Archive for September, 2011

A Christian approach to politics

I was asked recently, “How should a Christian navigate today’s charged political environment?”

The question appropriately assumes that the Christian is in the game, not on the sidelines. It provides that the believer is attempting to navigate the wavy seas; that she is not simply hunkered in a safe harbor.

In days gone by, the “this world is not my home; I’m just a-passing through” mentality often kept the “citizens of heaven” from engaging in the governments of earth.

The church at large does not subscribe to this school of thought today. However, some believers likely adopt it personally to avoid or ignore the messy, smelly world of politics.

Alternatively, many Christians believe that faith is so important that it must be proclaimed in the public square.

Jesus said, “Whoever acknowledges me before men, I will acknowledge him before my Father in heaven.” Let us stand up for God so he will stand up for us, the thought goes.

Still other Christians believe the social mission of the church is so critical that it is right to use government resources to accomplish it.

Both moral majority Christian conservatives and social justice Christian missionaries would do well to remember that while God ordains governments, the church is the only earthly entity he ever gave his spirit to.

Whether teaching morality or feeding the hungry, the church should not abdicate to government what it should be doing itself.

During Jesus’ ministry, some pushed him to lead a political revolution. He didn’t take the bait. He was on a different type of mission, though he commanded to “give to Caesar what is Caesar’s.”

Jesus came to set captives free. Freedom was the focus of his ministry. And freedom should be a Christian’s focus in the public square.

Does that mean Christians should be libertarian, pushing government out of people’s lives so as to advance personal freedoms?

Or does that mean Christians should be progressive, pushing government into people’s lives in order to give them freedoms they would not otherwise have (e.g., health care, transportation, education)?

Like Christ, I won’t take the bait. I will say that different gifts should be recognized and deployed in government just as they should be in the Body of Christ.

I don’t want a hard-line conservative running the state’s health and human services department. It doesn’t fit his gifts and passions. I do want a hard-line conservative providing a finite budget for the work of such a department. Otherwise spending spills over its rightful boundaries.

Along with expanding freedom, believers in the public square should operate with faultless integrity and extreme humility.

Doing what you say you believe despite changes in political weather reflects the constancy of God. Giving genuine credit to others in an image-conscious arena stands out like a capital dome on a city skyline.

Obviously, tensions exist in this debate. Pacifist or front lines? Christian conservative or liberal activist? Government in the lives of people or out?

As you might expect from an Almighty who crafted no robots, God gives no easy answers. We must wrestle on with fear and trembling.

He does give hints. King Solomon’s advice in Ecclesiastes 7 seems relevant.

“Whoever fears God will avoid all extremes. Wisdom makes one wise person more powerful than ten rulers in a city.”

Kevin Thompson is a columnist for The Boerne Star. He can be reached at kevin@kwt.info.
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Entitlement endangerment

Beware the statement, “I deserve it.” The phrase betrays a fundamental fact of life: Life’s not fair.

“I deserve it.” captures the modern entitlement mentality. But before we target government check recipients, let us look in the mirror. Do these sound familiar?

“I worked hard all year. I deserve a bonus.”

“I make my daughter my top priority. She better not rebel.”

“I eat right and exercise. I should have a long life.” And its corollary, “I worked out. I deserve ice cream.”

A sense of entitlement can wreck relationships and fell families. How many extramarital affairs do we owe to this perspective (or lack thereof)? How many adult children living at home? How much consumer debt?

It’s the old-fashioned ledger system. I do X. I deserve Y. “I got up with the crying kid last night. I’m playing golf on Saturday.” Simply put, you owe me. I’m entitled.

The mentality is no respecter of persons. Capable people can be just as susceptible as the welfare abuser. See leadership guru John Maxwell’s book “Talent Is Never Enough.”

Still, America’s vast natural resources and economic superiority have sparked the entitlement attitude in many citizens. “I live in America. I deserve provision.”

Two cases in point I read recently:

First, a lady on food stamps brings dog food to the grocery check out line. When informed that dog food isn’t an eligible item, she scoffs at the cashier before telling her to hold on. Two minutes later she returns with an eligible package of steaks for Rover.

Second, a young doctor at Dallas’ public hospital told of an uninsured man who arrived in the emergency room with chest pains. When he wasn’t forwarded to a private room quickly enough, he verbally abused the hospital staff. Small wonder he was in cardiac arrest.

An inverse relationship exists between a person’s sense of entitlement and his productivity. Yet, in the name of compassion, we keep creating entitlement programs that jeopardize our pro-growth economy and cause generational dependency.

Parenting experts have a solution for this too-much-compassion-breeds-dependency syndrome: tough love. We need more of it, individually and collectively.

The entitlement-driven budget troubles in Western Europe have popularized the public sector version of tough love. It’s called “austerity measures.” Greece must make yet another round of austerity cuts to stave off bankruptcy. How deep the entitlements ran there.

Likewise, the U.S. must reverse its trend of entitlement expansion if we are to stave off sluggish economic growth and ultimately fiscal insolvency.

In his run for the Republican presidential nomination, Gov. Rick “Ponzi Scheme” Perry is beating the Social Security reform drum with abandon.

He should point out the average life expectancy when Social Security began in 1940. It was 62 years. Yes, a full three years before the age of eligibility. Extrapolate that fact to today and Social Security checks would begin in a person’s 80s.

Raising Social Security’s eligibility age might keep the “third rail” of American politics viable. As it stands, the growing segment of recipients will crush the shrinking pool of providers.

Whether with individual, family or nation, the “entitlementality” gives way to disarray. No one takes responsibility for doing the hard work required to make a relationship, a household or a country go. Everyone is entitled. No one earns. No one wins.

Kevin Thompson is a columnist for The Boerne Star. He can be reached at kevin@kwt.info.

Lessons from a family campout

Some mathematical recreation from a recent trip to Garner State Park:

Five families times 3.6 kids per family equals 1 heckuva good time.

The sum of sweltering heat, record drought and threatening wildfires is still less than the fun of the Frio River.

A few days in nature has a disproportionately greater didactic impact than an equal amount of time in civilization.

Just outside the circle of comfort lies a geometric spread of shapes unrepresented by the squares of urban life.

And so we packed up the mini-vans and SUVs and travelled west through spirited towns like Bandera, Sabinal, and the ambitiously-named Utopia.

The Frio wasn’t full but it wasn’t empty. The fish, all be they smaller, still swam. The skunks scavenged. The Rangers fibbed (a bear and multiple mountain lions had been seen in the area). The sun shined as drought’s serendipity for campers and construction contractors alike.

From the weekend in the woods comes a series of lessons that the city can’t as easily teach.

1. We’re all in this together.
Twenty-eight people shared a commercial refrigerator for four days. To be overprotective of your OREOs was to be disappointed by the hunger of man. Happiness derives from a generous heart and a firm faith in God’s ability to provide.

2. A little dirt won’t kill you, though it may endanger your perfectionism.
Watching my offspring crawl into sleeping bags with filthy feet previously rocked my sanitized world. I was convinced they would awake with shingles. When they didn’t, I also mustered the courage to let them play in stagnant water.

3. Talent includes a bike-riding three-year-old.
Our Saturday night talent show featured jokes, skits, songs and tricks. But no act was more pleasurable to watch than a little girl with a big smile riding her training-wheeled bicycle across a mess hall “stage.” Giftedness is all around us, if we have the perspective to enjoy it.

4. If you didn’t remember it, you don’t need it.
Contemporary culture blurs the line between needs and wants. Camping offers an easy distinction: Your necessities are those items you remembered while packing. Your wants are those you remember as you’re driving to camp. For us, clean underwear made it in. A box fan did not. We survived.

5. Nature has a rhythm. It’s best to live by it.
The river flowed lowly and slowly, but constantly. The squirrels dropped acorns on the tin roof each morning. No part of creation strives to do more than it was made to do. If a tireless God rested, if his son regularly escaped to the hills, perhaps so should we.

6. Old habits die hard.
On the way home, we weren’t in the car two minutes before one brother requested the radio. Shortly thereafter, another brother asked to play Angry Birds. Once home, this five-year-old asked to go to the retailer he affectionately refers to as “Toys 4 Us.”

Without ready access to rocks and rivers and trees and hills, plastic becomes the coin of the realm. We slide it at the checkout and with it we turn our 2-car garages into Smart Car garages. The clutter buries the camping equipment and often our inner peace.

But a long weekend at the river reminds us that nothing levels mood swings quite like a rope swing.

The four planes of 9/11

President Bush thought the first airplane may have been an accident. With the second he knew we were under attack. The third he interpreted as a declaration of war. This according to a recent National Geographic interview of the 43rd president.

To say we didn’t see September 11th coming is the understatement of the young century. In the three years prior, Islamic terrorists had destroyed U.S. interests in Tanzania, Kenya, and Yemen. While unwelcome, we accepted those events as somewhat expected in the distant wildness of African and Middle Eastern unknown.

Then, like cardiac arrest, the unconventional enemy struck the heart of our economic and governing systems. Nothing felt safe afterward. No trip to the mall. No sporting event. Each of us kept an eye over her shoulder.

What made 9/11 different than other “you’ll-always-remember-where-you-were” days is that we all were the target. Our very way of life was in the cross hairs. The enemy would have eradicated all of us infidels if it could have.

On that day, the president was whisked by a protective Secret Service from Florida to Louisiana to Nebraska. By mid-afternoon, he had had enough. He “damn sure wasn’t going to address the nation from a bunker in Nebraska,” Bush said in the National Geographic interview.

The enemy would not have the “psychological victory” of driving the nation’s president from its capital. That night he spoke comfortingly to a shell-shocked nation from the comfort of the White House.

No one ever accused Bush of being overly articulate. But he had heart and conviction and a wild west inclining. Once the enemy came into focus, he was the right man to fight it. I can’t imagine Al Gore offering the same laser-sighted, zero-tolerance pursuit.

Methodically and over many months, Bush took the fight to America’s enemies, first in Afghanistan, then in Iraq. Both missions had Congressional and United Nations support, you’ll recall.

Three years after 9/11, our nation toyed with, and ultimately rejected, an Al Gore sound-alike in John Kerry. The terrain was still rugged and we knew it. We still wanted – and needed – a cowboy in the White House. Despite cries from the left, we voted to stay the course.

Bush’s success in protecting the homeland allowed for non-defense matters to dominate the debate in 2008. What a blessing to be able to worry about your family’s financial, not physical, security. How remarkable that the economy could return as voters’ primary concern just seven years after the day the world stopped turning.  

Smoking disorganized terrorists out of holes is tiresome work. Success comes with high costs. Community organizing sounds smoother, safer. We elected a community organizer with limited qualifications as commander in chief or chief economist.

Fortunately, President Obama has thus far deferred to ground commanders on military matters. He has bin Laden’s head to show for it.

In contrast, his handling of fiscal matters is another, budget-busting, government-expanding story. He grabbed a crisis by the reins and hammered home a liberal domestic agenda. Our economy sputters along.

Regardless, the tenth anniversary of the events of September 11th is a time for solemn celebration. From the innocent businesswoman in a skyscraper, to the firefighter who climbed to his death, to the private detonated by a roadside bomb, the last decade is a story of shared sacrifice, a tale of an empire struck and striking back.

President Bush didn’t say exactly what he thought about the fourth airplane, the one that plummeted to the Pennsylvania field, the one driven to the ground by raw heroism. To me, it represents a mighty nation’s first counterattack in a new kind of war.


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