2019
October
17
Thursday

Today’s five hand-picked stories look at the history of presidents and the deep state, Israel’s concern about U.S. commitment to the Mideast, a different view of Brexit, the First Commandment in a modern context, and teaching moms to fight terrorism.

But first, in the stories about Democratic Rep. Elijah Cummings of Maryland, who died today, you’ll see one phrase often repeated: “Trump target” or “Trump foil.” Yes, Mr. Cummings and President Donald Trump crossed swords. But what an inadequate picture of the man that is.

At a time when our partisan identities can tend to occlude everything else, Mr. Cummings is a reminder why it’s wise always to start with the “everything else.”

When Baltimore descended into racially charged riots in 2015, Mr. Cummings linked arm-in-arm with residents to walk through the streets singing, “This Little Light of Mine.” A day after freshman Democratic Rep. Rashida Tlaib accused Republican Rep. Mark Meadows of a racist stunt earlier this year, Mr. Cummings had them hugging.

How did he do it? “Human interaction, that’s all,” he said.

Famously, during congressional hearings into the Benghazi crisis in 2015, Mr. Cummings shouted at his Republican colleague, Rep. Trey Gowdy, “Gentleman, yield! You have made several inaccurate statements.”

But Mr. Gowdy held no ill will. “It’s not about politics to him; he says what he believes,” Mr. Gowdy told The Hill newspaper. “And you can tell the ones who are saying it because it was in a memo they got that morning, and you can tell the ones who it’s coming from their soul. And with Mr. Cummings, it’s coming from his soul.”

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1. ‘Deep state’ versus a president? It didn’t begin with Trump.

The impeachment inquiry against the president hinges on testimony from people deep in the federal bureaucracy. But that’s not necessarily ominous. All presidents must navigate the ‘deep state.’

Mark

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The House impeachment investigation into President Donald Trump appears to be advancing rapidly amid swirling chaos in Washington. On Thursday, the U.S. ambassador to the European Union, Gordon Sondland, testified that President Trump put Ukraine policy in the hands of his personal lawyer, Rudy Giuliani – a move he said he disagreed with.

A political appointee and former Trump donor, Mr. Sondland is not the sort of person the administration might consider a “deep state” representative.

But many of the officials who have broken ranks and testified behind closed doors in recent days are career civil servants. And President Trump has attributed the entire impeachment inquiry to a conspiracy of partisan bureaucrats buried in the permanent government of the United States.

He’s hardly the first president to become frustrated by the vast apparatus of the U.S. government. Yet, as the Watergate and Iran-Contra scandals showed, trouble comes from attempting to bypass the administrative state to get stuff done.

“The examples of pushback we’ve seen have not been partisanship, as he claims, but rather unwillingness to act as partisans on his behalf,” says Rebecca Ingber, a former State Department attorney who is now a Boston University law professor, in an email.

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1. ‘Deep state’ versus a president? It didn’t begin with Trump.

President Donald Trump has repeatedly attributed the impeachment inquiry against him to a conspiracy of left-leaning bureaucrats buried in the permanent government of the United States.

“Another whistleblower coming in from the Deep State!” he tweeted pointedly in early October, following news that a second federal foreign policy official with knowledge of Ukraine dealings was considering seeking the protection of whistleblower status.

The first whistleblower appears to be a government national security analyst of some sort who alleges that the president leveraged the powers of his office for personal political gain. And many of the officials who have broken ranks and testified behind closed doors in the House in recent days are career U.S. civil servants.

But that doesn’t mean there’s a conspiracy. It reflects instead the size and diversity of the vast apparatus of the American government, where political appointees loyal to President Trump are just a skim coat on top of the permanent bureaucracy.

All presidents at some point become frustrated by the difficulty of steering this behemoth, which answers to Congress and the courts as well as the executive branch. Trouble can come when they or their staff try to bypass the administrative state to get stuff done – particularly if their priorities are of questionable legality. The Watergate and Iran-Contra scandals both had roots in presidential-level attempts to skirt normal government channels.

“The irony about what we have seen thus far of [President Trump’s] depiction of the bureaucracy as a deep state cabal out to get him is that, to the extent he faces actual hurdles to his agenda from the career bureaucracy ... the examples of pushback we’ve seen have not been partisanship, as he claims, but rather unwillingness to act as partisans on his behalf, which is not their role,” says Rebecca Ingber, a former State Department attorney who is now a Boston University law professor, in an email. In this case that includes “questions from the foreign service about his efforts to compel Ukraine to investigate his political opponents.”

Fast-moving inquiry

The Democratic-led House impeachment investigation into whether President Trump attempted to leverage U.S. influence and aid money to persuade the Ukrainian government to open inquiries into former Vice President Joe Biden’s son appears to be advancing rapidly amid swirling chaos in Washington.

President Trump’s sudden decision to remove U.S. troops from northern Syria prior to a Turkish incursion in the area infuriated Democrats and Republicans alike, and led to an overwhelming House vote condemning American acquiescence in an attack on Kurdish allies. On Wednesday, a White House meeting with congressional leaders on the subject degenerated in an extraordinary scene. President Trump hurled low insults at House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and his former Defense Secretary Jim Mattis, among others; Speaker Pelosi responded by telling President Trump, “with you all roads lead to Putin” – meaning Russian President Vladimir Putin.

Meanwhile, on Thursday the U.S. ambassador to the European Union, Gordon Sondland, testified to House impeachment investigators that President Trump put Ukraine policy in the hands of his personal lawyer, Rudy Giuliani. Mr. Sondland said he disagreed with this, but implemented it because it was the express wish of the president.

“Our view was that the men and women of the State Department, not the president’s personal lawyer, should take responsibility for all aspects of U.S. foreign policy toward Ukraine,” said Mr. Sondland in his opening statement.

Political appointees, too

Mr. Sondland is not the sort of person the administration might consider a deep state representative. He was a major Trump donor in 2016 – he donated $1 million to the inaugural committee – and a political appointee to his EU post.

Nor is he the only person from the political level to break ranks and defy a White House blockade to give House testimony that at the least reflects badly on Trump Ukraine policy. The president’s top adviser on Russia, Fiona Hill, testified earlier that National Security Adviser John Bolton called Mr. Giuliani “a hand grenade who’s going to blow everybody up.”

But federal bureaucrats have been crucial to the House probe so far. The whistleblower, whose identity remains unknown, is one. Former Ambassador to Ukraine Marie Yovanovitch testified to what she felt was the use of U.S. power for personal aims. George Kent, a senior State Department official in charge of Ukraine policy, said he was isolated from decisions dealing with the country in May – a move he called “wrong.”

The phrase “deep state” has been used by scholars of regimes such as Turkey, Egypt, and Pakistan to describe the power of entrenched elites, typically military or intelligence officials, who secretly wield the states’ real administrative powers.

But its meaning is elastic. In the U.S., scholars and experts use it to describe many aspects of the permanent government, from the allegedly sinister to the avowedly banal.

“The government needs a certain competence to do what it has to do. To do that, it relies on career officials who know the ins and outs,” says Donald Kettl, academic director of the LBJ Washington Center at the University of Texas and an expert in government organization.

New administrations are often suspicious of the permanent bureaucracy’s loyalty. This is particularly true for Republican administrations, which have a dimmer view of government power to begin with, and face a civil service they believe to be heavily Democratic.

Under President Trump, this suspicion has reached new heights. White House rhetorical attacks have ramped up to higher volumes in the face of the rapidly moving impeachment inquiry.

“What you are seeing now, I believe, is a group of mostly career bureaucrats, who are saying I don’t like President Trump’s politics, so I’m going to participate in this witch hunt,” acting White House Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney said at a Thursday press conference.

Running the government is complicated, however. It’s not easy for newly appointed political executives – especially if many appointee jobs remain vacant, as they have under President Trump.

Permanent bureaucracies can point out the risks and rewards of certain policies. ​The potential disaster along the Turkey-Syria border – a high-risk situation despite Vice President Pence’s announcement of a “cease-fire” deal with Turkey on Thursday – points out the incredible complexity of the Middle East and the need to be aware of pitfalls.

“We can see the effects now of not paying attention to those warnings,” says Dr. Kettl.

A bias for the status quo?

Ultimately, the federal bureaucracy is biased not so much ideologically as in favor of the status quo, say governance experts. Many presidents may mistake the latter for the former.

But secretive attempts to circumvent the friction of using normal channels can lead to trouble – and scandal. 

President Richard Nixon, fed up with leaks and angry about his enemies in the permanent government, set up the White House “Plumbers” to plug leaks and attack his foes. The Reagan administration, frustrated at its inability to fund Nicaraguan rebels, initiated a complicated workaround that produced the Iran-Contra affair.

President Nixon, in particular, was a chief executive who had paranoid aspects and was obsessed with alleged conspiracies working against him. Like President Trump, he was an outsider, says Zachary Jacobson, a Cold War historian and author of the forthcoming book “On Nixon’s Madness.” He grew up poor, was awkward and unsocial, and never a member of the elite cliques.

To him, the deep state was the entire U.S. establishment, not just the permanent bureaucracy. To carry out what he wanted done, he formed the secret Plumbers, named because one of their duties was to stop press leaks. That core produced the Watergate break-in, meant to get dirt on Democratic National Committee chairman Larry O’Brien, among others.

But while President Trump sees himself as an outsider, he doesn’t really have President Nixon’s ideological anger, says Dr. Jacobson.

President Trump’s conception of the deep state seems to include the press, Washington elites, and other groups that might look down on a loud, crass Queens-born billionaire. 

“The thing is, he is dying for the deep state to love him,” says Dr. Jacobson. “What he sees as wrong about it is it being against him.” 

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2. Why Trump’s Syria move has Israel on edge

President Donald Trump has cast himself as a staunch friend of Israel, but what Israel wants most is for the U.S. to remain active in the region. Withdrawal from Syria is causing concern.

Mark
Pavel Golovkin/Reuters
Presidents Hassan Rouhani of Iran, on right, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan of Turkey, middle, and Vladimir Putin of Russia gathered at a news conference during their meeting in Ankara, Turkey, Sept. 16, 2019. Their countries all were strengthened by the U.S. withdrawal from northern Syria.

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For decades, Israel’s foreign policy has rested almost exclusively on the presumption of ironclad ties with the United States. And in the past two years, Israelis had grown accustomed to the image of Donald Trump and Benjamin Netanyahu as partners in a very public lovefest.

But the U.S. president’s decision to withdraw American troops from northern Syria has left Israel reeling from the implications – a strengthened Turkey, Syria, Iran, and Russia – all of which could put it in increased danger.

With Secretary of State Mike Pompeo expected in Israel on Friday to meet with Prime Minister Netanyahu, analysts say a whiff of Israeli panic awaits: Could a staunch U.S. ally like Israel one day also be abandoned at a crucial moment like Syria’s Kurds?

Mr. Trump’s historic decisions to recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and Israeli sovereignty over the Golan Heights “don’t really make a difference,” says Jonathan Rynhold, a professor at Bar-Ilan University. “America’s most important role for Israel is providing a balance of power [in the region] that is favorable to Israel … and this move is a terrible message for Israel.”

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Why Trump’s Syria move has Israel on edge

“America First” is not exactly a subtle slogan, and Israeli officials were well aware of President Donald Trump’s isolationist streak.

But for decades Israel’s foreign policy has rested almost exclusively on the presumption of ironclad ties with the United States. And under Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, whose personal political fortunes also are intertwined with the strength of those ties, that has meant his trusting relationship with Mr. Trump.

The U.S. president’s hasty decision to withdraw American troops from northern Syria has consequently left Israel reeling from the implications – all of which could put it in increased danger.

Underlying it all is the fear and even, as some analysts suggest, a whiff of panic: Could a staunch U.S. ally like Israel one day also be abandoned at a crucial moment like Syria’s Kurds, America’s best weapon in the fight against the Islamic State?

In Jerusalem that means a scramble to rethink and prepare for what might unfold next in the Middle East now that America’s decades-long forceful presence in the region is waning.

This is the fast-shifting Israeli mindset that awaits Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, who is expected to touch down in Israel Friday and meet Mr. Netanyahu to discuss regional security matters, chief among them Iran.

The challenge he faces is evident in two recent op-ed headlines in the mainstream, mass-circulation Israeli daily Yediot Ahronot: “The Next Betrayal” and “A knife in our back.”

In the same publication, Shimrit Meir, the founding editor of Al-Masdar, an Israeli news website in Arabic, writes, “It is time for the most loyal Trump supporters in the region and beyond to come to terms with the fact the U.S. can no longer be relied on as it continues to spin out of control.”

Enemies strengthened

In the past two years Israelis had grown accustomed to the image of President Trump and Prime Minister Netanyahu as partners in a very public lovefest, so the sting of a less engaged America feels especially sharp, despite the warning signs.

“Netanyahu’s reliance on him, this was always going to be a problem. Trump gives Israel, gives Netanyahu, things to help him politically, and they are very symbolic, like Jerusalem and the Golan Heights,” says Jonathan Rynhold, a political science professor at Bar-Ilan University who researches American-Israeli relations.

But, he adds, Mr. Trump’s historic decisions to recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and Israeli sovereignty over the Golan “don’t really make a difference…. America’s most important role for Israel is providing a balance of power that is favorable to Israel … and this move is a terrible message for Israel.”

“We are not going to get massacred or removed from the country,” he says. “But it means the enemies of Israel and the enemies of moderate powers in the region will get stronger.”

The list of potential consequences is indeed extensive, and in the case of the weakening of the Kurds, it has already been seen dramatically on the ground. Hundreds of Kurds have been killed in Turkish airstrikes, thousands more have fled, and in the wake of that chaos, unknown numbers of ISIS prisoners previously being guarded by the Kurds are now free again. Analysts say ISIS forces will now be able to rebuild and likely resume their terror campaign.

 

Oded Balilty/AP/File
A Likud election campaign billboard shows Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, right, and President Donald Trump in Jerusalem, Feb. 4, 2019. Hebrew on the billboard reads: "Netanyahu. A different league."

Domino effect

The Kurds, desperate for protection, have now entered into a pact with the Syrian government, strengthening its hand as it tries to regain control of territory lost during the civil war. This is more bad news for Israel because Russia, Syria’s patron and notoriously fickle in its dealings with Israel, is left as the main superpower in the region.

Continuing the domino effect, Russia has long been turning a blind eye to Iran’s efforts to gain ground in Syria. With the U.S. increasingly out of the picture, there is little to deter Iran from establishing what has been called a “land bridge” to Lebanon through Iraq and Syria that would facilitate its movement of soldiers and missiles. The scenario is one of Israel’s long-standing fears.

“It is a horrid diplomatic disaster, the price of which could be Iranian forces on the Golan Heights and an ‘Axis of Evil’ closing on Israel from the north,” Ofer Shelah, a lawmaker from the centrist Blue and White party told Israeli reporters. “And our only way of dealing with it would be by force.”

Among the other potential “winners” in this still evolving new reality is Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, a long-time thorn in Israel’s side who has supported Gaza’s militant Islamist rulers Hamas.

The suffering of the Kurds also feels unusually personal for Israel because of the two people’s history of tight political and reportedly even military relations. And Israelis see in the Kurds a version of themselves before they achieved statehood: a scrappy people fighting for independence.

A group of Israeli army reservists has been circulating an online petition imploring Israeli officials to help the Kurds during this crisis.

Iran’s precision missiles

The potential emboldening of Iran, Israel’s No. 1 enemy, is the most severe unintended consequence of Mr. Trump’s decision to withdraw troops from Syria.

Israel has long been warning that Iran would soon pose a nuclear threat that would be a danger not just to Israel but the region and the world. And for years it has been busy putting out fires – and fighting the occasional war – with Iranian allies Hezbollah in the north, on its border with Lebanon, and Hamas, in the south.

Chuck Freilich, a former deputy national security adviser in Israel and currently a senior fellow at Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government, says Mr. Netanyahu’s policies “are crashing down in all areas as they are all predicated on the assumption of having a strong friend in the White House and the U.S. not retrenching” in the Middle East.

Once Iran makes headway on its “land bridge” plans, he says, the real challenge will be heading off the threat of the precision missiles it might be able to plant in closer proximity to Israel, missiles that would threaten Israeli energy installations and by extension, its economy. If Iran acquires more land as a de-facto “big base for missiles, it makes it really hard to find and destroy everything,” he says.

Yoram Schweitzer, senior research fellow at the Institute for National Security Studies and a former counter-terrorism adviser in the Prime Minister’s Office, says it’s important not to overly dramatize the new security challenges Israel faces, most of which he sees as evolving slowly.

“Not in any sense is Israel relying on American active defense of it, but the fact that the position of America has weakened vis-a-vis Iran, Israel’s main rival, impacts on Israel’s deterrent position,” he says. “We need to be sober about what we are facing and be on alert all the time.”

Iran’s recent attacks on Saudi Arabian targets have meanwhile also raised concern among Israeli officials.

Haim Tomer, a former chief of intelligence and operations in the Mossad, echoed others’ comments when he wrote in Haaretz, “In terms of deterrence, Iran’s operation in Saudi Arabia demonstrated its ability to strike accurately while obscuring its responsibility. That means it is capable of carrying out a similar operation against Israel.” 

Mr. Tomer also wrote that Mr. Trump’s current approach to the Middle East “presents a complex, almost unprecedented security dilemma for Israel right during the period of transition government.”

No criticism from Netanyahu

Mr. Netanyahu ran his last two campaigns based in large part on his friendship with Mr. Trump – billboards of the two men smiling and shaking hands were plastered across the country – but has failed since the last election to form a governing coalition. He has not said anything directly critical of the U.S. president in the wake of the Syrian withdrawal.

Instead he reiterated Israel founding defense ethos: “Israel will protect itself, on its own, against any threat.”

However Yuval Steinitz, a close ally of Mr. Netanyahu, told Ynet TV, “I think the U.S. isolationist approach is problematic for the entire world, and for our region as well.”

And looking forward, Yair Golan, a retired general and lawmaker with the left-wing Democratic Alliance party, says Israel will still need powerful allies and will need to shift course.

“Israel will need a more nuanced, complex foreign policy,” he says, one where coordination is sought across a wider range of sources, from increased cooperation with moderate Sunni countries, to Russia, and more locally with Greece and Cyprus. “There may be more disappointments taking this road, but we don’t determine U.S. policy, and Israel has to deal with a new reality.”

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3. For Brits living in Europe, Brexit throws future into doubt

Here’s a perspective on Brexit you probably haven’t yet heard. Britons living abroad in the European Union are facing new uncertainties. 

Mark

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In El Poble Nou de Benitatxell, Spain, dozens of flags outside the British school here salute the range of nationalities squeezed into a village of roughly 4,000 people. About a third are Brits, primarily retired, like Anne Gripton. She says she has not set foot on British soil for several years. “I would no longer know how to live in the United Kingdom. Home is here.”

But like many of the 1.2 million Britons living in the European Union, she is worried about how Brexit could throw her future into disarray. Older Brits who paid into the British system are worried about what Brexit will mean for their health care and pensions. Younger ones worry about how Brexit will affect their European spouses and children, and their educational and professional mobility.

“Few Britons who have lived outside the U.K. for some years will be forced to return,” says Peter Kellner, a visiting scholar at Carnegie Europe. Instead, many will have to pay for a resident permit, make fresh arrangements for health care, and perhaps show that they are financially self-sufficient. Not enough thought has been put into what happens to British citizens living in Europe, he says.

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For Brits living in Europe, Brexit throws future into doubt

A couple of years ago, Teresa and Kim Sawdy moved from England to Spain to take an early retirement.

Drawn by the beautiful nature, welcoming population, quality of life, and lower costs, they bought an apartment in this sun-kissed town on Spain’s southern coast. Ms. Sawdy first volunteered at a local dog shelter and today teaches English as a foreign language; Mr. Sawdy enjoys his free time.

But like many other Britons living in Europe, the couple say their lives have gotten more difficult because of the fallout over Brexit. They say that with the administrative hurdles they are encountering, it feels as if Brexit had already happened.

Now Mr. Sawdy worries he could have to go back to work, and Ms. Sawdy says she doubts she will “ever get a pension from England.”

From small seaside villages on the coast of Spain, where older British expatriates have found a sunny slice of paradise to retire, to larger cities where younger ones have found a viable professional base, to the European Union more broadly, Brexit and its implications are viewed with genuine concern, if not always great clarity.

Uncertain rights and protections

With the United Kingdom scheduled to leave the EU on Oct. 31, British Prime Minister Boris Johnson and EU negotiators agreed Thursday upon a last-ditch deal on the terms for Brexit. But Parliament still must approve the deal in an extraordinary session on Saturday, and the prospects for success remain uncertain. Should the vote fail, Mr. Johnson would be obliged under the law to seek an extension from the EU – something he has said he would obey, while also promising that the U.K. would leave the EU on Oct. 31 no matter what.

To Sue Wilson, the chair of Bremain in Spain, a pro-remain group that also advocates for the rights of EU citizens in Britain, that timing seems unlikely. “We are pretty sure that we are not going to leave Oct. 31,” she says.

Bremain in Spain started out both campaigning against Brexit and, in case Brexit did pass, working to protect the rights of the 1.2 million British nationals living in the other 27 EU member states. But they came to the conclusion that this would be simply “impossible” if Brexit went ahead. “The only way we can protect all of our rights is to stop Brexit altogether,” Ms. Wilson says.

Spain is the European nation with the highest number of British nationals and one of the easier destinations to get permanent residence. But the group’s concerns are largely the same as those held by British expats across the EU.

Key among those is British willingness to show reciprocity to Europeans in the U.K. In March, Madrid drafted a royal decree of contingency plans preserving the rights of the nearly 370,000 Britons residing in Spain in the event of a no-deal Brexit – if London does the same for EU citizens. “We have always had more confidence in the Spanish government and the European governments to protect us than the U.K. government that has largely ignored us from day one,” says Ms. Wilson.

“Home is here”

In Benitatxell, neighborhoods are named after flowers. White flat-roofed apartments have mushroomed across hilltops overlooking the Mediterranean alongside houses adhering to the softer Valencian style. Dozens of flags outside the British school here salute the range of nationalities squeezed into a village of roughly 4,000 people. About a third are Brits – primarily retired – and they are worried.

Anne Gripton, a retired pharmacist and hotelier, bought a six-bedroom house here in December 2006. The property was worth €1.2 million ($1.3 million) before the housing bubble burst and halved its value. The real estate market has yet to make a full recovery and the uncertainty around Brexit has been of no help. Picking up and leaving would be tough, if she were so inclined.

Dominique Soguel
Margaret and Gerald Hales built their home in El Poble Nou de Benitatxell, Spain, all on one level and wheelchair accessible, hoping to spend their golden years there.

Ms. Gripton, now an official resident of Spain, says she has not set foot on British soil for several years. Benitatxell may have only one nurse and two taxis, but she envisions growing old here. “I would no longer know how to live in the United Kingdom. Home is here,” she says over coffee with fellow Britons as the local band gears up to celebrate a regional holiday.

The Valencia region has Spain’s largest concentration of Britons. The flurry of communiques and meetings arranged by British consular authorities hoping to reassure them has had the opposite effect, especially on those following the blow-by-blow of Brexit negotiations and trying to understand the implications of deal versus no-deal. “If you are not worried about what is happening then you don’t understand what is happening,” says Ms. Gripton.

Margaret Hales and her husband have been living in Benitatxell for more than a decade. The community includes retirees – who make up more than a quarter of British expats in Spain – and what Gerald Hales calls yo-yos and swallows, Britons who come for the short term, lured by milder winters and more sunny days. Not all of them are official residents, although the uncertainty around Brexit has pushed many to register there.

“We are living in a nightmare situation,” says Ms. Hales. “It is more obvious to us because we live in Spain and we know that our rights are going to be taken away from us.”

Loss of free movement

Freedom of movement has meant that citizens can work and live anywhere in the EU. “After Brexit, this ends,” notes Peter Kellner, a visiting scholar at Carnegie Europe who focuses on Brexit, populism, and electoral democracy. “New arrangements will vary from country to country. The British government offers pages of advice on living in each of the other 27 member states.”

“In practice, few Britons who have lived outside the U.K. for some years will be forced to return to the U.K.,” Mr. Kellner adds. Instead many will have to pay for a resident permit, make fresh arrangements for health care, and perhaps show that they are financially self-sufficient. Even if a deal were reached, he says, not enough thought has been put into what happens to British citizens living in Europe.

Gloucestershire native Thomas Hadland works in publishing and is registered as an autonomous worker in Valencia – a status that costs him €280 per month ($310). He made the decision to stay in the city even after breaking up with his Spanish partner, largely because he was afraid of being caught on the wrong side of Brexit. He moved into his new apartment in June.

Having lived in Russia and studied foreign languages at university, Mr. Hadland is acutely aware of the high costs and administrative burdens confronted by those living in Europe but who are from outside its free movement zone. He views talk in his home country of deporting Europeans who have not regularized their status by the end of 2020 with alarm.

“If I’m very selfish about this I would actually rather have no deal than deal because the deal is so horrible,” he says. “The deal is ending freedom of movement for people ... which to me is a massive, massive negative. ... A no deal would be so chaotic that something good might come out of it.”

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The Ten

How people use the Commandments in daily life

4. How does the First Commandment fit in today?

Carlos Vila’s religious life is filled with questions. But for him, the First Commandment opens a larger sense of purpose and joy. Part 1 in a series looking at the Ten Commandments through modern lives.

Mark
Ann Hermes/Staff
Carlos Vila, a practicing Roman Catholic, enjoys a moment at home with the family dog, Charlotte, on Oct. 16, 2019, in Berwyn, Pennsylvania.

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Carlos Vila is a big-picture person, studying, absorbing, and pondering. And for a long time he’s questioned doctrine. But, he says, “Nothing is more important to me than God, than Christ.”

Dr. Vila, a dentist, husband, and father of three, spoke to the Monitor as part of our series examining the ways traditional religious codes like the Ten Commandments continue to matter in the lives of ordinary people. He focused on the First Commandment, which reads in part, “Thou shalt have no other gods before me.”

After a youthful rebellion, Dr. Vila accepted Jesus as his savior during a church altar call as a high school junior. Sometime after that, he became a practicing Roman Catholic.

Dr. Vila says his religious beliefs continue to move from the rigid rules he believes are often needed in youth to a more fluid model. As the rules for religion fall away, he believes his understanding of God expands.

Dr. Vila likes the notion that God sets people free from the things that might otherwise enslave them. “God has done that for me. He does that if we let Him. He has brought me through tons.”

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How does the First Commandment fit in today?

Carlos Vila messed up as a kid. By the time he was 15, he’d gone from grade school nerd to high school party boy, drinking, smoking dope, sneaking out of the house to go with older Cuban and Spanish friends to disco clubs in New York City, across the George Washington Bridge from his northern New Jersey home.

His mother, meanwhile, was having none of it. A widow, and recently born-again in a Lutheran church, she picked up her family, moved to New Mexico, and joined the Pentecostal Assemblies of God. “It worked,” Dr. Vila says of his mother’s gambit. Then a high school junior, he straightened up and himself accepted Jesus as his savior during a church altar call.

Since then, says the husband and father of three, who is now a successful dentist on Philadelphia’s affluent Main Line, “Nothing is more important to me than God, than Christ.”

For many, the entirety of the Commandments hinges on that kind of relationship, described in the first of the Ten: And God spake all these words, saying, I am the Lord thy God, which have brought thee out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage. Thou shalt have no other gods before me (Exodus 20:1-3). Dr. Vila, who is in his late 50s, spoke to the Monitor about the First Commandment at his suburban Philadelphia home as part of our series examining the ways traditional religious codes like the Ten Commandments continue to matter in the lives of ordinary people.

After high school, Dr. Vila went on to attend an Assemblies of God college in Texas, transfer to the evangelical Oral Roberts University in Tulsa, Oklahoma, and then enroll in dental school at Georgetown University in Washington. There, he put his strict religious training to the test, and he’s been questioning doctrine ever since.

The questioning began simply enough, prompted by his now-wife Theresa Smith, as well as by a campus chaplain: Do miracles really happen? Did the Red Sea really part like that? It continues today: What does God want of me? What am I supposed to be doing now?

Dr. Vila reads, reflects, and responds to the challenge of the day with what he hopes a good person would do. He recently returned from a four-day trip to help at a migrant shelter at the Mexican border near El Paso, Texas, his first foray into such volunteering because, simply, he heard they needed someone who speaks Spanish. Dr. Vila’s father was Spanish and his mother Cuban. The family lived in Venezuela before settling in the United States when Dr. Vila was 2 years old.

Ann Hermes/Staff
Carlos Vila shares a dental practice in the Berwyn, Pennsylvania, area with his wife.

Difficult moments

While God anchors his life, religion at times causes great pain.

Though his faith journey is one of twists and turns, he long ago settled in as a practicing Roman Catholic, and raised his children that way. “I am Catholic the same way I am Spanish,” he explains, of a religion he inherited from his parents, who were raised Catholic. But he is increasingly discouraged by the church’s handling of the clergy sexual abuse crisis and alienated by its prohibition of same-sex marriage. He was particularly pained when the leadership of his church community asked a longtime lector who is gay to step down, citing the fact that he is married. Dr. Vila’s oldest child is gay. The issue, of course, has been a flashpoint for believers and their churches across the religious and denominational spectrum for decades. To Dr. Vila, it is a no-brainer: “I personally think institutional churches, unless they radically change – if science and faith don’t come together – we’re doomed.”

But he still finds much to like about his heritage.

Case in point was the infant baptism service for his daughter, Sophia, who has Down syndrome. Hearing the many and diverse names invoked during the ancient “Litany of the Saints” prayer that day, he felt comforted to realize that she fit right in – that among the countless who’d been baptized before Sophia over millennia, there had to have been others as unique as she.

He feels the time is right for a pope like Francis and, ever a seeker, would like to tap the veins of Christian spirituality – from St. Francis of Assisi as well as from sources like the Desert Fathers, early Christian monks who lived in Egypt starting around the third century. “There’s so much there,” he says.

Despite feeling less connected now to his longtime worship community, he differentiates disappointment with the hierarchy from his faith in God and goes to Mass two or three times a month. “Many Sundays I feel a need to receive communion. There’s something about the liturgy of the Mass – the mystery of what that represents nourishes me,” he says. “Communion is something I can’t put into words. It [encapsulates] everything for me.”

His wife, with whom Dr. Vila shares a dental practice, says the two were an unlikely couple when they met – she a not especially religious Irish Catholic, he from a strict Latino background, each with completely different family and cultural expectations. “I honestly think it’s by the grace of God we’re together and by the grace of God we’re able to see the other as a gift,” she says. “We don’t ever take it for granted.”

Ann Hermes/Staff
A statue of Mary, Joseph, and Jesus sits in Carlos Vila's family home in Berwyn, Pennsylvania. The statue was originally from his wife's family.

An expanding understanding of God

While she focuses on the here and now, he is a big-picture person, studying, absorbing, and pondering, his journey being one of ideas put to the test. His religious beliefs continue to move from the rigid rules he believes are often needed in youth to a more fluid model. As the rules for religion fall away, Dr. Vila believes his understanding of God expands.

“Beauty,” the book by the late Irish poet and philosopher John O’Donohue, changed him greatly, he says. “It pointed out to me to trust in myself and my senses.” Where there were rules, there is now listening: “What is God trying to reveal to me now?” As a result, he’s trying to live more moment by moment, trying to have gratitude for every moment, trying to see God in everyone. “There are times I see it better than others,” he acknowledges.

What gets in his way – one of the other gods of the Commandment, if you will – he calls his “ego.” That’s about maintaining appearances, prejudging people, valuing creature comforts and such. A lifelong lover of “fast, fun cars,” he’s had his share of Mercedes and Audi vehicles. He describes his ambivalence during his latest car search. “I could donate a lot of money if I could buy a simple car,” he confesses, but instead he settles on a Tesla – not inexpensive. But while not freeing up cash for a worthy cause, it at least assuages his conscience from a green perspective, he explains somewhat sheepishly.

Of his youthful rebellion, he has no regrets. “It started me on this journey to God,” he says, explaining that he is resigned to the tragedies, surprises, and challenges that have visited most people by his age. It is there, in fact, that the less familiar phrase of the First Commandment rings especially true: which have brought thee out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage. He likes the notion that God sets people free from the things that might otherwise enslave them. “God has done that for me. He does that if we let Him. He has brought me through tons.”

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Difference-maker

Drivers of change

5. The soft power of mothers: Fighting extremism begins at home

What if you could actually train mothers to turn their compassion and connection into the first line of defense against terrorism? In Germany and 15 other countries, it’s happening.

Mark
Robert Schlesinger/Picture Alliance/AP/File
Social scientist and activist Edit Schlaffer founded Women without Borders in Vienna in 2001. Her work in crisis zones led to MotherSchools, a curriculum that operates in areas where young people are vulnerable to radicalization.

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Their sons were dropping out of school, joining radical mosques, and breaking off contact. Hundreds of mothers had told Edit Schlaffer such stories when the Austrian was a social scientist researching conflict zones around the world. Scared and isolated, the women were eager to regain influence over their children, but unsure how to do so.

Today, the empowering program Ms. Schlaffer created six years ago has reached some 3,000 women in 16 countries, from Tanzania to Bangladesh and Belgium. “Mothers are our security allies,” she says. “They have the closest proximity to the children who might be at risk.” 

Fifteen MotherSchools pupils in Miltenberg, Germany – who came from Syria, Iraq, and elsewhere – recently completed weekly meetings to learn how to observe children’s development, monitor internet use, and recognize warning signs. They engaged in role-playing meant to boost self-confidence.

For women who rarely receive any type of recognition in their lives, a festive graduation ceremony that concludes training is, says Ms. Schlaffer, a “sign that at long last, society was looking at mothers as resources it needs to trust and support.”

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The soft power of mothers: Fighting extremism begins at home

Edit Schlaffer felt as if she was part of history in the making when 60 mothers from this southern region of Germany recently received their MotherSchools diploma from Bavaria’s social minister.

Ms. Schlaffer initiated her MotherSchools syllabus six years ago for women in Tajikistan who were concerned about Islamic extremists recruiting their children. The program has since become a global movement whose goal is to fight extremism not with soldiers, but with mothers.

And now, Germany has its first batch of graduates – women with roots from Syria to Algeria. They’ve learned not only how to better detect, and respond to, early signs of radicalization, but also how to better connect with their sons. When Ms. Schlaffer initially met them, the women had tended to be shy, their hands often crossed on their knees and their heads bent down. But on graduation day, donning colorful headscarves and shiny suits, they mingled with top brass politicians in a castle overlooking the Main River here.

At the ceremony, Ms. Schlaffer knew that her tireless efforts to bring mothers to the fore of the fight against terrorism were beginning to bear fruit. For women who’d rarely received any type of recognition in their lives, the festive graduation was MotherSchools’ “crowning moment,” she says.

“It was such a visible sign that at long last, society was looking at mothers as resources it needs to trust and support,” says Ms. Schlaffer, a native of Vienna who herself has two adult sons. “Mothers are our security allies. They have the closest proximity to the children who might be at risk.”

MotherSchools has reached some 3,000 women in 16 countries, from Tanzania to Bangladesh to European nations including Austria and Belgium. It was named a “best practice model” by UNESCO and the European Union’s Radicalisation Awareness Network about three years ago.

Ms. Schlaffer has achieved something major, “to get mothers out of their isolation and get their children to look at them at eye level,” said Emilia Müller, Bavaria’s minister of labor, social affairs, family, and integration, at the graduation ceremony.

From researcher to activist

Ms. Schlaffer’s interest in women’s issues grew in the Vienna of the 1960s, where she was a sociology student. As a lecturer and researcher later on, she traveled to countries in crisis and transition to document the experiences of women. Witnessing the violence and brutality waged against female and child refugees made her an activist.

In 2001, Ms. Schlaffer founded the nonprofit Women without Borders. Aimed at empowering women to become agents of change in their communities, it spurred initiatives ranging from a telephone hotline for female victims of Islamic extremism in Yemen to soccer games for women victims of the genocide in Rwanda. Ms. Schlaffer went on to create Sisters Against Violent Extremism, known as the world’s first female counterterrorism platform.

But it wasn’t until 2012, when she was talking with mothers in the mountains of Tajikistan on a research mission, that she began to envision MotherSchools. There, the mothers she interviewed echoed what she’d heard from hundreds of mothers in other conflict zones. Their sons were dropping out of school, joining radical mosques, and breaking off contact. Scared and isolated, the mothers were eager to regain influence over their sons, but they were powerless and unsure how to do so.

“Then a mother said, ‘I know what we need. We need to go back to school,’” Ms. Schlaffer recalls.

“That was it,” she says. “That’s when the idea for MotherSchools was born in my head. I realized that it is mothers who are at the front line against terror,” she adds. “We have to equip them with not only the confidence, but also the right tools and techniques to better interact with their children.”

Courtesy of Women without Borders
To help combat extremism, MotherSchools launched in Zanzibar in 2014. “In a context in which education and radicalisation are … intertwined, and young people [grow] discontented with their economic, social, and political prospects, parenting becomes a daunting task,” says Women without Borders.

A bottom-up security strategy

With its onion-shaped Baroque churches, this picturesque city nestled in the Franconian hills is far from some of the places that Islamic terrorist groups have hit, from Pakistan to sub-Saharan Africa. But increasingly, it’s in these tranquil communities that the battle against Islamic radicalization is being waged. A wake-up call came three years ago when a 17-year-old Afghan refugee, wielding an ax, attacked and injured five people near Würzburg, making Germany part of the growing spiral of Islamic terrorism engulfing Europe. Here, too, recruiters have been luring Europe’s vulnerable youth.

Yet in France and other European countries, the government responses distressed Ms. Schlaffer. By sharpening their security and law enforcement methods, they were deepening the divide between national security officials and civil society – and excluding “those who are directly involved.” Decades of research into the root causes of radicalization had taught her that “no politician, no secret agent is closer to the mechanisms of recruitment than the families.”

Leaving them to cope with extremism by themselves “is not only a lost opportunity; it is playing with a ticking time bomb.”

Against this backdrop, Ms. Schlaffer found “mobilizers” to launch MotherSchools in Europe. In London, for instance, she worked with a Bangladeshi immigrant. And in Austria, which ranks second in the EU after Belgium for Islamic State recruitment, Chechen exile Maynat Kurbanova became Ms. Schlaffer’s anchor for Vienna’s booming, vulnerable Chechen Muslim community. “Women aren’t aware of how much enormous potential they have,” says Ms. Kurbanova, a journalist. With MotherSchools, “they get the chance to reflect on their possibilities in a real trusting, protected atmosphere.”

In Germany, long before the 2016 ax attack, Bavarian government officials took an approach different from elsewhere in Europe. They asked Ms. Schlaffer to set up MotherSchools as part of the state’s budding violence prevention and deradicalization network. Now, this region was “looking at [mothers] as a resource where they can get information from, help make change, find support from,” she says.

Starting with self-confidence

Recently, a group of 15 MotherSchools pupils has been meeting in Miltenberg, a town of timber homes along the Main River near Würzburg. Once a week for 10 weeks, the women have engaged in role-playing meant to boost their self-confidence and have learned how to observe children’s psychological development, monitor their use of the internet, and recognize warning signs.

When the women are asked to take part in a “fashion show” and parade across the room in front of everybody, laughter ensues.

“We don’t start with radicalization; we start with all of us being mothers,” says Bouchra Mecheri, a translator and guardian of refugees who is Ms. Schlaffer’s mobilizer in Bavaria. “Our language is the language of mothers.”

There are emotional moments at these meetings, as when a Yazidi mother confesses that, although Islamic State had killed her husband in her native Iraq, set her village on fire, and taken women as sex slaves, she had learned in the MotherSchools group that “not all Muslims are the same.”

Shaden, who asked that only her first name be used for safety reasons, is originally from Syria. She fled Jordan to live in Germany 15 years ago. And with three children under age 14, she is a MotherSchools graduate. “I am here because I want to learn how to better protect my children,” she says.

Today, Ms. Schlaffer’s closest allies include the mothers of terrorist perpetrators. She remembers the Indonesian mother whose son left for Yemen, never to return. “She said, ‘I go to MotherSchools because I don’t want to give up,’” Ms. Schlaffer says.

“Mothers do not give up,” she says. “They will go to the last straw.” And that, perhaps, is the greatest mother power.

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The Monitor's View

Friendship across political lines

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The joyful get-together of former President George W. Bush and comedian Ellen DeGeneres at a recent NFL game represented a moment of much-needed civility. Others saw it as betrayal.

For Ms. DeGeneres on this occasion, those differences didn’t matter. Echoing the golden rule on her talk show two days later, she argued against being kind to only those like-minded in political views.

Polls show much of the public say they’ve stopped talking to someone over political differences. Yet a recent gathering of some 500 diverse voters engaged in political dialogue showed Americans, exposed to different viewpoints, can abandon their more extreme views.

Perhaps compassion and empathy, rather than ostracism, are better ways to change a mind. Maybe they can change what it means to be a “friend.”

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Friendship across political lines

At an early October Dallas Cowboys game, cameras turned to an audience box and showed two unlikely neighbors laughing together: former President George W. Bush and comedian Ellen DeGeneres. The image went viral, and reactions were febrile.

Two camps quickly emerged. One thought the warm pairing of a gay, liberal comedian with a conservative, Republican president represented a moment of much-needed civility. The other side thought it amounted to a betrayal. President Bush, the latter argued, initiated endless wars, responded slowly to Hurricane Katrina, even advocated restricting LGBTQ rights, which would have affected Ms. DeGeneres directly. Two people so at odds politically, they said, should also be at odds socially.

For Ms. DeGeneres on this occasion, those differences didn’t matter. Echoing the golden rule on her talk show two days later, she argued against being kind to only those like-minded in political views. “Just because I don’t agree with someone on everything,” she said, “doesn’t mean that I’m not going to be friends with them.” Mr. Bush, she said, was her friend.

Many called Ms. DeGeneres’ monologue reductive, flip, and pharisaical. Saying Mr. Bush was a friend meant accepting his actions. There are some people, they argued, with whom we shouldn’t be friends.

The debate over Ms. DeGeneres and the former president embodies a larger question in American culture: How do we live with people whose opinions and actions are so different from ours? In a time when differences sometimes feel threatening, do we even interact at all?

Polls show much of the public thinks not, with many saying they’ve stopped talking to someone over political differences (50% for Democrats, 38% for Republicans, and 35% for independents). Activist groups, especially on college campuses, often argue over who even deserves a voice – sometimes turning to violence to suppress others.

A recent experiment suggests this intolerance can end. Organized by academics and consultants, a project called America in One Room gathered a representative sample of 523 voters in Dallas and staged a weekend of lectures and discussions. Participants of both parties, exposed to different viewpoints, abandoned their more extreme positions – Republicans on immigration and Democrats on the economy. At the end, all but 5% agreed they “learned a lot about people very different from me – about what they and their lives are like.”

The cure to division, it turned out, was exposure.

There are elements of privilege involved in Ms. DeGeneres’ bonhomie with Mr. Bush, but that shouldn’t distract from research, like that of America in One Room, that shows spending time with people unlike you can create an overall good. Many have argued that the former president hasn’t apologized for what they see as past transgressions. But saying people are too far gone for our company suggests we don’t expect them to change in the first place.

Perhaps compassion and empathy, rather than ostracism, are better ways to change a mind. Maybe they can change what it means to be a “friend.”

At the start of World War II, Mahatma Gandhi wrote to Adolf Hitler, imploring him to end the fighting. At no point did he condone Hitler’s actions, calling them “monstrous and unbecoming of human dignity.” But that didn’t stop Gandhi from writing, separating evil acts from the person committing them. The letter never made it to Hitler, but if it had, he would have seen it addressed at the top: “Dear Friend.”

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A Christian Science Perspective

About this feature

Each weekday, the Monitor includes one clearly labeled religious article offering spiritual insight on contemporary issues, including the news. The publication – in its various forms – is produced for anyone who cares about the progress of the human endeavor around the world and seeks news reported with compassion, intelligence, and an essentially constructive lens. For many, that caring has religious roots. For many, it does not. The Monitor has always embraced both audiences. The Monitor is owned by a church – The First Church of Christ, Scientist, in Boston – whose founder was concerned with both the state of the world and the quality of available news.

Shaping our course Spiritward

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A story in today’s Daily highlights how traditional religious codes such as the Ten Commandments still make a difference in people’s lives. Here’s an article exploring the idea that glimpsing our spiritual origin as God’s children has a healing effect – physically, mentally, and morally.

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Shaping our course Spiritward

Today's Christian Science Perspective audio edition
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If you asked almost anyone what things they do every day, you can imagine what would make the list. Handling demands at work, running errands, having or preparing meals, cleaning, reading, caring for family members, chatting with friends, being online, watching TV – pretty routine stuff.

But there’s something else that I’ve found deserves a place on the daily list. It goes hand in hand with something we all want: to live a fuller and more satisfied life.

It is the need to persistently resist the common conception of life as purely material, a conception with built-in limitations, suffering, and loss. This conception is constantly reinforced through pop culture and the pitches of mass marketing, which inform us of and sell us on material products we can’t resist, material conditions that ail us, and material remedies designed to cure us.

Buying into this framework may seem unavoidable. It may at times seem full of promise. Yet below the surface one might also feel something of a vacuum, an absence of inspiration and meaning. But as we are open to the opportunities and guidance derived directly from divine Spirit, God, thought shifts.

Living a freer, better daily life is central to the teachings of Christ Jesus. I think of Jesus’ followers as not all that different from us today – people coming up against all kinds of problems and looking for a way to be free. Jesus wanted them to be free, and he broke the shackles of their conventional, materialistic life view by introducing them to a new idea of life, an abundant life that is entirely whole and substantial and that already belongs to each one of us – our perfect spiritual identity as the likeness of Spirit, God.

Our spiritual origin as Deity’s image underpinned Jesus’ teachings, and it is at the heart of the Science of Christianity discovered by Mary Baker Eddy. It changes how we think of ourselves and of what we’re able to accomplish. As the creation of divine Spirit, we aren’t truly creatures of the flesh, vulnerable and lacking, but God’s very image, spiritual and complete. The textbook of Christian Science, “Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures” by Mrs. Eddy, reveals and explains how readers can find greater freedom and a more accurate view of themselves. It says, “The admission to one’s self that man is God’s own likeness sets man free to master the infinite idea” (p. 90).

That freeing admission, made wholeheartedly within ourselves day in and day out, helps us give up thinking constantly of ourselves as having a selfhood apart from the Divine, embedded in matter, with its inabilities and emptiness.

What we think about and agree with (or disagree with) day after day makes a huge difference over the long haul. By resisting the assumption that material living can somehow save us from the endless troubles and limits of material living, we’re challenging whatever would place limits on the presence and expression of Spirit.

That, in turn, makes it easier to see a greater expression of the life, love, beauty, and intelligence that flow from God and are here to be expressed in our lives. We realize that our real selfhood isn’t in matter. Since that real selfhood is the image and likeness of God, it couldn’t be.

Catching even a glimpse of this great spiritual fact is inspiring, and it very naturally improves our mental, physical, and moral condition. We find that we have the ability to experience more of this improvement as we more fully accept the true idea of man as God’s likeness and live more in accord with the moral and spiritual laws found in the Ten Commandments and the teachings of Christ Jesus.

This step-by-step change of view occurs moment to moment as we keep our thought so much more open to Spirit, God. Its practicality is seen in its healing effect – both moral and physical – on our lives. I have experienced this in modest ways in my own life.

Setting and advancing on a course Spiritward is a natural, practical way to go about living a daily life filled with opportunities for doing good for all.

Adapted from an article published in the Feb. 27, 2017, issue of the Christian Science Sentinel.

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Viewfinder

Tensions over an independence bid

Rafael Marchante/Reuters
A woman takes cover Oct. 16, 2019, in Barcelona, Spain, as police officers walk past during a protest after a verdict in a trial over a banned Catalonia independence referendum. Unrest followed the conviction of nine separatist leaders on charges including sedition and misappropriation of funds. Catalonia’s regional president vowed to hold another referendum before the end of his term, according to The Washington Post. “No court,” he told the Post, “will prevent this president of Catalonia from continuing to open these debates.”
( The illustrations in today's Monitor Daily are by Jacob Turcotte and Karen Norris. )
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In Our Next Issue

( October 18th, 2019 )

Thank you for coming to the Monitor today. Tomorrow, staff writer Ann Scott Tyson will share her thoughts on her recent trip to Hong Kong in a video photo essay, offering a unique look inside the struggle.

Monitor Daily Podcast

October 17, 2019
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