Tag Archives: politics

Courageous or Political?

 

courage:  the mental or moral strength to venture, persevere, and withstand danger, fear, or difficulty  (http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/courage)

Here’s a thought that has been welling up within me these past few weeks.  I deeply appreciate our government leaders trying to do something they feel is politically courageous on health care reform.  I, too, feel our system is in need of renovation.

But I would argue that we as a nation, and they as leaders have not had the courage to venture into the difficult waters of working together in this process, our elected officials have not persevered in trying to make the right changes happen the right way – no matter how long it takes – and they have not withstood the difficult collaboration that such a huge change obviously needs.

So, my question is:  Even if their belief in the policy is politically courageous, if the process isn’t politically courageous, hasn’t it just become political and no longer courageous?

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5 Suggestions from a Youth Pastor to the Leaders in Washington D.C.

Just a few days ago my husband and I were leading a lesson with 5th-6th grade students that focused on  sentences written  in a letter two centuries ago:  “Be wise in the way you act toward outsiders; make the most of every opportunity. Let your conversation be always full of grace, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how to answer everyone”  (Colossians 4:5-6, NIV).  As I was teaching these kids, I couldn’t help but wonder if our government is really making the most of every opportunity to be a beacon to the world outside Washington D.C. right now.  And, I realized I rarely see conversations between elected leaders that are seasoned with salt and full of gracious responses.   

So, the thoughts below are really nothing new – but I don’t see these values being practiced in our nation’s capitol  much these days.  I hope somewhere in this list of suggestions, there will be nuggets of truth that would penetrate the political muck in which Washington seems to be stuck:

1.  Make the Most of the Power of One

In all my years of leading a student ministry, it wasn’t any of my clever, charismatic lessons (some would say they weren’t at all clever or charismatic!), or outrageously fun activities for our students that made the lasting difference in their lives.  It was one adult life intersecting with one teen life over and over across many years that left powerful, life-giving imprints on these students.

What if government could wade into a messier, but more effective model of leading towards change – like striving as much as possible for values and decisions that encourage and enable (not require) individual citizens to give help and facilitate change for a few others who need  it.  I strongly believe that one person reaching out and helping another person is the model of mercy and justice that  makes the most difference.  I know such an approach can’t work in every situation, but whenever possible, I’d like to see government equip the people to be the change agents instead of taking on the role of change agent.   I definitely think it could happen a lot more than it’s happening right now.   And for the record, I don’t consider increased taxes as an intentional way for me to help someone else.  It robs me of the opportunity to get involved with my thoughts, my time, my creativity and my energy -  and probably more of my money.

The big critique of capitalism is that it creates a culture of greed and selfishness – and sometimes that’s true.  But, I would love for the United States to become a nation of people whose capitalism is known for giving and serving others because we are blessed, instead of taking because we can.  It’s like the mission of an organization like One Day’s Wages, http://www.onedayswages.org/  where everyone is challenged to examine how much they make in a day and give at least that much for the sake of another.  That would be a good start for change.  One crazy idea that maybe has already been proposed:  create a way for Americans to donate their money to fund health insurance for another person who cannot afford it.  People tend to give more and sacrifice more when it’s their choice and when they know exactly what their money is going to.  And if they are giving in closer proximity to their own daily life, they build and strengthen their own community more effectively.

 2.  Leaders as Learners

This one is huge, because often when we take the reins of leadership over something, we forget to keep learning from the people we lead – especially if we have different opinions, methods, perspectives, experiences and priorities.  But, I would argue that the people who are most different from us have the greatest capacity to teach us because the tension caused in the differences is what stretches our understanding, deepens our compassion, and requires us to be more patient in working through change.

I for one sure would like to see more Washington leaders learning from those they might consider antagonists.  All I’ve seen lately is a facade of attempted collaboration; a veneer of intended reciprocity.  I truly believe it’s possible, and  that it is the right thing to do, even if it takes longer.   I think listening and dialoguing well at town halls organized by elected leaders AND at grassroots events like the tea parties is a great first step  – but then we have to respect and wrestle with the concerns and ideas that have been offered.  There should be no bully pulpits in Washington – on any side of the debates.

3.  Practitioners make better Pontificators

No one would ever accuse me of being at a loss for words.  I typically have an opinion about everything and I don’t usually hesitate to offer my thoughts.  But,  topics that are deeply woven into the fabric of my life are the ones I can dialogue about in a way that gets people to listen and act because they know I’m not just spouting steam, I’m sharing about something that I live and breathe everyday.

I think I speak for a lot of people who really want our elected leaders to remember that their influence and wisdom is only as strong as what they practice each day.  If they aren’t living in the  environment their decisions have created, they widen the chasm between the government and the people.  If they have no tangible connection to the world and values they represent, then they may still  have an impact, but it will be shallow, uninformed or worse -  destructive.  I really wonder how government would look different if part of an elected official’s job was to volunteer 5-10 hours a week in the their field of expertise or somewhere that legislative decisions are visibly impacting.  Hmmm…  another crazy idea.

4.  Every Word Counts for Something

I have a friend who is also my verbal hero.  She has taught me through her own example that every word that comes out of my mouth leaves an impression, elicits a response and affects another human being or situation.  I strive (not always successfully) to model the lessons she has lived for me because I see the way her words – and her silence can lift people up everywhere she goes. 

Here’s some of her practices that help me clarify and refine the tone of every conversation:  Don’t aim sarcasm at someone I obviously don’t care for – it screams of disdain and weakens my cause.   Don’t belittle the attempts of well-meaning people who are reminding me that there are more opinions out there than just mine  – it makes people question my intentions.  It’s ok and healthy to articulate frustration with a situation or a person – it’s not ok to shut down discussion and ignore the reality of difference so I can just do it my way.

5.  Make the Most of Your Legacy

Lastly, none of us will do our job forever.  Sometimes we have the luxury of knowing how long we will lead.  Sometimes we don’t.  But regardless, we should do everything in our power to leave a deep, rich legacy that the next leader can build on.  Obviously, circumstances out of our control can short-circuit our plans and dreams for change, but we can only “make the most of every opportunity” given to us and not intentionally leave our successors with more problems than solutions.  It starts with constructing plans that build toward goals instead of tearing down by digging up blame.  It keeps going by not just shooting for immediate results but also examining future ramifications.  And it finishes well when people have trusted your leadership in spite of the differences between you and them.

As a person who has spent over fifteen years in ministry, these are some of the lessons I learned that I can’t help but believe are applicable in any job and in any circumstance.  I realize I’ve invited chuckles from those who think this little commentary oozes with naiveté, but I’m willing to take that risk because naiveté seems to be quite the opposite of cynicism and we certainly don’t need more of that right now.  So, maybe a little hope, a little civility, and a fresh perspective could make a small change, or be the beginning of a bigger one.

But mostly, I want to be able to show my students how our elected leaders truly do make the most of every opportunity to lead well, and…just like a delicious bowl of buttery popcorn, they add such a tasty pinch of saltiness to every conversation, that people want more of the leadership they have to offer. 

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Personal Questions for Public Issues

Let me start by saying I’m no expert on political issues.  Sometimes I’m overwhelmed by the onslaught of information and opinions about our country’s destiny – whether it comes from the left, the right or the middle!  And for the sake of an open and frank exchange, I do have a natural political leaning –so I’m not trying to promote myself as a centrist.  However, I do believe that no political ideology we espouse can be perfect, nor can the leaders who implement that ideology be without shortcoming.  This year especially, with the financial crisis and the fiery debate about healthcare, I have been trying to make sense of my own convictions and check my own inconsistencies between belief and action.  Here are the questions that keep revisiting my thoughts:

1.  What can I do to make a difference?  I really do wonder what the pressing issues would look like if I just did my part and everyone else did to.  And by doing my part, I mean, starting with making wise choices for myself and the people I love, then getting involved in my world in a way that challenges and empowers others to do the same, and then they do the right thing, too.  I’m not talking about asking the government to set up a program, system or tax that  makes sure we all do the right thing, I’m just dreaming of most of us, who can, doing it because it’s right and we should.   I’m not so naive to think all the problems would go away, but I can’t help but believe that the daunting issues of our time might just have less bite to them.

2.  What am I hoping/expecting the government to do that really I should be helping the the church do?  Here’s a thought that will most definitely get me labeled naive and Pollyannaish – What if the church really took the legacy of the early church in Acts 2 & 4 to heart?  I know that it is impossible to duplicate today everything they did to be of one heart and mind then.  But, we could certainly ask God to show us what to be of one heart and mind should look like today.  I can always be willing to live with arms wide open ready to share with anyone who has need, you know, as if all these earthly things are really not my own anyway – just a loan from my Creator who was kind of hoping I’d share on the playground of life.

3.  How can I or my government be of much use to anyone if we’re always weighed down by debt? I have decided that trickle down economics really works!  I realize Reagan coined this phrase about less taxes and growing small business, but I think it might be true for the negative side, too.  From what I understand, our country has waded into an astronomical amount of debt in the last half century, thanks to decisions that have been made on both sides of the political aisle.  And it looks like that mindset of buying with money we don’t yet have or cannot be sure will come has trickled right down into the spending habits of individuals.  We are a country of people who are in debt, looking to a government in debt for help and direction.  Now, I have a mortgage and I use credit cards, so I’m not trying to be extreme, here.  But some very wise people have taught me (yes, I had to learn this lesson) to be honest about what I can afford to owe someone, and to be realistic about what I don’t really NEED!  And when I work hard at trying to live out those answers honestly, I can actually be more effective at helping others who have less than me. 

4.  In the end, what lessons am I teaching my children about how to live?  This is the heart of my struggle with these issues.  I know they are watching how I respond to the world I live in – when I do the right thing and when I don’t.  And they are listening to the opinions I share – when those opinions are thoughtful and edifying, and when they are destructive.  So, I’m trying to be aware of the impact of my priorities – spoken and unspoken.

My church has a powerful benediction that we are saying together every week in reference to how the early Christian church in Acts truly let God work through them in a way that transformed their world:  Lord, what you did then, do again.  What you did through them, do through us.  That’s my prayer.

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