Happy New Year!

In conversations with clients, friends, and relatives this past week there seemed to be an almost universal ‘good riddance to 2010.’ But there also seemed to be hope that the now one will bring improvement. We join the hope that faith, optimism, and resilience will prevail.

The year was marked by debacles of unprecedented proportion, all of which might have been mitigated or prevented had we paid more attention; like government over-spending in the name of stimulus, like the government takeover of healthcare in the name of fairness, and like BP’s oil spill in the Gulf in the name of technological progress. Few would argue that government action was required in the heat of the financial crisis, however once the door was open, an unbridled Congress and Administration took huge liberties with new public debt that that will take years or decades to repay. Their promises reducing unemployment to 8% by year’s end stand in stark contrast to the reality of 9.8%.

The only thing universal about the healthcare bill is the public’s disdain for it. People understand that adding 32 million more Americans to the government dole is going to be terribly expensive and that they will pay higher taxes and receive worse care. They understand that the balance of power will potentially soon be tipped inexorably in favor of the government and away from the individual. In November Americans resoundingly and clearly said they don’t want a European-styled welfare state and they fired 63 congressmen and 6 senators.

But with all the noise of 2010 it is easy to miss a deeper an infinitely more fundamental shift going on. As a country we are much more than simply government and people. An understated, yet profoundly positive result of this severe and lengthy recession is that Americans are being drawn back to the things that are truly important – family, friends, relationships, and God. People are counting their many blessings, despite their circumstances. They are considering downsizing in many areas of their lives as virtue, rather than financial necessity.

All too often our nation is characterized as a champion of fierce individualism. But that description misses the mark. America was not founded on the strength of any one individual, but rather by strong individuals united in a common purpose – “We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union.” To prevail in every challenge threatening to destroy this great county, Americans have united. From the colonies coming together to defeat British tyranny to the defeat Nazi Germany and Imperial Japan, we have risen to the physical threats.

But the threat we currently face is not physical, it is subtle and hidden in our very natures and it is just as sinister as any tyrant or invading army. It is the threat of self-interest and apathy. For entirely too long, the most dramatic moment being that of the New Deal, we Americans have yielded the essence of what makes us strong and good over to our government. Resting on the assurance that the government would take care of our fellow man, we abdicated our own responsibilities; responsibilities that are hard-wired in us by our Creator. We have become very good at suppressing the urge to get involved, saying, in essence what Mr. Ebenezer Scrooge said to those requesting “some slight provision for the poor and destitute” – “are there no workhouses, are there no prisons, and the union workhouses – are they still in operation? . . . I was afraid that something had happened to stop them in their useful course. I’m very glad to hear it.” How glad are we that someone else does the hard work?

And even worse, the Church has abdicated its responsibilities toward the suffering in the community. Today’s churches do plenty of good, but think how much more they might do if their congregation gave amounts equal to say, their country club bills? What good could be done if more congregants yielded some of their time to teach children to read, mentored teenage boys without fathers, or helped people learn life and job skills enabling them to add their God-given talents to the community? How much stronger would our communities be if people in need were met by people with love and means, rather than government agencies?

The challenges we face today are great indeed. But they are no greater than those of our past. Our greatest triumphs came when individuals stepped beyond their self-interested ‘individual’ selves and united toward a common cause. If we go back to our roots, our Constitution, we find that our government is based on God’s law, straight from the Bible, the Ten Commandments.

Not long ago I heard a political commentator say the Bible has no place in politics. His claim highlights the observation that as a nation, we have drifted well away from the Bible and from God. But those who hold the belief that God’s laws have no place in government would do well to read the very book they admonish. They should pay particular attention to how such views worked out for the Israelites, every time they wandered.

A new year is dawning. Will we continue to wander in the desert, or will we, each and every one, step up to improve our relationships, homes, communities, nation and world? Happy New Year and “may God bless us everyone.”