Tag Archives: America the Beautiful

Imagine That

Imagination is everything. It is the preview of life’s coming attractions.
– Albert Einstein

Imagine that! High school seniors have graduated and summer is finally here. As working adults we hope that business will continue to pick up and we know that the long, hot days of the summer months lay ahead. They will be over before we know it. But remember for a moment the days of summer back when we were kids. The days were still long and hot, especially if they were spent anywhere in Texas or the surrounding states.

As we reflect on the childhood joys of the summer months we have fond memories of friends, trips, adventures, months out of school, and good times. We remember lemonade, watermelon, snow cones, ice cream, swimming holes, and fishing holes, too. We recall family reunions, time spent on vacation, and time with grandparents. For some the summers of childhood were long ago, but never forgotten. For others they are a fresh memory formed just a year or so ago.

For those who can remember way back when, I wanted to take a few moments at the start of summer and take a look at some of the things we may not know about these youngsters that have just graduated high school. What are their cultural references in comparison to ours?

Seniors who are graduating this year were born when Bill Clinton was President but George W. Bush is the first President they remember. The Hubble Telescope has always been in orbit along with Global Positioning Satellites, the internet has always been available, new cars have always had air bags, and DNA fingerprinting has always been a tool used by crime fighters. They have never been without 911 emergency telephone services.

Today’s graduates do not remember Ruby Ridge, Waco, Rodney King, the LA Riots, the fall of the Berlin Wall, the collapse of the USSR, the KGB, East Germany, the Cold War, Tiananmen Square, or the Oklahoma City Bombing. They were born after Gulf War I (Desert Storm) and have always had Word, Excel, and PowerPoint available on their computers.

These young men and women, our future, have never known another host for the Tonight Show other than Jay Leno, except for the few months that Conan hosted. They have never been without Comedy Central, the Discovery Channel, or the Sci/Fi Channel. The Simpsons have always been on the air.

When they were born, the Dow Jones had just broken 4000. The average cost of a new house was $110,000. The average annual income was $34,000. The average rent was $495 a month. And gas averaged $1.05 a gallon.

Things are different and yet somehow they are always the same. Today we are still working for peace in the Middle East. Terrorists are still holding hostages. We are still fighting in Iraq. Washington is corrupt. Taxes are high. And Elvis is still rumored to have died.

But let’s not forget that we are talking about the fond memories of summer. Those memories are fond because of our perspective when we were kids. We were not concerned with the political issues of the day or of the negative reports in the press about the impending doom and soon coming end of the world by some catastrophe or new disease. We wanted to play with our friends, eat good food (especially if it wasn’t good for us), and enjoy life! What happened?

Some would say we grew up. But face it; there is still that child in all of us, that child that remembers the fun of summer. And in case we have forgotten – look at our kids, or our friend’s kids, or our younger siblings. Where does the fun come from?

It is all about imagination. And even grown ups can imagine. So let’s put our imagination to use. It may be a little rusty. To warm it up, think about the times, the things, the places, and the people that made summer special when we were kids. Once our imagination is cranking, imagine what it would be like to enjoy life like that without all the stress (and responsibility).

Now imagine what fun we can have with our family, with our kids, and with our friends in these summer months. We don’t need lots of money, we just need our imagination. Let’s retrace the steps of our childhood and find joy in the simple things, the things that bring a smile to the faces of those around us. Imagine a world without all the stress. What would that feel like? Stress is usually a reaction to circumstances that we cannot control. If we cannot control it, why waste time worrying about it? If we want to waste emotional energy, let’s wear ourselves out enjoying the summer like we did back in the day, when we were kids.

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We Must All Hang Together

We must all hang together, or assuredly, we shall all hang separately. – Benjamin Franklin (at the signing on the Declaration of Independence)

Two hundred and thirty-five years ago, on July 4, 1776, the Congress of the thirteen United States of America unanimously declared their independence from Great Britain. After enumerating their grievances and listing the reasons for making such a declaration, the fifty-six signers proclaimed, “And for the support of this Declaration, with a firm reliance on the protection of divine Providence, we mutually pledge to each other our lives, our fortunes, and our sacred honor.”

They risked everything for this great experiment in self government, trusting that “all men are created equal” and “endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.” They viewed government as being accountable to the people, not the people being accountable to the government. True liberty was seen in men being free from burdensome rules and regulations by an oppressive ruler. They stated that government derives it power “from the consent of the governed.”

They were cautious and even hesitant to make such a bold change in their government, but believed that there was no other course of action to take in light of the abuses coming from the King and Parliament. Britain was fighting a war with France and needed more money to continue the war. The people were already taxed at burdensome levels, so the governors decided to levy new taxes on the colonies. The Stamp Act among other measures was an attempt to charge taxes to the colonists all the while refusing them the right to be represented in Parliament. So they did not have a say in how they were treated or what was done with the money paid in taxes. This was indeed “taxation without representation.”

The colonists fought these new taxes, including the infamous Boston Tea Party. As they petitioned for the right to be heard on these matters, King George finally reached a point where he believed that the colonies were of no use any longer, and even had become too much trouble to govern. He issued The Prohibitory Act of 1775. In this declaration from the throne, he removed his authority, protection, and rule from the colonies. He declared that they were enemies of Great Britain and even invited mercenaries to help him undermine and destroy the “rebellious states.”

Imagine, a King offering to pay mercenaries to invade and disrupt settlements filled with his subjects. This Prohibitory Act was rightly seen as a declaration of war on the colonies. The King had made Britain an Enemy of “these thirteen united States.” Parliament disagreed with this move by the King and they began to argue with him about how to handle the situation, to the point that they instructed British troops to attack key ports and trade routes in order to try and re-take what the King had given away. As the King and Parliament debated and argued and fought among themselves, our Founding Fathers knew that something had to be done to assure the safety and survival of the settlers in the new world.

After several meetings of Congress the decision was made that in order to protect themselves from mercenaries and the British troops already in the country, they needed to establish a new government. They had been kicked out of Britain, rejected as a territory and holding by the Crown, and now were under threat of invasion. The answer that appeared to be the best was to declare to the world what had happened and to establish a new government, securing independence and liberty for the people.

In 1776, in order to do this, these fifty-six men were willing to give their all, to sacrifice everything for the sake of freedom. The revolution had begun and the world has been a better place ever since.

On this anniversary of the birth of our young nation, let us not forget all that we have been able to accomplish, for the good not only of our own country, but for the world. Historians tell us that each great society in the history of the world has left in its wake contributions to civilization. The Greeks gave us philosophy, architecture, and sculpture. The Romans gave us aqueducts, roads, bridges, public law, and military colonization. Italy during the Renaissance gave us the fine arts. England gave us representative government and public justice. But what of America?

The marks of a great civilization are seen in these things that contribute to changing things the world over. Historians list five such contributions from the United States. They include 1) diplomacy and peace keeping around the world, 2) religious freedom, 3) seeing all men as truly equal, 4) ethnic acceptance, that is, we are a melting pot consisting of all types of people from around the world and live, for the most part, in harmony, and 5) industry, that is our ability to work and produce the most affluent society in the history of the world.

America is great because her people are great. The form of government established by our Founding Fathers was designed specifically to allow men to have the freedom and liberty to pursue success, wealth, happiness, and whatever else they desire. The result has been that we as a nation have done more and reached further than any society that came before us. In 235 short years, we have changed the world.

Let us not forget the determination of our Founders, or their sacrifices made to make this great experiment in self governing a reality. For all the doom and gloom of the present time, in the midst of recession, depression, and frustration, and in light of the fact that we are far from perfect – we must remember this: we are the United States of America, and if we hang together we can make things better for ourselves and the rest of the world.

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Giving Thanks Like We Mean It

Not what we say about our blessings, but how we use them,
is the true measure of our thanksgiving. – WT Purkiser

A mentor of mine, a psychologist with over 30 years of experience, once stated that the Holidays are usually the most stressful days we face each year. He saw first hand that stress, depression, and anxiety would spike around this time of year. What is supposed to be a time of reflection, celebration, and refreshment instead becomes a hurried and harried time of frantic shopping, planning, and coping with all that comes with the commercialization of these special days.

He would always say about these times that these holidays could truly be a time of blessing, a true holy day. But if we are not careful we find instead that we have a holler day, or worse yet, a hollow day. Stress brings out contention and conflict, and depression drives us away from others so that we feel alone even in a crowd of friends and family.

Reflecting on the first Thanksgiving in 1621 we remember that the Pilgrims prepared more graves than houses that first winter in the New World, and yet they met together at Plymouth for a special day of worship and thanksgiving for the good gifts and grace of God that brought them to a place where they could be free. Later in our history Abraham Lincoln declared the first national day of giving thanks in 1863. It was a time of great strife in the country and yet the President wanted our nation to take the time to remember that there were many reasons to give thanks to God for His providential care.

So often we find that it is very easy to lose the true meaning of a holiday. One example in recent news had to do with school children making ornaments for the Capital Christmas Tree in Washington, D.C. An ornament was rejected because it had a depiction of the Baby Jesus on it. It was considered a religious symbol and was therefore unfit for placing on a Christmas Tree! Think about it – Christmas is the holiday during which we celebrate the birth of Christ and an ornament with the birth of Christ on it was rejected for display. The ruling was later reversed, but before we throw stones we need to see that this demonstrates just how quickly we can forget what the holidays are all about. What can we do to make sure that we remember the whys and wherefores for the days ahead?

In order to help us prepare for the holidays, starting with Thanksgiving, I want us to take a step back from the hectic days ahead so that we can think about giving thanks. I want to use an example from elementary school when we were learning our vowels. Remember? What are the vowels? They are A-E-I-O-U and sometimes Y. What can this teach us about Thanksgiving?

AAttitude is everything. Only we can make up our minds that we are going to have an attitude of gratitude no matter what. We can be bitter, angry, stressed, and worried, or we can decide to give thanks for our blessings regardless of the trials and tribulations we may be facing. So let’s make up our minds right now – we will give thanks.

EEnjoy friends and family. No matter how they stress us, we still know deep down that we should be thankful for our family and friends. When they start to get on our nerves we need to remember that life is short and that love overlooks a multitude of sins.

I Ingratitude will always spoil the day. Ingratitude takes a lot of work. Grudges are difficult to maintain. We learn that taking the time to forgive opens our hearts to gratitude. Beside, if we really look at it, we have more to be thankful for than to complain about.

OOthers First. When we put others first and tend to their needs we find that our own needs usually take care of themselves. However, a selfish focus will almost certainly guarantee unhappiness and ungratefulness. Let’s work to make this holiday all that it can be for others first.

U Unmet Expectations are behind most unhappiness and ungratefulness. We have an expectation that does not get met and we believe that things are unfair. As our mothers told us often, “Life is not fair.” And aren’t we glad? If life was fair that means we would all get exactly what we deserve! So if we think things are not fair or working in our favor let’s remember that if we can adjust our expectations and learn to handle disappointment with grace and dignity then things never really are as bad as they seem.

And sometimes Y – what about the Y? Why should we be grateful? What do we have to give thanks for? Sometimes we need to stop amidst the hustle and bustle and make a list in our minds of the things we have to be thankful for. Often we have only the negative and bad in the forefront of our thoughts, but we need to look past the bad to all the good that is there. A few bad things lead us to believe that all hope is lost, but a quick moment used to count our blessings reveals the truth – we do have plenty to be grateful for.

So what are we waiting for? We do not need to wait for one Thursday a year to give thanks. We can start today. An attitude of gratitude will make all the difference in our outlook, our relationships, and our lives. These short lessons are reminders that can help us adjust our attitude so that this is truly a time of Thanksgiving. After all, we need to remember that old admonition for a happy life, “In everything give thanks…..”

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Labor Pains

A truly American sentiment recognizes the dignity of labor and the fact that honor lies in honest toil. – Grover Cleveland

The Industrial Revolution, a massive shift from an agricultural based economy to an economy based on mechanized production and manufacturing, was well under way by the turn of the century in 1900. While Americans traditionally are no strangers to hard work and ingenuity, in the 1880s the strain of progress had led to the grim reality that employees were working 12 hour days, seven days a week just to survive. There was no OSHA, not many safety regulations at all, and poor working conditions. Many workers either did the job their boss demanded or their family went hungry. Add to this the lack of child labor laws and even children were working long hours for little pay so that they could help their family survive economically. These injustices motivated the founding of the Labor Movement.

In recognition of the spirit and ambition of the American worker the first Labor Day parade was held in New York City on September 5, 1882. Most of the workers who marched in the parade took the day off without pay in order to make a statement about the strength of the American work ethic and the endless possibilities and payoff that comes with the dignity of enduring hard work for the sake of our families and our nation. Another parade was held the next year again on September 5, and several other cities and states began observing a holiday to celebrate the American Laborer until finally in 1894 the first Monday in September each year was declared a national holiday in the United States by Congress.

Today, in order to celebrate work we get to take a day off, and for most it is a paid holiday. Working conditions have vastly improved, safety regulations abound, and our standard of living has multiplied exponentially due to the willingness of the American Worker to work, sacrifice, and strive for something better. Some refer to this as chasing the American Dream – the fact that whatever hardships we face this is still the Land of Opportunity. However, we must heed the warning of Theodore Roosevelt, who, in his fight against corruption in the workplace and the government stated:

The things that will destroy America are prosperity-at-any-price, peace-at-any-price, safety-first instead of duty-first, the love of soft living, and the get-rich-quick theory of life.

Roosevelt was outspoken about the value of hard work. He believed, as one with a strong work ethic will also believe, that hard work is noble, it both produces and reveals character, and is, in fact, our moral duty. Many today shy away from talking about what is moral and what is not, but we see the truth behind what Roosevelt said in our current economic crisis. Greed, or the pursuit of prosperity at any price, is blamed for the failings in the financial sector. Peace at any price and a safety first instead of duty first attitude lie at the root of the loss of civil liberties and encroachments on our freedom all for the sake of supposed security. Apathy, complacency, laziness, and the desire to get rich quick constantly threaten to undermine our workers and the workplace.

If the worker fails to work, shunning his moral duty to work hard, work smart, and work his best, the company will fail (despite government intervention through a bail out or buy out). When the company fails, families are affected and the foundation of our nation is weakened. Now then, not every business that fails does so because the workers are to blame. Not every business fails due to corruption, greed, or mismanagement, but if we listen to the naysayers and believe everything the media says then times are worse than they have ever been and may not ever get better.

In the past, when times were tough, when families went hungry, and when children were put to work in factories, the American Worker did not quit, give up, or walk away. He worked that much more, learning to adapt, innovate, and overcome. Those obstacles opened the door for new opportunities, new discoveries, and new frontiers of industry and exploration. The celebration of Labor and the recognition of the value of hard work demonstrate the spirit of America.

We may be down, but we are not out. We may be stressed, but hopefully not depressed. We may need to be reminded from time to time that hard work is just that – hard. But the diligent worker knows that there is value in doing his duty and that these things will pay off in the end, not to mention the fact that there should be a great sense of satisfaction knowing that a good work ethic motivates us to do what is right simply for the sake of doing what is right!

So as we enjoy Labor Day this year, let us pause to remember why we have the day off. Let us celebrate the value of the American Worker, remembering the hard work done by those who came before us. And let us commit to do our best for those generations yet to come. It is not just a day off. It is not just the signal of the end of summer. It is a tribute to the willingness to strive to overcome whatever odds we face, finding value and dignity in our work, because no matter the job we do, ultimately doing our job affects the continued success and prosperity of our nation.

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Celebrating Our Independence

I would rather be exposed to the inconveniences attending too much liberty, than those attending too small a degree of it. – Thomas Jefferson

The grand experiment that has become known to the world as The United States of America was born in times of persecution, tyranny, and hardship. Many of the pioneering men and women who came to these shores were fleeing oppression and pursuing freedom. It is part of the American spirit to meet whatever obstacles stand in our way with resolve and determination.

A great part of the motivation behind the founding of our nation was the desire for the freedom to think independently without fear of punishment. In fact, it was independent thinking that opened the doors for the building of what was to become the greatest nation on earth. Even a quick read through the correspondence of our Founding Fathers shows how crucial to our way of life it is that we be free to think for ourselves.

Our Second President, John Adams, said, “What do we mean by the Revolution? The war? That was no part of the revolution; it was only an effect and consequence of it. The revolution was in the minds of the people, and this was effected from 1760 – 1775, in the course of fifteen years, before a drop of blood was shed.” He understood the value, importance, and power of ideas. He wrote in his diary, “Let us tenderly and kindly cherish therefore, the means of knowledge. Let us dare to read, think, speak, and write.”

Do we dare to think independently? Do we value the same from others? Do we find discussion and even debate a useful tool for success? Sadly it is all too common that we do only what we are told without giving our work, our family, our government, or our way of life a second thought. We just agree to go along and get along.

Apathy and complacency are the greatest dangers our freedom faces today. The desire to be safe, to avoid risk, to be comfortable, or to simply get by, in time can destroy the yearning of our hearts to be free. Simply put, if we do not know how to use the freedom that we have then that freedom will soon be taken from us. When freedom is abused for selfish pursuits, Adams noted that “democracy never lasts long. It soon wastes, exhausts, and murders itself.” But it is the power of “we the people” to safeguard our freedom, one day at a time.

The greatest accomplishments throughout history are celebrated as the ideas and actions of great individuals. People who did indeed dare to step out in bold confidence, being self reliant and determined to endure hard work and harsh circumstances so that they might see our lives, our civilization, and our world advance, improve, and grow. The greatest risks often bear the most bountiful rewards, but as we think about those great men and women of the past we must admit, as G.K. Chesterton observed, “I’ve searched all the parks in all the cities and found no statues of Committees.” Honestly, we do not learn much from people who always agree with us, even if they agree as a group or even a majority. Mark Twain noted, “Whenever you find that you are on the side of the majority, it is time to reform.”

It is not the majority, the committee, or the government where we find so many of our greatest ideas. It is out of the abundance of the hearts and minds of people who would dare to stand up and speak out rather than to sit down and shut up! It is from those who would be leaders, not because they have been so elected, but because their very character and ability puts them into a position in the front of our advances. They lead so well because they have learned to follow so precisely. They know how to motivate others, how to lead them gently, or drive them forcefully if necessary. And, to quote Chesterton again, those who follow a great leader know that “there is a great man who makes every man feel small, but the real great man is the man who makes every man feel great.”

We have been given, through the blood, sweat, toil, and tears of our fellow citizens, the freedom to think for ourselves. As we celebrate our independence let us not fall into complacency. Let us not allow our minds to be minimized, our ideas to be ignored, or our dreams to be denied. This freedom of ours has been neither cheap to win nor easy to maintain. But it is worth it. Think about it. Freedom and independence are truly priceless, and as a warning about the dangers of losing it, we remember what Ronald Reagan once said:

Freedom is never more than one generation away from extinction. We didn’t pass it on to our children in the bloodstream. It must be fought for, protected, and handed on for them to do the same, or one day we will spend our sunset years telling our children what it was once like in the United States when men were free.

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