Monday, February 20, 2012

Preparing for the 2012 Election

I have the honor of addressing spiritual and political leaders in a variety of settings. Here is a summary of some of my thoughts as we prepare for voting in November. The importance of this election cannot be overstated. I am not simply advocating an "ABO" (anyone but Obama) strategy - this is the same shortsightedness that led to trouble in 1976 with Carter and 2008 with Obama. it is important that our voting locally and nationally is proactive and not reactive, and a response to vision and values.

We need clear discernment of the key issues and proper dispositions for lasting change to occur. We must not allow propaganda and deflection to sidetrack clear thinking. Big lies will be sold as truth. Caricatures will be presented as accurate pictures of reality. Statistics will be twisted to validate either progress (the Dow Jones is up this week) or the need for austerity ($5 gas prices prove we need a "green" economy). Religion will be used to promote more or less federal government action. When presented with uncomfortable facts, candidates will fall back on slamming their predecessors or rivals.

Our founders limited the role of government, especially at the federal level and left sovereignty with the people and the states. The last century has seen this fundamental principle reversed, with many people thinking that government bestows liberties and rights! Our founders and all thoughtful people know that liberty requires virtue and self-regulation. America's birth defect of slavery (thank you, Peter Friedman, for this insight) is healing slowly, but the combination of latent racism and institutionalized victimhood keeps us from more progress. It is possible to affirm the lasting principles of our Constitution and enjoy 21st century innovation and insight. Justice Ginsburg is flat-out wrong to suggest that nations should not look first at the US Constitution as a model. She is obsessed with the imperfections (that Amendments have and can address) and fails to see the underlying brilliance of the authors. We are in a new battle between the totalitarian vision of Thomas Hobbes' Leviathan that controls all facets of life and meters out a few benefits and John Locke's works on civil society and the role of government that protect life, liberty and property.

Discernment means that we must recognize ideology as the enemy of theology (for those of faith) and sound critical thinking (for those of all faiths or none). When we are captive to any word that ends in ISM, we place ourselves in a straight jacket. For example, though I am considered "conservative" on many subjects, I refuse to allow the lens of conservatism to be the first refractor of truth. My carefully-considered positions on issues may place me in or out of particular ideological 'camps." For example, I am pro-life and also against the death penalty for civil crimes. I think we have a moral obligation to offer health care to all, but not deliver it as a single-payer program of an inefficient federal government.

Discernment affirms that policy compromises can work, such as the Clinton-Gingrich deal on welfare, work and the budget in the 1990s. Public-private partnerships are salutary for large infrastructure projects. Budget restraint has to include military and social welfare spending. There are "deals" that can happen that maintain the integrity of all parties.

Discernment means that we strive to find a healthy balance between individual rights and community well-being, especially concerning property use. There is a way forward that transcends the petty despots that push extreme environmental agendas or their counterparts that are on the take allowing rapacious development with no thought to ecological concerns.

A Culture of Life means that the vulnerable are cared for, from conception to coronation and that private and public groups work together to ensure that children are welcome, the aged are respected and the hurting are treated with dignity.

Discernment means that people of faith see God's common grace in others. Partnerships across cultural and religious boundaries are possible as we celebrate shared values and visions for the future.

Dispositions of humility and hopefulness, reverence for God and respect for all people and prayerfulness and personal kindness will build a better future. Our new dispositions can forge new alliances as conservative groups work with more liberal groups to combat sex and work slavery and ameliorate poverty.

When we love our enemies and return curses with blessings and refuse to get in the gutter of deceit, sterling character is forged and specific competencies will shine. When we live within our means and work to create wealth for ourselves and others, we will find more moments of joy and peace.

We have the opportunity to create - one conversation and one relationship at a time -a better future for our nation and the world. Yes, we must vote. Yes, we must debate. No, we cannot compromise crucial beliefs. But we can be known for our love and integrity, our humility and respect for all and our willingness to listen deeply, think well and find ways to work together.

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Can We Listen Deeply?

The political histrionics are in full swing as another Presidential election saturates our attention. Obama's strategy remains the same - blame most of the problems on previous administrations and "structural" issues and spread more federal largess to key business leaders and voting constituencies (He is from Chicago, after all). Republicans are spending too much time reacting to each other and too little attention to vision and practical solutions. We have the omnipresent phenomenon of everyone shouting over each other instead of engaging is honest debate and dialogue. We have Rep. Maxine Waters calling thoughtful Republican leaders, "demons" and telling Californians to not let then in the state. So much for a new bipartisan, post-racial, synergistic future! The Right talks family values but needs to offer solid ways forward for economic stability for the families it wants to serve.

"Election polemics and politics-as-usual", you say. Yes, we have a colorful history of parties spewing venom dating back to 1800. But this is not an excuse for incivility and insufficient effort to hear one another. Instead of commenting on "those politicians," I want to address our personal responsibility as we prepare to cast our ballots.

I challenge all of us to sit down with our colleagues, families and neighbors that may have different views and listen to each other as we discuss issues we all have in common, from economics to education, from safe schools to safe borders. Let's take an hour and agree to listen to each other, with a view to offering a way forward instead of just attacking our opponesnts. On immigration, for example, how do we uphold the law and show hospitality? How do we have military preparedness and national security while streamlining the budget? How do we stimulate business and protect the environment? The issues can be local or global and we will not always find middle ground. But beginning the conversation with the aim of finding solutions is much better than shouting down opposition sound bites.

I am not calling for a lack of passion, just kindness, humility and practicality rooted in sound principles. Passion and principle united create powerful changes for the good. Maybe if we listen deeply, we will be better informed, understand our neighbor and find new answers that are veiled behind the hot air!

Wednesday, February 08, 2012

Deflection is the Refuge of the Fearful

My fellow-thinkers, it is time to grow up. Dorothy Sayers, friend of C.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien, said that Christianity is a "religion for adult minds." As we confront unprecedented economic and social issues, we must not be captivated by the bumper stickers and sound bites of either the extreme communitarian Left or the individualism that can ensnare the libertarian Right. It is possible to promote free markets and show compassion to the poor. It is possible to defend civil liberties and uphold traditional marriage. We can agitate with civility, debate with a view to concrete answers and forge coalitions to improve our world.

One of the tactics of my opponents - whether political or theological - is deflection. Instead of addressing an assertion directly, they deflect the conversation. For example, when I say, "Obama has failed to confront the deficit in a meaningful manner" my adversaries reply, "Well the problems come from the Bush administration." At first this sounds plausible because our current crises are not all Obama's making. We have tried to be a warfare and welfare statue for over 50 years and our trajectory is unsustainable. But notice the subversive point here: my counterpart refused to face Obama's failures or even debate solutions, preferring the refuge of blame. Deflection is the tactic of the "pro-choice" radicals as well. Instead of squarely saying that abortions kill a pre-born human being, we are assailed by "right to choose" language that never confronts the most fundamental issue. There are a few honest radicals like Peter Singer that want to redefine human identity and restrict procreation to the intelligensia, but these darker thoughts do not play well on the news. When I debate the existence of God and/or moral absolutes, my sparring partners often counter with, "Look at all the evils of religion..." or, "I can be good without God." Both of these assertions have some merit, but they miss the point. By never debating the issue at hand, we fail to refine our thinking or forge creative ways forward on any issues.

Minority activists reflexively reject peers that are conservative or voices calling for more personal initiative and responsibility because they are concerned that these are codes for racism and the refusal to deal with "structural" issues. Again, there is some truth in these fears - we are less than a lifetime removed from an era when millions could not vote or have access to education and work opportunities. We still have a long way to go. Too many corporations redline entire neighborhoods. At the same time, community activists find it hard to inflame angry mobs with chants of self-determination, marital fidelity and deeper values. The way forward is not ignoring our ignominious history or the current systemic issues. These must be addressed. But the future also rests on moral responsibility, spiritual renewal and racial reconciliation - all values affirmed by the late Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King.

American and British leftists have characterized cvonservativism as the "refuge of the dim." Some conservatives call liberalism a "mental disorder." In both cases deflection rules as the actual ideas and policies are lost in the polemics. Leaving aside the extremes of Hitler and Stalin, there is room for real debate that includes historical evidence, economic observations and political theory. I strenuously diverge from Thomas Friedman on almost every issue, but his ideas deserve debate, not just castigation. I admire the late Willian Buckley; however, his eloquent thoughts are open to fresh evaluation. I love our Founder's vision and values - and we have amended the Constitution to affirm its ideals more inclusively.

The Obama administration needs to stop lying about our real economic condition, as they doctor statistics in an election year. The Republicans need to qualify their paeans to Ronald Reagan, roll up their sleeves and partner with moderate Democrats to get things done. We are in crisis. We need to stand with Israel against Iran and others dedicated to her destruction - no more deflection from those who deny Israel's legitimacy. We need to reduce the deficit and balance a budget - and everyone will feel some pain. No more "starving the children" deflections from the Left and "weakening our defense" deflections from the Right. Hard, principled and prudential decisions are necessary.

Unborn children deserve to live and be welcomed into the arms of loving people. The elderly deserve respect, not warehousing. Marriage is one man and one woman. Other adult arrangements may be made, but they are not marriage. Catholic health care providers must not be forced to dispense contraceptives, abortificents or perform abortions. Some San Francisco leaders saw the light and pulled back from their ban on male circumcision, realizing that multiple religious communities cherish this sign of God's covenant. What is frightening is that they contemplated any ban at all. Private enterprise needs encouragement and all businesses need to play by the same ethical standards. We can create wealth and care for the world. Muslims are welcome in the USA, but parallel legal systems are not. Government is present to protect the natural liberties and rights of humankind, not bestow them. We must affirm for all others the rights we desire for ourselves.

The final form of deflection from real issues is the ad hominem attack. It is easier to caricature and stereotype opponents instead of applying critical thinking standards to important policies. Labeling Israel as an "apartheid" nation is the refuge of racist, small-minded folks unwilling to face the failure of the two generations of Palestinian leadership. A new Palestinian state as a good neighbor to Israel is welcome as long as Israel's existence is not in doubt. Castigating climate change skeptics as extremists and fools and refusing to debate the issuers is easier than confronting scientific evidence that is complex. Conversely, calling all global warming adherents communists keeps the other side from objective evaluation of human impact on the environment. Questioning the sanity of religious adherents (Richard Dawkins) avoids confronting the paucity of most arguments against the possibility of a Creator. Maybe we should use the word "demonize" instead of deflection to describe this process. Villification spares the accuser the pain of correcting assertions and refining arguments.

Let's argue the issues and create pathways that are as inclusive as possible. Let's stop deflecting and choose to think deeply and act decisively.

Monday, February 06, 2012

Creating Wealth

One of the amazing things about our planet and human nature is that we can create wealth, enriching our lives and serving others as we discover new artistic expressions, products, services and skills that enhance our human experience in diverse ways. From colorful canvasses to new mathematical formulae, we keep on uncovering new mysteries of the universe and unveiling new artistic visions. Someone helps folks connect with each other and a thousand millionaires are about to be born. Life saving medical knowledge and life-giving wells are transforming famine-ravaged parts of our world. We do not live in a zero-sum bubble of limitation and scarcity. We have a vibrant world of possibilities that we are called to steward well.

Our economic future will be as bright as our imagination, as solid as our ethics and as sustainable as our love for others. Wealth creation is more than economic opportunity. We enrich the world and ourselves with every encouraging word and each act of kindness. When we look past our personal wants to the hopes of others, our vision grows and possibilities become tangible. If each of us thinks deeply and acts decisively for the good of others, present pathways of self-destruction can be altered and new avenues of prosperity unearthed.

We do not need Utopian promises from political elites or dystopian rumors to dissuade our efforts. Equipped with faith, hope and love and empowered to act, our daily decisions forge a future far richer that any stump speech.

Thursday, February 02, 2012

What Can I Do?

In the midst of the passions of political debate and the problems confronting our civilization, it is easy for us to feel helpless. Massive deficits, Middle East tensions and visceral concerns for our own families can have a paralyzing effect on the soul. What can one person do? Leaving aside either a "bunker and bullets" strategy or noble crusades for charitable causes, is there anything we can do to forge a better future for our country?

We can be PRESENT. This is an acronym that is also descriptive of the disposition that can change the future. Are we really present when listening to others? Are we present at work, using our time well? Are we present to the hopes and needs of those we meet everyday? Let's explore each facet of this important quality:

P: this stands for being present, fully engaged in whatever the moment brings us. Imagine the dignity we bestow on others when we give them full attention. Think about then clarity that comes when we confront what the politicians are actually saying.

R: is for reverent. Whether we are part of a religious community or not, life calls us to humility and awe as we consider the magnificence of creation and our own consciousness.

E: is for encouraging. All of us can help another forward, offering support and insights that will stimulate courage under fire.

S: stands for supporting the success of others as we realize that all work is service, and that life is much more fulfilling when we help others rather than focus only on ourselves.

E: this second E represents engagement. We need to find our causes and commit our time, talent and treasure to their missions. We cannot do everything, but if all of us do something, we will change the world.

N: stands for nurturing the next generation as we parent, mentor, teach and open doors for younger women and men. Whether we are married or single, childless or with a full house, we can create a better tomorrow by nourishing the dreams of today's children and younger adults and even inspiring seasoned citizens that they have much wisdom to offer.

T: truth must guide our decisions, whether it is the transcendent precepts of our moral and religious convictions or the empirical discoveries of careful investigation. Opinions are not facts and the internet is not the final arbiter of reality.

Lets implore God for mercy, give to charities and vote. In all of these and other activities, let's be PRESENT and not lose our liberty by default.