Sunday, July 21, 2013

We're just not republican enough

I've finally figured out what the biggest problem in our country is:

We're not republican enough. 

Note that I have not capitalized the R. I'm not saying the problem is that we're not aligned enough with the policies and values of the Republican Party. Far from it! What I am saying is that many, many of us have been taught that we are part of a democracy and we act as if this is not only the way it should be, but that "the government" is taking away our God-given democratic rights. The truth is otherwise.

We do not live in a democracy. We live in a republic.

A republic, as anyone my age who passed high school Civics class can tell you, is a representative democracy. We elect people to represent us as members of the local school board, city council, or state or federal Senate or House of Representatives. We trust them to educate themselves about policy and the implications of the various laws and other policy items they vote on and then to defend those votes to their constituents. We may not agree with them one hundred percent, but we gauge their performance not on how much we agree with them but on how much they accomplish for our own good and the good of the country.

Not anymore. Now we want to vote on everything, every time, or we want our "representatives" to simply cast a vote on our behalf, just as if we were sitting in that chamber. Never mind that most of us don't know a tenth of the implications of the votes we would like taken on our behalf. Never mind that we can generally be trusted only to act in our own self-interest rather than in the interest of others. Vote my way or get out, Mr. or Mrs. Representative!

What has this brought us? Timid and reactive politicians. Witness the immigration debate. If you held a majority of House Republican's feet to the fire, most would agree that some version of the current Senate-passed immigration reform bill makes sense. But they won't support it. Why? They're afraid. Not afraid of immigrants, or of them taking jobs from others, or anything you might expect. They're afraid of being defeated in their primary races by someone more "conservative" (read: right-wing) then they are. They are afraid of not being re-elected. Not failing to be re-elected because they haven't done enough, but failing to be re-elected because their "base" constituency will be whipped into a froth and vote them out on this issue only--regardless of whether or not it makes sense.

Couple this with the obscene amount of money it takes to mount a credible campaign, which mostly relies on simplistic 30-second commercials about how awful the other candidate is and how they supported this bill or that bill, and how awful it is that they could compromise on such an important issue (whatever that issue is) and you end up with representatives who spend half their time raising money, a quarter of their time campaigning for re-election by deriding their opponents, and it is no wonder there is little time to even come up with a nuanced version of any issue, much less to foster the kind of across-the-aisle relationships that getting anything done requires.

My solution? Evaluate representatives not on how closely they aligned with your own views on various policy issues, but on how much they actually got accomplished. Did they participate in crafting and passing a more or less realistic budget? Did they reach across the aisle to collaborate with others to get a reasonably good law or policy passed? Did they reach out to ALL of their constituents (not just donors or their "base") with thoughtful discussions and defenses of their votes? Then re-elect them. If they just reacted to the latest 30 second commercial, bowed to pressure from their fellow representatives on their side of the aisle or, worse, their "leaders", vote them out.

At least, that's what I think.

Saturday, July 06, 2013

World Domination Summit, First Cut

This post represents some initial impressions after being at one of the most remarkable conferences I've ever attended. After an opening word and concert Friday night at the Oregon Zoo, we had several plenary speakers over two days at the Arlene Schnitzer Concert Hall in downtown Portland, Oregon and many afternoon seminars from which to choose. Any number of people have asked me why I went and what I wanted to get out of this. As a first-time WDSer, I have a confession to make.

I have no idea.

WDS is so hard to describe. The best tag line I've run across is "living remarkable lives in a conventional world." WDS seems to be the quintessential "out of the box" conference---in other words, if you are (or want to be) out of the box, this is the conference for you. I'm still processing all of the things I've learned, but one big thing I've learned: I have heard more about being your true self, following your dreams, and truly being community in 48 hours here than in many years of church conferences. 

As I've explained it, most of the conferences I attend tend to be what might be called "industry" conferences--talking about how to grow your church, reach out into the neighborhood, preach better, study the Bible, etc.... They're pretty much designed to appeal the the clergy that attend them. They also have to be relatively inexpensive, all the better to fit into Continuing Education budgets. But what most of them end up as are low-budget discussions of Jesus, the church, arcane Biblical truths, or other "shop talk." That isn't always true, and I've been to my share of great conferences, but there's always sort of an implicit "us/them" thing going on. "How do we get them to come to us?" "How do we get us (in the church) to go to them?" There really isn't a realization that people can lead perfectly good, even remarkable, lives without being a disciple of Jesus, much less a church-goer.

As I noted above, I'm still processing all of my learnings, and I'll no doubt have more to say. I'm just glad that I came. I hope my life is more remarkable because of it and I'm going to try and make it so.

Stage at WDS 2013