I Have My Rights!

Probably no country in the world has been more adamant about the rights of its citizens and the role of government in maintaining those rights. When the U.S. Constitution was written, three delegates to the Constitutional Convention did not sign it because it lacked a bill of rights.

Created in 1787 the Constitution became the official foundation of the USA in 1788 when New Hampshire became the ninth state out of the 13 to ratify it. Many states agreed to ratify it with the understanding that a bill of rights would be quickly added.

In 1789, 19 amendments were submitted to the U.S. House of Representatives. James Madison is given credit for writing them although it is believed others, including George Mason, who had refused to sign the Constitution without a bill of rights, had given input. Seventeen of the 19 amendments were approved by the House and sent to the Senate. The Senate approved 12 of them and in December 1791 the states had ratified ten of them.

Throughout the history of our country these amendments and the rights they gave have been debated and challenged in our courts. Today it is the Second Amendment that has produced so much disagreement and arguing.

The point of this post is not to argue for or against exactly what that amendment meant in regards to our right to possess guns.

But what distrurbs me is the role many evangelical leaders are taking in pushing an agenda of the “rights” of Christians. Many have been very hostile in speaking against those who do not agree with the “Christian” point of view. Sadly they seem to feel that their viewpoint is the “Christian” viewpoint and anyone who opposes that is clearly not a Christian.

The contrast between this militant voice of many evangelicals and the voice of Jesus shows that the Christian “right” has lost its Biblical connection.

Listen to the words of Jesus:

“Whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be slave of all. For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”

“You have heard that it was said, ‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.’ But I say to you, Do not resist the one who is evil. But if anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also. And if anyone would sue you and take your tunic, let him have your cloak as well. And if anyone forces you to go one mile, go with him two miles. Give to the one who begs from you, and do not refuse the one who would borrow from you.”

“You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven. For he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust. For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? And if you greet only your brothers, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.”

Jesus said we need to become a servant. To be a follower of Jesus does not mean you have no rights. It means you give up your rights freely in order to bless and help someone else.

Hear how Jesus was described:

“Think of yourselves the way Christ Jesus thought of himself. He had equal status with God but didn’t think so much of himself that he had to cling to the advantages of that status no matter what. Not at all. When the time came, he set aside the privileges of deity and took on the status of a slave, became human! Having become human, he stayed human. It was an incredibly humbling process. He didn’t claim special privileges. Instead, he lived a selfless, obedient life and then died a selfless, obedient death—and the worst kind of death at that—a crucifixion.”

Although Jesus had a “right” to be treated like royalty he gave up that right and make himself “like a slave.” In doing so He modeled exactly what He meant when He said “If any man desires to be first, let him be last and servant of all.”

Jesus ministered in a country that was under the rule of another nation, the Roman Empire. There was much that was unjust in that time. But Jesus said nothing about trying to change the political scene. He said his kingdom was not of this world. He had a plan that was much bigger and greater than any government, any nation, any political party.

The issues we as Christians face in our country today do need to be faced and legislated and thank God because we have rights, we have the right to express ourselves. But we must not invest so much of our time and energy in trying to make our nation Christian by trying to force our beliefs on others that we fail to introduce them to a different kind of kingdom, one based on the love of God. (Laws may change behavior, but they will never change hearts.)

“Passing laws to enforce morality serves a necessary function, to dam up evil, but it never solves human problems. If a century from now all that historians can say about evangelicals of the 1990’s is that they stood for family values, then we will have failed the mission Jesus gave us to accomplish; to communicate God’s reconciling love to sinners….Jesus did not say ‘All men will know you are my disciples…if you just pass laws, suppress immorality and restore decency to family and government,’ but rather ‘if you love one another.’ “

He made that statement the night before His death, a night when human power, represented by the might of Rome and the full force of Jewish religious authorities, collided head-on with God’s power. All his life, Jesus had been involved in a form of “culture wars” against a rigid religious establishment and a pagan empire, yet he responded by giving his life for those who opposed him. On the cross, he forgave them. He had come, above all, to demonstrate love: “for God so loved the world he gave his one and only Son…”

Philip Yancey in his book “the jesus I never knew.” i highly recommend this book

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Benjamin Franklin Could Not – Can You?

Most Americans know all about Benjamin Franklin. His many inventions – the lightning rod, the Franklin stove, bifocals as well as organizing the postal system are all well known. Perhaps less well known was his desire to reach moral perfection.

At the age of 20 he decided he would strive to become a perfect moral man.

“It was about this time I conceived the bold and arduous project of arriving at moral perfection. I wished to live without committing any fault at any time; I would conquer all that either natural inclination, custom, or company might lead me into.”

To achieve that faultlessness, he made a list of thirteen virtues which he thought, if perfected, would make him a perfect man. That list was:

After completing his list, he drew up a chart where he could keep track of his progress each day.

Realizing how hard achieving perfection would be, he chose to tackle only one virtue at a time. He would evaluate his conduct at the end of each day and give himself a black mark for every time he did not succeed at the virtues on his list. After a week he checked his progress. If he had few black marks for the virtue he was working on he would move on to the next. If, however, he had a lot of black marks he would keep working on that virtue. He would continue this until he had completed all 13 virtues – and then start all over again.

It was not long before Franklin realized achieving perfection was not possible. The Apostle Paul years before Franklin had also understood that perfection on our own was not possible.

I want to do what is right, but I can’t. I want to do what is good, but I don’t. I don’t want to do what is wrong, but I do it anyway….I have discovered this principle of life—that when I want to do what is right, I inevitably do what is wrong. I love God’s law with all my heart. But there is another power within me that is at war with my mind. This power makes me a slave to the sin that is still within me. Oh, what a miserable person I am! Who will free me from this life that is dominated by sin and death? 

This inability to be the good we want to be is a common part of our nature it seems. So what do we do?

Paul had the answer.

Thank God! The answer is in Jesus Christ our Lord. 

It is only when we realize we cannot be good enough on our own and turn to Jesus Christ for help in our struggles that we find the strength we need to be what we desire to be. Perfection is not something we will achieve in this life, but when we stop trying on our own and look to Jesus for help, we can begin the growing process of becoming all that God intended for us to be.

First Woman in Congress

Hard to believe that it has been less than 100 years since women were granted the right to vote. The 19th Amendment to the Constitution was ratified on August 18, 1920, granting women the full rights of citizenship.

What is ironic is that four years before women were granted the right to vote, a woman had already been elected to the United States Congress. Jeannette Rankin of Montana became the first woman to serve in Congress. While most of the USA did not allow women to vote until this amendment was ratified, some states had permitted voting by women.

Montana granted women the right to vote in 1914 and they soon elected Rankin to represent them in Congress. Rankin declared “I may be the first woman in Congress, but I won’t be the last.

She was right. Today there are 24 women in the Senate (24%) and 121 (27.8) in the House of Representatives.

While in Congress, Rankin proposed the formation of a Committee on Woman Suffrage, of which she was appointed leader. After WWI ended and her committee had issued a report for a constitutional amendment granting women the right to vote, she asked the congressmen:

“How shall we explain to them the meaning of democracy if the same Congress that voted to make the world safe for democracy refuses to give this small measure of democracy to the women of our country?” 

While serving her first term in Congress, she voted, along with 49 men, to not enter World War I. After serving two years in Congress, she did not run to be elected for another term. Some historians believe her vote against the war led her to realize she could not get reelected. Her brother, Wellington Rankin, who was a prominent Republican in Montana, advised her not to run. He said “I knew she couldn’t be elected again if she did vote against the war. I didn’t want to see her destroy herself.” Many of the suffragists leaders felt she betrayed their cause by her vote.

Although she opposed the war, once we entered the battle, she voted for war-time appropriations to fund the troops and supported the government taking over the mines to gain resources for the war effort.

After leaving Congress, she continued to be active working for pacifism and social welfare issues. She worked for better health care for women and children. She became a speaker for the National Council for the Prevention of War and attended the Women’s International Conference for Peace held in Switzerland. She purchased a small farm in Georgia that had no electricity or plumbing and worked with others in the state to organize a study group on antiwar foreign policy. This group eventually became the Georgia Peace Society.

In 1940, at age 60, she returned to her home state of Montana and ran again for Congress. This time she was not alone – there were six other women in Congress.

After America was attacked by the Japanese at Pearl Harbor, President Roosevelt asked Congress to declare war on Japan. When the House opened debate on the resolution, Rankin tried to speak. Speaker Sam Rayburn declared her out of order and members of the House began calling for her to be silent. Members pressured her to vote for the war or abstain. She refused to do either. She said “As a woman I can’t go to war, and I refuse to send anyone else.” She was the only vote against the war.

After the vote she huddled in a phone booth in the Republican cloak room until security could escort her to her office. She did not run for reelection but she said “I have nothing left but my integrity.”

Leaving Congress, Rankin spent time on her ranch in Montana and her cabin in Georgia. She continued her stand against war leading a 5,000 person protest march on Washingtn in 1968 where she offered a peace petition to House Speaker John McCormack.

The House honored her on her 90th birthday with a reception and dinner. In 1972 she was named the “World’s Outstanding Living Feminist” by the National Organization for Women.

When she died in 1974 she was thinking of running again for the House so she could protest the Vietnam War. Today there is a statute of Rankin in the Montana State House.

From Race Track to POW Camp and Back

Just a few miles from my home is a sign that says “P.O.W. Camp Owosso.” The sign is outside of a oval track for car and motorcycle racing.

Being new to this area, this sign caught my interest and I decided to do some research on the camp. Here is what I found.

During World War II, over 6,000 prisoners were housed in Prisoner of War (POW) camps in Michigan. While approximately 1000 were held in the Upper Peninsula, most were housed in the Lower Peninsula. Many camps were held at former Civilian Conservation Corps barracks that were no longer in use.

In Owosso, this racetrack that was not in use because of the war was chosen for a prison camp. Reports of exactly how many prisoners were held here vary between 350 and 1000. After the war the Germans were returned to their home and the administrative records were deposed of in the 1950s.

The men were housed six to a tent and the area was surrounded by a fence. In the winter time they were moved to the barracks at Fort Custer.

(picture thanks to Dominic Adams | dadams5@mlive.com)

Due to the draft, the U.S. had a huge labor shortage. The government allowed POWs to be used for labor in nearby farms or businesses. W.R. Roach Canning Company was the principal contractor with the government for prison labor. But many also worked on local farms. The prisoners were paid for their labor with 80 cents per day going to them and the rest of the wage going to the federal government to maintain the camp. The 80 cents was given in canteen checks which could be used for cigarettes, candy and other personal items not provided by the government. Most worked for six days per week at 8 to 10 hour days. While the men did not have to work outside the camp, most preferred that to staying in the camp as there was a little more freedom and most farm families would feed them lunch. The government provided a couple of slices of bread and a piece of meat or cheese for lunch, but the families felt this was not adequate for manual labor and many allowed them to eat the noon meal with their family. This led to friendships between the farm families and the POWs and they remained friends after the war ended.

(National Archives picture “German Prisoners of War at a camp near Owasso, Michigan, being paid with canteen checks by Camp Commander Captain Ohrt.” Dated 8/8/44 – photo by Sgt. S.L. Hertel.)

Reports from that time indicate that the men were well behaved and there was little attempt to escape. But then where would they go? Thousands of miles from home over an ocean and with their German accent, they would quickly have been captured.

However, at Camp Owosso there was an escape attempt that included two local girls. In July, 1944 two local girls helped two men escape from the Canning Compay where they were working. They spent the night in the woods before being captured by authorities.

The girls probably did not realize the consequences of their actions. Found guilty of conspiracy, Kitty Case received one year and three months and Shielry Druce was sentenced to one year and a day.

The girls’ motive for helping the men was not given but one of the girls testified that she was in love with one of the men. This attempted escape brought lots of new attention to the local county. You can read a novel based on this story. Cottonwood Summer by Gary Slaughter.

The prisoners were also heroes to one family. Eva Worthington had just come home for giving birth to her tenth child when her house caught on fire. Her husband, superintendent of the Roach Canning Factory, was at work. Several prisoners saw the fire, hurried in and wrapped Mrs. Worthington in a mattress and carried her to safety.

When the war ended the men were returned to their homes, but some came back and settled in the US, at least one man marrying an American young lady he had met while working outside the camp.

Today the racetrack once again welcomes family and racers to enjoy the sport. Owosso Speedway is one of the premiere short tracks in the state of Michigan featuring constant side by side action and fun for the whole family.

First Integrated School – Long before Brown vs Board of Education

Because of Covid our plans for continuing our exploration of Michigan this summer did not materialize. However, we did get in just a little adventure on a recent trip back to Illinois to visit family. During that trip my husband and I took a side tour to Otterville, Illinois.

My husband was interested in the area because many of his mother’s family had once lived there. During research on his family tree, he discovered that one of his ancestors (his tenth great grandfather) was actually a slave from Angola. From previous trips to that area we knew there was a school that had been established in Otterville for the education of black students. Intrigued by the idea that a school for black students had been established in the same area where the branch of his family descended from a slave had also resided, he wanted to check out this school.

Hidden away in this small country town is a jewel of history. The building we found there is no longer in use as a school, but has been listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Classes were actually held there through 1971. Beginning in 1983 the site has been open for tours and an annual Hamilton Primary School Festival is held each year in September.

This school’s claim to fame is that it was the first integrated school in the nation. Years before the Civil War and before the landmark Supreme Court decision in 1954 Brown vs Board of Education, the Hamilton Primary School opened in 1835 as a free school open to everyone regardless of financial resources or color of skin.

Named after its benefactor, Dr. Silas Hamilton, a stone schoolhouse was opened in 1836. The finances for this school came from $4,000 Dr. Hamilton left in his will for construction and operation of a building for both educational and religious purposes. Razed in 1872, rebuilt and enlarged classes were held here until 1971.

Hamilton Primary School in 1835

Dr. Hamilton, a physicial originally from Vermont established a practice in Nashville, Tennessee. Saddened by the treatment of slaves that he saw, he bought a plantation in Mississippi in 1820. His mistaken idea was that he would treat his 28 slaves humanely and that would serve as a model for his neighbors. Of course, this did not work.

Recognizing this was an unrealistic and impractical experience, he traveled to Ohio where he freed his slaves. Moving west, he settled in what became Otterville and opened a medical practice.

While still a slave owner in Mississippi and on a trip back to Vermont he found a little boy whose parents had been sold at a slave auction. He purchased the young boy whose name was George Washington. While he freed George, the young man came with him to Otterville. The residents of Otterville were supporters of abolition and it is rumored that the town may have been a stop on the Undergrand Railroad.

On his death, Dr. Hamilton provided funds for the school to be built.

“Believing in the very great importance of primary schools, and desiring that my friends and relatives in this neighborhood should receive the benefit of them, I give and bequeath $4,000. dollars for the establishment of a primary school.  $2,000 dollars to be appropriated to the erection of a building suitable for the school and a place of public worship, and $2,000 dollars to constitute a fund for the support of a teacher, said house to be erected not to exceed one mile south of this residence, nor one mile north, nor a quarter of a mile east, but at or near the point called the Four Corners, and I desire my executors to oversee the erection of such a building…”

Influenced by Dr. Hamilton, George Washington continued to live as the doctor had – caring for his neighbors. He was a successful farmer and active in the Otterville Baptist Church. An excellent singer, he often lead the singing and taught a Sunday School class also. Those who shared stories about George to their family members said that whenever a family had sickness, he would show up with wood for the fire and food for the table. He was the community “grave digger” working for free. As long as he stayed in Jersey County he was a free citizen. However, on a trip to the nearby city of Grafton (Calhoun County), he was assaulted by some men and placed in jail charged as a fugitive slave. Fortunately, a Jersey County businessman heard of his arrest and was able to procured his freedom.

On his death he left a sizeable estate to pay his debts, provide a monument to this former master and for the education of “colored persons, or Americans of African descent.”

On his death Washington was buried alongside his former master. While Southern plantation owners often buried their slaves in family plots, this is probably the only incident where the master and slave were buried side-by-side. Also, the only known instance where a former slave erected a monument for his master.

The newer school and church built in 1873 used stones from the original building. Since 1983 it has served as a museum with the halls and classrooms line with photos of past graduation classes, and photos and cermeonies remembering Hamtilton and Washinton.

Another reminder that when you get off the beaten path there is so much history hidden in small towns and unexpected places.

Exploring Southern Michigan

Almost two years ago my husband and I moved to Michigan.  Situated close to the middle of the “mitten” we have spent the last two years exploring this beautiful state.  We have fallen in love with the many small towns around the state that are full of arts and crafts, charming down towns that have preserved the older buildings and, of course, the many towns built by Lake Michigan with their beautiful beaches and historical lighthouses.  While it would be hard to pick one town over the other, I must confess I especially loved Holland during the tulip festival and Frankfort was probably my favorite.

Some of our trips started out with a particular town in mind but most of the trips we just got in the car and headed north – east – west.  Getting off the interstates and taking side roads led us to discover many lovely towns and beautiful scenes that we would have missed if we had stayed with the main road.

Yesterday we decided to head in a direction we had not taken – south.  Heading south we discovered the area looked more like our home in Illinois.  More corn fields, more open areas with fewer trees.  The majority of trees were – like back home – deciduous.  While there were evergreen trees they were in the minority.

It was nice to get the sense of being back home, but I must confess in my opinion the southern part of Michigan does not begin to compare with the beauty up north.

However, we did discover two interesting towns.

  • Jackson Michigan

The town of Jackson claims to be the birthplace of the Republican party.  (I have found other towns making that claim.)  There is a plaque commemorating a meeting held in 1854 that Jackson claims was the start of the party led by anti-slavery men.  oaks

 

 

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Jackson also lays claim to having the first prison in Michigan.  Today the old prison area has been turned into the Armory Art’s Village.  Situated behind a 25-foot stone wall, these apartments are home to emerging artists and musicians.

prison

They give tours of the old prison site, but due to the virus restrictions we were not able to take the tour.  Something to put on our bucket list for later.

Jackson also has several buildings/areas that were part of the underground railroad – but again because of the virus we were not able to visit them.  Add that to the bucket list.

  • From Jackson we headed west to Hillsdale.

Hillsdale College sits in the heart of the city.  The school was established by Free Will Baptists as Central Michigan College at Spring Arbor in 1844.  In 1853 it moved to Hillsdale and changed its name.  It was the first American college whose charter prohibited discrimination based on race, religion or sex.  Hillsdale was the second college in the nation to grant four-year liberal arts degrees to women.

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Hillsdale 9

The college was very active in the fight to end slavery with more students enlisting to fight for the Union than any other western college.  More than 400 students fought for the Union and sixty gave their lives.  Four students earned the Congressional Medal of Honor, three became generals and many served as regimental commanders.  In honor of that heritage the college had a statute of an Union soldier on its campus as well as Frederick Douglas.

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We also saw statues of Presidents Abraham Lincoln and Ronald Reagan.

Leaving Hillsdale we headed back home.  While I must confess my trip south was not as beautiful as the trips we have taken north, still it was good to have discovered more about our adopted state, Michigan.

I vote that our next road trip takes us back north!

 

 

 

 

 

Gerald Ford Presidential Museum

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In the continued exploring of our new state, Michigan, this week my husband and I headed to Grand Rapids to check out the Gerald Ford Presidential Museum.  It was quite an impressive place.  Beautiful grounds and building.

Along with a reflecting pond with fountain there were beautiful flowers around the area where President Ford and his wife, Betty Ford, are buried.

I am an American history nut and have a large collection of biographies of our presidents, their wives and family members.  To be honest, I was never a fan of President Ford.  Perhaps it was because he was the only president never actually elected to office.  Perhaps it was because he began the process of allowing draft dodgers and those who fled to Canada to escape the Vietnam War back into the country.  My first husband had served in Vietnam and that was a painful time for us all.

Today I feel he did the right thing but at the moment he was not on my list of favorite people.

So – the only reason I went to his museum was because Grand Rapids is very close to where I live.  It seemed I should add this presidential museum to the list of those presidents whose libraries I have already visited.  But I said I would never drive a long way to see his burial place.

Was I ever wrong?  After taking the time to review all the history of his time in office I came away realizing I had let personal feelings from that difficult time in our history color my views.

Another reason why it is so important that we study and know our history.  After spending over two hours taking in all the events of his time in office, I approached his grave site with much more respect for the man than I had when I first came to the museum.

 

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Gerald and Betty Ford’s graves

There was so much to take in.   It was a step back through memory lane as his time in office was the time of my young adult life when I was a young mother just beginning my family.  Many of the politicians and famous people shown in the exhibits were people that were on the daily news every evening.  Many are now dead – or extremely old.

It was interesting to see a young Henry Kissinger, Donald Rumsfield, George H. W. Bush and a Dick Cheney with hair!

Funny how time passes and as look back on times past, we often see things in a totally different light.