REAWAKENING VIRTUES: RESTORING WHAT MAKES AMERICA GREAT
By Armstrong Williams
New Chapter Publisher, $22.95, 208 pages
It was 8:21 on a Friday night, and there I was, reading yet another book on how to reclaim the morals and principles that America used to hold dear. What a way to start a weekend. Rather prudish, don't you think?
When I found out that my husband had to work late, I decided it was as good a time as any to start reading the copy of Armstrong Williams' new book, "Reawakening Virtues: Restoring What Makes America Great," which this newspaper had asked me to review. To be perfectly blunt, I was expecting to read what I've read (and even written about myself) a million times before.
The cry goes something like this: "Our nation is going to hell in a handbasket, and if we don't do something fast, we're doomed." Don't get me wrong - I believe the statement is true. The sad reality is that it is nothing new.
Mr. Williams' book, however, is something new - and on that quiet summer evening, I discovered that it is quite powerful, too.
At the title of Chapter 1, Williams had my undivided attention: "The Virtue of the Sabbath."
I immediately recalled a meeting I had several years ago with a friend, radio host and film critic Michael Medved, about the very subject of the Sabbath. Michael wanted to know why Christians seem to ignore the commandment about keeping the Sabbath. He had the same question about his own Jewish brothers and sister, too. Although I know the early Christians began observing the day of rest on Sundays because that was the day of Jesus' Resurrection - I really could not answer as to why the day - whether it be Saturday or Sunday - lost its sense of holiness with so many people of faith. What I do know is that it wasn't destroyed by a secular culture. I can blame a lot of our ills on that, but not this one. No, the failure to take a complete day and set it aside to rest in God is the fault of every single Christian and Jew who chooses to ignore this very clear command - myself often included.
It was curious to me that Armstrong Williams would raise this topic too.
I ended up reading the chapter twice and then sort of staring into the night as I pondered what it means for my own life. Mr. Williams' words were profound. He has identified an ancient truth that is the first step in reclaiming our virtues: Set aside time to spend with God. I have started to realize how needlessly complicated we often make our lives and our battles by staying caught up in the whirlwind and failing to take regular rest in the Almighty.
Mr. Williams writes that Jesus taught that the Sabbath is for man, and he movingly recalls how his pastor helped him through a personal crisis with a gentle explanation of Jesus' teachings in Matthew 11:28-30:
" 'Are you tired? Worn out? Burned out on religion? Come to me. Get away with me, and you'll recover your life. I'll show you how to take a real rest. Walk with me and work with me - watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace. I won't lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you. Keep company with me, and you'll learn to live freely and lightly.' "
But Mr. Williams doesn't stop there. He correctly points out that if we honor the command to observe the Sabbath as God declared we should, we will be better able to strengthen the virtues of our country - by first restoring the virtues of our own personal lives.
My husband got home from work around 9:15 p.m., and although Mr. Williams' book is an easy read and I should have been at least a third of the way through by then, I was still hanging out in Chapter 1.
After a brief (but warm) hello and a quick check of my husband's hunger meter (he was fine, thank you), I finally delved into Chapter 2: "Honoring the Sanctity of Life."
Again, Mr. Williams surprisingly grabbed me by the heart and imagination when he addressed a critical and obvious point that is seldom, if ever, mentioned in the debate over abortion: What about the rights of the father? I have spent many a night wondering and have asked many men in my life, "How is it that the men of America have silently tolerated the fact that they have been rendered impotent in their ability to protect the lives of their own offspring?" I've always been puzzled by the fact that very few men speak out against abortion on the grounds that they also have a right to determine their child's future.
Armstrong Williams doesn't just speak out, he eloquently makes the legal, moral and logical arguments about how and why fathers must reclaim their basic rights as, well, fathers.
With every subsequent chapter in Mr. Williams' marvelous book, I found myself deeply impressed with his intelligence, masterful logic and brilliant observations about the most profound questions and topics of our lives: motherhood, fatherhood, marriage, family, the pursuit of truth and even the virtues of capitalism, just to name a few. Mr. Williams' infusion of timeless truths and new arguments into old debates is the fresh ammunition we need to fight - and win - the culture war. And if we can get those who oppose such things as the Ten Commandments and timeless virtues to actually read Mr. Williams' book, we just might win this war not by defeating our enemy but persuading him to join us.
No, Armstrong Williams' "Reclaiming Virtues" definitely is not just another rehash of all that is wrong; it undoubtedly will be among the most effective books in helping us restore what is right.
Rebecca Hagelin can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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