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Time to renew the Thanksgiving tradition. Because of extended family gatherings, our Thanksgiving dinner has been moved to Friday. We had more than 30 people in attendance. I didn’t get around to saying more than “hi” to a few, but I did have some good conversations with others. However, I find that some of the best conversations are had on our Thanksgiving Day hike, which once occurred on Friday. This time around, two brothers, a sister-in-law, a great-nephew, a great-niece, and I made the trek. The car trip to and from is frequently of equal or greater length, but there is much scenery to take in and much catching up to do. We went to Wolf Creek Falls near the NC border and up from Del Rio, TN.

(Interjection: I just saw something neat. The big drops of a beginning rain shower began to pelt down on the yard outside the window. When I heard it, I stood up and looked out to see large drops smacking leaves on the ground, making them look like Mexican jumping beans. Showers starting with large drops are not as common this time of year when it is cold and there are leaves on the ground.)

The sky was flawlessly blue and the temperature was refreshingly chilly. The trail was an old logging road and flat. But after one creek crossing and the second one going to require wading, my two brothers and sister-in-law decided to turn back. I didn’t want to stop, so I volunteered to go on with the great-nephew and great-niece. Of five total creek crossings the second one was the only one requiring wading. The other three went back to the vehicles and executed a long circumvention to a shorter approach from above the waterfall. They arrived 3 minutes after we did. We all enjoyed the process and the conversation.20191128_11105820191128_115936

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Largest Frazier Magnolia leaf I’ve ever seen. Umbrella and Bigleaf are supposed to be bigger, but you could fool me.

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Mushroom button and possibly three different kinds of oak leaves (Southern Red, Northern Red, Black), hophornbeam (“musclewood”) and red maple

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Approach glimpse

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Unintended fascinating shadow, oh, and Galax

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Hornworts and Liverworts, Batman!

 

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Over the Edge

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Near the Edge

 

 

 

 

 

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A brother, a great-niece, a great-nephew

Wolf Creek Falls
Serious conversation (picture credit: older brother)
Wolf Creek Falls Selfie
I think us oldesters need to learn something about how to pose for a selfie (picture credit: older, pictured brother)
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Double Cascade

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There is so much to be thankful for. James 1:2 says we should “Consider it all joy, my brethren, when you encounter various trials”. God’s ways are consistently counter and frequently appear odd to us. But accepting and even giving thanks during trials produces “endurance” and renders us “complete”. (James 1:3,4) The trials of Jesus were for our good (Hebrews 5:7-10).

Can scars be beautiful?
My Lord's certainly are
So rich in mercy full

Can troubles lend a hand?
My Lord's saved me from hell
By His strength I now stand

Can temptations bring good?
My Lord's perfected Him
I cling more as I should

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Stress

I am going to drop a few poems here that I have written over the past several months. Life has been very busy and stressful this Fall. I need to learn how to let cares roll off my back like water off a duck’s back. I have learned more about praying through and clinging to Jesus, but my personality causes too much internal stress that doesn’t need to be there. See if you can understand the repetitive nature of the stress cycle from the poem.

Go
Faster
More intense
Reap what you sew
Pretend you’re master
Don’t ride the fence
Hoe your row
Plaster
Rinse

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I was so happy for and with my Sunday School Class this morning. I had come up with three lists that I thought would fortify their young faith. The first was evidences from the Scripture that Jesus is a man. The class gave me all seven of them. Some of the answers were synonyms for the words I had listed. This was not a review of a list we had recently gone over. This resulted from several months of emphasizing that Jesus is fully God and fully man. Could you come up with seven evidences from Scripture that Jesus is man like my 10-12 year olds did? Here is our list: 1) born 2) baptized 3) hungry 4) tempted 5) slept 6) bled, and 7) died. 

Our lesson today was about Jesus calling the disciples. It is amazing the trust that two disciples of John the Baptist had in him that they immediately followed Jesus when John identified Him as “the Lamb of God”. Andrew was one of those disciples, and when he found his brother Simon, he told him that “we have found the Messiah”. That is quite a statement for someone he had just met on recommendation of someone he trusted. But as Jesus told Nathaniel soon afterwards, “you will see greater things than this”, meaning the insight Jesus had into Nathaniel’s every move was “small potatoes” compared to the miracles he would see later. Their enthusiastic, new faith would be transformed into life-long, martyrdom faith. 

So, if these men were being called to be disciples, what is a disciple anyway? In that culture spiritual teachers would have a following of those who wanted to learn the teacher’s life and insights.* I asked my students to tell me 7 things that disciples do (They actually listed 8, but I forgot to write down the last one. before I left. And again, some of their responses were synonyms of mine): 1) follow 2) believe 3) learn from 4) obey 5) copy 6) tell (share, testify), and 7) represent.

By the time He got James and John on board** and Matthew hosting his friends to meet Jesus, we didn’t have time for my other list: Scriptural Evidences of Jesus as God. I’m glad I didn’t. It would be too much for one week, but we will talk about it soon. And here it is: 1) virgin birth 2) testimony of man (John the Baptist, Nathaniel, Peter, Thomas, etc.) 3) testimony of God 4) commanded nature 5) healed diseases 6) sinless, and 7) rose from the dead.

My hope is that the truth of God’s Word will sink in deeply so that the false doctrines of the world will not later drown their faith. It is so good to see them want to know truth.

*It is a far better way to teach and learn than we generally do today. Apprentices in a trade who constantly shadow a mentor/boss learn this way, but so much of what we pass off for education is assembly line, mass production. Eli Whitney’s interchangeable parts work great for reproducing gun barrels and stocks, but for critically thinking, problem-solvers, saturated in truth, not so much. On the other hand, for basic rote learning to put tools in the toolbox, it works fairly well if the toolboxes are willing.

**Really it should be “off board”, since they were on board when Jesus called them, mending nets with their father Zeb.

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I had another few moments of reflective insight upon waking this morning. All kinds of things bubble up when the pressure is only released for a few moments. It works for uncapped sodas and beleaguered minds alike.

Yesterday was an odd day for me. I was questioning my long-term purpose continuing where I am, doing what I am doing. For many years that was not a question as I felt confident as to my whereabouts and ‘whyabouts’. On top of that, my lesson plans were not the most gorgeous pedagogy, rather boring to be frank, and not having the time or creativity to fix it this time around. Add to that the fact that for some reason, for which I had no clue of at the time, I didn’t feel well. In this state of mind and body I experienced what is not an uncommon pair of interactions with two students.

The first interaction happened about noon. This class has informed me that they don’t want me to say “Good morning” when they arrive in class at 11:35 AM, but instead, “Good mid-day.” In the middle of lecture, I stood off to the side preparing to interpret what was on the screen in front of us all. I felt slightly nauseated and when I looked at the screen my eyes were sufficiently blurry to not be able to add memory (1) and read what it said. I took my glasses off to see if they had some outrageous smudges on the lenses and clean them anyway since I can’t really see them. The students were still copying the screen so that there was not an awkward moment. One student nearby looked up at me, having had me a previous semester, had read my facial expressions many times, and said, “Are you OK, Mr. F?” Rubbing my eyes and replacing my glasses I quietly said, “No.” She replied, “Maybe you should sit down.” I was struck by the utter kindness in her words and tone of voice. I was also secretly chuckling at how old a grey-bearded 59 year-old must seem to a 16 year-old. I was able to recover by using my peripheral vision to discern the screen and continue and a few moments later at my instruction the students were working away quietly on a worksheet practicing the concepts that we had just gone over. I went and sat down and the girl came up to my desk and asked if “maybe you need to go see the nurse”, followed by “did you eat breakfast this morning?” (2) There was nothing but concern in her face, demeanor, and words, and I thanked her several times before the period was over.

After lunch, blurriness gone, I entered my last period of the last weekday. Students filed in to and with “Good Afternoons” and other comments about the day. One surly student entered at the last minute, wearing his hood and plopping down demonstrably at the bell. I don’t allow hats and hoods on heads in my classroom and he regularly pushes this rule and grunts when I would say, “It’s not raining in here, ___”. This day I could tell that he was in a particularly bad mood, so I thought to wait and ask privately or let it occur to him from my sideways glances. I know that this expectation is considered deeply old-fashioned and inexplicable to most people, but I think that it is a matter of respect. (3) Once again, upon reflection, I figured out why this student was non-verbally resisting. He had been told, no doubt moments before, of his lunch detention for a fourth tardy to my class yesterday. If this were the only or rare exhibition of disrespect toward me from this student, I could have totally ignored it, but I had also had him another semester, and this was the regular fare he serves up. I try to be patient because he is under significant pressure I believe from parents and siblings and friends to “make something of himself” through success in education. He has a good mind but not an excellent ability, so to succeed he must struggle and work hard. Interpreting what I see, I’d say his bad attitude results from much extrinsic motivation but little intrinsic motivation, daily lessened by the pressure of the extrinsic forms. I am probably among his least favorite teachers because my expectations require either that you prove through testing that you know the material or work and organize hard enough and consistently enough to convince me of your learning. Either one will garner a B, but only both precipitate an A. Therefore, his extrinsic motivations get turned up a notch because he is not willing or able to live up to my expectations, though more effort on his part would solve the problem.

These two deeply contrasting interactions within the span of an hour and a half have triggered my reflection on interaction between people. And in fact, I had intended to comment on this previously (“Review of what we should have learned” #2), and am self-chided for not completing that thought. So, in quick fashion, I intend to say what I believe to be several GLUES (Good Lessons Underpinning Effective Society) of Society. Society here means “a voluntary association of individuals for common ends”, and in particular I refer to that kind which is “an enduring and cooperating social group whose members have developed organized patterns of relationships through interaction with one another”. (4)

These two students teach us what we already know to be two required underpinnings of society: respect and kindness. We will forever battle, literally and verbally, if we do not hold these two expectations of ourselves and our fellow citizens. Respect should be for a minimum of two reasons: 1) All people deserve it because they are made in the image of God (5), and 2) Those in authority: a) government servants including elected officials and police, to name a few, b) those who work for our good such as teachers and preachers, fathers and mothers, and c) elders (6). Without interacting layers of respect a society cannot function with civility.

Kindness and mercy, which includes forgiveness, are the only ways past the juggernaut of hatred and fear that propels us to quarrel and be defensive even when there is no offense real or intended.

Additionally, a society must be characterized by truth in order to long endure. I fear our society will not long endure into the future owing to the fact that we have shed all modicum of truth either as a concept or in practice.

The two areas of the practice of truth that I think are a minimum requirement are the rule of law and integrity. I don’t say justice because human government may not even be capable of that in any real and balanced way. Rule of Law it seems to me is a consistent, that is, not fickle, determination to approximate justice in the black and white and gray areas of human ignorance on what constitutes real justice. (7) Some will argue that if we merely follow God’s Word, justice will always be done. I retort that God’s Word is absolutely true and just but our laws are evidence that He did not illuminate us on every detail of how to carry out His justice, though the principles are all there. It is most certainly due to our blindness and rebellion that we do not carry out His law, but that is where we are nonetheless.

Integrity is a term that seems vague to most people I talk to. They simply say it means honesty, or the more astute say it means honesty when no one is watching. Though true, these two definitions fall short of the deeper meaning that a society needs to function. Integrity involves an internal consistency of thought and action based in worldview that makes honesty the unassailable default mode. To put it simply, a person of integrity can’t lie (8) because his/her worldview comes unglued. As an illustration, a student told me that she was telling the truth. In reply, not really questioning her honesty but questioning her integrity and view of herself, I asked, “Do you ever lie?” She thought a moment and slowly replied, “I have.” I pointed out to her that she must, by in large, be an honest person, therefore, because she admits to the human condition that we all lie. (I John 1:5-9) Without integrity there is no good reputation, so where do I take my car to be worked on and do I ever receive change from a cashier without counting it?

How could I make such a list without love. “God is love.” “Without love I am [we are] nothing.” “Love covers a multitude of sins.” (9) Love holds together everything: self, family, friends, communities, nations. It stems directly from God’s nature and is the greatest need of mankind.

And there you have it, my ideas about the GLUE of Society: Kindness, respect, rule of law, mercy, truth, integrity, and love.

Now this list could go on and I hope the reader will comment with your candidates and reasonings for including other ideas, but I think these seven GLUES can be reduced down to two found in Proverbs 3:3: “Do not let kindness and truth leave you; bind them around your neck, write them on the tablet of your heart.” And these two are not dichotomous in nature, whereby you can’t hold one while entertaining the other. Instead, they are two sides of the same coin, whereby you cannot truly have one without the other. As a fellow citizen, yea human being, I cannot truly be kind to you if I do not tell you the truth. And I cannot really be true if I do not communicate and interact in kindness, because you cannot accept it and real truth is always kind by instructing us for our good. And these two can be further be reduced to just love, because it is an essential attribute of God, but not the only one. And that last little clarification is the the reason I think we need to discuss seven or more GLUES for our life together (10) and stop here.

  1. “add memory”- For those of you with good eyesight that means looking at something blurry but being able to discern from size and general shape what it must read.
  2. I told her that I did not know what was wrong and that I had had a good breakfast. Upon later reflection her prompting caused me to realize a possible cause of the episode. I had eaten eggs, sausage, almond meal pancake spread with almond butter missing one ingredient I usually eat that brought carbs to about zero. I have hypoglycemic tendencies from my father. When I ate lunch at noon the blurriness subsided in minutes.
  3. Few know its real meaning. Even this balanced article only hints at the real reason in ignorance: https://www.thespruce.com/etiquette-of-hats-indoors-1216685 I will likely get push back for communicating the real reason, but here it is: I Corinthians 11.
  4. https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/society
  5. Ah! there is a sticking point and reason for decay in our society: lack of respect for and subsequent acknowledgement of Creator God.
  6. I am saying more in the footnotes than in the article, but putting it here hopefully prevents bogging down the main points of the article: Romans 13, I Timothy 5:1,17
  7. Victim’s rights balanced with mercy is something I am seeing more that only God can pull off both because of His omniscience and His omnipotence. (This is getting fun to see how many legit. footnotes I can make.
  8. A person of integrity cannot lie ultimately or consistently and will at some level come back around to admit to any lie stated or acted out.
  9. I John 4:8, I Corinthians 13:2, I Peter 4:8
  10. But since this is not a theological treatise on the character of God, I will leave that for your Scripture reading and systematic theologies.

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I am amazed at times what a little rest and little reflection can allow to come around in our memory. The last two weeks have been a whirlwind of challenge by way of time pressure and emotional workout. So, even though today is also full of chores and duties, I had the privilege of sleeping late. But sleeping late for one in the habit of early rising is difficult. Usually 7 PM is all that I can manage, but it was a few minutes past 7:30 when I first saw the clock this morning, and my dear wife slept away. In the unhurried moments I lay musing on random thoughts when one came through quite clearly.

Do you remember the names of your elementary school teachers? Sequentially from 1st grade through 6th mine were Mrs. Denton, Mrs Gaston, Mrs. Henderson, Mrs. Gervin, Mrs. Tucker, and Mrs. Alexander. I know that a child’s view of the world and the addition of many years makes memories a bit skewed, but I thought of a few things I remember about them.

Mrs. D was a large lady. I don’t mean overweight, just a big person. She was kind but seemed sad. She had gray hair. None of my teachers were young. I always wanted to please my teachers and I wanted to do my best for her. One day during milk break in the cafeteria, I felt sick to my stomach and couldn’t finish my milk. Mrs. D would stand at the garbage can inspecting to see if we had finished our milk. I was nervous and dropped the carton, mostly full of milk, just before she took hold of it. It fell and splashed milk all over her dress. She had to go out and change her clothes. She was not happy with me. I don’t feel like that she held it against me after that. I think I remember struggling to learn to read and yet enjoying the new world it opened up.

Mrs. G was a small round woman who wore lots of jewelry and smiled most of the time. She was also strict. The first and last time I ever cheated on a test was on one of her weekly spelling quizzes. I wanted to do well but spelling did not and does not make sense to me. I used a little cheat sheet and she caught me. I was publicly shamed and worse, my parents were told. In this day and time publicly shaming is frowned upon, but I think it only hurts significantly because we tell children falsehoods about self-esteem the rest of the time so that they have “entitlement issues”. At any rate, I never cheated again, ever. I struggled in reading. After a short stint in reading group #1, I was demoted to the second reading group. My mother was told that I was struggling and it was suggested that I read extra at home. Mrs. G had a box of 2nd grade reading level books. I checked out one or two a week to read to my mother at home. I improved in reading, enjoyed the stories, being drawn most of all to facts related books. I am still a laboriously slow reader, but I understanding is good, and I enjoy an encouraging story or informative narrative. We still had nap, or quiet time. Most of the other students giggled and fidgeted on their mats, but I frequently went fast asleep. I distinctly remember several times awaking, disoriented and drowsy, to be given a hard time by classmates and defended fiercely by Mrs. G.

Mrs. H was almost certainly the youngest elementary school teacher I had and I’m pretty sure she was middle aged. She was innovative and energetic. She decided that our study of American History and the Capitol, Washington D.C., should have a visual. So she set out having us make paper mache models of the various buildings in D.C. I made a Washington Monument. By 3rd grade I had a best friend, Andy D. We loved math and did problems together. We liked science and talking about space exploration and going to the Moon. We liked drawing symmetrical shapes with ruler and compass. I grew up with mechanical drawing since my father worked as a draftsman for ORNL from shortly after the war.* So, Mrs. H selected Andy and me to draw out a map of D.C. with streets, bodies of water, and the locations of monuments and buildings all to scale. We did this on butcher paper laid out on the floor of a particularly large, empty classroom down the hall from her room. Andy and I would get to skip classes we did well in to work on the map. My childish memory wants to say the map was perhaps 20 x 30 feet in size. We spent many hours drawing, talking, and reveling in time together, just the two of us in that empty room. After all of the paper mache buildings were completed with white acrylic paint and all, they were placed on the map which was painted with black streets and blue rivers and pools, and large green spaces. The model that I had made was not selected and I thought it was better. Later someone helped me to understand that Mrs. H had allowed me the privilege and limelight of drawing the map. It would not be equitable to also place my paper mache monument on the map. During the next PTA meeting most of the school and their parents walked around the periphery of the map in that otherwise empty room admiring our work. It was probably the most unforgettable thing for me about elementary school.

Mrs. G was a thin, quiet woman. I somehow remember being a favorite of hers and growing in my love of learning new things. I had a vague memory of some written project that I did well on, but for some reason everything about that year is vague. In fact, even the room we were in seems vague, being set back in a corner at the end of the hallway. Mrs. G liked to keep the blinds shut so that the room had a dark, calm atmosphere.

Mrs. T was a fierce, little fireball who loved to raise flowers. She lived about a block from me in a little white house that was unimpressive, but the flower garden because of the small yard could not be anywhere else but next to the street, was impressive. When I would walk or ride my bike by her house, you could see the weedless beds of massive flowers of many varieties and smell them, too. Many evenings and summer mornings, Mrs. T was out weeding and replanting slips or cuttings. In class, she expected her students to work hard and behave, all orderly and well presented like her garden. I wanted to please my teacher so I did both. Good behavior produces good results. I was allowed to help the teacher and do work ahead of my grade. One of my best friends did something one day that set the class off and sent Mrs. T into a frenzy. It was warm and our school did not have air conditioning, so the banks of casement windows were laid open. A yellow jacket flew in and buzzed around the back of the room. Many of the girls screamed and others jumped out of their seats to get away. While Mrs. T was trying to settle the class, Jack jumped up with a new pencil, made noises as he sung his pencil like a sword, knocking the bee to floor dead on his last downswing. The class went wild with elation.

Mrs. A had to be close to retirement. She told me she had been a teacher for some period of time that seemed astronomical to my young mind. She always seemed to be happy and encouraging. I’m not sure if I am remembering correctly, but I think that I heard that she had had some deep hurts in her life, which if my memory is correct, made her demeanor all the more amazing. She liked to have classroom competitions and interclass competitions: weekly Spelling Bees, group math quizzes, history facts group competitions. I dreaded the spelling bees and seem to remember managing many 2nd places, despite my abhorrence of the art form. Mrs. A invited a number of her best students to come to her house a few times to study extra for a math competition that we went to. I felt so special eating a snack in her breakfast room with a few of my classmates. 

This commentary is a very narrow slice of what I remember about my elementary school years. There was baseball and bowling and bike rides and vacations and good grades and friends and chorus and library and safety patrol and playground (woods, swings and monkey bars and merry-go-rounds, kickball) and PE with the principal and plays and promenades and always working real hard to please my parents, my teachers, and make good grades and times with friends. But my teachers had more influence on me than I have previously given credit for in many long years. They may not have been the best teachers by modern pedagogical standards, but they had high expectations, rewarded what was good, punished what was not, and seemed to care about their students and their content. That was enough for me.

* I decided to say it the way we would back then instead of explaining it for the younger set. ORNL stands for Oak Ridge National Laboratory, site of the Manhattan Project where my mother was secretary and just a couple of years before my father arrived, and much of the focus of anything related to radioactivity studies. The war, of course, was World War II where my father had recently arrived home from when he began working there.

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In Biology class we are studying cell reproduction. The somatic or body cells reproduce by mitosis, yielding genetically identical daughter cells. The gametes (sex cells: egg and sperm) come about by a “double mitosis” as it were called meiosis, that yields genetically divergent cells that have half as much genetic material. Biologically, when an egg and sperm combine you have all of the potential of the mature person. This single cell is called a zygote. After several mitotic cell divisions the zygote is called a blastula. As the cells continue to multiply, they differentiate into various major body parts and systems in what is now called the gastrula. These early stages with their various names are clumped under the name embryo. From 8 weeks on the differentiation is significant enough to recognize some large body form features and the embryo is called a fetus. Most people recognize the fetus as a baby even before he/she is born. The baby becomes an infant, the infant a toddler, the toddler a child, the child an adolescent, the adolescent a teenager, the teenager a young adult, then middle aged adult then senior adult. From fertilization until death the organism is a live person with all of the potentialities of the original zygote. None of us have reached our full potential, but that in no way makes us less human. Therefore, the zygote all the way through the old goat is a human fully deserving the respect of other humans and full protection of the law. Abortion makes no logical sense.

I had a student the other day want to present to me a position speech she was supposed to give for English class as a way to practice it. Several other students were in attendance in my classroom for this “study hall/remediation” session, so she had a willing audience. Her speech contrasted the conditions, laws, and attitudes about abortion in Missouri and Illinois. Then she ended by giving her opinion as the assignment required. She declared that she is pro-life. She stated along the way that she believed that the baby is a human and should not be aborted except under two circumstances. Her two exceptions were rape and incest. I ask her if the child conceived by rape or incest was also human. She conceded that they are human. “Then,” I asked, “Why shouldn’t he/she be afforded the same protections as any other baby whom you claim should not be aborted?” She replied that their conception was a horrible situation that would be harmful to the mother, the baby’s future, and the wider family. “So,” I continued, “You are saying it is OK to abort this baby based on feeling rather than law.” She replied, “The mother has a right to make her own decision.” “But you just said that she did not have a right to abort a baby not conceived by rape or incest,” I rejoined. I went own to say that we cannot ultimately rule by feelings because the whole society will and is falling apart. We must rule by law consistently and that her perspective about abortion did not make logical, legal, or moral sense.

I would throw this one small bone to the pro-abortionists. At least when they desire and demand abortion at any stage for any reason, they are being logically consistent. They are not being morally or legally consistent, however, because according to their scheme, no one has protection under the law. The fetus, like it or not, baby, is fully human at conception. Therefore, they must be given protection like all other humans, or else no humans are guaranteed protection. And of course, this is true. Euthanasia is an extension of abortion “rights”. An “all-wise” doctor, sanctioned by an “all powerful” government decides when the infirm are no longer human, just as they decided when the fetus began to be called human.

Claiming that I have no right to speak about the subject of abortion because I am a man is just another means of ruling by feeling. Besides, I have worked very hard, and by God’s grace, and raised five children. I pointed out to this young logician in my classroom that the problem of unwanted pregnancies could easily be solved by relaxing the adoption laws so that the many people wanting children could raise happy children conceived in less than ideal circumstances. The circumstances of no human are perfect. We live in a fallen world. Much better to make a child’s circumstances better than end his/her life and destroy the mother emotionally and sometimes physically.

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