Yearly Archives: 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.

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.

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.