Wakeup and Smell the Sin – The Bundy Ranch and the Abuse of Power

How far can a government go before its people push back?  What are the limits of governmental power and how do we keep it in check?  What recourse do we have when government abuses power and refuses to “play by the rules”?  The opening of the American Declaration of Independence recounts the profound nature of these questions saying:

When in the Course of human events, it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another, and to assume among the powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which the Laws of Nature and of Nature’s God entitle them, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation.

This was written by a people who were convinced their government was willing to use its power to further its own interests at any time and any way it chose.  They lost faith in their government because it chose to use its power over them randomly and without recourse.  Their government threatened them economically.  They responded through economic sanctions against the government’s interests.  Their government threatened them politically.  They responded by setting up extra-governmental congresses.  Finally their government threatened their very lives and liberty.  They responded by taking up arms and forcibly removing those who abused power.

None of this happened in an instant.  It happened over the course of many years.  When it did come to a crisis it wasn’t just the tea party or the Liberty or Death speech or “the shot heard round the world.”  These are historical contractions; ways to make sense of events after they happened.  Those living in the events didn’t always see how they connected with both the past and the future, nor did they all agree upon what to do about it.  There were loyalists and patriots and at the time each thought the other thoroughly “unpatriotic” one way or another.

It would be a mistake to think that “civil discourse” existed in the time of America’s founding.  To believe our forefathers treated each other better than we do today is to be ignorant of history.  There has never been such a thing as clean politics; not in America, not in any country with any form of government at any time in history.  Politics are messy, and there have always been people willing to do anything to accumulate and exercise power over others.  It is exceedingly rare to find an instance where people on either side of an issue are completely in the right, or completely in the wrong.  Both sides abuse power, or attempt to manipulate circumstances to their greatest advantage using questionable article-2603026-1D12BF1A00000578-37_634x437tactics.  The American revolution wasn’t carried out by perfect people with a perfect claim against England.  The standoff at the Bundy ranch isn’t a case of perfect people against an imperfect government either.  So we have a serious problem:  we need government to live well because without it we are on our own against individuals likely to exercise and abuse power over us, but once we form a government it is made up from those same individuals who are likely to exercise and abuse power over us.

The American form of government is not all that it could be.  There is plenty of room for improvement.  But the thing we’ve gotten right; the thing that led an obscure backwoods colony to become the most influential and powerful nation on earth in less than 200 years, is the dilution of power.  That sounds strange, but its true.  America became more powerful than any other nation because its political system prevents the accumulation of power by the few and spreads it out over the many.  This counterintuitive form of governing created both freedom and restraint in the highest ratio ever seen on the world stage.

While our government has changed and grown, this core of diluting power so that freedom and restraint stay in balance has remained.  But the core of the core is our current problem.  There was a reason our forefathers feared the accumulation of power, and it wasn’t because they hated a particular king exercising it over them.  Our forefathers, and the majority of every generation of Americans until the last one, believed human beings were flawed and couldn’t be trusted with power.  We did not have illusions about our fundamental goodness.  We believed in a thing that sounds very old fashioned now:  sin.  Because sin was a fact and sin infected everyone, we knew instinctively that fewer people with greater power was a recipe for disaster.  This lesson was forcefully driven home to us by two world wars ignited by totalitarian egos, and a cold war driven along by the same thing.  But now we are a half generation removed from the fall of Soviet style communism, and a generation and a half past world war, and we no longer believe in sin.  You can tell by the way our leaders talk.  The Russian invasion of the Crimea elicited this response from our Secretary of State:

“You just don’t in the 21st century behave in 19th century fashion by invading another country on a completely trumped up pre-text.”

Our leaders don’t see that sinful people have always and will always make up pretexts for abusing power.  We are not getting less sinful because we have the internet, the best understanding of science, or the highest educational standards in history.  If anything history shows us that the more we advance technologically the more we will use that technology to abuse and exploit each other.  The ignorance of history and the loss of the language of sin leaves us in danger because it fosters an environment in which our natural suspicion of individuals who accumulate power is stunted.  We can’t believe the President of Russia would actually invade a country because he can and he wants to.  We can’t believe the President of the United States will ignore the Constitution because he can and he wants to.  We can’t believe these leaders are sinners.  There was a time when calling these men “sinners” whose every action deserved our careful scrutiny, would have been nothing more than an agreed upon fact.  We would not want to destroy them because they were sinners, we would just not allow them to act without restraint, without recognizing they were capable both of error and of deliberate abuse of power.  We would know this because when we looked inside ourselves we would see the same flaw. Now we are defenseless against sin because “sin” doesn’t exist; it died along with God.

Not only are we victims of the mythology of a sin-less world, but a godless world too.  We blindly trust government to act in our best interests all the time.  In other words, government now occupies the place of God in our culture.  It is both sinless and all powerful.  Questioning government activity is like questioning church doctrine.  Worshipping other gods above government is increasingly dangerous.  Appealing to another source other than government for freedom and protection is discouraged.

The only kind of people who can provide real and lasting help for the situation facing America today are those who know themselves to be sinners and the whole world to be broken by sinfulness.  These will be the only people with both the awareness and the humility to work together to solve our real practical problems.  These will be the only people with the guts to say no to the accumulation of power by sinful people and the self awareness to keep from grabbing it for themselves.  This is how our forefathers founded our nation; taking power from the powerful but dispersing it among the many.  The cowboys at Bundy had the guts to stand up to sin and the abuse of power.  If they act like Americans of old they will not abuse the victory and they will share power with others like themselves.  If I am not mistaken this kind of courage and restraint are going to become more and more necessary day by day if we are going to remain both a free and a powerful nation which is a force for good in a sinful world.




What Happens if We Forget First Principles

When a people loses touch with the land they lose touch with more than just geography, they lose touch with a fundamental principle of life:  the principle of sowing and reaping.  The ages brought us from agricultural society to industrial society, and now into information society.  We’ve gone from first hand experience of reaping and sowing to second hand to third hand.  Our distant ancestors were intimate with sowing and reaping, our recent ancestors lived in respect of it, but this age does not know or understand it.  The a-farmer-holds-sea-oats-seeds-in-his-hard-worked-dirty-hands,1937045implications are not just economic or political, but relational and spiritual as well.  Once we forget that we must sow in order to reap, or that others must sow and reap in order for us to thrive, we have forgotten how to live at all.  We don’t cultivate the ground – the earth, the communities, our own hearts any more.  We begin to believe life “just happens,” and that abundance is a right of human existence.  We expect to receive when we have done nothing to even prepare ourselves to receive, much less to sow something that someone else might receive.  Relationships wither as people stop sowing into another person’s life.  Marriages and industries, communities, economies, and nations cannot long survive and certainly do not prosper when the majority of us let go of the principle of sowing and reaping.

It takes courage to sow, but if you decide you are not going to do it you are contributing to the destruction of our world.  A time is coming when enough of us will be far enough removed from the land and the principle of sowing and reaping that the land will die.  Society will die.  It will take a movement of people who sow fearlessly to save us.  It will take a movement of people who teach others to cultivate real industry, real economies, real communities, real relationships.  I believe that movement can best be fueled by a people who most would suspect of having the least motive for doing it; Christians.  Why do Christians care about sowing and reaping in this world?  Isn’t the whole gig about getting out of this mess alive and moving on to heaven?  No it isn’t.  Christianity is not about escaping this world and going to heaven, it is about cultivating this current ground we hold as servants of the Landowner who is surely coming.  Christian doctrine is that yes, the faithful are going to be with God in heaven, but it is also that God is going to bring heaven down to earth.  This is the closing act.  Not disembodied spirits with clean hands stroking harps, but new bodies with new hands digging in renewed earth.  Becoming a Christian is not an act of cowardly escapism, it is an act of courageous acceptance of the responsibility to dig in here and now and to sow for heaven’s sake.

5 Reasons Smiling is a Good Idea

IMG_30321. A smile is a wedding dress for any face. (click to tweet)

2. We’re going to get eye wrinkles someday, would you rather have laugh lines or crows feet on your face?

3. It feels good (no really…try it right now and see what I mean).

4. Smiles make people wonder what’s going on…more wonder is good for the world.


5. A smile is the least expensive, most readily available tool for every one of us to make an immediate positive impact on our environment.

How the Aussie PM Displayed Servant Leadership

Last weekend Australia’s Prime Minister, Tony Abbot, carried out a campaign promise that almost went unnoticed.  He stood on line with others in his volunteer firefighting company as they spent 14 hours fighting a bushfire.  Prior to his election Abbot vowed he would keep serving with his local fire brigade, something he’s done since 2001.

Pull quote from the full story: “While many Twitter followers praised his volunteering spirit, others questioned the wisdom of the nation’s leader putting himself in the line of fire.”

Leaders who keep their promises and who serve…where have we heard that one before??564442-08eeb1b2-393b-11e3-a826-323d4d841c99

What to do about Breaking Bad Withdrawals

Breaking Bad is done, but if you want to have great insights into where a show like it came from, read Brett Martin’s book Difficult Men.  It is a history of what is being called the third golden age of television.  An age ushered in by shows like Oz, The Wire, The Sopranos, and continued by Mad Men and Breaking Bad.  I listened to the audio version and drove out of my way some days so I could hear an extra 15 minutes.download (2)

Why Are Jews Leaving France?

A warning for all of us:  the seat of the Enlightenment, ground zero for “higher” education and the rise of humanism fostered the Holocaust.  No one believed it could happen in such an educated, civilized, religious place like Germany.  Civilization, education, and religion are merely water on snakeskins that John the Baptist warned about as people came asking him to wash away their sins (Luke 3:7-8).  The gospel is the penetrating power to change us and turn us into people who can not only tolerate the stranger, but also to love an enemy.

The story out of France this week:
“Today Jews are migrating out of France, and this is occurring in increasingly larger numbers. This migration starts within France, as a mere change of locations. In Greater Paris, middle-class Jewish families are deserting neighborhoods that have been engulfed by more recent immigrants from Africa and the Near East. These new immigrant images (2)populations have proven prone to violence, and as radical Muslims, many entertain negative views about Jews and Judaism. Harassment, arson, and assault are frequent. There have been several murders. Even the liberal-minded Imam Hassan Chalghoumi of Drancy, who advocates friendly relations with Christians and Jews, was threatened and assaulted.” (full story here)

Coptic Christians Suffer with Egyptians

images (1)What is happening is that all of Egypt is being targeted, not just the Christians,” said Fr. Dawoud, a priest at the Virgin Mary church. “Enough! People are getting sick and tired of this.” – reporting on a shooting at a Christian wedding this week

Religion cannot tolerate competition for its affections.  It will oppress, suppress, depress, or deny all people trying to live in its vicinity.

My Children Laughing

I love the sound of my children laughing.  To this day it delights my heart in a way nothing else does. I have no doubt the Father in heaven loves the sound of our laughter too. CS Lewis said “Joy is the serious business of heaven.” I don’t think we can be healthy where there is never any laughter. And I think God would say to all of us what John Candy said of his niece in Uncle Buck: “I don’t think I want to know a 6 year old who isn’t a dreamer or a silly heart.”