Labor Day and a Sixteenth Birthday

It is Labor Day 2012. And it is my granddaughter’s 16th birthday.

I celebrate labor. I want to blow the trumpets and announce again the importance of the work ethics of our founders, our grandfathers and grandmothers. My German grandfather was a master at teaching the value of honest labor. He never gave us a fish; he gave us a fishing pole. He never gave us money; he gave us the opportunity to earn money. Then he taught us how to keep some for that rainy day. He was grateful to his new country for the opportunity to own land, to build a multi-family home for his large family, to work from sun-up to sun-set; and to ride in the caboose of the long freight train that was taking his cattle and hogs to the markets in the stockyards of bustling Chicago.

As an immigrant, he seemed to understand better than many who are born in this country, how important it is for government to help you keep what you earn, rather than to figure out how to take more of a citizen’s earnings. He helped his children get their starts. He was an entrepreneur and a tough negotiator when it came to venture capital–the money he and his family had earned.

I sat at the end of the driveway this morning and contemplated the significance for me today of the double celebration. What do the next Labor Days hold for my 16 year old granddaughter? Will they be a celebration of hard work, of ethical behavior in the workplace,and of policies that will allow her to keep what she earns in the future? She works hard at her present endeavors; no one shoots the three-point shots for her; no one spends the hours doing her homework; no one takes her tests or writes her papers.

When she finishes her school work and heads out into her work world, what will she find? Will she find business, industry, and the professions prosperous and free, or will she find them further transformed to be controlled and largely owned by an ever-expanding government?

As I sat pondering the meaning of Labor Day and the future of my granddaughter, I thought about what college holds for her. Will those wonderful years be filled with opportunity to become all she was created to be, or will they be filled with an ever-increasing culture of entitlement, of subversion of our founding principles, of biases that re-write our history, of assassination of our founders, and one that belittles our founding documents that guarantee her freedoms?  Or will she encounter those bastions of truth that honor the exceptionality of this land and who instill the responsibility and humility that come with being a citizen of this great republic? Will she come out of college understanding and defending the Constitution rather than thinking it is a document that is outdated?

I ask these questions because I have spent a great portion of my professional career at the university level. And I see President Obama spending a great deal of time on college campuses. Why? Is the transformation not yet complete? I have seen all sides of the questions I ask. I have conducted classes during student strikes and I have walked by students occupying administrative offices. I have given diplomas and as a dean, recommended hundreds of students for degrees at all levels. What have the great private and state universities lost of their heritage that I should even be able to ask these questions?

Read the founding histories of education at all levels. You will be astonished as I have been even though I thought I knew the history. I lived on the inside of these institutions for many years. But the transformation has happened over time, and it has been intentional and clever. Our insistence on religious freedom has been a strength used against us. Our Christian foundings have been diminished or subverted; self-reliance has been replaced with entitlement all in the name of compassion and equality; equality of opportunity has been replaced with demand for equity; and self-reliance and responsibility have been replaced with demands for rights.

But I’m betting on my country and my Creator. I’m betting on the truth, innate desire for freedom, personal responsibility of our people, integrity, and hard work. And I’m betting on friends and neighbors to give people fish who really need help, but I’m hoping that the rest of us will take the fishing pole we are handed and learn how to fish.

Yes, I’m betting on future Labor Days to be celebrations of hard work, of self-determined enterprise, and an appreciation of all labor wherever it may be.

Yes, and I’m betting on a great future for my granddaughter. She is an American, born in this special land of opportunity, this one-of-a-kind place where she is guaranteed (if we keep these guarantees) life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.

Happy Birthday, dear one, on this 2012 Labor Day.

The Deadly “Ds”

The Deadly “Ds”

Sometimes you can make friends of your enemies. But sometimes you better get to know your enemies better than you know yourself  when you  know that their main goal, their purpose, is to destroy you.

I have such faith in the goodness, compassion and integrity of people that I may seem gullible,  like a person easy to deceive. When I was teaching at the high school level, I recall teachers telling me that they didn’t trust students until they proved their trustworthiness; my philosophy and behavior were witness to students that I trusted them until they proved otherwise. I knew in my heart that when I distrusted every teenager I met because some had caused me great distress, anxiety and thoughtful introspection, I no longer could serve students or for that matter, anyone else in any category. I had to believe in a sane world.

Back to friends and enemies. I was in Jerusalem immediately prior to the six-day war. Our group was evacuated from Amman, Jordon. We had not yet gone to Israel because we could not go to Israel and then to Jordon, so our plan was to go to Israel after our stay in Jordon was finished.  I stopped in Greece and continued on to Germany. By the time I reached Germany where my brother was stationed, the war was over. Israel had won a decisive victory. How?

When you can’t make friends with your neighbors and you’re quite certain that they mean to diminish or worse destroy you, you better find out more about them than you know about yourself. Yes, I said that before.

And Israel did. They knew the numbers and the conditions. They had to know everything about their enemies to the minute details of their eating, sleeping, coming, and going.

So it is in our lives. We do not want enemies; we do not need enemies. And we are stunned when they appear in our lives. It seems to be when we are filled with joy, with anticipation for the future, busy with good and useful tasks, and, as we say, when things are going swimmingly well.

Up crops the devil. Yes!  Literally. It happens in families; it happens in organizations; it happens in schools; it happens in churches. And so it is in my church as it has been in other places I have been. But it hurts the most when it happens in the place where you expect integrity, truth, kindness, compassion, joy, humility, friendship, and faith.

When you see pride and power replace humility, joy and laughter leave with the children and young families who leave, and the energy around you feels palpably negative, you are stunned and saddened. The positive energy that you expect in the house of God that feeds you spiritually has turned sour. You are confused and discouraged. You want to fix it, but those in positions who could aid, won’t. You just want to get away.

It is classic evil at work. It is harder to recognize in the sanctuary because we have come to believe that place is immune to such behavior.

We don’t want to see, hear, or believe that it could happen in our church when we are doing so well. Evil doesn’t have to work in evil places; it just sends a maintenance team.

But happy, successful, honest, and compassionate places require the big guns–the big “D’s”– DIVISION. DECEPTION. DESTRUCTION. DENIAL. DISCOURAGEMENT. All are DEADLY potions for trust, togetherness, friendship, faith, family, spirituality, and growth. All are a slippery slope to DISASTER and DESPAIR.