Diplomacy

it's not just about getting your way

This morning, I was able to hear an excerpt from President Obama’s press conference in China. This trip has seen what appears to be purposeful disrespect from the Chinese, the announcement of North Korean missile test firings, a missed opportunity to come to agreement with Russia about the conflict in Syria, and now an open challenge from the Philippines president as to what our President may or may not address in upcoming conversations. President Obama, arguably the most powerful individual in the world, responded with diplomacy.

No, my right-leaning friends, it wasn’t weakness on his part. And no, my left-leaning friends, it wasn’t genius.

It was diplomacy.

Whether they were well-planned or spontaneous, his answers were appropriate and, well, diplomatic. By addressing the inquiries with calmness, reflection, and a careful choice of words, President Obama assured that he — and thus we, as a nation — continued to have a place at the table. I appreciate diplomacy. It keeps dialog alive.

I am not a fan of all of President Obama’s policies and strategies. Yet, I do respect him and the way that he goes about his work. Among many other good things, he is a diplomat.

Odd, isn’t it, that we have chosen a system of elections that no longer honors diplomacy? Instead, we now seem to appreciate and value violent confrontation. Perhaps it isn’t always physical, yet we have seen rhetorical violence lead to violence. We teach our children that shouting louder, exhibiting anger, and refusing to consider ways to work together is the way to get ahead in life. In polite parenting circles and in our parent-teacher conferences, we decry such behavior. Yet, that’s what we demand of the candidates in our political system. Our children are our witnesses to our choices.

Our current election system is focused on power.

Here’s a short history lesson: When power dominates, over time we push for laws to form boundaries to limit power. When laws abound, bureaucracy grows. When bureaucracy grows, certain groups, empowered by the privilege created by bureaucracy assemble power. You would assume that this would be an endless cycle. But every so often there is a hiccup. Those not empowered become frustrated and desperate. Revolution. Chaos. A new power base is formed — often from an outside force that celebrates this moment of weakness. Rarely is this disruptive force beneficial.

The only remedy for this self-destructive path is dialog, understanding, and collaboration. Yes, my colleagues and my students in conflict resolution, the answer is a focus on the interests of all involved. Diplomacy is an essential part of the picture.

Yet, we, the voters, demand blood.

I left out another important piece of that history lesson. Most often, the voters get what they ask for.

Maybe we should be asking for more diplomacy, longer sessions at the table and fewer knock-out blows.

Remember, most often, you’ll get what you ask for.

The Art of Regret

living with less than perfect

Coming face to face with regret has become a daily routine for me. Perhaps it’s because I’ve become more contemplative. Or maybe it’s just because all of those things-I-should-or-shouldn’t-have-done have just reached critical mass and the momentum is simply overpowering. If it’s the latter, I regret that.

I came across this quote and found some comfort there.

Author Unknown
Never be defined by your past. It was just a lesson, not a life sentence.

In the interest of full disclosure, you should know that I copied it on an envelope yesterday and forgot about it . . . and threw the envelope in recycling. I regret that.

Fortunately, I retrieved it and I have it. Reading through it again, I am impressed with its wisdom and would really like to know who said it. But, a quick search online yielded nothing. So, for now, this source of wisdom is simply unknown. I regret that.

I had dinner with an old friend this week and discovered things that I wish I had known — of difficulties and triumphs in his life. And a rediscovery of why he was a friend and has stayed a friend, though distant, all these years. In those discoveries, I realized I had missed some truly great things. I regret that.

I sat with two more recent friends who are going through something terrifying. Talked and texted with two more whose marriages are suffering. Saw pictures that reminded me of things I wished I could do. Remembered moments that I failed. Realized that it will be hard to make amends. I regret all of that.

We face our regrets most often with statements beginning, “I wish . . .” Yet, I know that I was called to have more than regrets. I am empowered to do more than wish. For just like the rest of you, I was given a new day and a chance to do better. I can never fully repair all the things I have broken nor accomplish all the things that were possible. But in this new day, I can make a better decision, have a longer conversation, find more patience within me, seek moments for peace and reconciliation.

And even though I most likely will mess up, I have no regrets for the new days ahead.

Regret is simply a teacher, the lesson learned a treasure.

Hire a Thug

options for Christian voters

I received an email a few days back from an acquaintance. It was a forward, of course, of a message that had gone out to “reassure evangelical Christians” about recent endorsements from well-known figures within our faith community for Donald Trump. The theme, repeated over and over again, was that God is opening the door for us to hire a thug.

No, the word “thug” was never used. That would be too startling and upsetting. No, this is a direct quote:

Maybe God is trying to tell us something important- that now is not the time for a “nice Christian guy” or a “gentleman” or a typical Republican powder puff. Maybe now is the time for a natural born killer, a ruthless fighter, a warrior.

And some of you who are reading this might agree. That’s your choice.

I’ve heard all of the arguments in favor of the position taken in this recent email, including those “supported” by the Bible. I find it disquieting that none of that comes within the perspective of John 3:16.

I suppose all I’m saying here is that we live in a country where we have a lot of freedom, including that of voting for anyone we choose. Exercise that freedom.

I would also ask that you exercise that freedom in what you communicate. Please don’t dress up a thug in his Sunday suit and try to pass him off as God’s answer. Don’t pretend he’s representing our values when every other statement he makes screams otherwise.

Your choice this election year is a challenge. Vote. Support whichever candidate you believe will be the best President. But don’t use God as an excuse for your choices.

Toward a More Contemplative Lifestyle

and why that can be downright scary

I’ve always wanted to be a great thinker. Unfortunately, I have discovered that it requires me to be more contemplative.

Contemplative

photo credit: Matthew Wiebe/unsplash.com

Spending time raking through my thoughts is not always my idea of a good time. In fact, at the end of a trying day I often just go to bed and flip that big switch marked “I don’t want to think about it any more.” The great thing is that God made our brains to restore and renew themselves so some sorting and other helpful things happen when I’m asleep. I’ve often thought that I am much more intellectually effective when I’m asleep. Was it not for my snoring, I think that others would agree.

I do want to encourage contemplation — both in my self and others. Watching political debates and “person-on-the-streets” interviews during the last few months has convinced me that most of us don’t do enough in terms of contemplation. Instead, we use our most primal instincts — those of fear and satisfaction of our basic desires — to take a position and dedicate our very being to it. Some of those positions go beyond just being. Some of them will require our very souls.

I saw a meme on the internet this morning. It went something like this:

The Case for Contemplation
The dead are unaware that they are dead. Their existence continues. The consequences of their deaths are felt only by those around them. In that way, striking similarities exist between those who have died and those who fail to think.

We all face tough decisions. It will take an effort. But let’s all be more contemplative.

A Brand New Year!

A brand new year!

It is always my hope that I will do better in a new year. Better diet, more exercise, less sin, more friends, and a lot more family.

Yet, I never seem to get there.

Pounds cling to my body, chances to stretch and to strengthen are too often left by the wayside, I do what I want — even when I don’t really want it, I sit alone and I think about me too much.

I’m excited about a brand new year. Despite my failings to improve in my 60+ years, I still have hope. In fact, in many ways I have done better year after year at many of these resolutions. It’s just that I have had such a long way to travel — and the path stretches out in front of me for quite a ways.

As I age, I’m becoming more and more aware of the danger of emphasizing SELF-improvement over a joyous, focused effort to walk closely with God.

Better times are often less a product of what we avoid and more the result of what we actively pursue.

That’s where we should be headed this year. No doubt, we may veer from that course from time to time. But with eyes trained on Him, we can’t help but do better.

Happy New Year!