At work the other day, I was setting a project plan with an employee. I asked if the plan made sense. The employee said, “Yep, that makes sense.” A nearby customer, reacting to the exchange, raised up his arms in celebration and proclaimed, “Thank God, there is a place where things still make sense!”
The three of us had a good laugh. The gentleman may not have intended any deeper meaning, but his remark made an impact only because we had found common ground. Like all good comedy, things are funny when they, on some level, correspond to reality. With so much having been turned around, flipped over, or simply cancelled out, many are feeling our world no longer makes sense. Can you identify with that feeling?
If things don’t make sense right now in our country, there must have been something, at other times, that did make sense. What are the conditions, characteristics, and attributes that make a situation or an entire culture-make sense?
To answer the question, let’s breakdown a football game. A football game makes sense because both teams share the same identity as football players, and they have the same purpose-score more points than the other team to win the game. The game also makes sense because both teams get the same opportunities, and everyone agrees to play by the same rules established by the league office. The integrity of the game is protected by officials who apply the rules equally to both teams and assess penalties justly. There is even a system in place to resolve issues that arise, and it works for both teams. We may not always agree with the officiating, and our team may not win, but the game, at a basic level, makes sense.
Our culture works the same way. At a basic level, things make sense when there is a shared sense of identity and purpose, everyone plays by the rules, there are just penalties for wrong-doing, and the system to address issues works fairly for everyone. The basics of our culture are important. They provide the foundation on which everything else is built.
Legendary football coach Vince Lombardi knew this great truth. He started every season with the same basic lesson. “Gentleman, this is a football.” You can’t get much more basic than that!
One of the reasons we are in the cultural situation we are today is that we’ve forgotten our basics, our foundation. There is a reason why the United States, over time, developed into the most productive, revered, and giving nation in the history of the world. I understand there are people who will take issue with me for simply making this statement. Stay with me, please. Your future depends on it.
Our country is hurting. Between the civil and racial unrest, the pandemic, all that surrounded the federal elections, and all the personal and family situations and events in our lives, we’ve experienced 25 years of pain in the last 12 months.
In any situation where a person-or a country-is hurting, the healing process starts with essential first-aid. In medical situations, first-responders provide first-aid to maintain healthy essential functions before moving on to advanced care. If the heart stops, it won’t matter if the left arm is broken. Remember, “Gentleman, this is a football.”
For over 200 years, there was a widely accepted and celebrated foundation on which our country stood.
We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.
(Declaration of Independence)
The Pledge of Allegiance was recited in schools and everyone stood for the National Anthem. I know, I hear all the media stories, too. Some things have changed and there are those who are working to cancel elements of our history. (I’ll help you understand how even these efforts make sense in a forthcoming blog.) Yes, it is critical that we recognize and work to heal the terrible parts of our history, but life-giving first-aid does not include ripping out the heart of our unique national body. A short story will help.
In 2001, my family had the honor of meeting Lt. Robert Martin, and three other Tuskeegee airmen. Lt. Martin agreed to partner with me. We published an article about his life as a young black man growing up in predominantly white Dubuque, Iowa, in the 1920’s and 1930’s. Against the odds, Lt. Martin graduated from high school, earned his Bachelor’s degree in Engineering from Iowa State University, and joined the Army. He became a member of the first African American fighter squadron that trained at Tuskeegee, Alabama. The Black Birdmen, as they were called by German pilots in World War II, trained on separate airfields, ate in separate dining halls, and slept in separate quarters.
We enjoyed a number of wonderful phone conversations as we developed the article. I’ll never forget the day I finally braved enough courage to ask Lt. Martin a question that had been on my heart from the beginning. I was becoming aware of my white privilege and I wasn’t sure I had the right to even ask the question. Yes, white privilege is a thing, but it’s not everything you hear about in the media. Lt. Martin was gracious and moved quickly to the answer that testified to a heart-felt and deeply held conviction.
“Bob,” I asked. He had invited me to address him so. “With all the bad things happening to African Americans, why were you willing to die for our country?”
“Rick,” he replied. “We knew what was happening in Germany.” Lt. Martin was referring to the holocaust of the Jewish people and other identity groups at the hands of Hitler’s army. “We knew things could get worse, but we all believed the United States had the right foundation and things were getting better.” Lt. Martin passed away in 2018 at the age of 99. His story testifies to the unifying power of a shared ideal that helps things make sense, even in times of war.
Providing effective medical first-aid requires an understanding of essential organs and systems of the human body. Providing effective first-aid for a hurting nation requires an understanding of the essential foundation and the basic elements of our nation. There is so much included in the words and ideas of the Declaration. Today, we’ll focus on only four words: truth, equality, creator, and liberty.
We hold these truths not only points to the specific truths that follow in the Declaration, but even more important today, truths points to the foundational belief in the existence of truths-those things that are essentially accurate, correspond to natural reality and are not open to debate; they transcend movements in time, and are not relative to individual situations or opinions. We are becoming a relativistic society where people feel they can have their own truth depending on how they feel about something or what they think is true about a situation at a given moment in time.
St. Augustine said, “We love the truth when it enlightens us, but we hate it when it convicts us.” Our foundation calls us to be diligent about discernment, to put in the time to pursue and hold fast to what is true about our nation, the good, the bad, and the ugly.
We could start at the word and idea of equality and go a million different directions. But remember, “Gentleman, this is a football.” Our foundation includes a basic belief in the equality and value of every person. And it’s not coincidental that the Declaration includes a recognition of and reverence for our Creator. God, the God of the Bible, and the ideas, laws, and processes taken directly from the Bible were the nutrients in the soil of our foundation that nurtured the roots of liberty. Freedoms are granted by human institutions and can be revoked by the same; but liberty, those inalienable rights, come from God and cannot be revoked by human institutions. They can be stifled, but not revoked.
These ideals and attributes help our nation make sense. If not God’s law, then whose? History records the stories of nations who adopt God’s law and those who follow after man-made laws. The Bible tells the story of the nation of Israel and the blessings and curses that befell God’s chosen people as they worshipped God, and when they worshipped other gods.
Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, the great Russian philosopher once said, “Over a half century ago, while I was still a child, I recall hearing a number of old people offer the following explanation for the great disasters that had befallen Russia: ‘Men have forgotten God; that’s why all this has happened.’ Since then I have spent well-nigh 50 years working on the history of our revolution; in the process I have read hundreds of books, collected hundreds of personal testimonies, and have already contributed eight volumes of my own toward the effort of clearing away the rubble left by that upheaval. But if I were asked today to formulate as concisely as possible the main cause of the ruinous revolution that swallowed up some 60 million of our people, I could not put it more accurately than to repeat: ‘Men have forgotten God; that’s why all this has happened.’”
There is a great lesson here about our nation’s woes. We, too, have forgotten God. This makes our most essential wound, a spiritual wound. In the great lesson is also a prescription for spiritual first-aid. We need to remember God and return to Him for His guidance and blessings. Our nation’s history includes our great hero’s calling on the providential care of the Almighty in times of trouble. Will we do so, in our current times of trouble?
Things make sense when we recognize who God is and remember we are on stage but for a single scene in the great epic drama of time. The prescription for spiritual first-aid also includes getting caught up in the main character in the great drama-Jesus, the Christ of the one true and Living God. You may need to step back from your wall to see this great truth. Each of has a wall and when we stand too close to it, we lose sight of what is around us. The answers we seek are often behind us, above us, or beside us, just out of our field of view.
We wake each day to a world that is more and more anti-God and anti-Christ. If you are like me, you have questions, and doubts. It can be hard to hold on to faith in Christ, much less start a new relationship with Him. When providing spiritual first-aid, it’s important to recognize that doubts lead to questions, and questions, if left unanswered, can plummet into total disbelief.
Christ heard some of our very same questions and doubts from his very own disciples. Believe me, He hears ours, too. In my next blog, we’ll look at how Jesus answered his disciples. His response is just as comforting and validating for us today! We’ll also apply the same lessons of spiritual first-aid to our individual lives. Things makes sense personally when we understand our situation, space, identity, and purpose. We’ll also look at who our enemy is and learn how to be engaged against his attacks.
Prescription for spiritual first-aid
Reading the Word of God is essential spiritual first-aid. If you are not currently reading the bible, I encourage you to start with the Gospel of John, a chapter a day. Join us as we get caught up in Christ!