Two political figures dominate today’s headlines.
Elijah Cummings, US Representative who died today.
And, President Donald Trump.
The contrast between the two could not be more stark.
Both in backgrounds and in vision for our country.
And, both will be remembered.
The only questions is “How and for what?”
I just finished writing a letter of recommendation for a young man who is being considered for the rank of Eagle Scout in the Boy Scouts of America. Eagle Scout is the highest rank one can achieve and only 4% of scouts ever achieve that honor. Along with the letter I received requesting my recommendation was a page which included the Scout Oath and The Scout Law. The Scout Law includes these words:
Even though I was never a scout these values mirror what I was taught growing up. Instilled and nurtured in me by family and friends and church.They represent how we were to act and how we were to treat other people. Leaders were those we looked up to and who put these values into practice in their daily lives. Both public and private.
I found myself thinking about this because of the deep disconnect I experience with many of our elected officials, particularly once the political arena moves beyond the local. Having grown up being taught and with the expectation that leaders are to embody values towards which the rest of us are to strive, a part of me continues to be caught off guard when the order of the day is anything but kind, courteous and trustworthy. What I have come to realize is that what is on display in our political system is not leadership, but power. Power which manipulates and controls to get its way doing whatever is needed or necessary to accomplish its ends. It steps on and over people. It changes the rules to fit its agenda. When things go poorly it blames someone else. When things go well it takes all the credit. It is the opposite of the values I learned as a child and the values in the Boy Scout Law.
I realize there is also power in kindness and reverence and trustworthiness and the other values articulated in the Boy Scout Law, but we have lost those on the national stage and in our most important public discourse. Few, if any of us, would say what is happening in Washington comes close to reflecting the values most of us learned growing up. If we want that type of leadership and the exercise of that type of power we have work to do.
I value honesty.
I hear lies.
I value integrity.
I get duplicity.
I long for leadership.
I see win at all costs.
I want to hear an honest exchange of ideas.
I get grandstanding.
I want our leaders to inspire us and to bring out the best in us.
I get name calling and divisiveness and vilification.
I want us to live up to our best and bravest ideals.
I see only politics at its worst.
All this may be “good” politics.
But, it tears apart more than it pulls together.
I don’t know what it will take to undo the harm which has been done.
My experience with politics has been local.
I have been a pastor for more than 30 years. I have served on any number of non-profit boards. I have even served on and been President of our local Board of Education. I understand that in public settings there are some things you say and some things you do not say. All of which is to say, I want the President of the United States and leaders in Congress to be circumspect. There is information which is important for the public to hear and to know and I want to know it. But there is some information which, if it became public or became public now, would put lives at risk or undermine negotiations. I understand and accept that.
What I don’t understand is the lying.
Standing in front of people and, with a straight face, saying something that is disproved a moment later. How do they look people in the eye and do that?
I wonder, does it disturb their dreams at night?
Do they toss and turn unsettled by their own deception?
Do they ever hear the echo of their parents’ voice who, when they were young, told them lying was wrong?
If they sleep soundly at night, they must be very different than me.
After several phone calls and emails, here is what I have found myself thinking about today.
If you have done your job well, then sometimes what is needed…
In being a leader;
In being a pastor;
in being a business person;
In being a parent;
Is, simply, to get out of the way.
A good friend shares this quote from the Chinese philosopher and poet Lao Tzu.
Go to the people.
Live with them.
Learn from them.
Start with what they know.
Build with what they have.
But with the best leaders
When the work is done
The task accomplished
The people will say
We have done this ourselves.
Maybe politics has always been the way it is now.
Belittle the other to make yourself look good.
Tell those who are nervous why they should be afraid instead of just nervous.
Stir up anger towards those who look different or act different or think differently.
All of which tears down and tears apart.
And, these are the people who carry the title and the responsibility of being leaders.
Meanwhile, where I live…
And, probably where you live, too…
We get up in the morning and go to work.
And, work side by side with people who may or may not look like us or believe what we believe or share our particular point of view, but we do our best just as they do their best to perform whatever work it is we have the responsibility to do. Then we go home and go to meetings and go to church and attend our children’s sporting events. We cheer for our children, and for theirs as well. We volunteer at our schools so that our children, and theirs, have the supplies and support and opportunities they need in order to succeed.
We don’t always agree.
But, in most places most of the time, we figure out how to make our communities work.
And, our schools work.
And, our places of worship work.
But, the more leaders tear at the fabric which holds us together;
The more anger and fear that gets added to the mix;
The harder it is for the rest of us.
Those of us who get up each day and go to work.
To do our part to help hold our communities together.