Friday, June 28, 2013

THYME Magazine

Citizen Journalism with a Better Flavor

Volume VI, Issue II
Pursuit of Virtue
Cover: The School of Athens by Raffaello Sanzio da Urbino

"Properly understood, therefore, when John Locke, Samuel Johnson, and Thomas Jefferson wrote of 'the pursuit of happiness,' they were invoking the Greek and Roman philosophical tradition in which happiness is bound up with the civic virtues of courage, moderation, and justice. Because they are civic virtues, not just personal attributes, they implicate the social aspect of eudaimonia. The pursuit of happiness, therefore, is not merely a matter of achieving individual pleasure." -- Carol V. Hamilton, Ph.d.

The 'other' weekly news magazine this week considers The Pursuit of Happiness [click to read]. Quoting the philosophers who say we're "wired for happiness," they then delve into the conundrum of why we are so unhappy. THYME once again ventures in where angels fear to tread... to consider the truth intended by the original writers.

Modern Americans err because they've replaced the institutions of virtue and protection with the multiplex cinema and the mall as center of the settlement. Consider the first Jamestown settlement, where the church, the storehouse and the armory were at the center. Personal happiness, in the packaging of self-actualization demands we redefine marriage and reduce consequences for pleasurable behaviours. Society must now provide outcome instead of opportunity, even if that outcome is tepid compared to the results of mankind unchained to pursue loftier goals that are out of the direct pervue of government.

Thus, many are lauding the Supreme Court's latest "Dred Scott"  [1.] moment as an American triumph, overturning a portion of the Defense of Marriage Act and striking down the restoration of California's popularly ratified Proposition Eight. The portion of DOMA actually overturned has to do with an inheritance case and is NOT at all like Roe vs Wade, which nullified state abortion laws in a sweeping motion. The media rushes to herald it, but it does not really create what qualifies as a landmark decision. In fact it is but one more strike against traditional thinking which includes the government forcing Catholic Charities in Massachussetts to place children with same-sex couples (they folded rather than compromise their beliefs), the suit against a photographer who, on faith grounds, declined to photograph a same-sex ceremony and the Methodist group in New Jersey who were denied tax-exempt status because they would not allow a same-sex ceremony to be performed in their facility [2.]

Marriage Wins in the Big Picture [click to read]

In each of these cases, there were other options open to the couples and they were in no way forbidden from creating their covenant relationship. At issue, in each case, was the religious freedom of those who hold that G-d alone may define what is marriage. Beyond the religious freedom considerations, a strong body of research suggests that children are best raised by a father and a mother [3.] While the thought may nor be politically correct, the evidence is well-documented. State law is still able to support traditional marriage and may well strengthen the virtues epitomized in eudaimonia by doing so. Courage, moderation and justice would ask: "what is best for our children?"

The First Amendment of the Constitution both prohibits government establishment of a 'state' church and protects citizens in the free exercise of their faith. While it is a good thing to restrict the government's direction of the distribution of an estate (property being an important right), it also follows that the government has no business redefining what for many is a matter of faith (freedom of belief being one of the fundamental rights). Providing protection for a person's directives concerning shared property and hospital visitation priviledges is in keeping with the virtues of courage, moderation and justice. Creating a 'right' for someone to overwrite the tenets of faith with fines and sanctions is the antithesis of them.

Friday, June 21, 2013

THYME Magazine

Citizen Journalism with a Better Flavor

Volume VI, Issue I

"Arise and Build"

“The God of heaven will make us prosper, and we his servants will arise and build, but you have no portion or right or claim in Jerusalem.” -- Nehemiah 2:20

The 'other' weekly news magazine this week features the story: How Service Can Save Us [click to read]. Indeed, service can be therapeutic, but it can be a component of something much bigger.

This week youth from the area's churches joined together for the Nehemiah Project [click to read]. Hundreds of Middle and High School students went out to build wheelchair ramps, replace leaking roofs and generally improve conditions for their neighbors. Four years ago I participated in a crew building a very long ramp for Comfort Care Women's Health Center. Local agency: Rebuilding Together coordinates projects, volunteers and materials. Local churches provide meals. Local contractors participate as team leaders. [1.]

The project takes its name from Nehemiah, the rebuilder of Jerusalem's ruined walls. His story gives important context to the work done by our young people this week. Nehemiah was one of the people living in captivity, the cupbearer to the Persian king, who when he heard of the condition of his people in Jerusalem took action. First he prayed. The situation looked bleak. The city's defensive walls were in ruins. The people were discouraged and lacked resources.

Nehemiah wept. The king then noticed Nehemiah's sadness and a conversation took place in which the king was moved to allow Nehemiah to return to Jerusalem with the resources to rebuild. Arriving in Jerusalem, Nehemiah surveyed the extent of the problem in the solitude of an evening. It was a huge task, to be sure. The rubble of the wall hindered his tour around the city. Nehemiah prayed.

A plan came to the great man. Each family would need to participate in the rebuilding of the wall near their house. Progress drew the attention of enemies, who tried to discourage Nehemiah. He prayed again. When his enemies tried to call him away from the work, he sent them this message: "I am involved in a great endeavor, so I can't leave. Why should the work stop while I leave it to come down to you?" -- Nehemiah 6:3 The wall was rebuilt.

Indeed, Nehemiah has much to say to us in our present day. We live in dangerous times as well. The walls of our city have been broken down in the areas of moral protection. Human trafficking, drugs, gangs and other dangers threaten our young people. We must pray. Then we must look for Ways to Rebuild Our Defenses. Indeed, we must look beyond ourselves, to G-d, for the resources to do it. Then we must involve ourselves in the great endeavor of our day!

Hollyhocks bloom along Churchville Avenue at Springhill Road. Every Summer they appear!, remnants of a garden planted long ago that continue to brighten the drive into Staunton. What a great living legacy for a gardener! 

Sunday, June 16, 2013

A Morning in the Blue Ridge Mountains

Early Morning Visit to Shenandoah National Park

Sugar Hollow as seen from Skyline Drive. You can see Charlottesville's reservoir in the distance.

A trip to the mountains was way overdue. It doesn't help that fellow blogger Lynn Mitchell [click to read] was describing her latest journey to Shenandoah in delicious detail. I had a full day of work Saturday so I arose early and decided to get up to the mountains in the wee hours of the morning.

Deer were everywhere as I drove to one of my favorite secret places. I saw a wild turkey up on a dark hillside. Bunnies were out everywhere. Rounding a corner of Skyline Drive, I saw the face of a bear peering out from the thick brush. I quietly eased the car onto the grass and set out to get a better look, but the bear saw me and I heard him clattering down a steep riprap embankment.

Later another bear dashed across the drive. I watched with wonder how such a large animal can run like a fine steed through thick brush and uneven terrain. The morning was refreshing and I headed back to work with a refreshed sense of wonder!

I saw two black bears. One was peeking out through thick brush, the other running fast. This photo is from another trip when the bear actually stood still for me!

The only animal I actually photographed this time was this bunny on an overlook wall.

Thursday, June 13, 2013

THYME Magazine

Citizen Journalism with a Better Flavor

Volume V, Issue XXVII

In the Steps of Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein

“I responded in what I thought was the most truthful, or least untruthful manner, by saying no,” -- James Clapper, NSA Director

"All men having power ought to be distrusted..." --James Madison (1787)

The 'other' weekly news magazine this week features The Informers [click to read]. They observe that about half of the people approve of the informers and half disapprove: "Fifty-four percent of respondents said the leaker, Edward Snowden, 29, did a “good thing” in releasing information about the government programs, which collect phone, email, and Internet search records in an effort, officials say, to prevent terrorist attacks. Just 30 percent disagreed. But an almost identical number of Americans — 53 percent — still said he should be prosecuted for the leak, compared to 28% who said he should not." -- Zeke J. Miller in TIME [1.]

Scrutiny of the government, however, is not something we vote on. It is a principle that was established by our Founders and codified in our Constitution. Thus it becomes the duty of the citizen to oversee the operations of the government, rather than the duty of government to oversee the activities of the citizen. In fact, it would trouble the Founders no end to see the revenue agency recast as an agent of 'change,' overseeing the activities of citizens and supressing First Amendment speech. The founders would probably frown on ANY activity of the IRS outside of that of funding government's obligations. Certainly allowing the revenue agency to discriminate between 'good' speech and 'bad' is a serious overstepping of authority.

Even those citizens who feel they have 'nothing to hide' should take heed of This Warning [click to read] from  Scott Shackford. The Founders saw their rights and mandate as given by G-d and believed in a higher truth and its oversight. Now, in a relativistic culture, what is to prevent some bureaucrat from deciding that your church or synagogue is a 'subversive group?' The IRS's targeting of organizations philosophically in opposition to the President's agenda begs us to consider that scenario. Beyond handicapping the election, such actions have a much larger chilling effect.

Director Clapper's 'least untruthful' statement [2.] begs a discussion of the importance of oversight, especially in a world of relativistic thought. As THYME has pointed out before, history bears out the truth that relativism and lack of oversight can lead to Dire Consequences [click to read].

Monday, June 10, 2013

Blue Ridge Parkway Adventures

Sights to See Along Virginia's Ridgetop Highway

The Tree of Life at Twenty Minutes Cliff, mp 19.

White Rock Falls is a short hike from the Parkway...

Just off of the Blue Ridge Parkway near milepost 20 you will find The Slacks Overlook. Park here and cross the parkway for a wonderful short hike (about 2.5 miles round trip) to White Rock Falls. This is one of the prettiest waterfalls in our part of the world, and a great hike.

After crossing the parkway, you will need to wander North along the road for a bit to find the trailhead. The path will enter a world of laurel thickets and rhododendron. In early June this can be beautiful!

Soon you will find yourself following the stream that feeds the falls as it cascades down. There are cliffs to explore as well. After a good rain the falls can be pretty impressive.

...and rhododendron and laurel abound on the trail to the falls.

Friday, June 7, 2013

THYME Magazine

Citizen Journalism with a Better Flavor

Volume V, Issue XXVI

China Through G-d's Eyes

 Anyone who watched the opening ceremonies of the 2008 Olympics would have to have been impressed by the sheer scale of the production. A cast of thousands participated in an eerily choreographed precision drill who's scale seemed to come out of the Star Wars movies. China stood huge, like the fictional city of Coruscant, which occupies an entire planet. Coruscant, in fact, may be good metaphor for how China sees herself in the modern world.

The 'other' weekly news magazine this week looks at The World According to China [click to read]. There do not seem to be any major surprises here. China looks to be a major player on the world stage, having created Gigantic Metropolises [click to read] to announce this to the world. These megacities, who's creation was largely driven by political considerations, stand largely empty. Real Chinese investment, however, fuels the runaway costs of American government.

But 1989 is not all that long ago. Tiananmen Square in Beijing was the site of a student-led protest of the strict control of the people by the hardline government. On June 4th, tanks rolled into the square and literally crushed the peaceful demonstration. Today Tiananmen Square is devoid of any remembrance of the protesters. A man who lost his leg in the incident tells his grandchildren simply that he lost it: "in an accident."

If China's aspirations have been huge, so have her problems. The Cultural Revolution of the late 'Sixties saw Mao Zedong's Red Guard push the society into chaos. Zhou Enlai was the leader who urged a return to normalcy and set the stage for China's future stability [1.] China's controversial One Child Policy, enacted to control population growth, often results in forced abortions. Girls are usually the losers. Ironically, it was Mao's own Great Leap Forward, a program to transform China from an agricultural economy to an industrial one, that actually caused a decrease in the population. In the early sixties, Mao banned private ownership and collectivized the farms. It is estimated that 18 to 33 million people died in the famines that ensued [2.]

In 2001 Randy Alcorn wrote a novel called Safely Home [click to read]. Though it is a work of fiction, it accurately portrays the struggle of Chinese people of faith today. The novel paints a vivid contrast by bringing an American executive together with his old college classmate, now a member of the Underground Church. Accurately portraying the cost of discipleship, the book also gives insight into G-d's heart for this great nation.

Women in traditional costume marching in Seattle.