Monday, November 25, 2013

Thanksgiving Peace

Thanksgiving feasts are as old as humankind's agricultural bounty. They are found in every culture. Gratitude for another yeast's food engenders humility before the Almighty and compassion for the less fortunate. The 1621 Pilgrim feast is regarded as the first Thanksgiving Day in American history, though Floridians in St Augustine (founded in the 1560s) and Virginians in Jamestown (1609) claim celebratory moments antedating the survivors of the Mayflower crossing.

The 1621 feast was the culmination of a series of miracles sustaining the fledgling colony. From sheer survival (half the colony died during the winter of 1620-1621 spent aboard the ship) to the encounter with the English-speaking Squanto, the Pilgrim's were truly the recipients of many Providential blessings.

A forgotten part of the Thanksgiving legacy is the half-century of peace enjoyed by the Pilgrims and their Native American neighbors. So many of the narratives of the Americas after 1492 are filled with conquests, displacements and disease. It is refreshing and instructive to see Europeans and Amerindian communities enjoying positive relations. The Pilgrims owed their survival to the helpfulness of Squanto and others. The Pilgrims experiences of marginalization and persecution no doubt influenced their policies of respect and toleration.

As we enjoy the bounty of our tables and televisions, let's pause for a moment and thank the Lord for abundance and the relative peace and stability our nation enjoys. When virtue and mutual respect guide relationships, there is peace and property for all.

Thursday, November 07, 2013

Thank You, Rev. Graham.

Tonight I watched the final public message of Evangelist Billy Graham. It was powerful and profound in its simplicity, weaving film clips of his 60+ years of global ministry with contemporary testimonies and his current call to follow Christ.

Tears are flowing as I write this tribute. Tears of joy for the message of the Cross that once again comes alive: Jesus Christ died for our sins, sorrows and sufferings, reconciling us to God. His borrowed tomb is empty, for Christ is the Risen Lord, triumphant over death and now alive in every believer's heart through the power of the Holy Spirit.

Tears of sadness as Billy Graham's voice fades from public hearing. Resonant, direct, kind, compelling, warm and prophetic - it is a voice that over two billion people have heard, with millions responding and following Christ. There will never be another like it.

Tears of intercession as I weep in internal exile for my beloved USA. How far we have fallen from the faith, hope and love that our founders and framers bequeathed to us! How far we have fallen from the stirring oratory of Martin Luther King as he offered a vision of "all God's children" coming together and living in mutual love and respect based on the content of their character instead of the color of their skin.

Tears of gratitude are flowing as well, for I believe that our next Awakening will not be in stadiums or focus on a handful of personalities. Our next revival will be in millions of homes and businesses, charities and schools, conversations and service opportunities as Christians share this same gospel message in deed and word with their neighbors.

Thank you, Billy Graham. Thank you for your integrity of life and intensity of love. Thank you for being faithful to Christ and your family. Thank you for serving countless leaders in public and private. Thank you for learning from your missteps and growing in wisdom as you kept reaching new cultures and generations with the Good News. Thank you for reminding us that there is room at the foot of the Cross and around the throne of God for all people, no matter what their background or sins.

Thank you, Billy Graham, for standing with people of all faiths during times of tragedy and triumph, yet never wavering in your conviction concerning the claims of Christ. Thank you for being a model of leadership, setting the highest standards of ethics for ministry. Thank you for loving excellent communications and education, investing your time in media and seminaries, colleges and conferences, footing the bills so millions can be equipped to serve. Thank you for the Lausanne Movement, connecting Christians around the world for the tasks of evangelization and transformation.

Thank you for unifying Christians through your events and conferences, conversations and service opportunities. All streams of the global Christianity owe you a great debt for your selfless efforts. Thank you for all your efforts toward racial justice, for integrating your services at the cost of friendships. Thank you for your moral absolutes and cultural sensitivities. You knew the difference between God's commands and the unnecessary legalisms of the religious.  Yes, George Beverly Shea always sang and a choir worshipped at your meetings, but your message was fresh, your guests were relevant and your use of media stellar.

And thank you, my Lord and Savior, for tears that soften my heart, cleanse my soul and water the  seeds of prayers.

Thank you, Billy Graham, for a life well-lived.

Monday, September 30, 2013

Awakening Dignity

Solving our intractable domestic and foreign policy crises will require much more that political compromise and diplomatic maneuvering. Our overextended federal systems and diminished influence abroad are signals of deeper issues. Conservatives press for reduced government and increased personal  responsibility. Liberal/Progressive voices argue for better distribution of wealth that creates a just society. Conservatives are troubled by social elites proffering new moral standards even as they advocate for more government involvement in family and personal life in all non-sexual arenas. Liberal/Progressive leaders focus on structural changes that will even the economic playing field and open doors for historical underclasses to improve their situations.

Both groups have valid concerns. Both are concerned about government intrusion - but intrusion for one is justice for the other. When conservatives protest public school curricula, they are deemed intolerant, impervious to the needs of kids and out of touch with 21st century realities. When liberals are criticized for wasteful public spending and a lack of accountability, their response is to demand more money and label opponents "extremists" or (gasp!) part of the Tea Party. When conservatives are critiqued for a lack of social concern, they often resort to "family values speak" without mentioning the brokenness of families and communities. In foreign affairs, conservatives argue for national self-interest and realpolitik while liberals argue for human rights (while strangely ignoring the persecution of millions of Christians by Islamic regimes).

The foundational answer that begins to solve these issues is a recovery of the dignity of the human person. "Dignity" has been usurped by some to agitate for non-traditional marriage and sexual practices as well as promote euthanasia. In this essay, dignity is not a political term, but as essential part of being human, a quality that affects how we see each person we encounter and view the billions that share our planet.

Our Founders and Framers understood that all government authority is derived from the consent of the governed. The Preamble to the Constitution and the Bill of Rights ensure that the dignity, liberty and integrity of the human person is the starting point for a just society and equitable government. Yes, they neglected female and non-white persons and we paid for such tragic oversight with a Civil War, Suffrage Movements and, at last, Civil Rights in the 1960s. It took us too long to live up to our ideals.

The dignity of each human being is not an invitation to narcissism or solipsism. We are social creatures, made for both personal and relational flourishing. Human dignity is axiomatic. It is the starting point for further reflection of political and social structures. The rule of law, vital for liberty and prosperity, rests upon people of conscience following such laws and seeing the greater good in their discipline.

Dignity rests upon our anthropology. If human beings are the products if impersonal and mechanistic forces, with chance and time accounting for all facets of our being, then morality, purpose, and social cohesion are mere by-products of our survival instincts. If, however, human beings are created in the image of God, distinct yet integrated with the rest of creation and designed for meaningful relationships and work, the possibilities for moral and social well-being increase. If our humanness includes transcendent notions of right and wrong, longings for reciprocal love and the need to fulfill a purpose in life, then the nature of governmental and other subsidiary agencies will reflect these values.

Human dignity begins with conception and ends with natural coronation at the end of life. The immortals we encounter each day may stifle conscience and pursue selfish ends, but they remain of infinite value. Human dignity implies responsibility for our decisions and accountability toward others as we make our way in the world. Such a robust anthropology commends honest discussion of maleness and femaleness, marriage and family, religious and social issues. As persons created by God, we have a design and a destiny, proclivities and personal gifts. We possess freewill and our decisions affect others. We are moral creatures, even if we debate the fine points of particular ethical choices.

Human dignity includes respect for how we are made. Male and female share equal humanness, but they are designed differently. When we reject this design, we are lessening our humanity. We live in a fallen, flawed world deeply affected by our rebellion against God and the Good. This said, we retain our awe of Creation and an amazing gift of conscience. We wrestle with internal and external pressures toward self-destruction and self-realization. We inherently long for love even while we sabotage relationships. We are angry when innocents are hurt and killed and we hope our peccadilloes escape notice. What a paradoxical lot we are!

Back to our domestic and foreign issues.

With human dignity grounded in Creation as our starting point, new avenues of wisdom are possible. We will be skeptical of any agency with too much authority. We will hold ourselves and our public officials accountable for their stewardship of resources that are the fruit of our productive labor. We will care about national interests and aggressively pursue improvements in human rights around the world. We will hold the Islamic world accountable for its dhimmitude of non-Muslims and oppression of women. We will call on the Palestinian Authority to renounce terrorism and acknowledge Israel as a legitimate nation. We will call on Israel to negotiate with integrity the creation of a new neighboring state. We can amend or transform health care legislation into a comprehensive strategy to care for all without destroying choice and private sector enterprise.

Human dignity means we end abortion on demand while helping foster adoptions, care for moms and kids and hold the fathers accountable for their sexual activity. There is no such thing a sex without consequences and erotic fulfillment is not a civil right. We must end all forms of active euthanasia while wisely learning how to let nature take her course at the end of life.

When we begin with dignity, we end in liberty, opportunity, responsibility and the potential for personal and social flourishing. If we reduce ourselves to the products of impersonal nature, then might will make right and we enslave ourselves to the basest impulses found in our flawed natures.

Conservative and liberal friends, let's start talking about what it means to be fully human and we may find new common ground.

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Surreal Subversion

American and Western European histories are filled with moral and social conflict and political battles. For the past three centuries, the trajectory toward human liberty and economic opportunity has been positive, with serious battles against totalitarianism in the 19th and 20th centuries. Coalitions of Center, Left and Right in Europe and lots of "horse-trading" in the USA have ensured relative stability for millions of people.

This stability depends upon four critical factors: consensual personal and social morality, human liberty, economic opportunity and the rule of law. These elements are interdependent and indispensable for human flourishing.

Our very civilization, built on these foundations, is threatened by the ideologues in power in Washington, D.C. (And by extension, Sacramento, CA)

I am normally optimistic, looking for the best in people, even those I disagree with. What is happening right now is the culmination of a century of subversion inaugurated by Woodrow Wilson, accelerated (with often noble intent) by FDR, turbo-charged by LBJ's Great Society and mostly unopposed by even the Republicans designated as conservatives. The past five years, however, are fraught with exponential change that is subversive of the values enumerated above and enshrined in the Constitution.

I do not believe we can dismantle 100 years of structural change overnight...nor should we. What we must do is understand the times we live in and recognize the seriousness of our situation. All people of conscience, regardless of particular policy perspectives, must unite to stem the flood waters of self-destruction and turn the tide toward a preferred future.

Our current President and Administration are not content with adjustments that ease economic pain, build infrastructure and ensure opportunity. They are after forcible redistribution of wealth and the creation of a permanent working underclass that will vote for more largess from the federal trough. In addition to runaway spending, totalitarian control over health care and education and deliberate anarchy on immigration, they are undermining the four foundations mentioned above in the following ways:

The personal and social mores of hundreds of years are willfully discarded for "evolved" thinking of marriage and family, sexual license and special accommodation to Islamicists that despise everything the West stands for.

Human liberty - including freedom of conscience and worship, assembly and speech and redress to the government - is being sacrificed on the altar of political correctness and incipient totalitarian control over families and individuals. When people of goodwill cannot comment on marriage and morality, critique another religion or worldview (except Christianity) and are told that their most cherished values are subservient to state interests, we no longer have a functioning Constitution.

Economic opportunity is threatened by a militaristic environmentalism rooted in debatable science, excessive regulation and utter disdain for entrepreneurship that does not spout the correct social cliches. It is interesting that class envy is used to increase government control while major corporate donors pay little in taxes and garner contracts with public money.

Finally, the rule of law. Or should we say, lawlessness. Everywhere the current party is in power, crime grows, economies decline and social unrest is at an all-time high. Any suggestion of smaller budget increases or greater efficiencies in social programs are greeted with howls that millions will starve. Immigration reform is a joke. Millions will be pardoned for breaking the law. Instead of deporting felons, enforcing borders and crafting pathways to citizenship that continue our grand values, we are opening the floodgates for cheap labor and cheap votes.

We have a small window of opportunity to change this pathway to oblivion. It will require moral courage, spiritual awakening and wisdom to meet the needs of many types of people. It will also require Congressional and Presidential leadership willing to debate civilly and seriously and forge policies that represent all Americans.

Surreal artists distort reality and provoke reactions with exaggerated forms. The people in power are doing the same with their histrionics and propaganda. Their refusal to debate, stubborness in the face of many concerns and fiat-wielding power speak for themselves. They have a distorted narrative, an exaggerated sense of their own superiority and utter disdain for all that are less "enlightened." It is time to compel them to get real jobs by voting in women and men of integrity that take the Constitution seriously.

Wednesday, September 04, 2013

Truth is the Only Path to Peace

The "Arab Spring" has devolved into the Jihadi Winter. The Cairo 2009 strategy of "leading from behind" and "outreach" to radical Islamic regimes is bearing bitter fruit and global contempt for the USA. "Negotiations" between the Palestinians are interrupted by terrorist attacks on Israelis, continued calls for violence and a refusal of the Palestinian Authority to recognize Israel's right to exist within secure borders and with full diplomatic relations with a second Palestinian state (Jordan was shaped as the first one in 1947). When Israel defends herself or builds a few settlements, the world declares "Apartheid! Racism! Colonialism!" And those are the nice words.

It is time for honesty about USA foreign policy and the realities of the Middle East. Millions of lives, scores of national economies and our pursuit of justice demand serious accounting, not ideological epithets tossed back and forth on the airwaves and Internet. In the following paragraphs, I will outline a pathway to peace, with the understanding that any accord is fragile and the cohesion of nation-states and tranquility between nations requires ethical courage and constant vigilance. I will not cater to radical Zionists that wish to displace all Arabs from Judea and Samaria. I will also refuse to listen to replacement theologians and leftist activists that reduce Israel to Western colonialism and deny her place in the community of nations.

There are multiple 20th century narratives concerning the Middle East, from the miracle of Zionism to the tragedy to Palestinian diaspora. All of them contain some truth and no one timeline (with its inherent selectivity) can capture the complexity. The pathway to peace requires understanding history and a willingness to lay down the grievances of the past to forge a better future. Recounting terrorist incidents and family tragedies without forgiveness and willingness to create something new only compounds the current impasse. The way forward is rooted in present reality and future hope, not bitterness or nostalgia.

Here are some "mile markers" on a road to peace:

1. Israel is not going away. Much can be negotiated - and has, with Nobel prizes awarded for the attempts - but existence in peace with diplomatic relations is the starting point.

2. A Palestinian State dedicated to peace, economic cooperation and freedom of conscience must be the goal. There will be no new state without renunciation of terrorism. This new state is another "given."

3. The Palestinian demands for "right of return" for 1947-49 refugees cannot include every distant descendant and must involve relocation in the new state as much as possible, not overwhelming a Jewish State with angry radicals. Realistically, many can return home in Israel, with others welcomed in a new Palestine.

4. Jerusalem can be the capital of both states. The Temple Mount and other holy sites need oversight from outside bodies as well and the consensus of each nation.

5. The new Palestinian leaders must renounce deception, winking at radicals and the long-term goal of annihilating Israel. There cannot be one set of phrases for Western consumption while other agendas are promoted to radical constituencies. No more Temple denial, Holocaust denial or distribution of the Protocols and other scurrilous literature.

6. Israel should freeze settlements if # 1 is unequivocally announced and terrorists are arrested and prosecuted.

7. There should be immediate economic joint-ventures creating thousands of new jobs for underemployed Palestinians.

8. The USA must be the leading mediator at serious peace talks. No other nation has anything close to the objectivity America displays. China wants oil, period. Russia wants imperial power and access to warm water and economic control. All the nations surrounding Israel have much to gain from peace, including the blessings of free trade, tourism and culture exchange. Iran and Syria can be marginalized and a new coalition of freedom-affirmation nations may be emboldened to resist the mad mullahs.

9. The EU needs to stay on the sidelines and enter a new season of humility and repentance for her anti-Semitism and capitulation to radical Islam. Without reverting to the national-racial depravities of the 19th and 20th century, European nations must reaffirm first principles of freedom and arrest their decline toward de facto Sharia. No European nation has the moral strength and objectivity at present to lend any weight to negotiations.

10. All of these principles for peace require unprecedented courage on the part of Israeli and Palestinian leaders. The PA must change their textbooks and include an Israeli State. Israel must welcome a fledgling state next door and create economic and travel pathways for prosperity. Before the ink is dry, death threats will come to all involved. But the lessons of Begin and Sadat are instructive. There has been no war between Israel and Egypt (or Jordan) since Camp David (President Carter's greatest achievement). Bill Clinton called Arafat after the another broken accord and accused Arafat of ruining the chances fro pace and destroying their personal legacies. Arafat, child of the 1940s jihadi cries of the Mufti of Jerusalem (a joyful visitor to Auschwitz), could not, in the end, let go of his hatred and eliminationist ideology. Israel has proven her willingness to cede land for peace. It is time to find a PA leader who welcomes peace for generations yet unborn.

All peacemaking requires the best of human nature. All peace accords are subverted by human depravity. Israel is a moral good for the world. A peaceful Palestine could point the way toward Islamic cultural revitalization and political moderation. Real peace is a goal worth working for. May "open covenants, openly arrived at..." guide leaders that desire a better future.

Monday, August 12, 2013

A Great Reversal is Possible

Endless federal deficits. Porous borders and immigration chaos. Selective enforcement of oversight laws and regulations in the EPA and IRS. Health care for all that includes 2400+ exemptions, including government employees. A foreign policy without direction. Serious scandals dismissed as phony and a media that is rarely investigating those currently in power.

These and other problems are not five years in the making, though the current Administration has done little to resolve and much to exacerbate this state of affairs. Our current crises are a century in the making, beginning with some of the unintended consequences of the Roosevelt Administration in the first decade of the 1900s, continuing through the elitism of the Wilson years, accelerated by the policies of FDR and codified by LBJ's Great Society in the 1960s. Neither Democratic or Republican leaders have been able to reverse the trends that are presently carrying our American experiment toward oblivion.

The fundamental issue for over a century is the disempowerment of individuals and local government by the Leviathan of ever-increasing federal power. It is important to note that this essay is not a nostalgic foray into a mythical past. We need federal agencies for everything from protecting civil rights to decent food and a clean environment. The ethical and social oversight that ensures freedom and opportunity is a vital part of the original intention of the founders. What was never in their minds and must be altered in ours was the federal administration of so much public money! The corruption, bad stewardship and inefficiencies of federal power hinder the good intentions of most citizens that want compassion, safety and reasonable public services.

We must begin a reversal today and re-empower local and state governments and restore the dignity of personal virtue as the critical foundation for liberty. This will not happen overnight and will call upon every moral and spiritual resource we possess. We can begin by taking ownership of our decisions and votes and calling upon public servants to serve rather than be enriched at our expense. We must not allow collectivist or libertarian extremists or social elites to control the public conversations critical to our future.

We can reverse a century of malfeasance in less than a decade if we will find the courage to stop over-promising and under-delivering largess and call upon the better natures our citizens to contribute to the common good through their business and charitable enterprises. We must welcome people of all faiths (or none) into the civil-political discourse and stop pretending that religious values have no place in public life. Coercion of conscience has no place in a free society, but faith convictions are not restricted to the private sphere. Polite and robust debate is good for freedom and we must not permit one political party or religious tradition to impose their will and stifle dissent.

Wealth can be created while caring for the environment and compensating employees fairly. The tax code needs complete transformation - and some folks will need to find other employment. Military readiness and care for veterans are important priorities. Our policies must stop rewarding irresponsible behavior. Our management of the public purse needs an overhaul, releasing some local, state and federal workers to the private sector. Immigration policy requires courage and decriminalizing drugs is a social folly.

All these words are easy to write - and extremely hard to practice because our system discourages disrupting current norms that might displace voters. When enough citizens find courage and their elected officials discover integrity, we can reverse the tides and uncover new wellsprings of potential and prosperity.

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Eros is not a Civil Right

Today the Supreme Court repudiated the federal Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) signed by President Clinton in 1996. This ruling means that gay and lesbian marriages from states permitting such unions must be recognized by federal agencies. The decision appears to keep in place the Constitutional decisions of 30 states to define marriage as a monogamous heterosexual union and the 12 states that allow for non-traditional unions. California's Proposition 8, twice affirmed by the voters of the state, was struck down on a technicality, with its proponents not having proper "standing." Add to these decisions adjustments to the Voting Rights Act that upset progressives and you are left with confusion and consternation instead of clarity about our Constitution.

The LGBTQ community is celebrating America's social progress and civil rights for all. Traditionalists are concerned that an activist court has overstepped its authority and ignored the foundations of a free, just and prosperous society.

What is missing in all the celebrating and commiserating is clear thinking about the nature of "rights" and the place of government. Our founders understood that government exists to protect natural, God-given rights, not bestow them. Rights are inherent in our humanity and good governments protect our dignity and protect us from depravity. When the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King pressed for Civil Rights and the original Voting Rights Act in the 1950s and 1960s, he appealed to universal moral precepts and the intent of our founders. He also understood that race was not a choice, but part of our nature from conception. The promises of Washington and Lincoln were finally realized for millions and our nation is better for such steps.

LGBT identity is completely different from the gender and race we are born with. There is no irrefutable evidence of any genetic link to gay or lesbian identity. In addition to the lack of empirical evidence, we have the activists themselves arguing for "fluid" definitions that allow subjective declarations at any stage of life to trump clear observation and natural intention. If John "discovers" he is bisexual, gay, or he wants a transgender procedure, it is fine for him to leave his traditional marriage and pursue his happiness. But if John has lived as a bi or gay man and decides to opt for traditional marriage, then he has been brainwashed and/or deceived. Woe to any caring person that suggests that someone with same-sex attraction can change!

Eros is not a right. Sexual happiness is not a right. Fulfilling any and every desire is not a right. These may be the happy consequences of liberty, but they are not government guarantees. All forms of adult cohabitation outside of heterosexual, monogamous marriage, while permitted, are not the best for partners, children and our social future. These alternative lifestyles are morally unacceptable to billions of caring people in all cultures. A free society must prohibit deleterious behaviors, promote good choices and permit maximal liberty that still keeps the rule of law in place and social cohesion possible.

The fundamental error of our nation is thinking that "happiness" means the fulfillment of all desires, including current erotic orientations. This is actually dehumanizing, as we reduce persons made in the image of God to merely superior creatures with particular sexual proclivities. When I meet a man or a woman, my first questions is NOT about their personal passions. My first thought is how I might love and respect her or him and encourage them in their vocation. Everyone I encounter is first a human person, then a man or a woman with a calling. After this they may choose to share their orientation and partnership situation and I must respect them even if I disagree with their choices. The LGBTQ folks are diminishing their humanity when they reduce their identity to orientation.

Affirming biblical marriage (Genesis 1 and 2 and The Gospel of Matthew, chapter 19) also means helping prevent divorce, receiving children as a gift and choosing selfless service over selfish oppression of another person. Affirmation of Christian faith also rejects covetousness and lust in all forms and urges adult women and men  to marry before enjoying sexual intimacy. The fact that much of humankind fail at these ideals in thought, word and/or does not nullify their eternal nature, authority and legitimacy for a flourishing society.

What now? Much prayer and personal humility, persuasive personal conversations and active political engagement are all needed. As we debate, let's love and respect every person we encounter and make sure that the 2x4 is out of our own eye before we become sawdust inspectors of others.

Monday, May 13, 2013

The Truth Sets Free

"The truth shall set you free." This famous line has an important context. Jesus of Nazareth declared this at the end of an insightful description of his true followers: "If you hold to my teaching, you are really my disciples. will know the truth..."

Truth is liberating for all that decide character and integrity must trump expedience and power. Admitting our personal failures and offering proper credit to others for our successes are both part of truthfulness that liberates the soul and earns the respect of others now and forever.

The Benghazi fiasco is compounded by an Administration unwilling to admit its foreign-policy failures. The terrorist attacks on 9-11-12 were not a spontaneous reaction to an obscure and obscene film produced months before. They were the deliberate actions of groups bent on the destruction of Israel, the USA and any other powers impeding a global caliphate. These attacks undermine the mythology that recent "outreach" to radical Islamicists has been successful. The hubris emanating from the Bin Laden assassination has obscured judgment and promulgated increased self-deception and public resistance to investigation.

If the President and Secretary of State had forthrightly declared, "We were ill-prepared and will correct our policies" the day after the attack, Benghazi would still be a tragedy. But it would also fade from public memory and we would not be subject to the current polemics that only increase the cynicism on the Left and skepticism on the Right.

The Watergate scandals of 1972-1974 were quite similar. If Nixon had fired the responsible parties and cleaned house, he still could have won the election. But paranoia won the day and two years later our nation had a new President they did not elect to that office.

Free the film maker. Admit the failure. Apologize to the families of the dead. Restore the positions of the whistle blowers. Come clean with no excuses and many Americans will offer a second chance - we love stories of redemption for those that repent. Continued defiance may preserve a public myth, but it subverts private and public morality and erodes of national character. Do the Republicans have political hay to harvest? Yes. But any such schemes have no fuel when humility triumphs over hubris.

Sunday, April 07, 2013

A Time for Affirmations

Our world is drowning in the quicksand of polemics, negativity and perverted reasoning. Sometimes I wonder if I am in a bad dream or B-grade movie where the universe is sideways. Everything is inverted. Sound fiscal policies mean starving children. Calling for good work ethics is "code" for racism. Supporting traditional marriage is intolerance. Affirming limited government and sound immigration is right wing xenophobia. Criticizing Palestinian Holocaust deniers is apertheid and condemning Muslim terrorism is Islamophobia.

It is time for unapologetic affirmations of indisputable truths. Rather than labeling and libeling those that disagree with me, I choose affirmation over attack, life over death and faith over fear. Here are some affirmations that I pray will guide all people of conscience:

  • Life is precious and sacred, from conception to coronation. Whether a boy or girl, healthy or infirm, challenged or gifted, all humans deserve a warm welcome, a kind farewell, and love in between. It is a baby inside the mother, not a piece of tissue. 
  • Marriage is one man and one woman discovering depths of intimacy, heights of mutual purpose, experiences of sorrow and joy, and for many, the profound stewardship of raising the next generation. 
  • Freedom of conscience and religion is the first freedom and foundational to all others. This does not make evangelism coercion or the truth claims of religion unimportant. It means living peaceably with our deepest differences and sharing convictions without fear. 
  • Hospitality for all legal immigrants and secure borders are symbiotic and critical for national cohesion and diversity. 
  • Israel is a moral and political good for the world. She is a beacon of sanity in a geography rife with political and religious turmoil. 
  • Spending less than we take in and fostering economic productivity within the rule of law and an ethos of generosity will help the most people flourish. 
  • Wealth can be created without destroying the environment. We do not have one pie for seven billion people - we can bake more pies! 
  • It is the height of arrogance and overweening will-to-power to manipulate the populace with fear about global climate. Most of Rachael Carson's and Paul Ehrlich's predictions were (and are) wrong. Current climate "science" must be separated from globalist economics and politics.
  • Our choices can add to the beauty around us, from works of art to words of wisdom, from life-saving medicines to laughter that heals the heart. 
  • The colors and clothes, accents and dialects, food and music of our many cultures is cause for celebration as we discover our common humanity and diverse tastes. 
  • Disagreeing with another person's choices is not judging their soul nor being intolerant. My neighbor is made in God's image and worthy of love and respect. Where we differ, we may argue passionately...then go to a PTA meeting and help our schools together.
St. Francis of Assisi rebuilt a church with his bare hands, rejoiced in his poverty, gained Papal approval, evangelized Muslims and could hear the songs of the trees and whispers in the wind. I do not share his monastic vocation, but I long to share his joy-filled humility and love for God and others. 

Jesus of Nazareth healed the sick, delivered the oppressed, forgave sinners and reconciled enemies. He also pricked the consciences of the comfortable, condemned the abuse of the powerful and refused to compromise on matters of morality. All progressives need to heed his words of judgment and all conservatives must awaken to his compassion. 

Today I choose affirmation because in the Incarnation, humble and sinless life, crucifixion and resurrection of Christ, I discover my identity and worth, my destiny and discipline, and the  affirmations and affections that shape abundant life now and forever. 

Friday, March 15, 2013


Observations on a Friday:

The human condition is summed up well by watching preschool children play. One minute they are hugging, laughing and sharing...the next they are crying, pushing and refusing to share.

Federal government leaders are like dieters confronting a box of doughnuts. They know they should walk away after eating one and sharing the box, but they end up eating all of them. Restraint is not an easy virtue.

"Redefining" marriage and family does not change the empirical and intuitive truth that humans are conceived by one man and one woman and children are best served by their biological parents staying together.

Just when I am about to embrace pacifism fully, Iran, North Korea and the Taliban do or say something that awakens a sensibility that we need military force in a fallen world.

But when the noxious odor of crusading and militarism appears, I realize that I am first a citizen of God's kingdom and must love and pray for my enemies even as nations try to resist evil.

Judaism, Christianity and Islam see the world very differently, even as they share certain monotheistic and moral concepts. Civil discourse with love and respect is a must; pretending that "they worship the same deity" is intellectually and spiritually dishonest.

Academics are a funny lot sometimes. They love to rage against capitalism while teaching in buildings funded by people that were productive and employed others...and, gasp! - made a profit.

Why do so many environmentalists express deep concern for obscure animal species while allowing the elimination of unborn humans? Conversely, good ecology is good economics...if we care for creation, it will care for our posterity.

The local church can be the incubator of spiritual and social transformation. As people connect with God and each other, they become creative and productive and the world is better.

We cannot regulate all risk out of our lives.

Warm homemade bread and butter shared with people you love is profoundly gratifying.

Monday, March 11, 2013

Deficits and Surpluses

It is difficult enduring the childish squabbling and crush-the-opponent-at-all-costs strategies emanating from Washington, D.C. and so many devastated cities. While politicians collect their pensions and salaries, and a few favorites (like General Motors!) store billions in cash overseas, most of the nation awaits leadership that is honest and wise, with the good of all Americans in mind, not just select constituencies that ensure victorious elections. Some decisions border on the tragicomedic: Colorado lowering tuition for the undocumented while qualified US citizens pay more for an education. Millions go on food stamps (with government urging) and Homeland personnel get a cool grand for uniforms while our President cancels White House tours and plays more golf. Obama has dinner with a few Republican insiders, but legitimate budget plans in the House are rejected sight unseen.

Something is broken.

Most Democrats know the gravy train must end soon. Republicans cannot seem to find a tune that will be hummed by hard working African-American and Hispanic citizens whose values are closer to theirs that the current Administration.

The problem is not the politicians.

Yes, the Mayor of New York is out of control with lifestyle regulation. Parts of Detroit are Haiti with cold weather. Everyone is so afraid of libelous labels that immigration "reform" will only encourage more defiance of the law.

We have deficits of discipline. We have surpluses of state control. The former leads to the latter.

It is difficult to hold politicians accountable for balancing a budget when we expect way too much of government agencies. Mayor Bloomberg's crusades against fat and sugar are meddlesome, but we have become a super-sized nation and without discipline medical costs will force the kind of rationing we abhor.

We are scandalized by elected officials and their sexual peccadillos while we have a divorce rate of almost 50 % and voraciously consume "adult" entertainment. Our leaders need to keep clothing on and hands off the public till. And we need fidelity to our spouses and children.

We penalize economic success with excessive regulation and taxation and insist on more laws for gun ownership. Meanwhile, we pass legislation allowing Hollywood to produce more violent movies. Federal agencies are buying ammunition in wartime quantities. Such contradictions will not bear close scrutiny by thoughtful people.

We are living on our impulses, not insights as we satisfy whims instead of seeking wisdom.

We must begin a grassroots movement of personal and public integrity, with truth and transparency in deed as well as speech. We need to self-regulate and produce more than we consume, thus arming ourselves with moral authority that will cause politicians to think twice before passing more unfunded mandates. We can reaffirm the best of our founder's virtues without repeating their mistakes. Freedom requires virtue and virtue rests on unchanging principles, not "evolving" notions of truth.

Let's discharge our deficits of discipline and enjoy surpluses of sanity. Failure to reform from within our hearts and homes will end in totalitarian demands for our hearts and homes.

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Maturity, Please

Our current pop culture encourages permanent adolescence as prurient passions rule over consideration of others and thoughtful actions and words. Children are maturing physically sooner, yet staying immature longer, with many psychosocial experts affirming that the brain - especially of males - only reaches adulthood in the mid-20s. I only wish most in their 20s were adults!

This issue is not physiological development. Our founders did much of their greatest work in their 20s and 30s. The Greatest Generation that persevered through a Dust Bowl and D-Day matured in their teens - they had to work to survive and shed the decade of stupidity that characterizes our contemporary rites of passage.

Maturity includes physiology, but it is not limited by the body. Maturity - true adulthood - is marked by the growing triumph of principle over passion, reason over reaction, ethical choices over temptations and service to others over cheap self-gratification. Biblically, maturity is the Great Commandment (loving God supremely and others sacrificially) expressed by the fruit of the Spirit (Galatians 5:22-23) and the virtues of the divine life (II Peter 1:1-10).

Today's youth are far more capable than we think. The problem is their parents. Too many "adults" are acting like middle school students, exchanging gossip, struggling for acceptance through moral compromise and hoping for popularity at any cost. O wait! this sounds like Washington, D.C. and most media content! Legislative progress requires self-control, principled compromise and the ability to reign in emotion and honestly desire the best for others.

It is time for new icons of virtue. The reason we love Captain America is that he appeals to something beyond ourselves...and even Iron Man follows his lead and willingly serves the cause. We love WWII movies and documentaries because - if only for a moment - so many served at great cost. These fantasy and folk heroes are flawed, but their decisions are sound and point to the heart of maturity - looking beyond ourselves to the Almighty and the good of others.

How do we change our current psychosocial trajectory? One decision, one family, and one relationship at a time. Today let's open our Bible and turn off the computer. Mom and Dad, decide now that nothing will break your covenant...and if you have kids, your fidelity is the number one factor in their future. Let's encourage learning, reflection and service and discover the wonder that caring for others fills our own souls with delight.

And by the way, let's send a message to our city, state and federal public servants: We expect you to be adults and serve the common good. We are watching and we are voting.

Monday, February 18, 2013

Presidential Legacies

Time is kind and unkind to the legacies of American Presidents. Washington and Lincoln will forever tower above all the rest. Washington truly is the Father of our Country, embodying all the aspirations and virtues of a new nation. Lincoln was the liberator of millions and the Preserver of the Union.

Other Presidents of good repute find that time allows for criticism and moderating of enthusiasm. Jefferson, Wilson and FDR are huge historical figures, but their achievements came at a price many think was too steep. John Adams and his presidential son John Quincy Adams will never inspire great affection; however, respect for their character and the context of their challenges allows more generous evaluation.

In the 20th century, it is hard not to pine for the solidity of Truman and Eisenhower, especially their ability to work across party lines. Nixon and Carter will continue to earn criticisms, with even Bill Clinton improving his legacy because he was able to work with Republicans and balance a budget.

I am not pleased with recent presidential performances, whether they are Democrats or Republicans. Our current administration is not facing the major issues well. This said, there is still time for a positive legacy of achievement. Obama will always be famous as our first African-American President. It would be wonderful for our nation's future and for his legacy if he humbly works with all parties and accomplishes real deficit reduction, immigration reform and brokers some peace accords globally.

We do not have a Monarch. We do have a President that our founders intended to serve with character and competence, cooperating with Congress and respectful of the rule of law. May we find women and men worthy of this historic vocation.

Monday, January 21, 2013

Humility, Please

As President Obama begins his second term, we celebrate the peaceful transitions of power that make the USA the most stable expression of representative government in history. Even in our most contested elections, no militias have seized power and no parties have outlawed dissent and no dictators have risen to eradicate our experiment in self-governance and shared power.

Today is also the commemoration of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King's life and legacy - a life cut short by a racist's bullet, but a legacy of compassion and justice we still aspire to as a nation.

With these celebrations undergirding our souls, we must not deceive ourselves that all is well and that life will continue on as it always has. Ominous economic, moral, spiritual and social realities cannot be completely obscured by distracting hot-button issues like gun control (reasonable controls are fine, but assault weapons account for less than 1% of all murders) or more federal largess to ravenously dependent constituencies.

We have to face the debt and deficits. We must recognize our foreign policy weaknesses and shore up our relationships with allies like Israel and Poland. Will we confront family implosion with moral and spiritual solutions, not more programs doomed to fail because children desperately need a daddy and mommy? We must stop ruminating about "de-industializing" America as the rest of the world charges past us in the global economic race. We must cease deceiving ourselves that we can spend our way out of recessions and talk our way to peace with totalitarians.

Mr. President, there is one key to a great second term. You cannot control all events, from nature's fury to foolish decisions made in other nations. You cannot make a speech and heal the economy or the planet. There is one character trait that will unlock the door to a brighter future for all Americans. What is this key?

Humility. The humility to learn from those outside your ideological bubble. Humble people learn from mistakes, increase accountability change habits. Humility opens hearts and minds among adversaries and increases the chance of successful negotiations. Humility thinks of the good of all for the foreseeable future instead of one's personal image or legacy. Humility opens the door to divine favor and reconciliation among warring factions. Humility is more powerful than intimidation, because it compels thoughtfulness instead of polemics. Humility knows when to compromise on some practical matters.

Humility is courage wisely managed and power carefully exercised. Humility liberates from the destructiveness of narcissism. Humility opens the door to heretofore undiscovered answers to baffling problems. A humble heart will show respect for all people, thereby garnering openness for new ideas.

Mr. President, allow God's love to remove the barely concealed contempt you have for your political adversaries. The athletic competitiveness of your youth and the radical fervor of your win-at-all-costs young adulthood community organizing needs tempering as you realize that Paul Ryan is just as smart as you are. If you listen and negotiate with him, you will go down in history as one of a few Presidents with a great second term. In our century, Eisenhower, Reagan and Clinton fostered trust, forged compromises and made the world a better place by swallowing their pride and working with opponents.

The "one thing needed" (paraphrasing Jesus of Nazareth in Luke's Gospel, chapter 10) for progress is also the most difficult virtue because it requires dismantling of defenses and  construction of character on a foundation of reverence and for God and respect for all people. Humility liberates us from self-imposed demands of personal omniscience and the pressures of perfectionism.

Humility, please, Mr. President.

Saturday, January 05, 2013

A New Day of Integration

While Washington dithers and much of the world wanders, we can decide that 2013 will be a fruitful and meaningful year for ourselves, our families, our communities and - by extension - even our state and nation.

My new book is now out and it contains insights that help thoughtful women and men integrate faith, work and economics into their personal and spiritual growth and help local churches and communities flourish. 2013 is the year that we

  • Stop separating social justice and wealth creation, recognizing that they are partners in human prosperity at all levels.
  • End our disintegrated lives and choose integration of our callings, careers, community life and creative inspirations (special thanks to Brett and Lyn Johnson and their book, Convergence for this quartet of completeness). 
  • Seek out friends new and old and encourage one another's dreams and visions that contains the seeds of future flourishing.
  • Help thoughtful Democrats and Republicans cease labeling and libeling each other and begin partnering for balanced budgets, new efficiencies and wise stewardship of resources so that the poor and vulnerable are cared for and our children's futures are secure.
  • Attend funerals for nostalgia and utopianism and celebration events for first/founding principles and substantive hope rooted in timeless truths and timely observations. 
I remain unapologetically hopeful. I posses no fantasies of the days of yore or Star Trek solutions. I believe that God is working through loving and prayerful people willing to be answers to their own petitions.

The link here provides the information on my new work - an effort that arises from collaboration with so many great men and women. The Acton Institute ( is leading the charge for integration and I am honored  by the appointment as a senior advisor. Yes, my name is on the cover; however, my deepest desires are the glory of God and the good of others.