Silicon Valley didn’t invent disruption. We like to throw the word around like we did though. Uber disrupted taxi and car services. iTunes disrupted the music industry. Google disrupted, well everything.

It’s been happening for a long time though.

It’s been 500 years since Martin Luther disrupted Christianity when he nailed his 95 Theses to the door of the Castle Church in Wittenberg. 80 years before that Gutenberg disrupted human knowledge with his printing press. Centuries later, three men in Philadelphia sat down to disrupt the governing of man with the most important document the world has seen since scripture. Continue reading


The Pledge

240 years ago last month, the committee to draft the Declaration of Independence was selected by the First Continental Congress.  The full committee included Thomas Jefferson, John Adams, Benjamin Franklin, Roger Sherman and Robert Livingston.  Sherman was called away and never signed it.  Livingston reviewed and signed the document the three others provided, without edit.  As a result, no one outside of academia has any idea who Sherman and Livingston are. Of Jefferson, Adams and Franklin, only Franklin was the Benjamin Franklin of our history books by then, having seemingly invented most of the things invented in the 18th century.  The others were simply two respected lawyers and landowners from Virginia and Massachusetts.

Jefferson asked Adams to write the first draft.  He refused, stating that he had been far too “obnoxious” in his calls for its creation to be taken seriously.  Self awareness is a powerful accomplishment.

There are a lot of memorable words in that declaration.  One’s we recite regularly and point to as the foundational ideals of our American society.

“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal..” 

That’s an important one.  Though we didn’t really mean it at the time.  The next 240 years or so would be one long fight to fix that.  The enemies of our independence pointed to that statement and rolled their eyes at our hypocrisy, the author himself owning scores of other “equal” men.

“they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness” 

Also important, taken from John Locke in the previous century though.  It wasn’t a new idea, but the genius was how Jefferson coupled it with equality for all, a powerful sword against the class system and subjugation of the crown. Perhaps no other words, save scripture, have bound a society more strongly than the equality and liberty declared in the first few sentences of that great document. 

But for me, it’s not the most important part.  There’s another one, buried down deep in the last paragraph-after the laundry list grievances against the crown.  We rarely get to it. We remember the first line.  But it’s the last line that gives the document its power.

“And for the support of this Declaration, with a firm reliance on the protection of divine Providence, we mutually pledge to each other our Lives, our Fortunes and our sacred Honor.”

Then they signed it.  56 men, most of them the upper class of colonial society, lawyers, planters, publishers, shipping magnates-gentlemen.  The power of the document was not in its borrowed words.  Men had been thinking and writing and longing for the things Jefferson wrote in the opening paragraph for as long as men have been thinking and writing and longing for things.  It was the commitment to action that changed the world-the risk of lives, fortunes and honor.

The only thing that has moved our world forward, towards life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness is action in the name of others-more importantly action by those not motivated by self-when the “have’s” of society ignore their positions of situational wealth and well being to give voice to a cause on behalf of the “have not’s”.  Nothing happens until the people least effected by something, speak up for those most effected by it.  For millennia, rulers used patronage to appease the classes most capable of insisting on change. It can be an impassable barrier to progress. Self preservation is the greatest friend oppression ever had.  The Declaration, even for just a moment, changed things.

240 years after this great document was signed, we can all take measured satisfaction that we’ve aligned to protect our liberties and insisted, too slowly perhaps, on equality.  But the thing we have to ask ourselves is this. Have we held true to the powerful pledge those 56 men locked arms together and marched forward with, against the best interest of their fortunes and their honor?

If you are wealthy, do you give voice to the needy, even if it may cost you something?  If you are included, do you insist, even at risk to your own standing, on the inclusion of those who aren’t?  Or have you been appeased by your own success.  Are you willingly powerless in service to self.

The world moves forward when those without the dire need give voice to the plight of those with it.  When those not being killed by gun violence demand a dialogue about a solution on behalf of those who are.  When those not subject to disproportionate treatment by the justice system insist on accountability.  When those able to marry and participate in a society of family insist on inclusion for those who can’t. When those who’s financial outcomes may be worse off if they insist on environmental protection, do just that in service to a better world for future generations.

Things get better when we’re prepared to sacrifice for others. When we go beyond the abstract of talk and ideas and into the reality of action. Where our lives, fortunes and honor are at stake.  In those selfless moments, we capture what has made America great. When we choose to do nothing because the status quo suits us, the world stands still.

We’ll celebrate our country today.  We’ll celebrate equality and liberty.  We’ll celebrate the men who wrote and signed that document.  But if you can, take a moment to account for your actions in the face of others in need.  And remember the greatest victory of our founding fathers.  The courage to cast off the burden of self preservation in service to the greater good.  That’s America.  When we’re great, that’s what we do.




The Choice of Life

There’s an eight year old boy in my house who can’t speak in full sentences. He’s a beautiful child but something’s a little off with him. We have cameras in our home, special alarms and  locks on our doors because he likes to wander off without a firm understanding of time or the environment around him. He wears headphones to block out the sound because it bothers him and he needs a one-on-one aid to help him get through the day at school in his special education class. He’s my son and he’s autistic. Not mildly. Not the way that makes him quirky or awkward or a mild discipline problem in school. He’s autistic in the way that it’s likely he will never live independently and will require care for basic needs his whole life.

Before I left my unit in Iraq, where I was when I found out he was diagnosed, I let the officers that reported to me know that I was leaving for a few weeks and why. One of them, a kid lieutenant in a distant outpost sent me an email I’ve thought about almost every day since. He was a million miles away from anything normal, in a war zone, but he was compelled to tell me something about his older sister. He told me that she was severely mentally handicapped. And that though there have no doubt been troubles and hardship, his life and the life of his family have been truly enriched by their experience with her.

It was a simple, beautiful, iron truth message.

Today, nearly six years later, my life is more defined by my membership in the special needs community than by any other aspect. My profession, my faith, my marriage, nothing dictates more what I can, can’t, must or will have to do in any circumstance than the fact that I have a special needs child. Those of us on this journey who have made it through of sound mind and body have gotten there by clinging desperately to one key thought; the thought that young lieutenant gave me.

My life is a richer and fuller experience as a result of loving and caring for my special needs child.

It’s not an easy thing to embrace. You have to say it before you believe it. You have to believe it long before you see it. Which is why so many of us find our way to that belief through the comfort or discovery of our faith. But once you get there, it’s a powerful enlightenment. And if I could snap my fingers and make my son “normal”, I would.  But I wouldn’t change the impact this journey has had on me. It has given me a sense of humility, service and respect for human life in any form or function it takes. It is a sense that I did not always have and one I personally could not have without my experience.

It is a personal belief of mine.

In the Spring of 1760, William Small, a Scottish born academic, taught as the professor of natural philosophy at the College of William and Mary in the English colony of Virginia. Small was a product of the period of enlightenment. He taught the sentiments that would eventually be expressed in Immanual Kant’s 1784 essay on the Origins of Enlightenment.  Kant wrote:

Enlightenment is man’s emergence from his self-imposed immaturity. Immaturity is the inability to use one’s understanding without guidance from another. This immaturity is self-imposed when its cause lies not in lack of understanding, but in lack of resolve and courage to use it without guidance from another. Sapere Aude! [dare to know] “Have courage to use your own understanding!”–that is the motto of enlightenment.

Sitting in his classroom that spring, listening to the Socratic method of teaching Small introduced to the college, was 17 year old Thomas Jefferson. Years later, Jefferson would mention the profound impact Small’s teaching had on him.

“Dr. Small was …..to me as a father. To his enlightened & affectionate guidance of my studies while at College I am indebted for everything.”

To be the focus of Jefferson’s attention at such a formative age is to be the fulcrum lifting man’s thought on government from absolute, to enlightened humanist. You can draw a straight line from those teachings of enlightenment and personal freedom of thought to the heart of the notion of liberty and personal freedom that lit the flame of revolution in the colonies 16 years later. It is the foundational belief of liberty.

Personal choice.

Jefferson’s Declaration of Independence, his two terms as president and the fact that four of the next five presidents, save John Quincy Adams, were considered Jeffersonian disciples  show that no man and no philosophy of thought has had more impact on the creation of our national identity than Thomas Jefferson and the concept of personal enlightenment and choice.  We are a nation built on the principal of personal choice and personal belief.

Personal belief.

If you have a strong point of view on the pro-life, pro-choice discussion, you owe it to yourself and others who may one day be effected by how you exercise your democratic duty to read the majority opinion of the Supreme Court’s 1971 decision in Roe vs. Wade.  It’s a few dozen pages with a reasonable amount legal jargon to get through before you get to the meat of it. It will take you less than an hour. You will find that the argument is grounded in conservative interpretation of the 9th Amendment and is bolstered by the 14th Amendment notion of equal protection of all persons under the law. It also accounts for the notion of human life before birth by establishing a limit on late term abortions.

It is balanced and logical. I agree with every single part of it with the exception of one. And it’s the most material part.  It’s the implied notion that human life begins in the third trimester of pregnancy. It’s a belief I don’t share. That’s not because anyone else has convinced me not to.  No political ideology or campaigning could compel me to come to that conclusion. I’ve come to this personal belief because of the journey I have walked with my family in the loving community of others who’s children were the outcomes of decisions not to terminate pregnancies. Who’s children with Down Syndrome are higher functioning than my son, despite the fact that 92% of parents who receive a Down Syndrome diagnosis in the womb, chose to terminate. I spend my life amongst parents whose children represent a burden that no one is capable, without faith and community of bearing.

Yet we have.

And in doing so I have anchored my life to the belief that all human life has value. And the thought that anyone’s expression of their point of view would move me off that belief is wrong if not insulting.  This is one of my core personal beliefs. William Small would tell me that my enlightenment would depend on my ability to maintain that personal belief without permission of others. Thomas Jefferson would tell me that my country was built on the notion that I am allowed to do so.

So What?

What should my government do with the emotion and conviction that I feel for the value of human life? You may find my answer at odds with my tone. I expect my government to do nothing.

I am grounded in my belief by experiences that no one could change. But most Americans do not share my belief. Only 44% of Americans consider themselves pro-life in a 2015 poll conducted by Gallup. And though my own personal conviction will not allow me to agree with the present interpretation of the Constitution as it pertains to abortion, I believe that first and foremost, we are a nation of people, but a government of laws.

As a result, the people actually have the power to change our reality by constitutional amendment or by revisiting the 1971 ruling through the judiciary. Both things in the present environment are highly unlikely. They may always be. But until they’re not, the words of enlightenment that informed our forefather’s vision of my country, “Have courage to use your own understanding” will guide me. Actions to the contrary were not their intent.

Our laws are brought about by the process of political actions that change the minds of the American people. And this is one instance where no minds are changing. So perhaps this debate needs to move on and stop defining so much of what side we get to take for so many other important things.