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.