Letter from America: Sports Protest


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Freedom of speech is a democratic right which has been exercised and abused over the course of American history.

This right, while of broad application, is not a total absolute. There are exceptions to the rule that often delightfully coincide with God’s design for the rule of law, such as the prohibition of libel, obscenity and slander, and the freedom to right of privacy.

That being said, freedom of speech is one of the more controversial freedoms. As one of five freedoms expressed in the First Amendment of the United States Constitution, it is something nearly every American knows by heart and can often quote verbatim, if felt necessary.

In recent months, this has led to protests of many kinds, not least those leading up to and following Donald Trump’s presidential inauguration.

Colin Kaepernick

But there has also been another, lesser known protest inviting attention. During the National Football League pre-season, in early August 2016, Colin Kaepernick, quarterback for the San Francisco 49ers, knelt in protest during the singing of the National Anthem.

Traditionally, the crowd and teams stand for the presenting of the American flag and singing of the anthem. It is a way of showing respect for the brave men and women who fought and died to secure the freedoms we have in the United States.

Mr Kaepernick, however, used this occasion to protest against recent racial oppression of African-Americans in the United States by kneeling during the anthem.

Kaepernick had previously sat on the benches during the first two pre-season games, but was encouraged by a former Green Beret, now football player, Nate Boyer to protest in this way. Kaepernick stated: ‘We were talking to [Boyer] about how can we get the message back on track and not take away from the military, not take away from fighting for our country, but keep the focus on what the issues really are.

‘And as we talked about it, we came up with taking a knee. Because there are issues that still need to be addressed, and it was also a way to show more respect to the men and women who fight for this country’ (Mark Sandritter, ‘A timeline of Colin Kaepernick’s protest of the national anthem and those who joined him’, SBNation.com, 6 November 2016).

Kaepernick was eventually spotted by the media on 26 August. His actions caused a huge uproar from the crowds and the social media.

Racial oppression

When asked why he kneeled, Kaepernick told reporters: ‘I’m going to continue to stand with the people that are being oppressed. To me, this is something that has to change. When there’s significant change and I feel that flag represents what it’s supposed to represent, and this country is representing people the way that it’s supposed to, I’ll stand.

‘This stand wasn’t for me. This is because I’m seeing things happen to people that don’t have a voice; people that don’t have a platform to talk and have their voices heard and effect change. So I’m in the position where I can do that and I’m going to do that for people that can’t.

‘It’s something that can unify this team. It’s something that can unify this country. If we have these real conversations that are uncomfortable for a lot of people; if we have these conversations, there’s a better understanding of where both sides are coming from.

‘I have great respect for the men and women that have fought for this country. I have family, I have friends that have gone and fought for this country. And they fight for freedom, they fight for the people, they fight for liberty and justice, for everyone. That’s not happening.

‘People are dying in vain, because this country isn’t holding their end of the bargain up, as far as giving freedom and justice, liberty to everybody. That’s something that’s not happening. I’ve seen videos. I’ve seen circumstances where men and women that have been in the military have come back and been treated unjustly by the country they have fought for, and have been murdered by the country they fought for, on our land. That’s not right’ (Sandritter, Ibid.).

Increasing protest

Since his initial protest, other players have joined him, with some even raising a fist in the manner of Black Power Olympians Tommie Smith and John Carlos.

Robert Quinn, defensive end for the St. Louis Rams, stated his reasons when asked why he raised his fist: ‘[I’m] Just standing up for my rights. Everyone knows the whole situation. Long story short, [Coach Jeff] Fisher asked us to stand. So I respect him enough to do that.

‘But at least to show awareness, raise my fist, show support out there that you have support throughout the league. I didn’t want to try to distract the team; just want to have my right of freedom’ (Nick Wagoner, ‘Colin Kaepernick continues anthem protest; other 49ers, Rams join’, ESPN, 13 September 2016).

Since Kaepernick’s protest, many other professional athletes have joined in taking a knee at the national anthem. With the media highlighting their every move, their actions have gone public and have had an incredible effect on athletes of all ages across the country.

While players and coaches have discussed these actions in the locker room and come to common ground on them, there are some fans and coaches who are less enthusiastic about the athletes stand for the ‘Black Lives Matter’ movement.

When Megan Rapinoe (see picture), a member of the Seattle FC and national women’s soccer team, knelt during the singing of the anthem, during a game in early September 2016, the owner of the team moved the time of the national anthem to a following game without telling the players, so that she wouldn’t kneel during the anthem (Steven Goff, ‘Megan Rapinoe doesn’t get a chance to kneel for national anthem. It was played with teams in locker room’, Washington Post, 7 September 2016). Other professional players have lost paid sponsorship from corporations after kneeling.

Some of the backlash has been less than hospitable. According to an article in The Telegraph, Baptist preacher Allen Joyne stated, ‘If you don’t want to stand for the national anthem, you can line up over there by the fence and let our military personnel take a few shots at you’ (Nick Allen, 18 September 2016). A few high school football players have received racial threats for joining Kaepernick’s kneeling protest.

Covenant College

The protest has even been manifested in Christian universities. In November 2016, six players from the men’s and women’s basketball teams at Covenant College (Chattanooga, TN) kneeled during the anthem.

Berto Dryden, a sophomore at the college, stated he was planning on kneeling even before the basketball season started. But before he could put his plans into action, the new basketball coach, Arte Culver, asked him about it and together they reached an agreement.

Four other players would join him in kneeling and the team agreed to lay their hands on the four players during the anthem. Dryden stated, ‘Rather than putting all attention on me and distract our main goal as a team, now we’re all on the same page. Even for people who aren’t kneeling, we’re all on the same page’. This action got a lot of flack from the college and Christian community at large.

Other students were quoted saying, ‘If you have family in the military, it’s difficult not to get angry. The heart behind it is great. It’s a noble cause. But even if they do it for completely the right reasons, I think what needs to be considered is how it’s perceived’.

Although the protest was never violent or abusive, the subject was brought to the Dean of Students. Sarah Ocando, associate dean stated: ‘We want to figure out how to protect student First Amendment rights. For us, it’s more about making sure students have the freedom to express things’ (Kristie Jaya, ‘Basketball players to kneel during anthem, The Bagpipe, 17 November 2016).


Sometime later, the college made an official statement on the subject. They said that, while they ask students to remain standing for prayer and the National Anthem, they would not bind any student’s conscience to what may be a cultural mandate and not a scriptural mandate. Furthermore, they would work with the students to help them understand the best way to engage in racial reconciliation.

This is by far the most gracious response I have seen regarding the racial ruckus that has embroiled the United States in recent years. While I am of the opinion that we should stand at the singing of the National Anthem, I applaud the students at Covenant College who sought to do so peacefully and graciously — and especially for the manner in which they talked to their coach and to others who had been in the military.

Let us pray that the day will soon come when racial bigotry and hate cease, and Jesus reigns in every heart.

This article was first published for Evangelical Times in April 2017 and shared with their permission. All rights reserved. Subscribe to ET’s newsletter here.


The life and legacy of William Bradford (1590-1657)


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Puritanism has never been a popular ideology for most modern Westerners. Mention the word ‘Puritan’ or ‘Pilgrim Fathers’ to any American and the image comes to mind of a dour, black-garbed, Bible-thumping man. At best, someone might recall it was the Puritans that first made a substantial settlement in New England.

J. I. Packer describes this negative connotation best in his book Quest for godliness: ‘“Puritan” as a name was, in fact, mud from the start. Coined in the early 1560s, it was always a satirical smear word, implying peevishness, censoriousness, conceit and a measure of hypocrisy, over and above its basic implication of religiously motivated discontent with what was seen as Elizabeth’s Laodicean and compromising Church of England’.

However, as both history and Packer beautifully tell us, the Puritans were anything but the aforementioned stereotype. In fact, Americans owe much to the Puritans, for it was their values of individualism, work, education, and democracy that still influence and define Americans to this day.

Pilgrim Fathers

Puritans first arrived in the American Colonies on 21 November 1620 near what is now Plymouth, Massachusetts. Their journey to the New World was long and hard, having faced persecution in England, exile in the Netherlands, and the hard rigours of life on the sea.

Among those who survived the long wintry passage was a man by the name of William Bradford. Although he was not a principal leader of the Pilgrims at the time, he would have a tremendous impact in the new colony and American history through his writings and governorship.

William Bradford was baptised circa March 1590, born to William and Alice Bradford, relatively wealthy landowners near Austerfield, in the West Riding of Yorkshire. By the time William was seven, both his parents had died and he was left to the care of relatives.

The defining moment of his life occurred when he stumbled in on a church service in the village of Scrooby, at about the age of 12. He was shocked by the lack of Anglican rituals and the intensity of the fellowship that they shared. He continued to attend throughout his youth and had become a member of the church by the time he was 17.

At that time, his fellow congregants, known as Separatists, desired to reform the Church of England by completely withdrawing from it. This was a dangerous idea; Separatist leaders were often arrested and imprisoned for such sedition. But Bradford was committed to this reformation and was even fined for his beliefs.

As King James I desired to have the entire congregation imprisoned, Bradford and his Separatist brethren escaped to Amsterdam. He remained in the Netherlands for 12 years, marrying Dorothy May and working as a fustian weaver.

Even though they were relatively safe from the long arm of King James, the Separatists from Scrooby were not altogether welcome in the Netherlands and found life hard and conditions poor. It was at the end of this 12-year period that Bradford and some of the other leaders began planning to embark on a journey to the New World.

Indeed, Bradford was central to this decision and process of planning. If it was not for his financial and logistical input, the Pilgrims would never have come to America. Dorothy Kelso in her biographical account of Bradford writes: ‘Bradford, now 30 years old and married with a young son, was in the thick of the planning.

‘Government permissions, financing, ship hire and provisioning, and a potentially dangerous first stop in England had to be worked out. There were heartaches as well; not everybody could go. The majority of the congregation remained in Holland and with them remained their dearly loved Pastor Robinson’ (Beyond the Pilgrim story, ‘William Bradford’).

Fledgling colony

Originally there were two ships, the Mayflower and Speedwell, but after putting out to sea, the Speedwell was found to not be structurally sound for the long Atlantic voyage. They sailed from Plymouth, England, on 16 September 1620 with 102 souls on board, and after 65 days of sailing sighted the Massachusetts coast.

Their first year in their new ‘Plymouth Colony’ was fraught with disease and death (half the original party died). During that time, William Bradford became the governor of the fledgling colony and helped unite them through their hardships.

By autumn 1621, they had gained new colonists and had a successful harvest. With a joyful celebration the Pilgrims celebrated their first Thanksgiving. Bradford continued to serve (off and on) as governor of the colony for 34 years, until his death in 1657.

His journal Of Plymouth plantation describes their struggles and triumphs as a colony and is a wonderful source of information about the Pilgrim Fathers. It is a wonderful piece of historic literature. However, his greatest legacy was penned just upon arriving at the New World.

Before landing, the men of the Mayflower wrote and signed a contract called the Mayflower Compact. Brief but concise, The compact stated:

‘In the name of God, Amen. We whose names are under-written, the loyal subjects of our dread sovereign lord, King James, by the grace of God, of Great Britain, France, and Ireland King, Defender of the Faith, etc.

‘Having undertaken, for the glory of God, and advancement of the Christian faith, and honour of our King and country, a voyage to plant the first colony in the northern parts of Virginia, do by these presents solemnly and mutually, in the presence of God, and one of another, covenant and combine our selves together into a civil body politic, for our better ordering and preservation and furtherance of the ends aforesaid; and by virtue hereof to enact, constitute, and frame such just and equal laws, ordinances, acts, constitutions and offices, from time to time, as shall be thought most meet and convenient for the general good of the Colony, unto which we promise all due submission and obedience.

‘In witness whereof we have hereunder subscribed our names at Cape Cod, the eleventh of November [New Style, November 21], in the year of the reign of our sovereign lord, King James, of England, France, and Ireland, the eighteenth, and of Scotland the fifty-fourth. Anno Dom. 1620.’

American democracy

This historic document marks one of the fundamental beginnings of American ideals and politics. Ning Kang in his article on Puritan values states: ‘The early Puritanism played a key role in the establishment of American democratic regime. In fact, the Mayflower Compact of 1620 led to the birth of early American democracy.

‘The compact was signed on 11 November 1620 on board the Mayflower. It attempted to establish a temporary government, until a more official one could be drawn up in England that would give them the right to self-govern themselves in New England. Afterwards the “popular sovereignty” concept began spreading among other colonies’ (Puritanism and its impact upon American values, p.150).

Although the idea of popular sovereignty became more widely embraced in the politics of the 1850s, this doctrine was embedded in the minds of the Puritans as they came to the New World.

Being largely congregational in their church polity, their style of church governance was designed for the affairs of a church to be governed locally by its own congregation and elders (as opposed to Anglican polity, which is hierarchical).

This style of polity was also manifested in the way they governed secular matters. They erected a meetinghouse within their first months of being in the colony, from which they worshipped and met to govern the colony.

Social contract

Town Hall meetings continue to this day all over the United States. This philosophy of governance came out of the social contract school of thought, which was espoused by John Locke and Jean-Jacques Rousseau and also drew from the writings of the Reformers.

Bradford was one of the principal signers of this compact and helped draft it. It was signed by the men from the Mayflower, but, strangely, the original copy cannot be found.

In God’s providence, Bradford copied this compact and included it in his journal Of Plymouth plantation, where it is the only extant copy.

This document influenced similar covenants among New England colonies. By the time of the American Revolution, colonists had an inherent belief in the idea of popular sovereignty.

This was so fixed in their minds that one of them would write this well known statement: ‘We hold these truths to be self evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. That to secure these rights, governments are instituted among men, deriving their just powers from the consents of the governed’ (The Declaration of Independence).

Those words echoed the Puritans and gave birth to a new nation. Therefore, Americans have a great reason to thank the Puritans, especially William Bradford.

This article was first published for Evangelical Times in March 2017 and shared with their permission. All rights reserved. Subscribe to ET’s newsletter here.

A very special wedding


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February is a month most Americans equate with romantic, Hallmark-esque dinner dates with your wife or sweetheart, with the cares of the day and the world locked outside. A year ago, on Valentine’s Day, I witnessed the sweetest, most emotional and most real wedding I may ever witness.

The wedding day is finally here, Sunday 14 February 2016, and here comes the bride. Decked in a beautiful, white lacey gown, she strides down the carpeted floor of a fluorescently lit, dull grey conference room, arm in arm with her father, to meet her dashing groom at the other end of the room.

The congregants — about 200 strong — comprising friends, family and some of the nursing staff of Siskin Hospital for Rehabilitation, in which this sacred service is being held, eagerly watch, with tears in their eyes, as the stunning, red-haired bride, Samantha, makes her way down the white carpet toward her dashing groom.

The father-of-the-groom minister stands in the centre, with groomsmen and bridesmaids at his side, but the groom, Peter, remains seated in a wheelchair. His natural beaming grin is absent from his face, as his nerves and physique are under the debilitating power of Guillain-Barré Syndrome.

Those gathered know the battle Peter and Samantha have faced in the last month, and their marriage is about to become a testimony to God’s healing power and steadfast love and faithfulness to them. We will learn what true love and marriage is all about.

‘I thought I had a stroke’

Peter, an assistant coach for the men’s basketball team at Covenant College, on Lookout Mountain in Georgia, was in North Carolina with the team at the end of January 2016 when he suddenly began to feel ill.

What began as a tingling feeling in his extremities soon eclipsed into numbness and exhaustion. Upon returning home to Chattanooga, Tennessee, he fell in his home one night and his face went numb.

Thinking he had a stroke, he checked himself into the local emergency room and was admitted to the intensive care unit (ICU) soon afterwards, as things got worse. Initially, the doctors thought it might be a severe case of mono (glandular fever), but one wise doctor accurately diagnosed it as Guillain-Barre Syndrome (GBS).

According to the Mayo Clinic, GBS ‘is a rare disorder in which your body’s immune system attacks your nerves’. The autoimmune disease attacks the myelin sheath around the nerves, which causes paralysis — as it was doing with Peter Wilkerson.

Peter was hooked up to oxygen, as he could not breathe or swallow without help and had no control over any of his body. After being admitted to the ICU, Peter’s parents and fiancée came to his side from Columbia, South Carolina and Atlanta, Georgia, respectively.

For five days, Peter was in ICU receiving intense treatments to stop the nerve attacks so that he could begin to recover. Friends and family prayed for Peter from all corners of the globe as news broke out of his sudden illness.

Siskin Rehab Hospital

After receiving treatment, Peter was admitted to the stroke ward at Siskin Rehab Hospital in Chattanooga. Peter was undoubtedly the youngest in that ward and the doctors said recovery might take a year, with 6-8 weeks in the hospital, that is, if he could begin to recover.

While nurses and therapists tended to Peter’s medical needs, Peter’s parents continued to stay in Chattanooga and care for their son’s physical needs. Jim, Peter’s father, compared caring for Peter’s condition as one might care for a helpless newborn infant, except that he’s got the body of a 24-year-old. Once able to down platefuls of food, Peter could only eat pureed food, which Jim made for him daily in a food processor.

We really take for granted how much our body does just on its own. Movements such as swallowing, closing your eyelids, speaking, and even smiling were nigh impossible for Peter for nearly two months.

Nerves grow back less than a millimetre a day; recovery was going to be slow. For seven weeks, Peter couldn’t even get out of bed by himself, let alone walk. Peter described it this way: ‘The mental side of it is astronomical. You go from being able to do anything you want to not being able to lift your arm’ (‘Rare disorder strikes two Chattanoogans’, 4 April 2016, The Times Free Press). Peter was fighting an uphill battle, alongside his parents and fiancée, Samantha.

‘You could get married here’

Not only did this catastrophic disorder hamper his health and livelihood as a basketball coach, but it changed his life in regard to his fiancée Samantha.

Samantha and Peter were planning on being married in their hometown of Brunswick, Georgia, on 30 April 2016. Now Peter was looking at a recovery period of a year or more and he couldn’t leave Chattanooga.

Some brides might run at that kind of uphill battle, but Samantha’s godly love for Peter kept her by his side through it all. Peter’s father jokingly suggested to the couple that they could get married in the hospital. So that is exactly what happened!

Samantha had already purchased her dress and asked her bridesmaids if they had done the same. Surprisingly they were all prepared and the date for the wedding was set for Valentine’s Day.

Since the wedding was at such short notice, the majority of those who could make it to the wedding were family and friends from Chattanooga and Atlanta. Samantha and her family and soon to be in-laws decorated the conference room, which was down the hallway from Peter’s room.

Wheelchair wedding

Since Peter’s father was a minister, he agreed to officiate at the wedding. Friends from Peter’s church agreed to play music for the wedding and soon everything was ready that Sunday for the wedding.

As congregants filled the grey-hued room, everything was abuzz with excitement and joy. Peter was decked in his best grey suit and was wheeled down the centre aisle with his father and best man in tow.

After bridesmaids and groomsmen were arrayed at the front of the room, Samantha came down in her beautiful wedding gown to sit beside Peter. As Eric Youngblood, Peter and Samantha’s pastor in Chattanooga, writes in his article ‘The wheelchair wedding’, ‘She would not stand, because he could not stand’.

When Jim gave his charge to the couple, he began by saying, ‘Normally I’d offer a charge to a couple as they enter into this relationship, but today I want to commend them’. Jim commended them for their love for one another, especially in the current trial, and their fervent love and trust in the Lord through those trials.

He ended the homily by saying, ‘If this marriage is starting like this, we just know it’s gonna be good’. When the words were given, ‘I now present to you Mr and Mrs Peter Wilkerson’, they kissed and Samantha rolled Peter back up the aisle in his wheelchair.

Although a smile was absent from his face due to the effects of GBS, you knew that Peter was just as joyful as his bride. Peter and Samantha spent their wedding night there in the hospital and were together for several weeks in hospital as Peter continued to recover.


It is amazing to see what marriage can do to a body. In Peter’s case it gave him incredible strength and drive to recover. God really worked a miracle in Peter’s life as he re-learned to walk and move and recover his former life as a basketball coach.

A month after their wedding day, Peter surprised Samantha by dancing with her in the hospital. Many weeks after the wedding, Peter finally came home and was able to walk, slowly but steadily.

Easter came and Peter and Samantha visited the Wilkersons in Columbia. At that point, Peter was driving again and was able to ride a bike all by himself! Peter returned to Covenant after many long weeks in hospital and worked part-time for a few months. He is now back full-time and has very few symptoms of GBS or of any nerve damage. He is back to his former weight, having lost 30 pounds from the illness.

We can take for granted even the smallest ways our Lord sustains us day by day in our daily movements and habits. But God is our maker and redeemer, and he was glorified through Peter and Samantha’s trial and recovery. What an amazing God we serve!

This article was first published for Evangelical Times in February 2017 and shared with their permission. All rights reserved. Subscribe to ET’s newsletter here.

Robert Burns, Poet of Scotland


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January 25th marks the birthday of Scotland’s greatest poet, Robert Burns. While his personal character was less than laudable, his poetry has influenced many throughout the world. Before Sir Walter Scott brought Scottish culture and romanticism to its current height in the early 19th century, Burns gave birth to the romantic movement in Scotland through his love poems and social and political commentary. Many of the popular Scottish folk songs today (Auld Lang Syne, Ae Fond Kiss, Scots Wha Hae, etc.) all were written or popularized by Burns.

His works span many different genres and gives the reader an insight into the thoughts and life of a Scottish farmer. “To a Mouse” was written as he was plowing in the field:

But, Mousie, thou art no thy lane,
In proving foresight may be vain;
The best-laid schemes o’ mice an ‘men
Gang aft agley,
An’lea’e us nought but grief an’ pain,
For promis’d joy!

Still thou art blest, compar’d wi’ me
The present only toucheth thee:
But, Och! I backward cast my e’e.
On prospects drear!
An’ forward, tho’ I canna see,
I guess an’ fear!

While his romantic poetry and folks songs are among his most famous, Burns also wrote many on the political and social issues of his day. Poems such as “Ballad on the American War”, “Election Ballad” , “Such a Parcel o Rogues in a nation” use the Scots language to speak about political issues. One of his most famous poems speaks of the brotherhood of all men, an idea which was very new and dangerous in his time,

Is there for honest Poverty
That hings his head, an’ a’ that;
The coward slave-we pass him by,
We dare be poor for a’ that!
For a’ that, an’ a’ that.
Our toils obscure an’ a’ that,
The rank is but the guinea’s stamp,
The Man’s the gowd for a’ that.

What though on hamely fare we dine,
Wear hoddin grey, an’ a that;
Gie fools their silks, and knaves their wine;
A Man’s a Man for a’ that:
For a’ that, and a’ that,
Their tinsel show, an’ a’ that;
The honest man, tho’ e’er sae poor,
Is king o’ men for a’ that.

Ye see yon birkie, ca’d a lord,
Wha struts, an’ stares, an’ a’ that;
Tho’ hundreds worship at his word,
He’s but a coof for a’ that:
For a’ that, an’ a’ that,
His ribband, star, an’ a’ that:
The man o’ independent mind
He looks an’ laughs at a’ that.

A prince can mak a belted knight,
A marquis, duke, an’ a’ that;
But an honest man’s abon his might,
Gude faith, he maunna fa’ that!
For a’ that, an’ a’ that,
Their dignities an’ a’ that;
The pith o’ sense, an’ pride o’ worth,
Are higher rank than a’ that.

Then let us pray that come it may,
(As come it will for a’ that,)
That Sense and Worth, o’er a’ the earth,
Shall bear the gree, an’ a’ that.
For a’ that, an’ a’ that,
It’s coming yet for a’ that,
That Man to Man, the world o’er,
Shall brothers be for a’ that.

But why all this fuss over a farmer poet that’s been dead over 200 years? Burns wrote for the common man. His poems highlight many of the issues that he and his fellow Scots faced which helped them express their joy, their sorrow, or their frustration in whatever situation they faced. His use of the Scots language inspired others to use the same and have henceforth kept it alive. He also immortalized many folk songs that would have died out had he not published them. “Auld Lang Syne” is perhaps the most famous Burns song that is still sung around the world every new year. Even great popular artists of the modern era have been influenced by Robert Burns. Bob Dylan once said that Burns’ song “My Love is like a Red, Red Rose” was his greatest lyrical inspiration. Burns’ published works were not only enjoyed in Scotland but were carried abroad. Today you have people who celebrate Burns’ influence in their culture from Jamaica to China.

That is why people celebrate the legacy of Burns on the 25th of January with Burns night. Traditionally a supper is served consisting of haggis, chappit tatties and neeps (mashed potatoes and swede/rutabaga) and the singing and reciting of his poems. As the haggis is brought in, a piper plays “Highland Laddie” and someone will recite Burns’ “Address to the Haggis”:

Fair fa’ your honest, sonsie face,
Great chieftain o’ the pudding-race!
Aboon them a’ yet tak your place,
Painch, tripe, or thairm:
Weel are ye wordy o’a grace
As lang’s my arm.

The groaning trencher there ye fill,
Your hurdies like a distant hill,
Your pin was help to mend a mill
In time o’need,
While thro’ your pores the dews distil
Like amber bead.

His knife see rustic Labour dight,
An’ cut you up wi’ ready sleight,
Trenching your gushing entrails bright,
Like ony ditch;
And then, O what a glorious sight,
Warm-reekin’, rich!

Then, horn for horn, they stretch an’ strive:
Deil tak the hindmost! on they drive,
Till a’ their weel-swall’d kytes belyve
Are bent like drums;
Then auld Guidman, maist like to rive,
Bethankit! hums.

Is there that owre his French ragout
Or olio that wad staw a sow,
Or fricassee wad make her spew
Wi’ perfect sconner,
Looks down wi’ sneering, scornfu’ view
On sic a dinner?

Poor devil! see him owre his trash,
As feckles as wither’d rash,
His spindle shank, a guid whip-lash;
His nieve a nit;
Thro’ blody flood or field to dash,
O how unfit!

But mark the Rustic, haggis-fed,
The trembling earth resounds his tread.
Clap in his walie nieve a blade,
He’ll mak it whissle;
An’ legs an’ arms, an’ hands will sned,
Like taps o’ trissle.

Ye Pow’rs, wha mak mankind your care,
And dish them out their bill o’ fare,
Auld Scotland wants nae skinking ware
That jaups in luggies;
But, if ye wish her gratefu’ prayer
Gie her a haggis!

So if you have Scottish heritage or have enjoyed his poetry, raise a glass tonight in honor of Scotland’s bard and perhaps sing one of his songs. Slainte mhath!

First Inaugural Speech


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In light of today, I thought it fitting to share with you the transcription of the first ever inaugural address by our first President, George Washington.

Fellow Citizens of the Senate and the House of Representatives.

Among the vicissitudes incident to life, no event could have filled me with greater anxieties than that of which the notification was transmitted by your order, and received on the fourteenth day of the present month. On the one hand, I was summoned by my Country, whose voice I can never hear but with veneration and love, from a retreat which I had chosen with the fondest predilection, and, in my flattering hopes, with an immutable decision, as the asylum of my declining years: a retreat which was rendered every day more necessary as well as more dear to me, by the addition of habit to inclination, and of frequent interruptions in my health to the gradual waste committed on it by time. On the other hand, the magnitude and difficulty of the trust to which the voice of my Country called me, being sufficient to awaken in the wisest and most experienced of her citizens, a distrustful scrutiny into his qualifications, could not but overwhelm with dispondence, one, who, inheriting inferior endowments from nature and unpractised in the duties of civil administration, ought to be peculiarly conscious of his own deficiencies. In this conflict of emotions, all I dare aver, is, that it has been my faithful study to collect my duty from a just appreciation of eve ry circumstance, by which it might be affected. All I dare hope, is, that, if in executing this task I have been too much swayed by a grateful remembrance of former instances, or by an affectionate sensibility to this transcendent proof, of the confidence of my fellow-citizens; and have thence too little consulted my incapacity as well as disinclination for the weighty and untried cares before me; my error will be palliated by the motives which misled me, and its consequences be judged by my Country, with some share of the partiality in which they originated.

Such being the impressions under which I have, in obedience to the public summons, repaired to the present station; it would be peculiarly improper to omit in this first official Act, my fervent supplications to that Almighty Being who rules over the Universe, who presides in the Councils of Nations, and whose providential aids can supply every human defect, that his benediction may consecrate to the liberties and happiness of the People of the United States, a Government instituted by themselves for these essential purposes: and may enable every instrument employed in its administration to execute with success, the functions allotted to his charge. In tendering this homage to the Great Author of every public and private good I assure myself that it expresses your sentiments not less than my own; nor those of my fellow-citizens at large, less than either. No People can be bound to acknowledge and adore the invisible hand, which conducts the Affairs of men more than the People of the United States. Every step, by which they have advanced to the character of an independent nation, seems to have been distinguished by some token of providential agency. And in the important revolution just accomplished in the system of their United Government, the tranquil deliberations and voluntary consent of so many distinct communities, from which the event has resulted, cannot be compared with the means by which most Governments have been established, without some return of pious gratitude along with an humble anticipation of the future blessings which the past seem to presage. These reflections, arising out of the present crisis, have forced themselves too strongly on my mind to be suppressed. You will join with me I trust in thinking, that there are none under the influence of which, the proceedings of a new and free Government can more auspiciously commence.

By the article establishing the Executive Department, it is made the duty of the President “to recommend to your consideration, such measures as he shall judge necessary and expedient.” The circumstances under which I now meet you, will acquit me from entering into that subject, farther than to refer to the Great Constitutional Charter under which you are assembled; and which, in defining your powers, designates the objects to which your attention is to be given. It will be more consistent with those circumstances, and far more congenial with the feelings which actuate me, to substitute, in place of a recommendation of particular measures, the tribute that is due to the talents, the rectitude, and the patriotism which adorn the characters selected to devise and adopt them. In these honorable qualifications, I behold the surest pledges, that as on one side, no local prejudices, or attachments; no seperate views, nor party animosities, will misdirect the comprehensive and equal eye which ought to watch over this great assemblage of communities and interests: so, on another, that the foundations of our National policy will be laid in the pure and immutable principles of private morality; and the pre-eminence of a free Government, be exemplified by all the attributes which can win the affections of its Citizens, and command the respect of the world.

I dwell on this prospect with every satisfaction which an ardent love for my Country can inspire: since there is no truth more thoroughly established, than that there exists in the economy and course of nature, an indissoluble union between virtue and happiness, between duty and advantage, between the genuine maxims of an honest and magnanimous policy, and the solid rewards of public prosperity and felicity: Since we ought to be no less persuaded that the propitious smiles of Heaven, can never be expected on a nation that disregards the eternal rules of order and right, which Heaven itself has ordained: And since the preservation of the sacred fire of liberty, and the destiny of the Republican model of Government, are justly considered as deeply, perhaps as finally staked, on the experiment entrusted to the hands of the American people.

Besides the ordinary objects submitted to your care, it will remain with your judgment to decide, how far an exercise of the occasional power delegated by the Fifth article of the Constitution is rendered expedient at the present juncture by the nature of objections which have been urged against the System, or by the degree of inquietude which has given birth to them. Instead of undertaking particular recommendations on this subject, in which I could be guided by no lights derived from official opportunities, I shall again give way to my entire confidence in your discernment and pursuit of the public good: For I assure myself that whilst you carefully avoid every alteration which might endanger the benefits of an United and effective Government, or which ought to await the future lessons of experience; a reverence for the characteristic rights of freemen, and a regard for the public harmony, will sufficiently influence your deliberations on the question how far the former can be more impregnably fortified, or the latter be safely and advantageously promoted.

To the preceeding observations I have one to add, which will be most properly addressed to the House of Representatives. It concerns myself, and will therefore be as brief as possible. When I was first honoured with a call into the Service of my Country, then on the eve of an arduous struggle for its liberties, the light in which I contemplated my duty required that I should renounce every pecuniary compensation. From this resolution I have in no instance departed. And being still under the impressions which produced it, I must decline as inapplicable to myself, any share in the personal emoluments, which may be indispensably included in a permanent provision for the Executive Department; and must accordingly pray that the pecuniary estimates for the Station in which I am placed, may, during my continuance in it, be limited to such actual expenditures as the public good may be thought to require.

Having thus imported to you my sentiments, as they have been awakened by the occasion which brings us together, I shall take my present leave; but not without resorting once more to the benign parent of the human race, in humble supplication that since he has been pleased to favour the American people, with opportunities for deliberating in perfect tranquility, and dispositions for deciding with unparellelled unanimity on a form of Government, for the security of their Union, and the advancement of their happiness; so his divine blessing may be equally conspicuous in the enlarged views, the temperate consultations, and the wise measures on which the success of this Government must depend.

Thoughts on the Inauguration of Donald Trump


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No matter how you feel about the soon-to-be 45th President of these United States, his inauguration is an historic event. The American public and Electoral College have elected someone who is not your typical Washington professional politician. Whether he’s capable of serving in this distinguished role has yet to be seen but, all the same, Donald Trump is soon to be our president. What can we do? Our country is at a tipping point, broiled in confusion, anger, and division…”the [country] stands on the edge of a knife, stray but a little and it will fail…to the ruin of all”. Yet as the following line poses so eloquently: “yet hope remains…”

Fellow Americans there is hope for us, hope beyond measure. It does not rest in a President or his Cabinet. It does not rest in democracy or republican values. It does not rest in free healthcare or free education or free press. Our only hope rests in believing in Jesus Christ, the Son of God who became man to take upon himself the wrath of God which we justly deserve. He fulfilled the law’s righteous demands , perfectly, and defeated sin and death on the cross. “But he was pierced for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with his wounds we are healed (Isaiah 53:5)”. But our greatest hope does not lie in a man who was killed for our sake, otherwise the victory would not be complete. No, Jesus Christ was raised from the dead for your sake, for all who would believe. That in Him we may have life in his name. The cares and worries of this life pale in comparison to the eternal hope that awaits us. 

So what does this hope mean in light of today? It means we need not fear anything for God does indeed set rulers in their place and deposes them (Daniel 2:21). God is in the Heavens and does everything that he pleases (Ps 115:3). Nothing escapes his knowledge and in that we can trust. He has put Donald Trump in this office for a special reason and we must trust his judgement. So how then should we treat our new President? The Apostle Paul gives very good instruction in Romans 13:

1Let every person be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God. 2Therefore whoever resists the authorities resists what God has appointed, and those who resist will incur judgment.3For rulers are not a terror to good conduct, but to bad. Would you have no fear of the one who is in authority? Then do what is good, and you will receive his approval, 4for he is God’s servant for your good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for he does not bear the sword in vain. For he is the servant of God, an avenger who carries out God’s wrath on the wrongdoer. 5Therefore one must be in subjection, not only to avoid God’s wrath but also for the sake of conscience. 6For because of this you also pay taxes, for the authorities are ministers of God, attending to this very thing. 7Pay to all what is owed to them: taxes to whom taxes are owed, revenue to whom revenue is owed, respect to whom respect is owed, honor to whom honor is owed. (Romans 13:1-7)

Paul also tells us to pray for our leaders:

First of all, then, I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for all people, 2for kings and all who are in high positions, that we may lead a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way. 3This is good, and it is pleasing in the sight of God our Savior, 4who desires all people to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth. 5For there is one God, and there is one mediator between God and men, the mana Christ Jesus, 6who gave himself as a ransom for all, which is the testimony given at the proper time.  (1 Tim 2:1-6)

So let us pray for our new President that he will seek the Lord, be humble and wise in his governing, and seek to enact just laws for our good. Let us also seek to love one another, not matter how different we may be or how different our politics may be. And if you are not believing that Jesus is the One, True and Living God, that he alone can save, that he died, was buried, and was raised for you, then I urge you to repent of your sins and believe in Jesus as your Saviour.


75th Anniversary of the Attack on Pearl Harbor


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Just over 75 years ago, on 7 December 1941, 353 Japanese fighter planes, torpedo planes and bombers attacked the United States at Pearl Harbour, Hawaii.

In a matter of 110 minutes, the Japanese had destroyed 188 aircraft and damaged eight battleships (sinking four), and sank three cruisers, three destroyers, an anti-aircraft training ship and a minelayer.

Over 2,000 American servicemen were killed and over 1,100 were wounded in one of the most horrifying attacks on America. It was one of several coordinated attacks throughout the Pacific that sought to prevent the United States hindering Japan’s aggressive expansion in the Far East.

Infamous attack

While the attack was catastrophic and sudden, it did not have its desired effect. Rather, it galvanised the United States into becoming fully involved in World War II, in both the European and Pacific theatres. As President Franklin D. Roosevelt so aptly said, it was ‘a date which will live in infamy’ (‘Infamy’ speech, 8 December 1941).

Japan’s attack on the stronghold of the American navy was not an overnight affair. Preparations for war had begun nearly a year earlier, and planning this attack in October 1941.

Admiral Isoroku Yamamoto was the mastermind behind it and, with the help of Admiral Minoru Genda, based his plan largely on the British air attack on the Italian fleet at Taranto, in 1940. At first, his plan was opposed by his staff and other high command officers. But eventually he convinced the naval general staff of the plan’s expediency, and it was finalised by 5 November. (‘Planning Pearl Harbor’, David C. Evans, Hoover digest, 4/30/98).

On the morning of Sunday, 7 December 1941, the task force of the Imperial Japanese Fleet, comprising six aircraft carriers with 408 aircraft, stopped just northwest of Oahu, Hawaii. The US did detect their approach, but the first wave of Japanese aircraft were thought to be American B-17 bombers.

Battleships targeted

At 7.48am the Japanese commenced attack. Yamamoto believed America’s battleships to be the most vital to their navy, so they were targeted first. They sat in the harbour’s shallow water, so torpedoes used were specifically designed to operate in shallow water.

Out of 49 bombs dropped on the battleships, only eight made contact with their intended targets, while the torpedoes did the rest of the damage. One bomb made a direct hit on the magazine in the USS Arizona. This caused nearly half the deaths that day.

As bombs and bullets rained from the skies, American servicemen were called to general quarters. Although most American guns and planes were not in readiness for defence, they responded quickly to the air raid alarm and did make a stand.

Japanese dive bombers not only destroyed major ships in the harbour, but also destroyed hundreds of American aircraft, making air-to-air combat nearly impossible. Only eight American pilots were able to take to the skies. They succeeded in downing one Japanese aircraft.

The second wave of Japanese aircraft came at 9.00am and met more resistance than the first wave, but still successfully bombed what was left of Pearl Harbour. After the attack was over, ships lay sunk or severely crippled and the Japanese returned to their carriers, having lost only 64 men.

Although they succeeded in taking the American forces by complete surprise, their initial goal of destroying American aircraft carriers was not successful. Furthermore, the oilfields and repair yards were left unharmed.

The United States declared war on Japan and her allies the following day. The attack on Pearl Harbour had stirred the hearts of Americans, like nothing else, and would serve as powerful propaganda against the Japanese.

Mitsuo Fuchida

One of the principal leaders in the Japanese attack was Captain Mitsuo Fuchida. Fuchida was a renowned Japanese airman, with perhaps more flight experience than anyone in the Imperial Japanese Navy. He had enlisted at 18 and, by 1941, was a competent instructor in horizontal bombing and commander of the air group on the Akagi.

As Fuchida led the first wave of airmen in their attack on Pearl Harbour, he is the one who gave the order to his radioman to transmit to the Akagi the infamous words, ‘Tora! Tora! Tora!’

Fuchida described that day as ‘the most thrilling exploit of my career. Ever since I had heard of my country’s winning the Russo-Japanese War in 1905, I had dreamed of becoming an admiral like Admiral Togo, our commander-in-chief in the decisive Battle of the Japan Sea’.

As the war raged on and the Allies neared victory, Fuchida was troubled by thought of a Japanese surrender. He wanted to fight to the last man. He was in Hiroshima the day before the atom bomb fell, but was called back to Tokyo for an important meeting.

By the providence of God, Fuchida was not in the city during that massive attack and never succumbed to radiation poisoning, even though he was instructed to assess the damage in Hiroshima (everyone else in the assessment team died from radiation poisoning).

After Japan’s surrender, its army and navy were disbanded and Fuchida was called to testify in war crime trials. He was angered by these demands, thinking it was the victor’s way of boasting. He firmly believed the Americans had treated Japanese POWs unjustly.

He met an old friend who had been a POW and asked him for evidence to support his view. His friend, Kazuo Kanegasaki, told him that he and the other Japanese prisoners had been given excellent care, especially at the hand of Peggy Covell, whose missionary parents had been martyred by Japanese soldiers.

Her parents had prayed for their executioners, just before they were beheaded. Fuchida asked Kanegasaki why she had returned and taken such care of the Japanese. Kanegasaki told him it was because Japanese soldiers had killed her parents. Fuchida and his friend were bewildered by this, since they both believed in Bushido (teaching, among other things, that virtue requires revenge, to prove loyalty to a loved one whose honour has been disgraced).

Jacob DeShazer

Fuchida saw no rationale for Peggy’s forgiveness or any higher obligation to love someone, especially an enemy. He returned to Tokyo perplexed and curious about this Christian god.

While in Tokyo (1948) he was handed a tract by a Westerner at the train station. The tract was entitled I was a prisoner in Japan. It told the story of an American pilot (Jacob DeShazer) who was taken prisoner in China by the Japanese, sometime after participating in the famous ‘Doolittle’ air raid on Tokyo (April 1942). DeShazer had come to Christ while in the POW camp. Initially he had great hatred for his captors, until he began reading the Scriptures.

Like Covell, DeShazer had a passion to share the love of Christ with the Japanese and returned to became a missionary in Japan. Fuchida describes his reaction: ‘What I read was the fascinating episode which eventually changed my life … The peaceful motivation I had read about was exactly what I was seeking. Since the American had found it in the Bible, I decided to purchase one myself, despite my traditionally Buddhist heritage’.

Upon reading the Scriptures, especially Luke 23:34, Fuchida found the peace and love of Christ that he longed for and submitted his life to Christ. ‘Right at that moment, I seemed to meet Jesus for the first time. I understood the meaning of his death as a substitute for my wickedness, and so in prayer, I requested him to forgive my sins and change me from a bitter, disillusioned ex-pilot into a well-balanced Christian, with purpose in living’.


Fuchida spent the remainder of his life sharing the gospel in Japan and throughout the Far East. He stated: ‘Though my country has the highest literacy rate in the world, education has not brought salvation. Peace and freedom, both national and personal, come only through an encounter with Jesus Christ’.

Fuchida met DeShazer in May 1950 and they embraced as brothers in Christ. Fuchida went on to found a missions’ association and wrote and co-wrote many books throughout the remainder of his life. He was fully active in evangelism until his death, on 30 May 1976.

He wrote these words in 1953: ‘I would give anything to retract my actions of twenty-nine years ago at Pearl Harbor, but it is impossible. Instead, I now work at striking the death-blow to the basic hatred which infests the human heart and causes such tragedies. And that hatred cannot be uprooted without assistance from Jesus Christ.

‘He is the only one who was powerful enough to change my life and inspire it with his thoughts. He was the only answer to Jake DeShazer’s tormented life. He is the only answer for young people today’.

This article was first published for Evangelical Times in January 2017 and shared with their permission. All rights reserved. Subscribe to ET’s newsletter here.

Scots Irish Influences in Steve Earle’s Copperhead Road

There are times when thoughts pop into one’s head that should be written down…they say for posterity’s sake. This “note” may not merit such an epithet as an heirloom but it struck me as interesting.

I thought I would write a few thoughts about songs I’ve listened to. It might seem strange for a preacher’s kid to start off with this one but if you’ve seen my red hair, you know why.

Scots Irish Influences in Steve Earle’s Copperhead Road

Country rock was a thing of the 80s and some vestiges of its ballads and epic tones linger on with Zac Brown Band and Chris Stapleton. It’s hard to think of that music being anything other than American.  Steve Earle was a pioneer of the genre and his album and song “Copperhead Road” bring an an interesting twist to country rock. While the songs on the album are steeped in hard rock and “left-wing politics”, the style and themes of the music bring out some of American music’s oldest ingredients–the influence of the Scots Irish.

Generally speaking, country music, bluegrass, and old-time music draw heavily from the Scots Irish, especially in the case of material. The Scots Irish not only brought their famous fiddles with them to the New World but they also brought their ballads. A ballad, simply put, is a story set to music. They recount the life of workers, outlaws, heroes, and other such blue-collar folks. These ballads were often melancholy in nature and those influences certainly show up in bluegrass and country music. Steve Earle’s Copperhead Road is certainly a ballad; a ballad about outlaws, family, and a hard life.

The song highlights a family in the hills of East Tennessee; they were poor and made their money making and bootlegging corn liquor. With Johnson County being a “dry” county, the Pettimores were often on the wrong side of the law. The main character is the third in a string of John Lee Pettimores but he wants a different life from his father and grandfather. He wants to get out of the poor hard life of the hills and volunteers for the Army during the Vietnam War. He gets a taste of war and finds some familiarity in the tactics of the Viet Cong. He also gets the idea of going back home and improving the “family business”. He starts growing maijuana in the hills and uses Viet Cong tactics to outwit the DEA.

If you know the history of the Scots Irish and their influence in the backcountry, you know how this song fits in. The Scots Irish have a intense loyalty to family, a strong dislike for government control, and are fierce fighters. The Pettimores seem to live up to that:

Everybody knew that he made moonshine
Now the revenue man wanted Grandaddy bad
He headed up the holler with everything he had
It’s before my time but I’ve been told
He never came back from Copperhead Road
Now Daddy ran the whiskey in a big block Dodge
Bought it at an auction at the Mason’s Lodge
Johnson County Sheriff painted on the side
Just shot a coat of primer then he looked inside
Well him and my uncle tore that engine down
I still remember that rumblin’ sound
Well the sheriff came around in the middle of the night
Heard mama cryin’, knew something wasn’t right
He was headed down to Knoxville with the weekly load
You could smell the whiskey burnin’ down Copperhead Road

The culture of moonshining and bootlegging is certainly a Scots Irish tradition. Just after the American Revolution, there was a Whiskey Rebellion where the government imposed taxes on farmers selling corn liquor. Infinitely clever and thrifty, the settlers of the backcountry along the Appalachian Mountains found it was more lucrative to turn corn into moonshine and ship it into town than the grain itself. It wasn’t taxed like other liquors until the American government under Washington tried to enforce it on corn whisky. The settlers, mostly Scots Irish in Pennsylvania and Virginia, rebelled at this and the Federal Army was sent to enforce the law.

Not only are the lyrics and story of the song influenced by the Scots Irish but the intro to the song uses a keyboard to imitate the sound of a bagpipe. The “drone” sound continues throughout the song; a key feature in Scottish pipe and fiddle music. If Steve Earle was trying to bring the Scots Irish heritage to the forefront of American music, he did an excellent job.


The 2016 Presidential Election


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November 2016

One of the fundamental privileges of belonging to a democratic nation is being able to vote. Our desire, especially as Christian citizens, is to make an impact on our nation and culture through that vote.

We want to have good laws passed, and just rulers and judges put in places of authority, so that we and our children can enjoy peace and prosperity in our country.

That being said, the 2016 presidential election has been a bewildering and perplexing thing to watch, and a more dreadful one to think about. As I voted in the Republican primaries in June, I hoped that someone more ‘conventional’ would become the primary candidate.

Donald Trump’s success in becoming the Republican candidate has left many conservatives in surprise and shock. To be honest, most Americans probably thought it was some kind of joke. Hillary Clinton’s success has not been as big a surprise, but I never dreamed in my wildest dreams that it would be a choice between Clinton or Trump.

As a conservative Christian, it’s one of those situations where you ask yourself, ‘How do I vote for the lesser of two evils?’ As election time comes (8 November), how do I, as a Christian, vote, when I have no desire to vote for either candidate; and possibly wrestle with the idea that one of the two may be the lesser of two evils?

The ‘miracle’ of Trump

The ‘miracle’ (if you could even use that term) of Donald Trump’s success has boggled the minds of most here in America. His movement from what seemed a theatrical stunt to having real potential for becoming President is astounding in the history of the United States and 21st century politics.

But, looking at it bluntly, there’s no magical reason why he’s in the position he is now. While he may be immensely popular with many for his ‘America is Number One’ mantra and his ‘honest’, un-politically correct statements and policies, his success is largely due to his wealth.

According to POLITICO, Mr Trump has a net value of $10 billion and a yearly income of $557 million (Ben White, POLITICO, 31 May 2016). Fortune Magazine estimated that it takes roughly $10 million just to get a presidential campaign started, and then, by the time you’ve gone through the first four states on the campaign trail, you’ve spent $149 million (Fortune.com, 3/28/15). As you probably realised, this is ‘small change’ for the multi-billionaire businessman.

This financial backing has gone hand in hand with his popularity as an untypical politician — someone who isn’t part of the Washington political career scene. Writer Robert Montgomerie explains Mr. Trump’s popularity this way: ‘The majority of Americans, having that one crass and vulgar relative with an endless supply of flatulence jokes and odd charisma, aren’t entirely repulsed by this caricature, but are rather drawn to him.

‘Trump embodies a middle America that is uninterested in the puritanesque self-righteousness of the social justice warrior or similar liberal. He sanctions the fear they have of the Mexican who picks the produce they buy in the grocery store and hangs their dry wall for rock bottom wages.

‘In any case, and perhaps of more importance, Donald Trump has been on television, and certainly a man paid millions for uttering the words, “You’re fired”, and locking up with Vince McMahon [a wrestler] at Summerslam [a professional wrestling event], has something positive to bring to Washington, DC. He is a performer and middle America is in love with him’ (The megalomaniacal Donald Trump and The art of the deal).

Lesser evil?

You may be asking why I would use the ‘lesser of two evils’ adage in speaking about Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump. Who’s more evil? Comparatively speaking, they are both equally ‘evil’. Anyone is, if they are not in Christ.

Many would claim that either candidate is ‘the lesser of two evils’ because of the political ideals or policies they are willing to put up with. Generally speaking, conservative Christians do not vote for Hillary Clinton, because of her stand on abortion and healthcare. Clinton’s views and policies are definitely ‘left-wing’, and conservative American Christians typically have not voted in favour of someone on that platform.

Sadly, a conservative American Christian is more likely to vote for a brazen adulterer who has a stringent stance on immigration, brings more industries home, limits central government, and spends more on defence than someone who is a self-proclaimed liberal with progressive views on healthcare and education.

Many Christians have written back and forth on whether we should vote, or who we might vote for. Franklin Graham said: ‘Vote for the candidates that best support biblical truth and biblical values … In some races, it may not always be clear. You may have to hold your nose and choose of the two’ (quote from ‘Should Christians vote for Donald Trump’, Todd Starnes, Fox News.com, 12 May 2016).

Influential conservatives like Mike Huckabee, Eric Metaxas, Samuel Rodriguez and Richard Land have also voiced that Christians should and can vote for Trump. Others are planning to vote for a third party candidate. Still others might stay home and not vote.

However, at the time of writing, that determined right-wing support is floundering somewhat. Since 7 October, videos and interviews have brought to the limelight at least six women who allege past sexual assault by Mr Trump. He has flatly denied all this, but the women have given graphic detail. At this point, ‘nearly 20 per cent of the 331 current Republican governors, senators and house members have renounced their party’s nominee’ (David Johnson, Chris Wilson, TIME, 12 October). Other Republicans have stated they would accept his apology and would continue to support him (Ibid).

What should we do? Prayer for wisdom and guidance should be our first action. We must also trust God, that he knows all things and does not sit in the heavens wringing his hands with worry over the present political or cultural climate of America (or Britain).

God is in control and does everything that he pleases (Psalm 115:3). He is the one who has put the rulers in their places and commanded us to pray for them (Romans 13; 1 Timothy 2:2).

Then we are to act. Not voting is ‘voting’ (from one perspective), and I would say that that is perhaps a worse option than voting for either candidate. Some might argue that voting for a third party candidate is a waste of your vote, since they probably won’t make a huge impact.

Christ’s kingdom

Whatever an American Christian’s decision, it is up to them to vote responsibly and out of conscience. I don’t think I could vote for Clinton or Trump with a clear conscience, certainly less so with Clinton. Please continue to pray for your brothers and sisters in America who face a difficult choice in November.

Toward the earlier part of this year, I thought about the presidential election as I was driving home from work and recorded a thought on my phone. I compared the way that American Christians prayed and pined for the ‘right’ president was the same way the Jews desired a political Messiah during Jesus’ lifetime. They wanted a political Messiah to redeem them nationally from the Romans and serve their own desires for their agenda.

While the desire for freedom to worship, the prohibition of abortion and more freedom for Christians are not bad desires, they can become an end in and of themselves and therefore become our gods.

Our God is in the heavens and our home is not of this earth. We have been made into new creations in Christ. We are no longer our own, but have been bought with a price. I think our fears and worries in regard to the current political climate are often tied to our view of our own lives.

But we must fix our gaze heavenward and trust God, not fearing those who hate us, or evil rulers that may take away our freedoms. We have a sure hope and our goal should be to spread that hope abroad, no matter what happens politically. I hope this thought is as encouraging to you as it is to me.

This article was first published for Evangelical Times in November 2016 and shared with their permission. All rights reserved. Subscribe to ET’s newsletter here.

Rural American Congregational Singing


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Over the last few hundred years since the American Revolution, ecclesiastical music and singing in America have not changed as much as one might think.

Many of the colonies were founded for religious freedom, especially New England, where the Pilgrim Fathers and Puritans settled. During that time, the foundation for American church music and singing were laid in liturgy, psalmody and hymnody brought from Europe, especially England and Scotland.

Many of the denominations in the United Kingdom had their counterparts in America and we sing many of the same hymns. For the most part, modern day American church music is not too different from that found in British churches.

However, new kinds of singing arose in the rural backwaters of America, both in white and African American communities: singing that was largely different from the music found across Great Britain, though some had their origins there.

Line singing

One of those forms of congregational singing is known as ‘line singing’ and is used among white, black and Native American congregations in the southern and western regions of the country.

In its most basic form, a precentor chants the first line of a hymn or psalm. The song is then sung by the congregation in a dirge-like but impassioned manner without musical accompaniment.

One scholar describes it this way: ‘[As] is usual in oral tradition, the tunes were altered according to the individual singer’s interpretation and abilities. This style of singing featured extremely slow tempos, with notes added to the melody by each individual singer.

‘In addition, since the singing was unaccompanied, people who were not sure of the melody would wait until the leaders sang the next note before joining them’ (The regular singing controversy, Linda Ruggles).

While this form of singing was once popular during the 16th-18th centuries in Europe, it is now only practiced in Europe by Gaelic Presbyterian churches in the Outer Hebrides.

Many of the Gaels and other British emigrants first brought line singing to the American colonies. This form was widely adopted across the colonies, from Plymouth to the Carolinas. The Scots migrated in the 17th and 18th centuries to the American colonies and took their Gaelic Psalm singing with them and taught it, not only to their children, but also their slaves.

While the use of hymnals structured the main form of hymnody in America in the 19th century, more remote churches in the south-eastern United States still used line singing in both white and black churches.

Initially, slaves sang in Gaelic along with their masters, but it did not take much time (though no one really knows when) before the use of Gaelic faded out in American churches. However, the form of singing still was passed on and each denomination had its own variation.

Cultural connections

Professor Willie Ruff, a renowned jazz musician in his own right, researched extensively the connection between African American line singing and Gaelic line singing. He also found white congregations in Kentucky that did the same type of singing and brought them together for a conference at Yale University (‘The line between Gaelic psalm singing and American music’, willieruff.com).

The 2005 conference featured the Sipsey River Primitive Baptist church from Alabama, the Indian Bottom Old Regular Baptists from south-eastern Kentucky, and the Free Church Psalm Singers from the Isle of Lewis, along with many other professors and speakers.

Their music blended marvellously, as there were many similarities between the tunes they used. Even some of the hymns sung by the Alabama and Kentucky churches were the same. Later, someone brought to Prof. Ruff’s attention that this same style of singing was done among the Creek Indians.

During the time of the ‘Trail of Tears’ (forced relocations of Indian nations in the United States, following the Indian Removal Act of 1830), many Indians in the South came to Christ, and some, having intermarried with Scots, learned to line sing the Psalms in their own language and took it with them to what is now Oklahoma.

So, in 2007, Ruff initiated another conference, which featured the African American line singers, the Kentucky line singers and the Creek Indian line singers.

Once again, the singing was very similar between the three congregations and great fellowship was had. When asked about his theory that African American line singing came from Scotland, Ruff replied, ‘We as black Americans have lived under a misconception. Our cultural roots are more Afro-Gaelic than Afro-American. Just look at the Harlem phone book, it’s more like the book for North Uist.

‘We got our names from our slave masters; we got our religion from slave masters, and we got our blood from slave masters (‘Black music from Scotland’, Scotsman newspaper, 31 August 2003)’.

This remarkable style of music is still practiced in the South, though it does not have a large following.

Sacred harp

‘Sacred harp’ singing is another type of a cappella rural church singing that really did originate in the American colonies.

While line singing is a call-and-response sort of singing, sacred harp or shaped note singing is more choral in nature. While the origin of shaped notes is much older than the American colonies, the use of it as church music started in the colonies with the Bay Psalm Book, written in 1698.

Shaped note singing uses a specific type of notation in the hymn or Psalm book, where the notes are not merely round dots on the staff, but take the shape of squares, triangles and diamonds as well.

While shaped note singing may have been widespread throughout the eastern US at one point, it soon became almost extinct in the northern US, due to Lowell Mason’s better music movement. However, churches in the South were still taken with shaped note singing, particularly in rural areas, and continued to use shaped note singing.

The Sacred Harp was a hymn book first printed in 1844 that uses a four-note system (fa, sol, la, mi). Churches would have singing schools, where the congregants would come and learn to read the music and share life and fellowship together.

Sacred harp singing begins with singers seated or standing in a hollow square, with one member standing in the middle to lead. The square is arranged in alto, treble, tenor and bass sections. A leader will stand in the centre and guide the congregation through the song, with the entire group singing together.

This style of singing is democratic and singers take turns leading in song. He or she will call out the number of the hymn from the book and then sing up the scale to find the right pitch to start the hymn.

Everyone sings their own part through, by actually singing out the notes ‘fa, sol, la, mi’. Then the congregation will sing out the words to the hymn in English, having sung the tune once before. If you listen to sacred harp music, you will recognise well known hymns, tunes, and metres, as well as many unfamiliar ones.

It is also interesting to note that The Sacred Harp book does contain many more hymns about heaven than most hymnals I have sung out of, which is pleasing.

Heavenly worship

Having been to one of these singing schools, it is quite an impressive and fun experience. This type of singing is still fairly widespread among Primitive Baptist churches, some Southern Baptist churches, Churches of Christ, and some Pentecostal churches in the South.

Both line singing and sacred harp singing, while not commonplace, have a rich heritage worth preserving and participating in. Singing praises to God is, and should be, one of most joyous experiences for the Christian. The Scriptures are full of songs to the Lord, and we even have a songbook (the Psalter) printed within its very midst!

From the time of temple worship to the present day, God has ordained singing as a way of offering praise and thanksgiving and giving him all the glory. And since those ancient days, as the church has grown and spread throughout the world, brothers and sisters in Christ lift their voices in their own way to praise God.

It is eye opening to go to a different culture and sing praises to God in that culture, whether Creek, Gaelic or English. It is a beautiful foretaste of what it may be like in heaven, when peoples from all cultures and languages join in song (Revelation 7:9-10).

Farewell, vain world! I’m going home!

My Saviour smiles and bids me come,

And I don’t care to stay here long!


Sweet angels beckon me away,

To sing God’s praise in endless day,

And I don’t care to stay here long!


Right up yonder, Christians, away up yonder;

Oh, yes, my Lord, for I don’t care to stay here long.

(Hymn 282, The Sacred Harp)

This article was first published for Evangelical Times in October 2016 and shared with their permission. All rights reserved. Subscribe to ET’s newsletter here.