I appreciate the opportunity afforded me by the Troy Patch to engage my Troy neighbors in a conversation about issues and concerns that are important to me and that intersect with my faith.
My first two posts have focused on Christmas, but with the turning of the page from 2011 to 2012, it’s time to look forward into the future, and to ponder what that future looks like. My plan is to use this space to speak to matters of public interest that is informed by my Christian faith, as well as by my engagement with the broader religious world.
I pastor a local Christian congregation, but I’m also a leader of the Troy-area Interfaith Group. While I don’t claim to speak for all Christians or for people of faith in general, I do speak from a perspective that is informed by this faith, which is informed by study, experience, and by a long-standing commitment to being engaged in the public square. Not everyone will agree with my perspective or my interpretation of things, but hopefully what I write can lead to fruitful conversation on matters of great importance to the community.
As I look into the future, I do so with a sense of hopefulness but also a sense of uneasiness. That may be true in part because we are entering an election year that will be marked by the deep polarization that exists at this moment.
Democracy is always messy, and there has never been a golden age when everyone got along or respected the leaders of the community or the nation, however, it’s unsettling to not only see Congress be held in such low esteem, but even local governments be looked at with suspicion. There is growing impatience with our leaders, which leads to rather wide swings in voting patterns. First one party has a large majority and seeks to enact its will (perhaps knowing that it only has a small window of opportunity), and before you know it the other party is back in control, and before you know it the pendulum will swing again.
Politics isn’t the only concern going forward into the New Year. There’s something else afoot that concerns me, and that is the growing focus in our society on the self (and at most one’s own family or group). There is an increasing lack of concern for the common good of the community. There is a growing individualism that in my mind does not bode well for our community or for the nation. This is perhaps symbolized best in the growing popularity of the writings of Ayn Rand, a person who embraced the principle of selfishness. As a person of faith, I should note that she was a rather outspoken atheist who held Jesus in great disdain. As I look at the direction the nation is going, I can’t help but contrast Rand’s concern for the self and Jesus’ command to love our neighbors as we love ourselves.
My own faith is informed by Jesus’ proclamation of the two great commandments – to love God with one’s entire being and to love one’s neighbor as one love’s oneself – a perspective that is rooted deeply in the Jewish faith. Therefore, I cannot embrace a philosophy of selfishness. I recognize the importance of individual achievement and creativity, but I also affirm the principle that love of neighbor is communal. To love my neighbor fully, means that I take the needs and concerns of the other seriously. And ultimately I believe that this has political implications.
Think about a question like immigration. If I am to love my neighbor, and my neighbor happens to be a person living in this country without documentation – that is, illegally – what are my responsibilities to that person? This is especially true if we’re talking about a young person who came to this country years ago by parents looking for a better life, and who grew up knowing no other world but this one. What are my responsibilities to this person? Should I support the Dream Act, educational support, a path to citizenship, or should I demand that this person be deported to a country she or he has never known? This is just one of many issues that face our nation.
There are other issues of importance, such as the value of education, of civil rights, and of respect for the other. The recent discussion about the mayor’s use of an anti-gay slur has raised the question of how our speech impacts the other. Yes, we may have freedom of speech, but as St. Paul said “everything is permitted, but everything isn’t beneficial. Everything is permitted, but everything doesn’t build others up” (1 Corinthians 10:23 Common English Bible). Yes, there are many issues out there that require our attention, and for good or bad, our professions of faith influence the way we view these issues.
So, as we enter a new year, I want to leave you with these words from a wise man named Parker Palmer who writes:
If American democracy fails, the ultimate cause will not be a foreign invasion or the power of big money or the greed and dishonesty of some elected officials or a military coup or the internal communist/socialist/fascist takeover that keeps some Americans awake at night. It will happen because we – you and I – became so fearful of each other or our differences and of the future, that we unraveled the civic community, on which democracy depends, losing our power to resist all that threatens it and call it back to its highest form. (Parker J. Palmer, Healing the Heart of Democracy, Jossey Bass, 2011, p. 9).
My hope and my dream for 2012 is that we won’t fall victim to fear, but instead we will commit ourselves to the common good of all!