Confessions by Augustine of Hippo

ConfessionsConfessions by Augustine of Hippo
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Augustine’s Confessions is an engaging open prayer that mixes personal narrative with philosophy and theology. Its surprisingly modern style is bracketed by devout expressions throughout, pivoting between the two modes every few paragraphs. The author meditates on a number of apologetic problems and other themes including the arts, science, reason, happiness, wisdom, culture, psychology, thought, time, temptation, and many others.

Augustine is at his most interesting when tracing his unlikely journey toward Christian faith. He does us a service in wrestling with difficult concepts and offering interpretations of many mysteries of scripture. The later chapters on Genesis are not as interesting nor as easily digested, but they do offer a fitting conclusion. The book is not without errors and points I found disagreeable, but these flaws seem to make the account even more authentic and accessible.

Keeping Cool on the Campaign Trail by Daniel L. Wright

Keeping Cool on the Campaign Trail: 101 of Silent Cal's Insights on Voting, Campaigning, and GoverningKeeping Cool on the Campaign Trail: 101 of Silent Cal’s Insights on Voting, Campaigning, and Governing by MR Daniel L Wright
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Daniel Wright’s debut provides 101 brief highlights from the life and thought of President Calvin Coolidge, revealing him as a level-headed statesman whose rise to the White House was as steady and straight as his character.

The pages reveal not a “silent Cal” but instead an accomplished and committed public servant who revered the nation’s founding principles and let them speak. The results were large budget surpluses despite tax decreases, a smaller national debt, expanded civil rights protection, and economic prosperity.

Wright organizes the book alphabetically by subject, from “Action” to “Work,” and follows each heading with a quote by Coolidge or one of his peers, a fact about his life, or a reflection on his legacy. The carefully curated bits of wisdom within are not intended just for a candidate “on the campaign trail,” but would certainly prove a helpful guide to anyone seeking elected office or currently serving in a public leadership role.

If any complaint can be lodged, it would be the fact that the curiosity it pricks can certainly not be satisfied in so few pages. Fortunately, ten pages of sources offered at the conclusion give readers several options for continued study, and Wright himself continues to shine the light on Coolidge online at

Ted Cruz fires up conservative grassroots in Memphis


Presidential candidate and U.S. Senator Ted Cruz (R-TX) recently held a rally for his supporters in the Memphis area. I was invited to write about the event for the Bartlett Express:

The Memphis area doesn’t often attract Presidential candidates, with the exception of an occasional high-dollar fundraiser, held in private. The conventional wisdom says our votes aren’t that important.

Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas bucked that trend last week, adding a grassroots rally in Memphis to his bus tour of seven Southern states. But of course, he’s no stranger to defying the conventional wisdom. Continue reading…

A Mission from God by James Meredith

A Mission from God: A Memoir and Challenge for AmericaA Mission from God: A Memoir and Challenge for America by James Meredith
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

From a young age, James Meredith has felt the burden of a “divine responsibility” to make his country better and more free.

With “A Mission from God,” the 2012 autobiography written with William Doyle, an 80-year-old Meredith bequeaths part of that duty to his fellow countrymen:

“I challenge every American citizen to commit right now to help children in the public schools in their community, especially those with disadvantaged students.”

Meredith’s “memoir and challenge” is a tremendous read that keeps readers engaged from cover to cover. The story provides not only an inside account of two key moments in American history but also contemporary material such as recordings and transcripts, giving the narrative a three-dimensional, definitive feel.

Most of the book centers on Meredith’s successful attempt to overcome segregation and become the first black student to attend the University of Mississippi. The details will be alarming to young people who haven’t studied the period.

Another portion of the book deals with Meredith’s “march against fear,” a solo demonstration designed to encourage Mississippi blacks to register to vote. The walk would have taken him from Memphis, Tennessee, to Jackson, Mississippi, if an assassin with a shotgun hadn’t interrupted.

Meredith survived the attack and eventually completed the last leg of the journey beside Martin Luther King, Jr., and other civil rights leaders.

Though counted among the heroes of the African American civil rights movement, Meredith never accepted the label for himself.

“I know that it may strike some people as a kind of historical blasphemy to say this, but the rhetoric and vocabulary of the American civil rights movement has always seemed upside-down and backward to me. In fact, I always found it grossly insulting to me, to you, and to every American citizen, because it always begins with the assumption or concession that some or any of our civil rights are up for negotiation. They are not now and never have been. We were anointed with and guaranteed all of these rights at birth as Americans… [T]hese rights are eternal, sacred, inviolate, and perfectly equal for every single American citizen.”

He rejects hyphenated categories such as African-American, arguing that blacks and their achievements should be considered fully American, and not “ghettoized” or forced into special subcategories.

Meredith gives credit for the outcome at Ole Miss not to the civil rights movement but to “the Founding Fathers of the United States, who created in the Constitution the principle that all citizens are equal and should be treated as equal.”

In these and several other ways, Meredith shows himself to be every bit the “conservative” he considers himself to be, to the consternation of anyone who would like to confine him to a stereotypical box.

Meredith’s conservative bona fides include his honorable Air Force service, his work as domestic policy advisor to senator Jesse Helms, a former segregationist, as well as his opposition to affirmative action programs, to welfare and government handouts, to political correctness (he was disappointed when Ole Miss stopped using “Colonel Reb” as school mascot), and to the “misguided liberal social policies of the 1960s, [which] created generations of dependency and failure for a huge portion of black America.”

Meredith speaks openly of his disagreement with King over the latter’s dedication to non-violence (rather than embracing their Second Amendment rights), offers a balanced assessment of the Kennedys, and completely dismisses other heroes of the Left who cross his path, including John Lewis and Morgan Freeman.

Perhaps the most striking thing about Meredith is his insight into what it takes to be free. “Meaningful freedom,” he writes, “is rarely gained through the magnanimous benevolence of the predominant powers, but must be won on the field.”

The freedom Meredith sought in the ’60s could not have be won by him alone. That required not only the protection of 30,000 U.S. servicemen in particular, but also the general engagement of every American who wished to live free.

“Throughout the first semester I received about two hundred letters a day. Most of the people who wrote, particularly the Negroes, said they had great admiration for me. They were praying and hoping that I would make it. Their basic attitude alarmed me… [T]hey had relieved themselves of all responsibility. They thought there was nothing more that they had to do. I felt that every young Negro must make his personal contribution toward the accomplishment of his freedom. No one man can fight alone. You can’t confine the struggle for human freedom and dignity to one place or to one man. To free the right arm and cut the left arm off — this is not progress.”

Meredith expands that view with his “challenge” for all Americans to play a role in improving conditions for public school students. It is a war, and it requires us all to take up arms.

The Mitt Romney ad you never heard


If you’ve ever wondered who was actually excited about a Mitt Romney presidential campaign, the answer is me. I think he would have made a fine president.

I was organizing my files recently and came across something I wrote for Romney ahead of the 2012 primaries. Some people write fan fiction; others write unsolicited campaign advertisements.

It’s awfully clear Romney never really connected with the average voter. He never shared his personal story, at least not until well after the election, when the documentary “Mitt” came out (I haven’t seen it, but I’ve heard it’s great).

That disconnect was something that concerned me from the start, and it’s why I wrote this:

God has really blessed my life.

I grew up in a good home, with a loving family.

My parents worked hard to give us every opportunity to succeed.

At an early age, I learned the value of leadership, of pulling your own weight, and looking out for your fellow man.

I received an excellent education, and I married my best friend.

I’ve gotten to experience the miracle of life, first with our five boys, and later with our fourteen grandchildren.

As a missionary and as a businessman, I’ve been able to travel throughout the country and around the world.

I’ve been fortunate enough to build a successful company, lead an Olympic Games, and govern a state.

With learning and experience, and through trial and error, some of my positions have changed. But my principles never have.

I believe in family.

I believe in a good day’s work.

I believe if it’s worth doing, it’s worth doing right.

Most of all, I believe this is great country with a higher purpose, a higher calling.

And if we stand strong, if we live within our means, if we restore the foundation that made this country great, we can face the challenges in our path.

The world is looking to us to lead. Let’s pull together, and put this nation back to work.

I’m Mitt Romney, and I approved this message.

What do you think? Can you picture it in your mind? Do you think an ad like that would have made any difference?

Answering the 11 arguments for Nathan Bedford Forrest

This week the Memphis City Council voted unanimously in favor of a resolution to remove the remains of Nathan Bedford Forrest from a park that used to bear his name. The council also began a process to remove the statue under which he and his wife are buried.

Between national commentators, local politicians and about a half-dozen people I follow on social media who have voiced opposition, there are 11 distinct arguments being made against the motion. I thought it would be appropriate to list those arguments here and share my responses to each. Continue reading Answering the 11 arguments for Nathan Bedford Forrest

How to consider the political views of religious leaders

Photo credit: Republic of Korea
Photo credit: Republic of Korea

Most Christians want their religious leaders to speak out on important issues of the day. We want them to wrestle with relevant topics and to take a stand on the events that shape our world.

We don’t want the pulpit to fall silent. We have an important message to carry; our mission is to be a light in the darkness, a voice in the wilderness, a helping hand in times of trouble.

Throughout American history, Christian ministers have led the way to tremendous, positive change. They sparked the revival that fueled the American Revolution, advanced the cause of abolition, and organized the civil rights movement.

Today Christian leaders continue to guide the way on issues such as protecting the unborn and defending marriage, while others emphasize environmental stewardship or racial reconciliation. We benefit from the unique perspective members of the clergy bring to these topics, thanks to their religious training and spiritual devotion.

But sometimes religious figures cross an important boundary that separates healthy, constructive teaching from divisive, unfounded rhetoric.

When that line is crossed, we may feel something isn’t right in our gut, but often we have trouble identifying the problem and determining what to do about it.

They’re supposed to be the authority figures, we reason; they’re the leaders we listen to and depend upon for help in answering some of life’s most important questions. What if they know something about God’s word that we’ve missed?

Or, how do we know if they’ve taken it a step too far?

This is a dilemma I’ve pondered for years. I’ve wanted Christian leaders to speak up on political issues, but I’ve also been wary of the division and unwarranted judgement that can result if we politicize the church.

Recently, I stumbled upon a new way of thinking about that dichotomy and have developed a method we can use to unpack a minister’s political speech. This is how we know if there’s a problem, and what to do about it.

The error occurs when a religious leader ventures beyond teaching Biblical principles or sharing political opinions (advertised as such) and begins judging his brothers and sisters who hold other opinions, even to the point of denying the validity of their Christianity on that basis.

It is a serious offense that must be recognized, rejected and replaced with truth.

Recently much has been made of an encyclical written by Pope Francis in which he weighs in on global warming. His attention to the topic of climate change drew praise from the Obama administration. Tellingly, however, the White House press secretary was caught off guard when asked if the President also shared the Pope’s view on abortion, an issue which is intricately woven into the same message.

We should expect the Pope to honor human life and God’s creation. And if he’s serious about these principles, we should expect him to take a stand and seek policy solutions. Some of us may disagree with his conclusions, but we can understand his passion in advocating a particular set of political remedies. It is his role as a leader and a person of influence to speak out and share what he believes God would have us do; that’s precisely what we want from him.

If we are to believe the media reports, however, the Pope went much further with his position on firearms, allegedly saying those who manufacture weapons or invest in such companies “can’t call themselves Christians.”

In a case such as this, our first step ought to be verifying the accuracy of the quote, making sure it was translated correctly and was not stripped from context.

Next, we should identify the principle or value behind the statement. Was he referencing the value of human life, our reliance on God for our security, a combination of these, or something else?

After we have the principle in mind, we can test whether the Pope’s statement is correct and appropriate by observing whether there are other valid ways it can be upheld and implemented.

For instance, can we also place value on human life by providing a defense for it, through the manufacture of weapons? Can we rely fully on the providence of God by giving him the glory for giving us sharp minds, strong hands and material resources with which to defend ourselves from harm?

If the answer to these questions is yes, the Pope has gone too far. He has made an improper political judgement in denying the Christianity of those who hold the same core principle(s) but have reached a different political conclusion.

When such statements are made, our process should be this:

  1. Identify the principles behind the statement.
  2. Test whether multiple, valid conclusions can follow from those principles.
  3. If yes, recognize judgmental political statements as improper.
  4. Replace the improper statement with truth.

No political persuasion holds a monopoly on principles and values. Both the Left and the Right, Republicans and Democrats and everyone in-between, have ideas for implementing policies that reflect larger values and hopefully make the world a better place.

That doesn’t mean we have to consider both sides equal, or abandon our preferences as individuals. We will naturally tend to side with one particular camp or another. There will always be political disagreements and varied policy preferences, many of them at odds with each other, even when we share the same values and principles.

We should encourage our religious leaders to hold fast to principles and values, to speak out on them and take a stand, and to inform themselves and seek the best possible political and policy conclusions. We should encourage them to share their opinions and offer the best arguments they can muster.

But we should not allow any religious figure to deny people their Christianity or judge others on the sole basis of political preferences, as some are in the habit of doing. And when we hear such statements being made, we should call it out, deny it a foothold, and put truth in its place.