Saturday, October 10, 2015

On Finding the Good

I don’t get into TV series very often because there are a lot of evening meetings that, as a minister, I need to attend. It’s frustrating to get interested in a show and then not be able to follow it.

“West Wing” was an exception. I hadn’t intended to get started; but I did, and it quickly became perhaps my all-time favorite series—moving ahead of the original “Star Trek” and the original “Boston Legal”. True to form, however, I missed more episodes than I watched. By the third season I just gave up.

When the series ended, Jo Lynn gave me the DVD set of the whole series. Yesterday morning I finally watched the last episode, and actually found myself grieving that it was done.

Martin Sheen played the part of President Josiah Bartlett, a liberal Democrat from New Hampshire. I, too, am a liberal Democrat; so perhaps that’s why I was so attracted to the show. On the other hand, Aaron Sorkin’s well-written scripts and the “walk and talk” technique of director, Thomas Schlamme can’t be ignored. The whole scenario—the sets, the characters, the plots and the political interplay—came across as believable.

Believable or not; realistic or not, the show has left me with an appreciation for the pressures and the agonizing choices that confront a United States President and his (and someday her) staff. President Bartlett made decision after decision that impacted people and entire nations, and often was forced to make those decisions on a moment’s notice. He then often agonized over whether it was the right decision.

It was that agonizing—that ongoing moral struggle with his own values—that perhaps most endeared me to the character of Bartlett. I hope every President struggles with the moral dimension of his/her decisions as much as did the fictional character in “West Wing.”

I often wondered what my conservative friends thought of the show, and whether they avoided it and condemned it with the same bitterness that some of them often display in reference to real-life Democrats. Then I realized that I was too often reacting toward most Republicans with the same level of bitter condemnation.

It long has been my belief that between me and any other person there are infinitely more similarities than differences. We all want pretty much the same things for ourselves, our families and our nation. We just disagree about how to actualize those desires.

But, if there are more similarities than differences between us, then there must be some good, even in those whom I least admire and with whom I most bitterly disagree. So back in September of 2012 I launched a research project to look for the good in the Presidents I least admired.

I started with President George W. Bush. By golly! The man did a lot of really good things while in office! My previous image of him basically as a buffoon mellowed, and I came to appreciate his vision for our nation. I still disagree with his strategy for realize his vision; but I came to admire and respect the vision, nonetheless.

Long story short: I ended up doing the same research on every President beginning with President Harry S. Truman. It was a worthwhile project for me, and I commend it as a worthy challenge for all Americans. The final results of my research were summarized in a blog (connect here) I posted September 10, 2012. Each President has positive accomplishments to his credit.

Anyway, yesterday morning as I finished watching the final episode of “West Wing,” I thought of that blog and looked it up. In the thoughts that followed my review of the blog I wondered what might happen if a large number of us would devote significant time and energy to looking for the good in everyone.

I passionately believe that no person is totally good and not person is totally bad. There is good in each of us, if we but seek to find it. For that matter, how many of us really know and acknowledge the good in ourselves?

What might happen if we identify and affirm the goodness we see in each other, and then work together to pool that goodness? We seem to have no qualms about identifying the bad in everybody, and hammering away at it. If violence breeds violence, is it possible that mutual respect and affirmation might reproduce itself?

What if?

Together in the Walk,

Thursday, October 8, 2015

On Choosing to Be a Part of the Solution

It’s time for confession and repentance. I am under conviction from a new reading of Ephesians 4:29 (RSV) “Let no evil talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for edifying, as fits the occasion, that it may impart grace to those who hear.”

I enjoy my Facebook friends; but I am perhaps too vulnerable to being drawn into the negativity to which a few of them seem passionately committed.

While I still refuse to “unfriend” anyone on Facebook (anti-censorship is a personal core value), I have started blocking (hiding) all websites that promote negative, blaming or scapegoating messages emerging from either side of the conservative/liberal spectrum.

I further have decided (and I hope I can stick with the decision) not to respond to posts from any Facebook friend that promotes negative, blaming or scapegoating messages or perspectives on any subject.

One reason for my decision is that posts on Facebook, if intended to persuade or change anybody's mind on controversial political, moral or religious topics, are exercises in futility and are totally ineffectual. For the most part they do nothing but drive the wedge of division deeper, precisely at a time when our nation needs healing.

But a more important motivation is my recognition that, to the extent that I have not contributed to the solutions, I have been part of the problem; therefore, the conversations I enter in the future regarding any of the controversial issues will be restricted (1) to responding affirmatively to any effort to promote healing, restoration and respectful collaboration toward a solution, or (2) making statements that hopefully will lead to healing, restoration and respectful collaboration toward a solution.

I pray that my Facebook friends and blog readers will affirm and support my pledge to try to become a positive influence, and that my words will be “good for edifying, as fits the occasion, (and) may impart grace to those who hear.” And I pray for endurance, so that I may not “backslide” once again into the negativity that overwhelms our nation.

Together in the Walk,