The Blinding of Samson-Rembrandt
Reading through the Old Testament book of Judges lately and I’m struck by how God raised up Samson to make Israel great again. The Angel of the Lord visited his barren parents and promised them a son who would “begin to deliver Israel from the hand of the Philistines.” As auspicious a beginning as John the Baptist.
God’s Spirit “rushed” upon Samson and enabled him to kill Philistines who had been oppressing Israel for forty years. When he called out to God for strength, even for water, God provided. He empowered Samson to slaughter 1,000 Philistines with the jawbone of an ass, then cracked open a rock to replenish him with water. Samson judged Israel 20 years and is included in the Hebrews 11 “Hall of Faith.”
And yet, Judges 13-16 portrays him as a strongman who was a narcissistic liar, a womanizer, an arrogant and boastful loudmouth, cunning and shrewd, thin-skinned and bent on mayhem and revenge.
In December Dr. Bandy Lee, a Yale Psychiatry professor and the editor of a book, The Dangerous Case of Donald Trump: 27 Psychiatrists and Mental Health Experts Assess a President, was invited to address congressmen and women about accusations that Trump was unfit to hold the office of president. And when, in a tweet to Kim Jong Un, Trump boasted about his “bigger nuclear button” she released a statement:
“We write as mental health professionals who have been deeply concerned about Donald Trump’s psychological aberrations…We believe that he is now further unraveling in ways that contribute to his belligerent nuclear threats.”
The movement began with a petition, first circulated as his campaign began, with now almost 70,000 signatures of health professionals who have violated their professional ethics because they believe they have a “duty to warn.”
While most are focusing on attacking or defending President Trump’s mental stability, I was struck by what a corrosive assault it must be to the man’s soul to see this conversation gaining momentum. How should we respond?
As seen in Europe this summer
After his Tuesday speech at the UN, President Trump was again hit hard and often for being a nationalist. Why are so many so critical? Is it the same as love of country? As believing that America, among the nations of the world, is exceptional? Even superior? Is that so bad?
What is patriotism?
Webster’s defines “patriot” as “a person who vigorously supports their country and is prepared to defend it against enemies or detractors.” We sing that America is beautiful for “patriot dreams” which evokes the ideals of our founders woven into our Declaration of Independence and Constitution. They dreamed of a nation where all of us who have been created with equal value and worth in God’s image will receive equal justice under the law. Where we are endowed by our Creator with certain inalienable rights: “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.” Where our elected representatives will govern with the consent of “we the people.”
Confederate monument in front of the South Carolina capitol (taken by Lael Arrington)
Last week, as two factions violently clashed over whether to remove a statue of Robert E. Lee in the city of Charlottesville, VA, the movie Selma was playing on TV. I flipped the channel between live coverage of young white men attacking those who wanted to bring the statue down and actual newsreel footage inserted in the movie of young white men waving the Confederate battle flag to mock and harass the Selma marchers.
You couldn’t miss the contrast in the two scenes. In the movie, David Oyelowo as Martin Luther King was invoking the love of Christ and his non-violent example as he led many young blacks to march and stand quietly with their hands clasped behind them. By contrast, the faces of the young white men waving their stars and bars were screwed up in hate. In Charlottesville you could see the anger exploding on both sides.
What a difference strong, Christ-following leadership made.
Here in South Carolina we have seen that difference defuse the battle over Confederate symbols more than once. Two Christian governors have stood up to tradition and strong emotions at great political risk. Their words speak compellingly to this moment.
Recently I was asked to sign a Lutheran Ministry’s petition protesting President Trump’s executive order on refugees. Frankly I felt very conflicted, unsure of how to respond.
Rarely has a national conversation about social justice been so loaded with appeals to the Bible and a Christian worldview. And yet rarely have Christian leaders been so divided in their response. Even Christian ministries to refugees and foreigners. Franklin Graham, head of Samaritan’s Purse, is defending the order and our need for national security, World Vision and World Relief are protesting it.
So I’ve been digging into the issue, both biblically and with Christian thought leaders, and here are answers I’ve found to my own questions that might be helpful to you:
Many of us have felt called to pray for Donald Trump and America. I love to pray the words of Scripture. So as he takes the oath of office and as I search through prayers by and for kings, I’ve been surprised by the rich inspiration and example. In their words…
Heavenly Father, with Jewish King Hezekiah we declare, “You are enthroned above the mighty cherubim. You alone are the God of all the kingdoms of the earth. You have made heaven and earth.”
May our new president declare this daily in his heart before you. May he enter the oval office with a deep sense that you rule. And he rules under your supreme power, your watchful eye and loving care.
With Babylonian King Nebuchadrezzar we agree, “Your dominion is an everlasting dominion, and your kingdom endures from generation to generation…you do according to your will among the host of heaven and among the inhabitants of the earth; and none can stay your hand or say to you, ‘What have you done?'”
Lord, you have clearly raised up Donald Trump. You may have done it for blessing. Or judgment. Or both. But we look to you in trust and not doubt asking, “What have you done?”
On Sunday night Meryl Streep disappointed millions when she used her professional platform at the Golden Globes awards show to hammer Donald Trump and drive a bigger wedge between deeply divided Americans.
Full disclosure: I have been a solid Meryl Streep fan for years. Any actor who can play “the devil” wearing Prada and a no-talent, deluded socialite in Florence Foster Jenkins displays a tremendous range. (I reviewed her “formidable talent” in Florence here.)
The thing is, I get her critical remarks about President-elect Donald Trump. Although I think she chose the wrong example. Trump’s attack on a disabled reporter is in deep dispute. However there are plenty of other examples that aren’t. I’ve posted about how his philosophy of hitting back twice as hard comes off as alienating. Even bullying. It opens him up to people believing Streep’s version of what happened.
Streep said, “And this instinct to humiliate, when it’s modeled by someone [Donald Trump] in the public platform, by someone powerful, it filters down into everybody’s life, because it kinda gives permission for other people to do the same thing. Disrespect invites disrespect, violence incites violence. And when the powerful use their position to bully others, we all lose…”
Just when she could have had me, she lost me. In a great ironic turn, Streep did the very thing for which she criticized Trump. She used the power of her position to dump a big dose of disrespect on millions of Americans.
Happy New Year!
Part of the fun of ringing in 2017 is that I can look back at my stats and discover what you were most interested in last year. Here are your favorite blog posts from 2016:
#10 When You’re Feeling Stressed about This Election How to describe the presidential election of 2016? Bizarre? Shock and awe? The caucuses and primaries began on February 1st and by March 1st (Super Tuesday, when this blog was published), unless you were an early fan of Donald Trump, you were starting to feel the stress.
It was very quiet at our suburban precinct here in Columbia, South Carolina. Thousands had voted on the way to work, but at mid-morning there were eighteen people in line—a peaceful interlude in this shock-and-awe campaign story. The quiet before tonight’s high-drama conclusion to Election 2016.
(If you are still struggling over your decision today you may want to read these two previous posts.)
As we’ve heard one stunning development after another, I’ve heard journalists and pundits exclaim, “Nobody could write this story.” But clearly, Someone is writing it.
Only God could write such incredible plot twists, expose such secrets, and reveal hearts at such a deep level. He famously writes stories with a “fearful symmetry,” a term coined by William Blake to describe a tiger–beauty and balance and artfulness that also exposes a moral dimension that terrifies us. Who could create such a beautiful killing machine?
God. Especially when he brings judgment to call us to repentance.
So many women are outraged, and rightly so, at Donald Trump’s boasting on the bus–his chauvinistic objectification of women to be kissed and groped because, by golly, he’s got star power and he can.
It’s exhibit A in the rape culture narrative that’s become very politically correct. Because it’s too often true. In today’s culture almost every woman has experienced unwanted verbal and physical sexual advances.
What better way to expose and embarrass the jerks that perpetrate them on women than to vote for Hillary? Put a woman in the ultimate place of power!
I get it. I empathize with the outrage. I’m voting out of outrage too. But it’s a very politically incorrect outrage that, sadly, isn’t much mentioned in this election.
There are one hundred and fifty homes in my South Carolina suburban subdivision…and not one yard sign for Hillary or Trump. Not one bumper sticker on the cars parked in the driveways.
Last week in Gatlinburg, TN, the gateway to the Great Smokey Mountains National Park, we stood on the main drag in high leaf-peeping season and in fifteen minutes counted license plates from twenty-five different states. Again, not one bumper sticker.
People might hold their noses and vote for the Supreme Court or against the seething midnight tweeter, but not too many seem willing to publicly identify with either candidate in this don’t ask, don’t tell election.
Too many of us agree with the lyrics of Paul Simon’s “Mrs. Robinson”:
“…Going to the candidates’ debate.
Laugh about it, shout about it
When you’ve got to choose
Every way you look at this you lose.”
In this season of political hype and spin we hear accusations flying: “That is a lie.” ‘”That’s a — that’s — go to the — please, fact checkers, get to work.” Truth is taking a beating. And fact checkers are called on to establish the truth at a time when voters have less and less confidence that truth even exists.
What does it mean to claim to have the truth and how can we know if we have it? Can we trust the fact-checkers to hold the candidates to the truth?
If there is one thing we learned from the first presidential debate of 2012, it was that, in these postmodern times, even the “smartest guys in the room” agonize over how much to focus their message on empathy or reasoning. Likeability or a robust contention for facts and evidence. Should they approach their audience more as thinkers or feelers?
In his first debate with Mitt Romney, President Obama opted to forego answering Gov. Romney’s questions about his record. Postmodern conventional wisdom tells us that if we want to win today’s audience to our point of view we do it with empathy and likeability more than evidence and facts. If you argue the facts, if you forcefully appeal to reason, you can seem angry and unlikable. So appeal to emotions more than reason.
Just be nice.
The New York Times reported that in mock debates in 2012 with Massachusetts Senator John Kerry, “Mr. Kerry drew Mr. Obama into a series of intense exchanges, and Mr. Axelrod (his chief campaign strategist) determined that they were damaging to the president.” Obama pulled his punches and didn’t get into an exchange over the defense of his record.
So much for conventional wisdom. The disappointment and frustration of his supporters resounded from the debate hall to the Twitterverse. Reading the early reviews on his iPad on his way back to his hotel, Obama called Axelrod, “I guess the consensus is that we didn’t have a very good night.” “That is the consensus,” Axelrod replied.
Last week I posted about Charlotte, NC teachers being encouraged to use the Gender Unicorn to explain to students how the sex you are “assigned at birth” may be different from your gender. And how every night, as we watched the Olympic Games, we all experienced a reality check: the obvious biological differences between male and female athletes.
This week a new scientific study, “Sex and Gender: Findings from the Biological, Psychological and Social Sciences,” published in The New Atlantis journal, offers findings that challenge LBGTQ orthodoxy:
You are not born gay. Nor is your sexual orientation unchangeable over a lifetime.
Most young people (70-80%) who have feelings and sensibilities that do not align with their biological sex will eventually grow out of them.
LGBTs have a higher risk of poor physical and mental health than heterosexuals, including:
Non-heterosexuals are at double the risk of depression.
Trans people are ten times more likely to commit suicide.
Stigma and prejudice do not completely account for these differences.
These conclusions, published two weeks ago by two well-credentialed Johns Hopkins scientists, are not receiving nearly the attention of the mainstream media that they deserve. Meanwhile, the Gender Unicorn, produced by LBGTQ student activists, is gaining credibility in our schools.
Why does this study matter so much for all of us?
Donald Trump lives by the advice he dispensed in his best-selling business book The Art of the Deal: “Fight Back–always hit back against critics and adversaries, even if it looks bad.” It’s looking bad.
A gold-star Muslim father, Khizr Kahn, whose son was killed in Iraq, challenged Mr. Trump from the podium of the Democratic Convention. “Have you even read the Constitution?…You have sacrificed nothing and no one.”
True to his own advice, Trump hit back and keeps hitting back. He even attacked Kahn’s wife. (No surprise to Heidi Cruz.)
The Star Trek movie Into Darkness ends with a moving eulogy from a young Captain Kirk, “There will always be those who mean to do us harm…Our first instinct is to seek revenge…. But that’s not who we are.” Who would have thought that a Star Trek movie would express a nobility that seems beyond the reach of Election 2016?
While many were cheering and excited as the Republican convention drew to a close, my heart was heavy. An election is a real-time window on our values in today’s culture.
The communal psalms of lament “express deep sorrow for the travails of a nation.” So, like the psalmist, I open my heart to God and others in response to our pageant of values in play–both what I see being lost and what I see coming.
I’ve watched the acrimony and violence of this past week with a heavy heart. The Director of the FBI is by most accounts a man of “north star” integrity. Yet when he condemned Hillary Clinton as “extremely careless” in handling classified information without recommending a criminal indictment, he was harshly attacked. Two days later white police shot and killed blacks who seemed suspect. A black shooter in Dallas vented his rage by shooting as many white police officers as he could.
We tend to think that we can rip and tear at the fabric of America, but that our laws and institutions are indestructible. They can take whatever assault we deliver. But nations as well as families rest ultimately on a foundation of trust. A trust based on respect for the dignity of each individual as well as respect for the laws and institutions that protect us.
We look back over this week and wonder if that trust is fraying into an irreparable breach. And we wonder, what responsibility do we bear for being ministers of reconciliation who take seriously the call to care for our culture?
1. It’s the perfect way to sober up after heaping plates of smoked bacon-wrapped chicken and ribs, corn on the cob, baked beans, deviled eggs, caramel swirl brownies with ice cream and home-made strawberry lemonade.
2. Before there was ever a Declaration of Independence, there was a day of prayer and fasting to bring the divided founders together:
Maybe you’ve seen the movie 13 Hours. Highly recommended. If so, you’ve no doubt marveled at the ability of a handful of heroic American operatives to stave off wave after wave of attack from upwards of 50 Al Queda affiliates. FOR 13 HOURS. No doubt you’ve echoed the men in the film…Where is the rescue by American troops? Where are the F-15’s screaming overhead to put the fear of America into the terrorists?
After today’s long awaited Benghazi report, now we know: Some of them were changing uniforms. Four times. The politics and optics were so important that the deployment never came. Today’s report reminds us how outrageous it was that Americans died with not one wheel rolling to their rescue.
Imagine for a moment…you’ve received word that your son/husband/friend was killed on September 11th while defending American personnel in Benghazi. You quickly pack, get on a plane and make the long, sad journey to Andrews Air Force Base to receive his body.
All the while your mind reels with questions…How did this happen? Why was my loved one in harm’s way not rescued by US Troops?
Contentment and I have a troubled history. Many reasons: physical limitations, a vivid imagination, a propensity to live in the future… In addition, our culture of More and Better torches our desires with the gasoline of glossy mags, dark theaters, Facebook vacation pictures, clothes we’ll never need for a life we’ll never live…
Election year aggravates our struggles. Each side is spending billions to cast their vision of the better life we’ll live once they are elected. Between now and November we will be subjected to an endless parade of speeches, promises, ads, polls and robocalls designed to inflate our expectations so we will vote for change. It’s all even more frustrating if we are disappointed with the options for change.
The Apostle Paul said, “I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content…I have learned the secret of facing abundance and need” (Eph 4:11-12). I used to read those verses and think, “Good for you, Paul. I wish.” I still think that sometimes. But I am further into contentment recovery. Maybe I’ve even learned a little of the secret of contentment.