|UST TALKED WITH a editor of a local newspaper. We like each other but have precious little in common as far as political ideology is concerned.|
He is liberal; I am conservative. He is pro-abortion; I am pro-life. He voted for Mondale, Dukakis, Clinton, and Kerry; I, for Reagan, Bush, Dole, and Bush. He advocates more spending and higher taxes; I prefer cutting government and letting Americans decide family-by-family how to spend their own money. "Hi, I'm with the government and I'm here to help," is music to his ears. I am with Reagan in considering that phrase as the scariest in the English language.
But my question to him was along these lines: "How do you keep from getting cynical?"
He understood the direction of the inquiry. Years ago, when I started writing a column for the statewide daily and launched a talk-radio show not long after that, I knew who the good guys were and who the bad guys were. I made that a decision ideologically, and the lines were pretty clear as far as I could see.
But then you get to know the politicians. You watch their votes, you have discussions with them, you note how they treat people as they walk away from a conversation. You observe, and after a while you discover a troubling truth: there are very few genuine people in politics. Few who remain humble. Almost none who don't become full of their own power. They ride in on an electoral wave to "change the system" and, alas, the system seems to change them.
Maybe it is because of the perks. Maybe it is because of the debates and having to always defend yourself and your side. Maybe it is because arrogance rides in on political parties and the "my team is the best team" mentality. Maybe it is because it is difficult, in a very serious business, not to take yourself too seriously.
What I know is this -- we need people who can do it. People in public service who maintain integrity even when it is nearly impossible to do so within "the system." People who have a proper perspective of themselves in light of an awesome God and a noble history as a nation. People who can recognize and admit they are wrong and instead of forever trying to hide that fact.
Quick antidotes to conceit in politicians and for journalists and political aficionados prone to point out such arrogance:
There are undoubtedly some other helpful ideas for those prone to self-importance (politicians, you, me), but these constitute a good start. Because politicians, I have thought even as I write this, are simply a microcosm of "We the People ..."
- Weekly, serve for at least two hours someone less fortunate than yourself (AIDS hospice, nursing home, prisoner literacy, etc.)
- Say once a day, at least: "I am wrong, you are right."
- Read the Bible and pray one hour a day. Sit in a church under a pastor who can discern when a hard word is necessary and doesn't shrink from saying it. Confess regularly and openly your sins to some you can trust.
- Pray through Thomas à Kempis' Imitation of Christ daily. (Excerpt: "This is the highest wisdom, by contempt of the world to tend toward the kingdom of heaven. Vanity therefore it is, to seek after perishing riches, and to trust in them. It is also vanity to hunt after honors, and to climb to high degree .... Vanity it is, to wish to live long, and to be careless to live well .... It is vanity to set thy love on that which speedily passes away, and not to hasten thither where everlasting joy abides.")
- Establish a relationship with someone who can put his knuckles on your desk, tell you to "repent," and to whom you will reply, "Yes, sir."
Matt Friedeman (firstname.lastname@example.org) is a professor at Wesley Biblical Seminary. Respond to this column at his blog at "EvangelismToday.blogspot.com."
More columns by Matt Friedeman