A Reflection on Monuments and Memorials in D.C.

Independence Hall, Antietam National Battlefield and Gettysburg, and the Lincoln Memorial and Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial
“Exploits of heroes . . . are lodged in our psyches. We call on their examples in times of uncertainty” (Bolman and Deal, 2013, 253). When one visits these statues and places that stand as memorials and monuments in our nation, the splendor of the physical location or object are eclipsed by the pride, inspiration, and marvel that one feels when you consider the accomplishments of the individuals to which these places pay homage. Such monuments and memorials operate in the Symbolic Frame for our nation.

Independence Hall stands as a symbol of freedom to this nation. Its preservation is important because two of our nation’s most important documents, The Declaration of Independence and The U.S. Constitution, were both signed here. There is no functional use of this building aside from the quick 15-minute view inside where visitors can see where the signers met and debated one another, yet it is important in helping our nation recall the profound change that can come about from a room full of individuals committed to independence and strongly opposed to tyranny. As one departs the grounds of this monument that are dedicated to freedom, he will leave inspired with a sense of pride for his nation’s heritage and a sense of hope in what may continue to be for the United States.

In contrast to paying respects to the life and dedication of the men at Independence Hall, visitors of Antietam National Battlefield and Gettysburg will be heartened to reflect more on the death and sacrifice of the men who fought on these hallowed grounds. The memorial to America’s bloodiest and deadliest battle at Antietam brings to guests a feeling of remorse and disturbance as they consider not only the extent to which individuals will go to abolish slavery but also the lengths they will go to preserve the barbaric institution. In Gettysburg the same sentiments are shared, yet at this memorial guests are left with a glimmer of hope and inspiration as they recall the words of Abraham Lincoln in his famous Gettysburg Address. These places leave a powerful impression on guests because of what these battlefields represent. They are an intense reminder to our nation of the higher values that can be neglected in a people and those that must also be kindled.

The Lincoln Memorial and the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial pay tribute to two individuals who gave their life for a cause that was met with intense opposition and was greater than either could have accomplished alone; Lincoln, the abolition of slavery, King, the ending of legalized segregation. Visitors who stand at the feet of Lincoln can grasp a sense of his determination. As they read the words from the Gettysburg Address and his Second Inaugural Address, visitors can understand the magnitude of the cause he was fighting for and the moral conviction he spoke with. With King, those who visit the monument are reminded of “the dream” that he inspired many others to dream and the nonviolent instruments he used to shake the people of an entire nation from the cashier working behind the counter to the executive seated behind the desk in the oval office. Visitors cannot help but feel a sense of wonder from these individuals and also a sense of remorse that both of their lives were ended by an assassin’s bullet. These memorials serve as a testament to two revolutionary leaders in American history and as a commitment to never forget where our nation has come from and where Lincoln and King were trying to lead us.

These reflections are taken from an assignment from my political leadership class at Dallas Baptist University and are written in context of the organizational frameworks that are identified by authors Bolman and Deal.
Bolman, Lee and Terrence Deal. 2013. Reframing Organizations: Artistry, Choice, and Leadership. 5th ed. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.

Reality

Reality

Verse 1
I know I see the light from here
The Sun makes horizon lines so clear
And I don’t want to lose it, don’t want to see it go away
So I keep you in my sight cause you are the light of day

Verse 2
You Are the only treasure found
Through many years searching underground
So I push pass the silver, push pass the gold and throw it away
And I take you up with me, up into the light of day

Chorus
And I never met someone like you
And I never thought this could be true
And I surely thought you were a dream
Until I felt your hand, the warmth of your breath
Smelt your hair with your head on my chest
And I knew, oh, This is reality
(Last time – Looked in your eyes, tickled your feet
Held you against me as I kissed your cheek)

Verse 3
Is the sun messing with my eyes?
Or the underground messing with my mind? Oh no, no, no!
I know what I feel, I know you are real and this is true
That uh You are here with me, And I am here with you

Bridge
This Love that I feel you’ve made it so real
This feeling is wonderful
To know the thing you hold is better than gold
You are so wonderful

By G. R. Salazar

Written Spring 2008. Produced October 2012. Dedicated to Emy, My Love.

Oxygen

Oxygen

Verse 1
I need your love cause I’m drowning in the sea.
I know you wait above water. Oh, how I long to breathe.
My pulse begins to fade but my hope begins to rise
If I’m gonna to keep on fighting I’ve got to keep you in my sight

Verse 2
I fight against the current cause I know you’re all I want
I know which way I’m headed. The direction of the sun
So with all the strength I’ve got, I force myself to move
The light is getting brighter as I make it back to you

Chorus
And above the waves you brush my face
You move across my lips softer than any kiss
And when you’ve begun to fill my lungs
I feel alive again cause you’re my oxygen

Verse 3
My chest it feels the strain. My arms and legs they tire.
Surrounded by the water but you still set my heart on fire.
So with all the strength I’ve got, I make one final move
I’m bathing in the sunlight as I make it back to you

By G. R. Salazar

Written Spring 2009. Produced October 2012. Dedicated to Emy, My Love.

A Debate We All Win

A Jewish synagogue is not primarily a place of worship but rather a “house of gathering.” If the Temple was the place of worship, the synagogue was where Jews could meet to study the Scriptures, fellowship and talk about what was happening in the community, and deliberate those matters.

Does the “land flowing with milk and honey” have anything to do with cows? Yes. Does it have anything to do with bees? No. To clarify, this phrase references not the honey that comes from a beehive but that which comes from the sweet dates that grow on the palm trees in the region.

The Church of the Holy Sepulcher is a church that houses a literal “stone that the builders rejected” when constructing the city of Jerusalem, and it does not contain the body of Jesus Christ. To believe that Christians venerate this church because it is the tomb of Christ is non-sensical, seeing that Christians believe Jesus rose from the dead and is alive.

If you do not understand Jewish worship you won’t grasp the synagogue’s purpose. If you do not understand the agricultural region of Jerusalem you won’t fully comprehend scripture. And if you do not understand what Christians believe you won’t appreciate the value of many holy sites.

Not everyone will have the opportunity to visit Israel, but everyone who preaches or teaches on Judeo-Christian culture and beliefs can shed more light and add more depth to their sermons and lessons if we make a strong effort to understand the geographical, cultural, and theological contexts we are learning from.

I must admit that I experienced a paradigm shifting moment when I learned about the City of David and the archeological work being done to unearth, perhaps, the original palace and city of David. The same occurred when I realized just how recent Israel’s independence and territories were won when I learned that Moshe Dayan was the first born son of the Kibbutz that arrived in Israel. A final pause of reflection moved through me when I heard my guide and Dr. Michael Oren, Israeli Ambassador to the U.S., describe that the birth of the idea of a Palestinian state came about only after the 1967 Six-Day War.

Tomorrow I will hear the Palestinian side of the story, but for now the facts proclaim that the Palestinians were technically either Arabs who lived in East Jerusalem and Arabs who lived in Gaza. After the war, for whatever reasons I have yet to learn, the two Arab nations of Jordan and Egypt wanted nothing to do with the two groups of Arabs from East Jerusalem and Gaza. In a newly formed Israel, with only a small voice through the Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO), and rejected by the Arab nations, the East Jerusalem and Gaza Arabs all of a sudden declared themselves to be their own separate state, a Palestinian state, though this was something they never once called for under Jordanian rule.

The point is there is information about the Middle East, even if only learned from one perspective, that if never learned will keep us ignorant. Additionally, there are details that if learned can enlighten the way we understand the Middle East and sharpen the way we discuss foreign policy in this region. I anticipate someone will read the facts I give in this short blog and say, “Wow, I never knew that.” And I hope and pray that there will be at least one other reader who will not only object to what I write but will remark, “Thanks, but have you considered these other facts?” This is discussion and deliberation. This is what prepares us to make more informed conclusions and recommendations that can get into the hands of decision-makers. We must learn. We must debate. Not so that one may win, but so that all may win.

Israel and the Middle East: Not So Black and White

In the Middle East not everything is black and white, which makes solutions in the region not so black and white. One of my favorite sayings from our guide Inon Hedvati is, “Yes . . . and no.” Do the Israelis control this area? Is this Palestinian territory? Does Syria still pose a threat? I can almost always anticipate the answer.

Sunday evening over dinner, respected archeologists Dr. Ian Stern shared an hour and half lecture on the exile and return of the Jewish and Israelite people throughout history. Before the Six-Day War in 1967, the last time the Jewish people officially held Jerusalem was 70 A.D, which means there was nearly a two-thousand year gap until they regained control. The Israeli region was under the control of numerous empires throughout history, such as the Babylonians, Persians, Romans, and Maccabees. According to Dr. Stern, after 70 A.D. and throughout much of their exile, the Jews were in a state of “psychosis.” Why? His answer, “What else would you say about a people that believed themselves to be the chosen people of Jerusalem yet have no formal rule and authority in the city.” Nonetheless, it was this “psychotic” state of mind that helped many Jews keep their desire set on and find their way back home despite centuries of exile and persecution. And in 1908, sixty-six newly settled Jewish families in Israel saw Tel Aviv as more than just the desert that it was.

Monday we visited a town whose main industry is scrap metal, Barta-West along the West Bank. Barta-West was a “B” territory, which unlike “A” (full Palestinian control) and “C” (full Israeli control), the municipalities and city services were under Palestinian direction but security was under Israeli’s. Here, and in the area around Harish, Israel gives thousands of Palestinians the liberty to enter into “C” territory to work and earn wages for their families. It was an interesting comment our other tour guide Lydia said: Palestinians are building Israeli cities.

In the Middle East, the majority of families value their ethnic identity much more than their national identity. Many Israelis preferred to be called Jews, Maronite Christians are proud to be Israeli but they distinguish themselves from Arabs, and both Israeli Christians and Jews are proud of Israel’s religious diversity. I must admit that I did not expect to see so many chapels, mosques, and synagogues within walking distance from each other. So, despite the religious diversity which is a hallmark of Israel, Israeli citizens strongly desire to retain and pass on their ethnic identity to their children, whichever that may be. Yet, despite a Jewish desire to see their ethnic group grow, Israelis have no desire to expel Arabs from the region. Aramaeans desire that each ethnic group be treated equally before the law.

Shadi, one of our guest lecturers, spent nearly seven years petitioning before the Israeli state to recognize his Aramaean ethnic group. He recounts his religious and ethnic history with pride, and more so now that his official I.D. lists him as Maronite Israeli. When listening to a brief from an IDF intelligence officer at an Israeli bunker a kilometer’s distance from the Syrian border (the Golan Heights used to be occupied by Syria until the end of the Six-Day War), he stressed the importance of seeing the situation of the Middle East not through a nationalistic lens but an ethnic lens. “There is no Syria,” he said. “Only hundreds of different ethnic groups.” We trust his word and his guidance, especially as he assured us everything was fine even as we heard gunfire and shelling and could see smoke rising from the Syrian fields brought about by recent inter-Syrian shelling. There are over a thousand independent fighting groups in Syria, he told us. “Syria was always a mess.”

Inon, our very wise tour guide, remarked something that carried practical worth as well as rhetorical value: You need vision to survive in the desert. Vision is what built Tel Aviv into a great city in just a little over a hundred years. Vision is what turned the Kibbutz into a prosperous community on former Syrian fields and what inspired them to grow and harvest the first ever white truffles in the Middle East. Vision is what brings Palestinians over the border into Israel every day to work. Vision is what Shadi had for his Aramaean Christians.

In a region that is not colored black and white but every shade of gray, world leaders and local leaders need a vision to paint differently. They need to listen to every side of the story, to stop scratching the surface and dig deeper, and to seek out long-term solutions instead of short-term repairs in order to bring stability to this region. Those visionary leaders are out there, yes. And those painters, it is argued, must be strongly represented by Arabs.

An Unforgettable Educational Journey Begins: The Six-Day War

I begin this pilgrimage to Israel appreciative of the NHCLC for recommending me to participate on this trip, and of the Philos Project for sponsoring me. It is rare to be blessed with the opportunity to travel to the Holy Land and even rarer, I might add, to go with no cost out of pocket.

The purpose of this trip is educational. Not theological. Not spiritual. And not related to my PhD studies at Dallas Baptist University, although I am sure I will experience personal edification in those respects. No. The focus of this journey is to understand what is commonly known as the Six-Day War, or to many Arab nations: an-nakash, “the setback.”[1] This year marks the fifty-year anniversary, and most of what I’ve gathered so far comes from a few “assigned” articles given to the group of participants and me to review on our way to Tel Aviv.

The Six-Day War took place from June 5-10, 1967, and much of the agitation and animosity currently present in the Middle East, particularly as it relates to areas occupied by Israel, have roots that trace back to the consequences of the war. Obviously, contention between Israel and many surrounding Arab nations goes back much further than what transpired in June of ’67. One thing is clear: recent statistics that reveal Palestinian views towards Israelis do nothing to affirm the old adage that “time heals all wounds.”

An overwhelming majority of present-day Palestinians see violence against Israelis as a legitimate and effective use of force, and 54% support the use of attacks on Israeli civilians in general. That Palestinian support rises to 84% for attacks on Israeli settlers.[2] More so, Palestinians do not shy away from venerating shahids, those who die carrying out attacks on Israelis, and even go so far as to naming streets in their honor.[2]

As stated, much discord between Arabs and Jews goes back many generations, yet some have argued that the discord has been further promulgated by the surge of modern “historians,” argued to consist mainly of liberal social scientists not actual historians (i.e. revisionists), who aim to shift culpability of the Six-Day War away from the Arab-alliance to the state of Israel.[1] No one denies that since the end of the war, in newly occupied territories, a handful of Israeli individuals, some would argue such as Moshe Dayan, became disillusioned with power and treated Arabs brutally and inhumanely. This certainly added fuel to the fire of disaffection. At the same time, many argue that it would be hard to find a modern, well-respected Israeli politician who would vociferously support such treatment of Palestinian citizens. I wonder if the same assertion can be made of modern, well-respected Palestinian leaders.

I write from thousands of feet above the clouds and have yet to step foot on Israel and begin my education journey on the Six-Day War. Nonetheless, there are a few claims that my readings seem to reach consensus on about the war:

  1. Arab nations greatly opposed the statehood of Israel, and still do so as of today. In fact, the Arab rejection of the Jewish state is the general cause of the Six-Day War. Abdel Rahman Azzam in 1947 said of Israel, “You are not a fact at all.”[3] Many Arab nations refuse to compete against Israel in the Olympic games as a sign of solidarity on this matter.
  2. The catalyst to justify Egyptian mobilization against Israel was a false Soviet warning that Israeli troops were organizing along the Syrian border. This is a report that General Fawzi of Egypt advised was a completely false assessment to Egyptian president Gamal Abdel Nasser.[3] To this day, many Palestinians believe that Israel intends to extend its borders farther out and completely expel Arabs from the region.[2]
  3. Egypt escalated tensions with Israel. This occurred when Egypt aligned forces with the nations of Jordan, Iraq, Syria, and Saudi Arabia (to name a few) against Israel and by closing off the Straight of Tiran on May 22, 1967.[3]
  4. The Arab nations sought to entirely destroy the Israeli state and its people. Iraqi president Abdel Rahman Aref said in 1967 that they hoped to “remove Israel from the map.”[3]
  5. Israel’s victory in the war was a miracle and it was resounding. With Egypt and the Arab nations delusional with power, and with Britain and the U.S. both deciding to remain neutral, the odds were stacked heavily against Israel. Nonetheless, when the war began Israel neutralized Egypt’s air force almost entirely in only a matter of 3 hours,[3] they gained control of the Old City within 3 days, and although incurring 800 casualties, they left the Egyptian forces with more than 15,000 casualties.[4] And as is clear from the title given to this war, they won the battle in a matter of 6 days.
  6. Lastly, Israel acted in self-defense. With no actual Israeli threat at the borders of Syria,[3] with the release of 30-year old classified Israeli documents which reveal Israeli sentiments and attempts to ameliorate tensions before the war,[1] and with the fact that the result of the war did not end with greater amounts of land occupied by Israel (many Israelis argued that with the Egyptian and Arab forces depleted they could have easily captured Cairo, Damascus, and Amman), we are presented with reasonable evidence that suggests that Israel acted in a manner sufficient to (1) secure its defense and (2) reinforce its sovereignty.

There will be many first-hand accounts of the war that I will encounter in these next few days. Historians, archeologists, and Jewish leaders will more amply explain the unfolding of events that led up to the Six-Day War and the impact that its consequences continue to have on the region.

I am moments away from stepping into the Holy Land, from walking where Jesus walked, eating and dining where the Apostles ministered. What will I learn? I imagine it will be an unforgettable educational journey. After all, this was a war Israel will never forget.

Footnotes
1. Azure, 1999
2. Mosaic, 2015
3. Middle East Forum, 2017
4. The New Yorker, 2007

Comfy and Cozy

In an article from the New York Times about Secretary Ben Carson’s visit to an urban housing area, he warned that, even in the midst of providing goodwill to so many people who are without homes, we should be careful that we do not allow the residents to get to comfortable and cozy. Many people read this and think he was being inconsiderate. But Carson understands well what many goodhearted individuals often overlook: the nature of man.

Bastiat’s Law, a concept of business-leader and -thinker Orrin Woodward, is a law of nature that says that if given the opportunity, man (any person) would choose the path of least resistance, that he would choose to plunder over the more difficult path of productivity. This is not necessarily a bad thing. The desire to avoid difficulty has inspired many inventions such as the lawnmower to replace the scythe, the vacuum to replace the broom, and audiobooks to replace reading. This is only a bad thing when it leads to lethargy.

Work is pain. And if you don’t think so you haven’t worked long enough or worked to provide for someone other than yourself. The argument is that we all want to avoid pain. And if work is pain, consequently, we want to avoid work.

Carson, and many who steward charitable resources, have the tough job of balancing the severity of the situation of the less fortunate with the task of empowering them to help themselves. Many who rely on government assistance have jobs and many don’t. That is besides the point. The emphasis is that whether we have much or we have little, that we understand that pain is inevitable, that work is inevitable. Work is the task (curse) of every man regardless of his station in life (Gen 3:17).

The truth is, we are all tempted to by the recliner. We all are tempted by the lure of “something for nothing.”  At our salary job or hourly-wage job we take a longer break than allotted. In our business or public institution we scroll through social media instead of writing a report. Whether we receive government housing or own a home we all want to work less but gain more.

You are created in the image of God. His Spirit is inside of you. You are inventive and powerful. Satan doesn’t want you out of your recliner. He doesn’t want you to go after God’s purposes for your life. He likes you comfortable and cozy. Do you?

To Conserve, To Abolish

Yesterday evening, thanks to YAF, I had the unique opportunity to hear a Connoisseur of Conservatism, Dinesh D’Souza, deliver a bold message to Houstonians at the University of Houston. His tone of voice during both speech and Q&A was unshaken, his arguments lucid, and his poise casual.

There were many things he sought to define, among which were Trump’s America, racism, fascism, leftism, and conservatism. He asked the question, “If we are conservative, then what is it that we are trying to conserve?” His answer: the principles of the American Revolution. They are 3:

  1. Economic Freedom
  2. Political Freedom
  3. Freedom of Speech (Spiritual Freedom)

Whether or not you identify as a conservative or liberal, elephant or donkey, you must ask yourself, “Do I want these freedoms?” It was the 2nd-century philosopher Epictetus that reminds us that “Some things are in our control and others not . . . The things in our control are by nature free, unrestrained, unhindered . . .”

Do I want to be able to determine how much fruit I can produce from the ground, or would I rather be dependent on what another man gives me from his harvest? Or worse, would I steal from him?

Do I want to be able to choose with whom I live in community, knowing that they too desire to live in community with me? That they don’t desire to harm or restrain me?

Do I want to freely worship, pray to, sing to, and proclaim the glories of the One True God who reveals himself to me, or to be quieted? Not because I’ve physically hurt anyone, but because I’ve religiously offended another?

Epictetus also argues, “but those [things] not in our control are weak, slavish, restrained, belonging to others.” In other words, if I do not aspire to be free economically, politically, and spiritually (yes, all three!) but desire that another man apportion me these, then I desire to live as a slave. Even more wicked, if I do not aspire that others be free by these same measures, that I apportion them these, then I desire that they live as slaves.

I not only ask myself, “What is it that I am trying to conserve?” but also, “What is it that I am trying to abolish?”

Significance over Success

In this interview with Grammy-nominated product Kevin “Khao” Cates, he recalls the moment in his life when he knew he needed to do something different. He had experienced success as a music producer working with the top musical artists, but despite the accolades he had yet to experience significance.

The difference between success and significance was a line of demarcation that his father had taught him to see from a very young age, and now, as a grown man, he had to choose which one would take priority.

As a believer, as with Khao, significance isn’t a selfish pursuit. It is an understanding that you have made a God-inspired contribution to the world and to the Kingdom of God. It is knowing that you have been obedient to the Spirit and the divine impulses He places inside of you.

  • Moses chose significance over safety when he left Midian to return to Egypt and rescue his people (Exodus 4:20)
  • David chose significance over dignity when he danced foolishly in celebration before the Lord (2 Samuel 6:22)
  • Elisha chose significance over security when he sacrificed his oxen and destroyed his plows to follow the prophet Elijah (1 Kings 19:21)
  • Esther chose significance over complacency when she risked her life before Xerxes to save her people (Esther 4:16)

Success and significance aren’t entirely divorced from one another. Often times the world is grateful for our contribution to society and rewards us with fame and honor, which is why these historical figures were written about and their legacies honored.

Nonetheless, every day (not just in huge life-altering moments) we have to decide what will take priority: significance or success. If you pursue the latter, you may very well get that. If you pursue the former, there is no promise what you will receive; no promise except to be welcomed into God’s presence as a “good and faithful servant” (Matt 25:21).

Risky Risk Behaviors

This month is Mental Health Month.

According to mentalhealthamerica.net, actions such as risky sex, prescription drug misuse, internet addiction, excessive spending, marijuana use, and troublesome exercise patterns increase the risk of developing or worsening mental illnesses, and in and of themselves could be signs of mental health problems. Mental health issues are a serious problem, but after reading that list of “risk factors” I can’t help but notice that perhaps we need a Behavioral Health Month.

In other words, one shouldn’t just avoid these behaviors because they lead to mental health issues. Many of these behaviors are the issue.

We are “why?” creatures. When we are asked to do or refrain from doing something we often ask, “why?” If you engage in any simple theological discussion with a Jew or Christian and you ask him, “Why did God make the law telling us to (or not to) _____?” any understanding Jew or Christian will tell you that God doesn’t give us the “why.” Put differently, God doesn’t require us to understand why we should obey Him, He only requires that we obey Him.

Often times we look to justify our actions with a broader context. I.e. God tells us not to steal because it is harmful to another individual; or, God tells us to love our neighbor because He wants us to live in peace. Whether the reason is true or not is of no consequence. The point is that God tells us “Do not steal” and “Love your neighbor.” They are not conditional commands. There may be an instance in which stealing harms no one, or a time in which loving my neighbor only creates more discord.

Though we always hope for the brightest outcomes from our behaviors, neither the promise or absence of good consequences should alter my obligation to behave righteously as God commands. The moment we begin to teach results-based ethics is when we enter into a religion of pragmatism and out of a religion of obedience. Enter at your own risk.