Tuesday, April 21, 2009

If Asked, Don't Tell

Love them or hate them, beauty pageants are a staple of Americana. From the local festival queens to the High School parades of Homecoming Royalty and beyond, pageants have a way of grabbing our undivided attention if but for a moment and are usually quickly forgotten. This is even true for the Mothers of all U.S. Pageants, Miss America and Miss USA. For a brief and shining moment 50+ ambitious young women demonstrate their fitness, talents and wit to an audience of millions who gaze in wonder at the spectacle, only to forget it all ever happened by the next week - unless, that is, something out of the ordinary happens. It's hard to ignore headlines that uncover a sordid secret that undermines a beauty queen's seeming purity. "She did WHAT? And she seemed so nice. What a shame" We exclaim. As hard as it is to ignore scandalous photos of a beauty queen, it can be even harder to ignore some of the things they say. Remember this infamous exchange during the interview portion of the Miss Teen USA Pageant a short while ago?

Q: 'Recent polls have shown a fifth of Americans can't locate the U.S. on a world map. Why do you think this is?'

A: 'I personally believe that U.S. Americans are unable to do so because, um, some people out there in our nation don't have maps and, uh, I believe that our, uh, education like such as, uh, South Africa and, uh, the Iraq and everywhere like such as, and I believe that they should, uh, our education over here in the U.S. should help the U.S., uh, should help South Africa and should help Iraq and the Asian countries, so we will be able to build up our future.'

Confusing to read and painful to watch, this exchange has certainly stuck to my memory and will remain there for years to come. Nevertheless, after a mortifyingly embarrassing moment captured for the entertainment of a worldwide audience, no one would deny this contestant the basic right of freedom of expression regardless of how unintelligible and difficult to absorb her remarks may have been. Perhaps this is the key to making acceptable public statements. As one axiom of public speaking teaches, "If you can't dazzle 'em with brilliance, BAFFLE 'em with 'baloney'!"

Perhaps this rule of thumb would have rescued a contestant at this year's Miss USA Pageant from an obscene post-pageant tirade from a famous judge that seems nothing less than outrageous in a nation that purports to defend the freedom of speech. All was well and totally predictable during this weekend;s contest as stunningly beautiful women, gracefully glided, smiled and posed, pursuing an opportunity for national recognition, scholarships and prizes that could later prove to be a launch pad for a career characterized by fame and fortune even for the losers. (Don't believe me? You may not remember Miss USA 1986 Christy Fichtner of Texas but you've undoubtedly heard of the first runner-up that year, Oscar-winning actress Halle Berry.) Nevertheless, the pageant can prove to be a tremendous opportunity that allows the contestants to showcase their public poise and the platform to freely express their thoughts whether coherent or not or whether anyone agrees with those thoughts or not - at least until now.

This weekend, The Donald Trump sponsored Miss USA Pageant was indistinguishable to any pageant that had preceded it until the final question. The question was issued by pageant judge and world renowned blogger/gossip columnist Perez Hilton and addressed to Carrie Prejean, Miss California. The exchange went like this:

The question(Hilton): “Vermont recently became the fourth state to legalize same-sex marriage. Do you think every state should follow suit? Why or why not?”

Prejean’s response:“We live in a land where you can choose same-sex marriage or opposite. And you know what, I think in my country, in my family, I think that I believe that a marriage should be between a man and a woman. No offense to anybody out there, but that’s how I was raised.”

A straightforward question. A straightforward answer. In evaluating the response for judging purposes, one might say that Ms. Prejean didn't really address the first part of the question, but undeniably took on the second part sharing her opinion honestly and respectfully. This is particularly commendable when one considers who asked the question and the reputation the questioner has for trashing those who disagree with him. Surprise, surprise, after the pageant had been decided and the winner chosen, Mr. Hilton could not allow himself to respect Ms. Prejean's opinion, but inferred that her response was the reason for her loss and further denigrated her in obscene and verbally abusive terms. My question is this: If Mr. Hilton didn't want an honest, non-scripted answer, why did he ask the question? This is a free country, after all , with the freedom of expression at the pinnacle of our personal liberties, isn't it? If Mr. Hilton's reaction is an indicator, perhaps not!

The elevation of political correctness at the expense of the freedom of personal expression is a disturbing trend in our national ethos that demands our immediate attention. Throughout our nation's history, the ability to express one's thoughts has lifted us to be the best we can be by exposing us at the worst we can be. The freedom of ideas and the expression of those ideas presupposes that in a free society filled with rational people, ideas can be exchanged unhampered so that those same rational individuals can see the unredacted facts in their essence and decide for themselves how they desire to act upon those ideas. Even when a philosophy has prevailed over another by way of the ballot box, the opposing side continues to enjoy the freedom of expressing their opinion - a freedom that demands protection by the prevailing opinion in order that the blessings of liberty can continue unimpeded by tyranny. It is my love of liberty that calls me as an American to defend the freedom of expression for a Racial Supremacist who believes that interracial marriage is an abomination, though as a man who is inter racially married I oppose that opinion with all my being. I further believe that a knowledge of the facts and a opening of the mind and heart can enlighten someone who espouses what I consider an errant belief and perhaps lead them to change their way of thinking.

Mr. Hilton's on-going tirade and his attempt to shut down Ms. Prejean's ability to express her opinion is troubling and is yet another reminder of the sad veracity of an old Italian proverb - "A man once dared to tell the truth. They killed him." Establishing "group-think" in the pursuit of so-called social harmony promotes a singular value - If asked for the truth, don't tell it! In the wake of increasing pressure to remain silent in the expression of less than popular opinions, I challenge you to be bold, be brave and be persistent in lovingly, respectfully and unflinchingly sharing the truth as long as God gives you breath. In John chapter 8Jesus promised freedom for all those who follow Him in truth according to His Word:
“If you abide in My word, you are My disciples indeed. And you shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free.”

I love freedom. Jesus says to truly be free I must seek to know truth. I want others to be free as well, so I will continue to share the truth as I am able to see it generously seasoned with God's grace and love with the goal of enabling as many people as possible to enjoy God's freedom for themselves. For this reason, in the name of freedom, let me warn you now; if you don't want me to tell you my opinion in truth...Don't ask.

Until next time...

Friday, April 17, 2009

The Real Threat to Liberty

I was reading through facebook entries from friends this morning and came across an article in which the author confronted the increasing instances of bullying towards young men who don't fit the archetype of "The All-American Boy". These young men are often not especially athletic, and sometimes gravitate towards more artistic and expressive disciplines in their life pursuits. In contemporary teen society, these youths are often harassed, their sexuality questioned and they are many times the recipients of such harsh verbal abuse that they are driven to despair, even to the point of suicide. What amazed the author who offered the observations was that these occurrences are happening in an era where people are supposedly more tolerant of individual expression and where opportunities to participate and be all one can be according to one's dreams and aspirations abound more than at any other time in US history. As I read the observations of the author, certain glaring omissions could not be ignored - there was no call for an alignment with moral absolutes and no appeal to personal responsibility and restraint.

How can we expect teens to display civility and self-control in their public relationships when we don't call them to restraint and responsibility in their most precious and intimate ones? What makes us think that indoctrinating teens to equate responsibility and commitment to others with using condoms during intercourse is going to make them behave as responsible and considerate citizens in the hallways in a far less intimate situation? Why would someone refrain from violence against someone they don't even care for in school, when they are encouraged to use violence as a means of convenience to dispense with their very own posterity who has been produced by the most intimate human act possible?

When we fail to go beyond political correctness and refuse to teach basic morality or even mere courtesy based on our collective responsibility to God and to one another, we are inviting anarchy and chaos. The increasing lawlessness we see is a result of the increasing disdain we have for the One Who gave the law and the ones for whom the law was given - humankind. It is only after Moses' interaction with God and his reception of and commitment to the law that he was then able to announce the timeless charge displayed on one of the greatest symbols of American freedom, the U.S. Liberty Bell which states, "Proclaim liberty throughout all the land unto all the inhabitants thereof" Leviticus 25:10.

There is a great danger associated with this increase of lawlessness and our failure to teach respect for and adherance to it. That danger is a willingness to welcome the restoration of order by extreme means at the expense of liberty. Let's not be surprised if as time passes and we fail to make a course correction, we find ourselves inheriting more and more discord. If things get bad enough, we run the risk of begging for peace and order at any cost, even if it means sacrificing our own liberty to secure it. "Just give us peace" will be our motto, "even if we have to pay the devil to get it." An exaggeration? I hope so. My greater hope is that we will put our current freedom to work and get our hands and knees dirty by paying loving attention to our children. We must do the hard and unrelenting work of walking alongside them and sacrificing some of our own conveniences and self-centered pursuits through investng our time in them. We can make great strides towards this end by daily teaching our children to diffeentiate between right and wrong and by enabling them to understand what it means to be good citizens, who are morally guided, personally disciplined and socially responsible so that the freedoms we count as precious and say that we cherish will not perish from the earth. It's a big job that requires much time and effort - true - but it promises dividends much greater and substantial than a dwindling 401K. Until next time...


Tuesday, April 7, 2009

The Truth In Love

Honest and loving discourse is an art form that is rare and virtually non-existent in political discussions. It is all too common to reduce political discussions to rants, tirades and gross misrepresentations that seek to relegate the promoter of an opposing view as not merely irrelevant, but almost as not truly human. This kind of poisonous posturing can be much more destructive than beneficial and can ultimately damage the mindset of our posterity who are the most precious carriers of the values we seek to promote and hold most sacred.

Early this morning, a close friend posted an interview that comedian and emerging political commentator D.L. Hughley held with Franky Schaeffer - a born-again Christian activist and the son of the Legendary Christian Thinker Francis Schaeffer. In the interview with Hughley, Franky Schaeffer skewers the "religious right" and levels undiluted criticism at the leadership of the movement as unthinking, self-absorbed and fundamentally unworthy of followership. He then explains that as a result his dissatisfaction with the "religious right movement" he has"changed sides" and though he continues to walk the walk of faith in Jesus Christ, he has given his political allegiance to what he considers a more worthy and righteous movement. It is at this point that I depart somewhat with my Christian Brother's perspective and ask him to reconsider if he has merely traded one non-critical and naive political/philosophical allegiance and perspective for another.

My behind the scenes observations have been that with woefully few exceptions, politicians may have different platforms, but regardless of political affiliation too many politicians are fueled by raw, unmitigated ambition. I have come to believe that neither "side' is more sincere or purer than the other at its core. There are exceptions, but I believe the one very powerful and painfully descriptive run that Schaeffer made about the faults of leadership on the right could equally apply to the faulty nature of leadership on the left.

Am I advocating a cessation of Christan participation in the American political process? Absolutely not! Nonetheless, it is my conviction that Christians should rather speak Biblical truth to all political perspectives with humble and prophetic intensity rather than putting their faith in human labels which may or may not be sanctified in their or gin or purpose. I believe that regardless of person's political label, and I am especially and particularly addressing Christians in this instance, speaking the "truth in love" to every identifiable political and philosophical perspective remains at the core of our Gospel message. Scripture directs us to "Owe no one anything except to love one another, for he who loves another has fulfilled the law" (Romans 13:8). What is more loving at its core than truthfully engaging our world in the issues of our day with passion and compassion as we seek the greater glory of God? This kind of engagement calls us to more than "side switching" and mandates that we do the painstaking work of encountering people on a heart to heart level rather than lobbing assaults from afar based on lazy labels.

I believe I have seen an excellent example of this type of engagement in an unsuccessful Presidential Candidate named Mike Huckabee. Former Governor Huckabee has a TV talk show which is rather unique. He invites individuals he believes have made a difference in some element of culture or life, regardless of background or label to take part in a conversation and to discuss what they believe, why they believe it and how we can work together to accomplish great things. He then does something I have not ever seen on a talk show. He puts his guest in control and asks them to ask him any question they want - ANYTHING! The questions tend to gravitate towards the toughest issue possible, often a point of disagreement between Mr. Huckabee ad his guest. In a recent installment of the show, he endorses the book When You Lie About Your Age, the Terrorists Win by Carol Leifer. Ms. Leifer is an award winning writer whose writing credits and accolades could fill a book. Mr. Huckabee was touched by the tone and wisdom of her book and took great care in promoting its message and giving it a high thumbs up. The interview progressed flawlessly with easy laughter and good natured sharing abounding. Then, Mr. Huckabee did something that seemed strange. He put himself on the hot seat and Ms. Leifer in control of the thermostat. He told her she could ask him any 3 questions she desired. when she asked the questions, you could have heard the proverbial pin drop. She asked in a straightforward and even-toned manner why Mr. Huckabee didn't feel she and her partner had the right to marry as lesbians and why he didn't feel it was right for them to adopt as parents? On any other show, this might have opened the gates for a tsunami of fire of Biblical proportions. What ensued what exactly the opposite. Mr. Huckabee showed the utmost respect for Ms. Leifer's opinions, while very gently, respectfully and carefully outlining why he held to a Biblical definition of marriage and family, never once personally attacking her or her position - just stating the merits of his case. . Her last question showed her own graciousness as she asked him to name his favorite Beatles song! Many eyes moistened at the tender sharing of Biblical truth and the honest exchange of viewpoints, including Ms. Leifer's. Mr. Huckabee ended the set with another ringing endorsement of Ms. Leifer's book and a serious jam session on his bass guitar!

The truth in love. A radical concept and a Biblical call that is extended to all Christians. This week, we celebrate the triumphant victory of the One Who not only told the truth, but Who claimed to BE the Truth and Who backed His claims up by dying for us though we are unworthy and raising Himself up to life that we might know Him as the Truth and be set free from our bondage to sin and death. I challenge you to make a commitment today to devote yourself not to a political party or philosophy, but to give your life to The Truth. Jesus does not disappoint or discriminate, but rather loves without reservation or discrimination. As you remember His death and celebrate His resurrection this week, dedicate yourself once again to sharing His Truth in His love and witness the tearing down of walls and the changing of lives. It's a much more fulfilling and effective enterprise than any political affiliation I know of. Until next time...