Category Archives: compassion

The Road Ahead

Our next Administration faces unprecedented challenges and opportunities. Reversing more than half a century of ballooning indebtedness and bloated bureaucracy will be daunting. Transforming health care and retirement plans so they are stable and sustainable will require courage and sacrifice heretofore unknown among politicians. Restoring our global influence and leading the resistance to intolerance and totalitarianism will demand humility, wisdom and moral and military strength. Advocating for life from conception to coronation and affirming compassion for the broken, poor and vulnerable will summon our best character and competencies. Standing with Israel while engaging in honest dialogue with Muslim leaders calls for Solomonic discernment.

Can we chart a fresh direction, revitalizing our founding principles for 21st century realities? Or is it too late and must we “adjust” to a “new world order” and “settle” for less? There is no way forward without pain. The only question is which type of surgery and recovery creates long-term health in the patient we call the United States of America.

There are two dispositions we must eschew and two we must embrace in order to construct a better, more inclusive and prosperous future. First, we must reject fatalism and fear, with their partners dependency and victimhood. Second, we must resist the extremes of hyper-individualism and collectivism. We must reaffirm that liberty is built on virtue and truth embraced by people with freewill. We are responsible for our choices. Yes, there are second chances and opportunities for redemption. There are, however, risks and rewards, positive and negative possibilities with daily decisions. Our future rests on accepting reality and affirming freedom – to fail or succeed. Hyper-individualism forgets that others do contribute to our progress – parents and pastors, coaches, friends and mentors, partners and even competitors are all part of the social reality that makes prosperity possible. The opposite extreme, the “you didn’t build that” collectivism of the last four years (and perhaps longer, truth be told), forgets that the infrastructure that sustains growth is funded by the innovation of the market that produces tax revenue! Remember, the politician’s are playing with our money.

On the positive side, we must embrace hope that is fulfilled by new habits. “Hope and change” only happen with habits and character. Hope is not wishful thinking and new habits begin with new hearts. Will we joyfully embrace the truth that “we are the change” as we diligently work, cheerfully volunteer and sacrificially serve the next generation? Secondly, we must live out the paradox of self-fulfillment through selfless service. Prosperity is adding value to others, not just extracting it. Our material wealth, emotional well-being and fruitful future rest on offering products, services and relationships that honor God and bring good to others. We buy certain products because of their (perceived or real) value. As we participate in the economy, we are stewards of God-given relationships and resources.

As we pray, vote and await the changes ahead, let’s dedicate ourselves to a future founded on character and competence rooted in faith, hope and love. Our salvation is from Christ. Our ultimate future is a gift from the Triune God. But our current life is a partnership with God and people of conscience to forge a loving and just community. “Yes we can” change course and one day look back on a new era of compassion, opportunity and flourishing.

The Power of Our Choices

With less than one month of electioneering remaining, the battles intensify as all the candidates at every level begin their sprint to the finish line. Beyond the elected offices are thousands of local and state propositions. It can be overwhelming, but it is a historical privilege to have a real say in our future. Please get informed, pray often and vote! Our choices matter and the future of our nation rests upon responsible, virtuous citizens exercising their God-given and Constitutionally guaranteed rights.

But there is even more power in other choices we make. Who we elect is not the most important factor in our destiny. Both conservatives and progressives are concerned about our future, often for similar reasons. Conservatives are deeply troubled by the ever-expanding reach of the federal government. Progressives bemoan the increasing gaps between rich and poor. Conservatives see under performing schools and agitate for vouchers. Progressives see the same realities and opt for increased public funding. Economic uncertainly is the concern of all, with each group offering different solutions, but no one is in denial that we need change. Conservatives are deeply uncomfortable with a foreign policy that tries to accommodate enemies dedicated to our demise. Progressives want to change perceptions of America and express more humility and interconnectedness. Both groups eschew intolerance and want to minimize violence.

There are choices we can make that will alter our national trajectory, even if we keep arguing on many public policy matters. Here are a few that may unite us instead of divide us further:

  • Apart from abuse, adultery and abandonment, we can stay married and serve our children. This is the single greatest factor for future success and stability, trumping economics and education. We can make sure our children arrive at school ready to learn.
  • We can offer our companies, families and communities a full day’s work, with good motives and ethical-relational integrity.
  • We can do business with the aim of adding value instead of extracting it from others.
  • We can balance our own checkbooks and hold public officials responsible for how they spend the people’s money. (Yes, we will still argue over how to spend it – the key is not spending more than we take in!) 
  • We can defend the poor, broken and vulnerable, from conception to coronation.
  • We can offer our time to help others instead of just agitating. The victims of social evils need friends as well as money and professional help.
  • We can look for ways to create wealth, not just redistribute current assets.
  • We can add beauty to the world by voluntarily celebrating and supporting the arts. Not every effort needs a government subsidy.
  • We can make friends with our neighbors.
  • If we turn off technology and get physically active, we are contributing to reducing health care costs without spending any money.
  • Our prayers matter to God and the future of the planet.
  • We can pray for the peace of Jerusalem. Affirming Israel’s right to exist as a beacon of democracy and supporting a new democratic Palestinian nation dedicated to peace is the only way forward.
  • We can make some new friends across cultural and generational lines. It will be fun to eat new foods, understand new ways of seeing the world and build a virtuous consensus in our communities.
  • We can reject hatred even while we critique choices and ideas. Every person we meet is made in God’s image.

Our nation’s future depends upon the mercy of God and the choices of millions of “regular” people. We can end the pernicious influence of pornography – there is an “off” button! We can reduce abortions by loving those already pregnant and helping the unmarried see the wisdom of waiting. By the way, the fathers need to own up to their part in this process! Civility is not passivity or just being sweet. Civility is looking for connections and choosing respect over rejection, affirmation over anger and forging new agreements when possible instead of picking up our toys and leaving the conversations.

At first, these choices seem self-evident and simplistic; however, actually living this way is a challenge. Sometimes there are addictions and traumas requiring extra care. We must not have contempt for those that struggle. But we must affirm the struggle! In our world of deep wounds and pernicious narcissism, the way of civility and service is rarely navigated easily. But it is worth our effort to offer succeeding generations a world worth enjoying.

2012 Insights

This week a student texted a question to me, “Dr. Self, is the world going to end in 2012?” The inquirer was a sincere, thoughtful Christian and concerned about the dire predictions of friends, media moguls and spin doctors on the left and right.
I answered that all Christians believe in the hope of Christ’s Return; however, we are to fulfill our callings well until that Day. As we live in hope we can plant trees, invest for our posterity, establish new products, develop new forms of compassion and give more than we take from the world.

The question reflects more than pop-cult interest in the Mayan calendar or the latest televangelist interpretations of the Book of Revelation. There is an unsteadiness in the USA that reflects the erosion of public cohesion that has been accelerating since the late 1960s and is taking nasty turns in this election year.

There are no “good old days” in US history – just better or worse actions of a few or many persons that create conditions for progress or regress. The 1950s were an amazing moment of economic and social growth; however, millions of African-Americans could not vote and had no access to many fields of work. The 1960s brought Civil Rights – and Vietnam. Technology has expanded exponentially since the 1950s, but social mores have fragmented and public virtue is scoffed at by the chattering elites.

The dis-integration of our land is evident when we exonerate a standing President for lying about his moral life in the 1990s, give any consideration to a current candidate that is a two-time adulterer and outright lie to ourselves about current economic conditions.

We have a regime in power with deep distrust of the Founders’ vision and the U.S. Constitution. Obama’s declaration that his administration is the “fourth most influential” after Johnson, FDR and Lincoln unveils the hubris, narcissism and self-deception that are foundational to his leadership. His declaration that Israel has no greater friend that his administration and “don’t let anyone tell you otherwise” reveals a totalitarian streak that is dangerous for the future of the USA and democracy around the world. His latest appointments without Congressional approval verify his utter disdain for dissent and his moral and political laziness. Forging lasting change through effective compromise is hard work and thus far Obama is unwilling to tackle issues in real dialogue with his opponents.

Conservatives are not exempt from critique. Where is a compelling vision of prosperity that includes compassion and resources for retooling and vocational change? When are Republicans going to realize that some defense cuts are needed as part of an overall budget-balancing goal? Conservatives talk about less government, but are they willing to lay aside thousands of earmarks, subsidies and pork barrel projects, including unwise ones that may bring a few jobs to their district or state?
Will conservatives join with progressives to secure our borders while making legal immigration less onerous? Will conservatives stop calling all environmentally-concerned folks crazy and pick up the mantle of Theodore Roosevelt and affirm that free enterprise includes holding companies accountable and managing resources well?

We can unite compassion and wealth creation.

Personal and social responsibility are inseparable.

We can have an effective military response to terror without being an occupying force.

We must stand for Israel’s existence and be real peacemakers, negotiating Middle East peace.

We can simplify the tax system and grow revenue by stimulating investment.

Sound ecological practice is good for the economy as we leave the world better for our children.

We must stand against any ideology that despises human rights and reject our democratic principles.

We must want for others the rights we claim for ourselves. Government does not bestow freedoms and rights; it exists to protect God-give/Natural rights that are inherent in the human condition.

We must resist moral relativism and reaffirm that there are “first principles” that are the root and fruit of a free and noble society.

We need to aspire to maturity and honor milestones that celebrate transitions to adulthood. Let’s stop rushing kids into sexual adulthood and extending adolescence into our 30s.

Life and politics need to be local again, without a retreat into obscurantism or xenophobia. More money needs to be spent locally and less money managed by the elites inside the DC Beltway.

Will the world end in 2012? God alone knows the moment when current history is transformed into the kingdom of God and all swords become plowshares, lambs and lions lie down together, we cease making war, tears are wiped away and the dwelling place of the Almighty is with humankind forever. Until that moment we have daily opportunities to be signposts of this future shalom, emissaries of peace and reconciliation, ennobling work and being stewards of a bountiful world. We cannot bring instant perfection, but we can partner with God and each other to ensure that no one is hungry. We can encourage creativity, initiative and liberty to grow. Let’s shape our lives so that the deepest wellsprings of reverence and mutual respect are nurtured in homes and communities of hope.