Friday, March 26, 2010

Reasoning Together

Come, let us reason together.
Isaiah 1:18

I remembered a speech in which Lyndon Johnson used those words. I remembered it as a speech about the Viet Nam War, but I wondered if it could have been a speech about Civil Rights.

As it turns out, that was one of President Johnson’s favorite Bible verses and he used it all the time. And when I went back to read contemporary accounts of his Presidency, I found that one of his great goals was building consensus.

Those words come back to me now because this is a time, as a nation, when we need to reason together. We need to listen to each other. We need to think. As John Wesley said, “We need to think and let think.”

Jesus calls to pray for the coming of the Kingdom of God. And we are promised that God will meet us in the future. But sometimes I find myself going backwards, with a deep sense of nostalgia for the way things used to be. The challenge, of course, is to maintain the enduring values of the past and carry them into the future.

In the 1980’s when Congress was debating President Reagan’s plan to cut spending and taxes, I was serving Mathewson Street Church in Providence. A woman on our staff spoke with me about one small part of that plan, which would cut early intervention services for children with developmental delays and other congenital problems. Nancy’s daughter, Carol, had been born with Spina Bifida. At that time she was a little girl; a brilliant little girl with a wonderful talent for music and a million dollar smile. Later she would become a wheel chair athlete.

Nancy explained that one reason Carol had transcended her disabilities was that she had benefited from early intervention and that these services would be cut under the plan being considered in Congress. Their family could have purchased those services on their own, and they would have done that, but they were more fortunate than most. Other children would just be left behind. “And,” said Nancy, “once they miss that early intervention, they can never make it up.”

Together we decided to visit Senator John Chafee, one of the most influential leaders in Congress. The meeting lasted perhaps half an hour. After listening to Nancy’s concern for a few minutes, he got up and went into the next room to get a staff person to take notes. He asked questions and listened carefully. Nancy explained how money spent on intervention early in a child’s life would not only benefit the child; it would also save money on support services later. He did not promise to change the legislation, but he did promise to raise the issue and talk with other senators and with staff people. A few months later, the legislation was passed, and the early intervention program had been restored.

The point is not that he agreed with us, although he apparently did. The point is that he was willing to listen and that he really did want to do what was best for the country. I miss John Chafee.

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