Monday, December 05, 2011

Seventy Years Ago: A Tribute to WWII Veterans

December 7, 1941 - "a day that will live in infamy..." President Roosevelt's famous words launched America's participation in a war that would claim millions of lives, reshape empires and usher in the nuclear age. On December 11, Hitler declared war on the USA, even though Roosevelt did not include Germany in the December 8th address to Congress. America was now allied with Great Britain and the Soviet Union in war that spanned every time zone and engulfed scores of nations.

Advent is a fitting time to give thanks to God for the gift of the Christ and the message of love and peace Jesus brings to the world. It is also an appropriate moment to thank the surviving WWII veterans for their service. There are fewer representatives of this "Greatest Generation" with us with each passing day. I was sad to hear the Pearl Harbor events are now scaled back - there are too few survivors left to sustain larger commemorations.

In thanking these veterans we are not glorifying war or nostalgically trying to reify some mythic past. There is nothing "good" about war. It is a sign of human sin and failure, a reminder of our rebellion against love and truth and our deep capacity for violence. The only good that comes out of war is the defeat of powers that would enslave humankind. Good is also found in the innumerable acts of bravery and kindness that take place in the midst of the night and fog of battle. Yes, it was good that Imperial Japan and Nazi Germany were defeated. In order to achieve this, many men and women risked life and limb for years and returned home with emotional and physical scars. Most of these veterans sublimated the hurts and set about building the greatest era of economic prosperity in world history. Some returned to battle just years later, fighting an awful war of attrition in Korea.

December 7 is a day to remember courage, sacrifice and a generation that bequeathed liberty to much of the world. Alas, we have squandered much of this heritage. Perhaps in this moment of reflection we can remember those virtues that built our prosperity: hard work, thinking of others more than ourselves and partnering with others to confront challenges. I think our "public servants" in both parties can learn from our vets. A little more sacrifice (instead of another vacation, Mr. President), a lot more cooperation (are you listening Mr. Reid and Mr. Boehner?) and a renewal of concern for the future instead of our immediate comfort are the best ways we can say, "thank you" to our veterans - and "bless you" to future generations.

Let's express appreciation to our veterans and allow the spirit of Advent to foster consideration of our deepest virtues. Perhaps 2011 will mark the advent of a new era of cooperation and service, with reverence for God and respect for our neighbors creating joyful communities.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Thankful, 2011

Halloween is over and the Christmas crush has started. A full year before an election and we are already saturated with political news. The globe is cooling...or warming - it all depends on who you read. Is solar energy a farce or our future? I hope it is the latter. Stay tuned for more bailout buzz as your public servants make fools of themselves. In the Theater of the Surreal, "devout" Roman Catholic and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi excoriates Roman Catholic bishops for having "that conscience thing" concerning funding abortions and birth control contrary to church teaching. Ms. Nancy, just be honest and find another church. Our President declares that the concerns of the Occupy Wall Street protesters are the reason he became President - as he jets off to another round of fund-raisers with his special "1%" friends. Meanwhile, Republicans seem to take tired old Newt Gingrich seriously, in spite of multiple character and political compromises. Perhaps it is all a case of ABO - Anybody But Obama - infecting the process.

But today I am thankful. Not for the nonsense mentioned above, but for the real blessings bestowed by God on our nation and planet. The Thanksgiving Holiday is the least sullied, least commercialized day off remaining on the calendar. It is a simple moment: we return thanks to God for all the blessings, take time with family and friends, look for ways to serve the less fortunate and tuck into a good meal. We pause to consider that all we need for sustainable, prosperous living is within reach, if we will be creative, ethical and generous. This week I return thanks for hot water to bathe in, food and water that is healthy, and work that is meaningful. I embrace family and friends and pray that I can be a friend to another who is lonely.

A few days ago I went to the YMCA to exercise. In the gym I saw a dad and his son playing basketball. The little guy was good and reminded me of another "fiery humanist and repressed basketball star (too short)" at his age. The quote about me from my father's description in his 25th Anniversary Harvard Alumni Journal. What was wonderful was the affection of the Dad and the joy of the little boy as they shot hoops and joked together. For a brief moment, all was right: a parent enjoying his role, a child cared for and laughing and a community center supporting these healthy activities.

I am thankful to God. I am grateful for Kathy and 31 years of loving marriage. I am overtaken with joy when I think of each of my adult children. They are not exempt from challenges, but they are full of faith and making their way forward, all the while thinking of others. I am grateful for churches to worship in, students to mentor and teach, colleagues to grow with, audiences to encourage and facebook friends opening vistas of humor and wisdom. I am thankful for health and humbled by friends who return thanks while severely ill. I am glad for life, and join with others in mourning the loss of family members. We laugh through the tears, hug each other and keep walking by faith.

I am thankful that I can make a difference through my prayers, words and works. I am grateful that I can think out loud without fear of imprisonment - something denied to billions on our beautiful sphere. And, despite all the hot air, I am glad I can go to a polling location and cast my ballot.

I am thankful and encourage all who read this to pause and praise in the midst of pressurized lives.

Wednesday, November 09, 2011

Forging a Better Future

The global community is awakening from her slumber and discovering that the public troughs are empty. They are not just empty - they cannot be replenished without significant sacrifices. From The USA to Europe, austerity is the rule of the day. How we arrived at this point is well-known. All political parties and public officials, along with a variety of interest groups, from banks to unions, have created pathways and policies that now collide and place us on the edge of chaos. A fundamental lack of self-regulation created the conditions for over-regulation by government. All this manifests in bloated bureaucracies and outdated systems.

When people cease self-regulating, anarchy ensues, creating the conditions for hard or soft totalitarianism. In the USA we are at a tipping point of public dependence on public funds. In the midst of the Occupy Wall Street's shrill cries for fairness, we can forget that wealth must be created through (ethical) enterprise and that "government money" is actually our money that is poorly administrated.

Our crisis is much more than economic. The fact that so many people even give a thought to the sham marriage of a narcissistic celebrity while millions suffer privation and our public institutions of ethical cohesion implode is a sure sign that we must find a new way forward. We are in a moment of moral turpitude, spiritual vacuousness and social fragmentation. We know more about social network friends than our neighbors and we mistake soundbites for information and Internet rumors for insight.

What is our way forward? Are we doomed to further decline into nihilism followed by religious or secular totalitarianism? How can we push a "reset" button that will bring change that helps the global community as well as our nation? I offer these thoughts as a place to start.

First, let's decide that it is unacceptable for billions to live in abject poverty. The answer to global poverty is not more UN aid programs. The answer is unleashing the creative powers of entrepreneurship, establishing democratic processes, fostering religious freedom and extending generosity. From fair trade efforts to development initiatives that provide water, health care and education, we can see fundamental change. An Imam from Silicon Valley admitted that there was enough money in the global Muslim community for every member to be cared for, with much left over to show kindness to others! Americans of all faiths or none are a generous lot, but an increase of just five percent in resources for service to developing nations will transform the daily lives of millions. We can unite around a better future for the next generation.

Second, let's live up to our highest ideals instead of making excuses for immoral and unethical decisions. Personal integrity and caring more about the good of others will nurture our souls far more than private ecstasy or other forms of self-indulgence. This Christmas, let's make another family happy as well as our own. I am not suggesting we should deprive ourselves of fun; in fact, when we think of others, life is more delightful as we devise ways to work more efficiently, serve more effectively and play more inclusively.

Thirdly, let's demand that our elected officials privatize their pensions, live within their means, operate more efficiently and demonstrate accountability instead of accommodation to lobbyists. From our President down to City Hall, we can expect better...and we need to wake up and recognize that we voted for these folks! Democrats and Republicans, Greens and Libertarians all need to consider the long-term consequences of their actions.

Finally (at least for this essay), let's stop deceiving ourselves about the real situations we face. Radical Islam is a real threat to liberty and the enemies of Israel are also aiming for the USA. We cannot be a warfare and welfare state. Teachers cannot teach students who come to school poorly parented and unready to learn. If we are going to have children, we have to care for them. We must also end our current pathologies of abortion on demand and consider adoption if fertility issues arise. We need borders that are real and immigration laws that are fair. We need to end the current IRS and create a truly fair tax system. Even with religious tensions, it is still better to have complete freedom of conscience and faith and argue with civility than to erase public religious influence or impose a theocracy. We do want the highest values of faith to influence how people live. We must also defend the right of others to disagree and declare their opinions without fear.

We can forge a better future as we live out our faith, unleash creativity and local economies, refuse to give in to intolerance and choose hope instead of fear.

Friday, October 14, 2011

Some Good News

We are just a year away from the 2012 elections. The economy is a mess, our "outreach" to radical Islamicists is a failure and our current President - the least transparent in US history - is losing popularity daily. Republicans still struggle to find a unifying leader who will galvanize the base and appeal to non-partisan, thoughtful people. The EU is struggling, China is gobbling up all the oil they can and from Wall Street to the Wailing Wall the Jews are once again being blamed for the world's ills. What looked like a populist call for accountability has degenerated into left-over Marxists mini-mobs of a few score folks with nothing better to do. The Left can't even agree on authentic "blackness" with their half-African-American President losing credibility and a 100% African American gaining popularity from the right. Why is it that every conservative Black is an "Uncle Tom" ( labeled and libeled by folks who have never read the original Harriet Beecher Stowe novel) while every Marxist agitator is "progressive'?

Where is the good news in all of this? What is heartening is the reawakening of the true American ethos by people on both sides of the political aisle. Clear-minded folks are discovering that we need to create wealth in the private sector if we are going to have any public largess. A solid work ethic coupled with public fiscal restraint, is the only pathway forward. Our federal government is incapable of creating jobs directly - it must regulate, not administrate. Government must become more local and less D.C.-centric. Democratic politicians are distancing themselves from Obama and Occupy Wallk Street ius a footnote to real news and the daily focus of most people. The failure of Solyndra is not stimulating gas-guzzling and environmental disaster . quite the opposite is true - Amricans are constantly inventing in backyards and laboratoies, in coffee-bars and corporate boardrooms. Creativity is alive and well - if only we could apply our social networking and technology development energies to new governmental systems!

Hard work, clear thinking, creativity and the end of the warfare-welfare state open new possibilities for a better American future. Our current headlong rush to self-destruction can be turned around in a moment if we will recover courage, humility, reverence for the Almighty, respect for one another and self-discpline that looks beyond the next paycheck. We can drill for oil AND develop new enery sources without environmental armaggedons. We can advocate for a new Palestinian State AND assure Israel's security. We can recover public virtue AND respect privacy. We can have toleration AND debate our deepest differences. My moral objections to homoerotic behavior are not hate speech or intolerance. My support of Israel is not colonial racist zionism. My affirmation of the free market is not an endorsement of rapacious capitalism. Cutting public entitlements includes cutting over-bloated defense spending, recalbrating our global war on terror and choosing seek and destroy missions instead of foreign occupation.

Let's agitate intelligently by reading about the issues, asking searching questions of our public servants and insisting that politicians and public unions play by the same rules as private-sector businesses. There is good news - perhaps we are arising from a half-century of lassitude and willful ignorance. We do not need bumper stickers and other agitprop devices - we need to wake up every day ready to make the world a better place.

Monday, October 10, 2011

Populism: Left, Right and Center

There are remarkable similarities between the Tea Party Movement and the Occupy Wall Street protests. Yes, there are cavernous differences as well, but both movements are touching important public nerve endings.

First, both groups are suspicious of "the machine." For Tea Party adherents, the machine is an over-bloated, under-accountable, out-of-control federal government. Critical Constitutional liberties and national values are being scorned in favor of a soft totalitarianism. The Occupy Wall Street communities see the machine a "corporate greed", especially in the banking and finance industries. Where is all the bailout money that was supposed to help the "average citizen"? Billions of federal dollars are in the banks and few regular folks have enjoyed any real assistance.

There is much in common here: both groups are (rightly) suspicious of the Corporate State. 20th century history is filled with Communist, Fascist and even "democratic" regimes that established control by cutting deals with their favorite magnates, even as they proclaimed themselves the champions of the middle and working classes. For the Left, Apple Computer, Progressive Insurance and General Electric are OK, but any oil companies, smokestack industries or most banks are the epitome of evil. For the Right, the Federal Reserve, IRS and supporters of the anti-corporate agitiator (President Obama) are enemies of liberty and economic progress.

Second, both groups agitate publicly and are accused by their opponenets of being extremists. While there are a few "nut jobs" and professional agitators in both groups, the way particular media outlets portray these demonstrations is interesting. Tea Party folks are labeled racist, far-right, uncivil and much more by the left-leaning academic and media personalities. According to the Right, the Occupy Wall Street groups are communistic, socialistic and full of hypocritical leaders who endorse the protests while jetting off to foreign vacations.

There is a third similarity: both groups are deeply frustrated with systems that unethically enrich a few at the expense of the many. The Tea part folks ask why all politicians are wealthier after their "public service" and call for benefit and pension reform as well as fiscal responsibility. The Occupy Wall Street groups call out corporate and financial beneficiaries of government largesse. Why are executives getting huge bonuses while their companies still owe the texpayers?

There are differences between these groups as well. Occupy Wall Street has the tacit support of the Obama Administration and the progressive wing of the Democratic Party. Republicans want the Tea Party vote, but they are still squeamish about full endorsement due to media influence. The Tea Party movements is not an "astroturf" group manipulated by extremists - it is regular folks deeply concerned about borders/immigration, government regulation and size, and personal liberties. Occupy Wall Street has its share of media-hounds and socialists, but most folks want some kind of ethics and honesty in the systems that manage wealth.

A wise leader will see the commonalities and call for a new day of personal and social responsibility, with free markets, balanced budgets and fair tax codes. A wise leader can read between the lines and realize that most Americans do not want "pure" capitalism or socialism, but opportunity to flourish in a fair system (the rule of law) and compassion that cares for the vulnerable without creating generational dependency.

Populism is a deep vein in American political and social history. From the early emancipation and temperance movemments to the agrarian silver advocates to women's suffrage and industrial unions, hard-working Americans have seen through the image-manipulation and advocated for justice. It is my hope that we can transcend the libelous labels and professional pundits and call on the goodwill of responsible people to elect ethical leaders and energetically promote policies that create wealth within the rule of law and open opportunities for a better future.

Friday, September 23, 2011

Myths and Facts in the Middle East

The proto-state of Palestine, held together by a coalition that is ambiguous at best toward peace with their neighbor Israel, has made her bid for UN recognition. The process is a bit akin to Roman Catholic sainthood, except that the Vatican has a more objective process. The USA is obligated to veto such a move, even though President Obama has staked his world reputation and his Nobel Prize for hope on a resolution to current the impasse in the Middle East.

A cursory review of news outlets blames Israel's refusal to halt new settlement construction for the breakdown in negotiations a year ago. While there is some merit in this, such a facile explanation betrays ignorance of the real issues underlying the current conflict. There is much myth masquerading as truth about The Arab-Israeli conflict. Sorting fact from legend - even for historical events less than a century old - requires intellectual integrity and patience, two virtues lacking in our instant-information-and-analysis Internet Age.

Myth: Israel's oppression of the Palestinians is the reason for the "cycle of violence."
Fact: Israel is not blameless in this conflict; however, she has come to the table again and again, signed peace accords (Campd David, 1978; Oslo, 1993; others in 2000) and watched jihadist radicals subvert the process.

Myth: Palestinian national identity and historic claims to the land are equal to Jewish aspirations.
Fact: Palestinian "national identity" is a recent construct, though many families and villages have deep roots in the land. Jewish connections are unbroken for nearly 3000 years.
Special fact: the tragedies of war in 1948 created a refugee disaster still festering, with the descendants of 400,000+ Arab refugees living in squalor and exile.

Myth: The 1947 UN Resolution establishing a Jewish State place forced the displacement of over 700,000 Palestinians and gave control of a large piece of territory to a minority group.
Fact: The UN Partition Plan gave the Jewish population of Palestine a small portion of land in which the Jews were a majority. The plan also called for both Transjordan (the first Palestinian state)and Israel to respect minority civil, property and religious rights.

Myth: Jewish terrorism was equal to Arab terrorism and the Jews massacred civilians and destroyed Arab villages on a large scale in 1948 and 1967. "Remember Deir Yassin" became an Arab war-cry.
Fact: The unauthorized work of the Irgun did result in scores of Arab and British casualties. The legitimate Israeli authorities punished such acts when possible. The exigencies of war did cause up to 400,000 Arabs to leave their homes; however, nearly 200,000 remained and many of them and their descendants have become Israeli citizens. The Mufti of Jerusalem went well-beyond any Zionist rhetoric when he stated unilaterally, "Kill all the Jews!" Egypt's ruler in the 1967 conflict, General Nasser, made it clear that his goal was the destruction of Israel. By the way, more than 600,000 Jews were forced to leave Arab homelands as a result of the 1948 conflict.

Myth: Israel started the conflicts in 1948 and 1967.
Fact: There was low-level fighting in 1947-1948 as both sides positioned themselves before the departure of the British military. The British equipped the Arabs, gave no help to the new State of Israel and washed their hands of any responsibility. The 1967 war was preceded by scores of Arab missile and guerrilla attacks, the closing of borders and waterways and the movement of Arab armies on all sides of Israel. The Israeli "pre-emptive strike" was a brilliant response to the violence and brought a rapid victory. It also cemented Israel's nationhood and wounded the pride of the nations around Israel.

Myth: Israel is a Western imposition arising our of Holocaust guilt.
Fact: The Holocaust DID accelerate world sympathy and UN action toward the new state. The problem with this line of reasoning is that many of its adherents are either Holocaust deniers or exaggerators of Israel's "apartheid" policies.
Special fact: Current PA leader Abbas remains a Holocaust denier and refuses to acknowledge Israel's right to exist in peace next to a new (and second) Palestinian state.

Myth: Israel does not want an independent Palestine as a neighbor.
Fact: Israel has repeatedly negotiated toward a "two-state" solution - Camp David and Oslo both point the way. She has given up much land for peace and will even negotiate settlements in the West Bank - IF her neighbors will fully recognize her legitimacy, renounce terrorism and produce maps for their schools that include her name! Prime Minister Netanyahu reiterated this time and again recently and even suggested another settlement freeze in exchange for direct, good-faith negotiations.

Israel is not perfect. She has
* Caused the displacement of many Arabs
* Invaded Lebanon and allowed her "allies" to wreak havoc among refugee camps.
* Erected a border fence that will make peaceful travel between two states difficult.
* Refused to look at creative solutions for Jerusalem - perhaps a shared capital of both nations?

But current Palestinian leaders have not
* Renounced terrorism - especially the killing of innocents.
* Recognized Israel's right to exist peacefully and in perpetuity.
* Demonstrated any ability to treat minority populations with equity.
* Realized that their (exaggerated number of) descendants of the 1948 refugees cannot be allowed to settle within the political boundaries of Israel. Many could, however, help a new Palestine flourish.

Israel remains the only pluralistic democracy in a region of extremism and intolerance. If the USA was not so dependent of Arab oil, we would have helped popular secular movements topple several regimes long ago. Even this year's "Arab Spring" is shrouded in mythology as the Islamicist Muslim Brotherhood takes control in multiple locales. The vandalizing of the Israeli Embassy in Cairo is a sign of what awaits these "revolutions" that are the darlings of the anti-Israeli Left in Europe and the USA. It is an insult to all decency to allow the Iranian leader on US soil. The greater tragedy is that thousands of unthinking students and chattering class members parrot his calls to destroy Israel. Ignored in all of this are the arrests of dissidents in Egypt, the "ethnic cleansing" of Blacks in Libya and the non-existence of anything resembling pluralism in the nations surrounding Israel.

The Palestinians deserve better leaders who want to live in peace and create a thriving region in partnership with Israel. When Israel left Gaza to the PA, the result was destruction and more violence. Hundreds of intact businesses were destroyed for no reason. Infrastructure was sabotaged. All this in the name of jihad.

Peace is possible, with direct negotiations and honest US leadership. But first we must know the facts and reject the myths.

Monday, September 12, 2011

9-11, Islam, Christianity and America

At the request of friends, I am transcribing some thoughts from another work to this online forum. I am concerned that we approach future relationships between Christians and Muslims and Americans and Muslims (they are different, with America's diversity and our Constitutional guarantees of liberty of conscience and religion) with thoughtfulness. Not all readers share my religious convictions; however, I will not veil them nor impose them. It is my deep desire to see all humankind freely and joyfully discover the love, grace and liberty found in Jesus Christ. I make it my life aim to persuade women and men to believe in the Cross and Resurrection of Jesus and find salvation through his suffering and victory over death. I believe that the principles and values of the Bible are the finest guide to human attitudes and actions. I also reject all notions of coercive totalitarianism, or an imposed theocracy this side of eternity. This said, I also affirm that it is the duty of Christians to bring redemptive insight to all human situations, from business ethics and property rights to the dignity of all persons from conception to coronation. An honest look at the world compels even skeptics to admit that the freest lands around the globe are those touched by Judeo-Christian values.

Here is the essay:

A Word on then 10th Anniversary of 9-11

As a Christian leader and historian, I am called upon to comment on the threat of radical Islam to America, Europe and other parts of the world. The anniversary of this tragic day is a moment to pause and pray, to reflect and respond to the love of God and the challenges we face. There are three facets of our response to those who wish to destroy our way of life and enslave (they would say, "liberate") the world under a universal caliphate.

The first facet of response is spiritual. As a follower of Christ, I am enjoined to bless those who curse me, pray for those who persecute me and look for ways to serve even those who wish me ill. The most important response to the threat of radical Islam must be a deep spiritual awakening that leads to intimacy with God, integrity in life and positive impact in the world. For Muslims around the world (and perhaps across the street), the terms, "Christian", "Western" and "moral decadence" are all part of the same corrupt culture they want to transform. If we are honest, we must concede that we have abused our liberties and transgressed the commands of a holy God. Authentic repentance and a renewed desire to honor God and serve others is the greatest antidote to the virus of intolerant theocracy.

The second facet is a reaffirmation that the liberties, principles and virtues undergirding the U.S. Constitution have produced the freest societies and the greatest social progress in human history. Radical Sharia law is not just a few folks wanting to practice their religion. Roman Catholics (think charities, churches and parochial schools), Orthodox Jews, Amish communities and other groups have found ways to maintain their distinctions without hastening the demise of a nation and civilization suffused with Judeo-Christian principles. We must never allow two legal systems to coexist and let any group be above the law. Islamic radicalism suppresses women, creates class distinctions among differing religions and, in some cases, rejects all the intellectual and social progress of the last 500 years (think Taliban).

The third facet: Let's make friends with our Muslim neighbors, work together to make our neighborhoods beautiful places for families and call upon all people of goodwill to resist the totalitarian claims of Taliban, Wahhabi and other radical strains that pervert piety. There are millions of Muslims who want to live in a pluralistic world, practice their faith and make a better future for their children. When they discover that we want to life peacefully with (not under or over) them and help them reject the intolerance and violence of some of their co-religionists, the possibilities for real peace increase exponentially. There are reform-minded groups hoping to create a pluralistic Islam. They are few in number, but they deserve our respect.

Moral courage, relational outreach and spiritual awakening compel us to pray for millions to find the joy and peace that Jesus Christ offers. The Gospel is not a coercive religion - it is a relationship with the Lord Jesus Christ that liberates all to discover God's love and their personal destiny.

We are 13 months away from the most important presidential election in my lifetime. In my next essay I will propose some key principles for progress as I refuse to give in to fatalism and national self-destruction.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Ten Years After

As we pause and remember the events and victims of 9-11-2001, we have an opportunity to recapture some of the courage and unity that marked the labors of our first responders and the spontaneous expressions of the American people. This unprecedented tragedy opened a new chapter of global warfare, awakening America and the West to the pervasive threat of radical Islam.

We need to celebrate our relative safety and express our gratitude to the men and women in our law enforcement, intelligence and military forces who work tirelessly to keep us secure.

We also need to reflect deeply on the current contradictions in our policies, with thousands of soldiers at risk, a political class afraid to confront intolerant Islam and economic policies undermining our strength to resist evil.

Even more than policy reflections, we need to respond to this moment with deep moral and spiritual change. Our greatest defense against terror is Divine love demonstrated in compassion, integrity and a resolve to honor past heroes with our own courage born of profound encounters with God and engaging service on behalf of others.

Our enemies call us decadent. We will respond with decency.

Our adversaries hate freedom and liberty. We will reaffirm that we want for all others the rights we desire for ourselves. We are willing to live with our deepest differences.

Radical Islam treasures a coercive, universal caliphate. We will value diversity and never capitulate to totalitarians.

Those who hate us also envy our prosperity and resent our influence. Our posture must be humble, generous and persuasive, allowing our reverence for God, respect for all people and resolute defence of freedom to lead us forward.

Let's rid ourselves of fear and choose faith. Let's forget being "politically correct" and choose moral clarity. Let's love our Muslim neighbors, but not be naive about religious perversions that sanction violence. Let's commemorate this moment with prayer, hugs for family and friends and choosing life every moment.

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Some Questions for People in Power

My friends on the Left have demonized the Tea Party movement, rendering anyone connected with these groups ignorant, reactionary and the enemies of all that is noble and progressive. Some of my friends on the Right assail any advocate of environmental oversight or national medical care as anti-American and at least quasi-socialist. Amidst all the polemics, we have a paralyzed economy, mounting debt and social anger inflamed by irresponsible media outlets.

I invite my readers and all thoughtful Americans to change the course of our current direction and consider the following questions as we seek to build communities and a nation worthy of our founding principles.

To those of the chattering Left, I ask,

Have you actually sat down and spoken at length with your Tea Party neighbors or are you too content in your insulated world of self-importance? You might discover concerned, hard-working people with lots of different backgrounds and ideas that care deeply about their land. You might discover, as I have in many locations, people from every continent and cultural persuasion united by the dream of America.

Have you sat down and spoken with the owners of small and medium-sized businesses who carry an enormous tax burden and find themselves threatened by government-protected multinationals and state politicians squeezing them dry with regulations and taxes? Oh, you love the Hollywood moguls, and leaders of "progressive" companies; however, you recoil around anything with a smokestack or any state that will not support certain union mindsets. You might discover compassionate and generous folks who sustain our communities and want a better future for their children.

To those on the clamoring Right, I ask,

Have you sat down with people across cultural and generational lines and deeply listened as they share the challenges of being different in a world that rewards conformity? Have you heard the cries of disabled workers shuttled from one office to another awaiting help? Are you aware that history is not kind to capitalism divorced from ethical and spiritual restraints? You might discover that the "magic of the markets" is not so simple and that our military budgets are just as full of graft and waste as our social service ones.

Have you thought about how to ameliorate the cost of transitioning millions of workers into a 21st century global economy where other nations do not play by our rules? Family-sustaining jobs are harder to find for those without college and graduate degrees. You will discover many folks working many jobs to make ends meet and wondering if their kids will have a brighter future.

I have one question for both "sides" in the media war. Have you considered comparing the policies and principles of Presidents Truman and Eisenhower? A bit of history may inform all of us. No, there are no "good old days." There were, however, among all Americans, rich and poor, black and white, religious or skeptical, some common values of fidelity to family, respect for neighbor, frugality, generosity and civic spirit that are undervalued in today's sensationalized world. Thank God for the Civil Rights movement that created a better future for millions by appealing to such foundational ideas. Conservatives and liberals a half-century ago had more in common than they had in conflict.

Perhaps these queries will stimulate fresh answers as we reaffirm key values and reach for a better future.

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Paralysis to Prosperity

Our current economic crises - yes, they are plural and global - stem from many factors. Bad government policies and processes for more than 50 years, unethical and unthoughtful business decisions and woeful strategic thinking have created this tsunami. In the midst of the (programmed) anarchy and polemics, we can miss one very important reality: this situation is reversible in months, not years if leaders have the courage to act decisively and wisely. If the following steps are taken, both the American and global economies will right themselves and we will not have a double-dip or a repeat of the 1930s.

Rein in government spending.

Judiciously privatize many public pension systems, with clear controls to protect the investments of workers.

End special health and retirement benefits for all elected officials.

Transform the tax code, closing outdated loopholes, eliminating double and triple taxation and capping top rates so that investments are rewarded.

Bring our troops home quickly, establish anti-terror military strategies that are mobile and not occupying and start reforming a bloated and corrupt defense industry.

Good ecological policies mean good economics for generations to come. Open new venues for oil and natural gas, while allowing profits from these efforts to fund private-public partnerships for cleaner alternatives. Let's stop both the simplistic, "drill here, drill now" and the "de-development" social engineering and get on with the kind of creativity that built the world's greatest economy.

Reform immigration with compassionate and judicious policies that open doors for legal residency and work while securing the borders and screening out criminals.

Carefully and humanely begin deportation of all illegal immigrants in US prisons.

Reform federal agencies and decentralize as much administration as possible. Instead of more federal money to the states, have a summit with the 50 governors and work on keeping more public dollars at home.

The list could continue for many more pages, but the principles are clear: ethical and fiscal integrity, wealth creation and local/regional socioeconomic strategies that deploy best practices.

Both local and global economies run on confidence. When fear takes over, recession and depression are not far behind. To my friends of the Right - we MUST reform military spending processes and stop being the world's policeman, even while we judiciously confront terror. To my friends of the Left - we must secure our borders and create better efficiencies for public compassion.

Out of the crises of the 1990s both parties had to cooperate and the results were a nearly balanced budget and four million folks off welfare and deployed in the work force.

Will our leaders have the courage to change or will we slide toward Weimar-style amorality and anarchy that opens the door to totalitarian rule? The choice is ours, today and in 2012.

Sunday, August 07, 2011

The Forgotten Folks

As the USA navigates uncharted economic rapids, there are groups of people that are overlooked in the passions and polemics. I am not speaking of the groups each political party claims as their own. Democrats claim the "poor" and Republicans claim the "small business" community. Tea party activists are marginalized and anyone for universal health care is labeled a socialist. Lost in all the rhetoric are several folks that deserve our attention and respect.

Our soldiers and veterans deserve better policies and support, from how and when we engage terrorism to the fiscal, physical and psychological needs they have off the battlefield.

Disabled and injured workers with legitimate needs have to navigate a dehumanizing system just to get the help they deserve.

Our ally Israel faces hostility from the leaders of the false "Arab Spring" and the threat of a unilateral declaration of another Palestinian state with no diplomatic or security guarantees.

Millions of families will be taxed again when a loved one passes away if there is not real reform in Congress.

Our citizens along the Mexican border and in several cities need protection from criminal cartels and illegal immigrants overtaking their land and opportunities. There are thousands of acres of beautiful parks that are war zones.

Deeply religious people of many traditions are alienated by social engineers determined to rewrite history and social norms.

In the midst of all the inflammatory language, the people most injured are the hard-working, mortgage-and-tax-paying citizens who deserve better stewards of the public trust.

On behalf of all the forgotten folks, I urge leaders to rediscover public service and restore the good credit of the USA.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Proverbs for Economic Sanity

Watching the current Debt Crisis debate is tortuous for any thoughtful person. Yes, there are real differences in how Democrats and Republican want to spend money - BUT there should be no differences on two goals - a balanced budget and a growing economy. What we have is political posturing, magical thinking and a contempt for Economics 101 and the good faith of the American people. In the tradition of King Solomon, considered the wisest man of his day (a claim I will not make!), I offer some proverbs to solve our current crisis:

Create a budget based on the real revenue of the previous year. If there is more money, decide ahead of time where it goes; if less, have the cuts ready.

We cannot be a warfare and welfare state. Declare victory, bring our troops home and have forces ready to strike at global terror threats from secure bases on land and sea.

Stop double and triple taxing the hard-earned wealth of Americans, here or abroad. No death taxes and lower the rate for foreign profits that have already been taxed overseas.

Begin a process of removing the thousands of agricultural subsidies that benefit huge agribusinesses and are no longer needed.

Eliminate the Department of Education.

Transform HUD and other agencies into efficient, decentralized catalysts for help and transformation instead of career paths for social science majors.

Cut defense spending and increase support for veterans. One less bomber means help for thousands of vets and less pork for Congress to give away.

Privatize all public pensions, with excellent regulations through the SEC and other agencies. Eliminate the special retirement benefits for elected federal officials and have them held to the same economic standards as all citizens.

Public employee unions should be able to bargain, but not hold taxpayers hostage to benefits they cannot afford. Bring all teachers and workers into Social Security and offer excellent private plans - just like the rest of the country.

Hold all government agencies accountable for best practices and have private-sector leaders offer insights on efficient methods and ethics.

Transform the IRS with a complete simplification of the tax code, and consider alternative ways of raising revenue.

Invigorate private/public partnerships for all kinds of infrastructure, with high standards, but honest bidding processes and a cap on "change orders" and lawsuits.

Stop sending tax dollars to colleges and universities for frivolous programs and lower the cost of education by demanding that teachers teach and students work.

Above all, create a balanced-budget process (with or without a Constitutional Amendment) that will unleash creativity and economic growth and allow us to start repaying our debt!

Friday, July 01, 2011

America's Founders and Today's Celebrities

On this Independence Day weekend we celebrate our freedom, remember a bit of history and eat wonderful food. All of this is good. Even the rather dour founder John Adams called for feasting and fireworks to mark the day the Declaration was ratified and signed by John Hancock (others would sign on August 2). As I consider the history, the contrasts between our founders and today's celebrity candidates are startling. Today's leaders have access to the finest information, excellent living conditions and communication organs undreamed of in the 18th century. Yet even a cursory comparison unveils the unparalleled genius of the founder's generation and the dearth of depth in our own. I am not deifying the founders - they were flawed and failed to confront the issue of slavery. They also struggled with hubris, image and vanity, warring constituents and competing agendas. But their breadth of learning - even among the unlettered - depth of thoughtfulness, humility before the Almighty and moral reflection stand in stark contrast to the narcissism and paucity of values characterizing much of our public discourse. Consider these contrasts:

James Madison is called the Father of the Constitution, examining 3000 years of sacred and secular history and adept in ancient and modern languages. Compare his irenic intellect with the sound bites of Carville or Gingrich.

Thomas Jefferson is the darling of the Left at times (excepting his ambiguities on slavery of course). But his most important work - our Declaration of Independence - reflects deep reverence for God, concern for natural rights, including personal and property rights, and economic liberty against the mercantile system. Compare this to the central planning economists and bureauocrats like Thomas Friedman who live in mansions while they dictate lifestyle to the American masses.

Many of the founders were clergy, but they defended the rights of others to dissent. Thomas Paine had little regard for traditional religion; however, he affirmed the important of personal responsibility and public virtue. Compare his Common Sense of 1776 with any writing of current Presidential candidates. Here is a freethinker unafraid of the world of ideas while today's Left cowers before Sharia-driven Islam and tries to remove all traces of the Judeo-Christian ethos from public life.

I am forever a hope-filled person. But I am finding it difficult to be hopeful about America's future with the current crop of candidates from both parties and the unreasonable posturing of our federal legislators. May I suggest that all in public life pause this weekend, read the Constitution, allowing the context of our founding to inspire courageous and creative action?

Monday, June 27, 2011

Where Have You Gone, Mr. O'Malley?

My beloved Los Angeles Dodgers filed for bankruptcy today. Mismanagement and contentious divorce proceedings between the owner and his ex-wife have changed the team from a great icon of America's pastime to a sideshow unworthy of a Lifetime Network movie. This is a sad day for baseball and millions of fans.
This event by itself is a mere footnote compared to our budgetary, geopolitical and military crises. Billionaire owners and millionaire players live in a world detached for most of humankind, the majority of whom need more sustainable economies, housing, water and opportunities.
But this soap opera is more than a mere news item on ESPN or the E! Channel. It is a sign of our cultural disintegration and our loss of any sense of the common good. Let me add that I am not pining for "good ol' days" that never were, not am I making the former owners saints and the McCords the great sinners. The O'Malley family is still despised in parts of Brooklyn for moving the team to Los Angeles. The rich and powerful will always have drama surround them. What is lacking in current ownership is any sense of social ethic, any mooring that thinks of the fans or the game before themselves.
The moment the McCords could not reconcile their marriage, they should have invited Major League Baseball and potential owners to the table and worked on a transition plan that served the team. Instead, they have taken one of the most profitable franchises and made it a laughingstock. Chavez Ravine has gone from the most beautiful spot to watch a game to a dangerous place for opposing fans. Shame on you, McCord family. This is your doing and you cannot blame others. Greed wins the day and television watchers and ticket-holders who sustain the enterprise are left with little but vague hopes that Mark Cuban or another wealthy persona can come in and right the ship.
I am a proponent of free markets, natural pricing and a strong juridical system that will help enterprise be ethical while minimizing unneeded bureaucracy. This said, it is tragic to watch billionaires hold cities hostage while they squeeze tax money our of working voters for stadiums that many will never enter due to the high prices. I am apoplectic when I see players "re-negotiating" millions into more millions well before contract expiration. Yes, one should angle for the best deal; however, once signed, a contract should be honored and the player owes the fans and team her or his best. The unabashed narcissism is sociologically self-destructive as "each person does what is right in his own eyes."
We need you, Mr. O'Malley. We need leaders with business sense, an eye for opportunity and a heart for the community and customers. Owners, your risk deserves reward, but much of the reward of team ownership is offering fans great moments of athletic prowess, positive team spirit and a focus on developing players. Lost in all the Dodger drama is the game itself. I share with George Will the firm belief that baseball is America's game and the innumerable possibilities emerging from a single crack of the bat make it both cerebral and visceral in its delights.

Friday, June 17, 2011


Change is unsettling. Even in our hectic, global-internet world, we want some things to be stable. We hope we can keep our marriages and our friends, our church and community connections and perhaps our favorite barista! We enjoy hearing from fellow high school and college alumni and when we drive past old neighborhoods we instinctively look for landmarks of our history.

But changes come. Buildings are built and torn down. Institutions die and others rise. Friends move and drift away from our inner circles. Our elementary schools are now condos or parks. Even our faith communities change leaders and liturgies. By the time we have unwrapped our new computer or iPad, it is obsolete to those in the know.

Some other changes have far-reaching effects we can miss if we are not paying attention. Changing laws and regulations, soaring government (read:us) debt-loads and military adventures all point to a world in transition - and not all the changes are salutary.

Rather than lament today's changes, I want to encourage us that there are some things that last forever and are worth nurturing in all circumstances.

Authentic, humble and sincere faith in the Almighty will fortify us body, mind and spirit and help us be a source of stability for the displaced. Let's take time to be intelligent followers of our Lord and allow the the precepts of our tradition to become living practices.

Our marriages and family relationships are always worth nurturing and our openness to new friendships will not keep us from deepening old ones. Growing our businesses, churches and communities comes down to a simple query, "Do we have room in our hearts for a new friend?"

Our service to God and the world will reverberate long after we have left the a particular geography, job or even our earthy tabernacles. Encouraging and empowering others, opening doors for their success and partnering to change a situation for the better will last far longer than ambition, legacy-protection and self-promotion.

Faith, friendship and future blessing will endure after all the speeches are done and the systems change. In fact, focusing on the eternal will have maximum influence today.

Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Why Not?

"That's impossible! Never happen. Not is a million years. OK, not in my lifetime."

These phrases are uttered daily by well-meaning people. Change is hard. Changing long-held conscious and unconscious thinking is even harder. There are a few people temperamentally wired for change; however even these initiators of innovation have some habits that are hard to break.

If we are going to solve some of the economic, political and social problems of our era, we must welcome change, as long as the proposed ideas and actions are rooted in well-established values. We often confuse morality with modality, or purpose and method. Within ethical boundaries, there are multiple sound ways to achieve noble ends.

Here are some reasons change is vital right now:

  • As most Americans see more than 30% of their earnings going to taxes, there is something wrong with GE paying no taxes.

  • As Congress cries poverty as they manage social programs, perhaps they need to shed some perks and join the rest of the citizens in paying for health care and pensions.

  • Colleges and universities need to rediscover the mission of professors and students learning together. Let's try to graduate more students debt-free instead of multiplying irrelevant courses.

  • A good society takes care of those in need; however, most citizens in such a commonweal do not believe such help is a "right."

  • A death tax on monies already taxed is foolish. Far better to give incentives for investing.

  • We can drill judiciously and have private-public partnerships developing alternative energy sources. Look how far batteries have come in just a decade.

  • Reformation of systems begins with reformation of self. A republic is only as strong as the virtues of its citizens.

  • We can be honest and humble about history and hope without denigrating the achievements of our past and indoctrinating earnest minds with politically-correct but empirically untested formulae.

  • Change is hard. There is, however, no virtue in stubbornness born of fixation on old methods.

  • Unregulated capitalism and bureaucratic socialism achieve the same end: a few are enriched at the expense of most.

Why not change how we do things? From government services to business ethics; from education to social welfare - we can do better if we keep the good of all in mind. Why not? The only limiters are our fear and pride.

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Radical Means Rooted

When we hear the word, "radical" we imagine 1960s hippies, Greenpeace boats or suicide bombers in burkhas. It is sad that this important word has been historically hijacked and used for extremism and fringe movements. The etymology of this word is "radix" or "rooted." For something to be radical not only implies change, but change that is deeply rooted in unwavering principles. As we begin the marathon to the 2012 elections, I propose that candidates must be radical - that is, rooted in values and vision that can imagine a better future. Why should the crazies on the far right and far left steal a word that may be our best hope? It is tragic to listen to the inane commentary in all media. If someone is pro-life, they are part of the "Radical Right." If someone (like me) speaks at a Tea Party gathering, I am pandering to "radicals." If someone wants federal health care, they must be "radical left." If someone voted for Obama (in a year that no Republican had a chance), they are unwittingly part of the "Radical Left."

Let me unequivocally state that their are "radicals" on the Right and Left that subvert common values and imagine and America and the world in totalitarian terms. I am deeply disturbed by the policies and principles of the Obama administration and I will work tirelessly to see another President elected in 2012. I want local, state and national leaders that share my principles to be in office. I am also weary of libertarian extremists that think that no government regulation is needed and that the "magic" of market economies will solve all our problems.

What we need is radical change - action rooted in values and vision that are not trendy, but truthful; actions rooted in values and vision that inspire moral and spiritual transformation. Here are some "radical" ideas for a 2012 platform:

  • Let's live within our means.

  • Politicians must have term limits and pay into the same pensions all Americans invest in.

  • Let's have an effective, nimble military. We can cut waste and lessen the hold of the "military-industrial complex" on our Congress.

  • Let's make sure health care is available to all and that there is ethical oversight. BUT - this is best delivered locally by the private sector.

  • Let's welcome all legal immigrants, deport all undocumented prisoners and hold businesses, schools and all agencies accountable for who they admit and hire.

  • Let's welcome people of all faiths or none - and refuse special accommodation for any one religion.

  • Let's deport any leader who desires the destruction of the USA and advocates jihad for a sharia future. The same severity is also applied to any domestic left or right-wing groups undermining the Constitution.

  • Let's affirm the results of anthropology, biology, history, psychology, sociology, and common sense and affirm that the family ideal is a man and woman in lifetime marriage nurturing the next generation. Other adult consensual relationships can be recognized, but they are not marriage.

  • Let's fund our public schools well, stop merely teaching to tests and remember that all education centers on students actually learning from teachers that know their subjects.

  • Let's rebuild our infrastructure with public-private partnerships that are well-supervised, but free from backroom deal makers who add cost and foster corruption.

  • Let's have real transparency in government - why do we need secrets, apart from sensitive intelligence and personnel issues? "Open covenants openly arrived at" needs to be our motto again.

  • Let's bring together local and regional educational, business, religious and social service leadership, remove the media from the room, roll up our sleeves and create new ways to combat that tangible problems we face.

  • Let's remain friends with Israel, and offer full support to a Palestinian leader willing to unequivocally abide by the accords penned in 1978, 1992 and 2002...everyone is served by democracy, bilateral economic friendship and a region at peace.

  • Let's believe in the Constitution. It is neither the Bible nor a "living document" - it is the foundation for the greatest experiment in freedom the world has ever seen.

No matter what policies we advocate, our hearts and minds must be united in common moral virtues that affirm both individual liberty and love for neighbor. We must celebrate common goods and well as personal achievements. We must rid ourselves of narcissism and reaffirm reverence for God and respect all humans who are made in the image of God.

Let's be radical!

Thursday, May 19, 2011

A Real "Arab Spring"

There is no serious movement for democracy in the Middle East. The little bit of liberal/secular opposition to dictatorships is being consumed by Hamas and the Muslim Brotherhood. Any regimes that even think of working with Israel or the USA will be subject to protests and violence.

Our current Administration is naive at best and self-destructive at worst as it attempts "outreach" to Islamic movements. There has been no moderation, no negotiation, no evidence of any change except further radicalization.

Here are the real signs of an authentic "Arab Spring":

Denunciation of terrorism.

Official diplomatic recognition of the State of Israel (even within 1947-1949 borders). Agree to the Oslo Accords and let Jerusalem be the capital of two states that choose to cooperate instead of hurt each other.

Economic, political and social reform and services for the three generations of Palestinian refugees. The Arab world has enough money to make sure no one is in poverty.

End the violence against all other religious communities and allow freedom of press, religion and speech, even allowing women and men to change religious affiliation without fear.

End the oppression of women, allowing full access to educational and professional opportunities.

Join the global world of democracies, allowing fair and free elections and being accountable for where money is used.

I have a dream - a dream for all under the oppression of Sharia Law to be free - free to reinterpret an ancient religion; free to change affiliations; free to speak and think without fear; free to become the people God created them to be. This is the dream of our founders in 1776/1787. This is the dream of the Civil Rights Movement. This is the dream of the Hungarian Revolution of 1956 and the "Prague Spring" of 1968. This is the dream fulfilled as the Berlin Wall came down.

President Obama, please stop appeasing leaders who want our destruction. Please stop alienating Israel. Please recognize that we have the history, political structure and diversity that gives us moral authority to influence the world for good.

If we do not remove our blinders, there is a clear and present danger that this pseudo Arab Spring will become the global winter of jihad.

Sunday, May 08, 2011

One Event - Multiple Narratives

The death of Osama bin Laden is as close to a"fact" as we can assert. As a historian, I am fascinated by the context and significance of the event for different groups of people. OBL's death is confirmed by his followers, but there are multiple meanings we need to understand.

For most Americans, this is a brief moment of payback for the awful attack of 9/11/01 and the taunting messages of a leader in hiding, a coward who directed his minions to destroy our nation.

For most Muslims, this is a moment of relief, tempered with the hope that cooler heads will allow further rapprochement between "normal" Islam and the West. For the Islamic radicals, OBL is a new martyr who will inspire others to carry out his nefarious agenda.

For the Obama presidency, this is a welcome moment in the midst of economic sluggishness, legislative gridlock and the beginning of an interminable campaign for re-election. For Republicans, this is a moment that vindicates some of Bush's policies (is anyone talking about Gitmo any more?) and a chance to press the President on other issues.

For Pakistan, this event is an enormous embarrassment. OBL's presence at the compound had to be an open secret in several circles. For Al-Queda, this is a serious blow in spite of all the bluster. For other Muslim nations, this is a reminder of their own internal challenges as they balance realpolitik with accommodation of multiple radical factions.

For thoughtful people of every background, this is a moment to reflect. How are we going to protect our citizens while trying to win the hearts and minds of millions who are not yet radicalized but leaning in that direction? What military policies will be successful in rooting out terrorists while not creating a neo-colonial occupation by American and NATO forces? For all Americans, how can we create a hospitable and safe place for people from all lands to find a home here?

Chanting "USA, USA!" must give way to humility, prayer and service that will not allow hatred to find a home in many hearts. While we rejoice, let's reflect. While we praise our troops, let's purge ourselves of anger. While we debate meaning, let's find meaning in the good we do every day.

Sunday, May 01, 2011

5-1-2011: A Date to Remember

Osama bin Laden is dead. Perhaps this is another historic "end of the beginning" (to paraphrase Winston Churchill) as civilized humankind confronts global terrorism. It is too early to prognosticate all the implications, but we can pause, praise our special forces personnel and take stock of what is needed to see real progress in this conflict.

Until the Eschaton, there will be enemies of all that is good and peaceful - radicalized persons who pervert faith and justice into hatred and violence. We will never eradicate every evil person, but we can make progress in our war on terror and impede the ability of these groups to find new recruits.

My prayer is that May 1, 2011 will be a date we remember because millions of people decided to abandon self-destructive narcissism and choose a life of faith, hope and love, serving God and others and finding identity and purpose in worship and service. In our fallen world, we need the military sometimes. In a world longing for redemption, we must confront unexplainable challenges. We must combat terror with truth, ideology with insight and perversion of religion with genuine piety and righteousness.

This week marks the passing of a great spiritual leader, David Wilkerson, founder of Teen Challenge and Times Square Church and a formidable preacher of uncompromising truth rooted in the unconditional love of Christ. Today marks the beatification of Pope John Paul II, a tireless ambassador for freedom and one of the men responsible for the fall of the Iron Curtain. From his resistance to the Nazis in WWII in Poland, to his outreach to the world, he exemplified faith and humility joined with political acumen and pragmatism. These two men exemplify the courage and love we need to turn our nation and the world toward real justice.

Please join me as we reaffirm faith and first principles, commit to justice and peace and refuse to capitulate to fear. Such virtue cannot come without inner transformation. Such a work of grace is ours if we will believe the message of Easter.

Thursday, April 21, 2011


As I join multitudes of Christians around the world in Holy Week reflection and worship, I celebrate the unity of our one, holy, catholic and apostolic faith that expresses itself in many languages, liturgies and locations. From African churches without walls to grand cathedrals a millennium old, people are gathering to remember the great events that are the historical core of Christianity. Jesus of Nazareth prayed with great agony on Maundy Thursday and was crucified by Roman authorities on Good Friday. Suspended between two criminals, the religious and political powers were happy to be rid of his subversive words and works. Holy Saturday brought a Sabbath hush to a city embroiled in controversy.

But Christian faith does not rest on a good rabbi who is a martyr. Easter Sunday celebrates Jesus' physical resurrection, his triumph over death that infuses his suffering with the power to forgive, heal and reconcile humankind to God and one another. C.S. Lewis, in his classic work, Mere Christianity, stated the good news of Christ succinctly: "Jesus' death puts us right with God." N.T. Wright echoes this same theme when he asserts that the death and resurrection of Jesus assures us of God's promise to "put the world to rights."

On Easter, billions will proclaim, "He is Risen!" and then respond, "He is Risen, indeed!" Such a simple affirmation - yet it transforms life now and forever.

As I ponder the depths of being a follower of Jesus, I am drawn to the central verse of the Gospel of Mark. Chapter 10 verse 45 captures the heart of Jesus' disposition, discipline and desire: "For the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and give his life as a ransom for many." For this essay, I will leave aside all the theories of the atonement that Christians passionately debate. Instead, I want to focus on the subversive nature of choosing a life of service instead of selfishness. Jesus the Messiah (Christ), the King, the Lord, demonstrates his authority and power through serving those who cannot return the favor and calling on his followers to imitate his example: "A new command I give to you: that you love one another as I have loved you. By this will all men know that you are my disciples..." (Gospel of John, chapter 13 verses 34 and 35)

St. Paul will affirm the same attitudes and choices in his encouragement to the Philippians: "Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but is humility consider others better than yourselves. Each of you should look not only to your own interests, but also the interests of others." Paul then urges his friends to consider the pathway of Jesus. It was not a pathway of enlightened hedonism or rugged individualism, but one of of integrity and intentionality that seeks the good of others.

Service is at the core of all good human activity. It is so much more than volunteering or trying to assuage our guilt with giving. Service is not self-abasement or self-salvation. Service is actually the road to real joy. In addition to volunteer activities and charitable and missionary efforts, consider the following rather surprising notions:

Business is service. When done ethically, the provider is offering goods and services needed by others and there is an exchange of resources. God's world is fashioned so that humankind can create wealth that will enable individuals, families and communities to prosper.

Fulfilling our personal destiny cannot be done in isolation - we all need others to realize our dreams! If we serve well, from providing water to parched villages to singing a magnificent aria to thousands, we are offering the world our best and making it a better place.

Political leadership is service. This is more than bringing home tax largess to a district. Political service requires great wisdom as leaders consider the needs of individuals and the nation. Politicians love to call themselves "public servants" and brazenly speak about their "sacrifices" in leaving the private economy. The reality is that ambition has overtaken humility, power and wealth have subverted careful stewardship and enslavement to special interests makes accountability to constituents a tertiary aim, behind personal power and cronyism. There are some notable exceptions and I am hopeful that local and national representatives will reaffirm their call to service.

Finally, in honor of Holy Week, all Christians need to realize that worshiping God is more than an event. Deeply fulfilling spiritual experiences are found in the liturgies of the people of God. But Christian worship includes everyday activities: how we work and play, save and spend, sacrificially give and take moments to rest. Worship is service. The Bible is replete with calls to bless, praise and worship the Lord. But the same texts call upon all believers to honor God with their lives and well as their lips, with service to those who cannot return the favor as well as sacraments in a sanctuary.

Family life is rich when service is the center. If each spouse is the champion and partner of the other's success, they will flourish. if parents will serve their children with real time and attention, they will become healthy adults.

Salvation comes through the grace of God, received by humble hearts who believe that Jesus' death and resurrection is God's gift for forgiveness and hope. The evidence of belief is behavior - not perfection, but purity of heart put into practice. We do not stand in "holier-than-thou" judgment of others, but make our compassion concrete by action for others, regardless of return.

Spirituality, politics, family life, community outreach and business are all rooted in an ethos of service. Imagine what would happen if millions of us woke up every morning and (after our coffee - let's be realistic!) offered this prayer, "Lord, help me add value to others today and honor you in serving others." Profits will grow, needs will be met, families will thrive and we will be fulfilled.

When we are secure in the good news of God's grace, we are liberated to serve. We are not earning our place in heaven, but bringing the future into the present. We are not giving to get because we have already received a gift that will keep on giving for eternity. Let's celebrate Easter by serving - in every way we can.

Wednesday, March 30, 2011


In our data-driven, sound-bite (or byte) world, words create worlds of anarchy or community, of mutual understanding or polemical alienation. We hold ourselves hostage to our solipsistic creations, arguing vacuously and wondering why others "just don't get it." In my last essay, I posited that justice is a deep, rich cry from the soul pointing to a universal in human consciousness, a principle I believe points to a Transcendent Creator. However God is conceived (or denied), justice matters in human affairs and our search for its norms really matters. When we avoid the either/or fallacy and stop manufacturing false combinations (If you are against abortion, you must be for war, etc.), there is hope for a better, more civil society. Another word that either enslaves or liberates is Love. Immediately all kinds of ideas, images, and feelings come to mind, from a Hollywood love story to Mother Theresa's efforts in Calcutta. We read daily of people falling in and out of love. If we crack open a Bible, we discover that God's love is the root and fruit of all other virtues. From the classical Greek literature to C.S. Lewis, thinkers have distinguished various types of love, from erotic connections (eros) to comrades on a battlefield (storge), to friendship (phileo) to altruistic, self-donating action for others (agape). All four of these loves are important to human flourishing; however, the last two are essential for a civil and virtuous society that offers maximal personal freedom and community cohesion. C.S. Lewis once said, "Friends look in the same direction." We need to cultivate healthy friendships, across ethnicity, cultures, genders, and religious affiliations. A spirit of brotherly/sisterly love (the heart of phileo) conceives of others as part of the same family and works to ensure their protection and opportunities to flourish. Such good affections also create virtuous boundaries so that brothers and sisters do not exploit each other - in fact, rather that staring at each other, they are engaged in play and work that is meaningful. Sustaining such friendships and extending hospitality beyond our inner circles of blood, culture and soil is a noble aim; however, a deeper love must animate us if we are going to enjoy mutual respect. This is agape love, the love that wills the highest good for others and gives out of abundance, without expectations of return. Already I hear the behaviorists arguing that altruism is impossible and I am naively suggesting that humankind is above the rest of animate creation. Other suspicious readers see me sneaking in Theism under the veil of universal love. To all critical thinkers let me be clear. Agape love is possible because humankind is made in the image of God, a God who is Eternal Love and delights to share that love with us. But humankind is also deeply flawed, capable of incredible evil and in need of transformation. As a Christian, I forthrightly declare that faith, hope and love in Jesus Christ is the way to a new nature, a new destiny and transformed relationships. In a pluralistic society, however, not all share my faith, but all can aspire to love that is more than self-centered passion or quid pro quo negotiation. Throughout history we see women and men of all traditions living for the good of others and sacrificially donating resources and time so that liberty and justice advance. America needs a revival of love. Yes, I believe the best way for this to happen is a decisive, personal encounter with Jesus Christ, who is God's full and final Word to a world. While I will pray and work for such an awakening, there are more modest fruits of love worth working for as well:

  • I want for my neighbor all the same liberties I desire for myself.

  • Life is more than my current desires, it is about preparing a better future for others.

  • Love is not agreeing on everything or accepting any opinion - it is respecting others you profoundly differ with and searching for ways to work together while debating fundamental ideas.

  • Love is not an opposite of justice - it is the real center and circumference of justice. Punishing evil is necessary if we love others and want their safety. Offering redemption and remediation to perpetrators is an essential part of a just world as well.

  • Love is not the absence of anger - it is anger transformed into altruistic action.

  • Agape love is the proper context for all other affections, from erotic attraction to loyalty as friends.

When I turn on the news or read debates, the missing ingredient is unselfish love. Passion is fine, debate is needed, but it seems that our entire culture is awash with fear and narcissism. We can and must do better. The future of our neighborhood and planet depend on the decisions we make today. I choose Love.

Friday, March 25, 2011


From the Prophet Micah in the 8th century B.C. to current bloggers, "justice" is a primal cry of the human heart. This word is one of the most astounding concepts that makes us more than animals. It is also an abused term, becoming the shibboleth for all kinds of ideologies and political agendas.

Is justice punishing the guilty for criminal behavior? Yes, protecting our community is part of justice. Is justice making sure the poor, broken and vulnerable are cared for? Yes - this is the Divine imperative for all people. Does justice include opportunity to work and property rights? Affirmative - one of the cornerstones of human liberty is economic opportunity and protection of person and property.

Going deeper, justice also looks at the structures and systems humankind creates and evaluates whether they lead to flourishing or oppression. A sense of justice moved our nation in WWII and in the Civil Right Movement. Justice has also compelled our compassion as we have sent trillions in aid to a beleaguered world suffering from natural disasters and the consequences of war.

In our domestic debates about public budgets and pensions and in our foreign policy and demonstrations of military power, the principle of justice gets obscured by the realities of fiscal systems and the fog of war (not to mention the pragmatics of global economic interests).

The Right speaks of justice in terms of personal liberties and punishment of evil. This is not wrong, but it is inadequate. The Left defines justice more collectively, agitating for just prices and wages. This is often necessary, but begs the question of where the money comes from.

The way forward to a more just society is to unite of concept justice with the principles of love and service. Personal liberty is best ensured with freer markets and opportunities to risk and reap rewards. But "no man is an island" and no economic adventurer succeeds without help and systemic connections. All legitimate work is service in the deepest sense. From artisan-crafted wares to mass-produced goods, from excellent education to literary offerings, persons and companies are serving the needs of their publics.

Love and service are not mere emotions or sentimentality - they are foundational dispositions an decisive principles of action. Putting these concepts together with a full er understanding of justice yields new ways forward:
  • We can protect workers from rapacity and balance a budget.
  • We can grow our economy and be good stewards of the delicate and extraordinary ecosystem.
  • We can work for freedom around though non-violent means when possible.
  • We can protest private property from the petty fiefdoms of corrupt city and county officials while caring for the environment.
  • We can have real academic freedom, debating all world-views and refusing to alienate those who are no politically correct.
  • We can welcome people of all faiths or none to the public square, with the understanding that they must want the same rights for others that they desire for themselves.
Justice is a beautiful thing. It calls us to altruistic action and tames our baser instincts. Let's first demand it of ourselves, then link arms and secure it for others, one person and one neighborhood at a time,

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Time for a CEASE-Fire

The 2011 policies of the Obama Administration can be summarized in one phrase: Hope that things are stable enough economically and globally for re-election next year. I am using the word CEASE as an acronym to expose the paucity of principle and the absence of substance found in current leadership.

C = There is no CLARITY in current decisions. Until the recent months, Libya was barely on the radar screen and her leader a bit player. Now we are "liberating" Libya? Why was it wrong for both Bush Presidents to engage in Iraq but Clinton and Obama can drop bombs?

E = There are no ETHICAL principles guiding this Administration other than ideological vagaries and political expediency. Yes, sometimes economic realism forces us to work with regimes we find distasteful - and isn't interesting that we are in tune with the Saudis who fund terrorism and bombing a nation that renounced it?

A = There is few AMERICAN interests behind current trends. The Administration is determined to make us good global citizens at the expense of the creativity and liberties that make us an exceptional nation.

S = The lack of STRATEGIC thinking is tragic and does not bode well for our future. There are strategies for all the wrong ideas, especially policies that increase federal control and oversight. Obama is content, like all totalitarians before him, to try to ride above the contentions of his minions and then appear to save the day.

E = The utter lack of ENTHUSIASM for American life and our potential is evident, with all the bowing to foreign royalty, calls for "humility" and outright capitulation (dare we say submission?) to the Islamic interests we are "reaching out" to. Our friends do not trust us, our enemies see us confused and the world lacks a clarion call to freedom.

There must be a candidate for President willing to balance the budget, use military force wisely with as little occupation as possible and keep our land free from self-destructive dependence on resources from regimes dedicated to our destruction.

Republicans must choose wisely and be ready to endure a hailstorm of abuse from many voices, who, though disappointed with Obama, cannot bear the thought of ethical, principled leader who is patriotic, devoted to liberty, determined to reduce federal waste and a believer in the potential of every person.

Saturday, March 12, 2011

An Opportunity

Current crises present thoughtful people with opportunities for impact as the polemicists of the extremes wear themselves out. I suggest the following for our discourse and decisive action:

Let's stop the name-calling. Whether we are conservative or liberal, progressive or libertarian, labeling and hyperbole keep us from actually looking at the issues. As long as we can call someone a Nazi or a Commie we will never make progress. This said, we also reserve the right to see the links between philosophy and policy and ask for explanations of principles!

Let's live within our means - and as the means change, we all benefit or sacrifice accordingly. Why do firefighters, police and teachers suffer the most while we cannot even audit our bureaucracies? We cannot concomitantly be a warfare and welfare state forever.

Public and private entities need to be partners, not enemies. We need ethical oversight (NOT ownership or administration) of private enterprise and excellent systemic change in public administration that sharp business leaders can provide. The amount of redundancy in government is stunning. We must rebuild infrastructure and the successes of the 1930s and 1940s are instructive.

Public order requires private virtue. Liberty is built on morality and truth. We cannot question all moral structures and expect less than anarchy followed by totalitarianism. We do not need a government regulating our daily menu; conversely, we are personally responsible to feed well, clothe and care for ourselves and our children. If conservatives want less government, they must step up local and personal care. If liberals want healthier citizens, they must insist on personal accountability.

All business is service. For people who claim to be biblical in their world-view, they need to remember that God is the Owner and we are the stewards of creation, property and wealth. Throughout the Hebrew and Christian texts, there is a delightful balance - property rights are protected and prosperity is not a sin. At the same time, the poor are cared for and unjust economic and legal structures are confronted by the prophets. If we own businesses, we should have women and men lined up wanting to work for such ethical, kind and effective companies. If we are employees, we owe our leaders a full day's effort.

Compassion and other government operations are best delivered locally. Fewer tax dollars to Washington mean more for our cities, counties and states.

Radical Islam is a threat to all who love freedom. Of course most Muslims want peace and toleration - but most people are not patient revolutionaries with a long-term goal of a universal caliphate. Here is the 21st question for all Muslims of conscience: Will you strive to create a world where people of all faiths or none live in full equality, with the liberty of conversion, free speech (even if offensive) and the right to question religious leaders? If you answer yes, there is hope for peaceful coexistence and even reform within Islam. Any qualification of this query means subversion of freedom is never far away. Jews, Christians, Buddhists, Hindus, atheists and agnostics, and all other must answer yes as well. Society is best served when there is a real "free market" of religious options.

Let's roll up our sleeves, meet together and create a better future. We can argue over the climate or unite in private/public partnerships. We can drill for oil and develop new energy technologies. We need less conversations about the United Nation or a North American Union and more on revitalizing our local economies.

The time is now.

Friday, March 11, 2011

Time for Helpfulness, not Hubris

The earthquake and tsunami in Japan remind us all that natures' vagaries show no favoritism. Right now thousands of workers and millions of dollars are making their way to beleaguered populations. We are not in control of the waves and winds, but we can make a difference in the lives of those affected by this moment.

We must pause for prayer, reflection, and generosity. It is also an opportunity to think deeply about what really matters in the human condition and set aside the ideological rants and political posturing.

Human beings are more than their material conditions. We are complex creatures with the potential for gross depravity and great dignity. We work and worship. We want a future for our posterity. We can be crassly materialistic and creatively magnanimous and philanthropic. Most of us spend most of our best hours working in order to eat, clothe and shelter ourselves and others - and we wake up the next day to do the same. Yet in the midst of our survival we find time for altruism and art, liturgies and loves.

When a family member or close friend dies, the extended clan and neighbors rally to help. Somehow the computer can wait while we mourn, bake bread or help clean a home.

Our global family has suffered loss - can we take a moment to pray and look for ways to help? Why don't we suspend political wrangling (even about climate change) for one day and focus on our friends in the Pacific? Maybe it will help recalibrate the rest of what we do.

Sunday, March 06, 2011

We Can Do Better

Civility is a dying principle in our public discourse. The viral world of blogging and tweeting foments unrefined communication allowing the reaction of the moment to become part of a global conversation. We have thousands getting their news from two comedians and celebrities and politicians issuing threats and using obscenities as a matter of course. Sadly, what is lost is reasoned debate on the serious issues at hand. Political posturing goes back to the sophists in ancient Greece and will not go away until the end of time.
We can do better than this.

We can allow the First Amendment to flourish - even when we are indignant at their ideas. But we must be fair and any restrictions need to be applied equally. Rev. Walter Hoye peacefully protests abortion in Oakland and is arrested multiple times. But gay activists are allowed to scream blasphemies and disturb Catholic religious services. A former Muslim female leader is not allowed to speak at Berkeley and is physically forced off the platform by people protesting her "hate" speech while they call her every name in the book! Meanwhile, anyone who wants more information on Obama's upbringing in marginalized as a "birther" and threatened with investigation (and considered a threat to US security). It is OK to interrupt the funerals of fallen soldiers, but wrong to defend marriage.

We can do better.

I have strong convictions on a number of issues; however, I will defend the right of my neighbor to differ and freely express her or his thoughts in any peaceful manner. I am a Christian, but my friend's community has the liberty to worship in other ways. I want churches to be able to build - and I affirm the right of other religious groups to do the same. I love good art. I am sometimes offended by what others call art - but they have the right (with some limits for age and content) to express themselves. I want the poor fed, the sick healed, the vulnerable protected and our children well-educated. I think we can do these things while balancing budgets and decreasing federal micromanagement. Others disagree and want to accomplish these goals differently. So let's argue - without name calling, appeals to emotion and timeworn cliches.

We can do better. Our future depends on it.

I challenge all of us to think deeply and act decisively. I urge us to ask tough questions, such as:

Why can't we alter our currently unsuccessful military ventures, bring most of our troops home and use our carriers and special forces to fight terrorist hot spots?

Is it possible to see an Islamic democracy where all faiths or people of no faith are real equals, with no dhimmitude?

When will our politicians stop spending money we do not have and create conditions for wealth-creation instead of devising new strategies to tax the productive?

When will the country club Democrats and Republicans roll up their sleeves and show compassion with action and not just words?

When will we realize that the only democracy in the Middle East is a little state called Israel - and they deserve our support?

When will churches lead the way in caring for AIDS victims, just as the persecuted church served plague victims in the third century, during the worst Imperial oppression?

When will we realize that the imperfect but self-correcting experiment called America is still the finest system of human governance on earth?

When will we realize that the government dies not bestow rights - it protects them!?

We can do better. We need to love more, serve the poor more, care for those who cannot return the favor more - in short, think about how to give and not just get. But we cannot forget that humanity is born to create, to infuse into history new products, technologies and other ways to enhance our lives. Wealth distribution is impossible without wealth creation - and such creativity cannot be initiated by a apparatchik in a government building.

We can do better.

We can end the conflict in Wisconsin immediately, if union leaders and members unite with government officials and think about the good of their students.

Let's go beyond the failed polemics and sound bites and solve our problems based on clear principles and practical applications. We can do better. Posterity is counting on us.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

So Many Questions - But Will We Accept the Answers?

Local, national and global events assault our senses as we go about our day, consciously working and unconsciously worrying. What is the meaning of the unrest in the Arab nations? Why is the USA going to rebuke Israel at the UN? Will the politicians stop posturing and figure out how to get spending under control? When will we welcome our troops home from inhospitable lands that resent our presence?

But there are other, more pressing questions. Will I have a job next year? Will we be able to pay our mortgage or rent? Will my investments - especially in real estate - hold up? Will my kids have a better or declining future? Is climate change real? Is today's solar flare a sign of things to come?

As I write these words, I am grateful for the breakfast I just ate, hot water that works, clean clothes and a full "to do" list for the days (OK, weeks and months) ahead. I have a great marriage, three wonderful adult children, purpose in life and friends and colleagues that challenge me toward growth and love me as I am. As Art Garfunkel sings, I am "blessed and truly grateful."

But the questions remain and I cannot hide away in my office or try to create some kind of detached mental or physical bunker to escape my connectedness with the real world. One of my gifts is clarity, so I want to get to the heart of each matter in a few sentences and confront myself and others with our responsibility for the current problems. It is not enough to talk about "them" before we look in the mirror.

The unrest in Arab nations is not new, but it is well-planned and staged for a global audience. Corrupt regimes are being challenged and the protesters are in two groups. The first consists of moderate or liberal, well-educated and caring people who want to establish freedom. The second group, lead by the Muslim Brotherhood and other devotees of radical Islam, will join with the first temporarily to be rid of the current regimes. Their goal is to gradually impose sharia law and attempt to return these lands to Koranic values. On the surface this sounds like self-determination, but it means oppression for women, dhimmitude (inferior) status for other religions and a long-term aim of a universal caliphate, thrusting the world back to the 13th century.

Peace with Israel is simple: She must have an unconditional guarantee that her existence and sovereignty will be honored by Palestinian neighbors and surrounding nations. Settlements will stop and boundaries will be established when Arab leaders want peace. As long as the Arabic speeches scream blood libel and spew out violent propaganda, there is little hope for resolution. Whatever influence Obama thinks he has (and it is precious little) should be spent arm-twisting Arab nations and the Palestinians, not lambasting Israel.

Our leaders must summon the courage to stop the economic bleeding NOW. Impose an immediate freeze on all increases, cut ALL budgets by at least 10% and start looking for ways to re-empower states and localities and re-engineer the process of resource distribution. The tragedy at the federal, state and local level is that when cuts are imposed, they hit the most vulnerable instead of targeting the bloated boards and bureaucracies. We need more dollars for the mentally and physically challenged, the young and the old, and for the classrooms. We do not need more dollars for employee pensions that must be privatized, duplicate agencies and wasteful Pentagon contracts. Cut the fat, keep taxes reasonable, eliminate the death tax, and create environments for wealth creation. We can again be the economic leader of the world if we will stop lying to each other!

The moment spending is under control, investment will grow, money will be more available and stability and growth will return. Our understandable personal fears will diminish if our future is not wasted by the abusers of power and purse.

By the way, one of the core issues underneath all our problems is that we cannot sustain a warfare and welfare state simultaneously. Both Democrats and Republicans have lacked the courage to stand up to the false compassion and the faulty contracts that place us in this mess.

Let's keep rapid deployment troops near terrorist hot spots and bring home our troops. We do not need to be an occupying power in inhospitable lands. Taliban leaders can be toppled by popular unrest - and we can support this intelligently. But the presence of US forces long-term is now a liability. "Bring Him Home" Mr. President.

Underneath the overt media-driven narcissism, below the surface of our consumerism is a wellspring of compassion, creativity, hard-work, neighborliness, entrepreneurial strength and hope that is the soul of the USA. With a moral and spiritual awakening and some common sense, we can renew our land and be the beacon of hope for a world.

I remain hopeful and realistic. History demonstrates the great good that comes from concerted ethical action (Wilberforce and slavery; MLK and Civil Rights) and the tragic consequences of economic and moral decline (Rome in the 3rd-4th century and Spain after 1588). Let's make history by creating a better future starting today.