Category Archives: presidential politics; moral values

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.

Deflection is the Refuge of the Fearful

My fellow-thinkers, it is time to grow up. Dorothy Sayers, friend of C.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien, said that Christianity is a “religion for adult minds.” As we confront unprecedented economic and social issues, we must not be captivated by the bumper stickers and sound bites of either the extreme communitarian Left or the individualism that can ensnare the libertarian Right. It is possible to promote free markets and show compassion to the poor. It is possible to defend civil liberties and uphold traditional marriage. We can agitate with civility, debate with a view to concrete answers and forge coalitions to improve our world.

One of the tactics of my opponents – whether political or theological – is deflection. Instead of addressing an assertion directly, they deflect the conversation. For example, when I say, “Obama has failed to confront the deficit in a meaningful manner” my adversaries reply, “Well the problems come from the Bush administration.” At first this sounds plausible because our current crises are not all Obama’s making. We have tried to be a warfare and welfare statue for over 50 years and our trajectory is unsustainable. But notice the subversive point here: my counterpart refused to face Obama’s failures or even debate solutions, preferring the refuge of blame. Deflection is the tactic of the “pro-choice” radicals as well. Instead of squarely saying that abortions kill a pre-born human being, we are assailed by “right to choose” language that never confronts the most fundamental issue. There are a few honest radicals like Peter Singer that want to redefine human identity and restrict procreation to the intelligensia, but these darker thoughts do not play well on the news. When I debate the existence of God and/or moral absolutes, my sparring partners often counter with, “Look at all the evils of religion…” or, “I can be good without God.” Both of these assertions have some merit, but they miss the point. By never debating the issue at hand, we fail to refine our thinking or forge creative ways forward on any issues.

Minority activists reflexively reject peers that are conservative or voices calling for more personal initiative and responsibility because they are concerned that these are codes for racism and the refusal to deal with “structural” issues. Again, there is some truth in these fears – we are less than a lifetime removed from an era when millions could not vote or have access to education and work opportunities. We still have a long way to go. Too many corporations redline entire neighborhoods. At the same time, community activists find it hard to inflame angry mobs with chants of self-determination, marital fidelity and deeper values. The way forward is not ignoring our ignominious history or the current systemic issues. These must be addressed. But the future also rests on moral responsibility, spiritual renewal and racial reconciliation – all values affirmed by the late Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King.

American and British leftists have characterized cvonservativism as the “refuge of the dim.” Some conservatives call liberalism a “mental disorder.” In both cases deflection rules as the actual ideas and policies are lost in the polemics. Leaving aside the extremes of Hitler and Stalin, there is room for real debate that includes historical evidence, economic observations and political theory. I strenuously diverge from Thomas Friedman on almost every issue, but his ideas deserve debate, not just castigation. I admire the late Willian Buckley; however, his eloquent thoughts are open to fresh evaluation. I love our Founder’s vision and values – and we have amended the Constitution to affirm its ideals more inclusively.

The Obama administration needs to stop lying about our real economic condition, as they doctor statistics in an election year. The Republicans need to qualify their paeans to Ronald Reagan, roll up their sleeves and partner with moderate Democrats to get things done. We are in crisis. We need to stand with Israel against Iran and others dedicated to her destruction – no more deflection from those who deny Israel’s legitimacy. We need to reduce the deficit and balance a budget – and everyone will feel some pain. No more “starving the children” deflections from the Left and “weakening our defense” deflections from the Right. Hard, principled and prudential decisions are necessary.

Unborn children deserve to live and be welcomed into the arms of loving people. The elderly deserve respect, not warehousing. Marriage is one man and one woman. Other adult arrangements may be made, but they are not marriage. Catholic health care providers must not be forced to dispense contraceptives, abortificents or perform abortions. Some San Francisco leaders saw the light and pulled back from their ban on male circumcision, realizing that multiple religious communities cherish this sign of God’s covenant. What is frightening is that they contemplated any ban at all. Private enterprise needs encouragement and all businesses need to play by the same ethical standards. We can create wealth and care for the world. Muslims are welcome in the USA, but parallel legal systems are not. Government is present to protect the natural liberties and rights of humankind, not bestow them. We must affirm for all others the rights we desire for ourselves.

The final form of deflection from real issues is the ad hominem attack. It is easier to caricature and stereotype opponents instead of applying critical thinking standards to important policies. Labeling Israel as an “apartheid” nation is the refuge of racist, small-minded folks unwilling to face the failure of the two generations of Palestinian leadership. A new Palestinian state as a good neighbor to Israel is welcome as long as Israel’s existence is not in doubt. Castigating climate change skeptics as extremists and fools and refusing to debate the issuers is easier than confronting scientific evidence that is complex. Conversely, calling all global warming adherents communists keeps the other side from objective evaluation of human impact on the environment. Questioning the sanity of religious adherents (Richard Dawkins) avoids confronting the paucity of most arguments against the possibility of a Creator. Maybe we should use the word “demonize” instead of deflection to describe this process. Villification spares the accuser the pain of correcting assertions and refining arguments.

Let’s argue the issues and create pathways that are as inclusive as possible. Let’s stop deflecting and choose to think deeply and act decisively.

Kyrie Eleison

Today I paused and considered the state of our nation, the political discourse and my recent essays. While I remain deeply concerned about our country’s future and profoundly troubled by the current administration, I think a moment of introspection is due – for me, for the churches of our land, and for every thoughtful person that possesses some reverence for God and respect for others. In the midst of passionate polemics, we can forget our own personal proclivities for good and evil. In the middle of debating economic policies, we can be ignorant of needs across the street and around the world that we can help solve.

For years I have been calling – along with thousands of others – for a moral and spiritual awakening that compels consecration among believers, conversion of many and transformation of economic, moral and social spheres of our world. We need to be aroused from our selfish stupors and embraced by Divine love and holiness. Such conversion is not for our own ecstatic delight alone; authentic awakening compels service to those that cannot return the favor. Consecration to God also stimulates creativity and cooperation that can engender new wealth.

Where do we start? New mass meetings? Viral sermons and prayer times? Another 3, 7 or 12-step book? All of these may help. But there is a ancient prayer that we can offer that may be the spark for the millions of brush fires we need.

The prayer I speak of is the Kyrie Eleison prayer used by all streams global Christianity. Rooted in the texts of Old and New Testament, the prayer means, “Lord, have mercy.” The Orthodox tradition adds the famous, “Jesus Prayer” – “Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy (on me).” These ancient words of humility and dependence are needed in our hour of nattonal and personal crises.

Yes, we must debate, vote and work. Yes, we must allow for civil discourse and not impose any religious tests for citizenship, public office or neighborliness. I am not speaking of a movement that imposes prayer – I am calling on all people of faith to pray these words from the depths of hearts hungry for change. We must not make this prayer privately engaging and publicly irrelevant. “Lord, have mercy…” needs to offered for all women and men, whether we agree with their personal choices or political ideas. “Kyrie Eleison” applies to churchgoers enslaved to food and pornography as well as all who struggle with all addictions.

“Kyrie Eleison” means I will pray for our President’s well-being and that God will help him change where needed as well as persevere where good is promoted. “Lord have mercy” begins with my own soul and reverberates to a world starving for moral leadership. Here are some Kyrie Eleison prayers to get us started in a new direction of civility and hope:

“Lord, have mercy on me for my myopic vision and self-centered living. Help me wake up every day with the desire to honor you and bring good to others. Help me see all my activity as service and keep me from merely advancing my agendas.”

“Lord, have mercy on your church. Let every community, every parish experience gracious renewal as your love and holiness are the focus rather than consumer needs and personal preferences. Kyrie Eleison – renew us in this day. We deserve wrath – please remember mercy.”

“Lord, have mercy on our nation. You love all humankind and will bless all who call on your Name in truth. Help us appreciate your work in our history while repenting of our arrogance. We are only as exceptional as our reverence for you and our integrity in life. Forgive our prejudice toward “the other.” We forget that each person we see is made in your image and an object of your affection. Forgive our wanton disregard for life, from conception to coronation, from forgetting the poor and vulnerable to treating the aged and challenged as burdens.”

“Kyrie Eleison for our current administrations in our cities, counties, states and in Washington, D.C. Help all in places of power to be servants not masters, stewards of a trust and not despots of select interests. Help all in service to debate well and forge solutions that move us forward. Keep them alert to the dangers of radical ideologies that hold so many captive. Let your love, holiness and mercy move them in pursuit of equity and opportunity, always sustaining faith in the Almighty and in their neighbor.”

Many more prayers can be offered. What would happen if millions of us cried out every day, “Lord have mercy.”? Perhaps we would forgive from our hearts and be less angry. Perhaps the glory of God and good of others would restrain our egos. Perhaps we would sit down with rivals and ask the question, “What is the best way forward regardless of who is funding our campaigns?”

One thing is certain: if we walk in this disposition, we will contribute more than we take from our world and make at least one person’s day brighter. Perhaps that is where the awakening begins.