By: R.J. Moeller
Luke 15:20 And the son arose and came to his father. But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and felt compassion, and ran and embraced him and kissed him.
Something remarkable happened to me the other day while watching MSNBC, and I feel like it would be worth sharing with you. Let me begin by assuring you that the reason I was watching MSNBC in the first place had nothing to do with my being held for coercive interrogation by Jack Bauer-type federal agents who discovered that after a few hours of Rachel Maddow I would be willing to take responsibility for both the Great Chicago Fire and JFK assassination.
I was watching MSNBC because I know my Sun-Tzu and he taught me to “know thy enemy.”
Anyway, I was taking in an episode of Hardball with Chris Matthews when all of the sudden and out of nowhere, Matthews – one of my least favorite political commentators on the planet – said something extraordinary that rocked my political world. In analyzing a speech President Obama had just given about tax-cuts, the man who claimed to “get a chill” down his leg whenever he heard Barack Obama speak in public, had to this to say about his beloved president:
CHRIS MATTHEWS, HOST: I have one small tweak to make to what the president said today — he should stop saying that giving people tax cuts is giving people money. It`s their money! A tax cut is when the government doesn`t take our money. It`s an important distinction.
He talked today, for example, about people getting a check from the government in the form of a tax cut. That`s not the way it works. If tax rates are kept lower, it`s a matter of the check going to the government being smaller. Again, it`s an important distinction.
I was floored upon hearing this. My jaw dropped, my arms raised above my head, and out of my mouth came these words: “Sweet Lord, he’s seen the light.”
I recognize that Matthews’ words may not seem like much to the casual observer, but it was a wonderful moment of clarity on a show not particularly known for it. For the first time in a long time – maybe ever – I actually hoped that other people were watching MSNBC.
Not only is what Matthews said an important distinction in fact; it is the distinction between Right and Left in this country. When you boil all of the Tea Party vs. Union Rally, Palin vs. Pelosi ideological battles down, the Left believes that the government is almost always the solution (and therefore needs more and more of our money) and the Right knows that the government is nearly always the problem (and therefore needs to focus like a laser-beam on meeting its Constitutionally-prescribed duties before venturing off into the production of Broadway musicals and space-alien exploration).
The president believes a tax-cut is when you have money taken out of your paycheck by Uncle Sam, where it is pilfered and laundered by largely incompetent, ineffective, and ethically-challenged congressional committees and federal bureaucracies, and then a rebate check is sent back to you (and millions of people who didn’t pay any taxes) months later.
I, and apparently now Chris Matthews, believe that a tax-cut involves the reduction of our middle-men friends in Washington D.C. A tax-cut is keeping the money you earned. It’s a self-made stimulus.
The difference between these two positions is the distance between the correct answer on a quiz and the wrong one.
But it wasn’t simply the economic truism Matthews shared with his audience that got me so excited. As I thought about it more, what struck me most was the deep, genuine respect and admiration I felt at that moment for someone like Matthews, who is diametrically opposed to my positions on the issues, for merely being intellectually honest enough to clarify an important point like this. I was instantly ready to look past all of the ideological differences and embrace him as a brother-in-arms.
I literally wanted to give the man a high-five and “Atta boy” to go with it.
But how could this be? How could one such seemingly insignificant paragraph of words from the lips of an ideological enemy invoke in me such a pleasant, welcoming emotional reaction? How could someone getting one thing right out of a thousand things wrong wash away the fortified walls of scorn and contempt in my heart like a flood?
It was then, sitting in my living room on an otherwise typical day, that perhaps for the first time in my life I caught a real glimpse of what the biblical story of the Prodigal Son is all about.
As most of you already know, the parable of Christ that I am referring to involved a wealthy man whose wild and selfish son disrespectfully demands his inheritance before his dad is even dead. The son quickly squanders the money his kind father has given to him, and after hitting emotional and financial “rock-bottom,” decides that he will return to his father and ask that he be made a servant (as he now understandably feels unworthy to be given the same position in the family).
In Luke 15 we read of the father’s response:
21"The son said to him, 'Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son.[b]'
22"But the father said to his servants, 'Quick! Bring the best robe and put it on him. Put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet. 23Bring the fattened calf and kill it. Let's have a feast and celebrate. 24For this son of mine was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.' So they began to celebrate.
The father hadn’t naively forgotten all of the things his rebellious son had done since they last saw one another. The father wasn’t trying out some new-age parenting tactic he saw on Dr. Phil. He simply loved his son more than he hated what his son had done.
I was excited to hear Chris Matthews speak the truth, despite all of the times he had spouted things I know to be incorrect, because if someone can speak the truth once, there is hope that they can speak it again (and again).
The truth, once realized and understood, is more powerful and important than all the lies in the world. I believe that one moment, one act can change a life for the simple fact that I believe that one act saved the world from its sins.
I fully appreciate the differences between my brief flirtation with feeling fond of Chris Matthews, and the biblical account of the Prodigal Son. And I certainly do not intend to equate myself with the father in the story and Chris with the son. It’s weird how certain circumstances or events can unpredictably open your heart and mind to revelations. Usually these moments of clarity occur while in the midst of some trying incident, or while out among the wonders of God’s created beauty in nature.
But sometimes they occur while you are watching a cable news network you loathe like the plague.
I want to be the type of conservative (and more importantly, person) who is more concerned with getting it right, than with who got it right. If a liberal Democrat such as Senator Joe Lieberman (D-CT), who was his party’s vice presidential nominee in 2000, is willing to announce publicly that he supports the military efforts in the War on Terror, I want to be there to shake his hand and welcome him to the ranks (even if only on that one issue). If President Obama says something regarding education or energy policy that I agree with in a State of the Union Address, I want to have the humility and integrity to acknowledge that and commend him for it.
How one reacts when their enemies disagree with them says something about them. How one reacts when their enemies agree with them says everything. Anyone can be mad at an enemy when in the heat of battle, but it takes a truly wise, genuinely humble individual to be kind to that enemy should they ever switch sides.
My encounter with Chris Matthews has caused me to once again take a self-inventory of my motivations for being involved (in an admittedly small way) with offering up commentary on the cultural, political landscape of this great nation. Do I really want people to see the validity of the tenets of my worldview, or do I just want to be heard? Do I care if hearts and minds are changed in the name of my (religious) conservative convictions, or is it all a ruse to get praise from like-minded readers? Am I happy when fellow conservatives are successful in getting our message out, or do I selfishly insist on only finding joy in the furthering of my own name?
If we on the Right, especially the “Religious Right,” fail to remember that, but for the grace of God, we would be as lost as Michael Moore, or as confused as Rachel Maddow, or as incorrect about economics as Barney Frank, then our brand of politics will perpetually be as petty and pedantic as that of the far-Left’s.