Although I don’t recall the actual inaugural speech of JFK on January 20, 1961, I do remember growing up hearing his famous words: “Ask not what your country can do for you, but what you can do for you country.”
The seeds of those words went deep into my heart as a young American patriot. They called me to action, not just to a sentimental feeling of patriotism. They caused me to acknowledge that I owed my country, my forebearers something for the freedom I enjoy.
I also remember that JFK was a visionary. He spoke the words and dangled the dream of putting a man on the moon, and by golly, it happened. He saw something and called people to action.
Ronald Reagan was also a great visionary. He used political straight talk to bring down the Berlin Wall, to bring down the Iron Curtain. He had the nerve to call the Soviet Union the “Evil Empire” and not flinch. And when he said those words, my soul stood up and cheered. I knew he was right and was calling evil evil.
Sometimes I think we need leaders who use political straight talk, to cut through the fat and get to the lean, mean facts. Sometimes, we need the shock value of bottom-line rhetoric to jolt us into action. In fact, I believe that our times demand it.
Still as I was pondering these memories and this notion today, I remembered a favorite saying taken from a poem of Emily Dickinson’s, “Tell All the Truth, But Tell it Slant.”
The most poignant line from the poem, “Tell all the truth but tell it slant… the truth must dazzle gradually lest men be blind.”
Telling the truth slant is not what I would call using “political straight talk.” It is what Jesus used when he introduced kingdom truths through parables. Jesus drove home bottom-line truths that the people desperately needed, but he did it gently, using the device of a story.
When the disciples asked Jesus why he used parables instead of straight language about the things of God, he said that he cloaked the truth in story form so the seekers of truth would press in to know the meaning that would be hidden from the casusal seeker.
There are other benefits of using stories to get your point across. Cold hard fact will be forgotten, but the truth padded with a colorful parable will be remembered and more likely applied to our lives later.
Stories and their truths endure. Who doesn’t recognize the parable and spiritual truths of the prodigal, the widow’s mite, or the shepherd who left the 99 sheep for the one? Those kingdom principles are written on our hearts forever. Why? Because they drove home truths with great wisdom gently and poignantly, but with color and pazzazz.
The political race for president in the USA is quite interesting, and we are not lacking candidates who are using political straight talk to make their points, create their platforms, and win their votes.
Our times demand straight talk. Our enemies must be called by name; our problems must be squarely identified. The complexities of the issues must not be brushed aside. Still I am not sure the candidate who is using the straightest political talk will get my vote.
I am looking for a strong visionary who is not afraid of using powerful rhetoric, but with the gentle homespun wisdom that Jesus used when unpacking a parable. I am looking for truth in the knowledge and experience that is brought to the table of governing. Not catchy phrases. Not just cutting through the fat. Not strength of word alone.
I want a leader who understands truth and uses wisdom. King Solomon of old asked God for one attribute in order to lead: wisdom.
I am looking for a gentle shepherd who will leave the 99 and go after the one lost sheep, but who will kill a lion or a bear with his bare hands to protect the sheep. Hey, I am looking for a leader who will recognize a lion or a bear and has the wisdom to know how to deal with real dangers and threats to the American people.
I am not looking for a person who believes just like me exactly. I am looking for wisdom and truth.
Ronald Reagan was great because he wasn’t afraid to use tough language with flair. He did call the fSU the “Evil Empire,” but he had the wisdom to recognize true evil and stand against it.
He told the truth yet told it slant. “Evil Empire” conjured up every fairytale or comic book we ever read as kids. “Evil Empire” also said something strong to the Russians. They are the kings and queens of fairytales. They understood “Evil Empire” too. And it was important for them to understand. Those two words conveyed an ocean of truth and ushered in great wisdom as events unfolded. Reagan could have called the SU, “a socialistic, totalitarian government–a failed utopia.” He could have used a lot of straight shooting words, but he spoke slant: “Evil Empire.” And it worked.
I don’t know who has my vote yet, but plain old political straight talk just isn’t enough for me. I am asking myself is there wisdom shining through the rhetoric. Is there truth? In this campaign, words are important, very important. But what are founded upon?
I am asking myself, who is telling all the truth, but telling it slant?