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.
We need a rediscovery of thoughtfulness in a world afflicted by a “dearth of depth and surfeit of superficiality.” (John Blanchard). The immediacy of experiences and information inflate human arrogance and make everyone a pseudo-expert. We have three tyrannies working: 1) experts competing for power; 2) the ubiquity of information that people confuse with true wisdom; and 3) a public square paralyzed by polarization that devolves into personal alienation instead of civil debate and learning.
We live in a world of instant information. This can be deceptive, because access to data and opinions is not the same thing as accurate information or insight. The other phenomenon is that a rumor or storyline is repeated so often that it becomes “fact” in the minds of many. And when it is later found to be partially or wholly untrue, a belated retraction cannot undo the damage to public knowledge. Information flows, but insight leading to integration of thought and practice is harder to find.
It is time for biblical thoughtfulness, for a fresh understanding of what the Apostle Paul refers to as the transformed mind of the follower of Christ. Romans 12:1-2 and Ephesians 4:22-24, building on the foundations of OT wisdom literature and the instructions of Jesus, offer hope for inner transformation leading to practical actions that honor God and serve our neighbors. The key word in both passages is transformation. The word is metamorphosis in the Greek and its underlying meaning denotes total change, reorientation, and a new mind.
Instead of unreflected and unfiltered reactions to life, here is a summary of a pathway to thoughtfulness:
- We receive events, inputs, inner intuitions and thoughts that create and refine the “lenses” through which we understand our world. We all have conscious and unconscious influences that affect our thinking. The thoughtful person recognizes these and takes time to absorb (not repress or suppress) the experiences.
- Instead of reacting immediately, we reflect on our feelings and thoughts and pause before saying or writing things we might regret.
- This reflection is then united with research, with the goal of understanding the different perspectives on the issues at hand.
- Receiving, reflecting, and research are all done subject to God’s revelation found in his two books. The first is Holy Scripture. Our question must always be, “How does God’s Word speak to this experience or issue directly or indirectly? The second book is God’s common grace or natural revelation. This consists of the best empirical and rational thinking in various fields.
- Finally, the thoughtful woman or man responds to the situation with as much grace and truth as possible.
May we be people of reflection and research, submitting to revelation and responding with love and wisdom in a world awash with emotionalism and irrationalism.