What would you give the world for Christmas?

LR XMas WPAs Christmastime arrived I pondered what my present to the world would be if I had the power to bestow any gift I wished upon it. The gifts we receive generally fall into one of three categories:  Gifts we want, gifts we need, and well, those that get put in the closet.  Of course it would be hard to give billions of people what they want, anyway that’s Santa’s gig.  The world needs so many things, some of them greatly.  The world also has a lot already– technology, information, skyscrapers. What does it really need?

My first answer might have been the same as many others:  Peace.  The world desperately needs peace.  One problem with peace is it’s not always just and tends to be fleeting.  Peace sometimes happens at the end of a fight, regardless of the morality of the victor.  It is the absence of conflict.  Conflict is what drives us to excel, to solve problems, to grow. Peace might better be earned, rather than given or forced.

If not peace, than surely happiness. Everyone can benefit from happiness. We like to see happy people.  We can even tell when animals are happy.  It’s infectious and we of course, enjoy it.  Like peace though, it does not care how it comes about.  Bad people can be happy.  Evil makes some people happy.  Also like peace, it tends to be fleeting.

If peace and happiness were not an ideal gift, unless they exist in the right way and together, then surely health would be the greatest gift to humanity.  Some people already have it.  Some have it and are miserable.  Some people who are not in great health have happiness, and would not trade for it.  Health is usually not as fleeting a condition as peace or happiness, but cannot last forever.  It’s suitable to wish for individuals and we pray for our loved ones to have it when they don’t, but nature in the end always exerts her control over our mortal shells.

What then would I give to the world had I the power?  What condition when present can bring into being the virtues of peace, happiness, and even health?  The answer to me is love.  It’s a peacemaker, it makes us happy, and we can experience it as both a physical and mental phenomenon.  It is sorely missed when it is lacking.  Hate can exist in the presence of peace, happiness, even health, but not for long in the presence of love.  Love dissolves and transmutes it.  It exists in whatever from we need it, as motherly love, brotherly love, it exists between people of similar interests as friendship, it exists between people who work and serve together as comradery.  There is the supreme form of love for and by the Creator, for and of His creation; this would make the perfect gift.

Peace, happiness, and health are greatly needed, but not always in equal measures to everyone. Love is the gift that all human beings, indeed, all living beings can benefit from.   It comes in whatever form it is needed.  All have some access to it already, but we can be blind to its presence.  It’s free, but not always freely given.  Sometimes sadly, it is not accepted or seen for what it is.  If I had the means offer it to all and all hearts would be open to it, I think that’s what I would give as a gift to the world.  Is it possible we already have this gift and it remains unopened?  Perhaps we already commemorate the receipt of this gift every year around this time. Merry Christmas!

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Banning persons based on religion is not a workable solution.

GWOTDonald Trump is on the record as saying that Muslims who are not already U.S. citizens or serving in our military should be banned from entering the country.  This call has been roundly condemned as inhumane, bigoted and even un-American. His supporters point out correctly, that most of the high-profile terrorist acts being committed today are done so in the name of Islam. New York, Washington, D.C. , London, Madrid, Paris, Paris again, and San Bernardino were all hit by radical Islamist terror.  They would also point out that no other religion currently has such an acute connection with terror.  They rightly state that the FBI admits that the Syrian refugees can’t be properly vetted. Given these facts, Trump’s solution might seem quite reasonable then on its face.  Set aside the dubious Constitutional, moral, and American values arguments for a moment, the proposal is not a practical or even workable policy.

Just as we Americans, most people the world over possess documents that establish our identity, our ID.  Most have passports, Drivers Licenses, Mortgages, bank records that establish who we are to the rest of society.  Most of these records though lack one piece of critical information that would be crucial to enacting any ban on Muslims, or any other religious group from this or any other country—one’s religion.  Marriage records, birth certificates, and military ID “dog” tags are the only bits of ID that typically would state or give a clue as to the holder’s religion. Chances are that Syrian refugees aren’t showing up at the camps with all of these in a fireproof box or in a manila folder.

Even if the typical refugee came armed with all of these documents, the second that word got out that America or any other western country was no longer accepting Muslims, these documents would quickly disappear.  They surely would not be offered up as proof of identification. If ever the question of religion was put to them, either by a person or a questionnaire, the answer would probably be “Christian”.  Even “atheist” would be acceptable.

If at a point of entry into the United States an Immigration official were to ask a visitor, any visitor, their religion and the answer was anything accept “Muslim” or “Islam”, how exactly would the official proceed to determine if that statement was untrue?  Would the person attempting to gain entry be forced to recite the Lord’s Prayer, or prove they are not a Muslim by eating pork? Would any woman not wearing a Hijab be automatically let in?

What can be reliably determined in most cases is what country and what part of that country a person is from.  Most countries are broken down into states, parishes, districts, or other such zones that can be identified as having significant terror or religious radical populations.   Documents that list the person’s former address can be cross referenced with other sources and other documents.  Finding corroborating records could be especially problematic in the case of Syrian refugees, as ISIS has captured passport making machines and passport blanks.

Our American history, values, and compassion compel us to let in what refugees we can from war-torn countries.  Those same virtues don’t compel us however to act in a suicidal manner while doing so. We know that some Jihadists seek to exploit the refugee crisis as a means to entering the West.  In some cases, there may be no way at all to properly vet those from Syria.  While we sympathize with their plight, we cannot verify who many of them are.  In some cases, we have to resolve ourselves to the fact that some of them can never be left into the country.  We can prioritize who we let in or allow to proceed to the next steps of the immigration process.  The extremely old, and the extremely young and their immediate families we can give some latitude to, as can we with those identifying as Christians or other religious minorities.  We can’t promise them entry to the U.S. but we can allow them the chance to try.  Ultimately though, our process for winnowing out the most likely to commit terror has to depend upon other factors beside religion, such as country of origin, foreign travel, and family ties.  We have to be honest with ourselves and those who wish to enter this country that sometimes, perhaps often times, the answer to whether or not they can enter regrettably must be “no.”

News Brief: Two Catholic leaders make headlines.

RL New BriefIn case your were hiding under a rock the last few days, Pope Francis was in North America on a whirlwind tour of Cuba, Washington D.C., New York, and Philadelphia.  In Washington, he would meet another prominent Catholic, Speaker of the House John Boehner, who would stun the political scene with a surprise announcement of his resignation.

The Pope’s first stop in the U.S. was Washington, D.C. where he was welcomed by President Obama at the White House.  He also made a rare address for a foreign head of state to a joint session of Congress.  He spoke about subjects dear to those on the left such as climate change and social justice, but also those supported by those on the right such as the right to life, from conception to natural death.  He also called for an end to the death penalty.

While the nation’s capitol, he presided over the canonization of Junipero Serra, a Spanish missionary who brought Christianity to California, a move opposed by some native Americans who accused the now saint of destroying their culture.  Pope Francis’ next stop was in New York City, where he held mass at St. Patrick’s Cathedral, and addressed the U.N. General Assembly. He was also the featured speaker at a multi-denominational ceremony at “Ground Zero”, site of the 9/11/2001 terrorists attacks on the World Trade Center.The main purpose of his visit to the United States was to attend the World Meeting of Families held in Philadelphia.  He also addressed a crowd in front of Independence Hall, giving a speech with a special focus on immigration.

US CongressA day after realizing his dream of having the Pope address Congress, Speaker of the House John Boehner announced he would be resigning his post as Speaker, and his seat in Congress.

Speaker Boehner’s announcement, while a surprise by virtue of its timing, was not completely unexpected.  The embattled Speaker in recent years has taken a lot of heat from the more conservative members of Congress who questioned his leadership on key issues such as repealing “Obamacare” and what they claimed to be an illegal executive order by President Obama giving millions of illegal immigrants de-facto amnesty.  Boehner was also seen as wavering on the issue of defunding Planned Parenthood after damning video apparently showed the organization’s leadership prepared to deal in the tissue of aborted babies.

Boehner’s resignation will be effective at the end of October, after which the Congress must elect a new Speaker.  A special election will be held in Ohio to fill his vacant Congressional seat.

Bad Judgment Abounds in Kim Davis Case

Social Consrvtsm In the NewsIt started with a bad decision to take the matter of same-sex marriage out of the hands of the voters and into the hands of the courts. Now, without support from the majority of people in Kentucky, they are forced to accept a law and their legislature has been denied even the chance to create legislation that addresses the wants and needs of their constituents. Christians feel persecuted for religious beliefs that are in conflict with the Supreme Court’s edict. The LGBT community is put in an awkward position of appearing to put their rights above those of others. All the bad things that the dissenting Justices wrote in their opinions are coming true. The result is a situation where no one looks good, or wise.

Next was what arguably another bad decision, that of Kim Davis, the county clerk charged with implementing part of the Court’s decision. Being an Evangelical Christian, she feels she does not have the authority to approve marriage licenses for same-sex couples. The fact that the government has approval authority over any marriage, gay or otherwise is in itself questionable. Other than verifying age, legal identity, and current marital status, what is there to approve? (Under the current Supreme Court ruling, marital status should no longer even be an issue, but that is a subject for another day.) She didn’t resign, nor did the take the out that the judge gave her– that she simply not interfere if her deputies signed the documents instead. It seems that given a way to keep her job, yet not lend her stamp of approval to the marriage documents was not sufficient. Her stance is admirable, even brave, but when a judge offers you a face-saving way out, you ought to seriously consider it. Again, her civil disobedience while principled, forgets the fact that she’s a public servant and is not free to choose which policies she supports. Perhaps she’s simply following the example of sanctuary city mayors, or presidents with their pens and phones, so maybe her confusion is understandable.

The judge who locked her up for contempt probably didn’t much consider the optics of sending someone to jail ostensibly for having religious views incompatible with the official stance of the government. A fine would seem more in keeping with sentencing norms than outright jail time. It makes her a martyr and so, in the end, makes the government’s position look unwise, if not outright tyrannical. It pits needlessly one group of Americans against another.

Certainly, the choice of bypassing the democratic, albeit slower process in favor of the quicker, easier judicial rout failed to build a sufficiently strong foundation of public support. Putting someone behind bars for expressing deeply held religious beliefs do not do much to support the tolerance argument. It will serve to build up resentment and distrust amongst a segment of the population already suspicious of the Federal government. The results have been predictable and were predicted by Justices Roberts and Scalia in their dissents. At every turn, a series of poor judgments has snowballed into a debacle. Now it will take a Kentucky legislature with the wisdom of Solomon to split this baby in a way that satisfies all parties. The courts, if they have any wisdom, should step back and allow those elected by the people sort out a mess they helped to create.