“If your actions inspire others to dream more, learn more, do more, and become more, you are a leader.”                              John Quincy Adams

Last night I was inducted into a local organization here in my Louisiana parish called Leadership St. Tammany.  If you had told me three years ago when I was living on the island of Kauai—wearing flip flops and shorts every day (shirt optional), hiking mountains, perfecting my mai tai recipe and paddle-boarding pristine rivers fed by waterfalls tucked into lush green mountains—that I would soon be signing up for such duty, I would have asked you to get your mental health checked. Even after moving to this quaint but lively southern town of Covington, just across Lake Pontchartrain from New Orleans (a.k.a. Mecca for a music lover like me, and don’t get me started on the food, lest I drool on my blog), I was highly resistant. My dogs, writing, passion for the New Orleans Saints and Houston Astros, beer-tasting adventures, travel, musical collaborations, speaking engagements, and my church/school/retirement center all keep me very busy. My first thought when someone approached me about participating in this organization was: “No can do, I’m too busy.”  But then God spoke to me and said, “Have you asked out that Brazilian girl yet?”  Wait—perhaps that was not God speaking. On second thought, God said, “What if everyone is too busy to make a positive difference in their local communities and beyond? Then where would we be as a community, nation, and world?” God always has the best questions.  “We’d be in big trouble,” I answered, mostly to myself. This response brings me to the present state of affairs in my beloved country, the United States of America, and why I said “Yes.”

My fellow citizens, we can do better than what we’re doing now.  We need leaders who can and will lead. We need people, as John Quincy Adams noted in the quote I found on my program last night, whose actions inspire others to dream more, learn more, do more, and become more. What we do not need are those whose actions cut people off from their potential or seek to exclude them from full participation in society. We do not need those who engage in hateful rhetoric, polemical diatribes, and partisan put-downs. We do not need those who think that opposition to a particular policy is in itself a particular policy. We do not need those who stand on the sidelines and condemn those who are actually in the arena trying to make a difference, as imperfect as their efforts might be. And we definitely do not need immature bullies, whose denigrating assaults on decency and our fellow Americans are not part of the solution, but part of the problem.

We need Republicans, Democrats, and Independents. We need evangelical Christians, Muslims, Jews, Hindus, Buddhists, Atheists, and Humanists. We need conservatives, moderates, and liberals. We need everybody, coming together in constructive collaboration, finding common ground and ways through, toward solutions that are grounded in the core values that have always made our nation great—justice, inclusion, empowerment, respect, compassion, and tolerance. We need people willing to build up rather than tear down, to say “Yes” much more often than they say “No.”

All citizens share the responsibility for creating such a country.  We are called to listen with respect to those with whom we disagree. We are called to speak up when we see any group disrespected, or any policy advocated which seeks to deny basic rights to our fellow citizens. We are called to recommit to getting involved, to connect with those who seek to find non-partisan agendas that seek the betterment of our nation, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.

As I looked around the room last night, I saw lots of folks who are quite different from me, and from each other.  My roommate for our upcoming retreat is a conservative Republican who is running for state representative. I’m actually a political moderate, despite a few of my friends telling me I’m to the left of Karl Marx; I like to remind them that I’m still not to the left of Jesus!  I am certain that I will learn a lot from my roommate and from all my new friends. My prayer is that we can find common ground and real solutions that will improve the lives of all our citizens. It won’t be easy. Many of the issues we face are challenging and complex, but I’m willing to learn more, dream more, become more, and do more. Are you?