The Honest President

I set out to write again about George Washington but was detoured by a piece on the news rating the presidents from worst to best. I read through the whole list before I came upon Washington. When he came up as number two, I was somewhat dissappointed.

This morning I read a piece written after the death of Washington by John Marshall *, a friend and neighbor to George for many years, in which he spoke about the character and greatness of our first President. It is the character of George Washington that impresses me the most. I don’t think that any of our leaders since have come close to measuring up to him. I will record here just a few of the things Marshall  said of him:

His manners were rather reserved than free; though on all proper occasions he could relax sufficiently to show how highly he was gratified by the charms of conversation, and the pleasures of society. His person and deportment exhibited an unaffected and indescribable dignity, unmingled with haughtiness of which all who approached him were sensible; and the attachment of those who possessed his friendship and enjoyed his intimacy, though ardent, was always respectful.

His temper was humane, benevolent, and conciliatory: but there was a quickness to his sensibility to anything apparently offensive, which experience had taught him to watch and correct. 

(Marshall  praised him for his personal frugality and resistance to opulence even though his status would warrant it.)  

(Washington) had no pretensions to that vivacity which fascinates, or to that wit which dazzles…(was) more solid than brilliant, judgment rather than genius constituted the prominent feature of his character.

(His) integrity was…incorruptible, … (his) principles more perfectly free from contamination of those selfish and unworthy passions which find their nourishment in the conflicts of party. His ends were always upright, and his means were pure. He exhibits the rare example of a politician to whom wiles were absolutely unknown. In him was fully exemplified the real distinction between wisdom and cunning, and truth of this maxim that “honesty is the best policy.”

I  am reminded of the one story I recall from my childhood about Washington that, after he was confronted by his father about cutting down an apple tree, he said, “I cannot tell a lie.” The one consolation I have to his coming in second in the above rating of Presidential greats is that the first was “Honest Abe” Lincoln. At least to some who evaluate our leaders, it seems that truth-telling is still considered an attribute.

*Published in “America: Great Crises In Our History Told by Its Makers, a Library of Original Sources” Volume IV.


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A Poem

There are the all’s well days
And the days when all is not
There are the sky’s the limit days
And the days when I can’t see beyond my own eyelids
There are the take a deep sweet breath days
And the days when my door is shut
There are the open to love days 
And the days when love an illusive dream

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Washington’s Warning about Political Parties

I am reading a volume from a collection of source materials that I was pleased to receive a number of years ago: America – Great Crises In Our History Told by Its Makers. I picked up the 4th volume recently because it covers the period during the Lewis and Clark expedition. My decision to read was precipitated by the fact that Bernie and I are heading out to Portland at the end of this month for a Road Scholar adventure on the Columbia River. I thought it would be fun to see what was the “buzz” among the country’s leaders at the time of the expedition. Enlightening, I must say.

Right now I am reading Washington’s Farewell Address which was not spoken put published on September 17,1796. I am struck by just how much Washington could anticipate as the seeds of destruction already present in the country’s earliest days. The one I want to mention this morning is what he had to say about party politics.

The first political party in the U.S. were the Federalists, formed in 1787. This was followed in 1796 by the Anti-Federalists that gathered around Thomas Jefferson. They called themselves Democratic-Republicans. These were the two parties in existence when Washington gave his address.

I am going to quote Washington here and let those of you who thought to stop by today to decide just how relevant his words are for yourselves:

I have already intimated to you the danger of parties in the States…Let me now…warn you in the most solemn manner against the baneful effects of the spirit of party…
This spirit…(has) its roots in the strongest passions of  the human mind. It exists under different shapes in all governments,…but in those of the popular form, it is seen in its 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 penetrated the most horrid enormities, is itself a frightful despotism. But this leads…to 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 this the ruin of public liberty.

He goes on to talk about the “mischief of the spirit of party” and suggests it is in the best interest and duty of wise people to discourage and restrain it. Partisanship, he suggests, “…serves 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, (and) foments occasionally riot and insurrection.”

I don’t know what I could possible add.

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Inspired by Those Who Remember John McCain

I was able to listen to the speeches of those invited to speak at the memorial events held to honor John McCain.  Former Presidents Barack Obama and George Bush, McCain’s daughter, and former Vice-President Joe Biden. All made a plea for a return to civility in this country of ours. I cannot imagine any American who would not want this; we have grown so weary. As each spoke, I prayed for the leaders listening that they would feel a yank at their consciences, perhaps an inspiration to change. It would only take a few to turn the direction of the herds.

I was most inspired by Biden’s speech. I was unaware of the deep friendship between he and McCain. I was struck when he told of the day when each of their parties suggested that their friendship was out of line. This was the beginning, he noted, of the degeneration of legislators working together.  Now we are experiencing the extreme of our leaders representing their own interests instead of their constituents’ and of being bound to their parties instead of to the good of the American people.

During the past year, every time I have had the opportunity to place my hand over my heart and recite the pledge allegiance to the flag or sing the national anthem, I have instead bowed my head in prayer. After listening to these inspiring speakers, I feel a sense of pride returning. But I am hesitant. So many times in the past, there have been occasions to remember who we are as a nation that aspires to equality and freedom, but each time, it seems, we forget again.

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Time Deep Down

I have done my share of senior complaining about how I can’t multitask any more and forgetting what I am doing from one moment to the next and the slipping away of time…God knows I can get pissy. Deepak Chopra, in his book, Reinventing the Body, Resurrecting the Soul writes about the struggle we tend to have with time and our sense that there isn’t enough of it. Time, as we perceive it, is a human invention to help us live in a practical way on this earth. But reality is actually timeless. I suspect that it is my age that makes time such an issue with me. At 73, I am keenly aware of the shortness of life before me. I am not always satisfied with the things on my time line. Much of it feels meaningless or superficial. A bother, you might say. I feel I am constantly surrendering to whatever is before me. I often feel distracted, helpless, and even confused by too much busyness.

Chopra offered an image this morning that I find helpful. “When the task of time management is turned over to the mind,” he writes, “the order it tries to impose is crude and unsatisfying compared with the spontaneous organization of the timeless. To be whole, you must let the timeless merge with time. That isn’t a matter of changing our attitudes alone. You need to cultivate deep awareness, because on the surface, awareness shifts constantly as one thing after another claims your attention.” He offers this beautiful image: “A river runs faster on the surface, but is nearly motionless at the bottom.”

There are moments in my day when it seems too much is demanding my attention at one time. I don’t handle it well. To those trying to communicate with me, I may look like a deer staring into the headlights, but in reality, I am trying to find that deeper place where time moves slowly. I want to sink down and let the clutter and confusion pass by on the surface on their own. I am not a deep-sea diver, but those I know who go into the depths, tell me that this place below is truly a place of peace. I think I understand.

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Discussing The Memorial of Jesus

I had my first opportunity to share in a discussion group about my newly published book, The Memorial of Jesus. This was a special occasion because this group is my group made up of folks I have been reading and discussing with for years. (I can’t recall right now how many). I had the benefit of listening not only to their insights and questions about the book, but they offered their ideas about marketing. This was a form of support that went above and beyond knowing that people like the book. They wanted others to read it as well.

Book clubs are a great venue because it involves the sale of several books at a time, but it can mean so much more. The discussion last night went deeper than an intellectual assessment of my work or a sharing of my research. It was a sharing of personal visions and life experiences that connected our spirits. This kind of sharing is precisely the kind my characters had with the man Jesus and with one another. There is no greater thing that I would want.

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Being on Journey with Others

I had a great night’s sleep, but I cannot say the same for the night before when I only managed 3 hours. I was burdened with a series of events that resulted in some people getting hurt. I was part the cause of the hurt so my wrestling included some guilt and regret. I chose to talk to a friend whom I can trust and who is gifted with not having a bit of judgment tainting her attitude. I came away feeling less burdened and was able to get through the rest of my day fairly attentive to the tasks at hand.

This morning is a new day, one that includes awaking, not in the usual sense of opening one’s physical eyes and tumbling out of bed. Rather, it is an awakening of the inside kind, when one sees something concerning the workings of things that one did not see before. What I saw is that each of us is growing and changing, physically, emotionally and spiritually. From the moment of birth to this moment each of us have participated in the evolution of ourselves and I believe that the purpose of it all is to awaken, for the more we awaken, the greater our participation in God’s continuing creation.

What occurred to me this morning is that we walk forward as sojourners and as such, our lives rub up against the lives of others. We effect one another’s growth. If I am selfish in a given circumstance, it will effect another person in some way. If I act with love in the same circumstance, this too will effect another person. This is both an awesome responsibility and a guilt-freeing reality. I look at the situation that was the cause of my turmoil and realize that any action or inaction, word spoken or not, effected not just those who were hurt but those who were not. I was feeling the burden of being the cause of something horrific, but in reality, I am only a small piece of the growth of others. It is nice to think that someone grows because of the admirable way I conduct my life, But I realize, too, that someone may grow because of my foolishness or irresponsibility.

In my early days of employment, I worked for a man that was a terrible manager and the result was that many people left the work situation because of him. In the end, I was one of these. I guess you would say I left willingly because I knew I would be fired.  As I look back, I realize what a great teacher he was. I learned through him how not to treat those who work under you. He played an important part in who I have become. I am grateful today for this man.

As I think about this moment in time. I pray for those around me. We walk together. Paul said it well in his letter to the Corinthians: “The eye cannot say to the hand, ‘I do not need you!’ Nor can the head say to the feet, ‘Well, I don’t need you!’… there is no division in the body, but all its different parts have the same concern for one another. If one part suffers, all the other parts suffer with it; if one part is praised, all the other parts share in its happiness.”

Thank you, Creator God, for Peace.



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