Andree Seu's year-ending column on the flip side of this page is beautiful. Mine is ugly, because at the end of this memorable political year I want to answer a letter from one Republican reader about how Christians in particular should deal with the bad side of politics. Here's what she wrote: "Do I have to try to justify the wrong actions taken by the GOP? I believe in the party principles, but I'm not always pleased by actions taken by the party. And what do I do if George W. Bush disappoints us?"
Here's my ugly response, summarizing some things I've been trying to explain in this column this year: "Accentuate the positive, try to eliminate the negative, and in a fallen world remember that you can't avoid dealing with the in-between. Remember that we live in a mixed, Babylonian situation, an American liberty theme park, and not in ancient Israel's holiness theme park. Remember also that all political parties are a mixture of good stuff and crud, and if you can bat .300 in the Republican Party, one of the two major leagues, you're doing well."
And a bit more of my summary: "A political party is not a church. In churches, goals and expectations should both be high. In politics, we should never lower our goals but we should lower our expectations. We should go for all or something, not all or nothing. If we don't bat 1.000 or even .500, we should not take our ball and go home. And, in evaluating politicians, we should remember the big difference between a .300 hitter and a .200 hitter. President Bush will disappoint us lots of times, but I believe he's at least a .300 hitter, and under current conditions in our liberty theme park it's not going to get any better than that."
Where it should and does get better than that is in our families and churches, so as a new year approaches I'd like to bring us back to basics with some God-oriented quotations I've scribbled down throughout this old one. Let's start with Francis Bacon's elegant summation: "A little philosophy inclines a man's mind to atheism, but depth in philosophy brings men's minds about to religion." Other subjects, deeply pursued, yield the same result. "An undevout astronomer is mad," poet Edward Young wrote, and Oliver Cromwell's question should be on the diplomas of history majors: "What are all histories but God manifesting himself?"
I also liked some practical applications, starting with philosopher Nicholas Berdyaev's "Where there is no God, there is no man." Novelist Cesare Pavese offered a good line for Christian journalists: "Religion consists in believing that everything that happens is extraordinarily important." Theodore Roosevelt offered a good prayer emphasis: "Pray not for lighter burdens but for stronger backs." Some people are looking for lighter religions, but Dorothy Sayers noted that "The proper question to be asked about any creed is not, 'Is it pleasant?' but 'Is it true?'" How do we know what's true? G.K. Chesterton wrote, "If a key fits a lock, you know it is the right key."
I've seen once again during the past year that atheists who complain about the key are often most angry at the existence of locks. Minister George Buttrick wisely advised, "A man ought not to expect light on God's will in life's intricacies of conduct if he is unwilling to expect a clear will in life's simplicities. Thus when a jaunty skeptic admitted his grave doubts about the Trinity, a man of simple faith rightly answered, 'But aren't you weak also on the Ten Commandments?'"
For those who have had troubled years, essayist Joseph Addison's statement is worth remembering: "Our real blessings often appear to us in the shape of pains, losses, and disappointments, but let us have patience, and we soon shall see them in their proper figures." Poet Jean Ingelow noted concisely, "I have lived to thank God that all my prayers have not been answered." Some disappointed people turn away from faith, but P. T. Barnum's comment is apt: "More persons, on the whole, are humbugged by believing nothing, than by believing too much."
Finally, as we approach the end of eight years of Clinton/Gore, I can't resist quoting Nathaniel Hawthorne: "No man, for any considerable period, can wear one face to himself and another to the multitude, without finally getting bewildered as to which may be true." And, since my wife and I are on target for our 25th anniversary in 2001, here's what Victor Hugo wrote after knowing one like Susan: "No one knows like a woman how to say things that are at once gentle and deep."