Friday, November 14, 2008

Hell Might Just Be Getting Cooler

I don't mean that hell is getting neater or hipper or "badder." I mean hell might actually be getting a tad colder. My Baptist brother Richard Land and I rarely agree on anything political. In An Open Letter to President-Elect Obama, Land actually supports effective, moral, compassionate policies to fight abortion!

And in the letter, Land congratulates, encourages, and celebrates with the President-Elect. Then he expresses concerns and exhorts toward positive behavior, all without demonizing the liberal. It's as if Land wants to approach disagreements from a Christian perspective with the purpose of finding common ground for the common good (especially for "the least of these"). What a concept!

It sure is pleasant to be dwelling in unity with my brothers and sisters. I'll pray that our brother Barack and all of our government leaders take these proposals to heart.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Anti-Abortion Groups Invigorated By Obama Win

I think my liberal friends at HuffPost meant this as BAD news. They are, of course, mostly wrong—unless by our tactics we pro-lifers prove them right.

I find it curious that it took the misguided fear of the President–elect as “pro-abortion” to get pro-life people to remember the fight. I wish the energy were coming more from compassion than anger, and I wish the anger were not based on fears, and I wish the fears were not based on a misunderstanding of the President-elect’s views and hopes regarding abortion. But if anti-abortion is back with a new wave, especially an effective, loving, and strategic wave, I’ve gotta catch it.

I hope HuffPost is also wrong that, as the caption says, the “tactics for anti-abortion groups are likely to refocus on street protests, grass-roots activism and state legislation.”

I only pray that as we renew our fight against abortion, we pro-life Christians will remember Whose we are and fight with truth, love, and humility. I pray that we will opt to generate more light than heat. I pray that we will fight smarter, not louder. As I said in an earlier post, calling ourselves pro-life isn’t saving babies. Neither incidentally is labeling pro-choicers “pro-abortion.”

We pro-life Christians have at least five possible responses to the abortion problem. I list them here ranked in my opinion from least preferable to most preferable:

1. Do nothing, but complain about people who are trying to do something (This describes me for quite a while now, but the President-elect has inspired ME too!).

2. Simply do nothing.

3. Talk really loudly about how awful abortion is. Spend a lot of energy on protests that are not likely to bear fruit, but that make all pro-lifers and all Christians look…well… un-Christian.

4. Work for strategies that do work. Promote policies that make it easier for folks to choose life for people both inside and outside the womb. See some possibilities here and here.

5. Get involved in the lives of people faced with difficult life decisions. Connect with people (male and female) at risk for creating unwanted pregnancies. Be willing to walk the long road with people who have decided to choose life.

I think the new President will surprise a lot of people in this regard. I do not defend his pro-choice views, but I am convinced that he will make good on his promise to work toward reducing abortions. Hopefully he can harness this new enthusiasm into a coalition that will save lives of the unborn and strengthen the lives of the born.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

A President Is Not a King

Before the election, a Christian sister sent me a Bible verse, Psalm 146:3:

Do not put your trust in princes, in mortal men, who cannot save.

It is, of course, wise advice. But I’m not sure of her objective in sending it before the election, other than to blunt my passion for a particular candidate. I think she mistook my discernment and passion for worship and total trust.

I don’t know if she was suggesting that Christians shouldn’t vote, or shouldn’t care, or shouldn’t campaign, or shouldn’t get up false hopes about a candidate’s chances or abilities. None of it made sense to me in the days before an election. Regardless of who won the election, someone could put undue faith in that person.

But that is no reason not to vote and not to campaign for-- and not to tell the truth about-- and not to hope and pray for-- the most just, righteous, godly, able, and wise person to become our leader.

I am drawn to the prayer in Psalm 72, which begins:

Endow the king with your justice, O God,
the royal son with your righteousness.

He will judge your people in righteousness,
your afflicted ones with justice.

The mountains will bring prosperity to the people,
the hills the fruit of righteousness.

He will defend the afflicted among the people
and save the children of the needy;
he will crush the oppressor.

He will endure as long as the sun,
as long as the moon, through all generations.

He will be like rain falling on a mown field,
like showers watering the earth.

In his days the righteous will flourish;
prosperity will abound till the moon is no more.

While I am well aware that it is God who establishes governmental leadership, God chooses to do so by using any number of governmental systems. The problem with applying too quickly the lessons from these Psalms in the USA is that we have neither princes nor kings. Unlike most governments throughout history—which choose their rulers by bloodline or violence--Americans vote. Such was the genius of the new idea of American democracy. So God establishes authority in the USA by the votes of the people.

And while we have had makeshift dynasties, the American system works against them. In this era, a President has only 4-8 years to pursue an agenda—not enough time to carry out a Messiah mandate and not enough time to do major damage.

So we elect a President and a Congress, and both are checked and balanced by the courts. And we try to remember that we are a government of, for, and by the people.

And we pray for our leaders that they will govern with wisdom and justice. That is what we elect them to do.

If they inspire us to participate in the American community, to care for our fellow citizens, to actually work for a more perfect union, that’s icing on the cake.

Monday, November 03, 2008

Prayer for National Leaders

(inspired by Jeremiah 23:1 & 4)

Lord we believe you when you say you will lead us. But we have suffered at the hands of those who would destroy and scatter your sheep.

You promised that you would raise up shepherds who will gather us together so than no one will have to live in fear. So we look for those shepherds, Lord.

We pray for those who will do good and do right, for those who will protect the children, who will school the children, who will give the children hope.

We pray for those shepherds who will pursue peace, who will walk humbly, who will reconcile nations.

We pray for shepherds who will fight injustice, who stand on the side of justice.

We pray for shepherds who will feed the hungry, clothe the naked, and set at liberty the captives.

We pray for shepherds who will spread love, show mercy and practice hospitality.

Lord we pray for our shepherds, we pray for our people, we pray for our country, we pray for the nations. Amen.

Saturday, November 01, 2008

To Help You Decide VIII: Closing Argument

What I Can Tell You About Barack Obama

To promote Senator Obama during primary season, I wrote a letter to the editor of Nashville’s Tennessean. I then sent versions of the letter to other communities I’ve lived in. The letter was printed in Louisville, Kentucky’s Courier-Journal; Salem, Oregon’s Statesman Journal; and Honolulu, Hawaii’s Star-Bulletin.

For my closing argument, I present a slightly revised version:

In the 1975-76 high school year, four African American young men attended Punahou Academy in Honolulu, Hawaii. Though we each had our own personal circles of friends, three of us-- Rik Smith, a junior; “Barry” Barack Obama, a freshman; and I, a senior, had a standing date roughly once a week to talk. We discussed the social climate on our cosmopolitan campus (whether any of the non-black girls would date us black guys). We talked about sports and religion (I was a Christian, Rik and Barry were agnostics). We talked about our classes and the charges that a black person with a book was “acting white.” We talked about the social issues of the day and about whether we would see a black U.S. President in our lifetime. We discussed our vocational choices. I was going to be a lawyer (I’m not one). 14-yr old Barry wanted to be a basketball player. He even jokingly wrote in my yearbook that when I’m a bigshot lawyer and he’s a basketball star I could negotiate his NBA contracts.

We held these discussions sometime before the adolescent angst that Obama records in his memoir, Dreams from My Father. I went off to college the next year so I never heard the agony and never knew the regrettable choices he reveals in that text, but I believe him. The seeds of the agony were in our conversations. The forces of puberty and the depth of Barack’s mind surely drove the issues deeper.

But neither am I surprised by Barack’s subsequent ability to rise above the agony and poor choices. It is no surprise that he graduated form an Ivy League university, that he went on to devote his life to service, that at Harvard Law School he was the popular president of the contentious Harvard Law Review, and that he moved on to teach Constitutional law and to serve in elective office for these 12 years.

Three issues surprise me. First, when I read the memoir that my brother Keith and I discovered in a remainder bin of a Boulder, Colorado, bookstore in the late 90’s, I was most pleased by Barack’s transformation from an agnostic to a Christian. Despite my surprise, his account of coming to faith rings true to his thoughtful, fair-minded nature and his ability to continually grow.

Second, I, like most of the country, was taken aback by the soaring rhetoric first displayed nationally at the 2004 Democratic Convention. For me the voice sounded very familiar, but the announcement in the Democratic keynote speech that “there is not a liberal America and a conservative America; there’s the United States of America!” showed incredible courage and audacity.

Those words surprised me, but they shouldn’t have. Barry, Rik and I had in common a lifetime of learning to navigate different worlds. In our culturally rich state at a particularly cosmopolitan school and from each of our uniquely multicultural backgrounds, we were used to bridging communities. We still do so in our own lives today. And Barack continues to expand upon those views in his Presidential campaign.

So thirdly I have been unpleasantly surprised by the suggestion that because Barack Obama gives a good speech, he is somehow shallow—as if the gifts of speaking and leading are mutually exclusive. I know that this is not the case. And anyone who wants to know can know the same. His record and his policies have been readily available from his website and from his campaign headquarters. His Blueprint for Change is comprehensive, well thought out, and available for perusal and discussion.

Finally though, what impresses me most about Barack Obama is not simply that he has the stuff to back up his hope and inspiration. His approach to the presidency is one of deep thoughtfulness. He exhibits quick judgment when absolutely necessary, and when issues require deeper thought, he consults the best minds, reflects prayerfully, and then finds the way to solve problems.

I recognize the training from our high school days. Punahou is an incredible school that taught us to think, to pursue excellence in all areas, and to serve our communities and the world. Barack Obama’s Illinois state record, his US senate record and this 21-month campaign reflect this same thoughtfulness, excellence and service.

America could do much worse for President of the United States. They couldn’t do much better.

To Help You Decide VII

The Elephant in the Room
(And I’m Not Talking About a Caged Republican)

People make their election choices based on various factors and for various reasons. Sometimes people consider the real good of the country, sometimes not so much. Sometimes it’s the issues and the platforms, sometimes it’s the party. Sometimes it’s the person who seems like me or the person whose look or personality I like. Sometimes it’s the one with the most ability. And sometimes we choose the lesser of two evils, the one who doesn’t make us gag as much.

Most of my undecided friends have explained their indecision using one of two scenarios:

1. “I like your guy, except this one thing.” Often when I address the one thing, they say, “Well there’s this one other thing. And then there’s this one other thing…”


2. “I don’t really like either of them. They’re all crooks. But my gut leans toward McCain. Now don’t get me wrong: I don’t LIKE McCain, it’s just my gut.”

So if you’re among those people, if --after all the debates, after all the ink, after all the video, after all the bandwidth, after all my incredibly persuasive arguments-- you are still undecided, you still can’t choose either candidate (and if you are still reading), I have to ask you the elephant question.

I want you to ask yourself: What part does race play in my decision?

I’m not saying that anyone who supports John McCain is a racist. I’m not saying that anyone who votes AGAINST Barack Obama is a racist.

I AM saying that race is in this campaign. And I Am saying that as the Washington Post’s Eugene Robinson says, it’s Obama’s fault. Barack Obama injected race into the campaign—by being (half) Black!

I AM saying that race matters. And I think it matters at a deep place, especially for those who pride themselves on their colorblindness.

We are in uncharted territory. Forty-three of 43 US Presidents have been white men over 35. As my brother Keith put it in a Denver Post article:

"An image is conjured in your mind of the President of the United States, and Barack does not fit that image."

This image is in the minds of black people, too, which is why it took a win in lily-white Iowa’s primary caucuses to convince black Americans to support Senator Obama. It also explains a “gut feeling” that chooses McCain over Obama.

So the threshold of persuasion that Senator Obama has to meet is not just “Is he the best available person for the job?” but “Do I want this guy so much that I will do violence to my past images of what a President is? Am I willing to force the matter? Or will I ‘trust my gut’ --which is informed by the past—to choose the ‘regular,’ ‘normal,’ ‘safe’ white guy, even if he’s not the best for our country at this time.”

If Obama doesn’t make that threshold for you, that doesn’t make you a racist. But neither does it make you colorblind. And that doesn’t make your gut racist. But it questions whether your gut knows or cares about what is best for you and your country. Maybe your gut is not worth trusting. Maybe your gut is uninformed.

Quoting my brother again:

"I believe a real gut-check needs to happen with a lot of people, and I don't think we can underestimate that. It comes not with his policies or how eloquently he expresses his ideas. It's about what people will do when faced with having to vote for a black man."

I was way into this post when I was interrupted by the story of someone I know. This man grew up as a white Tennessee redneck. To protect him from embarrassment, I won’t use his real name; we’ll call him “Joe, the Redneck.”

Joe never got beyond a 6th grade education. He’s a workingman, serving the people of his community by picking up their garbage. He is also a quiet and loyal husband and father.

Although Joe has treated black people kindly, he has also talked ugly about them behind closed doors and he has forbidden his children to play with them. In the five years I’ve known him he’s been kind to me, but I could tell he didn’t like the possibility of being in my family.

And Joe had never cared to vote. His wife (“Joelene”) was paying attention way back in the primaries; but not Joe. Joelene’s “gut” told her to vote for Hillary Clinton in the primary. But she kept listening and paying attention. She listened to her daughter who was hearing from me. Joelene finally cast her primary vote for Barack Obama. She informed her gut.

Joe still wasn’t paying attention. But then he started. And then he made sure he was registered to vote. And he watched and listened and thought and decided. And he voted early in the general election. For his first time voting in 52 years, Joe, the Tennessee Redneck Garbageman, informed his gut and voted for the black guy.

If you’re still undecided, it’s probably time to find out what that “one thing” is in your gut. And maybe it’s time to inform your gut.

Next: My Final (and Beginning) Argument