Utah

Settle in with a cup of coffee, a glass of vino or a cerveza ’cause I got lots to tell about traveling through southern Utah!

Zion National Park & Dixie National Forest

Once you finally leave the traffic jerks of Las Vegas heading north, the canyonlands of a slice of Arizona then Utah reveal themselves. its a pretty drive through Red Rock Canyon, Saint George and into Cedar City, where I base camped for three nights to checkout Zion, Cedar Breaks and some of the Dixie National Forest.

Zion rocks. It just does. A beautiful slot canyon with stunning cliffs, fun roads (including a partially washed-out highway and a tunnel too narrow & low for my fiver) and plenty of picture and hiking opps entice. The Zion Canyon Brewing Company at the National Park visitor center is a nice complement, too! I had visited Zion a couple times before so I moved on, up Highways 9 and 89 through Long Valley Junction and across the Dixie National Forest toward Cedar Breaks National Monument.

Unfortunately, Cedar Breaks was still in the throes of winter and the roads into the Park had not been cleared yet so I missed that geo-feature. Rats. The Monument also was not reachable from the north side near sleepy Brian Head, where it seems they could be skiing for another month. The surrounding mountains are spectacular. Three nights in Cedar City were just about right for what was accessible. I was ready to move on to Bryce Canyon!

Bryce Canyon

Having traveled state highway 14 through Dixie National Forest the day before, I decided to not repeat that route with the trailer in-tow. The road has some significant grades and curves and isn’t recommended for large rigs, so I headed north on I-15 to state 20 where I headed east toward Bryce Valley. Nice drive, including through two arch tunnels that left just 6 inches to spare between my rooftop air units and the harder rock. Whew! A quick two hours later I was setup at snow-covered Ruby’s RV Park, just outside the National Park entrance.

Once again, I was a few weeks early in the season as the trails below the canyon rim were still closed due to snow & ice. But I’d hiked them years before on a day that was perhaps the best day hike of my life. I still remember how cool that hike through Fantasyland and Queens Garden was that October day, with snow flurries capping the hoodoos. I was actually okay with not hiking below the rim this trip as I wouldn’t want to dilute my memories of that special hike.

So I enjoyed the Bryce Canyon amphitheater from the rim viewpoints. Such stunning vistas! This truly is a special place on the planet. Hiking (well, more like walking) between Sunset and Sunrise points, I ducked into the iconic Bryce Canyon Lodge for a bison burger and Squatters Full Suspension Pale Ale. Ryan, the kid who waited on me was an awesome server. Very friendly, interested in my travels, excited to be working at the Lodge. Nice to meet solid young people when there’s so much negativity surrounding the millennial generation.

After lunch I headed downhill to Mossy Cave trail, a short hike up a canyon that terminates in a waterfall and cave full of icicles. Although short, the trail grabs the oxygen outta your lungs as it traverses the steep canyon. Felt good.

Back at camp, I wrestled with getting online streaming to work so I could watch the Final Four. When CBS All Access failed me (“we’re not able to steam live TV in your area”) I was able to get coverage through the ESPN app, which uses the CBS video feed. Go figure. I fired CBS. Was fun to watch Texas Tech make it to the championship game and, as I now write, I’ll be watching the game tonight on digital TV over-the-air in Torrey, UT. No more sport cussin’ trying to get streaming to work!

Grand Staircase Escalante

Utah State Highway 12, also known as Scenic Byway 12 and Highway 12 — A Journey Through Time Scenic Byway is an All American Road. Rightly so. What an incredible, wonderful road! The byway winds through slick rock canyons and cliffs, across a narrow ridge line, and through beautifully colored canyons and hills. If you’ve followed along the past year you know I’ve seen some pretty sights and navigated some awesome roads. This is yet another special route I’ve been blessed to enjoy! If not for fear of driving off the ridge into the canyons on both sides of the road, I would’ve had a really hard time keeping my eyes and mind on the driving task. Nevertheless, I was able to pull off a few times to get pictures of this stunning drive.

A National Park volunteer I’d chatted with at Sunset Volcano near Flagstaff had recommended the Hell’s Backbone Grill in Boulder Town. This very cool joint serves up fantastic food with super-friendly service. I had the patty melt with Guyere cheese and housemade potato salad complemented with a Porcupine Pilsner from Moab Brewery. Thanks, Eric, for the restaurant tip! If you’re ever in Boulder Town don’t miss this eatery. They’re only open March to November.

The drive across another mountain ridge to Torrey, near Capitol Reef National Park, passed through snow-covered mountains then dropped into a picturesque valley where I unhitched at the small yet very friendly Sand Creek RV Park for a couple nights to take in my next National Park. Torrey is designated as an International Dark Sky Community, one of only 18 communities in the world to enjoy the distinction. And it is so cool! Standing outside at night the stars seem to reach down to earth. It’s amazing. So grateful for a clear night to enjoy the beauty of the universe!

Capitol Reef

I have no words.

Ok… I have some words to describe Capitol Reef National Park. But I’m going to start by borrowing a few from Maltbie D. Babcock in 1915: “This is my Father’s world: I rest me in the thought, Of rocks and trees, of skies and seas; His hand the wonders wrought.”

That beautiful phrase ran through my mind all day as I marveled at the raw beauty of the landscape. I’m not ashamed to say the splendor of creation brought a tear to my eye.

The park features “Scenic Drive” that more than lives up to its name. You could also call it Splendid, Stunning, Superior, Stupendous, or several other synonyms. I drove it’s ten miles, slowly, to its end in Capitol Gorge where a mile-long trail leads through a narrow canyon with a steep, knee wrecking climb to a few tanks—natural collectors of water in this desert. Great hike on a beautiful day in the mid 70s.

As I was hiking and driving through the park, I was thinking about how visitors centers at National Parks all give such comprehensive coverage to the eons of time and science of geology, but never much is attributed to the undeniable beauty wrought by the Creator. And I’ve read books about old earth vs young earth theories, about 24 hour creation days vs. creation era/days in God’s timing—and I could likely debate myself into either corner and never be fully convinced. In the end, that’s a good thing. Who wants a God they fully understand and completely comprehend? He has given us enough to know Who He Is, and His Son gave himself for me. That’s it. That’s enough.

So it was a great day, hiking and hanging out with my God!

Arches National Park

The 2-3 hour drive from Torrey to Moab was uneventful, across high desert and a short section of I-70. I motored through the town of Moab and settled into a good KOA on the south end of town. Dinner was at Moab Brewery with a good chicken sandwich and a Moab Pale Ale and a FMU IPA. Good food, too!The next day I headed into the Park…

Raw. That’s what the landscape is and that’s what the day was. I got a mid-morning start and after visiting the visitor center (and snagging a pretty cool T-shirt) I headed into the park. There are tons of viewpoints, interesting rock formations, colors & feels. Arches is a very cool place.

It was especially cool this day, as blowing snow followed me much of the morning and early afternoon. It was pretty in its own way but did hamper some of the long-range views and definitely got under my thin hoodie’s collar a few times. I wasn’t expecting snowy weather—and I shudda brought a hat!

Several short hikes, a bunch of pictures and frozen ears & hands later, I headed back down the park road, wrapping up my visit to Arches and headed across the valley to Canyonlands National Park

Canyonlands National Park

The drive up onto the ridge of the Canyonlands Island in the Sky district took me back into the blowing snow. It’s a pretty drive although, again, the weather really limited visibility. There are lots of hiking opps here but given that the day was running late and I was still shivering away, I opted for stopping at the main viewpoint pullouts.

Was kinda a joke, as the views mainly were of blowing snow. Oh well, I got a few decent pics of Upheaval Dome and an appreciation for the immenseness of the Canyonlands. I was hoping that tomorrow’s visit to the Needles district of this immense National Park would provide better views after the storm blew through.

The next day did not disappoint! As the bottomlands of the Needles district is primarily 4WD roads and crowds were minimal and roads were muddy from the recent rain & snow and I was traveling solo, I opted for viewing the canyons from above, from the Needles Overlook. Discretion, dontcha know…

The overwhelming vistas were on full display! As grand as the Grand Canyon is, I feel like Canyonlands is its big brother, an opinion shared by another camper back at the KOA. The pictures fail to communicate just how awesome this country is. Visiting the five (I tried to get to Cedar Breaks, after all) was a lifetime experience. Such phenomenal beauty, power, serene places. I truly appreciate the opportunity to have visited here but it’s time to move on, slowly headed back home for a few weeks starting with Easter.

 

Merry Christmas!

Hi folks,

Just a quick message to wish y’all a Merry Christmas and blessed New Year!

I continue to be a bum, just not a vagabum right now! I’m spending time with family & friends here in DFW while my rig is in the shop for another 3-4 weeks (at best) getting her rear axle replaced. (That’s a story in itself, lol!)

I’m looking forward to getting back on the road, and will likely head out shortly after the Super Bowl game in early February. Spring & summer will draw me to the Rocky Mountains where I’ll cover less than half the geographic area in twice the time as last summer’s travels. I’m gonna be taking vagabumming to a new, slower level!

Here’s wishing you and your loved ones the best in the coming year as we now enjoy the peace, joy, love & hope offered to us by the Reason for the Season. Be blessed,

Mark

Kentucky

The Genesis Museums

For some time now I’ve been intrigued by the Creation Museum and Ark Encounter, both projects of reputable Answers in Genesis. So since I was within relative spitting distance I decided to pay them a visit. The Creation Museum is just southwest of Cincinnati and the Ark Encounter is 45 minutes south of there.

Ark Encounter
Ark Encounter
Ark Encounter
Ark Encounter
Ark Encounter
Ark Encounter

Gotta say, I was a little disappointed in both. I’d visited the Museum of the Bible, in Washington DC last year and found it absolutely amazing. Information there was professionally presented in an intellectually challenging way. I think my takeaway on these two attractions is they are also well-done but seem to target a different audience: kids. Must be lots of kids in home schooling because the Creation Museum had lots of ’em, along with many seniors riding many scooters. The pervasiveness of strollers and scooters at both exhibits was unreal.

Anyway, both exhibits do a good (if somewhat elementary) job of explaining and promoting the Biblical view of the creation and destruction/re-creation story. I might not recommend traveling here just for the two museums but if you’re in or passing through the area, they are certainly worth seeing—especially if you’ve got kids or someone along who doesn’t buy the Biblical accounts. The museums present compelling information for the Creation by God worldview.

In the afternoon I backed into a really nice site at Elkhorn Campground where Elkhorn Creek flowed gently past me. I initially thought about cutting my stay here short but given the peaceful site along the creek and a couple breweries in Lexington and the Buffalo Trace distillery right next door, I’ll hang here until Friday morning when I make my next lap toward home.

Thursday was a kick-around Lexington kinda day. Read: I visited a few of their breweries. I started with  Country Boy Brewing where friendly & cute beertender Kelley and I chatted. Country Boy has 24 of their own beers on tap—every one of them quite solid especially 2nd Crop Wet Hop IPA and Little Black Train, a stout. West Sixth Brewing had an unique Oktoberfest with Dry Hopped Cascade that worked. The Heller Heaven Double IPA was also pretty tasty. Finally dinner at Mirror Twin Brewing—a superb BBQ chicken pizza topped off with a spritz of Kentucky bourbon—paired with the decent Citranomical IPA, but my favorite brew here was, interestingly, their Not Your Moms Pumpkin Pie.

I visited no distilleries while in Kentucky; just wasn’t feeling it. Will catch them next time since Kentucky is pretty centrally located.

Land Between the Lakes
Campsite - Prizer Point KOA
Campsite – Prizer Point KOA

An easy four-hour drive on the Bluegrass Parkway and then the Western Kentucky Parkway, both of which slice through the middle of the state, took me to Prizer Point on the east shore of Lake Barkley. Really a nice location where I backed the trailer onto a site literally hanging over the lake. This would make a nice week-long stay in the summer, as the KOA here includes paddle-boards, kayaks and other water sports in the site fee. As it was, I just stayed tethered to the truck, wanting an early start in the morning for the 7-hour drive to Hot Springs. I’ll spend two nights there, hopefully with TV signal to enjoy the Saturday evening and Sunday games from the comfort of my recliner since it’s supposed to rain all weekend. Weather-permitting I’ll be home Monday and will recap this incredible trip then.

New Brunswick

Man oh man, the drive from Truro, NS to Saint John, NB was nice! A bit windy so I had to pay more attention to the helm but the scenery was (again!) gorgeous. Colors starting to turn in the hilly forests. Overall, a nice drive into Saint John. I quickly set up camp, decoupled the trailer and hustled into town to a Boston Pizza to catch the Cowboys vs. Seahwaks game. Other than the good Mediterranean salad, that was a waste of time! The Cowboys failed to show; I left a few minutes into the 3rd quarter.

For my Saint John tourist day I started out at Reversing Falls. The water changes direction due to the tidal flow of the Bay of Fundy. My first visit to the observation point was at noon: high tide and the ocean was at its height. It took me a while to square this away in my brain, that the water flowing below me was running up river. I even checked the compass and google maps satellite view to confirm what I was seeing. Pretty impressive! The day before I’d rafted in the same phenomenon at the far upper end of the Bay and knew it to be true, but to observe it from an elevated position was a very cool experience.

I then kicked around downtown St John and visited the town’s local breweries. Big Tide Brewing, Picaroons General Store and Foghorn Brewing were cool and each had good beers; First City was not and I won’t even link to the dump. Ran a couple errands and then I returned to the Reversing Falls observation area to see what it was like at low tide. Oh my God (and I don’t say that lightly)! This deserves a nod to the Creator. The river was now flowing normally/out to sea—in a big way! The Saint John River pours a lot of water into the bay. For the tide to push the flow backwards is just amazing! Check the videos below. I’ve swapped the order in which I took them because my head reconciles it better this way. So the first set of videos are from later in the day, about 6pm, when the tide was low and the river was flowing normally out to sea. The second set of videos are from my first visit at noon, when the ocean tide was overriding and pushing the river uphill. Truly amazing!

Saint John River — Reversing Falls at Low Tide

Low Tide – River Running Out to Sea (1)
Low Tide – River Running Out to Sea (2)
Low Tide – River Running Out to Sea (3)

Saint John River — Reversing Falls at High Tide

High Tide – Bay of Fundy Flowing Upriver (1)
High Tide – Bay of Fundy Flowing Upriver (2)
High Tide – Bay of Fundy Flowing Upriver (3)

What a blessing to see this rare display of God’s creation!

And with that and a pretty morning drive through southern New Brunswick, my incredible trip through eastern Canada and its Maritime provinces came to an end. Not a cliche: it was a trip of a lifetime that I’ll always treasure. Thanks, God, for allowing me the pleasure!

 

Calvin Coolidge on the Declaration of Independence

US Flag

I recently became aware of this insightful speech. Our 30th president revealed his wisdom 98 years ago but the truths are ever-relevant. The highlights are mine. I remember from school days that excessive highlighting can dilute the impact of the highlights themselves. So, sorry for so much highlighting here  but the speech is just so damn good!

Enjoy the holiday. May God continue to bless America!

Philadelphia, Pennsylvania — July 5, 1926

We meet to celebrate the birthday of America. The coming of a new life always excites our interest. Although we know in the case of the individual that it has been an infinite repetition reaching back beyond our vision, that only makes it the more wonderful. But how our interest and wonder increase when we behold the miracle of the birth of a new nation. It is to pay our tribute of reverence and respect to those who participated in such a mighty event that we annually observe the fourth day of July. Whatever may have been the impression created by the news which went out from this city on that summer day in 1776, there can be no doubt as to the estimate which is now placed upon it. At the end of 150 years the four corners of the earth unite in coming to Philadelphia as to a holy shrine in grateful acknowledgement of a service so great, which a few inspired men here rendered to humanity, that it is still the preeminent support of free government throughout the world.

Although a century and a half measured in comparison with the length of human experience is but a short time, yet measured in the life of governments and nations it ranks as a very respectable period. Certainly enough time has elapsed to demonstrate with a great deal of thoroughness the value of our institutions and their dependability as rules for the regulation of human conduct and the advancement of civilization. They have been in existence long enough to become very well seasoned. They have met, and met successfully, the test of experience.

It is not so much, then, for the purpose of undertaking to proclaim new theories and principles that this annual celebration is maintained, but rather to reaffirm and reestablish those old theories and principles which time and the unerring logic of events have demonstrated to be sound. Amid all the clash of conflicting interests, amid all the welter of partisan politics, every American can turn for solace and consolation to the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution of the United States with the assurance and confidence that those two great charters of freedom and justice remain firm and unshaken. Whatever perils appear, whatever dangers threaten, the Nation remains secure in the knowledge that the ultimate application of the law of the land will provide an adequate defense and protection.

It is little wonder that people at home and abroad consider Independence Hall as hallowed ground and revere the Liberty Bell as a sacred relic. That pile of bricks and mortar, that mass of metal, might appear to the uninstructed as only the outgrown meeting place and the shattered bell of a former time, useless now because of more modern conveniences, but to those who know they have become consecrated by the use which men have made of them. They have long been identified with a great cause. They are the framework of a spiritual event. The world looks upon them, because of their associations of one hundred and fifty years ago, as it looks upon the Holy Land because of what took place there nineteen hundred years ago. Through use for a righteous purpose they have become sanctified.

It is not here necessary to examine in detail the causes which led to the American Revolution. In their immediate occasion they were largely economic. The colonists objected to the navigation laws which interfered with their trade, they denied the power of Parliament to impose taxes which they were obliged to pay, and they therefore resisted the royal governors and the royal forces which were sent to secure obedience to these laws. But the conviction is inescapable that a new civilization had come, a new spirit had arisen on this side of the Atlantic more advanced and more developed in its regard for the rights of the individual than that which characterized the Old World. Life in a new and open country had aspirations which could not be realized in any subordinate position. A separate establishment was ultimately inevitable. It had been decreed by the very laws of human nature. Man everywhere has an unconquerable desire to be the master of his own destiny.

We are obliged to conclude that the Declaration of Independence represented the movement of a people. It was not, of course, a movement from the top. Revolutions do not come from that direction. It was not without the support of many of the most respectable people in the Colonies, who were entitled to all the consideration that is given to breeding, education, and possessions. It had the support of another element of great significance and importance to which I shall later refer. But the preponderance of all those who occupied a position which took on the aspect of aristocracy did not approve of the Revolution and held toward it an attitude either of neutrality or open hostility. It was in no sense a rising of the oppressed and downtrodden. It brought no scum to the surface, for the reason that colonial society had developed no scum. The great body of the people were accustomed to privations, but they were free from depravity. If they had poverty, it was not of the hopeless kind that afflicts great cities, but the inspiring kind that marks the spirit of the pioneer. The American Revolution represented the informed and mature convictions of a great mass of independent, liberty-loving, God-fearing people who knew their rights, and possessed the courage to dare to maintain them.

The Continental Congress was not only composed of great men, but it represented a great people. While its Members did not fail to exercise a remarkable leadership, they were equally observant of their representative capacity. They were industrious in encouraging their constituents to instruct them to support independence. But until such instructions were given they were inclined to withhold action.

While North Carolina has the honor of first authorizing its delegates to concur with other Colonies in declaring independence, it was quickly followed by South Carolina and Georgia, which also gave general instructions broad enough to include such action. But the first instructions which unconditionally directed its delegates to declare for independence came from the great Commonwealth of Virginia. These were immediately followed by Rhode Island and Massachusetts, while the other Colonies, with the exception of New York, soon adopted a like course.

This obedience of the delegates to the wishes of their constituents, which in some cases caused them to modify their previous positions, is a matter of great significance. It reveals an orderly process of government in the first place; but more than that, it demonstrates that the Declaration of Independence was the result of the seasoned and deliberate thought of the dominant portion of the people of the Colonies. Adopted after long discussion and as the result of the duly authorized expression of the preponderance of public opinion, it did not partake of dark intrigue or hidden conspiracy. It was well advised. It had about it nothing of the lawless and disordered nature of a riotous insurrection. It was maintained on a plane which rises above the ordinary conception of rebellion. It was in no sense a radical movement but took on the dignity of a resistance to illegal usurpations. It was conservative and represented the action of the colonists to maintain their constitutional rights which from time immemorial had been guaranteed to them under the law of the land.

When we come to examine the action of the Continental Congress in adopting the Declaration of Independence in the light of what was set out in that great document and in the light of succeeding events, we can not escape the conclusion that it had a much broader and deeper significance than a mere secession of territory and the establishment of a new nation. Events of that nature have been taking place since the dawn of history. One empire after another has arisen, only to crumble away as its constituent parts separated from each other and set up independent governments of their own. Such actions long ago became commonplace. They have occurred too often to hold the attention of the world and command the admiration and reverence of humanity. There is something beyond the establishment of a new nation, great as that event would be, in the Declaration of Independence which has ever since caused it to be regarded as one of the great charters that not only was to liberate America but was everywhere to ennoble humanity.

It was not because it was proposed to establish a new nation, but because it was proposed to establish a nation on new principles, that July 4, 1776, has come to be regarded as one of the greatest days in history. Great ideas do not burst upon the world unannounced. They are reached by a gradual development over a length of time usually proportionate to their importance. This is especially true of the principles laid down in the Declaration of Independence. Three very definite propositions were set out in its preamble regarding the nature of mankind and therefore of government. These were the doctrine that all men are created equal, that they are endowed with certain inalienable rights, and that therefore the source of the just powers of government must be derived from the consent of the governed.

If no one is to be accounted as born into a superior station, if there is to be no ruling class, and if all possess rights which can neither be bartered away nor taken from them by any earthly power, it follows as a matter of course that the practical authority of the Government has to rest on the consent of the governed. While these principles were not altogether new in political action, and were very far from new in political speculation, they had never been assembled before and declared in such a combination. But remarkable as this may be, it is not the chief distinction of the Declaration of Independence. The importance of political speculation is not to be underestimated, as I shall presently disclose. Until the idea is developed and the plan made there can be no action.

It was the fact that our Declaration of Independence containing these immortal truths was the political action of a duly authorized and constituted representative public body in its sovereign capacity, supported by the force of general opinion and by the armies of Washington already in the field, which makes it the most important civil document in the world. It was not only the principles declared, but the fact that therewith a new nation was born which was to be founded upon those principles and which from that time forth in its development has actually maintained those principles, that makes this pronouncement an incomparable event in the history of government. It was an assertion that a people had arisen determined to make every necessary sacrifice for the support of these truths and by their practical application bring the War of Independence to a successful conclusion and adopt the Constitution of the United States with all that it has meant to civilization.

The idea that the people have a right to choose their own rulers was not new in political history. It was the foundation of every popular attempt to depose an undesirable king. This right was set out with a good deal of detail by the Dutch when as early as July 26, 1581, they declared their independence of Philip of Spain. In their long struggle with the Stuarts the British people asserted the same principles, which finally culminated in the Bill of Rights deposing the last of that house and placing William and Mary on the throne. In each of these cases sovereignty through divine right was displaced by sovereignty through the consent of the people. Running through the same documents, though expressed in different terms, is the clear inference of inalienable rights. But we should search these charters in vain for an assertion of the doctrine of equality. This principle had not before appeared as an official political declaration of any nation. It was profoundly revolutionary. It is one of the corner stones of American institutions.

But if these truths to which the Declaration refers have not before been adopted in their combined entirety by national authority, it is a fact that they had been long pondered and often expressed in political speculation. It is generally assumed that French thought had some effect upon our public mind during Revolutionary days. This may have been true. But the principles of our Declaration had been under discussion in the Colonies for nearly two generations before the advent of the French political philosophy that characterized the middle of the eighteenth century. In fact, they come from an earlier date. A very positive echo of what the Dutch had done in 1581, and what the English were preparing to do, appears in the assertion of the Rev. Thomas Hooker, of Connecticut, as early as 1638, when he said in a sermon before the General Court that—

“The foundation of authority is laid in the free consent of the people.”

“The choice of public magistrates belongs unto the people by God’s own allowance.”

This doctrine found wide acceptance among the nonconformist clergy who later made up the Congregational Church. The great apostle of this movement was the Rev. John Wise, of Massachusetts. He was one of the leaders of the revolt against the royal governor Andros in 1687, for which he suffered imprisonment. He was a liberal in ecclesiastical controversies. He appears to have been familiar with the writings of the political scientist, Samuel Pufendorf, who was born in Saxony in 1632. Wise published a treatise, entitled “The Church’s Quarrel Espoused,” in 1710, which was amplified in another publication in 1717. In it he dealt with the principles of civil government. His works were reprinted in 1772 and have been declared to have been nothing less than a textbook of liberty for our Revolutionary fathers.

While the written word was the foundation, it is apparent that the spoken word was the vehicle for convincing the people. This came with great force and wide range from the successors of Hooker and Wise. It was carried on with a missionary spirit which did not fail to reach the Scotch-Irish of North Carolina, showing its influence by significantly making that Colony the first to give instructions to its delegates looking to independence. This preaching reached the neighborhood of Thomas Jefferson, who acknowledged that his “best ideas of democracy” had been secured at church meetings.

That these ideas were prevalent in Virginia is further revealed by the Declaration of Rights, which was prepared by George Mason and presented to the general assembly on May 27, 1776. This document asserted popular sovereignty and inherent natural rights, but confined the doctrine of equality to the assertion that “All men are created equally free and independent.” It can scarcely be imagined that Jefferson was unacquainted with what had been done in his own Commonwealth of Virginia when he took up the task of drafting the Declaration of Independence. But these thoughts can very largely be traced back to what John Wise was writing in 1710. He said, “Every man must be acknowledged equal to every man.” Again, “The end of all good government is to cultivate humanity and promote the happiness of all and the good of every man in all his rights, his life, liberty, estate, honor, and so forth. …” And again, “For as they have a power every man in his natural state, so upon combination they can and do bequeath this power to others and settle it according as their united discretion shall determine.” And still again, “Democracy is Christ’s government in church and state.” Here was the doctrine of equality, popular sovereignty, and the substance of the theory of inalienable rights clearly asserted by Wise at the opening of the eighteenth century, just as we have the principle of the consent of the governed stated by Hooker as early as 1638.

When we take all these circumstances into consideration, it is but natural that the first paragraph of the Declaration of Independence should open with a reference to Nature’s God and should close in the final paragraphs with an appeal to the Supreme Judge of the world and an assertion of a firm reliance on Divine Providence. Coming from these sources, having as it did this background, it is no wonder that Samuel Adams could say “The people seem to recognize this resolution as though it were a decree promulgated from heaven.”

No one can examine this record and escape the conclusion that in the great outline of its principles the Declaration was the result of the religious teachings of the preceding period. The profound philosophy which Jonathan Edwards applied to theology, the popular preaching of George Whitefield, had aroused the thought and stirred the people of the Colonies in preparation for this great event. No doubt the speculations which had been going on in England, and especially on the Continent, lent their influence to the general sentiment of the times. Of course, the world is always influenced by all the experience and all the thought of the past. But when we come to a contemplation of the immediate conception of the principles of human relationship which went into the Declaration of Independence we are not required to extend our search beyond our own shores. They are found in the texts, the sermons, and the writings of the early colonial clergy who were earnestly undertaking to instruct their congregations in the great mystery of how to live. They preached equality because they believed in the fatherhood of God and the brotherhood of man. They justified freedom by the text that we are all created in the divine image, all partakers of the divine spirit.

Placing every man on a plane where he acknowledged no superiors, where no one possessed any right to rule over him, he must inevitably choose his own rulers through a system of self-government. This was their theory of democracy. In those days such doctrines would scarcely have been permitted to flourish and spread in any other country. This was the purpose which the fathers cherished. In order that they might have freedom to express these thoughts and opportunity to put them into action, whole congregations with their pastors had migrated to the Colonies. These great truths were in the air that our people breathed. Whatever else we may say of it, the Declaration of Independence was profoundly American.

If this apprehension of the facts be correct, and the documentary evidence would appear to verify it, then certain conclusions are bound to follow. A spring will cease to flow if its source be dried up; a tree will wither if its roots be destroyed. In its main features the Declaration of Independence is a great spiritual document. It is a declaration not of material but of spiritual conceptions. Equality, liberty, popular sovereignty, the rights of man — these are not elements which we can see and touch. They are ideals. They have their source and their roots in the religious convictions. They belong to the unseen world. Unless the faith of the American people in these religious convictions is to endure, the principles of our Declaration will perish. We can not continue to enjoy the result if we neglect and abandon the cause.

We are too prone to overlook another conclusion. Governments do not make ideals, but ideals make governments. This is both historically and logically true. Of course the government can help to sustain ideals and can create institutions through which they can be the better observed, but their source by their very nature is in the people. The people have to bear their own responsibilities. There is no method by which that burden can be shifted to the government. It is not the enactment, but the observance of laws, that creates the character of a nation.

About the Declaration there is a finality that is exceedingly restful. It is often asserted that the world has made a great deal of progress since 1776, that we have had new thoughts and new experiences which have given us a great advance over the people of that day, and that we may therefore very well discard their conclusions for something more modern. But that reasoning can not be applied to this great charter. If all men are created equal, that is final. If they are endowed with inalienable rights, that is final. If governments derive their just powers from the consent of the governed, that is final. No advance, no progress can be made beyond these propositions. If anyone wishes to deny their truth or their soundness, the only direction in which he can proceed historically is not forward, but backward toward the time when there was no equality, no rights of the individual, no rule of the people. Those who wish to proceed in that direction can not lay claim to progress. They are reactionary. Their ideas are not more modern, but more ancient, than those of the Revolutionary fathers.

In the development of its institutions America can fairly claim that it has remained true to the principles which were declared 150 years ago. In all the essentials we have achieved an equality which was never possessed by any other people. Even in the less important matter of material possessions we have secured a wider and wider distribution of wealth. The rights of the individual are held sacred and protected by constitutional guaranties, which even the Government itself is bound not to violate. If there is any one thing among us that is established beyond question, it is self-government — the right of the people to rule. If there is any failure in respect to any of these principles, it is because there is a failure on the part of individuals to observe them. We hold that the duly authorized expression of the will of the people has a divine sanction. But even in that we come back to the theory of John Wise that “Democracy is Christ’s government.” The ultimate sanction of law rests on the righteous authority of the Almighty.

On an occasion like this a great temptation exists to present evidence of the practical success of our form of democratic republic at home and the ever-broadening acceptance it is securing abroad. Although these things are well known, their frequent consideration is an encouragement and an inspiration. But it is not results and effects so much as sources and causes that I believe it is even more necessary constantly to contemplate. Ours is a government of the people. It represents their will. Its officers may sometimes go astray, but that is not a reason for criticizing the principles of our institutions. The real heart of the American Government depends upon the heart of the people. It is from that source that we must look for all genuine reform. It is to that cause that we must ascribe all our results.

It was in the contemplation of these truths that the fathers made their declaration and adopted their Constitution. It was to establish a free government, which must not be permitted to degenerate into the unrestrained authority of a mere majority or the unbridled weight of a mere influential few. They undertook the balance these interests against each other and provide the three separate independent branches, the executive, the legislative, and the judicial departments of the Government, with checks against each other in order that neither one might encroach upon the other. These are our guaranties of liberty. As a result of these methods enterprise has been duly protected from confiscation, the people have been free from oppression, and there has been an ever-broadening and deepening of the humanities of life.

Under a system of popular government there will always be those who will seek for political preferment by clamoring for reform. While there is very little of this which is not sincere, there is a large portion that is not well informed. In my opinion very little of just criticism can attach to the theories and principles of our institutions. There is far more danger of harm than there is hope of good in any radical changes. We do need a better understanding and comprehension of them and a better knowledge of the foundations of government in general. Our forefathers came to certain conclusions and decided upon certain courses of action which have been a great blessing to the world. Before we can understand their conclusions we must go back and review the course which they followed. We must think the thoughts which they thought. Their intellectual life centered around the meeting-house. They were intent upon religious worship. While there were always among them men of deep learning, and later those who had comparatively large possessions, the mind of the people was not so much engrossed in how much they knew, or how much they had, as in how they were going to live. While scantily provided with other literature, there was a wide acquaintance with the Scriptures. Over a period as great as that which measures the existence of our independence they were subject to this discipline not only in their religious life and educational training, but also in their political thought. They were a people who came under the influence of a great spiritual development and acquired a great moral power.

No other theory is adequate to explain or comprehend the Declaration of Independence. It is the product of the spiritual insight of the people. We live in an age of science and of abounding accumulation of material things. These did not create our Declaration. Our Declaration created them. The things of the spirit come first. Unless we cling to that, all our material prosperity, overwhelming though it may appear, will turn to a barren sceptre in our grasp. If we are to maintain the great heritage which has been bequeathed to us, we must be like-minded as the fathers who created it. We must not sink into a pagan materialism. We must cultivate the reverence which they had for the things that are holy. We must follow the spiritual and moral leadership which they showed. We must keep replenished, that they may glow with a more compelling flame, the altar fires before which they worshiped.

Dad

Dad & Me
Dad & Me

As we welcome another Fathers’ Day to celebrate the important men in our lives, I think back to the wonderful times of fun, growth, and love spent with my dad. What an awesome guy. What a role model of a real man. What a great dad! He’s been in heaven  now 17 years and I still appreciate his impact and influence on me. I was unimaginably blessed when God placed me in the lives of my folks. I’m forever grateful. May we always honor and respect our dads. I’m so proud of my friends who are carrying out their God-honoring roles as dads so well. (You guys know who you are!) Here’s to the real men—the true dads—our world so desperately needs.

Happy Fathers’ Day!

The Best Five-hour Detour

I was coming up on the Outer Banks when I received the Samaritan’s Purse text about them needing help on tornado response & recovery in Greensboro, North Carolina. So instead of continuing my trek north to Virginia I headed west about five hours to Greensboro. I’d served with SP before on hurricane cleanup and rebuild projects in the Houston area so I knew what I was getting into. So I thought.

About 5 pm Sunday I arrived at Grace Community Church, our hosts for the team’s deployment. Lorenzo, the SP project manager, met me as I pulled in and helped get my rig secured for the duration. After dinner in the community room, I settled in for the night to get rested for what looked like a rainy day Monday. And rain it did. The next two days were a soggy mess., slogging & sloshing thru mud & wet brush.

In the morning on the way to our first job site we passed significant tornado damage, including one house that had been blown fully off its foundation about 20 feet away. (The television, however, was still sitting on the foundation.) Downed trees were everywhere; roofs were gone; bricks and debris were scattered all over the place. It was gut wrenching. Kenny, our team lead, asked me to grab a chain saw and start cutting trees into movable sizes that could be dragged or hauled by wheelbarrow to the street. We cleared trees and debris for hours—all day.

Our team, which ranged from about six of us to more than 20 co-workers cleared trees, brush, fences, trash, personal belongings, and whatever else the storm tore up to the street where city crews could pick it up for hauling to the dump. A couple jobs required a skip-steer to move larger tree trunks or lift trees off vehicles. It was amazing how a bunch of regular men & women could come together to help make a horrible situation a little bit better.

I feel bad that the 20+ jobs I helped on have already begun to meld together because each job has a story: a home destroyed, beautiful trees uprooted, lives impacted. I guess that’s what storms do.

But I’m also heartened and so very grateful for the opportunity to serve. I met incredible people, both on my team and the homeowners we served. My core team—those with me the longest—will always be more than friends. They are my brothers and sisters. Mike & Nik from Hillsboro, Ohio are a couple of the most diligent chainsaw guys & solid people you could ask for. They never quit and, I know, those 36 inch guns get heavy! Ricky, from Long Island, New York, a retired NYPD officer and now pastor of his church: what an awesome, loving, caring man of God. Theresa from Fort Wayne, Indiana who’s a “domestic engineer” and has the tenacity and joy in serving like no other. The Teen Challenge guys (more on them in a minute) nicknamed her G.I. Jane. Perfect! Theresa, in turn, nicknamed me Vagabum. I like it. Gonna let that stick. And finally Kenny, our team lead. I’ve rarely met a man chasing so hard after God’s heart. Kenny’s dry humor, his goofy songs & stories, his faith-building songs, his love for people… what a man. I’ll work with you anytime, anywhere Kenny. I love all you guys and pray for God’s blessings on your lives. Hope to see you all down the road!

Wednesday and Friday the awesome guys from Teen Challenge joined us on our job sites. These guys, each recovering from some kind of addiction, were nothing short of God-sends. They brought life, laughter, youth and strength to the game! To a man they served ceaselessly with obvious joy and love for Christ in their hearts. They were kinda like wood chippers, as they made mountains of brush, limbs, and trees trunks disappear to the street. We would’ve been in a world of hurt without them. I’m so proud of how they’ve turned their lives over to a better Strength.

And there were the homeowners. I’ll never forget or truly understand how gracious they all were. How appreciative they are. How, in the midst of horrendous destruction, so many of them are standing strong in their faith and how, on several occasions, they served us simply with their hugs, smiles and, yes, even tears. Whether we were praying into a job site for safety and that we’d be the hands and feet of Jesus in the neighborhood or we were thanking Him for protecting us through another job, homeowners often stood with us hand-in-hand recognizing that even in the midst of hell on earth, God is good. I know we have some issues in our country, and I know racism continues its ugly impact on lives. But this week, in Greensboro, I saw nothing but care, concern & love for each other thanks to one Common Denominator. It was beautiful!

I could probably write about this week all night and not cover it all. But I’m battered, I’m bruised. I’m beat. Yet I’m so blessed. This has been the best five-hour detour of my life. Good night my friends. May God bless Greensboro and the life-giving work of Samaritan’s Purse.

How Do I Put This?

Disclosure: I thought I had visited Gettysburg back in the early 90s. I dunno what I was thinking but wherever I went back then sure wasn’t Gettysburg. It was a important Civil War national park (I think they all  are), but it wasn’t this one. After spending 6+ hours visiting the Gettysburg visitors center and driving the battlefield tour, I’m kinda off my rails . . . it’s a lot to take in.

I arrived at the visitor’s center about 8:30. It was rebuilt in 2008 and it’s an awesome facility. Been to a bunch of National Park Service visitors’ centers; this one ices the cake. Attendance today was light—mostly a slew of high school groups visiting, which is awesome. From what I could tell, these kids were soaking in the history. So good to see. I wish kids across the country had access to walk our history as these fortunate boys & girls do.

The Morgan Freeman narrated film about the conditions leading to the Civil War and then the war itself was so well done high schoolers applauded at the end! And then the Cyclorama exhibit blew me away. I felt like I was standing in the middle of the battle. It’s a 45 by 330 foot painting animated with narrative, lights, and sound effects. Truly impressive and the best $15 I’ve spent  in a looooong time. Both certainly gave me an appreciation for what the battle at Gettysburg was like. After another hour in the museum and bookstore (I even bought a shirt!) I headed out to drive the auto tour.

The 23 mile self-guided tour is awesome. You can get tour guides or take a bus tour, but I was feeling like doing it solo. A few times at certain stops I eavesdropped on the pros explaining the history and realized there’s real value in going that route. (So I continued to eavesdrop from time to time!)

The battlefields are: Massive. Expansive. Sprawling. Diverse. Difficult. Beautiful. Stunning. Serene. Humbling. Sobering. Sad.

I don’t know how many times I felt emotions of regret, anger, sadness, appreciation, admiration, inadequacy, thankfulness. Emotions ran the gamut. I truly don’t know how to put it…

(I do know I’m annoyed at our weakened culture that wants safe rooms to coddle their ill-conceived emotions of being wronged. Good God, people, some of these soldiers walked miles upon miles to fight for their cause. Many of them barefoot. Some snowflakes out there today really need a reality check. ‘Nuff said.)

I walked through the “bloody wheatfield” where 4,000 were killed or injured. and I looked down at Devils Den, yet another site of fierce fighting and sacrifice. You can’t walk these lands and not feel the impact of what went down here. You don’t.

The tour fittingly ends at the National Cemetery where President Lincoln gave his famous, so pertinent address. I walked those grounds and, I gotta say, I got a little choked up at the number of “unknown” grave markers. So many men—on both sides of the conflict that divided our nation—gave their lives and are buried in graves marked “Unknown.” Others remain on the battlefields, unceremoniously buried where they fell. I don’t know what to do with that…

So then, how do I put this? What do I do with my Gettysburg experience? Do I just move on? Just visit the next point  of interest? Push the emotion to the background? As a wise (and much loved) sister put it: “You CANNOT truly appreciate the past until you visit places like this in person. If we remove everything offensive and sweep it under the rug then we’re eventual doomed to repeat it…

I guess I’ll tell the story. Encourage people to visit our nation’s parks and historic sites. Learn. Consider. Apply. Encourage. Pay it forward. Pray. May God bless America. The United States of America.