Tuesday, January 31, 2017

Minnesota State Capitol Inscriptions - Jefferson

Patty and I and our grandson, Blake, toured the refurbished Minnesota State Capitol last weekend.  It is a truly remarkable restoration of a truly remarkable monument to the People.

Around the Capitol are inspiring inscriptions.  At the same time, being built within 50 years of the end of the Civil War, it has many exhibits of that conflict, as well as the Dakota Conflict of 1862.  It is a sobering reminder that in our country and in our state, we have done things that today would make us cringe.

Knowing that we as persons and as a people are imperfect, we attempt to look back at our history, warts and all, and try to make our selves and our country better.

In that spirit, here is one of the quotations inscribed throughout the Minnesota State Capitol that struck me as relevant to the issue of tolerance.  I’ll feature others in upcoming blog entries.

Equal and exact justice to all men, of whatever state of persuasion, religious or political …  Jefferson  Thomas Jefferson, author of the Declaration of Independence and third President of the United States, is a wealth of quotes on religious liberty.
Jefferson wrote a forerunner of the First Amendment right to Religious Liberty for the Virginia General Assembly, meeting on January 16, 1786.  “The Virginia Statute for Religious Freedom is a statement about both freedom of conscience and the principle of separation of church and state.”[1]

Jefferson was out of the country, representing the United States in France, when the Constitution was being drafted and argued.  He did write to James Madison, advocating the adoption of an amendment to the Constitution enshrining for our country the right of citizens to religious liberty free from interference by the federal government.[2]

 In his day, of course, religious toleration referred to Catholicism or Protestantism (or even among the different Protestant sects), with a passing nod to Judaism.  I have little doubt that, had Muslims been a significant part of the colonists, Jefferson would have included them, too.

Saturday, January 28, 2017

Another Reflection on Jesus as Refugee

I’m so very grateful that my niece shared a Facebook post by Fr. James Martin.  Here is another one of his thoughtful pieces.    You can find Fr. Martin’s Facebook page at https://www.facebook.com/FrJamesMartin/

Today's Gospel: Jesus was a refugee

Never forget that Jesus, Mary and Joseph were once refugees. Do you feel that the use of that term is somehow inaccurate? Well, remember that in the Flight into Egypt, which is described in today's Gospel, the Holy Family was escaping a violent regime, that of King Herod, just as refugees do today, and sought safety for themselves, just as refugees do today. 

In fact, the official UN definition of a refugee is a good description of what the Holy Family was facing: "A refugee is someone who has been forced to flee his or her country because of persecution, war, or violence."

The Gospels tell us that the Holy Family stayed in Egypt until the crisis had passed; only then did they return. Sometimes refugees are able to return, as Jesus, Mary and Joseph did, but often they cannot, out of a well-founded fear of violence or war. 

When we think of the Holy Family's "Flight into Egypt," we tend to imagine a calm migration, something as in the painting here, by Eugene Girardet. But it may not have been. Remember that, according to the Gospels, Mary and Joseph were two people who had probably never journeyed very far from their hometown of Nazareth, who were probably terrified for their son's safety (and perhaps their own) and who were were most likely without many financial resources. Think of their fear. Think of their desperate desire to care for their precious son.

Now think of the fear of modern-day refugees. There are something like 60 million refugees and migrants, many of them children, as Jesus was. Many of them parents, as Mary and Joseph were.
Let the words "Jesus was a refugee" sink into your heart today. And let them inform your response to the refugee crisis today and in the future. Your savior was a refugee.

Thursday, January 26, 2017

Gerald R. Ford

Thoughts on religious tolerance by Gerald R. Ford, 38th President of the United State: 

"As we proudly enter a period of celebrating our Bicentennial of independence as a nation, we must remember that our great traditions of freedom did not suddenly start in 1776. For more than two centuries before the Liberty Bell rang, the processes of conflict and compromise were working on this great new continent, and the impassioned extremes of religious and political rivalry were tested and were found wanting.

"In the end, our Founding Fathers sought to establish a new order of society embodying the principles of tolerance and freedom, of unity in diversity, of justice with charity.

"So, the first amendment was written to ensure the perpetuation of the hard-learned lessons from our colonial history that religious belief can neither be coerced nor suppressed by government; that a free people must retain the right to hear, the right to speak, the right to publish and to read, and the right to come together--all of which had been denied the early American settlers at one time or another." [1]

President Ford’s promotion of “tolerance and freedom, of unity in diversity, of justice with charity” are admonitions to us all today.  In his political life, he lived as well as preached respect and tolerance: “As far as I'm concerned, there are no enemies in politics--just temporary opponents who might vote with you on the next Roll Call.”[2]

If only we had a political culture today where a passionate discussion – even argument – about our policies could happen in the afternoon, and the participants get together for dinner in the evening.  It used to happen – I’ve talked with state representatives who had done it 40 years or so ago.  I’ve seen it happen, where bitter courtroom rivals share a joke and maybe a beer after a long day in court.

But somewhere along the way, it not only became permissible, but the rule of the day, to be as nasty as you can to your opponent.

I had a plaque on the bench in the Sibley County Courthouse, given to me and all judges by a trial lawyers group that read:  Respect and decorum:  Nothing less will be tolerated.

Respect and decorum can again become the standard protocol in our society, if we each practice it.  That is truly a sentiment with which Gerald R. Ford would have heartily concurred.

[1] -- Remarks at the Annual Congressional Breakfast of the National Religious Broadcasters, January 28 1975.
[2] Remarks upon receiving the John F. Kennedy Profile in Courage Award, May 21, 2001