Vail Daily column: Be calm and carry on | VailDaily.com

Vail Daily column: Be calm and carry on

Jack Van Ens

Get a grip on life. Affirm its possibilities. Focus on solving problems. Don’t let your mind get tangled in quandaries that leave you fidgety.

We face choices this New Year. Life’s alternatives are: Expect the best or rant about the worst. Stay calm or get jitters. Exert faith in the future or fear what’s coming. Care about decency and fairness for refugees or listen to demagogues who shut doors on them. Carry on or gripe.

Stephen Colbert, Roman Catholic host of The Late Show, presents us with stark choices. “If you want to know if somebody is Christian, just ask them to complete this sentence: “Jesus said, ‘I was hungry, and you gave me something to eat; I was thirsty, and you gave me something to drink; I was a stranger (a refugee), and you….’ (Matthew 25:31-46) And if they don’t say ‘welcome me in,’ they are either a terrorist, or they are running for president.”

Practice calm resolve. Reject political agitators who demean women, associate Mexicans with rapists and want to ban Syrian/Central American refugees from the U.S. “We are told that Mr. Trump’s ugliness has found an audience because Americans are resentful and afraid,” writes the editorial board of The Washington Post (Dec. 23). Globalization and technological change have left many behind. Rapid immigration has made some feel like strangers in their own country.

“After the shootings in Paris and San Bernardino, California, some wonder whether their government can keep them safe. Each of these issues could and should be addressed in the presidential campaign. It is Mr. Trump’s noxious choice to conflate all three without offering real solutions to any of them.”

Counter fear-mongering with its opposite — faith. Faith helps us cope with massive social change; fear makes us cower. Faith positively tackles stern challenges; fear buckles the human spirit.

Fearful folks lack confidence that life will turn-out OK. They’re tone-deaf to the upbeat of economic snare drum since the Great Recession in 2008. Since then, the U.S. has struck up the band with a remarkable economic turn-about. Unemployment has halved since Inauguration Day 2009. Job recovering is on a roll of 70-straight months in which the private sector has looked to hire. The stock market has risen 10,000 points. Detroit is manufacturing cars at a record pace.

Glossing over these up-beat economic shifts, the GOP’s two major blocs practice politics of fear. White working-class citizens in the Republican Party feel Big Business snubs them. Factory jobs have disappeared. Wages stagnate. Even in an expanding economy, manufacturing jobs aren’t rebounding. Workers retooled in technical skills now fill these slots. Or assembly line robots perform what manual laborers used to do for a paycheck.

Negative Peggy Noonan describes changes that cause fear among workers who miss once-familiar surroundings. “What is going on, and not only with Republicans, is that American voters are surveying the past 15 years. At home they see an economic near-collapse (in 2008 at the end of the George W. Bush presidency) followed by a feeble recovery, a culture that grows every day grosser and more bizarre (aka Miley Cyrus, the Kardashians and Donald Trump’s Yiddish insult), falling educational results, a bigger, more demanding and more corrupt national government. In the world: two un-won wars (Afghanistan and Iraq), ISIS, a refugee crisis greater than any since the end of World War II, Putin on the move, American clout and prestige on the decline” (The Wall Street Journal, “Republicans Are Ready to Rumble,” Nov. 14-15).

Edgy older white evangelicals compose the other group of GOP complainers. Cultural mores regarding traditional marriage, roles differentiating men and women, proper polite language and chaste behavior aren’t what they used to be. And, there’s no going back to the Reagan Revolution when the president hung a “Welcome Evangelicals” sign in the White House. Then the American majority respected what Jerry Falwell and Pat Robertson declared were biblical directives for chaste living.

GOP presidential candidate Mike Huckabee sounds resentful. An ordained Baptist preacher, he seethes because his brand of Christian faith beats a retreat in the U.S. Huckabee’s prickly attitude toward the political opposition makes him blurt, “I’d like for Barack Obama to resign if he’s not going to protect America and instead protect the image of Islam.”

Franklin Graham, son of the evangelist Billy, recently bolted from the Republican Party. He blows a weak trumpet, sounding as if the battle is over. All Christians can do is sit on their hands until Christ comes again to bail them out of miserable circumstance. “I believe the end is coming,” sighed Franklin who heads the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association. “I believe we are in the midnight hour … you see how quickly our country is deteriorating … we have seen that it has taken like a nose dive off the moral diving board into the cesspool of humanity.”

Shakespeare has Aras, Cleopatra’s maid-in-honor, express to the Queen that her luck has run out. “The bright day is done,” Aras groans, “and we are for the dark” (Antony and Cleopatra, Act 5, Sc. 2). Who benefits from GOP leaders whining that our bright days are behind us because darkness has crept over the New Year?

Make this your No. 1 New Year’s resolution: Count for goodness and decency. Give underdogs fresh chances.

In 2016, faith and fear will grapple, as they do every New Year. Live as if faith deals the winning hand.

The Rev. Dr. Jack R. Van Ens is a Presbyterian minister who heads the nonprofit, tax exempt Creative Growth Ministries (www.thelivinghistory.com), which enhances Christian worship through dynamic storytelling and dramatic presentations aimed to make God’s history come alive.