Growing in Kindness, The Trump Presidency: Who Will We Become, Part 3

In a short series of posts leading to Donald Trump’s inauguration, I want to ask the question of Christians who opposed his candidacy: Who will we become as we resist President Trump’s policies that contradict what we believe are God’s political values?

During the 2016 presidential campaign it often seemed our political debate brought out the worst in us. Several of my friends took a break from social media as those venues became too caustic. Following the election not much has changed either on the ground or from our president-elect. The dehumanizing insults continue, including by those of us who call ourselves Christian. Donald Trump’s own ungracious words and actions since winning in November don’t encourage us toward Abraham Lincoln’s vision of working for the healing of the nation, “With malice toward none, with charity for all.”

In the midst of this vitriolic environment, I wonder, is it possible to become more gracious, kind, and gentle? We can imagine exiting the bitterness altogether will help us keep our worst instincts check. (Taking periodic breaks from heated discussions is a necessary discipline, especially when we find ourselves obsessed.)

More to the point, is it possible to let the vitriolic environment itself make us more gracious, kind, and gentle? Can we let our engagement with our neighbors with whom we disagree shape us into kinder people?

In the following video from Fr. Gregory Boyle of Homeboy Industries, he shows us we grow in kindness when our kindness is tested.

 

How might we let this acerbic social milieu shape us into gentler people? How do we let Trump’s demagoguery mold us into people who do not react with insults, but instead respond by telling the truth in love? Make no mistake, our kindness will be tested the next four years and the president-elect may in fact be a wonderful teacher of kindness for us.

When we are angry—legitimately or otherwise—particularly at uncharitable and dehumanizing speech we need to pause and ask the Holy Spirit, “What are you trying to teach me through this situation?” Being reactionary and landing a snarky rhetorical punch feels good in the moment, but it does not bring us closer to a more just society. Choosing to respond with kindness may open possibilities insults will surely close. People might not accept the gentleness and may continue to belittle. Take that as a teaching moment and be gentle anyway. Boyle says in another interview at Truthdig:

Demonizing is always untruth. Always, no exceptions. If I demonize Donald Trump, that is equally an untruth… or those who voted for him. It’s not about normalizing. You don’t have to demonize; you stand against that notion: “I won’t ever do it.” And if you know that the answer to every question is compassion to begin with, then all of a sudden you’re gonna go, “Ah, people carry a lot. I want to be respectful about what people carry.”

You want to be clear about things; you don’t want to give an inch, and you don’t want to somehow lose your sense of integrity and what is purposeful and right and just and good.

Being kind, gracious, and gentle does not mean we avoid rocking the boat. God calls us into controversy and to stand with the oppressed. That is, the boat is going to be rocked. Kindness, graciousness, and gentleness are the means with which we struggle for justice.

Praise, Lament, and Thanksgiving, The Trump Presidency: Who Will We Become, Part 2

In a short series of posts leading to Donald Trump’s inauguration, I want to ask the question of Christians who opposed his candidacy: Who will we become as we resist President Trump’s policies that contradict what we believe are God’s political values?

I used to have an instrumental view of prayer. That is, I thought prayer was a means to a relationship with Jesus. Now I see prayer is the relationship itself, for interpersonal connection demands spending time with each other, listening and speaking. Christians historically learned to pray through the Book of Psalms. In those prayer-poems we find the whole gamut of the human experience, including politics, brought before God in a raw beauty.

The psalmists lived in a cycle of praise, lament, and thanksgiving. They would praise the greatness of Yahweh, Israel’s God. When circumstances led to disappointment and suffering, the psalmists would lament, calling on God to rescue, redeem, and restore. After God acted and brought some salvation, the psalmists would burst forth in thanksgiving.

In order for Christians to oppose Donald Trump when he acts in ways that contradict God’s purposes, we must become people saturated in the Book of Psalms. Through praise we align our priorities and declare our allegiance to God, above any other commitment. In lament we name the darkness and go to God with our protests and demand, “What are you going to do about this?” In thanksgiving we acknowledge God’s generosity in delivering us from our lamentable situations.

We need praise, lament, and thanksgiving for the next four years. Through true prayer God will motivate us to action, and in prayer we bring our experiences to the Holy Spirit. Without praise, lament, and thanksgiving, we lose sight of God at work in the world. Our relationship with Jesus thins to the point where he is nothing more than an intellectual concept. When we lose sight of our true hope, we grow more cynical and succumb to the temptation to seek power. Fostering our relationship with Jesus, that is, praying the Psalms, will strengthen us to work for justice and keep us from dehumanizing our neighbors with whom we disagree.

I recommend starting with three very political psalms that fall into the categories of praise, lament, and thanksgiving. Chew on these psalms, make them your prayers, and let them stimulate you to other prayers. Find a community who will pray these psalms with you.

Praise: The writer of Psalm 146 makes a wonderful juxtaposition in this beautiful hymn of praise. He contrasts the powerful and good God of Israel to the ephemeral political leaders of his day. In this psalm we see the broad strokes of God’s political agenda: creation, justice for the oppressed, restoration for those on the margins.

Lament: The writer of Psalm 73 confesses to being envious of the prosperity of leaders who shirk God. The psalmist’s confusion is apparent. We can see him almost succumbing to the temptation to ditch God’s ways and instead seek political and cultural power. His lament keeps him from despair, however, and realigns him with Yahweh.

Thanksgiving: The writer of Psalm 124 leads the community in a song of thanks to God for rescuing them from their enemies. Their situation was dire, but God proved to be good and faithful. The short prayer brims with rich imagery.

I offer one additional prayer, Psalm 37. Here the psalmist calls people to be patient and remain faithful to God in the midst of an environment where wickedness seems to reign. Let us hear the psalmist’s exhortation again, “Trust in the Lord, and do good.” (37.3) This verse reminds me of something Martin Luther King, Jr. said: “The time is always right to do what’s right.”

Praise sets our hopes correctly on the God of the universe. Lament keeps us from despair and helps us stand against injustice as we name that evil and call the Holy Spirit to act. Thanksgiving reminds us there is still good in the world because Jesus has not grown tired of his redemptive work.

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!