Monday, July 19, 2010

Christian Conservatives and American Politics: The Next Twenty Years


My mentor’s mentor in politics was a man named Ken Towery. Before he won a Pulitzer Prize for exposing corruption in the General Land Office during the Fifties, and before he became Senator Tower’s closest confidant, Mr. Towery was a survivor of rural Texas poverty during the Depression. He joined the army only to nearly starve to death and get captured on Corregidor while his commander escaped. He faced and survived unbelievable horrors in Japanese prison camps all over Asia. He used to tell us that in politics people are motivated by two things: hope and fear.

After Mr. Towery told us that during a staff retreat, I kept wondering what he meant by hope, given the horrible things he had experienced. I figured he would have a unique understanding of hope based on his experiences. So, I read his memoir. In it, Mr. Towery talks about a running battle he and his campmates had with lice. There were other incredible stories of how the prisoners survived - and how many died, too - but this story seemed to capture his understanding of hope - and it was a very, very simple one.

He said the lice bit and tormented the soldiers constantly. He said if the guy in the bunk next to you died, the lice immediately swarmed out from under his cooling body toward you! He said they were constantly confined to their bunks because they were so sick and malnourished. The Japanese issued everyone wool-type prison clothing, which only served as lice apartments.

He said that hope came one day when a new commandant arrived at their prison in Manchuria. For some reason, this commandant was amenable to the soldiers’ requests, and Mr. Towery asked him if they could have some extra fire fuel so that the Americans could boil their clothes. The commandant did so, and after a few weeks of strict laundry duty led by Mr. Towery, the lice situation began to “look up” for the soldiers, ultimately getting eradicated.

“Look up.” I’ve never forgotten those simple words of Mr. Towery. Its this simple hope that I try to keep in mind when I get discouraged about my circumstances or our country. The Japanese commandant’s arrival was completely beyond Mr. Towery’s control - and it was awful until he got there - yet Mr. Towery was ready when the right opportunity presented itself.

This is the kind of hope that bolsters my faith and gives me courage to stay in the public squre, because the longer I try to follow God the harder it is for me to allow fear even an inch. Not because I’m super-Christian, but because the fear blocks me off from God’s Spirit, and it’s that much harder for me to make it through the day.

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