Friday, February 03, 2006

GWB at the Opry

I was privileged to be among the audience that heard President George W. Bush speak at the Grand Ole Opry House on Wednesday. It was an interesting day that included hearing the view of the war on terror from our Commander in Chief and ended with me hearing about the situation from a visiting pastor from Kirkuk, Iraq. And then yesterday my brother returned from his naval reserve duty in Kuwait. Sometimes I'm just amazed at the view of the world I'm privileged to witness.

Two of my daughters and I arrived at the Opry in plenty of time to stand in line and wait for entry. We were so early that there weren't any protesters along McGavock Pike. We milled about the plaza for a bit and came upon a circle of folks praying for the president. We joined our amens with theirs for his safety and that he'd make wise decisions. We sat on one of the benches for a while to absorb what little warm sun was available and observed the media mingling with the crowd, the various gaggles of badge wearers reporting for duty from Gaylord, The White House, the media and other volunteers.

While standing in the security line we were approached by a Knight Ridder reporter who started by saying "You guys look happy." I thought that an odd opening line. Maybe it's unusual for him to meet happy moms, teens, Republicans, Nashvillians? I couldn't tell and so we just moved on to the introductions.

He asked me if I had seen the president's speech the night before (I had) and what I thought of it. That seemed too broad a question to try and answer and so I asked him to narrow that down a bit. He asked what I thought about Pres. Bush's domestic policy and I turned it around and said that I was less concerned about domestic policy than being safe. I'm quoted here saying:

"We need to be as optimistic as we can be to spread freedom," said Brooks, who home-schools her two teenage daughters. "I'm not as concerned about domestic issues. If we can't be safe in our day to day life, nothing else is important."
Sometimes what you say doesn't come across as brilliantly as you thought it was at the time. But the point is conveyed. I want to encourage freedom across the world because I really do believe that free people are safer people and the safety of my family is of paramount importance.

The security check went very quickly. We were prepared for the long wait, did some people watching with me pointing out the folks and players I knew. We played "Go Fish" for a while. There were dozens of folks sitting on hard bleachers on the stage and so we were very thankful to be mere rabble consigned to the balcony on padded seats with backs. It was amusing to see staffers move those folks around for reasons we could only speculate about. One of my daughters called it 'Tetris with people".

We were very pleasantly surprised to be entertained for nearly an hour by about two dozen Grand Ole Opry members. Larry Gatlin MC'd using what I'm sure were tried and true Opry jokes. I was concerned that many of the songs were Christian hymns or assumed agreement with Christianity. And as a Christian I wasn't offended in the least but I did wonder how that came across to any in the audience that weren't. I'll just suggest that if the Republican party is wanting to embrace folks who are conservative but not Christian, and I think they should, they may want to consider being more...well, considerate. We head for big trouble when we muddy our politics and our religion. For me this gathering wasn't church...but there were moments when I wondered if it might have been for some.

The end of the performances coincided with the landing of the president's plane which we witnessed on the large TV monitors in the hall. Unfortunately, we only got about a two minute view of that and then it was switched over to rerunning the Opry performances we'd already seen a couple of times. The audience was disappointed. We would like to have seen him deplane at least.

Bored and desperate for some sign the president was near the audience was glad to see staffers bring out a glass of water and the presidential seal for the podium. With great solemnity the staffer affixed the seal to the podium. We good naturedly applauded his hard work. Then, just moments later, he was back to straighten the seal which brought much applause and laughter.

Eventually the president did actually arrive to thunderous applause and a standing ovation. Someone shouted out "We love you George" and he good naturedly asked if that was meant for Laura (who was also there). He provided a few more of those self-deprecation jokes that he does very well and then moved on to repeating and elaborating on what he'd said the night before in the State of the Union speech.

One thing President Bush mentioned was that the only real weapon the enemy has is fear. Interestingly, my brother said the same thing yesterday in our conversation. What he had witnessed in Kuwait was how fear rules everything. Everyone is afraid to say or do anything for fear of offending another and then suffering huge consequences for small infractions. He said what nationals tell you one on one in private is very different from what they'll say in larger groups. What comes across is that terror has been a weapon of choice for eons in that culture and there are some trying to export that fear to us.

And so when President Bush said:

"I believe there's an Almighty. And I believe the Almighty's gift is freedom to every single person in this world."

I was among those clapping loudly, cheering and standing in absolutely agreement. Freedom is a fundamental of my religion. Jesus came to set the captives free. When I look across the world I see lots of people that are not free and I'm proud that America is helping to free so many people. Granted, we don't do it perfectly and we can't do it all, but we're at least making the effort.

I did disagree with the president on a couple of points. He said "It's the job of the federal government to take care of the elderly and the poor." I don't believe that. I think that that's the job of family and near neighbors. I believe the job of the federal government is to take on the big issues like defending our borders from terrorists and invaders of all sorts. The rest of us can then focus our efforts on doing what we can to 'love our neighbors'.

I also disagree that there are jobs that American's 'won't do' and so we've got to provide some sort of temporary worker visas for non-citizens. I know it's a complicated issue but I believe that if American's won't do these jobs then employers aren't providing sufficient incentives to American workers. And just like I think that government employees ought to live in and pay taxes in the districts they work for, I think that we shouldn't accommodate non-citizens in their efforts to work here and send their money elsewhere. There should certainly be benefits to citizenship and access to a job ought to be one of them.

And then, that very evening, I had to opportunity to get another view of this war in Iraq. I was able to listen to a man who started by saying that CNN had shown us 60 degrees of the situation in his country and he was going to show us the other 300 degrees. This man had spent 10 years in the Iraqi army defending his country in the war against Iran. He has suffered death threats and near escapes for changing his religion and helping others do the same. One of his daughters has suffered bomb wounds. He is a man who has had to consol the widows of those who were killed for no other reason than they decided that being Muslim wasn't working for them. At one point while he was speaking he turned to another man in the congregation and thanked him for helping smuggle in Bibles and radios to Iraq. When he said that I realized that both of those contraband items contained opporunities for freedom and freedom is a dangerous thing when your power is based on control.

I left the president's speech believing that he understands that freedom is essential, that these efforts have his full attention and that he has a definition of success that seems essential to me. I'm thankful so many members of my family have literally put their lives on the line for freedom. I'm encouraged that this Iraqi pastor is thankful for our efforts on his country's behalf and welcomes our partnership in the freeing of his country. I'm prayerful that efforts to export fear will fail and the efforts to export freedom will succeed beyond our wildest expectations.

1 comment:

Bob K said...

I'll just suggest that if the Republican party is wanting to embrace folks who are conservative but not Christian, and I think they should, they may want to consider being more...well, considerate.

Kay, You're right. One doesn't need to be Christian to embrace conservatism . . . or even social conservatism.