I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate to do.
The Apostle Paul (Romans 7:15).
Laws are like sausages; it is better not to see them made.
Otto von Bismark
Each January finds many of us considering resolutions for the New Year. The root word for resolution is resolve which means “deciding firmly on a course of action.” I have made many New Year’s resolutions, regarding fresh starts or trying to be a better person. The problem is the flesh is weak as noted by Brother Paul 2000 years ago.
Unfortunately, many of my previous resolutions have gone by the wayside. I am far from perfect and I have failed more than I have succeeded. However, failure is often a better teacher than success. And the good news is, Grace is sufficient. As my minister says, “No matter how bad you are, God can fix it.” Our job is to keep trying and not beat ourselves up.
One of my favorite authors is Phillip Yancey. Fourteen of his books are in my library. Somewhere in one of those books, Yancey describes God’s Grace as a safety net below us as we walk the tightrope of life. This beautiful metaphor resonates with me.
Resolutions are a way to look forward, but this is only possible when you consider the past. There are things from my old life I miss, especially relationships with patients. I remember an older gentleman who was seeing me in my office after surviving a serious illness. He thanked me for taking care of him through the ICU and then the hospital. I told him it was my pleasure and I meant it. He was doing great and our relationship was close, so I felt free to quip, “You know Mr. Jones, they say God will take you when he gets you right. I’m glad you’re still with us.” He then laughed as I continued, “Apparently, you weren’t ready, so God has sent you back for more work!” I feel that way about my own life at times. I’m still seeking, praying, thanking and trusting as I walk the tightrope of life above God’s safety net of Grace.
By the time you read this, New Year’s Day for 2023 will have passed into history. A different resolution entered the history books on New Year’s Day 1863 when President Abraham Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation. On that day, slaves in Confederate territories were given their freedom. This was a very controversial resolution by the first Republican President. It was opposed by the Democrat Party then and for the next 100 years. Many thought the Proclamation would change the war effort from one of preserving the Union to one of freeing the slaves. The Union army might mutiny and the war might be lost. And the newly formed Republican party might be destroyed.
None of this happened. The Union was saved and soon Republicans passed the 13th, 14th and 15th Amendments to the Constitution. It was Democrats who resisted and remained obstructionist, enacting Jim Crow laws. It continues to amaze me that the party of slavery and segregation is still perceived as the friend of the oppressed.
I am no etymologist, but I have developed an interest in words. Words are the tools of communication. Yes, we have body language, and we have tone and inflection of our voices, but words are paramount. I became keenly aware of words and their structure when I went to medical school and had to learn a new language, the language of science which is built on Latin and Greek roots. Interestingly, the word resolute derives from the same Latin root word as resolve and resolution.
Resolute means determination and connotes faithfulness and courage. As I begin this essay, the House of Representatives is embroiled in controversy as members try to elect a Speaker of the People’s House. A small number of conservative Republicans are preventing the rubber-stamp election of Kevin McCarthy as Speaker. Too often party unity supersedes principles. Democrats never have this problem. For the first time in a hundred years, the majority party’s titular leader was not elected on the first or subsequent ballots. The tyrannical Nancy Pelosi never tolerated such deviation from the party line. She would have had recalcitrant Democrats spayed for such impertinence.
We tend to think of the words democrat and republican as referring to the respective parties. Democrat derives from the Greek word demos, meaning people, and kratein, meaning to rule; the people rule. Republican comes from the Latin res or thing and publica meaning public, the public’s thing. You might be surprised, but the word democracy does not appear in the Declaration of Independence or the Constitution, nor in the Constitutions of any of the 50 states.
Our Founders studied history and knew of the abuses of democracy in ancient Greek city states. The Greek leader Solon finally proposed a fixed body of laws not subject to majority whims or mobs to protect the life, liberty and property of citizens. Our Founders gave us a republic predicated on the rule of law which limits government and promotes freedom. Samuel Adams said, “Democracy never lasts long. It soon wastes, exhausts and murders itself.” And Alexander Hamilton understood that mob rule leads to anarchy and then tyranny by an oligarchy (rule by a few). He said, “We are a Republican Government.”
The Democrats are gleefully watching as Republicans joust to elect a Speaker of the House. Sun Tzu (The Art of War) advised, “When your enemy is in the process of destroying himself, stay out of his way.” Actually, I view the current internecine battle as cathartic. The old guard Washington RINOS are being forced to negotiate with the populist conservatives. This is healthy and perhaps a turning point because a deal will eventually be struck.
We are watching debate and voting made possible by our Republican form of government. Under the rule of law, the minority has a voice. Such a debate never happened under the tyranny of Pelosi. Nor is it possible under the tyranny of a majority.