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Breathe a sigh of relief…

The headline on the Inquirer’s Monday front page declared: “We have a debt ceiling deal.” With just days to spare, the powers-that-be have negotiated a settlement they believe will pass the House and Senate, allowing the government to continue to meet its obligations. In simple terms, this deal, if passed by our lawmakers, will prevent a U.S. default on our debt. For the last several weeks, we have heard politicians posture on the right and the left of this debate, with little sign of compromise, each claiming the high ground of seeking the ‘common good’. But in reality, they have all been playing politics that have very real consequences for the average American household and for the stability of international economics. The political commentators have dubbed this game- brinksmanship. Merriam-Webster dictionary defines brinksmanship as “the art of pushing a dangerous situation or confrontation to the limit of safety, especially to force a desired outcome.” I am not sure I would call the actions of our politicians an “art”. Their political dance seems more thuggish in style, with their desired outcome being their own political aspirations. Instead of the glorified term brinksmanship, we should more rightly call their game- ‘playing chicken.’

Watching the shenanigans in Washington has left me feeling frustrated, angry, helpless, so I turned to the wisdom of one of our founding Fathers- John Adams- for a more sane political voice. John Adams helped to inspire America’s revolution and shape her founding principles with his rhetoric about the meaning of liberty. He was a part of the fiveman committee which drew up the Declaration of Independence and then became that document’s most ardent advocate. Adams became the nation’s second president. His unwillingness to accept bribes did not play into the political system of patronage and favors that had already emerged in our budding democracy. Though he did not secure a second term as president, Adams cemented his place in American history as a man of integrity and honesty, with the courage to speak for the ideals of our democracy.  

Fascinating, Adams anticipated the dangers of brinksmanship as he helped to form our government. He wrote:
There is nothing which I dread so much as a division of the republic into two great parties,
each arranged under its leader, and concerting measures in opposition to each other.
This, in my humble apprehension, is to be dreaded as the greatest political evil under our Constitution.
I offer you a few more Adams quotes to ponder with me:
Human passions unbridled by morality and religion…
 would break the strongest cords of our Constitution as a whale goes through a net.

I fear that in every elected office, members will obtain an influence by noise not sense. 

By means, not greatness. By ignorance, not learning. By contracted hearts, not large souls… 
There must be decency and respect. 

Because power corrupts, society’s demands for moral authority and character increase as the importance of the position increases. 

Power always thinks it is doing God’s service, when it is breaking his laws. 

Liberty, once lost, is lost forever. 
While we might find John Adams to be a bit dour in his perception of human integrity, and a bit too pessimistic about the future of our ‘political experiment’, I find his words to be a sobering commentary on what we are currently seeing in our political leaders.
I found the contrast to reading about the shenanigans in Washington, and Adam’s dour commentary on their political performance, also on the front page of Monday’s Inquirer. The article was placed under the fold… given a bit less importance than the ‘debt ceiling deal’… but the story is a poignant reminder that there are still heroes who know the value of sacrifice. The story is about the grandfather of the Eagles’ newest offensive lineman drafted from the University of Alabama. While Tyler Steen’s value to our football team is yet to be proven, the valor of his grandfather has been honored with the Congressional Medal of Honor. Steen’s grandfather, Sgt. Rodney Davis, served with the Marines in Viet Nam in 1967. Just three weeks after arriving in that country, Davis threw himself on a grenade to save five fellow Marines. Davis left behind a wife and an infant daughter, who grew up to be Tyler Steen’s mother. Sgt. Rodney Davis’ self-less act so inspired the leaders of the Naval forces that they christened a ship with his name in 1985. Sgt. Davis lived the fullest meaning of St. Paul’s description of Christian love- “honor one another above yourself.” (Romans 12:10), and Jesus’ declaration of the greatest love- “to lay down your life for a friend.” (John 15:13). Imagine if our politicians took a moment to contemplate that call to action.

John Adam’s favorite Bible verse was Micah 6:8- “Do justice, love mercy, walk humbly with your God.” He argued that God’s call to action was the only antidote to the corrupt instincts of humanity. Perhaps Adams is right. Surely, the best antidote to the helplessness we feel as we watch games of brinksmanship played in Washington, is to live our faith with integrity in our place and time, just like Sgt. Rodney David did… to sacrifice for another … to honor one another above ourselves. We may not be able to change the power games in Washington, but we can make a difference here and now. May we be a people who walk humbly with our God, bringing justice and mercy into our community, with the sacrificial heart of Sgt. Davis.

With you learning to answer the call,
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