Archives For politics

I am a huge proponent of studying the lives of the great people of history. Don’t get me wrong, I love watching a modern-day trailblazer in action but there is something more pleasing about studying another’s life in full to understand their story and what we can learn from it.

I want to know their dreams, adventures, successes, struggles, and what they learned in the process. Then I want to study the life application.

Those who know me and have read this blog are aware that I am a student of Winston Churchill as are many others. The latest book of his I am reading is Young Titan: The Making of Winston Churchill by Michael Shelden.

Most people know Winston Churchill by his magnanimous speeches with his deep British accent, his cigar in hand as he walked, and the way he led the United Kingdom with the Allies to victory in World War II. He is one of the most quotable people of all time and books continue to be written about him and I suppose more will continue to be for years to come.

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What most people do not know is that Winston Churchill was considered an incredible failure by the age of 40.

Like Churchill, we begin life with so much promise and hope – the world is to be conquered. Churchill was desperate to establish himself as a fast-moving politician in Edwardian England. He was an astute student of history and knew that he must be daring in how he lived to gain attention. He served in the military for a few years and in 1899 he was commissioned as a war correspondent during the Boer War. Churchill became famous worldwide for his fight in a train ambush and later through his daring escape from a POW camp in South Africa. Most Americans don’t know that he was a celebrity in the US even in his twenties and went on a massive speaking tour in North America to share stories from his Boer War heroics.

It’s easy to canonize Winston Churchill because of his successes. But, pay closer attention to his failures that made him who we know him today. 

During the First World War, Churchill was First Lord of the Admiralty and the chief proponent of the invasion of Turkey now known as the Gallipoli campaign. His strategy was to create a southern link to Russia, their ally. The Turks were a skillful and determined enemy, repelled the allies, and the campaign costed the lives of many young Australians and New Zealanders (ANZAC troops). Perhaps not solely responsible for the tactical defeat on the ground, the campaign was never the less Churchill’s idea and it crippled him politically for years.

Churchill was a big, fat, failure. 

We now know the rest of the story as it didn’t end there.

Churchill entered the political wilderness, dug in his heels, and marched back to eventually become Prime Minister during World War II.

So what do we learn from Churchill’s first half of life?

Churchill said it best,

“Success is not final, failure is not fatal: it is the courage to continue that counts.”

We may not live life with the type of drama that Churchill lived but we do share the ups and downs of life. Which honest person hasn’t had setbacks in life? We all have taken a punch or two to the face and even have fallen. It hurts admitting it but it is part of life.

“Courage is going from failure to failure without losing enthusiasm.”

Churchill’s life has taught us that failure is part of our journey and we become better because of it.

For that, we can keep getting back up and moving forward because victory in life is found in how we respond to the punches.

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If you know me personally or have read my posts before, you’ll discover that my life is shaped heavily by the lessons of Sir Winston Churchill. If you have read anything about him, you probably learned about the Prime Minister Winston Churchill of World War II or the Cold War. Yet, the hidden gem of Winston Churchill is found in his ” wilderness years.”

churchill sitting

In the Spring of 1929 when the Conservative Party lost the General Election in Great Britain and the 54-year old Winston Churchill stepped down as the Chancellor of the Exchequer, he had served in every major British Cabinet post except Foreign Secretary and Prime Minister. Churchill was never popular with the Conservative Party’s rank and file or its leaders thus he became marginalized throughout the 1930s leading up to World War II. He was in his wilderness.

gatheringstorm

These “Churchill wilderness” years are well represented by history books but my favorite portrayal of him on-screen during those years was by Albert Finney in The Gathering Storm (2002). In the movie, despite his political impotency, Churchill is the one of the few who most clearly (and accurately) sees Hitler’s Germany rearming and rising as a threat. By speaking up he becomes marginalized and dismissed as a war-mongerer. In addition, during those years he was having financial struggles and left to determine if he had any life left in him politically. Those were the years of building strength and courage to prepare for what was coming, the gathering storm. Thank God that our brave Sir Winston survived those years as they helped to fully develop the man who would lead (and arguably save) Britain in World War II.

Churchill brings encouragement to me in my wilderness. I have felt lately that I’m in it as well and trying to figure out a next stage of life and what God wants next for me. I am so thankful for this time because I can see God working despite not knowing the ending of this chapter. From one wilderness to another, Churchill is still teaching me. I am thankful for this wilderness.

The wilderness teaches us to

  • See more clearly because we are acutely seeking for purpose. We are thinking about what matters most in life.
  • Become more thoughtful in our writing, our personal relationships, and our prayer life.
  • Seek God for guidance. It is a time to remember that we are not alone. That is why God reminds us of why Jesus went into the wilderness. It was in preparation for something big.
  • Be patient. We need to slow down and embrace life’s meaningful development process.
  • Realize our potential.  God loves seeing victory through you.
  • Be thankful for the journey.

Great stories are written in wilderness. Embrace it.

You will be better because of it. We all will. 

The Lessons from Lincoln

September 14, 2012 — Leave a comment

For most of my life I wondered why there wasn’t a quality movie that captured our beloved 16th President, Abraham Lincoln. Thank God we are almost there. From what I have learned, this movie was not easy to make. Many have tried to capture Lincoln and the challenges he faced, endured, and overcame in his life and presidency.

Doris Kearns Goodwin paved the away with her outstanding storytelling of the relationship Lincoln had with his cabinet members during the Civil War in the acclaimed book Team of Rivals (Simon & Schuster, 2006).  Well, our prayers were answered when Steven Spielberg to direct this story and classic method actor Daniel Day-Lewis. I was in tears watching the movie trailer and you’ll see why. The movie is simply called Lincoln (2012).

The movie comes out this November, after our national election. I wish it could come out sooner to help the political climate but I can also understand why this will be more successful releasing then. No matter who wins this election, there will be a heated political climate and perhaps this movie will help unite in the spirit of Lincoln.

There is so much we can learn from our beloved Abraham Lincoln. One of my favorite things I learned about Lincoln in college was that when he would get so frustrated with his generals or another politican, he would sit down and write them a letter. I can imagine that letter would be filled with all sorts of frustration, perhaps even a cuss word or two. After he finished those letters, he would simply put it in his desk or throw it away. He would never send it. What a lesson in restraint while letting your emotions be released. No matter your occupation, try practicing that for a while and you’ll be amazed in how much it helps.

Lincoln is the Jesus of politics. We quote him a lot. We adore him in pictures. We work his name into conversations, letters, and speeches. We rarely practice what he preached, unfortunately. If we were to sum up Lincoln in lessons to learn, it would be the following:

Faith. Unity. Patience. Passion. Sacrifice. Perseverance.

Walt Whitman’s poem O Captain! My Captain! was a beautiful yet somber ode to our dear President after he was assassinated. It is a reminder to never forget what we have learned from him and appreciate his sacrifice for us.

O Captain! my Captain! rise up and hear the bells;
Rise up—for you the flag is flung—for you the bugle trills;

What Lincoln teaches me today is that unity and standing up for what is right can both exist. It is not over-idealistic. It can happen even despite great difficulties and if it were easy, it wouldn’t be worth fighting for in life. As we approach yet another heated election I pray for all of us to calm our rhetoric and look back to what our Captain has taught us.  Thank you O Captain.

What have you learned from President Abraham Lincoln? What excites you about this movie? 

P.S. I’m also excited about Stephen Mansfield’s book about his faith coming out at the same time, Lincoln’s Battle with God (Thomas Nelson, 2012). Stephen will be the absolute best person to tell Lincoln’s story of faith.

Across The United States this week we are celebrating many things. There is clear political division by health care, an upcoming Presidential election, international conflict, and more. If you watch the news, it is easy to get cynical about America these days.

This past week I met a very nice lady named Hong who has lived in America for twenty years. Hong is a wife, a mother, and a daughter and in her early 40s. She escaped her country for various reasons from what I picked up in conversation. As I listened to her, it was obvious that she came to our country for freedom when she said she was from Saigon. She did not call Saigon “Ho Chi Minh City,” renamed that after the Communist North Vietnam took over in 1975. I did not ask but Hong’s parents could have been those who didn’t get out when our embassy was dramatically evacuated in advance of invading North Vietnamese forces in 1975. It was clear that Hong escaped Vietnam to seek freedom with her family from communism. She and her family came here for a better life.

Hong is Catholic now and has a 10 and 12-year-old son and daughter. She came to the United States as a refugee with her parents, whom when working with a refugee group were able to select Nashville as a home where there were others in her family settling. I am always curious about why people select certain cities when they immigrate because in my ancestry research it was because one family member seemed to find it best and liked it. Soon after the rest followed just like Hong. Many of my ancestors came from Europe and continued to move from the east cost of the United States until eventually setting across the midwest, especially St. Louis on my father’s side. Like Hong’s family, for us in the midwest seemed to be work and family there.

What I appreciated in my interaction with Hong is that she is an entrepreneur trying to make her way and didn’t seem to expect anyone to help her. She was a proud and thankful American even though her accent was incredibly thick. Since moving here in 1992 she took the intentional steps to becoming a citizen. I can imagine Hong this week celebrating Independence Day in a way more meaningful way than most of us eating hot dogs, shooting fireworks, and watching parades. She is living a great story.

I am about 3 or 4 generations removed from when some of my ancestors came to the United States. How quickly I forget how many of my own ancestors escaped to America in such a similar way as Hong. The next time I catch myself complaining about my country, I will think of Hong. Our country is far from perfect but there is a reason people are trying to climb over the fence for a good and honest life here.

Hong will always be my reminder of freedom. 

This Independence Day, take a chance to listen to those who intentionally (especially as a refugee) came to the United States like Hong. You’ll be a better American because of it. 

Happy Independence Day my fellow Americans!

P.S. Truth be told and don’t judge me. I got to know Hong while getting a pedicure with my wife. Okay maybe I deserve to be judged.

Prior to watching the movie Iron Lady (2011) I figured that it would be a typical one-sided look at the conservative mind of Margaret Thatcher. Instead I found it as an intriguing study of an ordinary woman from an ordinary background overcoming incredible odds while the supporting character was her conservatism. It helps that the great Meryl Streep plays her (and well deserved the Oscar). Thatcher in the movie is quite quotable and didn’t rise up to become the longest-serving (1979–1990) British Prime Minister of the 20th century, and the only woman ever to have held the post for nothing.

“We will stand on principle… or we will not stand at all.”

There seems to be some truth to the line, “Well-behaved women seldom make history.” But how many amazing women don’t get noticed?  The unsung heroes are also the ones I want to know. Even today as a man it seems more difficult for a woman than a man to succeed in a career outside of the home and we should admire them uniquely. My wife and I are blessed and humbled to raise two wonderful daughters and we feel the responsibility to lead them carefully. I’d love to look up to their mother, grandmothers and other female relatives to learn their stories of perseverance. I want to also intentionally introduce the wide variety of female heroes.

There are great women to admire like Margaret Thatcher, Mother Teresa, Anne Frank, Helen Keller, Susan B. Anthony, Florence Nightingale, Joan of Arc, Sandra Day O’Connor, Sally Ride, J.K. Rowling, Harper Lee, or even biblical characters like Mother Mary, Ruth, Sarah, and Hannah, perhaps.  Like Margaret Thatcher, no matter what political philosophy one holds you can’t deny the spirit and tenacity of modern women like Hillary Clinton, Sarah Palin, and Oprah Winfrey. These women did some amazing things whether in the forefront or quietly behind the scenes and slowly their story became told with time. I want to tell their stories to my girls and teach them about these women’s strengths and yes even their weaknesses.  I want my girls to understand that none of these women were perfect but they made a difference because of some specific things and possess unique qualities to admire.

The qualities I’ve always admired in women who have made a difference are strength, faith, humility, gratitude, grace, perseverance, drive, patience, loyalty, and creativity.

Now I’m just white, 30-something male living in the burbs.  But I am also a dad who cares about his girls and wants to introduce them to some amazing women as they grow up.

Ladies, what say you?  

Who do you admire and why? Who inspired you when you were growing up?

Who are the unsung female heroes we can look up to? 

Not long ago I attended a conference in Washington, D.C.  I love that city.  It is easy to be cynical about D.C. and see it as a town only full of politicians with lobbyist leeches there to influence them.  I admit that I have been one of the cynics in the past.  I want to change and here is why.  What I like about DC is the same reason I enjoy parts of Nashville, New York, or Los Angeles.  You will undoubtedly meet someone from another part of the world.  Often I am called a pied piper so whenever I encounter someone from another culture, I am drawn to them to learn about their story.

I don’t recall who said these poignant lines but it goes like this:

Americans love to spend time and energy trying to understand who they are.  They unfortunately spend so little time trying to understand who the world is.

My understanding became much clearer after I visited Washington DC and experienced the following:

Experience #1: At the conference, the thousands who attended share a similar political ideology.  One thing that was evident was their passion for the “idea of America” and it surpassed a specific political ideology.  Anyone with an open mind can respect that.  I am a moderate conservative but their zeal resonated with me.  My hope is that when the world looks at America, they see freedom as I witnessed at the conference.

Experience #2: I met a Scottish girl named Shona who is married to an American friend of mine, Nathan and has lived in the United States for the past couple years.  I had lived and worked in Scotland in 2001 so we had plenty to discuss including politics, British and American culture, music, food, etc.  I asked her what the current pulse of the British people was about America. She seemed to agree that it was very much like the quote above.  I have been reading Tony Blair’s A Journey which provides an insightful political perspective on Anglo-American relations the past couple decades. Shona, Nathan, and I discussed in detail how we need to be more alert than ever before about protecting freedom.  As Brits and Americans, it is a special responsibiltiy we bear.  While we have not mastered it, we need to be a beacon of freedom and lead.

Experience #3: I met Sam Solomon from Ethiopia.  Sam is a cab driver whom we spent an intriguing 45 minute ride from central Washington DC all the way to Dulles International Airport.  He lives here legally, is married, and has four children.  Sam wouldn’t stop smiling when talking about America. Sam said he still has family in Ethiopia but doesn’t see a reason to go back unless it is more free and things change. We discussed that not far from Ethiopia an uprising is happening in the Middle East driven primarily by citizens wanting a democratic process.  America has given Sam the opportunity to start a business, raise a family safely, and live free.  We all need to listen to the Sam Solomons living in America.

My lessons from these experiences:

Freedom and the democratic process is unmatched.

We should never stop seeking freedom or if necessary, fight for it.