Across the Pastor’s Desk: Character important at the helm

Published 9:07 pm Thursday, August 9, 2018

Across the Pastor’s Desk by Kenneth Jensen

Kenneth Jensen


David Brooks is a conservative columnist for the New York Times. In his book, “The Road to Character” (Random House 2015), he describes our culture in terms of the Big Me, where meritocracy wants us to promote ourselves. Social media wants us to broadcast the highlight reel of our lives. Parents and teachers keep telling their children how wonderful they are.

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But, Brooks continues, all the people he has ever admired are profoundly honest about their own weaknesses. They have identified their core sin, whether it is selfishness, the desperate need for approval, cowardice, hard-heartedness or whatever. While we measure external success as an achievement through competition with others, character is built as we confront our own weakness.

He tells of General Dwight Eisenhower, who realized early on that his core sin was his temper. He developed a moderate, cheerful exterior because he knew he needed to project optimism and confidence to lead. He did silly things to tame his anger. He took the names of people he hated, wrote them down on slips of paper, tore them up and threw them in the garbage.

Over a lifetime of self-confrontation, Eisenhower developed a mature temperament. Brooks contends that as a general and as president, he succeeded by making himself strong in his weakest places. He was a man of character.

In 2 Corinthians 12:1-10, the Apostle Paul describes his found strength in weakness.

He speaks of a “thorn in flesh” — whatever that might have been. Paul pleaded with God for its removal, but to no avail. The answer was, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.”

Paul willingly confronted his weakness. In so doing, he sensed the power of Christ resting upon him. And he became the most influential apostle spreading the Christian gospel beyond the Jewish community.

Next Tuesday is election day, and likewise will be Nov. 6. The persons for whom we vote will shape the future of our nation. Character, or lack thereof, will determine how the ship is steered.

Kenneth Jensen is a retired ELCA pastor living in Albert Lea.