My friend, Cathy Gillespie, gave me an antique for Christmas. It is my favorite genre of antique – an antique book. Couple this with the fact that it is a book based on my favorite topic – history – an she scores a home run in gift giving. This antique book is written by one of my favorite American Presidents, John Quincy Adams. John Quincy Adams, John Adams’ son, was, like his father, a great American patriot and dedicated servant to America. He started his service as a young lad as secretary to the Russian embassy, followed by service in posts such as Ambassador, United States Senator, Secretary of State, negotiator of the last peace treaty with Great Britain, President of the United States and then back to the United States House of Representatives. He died on the floor of the house, as he rose to give a speech, at the age of 80. A true American hero.
I attended a wreath laying ceremony for John Quincy Adams in Quincy, Massachusetts last July. I had the great honor of helping to lay the wreath on his grave, thanks to my good friend, and dedicated American, Aurthur Ducharm, who is the curator of the crypt. In his crypt, he lies with his wife, Louisa Catherine Adams, his mother Abigail Adams and his father John Adams. When I walked into the crypt for the first time, in June, I wept. I couldn’t believe I was standing near such American greatness. Juliette and I returned to lay yellow roses (of Texas) on their tombs.
As I reflect upon their greatness, I realize that it was not so much the list of accomplishments that make them heroic, but the dignified and virtuous way they lived their lives. All of their decisions were influenced by their faith. Upon this moral compass they, armed with the earnestness, confidence and passion of God’s guidance, made enormous decisions that changed the destiny of human dignity and became the beckon of hope for all of mankind.
In this book of letters to his son by John Quincy Adams, “J.Q. Adams Letters To His Son,” he dedicates each letter to teaching his son the disciplines of faith that he had learned from his father and mother. John Quincy, writing from St. Petersburg in Sept., 1811, tells his son how he awakens early in the morning and reads the bible for one hour. He describes how hard it is to absorb it all and how the daily aspects of life rush to compete with his meditation. He reflects about how he makes it a mission to routinely read the whole bible in a year because, “..every time I read the Book through, I understand some passages which I never understood before.” He harkens, thus, to not only reading, but absorbing and utilizing the words he has read.
John Quincy decides that it would be mutually beneficial in improving both his comprehension and his son’s to study aspects of the bible together. Hence, the letters in the book. He stresses how vital it is that his son should not only have a formidable foundation of faith, derived from the written word of God, but also the clarity of application. He states, “It is essential, my son, in order that you may go through life with comfort to yourself, and usefulness to your fellow creatures, that you should form and adopt certain rules or principles, for the government of your own conduct and temper. Unless you have such rules and principles, there will be numberless occasions on which you will have no guide for your government but your passions.”
As I read this I am in awe, not only of his self-discipline, but of his astuteness as a father to recognize the necessity of taking it upon himself to teach his child these basics of life. He did not leave it to his child’s school masters or to his friends. He undertook the task himself. Even a Sunday school or a regular church service did not equate to the one on one time of principled study.
Hence, an affirmation of what I already deeply believe – no one will have a bigger impact on my child’s moral compass than me, not only by what I read with her and teach her but by how I respond to situations: how I apply these principles. Currently, Juliette and I are reading C.S. Lewis’ daily meditations in the morning, followed by scripture from the bible and then finishing with a quote from a “24 a day book” about how to cope with the world in a sober way. If the mornings are crazy then we do this in the car on the way to dance. I must admit that John Quincy is correct, I absorb more of God’s word when I study it with my child.
Giving our nation’s children a moral compass is of paramount importance. In a secular world of instant gratification and a flood of information and communication, where is the time for God? It is our impulse to turn on the television, read our Facebook, our e-mails and check our text messages before we reach for God. We have a great challenge before us. There are so many distractions clamoring for our attention.
We must ask ourselves this pivotal question: Who is clamoring for our children’s attention?
Really, life was no different in his day. John Quincy was an extraordinarily busy man and never idle. Yet, he made the time. The choice was his and the choice is ours. What we put before our God we lose. Are we willing to lose a generation of children? Are we willing to lose the future of our country?
John Quincy states it best, “It is no use to discover our own faults and infirmities, unless the discovery prompts us to amendment.”
December 29, 2010