"For now we see as if through a flawed pane of glass..." (I Corinthians 13:12)

Tuesday, October 16, 2018

Two Kinds of People:


It’s said there are two kinds of people: those who divide people into two kinds, and those who don’t. Over/Under toilet paper mounting, ketchup/no ketchup on French Fries, Coke/Pepsi, steak-and-potatoes/sushi-and-escargot… 
I’m re-reading John F. Kennedy’s Profiles in Courage. It comes to me that a general dichotomy of perspective has existed from day one in the USA. It appears as early as the process of designing the Declaration of Independence in 1776. It is a dichotomy of perspective that almost sank the good ship USA before it was launched.
Basically, the two positions are (1) the union is primary. (2) the separate states, regions, precincts; indeed, individual persons, take priority. The latter was based upon a fear the colonists brought with them: that all centralized government (and especially a monarchy) would become tyrannical. Their solution was as little government as possible. It remains a valid concern.
The former was based on the democratic ideal of a centralized, representative government deriving power from the people.
It’s tragic and historically self-destructive when those different positions are seen as opposing, rather than mutually edifying.
In 1776, the divisive issue was slavery. It was not settled until the Emancipation Proclamation of 1863. Sadly, when slavery was abolished, the two sides found another whipping boy and continued—indeed, the same two sides continue today—to find ways (1) to defend the union at all costs or (2) to play the secession card when things aren’t pleasing. It’s been that way since 1776. And it’s bi-partisan.
In the years leading up to the Civil War, the debate raged. To preserve the balance of power, the Missouri Compromise, engineered by Henry Clay, allowed Maine to enter as a free state, and Missouri as a slave state. The compromise stipulated that subsequent states would be admitted, alternating between free and slave.
As tensions heated up, it became increasingly evident that the stalemate over slavery was irresolvable. Massachusetts Senator, Daniel Webster, a skilled and refined orator and statesman, and Missouri Senator, Thomas Hart Benton, rough-hewn, self-educated and fiercely independent, took similar stands in favor of preserving the union, and it cost them their political careers. The free states insisted that the union must abolish slavery, and the slave states threatened—and eventually made good on their threats—to secede.
From the beginning, America essentially has been the product of these two sides: (1) preserve the union at all costs, (2) my-way-or-I’m-gone. Both have been bi-partisan. Hard-headedness has no party; and compromise is seen by hard-headed people as weakness, surrender and betrayal. Our history is paved, not on negotiation, compromise or diplomacy, but rather in wheeling and dealing and partisan dominance.
Post-WWII prosperity seemed to make the partisan slugfests in Washington irrelevant. But it was still there, and that same prosperity provided the doorway to the next level of the Union vs. territorial dominance debate. First through TV (the Vietnam War and the 1968 Democratic Convention in Chicago, etc. came into our living rooms, exposing to the world that the American Camelot had clay feet) and now through social media, the uproar and disorder have come out of the smoke-filled rooms to infect the general public. The age of innocence is past. 
There still are those who place a primary value on the union itself; and there still are those who say “If you don’t do what I want, I’ll take my marbles and go home.” And, again, I find all parties equally guilty.
I am a unionist. I am a Christian, and the writer of Ephesians identifies unity as the “secret of God’s will” (Eph. 1:10). I believe nothing is more important to God that the unity of creation. That’s a theological belief, and I have a right to hold it and share it. I have no right to inflict it on anyone or legislate it into the fabric of our nation. (Besides, I think the Constitution already has woven it into the national fabric.)
I also am a conflict resolution consultant, and I believe any difference can be resolved, if—and only if—both parties truly want resolution. Unfortunately, fewer and fewer people want resolution. Most just want to win the fight.
Even for those willing to seek resolution, the effort too often fails because the problem is defined in terms of solutions—or desires or preferences—rather than in terms of needs. When identified needs take precedence, solutions usually present themselves, and usually are better than anything either party previously sought.
In the case of our nation’s internal feud, what if we define our needs as “to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defence (sic), promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity?”[1] Of course, there still would be issues of definition. We don’t agree on what “justice” means, or “general welfare;” or even “common defence;” therefore, we’re back to square one: what “needs” are raised by considerations of “justice”? What needs are exposed in a consideration of “the general welfare?
A good consultant will push until those needs are identified and until everyone’s needs are met. It can be done! I’ve seen it happen in dozens of family conflicts; I’ve seen it happen in industrial settings between management and labor, I’ve seen it happen between a school board and a teachers’ union (my funniest experience involved a PTO—with a “pushy” president with attitude—and the school administration); I’ve seen it happen in a deadlocked, totally ineffectual city council, and I’ve seen it happen in church after church.
It can happen! We are better than this. And we are better together! “A house divided against itself cannot stand” (Matthew 12:25[2]).
That’s the way I see it through the flawed glass that is my world view.
Together in the Walk,
Jim



[1] The preamble to the Constitution of the United States, in which the framers laid out the purposes for the Constitution and for the government created by that same Constitution.
[2] Abraham Lincoln quoted this text in his speech accepting the Illinois Republican nomination for US Senate, June 16, 1858.

Wednesday, October 3, 2018

The Maelstrom


There’s an old saying: “Any system will work for you if you’ll work the system.” There’s another saying, credited by many to Mahatma Gandhi: “Beware of the illusion that you can create a system so nearly perfect that nobody has to be good.”
Western culture has been in love with “systems” since the emergence of the Greek city states; yet, system after system has gone down the drain. In every case, it was not the system that failed; rather, it was human ethics and morality that failed.
Take the myth of “free market economics” for example. Free markets don’t exist except in theory and in text books. Eventually, some person or entity will control any unregulated market and will make it work for its own benefit. Too frequently such selective benefit is obtained through unethical—and often illegal—means. Almost always, some segment of society becomes ultra-rich, while another segment becomes disadvantaged (economic survival of the fittest). Then, some segment of society (usually some structure of governance) responds with a sub-system (regulation) that will level the playing field and give everybody an equal shot at success. When that happens, even the illusion of “free market” disappears.
Essentially, our choice is not whether the market is controlled but, rather, who will control it: the players on the field, or some (theoretically) objective regulatory body. Obviously, since there always will be at least one fox in the hen house, the players on the field can’t be trusted. Enter that regulatory structure to police the market. The problem here is, there’s no guarantee that the participants in the regulatory body are trustworthy either. The big players in the market can buy enough regulators that they continue to accrue benefit, to the disadvantage of the rest of the market. So much for “free market” theory.
The problem with trusting systems is that systems always are administered by humans, and humanity is broken. “Beware the illusion that you can create a system so nearly perfect that nobody has to be good.”
Soviet Communism didn’t fail. Human corruption and lust for power broke it. Socialism doesn’t fail. It is dragged down by the same manifestations of human brokenness. Democracy and free enterprise, the fair-haired love children of 18th century American idealism, are no more. In their place is a corrupt, capitalistic oligarchy. “Beware the illusion that you can create a system so nearly perfect that nobody has to be good.”
Systems cannot succeed or fail, because they have no life of their own. They have no inherent value. They are tools. Nothing more. They can be used for the common good or they can be misused to create an ideological or economic dictatorship.
As another example, take the American system of jurisprudence, so much at the forefront of American awareness of late. It is being dragged into the maelstrom, not by some flaw in its design, but because humans are unwilling to allow it to fulfill its designed role in the checks and balances of the tripartite government created by the genius of our American founders. Instead, our system of jurisprudence is being ravaged to satisfy a jingoistic obsession to guarantee the dominance of one ideology over all others.
Democracy thrives on lively debate, and nothing has been more destructive of democracy and the American experiment than the effort to shut down all but one perspective. It’s one thing for the partisan pendulum to swing from one side to the other. That’s what happens in a healthy democracy. But, when one party controls all levels of government, it becomes possible for that party essentially to shut down the voting process through gerrymandering and through disenfranchising a significant population (basically, people of color in the current example) by enacting laws to prevent “voter fraud” (which is an extremely minute problem. The reality is that voter fraud efforts generally end up disenfranchising more legitimate voters than preventing fraudulent voters.) At that point, the polling booth is a farce, and government “of the people, by the people, and for the people” no longer exists. “Beware of the illusion that you can create a system so nearly perfect that nobody has to be good.”
The free exchange of ideas is the lifeblood of democracy, and access to the polls is the heart that pumps that lifeblood. America is spiraling into the aforementioned ideological dictatorship. 
A pastor friend recently posted on Facebook: "We need conservative Republicans, liberal Democrats, and everything in between. We are better together... but not if we demean one another and aren’t listening to one another."
So, while Democrats and Republicans square off and point accusing fingers at each other, a large measure of the fault lies with another element, namely the non-voter, including the pouting, “Bernie-or-bust” boycott of the polls. Not voting is not a protest; it’s a surrender. 
“Any system will work for you if you’ll work the system.” And when you don’t work the system, you surrender to those who do. 
Please vote on November 6 (or whenever your area is holding the mid-term elections this year).
That’s the way I see it through the flawed glass that is my world view.
Together in the Walk,
Jim