April 15 (Tax Day) fell during the Christian Holy Week this year for Americans. And so this week Christians were “rendering unto Caesar the things that are Caesar’s” and “rendering unto God the things that are God’s,” giving Uncle Sam his due and giving God God’s due. Accountants from behind office desks and from behind church pulpits are advising American Christians on their civic and religious obligations.

When Amazon pulled out of a huge project planned for the Long Island City neighborhood in New York in the face of local opposition, spectators from other cities (and many in New York) were aghast. Amazon’s “HQ2” was supposed to generate 25,000 well-paying jobs.

I had lunch last week with a former college professor and his wife — dear friends who take an interest in my life and retirement-era writing well beyond coursework from last century. His “attaboys” on my current-century columns are especially treasured since he was once dubbed the best college journalism professor in the nation by a news-writing society. Based on his frank criticism of assignments submitted during olden days of learning spent in Burleson Quadrangle ivy-covered towers at Baylor University, I take his current positive feedback these days as genuine.

Scholars of postmodernism tell me there is now no such thing as common sense. Perhaps they are right. I don’t see a lot of it. And I don’t expect “my common sense” to be shared by all. I’m elderly now and some of my common sense is probably outdated. Nevertheless, I believe there are some things that all mature, thinking individuals should know intuitively — even in this confused and confusing culture that is America today.

A high school English teacher used quizzes to determine whether we truly read the book assigned that week or only consumed the CliffsNotes summary. It was Cliff’s failure to mention the pince-nez glasses of a character in Dickens’ “Hard Times” that pegged one of us as having surrendered to the temptation to shortcut our education. An oath was taken to never again assume hundreds of pages of important detail could be boiled down to a synopsis. That held till now.

Like the rest of you, Wacoans love Joanna and Chip Gaines’ HGTV show, magazine, housewares, books and (most of all?) biscuits and gravy. No one objected when they turned giant silos from eyesores into religious icons. Only a few protested when they recently bought “The Castle” — namesake home of Waco’s most esteemed neighborhood, Castle Heights. But murmurs are starting now that they’ve purchased the 151-year-old Fort House, formerly managed by the Historic Waco Foundation.

Every week mail stacks up at my desk from prisoners seeking help in addressing their sentences or petitioning for clemency. Their stories are not told (except by the students in my clinic at St. Thomas Law School for those few we can represent). Instead, when we read about sentencing it’s usually related to the rich and famous. One of those cases is in the news now, as former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort was sentenced twice in the course of one week. On March 7, Judge T.S. Ellis III of the Eastern District of Virginia sentenced him to 47 months imprisonment; then on March 13 Judge Amy Berman Jackson of the D.C. District Court added an additional 43 months for separate (but related) charges filed there. There is a lot to learn from the Manafort case, both about him and about the people who write to me from humbler positions.

Ron Wright, now a freshman congressman for Texas’ 6th District, some 25 years ago joked in a Fort Worth Star-Telegram piece how he perceived white males to be “the only species without some form of federal protection.” We could point out that white males are entitled to the same protection from discrimination on the basis of ethnicity or gender as anyone else, or how old white males (under law, over age 40) are entitled to a third layer of protection. But instead we today celebrate Wright’s prophetic vision for a Movement of the Disgruntled.

While news of other Texas symphonies’ financial struggles makes the rounds occasionally, the Waco Symphony Association continues building on more than a half-century of bringing not only beautiful classical music to the greater Waco community but also the best in culture. The challenge now: continuing such success in an uncertain future.

Today is when many Christian churches celebrate Transfiguration Sunday. The transfiguration narrative illustrates Jesus on a mountaintop with Peter, James and John in order to pray. In the midst of prayer, the disciples have a vision of Jesus with Moses and Elijah in conversation. The glory of the trio and perhaps the oxygen levels on the mountain compel Peter to find a way to make the experience last. He contemplates building booths or shelters so they can remain high up, above it all.

The Waco Tribune-Herald in recent weeks has reported on the Go Renewable Waco campaign, a citizen-led effort that ultimately resulted in passage of recommendations by the City of Waco Sustainable Resource Practices Advisory Board (Sustainability Board) designed to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and combat anthropogenic climate change. Although the Trib reports were excellent, they raise multiple important questions.

A dozen Methodists from Bentonville, Arkansas, disembarked al fresco at the Cartagena, Colombia airport one sunny Saturday afternoon last month. Leaving the narrow confines of a stretched Delta 737 inbound from Atlanta, I was the first in the group to descend the open staircase and to feel the airiness and warmth of historic New World seashores.

The truth in all this: If these advertisers charged the viewer a dime to listen to their spiel, they might realize nobody wants to pay for their shtick. And even more true…nobody wants to get it free either. The only thing good about the whole situation is that we have much more time than ever to get a snack or check out the “loo.” Which rather defeats the purpose of the commercial.

In 2018, provisions of the 2017 Tax Cut and Jobs Act went into effect. The act simplified some aspects of the federal tax code and restructured tax rates with the purported goal of enhancing economic growth. In particular, the act reduced the U.S. corporate tax rate from 35 percent to 21 percent. For U.S. companies, which have historically faced some of the highest levies of any developed nation, the reduction strengthened competitiveness in global markets. The hope was the act would also encourage additional capital investment.

While much of the nation marvels at the government train wreck over President Trump’s border wall funding, some pesky details dotting all the immigration rhetoric might seem distracting, perhaps even politically inconvenient, but they remain relevant nonetheless. Hard Fact No. 1: Asylum seekers, guest workers and cross-border smugglers underline this raging debate. Each presents a different problem. Each demands a different, common-sense solution.

After the stormy tenure of Jeff Sessions as attorney general, the likely return of William Barr to the job — which he held with distinction under President George H.W. Bush — has been greeted with sighs of relief at the Justice Department. The reason is not hard to divine: Bill Barr is an accomplished lawyer with a deep respect for the law and for the integrity and independence of the department — something I know from having served under him. After his solid performance before the Senate Judiciary Committee on Tuesday, he seems almost certain to be approved by the full Senate.

It’s a new year. Or so our Gregorian calendar tells us. Should we believe it? Are we really in 2019 or is it fake news? After all, the calendar we use in much of the modern world isn’t all that modern and it’s not tied to actual events of the solar system, the ultimate timekeeper. Perhaps we should start a new year at the winter solstice like the Persians whose calendar is accurate to one second per year. Or follow the Mayans’ version, twice as accurate as our drug-store calendars.

I recently spent several days on the Texas borderland in McAllen and surrounding communities. For those readers who have not visited the Rio Grande Valley, I encourage you to do so. Hundreds of thousands of Americans — “snowbirds” or “winter Texans” — migrate to the southernmost border of Texas every year to winter there. They escape the ice of the North to enjoy the temperate climate, South Texas culture, migrating birds, Mexican food and great outdoor opportunities along the winding Rio Grande. They also enjoy the ability to cross into Mexico to receive inexpensive medical services such as dentistry.

The day will come when a chief justice again administers the oath of office to a president. Maybe Donald Trump for his second term, or Mike Pence. It may be a Democrat with a familiar name — Sen. Kamala Harris or former Rep. Beto O’Rourke, for example. Or maybe the oath will be taken by someone we have not yet heard of, or on a date sooner than we imagine. Whenever and to whomever, we have some suggestions: laws to be passed now for the next term of office.

Trade talks between the United States and China have started up again, the first major movement toward reconciliation since the December decision to delay further tariff increases till March. As I am writing, representatives from both nations were reportedly narrowing some but not all of the differences. While negotiations are moving forward and hopefully something can be achieved before the artificial deadline, it is likely that talks will continue for some time. Meanwhile, the costs of the higher tariffs on the U.S. economy are escalating.

As 2019 begins, the federal government remains partially shut down. Proposals are still surfacing and meetings are still being arranged, but as I write this it looks like it could go on for a while. One of the central points of disagreement is funding for the border wall, which is a highly controversial sticking point. It will be difficult to reach an agreement, and the longer the shutdown goes on, the more the economic costs will mount.

Recent television news reports and written commentary have shed light on the amazing benefits of being grateful and sharing appreciation, though I admit my earlier life experiences gave me a far narrower view of expressing thanks. Like so many baby boomers, I was reared in a wonderful environment created by my parents, an environment of always expressing thanks, in handwritten notes, for a person’s kindness and philanthropy. I always had to write a thank-you note, to be reviewed by Mom or Dad, before I could deposit the check or play with a new toy. That requirement, detested initially by an immature child, has only now made incredibly brilliant sense.

The week before Christmas was pretty messy in and around the White House. President Trump seemed to first avert, then embrace a government shutdown. The political landscape trembled at the subterranean drilling for information by Special Counsel Robert Mueller. Incoming Democrats who will control the House of Representatives talked to all forms of media about the subpoenas they anticipate sending to the Trump administration. Secretary of Defense James Mattis was ousted, and the president decided, to broad resistance, that he was pulling American troops out of Syria. Reporters trying to get home for the holidays were stuck at work as breaking news reports stacked up on top of one another.

With uproar consuming the White House and Capitol Hill over everything from the departure of Defense Secretary Jim “Mad Dog” Mattis to President Trump’s decision to retreat from the Syrian battlefield to his decision to shut down part of the government over border wall funding, the surprise move by Qatar to quit OPEC next month might seem a minor flap, even though Qatar has been a member of the oil cartel since 1961. Indeed, its oil minister, Saad al-Kaabi, says the decision is not linked to the ongoing economic boycott imposed by Saudi Arabia and its allies, the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain and Egypt.

Growing up in mid-century, small-town life where that obscure boot toe of southeast Louisiana meets the notch of Mississippi dipping into the Gulf of Mexico, I had a surprisingly broad education. Though the family business was a feed and seed store, my mother was the local Baptist church organist and our living room held a Steinway upright piano, a Hammond spinet organ and two trumpet cases.

President Dwight Eisenhower openly subscribed to the domino theory of historical disaster. Or, alternatively, the slippery slope argument as it’s termed for unethical decision-making. In this theory, one decision, perhaps seemingly inconsequential at the moment, leads to another and then another and then another, all in a discouraging direction.

Voter turnout for the 2018 midterm elections across the nation was the highest for a midterm in more than 50 years. Eligible voter turnout in McLennan County was 54.22 percent compared to 35.11 percent in the 2014 midterms. That’s a significant improvement but still means about half of eligible voters in our county did not vote. And Texas consistently ranks among the lowest in the nation in voter turnout. How come? Multiple reasons likely exist but I want to focus on one.

There was a time that four issues largely defined the agendas of many prominent Republicans: A concern about national debt, a belief in a strong American presence on the world stage, the value of “free markets and free people” and a certain moralism built on personal accountability. In the Trump era, all four have been abandoned by the Republican Party. Any challenger, Republican or Democrat, who picks up these four gold coins will do well with a broad swath of those moderate voters who so often decide elections. They will also make our country a better place.

The much-anticipated dedication of the City of West Fallen Heroes Memorial Saturday offered much worthy of praise, including an appropriate speech about sacrifice, loss and resilience by Gov. Greg Abbott, complete with admiration for “the remarkable work the people of West have done to rebuild this community.” But the centerpiece was quite obviously missing. Because of thunderstorms, this engaging hometown memorial — complete with informatively written individual tributes to those who perished in the West Fertilizer Company ammonium nitrate explosion of April 17, 2013 — could be conjured indoors only through a hastily but astonishingly well-produced video of the memorial, complete with scene-setting drone footage, by West videographer Ben Ranzinger.

I am a firm believer in “right to life.” However, I contend that this profound phrase covers much more than the abortion issue that has become its moniker. Personally, I believe that God, not the U.S. Constitution or a Supreme Court ruling, is the final authority on the matter. I believe that a heartbeat is enough to validate personhood and protection for those fetuses conceived in a mother’s womb. Clearly, everyone in America does not agree and so the debates continue.

How does one begin to dry the tears streaming down the ash-stained faces of Parisian Catholics? To be sure, Notre Dame Cathedral is a treasure for the world, for people of all nations and creeds. But it is first and foremost a Catholic church — where the sacraments have been celebrated for centuries, where the faithful labored more than a hundred years to erect a glorious monument to God. To watch this sacred space burn during Holy Week — the most solemn of the Christian liturgical year — stings all the more.

Flashback

What were we talking about one year ago? Take a look back.