1. It’s Your Civic Duty

Call him old fashioned if you’d like… actually, you’d be crazy not to call him old fashioned, but I agree with him at any rate…

John Adams (that’s our nation’s second president, for those of you who are presidentially challenged) said that it is the civic duty of an American to READ. What he really said was that it was the duty of his commonwealth, Massachusetts, to “cherish the interests of literature and the sciences”. Adams even wrote this exhortation into the pages of the Massachusetts constitution, that legislators must be committed to cultivating an atmosphere of education “to countenance and inculcate the principles of humanity and general benevolence, public and private charity, industry and frugality, honesty and punctuality in their dealings, sincerity, good humor, and all social affections, and generous sentiments among the people.”

Adams believed that unless wisdom and knowledge were within the ready grasp of Americans, it would be impossible to preserve our God-given rights and liberties. Access to books, ideas, and the stimulation that such access provides were key in Adams’ opinion to the very fabric of an independent nation. “I must judge for myself,” he wrote, “but how can I judge, how can any man judge, unless his mind has been opened and enlarged by reading.”

Bingo, Mr. President. Bingo.

What will become of a nation that will not educate itself? Not a day goes by that I do not fear we are witnessing such a thing even as I write this. We vote for candidates and issues we have not bothered to examine. We can recite thousands of vapid song lyrics but cannot recount the day’s news headlines. We know hundreds of athletes, musicians and actors by sight, but cannot name vice presidents, supreme court justices, or recent legislation… all of which impact our lives beyond what any of our habitual voyeuristic activities will ever manage to do.

One world leader said it like this: “How fortunate for governments that the people they administer don’t think.”

It is our civic duty to think. To read. To allow history to teach us and science to challenge us and literature to open our minds to new ideas. Hitler burned books. American slaves were not taught to read or write, nor were women for many years. It’s brilliant if you think about it, and so simple. Take away the ability to know – take away information and make man rely on trust… or mistrust. It really doesn’t matter which. The power swings in the direction of knowing.

How could we possibly make the personal choice, however, to be kept in the dark? To surrender our liberties, as it were, of our own accord? We are not an oppressed people. In just two days I will be celebrating our nation’s independence by watching one of the finest fireworks displays in the country – little State College, PA does July 4 in a big way. 14,000 shells fired during 45 minutes of fireworks timed with perfection to a selection of patriotic music. I always sit at the foot of Mt. Nittany with about 100 other party goers (yeah, that’s just one party – there will be about eighty thousand people downtown) and together we ooh and aaah as massive splashes of light paint the sky over Beaver Stadium.

This year I’m armed with a little extra knowledge. It was actually July 2 when the Declaration of Independence was signed by the first delegates – the last signees wouldn’t get their “John Hancocks” on there until a few weeks after ratification. John Adams originally expected that July 2 would be a day that America would remember forever. He’d probably be okay with the fact that we celebrate instead on the fourth – he was more of a big-picture guy, and we’re doing what he envisioned all along:

The Second Day of July 1776, will be the most memorable Epocha, in the History of America.  I am apt to believe that it will be celebrated, by succeeding Generations, as the great anniversary Festival. It ought to be commemorated, as the Day of Deliverance by solemn Acts of Devotion to God Almighty. It ought to be solemnized with Pomp and Parade, with Shews, Games, Sports, Guns, Bells, Bonfires and Illuminations from one End of this Continent to the other from this Time forward forever more.

Thanks to the fact that so many Americans have given their lives so that I, a woman, might have the freedom to study, to read, to vote, and to add to a history that is still being written… I know these things. It is my duty to know these things, just as it is my duty to continue to learn.

Have a happy 4th. God bless America. God bless her faithful citizens.

A Case For Books: 365 Days. 1 Hour a day.  It’s your civic duty!

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2. *Yawn*

I can be “boring” in conversation.

No, it’s true and I can live with that. For one thing, I think I have embraced some elements of early senility, and I can willingly own up the fact that I tend to forget simple words in my story-telling which leads to holding the floor for about a minute longer than anyone really wants me to. Have you ever witnessed a minute-long unintentional filibuster? It’s painful.

Secondly, I’ve grown ever more conservative over the years, and I am aware that in some circles conservative can be construed as boring. Part of this is certainly a faith-based thing. Part of it is that I have begun to study both personal finance and economy and have become, I suppose, a rookie conscientious capitalist. Part of it is that, God help me, I am the mother of 18 and 20 year old daughters. That will put conservative hair on anyone’s chest… which is likely a disgusting metaphor, but maybe not so boring.

And I tend to repeat things. I say the same things over and over again. I’m redundant.

I don’t know what makes me think from time to time that I have nothing of interest to say; maybe I actually can converse with the best of them and the truth is that everyone else has lost the fine art of listening. And thinking. And reading and writing.

I’m reading David McCullough’s epic biography on John Adams right now. What a writer McCullough is – I have a total writer’s crush.  And what a piece of work John Adams was. I find the book stirringly patriotic – a perfect and quite personal definition of “my” America. Beyond that, I am enjoying Adams’ love of books, of knowledge, and his insistence that there is unparalleled value in the human intellect:

“Let us tenderly and kindly cherish, therefore, the means of knowledge. Let us dare to read, think, speak, and write.”

McCullough paints the portrait of a man so enamored with books that he longed to return to his library after his frequent journeys, if it were possible, as much as he longed to return to the warmth of his family. I get that. Give me my family, my dogs, and my books (some days not at all in that order) and I’ll be as happy as a clam.

And though the HBO mini series based on McCullough’s work showed Adams to be at times a pompous, loquacious, opinionated self-depricator… McCullough’s words actually reveal Adams to be more of a social butterfly, deeply appreciated by his peers, and able to talk at will on ANY subject… because of books.  John Adams, you see, was so well read that no subject could render him speechless. Politics. Psychology. Economy. Poetry. Shakespeare. Don Quixote. Revolution. Bring it on, for John Adams had something to say.

Many people I know are well-versed at talking about other people. I also know of those who can re-hash a two hour ball game or movie in a brief one and a half hours of re-telling. We know that Charlie Sheen has gone crazy, Charlie Harper has gone missing, and exactly what Jason Terry has tattooed on his right bicep… then again, some of us don’t know much of anything. (Pay special attention to the guy at 7:02 in the video: “I don’t read books.”)

I don’t know if my musings on the economy are boring or not. Movies may be more action packed, your neighbor’s life may be more scintillating. Doesn’t change the fact that every day I’m confronted by a Facebook news feed brimming with bright young minds who are complaining that they are bored out of their skulls and can’t think of a single thing to do.

There are so many things that books could bring alive in our conversations with one another! If only we will dare to read. Dare to think.

Dare to bore the next person you speak to with your knowledge of a world so much bigger than the world you knew of only yesterday.

The case for books challenge. One hour. 365 days. Turn off the tube. Pick up a book and read!

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3. Readers only need apply…

My daughter Rachael is a good worker. She currently has three jobs, she doesn’t call days off, and she frequently covers shifts for her co-workers. She recently left a vacation with me – a vacation I was paying for, but that’s another story – to cover a forgotten shift at McDonald’s. She paid nearly $100 to get on a bus and ride for 18 hours in order to make $9 an hour. Her shift was likely 9 hours long, so I’d say she came out about even. She would say she came out ahead – she still has her job and the respect of her employers. Continue reading

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4. Books Are Like a Personal Cheering Section

When I was 11, I was pretty certain I was going to be the first girl to play professional baseball. I knew it had never been done before – I just thought of it as a barrier that had yet to be crossed, and I really thought I might be the one to do it. I was seeing the makings of a career in my fastball and my strikeout record, not to mention having a pretty good glove. So I believed it. And I wrote it down, right there in my 1979 diary. Continue reading

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5. You’ve Got a Friend

by Jennifer Grant
Author of Love You More: The Divine Surprise of Adopting My Daughter (Thomas Nelson Publishers, Summer 2011)

A few days ago I had lunch with a woman I’ve known since high school.

Like me, she is in her early forties. (Okay, you might say “mid-forties,” but let’s not split (gray) hairs, okay?) Like me, she is the mother of four children and, like me, she has watched her high parenting standards and ideals crumble and fall away as the years pass. It’s not that she and I have become slacker moms, if such a group exists. We’re both Continue reading

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WHAT BORDERS COULD LEARN FROM THEIR BOOKS

As a book lover – yes, just bury me in books –  I’ve been somewhat distraught to see notification after notification of Borders Book Stores closing across the United States. One of the most recent is a store in the massive Cool Springs Galleria in Franklin, TN. Cool Springs is situated strategically to serve the affluential communities of Franklin and Brentwood. It is anchored by five major department stores and contains over 1,000,000 square feet of shopper’s paradise. How in the world could a comprehensive book supplier fail to thrive in a community which boasts several Fortune 500 companies, one of the largest health care community in the United States, and nearly 30 colleges and universities within a 40 mile radius? It just doesn’t make sense! Over saturation of the market? Poor local management? Is this the beginning of the end of reading as a national past time? Or… has Borders simply set an example for us of how not to do business – lessons that could have perhaps been learned within the pages of their own wares.

The last time Borders has seen a profit was 2006. Lord knows, they have tried everything. Cafe merger with Seattle’s Best Coffee in flagship stores, dabbling in the electronics market, in-store video feeds and free wi-fi…. and borrowing money. Lots of it. In 2008 they borrowed 42.5 million from their chief stockholder, forgetting what Dave Ramsey says in the best-selling Total Money Makeover: The borrower is slave to the lender. (Yes, that’s actually a quote from another best-selling book.) Going into debt will never create wealth, but it will further complicate your business profile. This particular debt pushed Borders’ stock to an all-time low of about $1 per share on the NY Stock Exchange!

One year later, Borders released their CEO, George L. Jones, giving him a severance package of $2.09 million as he was booted through the door. Really? About 80% of all major corporations put a cap on the amount of severance pay that can be offered – often that cap rests at around 40 weeks of pay. What must a plummeting company have been paying its CEO if $2.09 million equals 40 weeks of pay? I don’t have any inside information that this was indeed the arrangement – 40 weeks. But it makes me think of another best-selling book, The Holy Bible, which says: “Suppose one of you wants to build a tower. Won’t you first sit down and estimate the cost to see if you have enough money to complete it?” Luke 14:28  Risk and risky behavior – using investors’ money at that – are two different things.

By 2009, though Borders paid back its initial loans, payroll hours for employees were slashed. The company began to delay payments to publishers for inventory already received, and a line of credit the company had established for Borders customers was underfinanced as well. It’s bad when your credit line can’t pay its creditors, right? It’s no wonder that Thomas J. Stanley says in his book The Millionaire Mind: “Those who are ‘credit dependent’ are in fact controlled by someone else, some institution.”

According to the April 6, 2011 New York Times, Borders has just released a new plan for stabilization which is meeting with skepticism. The basis of their plan… a new $505 million dollar loan from GE Capital. More debt. I approve of the skepticism. All of the store restructuring, acquisition of e-book sales, rent reductions, and even a corporate relocation to Detroit will not make a debt based plan fly.

I love Borders. I am for them… in concept. Books are excellent members of society. They refine us, educate us, stimulate us, and challenge us. They are not expensive and yet eternal. A world of knowledge can be held in two small hands. When books become pawns of corporate greed (Borders’ corporate officers are slated to receive $8.3 million in bonuses during bankruptcy recovery in order to maintain ‘excellent’ leadership) and debt which seems to be fashioned after our own government’s model, I simply have this advice to give my friends at Borders and her stockholders:

READ YOUR BOOKS… they contain some solid wisdom, you know?

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6. Disaster and Crash Proof

So what did you do to prep your household for that big old Y2K disaster eleven years ago? I have to admit, we callously did nothing to brace, though I do know some families who went into full-blown Dharma Initiative mode and still have a pantry full of canned goods and non-perishable items. Find such a home and you may be able to get a pretty sweet deal on bottled water. Continue reading

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