For the next several postings, I will be answering real questions from real people. In some cases, I am summarizing more than one question on the same topic. These questions have come to me from colleagues and friends, students in classes, audience members in talks, friends in my church and in my community. My aim is civil, insightful conversation that will stimulate thoughtfulness and wisdom that leads to fresh solutions that are inclusive and just, understanding that we live in a pluralistic world. People of conscience and goodwill will see issues – and even the universe itself! – very differently. In a world of instant reactions, I am pleading with my readers to think and live thoughtfully. This does not mean compromising conscience or faith-commitments. It does mean treating others according to the Golden Rule.
In the coming weeks, we will answer sincere questions, such as:
- “Where does all the new money come from for government programs?
- “Is there a compassionate and just solution for immigration and the mess at the southern border?
- “Is there any hope for peace in the pro-choice/pro-life conflict?”
- “I am confused. How do I navigate the gender complexities? What about my religious beliefs about sexual conduct?”
- What is the best relationship of parents with their local schools? How much voice should families have in their children’s education?”
- “I want to care for the earth, but are we really in danger of global catastrophe in the next decade without drastic changes?”
- “Why is there no end to the conflict in the Middle East? Id Israel really an ‘apartheid state’?”
- “What is true ‘social justice’? I keep hearing this phrase and some of my friends use it all the time. Other friends say it is a code word for Marxism. What do you think?”
- And more…
As we begin this journey, let’s remember the four steps of the pathway to thoughtfulness: 1) We process our reactions. We are going to react. This is only human. Maturity is evident when we restrain our verbal and written responses and allow our emotions time to settle. 2) We take time for reflection (of course if there is tragedy, we extend our prayers and if there are celebrations of good things, we rejoice with others…the aim here is how we respond to issues affecting our culture) and go under the surface and gain perspective. 3) We do serious research beyond our favorite blogs and seek understanding of varying points of view. 4) We respond with the aim of principled consensus where possible. If our considered opinion is controversial or offensive to some, we share it as winsomely as possible.
Thoughtfulness includes gentleness and kindness (two of St. Paul’s fruit of the Spirit in Galatians 5:22-23), but it is not reducible to “niceness” or moral relativism, as we shall discover in the coming months. People ready to be offended will be, regardless of our winsomeness. Our aim is making the world better, not appeasing the easily slighted. If we err in our information or express ourselves too judgmentally, we will be quick to repent and repair as we can.
In some circles, being direct and offensive is considered “prophetic.” No, this reflects personality types and often a lack of reflection. “Prophetic” in the New Testament is focused on communication that builds others, encouraging and empowering moral action. There are times for clear denunciation of evil and calling out actions that are immoral: hopefully this is done with tears and a desire for the persons and systems to change.
Thank you for joining me on this journey toward wisdom.
People of conscience and thoughtfulness in both political parties are at a crossroads. The events of January 6th and the recent policies of the new administration are troubling many. The legacy of the previous administration was deeply tarnished and the promises of unity and amicable dialogue of the new folks in Washington are remain unfulfilled. Power and punishment, rancor and reaction dominate the public square and there is utter disregard for any fiscal restraint.
Out of the deep disappointment of this moment is an opportunity for a new determination for people that care about the common good and want all Americans engaged in helping their neighbors flourish. Beginning the week of April 5, I will introduce a nine-part series, “The Way Forward.” I will outline pathways of progress on the most challenging issues of our time. Until then, the focus of this essay and the two that will follow will be on the changes in us that provide the soil from which creativity and innovation thrive.
Here are seven “decide ahead of time” choices that help us face the world with confidence and humility, hope and courage.
- First, we stop lying to ourselves. We must own the areas of self-deceit that capture our hearts and minds.
- Second, with our new found humility, we now own our personal choices and get the help we need so that any lingering victim-hood recedes and is replaced by empowerment.
- Third, while we engage in the political process, we realize that we do not elect messiahs. Some emotional/mental distance from political soundbites will improve our health.
- Fourth, we choose pathways that help us befriend people very different from ourselves and learn from their sufferings and triumphs.
- Fifth, we own our historical narratives – all of them. We reject nostalgia and cynicism and recognize the good and the evil in human hearts and social systems.
- Sixth, we do not wait for government programs to help others in need. Our churches, daily work, local charities, and many other venues offer ways of concretely changing lives.
- Seventh and supremely, we must return to God in awe and reverence and stop making ourselves the center of the universe. When we follow the way of Christ – a life of service that will include suffering infused with love and hope – we find all our best and deepest longings fulfilled.
Will we spend less time scrolling and more time praying? Will we stop reacting with clenched fists and begin responding with open hands? It all begins with each of us and the choices we make each day.
I am very concerned with the triumph of emotivism in academic/intellectual circles. Critical thinking is not confined to a culture, gender or race. Critical thinking needs new attention so our dialogues move us toward truth, and, where possible, principled compromise on policies. Please friends, let’s be unafraid listen with humility and observe with objectivity.
In our polarized world, there two things that offer hope:
- shared encounters in community worship; and
- shared engagement in God’s work that renews our communities. God’s presence expands our hearts in holy love and practical work expresses our unity in service.
For centuries, human beings have sought meaning. In our century, we are debating the meaning of being human. Grateful for the Biblical story that offers identity and hope, humility and purpose.
Lord, please heal us.
Heal our hearts: touch our deepest wounds as use us as emissaries of compassion.
Heal our heads: liberate our minds from captivity to crowds and release fresh thinking.
Heal our hands: deliver us from selfish motives and methods and unleash innovation and integrity for the common good.
Lord, heal our land, one prayer, one kind word, one sacrificial act at a time.
In a world torn apart by both natural events and social contention, offering thanks is a good place to begin healing:
Thank you for…
…Every Mom and Dad that nurtures their marriage and children.
…Every ethical business owner creating sustainable work for their employees.
…Every pastor laboring daily for the flourishing of their congregation and community.
…Every artist making the world more beautiful.
…Every aid worker and first responder in Puerto Rico, Mexico City, Texas, Florida and 100s of other locales.
…Every public official stewarding our resources well.
…Every person of conscience doing today’s work well.
Today, there are public and secret baptisms with thousands declaring their faith in Christ.
Today people of all political opinions are helping millions rebuild their lives in the wake of storms.
Today, communities are rising from the ashes of generational devastation as all social sectors unite and aim for flourishing.
Today, families are welcoming children into the world.
Today, pastors are comforting the afflicted, preparing meaningful messages and leading their communities toward wholeness.
Today, millions of people of conscience are awakening to the fact that their good work – paid or unpaid, labor or leadership – is the cornerstone of a better future.
Dear friends of conscience from all parties or none:
It is time for a new conversation.
When racism is veiled in patriotism, it is time to call this evil.
When anarchism is veiled in justice language, it is time to expose destructive agendas.
When advocates for the Left propose things they know they cannot fund, it is time to say, “Get real!”
When advocates for the Right forget the serious historical and systematic injustices oppressing millions, it is time to say, “Repent!”
When we like someone or approve their agenda, we overlook often egregious faults.
When we dislike someone or their agenda, the smallest flaws are reason for rejection.
I am ready to converse, pray and roll up my sleeves with all that desire every person and community to flourish.
Yes, we will disagree on (sometimes eternally) important things.
I will defend the rights of others that I desire for myself.
What I cannot defend is hatred and violence.
The new conversation starts today – even in our posts!