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  • 2015-04-25 3:33 PM | Daniel


    Frank Capra’s America and Ours

    March 2015 | Volume 44, Number 3

    John Marini
    University of Nevada, Reno

    macdonaldJohn Marini, a professor of political science at the University of Nevada, Reno, is a graduate of San Jose State University and earned his Ph.D. in government at the Claremont Graduate School. He has also taught at Agnes Scott College, Ohio University, and the University of Dallas. He is on the board of directors of the Claremont Institute for the Study of Statesmanship and Political Philosophy and a member of the Nevada Advisory Committee of the U.S. Civil Rights Commission. Dr. Marini is the author or co-author of several books, including The Progressive Revolution in Politics and Political Science; The Politics of Budget Control: Congress, the Presidency, and the Growth of the Administrative State; and The Founders on Citizenship and Immigration.

    The following is adapted from a speech delivered at Hillsdale College on March 3, 2015, during a conference on the films of Frank Capra sponsored by the College’s Center for Constructive Alternatives.

    Filmmaker Frank Capra was not an American by birth or blood. Consequently he did not understand America, as many Americans do today, in terms of personal categories of identity such as race, ethnicity, gender, or sexuality. He understood America in terms of its political principles—the moral principles of America that can be shared by all who understand them and are willing to live up to them. This was Abraham Lincoln’s understanding as well. In a speech in Chicago in 1858, Lincoln noted that many citizens of that time did not share the blood of the “old men” of America’s Founding generation. But, he continued,

    . . . when they look through the old Declaration of Independence they find that those old men say that “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal,” and then they feel that that moral sentiment taught in that day evidences their relation to those men, that it is the father of all moral principles in them, and that they have a right to claim it as though they were blood of the blood, and flesh of the flesh of the men who wrote that Declaration, and so they are. That is the electric cord in that Declaration that links the hearts of patriotic and liberty-loving men together, that will link those patriotic hearts as long as the love of freedom exists in the minds of men throughout the world.

    Frank Capra was born in Sicily in 1897 and came to America in 1903. Yet by the 1930s, his movies—movies like Mr. Deeds Goes to Town, Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, and Meet John Doe—were said to embody the best in America. Capra’s films were nominated for 35 Academy Awards and won eight, including two for best picture and three for best director. But Capra’s star faded after the Second World War, and by the end of the revolutionary decade of the 1960s, the actor and director John Cassavettes could say: “Maybe there never was an America in the thirties. Maybe it was all Frank Capra.” By that time, Capra’s films were widely viewed as feel-good fantasies about a country that never was. But is that view correct?

    Capra, like Lincoln, believed that our inherited political edifice of liberty and equal rights is a fundamental good. He believed that if our treasure is in the ideas of our fathers, it is the duty of each generation to make those ideas live through the proper kind of education—including through literature and art, including his own art of filmmaking. Accordingly, he believed it is important to celebrate the deeds of those ordinary individuals who continue to exercise the virtues necessary to maintain those ideas.

    In celebrating these deeds in his movies, Capra rejected social or economic theories based on progressivism or historicism—theories in which the idea of natural right is replaced with struggles for power based on categories such as race and class. Such theories had taken root not only in Soviet Russia and Nazi Germany, but elsewhere in the West—especially in the universities. As political theorist Hannah Arendt observed during World War II:

    Among ideologies few have won enough prominence to survive the hard competitive struggle of persuasion, and only two have come out on top and essentially defeated all others: the ideology which interprets history as an economic struggle of classes, and the other that interprets history as a natural fight of races. The appeal of both to large masses was so strong that they were able to obtain state support and establish themselves as official national doctrines. But far beyond the boundaries in which race-thinking and class-thinking have developed into obligatory patterns of thought, free public opinion has adopted them to such an extent that not only intellectuals but great masses of people will no longer accept any presentation of past or present facts that is not in agreement with these views.

    It is not surprising, then, that Capra’s films came to be viewed by critics, especially after the 1960s, through the lens of those economic or social theories.

    * * *

    Capra was often thought to be a populist. But Capra did not assume that a virtuous opinion existed in the people, or that the people simply needed mobilizing. He was aware that the modern public is created by modern mass media whose techniques spawn mass society, posing a danger to individual freedom. Capra wrote that his films “embodied the rebellious cry of the individual against being trampled into an ort by massiveness—mass production, mass thought, mass education, mass politics, mass wealth, mass conformity.” He did not believe in the use of mass power to improve society or to right historical wrongs. Reform, he thought, must take place through moral regeneration—thus through moral education.

    Consider Capra’s 1939 film, Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, in which an idealistic man goes to Congress, runs into rampant corruption, becomes despondent, is later inspired at the Lincoln Memorial, decides against hope to stand on principle, and prevails. Capra had doubts about making Mr. Smith. While in Washington preparing for the film, he attended a press conference in which President Roosevelt outlined the great problems facing the nation. Capra wondered whether it was a good time to make a dramatic comedy about Washington politics. In his troubled state he visited the Lincoln Memorial, where he saw a boy reading Lincoln’s words to an elderly man. He decided, he later wrote, that he “must make the film, if only to hear a boy read Lincoln to his grandpa.” He left the Lincoln Memorial that day, he recalled,

    with this growing conviction about our film: The more uncertain are the people of the world . . . the more they need a ringing statement of America’s democratic ideals. The soul of our film would be anchored in Lincoln. Our Jefferson Smith [the film’s lead character, played by Jimmy Stewart] would be a young Abe Lincoln, tailored to the rail-splitter’s simplicity, compassion, ideals, humor. . . . It is never untimely to yank the rope of freedom’s bell.

    When watching Mr. Smith, it is important to notice where Capra locates the corruption. FDR customarily attacked “economic royalists,” or the private corruption of corporations and monopolies. For FDR, the solution to corruption was to be found through the government and through the unions, which would combat the economic forces of the private sphere. But in Mr. Smith, Capra located the corruption not in the private but in the political sphere—it was the politicians who had usurped the institutions of government on behalf of their own interests and the special interests. When Smith goes to Washington he reveres a Senator from his state who had been a friend of his father. Smith’s father, a newspaperman, had been killed while defending an independent prospector against a mining syndicate that was likely in cahoots with the union. Capra, like Smith and his father, understood America in terms of a common good—a good established by the principles of equality and liberty as the foundation of individual rights.

    The setting of Mr. Smith is deliberately timeless. There is no mention of the Depression or of impending war. There is no indication of partisanship. What Capra hopes to bring to life are the words that have been carved in stone on Washington, D.C.’s monuments, but which are now forgotten. That is Jefferson Smith’s purpose as well. In a central scene in the movie, gazing at the lighted dome of the Capitol, Smith says:

    . . . boys forget what their country means by just reading “the land of the free” in history books. Then they get to be men, they forget even more. Liberty is too precious a thing to be buried in books. . . . Men should hold it up in front of them every single day . . . and say, “I’m free to think and to speak. My ancestors couldn’t. I can. And my children will.”

    What Smith is advocating in the film is the establishment of a boys camp that will teach them about the principles of their country. Moreover, it is not to be paid for by the taxpayers, but with a loan from the government to be paid for by the boys themselves. At the climax of Smith’s battle in the Senate, he says this:

    Get up there with that lady that’s up on top of this Capitol dome—that lady that stands for liberty. Take a look at this country through her eyes. . . . You won’t just see scenery. You’ll see . . . what man’s carved out for himself after centuries of fighting . . . for something better than just jungle law—fighting so he can stand on his own two feet, free and decent—like he was created, no matter what his race, color, or creed. That’s what you’d see. There’s no place out there for graft or greed or lies—or compromise with human liberties. And if that’s what the grown-ups have done with this world that was given to them, then we better get those boys camps started fast and see what the kids can do. It’s not too late. . . . Great principles don’t get lost once they come to light. They’re right here. You just
    have to see them again

    For Capra, like Lincoln, the problem is how to make people see the principles again.

    The politicians in Washington in 1939 did not like their portrayal in Mr. Smith. Many tried to keep the movie from being shown. Capra thought it to be a ringing defense of democracy—and the people agreed. It was a tremendous success, not only in America, but throughout the world. In 1942, a month before the Nazi occupation of France was to begin, the Vichy government asked the French people what films they wanted to see before American and British films were banned by the Germans. The great majority wanted to see Mr. Smith. One theater in Paris played the movie for 30 straight nights.

    * * *

    By the time America entered World War II, Capra had become America’s most popular director and was president of the Screen Directors Guild. Yet four days after Pearl Harbor he left Hollywood to join the Armed Forces. He was sent to Washington and was given an office next to the Army Chief of Staff, General George Marshall. Marshall was worried that millions of men would be conscripted, many right off of the farm, having little idea of the reason for the war. He assigned Capra to make “a series of documented, factual-information films—the first in our history—that will explain to our boys in the Army why we are fighting, and the principles for which we are fighting.” Capra was nearly cowed by the assignment. He had never made a documentary. But after giving it some thought, he brilliantly dramatized the difference between the countries at war by using their own films and documentaries, in this way illustrating the character and danger of tyranny.

    After the war, with the danger gone, it became increasingly clear that American intellectuals, who had rejected the political principles of the American Founding, had not understood the phenomenon of tyranny. For them, it was simply historical conditions that had established the distinction between right and wrong—or between friend and enemy—during the war. For them, in fighting the Nazis, America had simply been fighting a social movement. Subsequently, they looked on those who still revered America’s Founding principles as representing a reactionary economic and social movement to be opposed here at home. For the same reason, Capra’s wartime documentaries—known collectively as Why We Fight—came to be seen merely as propaganda.

    Capra never thought of his documentaries as propaganda. He saw them as recognizing the permanent human problems—those problems that reveal the distinction between right and wrong, good and evil, justice and injustice. The fundamental distinction in politics is between freedom and slavery or democracy and tyranny. Winston Churchill said of Capra’s wartime documentaries, “I have never seen or read any more powerful statement of our cause or of our rightful case against the Nazi tyranny.” In his view, they were not propaganda at all. Churchill insisted that they be shown to every British soldier and in every theater in England. At the end of the war in 1945, General Marshall awarded Capra the Distinguished Service Medal. And on Churchill’s recommendation, Capra was awarded the Order of the British Empire Medal in 1962.

    * * *

    Capra’s last great movie, It’s a Wonderful Life, was made in 1946. Shortly before making it, he said, “There are just two things that are important. One is to strengthen the individual’s belief in himself, and the other, even more important right now, is to combat a modern trend toward atheism.” This movie, he wrote, summed up his philosophy of filmmaking: “First, to exalt the worth of the individual; to champion man—plead his causes, protest any degradation of his dignity, spirit or divinity.” Capra understood that Hollywood would be changing, because the culture and society had begun to change. The historical and personal categories of class and race had become political, and self-expression and self-indulgence had replaced those civic virtues that require self-restraint. In his 1971 autobiography—imagine what he would think today—he wrote that “practically all the Hollywood filmmaking of today is stooping to cheap salacious pornography in a crazy bastardization of a great art to compete for the ‘patronage’ of deviates.”

    In 1982, when he was in his 85th year, Capra was awarded the American Film Institute’s Life Achievement Award. In his acceptance speech, he touched on the things that had been most important in his life. He spoke of celebrating his sixth birthday in steerage on a 13-day voyage across the Atlantic. He recalled the lack of privacy and ventilation, and the terrible smell. But he also remembered the ship’s arrival in New York Harbor, when his father brought him on deck and showed him the Statue of Liberty: “Cicco look!” his illiterate peasant father had said. “Look at that! That’s the greatest light since the star of Bethlehem! That’s the light of freedom! Remember that. Freedom.” Capra remembered. In his speech to the Hollywood elite so many years later, he revealed his formula for moviemaking. He said: “The art of Frank Capra is very, very simple. It’s the love of people. Add two simple ideals to this love of people—the freedom of each individual and the equal importance of each individual—and you have the principle upon which I based all my films.”

    It is hard to think of a better way to describe Frank Capra’s view of the world, and America’s place in fulfilling its purpose, than to turn to another great American who made his living in the world of motion pictures. Ronald Reagan was a friend and admirer of Frank Capra. They were very much alike. The inscription that Reagan had carved on his tombstone could have been written by Capra: “I know in my heart that man is good. That what is right will always eventually triumph. And there is purpose and worth to each and every life.” Both Capra and Reagan looked to a benevolent and enduring Providence, and the best in man’s nature, as the ultimate grounds of political right. For them, as for Lincoln, America was more than a geographical location or a place where citizens shared a common blood or religion, or belonged to a common culture or tradition. America was a place where an enlightened understanding of “the Laws of Nature and of Nature’s God” had made it possible to establish those principles of civil and religious liberty that gave “purpose and worth to each and every life.”

    Capra was aware that the moral foundations established by those principles, as well as belief in God, had become endangered by the transformations in American life following World War II. He saw the necessity of reviving the moral education necessary to preserve the conditions of freedom, because he understood that in a democracy, the people must not only participate in the rule of others, they must also learn to govern themselves.

    In his last and most personal tribute to his adopted country, Capra recalled his family’s arrival at Union Station in Los Angeles after their long journey across America in 1903. When they got off the train, his mother and father got on their knees and kissed the ground. Capra’s last words to his assembled audience were these: “For America, for just allowing me to live here, I kiss the ground.” Capra did not believe that he had a right to be a citizen of America. Rather he was grateful for the privilege of living in America. He understood that freedom not only offers economic opportunity, but establishes a duty for all citizens—a duty to preserve the conditions of freedom not only for themselves, but for their posterity. Only those willing to bear the burdens of freedom have a right to its rewards.

    For Capra, the real America was to be understood in terms of its virtues, which are derived from its principles. In his view, his art was dedicated to keeping those virtues alive—by making those principles live again in the speeches and deeds of that most uncommon phenomenon of human history, the American common man. It was the simple, unsophisticated, small-town common American that Capra celebrated in his films. But for Capra, as for his friend John Ford, no one epitomized this phenomenon better than Abraham Lincoln.

    For American elites today, and for too many of the American people as well, the past has come to seem no longer meaningful to the present, and the celebration of the heroes of the past, like Lincoln, has come to seem naïve. Looking ahead, I’m afraid, the moral regeneration of America that Capra had hoped to bring about will require more than a Capra. It will require a Lincoln.

  • 2015-04-04 3:30 PM | Daniel

     Happy Father’s Day! What, you say, “This isn’t Father’s Day; Father’s Day was a month ago.”  Well, If you look at the calendar or ask greeting card companies, they will tell you that Father’s Day is the third Sunday in June. But when we consider our Heavenly Father, the Father Absolute who is the creator controller, and infinite upholder of the universe, we realize that today and every day is Father’s Day.

    Toward the end of his life, Jesus told his followers numerous times that he would be killed, and he also said that on the third day he would rise from the dead. Very few of his disciples believed him. They didn’t think he could die. But, in fact, he  was crucified and died a painful death. The question then became, would he rise from the dead, as he predicted? Again, very few of his disciples believed that he would.

    One of his most loyal disciples was Mary Magdalene. In today’s scripture passage from the 20th chapter of John, we are told that on the morning of the third day following Jesus’ crucifixion, Mary Magdalene went to the tomb where Jesus had been lain. And, lo and behold, there she met Jesus, who indeed had risen from the dead! And Jesus said to her, “Go to my brothers and sisters and tell them, ‘I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.’”[1]  In this passage, Jesus is proclaiming that God is not only his father, but he is also the father of every person. As Christianity developed, it emphasized that God was the Father of the Lord Jesus Christ, but it often neglected the more robust truth that, as Jesus himself declared, God is also the loving father of each one of us. In this regard, we are equal with Jesus. Of course, Jesus is unique in other ways, such as having divine power. But we are each one of us a child of God, as Jesus is.

    And because we are all God’s children, we are all brothers and sisters to each other. Jesus said, “all of you are brothers and sisters….you have one Father, who is in heaven.”[2]

    Jesus’ God is not far away, but is readily available and ever full of tender mercy. God is not just the Father, but “our Father.”[3]

    Yes, we are all God’s beloved children and, by faith, simple trust in God, we can realize this saving truth. If we do so, we will be “born from above.” Jesus said, “Truly I tell you, unless you change and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.[4] Jesus is not telling us to become childish, but rather childlike, to trust God as a child trusts his earthly parents.

    What kind of father is God? Perhaps we can answer this by considering the scripture we have heard today of the parable of the Prodigal Son, as told by Jesus.[5] This parable introduces us to two very different brothers. The older brother is responsible, serious, and hard-working, but also self-centered and conceited. The younger brother avoids responsibility; he likes to enjoy himself; he is cheerful, lively, and lazy. It’s no wonder that the two brothers did not get along.

    The younger brother decides to leave home. He approaches his father and asks to be given the 1/3 share of his father’s estate that will be his due upon the father’s death. When you think about it, this is pretty insulting: it’s as though the son is wishing his father dead. But the father agrees to the request. The son proceeds to leave home and travel to a distant land. There he indulges his appetites in riotous living, until he has wasted all of his wealth.

    And then this far country is afflicted with famine. In hunger and despair, the son goes to work for a man who has him feeding pigs. And he wishes he could eat what the pigs eat. Finally, he “comes to his senses.” He realizes that while he is starving, his father’s servants are well-fed. He recognizes that he has sinned against heaven and his father and resolves to go back home and ask that he be treated not as a son, but as a servant. So he sets out on the long journey home.

    His father, meanwhile, has been mourning him and hoping for his return. When the son is still far away from home, the father sees him, rushes to him, and hugs and kisses him. “Father,” the son blurts out, “I have sinned against heaven and against you.” But the father cuts this confession short. He calls his servants and instructs them to bring the finest robe, a ring for the son’s finger, and sandals. He tells them kill the calf they have been fattening and to celebrate with a feast. He is elated, because his son, who was lost, has now been found.

    Meanwhile, the older son, who has been working in the fields, comes back to the house and hears sounds of merrymaking. He asks a servant what is happening and is told that his brother has returned and the father has called for a celebration. This dutiful son is angry and refuses to join the party. The father comes out and pleads with him to come in, but this son is too proud and too stubborn. He complains that, though he has always been the good son, doing what his father asked for and what his duty required, the father never even gave him a baby goat so that he could party with his friends, while the younger son, who has wasted his father’s money, is rewarded with a celebration.

    My son, the father replies, everything I have is yours. Anytime you could have had a party for your friends. But it is right that we celebrate, for your brother was dead and now he is alive; he was lost and now is found.

    Henri Nouwen has suggested that this parable, instead of being called the parable of the prodigal son, might better be called the parable of the compassionate father. Indeed, the father’s compassion shines brightly. He isn’t even interested in hearing the confession of the younger son, but simply rejoices in his return. And his compassion extends to the older son, whom he urges to join the celebration.

    Have you ever had an experience like that of the prodigal son? I have. When I was in college in New York, I was very unhappy. I had no interest in school, and spent most of my time in the downtown pool halls. I got involved in gambling at pool halls and at the race track. I wanted money to fund my gambling habit and I thought of a way to get it. My grandfather had long maintained a savings account in my name. Whenever I would visit him at his apartment in Brooklyn, he proudly showed me the passbook that indicated how much money he had put away for me. I decided to get this money. I paid a visit to my grandfather, and when it was over, I shut the door as if I were leaving, but instead, went into the second bedroom and hid under the bed. I lay there, covered in dust, for several hours, until I heard my grandfather leave the apartment. Then I got up, took the savings passbook from the drawer where he kept it, left, and went to the bank, where I withdrew the $600 in the account.

    I then proceeded to lose all the money in a poker game. I had become the prodigal son, but I never “came to my senses” like the son in the parable. I don’t know what would have happened if I had gone to my grandfather and confessed my misdeed. Perhaps, like the father in the parable, he would have forgiven me and embraced me, but I was too afraid and ashamed to find out.

    The father in the parable does not judge, punish, or even criticize the prodigal son. He is simply joyful that the son has come back home. And he also embraces the stubborn older son, encouraging him to join in the joy of celebration. Note the contrast between the attitude of the father in this parable and the attitude of God the Father in much of Christian theology, which insists that a punishment must be enacted to satisfy God’s justice and enable us to be reconciled to him. In contrast, for Jesus, God’s love and mercy overshadow his justice. His forgiveness requires no bribe or sacrifice.

    When the paralyzed man had his friends remove tiles in the roof so they could lower him to be by Jesus, Jesus said, “Friend, your sins are forgiven you.”[6] Salvation is offered right away, in response to honest spiritual desire. Many times, Jesus said to people, “Your faith has made you well”[7] or “Your faith has saved you.”[8] He also assured us, “Do not be afraid, little flock, for it is the Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom.”[9]

    Jesus declared that “the Son of Man came to seek out and to save the lost.”[10]  And that God is even “kind to the ungrateful and the wicked.”[11]

    Dear brothers and sisters, let us rejoice that our Father in heaven requires no payment to bestow his grace and salvation on us. He loves each of us with an infinite love and it his great joy to embrace us, like the father in the parable, and to welcome us home.

    Happy Father’s Day!

  • 2015-04-04 3:27 PM | Daniel

    Happy Palm Sunday! I am delighted to be here to join you in celebrating one of the most glorious days in the earth life of Jesus. It was on this day, that Jesus entered Jerusalem to the cheers of crowds who shouted “Hosanna” and waived palm leaves. Palm Sunday marked the beginning of what has become known as Holy Week. One day later Jesus would expel the money-changers and the sacrificial animals from the temple precincts. On Thursday, he would eat the Last Supper with his apostles. Immediately following that he would be arrested and crucified. And, as we Christians know, in three days he would return from the dead, on Easter Sunday.

    Palm Sunday occurred a few days after Jesus performed perhaps his greatest miracle while here on earth, the resurrection of his friend Lazarus from the dead. Lazarus and his two sisters, Martha and Mary, lived in a village called Bethany, two miles from Jerusalem. On his visits to Jerusalem, Jesus would generally stay at the home of these good friends. It was from Bethany that Jesus started the procession into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday.

    What was on Jesus’ mind as he planned to enter Jerusalem this day? Up to now he had tried to suppress the public acclaim of him as the Messiah, but things were different now. He was approaching the end of his life in the flesh. The Sanhedrin, the ruling body of the Jews, had proclaimed that Jesus must die. What harm could come from allowing his disciples to give expression to their feelings?

    So he decided to make a public entrance into Jerusalem. There were various Hebrew Scriptures that prophesied the coming of a Messiah. The passage from Zechariah that we heard earlier seemed the most suitable:

    Rejoice greatly, Daughter Zion!
        Shout, Daughter Jerusalem!
    See, your king comes to you,
        righteous and victorious,
    lowly and riding on a donkey,
        on a colt, the foal of a donkey.



    A warrior king would enter a city riding upon a horse; a king on a mission of peace and friendship would enter riding upon a donkey. Jesus would not enter Jerusalem as a warrior on horseback, but he was willing to enter peacefully and with good will as the Son of Man on a donkey.

    At this time there were thousands of pilgrims in Jerusalem, Jews from various Roman provinces who had come to celebrate the Passover festival. Evidently, some of Jesus’ disciples went ahead and circulated among the pilgrims, spreading the news that Jesus was about to enter the city. So the crowd knew of Jesus’ coming and provided themselves with palm leaves to waive in greeting him. And they shouted


    ‘Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!’

    10 ‘Blessed is the coming kingdom of our father David!’

    ‘Hosanna in the highest heaven!’

    When Luke told the story of the noisy procession, he reports that ”Some of the Pharisees in the crowd said to Him, "Teacher, rebuke Your disciples." But Jesus answered, "I tell you, if these become silent, the stones will cry out!"

    Mark ends his story of the procession by saying, “ Jesus entered Jerusalem and went into the temple courts. He looked around at everything, but since it was already late, he went out to Bethany with the Twelve.”

    Does this strike you as a bit anti-climactic? Jesus has just led this huge crowd to the temple courts and then, what? “He looked around at everything, but since it was already late, he went out to Bethany with the Twelve.” I wonder how the disciples reacted to this. Some of the disciples were among those who were hoping that Jesus would lead a military revolution against the old order. I imagine that Simon Zelotes, for example, would have wanted Jesus to lead the multitude in revolt, destroying the Sanhedrin and its followers, and then proclaiming Jesus King to occupy the throne of King David. Those disciples must have been bitterly disappointed.

    And I guess that Peter would have been disappointed. Jesus allowed the crowd to dissipate without preaching the gospel of the kingdom or allowing Peter, a great preacher, to do so.

    I can think of one apostle who might have been relieved when Jesus allowed the crowd to disperse. I suppose that, in the organization of the 12 apostles, one of them was probably designated the steward, the one responsible to supply food and supplies for the apostles and those who followed them. Perhaps this was the Apostle Phillip. Whoever it was, he must have been relieved that he did not need to feed the great crowd that had gathered to welcome Jesus.

    I suppose that the apostle John might have had the best understanding of what Jesus was up to. John was someone who thought in symbols—he would later write the Book of Revelation, which is chock-full of symbols—and the symbol of Jesus riding on a donkey would have been meaningful to him.

    And the apostles must have realized that by entering Jerusalem to a cheering crowd, Jesus effectively disarmed the Sanhedrin’s plan to arrest him. They no doubt feared to arrest him while he was being acclaimed by the crowd.

    What about Judas? Judas was one of those with a material-minded view of the kingdom. He wanted Jesus, by the supposed miraculous methods of Moses, to overturn Roman rule and restore the kingdom of David. When he saw Jesus fritter away the opportunity to take advantage of the huge crowd, he must have realized that Jesus would not usher in the kingdom according to his material desires. This episode may have been what decided Judas to betray his Master and to make his peace with the old order, which, evidently, was not going away.

    You and I know that Jesus was not going to be a material-minded Messiah, for he often said that “my kingdom is not of this world.” Jesus told of a kingdom which God would set up in the hearts of his children on earth. The power of this kingdom does not consist in the strength of armies or the power of wealth, but in the glory of the divine spirit that indwells the minds and rules the hearts of all who are reborn as citizens of this heavenly kingdom, as children of God.

    Hosanna! Thanks be to God!


    Appendix: Mark 11: 1-11

    11 As they approached Jerusalem and came to Bethphage and Bethany at the Mount of Olives, Jesus sent two of his disciples, saying to them, ‘Go to the village ahead of you, and just as you enter it, you will find a colt tied there, which no one has ever ridden. Untie it and bring it here. If anyone asks you, “Why are you doing this?” say, “The Lord needs it and will send it back here shortly.”’

    They went and found a colt outside in the street, tied at a doorway. As they untied it, some people standing there asked, ‘What are you doing, untying that colt?’ They answered as Jesus had told them to, and the people let them go. When they brought the colt to Jesus and threw their cloaks over it, he sat on it. Many people spread their cloaks on the road, while others spread branches they had cut in the fields. Those who went ahead and those who followed shouted,


    ‘Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!’

    10 ‘Blessed is the coming kingdom of our father David!’

    ‘Hosanna in the highest heaven!’

    11 Jesus entered Jerusalem and went into the temple courts. He looked around at everything, but since it was already late, he went out to Bethany with the Twelve.


    [1] This homily is based on two scripture passages: Zechariah 9:9, quoted in the homily, and Mark 11:1-11, appended at the end

  • 2015-04-04 3:22 PM | Daniel

    The straightest road to social gospel runs through profound mystical experience. The paradox of true mysticism is that individual experience leads to social passion, that the nonuseful engenders the greatest utility. If we seek a social gospel, we must find it most deeply rooted in the most mystic way. Love of God and love of neighbor are not two commandments, but one. It is the highest experience of the mystic, when the soul of man is known to be one with God himself, that utility drops off and flutters away, useless, to earth, that world-shaking consciousness of mankind in need arises in one and he knows himself to be the channel of Divine Life. The birth of true mysticism brings with it the birthday of the widest social gospel. "American" Christianity is in need of this deeper strain of expression of direct contact with God, as the source, not of world-flight, but of the most intensely "practical" Christianity that has yet been known.

    from The Eternal Promise, reprinted in Quaker Spirituality: Selected Writings

  • 2015-04-04 3:18 PM | Daniel

    Meister Eckhart wrote, "As thou art in church or cell, that same frame of mind carry out into the world, into its turmoil and its fitfulness." Deep within us all there is an amazing inner sanctuary of the soul, a holy place, a Divine Center, a speaking Voice, to which we may continuously return. Eternity is at our hearts, pressing upon our time-torn lives, warming us with intimations of an astounding destiny, calling us home unto itself.


    from A Testament of Devotion, excerpted in Quaker Spirituality: Selected Writings.

  • 2015-04-04 3:16 PM | Daniel

    I am no longer my own, but yours. Put me to what you will, place me with whom you will. Put me to doing, put me to suffering. Let me be employed by you or set aside by you, praised for you or criticized for you. Let me be full, let me be empty. Let me have all things, let me have nothing. I freely and heartily yield all things to your glory and service.

    And now, O glorious and blessed God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, you are mine, and I am yours.

    So be it.

    And the covenant which I have made on earth, let it be ratified in heaven.


  • 2015-03-04 3:13 PM | Daniel

    The angels carry out God's will. Let us pray that we too may listen carefully for his voice and hear his call.

    We beg you hear us; that our prayers may rise like a pleasant fragrance before the Lord, through the hands of your angels.

    We beg you hear us; that we may proclaim glory to God in the highest and peace to his people on earth, with the multitude of the heavenly armies.

    We beg you hear us; that the angels may receive us at the end of our days, and lead us home to paradise.

    We beg you hear us; that the holy standard-bearer, Michael may bring into the light of your presence, the souls of those who have died.

    We beg you hear us.

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