Americans love their country. For a variety of reasons. They cherish its gift of freedom--of experience, of choice, or action, of individual liberty.
They know there's a lot wrong with this country they love. That there are people who will kill others whom they do not know, just because those people represent a background, or a power, or a station in life that they themselves don't have.
They may have come from somewhere else. They may simply be resentful for deeply personal reasons. Their targets are fellow citizens who work for the city government. Or they resent the first-grade children at an elementary school called Sandy Hook. Or they kill fellow students in a high school in Colorado, or the audience at a midnight show in a Colorado theater.
The killings are senseless, but they raise issues of safety and of fear of those who come from tormented countries, and are doing harm in our homeland.
Many other issues are being lifted up in the Presidential campaign of 2016. The back and forthing of the candidates has been accusatory, bitter, personal. The conversation has gone sometimes beyond decency.
The unspoken question among voters more and more, is for whom shall I vote? And, do I dare to discuss my feelings, my instincts, my hunches with my friends, my colleagues, my family even.
Why wouldn't I? Because many of them are shrugging their shoulders and taking what they think is a higher ground stance of, "I won't vote for either one..." or "I will vote for 'none of the above.'"
And we fear to reveal what our vote might be. We fear to talk through with friends the risks we may be willing to take in voting. We fear friends around us will dismiss us, view us as like the candidates--that we ourselves are crude, or brash, or racist, or irrational.
My sense as a Christian is that we are here to be truth-tellers. But also to be fair, forgiving, compassionate. To be willing to care about leaders who are not like us, to see through their outward aura of words, even of acts we consider immoral in the candidate's past, to take a chance on their present professed care for their country, and their desire to help, their readiness to offer a new kind of leadership.
They want their heart to be judged as good, and their highest instincts to be given a chance.
In my own life, I find as I age, and understand more and more of the human condition of all of us as sinners, that I am readier to see the good in even distasteful people, that I am ready to love them in spite of things they may have done or are doing of which I disapprove. That I am ready to be a friend to more less likely people than I used to be. That I am ready to make relationships with people who are not readily "my kind."
I would love to explore these discoveries of my own soul, my own tolerance, my own insight with my friends - as an equal. Indeed, as one courageous enough to risk my own reputation in order to stand with the person publicly judged--even vilified--and accept the consequence.
I do see God using very unlikely people to get His work done. I am trying to look at what might be going on in America, that these two candidates have risen to prominence, been nominated, and are running the race as best they know how to do.
Something is afoot. Revolutionary change is being contemplated. It is a credible position to take a chance on these changes. To end "political correctness" and ask for the heart to speak, and honest opinion to be voiced and noted.
It is time for honest, humble reconsideration and for brave conversation, and decision.
Written on October 24, 2016:
I pick up signals here and there of a certain darkness people feel about the world around them. A shroud of discouragement about the way the world is going, and America is going. Not necessarily about the way their personal lives are going.
They skirt around the darkness issue because it is vaguely political. It comes from news of war, and refugees being thrown out of wayside camps in France, and, of political talk in our own land that is negative, insulting, and threatening. They are wounded by that and don't know what quite to make of it.
On the other hand, today is a stunning day of beauty. Autumn in these late October days, is golden. Small maples still have many of their scarlet leaves hanging on their branches, and afternoon sunlight is shining under and through them, and turning ordinary color into radiance.
Other trees boast golden yellow in their oaken way. And hugging the roadsides, sumac's red has turned to deep russet, dark and rich.
These all, with blue skies above, say "Stop folks, look at what I have for you! God has given me gold to show you. Rich carpets of color - not to weigh you down, but to lift your spirit, to help you rise, and your soul to sing, and your heart to remember that you are still alive. You still can see the wonder, and still be wise enough to remember from whose hand came all the beauty, with this message: Cheer up, children of mine. You are alive. Be glad. Live. Sing. Talk to friends - and strangers. Say words of life and faith, and encouragement. LIFT THE WORLD'S HEART TODAY!"
I lunched this week with a person deeply concerned about the political and social climate that has grown in America. "I'm frightened," she said.
I made the point that each time God sent angels in the New Testament, the first message was, "Don't be afraid." When Jesus came through the locked door to see His friends after His resurrection, His first word to them was, "Don't be afraid."
I believe that's His first word to us, too. "Don't be afraid." This is God's country which He loves. We are His people whom He loves. We do not need to be afraid of anything. Not of political candidates, and not of the voting public. Whatever else is true, we are in God's hands. He is in charge. We will be all right.
God had plans for America when the Puritan leader John Winthrop, prophesied: "We are as a city set upon a hill, with the eyes of the world upon us." The Puritan-Pilgrim sense of their "errand into the wilderness" was that they would create communities that cared for each other, for the single, the lonely, whom they would enable to be families of compassion together, and that America itself would be a servant nation in the world.
The dream is still there, for something new, for something "great" to grow from the faith roots of our nation. Dr. Ben Carson, brain surgeon, understands and articulates this heritage of America. But, he was too gentle, too clear in his faith and his spirit to succeed in the Primary season.
Someone else did, instead. Someone bluff, outspoken, unpredictable, uncontrolled, who said what he wanted to say, because he paid his own way. He confronted the political correctness growing out of our Enlightenment enchantment with ourselves, our need for no-one, nothing but ourselves.
It is a philosophy of man that has been eating away at our faith foundation, glorifying the growing secularity of our self-centered way, that has turned our openness to faith--to all traditions of faith--into an increasing intolerance of any faith, of any moral code, any gift of God given as light to His people, in favor of man's self-reliant dependence on himself, alone.
Our airways are saturated with voices of sophistication, of "smart people," who are going to comment on the passing scene, and tell us what to think. Till their public judgment on those different from them, is ready--in all their self-righteousness--to obstruct and dismantle the political system that has served us for over 200 years. Because that system has produced someone for leadership who is not their kind. Who doesn't look like, or talk like them.
In desperation now, they call for the most agregious offender to stay down, to walk out, to shut up. To stop offending them.
Yet crudities of all kinds surround us. Moral offenses that demand killing of unborn children to be the law of the land.
Much that troubles our sensibilities has turned us away from both major candidates for the office of President. We say we don't trust them. We say many things, but particularly that we are better than they. They offend our sense of righteousness. More and more, we expose our own sense of self-righteousness.
In my old age, I find it is the heart of people that I trust. That I am ready to love and accept--though these same are not ready to go my way, fall in with my faith way, my ministry style and life.
But I am touched by their heart. It is easier to forgive. I am more ready to learn--even from them. And, I want to give people a chance.
In political life, a revolution is brewing. People want easy assumptions confronted. To fight back today against those who would make us correct according to their way--it may take leaders very unlike us to break through, to open up, to forge new paths in our time.
There is so much that the heart tells us of people. So much that is good, despite baggage that is offensive to us.
Let us be very careful how we judge those who have risen to places where we have not reached. Let us look to ourselves--and do the sorry-saying that we need to do. Let us dare to trust God to hold His country, America, in His own hands and to guard us and guide us--through the system we have--and give those a chance, to do their best for us all. Let us, dare to risk. To have faith as we go forward. And--of all things--NOT BE AFRAID.
In the summer of 2016, many of us were spending time watching the wonderful and miraculous accomplishments of the young and strong, and indeed, of the beautiful and determined from many of the countries of the world.
They had gathered for the 31st modern Olympiad being held in the dramatic setting of Rio de Janeiro.
It was staggering to see what these young people could do with their bodies. A number of vignettes told us of the dreams and sacrifices that they and their families had lived since these athletes were children. Now they had competed, and developed, and mastered. And come finally to their event, their race, their special thing that they could do so well.
There were stories of dramatic successes. Of seemingly impossible dreams fulfilled and hopes realized. Until one athlete was in the racks ready to run. And suddenly a split-second before the gun fired to "go," the young man leapt forward to start his race. It was his moment. But he was a micro-second ahead of everyone else. He had "jumped the gun."
Had he tried to gain an advantage over the others? Was his leap forward intentional? Or, was it an over-eager mistake? Or "nerves" that had carried him away?
This time there was no debate, no consideration, no second chance. For this race, this time in his life, there was no second chance. No forgiveness. The judges ruled he was disqualified. Immediately, it was over for that young man. The enormity of what had happened overwhelmed him. He fell to his knees. He buried his face in the cinders of the track. He cried out. He was mortified. Ashamed. Overwhelmed with grief. It was over. His chance was gone. He hung his head. He walked off the track. He looked no-one in the eye. He talked to no reporters. It was the end of his dream.
Had he intended to seek a second's advantage? Or, was it nerves? An inadvertent mistake? He probably didn't really know, himself. But the rules were there. They were unchanging and unforgiving.
What is ahead for that young man? Is there any second chance, or repechage as the French have it, for intentional wrong competition? Some way to take a longer track, to pay a certain penance, and find you are forgiven, and have another chance?
While we do not understand it, the whole understanding of Jesus' way, is forgiveness. The cross, and the shame, and humiliation it brought to Jesus--and was intended to bring, could only have been worse than anything we, or that Olympic athlete, have born?
Forgiveness is almost beyond our human dimension of experience. We think there is no way out. God says there is always a way out. It is the way of sorry. It is the way of repenting for what we have done. It is the way of asking God to give us eyes to see ourselves and the world. To see our failure as something God wants to redeem, buy back, make over.
The way of forgiveness, the way of the cross, is the way of sacrifice. It is the way of seeing ourselves beheld differently by the One Who actually gave us our lives in the first place. It is the way of establishing, through God's life-giving love, a new way of seeing ourselves and the world. It is the way of change. Changing our hearts, loving to sacrifice, to serve, to give ourselves away - to others. And, in so doing, to be ourselves changed with redemptive chances given to us, of which we could only have dreamed.
There is ahead, a new day, for that young athlete who made a false start. And, there is a new day ahead for us, for whenever we've made a false start. Something better comes for us. Better than Olympic gold. Divine gold. A reality that comes re-born from heaven.
Arthur A Rouner, Jr -
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