Fire came one sunny September morning to America nine years ago tomorrow. It was bright and blinding and so unexpected that even these many years later we can barely look directly at it.
When radical Islamists chose to set fire to America, the consequences – human nature being what it is – were probably to some extent predetermined: There would be more fire.
Former Catholic nun Karen Armstrong writes in The Battle for God that extremism of one ilk exists because extremism of the other does. Extreme action on one side provokes an equal and opposite extreme reaction on the other. And so it goes, with many flavors of homegrown extremism having taken center stage since the 9/11 attack. Tomorrow’s installment of extremism, straight from central casting, was to be a ceremonial Quran burning. (At this writing it’s been suspended but it is not yet clear if “suspended” really means canceled in what has inexplicably become a Muslim/Christian he said/he said. You can’t make this stuff up.)
Outside of burning California hillsides, fighting fire with fire doesn’t really work. Most people with a stake is seeing a fire put out use water instead.
In the days after 9/11, in one of the innumerable searching conversations happening in the American family, my brother (a military man well acquainted with “fire”) imagined how he wanted America’s reaction to play out: We’d capture Bin Laden alive, then bring him back to New York City, get him a good lawyer and put him on trial. Then, in the darkest and least civilized corners of the world, that America would ensure such a man a fair trial in our abiding commitment to the rule of law would shine a light so bright that the forces in the world that build would irrevocably trump the forces that destroy.
My brother was describing water.
That conversation – and more generally the tragedy of 9/11 – were no small part the genesis of what would eventually become our Tallahassee Florida go at dousing the fire with water by building The Village Square.
But fire is flammable and demands attention and 50 members of a congregation a couple hours south of us has been getting international news coverage by pouring gasoline on it (by using water, The Village Square is lucky if we get covered in local briefs). Fire is hot, fire sells newspapers.
When asked to speak about The Village Square, I’ve been known to lament that we’d be a national mass movement by now if our events involved statements of outrageous fury instead of thoughtful moderation. It’s simply the elemental difference between fire and water. This week Terry Jones and his Gainesville church have proven my theory as even the Vatican weighed in on their intemperance.
Other efforts at extinguishing fire with water get equally short shrift compared to the fire starters, such as this group of national religious leaders who got a big yawn from the media as they tried to advance moderation in the face of the planned event in Gainesville.
America is – at her best – the perfect solution to fire, both at home and elsewhere in the world. Our founders were students of human nature and prescribed an effective system to balance extremism. It’s tragic when we can’t rise to the call of our birthright because we’re stuck in an equal and opposite reaction to the horrible extremism of that day nine years ago. We may not quite know it, but we are in a unique position to shine that light my brother described all around the world in multitudes of ways that dampen the fires. Maybe welcoming a mosque near ground zero is just such a moment when a country with a really Big Idea shines a really big light?
My daughter is a junior at the University of Florida. She says there is a rumor going around campus that the football game being played tomorrow in Gainesville (91,000 people in “The Swamp”) is the target of a bomb threat. News yesterday was that the FBI says there are credible retaliatory threats. And so it goes: Extremism begets extremism.
General Petraeus knows fire and water and equal and opposite reactions. He said of the plan to burn Qurans: â€œWeâ€™re concerned that the images from the burning of a Quran would be used in the same way that extremists used images from Abu Ghraib â€” that they would in a sense be indelible.”
Indelible is a good word for what people do with fire.
— Please note that we are waiting for a statement of support for The Village Square from the Vatican.
My brother and I just had a fun debate over which ways that we choose not to die. Everyone says shark bite. We went to the box jellyfish, piranha, anaconda (would suck being squeezed to death until you think about our taxes and well..) Then he said he doesn’t want to die as a result of â€œa soccer mom texting her friends or reading a tweet about what Kateâ€™s kids ate this morning while ramming her SUV into me and sending me into a 18 wheelerâ€¦â€
Yeah, nobody wants to be done in by stupidity. Dad used to say stupidity has killed more people than the plague. Death comes in many forms. How many people do you see as lifeless drones just walking and staring at some little machine? I took up P90X “Extreme Home Fitness” with the singular purpose of lowering a shoulder and taking these people out as I pass them since they can’t figure out what direction they want to walk as they talk, text, tweet, etcâ€¦ I REALLY dislike what I call â€œwalkie-talkiesâ€. People on cell phones just wandering around as you are trying to get somewhere. If you must let the world know how important you are, just stay in one place. Donâ€™t act like a drunk at an all night buffet.
The issue is bigger. When people are looking down at these devices they stop looking up and listening to what is going on around them. I was on one of those 5:45 am flights recently and saw people talking on their phones. WHO ARE THEY TALKING TO?! Why cant they just sit at the airport and get lost in their thought? When did their thoughts cease being their own?
Recently, I had dinner at a nice restaurant and saw two women texting at their table. Imagine, one probably tweeted about the restaurant, the other texted and said she would enjoy meeting up with her there, and when they arrived were so excited to catch up with each other and enjoy a nice dinner, they sat texting others (or weirder, maybe they were texting each other while sitting across from each other) Is there any surprise that so much conversation is superficial? Howâ€™s work? Big weekend planned? Who do you think is going to win? Short questions that involve short answers. Perfect for folks to enter on little letters on a phone.
People seek out common thought rather than listening to debate and figuring out in their gut where they are on an issue. Stop seeing what is going on around them because they are focused on the next update. Vote for people that have the power to affect our lives based on blogs and soundbites.
I had a strange dream a week or so ago, where I was getting off of a plane, hung up a call and threw my phone on the ground and stomped on it. Everyone on their phones looked up in silence and then one-by-one stood and applauded as they threw their phones down. Maybe I lack iron in my diet or wasnâ€™t held enough as a baby, or maybe I was just wishful thinking that that one act got people talking again. Face to face.
Itâ€™s time people start looking up again, using all 5 senses, step out of a bubble. It is a big beautiful world and at the rate we are burning CO2, it may not be like this forever. Gotta run, my 6 year old just texted me that itâ€™s my turn to bowl on the Wii.
Thanks for indulging me the rant.
— Andrew is married and a father of two daughters. Owner of Wilcox and Hackett, LLC a legal recruiting and client development consulting firm. A conservative who likes healthy debate. Enjoys reading, writing, working out, sports, and BBQ cooking (and clearly texting and tweeting).
“This afternoon I spoke to former President George W. Bush. It’s well known that he and I disagreed about the war from its outset. Yet no one can doubt President Bush’s support for our troops or his love of country and commitment to our security. As I said, there were patriots who supported this war and patriots who opposed it. All of us are united in appreciation for our servicemen and servicewomen and our hopes for Iraq’s future.”
“The greatness of our democracy is grounded in our ability to move beyond our differences, to learn from our experience as we confront the many challenges ahead.”
And as night follows day… Commentary from the left since the address were angry Obama would give Bush anything given what they see as the catastrophic nature of the decision to invade Iraq and the falsehoods that led to it. And from the right they accused him of having no class because he didn’t outright credit Bush for the surge (on Limbaugh the guest host said it was a “small speech by a small man”).
In this environment, it’s hard to know how anyone can lead us.
The news I had been subconsciously dreading since a couple months ago when internet start-up FloridaThinks went on summer hiatus arrived in my inbox at 3:07 am, as many other of its editions had over the last seven months. It read “FloridaThinks was a success in all areas except revenues. But financial reality demands that we cease publication.” Read the whole piece HERE.
From the beginning I saw their idea as very much in keeping with the spirit of The Village Square and was rooting them on.
As I was reading over the last edition of FloridaThinks, I heard Jonathan Alter say on TV “one of the big stories of our politics is the wacky has moved from the fringe to the center of our politics.” Had John and his cohorts launched an angry online screed, maybe they might have made a go of it financially. Fury is good for the bottom line these days, the market for mainlined ideological heroine is strong and growing. But offering up citizenship, doing the hard work of reading and understanding, it’s like serving up a plate of broccoli and apparently we’re not eating our vegetables these days. Of course we all know that over time broccoli makes you strong and smart and healthy and heroine kills you but we’re in no mood to be reminded.
So cheers to John Koenig and FloridaThinks for giving us the vegetables Florida needs to grow strong for seven months, and doing it in style.
And while it is sadly too late to change their financial future, maybe today’s the day to do something about someone else trying hard to get us the information we need to make good decisions about our future, either locally or at a state or national level. It can be as simple as restoring your subscription to your local paper.
This excellent article is by management consultant Margaret Seidler writing in Charleston Regional Business Journal. She writes about the need to see conflict as the management of polarity two necessary opposites:
What I know from my professional work in managing complexity and conflict in organizations is that when people get polarized on big, on-going issues, eventually all involved will suffer. It might not be today or tomorrow, but I can predict with great certainty that it will happen.
[Look] at the stark consequences for a society whose citizens get polarized to the point of deadlock. Here we get winners and losers; lose sight of the big picture; stop listening to the other “side”; get defensive; limit possibilities for solutions because we are so focused on being “right”; bring about anger, resentment – even hatred. Just bear witness to the threats that Congress has received in the wake of the passage of health care reform legislation.
Seidler goes on to confirm a Village Square-ism: It’s about valuing the contributions opposing ideas have to solving problems and keeping those opposing forces alive and bumping up against each other. Or as founder James Madison put it “the constant clashing of opinion.”
With these consequences in mind, we explored the phenomenon of polarity (interdependent pairs that need each other over time). To demonstrate that we all know and experience polarity, I used the example of one pair we manage every day: inhale and exhale. It is easy to recognize the each part of this polarity pair gives us something vital and needed. And although each is very different, we must get the best of both in order to live, not die. This polarity is readily understandable because the need to gain the best from each becomes apparent in a matter of seconds.
Today on the radio Glenn Beck said that Americans are about to lose their religious freedom. He was actively rallying the forces to prevent it. Perhaps someone who agrees with his sentiment could help those of us who say “huh?”
There is a valid argument that legal secularism has overreached in working toward a “naked public square” (a term used by Christian writer Os Guinness, theologian John Neuhaus although I’m not clear of its genesis), removing faith from our public spaces, rather than aiming for a public square where all faiths – and no faith at all – are warmly welcomed into a rich conversation. The second option allows for the “constant clashing of opinion” that our Founders envisioned as a check on excess in the majority.
But the suggestion that there are vast and sustained efforts to subvert Christians’ religious freedom doesn’t seem to hold up. A drive through town on a Sunday morning paints a vivid picture of religious diversity and freedom, alive and well in America.
Overreaction on one “side” of an argument inevitably leads to an equal and opposite overreaction. Greater than the risk that Christians, though they are the vast majority of us, will lose their religious liberty is the risk that this sort of white hot rhetoric overshoots the mark enough that it will actually create what it fears. If you’re of a minority religious view, a wall of angry Christians coming at you (especially if you are not aware of any action against them) does little to make your religious liberty feel secure. Then you, in turn, feel the need to defend what you perceive as an assault. And so it goes, on and on in likely escalation if we don’t mind the exaggerations that come out of our mouths.
And this kind of “die on the hill” rhetoric also does what C.S. Lewis refers to as making “black blacker” as it creates an aggressive, powerful and villainous foe out of a largely disorganized minority of people. Read Lewis HERE.
While we’re on this topic, take a look at our We the Wiki Faith & Politics space. Feel free to add a topic and toss in what you think is important. Opposing views, when expressed with civility, are warmly welcome.
“There are a lot of people who’ve said things I don’t agree with. But if I want to say what I believe, I’ve got to let you say what you believe, even if I violently disagree with it and even if I find it despicable.” NYC Michael Bloomberg on Islamic Community Center in Lower Manhattan, last week on The Daily Show
Find the beginnings of a We the Wiki page on this debate HERE. Log in and add your information to the post.
Political season ranks right behind football and baseball season as my favorite time of year. I can do without the robocalls from former presidents and candidateâ€™s spouses or moms. Even the littering of signs is a bit much. I just admire how people will stand outside for hours waving signs in 100+ degree heat for a candidate that they believe in.
In 2008, I happened to be in Nashua, NH during primary season and if anyone wants to see the real beauty of politics, they need to go to NH. Like spring training for Cubs fans, hope springs eternal and everyone is still in it. It is common for a presidential candidate to have coffee with a group of 3-5 voters in a living room everyday. I volunteered to a candidate that I supported and was amazed at the people that came from all over the country on their own dime to make hundreds of calls a day, wave signs in the snow, and go without sleep for weeks just because they believe their candidate can make a difference. It really is the best of America.
So here we go again and in the spirit of a pregame breakdown of two teams I detail how Republicans and Democrats win or lose in November.
How the Democrats win:
The economy, job and housing markets and news improves.
Run like a winner. If their agenda is the best way for America then run on the record. Run on health care, financial reform, stimulus, everything. Not personal attacks, run on an agenda.
The Republicans donâ€™t get out of their own way or fail to provide a roadmap. They will pick up seats but not take over.
Listening. One thing that Republicans lost on a few years ago was just listening. They became so wrapped up in their power that they forgot that they represented people.
Do what they say, say what they mean. Donâ€™t say that PAYGO rules and discretionary spending is frozen and then pass billions in extended unemployment without having a way to pay for it. Donâ€™t say that earmarks will be cut â€œwith a scalpelâ€ then pass billions in earmarks. People arent stupid, stop treating them as they were.
How the Democrats lose:
Unemployment the same, stock market falling, consumer spending stalls, lack of good news. John McCain actually led after 8 years of Bush until Lehman happened. Dems can say anything that they want, but people are awake and listening and hard to believe numbers that require a PhD in economics and a magic 8 ball.
Running against George Bush. Politics is about the future. You cant own congress for 4 years and not claim any responsibility for bad decisions that happen on your watch. Itâ€™s foolish and worse it implies that people that vote for them are foolish.
How the Republicans win:
Define the narrative and create a roadmap beyond tax cuts. A new Contract with America that shows a unified movement and plan.
Seek to understand peoples issues then attempt to be understood. This is a center-right country, but arrogance and lack of understanding is where they started to falter before.
Be principled. Be simple. Be courageous. I’m not talking about reducing to slogans but define who you are and that the path forward will require some pain, but it allows people to see beyond the next election cycle. We need a 15-20 year executable plan on sustainable energy, social security, budget, etc. and that may not include that elected official being there to take a victory lap but show the courage to say no to some things need to go.
How the Republicans lose:
They assume victory. Bad things happen to people and parties that arent exhausted from outworking and outthinking their competition.
George Bush somehow gets on the ticket by association. If after 2 years of motivation and anger this happens, as a Republican I will dip myself in honey and roll around in fire ant piles. Then join an obscure 5th tier party that secures 12 votes during a presidential election.
President Obama finds his voice again and it resonates. People are desperate for a transformative leader and are ready to sacrifice. In 20 years he can either be remembered as a Reagan or Kennedy or Carter. He needs to find it.
Prediction: Republicans pick up a healthy number in both but donâ€™t take over leadership. Worst thing that can happen to Democrats because they still have the keys to power but have to have Republicans votes for anything. Gridlock may actually lift markets and lead some of the money on the sidelines back into the market. Obamaâ€™s numbers go a bit higher and set up a great next race.
Andrew is married and a father of two daughters. Owner of Wilcox and Hackett, LLC a legal recruiting and client development consulting firm. A conservative who likes healthy debate. Enjoys reading, writing, working out, sports, and BBQ cooking.
Before all of our events, we plaster the town with posters so people know what we’re up to. That includes grocery stores, public bulletin boards, churches and your living room if you’re willing. We get all sorts of responses to the plastering, from warm welcomes to recitations of no-poster policies.
A couple of years ago we took a poster for Faith & The Founding Fathers to a large conservative church in town. I thought that was a safe topic and – as always – we want to invite as wide a diversity of opinion as we can to the table. Staff there said, as churches and some businesses usually do, that they have to get the OK of the pastor. A couple days later I got a call that it wasn’t approved and that I could come by to pick up my poster. I thought it was particularly kind and respectful of them to bother to call me back to get my poster (and wasn’t likely easy). (more…)