For years I have been challenging myself, other leaders, and elected officials to offer compelling visions of the future that are inclusive, just, and propel all people and communities toward flourishing. Without hope (tempered by realism), we are left with either anarchy leading to new forms of totalitarianism, or timeworn experiments that have proven fruitless.
Here are some questions for those who care about our global and local future:
- Is your vision inclusive of all classes and cultures? Or are you preying on envy and resentment and fomenting conflict to secure power over others?
- Is your vision doable and can it be paid for without stifling creativity and opportunity? Are your ideas incrementally achievable or grandiose talking points rooted in scare tactics?
- Does your vision continue enshrining freedom of conscience, religion, speech, and peaceable assembly, or are you placing whole groups outside the pale because they are not enlightened enough?
- Does your vision include both changed hearts and just systems? Good intentions are helpful, but without access, equity, and opportunity, they will ring hollow.
- Does your vision allow for progress without instant perfection and proximate justice on the way to full liberation? Can you find ways for principled compromise?
- Does your vision build on the lessons of history so that old mistakes are not repeated, and wisdom can be applied afresh to new challenges? Or are you trapped in the recent fallacy that dismisses the insights of previous generations?
- Does your vision reflect the need for people of character as well as new public policies?
A fresh vision of “there” will require imagination, integrity, intentional action, and a love for continual learning and refinement. We will never build a perfect world, but we can make the present one better.
Dear “kneelers” and “standers” –
As you exercise your freedoms, I have one request:
When the cameras are off, please pursue the ancient prophet’s great call: “Do justice, love mercy and walk humbly with your God.” Character is proven when no one is looking.
Dear Mr. President,
I am grieved today.
Not at your love for the Flag, but your insulting remarks about those that disagree with you.
Your Christian values should include love for those that differ and self-control in your speech.
Plain speech can be a virtue, but there is no place for name-calling and vulgarity.
I agree and disagree with some of your policies, but your inflammatory reactions diminish your Office and hinder your positive aims.
“Make America Great Again” must mean living with our deepest differences, hearing each other’s pains and humbly forging alliances for good…not polarizing tweets and alienating many that would otherwise sit down and work out solutions.
You have better things to do that insert yourself into the NFL: healthcare, immigration, North Korea, the Middle East, national infrastructure, ballooning debt and a divided public square…these are worthy of thoughtful attention, not disinviting a kind voice such as Steph Curry.
Please demonstrate statesmanship.
People and politicians (who are the elected subset of “the people”) are full of contradictory feelings and ideas. The tendency to overgeneralize and universalize is rampant. Who speaks for “the people?” Why are we so quick to opine on what African Americans, Hispanics, White Blue Collar folks, Evangelicals, Women and even LGBTQ folks think on any and every subject? If we are going to engender consensus on vital issues and chart a prosperous future for America and the world, we must end such facile thinking and begin to regard people with more respect and expect more of the political leaders elected and supported by the people.
Each person capable of moral action and self-reflection is unique. This does not mean they are disconnected and do not share beliefs and qualities of particular groups. America’s founders understood the tensions between individual liberty and the common good, between public service and political factions. Some of the founders and framers hoped there would never be political parties, just gentleman (few could foresee the female franchise) farmers and citizens serving for a season and returning to work after their public service was complete.
This idyllic vision quickly gave way to parties and philosophies competing for voters’ attention. By itself, two or more parties are not bad for the public, provided all parties and people share enough common virtues for social cohesion.
For 2016 and beyond, catering to constituencies must take second place to framing a vision and set of values that people of many backgrounds can embrace. This is much more than a “big tent” ethos or chanting, “we have something for everyone.” Such pandering has led to the severe challenges we face today.
Progress begins with personal character being more important than perceived competencies or charisma. Back in the 1820s, a member of Congress wrote a letter back to a disgruntled constituent: “You elected me for my moral character and sound judgment, not to procure public resources.” Imagine politicians saying to the voters, “You cannot have everything you want from the hands of government.” If this kind of integrity is united with a spiritual awakening, there is hope for America and the world.
The spate of Planned Parenthood videos raises many issues – almost none of which I am addressing here. The one issue germane to this essay is nurturing the life we (or our community members) have had a hand in conceiving, adopting and welcoming into our homes.
Nurturing discipleship in our communities includes biblically and theologically informed insights for parents as they express faith, hope and love in welcoming children into God’s world.
The following are insights from 35 years of parenting and pastoring in churches large and small, financial and geographic upheaval and more divine grace than my wife and I deserve.
Our aim: partnering with the Holy Trinity to make disciples that are neither anarchists not automatons, but passionate and principled volitional followers of Christ. We are parents of adult children ages 31, 28 and 25 and enjoy good relationships with each of them. They are each in different time zones, unique places in their journey and bring us no end of delight and concern.
Recognizing the diversity of family circumstances and structures, these reflections are not culled from a one-size-fits-all-prescription-laden text. Here are some thoughts for discipling parents in our communities:
- Welcoming a child (or children) into our home is an act of faith that changes everything. I often tell parents, “Marriage changes your world; children change your universe.” Parents are divine subcontractors and stewards of life and must cry out for divine strength and wisdom hour by hour.
- There are timeless biblical principles for nurture, but no one method of child rearing. Context and culture, personalities and particularities create opportunity for listening to God and learning from community members.
- Do not compete with other parents for how early your children walk, read, play an instrument or enjoy fishing. Within very wide boundaries (do listen to a good pediatrician), you can chill a bit and raise more secure children.
- If you are married, let children see (with discretion) your mutual love and respect and welcome them into family decisions as they mature. If you are a single parent, work with healthy opposite-gender congregants so your kids have a healthy view of themselves and both genders.
- Create an environment of aesthetic, intellectual, social and spiritual growth, modeling lifelong learning and childlike wonder.
- Teach the integration of faith, work and economics early, communicating that adding value through good work is more important that mere material wealth. Help them see work as worship to God and service to others, from the simplest of chores to the most complex occupations.
- Nurture potential with hopeful realism. Do not offer untrue platitudes such as, “you can be or do anything you want!” Better to say, “Let’s discover how God has made you and what unique gifts you bring to the world.” The power of Ephesians 3:20 includes the wisdom of Ephesians 2:10: The Lord can do more than we imagine…and God has designed good (general and specific) works for us. By the way, when I was 12, my father wrote in Harvard Alumni Journal, “Charles is a fiery humanist and repressed basketball star (too short).” By 15 I knew the NBA was not my future!
- Please help your children eat healthily, exercise often, turn off the computers and television and enjoy being alone with a book and comfortable with people. Respect their temperamental differences. Do not force extended solitude for extraverts or constant socializing for introverts. The aim is Christ-formed character and the blossoming of their person, not vicarious fulfillment of the parents.
- Above, below and around all other precepts: pray and praise God together, joyfully singing and dancing. Lament together and explain that our God sheds tears as well. Without being oppressive, let your life with Christ be “Spirit-natural” and your children will never be religiously inoculated.
At least once a week, my wife and I say to the Lord, “Thank you for the gift of freewill. We just wish our kids would use it better sometimes!” Every good decision makes our hearts swell with joy. Every poor one brings pangs of agitation and guilt. What an amazing window into the heart of Abba Father, the Almighty. We worship a Lord of great pathos, beaming and singing over his children (Zeph. 3:17) and longing for a desert place to weep when they rebel (Jer. 8-9).
For leaders, these insights for parents apply to our nurture of the spiritual children God entrusts to our care. May we see the Bible inform and the Spirit empower our nurture of maturing, responsible and loving children of God.