After Indiana…Trump or Hillary? Four practical ways to respond with faith and strength

Trump vs Clinton

If you listened closely on Tuesday night, you could hear the collective exhale, the sssighing deflation of many who had hoped for Donald Trump’s mojo to grind to a Midwestern red-state halt. Instead, the concern faded to resignation and the quieting of the contested convention tambourines.

Those of us who supported sixteen other candidates are faced with a rock-and-a-hard-place decision. How do we respond? Here are four practical suggestions:

Is Hitting Back “Twice as Hard” Really the Way to Win?

Is the way of Machiavelli more effective than the way of Jesus?

Donald Trump Machiavelli Jesus-900If leaders treat people with contempt, insulting and belittling them, and violating their dignity, can it ultimately serve their best interest? Can it best serve the people who follow him or her? Can leaders hit others back hard and win both power and the hearts of the people?

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.” He has run his campaign under the banner of “You hit me, I hit you back twice as hard.”

For example, back in August, at the first Presidential debate, Fox News anchor Megyn Kelly asked Donald Trump some pointed questions about the way he treated women. What many (most?) journalists considered a fair question Trump considered unfair and hit back hard with an unrelenting stream of negative tweets against Kelly. In January, when Fox refused to remove Kelly from moderating the Iowa debate, he dropped out and held a competing event.

On January 27th Fox News journalist Bill O’Reilly challenged Donald Trump to move past the exchange and rejoin the debate broadcast.

BILL O’REILLY: In your Christian faith, there is a very significant tenet and that’s the tenet of forgiveness. I think you should forgive not only journalists who come at you in ways you don’t like, but I think you should be a bigger man and say, you know what? I didn’t like it and you should make that case all day long. But, I’m not going to take any action against it. You know, don’t you think that’s the right thing to do?
DONALD TRUMP: It probably is. But, you know it’s called an eye for an eye I guess also. You can look at it that way.
O’REILLY: No, no, no, no. That’s Old Testament. If you’re the Christian, the eye for the eye rule goes out. Here’s what it is: turning the other cheek (taps his cheek).
TRUMP: You’re taking this much more seriously than I am. I’m not taking it seriously.

United: Getting Over Our Differences

eg_shopicon_36Everyone interested in the Republican presidential primary hopes that at some point we can pull together. But at this point, it’s getting harder and harder to see how that will happen.

The challenge to resolve deep differences tears up families, churches and workplaces as well as political parties. The differences can feel as visceral as a punch in the gut.

For example, when Ben Carson, whom I respect so much, endorsed Donald Trump for president, I joined millions of evangelicals in a collective gasp.

eg_shopicon_36I called a friend of mine who has worked in support of his candidacy. “What has Dr. Carson done?” I moaned. “What?” she replied, “I haven’t heard.” “He’s endorsed Trump.” I informed her, “I feel like the world is tilting on its axis. How can this be?” She moaned with me.

When it comes to faith and politics, we wrap our opinions in heavy blankets of emotion. Beginning with our very first perception of any person, especially a political candidate, we’re not just taking in a scene.

Seeing and evaluating are not two separate processes. They are linked and basically simultaneous. We see something and immediately evaluate it and enfold it into an emotional response.

When You’re Feeling Stressed about This Election

cracked-ground-913-580“Why are you concerned about this presidential primary?” I ask.

“Because,” a friend said over dinner, “someone I don’t trust may gain control of our military might, our nuclear codes–someone who seems easily offended and vengeful.”

“Because,” another said, “I’m afraid I’m losing my homeland. It’s changing right under my feet.”

“I wonder,” said another, “what are people thinking?! They don’t appear to care about issues and substance. They seem charmed by the personality of a Pied Piper.”

It’s getting harder and harder to govern America by politics. The interests of different groups are getting further apart. As political compromise and deal-making breaks down, gridlock sets in. Anger boils.

David Brooks reminds us that, historically, when politics breaks down, the other alternative is a dictator. People give up on politics and look to a perceived strongman to fix the mess.

The strongman promises what he can never realistically deliver, which sets people up for more frustration and anger…

Turning and turning in the widening gyre
The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world…
The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity.
(from “The Second Coming” by William Butler Yeats)

Yesterday I was speaking to another friend who confided that it was getting to the point where she didn’t even want to let her thoughts go to the state of our nation or the coming election.

How can we not feel threatened, frustrated, distraught…?

I was feeling the same occasional spasms of dread in this wild ride of an election process. Then Sunday two things happened:

Between Rubio and Cruz, Vote Shrewd: A Tale of Two Rallies

Why I've decided to vote for...

You can feel the difference between Marco Rubio and Ted Cruz simply by walking into their rallies. In spite of the 35° raw drizzle, about 900 people are chanting, cheering and waving signs to the upbeat music, waiting for Rubio’s bus to roll in.

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We can see our breath in the three-walled party barn.  Sleek, long-haired college interns in galoshes mix it up with all ages in the suburban Lexington venue.  The advance team has set up the stage in the round with bleachers on the two sides facing the bank of cameras in back.

The bus pulls up and Rubio bounds down the short walkway with US Representative Trey Gowdy (of the Benghazi hearings) and US Senator Tim Scott.

Praying for America with Franklin Graham in SC: Frustrated but Hopeful

Undeterred by the 40° weather, we stand in front of the South Carolina capitol, thousands of us, joining Franklin Graham to pray for our nation. It’s the fifth stop on his Decision America Tour to all fifty capitols.

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No other speakers. No political endorsements. The only piece of campaign literature I see is underfoot.

Mad as hell…or mad as heaven?

Getting mad like Jesus did.

It feels like we are living in the 1976 award-winning film Network. I feel surrounded by people throwing open their windows, leaning out and yelling, “I’m as mad as hell and I’m not going to take this anymore!”  (Caution for a bit of R-rated language in the clip)

Although the movie came out forty years ago in the midst of gas lines, recession and spiraling inflation, it feels even more relevant today, when we are living more from emotions than ever before.

People want good jobs–meaningful work that leaves them time for life with their families, churches and communities. We want health care premiums that don’t break the bank. Safety from terrorists. We want institutions–government, schools and businesses–that hear our voices and respond to our needs. In this political season the candidates cast a vision of the way the future could be, stirring and heating up our desires to a fever pitch. That is their job. It’s our job to keep our eyes on Jesus. Get mad like he gets mad.

We want, we want, we want…we have so many desires–the soil out of which our expectations grow. Unfulfilled, they can set us up for disappointment and anger. How should we deal with them?

Managing Our 2016 expectations

Back in the saddle of weekly activities,  2016 is already barreling along, the stock market and the weather jerking around like a bull in the Houston Rodeo. (Or…maybe that should be a bear?)

bull rider

Whether we write down our goals and vision for the year ahead or not, we all have this picture of the way we’d like things to be. And then life happens. Here are some reminders to think about, pray about, as we try to live on purpose when life starts bucking around:

We hold our expectations with open, God-trusting hands. Like Nehemiah, we may long to see certain outcomes and ready strategic plans for the moment when doors of opportunity swing open, but our God is a God of shock and awe, disruptions and surprises.

He fulfills his promise to be Emmanuel, God with us, by means of the incarnation and a virgin birth. He fulfills his promise to deliver us from sin and death by means of crucifixion. If we weren’t so used to it we would find it utterly amazing. God thinks and acts completely out of the box.

As I look back over the last twelve months of my own life I see so many totally unexpected, disrupting developments: two deaths and a cancer diagnosis on the parent front, five last-minute plane tickets, stepping into the vacated leadership of women’s ministries at our church, surgery avoided and several as-good-as-winning-on-Jeopardy! gifts.

When we look back over the last twelve months in our culture, we see the threat of ISIS, the rise of Trump, the legalization of same-sex marriage, the exposure of Ashley Madison and Planned Parenthood, and in my own state of South Carolina, heart-breaking flooding and church shootings.

All of which reminds us that our strategic plans rest on a sure, but unpredictable foundation: “If the Lord wills.” Control is in the hands of a God who is always, always doing something new, far beyond our imagining, even (especially) n the midst of tragedy.

ISIS: Is there a path to victory? Safety?

Paris attacks2When bloody horror erupts on our TVs and phones we mourn with those who mourn. We pray for the gospel to “speed ahead and be honored” and for God to comfort all those who have suffered loss because of ISIS’s rampage through Paris.

We are also hard-wired from the factory to grasp for the “Why?” In the West’s war with ISIS this much is certain: Like the Republicans and Democrats, we don’t even agree on what the issues are.

The secular West thinks ISIS is morally bankrupt because they subvert freedom. They murder and rape as an act of worship to Allah. They think the West is spiritually and morally bankrupt because we do not acknowledge Allah and we pervert sexuality.

Al Queda, the Taliban, now ISIS…We have been at war with radical Islamic terrorists for over 15 years now. Is there an end in sight? Will we ever be safe again?

Why it matters that Hillary lied

Watergate's Chuck Colson on the dangers of believing the greatest good is getting the "right" person elected

Hillary swearing inImagine for a moment…you’ve received word that your son/nephew/friend was killed on September 11th while defending American personnel in Benghazi, Libya. 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 did it happen? Why was my loved one in harm’s way not rescued by US Troops?

On September 14th you are sitting with the other families in view of the closed, flag-draped caskets which will not be opened. You will never see your loved one again.

One by one the President, the Vice-president, the Secretary of State and the Secretary of Defense offer you their condolences. Empathy washes over you from hands, faces and voices that embody the power and prestige of the United States. Empathy and promises of justice.

Hillary Clinton tells Charles Woods, father of Tyrone Woods, a retired Navy Seal killed in the attack, “We are going to have the filmmaker arrested who was responsible for the death of your son.”

Life Is Becoming Entertainment: The 2016 Great Race Survivor Reality Show

If you locked all the Hollywood reality TV writers in a room until they came up with a script that would compare to our nightly news episodes they’d never be seen again. Each evening we tune in to discover what our crazy cast of characters has been up to today. And we are not disappointed.

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Just in the last few days…over at the Values Voter Summit the billionaire with the uniquely crafted hair was waving his Bible in the air. Back in July, when asked whether he has ever asked God for forgiveness for his actions, Mr. Trump responded, “…if I do something wrong, I just try and make it right. I don’t bring God into that picture. I don’t.”

But on Saturday he was all about reading the inscription in his “favorite book” and in his closing remarks held it aloft once more, reminding the evangelical voters, “This is the key.” Except maybe for the forgiveness part?

In New Hampshire a 74-year old socialist, Bernie Sanders, leads Democratic front runner Hillary Clinton 46% to 30%. One of two very smart women in the Great Race made some very curious decisions to take her government email off the grid and wipe her server. (Inquiring minds will be lining up at the October Benghazi hearings to find out why.)

Meanwhile the other very smart woman, Carly Fiorina, was bombarded with condoms at an Iowa tailgate party by supporters of Planned Parenthood. (Really, you could not make this stuff up. But wait, there’s more!)

When Politicians Fail Us: A Bonhoeffer alternative to doublespeak and cunning…what you can do

Doublespeak Meme

“We have been silent witnesses of evil deeds.

We have become cunning and learned the arts of obfuscation and equivocal speech.

Experience has rendered us suspicious of human beings, and often we have failed to speak to them a true and open word.

Unbearable conflicts have worn us down or even made us cynical. Are we still of any use?

We will not need geniuses, cynics, people who have contempt for others, or cunning tacticians, but simple, uncomplicated, and honest human beings.

Will our inner strength to resist what has been forced on us have remained strong enough, and our honesty with ourselves blunt enough, to find our way back to simplicity and honesty?” (Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Letters and Papers from Prison, Germany, 1943-45)

Until you reach the last lines you might think this quote could be from political outsiders Ben Carson, or Carly Fiorina…or, if it weren’t so eloquent and respectful, even Donald Trump. Simply substitute “political class” for “human beings” in line three.

Shopping for a New President: Why Strength and Cool without Kindness Can Bring Buyer’s Remorse

Every four years, when we shop for a new president in debate season, we have a history of looking for what we believe is missing in our current president. You can look back from president to president and see the cultural pendulum swinging from one profile to its opposite.

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For example, after four years of Jimmy Carter’s malaise and sunset in 70’s American  gas lines, we elected Ronald Reagan to be strong and bring back the morning again.

In the wake of Pres. Bill Clinton’s affairs and slippery I-did-not-have-sex-with-that-woman deception, we wanted someone who was honest and trustworthy. In George W. Bush we elected a straight shooter with no history of scandal or corruption, and a strong family man.

After years of war on terror, we settled on a president who was less of a “cowboy” and more of a conciliator. Now, after eight years of negotiations with Iran and retreats from red lines, we see a lot of enthusiasm for a strong man again– someone who will Get. Things. Done.