On Presidents, Promises, and Penitence

Klavan.The Art of Making SenseI am reading Andrew Klavan’s The Art of Making Sense, Writings and Speeches 2019. This is not a book about writing to make sense (which I thought at first and probably need), but a book about personal coherency found in a consistency of character, speech, and action. He is speaking of lives that make sense and heroes that make sense, ways of living that make sense. When they don’t make sense, when one part acts in contradiction to another, there is a brokenness, a fissure or fracture of personality. We might call this hypocrisy, for we sense deeply that there is a grand logic to living, to life.

We are driven to create, mirroring our Creator, and this drive is part of the coherency we struggle to achieve. It is this drive, this love of life—human life and all creation—that has been implanted in each of us, that is an integral part of our DNA, that calls us to make sense of our lives and give order to our days.

I believe this desire to make sense, to live moral lives of meaning, is innate in our very humanity. It is part of who we are as thinking, sentient beings. We are creatures of conscience. And yet none of us make sense entirely. We know we are broken. Still, we long to be mended, to be made whole. We believe we should keep our promises, because we want to be whole, honest, trustworthy.

Christianity recognizes this brokenness and provides an antidote. Scriptures, from the fall of Adam and Eve to Judas’ betrayal of Christ, tell the story of mankind’s falling apart and coming back together. They tell of healing the sick, mending the brokenhearted. Christians, of course, believe Christ alone can truly heal us, can make us whole again, once we confess our failings, practice penitence, admitting we do not make sense. We call those failings sins, those betrayals of our true and better natures, betrayals of our Creator. They are times of not making sense, times when we do not live cogent, coherent lives. With belief in Christ and his promises, our souls are mapped with his commandments, and we are placed on a path to wholeness, to making sense.

AMERICAN FLAGAnd so today, Presidents Day, we celebrate America’s presidents, especially President Washington and President Lincoln, leaders that promised to govern fairly and create a more perfect union. They promised to make sense of our country, to offer a refuge to those from countries betraying that promise.

But being human and fallen, even these heroes of our great nation are not always consistent in their morality, and our nation is not always great. Those who study history understand that our heroes will not live up to our expectations. The only way we can explain this in-coherency of character is to admit mankind’s brokenness.

As a voter and a Christian, this admission is a given. And yet, I do make demands on my public servants, hold them accountable, for they represent me in Sacramento, in Washington, and in the world. The first of these demands is that they be honestly trying to make our world, our nation, and our communities make sense, by having a sense of the moral law.

And so when I look at the lives of our American Presidents, I see broken lives, not fully realized. Yet I also see a true and passionate effort do the best, to be valiant and self-sacrificing, given the times in which they lived.

Alexander Solzhenitsyn witnessed to the barbarities of the Communist Soviet Union. He wrote that to do evil man must believe he is doing good. Man covers his conscience with a veil, smothering the accusing doubts. Man wants to believe he is doing good so he ignores the still small voice.

Andrew Klavan writes how bad ideologies act in this way:

A bad ideology is the vehicle by which the fine idea of corruption can spread over an entire society like a fog. In the impenetrable murk of a bad ideology the corruption becomes all-but-invisible until even the best and the brightest can engage in the most appalling behavior completely unawares. (The Art, 21)

And so entire cultures bury the voice of conscience as they rationalize evil by making it appear good. Hitler saw his cleansing of the “unfit” as creating a utopia. America does the same today. Today’s veil is pulled over the holocaust of abortion (over one million babies lost yearly since 1973), under the veil of the mother’s “right” to kill her child because she owns it (a kind of slavery) and a cleansing of the “unfit” who are defined as the unwanted.

Let us learn from our history, that promises aren’t always kept, penitence not always practiced, but that to make sense of our lives and sense of our nation we must promise to try to practice penitence and to seek truth, living lives of meaning and morality, celebrating all life, born and unborn.

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