Politics

Hurricane Donald

I recently had to face my offensive harshness with telemarketers. For the first time I saw one as a fellow human who was struggling, stressed, and locked into a job he hated. And my glorious Edness had just made his load heavier. That epiphany broke something in me that needed breaking.

The sudden exposure (even in private) of a bad habit or hurtful way is one of the most humiliating and painful episodes in life. I fully understand the Apostle Paul’s harrowing question, “O wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death?

But, those moments are also essential and helpful. We all need those interruptions of cosmic kindness that disrupt our forward movement. They come to break, refine, and equip us with more grace.

The Beauty and Power of Disruption

Nations, cultures, and groups also need that refining force. Well, guess what. We have it; we are living through a powerful and historic disruption. It’s called “Trump.” But it has very little to do with policy or politics…or Trump. In fact, if he doesn’t already know it, he’ll soon learn that he’s caught in it too.

I think it’s dealing primarily with our arrogance and attitudinal sclerosis. In other words, it’s confronting our swagger and inflexibility. And it is applicable across the board. Like a hurricane, it is staggering across the land, bearing down on every person, group, relationship, event, and institution.

But why?

I believe it is because disruption brings newness into the present, “new” as the invading, explosive, and transformative power of the future. That new will—like a hurricane—rip and splinter old ways.

And that is for our good!

Have you noticed that most people seem to know our present national path is not healthy and not sustainable? So everyone claims to want change—but as a tool they can deploy to manage the future. It doesn’t work like that; real change invades. It’s not controllable by anyone or any agenda, and that’s the secret of its power and beauty.

From time to time, we all need to be so challenged, provoked, and terrified that body fluids leak through our clothes. That’s why and how we change. The great kindness of our Creator always has and always will tear up old ruts, comfort zones, and corruption in order to bring renewal. He will always cut across me; His purposes are too important to leave me (or you) intact.

Where did we ever get the idea that we and our tribe don’t need disruption? Why would anyone think that we get to create, educate, innovate, and negotiate only with those who feel exactly as we do about everything? That’s silly. Maturity requires the ability to work with different and difficult people.

Right here, it gets personal. I didn’t vote for Trump. He was the proverbial “bridge too far” for me. OK, so now what? Looks like I have decisions to make about adaptation, humility and learning new skills and rhythms.

I appreciated seeing the Tech titans—none of whom could be called Trump supporters—actually sit down and talk with the President-elect. For years some have lectured us on the need to sit down together, to “cross the aisle” to work with “the other side.” Oddly, so many of those voices never did that. But Tim Cook, Jeff Bezos, Sheryl Sandberg, Elon Musk and several others did. Furthermore, they agreed to keep meeting together with the new President.

Maybe they understand how the world works.

All Things New

Over the past year I have learned that loss always feels personal. But it never is.

Human instinct seems to always view loss from a close and immediate angle…it happened to me, took something from me, and now forever diminishes me and my future. But that is a distortion, like one cell in a drug addict’s body contorting in pain when he goes cold turkey. That cell cannot see the larger picture and purpose.

Much of what we’re seeing now is the contortion of individual cells. Too many bloggers, political elites, media voices, entertainers, and college students are only looking at Hurricane Donald from a very personal perspective.

To all of them I would say, “Close your eyes and take deep and long breaths. Humble yourself. Walk outside. Look up. Reconnect with the deeper rhythms of the universe. This is not personal any more than a hurricane is personal.”

Relax, trust, and prepare to live in a renewed and beautified landscape – one you didn’t design and one that lies far beyond the ramshackle real estate of your own habits and preferences.

Speak to the Signature

In a recent Washington Post op-ed, a freelance journalist wrote that she would not (as was her custom) rent out parts of her Washington home to Inauguration participants this year. She explained that she just couldn’t bring the hate of Trump supporters into her neighborhood.

Of course, had Secretary Clinton won, others would have refused hospitality to her celebrants.

To live by the cold calculus of political punishment suggests serious personality deficits. How do mature adults refuse to engage and flow with people (like potential customers!) just because they hold different views? Good grief, a case can be made that anyone is an “extremist” or “hater.” But serious and productive adults don’t tolerate that silliness.

The Polarization Business

In their book, Common Ground, Bob Beckel and Cal Thomas contend that very strong interests are heavily invested in polarization. They write, “ . . . conflict sells, and if harmony broke out, newspaper sales would drop and ratings, especially on cable TV, would decline sharply.”[1]

We live in an age when powerful forces (media institutions, the political industry, social media marketers, etc.) need for you and me to hate each other; polarization is big business. But why do we buy? Why do we so passively allow them to attach their icy electrodes to our spines?

We would never tolerate polarization in our own bodies. Think about it; we all navigate the external world through our five senses. Our brain integrates the feedback we receive through the concert of our eyes, ears, tongue, nose, and fingers.

Wouldn’t it seem weird and dysfunctional to move through life according to one’s sense of smell? Yet that is what we do when we decide to live according to political purity.

A Better Way

When I wrote for a conservative journal several years ago, my editor once asked me to become more combative against “liberals.” And I heard myself say something I did not know until that moment: “God’s signature is written across every human heart; I’d rather speak to that signature.” And, to my great surprise, he said, “We sure need someone here who can do that.”

As a human, a creator, a collaborator, and a child of God, I would rather try to view people through God’s eyes than according to the schemes of cunning economic manipulations.

Over the years I’ve learned that those who are my opposites are never as bad or difficult as I imagine. In most cases, I simply (and unintentionally) fell into blind obedience to hidden and devious agendas. In doing so, I fulfilled an ancient warning:

Strangers devour his strength,

Yet he does not know it….[2]

Living in full engagement of others – regardless of how they vote or what they think, feel, or believe – is a far better way of life.

Higher Ground

In 2009, during a trip through Jordan, I met a Palestinian Muslim. Ibrahim and I spent many hours together in restaurants, busses, and walking together throughout the country. For the first few days we spoke to each other from deep inside our own caves. But then, like Boo Radley in To Kill a Mockingbird, we each slowly stepped into the light.

One night Ibrahim told me about his son who had lived with a chronic illness all his life. Suddenly we were just two dads standing in the desert. Then he told me about the night Allah came to his house and healed his son. My eyes burned as we walked back and forth across our common real estate. We found a heart connection within the familial chords of care, that nugget of eternity that God places in everyone’s heart, and the too-good-to-be-true joy of Him coming to our homes.

In that moment, we were each lifted beyond our religious, political, ethnic, or national identities. We saw that unmistakable signature of God inscribed on the other’s heart. Suddenly we stood together on higher ground

Let me tell you another secret. Everyone whom you may regard as sinister, immoral, unjust, or racist also carries God’s signature. So, you have a choice. You can submit to the condemnations shouted by the investors in polarization. Or you can dig down below the rubble of injury, rejection, and loss to find His Signature. It is there, in everybody.

Then, if you speak to the signature you might call new life into existence, and you may create a path to higher ground.

[1] Cal Thomas and Bob Beckel, Common Ground (William Morrow; New York, NY; 2007) p. 69 & 81.

[2] Hosea 7:9, taken from the New American Standard Bible®,Copyright © 1960, 1962, 1963, 1968, 1971, 1972, 1973, 1975, 1977, 1995 by The Lockman Foundation. Used by permission. (www.Lockman.org)

The Wisdom of “And” 

Minutes before I spoke to a Christian leadership retreat, another speaker took a position disputing what I would soon be saying. Wanting to avoid conflict or embarrassment, I discreetly asked my friend Mike Bishop to step outside. When I sought his counsel, he nodded his understanding and said, “Just remember, and, not or.”

         Mike’s wisdom set me free. I could add to – rather than contradict – what had just been spoken. 

         I’ve often thought about Mike’s “and” in this election season. The swirling accusation that attends presidential elections seems to pull all of us into sharp (but quite unnecessary) polarization and conflict. Everything tends to be either/or. We seem incapable of reasoned, thoughtful, and charitable assessments of opposing views or candidates.

Both Sides Now

Columnist William Raspberry once told me “most people believe more than one side of any issue.” That has become an enormous and orienting truth for me. But when the structures of our time cannot tolerate complexity or nuance, everything becomes either/or. 

         To live in “And” just screws up the algorithms of the age.

         Let’s face it; most of those who prefer Trump are genuinely concerned about the integrity of national borders, terrorism, pervasive incompetence, and the loss of respect for America throughout the world. Those people are not crazy or evil; they are grappling (however inarticulately) with serious issues. 

         And most of the people supporting Clinton are reaching for a more just and inclusive society, one that rejects the old structures of privilege and power. In fact, I think most people on the left yearn for a new story, one that rises above the old rules and allows dreamers some space. 

         As author Jonathan Haidt suggests in his book, The Righteous Mind, conservatives are more concerned about authority, loyalty, and sanctity issues. Liberals are more focused on care, fairness, and choice. Those tensions are valid and necessary. They are all “and, not or” issues; surely a civil society can and must discuss all of that intelligently and kindly. 

         But for some reason it is difficult to just listen to a position and then respond with, “Yes, I see that. And perhaps we also need to also consider…” The biggest problem with that position is pride; what I know is often the enemy of what I dont know. 

         Humility is the only antidote for pride.

The Path of Humility

Humility is always appropriate, always in season, and always dignifying. Humility is not self-degradation or passivity; it isn’t a servile posture. Real humility is based on the conviction that my view is incomplete. My capacities and perspectives are limited; I need others. 

         That’s why I like what pastor and author Tim Keller says about the integrity of conversation. He says we should “do the work necessary to articulate the views of your opponent with such strength and clarity that he or she could say, ‘I couldn’t have said it better myself.’ Then, and only then, will your polemics have integrity…”[1]

         Now imagine Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump sitting at a table in a TV studio, earnestly and humbly talking about issues. Clinton says, “Now, Donald, here is what I heard you say in Cincinnati. Now, please tell me if you agree with the way I express it or not.” And Trump listens carefully, nods, and says, “Hillary, that’s it. Thank you. That is my position.” 

         Sadly, we all know that is never going to happen.

But you and I can practice that kind of relational and conversational integrity. We can humbly, patiently, and respectfully listen to one another – even on Facebook! Even when others speak in anger and exaggeration, we can love, listen, and respond gently. 

         When I think of how little I really know about life, God, His creation, about anything, I catch a glimpse of the towering ignorance that drives anger and conflict. 

         What if…we all stopped fighting, humbled ourselves, and turned our energies to exploring the deep and immeasurable riches all around us? It is just possible that you may discover a vital link to a beautiful treasure…one that would be enormously helpful to others, including me. 

         What a beautiful world. 

[1] Keller, Timothy. Center Church: Doing Balanced, Gospel-centered Ministry in Your City. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2012. 

Do Elections Matter?

I am so grateful for the quiet and gentle rhythms of my life; marriage, family, friends, Middle Tennessee, good books, good food, and the pulsating possibility of touching eternity in life’s peaceful moments and places.

But, for some reason, in presidential election years I often turn away from all of that and indulge things that are accusative, hopeless, and deceptive. I seem to step into some kind of vertigo. Why is that?

Maybe it springs from our yearning for moral order. We need for life to make sense. But that desire for clarity and justice can so often and quickly lead to a moralistic view of the world that is ironically immoral. I think that is the birthing room for politics.

Of course, politics can be fine and noble. At best, it’s the way civilizations turn conflict into compromise; it’s how honest differences, even hostilities, get zippered into some kind of consensus, policy, and forward movement.

But at it’s worst politics becomes religion; a snarling, irrational, primitive, unforgiving and brutal battle between the forces of good and evil. That’s when conversation stops, friendships fade, everyone runs to their own bunkers, and firing commences.

Why do we all get caught up in that? When Americans move into the final weeks of a Presidential campaign, that polarization rises to flood stage. We all begin to see other ideas, agendas, movements, and leaders as incarnations of evil.

Arthur Miller famously said, “An era can be said to end when its basic illusions are exhausted.”[1] Sadly, it seems that our political bankruptcy has become a yardstick for our era’s exhaustion. Everyone faces the choice of going down with the dying era or simply walking away into a new future.

A Radical Life

Here’s the truth, Sweetheart: Life on earth always cycles. Today is no better and no worse than it has ever been. The “current situation”—whatever and wherever and whenever and with whomever it is—always breaks down (regardless of who wins elections). The old is always here, and passing away. And the new is always here, and arriving.

Jesus said, “I make all things new.” When the illusions and and ruins of the age are fully and hideously exposed, the Kingdom of God’s brand new order, that newness of life, will just keep unfurling.

When Daniel’s “current situation” in Jerusalem fell apart and he ended up in Babylonian captivity, God’s Kingdom just kept coming. History is full of those stories.

That is where I choose to stand.

And, because it defies the “normalcy” of a bankrupt and futile era, to live that way is oddly countercultural.

A radical life carries no deep affection for, or alarm about, what is passing away. Rather, it continually brings the “all things new” into the present. To live radically is to see and live now according to the new that is arriving. A radical life sees the things we fear and the things we hope (the bases of elections) as mere sand pebbles rolled back and forth by the tides of the old and the new.

I’m glad we live in a democracy; I know that voting is a great freedom and responsibility. And I know that some elections are important. But they are never as important as they claim to be.

Every one of the perceived victories this year—that wall, strong military, civil rights for LGBTQ, higher minimum wage—or losses (same list) are microscopic compared to the global and historic magnificence of the now-and-still-coming Kingdom of God.

So, yes, vote. Volunteer. Donate. But keep politics in perspective. Radical living does not allow politics to trade illusions for real life and it does not give politics any authority over personal relationships.

And radicals, like Daniel, never get confused about the relative power of tides and sand pebbles.

[1] Arthur Miller, “The Year it Came Apart”New York Magazine, Vol. 8, No. 1 (30 December 1974 – 6 January 1975), p. 30

 

Life After Loss

Over the past 18 months I’ve been working in a laboratory of loss. Through our son Paul’s death, my participation in a study of education in American, my knee replacement surgery, post-surgical recovery and rehab, relocating, political realignments, and global immigration dynamics, I kept being drawn to the issue of loss.

Through all of that, I’ve come to see that loss is not to be feared or rejected. It is a normal and essential part of life’s cadence. If we regard losses properly, they can bring renewal for the next season of life. Here are some of the details:

  • Loss is not personal. Yes, I know that it sure feels personal. In the moment, it seems unique, even historic. But loss is rarely personal. The simple truth is that everyone dies, financial tides rise and fall, relationships get injured, trains go off the rails, etc. The old bumper sticker (sanitized), BAD STUFF HAPPENS, captures a simple, but large and inescapable truth.
  • Life requires that we deal with it. The species cannot continue if humans are immobilized by loss.
  • Loss (a.k.a. ruin, failure, death, destruction, etc.) is always painful and disruptive; it never comes at a good time. So we must learn to accept and navigate it.
  • Loss is short term. Most people tend to view the whole journey through the keyhole of the present moment. But almost nothing we see through the eyes of grief is accurate or helpful in the long term.
  • Loss is an illusion. It might lash, boil, invade, injure and steal from us; it may even leave us face down in the gutter. But it cannot destroy the core of our true identity. For that reason, we don’t have to fear it. Nothing significant is taken away by loss.
  • Loss is a myopic interpretation of a larger change. An old “Far Side” cartoon showed two men fishing on a lake as a large mushroom cloud boiled up over the horizon. One fisherman said to the other, “I’ll tell you what it means, it means screw the limit.” People inevitably view global realignments through the lens of their personal needs and desires.
  • Loss calls us to greater maturity. Living in a culture that encourages emotional indulgence, we tend to welcome grief and offer it a big easy chair. But maturity pushes the grieving out of bed, into the shower, and to the office. And it makes sure that he or she does that every day for the rest of his or her life.
  • Loss passes by. Glen Roachelle once said, “When you go through a storm, don’t become an expert on storms. Just get through it.” It comes. Endure it. Loss moves on; you should too.
  • Loss reveals a higher path. Crises always bring me to see that my “Edness” is insufficient. For me, I can only proceed by faith in God’s total reliability. I’m not assuming this is (or should be) your response, but I have to get up above the big muddy me and ascend into a higher and clearer view.
  • Loss is not The End. Although it appears to be apocalyptic, loss the usually just the end of a season or a way of thinking. What appears to be great loss can be a gate to a brand new future.
  • Life surpasses our earth existence. For me, where I live is not a big deal. Living in God is the real objective. From His place, I am able to more clearly see the vast sweep of the whole journey. And seeing loss from the high ground give a completely new perspective and releases people to accept and bless it.
  • What about loss on a national scale? It seems to me that conservatives tend to view every loss as an assault on our foundations and liberals tend to see losses as threats to progress. Both views are power grabs. In truth, when seen from the high ground, the losses brought by war, disease, economic tremors, social injustice, technology shifts, and even immigration crises are often servants of renewal and redemption.

 

The losses suffered by individuals, families, business and industry, and nations mean old things are blowing away and new things are arriving. Life after loss is much like the land after a thunderstorm. The scent of rain and the purity of the air suggest new beginnings.

Let’s step into the new. We have more to gain than we ever lost.

Circles of Life

I grew up in the middle of Kansas, in the middle of America, in the middle of the 20th century. Naturally the racial attitudes in our home reflected our time and place.

But over time I came into personal friendship with several African-Americans. I didn’t seek them; they didn’t seek me. It just happened. And as the atoms of their life slowly seeped into mine, the molecules of my identity began to mutate.

I changed, not because of anything intellectual or political, but because I grew to love Lee, Bill, Ken and Gail, Don and Hildred, John, Morris, Lorraine, Roland and other African-American friends. And love taught me to look at life through their eyes.

That may be why I’ve never been able to connect with political or cultural approaches to race. The polemics of a movement seemed cold and loveless. The voices always sounded more angry than empathetic, and the action more symbolic than functional.

Twenty-five years ago author Stephen Covey described life’s “Circle of Concern” and “Circle of Influence.”[1] I think that perspective is valuable today.

The circle of concern contains things like aging, weather, alien invasions, and a wide range of national and global issues – things we can do nothing about. That circle is fairly new in human history; it was made possible by mass media and it tends to be where experts hang out.

The other circle, influence, holds our family, friends, property, health, work and other nearby arenas. It is the circle wherein our influence can and does make a difference. For most of history, it was the only circle. Home, school, church, courthouse, barbershop; these marked the borders of life and “concerns.”

In recent decades the electromagnet of our contemporary culture (media, politics, religion, entertainment) has pulled us away from the circle of our real-life influence, the place where we actually do unto others, out into the amorphous arena of “concern.”

I have friends who live and work in that circle; I know they live out of true compassion. I don’t disparage them or their efforts. But I also know that concern can be a bully as it converts normal and noble human concern into funding bases. I know from my own years of working in social arenas that experts tend to design solutions and then parachute them into neighborhoods, without any real engagement with those who actually live with the problems. That’s because the visible objects of the programs are not the real clients; the funders are.

Using the conditions of some to leverage power or funding from others is a cruel hoax. And it happens every day.

A long-time and highly-respected Washington journalist once told me that Washington had become, within his years there, a city obsessed by issues rather than one focused on solving problems. Issues raise money and build careers. That’s why that system can never solve anything.

An “issue” orientation to race only seems to produce voices in a chorus chant, “Treyvon Martin! Paula Deen! Donald Sterling!” It’s an endless loop.

It seems to me that too many of us abandoned our circle of influence; we lost eye contact with those around us, believing that the circle of concern was the proper arena for “progress.” Maybe its now time for us to walk away from “concern” and return to the arena of hard work.

What if, instead of considering racism as an “issue,” and the property of experts, we considered it for what it really is – a problem? Seeing it that way might release us to work on it with practical and relational tactics. Perhaps we could bring it back to our circle of influence where it could be a focus of networking, collaboration, strategic thinking, seeking favor, rewarding goodwill, and, yes, love.

I believe that there, in that circle, away from the experts, the most perfect social law of all time – do unto others as you would have them do unto you – would operate more freely and be infinitely more effective.

What people do to others is what matters.

 

[1] Stephen Covey, The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People (Simon and Schuster, 1989) pages 81-86.

 

The Righteous Mind

Why and how do people arrive at certain political and religious perspectives?

That question drives The Righteous Mind: Why Good People Are Divided by Politics and Religion (Pantheon Books, 2012). Author Jonathan Haidt is a professor of psychology at the University of Virginia. Moral psychology is his field.

Haidt cracks the door on his thesis with this simple statement: “We humans all have the same five taste receptors, but we don’t all like the same foods.” Yes, of course, from the very same sensory equipment, we live in a dazzling diversity of foods, flavors, cooking methods, serving pieces, etc.

The same kind of matrix frames our “moral judgments.” Through exhaustive research, Haidt identified six “foundations of morality.” These six “taste receptors” form the basis of our moral behavior. We all have the same ones; from them we develop our own political and religious “taste” preferences (the two words of each foundation represents a scale from the principle to its antithesis).

  • Care/harm
  • Liberty/oppression
  • Fairness/cheating
  • Loyalty/betrayal
  • Authority/subversion
  • Sanctity/degradation

 

What This Means for Politics and Religion

Author Haidt, a self-described “liberal Democrat,” was invited to address a Democratic Party gathering following the 2004 election. His topic: “Republicans Understand Moral Psychology; Democrat’s Don’t.” In fact, he says that liberals largely reject half of the six foundations of morality: loyalty, authority, and sanctity. Strangely, according to Haidt, “very conservative” people value all six equally.

From that, he writes about his excitement about Barack Obama, as “a liberal who understood conservative arguments about the need for order and… tradition.” But after a few months, Haidt became worried. He saw Obama working from only two of the foundations, care and fairness.

Of conservatives, Haidt writes, “…their broader moral matrix allows them to detect threats to moral capital that liberals cannot perceive…they fight back ferociously when they believe that change will damage the institutions and traditions that provide our moral exoskeletons (such as the family). Preserving those institutions and traditions is their most sacred value.

Haidt, an atheist, devotes much space to “the hive” – that mysterious dimension where humans lose themselves in something larger and transcendent. He challenges liberals on their disregard of the sanctity foundation. For example, he writes that liberals have difficulty understanding the conservative revulsion about a crucifix submerged in a jar of the artist’s urine or elephant dung wiped across an image of the Virgin Mary.

So, helpfully, he asks if liberals would understand the sanctity better if Jesus and Mary were exchanged for Martin Luther King, Jr. and Nelson Mandela?

Can We Disagree More Constructively?

As stated earlier, we all have wildly differing tastes in food. Wouldn’t we think it strange to have talk radio and cable news programming built around demonizing those who prefer Thai food or Riesling wines? Can you imagine a book built around a thesis that to love cheeseburgers is to be a traitor?

We all live in a matrix of six moral judgments. Just as our common taste receptors allow people to run to a multitude of food choices, so our placement within the moral foundations allows us to try and adapt various political and religious tastes. Anybody have a problem with that?

Yes, they do. But why?

So much of the conflict is rooted in genetics. Haidt: “After analyzing the DNA of 13,000 Australians, scientists recently found several genes that differed between liberals and conservatives. Most of them related to neurotransmitter functioning, particularly glutamate and serotonin, both of which are involved in the brain’s response to threat and fear…conservatives react more strongly than liberals to signs of danger…liberals have less need for order, structure, and closure.”

It seems to me that Haidt has taken an enormous first step in trying to help everyone see the whole spectrum more clearly and objectively. As a liberal and an atheist, he vigorously challenges his fellow liberals and atheists in their languid and predictable thinking about political conservatism and religion.

For example, he writes about moral capital (the resources that “enable a community to suppress selfishness and make cooperation possible”) and social capital, “the social ties among individuals and the norms of reciprocity and trustworthiness that arise from those ties.” He sees both as blind spots for the left.

Haidt furthermore writes that this “is the reason I believe that liberalism – which has done so much to bring about freedom and equal opportunity – is not sufficient as a governing philosophy. It tends to overreach, change too many things too quickly, and reduce the stock of moral capital…”

To my surprise, Haidt never does engage much of a critique of conservatism (or conservatives). He wants to see more respect, civility, and objectivity in our public discourse, and he models it!

The Righteous Mind is, like it’s author, generous and noble.

He concludes: “Morality binds and blinds. It binds us into ideological teams that fight each other as though the fate of the world depended on our side winning each battle. It blinds us to the fact that each team is comprised of good people who have something important to say.”

Precisely.

The Other Side

I recently came across a frankly brilliant essay about why the other side cannot, must not, win the election in November. It begins:

“The past several weeks have made one thing crystal-clear: Our country faces unmitigated disaster if the Other Side wins.

“No reasonably intelligent person can deny this. All you have to do is look at the way the Other Side has been running its campaign. Instead of focusing on the big issues that are important to the American People, it has fired a relentlessly negative barrage of distortions, misrepresentations, and flat-out lies.

“Just look at the Other Side’s latest commercial, which take a perfectly reasonable statement by the candidate for My Side completely out of context to make it seem as if he is saying something nefarious. This just shows you how desperate the Other Side is and how willing it is to mislead the American People.”

Even though you will quickly catch on to the idea, read the whole thing. You will see that our side has reason, righteousness, noble ideas, and a sure-fire plan for saving the economy and increasing employment. The other side has nefarious billionaires, undisclosed documents, offensive and lying commercials, biased media voices, same old tired and discredited policies, conspiracies, deranged anger, crazy uncles, etc.

This essay is a mirror for you and for me.

What the essay really reveals is that politics has become large gaseous bubbles, blown free of the wand, and wobbling uncertain through the air. It is all a game, an amusement, a sport.

One very real problem is that when we speak in Pavlovian terms, you know, that code — George Soros, Limbaugh, Biden, Huffington, FOX, red state, blue state, MSNBC — we fall into a binary polarization of language. It is all 1s and 0s. No other numbers allowed. We cannot really converse about real stuff. In fact, I think we obsess about politics (and religion) in order to avoid intimacy. It’s easier to hide behind the code than to expose my own uncertainties, longings, and fears.

William Raspberry once said, “In virtually every public controversy, most thoughtful people secretly believe both sides.” That is true. For example, I believe both (or all) sides about so many issues…from technology, to the Christian views of “hell” and evolution, to writing for pay, to President Obama’s apologies to other nations. Yet, put me in a cocktail party or prayer meeting and I’ll take the short cut every time…finding harmony with almost any position ventured.

I am not weak or deceitful, but Madonna will release a gospel album before I’ll open my heart to strangers.

This is why I often long for “sitting with a friend on bales of hay in a barn on a rainy afternoon…”

I love the imagery of rain-induced isolation and slowness and the intimacy of candor and freedom.

Now, in the words of R. E. M.’s Losing My Religion, “Oh, no, I’ve said too much!” 🙂

Anyway, I hope you find the time to read this essay. Oh, and please vote for our guy in November!

How to Survive the Political Season

Joanne and I play Skip-Bo almost every evening. A few nights ago, I found myself getting too intensely focused on winning (instead of the joy of the game with this lady I love). Then, strangest thing, it seemed that I floated away and looked down on the game. And I realized, we are sitting at a table, shuffling pieces of colored paper. And we think this is important!

That moment reminded me that the late Eugene McCarthy, US Senator (D – Maine) and Presidential candidate, once said, “Being in politics is like being a football coach. You have to be smart enough to understand the game, and dumb enough to think it’s important.”

McCarthy was right; politics is a game, just as football and Skip-Bo are games.

Part of being “smart enough to understand the game” means knowing that crises — economic, legal, environmental, cultural, governmental, social, global — are essential to winning. Crises keep people off-balance, polarized, and dependent on the experts who presumably possess the wisdom needed to get through the crises.

Of course, the crises must continue; they can never be resolved. As much as they may be “deplored,” the political game will never abolish or resolve poverty, racism, abortion, bullying, greed, global warming or any other useful problem.

Now, I hasten to add that politics can be an honorable profession and worthy field of activism. But, like anything, it can and should be approached with good will, good humor, wit, style, and panache. Do what you can, enjoy the journey, quit at five o’clock, let God do the heavy lifting.

The assumption that politics is a path to righteousness causes the political game — especially in presidential election years — to rise to inhuman levels of deception, demonization, and decibels. And the absence (even abhorrence) of objectivity, humanity, and elegance! How can a self-respecting human listen to that, let alone participate? Why should anything jerk me into a pretzel of anger and angst?

I think the most burning political issue is: how do we survive the political season? The following is not a “how to” list, but rather a gentle light on a possible path:

Live locally

The pace of modern life (especially in political seasons) spins all of us away from our own life, family, community, and local culture. We are pulled into fixations on issues which, in fact, are too theoretical and remote to have much influence on our own lives.

In fact, the quality and joy of life have nothing at all to do with who is elected to any office. The sounds, colors, passions, and delights of my life will remain the same regardless of who is elected.

Live simply

The political impulse will always make things complicated. A dense web of complexity, crises, and intrigue forms a compelling need for experts. As a result, we are losing confidence in our own ability to solve problems.

But, most issues are, in fact, simpler than the experts will admit. So, rather than accept the invention of complexity, live simply. Slow down. Step out of consumerism’s tyranny. Pray. Do it yourself. Learn to live in relationship with neighbors, friends, and family rather than dependence on experts.

Live generously

Politics thrives on scarcity. It must validate threatening limits of air, water, energy, health, security, and many other essentials. It does so in order to control the distribution of the “scarce” resources. The long-term effect of that is to make people fearful and miserly toward life. We do not have to live by that construct or within the centrifuge it has built.

The antidote is to live generously. For example, love those who are different. Embrace those who are politically, religiously, economically, philosophically, and racially unlike you. Choose care over conflict. Deliberately bless your times, places, and relationships. Refuse to live in anger or in a bunker. Be vulnerable to few, loving to many, and kind toward all.

Live lightly

Have you ever noticed that only people who take life seriously seem capable of a light touch? A healthy sense of humor is more the result of being properly aligned with life than it is of knowing what is funny. I agree with Saul Alinsky “A sense of humor is incompatible with the complete acceptance of any dogma, any religious, political, or economic prescriptions for salvation.”

Come to think of it, these four trail markers are good in every season! Maybe now is the time for an old fashioned altar call. Oh, friend, just step away from the noise. Go on home to your life. It’s not too late. Yes, I see those hands.

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