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.

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