When a pianist feels his playing is clunky and out of rhythm, he clicks on a metronome. This mechanical device keeps time. It corrects and instructs musicians as they learn to play different tempos. A metronome establishes a musical beat, helping a pianist to slow the tempo when the score says adagio and to speed up at an allegro tempo.
Jesus told critics to cultivate a mental metronome. Measure the moments, Jesus advised. Analyze trends. Hone a sixth sense for what's happening, especially when prevailing opinion misses a beat.
Jesus' critics, adept at reading meteorological signs to predict the weather, failed miserably at monitoring what occurred around them because they "didn't interpret the signs of the times" (Matthew 16:3).
Have Republicans trashed their political metronome? They're out of sync with what people believe about God and government. They missed many beats and acted tone deaf during the past presidential election. How so?
Maureen Dowd, in her commentary "A Lost Civilization," warns Republicans they may become extinct if they refuse to listen to American society's tempos.
"Who would ever have thought blacks would get out and support the first black president?" Dowd sarcastically asks of Republicans who have dismantled their political metronome. "Who would ever have thought women would shy away from the party of transvaginal probes? Who would ever have thought gays would work against a party that treated them as immoral and subhuman? Who would have ever thought young people would desert a party that ignored science and hectored on social issues? Who would ever have thought Latinos would scorn a party that expected them to finish up their chores and self-deport?" (New York Times, Dec. 8, 2012).
Republicans began ignoring their metronome that tracks social trends when Ronald Reagan won the presidency from Jimmy Carter in 1980. Then the GOP started falling out of sync with the national mood.
Carter installed solar panels on the White House roof to lessen energy dependence on fossil fuels. Reagan found such a green agenda offensive to Big Oil. His alternative green agenda had little to do with showing ecological concern. He favored green bills lining coffers of Big Oil Republicans. Consequently, Reagan removed the solar panels.
Today, Carter's moral and religious agenda is making a mighty comeback, claims Diana Butler Bass, an Episcopal trend interpreter. Bill Clinton must share the moniker of the "Comeback Kid." Carter listens to a metronome young adults under 30 use to measure the correct pace of public policy.
"Carter anticipated many things," writes Bass, "that would matter greatly in years to come - justice and equality; human rights; the impact of poverty on women and children; the need for a global worldview; the imperative to care for the earth and live simply; the limits of power in favor of reconciliation and peacemaking; the wisdom of Christian faith in conversation with other faiths" (Christianity After Religion: The End of Church and the Birth of a New Spiritual Awakening, p. 226).
Reagan prevailed short term, but Carter wins long term.
Off-tempo with a broken metronome, Republicans glorify the past. Fix our country by restoring our nation's former glory and reconstitute a mythic Christian America of the past, say Republicans.
During the 1980s, President Ronald Reagan longed to return the U.S. to mores prevailing in his boyhood. He pictured a more innocent era when morality was more pristine and citizens more pure. Reagan cultivated a selective memory. He habitually glossed over facts that didn't jibe with his Christian America scenario, forgetting that newspapers then ran job ads in four columns: male, female, white and colored.
Republicans plug their ears to what "musical" trends - such as feminism, gun control and the reconfiguration of the family - many Americans favor. Shakespeare warned of people who lack music in their souls. They are usually crafty, unreliable and dated.
To interpret President Obama's second term victory, appreciate how he excels at reading political trends, acting the parts of a pianist, a gambler and a fencer. Filling each role, he captures dominant tempos beating in our culture.
President Obama's good judgment operates like a metronome. He senses new tempos of where American society is headed. He feels rhythms, which pulse against rigid anti-tax schemes that close options and blunt help for those who need it most.
Consequently, Obama offers more political choices. His opponents spurn solar panels and parrot anti-tax rhetoric, as the rich become richer. Like a poker player, the president deals multiple winning hands.
Obama wields a sharp political sword, also. He foils Republican sallies as lightly as an Olympic Gold Medal fencer parries an opponent's thrust.
A pianist interprets a musical score, sensing different tempos for adagios and allegros.
Some political leaders listen to the diversity in our nation's musical score. Others ditch their metronome, misjudge the national tempo and are outplayed.
The Rev. Jack R. Van Ens is a Presbyterian minister who heads the nonprofit, tax-exempt Creative Growth (www.thelivinghistory.com), which enhances Christian worship through storytelling and dramatic presentations aimed to make God's history come alive. Van Ens' book, "How Jefferson Made the Best of Bad Messes," is available in local bookstores for $7.95.