Tuesday, April 24, 2012

A New Direction

The news is painful to observe. We see human tragedy on a massive scale in Africa, with little attention given to the loss of an entire generation to AIDS, genocide and religio-political warfare. In the Middle East, unveiled threats from all sides keep Israel in a state of high alert, while a dormant West criticizes the Israeli government for their refusal to accept gradual self-annihilation. Economies around the world are struggling to sort out the consequences of massive global speculation. Our Campaigner-in-Chief is doing what he does best: using our money to agitate and cover up his utter lack of leadership and skill. The Republican campaign is down to a dull roar as conservatives express concerns, evangelicals struggle with a Mormon candidate and the other leaders stay on the sidelines and position themselves for a 2016 run. Underneath the surface, there are ominous signs of our American experiment in liberty-rooted-in-virtue eroding even further. The Obama Administration's defiance of Congress and the Supreme Court - in direct violation of their "post-partisan" 2008 ideals - does not bode well for our democratic future. If populist Executive Orders can trump judicial and legislative balances, what is left but a descent into the totalitarian abyss? Meanwhile, Republicans offer little vision to galvanize alienated constituencies that share most of their values. Our fiscal house remains a disaster. The Ryan plan may not be the answer, but it is a starting point for a painful discussion we must stop avoiding. We need a new direction. Our current trajectory posits survival (for a few years) at best, subversion and anarchy at worst. What can we do to reverse course and restore susbtantive hope? I want to offer four keys to unlocking a better future. They will not be popular with elites in both parties, so they may be rooted in reality! First, we must promote a moral and spiritual awakening that restores reverence for the Almighty and personal responsibility for individuals and families. Yes, there are structural issues of class and culture, religion and race, economic and educational opportunities that must be addressed. But change in all of these arenas begins with transformation of the heart. Schools will only be as strong as the families that send their kids off in the morning with a full stomach, clean clothes and an affirming hug. Bill Cosby's exhortations for parental responsibility need to be magnified in all communities, regardless of economics or race. Unless a critical mass of people embrace the call to love sacrificially, turn off the toys and pay attention to their children, no amount of government spending or private charity will resverse our self-destruction. Second, we must stop spending money that does not exist. An immediate 15% cut across the board in federal spending and serious budgetary recalibration will kick-start our economy and transform local and state governments as well. This means cuts everywhere, including defense. No, we are not showing weakness when we scrutinize the fat in defense contracts or reduce our presence in some sectors of the globe. We also need to reverse the trend of incresaing food stamp usage and eliminate ads that promote them! It is time to privitize public pensions (with government oversight of investment ethics) and stop creating six-figure jobs for government employees while working-class folks struggle. Third, we must overhaul the tax code, creating a two- or three-tier system that caps at a rate low enough to stimulate investment while being as fair as possible to different income levels. Ending most deductions and special-interest breaks (like the ones that enable rock stars to call their estates "farms") and rewarding domestic investment will keep us the leader of the free world, not by force of arms but by creativity and innovation. Fourth, we need an immigration policy that is hospitable, just and submissive to the rule of law. Voting is only for citizens and ID checks are not a violation of civil rights. Every citizen's vote must count and corruption reduced. Why are the Democrats so afraid of confirming the identity of voters at local precincts? Why was a white man able to pose as Attorney General Eric Holder and given a ballot, even when he offered three times to show ID? If we do not confront these core issues, our disintigration will accelerate and our nation will be one more collapsed civilization on the ash heap of history. Our demise is not inevitable if we reverse course today.

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

The Day(s) After Easter

Easter is the most important day in the Christian calendar. The Resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth and the subsequent missionary efforts of his followers continue to impact the world. A small band of Jewish believers becomes a global, multicultural faith touching billions. Frightened disciples become fearless martyrs and proclaim forgiveness, reconciliation and hope. The agony of Good Friday is now seen as atonement for sin. The despair of death has been overcome by a preview of the future as believers see in the Risen Lord their eternal destiny.

Christianity is more than a personal faith or religious tradition. The Judeo-Christian worldview reflected in the Bible is the foundation for liberty, prosperity and stability. Even people of other faiths or no faith at all are the beneficiaries of the values and vision inspired by the call of Abraham, the legislation of Moses, the leadership of David, the courage of the prophets, the example of Jesus and the insights of the Apostles.

It is vital to assert that people of all worldviews bring much good to the world. Christianity does not have an exclusive claim on universal values such as love, compassion and justice. In fact, a biblical understanding of humankind affirms that all women and men are made in God's image. Though we are effaced by sin, God's image is not erased. In the providence of the Almighty, every person can bring good to the world.

The Judeo-Christian ethos has, however, led the planet in fostering particular values that all thoughtful people embrace. Here are just a few of the ideals that are part of the heart of our civilization:
* The dignity of all people, regardless of gender, race or status. This was new in an Empire that devalued the lowly and practiced infanticide.
* Compassion for the broken, poor and vulnerable. Medical care, hospitality, food for the hungry and advocacy for daily bread are the legacies of belief in a loving Creator and Redeemer.
* Free markets, natural prices, private property, community welfare and the entrepreneurial spirit are the overflow of biblical principles.
* Universal human rights rooted in the dignity of all people, the rule of law and transcendent moral principles.

Many more ideals can be enumerated. Consider the social progress of the last millennium, including emancipation movements, suffrage campaigns and private and public welfare provisions. Prison reforms, fair labor laws and equal opportunity under the law are consequences of reverence for God and respect for all people. Leaders across cultures and epochs share the convictions that produced the courage to change the world, from William Wilberforce to Martin Luther King, from St. Francis to Mother Teresa.

Art and music that refresh our lives flow from faith. Bach's majestic orchestrations and Marc Chagall's unparalleled images inspire creativity and nobility. Mozart's masses and the literary genius of C.S. Lewis refract Divine luminosity. Makato Fujimura's illuminated Gospels and inspired paintings grace 21st century venues around the world. The heartfelt and insightful lyrics of singer Sara Groves inspire millions to believe and continue their journey toward love and truth.

Easter is the day of hope. The days after Easter continue to make our lives rich with meaning. It is interesting that agnostics and atheists thrive in lands deeply affected by biblical values. Liberty of conscience, our most precious natural right, is the direct consequence of Judeo-Christian precepts that call for voluntary belief and mutual love and respect. We have a noble history and great hope if we will renew our fidelity to enduring ideals.