Friday, August 27

Thomas Nelson

Thomas Nelson is America's largest publisher of Bibles and Evangelical Christian literature. But few people realize that the company is not entirely home-grown (I'll save Sam Moore's amazing Horatio Alger saga for another day). In fact, it has a remarkable Scottish legacy that, at the beginning of the twentieth century, brought together two of the most interesting and prodigiously successful men in the history of English language publishing: John Buchan (1875-1940) and Thomas Nelson (1874-1917).

Like the plot in one of his best-selling novels, the life of John Buchan was full of improbable adventures and prodigious achievements. He was one of the most accomplished men of the twentieth century-he was by turns a successful barrister, a respected scholar, a popular journalist, a trusted diplomat, a prolific author, an efficient colonial administrator, an innovative publisher, a progressive politician, a relentless reformer, and an active churchman. Best known for his historical romances and thrilling spy novels--he practically invented the genre with books like The Thirty Nine Steps, Greenmantle, and Mr. Standfast--he was also the author of more than a hundred non-fiction works, including an authoritative multi-volume history of the First World War and biographies of Oliver Cromwell, Caesar Augustus, Lord Montrose, and Walter Scott.

He was born in Scotland on August 26, 1875, the eldest son of a minister in the Presbyterian Free Church. He was of regal Scottish stock--a Countess of Buchan had crowned Robert the Bruce, an Earl of Buchan had avenged Joan of Arc as Constable of France, a Buchan of Auchmacoy had fallen at Flodden beside the King, and another had led the Jacobite remnant after the death of Dundee--but it was his early years in the strict Calvinistic manse that would shape his worldview and stimulate his imagination for the rest of his life. Following a brilliant academic career at the University of Glasgow he transferred to Oxford.

It was there that he first met Tommie Nelson. The young Nelson was an impressive fellow-Scot, scion of the great Edinburgh publishing enterprise founded by his grandfather. By all accounts he was a man destined for great things. According to Buchan's autobiography, Nelson was a remarkable man and a remarkable friend: “It is not easy to draw on a little canvas the man whose nature is large and central and human, without cranks or oddities. The very simplicity and wholesomeness of such souls defy an easy summary, for they are as spacious in their effect as daylight or summer. Often we remember friends by a gesture, or a trick of expression, or by a favorite phrase, or some nicety of manner. These were trivial things in our friendship, but they spring first to the mind in the act of recollection. But with Tommie Nelson I do not find myself thinking of such idiosyncrasies. I can recall many mannerisms of his, but it is only by an effort of thought, for they do not run to meet the memory. His presence warmed and lit up so big a region of life that in thinking of him one is overwhelmed by the multitude of things that he made better by simply existing among them. If you remove a fire from a hearth, you will remember the look, not so much of the blaze itself as of the whole room in its pleasant glow.”

Nelson was the captain of the Oxford rugby team, president of the Scottish academic club, and like Buchan, a prolific reader and writer. He was an avid sportsman, again like Buchan, and a brilliant student. His piety, grace, and rugged good humor made him “the most popular man in the university.”

Following their four years together at Oxford, the two men went their separate ways--Nelson back to Edinburgh to join the family publishing business and Buchan to a varied career in journalism and civic affairs. Nevertheless, the two men often found opportunities to renew their intimate friendship--they vacationed together, wrote frequently, and whenever both were in London, whiled away many hours together in conversation and fellowship. The called their little fellowship the "Standfast Fraternity."

Always interested in politics, Buchan accepted an invitation to join the staff of Lord Milner, High Commissioner of South Africa following the Boer War. His efficient administrative reforms earned him a trusted place in His Majesty's court and his foreign dispatches earned him renown as one of the British Empire's finest correspondents.

Following his tenure in the foreign service he was offered lucrative posts at both the Nelson family firm and of the international news service Reuters. He naturally chose to go to work with his old friend. Later he would assert that those were the happiest years of his life. It was then that Buchan began his writing career in earnest, publishing several highly acclaimed novels and historical studies.

When war broke out in Europe those halcyon days came to an end. Both men set aside their wide-ranging pursuits to enter the military--Buchan joined British Intelligence Corps as a department director; Nelson Joined the tank corps. They were able to see each other several times during the course of the war, and each time afforded them immeasurable encouragement and refreshment. Alas, those happy times were cut off when on the last day of the fierce Battle of Arras Nelson was killed by a long-range shell across the German lines.

All of Scotland was grief-stricken. As his beloved friend would later recall: “His death made a bigger hole in the life of Scotland than that of any other man of his years. He was a rare being because he was so superbly normal, so wholly in tune with ordinary humanity, and therefore fitted to help in the difficult but not desperate life of man. In the case of others we might regret the premature loss of some peculiar talent; with Tommie we mourned especially the loss of a talent for living worthily and helping others to do likewise. It is the kind of great loss least easy to forget, and yet one which soon comes to be contemplated without pain, for he had succeeded most fully in life.”

In the years that followed, Buchan would continue to be inspired--and even spurred on to greater accomplishment--by the memory of his dear friend who he described as “the Christian statesman extraordinaire.”

After the First World War he was elected to Parliament representing the Scottish Universities, a position he held until 1935. Meanwhile he resumed his flourishing literary career--between 1922 and 1936 he averaged five books a year. For much of that time he was ranked among the world's best-selling authors alongside his friends and acquaintances Rudyard Kipling, Virginia Wolfe, G.K. Chesterton, Hilaire Belloc, and Hugh Walpole. Several of his books, including The Thirty-Nine Steps, Prester John, Huntingtower, and John McNab were even made into full-length motion pictures by the likes of Alfred Hitchcock and Arthur Lammis. Though his work was popular, it often explored serious theological themes and profound human dilemmas. Indeed, according to T.E. Lawrence, he was “the greatest romancer of our blind and undeserving generation.”

Buchan even consented to try to fill the void created by the loss of his friend by serving as an editorial consultant for Thomas Nelson in Edinburgh. It was Buchan who convinced the publications board to begin a hardback reprint series of Western literary and Christian devotional classics. He launched several imprint lines as well--including two series of books on contemporary issues and controversies (Falkirk Press and Arberoth Books were named for two of the most famous battles for liberty in Western Civilization).

Throughout the busy activity of his career Buchan maintained a vital interest in both his family and his faith. He was married in 1907 to Susan Grosvenor and together they had a daughter and three sons. Though always maintaining a busy schedule he made certain that his children remained a priority in their lives. Likewise, he was a faithful member of the Presbyterian Church, serving his congregation as a Bible study leader and elder for most of his adult life.

His political, cultural, and spiritual prominence made him an appropriate choice as the king's Lord High Commissioner to the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland for several years beginning in 1933. The post enabled him to promote the vital relationship between the dynamics of the Christian life and the preservation of Western Civilization--a relationship he believed was threatened by the hubris of modern secularism. It was a theme that resonated throughout all his work. “Our enemies are attacking more than our system of Christian morals on which our civilization is founded” he lamented. “They are attacking Christianity itself, and they are succeeding. Our great achievements in perfecting the scientific apparatus of life have tended to produce a mood of self-confidence and pride. We have too often become gross materialists in our outlook on life.”

Despite this obvious twentieth century cultural retrogression, Buchan remained confident. “I believe that the challenge with which we are faced may restore us to that manly humility in the presence of the Unseen which alone gives power, “ he said. “It may bring us back to God. In that case our victory is assured. The church of Christ is an anvil which has worn out many hammers. Our opponents may boast of their strength, but they do not realize what they have challenged.”

His tireless activities on behalf of Christ and Crown brought him greater and greater prominence and despite deteriorating health he served as Curator of Oxford University Chest, Trustee of the National Library of Scotland, President of the Scottish Historical Society, and Chancellor of Edinburgh University.

In 1935 King George V ennobled him as the 1st Lord Tweedsmuir of Elsfield and--at the behest of Prime Minister Mackenzie King--was appointed the fifteenth Governor-General of Canada. Despite recurring ill-health Buchan threw himself into these new proconsular duties with especial fervor. Moving to Ottawa, he quickly fell in love with the great beauty and diversity of Canada--a land he called “God's manifestation of grace among the nations.”

Always an avid outdoorsman, he toured every province and explored every aspect of Canadian life and culture. He lectured widely across the land, making strong pleas for vigilant national unity, keen historical awareness, and unflinching spiritual integrity. He constantly promoted Canadian arts and sciences-acting as an advocate for the nation's universities and establishing the Governor-General's Literary Awards. In the tumultuous days during the advent of the Second World War, he became a beloved symbol of faith, stability, and constancy in the face of great evil.

Thoughout all these crowded hours of life, his memory of his friend was never far from him. He would later lament that his drive to accomplish so much was “a poor attempt to compensate” a world which “had lost so great a talent in Tommie Nelson.”

Buchan's sudden death on February 12, 1940 was caused by a freak injury following a fall in his official Ottawa residence, Rideau Hall. The sad news made front page headlines around the world from South Africa and Australia to Britain and the United States--but nowhere was he mourned as sincerely as in his adopted home. As the historian G.M. Trevelyan commented in the Globe and Mail, “I don't think I remember anyone who has died during my lifetime whose death ever had a more enviable outburst of sorrow and love and admiration, public and private. He was the Christian statesman extraordinaire.”

It was an interesting choice of words--the very phrase that Buchan had used to describe his long lost friend. It was perhaps the most fitting tribute of all.

Wednesday, August 25

Solace and Comfort

There is no greater solace in times of trouble than the comfort of a true friend. Somehow they can console us without the easy resort to cliches, maxims, bromides, or hackneyed stereotypes. Often they can comfort even without words. That is because they really know us. They understand us. They care for us. All too often the great men and women through the ages were able to achieve what they did only because they had the recourse of friendship in times of adversity--as their words give vivid testimony:

And I will gladly share with you your pain,
If it turn out I can no comfort bring;
For tis a friend's right, please let me explain,
To share in woeful as in joyful things.
Geoffrey Chaucer (1343-1400)

“Real friendship is shown in times of trouble; prosperity is full of friends.” Abraham Kuyper (1837-1920)

“A friend loves at all times and a brother is born for adversity.” Solomon (Proverbs 17:17)

“In prosperity our friends know us truly; in adversity we know our true friends.” Christopher Columbus (1451-1506)

“Life is but short; no time can be afforded but for the indulgence of real sorrow, or contests upon questions seriously momentous. Let us not throw away any of our days upon useless resentment, or contend who shall hold out longest in stubborn malignity. It is best not to be angry; and best, in the next place, to be quickly reconciled. Thusly will friendship's solace and comfort make amends.” Samuel Johnson (1709-1784)

“Distraught of a consuming grief, an acquaintance sought to assuage my tears with the confident words of eternal verity. Knowing all he adjured to be truth, and yet unmoved, I wished but that he would leave me. Another, a friend, came next and uttered nary a peep. Instead, with a light touch and a sympathetic ear he consoled me, and I was sorry to see him go. Both had intentions of setting me aright, yet only the friend brought me comfort. Without words he spoke the truth in love.” John Watson (1838-1907)

“Misfortune tests the sincerity of friends. Grief is the proving ground of an authentic affection.” Robert E. Lee (1807-1870)

Federalism and the Electoral College

“A contempt of the monuments and the wisdom of the past, may be justly reckoned one of the reigning follies of these days, to which pride and idleness have equally contributed.” Samuel Johnson

In the next couple of weeks, a little book I wrote for a Washington think tank following the 2000 presidentential election will be made available to the wider reading public for the first time. Vision Forum is doing a special election edition of The Genius of the Electoral College. I am grateful because this has--amazingly--become a flashpoint issue once again.

Have you seen the bumber stickers? Redefeat Bush! Or, How About a Fair Election This Time? Have you heard the talking head rhetoric about "the antiquated system" or the "arcane formulas" we use to elect the nation's chief executive officer? Such grandstanding ultimately betrays a profound ignorance of American Constitutionalism and the genius of Federalism.

The Founding Fathers would more than likely be surprised by the current controversy over the Electoral College provisions of the Constitution. Indeed, it was one of the least controversial provisions of the new compact during the divisive debate for ratification. According to Alexander Hamilton writing in the Federalist Papers, “The mode of appointment of the Chief Magistrate of the United States is almost the only part of the system, of any consequence, which has escaped without severe censure, or which has received the slightest mark of approbation from its opponents. The most plausible of these, who has appeared in print, has even deigned to admit that the election of the President is pretty well guarded. I venture somewhat further, and hesitate not to affirm, that if the manner of it be not perfect, it is at least excellent. It unites in an eminent degree all the advantages, the union of which was to be wished for.”

Although it was evident following the election of 1800 that the system needed to be fine-tuned, once the Twelfth Amendment was passed, the structure of the Electoral College was not a matter of serious debate for more than a century-during which the nation suffered through the traumas of the fiercely contested elections of 1824, 1876, 1888 to say nothing of the bitter strife of the War Between the States.

It was only the sudden explosive growth of urban America, the precipitous decline of rural populations, and the shifting political influence brought on by the opening of the West and the restoration of the South that the question was seriously raised-though the debate hardly raised a hue and cry.

But then the election contest of 2000 thrust the issue before the American people like never before. Vice President Al Gore, the Democratic candidate, actually won a slim plurality of the popular vote. Nevertheless, Governor George Bush, the Republican candidate, secured a slight advantage in the Electoral College-thus winning the presidency. As a result, outraged calls for the abolition of the Constitutional system of election have become commonplace in both the corridors of power in Washington and in the national media outlets. Concerned that “the will of the people” has somehow been “ignored by an archaic system” that “fails to weigh every vote fairly and equally,” these critics have demanded that the College be “scrapped for a more direct election process.”

According to one long-time critic of the system, Senator Birch Bayh, “the true sentiments of the voters are distorted by the winner-take-all system.” In addition, he argues that “population and voter turnout are not accurately reflected. A candidate receiving a plurality of the popular vote in a state whether the margin is one vote or one million carries all the electoral votes of that state, and thus, in effect the minority is disfranchised at an intermediate stage of the electoral process. The winner-take-all system is largely responsible for the possibility of a candidate's being elected president even though he or she polls fewer popular votes than the opponent. Should a candidate receive a minority of the popular vote nationally but carry a sufficient number of states to ensure a majority of the electoral votes, the candidate would be elected, and the will of the majority would be frustrated through the legal and normal operation of the electoral college.”

Rather than voting in a direct popular election, U.S. citizens in each state technically choose between slates of electors that represent each party. Taken together, the winning electors form the Electoral College. There are 538 electors, with each state getting one elector for each representative and senator it has (there are three more electors for the District of Columbia). The electors meet after the November popular election to cast their votes and officially elect the president.

The Framers of the Constitution preferred the electoral system to a direct popular election for several reasons. First of all, Alexander Hamilton asserted, “It was desirable that the sense of the people should operate in the choice of the person to whom so important a trust was to be confided. This end will be answered by committing the right of making it, not to any pre-established body, but to men chosen by the people for the special purpose, and at the particular conjuncture.” Secondly, though, he argued, “It was equally desirable, that the immediate election should be made by men most capable of analyzing the qualities adapted to the station, and acting under circumstances favorable to deliberation, and to a judicious combination of all the reasons and inducements which were proper to govern their choice. A small number of persons, selected by their fellow-citizens from the general mass, will be most likely to possess the information and discernment requisite to such complicated investigations.” In addition, requiring a candidate to win a majority in the Electoral College was a way of obtaining a national consensus-as Hamilton said, “It was also peculiarly desirable to afford as little opportunity as possible to tumult and disorder. This evil was not least to be dreaded in the election of a magistrate, who was to have so important an agency in the administration of the government as the President of the United States. But the precautions which have been so happily concerted in the system under consideration, promise an effectual security against this mischief.”

But critics of the Electoral College system say its chief fault is that a president can be elected without winning a majority of the popular vote. In fact, a president with a minority of the popular vote has won the Electoral College vote 15 times in U.S. history, most recently in 1992 and 1996, when Clinton won only 43 percent and 49 percent of the popular vote respectively. The critics argue that the Electoral College also tends to over-represent voters in rural states. In 1988, the seven least populous jurisdictions (including the District of Columbia) had 21 electoral votes, the same as Florida. But Florida's population was three times the combined population of those seven jurisdictions.

Perhaps more ominously, critics also argue that because the Constitution allows electors to use their discretion, there is a possibility of a "faithless" elector not casting his vote for the people's choice but for his own preference. However, this has only happened seven times and never had a real effect on the outcome of an election. Electors now are usually pledged to support a party's candidate.

And worst of all, the critics say, each state's electoral votes are awarded on a winner-take-all basis in the Constitutional system. This makes it extremely difficult for third-party or independent candidates to win any votes in the Electoral College. In fact, by concentrating support in certain states, a candidate can take the presidency without winning more popular votes than his opponent. In 1876, Republican Rutherford B. Hayes lost the popular vote by several percentage points but still won the Electoral College vote over Samuel Tilden of New York. Indeed, as the state's representatives are apportioned according to the 1990 census, a candidate only needs to win 11 of the most heavily populated of the 50 states in order to take the presidency-California, Texas, Florida, New York, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Illinois, Michigan, New Jersey, North Carolina and either Georgia or Virginia. If a candidate wins a slim majority in California and grabs its 54 electoral votes, he is fully one-fifth of the way to the 270 electoral votes needed to capture the presidency. Thus while California is the nation's most populous state, accounting for 11 percent of the U.S. population, its electoral votes are an even greater prize-20 percent of the necessary votes.

So what exactly is the value of the Electoral College? How are the critics of the Constitutional provisions to be adequately answered? Should the current movement for substantial electoral reform be countenanced at all?

The essential philosophical and structural framework within which the Founding Fathers constructed their innovative scheme of national checks and balances, separation of powers, and mixed government was state confederation-or federalism. The principle of federalism allows distinctive and individual communities to join together for a greater good without losing their essential distinctiveness and individuality. Instead of the states becoming a part of some larger amorphous union, under federalism they are able to unite in a symbiotic fashion so that the sum of their parts is greater than that of the whole. A federal relationship is a kind of compact or covenant that allows states to bind themselves together substantially without entirely subsuming their sundry identities. The federal nature of the American Constitutional covenant enables the nation to function as a republic-thus specifically avoiding the dangers of a pure democracy. Republics exercise governmental authority through mediating representatives under the rule of law. Pure democracies on the other hand exercise governmental authority through the imposition of the will of the majority without regard for the concerns of any minority-thus allowing law to be subject to the whims, fashions, and fancies of men. The Founders designed federal system of the United States so that the nation could be, as John Adams described it, a "government of law, not of men."
The Founders thus expressly and explicitly rejected the idea of a pure democracy, because as James Madison declared "democracies have ever been spectacles of turbulence and contention; have ever been found incompatible with personal security, or the rights of property; and have in general been as short in their lives, as they have been violent in their deaths." The rule of the majority does not always respect the rule of law, and is as turbulent as the caprices of political correctness. Indeed, history has proven all too often that democracy is particularly susceptible to the urges and impulses of mobocracy.

Federalism balances the vertical and horizontal aspects of a covenant. Vertically, Americans are one people under the rule of common law. Horizontally though, Americans are differentiated into a number of distinctive communities--sovereign states--protected from the possible intrusions of the national government or from a majority of the other communities. As educator Paul Jehle has argued, “The nature of federalism is seen in the balanced structure of the states and the people throughout the Constitution. Both the national government and State governments are sovereign in their respective spheres. Our national identity as Americans, and our federal identity as state citizens, are both represented in Congress-in the Senate and House.”

The Electoral College was originally designed by the Founding Fathers as a federal hedge against the domination of the absolute national majority over the individual states-indeed, without the College, the delicate federal balance between national unity and regional distinctiveness would be lost and the various states would lose their much of their power over the executive branch.

The Electoral College was thus designed to be a method of indirect but popular election of the President of the United States. The Framers of the Constitution were careful to follow clear principle in this design-it was hardly a matter of haphazardness or convenience. They wanted a federal means to elect the Chief Magistrate of the nation so that careful and calm deliberation would lead to the selection of the best-qualified candidate.

Thus, voters in each state actually cast a vote for a block of electors who are pledged to vote for a particular candidate. These electors, in turn, vote for the presidential candidate. The number of electors for each state equals its Congressional representation. After Election Day, on the first Monday after the second Wednesday in December, these electors assemble in their state capitals, cast their ballots, and officially select the next President of the United States. The candidate who receives the most votes in a state at the general election will generally be the candidate for whom the electors later cast their votes--the candidate who wins in a state is awarded all of that state's Electoral College votes with only Maine and Nebraska as exceptions to this winner-take-all rule.

The votes of the electors are then sent to Congress where the President of the Senate opens the certificates, and counts the votes. This takes place on January 6, unless that date falls on a Sunday. In that case, the votes are counted on the next day. An absolute majority is necessary to prevail in the presidential and the vice presidential elections, that is, half the total plus one electoral vote is required. Thus, with 538 Electors, a candidate must receive at least 270 votes to be elected to the office of President or Vice President. Should no presidential candidate receive an absolute majority, the House of Representatives determines who the next president will be. Each state may cast one vote and an absolute majority is needed to win. Similarly, the Senate decides who the next Vice President will be if there is no absolute majority after the Electoral College vote.

This federal design ultimately means that the Electoral College is a hedge of protection against several deleterious aspects of pure numerical democracy.

Direct popular election of the President was rejected by the Framers because it failed to protect the states from the intrusion of massed centralized forces. They reasoned that a pure democracy was more easily corrupted than a federal republic. It would essentially eliminate state borders and state prerogative, and whenever more centralized government directly governs the people, they thought that there was likely to be more opportunity for corruption. And electing the President by the Legislative or Judicial branches would violate the separation of powers. Thus, the federal solution was to elect the President by a balanced representation of the States and the people. Electors, independent from either the states or the national government, were elected in accordance with standards established by the State legislatures, and the electors then elected the President. This federal approach carefully avoided direct dependency upon either the states or the people, but kept both represented in the process. Giving each State the number of electors as they have representatives in Congress was also in harmony with this balance.

Direct popular election of the President was also rejected by the Framers because it would fail to prevent several prevent a candidate from pandering to one region, or running up their votes in certain states. Political scientist James Whitson, using a sports analogy of, explains, “In a baseball season you don't play 100 odd games, add up your total runs from all those games, and the teams with the most play in the World Series. Teams would just run up the score on weaker teams to balance the closer games against tougher opponents. In a direct election, Democrats would run up the vote totals in safe states like Massachusetts and Republicans would run up their votes in states like Nebraska. The Electoral College forces candidates to concede states their opponents are winning handily and contest the tight races.”

Direct popular election of the President was also rejected by the Framers because it would fail to protect minority interests from a tyrannical majority. For example in a direct election, since African-Americans account for about 13% of the population, they could only account for 13% of the vote. In the Electoral College, African-Americans account for 25% of Alabama's 9 votes, 27% of Georgia's 13 votes, 31% of Louisiana's 9 votes, etc. Farmers, once a very influential constituency, now make up less than 4% of the population. Why would a candidate worry about this small group in a direct election? In the Electoral College system, farmers do make up sizable parts of several states, and thus their combined strength in a smaller pool of voters gives them more power. Because minority groups are often concentrated in some states and not spread evenly throughout the country, their influence is protected to a greater degree in a federal system.

Finally, direct popular election of the President was also rejected by the Framers because it would fail to prevent candidates from ignoring smaller states in favor of big metropolitan areas. In a direct election, New York City would have about twice the electoral clout of the states of Alaska, Delaware, Montana, North Dakota, Vermont, and Wyoming combined. Why would a candidate even campaign in those six states when he can double his impact by spending more time and less money in a single city. The needs and issues of small rural communities would be outweighed in the candidates' mind by those of large urban areas.

The Electoral College system was thus the careful implementation of an essential Constitutional principle: federalism. Without it, the genius of the whole Constitution would be jeopardized.

Tuesday, August 24

In Memorium: Phil Cherico

My friend and yokefellow in the Gospel Phil Cherico went home to be with the Lord this weekend following a heart attack earlier in the week. He was just 62.

Dr. Cherico was a remarkable man. He leaves behind a remarkable legacy. I came to know him when he was called to serve as the Executive Pastor at Christ Community (PCA), my home church here in Franklin, TN. We then traveled to Iraq together to minister in that war-torn land--it is the sort of shared experience that makes for deep and abiding affection. I knew him as a loyal friend, as a passionate servant of the Lord Jesus, and as a gifted administrator and teacher.

He was born in Jersey City, NJ, and made his home here in Franklin with his wife of 39 years, Kate. He was a decorated veteran of the U.S. Army, serving in Vietnam and he continued to serve our nation as a colonel in the Tennessee State Guard. He was formerly a district superintendent of the Evangelical Free Church of America in Texas--where he came to love good barbeque almost as much as me! In previous years he had served churches in New Jersey, Minnesota and Texas. He was also formerly a Director of Security and Safety with Power Authority of New York State.

Besides his beloved Kate, Phil is survived by his son, Paul and his wife Jennifer of Ft. Collins, CO, his daughters, Jennifer Pirecki and her husband Bruno and Jill Bishop and her husband Brandon, who live here in Franklin, his brothers, Pastor John Cherico of St. Louis Park, MN, and Peter Cherico of Bergenfield, NJ, and his grandchildren, Aspin Cherico, Dawson Cherico and Joshua J. Bishop.

Graveside services will be conducted with full military honors at 11 AM on Wednesday at Middle Tennessee Veterans Cemetery with Pastor Bing Davis and Dr. Rob Harrell officiating. Memorial services will then be conducted at 1 PM at Christ Presbyterian Church, 2323 Old Hickory Blvd. in Nashville with Pastor Davis and Dr. Harrell again officiating. Visitation is from 7-9 this evening at Williamson Memorial Funeral Home.

Memorial gifts may be made to Grace Fellowship Phil Cherico Fund, Am South Bank, 700 N. Garden Street, Columbia, TN 38401.

We know that Phil is rejoicing in the presence of his Lord and King today. He was not unexpected in Heaven. But we are left with our unexpected grief. He will most assuredly be missed.

Historical Bullies

My friend and frequent correspondent, Ben House, has written a humble reflection that is more than a little humbling:

Have you ever had the experience of being afraid to walk down a certain street because a bully there intimidated you? Or maybe you avoided some parts of the school playground so as not to run into big kids who would pick on you. I have long since outgrown those fears and experiences, but I am still intimidated.

It is not a street or a part of the playground that intimidates me, but it is the past; it is history that intimidates me. I dread the 19th century, the 18th century, the 17th century, and so on. Like a gang, like bullies, all too many figures from those centuries threaten me and belittle me.

In short, as a new school year approaches, I confess that Sandie Pendleton intimidates me. Sandie Pendleton--his full name was Alexander Swift Pendleton--is in all respects a very minor historical figure. I was reminded of him last year when I watched the movie “Gods and Generals.” Without digressing too far into a movie review, “Gods and Generals” was an outstanding look into the faith and courage of the men who fought in the War Between the States. Men on both sides wrestled deeply with the issues of the war and then fought bravely for the cause they chose. Surprisingly, this movie very favorably portrayed the Southern cause and the strong religious commitments of so many Southern soldiers. Richard Weaver's contention that the Old South was the last bastion of Christendom was reinforced by the movie. The specific example of Southern Christian civilization that the movie highlighted most was the life and death of General Thomas J. “Stonewall” Jackson. As a husband, as a soldier, as a believer, Jackson epitomized Christian manhood.

On Jackson's staff was a young man named Sandie Pendleton. In the movie, like in real life, he played a subordinate and little noticed role. Pendleton's father, William Nelson Pendleton, was an ordained Episcopal minister with a military background. Armed with sword and Bible and prayer book, he served in the Confederate army. He held the title of Chief of Artillery in Lee's Army of Northern Virginia, and he, like fellow minister Robert L. Dabney, preached to the troops on all occasions. Pendleton was sometimes mistaken for Robert E. Lee in looks, but sad to say, not in military ability. His daughter Susan Pendleton Lee wrote a laudatory biography of her father, but apart from the judgments of a devoted daughter, few have found reason to praise Pendleton's military skills. I refrain from further hinting at a criticism of one who served in the Army of Northern Virginia.

General Pendleton's son, Sandie, joined the Confederate army in 1861 at age 21. Perhaps due to his college education and perhaps aided by his family connections, he obtained a position as an ordinance officer in the famed Stonewall Brigade of the Army of the Shenandoah. Soon he was promoted to chief of staff under General Jackson, who like the Pendleton's, had lived in Lexington, Virginia before the war. He had a brilliant, but short career as a staff officer. In 1864, just a few days before his 24th birthday, Sandie Pendleton died from wounds received at the battle of Fisher's Hill. A few months after his death, his young wife gave birth to a son who was given his father's name, but died the next year.

As fascinating as his military career was, Pendleton's intimidating challenge to me precedes his short, tragic, but brilliant service as a staff officer. In 1853, Rev. William Nelson Pendleton accepted a call to serve as rector of Grace Episcopal Church in Lexington, Virginia. Like any family moving to a new town, one of the first tasks was to enroll Sandie in school. Rev. Pendleton took Sandie to Washington College (now called Washington and Lee University) where he was enrolled as a freshman. This was not simply a matter of bringing along a copy of his school records, an ACT score, and writing a check as in our day. Most of his education had consisted of being homeschooled by his father, with some time spent in a private school for boys. (Sandie was the only boy in a house full of sisters, so his parents wanted him to have opportunity to develop manly qualities. ) So before he could matriculate (be enrolled ) as a freshman, he was given a “rigorous examination in Greek, Latin, and mathematics” by a group of professors.

One of the examining professors asked Rev. Pendleton why he sent this “delicate looking child to face us alone.” The father replied, “I knew that he was well prepared, and my son must learn to depend upon himself and not on me. I wish him to be a good scholar, but still more a strong, self-reliant man.”

As I said, I am intimidated, I am bullied, I am afraid of this “delicate looking” college freshman in Lexington, Virginia from the year 1853. Sandie Pendleton was age 13 when he entered Washington College.

If this 13-year-old stepped out of the past and walked into my office to face me alone, I could not give him a rigorous examination in Latin, Greek, and mathematics. I say that not as a college freshman, or as a 13 year old, but I say that as one whose years are multiples of 13, as one who has a college undergraduate degree, a Master's degree in education , many hours beyond a Master's degree, over two decades of teaching experience, and a personal library of several thousand volumes. I am, in our modern dark age, a well-educated man, or at least I have been told that.

I could not teach this kid anything, except maybe 20th century history--in English. He could not be enrolled--matriculated--in my school, even though we pride ourselves as a Classical Christian school on our academic standards. I would have to give him an application to teach here, not attend here. In this classroom, this teenager could challenge me in almost any area and make mincemeat of my state teaching certificate.

I would not be so bothered if Sandie Pendleton were the lone, or at least rare, case of genius. We all read of those rare and gifted people who can calculate incredible square roots in their heads or who can memorize whole passages with one reading, but Sandie Pendleton was no genius. He was smart; he was gifted; but he was not unusual for his time.

Turn any corner in the past centuries, step into any classroom, glance at any textbook or writing assignment, check out any list of assigned readings, and the same patterns appear. Ministers, teachers, politicians, doctors, lawyers, military officers, and many a common laborer and farmer had educational experiences that make our modern degree factories look like kindergarten.

Even though 13-year-old Sandie Pendleton intimidates me, I keep stepping back into those centuries, knowing I am going to be humiliated again. For many of us who are teachers and pastors today, one of our main callings is to call attention to how far we have fallen and make a few steps on the journey back. My hope is for children, grandchildren, and great grandchildren who can regain what Sandie Pendleton once had.

Thursday, August 19

How We Sing

As I prepare for my sermon this coming Lord's Day, I have been thinking a good deal about the character and nature of singing. I ran across this old journal entry on what singing indicates in the heart and character of a man:

Iam lucis orto sidere
Deum precemur supplices,
ut in diurnis artibus
nos servet a nocentibus.

The harmonic drone of the chant for this Medieval Latin hymn is unvarying--like Medieval manners, customs, and generations. It has an ironic quality in it which savors at once both the pathetic and the steadfast. Its few notes recall those ancient themes which conceal something of the dreadful fallen estate of man but are yet buoyed by his supreme dignity and by the majestic purpose of the human will yielded to divine providence. Its Latin phrases ring out in the still morning air--and across the centuries--connecting us to the truth of the faith once and for all delivered to the saints, to the hope of the Kingdom that transcends all other kingdoms, and to the strength of a united Christendom against which even the gates of hell may never withstand:

Deo Patri sit gloria,
eiusque soli Filio,
cum Spiritu Paraclito,
et nuc et in perpetuum.

Singing such hymns lifts the heart, shortens the way, and advertises a man's reputation. It is an admirable thing. A man who so sings--loudly, clearly, and well--proves, more often than not, to be of good character. He is master of himself. He is strict and well managed. He is prompt, alert, swift, and to the point. He is unafraid and jolly. He is disciplined and congenial with a clear conscience before both God and men. There is method in him. All these things may be in a man who does not sing, of course. But singing makes them apparent.

Wednesday, August 18

What We Know

My friend Eric Holmberg, of Reel to Real Ministries, often makes presentations to church groups on the smothering influence of media in our lives. He sent me this very telling transcript of a recent encounter he had with a college fellowship group:

“Who's the character in Seinfeld with the funny hair?”

A chorus of hands shot up excitedly. “Kramer!” came the almost universal reply.

“What time does Friends come on?”

Again, there was no hesitation. “Eight!” “Thursday nights.” “NBC,” offered one young lady, nailing the coordinates in both space and time.

“Complete this line from Spiderman: 'With great power comes…?”

“Great responsibility!” over seventy-five voices cried in unison.

“Now can someone tell me the difference between rap and hip-hop? Or emo and goth?” There was a brief silence as the audience cast about for the best spokesman to address the nuances of the question. But after a few initial observations were made, the response again became lively and democratic. Person after person shared either their thoughts on the distinctions or at least illustrated them by identifying their favorite artists in each category.

“OK,” the speaker said. “Let's now change gears a bit. Who was the prophet in the Old Testament who had no hair?”


“What hour of the day did Jesus die on the cross?” Emboldened by the narrow range of possible answers, a few hands went up and numbers were offered. But it was obvious that nobody real knew.

“Complete this line from Proverbs 3: “Trust in the Lord with all you heart and….”

“…obey Him?” the NBC girl offered hopefully.

“Sorry, although obeying Him is certainly a good idea. OK, someone explain to me the difference between justification and sanctification.”

The silence among the church's college group was now deafening.

More than a little sobering, isn't it?

Tuesday, August 17


Television has become America's drug of choice--a kind of “electronic valium.” And virtually everyone across this vast land is using it.

More than 98 percent of all households have at least one television set. In fact, more American households have televisions than have indoor plumbing. Not surprisingly, American children watch an inordinate amount of programming. Preschoolers watch an average of more than 27 hours each week-more than 4 hours per day. On school nights, American teens limit their television consumption to only about 3 hours per night. In contrast though, they spend about 54 minutes on homework, less than 16 minutes reading, about 14 minutes alone with their mothers, and less than 5 minutes with their fathers.

And what is it that we are all watching so obsessively?

Certainly, television offerings do not portray real life in any way. A survey of one week's prime-time network and major cable channel offerings revealed a wide disparity between the lives of Americans and the world of television:

Of the 73 sex scenes shown that week, 31 were of unmarried heterosexual adults, 23 were adulterous, 4 were between married couples, 2 involved homosexual couples, 5 involved lesbian couples, and 8 involved unmarried, heterosexual teens.

Despite the fact that nearly half of all Americans attend church at least once a week, only four of the characters that week in primetime showed any evidence of religious belief. Only one of them appeared to be an orthodox Christian-and she was an angel.

More than half of the programs aired that week portrayed at least one violent act--there were a total of 47 murders, 88 assaults, and 23 accidental deaths.

Graphic violence--meaning that blood, assault, or anguish was clearly portrayed--predominated in primetime that week with more than 209 occurrences.

The average American child watches 8,000 made for television murders and 100,000 acts of violence by the end of grade school. By the time the child has graduated from high school, that number will have doubled. The casual carnage is woven into supposedly real life situations with amazing alacrity. One survey found that situation comedies, cartoons, and family dramas were just as likely to feature violence as police procedurals, medical dramas, and period masques.

And this awful barrage is nothing new. While programming has certain gotten more explicit, more brazen, and more perverse in recent years, television has always been a bastion of mindless barbarism. As early as 1961, Newton Minow, at that time the chairman of the Federal Communications Commission assessed the offering of television in a scathing critique:

“When television is bad, there is nothing worse. I invite you to sit down in front of your television set when your station goes on the air and stay there without a book, magazine, newspaper, profit-and-loss sheet, or rating book to distract you--and keep your eyes glued to that set until the station signs off. I can assure you that you will observe a vast wasteland. You will see a procession of game shows, violence, audience participation shows, formula comedies about totally unbelievable families, blood and thunder, mayhem, violence, sadism, murder, western badmen, western good men, private eyes, gangsters, more violence, and cartoons. And endlessly, commercials--many screaming, cajoling, and offending. And most of all boredom. True you will see a few things you will enjoy. But they will be very, very few. And if you think I exaggerate, try it.”

Eight years later, the Milton Eisenhower Commission reported:

“We are deeply troubled by the television's constant portrayal of violence in pandering to a public preoccupation with violence that television itself has helped to generate.”

In 1992, the National Commission on Children made a plea for a sane program of internal regulation and self-restraint in the television industry:

“Pervasive images of crime, violence, and sexuality expose children and youth to situations and problems that often conflict with the common values of our society. Accordingly, we call upon the media, especially television, to discipline themselves so that they are a part of the solution to our society's serious problems rather than a cause.”

Alas, the plea fell on deaf ears. With the proliferation of cable channel options, has come a proliferation of the very worst elements of broadcast entertainment from the past--plus, a vastly enlarged menu of offerings heretofore unimagined and unimaginable.

Monday, August 9

New Books

The newly revised, corrected, and plumped up edition of The Christian Almanac is now available from Cumberland House. Best known around my house as "the monstrous 830-page book that nearly ate my life," the new edition has a great new cover and cleaned up interior design as well as a few minor updates and a few major corrections. The old edition had dozens of glitches, snafus, and howlers so Greg Wilbur and I are thrilled to have our names on this new and improved version.

In a few weeks, my little book, The Importance of the Electoral College, will also be out. Written as a white-paper study just after the 2000 election for the Conservative Caucus, this updated edition will finally be published for the general public by Vision Forum.

And speaking of new and improved, this website and blog are about to undergo a major upgrade. I'm an early adopter but a late adapter--thus, the technology of the site is actually quite outdated. So, we'll be working on a bit of a facelift as well as a significant infrastructure overhaul. I hope to be able to add a shopping cart feature so that folks can actually buy these new books--as well as all the old ones. What a concept!

Sunday, August 8

Teen Hammas

The Hebrew word the prophet Habakkuk used to describe the unbridled violence of his culture was hammas. It literally meant a senseless obcession with brutality, cruelty, and barbarism. Mayhem as entertainment.

Thus, hammas is a term that could just as easily apply to modern American youth culture as to ancient Judean pop culture. After all, American teens take their hammas-like prowess at the video console quite seriously. Indeed, one recent survey found that the average teenage boy in this nation spends as much as 28 hours a week killing, maiming, and destroying--as well as punching, shooting, and stabbing; flying, driving, and navigating; climbing, plumbing, and slogging--through their beloved video games. The games bear thrilling titles like Grand Theft Auto, Murder One, and Homicide Row. How nice.

When they're not playing their gory video games, American teens are watching murder and mayhem on television, or they're tramping off to see more of the same in the movies, or they're listening to loud, obscene music about destruction, devastation, and despair, or they're surfing the internet's virtual village of violence, sex, and perversion.

American households with teenage children watch an average of 59 hours of cable and network programming a week. Teens now see an average of 67 full length feature films per year--either in theaters or on video--more than one each week. They own an average of 42 musical compact disks, 16 game cartridges, and 7 computer games. More than 35 percent of all teens have their own television sets; more than 80 percent own radios; almost 76 percent possess cassette or compact disk players; and while only 39 percent own personal computers, more than 68 percent have access to the internet.

There can be little doubt: electronic mass media have become the dominating means of conveying and purveying modern culture among young people.

Is that a good thing? Are we satisfied with the way this revolution in culture has transpired in our lifetimes?

Most of us would likely answer “no” in both cases. Indeed, more than 81 percent of all Americans in a recent poll admitted that they were “seriously concerned” or “uncomfortable” with the direction that modern entertainment has taken of late. Only 2 percent believe that media “should have the greatest influence on children's values.” But 67 percent believe that it does-wielding even “greater influence than parents, teachers, coaches, or religious leaders.” The pioneering media analyst, Marshall McLuhan may not have been very far off the mark when he quipped, “Satan is a great electrical engineer.”

According to Neil Postman in his must-read manifesto, Amusing Ourselves to Death, there are two means by which the spirit of a great culture may be undermined-one, portrayed in George Orwell's horrifying novel of oppression, 1984, the other in Aldous Huxley's equally horrifying novel of debauchery, Brave New World, “In the first--the Orwellian--culture becomes a prison. In the second--the Huxleyan--culture becomes a burlesque.... In America, Orwell's prophecies are of small relevance, but Huxley's are well underway toward being realized. For America is engaged in the world's most ambitious experiment to accommodate itself to the technological distractions made possible by the electric plug. This is an experiment that began slowly and modestly in the mid-nineteenth century and has now...reached a perverse maturity in America's consuming love affair with mass media. As nowhere else in the world, Americans have moved far and fast in bringing to a close the age of the slow-moving printed word, and have granted to the media sovereignty over all their institutions. By ushering in the age of television, America has given the world the clearest available glimpse of the Huxleyan future.”

He continued saying, “What Orwell feared were those who would ban books. What Huxley feared was that there would be no reason to ban a book, for there would be no one who wanted to read one. Orwell feared those who would deprive us of information. Huxley feared those who would give us so much that we would be reduced to passivity and egoism. Orwell feared that the truth would be concealed from us. Huxley feared the truth would be drowned in a sea of irrelevance. Orwell feared we would become a captive culture. Huxley feared we would become a trivial culture, preoccupied with some equivalent of the feelies, the orgy porgy, and the centrifugal bumblepuppy. As Huxley remarked in Brave New World Revisited, the civil libertarians and rationalists who are ever on the altert to oppose tyranny failed to take into account man's almost infinite appetite for distractions. In 1984, Huxley added, people are controlled by inflicting pain. In Brave New World, they are controlled by inflicting pleasure. In short, Orwell feared that what we hate will ruin us. Huxley feared that what we love will ruin us. We must face the possibility that Huxley, not Orwell, was right.”

Indeed, we must. It is not simply a clever slogan, we have actually begun the process of “amusing ourselves to death." And that is quintessentially hammas.