Oftentimes in life, the values we claim to hold are tested in ways that may not always be apparent. But when those tests come, it may reveal that the values we lay claim to, are often not the ones we put into practice. (Sadly, I know this to be true in my life all too often, when I’m honest enough to acknowledge it.)
This truth has been playing out in our community for the last couple weeks in a way that perhaps you’ve never fully considered. The issue at hand is an effort by TVA to “appropriate” private land for its “greater” use. For those who are not familiar, TVA is a nearly 90 year old federal agency that provides electricity to nine million customers across seven states, and operates annually with a multi-billion dollar budget.
Red Line is proposed path of TVA line across Mr. Vital’s property
The controversy involves TVA seeking to extend an electrical service line across the land of a personal friend and local businessman, Greg Vital. Amongst Greg’s many business holdings is farmland in Georgetown Tennessee, which is home to his buffalo operation.
What is unknown by many is the fact that TVA purchased a parcel of land over a year ago. Their plan at the time targeted Mr. Vital’s property as the route to extend their power lines across, to reach their newly purchased parcel. But only in the last couple weeks did TVA finally inform the public, including Mr. Vital, of their plans to appropriate his land for their proposed project.
If ever there was a David vs Goliath battle, this is it.
At a public meeting this last week, I had the opportunity to meet with several TVA representatives to ask questions as well as express my objections to the manner in which they had contrived their plans. While the TVA reps were pleasant, it was clear that they were less than forthcoming with some of their answers.
The concept of eminent domain is one that most Americans are familiar with, but it’s likely the majority of us have seldom been confronted with such a threat. To have an entity that is all-powerful, both economically and politically, confront the little guy, simply because he owns something they want, is an intimidating and often overwhelming struggle. But in such battles, Goliath is typically the victor and David more often than not walks away with a few stones in his pocket.
Most of us know the Golden Rule, and we would likely claim it as a guiding force in our lives.
“Treat others the way you’d like to be treated.”
But there is sadly another rule that involves gold as well. It’s this one:
“He who has the gold, rules.”
These two “Golden Rules” are clashing head to head in the TVA controversy at hand.
Back to the meeting this last week though. As I was pressing the TVA folks about their proposed project, the Golden Rule, as taught by Jesus, popped into my mind. So I asked them a simple question: “Are you a Christian?”
They replied “Yes.”
I then asked them if they believed in the Golden Rule as taught by Jesus, which teaches to treat others the way they wanted to be treated?
“Yes” was again their answer.
So I then asked, “Well, if you believe in the Golden Rule, does it only apply in your personal life? Or do you also believe it is a principle we should practice in our professional lives as well? Would you want someone to treat you the way you are proposing to treat Mr. Vital?”
Silence met my answer. I don’t know if the silence was because they truly did not know the answer, or if it was the reality that the rule they claimed to embrace was being violated by the agency for whom they worked.
As I pressed them further, I asked them if they would ever consider going onto their neighbor’s land with the intent of taking a portion of his land for their own personal use, particularly if that neighbor objected? Their answer was an obvious “NO” and it illustrated how at odds their personal beliefs were with the TVA plan they were supporting and leading.
It would be easy to blame this controversy on a multi-lettered government agency. But the truth is government agencies are made up of individuals. Each individual has his or her own set of values. If our values are deeply rooted, then they should surface in every area of our lives. So when we see the strategy of “appropriating” the property of others via eminent domain (another word for theft), and then that strategy is hidden for over a year (another word for deception), one must wonder what values drive the TVA employees who are overseeing and approving of such strategies? Can they profess their personal dedication to the Golden Rule, integrity, and transparency, while ignoring or contradicting those values professionally?
There’s a story in the Old Testament that deals with eminent domain and it involves King Ahab and Queen Jezebel. This husband and wife pair were two evil peas-in-a-pod and they regularly defied God and His values throughout their lives. One day Ahab wanted to purchase a plot of land from a local farmer. But the man did not want to sell it. So, Ahab’s wife used the most extreme kind of eminent domain. Jezebel had the farmer killed and then gave his land to her husband, King Ahab. Ahab got what he wanted while the citizen not only lost his land but also his life. But that very day God pronounced a fateful judgement on both Ahab and Jezebel. (Read I Kings 21)
Of course, no one is accusing TVA of threatening an American citizen with loss of life. But there is no question that TVA is conniving to take the personal property of an American citizen.
America’s forefathers each pledged their “lives, fortunes and sacred honor” to defend the values of liberty and personal property. When a government agency uses eminent domain, secrecy, and deception to secure private land from an unwilling party, there is no greater threat to the values for which our founding fathers fought.
I’ve often heard it said by critics of biblical conservatives that they should check their values at the doors when they leave their church or personal residence. But this debacle at TVA should teach us otherwise. If we claim certain values are deeply rooted convictions, then they should flow over into every area of our lives. Otherwise these values are merely preferences and have little affect in guiding our behavior in all scenarios.
So time will tell which Golden Rule prevails in the “TVA vs Vital” matter. Will it be the rule taught by Jesus, or the one too many of the elite of our world love to impose on their neighbors, the power of force and intimidation to gain what the one with the gold desires?
If you want to remain informed or be a part of the solution, you can go to Facebook and Like the Page “Stop Destroying Tennessee Farms” to get regular updates on this ongoing battle.
“No people can be great, who have ceased to be virtuous.” Samuel Johnson (1709 – 1784)
This week I am witnessing first hand the 2016 Republican National Convention in Cleveland, Ohio. As I’ve been observing the happenings within the Quicken Arena, the one theme that continues to pop up again and again, is Make America Great Again. Of course, that being the Trump campaign motto, it should come as no surprise. From t-shirts to ball caps, street vendors to banners, the motto is everywhere I look, here in Cleveland.
The brilliantly conceived message is one that plays well with disillusioned and disgusted voters, who have experienced the last seven years of an Obama Presidency and grown increasingly skeptical and angry with Washington DC. But to add to that anger, Republican voters have had to endure a party establishment who cares more about power and reelections than they do about upholding the Constitution, and fighting back against Obama’s all out assault on our freedoms, national security and economic revitalization. So Trump stepped into a perfect storm and has been a master at tapping into the base emotions of voters, with a message that sells to the disgruntled masses.
While the overriding theme of the Convention this week is Make America Great Again, the Trump campaign has played brilliantly off that theme to devise a relevant emphasis each day as follows:
Monday: Make America Safe Again
Tuesday: Make America Work Again
Wednesday: Make America First Again
Thursday: Make America One Again
I wouldn’t deny that these are all worthy topics and aspirations, but as I’ve considered Trump’s Make America Great Again theme, I believe the New York billionaire is attempting to place the cart before the horse. It’s as if Trump’s seeking to build one of his skyscrapers before digging the foundation. Sadly, many of the American people have eagerly embraced Donald’s message, believing they can simply don a baseball cap, elect a businessman, and the nation’s course will be reversed, with Great days ahead, absent any personal sacrifice or change.
In order for a business to achieve greatness, it requires a superior product or service, with a comprehensive approach and attention to the way it treats its employees, suppliers, investors and even its community. Similarly, a person will only be truly great, if that person possesses the inner qualities that lead to greatness: humility, service, wisdom, courage, forgiveness, trustworthiness, and more. In years gone by, the word that was often used to describe these qualities was virtue: “behavior showing high moral standards.”
So can a nation be Great, as in “superior in character or quality” without being Good or virtuous? Clearly Trump’s message suggests, by the use of the word “Again,” that America is no longer Great. And if that is accurate, which I believe it is, then what was it that led to America’s greatness in the past? Was it merely the desire or goal of being great, by those before us, that led to America becoming great? Or was it based on some other qualities our forefathers and grandfathers possessed, that led to our nation becoming the greatest nation this world has ever known?
I would suggest that to be great, America cannot simply seek to be great, anymore than wishing to be a great company can cause a business to excel. Greatness results from small, daily routines when others are not watching that flow from conscious decisions that ultimately develop into one’s character. Greatness is not the end goal but rather it is a by-product of other disciplines.
If America is to become great again, it will not be as a result of a mere focus on greatness but it will rather flow from a commitment to the individual attributes that lead to greatness. Those attributes must be developed in our lives, and consciously taught and passed on to the lives of our children. There is a famous quote that we have all heard before: “Sow a thought, reap an action; sow an action, reap a habit; sow a habit, reap a character; sow a character, reap a destiny.”
Sadly, the current destiny of our nation has resulted from the thoughts, actions, habits and character that we have developed individually and collectively as a people. Our fall from greatness will not be restored with mere political victories and cheap cliches that induce warm and fuzzy emotions. Rather, it will require each of us to take serious inventory of our own character to determine how and where we have contributed to the current course of our nation. And as we identify our own flaws and weaknesses, we must then be willing to make the hard changes in our own lives and thus begin the more difficult but absolutely crucial changes to right the course of our nation. Only when we do so can we #MakeAmericaGoodAgain.
“Bad men cannot make good citizens. It is when a people forget God that tyrants forge their chains. A vitiated state of morals, a corrupted public conscience, is incompatible with freedom. No free government, or the blessings of liberty, can be preserved to any people but by a firm adherence to justice, moderation, temperance, frugality, and virtue; and by a frequent recurrence to fundamental principles.” Patrick Henry
In life, there are choices we make and habits we form that either produce happiness and success or regret and failure. One such choice is whether to walk with integrity or not. And that choice begins in the smallest of decisions.
Recently, I had an interaction with a business owner that demonstrated this principle of integrity. My HVAC unit at our farmhouse had developed a water leak and while we attempted to fix the problem ourselves, it continued to leak. So I put a call into my HVAC contractor and the office manager, Nancy, setup an appointment for a service call. However, I suggested I would like to text a video of the leak to the owner, Kim, for him to review and Nancy encouraged me to do so. Within 5 minutes of texting the video of the leak, I received a call back with a suggestion from Kim on what I could try to perhaps solve the problem. With the help of our farm foreman, we tried what was suggested and, voila! The problem was fixed.
The response from Kim, the owner of the HVAC company, resulted in a couple hundred dollars of lost revenue. But that decision, while it may seem like a small thing, had the effect of growing his integrity in at least a couple of ways.
While employees are frequently encouraged to increase a company’s revenue, the decision by Kim served as an example to Nancy, his office manager, that there are things that trump revenue or profit. When Kim provided me with the solution to my problem over the phone, he elevated integrity over profit. He communicated to his employees that where you can provide a simple solution that requires little to no effort, then one should do so. Earning a buck is not the supreme or only goal. And so Nancy had that behavior modeled to her by her boss. Can there be any stronger way to teach a value than to live it?
When the solution that Kim provided to me over the phone worked, and he lost a service call in the process, I was convinced that Kim’s company was one that I could trust. Because Kim was willing to give up the service call revenue, and elevate integrity over profit, my confidence in his company skyrocketed. I knew that were he to do any additional work for me in the future, I could trust him without reservation. So his faithfulness in a small issue grew my trust exponentially.
What about you? Are you ever tempted to bypass integrity? Do you ever rationalize small, seemingly insignificant, compromises of truth or honesty? You’ve heard the saying, “Sow a thought and you reap an action, sow an action and you reap a habit; sow a habit and you reap a character; sow a character and you reap a destiny.”
Do you desire a destiny of happiness, success and fulfillment? It begins with integrity in the little things. Commit yourself today to doing so and not only will you be thankful you did, you’ll also be pleased with where you end up.
“He who walks with integrity walks securely…”