Monday, March 03, 2008

You're So Transparent

I've been following the primaries for the Presidency with great interest, like many of us in the US and around the world that have been caught up in this most interesting of election years, when the presidency has been really up for grabs more than in elections for many years past. I've just spent a few minutes reading up on the latest skirmishes between the candidates: who will be the best president at 3am, how race and sex are impacting the vote, who Mexicans are rooting for (since statistics show almost half or perhaps more than half of Mexicans have a relative living in the states,) and, most recently, this back and forth between Clinton and Obama on NAFTA and conversations with Canadian officials.

What are people looking for in a president? I suspect what many of us would like most is the one thing I think is hardest to find in any of the candidates: transparency. What-you-see-is-what-you-get. What-I-say-is-actually-what-I-mean. I would love to be sure that the candidate I vote for would actually do what he/she says they will do once in office. Remember in January when Hillary Clinton got a bit weepy at a question about how she was holding up? Soon after, Clinton had some of her biggest primary victories today. Were people responding to what they saw as transparency, finally, in a usually very controlled candidate?

I wish people seemed more interested in telling the truth, owning up to the facts. Back in December, when I reviewed The Ethics of What We Eat, I wrote that Mason and Singer, the authors, focus on the lack of transparency in the food industry. No one wants us to know what's really going on when it comes to how our food is prepared. Why? Well, if we knew, probably less of us would eat meat and other animal products. Otherwise, there'd be no need for all the secrecy, right?

In January, Greg Hazelrig wrote about a Barna Group book unchristian, a book I keep meaning to get to. The book takes a look at what non-Christians think of Christians. The dominant response: Christians are hypocritical. I know that's not quite the same as lacking transparency, but I think there is some overlap there. Again, it's about a gap between what we say and what we do.

As I think about the approaching General Conference for the UMC, one of the things I wish we would see more of is transparency in our actions. Cozying up to certain delegates in order to win their votes? Just say so. Offering a breakfast or lunch or dinner because you want to push a certain agenda? Please be clear about it. Attending mostly because you'll later be running for the episcopacy? Out with it! In the end, are you going to vote based on what's best for you personally, even if it conflicts with your stated ideals and theology? Just say so.

Why is it so hard for us to be transparent? Authentic? Honest? As people of faith, I think we're called to examine the reasons behind what we do. Why do we want more people to attend our churches? Is it because we have this good news we want to share, or because with more people our bills are easier to pay? Do we want young people in our churches because we value who they are and want them to experience God's unconditional love, or are we looking to our own survival? Why do we do what we do?

Of course, sometimes, we aren't even really transparent with ourselves. Recently I've been making some tough decisions for myself, and was getting really far down the road on deciding one way when I realized I just wasn't being transparent, even with myself, about the reasons behind my decisions. Power and status and position were playing into my decision-making in ways I was not ready to admit even to myself.

Maybe we're afraid to be transparent because we're afraid of what will happen when people can see right through us, or right into us. Maybe we're afraid of looking at what actually motivates us and moves us into action, or what keeps us from acting when we should. But personally, I'm aiming for some more transparency. After all, we are created in God's image. Hopefully, the more transparent we become, the more apparent God within us will become to those around us. And then maybe we people of faith won't seem like such a hypocritical bunch after all...
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