Fourth of The July

I needed to be reminded.

When Niece Casee was a pre-schooler, she would ask, “What are we doing on the 4th of the July?” There was a “the” July that defines most others. 1776.

When we celebrate July 4th as Independence Day, the whole process seems to be lumped together. Independence was declared in 1776, the Constitution was not presented until 1787 and it was a year before it was ratified. It was a rocky path filled with great stories of bravery and what seem to be supernatural displays of wisdom.

Winning freedom, ordering freedom and administering freedom are distinct. The Declaration and Revolutionary War won freedom, but ordering how that freedom would be applied took several years—resistance and negotiation. I tend to lump it all together and celebrate the 4th.

The gathering of representatives for the Convention out of which would come the Constitution was not widely welcomed. James Madison is called the Father of the Constitution—he was 36 years old. He and Washington were provokers. Getting the Constitution written and presented to the states was difficult and is called “The Miracle of Philadelphia.” Washington called it a miracle as he described it to Lafayette and Madison called it a miracle when he wrote to Jefferson who was in Paris.

Catherine Drinker Bowen wrote the history of May to September 1787. It is published under the title, Miracle At Philadelphia. (Bantam Books ©1966.) My copy is yellowed. It was purchased in Hopkinsville, Ky.  in 1975.  The yellowing of the pages feels like a validation of the historicity.

Abraham Lincoln, in route to his own 1861 inauguration, would say to the New Jersey legislature:

“I am exceedingly anxious that this Union, the Constitution, and the liberties of the people shall be perpetuated in accordance with the original idea for which that struggle was made, and I shall be most happy indeed if I shall be an humble instrument in the hands of the Almighty, and of this, his almost chosen people, for perpetuating the object of that great struggle.”

The author’s preface includes a paragraph capturing the mood and focus of the elements and principles of the Constitution:

“The Federal Convention, viewed from the records, is startling fresh and ‘new.’ The spirit behind it was the spirit of compromise, seemingly no very noble flag to rally round. Compromise can be an ugly word, signifying a pact with the devil, a chipping off of the best to suit the worst. Yet in the Constitutional Convention the spirit of compromise reigned in grace and glory; as Washington presided, it sat on his shoulder as a dove. Men rise to speak and one sees them struggle with the bias of birthright, locality, statehood—South against North, East against West, merchant against planter. One sees them change their minds, fight against pride, and when the moment comes, admit their error. If the story is old, the feelings behind it are new as Monday morning.” (page x)

So we lump them all together—Declaration, Revolutionary War, The Constitution, Bill of Rights…Normandy and the multi-thousand markers that display the costs of freedom. We try to grasp what it means to be God’s “almost chosen people” and liberty—“ held out a great promise to all the people of the world (for) all time to come.”

Happy Fourth of the July–fresh and new

©2019 D. Dean Benton

Writer, Wonderer, Ponderer

The Search for the Real Self

Mark Galli, editor at Christianity Today tapped on my soul window with this article.


Looking for Real Authenticity

“This above all: to thine own self be true.” Thus says Polonius in Shakespeare’s Hamlet. It has become our culture’s “life verse,” though we usually talk about it in terms of authenticity.

Authenticity is one of the most valued characteristics in our society. As children we are taught to just “be ourselves”, and as adults we can choose from a large number of self-help books that will tell us how important it is to get in touch with our “real self”. It’s taken as a given by everyone that authenticity is a real thing and that it is worth cultivating.

When comes to figuring out our “real self,” things get complicated, as research shows:

While people spend so much time searching for their real self, the stark reality is that all of the aspects of your mind are part of you. It’s virtually impossible to think of any intentional behavior that does not reflect some genuine part of your psychological make-up, whether it’s your dispositions, attitudes, values, or goals.

One of the saddest consequences of our culture’s search for the holy grail of the authentic self is how it destroys families, among other relationships. Note this piece on CNN, “I Was Married with 2 Kids when I realized I’m gay.”

This is one reason our culture is, as this article in City Journal puts it: “Alone: The decline of the family has unleashed an epidemic of loneliness.”

It is one of the great paradoxes of the Christian narrative that only the one who gives up the self will be able to find it (Mark 8:35).

Among my life verses is Mark 8:34-37.

“Follow me and I’ll show you how. Self-help is no help at all. Self-sacrifice is the way, my way, to saving yourself, your true self. What good would it do to get everything you want and lose you, you, the real you?” (Jesus)

I’m into self-help—my self needs all the help it can get! I think Jesus approves of self-understanding and improvement. Jesus is not into self-diminishment. He is the One who claims to give “abundant life.” The limit is when personal pursuit of “authentic” self is when it hurts, diminishes or affects others’ authenticity.

Self-authenticity (as defined by the world standards) does not or cannot be allowed to supersede prior covenants or promises. Authenticity means others, to whom we have made promises or have covenant relationships, are themselves expanded by our faithfulness.

A Texas friend told me his father abandoned the family to “find himself” and pursue his self-search. My friend was 12 when he was abandoned. I know the family’s pastor. My friend’s siblings, and the next two generations were deeply affected by that abandonment. The covenants we make with other people affect the “self” we seek.

Complex! That’s the right word. “Saving your true self,” is the path to genuine authenticity and it is the benefit of making the right choices. I’m denying many of my selves that do not biblically define me or benefit me.

©2019 D. Dean Benton,       Writer, Wonderer, Ponderer

A dull soul ache

I’ve been off the bubble for a few days—just a bit beside myself. It happens when something or someone stimulates me to look at myself or examine portions of culture or the world I don’t know much about; but know it needs help.

It usually is connected to one question: What can I do about it? It is usually connected to an answer: I don’t know—probably nothing.

At the suggestion of my granddaughter, I’ve been reading Hillbilly Elegy by J. D. Vance. (© 2016, Harper) My Grande goes to University of Kentucky. The book’s setting is in Appalachian-Kentucky. I love Kentucky blue and have worked in some churches there, but J. D. Vance describes his experiences growing up in a culture I know little about.

A “common culture” is to say, “This is the way we do things around here.”

Within a mile of this computer desk there are adults and many children who do not say y’all or know the strange allure of Kentucky hills, but know they know the life:

It’s about a culture that increasingly encourages social decay instead counteracting it.

“Too many young men immune to hard work. Good jobs impossible to fill for any length of time. And a young man with every reason to work—a wife-to-be to support and a baby on the way—carelessly throwing aside a good job with excellent health insurance. More troublingly, when it is all over, he thought something had been done to him. There is a lack of agency here—a feeling that you have little control over your life and a willingness to blame everyone but yourself.”

“My primary aim is to tell a true story about what that problem feels like when you were born with it hanging around your neck.” (pages 7-8)

J. D. Vance made it out. He went to the University of Ohio and the law school at Yale. He is a lawyer today, married and living a long way from the Kentucky holler which he loves. The odds of that outcome, are huge!

Vance concludes his memoir with a story about fifteen-year-old Brian.

What happens to Brian?”

“I believe we hillbillies are the toughest…people on this earth. But are we tough enough to do what needs to be done to help a kid like Brian? Are we tough enough to build a church that forces kids like me to engage with the world rather than withdraw from it? Are we tough enough to look ourselves in the mirror and admit that our conduct harms our children?

Public policy can help, but there is no government that can fix these problems for us. These problems were not created by governments or corporations or anyone else. We created them, and only we can fix them.

“I don’t know what the answer is, precisely, but I know it starts when we stop blaming the POTUS or faceless companies and ask ourselves what we can do to make things better.”   (Pages 255-6)

That pushes me way off the bubble. I still don’t know what I can do to help kids in that culture whether they live in our town or in Kentucky.

We sponsor a teen in Ethiopia and an early teen in Honduras. When we met a family from Sudan, we were introduced to the phrase “Unaccompanied Minors.” They told us their stories and the phrase became more than unsettling. It was painful and about young men and women whose names we knew. (I tell some of their story in “Gone to Southwood.”)

I know God’s Kingdom—presence, power, provision, revelation, gifts, to name some manifestations, is not limited to “someone ought to do something.” I am nagged by the constant thought that maybe rather than trying to support a child in Honduras, we could look at the kid from Honduras sitting on our southern border as a hand-delivered gift. I’m sure adults like Mr. J.D. Vance could come up with some strategies.

Unaccompanied Minors come from assorted nations and American states—and cities.

©2019 D. Dean Benton         Writer, Wonderer, Frustrated Jesus Follower

Dean’s ebooks:

The Female Wins Again

Our west tree—provider of nice shade—suffered winter problems. Three or four major south limbs which make up about ¼ of the tree didn’t survive. It is owned by the city. The foresters came by. The whole tree has to come down. A capital judgement was not expected or desired. The foresters offered several replacement options. I had never hear of any. I’m familiar with birch, oak, maple. None were offered. I think we were offered discounted trees from Guatemala.

“Do you want a male tree or female?”

He seemed like a nice young man, but he sounded like he was luring me into a political fight. Humans, with graduate degrees, don’t think it is possible or respectable to distinguish sexes among humanoids. So I told him we would want one of the other options. Especially on the front parking.

“These trees grow fruit—you know, like walnut trees and acorns. Oranges.” So, I asked why I would want a female tree or a male tree.”

“The lady tree is beautiful. The male tree drops fruit that smells like strong dog poop.” Of course!

It’s difficult to keep a well-manicure lawn in this PC age; Me Too age; alphabet age. Anti-male era. I’m guessing these trees are hybrids bred in a secret basement room of the U.S. House of Representatives.

I don’t mind when my favorite females win, but illegal alien trees or men hating….” Hang onto your maples.

©2019 D. Dean Benton – Writer, Wonderer, tree-questioner.

The Next Generation

The Bible is concerned about the next generation.  The Founding Fathers were concerned about the next generation. The current youth upheaval about socialism, work, stress, depression is partly from the last two generations mishandling, neglecting or not knowing what to do about next generation.

Reminding you: I’ve been looking for specifics that refer to Ben Franklin’s statement—“If you can keep it.” What characteristics, behaviors, principles, laws, expectations defined the generation we call The Founders? The generation that wrote The Constitution, Bill of Rights, and other foundational documents.

If we are to maintain the USA as a Republic, (keep it) these are the defined pillars that must be in and guiding our culture. Transferring and teaching what an American is and how to grow into a whole adult is one of those absolute pillars—if we want to “keep it.” Keep it is about…

Building resilience in the next generation .

Dr. Tim Elmore is a youth specialist followed by several of my teacher friends and pastors. He did  Ted talk on Saturday. I read his blog and appreciate his books.

Not every resource helps every situation, but the more we have, the more apt something will ring a bell or match a need and produce a strategy. Carole said at the end of this event yesterday she wished we had heard this 50 years ago. I wished I heard the principles when I was a teen and had the ability and skills to understand and use them.

The link is to North Point Community Church-Atlanta where campus pastor, Clay Scroggins interviews Dr. Time Elmore.

Thanks for giving this a view. I’m hoping you’ll pass it along.


Song to sing at Midnight

My wife wants our lawn to be home to yellow finches, hummingbirds and Orioles. This year we got Orioles. “Put the grape jelly out and they will come.” After years of disappointment, 6-10 arrived and stayed. The flashes of color are eye-grabbing. We have orchard orioles and Baltimore orioles.

When they first arrived, they were patient with each other at the food dishes—“no, you go first.” But now, they are playing a serious version of King of the Hill. We’ve learned they stay part of the summer and then mysteriously leave. That’s not so hard to figure out. The local neighborhood becomes violent and they want to change friends.

They chow down! I filled their jelly bowls 3 times yesterday—traipsed out in the rain. Manipulated by my wife and 4 birds tapping their wings on the window. They had licked all the grape juice off the bottom of the bowl. If they stay, we are going to buy jelly at the commercial restaurant supply store in gallon cans. But they will leave. One morning they will be gone. The grape jelly will no longer satisfy their food needs, nor their baby’s demand. They will find feeding fields where protein is available.

We will miss them. We are bringing the hummingbirds along who will be with us through the summer.

An expert says:

“Unlike the Northern Mockingbirds, Orioles do not sing at night.”

Is that sad? Occasionally, don’t you need to sing a song at night? Or have someone sing you a song in the dark?

Another bird person who is supposed to know says some birds begin to sing just before dawn to announce to their friends that they made it through the night.

One of my Nashville friends asked me, “Dean, are you still singing?” I’ve learned naked crows are preferred to an old guy singing. I wonder sometimes if we’re supposed to “get over” singing by a certain age.

Paul and Silas were not the only ones to need “A Song To Sing At Midnight”

©2019  D. Dean Benton    Writer, Wonderer, Warbler

Land of Magnolias, Memories and Miracles

Highway 61 goes north-south through our town. If you get on 61 and head south it will take you all the way to New Orleans. Just north of New Orleans is St. Francisville “land of magnolias, Spanish moss, and architectural grandeur. Middle of plantation country…” according to writer Ron Dreher. St. Francisville, La. is where Ron Dreher grew up until he “escaped” to Dallas and many other cities including Philadelphia from which he moved to return to St. Francisville.

I listened to Eric Metaxes’ podcast—a recording of his New York based, “Socrates in the City” in which he interviewed his friend, Mr. Dreher. The subject Dreher’s book, The Little Way of Ruthie Leming. The story is about Dreher’s sister.

William Paul Young, author of The Shack, calls Dreher’s book, “Deeply touching.” That describes my reaction, if anything can. The book starts—“Here’s the thing I want you to know about my sister.”

“A long time ago—I must have been about seven years old, which would have made Ruthie five—I did something rotten to her. I teased her all the time, and she spend much of her childhood whaling the tar out of me for it. Whatever happened that time, though, must have been awful, because our father told me to lie down on my bed and wait for him. That could mean one thing: that he was going to deliver one of his rare, but highly effective spankings, with his belt.

“I cannot recall what my offense was, but I well remember walking down the hallway and climbing onto the bed, knowing full well that I deserved it. I always did. Nothing to be done but to stretch out, facedown, and take what I had coming.

“And then it happened. Ruthie ran into the bedroom just ahead of Paw and, sobbing, threw herself across me.

“Whip me!” she cried. “Daddy, whip me.”

“Paw gave no spankings that day. He turned and walked away. Ruthie left too. There I sat, on the bed, wondering what had just happened.

“Forty years later, I still do.”

The Little Way of Ruthie Leming, Rod Dreher, (2013 Grand Central Publishing.) Page 1

That story leaves me undone! It reminds me of our friend Gordon Jensen’s song in which there is a line: “…let him go, take me instead.”

2019 D. Dean Benton         Writer & Wonderer


The Then That Needs to be Today’d

The American and French revolutions occurred in the approximate same era. The French revolution was a bloodbath that kept the guillotine working overtime. The American Revolution led to freedom and an idea that birthed a nation. Why the difference? What was the fork in the road?

Gouverneur Morris was the United States’ Ambassador to France following Jefferson. He said the French wanted a nation and constitution like America, but did not have a citizenry like Americans. What kind of people were the Americans? What made an American?

Words that shaped the Constitution, Declaration of Independence, Bill of Rights are pertinent today. Exceptionalism is one. Equality is another. There are several others like, “Self-governing” No word or concept is more important than “self-governing.” I want to talk about those words in the days ahead. Ben Franklin is the source of the words, “If You Can Keep It.”

Not just words and ideas, but people. I thought I knew about George Whitefield, but I do not ever remember reading this: He came to America in 1730’s. He was 25. He became America and England’s first celebrity, a rock star. I wondered a few weeks ago why the negative interest in Whitefield with articles and books. It is now clear. Since the 1960s there has been an on-going destruction of heroes and venerated leaders. A person doesn’t have to be a raving paranoid to see this happening. Stephen Mansfield calls Whitefield—a friend and colleague of the Wesleys—The Forgotten Founding Father.”

“His preaching signaled the first rays of the dawning of a new order in the world.”

He preached 18,000 sermons in 33 years in addition to 12,000 talks and exhortations. He preached in all of the 13 Colonies. Eighty-percent of all residents of the colonies had heard him preach in person at least once. Without amplification, he preached to crowds of 20,000 to 30,000. Ben Franklin was a friend, and a newspaper man who printed the sermons on his newspaper’s front pages The University of Pennsylvania was founded by Whitefield and Franklin. They built an orphanage in Georgia and an academy in Pennsylvania for the education of Negroes.

“…George Whitefield, without whom the United States simply could not have come into being.”

He preached that “all are created equal.” His message was about the Kingdom of God and the necessity of being born again to enter. He preached to the miners as they walked home from the mines. The men were so moved by message of God’s love for them that tears cut white gutters through the black coal dust on their faces.

“It was the man preaching at the top of the courthouse steps who more than anyone would change that. It would take three decades of his tireless preaching….”

“To truly understand the story of how the United States came into existence, we must acquaint ourselves with the human weather pattern known as the Reverend George Whitefield.” (He was called a sanctified tornado.)

Upon the preaching of the Gospel and born again citizens whose behavior was modified and restructure, The Founding Fathers Declared Independence and wrote the Constitution which the Americans ratified.

I usually bristle a bit when someone says the answer to the craziness in present USA is revival or “Jesus”. After reading the history predating 1776 I’m changing my mind. There were no unifying persons, ideas, beliefs until Whitefield. All the ideas that built the American character came from the Gospel of Jesus through Whitefield. Faith in Jesus Christ was crucial as was religion as many sects and denominations agreed on certain critical principles that were bedrock for the experiment. Whitefield dug fallow ground in which the Great Awakening sprung forth.

Questions that have grown out of my study:

  1. What were Whitefield’s audiences looking for? Expecting from him?
  2. What made an American an American?
  3. What in his sermons were foundational to the new nation?
  4. Why is this important today?
  5. What response does God want from me?

I’m reading the history of Whitefield in American from:

   If You Can Keep It, Eric Metaxis, 2018 Viking

   The Forgotten Founding Father, 2001, Stephan Mansfield,

   The Printer and the Preacher, Jerry Peterson, 2015 Thomas Nelson

   A Free People’s Suicide, Os Guinness, 2012, InterVarsity Press

Guinness says freedom and liberty depends upon the “Golden Triangle of Freedom.” Religion depends on virtue to be valid and grow freedom. Freedom builds individual and community virtue which is inseparable from religion “of some sort” as Guinness says.

  1. Virtue (Character)
  2. Religion (Faith of some sort.) Not specific doctrines or beliefs. But the revealed principles built in Hebrew-Christian faith. Freedom
  3. Freedom

America is built upon people and communities functioning with those three expressions of infrastructure. That was true in the late 1700s and absolutely in 2019. Where will this be taught?

Church growth principles begin with—“This is who we are, what we believe, what we are working to accomplish. If you agree with our vision, please join us. If you do not, we’ll help you find a place where you will feel comfortable. The leaders must continue to declare the vision continually and protect the vision.

Immigration that benefits the immigrant and the USA is exactly the same. “This is who we are and our vision. You are welcome if can fit it and live toward our vision.”

My concern is that illegal immigrants know few, if any, of our vision or purpose. They come because it is a great route to “the dream.” And why not? I’m also concerned that some politicians, immigrants, news people and citizens not only do not agree with the Founding Documents and what it means to be an American, but seek to change our country “fundamentally” to quote a president and current members of Congress.

Where will our core values be taught?  Who will teach? How to handle the dissidents?

I plan to answer some of those questions and cast a vision.

©2019 D. Dean Benton

56 million

A well-known singer was approached by a cult member and asked to contribute money to Jesus. The singer said, “I’ll probably see him before you do. I’ll just give it to him myself.”

There is a push, once again for reparations to be paid to those held in slavery in the United States of the 19th Century? I think of that singer every time I hear the pitch for reparations. How do we get the money and/or other reparations to those who directly suffered the bonds of slavery? I also got a phone call telling me the warranty on my car has expired–I am approaching the capacity to care.

There is no way to talk about this without the probability of being misunderstood or charged with racism or hard-hearted. The logistical impossibility makes me question reparations reaching the right people.

If we are “taking an offering” or writing a check from the U.S. Treasury, I think Native Americans should have the dibs. No matter what we decide to do American Indians need a more righteous covenant with the white man.

Slavery is not just a Civil War issue. According to the State Department between 48 million and 56 million people are in slavery at this moment. Eighty percent are female and half of that number are children. Shouldn’t they have our current attention?

Half of the women rescued from sex traffickers voluntarily return to that life because there is no place for them. No agency to help them get established, no one to care for them.

The sex-traffickers make $150 Billion per year from their slaves. That is more than the top five U. S. corporations make in a year.

There is a market or there would be no sex-worker/slaves. Any ideas how to break that syndicate? How does Jesus want to deal with 21st Century slavery?

©D. Dean Benton     Writer, Wonderer, Weeper

A Birthday Remembered

Today is our youngest granddaughter’s birthday. Second year of college. I vividly remember the birth day.

Picked up the new book, Where The Crawdad’s Sing by Delia Owens (2019 Putnam). Speaking of birthdays:

“Kya said to herself, ‘I reckon I’m seven.’ Pa never mentioned it; certainly there was no cake.

“Surely Ma would come back for her birthday so…she put on the calico dress and stared down the lane. Kya willed Ma to be walking toward the shack, still in her alligator shoes and long skirt. When no one came, she got the pot of grits and walked through the woods to the seashore. Hands to her mouth, she held her head back and called, ‘Kee-ow, lee-ow, kee ow.” Specks of silver appeared in the sky from up and down the beach, from over the surf.

“‘Here they come. I can’t count as high as that many gulls are,’ she said.

“Crying and screeching, the birds swirled and dived, hovered near her face, and landed as she tossed grits to them. Finally they quieted and stood about preening, and she sat on the sand, her legs folded to the side. One large gull settled onto the sand near Kya.

“‘It’s my birthday,’ she told the bird.’” (Page 21)

I’m known at Starbucks as “The guy who stares off into space.” Dear God! That last line! I sat there staring into the past and into today and thanked God for all the people that our grandes have to celebrate them and tell Rachel, Davis, Hannah, how glad they are that she, he, she were born.

©2019 D. Dean Benton      Writer, Wonderer, Gleeful grandfather.