Saturday, March 1, 2014

Hope And The Future: An Open Letter To The President

Dear President Obama,

I know you've got a lot on your mind right now, and I don't envy you the burdens of your office.  I pray for you often, asking God to give you the wisdom to make good decisions and the strength to carry them out.

I have two requests for you today.  The first is, please don't give up on hope.  In your first campaign you spoke about hope a lot, and I think you know that meant a lot to people everywhere.  We all want hope, especially hope that we feel we can believe in.  We will often settle for unreasonable hopes, but we prefer hopes that seem grounded in possibility rather than in wild fantasy. For a while there you sounded like you had both hope and reason for hope.  When I think about the office you occupy, I imagine there's a lot that works to rein hope in, to tame hope and to break it.  You start out with big ideals, and then everyone reminds you that limited resources will be made to seem even scarcer by partisan quarrels until there's nothing left to spend on dreams.  But let me tell you this: we need you to make lots of small decisions, but we also need some big dreams, some reasonable hopes.  We need someone who will climb the steps to the bully pulpit and preach a sermon that reminds us of "the better angels of our nature." Don't just make the little decisions; remind us of the great hopes that have lived in our nation.

The second request is related to the first: I'd like you to help us to nurture the reasonable hope that we can find new ways of making energy.  There are powerful sermons being preached about building more oil and tar sand pipelines so that the old ways can be maintained.  But those are sermons without hope, the sermons of a creed doomed to perish in fire and smoke of its own burning, the platitudes born of a faith in a limited and dwindling resource.  They are the cynical homilies of those who pass the collection plate and who think the worst thing they can lose is our regular tithing to the god of petroleum.

We need a reformation in that way of thinking.

Because national security is not just about defending ourselves with bullets and bombs, and it's not just about making sure we have enough oil.  In the long run, national security has to mean that we have taken good care of the land, so that it is still worth inhabiting.  That, in turn, means we have nurtured our hearts and minds and cultivated our virtue.  What, after all, does it profit a nation to gain the world and lose its soul?  We are a nation of innovators, not just custodians of the status quo.  We began as an experiment, and it is in experimentation and new thinking that our hope now lies.

We can begin by directing more funding to universities.  We need bright engineers who have the freedom and funds to investigate how to make more efficient solar and wind energy. 

We also need bright students in the humanities who will help us form the best policies to make sure we use our technology well.  After all, a democracy can live without engineers, but it cannot survive long without reporters, teachers, and lawyers.

We know that money spent on education pays a perpetual dividend to both the person educated and her whole community.  

We can also encourage the creation of new and important prizes.  Why should we not have more prizes like the Nobel Prizes?  And why shouldn't such a proud and wealthy nation fund some of those prizes?  You've got the ear of the world for a little while longer.  Use that opportunity well, and urge us to put our private funds into prizes for people who advance the causes that matter most to humanity: growing good food, creating and preserving clean water, protecting the species God told us to care for, healing the sick, liberating captives, and making us better producers and consumers of energy.

I am grateful for people who willingly take on the burdens of public office.  I don't imagine it is easy.  You remain in my prayers.