Cleaning up the kitchen on my day off with everyone else away, I turned on the news. President Obama was addressing the U.N. General Assembly. He presented what he evidently believed were strong ideas about the state of the world. He is often recognized as a well-regarded speaker; I believe passionate presentations like today’s are why. Immediately after the speech, however, a handful of pundits (on CNN) expressed disappointment (thinly disguised criticism) because he gave no specifics. He was, to quote/paraphrase one of them, “the professor telling the bad people that they should not be bad people.” The speed at which they disposed of his speech was stunning. Per their estimate, it was a worthless and wasted effort, and his last chance in office to offer something to the U.N. that would be paid attention to. Wow! Their critique was a lesson for me as a communicator. Ideas are not enough. If action isn’t the substance of what a leader communicates, the followers don’t have anything to follow. There’s nothing to do but listen. Jesus was so different than the rest of us in this regard. He said things like, “Come to me and I will give you rest.” Often the specific action Jesus taught was to trust or follow Him specifically. He is still communicating this to His followers, all of us. He is still the specific action He teaches. No one had better ideas for the world than Jesus, and no one had so complete a solution. He was and is the solution He offered. And He didn’t come just to help us make things better; He came to redeem us, to save us, to deliver us from death itself and its cause: our sin.
The Pope’s visit to America is getting full media coverage and because of this, so is the difference between “conservative” and “liberal.” Years ago my Hasidic friend of many decades told me. “John, I have much more in common with you, religiously, than with any liberal Jew.” And just today I heard a Baptist pastor on TV say that he had much more in common with Pope Francis and the Catholics he knew than with any liberal Baptist pastors. I would say this is true for me too. Pope Francis is much closer to me as an Evangelical Presbyterian Church minister than any liberal Presbyterian minister would ever be. It makes me wonder if the term “liberal” really cancels any noun it modifies. This would mean that a liberal Christian is not a Christian. A liberal Jew, per my friend, is not a Jew. Although this thought looks like it might be provocative or offensive, it really is not meant to be. “Liberal” is just a funny word. It really is a negation. To be liberal is to be at odds with the original meaning of a thing. It is to present oneself as superior to the original meaning of a thing. Liberals know better in their minds than conservatives. This is the DNA of liberalism. Liberalism always views itself as an improvement over the original meaning of a thing. Those of us who are conservative disagree. The Bible, life, God, and faith for us must be what they always were, or else they lose all meaning.