation of all of those who live in that totalitarian darkness—pray they will discover the joy of knowing God. But until they do, let us be aware that while they preach the supremacy of the state, declare its omnipotence over individual man, and predict its eventual domination of all peoples on the Earth, they are the focus of evil in the modern world.

It was C. S. Lewis who, in his unforgettable “Screwtape Letters,” wrote: “The greatest evil is not done now in those sordid ‘dens of  crime’ that Dickens loved to paint. It is not even done in concentration camps and labor camps. In those we see its final result. But it is conceived and ordered (moved, seconded, carried and minuted) in clear, carpeted, warmed, and well-lighted offices, by quiet men with white collars and cut fingernails and smooth-shaven cheeks who do not need to raise their voice.” …

You know, I’ve always believed that old Screwtape reserved his best efforts for those of you in the church. So, in your discussions of the nuclear freeze proposals, I urge you to beware the temptation of pride—the temptation of blithely declaring yourselves above it all and label both sides equally at fault, to ignore the facts of history and the aggressive impulses of an evil empire, to simply call the arms race a giant misunderstanding and thereby remove yourself from the struggle between right and wrong and good and evil.…

While America’s military strength is important, let me add here that I’ve always maintained that the struggle now going on for the world will never be decided by bombs or rockets, by armies or military might. The real crisis we face today is a spiritual one; at root, it is a test of moral will and faith.

Whittaker Chambers, the man whose own religious conversion made him a witness to one of the terrible traumas of our time, the Hiss-Chambers case, wrote that the crisis of the Western World exists to the degree in which the West is indifferent to God, the degree to which it collaborates in communism’s attempt to make man stand alone without God. And then he said, for Marxism-Leninism is actually the second oldest faith, first proclaimed in the Garden of Eden with the words of temptation, “Ye shall be as gods.”

The Western World can answer this challenge, he wrote, “but only provided that its faith in God and the freedom He enjoins is as great as communism’s faith in Man.”

There is much wisdom in those words, and they still apply today.