The television series “House of Cards” is an American political drama based on a BBC miniseries of the same name. The opening of season 1 set the stage for what were we to witness as the background of the political sphere. In that episode, congressman Frank Underwood (played by Kevin Spacey) kills a suffering dog with his bare hands while telling the television audience that sometimes we must “do the unpleasant thing, yet the necessary thing.” And from then on out, the audience experiences the utter ruthlessness of politics as it is portrayed behind the scenes.
In fact, I believe that most people assume such is the environment in politics. That is, if you ask most people what it takes to be successful in politics, I believe they will tell you that a certain kind of ruthlessness is necessary. Or at least to be a politician with influence, even a well-meaning, good person elected to public office will have to become callous and coldblooded in order to thrive.
I am not sure I fully believed that when I spent a day up at the state Capitol two weeks ago, but I was certainly ready to miss the warm, folksy and friendly relationships we have with our state lawmakers in Effingham.
I was in Atlanta in my other vocation as professor of health sciences at Armstrong, showing the Legislature what we do and why we need a new health professions building. (Little old Armstrong State University grants more undergraduate degrees in health professions than any other university in the state – even the big guys.)
So, when I saw two of Effingham’s representatives, Col. Bill Hitchens and Mr. Jon Burns, I suppose I assumed, “Hey, these guys are in session. They are busy. Even if they recognize me, they have important things to do.” I was stunned.
Col. Bill Hitchens looked so happy to see someone from home. He walked right over, asked us everything about what we were doing and what we needed, and stayed there, even though he had a limited break, for a good 45 minutes to make sure he fully understood our needs and how he could help. He was a warm, friendly and thoughtful as always. I sort of felt guilty he was spending so much time with us.
Rep. Burns saw us as he was walking down the Rotunda steps. He put his hand out, called me “Bob,” and asked us how he could help. He walked around and met everyone he could so he might best represent us. He asked questions that clearly demonstrated that he was no superficial or disingenuous congressman who has gotten caught up in the political game. He even asked about Bethel Lutheran.
And here is the thing that is so impressive. What I ended up talking with these representatives about was exactly the same issues I would talk with them about if I ran into them at Tractor Supply. We chatted about church, family, and yes, even some politics. They both asked if I had opinions on the issues they were dealing with in the Legislature. I thought, “Wow, these guys are what we need. They really want to represent us the best they can, and they take this role very seriously. The political machine hasn’t changed them one bit.”
Now why would I care about all this as a local pastor? It’s easy: As a pastor, I know quite well that most people, like me, are fallible and prone to mistakes. But since perfection is out, there is one thing I value more than anything, and that is authenticity.
When someone is not honest about whom they are or changes in some material way from who they are, it is difficult to know how to even communicate effectively with them. But when the essence of a person is exactly what you see and hear, and when that doesn’t change no matter the circumstances, well, then that is a person that, frankly, you can trust. That’s authenticity.
“House of Cards”? Not in this county.
The Rev. Dr. Bob LeFavi, installed member of the Society of Ordained Scientists, is pastor at Bethel Lutheran Church, Springfield.