Will the light of Christmas reveal our leaders to be naughty or nice?

As we adults bumble into this Christmas season (Advent started December 1st), some of our attention should turn toward our behavior and that of our favorite leaders.

When “Santa Claus Is Coming to Town,” written in 1934 by John Frederick Coots and Haven Gillespie, gets to “Oh, he’s making a list and checking it twice; He’s gonna find out who’s naughty or nice” that’s not just a funny message for children.

Think St. Peter at the Pearly gates looking up names in God’s book to determine who may enter heaven, a story derived from Revelation 21:21, Matthew 16:18-19, Exodus 32:33, et al.

“The twelve gates (to the Holy city) were twelve pearls, each gate made of a single pearl” – Revelation 21:21.

“And I tell you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not overcome it. I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven; whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven” – Matthew 16:18-19.

“The Lord replied to Moses, “Whoever has sinned against me I will blot out of my book” – Exodus 32:33.

The coming of the light on Christmas day to disperse sin’s darkness called out to men and women of good will to live as children of the light. “Live as children of light (for the fruit of the light consists in all goodness, righteousness and truth) and find out what pleases the Lord” – Ephesians 5:8; for “No immoral, impure or greedy person…has any inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and of God” – Ephesians 5:5.  

Yes, behavior matters.

For better or worse, we tend to model our behavior after that of our favorite leaders.

So, leaders’ behavior matters.

Regrettably, more and more of us these days are influenced by personalities deemed leaders by social and political media rather than godly men and women in our communities.

A study Bible entitled “The Leadership Bible: Leadership Principles from God’s Word” highlights what should be expected from our leaders. These highlights include traits such as character, courage, humility, integrity, self-discipline, wisdom, and obedience to God; skills such as accountability, communication, conflict management, empowerment, planning, problem solving, stewardship, team building, and systems thinking; and attributes such as healthy alliances, servant leadership, and encouragement.

Hmmm.

How do your favorite leaders stack up to these traits, skills and attributes?

One chapter in the book particularly caught my attention vis a vis what’s happening in our country today. Entitled “Systems Thinking” it relies on 1 Corinthians 12:12-29 which speaks of one body with many parts working in harmony. The lesson says, “Effective leaders have discovered that tasks are best accomplished and goals best achieved by organizing and implementing systems. In doing so, we are really imitating God, who has a passion for order and harmony.”

Many popular leaders nowadays seem to care little for order and harmony but work, instead, to disrupt and tear down important systems. 

Sadly, as our resultant leader influenced behavior further disrupts the body of our democracy, studies suggest our jangling behavior is also disrupting the body of Christ.

During this Christmas season, let us heed the book’s guiding verse, “Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light for my path” – Psalm 119:105.

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Is Black Friday shopping ruining family-friendly Thanksgiving?

Happy Black Friday, er, I mean Thanksgiving.

Yes, super shopping day Black Friday seems to be more top of the mind these days than family-friendly holiday Thanksgiving. Guess that’s just another example of how our lives have become much more transactional than relational.

“With maxims like ‘what’s in it for me’, ‘I’ll scratch your back if you scratch mine’, and ‘quid pro quo’, our society is becoming more and more transactional” says an article by lifestyle entity Victorious Living. “We did not stumble into this society. For generations, the American way has been about open market consumerism. Which as an economic exercise has certain values and benefits that do not translate well when we take the same approach to matters in other arenas.”

Hmmm.

Traditionally, this time of year has been mostly relational with large family gatherings at grandma’s for turkey and dressing. It’s been a time for hugs, sharing family joys and griefs, and letting children play with rarely seen cousins. The most transactional aspect of this I can remember was maneuvering to get the drumstick, the best after dinner seat for football, or the recliner for a nap.

Now we are coaxed to shop early for Black Friday on the afternoon of Thanksgiving. And the long lines poised to stampede into stores when the magic time arrives are seldom family-friendly relational events. A website called BlackFridayDeathCount.com says since 2006 there have been 12 deaths and 117 injuries from Black Friday shopping.

Of course, Thanksgiving has always been a transactional event for turkeys. Even more so this year.

A story at TheConversation.com says we Americans will eat about 210 million turkeys this year. That’s up from 125 million in the 1970s. But due to innovation in turkey growing, that number won’t be 342 million this year. It seems 132 million turkeys won’t be slaughtered because modern techniques yield 25 pounds of meat per turkey versus 15 pounds in the ’70s.

Ironically, as our surging transactional behavior devalues relationships and erodes our emotional and mental health, our bodies benefit from eating healthier turkeys. You see today’s modern turkeys are barn-raised, growth hormone free, and free of antibiotic residues.

Hmmm.

This suggests we can be thankful this year for the many benefits science has brought to our lives. More and healthier food. New life saving medicines, treatments, and medical procedures. Safer cars and trucks. And so on.

Or not.

You see much of our shift toward transactional behavior is driven by new and titillating gadgets and targeted sales methods made possible by modern science.

Here’s the ultimate buy now, buy more example – my cell phone knows and can tell me what wow gadgets I’m likely to crave and where to buy them. Whether it’s Facebook or Google ads or uninvited texts and emails, neat stuff selected just for me will appear on my phone whether I want it to or not. (Yeah, you can block some of it but it comes right back.)

You can see where all this is heading.

Unless we each purposefully keep Thanksgiving focused on giving thanks for blessings, family, and yummy food, the real turkeys on Thanksgiving will soon be us.

“Give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you” – Thessalonians 5:18.

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Saving poor children – a government thing, a kingdom thing, or nothing?

Single moms living in poverty and children born into those households didn’t capture much attention in recent statewide elections. Trends suggest paying attention might be very important.

This past summer The Phil Hardin Foundation in Meridian brought 10 Millsaps College students into the community to work as interns with various agencies. Assignments varied, but political science major Evan Jones got to do some interesting research. His task was to investigate key social and economic challenges facing the city.

After documenting population trends and increasing disparities in income, educational achievement, and racial composition, Jones came across data he found shocking – the plight of single mothers, particularly those of color, and their children.

He found poverty, low educational achievement, and little access to health care were common characteristics. He found the proportion of single mother households in Meridian surprisingly high and persistent. He researched this information after noticing the high rates of teen pregnancy and high incidence of low birth weight babies in the city. He called these trends “a catalyst for the cycle of poverty.”

Hmmm.

A 40-year study of brain development in disadvantaged children found those most at-risk of poor brain development were those born to poorly educated, single moms living in poverty.

The Abecedarian Project followed children from birth over a 40-year period. Almost two years ago, Dr. Cathy Grace, then the co-director of the Graduate Center for the Study of Early Learning at Ole Miss, brought project directors Drs. Craig and Sharon Ramey to Jackson to discuss their findings. Key among them was that early intervention can save these children from broken lives.

Across Mississippi 18% of total households are single mom families (23% in Meridian). As these high proportions persist, our already high numbers of children born to poorly educated, single moms living in poverty will continue to grow.

Dr. Grace, now retired, also brought Nobel Prize winning economist Dr. James Heckman to Jackson. He made it clear to Gov. Phil Bryant and others attending his briefing that investing in comprehensive, high quality, early childhood interventions would yield a 13% return on investment.

The choices seem clear. We can do nothing and allow more and more at-risk children to suffer poor brain development, struggle to succeed in schools, and have trouble developing basic skills. Or we can intervene with these children, save them, and turn them into productive workers and citizens.

Concerned professionals like Dr. Grace continue to champion intervention but there has been no response at the state level.

My sense is that government in Mississippi will continue to do little. So, what’s the alternative?

Across the country, interfaith coalitions have come together in many communities to address systemic issues. With multiple churches located in nearly every Mississippi community, a broad interfaith movement could provide the needed interventions. That’s the approach under discussion by a group in Meridian.

Of course, any coming together in Mississippi has its own challenges. Yet, it would seem that saving children before they are broken for life would be a very kingdom thing for people of faith to undertake.

“Jesus said, ‘Let the little children come to me, and do not stop them, for it is to such as these that the kingdom of heaven belongs’” – Matthew 19:14.

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Campaign season yields some interesting results

As Thanksgiving looms one thing we can all be thankful for is that Mississippi political campaigns are over and done. No more negative ads. No more recorded telephone calls. No more yard signs decorating every open space on major thruways.

The just ended campaign season did have some interesting results, though.

Republicans in January will take over all statewide offices. Attorney General Jim Hood, who lost to Lt. Gov. Tate Reeves in the race for governor, was the last Democrat.

Unofficial results show Reeves beat Hood in the hotly contested governor’s race by 449,252 to 400,336. Given the hoopla, you might have expected this to be a record turnout.

Nope.

In the not so hotly contested 2011 race, where Lt. Gov. Phil Bryant beat Hattiesburg Mayor Johnny DuPree by 544,851 to 348,617, the top two candidates pulled 43,880 more votes than this year. In the hot 2003 race, where Haley Barbour beat incumbent Gov. Ronnie Musgrove by 470,404 to 409,787, they pulled 30,603 more votes.

Yes, there were independents and odd party candidates in 2019 and 2003, but they only pulled 10,763 and 14,296 votes, respectively. Something else brought down this year’s total.

Something to mull over at the coffee shop, huh?

Reeves beat Hood with 52.2% of the votes. Meanwhile, other Republicans were pulling close to 60%. Secretary of State Delbert Hosemann got 60.3% in his race with State Rep. Jay Hughes for lieutenant governor. State Sen. Michael Watson got 59.2% in his race with former mayor Johnny DuPree for secretary of state. State Treasurer Lynn Fitch got 58.1% in her race with Jennifer Collins for attorney general.  

Fitch becomes the first woman attorney general in Mississippi history. She also moved one notch closer to the late Evelyn Gandy in number of statewide offices held. Gandy was elected to three, state treasurer, insurance commissioner, and lieutenant governor.

Central district transportation commission and public service commission results were also interesting. A 4,933 vote difference helped one Democrat win while another lost.

Democratic State Sen. Willie Simmons beat Republican Butch Lee by 4,844 votes for the central district Mississippi Transportation Commission seat held for two decades by Republican Dick Hall. On the flip side, Republican Brent Bailey beat Democrat De’Keither Stamps by 2,998 votes for the central district Public Service Commission seat held for the past four years by former Democratic State Rep. Cecil Brown.

The total vote count in both races was about the same, 284,341 in the transportation race and 282,802 in the public services commission race. But Simmons got 144,835 votes while Stamps only got 139,902.

Finally, another of Mississippi’s great story-teller legislators bit the dust. Described by Sid Salter as “obstinate, profane, compassionate, intelligent and crazy like a fox,” Steve Holland has served as lead entertainer in the Mississippi House of Representatives since 1984. A Republican in his early political years, Holland was elected to the legislature as a Democrat. He first announced he would not seek re-election but then entered the race as an independent. In 2013, Holland told GQ Magazine, “you got to get your a** up early and go to bed late to beat my a**.” Guess former Lee County justice court judge Rickey Thompson was able to do that.

As Steve well understands and others learned last week, there is “a time to get, and a time to lose” – Ecclesiastes 3:6.

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Chaos looming for Mississippi government?

And you thought the IHL Board hiring of the new Chancellor at Ole Miss was chaotic?

You know. The board, as usual, set up a search process including a campus advisory committee and a national search consultant. They accepted resumes and screened applicants. They announced a list of finalists, scheduled campus visits, and held initial interviews. Then, seemingly at a whim, they threw the whole process out the window and gave the job to the former IHL commissioner who they were paying to help with the search.

Oh boy.

The chaotic way Dr. Glenn Boyce was hired puts him in a deep hole and undermines the board’s credibility. Further, while Boyce is a good man and highly competent professional, his resume to serve as Chancellor is thin, so paying him a starting salary the same as the highly successful and proven president of Mississippi State also dings the board’s credibility.

Well, all this may be just a precursor of chaotic government coming to Mississippi.

“We’re gonna run this state like Donald J. Trump is running America.”

That was Lt. Gov. Tate Reeves at the Good Ole Boys gathering near Oxford that featured Donald Trump, Jr.(Clarion-Ledger Oct. 24th).

Hmmm.

Consider this. The people who Trump uses to “run America” are cabinet secretaries, their assistants and deputies, and presidential staff. During the almost three years of the Trump presidency 20 cabinet secretaries (there are only 15 such positions) and hundreds of assistant and deputy secretaries have come and gone. So too have numerous members of his staff, e.g. he is on his third chief of staff and fourth national security advisor.

It would take a very stable genius of great and unmatched wisdom with the power to do anything he wants to effectively run government with chaotic turnover like this.

Oh, wait. Surely that’s the answer.

The president, himself, has told us that he is “a very stable genius” and that he is blessed with “great and unmatched wisdom” and that Article 2 of the U.S. Constitution gives him “the right to do whatever I want as president.”

Golly gee. That means all Tate Reeves would have to do is announce his own genius, unmatched wisdom, and power to do whatever he wants in order to run Mississippi just like Trump runs America.

Wonder how many of the 10 agency heads the governor appoints he could turn over in three years?

Ah, but can he learn to personally manipulate Twitter at all hours of the day and night and, like Trump, use this unorthodox and chaotic method to communicate major decisions and insults to allies, opponents, and top leaders?

And would he be willing to give up his financial watchdog mantle to bring chaos to budgets a la Trump. You see, in running America the President has pushed the federal budget deficit up to $984 billion for fiscal year 2019 and the national debt up over $22 trillion as he brilliantly maneuvers to keep his promise to eliminate both the deficit and debt.

Wow! Who knew Reeves had anything like this in mind?

Upon reflection, it may be quite fitting. Chaos in government seems to be the new norm as it surges in Britain, Austria, Chile, Venezuela, Israel, Italy, Hong Kong and beyond. 

Be warned, “The nations are in chaos, and their kingdoms crumble!” – Psalms 46:6.

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Lieutenant governor race key for Republicans

The key race for the Mississippi Republicans on November 5th is not the race for governor, rather it is the race for lieutenant governor.

Two reasons.

First, as we learned during Tate Reeves’ tenure, a strong lieutenant governor can command the agenda of state government.

Second, Republican nominee Secretary of State Delbert Hosemann can turn the party’s focus back toward conservative problem solving.

As Mississippi Today wrote, “The lieutenant governor has the sole ability to appoint members, vice-chairmen, and chairmen to the various Senate committees, regardless of which party has control of the chamber. Given that power, it is argued that the office is more powerful than the governorship.”

Or, as one wag put it, for a bill to become a law, it needs the governor’s signature but for a bill to even get a vote it needs the lieutenant governor’s blessing.

That sentiment was echoed when Mississippi Public Radio reporter Jeffery Hess explained to an out-of-state reporter, “The lieutenant governor, as the head of the senate, has far more power than the governor due to his ability to assign which bills will be heard by which committees in the senate.”

For these reasons, Democratic challenger, State Rep. Jay Hughes upsetting Hosemann would be far worse for Republicans than Reeves losing to Attorney General Hood.

Reeves used the extraordinary power of the lieutenant governor’s office to strangle government spending in order to provide tax cuts, primarily tax cuts to corporations. As a result, the resources needed to address critical problem areas in Mississippi have been scarce. Lack of progress on such problems is a key factor in Reeves’ tight race against Hood.

The litany of these problem areas is well known: the highway and bridge funding crisis; the teacher shortage crisis; the growing risk of rural hospital and emergency room closures; the mental health care crisis in the midst of court ordered changes; lack of skilled workers and cuts to community college budgets; and brain drain.

Hosemann has put forward an agenda to address such issues from a conservative approach. Oh, he does want government to be more efficient, but he understands that government must function effectively if Republicans are going to maintain their majority over time. Consequently, key policy statements in his campaign include (quotations from a Jackson Free Press questionnaire):

Shoring up rural hospitals by considering and evaluating healthcare reform solutions implemented in other states with no net impact on the state budget. “No Mississippians should be 30 minutes from a facility equipped to provide necessary treatment.”

Supporting immediate action to remedy the teacher shortage. “Fully funding our public schools is a goal we will and must move toward.”

Committing to the construction and maintenance of our roads and bridges. “Potholes, road closures, and barricaded bridges are still plaguing communities across Mississippi.”

Enacting policy to grow a skilled workforce and support for community colleges.

Hughes focused his answers in the Jackson Free Press questionnaire on education, health care, and transparency. So far he has been unable to find a viable wedge issue to use against Hosemann.

A pragmatic conservative with a proven record in applying a business-like approach to government, Hosemann has the skills to move Republicans from a destructive anti-government agenda to a conservative good government agenda. He also would be in position to salvage the party should the unexpected happen and Reeves lose to Hood.

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King of Id golden rule prevails in today’s culture

Which “golden rule” do you follow?

The one from the Bible? “So in everything, do to others what you would have them do to you, for this sums up the Law and the Prophets,” – Matthew 7: 12-14.

Or the one attributed to the King of Id? “Whoever has the gold makes the rules!” –Wizard of Id cartoon published May 3, 1965, by creators Brant Parker and Johnny Hart.

If you remember the cartoon, you should remember the dwarfish tyrant known as “the King” who proclaimed this gold version of the golden rule. He also would refer to his subjects as “idiots,” and when told “the peasants are revolting,” replied, “you can say that again.”

Hmmm. Anything sound familiar here?

Ironically, a forerunner of the King of Id saying came from a Swiss-French philosopher named Jean-Jacques Rousseau. In 1764 he wrote, “The rich holds the law in his purse.”

What’s ironic is that Rousseau, an on-again off-again Calvinist, actually aligned concepts of the emerging democratic form of government with the biblical golden rule. His writings would greatly influence Thomas Jefferson’s thoughts on democracy and self-governance.

As explained at Study.com, “Jean-Jacques Rousseau’s theory of the social contract was a direct influence upon Thomas Jefferson’s writing of the Declaration of Independence in 1776. Rousseau’s social contract posits that the government must have consent of those that it governs. Meaning, the people must willingly choose to accept the laws that govern them. They must have an active participation in creating the very government that they agree to be governed by.”

Rousseau’s notion was that there must be a general will of the people committed to the good of all in order for civil society to thrive and avoid oppression from selfish interests.

Hmmm. Committed to the good of all…not party, not ideology, not special interests. 

How far have we drifted from that Jefferson-Rousseau golden rule notion? Politics today seems committed to the good of some, but seldom all. 

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell makes no bones about being committed only to what is good for Republicans. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi seems equally committed to Democrats. On the broad national front, it’s popular for conservatives to hate liberal Democrats and for liberals to hate right-wing Republicans. And, of course, we have our own modern day king of id in the White House.

Such behavior, naturally, has trickled down to our state politics. For example, Lt. Gov. Tate Reeves notoriously operated as the little king of the Senate, favoring some and neglecting others. And he and House Speaker Philip Gunn have wielded Republican super-majorities that paid little heed to concerns of non-Republican citizens (not that their Democratic counterparts would have behaved differently if in power). 

This is not to say that there are no people attuned to the golden rule in politics today. I am fortunate to have a local supervisor who truly seeks to do what is best for all. Indeed, far more local politicians seem to be golden rule adherents than state and national politicians.

On the whole, the gold rule clearly dominates the golden rule in our culture today, regrettably proving the King of Id right. By kowtowing to this, we subjects are idiots.

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