Yearly Archives: 2011

Seventy Years Ago: A Tribute to WWII Veterans

December 7, 1941 – “a day that will live in infamy…” President Roosevelt’s famous words launched America’s participation in a war that would claim millions of lives, reshape empires and usher in the nuclear age. On December 11, Hitler declared war on the USA, even though Roosevelt did not include Germany in the December 8th address to Congress. America was now allied with Great Britain and the Soviet Union in war that spanned every time zone and engulfed scores of nations.

Advent is a fitting time to give thanks to God for the gift of the Christ and the message of love and peace Jesus brings to the world. It is also an appropriate moment to thank the surviving WWII veterans for their service. There are fewer representatives of this “Greatest Generation” with us with each passing day. I was sad to hear the Pearl Harbor events are now scaled back – there are too few survivors left to sustain larger commemorations.

In thanking these veterans we are not glorifying war or nostalgically trying to reify some mythic past. There is nothing “good” about war. It is a sign of human sin and failure, a reminder of our rebellion against love and truth and our deep capacity for violence. The only good that comes out of war is the defeat of powers that would enslave humankind. Good is also found in the innumerable acts of bravery and kindness that take place in the midst of the night and fog of battle. Yes, it was good that Imperial Japan and Nazi Germany were defeated. In order to achieve this, many men and women risked life and limb for years and returned home with emotional and physical scars. Most of these veterans sublimated the hurts and set about building the greatest era of economic prosperity in world history. Some returned to battle just years later, fighting an awful war of attrition in Korea.

December 7 is a day to remember courage, sacrifice and a generation that bequeathed liberty to much of the world. Alas, we have squandered much of this heritage. Perhaps in this moment of reflection we can remember those virtues that built our prosperity: hard work, thinking of others more than ourselves and partnering with others to confront challenges. I think our “public servants” in both parties can learn from our vets. A little more sacrifice (instead of another vacation, Mr. President), a lot more cooperation (are you listening Mr. Reid and Mr. Boehner?) and a renewal of concern for the future instead of our immediate comfort are the best ways we can say, “thank you” to our veterans – and “bless you” to future generations.

Let’s express appreciation to our veterans and allow the spirit of Advent to foster consideration of our deepest virtues. Perhaps 2011 will mark the advent of a new era of cooperation and service, with reverence for God and respect for our neighbors creating joyful communities.

Thankful, 2011

Halloween is over and the Christmas crush has started. A full year before an election and we are already saturated with political news. The globe is cooling…or warming – it all depends on who you read. Is solar energy a farce or our future? I hope it is the latter. Stay tuned for more bailout buzz as your public servants make fools of themselves. In the Theater of the Surreal, “devout” Roman Catholic and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi excoriates Roman Catholic bishops for having “that conscience thing” concerning funding abortions and birth control contrary to church teaching. Ms. Nancy, just be honest and find another church. Our President declares that the concerns of the Occupy Wall Street protesters are the reason he became President – as he jets off to another round of fund-raisers with his special “1%” friends. Meanwhile, Republicans seem to take tired old Newt Gingrich seriously, in spite of multiple character and political compromises. Perhaps it is all a case of ABO – Anybody But Obama – infecting the process.

But today I am thankful. Not for the nonsense mentioned above, but for the real blessings bestowed by God on our nation and planet. The Thanksgiving Holiday is the least sullied, least commercialized day off remaining on the calendar. It is a simple moment: we return thanks to God for all the blessings, take time with family and friends, look for ways to serve the less fortunate and tuck into a good meal. We pause to consider that all we need for sustainable, prosperous living is within reach, if we will be creative, ethical and generous. This week I return thanks for hot water to bathe in, food and water that is healthy, and work that is meaningful. I embrace family and friends and pray that I can be a friend to another who is lonely.

A few days ago I went to the YMCA to exercise. In the gym I saw a dad and his son playing basketball. The little guy was good and reminded me of another “fiery humanist and repressed basketball star (too short)” at his age. The quote about me from my father’s description in his 25th Anniversary Harvard Alumni Journal. What was wonderful was the affection of the Dad and the joy of the little boy as they shot hoops and joked together. For a brief moment, all was right: a parent enjoying his role, a child cared for and laughing and a community center supporting these healthy activities.

I am thankful to God. I am grateful for Kathy and 31 years of loving marriage. I am overtaken with joy when I think of each of my adult children. They are not exempt from challenges, but they are full of faith and making their way forward, all the while thinking of others. I am grateful for churches to worship in, students to mentor and teach, colleagues to grow with, audiences to encourage and facebook friends opening vistas of humor and wisdom. I am thankful for health and humbled by friends who return thanks while severely ill. I am glad for life, and join with others in mourning the loss of family members. We laugh through the tears, hug each other and keep walking by faith.

I am thankful that I can make a difference through my prayers, words and works. I am grateful that I can think out loud without fear of imprisonment – something denied to billions on our beautiful sphere. And, despite all the hot air, I am glad I can go to a polling location and cast my ballot.

I am thankful and encourage all who read this to pause and praise in the midst of pressurized lives.

Forging a Better Future

The global community is awakening from her slumber and discovering that the public troughs are empty. They are not just empty – they cannot be replenished without significant sacrifices. From The USA to Europe, austerity is the rule of the day. How we arrived at this point is well-known. All political parties and public officials, along with a variety of interest groups, from banks to unions, have created pathways and policies that now collide and place us on the edge of chaos. A fundamental lack of self-regulation created the conditions for over-regulation by government. All this manifests in bloated bureaucracies and outdated systems.

When people cease self-regulating, anarchy ensues, creating the conditions for hard or soft totalitarianism. In the USA we are at a tipping point of public dependence on public funds. In the midst of the Occupy Wall Street’s shrill cries for fairness, we can forget that wealth must be created through (ethical) enterprise and that “government money” is actually our money that is poorly administrated.

Our crisis is much more than economic. The fact that so many people even give a thought to the sham marriage of a narcissistic celebrity while millions suffer privation and our public institutions of ethical cohesion implode is a sure sign that we must find a new way forward. We are in a moment of moral turpitude, spiritual vacuousness and social fragmentation. We know more about social network friends than our neighbors and we mistake soundbites for information and Internet rumors for insight.

What is our way forward? Are we doomed to further decline into nihilism followed by religious or secular totalitarianism? How can we push a “reset” button that will bring change that helps the global community as well as our nation? I offer these thoughts as a place to start.

First, let’s decide that it is unacceptable for billions to live in abject poverty. The answer to global poverty is not more UN aid programs. The answer is unleashing the creative powers of entrepreneurship, establishing democratic processes, fostering religious freedom and extending generosity. From fair trade efforts to development initiatives that provide water, health care and education, we can see fundamental change. An Imam from Silicon Valley admitted that there was enough money in the global Muslim community for every member to be cared for, with much left over to show kindness to others! Americans of all faiths or none are a generous lot, but an increase of just five percent in resources for service to developing nations will transform the daily lives of millions. We can unite around a better future for the next generation.

Second, let’s live up to our highest ideals instead of making excuses for immoral and unethical decisions. Personal integrity and caring more about the good of others will nurture our souls far more than private ecstasy or other forms of self-indulgence. This Christmas, let’s make another family happy as well as our own. I am not suggesting we should deprive ourselves of fun; in fact, when we think of others, life is more delightful as we devise ways to work more efficiently, serve more effectively and play more inclusively.

Thirdly, let’s demand that our elected officials privatize their pensions, live within their means, operate more efficiently and demonstrate accountability instead of accommodation to lobbyists. From our President down to City Hall, we can expect better…and we need to wake up and recognize that we voted for these folks! Democrats and Republicans, Greens and Libertarians all need to consider the long-term consequences of their actions.

Finally (at least for this essay), let’s stop deceiving ourselves about the real situations we face. Radical Islam is a real threat to liberty and the enemies of Israel are also aiming for the USA. We cannot be a warfare and welfare state. Teachers cannot teach students who come to school poorly parented and unready to learn. If we are going to have children, we have to care for them. We must also end our current pathologies of abortion on demand and consider adoption if fertility issues arise. We need borders that are real and immigration laws that are fair. We need to end the current IRS and create a truly fair tax system. Even with religious tensions, it is still better to have complete freedom of conscience and faith and argue with civility than to erase public religious influence or impose a theocracy. We do want the highest values of faith to influence how people live. We must also defend the right of others to disagree and declare their opinions without fear.

We can forge a better future as we live out our faith, unleash creativity and local economies, refuse to give in to intolerance and choose hope instead of fear.