Archive for the 'Politics' Category

Words from the Past about Our Future

One convention down, one to go. Right now that feels like two too many! These extravaganzas whip the faithful into a frenzy, do their best to sell their party’s “product”  to voters, and widen the partisan fault lines separating the 330 million+ of us who reside in “…one nation…indivisible…”

RecentlyJFK assume responsibility for the future in the space of a few days a number of Facebook friends posted this JFK quote. They are a diverse group politically, spiritually, and ideologically. They don’t all know each other. But President Kennedy’s words touched them. They heard hope and possibility. They heard the Good News of a way forward. They heard the promise of healing our national brokenness. They wanted more of us to hear what they’d heard: “…not…the Republican answer, or the Democratic answer…the right answer…not …blame for the past…accept… responsibility for the future.”

What a healthy, adult approach! Fixing blame is a good way to gain political advantage, but a terrible way to solve problems. Blame binds us to the past we cannot change. Future-oriented responsibility empowers us to shape our collective future. Blaming, especially in politics, is toxic, divisive, and self-centered. By contrast, claiming and facing our future together offers new energy, new hope, and renewed purpose. It’s our future, our country, our environment, our children and grandchildren, our traditions and values to be passed on to future generations.

“Let us not seek the Republican answer, or the Democratic answer, but the right answer.”  I can hear the protests: “The R’s will say they have the right right answer, the D’s will say they do, the verbal food fight will begin, somebody will throw a fit and walk out, and we’re back where we’ve been for years—going nowhere.” How do we move together toward a “right answer” that bridges our deep and real partisan differences?

More recently some other Facebook friends shared these words from John Kennedy’s brother Robert. I don’t know thRFK when you teache original context of these words. But, except for the male-oriented language, they sound as fresh as today’s Twitter feed. Teaching and preaching fear based on human differences is an old human game. During RFK’s career as senator and later Attorney General, that fear focused largely on Communism and racial differences. Fifty years later political and religious leaders—and just plain folks– teach hate and fear of the Other with regard to a bewildering range of fears and prejudices. We’ve demonized so many sorts of folk as “Them” that we’re struggling desperately to find an Us with room enough for all our uniquenesses.

Rodgers and Hammerstein’s musical “South Pacific” taught us correctly that “You’ve got to be taught to hate and fear.”  That specific “hate and fear” was the island community’s view of love between a US soldier stationed on a South Pacific island and a native woman. Both the native culture and the US military base culture forbade that relationship. In the theater, love conquers all and the couple lives happily ever after. But our real-life experience too often validates RFK’s wisdom: “When you teach a [person] to hate and fear [the neighbor]…you… learn to confront others not as fellow citizens, but as enemies.”

As I stand on this small island of sanity between the two parties’ conventions, I hunger for leaders who affirm the Kennedys’ wisdom. Who will lead our nation toward the right answer for all of us, not just for their special interests? Who will renounce the blame game and lead us—all of us—to take responsibility for our common future? Who will reject hate and fear as motivations for political and social action? Who will take the lead in refusing to demonize the Other? Who will lead us beyond a culture of toxic fear, hate, and prejudice toward a culture of mutual respect and even love for one another? Who will lead us to see others with whom we differ not as enemies but as neighbors?

Elections can obscure our view of life’s Big Picture. In case you’re struggling with that, the prophet Isaiah offers a very clear view of it. God’s dream for God’s world is that Really Big Picture:

But here on this mountain, God-of-the-Angel-Armies
    will throw a feast for all the people of the world,
A feast of the finest foods, a feast with vintage wines,
    a feast of seven courses, a feast lavish with gourmet desserts.
And here on this mountain, God will banish
    the pall of doom hanging over all peoples,
The shadow of doom darkening all nations.
    Yes, he’ll banish death forever.
And God will wipe the tears from every face.
    He’ll remove every sign of disgrace
From his people, wherever they are.
    Yes! God says so!”  Isaiah 25:6-9 MSG

messianic banquet 7-16

This “messianic banquet” sounds too good to be true—“all the people of the world” sharing an incredibly lavish feast together, the end of death and “every sign of disgrace”. Followers of Jesus believe we act out God’s dream for God’s world every time we share the Lord’s Supper.  All are welcome at the table. We feast on the very life of God. Christ’s body and blood transform us into new people. We come away forgiven, renewed, reconciled to God and one another.

This vision puts day-to-day politics in perspective. It reminds us that God’s dream for our neighbors on the other side of political, religious, and social issues is for them to sit with us at God’s ultimate feast. It helps us see each person as God’s precious child. That identity supercedes all the other labels we stick on one another. God’s dream leads us to choose God’s limitless Love that prepares, invites, and works ceaselessly to gather God’s children at God’s table. It empowers us to reject “carefully-taught” hate and fear that poisons every aspect of our life together. Claiming and living out this vision is the best way I know for us to take responsibility for the future we leave as our legacy–NO MATTER WHO WINS THIS ELECTION.

 

You Built It Yourself–with More Help Than You Know!

On our road trip last week we heard a news report of a politician abusing an honor roll student in public. The story didn’t use those words. We heard the politician praise the student for his achievement. He went on–and on and on–about how that student had achieved that honor himself. But the politician was just using the honor student. The politician turned the student’s legitimate accomplishment into one more excuse to distort President Obama’s recent statement that a successful small business owner “didn’t build [his business] himself.”

[IN CASE YOU’RE GETTING WORRIED–This isn’t intended as a partisan political rant–from here on! This incident highlights two contrasting worldviews present in many facets of life including the church. It puts us squarely on the boundary between faith and politics. I believe this border needs to be free and open with plenty of two-way traffic. Others prefer a rigid boundary that firmly separates faith and politics.]

Let’s call one of these worldviews the “individual” view. The individual view insists that the businessman (Mr. Smith to us) did build his business himself. He invested his own money, expertise, hard work, sleepless nights, perseverance, creativity, etc. That honor roll student (George), says the politician, is the one who went to class, did the homework, wrote the papers,and  made the grades. George is the one who chose to stay in and study rather than go out with his friends. The initiative and determination shown by George and Mr. Smith is worthy of celebration and imitation. I agree. I believe the President would agree.  Those who hold the individual view might call Mr. Smith “a self-made man”. They might even say he “pulled himself up by his own bootstraps”. He didn’t. None of us did. None of us can. It’s against the laws of physics. Try it—-if you can find boots with straps! Pull. Pull hard–harder!! You won’t pull yourself up off the ground. You’ll either wear yourself out very quickly–or lose your balance and fall in a heap!

The other view [we’ll call it the “community” view] celebrates Mr. Smith’s hard work and success. It also sees many who helped Mr. Smith’s journey to success. It’s certainly reasonable to suggest his childhood and family life were foundational. The community where he lived provided schools, parks, and other opportunities for him to learn and grow. Key adults in addition to his parents touched his life along the way. A teacher, coach, pastor, scout leader, or neighbor may have made a life-changing difference. That difference-maker may not have known it then–or even now! Mr. Smith started his business in a community and nation built by others before him. He relied on existing laws, transportation, and utiity infrastructure. He paid for the next generation’s use of that infrastructure (including things like public schools) through his taxes. George, the honor student, worked long and hard to make the honor roll–but not all by himself. More than likely his parents supported and encouraged him. Influential teachers motivated him. Beyond the local community, both state and federal tax dollars–yours and mine–helped provide the school system in which George excelled. Like Mr. Smith, George probably has adults in addition to his parents who enrich his life.

Do you see the difference  between these two ways to look at life? The individual view says “I did it. I deserve all the credit for my accomplishments. I helped myself. You help yourself.” The community view says, “I deserve credit for my hard work, for using my ability, perseverance, and creativity–but not all the credit. I did it in an environment I didn’t choose or create, with more help than I can name from family, friends, and folks I will never meet. I did it with the help of this community (however you describe it–church, family, tribe, town, nation, etc.). The communities of which I am a part will shape all the decisions in my life We’re in this together!”

Do you see the contrast? Keep your eyes and ears open as the political season intensifies. Pay attention to celebrities, family and friends, and talk on the street. Listen to your pastor–and to the meetings after church in the hallway, the coffee hour, and the parking lot. I don’t believe life is sustainable when the individual view predominates–in families, cities, nations, churches, or on our planet. The community view is realistic, practical, sustainable, biblical–and against the grain of human nature and the prevailing cultural winds. If you agree, will you seek to let this worldview shape more of your life? Will you seek ways to share this perspective, especially with folks who see life differently? Let’s agree to try to do that lovingly, openly, and non-yellingly! No political party is completely right or wrong on this one. Yes, we’re teetering on the narrow ledge of that faith/politics boundary. But keeping a solid  brick wall between the two has gotten us where we are. Let’s try something new. How about moving from faith and politics to faith-full politics?

 

 


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