Symbols and Puny Gods

About a month ago, I was struck by an article about changes Facebook was making to its "glyph kit", a collection of symbols designed to convey words or meanings, much like ancient hieroglyphics, thus the abbreviated term "glyph". Apparently, one of their designers, a woman, was examining the images in the glyph kit and came upon a disturbing discovery:

Much to my dismay, not long into my tenure as a Facebook designer I found something in the company glyph kit worth getting upset about. There in the middle of the photoshop file were two vectors that represented people. The iconic man was symmetrical except for his spiked hairdo but the lady had a chip in her shoulder. After a little sleuthing I determined that the chip was positioned exactly where the man icon would be placed in front of her, as in the 'friends' icon, above. I assumed no ill intentions, just a lack of consideration but as a lady with two robust shoulders, the chip offended me.
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What Has to Break Before We’ll Talk?

I recently read and shared an article by contributor and conservative blogger and activist John Hawkins, who was disturbed by the nation's inability to talk about race in a respectful way:

It's very difficult to discuss racial issues in America because every conversation tends to devolve down into some hostile version of, "That's racist" vs. "No, it's not" -- and nothing ever gets accomplished. In an attempt to try something a little different, I reached out to some friends…They all posted messages on their Facebook pages requesting questions and I'm going to be honestly answering some of them in a respectful manner.

The article, "7 Questions You've Always Wanted To Ask A White Conservative", was an attempt to open a channel to better communications between black and white Americans, and while I appreciated Mr. Hawkins' candor and what I perceive as an authentic desire for a gracious and respectful exchange of opinions, all the article seems to have done is bring out the usual tribal defenses or denunciations.

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A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to Reconciliation

I wrote recently about how the Lord has been taking me through a season of change using a variety of events, both personal and external, to point me toward the conclusion that, while I thought I was placing Him first in my life, I was wrong and still had a distance to go. I shared how truly putting him first meant letting go of some idols to which I subconsciously still cleaved, and that doing so had liberated me to receive who I am in Christ and what He would have me do with the rest of my life. It's an exciting moment when you arrive at "the place God calls you to", to quote theologian Frederick Buechner, "the place where your deep gladness and the world's deep hunger meet." A friend at church who had read my book approached me unexpectedly a few months ago, excited to share with me a vision he had of me having an impact on the culture regarding the topic of race relations. He led me to the realization that my temperament, my spiritual gifts, my skills and abilities, my life experiences, and even the public platform I've built so meticulously over nearly a decade, ostensibly for political reasons, could be used as a bridge to bring blacks and whites in my home country together, beginning with the church, where He commands us to be one in Him, and radiating from there out into American society as a whole.

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The Time That's Left

What will you do with the time that's leftWill you live it all with no regret? Will they say that you loved till your final breath? What will you do with the time that's left?

~ Mark Schultz, “The Time That is Left” (From Stories & Songs, ©2003 written by Mark Schultz and James Isaac Elliott)

One of the more awe-inspiring things about being a human being, for me at least, is that we have the agency to adapt and change continuously as we go through life. Our potential for growth and maturity is limitless, and how much we change, and how long we allow ourselves to be humble and open to change, is entirely within our control. When people speak to the journey in life being more vital than the destination, they are referring to a process of continuous learning and improvement that shapes us as we go about our days, allowing new information and experiences to influence us, and they never presume they’ve reached a final destination until they’ve drawn their last breath. When we stop learning, we’ve stopped living.

The recent fate of two friends in my age group brought this thought into sharp focus for me.

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Giving Thanks for All Things

As we were preparing the house for our Thanksgiving guests yesterday, I finally put away the walker and wheelchair I’ve had since I came home from the rehabilitation center on August 13th. It was a reminder of how far I’ve come, and how thankful I am to be on the road to recovery. But I’m not just thankful for the healing; I’m also thankful for the injury itself. Let me explain. 

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The Day After: Perspective, Reflection, Refreshment and Reengagement

Be honest; how many times in the past few months have you uttered the phrase, "I can't wait until this election is over!"? I already confessed a few weeks ago that election fatigue had set in, and the commercials, regardless of which candidate is represented, were sending me diving for my remote control's mute button - they still do! In less than a week, however, it will be over, although we here in Virginia get only a short break until we ramp up again for a gubernatorial race in 2013.

Have you given any thought, however, to what you're going to do the day after the election, and the days which follow that?

After all, this election has revealed, at least for me, that we have our work cut out for us in the years ahead, regardless of who wins next week, and those of us who feel a calling to serve cannot ignore the tugging at our hearts to do something. I've had this disquieting feeling about the declining state of our nation for nearly ten months now, and now that the end of this particularly contentious election is upon us, I feel the need in its aftermath to pull back, rest, refuel and reengage at the time and place, and in the manner, of God's choosing.

As a cathartic exercise of sorts, I'd like to lay out my post-election thoughts and agenda for you, and see what you think.

First and foremost, I will pray for peace in our land. Judging from the passions I see demonstrated online and on the campaign trail, I'm not expecting the victors to show a lot of grace. In fact, I expect, at best, taunting and gloating at the expense of the losers who, in my humble opinion, will be devastated out of proportion to the actual impact this election will have on their lives. That isn't to belittle the significance of this election, or the gravity of the choices we make, but to point out that what we do in our own lives, our homes, and our communities in the days, weeks and years ahead will have a more direct and immediate impact on our lives than anything that happens in Washington, DC. I'll expand on that thought later.

History tells us that political campaigns can be ugly, but I believe the coarseness, divisiveness and rancor that characterized this campaign have penetrated deeply into the minds and hearts of the electorate, and recovering from this campaign season is going to be much more difficult than in the past. I have expressed concerns previously about a violent reaction to the outcome, but I've tempered my thinking somewhat and have chosen instead to have faith that this election, like so many others before, will pass by peacefully.

Going forward, however, there are deep fissures in the American body politic which have been either ignored or deliberately encouraged for partisan political purposes. I challenged my readers a few weeks ago to tell me one value or custom that binds Americans together beyond our voluntary confinement within the borders of the nation we call the United States of America. To my mind, that is a major task for those of us who truly seek to bring the nation back together.

So the day after the election, the first thing I'm going to do is what I try to do daily, and that is thank the Lord for another day of life. My great-grandfather and grandfather were prayer leaders at Mount Calvary Baptist Church, and aside from inheriting their loquaciousness in prayer (grin!), I also remember they always used to thank the Lord for waking them up that morning, because it meant He still had work for them to do for His Kingdom. So every day that I awaken and draw in a breath is a day where God still has use for me. As the old Rare Earth song goes, "I just want to celebrate another day of living."

The second thing I'm going to do is retain my perspective based on my Biblical worldview.

The Bible says that God is sovereign, that nothing happens that isn't part of His plan, and that all authority on earth comes from God in heaven. I know that humans struggle with that truth, because it means some of the most despotic leaders in human history gained power under the Lord's reign, and how can that be when God is by His very nature capable of only good and not evil? Certainly, my conservative friends will point to President Obama's disregard for the sanctity of life and the Biblical definition of marriage, and wonder how I could possibly say that God willed his victory in 2008, or his re-election should that be the case on November 6, 2012.

My response would be to echo His words from Isaiah 55:8-9:

For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, declares the Lord. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.

God is omniscient and sees all of time, and His plan spans time and space, while we are only given a glimpse of it. The Bible is full of illustrations where God uses ordinary people and events to lay the groundwork for His extraordinary plan, and since all people are sinners and have fallen short of His glory, the likelihood that those he places in authority are going to be flawed and sometimes disobedient is pretty high. Think of the pagan leaders that God used to accomplish His purposes – the Pharaohs of Egypt in the lives of Joseph and Moses, Nebuchadnezzar with Daniel, and Pontius Pilate with Jesus Christ Himself. Look at flawed leaders like Saul, anointed by God but overcome by his own agenda, whose disobedience created a path for King David, "a man after God's own heart" and the earthly ancestor of Jesus Christ. Consider the Herodian dynasty, ostensibly Jewish but consumed and corrupted by power, which played its appointed role in the crucifixion of Christ, setting the stage for his resurrection and the fulfillment of God's ultimate plan.

Moreover, God is not above using flawed leaders and governments as a form of correction. How many times in the Bible did the Lord allow His chosen people, the Jews, to be persecuted, captured or exiled because they had strayed from His commands and denied His authority? Have we considered that our nation, as great as we perceive it to be, might be due for God's discipline, whatever form that may take?

If I wring my hands in despair, or raise them in exultation, over the outcome of an election, in either reaction I'm effectively demonstrating that I didn't trust God to have the outcome in His hands. God is bigger and more powerful than Willard Mitt Romney and Barack Hussein Obama put together, and they will not conquer Him nor thwart His plan, so I am not threatened by either's ascension, nor devastated by either's defeat.

This excellent article by Erick Erickson echoes my sentiments on the aftermath of the election. Like its author, I must reiterate that taking a Biblical worldview on this election doesn't mean I don't have a preference or that I'm indifferent to the outcome. It simply means I have faith in God's plan and, regardless of who wins, there will still be much work left to do, and that brings me to the third thing I'm going to do.

I'm going on a hiatus from some of my normal extracurricular activities to delve into the books on my reading table, and spend time in reflection, refreshment and reengagement. This campaign has exposed some disturbing trends in our nation, and I want to prepare myself to confront them in knowledge and truth.

I want to finish Indivisible: Restoring Faith, Family, and Freedom Before It's Too Late by authors James Robison and Jay W. Richards, a devout evangelical Christian and devout Catholic Christian respectively. Any Christian who is active in the public square will benefit from the prescriptions in this book, and their irrefutable foundation in Biblical truth as presented in the Scriptures. The authors state, "In general, a good public policy will apply a true principle in the right way," and they go on to defend the right way as determined by "the laws of nature and nature's God," and how the founders integrated it into their design for the American government. They write:

The Founders saw the paradox that many earlier political experiments had failed to appreciate: Sin is the main reason we need government and also the main reason to limit government…Samuel Adams said, "Neither the wisest constitution nor the wisest laws will secure the liberty and happiness of a people whose manners are universally corrupt." Without decent citizens and politicians, the Constitution is just ink and parchment. It can't secure our liberties if politicians and judges ignore it. The rule of law depends on us, too. Adams refers not merely to politicians, but to a people.

I have spoken often of how the political debate in America has centered on the balance between liberty and the law, but has omitted virtue as a critical component in our national architecture. The founders knew and stated often that the American experiment would fail without religion and morality to teach and reinforce virtue among the people. Their intent was for us to govern ourselves so that the limits they placed on the state would hold, and in order to govern ourselves, the law must not just be written on stone and parchment, but on the hearts of men.

We have allowed the mediating, voluntary and non-governmental associations of family, church and community, collectively known as civil society, to decay. It is civil society that tills the soil in which virtue can take root and blossom, and which makes self-governance possible. The diminution of civil society created a vacuum into which the state has imposed its will and, once the state seizes control, it is loath to relinquish it.

I believe that in order to restore virtue and bring America back into equilibrium, we must revive civil society, and we must protect it from the encroachment of the state with the same conviction we exhibit in defending our individual liberty. Speaker, author and social critic Dr. Os Guinness' new book, A Free People's Suicide: Sustainable Freedom and the American Future, speaks directly to our role in restoring "sustainable freedom" through virtue, and he writes, "In the end, the ultimate threat to the American republic will be Americans. The problem is not wolves at the door but termites in the floor."

The prevalence of religion and morality in America, and the ease with which Americans came together in voluntary associations to meet needs and solve problems in their communities, received prominent mention from French writer and aristocrat Alexis de Tocqueville in his seminal work, Democracy in America, described by editors Harvey C. Mansfield and Delba Winthrop as "at once the best book ever written on democracy and the best book ever written on America." I've often used it as a reference, as one would use a dictionary or an encyclopedia, and I've read numerous reviews and analyses of it, but I've committed myself to reading it in its entirety so I can see American exceptionalism through the eyes of a stranger who witnessed the nation in its early days, when the experiment was just underway. It's not dissimilar to today's churches looking to the Book of Acts to discover the roots of the early church after Christ's ascension, and to find, learn and apply valuable and timeless lessons lost over the centuries. The edition of Tocqueville's book I've chosen is an imposing tome in heft and thickness, but it is regarded as "the finest and most definitive edition available" and "the best edition of the best book on America," so I'm girding myself for the read.

Just as I wish to reinforce my understanding of American exceptionalism, I want to emphasize to others the true and invariable nature of the state, and the best book on that topic, in my opinion, is Frederic Bastiat's The Law:

But, unfortunately, law by no means confines itself to its proper functions. And when it has exceeded its proper functions, it has not done so merely in some inconsequential and debatable matters. The law has gone further than this; it has acted in direct opposition to its own purpose. The law has been used to destroy its own objective: It has been applied to annihilating the justice that it was supposed to maintain; to limiting and destroying rights which its real purpose was to respect. The law has placed the collective force at the disposal of the unscrupulous who wish, without risk, to exploit the person, liberty, and property of others. It has converted plunder into a right, in order to protect plunder. And it has converted lawful defense into a crime, in order to punish lawful defense.

Bastiat understood the proper role of the law, which is to respect and secure our persons, our liberty and our property. It is consistent with my oft-stated position that government has no other means of acting on its precepts except for force, and so it must necessarily be limited to those duties which apply force in the interests of preserving, rather than usurping, life, liberty and private property. If we properly think of government as an agent of force, described in Romans 13:4 as "an agent of wrath to bring punishment on the wrongdoer," it should change our willingness to use it as a tool against law-abiding citizens to achieve social ends.

The best description of the nature of government, however, is found in 1 Samuel 8:10-18, where the prophet Samuel tells the people of Israel what the Lord has to say about their demand for an earthly king to rule over them:

So Samuel told all the words of the LORD to the people who were asking for a king from him. He said, "These will be the ways of the king who will reign over you: he will take your sons and appoint them to his chariots and to be his horsemen and to run before his chariots. And he will appoint for himself commanders of thousands and commanders of fifties, and some to plow his ground and to reap his harvest, and to make his implements of war and the equipment of his chariots. He will take your daughters to be perfumers and cooks and bakers. He will take the best of your fields and vineyards and olive orchards and give them to his servants. He will take the tenth of your grain and of your vineyards and give it to his officers and to his servants. He will take your male servants and female servants and the best of your young men and your donkeys, and put them to his work. He will take the tenth of your flocks, and you shall be his slaves. And in that day you will cry out because of your king, whom you have chosen for yourselves, but the LORD will not answer you in that day."

On a related note, I've been vocal over the past few months about how the state and the culture are colluding to suppress freedom of conscience in America, to include religious liberty. It is a subtle but sustained assault on the right of individual Americans to think, speak out and act as their consciences command. The state uses the threat of force, the only tool at its disposal, to compel individuals and organizations to violate their most deeply held convictions, while the culture uses ridicule, vitriol and other forms of verbal bullying and intimidation, to shame those who don't agree with them into silence or submission to their will. Frankly, this is inconsistent with the values and the laws of the nation that codified freedom of conscience in the First Amendment of the Bill of Rights, so I have no qualms whatsoever about calling such actions un-American.

In his book, My Bondage and My Freedom, the great Frederick Douglass described the power of being free in one's mind. Once he learned to read and write, and began to think for himself, while his body may have been in chains until he authored his escape from slavery, his mind was freed from the shackles of imposed conformity and ignorance, and it was at that point that his desire for freedom overcame his acceptance of his lot as a slave. At that point, he would either live free or die.

That is the commitment I want to make in my pursuit of right over might in America, so I'm reading a biography which came highly recommended to me by several friends, Bonhoeffer: Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy, by Eric Metaxas. This great man of God had left Germany on the cusp of war, and could have lived a safe and comfortable life in the United States as a theologian, teacher and writer. Instead, he returned to Germany to stand as the voice of the Confessing Church, not only against the state but also against the false prophets of the German Christian Church, whose leaders were coopted by the state and the culture, violating the admonition of Peter and the apostles in Acts 5:29, ""We must obey God rather than men." He surrendered all comfort and, eventually, his life, for the cause of liberty in Christ. Much like another great man, William Wilberforce, the subject of another Eric Metaxas biography, Amazing Grace: William Wilberforce and the Heroic Campaign to End Slavery, Bonhoeffer counted the cost and still chose to be a disciple of Christ. That is the kind of commitment I want to demonstrate in my walk with Christ, and in defense of the liberty He has granted us here in America, so I plan to learn more about these great men and how they lived.

I believe that free enterprise is not only the most efficient and effective means of production of all human economic systems, but also the most moral. Free enterprise has done the most to eradicate poverty around the world, and has brought self-sufficiency and a higher quality of life to millions more. We conservatives are losing the battle when it comes to defending the morality of free enterprise, however, and we need to step it up. Awaiting my perusal are The Road to Freedom: How To Win The Fight For Free Enterprise by Arthur C. Brooks, Defending the Free Market: The Moral Case for a Free Economy by the Rev. Robert Sirico, and Freedom Manifesto: Why Free Markets Are Moral and Big Government Isn't, by Stephen Forbes and Elizabeth Ames. Books I've already read on this topic that I also recommend are The Battle: How the Fight between Free Enterprise and Big Government Will Shape America's Future by Arthur C. Brooks, Money, Greed, and God: Why Capitalism Is the Solution and Not the Problem by Jay W. Richards, and The Virtues of Capitalism: A Moral Case for Free Markets by Scott Rae and Austin Hill.

As a Christian, I am often told that my firm and passionate defense of my faith is inconsistent with who Jesus was, and that He would be loving and tolerant toward all people and all things. Jesus is indeed love personified, but he is also righteous and expects our absolute obedience. In Luke 6:46, he says in exasperation, "Why do you call me 'Lord, Lord,' and not do what I tell you?" He states without equivocation in John 14:15, "If you love me, you will keep my commandments." The meek and mild Jesus who stands by and smiles while people sin isn't the Jesus of the Gospel, and theologian, writer and teacher John MacArthur sets the record straight in his book, The Jesus You Can't Ignore: What You Must Learn from the Bold Confrontations of Christ." He writes, "We need to pay more careful attention to how Jesus dealt with false teachers, what He thought of religious error, how He defended the truth, whom He commended and whom He condemned – and how little He actually fit the gentle stereotype that is so often imposed on Him today." I need to be reminded that being gentle, civil and respectful toward my fellow man doesn't require me to give in to every belief that makes someone else feel good, but doesn't comply with the Word of God.

My family and I have endured a lot in the six years I've been in the public square. We've suffered the loss of jobs and financial security and were forced to move so that I could work again. Those struggles, however, pale before the experience of Ann Voskamp, the author of One Thousand Gifts: A Dare to Live Fully Right Where you Are, who, as a child, watched in horror as her little sister was crushed to death after accidentally running in front of an oncoming delivery truck. Her journey from that place of horror to a place of gratitude and grace is exquisitely documented – her writing is absolutely beautiful. I look forward to finishing her book, because it's too easy in hard times to lose sight of the gifts God has given us, and if she can give thanks after such a tragedy and the damage it did to her and her family, she has a lesson to teach all of us. Whatever the future holds for us personally or for our nation, I intend to be a thankful warrior.

Finally, I'm going to spend some time in my Bible, refreshing myself with the Word and reacquainting myself with Jesus Christ. The process I've described above is akin to preparing for battle, and Ephesians 6:13 says, "Therefore take up the whole armor of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand firm." I'll see you on the battlefield.