Let’s Talk

It being Election Day in this continually polarizing political season, I find myself struggling once again to understand just for whom I was to cast my ballot. In my effort to better understand just who I might align with regarding important issues, my wife sent me one of those online quizzes that is supposed to “help” you figure out which candidate best fits.

So, I filled it out, only to find that I was mostly split down the middle between the two primary candidates. In my attempt to express this frustration of wondering what to do for so many of us who find ourselves in a similar situation, I went to social media. First mistake.

But my mistake led to a better understanding of just why we find ourselves where we are as a country. People will continue to point blame at certain things, but I think I’ve discovered three major things based on this experience.

1. We don’t read well.

I can’t even begin to express how many times that I have put something out on social media and it’s gone south, not because I was insensitive or unthinking, but because people failed to read. We are saturated with information. It comes at us a thousand miles a minute and we don’t know how best to try to process it all. In our effort to do so, we simply scan things and do cursory readings rather than taking the time to really read things.

I am 100% guilty of this. I do it with news. I do it with emails. I do it with mail. I do it with pretty much everything, and I can tell you that I have been burned by it before. I am learning to get better, but in order to get better, I need to understand my own limitations. What am I capable of processing well.

It’s a lesson that most of us probably learned at one time or another when we were in grade school, middle school, or high school. Make sure to read the complete question on your test so as not to misunderstand. Somehow, what we learned back then did not stick.

2. We talk past each other.

Maybe you have found yourself in a situation with a person where no matter how hard you try to reason with them, they continue to say the same things over and over again. While I haven’t witnessed this in a physical conversation, I have been witness to plenty of it online. People have their issues to defend and instead of entering into dialogue and trying to hear and understand the other’s perspective, they simply wait for the other person to take a breath so that they can get in their shots.

We don’t read well and we don’t listen well. If we enter into a conversation and we feel that while the other person is speaking we are simply thinking of the next thing to say, we probably aren’t dialoguing well. While it’s cheesy and cliche, there is something to be said about the old adage that we have been given two ears and one mouth so we should therefore listen twice as much as we talk.

3. The church should show the way.

Over the past few years, I have been a part of conversations with others who follow Christ as to whether or not the word “evangelical” should be excised from our vocabulary. It has been abused and misused and I think the original meaning has been lost on those who have idolized positions, issues, candidates, and a political system that is flawed.

God made it clear to the Israelites early on in their history that a king would not be the answer they were looking for. He told them just what a king would do and how a king would lead them. They were supposed to be a nation that was led by God. Instead, they chose to be like all the other nations around them and have a king. The rest is history, and we can see the result as we read through the Old Testament and see king after king disappoint, fail, and abuse their own people.

While Jesus was political, he was not a politician. He also understood that politics is a system in which we need to operate, not a system of salvation. Too many within the church have looked at the current system of government as a means of salvation from all the “bad people” in the world.

The church should not be led by anxiety and worry. Instead, we should show that our hope is in Christ. We should be leading the way to show that we do not believe that a political party will somehow save us but that we have only one savior, one who did not fit well into the systems of man either.

I don’t know what the outcome of today’s election will be. I can’t say that I have a specific outcome that I am hoping for either. But I do know that it is my responsibility as a follower of Christ, to be focused on a kingdom that is not of this world. That does not mean that I don’t care about what happens here, because I do. It simply means that when things look bleak, when they don’t go the way that I want them to, when I feel hopeless, I need to refocus my hope on the only one who can hold that hope. It is not a political party, system, or candidate, it is the one king who will not falter or fail.

 

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Choosing Donald Trump by Stephen Mansfield

choosing donald trumpAlthough I am a white male who considers himself to be an evangelical, I did not count myself among the 81% of white evangelicals in America who voted for Donald Trump. In the months leading up to the election and the months immediately following it, I have read and heard the vitriolic remarks and comments of my brothers and sisters who also found themselves at odds with this 81% of the evangelical world.

Although I did not cast my vote for Donald Trump, I was sympathetic towards those who felt trapped, stuck even, at the choices that they were given in the 2016 election. So often, I heard people express the old adage to “pick your poison” as they were not thrilled or even moderately content with any of the choices that had been laid out for them in the voting booth for this election.

When I was given the opportunity to read and review Stephen Mansfield’s latest book, “Choosing Donald Trump,” I was reluctant. The last thing that I wanted to read was an apologetic as to why Donald Trump was the right man for the job, or even worse, “God’s man” for the job.

But that was not the intent of Mansfield in writing this book. In fact, he writes with intent to come up with answers for himself, to have a better understanding of why such a large portion of evangelicals cast their vote for Donald Trump. In the introduction of the book, he says that the book is not a biography or an electoral history. He writes, “It is instead about the faith that has shaped Donald Trump, about the religious factors that played a role in his election, about what religious conservatives have risked in supporting Donald Trump, and about what religion may mean in a Trump administration.” He goes on to say that the Trump presidency may be “among the most religiously decisive in American history.”

Although Mansfield claims this book isn’t a biography, he gives enough of a picture into Donald Trump’s background that the early part of the book feels like it is. As I read about his upbringing, his family history, and all that he went through, I found myself having compassion for this loud-mouthed, unorthodox president. Over and over again, I found myself nodding my head, not in agreement but in understanding, as the puzzle pieces began to take shape to show the picture of the man that Donald Trump is today.

Mansfield walks through the connections that Donald Trump had with pastors such as Norman Vincent Peale and Paula White. He spoke to the fears and frustration that existed within so many conservative evangelicals in the United States and their discontent with the direction of the country over the eight years of the Obama administration. As he described the background of Donald Trump, the two defining terms that he used for him, coming straight from Fred Trump, Donald Trump’s father, were “king” and “killer.” Everything that Donald Trump stepped into was stepped into with one intent: to win.

It was that ruthless, cutthroat passion for winning that drew so many to Donald Trump, especially considering that they had been losing for so many years before the election of 2016. Even though the morality and ethics of Donald Trump were questionable, even standing in opposition to their own, “The would support even a man life Donald Trump if it meant reclaiming their country.”

Mansfield also spends a chapter each on two of Trump’s adversaries, Obama and Clinton. Here again, he uses the country’s experience of both of these to explain why so many who voted for Trump were led there. In matters of faith, Obama was inconsistent and Clinton was unclear. Mansfield gives examples of both and shows why so many felt that another 4 or 8 years in the hands of a liberal president would just be more of the same from the perspective of religious rights and freedom.

Mansfield does not promote the stance to support Trump out of fear and worry, he simply unearths it through his interviews and research. His own views may be expressed better in his chapters on the art of prophetic distance, of which there are two. Through the experiences of Billy Graham and some of his early mistakes with politicians as well as the apprehensive stance of pastors like Paul Marc Goulet of the International Church of Las Vegas, Mansfield explains the need for clergy to maintain a prophetic distance between themselves and every politician. While many have seen Trump as another example of the biblical King Cyrus, an immoral man used by God, aligning one’s self with someone of the like is not a favorable approach.

Mansfield ends his book with an appendix called “Donald Trump In His Own Words.” Within this appendix are the transcripts of two speeches that Trump gave, one at the National Prayer Breakfast shortly after taking office and one at Great Faith Ministries Church in Detroit, Michigan two months before the election. Mansfield’s aim in providing the reader with the entire transcript of these speeches is for the reader to read for himself the words that Trump spoke. Too often, we hear only soundbites on the news, these transcripts give the reader the opportunity to read the entirety of Trump’s words.

“Choosing Donald Trump” may not appeal to everyone. There are some who have already made up their minds about Donald Trump and had their minds made up even before he took office. There are others who may still be struggling to understand just how so many white evangelicals with high moral and ethical standards could choose a man like Donald Trump. Regardless of where you are coming from, “Choosing Donald Trump” is a worthwhile read if you are seeking to understand a little bit more about the man, Donald Trump, and a little bit more as to why so many felt he was the best candidate to take the Oval Office.

(This review is based upon a copy of this book which was provided free of charge from Baker Books. These opinions are my own; I was not required to write a positive review, nor was I compensated for this review.)

Just Watching

watchingOn my way to work this morning, I ran into a back-up on the highway. I could see the flashing lights ahead and realized that there were no lane closures and the accident that was causing the delay seemed to have been fairly minor. But everyone needed to stop and slow down. They needed to see what all the delay was about. It was almost as if they needed to be a part of it without really being a part of it.

I met someone for lunch yesterday at a fast food restaurant. As we walked in, the TV hanging on the wall was displaying the news of the tragedy in Las Vegas. As the latest statistics scrolled across the screen, the man with whom I was meeting said, “I think we’ve become calloused. I see stuff like this and it hardly phases me.” I couldn’t help but agree. If there is a normal, this may very well have become a part of ours. That’s not to say that I like it, but it seems that the frequency of these kinds of occurrences is too high.

It seems that we spend a good deal of our lives watching. We watch the cars go by and crane our necks to see why we had to slow down. We turn on the news on the TV or computer or device and we watch everything that’s happening. We might even attend a church on a Sunday morning and we take our seats and watch as everything plays out before us.

We’re really good at watching, but I wonder how good we are at doing. Does our watching ever result in us actually doing something? We can watch the world pass by and even feel the stirrings in our hearts that we should do something, but then life gets in the way and we forgot that feeling, the deep ache within us that was calling us to step out and make a difference. We can be lulled into a stupor and trance by the busyness that surrounds us and before we know it, the opportunities have passed us by.

That’s where I am right now. I’ve been watching, trying to put some skin in the game. I’ve been on a fact finding mission, trying to see where I need to be and what I need to be doing. The fact is, it seems like there are a billion places to start and a trillion things to do, if we take it at face value, it’s all a bit overwhelming. But if we look around to right where we are, do we see the possibilities to affect change right there?

I am tired. I am tired of death and tragedy. I am tired of the constant politicization of tragedies for our own preferences. I am tired of people thinking that change can happen just by being more restrictive. If change doesn’t happen deep within, then the change will only be temporary at best, fake and superficial at worst.

When tragedy strikes, we always want to find who is to blame. Many people would dare to blame gun lobbyists, the president, the NRA, and others. I don’t think that all of these are without blame, but the problem is, some of us just aren’t self-aware enough to realize that while there may be blaming lying outside of us, there may actually be blame deep within us as well. We are not without blame, yet we have no problem casting the first stones.

Could it be that our problem isn’t a law or legal thing and that it’s really a heart thing? Could it be that maybe there is more to morality and ethics than a secular humanistic view would admit? Could it be that the heart of the problem may actually lie closer to home and within me than I am willing to admit?

My heart is broken that there are lives which have been senselessly snuffed out and for the families of those whose lives are over. My heart is broken that tragedy continues to divide us rather than unite us. My heart is broken that we are too busy casting blame to take any responsibility or ownership ourselves.

I’m not sure what the next steps are, but I’m pretty sure politicization, blaming, and lobbying are not among them. I can make a difference, but the question is whether or not I’ll just sit back and keep watching or if I’ll get some skin in the game and actually do something.

Responding to the Tension

welcome to charlottesvilleThe events in Charlottesville last weekend and the continuing turmoil that we are feeling in our country at the state of disarray and disunity may have us a little on edge. Some of us will look at the situation and say that things are not as bad as they appear, while others will look and say that things are far worse than they appear. One thing that we know for sure is that there is a problem and anyone who would deny that is denying reality.

 As human beings, we can do a really good job of pressing down the tensions and conflicts that are trying to rise, we can make it seem as if the problem is not as big of a deal as we might think it is, denying out of fear, out of pride, or out of something else deep within us, sometimes denying it outright altogether. But the problem remains and, in fact, grows more severe the longer we push it down and deny it.

 Some say we have a problem with racism in our country, and I agree. The racial tensions that we have been experiencing in recent days are not new, they have been lying underneath the surface for a lot longer. I choose not to assign blame to a political figure for their sins of commission or sins of omission, because I think that the problem is much deeper, it extends far beyond just one person. While actions and words (or a lack thereof) may have perpetuated and even instigated other actions, the problem lies much deeper than just outward demonstrations. It’s a heart issue.

 The problem is racism, yes, and the problem is a heart problem, yes, but I would actually go a step further to boldly say that it is actually a sin problem. It’s one that extends far beyond our country to our world, for anytime that we deny that God created us as anything less than equal, we are being disobedient and denying that ALL of us have been created in the image of God.

 Many may disagree with me. Those who don’t espouse to any religious beliefs may think that’s a bit strong, but I think that we could all still agree that it is a moral and ethical issue. There is a cancer that runs deeper than signs and protests, deeper than freedom of speech or expressing opinions, and far deeper than the foundations of the monuments that are in question at this time.

 God’s people, the Israelites, would set up stones at the place where God had done something significant in their lives. They stood as monuments to all that God had brought them through. I am sure that the sight of those stones would bring back a flood of memories, some good, some bad. The words of Joshua to the Israelites in Joshua 4 resound to me, “In the future when your descendants ask their fathers, ‘What do these stones mean?’ tell them, ‘Israel crossed the Jordan on dry ground.'”

It’s interesting, because Joshua didn’t tell them to tell future generations what the stones meant to them, but what had happened there. There was no interpretation necessary. But the stones were not there because the stones were important, the stones were there because what had happened was important and they never wanted to forget.

I think we’ve forgotten. I think we’ve forgotten what happened here and I think that some of us have forgotten to tell our stories. We’ve elevated a movement or a person or even a bunch of stones, and we’ve forgotten what was behind them and we’ve forgotten to tell our stories.

There will always be extremists, and extremists always get the press. But the rest of us who live in the tension between extremes have a choice. We can either ignore those extremes in hopes that they go away, or we can make our voices louder, choosing to tell the stories of why we’re here. We may not always agree, we may have differing opinions, but if our end goal is to tell truthful stories, I honestly think that some of those differences and disagreements will begin to fall away.

I sat in my office this morning sad. I was sad and even scared that I had three children who had been brought into the world to face these kinds of things. But beyond my sadness and my fear, I could see hope. I could see hope in knowing that I had the opportunity to lift up a different monument for my children, not one forged in stone and steel, but one that was written on their hearts. I have the opportunity to tell them the stories, not to promote a movement or an agenda, but to promote us living according to how we were created, in the image of the One who created us.

Reclaiming Hope – A Book Review

reclaiming hopeIn the introduction of “Reclaiming Hope,” Michael Wear writes, “If we are to reclaim hope, we must understand our nation’s political life and our role in it. Politics is causing great spiritual harm and a big reason for that is people are going to politics to have their inner needs met. Politics does a poor job of meeting inner needs, but politicians will suggest they can do so if it will get them votes. The state of our politics is a reflection of the state of our souls.” So begins his chronicling of his journey with President Obama and his administration as part of the Office of Faith-based and Neighborhood Partnerships.

“Reclaiming Hope” reads more like a memoir as Wear recalls his experience in the midst of the Obama administration. Along the way, he paints a compelling picture of President Obama. Multiple times, I stopped reading to soak in just what this young millennial was saying about the now former President of the United States. His youthful idealism seemed to have gotten the better of him on more than one occasion. Wear seems to maintain a significant amount of hope and faith in his fellow man, even if that fellow man is a politician.

Wear explains his unease with a party (the Democratic party) that at times seems to buck up against the very foundation of evangelical Christianity. As he explains his own viewpoint, he was honest about the choice that politics gives the individual between “imperfect options.” At the same time, his own coming to Christianity in his formative years led him to identify with so many people who saw the Republican party as unswervingly connected to evangelical Christianity and, therefore, something of which to be suspicious.

Obama’s own faith is presented by Wear as a faith that seeks to “express itself in deeds.” Through President Obama’s words, both in his books as well as interviews and speeches, Wear adamantly defends the former president’s Christian faith. His apologetic for the president can sometimes come across as the wide-eyed wonder and youthful idealism rather than sincere and objective critique, but Wear is honest in his admiration for Obama as well as his criticism of him.

Wear clearly criticizes the former president and his administration when he writes, – “…it should be clear that President Obama and his administration made concrete policy and political decisions that directly fueled partisanship, polarization, and the culture wars.” In his criticism, Wear is explicit as well, not simply lobbing bombs but bringing clear and specific instances when he thought that the former president either missed an opportunity or assuaged to the majority of his supporters.

Even in the midst of talking about the same-sex marriage debate which resulted in the legalization of same-sex marriage throughout the country, Wear’s point has weight when he writes, “What is the value of a legal or political victory to affirm what marriage is if the culture does not embrace that definition? What good is a law on such an issue if it does not reflect Americans’ convictions? You can legislate morality – every law has moral grounds – but what does it mean if that law does not represent a moral consensus?” Whether or not you agree with the legislation or Wear’s take, it’s hard to not take pause to contemplate these words.

Wear’s total experience throughout both the 2008 and 2012 campaigns also gives him a valuable perspective. Specifically as it relates to diversity, Wear writes, “In 2009, our diversity demanded we accept that there will be voices we disagree with in public spaces. In 2013, diversity required us to expel dissent.” Despite his youthfulness and, at times, idealism, Wear is honest and blunt in his true assessment of the political landscape, even in his own party.

The dividing line in our country seems more pronounced than ever, but Wear warns Christians that withdrawal from politics or from political parties is not the answer. He reminds Christians that there have always been those in the Bible who found themselves at odds with prevailing ideological and political systems of their day. That did not give them cause to run and hide but instead to represent and stand above the crowds as an example. Inconsistent protestations don’t do anything but hurt Christians and the Christian witness in the world.

Wear reminds his reader that putting hope in political figures will lead to disappointment. He points the reader to the hope that we find in Jesus Christ. He reminds us that God is at work in all things and that Christian hope can be advanced even through non-Christian sources. He challenges Christians to be involved and work towards those Christian hopes and for the good of all people rather than simply circling up the wagons and waiting for Jesus to return. Isolation and separation from society and politics will not do anything to advance the Kingdom of God.

I was constantly surprised while reading “Reclaiming Hope” that Michael Wear is as young as he is. His insights and challenges were full of wisdom gained in a lifetime of experience accumulated in a short period of time. He is honest and fair and never comes across as pompous or knowing it all. In reading this book, I find myself with a different perspective, having had my eyes (and possibly my heart) opened a little bit more to see political parties and ideology as less “black and white” than I’ve been used to seeing them.

While I’m not sure that this will make an Obama fan of the most furious opponent of the former president, reading this book with an open mind may give a different perspective on a president who was often vilified by those on the political and ideological right. “Reclaiming Hope” was not what I had expected that it would be, but I think that’s a good thing. It was an important read for me and I think it is for anyone who legitimately wants to ask questions about the future of our country, especially those who are evangelical Christians.

(This review is based upon a copy of this book which was provided free of charge from Booklook Bloggers. These opinions are my own; I was not required to write a positive review, nor was I compensated for this review.)

Carved In Stone

IMG_3444I had been told all kinds of things about Mount Rushmore before I had the chance to visit. I had been told that it was in the middle of nowhere and that there just wasn’t much around or much to do. Most of the people who had gone before me, people who I trusted, told me that they were slightly disappointed in what they had seen.

Sometimes it’s better to go into a situation with low expectations, it usually means that there’s no place else to go but up. If you don’t have high expectations, chances of those expectations being dashed are fairly low.

So, when my family and I went to Mount Rushmore last month, I figured that we would be there for a few hours and then we would leave. I believed everything that had been told to me, that there would just not be any reason to hang out for any length of time. But, boy, was I wrong….or maybe the people who had gone before me were wrong.

As we drove up the mountain road that leads to the parking area at Mount Rushmore, the mountain face was visible from the car. My first thought was that it just didn’t seem to be as big as I thought that it would be, that I anticipated, that I thought it should be. Somehow or another, the pictures had made it look……smaller, somehow.

Once we found a parking place and made our way closer to the mountain face, it was captivating to me. I couldn’t help but just stand there and stare. No, it wasn’t as big as I had thought that it would be, but somehow, it drew me in, it kept me staring. I could see that there was something much more to this mountain than just some faces on stone.

But, there’s always something lying beneath the surface. Just as Gutzon Borglum had to test the rocks and explore beneath the surface to find out just how his sculpture could be carved into that mountain in the Black Hills, so we had to look deeper, beyond just what we saw on the surface.

As we made our way into the museum there at Mount Rushmore, I discovered the context that I needed. Looking at pictures, reading through descriptions, coming to an understanding of this mountain, it was so much more than just four faces carved into granite, it was a picture of hope, a picture of adventure, a picture of courage, a picture of freedom, and so much more than that. Each face carved into that stone was representative of something so much more and the sum of the parts were greater than the individual parts, which is saying quite a lot considering just how important and valuable each of those parts was.

As I walked through the exhibits in the museum, I encountered this paragraph on the wall:

“The Meaning of Mount Rushmore: The four American Presidents carved into the granite of Mount Rushmore were chosen by the sculptor to commemorate the founding, growth, preservation, and development of the United States. They symbolize the principles of liberty and freedom on which the nation was founded. George Washing signifies the struggle for independence and the birth of the Republic; Thomas Jefferson the territorial expansion of the country; Abraham Lincoln the permanent union of the States, and equality for all citizens, and Theodore Roosevelt, the 20th century role of the United States in world affairs and the rights of the common man.”

And then I knew why the urge to stare was so strong, why I was drawn to those faces and that mountain. There was a sense of patriotism there, a sense of liberty and freedom that somehow drew the casual observer in, inviting them to see beyond the stone to what it represented. These faces seemed to mean so much more, especially during this time in our country’s history.

In the midst of a political landscape where it seems buffoons and liars have somehow made their way up to the top, these faces carved in stone represent character and integrity that seems lost today. Carved there in stone to remind us just where we have come from and what we have gained, these figures stand in stark contrast to the characters that we have seen paraded before us on the political stage. Their word was their bond, they believed in something, they had principles, they had integrity, they were not so easily bought and one even gave his life, albeit unwillingly, for fighting a fight that he knew had to be won.

These faces, and more importantly the men behind them, are right where they need to be, standing as a symbol to the rest of us that there is hope, there is liberty, there is integrity. But maybe, just maybe, like this rock, it needs to be blasted and chiseled and carved, maybe it needs to be sought out, digging much deeper than we’ve dug before, prospecting beneath the surface. In the words of the sculptor himself, “Hence, let us place there, carved high, as close to heaven as we can, the words of our leaders, their faces to show posterity what manner of men they were. Then breathe a prayer that these records will endure until the wind and the rain along shall wear them away.”

I was deeply impacted by what I saw and experienced at Mount Rushmore. As I stood there looking at these stone faces, I tried to think about the last president who was worthy of having his face carved into stone, and I found myself at a loss.

You’re Going the Wrong Way

who can heal americaThere’s a scene in the movie “Planes, Trains, and Automobiles” when John Candy and Steve Martin are driving in the wrong direction down the highway. They see a car across the way who is trying to signal to them and the driver yells to them, “You’re going the wrong way.” Candy and Martin think that the guy is drunk and don’t even consider that they actually might be driving down the highway in the wrong direction. Eventually, they crash and their car burns up, leaving them stranded with a shell of a car. I wonder what would have happened if they had simply heeded the advice of the man yelling at them to turn around.

As funny of a movie as “Planes, Trains, and Automobiles” is, this scene replayed in my mind as I’ve thought about the events of the last week, month, and even year. As more and more horrible things play out in the United States, I can’t help but wonder whether or not someone is yelling, “You’re going the wrong way” to us, and in our foolishness and pride, we dig our heels in a little deeper, we clench our fists a little tighter, and we keep pressing on, thinking that we’re not the ones who are wrong.

The other day, a news headline on CNN.com read, “Who can heal America?” I thought that it was a perfect question to which many will struggle to come up with an answer. I think plenty of people will have an answer, but I don’t think that any of the answers that they’ll provide will be right. After all, politicians have been “coming up with answers” for years and it’s not gotten us any further away from the dismay that we’ve experienced. In fact, one might argue that we’re worse off than we were before, but we continue to drive in the wrong direction, thinking that it surely can’t be us that’s wrong, it’s got to be someone else. There’s no way that we could be driving in the wrong direction, right?

There’s a very powerful passage in 1 Samuel 8 in the Old Testament. Samuel, the prophet and priest, has gotten old and his sons are wayward, and the people want an answer to their problems. So, they ask for a king. Why? They say, “We want a king over us. Then we will be like all the other nations, with a king to lead us and to go out before us and fight our battles.” As Samuel talks with God, God tells him all of the things that a king will do to the people, a king will enslave the people, he will steal from them and oppress them, he will take their possessions and their children from them, and when they cry out to God, God will not answer them.

It seems that America has wanted to be just like everybody else. We want a king to lead us, we want a president who can fix this mess, but if we’re looking to find someone who can save us, who can fix this, who can heal America, we’re going the wrong way, we’re heading in the wrong direction. A president will only do what we’ve seen presidents do countless times in the past, but presidents will come and go, political leaders will rise and fall, but there is only One who will remain forever.

We’re going the wrong way and we’ve got to turn around, but I don’t think that finding the right president is the way to fix the problem. The problems need to be fixed in our hearts before we can try to fix them externally, after all, you can make things look nice and pretty on the outside all you want, but if you don’t fix what’s broken on the inside, then it’s just window dressing.

America doesn’t need the right president, America needs a change of heart. We need to stop the car and turn it around, but we’ve got to humble ourselves and first realize that we’re going in the wrong direction.

Power Traps

Bob McDonnellIt’s getting to the point that I’ve begun to wonder if there is anyone in government that’s NOT corrupt.

Living in Virginia, news hit last week about the verdict in the corruption trial of former governor, Bob McDonnell. Since the judge handed down the verdict of a 2 year sentence to the former governor, much has been written about the trial and the judge’s leniency in his judgment. During the trial, many had come out to speak on behalf of McDonnell as character witnesses.

Now, I’m far from perfect. While I don’t know if I would echo the words of the Apostle Paul and state that I am the “chief of sinners,” I can certainly share the spotlight as one who has been saved by grace. My life has not been without mistake, error, and sin. I am grateful for the grace of God and for the forgiveness that I receive through Christ.

McDonnell is spoken to have been an up-and-comer in the world of politics with many expecting great things of him as he was seemingly on his way up the political ladder. So, in many ways, his story is a tragedy, at least that’s the way that I see it. To be honest, it scares me a little bit.

You see, I have seen too many times in my short life how power has a tendency to corrupt. Power has a way of blinding us to truth and reason. It can seemingly make us think that we are invincible, untouchable, and completely immune to the corruption which eventually leads to our demise. That seems to be the nature of power. It can never satisfy, we always want more. In some ways, we might consider it like a drug.

Power scares me because I know my own tendencies. I know my own propensity towards thinking that I am above the law, that I can remain stealth in my bad behavior. I know my own tendency to never be satisfied with what I have, never finding true contentment in stuff when the stuff becomes the end rather than the means.

I begin to wonder whether any smart, self-respecting person would (or should, for that matter) consider running for political office. Ironically, there are some denominations and occupations that require people to pass psychological evaluations prior to entering into them. I wonder whether or not the same can be said of elected office. Frankly, I wonder if some who occupy these positions would even be able to pass these evaluations, or if these evaluations would indicate some amount of potential for future corruption that would unravel their worlds.

What is it about political office that has this power and offers this power? It would be naïve of me to think that this power was endemic to political office, it can easily be said to exist with any position where power is duly distributed. It just seems that the corruption that results is more pronounced within the political system.

In some ways, it becomes even more troubling when I see someone who seemed so winsome, likeable, and respected as McDonnell. It’s one thing when a person seems squirrelly or corrupt from the beginning, but when a person seems like an “average Joe” and they succumb to this corruption, it hits closer to home, making me realize just how powerfully one can be brought down with the temptations that seem so prevalent with certain positions.

I’m glad that politics have never been a draw for me. There are some who feel that being part of a pastor’s family means living under a microscope and feeling constantly scrutinized. Thankfully, my family has never really felt that (I’ve also never been a lead pastor, so that could change should my call lead in that direction someday). I would much rather be part of a pastor’s family than a politician’s family.

My heart breaks for McDonnell, his wife, and his children. I can’t imagine the emotions and feelings that have accompanied this trial and sentencing. Trying to dig out from underneath it to find normalcy may prove to be a daunting task. If good men and women can easily be taken down by the power that takes hold and corrupts, what kind of a system is being propagated and perpetuated by our political system? Is there hope for survival of any with a healthy amount of moral fiber and conviction in a political world that seems so destitute, corrupt, and ruthless?

Trust the Process?

broken-process1I’ll be honest, I’m a cynic. I don’t trust easily because I’ve been burned before. I am a firm believer in the fact that our past experiences dictate our responses to the things that we face. When we have faced situations where we’ve been hurt by others or where we have trusted others and they have disappointed us, we all have a tendency to be somewhat skittish about jumping into things head first the next time around.

Throughout my adult life, I have seen different processes that were put in place to protect or to ensure that outcomes would not be skewed. Some of those processes have been political processes. Some of those processes have been within educational systems. Some of those processes have been within the church.

Over and over again, I was told to trust the process. The processes were put into place by people smarter than me (at least, that’s what I’m told). The processes were supposed to be foolproof. Is that really possible? If a process is put into place by fools, can it really be foolproof?

I watched my dad fall victim to a process that was faulty and fallible. I watched friends as they were burned within systems that were ruled and governed by processes. I have watched processes be manipulated by people who had agendas, somehow skewing the processes to result in their desired results.

The other day, I was reminded of a process that was supposed to be trusted. It was a process that was supposed to flesh out truth. Over and over again, people said to trust the process, but as the process went on, many realized that the process wasn’t the problem, it was the people who had put the process into place. Processes may be trusted when they are static and unchanging or when the rules of that process are defined and maintained. But in this process, the rules were changing and many of them were undefined or fluid. How does one operate in a system where the rules continue to change and where they are constantly in motion and fluid?

It was amazing how I could feel the tension rise within me as I answered questions about a process with which I had been involved nearly two years ago. I always find that somewhat startling, how one can be removed from something for a long period of time only to be ushered right back to that moment when something suddenly triggers your memory.

Processes are only as good as the people behind them. It’s a reminder to me to constantly lean on the wisdom that God gives rather than my own. It’s also a reminder to be praying for all of the people behind processes, be they politicians or judges or pastors or teachers or whomever. We are all fallible people with the ability to subjectively usurp power and steer things to be the way that we want them to be. If we aren’t careful, we can hijack processes that were meant for good and cause people evil.

It’s just a humble reminder where I need to go for guidance and who I need to rely on. If any of us lacks wisdom, we can ask of the Father above who gives generously. He knows how much I need that.

The Rise of the Underdog

cantor bratTo locals, Ashland, Virginia is known as, “The Center of the Universe.” It’s beginning to seem like that to the rest of the country after this past Tuesday’s primary. Prior to this, the last time Ashland made national news may have been when Mitt Romney passed through on his campaign tour. Before that, it could have been when the D.C. sniper traveled this far south on I-95 to continue his spree of terror to the parking lot of a Ponderosa restaurant just off the highway in Ashland. Now, some people may be wondering, “who is Dave Brat? and, “where is Randolph-Macon College?”

Once upon a time, I used to live in a state where my vote didn’t make much of a difference. Living in a Blue State was not always fun and exciting for someone with more conservative tendencies like me. We mostly avoided political phone calls and campaigns because our state was a deadlock win and there didn’t seem to be any point in spending money to convince the already convinced (hmmmm, now there’s a lesson that churches need to learn, but I digress).

When I moved to Virginia, I discovered that I was living in a “swing state.” People’s votes actually mattered. Some elections could go either way, so there was always a reason for a phone call, a personal visit, or a mailer to get your vote. It was kind of a new experience for me and I can’t say that I have always enjoyed it. The barrage of phone calls was a little overwhelming during the last major election for governor.

This past Tuesday, an incumbent Republican congressional candidate was unseated by a little known liberal arts professor supported by the Tea Party. While there are ramifications to this that extend to both sides of the political spectrum, to me, there was a renewed faith instilled in me that there is still hope for the underdog. When you take away the voice of people who want to be heard, they will still find a way to be heard, whenever and however they can.

I’ve never been a big fan of politics but I’ve followed them enough to know that we have issues within our country. Some think that the unseating of Eric Cantor will lead to a stronger line being drawn between the parties making it even more difficult for bi-partisan relations. While this may be the case, compromise is something that requires give on both sides, when one side continues to give, it becomes less about compromise and more about manipulation. Relationships are give and take and that has to be the case even in relationships between political parties.

I have no idea what will happen come November, but for now, I’m smiling at the fact that there was shock and dismay because someone who thought that they had an election, “in the bag” has been found to be overconfident. I’m smiling because it proved to me that people can still let their voice be heard, as uncomfortable and unpopular as that voice may be. All this might not amount to nothing in the future, but for now, I think there’s a whole lot that we can learn when we see history made right before our eyes. I, personally, am looking forward to seeing how it all plays out.