Wednesday, March 26, 2008

~ not the vapors of a melancholy mind ~


Yesterday, I needed a boost. I'm not so sure I even realized how much I needed it, but God is greater than our hearts, and knows everything. First, I received an extremely encouraging and unexpected email from a friend, and it spoke straight to my soul. Later, in my mailbox at home was a postcard from another dear friend, providing me a with a much needed dose of perspective and even more encouragement.

My eyes were instantly drawn to the strange new postmark over the stamp:
"LET US DARE TO READ,
THINK, SPEAK AND WRITE."
John Adams, 1765
poweroftheletter.com


The quote is excerpted from A Dissertation on the Canon and Feudal Law by John Adams, which could easily have been named In Defense of Liberty or On the Enslavement of the Stamp Act.

Liberty: The right and power to act, believe, or express oneself in a manner of one's own choosing

This letter represents the early glimmers of "no taxation without representation", and it would be years before the Revolutionary War brought independence. We all know I'm not big on war... or guns... or general disagreement and fussiness. However, even I was in awe of all the history that surrounded me back when I visited Concord and stood on the Old North Bridge. There was something magical about exploring the place where the pursuit of divine inspiration swirled with the pursuit of happiness, and where simplicity spoke up amidst the birth of an empire.


Mr. Adams clearly was still in need of enlightenment. His words are dripping with manifest destiny and the discrimination of his time. His passion, however, is unmistakable.

This spirit [of liberty], however, without knowledge, would be little better than a brutal rage. Let us tenderly and kindly cherish, therefore, the means of knowledge. Let us dare to read, think, speak, and write. Let every order and degree among the people rouse their attention and animate their resolution. Let them all become attentive to the grounds and principles of government, ecclesiastical and civil. Let us study the law of nature; search into the spirit of the British constitution; read the histories of ancient ages; contemplate the great examples of Greece and Rome; set before us the conduct of our own British ancestors, who have defended for us the inherent rights of mankind against foreign and domestic tyrants and usurpers, against arbitrary kings and cruel priests, in short, against the gates of earth and hell. Let us read and recollect and impress upon our souls the views and ends of our own more immediate forefathers, in exchanging their native country for a dreary, inhospitable wilderness. Let us examine into the nature of that power, and the cruelty of that oppression, which drove them from their homes. Recollect their amazing fortitude, their bitter sufferings, — the hunger, the nakedness, the cold, which they patiently endured, — the severe labors of clearing their grounds, building their houses, raising their provisions, amidst dangers from wild beasts and savage men, before they had time or money or materials for commerce. Recollect the civil and religious principles and hopes and expectations which constantly supported and carried them through all hardships with patience and resignation. Let us recollect it was liberty, the hope of liberty for themselves and us and ours, which conquered all discouragements, dangers, and trials. In such researches as these, let us all in our several departments cheerfully engage, — but especially the proper patrons and supporters of law, learning, and religion!


There seems to be a direct and formal design on foot, to enslave all America. This, however, must be done by degrees. The first step that is intended, seems to be an entire subversion of the whole system of our fathers, by the introduction of the canon and feudal law into America. The canon and feudal systems, though greatly mutilated in England, are not yet destroyed. Like the temples and palaces in which the great contrivers of them once worshipped and inhabited, they exist in ruins; and much of the domineering spirit of them still remains. The designs and labors of a certain society, to introduce the former of them into America, have been well exposed to the public by a writer of great abilities; and the further attempts to the same purpose, that may be made by that society, or by the ministry or parliament, I leave to the conjectures of the thoughtful. But it seems very manifest from the Stamp Act itself, that a design is formed to strip us in a great measure of the means of knowledge, by loading the press, the colleges, and even an almanac and a newspaper, with restraints and duties; and to introduce the inequalities and dependencies of the feudal system, by taking from the poorer sort of people all their little subsistence, and conferring it on a set of stamp officers, distributors, and their deputies. But I must proceed no further at present. The sequel, whenever I shall find health and leisure to pursue it, will be a "disquisition of the policy of the stamp act." In the mean time, however, let me add, — These are not the vapors of a melancholy mind, nor the effusions of envy, disappointed ambition, nor of a spirit of opposition to government, but the emanations of a heart that burns for its country’s welfare. No one of any feeling, born and educated in this once happy country, can consider the numerous distresses, the gross indignities, the barbarous ignorance, the haughty usurpations, that we have reason to fear are meditating for ourselves, our children, our neighbors, in short, for all our countrymen and all their posterity, without the utmost agonies of heart and many tears.

4 comments:

Ramón said...

For all my problems with the underbelly of American history, and with the vehemence that I condemn calling the founders of the USA "forefathers" and according them religious devotion, it is very easy to read their writing and get swept up into the positive side of the ideals they espouse.

It's like reading Scripture, and I guess that's exactly what it is to the American civil religion. And oh how much easier to adhere to that Scripture and believe that education alone can truly liberate us though we use it to destroy our brothers and sisters and wreak havoc on the environment.

RLC said...

I can't help but read the words "Let us dare to read, think, speak and write," without passionate and sinfully sarcastic thoughts welling up in my soul.

Because of the strong associations I have with the word "liberty", my first read of Adams' speech is with the Church in mind. In my pentecostal background, liberty meant something much different than your definition. Often embraced without knowledge, it did indeed produce little of value. But if your definition is superimposed onto the scripture that was so often taken badly out of context to justify charismatic disruptions of God's order, then we get a powerful statement: "Now the Lord is Spirit: and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is [the right and power to act, believe, or express oneself in a manner of one's own choosing]."

You have dared to read, think, speak and write. Regardless of whether your voice is/isn't heard by those who need to listen, please don't stop!

On a different note, may my spirit and that of other followers of Jesus be ever willing to read and recollect and impress upon our souls the fortitude, sufferings, patience and resignation demonstrated by countless servants who relinquished the comforts of this world to labor among the unreached that those peoples might also share this peculiar hope of liberty that we have.

BTW, this is the first time I have figured out how to properly use HTML tags! Finally! :-)

Kimberly said...

I'm sure I'll share this story in more detail as I continue in the "abandoned places" series, but here's the short version:

The summer I worked in Hermitage (with all Hispanic-Catholic and African-American families)we had a group from a white, rural Southern Baptist church come in to do a VBS (required, as we worked for the state convention). During debriefing on the first day, I did a short "cultural competency" training on their music selection.

Refraining from questioning the presence of patriotic songs in a worship gathering, I focused solely on their paticular choice of songs, "My Country Tis of Thee". I explained that the kids we were working with were all either children of migrant farm workers or former slaves ("their" side of town was still referred to as "the quarters"), and that when we sing about the "land where my father's died, land of the pilgrim's pride..." it has a completely different meaning (or no meaning at all).

That's when I realized how different my background was from other people who resembled me in so many ways. The pastor took me back in my office and laid into me about how it was not my place to tell his volunteers what to do, and if I have issues I need to come to him first, and this are children and there is nothing wrong with that song.

Civil Religion? Never heard of it. :)

Amber said...

Just reading that verse from John unlocked a pair of cuffs that I didn't even realize I had on. Thank you for sharing scripture.

The church is a hard family to be born into. Some of my hardest struggles have come from being kin (as we say in Alabama) to other believers.

I think that if we were to use that definition of liberty, which is awesome, by the way, in regard to where the Spirit of the Lord is, we would have to say that that sort of liberty is the right and power to act, believe, or express oneself in a manner of GOD's own choosing. God chooses so much differently than I do.