Years ago, the Rev. Richard B. Martin, who died May 3 at 74, was searching for a way to make the Lenten season more meaningful for his parishioners in Northern Virginia. Instead of calling on them to give up the simple indulgences often sacrificed during the 40 days of reflection before Easter — chocolate or television shows — he asked for their spare change.
Father Martin settled on 50 cents a day, the amount someone might have spent at that time, in 1998, on a soda or pizza topping. The 2,500 families he served as pastor of Burke’s Catholic Church of the Nativity raised $67,000 by Easter.
Father Martin had developed ties with the Florida-based humanitarian organization Food for the Poor, which sent the money to the needy in Haiti, one of the poorest countries in the developing world. In that first year after the Lenten collection, Food for the Poor built 27 houses.
Father Martin impressed on his parishioners the ongoing need in Haiti and strengthened the bond between his church and Food for the Poor’s outreach efforts there. By the time of his death, he had raised $4 million for housing and access to health care, education and clean water.
To date, the Church of the Nativity has helped finance homes for 1,300 families in eight “Nativity Villages.” The villages are developments that include community centers used for vocational training or as clinics or places of worship.
Father Martin had traveled throughout the Caribbean and Latin America during his decades as a priest and spoke in simple but harrowing ways about Cité Soleil, a slum near Port-au-Prince.
Hundreds of thousands of people there were terrorized by gangs, disease and chaos, he told his congregants. Roofs were made of cardboard, and families lacked electricity and running water.
“They use the creek to urinate and bathe in,” he said, according to a Washington Post account at the time, describing the living conditions he had witnessed.
“It got us all thinking,” parishioner Richard Miserendino told The Post in 1998. “We kept wondering what kind of house you could possibly buy for $2,500, but the fact that people [in Haiti] don’t even have that much really had an impact on our kids. . . . It’s easy to take things for granted, particularly when you live in Fairfax.”
Father Martin dubbed the effort Operation Starfish, a reference to one of his favorite parables.
In the story, a storm has thrown millions of starfish onto a beach. An old man is determined to save the delicate creatures and pitches them, one at a time, back into the sea.
“How can your effort make any difference?” asks a boy who has been watching.
The man tosses another starfish into the water and replies, “It made a difference to that one.”
Officials at Food for the Poor, which trademarked the Starfish name, said Father Martin’s work in Haiti spurred similar programs at more than 300 churches, schools and organizations across the United States.
“Many churches have done it over Easter, but none with the level of success that he inspired in his people,” said Angel Aloma, executive director of Food for the Poor.
“He wasn’t satisfied with just building the stuff,” Aloma added. “He’d go back the next year and help the people by doing another project. If the village needed clean water, he’d help dig a well so the village would not have to send its little girls walking three hours away to find water.”
In all, Aloma said, Father Martin’s efforts benefited many thousands of Haitians.
“They no longer live on dirt floors and no longer get wet when it rains and have to sleep in the mud,” he said. “They have a home, with a door that locks with a key, so parents find it safer to leave their kids with Granny. They leave their home, with its few possessions, to go out and find work.”
Aloma added that Father Martin funded efforts to teach sewing and animal husbandry, among other skills, that would help Haitians “not only come out of poverty, but have the dignity to support themselves, to move them up in the ladder of life. That is a huge thing.”
Richard Bernard Martin was born Oct. 17, 1939, in Providence, R.I., and grew up in Warwick, R.I. He was a 1962 graduate of Providence College and attended St. Francis Seminary in Loretto, Pa., before his ordination in 1966 at the Cathedral of the Sacred Heart in Richmond.
He worked at churches across Northern Virginia before joining Church of the Nativity in 1997. From 1977 to 1981, he was an Air Force chaplain.
Father Martin, a Burke resident, died at a hospital in Fairfax County of complications from diabetes, said Jim McDaniel, the Operation Starfish coordinator at Church of the Nativity. Survivors include a brother and a sister.
In addition to his work in Haiti, Father Martin helped the poor and the marginalized in the Washington area through Virginians Organized for Interfaith Community Engagement. His efforts were aimed at promoting affordable housing and work opportunities for immigrants.
The parish motto, Father Martin once wrote in the Church of the Nativity bulletin, was, “We reach out to those in need, across the street and around the world.”
Why Religion Matters: The Twinned Life of Family and Faith
This essay on family and faith is the third in a five-part series about the value of religion
SALT LAKE CITY — “Congregations erect a sacred canopy of meaning over the great chapters of family life: birth, childrearing, and marriage.” — W. Bradford Wilcox
For all its progress and possibilities, our modern world has difficulty seeing beyond itself. Every age has to struggle against its blind spots. In ancient Rome, for example, the span of a person’s influence was reckoned at 100 years. Within that horizon individuals could remember two generations back and care for two generations forward. Then, as the custom went, that influence stopped, and a new century, with new people and new concerns, would reset itself. But lasting societies need a broader vision.
The pull of the present is strong, but so are the tugs to the past and the future. Family and faith — our two great bridges beyond the here and now — stretch far past 100 years, in both directions, and expand the purpose and meaning of our lives.
None of us is born a mere individual. We come to this world with a network of pre-existing ties, bonds and obligations. These family relationships shape our worldviews, instil our values and form our identities. And families of all kinds thrive when they join a community of believers. The benefits go both ways — churches strengthen families, and families strengthen churches. Working together, family and faith reinforce norms of right and wrong, teach us how to love our neighbors and provide a support base where children and parents navigate life’s challenges. In other words, family and faith keep us from being alone. They enlarge our circles of responsibility beyond the self and help us turn strangers into friends. Families then pass this spiritual and social capital across generations.
Marshaling extensive social science research, author Mary Eberstadt shows how closely these forces are intertwined. “Family and faith are the invisible double helix of society,” she writes, “two spirals that when linked to one another can effectively reproduce, but whose strength and momentum depend on one another.”
This partnership can be seen at church on Sunday afternoons. Eberstadt points to broad sociological agreement that participation in the family rituals of “being married and having children is linked to higher levels of churchgoing and other types of religious practice.” Another factor is the effect children have on the religious lives of their parents. Sociologist W. Bradford Wilcox puts it simply: “Children drive parents to church.” It’s a common story — kids grow up in a church, leave home for college and drift from the faith, only to return when they get married and have children. What explains this phenomenon? The decisions we make about our deepest beliefs and closest relationships are never simple. But Wilcox adds an important insight: “The arrival of a child can awaken untapped reserves of love, recognition of the transcendent, and concern for the good life.” These things matter because family and religion are among the most basic human institutions. When together, they connect society; when apart, society weakens.
The sacred relationships between kin and church, church and kin, tie us to the past, present and future. Such continuity helps us situate ourselves in this big universe. We find out who we are. The poet Wendell Berry gives expression to these aspirations: “The marriage of two lovers joins them to one another, to forebears, to descendants, to the community, to Heaven and earth. It is the fundamental connection without which nothing holds.”
The fortunes of family and faith will continue to ebb and flow, as they have in various periods throughout history, but experience shows they will do so joining hands. As the one rises or falls, so will the other. The course of history is not predetermined; it is chosen. And those choices have long trajectories — much too long, indeed, to fit in 100 years.
 W. Bradford Wilcox, “As the Family Goes,” First Things, May 2007.
 See Remi Brague, “The Impossibility of Secular Society,” First Things, Oct. 2013.
 Mary Eberstadt, How the West Really Lost God, 2013, 22.
 Eberstadt, How the West Really Lost God, 93.
 Wilcox, “As the Family Goes.”
 Wilcox, “As the Family Goes.”
 Wendell Berry, Sex, Economy, Freedom, and Community, 1992.
Why Religion Matters: Making Selves Out of Others
This essay on faith and community is the second in a five-part series about the value of religion
SALT LAKE CITY —
“Together is harder, but together is better.” — Rabbi David Wolpe
Why do people belong to religions? Some inherit a religion at birth while others may convert to one. But at one point or another people make a conscious decision whether to participate in their religious communities. In fact, the root word for religion is the Latin “religare,” which means to reconnect or bind. In an age that magnifies personal freedom, what could sound less attractive than “binding” oneself to the quirks and idiosyncrasies of a large group of people?
And yet a principle found in many religions is that there is little separation between you and the people around you. Jesus Christ put the charge quite simply: “love thy neighbor as thyself.” In other words, your well-being is much more than aloof personal freedom; it is tied to your neighbor’s well-being also. And so, religious institutions can be helpful junctures where two cooperating impulses meet — the desire for individual purpose and the desire for communal belonging. Like all human goods, these impulses fit within a balance.
Institutional religions are certainly not the only source of all that is good in the world. Individuals can have fulfilling lives while quietly living out their own beliefs in private. But throughout history nothing has rivaled organized religion in its ability to foster commitment to concrete people who live in concrete places. It is in this sustained engagement with neighbors that religion makes its lasting contribution.
Being part of a church is much more than just going to church. It fills people with identity, opportunity, aspiration, learning and many more personal blessings. But these come to individuals insofar as they look beyond themselves to others. Religion instills social responsibility and covenant-making in our lives, based not on self-interest but as a promise to God. This act of “binding” is one of the rare things in history that forges social obligations beyond family or tribe. Fellow believers are often in the best position to care for an ailing person, repair a neighbor’s house or fill in countless other gaps that we ourselves cannot fill. There are few, if any, organizations that can substitute for the community of a church.
Nevertheless, one of the defining features of our time is a waning trust in institutions, including religious institutions. As a result, many people are more isolated from families, communities and society at large. It is so easy to become atomized — breaking into islands of individuals untethered to larger associations. The writer David Brooks lamented the condition wherein “individuals don’t live embedded in tight social orders; they live in buffered worlds of private choices.”
Societies that encourage materialism, individualism and moral relativism may promote what has been called the “sovereignty of self,” but they weaken other values. The social thinker Michael Walzer urges caution: “This freedom, energizing and exciting as it is, is also profoundly disintegrative, making it very difficult for individuals to find any stable communal support, very difficult for any community to count on the responsible participation of its individual members.”
Detached individualism contributes to the trend in society of being “spiritual but not religious.” What this often means is that faith is treated as a personal matter, not the business of other people. But there need not be a contradiction between the two. A person can be both spiritual and religious. In fact, the two are interdependent in vibrant religious lives.
As author Lillian Daniel says, "Anyone can find God alone in the sunset. It takes a certain maturity to find God in the person sitting next to you who has different political views, or when a baby who is crying while you're trying to listen to the sermon." Yet these very inconveniences with other people give substance to our faith, enrich our human empathies and bolster our civic foundation.
In this age of falling trust and social disintegration, a return to the sacred commitments of congregations will make our communities more cohesive. When the fabric of society begins to fray, religion with its layered threads of social capital can help bind it together.
 Rabbi David Wolpe, “The Limitations of Being ‘Spiritual but Not Religious,’” Time Magazine, Mar. 21, 2013.
 Mark 12:31.
 See Jonathan Sacks, “The Moral Animal,” New York Times, Dec. 23, 2012.
 David Brooks, “The Secular Society,” New York Times, July 8, 2013.
 Jean Bethke Elshtain, Sovereignty: God, State, and Self (New York City, New York: Basic Books, 2008).
 Michael Walzer, Citizenship and Civil Society (Rutgers, N.J.: New Jersey Committee for the Humanities Series on the Culture of Community, October 13, 1992), part 1, pp. 11-12.
 Lillian Daniel, “Spiritual but not religious? Path may still lead to Church,” Winnipeg Free Press, Oct. 5, 2013.
This essay on individual faith is the first in a five-part series about the value of religion
SALT LAKE CITY —
“Faith empowers us to see the invisible, embrace the impossible, and hope for the incredible.” — Reverend Samuel Rodriguez
Our modern world offers more choices and possibilities than ever before. Science and technology continually expand our knowledge, and the diversity of religious worldviews keeps growing. Our horizons seem to stretch thinner and faster than we are capable of handling. But in the end we remainthe same spiritual creatures. Throughout our journeys the longing within endures.
Religions share a common insight: there is something incomplete about us. And so we yearn for fullness. If every question had a ready answer, there would be no reaching in prayer. If every pain had an easy cure, there would be no thirst for salvation. If every loss was restored, there would be no desire for heaven. As long as these needs remain, so will religion. It is a natural part of life. To be human means to experience uncertainty, sorrow and death. Religion, however, is a school for making sense of chaos, a hospital for healing unseen wounds, a lifeline that gives us second chances.
To this point, Rabbi David Wolpe taught that religion “can go into a world in which there is a great deal of pain and suffering and loss and bring meaning and purpose and peace.”
Though religion addresses these needs, it is not created by them. Religion is not merely a human response to hardship. It transcends the human; it comes from a higher source. History shows that men and women, in good times and bad, seek truth outside themselves as well as within. And they follow the answers they receive.
What is more, religion is the gathering of unique persons into a fellowship of believers. But if it cannot win the heart of the one, it cannot sustain its community. The spiritual experiences of each individual can be as different as the individuals themselves. Because we “see through a glass darkly,” most things in life come down to faith. Ultimately, in those searching moments with the divine, it is the individual who filters the details, weighs the evidence, and makes decisions on matters of highest significance. This wrangling is the process of faith. Ludwig Wittgenstein wrote: “To believe in God means to see that the facts of the world are not the end of the matter.”
Human life is about meaning. Our nature leads us to spiritual questioning and purpose. Religion provides a space where answers and meaning can be sought, found and passed on. That connection between religion and purpose continues today.
Whether it is healthy lifestyles, social trust or charitable giving, social science attests to a myriad of ways religion benefits individuals. According to one recent study, for example, “those who indicate that they are confident in God's existence report a higher sense of purpose.”
This is particularly relevant now. Our encounter with modern life is often a flash of images that burn bright and fade away — so rich on the surface, so neglected at the roots. But religion and the spirituality it inspires digs beneath that surface and connects us to the moral foundations that undergird the best of our shared humanity.
Throughout his life Will Durant, a historian of ideas and cultures, marveled at the power of religious faith. He himself, however, came to no definitive belief about God. At the end of his life of learning and observation he turned his mind to the meaning of the church. In his reflections he showed that even an agnostic person can see the abiding appeal of religion in the face of the unknown:
"These church steeples, everywhere pointing upward, ignoring despair and lifting hope, these lofty city spires, or simple chapels in the hills — they rise at every step from the earth toward the sky; in every village of every nation they challenge doubt and invite weary hearts to consolation. Is it all a vain delusion? Is there nothing beyond life but death, and nothing beyond death but decay? We cannot know. But as long as man suffers, these steeples will remain."
Institutions and ideas flourish when they fulfill real, lasting needs. Otherwise, they tend to die of natural causes. But religion has not died. Writing at a time, in the 1830s, when his home country of France was departing from religion, Alexis de Tocqueville observed that “the soul has needs that must be satisfied.” He has proven correct. Over the centuries, attempts to squelch these needs have failed. Religion provides the structure for this longing, and churches are the household of faith.
Though built of wood, stone and steel, churches represent something deep in the human soul, something we long to uncover. More than anything man-made, religion gives direction and shape to the individual search for meaning.
 Samuel Rodriguez, “Religious Liberty and Complacent Christianity,” The Christian Post, Sep. 10, 2013.
 “Why Faith Matters: Rabbi David J. Wolpe,” lecture given at Emory University, Oct. 21, 2008.
 1 Corinthians 13:12.
 Ludwig Wittgenstein, personal journal entry (8 July 1916), p. 74e.
 Stephen Cranney, “Do People Who Believe in God Report More Meaning in Their Lives? The Existential Effects of Belief," Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion, Sept. 4, 2013.
 Will and Ariel Durant, Dual Autobiography (New York: Simon & Schuster, 1977).
 Alexis de Tocqueville, Democracy in America (Chicago, Illinois: University of Chicago Press, 2000), 510.
A modern pope gets old school on the Devil
By Anthony Faiola, Published: May 10
VATICAN CITY — A darling of liberal Catholics and an advocate of inclusion and forgiveness, Pope Francis is hardly known for fire and brimstone.
Yet, in his words and deeds, the new pope is locked in an epic battle with the oldest enemy of God and creation:
After his little more than a year atop the Throne of St. Peter, Francis’s teachings on Satan are already regarded as the most old school of any pope since at least Paul VI, whose papacy in the 1960s and 1970s fully embraced the notion of hellish forces plotting to deliver mankind unto damnation.
Largely under the radar, theologians and Vatican insiders say, Francis has not only dwelled far more on Satan in sermons and speeches than his recent predecessors have, but also sought to rekindle the Devil’s image as a supernatural entity with the forces of evil at his beck and call.
Last year, for instance, Francis laid hands on a man in a wheelchair who claimed to be possessed by demons, in what many saw as an impromptu act of cleansing. A few months later, he praised a group long viewed by some as the crazy uncles of the Roman Catholic Church — the International Association of Exorcists — for “helping people who suffer and are in need of liberation.”
“ ‘But Father, how old-fashioned you are to speak about the Devil in the 21st century,’ ” Francis, quoting those who have noted his frequent mentions of the Devil, said last month while presiding over Mass at the Vatican’s chapel in St. Martha’s House. He warned those gathered on that chilly morning to be vigilant and not be fooled by the hidden face of Satan in the modern world. “Look out because the Devil is present,” he said.
Since its foundation, the church has taught the existence of the Devil. But in recent decades, progressive priests and bishops, particularly in the United States and Western Europe, have tended to couch Satan in more allegorical terms. Evil became less the wicked plan of the master of hell than the nasty byproduct of humanity’s free will. Even Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI, a lofty German theologian, often painted evil with a broad brush.
Enter the plain-talking first pope from Latin America, where mystical views of Satan still hold sway in broad areas of the region. During his time as cardinal of Buenos Aires before rising to the papacy, Francis was known for stark warnings against “the tempter” and “the father of lies.” Now, his focus on the Devil is raising eyebrows even within the normally unquestioning walls of Vatican City.
“Pope Francis never stops talking about the Devil; it’s constant,” said one senior bishop in Vatican City who spoke on the condition of anonymity in order to speak freely. “Had Pope Benedict done this, the media would have clobbered him.”
Yet, as with so many of his actions, Francis may simply be correctly reading the winds of the Catholic Church.
Rising demand for exorcists
Although it is difficult to measure, Vatican officials talk about a resurgence of mystical rites in the church, including exorcism — or the alleged act of evicting demons from a living host. Cardinals in Milan; Turin, Italy; and Madrid, for instance, recently moved to expand the number of exorcists in their dioceses to cope with what they have categorized as surging demand.
But by focusing on old-school interpretations of the Devil, some progressive theologians complain, the pope is undermining his reputation as a leader who in so many other ways appears to be more in step with modern society than his predecessor.
“He is opening the door to superstition,” said Vito Mancuso, a Catholic theologian and writer.
Among the things lurking behind that door is the alleged gateway to hell guarded by the small cluster of officially anointed exorcists of the Roman Catholic Church.
By most accounts, the ranks of official exorcists number between 500 and 600 in a global church of more than 1 billion Catholics, with the vast majority operating in Latin America and Eastern Europe. This week, at the ninth and largest Vatican-sanctioned convention on exorcism, attendees gushed about the fresh recognition being afforded the field.
Almost 200 delegates — most of them priests and nuns — from more than two dozen nations talked about how Satanic cults are spreading like wildfire in the age of the Internet.
The new pope, exorcists say, has become their champion in the face of modern skeptics, many of them within the Catholic faith. Officially, those claiming to be possessed must first undergo psychiatric evaluations. But exorcists say that liberal Catholic bishops have often rejected their services even after such due diligence.
“The sad truth is that there are many bishops and priests in our church who do not really believe in the Devil,” said the Rev. Gabriele Amorth, the 89-year-old priest who is perhaps the closest thing the church has to a Hollywood-style exorcist. “I believe Pope Francis is speaking to them. Because when you don’t believe, the Devil wins.”
During the conference, the Rev. Cesar Truqui, an exorcist based in Switzerland, recounted one experience he had aboard a Swissair flight. “Two lesbians,” he said, had sat behind him on the plane. Soon afterward, he said, he felt Satan’s presence. As he silently sought to repel the evil spirit through prayer, one of the women, he said, began growling demonically and threw chocolates at his head.
Asked how he knew the woman was possessed, he said that “once you hear a Satanic growl, you never forget it. It’s like smelling Margherita pizza for the first time. It’s something you never forget.”
From his small room in a south Rome rectory fitted with a hospital bed, Amorth praised Francis for so fully embracing the biblical notion of the Devil as the personified overlord of hell.
Unlike in the movies, he said, the process of driving demons out typically takes multiple sessions over many years.
An exorcist in action
In a rare glimpse of an official exorcism last week, in a white-tiled room outfitted with images of Jesus Christ and the Virgin Mary, Amorth wrapped his purple sash around a Neapolitan housewife in her 40s who said she was afflicted by multiple demons. He then began chanting in Latin, commanding the devils inside her to reveal themselves.
“Tell me your name!” he demanded.
“No, no,” hissed the woman, shaking her head and speaking in an altered voice as her eyes rolled to the back of her head. “I will not!”
“Tell me your name!” he kept repeating, until finally she spat out, “Asmodeus,” the name of an ancient demon and hellish spokesman.
“How many are you?” he yelled, repeating the question as she grunted and shook her head violently.
Finally, she defiantly said, “We are five!”
After his bout with the demons, the diminutive Amorth simply shrugged.
“That,” he said, “was a light one.”
Following the session, the woman and her husband, who gave their names only as Antonella and Michele, said they had been going through a living hell for years. They had begged bishops to authorize an exorcism when Antonella began having uncontrollable fits after receiving Holy Communion and became violent around religious prayers. But they were repeatedly denied.
It was only after they were referred to Amorth and began sessions four years ago, Antonella said, that her condition finally began to improve.
“The Devil exists, and thanks to this treatment, I have gotten back my faith,” she said. “I think Pope Francis is telling us it’s okay to believe.”
Stefano Pitrelli contributed to this report.
See “The Ten Commandments in today’s society,” at http://national.deseretnews.com/ten
1st Commandment: http://national.deseretnews.com/article/1295/Frank-Wolf-First-Commandment-shows-shining-example-of-American-exceptionalism.html
2nd Commandment: http://national.deseretnews.com/article/1326/Infatuated-with-his-good-looks-the-false-god-of-Narcissus-falls-victim-to-the-selfie.html
3rd Commandment: http://national.deseretnews.com/article/1331/Brad-Stine-Words-created-everything-so-we-should-use-them-carefully.html
4th Commandment: http://national.deseretnews.com/article/1340/Invoke-heavens-blessing-on-the-nation-through-Sabbath-keeping.html
5th Commandment: http://www.deseretnews.com/article/865601428/The-fifth-commandment-is-more-than-a-directive.html
6th Commandment: http://national.deseretnews.com/article/1317/Drew-Clark-Meaning-of-thou-shalt-not-kill-not-as-clear-as-that-of-murder.html
7th Commandment: http://national.deseretnews.com/article/1310/David-McAllister-Wilson-The-joy-of-Christian-service-is-fidelity-in-all-of-our-relationships.html
8th Commandment: http://national.deseretnews.com/article/1346/Rob-Wilson-Black-Commandment-against-stealing-has-roots-in-kidnapping.html
9th Commandment: http://www.deseretnews.com/article/865601594/Defamation-slander-libel-and-gossip-show-the-harm-of-the-tongue.html
10th Commandment: http://national.deseretnews.com/article/1296/Chris-Brinton-Injunction-against-covetousness-forces-us-to-live-balanced-lives.html
While I serve in elective office, I am keenly aware that the most serious problems facing our country today are not purely political, or even mostly political. I would argue that what is ailing our country is profoundly moral in nature and, as such, necessitates a spiritual antidote. It demands, in the words of Frenchman Alexis de Tocqueville, speaking of the American church he beheld in the 19th century, “pulpits aflame with righteousness.”
What better place to start in reflecting on the spiritual and moral health of our nation than with the first of the Ten Commandments: Thou shalt have no other gods before me.
According to the Bible, the Israelites were given the Ten Commandments after God delivered them from bondage in Egypt. They were not arbitrary laws to restrict or punish the Jewish people, rather they were intended to remind those freed from captivity of God’s demonstrable power and abounding love. This is perhaps most true of the first commandment in which God tells his people that he alone is worthy of their love, honor and ultimately worship.
When the prophet Moses, revered in the traditions of the three Abrahamic faiths, descends from the mountaintop, tablets in hand, he finds the Israelites worshipping a golden calf. Hard to envision today perhaps, but the temptations toward various forms of idolatry are no less real and arguably more sinister as they increasingly become the cultural norm. Think of the scourges of pornography, gambling, unbridled materialism, lust for power and drug abuse to name a few, and the broken lives they leave in their wake.
Today in America we bear witness to an insidious relativism that teaches that concepts of right and wrong are old-fashioned, antiquated and even judgmental. Vices are elevated. Virtues are mocked. Faith is squeezed out of the public square. Our culture is coarsened as a result.
These seemingly intangible realities have profound implications. Consider the following: In court case after court case the ability to display the Ten Commandments is debated and in some instances threatened. Such cases have more than symbolic relevance; they are a bellwether of sorts. But perhaps more significant is the reality that the display of the Ten Commandments is hardly as significant as the truths they contain: truths which beginning with the First Commandment to worship none but our Creator are under assault not just in courtrooms but in our culture.
Much has been written about the demise of American exceptionalism. But I believe that just as significant is the extraction of the hand of Providence from our shared national narrative.
Any faithful student of American history should be able to point to countless examples when a simple turn of events would have resulted in a drastically different outcome — an outcome which threatened the very future of this “shining city on a hill.” This is perhaps no more true than at our founding when a hearty band of patriots defied all odds and defeated the mighty British Empire.
George Washington himself famously said, “The Hand of Providence has been so conspicuous in all this, that he must be worse than an infidel that lacks faith and more than wicked, that has not gratitude enough to acknowledge his obligations.”
Indeed, whether hailing from the Judeo-Christian tradition or some other tradition altogether, every American who enjoys the fruits of liberty ought to contemplate the “Hand of Providence” in so richly blessing this unlikely venture in self-governance.
Such contemplation can’t but result in gratitude, which is itself at the heart of worship.
Rep. Frank Wolf is in his 17th term in Congress. He represents a part of Virginia just across the river from Washington, D.C. He is the co-chairman of the bipartisan Tom Lantos Human Rights Commission, which advocates for the voiceless around the globe and is often called the “conscience” of the House. He is retiring at the end of this Congress.
Read more at http://national.deseretnews.com/article/1295/Frank-Wolf-First-Commandment-shows-shining-example-of-American-exceptionalism.html#EUhPKgcyDv2duhF0.99
Bill Irwin dies at 73; first blind hiker of Appalachian Trail
By Zach C. Cohen
Published: March 16
As he walked the length of the Appalachian Trail for eight months in 1990, Bill Irwin estimated that he fell thousands of times. He cracked his ribs and suffered from hypothermia as he climbed mountains and forded rivers. The pads he wore didn’t protect his scabbed knees.
Mr. Irwin, then a 50-year-old medical technologist and corporate manager from Burlington, N.C., did not use maps or a compass. He was blind, and he relied solely on his German shepherd guide dog, Orient.
The pair became known as “the Orient Express.”
Mr. Irwin was feted as an inspiration to hikers and disabled people when, on Nov. 21, 1990, he became the first blind man to traverse the Appalachian Trail, which stretches more than 2,100 miles, from Georgia to Maine.
Admirers across the country watched news reports of him dropping to his knees to pray after ascending 5,269 feet on Mount Katahdin, Maine, the northernmost end of the trail. Members of his home church were there to greet him and sang “Amazing Grace.”
For Mr. Irwin, who died March 1 at 73, the hike was an act of salvation.
“When I was a sighted person I was an alcoholic, a dropout as a husband and father, a guy who lived only for himself,” he later wrote in the publication Guideposts.
“The first clear-eyed thing I had ever done was as a blind man, when I asked God to take charge of my life,” he wrote. “I had never spent much time in his vast outdoors, but after I quit drinking I couldn’t get enough of it. I learned wilderness skills and became the first blind person to ‘thru-hike’ the Appalachian Trail from Georgia to Maine. I made a point of telling fellow hikers about the God who guides me.”
Mr. Irwin completely lost his sight in 1976. Eight years earlier, doctors had removed his left eye after a misdiagnosis of malignant melanoma. Meanwhile, his drinking became worse and he smoked five packs of cigarettes a day.
His unintended recovery was sparked by his son Jeff’s entry into a substance-abuse treatment center because of an addiction to cocaine.
“To my dismay, I was asked to spend a week there in family therapy sessions with him — without a drink,” he wrote in Guideposts. “I scoffed but I went. I lashed out at counselors and was my usual arrogant self. But by the end of that week it became painfully clear to me that I was an alcoholic, and I had to stop drinking or I’d die.”
He said he became sober in 1987 and developed an intense devotion to Christianity. The first verse he learned was from Corinthians: “For we walk by faith, not by sight.” He soon decided that the walk on the Appalachian Trail would be a powerful example of living his faith.
On March 8, 1990, the third anniversary of his sobriety, Mr. Irwin unceremoniously left from Springer Mountain, Ga., the southern terminus of the trail, in a heavy rain.
To cross rivers swelled with winter rain, Mr. Irwin would use the sound of Orient barking to find the shore.
“As I came out of the water, I could just feel the freezing take place in my hair,” Mr. Irwin once said, describing crossing a river at the end of his journey. “There was ice formed. By the time I got out, a solid sheet of ice had begun to form on my clothes. I knew that if I didn’t get to a safe place soon, hypothermia would overcome me and it’d be curtains for me.”
Along the way, Mr. Irwin would stop at grocery stores and laundromats to buy provisions and wash his clothes. He would also talk to local children about God and promise them personalized copies of the Bible if they agreed to read a verse a day.
“By the time I got to Maine I had furnished over 500 Bibles for kids along the way,” Mr. Irwin said.
He claimed he made the trip with no intention of drawing publicity. It didn’t work out that way. Reporters and TV crews would descend on him as word leaked out of his journey.
Dealing with journalists often tested what he called his God-
given patience. One New York City cameraman ordered him around for hours, while Mr. Irwin was wearing a 60-pound backpack and had a timetable to keep.
As he wrapped up, the cameraman asked why Mr. Irwin had been so helpful. Mr. Irwin confessed that he had wanted to throw a punch at the cameraman all day but that his faith helped him cope with such urges.
“When I said that, he fell on his knees [and said], ‘I want that in my life,’ ” Mr. Irwin later told the Charlotte Observer. “There wasn’t a higher moment on the trail.”
William Howard Irwin II was born Aug. 16, 1940, in Birmingham, Ala., where he graduated in 1964 from Samford University with a bachelor’s degree in chemistry and biology.
At 24, he founded a lab business that eventually became part of North Carolina-based LabCorp of America.
His first four marriages ended in divorce. In 1996, Mr. Irwin married Debra Messler. They moved to Sebec, Maine, from North Carolina and bought property with a view of Mount Katahdin. He died at a hospital in Dover-Foxcroft, Maine. The cause was prostate cancer, his wife said.
Besides his wife, survivors included three children from his first marriage, to Patricia Armstrong; a daughter from his marriage to Messler; a brother; a sister; and four grandchildren.
After the publicity from his trek, Mr. Irwin made a living as a motivational speaker and as a marriage, sex-addiction and family counselor. He also wrote a memoir, “Blind Courage,” written with David McCasland, with whom he walked parts of the final stretch of the Appalachian Trail. It sold more than 100,000 copies and was translated into Spanish, Chinese and German, the Charlotte Observer reported.
Mr. Irwin’s guide dog became the subject of “Orient: Hero Dog Guide of the Appalachian Trail,” a children’s book by Tom McMahon with illustrations by Erin Mauterer.
Several other blind hikers have since completed the length of the trail. Mr. Irwin’s advice for those trekkers: “The toughest thing on the trail is controlling that 41 / 2 inches between your ears.”