Sunday, January 29, 2012

Kyrie Eleison

Today I paused and considered the state of our nation, the political discourse and my recent essays. While I remain deeply concerned about our country's future and profoundly troubled by the current administration, I think a moment of introspection is due - for me, for the churches of our land, and for every thoughtful person that possesses some reverence for God and respect for others. In the midst of passionate polemics, we can forget our own personal proclivities for good and evil. In the middle of debating economic policies, we can be ignorant of needs across the street and around the world that we can help solve.

For years I have been calling - along with thousands of others - for a moral and spiritual awakening that compels consecration among believers, conversion of many and transformation of economic, moral and social spheres of our world. We need to be aroused from our selfish stupors and embraced by Divine love and holiness. Such conversion is not for our own ecstatic delight alone; authentic awakening compels service to those that cannot return the favor. Consecration to God also stimulates creativity and cooperation that can engender new wealth.

Where do we start? New mass meetings? Viral sermons and prayer times? Another 3, 7 or 12-step book? All of these may help. But there is a ancient prayer that we can offer that may be the spark for the millions of brush fires we need.

The prayer I speak of is the Kyrie Eleison prayer used by all streams global Christianity. Rooted in the texts of Old and New Testament, the prayer means, "Lord, have mercy." The Orthodox tradition adds the famous, "Jesus Prayer" - "Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy (on me)." These ancient words of humility and dependence are needed in our hour of nattonal and personal crises.

Yes, we must debate, vote and work. Yes, we must allow for civil discourse and not impose any religious tests for citizenship, public office or neighborliness. I am not speaking of a movement that imposes prayer - I am calling on all people of faith to pray these words from the depths of hearts hungry for change. We must not make this prayer privately engaging and publicly irrelevant. "Lord, have mercy..." needs to offered for all women and men, whether we agree with their personal choices or political ideas. "Kyrie Eleison" applies to churchgoers enslaved to food and pornography as well as all who struggle with all addictions.

"Kyrie Eleison" means I will pray for our President's well-being and that God will help him change where needed as well as persevere where good is promoted. "Lord have mercy" begins with my own soul and reverberates to a world starving for moral leadership. Here are some Kyrie Eleison prayers to get us started in a new direction of civility and hope:

"Lord, have mercy on me for my myopic vision and self-centered living. Help me wake up every day with the desire to honor you and bring good to others. Help me see all my activity as service and keep me from merely advancing my agendas."

"Lord, have mercy on your church. Let every community, every parish experience gracious renewal as your love and holiness are the focus rather than consumer needs and personal preferences. Kyrie Eleison - renew us in this day. We deserve wrath - please remember mercy."

"Lord, have mercy on our nation. You love all humankind and will bless all who call on your Name in truth. Help us appreciate your work in our history while repenting of our arrogance. We are only as exceptional as our reverence for you and our integrity in life. Forgive our prejudice toward "the other." We forget that each person we see is made in your image and an object of your affection. Forgive our wanton disregard for life, from conception to coronation, from forgetting the poor and vulnerable to treating the aged and challenged as burdens."

"Kyrie Eleison for our current administrations in our cities, counties, states and in Washington, D.C. Help all in places of power to be servants not masters, stewards of a trust and not despots of select interests. Help all in service to debate well and forge solutions that move us forward. Keep them alert to the dangers of radical ideologies that hold so many captive. Let your love, holiness and mercy move them in pursuit of equity and opportunity, always sustaining faith in the Almighty and in their neighbor."

Many more prayers can be offered. What would happen if millions of us cried out every day, "Lord have mercy."? Perhaps we would forgive from our hearts and be less angry. Perhaps the glory of God and good of others would restrain our egos. Perhaps we would sit down with rivals and ask the question, "What is the best way forward regardless of who is funding our campaigns?"

One thing is certain: if we walk in this disposition, we will contribute more than we take from our world and make at least one person's day brighter. Perhaps that is where the awakening begins.

Friday, January 27, 2012

Disney Comes to Presidential Politics

The Disney brand is amazing. From amusement parks to films, from media products to toys, a colorful world of fantasy awaits the consumer. For entertainment and family vacations, no one can rival Disney's influence. There is a place for escapist fun and millions of people enjoy what Disney creates.

Today's political rhetoric rivals Disney. The fantasy worlds and outright fabrication of history and reality are stunning. We are facing the greatest crises in our history and all the American people are hearing are platitudes. Yes, there are a few practical policies buried within the sound bites; however, they are hard to decipher as the propaganda of image and word gush out over the airwaves and web.

Republican candidates need to stop lashing out at each other and debate the practical pathways to repairing the diplomatic, economic and policy disasters of the past three years. Let the press expose all the dirt - the candidates need to refine their solutions and explain to the American people the real road to a better future.

I wish Barak Obama was simply clueless or out of his depth. We could then elect someone else and remember a failed Presidency led by a Chicago political hack. What we are facing is the first President in our history who is contemptuous of our Constitution, disdainful of our heritage and determined to rule by fiat. Every honest measurement demonstrates the utter failure of his policies, from ballooning deficits (with no plan to change the trajectory), Un(der)employment growing, Islamofascism on the rise, family values under direct assault and an utter inability to carry on civil, rigorous debate. His favorite totalitarian phrase lately is "Don't let anyone tell you differently." Such language ends debate, stifles creativity and dooms us to paralysis.

Obama has created an alternate universe in his inner circles, with billionaires benefiting from terrible decisions (Keystone Pipeline cancellation). We have a burgeoning federal workforce and hundreds of union groups exempt from Obamacare, while small and medium business owners struggle to survive. Obama and the Keynesian socialists surrounding him despise private business (except for select Eco-groovy, organic progressives who will employ the undocumented). They hate the military and are gleefully touting a "peace dividend" as our troops come home from Iraq. There is no real "money" saved - just a slightly smaller deficit to corral. New agencies for ethics and environmental concerns sound good to some victims, but we have enough regulation. Obama's view of life is a government that bestows material well-being and political rights. He forgets that the US Constitution exists to protect the rights of the people and the states, while restricting the reach of the federal government.

Obama is not corrupt (he is faithful to his wife and family - a very good thing), clueless or just incompetent. Presidents of both parties have met these standards (Anyone celebrating Buchanan or Harding?). Obama wants to remake America - and the world - according to his globalist, post-American and anti-free-enterprise ideology. He really believes he is smarter that most and that he and his associates know what is best for the "the people." The fact that his election strategists keep on playing the class, race and envy cards is evidence of the paucity of substance at the heart of this Administration. Professors are placed in front of cameras and declare that anytime a Republican touts family values or hard work that they are homophobes and racists. Spin doctors ignore the sources of the Obama family's income and the extreme attempts to hide all childhood and young adult records, including published articles.

Republicans are not exempt from weaving fantasies in place of facts. The policies of both Bush Presidents did not arrest the spending patterns of a generation. We simply cannot sustain a warfare and welfare state at the same time. The fact that anyone listens to Newt Gingrich or Oliver North after their records of corruption is startling. Ron Paul's popularity is directly connected to the deep dissatisfaction of diverse groups with the current crop of candidates. Romney needs to tell the world, "I am rich. Here are my records." Gingrich needs to withdrawal and go back to a think tank and send ideas to the next President. Santorum is a solid citizen, but not without flaws. He must atone for some of his Senate pork, clearly affirm civil rights for all Americans while defending traditional marriage, strengthen his support for real borders and e-verify and communicate more compassion for those contemplating abortion (without compromising an admirable pro-life position).

The best thing that could happen would be the insertion of Mitch Daniels or Tom Pawlenty into the mix. Their combination of character and competence would be refreshing and confront the vacuousness of the current regime. At least they have led states toward a better future and not wasted their energies weaving mythological worlds.

Friday, January 20, 2012

Collective or Community?

The chattering classes and politicians enjoy offering sweeping pronouncements. I am not immune to this, so I will claim here and now, "mea culpa" for my declarations of principle. I only ask that they be evaluated.

One of the disturbing trends of the past century has been the collectivization of people-groups and voting constituencies, at the expense of individuality and true community. The 2012 Obama's strategists have "written off" the white blue-collar votes and are aiming their election appeals downward to non-White poor and working groups and upward to academic and professional elites advocating maximal private (read sexual) liberties. This cynicism is not absent from Republican campaigns, as populist tirades against Romney multiply, with capitalism under fire. Analysts and spin doctors evaluate ethnic "blocs" and "evangelical" groups, with little attention to the variegated realities of the American populace and, most ominously, almost no regard for individual dignity and freedom rooted in truth and virtue.

Ideologues and totalitarians love to see people collectively, often with eyes of exploitation or benevolent despotism. When Republicans limit increases for federal social programs, they are "starving the poor." Of course, no one dares questions the terrible inefficiencies and unethical practices of those administrating these programs. When Democrats suggest that military spending be curtailed, they are "weak" and "unpatriotic." Cynicism and immediate quests for office, power and wealth override what is good for the community and nation.

Community is not the same as "the collective." The latter has its roots in the insipid and insolent ideology of Marxism, while the former is founded upon the cooperation of free people associating for the common good. The collective focuses on conformity enforced by an elite; community is cooperative and driven by shared values. The collective breeds dependency, true community empowers personal flourishing in an ethos of service. The collective subverts moral, political and religious traditions with fabricated unification. Authentic community strengthens the deepest beliefs and bonds and helps us live with our deepest differences.

Our Founders were not Cartesian individualists, Ayn Rand libertarians or theocratic ideologues. Somehow through their arguments, compromises and passionate debates, they forged an experiment in freedom we are still aspiring to realize. They would be aghast at the Marxism that permeates the collective unconscious of so many thinkers. They would equally recoil at the hyper-libertarian ethics ruling the extremists of the Left and Right.

Community begins with the dignity of the person and the freedom to love and serve. Government exists as a subsidiary agency to familial, personal and religious mores. Government does NOT exist to bestow rights, but to protect them! At the same time, there is no liberty without transcendent truth, virtue and the rule of law.

"Structural change" in economics is a Leftist euphemism for government intervention and forced redistribution of wealth. "The magic of the market" is sometimes a cover for libertarian disregard of racism, redlining and oppression. We need free markets and morality. We need effective oversight and maximal creativity. We need community compassion joined with personal responsibility.

I challenge all the Presidential candidates to articulate honestly the reality that without personal virtue, liberty is doomed. I further call on candidates to celebrate the diversity of American flourishing as people of all ethnicities and faiths fulfil their dreams in a land that remains fertile for the responsible.

Let's choose community over the collective. Community can be messy and will always be imperfect; however, it offers the most for all to thrive and the least repressive ethos. The collective may distribute resources, but in the end it will restrict and oppress in the name of an impersonal ideology. Community welcomes diversity and debate; the collective calls for uniformity ("don't let anyone tell you otherwise"). Community fosters individual potential; the collective suppresses "counterrevolutionary" thinking.

When we choose community, we are freely serving others in love. This love is not primarily a feeling. It is rooted in a vision that sees every person as valuable, from conception to coronation, from the least-able to the very talented. Community says, "Yes!" to creativity, wonder and joy. Will you join me in building community? Or will we acquiesce to elite-driven collectivism that will quell our future?

Thursday, January 12, 2012

One Question for Our Next President

The interminable Presidential campaign continues, with some anointing Romney as the only one able to beat Obama (sounds like the brief flurry of Pro-McCain media until after his nomination in 2008)and Democrats knowing they have nowhere else to go. Our President refuses to set direction, craft workable solutions and negotiate with Congress, preferring a totalitarian populism and endless campaigning for office. Obama's pseudo-outrage and class/racial warfare are transparent to all, unless one's Republican antibodies make objectivity impossible.

My preferred candidates are not in the race, either from personal conviction to retain their integrity and sanity or media cabals (Left and Right differ little here) that declare them second- or third-tier and therefore unelectable. The flame out of Herman Cain, regardless of any indiscretions (notice how they are no longer news?)is proof that anyone ready to initiate change will be excoriated and marginalized. Currently, I think Senator Santorum represents the best combination of character, competency and clear thinking. He must decide to stay the course and not let media momentum anoint a winner before the votes are counted.

The Obama nightmare is a potential challenge from Hillary Clinton. This will not happen unless Obama's poll numbers tank further and the Republicans unite around a candidate able to articulate views that reveal the paucity of Obama's ideas and policies. The real threat for Republicans is a Clinton run that will galvanize independents and those who pine for the 1990s, scandals and all. After all, the budget was closer to balanced and the economy was roaring and people even left the welfare roles (thanks to a Republican Congress). Of course, Hillary's radical nationalized health care initiative has been forgotten, along with her socialist background and even her current ambivalence in foreign policy. Watch for the Obama team to offer her the Vice-Presidency (keep your friends close...and enemies closer).

There is one fundamental question the candidates must answer in order to give voters a real choice. This question is not about any specific issue. This query gets to the soul of our decision in 2012. It even transcends some of the traditional differences between Democrats and Republicans. Here is the one question that matters:

"What is your vision of a healthy United States of America in the 21st century?"

The ancient proverb states, "Without a vision, the people perish [cast off restraint; waste away, go adrift...]."

Right now, there is no dream or vision that infuses most Americans with hope. The Balkanization of the last 40 years and current Democratic tactics of race and victimhood, as well as transparent attempts to swell voter rolls will illegal residents (refusing to ask for identification and delaying extradition for thousands) are yielding a factious environment that keeps our nation from grasping core values and concrete direction.

"What is your vision of a healthy United States of America in the 21st Century?"

The answer to this will determine whether or not our experiment in liberty and opportunity continues or we become one more civilizational tragedy in the historical record, beset by internal strife, economic overthrow and the imperial designs of global rivals.

Does your vision, sir, ma'am, include the rule of law and secure borders? Please just answer the question without endless qualifications!

Do you believe only citizens should vote?

Do you believe in a balance of local, state and federal government and will you begin to reverse the federal usurpation of power over that last 80 years?

Do you believe that marriage is one man and one woman?

Do you believe life is precious and that all people, from children in the womb, to the disabled, poor, and aged, deserve protection and care?

Do you believe we should honor our commitments to protect Israel's right to exist as the only true democracy in the Middle East?

Do you believe we should have one legal system that holds all citizens accountable, regardless of race or religion?

Does your vision include defending the lives of Americans and our allies from unrighteous persecution for political and religious beliefs?

Does your vision of the future include protection of reasonable property rights, with redress for citizens overwhelmed by government agencies?

Does your vision include a nimble military that can respond to threats while not being an occupying power?

Does your vision include resisting totalitarianism of all kinds and reaffirming the great principles of the Declaration of Independence and the U.S. Constitution, with proper regard to the Founders' principles and intents?

Does your vision include a balanced budget, real financial accountability and one legal/moral standard that embraces private and public workers?

Does your vision include sound environmental policy that preserves and renews our parks and resources, while judiciously opening the door to wealth creation?

Does your vision include energy independence?

Mr President, Mr. Governor/Senator/Congressman, does your vision include personal honesty, administrative transparency and a willingness to let your history be known?

There is only one question that matters...but this one question creates all the others that form a cohesive and comprehensive platform of authentic hope and change. We can do so much better that the current haphazard policies and ideological soundbites.

If we do not address the deficit, establish our borders, respond to terrorism and reaffirm moral principles, the American Experiment is over - and this may be the agenda of some who presently pull the marionette stings for the current regime.

There is one more reality: A healthy USA requires a healthy populace that is hopeful, hospitable and responsible. We must have moral and spiritual renewal in each of our hearts, in our families, in our local communities. We must decide to live in reverence for God and respect for others (including our deepest differences) if there is any hope for our nation.

Maybe the one question is not for the candidates...maybe it is for us. Can we see past our personal crises and wants to the good of others and our posterity? Decision time is here - and it starts in each of us.

Thursday, January 05, 2012

2012 Insights

This week a student texted a question to me, "Dr. Self, is the world going to end in 2012?" The inquirer was a sincere, thoughtful Christian and concerned about the dire predictions of friends, media moguls and spin doctors on the left and right.
I answered that all Christians believe in the hope of Christ's Return; however, we are to fulfill our callings well until that Day. As we live in hope we can plant trees, invest for our posterity, establish new products, develop new forms of compassion and give more than we take from the world.

The question reflects more than pop-cult interest in the Mayan calendar or the latest televangelist interpretations of the Book of Revelation. There is an unsteadiness in the USA that reflects the erosion of public cohesion that has been accelerating since the late 1960s and is taking nasty turns in this election year.

There are no "good old days" in US history - just better or worse actions of a few or many persons that create conditions for progress or regress. The 1950s were an amazing moment of economic and social growth; however, millions of African-Americans could not vote and had no access to many fields of work. The 1960s brought Civil Rights - and Vietnam. Technology has expanded exponentially since the 1950s, but social mores have fragmented and public virtue is scoffed at by the chattering elites.

The dis-integration of our land is evident when we exonerate a standing President for lying about his moral life in the 1990s, give any consideration to a current candidate that is a two-time adulterer and outright lie to ourselves about current economic conditions.

We have a regime in power with deep distrust of the Founders' vision and the U.S. Constitution. Obama's declaration that his administration is the "fourth most influential" after Johnson, FDR and Lincoln unveils the hubris, narcissism and self-deception that are foundational to his leadership. His declaration that Israel has no greater friend that his administration and "don't let anyone tell you otherwise" reveals a totalitarian streak that is dangerous for the future of the USA and democracy around the world. His latest appointments without Congressional approval verify his utter disdain for dissent and his moral and political laziness. Forging lasting change through effective compromise is hard work and thus far Obama is unwilling to tackle issues in real dialogue with his opponents.

Conservatives are not exempt from critique. Where is a compelling vision of prosperity that includes compassion and resources for retooling and vocational change? When are Republicans going to realize that some defense cuts are needed as part of an overall budget-balancing goal? Conservatives talk about less government, but are they willing to lay aside thousands of earmarks, subsidies and pork barrel projects, including unwise ones that may bring a few jobs to their district or state?
Will conservatives join with progressives to secure our borders while making legal immigration less onerous? Will conservatives stop calling all environmentally-concerned folks crazy and pick up the mantle of Theodore Roosevelt and affirm that free enterprise includes holding companies accountable and managing resources well?

We can unite compassion and wealth creation.

Personal and social responsibility are inseparable.

We can have an effective military response to terror without being an occupying force.

We must stand for Israel's existence and be real peacemakers, negotiating Middle East peace.

We can simplify the tax system and grow revenue by stimulating investment.

Sound ecological practice is good for the economy as we leave the world better for our children.

We must stand against any ideology that despises human rights and reject our democratic principles.

We must want for others the rights we claim for ourselves. Government does not bestow freedoms and rights; it exists to protect God-give/Natural rights that are inherent in the human condition.

We must resist moral relativism and reaffirm that there are "first principles" that are the root and fruit of a free and noble society.

We need to aspire to maturity and honor milestones that celebrate transitions to adulthood. Let's stop rushing kids into sexual adulthood and extending adolescence into our 30s.

Life and politics need to be local again, without a retreat into obscurantism or xenophobia. More money needs to be spent locally and less money managed by the elites inside the DC Beltway.

Will the world end in 2012? God alone knows the moment when current history is transformed into the kingdom of God and all swords become plowshares, lambs and lions lie down together, we cease making war, tears are wiped away and the dwelling place of the Almighty is with humankind forever. Until that moment we have daily opportunities to be signposts of this future shalom, emissaries of peace and reconciliation, ennobling work and being stewards of a bountiful world. We cannot bring instant perfection, but we can partner with God and each other to ensure that no one is hungry. We can encourage creativity, initiative and liberty to grow. Let's shape our lives so that the deepest wellsprings of reverence and mutual respect are nurtured in homes and communities of hope.