A genuine leader is not a searcher for consensus but a molder of consensus. Martin Luther King, Jr.
As our elected officials refuse to consider anything but their own positions, their invitations to the negotiation table are the ultimate insult — invitations to dinner where nothing is served.
I was restless and anxious at home.
I came to my office on this Sunday afternoon to seek clarity and to assign meaning to the insanity of the last several days.
My time in church this morning didn’t help me immediately come to the answer.
Prayers and tears for 20 children dead, along with six adults who fell in acts of protection and rescue . . . the murder of a mother . . . the suicide of a young man I personally know who was working hard to overcome addiction . . . the discovery of a cyst in a young woman’s skull that brings her pain, blurred vision, loss of memory, and, now, brain surgery . . . the sudden unexplained death of the adult daughter of my neighbors . . . the serious illness of a young boy and his mother’s loss of a job because she had to choose between being with him or going to work . . . the news that a dear friend has chosen to forego further treatment and to submit quietly to the hand of death . . .
I know that “the definitive answer” to all of these horrendous things would be appreciated by everyone. Most of all, by me.
As I sat in my pew this morning, I found myself longing for a perfect world. I wanted a place where people didn’t kill other people . . . where individuals didn’t argue angrily over things that are of little substance . . . where addiction and mental and physical illness don’t exist . . . where the people behind me wouldn’t talk in church . . . where times together with family and friends and co-workers could be free of conflict . . .
I was longing for heaven on earth. And then it struck me:
- You can’t have heaven on earth.
But surely we can have glimpses of heaven . . . whiffs of the aromas that escape God’s kitchen . . . a brief caress reminiscent of the Creator’s touch . . . the soothing words of a loving voice . . .
And that would be enough.
Despite my protests and my assertion that you can’t have heaven on earth, I am, of course, completely wrong.
A couple of thousand years ago, an angel of the Lord appeared to shepherds tending their flocks and said, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all of the people. Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is Christ the Lord.” And almost immediately, a chorus of angels broke out in song, “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace to men and women and children on whom his favor rests.”
Peace came to earth. All of the elements are here. And therein lies the definitive answer.
Preacher Jonathan reminded us today that “hope” is, essentially, “waiting” for better things to come. How better to spend our time than to offer hope in this grand waiting room?
Today, tomorrow, and every day:
- Peel back the unsightly sores that cover this life so that others can catch a glimpse of heaven.
- Allow the aroma of Christ to saturate everything about you so that others can’t help but smell it too.
- Touch someone with the care and concern that can bring emotional healing even when physical healing is impossible.
- Speak words of peace and comfort.
After all, “Emmanuel” means “God with us.”
I firmly believe that people and nations should live within their means, save some money to cover lean times looming in the future, enjoy the fruits of their labor, pay (or spend) tax money to support what is good in government, and give generously to those who have needs.
If any part of that statement gives you concern, let me assure you — I’m not a socialist or a Tea party member or a crazy loon.
I am simply an individual with values like many others. People whose views regarding economics and, frankly, most other public policy issues, can be seen with some favor from both the liberal and conservative ends of the political spectrum. What people like me know is that there are answers to this mess we’re in.
We also know that our elected leaders, as they collect themselves around various “ideals and platforms,” love the mess because it’s part of their identity. If the mess goes away, they imagine that people will perceive them as less valuable.
Gunfighters need some bad guys to shoot. Armies need a clear and present danger. Lawyers need a dispute. Politicians need an enemy to vilify and eliminate. It’s all about self-justification for what they do.
We make movies and write books about these kinds of people. I would propose, however, that a majority of those imaginary plot lines center around the heroes who take on tough adversaries, but who do it to bring change. Invariably, what these good people (who sometimes have to do terrible things) are working towards is an elimination of the need for what they do.
Personally, I would like to think that our elected representatives have that same motivation. Certainly they would like to be part of a solution to this country’s ills. Yet our system has made it a necessity to make the playing and winning of political games a higher priority than tending to the commonwealth of our citizens.
Are there good people who serve in these elected positions? Most certainly. But, if they stay in those positions very long, they, too, must bow to the political altar — or be sacrificed on it.
I know. I’ve just become one more voice of discontent. However, my aim is not to recall everyone in Washington. I just want for them to work from a foundation of basic principles.
The following is my basic, unsophisticated wisdom when it comes to addressing the economic catastrophe we’re in. And, by the way, it’s really not my wisdom. I’ve gathered bits and pieces of it from people all along the spectrum of political thought.
- This nightmare didn’t just happen last night. We’ve been creating these monetary monsters for decades. There is no short-term fix. We must change our lifestyle as a people and as a nation.
- Reduced spending, in and of itself, will not make this go away. We’re too far in. Standing on the bottom of the pool when you’re in waist-deep water will prevent drowning. Firmly placing your feet on the bottom is far less effective and most often fatal when the waves are over your head.
- Increased taxes, in and of itself, will not make this go away. Any plan that seeks to move large portions of private capital into public coffers as the only answer will result in a downturn of ingenuity and productivity.
- While reduced spending and increased taxes aren’t desirable, discipline is. It is important that we accept the burden of discipline with an eye toward its eventual reward. We preach that to our children and our athletes. Why can’t we hand that same list of expectations to our country’s elected leaders?
- It’s okay to design and adopt a plan that isn’t ideal, as long as it moves us toward our common goals. The problem we’ve created is an outcome of losing sight of our common goals.
- Finally, we need to spend more time talking about and affirming the common goals through selfless action.
This can be done. I’m urging my representatives to end their petty rancor and asking them — pleading with them — to begin working as sane, competent, caring adults.
I’ve heard the idea hundreds of times.
“True leaders are those others choose to follow.”
Today, voters in the United States will go to the polls and vote. In so doing, we will signal to our government and to others what we hope and desire for the direction of our country for the next four years – perhaps longer.
Tonight, I will disappear into my home and watch election news stream in from all over the country. I will hear the predictions of ballot counts. Undoubtedly, I will go to bed long before the final results are in. After all, I’ve done my duty for this portion of our political process. I voted.
Tomorrow, I will awake to a new duty. We will know who our president will be come January – absent the pernicious presence of hanging chads. And I will begin my work – my responsibility – of following whoever that is.
If you can believe the pre-election polls, almost half of my countrymen will be disappointed in the morning. However, I hope that each and every one of us will rise to the challenge of making this country better in the next four years.
We don’t have to agree with everything an administration is doing or how they are doing it. In fact, we have the privilege of being outspoken about our values and beliefs.
But what we can do is make the best of what we have. We can teach our children to disagree with respect. We can find places to serve others. We can encourage that behavior from our elected officials, as well. And, if we are faced with others who don’t disagree with respect and who refuse to serve and officials who spew negativism, we can pray for them and for all of our leaders.
Tomorrow morning, I will choose to follow whoever is elected. I may not have voted for him and I may not vote for him to lead again. But I will follow . . . because it’s the right thing to do.