Compromise is an important part of leadership, federal budget debate

(This letter was originally submitted to The Rockdale Citizen on May 11, 2011).

Dear Editor,

On May 10th, Senator Pat Toomey (R-PA) unveiled a budget proposal that cuts national spending from 25% of the GDP to 18.5%.   Like other plans, Toomey’s enacts restrictions on entitlement spending and healthcare reform.

As I listened to the conference, what I found interesting was not the proposal itself, but the rhetoric framing the budget debate as communicated from the Republican co-signers of the proposal.  It was Toomey’s fellow Senators, Jim DeMint and Marco Rubio (of South Carolina and Florida respectively), that thanked him for his leadership on this issue.

Leadership:  When it comes to the budget debate, this loaded term invokes the apparent in-action of the Obama Administration in contrast to the Republican Party’s commitment to resolve the issue.

Whenever I hear about leadership, I get a little nervous.  Are the Republicans looking for leadership that seeks to balance the budget in a prudent and tempered fashion—a type of leadership that navigates through the complexity of a multi-trillion dollar system?  Or are they seeking the type of leadership like that of the previous presidential Administration, in which the executive branch bullied the legislative and judicial branches?

Leadership without patience and prudence has the potential to unleash unintended and long-term consequences.  The previous Administration’s costly and ill-informed unilateral attack on Iraq is just one example where lack of prudence failed to garner positive, cost-cutting results.

And there is something to be said about the Democratic Party’s inability to form a budget proposal whatsoever.  Certainly, a recession makes a proposal all the more difficult; but for a party that had control of both houses of Congress, this lack of leadership is inexcusable.

Suffice it to say, budgets are more complex than some might assume.  It took my wife and me days to carve out a budget on a mere five-figure income.  Imagine the time it takes to do that on a trillion-dollar scale—with a “scalpel” (in the words of President Obama) at that.

When it comes to weighty matters in which an entire nation is involved, leadership with an eye towards compromise is key to bringing about positive reform.  After all, the Constitution itself  was born out of compromise—Remember the “Great Compromise” in which the Founding Fathers married the best of the New Jersey and Virginia plans to develop representation in Congress?

Compromise is not a sign of weakness; it’s the foundation upon which our very democracy was built.

If leadership is the problem, both parties seem to be guilty, for true leadership happens when persons of difference can sit down and produce a plan that’s in the best interest of the greatest good.

There is great concern that federal debt must be dealt with, lest the issue become a problem for our children in years to come—to quote Sen. Rubio, if there is no action, “We will be the first Americans to leave our children worse off than ourselves.”

Perhaps we should ask ourselves what kind of legacy we are leaving our children when it comes to wise governing.  I’d rather model for my children healthy teamwork and conflict resolution than to pass on the anxious uncertainty inherent in partisan pontificating.   Let’s pray that both parties can get their act together and get us on the road to economic stability.

Blessings,

Rev. Joe LaGuardia

The Sluggish Journey of Christian Formation

Mid-term elections have come and gone and, despite apocalyptic campaign adds, the world did not end after all.  In fact, quite the opposite is true.  The rotation of the earth still takes a full 24 hours, and New Year’s Eve will fall on the 365th day as scheduled.

In the days to come, we will see if our elected officials can turn cheap talk and bitter rhetoric into actual legislation.  Many of them will find that, despite the excitement of campaigns, the daily grind of governing is not all that spectacular.  Much of it is downright boring and routine.

This reminds me of the Christian life sometimes.  When we become a Christian, we most likely make the decision in the throes of lofty, redemptive rhetoric.  Our conversion experiences and baptisms, first communions and commissionings are exciting events.   Enthusiasm runs high.  We read our Bibles with fervor.  We can’t wait to share the Gospel with everyone we meet, even our pets.

Eventually, we realize that our journey of faith is not always so emotional.   We have to do the hard work of living out our salvation on a day-to-day basis where our jobs, families, neighborhoods, and hobbies intersect.    We put one foot in front of the other in the midst of messiness and conflict, fragile families and failing economies.

The difficult task of walking with Christ can get mundane.  We can easily forget to pray or read our Bibles.  Our ancient, sacred traditions do not always relate to our current culture.   In all honesty, even clergy can become bored now and then.

Like politicians who must eventually govern in spite of the excitement of an election season, we must eventually get to the place where we relate to Christ with unyielding love despite emotional whims that come and go.

It’s like practicing scales repeatedly on a musical instrument.  It is tedious work, but it allows students to master both the instrument and the notes.  By the time the student performs, she knows those notes so intimately, she makes playing the instrument seem easy.  The regimen of a committed life fully transforms random notes into prayerful music–a work of art made in honor of art’s Master.

In Luke 7:18-23, John the Baptist sent messengers to ask Jesus whether or not Jesus was the messiah, God’s anointed one, who would usher in a new era of God’s salvation.   Everyone back then, John included, expected the messiah to come on the scene in a blaze of glory, raising an unstoppable army to overthrow the Roman Empire.

John had his doubts about Jesus because Jesus did not raise an army.  Jesus did not campaign to raise funds from the aristocracy.  Rather, Jesus spent time with the poor and powerless.  There was no demonstration of military power, only an anticlimactic Gospel message that emphasized reconciliation and forgiveness over violence and retaliation.

Jesus’ was a sluggish movement that inspired a consistent work ethic instead of heated speeches.   Consider that Jesus’ ministry took place over a three-year time span that began after thirty years of preparation.  The four evangelists–Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John–only record the most exciting moments in this history; the rest was just daily grind stuff–Jesus changed the world with baby steps and a simple dedication to God’s will.

We often move from one experience to another, overdosing on entertainment, over-stimulation, and sugar-highs.  The Christian life, however, is one lived out in conformity to a God that is not always so exciting.  15th-century saint, Thomas A’Kempis once wrote: “Thou art called to endure and to labour, not to a life of ease and trifling talk.”  That’s good advice in an age tall on promises but short on long-term commitment.