Author Archives: Randy Ehle

Letter to America

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A letter to my homeland, on the occasion of her 246th birthday.

As extended family gathered to celebrate my grandpa’s 80th birthday, with stories and much laughter around the table, my aunt made some snarky comment. I don’t remember what she said, and it doesn’t really matter because of what came after: Grandma, then 83 and quiet, looked over at her daughter and with a demure smile said very softly, “Careful, Barbara Jean. I can still take you out behind the woodshed.” Everyone roared … and everybody believed she would!

On a very different occasion—far more private and far more serious—my dad verbally took me out behind the woodshed with no more words than his mom had used. (Ironically, as I think about it now, it was around his own 80th birthday.) I’d been complaining about the challenges of a drawn-out job search and had casually suggested he could pull some strings to get me a one-time teaching opportunity. He was quiet for a moment, then said, “Randy, you’ve got a pride problem.” The words were so unexpected and cut so deeply that it was months before I could consider honestly what truth they might hold. (They still hurt, and it’s still hard to search for the truth in them.)

Why do I start this letter to my homeland with these two stories? Because America, it’s about time someone took you out behind the woodshed. It’s about time someone told you the truth about yourself—the truth you’ve stopped seeing, stopped believing, stopped wanting to believe.

Politicians won’t tell you the truth. Their jobs depend more on being popular than truthful.

The media won’t tell you the truth. Their jobs depend more on being first, fantastic, or sensational than on being truthful.

Your opponents won’t tell you the truth. Their jobs depend on you not knowing the truth.

So who can you count on to tell you the truth? A friend. And a friend will speak the truth—even when the truth is hard—precisely because she is a friend.

There is an ancient proverb that says, “faithful are the wounds of a friend.” That is truth. But it doesn’t feel like it. No one likes to hear a friend say, “you messed up there,” or “you were wrong.” It doesn’t feel good. Sometimes it can even break the relationship. But sometimes the truth is so important that it’s worth risking that break. Sometimes it takes that hard truth and that risk to wake a friend to the painful reality they needed to hear.

And that is why I am writing you this letter: to speak the truth, as from a friend. For friend I am.

America, you are not living your best … not for yourself, and not for others. On all sides, voices clamor to preserve democracy and the “American way.” Yet many of those voices, on all sides, are using decidedly undemocratic means, behaving like children and bullies: children who pout and stomp their feet and throw a fit when they don’t get their way, bullies who rely on brute force to subdue any who would oppose them.

This is not the way of democracy, it is not living under the rule of law that has been the bedrock of that democracy, and the preservation of your life for two-and-a-half centuries.

America, you are better than this; it is time to show your better self. Grow up. Learn anew to disagree without division, the art of civil discourse. Learn again the laws and freedoms—and constraints—embedded in your constitution. Learn what it means to adapt centuries-old laws and language to 21st century society, what it is and can be and should be to live under the two jurisdictions of state and nation. Learn the strength and power of living not for yourself, but for others. For only when individuals and nations live for others will our own lives be truly preserved.

A nation divided against itself cannot stand. If the United States of America is to thrive, the states of America must be united against all enemies, foreign and domestic, without and within. Today, as we celebrate our independence, the greatest enemy may be the enemy within.

Abortion: A Mixed Review

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This photo was taken by Kjetil Ree.
© 2007 Kjetil Ree, some rights reserved
.

The U.S. Supreme Court today, by a 5-4 majority, struck down Roe v. Wade, nearly 49 years after the decision that declared a woman’s constitutional right to an abortion. I honestly never thought I’d see this day.

There was a time I would have celebrated this history-making decision. Not today. Today I am conflicted. Some background ….

I first became aware of Roe v. Wade when I studied it for a ninth-grade social studies paper, way back when the ruling itself was just seven years old. I remember the struggle I had then, long before Operation Rescue (founded in 1986); before anti-abortion zealots began to physically block access to abortion providers; before some of those zealots decided it was somehow okay, even morally right, to bomb the clinics and murder the medical professionals who performed abortions. (So much for “pro-life.”)

I remember the struggle I had as I researched and wrote that paper: my Christian faith told me that God values life over death; my reasonably-intelligent scientific study told me that an embryo growing in a womb is not merely “potential life” but real, actual, living life; the combination of faith and science told me that ending such life is, indeed, killing. These convictions led me to oppose abortion; I thought it was wrong, violating my faith, social mores, and even the Hippocratic Oath taken by physicians for nearly two thousand years. I wanted Roe v. Wade to be the rule of the land.

Yet at the same time, I struggled to understand the constitutional justification for the decision. The Court held that a woman had a right to privacy under the Fourteenth Amendment; I didn’t see that—but of course I was even less a constitutional scholar than scientist; that right to privacy had been affirmed by the Court eight years before Roe. It seemed to me that, if anything, the state (and the constitution) had a duty to protect its citizens—including the unborn; yet the unborn were not citizens, as near as I could tell; one has to be born in the U.S. to be a citizen, or at least be born to a U.S. citizen. But certainly the state had a duty to protect persons, and I believed then (and still do) that an unborn child is a person. (Numerous courts have apparently agreed with this, convicting individuals of not one but two murders when a pregnant woman and her unborn baby were killed.)

In the end, my paper followed the weak logic of a high school freshman: I argued my case against Roe v. Wade in spite of my inability to find legitimate constitutional grounds.

Four decades later, I don’t like abortion any more than I did as a high schooler. I’m a little smarter, though, and wiser; I’m more forgiving, and far less a black-and-white, either/or thinker. I may even be a little less judgmental, at least in some aspects. (Still working on that.) In numerous ways, my perspectives have shifted, broadened, grown. It’s become easier—though not always easy—to say I’m wrong, or was wrong, or may be wrong. I’ve wrestled more with inconsistencies in both my own and others’ thinking and philosophies.

I also recognize—and fear—the cultural milieu into which this new Supreme Court ruling comes, the great divides in these United States that have grown in terrifying ways over even just the last few years. And it’s not just division, but divisiveness—active, intentional, and often violent efforts to create or widen those divides.

Those who oppose abortion are celebrating today, thinking they have won a victory for life. If they are truly pro-life, let them show it by loving, supporting, and helping women in what might be the most difficult decision of their life—even if they disagree with the decision. I fear, though, that too many who declare themselves to be “pro-life” are truly more “anti-abortion,” incapable of offering that kind of love and support.

I fear the worst in our society: that women will again be subject to terror and brutality, whether on an operating table or not; that the violence of the abortion debate in the 1980s and ’90s will return.

And so today I do not celebrate the Supreme Court’s decision. Today I grieve the violence and division in our nation, and pray for her unity.

Why Jan 6 Matters

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Not even during the Civil War was the Confederate Flag brought into the U.S. Capitol.
Photo from NBC News. Click on photo for the article.

Recently I’ve read on social media the suggestion that the events of Jan 6, 2021, have less of an impact on our day-to-day lives than the price we are paying for gas (and, by extension, other prices).

May I suggest a longer view? We’ve been through economic slumps before. We’ve experienced “out of control” inflation before. I’m old enough to remember gas prices around $1 a gallon … and lines stretching around the block to buy gas (ironically, those were around the same era). I also remember paying the equivalent of $4-5 a gallon—around the same time (forty years ago)—in West Germany.

You know what? We survived. We survived the energy crisis of the 1970s. We survived the burst of the housing bubble. We survived the “crash” of 2008. We even survived the Great Depression and the Dust Bowl. We can survive the current economic challenges (and yes, they are many).

What I don’t remember—because it hasn’t happened, certainly not in my lifetime—is an armed incursion of the U.S. Capitol by not just a few, but hundreds of “Americans” (I use the term loosely). There have been small-scale attacks, including at least two bombs (1971 and 1983). There was, it is believed, an attempted attack on 9/11/2001. But there has been nothing on the scale of what we saw on January 6 last year. In fact, I believe you have to go back to 1814 to find anything comparable—the burning of the Capitol. And that was done by a foreign force, not our nation’s own citizens.

The very survival of the United States of America has never been truly threatened by the price of gas or milk or wheat.

Two world wars did not threaten her survival as a nation. Yes, the Cold War with its nuclear arms race was a legitimate threat—a threat to the entire world, though, not just the US.

The only legitimate threat to our survival as a nation has come from the inside: the Civil War 160 years ago and, a year ago, the incursion into the U.S. Capitol. Regardless of who may have instigated that event—whether grass roots or the very top—the aim of mob was nothing less than the overthrow of democracy, and the assassination of the Vice President. (How else can one understand the chant, “Hang Mike Pence,” while a gallows and a noose were waiting outside?) What’s worse, it was all done in the name of democracy.

I don’t like paying nearly $7 a gallon for gas. But I’ll take that any day if I can live in a truly democratic republic: a nation in which the law rules, and the people—for all our faults and failures and disagreements—get to be part of making, changing, and unmaking that law. Even the laws I don’t like.

Does Jan 6, 2021 matter? More than the short-sighted want to admit.

Grief

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Robert E. Ehle • 1936–2022

My dad died last Saturday. It was expected, and so completely not expected. Six years ago he had three major surgeries; recovery from the last one took a full year. Last May he was diagnosed with pulmonary fibrosis, which can be treated but not cured. The doctor said he’s had patients live five years with that. I learned in February that a few months earlier, Dad was given a year to eighteen months to live. So in a very real sense, I’ve been expecting this for six years … and a year … and three months. But still ….

There is a loneliness in grief, the reality that even when surrounded by loving, caring people who are doing everything right to offer support, none can know truly what I am feeling, how I am grieving. Even those who have known deep grief cannot know my grief. There are common aspects of grief, common stages; yet there can be no truly common grief.

And so we grieve alone, even in the midst of other grievers—others who have experienced the same loss.

And yet there is One who not only grieved His own loss, but whose omniscience allows Him to know the deepest solitude of my loss—One who truly can, and does, grieve with me … and in whose comforting presence I do not grieve alone.

Rise Again—An Easter Lament

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He is risen! He is risen indeed! And yet….

Death rains and reigns.
Evil dances.
Lies cry out.
And still He waits.

Your time is perfect,
Your grace severe,
Your patience intolerable

As children die
Women raped
Men slaughtered

A bike lies fallen
Bodies draped with sheets
Cars become tombs

How many more will die
Before one more is saved for eternity?

And where are Your people?
Who will cry out “PEACE! STOP!”?
Who will sacrifice for war to end?
When will the world arise?

Are we so terrified of the killing machines we ourselves have created that we will allow thousands more to die, to be raped, maimed, orphaned, before we will say with our lives, “ENOUGH!”?

And what of my own hypocrisy?

Yes, I care more for the thousands in Ukraine
than the thousands in Syria.

Forgive me, Gracious Father.

Aleppo broke your heart as much as Mariupol.
Or more, for its forgottenness in the world.

Let my heart break for
the widows
the orphans
the immigrants and refugees
the poor
wherever they are
whatever their skin or homeland or language or faith

Rise again, LORD Jesus
On this Easter morning.
Won’t you rise and bring death to its end

Judge the world
Strike down the brute
In the palace or the tent … or my own heart

LORD Sabaoth, LORD of Hosts
Bring an end to the reign of terror
Let the generals rise up against their commander
Let the privates lay down their arms
Let the officers and the sergeants end the atrocities

Reveal yourself as God of justice and wrath
…and grace

Rise again, my Lord and my God.