Thursday, March 31, 2011


About ten years ago, I adorned a personal fundraising letter with Mahatma Gandhi’s famous quote, “Be the change you want to see in the world,” not knowing anything about the man or his history. But there I was, naively slapping his quote on my letterhead out of a sense of self-righteousness and false humility.

That’s why I read with interest Andrew Roberts and Geoffrey C. Ward’s recent reviews of Joseph Lelyveld’s book “Great Soul: Mahatma Gandhi And His Struggle With India.”

Gandhi, who has become the world’s generic standard for goodness and social justice, seems to have been exempt, until now, from objective scrutiny. But regardless of what the man did or did not accomplish, and regardless of the fact that some of the things he is quoted as saying go against what he appears to have stood for, the point is, Gandhi is not the idol the world has turned him into but was human after all.

I’m embarrassed that I co-opted Gandhi in an obsessive desire for my own self-promotion. Maybe, as we read these reviews of the new book on Gandhi, it isn’t Gandhi we need to be scrutinizing as much as our personal motivations for adopting him as our own.

Read the The Wall Street Journal review here:

Read The New York Times review here:

“’Why do you call me good?’ Jesus answered. ‘No one is good—except God alone.’” Luke 18:19

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Agreeing to Respectfully Disagree in Wisconsin

“Freedom is the right to question and change the established way of doing things.”Ronald Reagan, Moscow State University, 5-31-88

“In our obsession with antagonisms of the moment, we often forget how much unites all the members of humanity.” Ronald Reagan, Address to United Nations General Assembly, 9-21-87

"Oh no! This is a news bulletin that I’m sure will be of great interest to every one of you, it’s just been handed to me by Ed Graham, my press secretary, down the table here that the AP and UPI report that George Wallace has been shot, during an appearance at Laurel, Maryland. Was taken to a hospital by ambulance. There are no further details, as yet. Well…we’ve had such tragedies in the last several years in the area of political candidates and office holders of this kind. And isn’t this an outgrowth of the, of the hatred that seems to have been injected into what has in the past has been simply normal competition and normal rivalry and certainly election year emotionalism and all. But if something is to be done about this kind of tragedy for anyone, isn’t it necessary that all of us review our own attitudes and say yes, it is possible for men and women of good will to differ, to have opposing viewpoints, to discuss and debate them, and perhaps never to come to agreement on them, but as God is in his heaven do we have to hate each other to the point that people with less balance are stimulated to deeds of this kind?" California Governor Ronald Wilson Reagan’s off the cuff remarks on May 15th 1972 in reaction to an assassination attempt on Alabama Governor George Wallace during a campaign appearance for 1972 Democrat Presidential primaries.

Men often hate each other because they fear each other; they fear each other because they don't know each other; they don't know each other because they can not communicate; they can not communicate because they are separated." Martin Luther King, Jr., Stride Toward Freedom: the Montgomery Story, 1958

I sought out these quotes after listening to a local radio host yesterday read email after email and take phone call after phone call from people who have been harassed, cut off in traffic, given the finger, and intimidated all because they have a differing viewpoint. Of course, I’m referring to the debate, for lack of a better term, going on in Madison and across the state regarding unions and collective bargaining.

Based on testimony I heard yesterday, people are removing their political bumper stickers out of fear for their lives and are withholding comment on the political situation in Madison out of a concern their children will be retaliated against in the public schools. One woman, out of a need to preserve family peace, said she no longer allows this topic to be discussed in her home. Seems we’ve lost the ability to agree to disagree and still remain friends.

Some people I serve with in ministry have said the same things: one woman who works in the public school system recalled how another employee of that school got in her face for not wearing red on “solidarity day” and not wearing a black ribbon. Creepy. The folks I’ve talked to who work in the public school system and who agree with Walker just want to go on vacation until this all blows over.

Seems things are really hot on Facebook. I’ve only seen one thread of "discussion" on that site and that was enough. The woman who cuts my hair said the debate is “everywhere” on Facebook and it’s all she hears about from her clients, both Republican and Democrat. Quite frankly she, like many I’ve talked to (including public employees) are sick of hearing about this and of being in the unwilling position of having the discussion thrust upon them.

And then there’s the boycotts being called for of companies who support Walker—boycotts encouraged and supported by police (again, Creepy. Will people who have Walker bumper stickers on their cars be harassed by those who are supposed to put public safety, not boycotts and politics, first?) Call me paranoid, but this isn’t the America I was taught in my own public school upbringing. I think it’s scary that suddenly freedom of speech comes with repression and intimidation from the very people who claim to promote civil liberties at all costs. Isn’t it a civil liberty to disagree without putting property, lives and children’s lives in danger? Hasn’t it always been a civil liberty in this country to be able to carry on a respectful dialogue? What’s with all the intimidation and hostility? Who or what is feeding this?

I think the above quotes explain the hatred that is boiling over in the debate in Wisconsin. Blind hate is possible when we don’t remember we’re all human, when we forget to stop and smile at the person we’re talking to, when we blatantly tell someone they’re wrong without hearing them out. Blind hate forgets that freedom means freedom for people to hold an opposing viewpoint and still be respected. In America, freedom isn’t just for us: it’s also for those who disagree with us. Freedom isn’t just for the Democrats who disagree with Walker. It’s also for those who agree with and support Walker. Freedom is for all citizens of this country to confidently and respectfully hold and voice an opinion. The day we let blind hate into the equation is the day the process set up by the founding fathers disintegrates and no longer are we a republic.

In fact, I went to Wikipedia and found the following:

“In modern political science, republicanism refers to a specific ideology that is based on civic virtue.”

And what is civic virtue?

“Civic virtue is the cultivation of habits of personal living that are claimed to be important for the success of the community…The term civility refers to behavior between persons and groups that conforms to a social mode (that is, in accordance with the civil society), as itself being a foundational principle of society and law.” Wikipedia

Civic virtue. It doesn’t mean we can’t discuss. It doesn’t mean we can’t disagree. It doesn’t mean we can’t feel passionate about. It does mean to stop talking about something when it’s obvious family members, hairdressers, fellow employees, students, and congregation members have heard enough and don’t care to dialogue on the topic any further. It does mean to stop trying to convert others to our way of thinking when it’s obvious they are not interested in converting. It does mean that we can still smile at the driver of the car we are passing, even though their bumper sticker supports someone we don’t. Civic virtue means that all of us, in honor and application of the proclamation “We the People” must remember the “We” and not just the “Me.”

“Jesus replied: ‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.’” Matthew 22:37-40

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Christina Aguilera

The reaction of people, Christians included, to Christina Aguilera’s recent actions reveals much about the condition of our hearts.

When I first heard that Christina had flubbed a line or two while singing the National Anthem, I was horrified for her, knowing the embarrassment and how my own fear of public speaking would be enough to cause me to forget my lines too. When Christina tripped while performing a song during an awards show, I chalked it up to killer high heels and maybe a bit of klutziness, which I, too, have exhibited at times. When I read about her arrest for public drunkenness, I saw myself back in the fall of 1984, a 22-year-old living in Nashville out on an all-night bender. I, too, could have and should have been arrested for public drunkenness. So, as I’ve read about Christina, I have a very sober and realistic compassion for her, knowing that with this latest arrest, she has a long road ahead of her.

But as much as I share in common with Christina, I'm ashamed to admit that even a few years ago I would have lambasted her, just like I lambasted everybody who couldn’t seem to get their lives in order. It's the proverbial "Look who's calling the kettle black!" The Gospel of Matthew states it this way, "Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother's eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye?" (7:3).

Which leads me back to what I was beginning to say about compassion. God, in His directive to continue with the renewing of our minds (Romans 12:2), has definitely renewed mine from one of “tsk-tsking” the fallen natures of stars and community members (whose mug shots adorn the web pages of my local newspaper almost daily) to one of compassion and sorrow. I am more able to see people from God’s perspective instead of my own, and am always reminded of God’s perspective of me when I was just as drunk as Christina Aguilera. And although God has removed much dross, I am still a sinner seeking His grace. Many planks have yet to be removed.

If we find ourselves delighting or scoffing at the trials of others, God can change our hearts. The Bible offers many examples of compassionate attitudes. The MacArthur Commentary Bible states that in the Old Testament, Jeremiah “identified with his people’s suffering as a man of tears.” In Jeremiah 8:21-22 Jeremiah cries out,“Since my people are crushed, I am crushed; I mourn, and horror grips me. Is there no balm in Gilead? Is there no physician there? Why then is there no healing for the wound of my people?”

The commentary adds, “Jeremiah cared so deeply that he longed for the relief of flooding tears or a place of retreat to be free of the burden of Judah’s sins for a while.”

It has taken a long journey with the Triune God for the condemnation I once had for the Aguileras of the world to be replaced with loving compassion and sorrow. For love “keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth” (1 Corinthians 13:5-6).

“Jesus wept.” John 11:35