“Tony Blair Talking About God, Faith"
Rusty Wright & Meg Korpi
Fourth Prize - $3,000
Rusty Wright is an author and lecturer who has addressed audiences on six continents, including university students and faculty, executives, diplomats and professional athletes. His articles have been used by magazines and newspapers across the US, and by over 500 websites in any of 14 languages. He holds degrees in psychology and theology from Duke and Oxford universities, respectively. www.RustyWright.com
Meg Korpi is a research scientist who studies character development and ethical decision-making through the Character Research Institute in Northern California. Her clients have included Duke University’s Kenan Institute for Ethics, the Joseph P. Kennedy, Jr. Foundation, and Children’s Hospital Los Angeles. She holds a PhD in Educational Psychology from, and formerly taught at, Stanford University.
Tony Blair has this thing about God and faith.
He thinks they’re important.
Sometimes, this lands him in hot water.
Speaking at the National Prayer Breakfast in Washington, D.C., recently, Britain’s former prime minister related an amusing anecdote: During a crisis, he wanted to close an address to his nation with “God bless the British people.”
“This caused complete consternation,” recalled Blair. “Emergency meetings were convened. The system was aghast.”
As Blair tried to defend his choice of words, “a senior civil servant said, with utter disdain: ‘Really, Prime Minister, this is not America you know.’ ”
Blair’s Washington audience roared. Now free to speak his mind, the former PM—whose press secretary once famously told reporters, “We don't do God”—has been talking a lot about God and faith.
Addressing the D.C. gathering, Blair affirmed faith as a significant force for good in the world. Decrying both religious extremists and aggressive secularists, he commended the billions whom faith inspires to caring, sacrifice, and good works. Said he, “Faith is not . . . acting according to ritual but . . . according to God's will . . . .”
Blair described his “first spiritual awakening” when he was 10. His 40-year-old father had a life-threatening stroke and his mother, seeking to preserve some stability in the crisis, sent young Tony to school.
When his teacher knelt to pray with him, Tony felt obliged to explain that his father, a “militant atheist,” didn’t believe in God. "That doesn't matter," replied the teacher. "God believes in him. He loves him without demanding or needing love in return." Leo Blair survived and now is 85.
“That is what inspires,” commented Blair in Washington, “the unconditional nature of God's love. . . . In surrendering to God, we become instruments of that love.”
Blair cautioned the breakfast’s international audience of leaders: “The 21st Century will be poorer in spirit, meaner in ambition, less disciplined in conscience, if it is not under the guardianship of faith in God.”
Reflecting on his own experience, Blair acknowledged the courage that faith can provide when leadership’s challenges become overwhelming. He wished President Obama faith-strengthened leadership: “Mr. President, you are fortunate, as is your nation, that you have already shown in your life, courage in abundance. But should it ever be tested, I hope your faith can sustain you. And your family.”
As we listened to Blair, we were intrigued to hear this seasoned statesman, who currently works to facilitate Middle East peace, call for restoring faith “to its rightful place, as the guide to our world and its future.” Careful to advocate “the correct distinction between . . . religious and political authority,” Blair seemed to call individuals, not governments, to faith. He explained the need: “there are limits . . . beyond [which] . . . only God can work.”
According to Blair, faith engenders humility. “We can forgive, but only God forgives completely in the full knowledge of our sin. And only through God comes grace; and it is God's grace that is unique.”
Blair’s sentiments reminded us of the biblical Paul, who wrote, “God saved you by his grace when you believed. And you can’t take credit for this; it is a gift from God. Salvation is not a reward for the good things we have done, so none of us can boast.”
Blair cited British slave-trader-turned-pastor and hymn writer John Newton, who wrote in “Amazing Grace”: "Twas Grace that taught my heart to fear. And Grace, my fears relieved."
“It is through faith, by the Grace of God,” claimed Blair, “that we have the courage to live as we should and die as we must.”
Sobering thoughts, capped by his clever D.C. closing line:
“And by the way, God bless you all.”
Published in the February 28, 2009 issue of The Sun; San Bernardino, CA
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