Fellowship in the Halls of Power
FRANKLY, when I was asked if I'd be willing to speak with you today, I was hesitant. After nine years here in Washington in three different public-service jobs, I am far more comfortable talking about the policy process, the political process, or any number of other topics. For me to discuss a personal journey of faith is a new experience. But here I am and I want to talk with you briefly about faith, about friendship and about our collective spiritual responsibilities as leaders. Those of us who are put in positions of public trust should not be hesitant to speak about spiritual values. Spiritual values are important in the pursuit of world peace.
President Eisenhower, 38 years ago, began with a few members of the Senate and the House of Representatives to see if it was possible to pray together both privately and in this kind of assembly. President Eisenhower had a strong conviction that we need to build deeper and longer lasting relationships on a basis other than just economic or political.
I spoke a moment ago about a personal journey of faith: Those of you who know me best certainly know that I do not feel like an expert on this subject. Like many of you, I am just one person genuinely struggling to put faith into practice in my life. But over these last nine years in Washington I have gained some valuable insight into that process.
Many believe that living in this city makes developing one's personal faith more difficult. But for me, living in this centrifuge of power and politics has encouraged (and even demanded) spiritual growth. Power, of course, can be intoxicating and addictive. Over these last nine years, I have had opportunities to participate in the exercise of more power than I would ever have imagined. I have felt the weight of responsibility that that brings, and I have also felt the temptations attendant to it. From this perspective, I have seen the reality that people from every level and station in life desire affirmation, recognition, and fulfillment. And some go to extraordinary lengths to obtain these elusive goals. And I found early on that having a position of power doesn't bring the fulfillment that many think it does.
Of course, it does bring excitement, a sense of satisfaction when things go well, disappointment when they don't, and invitations to some of the most exclusive gatherings in the world. (For someone who likes to go to bed at 9:30 at night that is not necessarily a plus!) But it also brings a complicated lifestyle with an exhausting schedule, innumerable headaches, and lots of conflict.
Most importantly, having a position of power does not bring inner security and fulfillment. That comes only by developing a personal relationship with God, which for me is personified by Jesus Christ. Inner security and real fulfillment comes by faith - not by wielding power in the town where power is king.
When I look back on my on journey of faith I can see that real growth began when I started reading God's word as a young man. Romans l0:l7 in the New Testament, says ``Faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the word of God.'' The Scriptures I read also teach me that my God loves and accepts me as I am.
In 1986 I met with a group of diplomats gathered here for this National Prayer Breakfast. One of them asked me what I felt was the most important thing I'd learned since being in Washington. I told him it was the discovery that temporal power is fleeting.
I told him about an experience I had early one morning a few years ago, when I was the White House Chief of Staff. As my driver turned the car into the Northwest gate, I looked down Pennsylvania Avenue and noticed a man walking alone. He was someone many of you would have recognized - a Chief of Staff in a previous Administration. There he was alone - no reporters, no security, no adoring public, no trappings of power - just one solitary man alone with his thoughts.
That mental picture continually serves to remind me of the impermanence of power and place. That man had it all - but only for a time. That memory puts my own life in perspective. When I leave Washington, what will remain? (One thing I know for sure - the people who wouldn't return my telephone calls before I went to Washington, won't return them after I leave.)
The fleeting aspects of power cause us to understand the importance of lasting personal relationships. Ralph Waldo Emerson said, ``God evidently does not intend us all to be rich, or powerful, or great, but He intends us all to be friends.'' The Scriptures, both Old and New, affirm this reality by speaking about our relationships to God and to each other. The first and greatest commandment is to ``Love the Lord, your God with all your heart, with all your soul, all your strength and all your mind'' and the second is to ``Love others as yourself.'' And we know too that Jesus said, ``I do not call you servants, I call you friends.''
These ancient thoughts on personal relationships - friendships - are often not taken seriously enough in our modern, busy lives. In all candor, I used to think that if you were strong you didn't need anyone. Too often independence - self reliance - are said to be the path to success. And to many, being ``successful,'' means never admitting that you have any hurts or problems. The truth is, we really do need one another if we are going to make it through this life in both our private and public capacities.
I remember a situation a few years ago where I was really struggling with a specific problem. No matter how much I tried, I couldn't figure it out - but I found strength in being able to talk it over with my wife, Susan. As we did, a truth from the book of Proverbs finally crystallized our thinking.
``Trust in the Lord with all your heart, lean not unto your own understanding; in all your ways acknowledge Him and He will direct your path.'' Susan helped me to see that I needed to stop trying to play God and really turn the matter over to Him. Without this kind of partnership, I'm convinced I would never have resolved the problem.
For several years I have been meeting each week with a small group of men for fellowship. They are all pretty normal guys who just happen to hold positions of power and influence in Washington. Members of our group come from both of our nation's political parties and from several religious traditions.
None of us expresses himself in religious jargon - more typically our language is pretty earthy. But in our own way, we're pursuing our faith through friendship. We've grown to trust each other. We talk pretty openly about our problems - and I don't just mean items on the national agenda. We support each other in our efforts to live a life of faith in a very complex and challenging environment.
There are, of course, many times when all of us need something extra from our faith and from our friendships. I remember my mother telling me how she used to repeat the 91st Psalm every day when my Dad was a captain in the infantry in Europe in World War I: ``A thousand shall fall beside thee, and ten thousand at thy right hand; but it shall not come nigh thee....''
My mother, who taught me so many of the values that give me strength today, drew much comfort from those words - and in hearing her say them, so did I.
I also remember how important friendships were during my first wife's illness. How important, for instance, that friends were there with me at her bedside during the last days. How important that friends were there for four little boys who were heartbroken, scared, and confused. How important friendships were to the task that Susan and I faced several years later of putting two families together at a very difficult time in the lives of seven children.
Faith and friendship are very important in building a community of nations. And as leaders, I think we share certain spiritual responsibilities.
We are all struck by the changes taking place in the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe. They are not all political or economic. In September of last year, I met with Eduard Shevardnadze in Wyoming. We had very productive sessions and on the last evening exchanged gifts. I gave him a pair of cowboy boots - in keeping with the Western motif of Jackson Hole. But, I received from him a more profound gift - an enamel picture of Jesus teaching the people. He said - only half jokingly - ``You see even we Communists are changing our world view.''
Could it be that a major meaning of the revolution going on in Eastern Europe is the resurgence of faith? Lech Walesa made a most interesting statement: ``We look to America ... and expect from you a spiritual richness to meet the aspirations of the 20th century.''
As we hail the resurgence of faith and freedom around the world, in America we must be mindful of our own responsibilities regarding faith. The United States, as a great political experiment was and continues to be a great spiritual experiment as well.