Monday, December 31, 2007

Honest Politician

Figgins has had increasing opportunities,in recent days, to witness the cynical view that most seem to have of American politicians. This can be summed up by saying that it seems to be, generally, accepted that the description "Honest Politician" is an oxymoron.

Figgins has, also, been witnessing how very discouraging I find this. That aspect really peaked today when one Presidential Candidate announced a decision to not run a "negative ad" that his campaign had prepared. My discouragement comes from the fact that I haven't heard a single representative of the media express even the most vague possibility that what the candidate said was true ... that he had given further consideration to what he was about to do and he had come up with the courage of his convictions and decided not to do it. This particular candidate is an ordained Baptist minister. He teaches from The Scriptures, which say, "let your yea be yea; and [your] nay, nay" ... in other words, say what you mean and mean what you say. So why is there not even the slightest consideration from the media that this guy is doing just that?

One of the ironies in this is that the aforementioned "negative ad" was prepared as a response to a candidate who has been less than believable himself. As an example, he claimed that he had seen his Father, a former Governor of Michigan, march with Martin Luther King Junior. When confronted with the fact his Father had never participated in such a march, this other candidate said that he had only been speaking allegorically, that he knew his Father marched with King "in spirit". For some reason, the media didn't seem to greet this with the same level of cynicism they leveled towards today's "negative ad" decision but it did provide another example of why, generally, American politicians are deserving of the media's attitude.

So, maybe American politicians are getting what they deserve. They've, generally, proven that the description "Honest Politician" is an oxymoron. So, "Justice Served!" Right?! Well, what about us, Americans? Are we getting what we deserve? I have to say, "I think so." Its not been that long since we twice-elected an adulterous Presidential Candidate who dodged the culpability of his philandering by questioning the meaning of what the word "is" is. And yet, instead of mocking and rejection, many still regard him as a heroic figure. As a matter of fact, there's even the possibility that the next Presidential Election could result in a return to that same administration.

OK, so maybe we're getting what we deserve too. But I say, "It doesn't have to remain that way." When you think about it, we're actually getting what we are letting ourselves deserve. And, I say, "Let's change that!" Let's stop putting up with American politicians dodging the truth by letting them debate what the meaning of the word "is" is. Let's stop accepting allegory, as an excuse for not being genuine. And, by all means, let's continue to express skepticism about things like today's "negative ad" announcement, if it doesn't seem credible. But, shouldn't we, at least, allow the possibility of an American politician saying what they mean and meaning what they say? If we don't, what is their incentive to do so? Moreover, shouldn't we be demanding this of our politicians instead of just accepting that, in our nation, the description "Honest Politician" is an oxymoron. By doing so, I think we end up deserving better and by being better from getting what we deserve.

Friday, December 28, 2007

Greater Love ...

Of course, the biggest story of this week has been the tragedy of the assassination of Benazir Bhutto. For those as young as Figgins, I'm sure its particularly stunning, not having encountered this sort of thing before. I'm among those who still remember details of what they were doing when they heard of JFK's assassination. So, I've encountered this sort of thing before but that doesn't mean I can fully explain it to others, especially those who are dealing with it for the first time.

Naturally, the most common question seems to be "Why?!" The answer to "Why?!" these sort of things happen seems simpler to me. You can label it however you see fit but for me, its just sin. The more challenging question for me is "Why?!" would someone like Benazir Bhutto knowingly and willingly put herself in a position where this was so likely to happen. She was an attractive, intelligent, woman of means who was married, with children. She had twice-served as Pakistan's Prime Minister, already. And, she did this in the face of facts that included: her Father had been hanged by a former President of Pakistan, her Brother had been assassinated, her Husband had been labeled as corrupt, she had been exiled and the day she returned to Pakistan, she was greeted with an assassination attempt similar to the one that ended up taking her life. And yet, she vowed that none of this would deter her political campaign or her fight for human rights. "Why?!"

Ironically, the most common response I've been hearing to answer this paraphrases the Gospel of John, when Jesus says, "Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends." I say "Ironically" because Benazir Bhutto was Muslim, not Christian. But the irony doesn't mean its not true. What Jesus said applies to anyone, regardless of their gender, faith, nationality, etc. Benazir Bhutto did, knowingly and willingly, lay down her life for her friends. My hope and prayer is that Benazir Bhutto's friends ... her fellow-Pakistanis ... will honor her by keeping her great love alive in themselves and to allow it to continue to propel them towards the goals of democracy Benazir Bhutto had in mind for them.

As Figgie and I considered all this, a renewed sense of thankfulness emerged. Thankfulness that we live in a nation that Benazir Bhutto openly acknowledged as the inspiration for the goals of democracy she had in mind. A nation that has been blessed with Patriots, akin to Benazir Bhutto, from the battlefields of Lexington and Concord to the battlefields of Afghanistan and Iraq. Patriots, all of whom, rest in the truth and inspiration of those words spoken two thousand years ago ... words that honor them all and today, especially, honor Mohtarma Benazir Bhutto ...

"Greater love hath no man than this,
that a man lay down his life for his friends."

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Against Such There Is No Law

By now, it should come as no surprise to you that Figgins and I tend to focus on the more upbeat aspects of life. And, you've probably noticed that's particularly true around Christmas. It seems that's become more challenging in recent years, with folks battling over Christmas being celebrated in the workplace or in the public square or questioning the political correctness of wishing someone what's in your heart ... "Merry Christmas!" However, I think there's a better approach than some take, who claim there is "A War on Christmas".

Don't get me wrong. I'm a man of faith. I accept the first four Words of the Bible ... "In the beginning, God" ... so, from there, the Truth of the Scriptures fall into place pretty easily for me. I, clearly, see the point of those who say there's "A War Against Christmas". I just think there's a better and more Scriptural, approach than starting a shouting match with those who see things differently than I do.

Figgins and I saw a great example of this alternative approach, during the past week, right here in our town. We thought it was an especially fitting example because it took place at a public school. This particular school is one set aside to serve a selected population of K-5 students with serious emotional and behavioral problems. It seems that a local church has made it a practice to provide Christmas presents for the students at this school ... every student at the school ... and, typically, there are multiple gifts for each student. Moreover, the gifts are not just "a little something that was picked up from the mark-down table at the Dollar Store". These are quality items, such as winter coats and shoes, to fill needs that the church learned about through the student's teachers. Just this is remarkably wonderful but what we found to be most remarkable was that no one seems to know the name of the church involved. But then you must consider, maybe recognition isn't their goal. The goals The Scriptures direct Christians to seek include love, joy, peace, long suffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, meekness and temperance. Clearly, the church involved here is following that direction.

So, where does this fit in with "A War on Christmas"? You've got a bunch of Christians doing "Christmas stuff" at a public school, for Heaven's sake! Why no battling, shouting matches, etc. to prevent this? I think the answer is obvious. Actually, its one of those instances where you answer a question with another question ... one of common sense ... Who would want to prevent something this wonderful from happening?! In fact, the very Scripture that tells the Christian about love, joy, peace, long suffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, meekness and temperance; also answers this question. It tells us, "Against such there is no law."

So, with that said, Figgie, Ruth (Figgie's "Mom") and I are encouraged that we can get away with saying to you all ...


Saturday, December 15, 2007

Its Beginning to Sound a lot like Christmas

When Figgins and I go walking, we typically stick to the sidewalks in our part of town or the paths along the hidden brook in the wooded area that runs through our neighborhood. This time of the year, however, we like to venture out near the more commercial areas, to enjoy the sights and sounds of Christmas. It seems that each time we go out, Christmas excitement is mounting and there's more to see and to hear. In the midst of all this, we like to seek out one of the things that we think typifies Christmas ... a sound you find in front of almost every large store ... the consistent ring, ring, ring of a hand-bell, held by a Salvation Army Volunteer, standing next to that familiar Red Kettle.

Although the sight of the Salvation Army Bell Ringer is familiar to most of us, at Christmas, many miss out on what a powerful blessing this scene represents. TV spots, featuring a Bell Ringer inserted in scenes of natural disasters and other scenes of human need, have provided some great visibility to what is accomplished through the simple but dedicated work of the Bell Ringers. Its truly amazing, when you check the Salvation Army Website and see all the needs that are served in this way ... Adult Rehabilitation, Family, Armed Forces, Disaster Relief, Human Trafficking and much more. And if what the Salvation Army does is amazing, their effectiveness in doing it is even more amazing ... 83 cents of every dollar placed in those little Red Kettles reaches the needy individuals served by the Salvation Army's programs.

In discussing this with Figgie, I emphasize that the Salvation Army's "sound of Christmas" is really a continuation of the very first Christmas message. If you're familiar with the Christmas story, you know that the announcement of the birth of Christ was made by an Angel to a group of "shepherds abiding in the field" (Luke 2:9-20). The first words of this greatest of announcements was "Fear not!" There is more packed into those two words than I can begin to define. But, those words have been a source of hope for billions over the past two-thousand-plus years. Especially in the midst of today's uncertainties, Figgie and I are comforted and encouraged through hearing that ongoing message, embedded in the ring, ring, ring of the bell in the hand of a present-day Christian Soldier, in the Salvation Army .

Monday, December 10, 2007

Rediscovering America's Strength

This past weekend, Figgie (Figgins) and I had a few discussions about the 2008 Presidential Campaign. It seems that this campaign has already been going on forever and its not even 2008 yet. The election itself is still about 11 months away. Its all pretty new to Figgie though and while he hasn't registered to vote, he has seemed pretty keenly interested.

Our level of interest seemed to ramp up over the weekend, as a result of media focus on a certain "Celebrity Endorsement." This isn't a topic that generally carries much weight with me. However, Oprah Winfrey was at the center of this and though neither Figgie nor I are fans, we recognize her unique celebrity status. The factor that stirred my interest most was that she wasn't just lending her name, as an endorsement for a candidate, she actually showed up at a few campaign events to say why. So, we tuned in.

I ended up telling Figgie that I was disappointed with what I heard. Generally, there were comments about need for change, followed by the name of the candidate she is endorsing, as the preferred change-agent. This is a theme I've heard countless times, for numerous candidates (both real and fictitious), since before I was old enough to vote. What I didn't hear was much substance about the need for change or details of the "something better" we need to change to or specifics of plans for accomplishing these improvements.

So, there we were, with our interests stimulated but not gratified. What were we to do? Well, the first step was pretty obvious ... we needed to face the fact that, going into it, we knew better than to expect much from a celebrity endorsement. And, frankly, we had to admit that our critique of the event was pretty obvious and easy. Those steps taken, we decided to check a source with a track record of fulfillment for us, when it comes to political observation ... Charles Krauthammer ... a Syndicated Columnist who, when I see him on TV, I spontaneously shout, "My hero!"

To my astonishment, we came away from reading Krauthammer's column for this past Friday, in The Washington Post, with a sense of disappointment too. His comments were about one Presidential Candidate's Evangelical Christianity and how he had used that to "manipulate" another candidate into having to discuss his Mormonism. As usual, Krauthammer expressed his views intelligently and interestingly but, at the end of it all, he just pitted one candidate against another, based on their differences.

But then it struck us! Ironically, we realized that "My hero", Charles had actually come through. He had pointed us in the right direction by pitting one candidate against another. We realized ... that's what they all do. Regardless of the forum, its Democrat against Republican, Left against Right and Pro versus Con on: abortion, energy, environment, immigration, Iraq, taxes and pretty much any issue you can think of. How does that make us better? I don't think that's what led to our success, as a nation, in the first place. At the outset we pitted ourselves against Britain to gain our independence but we didn't do it just one person's way. I seem to recall that we drew on the best of the differing ideas of those we now honor as our Patriots ... John Adams, Benjamin Franklin, Patrick Henry, Thomas Jefferson, Thomas Paine, George Washington, etc. These were all very different guys. Where would we be if all they did was pit themselves against each other, based on their differences? ... In a place where there is only a Union Jack and no Old Glory, that's where! ... So, why is it that that's all we do today? Although Oprah didn't persuade me to support her guy, I'd bet that he does have some good ideas and that he, genuinely, wants to do his part to better our nation. Likewise with both the Evangelical Christian and the Mormon. As a matter of fact, that's probably true of all the current mainstream candidates. So, why is it that not one of them seems to have the courage to offer what we do need ... not just change but leadership, with a vision aligned with the beliefs of the majority and with the common sense to embrace the superior ideas of others, even if the "others" are political opponents. Now there's the candidate I'm looking for! One who can lead us to rediscovering the strength that made America great in the first place ... the synergy of the best of our differing ideas.

After basking for a few moments, in the illumination of the "Aha moment" we'd had, it occurred to me that I'd recently heard a similar point of view. As I reflected on this, I realized it was what I'd heard about a new book called Common Ground - How to Stop the Partisan War That is Destroying America., by Cal Thomas and Bob Beckel. If these two, literally, political polar-opposites have come to this conclusion too, we're more encouraged, we must be on to something!

As a relative newcomer to considering Presidential politics, this all seemed to be a bit convoluted for Figgie. But I sensed it was sinking in and beginning to comfort him. As soon as we came to today's conclusion, he wandered off to one of his favorite spots ... the living room couch. There, he was able to look out and enjoy the sunny, though chilly, mid-December day. No doubt, it was that comforting view, along with the enlightened vision, resulting from our examination of today's topic, that had him peacefully snoozing in no time. I was thankful he could do that so easily. He is such a good listener but I know that takes a lot out of him.

Friday, December 7, 2007

Light Coming Into The World

Celebrating light coming into the world is a central theme of Christmas. And yet, so much of what we hear on the news and end up focusing on with others, is very dark. There's that girl who went missing in Aruba 2 1/2 years ago. Then there's that cop who is suspected of killing his last two wives. Yesterday it was the mall shooting in Omaha. In the Pacific Northwest, we're just coming away from a storm that devastated many coastal areas. But today, the skies are brightening so Figgins and I determined to turn our attention to more uplifting events.

I started by asking Figgins if he was familiar with one of my favorite projects, that gets more exposure this time of the year ... Angel Tree, a part of Prison Fellowship Ministries (PFM). Although Figgins does not have a criminal record, I know he has spent some time behind bars so I was a bit surprised that he knew nothing of Angel Tree. However, I've come to recognize that, for the most part, even those who are aware of Angel Tree, have a fairly shallow understanding of the program so I guess I shouldn't have been so surprised. Anyway, you could tell, just by the look on his face, that Figgins was anxious to know more about Angel Tree and I suspected that a discussion along these lines could be just the right thing to lift our spirits today so I determined to share my views on the topic.

Most folks, who have some awareness of Angel Tree, would probably describe it this way: (1) Some sponsoring (typically, faith-based) organization puts up a Christmas Tree decorated with angel silhouettes, (2) Each silhouette displays the name of a needy child, along with an item the child needs, (3) Someone in the sponsoring organization purchases the needed item & the needy child gets it, as a Christmas gift. When you think about it, just that is uplifting, especially in contrast to many events going on around us. However, there are many more dimensions to Angel Tree. In order to begin to grasp this, its important to know that the needy children involved are the children of imprisoned parents. Beyond that, you need to understand the key reason the parents are imprisoned.

Of course, prisoners end up being imprisoned for many reasons. That is, if you consider the illegal acts they've committed to be the reasons for their imprisonment. At the bottom of it all, though, there is one common reason ... self-centeredness. This can be applied in numerous ways but, in this context ... an imprisoned parent and a needy child ... its pretty plain. You have an adult who was only thinking of themselves and a child who wasn't being thought of at all. Enter PFM with the dimensions of Angel Tree.

Earlier I mentioned angel silhouettes that display the name of a needy child and an item they need. These don't just come from some list generated by the Department of Corrections. It begins with a first step that is a not-so-obvious dimension ... the imprisoned parent takes the initiative to contact PFM, letting them know about their child and what the child needs. The next dimensions are the more obvious ones I mentioned earlier ... a charitable individual purchases the needed item and the needy child gets it, as a Christmas present. But there are some great dimensions beyond that. The needy child doesn't get the needed item as a Christmas gift from the charitable person, they get it as a Christmas gift from their imprisoned parent.

With that, I said to Figgins, "Isn't that neat?! This isn't just a matter of Christmas gifts finding their way into the hands of needy children. Its countless, unhealthy dimensions of our society being made well. Look at all the dimensions of needs that this fills!

  • The imprisoned parent gets to start forming the habit of being other-centered, instead of being self-centered.
  • The charitable person gets to serve and to continue developing their servant's heart.
  • The child's need gets filled ... especially, their need to be loved ... most importantly, their need to be loved by their parent.

You see, Figgins, that is why I find PFM's Angel Tree to be so uplifting. Its a great example of why we celebrate Christmas. Its central theme is light coming into the world and you know, all you really have to do to get rid of the darkness is to turn on the light."

You could tell that our discussion warmed Figgins' heart. I suspect it was that, along with the expenditure of energy, from our earlier walk, that had him fully relaxed. Without further discussion, he curled up on the over-sized recliner, behind me in my office and drifted off to sleep. No doubt, as he drifted off, he was relishing our most recent rewarding discussion and looking forward to the next. Me too.