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Posts Tagged ‘United States of America’

Keeping One Idea Among Many

The idea that the United States of America is an open market place for ideas is being tested. Of course, it is always being tested because it  is still a democratic experiment.  However, the feverish screaming from different sides of ideological or religious aisles has perhaps been no more loud than in recent days.  Whether it is the proposal of an Islamic Center two blocks from the 9/11 ground zero, the diametrically opposed political and economic ideas of the left and right, or discussions surrounding health care and other contemporary issues, the result seems to be the same: deafening noise.

Unfortunately, the media and pundits seem to have hijacked the center stage of the discussion. Of course, early on in U.S. politics, newspapers played a large role in informing or misinforming the public.  Today, our technology has only improved the results of information or misinformation.  The question of whether a society can maintain an open market place for ideas to be shared and debated seems to be still up in the air.  The classic example is the average American liberal arts college or university that allows for just about any discussion except any concerning the support of the Christian faith.  The same binders are put upon any such discussion in the secular market spaces.

When our institutions, media and government control the dialogue the liberty to express one’s ideas is enslaved to those institution’s ideologies. Of course, on the other side of the argument then, is the understanding that if it is truly to be an open market place of ideas, then we must allow for the voice of even the wackiest of propositions.  That may be true.  However, I would argue that there is less a danger in that direction than in the direction of censorship and limitations of liberty.

Contrary to what many ne0-atheists and anti-religion proponents claim, I believe that the core of Christian thought and doctrine have remained robust and alive. Even in an unfair and unbalanced environment for equal dialogue, the claims of the Christian worldview have stood up well.  Granted, most of this has had to take place within the confines of Christian institutions, schools, and think-tanks.  If anything, the arguments and ideas have been sharpened by the debate that takes place outside the public market place of ideas.

In a market place of ideas, it is not surprising to find that there are many voices. Personally, I believe that this is a good thing.  It helps to hone and sharpen opposing points of view and eliminate those that do not stand up; or at least hold them up to sharp scrutiny.  As a Christian and church leader, I have never been afraid to allow the core Christian tenets to stand up for scrutiny in the market place.  Unfortunately, there are very few places where a civil dialogue can take place so that religious/political/philosophical ideas can be shared.

I have discovered some of the nastiest folks in internet chat rooms; even if they are meant to give voice to religion or politics or philosophy. It is not too soon into any discussion before a person or persons takes it down to the level of name calling and playground banter.  All one is left to do is to move on.  Sadly, I have not found the public arena much more inviting or encouraging.  It seems that very few people have a capacity to share ideas, convictions or experiences in a civil manner.

Classic Ford, Cool Desert Nights Auto Show, Richland, Washington, June 2010

Classic Ford Automobile, Cool Desert Nights Auto Show, Richland, Washington, June 2010 ©Weatherstone/Ron Almberg, Jr. (2010)

This may not be the greatest challenge, however. I believe the greatest challenge may be for the individual to be able to keep their individuality in thoughts and convictions without selling out to what is either politically correct or publicly acceptable.  This is not to say that a mind should remain unchanged.  Change of convictions based upon sound reasoning is acceptable.  Acquiescing to the raucous mob or loudest voices is not.  Instead, maintaining individual expression amidst public discourse is akin to wearing a blue shirt to a convention of Wal-Mart employees.  It is hard to not get lost in the crowd and just appear to be one among many.

The idea of individual liberty to believe and express one’s beliefs in the United States was a sacred idea to most of the founders of this secular democracy. It is why they maintained the importance of the separation of church and state; so that one ideology, even a Christian one, would not dominate the public market place of ideas and expressions.  Instead, they hoped to build a society that would be open to all religions, philosophies, and ideas so that in and through the sharing of them the best in humanity may arise.

The attempt to hold captive any ideology or philosophy, even if it is held only by a minority is truly un-American in the most basic sense. Only those who do not really believe what they tout or know why they believe what they spout fear those with opposing ideas.  Take the Christian Gospel for instance.  If the ideas and ideals of the Christian Gospel cannot hold its own in a secular society, then those who trust in it may best serve themselves by re-examining what they believe.  Depending upon the government to support their ideas and censor any that oppose them is only a sure way to loose credibility.  Every idea must stand on its own two feet, per se, no matter how sacred.

European history is a great example of what happens to the church when it is enforced and protected by the state. Instead of under-girding it, such actions undermine it.  Even the early American colonies’ attempts at church-state religions proved this point.  Let the Church and its message stand on its own two feet without government support or intrusion.  Free from such false supports, I am convinced it will flourish; even as one idea among many.

©Weatherstone/Ron Almberg, Jr. (2010)

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Pluribus and Unum

The United States of America has somewhat of a schizophrenic community identity.  On the one hand, we relish in the idea that we are a “melting pot” of cultures; a country where people from any culture are welcome to legally come and establish a new home.  However, on the other hand, we worship the idea or myth of the rugged individual who comes to this country or who pioneers a new horizon; a country where an individual can realize the potential of all that he or she can become with enough hard work and luck.

For some time now, I have been pondering the sources of these attitudes within our American culture.  More specifically, I have wondered about our idea of the rugged individual who makes it on his or her own and how that shapes our relationships, politics and religion.  We love our pioneer stories.  We almost worship the entrepreneur who starts out with nothing and produces something out of a garage or shop that not only attains success but also produces wealth.  Our movies make heroes of the rebellious individual who beats the system or the status quo accepted by the larger majority.

This heightened sense of the individual over the community gives rise to many tensions in our society. Loyalty is no longer given to any one group but to the self.  So, individuals move from church to church, job to job, and even community to community for personal advantage.  Loyalty is passe’, whether it is to a marriage union or workers union.  Most Americans are looking for the “best deal” and “for the right price.”  We have taken the American Founders ideal of an individual’s freedom to pursue “life, liberty and happiness” to individualistic twisted ends.

Individualism fractures society more than it unifies it.  It seems to be the human tendency to move toward separateness until there is something that unites us – a common enemy, a common problem, or a common experience in the midst of disaster.  Once the threat has passed, however, jockeying begins all over for the selfishly personal “best seat at the table.”  Jesus’ disciples exhibited this same behavior despite the fact that it was Jesus who brought them all together and was the unifying factor.  Perhaps church bodies could learn something from their example and Jesus’ instructions to them.

Of course, the fracture of civilization and its relationships is nothing new to human existence. It is as old as the Garden of Eden where the break in community with other humans and with their Creator began.  However you tell the story and understand it, it perfectly illustrates the human condition.  From Genesis chapter three through history up to today, we witness the effects of the rips and tears in our social fabric.  The story of the Tower of Babel, when God caused confusion through language and culture, is only the pinnacle of this story.  Humanity has been on a steady descent ever since despite the attempts of world rulers and empires to bring a return to a one-world order according to their terms.  This has only led to resistance and further fractures in the global human community.

Washington D.C. Capital Buildings, Spring 2009

Washington D.C. Capital Buildings, Spring 2009 ©Weatherstone/Ron Almberg, Jr. (2010)

Of course, conveyors of conspiracy theories like to point to one of the Latin phrases on the reverse side of the United States’ Great Seal to show that the U.S. is involved in the same scheme. The Latin words

Reverse of the Great Seal of the United States.

Image via Wikipedia

Novus ordo seclorum” are taken by them to mean “New World Order” when, in fact, they truly mean “New Order of the Ages;” signifying the beginning of a new era with the birth of the United States of America.  The other Latin phrase appearing with it is “Annuit coeptis,” which means “God favored our undertakings.”  So, there is a bit of irony in the theories of conspiratists in that it would seem that they believe the U.S. is involved in some diabolical plan to take over the world with God’s blessings.

At any rate, the Latin phrase on the U.S. Great Seal which most Americans are more familiar with is “E Pluribus Unum.” This is roughly translated “out of many, one” or “one from many.”  In recent American history, it has been embraced to refer to the great cultural “melting pot” of this country.  However, at the beginning of American independence from Great Britain, it was an attempt to directly reflect the unity of the diverse thirteen colonies.

Modern Americans tend to forget just how fractious those early colonies were based upon their religious preferences, politics, loyalties to England, economies and ideals of the ruling classes. The contentions were never really settled until after the Civil War – and some would argue, especially from the southern United States, that it is still not settled.  Early on, the threat of secession from the federal union was always present; first from the northern states and then from the south.  Politics became divided very early over the preeminence of individual and state rights versus federal rights.  We still wage political battle over those ideas today.  This conflict may always be in flux and never really settled in our American democracy.

Interestingly, E Pluribus Unum was the motto of the United States of America until 1956, when it replaced with In God We Trust.” Until then, it appears on most U.S. coinage since it was mandated by law in 1873.  It first appeared on U.S. coinage in 1795 even though it was first proposed for the Great Seal of the U.S. in August of 1776 and finally formally adopted in 1782.  In the 1776 proposal, which Benjamin Franklin had a hand in, the seal had a shield with six symbols; each symbol representing the six main countries that provided immigrants to the colonies: the rose (England), thistle (Scotland), harp (Ireland), fleur-de-lis (France), lion (Holland), and an imperial two-headed eagle (Germany).  Those six symbols were surrounded by thirteen smaller shields, which were to represent “the thirteen independent States of America.”  Of course, the “independence” of those states and the others to follow would greatly change with the new constitution of 1883.

The idea that a country not formed by, from or for any one ethnic group can exist without fracturing into hundreds of splintering self-interest groups is still being tested.  The United States and its people are still very much a democratic experiment in the making.  The strength of our union requires every citizen and local and state government to bow to higher ideals than self-interest.  This, in part, was the empowering force behind Abraham Lincoln’s administration and other leaders to seek to preserve the union with southern states who attempted to go their own way.

Even in many American churches, the unity of the church fellowship takes pre-eminence over selfish desires and goals. There is a desire on the part of the individual to be a part of something larger than just the small cosmic consciousness that the individual inhabits.  Becoming and being a part of a community of faith enlarges one’s life and capacity for living in and through the lives of others as believers pray, worship and serve together.  The essence of the Gospel and the Church’s theology is that the Creator, through His incarnation in His Son, Jesus, has come to bring true unity in human and divine relationships.  As the apostle Paul would have it, the enmity or hostilities created by cultures, languages, skin colors and offenses to God have been removed by the peace offering made by Jesus the Messiah on the cross.

So, we are not merely “pluribus” – many independent individuals or states of being seeking to find out own way. We are also “unum” – formed as Americans in our democracy to unite around those ideals that make us a unique light to the rest of the world.  We are a cosmic declaration that people from different parts of the world, with different skin colors, abiding by different religious convictions can not just merely co-exist but also become unified for the common good of each individual in its society to pursue life, liberty and happiness.  It was this very audacious and precarious idea that caused most of the America’s Founders and the truly wise and understanding today to constantly invoke the help and aid of Providence.  And so, it seems, as long as the help of heaven preserves our union and democracy, we will continue to be E Pluribus Unum.

©Weatherstone/Ron Almberg, Jr. (2010)

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Religious Refereeing

We live in a world who likes to define right from wrong, who’s in and who’s out, as well as those we like and those we do not. Everyone becomes their own personal referee, making judgment calls on the life and behaviors of others.  It is so much easier to identify the error and slippery slope in another person’s life than our own, however.  Plus, it seems our rule book is always changing according to our own whims, likes and dislikes and morphing philosophies of life.

I recognize this painful reality in my own life. For example, I had a wonderful time with some friends the other night.  Greg and Cindy Holman had me and my family over for dinner and we attempted to catch up on 30 years of history, which is ever since we were all in college together at Northwest University in Kirkland, Washington (then, Northwest College).  Of course, that is an impossible task in one evening.

The conversation turned to how much we have changed, not just age wise but also in thinking, religious beliefs and practices. Life experiences have shaped or reshaped our philosophies and theologies.  How we view, interpret and apply certain Scriptures and religious beliefs we grew up with is drastically different.  We all recognized that our world has expanded; we see God’s tent as much larger than the narrowly defined one we grew up with in our families and churches.

The painful reality we have discovered is that we spent too much of our time in our younger years trying to define the boundaries of God’s household of faith rather than helping those on the journey towards faith. Whether Baptist or Pentecostal, High-Church or Low-Church, liturgical or non-liturgical, Charismatic or Dispensationalist, Arminian or Calvinist, presbyterian/episcopal or congregational/independent in church government – we all believe that we are the heavenly Father’s favored child because we are more correct than our brothers and sisters.  Even the best among us can be paternalistic in our attitudes towards those we accept: We tolerate them even though we consider them to be in error or deviant in faith and practice rather than whole-heartedly accept and embrace them as brothers and sisters in the household of faith.

I believe that this is a changing reality in many churches today. At the grass roots level, Christian believers are recognizing more and more that every follower of Christ is on a different spiritual journey.  There is a desire to allow others to listen and follow their own spiritual walk with God.  This attitude, however, scares many other Christians into thinking that such a consideration would allow for a “slippery slope” into error, heresy or sinful behaviors.  Unfortunately, this has led to a tendency to want to define with hard categories and boundaries “who is in” and “who is outside” the tent of faith.  This has been a problem through all of church history.  It was endemic of the church from the start and continues on down until today.  Consider, for example, the first century flap between Jewish believers and Gentile believers.

The early American colonies were brutally divided by such thinking and behavior. Anglicans were at war with Congregationalist; both of them despised and persecuted the Quakers, Baptists and Lutherans.  Everyone held the Unitarians and Deists in suspicion.  Depending upon which state or county you lived in, you may not have been able to openly practice your brand of Christianity.  You could have been jailed or worse for preaching or holding cottage meetings outside the state recognized church.  If you were a free-thinker, agnostic or atheist then there seemed to be no place for you in early America except the far reaches of western settlements; just as there was no place for the Jew, Hindu or Muslim.

It seems to me that much of the church has concentrated on the minutiae of doctrines and doctrinal distinctives and forgotten Paul’s injunction to consider one another’s conscience. More important than correct theology, according to Paul, was the living application of faith, hope and love in the life of the community of Christ followers.  As much as Paul expounded upon what the early church was to believe about Christ’s life, death, resurrection and glorification, the bulk of the content of his letters to the churches concerned acceptance, forgiveness, bearing one another, mercy, grace and love for all Christ’s followers.

I am not addressing those things that Scripture points to as obvious sin or error. Those are quite clear and even the apostle Paul was willing to expose and expel unrepentant persons from the family of faith for such things.  However, it seems that there is a lot of room left for things that are not clearly identified or settled as sin and error.  The Lord and the Scriptures left to us seem to allow for a great diversity of opinion and practice in one’s faith journey.

Mount Saint Helens, July 2002

Mount Saint Helens, July 2002 ©Weatherstone/Ron Almberg, Jr. (2010)

Our proclivity to want to don the referee’s jersey and blow the whistle on fellow believers has left a sour taste in the mouths of non-believers as well as many believers who have left our churches. Christians and their churches today as in other times in human history are more likely to be identified by what they are against than what they are for or have in common.  Just as likely, they have left those outside the faith completely baffled and bemused by our divisive spirit over nearly unintelligent doctrinal nuances.  Our hostilities towards one another over spiritual practices (communion, baptisms, congregational worship, Bible translations, etc) devoted to the supposed same God are confounding.  If we cannot love one another through our different opinions and practices, what makes us think the world would believe the God and gospel we preach could ever accept them?  No wonder so many do not join the church because they are afraid of picking the “wrong” one.

More importantly, I believe, it speaks to our complete lack of faith in the Lord to build his own house (as we are told in Scripture he would do) and for his Holy Spirit to convince, convict and conform his own children in his own way (as Jesus assured us his Spirit would do).  We honestly do not believe that if everyone loved the Lord enough and loved one another enough that he is strong enough or faithful to bring us one day to all the same conclusion and same place – which is before his throne and in his presence.  No, we would much rather try and second guess the Lord and identify for ourselves who will be there and who will not.  The stark, naked truth is that it is not our job.

As someone wisely observed, “It is not my kingdom and I’m not the King.” It is not my household of faith and I’m not the Father who chooses who is in it or who is outside of it.  Jesus’ parable to The Tares and the Wheat may be worth another study for us who want to blow the religious referee’s whistle on others.  It may be time to put those away and, instead, embrace anyone on a spiritual journey towards God, encourage them and share with them what we know and our stories and, most importantly, allow and trust that God is at work in their life just as he is in ours.

It must have been an elderly and wizened Jude who learned to put away the religious referee whistle and uniform when he wrote in his New Testament letter, “To him who is able to keep you from falling and to present you before his glorious presence without fault and with great joy— to the only God our Savior be glory, majesty, power and authority, through Jesus Christ our Lord, before all ages, now and forevermore!  Amen” (Jude 24, 25).  In these words is an understanding of a grace greater than all our sin.  There is recognition that it is all God’s work, not ours and that he is able to take care of what is his.  As such, it allows us to put away religious refereeing because God is able to make his own calls.

©Weatherstone/Ron Almberg, Jr. (2010)

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Bloodless Revolutions

The great American democratic experiment stands in marked contrast to many other struggling nations in the world today.  It is something for which every person living in the good ol’ U.S. of A. should be thankful for but seems too few really recognize – at least if one thinks the popular news outlets and local newspapers ‘Letters to the Editor’ is any indicator.  Once again, too many people seem to be ignorant of American history specifically and world history in general.

In American democracy, every two years to four years the American voting public can change its government without shedding a drop of blood.  This is not the case in many countries around the world.  Change in government structures and powers can only come through bloody revolutions that cost the lives of hundreds, if not thousands, and wreck havoc on the economy, safety and well-being of its citizens.  Oppressive governments stay in power by subjugating protesters to imprisonment, torture and the threat of death.

Today, in American democracy, the common people can rise up in open protest without threat of violence or imprisonment from the governing powers.  This was not always the case, however.  The unrest of the 1960’s helped to change all of this for future generations, whether it was the peaceful protests led by Dr. Martin Luther King, student sit-ins or more violent student protests.  In the early 20th century unionists, socialists and communists were openly persecuted and jailed.  The McCarthy era communist scare of the 1950’s involved the blacklisting and even jailing of individuals.  Despite all of this, America has always been able to absorb social change and movements and find or rediscover its equilibrium.

Thankfully, peaceful protests and gathering people from opposing political viewpoints is not against the law.  In fact, it is a vital part of American democracy.  Town hall meetings, mass gatherings and forming new political alliances or parties can take place openly.  Police even offer protection to the most obnoxious protesters among us.  Take for instance the Westboro Baptist Church protesting at military funerals or Anarchists at world leader events or anti-abortionists with their gruesome pictures in front of Planned Parenthood buildings.  As much as they may be repulsive to some people, they have the freedom in an open democratic system to voice their views.  (What is appropriate and inappropriate communication of those views will be left for another time.)

On the other hand, recently around the world we have witnessed countless bloody revolutions, coups and violent protests.  Recently it was Kyrgyzstan.  However, since America’s most recent presidential election, other countries have gone through similar convulsions: Guatemala, Honduras, Myanmar, Sudan, Iran, Georgia, Mozambique, Congo, Moldova, Nepal, Tibet, Fiji, Sri Lanka, Timor, and Gaza to name the ones that I know.  There may be others.  Many other places in the world have small revolutionary groups at work; far too many to attempt to name here.

The United States of America has always had its own revolutionaries at work behind the scenes.  Whether it is the White Supremacists, the Black Panthers, the Anarchists, the Militia Movement, the Animal Liberation Front, the Earth Liberation Front, the Army of God, the Black Liberation Army, the Communist Party or many other smaller fractured groups, groups like them have always been present among us from the earliest days of the American democracy.  For now, they remain on the fringe of American society.

Orange and Purple Starfish, June 2003

Orange and Purple Starfish, June 2003 ©Weatherstone/Ron Almberg, Jr. (2010)

I believe that we who live in America should be thankful for two things1) That we have a system of replacing or changing our government and its officials through a bloodless means – a bloodless revolution, and 2) That there is an allowable system of protestation that gives voice to the variant messages in America – no matter how much we might disagree with them or even find them repulsive.  The alternative is no alternative.

This is why violence and the threat of violence are so dangerous to the democratic process.  Whether it is instituted at the government level or at the grassroots level of our society, the end result can only be the violent demise of democracy altogether.  The former will lead to an oppressive government that holds its people in bondage to one way of thinking and acting.  The latter will lead to an anarchy in which fractured groups will impose their will and ideals over others.  One will lead down the path to dictatorships and government by an elite and ruling class.  The other will lead to more Oklahoma City bombings.

When the government oversteps its boundaries, the self-governing institutions of our society kick into play through the scrutiny of conservative or liberal presses, public inquiries and social outcries from the public. 

When individuals and groups overstep their boundaries of protesting by moving into violence and the threat of violence, then the self-governing institutions of the local police and sheriffs, federal investigative agencies and the outcries from the public offer correction.

In either case, we still have a way of self-correcting the future course of America without shedding a drop of blood.  As long as the American public…

  1. remains educated about current issues,
  2. learns from its own history and world history,
  3. actively participates in the political and social process of our democracy, and
  4. demands civil discourse rather than violence or the threat of violence,

…then I am confident in the future of American democracy and society.  I believe there are enough sensible and educated citizens within its borders to navigate the issues the lay ahead of us.  We may not always agree on what the outcomes should be but we will always have a voice and a choice to be involved in the process.  Even as I write this, I hear the rumblings of another bloodless revolution this next November.

©Weatherstone/Ron Almberg, Jr. (2010)

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Towards A More Civil Public Discourse

One of the strengths of a true democratic system of government is the ability to have open public debates concerning the issues that matter to our nation.  No one individual, political party or system of thought controls or sensors the discussion; even to the point of publicly protesting before governmental buildings, outside political gatherings and in town meetings.  In many other countries of this world, such open protestations would be met with government oppression, brutality and even imprisonment and possibly death.

American citizens should appreciate these freedoms.  I strongly believe that they should be guarded and practiced.  However, I also believe that there is a danger today of allowing this form of public debate and open protest to degenerate into a deconstructive melee that will damage our system of public debate rather than promote it by the way we conduct ourselves.  Too often in today’s political climate the open discussions in our newspapers, talk-radio stations and sidewalk protests devolve into a hostile mob that demonizes everyone who does not think like they do.

This is group-think at its worst.  There is no open and honest dialogue with the opposing viewpoint in many cases.  Instead, they are rallies to cheerlead a particular political or social agenda without regard to the other side of the argument.  The other side is not even welcome to the table.  They are seen as “the enemy”.

This is not about the political left or the political right.  It is not about Republicans, Democrats, the Tea Party or Coffee Party advocates.  I am more concerned about America’s tone and tenor in the discussion.  Where is the “civil” in our civil public debate and discourse?  What happened to dealing with issues rationally and objectively?  Is there really an honest discussion taking place for the benefit of all people if one side of the debate is not present?

I am not suggesting that debate be dispassionate.  Neither am I suggesting that individuals or groups should not boldly and strongly affirm and assert their position.  What I am suggesting is that there is a way to do that without demonizing and alienating the other side of the debate.  When our debate descends from dealing with issues and facts to finger-pointing, name calling and generating misinformation about the other side’s position, we have to ask ourselves, “What are we really accomplishing?”  I would venture to answer, “Not much.”

Granted, from America’s earliest political days, public discourse has been heated and mean.  (Something I address in an earlier Blog Post: “Let’s All Calm Down!”)  For a great picture of how mean it could get, I recommend William Safire‘s book Scandalmonger.  After the colonies won their independence from England, some of our earliest leaders were dismayed  how fractious and uncivil American politics quickly became.  George Washington despaired over the hostile divisions of the American political arena.  Individuals who were compatriots in the Revolution became bitter enemies afterward.

Another period of American history that turned into civil war instead of civil discourse was prior to and during Abraham Lincoln’s term in office.  The issues of states rights, federal government powers and slavery were issues that consumed American politics from its earliest days.  Reading the diatribes of the times, one senses a growing hostility between parties to the point that by the time Abraham Lincoln gained office he despaired whether the divide could even be healed.  It turns out he was both right and wrong.  The great divide in American politics and society could be bridged, but only by war.

It is precisely this type of “war” language that we are hearing once again on the fringes of the public discourse surrounding American politics and the accompanying agendas.  Whether it is the Health Care Reform Bill, abortion, socialism versus capitalism, taxes, gun ownership or any of the other number of “hot button” issues, the divide between the sides is growing into an unbreachable wall that will not permit constructive dialogue and problem solving.

History teaches us that the “fringes” of public thought soon become the primary movers for social reform.  Therefore, it would be wise for us to pay attention to how our public discourse is being shaped by them.  Again, I am not addressing the issues or topics discussed.  I am more concerned about the way in which they are being discussed.  The process of debate shapes us as much as the actual decisions that come out of it do.  How are we allowing the way we discuss and debate these issues shape us as a people and nation?

I am particularly dismayed and shocked at how Conservative Christians, or just Christians in general, conduct themselves in this public discourse.  We most often come across as the most angry and hostile.  Our points, which are very good ones, are lost in the screaming and yelling at the opposing side.  However passionate one might feel about a particular political issue, as a Christian, one must ask, “How does the way I conduct myself and communicate my message reflect the Kingdom of God and its King?”

Christians live in the tension of existing in two kingdoms: the Kingdom of this world and the Kingdom of God.  We are primarily citizens of the Kingdom of God first and foremost.  Therefore, as citizens and ambassadors of that Kingdom to this earthly one, we should be concerned with how our actions and words portray the Kingdom of God and its King.

I am not suggesting that silence is the answer.  Neither is not caring what happens to and in this world.  We are called to bring the Kingdom of God to the world in which we live through our lives and our witness.  The issues of righteousness and justice are central to this mission.  However, the manner in which we strive for those things is just as important as their substance.  For by the way we conduct ourselves we reflect the nature and character of not only the Kingdom of God but also the nature and character of its ruler – our Heavenly Father.

Beach Pebbles, Ozette River Camp Site, June 2003

Beach Pebbles, Ozette River Camp Site, June 2003 ©Weatherstone/Ron Almberg, Jr. (2010)

My experience has taught me that the one who begins yelling the loudest has already lost the debate for he or she has no further substantive content or cogent arguments to make to prove his or her point.  There is a more civil way to conduct a civil public discourse.  Let me humbly recommend a few action points that may help us towards a more healthy and constructive public debate:

  1. Have a first hand knowledge of the issues and their facts.  Do not depend upon the pundits or politically slanted news organizations to give you objective truth.  Remember, they have an agenda that sells and makes them money.  That’s their primary concern.  If they truly worked for resolutions, they would be out of business.  It’s in their best interest to stir up the debate, not resolve it.
  2. Turn off and tune out “the screamers”.  Those yelling the loudest, as I said above, often do not have anything more constructive to bring to the argument other than passion.  While their passion is good, at the end of the day, it will not win the debate of substance.  If you get a conservative or liberal news source – internet, print, TV, or radio – make sure you are balancing it by listening or reading to the opposing side.  Make sure you know the rational points and objections the other side of the argument is making.  This will sharpen your own points.
  3. Read and learn from history.  This is not the first time that American politics has gotten heated and ugly.  It is not the lowest we have reached in the political forum.  However, to avoid delving deeper or repeating the mistakes of the past, it is important to know where we have been and where we have come from in our collective history.
  4. Openly invite and welcome the opposing side to the discussion.  Two things can only be accomplished by this:  First, you will learn the objections and points of the other sided.  Second, you will strengthen your position and ability to communicate your point.  You will also learn the weaknesses in your own argument, which will send you back to studying and learning about the issues and facts.  You may be surprised and change your mind as a result!  Or, you may win a friend and the debate by being better equipped.
  5. Learn the difference between a public rally and public debate.  More of the former takes place than the latter.  Rallies are good for energizing and mobilizing political partners, if that is what is actually happening.  However, in my experience, they too easily devolve into pointless and nasty caricaturizations of the opposition.  A debate will have the opposition present and allow it to fairly communicate its points.  It will require clear and cogent communication, but, just as important, listening.
  6. Finally, for those who are Christians, remember the bigger picture of the Kingdom of God.  It is not bound by the boundaries of a political party or social agenda.  The Church of Christ is growing and propagating in some of the most hostile political and social environments our world has to offer.  God is bigger than either political party.  We are called to represent and be communicators of that Kingdom to this world.  How we do that is just as important as the substance of our agendas.  Do our words and actions reflect the nature and character of the One we way we follow and serve?

There are no easy answers and solutions to resolving differences of opinions.  It is why we call the discussions of these things “debates,” after all.  However, I am firmly convinced and convicted that as mature people interested in the good of all humankind and creation that we can do a better job of being civil in our public discourse.  The way we conduct our public debates shapes us as much or more so than the substances of those debates.  Cherishing and honoring this important democratic process is important to our future as a nation.

Good constructive debate over the issues and facts is healthy for our democracy.  Hostile demonization and threats of violence only send us back into the times of tribal warfare or, worse yet, civil war.  However, I have faith in people, especially the American people, and especially the American democratic experiment that we can turn towards a more civil public discourse.

©Weatherstone/Ron Almberg, Jr. (2010)

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Linguaphobia

People in the United States are not the only ones on earth who have an anxiety about learning another language.  It is a common problem all over the world.  Some of it is due to educational attempts that do not work real well to teach foreign languages.  Some of it is due to a strong nationalism and identity with a mother-language.  Anxiety or fear of learning a foreign language is often called “linguaphobia”.

The real problem develops when linguaphobia develops into a linguacentrism; the idea that one particular language should be the only one spoken.  This is becoming more prevalent in the United States in recent years as a result of the rise in immigration and in particular the rise of Spanish-speaking illegal immigrants.  More and more, one hears the angry declaration, “They live in America now.  They should speak English!”  As if, somehow crossing a boarder grants one the magical and immediate power to learn a foreign language.

The cultural tension becomes greater when xenoglossophobia develops among the mother-language speakers – English, in the case of the United States.  This is the fear of foreign language speakers.  It can also be called xenophobia; the fear or dislike of people different than your self.  I believe this is a growing problem in the United States.  It is a problem created more from “group-think” than any actual threat.

The fact of the matter is that the United States has always been an nation of immigrants.  As such, it has always contained within its borders people who speak many different languages.  Early on, it began mainly with European languages – German, French, Dutch, Italian, Russian, Swedish, Norwegian, and Danish among many others.  This explain the complexity of the American English language.  It is a compound of many additional foreign words!

Another fact that is often overlooked today is that English language acquisition has often taken immigrants a generation or two to assimilate so that it is no longer a foreign or second language to them.  In the Midwest for example, many community churches retained their ethnic language identities in German and Scandinavian languages up until a few decades ago!  There are still a few who use the original mother-tongue language occasional in their church services.

Indian Heaven Wilderness Stream, Summer 2002

Indian Heaven Wilderness Stream, Summer 2002 ©Weatherstone/Ron Almberg, Jr. (2010)

My Swedish grandfather came from Sweden as a child, struggled to learn English, but still retained and spoke Swedish until his death.  It was not until his children came along that English was the mother-tongue language.  As his grandchild, I know and understand no Swedish.  I suspect that for recent immigrants – legal or illegal – to the United States it will take the same amount of time.  Our own experience as immigrants should make us more tolerant and patient with new arrivals to this land of opportunity.

It is particularly shameful for those within the Church to be intolerant or xenophobic.  Since the Great Commission compels us to be witnesses to every ethnic group on earth, they should see this as a golden opportunity.  Instead of needing to go to foreign lands to the people of the world, the people of the world are coming to our communities and neighborhoods!  This saves the Church thousands of dollars in sending missionaries overseas.  Now the mission field is settling around us in small ethnic conclaves that can be easily reached by many Christians and churches.

The final picture of the Bride of Christ – the Church – we have in The Book of the Revelation of Jesus Christ should also motivate us to welcome and embrace people of different cultures and languages.  The vision presented to us (7:9) is a multi-ethnic, multi-language celebration gathered around the Lamb’s throne.  They will be singing and dancing – each according to their cultural and language – to the words, “Salvation belongs to our God, who sits on the throne and to the Lamb!” (7:10).  I really do not think that at that glorious and holy moment some xenophobe American is going to yell out, “Hey, speak English!”

©Weatherstone/Ron Almberg, Jr. (2010)

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“Made in the USA” does not hold the credibility that it had fifty years ago.  Today, it communicates overpriced and poorly made.  Other countries have surpassed the USA in producing the same products more cheaply.  More important, some countries have surpassed the USA in producing those products with better quality.  Increasingly, those companies in the USA who are producing qualities products that the American consumer wants are foreign owned.

There are many reasons for this decline in quality and affordable USA products.  However, one outstanding reason that must be examined and critiqued is a growing cultural comfort with personal mediocrity.  For the last 50 years, the USA has increasingly raised up children fed upon the idea that personal work ethic and effort is not important.  We have taken pride in producing a “safe” environment in our schools and playgrounds where “everyone is a winner.”

For the past few Olympics, Americans no longer pride themselves in “taking home the most gold.”  Now, we just count total medals.  It used to be that Americans and their Olympians counted only the gold medals in comparison to other nations.  However, when that comparison became more sketchy in guaranteeing that we look good, we switched to counting total overall medals.  A silver and bronze medal is something to be proud about, to be sure.  But it makes one wonder if this switch was not a subtle way of seceding our ability to be the best or another expression of “everyone is a winner.”  Of course, this change did not just happen over night.

Our young people have their whole lives chewed upon the American idea that participation is enough.  As a result, they have come to expect that participation is all that is required of them.  Everything else will be provided for them to succeed because every child deserves to succeed.  It is no longer the individual’s responsibility to succeed but the community’s responsibility to make them succeed.  At the end of the day, every one will get a trophy, certificate, or diploma regardless of personal effort or work ethic.  And the community will take pride in making another child feel good about their self.

This inbred attitude is taken into the workplace where the right of a job is expected.  Or, it is taken to the college or university where the right of a degree is expected.  Once at work or in college, the expectation is that they should pass or qualify for the job, they deserve to graduate or be promoted, and they deserve to succeed.

Talk to any business manager or owner today and you will find the same critique.  There is an attitude of entitlement in the generation coming up that does not think that personal effort and work ethic should have anything to do with keeping a job or getting a pay raise.  It seems that teaching our children that “everyone’s a winner” – regardless of personal effort – has robbed our children of a productive future rather than helped them.

The pressure upon our school systems to pass kids, raise their grades, help them achieve seems to leave out one important factor.  The desire and motivation of the child to succeed.  When parents come to parent-teacher conferences blaming the teachers and administrators for not guaranteeing their child’s success, it only reflects the entitlement culture that has been bred among us.  Instead of looking at their children and their own family life as a possible cause for their child’s personal work ethic, parents with an entitlement mindset can only see and blame others for their parenting failures and the failures of their child.

It is no wonder, then, that when these young people enter the work force they are unable to hold a job.  Coming to work on time, putting in a full day’s work, working hard to help guarantee the success of their employer, and doing their best to personally learn and grow in their field is completely foreign to them.  When they find their selves unemployed, they become angry and blame their former employers for being unfair.  After all, “everyone is a winner,” right?

Hot Rod, Cool Desert Nights, Richland, Washington, Summer 2009

Hot Rod, Cool Desert Nights, Richland, Washington, Summer 2009 ©Weatherstone/Ron Almberg, Jr. (2010)

Try and explain that attitude to the workers in the majority world who must work or starve.  Try to explain that mindset to the business owners and entrepreneurs of the majority world where “survival of the fittest” determines whether they are in business next year or not.  Try and explain that to the young people in the majority world where getting into a college or university is a slim chance and so every effort to succeed is important not only for their own personal success but for the survival and success of their extended family.  I think you would get a lot of blank stairs.

Meanwhile, Americans feel threatened by immigrants who come to the USA and take their jobs.  They will work jobs that most Americans will not touch.  Pooling their efforts and resources together, pretty soon their own and run those business.  Then, Americans are shocked to see those same immigrants running the hotels, restaurants, lawn businesses, laundry stores, gas stations, auto repair shops, beauty salons, and other industries.  Surprised, we cry in dismay that “those immigrants” are taking over our country.  (Forgetting, it seems, that our European, ancestors were once those same immigrants with those same work attitudes and goals.)

In reality, it will probably be these immigrants and their families that will save America from going into total global economic decline or even non-existence.  Every wave of immigration to the USA has brought its challenges.  But it has also brought renewed vitality to the American economy and politics.  In other words, an infusion of fresh blood into the American family tree is probably just what we need right now.

It does not matter whether you are a Democrat or Republican, lean to the political left or right, or hold to no political affiliation and shoot straight down the middle.  Creating a societal atmosphere of entitlement that disincentivizes the individual’s work ethic, work effort, and expectations for their rewards is hurting America.  It has largely produced an uneducated, unimaginative, and unwilling work force.  Meanwhile, other world economies are outpacing us, out producing us and will soon leave us in their GDP (Gross Domestic Product) dust.

There is no excuse in America for an educational system that has poorly maintained buildings, terrible educational models and opportunities and inept teachers.  Especially when one considers that America spends three-times more per student on education than its closest competitor in the world. More money is not the solution.  Countries with worse buildings, educational models and ill-trained teachers are still creating better students and a subsequent workforce.

Is it any wonder that in the last 40 years in the USA there has being an exponential rise in home schooling?  That private and religious schools are in high demand?  And that independent charter schools have taken off?  Everyone realizes that there is a problem!  Except for those at the leadership levels of our politically charged national and state educational systems and teacher unions.

There are no easy solutions to recovering what we have lost.  One does not just simply turn around a cultural and societal problem and attitude like this as if it were a U-turn on a Boulevard.  Nevertheless, it must be done.  If America continues with the idea that regardless of work ethic or effort “everyone is a winner” then, sooner than later, no one in America will be a winner.

©Weatherstone/Ron Almberg, Jr. (2010)

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