Tag Archives: Hoover Institution

All the Difference

star of bethlehem.jpgThomas Sowell of the Hoover Institution recently wrote about political lies of the last few years: 

“Lies are a wall between us and reality… Reality does not disappear because we don’t see it. It just hits us like a ton of bricks when we least expect it.”

Lies encourage us to deny reality, to “put our heads in the sand” and thus are dangerous. To say the Benghazi terrorist attacks (2012) were a demonstration over an inflammatory video, is a lie told to calm fear. But it invites complacency and so emboldens terrorists, both domestic and international. We have mourned lives lost in subsequent attacks because of this lie. This lie ensured the election of the current president, and a wall rose between our national defense and reality. 

And so too, as individuals, we might choose to believe lies for reasons of comfort. But such lies are dangerous as well, inviting greater suffering and confusion when reality “hits like a ton of bricks.” 

Reality has a way of eventually hitting us, and so too, belief in God and the claims of Christ are worthy of examination as to their truth, their reality. “What difference does it make?” many say, imbibing the lie of our culture that all beliefs are equal, all faiths equally true. While all believers are worthy of respect, how can all faiths be equally true, when one denies the claims of another? Alas, it makes a great deal of difference what a person believes. Living a true life means seeking the truth, embracing reality, sorting fact from fiction and avoiding the ton of bricks. One of the greatest lies of our age is that there is no truth. The truth exists apart from us, whether or not we can grasp it at any particular moment. 

I have long suspected the lie of “closure” in regards to mourning. Stephen J. Forman, a cancer doctor, writes in the Wall Street Journal “how the loss of a loved one is a part of each person’s life forever…. the reality is that closure is a myth.” Grief changes over time, but grief is woven into the weave of our souls, giving us greater compassion, understanding, and empathy. It makes us “wise” or “deep” or simply “good.” Suffering and grief helps us see. To remember at sudden moments, even with tears, those whom we have lost is a good thing, not one to be suppressed: 

“The danger of the idea of closure is that it heightens aloneness, by giving us a false expectation that these experiences should and will at some point end. They won’t… To deny (memories) is to deny precious moments of love, fellowship, gratitude and inspiration… To close the memory does not sustain the healing or help in proceeding with life. Such echoes from the past are voices in the present and are sometimes warmly felt.” 

This can be said of nations as well. To close echoes from the past is to deny who we are, forged by the past in this moment in time. To live only in the present is to force closure on the past, to live a lie, to disavow our nature. Our history is our life story, our identity as Americans. It is a cloak we cannot afford to shed, one our nation must wear in order to survive. 

To find closure after terrorism may for a time ease our national life. We pretend it didn’t happen and we carry on. But it is a lie to say it makes no difference. Of course it makes a difference. Those who died for our country must remind us continually what is real, what is true and what is false in our national narrative, how we face our future and defend our freedoms. 

Children long for boundaries. They beg for limits so that they can see the truth about their world, what is good and what is bad. Good parenting sets limits and teaches the truth, the reality, of forbidden territory. In this way they become responsible adults, for they have learned what is real. They can search for truth and face it. 

And so as we worshiped in church this morning on this First Sunday after Epiphany I gazed at our bishop’s chair, empty. He left us for Heaven, and now, seven months after his parting, his wife has joined him. As I looked upon the chair, I was gifted with a flashing memory of the bishop and his wife, as I knelt on the russet tiles, in the filtered light streaming from clerestory windows, in the singing together the Creed, the Gloria, the Our Father. The bishop and his wife were epiphanies that graced my life and I knew that they would continue to grace my life through the opening of my memory, the refusal of memory’s closure. Their lives were woven into mine, as mine was into theirs, through love, through the grace of God. I consider those memories, even in the depths of loss, to be precious piercings of my heart. These epiphanies, these openings, reweave my heart and soul, adding to the texture. I do not desire or need closure. 

In the Church, the Feast of Epiphany celebrates the coming of the Wise Men from the East who brought the Christ Child gifts. Epiphany means manifestation, the revealing of God in human form in Jesus in Bethlehem. With Epiphany, Christ is now manifested to the world, not just to Israel, not just to God’s chosen ones. The Wise Men follow a star so that the heavens as well take part in this epiphany, this revealing of God. They follow the star to a stable, a hillside cave. The universe shines a beam of light onto a newborn baby in the hay. The Magi, scientists of their time who studied the heavens, kneel before this child. They bring him gold for his kingship, frankincense for his divinity, and myrrh for his burial. After this epiphany in their lives, they will never be the same. 

And we will never be the same. Like the Magi, we kneel before Our Lord in our local church. We gather before his tabernacle, his stable, just as the Magi did two thousand years ago. We pray that we be made worthy to receive him through confession and absolution. As we pray, we are changed by the prayer itself, for we enter moments of epiphany, dwelling in time woven with eternity, knowing that God himself is with us and within us. 

To kneel before the manger or before the altar, experiencing such love, and to say it didn’t happen is to deny reality. It is to lie about the greatest truth of all, the greatest reality of all, God dwelling among us. For if God loves us and lives among us and within us, it makes all the difference to our own lives, and to all the world. We can now look truth in the face, even search for it boldly, knowing that we will be wiser, like the Magi on that holy night two thousand years ago. Our lives will never be about closure, but about opening. We will travel, epiphany by epiphany, into the open heart of God.

 

Fair and Free

justice statue

U.C. Berkeley recently unveiled a program to give greater preferment to African-Americans for admittance and for hiring of faculty, citing the Ferguson, Missouri unrest as a reason.

There is, to be sure, an innate human desire for fairness, treating everyone equal. We speak of being “equal under the law,” that regardless of race, religion, and gender we will be treated equally. Whether your hair is pink or blue, your skin is spotted or smooth, you are obese or anorexic, you are young or old, rich or poor, woman or man or something else, dwarf or giant, you will be treated equally (with the exception, of course, of the unborn).

We are wired to demand fairness, even if we are not always successful in our practice of fairness. From age seven, children say, “That’s not fair!” A sense of justice (often without mercy) flowers in childhood. We are born with the idea of fairness.

History is the story, in many ways, of peoples who believed they, or others, were unfairly treated, who demanded fairness through whatever means available – letters to the editor, peaceful protest, less peaceful protest, riots, revolutions. Always, there is the righteous belief that they are right and are seeking “justice.” God is on their side, and if they don’t believe in God, then a residue of Godly fairness inspires them.

After all, we have been made in our Maker’s image. We reflect his great love for us in our desire to love and be loved. We reflect his reason in our belief that we can reason things out, make sense. We reflect his justice with our own deeply held certainty that things should be fair. And lastly we reflect his mercy when we forgive our enemies, when we make amends, when we work to create justice for all, fair play for everyone, when we love one another.

But how do you right wrongs of the past? Christians do so by confessing and forgiving. “Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.” We are sorry, we say to our God, we will change, repent. Then we move on, guilt-free to soar as a bird, at peace with ourselves and our neighbors, and with our God.

But what happens with a secular society with historical wrongs like slavery, when we do not believe in a God who will forge a peace between us, who will absolve us? How and when is national guilt forgiven? How long must the culture pay, make amends, before it turns in upon itself? How many reparations, how many preferments in education and employment, how many times must Lady Justice excuse crimes she would not excuse for others? She should be blind, weighing only the evidence.

There comes a time when these affirmative actions become divisive and racist, undoing all they were meant to do, turning upon the majority, and increasing alienation. There comes a time when these actions actually hinder integration.

A nation cannot be absolved by a priest or God. It cannot be forgiven its trespasses as a person can. A nation is left at the mercy of the aggrieved, where and when that group sees the opportunity to extort payment for their grievance. And in the process other minorities watch the rioting and the looting and the burning of their town and country. They become the aggrieved, a recipe for revolution.

It is time to honor fairness to all, a time when the reparations of slavery have put paid to the debt owed. We would hope, as citizens, that our government would sense that time is now and stand strong. We would hope that our educational institutions would as well, that they would honor each student, each admissions or faculty applicant equally, not by race, religion or gender, but by merit.

I was not born with a silver spoon, or a silver anything. I was born into the modest home of a pastor relying on the income from his church and their kindnesses. I never felt aggrieved with my economic status. I worked my way through college and couldn’t afford grad school so got an office job to pay the rent. I’m not saying I wasn’t envious of those who had it easier, but came to see that life wasn’t always fair. I counted my blessings, for, as my mother often reminded me, I had ten fingers and ten toes, two arms and two legs, wasn’t deaf or blind, and was pretty good at jumping rope and reading. So I just needed to do my best and that was good enough.

Sometimes I hear people speak of betrayal or greed or mistreatment and they end with the comment, “It’s just so unfair.” I have known all these things, again and again, and it is indeed unfair. By God’s standard, by our own standards, it isn’t fair. But God is the judge, and I’m glad of that, for he will judge me too.

Ever since Eve ate that forbidden fruit, mankind has acted unfairly, often without mercy. And so God destroyed the Tower of Babel, sent a great flood, and finally, in his mercy, called Abraham out of Ur to be the father of a great nation that would number as the stars. He gave Moses specific commandments to obey. He chose a people who wrestled with him and his challenges, with his justice and his mercy. At last, after all this loving preparation, he send the promised messiah, the Christ, his Son, Emmanuel, God-with-us. This Jesus of Nazareth walked among us, showing by his life, death, and resurrection how we are to love one another, how we are to be just and merciful and fair. He gave us a way forward with his words, his life, and his death, to heal the brokenness, the unfairness, the mercilessness. He gave us a way forward to union with his Father – through his body, the Church.

A Western tradition blossomed from this creed. It struggled with how to be fair in an unfair world, among people who loved imperfectly. The tradition of Judeo-Christian fairness enshrined in common law and courts was formed under monarchies. It birthed democracies. It formed the Western Canon, the foundation of higher education, so that the next generation, our future rulers, our best and brightest, would understand fairness and its child, freedom.

And so today we try to protect this great legacy. Fairness and freedom are ideals, imperfect, but vitally important to our nation and the West. It aggrieves me to see government bow to the extortion of the aggrieved, often for political reasons. Thomas Sowell of Stanford’s Hoover Institution recently called it giving in to bullies:

“No small part of the internal degeneration of American society has been a result of supposedly responsible officials caving in to whatever group is currently in vogue, and allowing them to trample on everyone else’s rights… Politicians who exempt from the law certain groups who have been chosen as mascots undermine the basis for a decent society… The goal of ‘the rule of law and not of men’ has increasingly been abandoned in favor of government picking winners and losers… a path that demoralizes a society, and leads to either a war of each against all or to a backlash of repression and revenge.”

Life is not fair. We must support a “rule of law and not of men” (John Adams). In this election year, it is good to keep this in mind.