Category Archives: America

Pre-Election Insights and Prayers

Regardless of the outcome of the 2016 Presidential Election, our national experiment in virtue-based liberty is in a fragile and fraying state, with unprecedented private and public anger. Thoughtful women and men are distressed that the major parties offer two such deeply flawed candidates. Journalistic bias and agitation propaganda have replaced careful research and measured writing. Lost in all of the presidential chaos are the important local and state elections that immediately affect citizens where they live.

I offer these prayers and reflections as a cri de coeur – a cry of the heart – for divine mercy and decisive repentance and renewal in all of us. Underneath the public scandals focused on money, sex and power are deep moral and spiritual ambivalence, with various elites perverting ethical values for their own ideological agendas.

There are three insights and three prayers I invite all to consider and confess as we prepare the election and the aftermath.

Insight One: We are dehumanizing and disintegrating human identity and wholeness. When we ignore biological gender, separate sexual intimacy from marriage and fostering the next generation and reduce identity to current erotic impulses, we are not progressing past religious restrictions. We are actually regressing into primordial impulses that ruin health, oppress non-conforming people and hinder productive life. When we separate “personal morality” from “public policy”, arguing that one can be messed up in private and still lead effectively, we are destroying the foundations of the common good and true liberty. Everyone should bring their whole self to their work, and allow their values to inform their actions and policies. I am not advocating religious tests or totalitarian uniformity of adult relationships. I am asserting that healthy people make better leaders.

Our prayer: “O God, Creator of heaven and earth and fashioner of humankind, forgive our pride and rebellion. Forgive our attempts to improve on your design and destiny. Help us rediscover the dignity, equality and uniqueness of each person and desire for all others the responsibilities and rights we affirm for ourselves. By your grace, empower us for work that expresses neighborly love, creates value and helps generations yet unborn to flourish. Help us to realize that your moral precepts are for our good and any restrictions of our behaviors are for our protection and ultimate fulfillment. Amen.”

Insight Two: We are so ideologically polarized that we are often missing creative solutions for seemingly intractable problems. Economic growth and opportunity include private investments and wise public policies. Rapprochement with Islam and the West must engage both the historic mistakes of colonialism and the rapacious history of Islamic empires and jihadist movements. Peace in the Middle East will never come until Muslim leaders can say the words, “Israel in the national state of the Jewish people.” We can balance the budget and pay off our national debt in a generation, if we will stop seeing wise stewardship as “starving children” and insist on best practices for all that manage the public trust. Urban transformation requires mobilizing servant-leaders from all fields and includes personal transformation and systemic change. Will we roll up our sleeves and serve, or merely keep accusing others?

Our prayer: “O Lord, forgive our arrogance, thinking we could solve every problem with human engineering. You invite us to cry out for wisdom and you promise to bestow it generously, if we come with humility. The signs of divine wisdom include peace, justice, courage and love, fostering harmony and generating hope. Lord, we need the ‘wisdom to do justice’ that Solomon requested as we navigate so many difficult issues, most of which we have generated though our varied intentions and actions. Help us seek you, listen deeply to one another and discover new ways to help people and communities flourish. Amen.”

Insight Three: We need a fresh vision of what personal, local, and national flourishing look like, especially in a global world where we are blessed and informed by so many cultures. This is not wholesale abandonment of the first principles of America’s Declaration and Constitution. In fact, a reaffirmation of the deepest values that informed our founders will help us define citizenship, national identity and liberty in a rapidly changing world. We must reaffirm the virtues of personal responsibility, healthy families, hard work, civil and religious affiliation and local civic engagement. We will not always agree on every definition and policy, but shared vision helps us forge a preferred future.

Our prayer: “Gracious and loving God, you remind us that without vision we will lose restraint and without a sense of purpose, we often compromise our principles. Forgive us, merciful Lord, for all the competing fantasies, the dystopian and utopian visions that do not align with your kind and loving desires for us. Forgive our focus on momentary pleasures at the expense of the coming generations. Transform our shortsighted lusts into loving service. Help us strive for excellence without perfectionism, and principled living with true toleration for other perspectives. How we need your help as we find new common ground for the common good. Amen.”

Our presidents, governors and majors are not messiahs. The finest laws fail without personal and community virtue. The best of our human nature is often corrupted by the worst of our fallen state. All of these insights and prayers are mere words without a thorough spiritual awakening rooted in the good news of Jesus Christ. When confessing Christians repent of compromise and begin compassionate service for their neighbors, such integrity overflows and blesses those that do not have the same religious commitment. When the common good is understood, alliances are formed and people of conscience find ways to work together. Even while we (with civility) argue about our differences (and they do make a difference!), we can act sacrificially for our neighborhood and nation.

May God grant us courage, love and wisdom in these days. Today’s discipline is tomorrow’s destiny, for by divine design, our decisions matter.

Election 2016: Understanding the Time

Election 2016
“This is the worst campaign in history.” “Unbelievable – it cannot get any worse!” “Is this the best the two parties can offer?” “How did we get here?” “He is unworthy of being president.” “She is the least qualified candidate in history.” “He is a misogynist, racist and xenophobe.” “She is corrupt, a serial liar and does not like people.” “Half of his supporters are a basket of deplorables…and irredeemable.” “Her Presidency would be a third Obama term – disaster!”

Sound familiar?

The 2016 campaign, while drenched in polarization and vitriol, personal attacks and political corruption…only feels like the worst. The reason it is so disheartening is that we are bombarded 24/7 with accusations, allegations and aspersions that either depress us, inflame our anger or foster apathy.

Perspective Matters

From the 1820s to the present, party politics, including local and national machinery, personal attacks, opposition research and agitation propaganda, have been a part of the American political scene. When Andrew Jackson and John Quincy Adams fought against each other in the 1820s, epithets such as “adulterer” and “scoundrel” were common. When Grover Cleveland ran in the 1880s, his (admitted) fathering of a child outside of marriage was a constant theme of his opponents. In 1916, Woodrow Wilson campaigned with the theme, “He kept us out of war” while plotting for ways to join the Allies against Germany. His behind-the-scenes policies were so egregious that William Jennings Bryan, three-time Presidential candidate, resigned from the Cabinet. In 1928 and 1960, Al Smith and JFK were declared unfit because they were Roman Catholics and therefore loyal to the Vatican over the Constitution.

Insults, sandal, corruption and political manipulations are not new.

What IS new is the level of conscious, willful and public hypocrisy as advocates of both parties excuse the “minor mistakes” of their candidates while magnifying the corruption, depravity and unforgiveable transgressions of their opponents. My wife, Kathleen Self (www.colorbrush.com), affirms that we are in an age of “Polarism” where we would rather shout around and over each other than listen deeply and explore potential common ground.

How do people of conscience and faith navigate in these treacherous waters?

I suggest that there are three broad principles and three specific practices that will help us engage the process fully and retain our sanity, when all around are bitter and hopeless, reacting and retrenching.

Three Principles

Principle One: Remember that our ultimate hope is in the Lord and his present and future reign. The occupants of Congress, the Supreme Court, the White House, our state capitals and city halls are not messiahs, but imperfect women and men that serve the public. They need divine mercy and wisdom – and to be held accountable for their stewardship of public resources. We must discipline our inner life and develop endurance even while actively engaging in political decisions. Nostalgia is the enemy of thoughtfulness. History can inform and inspire, but there are no “good old days” – just days of old when good people made wise decisions.

Principle Two: Our deepest values must guide our decisions; however, we can live peaceably with those that have a different “universe next door.” (James Sire) We will lose some public battles and perhaps win others – what matters long term is winning hearts and minds through insightful ideas, personal integrity and winsomeness. The profoundest ideas presented in anger will fall by the wayside. Advocacy must be accompanied by genuine listening to other perspectives. Tolerance is not agreement – it is the humble discipline of neighborly love when we radically diverge in how we see the most important issues of life.

Principle Three: We must ask and answer the question of vision: What does “there” look like? How do we – and by extension our political leaders – envision a free and just society rooted in virtue providing opportunity for all? How do the economy and education, civil discourse and governmental oversight function in our imperfect but flourishing world? Conservatives and progressives may share more in common than they imagine – but the means by which we achieve our ideal are quite different! Our future rests more on self-regulation and healthy families and neighborhoods versus federal and state governments acting as nannies over specific behaviors.

While we ponder these principles and pursue peacemaking with all people of conscience, there are three practices that foster the possibilities of a flourishing future. These go well beyond the obvious (and necessary) exhortations to get informed and vote. These choices require courage, love and wisdom, a character triad demanding the best of us.

Three Practices

Practice One: When Jesus said that we were to “love our enemies” he implied much more than merciful feelings and restraining revenge. Where possible, we should make friends across every cultural, political, racial and religious divide. People are so much more than their politics or even their gender preference. Each person we encounter is a work of art with much to offer the world. Instead of instant polemics from politics, let’s inquire and learn about art and authors, play and work, and other common interests. If our neighbors are parents or grandparents, focus on their children will bring immediate connection as all people of goodwill desire better for the next generation. Not everyone will respond, but unselfish love united with courage (we may be rejected) and wisdom (knowing cultural mores does matter) can foster a preferred future.

Practice Two: Critical Thinking. Emotions do matter and some of our visceral reactions are actually commendable. When we see injustice, we should be angry! When we experience unexpected blessings, it is time for a happy dance! But emotionalism and allowing our feelings to determine our convictions and decisions is harmful for our personal lives and the good of society. Critical thinking evaluates arguments, ideas and choices. It is not a “critical spirit” that is quick to judge a person whole cloth. There is a difference between evaluating behaviors and policies and declaring someone an outcast and calling names. For example, I stand for traditional, religious marriage and object to pressures that would compel me to perform any ceremonies (gay or straight) against my conscience. I also will defend religious leaders within Buddhist, Hindu, Jewish and Muslim communities that share my convictions. This said, I will not caricature those that disagree with me or refuse to ally with them on other causes. I desire for all others the rights I want for myself. My challenge to all in the chattering classes: will you think deeply before you act decisively?

Practice Three: Let’s start making our neighborhood a better place, joining with others to improve all domains that contribute to human flourishing. We cannot do everything, but we can do something, from supporting local businesses, to mobilizing our churches for poverty alleviation to helping our local schools. This is much more than joining a cause – it is neighborly love! The work we do every day – paid or unpaid, at home of in the office, labor or leadership, field or factory, in a delightful company or one that needs reform – is integral to our devotion to God and service of others. “Love your neighbor” is a call to action, helping all reach their capacities an exercise wise compassion. How do we start? Pray, listen and use gifts and skills to serve. While you are waiting for the bring break in your music career, sing at the senior centers and homeless shelters. While you look for the dream job, start working somewhere, doing the best you can.

Three principles, three practices. The underlying challenge is character. With divine help and personal discipline, we can bring the highest virtues of a humble life to our world and make a lasting impact, not just a good impression.

Election 2016: It is actually more about our personal and national character than any particular candidates. Will be part of an awakening that begins with repentance and faith and ends in renewal and a transformed future? The answer begins with today’s decisions, for they are tomorrow’s destiny.

A Word for Mr. Trump

Dear Donald Trump,
I pen these words with prayers for you and our nation.

You have caused quite a stir.

But unsettling the political landscape is not statesmanship.

For some you are the key to our nation’s survival.
Others see a narcissist running a new reality show.

I think you are – like all people – beautiful and broken – gifted and selfish, concerned about country and struggling with character.

Many share your concerns on immigration and jobs, national security and terrorism, inefficient government and insecurity about America’s future.

I know that many of your positions are “opening negotiating positions” especially the ban on Muslim immigration and the wall with Mexico.

But Mr. Trump, character matters. You cannot shout, “crooked Hillary” and not face your own challenges. I call on you to cease personal insults and offer clarity on:

  • Immigration that remains hospitable.
  • Job creation that keeps goods flowing globally.
  • Abortion: will you support the Republican platform?
  • First and Second Amendment liberties.
  • Racial reconciliation – how to we reduce tensions and engender unity?

And there is much more…

I haven’t decided my vote. Frankly, I am dismayed that neither party could do better.

Will you envision a future and demonstrate the ethics necessary for all to flourish or are you merely one more demagogue we must endure?

Stop the insults. Start sharing insights. Come clean on any hidden issues.

And above all, cease boasting about all you will do.
Please articulate what all of us must do for a better future.

I already have a Savior…I am looking for a public servant.