Friday, 10 March 2017

Speak Up

[N.B.:  the following is a piece about free speech.  So following the closing square bracket, be ready for 1,105 words.  Natch.  It’s my right as an American.]

Even though I live abroad – and so far away! – I think about my country, and read about it, and worry about it, all of the time.  I worry about whether poor kids in 2017 can get an education as good as or better than the one I was fortunate to receive in a public school system.  I worry about both rural and urban communities turning to drugs as an antidote to their seemingly hopeless situations.  I worry about the number of children growing up without fathers, even in my own extended family, then perpetuating the cycle of poverty and dependence themselves when they become teens.  I worry about the legitimacy of a government that allows the lives of the unborn to be snuffed out.  I worry about murders in Chicago, and elsewhere.  I worry about public sector unions sucking dry our governments’ solvency.  I worry about failing infrastructure, and national security, and jobs, and taxes, and States’ rights, and whether the Supreme Court will cherish the Constitution.  So much to worry about!  But I am an invested American; I care.

Recently, though, I’ve also begun to worry about free speech.  It’s a sad indictment, but it’s impossible to ignore that free speech is under attack in the United States.  It’s under attack by the radical and even the not-so-radical Left, who have amped up their vitriol and general crassness – culminating in the extremely troubling fracas at Middlebury College some days ago.  Rarely has the old saw, “some open minds need to be closed for repair,” been more apt than in reference to that group of Vermont snowflakes.

A long time has passed since my college days in the mid- to late-‘80s, but to my recollection I knew of no one at my school who would have thought it appropriate to engage in the sort of puerile, casually violent and profane behavior that characterized the Middlebury students (and, a few weeks earlier, the Cal Berkeley students).  Our Assembly Series, the speakers for which were selected by a committee of which I was privileged to be a member, brought to our campus learned people from a wide variety of disciplines and points of view.  I never remember anyone being rude to any one of them.  We sat in beautiful Graham Chapel and listened intently and respectively, and thought about what we were hearing, and maybe even tried on a new pair of ideological glasses to discover whether we could see the issues as the speaker presented them.  We revelled in free speech, and in our amazing good fortune to be able to be where we were, engaging in intellectual discourse.

Recently, an American we know who lives in Asia, when asked about his Americanness, replied that his nationality was to him just a matter of the government that issued his passport.  I was taken aback.  For me, next to faith and family, my Americanness is the most important thing about me; it is my secular quintessence.  Perhaps it’s because my most recent immigrant ancestor came to the country nearly 200 years ago, and the earliest of my American ancestors likely crossed the Bering Strait thousands of years before that.

But – beyond my connectedness to the land and the place, and the bits of my breath filling my lungs that whisper of the lives of my hundreds and hundreds of American ancestors – my Americanness means that I believe certain truths to be self-evident, including that my essential rights – including the right to express myself freely – have been endowed by our Creator.  It means that I concur with the signers of the Declaration of Independence that our right to be a nation flows from “Nature’s God.”  It means that I believe our history shows that Almighty God has seen fit to grant the request of the Founders that our upstart nation be protected by Divine Providence.  It means that I believe my country, even with its many flaws and huge challenges, is worth defending because of the nearly 250-year proof of the superiority of our American project and because, as was true when Abraham Lincoln wrote the words in 1862, the challenge still remains:  in the decisions that we make about how we live with each other, “We shall nobly save, or meanly lose, the last best hope of earth.”

Indeed we shall “meanly lose” our country if we let the pampered hooligans, such as those middling minds at Middlebury, make off with our right to free speech.  For those of us who profess faith in Christ, free speech – the public proclamation of the good news of the Gospel – is at the core of who we are, and what we are called by Christ to do.  Many of the leftist agitators are virulently anti-Christian, and we must resist them – for from its inception, the Jesus Movement has involved speaking out, and not in a mouse-like way.  Jesus preached his famous sermon on a mount; on the day of Pentecost, Peter “raised his voice” and preached the first Christian sermon to a huge group of (as of that moment) non-Christians.  Stephen’s moving public sermon resulted in his martyrdom for the Gospel.  Paul was probably the most outspoken of all of the early Christians (and used his Roman citizenship to great effect as a legal shield against those who didn’t like what he said).  In Athens, he didn’t preach only in the synagogues, but also in the marketplaces, and, winsomely, on Mars Hill.  So we’re a bunch of big mouths, we Christians; as Peter said, “we cannot help speaking about what we have seen and heard.”

This is one reason why we should pray for our country:  so that we can continue to speak out about the great and redeeming news of Jesus Christ.  I’ve written about how much I think about my country, and read about it, and worry about it.  I never said I pray about it – and that’s because I don’t pray about it nearly enough.  Sure, it’s not my eternal home; we homeland-seekers are on a quest to reach a city built and made by God, and we know He has prepared one for us.  But while we are on this earthly plane, even if it’s only so we can share the Gospel, we must follow the example of the Founders, who “mutually pledge[d] to each other [their] Lives, [their] Fortunes, and [their] sacred Honor” for our country and what it stands for.  And we must do more than speak up in defense of the freedom of speech, and we certainly must do more than worry:  we must pray that our land will be preserved, and healed.

Monday, 30 January 2017

Thy Kingdom Come

To say I was distraught in the lead-up to the presidential election would be an understatement.  I was gravely concerned about the outcome, fearing that if it didn’t go my way, my country as I knew it would be lost.  I told my children as much, which caused them considerable consternation.

I was concerned that the candidate’s American experience – how and where he grew up, and his resultant world view – was too far-removed from the average person’s. 

I was concerned about his lack of relevant experience for the job of Commander-in-Chief. 

I was concerned about what he would do with the size of the federal government.

I was concerned about what he would do to affect our country’s standing in the world, particularly in terms of relationships with Muslim countries.

I was concerned about his ability to appoint justices to the Supreme Court, and the ramifications that would have for social and other issues about which I care deeply.

Basically, everything the candidate stood for was exactly the opposite of what I wanted to happen.

I was so concerned that I travelled from California to Ohio to knock on doors in Lucas County, pleading with voters not to elect someone so callow and clearly unprepared for the presidency.

Ah, 2008.  So long ago!  I couldn’t believe that Barack Obama won the election.  (I also couldn’t believe that, instead of driving from O’Hare to Ohio to canvass, I could have just gone across the border to Indiana, which hadn’t voted for a Democrat since 1964, and knocked on doors there.)  I was in shock, and I sulked and stewed.  President Obama’s name rarely crossed my lips; instead I referred to the “current occupant of the White House.”  I certainly wasn’t generous in my prayers for the duly elected president, even knowing that in my miserliness I was willfully ignoring a clear scriptural mandate.   I really disliked Barack Obama, and his policies, and his executive orders, and his world view.  My opinion never changed for the entire eight years of his presidency.  I still don’t like anything about him.  But sometimes my strident opinions made me insufferable – so much so that my wife wrote a piece, four years after the 2008 election, gently chiding me and others like me and suggesting that we give it a rest already.

But – to my knowledge – I lost no friends who thought the president was the cat’s meow.  I set no trash cans on fire.  I walked for exercise, but I didn’t march.  (I did suggest that if Texas were to secede, I would move my family there.  But it was mostly a hollow threat, being the California lover that I am.  Little did I know that my daughter later would move there on her own, to attend the best university in the state.)  I never wore a pin or affixed a bumper sticker proclaiming “He’s Not My President.”  No, I respect the United States of America and its Constitution even when I’m unhappy with election results.  I just got on with doing life.  I did leave the country after the 2012 election – but it was for an interesting job opportunity, not because I was fleeing a country I increasingly no longer recognized.

In my lifetime, which includes all presidential elections since 1968, there have been very few instances when most of the country was satisfied with the election result.  We’re a big, messy, raucous democracy and we are unlikely to do much better than get about 50% of the country to come to our side of the political ledger.  In fact, in 2016 – just as in 1992, 1996 and 2000 – no one was able to get 50% of the people on his or her side.  That’s our reality as a country of fifty sovereign states with dramatically different cultures.  We just need to get on with doing life.

It’s unlikely that opponents of Donald Trump are ever going to support him or his policies, let alone like him.  But I hope we don’t detest or deplore those who do support him, or wish for his own failure.  As always, the Bible shows the roadmap to follow:
  • Love one another.
  • Pray for those in authority.  Pray that they would lead with wisdom and discernment and with gentleness.  As unlikely as it may seem to you at the end of January 2017, pray that President Trump will emulate King Hezekiah.
  • Pray for the other side.  (This one is too important to rely on your actually clicking on the hyperlink; here are the words of Jesus from Matthew chapter 5.) 
You have heard that it was said, 'Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.'  But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your Father in heaven.  He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous.  If you love those who love you, what reward will you get?  Are not even the tax collectors doing that?  And if you greet only your own people, what are you doing more than others?  Do not even pagans do that?  Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.
  • Take some action that helps someone less fortunate than you.  Be a mensch.
  • In general, put a sock in it, unless you’re at a meeting of a political action committee.  Not everybody is going to agree with you, so it’s best to just accentuate the positive.
  • Peace out.
Our polity may seem broken.  It’s no surprise; our polity is made up of imperfect people and imperfect institutions.  There’s only one perfect King, and only one perfect Kingdom.  Pray for it, as Jesus taught us:  Our Father in Heaven, thy Kingdom come.