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A SEASON FOR FREEDOM Lessons From a Founding Father
In my office hangs a portrait of Peter Muhlenberg casting off his clerical robes to reveal his Continental Army uniform. It’s a poignant image I can’t help but look at while I sit down to write this 4th of July article. Muhlenberg may not be as famous a Founding Father as Jefferson, Hamilton, or Ben Franklin, but his life really captures what it means to be an American. Muhlenberg was a Lutheran preacher when revolutionary tensions began to rise across the colonies. However, prior to becoming a man of the cloth, he’d served some time as a foot soldier in the British army, as well as a stint with a German mounted infantry unit. During this service in his younger years, he gained a reputation for being particularly daring — the German Dragoons called him “Teufel Piet,” or “Devil Pete.” This reputation got George Washington to reach out to Muhlenberg when the colonies began their desperate bid for independence. quoted Ecclesiastes 3 saying, “To everything there is a season … a time to love and a time to hate, a time for war and a time for peace.” Letting that last line hang in the air, he concluded, “This is a time for war,” and removed his robes to stand before his people in full-dress uniform. Men flocked to join his newly- formed 8th Virginia Regiment and take the fight to the British. The portrait depicts this dramatic moment but also captures the Muhlenberg’s recognition that life often demands that we play different roles in its saga. This son of German immigrants went from a private citizen to a United States Senator, and also served as a priest and a general. Much like the passage he read, seasons defined Muhlenberg’s life, and he was flexible enough to change with them. Famously, Muhlenberg addressed his Virginia congregation in his black reverend’s robes and
For me, Muhlenberg’s image is an ever-present reminder for the need to balance my own life. At home I’m a husband, at church I’m a devout worshiper, at court I’m a fierce advocate for my clients, and on the basketball court I pretend to be an athlete. I keep this portrait in my office to encourage me to draw strength from each aspect of my life without letting one overpower the others. But on the 4th of July, Muhlenberg’s lesson is more significant.
“To everything there is a season … a time to love and a time to hate, a time for war and a time for peace.”
To be a reverend in Virginia under British rule, Muhlenberg had to be sworn in as a member of
the Anglican Church, despite his Lutheran beliefs. Today, we are lucky to live in a nation where we are free to worship, to choose our own careers, to participate in politics, and to move between these seasons of our lives without reprisal. And we enjoy these liberties today because of brave men and women like Muhlenberg, who, over the course of our history, shed the robes of their comfortable lives to fight for their country.
Happy Independence Day.
– Paul Harman
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