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    Saturday, January 15, 2011

    God Inspires Us To Create

    Well, we all know God is everywhere, in everything, even in each of us. Well, that is if we believe God exists. So many today in our culture do not. Even for those of us who do believe, many of us at various times in our life may have questioned God's existence. Or, at least questioned God, questioned why he allows evil things to happen in our fallen world.

    Last week, I went on my second adventure on The Rock Boat. It's a fantastic time with about 25 bands and musicians, hosted by Sister Hazel. This year top acts also included NeedtoBreathe, Ed Kowalczyk from LIVE, Green River Ordinance, and many others. Four nights of craziness. At any given time between about 12 noon and 2pm, you have about 2-3 concerts to choose from. You can't possibly see everyone. Well, if you can, you have me beat. There's so much going on. Our boat departed out of Tampa on January 6, coasted into Costa Maya, Mexico on January 8, and then returned back to Tampa on the 10th.

    As I sat listening to so many great musicians and artists, as I have through much of my life, I always marvel at their creative abilities - how do they piece together these harmonious sounds and come up with such moving lyrics?

    And then, it makes me think about two authors I have read in the past five years. One is Father James Schall, a professor of government at Georgetown, who writes much about philosophy and political philosophy. In his book, On The Unseriousness of Human Affairs, he discusses how we all have a bit of the Creator in us. Think about it. From the beginning, God created us, he created the heavens, the earth, everything. We each have a bit of that "creative" juice in us as well. As Father Schall points out, being creative is something we have built in our DNA, sort of speak. (Ok, I'm seriously paraphrasing here).

    I always like his example of the sport of football. How did it start? Someone created a ball (a funky ball at that). They then started tossing it to someone else. Then, others were involved and rules were created. Eventually, teams and leagues were created. And ultimately we professionalized it. He uses this example to teach us something about ourselves - and something about God. Look around at nature, over time God "professionalized" it Himself. Just like God, we mere mortals also want to continue to create and continue to make something we created better, more beautiful, more aspiring. So does God - except that He does it with perfection. Made in His image, we strive towards that perfection, always thirsting to go Higher and find our purpose.

    Edmund Burke also comes to mind here. He once stated that "art is man's nature." What he meant by that is something similar to the above examples. God's "art," if you will, is in nature. Look at the Grand Canyon, the vast oceans, the stars, the moon, a lunar eclipse. These are all of the ways God has painted a picture for us. Ever catch a beautiful sunset when the colors in the horizon are in a way you felt you never seen quite like that before? I like to think that is God painting a unique picture just for me that day. His way of saying "hello, this is just for you." It brings a smile to my face, it warms my heart - even if just for a moment. It's God's way of catching us off guard, perhaps in the midst of a "busy" day, doing all those "important" things.

    Contrast that with man. Our "nature" is in art. We can only replicate the Creator through art - painting, drawing, performing music, competing in sports, writing, singing, acting, teaching, dancing. As Father Schall would say, it is not our "work" - how we make a living - that defines us as individuals, as human beings. Rather, it is all of these seemingly "unserious" things that shows us what it truly means to be human.

    Perhaps this is why I like music so much. It is a creative expression by individuals and by "bands" of individuals that come together to create something beautiful. Some of the highest forms of music have been directly proposed to worship the divine - think of how high liturgical music in church can carry you away spiritually - or how about even a simple rendition of Amazing Grace? Think of Mozart and Beethoven, who had their expression toward the divine. There's a reason their music is considered some of the best of all time.

    But even when music isn't created directly for God - it still is inspired by that creative desire that we get from our Creator. We can easily forget those "important" things that keep us busy or stressed out and "lose ourself" in the moment. Why do we put on a cd in the car or on a run? Or even at work? Why do we go to concerts, listening to musicians perform live, singing along with them, perhaps even dancing to the beat? We are drawn towards something higher, something outside ourselves. We each have something to teach each other, we each have the ability to be creative. When we tap into the true spirit of the Creator, we learn something about ourselves and something about Him.

    Friday, January 14, 2011

    Boycott CPAC

    The Conservative Political Action Conference is the largest annual gathering of conservatives. It takes place each year in Washington, D.C. I attended my first CPAC as a graduate student in 2004. I was privileged enough to be invited to speak on a student-led panel, to discuss the successful conservative student newspaper I helped co-found at the University of Maryland.

    After joining the Intercollegiate Studies Institute (ISI) later in 2004, I attended the next three CPAC's - 2005, 2006, and 2007 - and had the unique opportunity of being the ISI representative at the CPAC planning meetings. Those were some interesting meetings - which included representatives from about 50 or so organizations that helped pick the theme, the agenda, the panels, and the speakers. It was neat to have a voice in this process. I also had the opportunity to speak on another panel at the 2007 CPAC. When I moved back to Florida at the beginning of 2008 - it almost felt weird not being at CPAC that year, after attending 4 years in a row. I then attended my fifth CPAC in 2009. I have not been back since, mostly just due to logistics in my own time commitments.

    However, as I witnessed each year, CPAC was growing fast - almost out of control. "Conservatism" has become more popular and tea party activism, among other factors, has certainly popularized attendance at this conference. I even respect, to some extent, the large amount of young libertarians that have started attending CPAC. As my good friend Jeff Frazee, President of Young Americans for Liberty, has told me in the past, he hopes to inject more pro-liberty, limited government ideas into the conservative movement. I proudly stand with him in that effort.

    However, as CPAC has swelled in attendance, what it means to be a "conservative" (note: not a Republican, a libertarian, or a tea party member) has become lost. In fact, a few years back, I started calling the conference the Conservative Political Action Circus, as a joke. To take matters further, I have even suggested that we are all under one big tent (like a circus, get it?) But the tent has now become too big. Too many groups are trying to redefine what conservatism is; meanwhile conservatism itself has become lost in the confusion of a conference that now has nearly 10,000 people in attendance each year.

    The conservative movement in America has always been a fractious coalition of many diverse groups. And conservatism itself is not an ideology; it is a philosophy, a way of life. Sure, we conservatives have our own view of what the proper role of government is. While we might have differences on various issues, we stand consistently with the Constitution, which created a federal Republic and a system of checks and balances with a separation of powers. Conservatives believe that all human beings are fallible, and that too much power in the hands of one person - or even one area of government - could lead to tyranny. History has repeatedly proved this theory correct. Our founders rightly incorporated this belief of human fallibility in our Constitution by separating power against itself.

    However, conservatism is not limited to what we believe the role of government should be. Rather, it is a philosophy, an outlook, a way of life. It exists regardless of man's relationship to his government. As a conservative, the biggest impact we can have is on the culture, which, as Russell Kirk said, extends from the "cult," a communion of souls, a body of worshippers. Our beliefs, together, form our common culture. And our society's institutions, including our government, are reflective of the culture (not the other way around).

    Back to CPAC... CPAC is the "conservative" political action conference. It's NOT a Republican conference, it's not a libertarian conference, it's not a tea party conference. I hope all of these groups come to CPAC and play a role in the discussion about the future of our country, but they must remember that they are only welcome to be part of this private organization when and where they agree with conservative principles. Otherwise, the entire point of the conference is lost. When I go to a libertarian conference, for example, I understand that I am going to have some disagreements - and I respect why those libertarians have the views they do - whether it be differences in foreign policy or social issues.

    The first year that CPAC took place in the late 1970s, there were only about 100 attendees. The keynote speaker was a former Governor of California, Ronald Reagan. The people there in that room knew what they believed, they had disagreements I'm sure, but they had a common intellectual understanding of the key tenets of conservatism: a commitment to liberty and limited government, a respect for the Judeo-Christian tradition that undergirds this nation and Western Civilization, and the defeat of tyranny (at that time, communism) at home and abroad.

    In 2010, there was a division created at CPAC when the ACU allowed GOProud to be a sponsoring organization. This means GOProud has a role to play in the agenda, much like I did for ISI. While GOProud professes their support for limited government, they also openly accept homosexual behavior. Don't get me wrong, those who practice homosexuality will always be welcome at CPAC. For, we are all sinners, and we cannot (and should not) point at the splinter in our neighbor's eye before we first take out the splinter in our own. However, we also cannot allow an organized group that stands squarely opposed to one of the key tenets of conservatism: a commitment to the traditional moral order as defined by the Judeo-Christian beliefs that are at the underpinnings of Western Civilization. Once we allow our beliefs to be watered down, we open a pandora's box.

    On the flip side of this - what if someone started an organization called "Christians for Total Healthcare." They could claim they should be allowed at CPAC because they are in line with conservatism's commitment to family values, and that their group believes, from a Judeo-Christian perspective, that government should provide health care for all. Would that progressive belief be allowed at CPAC? And if not, then why is a group claiming to support limited government allowed if they are openly hostile to the traditional moral values that undergird another tenet of conservatism?

    Until CPAC can get a grip on what it stands for and what conservatism is all about, I will join with the Heritage Foundation (the largest conservative organization in the country, and the world) and boycott CPAC. I call on all other conservatives of good faith to do so as well and to express their reasons to the Chairman of the American Conservative Union, David Keene and to CPAC's coordinator Lisa DePasquale. Their contact information is below.

    American Conservative Union
    (703) 836-8602