Are you looking for a particular day or are you looking for a person? Yes, Dec. 25 is Christmas; so after all of the gifts are opened and the living room is cleaned up, it is like; so what do we do now? Many do suffer a little from post-Christmas downheartedness and become a little visionless. Days come and go, but people are with us for a lifetime.
Christmas should be an exciting time of year and like the song says; “It’s The Most Wonderful Time of the Year.” People seem to be kinder, a bit more charitable to the downtrodden and those in need; even Ole Ebenezer Scrooge has a changed heart and a sense of charity. Is it giving or receiving gifts, Christmas decorations, Christmas carols, Christmas bonuses from our job or a sense of expectation? I would suggest that it goes much deeper than the expectation of a day or material benefits, this unexplained expectation can be found buried deep in the treasures of the Season of Advent.
What is Advent? How does it relate to Christmas? Many expressions of Christianity throughout the world still use the ancient Liturgical calendar, which is a series of religious feasts and seasons celebrated year round. The early New Testament Church inherited many of these feasts and celebrations from ancient Jewish customs, traditions, ancestry, feasts and celebrated events between mankind and the God of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob and the Promise Land of Israel. The Christian Liturgical calendar begins each year with Advent, then Christmas, Ordinary Time, Lent, Easter, then Ordinary Time again and then it starts all over again.
The Latin word for Advent is adventus, which means arrival or appearance. Advent is the arrival of a notable person. It is also a season observed by many expressions of Christianity worldwide, which is a time of expectancy, anticipation, preparation for the Nativity of Jesus and also the return of Jesus known as the second coming. This Season begins four Sundays before Christmas. The Season of Christmas according to the Liturgical calendar begins on Christmas Eve and this year goes through January 13th which is the Feast of the Baptism of the Lord. In reality, Christmas should not be just confined to one day. We will take a look at the Season of Christmas later on.
When we use computers, deeply embedded below the surface of our work on the screen is all of this code language written by computer experts that makes our software run. Deeply embedded into God’s plan and the core of our foundation during this time of year is an unwritten code for a time of expectancy, looking to the future with an excitement and the hope of better days ahead. The promise to the Old Testament prophets was a new King; redeemer of man’s sin was going to come, a Messiah, which means Christ in Greek.
The New Testament story began when an engaged virgin named Mary was visited by an angel of the Lord named Gabriel. He startled her with a life changing message; she was chosen as the only woman on earth to conceive a child by the Holy Spirit and would bear a son and his name would be Emmanuel, which means, “God With US.” God later appeared to Joseph her husband in a dream and calmed his anxiety about her expecting a child outside of wedlock and told Joseph he would have a son and he shall be named Jesus and he would save his people from their sins. Talk about expectancy; Jesus, Emanuel, God with us was to be borne by a virgin and would be the redeemer or savior of the world. If we ever needed redemption in our life, here it is, as we wait with great expectation of the coming of the savior of the world.
Advent is also symbolized by the Advent wreath, which is a long standing Christian tradition that symbolizes the four weeks leading up to the coming of our savior. It started in Germany among German Lutherans in the 16th century. It is a horizontal wreath made from greenery with four candles which are lit one at the time each Sunday. The circular wreath symbolizes God’s infinite love for us and the greenery symbolizes the evergreen hope of eternal life. The candles lit each week are symbolic of the light of Christ: Week One – Hope, Week Two – Peace, Week Three – Joy and Week Four – Love. Generally all of the candles are the same color except on Week – Three, which is pink symbolizing Gaudete Sunday, which means in Latin to “rejoice” for he is almost here.
Advent is also a celebration of the expectancy of his second coming. For the redeemed, Advent is a time of prayer and fasting serving as a reminder of his nativity birth, but looking with great anticipation of his promised return. While there are many biblical accounts citing this second coming, Jesus told the parable about the Ten Virgins who took their lamps and went out to meet the bridegroom. The bible refers to the redeemed (saved) as the bride of Christ; so these Ten Virgins are symbolic of you and I and meeting the bridegroom in his second coming. Five were prudent and took additional oil with them and the other five were not prudent and did not have staying power, waiting for the arrival of the bridegroom. When the announcement came that the bridegroom had arrived, five made it and five did not.
During this Season of Advent, let’s go deeper than the surface of a particular day, Christmas decorations, parades and gifts. Let’s be aware of those around us who need a touch, smile, encouragement, hand up or a note. Let’s also be givers and not takers. Traditionally over time, we have been encouraged to pray and fast, with the expectation of his arrival. Truefully speaking; the oil in the parable of the Ten Virgins is the Holy Spirit; so when we pray for others and fast our opportunities to help others will soar and our lamps will be filled to over flowing. The Holy Spirit is this deeply embedded code that urges us to be charitable, kind and sympathetic to others.
So this Season of Advent leading up to Christmas, try and recalibrate our thinking from a particular day to a particular person.
May God richly bless you and your family during this special Season of Advent.
Opinion | Primaries next week
Folks, our primaries are next week! On the Democratic side, the Presidential Preference Primary will be the big show and will be interesting to watch. On the right, the Republican Primary for the U.S. Senate Seat will be the marquee event.
In addition to the Senate Race, you have two open Republican Congressional Seats in the First and Second Districts. You also have some important statewide Supreme Court and Appellate Court races on the ballot.
Incumbent Supreme Court Justice Greg Shaw and Shelby County State Senator Cam Ward, are both running to be the Republican nominee for the Associate Justice of the Supreme Court, place number one.
Shaw is one of the most introverted, dignified people that ever ran for statewide office. He takes his role as a monk-like non-talking judge to heart. He has not and will not campaign. He thinks it is beneath the jurist to talk to people, much less campaign or shake hands.
On the other hand, Senator Cam Ward is the ultimate people person and campaigner. Ward has worked the state from one end to the other, campaigning in every nook and cranny and county. He has outworked Shaw 20 to 1. However, ultimately in today’s statewide politics, it all boils down to money.
Ninety-five percent of the people who vote next Tuesday will not decide or think about who they are going to vote for until next week. Then after they vote and elect one of them, they will not be able to tell you who they voted for or for that matter who is on the Supreme Court. This one will be interesting and probably close. Whoever gets the most votes Tuesday will be sworn in for a six-year term in January. Winning the GOP nomination for a judgeship in Alabama is tantamount to election in the Heart of Dixie.
Two Jefferson/Shelby metro candidates are vying for a seat on the Court of Civil Appeals. State Representative Matt Fridy and Phillip Bahakel are vying for place number 2 on the Civil Appeals Court.
The presiding Judge of the Court of Criminal Appeals, Mary Windom, should waltz to re-election. However, Criminal Appeals Judge Beth Kellum, who has done an excellent job, could have a tougher race with two opponents.
PSC President Twinkle Andress Cavanaugh has an also–ran liberal candidate in her race.
The winners of the March 3 GOP Primary or runoff on March 31 will win the 1st and 2nd congressional districts and go to Washington for 2 years.
The fist district Mobile/Baldwin race is the best and most up in the air. It is a three man race between former State Senator Bill Hightower, Mobile County Commissioner Jerry Carl, and Mobile State Representative Chris Pringle. It will be interesting to see which two make the March 31 runoff.
Dothan businessman Jeff Coleman is the front runner to win the open 2nd Congressional district seat. The question is can he win without a runoff. It may be difficult with seven people in the race. He will ultimately win.
As earlier stated the GOP contest for the U.S. Senate is the marquee event on the scene next week. Jeff Sessions is the favorite to win back his seat. However, it will not be a cakewalk. It is doubtful he can win without a runoff. It is a spirited and close race between Coach Tommy Tuberville and Congressman Bradley Byrne to get into the runoff with Sessions. Former Chief Justice Roy Moore has done very little campaigning and will probably get less than 10 perfect of the vote.
All indications point to former Vice President Joe Biden winning our Democratic Presidential Primary. Over 75 percent of the votes cast in our Alabama Democratic Primary will be by African American voters, and Biden has received overwhelming endorsements from almost all of the African American hierarchy and leadership groups in the State. In addition, the two leading African American Democratic Leaders, Congresswoman Terri Sewell and Birmingham Mayor Randall Woodfin, have endorsed Biden.
However, Joe Reed’s powerful Alabama Democratic Conference has endorsed former New York Mayor Mike Bloomberg. It will be interesting to see how Bloomberg fares in Alabama next Tuesday. He has spent a lot of money.
You will see an initiative on the ballot that will ask you if you want to make the State School Board appointed rather than elected. Gov. Kay Ivey is promoting a “yes” vote. She believes an appointed Board is better for education. She would appoint the State School Board, if approved.
Y’all don’t forget to vote.
Steve Flowers is Alabama’s leading political columnist. His weekly column appears in over 60 Alabama newspapers. He served 16 years in the state legislature. Steve may be reached at www.steveflowers.us
Opinion | We can’t let up in the fight against gun-grabbers
The Second Amendment is under attack like never before in our nation’s history, but I am leading the fight to preserve your constitutional rights.
Last year, just weeks after taking power, House Democrats passed a bill to limit the constitutional right to own guns. Their misguided legislation would do nothing to address the underlying problem behind actions of mass violence. That bill, HR8, would prevent lawful gun owners from selling their guns to other law-abiding Americans. If that bill became law, anytime a gun owner like me wanted to transfer or sell a gun, he or she would have to go through a government-sanctioned middle-man. Of course, this process would be prohibitively time consuming and expensive. The authors of this bill’s true intent not only was to freeze all gun transactions through the power of a slow and inefficient federal bureaucracy but to subject millions of Americans to federal prosecution. Even transferring a firearm to a family member or friend could require federal permission!
Let’s not kid ourselves. Criminals are not going to put their illegal enterprises on pause while waiting for permission to buy or sell a gun. HR8 does nothing to stop crime and only burdens lawful citizens. And it does nothing to address the mental health crisis behind so much of the mass violence we have seen. During the debate on that bill, I introduced an amendment to strip out this anti-gun legislation and replace it with nationwide concealed carry reciprocity. My amendment actually could make our country safer. Unsurprisingly, Speaker Pelosi blocked my amendment.
Fortunately for gun owners, we have a true friend in the White House. President Trump has been the biggest advocate for the Second Amendment ever to sit in the Oval Office. To appreciate the significance of that, contrast his Second Amendment policies with those of his opponent in the 2016 election, Hillary Clinton.
In 2008 in District of Columbia v. Heller, in a major victory against zealous gun-grabbing liberals, the Supreme Court ruled against a District of Columbia law criminalizing handgun ownership. That law made it illegal to possess an unregistered firearm in the city but also effectively prohibited registration itself, a blatant attempt to block constitutional rights to own a gun. Clinton, however, disagreed with the Supreme Court’s ruling! Can you imagine if we had a president in the White House who thought it should be illegal to own a gun? Unfortunately, her beliefs are now standard for Democrat politicians.
The battle to preserve the second amendment continues in the courts. Last year, I wrote an amicus brief, often called a “friend of the court” brief, to the Supreme Court. The Court is working on a case, N.Y. State Rifle & Pistol Association Inc. v. City of New York, to determine if New York’s ban on transporting a handgun to a home or shooting range outside city limits is constitutional. Like the District of Columbia law found unconstitutional in Heller, this law is a backdoor attempt to weaken your Second Amendment rights. I was proud to have 120 lawmakers sign onto my brief as well as the support of the NRA and Gun Owners of America.
Last week, I signed on as an original cosponsor to an important bill to strengthen and protect gun rights. The Lawful Interstate Transportation of Firearms Act would ban states from prosecuting lawful gun owners simply traveling through their state. This commonsense legislation would protect against liberal states’ sneaky schemes to circumvent the Second Amendment. I’ll continue fighting for this bill with my colleagues, including Mo Brooks of Alabama who introduced the bill.
The gun-grabbers aren’t letting up, so we can’t stop fighting either. Rest assured I will keep leading the fight in Washington to protect your Second Amendment rights.
Opinion | It’s time for prison mental health reform
Two of the major items on Governor Kay Ivey’s 2020 agenda are finding solutions to the problem of Alabama’s overcrowded and broken prison system, and bolstering our mental healthcare system.
Both are badly needed, and in some ways intersect.
I understand the political challenge of getting folks excited about funding a major overhaul of something as unpalatable as prisons. It’s far easier to rally support for education, health care, infrastructure—heck, basically anything besides creating better conditions for those judged to have done wrong.
But the success of our effort to rehabilitate offenders and return them to society in better shape than the judicial system found them does have real consequences for the rest of us. Overcrowded prisons are a breeding ground for violence, further dehumanizing and corrupting those who’ve lost their way. Draconian mandatory minimum sentences strip judges of discretion to assign appropriate sentences and add to the overcrowding problem.
A broken penal system can take people who made mistakes and turn them into hardcore criminals. The skillset prisoners are forced to learn to survive the sea of gangs and drugs behind bars will be the very one that causes them to fail after release, and get on the recidivism merry-go-round for a lifetime.
Few are discovering a better way to live, or learning how to make an honest living and stay out of trouble after parole.
As it currently exists, our corrections system is an active contributor to the problem of recidivism. The governor can start the ball rolling, but the state Legislature is going to have to get in the game and do the hard work of crafting substantive solutions.
Harder still, they must find a way to fund those solutions.
The other major task is creating a more comprehensive and responsive mental healthcare network for Alabamians who need these services. Those who suffer from mental health challenges, or who care for a loved one who suffers, will tell you that accessing care in Alabama has gone from difficult to almost impossible since the closure of key inpatient facilities several years ago.
Those lacking good insurance or the means to pay for expensive care out-of-pocket are wholly at the mercy of the state. Sometimes, even good insurance can’t help you out, if a bed to put you in just doesn’t exist.
The crossroads of these two issues is that a significant number of individuals who find themselves on the wrong side of the law are struggling with a mental health condition. Many who struggle with an addiction to an illegal substance are trying to self-medicate for an undiagnosed or untreated mental health condition. Eventually, that addiction leads to a drug-related arrest and conviction.
Additionally, our lack of mental health resources means that law enforcement officers are often the first responders to a crisis. In the past, this resulted in a significant number of suffering individuals being arrested, when what they really needed was adequate care.
Alabama House Majority Leader Nathaniel Ledbetter has taken up the cause of mental health reform, including developing more Crisis Intervention Teams to help law enforcement work with health care providers and families to reduce arrests and connect individuals in crisis to appropriate care.
That’s a wonderful, needed start. But again, the state legislature must find a way to expand the system to create beds where these CITs and their families can refer people for treatment. I’ve written before of the despair probate judges feel when families are pleading for help via commitment to a treatment facility, and no matter how legitimate the need, there is often no bed available to place that patient in. If a bed does exist, it’s not available for the length of time needed to achieve real stability for the patient. Our patchwork quilt of longterm and short-term treatment options in Alabama has massive holes in it, and it must be addressed.
These intersecting problems—prison reform and mental health reform—are real and impact us all at the end of the day. Does the Alabama legislature have the will to fix them? We should hope so.
Dana Hall McCain, a widely published writer on faith, culture, and politics, is Resident Fellow of the Alabama Policy Institute, a non-partisan, non-profit research and educational organization based in Birmingham; learn more at alabamapolicy.org
Opinion | Every school should have a mental health counselor
In her State of the State Address, Gov. Ivey said that mental health would be a priority for both education and our prison system. Then she set a goal of having a mental health counselor in every school system.
While I applaud the governor for recognizing the challenges our schools are facing when it comes to students’ mental health, the reality is we need a mental health counselor in every school, not just one for each school system.
Our schools are staffed by excellent school nurses and guidance counselors who do an outstanding job trying to help these students with mental health needs. But mental health care is not their responsibility, nor is it what they are trained for.
And the mental health needs in our schools are much more prominent than you might think. It isn’t just dealing with kids who have ADHD or a learning disability. There are kids dealing with problems at home, like parents who are going through a divorce or even parents who have a drug addiction.
There’s a lot that happens in a child’s life between when they get picked up from school at the end of the day and when they get dropped off at school again the next day. And while our teachers, school nurses and guidance counselors do everything they can for these kids, what these kids really need is a mental health counselor.
Setting a goal of having one counselor in every school system is certainly better than nothing. I guess you could say it is a more easily achievable goal. But our state leaders weren’t elected to do the things that are easy. Our leaders were elected to do the things that are hard.
And the truth is if we don’t invest in our children with these needs today, then for many of them we will be investing in their imprisonment in the future. In fact, that’s how we got into this prison crisis in the first place.
I have said many times before that we should be building super schools, not super prisons. It is always better to keep a child from ending up in prison in the first place, and if we make the right kinds of investments in education then we won’t need these new super prisons that Gov. Ivey and Gov. Bentley before her have been fighting for.
The main reason we have overcrowding in our prisons is because we never did anything to change the path these people were on before they grew up and became criminals.
Building super prisons instead of super schools is like treating the symptom rather than treating the disease.
We should be focusing more on getting kids on the right path before it’s too late. As the old saying goes, “an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.”
And the first way we can prevent kids from turning to a life of crime is to recognize and treat their mental health needs while they are still young and have a chance at a normal life.
But only having one counselor to treat an entire school system is simply not enough to do the job right.
Of course, not every kid with mental health needs is on the path to prison. Many, if not most, are simply dealing with difficult or traumatic events at home that take place outside of school hours.
But those events affect what happens the next day in the classroom. These kids tend to have a difficult time concentrating, and often become disobedient and disrespectful. These things, in turn, make it hard for them to be successful in school and, ultimately, in life.
Like so many other issues, we all agree on what the problem is but getting to agreement on the solution is another matter. In this case, though, Gov. Ivey and state lawmakers seem to understand what is needed to fix the problem. They just don’t seem to be aggressive enough in their willingness to address it.
Having a mental health counselor in every school system is a step in the right direction and an improvement over our current situation. But let’s not set the bar so low. Our children deserve better than that. We don’t just need a mental health counselor in every school system; we need one in every single school.
Craig Ford is the owner of Hodges-Ford Insurance and the Gadsden Messenger. He represented Gadsden and Etowah County in the Alabama House of Representatives for 18 years.
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