Our Founding Fathers

On July 4, 11776, our founders declared in the Declaration of Independence: “we hold theses Truths to be self-evident, that all Men are created equal and that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among them are Life, Liberty,pursuits Pursuit of Happiness.”  With these words, they began the process of shaping a government that obtains its powers from “the Consent of the Governed.” The Constitution continues in a similar fashion, professing the desire of the people of the United States to “establish Justice”, and to “secure the Blessings of Liberty” to ourselves and our posterity.”  These are powerful words, and the goals expressed in them have shaped this nation.  What kinds of men authored these documents?

When I read Madeleine Albright’s book, The Mighty and the Almighty, her brief description of the philosophical and religious perspectives of our first Presidents intrigued me.  Albright’s own belief in religious tolerance may certainly impact her vision of our founding fathers.  Particularly pertinent is her belief that religion should not be  a source of conflict and hate.  It is reasonable that she focuses on similar attributes in our founding fathers.

What were the beliefs of the men who shaped these documents?  What is it that inspired George Washington and others to create our Constitutional form of government?  How is that these men created a government based on concepts of liberty, freedom and democracy?  What caused them to enact a Constitution that gave so much power and dignity to the common man?  Albright believes they considered themselves to be like the Israelites, guided by God through the wilderness, presumably to the promised land, the a United States.

Almost certainly, the vast majority of early colonial leaders were closely associated with clearly defined religious denominations: Primarily Congregationalists, Puritans, and Anglicans. In contrast are the less clear cut beliefs of a small group of pivotal individuals who took center stage as authors of the Bill of Rights, and the Constitution.  Their letters and speeches suggest they were deep thinkers, wise and thoughtful, “primarily political–not spiritual theorists” who focused  on “civil concepts: democracy, liberty, freedom of the press, freedom of religion, jury trial, all of the fundamental rights we hold dear.”

Consistent with their own political and philosophical beliefs, these men were highly respectful of the wide scope of religious and philosophical beliefs found among the citizenry.  What do we know about their beliefs?  Their religious beliefs appear not to have been stagnant.  They grew and changed as they faced the challenges of building a nation.  Historians describe them as very religious, not very religious, atheists or Deists, depending at least in part on the perspective of the various historians who write about the, while relying on whatever quotes fits.  Without question, they seem to have believed that this new nation should welcome people of different beliefs.

Our first President, George Washington, often acknowledged the importance of a supreme being, while advocating “scrupulous support for religious tolerance” including “Mohametans, Jews or Christians of any sect, or Atheists”.  In Washington’s 1790 letter to the Hebrew congregation of Newport, R.I., he wrote: “The government of the United States gives to bigotry no sanction, to persecution no assistance.”  He made frequent references to a deity, nonetheless, ministers of his time, including the Rev. Bird Wilson, Episcopalian, and Rev. James Abercrombie, Rector of Washington’s church, described him as a “Deist”.  Certainly as Secretary Albright indicates, he was committed to the right of every citizen to worship “according to the dictates of his own conscience”, as he did himself.

Our second President, John Adams, is described by Secretary Albright as a Unitarian who considered liberty “a gift from God” and democracy “a creation of man”.  She describes him as having had little use for the concept of the Trinity.  A prolific writer in the area of philosophical and religious issues, his various writings provide little clarity as to his personal beliefs. Like Jefferson, his religious and philosophical views were intertwined.  His primary concerns appear to have been civil rather than religious.  As a statesman he was dedicated to religious tolerance. Treatises about him quote him as inconsistently stating both that “Our Constitution was made only for a moral and religious people” and in contrast that “This would be the best of all possible worlds, if there were no religion in it.”  I wonder whether this statement was in response to world events of his time.  He expressed concern that people “are often for injustice and inhumanity against the minority”, as demonstrated by “every page of the history of the whole world.” Almost certainly a reference to the French Revolution which occurred almost simultaneously with our own, but with a level of brutality we never experienced.

Albright describes Thomas Jefferson, our third President, as a student of science and ethics.  The controversial nature of his beliefs is evidenced by his opponents’ attacks against him, labeling him an atheist. His own words make this suggestion highly suspect. In his letter to Benjamin Rush, in 1800, he acknowledges God, stating: “I have sworn upon the altar of God, eternal hostility against every form of tyranny over the mind of man.”  But he certainly ascribes to a very personal system of beliefs: “I never submitted the whole system of my opinions to the creed of any part of men whatever in religion, in philosophy, in politics, or in anything else where I was capable of thinking for myself.  Such an addiction is the last degradation of a free and moral agent.”  He had little good to say about Christian clergy, describing them as the “greatest obstacles to the advancement of the real doctrines of Jesus”.  Ouch, my dad would loudly protest against any suggestion that his life’s work is an obstacle to the teachings of Jesus!!

Jefferson is the primary author of the Declaration of Independence.  He and George Mason, authored the Virginia Declaration of Rights, adopted by the Virginia Constitutional Convention on June 12, 1776.  In addition to codifying rights including freedom from excessive bond, separation of the powers of the three branches of government, the right to freedom of the press, and the right to jury trial, the document states that: all men are equally entitled to the free exercise of religion according to the dictates of conscience”; and that it is the mutual duty of all to practice Christian forbearance, love, and charity toward each other.

Jefferson wrote respectfully of atheists in a letter to Thomas Law in June 1814: “If we did a good act merely from love of God and a belief that it is pleasing to Him whence arises the morality of the Atheist? … Their virtue, then, must have had some other foundation than the love of God.”  In a speech to the Virginia Convention in June 1778, he proclaimed:  “Freedom arises from the multiplicity of sects…For where there is such a variety of sects, there cannot be a majority of any one sect to oppress and persecute the rest.”  Finally he states: “Say nothing of my religion.  It is known to my God and myself alone.”  Letter to John Adams, January 1817.

James Madison, the fourth President, and often identified as the “Father of the Constitution” authored major sections of the Federalist Papers, advocating for the passage of the Constitution.  He was certainly one of the greatest champions of that document. Because his early expressions of his religious views are said to have varied greatly from his private statements late in his life, it is difficult to set forth a concise statement of those beliefs.  Early in his political life he described that the “democratic will” is subordinate to the commands of God, but clarified that those commands are “heard and understood in the individual conscience”. Advocating for the Constitution’s language on the separation of church and state, he stated that “Every new and successful example of a perfect separation between the ecclesiastical and civil matters, is of importance;…in showing that religion and Government will both exist in greater purity, the less they are mixed together.”  Letter to Edward Livingston, July 10, 1822.  Madison spoke and wrote frequently on the issue of religious freedom. He authored Federalist Papers #51, in which he wrote a slight variation of his theme, stating that: “In a free government the security for civil rights must be the same as that for religious rights. It consists in the one case in the multiplicity of interests, and in the other in the multiplicity of sects.”

 Last, but not least, of our best remembered colonial leaders is Benjamin Franklin.  Never a President, and always somewhat apart from the main stream even of the late 18th century, his thoughts about faith, only months prior to his death are witty and plain-spoken: “I believe in one God, Creator of the Universe…That the soul of man is immortal…As to Jesus of Nazareth, my opinion of whom you particularly desire, I think the system of Morals and his Religion, as he left them to us, the best the World ever saw or is likely to see; but I apprehend it has received various corrupt changes, and I have, with most of the present Dissenters in England, some doubts as to his divinity; though it is a question I do not dogmatize upon, having never studied it, and think it needless to busy myself with it, when I expect soon an opportunity of knowing the Truth with less trouble.”
What does it matter? It is apparent that they were respected by their peers, that they were able to define themselves as men of integrity who embraced people of good will where ever they found them.  Certainly, in forging a government of people from such varied backgrounds they were able to shape the original “big tent” of which President Ronald Reagan spoke.  But further, they constructed a government in which people were able to come together as equals, with the interests of the majority and the interests of the various minorities all considered and given worth.  They gave respect to the individual, created a government based democratic values and expectations of liberty.  Most important, they gave our citizens a Constitution and Bill of Rights that became the basis for a government that has thrived for over 200 years.  Sadly, they did not protect us from the inhumanity of  slavery or insure the equal treatment of women and minorities.  But over the course of U.S. History. the concepts of liberty, equality and justice have prevailed and these fundamental rights were extended to all citizens.
                                                                                          Out of Many, One
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Prague, Glorious Prague–Old Town

Until the end of the cold war in 1991, Iron Curtain countries, including Czechoslavakia, were essentially closed to U.S. tourists.  It was more than fifteen years later that we traveled to Prague, the largest city in the Czech Republic. A major European economic and cultural center for more than 1000 years, the city resonates with the power that is its history.  In recent weeks I have learned a bit about Prague and the trauma it’s resident’s have endured through the  last 100 years. I am in awe of what I see and learn.

Totally inconsistent with my expectations, Prague is a vibrant, bustling community.  The old town looks like it is straight from a movie set.  It is colorful, dramatic and gothic. Outdoor cafes make visitors feel welcome and tourists can, for a price, enjoy a carriage ride through the city center.

The hustle and bustle of the city surrounds us.  The mood is happy and upbeat.  The tourist trade significantly impacts the economy and seems to be welcomed by all.  The Powder Gate sits next to the palace in Old Town.  It is of ornamental, not military value.  King Vladislav II placed the foundation stone in 1475.
Everywhere you walk in Old Town you see buildings that appear to be, and often are, the work of centuries. Individual buildings, churches and sculptures date from as early as the 1300s and have survived, against all odds, despite wars and other calamities.  The Old Town Hall gives us a sense of the history of the city that is about more than the expenditure of wealth.  It is the creation of elegance.
The Old Town Hall Tower’s Astronomical Clock is a big tourist draw.  It’s intricate design includes a variety of characters. Images of Death, The Turk  and the twelve Apostles all make their appearance on the hour.
The current home of Prague’s city government is the “Nova Radnice” or New City Hall.  It is situated in Marianski Square.
Perhaps not as colorful as it’s predecessor, it is, nonetheless, a stately center of power.
The Church of Our Lady Before Tyn dominates the Old Town Square. Built in 1365 its unique twin spires and gothic appearance make it popular to tourists and travel magazines. Occupied for a time by the Hussites, it later came under the control of Catholic Jesuits.
Construction on St. Vitus’s Cathedral began in 1344.  It was finally completed in the early 1900s.  Its beauty dominates the skyline.  The tomb of Prince/St. Wenceslas, murdered in 929 A.D., is located in the cathedral.  He is best known to Christians from the Christmas Carol, “Good King Wenceslas” for his acts of charity. The intricate design of the exterior is consistent with the elegance of the cathedral’s interior.
Masterpieces of religious art cover the interiors of churches throughout the city evidencing, yet again, the power and great wealth with which Prague has been graced. The craftsmanship evidenced everywhere around us is second to none.
There is no way to capture the essence of Prague’s majestic art and architecture in a single post, nor in a hundred.  But we hope that these photographs give you a sense of the glory of its past, present and future.

Shifting the Balance –6 Months, 82 Posts and 47 Countries Later

On October 14, 2011, Meg began our first post this way:

My mother and I have decided to start a blog. For as long as I can remember, we have talked about everything going on in the world. Naturally, our conversations trend toward identifying problems and then brainstorming possible solutions. Overall, our primary objective has always been to visualize the world in balance.

This is our 82nd post.  We have been “viewed” in 47 countries including such diverse places as the Netherlands (of course we have family there), Serbia, South Africa, Brazil and Croatia.  Two of our most popular posts have been “I couldn’t resist the tulips”–yesterday, and “The importance of buying local”–in January.

Our focus from the beginning has been about finding and maintaining balance in our lives and in our world.  We sometimes discuss whether we have maintained that focus, because most of what we post is about beauty in the world around us.  Only occasionally do we write a piece about meaningful issues. When we do, we work hard to write in a way to encourage civility and to be open to the opinions of others.  We never want to embarrass ourselves or cause harm to others. But trust me when I say that our opinions really are only Meg’s and mine and not the opinions of our families, our employers, or anyone else.  We do quote from documents such as the U.S. Constitution, international treaties, books and similar information.  Hopefully we do so accurately.

For those who do not blog, it is difficult to explain the personal satisfaction associated with hitting “publish” after researching, drafting, reviewing and editing each post.  More important is that writing a blog encourages us to look at life a little differently.  When I drive by a beautiful statute or see graffiti on the wall, or look at photographs of countries we’ve visited, I try to figure out the best way to share the information with others.  When I read a book, or a newspaper article, I wonder whether others would be interested in learning about it.

Essentially, it causes us to live our lives with greater awareness.  And isn’t greater awareness an essential step toward living life better, while meeting our goal of finding and maintaining balance; consistent with our name Shifting the Balance.     Ann

I couldn’t resist the tulips

While my cute Mum was in town for Easter, she decided to brighten our Easter dinner table with these beautiful tulips. Now 3 days later, they are still lovely. As I was feeding the kids their morning eggs, I noticed the light coming in behind the vase. I am merely an amateur when it comes to photography, but I do love taking pictures. In this moment, I just couldn’t resist. I even moved chairs and placements for one of them. So lovely.

What do Madeleine Albright and Condoleezza Rice have in Common? Czech Mentors!

Madeleine Albright and Condoleezza Rice are dynamic women whose influences on U.S. and world events had a significant impact on foreign policy decisions.  Both served as U.S. Secretaries of State.

Albright is a Democrat, politically a moderate.  Rice is a Republican, politically a conservative. They are of different faiths, with different philosophic perspectives. Two powerful, but very different personalities, styles and beliefs. Since reading Madeleine Albright’s book, The Mighty and the Almighty, I have enjoyed discovering her world views, her life experiences and her views of the development of the U.S. as a nation and an international power. But I was still surprised when I learned of the political interconnections between Albright and Rice. It is all about mentors.

In her book,  U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, the 64th U.S. Secretary of State under President Bill Clinton, describes her values and beliefs.  She describes being influenced by her father, Josef Korbel, a Czechoslovakian diplomat, and by Tomas Garrigue Masaryk, the first President of Czechoslovakia, in whose government Korbel served. Rice also identifies Josef Korbel as a major figure in her life. So, who are these men? And how did they influence two such brilliant and unique individuals?

Tomas Garrigue Masaryk (1850-1937) was born in Hodonin, Moravia. He was a Professor of Philosophy at the University of Prague and a visiting professor at the University of London.  He served in the Austrian Parliament from 1891 to 1893 and 1907 to 1914.  He went into exile in 1914 and organized Czechs and Slovaks living outside Austria-Hungary. He developed a network of exiles who passed intelligence to the Allies while helping to establish the Czechoslovak Legions who fought with the Allies in World War I. He traveled throughout Europe and the United States from 1916 to 1918, encouraging allied leaders to force the “disintegration” of Austria-Hungary. When Austria-Hungary fell at the end of WWI, Masaryk became head of the provisional Czech Federation.  He was elected President by the National Assembly in 1918, 1920, 1927 and 1934.  He died before the Munich Agreement was signed in September 1938. Korbel briefly served in Masaryk’s government.

Masaryk was raised Catholic and, as an adult, converted to the Unitarian faith.  He married a U.S. citizen, also Unitarian.  Albright describes him as an intellect who did not consider belief in God necessary to be moral, but did believe “religious faith, properly understood, did much to encourage and strengthen right behavior.” Masaryk considered humanism and religion to be intertwined, with religion ultimately being about showing respect for every person and helping others.

Josef Korbel was born in what is now the Czech Republic.  He was a young diplomat when he was forced to flee his homeland due to his Jewish heritage when the Nazis occupied Czechoslovakia. He would also have been at risk of arrest due to his diplomatic ties to President Edvard Benes, President of Czechoslovakia after Masaryk’s. He returned to his homeland after World War II, served as ambassador to Luxembourg, and fled again when the communists assumed power in 1948. Sentenced to death in absentia, he was given political asylum in the United States.  It is little wonder he had a keen interest in democracy and a love for this country.   Korbel ultimately moved to the University of Denver where he founded the school bearing his name, the Josef Korbel School of International Studies. Even though he was Jewish by birth, Korbel appears to have espoused no religious faith in his youth, and raised his children in the Catholic faith.

Josef Korbel may be best known as Madeleine Albright’s father, but he was also a mentor to Condoleezza Rice, the National Security Advisor and 66th U.S. Secretary of State under President George W. Bush.  She studied under him at the University of Denver and describes him as a central figure in her life.  Her PhD dissertation dealt with politics and policy under communism in his homeland, Czechoslovakia.

Both Albright and Rice credit Korbel with the belief that “democratic values are at the heart of peace and stability in the world.” Both women have reflected that Korbel considered the United States the “Indispensable Nation” because of its pivotal role in world affairs. They, too, share that belief.

In understanding Secretary Albright, it is helpful to understand her admiration of Masaryk, her father, and the impact both had on her world view. In understanding her father, it is important to recognize that his beliefs were broad enough to nurture two women with such diverse points of view.  It also gives us insight into the values that influence the beliefs of both women and their perspectives of faith and politics in interacting with world and national leaders. We journey on!

Sonoma Wine Country: From Mom’s Camera

It’s Saturday morning in Petaluma.  Today all four of us are ready to spend the day in the wine country.  On Friday we got an early start when we visited Roche Wine’s tasting room in downtown Sonoma.  Terry was ready to begin to kick-start our adventure as he hovered over the wine barrels.

Our wine tour Saturday morning began at the Iron Horse Winery.  It is in a beautiful setting in the hills of Sonoma with vineyards all around it.  The Iron Horse focused on sparkling wines and chardonnay.  The overall mood of the tasting room was lots of fun and the great attitude of the servers added to the experience.

We were lucky that Jake was able to break free from work for some well deserved fun as he joined us for our wine tasting adventure.  He took it seriously as he discussed with Meg which wines they each preferred.

By the time we arrived in Healdsburg we needed a break from wine tasting. We decided to stop at Wurst Sausage Grill. While I think of California as a mecca of fish, vegetables and fresh fruit, our lunch was definitely all about grease and french fries.  But the food was full of flavor and very satisfying.

Healdsburg is another town with a small town feeling.  In addition to the wine tasting room, the square is filled with restaurants, jewelry stores and gift shops.  Wine is a constant theme.  The reflection of the brick building across the street in this photograph of Papitre’s shop window suggested the tricks the mind can play as a result of “over-tasting”.

We travelled on to Hawke Winery’s tasting room with its wonderful view of the Alexander Valley.  The view was worth the visit.  The vineyard out the window was owned by Kendall Jackson.

We continued on to the Alexander Valley Winery.  It is also a beautiful location in the valley.  The wines are among Terry’s favorites, since he is a regular at Costco.  The wine cellars are quite elegant.  Meg and I both included them in our photos. To me it looks like the entrance to a medieval castle.

Our trip through wine country was a memorable experience.  We’ve had a great time and met some delightful people.  We head for home happy and satisfied.

Sonoma Wine Country: From Meg’s Camera

Meg has a J.D. in Urban, Land Use and Environmental Law. She focuses on maintaining the balance of community and environmental health, healthy lifestyles, and encouraging sustainable living.

While Mom and Terry were in town for Easter weekend, we spent a lot of time exploring the wonders of the North Bay. On Friday, we ventured around Western Marin and explored the coast. On Saturday, we visited the wine country.

As with the day before, Mum and I both took lots of photos. I used my Olympus E-PL1, and Mum used her iPhone 4S. Admittedly, I am not as good with the camera as I used to be. And learning all the bells and whistles on the DSLR is going to take me some time, but it is still exciting to visit beautiful places and captures moments and scenes along the way.

Our first wine country visit was actually on Friday evening before dinner. We went to Roche, a winery with delicious wines and a very conveniently located tasting room off the square in downtown Sonoma. Jake and I recently became members of the Carneros Club at Roche, so we wanted to show Mum and Terry where we love to go to do a wine tasting on the weekends.

To start off our day on Saturday, we drove up to Iron Horse Ranch and Vineyard. The views from this winery are quite amazing. It is set up in the hills northwest of Sebastopol. The perfect place to start our day in the wine country.

After tasting some delicious bubbly and taking in the beautiful views, we continued our trek north to Healdsburg, where we stopped for lunch at Wurst Sausage Grill and Beer Garden. Northern California has amazing food, and our Wurst sausages were no exception. With full bellies, we walked around Healdsburg. Terry occasionally pulled us aside to look at wine country real estate postings, and Mum pointed out the beautiful gallery windows. Before we headed back to the Jeep, we stopped in a little deli to get gelato.

After lunch and a stroll, we continued along the way to Hawkes, a place in Alexander Valley known for its Cabs. Our experience was somewhat unexpected. Hawkes has a great view of Kendall Jackson grapes growing across the street. There seemed to be just a hint of “sibling rivalry.” The wines were great, however, so we certainly couldn’t complain.

Lastly, we stopped at Alexander Valley Vineyards, a charming location perched up off the road with beautiful hills and tucked away in the trees. There is even a door leading to what I presume to be a wine cellar, but surrounded by greenery and flowers, it almost reminds me of Bilbo Baggins’s hobbit house nestled in the hill. The wine was also delicious.

I do love exploring the wine country, and I was excited to try new places this time. There is so much to see around here, we explore a new place every weekend and still not see it all in our lifetime. Of course, that won’t keep us from trying.