Driving past this sign last week, I couldn’t help but think of the untimely face-off on the debt ceiling in our nation’s Capitol:
“Don’t cross this field unless you can do it in 9.9 seconds … The bull can do it in 10!”
The clock is ticking. In a few more minutes we – the U.S.A. – won’t have time make it across the field.
As our nation’s leaders brandish their partisan swords with 9.8 seconds left to make it across the field without defaulting, I thought of them in light of King Solomon’s dream in which God invites Solomon, the new king, to ask whatever he wants. “Give your servant a discerning heart to govern your people…” says the young Solomon. The reply comes in these words: “Since you have asked for this and not for long life or wealth for yourself, nor have asked for the death of your enemies but for discernment in administering justice, I will do what you have asked. I will give you a wise and discerning heart…” (Hebrew Bible, I Kings 3:5-12).
Since I have no wisdom as to what solution our leaders should take across the field to protect the nation’s financial and civic health, I decided to look for wisdom from our history that shines some light on the darkness while making us laugh as the same time. Here are a few of what I found.
“Suppose you were an idiot, and suppose you were a member of Congress – but I repeat myself.” – Mark Twain
“He knows all the facts, and he’s against all the solutions.” – Robert Kennedy, referring to Daniel Patrick Moynihan
“All political parties die at last of swallowing their own lies.” – John Arburthnot, 1887
“If I could not go to heaven but with a party, I would not go there at all.” – Thomas Jefferson, letter to Francis Hopkinson, 1789
“Saying we should keep the two-party system simply because it is working is like saying the Titanic voyage was a success because a few people survived on life rafts.” – Eugene McCarthy
“A sect or party is an elegant incognito devised to save a man from the vexation of thinking.” – Ralph Waldo Emerson, Journals, 1831
“There are but two parties. There never have been more than two parties, founded in the radical question whether people of property shall govern.“- Thomas Hart Benton, speech to the U.S. Senate, 1835
“He knows nothing; and he thinks he knows everything. That points clearly to a political career.” – George Bernard Shaw, 1907
“In this country people don’t vote for; they vote against.” –Will Rogers
”I only wish that I could be as sure of anything as my opponent is of everything.” – Benjamin Disraeli, on William E. Gladstone
“Your representative owes you, not his industry only, but his judgment, and he betrays, instead of serving you, if he sacrifices it to your opinion.” – Edmund Burke, on the responsibilities of a member of Parliament, speech to the Electors of Bristol, 1774
“Politics is the art of the possible; not of the ideal.” – Herbert Agar
“Whenever you find that you are on the side of the majority, it is time to pause and reflect.” – Mark Twain
“I sit here all day trying to persuade people to do the things they ought to have sense enough to do without my persuading them. That’s all the powers of the President amount to.” – Harry Truman
“A little group of willful men…has rendered the great government of the United States helpless and contemptible.” – Woodrow Wilson, 1917
“He serves his party best who serves his country best.” – President Rutherford B. Hayes, Inaugural Address, 1877
“This is a Senate, a Senate of equals, of men of individual honor and personal character, and of absolute independence. We know no masters, we acknowledge no dictator. This is a hall for mutual consultation and discussion, not an arena for the exhibition of champions.” – Daniel Webster, speech to the U.S. Senate, January 26, 1830
“I thought for a time of becoming a minister. But then I read that little-known passage from the Bible: ‘Thou shalt walk among the false prophets, and bargain with the money-changers, and dwell in the house of strife and discord. ‘ So I decided to go into politics.” – Walter Mondale
“Politics is supposed to be the second oldest profession. I have come to realize that it bears a very close resemblance to the first.” – Ronald Reagan
“I could not be leading a religious life unless I identified myself with the whole of mankind, and that I could not do unless I took part in politics>” – Mohandas K. Gandhi, “Non-Violence in Peace and War,” 1948
It is the whole – the nation itself – that is at risk today in the bull’s pasture. The clock is ticking. If our national leaders – the partisan advocates we, the American people, have elected – remain stuck on the horns of partisanship, the bull of entrenched interests and ideology will gore us and rule the pasture because wisdom was nowhere to be found.
This is a time for the wisdom of Solomon, who demonstrated wisdom in the classic biblical story of two members of the world’s oldest profession who come before him to resolve a stalemate. The two conflicted prostitutes put the King’s wisdom to the test with competing claims about a child. Each has given birth to a child. One of the babies has died; the other has lived. Both mothers claim to be the real mother of the surviving child. “’The living one is my son,’” said the first mother, ‘the dead one is yours’ But the other insisted, ‘No! The dead one is yours; the living one is mine.’ And so they argued before the king.
“Then the king said, ‘Bring me a sword.’ So they brought a sword for the king. He then gave an order: ‘Cut the living child in two and give half to the one and half to the other.’
“The woman whose son was alive was filled with compassion for her son and said to the king, ‘Please, my Lord, give her [the other woman] the living baby! Don’t kill him!’ But the other said, ‘Neither I nor you shall have him. Cut him in two!” Then the king gave his ruling: ‘Give the living baby to the first woman. Do not kill him; she is his mother.’”
Those who do not love this country will cut the baby in half. Those who love her will require that the members of the second oldest profession put aside their swords to follow the way of timely wisdom. Before they kill the country and leave us wounded in the bull’s pasture, we need to demand from our elected representatives the wisdom of Solomon who, because he exposed the truth that lay beneath the posturing, saved the baby. Only a fool would cut the baby in half…or turn the pasture over to the bull.
Gordon C. Stewart is pastor of Shepherd of the Hill Presbyterian Church in Chaska, Minn. He preached this sermon July 24, 2011, on the occasion of the Congressional stalemate on the debt ceiling.