“degender” our words?

Perhaps you’ve noticed. Perhaps you have not. There have been many recent passionate pursuits to degender various customs and facets of current culture. To “degender” — which by the way, is not universally recognized as a word yet, as my auto-correct continually rewrites it as “defender,” which would seem to foreshadow a related meaning — but the idea is to eliminate any association or reference to a gender or sex. In current culture, “sex” refers to one’s biological attributes. “Gender” refers to socially-constructed attributes. Sex is assigned at birth; gender is identified by the individual.

Let us also insert prior to today’s discussion, knowing this is an ardent issue to many, I want to ensure we especially adhere to our commitment to respectful dialogue. The Intramuralist, imperfect as we are, will always strive for honor of all. Even and especially within disagreement or difference of opinion.

During the last days of 2022 (and I’m always intrigued by the timing of releases), the IT community at Stanford University released their professional advice regarding word choice in Stanford websites, code, and culture. The organized effort is called “The Elimination of Harmful Language Initiative” (EHLI). While the the advice is not a mandate nor does it represent university policy, it was crafted by the “senior-most technical leaders from major Stanford units.” Their influence is sought-after, strategic and strong.

Their EHLI list was long. It had 10 categories which included hundreds of words. Noting that their list included omitting perceived harmful words such as “American” (because it is commonly used to refer to “people for the United States only, thereby insinuating that the U.S. is the most important country in the Americas”), “blind study” (because that “unintentionally perpetuates that disability is somehow abnormal or negative, furthering an ableist culture”), or “beating a dead horse” (because it “normalizes violence against animals”), there was significant, brutal backlash to the initiative. As included in a succeeding Wall Street Journal editorial, “Parodists have it rough these days since so much of modern life and culture resembles the [satirist publication] Babylon Bee.”

In response to the backlash, Stanford quickly acknowledged some error in judgment; as conceded by Chief Information Officer Steve Gallagher, “We clearly missed the mark in this presentation.” While Stanford admitted some of their error, they are not alone in their degendering efforts. So let’s respectfully examine the idea of eliminating socially-acceptable words solely because of their association with gender or sex. Stanford’s advice includes the following:

  • Changing “freshman” to “frosh, first-year student” because the word “lumps a group of students using masculine language and/or into gender binary groups that don’t include everyone.”
  • Changing “gentlemen” to “everyone” because the word “lumps a group of people using masculine language and/or into gender binary groups, which don’t include everyone.”
  • Changing “ladies” to “everyone” because the word “lumps a group of people using gender binary language that doesn’t include everyone.”
  • Changing “landlord/landlady” to “property owner” because the word “lumps a group of people using gender binary language, which doesn’t include everyone.”
  • Changing “manpower” to “workforce, staffing, staff resources, personnel resources” because “this term reinforces male-dominated language.”
  • Changing “preferred pronouns” to “pronouns” because “the word ‘preferred’ suggests that non-binary gender identity is a choice and a preference.”
  • Changing “transgendered” to “transgender” because this “term avoids connections that being transgender is something that is done to a person and/or that some kind of transition is required.”
  • And eliminating any reference to “he,” “she,” or a profession that includes “man”/“woman” in the title (think chair, congress, fire, mail, police).

As said, the list of perceived “harmful” words is extensive, primarily because the words refer to a gender or sex and not everyone is perceived to then be included in the definition.

Let me be clear; no one in our culture should be shamed for who they are. Let me also say, no adult, outside of one engaged in blatant criminal activity, should be attempted to be controlled. Sometimes I think we work way too hard to control others than grow ourselves. It makes me question who we’re really most focused on and how humility does (or doesn’t) enter in.

Hence, in a world then where “you get to be you” and “me be me,” so-to-speak, my sense is a wiser, more effective approach in truly honoring all is not to insist on the elimination of language. We instead honor all by humbling self, which then leads to being skilled in active listening, sensitive to perceived offense, and focused on resilience rather than control.



classified, classified: wherefore art thou classified?

So what is it with all this classified material?

Why do our leaders keep not knowing how to handle it or what to do with it?

(And could someone please tell Prince Harry to keep things a little more classified?)

Allow us not to wade too fully into what we do not know. Allow us also not to be dissuaded from all discussion because there is so much we do not know.

The Presidential Records Act, passed in 1978, changed the legal status of Presidential and Vice Presidential materials so that the official records of the President and his staff are owned by the United States. This legislation took effect with the onset of the Reagan administration in 1981.

Still, many have been accused of mishandling what is property of the United States. Said list includes — first, prior to passage — Pres. Nixon (who served in part the motivation for said created act) — and since, public officials such as Hillary Clinton, Sandy Berger, and now most notably, both Presidents Trump and Biden. Trump had his ostentatiously confiscated in Mar-a-Lago last fall. Biden had his discreetly discovered a week before our last election; we found out this past week.

(Let us pause for a moment, as the attempt by Berger, Pres. Bill Clinton’s National Security Advisor deserves a little more of a distinct shout out. Berger pleaded guilty to removing highly classified documents from the National Archives in 2004; the inspector general of the National Archives said a staff member had witnessed Berger wrapping the documents around his socks and under his pants. Such would be comical if not so sad.)

Why is it so hard for those who lead us to lead with consistent competency?

I don’t believe competency — or compassion — should have to be sacrificed with any of our elect. I don’t believe transparency or honesty should be forfeited either.

But such isn’t quite the angle I wish to pursue this day. I’m more looking at wise ways to respond to the obvious lack of competency. 

Let me first simply say…

I’m disappointed in Trump’s mishandling of classified materials. I’m disappointed in Biden’s mishandling of classified materials. And I’m disappointed how Biden’s mishandling of classified materials potentially impacts Trump’s mishandling. 

We’ve heard many who, when comparing the two Presidents’ recent mishandling, quickly aver that the situations are not the same. With the minimal we know at this point, such assessment appears to be spot on; the situations are not the same.

My sense, though, is that we are oft lured too far by our bias and bent in assessing issues of questionable leadership competency — in this case, for example, asserting that we are comparing apples to oranges. Let me respectfully submit that such is an inaccurate depiction. While the situations are clearly not the same, we’re really simply comparing two different kinds of apples.

To perhaps better explain via a related paradigm that many of the rest of us encounter — especially our very respected healthcare professional friends — HIPAA laws are still HIPAA laws regardless of content and cooperation. There are rules for a reason which set national standards to protect potentially sensitive health information. It doesn’t matter what the info is, who the person is, how much info it contains, nor how seemingly harmoniously the guilty party’s error is admitted. Hence, this isn’t apples to oranges; this is Fuji vs. Golden Delicious.

So let us not rush to defend or attack. As stated, just as I’ve already heard from many on all sides of the proverbial partisan aisle, there is ample reason to be deeply disappointed in both the current and most recent President’s behavior. I, for one, find it especially cringeworthy when I see one (or both) of them boast of what they will never ever do… and then turn around and do it.

We shouldn’t have to sacrifice competency in our leaders. Competency is more important than any consonant after their name. 

Let’s keep that bar of integrity high. 



Avatar, worship, and me

Joining the throngs of others, my family made our way to see “Avatar: The Way of Water” over the recent holiday break. In just two weeks time, the movie grossed over $1 billion in global ticket sales, an apparent, coveted, box office milestone. 

With Hollywood taking a hit in recent years, reportedly losing more than $500 billion in market value in 2022 for no doubt a myriad of reasons (i.e. inflation, consumers cutting down on non-essentials, the post-pandemic era, politicization, too much perceived celebrity sanctimony, etc.), only two other films matched the billion-dollar mark: “Top Gun: Maverick” and “Jurassic World Dominion.” Granted, Tom Cruise’s sequel took 31 days to do so; the dinosaur feature took more than four months. Suffice it to say that “Avatar” stands out in an otherwise rough year for the movie industry.

Trust me: this post is not a review nor are any spoilers included; it more has me thinking on a bigger point. Allow us to first establish some context.

“Avatar” is a fascinating film. It’s storyline is creatively familiar, with director/screenplay co-writer James Cameron posing the same underlying question as he did in his “Terminator” cinematic series. As posed by RogerEbert.com’s reviewers, “Fight or flight for family? Do you run and hide from the powerful enemy to try and stay safe or turn and fight the oppressive evil?” That is the zillion dollar (or at least billion in this case) question.

What’s most fascinating about this movie, however, is the filmmaking. The visual effects technology is captivating. With much of this movie taking place on and in the water, the mixing of live-action and computer generated imagery (CGI) — actually utilizing 60% CGI — is truly something to see. But alas, this is not a review. The movie made me think of something more.

On the film’s fictional planet of Pandora, there is a deep spiritual acknowledgement. The planet’s inhabitants worship Eywa, described by Avatar Wiki as: “the All-Mother or Great Mother… the biological sentient guiding force of life and deity of Pandora and the Na’vi” (Na’vi equates to the indigenous inhabitants). More concisely put, Eywa is a sort of environmental goddess. She is said to reside in certain plants and trees, which are thus sacred, and the Na’vi return to her upon their death.

As said, I enjoyed the movie. As also noted, it’s fiction. While we can learn much from fiction, by definition, it’s also invented and untrue.

But it prompted me to ask a deeper question: Where are those pockets and places in life, that because we enjoy and revere something so much, that we begin to idolize it? … that maybe, just maybe, we being to almost worship?

Let’s make the point a little more poignant. Where is it that we begin to worship what was created as opposed to who actually created it? .. that maybe, just maybe, what is so beautiful and artistic gets in the way of being in awe of the ultimate artist?

The environment is an excellent example of such — and maybe why it’s an easy inclusion in “Avatar.” The environment has places of simply stunning beauty… those spacious skies, waves of grain and sweet, purple mountain majesties and that’s just in this country. I thus asked my long-time, sagacious, photographer friend, Mark, how he has wrestled with such. Insightfully, Mark shares the following:

“As a landscape photographer, I am constantly searching for and finding extraordinary beauty in nature. I find it in mountains, rivers, waterfalls, coastlines, flowers, trees — seemingly wherever I look. It exists in large scale and in the smallest delicate form. As a Christian, I see the beauty as created by the hand of a masterful artist, a benevolent Creator. Thus, it is the subject of my appreciation, not the object. It frequently fills me with a sense of grandeur, awe and humility in knowing regardless of how well I may capture a portion of what I see through the lens, it will never match the raw beauty and power of what I see before me.”

So good. So true.

Creation is no doubt awe-inspiring and beautiful. But as Mark reminds us, “to worship the created, the finite, binds and minimizes the infinite power of the Creator.”

That has me thinking even more.



a bit about blogging & other people’s resolutions

Here at the Intramuralist, we are very intentional about our topics. Some stories are worked on weeks in advance, noting the extent of research required. Others are crafted in the immediate hours prior to posting, noting the urgency in the country’s collective conversation. When the heart of the country somberly and prayerfully responded to the heart of Buffalo’s Damar Hamlin last week, for example, that prompted our immediate attention.

Some blogs are whimsical. Some are historical. Some tell personal stories, but all wrestle with various insights and angles of various issues. There is no topic we won’t touch, albeit always respectfully so. 

Some blogs, perhaps, really aren’t fair. Take the following, for example… 

Because we possess the power of the pen (or at least the keyboard on my iMac), today I’d like to utilize a little more of our creative license than usual. While admittedly, none of us are qualified to fully discern the changes another should or needs to make — or as I like to say, “play the Holy Spirit in another” — here are our Top Ten Resolutions for 2023…

… for other people. 🙂

In 2023, we wish… 

10. For Prince Harry to learn what it means to work on family dysfunction in a healthy, private manner.

9. For Congress to address and improve their obvious dysfunction (… and yes, that is both parties who take masquerading turns acting as if solely they put country before party).

8. For government to spend significantly less. For government, too, like all other responsible entities, to pay back what we owe (… our current U.S. national debt is $31,473,035,697,684… wait… that’s wrong; the debt grows at a rate of $45,486 per second).

7. For Pres. Joe Biden and former Pres. Donald Trump to realize the majority of the country doesn’t wish for either one of them to run again (… thanks for your service, but unfortunately, too much division has been the result of each of your tenures; sometimes — admittedly in different ways — you have each encouraged it).

6. For sports legends Tom Brady, LeBron James, Lionel Messi, Aaron Rodgers, Diana Taurasi, Venus Williams and Tiger Woods to know when to retire (… and how to do so gracefully).

5. For CNN, FOX, MSNBC and more to openly admit their bias and thus often, lack of objectivity (… bias exists everywhere; let’s simply acknowledge its ability to skew a story).

4. For the economy to stabilize, inflation to subside, and for all politicians to recognize their role in it and responsibility for it — as opposed to blaming all negative impact on the policies of another pending the consonant after their name (… as if only they are the economic genius).

3. For Damar Hamlin to fully recover and realize how he unintentionally, but beautifully spurred on an entire country to consider what is most important in life (… noting it has nothing to do with sports).

2. For the country to realize prayers and action are not mutually exclusive (… and to realize Who we’re actually praying to).

And #1. For all of us to learn to be more respectful and honoring of all others. There isn’t a single one of us not in need of growing in this too oft sacrificed virtue. 

So let me ask a final question today, friends: who is it that you have trouble respecting and honoring?

Just a resolution… trying to decide for whom…



what happened Monday night in Cincinnati

Everything matters. Until it doesn’t.

And until we realize it doesn’t.

In the sports moment that stunned the country Monday night, there was an embedded, sobering hope. 

Here was a 24 year old young man, doing what he loves to do, with all the lights and cameras and jeers and cheers that accompany NFL prime time, cushioning the context of what we thought would simply be another, highly competitive, standings-significant game.

Except it wasn’t.

In the middle of Ohio’s Queen City gridiron, a young man lie motionless, experiencing cardiac arrest on the field. This was no longer a game.

Buffalo Bills Damar Hamlin was fighting for his life. At time of this posting, he remains in critical condition in a Cincinnati hospital, still fighting.

But something happened to us the moment Hamlin fell. It’s as if we realized we needed to make the most important, the most important.

The players realized that. The coaches realized it. At some point the NFL realized it. They stopped the game. They knew — however shocked into knowing it happened — that playing this game, one that has major playoff implications with only a week in the regular season left, was far, far secondary to what was happening to the heart of Damar Hamlin… and to all those that surrounded him… his Buffalo teammates… his Cincinnati opponents… the fans in the stands… and all of us watching on TV.

There were no opponents this night, friends. And we were shocked into realizing it.

And so soberly sitting at my keyboard, I can’t help but ask the bigger question: what’s it going to take to shock us?

What’s going to have to happen for us to realize what’s most important? … that we don’t have all these opponents? … these people we have decided are our enemies? … that we have to fight — maybe even hate, but definitely look down upon?

Pick your passion. Pick your issue. Make it a hard one. Make it really emotionally burdensome, taxing… Make it about abortion, immigration, econ, LGBTQ rights, Democrats, Republicans, the dwindling fan clubs of Joe Biden or Donald Trump… do we realize the person who thinks differently than us is actually not our opponent? Do we realize that each of us has come to the place where we believe what we believe, prefer what we prefer, and are convicted about what we’re convicted about because of the unique experiences we each have had? … and those experiences are not the same? Do we realize that any of us who claim to be on the so-called “right side of history” are simply using that to elevate our beliefs, preferences and convictions over another so that we can actually delegitimize their experience and treat them as an opponent?

What’s it going to take to shock us into realizing what’s most important?

Monday night, the scene, reaction and social media were somberly hopeful. We collectively knew what was most important; we realized this opponent mindset is a humanly crafted ideology designed to elevate self and delegitimize others. We needed help and we knew were to get it from. There were countless calls for thoughts and prayers. There were no questions about the need for them. What was most evident were the masses who imagined what the prayers of a whole nation could do.

Prayers are not mindless nor absent of direction. They have a direct object — one worthy of praise, who listens and responds, who hears the chorus that arises from far more than any stadium. We may not always see God or sense His presence, but it doesn’t change His existence nor our need for Him. On Monday night, in an instant elimination of the opponent mindset, we knew that. He created us. In His image. And is here to help us now. That’s whether we see Him or sense Him or know Him or not. For all people. All beliefs, preferences, and convictions, too.

If we realized that foundational reality, maybe it would remove the venom from our debates. Maybe it would turn the debates into solution-oriented discussion, passionate as they still may be. But most of all, maybe it would make us realize that the person on the other side of the “field” has never been our opponent. There is something bigger, deeper, that will always mean incredibly much more.

That’s the somber yet hopeful realization that happened on the football field Monday night in Cincinnati. May it happen within each of us, too. 



New Year’s intentions

Happy New Year, friends! Allow me to introduce you to a brief, yet quite potentially potent reframe. First, some numbers…

According to DiscoverHappyHabits.com (and yes, that name does make me chuckle):

  • Their 2022 survey revealed only 23% planned on making New Year’s resolutions.
  • The most popular resolutions for 2022 were living healthier (23%), personal improvement and happiness (21%), and losing weight (20%).
  • Being healthier is consistently the most popular New Year’s resolution. Saving money is the next most consistently popular resolution.
  • On average, only 9-12% of people keep their New Year’s resolutions.
  • In comparison, of those people who have similar goals but do not set a resolution, only 4% are still successful after 6 months.

Hence, the reframe…

Obviously, if we set a resolution, there’s something we want to do; we wouldn’t be setting it if we didn’t look favorably upon the perceived end result. The hard part, therefore, isn’t the setting; it’s the actual doing. To reframe then means to pose something differently, to look at things a different way. So let’s start with the word embedded in all of the above, “resolution.” It means:

res·o·lu·tion  | ˌrezəˈlo͞oSH(ə)n |   noun

     — a firm decision to do or not to do something 

     — the quality of being determined or resolute

A New Year’s resolution is something we’ve articulated that we are determined to do — no matter how “SMART” — Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant and Timely — the ambition may be.

But what if we could take the pressure off a bit? … making the goal a little more potentially achievable? … less shameful or stressful, so-to-speak?

What if we reframed the resolution as an intention? Meaning:

in·ten·tion  | inˈten(t)SH(ə)n |   noun 

     — a thing intended; an aim or plan

Friends, I’m not attempting to lessen the ambition of any. I am also a big believer in SMART goals in the professional world. But for the personal, noting the data, my desire is simply to encourage increased success. There’s a reason so many of us quit so soon into what may originally be the most valiant attempt.

Note the insight of Robin Lanehurst, M.Ed. in an op-ed for Psychology Today, discussing intentions vs. resolutions:

“The main difference between intentions and resolutions is in their breadth and specificity. While resolutions tend to be singular things you can check off on your to-do list or track — ‘I’m going to drink more water’ or ‘I’m going to spend more quality time with my kids on the weekends’ — intentions are more broad — ‘I’m focusing on my health’; ‘I’m prioritizing my family’; or even ‘health’ and ‘family.’ Intentions can encompass multiple areas of your life, rather than zoom in on one piece, like resolutions. For example, you may set the intention to be more creative, which can apply to your work, your spirituality, your family, and your relationships, but a resolution to take on a new creative project at work only applies to one setting.”

In other words, as Lanehurst insightfully continues: 

  • Intentions, unlike resolutions, are more broad and encompass multiple areas of life.
  • Intentions give us the room to discover what really works for us, discovering habits we really enjoy. 
  • Intentions help us prioritize our time in ways that better reflect our values.
  • Intentions help to guide actions from a gentle, compassionate place — as opposed to a more rigid place of enforcement.
  • And, when we reflect on our intentions and share them with others, it helps us to ground ourselves and stick with it.

Sticking with it… that’s the goal. And as we stick with it, we grow.

Time to be intentional, friends. A blessed new year to you and yours…



a thorn in the flesh… some casserole, too…

With all the talk of peace on Earth, tidings of good cheer and the overall ongoing celebration of Christmas and Hanukkah, it’s got me thinking about other Judeo-Christian principles that absolutely each of us can learn from. But allow me first, if you will, to share a recent, quite personal — and well, if I do say so myself — painful yet still somewhat humorous story…

It’s been a little more than a month now. It was Thanksgiving Day. The sun was shining, the family gathered, and gratitude was the most prevalent, collective disposition. We joyfully went about completing each of our tasks, knowing the combination of our individual contributions would soon lead to an alluring feast. Suffice it to say, anticipation was joyful and high.

My youngest — as has been much accounted for here — was quite proud of his contribution. This was the year young Master Josh would make the infamous turkey day delicacy — aka “green bean casserole” — most all by himself. As a maturing 21 year old with special needs, he was greatly thrilled to independently complete his chosen tasks.

You drain the beans, pour them into the 13”x 9” pan, empty in the cans of creamy soup, add some spice, and then adorn the dish with those crispy fried onions approximately 5 minutes prior to expected completion. Donning the bakers mitts in each hand, he was visibly excited to remove his favored side from the oven.

As he placed the pan on top of the stove, wanting to affirm his independence, I said, “We should celebrate. High five?”

To which he said, “I think it’s worth more than that. How about a chest bump?”

So chest bump it would be. I made the mistake of assuming Josh knew exactly how to do that.

While I jumped up vertically in front of the oven, Josh assumed a little more of a horizontal angle in his exuberance. One could say, in fact, that his chest bump was instead more of a body slam, therefore knocking me backwards while in air, causing me to stumble some 10 feet backwards, eventually colliding with the base of a very nice but also very firm chair. With the onset of immediate pain and soon x-ray confirmation, our Thanksgiving proceeded with two lateral left broken ribs.

Let me share for those who have not experienced such a fate, broken ribs are painful. I have a whole new respect for the cringing quarterback who lies prostrate on the gridiron after a full frontal hit. There’s no way to immobilize the bone; you simply have to deal with it (… I’d say “grin and bear it” but only the latter is consistently true). There’s really nothing you can do to fix the fracture except attempt to numb the pain. But the bottom line is that it typically takes somewhere between 6 weeks to 3 months to heal. Sitting here at the keyboard, it still stings as we speak now.

It prompted me to think about those Judeo-Christian principles, specifically about the centuries old idea of being a “thorn in the flesh” or a “thorn in the side” — in other words, “a source of continual annoyance or trouble.” What do we do with that nagging pain that just won’t go away?

Maybe the pain is a wound. Something that hurts. Maybe it’s a person. Someone who hurt you. Maybe it’s a situation or circumstance, too.

Let me be a little more transparent. It would be easy to moan and complain about how difficult this has been. It was in fact 4 weeks before 2 hours of continuous deep sleep was possible, as there is no comfortable way in which to be dormant for hours. Many basic movements (think breathing, coughing or the dreaded, ill-fated sneeze) are also unpredictably painful.

Not only would it be easy to complain, it would also be easy for the numerous, no doubt wonderful, empathetic and compassionate persons that surround me to encourage and relate by uttering how understandable such is. I love that about them.

But it’s made me think about how a reframe of the thorn or continual annoyance or in this case, the fracture of the 6th and 7th rib could be beneficial. What if instead of focusing on the pain, I pondered if there was any purpose? What if I then focused on the potential purpose as opposed to on whom or what I deemed responsible? And what could happen if the ongoing ache prompted and reminded me that I can learn and grow from what hurts? And… what hurts bad…

Don’t allow me to act as if I’ve got this all figured out. I don’t. Not even close. And many days, often sleep-deprived, the temptation to complain only increases. But I’ve been thinking… pondering… could there be any thing I could use the pain for… to remind me… to persevere… to give thanks knowing it could be worse.

No neat answer here, friends. The only known conclusion thus far is that Josh and I decided we will always celebrate the making of the green bean casserole. Granted, we will be teaching him how to chest bump first.




As is our tradition, our fave Christmas post, as told several years ago by Justin Taylor, Crossway Sr. VP & publisher, putting life into perspective…

In March of 1863, 18-year-old Charles Appleton Longfellow walked out of his family’s home on Brattle Street in Cambridge, Massachusetts, and—unbeknownst to his family—boarded a train bound for Washington, DC., over 400 miles away, in order to join President Lincoln’s Union army to fight in the Civil War.  Charles was the oldest of six children born to Fannie Elizabeth Appleton and Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, the celebrated literary critic and poet. Charles had five younger siblings: a brother (aged 17) and three sisters (ages 13, 10, 8—another one had died as an infant).

Less than two years earlier, Charles’s mother Fannie had died from a tragic accident when her dress caught on fire. Her husband, awoken from a nap, tried to extinguish the flames as best he could, first with a rug and then his own body, but she had already suffered severe burns. She died the next morning, and Henry Longfellow’s facial burns were severe enough that he was unable even to attend his own wife’s funeral. He would grow a beard to hide his burned face and at times feared that he would be sent to an asylum on account of his grief.

When Charley (as he was called) arrived in Washington D.C. he sought to enlist as a private with the 1st Massachusetts Artillery. Captain W. H. McCartney, commander of Battery A, wrote to Henry Wadsworth Longfellow for written permission for Charley to become a solider. HWL (as his son referred to him) granted the permission.

Longfellow later wrote to his friends [Sen.] Charles Sumner, [Gov.] John Andrew, and Edward Dalton (medical inspector of the Sixth Army Corps) to lobby for his son to become an officer. But Charley had already impressed his fellow soldiers and superiors with his skills, and on March 27, 1863, he was commissioned as a Second Lieutenant in the 1st Massachusetts Cavalry, assigned to Company “G.”

After participating on the fringe of the Battle of Chancellorsville in Virginia (April 30-May 6, 1863), Charley fell ill with typhoid fever and was sent home to recover. He rejoined his unit on August 15, 1863, having missed the Battle of Gettysburg.

While dining at home on December 1, 1863, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow received a telegram that his son had been severely wounded four days earlier. On November 27, 1863, while involved in a skirmish during a battle of the Mine Run Campaign, Charley was shot through the left shoulder, with the bullet exiting under his right shoulder blade. It had traveled across his back and skimmed his spine. Charley avoided being paralyzed by less than an inch.

He was carried into New Hope Church (Orange County, Virginia) and then transported to the Rapidan River. Charley’s father and younger brother, Ernest, immediately set out for Washington, D.C., arriving on December 3. Charley arrived by train on December 5. Henry Wadsworth Longfellow was alarmed when informed by the army surgeon that his son’s wound “was very serious” and that “paralysis might ensue.” Three surgeons gave a more favorable report that evening, suggesting a recovery that would require him to be “long in healing,” at least six months.

On Christmas day, 1863, Longfellow—a 57-year-old widowed father of six children, the oldest of which had been nearly paralyzed as his country fought a war against itself—wrote a poem seeking to capture the dynamic and dissonance in his own heart and the world he observes around him. He hears the Christmas bells and the singing of “peace on earth” (Luke 2:14) but observes the world of injustice and violence that seemed to mock the truth of this statement. The theme of listening recurs throughout the poem, leading to a settledness of confident hope even in the midst of bleak despair…

I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day
Their old familiar carols play,
And wild and sweet the words repeat
Of peace on earth, good will to men.

I thought how, as the day had come,
The belfries of all Christendom
Had rolled along the unbroken song
Of peace on earth, good will to men.

And in despair I bowed my head:
“There is no peace on earth,” I said,
“For hate is strong and mocks the song
Of peace on earth, good will to men.”

Then pealed the bells more loud and deep:
“God is not dead, nor doth he sleep;
The wrong shall fail, the right prevail,
With peace on earth, good will to men.”

Till, ringing singing, on its way,
The world revolved from night to day,
A voice, a chime, a chant sublime,
Of peace on earth, good will to men!

Respectfully… with hope… always…


practicing goodwill in our individual corners

As we focus on all these good tidings of great joy, peace on Earth and goodwill toward men, I think of the ways we could each more wisely contribute to current culture. What if we embraced each of the above in more than a singular season? What if we valued and practiced such for all twelve months of the year?…

Good tidings means great news… great news of joy!

Peace on Earth… well, sometimes I think we think that means everyone from all factions of life on the planet getting along, embracing no more selfishness or conceit — which suffice it to say, that would be a wonderful concept. But I think it more means figuring this God thing out and figuring who we are in relation to him.

And goodwill… toward men, women, you-name-it. That means we are friendly, helpful and engage with one another with a cooperative, kind attitude and disposition. There’s a lot of people on social media and in D.C. who fail to consistently practice such. And there are a lot of us who justify their seemingly intentional failure because of the (D) or (R) that follows their name. To be clear, goodwill toward all should not be determined by a lone letter of the alphabet.

So how do we each wisely contribute?

Where can we each make a positive difference in our little corner of the world?

Of course, in our social media interactions…

Definitely, in our day-to-day routines — our work, our neighborhoods, our errands throughout the day…

But what about first in our families?

We all have families. We all also have moments or seasons of hurt, disruption or dysfunction. Additionally, rarely are the moments or seasons all one person’s (or the other person’s) fault; we each contribute. So what if we first practiced good tidings, peace, and goodwill there?

I was struck in recent days by the airing of the much publicized “Harry & Meghan” documentary series, where the Duke and Duchess of Sussex publicly shared their journey — or “complex journey” as Netflix identified it. 

According to Forbes, Prince Harry and Meghan Markle were given an estimated $100 million for the docuseries. The production then generously shared their litany of grievances with Harry’s family — and only shared Harry and Meghan’s perspective. There was no such thing as fair and balanced. There was also no admission of contribution to the dysfunction by Harry and Meghan.

I wish them no ill will whatsoever; no one this far removed can be certain of specifics of their motive. But let me just say this. I would have far more respect for the two former senior royals if instead accepting multiple millions to share with all the world all that was wrong with their family, they would have instead gone to the family privately and attempted to work things out. And if one extended conversation wasn’t enough, that they stay put, persevere, and do the selfless work it takes to reconcile relationship. That is goodwill. That would also bring to the rest of us far better news than anything seen on Netflix.

Personally this season I am grateful for my family and extended family. We’re spread a bit far this Christmas season and not able to see each other as oft as we like, and the reality is that life’s not always perfect. We sometimes hurt each other. It’s sometimes not all that fun. And each of us makes our share of contributions.

But we don’t keep score. We forgive fast. Learn much. Laugh, too. And love one another generously always.

Over and over again.

Such seems a wise contribution… in far more than our little corner of the world.



free speech?

With Elon Musk prompting a bit of a free speech firestorm with the recent changes and tweets at Twitter, it’s made many ask what free speech is, isn’t, and what should and shouldn’t be allowed. For continued context, Musk is reversing the behavior of former Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey, who admits multiple errors and censorship during his tenure. Said Dorsey this past week: “The biggest mistake I made was continuing to invest in building tools for us to manage the public conversation, versus building tools for the people using Twitter to easily manage it for themselves. This burdened the company with too much power, and opened us to significant outside pressure…” He acknowledged the influence of activists.

Noting as previously stated that the Intramuralist has never considered Twitter to be a host of authentic dialogue (the interactions are too snarky and short), it’s not surprising that freedom of expression was also not one of their values. Twitter was not an exhibitor of free speech; they printed what they wanted, shut down and shadow-banned others. But Twitter started as a private company (later becoming public and set to go private once more). It’s also not surprising then, since many have participated in places where free speech was not valued nor therefore practiced, that many have consequently concluded that said freedom is unnecessary. Let’s thus do a little unpacking…

Among other essential human rights, the First Amendment guarantees that Congress will make no law “abridging the freedom of speech.” To “abridge” means to curtail. The freedom of speech then means that an individual is free to articulate their opinions and ideas without fear of retaliation, censorship, or legal sanction. Categories of speech that are not considered within said freedom are incitement, defamation, fraud, obscenity, child pornography, fighting words, and threats.

One of the critical arenas where the debate most seems to play itself out (no, not Twitter) is on the college campus. In especially recent years, it’s been increasingly questioned whether colleges are embracing or actually eroding free speech… and the wisdom and health of said intentional efforts. What should or shouldn’t be silenced?

AllSides presented the perspectives respectfully and objectively some time ago: “Do college administrators have a duty to protect students against harmful speech and negative emotional consequences? Or is the purpose of college education to expose yourself to different views and build resiliency against bad ideas?”

Great questions. Let’s offer a few more, questions that are worthy of asking both on and off the college campus — also, both on and off social media… In regard to the freedom of speech… 

Is hate speech protected — and if so, what exactly is it?

(Fascinating note: according to the American Library Association, “There is no legal definition of ‘hate speech’ under U.S. law, just as there is no legal definition for evil ideas, rudeness, unpatriotic speech, or any other kind of speech that people might condemn. Generally, however, hate speech is any form of expression through which speakers intend to vilify, humiliate, or incite hatred against a group or a class of persons on the basis of race, religion, skin color sexual identity, gender identity, ethnicity, disability, or national origin.” Back to the questions…)

What level of scrutiny should be applied to online expression?


Who gets to decide what is and isn’t acceptable?

Friends, this isn’t easy. It’s also not some simple, binary, black and white answer; there is no minimized two-option, potential solution.

So allow me to respectfully add what does not qualify as a filter in our discernment of what’s a wise way forward, as admittedly, some of the speech out there — and some of the squelching of speech out there — is offensive. We don’t like it.

The challenge is that neither offense nor dislike are rational reasons for restriction. There exists no right to shoot down what we don’t like.

That, my friends, is what makes this both sensitive and hard.