Category Archives: democracy

July 14, 1789: Bastille Day and The French Revolution: So Much Promise; So Much Failure

Liberté, Égalité, et Fraternité!” This cry of the revolutionaries in Paris, started a process of change that began idealistically and ended in anarchy, totalitarian rule, and complete change in the map of Europe. Bastille Day is the moment that two handfuls of political prisoners were liberated from prison. It symbolizes the end of the old hierarchies of church and state and the dawn of a new era of secular citizenship and equality. Many Americans were excited about another nation (and their ally in the War for Independence) throwing off a corrupt monarchy and becoming democratic. But the joy was short-lived as France went to war with most of Europe, secularized every institution, and, after a decade of turmoil, found herself ruled by Napoleon. What happened? Why is this Revolution so different from the American one just a decade earlier?

There are three reasons these two revolutions are NOT the same and why the one in France turned out so poorly. First is the historical context. The American colonies were quite diverse culturally and religiously, though British and Protestant sensibilities were dominant. Jews, Quakers, Baptists, Roman Catholics, and even free thinkers could flourish to some extent. This diversity led to the phrase, “E Pluribus Unum” – Out of Many, One.” France’s cultural and religious history was much different. In 1598 the Edict of Nantes offered limited toleration for Protestants; however, it was revoked by King Louis XIV in 1685 and France lost hundreds of thousands of Protestant and Jewish citizens, leaving a polarization between a reactionary Roman Catholic church and a secularizing Enlightened elite.

The second difference is the vision of the revolutionaries. The 1789-1792 era has many similarities with the USA, but after the execution of King Louis XVI and Queen Marie Antoinette, secular radicalism took over and imposed a new kind of intolerance. Soon there were all kinds of ideological and verbal litmus tests of how truly “revolutionary” one was…and over 40,000 died by the guillotine, most of them original supporters of the 1789 uprising!

Thirdly, anarchy and polarization left a vacuum for a totalitarian regime to fill…hence, the rise of Napoleon. At first his rule brought order and peace, new laws, and even religious toleration. Soon, however, he set about conquering much the European continent and battling Great Britain for dominance. Within a decade of coming to power, Napoleon was one more despot and military leader full of his own self-importance.

The legacy of 1776 and the birth of the USA is one of gradual toleration and democracy. The legacy of 1789 is more akin to the 1917-1922 Communist Revolution in Russia – another land without a history of religious diversity and representative governance. Though France is a strong republic today, she is still radically secular in her corridors of power. The USA remains a haven of religious freedom and diversity, enriching its communities and offering hope to a world.

Living In-Between: Observations from 2017

We see so many “resistance” movements. How about a “surrender” movement?
Today I surrender…NOT to fatalism, but to:
The holy love of the Trinity. The reconciling and restoring mission of Jesus.
Compelling love that serves others in all I do. Listening deeply to the hurts and hopes of others.
The moral absolutes in the teachings of Jesus, ending my excuses for compromise.
Helping make the world a better place.
It is easy to resist with anger…harder to surrender with love.

How we feel matters…how we think matters more…and what we ultimately do matters most.
Agape love is both affection and action for the good of others.
A critical mind is not a judgmental heart.  May we (re)learn the art of evaluating arguments and evidence, without castigation or hypocrisy.
Disagreeing with another’s perspective – even on moral and political issues – does not mean hatred or intolerance. Living peaceably with our deepest differences while we find common principles of ordered liberty requires humility and courage.

(From September 2017) Dear Republican and Democratic leaders,
While the public is distracted by kneeling, standing and tweeting, you are failing in your public service. Only courage will stop the polarizing forces tearing us apart.
Republicans, you were elected so we can have better stewardship of policy and public funds…and you cannot seem to pass any bills of note.
Democrats, you keep drifting to radical extremes while most of America wants a principled middle…can’t some of you propose bills for negotiation and eventual passage? Lock-step voting is a tired excuse for serious labor.
To both parties: Please stop the grandstanding and self-righteousness and start doing your job.
The president is not a king or a savior…and the courts are not legislatures (in spite of some of both branches antics over the past half-century).
Instead of hand-wringing and blame-shifting, start working. I want to believe you have the best interests of our citizens in mind.
Prove it.

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.