Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Four Ways to Make the Best of a Bad Mess of a Political Season

Photo Credit: Mark Grace
Most people wouldn't recognize the name Harry Emerson Fosdick any more, but he was very well known in 1930.  As a matter of fact, he made the cover of Time Magazine.  Fosdick was a Baptist minister, hated with an abiding hate by the religious legalists of his time and renowned for his ability to make the Bible come alive to ordinary women and men.  The late Martin Luther King, Jr., counted him as an influence.

And though I will never be the preacher that King was, I like to think that Fosdick has influenced me as well.  I don't agree with all of his theology, but you already know that I have a passion for our desperate need to learn from people that we don't agree with.  That seems to me to be the only way out of the current mess we are in as a culture.

One of Fosdick's most famous sermons was titled, "Making the Best of a Bad Mess."  The sermon was based on Titus 1:5, "For this cause I sent thee, that thou shouldst set in order the things that are lacking and should appoint elders in every city, as I have appointed thee." 

Fosdick opens the sermon by imagining the young Titus reading that line from his mentor Paul.  

Fosdick wonders what could have caused Paul to write to Titus.  

Perhaps a communication from his young protege, detailing the bad mess he found in Crete, the place where Paul had sent him. Maybe Titus had described in great detail how difficult the work was, describing the low character of the Cretans, who were infamous as liars, thieves, cheats and murderers.  

Paul's unsympathetic response to Titus was brief and to the point- "for this cause I sent thee . . ."  If there had been no mess, there would be no reason for Paul to have sent Titus.

You can read Fosdick's marvelous sermon on your own.  It is not my intent here to re-preach it.  I do, however, intend to use his title and main idea as a jumping off point.  In the process I want to address four ways that we can deal with the political quagmire we find ourselves in during this run up to the presidential election.


If you think that faith is supposed to get you out of trouble, then you have haven't been reading your Bible.  It is my strong opinion that we Christians are serving the devil up a fat, slow pitch every time we wring our hands and moan about the fact that the world is such a godless place.  

If it weren't then we would not have been called to the work God has set in front of us.  

It is time to get over ourselves, and especially time for Christians in the U.S. to stop whining about how things are not what they should be.  Count it all joy, as the Apostle James exhorts us, when you fall onto difficult and trying times.  Or as Mr. Dawson, one of my high school coaches used to say, "It may not be good to you, but I can tell you that it is good for you."

The resiliency theorists label this key survival trait with the term, "optimizing realism," or the resolute, unblinking acceptance of reality that causes us to make the best of future possibilities. 

Optimizing realists leave fear-mongering to the religious and political marketers, who have shown no compunction about constantly mashing the panic button to milk one more reaction from a panic weary public.

Photo Credit: www.123RF.com


"Hope lies to mortals," said W.H.Auden in an insightful poem.  

When asked the difference between those who survived and those who did not survive imprisonment at the hands of the North Vietnamese, medal of honor recipient James Stockdale said, "The optimists were the first to give up emotionally and succumb to death." 

When asked how this could be, Stockdale stated that the difference for the survivors lay in where men placed their ultimate faith- not in being set free by Christmas, or Easter, or July 4, but in preparing themselves for the long battle and believing deeply in the fact that they would eventually experience liberation. 

If you are hoping this presidential election will take care of your problems, or if you have convinced yourself that the defeat of your candidate will spell disaster for you and for this country, then you have placed your trust in the wrong things.  

"The state is destroyed," goes a well known Taoist saying, "but the mountains and rivers remain."  

Can you trust in the creator of mountains and rivers?  


To paraphrase a well-known business motto, fail early, fail often and fail forward.  Accepting the need for risk and the inevitability of failure can prepare us emotionally and spiritually to forgive ourselves and others.

I'd like to suggest that you resist wrestling over your need to forgive, spending lots of time in prayer asking God to give you a forgiving spirit, or anguishing over why you don't yet feel more forgiving.  Forgive yourself and others today. Right now. And if you find that it didn't stick, then forgive yourself and others tomorrow.  And keep forgiving.  

Seventy times seven might be a good goal to shoot for.

A breath prayer that I use frequently goes this way, " I am not dismayed or disappointed by my failures.  I love myself fully in the midst of apparent defeat, confusion, difficulty and delay.  I own my mistakes and I confess them to God and to appropriate others."


An interesting term that Resiliency experts often use is the term "briccolage." It refers to a person's capacity to sift through the ashes of defeat to find useful material from which to start again.  

Briccolage reminds me of a favorite television show I watched as a teenager, "MacGyver." 

The repeating plot was predictable.  Richard Dean Anderson would find himself in a very difficult situation, many times facing certain death.  Invariably he saved himself and others by making use of ordinary every day items that he found at hand. He turned those common items into the instruments of his salvation.

The Christian word for "briccolage" is redemption.  The mass marketers, political spinsters and campaign strategists don't want you to believe in redemption.  They want you to fear making the wrong choice.  They want you to believe that your one chance for salvation is to vote the way they scare you to vote.

We have been called to a higher purpose than to serve as lab rats for propagandists.  

We have been called to the ministry of briccolage, to be ambassadors of reconciliation and redemption.

As usual, I am interested in what you are thinking in response to what I've written here.  What is your strategy for making the best of the mess we find ourselves in these days?

Photo Credit: www.crosscards.com

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