Wednesday, September 28, 2016

Making America Good Again: The Joys and Sorrows of Diversity

"I love mankind, it's people I can't stand.'  - Linus Van Pelt 
Face it, there are people you love, some you might hate and a whole lot in between.  Sometimes you can explain why you feel the way you do and sometimes you can't.  Sometimes your reasons are justified and sometimes they aren't.

Why is that? Is it because of something they have said or done or is it just because they are different than you? 

Beyond our common humanity, no two people are exactly alike.  This amazing diversity makes the world really interesting. Think about the enormous variety of animals and birds, flowers and plants, landscapes and seascapes, and especially the diversity of people.  We all look different and have a wealth of backgrounds, cultures and experiences.  It just blows me away. 

I enjoy asking  people about themselves, their lives and families, and like it when they ask about me.  We don't always have that opportunity, so we rely on the news, TV, social media, movies, books and what others say to get to know the people we share the planet with.  It's fun, enlightening and enriches all our lives.  

This same diversity that brings us great joy also brings us great challenges. 

Being self-centered as we are, we often find it difficult to relate to people who are different than we are.  We stay in our comfort zones and mostly interact with folks who are similar to us in some way - those who look like us, enjoy what we do, and share our view of the world. 

Unfortunately, when we get in our little homogenous groups we often think we are better than everybody else.  Or we think we are being wronged or mistreated by everybody else.  Remember high school?  The pattern continues into adulthood, but it has taken on dangerous proportions.  

When I watch the news, I see an America full of distrust, hatred and violence.  Why?  Some people feel like they are victims.  Others feel falsely accused of being the victimizers. Sometimes it seems to me we are intentionally being pitted against each other.  How many times has a lie been told and then sensationalized by the media.  By the time the truth comes out, hate and distrust have already taken root.  Is this the America you know?

How do you on a day-to-day basis interact with the people around you? Do you love mankind, but can't stand people?  Which ones?  Why?  Do you treat those who are different than you with respect - or do you disparage, exclude or ignore them? It’s time for each of us to examine our heart and our actions.

I am hopeful that you will find that you are a kind and caring person; that you are neither a bigot nor the victim of bigotry. You may strongly disagree with others, but you wouldn’t cause them, or even wish them, harm. I believe in my heart the divisiveness we see on the news is not real-life America.  Fight that perception in your daily life. Let's show the world that Americans are united in our diversity, and that out of many, we are one.   

The joys of diversity come when we acknowledge and appreciate our differences.  The sorrows of diversity come when we make our differences the source of divisiveness and violence. 

My general philosophy is like Aunt Eller sang in the movie Oklahoma: 

I'd like to teach you all a little sayin'

And learn the words by heart the way you should

I don't say I'm no better than anybody else,

But I'll be damned if I ain't jist as good!

Saturday, September 24, 2016

Making America Good Again: United by the Rule of Law

Making America Good Again involves uniting behind the idea of human equality and behind the idea that people should be governed by laws, not men. 

Laws in America are shaped by a few, very important, principles.

First, the primary purpose of government is to protect our God-given equality and freedoms.  Every law that is passed at every level of government should be evaluated on how it impacts this fact.

Second, all law is to be created by the "consent of the governed."   That is you.  America's citizens are ultimately responsible for every law that we live under.

Third, all law must be in accordance with the U.S. Constitution. 

We are a republic, not a democracy.  Democracies are little more than majority "mob" rule. In a republic, the rights of minorities are protected through an amazing multi-level representative system of government. 

Our founders understood the desire for power inherent in human nature.  That is why in the United States political power is shared so that not too much resides in the hands of any one person or group.   

Our government's power starts with the consent of the people who reside in one of America's 50 states.  Each state is an independent entity with all the powers of a sovereign nation.  The Constitution is the sacred agreement between the states that delegates certain state powers to the federal government.  For example, the states, through to the Constitution, give the federal government the power to mint money in order to facilitate trade and the power to "provide for the common defence" from foreign powers.   All other power remains with the states and the people.

The limited powers given to the federal government are further divided between the branches of government.  Briefly, within those limited powers,  Congress was given the power to write laws, the President the power to enforce federal law, and the Supreme Court the responsibility to interpret those laws.  Everybody gets a share of the power-pie, but not all of it.  Ingenious!

Some might try to tell you that the Constitution is out-of-date, but that is simply not so.  It can be amended!  That is how America fully realized the promises of equality laid out in the Declaration.  It is through amendments that slavery was abolished, former slaves were given citizenship,  and the right to vote was gradually expanded to all men and women over the age of 18.  The Constitution works. 

You might never know any of that by watching the news.  All we see is each branch of government assuming powers they don't have and abdicating the ones they do! 

To make America good again we need to get behind the Constitution and only elect people who will preserve, protect and defend it  - and then hold them accountable to do their jobs.  This is the only way, short of open rebellion, to control their power and protect our freedom.  

If we don't....

-----Your local government will continue to give away control over local matters.  Think of the impact of the state and federal departments of education on your local schools.

-----States will continue to allow the federal government to usurp power rightfully theirs.   For example, the Supreme Court recently redefined marriage which is not within the power of the federal government. 

-----The House of Representatives will continue to abdicate its responsibility to control government spending. 

-----The Senate will continue to do nothing but talk when it should the primary line of defense protecting the Constitution and our freedom. 

------The President will continue issuing executive orders and federal regulations that have the force of law even though the Constitution gives the President the power to enforce the laws, not make them.

----The Supreme Court will continue to make rulings that supersede the Constitution and federal law, rather than interpreting them.  Think about the flaws in the Affordable Care Act that should have been corrected by Congress rather than by the Court. 

All these things point to the fact that we are becoming a nation ruled by a powerful, political elite, and not by laws enacted with our consent through our representatives.

You might agree with some of the outcomes, but beware.  There are ways to work toward the changes you want within the Constitution.  To ignore this is to put all our freedoms at risk.

If all we do is vote for the man or woman who promises to do what benefits us monetarily or who supports our particular issue, we are part of the problem.  Our votes should always with an eye to protecting our liberty and that of the next generation. 

The American people are the only check on government power.  We must be informed voters and hold our representatives accountable to following the Constitution. Get involved and get educated.  Do your part to protect our freedom.

To make America good again, will you unite behind the big idea that we are a nation governed by laws, not men?   Here is the Constitution with the Bill of Rights and All Amendments:


Making America Good Again: United by Equality

For America to be good, America must also be united.  What unites us is not our race, tribe, ethnicity or religion.  We are not held together by the dictates of a king, dictator, spiritual leader or an oligarchy. 

Americans are united by two big ideas: 
all people are equal and
people should be governed by laws, not men. 

Human equality and the rule of law are real-life applications of "love one another" and "The Golden Rule." 
Today, let's make this personal. How are you and every other person on the planet equal? 
Let's start with the most obvious.  We all started the same way.  People aren't necessarily conceived through the traditional method anymore, but it still takes the DNA of male and a female of our species to get a human being.  From conception, our bodies grow and function the same.  Muscles, bones, organs, blood, and the rest. 
But being human is more than our physical body.  You know without being told that you are more than what you see in the mirror.   There is a lot going on inside you.
You have emotions - like love and hate, happiness and sorrow, contentment and frustration. 
You think.  You learn and solve problems.  You remember. You imagine things and dream. You ponder the meaning of life.
You make choices, what I call free will.  Viktor E. Frankl, a world-renowned psychiatrist,  was repeatedly tortured during the three years he spent in Nazi concentration camps.  He came to the conclusion that no matter what our circumstances or what happens to us, we can choose how we will react.  He said, "Between stimulus and response there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom."  That space, that freedom to choose, is in you.  
You are often self-centered.  You sometimes think that the world revolves around you and your needs.  You want to gain power and possessions.  Sometimes you think you are better than everybody else.
You have a conscience and are sometimes surprised by that unasked for feeling of knowing what is right and wrong.
In addition to all of that, you still find that there is something else that no thing, no thought, no feeling can satisfy.  The 17th century mathematician and philosopher Blaise Pascal put it this way:
What else does this craving, and this helplessness, proclaim but that there was once in man a true happiness, of which all that now remains is the empty print and trace?  This he tries in vain to fill with everything around him, seeking in things that are not there the help he cannot find in those that are, though none can help, since this infinite abyss can be filled only with an infinite and immutable object; in other words by God himself."
You see, you also have a spiritual side, what many through the centuries have called the soul.   
So, how are people equal?  We are all physical, emotional, rational, free, self-centered, conscience-laden and spiritual beings.  
And one more thing.  Some might say we are equal because we agree that we are, but if that is true we could just as easily agree that we aren't!  The primary reason we are equal is because we are all created and loved by God, and God wants us to see each other as God does. That will never change.  
You are a human being - a complex and wonderful creation of God.  So is every person you see. 
There are many other things about you that are important - your sex, your race, your ethnicity, your family, your religion, your talents, your bank account, your intelligence, etc.  All of these are secondary to your essential humanity.  These things do not make you superior to any other person.   These things do not make you inferior to any other person.  They make you different from some others, but not better or worse.
To make America good again, can we unite around this idea?
We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.

Thursday, September 22, 2016

Making America Good Again: Another Golden Rule Challenge

The news of more rioting in Charlotte, NC, greeted me in my newsfeed again today.  My sister-in-law asked:  "When is it going to stop?"  Good question, but which "it" do you want to stop? 

Do you want the police to stop targeting black people?
Do you want to stop the injustice in America's criminal justice system?
Do you want black people to stop disobeying the orders of the police? 
Do you want people to stop protesting in violent ways?
Do you want everybody to stop from forming opinions until all the facts are known?
I'm sure you have your own "it"?  Which "it" do you want stopped?

My challenge to you today is to take the Golden Rule and apply it to what you know about this situation and similar ones from other cities.   What would you do if this were your hometown? 

Today, "seek first to understand, then to be understood."   

This is the fifth habit from Stephen Covey's "7 Habits of Highly Effective People."  It is a corollary to the Golden Rule because understanding is an essential step in doing for others what you would like them to do for you.
How can you seek to understand? You should talk with people who have a different perspective.  In situations like this, the best you might be able to do is get your news from multiple sources!  The news media and social media are not trustworthy.  Balance liberal and conservative sources against the other, and try to glean the truth as best you can.  Try to grasp the facts and the feelings of those involved.  Seek out, as the Charlotte Police Chief Kerr Putney said, "Not my truth, not your truth, but the truth." 
And then, find a quiet moment and put yourself into this news story. 
If you were the person confronted by the police, how would you respond?  How do you think police officers want you respond, and by law, how you should respond?  Do you think the police can be trusted?
If you were the police officer, how would you approach this situation?  How do you think people want to be treated as you approach them?  Do you assume that all, or some groups of citizens, are more likely to be criminals? 
Put yourself in the place of the family, friends and neighbors of the person killed by a police officer.  How do you feel?  What do you want to know?  How would you respond?
Put yourself in the place of the community.  How would you protest?  What would push you to violence? 
You can never know for certain how someone else might feel about or respond to a situation, just like no one can know how you would.  Different life experiences shape our thoughts and actions.  But empathy, a part of loving, requires that we try to understand where the other person is coming from.   It may not change your opinion, but it will help you understand the opinions of others.
Walk a mile in the other person's shoes - and then perhaps we can find common ground to have a conversation and prevent a conflagration.
Next:  Unity

Wednesday, September 21, 2016

Making America Good Again: The Golden Rule

We have all been taught, I hope:  "Do to others as you would have them do to you." 

Some form of the Golden Rule appears in almost every faith and culture.  Just Google it.  Eugene Peterson in The Message paraphrases Jesus's words this way: 

Here is a simple rule of thumb for behavior:
Ask yourself what you want people to do for you;
then grab the initiative and do it for them! 

We often think about the Golden Rule in relation to big things, like helping the poor or demanding justice.  But for now, think about applying the Golden Rule in the small things that happen everyday. 

I challenge you to pick a day and try to live the Golden Rule for 24 hours. 

Yesterday, I ran a bunch of errands.  My Golden Rule day included letting folks pull ahead of me in traffic, opening doors for some older ladies, and patiently waiting in line at the meat counter for $2.99-a-pound chicken and ground beef with a dozen other folks.

I smiled and made eye contact with folks, including the lonely looking old guy in the motorized shopping cart who also got a "how ya doing?"

I had my purchases organized and my credit card ready to go.  I made small talk with the cashier (no phone!) and thanked her and the person who helped me with my groceries.

On other errand days, I have helped people get something off the top shelf, given money to the person in front of me to complete their purchase, complimented a mom taking the time to explain something to her kids, bought stuff for the food bank, and let the person with just a few things go ahead of me. 

I also didn't do some things that I wouldn't want others to do.  I didn't blame the pharmacist that there was an issue with my prescription.  I didn't yell at the guy sweeping the floor because there was no mouthwash on the shelves.  And other than using these as illustrations for you, I didn't brag to anybody about doing this stuff.

All simple things, but if I were in these peoples' shoes, I would want someone to acknowledge me and not blame me for things that weren't my fault.

There is the key.  Be aware of the other guy.  The Golden Rule encourages us to focus on other people and not be consumed by our own needs and wants.  Be intentional about what those around you might be going through and take the initiative to interact and help them. 

Take up my challenge and live the Golden Rule for a whole day. Don't forget to pay attention to family, friends and co-workers, too. Let me know how it goes.  Maybe you'll like it and make it a habit!

Tomorrow - Another Golden Rule Challenge

Monday, September 19, 2016

Making America Good Again: Love One Another

Loving one another is the single most important thing we need to do to make America good again. 

Christians are commanded to love because God loves the whole world and wants us to love everybody in it too.  Christians don't always succeed, but we try.

Even if you are not a Christian, I think you would agree that America would instantly be a better place if we all decided to love one another. 

Jesus talked a lot about love - loving God, loving our neighbors, our enemies, the poor, and society's outcasts. He even talked about loving ourselves.  I'll share more about those later, but first, here are some general observations.

 - Love applies in ALL situations and is the foundation of what it means to be good. For example, if you find yourself conflicted between being loving and being honest, you need to figure out how to share the truth in love. More about that later, too.

 -  I'm not talking about having warm, fuzzy feelings for each other. This is not even about liking each other.  In fact, loving one another doesn't require that we like each other at all.

 -  Loving one another is about how we interact with each other. Do your words and actions show that you care about the other person and are willing to put the other person first?

You have probably heard one of the best definitions of love at a few weddings, but the words were actually written to apply to how we "love one another" and not just in our marriages.

They come from Paul of Tarsus who was Christ's primary champion in the 1st century.  He established many churches in what is modern Greece and Turkey.  Some of the letters he sent to them became part of what we know as the New Testament.  To a church in Corinth, near Athens, he wrote:

Love is patient and kind. Love is not jealous or boastful or proud or rude. It does not demand its own way. It is not irritable, and it keeps no record of being wronged. It does not rejoice about injustice but rejoices whenever the truth wins out. Love never gives up, never loses faith, is always hopeful, and endures through every circumstance. (NLT)

How well do you show this kind of love to other people?  If you were to take Paul's words and substitute your name for "love", can you say about yourself.....

I am patient.

I am kind.

I am not jealous.

I don't boast about myself.

I am not arrogant.

I am not rude.

I don't demand things be done own way.

I'm not irritable.

I don't hold grudges.

I don't rejoice when injustice happens, but rejoice whenever the truth wins out.

I never give up.

I never lose faith.

I am always hopeful.

I persevere, even when things get tough.


How did you do?  Don't worry; we are all a work in progress!  Improve where you need to. Share this, lovingly, with someone you think might need it.

Love is the foundation of all that we must do to make America good again. 


Tomorrow:  The Golden Rule



Sunday, September 18, 2016

Making America Good Again: The Source of Freedom and Goodness

The moral landscape that shaped America is deeply rooted in Christianity.  Interestingly enough, this does not mean that to be a good person or enjoy the benefits of freedom you must believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God.  I am a follower of the resurrected Jesus Christ, but won't ever insist that you accept my beliefs.  Jesus never forced anyone to believe in Him.  He invited people to follow Him. 

So whether you do – or don’t - believe God is the Creator of all that is, including freedom and goodness, please accept this invitation to read on.
Americans talk a lot about “rights" and "freedoms."  Our founders trusted that these rights came from our Creator - things like equality, life, liberty, and being able to freely pursue your dreams. The Constitution's Bill of Rights ensures that we are free to believe what we want, say what we please, and use our time and money as we see fit.  These ideals are yet to be fully realized for everyone, but we come closer with each generation.

But what does it truly mean to be a person who is free?  It is more than not being a slave, although that is a part of it. Human beings have free will.  People are created to  think and act as free agents, without any outside restraint.

Freedom works reasonably well if you live alone or with people who think like you do, but that is not the real world.  Why?  Look at human nature.  People are self-centered.  We yearn to be free, but freedom is lost as soon as one person or group hinders the freedom of another. The reality is, if I fully exercise my freedom it will at some point hurt you, oppress you or enslave you - and vice versa. 

For all of us to be free, we must agree to place limits on our freedom; “My freedom to swing my fist ends where your nose begins." 

This is where goodness comes in.

I like to think about it this way - if freedom is living without restraint, then liberty is freedom infused with goodness. 

America is the land of liberty.  When we make good choices with our freedom, we will live at peace with ourselves and with those around us.  Not only that, we will need fewer laws and less government!

In short, the only way to live free is to be good. 

But what does it mean to be good?  For most of American history people would have thought the answer was obvious, but that is no longer the case. 

Over the past 50 years or so, our concept of goodness has been changed.  Many have worked diligently to remove America's Judeo-Christian foundation from our education system, history and culture.  Then opinion-shapers moved us to accept the idea of moral relativity that assumes each of us can determine what good, right and  true for ourselves, but not necessarily for anyone else.  Now we are awakening to a culture where opinion-shapers are defining morality for us with only the faintest of nods, if any at all, to our Christian heritage.

Things are not working out so well, are they? 

In these reflections, I will be challenging you to explore what it means to be good, personally and in relationships within families, communities and between nations. They are based upon the teachings of Jesus, revealed in the Hebrew Scriptures and the New Testament, and confirmed by observing human nature.  I hope that you will come to see God and goodness, faith and freedom in a whole new light. 

And I also hope that together we can discover some common ground to make America good in our generation and beyond.  Our liberty depends on it.

Next:  Love One Another

Saturday, September 17, 2016

Making America Good Again: Happy Constitution Day!

On September 17, 1787, the Constitution of the United States of America was adopted and sent to the states for ratification. Today we celebrate this amazing document which now includes the Bill of Rights and 17 other amendments dedicated to maintaining and expanding America's commitment to freedom.

Government by the rule of law, rather than by the whims of kings, dictators or politicians was an idea centuries in the making.  America's constitutional republic has survived for 229 years because even in dark times, Americans have always risen to the challenge of defending the Constitution and the freedom it protects.

Americans know the freedom we share comes with great responsibility.   Ronald Reagan famously said:
Freedom is never more than one generation away from extinction. We didn't pass it to our children in the bloodstream. It must be fought for, protected, and handed on for them to do the same, or one day we will spend our sunset years telling our children and our children's children what it was once like in the United States where men were free.
American citizens fight for freedom on battlefields, in statehouses and courtrooms, in public protests and in voting booths.   But there is more we must do.

In 1798, John Adams observed that greed, ambition, revenge and sexual immorality "would break the strongest cords of our Constitution, as a whale goes through a net.   Our Constitution was made only for a moral and religious people. It is wholly inadequate to the government of any other."

In other words, for our freedom to be secure, to protect our Constitution and way of life, Americans must be people of good character.

In this election season, Donald Trump wants to "Make America Great Again."  Hillary Clinton proclaims that we are "Stronger Together."  Their slogans have one thing in common - both America's greatness and strength depend upon the character of the American people. It is often repeated, perhaps because we know it to be true, that "America is great, because America is good."  If John Adams is right, the opposite applies as well - when America is no longer good, America will no longer be great.

History has shown us that goodness, like freedom, is not passed down in our bloodstream.  Goodness must also be "fought for, protected and handed on." Some generations have done this better than others.  Now it is our turn.

So whether you support the candidate who wants to make America great or the one who wants us to be stronger or another candidate altogether,  it is your responsibility to be a good person and to pass goodness, like freedom, on to the next generation.

In the days to come, I will post a series of reflections on to help you think about what it means to be good and how that impacts our freedom.  Read them, think about them, respond to them and share them with those around you.

Let's Make America Good Again.  

Next:  The Source of Freedom and Goodness