The Trump Presidency: Who Will We Become, Part 1

As the presidency of Donald Trump begins, many Christians who opposed him wonder how do we constructively work against policies shaped by the racist, xenophobic, and sexist views he expressed on the campaign trail? I want to step back and ask a more basic question:

Who will we become as we oppose President Trump’s policies that contradict what we believe are God’s political values?

In a short series of posts leading to Trump’s inauguration, I want to consider values and practices Christians will need as we work for justice and mercy. Will we detest our neighbors or love them? Will we become more cynical and jaded, or more hopeful? Will we react to Trump’s demagoguery with derision and self-righteousness, or will we commit to “speaking the truth in love”? (Eph 4.15) Will we allow our anger to become resentment at President Trump (and our neighbors who support him) or will we allow the Spirit to use our anger to compel us to stand with people on the margins?

I have returned to the commitment card produced by the Alabama Christian Movement for Human Rights, the Birmingham affiliate of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference—the civil rights organization Martin Luther King, Jr. led. The practices members of that movement committed to would help ensure that they became more loving and hopeful in their work against oppressive systems. Here are the ten commitments each person made:

  1. Meditate daily on the teachings and life of Jesus.
  2. Remember always that the non-violent movement seeks justice and reconciliation — not victory.
  3. Walk and talk in the manner of love, for God is love.
  4. Pray daily to be used by God in order that all men might be free.
  5. Sacrifice personal wishes in order that all men might be free.
  6. Observe with both friend and foe the ordinary rules of courtesy.
  7. Seek to perform regular service for others and for the world.
  8. Refrain from the violence of fist, tongue, or heart.
  9. Strive to be in good spiritual and bodily health.
  10. Follow the directions of the movement and of the captain on a demonstration.

If we together follow practices like these every day we will be saturated in the love of God that frees men and women from the sin of selfishness. We will then love our neighbors who suffer under injustice so much that we will seek to make their freedom from oppression a reality. We will love those committing the oppression so much that we will seek to make their freedom from their sin a reality. We will know God, the love that loves us, so intimately that we will become conduits of the Holy Spirit’s love in the world.

We will encounter a number of temptations along the way. We will be lured to dehumanize Trump and our neighbors who voted for him. We will be tempted to find superficial comfort that we are not like our Christian brothers and sisters who supported Trump’s candidacy. But in his parable of the Pharisee and the tax collector (Lk 18.9-14) Jesus warns us against self-congratulatory spiritual pride. We may want to define ourselves by what we are not. Finding identity in being a Christian who didn’t vote for President Trump doesn’t tell us anything about our true convictions or hopes. Such a self-definition won’t sustain us for very long, nor will it protect us from the very real sins of wrath and pride.

For this work to be resilient, lasting, and truly reflective of the radical love of God, we need to commit to the affirmative. We have to define ourselves by our allegiance to our lord Jesus Christ and his purposes in this world. There will be seasons in which we will see only stagnation or failure. We need hope in a God who is love, who has conquered the world, and who is making all things new.

Voracious Deafness

At some point I stopped listening.
I fill my head with news and commentary
To grasp what is happening and why.

Mining more information to know more,
To have more well-rounded opinions that can withstand more argument.
So I read more essays, hear more radio and podcasts, watch more videos.

But it is not listening.
I do not pay attention to the voice,
Only the information.
Only to gain.

To listen is to receive freely whatever is given.
Attending even if nothing ends up said.
Waiting for a word that can only come from silence.
Not biding time until my turn to talk.

That my son or daughters might have something to offer
About trains or school or what the cow says.
That my wife reveals a frivolous beauty.
That creation shares a secret of its ancient wisdom.
That the Voice in the sheer silence may speak.

Everything Matters: An Advent Reflection

Each Advent we again reflect on how Jesus came to be with us. This world seems to be an undifferentiated heap of chaos. Truth gives way to base opinion. Reason and morality succumb to power. Any gains of human generosity pale in comparison to the equally human destruction that is tearing Aleppo to shreds. We celebrate technological advances allowing us to move people and goods faster and farther, but these same advances have sped up the harm of our planet and made human trafficking easier. We can choose to ignore the turmoil in order to function, dulling our confusion with the glitz of the season. Or we might stare at the violence so long we lose hope. The search for meaning seems fleeting or delusional. In the midst of this existence, which appears at worst deranged and at best absurd, we celebrate Jesus’s birth.

Jesus did not arrive as a grown man or as a resplendent king at the peak of power. He came as a poor infant, born to parents who lived in a land occupied by an oppressive empire. They would have to escape a violent tyrant and seek refuge in a foreign land. Jesus shared our experience. He ate, slept, learned, celebrated, mourned, matured, worked, rested, prayed, and died. Jesus’s very life affirms our existence.

Christians believe that God will one day make the world anew. On that day everything will be completely right and just. Violence, evil, sin, and death will cease to exist. It is telling that Jesus’s birth in Bethlehem was not that moment in which chaos is destroyed and order fully established. His life, ministry, and resurrection inaugurate this new creation, but it has yet to arrive completely.

What are we to make of Jesus entering into our mess? The simple answer, I believe, is this: everything matters. (Admittedly this belief often feels like a weak conviction, a hope against hope.) All stages of life ultimately matter. Through Jesus, God gives human existence a stamp of approval. Jesus was a zygote, infant, toddler, youth, and adult. His eating, sleeping, learning, celebrating, mourning, maturing, working, resting, praying, and dying all mattered. His incarnation and resurrection affirms that none of what we may see as absurd randomness is truly meaningless.

God embraces our joy, hope, and even pain. The consolation we experience may not reconcile the evil and beauty we see. We may never receive the answers for why we endure terrible loss. But comfort comes to us in the fact of knowing God incarnate came to be with us as an infant, residing with us in our powerlessness. The God of the universe has experienced our confusion. Jesus saw firsthand the heap of chaos comprising our successes and failures, convictions and doubts, hopes and fears, beauty and ugliness. Jesus saw this heap and redeemed it. As Jesus tells his disciples after feeding the five thousand, “Gather up the fragments left over, so that nothing may be lost.” (John 6.12) This Advent and Christmas, may you see God also inviting you to gather up the fragments around you, so that nothing may be lost.

Jesus is here!

God is with us!

Everything matters!

But Life

Autumn began dumbfounded in the wake of
Five deaths—three untimely, including a suicide—
And two revelations of probable lurking cancers.
I am short-tempered, yelling too easily at my children,
Angry at long lines and red lights.
I blame the upcoming presidential election.
But death’s mycelium spreading underneath, pushing through with grotesque reminders,
Is the true culprit.

I see my wife and children and dread the day this will all end.
That Springsteen guarantees my baby daughters’ dancing elates me.
I turn on the song and the bouncing commences.
My wife and I clap and laugh.
My son runs in and tells me to twirl with him.
Who am I to deny such an invitation?
As he and I spin like novice dervishes, my wife dances with one daughter who smiles with nine teeth, and the other stretches her tiny long fingers to plink the piano keys.
The Paraclete blows through our living room in the form of rock and roll.
An impromptu dance party.
So much grief and the future and the past forgotten.
Only backbeat. Only guitars. Only movement.
But life. But life.
When the singer asks, “Is there anyone alive out there?”
The five of us answer in the affirmative with our dance.

But Death

I did not anticipate having a child
Would make me think so much
About death.
Sure, I ask the responsible queries concerning
What would happen to my son were I to die.
Thus will have been written, living trusts created.
But my death thoughts mostly do not concern duty.
Rather something more
Foundational, basic, earthy.

They say we feel settled when three generations exist.
When my father’s heart stopped I was childless,
Standing alone with no generation before or following me.
Only death approached.
I thought, expected, hoped
Having a child would assuage the looming fear.
Not so.
My son does open my eyes to life
With his constant firsts
He is Neil Armstrong and Leif Erikson every day.
I want him to make me forget mortality.
But death. But death.

My son reminds me I have a father and he died.
Each day my son grows I am a day closer.
His gracious and wonderful and very existence
Signifies I am next in line.
He will, God willing, bury me and mourn me.
I do not wish that pain on him,
It merely is the best order this side of the Resurrection.
Gratefully he grounds me.