Monday, November 28, 2016

If the President (elect) says it, it must be True, Right?!

The following is a November 27th tweet from Donald Trump, our president elect:  “Serious voter fraud in Virginia, New Hampshire and California - so why isn't the media reporting on this? Serious bias - big problem!”

With absolutely no substantiating evidence to back his claim, Trump declares that serious voter fraud has taken place in three significant states.  Why should this worry us?

It’s worrisome because this kind of tweeting, which he does often, continues to reassert Trump’s dismissive attitude toward actual truth and lack of respect for real facts, revealing his complete disregard for reality in favor of political spin, exaggerated hyperbole and outright deception.

Trump will often deliberately cast a cloud of confusion and darkness over individuals, institutions, and processes if and when he receives unflattering or unwelcome news by them.  In short, he throws mud at them knowing that the mud will stick in the minds of his devotees and/or anyone who already has doubts or misgivings and distrusts the person, institution, or process in question.

That is to say that Trump is a master in the use of demagoguery = “A leader who makes us of popular prejudices and false claims and promises in order to gain power.”  Trump now has more power and influence then ever before, yet he continues to use demagoguery as a means to attack anyone or any institution with whom he disagrees with or dislikes or has been offended by.

When he makes such assertions he is not interested in TRUTH.  His only interest is to smear and undermine public trust in said person or institution.  He tweets so as to make an immediate impact in the hearts and minds of all that are eager to give HIM the benefit of the doubt and are willing to accept HIS assertions without question.  He’s the Pied-Piper for those who believe in HIM.  He plays his tune and they lovingly follow him—tweeting and retweeting.

Why is it that his followers do not see the danger in Trump’s tendency to constantly redefine reality to suit his own purposes?  Someday this easy-going willingness to accept Trump’s exaggerated and over-the-top assertions is going to turn around and bite his followers and bite them hard.

My guess is that there will be a day of reckoning.  Sometime in the near or distant future, I have no doubt that many, many people will deeply regret that they had ever believed in Trump in the first place.

Monday, November 21, 2016

The Anatomy of a Truly Thankful Heart

The Thanksgiving Holiday has become a national family event.  That is, it is all about family together.  It is essentially the highest (holiest) of family days we have in this country.  Note that it is the busiest travel season of the year.  By bus, by plane, by car or train, everyone heads back “home” to enjoy a great family feast with their loved ones; families of all faiths, or no faith at all, participate in this great celebration we call Thanksgiving.

And because it is about family, it is eagerly anticipated with great expectation as well as anxiously dreaded with much worry.  After all, it is about family.

This excited anticipation of the Thanksgiving Holiday is stimulated by its imagined ideal.  Yes, if we’re honest, most of us have an image of the ideal Thanksgiving family gathering that brings a smile to our face and warms our heart: a Thanksgiving meal where there is more than enough food perfectly cooked, where the guests are perfectly happy and wonderfully satisfied and the children are well behaved, while the dinner conversation is perfectly delightful.  Everyone is joyful, happy, and well pleased—the perfect Thanksgiving!

In short, the ideal Thanksgiving celebration is a veritable celebration of a family’s success and prosperity, a celebration of a thriving family with good friends.  It is a celebration of what we have accomplished and achieved (with the help of God of course): Talk around the table is about how our children are doing so well in school, and how our youth are being accepted into the best universities, and our young adults are embarking on great new careers, and how the adults are enjoying great business successes; and there is talk of engagements and wedding dates and the anticipated arrival of new little ones into the fold.  Now that is the best Thanksgiving celebration that any family could have.

Would that it were so!

Question: what is at the root of real gratitude?  What is the heart and soul of gratefulness?  What is the anatomy of a truly thankful heart?  A Biblical story might give us some insight at this point.

In the Gospel according to Luke (17:11-19), Dr. Luke gives us an account of 10 lepers who were healed by Jesus.  Jesus was heading south to Jerusalem from Galilee in the north.  Somewhere in the region between Galilee and Samaria he entered a village where ten (10) lepers called out to Jesus from a distance.  (Because they were lepers they dared not actually approach him or come near him.)  “Jesus, Master, have mercy on us!” they cried.  Jesus responds by telling them to go and show themselves to the priests.  As they went, they were healed, completely cleansed from their leprosy—all ten of them.  Yet (the story’s point), only one of the ten came back to give praise to God and thank Jesus for the miraculous healing that he received.

We are told that this one leper (now healed) prostrated himself at Jesus’ feet and thanked him, praising God.  We are also told that he was a Samaritan, a non-Jew, in short, a foreigner to boot.  Jesus asked out loud: “Were not ten made clean?  But the other nine, where are they?  Was none of them found to return and give praise to God except this foreigner?”

And so, here we have the anatomy of a truly thankful heart.

First, he was fundamentally needy.  That is to say, he needed something that he could not provide for himself.  He was in no position to take care of his own need.  Unlike the saying that says, “God helps those who help themselves,” he could not help himself in this need of his.  He was totally helpless.  When he thanked Jesus, he did so knowing full well that he was totally dependent in his needful helpless state.  Unable to help himself, he was thus completely dependent on Jesus’ willingness and power to heal him.

Secondly, in thanking Jesus for this wonderful healing, he also was keenly aware that he could never repay Jesus for what Jesus did for him.  In that sense, this man became indebted to Jesus, for his very life as it were.  How could he ever repay Jesus for what Jesus did for him?  He could not and he knew this.

Thirdly, when thanking Jesus for this healing, this man knew that Jesus was under no obligation to heal him.  It was, in fact, an unearned, undeserved, gratuitous gift.  Indeed, it was noted that he was not only a leper but a foreigner at that.  This leper (now cleansed) was in fact an outsider, an outcast, and believed to be guilty of great sin (hence his leprosy) and therefore condemnable, not to mention the fact that, as a foreigner, he was not even a member of the Chosen people of God.  This man therefore knew that his healing was a freely given gift from Jesus, unearned and undeserved—the very definition of grace.

Desperately needy, unable to help himself, incapable of paying back, and completely undeserving of the gift he received, fully realizing this truth, living in this reality, this man accepted this generous act of grace from Jesus with full gratitude—utter and complete gratefulness for receiving an undeserved gift that he could never earn, did not deserve, could not pay for, and was unable to do for himself.

THAT is the anatomy of a truly grateful heart.

Monday, November 14, 2016

Is Our Political System Breaking?

There’s a lot of talk about our divided America.  We are polarized.  I suppose this should be nothing new to us considering that our national history includes a civil war.  Can’t get more divided than that, now can we.

Differences will always exist.  It’s how we manage or negotiate our way through our differences that counts.

We have always been a nation of immigrants—different people joining us from various regions of the world bringing along with them their unique heritage and cultural traditions.  Yet somehow we all become “Americanized” and identify ourselves as Americans.

So what is it about America that unites us as Americans?  And, whatever it is, are we in danger of losing it?

Is it our freedom, the right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness?  Or is it our covenant together?  As a people we have agreed to live by, and work with a social, political, and legal system that our constitution has created.  Yes, it is this constitutional system that unifies us, a diverse people located in various regions according to States, yet federally unified by constitutional law and order.

Sadly, there are signs that we may be in the process of breaking this covenant and losing our unifying power.  Example: the most dramatic and expressive sign that we are beginning to lose our core unifying factor—our constitutional covenant—is the refusal by Senate Republican representatives to hold confirmation hearings for president Obama’s Supreme Court nominee, just because it was an election year.

It didn’t matter who Obama nominated, what kind of character, person, or judge he was or would be or might have been; it was a political power move, pure and simple.  The Republicans wanted to nominate their own Republican version of a Supreme Court Justice to fill the empty seat and thus chose to lock out any and all nominee possibilities from President Obama, simply because Obama is a Democrat.

This is a naked abuse of power—pure political maneuvering, a manipulation of the process for pure political advantage.  The constitutional mandate setting the rules of the game, no longer applied.  This is the evidence that we are losing something very precious in America, the thing that unites us as a people—our constitutional covenant together.  Our politicians are no longer playing by the traditional and historical rules of the game—and they are breaking these traditional rules with bold and bald face arrogance about it.  This move alone sets a very, very bad precedent for future political “fights” down the road.

There is a dwindling sense of honor and respect for the guy on the other side of the aisle.  He or she is no longer “the enemy” in figurative terms, but is now becoming an actual enemy.  Gone is the attitude, “Okay, my honorable and respectable political opponent who is also my friend, you won this round, perhaps our side will do better next time around; congratulations on your victory.”

No, now the attitude is more something like this: “You, my political opponent, are my enemy and will never be my friend; as such I will do anything and everything I can to ensure your defeat, even if you win!!  Me and my party will not cooperate, we will not compromise, and we will not support or work with you in any fashion whatsoever; we will negate, neutralize, and obstruct anything you may attempt.  We denounce your party’s political cause(s)—even if it overlaps with our own cause or actually may help the American people as a whole.”

The damage is being done right before our very eyes.  The breaking of our covenant together, the refusal to respect constitutional mandates in favor of political expediency and gain (the extreme application of gerrymandering would be another example of this).

Thus, it is not just that Donald Trump won the election that gives his political opponents concern; it is what was said and done during the whole election season—one bad precedent after another.

It is what is happening to our political mechanism as a whole that is setting people’s teeth on edge.  There is a sense that something has broken or is in the process of breaking, within our political machinery.  The constitutional machinery is not running smoothly, the people feel a disconcerting vibration within it, as if something has cracked or as if a piece of it has snapped and is grinding down toward irreparable damage.  This, I believe, is at the heart of peoples’ dismay about the election.  They are jittery, nervous and upset, worried and concerned, fearful and angry because instinctively they feel something has cracked, and the American constitutional system itself is in danger of breaking apart.

Monday, November 7, 2016

After the Election Comes Thanksgiving

Will there be anything to be thankful for, after the election?

Many will say that that will depend on who wins the election.  Is that so?

Whatever happened to “We the people”?  One particular man or woman in the presidential office will not make or break us.  Or will it?  Are we that fragile now?  WE, we will make or break ourselves.  Collectively speaking, WE are stronger (or weaker) than any one individual in office.

Thus, it comes down to US, and that means it comes down to who we are on the inside.

If we are angry, fearful, bitter, resentful, hateful, stingy, greedy, selfishly me-oriented, and preoccupied with thoughts of blame and vengeance, yes, we are fragile.  For, if our fears, hatreds, insecurities, and prejudices become that which defines who we are, we have most certainly become fragile.

Anger breeds anger, hate breeds hate, and fear breeds fear; put together, these core emotions breed divisive distrust and acts of injustice and cruelty in our treatment of others who think/act differently than we do.  The end result is destruction—the prevailing attitude being defensive and protective: “This is WAR!”

Hence, we, WE, are our worst enemy.

If there is no faith in the other, no trust, no acceptance of and allowance for difference, by default we become enemies.  And enemies seek to destroy The Enemy.  If there is no desire or faith in the possibility of peace and unity, no trust in the give-and-take process, no interest in distributing and sharing power, no belief that we can and should work together toward common goals with common interest toward a common vision, knowing that we can’t always have it all our own way, we fail ourselves, we fail the system, and we fail as a democratic nation.

On a different note, this is why it is sad that some of the most divisive and bitter sounding voices that we hear in the political arena are Christian voices or Evangelical voices, voices that supposedly believe in a Sovereign and Holy Providential God.

It’s as if Evangelicals know who God has anointed for office of the presidency.  But it doesn’t work that way.  Because if Evangelical Christians are true to their own confession of faith, there is only one truly Anointed One of God (Messiah/Christ), and that is Jesus.  Jesus is Lord!  What saddens me is that Evangelical Christians seem to have put American Patriotism over and above allegiance and loyalty to Kingdom of God principles such as Christ’s command to His followers that we are to “love your enemy” and be salt and light to the world rather than self-righteous and abusive Pharisaical condemners of the world.

In Christ we have a greater power, a greater Lord, and a greater promise—which should minimize or even neutralize our distresses and anxieties about the things of the world.  Therefore, as long as our faith is in Christ and our citizenship is in the Kingdom of God, as loyal citizens of the Kingdom of heaven, we need NOT be nasty, mean-spirited, bigots who hate and despise those who are different from us or who don’t live and believe as we do.  In short, of all people, Christians should have much more to be hopeful and thankful for.

First there is the promise of salvation, release from guilt and condemnation and a cleansing from our sin, the promise of heaven—eternal life with God in His glory.  Secondly there is the promise of a new heavens and a new earth where there will be no more tears or sorrow or pain or grief.  Thirdly, there is the promise of Christ’s Second Coming, which will initiate the completion and final fulfillment of the above two promises.  And fourthly there is the promise of the Holy Spirit, the comforter and helper, given to Believers as Christ’s guarantee that these promises will be fulfilled in Him.

With such promises and guarantees in Christ, why worry, why fret, why fear and disdain and condemn those who live differently, walk differently, or believe differently than us?  With such a divisive and fear laced election before us, Christians are giving up their greatest opportunity to bear witness to a greater good, a mightier God, and a most promising future by becoming enmeshed in the political polarities of our time.

For we seem to no longer be spreading a message of Good News and hope in Christ.  The Evangelical message now seems to be a sour message of distrust and exclusion, a message of superiority and self-righteousness, a message of judgment and condemnation fueled by hate.  In short, Evangelical Christians now seem to be preaching the false gospel of American power dominance and supremacy, where we condemn the poor for being poor, praise the rich for being rich, hate the sinner for being sinful, and take the name of God in vain by attaching it to a very human political party, candidate, or cause.

There is a third way, and it’s the Way of Christ.  If only we Christians were to truly adhere to and subscribe to the confession that Jesus is truly our Lord, master of our hearts and souls, our witness to Him would not fall on deaf ears at it now does.