Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Christmas Affections

I am heartsick and hopeful as I pen these words. Colleagues and friends have shared tragic stories of emotional and physical pain. At the same moment I am absorbing their concerns, I am happily awaiting the arrival of my adult children for Christmas. My heart is bursting with gratitude for my family and breaking with empathy for some friends.

The affections of Christmas have always been paradoxical. Michael Card said it well in one of his songs, "Behold the mystery, fantastic and wild: a mother made by her own Child." We have angelic choirs viewed by humble shepherds. We have aristocratic scholars from Persia dealing with a devious King Herod. The family dwelling was full of older relatives, so Jesus is born in the first story room with the animals and sleeps in a feeding trough. The newborn King, the Savior of the world, will evoke worship from the humble, provoke an evil King to murder, move the hearts of an elderly prophetess and prophet, and ultimately split history in two as he grows and fulfills his mission to atone for sin and bring eternal hope.

These paradoxical affections are also fueled by current events in our nation and around the world. The followers of the Bethlehem Babe are growing in number around the globe and transforming the social and spiritual landscape in scores of nations, even while the entire Christmas Story is scorned in the elite corners of the West. Thousands of innocents are dying at the hands of murderous thugs while arrogant fools debate on how to spend money we do not have. At the same time, millions of people are giving sacrificially so that the victims of earthquakes, hurricanes and tsunamis can have water and food.

All of these feelings incite a deep longing for peace, rest and stability. The promise of Scripture is clear: there is a Day coming when swords become plowshares, lambs and lions lie down together, and there is no more war and want. As a follower of Jesus Christ, I am invited to bring this future into the present. Christianity is not a nostalgia trip. It is not a romanticized look back. God's kingdom in Jesus Christ is a reign of joy and justice perfected in the future and participated in today. Every reconciled relationship is a window into a Day when all tears are gone. Every child fed and loved is a glimpse into the glory of heaven. Every war that ends anticipates the Day when the King of Kings ends all wars.

How will I celebrate Christmas? I will enjoy family and friends and laugh as much as I can. I will pray for my colleagues and friends and try to help. I will feast on great food and help make sure others are fed. I will love my wife and kids and seek to build communities where no one is a stranger. I will long for heavenly peace and do my best to bring it on earth. I will demand integrity of politicians and be honest in all I do.

Christmas affections are powerfully paradoxical. We have Eternity stepping into time; the Almighty is forever a human being. We discover that real authority begins with service. Transformation is not just behavior modification. We need a relationship with Christ, a loving community and personal purpose to be whole people.

Merry Christmas friends - may we all celebrate and serve in a spirit of faith, hope and love.

Friday, December 17, 2010

A Message for the Thoughtful

When I observe the shenanigans in Washington DC - on both sides of the aisle - I feel like I am living in an M.C. Escher print or a Salvador Dali painting. Nothing is as it seems. We have Nancy Pelosi berating Republicans for adding debt that our children and grandchildren will have to pay back to China. Of course, her leadership only added about $3 trillion to the price tag! We have "conservatives" making sure their earmarks are in place. It feels like Nero is fiddling while Rome burns.

I do tilt a bit toward the conservative side; however, our problems are not solved by histrionics or vague appeals to principles. President Obama meets with sympathetic billionaires while small business leadership is ignored. Meanwhile, extending the current tax rates becomes a flash point for berating the rich, while basic economic realities are ignored and our foreign policy is in shambles.

The Holiday Season of good cheer is not the time to introduce austere realism, but here are "thoughts for the thoughtful" that I hope will stimulate intelligent and passionate communication from the grassroots to the "representatives" in Washington, D.C.
  • Americans are allergic to socialism. We are not adverse to government activity, but we have an organic allegiance to personal liberty and property.
  • Americans do not want to be part of a "global governance" scheme where self-appointment elitists (Soros, et. al.) tell us what we must do as a nation.
  • Americans are compassionate. We want to help those in need and the unemployed need assistance and training.
  • Americans love the military. Waving flags, wistful strains of Taps, and the courage of women and men stir us deeply. We also want our troops fighting battles they can win. Bring them home with dignity, Mr. President.
  • Americans are self-starters. We want equal opportunity, not a system rigged by social engineers.
  • Americans are religious, but they do not want a government cowering in the face of radical Islam or regulating what can be said in the public square. We are especially upset that Judaism and Christianity can be excoriated while Islam gets a free pass from the Left.
  • American love scientific and technological innovation, but not at the expense of humanitarian principles.
  • Americans are learning to leave racism behind and live joyfully with diversity. We do not need to be reminded daily of past transgressions. We want to build a better future.
  • Americans believe in traditional marriage. Utah left polygamy behind in order to enter our Union. Redefining this term will ultimately open a Pandora's Box of confusion and state control.
  • Americans are tolerant. People of all faiths or none, and people of all orientations can live peaceably with their deepest differences. This is what the First Amendment is about.
  • Americans are children of immigrants and we are hospitable. We just want entry and participation to be legal, safe and non-subversive of our national principles. Secure borders and opportunity for all the "huddled masses yearning to be free" are compatible.
  • American believe in balancing the checkbook, even though they have been on a credit-card binge for half a century. Hopefully our leaders at City Hall, State capitals and in Congress can set a new tone.

As we welcome longer days, remember the courage of the Maccabees and celebrate the birth of Jesus of Nazareth, let's open our hearts and homes, looking for ways to encourage each other, honor the dignity of each person and create a better future.

Tuesday, December 07, 2010

The Perception Wars

We now have a President in favor of tax breaks for all...and the Republicans are again on their heels in the perception game. Add to this the earmarks that even Rand Paul is approving and you have the pathway to a Democratic victory in 2012.

The lack of courage by both sides is appalling. Democrats will not fight for their constituencies and the newly-elected Republicans seem unwilling to make the hard choices that will turn the economic ship around for the long-term.

We do need dynamic dialogue that will forge new solutions. We should not expect much of a lame-duck session close to the Christmas break. We should be alert, however, to Executive Orders and appointments that circumvent normal channels and represent the despotic tendencies of those afraid of losing power.

There is no way forward without serious sacrifice, including deep cuts in certain facets of military spending, major adjustments for Medicare and Social Security and an overhaul of federal and state public employee pensions. Our elected officials should not be set for life for serving a few years in Washington. They should not receive waivers from the new health plans. At the same time, we do need oversight of corporate ethics, banking practices and reasonable environmental policies that allow for wealth creation without regulatory strangulation or rapacious exploitation.

As we make systemic adjustments to global economic realities, we need to re-empower local and state governments and remind ourselves that we are a nation conceived in reverence for God and respect for the sovereignty of the people. We need to retrain millions for the 21st century and invest in the future. Our path ahead is difficult but doable and "politics as usual" will not work. I call on millions of Americans to have the courage to speak out, act compassionately and generously and hold our leaders accountable for OUR national checkbook!

Today is December 7th - a special tribute is due to all veterans and to the surving WWII vets that witness to a courageous moment in our nation's history.

Thursday, December 02, 2010

Unusual Thoughts

As we enter the Advent Season and attempt some moments of normality ("normalcy" was a new term coined by then-Presidential candidate Warren G. Harding in 1920), I offer the following reflections on current events:
  • Wikileaks is not a crusade for righteousness, but one more group of arrogant elitists with an agenda. They are happy to expose any and every national leader, but will not reveal the names of their supporters or the Bilderberg Group of globalists. What they are doing is part amusing, historically interesting but ultimately concerning to all who value some measure of confidentiality.
  • The new Congress will be on a short leash and the expectations are high. If the current "deficit panel" can only recommend changes that save $200 billion, we will continue to drift toward economic oblivion. The cure for our current disease is real movement toward a genuinely balanced budget.
  • The number of waivers for Obama Care may end up exceeding the number of people assisted! Major unions are bailing and support is only found among the hard-core Left and the uninsured. There has to be a better way.
  • The 2012 race is already interesting. Their are only two questions: Will Hillary or another Democrat make a serious run at Obama? Will the Republicans find a charismatic and electable leader who can offer an alternative to the mushy middle the party elite seems to gravitate toward every four years?
  • "Bring him [her] home." This needs to be our theme for the brave women and men in the military. Let's bring them home with dignity, remain a presence against Middle Eastern terrorism and forge a new future in foreign policy. No more bowing to national leaders. No more apologizing for our history. Warts and all, America is still an exceptional place, especially since we confront our problems and work on them!
  • Israel should suspend settlement building. But the future of any peace accord with teeth in it rests on the moral integrity of Palestinian leaders who will unequivocally acknowledge Israel's right to exist and initiate full diplomatic exchanges and recognition. If the West Bank is returned (the Oslo Accords) and Israel's security concerns are addressed, there is hope. The PA must give up the demand for a "right of return" for all the descendants of the 1948 conflict. There is only safety for Israel if she is a majority Jewish State.
  • Positive changes in the America begin with each one of us choosing ethical, gracious, hospitable and wise pathways that secure for our neighbors the opportunities and rights we desire for ourselves.

Let's find a million families devoted to God, family and community. We do not want a communist or fascist state, but a free people enjoying the fruits of their faith and hard work and learning to live with their deepest differences as well as finding common cause against injustice, poverty and hopelessness.

I am still an optimist, because there are enough people who can make daily choices to turn this nation in a new direction.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Grateful: Pre-Thanksgiving Thoughts

Somewhere in-between the cynicism of fatalists and the Pollyanna sentiments of too many greeting cards is the sentiment of gratefulness. Let's strip away the cliches of "an attitude of gratitude" and the moronic, "it's all good" and choose to be grateful for the abundance of blessings that most of us take for granted.

Before sharing these simple sentences, it is wise to affirm that all of us have pain and unanswered questions. Whether we are poor or rich, an outsider or insider, a minority or majority member, we all "walk with a limp." (This is a reference to the Israelite patriarch Jacob, who had a dramatic encounter with God, received great blessings and a name change to Israel...and came away with a disability.) Death, disease, distress and disaster seem ever-present, impacting us directly as victims or indirectly as caregivers, donors or neighbors.

As a Christian, I believe that our world is simultaneously full of dignity and depravity. We live longing for completeness and enduring unspeakable agonies. We see the glory of God is the macro- and micro-cosmos and the effects of the cosmic tear in unexplainable events. We see humankind capable of creating sublime beauty and sulfuric evils. We long for justice, love, beauty and spiritual connection and often find cruelty, hatred, scarred landscapes and narcissism run amok. I also believe that in the person of Jesus we see the better world to come. In Jesus' life we hear words of grace and see works of goodness that bring the future into the present. In Jesus' death he identifies with our deserved and undeserved suffering, offering forgiveness and experiencing the alienation of unanswered questions. All my "Whys?" to God are collected in his piercing Aramaic exclamation of, "Lama?" In Jesus' resurrection I see a portent of my future: body and spirit renewed, with continuity and contrast with the present cosmos and my community.

Whether my readers share all these sentiments or not, here is why I am grateful:
  • I took a shower today. A third of our world could not.
  • I ate well today. Millions hope for such abundance.
  • My wife and children are happy, healthy and they love me. My parents and in-laws love and care about us. (I am the richest person in the world)
  • I get to spend most of my time doing what I love.
  • I get to meet interesting people from around the world. They hear and see with different ears and eyes and it helps me expand my horizons.
  • I am in the company of good books, while many wait to open their first Bible.
  • This past weekend I went to Belize to serve and now I write these words from the USA. Millions will never leave their ghettos or hamlets.
  • I have choices - almost too many - about everything from breakfast cereal to soap, while millions hope to eat well and bathe this week.
  • I can go to the YMCA and improve my health.
  • I live in a country where we can argue about our deepest differences in politics and religion and still be neighbors.
  • I voted two weeks ago and I am pleased with some results and displeased with others. I greeted the poll workers, thanked them for their hard work and commented that it is a privilege to vote without fear. Democrat, Green Party, Independent or Republican - we get to participate.
  • In the past few days I had the joy of helping several people. To be a part of someone's blessing is the greatest blessing of all.

My list keeps growing as I write. Some are simple things, like a shower. Others are more esoteric, like the company of books. I challenge all of us to write our own "grateful list" and allow our hearts to swell with humble thanks.

I will enjoy a feast next week in the company of my family. But the feast has started today as I ponder my place in life and recognize God's blessings and the wonderful people who enrich my life.

Monday, November 01, 2010

The Morning After

On November 3, all the newly-elected and the survivors of the recent political battles must wake up from the parties and realize a sobering fact: the way forward for America is hard. The difficulties have been exacerbated by Obama's policies, but neither he nor one political party are responsible for our current state. Our challenges have been a century in the making, with the last forty years accelerating trends of prior generations.

The new Congress and President must confront
  • Runaway federal expansion and spending - but where will the cuts be made?
  • Stasis in Afghanistan and Iraq - but when do our troops return and who is in power in each nation?
  • A psychologically-scarred electorate who intuitively know that government largess must decrease even while a large percentage depend upon it for their livelihood.
  • How to rebuild our infrastructure.
  • Ways to keep all types of jobs in the USA and still be a competitor in a global economy.
  • A Constitutional re-balancing - more power to the states and the people - but this means more accountability from state capitals and from each person.
  • How to transform a "warfare and welfare" nation into a "workfare" land once again. We cannot have federal guns and butter with ever-increasing deficits forever. We can have a strong defense and trim military spending. We can make sure the needy get help - and do it more efficiently and kindly.
  • Allowing some states to go bankrupt and restructure - strong but necessary medicine.

The above list is a partial one and represents the easiest issues. The real challenges are much deeper and will require courage, deft communication and integrity beyond the norm. Here is another list that unveils the full picture. Our class of 2011 must call for

  • A new era of moral and spiritual responsibility. Fathers need to father. Mothers need to mother. Parents need to send their children to school ready to learn. Even the working poor can put a bowl of oatmeal in a child's stomach, wash behind the ears and give her or him a hug.
  • Local responsibility for welfare. Those who need help of all kinds need to receive it, but with personal care and efficient administration. We DO need basic guidelines from Washington; however, care needs to be as local as possible. The goal of welfare is not jobs for middle-class government workers - it is helping those in need.
  • An end to racism once and for all. Pride in heritage and identity is good, but the politics of anger and bitterness only fuel tensions. Red and Yellow, Black and White - we are all precious in God's sight. If this is true, we need to hear more about love than about "hate" crimes. All crime is wrong, regardless of perceived ethnic issues.
  • A new way forward on private and public morality. It is nonsense to say, "You cannot legislate morality." All legislation IS moral - we pass laws and ordinances that reflect principles and values we affirm as part of our social compact. It is possible to protect traditional marriage and give alternative family arrangements legal status. It is possible to allow private adult activity while not forcing public schools students to be subject to radical ideologies.
  • Citizenship must mean something again. Why do my friends from Europe face years of hassle and thousands in lawyer fees to procure legal status while millions of "undocumented" workers await some form of amnesty and brazenly set up consular offices in public schools? We need to welcome everyone - legally. We need to confront Mexico for her corruption and subversion. We need to confront our addictions and greed.
  • Israel must be protected from her enemies while a new peace treaty with a peaceful Palestine is negotiated. Iran must be confronted and not allowed to go nuclear under her current regime.
  • American "exceptionalism" must be reaffirmed, without arrogance or obeisance to foreign leaders. Our exceptionalism is found in our Constitutional principles - and in our continual self-corrections to live up to them! We must not be proud of our colonial and imperial history. But we can take pride in our heritage of religious freedom, economic opportunity and gradual alignment with the Founder's vision. We must not try to reify some halcyon days that never were. However, we can learn from the sacrifices of generations who laid the foundation for unprecedented prosperity and opportunity.

The morning after...will the new leaders actually arrest spending and make the tough decisions? Will President Obama learn how to compromise? Will "we the people" decide to "love our neighbor as ourselves" and stop calling on the mysterious "someone" to "do something"?

Positive change is possible, but only with a new "great and general awakening" of faith hope and love. In the end, the future begins with our own decisions today.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

False Comfort and True Hope

As we approach the 2010 midterm elections, prognostications are everywhere about the extent of the Republican gains and the fractures in the Democratic Party. Of course, two years ago, the Republicans were deeply divided and the Democrats were unstoppable behind their leader of hope and change. Politics is a fickle enterprise and the patience of the electorate is not endless.

The Obama message of hope, change and government spending is facing stiff opposition. His failure to extract US troops from the Afghan and Iranian theaters frustrates his party's anti-military base. Even the Democratic health care victory is Pyrrhic, with most Americans wanting drastic modifications or outright appeal. Attempts to marginalize Tea Party participants as dangerous extremists get only momentary traction before losing ground to the everyday realities of a bad economy and rising global tensions.

For Republicans, this is an ideal opportunity to make real gains, not only in House and Senate seats, but in clarifying their message and policies and helping to set a new direction. Failure to seize this moment could result in the exact opposite of what conservatives are hoping for - a resurgent Left in 2012. The mistakes of 1994 must not be repeated and the false comfort of political gains must not obscure the hard work ahead if the American ship is going to to be put to rights.

I think there is an opportunity for Truman Democrats and Eisenhower Republicans to find their sea legs again and actually govern wisely. Admirers need to remember that President Reagan's success rested upon deep moral and philosophical principles and the ability to connect with people with love and respect. The coldness of former Presidents Bush and the condescension of Obama are not the way forward. We will need character, charisma, competence and cooperation in order to solve the serious issues confronting our nation.

Our problems require reversing the 80-year trend toward federal centralization and control of our daily lives. Actually following the intent of the our Founders and releasing more power to the states, local governments and individual citizens is the way forward. But saying this - even sincerely believing it- is one thing; implementing it is quite another. It is easy to say, "Reduce the size of government!" until thousands lose their federal jobs and millions are affected by a loss of federal funds. It is going to take careful thinking, bipartisan planning and real courage to turn the tide toward local responsibility.

We must get spending under control - including military spending. There is a great difference between weakening our security and finding ways to be more efficient. We must work to privatize public employee pensions - and hold the managers of such funds under greater ethical scrutiny. We must have immigration reform without capitulating either to racism or self-destruction of our citizenship process and the rule of law. We must reassert our uniqueness as a nation and refuse bow to any foreign governing authority or monarch, all while leading the world in peacemaking efforts. We must improve education - through local choices and control, not federal mandates.

Even Reagan failed to reduce the size of the federal government. Much to the consternation of conservatives, it was President "Slick Willy" Clinton, in cooperation with Newt Gingrich and company, that came the closest to a balanced budget (albeit during the boom) and helped four million folks get off welfare. There is no progress without cooperation, sacrifice and temporary traumas.

Republicans need to beware of false comfort and make sure that new power does not intoxicate them and reduce their sensibilities to govern wisely. Just ask Harry Reid and Nancy Pelosi how "easy" it is to govern when in power!

Democrats must not take false comfort in their ability to resist the will of the American majority, paralyze attempts at compromise and hope to come roaring back in 2012.

Both parties must work together on deficit spending, infrastructure needs, military strategy, decentralization and re-empowerment of the people, and rediscovering core values that all can agree on for a civil society.

True hope is found in moral and spiritual transformation, not elected officials. True hope is not a new government subsidy, but healthy choices that create a better future. True hope is not wishful thinking, but substantial confidence in God and the principles of liberty our Founders bequeathed to the world. True hope is not libertarian anarchy and narcissism; nor is it centralization and collectivism. True hope is unleashing individual initiative in an environment pf personal and social responsibility guided by the Golden Rule.

Regardless of the outcome of this election, all Americans must reject false comforts offered by power-hungry demagogues in both parties and choose the true hope found in faith, hope and love.

Saturday, September 18, 2010

Dissent and Liberty

It is fun to read bumper stickers. My travels take me to many locales across America, and I am intrigued by the language of these ubiquitous message boards.

From the Left - usually plastered on old Volvos or new hybrids - I read phrases such as, "Dissent is the purest form of freedom" and "subvert the dominant paradigm" and even the oxymoronic, "pro-child, pro-choice."

From the Right, there are numerous digs at our current President: "NObama" and "Impeach Now." There are also the standard 2nd Amendment symbols and even the humorous, "Buyer's Remorse?"

In addition to standard political fare, there are environmental, religious and social messages that festoon our autos. From Christian to Darwinian fishes, from "love your [Earth] Mother to "Jesus loves me and my tattoos" we enjoy getting attention with a snappy line.

All of these observations compel me to stop and thing deeply about our public language and the people that are shaping the current debates. America has a long history of acrimonious public debate and it would be categorically wrong to say that our current exchanges are worse than ever. What is different is the meaning of words and how perceptions can be shaped so quickly by a few visuals or a sentence or two.

Words like "dissent" and "freedom" and "liberty" are used by all parties to express their "rage at the machine" or frustration with "the elites" or fatigue concerning "business as usual." What is interesting about 2010 is that these terms are being used by people who heretofore have been quietly part of the American tapestry, patiently working, voting and hoping for a better future. I am speaking about most of the participants in the grassroots Tea Party movements. Much to the horror of the Established Left, these folks are claiming the right to speak their minds, actually hold elected officials accountable and even be a bit noisy (and properly nosey) in the process.

From the 1960s to the present, the Left has has claimed exclusive rights to certain words and phrases. "Freedom" means sexual experimentation, document theft (OK if it is from the Pentagon, but we will ban you from reading Obama's school records), flag-burning, anti-military protests, environmental sabotage and other expressions against "the machine." Ironically, the Left have failed to see that they are "the machine"in so many facets of public life! Consider
  • The stranglehold the Left has over the academic discourse at most universities and their utter disdain for dissenting opinions from well-educated women and men. When guests are verbally and violently forced off platforms at "free" places like Berkeley, there is something wrong. When a defender of Israel is caricatured as a "Nazi", we have reached the height of deconstructionist hubris and mental torpor.
  • The media monopoly of the networks and newspapers that this elite have enjoyed for years. With the advent of the Internet and Talk Radio, this "machine" is threatened and has to resort to shopworn rages against capitalism and unregulated communication. They will defend the late George Carlin's foul language, but they want to "balance" public debate. Sorry friends, but the First Amendment includes liberty for conservatives to speak.
  • The ownership of terms connected to "social justice." Oh my, this term has been the Left's hammer against the rapacity of capitalism, the evils of American imperialism and the need to levy higher taxes on the productive so that the dependent will keep voting for the candidates of "the people." For a half-century, the Left has claimed moral superiority because they want to forcibly redistribute wealth, alter the nature of how Americans read the Constitution and redefine what is "fair." They want "smart-growth" - a euphemism for social planning and control. They want "green" policies - good, but who regulates the regulators?
  • One final set of terms: "Global Climate Disruptions." Here we see another fabrication of manipulative language to keep Americans in a state of fear and coerce more tax dollars for pet causes. With the current science is turmoil over global "warming" the academic and financial elites whose livelihoods depend on propaganda have to find other ways to advance globalism. Ironically, no one on the Left criticizes Al Gore's personal fortune or lifestyle. No one exposes George Soros' amoral destruction of currencies. As long as certain rich folks own a hybrid and give to the right causes, all is forgiven. But woe to the CEO with a smokestack!
Tea Party participants are calling for
  • "Dissent" - this means confronting the awful administrative and budget processes of all elites in power, Democrat or Republican.
  • "Liberty" - this means less government intrusion into all aspects of public and private life.
  • "Accountability" - our elected officials are responsible for how they mange public funds and whether certain projects are needed.
  • "Borders" - this is not a call to vigilantism or xenophobia, just legal immigration and the end to violence.

Having defended the agitators from the Tea Party Movement, let me hasten to add that merely reacting to current policies and trying to reify some kind of nostalgia past will not do in the 21st century. The Right must demonstrate, in real deliverables and dollars:

  • How the "magic of the free market" is going to help the unemployed whose jobs are overseas because of multinationals looking at the bottom line.
  • How"'family values" will unleash compassion on the single mother who must cope with child rearing, work and the stigma of being abandoned.
  • How "pro-life" translates into policies that protect the unborn and prosecute the truly guilty, while holding parents accountable for their freely-chosen actions.
  • How "strong national defense" can also mean less wasted money for defense contractors, pay-offs for politicians and a leaner, more efficient military.
  • How "more local control" must translate into infrastructure rebuilding a private-public partnerships.
  • "How "equal opportunity" means a fair shake for those still affected by centuries of discrimination and structural rejections.

I commend the right of all Americans to dissent, to make their ideas known and to rigorously debate issues. I condemn, however, the gratuitous attacks of both sides - not one wins when we use terms like "tea bagging" of "femi-nazi." It may get attention and a chuckle, but it is a destructive diversion from real debate.

For my friends on the Left and the Right - you must want for others the liberties and opportunities you crave for yourself. The Left must make the case that "smart-growth" is not Big Brother creating an Orwellian system rules by an academic elite. The Right must demonstrate that free markets require ethical oversight and that personal responsibility but be balanced by community compassion.

Both sides of our political divide need to balance a budget and within this context argue passionately for particular priorities. When a millionaire "green" builder calls for an additional dollar-per-gallon gas tax so we can develop more public transit, he is taxing the working poor and still underfunding real research. Answers for long-term problems are almost always a "both-and" approach. For energy, let's judiciously drill domestically AND fund alternatives. Let's consider nuclear energy AND solar power. Simply yelling at each other and taxing current habits will not propel us forward!

Word matter and in an era where Truth is up for grabs, we need to be clear what we mean by any words we use. Integrity demands no less, and the future of our nation rests on creating a narrative that aligns with reality and maximizes the potential of each person.

Saturday, September 11, 2010

To My Children on 9-11

Today is the ninth anniversary oldest son's 18th birthday. As we were preparing to celebrate this milestone, multiple attacks stunned our nation and forever changed how we see September 11. There are so many images and words filling the media spaces that I wondered what I could add to the mix.

I dedicate this essay to my oldest son Michael, for whom 9-11 will always cast a shadow over his birthday. I dedicate this work as well to my other two adult children, Charlotte and Christopher, who, together with Michael, make my wife Kathleen and myself the proudest parents on earth. This essay is my letter to the emerging generation of adults who will need to redeem the messes that my generation have bequeathed to them.

My dear children,

On this auspicious day I want to thank you for bringing so much joy to your Mother and myself and offering so much good to a troubled world. All of you have authentic faith, passionate hope and a deep love for God and people. Your community service inspires us and many others.

I am sorry that our generation could not figure out how to avoid unnecessary wars and offer help to the poor compassionately and effectively. The proof of this is the debt we leave for you to manage. Please forgive us for not balancing our checkbook. Our idealism and avoidance of pain have placed you in shark-infested economic waters.

The attacks we remember on this day were not America's fault. There are millions of militant Muslims who believe in jihad in order to bring the entire world under an Islamic caliphate. If these attacks had occurred in Europe eighty years ago, there might have been some justification, given the colonialism that placed the former Ottoman Empire in the hands of England and France. But "9-11" was neither a right-wing conspiracy nor a legitimate defense of national or religious interests. It was terrorism of the worst kind, carried out by evil men.

You will have to navigate a tightrope between living with the liberties of a pluralistic society and exercising vigilance toward Islamicist leaders. Yes, your Muslim neighbor is most likely friendly, peaceable and a natural ally as you battle the hedonism and narcissism of a culture with theistic amnesia. At the same time, be aware of the difference between enjoying religious freedom (the genius of our First Amendment) and the increasing demands of some radicals for public accommodation of the specific religious practices.

It is my fervent prayer that you will get to see greater peace in the Middle East. But this will only come when Arab leaders stop their dissimulation and unequivocally acknowledge Israel's right to exist with secure borders and diplomatic and economic cooperation with a new Palestinian state.

Please keep the memory of the Holocaust alive as you learn and teach history, make movies and shape public culture. The events of 1933-1945, especially the systematic murder of millions, must not be normalized, placed in a category with other events, or allowed to fade into the mists of memory. The Shoah is proof that the most educated, scientific and "cultured" nations can lose all moral restraint when they abandon Judeo-Christian beliefs and morality and replace it with pseudo-scientific ideologies of Left or Right.

OK - there are some bright spots in all this darkness!

You will have access to global knowledge and, therefore, the opportunity to forge friendships and partnerships that cross all cultural lines. You will continue to befriend, marry and do business with people that your grandparents would never have met.

You will find cures for many cancers and (we pray) for AIDS. You will offer a healthier life for everyone willing to align their lives with sound habits. Your work ethic and common sense are much greater than ours, so I am confident that future budgets will be better and, if we do not self-destruct soon, we will see an improving economy.

You are a generation committed to justice and compassion and you will find new ways to help the needy and poor move from surviving to thriving.

Dear ones, this is not my last testament. My best days are ahead and I want to work with you to bring glory to God and good to others. Let's displace
  • Fear with faith
  • Hatred with love and mutual respect
  • Materialism with generosity
  • Hedonism with service
  • Narcissism with care for our neighbor
  • Daydreaming with vision
  • Propaganda with authentic, clear speech
  • Image with integrity
  • "Politically-correct" cliches with careful reasoning
  • Cowardice with courage
Together we can make a difference beginning today.

I love you, my children and thank you for walking onto the future with me.

Dad, Daddy, The Dad-Person, Father, Pater Familias or the Dadster

Wednesday, September 08, 2010

Clear Thoughts in a Cloudy World

A fringe, small-church pastor wants to burn the Muslim scriptures, the Qur'an. Burning the Qur'an benefits only extremists, and hinders the cause of dialogue and peace.

Palestinian leader Abbas' vision of a new state includes no Israeli political or security presence. On the surface, this sounds reasonable, until one realizes that neither Abbas nor any other Arab leader has given unconditional recognition of Israel's right to exist in secure borders. They also flatly refuse to have any shared capital in Jerusalem. Now is the time for all people of conscience to urge Israel to extend the freeze on new settlements in exchange for real progress and for Abbas to look for ways to agree on terms instead of excuses to exit the talks. Oh yes, and the current vision has no room for Jewish citizens either, unlike Israel, which gives full rights to its Arab citizens. By the way - in 1947 the U.N mandate gave 80% to a new Arab nation, today called Jordan. The other 20% was divided between Jewish and Arab Palestinians. Israel's original borders contained a majority Jewish population. In essence, Arabs were given 90% of the territory and still refused to live in peace. Notice that Israel has prospered while most nations around her are awash in poverty. The refugee camps are a deliberate strategy of the Arab states to keep hatred of Israel alive - so that radical Islam will not topple their regimes! Hamas, Islamic Jihad and the PA are all funded by the Saudis and others to make sure they keep the pressure on Israel and off of their benefactors.

The Ground Zero Mosque is not illegal; however, it is unwise and a deliberate flash point conceived by radicals to further their agenda. It is amazing that the Left will defend this construction while shrilly condemning any Jewish or Christian symbols and words in public space. The demonic alliance of the radical Left and militant Islam have one shared aim: the destruction of the Judeo-Christian underpinnings of the American life. Each of these subversive forces thinks they will win the battle for the public square once the old religious influences are gone. The tragedy of such thinking is that the removal of our lasting values will end in either religious or secular totalitarianism and the loss of liberties gained over hundreds of years.

Too much governmental control of the economy yields stasis and decline as creativity and wealth production yield to mind-numbing bureaucracy and zero-sum thinking. No ethical or regulatory oversight yields Love Canals, foul air, lakes and rives. We must encourage private initiative and public responsibility. We must protect profits and property rights while promoting community well-being and opportunity. Whenever taxes are low, government revenues increase. The Democrats refuse to see this simple math because they cannot imagine any restraints on spending. The Republicans have to demonstrate an intelligent understanding of what federal, local and state governments should do - and what prerogatives must be left to the people.

Historical ignorance is fueling folly in the public square. Freedom without morality and reverence becomes anarchy and eventual totalitarianism - hence Nazi Germany in 1933. Centralized control gives us Stalin, Mao and Pol Pot. Today's "liberal" foundations were yesterday's "robber barons." The problem is not that the rich should not give back. The deeper problem is that the compassionate, non-profit sector forgets where all the money comes from! At some point, wealth must be created. Risk and reward are vital to progress.

"Social justice" must include not only fair trade practices and public accountability - it must empower wealth creation and understand that there will be differences in income levels. I do not see Al Gore divesting himself of the more than $100M he has made since losing the 2000 election. George Soros may give to liberal causes, but his wealth comes at the expense of whole nations. Conversely, the Right has not articulated who should be the recipients of public generosity and how to help people in times of economic upheaval. It is not enough to say, "get a job" when there are no jobs. Jim Wallis of the Evangelical Left needs to realize that conservatives are not against fairness and generosity - they just think such values are best administrated locally and privately. Glen Beck needs to stop castigating those to promote social justice and demonstrate by his words and deeds creative ways to partner with folks outside the conservative bubble.

We can trim the federal budget and balance it within three years. Of course this means 10 new fighter jets instead of 15 and hammers that cost $20 instead of $900. It also means decentralizing all humanitarian aid and helping thousands of federal workers find jobs in the private sector. It means privatizing all political and public employee pensions. It means inviting ethical business execs to examine all levels of government and streamline the systems. It means that we cannot prosecute wars and have a welfare state. Europe is more generous with her public benefits because the USA has borne the major military costs for two generations.

The clouds are still in the sky, but I hope I have been clear. There are ways forward, but they are the "road[s] less traveled" and only faith, hope and love in large amounts will propel us forward.

Friday, August 27, 2010

An Alliance for Health and Life

AIDS activists are protesting the unsafe sex practices of Larry Flynt's pornographic films. They argue that the failure to show condom use will encourage dangerous practices that allow AIDS pathogens to spread.

Concurrent with these protests are feminist concerns about the dehumanizing and objectifying consequences of pornography for female dignity and equality. Some of these same groups are courageously protesting female mutilation.

For all kinds of reasons, we are also more aware of the appalling levels of child abuse and other forms of domestic violence. Just under the surface of some of the most conservative geographies is a cauldron of pain that is unspeakable. Social workers tell me that they are overwhelmed with their case loads and the depth of the challenges.

Pornography and promiscuity, violence against women, and families in crisis are causes we can all agree need attention. Solutions involve much more than money and programs - they involve a reordering of body and soul, a renewing of personal and community responsibility and rethinking how we can work together.

AIDS activists and feminists face serious moral and social challenges as they (rightly) lift their voices against self-destructive behaviors. Their problem is that you cannot have "safe" promiscuity. The half-century battle against traditional heterosexual (and married) monogamy has not brought liberation, but two generations of hurt, lonely and infected people who believed that "dating" meant sexual intimacy and "celibacy" equalled repression.

Rather than demean these activists, I want to suggest a new Alliance for Life. I invite all people of conscience and faith to join together to eliminate - not just by laws, but by disuse, marginalization, protest and positive partnerships - the scourges of pornography, promiscuity and violence. These are causes that Christians, Jews, Muslims, AIDS workers, feminists and all people of social concern can get behind.

We are not talking about violating First Amendment rights or barging into consenting adult bedrooms. In fact, we are moving way past legislation to something even more powerful - our American ethos of "life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness." The last fifty years have taught us a painful lesson that true happiness is not found in consumption, but in community. We have learned that self-indulgence needs to give way to service. Empirical studies abound affirming the physical and psychological blessings of fidelity in marriage and self-restraint in sexual behavior. The "me generation" has sown to the amoral wind and reaped the whirlwind of anarchy.

Our new Alliance for Life will aim to expose the lies of the purveyors of promiscuity and the perpetrators of violence. We will protest, refuse to consume such wares and call on all people to "seek the good of others more than their own." Oh yes, we will argue among ourselves concerning morality and religion, but we will find common cause against these clear evils and work for a safer, saner world.

Our new Alliance for Life will not excoriate Christians, Jews, Muslims and other religious traditions for affirming their stance of heterosexual monogamous marriage. Conversely, deeply religious folks will not try to impose a theocracy. Will will argue and debate civilly and passionately, living with deepest differences. We are allied for common goods that are clear.

Let's make celibacy and monogamy good again. Let's refuse to call female mutilation a "cultural" practice. Like the burning of widows in India, it is simply wrong. Domestic violence in all forms has no place in civil society.

Simplistic conservative and liberal solutions must give way to integrated solutions that bring everyone to the table, locally and globally. Yes, we do need to fund education and social services more - but make sure we are funding the real work on the ground and not a federal system that takes 3X dollars to provide 1X of services. We must also stress personal responsibility and the consequences of life-choices. While providing a compassionate landing for the hurting, we must also empower them with disciplines that will alter their destiny. Social enterprise from the private sector can be united with legal enforcement and service provision from non-profit sector to deliver real help.

Will you join this new Alliance? The membership fees are reasonable: unplug from all products connected with pornography. Make a friend across philosophical and religious lines. Find out what you can do locally to help the hurting. Mentor a child or young adult and help them inculcate values that will keep them safe and help them flourish. Make your voice heard against all forms of intolerance and violence.

Reality brings truth into focus and unleashes new possibilities. Let's go "back to the future" and find the bedrock upon which to build a better society.

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Ad Hominem Attacks: The Refuge of the Thoughtless

We live is a world of data points, sound bites (or bytes?), twitter updates and instant analysis. What is lacking is the rare combination of compassion and critical thinking, the love and respect we need if we are going to solve the global and local problems we confront.

In recent days I have been deeply disconcerted by the behavior of two Christians - one from the Left and one from the Right side of ideological spectrum. Jim Wallis is the leader of the Sojourners Fellowship and the author of God and Politics and other left-leaning critiques of American economics, culture and policy. Ann Coulter is a best-selling author whose blond hair and scathing jabs make her the object of great hatred on the Left.

Jim Wallis lashed out at Marvin Olasky, comparing him to Glenn Beck (the man "who lies for a living") and accusing Olasky of lying about a $200,000 contribution Wallis' group received from a George Soros group. When researchers unearthed proof of the donation, Wallis' representatives issued a bleak apology, citing how busy they were. We should expect better from one of Barak Obama's spiritual advisers.

Joseph Farah and others hosting a Tea Party event dropped Ann Coulter from the speaking menu when they found out she is speaking at a Republican group that advocates gay marriage and gays in the military. Instead of expressing regret and perhaps giving a trademark one-liner, Coulter goes on the attack in public and calls Farah and WorldNet Daily "fake Christians" and 'publicity whore[s]" who foolishly pursue the "birther thing" that "no conservative takes seriously." Ann, you have gone too far and your libel of fellow-conservatives is uncalled for, especially when unity is vital to winning upcoming elections and returning America to her roots.

Ad hominem arguments are the last resort of thoughtless people who, instead of arguing their points with class and precision, choose to attack the character of their opponent. Now character does matter and Jesus of Nazareth himself had choice words for the hypocritical and the proud. But most of the time, these specious attacks obscure our failure to confront the hard choices we must make.

Wallis and Coulter go to church. How can they receive the Eucharist with what is on their tongues? Is "love your enemies" only for a few saints, or does it contain the kernel of what can become an ability to love compassionately and argue critically?

I am deeply upset about our nation's course and there is almost no policy of this current government that I agree with. That does not give me license to hate or spew venom all over the web. I will make my case on principles, careful analysis and thoughtful reflection. I invite all thoughtful people to join with me and start a civil and passionate movement of hope.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Some Hot August Thoughts

Amidst the final days of a surreal summer and in anticipation of the election propaganda about to be unleashed, I offer the following observations for my thoughtful audience to contemplate:

It is easy to caricature and criticize, but difficult to think critically and act wisely.

In the absence of solutions, attack your opponents character and motives. It will veil your superficiality.

The world is changing daily while our educational and governmental enterprises are still stuck in decades-old systems.

The way forward for the global economy is unleashing wealth creation, not taxing the productive. This said, wealth creation without compassion and ethics is one more form of exploitation as dangerous as increased government bureaucracy.

Changing our politicians without moral and spiritual change in the populace at large is simply replacing one ruling elite with another.

St. Peter wanted to build a monument to an ecstatic experience; Jesus invites us to build people with faith, hope and love.

The "new atheists" recycle the old, unsuccessful arguments with better promotional material. The Preacher was right, "There is nothing new under the sun" - including attacks on faith.

When we make the exception the rule, there are no more rules. In the ensuing moral anarchy, the way is paved for dictatorship.

Failure to self-regulate allows others to run our lives.

When a Palestinian leader of repute stands and proclaims Israel's right to exist within reasonable borders, and with real exchange of commerce and diplomats, there is a chance for peace.

Do not ask people of deep faith to promote lifestyles contrary to their convictions. Conversely, the call to faith is an invitation, not a coercive calculation. We are freest when we defend for all others the rights we desire for ourselves.

No one wins with a mosque at the 9/11 site. Bitterness is amplified and religious tradition obscured by political agendas. A place for all to pray and remember is the only way forward.

Every leadership guru advises, "Begin with the end in mind." My challenge to the Left and the Right is simple: what is the 'end" you have in mind for the USA and the world? On the Left, is it some kind of Star Trek-inspired global federation ruled by a politically correct elite? On the Right, are you trying to bring back the good old days that never were?

Solving BIG problems begins with "small" acts of personal courage and kindness. Mother Teresa did not begin with grant money and media campaigns - one child at a time was rescued from the ash-heap.

We can improve our economy and rebuild our infrastructure with private-public partnerships. We need private initiative and profitable ends. We also need oversight for ethical and structural integrity.

If you journey around the globe, you will find a direct connection between the level of political freedom and the historical influence of Judeo-Christian values. Except for some movements in Indonesia and Turkey, no Muslim-dominated state has ever been a pluralistic democracy with complete freedom of conscience, religion and speech. Of course, it took about 1200 years for Christendom to cease its infighting as well.

The either/or fallacy rules too much thinking. Churches divide over musical and sermon styles instead of creating mosaics of the best of the past and future. We need head and heart. It is not freedom or oversight, but liberty with accountability.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Awakening and Revolution

America and France have a long love-hate relationship. French help was critical in our War of Independence. Many Americans were initially excited about the anti-monarchical tendencies of the nascent French Revolution in 1789. The implosion of the secular left and the rise of Napoleon cooled affections for awhile. America's help in WWI and WWII is appreciated and resented by French elites, who consider most Americans ignorant and too religious, while we Yankees shake our heads at the arrogance of a second-rate power that will be an Islamic state in less than half a century.

The American and French Revolutions of 1776 and 1789 share some similarities, but the difference is instructive concerning the nature of social transformation. Both nations wanted a new order of liberty and representative government, with more equality and opportunity. Both nations were suspicious of traditional monarchy and state religion. Both nations were impacted by the Enlightenment, an assortment of ideas and personalities ranging from common sense Scots to radical disciples of Rousseau and Voltaire. Both nations were on a mission to bring their enlightened visions to the rest of the world.

These similarities only underscore the key difference that makes all the difference, then and now. In 1685, Louis XIV, the autocratic "Sun King" who uttered, "L'etat ce moi" and "Apres moi, Le deluge" ("I am the state" and "After me, the deluge"), issued his famous Revocation of the Edict of Nantes. The original Edict, dating from 1598, ended more than 30 years of civil war by granting religious toleration to the Huguenots (Reformed Protestants) and protecting their properties and cities. This was not complete freedom to evangelize, but a significant step toward liberty.

Between 1598 and 1685, numerous Huguenots found positions of influence and leadership as artisans, bankers, merchants and prosperous middle-class farmers. Hundreds of thousands helped the nation thrive. This modicum of religious toleration created an environment for the free thinking of French intellectuals, both religious and anti-clerical. Even the Roman Catholic Church of France (always a bit independent of Rome) improved her apologetic skills as she had to be more competitive for the allegiance of some of the population.

All this changed in 1685. With the stoke of a pen, between 150,000 and 200,000 Huguenots fled France for refuge in England, Holland, the Americas and even South Africa. The economy suffered and there was no middle ground between the ancien regime of very traditional Catholicism and the rising elitist skepticism and outright anti-Christian perspectives. By the time the tinder box was lit in 1789, the way was paved for the tragedies of the guillotine and Napoleon.

In contrast, England and her colonies in North America were increasingly tolerant in matters of conscience and religion from the Glorious Revolution of 1688 to the Evangelical Awakenings of the mid-18th century. The variety of religious options, coupled with genuine inner renewal in the faith communities, created much different futures for England and the emerging American nation.

The "Great and General Awakening" in the Colonies from the late 1730s to the 1750s saw about one-eighth of the population experience some kind of conversion and renewal. Another important consequence was the birth of an Evangelical (Protestant) ethos that united communities across denominational and theological lines. One of the interesting sub-stories of this era is the wide divergence in style and theology among the leaders of the Awakening.

The Awakening also polarized religious communities. Not everyone identified with the "religious affections" that Jonathan Edwards eloquently defined. This said, the important sociopolitical consequences of the Awakening in the Colonies were 1) the birth of an American identity distinct from the Old World yet rooted in the liberties of English common law; and 2) a deep commitment for compassion and social change from many revived believers, including nascent abolition movements (John Woolman) and care for orphans. In one meeting, revivalist George Whitefield convinced freethinking Ben Franklin to empty his pockets for the orphans!

Even among those not directly impacted by religious fervor, a sense of personal reverence for God, responsibility for one's neighbor and a deep distrust of centralized institutions took root. When the conflicts with England arose during the 1760s, many radical leaders appealed to the past evidences of God's grace as affirmation of the justice of the Colonial cause.

Why does this matter in the post-Christian West of the 21st century? The answer is profoundly simple. Political revolutions, whether they are Left, Right or Center, without authentic moral and spiritual awakening in a critical mass of the populace, will simply displace one oligarchy with another. People who covet power do not care about principled policies or ideology - for them the masses are there to manipulate, whether it is an appeal to conservative or progressive ideas.

America 2010 is imploding. The current economic policies are bankrupting our future. Moral anarchy is rampant and compassionate and intelligent voices are drowned out amidst the noise of accusations from both extremes. We must have an authentic and holistic spiritual awakening or our Republic will be consigned to the ash-heap of history within one generation. Here are some facts that transcend simplistic ideology:

* Islam is not a democratic world-view and the aim of current leaders is not a land of pluralistic debate and liberty, but the gradual submission of all to a particular version of Islamic Law. I challenge all "moderate Muslims" to unequivocally affirm complete freedom of conscience and religion, regardless of what percentage of a population is Muslim. Please note that Islam has never produced a pluralistic republic in history.
* 21st century Christians of all traditions are not agitating for an undemocratic theocracy; in fact, it is Judeo-Christian values that set the table for the current freedoms we enjoy.
* Self-regulation, within a context of reverence for God and personal commitment to truth and virtue, is the best guarantee of liberty. The fact that we have a population expecting the federal government to solve all their problems is a tragedy of epic proportions.

The election of 2008 was a mini-revolution in the tradition of 1789 - contemptuous of traditional Christianity, radical in policy and destructive to our long-term future. Today's policies are so bad that some are willing gives up their freedoms for a government handout. The same mindset pervaded France in the 1790s, Russia in the 1920s and Germany as Hitler came to power.

Electing compassionate and intelligent conservatives in 2010 is a good start to reversing our current course, but it is inadequate to secure lasting change. We must have a Third Awakening that stirs religious commitment and stimulates social transformation. A rebirth of reverence and responsibility, local community action and real love for our neighbors - of all faiths or none - is our only hope.

Join me in praying for God to grace our land with holy love, humility, moral strength and sacrificial service. Then perhaps, in the Providence of the Almighty, we can see "a new birth of freedom" and aspire to the values of Washington and Lincoln.

Monday, July 19, 2010

Change Language, Change Reality

Recent Obama speeches in Egypt and China have hailed "freedom of worship" as an important universal right. At first glance, this seems to be a simple reiteration of the best in American social thought. I applaud the sentiments that champion freedom, but I am appalled at the subtle and subversive change in language from "freedom of religion" to "freedom of worship."

Our founders understood that freedom of religion/conscience is the first and most fundamental freedom of all. The U. S. Constitution and Bill of Rights were - and remain - unprecedented and unequalled in world history as charters of personal liberty. The federal (and by implication local and state) government does not exist to bestow rights, but to protect God-given (or Natural) liberties. America remains the only nation in the world with a complete "free market" in matters of faith and conscience.

"Worship" as defined by the current Administration is a narrowly-focused set of activities that are easily marginalized and privatized away from the public square. This new language conforms to Islamic thought where other monotheistic religions are "protected" - coded language for permitted as second-class (dhimmi) citizens. Obama-speak "worship" will permit gatherings for religious ceremonies, but allow the government to declare other public activities verboten if they are not is the interest of the "general welfare." One example of this is the arrest of peaceable Christian evangelists at an Arab cultural festival - in Michigan!

The Left for years has called upon the "people" to "speak truth to power" and "subvert the dominant paradigm." Well, now they are revealing their true colors in their intolerance of any dissent. As Tea Party activists expose their failed policies, the propaganda machines crank up their lies about the extremists and racists in the movement, conveniently ignoring the millions of hard-working citizens of every color and creed who oppose current policies. Collectivism destroys incentive and does not work. More government and more deficit spending will only destroy the prosperity of two centuries.

There are other language games being played by the magicians in power. They promised hope and change. They promised a post-partisan and post-racial era of good feelings. They promised reduced deficits. They promised exit strategies from "untenable" wars. Obama promised a "sharp pencil" look at every expenditure. The results? Utter failure on every count and the planned rapid destruction of what remains of free enterprise. Instead of a NASA promoting math and science in U.S. schools, the new Director sees his primary task as boosting the "self-esteem" of Islamic nations concerning their historical contributions to math and science. We have a State Department marginalizing the one democracy in the Middle East (Israel) while initiating new "outreaches" to the 57 nations living under the iron hand of Islam (none but Turkey are close to democratic).

I call upon all people of conscience to join me is an open process of decoding public rhetoric. Our enemies are not those who debate policies. There is room for rigorous public dialogue on the best ways to solve our problems. Our enemy is more nefarious. Our opponents are linguistic subversives who redefine terms that require a special class of interpreters! "Pro-Life" has become "against women." "Marriage" is now up for grabs. "The gender assigned at birth" is the new phrase for what any normal person would call "boy" or "girl." "Progressive" used to mean freedom with a social conscience - now it means control of the instruments of business.

Why does every politician need a spin doctor to interpret what she or he has just said? Our founders spoke unambiguously and laid the foundation for the greatest nation in history. Current leaders within the Beltway need to learn plain speech again and understand that ideas have consequences. People are not groups to be manipulated, but individuals made in God's image to be unleashed to their full potential.

There is still a window of time to change course - not back to Bush, but forward to our founder's best ideals. There is no time for nostalgia - we need renewal and responsible choices. Join me in not just reacting to the latest outrageous policies, but in actions that demonstrate our finest principles.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Needed: Character and Competence Not Color and Condemnation

When times are tough, people look for scapegoats. Today the Obama Administration leaders are lambasting the racist elements of the Tea Party Movement and encouraging African-Americans to be more "intense" in their demands for better health care, education and job opportunities. For an Administration billed as "post-racial" we are seeing familiar agitprop and a refusal to condemn the hate speech of racial radicals on the Left. The failure of Attorney General Holder to prosecute the New Black Panther leaders in Philadelphia for voter intimidation is only one example of the preferential politics of this "post-partisan" regime.

There is no place for racism or sexism in American life. Too many have shed blood, sweat and tears to bring us to the current moment of opportunity. Democrats and Republicans have their saints and sinners in our history of moving toward the ideals of our Constitution. When we are at our best, the words of Martin Luther King resound in our hearts, as we long for the day when all are judged by the content of their character and not by the color of their skin. Word like "cracker" and "nigger" should never flow from our lips. We can be proud of our ethnic heritage and enjoy the contributions of every culture to the living cathedral of the American community.

Our current crises are solvable, if women and men of character and competence keep the media out of the room, roll up their sleeves and get to work. We can create new private-public partnerships to repair our infrastructure, restore urban war zones and deliver services to the rural poor. Instead of posturing for attention and and lining our pockets with present and future kickbacks, civil and political leaders must exercise integrity and imagination and usher in a new, more humble and more creative era.

Black families are in crisis. The factors are many and structural; however, they are also moral and spiritual. Poverty and redlining are not the immediate causes of illegitimate babies and murder. Fathers must be held responsible for the children they sire. Ministers of religious communities must insist that reverence for God and respect for others are the only antidotes to the rage men and women feel. Educational leaders must step up, remove incompetent administrators and leaders and create a new environment for empowerment.

White America is also in dire straits. Some of the problems are better hidden, but they are just as serious. Narcissistic parents divorcing each other and dividing the loyalties of children cause a huge strain on the legal and social service systems. The rural poor are trapped in their own cycles of domestic violence, ignorance and hopelessness. Two generations of indulgence have produced men and women who grow up too fast in the wrong categories (sexual experimentation) and too slowly in the important ones (hard work and integrity).

"Brown" America struggles with the issue of illegal immigrants draining the economic and social resources of many localities and states. Hispanic leaders cannot pretend to be loyal to the USA and pander to the La Raza crowds. While the Left-leaning African-American and Hispanic groups share a jaded vision of past and future, the majority of folks in their communities just what a safe world for the children to flourish. We need men and women of courage to help us create legal pathways to citizenship and not just amnesty and cheap labor/votes.

We need character and competence, not emotional appeals to color. We have shared challenges and dreams that require more than tolerance - they require love and respect that are the keys to the transformational synergy our nation and world needs. We have structural issues that transcend color-coded politics:

Public employee pension funds must be overhauled. Sloganeering will not preserve jobs or services.

Politicians must have the same health and retirement benefits as the private sector. This is the fastest pathway to real reform and the unleashing of creativity in the public square.

Balanced budgets are no longer optional. If we need more money, we streamline or raise revenues openly. The California Legislature cannot account for billions of misappropriated dollars, scores of commissions and unspeakable waste of the taxpayers' money.

We cannot have a war economy and welfare state at the same time. Our troops need to destroy terrorist locales, protect allied interests and rapidly train host nations' personnel. We must stop being an occupying force in Muslim lands and bring our brave women and men home. We do need excellent technology and we must care for troops and veterans; however, we can do these effectively without the corporate and political largess that misuses our tax dollars.

Government regulation of private industry is needed to ensure ethical standards. Government administration of the same is the quickest road to disaster. Seventy years of USSR-led economic experiments should teach us something about the dangers of bureaucratic collectivism.

I call upon conservatives and progressives, accountants and agitators, engineers, ethics professors and all people of conscience to unite in dialogue that leads to action. There are dangers to real success: We must let go of anger and show compassion. As we solve homelessness, some "advocates" will need to find a private job. Capitalists will have to be accountable to more that their leading shareholders. Read and Yellow, Black and White - we are all precious in His sight. Precious...and accountable for how we live.

Wednesday, June 30, 2010

History and Hope: Celebrating America

For seven years I have commented on current events, waxed philosophical about creative and disturbing trends and tried to be a faithful "messenger to the thoughtful." As we celebrate America's 234th birthday, we are watching the erosion of ideals and institutions that have held our experiment in liberty together. I will continue to try to move the conversation from anger to action, from subjective feelings to principled thinking and from collectivist control to personal freedom.

Today, however, let's take a moment to celebrate. Historical reflection is not mind-numbing nostalgia. Looking back can help us look ahead. Seeing the depravity and dignity of previous generations can inspire and warn us about our own. Here are some reasons to light the sparklers and ignite the fireworks over the ocean.

We still live is the freest land in the world, with open space and opportunities found nowhere else.

We are a generous people, who, in spite of our own environmental challenges, lead the world in care for other nations.

We are still living in the shadow of the Greatest Generation who spent their teen and young adult years battling the Great Depression, storming the Normandy beaches and surviving the Bataan Death March. This generation witnessed the Holocaust and Hiroshima and still built the most prosperous land in history, marched for civil and voting rights and bequeathed a belief in the future.

We are the land of Lincoln. We are capable of repentance and transformation, of challenging injustice and changing structures when needed.

We are the land of Washington. We know intuitively that a free people must be reverent and virtuous, humble and sacrificial, ready to serve posterity over their personal passions.

We are the land of Christian and Enlightened thinkers who pioneered total freedom of conscience and created a context for people of all faiths or none to live peaceably with their deepest differences.

We are also the land of William Jennings Bryan and Dorothy Day. One was a progressive Democratic candidate for President three times and a fundamentalist Christian (who says traditional faith and social conscience cannot be woven together?). The other was a Catholic lay leader who spent her lifetime working for the poor and laboring populations and refusing to accept the economic or social status quo.

We are the land of Rabbi Abraham Heschel and the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King. They marched together for Civil Rights and left speeches and writings that remain as fresh as they day they were uttered or written.

We are the land of The Williamsburg Charter, a celebration of two centuries of freedom of conscience. This Charter is signed by Coretta Scott King and Phyllis Schafly. Elie Weisel and Norman Lear's signatures are next to bishops, intellectuals, politicians and business leaders who all know that religious liberty is the first freedom.

We are the land that represents hope for a world where liberty is unknown and violence plagues people of faith and justice.

Yes, i could comment on the legacy of slavery, our continental conquests and our many mistakes. But today we need to thank God for our land, humbly beseech His mercy for our many failures, leave our computers and go eat with our neighbors and serve those who cannot return the favor.

"America is great because she is good." May we live up to the praises of Alexis de Tocqueville, circa 1831. We have reason to celebrate and in our rejoicing reconsecrate ourselves to our Founder's vision.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

The Genius of the First Amendment

Freedom is fragile. Throughout history, most people have lived in cultures or under regimes where blood, religion and soil have determined beliefs and behavior with no room for dissent. In the past 500 years, Judeo-Christian and Enlightenment affirmations of full liberty of conscience, private property and personal virtue have brought enormous good to the world.

As the US Constitution was framed and ratified in 1787, our Founders added ten amendments to ensure its passage and explicitly enumerate critical personal rights and political boundaries. Whether it is the right to bear arms, a trial by jury or the freedom to assemble, speak and petition the government, Americans have enjoyed liberty without parallel or precedent for more than 200 years. Sometimes those freedoms chafe our sense of justice as criminals, "take the 5th." Sometimes free speech is interpreted so broadly that millions are offended by blasphemous and immoral images and language. But most Americans - and most who have followed our lead around the world - feel the risks are the price we pay for liberty.

The first and greatest freedom is enshrined in the first sixteen words of the First Amendment: "Congress shall make no law respecting the establishment of religion or restricting the free exercise thereof." This clause, along with the Constitutional declaration that there shall be no religious test for public office, constitutes the greatest experiment in freedom in history. For the first time, differences about the most important matters of the human soul are left to the individual and not determined by the state. No state church. People of all faiths or none can live with their deepest differences without fear. Religious communities are protected and welcomed, but they must compete in a free market of ideas and their future rests on their vitality, not state coercion or subsidies.

Over the years, this freedom has been tested by bigoted and intolerant people. Anti-Catholic and anti-Jewish sentiments permeate much of our history. Atheists and believers passionately present their causes, each claiming to have the best evidence. In the past half-century, secular elites have created a new sport with their anti-Christian screeds, like Bill Maher's failed movie and the constant attempts of the ACLU to eliminate religious expressions from the public square. Most Americans are appalled at intolerance and are willing to live with diversity.

Recent events in Dearborn, Michigan reveal the ugly side of intolerant Islam. They unveil an unprecedented threat to our future liberties. Christians were arrested for engaging in peaceful conversations about religion at an Arab festival. They were not blocking foot traffic, hurling insults, picketing or even accosting pedestrians like the brochure distributors in Las Vegas or New York. They were shouted down, accused of causing trouble and carried away in handcuffs. Amidst Islamic shouts, peaceful US citizens were denied their First Amendment rights.

Militant Islam has no place in its ethos for real liberty. There are progressive/liberal traditions of freedom and tolerance in Islamic history, but these have always been drowned out by voices committed to establishing a universal caliphate. One looks in vain around the globe for any Muslim-dominated country that offers full religious freedom - including the liberty to convert to another faith or leave the traditional community without fear of a fatwa.

I challenge Islamic leaders to affirm the First Amendment without qualification and to assert that complete freedom of conscience is a moral and political good. Without these assurances, tensions will only rise. It is not only Christians who are threatened by the assumptive language and sectarian demands of militants - all lovers of freedom are imperiled by intolerance. Some of my atheist friends feel persecuted by what they perceive to be a Christian-saturated culture. Several Christian friends I know feel persecuted for upholding their beliefs and values. To both groups I say beware of the real threat - a perverted interpretation of a religion with no history of anything approaching democracy.

If progressive Muslims will show courage, they will find allies with all people of conscience. The secular Left must step up and criticize some of the barbaric practices of the extremists and stop living in guilt for the colonial past. The Right must reach out and appeal to all people who affirm their core values. Most of all, Americans of all persuasions need to learn their history and rediscover the powerful principled freedoms bequeathed by our Founders.

There is no freedom without virtue and no virtue without absolute morality rooted in transcendent truth. We must recover these timeless principles or America will find herself in the clutches of religious or secular tyranny.

Friday, June 18, 2010

Action Report 3: Peace is Possible

Today at Acton I attended a lecture by Mustafa Akyol, a writer for the the Turkish Daily News and author of the forthcoming book, The Islamic Case for Freedom. He represents the most hopeful thinking I have heard from Muslims who seek to live peacefully alongside people of all faiths or none. Akyol uncovered some important historical sources of progressive Islamic thought, from the seventh to the twentieth centuries. There are multiple voices of pluralistic and tolerant thought that have been silenced by radicals throughout the centuries. He and I did not agree on every issue, but I have found a real partner for peace, a Muslim who does not want Jews and Christians in dhimmitude and rejects all forms of coercion in matters of religion.

THE issue for peace in the 21st century is creating a world where two missionary religions can live with their deepest differences, fervently carry out their missionary work and affirm rights for others that they want for themselves. Along with Imam Tahir Anwar in San Jose, CA (who I am honored to dialogue with at Apple Computer's Interfaith Panel twice a year), Akyol is a devout Muslim who respects the genius of political liberty in the US Constitution and affirms the importance of entrepreneurship and free market economies. We both agree that a free society is a virtuous society and that the way forward for the Islamic world is not Wahhabi Islamicism, but an embrace of freedom of conscience and opportunity.

Mr. Akyol shows great courage speaking in a devout Christian setting and graciously responding to the critiques and questions which are essential to understanding. A priest from Nigeria, whose parish is under siege by radical Muslims (hundreds of Christians have been killed this year as terrorists seek to impose their perverted version of Sharia Law), challenged Akoyl and all moderate-progressive Muslims to help him find a way to stop the violence. There are no easy answers as the call to "love your enemies and do good to those who persecute you" is heard in the context of wanton violence.

Peace will take courage, dialogue, economic partnerships and small steps of establishing trust. Today was a good day to hope that out of the current turmoil, trust can flourish.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Only at Action: Day 2

Today at the Action Institute I attended excellent presentations on a range of topics, from evangelical environmental and social ethics to the challenges of globalization and the need for ethical entrepreneurship as one key to liberating persons from poverty. The insights and principles were important and well-stated and I will be using this knowledge immediately in classes and communication.

What made today even more interesting was the amazing variety of people I conversed with, all of whom share a passion for integrating Christian faith with economic freedom and social justice. In the last 24 hours, I have met:

A Bolivian teacher and writer who is a devout Catholic with a deep respect for Evangelical and Pentecostal Christians. He loves God, his Church and is writing on some of the recent works of Pope Benedict. We had a delightful dinner conversation and the future of Bolivia is brighter because of his presence.

An Italian graduate student in philosophy who is passionate about clear thinking , virtuous living and seeing people use their God-given reason to create new solutions for current challenges.

A business owner who (actually) manufactures his products in Kansas. He is enthusiastic about seeing his work as a mission and service to the world.

A high-tech entrepreneur who was a member of the Swiss Guard protecting Pope John Paul II. His presentation and Acton's new initiative, "Poverty Cure," offer concrete solutions to world poverty. Prosperous nations have poured more than $2 trillion into the developing nations since WWII, with little long-term success.

An American Protestant seminary professor who is writing on ethics and global business and mentoring one of my former students.

A woman pioneering a new private school.

Leaders and thinkers from Anglican, Baptist, Congregational,Eastern Orthodox, Lutheran, Reformed, Pentecostal and Roman Catholic and non-denominational traditions.

I have met Black Republicans, Latina conservatives, Anglo semi-libertarians, Asian business leaders and Canadian scholars. No one is a slave to any extreme ideology or party politics. All these leaders were of one voice on the issues of honoring life from conception to coronation and preserving and enhancing traditional marriage. There is a remarkable absence of cliches. Instead, everyone is rolling up their sleeves and anxious to imagine and implement principled solutions to our economic, political and spiritual challenges.

In addition to this mosaic of personalities, I overheard intelligent conversations about faith and freedom and the utter necessity of virtue for a democratic society. Everyone is respectful of our national leaders, but the overall consensus is that our current crises stem from a combination of bad decisions, greed, governmental ineptitude and the spiritual poverty of our age.

As the dinner ended, our keynote speaker, C. William Pollard, former CEO of ServiceMaster, spoke on the "Awesome Responsibility of Leadership." His address was timeless and timely, full of enduring ideas and up-to-date insights from the front lines. One compelling notion for all Christian leaders to remember is that God expects a return on His investment in us. This return is not just about generating monetary wealth, but the ways we improved the lives of the people we led and loved.

I am a richer and wiser man, made better by "pursuing truth in the company of friends."

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

24 Hours at Acton

This week I have the honor of being a Kern Foundation Fellow attending a special conference at the Acton Institute/University in Grand Rapids, Michigan. The focus is the integration of Christian faith and leadership in economic, political and social arenas. All too often there is a disconnect between Sunday's religious experiences and the pressures of commerce and community Monday through Saturday.

In the first episode of the first year of the television series 24, lead character Jack Bauer said that,"Today is the longest day of my life." And for the next several years we were kept on the edge of our seats by the plots twists, layers of conspiracies and Jack Bauer's moral and relational challenges in pursuit of justice. Whether you liked this show or not, it compressed time and made all devotees wonder how much activity can be crammed into one day.

In comparison, I can say that the past 24 hours at Acton have been among the most inspirational and intense in my life of learning. From Father Sirico's memorable stories of 1950s Brooklyn life to Immaculee Iligagiza's riveting testimony of courage and forgiveness in Rwanda, I have been subject to the finest thinking on faith and society. I have met leaders in all fields from over 20 states and as many nations, from Albania to Ecuador and from Alaska to Turkey. All of us are committed to our faith and to human flourishing. Whether, Catholic, Orthodox or Protestant, participants share a deep loyalty to excellence, integrity and eternal values.

My personal motto is "Think deeply and act decisively." Acton is proof that deep thinking and decisive action are connected and crucial to the future of our planet. It is refreshing to hear intellectual giants affirm that government exists to protect God-given rights, not bestow them. It is exciting to see compassionate leaders dedicated to helping the poor affirm that free markets are the most empowering way forward, not bureaucrat-controlled enterprises. Economics is more than tax policy - it is the delightful art and science of creating wealth, serving human need and expressing our calling to create, discover and manage the wonders of the world.

In every conversation, discussion and lecture, the foundations of faith and virtue are affirmed as the essential conditions of true freedom. Freedom is not a license for anarchy and self-indulgence. Real freedom is the opportunity to realize our full destiny in the context of bringing glory to God and good to others. It is enlightening to see the rich Judeo-Christian heritage brought into focus, along with the deficiencies of the various 18th and 19th century philosophies that spawned the secular, totalitarian experiments of the 20th century, with countless dead in the name of party, race or soil.

Father Sirico's memories of Brooklyn unveil the common values held by diverse families on one block of an American city. His neighbors includes Irish and Italian immigrants, Catholics and Protestants and the "Mayor" of the block, Mrs. Rabbinowitz. Mrs. Rabbinowitz was a 70-something Jewish lady who sat on the front porch and heard and saw everything. With a single sentence she could still the course language of a dozen boys arguing over a stick ball base runner. How was this possible? How could people from very different cultures all get along? How could the voice of one old woman, threatening to tell one boy's parents of his verbal transgression, calm a crowd of adolescents? The answer is profoundly simple. All the families shared tacit values, regardless of ethnicity or religion. There was a civil center of virtue that was the glue of the community. Hard work,respect for authority, reverence for God and truth-telling were obligations, not options.

Immaculee Ilibagiza spent 91 days with seven other people hiding in a bathroom to escape the genocidal machetes in 1994 Rwanda. Today her home has been rebuilt and it is a center of forgiveness, healing and piety in her town. She has privately and publicly forgiven the man who murdered members of her family. She found in Christ and prayer the courage to choose faith, hope and love over doubt, despair and revenge. Hearing her story places all my "suffering" in perspective. My life has not always been easy, but my tribulations pale in comparison to sisters and brothers in Nazi Germany, Stalin's USSR, Mao's China, Pol Pot's Cambodia, the horrors of Rwanda and Darfur and the millions enslaved for sex or work.

24 hours of compelling testimony, insightful instruction and encouragement from new friends inspires me to greater courage and service. Stay tuned for Day Two.

Friday, June 11, 2010

Issues We Must Not Ignore

In recent dialogues with social activists, I am noting a disturbing trend among those who identify themselves as Christians and 'post-conservatives." There is a visceral fear among many devout people at being identified with the Right. This disdain for conservatism leads them to take positions they claim are compassionate and nuanced, while in fact they are violations of their deepest moral principles. My concern is that these well-meaning folks are being usurped by the Left as they react to the Right.

I see this confused compassion in the phrase, "We need to get beyond abortion and gay marriage and focus on more important things, like justice for the poor and environmental concerns." The confusion is also exposed in how the current Middle East crisis is interpreted. These compassionate post-conservatives are playing into the eliminationist anti-Semitism of radical Islam and secular Europe with their calls to punish Israel for defending herself. The same United Nations that voted for partition and the creation of a Jewish homeland in 1947 has spent the last 60 years condemning every attempt of Israel to protect herself from destruction.

We cannot ignore these three fundamental issues. There are intelligent ways to navigate toward solutions that are equitable for all and compatible with biblical faith.

Abortion is the destruction of life. In some cases it happens naturally, as in a miscarriage. In cases of the mother's life in danger, it may be a tragic moral choice, hard but necessary. The consequences of rape and incest (non-voluntary intercourse) do not have to include abortion, however, we must have compassion for the women involved who are recovering from trauma. But abortion as birth control, abortion as the removal of an inconvenience is not morally right. When people scream, "a woman's right to choose" they are forgetting about 1) the baby inside the womb (called a fetus if not wanted and a baby if desired!); 2) the father of the child; and 3) the potential for adoption.

The way forward is to nurture a culture of life that welcomes children, provides for single parents, opens doors for adoption, and protects the vulnerable while reminding us that we are not the Almighty. The same people who bemoan the forced sterilization of thousands of mentally-challenged people and particular racial and social groups from the 1890s to 1960s are forgetting that Planned Parenthood's founder was a eugenics devotee who wanted to make sure that certain classes of people did not breed! These same folks support cloning, designer babies and all kinds of "scientific" progress with no moral absolutes to guide the process.

Gay Marriage is an oxymoron. GLBT people are individuals deserving all the benefits and protections of civil society. They should be free from fear, undisturbed in private adult activity and able to form voluntary associations. But marriage, by all definitions throughout history, is a social and spiritual compact between a man and a woman that ensures the future of the family, clan, tribe, community and civilization.

The way forward includes domestic partnerships and civil unions that protect the rights of the people involved, but are not in the category of marriage. When a California legislator told a clergyman, "Give us gay marriage and we will give you a religious exemption so you don't have to perform the weddings" a sociopolitical tipping point arrived. The idea that government is now bestowing rights to religious communities instead of protecting them is a complete reversal of our Founder's vision and a total violation of our freedom of conscience.

Clergy who preach against homosexual practice must not be persecuted for hate speech. It is interesting that the far Left says nothing about the oppression of gays and women in Islamic nations while pouring vitriol on Catholic or Evangelical advocates of biblical morality. It is the Judeo-Christina ethos of freedom and tolerance, developed (sometimes haltingly, with many advances and reversals if we are honest) over that last half-millennium, that created the right to criticize. It must be noted that opponents of gay marriage and homosexual practice are NOT judging the soul or ignoring the complexities of why people feel the way they do. Biblical advocates also reject gossip and greed, extramarital heterosexual activity and other attitudes and practices destructive to relationships and spiritual vitality.

The mere presence of the state of Israel is unacceptable to the majority of Arabs and Muslims. Israel has valiantly fought off her enemies for 60 years and come to the peace table numerous times ready to end the conflicts. Nobel Peace Prizes have been (presumptively) awarded for these efforts. But in every case, militant Islamicists have subverted the process. Has Israel overreacted at times? Yes. The disaster in Lebanon in 1982 is a stain on Israel's history just as Wounded Knee troubles the American conscience. This said, Israel is the only democracy in the region, has Arab citizens and religious freedom and over and over again demonstrates her willingness to negotiate directly for peace.

The Muslim world needs to show courage and toleration and advocate two things: 1) the legitimacy of Israel's existence in secure borders and as a partner for prosperity; and 2) the ending of terrorism that kills civilians and continues the cycle of violence. A new Sadat needs to emerge who will face down Al-Queda, Hamas, Hezbollah and the Taliban and offer friendship.

Environmental sensitivity and compassion for the poor are possible without capitulating to statist socialism. We can create wealth and manage the environment. We can have private-public partnerships. We can hold capitalists accountable and streamline necessary government services. We can agitate for workers while affirming the right of owners to make a profit. We can deliver health care locally and regionally without a centralized Leviathan rationing services and providing jobs for folks with no other skills.

I urge all Christians and other friends of freedom, from all faiths or none, to keep arguing about solutions that actually work without sacrificing the virtue-based liberties that cost our Founders their "lives, fortunes and sacred honor." Ideologies of Right and Left are the enemies of good morality and theology. Atheist and fundamentalist can live as neighbors and build a better world. Jew and Muslim can be friends, civilly debating while partnering for better schools and peaceful neighborhoods.

We cannot ignore or "get past" crucial issues. We can, however, forge solutions that make our world better. Will you join me in the debate and sacrifice necessary for a better future?