Saturday, June 4, 2016

A Prelude to Understanding Self-Government-If You Can Keep It


(Editor's Note 7-9-16: I had the honor of meeting Eric Metaxas last night. NOW I understand every detail. Working on a blog post about that, but for now, enjoy the prelude to the grand symphony of keeping a republic!)

Each time that I read chapter 1 of Eric Metaxas' book, If You Can Keep It, I hear the overture of a grand symphony. I don't quite understand every single detail, but I do understand the grand scope and the ultimate message it conveys which is a message for our time.  I get a sense of the big picture through the peeks at more information yet to come and hints of nuances conveyed.

If You Can Keep It by Eric Metaxas

Webster's definition of overture is "a piece of music played at the start of an opera, a musical play, etc." Another definition from Webster is "something that is offered or suggested with the hope that it will start a relationship, lead to an agreement, etc."

This chapter gives us the hope that we will understand how we can actively participate in our republic so that we can keep it. It's a preview of what will come in more sequential and full detail in the later chapters.  In other words, he tells us what he's going to tell us. 

I saw Christian Leadership Alliance's interview with Metaxas tonight about If You Can Keep It (as well as his other book Miracles. The interview starts at the 4 minute mark. In the interview he states that he wrote the book for every political persuasion: liberal, moderate, and conservative. Furthermore he states that instead of trying to sway people to a certain political persuasion, his goal was to write a primer of our republic and how the Founding Fathers meant it to work so that everyone can have a place to begin. This makes sense. As an educator I understand that when one learns details and interacts with a topic, there is then the opportunity for them to become passionate about it.  And that is pretty much what Metaxas will address towards the end of the book.

From Responsive Ed's interview with Metaxas I learned that his idea for this book was originally for kids, but his publisher wanted it to reach a wider audience that includes adults, which was a fabulous idea because that is so needed today.  Thus, from my second reading of the chapter, after having read the entire book and knowing where Metaxas was going, combined with his interviews, I sense a grand sweep of general information for all people from all backgrounds of all ages in our postmodern era to read.

To actually read.

Postmodernism is more about media clips, instant messages, short sound bytes and easy reads. Although this book has complex information, it's an easy read.. It will not cause eyes to glaze over and fall asleep. It's personable. It's real. It's full of stories. It's enjoyable. It's moving. It is definitely a book for a "wider audience." It is written with passion because the topic is important to our keeping our legacy for future generations.

Metaxas uses subtle, internal citations, casual though they be, by merely mentioning books and other references. Post modern eyes would glaze over at lengthy tomes and detailed lists. They are feeling based. All the while the book's tone is like a casual chat over a cup of coffee (or perhaps tea). Thus if one would like to dig further, the references are mentioned throughout the book. I've already been looking at a few of them!

The grand symphony of which I speak is of this grand experiment that our Founding Fathers created that for the first time in history, a republic is born. However eternal vigilance is essential. These are facts that cannot be denied or the finale will descend in cacophony.

That story is grand. It inspired me when I first heard Patrick Henry thundering away with his words against tyranny in a garden before a modern audience at Colonial Williamsburg. This blog began as a homeschool blog for family and friends. When we moved to Virginia I was teased that it became a Colonial Williamsburg blog, as I shared all we were learning about the 18th century and our Founding Fathers. That is a passion of mine, our country's history and it's future. Understanding the 18th century is key. I am continuing the journey even though my kids are now in college.

So part of my blogging material comes from visits I make with my family to historic areas where we interact with interpreters to understand our republic better...this symphony that is slowly fading away. When someone in the audience asks Patrick Henry of Colonial Williamsburg a 21st century question about a hot topic from today, he has an answer, because he has faced a similar set of circumstances in his day.

I think this chapter, "The Idea of America," is the prelude to the symphony for a wide audience. I highly recommend this book. It's quite unique but is a story that needs to be told because the decrescendo has begun.

Personally, I am a born again Christian. My citizenship is in heaven. My Savior is not in government but in the Lord Jesus Christ. I know the end of the Bible. God will win. God is sovereign. However, I am not to ignore where God has placed me. I am on this earth to allow God to work good through me. The Bible speaks of doing good. Isn't it a good thing that we help one another on this earth? That is what opens the door to witnessing, to make our testimony credible. Because then others know we care.

God has allowed America to have this most unique form of government where the people are free. Free...to do good! And we can only be good if we keep learning about Him. We need our freedom of religion to do that. Our republic was not established so that the people would be free to do harm or to endanger others. Shouldn't I take a stand to defend those freedoms for all? Shouldn't we all?

Where there is unity, there is strength. George Washington's primary goal during the American Revolution, the Constitutional Convention, and during his presidency was unity. Without unity, we will fall apart. But God is our Sovereign. Morality is necessary. We must serve one another. With love. With virtue. None of us are perfect, so we need to be ever vigilant in guarding our heart while serving our fellowman by doing good...and thus by taking a stand to guard our liberties in our republic.

This is how our Founding Fathers felt in the 18th century. They preferred to stay home with their families and attend to their business there. But duty called. They served their communities through forms of representative government that were in place during the colonial era. When the king began the taxation laws without representation, the Founding Fathers took a stand, because they knew their history. They knew that once government started to dig into the rights of mankind, freedoms would erode. It was time to nip it in the bud through negotiations. Many in Britain supported the American argument for representation, however the Tories led the day. After years of negotiating, war broke out. Miraculously America won! Then in 1787 the Founding Fathers labored over a new form of government that for the first time in history representative government would be the fullest expression ever deemed possible. But...could they keep it? Can we keep it? Thus began the grand experiment...and the need for eternal vigilance. (Metaxas talks about all this in his book.)

But lets step back to 1776 and the Declaration of Independence...

"...the United States and the idea-or the set of ideas-that came together to create it have been so successful that they've been copied endlessly in the two plus centuries since." (Metaxas, 18)

My children and I had a wonderful time discovering this in our history studies years ago. While learning about the Declaration of Independence, I spread a copy on top of the table and we read through it (homeschool ideas at the dialectic level here). My son  memorized it for a history presentation (when I figure out you tube I'll reinsert videos). That 4th of July we read it before our Texas BBQ. While waiting for the fireworks to start, we took turns reading through patriotic poetry books, each person choosing whichever selections they wanted to share. My husband chose to read the Declaration of Independence one more time! Then we visited Colonial Williamsburg and they had a Revolutionary City scene with the public reading of the Declaration of  Independence. It was wonderful.

When we studied the French Revolution, we learned that the Marquis de Lafayette wrote the Declaration of the Rights of Man and the Citizen with the help of Thomas Jefferson. (more details here)  It's amazing how similar the two are in wording. (Unfortunately the revolution got out of control...that's because there was no religion or morality at that point in France. Metaxas talks about the need for this later in the chapter, in order for self-government to succeed.)

When we studied Simon Bolivar, we learned that he helped to bring freedoms to Venezuela!

When we studied Texas Independence, the Texians and Tejanos wrote the Texas Declaration of Independence where else...but at Washington-on-the-Brazos. And on, and on, and on...the Declaration of Independence has inspired many countries  around the world.

Note the similarity in each of the documents!

Then Metaxas shares some ideas that I've read before in other books.

"...it is this more than anything that makes us 'exceptional'...the idea that America exists primarily not for itself but for others." (21) Metaxas references that this idea came from John Winthrop in his "City on a Hill" speech.

One image that is central to who we are is the Statue of Liberty. We will, of course, remember that she is facing outward and that she is carrying a torch and holding it high. She does this for others. She wants them to see her and to make their way toward her, toward liberty. She is something like a copper-sheathed literalization of John Winthrop's 'City Upon a Hill'... (Metaxas, 22)
I think this is especially meaningful for Metaxas in light of later stories that he shares, because his parents immigrated to America from Europe. That is a very recent history for him, something that he can talk to his parents about.  Our ancestors came here from across the seas as well but how many of us have to dig to glean bits and pieces of information because our ancestors are no longer here to tell the story. My dad's family arrived in the late 19th century, right before the Statue of Liberty was built. My mom's family arrived in the 18th century. What would it be like to ask my ancestors about the experience? Some of us can ask. I have books on Ellis Island, on the meaning and the power behind the stories...lest we forget from whence we came and what the idea of America  meant to them.  

Metaxas also references Ronald Reagan who quoted Winthrop in his own famous "City Upon a Hill speech. You can read it here.

So now I shall complete the quote that I shared last night at the end of my previous post...

"We are ourselves this moment the keepers of the flame of liberty and the ones charged by Franklin and the other founders and by history past, present, and future with the keeping of this grand promise to the world." (11)

If we honor these men every 4th of July for pledging their lives during the American Revolution and for laboring so diligently at the Constitutional Convention so that we could have a republic, then shouldn't we become ever vigilant and actively involved to keep it? Isn't that the best way to honor their memory? By carrying the torch?

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You can preorder If You Can Keep It at Amazon. You can read more about the book here, at Metaxas' website.

More blogging about the book tomorrow!

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