A young man in our community said that he hoped we were going in a more conservative direction, and that we would see the nation reflect more of our Christian values. I wonder. I would rather see Christians offer words and live lives more reflective of Christian values without suggesting that they should be imposed on civil society. It would be something to witness millions who claim to be Christian proclaim by word and deed what it means to follow Jesus by being like Jesus in their daily lives. Of course it would be imperfect, but the intentionality of loving one’s neighbors in healing ways would be dramatic, particularly if one’s neighbor is whoever one encounters no matter where or how.
Think of it. Millions of people would go through the day making decisions prefaced by questions. How will this affect the poor, both spiritually and physically? How will this affect those mourning, or rejoicing? How will this affect those burdened by oppressive conditions? How will this affect those struggling for justice? How will this affect the balance between justice and mercy? How will this affect standards of integrity and honesty? How will this resolve conflict and deescalate violence in constructive ways? How courageous can I be in the face of evil?
I don’t think they would be conscious of asking questions like these of themselves. They would be habits of the heart, just the ordinary way of going through the day doing things. No doubt some would snicker at all those goody-two-shoes whom they would suspect of having no backbone. They would be wrong. Living that kind of life would require strong determination, an ability to know the difference between sentimentality and reality, and the maturity to live with others without being superior or subordinate. It would recognize the dignity of differing gifts, and highly value each of them. It would require tremendous courage in the face of the greater number intent on manipulation of conditions in pursuit of power, prestige, and wealth. It would require perseverance in the face of those who just don’t care. It would require patience with those whose habits of the heart were destructive of life. Their normal way of things would accommodate imperfection in self and others with honesty, and without excuse. It would tolerate differences between persons and peoples without trying to force uniformity. Christian tradition has name for that kind of life. It’s called the way of the cross, which is none other than the way of life and peace for those who follow Jesus.
You might rightfully ask if it is the kind of life I lead? Let’s just say that I’m a beginner. Some days I get it right. Many days I don’t. Most days are a bit of each. However, if you are among those who call themselves Christian, why not walk along with me and we’ll figure it out together.
A new president puts lobbying interests into supercharged four wheel wheel drive. What are those interests? Congressional leadership, corporate lobbyists, unions, public interest groups, egos angling for high office appointments, other egos desiring a plumb ambassadorship. You name it. The process is more or less the same with each new president regardless of party. Who do they know that has access? What is the best way to approach new White House staff, and through them, the president? How well do they know cabinet designees? What are their most important issues? How will they make decisions? Where will they connect with Congress? What do they like to eat and drink? Where did they play golf? What old school connections might lend a hand? Then comes the hard work of making opening moves, establishing relationships, making or faking friendships. It’s all about getting one’s pound, or ounce, of influence, and maybe a little direct access. It’s a power game where egos are made and broken by how well the game is played. It’s always worked in some fashion because no matter who the president elect might be, it was understood that ‘he’ knew how all of this worked, and, at some level, really did intend to be a good president for the nation. The unwritten norms of D.C. politics could be relied on to function the way they usually did. Of course there were winners and losers, but the rules of the game were reasonably well known to the pros that run things.
We have a new president elect. Following the normal pattern, supplicants crowd the escalators and elevators of Trump Tower, each fawning in the usual way over the newly elected, and those closest to him, in hopes of establishing a little traction. What’s different is that Trump doesn’t play by the usual rules. He doesn’t doesn’t know what they are, and doesn’t care. The old game is not his game. He has his own. For him, it’s one enormous, endless episode of The Apprentice. He’s lapping up all the attention, loves every minute of it, and has no intention of honoring anything that is not in whatever he thinks is his best interest, which can change from moment to moment. To him, whatever is on a supplicant’s agenda has no intrinsic value in itself. It has value only if it benefits him. He may have paid to have someone write The Art of the Deal in his name, but he’s not a good faith negotiator, he’s a sociopathic manipulator. Each supplicant will go away thinking they have gained a foothold, that he is someone they can work with. They will be wrong. If they presume say out loud that they have an in with Trump, the only words from him they will hear is “You’re Fired!”
Trump doesn’t play the traditional game by the traditional rules. We learned that in the campaign. Business partners learned it years ago, and tried to tell us. He plays his own game by his own rules, making them up as he goes along. If he wants something, he uses every juvenile trick of manipulation to get it. What other people want or need is of little interest to him, unless he can use it to his own advantage. Otherwise, who cares? To what might we compare him? Not to other presidents, though Nixon might come close. Perhaps Henry VIII of England, or maybe Louis XIV of France, as they might have been portrayed in a Mel Brooks movie. That would have been funny, but this is real life, and it’s not funny.
What is a workable way to engage with him and his staff? Stick to the issues. Use only verifiable information. Avoid the usual exaggeration of facts to suit political ends. Avoid all contests of wit or personality caricatures. In fact, ignore him altogether. Deal with the office of the president as a thing, not a person. If he wants to play his game, let him come to you. Let him play it with zeal. But do not respond. Stick to the issues. One of Clinton’s mistakes was to play his game with him by continually comparing herself to him by name while criticizing his positions. All it did was give him added publicity on her dime, raising his name as one worthy of validity by virtue of frequent mention. Let he who must not be named, not be named.
What will be the result? You will lose most of the time. You might win a few. You will retain your dignity. You will not fall victim to his game playing, looking like a fool in the end. You might even gain his grudging respect as someone he will give into when it won’t cost him too much, and otherwise avoid as too dangerous to play with because you know the game. The most important thing you will gain is public trust in what you have to say when the next election rolls around. Not the public at large, they will remain as ignorantly uninvolved as usual. I mean the public that has influence and actually votes.
My own guess? If Ryan, and Trump, are able to have their way, the nation will plummet into depression, not recession but depression, from which recovery would be very difficult. Ryanists and Trumpeters don’t believe it. What does Trump believe? He believes he will help himself. All three are sure it would lead to prosperity. Only one might be right.
The Christian Century included a brief article in its October 26 edition about a research project conducted by the Public Religion Research Institute on people unaffiliated with any religion, the “nones” of which we hear so much about. I have no knowledge of how the project was undertaken, so am simply commenting on what was cited in the article.
One finding was that 60% said they simply stopped believing in their childhood religion. Good for them. Childhood religion is infantile pablum served up by well meaning church school leaders well beyond the time children should have been weaned from it. At the very moment when most children are being prepared for the intellectual rigor of high school, they are elbowed out of church school still being taught bible stories more suited to the very young. It’s not entirely the fault of their teachers. Many of them never went beyond a juvenile understanding of their faith, which they have enthusiastically but uncritically held onto for a long time, and they are teaching from materials that don’t encourage intellectual curiosity. Others were pressed into service against their better judgment, and their teaching betrays it.
People, the bible is not fragile! It can stand up to serious inquiry and debate! Children are capable of critical thinking, especially as they enter into their preteen years. Jesus is not made of clay. He can be engaged in serious conversation. God does not remain distant and aloof. God can be confronted, challenged, as in the story of Job. In fact, Job as instructive myth is not hard for kids to grasp. Children are not infants. They can be, want to be, led into deeper, more profound engagement with God. When church school and parishes don’t let that happen, why bother going on at all? They have better things to do, and besides, what is taught in school counts, what is taught in church doesn’t.
If there are adults who stopped believing in their childhood religion, it is because we left them with a comic book version of it when their comic books had long been boxed up in the attic. OK, I’m showing my age. We left them with a Sesame Street version of it long after they had stopped watching Sesame Street. It would be relatively easy to recover if it was only a matter of adults who once attended church but do so no longer. Sadly, we are now into the second or third generation of those who have never been in church because it was their parents or grandparents who left their childhood religion behind. It’s not easy to share the good news of God as revealed in Jesus Christ with people who are not interested, and can’t see any reason they should become interested.
Aren’t you concerned about your eternal soul? No, not particularly. Don’t you want to go to heaven? Well sure, if there is one, but I don’t need religion to get there. OK, then you’ll burn in hell for all of eternity. Oh really, you should get a life, you bible thumping nutcase.
St. Paul had it easier, a lot easier. He went to people who believed in gods of some kind, and in the religion that worshiped them. Gods and religion were important. They were an accepted part of the fabric of life. All he had to do was point them in the right direction. Our best option, it seems to me, is to focus on those whom we know were brought up in church, at least to the point of giving up their childhood religion. At least they have a handle to grab onto. Working with them to guide them into an adult way to engage with scripture that will help them gain an adult understanding of God, and what it means to follow Jesus is a doable thing. Church then becomes not a thing one goes to, but a community of which one is a part. Religion becomes the way in which God is shared in communion with one another, and not facile entertainment or dry rote liturgical exercises. Among them, hopefully, will emerge some whose formation in discipleship will enable them to “witness” as adults to to other adults outside of church about the God they never knew.
Well, it’s something to think about.
Regular readers of my articles know I wrote several over the past year about why so many could not accept HRC as the candidate of their choice. In short, it was because she represented the epitome of dynastic establishment elite whom they had come to loathe and distrust. Moreover, she had the temerity to be a woman who would follow a black man. You can stuff a lot into that bag. It also has a lot to do with growing awareness among a very large segment of the population that a society dominated and controlled by white males of a vaguely Protestant persuasion is quickly, inevitably, being transformed into a society where that will no longer be true. Consider the woman who posted on FB that “You leftists think we are all racists and sexists. Well, we’re not. We are hard working people who have been shoved around and pushed up against the wall for the last eight years, and we’re having no more of it.” You can make of that what you will. What troubles me is that they chose a corrupt, cowardly, ignorant, unstable, serial abuser, and fraudster who drove his campaign on a dystopian vision of the present inconsistent with the facts, and promises for a glorious future he cannot deliver, which he shored up with insults, threats, and lies of unprecedented number. It doesn’t matter. He’s not HRC, and that’s all that counts. A number on FB are ecstatic. It’s the most wonderful morning in their lives. All their prejudices have been vindicated. That saddens me very much. I don’t know what will happen. Perhaps it will be the catharsis that we need. A last gasp of an old age dying far too late. Perhaps it will be our own version of Caligula and Nero. I hope not. We shall see. In the meantime, I think we are in for a very rough ride.
His column reminded me of a discussion going on in a series of internet postings about separation of church and state. Well, it wasn’t so much a discussion as a fortified engagement in which religiously loaded grenades were lobbed back and forth. There is no such thing as separation of church and state, argued some. God, as known and proclaimed in the bible, is in charge of everything. It says that he raises empires and brings them down. It is only by our sinful nature, and the power of the devil, that secularism has taken hold. Christian must vote in such a way that the nation will be brought (back?) under the authority of God’s dominion lest it be destroyed by God’s wrath. It’s been tried. The Puritans were the last Americans to try to put such a political theology into practice through a hybrid theocratic democracy. It worked only so long as their ruling elders, all duly elected men of good standing, could maintain control over what was publicly held to be correct Christian dogma. Public punishment, banishment, and the occasional execution were the preferred tools of enforcement. I wonder how that would work today?