Monday, March 31, 2014

President Obama meets Pope Francis, Does it Mean Anything?

Recently President Obama met with Pope Francis.   The most iconic state representative of all free and democratic nations met with the most iconic religious representative of world Christianity.  What of it?

Much!  That is, depending on what WE make of it.

Pope Francis is well received by the populace.  Indeed, he seems to have revitalized the Christian faith not only among Roman Catholics but among Christians in general, young and old.  Why?

Could it be because he authentically cares for people?  People are his priority.  For example, Pope Francis seems to show more concern for the people who make up the church than the institution of the Roman Catholic Church itself—and that’s good.  Furthermore, Pope Francis also seems to be much more than just the office he holds.  That is, in his case, it’s not so much that the office makes the man as much as the man is making the office.  The people like who he is as well as what he is, as a person.

But we often overestimate the power of political and institutional officeholders.  For example, when running for presidential office, Republican or Democrat, all candidates promise to “bring change.”  Obama did the same.  “Change is coming!” he said, “Voting for me is a vote for change.”  But, now that Obama has been in office for over five years, many wonder what happened to the changes that were supposed to have taken place in Washington.  So it goes.  Political realities checkmate most attempts at institutional change.

Both President Obama and Pope Francis represent much power and influence in the offices they hold.  The question is, how do they best use their power and influence and to what end?  The old adage that effectively says, the world can only be changed one person at a time, is as true for them as it is for us.  In short, their power and influence means nothing—without us.  We the people must endorse the change that they seek, by our actions.

But there is a catch.  The catch is that a good leader—religious, political, or otherwise—must rise above the lowest common denominator in the change that he/she seeks to make.  That is, a truly good leader will refuse to cater to either special interest groups or to the whims and wishes of fickle popular sentiment.  Because of this and ironically, the people can and often do easily turn against solidly good leaders.  Likewise, out of a true care and concern for all people, a truly good leader pursues what is right, good, and just, for the least among us in a compassionate and loving manner, which inevitably upsets the mainstream and powerful.

I think that it is fair to say that these two men, President and Pope, want what is right and good for the common person, the average person on the street.  And, the common person has responded accordingly with a collective “Yes!” or “Amen!”  Note how, when first elected, Obama’s popularity was quite strong.  However, Obama’s popularity is now waning.  Why?  Failure, ineffectiveness, unfulfilled promises?  Whatever the reason, my guess is that the same will happen to Pope Francis.  I wouldn’t be surprised if, in a matter of a few years, Pope Francis’s popularity will also go down.  You see, it’s hard to be a good leader and do the right thing, to stand for what is good and just, AND maintain popularity among the people.  Doing the right thing can be costly, and costliness grates on the average person on the street, who want quick and easy solutions with little cost to themselves.

Thus, we the people are the real problem.  We can be socially lazy—wanting others to do the hard work for us to make this world a better place to live in.  We can be economically selfish—wanting others to make the necessary sacrifices to make this world a fairer and more just place.  And we can be politically fickle—ready to drop our support in a blink of an eye, if things don’t change fast enough or aren’t going in the direction we had expected or wanted.  In short, we lack patience, we want immediate gratification, and we tend to demand unrealistic results from our religious and political leaders.

We are a contradiction.  We expect too much from them on the one hand, and want too little of their effects on the other.  We expect too much of them in that we want them to perform like superheroes in making things better.  We want too little of them in that we so easily dismiss them when they call us to account, asking that we live more equitably and be more responsible and act more justly.  We want them to change the world, make the world better, while we dig in our heels and say, “But as for me, I’m fine just the way I am.”

If we want good leaders to do what is good, right, and just for all the people, then we must support such leaders with our own willingness to be and do the same.

Monday, March 24, 2014

Same Sex Marriage and Freedom, Power, & Authority


“Who are YOU to tell me what I can or cannot do with my life?!  It’s MY life, and I’ll live it the way I want!”

This could be a teenager sassing back to the “parental units.”  Or it might be anyone of us reacting to any others of us who would dare presume to tell us how we ought to live or what we can or cannot do with our life.

We don’t take too kindly to self-appointed masters controlling our lives: “No one is going to tell ME how to live!”  We are free and independent Americans.  We think for ourselves, choose for ourselves, and reserve the right to freely exercise the pursuit of Life, Liberty, and Happiness.  And that’s that!

Or is it?

At what point does the exercise of my personal freedom—to choose, to practice, to do, to pursue, and to BE—become an invasion and limitation upon your personal freedom to do the same, and vice versa?

Does a religious conservative, for example, not have the right to say, “As a professional photographer of deep religious conviction, I cannot in good conscience accept your invitation to become your hired photographer for this same-sex wedding of yours?”

If not, why not?  Where’s the freedom of conscience, of choice, of personal conviction, if he/she does not have the right to act upon his/her religious conviction in this way?

On the other hand, does not a couple, ANY couple, of any type, background, and/or sexual orientation, have the right to expect and receive professional and unbiased service with courtesy and respect in this country founded upon the assertion of freedom and equal rights?

If they cannot expect to receive equal access to all professional services, is this not being hypocritical in the face of our 4th of July celebrations, asserting American values of freedom, independence, and equal rights and opportunity for all?

In truth, there are always legal and structural limits to freedom.  There has to be.  Without them we have the definition of chaos and anarchy.  But how are such limits set, and who has the right to impose them?  In that sense, the question of individual and independent freedom is also a question of social and political (group) power, authority, and control.


Getting to the point, I think a huge social and relational mistake is being made on both sides of this question, respecting the acceptance and practice and the legalization of same-sex marriage.

The mistake that religious conservatives are making is that of arrogating to themselves an assumed right (superior and self-righteous) to demand and enforce religious (heavenly) authority over (earthly) social authority, as if this nation’s government is, or should be, a kind of Democratic Theocracy—a democracy with a direct rule from God, or more accurately put, a direct rule from God’s representative people.

The mistake that the left-wing progressive side seems to be making is really the same in kind; a mistake which liberals have always accused religious conservatives of doing over the centuries.  What’s that mistake?  The presumption that their way of thinking is more true to Reality and therefore better reflects what ought to be.  This presumption leads them to not only call for the general allowance and acceptance of same-sex marriage, but to demand that its acceptance be forced upon everyone as a kind of cosmic right in the universe.  In short, in an inverse way, the gay community is also treating the question of same-sex marriage as a “religious” right (cosmic and universal).  This attitude is effectively no different than that of their religious conservative opponents coming from the opposite end.

Thus, this is virtually a clash of two competing cosmic Worldviews or universal definitions of Reality.  Hence, perhaps the best way to address this clash is to respect the differences in a way that allows for a form of “Live and let live.”  Each side must avoid trying to outmaneuver the other side by the use of authoritarian means.  That is, avoid claiming the right and authority to superimpose one’s particular worldview’s perspective on the other by the exercise of naked power and control over the other.  For it is very likely that there will never be a time when all will agree on this particular issue of same-sex unions.  (Unlike, for example, the issue of slavery, where there was a time when some defended slavery as an acceptable practice, and using the Bible to do so; now of course it is universally agreed that slavery is just flat out wrong and cannot be defended Biblically or otherwise.)


How does this look practically speaking?  It’s simple really.  Same-sex couples could avoid asking or demanding that conservative, faith-driven individuals, change or give-up their conviction that homosexuality is a sin in the eyes of God, for example, and should avoid requiring them to act against their faith convictions.  But, by the same token, the conservative faith-driven person should stop trying to impose, by social political and/or legislative law, his/her religious values, convictions, and practices upon those who neither believe-in nor accept the conservative’s religious premise and thus reject the religious application of his/her convictions.  In short, whenever possible, make room for each other.  However difficult it may be to do so, go out of the way to allow each side to live by their convictions so as to avoid blocking, oppressing, or obstructing the other side’s chosen lifestyle.  Live and let live!

This should work for the religious conservative, because, in the end, if one’s religious convictions turn out to be true and real, the real and true God will hold everyone accountable anyway.  It’s called Judgment Day.  That is, God will do the final judging and discerning as to who does or does not deserve condemnation for his/her actions here on earth.  Humans (religious conservatives especially) need not preempt God’s right to be the final judge.

This should also work for the progressive liberal in that he or she can allow the religious conservative to live by his her own conviction without much personal loss or inconvenience to him/herself, providing that his/her freedom are truly sustained in the larger society as a whole (which is a central key to the applied principle of “live and let live”).

Is this too simplistic, idealistic, and unrealistic?  Or are we just going to continue to fight it out in our law courts, businesses and professions (and churches), with winners and losers on both sides, one side managing to suppress and oppress the other side until the tables are turned (winner takes all)?

Monday, March 17, 2014

Higher Overtime Pay, Hardship for Whom?

“That’s not FAIR!”

Remember saying that as a kid, maybe while playing a game with your friends?  Of course you have.  Today’s children can be heard saying the same thing—when they feel that a fellow playmate is taking undue advantage or doing something that just doesn’t measure-up to a sense of justice and fair-play in the game.  No doubt your own children have said it to you, if they felt that you were treating them unfairly with respect to their siblings, for example.  “How come he got the bigger piece?!”

Who doesn’t react vehemently when feeling unfairly treated?  Who doesn’t get angry when one believes that he or she is a victim of injustice?  As adults, we may no longer actually cry-out, “That’s not fair!”  Nevertheless, the feelings are the same, though we may have found a more mature and adult way of making the point.

In short, we all expect fair treatment.  We expect all players in this game called Life to play by the rules in a fair and just way—be it in sports, business, or politics.  Indeed, we expect that the rules themselves will establish fair and just practices so that the game can be played “on a level playing field.”  After all, it’s only fair!  Is it not?

So, what’s just and fair in the realm of business and the workplace?  Is it right, fair and just, that a low-level manager be asked to work long overtime hours, virtually doing what non-management low-wage payees do, and not get paid extra for it—just because they’re called a kind of manager, for example?  Or is it right that business owners and entrepreneurs be forced to pay higher wages, which, they feel, will result in having to downsize staff and/or lose income in the face of already thin-line profit margins?

What’s fair?  What’s just?

The business community is upset by Obama’s intention to take “executive action” to expand overtime pay.  And now, as usual, the whole debate takes on the form of a Right/Left power struggle: he’s wrong, I’m right, he’s an idiot, I know better, he’s against business, I’m for business, etc.  Is Obama anti-business?  Seriously, what president would ever be anti-business?  Okay, the intention may be good, perhaps the means is questionable, maybe, maybe not.

But what is the real issue?  The real issue is one of equality of opportunity as well as economic justice and fair-play.  The fundamental question is not simply what is good for business, but what is best—fair and right, good and just—for ALL economic stakeholders, employees and employers, business owners and clients, entrepreneurs and investors, and most especially the hard working (almost overworked) middle-class American family.  To rob Paul in order to pay Peter is wrong, but to give heavy economic advantage to Paul at the expense of Peter’s potential to do economically well is also wrong.

Why is it so difficult for our politicians to make good and wise economic decisions respecting our economy?  It’s simple: Tunnel vision!  A too narrow focus on special interest groups and local constituents; it’s a failure to see and adequately address the BIG picture.  Adding to that, greed, fear, territorialism and un-checked power and influence by hidden political forces, and so-on and so-forth, it’s rather amazing that anything good comes out of Washington at all.

As political maneuvering and power-plays take place between parties, which inevitably results in ecstatic winners and fuming losers, perhaps we voters should regularly ask ourselves the following: Which State or Congressional representative shows the most concern for all sides and is willing to do what is best for all parties involved?  Who is being most fair or is considering what is most just, respecting all economic stakeholders?  Who seems to be showing the most respect for the value of all groups concerned?  Whose economic policy gives consideration for the benefit of the many rather than the few?

In short, who is looking at the BIG picture and considering all levels of interests and needs, with a view toward a prosperous America as a whole, so as to lift up the majority of Americans and leave as few of us behind as possible?  For it is a question of economic justice and fairness for all stakeholders, all interested groups, and all individuals and parties involved.

Monday, March 10, 2014

How Should US Congressional & State Reps Speak to International Crisis?

Libya, Venezuela, Syria, Ukraine and Russia, Palestine and Israel, Iran, and more!  Problems, problems, and more problems, what are we to do as a World Power?

Retreat into isolationism?  No can do.  Obviously!  But some talk as if the polar opposite of isolationism is the answer; as if we can unilaterally take on the world’s problems and dictate to other nations anything we wish—out of the big-headed presumption that we are the Number One Superpower in the world and have the means and therefore the right to do so.

For example, some of our esteemed representatives are bemoaning President Obama’s foreign policy strategy, calling it “leading from behind.”  They seem to be saying that Putin’s actions, in the Crimea, for example, is Obama’s fault, for his lack of in-your-face show-of-strength foreign policy approach.  These comments are obviously political in nature, election-year grandstanding, rather than the giving of wise advice or prudent counsel toward advancing fruitful and productive international policy.

If we are the number one super power that we think we are, than our representatives need to speak and behave with the kind of honor, respect, and dignity that a number one nation deserves from its representatives.  What does that look like?

First, one should avoid using international crisis events as a platform for scoring political points, such as making extreme and exaggerated politicizing remarks, just for the sake of political one-upmanship.  Rather, respect the nature of the situation.  As a representative, if you believe you have something of real value to offer by way of advice and counsel that will truly help this nation succeed in navigating through dangerous and volatile international waters, do so.  Submit your counsel and explain it, the what, how, and why of it.  Then let it be debated.  Just drop the cheap pot-shots at your political opponent.  What we want and need is real concrete wisdom and insight that has actual potential to enhance and strengthen our nation’s international position.  If you have no real insight to offer, then keep quiet.

Secondly, avoid inflated and arrogant posturing in behalf of Americans, talking down to other nations as if their national interests are insignificant and miniscule compared to US.  As a nation, we need to stop acting like a street thug controlling the neighborhood.  There should be no need to even talk like a street thug, effectively saying, “I’m big!  I’m bad!  And I’m ready!  Bring it on!!”  We’ve had enough of that.  We effectively said and acted as much when we started the Iraq and Afghanistan wars, and look where that got us.

Thirdly, avoid the temptation to go-it-alone or even the appearance of acting as if we would go-it-alone.  Do diplomacy with strength.  But strength comes in numbers.  No Super Power is ever so powerful that it can or should take-on an international crisis without real engaged allies sharing the cost.  So, let us not minimize our need to work closely with other nations who are also stakeholders in the international scene with a significant interest in the outcome of our foreign policy decisions.

Fourthly, avoid double speak, saying one thing to diplomats and negotiators on the international front, behind closed doors, while saying another thing to your political constituents at home.  When it comes to international issues, you represent America and America’s collective interests as a whole.  Speak true and straight—both to the American people as a whole, as well as to the foreign diplomats and ambassadors abroad.  When it comes to foreign policy, we are one people, not two or three, or a special interested few.

And finally, communicate and explain.  Keep the American people informed (Truthfully!).  Tell us, show us.  Tell us why you believe a certain foreign policy is crucially important.  Show us why you believe a certain country, a people and its nation, are important, critical to our national interests and need our support.  What is at stake?  Spell it out.  Let us know why you believe this to be the case.  Make it clear to the average American citizen on the street.  Your position as a representative demands that you do as much. 

This is how I think our Congressional and State representatives should handle themselves when addressing foreign and international crisis.

Monday, March 3, 2014

Anchor Your Dreams and Visions to Reality

Dream big, you can be anything you want to be.  Go for it.  Just do it.  You’re only bound by the limits of your own imagination.  Sounds good, uplifting, motivating, but it can also lead to some very discouraging disappointment, if it’s not checked by reality.

What often looks impossible to the average person on the street, visionary leaders will see as quite doable—everything from climbing the tallest mountain in a matter of days, to submerging to the deepest parts of the ocean for weeks, from flying around the world in a matter of hours, to putting a man on the moon within a decade.

Visionaries overcome obstacle after obstacle to make it happen.  They are stubborn, tenacious, persistent, and courageous.  They are also practical.  They see the realistic possibility of it, how it might actually be done, and then they go for it.  At least they see enough of the possibility to make the attempt.  And their passion and conviction carries them the rest of the way.  At that point they won’t take no for an answer.

It’s the happy marriage of realism with idealism, that coupling of daring inventiveness with practical know-how that tips the scale in their favor.  They see its possibility, a way of making it work and getting it done.  And their energizing can-do spirit ignites the faith of others who join them in the belief that it actually can be done.

There is a fine line between an unrealistic delusional fantasy and a realistic visionary ideal.  The one is embraceable, obtainable, and doable, as in “Imagineering”; the other is wishful thinking, a pipe-dream, a complete waste of time to even consider.  How can one know the difference?

Consider the common practical, concrete and realistic elements that individual visionaries seem to share in their pathway toward discovering or making great innovations.

First there is a stirring mixture of personal talent, experience, education, and uncommon insight or perception.  They have personal skills and abilities which they apply and even stretch a bit.  They are studious and attentive.  Whether it’s the study of art or science, nature or history, they are keen observers.  They constantly learn and grow and adjust their sights accordingly.

Secondly, they are passionate and committed.  They won’t give up and will exert a tremendous amount of effort and make a significant amount of sacrifices to make it happen.  They train themselves; they focus, aim, and shoot until they hit the desired target.  Bull’s eye!  They got it.  A vision becomes reality!

Thirdly, they are risk takers, learning from their mistakes.  And they are not afraid to make those dreaded mistakes.  They are not afraid of failure.  To them, mistakes and failures are simply learning-curves.  Now more informed and better equipped, having learned from previous errors, they move that much closer to their desired end.

Fourthly, they practice and they do.  Ideas are put on paper, thoughts are put into words and words are put into action.  They break down the vision into incremental doable steps.  Let’s do this first, then this, then this, and then let’s put it together.  They clarify, organize, and plan.  They count the cost and pay as they go, until, Wham!  They’ve got it.  All the while they stayed the course and kept their eyes on the prize.

And finally they persist.  They will not back down.  They will not quit.  There are always, always obstacles and enemies or obstructionists to great visions.  There are those who not only refuse to believe in a vision’s possibility but will actually stand against it and will do all they can to undermine or destroy its potential for becoming a reality.  That’s just the way it is.  Great and successful visionaries expect it and deal with it.

Personal application:
Great Visionaries who enter our history books are uncommon and unique individuals among humanity; but what about the rest of us?  Can we have visions?  That is, can we do “great” things too?  Yes, yes we can.  Our personal visions and our achievements may be on a much smaller scale than those of the Great Giants of history, but the elements are the same and, more importantly, our achievements are just as important.  The question is: are we willing to reach, focus, plan and do, persist, and stay true to the dream?  If so, we too can have a significant impact in the world.