Revelation, No Just Lamentation by Al Sikes

I am finishing up some medical stuff, and in the last several weeks I have contracted a new illness, form-phobia.

Doctors, clinics, hospitals, insurance companies, and the federal government all want to know about me, my medical history, my parent’s history and, of course, who to call in the case of an emergency. Even though I am in the same system with all the providers (Shore Health), the level of redundancy is brain numbing. If you ask why you have to answer the same questions over and over, the answer varies between “don’t ask me” to “it is required.” It makes no sense to get mad at the person who is handling the paper; it makes sense to get mad at the multi-institutional inertia.

Most everybody knows that in the US we spend more per capita than any other nation that achieves similar health outcomes, in many cases significantly more. Plus, we all know that all manner of politician is promising us more health benefits, but few are suggesting we are actually going to have pay for them. And to add to the stress on our health systems, the Medicare trust fund is forecast to run out of money in 2026 while Medicaid spending is funded out of Federal and State general revenues and has been taking an increasing share.

We have a simple option. Pay more or spend less. We all know, of course, that spending less will run head-on into powerful lobbies that will fight until they have no pulse.

We all deal with industries that have been forced to modernize. In the late 1980s buying or selling a stock cost an average of $45. And then, well the Internet happened, online trading became popular and now companies that still make a profit charge a fraction of what they used to. One reason they are still making money is that they are using technology to achieve extraordinary efficiencies.

I use the financial industry illustratively because it too deals with information that must be protected. Health care providers must do the same. We do not want information about our health status to leak out, nor do we want inaccurate information to compromise treatment.

I realize there are institutional differences but let me provide an example of what can happen. I had a foot issue some time back and went to a doctor recommended by a friend at the Hospital for Special Surgery in New York. I completed one form online and then on each visit was asked whether there had been any changes. And, I dealt both with the Doctor and his professional and administrative staffs by email. Change is possible!

I know, drug companies charge us too much. And yes the costs of various procedures differ and sometimes by a wide margin from hospital to hospital. I am all in favor of taking on the big institutions and their lobbies, but why not bring the paperwork blizzard into the 21st century?

Al Sikes is the former Chair of the Federal Communications Commission under George H.W. Bush. Al recently published Culture Leads Leaders Follow published by Koehler Books. 

Election 2018: Is There a Shared Vision? By Al Sikes

A telling, yet perplexing fact, is how often our aspirations collide with our actions.

Drive through a subdivision and read the street signs. How many people live on Peach Blossom Road with no peach trees in sight? At one point the Sikes family lived on Oak Grove Lane sans the oak grove.

So often the peach orchard or the oak grove fall to the blade of construction. And almost as often our more pastoral aspirations fall to the siren song of growth without carefully considering costs.

Paradoxically, many of the states or communities that measure up to our aspirations are where job growth occurs. If fighting job growth or population expansion were effective, Oregon would be experiencing a decline in both. The Sunbelt is said to have experienced growth because it is a more enjoyable place to live.

Talbot County is an enjoyable place to live. There are still orchards and groves of trees and waterfront parks and natural refuges and pleasant roads. And in the more developed part of our county — the economic zones — there is investment and new jobs. Entrepreneurs and investors have opted to increase jobs here, even though there are tax free zones that in a strict profit and loss calculation are more attractive.

The election this year — less than a month away — will influence, if not determine, which path we choose.

If the view is that job growth will be best served by more development, regardless of the risk to our natural assets, vote for the status quo. If the legacy of nature and nurturing leadership is the better way, then go back and forth across the ballot. Indeed, in my view, there is not a Republican or Democrat way forward on local issues.

I am still paying attention to what the candidates are saying, but I intend to vote for the Republican, Laura Price and the Democrat, Pete Lesher. Both have served and I can look at their records. And both understand that Talbot County’s future health depends on both a sound economic model and protection of the extraordinary gifts of nature and history.

Al Sikes is the former Chair of the Federal Communications Commission under George H.W. Bush. Al recently published Culture Leads Leaders Follow published by Koehler Books. 

 

Breaking Bad by Al Sikes

Early this summer, with a new high-speed connection just installed, my wife and I began to sample streaming TV shows. We had read articles about the show Breaking Bad and decided to see what it was about. Keep in mind that Breaking Bad was a sensation when it arrived, rather quickly became popular and was critically acclaimed.

We watched several episodes and then decided that unblinking video of grotesque violence breached an invisible line which persists in our lives.

But Breaking Bad, a show about a chemistry teacher diagnosed with terminal cancer who turns to making and selling methamphetamine for his family’s economic future, is often a mirror on our nation. Which government financial scheme do you like? Incalculable debt? Gambling and marijuana tax revenues?

In 2016 Donald Trump, the most unconventional candidate by far, was elected. Most of those who inquire, write and videotape were aghast. So aghast that few sought to find out why this “vulgar man” beat Hillary Clinton. It turned out that millions decided that their lives were so disrupted by politics as usual, that they were prepared to take a flyer—much the motivation of our Breaking Bad chemistry teacher.

Now we are a month away from the mid-term election and many (me included) have to admit that some good things have happened in the last twenty months, although time only will allow a reasoned summing up. Many (me included) are nonetheless no less bothered by Trump’s need to win at the expense of shaming the loser, among other things.

Politics is highly cyclical:  introduce social distemper and the fall out will be incalculable on both sides of our two Party equation. And if it is not already difficult to get good people to seek office, it will become even more so.

Turning to the latest horror show, the reason for Statues of Limitation in criminal law is the difficulty of attaining justice when a number of years have passed since the alleged crime. Circumstances, memories and imaginations work together in all of our lives to cloud and distort and potential witness’s circumstances change and any likely forensic evidence disappears.

And, regardless of the forum, Judge Brett Kavanaugh is being charged with a crime even though prosecutor after prosecutor, across the full political spectrum, have said they would not prosecute, now thirty-six years later.

It is also fair to ask what he has done in his adult life. Few of us would pass a test of propriety during the immaturity of our teenage years. While the principal allegation against him is sexual assault, his boisterous youth is said to corroborate the allegation.

In 1986 Judge Douglas Ginsburg was rejected when nominated to serve on the Supreme Court, for smoking marijuana. Most said, had this occurred while he was in college it would have been overlooked, but as it turned out he was smoking weed while a professor at Harvard’s law school.

I must assume that Kavanaugh’s adult life has been well-lived; if it hasn’t, do any of us doubt we would know? Presumably his most ardent opponents would prefer to use more recent objectionable conduct.

I can, of course, continue down what I have chosen to call the Breaking Bad path but I want to believe we will break back. I believe the #MeToo movement is helping us do so.

Almost six years ago Ted Cruz was elected to serve in the US Senate. Some months later I decided that there was no way I would support his political ambitions. Cruz attacked everybody. Nobody was good enough by his standards (whatever they were). Cruz, of course, using harsh disdain, became a credible candidate for the Republican nomination to be president. Now we have Cory Booker and Kamala Harris, both US Senators, rejecting any sense of fairness as they accuse Judge Kavanaugh of being “evil.” Maybe harshness will work for them as well.

Will the fever break? Will America’s leaders break back? Will civility return as a necessary element in a healthy democracy? Will we get serious about our financial profligacy? It’s hard to say, but what we do know is that the script will be written by us.

It is also certain that if Supreme Court jurists read the Constitution as they would prefer it have been written, not as it reads, that future nominees will continue to be vilified by the Left or Right. In the course of trials by tabloid ethics, we will degrade the one institution that must help us protect our constitutional foundation. Remember, in a healthy democracy, laws are to be made by the people voters elect, and the Courts are there to make sure that happens.

Al Sikes is the former Chair of the Federal Communications Commission under George H.W. Bush. Al recently published Culture Leads Leaders Follow published by Koehler Books. 

Politics in Home Territory by Al Sikes

Politics tend to organize around point of view although sometimes it is as simple as following your parents lead or the urging of one’s local culture or peers. And, at times it gets uncomfortably tribal.

I was born and raised in Southern Missouri and most of the voters were of the Democratic persuasion. My Dad’s first Republican vote was for Dwight Eisenhower when he ran against Adlai Stevenson for a second term. Dad’s ancestors were southern Democrats.

My Mom’s ancestors had fought for the Union; they were Lincoln Republicans. I took Mom’s lead and in Missouri in the 1960s and 70s the Republicans were the reformers. I managed a campaign for Kit Bond who was elected Governor and his youth organization distributed Bond/McGovern campaign buttons to capture the youthful spirit of reform.

Mostly since, I have identified as a Republican and served in both the administrations of Ronald Reagan and George H W Bush. I could not in good faith have continued that loyalty without believing in principles of fiscal stewardship, decentralized government and a range of other more conservative principles. And, I look forward to voting for Governor Hogan.

As I look at the Republican Party today however, it is far different from the one I opted for in the 1960s. Its positions on guns and environmental issues are rigid and often anything but conservative. Since when did it become conservative to favor the right to bear AK 47s and the like? Advanced weaponry in the hands of disturbed individuals is suicidal.

Candidates are important too and especially in this hyperpolarized culture. Eisenhower earned my Dad’s first switch of Party loyalty. We can all look back at Eisenhower’s eight years of service and appreciate that he didn’t always toe the Party line. In fact, he defeated Robert Taft for the Republican nomination; Taft was the favorite of the regulars.

So let me cut to the chase. This year I will for the first time vote for the other Party’s congressional candidate, Jesse Colvin. I will do so knowing that at times he, if elected, will choose to vote in ways I would not favor.

My conclusion is simple. It is important that the Republican Party receive a message that falling in behind President Trump, regardless of the quality of his decision making or the temperament of his leadership, is not to be rewarded.

I also believe that the incumbent Andy Harris, a doctor himself, has yielded to politics rather than science on a number of environmental issues. And in my view conserving the environment is a first order principle of conservatism.  

Harris also is comfortable with “hell no” regardless of how that stance ultimately undermines Congressional prerogatives and obligations. Compromise can be unseemly, but when it comes to fiscal affairs it is essential. We live in an age of last minute omnibus appropriations; both Parties are complicit in undermining our Nation’s economic strength.

Let me close with a comment about Jesse. Jesse and I enjoy several mutual friendships which led to our getting together several times. My main experience with politicians is listening. They come to a meeting with a script and want you to follow their lead.

Jesse asked questions. He listened. And his wife Jordan, mother of their first child, Coleman, once worked for Republican US Senator Tom Coburn who was one of those Senators who was principled first and orthodox second. I could hope for no more from Jesse!

Al Sikes is the former Chair of the Federal Communications Commission under George H.W. Bush. Al recently published Culture Leads Leaders Follow published by Koehler Books. 

Social Distemper by Al Sikes

The Iraqis have a constitution, as do the Afghans. Both are relatively new and influenced by the United States. Yet, it would be hard to find anyone that believes Iraq’s or Afghanistan’s Constitutions have secured and stabilized those countries. Both countries are fraught with deep divisions; neither have cultures that yield readily to a stable constitutional democracy.

Culture is the hinge. In a constitutional democracy, bereft of civility, the way forward is difficult at best. Incivility is an attack on the very institutions we have so long celebrated—take a look at the latest polling on confidence in America’s foundation.

Today’s battle over Supreme Court nominations underscores the impotence of the Congress and too expansive interpretations by the Supreme Court. Both right and left believe their ultimate aims will be determined more by Courts than legislative actions. And, the last two Presidents have relied more on executive orders than prevailing with a legislative agenda.

Deep divisions did not start with President Trump nor will his defeat end them. He has, however, amplified divisions by his win/lose confrontations. Trump seems only satisfied when shaming the opposition. He, in particular, has sowed social distemper and we have only sour fruits to harvest.

Each public policy or election campaign battle is fought like the ultimate battle. Cycles of opinions, however, preclude that result; America is not owned by the right or left. Lawmaking is at its best when reason prevails; political battles thrive on passion, the antipode of reason.

I have been particularly alarmed by the power-seeking clergy. My religious tradition is replete with warnings about seeking power over love. Yet, the successor to Billy Graham, his son, is quick to attack in the pursuit of temporal power. The Church cannot win political wars; its doctrines can only prevail when it is true to its scriptures and its actions therefore show the world a winsome face.

And speaking of religions it is now, on the Left, an article of faith that some cluster of white men cannot find reason. I am all in favor of diversity, but find a construct that ultimately undermines our Constitution, a product of emotion not reason. The Founding Fathers were, after all, mainly a cluster of white men often drawing on the philosophic wisdom of white men.

I have no idea when the fever will pass or for that matter if it will. The causes of the fever will require strong medicine and in public affairs that means leadership. How many leaders, not pretenders, are prepared to be candidates in a political world where human frailty is weaponized and policy positions, aimed at Congressional resolution, are attacked by the Party’s base as being weak and accommodative?

Candidates in the weeks ahead will be pressed on the issues of the day. To me the biggest issue of the day is whether compromise is a necessary principle of first rank in our Democracy.

Al Sikes is the former Chair of the Federal Communications Commission under George H.W. Bush. Al recently published Culture Leads Leaders Follow published by Koehler Books. 

A Musical Prelude to the Tenth Anniversary by Al Sikes

My wife and I were in a taxi in Paris; our driver was listening to “Come Fly With Me” being played by Monty Alexander. As the piece ended I said, “I know Monty Alexander.” He got very excited and a conversation began with a taxi driver who spoke little English and an American who spoke less French.

Along with a rich history of geopolitical collaboration, Americans and the French share a love of jazz. And, at the Avalon Theater last weekend people came from all over to listen to the theme song of the Monty Alexander Jazz Festival—you guessed it, that very same melody I enjoyed once again in Paris.

The Festival opened with a small history lesson. Dominick Farinacci and his band and the amazing vocalist Shenel Johns performed a concert titled “Lady Sings the Blues.” Dominick noted from the stage that jazz is often a reflection of American history.

“Lady Sings the Blues” recalled a time beginning in the 1930s and extending into the early part of the 60s when segregation was often the informal or, in some cases, the formal law. The music was compelling and some of the lyrics jarring. If you are interested, Google Nina Simone’s “Mississippi God Damn”.

Saturday began with a free late morning concert headlined by the remarkable Matthew Whitaker. Matthew, blind from birth, brought us well into 21st century compositions and thrilled the children who were especially encouraged to join in. I couldn’t help but be emotionally pulled into the concert as the blind were helped to their seats and a little girl sitting just in front of me was using the arm on her chair as a keyboard.

That afternoon took the audience on a stroll along the beaches of Brazil as a band of Americans and Brazilians reprised that moment in history when jazz and samba were fused by Stan Getz and Antonio Jobim into Bossa Nova. One could not help but daydream about “A Girl from Ipanema.”

The jazz age began in the 1920s and was immortalized by F. Scott Fitzgerald in “Tales of the Jazz Age.” But, while jazz might have commanded the heights of popular music in the ensuing decades, as an expressive style of music, it continues to enthrall audiences. Saturday night Monty

Alexander’s concert epitomized the expansive nature of the music as he often combines music from his American residence, Jamaican birth place and tunes he hears as he tours four continents. The sold out concert featured emotion, virtuosity and warmth as Monty and his band played for what he considers his home audience.

Sunday wrapped up the three days on the stage of the marvelous community asset, The Avalon Theater. The international casts of top tier performers love it, including Brianna Thomas who led her band and was joined in the finale by The Warrior Chorale of Easton High School which had opened the Sunday concert. Maybe, just maybe, the youth of our community will be inspired to take the next step in their musical ambitions.

Next year will be the 10th Anniversary of the Monty Alexander Jazz Festival. Chesapeake Music promises you a very special time.

Al Sikes is the former Chair of the Federal Communications Commission under George H.W. Bush. Al recently published Culture Leads Leaders Follow published by Koehler Books. 

Remembering the Real John McCain by Al Sikes

Some of us, and emphatically me, are McCain Republicans. Most of course are not. Most were willing to overlook President Trump’s conclusion that John McCain was not a hero.

John McCain’s death discloses the inadequacy of obituaries. I have read several and none seemed to me to capture the ineffable quality of McCain. He would of course push back; “come on” he would say, “I made my fair share of mistakes.” And he did and many he admitted through very public apologies. In a sense his greatness results not so much from laws passed or campaigns won, but his capacity to forgive others and seek forgiveness himself.

John McCain was an unscripted politician. He was not bound by Party orthodoxy or special interest insistence and when he stumbled he got up a wiser man.

I knew John because he was an active member of the US Senate Commerce Committee when I chaired the Federal Communications Commission. The Commerce Committee had oversight authority and I paid attention. What I recall most about our exchanges were that they were cordial (not necessarily his reputation) and relatively quick. I always had the feeling that I owed him a quick and hopefully cogent response. I always felt he was trying to make up for the five plus years he was out of commission while a prisoner of war at the Hanoi Hilton.

Several on the Sunday public affairs talk shows called for the Russell Senate Office Building to be renamed for Senator McCain. I heartily agree. Among other things, Senator Richard Russell, for whom the building is named, “supported racial segregation and co-authored the Southern Manifesto with Strom Thurmond.”

Senator’s McCain’s absence will leave a vacuum on two of his important causes. He was a constant voice for “regular order” in Congressional proceedings.

Senator McCain cast the vote that precluded the repeal of what is called Obamacare. He believed that the repeal effort had not been given the rigorous process of hearings and committee actions that regular order anticipates. He wanted to know, among other things, what was going to replace the discredited law and believed the replacement law should be bi-partisan. Obamacare was passed without a single Republican vote.

Regular order must be a product of bi-partisanship. A polarized Senate or House rewards the relentlessly partisan maneuvering that has become so characteristic of Congressional impotence. Only independent-minded and acting Members of Congress will object to their leadership’s efforts to rule by Party caucus.

One other thing is notable and brought him into conflict on both sides of the aisle but in particular his side, the Republican one. He voted against the tax cuts proposed by the George W. Bush administration. He was both a foreign policy and fiscal hawk. He essentially asked, if we are going to cut taxes, since we are operating at a significant deficit, how are we going to cut expenditures? He also thought the cuts were weighted in favor of the wealthy. His fiscal legacy reflects an intense desire to pay it forward.

There is, as noted, a bi-partisan opportunity. The Congress should give President Trump the opportunity to tweet on the newly named John McCain Senate Office building.  

Al Sikes is the former Chair of the Federal Communications Commission under George H.W. Bush. Al recently published Culture Leads Leaders Follow published by Koehler Books. 

Andy Harris: In Denial by Al Sikes

Few things in life are certain. I am certain of that.

Risk is endemic to life and the more threatening the risk the more likely we are to have insurance. Automobile, health, and home are just the most common policies. Yet at the start of most years (health excluded) we do not anticipate making a claim.

One of the greatest threats we face we cannot insure against. We cannot protect ourselves from political risk; although the ballot box can be used to limit our exposure.

Politicians are forever risking our future by appealing to our present interests. The long tail effects are particularly egregious. We now shoulder trillions of dollars of unfunded or underfunded government promises (debt), for example. It is not as if we start government programs with harmful intentions; but, the fiscal harm rarely concerns us. And we find when it comes to fiscal matters the failures are bi-partisan.

The importance of the planet, however, is orders of magnitude more serious than our debt to GDP ratio. Yet, Andy Harris, our doctor in residence at the nation’s Capitol, contests most policies aimed at mitigating climate change and its effects. When asked why, he says he is “uncertain” about human contribution to the changing weather.

Even though the overwhelming scientific viewpoint is contrary to Congressman Harris, I do not fault his uncertainty. There is always room for contrarians; they put the prevailing wisdom to the test. It is an honorable stance, if honestly arrived at.

My problem with Harris is his cavalier approach to uncertainty. When one is uncertain about the prospects of conditions that would produce a calamitous harm, the need for insurance is essential, not discretionary.

Yet, the Congressman translates his uncertainty into a posture of denial. Denial in the face of uncertainty is problematic. A man of science should be pushing for research on how we can limit our exposure. A conservative should be cautious, not reckless.

Maryland’s First Congressional District needs a Congressman who approaches climate change as an explorer, not a propagandist. When candidate positions on scientific or fiscal questions forego fact-based inquiry and action, the candidate should be allowed to make decisions for him or herself, not for the public.

Trump and the Republican Party

Several years ago it would have been difficult to imagine voters, many of whom self-identify as Christian conservatives, waving off Trump’s latest troubles as “not about Russian collusion.”

This reaction miniaturizes the Republican Party. Trump stains the Party in profound ways. Consider, how many voters outside of hardcore tribal ones will be emotionally or cerebrally pulled toward a collection of people who genuflect when Trump’s name is mentioned?

America’s conservative Party is committing suicide. People who value liberty and revere our constitution need to begin, right now, to help select candidates who can lead the GOP.

Al Sikes is the former Chair of the Federal Communications Commission under George H.W. Bush. Al recently published Culture Leads Leaders Follow published by Koehler Books. 

Spy Sunday Essay: Living History by Al Sikes

Author’s note: A small community church is in the foreground, The Beaverkill Church. It is shadowed by Mount McGuckin in the Catskill Mountain chain. Recently I was recruited to deliver the Sunday morning message.

In speaking of the American Revolution in 1838 (fifty-five years after the last shot was fired), Abraham Lincoln recounted how every family was indelibly joined to the principles of the great struggle. He called it a “living history”.

The Beaverkill Church, Beaverkill, NY in the 1930s.

He went on to say that living history “must fade upon the memory of the world, and grow more and more dim by the lapse of time.” Lincoln added: “In history, we hope, they will be read of, and recounted, so long as the Bible shall be read — but even granting that they will, their influence cannot be what it heretofore has been.”

Lincoln’s speech was delivered before the Young Men’s Lyceum of Springfield, Illinois on January 27, 1838. He was 28. The context for this speech was mob actions in Mississippi and St. Louis, largely targeting freed slaves and his plea was to honor the political institutions that were created to assure and protect individual liberty.

In re-visiting what is known as the Lyceum speech, I was reminded of the return of Jesus after the resurrection and the fading memory of history lived and then only studied.

You will recall that He first appeared to Mary Magdalene and then to the disciples, absent Thomas.

Later Jesus joined the disciples with Thomas present. Thomas, you will recall, said “Unless I see in his hands the print of the nails, and place my finger in the mark of the nails, and place my hand in his side, I will not believe”.

Now, before I continue to talk about the foundation of belief and faith, let me quote from a sermon by the great Scottish Minister, George MacDonald, who C. S. Lewis called his “Master”.

MacDonald said “Now, whenever you begin to speak of anything true, divine, heavenly or supernatural, you cannot speak of it at all without speaking about it wrongly in some measure. We have no words, we have no phrases, we have no possible combination of sentences that do more than represent fragmentarily the greatness of the things that belong to the very Vital being of our nature”.

I continue with McDonald’s warning, a recurring echo in my mind.

It seems to me that every several months there is a new poll inquiring whether some universe of people believe in God.

The Gallup organization has been conducting polls on religious belief since 1944. The high water mark of belief was in 1967, when 98% of those who responded said they believed in God. The 2017 poll put belief at 87%, a decline of over 13%. The universe of believers in 2017 included 64% who were convinced that God
exists, 16% said He probably did and 5% believed, but had significant doubts — lets call them the 50/50 crowd.

I would suggest that just as MacDonald was concerned about his own potential errors in talking about God, that pollsters should be doubly concerned about the ultimate accuracy of their surveys. Poll results tum on a variety of circumstances, many bearing little relationship to discovering truth. My guess is that there are many “doubting Thomas’s” among the self—professed believers.

I began chairing The Trinity Forum in 2008 and retired from that position in 2013. Our mission was to convene leaders with those steeped in philosophy and theology to consider and discuss life’s great questions.

The forum also published what I choose to call faith’s living history. The importance of this history, for me, was underscored by Albert Einstein’s observation on the importance of transcendent
values.

“Our time is distinguished by wonderful achievements in the fields of scientific understanding and the technical application 0f th0se insights. Who would not be cheered by this? But let us not forget that knowledge and skills alone cannot lead humanity to a happy and dignified life. Humanity has every reason to place the proclaimers of high moral standards and values above the discoverers objective truth. What humanity owes to personalities like Buddha, Moses, and Jesus ranks for me higher than all the achievements of the inquiring and constructive mind. What these blessed men have given us we must guard and try to keep alive with all our strength of humanity is not to lose its dignity, the security of its existence, and its joy in living. ”

Einstein understood, indeed we all understand, that liberty — the absence of restraint — when paired with our sinful nature is often corrupted. Einstein placed what he called high moral standards” above objective truth.

Adam Smith, who many believe to be the father of capitalism, wrote explicitly about the need for what he called “moral sentiments”. If you look, for example, at the yawning gap between the compensation of upper management and those who produce products and services, it is easy to see the lack of “moral
sentiments”.

The need for and importance of the environmental movement results from the lack of “moral sentiments” by too many who control the wastes of production and consumption.

An examination of the political leadership of the so-called religious right is replete with examples of choosing power over the values of faith in Jesus Christ. But, I am sure that every political leader, regardless of his hunger for power, would tell the Gallup pollsters that they believe in God.

The Church has a rich living history of witness. While living in Manhattan, I stood behind the pulpit of Redeemer Presbyterian Church one evening and recounted my faith in God. I feel no more adequate today than I felt then. Yet, I have chosen again to reflect on faith.

Einstein’s deism seemed tied to what he called “a well-tuned universe”. The structure of the universe, as proven by scientific inquiry, informed his mind.

Most Christians find their faith through family experience, biblical text and spiritual signals. In my own life, Sundays were religiously and culturally important during my formative years. Today, for many, Sundays are spent in the bleachers watching children and grandchildren do something with a ball.

If “living history” is an important element in belief, curiosity is essential. Lincoln’s point of reference was the Revolutionary War and its aftermath. The principles for which soldiers fought and died were Vivid and influential, at least to a point.

In the world in which we live, 81 generations after Jesus walked the earth, a different kind of living history must inform faith. And, belief without animating faith is hollow.

I have gained insight and strength by understanding the importance of faith in the actions of Lincoln and William Wilberforce, who led the movement to abolish slavery in the United Kingdom. And, if you want to understand the importance of faith to Martin Luther King, read his letter from the Birmingham jail.

Or read the prayers of Mother Teresa contained in a book written by my Jewish friend, Tony Stem. Or, study the life of Dietrich Bonhoeffer, who left Germany’s state church and became a key founder of the Confessing Church. Bonhoeffer’s courageous rejection of Hitler resulted in his execution.

Or, look around us at the beauty of the Catskills. Or, examine the art of Michelangelo. Or, listen to the music of Bach.

It is hard for me to understand sacrifice and beauty as being separated from intention informed by a divine force. There is light in what is often a dark world.

It is also hard to survey the extraordinary dedication of organizations like the Red Cross, Habitat for Humanity, the Young Men’s and Women’s Christian Associations and not believe that our soul helps inform our brain.

Returning to Abraham Lincoln’s reflection on living history, let me reflect on an updated and revolutionary convergence of faith and music — more recent living history.

John Newton was born in 1725 and during the earlier part of his adult life was a profane slave trader. One night, while at the helm of his ship, he faced a terrifying storm. He later recounted that he prayed for the storm to quiet and it did.

He was certain divinity had touched him and he later expressed his conversion to Christianity in the hymn, Amazing Grace. Listen to the words:

AMAZING GRACE

Amazing grace! How sweet the sound,
That saved a wretch; like me!

I once was lost, but now am found,
Was blind, but now I see.

’Twas grace that taught my heart to fear,
And grace my fears relieved;

How precious did that grace appear
The hour I first believed!

The Lord hath promised good to me,
His word my hope secures;

He will my shield and portion be
As long as life endures.

When we’ve been there ten thousand
years,
Bright shining as the sun,
We’ve no less days to sing God’s praise
Than when we first begun.

What most do not know is that the final verse was added by Harriet Beecher Stowe, who wrote Uncle Tom’s Cabin. It was published in 1852 — living history four generations later. Let me repeat it:

When we’ve been there ten thousand years,
Bright shining as the sun,
We’ve no less days to sing God’s praise
Than when we first begun.

Amazing Grace has been recorded over 7,000 times and was a seminal song in the civil rights movement. Mahalia Jackson’s 1947 version four generations later is a legendary recording.

Amazing Grace later became an anthem in the resistance to the Vietnam War five generations later. Noteworthy recordings of that era include Judy Collins, Joan Baez and Arlo Guthrie. Living
history indeed. And, of course, Newton’s seminal contribution to living history remains one of faith’s most important anthems.

Now one can say, if God saved John Newton’s life, why doesn’t he intercede to help the innocent? Why does he let bad things happen to good people? Fair questions.

My answer: I don’t know! But at the risk of “speaking about it wrongly in some measure”, I will offer two thoughts. First, we have been given free choice and it is often abused. If every time a wrong action was planned God interceded, freedom would not exist.

Second, we have been given hope that our soul, the essence of our spirituality, will be given a second life. I choose to believe that the innocent will have a heavenly existence.

Now let me close with two thoughts. Regardless of what we believe, we are certain in some measure to be wrong. God is in the details and in our human weaknesses we often get the details wrong.

Maybe it is my more optimistic nature that leads me to believe in a caring God and his son, Jesus Christ. I wonder who I have to thank for that! I believe I know.

Al Sikes is the former Chair of the Federal Communications Commission under George H.W. Bush. Al recently published Culture Leads Leaders Follow published by Koehler Books. He and his wife, Marty, are members of the Beaverkill Church in Beaverkill, NY during the summer months where this sermon was originally given a few weeks ago. 

“Take Me Out to the Ballgame” by Al Sikes

The St Louis Cardinal baseball team of 1968 was there. I watched as Bob Gibson, Tim McCarver, Ozzie Smith, Steve Carlton, Lou Brock and others walked up from the dugout to be recognized. This was a team of Hall of Famers—they won the World Series that year. This was a three generational experience as my wife Marty and I took both children and grandchildren to St. Louis’ Busch Stadium to watch the Cardinals play the Phillies.

I bought pretty good seats and as I recall they cost me something over $80 a piece including an online transaction fee. The game was okay, but nothing like that introduction. Parking fees and concession items brought the bill to over $600.

I was brought back to that day and a much earlier one after reading Joseph Epstein’s brief essay in the Wall Street Journal. Epstein was lamenting the cost of going to a Cubs game with a friend who bought the tickets. The ticket cost $172.48.

Epstein in summing up noted: “Being a sports fan, whether die-hard or fair-weather, is these days rather a dubious undertaking. For a long while now, a team’s fans have been more loyal than its players, who, under free agency, depart as soon as a better offer turns up. Nor is it easy for a fan to grasp paying a man who bats in the .220s, striking out nearly 200 times but hitting 27 home runs, a salary of $13 million. Not to speak of paying a pitcher, who works one day in five, and at that rarely for more than six innings, $25 million. All the more demoralizing is it to grasp that a good part of the cost for these wild extravagances are passed on to us, the fans.”

I would add that most of the immensely wealthy owners put economics and ego ahead of the fans.

In 1991, Fay Vincent, then Commissioner of Major League Baseball and I testified before the US Senate Judiciary Committee in favor of a TV black out rule that was favorable to the baseball teams which were, in essence, a monopoly. I was then Chairman of the Federal Communications Commission. I enjoyed talking baseball with the Commissioner, too bad Senators intruded.

Baseball and other sports leagues enjoy legal protections from what otherwise would be anti-trust violations as they organize in part to limit supply, which overtime, means fans must pay even more to go to games.

In my view, any anti-trust protection should be removed but more importantly fans should begin to push back. Sports teams negotiate exclusive contracts for the distribution of sports events. This exclusivity is what allows, in particular, football and basketball to delay games for the sake of more advertising. My research showed little fan pushback although the Toronto Football Club, a Major League Soccer club, gave its fans some ticket price relief after a “fan revolt” in 2010.

Many team owners, player agents and those who control concessions act with impunity. Yet, promotion of professional sports always cites the fans as the team’s highest priority. Baloney! Actions tell a different story, unless the cost of being a fan is of no consequence.

Fans now have the tools to push back. Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, email networks and more enable and facilitate revolts.
The 1968 Cardinals were very talented. So too the 2018 Red Sox, Astros, Cubs—winners all. There are also fans whose talent in using online tools to push back is world class. Use them.

Al Sikes is the former Chair of the Federal Communications Commission under George H.W. Bush. Al recently published Culture Leads Leaders Follow published by Koehler Books.